Science Fiction Studies

#96 = Volume 32, Part 2 = July 2005

Provinces of Befuddlement.

Jean-François Leroux and Camille R. La Bossière, eds. Worlds of Wonder: Readings in Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. Reappraisals: canadian writers series. Ottawa, ON: U of Ottawa P, 2004. 202 pp. $27.95 pbk.

Worlds of Wonder bills itself as “readings in Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy.... a long-overdue tribute to this previously ignored genre, placing these works within a context of Canadian literature and culture” (back cover). Although a book contextualizing Canadian sf is sorely needed, this book does not answer that need.

Why not? Primarily because the editors—and by extension the contributors—have only a fuzzy notion of what constitutes sf and fantasy or even of what “Canadian” means. Although issues of genre or of nationality are not simple, no useful discussion or analysis of the interplay between them can arise if they remain ill- or un-defined.

Apart from the introduction by Leroux, the book contains sixteen entries which do not employ uniform definitions of science fiction and/or fantasy. Much worse, the editors have made no discernible effort to define “Canadian” within the context of this effort. Without such minimal rigor we wind up with such bizarre entries as Colleen Franklin’s “Northern Gothic: The Strange and Dangerous Voyage of Captaine Thomas James,” about a seventeenth-century exploration narrative that is neither science fiction nor fantasy; nor was it written by a Canadian. In fact, Canada was centuries away from existence at the time the narrative was first published.

This seeming impulse to befuddle continues. The editors offer no evidence of their expertise in sf and fantasy, and offer no information on the contributors to the volume, an unfortunate choice when considering issues of identity, nationality, and culture. An Anglo-Canadian will see and experience the (national) culture in a very different light than a Franco-Canadian. A citizen of either the UK, France, or the US, exposed only to primary texts, will doubtless have understandings and interpretations that are totally different from either Franco- or Anglo-Canadians. An understanding of cultural contexts and referents is centrally important and in fact is one of the stated raisons d ‘être for this volume. In effect, the editors have chosen to deny that their contributors have any cultural context of their own.
Three entries are worthy of more than passing note. One is David Ketterer’s “‘Another Dimension of Space’: Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy and Atwood’s Blind Assassin.” Ketterer, a British national who lived for many years in Montreal and is well-known for his pioneering study, Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy (1992), elucidates Atwood’s adroit and masterful command of genre in this essentially mainstream novel published in 2000. This bears noting as Atwood sometimes denies her connection to sf.

Veronica Hollinger, in “Notes on the Contemporary Apocalyptic Imagination: William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma,” provides a nuanced, accomplished examination of the (Canadian) apocalyptic vision found in two widely disparate works of contemporary fiction. This essay is in stark contrast to Allan Weiss’s “The Canadian Apocalypse,” which attempts to survey the apocalyptic in Canadian fantastic literature but does so only sketchily. It is a disappointing entry from someone who chairs the annual Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy.

The third noteworthy entry is Amy J. Ransom’s “A Distant Mirror: Ideology and Identity in Quebec’s Science Fiction by Women.” This too is a survey piece; it is written with a discernible command of the subject matter and is extremely useful if only because the material covered is unknown—if not inaccessible—to most researchers. Three outstanding entries scarcely justify a book, however.

Let’s briefly single out a few of the less successful contributions. Helen Siourbas’s “More Than Just Survival: The Successful Quest For Voice in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana and Randy Bradshaw’s The Song Spinner” discusses Bradshaw’s The Song Spinner, an obscure 1997 film, without once referring to its source, Pauline Le Bel’s novel, The Song Spinner (1994). “Sublime Objects and Mystic Subjects: Some Lacanian Speculations About Canadian Fantasy Literature Via Barbara Gowdy’s The White Bone” by David R. Jarraway is defeated by its dense and uncommunicative jargon. I can find nothing at all about Canadian sf or fantasy in Raywat Deonandan’s “A Scientist’s Relationship with Science Fiction.” It seems as irrelevant to the volume as Colleen Franklin’s essay on the seventeenth-century exploration narrative. Lastly, Judith Saltman writes in her otherwise fine survey, “The Ordinary and the Fabulous: Canadian Fantasy Literature for Children,” that “Canadian animal fantasy has had few adherents ... until recent years” (197). This contention is as erroneous as it is unsupported. I recommend that Saltman search the shelves of the well-known Osborne Collection of Early Childhood Literature in Toronto.

Given the paucity of available secondary work on Canadian sf and fantasy, there is a real danger that the unsuspecting will see this volume as authoritative. Ketterer’s Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy, mentioned above, remains the standard source, although it is now, thirteen years later, dated. Otherwise, several more problematic volumes exist: CDN SF & F, compiled by John Robert Colombo et al. (1979); Out of This World, edited by Andrea Paradis (1995); The Far North and Beyond: An Index to Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy in English Language Genre Magazines and Other Selected Periodicals by John Bell (1998); and The Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 251: Canadian Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers, edited by Douglas Ivison (2002). Worlds of Wonder reminds us that not everything academic is either accurate or scholarly.

—Peter Halasz, Administrator for the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic

A Point of Departure.

Darrell B. Lockhart, ed. Latin American Science Fiction Writers: An A-to-Z Guide.Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004. xviii + 230 pp. $89.95 hc.

Latin American Science Fiction Writers: An A-to-Z Guide, edited by Darrell B. Lockhart, represents a bold effort in recent sf scholarship to legitimize Latin American sf and to underscore the relevance of the region’s literary contributions, dating from the eighteenth century to the emergence of sf as a genre. In his preface, Lockhart states that this book is “an effort to provide a comprehensive inventory of Latin American science fiction writing” (viii). While such a proclamation is indeed ambitious for a volume of only 230 pages, if nothing else I believe that Lockhart has fulfilled one of his goals for this sourcebook: that is, to provide a point of departure for future research.
In his prologue Lockhart explains the methodology he used to compile this book. Scholars interested in Latin American sf were identified and asked to collaborate on the project. They then were given a list of names of known Latin American sf authors and were asked to suggest names for inclusion or omission. Once the definitive list of authors was established, the contributors were given rather lax guidelines to follow with regard to content and approach: first to provide a brief biographical sketch of the author, then a summary of that author’s literary contribution and impact on sf, and finally a bibliography of primary and secondary sources (where possible). The result of this collective effort is An A-to-Z Guide, a sourcebook containing entries on 70 authors written by 20 contributors.

In his introduction, Lockhart reiterates that the primary goal of this book is to stimulate further research by providing a comprehensive source that will allow sf scholarship to make more meaningful evaluations of Latin American sf. The conversations among the contributors that led to the production of this book were undoubtedly stimulating in their own right—an intellectual exchange of ideas about the very nature and scope of sf in Latin America supported by the bibliographies that follow each entry and by the comprehensive bibliography of literary anthologies and criticism at the end of the book. The wealth of knowledge contained in those bibliographies is indicative of the years of painstaking work that writers and scholars of Latin American sf have invested in establishing an impressive corpus of primary and secondary sources. This alone should be enough to give legitimacy to Latin American sf, where writers and scholars alike have worked hard for recognition.

While I applaud Lockhart for providing a broad overview of Latin American sf by showcasing 70 of the region’s most prominent sf writers and by coordinating the talents of an impressive list of sf scholars, An A-to-Z Guide does have its shortcomings. As might be expected of collaborative works of this sort, some of the contributions are especially good while others are of only moderate interest or leave something to be desired. The entries are from one to seven pages (including the bibliography) in length, thus allowing for a range of discourse and scholarship. Each entry falls into one of two broadly-defined categories: those that provide valuable historical, literary, and theoretical background, including a discussion of the author’s relevance and contributions to sf (for example, the entries on Elena Aldunate, Juan-Jacobo Bajarlía, and Antonio Mora Vélz); and those that provide little or no discussion of literary merits or theory, amounting to little more than summaries of the author’s life and synopses of their major works of sf (for example, the entries on Germán Piniella, Werner Pless, and Mauricio-José Schwartz). As someone interested in sf scholarship, I would have liked to see more of the first kind. Several of the entries left me wondering why those particular authors were even included in this book, if the “purpose of this volume is to build on [that] foundation and provide a comprehensive—though certainly not all-inclusive—source that will aid in furthering the examination of this literary corpus” (xv). For example, in her entry on Germán Piniella, Heidi Ann García states that:

[His] stories do not fall strictly under the science fiction rubric, since they do not deal with scientific topics, the notion of the future, futuristic technology, or other similar topics. He relegates all this to a secondary plane, instead focusing his short stories on social criticism, the development of style and language, and the juxtaposition of dimensions and the perception of these dimensions by the reader. (153)

Similarly, in his entry on Werner Pless, Darrell Lockhart observes that “Pless’s 2487 is inane, simple, and unimaginative. Nevertheless, if it contributes anything to Latin American science fiction it is a curiosity, a kind of science fiction experiment gone awry” (154). Perhaps both of these entries are intended to show the range and variety of works, no matter how banal or unimaginative, that may be classified as sf.

Lockhart might have been more demanding of his contributors by insisting that they pay closer attention to the intended audience of this guidebook. Presumably these are readers who have had little if any exposure to Latin American sf. He could easily have done this with no risk of stifling their creativity, as Mercedes Guijarro-Crouch, María Alejandra Rosarossa, and Oscar A. Díaz-Ortiz have demonstrated.

Nonetheless, this book does serve to advance Latin American sf scholarship into new territory. For example, contrary to what is generally accepted by mainstream sf critics, many of the scholars in this book are in agreement that Latin American Modernist writers, such as Leopoldo Lugones and Amado Nervo, could be considered early contributors to sf in Latin America. A number of sf authors discussed in An A-to-Z Guide also reflect the strong influence of both Modernism and magical realism, as well as borrowed elements from Uruguay’s Horacio Quiroga (an early master renowned for his gothic tales of the bizarre and the supernatural), lending further support to the statement that Latin American Modernism is the cornerstone of the region’s sf. In addition, the now classic anthology of fantastic short fiction, Antología de la literatura fantástica (1940), edited by Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Silvana Ocampo, is regarded as an important link between fantastic fiction and sf in Latin America. Lastly, the unique voice of Latin America’s sf is often found in its deliberate foregrounding of the social, political, cultural, and geographic realities of the region.

In sum, despite the variety of writing styles and approaches to discussions of theory (or lack thereof), the unevenness of the contributors’ insights into the work of the 70 authors showcased, and the occasional typographical errors found in the text, Lockhart offers an interesting resource for sf scholarship. While overpriced for the individual reader, Latin American Science Fiction Writers: An A-to-Z Guide would make a good addition to any library’s sf collection.

—Aaron Dziubinskyj, DePauw University

A Trophy of the Past’s Future.

Albert Robida. The Twentieth Century. Intro. and trans. Philippe Willems. Wesleyan Early Classics of Science Fiction. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2004. lxii + 397 pp. $29.95 pbk.

It’s large, it’s sumptuous, it’s pretty, it’s a must. It’s the first English translation of a famous book of which we have all heard but have never seen, although we have come across some of Albert Robida’s charmingly dotty drawings. Here they are in plenty, decorating and in some cases commenting on the text. This trophy of the past has been translated from the French and edited by Philippe Willems—a fluent translation if one does not mind split infinitives—and part of the series edited by the energetic Arthur B. Evans. How excited the naive among us are to have this volume in our hands! A book to treasure, if not to read.

But if we do read? We must understand that Robida (1848-1926) began as a parodist of Jules Verne, and The Twentieth Century is rather more parody than it is satire or prediction. The story appeared originally in fifty parts, published during 1882, achieving a splendid hardbound edition in time for Christmas that year. Serialization probably accounts for the story’s somewhat sporadic nature. This centers round the prosperous banker, Raphael Ponto, his two daughters, and, more particularly, Hélène Colobry, an adopted daughter who eventually marries Philippe, the senior Ponto’s son, thus providing the traditional Victorian happy ending.

It would be tedious to detail the incidents in which Hélène is involved. These incidents are designed to show off Robida’s amazing future world. Increasing industrialization and modernity have overtaken France. Travel is mainly by aerocab, flying low above the overcrowded city. In consequence, society’s belvederes are entered from the top. There are some palpable hits: the painters who use light are interesting, the death penalty has been abolished, women are the equals of men, divorce is easy, and there is a tunnel (or bridge rather) linking France with England. There is a mixture of tv and Internet called “the telephonoscope.”

The New Catering Company provides food, for a fee, through pipes to various houses. When a pipe breaks, a house is flooded by soup, although not entirely. So the joke rather misses fire. Much funnier is the power hammer used to prepare food. It goes wrong. “You remember that cook who was puréed along with his vegetables by that power hammer.... The incident was not discovered until after dinner. Your subscribers had the cook for supper!” (73-74).

The United States has broken up into three parts, the middle strip being Mormon. Since the British government has migrated to Calcutta, Mormon refugees pour into Britain with their plural wives. Philippe Ponto, on a visit, gets into trouble because he is not married. Eventually, Philippe does marry—to the drifting Hélène. Their honeymoon entails more travel, this time around the world. They are shipwrecked near Tahiti, where Philippe has a brilliant idea, and the story ends with a sixth continent being built in the Pacific—to be called Helenia.

It must have been amusing once, say in 1882. Nowadays, we who live with the beginnings of global warming are all too conscious of the disasters that follow such major tamperings with nature, such as the death of the Aral Sea. Robida gives no hint of disaster. We learn that the Moon has been brought nearer to Earth, in order to give a brighter light. It now looms as close as Paris is to Lyons, a distance of under seven hundred kilometers. Nothing follows from this. The two bodies do not collide. There are no vast raging storms which all but wipe out humanity.

This lack of consequent effect impoverishes the comedy to modern eyes. Most of the items, such as the women’s dresses, which come under Robida’s gaze, are subjects for mild derision. We who come to his book so much later have to hold back derision for his lack of vision. Despite all the aerocabs, the tale is rather pedestrian. But one of the unique features of the book remains to be mentioned—its greatest attraction, Robida’s curious and beautiful lithograph drawings, executed with the sharpest of pens. Here is real ingenuity. The illustrations sometimes fill an entire page; sometimes they are mere cameos in a corner of the page. Almost all have real comic genius and invention. The nightmare portrayal of the construction of the sixth continent embodies the worst of the nineteenth century personified.

The translator provides a long Introduction as well as a helpful supply of Notes at the back of this impressive book.

Brian Aldiss, SFWA Grand Master

A Discontinuous Ancestor of Science Fiction.

Emile Souvestre. The World As It Shall Be. Intro. I.F. Clarke. Trans. Margaret Clarke. Wesleyan Early Classics of Science Fiction. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2004. xxv + 249 pp. $29.95 pbk.

There are both continuous and discontinuous ways of looking at the history of science fiction. The continuous studies, which are at constant hazard of slipping into complacent Whig histories, are in large measure histories of generations of reading: they begin with some account or definition of the field as it is understood today, then attempt to trace a more or less direct evolutionary line to account for how sf in its current iteration came about. These works include most of the standard genre histories of the field, such as Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove’s Trillion Year Spree (1986) or James Gunn’s Alternate Worlds (1975), or, in its most myopic form, Lester del Rey’s The World of Science Fiction, 1926-1976 (1976). In such works a few dates always loom large: 1926, when Hugo Gernsback gave the field a definable pulp marketing identity; 1895, when Wells’s The Time Machine inaugurated a series of novels that would introduce tropes that would become standard in the genre’s sense of itself; 1863, when Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon begins his series of novels demonstrating the immense popular potential of sf themes in adventure literature; 1818, when Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein gave the field its first truly iconic work, which would remain familiar, at least by reputation and redaction, to virtually every reader to encounter the field from then on. I call these “continuous histories” because the essential historiographical model they posit is one of dialogue: Shelley, Verne, and Wells provided a set of discourses that could be engaged by virtually all subsequent writers in the field—writers who were also readers of these unchallenged classics—just as those later writers (ranging from Olaf Stapledon to Doc Smith, Heinlein, and Asimov) produced readers who became yet another generation in dialogue (Dick, Aldiss, Ballard, etc.) and so on to the present. Sf, we were led to understand, was properly the product of writers who were also responsive readers of earlier sf.

The discontinuous histories, on the other hand, are a bit more problematical, even though they can actually boast a somewhat longer provenance. When J.O. Bailey was researching his doctoral dissertation in the 1930s, in what eventually became Pilgrims Through Space and Time (1947), the pulp-era dialogue had barely gotten underway, and he devoted a fair amount of attention to Cyrano de Bergerac, James DeMille, Bulwer-Lytton, and other authors who may or may not have been familiar models to the new generation of “scientifiction” writers. This search for illustrious ancestors, which would later be echoed in the work of such fan historians as Sam Moskowitz (Explorers of the Infinite, 1963), reached a kind of minor apotheosis with August Derleth’s 1950 historical anthology Beyond Space and Time, which included excerpts from Plato, Lucian, More, Rabelais, Campanella, Bacon, Swift, Kepler, Godwin, and Holberg—before ending up with Heinlein and Bradbury. More like excavations than dialogues, these discontinuous histories sought less to trace a self-aware tradition of discourse than to establish a pedigree for the idea of sf, or at least for the ideas that sf would later appropriate as its own: they tend to become archaeologies of imagination. Even in the hands of more rigorous later academic critics such as I.F. Clarke (The Pattern of Expectation, 1644-2001, 1979) or Paul Alkon (Origins of Futuristic Fiction, 1987), little effort was made to argue that these works had ever come to the attention of the linked generations of writers who eventually came to make up the community discourse of the genre.

None of which makes much difference, of course, to anyone outside that tiny circle of scholars who worry about the historiography of sf—except when we come across a fascinating new discovery such as émile Souvestre’s The World As It Shall Be, originally published in 1846 and now fully translated into English for the first time by Margaret Clarke for Wesleyan’s estimable series Early Classics of Science Fiction, edited by Arthur B. Evans. In all the books cited above, with the exception of Alkon’s, Souvestre is not mentioned at all. He earns no entry in the Clute/Nicholls Encyclopedia (1993), and isn’t even mentioned on that work’s catch-all entry on France (although he does appear in Pierre Versin’s much earlier Encyclopédie de l’utopie, des voyages extraordinaires et de la science fiction, 1972). Nor can you find him in Barron’s Anatomy of Wonder (5th ed., 2004), and his name doesn’t appear in the index of Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier’s French Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Pulp Fiction (2000), although he is in fact briefly discussed there (the index is unreliable) as the author of “a full-blown dystopia and scientific anticipation which featured some remarkable predictions” (336). For all practical purposes, Souvestre has remained an invisible figure in the history of sf, and despite the continuing popularity in France which I.F. Clarke claims for him in his informative introduction and notes to this edition, Clarke’s bibliographical history reveals that no new edition of this novel appeared even even in France between 1871 and 2002.

Thus, when I.F. Clarke asserts toward the end of his assiduously researched introduction that Souvestre “was the first to reveal the profound convictions—social, political, moral—that have powered dystopian fiction” from Orwell’s 1984 to Vonnegut’s Player Piano to Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale, it seems fair to assume that none of these authors had ever heard of Souvestre, and that any direct line of descent is tenuous at best (xxiv). This doesn’t mean that Souvestre’s delightfully mordant and often very funny book is lacking in startling anticipations, both in terms of satiric extrapolation and in the breezy manner in which he approaches his material, peppering the narrative with excerpts from plays, journalistic headlines, even minutes of meetings. His catalog of predictions is stunning, in social if not technological terms—everything from designer drinking waters to photo passports, planned obsolescence, “form follows function” architecture, air conditioning, television, baby formula, giant shopping malls, overspecialized doctors, business education, automation, controversial medical experiments on animals, the cult of celebrity, highways under constant repair, even insincere publishers’ rejection slips—and his list of satirical targets (government, medicine, journalism, prisons, education, feminism, bureaucracy, criticism, theater, art, lawyers, etc.) is equally exhaustive. In Margaret Clarke’s sharp and witty translation, The World As It Shall Be also becomes one of the most quotable of rediscovered classics: “The first rule in setting up a business is not to know something about it; it is to be a millionaire” (66); “As for the doctor, he had but one aim: to make the illness sound worse so that he could take more credit for curing it” (110); “The money that once went for relief of the poor has been used to tell them that no more relief would be forthcoming” (130); “The rights of women were as simple as they were clear: they consisted in not recognizing those of men” (156). A prospectus for a publication intended “to detail the private and public lives of all citizens of Sans-Pair” (Souvestre’s future nation-state) takes as its slogan “Subscribers are entitled to indulgence. Nonsubscribers are only entitled to the truth” (157).

As these bits might suggest, Souvestre’s approach to his targets is somewhat scattershot, and he adopts the now familiar “tour-of-tomorrow” strategy to move his naïve young lovers Marthe and Maurice through the radically transformed world of the future. They are initially transported there by a mysterious Rumpelstiltskin-like little man identifying himself as M. John Progrès, a “member of all the utopian societies of Europe, of Asia, of Africa, of Oceania, etc., etc.” (7), who promises to place them in a deep sleep from which they will awaken in the year 3000, where they find themselves guests of a wealthy dealer in antiquities named Omnivore. Omnivore introduces them to the renowned scholar and professor of literature M. Atout, a “member of fourteen thousand seven hundred and thirty-four committees” (16), who in turn explains to them that national governments have been replaced by a world state called the Republic of United Interests, with its capital in Borneo (now called Budget Island). Setting out in a submarine to visit Budget Island, Marthe and Maurice begin a series of adventures (the submarine is swallowed by a whale, for example) that lead eventually to a three-day whirlwind tour of future institutions and mores that at times suggests Swift or Voltaire, at times the Marx Brothers (or at least S.J. Perelman)—and which at times is oddly moving, especially in the form of occasional interpolated tales revealing aspects of the history or darker underside of this manic utopia (such as a vignette about an old man separated from his dog by government decree, or in Souvestre’s various sentimental proclamations about children). The couple learns that babies are taken away from their mothers at birth and raised in huge industrial nurseries, where they are nourished by steam-driven feeding machines. The educational system is a kind of Ayn Rand nightmare in which the students’ curriculum is “based solely on the pursuit of their personal interests”(62) (one of the 87 delightful illustrations shows a ninth-grader sprawled drunk on the floor of his room, wine bottle in hand, while a nubile young woman on his bed puffs a cigarette). In fairly rapid succession—Souvestre doesn’t dwell too long on his various targets, which gives the narrative a forward thrust unusual for such novels—we are given glimpses of the future of retail marketing, insurance, the medical system (including a hospital that finds it more cost effective to admit patients only after they are dead), funeral and burial customs, journalism, marriage, the legal and penal systems, factories, religion—the list is too long to enumerate here, and has its share of misfires as well as barbs. In Europe, France has long been bankrupt (but still provides the world with milliners and chefs), while Belgium (“the world center for infringing copyright”[117]) has become literally a nation of books and papers, Switzerland has become a privately owned theme park, and Spain has been entirely taken over by sheep.

Whether or not it’s entirely accurate to describe this antic satire as a precursor of what we now regard as dystopian literature, it certainly seems to be an early example of the sort of thing Kingsley Amis had in mind when he coined the term “comic inferno” (New Maps of Hell 1960) mostly to describe the 1950s consumerist satires of Fredrik Pohl and others; in fact, Souvestre seems more to anticipate the later comic absurdist dystopian tradition than the awful warnings of Orwell, Zamyatin, or Atwood. One thinks not only of Vonnegut, but of Pohl, of Bernard Wolfe’s Limbo (1952), of Monty Python, of a handful of contemporary writers including Terry Bisson, and even some of the short fiction of Jonathan Lethem. With his cheerfully relentless tone of cynicism and his willingness to take shots for comic effect even at the expense of his own overall moral consistency, Souvestre often seems more attuned to postmodern sensibilities than to the great grim voices of dystopian tradition. I’m not sure that we can shoehorn him comfortably into any sort of consistent narrative of sf tradition, but then literary historians have never had much luck fitting Tristram Shandy into the history of the novel, either. But in the end it may not make much difference. At the very least, The World As It Shall Be is a minor comic masterpiece uncovered for the first time in English; at most, it might well call for a revision of the commonly accepted views of the evolution of the field during the nineteenth century. Souvestre, in responding to the utopianists’ notion that life may become a manageable commodity—rather than simply what happens as a result of fate or station—proves himself wittily skeptical of the human capacity to manage anything well. His accounts of actual mechanical innovations may not be very interesting or persuasive, but his descriptions of social institutions out of control are extremely sharp, and sometimes sharply prescient in terms of the actual details of modern life (such as the notion of fine roads that can’t be used since they’re always under construction). Whatever we eventually make of it, The World As It Shall Be clearly rivals Albert Robida’s much better-known The Twentieth Century as the most important discovery yet in Wesleyan University Press’s fine series of early and proto-science fiction texts.

—Gary K. Wolfe, Roosevelt University

Byron in 2369.

Atara Stein. The Byronic Hero in Film, Fiction, and Television.Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2004. xiii + 238 pp. $45 hc.

Atara Stein’s engaging new book argues that the Byronic hero resurfaces in such contemporary pop culture phenomena as Anne Rice’s vampire books, the second wave of Star Trek shows, and 1990s alternative rock. Her posture is one of “informed fandom” (7) that is genuinely enthusiastic about its pop-culture subjects but approaches them with academic rigor and a willingness to question their presuppositions. Stein devotes her first chapter to the works of Byron himself. This willingness to take the Byronic hero not just as a given makes the book useful to Romanticists as well as sf critics.

Byron, in works such as Manfred (1817) and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-18), presented a hero who is set apart from the ordinary run of people but is still defined by his relationship with them. This admixture of solitary charisma and social puissance means that Stein spends a lot of her book writing about issues of leadership. Byron admired Napoleon, but thought he was both too authoritarian and too single-minded. This leads him to devise heroes such as Manfred whose “own guilt provides him with numerous opportunities to torture himself” rather than tyrannize others (12). Internal division is insurance against authoritarianism. Carlyle follows Byron in On Heroes and Hero-Worship (1851) when, despite being tempted by authority, he insists that those who wield it do so “motivated by the good of their subjects” (30). Stein points out that contemporary sf drama inherits not just the Byronic hero but the Byronic follower—the person who accepts the hero’s leadership for the good of the community—from its Romantic forebears. Even sf fans, Stein suggests, are Byronic followers, vicariously yielding power to larger-than-life champions.

References to the Terminator movies (1984-2003) and to several Clint Eastwood films amply illustrate what Stein, in her second chapter, calls the “rehumanziation” of the Byronic hero: the way, for instance, in which the solitary gunman in Western movies is made to aspire to reintegration into a settled community. But there is daylight between the straight macho hero and the Byronic hero. Some of the variables in this process have to do with gender roles. The typical Byronic hero is, say, 75% male, 25% female. He has the touch of androgyny needed to flirt with and entrance women: Don Juan and Casanova were far more androgynous than the standard character played by Clint Eastwood. Stein mentions rock stars such as the late Kurt Cobain, Trent Reznor, and Morrissey as contemporary embodiments of this amalgam. Her third chapter, on “the unattainable,” looks at the immortality achieved by vampires as a ghoulish enactment of Byronic outsizedness. Stein performs the best literary analysis of Anne Rice’s fiction yet, and also is illuminating about Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels (1988-96).

It is Star Trek that is at the heart of Stein’s argument, though, and especially the character of “Q” in Deep Space Nine (1993-99) and subsequent Star Trek series. Q was played by John de Lancie, who, delightfully, cooperated with Stein during her researches for this project and who seems to have a sophisticated analytical line on the character he portrayed. Q starts out as a villain of a non-human species, but in the topsy-turvy world of 2369, Q quickly becomes someone with whom the audience is meant to sympathize, at least partially, and he also enters into an apparent homoerotic relationship with Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Q emphasizes the way in which the Byronic hero is both ultrahuman and infrahuman, with the potential for both soaring excellence and dastardly villainy. Stein thus gives clues to how aliens in sf are both intimidatingly sublime and reassuringly inadequate. Q is Stein’s ultimate exhibit of the rehumanization of the Byronic hero. But rehumanization, for Stein, is not the improvement it might seem because rehumanizing in fact makes the potential authoritarianism of the Byronic hero safe for contemporary society. It thus provides an anodyne to the real dangers of this authoritarianism. Q’s charisma may captivate viewers, but the consequences of that charisma are inappropriate for the democratic aspirations of today’s society. Stein’s subtle analysis will remind some readers of thinkers such as Foucault and Adorno—writers who emphasize that seeming moral improvement may, in its effect, belie its rhetoric. She also rescues for critical analysis the second wave of Star Trek TV shows, which some viewers may have thought cheesy, or, in a word recently coined by VH-1, “cheesetastic.”

Stein’s fifth chapter is on the Byronic heroine. She points out that such characters as Ripley in the Alien movies (1979-99) seem to be tough, liberated, no-nonsense women, but that their self-sufficiency is not integrated with their emotional lives. In a gesture that will be very useful to teachers of this frequently taught text, Stein brings in Eustacia Vye of The Return of the Native (1879) as a strong heroine that the male-authored text necessarily constrains, and argues that the Alien and Terminator movies perform the same dynamic on their heroines even if their ostensible fates are happier. Stein does see some growth in the portrayal of female heroes during the 1990s and 2000s, in series such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1992-2004) and Witchblade (1999 movie; 2000-02 tv series: both based on a comic book). The latter, for instance, featured a heroine, Sara Pezzini, who is “tough, ultracompetent, and frequently violent, but she integrates those qualities with compassion and the capacity to form deep attachments with friends and lovers” (212). Whether this is a pacifying refeminization or genuine progress is still, in Stein’s view, an open question.
This is an entertaining and vibrantly written book that addresses very serious issues in a playful way. It is not a scholarly study of the Byronic hero as such—for one thing, it does not examine any of the continental European versions of the Byronic hero—but it is a comprehensive look at the afterlife of the Byronic hero in contemporary pop culture.

Nicholas Birns, New School University

The Unlettered Lovecraft.

Francis Stevens. The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy. Ed. Gary Hoppenstand. Lincoln, NE: U of Nebraska P, 2004. xxv + 404 pp. $19.95 pbk.

Ancient sins may cause present pains (to others). In the preface to his edition of The Citadel of Fear ( 1970; 5) by Francis Stevens (pseudonym of Gertrude Barrows Bennett, 1883-1948), Sam Moskowitz printed a long excerpt from two letters printed in the pulp magazine Argosy in 1919 and 1920. These letters praised Stevens’s novel highly and oddly: “If written by Sir Walter Scott or Ibañez, that wonderful and tragic allegory would have been praised to the skies.” Moskowitz, who believed that the letters were written by H.P. Lovecraft under a pseudonym, signed the excerpt “H.P. Lovecraft” without indicating that he had changed the signature. This mis-attribution, since there was no easy way to check it, was long accepted and has done much mischief.

Unfortunately, these letters, on which Hoppenstand builds much of his case that Stevens’s work strongly influenced Lovecraft, were not written by Lovecraft, but by the person whose name originally appeared with them in Argosy: Augustus T. Swift, a Providence school teacher. S.T. Joshi has corrected Moskowitz’s error (H.P. Lovecraft in the Argosy: Collected Correspondence from the Munsey Magazines, 1994.; and H.P. Lovecraft: A Life, 1996), but the correction has gone unnoticed, and dealers selling The Citadel of Fear on the Internet still claim Lovecraft as a sales point. Hoppenstand obviously has not checked Joshi. Actually, there is no evidence that Lovecraft even knew Stevens’s work. She is not mentioned in his letters, so far as I could check, nor in his Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927); and according to Joshi, Lovecraft was no longer reading Argosy when Stevens’s work appeared.
Hoppenstand’s second thesis is that Stevens was the creator of dark fantasy, which he defines in his introduction, “Francis Stevens: The Woman Who Invented Dark Fantasy,” as “a type of horror story (possibly containing science fiction and fantasy elements) in which humanity is threatened with destruction by hostile cosmic forces beyond the normal ken of mortals” (ix). (It is easy to think of many earlier influential stories of this sort going back to Noah’s Flood!) On this, I wouldn’t agree with Hoppenstand. Stevens’s chief interest is the individual human psyche, not cosmic menace, and her work would lend itself well to analysis in terms of modern depth psychology. Characteristic are shattering twists between reality and unreality, reversals of subjectivity and objectivity, and the struggle of the protagonist with problems of identity or mentality. The metaphor of being trapped in mazes, in caves, or underground is powerful in her work. There is often something lurking behind the reality, emerging to ask existential questions. Possibly related is the unanswerable question why Mrs. Bennett bothered to use a male pseudonym when Argosy and All-Story were filled with the work of women.

Is the present collection worth buying or reading? The answer is a guarded yes. Despite technical deficiencies, Stevens was an interesting, highly original author who brought new motifs into pulp fiction. This collection serves a purpose by reprinting quite a bit of material that has been unavailable or available only with great difficulty. There are two novels, The Nightmare (anticipatory in some ways of H.G. Wells’s Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island [1928]) and The Labyrinth (1918; not fantastic), that have not been reprinted before; two novelettes, “Serapion” (1920) and “Sunfire” (1923); and four shorter works. The book should be supplemented, though, with her finest work, the strange, satirical The Heads of Cerberus (1952).

Everett F. Bleiler, author of The Guide to Supernatural Fiction

Interplanetary Soundclash.

Philip Hayward, ed. Off the Planet. Music, Sound and Science Fiction Cinema. London: John Libbey Publishing/Perfect Beat Press. (Distributed in North America by Indiana UP.) 2004. vii+214 pp. $24.95 pbk.

Theorists of sf film—Vivian Sobchack, Brooks Landon, and Scott Bukatman among them—have argued that the genre has a special place in contemporary technoculture. Sf movies combine two compelling types of narrative: a diegetic, dramatic one about the social consequences of fantastic transformations brought about by a technological innovation or discovery; and a tacit, embodied one about the mechanical mediation of consciousness, whose agents are special effects. The tacit story may even contradict the foregrounded narrative, thereby embodying the contradictions within technoscientific culture’s legitimation myths. Sf films construct narratives about their own conditions of possibility. More than any other genre of film, they draw attention to the notion of cinema as a constellation of special effects—and that a culture’s conceptions of the familiar, the possible, and the strange are functions of their technologies of representation.

VR and computer-game designers are quick to tell you that sound is the key element in creating an immersive environment. Audiences process sonic cues to construct a physical sense of space in which visual cues can be deployed. Without accompanying sounds, even high-definition images may seem like shadows on a wall. Conversely, even stick figures can take on virtual life if they sound like they are navigating something resembling familiar space. As technologies of recording, creating and playing back sounds become increasingly sophisticated, artists and thinkers become more and more aware of the role sound plays in the manipulation of awareness. Sound becomes interesting in its own right, and the line between music and noise becomes more and more porous, as does the line between a world-view and a global soundscape. The intensive development of new digital media has—perhaps surprisingly—brought sound to the foreground, and new developments in musical composition, performance, and cinematic and game-based sound design compel us to talk about sound as a defining aspect of high-tech art.

Off the Planet is a collection of twelve essays on the sound-designs and musical scores of some of the most important films in the sf-cinema canon. With only one or two exceptions, the essays are all excellent contributions, original in conception, and theoretically adventurous. Taken together, they help lay a foundation for the study of sf in music and sonic art, raising the problems that future scholars and artists will address, and initiating the arduous process of defining the role of sound in creating the sense of science fictionality. Many of the iconic films and directors are represented─there are essays on Bernard Hermann’s theremin-based score for The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), Bebe and Louis Barron’s avant-garde electronic soundtrack for Forbidden Planet (1956), Akira Ifukube’s groundbreaking score for Godzilla (1954), Sun Ra’s Afrofuturism, the neo-conservatism of John Williams’s scores for Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounters (1977), the evolving sound designs of the Mad Max trilogy, Howard Shore’s close collaboration with David Cronenberg, ambient soundscapes in Blade Runner (1982), acoustic dystopianism in Cameron’s Terminator films (1984; 1991), the wild sonic pastiche of Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks (1996), and the complex perceptual geography of The Matrix (1999). While some important sf films with sonic hearts are not discussed (2001 [1968], Strange Days [1995], The Fifth Element [1997], Gattaca [1997], and Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell [1995] and Avalon [2001] come immediately to mind) the essays of Off the Planet set up inviting parameters for future work.

In a foundational essay on sound in cinema, “The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space” (Film Sound, Elizabeth Weis and John Belton, ed. Columbia UP, 1985), Mary Ann Doane describes how cinematic sound constructs the subjectivity of the viewer, making him or her the kinaesthetic focus of a film’s distinctive layered solicitations. In most films, this process remains entirely unmarked. In technologically-themed films, however, sound gains a certain autonomy, both from the diegetic characters and the audience. In technothrillers like The Hunt for Red October or Air Force One, sonic-communication technologies seem like the tools that hold reality together against hostile forces that assault primarily through noise and silence. (In postmodern avatars like 24, the forces of destruction can also command the electronic soundscape; only caller ID can save us.) It is in sf that this autonomy is the greatest. In electronic sf, the task of artists is to construct aural signs of realities too new or too alien to be fully accommodated by the audience. The soundscape (which, according to Rebecca Coyle, involves the music, sound effects and overall sound-design of a film) constructs an image of a science-fictional world, in which we perceive aspects of reality that are either inaudible to us, or which do not yet exist to be heard.

There are inevitably two approaches to making sf sound and music: finding sonic/musical analogues to visual and narrative sf signifiers, or constructing original sonic/musical signs of sf─not analogues of a pre-existing text, but embodiments of a tacit conception of the rational unknown. In the first case, the sonic links may be to decorative details with iconic qualities, which are assimilated into a larger pastiche (such as Star Wars ’s space bar, or R2D2's computer-game sounds). In the second case, sf is not a repository of motifs, but a source of premises and contextual constraints, and these establish the contours of a science-fictional design.

Philip Hayward’s introductory essay of Off the Planet, “Sci Fidelity— Music, Sound and Genre History,” provides a solid overview of the history of sf-cinema soundtracks, from the silent era to the present new media-age. Hayward deftly knits together the gradual transformations of conventions of film scoring with technical changes in sound production and popular musical styles. In the first phases—the 1902-1927 period of pre-synchronous sound through the 1927-45 period dominated by European concert styles— composers and directors did not try to find musical/sonic signifiers that could evoke science-fictional alterity. Instead, reflecting the dominant attitude of Hollywood, they assimilated sf into the conventions of conservative heroic adventure. After the War, invasion and infiltration anxieties gave rise to “alien,” more or less threatening, soundscapes—most prominent of which was the widespread use of the theremin, but also including experimental processing of magnetic tape. Hayward glances also at sf-soundtrack styles in Europe and Japan, and concludes by focusing on the close links between the Industrial-Entertainment Complex’s innovations in sound technology and the blockbuster sf-films that showcase them.

Rebecca Leydon’s “Hooked on Aerophonics: The Day the Earth Stood Still,” is a brilliant, precise examination of Bernard Hermann’s score, which remains one of the enduring attractions of the classic 1950 film. Leydon views the score as a musically daring artifact, in which Hermann foregrounded the theremin (two of them, in fact)—an “aetherophonic” instrument that had come to be associated with “unseen forces” in filmscores. Employing a number of unconventional instruments, inventive sonorities, and Ivesian harmonies, Hermann was particularly successful in establishing the atmosphere of alterity through musical cues. Via Hermann’s score, Leydon establishes the definitive purposes of a science-fictional sound: to create an “alienising fiction,” to epitomize the sound of science, and to mark off the space of numinosity. The article includes an exemplary close reading of one musical sequence, Klaatus’s first return to his spaceship, in which Leydon demonstrates with concrete reference to the musical text the subtlety with which Hermann establishes a musical development to parallel and suffuse the action.

Shuhei Hosokawa’s essay on Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla score, “Atomic Overtones and Primitive Undertones: Akira Ifukube’s Sound Design for Godzilla,” matches Leydon’s in its close attention to the musical atmosphere of the film. Hosokawa goes even further by providing a rich historical essay on the development of Ifukube’s career in the context of Japanese concert music, the liberating atmosphere of the film studios, and the seriousness with which Godzilla was approached by the creative team as an expression of Japanese national consciousness. Hosokawa traces the development of Ifukube’s primitivist aesthetic, through influences of Stravinsky and Bartok, his ambivalence about making his living from Honda film scores (noting that the simplicity of monster plots allows the music to maintains some autonomy), and the rich nurturing milieu of the Japanese film studios, which gave most Japanese composers the opportunity to experiment with new sound technologies. Recounting Ifukube’s complex construction of Godzilla’s screams and stomps, Hosokawa credibly claims that “Godzilla’s sound effects were ... among the vanguard of experiments in tape music/sound in the mid-1950s” (50).

Rebecca Leydon’s second essay, “Forbidden Planet: Effects and Affects in the Electro Avant-Garde,” on Bebe and Louis Barron’s famous electronic score for Forbidden Planet, is yet another excellent essay on the highly inventive and musically progressive association of film scores with sf cinema. Forbidden Planet’s score is known for being the first—and perhaps the last—major film entirely to involve electronic music generated by analogue synthesizers, with no additional musical elements or sound-effects. Coyle not only provides a close reading of the score itself, she contextualizes the Barrons’s electronic-music project within the tradition of American home-made instruments and spontaneous composition (the Barrons were associates of Cage and Feldman, and students of Henry Cowell), in sharp contrast to the contemporaneous Köln-centered approach of tightly constrained parameters which established the institutional norm of electronic music until the advent of the keyboard synthesizer.

With “The Transmolecularization of [Black] Folk: Space is the Place, Sun Ra, and Afrofuturism,” Nabeel Zuberi completes a quartet of fine pieces on the association of progressive musical experimentation with post-World War II sf film scores. At first glance, Space Is The Place seems like an anomaly among the studio-artifacts. It is a wildly aberrant film text, with none of the qualities one would usually associate with a popular genre film. The first part of Zuberi’s essay leans heavily on John Szwed’s acclaimed biography, Space is the Place. The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (Da Capo, 1998), on oft retreaded ideas about Afrofuturism, and the now-canonical story of Sun Ra’s role in bringing electronic instruments into jazz; and so the piece at first seems derivative of others’ work. About halfway through, however, Zuberi goes into fascinating new territory, discussing both the film and Sun Ra’s music in terms of the “productive imperfect” and “disintegration of the musical,” as acts of African-Americans’ cultural resistance to white standards. Zuberi urges us to approach the aberrant in Sun Ra’s opus as a critique of film and genre studies. Raising the question of Sun Ra’s “refusal of semantics,” the rejection of culturally validated principles of design and musical order in favor of response to qualities of sound, Zuberi offers tools for exploring the central question of sonic science fiction: how are sf sounds and their power to affect audiences to be assessed, independent of the narrative frames which folks expect them to illustrate and serve. Arguably, sonic sf that does not establish analogies with visual or narrative sf must operate relatively “asemantically”—an oxymoron no more extreme that “science fiction” itself.

The first four, ground-breaking essays are followed by a tamer group devoted to the major sf films of the 1970s and 80s. Neil Lerner’s “Nostalgia, Masculinist Discourse and Authoritarianism in John Williams’ Scores for Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is a solid, although not particularly imaginative, critique of Williams’s “Wagnerian” Star Wars score, based on a single observation: that Luke’s personal leitmotif, which is identified with the heroic theme-music, is developed throughout the film, in contrast to Leia’s, which is not developed at all. Lerner is somewhat more interested and exercised by the Close Encounters score. Like many of the film’s critics, Lerner views it and its music as authoritarian, preventing the audience from entertaining divergent readings. Williams uses atonality only to create an atmosphere of threat, to be relieved in the infantile Disneyesque nostalgia at the film’s conclusion. The argument is easy to make, and Lerner’s article suffers from some of the same authoritarianism that he perceives in the Williams scores. Although it was clearly a reaction to the progressive experimentation of the great sf scores of the 1950s, the music for Star Wars and Close Encounters nonetheless has had great popular resonance, as any study of reggae, dub, disco, techno and ambient music will show. The uses to which the street has put these scores is part of their text, too.

Paul Theberge’s “These Are My Nightmares: Music and Sound in the Films of David Cronenberg” discusses the long and close collaboration between Howard Shore and Cronenberg, as well as the way the conventions of the horror genre have inspired Cronenberg’s approach to both narrative and sound. The article includes a close reading of Scanners’s (1981) sound-design, and an acute description of the way Cronenberg elides technological and organic sounds to create his characteristic sense of sf horror. “Ambient Soundscapes in Blade Runner” by Michael Haman and Melissa Carey, while pedestrian, is nonetheless a useful catalogue of the film’s sonic f/x. And there is much to catalogue, since the pastiche soundscape is as cluttered as the visual cityscape. However, nothing in the authors’ description explains what makes Blade Runner’s soundtrack a distinctive contribution worth special reflection. We could use a courageous assessment Vangelis’s over-rated score. Karen Collins’s “‘I’ll Be Back’: Recurrent Motifs in James Cameron’s Terminator films,” is a serviceable analysis of the first two Terminator films’ minimalist scores, as examples of sonic/musical dystopias. Collins makes easy identifications of certain devices with certain unambiguous signifieds: Aeolian mode=feelings of death, despair and fatefulness; metallic percussion=propulsive repetition of the industrial dystopia, etc. The score does not gain much from being explained as a system of cliches.

Rebecca Coyle’s “Sound and Music in the Mad Max Films” is an exception among discussions of films of the 70s and 80s, in that it tries for more than a cataloguing of obvious effects. Coyle is aware that “film soundtracks, apart from serving the visual and narrative elements, significantly construct their own narratives, refer to their own generic conventions, and have their own production stories” (109)—as succinct a description of Off the Planet’s premises as one could want. Coyle invokes (alone of the volume’s authors) R. Murray Schafer’s concept of global soundscapes as a model for looking at artifactual soundspaces, like those of sf movies. For her, the fictive soundscape involves not only a form of setting for the narrative, but an embedded speculative history of the representation of sound. She traces director George Miller’s evolving ideas about the role of sound in film, from the brute futurism of the first Mad Max (1979), to the subtler contests of industrial, urbane, natural sounds, and human voices in Beyond Thunderdome (1985).

By far the oddest and most entertaining of the essays is editor Philip Hayward’s “Interplanetary Soundclash: Music, Technology and Territorialization in Mars Attacks.” Tim Burton’s film is a true original: obviously a zany send-up of B-sci-fi of both the 1950s and the 1960s, its affectionate satire constantly tips over into grotesque phantasmagorical excess. Music not only weighs heavily on the action—as it does in most Danny Elfman scores—it becomes the diegetic weapon for saving the Earth, in the form of a hyper-strange song by the hillbilly singer Slim Whitman. Hayward takes this strange brew and mixes it with some Deleuzian de/re-territorialization theory, the concept of “soundclash” (taken from the competition of boomboxes and bands in street-festivals, an inspiration that goes back at least to Charles Ives), and a meticulous account of Slim Whitman’s technique and place in the spectrum of American popular music. Hayward persuades me that Whitman’s song represents music that remains fully outside and other, even (especially?) in an aggressively poly-cultural, globally hip age. “In terms of the dominant tastes (even in the eclectically pluralist early 2000s) the track and tradition are so ultra-‘trashy’ that they represent the ‘wickedest,’ ‘deadliest’ sound on offer” (183). “Interplanetary Soundclash” is a superb example of theory as rock and roll. But there’s a eerie feel to an exegesis of Mars Attacks that doesn’t once mention the laughs.

In the concluding essay, “Mapping the Matrix: Virtual Spatiality and the Realm of the Perceptual,” Mark Evans makes a powerfully suggestive (but all too brief) case for the revolutionary artistry of The Matrix on cognitive grounds. Building on Doane’s notion of three cinematic spaces (the diegetic, the space of the screen, and the acoustical space of cinema), Evans employs the concept of a fourth domain, the viewer’s “perceptual geography,” where “the actual world of the cinema meets the abstract world of the film” (190), to demonstrate The Matrix’s virtuoso juggling of four distinct diegetic spaces (the matrix, the simulated matrix of the construct, the free real world, and the enslaved real world). Each of these spaces is established with characteristic soundscapes, which are often the only anchors to help viewers orient themselves.

Off the Planet is not perfect. Too many sources named in the text never make it to the bibliography. And then there’s the cover: a garish kindergarten cartoon of a knock-off Robbie the Robot thumping on a Gibson Flying V, as a Shambleau chanteuse, medusa-coifed with green snakes getting happy, croons into an old school ribbon-mike of radio station VEN, all against a day-glo crayola Martian landscape. Off the Planet is a book not to be judged by its cover.


Back to Home