Science Fiction Studies

#98 = Volume 33, Part 1 = March 2006


Mike Ashley. Transformations: The Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1950 to 1970. Vol. II of The History of the Science-Fiction Magazine. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2005. x + 410 pp. $28 pbk. Distributed by U of Chicago P.

Transformations is Volume Two of a three-volume history of sf magazines, the first installment of which, The Time Machines (Liverpool UP, 2000), covered the field from the founding of Gernsback’s Amazing in 1926 to the emergence of major rivals to Campbell’s Astounding in the late 1940s (see Gary Westfahl’s review in SFS 30.1 [March 2003]: 109-22). A promised Volume Three, entitled Gateways to Forever, will carry the story from 1970 to the present day. Transformations, as its title implies, surveys a period of significant change within the genre, with the wholesale passing of the pulps, the emergence of a competitive book market, and the topical and aesthetic renovation initiated by Galaxy and F&SF in the 1950s and sustained by New Worlds in the 1960s. Ashley is uniquely well-suited to chronicle this history, having co-edited (with Marshall B. Tymn) the magisterial reference work, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Weird Fiction Magazines (Greenwood, 1985). The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines builds upon this work and also expands the introductory materials contained in a four-volume anthology series Ashley published with Regnery in the 1970s; when complete, it will provide an authoritative scholarly portrait of sf magazine culture.

While he is a totally reliable and remarkably erudite guide, Ashley’s skills as a historian are strained by the necessity of keeping control over multiple and complex narrative threads. The history offered here is loose and sprawling, jumping back and forth across the Atlantic, and supplying halting portraits of the major magazines, especially long-running ones whose stories extend over several chapters. Again and again, discussions of particular titles or topics are brought up short with phrases such as “I will explore later” or “to which I shall return,” making for a pronounced whiplash effect. More disappointingly, rather than providing detailed anatomies of the individual magazines, Ashley offers a compendium of portraits of their editors and writers; the result is a history more of personalities than of publications. This problem is exacerbated by Ashley’s generally lackluster skills as a literary critic; his descriptions of particular writers and stories tend towards the vague and superficial: Damon Knight was “gifted and creative” (117), Cordwainer Smith was “idiosyncratic and maverick” (128), Judith Merril’s “That Only a Mother” (1949) was “a strong feminine story” (151), and so on. Occasionally, his prose itself grows wobbly: Philip José Farmer’s “The Lovers” was “solid, mature, well written science fiction that considered the effects of the future on society and people” (28); Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius stories were “a remarkable satire upon both the images and ideas of science fiction and society” (241). Finally, Ashley’s large-scale claims about the genre’s evolution often merely skim the surface of developments, especially when he is dealing with the fraught issues surrounding the New Wave movement: “by the mid-sixties the science-fiction field was striving for change” (258); “[b]arriers were coming down and Moorcock and Ballard would take full advantage of it” (239); the “‘swinging sixties’ ushered in social, sexual, religious and linguistic freedoms” (248); “by the end of 1969 New Worlds began to turn stale. It was a revolution running out of energy” (252). These are convenient platitudes rather than serious historical analyses.

Still, despite these problems, there is much to appreciate about Transformations. Ashley’s grasp of the evolving marketplace—especially the competition among digests, pulps, and slicks in the 1950s, and between these magazine forms and the emergent pocketbook paperback—is strong and sure. He offers one of the most compelling accounts I have read of the demise of the pulps, grasping as no other scholar has done the baneful influence of Fredric Wertham’s high-profile campaign against comic books on all down-market genre publications—especially the sf pulps, since (as Ashley notes) they were often financed by strong-selling comics titles, such that “a blight on one would seriously affect the other” (71). Ashley’s chapter on the boom-and-bust marketplace of the 1950s—Chapter Two, “Saturation and Suffocation”—is a cohesive and masterly overview of social and economic factors influencing the emergence, consolidation, and collapse of a flourishing sf magazine culture. If the later chapters grow rather more diffuse, this is in many ways merely a reflection of the increasing diversification of sf markets and the proliferation of new styles and subgenres—a trajectory Ashley at times effectively conveys. The resurgence of high and dark fantasy in the 1960s, for example, is fairly well analyzed (in Chapter Eight, “Fantasy and Reality”), though it suffers from a simplistic definition of the fantastic as “what is beyond the realms of science, such as magic, and therefore cannot happen” (259).

Above all, what Transformations shows is the absolute centrality of the sf magazines in defining the genre up to the mid-1960s and their progressive marginalization in favor of hardback and paperback books thereafter. This is a story that cannot be emphasized enough, and which is too often ignored by scholars who treat individual texts in isolation from these encompassing frameworks of production, distribution, and consumption. If Ashley’s history does no more than nudge sf critics towards an explicit acknowledgment of the constraining and enabling nature of these frameworks, it will have made a significant contribution to our field.—RL

Not Exactly the Right Stuff.

Jean-Noel Bassior. Space Patrol: Missions of Daring in the Name of Early Television.Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005. viii + 438 pp. $49.95 hc.

Space Patrol was one of the twenty or so sf series that flourished on US tv during the 1950s, between Captain Video and His Video Rangers (1949-55) and Men into Space (1959-60). Producer Mike Moser, inspired by Malcolm Jameson’s Captain John Bullard of Space Patrol (who appeared in six stories in Astounding Science Fiction between 1940 and 1944), developed a thirtieth-century space opera that followed the adventures of Commander Buzz Corry (Ed Kemmer), Cadet Happy (Lynn Osborn), Carol Carlisle (Virginia Hewitt), Major Robertson (Ken Mayer), and Tonga (Nina Bara) of the United Planets’ Space Patrol as they fought various terrifying threats, including the fiendish and almost endlessly resilient Prince Baccarratti (Bela Kovacs).

Space Patrol started as a fifteen-minute daily cliffhanger, first broadcast live on KECA, a Los Angeles tv station, on March 9, 1950. The daily show was distributed to other stations on kinescope and ran until June 1953 and for nearly a thousand episodes. A twice-weekly half-hour radio version was broadcast by ABC from August 1950 until the end of the year; after a seven-month hiatus it returned as a weekly show from August 1951 until March 1955. There were in total an estimated 166 radio episodes. From December 1950 until February 1955, ABC also broadcast a weekly half-hour episode on Saturday morning tv (210 episodes). There are estimated to have been 1,328 episodes in total, the majority of them live (videotape was not introduced until 1956, although a lower resolution image could be recorded on kinescopes; ABC radio began to use quarter-inch audio-tape in 1952). Each version had the same cast and crew (the radio series had its own technicians and soon its own writer), but basically the same small group of people made up to eight episodes per week for several years.

Although Space Patrol’s plots were quite simple, their staging involved frequent technical innovation (on April 28, 1953, the daily episode was the first ever 3-D tv broadcast, although only an audience of industry insiders and reporters gathered in the Biltmore had the necessary 3-D receiver). Once the weekly tv show started, it was soon estimated to attract over seven million—maybe as many as ten million—viewers, sixty percent of them adults. The radio show soon attracted a regular audience of 3.5 million through 344 ABC affiliates. A public appearance by the cast in Los Angeles as early as June 1951 attracted 30,000 fans. The cast clocked up countless public appearances and telethons and were featured not just in tv and film magazines but also in the more prestigious Look, Life, and Collier’s. The stars, Kemmer and Osborn, saw their initial $5-per-episode wage climb to $45,000 annually, putting them among the highest paid tv actors of the day (although comedian Sid Caesar earned $750,000 from tv in 1953). Sponsored for most of its five years by Ralston, and jointly by Nestlé from January 1954, Space Patrol was also a marketing triumph. Some 700,000 official Space Patrol Membership Kits were made, and Life magazine estimated its 1952 merchandising revenue at a hugely improbable $40 million. The prize for one competition (to name Planet X, a planet 5000 times the size of Earth and located a billion miles beyond Pluto, brought there from another dimension by Baccarratti) was an eight-ton, 35-foot long replica of Commander Corry’s rocketship Terra IV, its interior modelled as a clubhouse (the winner, who came up with the name Caesaria, preferred Captain Video). Those are the facts, more or less, although it takes a painstaking sifting of Bassior’s book to extract them (four appendices detail the merchandising items and the models and miniature sets built for the tv show, and provide episode guides for the weekly tv and radio shows). In one sense, that is the extent of this volume’s usefulness, contributing little that cannot be gleaned from Patrick Lucanio and Gary Coville’s American Science Fiction Television Series of the 1950s (1998) and such websites as Roaring Rockets (<>) and Solar Guard Academy (<>). This never achieves even the limited critical insight of Lucanio and Coville’s Smokin’ Rockets: The Romance of Technology in American Film, Radio and Television, 1945-62 (2002). Like these other volumes, however, it is a useful reminder that the revolution in the pages of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy was merely one of the revolutions in American sf in the 1950s. While these new magazines did much to improve literary standards and broaden the range of pulp sf, it was in comics, radio, films, and tv that sf had its biggest presence in and impact on American culture. But that is not an argument Bassior proposes. In fact, her book is without an argument. Rather, it is a labor of love, the product of twenty years’ work, and reading it often feels like bathing in a big warm cup of tea.

That it is generally more interested in the biographies of key cast and crew members than in the show itself is the key to understanding its true value for the study of sf and tv. Bassior quotes various people speaking of Commander Corry and Cadet Happy as their role models. David Gerrold, for example, said

Space Patrol embodied a courageous way of being, of challenging life, that said: You’re not going to be beat, whether you’re up against this invisible matrix thing that eats everything or you go to the limbo planet where they replace you when you fall asleep. Whatever it is, you can deal with it. And in my life, when I’ve had some major thing come up, I’ve always said “I will get through this.” It’s a way of being that was ingrained in me early on. (13)

Even more frequently evoked than this sense of a clear morality and way of living is the claim that Kemmer, Osborn, and the other regulars played themselves, that there was some peculiarly precise merging of actor and character. Bassior sometimes seems to believe this, at times insisting on the importance of the male cast and crew members’ wartime experiences to their roles as heroes or seat-of-the-pants technicians. Yet at other times she attributes it to the naïveté of tv’s first generation (and “simpler times” more generally). But she is probably closer to the mark when she talks of the sheer newness of the medium and of the greater sense of immediacy live broadcasting evoked. This yearning for immediacy even leads the author to believe she is being guided in her quest by the ghost of Osborn, who died not long after Space Patrol was cancelled. Whatever the inadequacies of the book she has produced, that Bassior does not seem to have ever quite overcome either of these traumatic childhood losses—of a beloved tv show and the actor who not merely played but was her favorite character—is indicative of a vast affective dimension to the experience of both sf and tv, still largely uncharted.—Mark Bould, University of the West of England

The Medium Is the Monster.

Joshua David Bellin. Framing Monsters: Fantasy Film and Social Alienation. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2005. xii + 240 pp. $60 hc; $30.00 pbk.

The thesis of Joshua David Bellin’s new study of fantasy films, Framing Monsters, can be succinctly stated: “If fantasy films lend unreal visual propositions the appearance of the real, in so doing they validate unreal social propositions” (139, emphasis in original). In other words, Bellin believes that fantasy films, which in this text include everything from make-believe Sinbad adventures to conventional sf films such as Jurassic Park (1993), both reinforce and undercut the audience’s real-world prejudices and preconceptions. His Introduction claims that critics generally try to remove film from its social context (e.g., through psychological analyses, director-intention analyses, audience-response analyses, etc.), allowing them to separate what they love from what they hate in a film. But Bellin points out that love and hate usually “feed” each other, and thus “fantasy films frame social reality”; that is, they create as well as reflect the hates and prejudices of their societies (9).

Bellin’s first chapter, “Killing the Beast,” shows this process at work in King Kong (1933). In particular, he demonstrates how “Kong provides racism an authority deriving from resistance to critical scrutiny” (23). The giant ape becomes the black man who, as punishment for abducting the white princess, is lifted up and then thrown down in a simulated lynching, with the film audience like the town populace watching in horrid fascination an event that does not require personal intervention: “The viewer of Kong experiences the satisfaction of racial victory without needing to reckon its costs” (42). Bellin notes how the film’s director (Merian C. Cooper) and producer (Ernest B. Schoedsack) decided on impulse to portray the biplane pilots who shoot Kong down so that they could “kill the sonofabitch ourselves” (41). While this chapter contains a rather standard overview of the underlying racism in King Kong, and perhaps spends too much time on graphic descriptions of actual lynchings as evidence for points few readers need evidence for, the chapter does set up the thematic approaches and readings of disempowerment that will lead Bellin to more innovative insights later in the text.

Bellin’s second chapter examines how the 1939 fantasy film, The Wizard of Oz, did to America’s lower economic classes what Kong did to American blacks, namely use new cinematic technologies to give audiences wondrous spectacle while at the same time defining that audience as a potential “monstrous threat” to that very technology (50). Thus, the plain, black-and-white folks in Kansas can’t compete with the technicolor splendors in Oz, but they are given the first and last words about what is “really real.” Bellin argues that due to the Great Depression, “for millions of Americans the promise of technological utopia became visible as a fantasy, if not an outright deception” (67); yet if Oz the utopia is revealed as a sham, it is done so by the innovative technologies of Oz the film.

Bellin’s third chapter, entitled “Monsters from the Middle East,” uses film animator Ray Harryhausen’s three “Sinbad” productions to trace how this trilogy both portrayed and helped to construct America’s shifting political attitudes towards the peoples of the Middle and Far East. For example, the 1958 Seventh Voyage of Sinbad portrays both regions and their peoples as a “sublime, distant peril” that seem to exist “outside of history” (88). Yet by the 1974 Golden Voyage of Sinbad, the Middle East with its vast oil reserves has become a “terrible power” that constitutes an “immediate threat” (93); while the 1977 Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger offers “a sense of hopefulness” that America will someday, somehow, be rescued by a “Western adventure-hero” (99). Yet Bellin notes that even Harryhausen’s last Sinbad film, Tiger, cannot “envision a resolution ... except through further hatred and suffering” (105). While Bellin is less than convincing to this reviewer about the supposed major shifts in American political attitudes during the mere three years between the second and third Sinbad films (1974-1977), his postcolonial readings of all three film texts offer abundant new and interesting insights about the characters, the sound devices, and the details of spectacle scattered throughout this cinematic trilogy.

Bellin moves on to discuss “Dragon Ladies: Fantasy Film and ‘Family Values.’” He sees films such as Species (1995), Aliens (1986), and Jurassic Park (1993) as providing a “space” where the cultural issues of the late 1970s through the mid-1990s concerning family values could be “contested” (118). Thus, in Species, the “monstrous woman herself” is “simply a brute fact that must be dealt with by men” (122), whereas Aliens depicts “male characters who are almost without exception stooges, suckers, or pushovers for the monstrous woman” (123), namely the “good and bad mothers [Ripley and the Alien Queen] who fight to ensure their offspring’s survival” (124). For Bellin, the three Jurassic Park films (1993, 1997, 2001) ultimately depict “the creation or restoration of father-centered families” (127), on the surface seeming to endorse conservative images of the traditional family. But Bellin again points out that underlying each such apparent endorsement are the subversive elements inherent in the form of the fantasy film. For example, he notes that Jurassic Park seems “an unlikely candidate for the family-values pantheon. For the children in the film are threatened, debased, and humiliated with a gusto that passes well beyond the gratuitous into the gleeful” (136). Bellin’s fourth chapter ends with a detailed analysis of the “eye imagery” in all of these films to further his thesis of audience as non-intervening but nevertheless acted-upon spectators. Bellin concludes by quoting W.J.T. Mitchell about the “hypocrisy” underlying all of the Dragon Lady films: “a family cannot be brought together by a film that is too violent for the children in it to see” (136).

Bellin’s fifth and sixth chapters offer a similar set of dichotomies between content and form, the fifth covering depictions of “mental illness” in films such as The Cell (2000) and 12 Monkeys (1995), while the sixth looks at films about “physical disabilities,” from Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) to the more recent Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Edward Scissorhands (1990). This latter class of films in particular, because of its “metacinematic nature [that] calls attention to its audience’s viewing” (166), has the potential to “overturn the paradigm,” but Bellin concludes that most “freak films” are not “powerful enough” in this regard to overthrow film’s basic “alienating tradition” (168). Thus, fantasy films about those with mental illnesses or physical deformities, Bellin concludes, “participate in the process of demonizing and ostracizing the monstrous ‘outsider’” (139). Again, Bellin’s various sociological comparisons and readings serve to highlight numerous cinematic details and techniques usually overlooked or considered mere appendages to these films’ speculative goals.

Bellin ends his study with a five-page Conclusion that expresses “disappointment” with the recent Star Wars (2001), Jurassic Park (2002), and Lord of the Rings (2003) productions, whose expressed values seem little “better than the society that spawned them” (199). Yet other works—in particular for Bellin the 2000 film X-Men—seem to offer at least some hope for a type of fantasy film that can directly confront and thus “re-frame” existing social prejudices, even though most of these films eventually succumb to the same “alienating tradition from which they derive” (197).

As might be expected from the author of The Demon of the Continent: Indians and the Shaping of American Literature (2001), Bellin’s roughly 450 Works Cited entries include many sociological/postcolonial film and literary studies. But his bibliography also contains most of the traditionally important critical works on sf and fantasy film from Langer and Sontag to Sobchack and Haraway, as well as a number of apparently useful recent studies by Cheu, Fulton, and others. Bellin’s insights are grounded in a thorough knowledge of the field, and they highlight cinematic details and techniques, as well as sociological connections, that most film audiences have probably overlooked. Framing Monsters belongs in our libraries.—Adam J. Frisch, Briar Cliff University


Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The Coming Race. Ed. David Seed. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2005. liii + 218 pp. $34.95 hc.

Outside the universities, Bulwer-Lytton is best known as the inspiration for a contest to compose the worst possible first sentence for a novel; his own opening to Paul Clifford (1830) is featured in Snoopy’s recurring efforts to write fiction: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Victorian scholars must pay attention to him as a prolific writer who reflected the time’s intellectual fluctuations. Students of fantastic literature may be familiar with his semi-rationalized horror story “The Haunted and the Haunters” (1859), perhaps also with his novel Zanoni (1842). And science fiction academics probably have at least heard of this 1871 novel, The Coming Race, which the present admirable edition makes accessible for careful reading.

Casual readers are apt to be disappointed. This is a book about ideas, not character, or even action; and all the ideas must be absorbed through Bulwer-Lytton’s plodding prose. When he grapples with issues that still feel relevant, the writing seems relatively spritely; otherwise, it’s heavy slogging. Shortly after the narrator falls into a vast subterranean world, he encounters a being that terrifies him not because it is monstrous but because it is superhuman: “The face was beardless: but a nameless something in the aspect, tranquil though the expression, and beauteous though the features, roused that instinct of danger which the sight of a tiger or serpent arouses. I felt that this manlike image was endowed with forces inimical to man” (12). The rest of the book discusses different aspects of this new race, the Vril-ya, to see how its members are superior to ordinary humans.

The difference is not simply that these human descendants have built a superior society in the caves that honeycomb Earth. If that were true, readers might expect that the narrator’s observations would lead to social/technological lessons that could be applied outside the book. That’s not possible. The Vril-ya may originally have been primitive humans before their contact with the surface world was cut off; since then, however, they have evolved partly in response to their life underground but much more so because they have discovered the existence of Vril—a spiritual, electric, etheric fluid that permeates their surroundings. The narrator, being merely human, cannot understand what Vril is or how to use it. But the Vril-ya now have an inborn ability to manipulate this mysterious substance so that they can fly on artificial wings, set in motion hoards of manlike automata that do all drudgery, and blast or incinerate anything that bothers them. Everyone is equally powerful. No one is in want, and no one can be compelled to do anything unwillingly. The result, as Robert A. Heinlein would have predicted, is that this well-armed society is a very polite society. Over the generations, thus, they have evolved away from raw emotion. Art and literature have withered, since the Vril-ya have no frustrations to work out vicariously. The very concept of passionate violence is foreign to them, although children—especially females, since they are naturally fiercer than males (38)—are encouraged to use their Vril-wands to destroy potentially dangerous animals.

Contemplating the Vril-ya, the narrator vacillates between cowering dread and swaggering dreams of what he could do if he could control Vril. He is, after all, an American, one of those swaggering braggarts who looked like a fading literary cliché until our current administration validated the image. Even early in the book, while supposedly intimidated by his new hosts, he rhapsodizes about America’s future, “when the flag of freedom should float over an entire continent, and two hundred millions of intelligent citizens, accustomed from infancy to the daily use of revolvers, should supply to a cowering universe the doctrine of the Patriot Monroe” (25). He goes much farther in later daydreams. The reason he can play with violent fantasies using Vril is that he is unaccountably attractive to Zee, the daughter of his Vril-ya host, and also has caught the eye of the chief magistrate’s daughter; among the Vril-ya, females take the lead in courtship, though they bow to their mate’s desires after marriage. This section of the book actually is quite lively, as Bulwer-Lytton cleverly shows the narrator behaving like a shy maiden while being wooed by the physically and intellectually towering Zee. Despite his vainglorious imagination, he is worried that the authorities will recognize that his hopeless inferiority would degrade their community and consequently will reduce him to a cinder. None of this dampens Zee’s ardor, and modern readers may wonder why she doesn’t just sweep him up in her powerful, Vril-charged arms and kiss his virgin fears away. Instead, she blasts a passage through the rock so that he can return home and share this account of his experience.

In doing so, the narrator never judges the Vril-ya as evil. They are simply aliens, dangerous because their way of thinking is incompatible with ours; they have the power to destroy us if they consider us more than curious pets. Just as the narrator instinctively recoils at his first sight of one Vril-ya, comparing it to seeing a tiger or a serpent, so the combined Vril-ya might consider us as potentially dangerous animals. The narrator tentatively builds an analogy with Native Americans surviving among the European settlers, then remembers how that worked out. Just before Zee helps him escape, he catches the eye of the chief magistrate, whose daughter he has fascinated, and is struck by the same dread he felt earlier: “On that brow, in those eyes, there was that same indefinable something which marked the being of a race fatal to our own—that strange expression of serene exemption from our common cares and passions, of conscious superior power, compassionate and inflexible as that of a judge who pronounces doom” (138). Bulwer-Lytton’s presentation of the narrator makes that negative judgment inevitable. The present participle in the book’s title emphasizes the certainty that the time of our race is over now.
In this horrified fascination with the passing of humanity-as-we-know-it, Bulwer-Lytton may anticipate the attitude of H.G. Wells. David Seed’s introduction lists several similarities between The Coming Race and The Time Machine (1895). Wells is by far the better novelist, with a much better sense of how to work ideas smoothly into a story; but he shares Bulwer-Lytton’s fascination with the serenely impersonal process by which one race replaces another, no matter what members of the outmoded race may wish.

There are, then, important reasons for reading The Coming Race. Wesleyan has done an excellent job of presenting the book. Production values are first rate. Seed’s editorial work is also valuable, including full textual notes and a brief biography of Bulwer-Lytton. His introduction is occasionally clotted with ideas that could have been explained and related more fully. He seems to have read everything possible by/about Bulwer-Lytton, and he sometimes seems to imagine that his readers have done the same, so perhaps the piece should be read after rather than before Bulwer-Lytton’s work itself. In all, though, this book is a model for sf scholarship.—Joe Sanders, Blissfully Retired

Theories from Elsewhere.

Donna Haraway. The Haraway Reader. New York: Routledge, 2004. viii + 352 pp. $27.95 pbk.

From technophobes and phallocrats to posthuman postfeminist cyborgs and clones, the alien terrains of Haraway’s theoretical journeys are populated with wondrous aliens, daring collective-action protagonists, maddening scientists, and unwitting dupes to the patriarchal system; the latter group, we quickly come to realize, usually includes ourselves. Even her cross-species companions (the less enlightened term being “dogs”) have a critical role to play in the infiltration of the omnipresent reality-constructing narratives of the biological sciences. Continually navigating the demilitarized zone between science and culture, Haraway always seems to locate what philosopher Michel Serres terms that “rare and narrow passage” between the hard sciences and the sciences of “man” where cultural critique prospers (Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy, ed. Josué V. Harari and David F. Bell [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1982], 18).

Haraway’s playfully erotic and ironic titles set the stage and standard for what might be called “(self-)reflective/slash theory.” Included in the current volume are a vast array of Haraway’s most influential and intriguing works. The Haraway Reader begins with the foundational, and often cited, “Manifesto for Cyborgs” (1985, rev. 1991) where she laid the foundation for a (post-) feminist (post-) human; and capping off the collection is an interview conducted in two parts by Nina Lykke, Randy Markussen, and Finn Olsean playfully entitled “Cyborgs, Coyotes, and Dogs: A Kinship of Feminist Figurations and There Are Always More Things Going on Than You Thought! Methodologies as Thinking Technologies” (2004).

These two very different, yet strangely similar, discourses on the posthuman frame a fantastic collection of essays that explores the range and depth of Haraway’s intellectual journey through postmodernism and postmodern science. “Ecce Homo, Ain’t (Ar’n’t) I a Woman, and Inappropriate/d Others: The Human in a Posthuman Landscape” (1992), “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others” (1992), and “Otherworldly Conversations; Terran Topics; Local Terms” (1995): each of Haraway’s writings in its own way interrogates transgressive subjectivities within the dominant framework of oppressive patriarchy and the ability of individuals and collectives to create (or discover) fresh ground from which to speak. Two essays directly address the anthropomorphic essentialism of zoology and genetics via forays through the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the impulses of primate studies: “Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-1936” (1984-1985) and “Morphing in the Order: Flexible Strategies, Feminist Science Studies, and Primate Revisions” (2000). The remaining selections—entitled “Race: Universal Donors in a Vampire Culture: It’s All in the Family: Biological Kinship Categories in the Twentieth-Century United States” (1995; “Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium” (1999); and “Cyborgs to Companion Species: Reconfiguring Kinship in Technoscience” (2004)—further expand the potential for posthuman and postgender transfigurations. (Haraway later rejects the term “postgender” in “Cyborgs, Coyotes, and Dogs.”)

Haraway’s almost alien use of language not only defies traditional summary, but also belies the conflicting impulses of the scientist, the philosopher, the linguist, and the feminist, to name a very few of the discourses that she actively disassembles and reinvents in new configurations. She channels her theoretical journeys to Elsewhere and back for the reader so that we travel with her through potentialities of subjectivity that create the context for a grand out-of-body experience, where our vision is turned back on the made-world, re-made now unfamiliar and strange through altered perspective.

As Michel Foucault’s reading of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon has dominated his other critical concerns, so has Haraway’s feminist cyborg become the 300-pound gorilla of technology-based posthumanism in sf criticism. This is not to question the merits or importance of “Manifesto for Cyborgs.” In fact, as all the references to her essay suggest, Haraway’s cyborg is a natural match for sf criticism and theory, since it draws deeply from the wellspring of both science theory and prospective fiction. It is unfortunate, however, that Haraway’s other trains of thought are currently under-represented in sf studies when the potential application of her full body of work demonstrates great promise for interpretations of sf both as the proponent of particular scientific discourses and as culturally transgressive narratives. Her ironic engagement with science and fiction opens the door for myriad critiques of these as mutually supporting myth-making enterprises. Haraway’s work—particularly as collected and presented in this volume—is at the very thin edge of the razor where so-called “fact” and “fiction” meet. In fact, her most common argument in the essays included in this volume is that the narratives of science are fictions. The very best of science fiction (she most often refers to authors such as Vonda McIntyre and Octavia Butler) does not simply propagate science theory but, rather, speaks to the nature of science as a grand phallocratic nightmare of our culture and an all-inclusive oppressive force in need of critique. Haraway’s continually developing thought is a wonderfully noisy repository for future sf criticism, and through her re-vision we become our own revealing multi-faceted mirror.

The best theorists, whether they look forward or back, have always served as fertile soil for the creative writer, and Haraway is arguably the best theorist of the biological sciences and certainly the most consistently radical and far- seeing. It would not be inappropriate to refer to Haraway as a science-fiction writer; nor, I think, would she be offended by the title. Take, for instance, a typical phrase from “Otherworldly Conversations”: “They had enough problems with all those heavy metals and organic solvents in those lakes without having to take sides in our ideological struggles too. Forced to live in our ethno-specific constructions of nature, the birds could ill afford the luxury of getting embroiled in what counts as natural for the nearby community” (129). Or consider this passage from “Modest_Witness”: “Time and space organize each other in variable relationships that show any claim to totality, be it the New World Order, Inc., the Second-Millennium, or the modern world, to be an ideological gambit linked to struggles to impose bodily/spatial/temporal organizations” (241). At every turn the manifestations of her alien/ating language reveal our bodies, our world, and our universe to be a construction of narrative.

This volume is not only the best possible introduction to the depth of Haraway’s influential work, but also an homage to the breadth and permeability of her “elsewhere” into everyday life. Hers is a living viral text that permeates and inhabits every body it meets. For the reader coming fresh to Haraway’s against-the-grain journey through the post-enlightenment world, consider The Haraway Reader the essential introduction to the most representative texts astutely chosen both for their past influence and their ongoing impact on cultural studies.—C. Jason Smith, The City University of New York-LaGuardia College

Channel Surfing in Space.

Jan Johnson-Smith. American Science Fiction TV: Star Trek, Stargate, and Beyond. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2005. ix + 308 pp. $22.95 pbk.

Jan Johnson-Smith’s American Science Fiction TV is described on its book jacket as an exploration of science fiction tv and the American psyche that “shows how science fiction television has displaced the Western in the American cultural imagination.” The book is organized into two parts. The introductory section provides the context for Johnson-Smith’s arguments and is composed of chapters providing background on science fiction in general, the mythology of the American West, and the specifics of television as a medium. The second section of the book is organized around four case studies: of Star Trek (all four series, ranging from 1966 to 2005), Space: Above and Beyond (1995-1996), Farscape (1999-2003), and Babylon 5 (1994-1998). This book demonstrates a thorough understanding and review of the major positions on the specificity of science fiction as a mode (Suvin, Scholes, Delany) and a very thorough familiarity with American sf tv of the past 20 years (in addition to the case studies listed above, the book also refers in passing to many other series, including Stargate SG-1 [1997-], referenced in the title but not given a specific case study chapter). Despite its strengths, however, American Science Fiction TV will disappoint serious scholars, who will be frustrated by the limitations of this volume, particularly its lack of overall argument and the inconsistencies in the text’s organization (on which more below). Overall, this book is a competent introduction to recent American science fiction television, but it is best suited to teaching at the undergraduate level and does little to advance serious scholarship in the field.

Johnson-Smith brings two main theoretical systems to her analysis of the television programs she surveys. First, she discusses the specificity of science fiction discourse. Thus, she posits in early chapters a definition of science fiction as a genre familiar to readers of Suvin’s Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (1979) and Delany’s The Jewel-Hinged Jaw (1977), a definition that emphasizes the interaction of cognition and estrangement, that foregrounds the importance of the novum, and that sees science fiction as operating in a specific mode of subjunctivity in which words create meaning beyond the mundane. The second hermeneutic system that Johnson-Smith uses to position her work is John Thornton Caldwell’s theory of the televisual, outlined in Televisuality: Style, Crisis and Authorship in American Television (1995). Caldwell charts a significant shift in how television was produced and distributed from the 1980s until the present, emphasizing the consequences of the shift from broadcasting to the “narrowcasting” of specialty channels and the changes in the technology of television production that have resulted in a shift away from an emphasis on exposition and narrative toward an emphasis on the visual. Because she wants to position her work within this context of televisuality, Johnson-Smith focuses on sf television series from the mid 1980s onward, although she occasionally makes reference to earlier series in order to provide a context for her discussion. The major exception to this focus on post-1980s science fiction is the chapter on Star Trek, which discusses the entire series in recognition of Roddenberry’s vision, although the focus remains on The Next Generation (1987-1994) and beyond.

Both the book jacket description and the title of the second introductory chapter (“Histories: The American West, Television, and Televisuality”) stress that the uniqueness of Johnson-Smith’s argument lies in her overview of a number of American science fiction television programs in the context of the Western frontier myth. This emphasis on Western myth is not carried through in the case studies, however. I am not necessarily suggesting that this would be a better book if it did focus more directly on the Western but rather am commenting on the degree to which its marketing is misleading. Still, had the book focused more on Western myth as it claimed, it might have made stronger arguments regarding the specificity of American science fiction television. As it stands, while the book does have some interesting things to say about the television programs it discusses, none of its arguments distinguishes its case studies from what might be said about British science fiction television; in fact, Doctor Who (the original series, 1963-1989) is discussed in passing. Thus, the book fails in my view to provide any basis for understanding how American science fiction television differs from any other science fiction television.
It is during the discussion of Star Trek—not surprisingly—that Johnson-Smith devotes most attention to the importance of the Western as a structuring myth (especially for the original series), but the level of analysis is unfortunately quite weak. For example, in a discussion of how race is treated in the Star Trek universe, Johnson-Smith notes that despite the series’ obvious attempts to represent racial diversity without falling into stereotypical caricatures, the “one ethnic background by which Star Trek is rendered utterly bewildered” (84) is that of Native Americans. Johnson-Smith goes on to provide some analysis of how the Voyager series (1995-2001) attempted to address this lacuna with the character of Chakotay, but also notes that too often when Chakotay’s heritage becomes the focus of an episode, his characterization falls into the shallow stereotype of the “noble and enigmatic warrior” (85). There is no analysis linking this particular difficulty in representing Native Americans to the overall Western structure of the series, a surprising gap given the book’s supposed focus. The book has some discussion in passing of Firefly (2002) as obviously playing with the Western narrative form, but no mention of other obvious parallels such as Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979).

The background about what science fiction is and how science fiction works as a narrative discourse is not appropriately developed in the second half of the book. Situated somewhere between theories about the literary specificity of sf and the visual specificity of post-1980s television, the book makes little attempt to provide any sort of analysis of the interactions and tensions between these two ways of thinking about science fiction television. There is also little analysis of the degree to which one might use theories of science fiction derived from literary examples for the study of television science fiction. These gaps in the analysis mean that, while the book provides a broad overview of the context in which a discussion of such issues should take place (hence its possible use as a teaching text), it offers little itself by way of argument and conclusion about these questions. Furthermore, despite the discussion of the new context of televisuality and the concomitant changes that have to do with the rise of specialty, digital channels, the programs investigated in the book are all broadcast on network television in the United States, rather than developed and distributed by the Sci-Fi Channel, an important site for analysis on this topic. Even among the programs chosen, more rationale should be provided for how shows are chosen as the focus of specific chapters. Star Trek and Babylon 5 seem obvious given their importance, but it is unclear why Space: Above and Beyond (which ran for a single season) is given prominence over something such as Stargate (significantly, a Sci-Fi Channel program that is discussed but not made a case study).

Part of the problem with the book’s organization is that there seem to be two different systems at work in the selection of texts and the structure of the case study section. The chapters on Space: Above and Beyond and Farscape are organized, respectively, around military ideology and science, and around wormholes and other time and space distortions. The chapters on Star Trek and on Babylon 5, however, are organized around the series themselves rather than around recurring motifs in science fiction television. The result is that the case study section is uneven, sometimes considering texts within a broader framework of science fiction television in general, and sometimes considering series as the particular visions of individual creators. Both approaches are valid ways of discussing sf television—as an ideology and as a set of representational practices—but the book would be improved by making clear that these are separate approaches emphasizing different aspects of sf television. This inconsistency in organization is matched by a failure to take up similar categories and ideas within each chapter (categories that would highlight the issues about language, televisuality, and Western myth introduced in the opening sections) and thus further contributes to the lack of focus. Despite some moments of quite interesting analysis in each of the case study chapters, one never gets the sense that the book is building on earlier material toward some thesis about American sf television. There is some attempt in each chapter to talk about the visual specificity of various programs and to relate these visual innovations to the estranging effect of science fiction, one that television science fiction accomplishes through image rather than through language. Such arguments are not sufficiently sustained, however, and the discussions in individual chapters are not adequately connected to one another. The book does excel at providing plot summary of many episodes of various programs, giving one a sense of the typical themes and motifs that characterize each program; but the emphasis is too much on narrative and not enough on interpretation.

The strongest chapter is on Babylon 5 and this seems to be because its unique narrative structure—it was planned in advance as a five-year closed-story arc—allows Johnson-Smith to talk about what really interests her, which is less American sf televison’s relationship to televisuality and more its relationship to narrative form. She argues early in the introductory sections of the book that there is a tension between television’s desire for a familiar setting and episodic structure and the demands of science fiction to create imaginary worlds that estrange and challenge our taken-for-granted perceptions. Given this tension, the sort of science fiction television likely to work best never allows its premises to become routine; it emphasizes new settings and new storylines in each episode. If one begins with these assumptions, then Babylon 5 becomes a particularly interesting television program because its season-long story arcs risk allowing the viewer to become too comfortable with the world of the series and thus lose the estranging effect that makes the program science fiction. In her discussion of the various visual ways that Babylon 5 was able to balance the demands of estrangement and familiarity (changing characters’ appearances, changing the opening sequence, expanding the range of settings, etc.), Johnson-Smith draws most effectively on the material provided in her introductory chapters about televisuality and science fiction.

Despite its thorough knowledge of the television programs it discusses and a meticulous recounting of their major storylines and common thematic motifs, American Science Fiction TV does not really increase our understanding of these programs or the genre as a whole. This work is strong on plot summary and background review, but weak on presenting any arguments about its object of investigation, most pertinently about what is characteristic of American science fiction television.—Sherryl Vint, St. Francis Xavier University

Speaking of Writers.

Carl Freedman, ed. Conversations with Isaac Asimov. Literary Conversations Series. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2005. xxvi + 170 pp. $50 hc; $20 pbk.

Steven L. Aggelis, ed. Conversations with Ray Bradbury. Literary Conversations Series. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2004. xxxvi + 208 pp. $48 hc; $20 pbk.

Jayme Lynn Blaschke. Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak. Bison Frontiers of the Imagination. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2005. 194 pp. $14.95 pbk.

The University Press of Mississippi’s Literary Conversation Series is one of the most innovative ideas to hit literary criticism since someone got the idea to slice scrolls up into sheets and bind them with calfskin. A casebook is a casebook is a casebook, but instead of secondary literature, this series collects actual interviews conducted with the featured author over the years, along with other “conversational” artifacts: the occasional transcribed tape recording from a conference, articles from glossy literary mags that consist mostly of the author commenting on his own work, and perhaps a transcription from a television or radio appearance.

At latest count, the series includes over one hundred titles, including books on Jim Harrison, Robert Penn Warren, Erica Jong, and Gloria Naylor, to name a prominent few. Two of the most recent additions happen to be giants in the field of sf and fantasy, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. The result in both cases, as with the many other titles, is not only an excellent critical resource, but an eminently enjoyable visit with the person behind the literature.
In the case of Asimov, the conversation adds a soft sepia tone to the enduring image of the polymath, expert-on-everything, nerdy ex-professor who revolutionized sf and distinguished himself, according to his epigone Carl Sagan, as the world’s foremost explainer. The various interviews here remind us that Asimov not only had probably the most rigorous work ethic since Voltaire (Asimov essentially wrote or edited one book every two months from the time he was 24 until he died), but that he was also incredibly adept at the art of explicating convoluted subjects and making it all seem conversational. And though Asimov was famous for locking himself in his office and chaining himself to his typewriter, it seems that those who were fortunate or clever enough to get him to surface for an interview found their quarry pleasant, engaging, articulate, and witty.

As an intellectual exercise, however, the interview commonly suffers from a lack of finesse on the part of the interviewer. This is especially the case in this text with James Gunn, for example, whose 1982 interview reveals an immense amount about James Gunn and relatively little about Asimov. I didn’t do a close word count, but it seems clear that Gunn was determined to come out ahead: more than one of his “questions” takes more than a solid page to articulate.

On the other hand, we also have in this text Bill Moyers’s interview with Asimov from The Humanist (1989), which demonstrates the provocative possibilities of the interview in the hands of a humble veteran: not one of Moyers’s questions exceeds six lines in length, and most of his queries are artfully posed in less than a dozen words. More importantly, Moyers understands that the point of an interview with Asimov should be to allow Asimov to do what he does much better than what the less discerning Gunn would apparently prefer to do himself: explain.

One other highlight among the many Asimov interviews in this compendium is Pat Stone’s 1980 interview for Mother Earth News. Like Moyers, Stone asks simple, open-ended questions that provide Asimov plenty of room to maneuver, and the reward for the reader is not only a glimpse into the working mind of a genius, but some compelling bon mots and insights about the pedagogy of teaching science. In fact, Asimov argues that it is incumbent upon the scientist to explain himself to the nonscientist, lest we allow “scientists to become a priesthood” (60).

As bright as the Asimov volume is, Steven Aggelis’s volume on Ray Bradbury outshines it. For one thing, Aggelis offers a better introduction than Freedman, not only giving us a more comprehensive timeline of Bradbury’s accomplishments but a more comprehensive and literary survey of his subject. Perhaps Aggelis faced an easier task: Bradbury liked being interviewed, and as of 2002, had logged over 335 of them. Aggelis judiciously chooses the most revealing of these, and what results is a truly marvelous conversational overview of one of the literary giants of the twentieth century.

Aggelis’s task may have been inherently easier also because—let’s face it—Bradbury may not be as prolific, but he is simply the more literary figure. He has never claimed to be a scientist, or an sf writer, and in fact has said that he didn’t want to know about science. He claims to be a writer of fantasy rather than sf, saying that the difference is that sf deals with what can happen, whereas fantasy deals with what cannot happen. (Incidentally, Earl Ingersoll conducted an interview with Asimov in 1976 for Science Fiction Studies, included in the volume above, in which Asimov offered one of the most streamlined definitions of sf since Gernsback coined the term “scientifiction.” According to Asimov, sf “is the branch of literature which deals with response of human beings to changes in the level of science and technology” [22]).

Asimov may have excelled at lucid explanation in his non-fiction, but his fiction was noted more for its compelling ideas than its luminous prose. Bradbury transcended the subcategory of sf and his work has earned at least a minor place in the canon of great twentieth-century literature, regardless of genre. And while Bradbury may have been il miglior fabbro when it came to linguistic creativity and versatility of style, Freedman goes too far in his introduction to the Asimov volume when he declares that Asimov’s fiction looks “callow and primitive” next to that of Le Guin, Russ, and Delany (ix).

Relative literary merits aside, Asimov and Bradbury both possessed a flair for philosophy as well as a natural sociological proclivity, and the interviews in both these collections reveal some interesting commentary on real-time problems. Asimov frequently draws attention to the urgency of overpopulation and its connection to world conflict, for example, while Bradbury repeatedly cites the critical importance of education. As an English professor who routinely teaches composition, I am gratified to hear Bradbury articulate a truth that most of the academic world has apparently overlooked: “the only way you can learn to think is by knowing how to write” (xii). This sentiment permeates many of the interviews, and by the time readers reach Rob Couteau’s 1990 conversation with Bradbury for Paris Voice two-thirds of the way into the book, it should strike them as a grave irony that a writer of fantasy should have to point out that most of our modern problems would be solved more effectively by education than by fecklessly throwing tax money at the issue. “If we don’t teach reading and writing we lose the generation and we lose our civilization. It has nothing to do with money. It has to do with the will to teach” (138). It is an old complaint, to be sure, but one not less urgent for being perennial.

The odd book out in this trio of interview anthologies is Jayme Lynn Blaschke’s Voices of Vision. The premise here is a pleasant inversion of the Mississippi formula: instead of a collection of conversations with one author conducted by a whole slate of different interviewers, this book offers a collection of interviews with a number of different authors conducted by one interviewer—Blaschke himself. While most of the personalities interviewed here are relatively new to sf or fantasy—e.g., Megan Lindholm (Robin Hobb), Patricia Anthony, Charles de Lint, Elizabeth Moon, Elliot S! Maggin—several others are revered legends in those genres: this anthology also features conversations with Samuel R. Delany, Harlan Ellison, and Jack Williamson.
I run the risk of identifying myself as an old fogy by confessing that I have trouble respecting web-based articles and stories, even though I realize that therein lies the future, and the trees may thank us for it. In the meantime, however, the internet perhaps makes it too easy for the already insular world of sf to isolate itself as an industry for recycling its own products. Perhaps I can best illustrate what I am getting at by offering some facts for readers to compare: The interviews in the Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov volumes originally appeared in publications such as The Humanist, Mother Earth News, Phalanx, Christian Science Monitor, Paris Voice, Playboy, New York Times Book Review, and Science Fiction Studies. Most of Blaschke’s interviews, on the other hand, come to us from such places as,, the Unofficial Green Arrow Fansite (which Blaschke himself started), and (where Blaschke now happens to be the editor).

Certainly the results have to be evaluated on their own merits, and some of these interviews provide fascinating and revealing portraits of their subjects—the Harlan Ellison interview especially gleams. Blaschke can guide a sharp interview without honing his own blade. He is a kindlier, gentler Ted Koppel—keeping the interview on target, but he is more diplomatic and polite in his refusal to fawn over fame. He asks the appropriate questions of these sf craftspersons, and their devotees will thank him.

On the other hand, his introductions occasionally sound like the guy at the party who insists on detailing for you the dream he had the night before: most personal trivia is, well, trivial, and readers interested in comic book creator Elliot S! Maggin, for example, may not care to be regaled with Blaschke’s account of how Blaschke himself erected the Green Arrow Fansite. And sometimes his personal anecdotes are perhaps a shade more suggestive than he intends: “so considerate was [Robin] Hobb that she apologized to the con suite staff for imposing when we ducked into the adjacent bedroom to find some relative quiet in which to have our talk. She was definitely a pleasure to work with, any way you look at it” (55).

Broadly speaking, all three of these volumes are worth having. Transcribed interviews are perhaps the closest we can come to catching writers in flagrante delicto, and when it comes to such compelling personages as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Harlan Ellison, these literary conversations offer us glimpses of how these writers approach the world, their work, and other people in a way less mediated than the literary-critical study. At the same time, a well-conducted conversation is dialectic in its purest form, as Socrates first demonstrated. Each one of these collections furnishes examples of the power of a well-framed question and the wealth of wisdom that a seasoned writer will deliver in response to a sufficiently provocative query. Famous writers tend toward the same topics of conversation that we ordinary mortals do, and we may be delighted to find ourselves privy to their casual opinions.
Let us hope that the University of Nebraska produces other books in the vein of Voices of Vision, and that the University of Mississippi continues to add volumes to its praiseworthy Literary Conversations series.—Aaron Parrett, University of Great Falls


Aaron Parrett. The Translunar Narrative in the Western Tradition.Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004. vii + 140pp. $79.95 hc.

We seem to be heading for the moon again. As I write this, another successful Chinese launch into near space means that the moon is on the agenda. Aaron Parrett’s study (a return to the territory of Marjorie Nicholson’s 1948 Voyages to the Moon) comes at a time, therefore, when we may be asking ourselves what the idea of a moon voyage actually means.

Parrett begins by alienating a good proportion of his potential audience in his introduction. “[W]ith a few exceptions,” he writes, “I shall not include works belonging to the genre of what is broadly classified as ‘Science Fiction’” (7). The sf reader snorts with indignation, because of course sf is precisely the literature that deals with ideas like translunar travel (does he really mean trans?). And certainly it is impossible to consider what this vision meant in the twentieth century without considering Heinlein’s The Man Who Sold the Moon (1950) or Clarke’s “Sentinel” (1951/1953), or the latter’s Prelude to Space (1951). And Parrett’s explanation that this is because “scholars” (which?) often consider sf to be of poor literary merit (does he agree? has he checked this out?) and because science fiction experts often disagree among themselves about what sf is, so many of the works he discusses are probably sf anyway—well, it doesn’t really wash.

However, once we’ve vented bile and read on, we can examine the question “what does it mean to want to go to the moon?” in a more studied light. While asked and answered in sf-as-we-know-it, it’s frequently discussed within a discourse that assumes that space travel and planetary colonization are good things in themselves. It may be more interesting to ask how this discourse evolves outside sf and to consider, as Parrett does, how the moon voyage is a vast cultural project, like the building of European cathedrals in the Middle Ages that somehow became storied into existence.

This parallel narrative starts, though, in the same place as the entry “Moon” in Clute and Nicholls’s Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993), with Lucian of Samosata’s second-century True History. The plays on words in Lucian’s title —what do we mean by “true” or “history”? — “make different appeals to verisimilitude” (16) and establish the resonance that plays throughout Parrett’s book. Parrett stresses the scientific content of these early romances, noting, for example, Plutarch’s “On the Face Appearing in the Orb of the Moon” as a probable source for Lucian. The means of getting Lucian’s characters to the moon were fanciful, but what they found when they got there was—Parrett suggests—within the scientific extrapolation of the time. For most of their history, though, these texts were read by most if not all their readers as ludic satire rather than thought-experiment. It is only recently that they could be seen in any way as “predictions” or “manifestos.” We read them through hindsight. Similar things happen with Dante and Ariosto in Chapter 2. Dante’s escape from the lowest sphere is a transcendent step towards a greater journey, just as, Parrett notes, the Apollo program was seen. Rather oddly, Parrett claims that “reaching for the moon” as an “anticipatory first step towards attaining the entire solar system” (26) is an “unspoken” assumption in “the Apollo narrative” (27), rather than explicit, as I believe it was. Again, Dante’s reliance upon the understanding of medieval astronomers that the planets are worlds like our own is stressed. (An amusing if inadvertent step into sf is caused by a glitch in an endnote on page 63: “the ancient Greeks ... speculated that the earth was possibly a world like ours.”) Dante discusses the question that the moon’s surface appears variegated (and therefore imperfect): fundamentally, it is an exploration of the moral universe, but his explanation is given in terms of physical bodies. There is also a brief account of Ariosto, who rather charmingly imagined the moon as a repository for lost things—from Ariosto’s wits to, no doubt, all that kipple that disappears from our offices.

Chapter 3 discusses post-Copernican speculations, using Kepler, Galileo, and the “new astronomy.” The seventeenth century produced an astonishing burst of fictions, including Bishop Godwin’s The Man in the Moone (1634) and Cyrano de Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde (1657), and we are told of the literary spat between John Donne and Kepler when Donne published anonymously in 1611 a work called Ignatius His Conclave, which prefigures in theoretical terms twentieth-century humanist attacks on the Apollo Program. Donne argues that the new, Copernican, model of the universe undermines the moral order. Curiously, one of the most important English texts of the early seventeenth century, Bishop Wilkins’s Discourse Concerning a New World (1638), is not mentioned by Parrett, apart from a brief aside in the following chapter, perhaps because it is scientific speculation rather than fiction (Wilkins is not even in the index).

Chapter 4 is where the book gets interesting, however. Russen’s Iter Lunare (1703) and Defoe’s Consolidator (1705) are Enlightenment engagements with lunar narratives. Russen, who according to Parrett seems genuinely interested in the possibility of flight, “reads Cyrano’s fanciful book with a scientist’s eye” (79). Defoe adopts the imagery of science for satire, creating what might be called hard-science allegory. Here—and I have read neither narrative but Parrett’s account makes me feel I should—we have works that explore the dynamics between science and the humanities, or even foreshadow the twentieth-century argument between sf and the mainstream. Russen is even described as “the first science fiction critic” (68), and, if Parrett’s claim that he was seriously aiming at exploring “Cyrano’s” account for its scientific plausibility is correct, Russen was either barking mad or an extremely perceptive scientist. Defoe, on the other hand, is developing extremely complex scientific and technological metaphors purely to satirize the application of scientific method to human affairs.

Satire is still at the heart of the succeeding century’s moon narratives, even as they move further towards that same imaginary space that, in the same writers, quite clearly assumed that the conquest of the air would be a matter of time. Poe, Verne, and Wells are the examples of nineteenth-century moon voyages, noted as the exemplary core of scientifiction according to Hugo Gernsback in Amazing (1926). In “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall” (1835, published with postscript 1838), Poe’s odd mix of verisimilitude and whimsy is seen as a literary joke and Parrett seems ill at ease with it, but again sees it as part of the genre’s evolution from fancy to reality. With Verne and Wells he is more able to assimilate their fictions into a growing model of a response to the moon voyage similar to C.P Snow’s “two cultures.” Verne’s De la terre à la lune (1865) is a scientifically accurate and prophetic political satire that loses its satiric edge in the excitement of the moment of description, whereas Wells’s The First Men in the Moon (1901) is a fantasia, “a critique of the translunar impulse itself” (96). Cavor’s scientific myopia versus Bedford’s imperialist lust for exploitation is a conventional enough reading, although in quoting Norman Nicholson’s 1950 book on Wells to the effect that the latter author was warning against an anti-humanist enthusiasm for science, Parrett ignores the way Wells constantly preached that a society could progress only through science and a scientific approach to social development. The difference between Wells’s novels and Verne’s “provides an entryway into the twentieth century” (101). The problem here, as with the earlier eighteenth century discussion, is that by setting up these two works as opposite wings of a tendency, Parrett overlooks the way that they were part of a spectrum. Wells was not at all the only writer in the late nineteenth century who imagined space travel. Here, as elsewhere, we get the sense of a much larger book struggling to emerge.

The biggest gap, therefore, is that between Chapters 5 and 6: the “plausible dream” and the “dream realized,” as the chapters’ sub-headings note. Chapter 5 ends with Wells. Chapter 6 begins in 1961, with Kennedy’s promise to put a human being on the moon within the next ten years. The intervening conversations between and within European and American rocketry societies and the sf magazines (often including the very same people who prepared the technical ground for the Apollo program) disappear. But by considering the response of what he calls the “literary humanists” (105), Parrett makes the very simple and salutary point that these conversations were going on elsewhere. He discusses four major works of the Apollo period: Norman Mailer’s Of a Fire on the Moon (1969), John Updike’s Rabbit Redux (1971), Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970), and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973). The last has sometimes been claimed for sf: the point is that many readers locate all four books elsewhere. Hannah Arendt’s anxieties about science are also presented as the anxieties of literary humanists concerned that the proliferation of science is something dehumanizing. Here, I think, we get two things well worth further investigation. The first is the fact that the discourse of sf-like events such as the moon landing is also part of mainstream literature and as such is often treated in very different ways than it is in sf. Parrett only hints at this: he interestingly discusses the moon as metaphor, but, despite setting up the “two cultures” framework in the previous chapters, he leaves his readers only fitfully aware of how those who took literally the possibility of The First Men in the Moon carried on the discussion. But, secondly, he explores the anxiety about Apollo: the way it seriously worried writers who saw it in the context of the wars and expansionism that had afflicted the real world, rather than as a thought-experiment about the possibility of a better world. Mailer calls the space program both noble and insane (111). Updike’s Rabbit has no emotional connection: what is happening between earth and moon is a metaphor for the sterile separation between Rabbit and his wife. Bellow’s Sammler somewhat reluctantly concludes, “I suppose we must jump off, because it is our human fate to do so” (118). Pynchon’s “Manichean” stance reflects Mailer’s ambiguity in a more directly symbolic fashion: a sense that the rocket is both positive in its promise of escape and negative in its threat of destruction.

True, Parrett doesn’t thoroughly address his assumption that there is a “tradition” of translunar narratives. But when he reaches the twentieth century, he is describing how writers are reacting to developments in the real world: the plausible hoax becomes an actual plan. This is where, I think, his refusal to address science fiction becomes fruitful and something he doesn’t need at all to excuse, because, however much science fiction deals with the realities and potential of space flight, its assumption that this is part of our future is arguably very different from mainstream’s realization that the moon can be reached. In this way, he has produced a book that moves onwards from Marjorie Nicholson’s study and becomes not just an update but a series of questions about a historical event. —Andy Sawyer, University of Liverpool

Some Essential and a Few Superfluous German SF Bibliographies.

Robert N. Bloch. Bibliographie der Utopie und Phantastik 1650-1950 im deutschen Sprachraum [Bibliography of utopias and fantasies in the German language]. Hamburg - Giessen - Friesland: Achilla Presse, 2002. 340 pp. €59.00 hc.

Hans-Peter Neumann. Die große illustrierte Bibliographie der Science Fiction in der DDR unter Mitarbeit von Ivo Gloss und Erik Simon [The great illustrated bibliography of SF in the GDR, with some help by Ivon Gloss and Erik Simon]. Berlin: Shayol Verlag, 2002. 1062 pp. €60.00 hc.

Olaf R. Spittel. Science fiction in der DDR: Bibliographie. Barnstorf (Verlag 28 Eichen, Norderstedt): Libri Books on Demand, 2000. 236 pp. €21.99 pbk.

Horst Illmer. Bibliographie Science-fiction & Fantasy: Buch-Erstausgaben 1945-1995; 50 Jahre alternative Weltentwürfe in Deutschland [First book editions 1945-1995; 50 years of alternative world designs in Germany]. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1998. 363 pp. €89.00 hc.

Nessun Saprà. Lexikon der deutschen Science Fiction & Fantasy 1870-1918. Preface by Klaus Geus. Materialien und Untersuchungen zu Utopie und Phantastik [Materials and research into utopias and fantasy]. Oberhaid: Utopica, 2005. 314 pp. €68 hc.

Detlef Münch. Die Science Fiction Erzählungen in Das Neue Universum und anderen deutschen Knabenbüchern 1880-1949 [The Science Fiction stories in Das neue Universum and other German yearbooks for boys (on the cover)]; Die Science Fiction Erzählungen und Kriegsutopien in Das Neue Universum und anderen deutschen Knabenbüchern und Periodika 1889-1949 [adds “war utopias” and “periodicals” (on title page)]. D-44201 Dortmund, Germany (P.O.Box 500163): synergen Verlag, 2004. 76 pp. + 13 reproductions in b/w. € 19.80 pbk.

Detlef Münch. Bibliographie und Rezension der deutschsprachigen Erstausgaben von Henry Rider Haggard 1887-2004 [Bibliography and Review of the German first editions of HRH]. D-44201 Dortmund, Germany (P.O.Box 500163): synergen Verlag, 2004. 100 pp. + 4 color reproductions. € 19.80 pbk.

An indispensible volume among recent German bibliographies of science fiction and fantasy is Robert N. Bloch’s Bibliographie der Utopie und Phantastik 1650-1950 im deutschen Sprachraum, a revised edition of his Bibliographie der utopischen und phantastischen Literatur 1750-1950 (1984). Its listing of relevant books in the German language hasn’t been extended beyond the year 1950 into the present, but in comparison to the earlier edition it is much enlarged, drops a number of titles that do not qualify as science fiction or fantasy, and contains a fuller description of the entries: besides the usual data of place and time of publication, the number of pages, illustrators, series details, and, whenever possible, original titles and original years of publication are given. Additionally, the contents of story collections are listed, and, in the case of anthologies, at least the names of the authors represented. Most of the volume are listings by author, but there are also shorter listings of book and dime novel series (the latter not with individual titles, but just the number of issues), a chronological index, and a title index. The book is well-produced, and the back cover shows a number of rare book covers and dust jackets. Of course, no publication of this kind can ever be complete, and since its publication a number of unlisted works have turned up.

Hans-Peter Neumann’s bibliography of science fiction in the late German Democratic Republic is a marvel of bibliographic exactitude and completeness. The compiler, a veterinarian whose hobby is sf bibliography, has personally checked every item listed, not only books and paperbacks, but also newspapers, magazines, and the German language magazines of other socialist states, such as Rumänische Rundschau, to list their sf contents. He does this for every edition, and he provides pictures of covers of the works. If ever such a work deserved the term “labor of love,” this is it. He also arranges his materials according to a clearly recognizable pattern, such as fantastic journeys, fantasy, weird fantasy, fantastic satires, prehistoric novels, and popular prognoses of the future; he includes a number of borderline cases, where classification is difficult. He identifies, in 5 pages, a number of “ghosts,” books that were announced but never appeared or were published under other titles, and books that do not belong but that were included in earlier bibliographies. Hans-Peter Neumann lists nearly everything that appeared in the Soviet zone of occupation in Germany and after it in the German Democratic Republic. Not even the better-known amateur publications and dramatic forms such as stage productions, radio dramas, and film scripts are omitted; he excludes only sf comics and sf lyrics that are almost impossible to locate. Also listed are works of GDR authors published in the German Federal Republic and the publications of GDR authors that appeared after the German Democratic Republic had been absorbed into Germany. Included are the works of foreign authors and older works by German authors published in the GDR, the sf publications of GDR publishers in languages other than German, and the German publications of other socialist countries, such as the German sf books of the Czech publisher Artia in Prague. The user also finds lists of book series and book club editions, booklets, and publications in newspapers and magazines, as well as a chronology of GDR sf. A title and an author index facilitate the use of the bibliography. Erik Simon and Ivo Gloss provided some help in the compilation of this publication.

Olaf R. Spittel’s bibliography covers much the same territory much less ambitiously, restricted to book publications, and there are great gaps in the coverage. Anyone who has the Neumann bibliography does not need this work.

Horst Illmer’s bibliography can almost serve as an example of how not to do a bibliography. For example, he lists many hardcover editions as “first German book editions,” although they had long before been available as paperbacks. He lists books that do not exist, taken from unverified sources, and books that do not belong in any sf bibliography. A main point of criticism is the manner in which he transcribes foreign, mostly Slavic, titles without the diacritical notations of languages using the Latin alphabet, with numerous misprints of other titles, and with a private system of transliteration for books published in Cyrillic letters.

Nessun Saprà is a pseudonym of the antiquarian bookseller, collector, and publisher Klaus Geus, and his book is one in the increasing number of volumes that explore German science fiction. His compilation offers a lot of information that would be difficult or impossible to find elsewhere. According to the author his work covers more than 400 authors and 800 works. That for many authors almost no data exist, not even the years of their births and deaths, shows once more how little this area of literature has been researched so far. The encyclopedia also offers short descriptions, in the manner of E.F. Bleiler’s works on early science fiction, of some 200 novels and story collections. These are balanced and reasonable, far from fannish enthusiasm. All bibliographic data have been verified with actual copies of the books. Geus stresses that, in comparison to the Bloch bibliography cited above, many bibliographic errors and inexact data have been corrected, and that, although he didn’t aim at completeness, some one hundred titles have been included that are not to be found in Bloch. Aside from writers, the book also lists many illustrators, directors, actors, and other artists. The volume is a valuable addition to the period of early German sf and fantasy, about which so little has been published.

Two smaller bibliographies by Detlef Münch, while containing some valuable information, must be counted from a bibliographic view, like Illmer’s bibliography, as curiosities. Unlike American or British magazines, that have been well-indexed, mostly by industrious enthusiasts, what sf or fantasy appeared in German magazines or periodical books is largely unexplored territory. Susanne Päch (the second wife of writer Herbert W. Franke) wrote a doctoral thesis on the sf published in Das Neue Universum (Von den Marskanälen zur Wunderwaffe, eine Studie über phantastische und futurologische Tendenzen auf dem Gebiet von Naturwissenschaft und Technik, dargestellt am populärwissen- schaftlichen Jahrbuch Das Neue Universum 1880-1945 [From the Martian Canals to the Wonder Weapon, an investigation in the fantastic and futurological tendencies in the field of science and technology, investigated in Das Neue Universum, a yearbook of popular science], self-published, 1980). Das Neue Universum was a technically slanted yearbook for boys, and Planke culled two anthologies from it, but even she didn’t cover every story. For instance, she missed a couple of stories by Hans Dominik. Before Dominik achieved bestseller status with his “technical-utopian future novels,” he wrote a number of sf stories for Das Neue Universum. Also missing from Planke’s anthologies were two stories by Ernst Meister, a German hack in many genres, that were adaptations of Edward Hale’s “The Brick Moon” (1870-71) and its sequel.

The different titles given in the bibliography are confusing, but the fuller title on the title page is more exact, since many of the periodicals covered are intended for the whole family and not just for boys. The bibliographic style is inconsistent; sometimes page numbers are given, sometimes not, and some supernatural and other stories are also included in the listing. Nor is the list of publications complete. The data seem to be largely a result of what the author happened to encounter in other publications or came across by chance, for in many instances he uses a question mark to indicate that he hasn’t seen that issue, and he sometimes expresses the hope that there are still treasures to be uncovered. It is unclear in many cases whether he has indeed examined the whole run of a given periodical. Extraneously included are also some highly subjective lists of important German sf books, including a list of future war stories; the short comments by the author do not take into account much previous research, such as the invaluable work done by I.F. Clarke in the field of the future war story. Münch’s statement that after World War I the Germans had lost their appetite for future war stories is incomprehensible in view of the spate of revanchist future war novels published in the Weimar Republic (during Nazi rule there were far fewer books of this kind).

The Haggard bibliography suffers from the same defects of erratic bibliographing, but is more complete, since most German Haggard translations are fairly recent, a series of paperbacks published by Heyne Verlag in the 1980s. The listings of old Haggard translations, of which there are only a few, appear to be complete.

These two bibliographies are the work of an enthusiastic amateur, and their main virtues are that they draw attention to a few unknown stories published only in magazines or periodicals.—Franz Rottensteiner,Vienna

A Nuclear No Exit.

Mordecai Roshwald. Level 7. Ed. David Seed. Madison: U Wisconsin P, 2004. xl + 210 pp. $16.95 pbk.

First published in 1959, Roshwald’s best known novel is presented as a diary covering a period from late March to mid-October in an unnamed year. “X-127,” a military officer trained to release nuclear missiles and bombs by pushing a button, relates his pre- and post-holocaust existence in the deep underground bunker called “Level 7.” Still powerful as a reminder of Cold War history and nuclear anxiety, the novel’s overall success as a work of speculative fiction is more debatable.

David Seed’s knowledgeable, nuanced introduction suggests a number of possible inspirations among other twentieth-century dystopias. The novel’s emphasis on regimentation and conformity might be traced to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), praised also in Roshwald’s prefatory remarks. Seed links Roshwald’s use of a narrative viewpoint wholly identified with the State to Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1920), in which the protagonist (his name is a number too: D-503) is likewise subject to brainwashing. The loudspeakers and panoptic surveillance by the State in George Orwell’s 1984 (1949) survive in Roshwald’s bunker; Seed points out that Orwell likewise chose a diary format to record Winston Smith’s experiences. Seed reconstructs the post-war intellectual climate, noting the anti-nuclear activism of Bertrand Russell and J.B. Priestley (both admirers of Roshwald’s novel) and describing anti-nuclear fiction of the early 1960s by physicist Leó Szilárd, a disillusioned former participant in the Manhattan Project.

Roshwald’s own brief introduction and memoir defines a further element in his conceptualization of the novel: newly arrived in the US from Israel, he felt that the students at the large state university where he taught were far too incurious and regimented: “Abide by the rules, follow the regulations, submit to statistics, and you’ll be all right. This seemed the human pool out of which candidates for Level 7 could be selected” (xxxiv).

Level 7 was rejected by “one or two” American publishers before being published in Britain by William Heinemann (xxxvi). Originally dedicated “To Dwight and Nikita,” this latest edition addresses itself more broadly: “To Whom It May Concern.” Geopolitics have moved on from the “massive retaliation” (Dwight D. Eisenhower) and “Mutual Assured Destruction” (Robert MacNamara) that were the novel’s original context; but the threat of deployment of nuclear weapons still plays its part in policymaking today, as US Congressional consent to an invasion of Iraq—on mere rumors of weapons of mass destruction—has recently shown. Unfortunately, Roshwald’s topic retains its relevance, though his story probably loses something in immediacy. To a reader today, Level 7 describes an extreme and worst-case scenario, whereas for many thoughtful people during the 1950s, this story told tomorrow’s all-too-probable news.

The original Preface (never printed before) is restored in this edition; it is written by a team of Martian archeologists some 1500 years after the “Great Fire” on Earth. The Martians consider possible interpretations for this strange diary that has been recovered from a “cave” some 4400 feet below the surface of the destroyed planet. Was its author mad, or did these events really happen? Or is the diary a literary artifact, “in parts, a mere mental construction (what seems to have been called by the people of the Earth ‘Utopia,’ ‘Science Fiction,’ or ‘Belles-Lettres’)?” (xlv, emphasis in original).
The Martians raise the same question the novel raised for me. What exactly is this? As a dystopian thought-experiment, Level 7 retains considerable interest. If regarded strictly as a work of fiction, however, the “belletristic” battles the “speculative” in ways that undermine the coherence of the narrator—a crucial matter in a story told as a diary. X-127 is self-described as an unimaginative conformist (psychologically resembling those American students who seemed so passive and unthinking to Roshwald). Yet the diary reveals his daily thoughts as a series of often agonized existential questionings:

Now I begin to understand the meaning of the problem ‘to be, or not to be’.... is life down here being or non-being? Is not Level 7 a sort of Hades or Sheol where being is dimmed to half-being, at its best? ... Am I condemned to half-be for the rest of my life? (17)

Socratic dialogue takes over when X-127 discovers in his bunkmate a taste for dialectic:

Through my discussions with [X-107] ... I seem to have acquired his habit of analysing every event and ... weighing various arguments and alternatives. To begin with I took one side and X-107 took another, but these days it seems I can do without him: I carry on the dialogues with myself, inventing arguments both for and against any given theory. (47)

These philosophical disquisitions are authorial intrusions; they would have no place in a button-pusher’s world-view, any more than the new myths and children’s stories (new teachings for a post-nuclear world) that X-127 employs himself in writing. The narrator’s frequent dreams of holocaust and his worries that they will turn out to be true do not seem to proceed from his character as originally described; yet just as a reader begins to read him as a seeker after truth, he switches back to speaking as a contented cog in the military machine, as when he casually anticipates the death of the millions who will seek shelter in the topmost levels: “There is no point in talking about Level 1 at length, and that goes for Level 2 as well. Unless the war is a very limited one, they do not stand a chance” (110).

Roshwald makes other curious choices. We learn that the Army has placed a philosopher (P-107) down in the bunker, who harangues those attempting to relax in the recreation lounge about the absolute freedom of their confinement in Level 7 (which is involuntary: all were sent down having been told it was only for a few days). The idea that the military people recruited for this unpleasant duty would be appreciative consumers of abstract philosophy is odd, yet among the intent audience, there is a heated debate following the philosopher’s talk. Just as odd is the idea that the soldiers would enjoy (as both X-127 and his bunkmate keenly do) the long tape of classical music offered through the loudspeakers. (A “light” program is offered, too, but no character is ever described as enjoying it.)

Roshwald’s narrator sounds most limited and regimented in his cold account of his dealings with P-867, a psychologist attracted to him (marriage is encouraged in Level 7, resulting in the attachment of the suffix “m” to each of the happy couple’s numbers). She finally does nag him into agreeing, but seriously sickened by the chocolate bar they consume as a “marriage feast” (the scanty food they have become used to has made chocolate indigestible), X-127 spends his wedding night in the infirmary pondering, of all things, Cartesian dualism: “Somebody once said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ But it seems to me that thinking makes you forget your own personality, it dissolves your individuality in the impersonal universe of spirit” (89). The premise of the book—that only unthinking products of a culture of conformity could lend themselves to this kind of nuclear warfare—is repeatedly contradicted by X-127’s penchant for abstract and individualistic reflection.

When it comes, the war lasts less than three hours; it is triggered by a computer malfunction on the part of the other hostile power (combatant nations aren’t named). The push-button officers obey orders and retaliate. One who balks at the final and most deadly escalation is removed from his chair and replaced by a stand-by; this same officer who refuses the last stage of destruction later hangs himself.

The 60 pages that follow, concluding the diary, hold together well. Though still the narrator is made to voice sentiments improbable for the character that he is described as being, the disconnect makes more sense, as he has been brainwashed after a breakdown (returning to duty just in time to push the buttons that end all life on the surface of the planet). Initially, X-127 reacts with anger to the handful of surviving dissidents (all encased in Level-2) who mourn the death of culture after the war; he scoffs at their complaints: “Libraries have been destroyed. So what? Museums are in ashes. Who wants to visit a museum anyway” (136). But a few weeks after the bombs fall, a married couple leave their shelter on Level-3 in an attempt to find their missing daughter. They find no people left on the surface, no features at all except some broken highways. The dying couple radio back their findings to the other appalled survivors (radio contact moves freely among the different levels once the war is over), and, moved by these broadcasts, X-127's brainwashing begins to unravel. He begins to repent.

The final pages relate the gradual failure of the shelters. The initial bombings kill the millions sheltered on Level-1. Radiation from the surface soon infiltrates the next levels. The deepest are powered by nuclear reactors and are not dependent on filtered air from the surface; still, the reactors malfunction and begin to leak radiation. In this nuclear No Exit scenario, atomic energy in any form remains lethal. The last to be affected is Level 7, the deepest; and the last broken sentences in the diary of X-127 presumably record the last words of earth-born humanity.

Level 7 is weakened by its all-too-visible didactic impulses. The narrator at times exemplifies military obtuseness but at other times is used as a mouthpiece for Roshwald’s critique of regimentation. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) (mentioned in Seed’s introduction) exhibits this same author/narrator slippage, yet the ironies of Level 7 are neither satiric nor tragic. Until the final pages, the story is caught up in a web of mainly intellectual ironies, patterns of clashing ideas.

Roshwald’s concluding pages nonetheless haunt the imagination, though more like a nightmare than like a work of sf. There is much that is dreamlike, too, in the extreme isolation of Level 7 and its clockwork daily operations. (Why are food service personnel never seen? Why are all commands given over the loudspeakers?) The smooth functioning of the food conveyor-belt, with its unchanging offerings of “yellow liquid” and food-pills, the dismal philosophizing in the lounge, the restriction of sexual life to a half-hour once a day among married people—all speak to an ascetic regulation of the carnal that makes more sense as a penance for sinners than as perks for a military elite. In the third-century teachings of Joshua ben Levi, the seventh is the deepest recess in Sheol or Hell; and Roshwald’s account of existence on Level 7 today seems more powerful as a prophecy of retribution than as a logical extrapolation from the “shelter gap” anxieties of the late 1950s.

A reader accustomed to sf is likely to wonder about many puzzling details. Why are the months, perhaps years, of intensive training that are mentioned in the early pages needed to teach a soldier to push a button? Why are these button-pushers (who have no other duties and no function following the war) treated as such important people even after the holocaust, when they keep their coveted larger living quarters? Level 7 is not sf extrapolated in the usual way: i.e., in logical increments. Its jumbled messages (all of them conveying bad news) are strung together with the disconnected pacing of a disturbing dream.

Several articles by Roshwald that appeared in The Nation during the Cold War, as well as a chapter from an unpublished novel, round out the contents of this thoughtful new edition of an imperfectly realized yet haunting vision of the dark side of the 1950s.—CM

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