Science Fiction Studies

#27 = Volume 9, Part 2 = July 1982

Editorial Introduction

The announcement that this journal deals with "science fiction, including utopian fiction" has appeared on the inside front cover of SFS from the time of its founding. Yet the quantity of essays we have printed that have been devoted solely to utopian fiction has hitherto barely exceeded the number of years that SFS has been around.

Almost half that total consists of essays which touch tangentially on the subject in treating particular works by the likes of Brunner, Graves, and Le Guin; and if one excludes these and also contributions which are bibliographical or quasi-bibliographical in approach, little more than half a dozen remain. To be sure, those cases are exceptional in more than one sense of the word. They include Raymond Williams's "Utopia and Science Fiction" (SFS No. 16) and Martin Schäfer's "The Rise and Fall of Anti-Utopia" (SFS No. 19) as well as Peter Fitting's discussion of "utopian longing" in Anglo-American SF (SFS No. 17), John Fekete's of the dialogue between Triton and The Dispossessed (SFS No. 18), and Nadia Khouri's of the utopian dialectics of power in Le Guin, Jeury, and Piercy (SFS No. 20)—all of which make substantial and more or less broad theoretical points about the nature of utopian literature.

Of course, we would have liked to print other articles of their sort. But others did not come to hand, no doubt chiefly by reason of the existence of Alternative Futures, soi-disant "The Journal of Utopian Studies." That publication we unhappily report for anyone who has not yet heard the bad news, is in the process of folding (a portent of things to come, we fear); and with its regrettable departure, we expect to be getting typescripts from authors who might elsewise have first applied there. Indeed, one of the essays in the following pages—Eugene D. Hill's excellent introduction to the thought of Louis Marin—has reached us through the considerate offices of the editors of Alternative Futures.

That essay and its companions should go some distance towards remedying any relative—not to say unintentional—neglect of utopian fiction on our part. To our minds at least, their quality makes SFS No. 27 as a whole one of our best, if not the best to date. Those of you who read through all of the articles will discover, we think, that the slightest of them is H.G. Wells's (which, by the way, here appears in print for the first time); and it still holds considerable interest even apart from the fact of its authorship.

All of the remaining essays can be better appreciated when read in conjunction with one another and with articles that we have published in the past. This is especially true for Fredric Jameson's argument: that SF, struggling to regain its "utopian vocation," occasionally—and against all ideological odds—succeeds "briefly" in indirectly communicating the "inexpressible Utopian impulse." The tenor of the essay by Fitting cited above, but also the point which George Slusser makes towards the end of "Heinlein's Perpetual Motion Fur Farm" (see SFS No. 26) and which David Ketterer reminds us of in his present note on Slusser's remarks, to some extent complement what Jameson is getting at; while Hill's exegesis of Marin and Tom Moylan's of Bloch, Marcuse et al. give a good idea of the schools of thought with which Jameson assumes his reader is conversant. If Moylan's and Hill's essays are, in turn, mutually elucidative, John Huntington's somewhat polemical approach to anti-utopia benefits from comparison with Schäfer's comments on the subgenre's "rise and fall"; and Alessandro Portelli's penetrating analysis of what is startlingly absent from The Iron Heel extends Khouri's discussion of that book as "utopia and epic" (see SFS No. 9). The one essay that seems to stand companionless, so to speak, is Ketterer's acute interpretation of A Case of Conscience; and, indeed, we (and more so, he) had reservations about annexing it to the rest of the articles in this special issue. In Lithia Blish does present us with a society that is axiomatically different from the author's empirical world; but whether Lithia is to be properly accounted utopian is a question on which (as Ketterer points out) the entire understanding of the book depends. Nevertheless, A Case of Conscience arguably instances the kind of tenuous and problematic relation to Utopia that Jameson concentrates on; and if we attend to its dystopian elements as well, it can be thought of as lying on the periphery of utopian fiction—which is where we have placed Ketterer's exploration of it relative to the other contributions to this special issue.

In addition to the cross-references already specified, it might finally be informative (if initially confusing) to connect what Donald Watson has to say about Gary Morson's study of Dostoyevsky with Hill on Marin and Huntington on Wells and his successors. Even without connections of that kind, however, the subsequent essays on utopia and anti-utopia should prove to be intellectually stimulating.

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