Science Fiction Studies

#131 = Volume 44, Part 1 = March 2017


Asimov, Boucher, Heinlein, and Detective Fiction; or, Is Jubal Harshaw’s Role Model Nero Wolfe? On recently re-reading a group of John Campbell-era novels, it occurred to me how many sf writers in the World War II and postwar years used elements of detective fiction derived from the Sherlock Holmes tales of Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) and the neo-Holmesian Nero Wolfe stories of Rex Stout (1886-1975). Numerous sf authors were adept in both genres, of course, yet most saw the two as separate markets and published their mystery fiction under pseudonyms. Writing as “Ellery Queen,” Avram Davidson and Theodore Sturgeon received awards for their detective stories, while Jack Vance won a 1961 Edgar award for “Best First Novel” under the name John Holbrook Vance. Often these writers received their plot-lines from the editors of Ellery Queen magazine and their work was subject to intrusive editing—good reason for authors to obscure or disguise their identity. I focus here on stories that integrate elements of both genres, with initial comments about the two genres’ divergent elements and a concluding discussion of how the characterizations in the Holmes stories (and Stout’s modern updating) may have been especially useful to Robert A. Heinlein in centering the sprawling plot of Stranger in a Strange Land (1961).

Detective fiction encourages readers to sort through clues and motives; they reason deductively to identify the murderer(s) and motive(s) for the crime, or—failing that—wait to be told by the author in the closing pages. Readers of crime stories reason down from a group of possible suspects in a process of elimination. Science fiction, in contrast, works by accretion, plunging readers into as-yet unknown futures. Their only “clues” are passing references to details of an otherwise absent paradigm, as Marc Angenot argued during the 1970s: “SF characteristically is ... based on intelligible syntagmatic rules which also govern, and are governed by, delusive missing paradigms” (10; emphasis in original). Readers of detective stories close the book certain that they have learned what “really” happened, but sf’s readers are almost never fully briefed. One of the classic detective-fiction forms is the locked-door mystery, in which a murder is committed under apparently impossible circumstances. This impossibility is what the process of reading explains and unlocks. As defined by Ernst Bloch and Darko Suvin, the novums of classic sf are by contrast wondrous intrusions, surprises that often remain only partly intelligible. Most explication (i.e., information dumping) occurs at the beginning of a science-fiction story, offering readers clues about the future setting; detective stories reserve full explanation for their final pages.

Science fiction, in short, often introduces readers to mysteries that abide. In Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama (1973), scientists closely study a massive object of alien manufacture that enters and exits the solar system without divulging a thing about its alien fabricators’ future intentions. Those studying it have amassed data but can construct no viable theory or coherent plan of action. In Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (1961), scholars studying a singular planet learn a great deal, but only about themselves—their own fears, flaws, and desires. Aside from uncertainty built into the design of the sf plot, there is an ontological difference between the two genres in their contrary representations of the body, or so Frank McConnell argues: “The genre of science fiction ... loathes and fears the body.... The genre of detective fiction is ... obsessed with the body even to the dark eroticism of the body’s decay” (202).

John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction (1938-1971), in 1941 rejected the idea of detective/sf hybrids on the grounds that in science fiction’s future settings, unknown technologies could be arbitrarily “pulled out of a hat” (87) in the closing pages, making crime-detection sf too easy for writers and too difficult for readers:

[Mysteries are] ... designed for the reader to solve the case before the explanation is given. In science fiction, [detective plots] ... are decidedly unfair. The locked-room mystery, for instance, might be solved by a) the villain’s possession of an invisibility suit, b) a fourth-dimension penetration, c) time-traveling, or d) radio transportation of the murderer into and out of the locked room. Nice, neat, but not fair to the reader. (87)

In an introduction to The Caves of Steel (1954) published in the 1980s, Isaac Asimov recalls Campbell’s objections to sf-detective hybrids:

Campbell ... often said that a science-fiction mystery story was a contradiction in terms; that advances in technology could be used to get detectives out of their difficulties unfairly, and that the readers would therefore be cheated. I sat down to write a story that would be a classic mystery and that would not cheat the reader. The result was The Caves of Steel. (xiii)

Asimov’s novel follows a murder investigation, offering final exposure of the full circumstances in classic detective-story style. Yet his setting is fully science-fictional, with no part of the solution of the case, to rephrase Campbell’s editorial comments, pulled out of the author’s science-fictional hat. Some 3,000 years in the future, off-world colonists are thriving on sparsely populated “Spacer” worlds, while on an overpopulated and polluted Earth, the impoverished masses live miserable lives underground in the warren of steel “caves” referred to in the title. Asimov’s characterization is as memorable as his setting. His team of detectives, forced together as a compromise between earth-dwellers and Spacers (the first victim was a Spacer), are R. [Robot] Daneel Olivaw, a super-rational positronic being, and Elijah Baley, a bright but mercurial Earth policeman who loathes robots.

Asimov credited Galaxy editor Horace Gold for both the dystopian backdrop and the initially antagonistic investigative team. He had refused Gold’s suggestion that he move on from his robot short stories to a full-length novel, but Gold had persisted:

“How about an overpopulated world where robots are taking human jobs?”
   “Too depressing,” I said. “I’m not sure I want to handle a heavy sociological story.”
   “Do it your way. You like mysteries. Put a murder on such a world and have a detective solve it with a robot partner....”         
That struck fire. (xiii)

Asimov’s science-fictional back-story anticipates more ambiguous later sf by Philip K. Dick and Iain M. Banks, who likewise explore eco-catastrophe and antagonisms between planetary cultures and spacefaring colonists. On the level of characterization, on the other hand, Asimov’s memorably dissonant co-heroes might have partly inspired hyper-rational Mr. Spock and operatically emotional Captain Kirk in the first Star Trek series (1966–1969).

The use of two central characters as contrasts and foils is not rare in realistic fiction (Don Quixote and Sancho Panza come to mind) but became especially frequent in pulp and digest sf in the World War II and Cold War eras. Character dissonance—the clash of two viewpoints—assists sf readers, allowing them to choose between contrary viewpoints rather than struggling alone to fill in elements of the absent paradigm. This double exposure is also central to the experience of reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories (1887-1927), for the adventures of brilliant, highly strung Holmes are filtered through Dr. John Watson, a man without an imagination. Watson is less an assistant than an astonished witness to Holmes’s incredible feats of ratiocination. As framer of the stories, however, Watson orients readers who are just as bewildered by Holmes’s precipitous conclusions drawn from slender evidence.

Although first-person narration is not used in Asimov’s novel, his robot co-hero is likewise experienced through a filter. Elijah Baley, due to his distrust and suspicion of Spacer culture and robots, initially suspects R. Daneel, misinterpreting his motives and actions. Readers receive no internal monologue or other direct access to the unspoken thoughts either of Sherlock Holmes or of R. Daneel Olivaw. They can only guess and, like Baley and Dr. Watson, wait for the full final reveal, though Asimov’s story progressively shifts readers’ sympathies to Daneel as Baley’s early theories are disproved.

Anthony Boucher (born William Parker Anthony White, 1911-1968) was active in both genres. At sixteen, he sold his first story to Weird Tales but became famous as a co-founder of Mystery Writers of America and co-editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and SF (1949-1959), also reviewing in venues ranging from Opera News to The New York Times. Boucher enjoyed Asimov’s detective/science-fiction mashup, praising The Caves of Steel as “the most successful attempt yet to combine” the genres (Boucher and McComas 88). He covered ground familiar to readers of both genres in his own Rocket to the Morgue (1942; published as by H.H. Holmes). The science-fictional element lies in Boucher’s teeming slate of suspects, all drawn from real-life Los Angeles sf fandom circa 1941. As a detective story, Rocket probably offers far too many suspects, but Boucher’s affectionate portrayal of his cast as a “science-fiction menagerie” (50) continues to hold considerable interest and charm.

Rocket to the Morgue is co-dedicated to Robert A. Heinlein and Cleve Cartmill, but its labyrinthine plot is focused on a classic locked-door scenario:

You’ve got a man with a knife plunged into his back at such an angle that the doctor swears the wound can’t possibly be self-inflicted. He’s in ... a room that has three doors. One leads to a dead-end in a bathroom. One has three absolutely reliable witnesses in front of it who swear that ... [the door] has not been used. The third is chained from the inside. (76)

Boucher’s initial chief suspect is Austin Carter, a lightly fictionalized Robert Heinlein:

He was tall, this Carter ... and of one same even slenderness from shoulders to hips. He held himself rather stiffly and moved with precision. Marshall [the detective-hero] groped for what the man reminded him of, and finally decided it was Phileas Fogg, who went around the world in eighty days.... Austin Carter was perhaps a little too fond of hearing himself talk, but he talked well. (73-75)

A later suspect is shy but super-versatile Joe Henderson, equally adept at space opera (the adventures of Captain Comet) and psychological sf. Introduced early but developing into a prime suspect toward the end of the story, Joe suggests Jack Williamson, one of whose space operas appeared as The Cometeers (Astounding Stories, May-August 1936).

Carter is first described while hosting a convivial meeting of the Mañana Literary Society, a real-life fan group. His wife Bernice (based on Leslyn Heinlein) welcomes the policeman at their door with a whispered hush: “Austin’s holding forth” (50). He does so for several pages, delivering his “famous lecture on science fiction”: “even science fiction must remain fiction, and fiction is basically about people, not subatomic blasters nor time warps”; he also decrees that “the days of the pure gadget story and the interplanetary horse opera are over” (54-55). Carter praises Stanley G. Weinbaum’s “Worlds of If” stories (1935-1936), featuring perpetually tardy protagonist Dixon Wells, for centering its plot around alternative-reality scenarios rather than gadgets (74).

Cornered by police inspector Terry Marshall, Carter is not a bit flustered to learn that he has become chief murder suspect. He breezily summons some sf double-talk (perhaps recalled from Campbell’s earlier editorial quoted above) to explain the apparent locked-door murder:

A, He never got out because he was never there. The dagger was conveyed by space and plunged into the victim’s heart by teleportation.
B, the murderer dissembled his component atoms on one side of the wall, filtered through by osmosis, and reassembled them on the other side.
C, the murderer ... entered and left through the fourth dimension of space. (76)

Like Campbell, Carter concludes that it is precisely sf’s infinite speculative space that bans “detective stories in science fiction.... So many maneuverings are logically possible that you never could conceivably exclude the guilt of anyone” (77).

During the same era as Asimov’s robot fiction, detective author Rex Stout stayed close to Holmes-derived character portrayal in his tales of Nero Wolfe, in which Wolfe’s assistant, wisecracking Archie Goodwin, chronicles the infallible detective work of super-genius Wolfe, a sedentary and agoraphobic gourmet. Wolfe clearly is based on Sherlock Holmes’s smarter brother Mycroft of the Diogenes Club, the “queerest club in London” (“The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter” 99), whose members agree never to speak to each other. Holmes describes his brother’s exasperating inertia:

If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an arm-chair, my brother would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived. But he has no ambition and no energy. He will not even go out of his way to verify his own solution, and would rather be considered wrong than take the trouble to prove himself right. (100)

Archie Goodwin, narrator in Stout’s series, is Wolfe’s antithesis: amorous, gregarious, hyper-athletic, a man of action; but Nero Wolfe (Archie says in “Black Orchids”) “could have gotten a job in a physics laboratory as an Immovable Object if the detective business ever played out” (1).

Nero Wolfe, like Austin Carter, Jubal Hawshaw in Stranger in a Strange Land, and on occasion RAH himself, is a curmudgeon. Arriving home after one of his rare day-trips away, Wolfe informs Archie that “I have decided ... that every man alive today is half idiot and half hero. Only heroes could survive in the maelstrom, and only idiots would want to” (103). In Stranger in a Strange Land, elderly Jubal Harshaw is similarly caustic, scoffing at the notion that he would welcome rejuvenation: “I refuse to grow younger. I came by my decrepitude the hard way and I propose to enjoy it” (499).

That Stout’s series (1934-1975) was evidently known to Heinlein is not surprising. Both were active and popular writers during the same decades. Both had achieved instant success as genre writers after retiring from other endeavors—Heinlein (among other things) as a naval officer, silver miner, and political candidate and Rex Stout as a financial entrepreneur. Both had ambitions to transcend the formula plotting of postwar genre fiction but were for many years deterred by pressure from their devoted readerships. (The same was true of Conan Doyle, who had little affection for Sherlock Holmes and killed him off in 1893 but was forced to tell a new retrospective tale, set in 1891, in Hound of the Baskervilles [1901] and to fully resurrect Holmes in 1903.) Both Heinlein and Stout pushed the genre envelope on occasion to insert extra-generic social and political commentary on issues that absorbed them. The politics of neither writer hewed to a single party line, but Stout was left-leaning, while rejecting US Communism’s suppression of dissent. Stout co-founded Vanguard Press, was an early advocate of the American Civil Liberties Union, and was an activist for author’s rights. He opposed censorship in peacetime, and during the McCarthy era in the early 1950s he defied a subpoena from the House Un-American Activities Committee. It was discovered in the 1970s that Stout’s file at the FBI ran to 300 pages. If Heinlein broke out of formula sf in Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), Stout risked his readers’ good-will in The Doorbell Rang (1965), wherein Nero Wolfe is hired to expose illegal activities of the New York City office of the FBI, succeeding, as always, brilliantly. The novel ends with a scene in which J. Edgar Hoover repeatedly rings Wolfe’s doorbell but is ignored.

Stout’s series may well have modeled for Heinlein the counterintuitive character configuration that (barely) holds together long-in-process, experimental Stranger in a Strange Land. It may have been the Nero Wolfe stories that showed RAH how an almost stationary major character and co-hero can anchor and stabilize a dramatic, eventful plot. Jubal Harshaw, like Wolfe, usually stays home to mentor, react, and advise. We first meet Harshaw (a polymath with professional degrees in medicine, law, and science) at poolside dictating “The Other Manger,” a mawkish Christmas tale about a lost kitten (108); and readers are regularly returned to poolside and Harshaw until the final chapters. Harshaw dictates more than popular fiction, supervising Martian-raised Mike’s introduction to earth culture, studying his “Martianized” and revised human biology and protecting Mike from law enforcement’s attempts to restrict his freedom:

he was tickled at the notion of balking the powers-that-be. He had more than his share of that streak of anarchy which was the political birthright of every American; pitting himself against the planetary government filled him with sharper zest for living than he had felt in a generation. (118)

Among Harshaw’s expressions are “Pfui!” and “Shut up!” Both are common expressions of Nero Wolfe. When Wolfe shouts “Pfui!,” Archie Goodwin sometimes retorts “Phooey!” For both writers, legal maneuvering is a common preoccupation. Scenes of Wolfe foiling law officers attempting to enter his house occur in almost every story, most memorably in The Doorbell Rang. Harshaw’s law expertise is likewise on frequent display early in Heinlein’s novel, as he safeguards Mike’s privacy and interests.

It occurred to me last summer, re-reading Stout and Heinlein, Asimov and Boucher, that detective fiction, while it played different roles for different sf authors, in its strong characterizations and settings may have contributed to the continuing rereadability of that part of classic sf that continues to remain readable. Vivid personalities that interact as foils, showing off each other’s flaws and virtues, add human interest—Austin Carter’s “people” factor—to the intricate puzzle plots of mysteries and sf alike. So do regular returns to unchanging, familiar, pleasurable “frame” settings—the creature comforts of 22B Baker Street, Nero Wolfe’s personal biosphere of a brownstone, or Jubal Harshaw’s sybaritic poolside. Memorable characters and settings can sustain multiple rereadings long after the first reading has settled the identity of the murderer or time has made former sf theories and gadgets obsolete. Stanley G. Weinbaum’s planetary tales were rooted in now disproved theories about the atmosphere of the outer planets, but his alien ecology and alien characters in “The Mad Moon” (1935) remain fresh and lively even though the plot assigns a tropical climate to one of Jupiter’s moons. By the same token, the best detective fiction can be re-read even though on subsequent readings the murderer’s identity is known. In sf and detective fiction around the mid-twentieth century, it was catchy plots that sold most stories to editors. Nonetheless, the same stories today, if they do live on, are revisited for memorable settings and striking character interactions. Boucher’s “Austin Carter” was right.—Carol McGuirk, SFS

Angenot, Marc. “The Absent Paradigm: An Introduction to the Semiotics of Science Fiction.” SFS 6.1 (1979): 9-19.
Asimov, Isaac. The Caves of Steel. 1954. New York: Bantam, 1991.
Boucher, Anthony. Rocket to the Moon. 1942. New York: Pyramid, 1967.
─────, and J. Francis McComas. “Recommended Reading.” Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (May 1954): 88.
Campbell, John W. “In Times to Come.” Astounding Science-Fiction (May 1941). Qtd. by Steve Barton, The Daily Kos, 15 Jun. 2015. Online.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter.” 1893. Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. N. Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2016. 99-110.
Heinlein, Robert A. Stranger in a Strange Land. 1961. New York: Ace, 1991.
McConnell, Frank. “Alimentary, My Dear Watson: Food and Eating in Scientific and Mystery Fiction.” Foods of the Gods: Eating and the Eaten in Fantasy and Science Fiction. Ed. Gary Westfahl, George Slusser, and Eric S. Rabkin. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1989. 200-12.
Stout, Rex. “Black Orchids.” 1942. Black Orchids. New York: Bantam, 1992. 1-102.
─────. The Doorbell Rang. 1965. New York: Bantam, 1992.

Media Archaeology and Science Fiction. The Media Archaeology Lab (MAL) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, believes that “the past must be lived so that the present can be seen” <>. As a lab rather than a museum, the MAL prides itself on allowing, encouraging, visitors to turn machines on, to play with them, to find out how they work. Following from the assumptions of media archaeology, which provides the lab with its name, the MAL challenges facile histories of technology and computation by demonstrating how our current media ecology did not come to be by way of a process from simple to complex or primitive to modern. Rather, it derives from strategic, profit-oriented motives paired with conscious choices about the way technology ought to operate (and, of course, these choices are in part determined by the affordances of the technologies extant at the time they are made). By drawing attention to the foregoing, the curation and exhibition of media in the MAL points to how our present moment could have been dramatically otherwise.

This “otherwise,” however, can be quite difficult to understand or visualize, and it is here that the MAL and its mission enjoy a curious and productive relationship with science fiction. After all, it has become quite commonplace among sf critics and readers to acknowledge that the genre has far less to do with any actual future it would purport to represent than with the present in which it was written. More precisely, the future that any given work of sf describes will be based on assumptions its writer makes, which are determined by the historical, cultural, economic, technological, and social milieu in which she wrote. Yet excavating this milieu can be challenging, for it can only take place from within a new milieu that partly derives from the old one but also departs from it based on historical events the older milieu could never have predicted from its own perspective.

Although the reference will be familiar to many readers of SFS (perhaps to the point of banality), William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) provides a clear example of how the prescience of even the best sf is tempered by the limitations of historical situatedness. Famously, the novel begins, “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” At once, Neuromancer announces the death of the dominant medium of the 1980s even as it acknowledges the reality of this dominance. Otherwise put, the novel is able to predict the end of television as the developed world’s dominant medium precisely because television was the developed world’s dominant medium at the time it was written. For all its prescience, however, and for all the rest of the novel’s prescience about multinational capitalism, the viral spread of subcultures, the importance of networked communication, and more, it still gets quite a bit wrong. It does not seem to predict the significance of the graphical user interface (GUI). It does not hint at the rise of the smart phone or the development of the mobile web or the rise of the isolated app. For that matter, it does not predict the browser-based online ecosystem replaced by the app ecosystem. In fact, it is possible to read Gibson’s most recent novel, The Peripheral (2014), as his attempt to rewrite Neuromancer in the context of the rise of the smart phone.

We do not mean to criticize Gibson specifically or science fiction generally for any failure, but only to point out that visions of the future will always be limited by the historical moment in which we develop them. The Media Archaeology Lab not only understands this limitation but also celebrates it by way of its collection of historical, working computers. It possesses an Altair 8800b from 1976, an eight-bit computer that operates by way of switches and outputs by way of a series of LED lights; it has an Apple Lisa, the first “affordable” personal computer to make use of a graphical user interface (although the $10,000 price tag, in 1983 dollars, stretches the concept of affordability to its breaking point). Other holdings include numerous Mac Classics—the descendant of the machine that was to ensure that 1984 would not be like Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)—and several NeXTcubes, shepherded onto the market by CEO Steve Jobs during his exile from Apple in the early 1990s.

In total, the MAL houses over 35 portable computers, 73 desktop computers, 22 handheld devices, and 13 game consoles, in addition to a substantial collection of digital and analog media extending back to the late nineteenth century. The MAL also collects manuals on early office technologies, operating systems, and software; it offers access to computer magazines and catalogs from the early 1970s through the 1990s, as well as books on the history of computational media and early humanities computing.

When one encounters the collection, or the individual items that comprise it, one encounters a concrete past rather than a speculative future. At the same time, one encounters the dreams that the past had about its future, dreams expressed in the tools that would finally build it. Far too often, however, these dreams become too solid. That is, we see only what did happen and take it for the only thing that could have happened. Gibson certainly seems to have predicted the rise of networked culture, but we do a disservice to ourselves and become irresponsible critics and historians if we do not acknowledge and struggle to understand how he was wrong even about that which he got “right.”

Likewise, we misunderstand the MAL’s collection if we see in it only the prehistory of the present moment. Certainly, many of us “know” how things came to be the way they are as well as key concepts and technologies that paved the road from past to present: ARPANet, GUI, Apple, Windows, WWW, email, Internet, iMac, cell phone, cell-phone camera, smart phone, iPad, net neutrality, etc. There can be no doubt that this history involves a great deal of “lock in,” a great deal of determinism. As people used, for example, GUIs, they created software for GUIs and hardware that could run it. They developed the GUI itself and taught people to interact with computers in this way rather than another way—to the extent that any other way becomes nearly impossible. Now, for almost everyone, opening the terminal is impossible in fact and terrifying in theory. This determinism offers up the present as the inevitable consequence of the past and thus it also offers up the present state of affairs as “natural,” even though the past could not have foreseen the current state of affairs. The past, in fact, got many things “wrong,” just as Gibson did. And as with everything that turned out to be “wrong” about Neuromancer, past mistakes of technology can be in many ways more interesting than what turned out to be right.

For example, and by way of conclusion, one of the most interesting items in the MAL collection is a Vectrex, a complete home video-game system developed in the early 1980s during the video-game boom. The Vectrex was “complete” insofar as it not only included the hardware necessary to run games and the controllers necessary for humans to interface with this hardware/software system but also the display itself. In fact, this display was, uncommonly if not uniquely at the time, itself a means by which the user could interface with the Vectrex and its games, by way of a light pen. Rather than displaying pixels, which are at the basis of most contemporary displays, the Vectrex’s monitor makes use of vector graphics. Although the technological differences between these two conceptions of output display are interesting, more important here are the assumptions, even the philosophies, behind the two technologies. Whereas pixels construct wholes out of parts, vectors start with wholes. In the former case, the more parts you can fit onto a screen, the better the resolution of the final image will be. Yet no matter how many pixels the screen displays, the parts will always become visible at a certain level of magnification and thus become blurry. The industry response to this blurriness involves packing more and more pixels onto the screen, an arms race of sorts that requires increasing amounts of resources to stay ahead of the curve. By contrast, vector graphics solve the problem of magnification by their very nature, albeit at the cost of color and a certain type of complexity.

Whether vector graphics—which readers might remember from such stand-up games as Asteroids and Tempest—could have ever solved the problems of their inherent limitations is impossible to know. Raster graphics “won” the competition, although suggesting that there was a competition at all is somewhat disingenuous. No other gaming system or general computing system seems to have taken up the cause of vector graphics. As such, the Vectrex seems to us now nothing but a mistake, a dead end—quirkiness and interestingness notwithstanding. Viewed from another angle, however—one that we in the present only dimly perceive—the Vectrex suggests an entirely different future. This future is one determined less by a quest for more power, more resolution, more as a good in itself. Rather, it is one that involves a fluid movement and elegance that current computation cannot hope to achieve. What cognitive estrangements, what conceptual breakthroughs, what utopias or dystopias such a novum might have produced we leave to the sf writers to imagine. Perhaps we might see someday the advent of vector punk. Regardless, the MAL invites the historians, the critics, and the archaeologists to think of the past in terms of its multiplicity, in terms of all the positivities it contains and not simply those that produce that narrow thing we call the present.—Benjamin J. Robertson and Lori Emerson, University of Colorado, Boulder

RMP on Paul Montfort. I found Paul Mountfort’s “The I Ching and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle” (SFS July 2016) illuminating, and especially so in the long section wherein he “examine[s] the twelve oracular consultations that take place or are referenced” in the fiction (291-301). Those who were likewise enlightened might want to look into an essay of mine which Prof. Montfort does not cite (and I suppose is unfamiliar with).

The essay in question, “Time Out of Joint: The World(s) of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle,” appears just before the “Afterword” in my book Visions and Re-visions: (Re)constructing Science Fiction (2005). It consists of a close reading extending to 34 pages, not counting 12+ pages of small-print endnotes—at least 25,000 words altogether if memory serves. I therefore can’t very well give a précis, also because my argument takes a number of turns. The following extract, however, may give some idea of the course my analysis takes:

On our way to constructing High Castle as an Absurdist fiction, we turned up two reasons for giving credence to the hypothesis that the I Ching enjoys special status as the fiction’s reality. First of all, that tome is the only historical reality in High Castle which an exposure of the book’s ‘historical fakery’ or imposture left untouched. Second, it is also the only object among the four holding High Castle together which can lay claim to having within the fiction’s confines essentially the same reality that it has outside of them. On the other hand, two further reasons for seizing upon the I Ching as High Castle’s(ultimate) reality might well make us wary of that last proposition. The fact that a similar thought arises by way of Grasshopper is hardly propitious (given Grasshopper’s profound differences with High Castle), especially as it comes via Juliana. Nor is Dick’s own statement to the effect that the I Ching wrote High Castle particularly encouraging. In reiterating the admission that Juliana wrings out of Hawthorne Abendsen, Dick would appear to mean (and, I think, does) … that the author (Abendsen or PKD) relied on the I Ching to determine the direction that his alternative history qua fiction would take at any given moment. This possibility … is not entirely impertinent to High Castle’s Inner Truth, and for sure it is appreciably closer to the truth so designated than is the interrogative proposition, ‘Germany and Japan lost the war?’ But in view of the overwhelming evidence (as we have been noticing all along) that High Castle is not the work of chance, such an interpretation of Dick-on-Dick would not likely pass a sanity test. (Visions and Re-visions, 272)

It will perhaps be evident from that extract that my conclusions about the I Ching’smeaningful function(s) in High Castle are not entirely congruent with Prof. Mountfort’s. I believe, however, that a comparison of our respective readings is well worth making.—Robert M. Philmus, Montreal

SFRA Elections. In November 2016, the members of the Science Fiction Research Association cast their ballots and elected the new Executive Committee for 2017-2019: Keren Omry as President, Gerry Canavan as Vice-President, Jenni G. Halpin as Secretary, and David Higgins as Treasurer. They will be joined by Craig Jacobsen as Immediate Past President. Following last year’s amendments to the organization’s Bylaws, the current and all future ECs will serve for three, instead of two, years—a change that should strengthen SFRA’s stability and continuity. Keren Omry, an Israeli scholar and the first SFRA President from outside North America and Europe, reaffirms SFRA’s commitment to internationalization. Jenni Halpin previously served as Secretary in 2013-2014. I would also like to recognize and extend gratitude to the runners-up: Graham J. Murphy, Hugh O’Connell, and Stefan ‘Steve’ Rabitsch. SFRA is as strong as the commitment and service of all those who are willing to devote their time and effort to the association, regardless of whether they are elected or not. Thank you!—Paweł Frelik, SFRA Immediate Past President, 2015-2016

David Y. Hughes (1924-2016). Everyone who has worked on H.G. Wells’s  The War of the Worlds (1898), whether as a literary text or as a cultural phenomenon, is indebted to the scholarship of David Hughes. He was one of the earliest students of the rich collection of H.G. Wells’s manuscripts, letters, and personal papers kept at the University of Illinois, where he earned his PhD in 1962. His thesis, a pioneering textual edition of Wells’s story of a Martian invasion, was unpublishable for copyright reasons although it is still consulted by scholars. It was not until 1993 that Hughes’s masterful Critical Edition of Wells’s text (co-edited with Harry M. Geduld) appeared. Instead, he first made his mark with another piece of Wells research, his 1966 Journalism Quarterly article on the pirated versions of The War of the Worlds serialized in the New York Journal and Boston Post.

In 1973, the second issue of SFS carried an annotated bibliography of Wells’s science journalism by Hughes and Robert M. Philmus. This was reprinted in their 1975 anthology of Wells’s Early Writings in Science and Science Fiction, a book that remains indispensable today. That Hughes was a subtle and perceptive critic of Wells can be seen from one of his all-too-rare essays, “The Mood of A Modern Utopia,” published in Extrapolation (1977). He was also an acute and sometimes astringent reviewer, most notably in his demolition (in SFS 12: 1977) of the late Frank McConnell’s “Critical Editions” of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds published by Oxford University Press in 1977. Among other things, Hughes revealed that the copy-text used for The War of the Worlds—never actually specified in McConnell’s edition—was a bowdlerized version of the original Heinemann text produced in 1951 for the schools market. To my knowledge, Frank McConnell took this criticism to heart and did not resent it unduly. It must have given Hughes considerable satisfaction that his own paperback edition of The War of the Worlds later appeared in Oxford’s “World’s Classics” series.

David Hughes taught humanities in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan for many years, becoming a full professor in 1978. He was a much-loved man, whom I first met in the 1970s when we explored the supposed landing-site of the first Martian cylinder outside Woking. Nobody could then have imagined that Wells would eventually become the prime tourist attraction of this otherwise unassuming Surrey market town, where he had written the early drafts of The War of the Worlds in 1895-1896. David Hughes above all would have been delighted when, in late 2016, the Mayor of Woking unveiled the world’s only public statue dedicated to H.G. Wells.—Patrick Parrinder, H.G. Wells Society, London

CFP: Speculative Visions. Readers of SFS who receive their copies early may be able to meet this journal’s March deadline for an interesting special issue. InVisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture invites scholarly articles and creative works on the topic of “speculative visions,” especially as they pertain to posthuman bodies, extraordinary worlds, techno-utopias, and claustrophobic spaces of violence. Of additional interest is how such speculative visions manifest within, and adapt to, a variety of media forms. Send completed papers (Chicago Manual of Style format) between 4,000 and 10,000 words to <> by 1 March 2017.—Victoria Gao, InVisible Culture

CFP: Medicine and Mystery: The Dark Side of Science in Victorian Fiction. Scholars of nineteenth-century sf may be interested in an interdisciplinary conference (8 June 2017) devoted to representations of medicine and mystery in the Victorian era; among others, one text that might apply is Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896). The Victorian Popular Fiction Association (VPFA) and the National University of Ireland, Galway, invite paper proposals taking perspectives from literary history, medical history, and the medical humanities. For more extensive information see the conference website: <>. Submit 300-word proposals and a short biography of 50 words in Word format to Ms. Anna Gasperini and Dr. Paul Rooney at <medicineandmystery19@gmail .com< by 17 March 2017.—Anna Gasperini and Paul Rooney, National University of Ireland

CFP: Special Issue on Global Dystopias. Junot Díaz, Fiction Editor of Boston Review, invites submissions for an ongoing series of stories, essays, and interviews on the theme of global dystopia, which will culminate in a special print issue in the fall of 2017. Over the last decades, dystopian narratives have proliferated to the point where they seem to have become our default mode for conceptualizing the future. But dystopias are not merely fantasies of a minatory future; they offer critically important reflection upon our present. If (as Tom Moylan has argued) traditional dystopias crafted cognitive maps of the terrors of the twentieth century, what cognitive maps does our current dystopian turn provide us in our turbulent global present? Nonfiction, personal essays, genre fiction (sf, fantasy, horror, Afrofuturist, slipstream), and work that resides across/between genres are all welcome. Submissions might include issues of climate change, global democracy, Afrofuturism, the Global South, posthumanisms, and the future of females. The submissions period is open for fiction and nonfiction at <> until 1 May 2017.—The Editors, Boston Review

CFP: “Imagining Alternatives.” Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities, seeks submissions for a special issue on the topic of “Imagining Alternatives.” The editors invite authors to investigate speculative alternatives to existing systems of knowledge and distributions of power, including Gothic fiction, fan fiction, Afrofuturism, dystopian and apocalyptic fiction, alternate history, cyberpunk, and steampunk. In addition to traditional essays, the editors will consider roundtables, interviews, photo essays, web comics, YouTube videos, Flash animations, web-based games, and other creative works. Please direct inquiries to Megan Condis at >megancondis> or on Twitter @MeganCondis. Submit work on the Resilience website <> and indicate in the abstract that you are submitting a piece for the “Imagining Alternatives” special issue. Submissions are due by 1 June 2017.—Megan Condis, Resilience

CFP: A Clarke Odyssey: Marking the Centenary of Sir Arthur C. Clarke (9 December 2017). Organizers from Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Kent invite 20-minute presentations for a conference devoted to the work of Arthur C. Clarke. Suggested topics include any of Clarke’s publications, influences (on his own work, as well as the impact of his work on others), adaptations, A.I. and computers, the Second World War and the Cold War, alien encounters/first contact, and Big Dumb Objects. Please submit 400-word abstracts and a 100-word biography to both <AndrewMButler42@> and <> by 30 July 2017.—Andrew M. Butler, Canterbury Christchurch University, and P.A. March-Russell, University of Kent

CFP: SFRA 2017 Unknown Pasts / Unseen Futures. We invite submissions for papers for the 2017 SFRA conference to be hosted at the University of California, Riverside. Drawing on Ursula K. Le Guin's acceptance speech for the National Book Foundation's medal for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters, we seek papers that explore the importance of the speculative imagination for helping us to recognize that social and political structures of our present are only one option among many rather than inevitable formations. Our keynote speaker will be Nnedi Okorafor. Please send proposals of 250 words, plus bibliography to <> by 15 March 2017. For more information see the SFRA website.—Sherryl Vint, University of California, Riverside

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