Science Fiction Studies

#23 = Volume 8, Part 1 = March 1981


Darko Suvin

A Brief Valedictory

After 22 issues and a couple of thousand pages, this is the first issue of Science-Fiction Studies which I shall not be co-editing. My decision to resign (for the reasons which I mention later on in this valedictory) has been only narrowly averted at least twice before. If anyone had forecast in 1971, when in a Des Moines bar after a particularly dismal SFRA day I dared Dale Mullen to launch SFS, that the new journal would be around nine years later, I would have been amazed. For it was clear from the start that SFS (perhaps there is some point in saying this now) would be worth while only if it utterly refused both horns of the dilemma facing a cultural periodical in our age. First, it would have to refuse being a mailbox into which sheets of written paper are dropped by a number of individuals and haphazardly selected for reproduction by a smaller number of other individuals, in order to achieve promotion and tenure (for the droppers) and that miserable amount of social power which a small cultural journal might be able to have (for the selectors). Whatever the sins of commission and (especially) omission I have been party to in SFS, I am very happy that it never became such a sin-against-the- holy-ghost, uncritical and unthinking reflection of our readers. I say this in all personal humility, for the learning experience that SFS (I believe) has been for its contributors and readers has benefited no one as much as its editors (or myself, to keep to the first person singular): but the whole point of the SFS endeavor has been to pool and mutually induce the best in our potential readers' understanding, to bring it to bear upon SF, and to hope the example will be contagious. Second, SFS would have to refuse becoming a mini-orthodoxy, inevitably reproducing in complementary form some of the worst features of the orthodoxies it was combatting; and for all the manifold temptations, on the whole SFS has (I believe) never had and I trust never will have such an orthodoxy. Of course, it would be disingenuous not to note that instead—to paraphrase Leavis's valedictory to Scrutiny— a number among the most interesting contributions to SFS have certainly evinced a largely overlapping conception of the function of criticism at the present time and of the proper horizon for a critical journal. What this conception and horizon have up to now been was largely spelled out in the Editorial to SFS No. 17.

On ending Scrutiny, Leavis further complained that "if, holding that each number must be something more than a miscellany, you at the same time exact a high standard of work, you will not in the most favourable circumstances find that there is a large choice of suitable contributors." All depends, of course, upon what one means by a large number. In the case of SFS, in any relative sense Leavis's complaint would apply; but in absolute numbers, I do not feel disappointed. Perhaps North America and Europe in the 1970s were richer in "suitahle contributors" than Britain in the 1930s-40s, perhaps the subject-matter of SF tends to counteract the elitism which Leavis's Cambridge, even at its most nonconformist, was prone to, and perhaps there are (probably there are) other factors I am too near to perceive; but in retrospect, the combination of Americans and non-Americans, academics and non-academics, history and theory-oriented contributors that SFS has assembled in these years seems to me not too
far from the optimum available given the time, money, ideological climate, and other factors determining the SFS context.
It would also be disingenuous not to reveal here what many people already know, namely that SFS has also incurred powerful enmities in the little world of SF criticism. This probably includes some people whose contributions were not accepted, but it would be only fair to say that it includes also ideologico-political objectors who pretend or sincerely believe that non-Americanism is antiAmericanism (and that the SFS move to Canada was therefore not a logistic necessity but a sinister plot), and that tolerating and indeed encouraging Marxist and semiotic approaches together with the positivistic ones makes the rather mildly left-of-center SFS a hotbed of radicalism (would 'twere true!). In tried and true fashion, the enemies of SFS have not come forth to debate its merits and demerits in any aboveboard and falsifiable way. The only visible tip of the iceberg is a letter by a well-known SF writer-cum-critic, published in College English for 1973, warning its readers that my own criticism is suspect because it comes from a Yugoslav Marxist. However, the bulk of the iceberg is more secretive and anonymous, and is to be found in whispering campaigns and— most dangerously—untruthful letters to potential funding bodies. All of this is not particularly savory, but having been the lightning-rod involved, I believe I ought not to take my leave from either the SFS readers or from my fellow-editors without letting some light into it: this is the context of the journal you have been reading and the reason it might yet, one of these years, have to cease publication.

One hopes that, with the excellent editors remaining to guide its fortunes, with public scholarly testimonials both to SFS as such and to work published in it getting warmer and more numerous almost monthly, and with the support not only from the editors three universities but also from the SSHRC of Canada, this will not happen for some time yet. Indeed, it is ironical for this to be envisaged while in at least three European countries efforts are under wav to found journals on SF whose promoters write us that they have been emboldened by the SFS example. Thus, this valedictory is not a cud for depression or a statement that the grapes are sour. If I can afford them and if I do not feel I should boycott them because they are from South Africa, many kinds of grapes are still very sweet. But after eight years it is perhaps permissible for one's interest to change from white to black grapes or—to drop the vinticultural metaphor—from editing an S-F journal to concentrating on ones own writings, on SF or otherwise. One can thus be fair to the contributors and readers (who will have the benefit of fresher eyes at the helm) as well as to oneself. At the same time, one can practice the democratic anti-individualism one preache, while being virtuously rewarded for it by avoiding the corruptions even this small power inevitably brings.

My parting salute goes first of all to Dale Mullen and then to my co-editors (now the present editors), who have made it possible to carry on mostly without business manager or publicity, to achieve a circulation nosing into four digits, and to produce 22 issues of a useful journal. But further, it goes to the literally scores of contributors and consultants with whom I have corresponded and debated SFS matters. They not only made the journal what it is, they made me the inestimable present of sharing the joyous learning which is the main thing making life in our dark age worth living. To my mind, their critical friendship, SFS itself, and this partial leave-taking, all contribute to preventing Auden's awful example of:

These had stopped seeking
But went on speaking.
Have not contributed
But have diluted...

Wishing no harm
But to he warm
These fell asleep.
On the burning heap.

The Borgo Press: Setting the Record Straight

In SFS No. 21, p. 217, Robert Philmus seems to imply that The Milford Series: Popular Writers of Today (not mentioned by name) deals only with individual SF authors, and that George Schlusser (sic: please, the poor man's name is George Edgar Slusser) is the editor or author of most of these books for the Borgo Press. Not so. In fact, the Milford Series titles deal with a wide variety of authors and genres, and George has written only 7 books out of 28 published in the series. I edit the books myself. Typical of our publications are monographs on John Hawkes, Anthony Burgess, Colin Wilson, Kurt Vonnegut, Alistair MacLean; on our schedule for October is an original study by Colin Wilson on Jean-Paul Sartre. We have issued contracts for studies of Roald Dahl, William Styron, Leonard Wibberly, Joseph Heller, Kingsley Amis, John Cheever, Stephen King, Mervyn Peake, Robert Nathan, Raymond Chandler, Georgette Heyer, Margaret Drabble, Iris Murdoch, Leslie Charteris, John Braine, D.H. Lawrence, Italo Calvino, Jerzy Kosinski, Jack Kerouac, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, among many others. Our critics include George Guffey, Brian Stableford, Douglas Mackey, Dale Salwak, Welch D. Everman, Anthony Wolk, Mark Siegel, Keith Neilson, Clifford Bendau, Jeffrey Elliot, Andrew Kaveney, John Dinan, Susan Wood, Stephen Potts, David Pringle, Edgar Chapman, Jeffrey Walker, Clark Mayo, Richard Mathews, and Albert Berger, among others. One final correction: Harlan Ellison: Unrepentant Harlequin and The Space Odysseys of Arthur C Clarke are available for $2.95 each in paper and $8.95 each in cloth, not $l.95 each in paper as indicated.   —Robert Reginald


News on the Italian Front

Luigi Rosso, professor of aesthetics at the University of Palermo, has edited a collection of 27 theoretical or historical communications that were delivered at the International Convention on SF and Criticism held in Palermo in November 1978, and had them published, with an excellent introduction, under the title La
fantascienza e la critica. Testi del Convegno internazionale di Palermo (Milano: Feltrinelli. 1980—price L. 11.000). Despite the very high opinion all its readers may have about this volume of criticism, it unfortunately cannot be properly reviewed in SFS because nine of its contributors are editors or editorial consultants of this journal. Other contributors are Gillo Dorfles, Jean Baudrillard, Andrzej Zgorzelski (whose essay was published in English in SFS No. 19) Michel Maffesoli, Jacques Goimard, Ida Magli, Ugo Volli, Carlo Bernardini, Danilo Mainardi, Giorgio Celli, Lucio Lombardo Radice, Gennaro d'lppolito, Mario Perniola, Giancinto Spagnoletti, Romolo Runcini, Brian W. Aldiss, and Manfred Nagl (a revised version of whose contribution appears in this issue of SFS) — Nadia Khouri                                                                                                               

Numero 0 of a new Italian fanzine, entitled Dragon Fly, has recently appeared. It contains a second-hand, mainly biographical article on Poe, some SF stories, a highly amusing scenario told in three captioned stills from SF and horror films, etc. Issues are available at L. 1.500 each from La Libreria S.F./Via A. Albertazzi, 89a-89b/00137 Roma/ltaly.              

Of longer standing (and greater substance) is the fanzine called FamZine, now in its 6th or 7th number and available from Dionisio Castello/Via Basilicata, 15/04019 Terracina (LT)/ltaly (cost unknown). FamZine regularly includes essays and reviews as well as SF and elaborate graphics. The latest issue to have come to my attention is devoted to surveys of the SF scene in France, the Benelux countries, West Germany, Austria, Poland, the USSR, Spain, the US, Canada, Japan, and Australia, and comes as a neatly typeset, half-folio size brochure (67 pp.) plus s'x ready-to-frame drawings by Pino Genovese.—RMP

Carlo Pagetti has been appointed editor of a new series of SF criticism to be published in Bologna. The first volume, due out in June 1981, will be devoted to the Utopian-SF tradition in British fiction; the second, projected for the end of the year or early 1982, will deal with Anglo-American SF in the 1970s. Contributions in English are welcome. Please address all inquiries and communications to Professor Carlo Pagetti/lstituto di Inglese/Via Galilei. 48/65100 Pescara/ltalv.—CP


Florida Conference on the Fantastic

Authors John Barth and Brian W. Aldiss will head the list of featured speakers appearing at the Second International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, March 18-21, at FloridaAtlanticUniversity (Boca Raton).               

Academic papers concerning the fantastic in the arts will be organized into approximately 70 sessions, while an Author's Readings program will present about 30 performances of new works, including readings by Fritz Leiber, Gene Wolfe, John Morressy, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Jo Clayton, Gary Alan Ruse, Justin Leiber, Mark Dintenfass, F.R. Fries and others. A fantastic symphony, "Star-Songs" by Somtow Sucharitkul, a Graduate Repertory Theater production, a book exhibit, a media display, an art show, dramatic readings, a video tape room, and a dozen feature films are also scheduled.                

For registration forms, housing and other details, send name and address to: Conference on the Fantastic, College of Humanities, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL33431.                

An intensive one-day workshop on the teaching of fantasy and SF will be conducted Friday, March 20, 1981. Designed to familiarize secondary and college teachers with the literature, the workshop is directed by Marshall B. Tymn, Professor of English at EasternMichiganUniversity, a prominent researcher in the field. Roger C. Schlobin, Professor of English at Purdue, and Vincent Miranda, Science Fiction Editor for the Saturday Evening Post, will also participate. Intensive reviews of criticism, annotated bibliographies, syllabi, lesson and unit plans will be presented. Teachers will receive (free) a lO0-page manual prepared especially for their use in teaching. Workshop fee is $25.00. For registration forms, send name and address to Science Fiction Workshop, College of Humanities, FIU (see above). —Robert Collins                                                                                                              

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