Science Fiction Studies

#32 = Volume 11, Part 1 = March 1984


Professor Kagarlitsky "Disciplined"

On November 2, 1983, the Moscow correspondent of the London Times reported that Professor Julius Kagarlitsky had been arraigned before a disciplinary panel at the Lunacharsky Theatrical Institute and removed from his post. Sources said the move was linked to dissident activities on the part of Professor Kagarlitsky's son, Boris, who took part in a "new left" discussion group criticizing Soviet society from a Marxist standpoint.                

Kagarlitsky, who is the recipient of the Pilgrim Award for 1972 and an Honorary Vice-President of the H.G. Wells Society, needs no introduction to SFS readers. His friends have been aware of the threat to his position for some time—even though his son, who had been held by the KGB for several months, was released without trial in the spring of 1983.                

Experience has shown that the Soviet authorities are swayed by international criticism of their actions. It is hoped that SFS readers will make known their feelings about this case, which deals a devastating blow to Soviet scholarship and criticism in our field. We must hope that the victimization of Professor Kagarlitsky will be lifted, and that he will be promptly reinstated in his post. —Patrick Parrinder

Embarrassing Reference

George A. Miller, in his essay "Some Problems in the Theory of Demonstrative Reference," has the following observations to make about "Ostensive Definition":

Parents and teachers often explain the meaning of a word to children by demonstrating one or more instances. This method of instruction can be highly effective for proper nouns and for many common nouns denoting concrete objects. Its effectiveness poses a puzzle, however, because there is usually an indefinite variety of hypotheses that a child could entertain as to what has been demonstrated. If, for example, an adult points to a cat and says `That is a eat,' how does a child know that` `cat' refers to the whole animal, and not to some property of the cat (colour, size, weight, odour, warmth), or to some part of the cat (head, body, tail, hair), or to some posture, developmental stage, or orientation of the cat, or to some combination of these, or even to some aspect of the act of demonstration itself? Coupling `cat' with a variety of instances differing in non-criteria! attributes is supposed to eliminate some hypotheses (assuming that children are capable of abstracting common featlures and discarding others), but it also opens up the possibility that `cat' refers to the sequence, number, or timing of the instances. (Speech, Place, and Action, ed. Robert J. Jarvella & Wolfgang Klein [Chichester, UK: Wiley, 1982], p.67)

So much for all the theories that assume the form "SF is what I am pointing at...."—Darko Suvin   

Hallowe'en and Cinematic Trickery in E.T.

To the elements which Andrew Gordon adduces in "E.T: as Fairytale" (SFS No. 31) should be added the mythos of Hallowe'en visitations. Within this context, the alien's globular space craft corresponds to a Hallowe'en pumpkin. Seen in a night shot through trees and shrubbery, the craft's interior lighting causes its line of windows to strikingly resemble the candle-illuminated zigzag mouth traditionally cut into such a pumpkin. Also relevant, of course, is the Hallowe'en fancy-dress parade, including the child (mentioned by Gordon) dressed up as Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back. —David Ketterer

David Ketterer is quite correct about the Hallowe'en imagery in E.T: I do briefly mention the "trick-or-treat" aspect of Spielberg's films, but perhaps I should have expanded on that reference. However, Pauline Kael's New Yorker review (June 14, 1982, p. 119) goes into detail about the spaceship as pumpkin and the aliens as trick-or-treaters. I cite her article, but did not wish to re-cover all her territory. Certainly the Hallowe'en mythos reinforces Spielberg's filmic fairy tale.—Andrew Gordon

 Peter Fitting on the Borgo Press:Two Reactions and a Note on SFS's Reviewing Policy

I normally don't respond to reviews, but I could not let Peter Fitting's comments (in SFS No. 31) on five Borgo Press titles pass without registering a strong objection to Borgo's being characterized as either a fan or an SF publisher. Of the 350 titles we publish or distribute, less than one-fourth deal in any way with SF or related fields; two-thirds of the list consist of scholarly books in history, political science, literature, religion, social sciences, and philology, the remaining titles being aimed at a somewhat more popular market (primarily large public libraries). The interview volumes reviewed by Fitting obviously belong in the latter category. We make no effort to sell to the fan or trade markets. Only two of those who have wAtten books for us on SF topics could be considered "fans" by any stretch of the imagination, and both of these are published novelists. The remaining authors in the Milford Series are well-known academic scholars with appropriate credentials, reputations, and publication lists (including many articles published in SFS).                

I also object to Fitting's statement that Dr Stableford is ignorant of the Strugatsky brothers' work. Stableford has read more widely in this field than any other critic of whom I'm aware, to suggest that he does not mean precisely what he says is sheer nonsense. Fitting may, if he wishes, disagree with Stableford's theories on modern SF, but he should not, in my opinion, be casting aspersions on his knowledge of the field, which I would respectfully suggest is greater by far than Fitting's

Finally, I regret SFS's failure to mention series titles and numbers for these books, which represent, I believe, an important element of the bibliographic record, one of interest to many readers and libraries. The correct price for the paperbound editions of these books is $3.95 each. The cloth editions, which were not mentioned in the review, are $9.95 each. —Robert Reginald

Peter Fitting's criticisms of `Wilderness Visions, the recently published first volume of my study of frontier myth in American SF, are remarkably similar to what my own would be—if I were not aware of the contents of the second volume, New Frontiers, Old Horizons, which will appear sometime this year. I initially contracted with Borgo Press to publish the study in the form in which it was conceived: as a single volume stating a general theory and illustrating how it illuminates several different types of S-F frontier writing. When I agreed to re-edit the study into two smaller volumes, I did not adequately anticipate the confusion that might result from readers' assuming the first volume represents the full range of my argument. I now realize I should have clarified the relationship between the two volumes in my introduction to Wilderness Visions, explaining how the argument is extended in the second volume. In fact, Wilderness Visions states my general approach to the subject and then analyzes only one type of SF frontier story: the literal, Manifest Destiny tradition exemplified most clearly for my purposes by Heinlein's and Asimov's early works. New Frontiers, Old Horizons examines the ironic, metaphorical traditions which Fitting properly criticizes Wilderness Visions for ignoring.                

Actually, Fitting's analysis of the "restrictions" from which Wilderness Visions suffers quite remarkably anticipates the contents of New Frontiers, Old Horizons. Indeed, the chapter titles of the second volume indicate the extent to which my overall treatment of the subject parallels Fitting's criticisms. Chapter One, "New Worlds in Outer Space:`Regenerative and Ironic Frontiers," focuses primarily on SF frontiers which restore to the drama of "subjugating new territory" the "human" tragedy (here revealed in conquest of the "alien" natives, as it is in this tradition of Western fiction). (Major examples of this tradition include The Martian Chronicles and The Word for World is Forest.) Chapter Two, "Regressive Frontiers: Pastoralism and Other Survivors," focuses on the peculiar ambivalence of American post-holocaust fiction, which curiously mingles grim warnings with yearning for return to simpler, more "natural" or more heroic frontier conditions. (Here the most important examples are The Long Tomorrow, City, and "A Boy and His Dog.") Finally, the volume concludes with a theoretical chapter, "The Aesthetics of Science Fiction Frontiers," which argues for the primary importance to SF of analogy and metaphor used in conjunction with— and sometimes even exclusive of—extrapolation.                

The argument, implicit in the entire study, about the fundamental importance of analogy (in this case, the frontier analogy) in SF essentially develops Fitting's observation that extrapolation "is not the central concern and function of the genre." Indeed, the neglected importance of analogy and metaphor as structural priniciples in SF is asserted in all my major arguments: that criticism based on extrapolative aesthetics (essentially derived from John W. Campbell's standards) is limited and often simply inappropriate to evaluating actual SF texts; that American SF can be fruitfully studied in the context of American literature and American studies; that "academic" studies such as Richard Slotkin's Regeneration Through Violence, Leo Marx's The Machine in the Garden, and R.W.B. Lewis's The American Adam help illuminate many texts which have little interest as scientific extrapolation, yet are highly interesting as literature.

I hope, then, New Frontiers, Old Horizons will answer most of Fitting's highly perceptive criticisms about Riderless Visions' limitations. But on other matters we appear to disagree. First, the review misrepresents my argument on two basic points. As my previous comments indicate, this study of mine is an examination of American SF in the context of American literature and American culture, not an examination of "the 'American' character of SF" in general, as Fitting implies. Indeed, I criticize David Ketterer's otherwise valuable New Worlds for Old for too simplistically universalizing this frontier mythology (while admitting the extent to which the frontier myth has become supranational, both because it strikes sympathetic chords elsewhere and because it merges with other mythologies originating in colonization experiences). Also, while I do place great emphasis on the metaphorical nature of the frontier myth, this does not imply that it is therefore somehow not "literally" true. Essentially, this opposition between metaphorical and literal "truth" seems to me meaningless. Like all myths, the American frontier myth consists of narrative patterns and symbols which help us interpret the significance of "facts" (whether historical or scientific) in terms of central cultural values.                

The confusion here stems from different conceptions about the relationship between "myth" and "truth." And here I simply disagree with Fitting's assertion that "in SF the frontier myth cannot be shown to be a central organizing myth"—though much depends on clarifying the terms of our disagreement. Publication of the full study may clarify that my operative definition of frontier myth is both more focused (because it treats it as an American culture myth) and more flexible (because it includes ironic reversals and inversions of the primary Manifest Destiny tradition) than Fitting assumes. And, more fundamentally, I would argue that myth is "innocent" in precisely the sense that language is "innocent": though interpretations of historical experience and affirmations of cultural values are to some extent built into any such communication system, the system itself is capable of communicating very different messages.                

A central culture myth like that we have created of our frontier experience is not captive to any particular ideology, since it is simply a symbolic vocabulary for discussing and dramatizing problems. Thus, though the frontier myth is often identified with the values of Manifest Destiny doctrines it has so often been used to project, the same myth has often been employed to reverse or ironically comment on the values reified by this tradition. Just as Moby Dick, Walden, and "Young Goodman Brown" employ archetypes of frontier myth to comment ironically on the implications of the Manifest Destiny doctrine in the 19th century, so The Martian Chronicles, The Word for World is Forest, and The Space Merchants comment ironically on the Manifest Destiny tradition in contemporary SF. Finally, I might observe that judgments about literary quality cannot be inferred from such topologies. Both the Manifest Destiny tradition and the ironic tradition have been used creatively and expressively, as well as to reaffirm illusions and clichés. As has often been noted, the most interesting American literature often expresses ambivalence about the ambiguous implications of our central values of "freedom," "individualism," and "progress." Perhaps SF's special appeal is linked to its capacity to reinvigorate our sense of the importance of our frontier heritage by linking it to exciting and threatening possibilities in our own age.

Which brings me to a final point about a specific novel. Frederik Pohl wrote a charming letter immediately after your last issue, congratulating me for identifying the "structural flaw" in The Space Merchants, stating further that he himself recognized the problem some years ago and has written an as-yet-unpublished sequel to address it. I am highly flattered, but a bit embarrassed to confess that I do not intend my interpretation of the conclusion as "criticism" in quite this sense. Actually, I rather like the novel's conclusion, partially because it illustrates how debate about America's central values is inevitably both fought and resolved in terms of the frontier symbols that structure the debate. Thus when the "consies" win, they substitute a conservationist for an exploitative mythos, but they, like their opponents, eagerly embrace the space frontier as an answer to our problems. While the resolution is a bit naive because the text does not acknowledge this implicit irony, such "inconsistency" has a logic of its own, which permeates much of even our ironic frontier SF and which illustrates how satire can attempt to salvage the promise of the American Dream from fatuous boosterism and cynical commercialism. Perhaps striving for a more tough-minded consistency will strengthen the satire, and I hope it has inspired Pohl to new heights. But in any case The Space Merchants seems to me a highly successful novel in the context of its time: it comments with irreverent wit on the foolish and destructive aspects of the American heritage, without abandoning entirely the notion that the American "frontier spirit" can help us to learn from the past yet look positively to new frontiers in the future.—David Mogen

In regard to Robert Reginald's letter, let me point out, first of all, that I did not say Borgo Press was a fan publisher. I wrote that the books (under review) "illustrate a particular form of fan publishing." I stand by that.                

As for my censure of Brian Stableford, I was objecting to the comment of his which I quoted, and I brought up the Strugatskys as a counter example which he ignores—at least in the sense of taking no cognizance of it.                

Finally, the prices which I quoted were those I found printed on the inside front covers of the review copies I had in hand.
                Let me add a word about David Mogen's remarks. He is surely right to identify my disagreement with him as pertaining to "myth." His comments, however, reached me too late for me to give them now the thoughtful answer that they deserve.——Peter Fitting
Robert Reginald's letter offers an occasion for us to clarify certain aspects of this journal's reviewing policy. Perhaps the most important thing to be said on this score is that we solicit neither "sweetheart" nor "vendetta" reviews (which is not to deny that once or twice we have unwittingly given a commission to someone with a personal axe to grind). Indeed, to obviate any suspicion to the contrary, we also have a policy of not carrying any review of the editors' publications.                

What is perhaps more to the point of the first of Mr Reginald's objections, we as a rule ignore "fan" criticism in the strict sense; and we thus presume that if Professor Fitting did not mean that term as a somewhat loose characterization of the monographs he was dealing with, he would have returned them and disputed our (implicit) determination that they are worthy of being noticed.                

Professor Fitting did, by the way, include information as to the series numbers of the Borgo publications. But thinking that it would only obscure the bibliographical essentials, we decided to omit such data.—RMP

A Case for Uncertainty

Since I am interested not only in my own fame, fortunes, and priority but also in the subject of my book Comic Tones in Science Fiction: The Art of Compromise with Nature, which David Samuelson reviews in a cryptic yet provocative manner (in SFS No. 31), I need briefly to reply, certainly to reply in an unfinished form. If I read him correctly, Samuelson finds that my notion of reading certain SF and certain writings of the late 18th-century Enlightenment as anatomies of and celebrations of "uncertainty" in human knowledge is both unclear and lacking in purpose. Yet having said that "the reader may be entitled to ask the purpose of the whole enterprise," he next observes, "If the whole is uncertain, so are some of the parts." He goes on to quibble, but his wit indicates he has understood.

Granted, my examples are too few; and some of my sentences may be far too long. The book is imperfect. But the importance of the "high argument" in Comic Tones should not be doubted; and methinks Samuelson, in fact, acknowledges that in the course of his bad humor. When he faults that portion of my text which deals with Lem, Scholes, and Suvin, Samuelson seems to be at his cryptic and bad-humored best. But, even here, I think I can read exactly where he stands; and he stands firmly behind my argument. He writes: "His prize samples, however, are Lem, Scholes, and Suvin, only one of whom clearly shows the kind of uncertainty Hassler seems to prize." I read this statement to mean that Samuelson himself putatively finds an excessively dogmatic "certainty" in at least two of our distinguished precursors in theory and that only one of the three demonstrates Samuelson's eyes the attractive humility and acceptance of uncertainty which can be supportive of real progress.

My point is that the "uncertainty principle" supported by certain tonal characteristics that I call "comic" is the prerequisite for progress not only in science but also in some areas of literature. That is what my book is about...and Samuelson knows it.
—Donald M. Hassler

A Demand for "the Social-Sciences Perspective"

I enjoy reading SFS; it is a useful tool in my sociology of literature studies, and I always suggest to my students that they will find it an interesting and provocative journal of ideas and commentaries. But as a sociologist and instructor of sociological theory and contemporary culture, I am dissatisfied that a certain area of scholarship seems to be absent from many of the articles you publish.                

As Ray Bradbury has stated, "Science Fiction is really sociological studies of the future, things that the writer believes are going to happen by putting two and two together." When writers for journals are putting two and two together, they might pay more attention than they usually do to the terminology they employ as regards sociological theory. When, for example, your contributors make a statement regarding some aspect(s) of conflict analysis, please have them consider the simple fact that many educated readers would like it specified whether they are basing their personal interpretation on the conflict theories of Marx, Gerhard Lenski, Floyd Hunter, C. Wright Mills, or Ralf Dahrendorf, to name some among the host of those whose works touch not only on conflict but also on the influences of social stratification, social class, culture, complex organizations, social structure, collective behavior, social movements, etc. Then, too, nothing is more grating to those of us involved in the social sciences than to discover a commentator identifying a society or culture by the simplistic tag "technological." Why can't he or she utilize the works of sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin and say, "this is a technological society/culture with cynical sensate attributes"; or, "this is a technological society/culture with active ideational attributes"; or, etc.                

SFS should advise contributors to pay more attention to the proper identification of sociological theorists or themes in the works of Bradbury, Bloch, Poul Anderson, Blish, Dick, Varley, and so forth Other than concentrating on such approaches as the paradoxical color-dimension of SF—the significance of the invisible man's wearing a purple fig-leaf before destroying the alien—or some such equally inane theme best left buried in an English literature class for college juniors. If SFS is to remain a truly interdisciplinary journal, then it is time that it gives equal attention to the social-sciences perspective rather than isolating itself in the literary perspective found in most college English Departments. (This applies to SFS book reviewers also.) Let us work towards that goal in a spirit of fellowship.—Harold Lee Prosser

Dr Prosser's remarks on "conflict analysis" in general terms accord with a longstanding policy of SFS: that critics should put their theoretical assumptions on the table. What he is specifically asking for, however, seems to touch upon one of the practicable limits of such a policy. Apart from (some) bibliographies, virtually every article we have published over the last ten years would appear to have something or other to do with ''conflict" in the sense he indicates; but we suspect that most of our readers, perhaps including Dr Prosser, would not be grateful for habitual disquisitions on "conflict theory" any more than they would be if our writers regularly satisfied cognate complaints from linguists as to whose "analysis" or "conception" of language was being relied on.

As for Dr Prosser's fear that SFS may become too narrowly literary, we take comfort from the fact that he apparently had to go back three years for the instance which he singles out to parody: David Lake's "The Whiteness of Griffin and H.G. Wells's Images of Death, 1897-1914" (in SFS No. 23). That essay, moreover, can serve to illustrate the difficulties we face in trying to appeal—as we do try to do, so far as we can when (excepting book reviews) we have to rely almost exclusively on unsolicited manuscripts—to readerly interests that are perhaps more diverse than those of any other specialized journal..We did not and do not imagine that what Professor Lake explicitly has to say would be of any particular interest to someone in the social sciences; on the other hand, we would point out that he does in effect furnish raw data which could be useful to a psychological or even a sociological investigator (witness the loosely comparable psycho-sociological findings about the preference buyers of SF have for yellow—a color, by the way, to which Wells attributes negative value). Evidently that area of possible sociological inquiry is of no concern to Dr Prosser; but then again, it would be quite foolish of us to attempt to guess which articles would (have what) interest (for) a given reader, or even a segment of our readership, and still more foolish to base our decision to accept or reject an essay on any such guess of ours.—RMP

The First Orwell Conference

In regard to your note about conferences on Orwell (SFS No. 31), I should point out that the first took place at West Chester University on October 5-6th of this year. Irving Howe was the keynote speaker, and the other talks included my own "Trends in Orwell Criticism, 1968-83." The conference proceedings will appear in the January 1984 issue of College Literture (published at that Pennsylvania university). For further information write to the editor, Bernard Oldsey, at the English Department, West Chester, PA i9380. —Paul Schlueter

Utopian Social Control

The Department of Communication at l'Université de Montréal and the journal Anthropologie et Sociétés are organizing a two-day symposium on Utopian Social Control for September 1984. The deadline for all submissions is May 15, 1984. If you want to participate, please contact Jean-Bernard Fabre/NEalOPIA/525 Sherbrooke St. East, apt. 10/Montreal, Ouébec H2L IK2.—MA

moonbut.gif (4466 bytes)Back to Home