Science Fiction Studies

#54 = Volume 18, Part 2 = July 1991


Northrop Frye: In Memoriam

Northrop Frye, the critical exemplar par excellence of the ``educated imagination'' died January 22, 1991. Acknowledged as Canada's leading literary critic, Norrie, an ordained minister, born 1912 in Sherbrooke, Québec, received his basic education in Moncton, New Brunswick before going to the University of Toronto. He spent all of his 52-year career as a scholar and teacher at Victoria College, the University of Toronto. While internationally recognized as one of the seminal literary theorists of the '60s and '70s, he is as noted in Canada for his concern with the development of Canadian cultural life and generations of poets and novelists, such as Margaret Atwood. A charismatic teacher, a brilliant scholar, a dedicated humanist, Frye was a particularly warm, generous individual.  While he could speak about his life and times in the simple language of a rural pastor, his rhetorical and poetic mastery of words contributed to his unique power as an essayist and critic.                

Frye is most renowned for his second published work, The Anatomy of Criticism (1957), in which he set out to establish a comprehensive autonomous, contemporary poetics. For a substantial period, through the '60s and '70s, the arguments and terminology of the Anatomy were the ``hot topic'' that pervaded the discussions of graduate students and faculty in departments of English and other literatures in North America. He based his poetic theory on the assumption that literary criticism was as autonomous a discipline as linguistics, psychology, physics or astronomy. In the Anatomy he established four theoretical foundations for his poetics: mode, myth, symbol, and genre. Each of these is related, respectively, to four types of criticism:  historical, ethical, archetypal, and rhetorical. The Anatomy gave a new prominence to the theory of genres and to archetypal criticism, which because of his liberal inclinations permitted the inclusion of paraliterary forms within discussions of poetics, rhetoric, and generic theory and as legitimate interests of literary scholars. He considered genres of popular culture to be worthy of serious discussion, just as were the ``great canonical figures,'' such as Shakespeare, Milton, Blake and T.S. Eliot, about each of whom Frye wrote one or more major studies.

His personal inspirations were William Blake and the Bible—texts which he made central to contemporary literary discussion. The Bible provided ``The Great Code'' for Western poetics, the foundation of ``Words With Power'' (incidentally, these phrases were the titles of his two later studies on the Bible). While the Bible was an intrinsic part of Frye's childhood and youth, Blake first inflamed his imagination as an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto.  The subject of his first major literary study, Fearful Symmetry (1947), Blake's visions provided the commitment to a life of the cultivated imagination and apocalyptic vision that shaped Frye's own career.  In stressing the centrality of the poetic imagination, Frye follows Blake's words in Jerusalem IV:

I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than the liberty both of body & mind to exercise the Divine Arts of lmagination. Imagination, the real & eternal World of which this Vegetable Universe is but a faint shadow, & in which we shall live in our Eternal or Imaginative Bodies when these Vegetable Mortal Bodies are no more.

Frye's Christianity, nurtured in rural Québec and New Brunswick, arose from the traditions of that radical Protestantism of the dissenters; so that it naturally tends towards the Gnostic, the Apocalyptic, and the Utopian.                

As the expression of the visionary aspect of humanity, Frye reminded people that all art is essential to a spiritual life. In his Massey lectures, The Educated Imagination (1963), Frye points out that everyone possesses imagination and that imagination must either be cultivated or it is crippled: ``Imagination won't stop until it's swallowed everything. The signposts of literature always keep pointing the same way, to a world where nothing is outside the human imagination.'' That imagination embraces the entire cosmos, ``the range of articulate human imagination as it extends from the height of imaginative heaven to the depth of imaginative hell. Literature is a human apocalypse, man's revelation to man, and criticism is not a body of adjudications, but the awareness of that revelation, the last judgement of mankind.'' The critical, the apocalyptic, and the visionary qualities attracted Frye to an interest in the Utopian and in SF, which he pointed out was rapidly replacing the murder mystery as the popular form favored by most readers.                

His theories of art and imagination also attracted Frye to an interest in Utopian literature. In his Anatomy, he spoke extensively of the historic role of the Utopia. His own Utopianism, though, was rooted in Blake's Eden and Jerusalem, as well as millennial Protestantism.  The concern with Utopian vision and with the all pervasive domain of the imagination naturally led him to an interest in SF, an interest which also led him to become one of the first members of the Editorial Board of SFS. While the centrality of genre theory in his poetics contributed to establishing SF as a recognized genre, his awareness of the relation of popular cultural forms to imaginative vision contributed to creating a climate where academic interest in SF and other paraliterary forms was permitted within university curricula.                

Frye was indefatigable in contributing his energies to cultural developments in which he believed. He played a major role in the serious acceptance of literature and the arts in his native land.  Simultaneously, he could maintain the self-awareness and detachment to point out that Canada's uniqueness and success might well be found in the fact that, unlike other national cultures, it could not discover and isolate its identity. Few people were more committed to the nurturing of Canadian culture than Frye; but his interest never became narrow, for he had a genuine commitment to the ideals of pluralism, liberalism, and tolerance. This is exemplified by how he combined with his curiosity about how the imagination developed through history his concern for nurturing new imaginative ventures. He defended those who did not agree with his position and with whom he did not agree: when the cultural theories of his colleague and lifelong friend, Marshall McLuhan, were bitterly criticized (particularly within the University of Toronto), Norrie Frye praised McLuhan's wit and insight and asserted the importance of his theories.                

At the University of Toronto he was the strongest defender of the Oxbridge-based college system of the University (which was abandoned under the impact of the growth of the idea of the ``megaversity'') and of the ideal of liberal and humanistic education which accompanied it. Later in his career, he also contributed to academic administration as Principal of Victoria College at the University of Toronto. After retirement he was named Chancellor of the University of Victoria College in the University of Toronto. However, Norrie, while an individual who had an international impact on the shaping of the directions of contemporary literary and cultural theory and on the self-confidence of his own homeland in its native literature, would really want to be remembered as an educator, opening up the infinite virtual worlds of imagination to artists, scholars, and the citizens of the future. -- Donald F. Theall, Trent University 


Dick, Deception, and Dissociation: A Comment on ``The Two Faces of Philip K. Dick''

The old man said, `You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own integrity.' —Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)  

Philip K. Dick's bizarre correspondence with the Federal Bureau of Investigation—wherein he warned them that the SF scholars he had contact with and author Stanislaw Lem were part of a worldwide Marxist conspiracy—is appalling. As someone who had experienced police and political harassment himself and had often written about it, Dick, it would appear, had not the excuse of ignorance.                

Dick's actions strike at the heart of his reputation of a writer who stood against tyranny everywhere. As one of Dick's admirers and biographers, I have pursued an explanation for this and other seemingly uncharacteristic actions of his in the course of my researches. My working conclusion was succinctly glossed in passing in Dr Philmus's ``The Two Faces of Philip K. Dick'' (SFS #53, 18:102n15): Dick was a victim of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), brought on by traumatic childhood experiences (involving abuse which was physical, emotional, and almost certainly sexual).                

Space precludes a full-scale elaboration of this theory here.1 Rather, I will simply point out some verifiable facts which may be lost in the rush to condemn Philip Dick.                

The FBI acknowledged receipt of just one of Dick's letters, in what reads to me like a polite brush-off, in a communication signed William Sullivan and dated March 28th. It acknowledges receipt of the first of the series of letters Dick mailed in 1974, that of March 20th. With it he enclosed some material he'd been sent from a Communist Party paper, The Daily World, the receipt of which had panicked him into thinking he was the subject of a government loyalty test. (Dick fictionalizes the incident lightly in chapers 15 and 16 of his novel Radio Free Albemuth, written in 1976 and published in 1985.)               

It seems quite probable that the FBI ignored Dick's subsequent letters, which would include the April 11th letter denouncing Lem, Suvin et al. The word ``cooperation'' as used by Philmus (91) implies mutuality; I don't think the FBI was at all interested in what Dick had to say.                

There is, however, something—or rather someone—else to consider here. By his own account, Philip K. Dick had been taken over by someone he would later call ``Thomas,'' the ancient Roman, just at this time; the very day he wrote his first letter to the FBI, March 20th, he called up the Fullerton police and told them ``I am a machine.''2 The essential point is that Dick was dissociated when he was writing the FBI—that is to say, not in full conscious control of his actions. Rather, he watched them like a bystander.                

The evidence is excellent, moreover, that he had experienced dissociative states all of his life. Dissociation, or depersonalization, is a common side-effect of early childhood abuse. There are many excellent descriptions of dissociated states in Dick's fiction—in his early short stories ``Upon the Dull Earth'' (1954) or ``Adjustment Team'' (1955), for example, or in novels like The Man Who Japed (1957), The Game Players of Titan (1963), Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (written in 1970, published in 1974), and A Scanner Darkly (written in 1973, published in 1977). In these books, the protagonists literally forget who they are and have to figure out what ``they'' have done. My researches into Dick's life demonstrate that, like the protagonists of these books and others, Dick suffered lifelong recurring ``time-slips'' (amnesic blackouts) as well as—like Douglas Quail in ``We Can Remember It for You Wholesale'' (1966)—false memories that turn out, sometimes, to be real ones.                

These are all signs of MPD, which condition is also marked by a shifting in and out of consciousness and control or various ``alter'' selves. At times more than one personality can share consciousness; readers will be aware that Dick later fictionalized these co-conscious states, which recurred several times in his life, in his novels, particularly in VALIS (in which Dick is partnered with one ``Horselover Fat'').                

Receipt of the Daily World material in 1974 pushed Dick into a ``co-conscious'' state with ``Thomas.'' In his endless later discussions of the events of 1974 in his private journal, the ``Exegesis,'' Dick often referred to this as the ``override''—his own personality superseded by a more dynamic one. ``Thomas'' did the informing; his older self, rendered subordinate, watched.                

``Thomas,'' it appears, may have indeed believed that there was a worldwide communist conspiracy out to ``get him''; alternately, he may have felt that he had to report all his contacts with suspected communists to the FBI as a way of preserving himself and acted accordingly. MPD alter-selves emerge to handle various crises. (When Dick wrote the FBI that ``Lem is probably a composite committee rather than an individual...,'' he was projecting his own experience onto his imagined enemy.)                

Why would the specter of ``communism'' arouse such an extreme reaction on Dick's part? It has to do, in my view, with the abusive events of his early childhood, which left him with a profound terror of authority. This fear of authority, generalized, was rendered specific in the 1950s, when the FBI contacted Dick and asked him and his wife Kleo to spy for them.3 Dick was writing of the terror he felt then as late as 1981—writing in his Exegesis of ``the schism in me that goes back to the fifties, to when [FBI agents] first approached me.''4 Over the years between the early 1950s and 1974, he moved back and forth between defying governmental authority (criticizing the Cold War as a hoax in such early-1960s' novels as The Simulacra and The Zap Gun, announcing his refusal to pay war taxes by signing a petition that appeared in Ramparts in 1968) and running to it for succor (plagued by his fears of the drug-culture scam-artist who became the model of Barris in his novel Scanner, he had denounced him to the FBI in 1972).                

By early 1975, ``Thomas'' had ``faded'' and Dick's co-conscious state had ended. That the chronically amnesiac Dick retained some memories of what had transpired is demonstrated not only by the change of mind about Lem that Philmus mentions, but also in some comments Dick made in his ``Exegesis'' in 1979:

I cooperated fully with my oppressors. There was no further degree to which I could be turned around—I went all the way, due to the override [i,e., his takeover by the Thomas personality], and experienced a sense of (1) having done the right thing for God and country; and (2) a total loss of anxiety, of exculpation (naturally). Fred, of Bob/Fred [the addict-policeman duality of Scanner] had totally won. I literally narked on myself!...
                Fear killed the rebel in me in 3-74 and I never regretted it, since it gave me freedom from fear. They got me....
                I am afraid of (1) the civil authorities (Caesar); and (2) God (Valis). Hence it can be said that I am afraid of authority, of whatever is powerful.5

                It seems likely, then, that Dick felt himself driven to ``inform'' (the question as to whether anyone was listening to him is an open one) by forces he could not resist. Dick's informing to the FBI became, to him, a necessary act of appeasement, a way of saying ``Take them, not me,'' in a very similar fashion to Winston Smith's cry ``Do it to Julia'' in Orwell's 1984. Dick analyzes this psychology brilliantly—and (we now know) from the inside—in Radio Free Albemuth, in the scenes in chapters 10 and 11 where two friends, Nicholas Brady and Philip K. Dick, are torn apart by the government's demand that the one spy on the other.                

Finally, I have some words about Dr Philmus's rejection (96-97) of the ``subjectification'' of socio-political disorders as merely ``personal'' delusions. That is a good pont. In my view, however, MPD is a reaction to the pervasive, society-wide trauma of child abuse, and thus the divide isn't so clear-cut. I don't seek to ``privatize'' a reading of Dick or his works, nor to ``cast [them] aside...once they have served their diagnostic purposes'' (Philmus 97). His illness was not ``totally personal in nature'' (ibid.). Indeed, Dick's MPD simply reflects, in a sense, the dissociated madness of American society (or that of its authorities) in his era (the '50s to the '70s)—and of course, since.                

Full understanding of the implications of the reality of MPD as it exists, not just in individuals but as a social phenomenon, thus demands a rethinking of the ethical notions of ``right'' and ``wrong'' Philmus draws on in his paper. The question is ultimately: If you condemn Philip Dick for his actions, which Philip Dick do you mean? -- Gregg Rickman, San Francisco

1 I spelled out the case that Dick was a child-abuse victim in my biography, To the High Castle: Philip K. Dick A Life 1928-1962 (Long Beach, CA: Fragments West/ The Valentine Press, 1989). Its sequels will expand on this: one volume, Variable Man: The Lives of Philip K. Dick, is on the MPD hypothesis, and should be out this year; the other, the conclusion of the biography, will follow. So far as the question of diagnosing Dick goes, terms like ``chronic paranoiaof the schizoid variety,'' as used by Dr Philmus (90) fail to account for the totality of Dick's behavior. He was clinically depressed some of the time, paranoid some of the time, in other states at other times. He was ``normal'' a good deal of the time. Only MPD accounts for all these states. As references for MPD theory I cite the following:
                Bliss, Eugene L. Multiple Personality, Allied Disorders and Hypnosis. NY: Oxford UP, 1986.
                Kluft, Richard P., ed. Childhood Antecedents of Multiple Personality. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, 1985.
                Putnam, Frank W. Diagnosis and Treatment of Multiple Personality Disorder. NY: The Guilford Press, 1989.
                Ross, Colin A. Multiple Personality Disorder. NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1989.
 2 Lawrence Sutin, Divine Invasions (NY: Harmony Books, 1989), 216.
3 See my To the HighCastle 238-41.
4 Exegesis File 065-070 (1981).
5 Exegesis File 041 (1979), quoted in Sutin, 217. If one reads the whole file, one sees that Dick is writing in it of his ``override'' as an evil government conspiracy, demonizing the US in terms similar to those by which he had described Lem in 1974.


On Sedgewick's ``The Fork in the Road''

It is unfortunate that Cristina Sedgewick's lack of research allowed so many errors to mar an article that I found valuable and interesting. While I am not in a position to correct all of Ms. Sedgewick's inaccuracies, I can say that her claim on page 14 that ``British magnate Robert Maxwell's Macmillan, which owns Tor, Bluejay, Macmillan, and St Martin's (all of them but a part of Maxwell's empire, which controls hundreds of newspapers in Britain alone)'' is in error.                

The facts are (1) that St Martin's Press has owned Tor Books since late 1986 (or maybe it was early 1987); (2) that Bluejay Books was never owned by St Martin's, nor by Macmillan; St Martin's distributed Bluejay Books; (3) that St Martin's is not owned by Robert Maxwell's (US) Macmillan; Robert Maxwell is not involved at all; the Macmillan family that owns Macmillan UK also owns (privately) St Martin's Press. Mistakes such as these in Ms. Sedgewick's article suggest to me that the author has worked too hard to make her case for SF's being overrun by ``Megacorporate America.'' The lack of any mention whatsoever of small press book publishing in SF further indicates to me that the article's portrait of the ``House of SF'' is incomplete, if not entirely distorted. -- Gordon Van Gelder, St Martin's Press

By misquoting and taking portions of an interview I gave in SF Eye out of context, Cristina Sedgewick, in her article ``The Fork in the Road'' (SFS #53), distorts what editors do in general and what I do specifically.                

On p. 31, Sedgewick states: ``Datlow's generalization, that she insists upon `understanding' every word of a story because `I think my readership would want to know what's going on' must make any writer cringe, since only the most simplistic and pedestrian of stories could ever meet such a criterion.'' Sedgewick is absolutely right in her conclusion, but the fact is, I did not say what she quotes. My remarks were the following:

I consider myself a typical reader in some ways and I want to understand what's going on....[G]enerally I want to understand what's going on because I think my readership would want to know what's going on. Sometimes it's very clear in the authors' minds what they mean, but they didn't express it well enough....

Ms Sedgewick's selective quoting distorts my meaning.                

Ms Sedgewick apparently feels writers and editors are always adversaries—that the possibility of an editor being a writer's friend or teacher is an ``insipid example of writers doing whatever an editor tells them if the end result is publication'' (49). Ms. Sedgewick demonstrates almost complete ignorance of the editorial process. She claims that in my interview I make it ``cynically clear...that [I] dislike...dealing with the kind of writers who would object to [my] interference and `line-editing' of their work.'' My job is not to ``interfere'' but to get the author to express exactly what she/he intends. Most writers I've worked with at OMNI and in assembling my anthologies (where I cannot pay as well as at OMNI) are delighted with editorial feedback—including the big names, who can certainly go elsewhere if they disagree with my suggestions. Ms Sedgewick treats Gardner Dozois' willingness to ask for revisions and to look at revised stories again as a negative thing—as if this would somehow stifle a writer's creativity. Most writers I have communicated with are delighted to have the opportunity to revise and resubmit.                

I don't think any of my authors are just hacks. I don't feel they rewrite stories or make changes just to please me, but because they realize that I've caught something they've missed. The most important part of my job is to get the author to produce his/her best work and to express exactly what he/she seeks to express in a particular story. The authors I work with can argue with me and express their objections as they see fit—we usually come to an agreement.               

Sedgewick brings up the topic of censorship, saying that an editor's choice of stories reflects some sort of ``ideological bottom line.'' In the sense that we are all human and all influenced to some extent by our biases, she may be right. But making choices is part of the editor's job—I can't publish everything that comes across my desk. I have room for one or two stories an issue. I object to her example of my turning down a Margaret Atwood story for OMNI because it was too depressing. This isn't ideology, this is taste. In the SF Eye interview (30), I go on to discuss other stories I've turned down at OMNI although I loved them—including ``All My Darling Daughters'' by Connie Willis—and go on at great length about the idea of the proper venue for a story and why I think that where a strong story appears is important. Other stories I loved but turned down at OMNI include ``Dancing Chickens'' by Edward Bryant, ``Her Furry Face'' by Leigh Kennedy, and ``Down Among the Dead Men'' by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann, all of which I later used in various anthologies.                

Ms Sedgewick's article contains some interesting observations on the state of SF publishing; but misinterpretations significantly detract from the force of her arguments. ``The Fork in the Road'' could have been a powerful analysis of the condition of our field, but marred by these errors, it has realized little of its potential. -- Ellen Datlow, OMNI Magazine, NYC

I regret having confused Macmillan (UK), which owns the US publisher St Martin's, which in turn owns Tor Books, with Macmillan (US), which is owned by the ``media baron'' Robert Maxwell. I also regret that Mr Van Gelder failed to grasp an important subtheme in my article, namely that to survive the House of SF must (inter alia) develop the alternative small press, as the feminist movement has so successfully done. Feminist readers have never enjoyed such a plethora and variety of (mainstream) texts as they do now, in large part due to their efforts to promote the publication and distribution of texts by university and independent presses. As I said in my article, there is no reason the House of SF cannot do the same—given the will and the consensus of the House to do so.

Ellen Datlow charges me with quoting remarks from her interview in Science Fiction Eye out of context. Let us therefore direct a bit more scrutiny to what she says in that interview.                

First, if I believed that writers and editors were always adversaries, I would most certainly have cited Ms Datlow's frank admission at the outset of the interview that it bothers her that editors do not get the ``instant recognition'' she says writers are accorded by having their names appear on their work. I chose not to introduce this admission into my article precisely because I doubt that most editors feel slighted by being left on ``the sidelines.''                

On the other hand, I might, during my discussion of how editors care more about what pleases their bosses and bookstore-chain executives than about what readers want, have used Ms Datlow's statement that

I don't care about the history of science fiction. I publish what I like to read and I don't give a flying fuck what anyone else thinks, frankly. As long as I don't get into trouble at Omni from the people that control me. (59)

(And to place that statement into context, let us bear in mind that a number of Omni's top editors [not including, I gather, Ms Datlow, walked en masse, reportedly because they objected to management's insisting Omni's front cover be used for advertising.)                

More to the point, we would do well to attend to Ms Datlow's discussion of two types of editing she says she employs: ``substantive editing'' and ``line editing.'' As an example of the former she recounts her treatment of a story William Gibson sent her, of which she observes:

the language in it was really brilliant, but it was so compressed that I couldn't understand what it was about. It was very compressed. He used a lot of words I was unfamiliar with and didn't explain them. I wanted the story to work but felt it needed decompression. (60)

Many writers spend their entire careers striving for compression. (It was a constant preoccupation of Virginia Woolf, for one.) To say of a piece of writing that it is ``very compressed'' is to compliment it. That Ms Datlow feels it is her place to ``decompress'' submissions illustrates just how dangerous the notion of editor as teacher can be.                

In supplying ``context'' to a quotation I took from her interview, Ms Datlow in her comment deletes some of her own text. A look at what the ellipses conceal—italicized in the following passage—is instructive:

I consider myself a pretty typical reader in some ways and I want to understand what's going on. I'll let the author go, occasionally, if a riff is just so brilliant that I can't bear it. I'll let the author get away with a little here and there if I don't get it. But generally I want to be able to understand what's going on because I think my readership would want to know what's going on. Sometimes it's very clear in the authors' minds what they mean, but they didn't express it well enough. And other times—and this is harder because sometimes a writer can't fix it—they don't know what they intended so they have no answers. (61)

Generous of her, isn't it, to let an author occasionally ``get away with a little here and there.'' Even so, adventurous readers must start with astonished horror at the notion that a writer's not ``knowing'' or being able to explain in words precisely what a particular passage is intended to do must be regarded as a problem. Do we ask painters, choreographers, or composers of music to ``know what they mean''? If Ms Datlow were to discuss this ``problem'' with writers whose work has been widely studied, she might discover that much of the most interesting part of what is going on in fiction works at the unconscious level, and does not always become immediately apparent to either the author or most readers. Whether the requirement that she ``understand'' everything in the fiction she publishes qualifies as ``interference'' probably depends upon whether one wants fiction for a quick bit of diversion to be consumed in one gulp, or as a work demanding multiple readings to be ``gotten'' and enjoyed. Since a major concern in my article is the publishing industry's current tendency to favor the quick gulp, I can only see Ms Datlow's attitude as part of the problem.                

More serious, however, is her insistence on reading my employment of ideology according to popular usage when I (a) explicitly state in n. 34 that I mean it in the Althusserian sense (for which I provide a definition); and (b) spell out on p. 31 what I mean by the expression ``ideological bottom line.'' The statement, ``This isn't ideology, this is taste,'' which Ms Datlow says of her reasons for rejecting a story by Margaret Atwood despite its brilliance, suggests that I failed to make my point about ideology and (self)censorship clearly enough. As far as I can make out Ms Datlow thinks I use the word as Paul Di Fillipo does when he poses the riddle: ``Why is an Analog writer like a Republican Supreme Court nominee? The answer: Both have to conform to an ideological litmus test, and both get appointed for life, no matter how senile they become'' (``Terminal Lunch,'' SF Eye #8 [Winter 1991]:15). I know nothing about the ideology of Analog editors in the sense Mr Di Fillipo intends. But I can conclude with reasonable confidence that when the president of NBC fired John Albert for having shot footage of the damage done by the US's bombing of Iraq, the reason was ideological in the sense Ms Datlow uses of the word, since NBC is owned by General Electric, which obviously has a vested interest in suppressing coverage of the downside of the weapons it produces. This is not the sense in which I use the word in my article. The ``ideology'' I am talking about is subtle, pervasive, and inescapable. It works, as I repeatedly say in my article, by itself rather than through conscious, deliberate agency.                

An anthology editor, after reading my article, noted in a letter to me that another editor's influence on the manuscripts she receives has begun to annoy her. It seems that she has received ``really good stories'' that this editor has rejected because she considered them either ``too depressing,'' ``too feminist'' (though they did not ``strike [the first editor] as feminist at all''), or ``because the protagonist was too butch.'' It worries her that writers who are chided on such grounds by the second editor will censor themselves in future stories in an effort to please this editor—which could down the road have the secondary effect of depriving the first editor of the kind of stories she wants to see.                

The protagonist was too butch: I assume most people would consider this criticism a matter of taste. (One could well assert that the continuing public uproar over the exhibition of the work of such artists as Robert Mapplethorpe involves questions of ``taste,'' too.) But besides being a homophobically derogatory label, ``butch'' when used by straight persons generally refers to deviations from some imaginary standard of femininity (which varies considerably from individual to individual, even within the same society), a standard I would argue is always ideologically based (in the Althusserian sense of the word).                

But what lies behind such ``taste''? I would argue that ideology, as defined in my n. 34, does. What implications does the exercise of such ``taste'' carry? For the writer concerned to be published, the most drastic, and such as will likely impinge on the pool of stories available to other editors who won't necessarily share the same ``taste.'' My correspondent is justified in being ``annoyed.'' The words other editors use to reject stories will inevitably affect her own anthologies—whether or not their ``taste'' (or ideology) is hers.                

Fortunately, some editors are careful in the way they treat the matter of ``taste'' in the rejection letters they write, just as some writers resist taking an editor's ``taste'' as their arbiter. A crucial question for editors must be how they can exercise their ``taste'' responsibly, without curtailing variety in our genre's pool of submissions. I know at least four short-fiction editors who show awareness of the problem. They do not constitute themselves a teacher or ``friend'' to writers (though they may develop a friendship with the writer quite outside the editor-writer relationship, an entirely different matter than what Datlow seems to be talking about in her comment); they have no problem say a piece of work is good but just not to their taste and wishing the author luck in placing it elsewhere. And finally, they guard themselves against both being a political censor and getting stuck in a rut—because they know that being a good editor depends up such diligence. -- Cristina Sedgewick


The 1988 Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review Annual

This letter is in response to Robert Philmus's review of our Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review Annual in the March 1991 issue of SFS.                

We certainly appreciate the suggestions Philmus offers for improvement of the Annual. Indeed, the 1989 volume, which has been out for a year now but which Philmus's review does not mention, has been significantly revamped, especially the front matter (the area Philmus seems most to like). Now, instead of a single ``author of the year'' profile, we have three, one for each genre we cover, and a total of five substantial review-articles supplementing the genre and non-fiction surveys. The 1990 Annual, currently in press, will add a young adult survey. We list this information not for promotional purposes but to register the fact that we are dedicated to improving the Annual with each yearly incarnation.                

At least one of Philmus's suggestions for improvement, however, evokes basic philosophical disagreement about what the Annual ought to be, and it is to this that we now wish to speak. When Philmus details his concern for ``timeliness'' in the publication of the Annual, given the ``present `shelf-life' (which to all intents and purposes means print-life) of new SF&F titles these days'' (137), we are forced to ask whether he thinks we intend—or ought to intend—the Annual to be a buyer's guide? Certainly Fantasy Review magazine, with its substantial connections to the fan and editorial community, was, in some measure, as much an organ of the publishing scene of SF&F as it was a venue for critical commentary—indeed, that critical commentary was probably perceived, by most fans and editors, as an aid in their purchasing and marketing strategies. But the Annual, on the other hand, though it evolved out of Fantasy Review, seeks to provide, as our introduction clearly states, ``a comprehensive critical overview of the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror,'' which, it seems to us, suggests entirely different standards than ``timeliness'' as appropriate to our publishing schedule. Of course, readers and critics may use the Annual as a buying guide, but this is not out main goal. Instead we hope that such a substantial and durable format—as opposed to Fantasy Review's monthly publication—will continue to provide, far beyond the ``shelf-life'' of the titles covered in the volume, a snapshot of a particular year in genre fiction. Such a snapshot offers a quite different and obviously more valuable guide to future scholars than would a gathering of reviews intended to spur folks out to the local Waldenbooks to snatch up the latest paperback novel. Indeed we must admit astonishment and dismay that an academic reviewer should seem more concerned about capitalizing on rapid sales turnover than about providing an enduringly useful research source.                

Moreover, Philmus's fixation on ``timeliness'' produces factual as well as philosophical blunders. His suggestion that we should seek to get the Annual out ``preferably by the end of the year surveyed'' (137) is utterly unrealistic, given the scope of our project. How, for example, could our survey writers possibly hope to sift, glean, draft, revise, and finalize their coverage in the surveys if the publishing year hasn't even ended yet? This doesn't even begin to factor in the time consumed in the overall editing, proofreading, indexing, formatting, and printing of the book itself. If Philmus believes these Annuals can be churned out rapidly like the fiction he mentions, we suggest he try it himself sometime.                 '

As for Philmus's frankly insulting suggestion that we might improve our editorial ``ethics,'' we feel it is important to correct the totally erroneous impression he gives regarding the relationship between the Annual series and the SFRA Newsletter. By noting that our introduction does not  substantially acknowledge the SFRA Newsletter for previously published reviews, and that SFRA members have probably already seen ``85% of the SF entries'' (136), Philmus implies that the Annual has treated the SFRA both cavalierly and parasitically. Actually, the reverse is closer to the truth. When Fantasy Review was folded by Meckler, Inc., in July/August of 1987 in favor of the Annual series, we offered to edit the SFRA Newsletter, which had just been deprived of its major source of review information (Fantasy Review was a membership benefit of the Association). For the next two years, we provided SFRA members, via the newsletter, with substantial coverage of SF fiction and non-fiction free of charge, since it was funded by Meckler, publisher of the Annual. All costs for office overhead and editorial staff, as well as mailing books, reviews, editorial correspondence, etc., were (and continue to be, even though we no longer edit the newsletter) absorbed by Meckler, while SFRA members—as well as members of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, whose newsletter we also edited—reaped the rewards. Now we are being indicted for, essentially, ripping off the SFRA, which is both factually inaccurate and ethically absurd.                

Philmus devotes most of his effort and much of his wordage to a dogged pursuit of the number of ``reprints'' in the volume, implying that there is something suspicious about this, and that the percentage of ``reprints'' somehow lessens the value of the book. This implication that we are vending second-hand goods is both obtuse and malicious. As far as the volume's usefulness is concerned, since neither the SFRA or IAFA newsletter is sold by subscription, each being intended for members only, and since that membership contains very few libraries, the Annual fills an important niche, because it is sold mostly to libraries. There is thus no overlap in venue. Moreover, if Philmus's myopic view of the value of ``reprints'' should prevail, we would be forced to withdraw these reviews from the two associations' newsletters. That would be a shame, since very few of the members of these associations can afford the Annual, which is priced as a reference work (it has to be: it costs many thousands of dollars to produce). But we assume that our reviewers want timely feedback from their peers, and that prior publication in these limited circulation newsletters can have no effect on the value of the whole collection as a reference work. Fortunately, most reviewers of the Annual have recognized and endorsed our point of view. ALA's Reference Book Annual called the book a ``must have'' acquisition for reference collections.                

It is unfortunate that Philmus chose to spend so much time in his review on these red herrings, rather than substantially discussing the book's contents. But judging from his last line, which acknowledges that SFS's review of the Annual was delayed so long due to the fact that a reviewer ``kept the book for almost a year before deciding that he couldn't deal with it'' (137), it is fairly obvious that Philmus was in a rush to get something published as soon as possible and therefore didn't have the time to read our volume very carefully. So much for timeliness and the ethics of book reviewing. -- Robert A. Collins & Robert Latham, Co-editors, Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review Annual
Although the 40 hours a week I am still putting into editing SFS
since announcing my (gradual) retirement did not leave me a great deal of time to consider how to phrase my thoughts about the 1988 Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review Annual, I do not think that my notice of that book was nearly as hasty as is the above response to what I wrote.                

Robert Collins and Robert Latham imagine that ``timeliness'' is a principle that I myself am advocating (indeed, am fixated on). They thereby attribute to me ``a…consideration'' (as I called it) which I had supposed was in their minds and/or had been dictated by someone at Meckler Publishing Corp. (Nor do I think my inference unreasonable, given the fact that their volume bears the same copyright date as the year it surveys). Perhaps my point was too elliptical; and I am certainly willing to concede that it depended in some part on a preceding essay by Cristina Sedgewick to which I referred my readers. Nevertheless, it is ironic that Messrs. Collins and Latham should be taking me to task for my (implicit) defense of their policy of (re)printing only one (re)view of each ``primary work''—a policy which I would urge them to alter now that they have declared that I was wrong to think it a consequence of their and/or Meckler's desire for ``timeliness.''                

The other argument that Collins and Latham advance is likewise a petito principii. In answer to my qestion about ``why there is no real acknowledgment of th[e] debt to the SFRA Newsletter in the SF&F Book Review Annual,'' they do not deny the overlap that I mention, but say that I have the debt the wrong way round. That would indeed be a devastating response if the reviews in the Annual took chronological precedence over those in the Newsletter. But inasmuch as the reverse is true, what they say only aggravates the problem I was attempting to identify. After all, they are pointing out, in effect, that they could easily have justified their editorial practice in regard to these apparent ``reprints''; so why didn't they follow the scholarly norm of acknowledging prior publication? (Here I might further remark that the response they offer seems to be predicated on the supposition that by ``debt'' I meant some legal-financial obligation.)                

As for ``red herrings,'' Latham and Collins drag out at least two in the space of as many sentences. They represent me as opposing their use of reprints and declaring their book to be valueless. The first of these notions hardly tallies with my statement, ``certainly it is useful to have them [the Newsletter's reviews] collected'' (136); the second sorts ill with my remark: ``In its general conception, this project is certainly laudable'' (137); and neither comports with my claim that even readers already familiar with the Newsletter reviews ``will [not] find this volume redundant'' (136; anyone suspicious of the bracketed ``not'' should consult my self-quotation in its original context).                

The impressions that Collins and Latham have about what I was trying to say may not be theirs alone. In which case, my intentions will have miscarried (and to an amazing degree; for Collins and Latham are so far from accurately apprehending any of my positions that they consistently attribute to me a meaning diametrically opposite to my intent). On the other hand, I should hope that any disinterested reader would not have to peruse my review with unusual care to avoid the kind of radical misconstruction of it that they have perpetrated. I leave it to that same reader to judge the truth (and logic) of Collins and Latham's concluding paragraph as well as the justice of their charging me with not taking into account a book which I never received (viz., the 1989 Annual). I would not, however, want a verdict in my favor to redound against Collins and Latham's commendable work on their Annuals.—RMP


In Response to Marleen Barr

As Marleen Barr noted in her review in SFS #52, I was writing Feminist Utopias quite outside the circles where this kind of fiction has been discussed over a number of years. In fact, it was in the writing of my book that I came to the category of SF for the first time. Never a reader of the genre for reasons some feminists have chosen to examine it critically, I suddenly found myself looking at new sorts of journals and anthologies.                

While I thought Barr's review very generous, I want nevertheless to respond to some of her criticisms. Most of the research for the book was completed in 1978-81. I chose to add the last chapter, some five years later (just after the appearance of The Handmaid's Tale—a fitting coda, I thought), in order to include one book (Atwood's) that many people would have read and another (The Eugelionne) that came to my attention just as I had finished the earlier draft. Some of the novels Barr mentions are new to me even now, and I want to thank her for that. For the kind of audience I was trying to envision (not only readers of SF), I felt that some of the less familiar books, not to mention the out-of-print ones (e.g., Charnas), needed some plot summary before I could do the kind of analysis that was more theoretically feminist in nature.                

An important correction: since I was trying to foreground the question of race where it was appropriate to do so, I certainly did not overlook the fact that Nenisi in Motherlines is an African-American female character (see Feminist Utpoias 98). And while I certainly agree with Barr that ``Handmaid's Tale is neither a better narrative than The Female Man, say, nor a more effective dystopia that Walk,'' what Barr takes to be ``critical snobbery'' speaks to what I would hope is evidence of critical development on my part in the intervening years. Nor do I think the chapter on Atwood suggests a rewriting of the very strongly positive judgments of Russ and Charnas in the earlier chapters; I do think I had come to talk about texts in a way that was less tentative. If I seem more ``at ease'' with the mainstream, the reason, I want to make clear, is that I did not come at utopias from an SF background or perspective. It is because I was well aware of this that I am particularly pleased to see that SFS reviewed Feminist Utopias. -- Fran Bartkowski, Rutgers University, Newark


On English Translations of the Somnium

I'd like to make a small correction to Robert Philmus's letter in SFS #53 about Kepler's Somnium. The Somnium was translated into English and available as SF back in 1950. It appeared in August Derleth's historical anthology Beyond Time and Space (Pellegrini & Cudahy) in my translation.                

The second English translation (Kepler's Dream, by Patricia Kirkwood & John Lear, California UP) appeared in 1965, while Edward Rosen's definitive Kepler's Somnium (Wisconsin UP) appeared in 1967. Rosen's edition, of course, is pre-eminent, with annotations by one of the foremost students of Renaissance science.                

My translation included the whole basic document, plus a selection of such of Kepler's footnotes as I thought would be of interest or use to a reader concerned with SF. I did not include all Kepler's notes for various reasons: space limitations, technicality, and specialization. They were concerned with refined points of theoretical physics and astronomy and would have been of no interest to anyone but a historian of science. Also, while Rosen was qualified to interpret them, I was not.               

As for other pre-1967 use, I.O. Evans, in his Science Fiction through the Ages 1 (London, 1966) offers a summary of the Somnium, but it is so utterly irrelevant and incorrect that one can only speculate where Evans got it.                

It should also be noted that Marjorie Nicolson apparently did not read the original work, but worked with a very bad ``translation'' prepared by a graduate student. As an example, Nicolson speaks of a Lybian woman; the original referred to Libussa, the legendary founder of the Czech nation. And so on.  —Everett F. Bleiler                    


The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society

SFS readers interested in the author of Herland are invited to join the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society. There are no dues ``for the next year at least.'' Write Shelly Fisher Fishkin / American Studies / GAR 303, University of Texas / Austin, TX 78712.

moonbut.gif (4466 bytes)Back to Home