Science Fiction Studies

#59 = Volume 20, Part 1 = March 1993


On Westfahl on Gernsback in #58. I enjoyed Westfahl's article on Hugo Gernsback, very thought provoking. Gernsback's concept of historiography was one common enough in his day: put two roughly similar things together in chronological sequence, assume a biological analogy, and you have a history.                

Westfahl overestimates, however, the amount of science-fiction that Gernsback published in his popular technical magazines, and its importance. Gernsback did not publish an SF story in each issue of Modern Electrics. It was not until the April 1911 issue that he began ``Ralph 124C 41+.'' Despite Gernsback's 1929 statement to the contrary, after the completion of ``Ralph,'' several months passed before Modern Electrics included any more fiction.                

What is not commonly recognized, since files of Gernsback's magazines are rare, is that not all the fiction that Gernsback published was science-fiction. Much of this fiction consisted of primitive stories with mild, non-fantastic technological elements—the doings of hams, and similar topics. Indeed, in about 300 issues of his magazines containing fiction (Modern Electrics, Electrical Experimenter, Science and Invention, Radio News, Practical Electrics, and The Experimenter) I would count less than 150 stories that are science-fiction, even if one includes very borderline material.                

Gernsback, of course, was not the first to print science-fiction in a popular science magazine. Popular Electricity printed science-fiction from 1909, as well as other fiction. Its editor was George Frederick Stratton, who was also a frequent contributor to Gernsback's publications. It would seem quite possible that Gernsback knew of Popular Electricity, and followed its lead.—Everett F. Bleiler.

H.G. Wells, Robert Cromie, and Literary Crime. David Lake, in an article in the latest Wellsian (#15:40-46, Summer 1992), brings to light (i.e., reprints) correspondence and other documents bearing on Robert Cromie's charge that Wells plagiarized much of the ``invention'' in The First Men in the Moon (1900-01) from Cromie's A Plunge Into Space (1890). What Lake does not discuss in his otherwise thorough and judicious account of Cromie's accusation is an irony attendant upon the possibility that the accuser was hurling his stones from a glass house, so to speak.                

That possible irony, involving something (morally) worse than the kind of (would-be) intellectual theft that Cromie alleged against Wells, has to do with the Jules Verne Connection. Readers of my Into the Unknown (California UP, 1970, 1983) may recall that I remarked (32-33) on a certain oddity about Verne's fulminations against The First Men in the Moon in a famous—or infamous—interview with him published in T.P.'s Weekly in 1903. There Verne, attacking Wells for coming up with totally impracticable inventions, singles out The First Men in the Moon's anti-gravitational sphere as the object of his particular ridicule. Verne, that is, was criticizing one of the features of this text that Cromie had been saying Wells lifted from his own work. What at the time struck me as strange about this was that the second edition of that Cromie title (1891) bears a preface supposedly written by Jules Verne and virtually hailing Cromie as another Verne.                

It is, of course, possible that Verne had (developed) some memory disability in his last years. There is, however, another conceivable explanation for the discrepancy I noted—one which would not have occurred to me 25 years ago—namely, that Verne never read A Plunge Into Space. In the literal sense of those words, that is certainly true; I learned only recently from a very authoritative source (Arthur B. Evans) that Verne was wholly incapable of reading a novel written in English. He could therefore have had no firsthand knowledge of Cromie's work (at least not if the catalogue of the French Bibliothèque Nationale is to be trusted: it lists no French translation of any Cromie title). To be sure, Verne might have been basing his commendation on someone's French summary of A Plunge Into Space. But it may also be the case that Verne's preface was entirely the concoction of Cromie's publisher (Warne)—or even of Cromie himself (i.e., suggested, if not written, by him).                

There may be extant documents somewhere that would rule this possibility in or out—documents which someone with the diligence and enterprise of a David Lake may yet recover. In the meantime, however, we can only speculate as to whether Cromie himself was directly or obliquely party to a kind of literary fraud, compared with which his charge of plagiarism against Wells would seem petty indeed (even if it were not roughly equivalent to any similar complaint that a partisan of Holinshed, say, might have levelled against Shakespeare).—RMP.


Wells, Cromie, and Verne: An Addendum. As a follow-up to Professor Philmus's observations on this matter, allow me to add that other evidence would tend to support his suspicions that Cromie (or his publisher) may indeed have written the brief Jules Verne preface to A Plunge Into Space (1891, 2nd edition).                

First, it is virtually certain that Jules Verne did not read Cromie's first edition of A Plunge Into Space (1890): Verne was not sufficiently fluent in English to read such a novel—despite the myth to the contrary perpetrated by his great niece and first ``official'' biographer, Allotte de la Füye. I offer as proof Verne's own comments on the question in a (translated) interview taking place in 1895: ``Unhappily, I can read only those works which have been translated into French'' (Marie A. Belloc, ``Jules Verne at Home,'' Strand Magazine [Feb. 1895]: 212). And no French translation of this text seems to have existed at the time.                

Second, I have found no mention of Robert Cromie, his publisher Frederick Warne & Co., or A Plunge Into Space in any of Verne's available correspondence from the period, in the general catalogue of the Jules Verne Archives in Nantes, nor in any of the comprehensive bibliographies of Verne's writings (other than those of Anglo-American origin). Of course, French bibliographies are sometimes very sketchy when it comes to English-language materials; but one would nevertheless think that any preface (even to a foreign novel) which had been supposedly written by Verne himself would have been noted and listed by French biographers at some point during the past century. But, then again, to my knowledge, no preface to any fictional work (other than to his own) has ever been attributed to Jules Verne, except this one.       

Third, although Cromie and/or his publisher would seem to be the most likely source(s) for this preface, it is possible that there may more to this story than meets the eye. Consider the following: Vernian scholars now know that—in addition to his (at least) partial authorship of many of Verne's posthumous Voyages Extraordinaires—Verne's son Michael wrote and published (in England) at least two short SF stories (in English) around this same time, signing his father's name to both of them: ``In the Year 2889'' (The Forum, 1889) and ``An Express of the Future'' (Strand Magazine, 1895). Although I have argued elsewhere that Michael himself had a very poor knowledge of English (``Le Franglais vernien [père et fils],'' Modernités de Jules Verne [Paris: PUF, 1988]: 87-105), he nonetheless might have been a very active conspirator in this literary crime.—ABE.


On Our Philip K. Dick Collection. I would like to correct some errors, particularly regarding my own work, in the new SFS anthology On Philip K. Dick: 40 Articles from Science-Fiction Studies. The first I heard of this book was when I got a copy of it in the mail. At the beginning its editors state that their policy was to not have authors revise their work, as it was originally published in SFS, when it was collected in book form. This was, I think, a mistake. Factual errors thus slip through in one of my letters of comment to Robert M. Philmus, which he used with acknowledgement in his essay ``The Two Faces of Philip K. Dick'' (SFS #53, March 1991). I made the error of stating that Dick used a self-described right-winger, who terrified him, as his model for the character Charles Freck in his novel A Scanner Darkly. This error was reproduced in Philmus' essay and appears again in the new book (note 2, page 254). It is A Scanner Darkly's character ``Jim Barris'' who is drawn largely from this individual.   

Other errors, rather galling to me, appear in Istvan Csicsery-Ronay's otherwise interesting introduction, ``Pilgrims in Pandemonium.'' He refers, for example, to ``Ann Dick's comments'' (xvi) about Dick throwing his letters to the FBI in the trash; it is Tessa Dick who said this, as is stated quite clearly in my essay ``The Nature of Dick's Fantasies'' (276). Csicsery-Ronay also garbles the title of my other essay, ``Dick, Deception, and Dissociation,'' substituting ``Denunciation'' for ``Dissociation'' (xvi). This dare-I-say Freudian slip indicates, perhaps, an unwillingness to examine my theories on their own terms.

It's hard to know what to make of Csicsery-Ronay's comments. He can have no idea how ``interesting [a] perspective from a literary point of view'' my work in progress on Dick, Variable Man, will present, since he hasn't read it yet. For the same reason—no one has read it in its fully fleshed-out form—no one has roundly attacked my theory (that Dick most likely suffered from Multiple Personality Disorder) for ``its lack of empirical foundation.'' Until he came along no one had attacked it at all. Two of Dick's former wives, and a number of his friends, have told me they accept the theory. At least one other of Dick's friends does not. But no one has ``roundly attacked'' it. In a letter to Mr Csicsery-Ronay I suggested that he must have been thinking of the negative comments on my Philip K. Dick as a child sexual abuse victim, as made by Paul Williams in The Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter, and by Peter Nicholls in his Washington Post review of my previous Dick biography, To the High Castle. In response to this criticism Mr Csicsery-Ronay agreed that he had indeed made that error. (I stand by my abuse theory, and am grateful that SFS is printing this response to Csicsery-Ronay's comments, as the Newsletter and the Post did not print my replies to Williams and Nicholls.)                

In his Introduction Csicsery-Ronay writes that he seeks a ``more sophisticated theory of MPD'' than I offer, doing so before I have fully spelled mine out yet. In my short essays—the one a comment on the specific question of Dick's morality, the other a book review—I have only stated that I will be stating a theory involving that condition. What is ``sophistication,'' anyway? Contemporary theory is mightily divergent in method and aims. I am seeking merely to find the common threads in Dick's life and works. Why this preemptive strike?    

And how could Csicsery-Ronay know that I ``displace the question of what exactly it means to have an identity at all''? I would have been foolish to attempt to address this daunting question in the course of a three-page letter of comment, or in a book review. I shan't attempt it here.                

Clearly MPD and child abuse are ``materially linked to other forms of violence and oppression'': where have I claimed otherwise? The connection is made firmly in my work-in-progress.                

Finally, while much of Csicsery-Ronay's introduction has merit, it is rather disturbing to note that his comments on the ``Dick Cult'' that he's more tolerant towards their avowed anti-rationalism than to my work, which attempts to be, as painstakingly as I can make it, rational and logical and true.—Gregg Rickman, San Francisco.               

In Response. I take Gregg Rickman's points. In my introduction to On Philip K. Dick: 40 Articles from Science-Fiction Studies, I did indeed overstate the criticism that Rickman's biography-in-progress has received. Two adverse reviews (by Peter Nicholls and Paul Williams) is not the same as being roundly attacked. I also missed the mark regarding Rickman's attempt to explain Dick's fictional vision as a consequence of multiple personality disorder (MPD) caused by the sexual abuse that Rickman believes Dick suffered as a child. I am still very skeptical about applying a reductive psychoanalytic etiology to writers like Dick. But my reservations are not, as I inaccurately stated in the introduction, to the lack of sophistication in Rickman's theory of MPD, but rather to his basic premise that such explanations actually help explain works of art. Rickman is quite right to demand that his theory should not be judged before the finished work is published.—ICR.


Academese and International Transactions: An Exchange.               

Dear Professor Evans. I really should have responded sooner to your kind letter inquiring why, after having stayed with SFS for quite a while, I had allowed my name to drop off the subscription list. Not to renew was, I must admit, a considered decision. I am a working critic-journalist (my role model is Edmund Wilson), and although my interest in science fiction remains ever fresh, I had come to feel that too many of the essays published in recent years in SFS were written basically to grace the C.V. of the contributor, not to instruct and entertain the general reader. (I've had exactly the same problem with Extrapolation.) If the assistant professors feel they have to impress each other, and the tenure committees, by writing about genre fiction  in a sort of subfusc sub-academese, by all means let them do so— but why expect me to come along for the ride?                

I have to mention in this connection that, when told about the ``great demand'' created by a recent special issue on ``Postmodernism and Science Fiction,'' I am not as impressed as I perhaps ought to be—that old sinking feeling returns. . . . In an academic journal I look for impressive learning and for penetrating analysis, connecting science fiction both to current ideology and to the history of ideas, not for uncritical adherence to the latest intellectual fad. If I never see another poststructuralist, postmodernist postfeminist in my life, that will be quite soon enough for me!                

I had another reason for not resubscribing. I wanted to test if my withdrawal symptoms, in dropping off a whole lot of subscription lists, might become so insufferable that I would voluntarily decide to return to the actual practical hassle of subscribing to American academic journals. You don't take credit cards. You don't have international Giro accounts. Some of you, even, will take payment for only one year at a time—and in advance. So I have to go to the bank and stand in line and pay a hefty surcharge to buy a $ check to mail, and then I have to go the post office and stand in another line to actually mail it. This can take forever. The reading matter I get will have to be worth it.                

Well. I have suffered from withdrawal symptoms to some extent. One really should subscribe to one academic journal in the field. What your letter tells about the future of the journal (new editors, plans to expand the scope, a great deal of enthusiasm) sounds quite interesting. So I'm climbing back on board.                

Please let me know by return mail how much I am to send, as an individual, and in what form, in order to get all 1991 and 1992 back issues and to take out a two-year subscription.—Gören Bengston, Stockholm.               

Dear Mr Bengston. Thank you very much for your letter of September 27th, along with your request for subscription information, back issues, etc.                

First, for the business: we are planning a rate increase for 1993, but I would be pleased to offer you a multi-year subscription at the 1992 rates of US$16.50 per year for as many years as you like. If, for example, you would like all the back issues of 1991 and 1992 plus a two-year subscription for 1993 and 1994, this would total US$66.00 (surface mail). Please make the check payable to SF-TH Inc.                

Now, for the questions you raise: yes, we are very sensitive to your observation that academic journals (and SFS in particular) have become too focussed on literary theory, intellectual fads, and academic jargon. We at SFS try to achieve a balance between the two extremes of SF criticism: ``fanzine'' on the one hand and ``academese'' on the other. Such a balancing act is not easy. As a university publication, we are perhaps inclined more often toward the latter than toward the former. And because of that, we do need to be reminded by our readers from time to time to maintain a wider, more comprehensive scope.—Arthur B. Evans.               

Dear Professor Evans. Many thanks for your kind and encouraging letter of October 5th! Practical matters first. I am sending by International Postal Giro $66.00 to cover, as you suggested, 1991 and 1992 back issues and 1993 and 1994 subscription. As a matter of fact, I am sending you $68.50, because I want to ask a small favor of you. Please take a two-dollar note and mail it to The American Scholar in the enclosed envelope. I miscalculated on a recent subscription payment and owe them this trifling sum, and I'll be damned if I'll pay some Swedish bank some $12 to issue a check for $2!                

May I add that I am not looking for the ``fanzine'' kind of writing to balance the academic kind, I am looking for the Edmund Wilson kind (disregarding for my present purposes the sad fact that Edmund Wilson actually seems to have detested all kinds of genre literature.)—Gören Bengston.     


Addendum. In international transactions matters have just worsened. Our bank, having been taken over by a conglomerate, will now accept checks in pounds sterling only with a $15.00 service charge. To our regret, UK subscribers will henceforth have to remit in US funds.

Correction. In SFS #58, careless typesetting in a last-minute space-saving revision made hash of two passages in the review ``Toward an Annotated 1984?'' The passage on page 428 should have read as follows:

In a review-article in SFS #19 (6:327-32, Nov 1979), Robert M. Philmus pointed out the deficiencies in five recent books, ending with the statement, ``As long as Orwell continues to attract partisans rather then interpreters, he will not need enemies''—a sentiment echoed by Jonathan Rose in dismissing the flood of 1984 articles on 1984 as concerned, each in its turn, with arguing that if Orwell were still alive he would share the political views of the author. This flood did not overflow the banks of SFS: although it did publish in its July 1985 issue (#36) a special section, ``To 1984 and Beyond,'' only one of the five essays was concerned with Orwell's novel.

Three words were omitted at the end of page 429 and the beginning of page 430. The correct version:

It is not clear whether the phrase ``Airstrip Two'' appears in the essay cited or is Rose's coinage, but at any rate it stands in Rose's introduction without comment, just as if it were an appropriate term for Russia. If 1984 and Brave New World continue to be taught in high school and college (as they deserve to be), annotated editions seem to be needed.


Paper Calls. The 18th annual meeting of the Society for Utopian Studies will be held in St. Louis November 4-7, 1993. The society is an international, interdisciplinary organization devoted to the study of literary and experimental utopias. Please submit inquiries, panel proposals, or abstracts of 300-500 words by June 15th to the program chair: Naomi Jacobs, English Department, University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469-0122. Telephone 207-581-3809; fax 207-581-1604; e-mail NJACOBS@MAINE.                


Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction invites contributions to a forthcoming special issue, edited jointly by Gary Westfahl and Edward James, devoted to the topic ``Science Fiction Research: the State of the Art.'' Contributions are invited, assessing what SF research and criticism has accomplished to date, and what needs to be accomplished in the future. Particular subjects that might be addressed include: the need for new parameters and priorities in SF research; conspicuously neglected authors and traditions; the need for SF research involving scholars from fields other than literary criticism; proposals for specific large-scale research projects or publications; issues in teaching SF; the need to develop and maintain SF research collections; the influence of research and criticism on contemporary authors; interactions between the various communities interested in SF (readers, fans, critics, scientists, writers). Contributions could be detailed articles, proposals, comments, ideas, or complaints; they can be sent either to Edward James, University of York, The King's Manor, York Y01 2EP UK or to Gary Westfahl, The Learning Center, University of California at Riverside, Riverside CA 92521 USA.


The Final Frontier. Presented as part of a year-long exibition series at the New Museum of Contemporary Art (583 Broadway, New York 10012, 212-219-1222) The Final Frontier, May 7 through August 15, 1993, will examine technological systems that reconfigure physical and spatial boundaries and will include works by artists that illuminate, appropriate, or infiltrate the spaces constituted by radar, video, satellite surveillance systems, medical imaging technologies, and neural and computer networks through tactics such as counter-surveillance, computer hacking, and the assemblage of cyberspace. Within this framework, the exhibition will focus on the relationship of the human body to the new electronic matrix, examining how the body has been delineated as a frontier at the same time that it is simultaneously traversed, displaced, and replaced through technology.


A Romanian Foundation. The Vladimir Colin Foundation for Fantastic and Science-Fiction Literature and Art (#19 Arhitect Ion Mincu Street, 71301 Bucharest, Romania) has been established to honor the Romanian SF author, who died December 6, 1991. The foundation is devoted to the editing of Colin's works, sponsoring an international contest for fantastic and SF stories, holding an international seminar on the evolution of fantastic and SF literature and art, and translating Western writers, especially the younger ones. One of its fundamental goals, now that Romania is an open society, is to be integrated into the cultural world circuit.


A Colorful New Year's Card from Helvetia. On the face, a reproduction ```Voyageons dans l'espace,' Photo-montage d'Alex Berthoud''; on the verso: ``La Maison d'Ailleurs, ses créatures & ses humanoïdes / vous remercient de votre précieuse participation à ses croisières sidérales 1992 / vous souhaitent une bonne et heureuse année 2000 - 7 / et se réjouissent de vous retrouver pour de nouvelles aventures à l'autre bout des mondes / Le préposé aux meilleurs voeux / [a line of what appear to be Chinese characters] / MAISON D'AILLEURS / Musée de la science-fiction et de l'utopie / Place Pestalozzi - CH 1401 Yverdon-les-Bains.

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