Science Fiction Studies

#96 = Volume 32, Part 2 = July 2005

Nicholas Ruddick

Annotations, Appendices, Adaptations: Recent Work on H.G. Wells’s Scientific Romances

Martin A. Danahay, ed. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Broadview Literary Texts. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2003. 268 pp. $7.95 pbk.

H.G. Wells. The Island of Dr. Moreau. Intro. Darren Harris-Fain. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2004. xvi + 137 pp. $4.95 pbk.

Thomas C. Renzi. H.G. Wells: Six Scientific Romances Adapted for Film. 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow P, 2004. xxi + 229 pp. $35.00 pbk.

Not so long ago it was possible to publish annotated, supplemented editions of well-known works of popular fiction entitled The Definitive… or The Essential…. Instead of being chastised for hubris, the editors were often praised for their daring in treating non-canonical works such as Dracula (1897) as though they were worthy of being read carefully. If a Definitive Dracula was in hardcover and had an unsmilingly pedantic apparatus, the intended readership was a handful of academic specialists; if it was in paperback, well illustrated, and slightly facetious in editorial tone, the targeted market was the horde of wannabe vampires with their insatiable thirst to absorb everything about the subject of their obsessions.

More recently, the canon having been thoroughly subverted, works previously considered cultish were accorded the full classic textbook treatment. Instead of The Compleat Frankenstein, we now had Frankenstein: The Critical Edition, containing everything that specialists supposed that undergraduates might need to fully appreciate the invigorating current theoretical debate about the newly discovered masterwork. However, a smallish independent Canadian publisher, Broadview Press, had done some careful thinking about the undergraduate textbook market. Broadview saw that the texts of classic novels out of copyright were freely downloadable from the Internet, so that to stay profitable book publishers would have to “add more value” than ever. Yet it was neither pedagogically sound nor good economic sense to end-load university editions of classic fiction with a dozen contemporary critical essays. Most undergraduates aren’t equipped to read contemporary criticism (until they’ve taken enough “theory” courses), critical fashions change quickly, and living critics have to be paid. Broadview also saw that instructors of period classes would assign non-canonical fiction—especially readable novels that provide an entrée into the mentality of a particular period, as Frankenstein does to High Romanticism—if students were provided with useful supplementary information about the text’s relation to its age.

So was born the Broadview Literary Texts series (recently rechristened simply Broadview Editions), in which illumination of literary-historical context is the main aim, not “definitiveness” or exploration of the spectrum of critical approaches. The Broadview Editions are in trade paperback, their covers sporting striking black and white photographs that often have a pleasingly uncanny relation to the text. Each work is fully annotated, with notes conveniently at the foot of the page. They are prefaced by introductions that tend to deal with such literary-historical issues as how the author came to write the work. But the most valuable parts of many Broadview Editions are the Appendices, which consist of readings that contextualize the work at the time of its first publication—e.g., extracts from writers who influenced the author, authorial correspondence, contemporary reviews. When well done, the Broadview Edition treatment adds genuine value to the text, and is fairly affordable thanks to a low Canadian dollar.

I will belatedly declare my own interest: in 2001 I edited The Time Machine in the Broadview series. This was their first H.G. Wells title, and has since been followed by Martin A. Danahay’s The War of the Worlds, in which my precedent is kindly acknowledged (7). In fact, the very small overlap in the content of our respective Appendices suggests that, though only two and a half years separated the publication of these two best-known and most influential of Wells’s scientific romances, there was a great difference in their compositional context. The Time Machine: An Invention (1895) was the product of years of hard reading and thinking by a young writer struggling with how best to achieve his aim of cutting his smug late Victorian contemporaries down to size by placing their mayfly existences in the temporal frame opened up by evolutionary thought. But Wells in 1895 was in poor health, had small means of support, and was in the kind of marital imbroglio that would have led to total social ostracism, had his public profile not been almost entirely obscure. The Time Machine, alarming in its confident prediction of human extinction and impudent in its compression of thirty million years of cosmic future history, had been hurried into existence probably to pay off an unsympathetic landlady, its brilliant originality blinding almost everyone but the author to its shortcomings. (He had planned a much more grandiose work, something on the lines of The Outline of History [1920], and in 1931 would dismiss The Time Machine as “a very undergraduate performance.”)

When The War of The Worlds was published in January 1898, Wells was famous, respectably remarried, and wealthy. If The Time Machine had been his first real book, The War of the Worlds was something like his eleventh, though he was already so prolific that it is hard to keep track with any exactitude. The War of the Worlds was not begotten from years of agonizing about human destiny, but from a chance remark that Frank Wells made to H.G. as the brothers were walking through well-manicured and unutterably self-satisfied Surrey: “Suppose some beings from another planet were to drop out of the sky suddenly ... and begin laying about them here!” (193). It was a thought that must have instantly appealed to a clever, angry, déclassé young man of Swiftian disposition. (Given a comic twist, it foreshadows innumerable sketches by the young Wells’s temperamental heirs, the Monty Python team.) And though Wells lived to see the breakdown of the rigid social order of his youth, vicious condescension to those of the lower orders who dared publish a book was still common in 1898. Danahay appends a review of The War of the Worlds in the august Athenaeum, in which the author is castigated for his regrettable wallowing in the “cheap emotions of a few bank clerks and newspaper touts” (232) as they streamed from Martian-controlled London. But then how could a cockney upstart know how to flee for one’s life in a gentlemanly manner?

Danahay’s apparatus is up with the best in the Broadview series in its ability to contextualize effectively. For example, Appendix G, “Mars in 1898” (243-47) perfectly complements the section on the same subject in the editor’s Introduction (23-24). Its first excerpt (243-44) is from the actual article from Nature in August 1894 about the “great light” on Mars cited by the narrator in chapter 1 of the novel (43). This shows us both how up-to-date Wells was with his scientific reading, and how indebted to Nature’s South Kensington point of view. The second (244-47) is a section from Percival Lowell’s Mars (1895), and this suggests how confidently Wells was able to create convincing Martians by extrapolating from some of the distinguished astronomer’s speculations while ignoring others as irrelevant or wrong. According to Lowell, Mars was an “older” planet than Earth (246) by the then prevalent nebular hypothesis; Wells mentions this “fact” in each of the first three paragraphs of The War of the Worlds (41-42). For Lowell, “evolution on [Mars’] surface must be similarly advanced” (246): Wells, approaching the issue from a Huxleyan perspective, saw that “older” also implied that Martian life-forms might have grown more degenerate, its atmosphere less hospitable than Earth’s. Lowell’s “planet-wide” Martian system of canals presupposes an advanced technology at the behest of a will unweakened by terrestrial-style factional politics (246-47); and so emerge Wells’s Martians with their “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic” regarding “this earth with envious eyes” (41). On the other hand, Wells saw that Lowell’s idea that Martians would be “twenty-seven times as strong as we” (246) thanks to their lower gravity was totally misleading when it came to describing how Martians might move unaided on Earth.

Appendix F, “Invasion Narratives,” is useful, though perhaps a short sample from Chesney’s seminal The Battle of Dorking (1871) (see p. 22 of the novel) might also have been included. Given the very detailed Woking-area setting of The War of the Worlds, it’s useful to have the topographical Appendix H, though the excellent map from Black’s Guide to Surrey (250) should probably have been given a full page. The final Appendix (253-61), which reproduces contemporary photos of Victorian military equipment mentioned in the novel, such as field artillery and ironclad warships, is a particular boon. Wells’s subversive delight while writing The War of the Worlds is evident from a letter in Appendix C: “I’m doing the dearest little serial ... in which I completely wreck and destroy Woking—killing my neighbours in painful and eccentric ways, then proceed ... to London, which I sack, selecting South Kensington for feats of peculiar atrocity” (221). One can recapture something of this delight by gazing at the photo of dragoons (259) and imagining a Martian war machine suddenly heaving into view behind those mustachioed and stiffly mounted warriors in their brilliant scarlet tunics (259).

Yet for all its local color, The War of the Worlds is thematically an elaborate variant of The Time Machine. The Martians are ex-human beings who, a million years ahead of us in some ways, have also been subject to a million years of “Zoological Retrogression” (see 195-97). (Wells’s Huxleyan 1891 article of this title is probably the most important key to his thought in the 1890s.) In The Time Machine the Time Traveller’s home suburb of Richmond is disturbingly estranged via time travel (though Wells did not greatly emphasize this at the time). In The War of The Worlds the space aliens that briefly conquer and transform the Home Counties are really time travelers exiled from the far future who are determined to reconstruct their alien environment on Earth at the expense of their “primitive” ancestors, the Victorians. As the latter diverged into Eloi and Morlocks, so the originally human Martians long ago split into two species, one mentally advanced but physically degenerate, the other still humanoid but mentally vacant, useful only to provide living blood as nutriment for the vampiric sexless brains of these Men of the Year Million (see 203-06).

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), which the older Wells called his “exercise in youthful blasphemy” (vii), is his darkest and most Swiftian work. It alone of Wells’s scientific romances is on the same level of literary achievement as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. Indeed it seems in some ways to be the most vital of the triad today, partly because its motifs haven’t been quite so overworked by popular culture. Time machines have long been used in science fiction merely to evoke sophomoric temporal paradoxes, while an invasion of Earth by slobbering alien super-brains is a scenario best left to The Simpsons. But Moreau’s more mundane motifs don’t overshadow its still timely themes: the scientist who in playing God loses his humanity; the man who denies his fellowship with animals by acts of endless cruelty to them thereby only further reveals the beast in himself. And perhaps fortuitously Moreau speaks to the canard du jour of “intelligent design,” that crude attempt to smuggle God in disguise into the Darwin Hotel. If He really exists, then from a terrestrial perspective most of the inferential evidence points toward a White-Bearded Designer who resembles that cruel vivisectionist Moreau, with the whole biosphere his House of Pain. Darren Harris-Fain has written a useful short introduction to a new edition of The Island of Dr. Moreau from Barnes and Noble, in which he cites some of the recent revisions of the Moreau material, from Josef Nesvadba’s “Dr. Moreau’s Other Island” (1971) to Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (2003). But this edition has no apparatus, and although the low price makes it appealing for current course adoption, one is advised to wait for the Broadview Edition before augmenting one’s own or one’s library’s collection.

Thomas C. Renzi’s H.G. Wells: Six Scientific Romances Adapted for Film was first published in 1992. That edition contained an introduction dealing with Wells’s association with film and six chapters each dealing with the most important film adaptations of The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon (1901), and The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth (1904). Appendices analyzed the two movie adaptations for which Wells got the screenplay credit: Things to Come (1936) from his utopian future-history The Shape of Things to Come (1933); and The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1937) from his 1897 short story of the same name. Now Renzi has updated and expanded his book—though as the page size has been enlarged and the font size reduced, the second edition has slightly fewer pages than the first—retaining the previous text and structure but adding analyses of a number of recent Wellsian adaptations. He includes new sections on Simon Wells’s The Time Machine (2002), John Frankenheimer’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man (2000) (based very roughly on The Invisible Man), and three recent revisions of The War of the Worlds: Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! (1996); Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day (1996); and M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs (2002). The new edition has a slightly improved index, while gone are the handful of black and white illustrations in the first edition.

Before turning to the new material, I should point out that Renzi’s first edition was a very good book, though perhaps it did not get the attention it deserved in sf circles. It was not reviewed in SFS, while a more recent book on the same subject, Don G. Smith’s H G. Wells on Film: The Utopian Nightmare (2002) does not even mention Renzi in the bibliography. Yet Renzi’s book is superior to Smith’s in almost every way. Renzi has a detailed knowledge of Wells’s fiction, an excellent eye for visual detail, and an engaging style. He also has a very clear idea of what makes a successful novel-to-film adaptation, applying to this end a theory by Geoffrey Wagner that has the advantages of flexibility and freedom from the prejudice that almost inevitably creeps into adaptation studies, depending upon whether one is promoting literary or film values. According to Wagner’s theory there are three main ways of transferring fiction into film, each with a decreasing level of what might be called fidelity to the original: transposition, commentary, and analogy (see xvii). Renzi is careful to iterate, though, that “fidelity” is an inappropriately loaded word given that literature and film are different media with their own differing methods for achieving aesthetic success (33). He proposes that most Wells film adaptations are commentaries, “clearly recognizable as Wells’s stories but altered according to a ‘re-emphasized’ central idea” (xviii). Once their category of adaptation has been established, the movies should be evaluated according to filmic not literary criteria.

Renzi’s eye for detail and mastery of appropriate analytical tools are equally impressive when dealing with text or mise en scène. He understands the advantages that Wells got from using a frame narrator in The Time Machine; he convinces us that part of the success of George Pal’s 1960 adaptation is to use Filby analogously as a “frame character” (2). He explains why Pal chose to depict a time machine resembling Santa Claus’s sleigh (45). The revolving disk at the back of this time machine is a motif that subtly echoes other temporally-charged cyclical images in Pal’s movie, combining to give the film the unity and coherence of a work of art in the visual and kinetic mode. On the other hand, Renzi claims that no film could probably capture certain subtleties peculiar to the literary mode, such as the trickster aspects of the time traveller suggested by the doubled narrative (9) or the emotional effect evoked by the use of the past perfect verb in the last sentence of The War of the Worlds (192). Indeed, Renzi knows Wells thoroughly enough to quote “The Chronic Argonauts” (1888) (85) and to note how the griffin motif thematically connects The Time Machine and The Invisible Man (95). He demonstrates the estimable quality of Erle Kenton’s Island of Lost Souls (1933) by focusing on the ripples in the swimming pool scene (63-64). Perhaps his tour de force is his unpacking of the “feet of clay” imagery in Nathan Juran’s surprisingly ambitious First Men in the Moon (1964) (153 ff).

Renzi’s flexibility is perhaps best seen in his approach to Byron Haskin’s The War of the Worlds (1953). Haskin’s film is full of “innovative ideas” (112) that make it largely independent of Wells’s novel in plot terms. There is also a real and stark ideological difference between novel and film that sometimes passes unnoticed by critics distracted by minor details such as the transposition of the setting from Surrey to California. Wells’s Martians are wiped out as a result of their lack of immunity to microbes that they had long ago purged from their own planet, so humanity is “saved” by Darwinian natural selection, whereby a species adapts to the terrestrial biosphere or perishes: “by the toll of a billion deaths has man bought his birthright in the earth” (Danahay 182). Haskin’s Californians, on the other hand, are “saved by the littlest things, which God in His wisdom had put upon this Earth” (qtd. Renzi 121). It’s easy to chastise Haskin for his betrayal of Wells’s agnostic vision; but Renzi shows how the movie, given the context of its appearance at the height of a Cold War struggle against godless communism (120-22), is a coherent and reasonably effective development of its own premises. On the other hand, Renzi is no apologist for Wellsian mediocrity, nor has he any patience for bad film-making pure and simple. He concedes that The Food of the Gods is “not among Wells’s best novels,” yet Bert Gordon’s Village of the Giants (1965) and The Food of the Gods (1976) are “slipshod, amateurish ... filled with incoherence and triviality” (169). Renzi hilariously demonstrates Gordon’s “glaring ineptitude” as a screenwriter (184), and mocks the risible special effect of the giant wasp that makes the victim look “as if he is being attacked by a child’s knapsack” (184). Indeed, Gordon’s movies are so bad that Renzi, far from suggesting that they actually seem quite good if viewed with a postmodern ironic eye, accuses Gordon of deliberate incompetence, a posture that “seems a masochist’s excuse for neglecting craftsmanship or for coping with the fear of failure” (170).

When Simon Wells’s new film of The Time Machine appeared, I was teaching the novel in an sf course. Many of my students came to class disgusted with the thematic disparity between the novel and the movie and eager to hear an outraged rant from me. They were a little shocked when I told them that I’d actually enjoyed the film. Of course, its boy-meets-girl-who-is-accidentally-killed-so-boy-invents-time-machine-to-return-to-past-to-rescue-girl scenario was not quite what Wells had in mind, but the movie was consistently absorbing, and not just because of its excellent special effects. Renzi clarified for me why Simon Wells’s adaptation is a better than average “commentary” on his great-grandfather’s novel. Above all, it must be understood that Simon Wells owes more to preceding adaptations (especially Pal’s) than to the novel, because a good director must be aware primarily of the filmic tradition. So, rather than waste time protesting “changes to the original,” one might analyze the effectiveness of comparable narrative functions. George Pal used the crude “talking rings” as a device to inform the audience about the course of future history; Simon Wells updates and improves this function as the memorable “photonic Vox” (played by Orlando Jones). Yet while Renzi celebrates Simon Wells’s special effects as “a marvelous achievement” (43), he also notes the “credibility gaps” of seismic proportions (37) that damage the coherence of the narrative, e.g., the Morlock attacks in daylight, and their pointless theft of the watch (38). And Simon Wells failed to learn from Pal in one important respect: the lack of voice-over, especially during the time-travel sequences, makes it hard for the audience to identify with the protagonist (39). Renzi also argues persuasively that the deleted introductory scene included in the DVD’s special features should have been retained in the final cut (39-41).

Renzi is less generous about other recent Wellsian adaptations. He notes that while Frankenheimer’s recent attempt to film Moreau is not the “gross and repulsive failure” (72) that most reviews claimed it to be, it is seriously marred by the “bizarre” performances of Marlon Brando as Moreau and Val Kilmer as Montgomery (76). Interestingly, Renzi thinks that Frankenheimer’s tonal ineptitude may well have been caused by his misguided attempt to pay homage to James Whale’s mainly excellent The Invisible Man (1933), in which horror and humor are much more effectively integrated. (79). Of recent Wellsian adaptations, Hollow Man appeals to the audience’s basest fantasies (108). Independence Day, though shallow, has good special effects and an entertaining narrative, and unlike Haskin, Emmerich finds salvation not in God but in human ingenuity and individualism (135). Signs is actually closer in spirit to The War of the Worlds; Renzi disapproves of it not for its religiosity but for its “pacing deficit” (141).

I don’t agree with all of Renzi’s judgments. He thinks William Harrigan as Dr. Kemp in Whale’s The Invisible Man “expertly portrays the sneaky, sleazy coward” (87); I think the performance is an object lesson in bad acting. And Renzi is not nearly as harsh as he should be on the execrable Mars Attacks! (132). But the new edition of his book is a further improvement on what was already one of the best books on Wells’s scientific romances, one that offers Wellsians a good excuse to update their DVD collection, and one that would serve as an ideal textbook in college courses on novel-to-film adaptation.

Mark Bould

... and then suddenly two came along at once

Sean Redmond. Liquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader. London: Wallflower, 2004. xi + 352 pp. £16.99 pbk.

Gregg Rickman.
The Science Fiction Film Reader.New York: Limelight, 2004. xxxii + 432 pp. $22.95 pbk.

An editor of an sf journal recently asked me why so much writing on sf film was so bad. Several reasons immediately sprang to mind, but it was evident from the editor’s tone that the more pressing need was for sympathy than answers. The question has stayed with me, though, and between them these two collections—one of which I cannot recommend highly enough, the other of which I simply cannot recommend—have put some flesh on the bones of my initial thoughts.

But first it is necessary to note that there is actually a lot of good writing on sf film. A comparison with film noir and the western is instructive. Although these were among the earliest genres to be enshrined in film studies, neither has yet produced a dozen book-length critical works that could be recommended to the serious student. It is remarkable then that such a late-comer as sf film (which did not figure significantly in film studies until the late 1980s or early 1990s) already has half a dozen titles that could be similarly recommended, as well as an increasingly substantial second tier of lesser but nonetheless useful volumes. Additionally, a quick survey of film studies, media studies, and cultural studies journals demonstrates a healthy and growing engagement with sf film over the last decade—and perhaps this is where the problem for sf journals lies. Now that sf film (or, more accurately, a growing number of individual sf films) provides sufficiently respectable objects of study, why would the best writers on sf film choose sf journals over film journals? For the film academic, a publication in Screen or Jump Cut or Velvet Light Trap or a leading cultural studies journal would probably count for much more career-wise than one in Science Fiction Studies or Foundation or Extrapolation or Femspec or The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts; and for the writer who comes to sf film as a film critic rather than an sf critic, the sf journals are unlikely to be first-choice venues, if only because of their relative unfamiliarity. Similarly, the expansion of film studies, media studies, cultural studies, and cognate fields, combined with increasing pressures on university library budgets, is likely to prompt institutional subscriptions to journals immediately identifiable with those disciplines rather than with something as goofy as sf. One potential consequence of this is that newer academics writing about sf film are not necessarily going to be particularly aware of the existence of sf journals. In addition to a troubling resemblance to the processes of canon formation described by Freedman (24-30), this situation points to a deeper problem to which I will return after considering these two volumes.

The first, Rickman’s The Science Fiction Film Reader, has one very precise variety of utility. It demonstrates, with breathtaking efficiency, everything that is wrong with the current state of writing about sf film. Of the 42 pieces it contains, maybe five or six are actually worth reading. H.G. Wells’s and Luis Buñuel’s reviews of Metropolis (Lang 1926) and Jorge Luis Borges’s review of Things to Come (Menzies 1936) remain insightful, while also having value as historical documents. Susan Sontag’s “The Imagination of Disaster” (the only piece also reprinted by Redmond) is as knuckleheaded as ever, but is significant not only as the first piece of serious criticism on 1950s sf movies but also for its grasp of the importance to sf cinema of “sensuous elaboration.” Robin Wood’s intensely felt discussion of Blade Runner (Scott 1982) was one of the first important pieces on its subject, while Slavoj Žižek’s “The Matrix, or the Two Sides of the Perversion” is exactly the ill-disciplined patchwork of perception and digression for which his film writing is to be loved or loathed—and it does begin with the brilliantly bitchy “When I saw [The Matrix] at a local theater in Slovenia, I had the unique opportunity of sitting close to the ideal spectator of the film—namely, an idiot” (406). Several other pieces, such as Anthony Burgess’s 1972 Rolling Stone essay on A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick 1971) and, to a far lesser degree, Joe Dante’s trade journal review of The Forbin Project (they followed his advice and retitled it Colossus: The Forbin Project [Sargent 1970]), are of interest, albeit of a different kind. (The 1988 interview with Robert Wise about The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) always saddens me because he comes across as either far less interesting than his best films or just very old and tired.)

Pretty much everything else in the collection should never have been printed in the first place, let alone reprinted anywhere. I have nothing against fan-writing or popular journalism—both often provide vital information or fresh and interesting perspectives—but one might reasonably expect that an editor, when considering what to reprint, should focus on pieces that do one or both of these things. If those are not his criteria, then one might reasonably hope for work that is at the very least competently written. But again, no dice. Infelicities abound. And I have already adopted a passage from Ken Bowers’s essay on Moon Pilot (Neilson 1962) as a classroom exercise on how not to compare two films:

Here one is reminded of Bringing Up Baby (1938), which also involves a comic hero pursued by a bewitched young woman. Moon Pilot lacks the constant, fast-paced chatter or the mood of nuttiness of the screwball classic. Unlike Katherine [sic] Hepburn’s Susan, Lyrae doesn’t woo her man with relentless comic torture, but instead by being cuddly and inescapable. Like Cary Grant, [Tom] Tryon is tall and handsome, with a capable speaking voice, but his movements have none of Grant’s loose-limbered [sic?] glee. Tryon’s character is just as bewildered as Grant’s, but is given none of the biting comments that Grant benefits from. The promise of interplanetary domesticity wins Talbot over completely, thereafter he is not so much comically eager, but mushily eager to follow Lyrae anywhere. Moon Pilot’s plotting, pivoting on the need to keep Lyrae a comic mystery to the general and agents, while also making room for romance, is obliged to let Talbot accept Lyrae’s affection at the story’s midpoint. This sacrifices, it would seem, the romantic suspense that is only resolved in the closing moments of Howard Hawks’ film. (37-38)

Elsewhere, Michael Lennick gets (some of) the ironies of Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers (1997), but completely misses their point, suggesting that in some respects Verhoeven and Heinlein “are exactly in sync” (43). Doug Williams—one of several authors in the collection to misunderstand allegory—draws bizarre comparisons between Darth Vader and Lyndon Johnson (234-35) and between Emperor Palpatine and Richard Nixon (239), completely missing the opportunity to draw out the complex ideological field in which the post-countercultural Star Wars (Lucas 1977) cobbled together its contradictions (although his passing reference to Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingstone Seagull [1970] neatly situates George Lucas’s sentimental and solipsistic banality). Blake Lucas identifies the importance of the 1950s cycle of sf movies made by Universal-International, but fails to provide a compelling argument for their accomplishments, let alone their significance. For a brief while it looks as if he is going to provide the kind of archival research which has done so much to transform film history over the last decade, but he tails off instead into a vague discussion of metaphysics and transcendence, complete with Hallmark platitudes: The Incredible Shrinking Man (Arnold 1957), he writes, “crystallizes the truth that science-fiction is not at its heart about worlds beyond, because the worlds it meditates on are already within us” (95).

But the absolute low point of The Science Fiction Film Reader is Aneta Chapman’s “Real Men Wear Black: The Men in Black Films.” Fortunately, its many uncritical claims for the MIB—that theirs is not an oppressive institution; that individual agents are self-sacrificing heroes, like priests—are so absurd that few readers could possibly take them seriously. Assuming its modest proposals are not a stunning work of straightfaced satire, what is most fascinating about this article is its incidental revelation of the pre-fascist mindset of much post-9/11 writing, complete with power fantasies, paranoid suspicions, and yearnings for a strong and pure state:

Many of us, if given the choice of maintaining our mundane or vaguely interesting existence might decide, if we had the opportunity, to join the Men in Black organization. The chance to know a secret existence that few humans could experience or comprehend would be thrilling. For many of us, we want to believe that there is a force protecting us from evil. This force is invisible and does not impinge upon our lives. We do not need to understand the source of this strength. We just have faith in its ability to handle any problems that pose a danger to us. In the Men in Black films, we find this force or army of men undertaking a mission to protect us. They have taken vows and assumed a duty that only a few select individuals could handle. They put our interest above their own needs to protect us. They are fearless fighters. They are modern day priests. (395-6)

This passage is directly preceded by reference to a myth that urgently needs to be shattered: that New York, which here stands in for the US, “has welcomed everyone from everywhere in the world.... The Statue of Liberty has become a true beacon” (395). At least the first half of this is utter nonsense and, as Linda Zerilli has shown, the certainty over the meaning of the Statue typical of much popular commentary serves to assuage “political anxieties” (169).1 From the moment of its unveiling, the meaning of the Statue of Liberty was contested.2 Not only did its “official” meaning not include immigration, but this meaning was violently opposed until after the passing of the draconian and racist 1924 Immigration Act,3 which massively reduced the number of immigrants—especially those from anywhere other than North-Western Europe—entering the US.4 Only subsequently did the Statue come “to enshrine ‘the immigrant experience as a transcendental national memory. Because few Americans were immigrants, all could think of themselves as having been immigrants’” (177, quoting Higham [81]). It is unsurprising that the figure of the immigrant should become the totemic national symbol after so many “actual immigrants had been denied entry” because, Zerilli argues, the diversity of the American population is only partly a product of immigration, being equally derived from the terrorism of “conquest, invasion, and enslavement” (177).5 The Statue’s shift from symbolizing “transnational republicanism” to “immigration” was just the first of several; it later became symbolic of a US “threatened by the wrong kind of immigrants,” of “national heritage,” of “democracy” (174). Furthermore, as Anne McClintock argues, the world’s fairs and expositions at which parts of the Statue were displayed before funds were raised to erect it played a key role in shaping and normalizing “the idea of democracy as the voyeuristic consumption of commodity spectacle” (59).

This lengthy response to what is, ater all, an essay of magnificent inconsequentiality might seem excessive, but it does serve a further function: it highlights, one hopes, the extent to which much of the weakest writing on sf film, like much of the weakest writing on sf in general, is pre-critical—not only in the Kantian sense of being incapable of reflecting on its own premises, but also in terms of the most rudimentary failures to subject opinion to evidence, to grasp the nature of ideology and the ways in which representations circulate and interact, to even want criticism to be critical.

Over the last few years I have found it increasingly difficult to detect instances of student plagiarism. Previously, plagiarism was typically signalled by sudden shifts of tone and the unprecedented appearance of grammatical sentences and a mature vocabulary. This has all changed with the advent of plagiarism from the internet, where poor writing, virtually indistinguishable from bad undergraduate work, is endemic. And so it is with a shiver—of recognition, of understanding—that I note the start of Rickman’s acknowledgements: “I was able to find many of the essays used in this book on-line” (ix).

Sean Redmond’s selection process is a much more rigorous one, drawing together extracts, essays, and articles from monographs, edited collections, and refereed journals, including some unlikely sources as well as Science Fiction Studies. Clearly this sf film reader is intended for a different audience to Rickman’s (whose intended audience I cannot even begin to imagine). As reprint collections on sf film go, Liquid Metal is second only to Annette Kuhn’s Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema (1990) in terms of the overall quality of the contributions—and it is likely to rapidly overtake that groundbreaking intervention when it comes to classroom utility.

Liquid Metal’s 30 essays are divided into eight sections, each containing three or four pieces. “The Wonder of Science Fiction” focuses on the look and visual style of sf films and how their visual components are key to understanding whatever cognitive aspects they might contain. It includes an extract from Vivian Sobchack’s Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film (1980; rev. 1987) and Steve Neale’s “‘You’ve Got To Be Fucking Kidding!’: Knowledge, Belief, and Judgement in Science Fiction” from Kuhn’s collection. “Science Fiction’s Disaster Imagination” considers the destruction of cities and environments, as well as the dystopian imagination, with an extract from Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner’s Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film (1988), as well as essays by J.P. Telotte on human artifice and Linda Ruth Williams on Brazil (Gilliam 1985) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (Radford 1984). “Spatial Abyss: The Science Fiction City” contains pieces on sf representations of the city since Blade Runner, as well as Eric Avila’s provocative juxtaposition of 1950s sf monsters with post-war white flight to the suburbs. “The Origin of the Species: Time Travel and the Primal Scene” contains classic pieces by Andrew Gordon and Constance Penley that draw out the Freudian implications of time-travel narratives. Sections on cyborg movies and postmodern sf movies reprint work by Donna Haraway, Mary Ann Doane, Sobchack (the only author represented twice), and Scott Bukatman, while the films discussed in these sections include Metropolis, The Stepford Wives (Forbes 1975), Videodrome (Cronenberg 1983), Blade Runner, Total Recall (Verhoeven 1990), the Alien and Terminator series, as well as various anime, including Akira (Otomo 1988) and Shinseiki Ebuangerion (aka Neon Genesis Evangelion; 1997). The section on fan activity and textual poaching, including work by Will Brooker, Henry Jenkins, Kurt Lancaster, and John Tulloch, considers the reception and uses of Babylon 5 (1993-98), Doctor Who (1963-89, 1996), Star Trek (1966-69), and Star Wars (1977). A closing section, with pieces by Peter Biskind, Mark Jancovich, and Peter Hutchings, examines US and British alien-invasion movies from the 1950s.

In the range of its coverage, Liquid Metal makes a fair bid at becoming the set text around which both undergraduate and postgraduate courses on sf film will, with some supplementary readings, be based, and the list of contributors is a pretty solid guarantee of the quality of the criticism it contains. While any such collection inevitably omits pieces which one would like to see reprinted, the number of duds is astonishingly low, especially if one is considering adopting the book as a course text. To my mind, only one of the essays is an absolute stinker, and only several pieces are significantly weaker than the high benchmark set by the very best.

Probably the major criticism of this volume is that it is fairly conservative, especially in its conceptualization of sf film, which is largely content to focus on canonical texts, especially those from after 1980. This is understandable since Liquid Metal is attempting to consolidate a field of study in a way that has not been attempted before, and since it is restricted to reprinting material from a field that did not exist in any meaningful sense fifteen or twenty years ago. So my frustration is actually about certain inadequacies in the study of sf film. Other than the essays on anime, where is the material on non-Anglophone sf cinema? On 1960s and 1970s sf? On sf movie serials? On multiple-platform sf franchises? On sf films—other than the Matrix trilogy (Wachowski 1991, 2003)—from recent years? And bearing in mind quite how much has been made of contemporary spectacle-driven sf in relation to the early cinema influentially described by Tom Gunning as “the cinema of attractions,” where is the material on silent sf movies?6 (And, on a much less important note, why didn’t the editor silently correct Constance Penley’s misspelling of “Connor,” an error whose replication in previous reprintings and students’ work has been getting on my nerves for over a decade?)

Rather than dwell any further on the excellence of Liquid Metal, and in order to open up the problem I referred to in my introduction, I want to use one of the essays it reprints from the heartland of film studies—Warren Buckland’s “Between Science Fact and Science Fiction: Spielberg’s Digital Dinosaurs, Possible Worlds, and the New Aesthetic Realism,” which originally appeared in Screen in a 1999 special issue on special effects, computer-generated imagery, and digital cinema—alongside a piece which can here stand in for attitudes still common in the criticism of sf literature.

In the foreword to his edited anthology, Projections: Science Fiction in Literature and Film, Lou Anders makes the seemingly obvious case that “a book is not a film, and a film is not a book. One is a literary medium; the other a visual one. They require different approaches on the part of their respective audiences. They deliver different rewards” (11). He then quotes Harry Turtledove: “written science fiction is often thought-provoking; filmed sci-fi is more often jaw-dropping. The two usually appeal to different audiences, which aficionados of the written variety sometimes forget to their peril—and frustration” (11). And then—and this is the key moment—Anders writes, “in science fiction literature (also referred to as “speculative fiction”), the reward is often the thrill of intellectual stimulation. In ‘sci-fi’ cinema, the thrill is a visceral one, delivered via ‘special effects’” (11). Throughout the remainder of his foreword, Anders, who is presumably sympathetic to sf films, continues to unthinkingly reiterate this crude Cartesian hierarchical opposition: sf literature is speculative, ideas-driven, and intellectually-stimulating, while sf film is sci-fi, visceral, and dumb. His similarly unreflexive complaint that the success of Star Wars et al has driven the real stuff off bookstore shelves, replacing it with media tie-ins, succeeds in bracketing off a significant proportion of contemporary sf literature as “not really” sf literature; in obscuring the fact that a very large proportion of non-media sf literature is equally derivative and unchallenging adventure fiction, and that the vast majority of sf literature has always been so; in overlooking the fact that the harder varieties of sf he seems to consider as being “real” sf literature have always been a minor strand and are of fairly recent vintage; in skating over the fact that sf frequently responds to speculative, ideas-driven, intellectually-stimulating fiction with incomprehension, condescension, or aggression (it is no surprise that the 1970s are frequently written out of sf history as an uninteresting decade even though it was the decade in which New Wave and mainstream writers pushed sf to a breaking point—fancy giving the Nebula to Rendezvous with Rama rather than Gravity’s Rainbow!7 —and in which feminist sf succeeded, albeit fitfully and briefly, in extracting sf from its numbingly adolescent politics). .

Anders’s conception of what constitutes speculative, ideas-driven, intellectually-stimulating sf is unintentionally revealed by what is presumably intended as a generous concession: “Nonetheless, sci-fi cinema has produced a handful of works that strive for the intellectual weight of its literary counterpart—films like The Day the Earth Stood Still, Blade Runner, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, and The Matrix—this last one remarkable in the way it marries the strengths of both literature and film into one coherent narrative” (12). Leaving aside the ways in which that particular roster damns sf literature with very faint praise, it is important to recognize its pre-critical failure to address (or even remember) its own premises—a failing that can still be observed in much writing on sf, whether film or literature. The flip side of Anders’s shortcomings can be found in Buckland’s essay.

The principle significance of “Between Science Fact and Science Fiction” lies in its attempt to think about CGI and other digital-effects technologies in relationship to a range of discussions, particularly focused on the ontological status of film worlds, in both classical and contemporary film theory. In his attempted corrective to “those who discuss these [effects-rich] films in terms of unmotivated special effects,” and thus “unwittingly continu[e] the auteur criticism of the early 1960s by ignoring or by-passing the script in favor of” (33) fetishizing mise-en-scène, Buckland worries away at the same hierarchical opposition as Anders; and as his title suggests, Buckland establishes a distinction between science fact and science fiction homologous to Anders’s between sf and sci fi. To a reader versed in sf theory, the central weakness of Buckland’s argument is that his turn to possible world theory results in passages like:

It is this non-fictional dimension to Jurassic Park and Lost World that enables us to characterise them as articulating a possible world. Both the novels and the films are taking new scientific ideas to their logical (or illogical) conclusions. In other words, Jurassic Park and The Lost World begin from scientific fact (the actual), and then take these facts to their furthest consequences (the possible). Because it takes as its starting point the actual, then it is not pure fantasy (the impossible). The novels and the films therefore present a possible world, which exists between science fact and science fiction. (27)

The last sentence’s routine denigration of sf and Buckland’s apparent ignorance of both hard sf and the verb “to extrapolate” point to more or less the same problems as those in Anders. Not only does Buckland appear guilty of a lack of reflection about basic premises, but that very lack of reflection seems to have produced a blind spot, causing him to overlook critical concepts and vocabularies that would aid his argument and which have been worked out in considerable detail elsewhere. (But lest sf studies gets too smug, it is worth remembering that its general response to counterfactual and possible world theorists has rarely risen above the level of sticking fingers in ears and going “la-la-la-we-did-it-first-la-la-la” in the hope they’d go away. Needless to say, a more sustained critical engagement—from both sides—would be beneficial to both sides.).

In the face of such mutual incomprehension, reinforced by all kinds of parochial and institutional factors, there has been a tendency to suggest that sf literature and sf film are effectively two different genres,8 or that they should be treated as such. I suspect that this mistakes the source of the problem, locating it within the genre (and then displacing it onto the medium) rather than in the interactions of multiple discursive agents who constantly redefine and renegotiate what constitutes the genre. While certain critics, like Buckland, are writing about sf film, others, like Anders, think they are writing about sf in general whereas, of course, they are, in fact, writing about sf literature. As long as the confusions among these categories are permitted to go uncriticized, the prospects for a sustained strong sf film criticism in either sf studies or film studies venues are poor, and this cannot but be detrimental to the whole field of sf studies. Liquid Metal, in drawing together work from both sf studies and film studies, gives grounds for hope; but there is a lot left to do.

1. See also Bould, “False Salvation,” which is indebted to Zerilli’s essay and which offers a rather different reading of Men in Black (Sonnenfeld 1997).

2. No women were invited to the unveiling, prompting suffragettes to issue a statement declaring that “In erecting A Statue of Liberty embodied as a woman in a land where no woman has political liberty, men have shown a delightful lack of consistency which excites the wonder and admiration of the opposite sex” (Zerilli 171-72, quoting Shapiro 1986).

3. In 1921, the temporary Quota Act limited “the number of admissions of any particular nationality to three percent of the group’s population already in the United States as reflected by the 1910 census. This marked the first quantitive immigration restrictions in U.S. history” (Nevins 29). The 1924 “Johnson-Reed” Immigration Act “made the quotas permanent, but lowered the permitted percentage of immigrants to 2 percent and used the census of 1890 as its base” (Nevins 101) and “also required immigrants for the first time to obtain visas from U.S. consular officials abroad before traveling to the United States” (Nevins 29). The 1924 “legislation also included the Oriental Exclusion Act, which banned all Asian immigration except that from the Philippines. As opposed to the temporary Quota Act of 1921, economic arguments were secondary to ones of racial purity in 1924” (Nevins 101-102). In addition to creating “fixed concepts of ‘race,’ which the legislation effectively conflated with the concept of the ‘nation,’” often regardless of the immigrants self-identity or geographic origin, and valorizing both the classification of people by race and prejudices about which kinds of immigrants were capable of assimilation, the 1924 Act “resulted in 85 percent of the new immigrant quota [being] allocated to North-Western Europe” (Nevins 102).

4. Immigration “came in three great tides, each stronger than the last. The first rose in the 1830s and 1840s to a high-water mark in 1854, when 427,833 new arrivals were recorded; the second, starting in the seventies, rose to a height of 788,992 in 1882; the third brought in an average of one million immigrants a year in the decade before the First World War” (Brogan 413-14). Brogan also notes that immigration “rose from 216,397 in 1897 to 1,218,480 in 1914” (456). The effect of the 1924 Act was to end mass immigration: “the annual average went down from 862,514 in the 1907-14 period to no more than 150,00—all that was allowed ... and discrimination against suspect nationalities was built into the system. Immigration from the so-called Asiatic Barred Zone—China, Japan, Indochina, Afghanistan, Arabia, the East Indies—was stopped almost entirely; and immigration from everywhere else but Northern and Western Europe was made exceedingly difficult” (Brogan 512). Among the many tragic consequences of the implementation of this legislation was that, of the 180,000 German Jews who might have entered the United States between 1933 and 1941, only 75,000 were given permission to do so (Brogan 571).

5. Zerilli also notes that Bartholdi’s original design for the Statue included “broken chains and Phyrigian cap” (326, n.27), traditional symbols of liberation from enslavement, but these were abandoned so as not to provoke offence among potential financial backers from the Southern states.

6. See Gunning. Bould’s “On the Edges” attempts to draw out some of these connections. Telotte’s A Distant Technology contains a sterling account of sf film in the late silent period.

7. Lethem, who postulates an alternative future for sf if that decision had gone the other way in 1973, is reprinted in Anders.

8. A weak version of this argument underpins Anders’s and Buckland’s homologous categorical distinctions.

Anders, Lou. “Foreword: Spectacle and Speculations.” Projections: Science Fiction in Literature and Film. Ed. Lou Anders. Austin, TX: MonkeyBrain Books, 2004. 11-13.

Bould, Mark. “The False Salvation of the Here and Now: Aliens, Images and the Commodification of Desire in The Brother from Another Planet.Sayles Talk: Essays on Independent Filmmaker John Sayles. Ed. Diane Carson and Heidi Kenaga. Wayne, OH: Wayne State UP, 2005. 112-41.

─────. “On the Edges of Fiction: Pattern, Structure and Narrative in Silent Actualités, City Symphonies and Early Sf Cinema.” Docufictions: Essays on the Intersection of Documentary and Fictional Filmmaking. Ed. Gary D. Rhodes and John Parris Springer. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005. In press.

Brogan, Hugh. The Penguin History of the United States of America. London: Penguin, 1990.

Freedman, Carl. Critical Theory and Science Fiction. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP, 2000.

Gunning, Tom. “An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)credulous Spectator.” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. 5th ed. Ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. 818-32.
Higham, John. Send These to Me: Jews and Other Immigrants in Urban America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1975.

Lethem, Jonathan. “The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction.” Projections: Science Fiction in Literature and Film. Ed. Anders. Austin, TX: MonkeyBrain Books, 2004. 203-208.

McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Nevins, Joseph. Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the “Illegal Alien” and the Making of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Shapiro, Mary J. Gateway to Liberty: The Story of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. New York: Vintage, 1986.

Telotte, J.P. A Distant Technology: Science Fiction Film and the Machine Age. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1999.

Zerilli, Linda. “Democracy and National Fantasy: Reflections on the Statue of Liberty.” Cultural Studies and Political Theory. Ed. Jodi Dean. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2000. 167-88.

Andrew M. Butler

Tune In, Jack In, Drop Out

Matthew Kapell and William G. Doty, eds. Jacking In to the Matrix Franchise: Cultural Reception and Interpretation. New York: Continuum, 2004. xiv + 215 pp. $85.00 hc; $19.95 pbk.

M. Keith Booker. Science Fiction Television. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004. 201 pp. $39.95. hc.

We certainly cannot complain any longer that media science fiction is not taken seriously. M. Keith Booker’s volume attempts to survey a popular genre of a popular medium and Matthew Kapell and William G. Doty bring together eleven original essays in a volume that joins the already substantial body of work (if not yet a body of substantial work) on The Matrix (1999). Neither of these books is precisely aimed at an academic market, and both perhaps tend toward the middlebrow—a space which, of course, much of my own work has also occupied, so (to mix a metaphor) I cannot afford to stick my nose in the air.

In fact, that middle brow is rather higher in the case of Jacking In, despite an introduction telling of the editors’ injunction to contributors to “make it clear, eliminate technical scholarly debates, and express yourself the way ‘ordinary people’ talk” (2). This is a laudable aim, although I do worry about that term “ordinary people.” I also recognize a certain defensiveness, as when in the introduction to one of the books I’ve been involved with we reassured potentially startled readers that the index only contained a single reference for Derrida. I do not think Kapell and Doty have succeeded in speaking the language of the people—they would have to use the word “blatant” more often, for example—but it is admirably clear in most chapters. The already formidable number of articles written on the films, however, not to mention the breadth of critical coverage, means that a lot of the articles might be felt to be bogged down in quotations and bibliography.

Science Fiction Television comes unencumbered by anything as daunting as a bibliography, and it requires fewer than thirty endnotes, most of which are descriptive rather than suggesting further reading. It is as if nothing else has been written on the topic in the last four decades or so of taking science fiction seriously. The reader who enjoyed this book and wants to find more is merely directed to various books dealing with the period prior to the 1950s and a few books on The X-Files (1993-2002). Whilst one of the books referenced is Booker’s own Monsters, Mushroom Clouds, and the Cold War (2001), the opportunity is not taken to cross reference to his Strange TV (2002)—rightly plugged as being of interest on the back dustwrapper and dealing with several of the same series.

The volume itself is bookended with two incredible statements that I am sure are destined to be tagged with the phrase “Discuss” and turned into essay questions. First, “Science fiction series have been among the most innovative and successful series ever to appear on commercial television” (1) and last: “science fiction television may be our last best hope to recover the sense of confidence and wonder that propelled Western civilization from the Renaissance to outer space and cyberspace” (192). I am not the world’s greatest fan of SFTV—as we apparently now call it—but what much of what I have seen has felt derivative (or has paid much homage to what has gone before) and simplistic (or focused). It is not clear what is meant by “successful”—ratings (we need figures), sales (ditto), or aesthetics (I have many doubts). Why commercial television? One of the book’s (and indeed the genre’s) most important series is Doctor Who (1963-1989, 1996, 2005- ), which was produced by a public-service broadcaster funded by a license fee. The “sense of confidence and wonder” seems a quaint metanarrative of progress, which I am not convinced is the only factor in our outward and inward urges, especially with the political motivation of the space race. Nor is the story told by Booker one of unalloyed optimism.

And Booker does tell a story—this is necessary for history—although it simplifies what is going on, introducing a teleology that risks distorting the history it tells. The curious story of science fiction turns out to be The Story Of How X-Files Came To Be. That early television genius Nigel Kneale anticipated The X-Files in the “motifs of conspiracy and looming hidden dangers” (6), The Outer Limits (1963-1965) “foreshadow[ed]” it, Doctor Who’s UNIT “more vaguely foreshadow[ed] the later FBI X-Files Unit”(32)—not that it could foreshadow an earlier unit—an episode of The Avengers (1961-69) anticipates an X-Files episode (40), and The Invaders (1967-68) was “a clear predecessor” (49). The presence of the scientist character Liz Shaw in the first season of Jon Pertwee’s incarnation of Doctor Who (1970) “clearly anticipates the skepticism of the scientist Dana Scully in The X-Files while her subsequent pairing with Doctor Who in the next several sequences provides one of many precedents for The X-Files pairing of Scully with Fox Mulder,” as does the first version of Romana with the Tom Baker Doctor (70). UFO (1970-73) anticipates the series (74) especially in the “twists and turns in the alien-invasion plot” (76). Blake disappears from Blake’s 7 (1978-81)—just like Fox Mulder—and the series’s tone is dark, just like The X-Files, not to mention using a plot arc (83). It is as if all these series, especially if they had male and female leads, and the woman was more than a doormat, were simply preparing the ground. Or Chris Carter drew on everything that went before him. Certainly post-X-Files series are compared to it, whether in terms of tone, structure, success, or characterization.

The X-Files reflects a shift in the narrative of science fiction history: prior to the 1990s, series reflect the Cold War anxieties of America—including, apparently, Doctor Who. After the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the demolition of the Berlin Wall, we have a more generalized paranoia, directed at our own governments. In other words, televisual science fiction mutates from reflecting the notion that the government is out to get us, to no longer believing the government when they tell us that no one is out to get us. In the era of the war on terror, with the imprisonment without charge of enemy non-combatants and the proposed suspension of habeas corpus in Britain—measures which are either sensible precautions or knee-jerk suspensions of civil and other liberties, depending on your political perspectives—it seems likely that if Booker’s thesis is correct then we are about to enter a new phase of the history of television paranoia.

The connection of Doctor Who to the Cold War needs greater unpicking than Booker grants it. The adventure known variously as “The Daleks” or “The Mutants” (or indeed “The Dead Planet” [1963-64]) is felt to address “cold war fears of nuclear holocaust” (31), although later adventures featuring the Daleks were more explicitly concerned with the First and Second World Wars and Nazi ideology—particularly in the repeated descriptions of the Aryan Thals, pacifist enemies of the Daleks. Whereas an episodic drama aimed at a family audience could use such fears to articulate a displaced narrative, the quasi-documentary The War Game (1965; not discussed by Booker) was held to be too frightening for television and was not shown on the small screen until 1985. The point, however, is that the British connection to the Cold War is different from the American, in terms of differing attitudes to possible Communist infiltration, to being closer to a potential theater of war, to being a declining post-colonial power dealing with the consequences of the fag-end of empire rather than hovering between isolationism and neo-imperialism. The early 1970s Earth-based seasons of the Pertwee incarnation of Doctor Who are to me as much an assertion of British significance as of “cold war alien-invasion” dramas (69); indeed the rash of invasion stories a century earlier suggests that a cold war is not a prerequisite for British fears of invasion and contamination.

Booker is not exactly forthcoming on the shape and chronology of the Cold War since its inception in the late 1940s, although an endnote does direct us to his Monsters, Mushroom Clouds, and the Cold War for an account of the 1950s. The contours of the Cuban Missile crisis, the intervention in Vietnam, the various defections, arms limitations talks, and placing of military bases and missiles in western Europe cannot be mapped precisely onto those of SFTV, although other critics have at least written about Star Trek (1966-69), Vietnam, and foreign policy. Nor, for that matter, is it easy to trace the trajectory of Black civil rights, women’s liberation, and gay pride from the 1950s to the present day—although there are some considerations of race and racism.

Inevitably, Booker writes from the perspective of America—and indeed at first, despite early mentions of Doctor Who, Quatermass (1953, 1955, 1958-59, 1979), The Avengers, and The Prisoner (1967-68), I did ponder whether the book should really be entitled American Science Fiction Television. You look in vain for any mention of Blake’s 7 in the index, the most significant and, until Red Dwarf (1988-93, 1997-99), the most popular British television science fiction series after Doctor Who. To be fair, there is a brief discussion of the series and its dark tone, situating it in opposition to Star TrekBlake’s 7’s Federation is much more openly totalitarian than that of Star Trek. Red Dwarf is hailed as “unique in its combination of sitcom and science fiction” (87), which overlooks other British efforts such as Come Back Mrs Noah (1978), Goodnight Sweetheart (1993-99) and (more loosely) My Hero (2000- )—although British audiences would be more than happy to overlook some of these as well. It also ignores Nigel Kneale’s Kinvig (1981) and the television version of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981), which, until the release of the film, is the least aesthetically pleasing version of the much-used material—although Booker does discuss it as a miniseries.

The designation of it as a miniseries marks a distinction between British and American terminology. The British would view a miniseries as a single narrative split into a few episodes, usually shown over consecutive nights, having a large budget and glossy settings and stars. A run of a sitcom—typically in Britain limited to six to eight episodes written by one or two writers—would still be a series. Some of the dramas have extended beyond that to twelve or thirteen episodes in a season or series—for example Blake’s 7 or Bugs (1995-99); whilst early seasons of Doctor Who ran for much of the year, it is a rare British series that uses the American model of the 22-23 episode run. Equally the distinction in American television between syndication and networking needs explanation for an international audience.

Inevitably, Booker makes mistakes, although as far as I can see he is on safer ground in covering more recent material. The creator of Quatermass becomes Nigel Neale, and Andrew Keir, the star of the film Quatermass and the Pit (1967), becomes Andre Keir (perhaps mistaken for André Morrell from the television version). In the middle of a paragraph on the 1939 Buck Rogers we learn that “(Flash shuttles back and forth from Earth to Saturn) ... Flash, a test pilot for the 1930s, is placed in suspended animation awaking five hundred years in the future” (4). Admittedly, Flash bears a startling resemblance to Buck—both were played by Larry “Buster” Crabbe—but someone nodded here. And I’m sure we could all come up with a shopping list of exclusions—various one-offs from either side of the Atlantic, any of the many series explicitly aimed at children, or anything as far as I could see from Australia.

There are some rather uneasy judgments—“cool”, “camp,” and “silly” are thrown at The Prisoner, Lost in Space (1965-68), and some of Doctor Who (although mercifully he ignores the post-Tom Baker version, thus avoiding the need to deal with Sylvester McCoy’s incarnation). When Booker gets his teeth into The Twilight Zone, however, the various incarnations of Star Trek, Babylon 5 (1993-99), and, obviously, The X-Files, he makes some useful commentary. But this is an entry-level book, and not one I’d use without a massive degree of caveat with undergraduates.

Brighter undergraduates ought to be able to cope with Jacking In to the Matrix Franchise, which has the laudable intention—all too rare in science fiction criticism—to think beyond just films or books, and attempts to encompass a whole franchise: three films, anime shorts, a computer game, a comic book, and websites. It is the films which predominate, almost inevitably, with a couple of the Animatrix (2003) shorts closely behind. While this book offers much to those who see new ground being broken in the franchise—as if Neuromancer (1984), Videodrome (1982), Philip K. Dick, or Hong Kong cinema had never existed—it also offers refreshingly dissenting views on the films as well.

Doty—who has previously written on myth and masculinity—makes a grand claim for the Wachowski brothers as being the Wagner of their day, creating “ein Gesamtkunstwerk” (1) to rival the Ring Cycle. Fortunately, he is not blind to the ideological baggage that Wagner carries in his Nietzschean will to power, and, thankfully, John Shelton Lawrence’s chapter explores the fascistic undertones of the trilogy, focusing upon the blind trust of Morpheus for the führer-like figure of Neo. Lawrence’s fusion of this to the American monomyth makes for some uncomfortable reading on the politics of the blockbuster, and he takes the opportunity to have a pot shot at that other sacred cow, Star Wars (1977). In these postmodern times, it may be that the Wachowskis are using these ideas rather than endorsing them—and Lawrence suggests that a future installment might make the commentary on the failure of democracy more nuanced.1

Lawrence’s discussion of fascism and Nazism neglects the racist elements of such ideologies, but C. Richard King and David J. Leonard examine the racial elements of the sequence, asking “Is Neo White?” (32ff). For these writers, the matrix is an apt metaphor for what the films do in terms of race: blinding us to the truth. The presences of Morpheus, the Oracle, Tank, and Dozer are not in themselves radical, as they conform to sage or slave stereotypes, and Morpheus yields all to Neo. The largely African American city of Zion, with its exotic drumming and dancing, offers “a world of sexual energy” (38) that feels like it would belong in a James Bond movie (and echoes the Gungan city of The Phantom Menace, 1999). The racism and orientalism of too much cyberpunk is disturbing, but few seem to have addressed it.2

Equally, the representation of gender can be troubling, putting the dominatrix into the matrix. Martina Lipp focuses on Trinity as a potential positive role model, a rare woman who looks and desires, who masquerades in order to play down her apparent power, and who is ultimately sidelined by the narrative as an agent. Lipp rightly sees the figure of Lara Croft behind Trinity, but here she does not quite get to be a female hero, despite moments of heroism and despite rescuing Neo.

Richard R. Jones, like other critics before him, examines the place of religion in this film universe, and suggests that the film offers a reversal of the usual conversion experience: religions “demand a conversion from the real world to a world of myth and symbols.... [I]n the Matrix universe, conversion involves leaving a simulated world of myth and symbol and waking up in the real world” (54). There is a point, here, but I would imagine that religions would also see their awakenings as access to truth, or to a higher truth, or to an inner truth, not just to myths and symbols. Symbols are the logos. Certainly this would seem the point to talk about Gnosticism or Buddhism, but instead Jones discusses the way in which religion is used in the franchise as part of the mise en scène and theme with no real deeper meaning, making the franchise a ecumenical table rasa, in which one divines one’s own religion according to taste. Likewise, Frances Flannery-Dailey and Rachel L. Wagner go through a shopping list of religions—Christianity, Gnosticism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and so on—at the risk of showing the films as mere eclectic bricolage. They are skeptical of whether any of the films offers “a convoluted Baudrillardian critique of media and violence” (111) even as it offers a mediated world, too full of “an excess of violence, maleness, and whiteness” (110). I, too, suspect that Baudrillard is being used, and certainly the man himself, quoted by Stephanie Wilhelm and Matthew Kapell on the films, is less than impressed: “‘The Matrix is like a movie about The Matrix that could have produced The Matrix’ ... The Matrix franchise does not tell us what a simulacra [sic] is, the Matrix franchise itself, is a simulacrum!” (134). Well, quite. Or not.

Wilhelm and Kapell attempt to escape from both modernist and postmodernist categories, in favor of a utopian vision. For them the trilogy ends with the sense of human agency and machine capabilities, the incorporation of “the traditions or myths of that past and a grand narrative of progress” (138). This is a strange turning back whilst moving forward. It cannot be modernist, because it still does not offer a rational state; it cannot be postmodernist because it believes in progress. I’m not so sure whether this does not simply mistake the simulation for the real; perhaps a better fictional future might inspire the possibility of a better real future, but I don’t see many of the machines around me learning anything as they enslave us, nor for that matter do we humans find it that easy to learn.

Author, critic, and academic Russell Blackford raises the interesting question of the impact, in The Matrix, of taking the blue pill and going back to the hallucination rather than the red pill that awakens one to a ghastly reality. (Personally, I’ve never been convinced that Neo had an entirely free choice about which to swallow, but perhaps I’m cynical about Morpheus’s motives.) Certainly, there’s a lot to be said in the argument between the utopian hallucination and the dystopian reality; it’s a subject Philip K. Dick spent a whole career exploring, usually coming down on the side of reality, if it was reality. Blackford cites a thought experiment by James Patrick Kelly, in which the hallucinated world run by the machines was genuinely nicer than the nightmare scenario—of machines feeding on dead humans—outlined to Neo: would you want to be awakened? Do we really prefer the objective reality of authentic lived experience to fairyland? In the simulation anything can happen—you can work, fall in love, go to clubs, program computers, go for long walks in the countryside. While you can’t know the truth, in many ways the simulation can be preferable to the reality.

This collection is thought-provoking and relatively free of the common gosh-wow fanboy reactions to the franchise. In addition to the essays, the introduction (by Doty) and conclusion (by Kapell) provide useful orientation, and appendices take us through the elements of the franchise, identifying the major allusions. Even if some of these seem a little obvious—Neo/One, Trinity—there is still bound to be something you have not noticed. The bibliography is a little disappointing, but it is supplemented by individual Works Cited sections. Personally, I would have shifted all the bibliographic material to the end, but this is not the first book published by Continuum where I have had to rifle through the pages trying to track down a lost reference. Also, I could not work out why some chapters had filmographies and some did not, especially as some of the filmographies simply listed the franchise films. The editors lose marks for leaving an “e” out of John Shirley and for giving it to Samuel Delany (191), and it seems that the contributors are more children of the visual than the textual, given the very few references to written cyberpunk, Philip K. Dick, and Greg Egan. But on the whole, Kapell and Doty are to be applauded for providing a sense of unity to the collection without imposing a uniform.

Both of these books are clearly trying to appeal to a wide audience, Booker steering a path through a wealth of material whilst apparently ignoring any previous travelers, Kapell and Doty’s contributors offering a more intimate examination of a narrow area, and being all too aware of the footsteps before them. I can see the desire for grand surveys like Booker’s, but at the same time I cannot help but feel we need more of the close examination. Booker’s Science Fiction Television traces a broad outline for undergraduates and the general reader, but needs more color, shade, depth, and detail. Kapell and Doty’s contribution is a good addition to the shelf on The Matrix with the collections by Haber, Irwin, and Yeffeth, joining various volumes on Star Trek, The X-Files, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), but I think we have said enough on those for now. There is much more in SFTV and sf film that demands a serious look.

1. I would have liked to see someone address in much more detail the economics of the franchise and the cynical exploitation of markets expressed by such synergistic cross-promotion.

2. Andrew Macrae wrote “Looking Awry at Cyberpunk through Antipodean Eyes” (1998), an MA thesis for the University of Queensland dealing with the subject of race in cyberpunk from an Australian perspective.

Booker, M. Keith. Monsters, Mushroom Clouds, and the Cold War. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2001.
_______. Strange TV: Innovative Television Series from The Twilight Zone to The X-Files. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002.
Haber, Karen, ed. Exploring the Matrix: Visions of the Cyber Present. New York: St Martin’s, 2003.
Irwin, William, ed. The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real. Chicago: Open Court, 2002.
Yeffeth, Glenn, ed. Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in The Matrix. Dallas, TX: Benbella Books, 2003.

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