Science Fiction Studies

#10 = Volume 3, Part 3 = November 1976


  • Clareson's Voices and Slusser's Heinlein (S.C. Fredericks)
  • A Bibliography and 49 Reprints (Neil Barron, ed. Anatomy of Wonder. Science Fiction) (R.D. Mullen)
  • The SF Reprint Series II: Scholarship and Commercialism ( David Russen. Iter Lunare: Or, A Voyage to the Moon; C.I. Defontenay. Star (Psi Cassiopeia);   Man Abroad: A Yarn of Some Other Century. Frank R. Stockton. The Science Fiction of Frank R. Stockton: An Anthology; Robert Cromie. A Plunge into Space; John Munro. A Trip to Venus; Stanley Waterloo. Armageddon: A Tale of Love, War, and Invention; Ellsworth Douglas. Pharoah's Broker: Being the Very Remarkable Experiences in Another World of Isador Werner (Written by Himself).   Joseph Conrad and Ford M. Hueffer [i.e. Ford Madox Ford). The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story;  H.G. Wells. The Sea Lady: A Tissue of Moonshine.. David G. Hartwell and L.W. Currey, eds. The Battle of the Monsters and Other Stories: An Anthology of American Science Fiction; Leonard Kip, "The Secret of Appollonius Septrio"; Robert W. Chambers, "The Repairer of Reputations"; W.C. Morrow, "The Monster-Maker"; Morgan Robertson. "The Battle of the Monsters";  Jack London, "A Thousand Deaths";   Simon Newcomb, "The End of the World"; Rowan Stevens, "The Battle for the Pacific: Sorakichi--Prometheus"; William J. Henderson, "Harry Borden's Naval Monster: A Ship of the Air" ;  George Locke. Worlds Apart.; W.S. Lach-Szyrma, "Letters from the Planets";  John Fleming Wilson, "The Rejected Planet"; Geo. C. Wallis, "The Great Sacrifice" ; George Parsons Lathrop, "In the Deep of Time"; Bertram Atkey, "The Strange Case of Alan Moraine";  Ellsworth Douglas and Edwin Pallander, "The Wheels of Dr Ginochio Gyves"; George Allan England. "A Message from the Moon";  Owen Oliver, "The Black Shadow";  George Griffith, "Stories of Other Worlds"   William Hope Hodgson. The Boats of the "Blen Carrig"; The House on the Borderland; The Ghost Pirates; The Nightland: A Love Tale; George Allan England. The Air Trust; Victor Rousseau [i.e. V.R. Emanuel]. The Sea Demons; Erle Cox. Out of the Silence S. Fowler Wright. The World Below;  John Taine [i.e. Eric Temple Bell]. The Iron Star; J.M. Walsh. Vandals of the Void; Philip Wylie. The Murderer Invisible; Friedrich Mader. Distant Worlds; Olaf Stapledon. Last Men in London; Eden Phillpotts. Saurus; Thomas Calvert McClary. Rebirth: When Everyone Forgot;  John W. Campbell, Jr. Who Goes There?: Seven Tales of Science Fiction.; Cloak of Aesir; Jack Finney. The Body Snatchers; Philip K. Dick. Solar Lottery; Paul Anderson. War of the Wing-Men; Theodore Sturgeon. Venus Plus X.; Fritz Leiber. The Big Time; Daniel F. Galouye. Dark Universe; Jack Vance; Brian W. Aldiss. Hothouse; Samuel R. Delany. The Jewels of Apto; Roger Zelazny. The Dream Master; Alexi Panshin. Rite of Passage; Michael Moorcock. The Final Programme; Joanna Russ. Alyx;  D.G. Compton. The Steel Crocodile; James Tiptree, Jr. Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home; Thomas M. Disch. 334; Norman Spinrad, ed. Modern Science Fiction; R.D. Mullen and Darko Suvin, eds. Science-Fiction Studies: Selected Articles ) (Joe Sanders)
  • Essays on The Glass Bead Game / Magister Ludi (Franz Rottensteiner)
  • Rabkin's The Fantastic in Literature (R.D. Mullen)
  • Jules Verne by His Grandson (Charles Nicol)
  • Three Special Issues on Utopian Fiction (Marc Angenot)


 Clareson's Voices and Slusser's Heinlein

Thomas D. Clareson, ed., Voices for the Future: Essays on Major Science Fiction Writers. Bowling Green University Popular Press, vii+283, $4.95 pb, $12.50 hb.

This collection of essays is a modest, but solid, contribution to science-fiction criticism. Perhaps the best gauge of the critical progress which it represents is to compare the treatments of specific authors in this volume with relevant chapters in Sam Moskowitz's Explorers of the Infinite and Seekers of Tomorrow. Clareson's authors, like Moskowitz, emphasize individual authors and their works, but with far greater sophistication as critics and with much more success in approaching SF narratives as literature. As well, these authors attempt to go beyond plot-summaries to discuss the importance of SF themes for contemporary culture in areas like space exploration, first contact with extraterrestrial life and alien intelligence, the limits of scientific knowledge, and the implications of new forms of religious consciousness or sexual sensibility.

Three of the essays are outstanding contributions which might become fairly permanent additions to the secondary literature. James Gunn's "Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore, Lewis Padgett et al." is a long overdue appraisal of a pair of writers who, singly or in tandem, "contributed substantially to the evolution of science fiction during the formative early stages of the modern period" (p 187). Excellently written, Gunn's essay is generous and positive in its approach, emphasizing the authors' successes and innovations, and especially their studied awareness of mainstream literary culture and their high ideals of stylistic craftsmanship. Thus, Gunn is right to generalize that "much of the development in science fiction over the past twenty years has come along the lines they pioneered" (p 194). Gunn's essay is the best in the entire collection for coordinated control of both analytical and historical levels of interpretation. It also opens up new prospects for sympathetic treatment of other Golden Age SF writers who have not yet received their due from academic critics.

David Samuelson's "The Frontier Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein" is the longest and most detailed essay in the book. Those acquainted with SF criticism are accustomed to a high quality of scholarship from Samuelson, and they will not be disappointed here (in particular I refer the reader to the excellent footnotes to this essay, certainly one of its outstanding features). The scale of the essay permits ample consideration of Heinlein's innovations as one of SF's most important "frontier" artists and his subsequent development as writer, while any number of individual novels and short stories are opened to insightful analysis in passing. Samuelson is willing to be generous and open-minded in his reaction to works like Starship Trooper, whose militarism offends many critics; to Glory Road, whose ironies elude most readers and critics; and even to Stranger in a Strange Land, whose depiction of a new religion and sexual code is usually read in literal-minded fashion. Samuelson has happily taken us a critical step beyond the negative and polemical evaluation of Heinlein by Alexei Panshin, but I still think even this excellent reading focuses too much on Heinlein's faults and failures. Also, "fantasy" remains--unsatisfactorily to this reviewer--a negative concept (pp 132-47), which is sometimes used to mean "improbable SF," sometimes to mean sex-and-immortality wish-fulfillments as in Heinlein's latest novels.

Thomas L. Wymer's "The Swiftian Satire of Kurt Vonnegut" is a convincing analysis of a writer whose own popularity has made him difficult (unlike the other, more typical SF writers dealt with in this volume, Vonnegut has been the object of a great deal of secondary literature, as witness the notes to the essay). Wymer transfers to Vonnegut a critical approach that has been successful with Swift: to take into account the "problem of the second irony." That is, the satire contains an obvious subject for direct humorous attack (the so-called "thesis" layer), but there is a second subject, much more ambiguous than the first, which may, at first, seem to be morally acceptable to the satirist, but which, on further consideration, is the object of subtle, indirect attack (the "antithesis" layer). Thus, there arise figures like Billy Pilgrim of Slaughterhouse-Five, who seem innocent victims of a black-humored cosmos to many readers, yet who are--in Wymer's schema--more correctly viewed as "agent-victims," willing encouragers of the same vicious system which will destroy them. In perceptive readings of Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle (and only meager comments on the rest; one wishes Wymer had analyzed them, too, in this same way) the author exposes the real moral vision of Kurt Vonnegut, the satirist who would "attempt to wake us to the world of suffering which we all ignore and to which we contribute" (p 250); "Vonnegut's purpose is most typically to show how we are all to blame" (p 241). Admittedly, this essay owes its formulation less to SF criticism than to the satiric criticism of Elliott, Paulson, Kernan, and Scholes, but Clareson was still right to include it for its high quality.

Though more modest in some ways than these first three, Thomas Clareson's two contributions, "Clifford D. Simak: The Inhabited Universe" and "The Cosmic Loneliness of Arthur C. Clarke" are intelligent and thoughtful. To both he brings a broad knowledge of SF narratives and the historian's concern for the development of the genre. In the Simak essay, for example, he discusses the final novel-form of City against its historical genesis as piecemeal stories published earlier in the SF magazine. I find the most interesting and provocative comment on City his statement that Simak "brought to science fiction something of the vitality of the beast fable as a perspective from which to make moral judgments" (p 74). In the Clarke essay, Clareson valuably compares themes from Clarke's non-fiction with their counterparts in the SF stories; he does a nice job of bringing Childhood's End--usually regarded as the "exception to the rule" in Clarke's corpus--into harmony with the overall aims of Clarke's SF vision (see especially p 223), which is a blend of science and myth; and he makes solid generalizations, as in his recognition that in his short fiction Clarke favors a quick, shocking punchline which "always opens new perspectives" (p 219). Both these essays will make it easier for future critics to analyze individual works by these authors.

Three other essays show promise as far as their authors' potential for SF criticism is concerned, and the contributors have certainly touched on significant themes and concerns of their respective writers. However, all are still too involved with the obvious SF "themes" of the authors, fail to get beyond surface meanings with analysis, and do not offer enough insights into the history and development of the given writer's works. Curtis C. Smith's "Olaf Stapledon's Dispassionate Objectivity" is too slim an effort to do justice to a writer who achieved so majestic a scale of composition and so thorough a control of detail. Also, Smith loses his own objectivity as a critic by reacting emotionally to the superman-society in Odd John (there is much more to the book than this), and in general his essay degenerates into a polemic against Stapledon's politics. Beverly Friend's "The Sturgeon Connection" concentrates on the right topic--love--and is valuable as a first reading of Sturgeon, but no more than that. The two-part essay on Ray Bradbury by Willis E. McNelly and A. James Stupple is of mixed character: nice insights into Bradbury's peculiar poetic style (McNelly, p 173) or The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine (Stupple, p 178) are buried in clichès and truisms about the SF genre.

Alfred D. Stewart's "Jack Williamson: The Comedy of Cosmic Evolution" might have been as good as these. To emphasize, as he does, the role of Wells and the theory of evolution in Williamson's imagination is to work in the right direction. But this essay is sloppily written (the terms "comedy" and "tragedy" are paraded in the essay to no useful purpose). Maxine Moore's "Asimov, Calvin, and Moses" seems to me to present a totally artificial thesis. I fail to see how either the Foundation trilogy or the Robot-series can be analyzed in terms of "an elaborate metaphorical structure that combines New England Calvinism with the Old Testament Hebraic tradition of the 'Peculiar People'" (p 88).

Jack Williamson's "Years of Wonder" is a pleasant enough reminiscence of the heyday of the pulp magazines in the 30s and 40s by a writer who was himself a major participant in an important phase of the maturation of SF. But, oriented as it is in the direction of "fan culture," it is probably out of place with the rest of the collection. In any case, it provokes the wrong kind of reader anticipations by being set as the first essay in the book.

In sum, except for Wymer's Vonnegut these essays do not emphasize theoretical analysis; they mainly concentrate on the biographical, historical, and developmental side of SF. The collection is definitely a mixed one, but essays like these, with a few exceptions, can be helpful in building a substantive body of criticism which can be equal to the best criticism on mainstream literature. While some of the essays are just fan writing, they are usually much better than this, and always are better in the case of the experienced contributors.

Finally, I should compliment Popular Press for the quality of this book. It is handsomely produced and bound, and the format is attractive. I find only one unfortunate typographical error: on p 71 Clifford Simak's famous story is referred to as "Huddling Peace."

George Edgar Slusser. Robert A. Heinlein: Stranger in His Own Land (Milford Series, Popular Writers of Today, Volume 1). Borgo Press, ii+60, pb $1.95.

Much of his major work gives the impression of being a vehicle for highly personal political and economic opinions, so that a critic who disagrees with these views may find himself reacting to the lectures rather than the fiction. A related danger is taking a firm stand on what Heinlein actually believes, for many of the apparently propaganda threads turn out to be in contradiction with one another.

Although the late James Blish composed these sentences for his "Introduction" to Alexei Panshin's Heinlein in Dimension (1968), they also seem perfectly suitable to pinpoint the major failings of this latest critical essay on Heinlein. It is Slusser's purpose to confront him where he is most philosophical and didactic--a legitimate area for critical speculation, to be sure--but he never allows for the slightest degree of "subjunctivity" in the lectures in many of Heinlein's novels and never considers that they might be fiction. This essay is too quick to identify almost any opinion delivered by a major character as "the author's message."

This is a close scrutiny of six works, set off in three contrasting pairs in such a way as to give some view of Heinlein's accomplishments over three decades: Time for the Stars and Double Star, Stranger in a Strange Land and I Will Fear No Evil, Time Enough for Love and Methuselah's Children, respectively. A minor fourth chapter comments on Have Space Suit--Will Travel, and Farnham's Freehold, and a brief biography and bibliography are also appended.

From the outset Slusser's essay concentrates on Heinlein's failures and weaknesses. Using critical norms which are far from clear, Slusser locates two essential flaws: (1) failure to depict the development of the "inner man," so that characters pass from being naive young men to being worldly-wise old men, without any visible role for maturity or the maturation-process in-between; (2) excessive pseudo-moralizing, so that longer and longer propaganda pieces and lectures are appended to the strictly action/adventure stories which were Heinlein's original forte. Finally, to account for an alleged deterioration in his creative powers, which is correlated directly with the increasing boredom of his dogmatic impreachments, Slusser posits a personality obsessed by the problems of advancing age and impending death. Overall, we are apparently intended to view Heinlein as an author who starts out flawed and who ends by merely being boring and/or distasteful (variously, for materialism, power-mongering, vulgar sexuality, or preoccupation with immortality). Only the juvenile, Have Space Suit--Will Travel, is excused from this general condemnation.

Slusser has indeed lit on a significant idea when he notices that it is not Heinlein's purpose to depict the inner, spiritual growth of his characters (e.g. pp 19-20). But it is another matter to identify this as a "failure" on Heinlein's part since he obviously prefers to concentrate on the hard, glittering, and cynical surface of human character and value. Thus, it is gratuitous to attack him, as Slusser does, for not writing novels which delve ever deeper into the layers of the human psyche just because this is common among the best 20th century mainstream writers. Slusser makes the interesting observation (pp 19 and 38) that in his later novels Heinlein turns to fictional forms and devices common to the 18th century, but he does not follow it up. Should this not be a clue that Heinlein's works are grounded in a different sensibility from that which identifies some transformation of, or maturation of, man's inner being (psyche, soul, mind) as the way to salvation? Heinlein's approach to human nature has more in common with 18th-century fiction masters like Fielding and Sterne than with the 20th century's psychological emphasis.

Sadly, Slusser's work belongs to that obsolete class of literary critical essay such as Yvor Winters used to write, with the critic talking down to the author and chastising him for his immorality, lack of intelligence, and esthetic incompetence. It is self-fulfilling prophecy, for if one starts with the presupposition that the author's efforts are dismal, there are no critical safeguards against finding almost anything objectionable.

Only the final words of the essay, which refer to Heinlein as "one of the most popular and interesting authors of all time," at last call our attention to a different critical attitude and one conducive to a more adequate assessment of his accomplishment. A more positive criticism would evaluate, first of all, Heinlein's unique combination of the tale of action/adventure--for which the tale of political intrigue may serve as an analogue--with didactic/moral fiction, the latter typically couched in various authoritative voices. Next, it would account for Heinlein's common use of a two-part format which develops the action/adventure in the first half, the didactic/moral in the second. Often, too, the didactic "essay" reverses the norms established for readers' expectation in the first half (e.g. Glory Road). Third, this reversal amounts to a kind of "generic discontinuity" and should be critically evaluated along with parallel techniques, like sudden revelations that earlier narration was not real first-person reportage but a diary or tape.

--S.C. Fredericks

A Bibliography and 49 Reprints

Neil Barron, ed. Anatomy of Wonder. Science Fiction. R.R. Bowker Co., xxxi+471, $8.95 pb, $14.95 hb, plus handling.

This bibliography is intended primarily for "Public, school, college, and university libraries desiring to develop well-rounded collections of science fiction books, whether for recreational reading or for support of instructional programs" (page ix). In addition to its four chapters on "periods" of SF in English (1551-1870, 1870-1926, 1926-1937, 1938-1975), it contains a chapter by Francis J. Molson on juvenile SF, a series of brief chapters by H.W. Hall on "research aids" (four on secondary materials, one listing the books that have received the various awards offered in the field, one giving a "core collection checklist," and one listing and describing library collections), a directory of publishers, an author index, and a title index. The individual entries are alphabetical by author within each period, with variant titles (if known), publisher and date of first US or UK edition (with US editions preferred if not more than a year or two later than the UK edn), publisher and price of any in-print editions, and a "succinct plot summary, noting principal themes, critical strengths or weaknesses, comparable works, and any awards or nominations received" (page x).

The year 1946 saw the publication of two highly successful hardback anthologies, Groff Conklin's The Best of Science Fiction and the Healy-McComas Adventures in Time and Space, as well as the Arkham House edition of Van Vogt's Slan. The success of the hardback anthologies (vastly greater than that of Donald Wollheim's pioneering paperback, The Pocket Book of Science Fiction, 1943), together with the example of Arkham House (devoted primarily to Lovecraft and other Weird Tales writers) led to, or at least encouraged, the establishment of a number of fan publishers (Prime Press, Shasta, Gnome, etc.), and to the emergence of science fiction as a commercial category comparable to westerns and mysteries, with the overall result that the number of SF books published in the 30 years since 1946 is much larger than the number of those published in the preceding 400 years.

If we look for an earlier year of comparable significance for SF in English, the one that most readily strikes the eye is 1870, which saw the publication in London of The Coming Race, Erewhon, and Five Weeks in a Balloon, the first two being widely discussed and compared, and the third establishing the English -language career of the first author to become world-famous as an author of science fiction. Before 1870 the only dates we find are those for the publication of individual works of some or great importance, so that any special periodization of SF history would be less rewarding than the traditional periods of general literary history.

Since science fiction as a recognized literary genre subsuming such earlier forms as the utopia and the imaginary voyage may perhaps best be said to begin with Verne, there is good reason for an SF bibliography to begin with a chapter on the genre's prehistory of individual works defined in retrospect as SF, to continue with a chapter entitled "The Emergence of Scientific Romance," and to conclude with a chapter on "The Modern Period." On the other hand, there seems to be no good reason for having a chapter between the second and last under the title "The Gernsback Era, 1926-1937," for during these years (as is recognized by Ivor A. Rogers, the author of the chapter) we find in the pulp magazines little other than what is well described by Thomas D. Clareson in the preceding chapter as a period in which "the motifs which dominated the scientific romance for almost half a century lose their content... and become no more than plot action as a new generation of writers searches for its own themes in order to give voice to its own concerns" (p 49); except for a few isolated works, those themes were not to find expression in books until 1946. Moreover, the degree to which "Gernsback Era" is a misnomer for these years is indicated by the fact that of the 73 entries in this chapter, only 20 are for books (all published after 1944) deriving from the SF magazines. The important mainstream authors whose books figure in this chapter (Čapek, Stapledon, Huxley) may best be seen as summing up the period that began in 1870 and thus as clearing the ground for a new generation. In sum, it would have been better to have had only three chapters: "SF Prehistory," "Scientific Romance 1870-1945," and "The Modern Period."

(Let me add that one sign of the decline of scientific romance is the gradual abandonment of the term romance in all commercial categories other than those intended for girls.)

The primary objection to bibliographies of this kind is that they suggest an authority they do not have. When we use a "select bibliography" we want to believe that the compiler has actually made his selection after reading all the books of the field, but in sober truth we know that this is seldom the case, and that the books listed derive largely from those he has just happened to read--or, if he has made a search, happened to find available. I do not know that anyone at this time could have made a better selection than Robert M. Philmus has made in §1, Thomas D. Clareson in §2, Ivor A. Rogers in §3, and Joe De Bolt and John R. Pfeiffer in §4, and I certainly do not claim that I could have done so, but all users of the book should understand that its lists are not complete by any standard of books important in the history of SF. The 50 titles listed in §1 for 1551-1870 may be in just proportion to the number listed for each of the other periods (177 for 1870-1926, 73 for 1926-1937, 701 for 1938-1975), but it is still customary to seek for something like completeness in the early period of any body of literature. Clareson's list seems to be lopsidedly American (with 119 US titles versus 38 UK titles and 20 from other countries), but otherwise I will say only that I regret (on the basis of what I have happened to read) the omission of a number of important books, e.g. The Isle of Pines (1668), After London (1885), Vandals of the Void (1931; see #22 below), and The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958; a strange omission in view of Dr De Bolt's being a sociologist).

Dr Philmus's introduction to §1 is a brilliant essay on the theory of SF (nowhere else to my knowledge has so much good sense on this subject been packed into so few pages) and the other introductions are at least satisfactory. As for the annotations, while I would often have expressed different opinions, still they offer little to quarrel with. There are of course a few factual errors, but I will resist the temptation to point out those I have happened to recognize. On the positive side, I am happy to say that the book has cleared up several problems for me; e.g. the annotation for G.O. Smith's The Fourth "R" shows that that book is indeed the same as The Brain Machine--see SFS 2(1975):285.

-- R.D. Mullen

[A response by Joe de Bolt and and John R. Pfeiffer, and a reply by R.D. Mullen, appears in SFS 11 (March 1977).]

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