# 59 = Volume 20, Part 1 = March 1993
BOOKS IN REVIEW
Reinventing Stephen King
Tony Magistrale. Stephen
King: The Second Decade, Danse Macabre to the Dark Half. New York:
Twayne, 1992. xiii+ 188. $20.95.
Tony Magistrale, ed. The Dark Descent: Essays Defining Stephen King's Horrorscape.Contributions
to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy #48. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992.
248pp. $45.00. (Credit-card orders 800-225-5800 ID# 701).
In the interview with Stephen King that serves as the first chapter of Tony
Magistrale's Stephen King: The Second Decade (the first decade was the subject of
Joseph Reino's 1988 Twayne volume), King makes the interesting statement that "A lot of
people have said I'm the guru of the ordinary, and I am, in the sense that someone like
Charles Beaumont was" (2-3). Rather than respond to this curious hint about King's own
conception of his literary context, Magistrale sends us to a footnote explaining that
Beaumont was a "scriptwriter and short-story author" whose works King "most likely"
encountered through episodes of THE TWILIGHT
ZONE (161). A few pages later, when King drops a reference to
Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil," Magistrale follows up immediately with
citations of other Hawthorne stories which he feels are related to King's work. (It turns
out that Magistrale has done an earlier essay on the sense of place in King and
Hawthorne.) While no one would argue that Beaumont is a writer of comparable stature with
Hawthorne, the treatment accorded the two writers in this interview seems symptomatic not
only of the book as a whole, but of an increasingly familiar strategy among scholars
working with popular authors, especially in the area of the fantastic.
King's connection to Hawthorne turns out to be an important part of Magistrale's second
chapter, in which he attempts to establish some sort of literary heritage for King, using
King's own Danse Macabre (1981) as a point of reference and taking particular
note of the selective and highly personal list of books and films with which King
concludes that volume. Magistrale brings in not only Hawthorne, but the Gothic novelists,
Ira Levin, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, and various fairy tales. He
even gives us a diagram of the "Gothic Family Tree," which shows Walpole's Castle of
Otranto generating strains of "masculine" and "feminine" Gothic, which reunite in
the work of the Romantic Poets and Charles Brockden Brown, begetting Poe and Hawthorne and
then splitting again into "19th-Century European Gothic" and "20th-Century
Southern Gothic." Lovecraft floats somewhere between all this and "Contemporary American
Gothic," which names as examples only five authors: King, Joyce Carol Oates, Harlan
Ellison, Peter Straub, and Thomas Harris.
If we go back to King's own list in Danse Macabre and look at the books which
he's asterisked as "particularly important," we find a whole list of authors excluded
from Magistrale's formulations--and indeed from anywhere in his book. This list includes
not only Beaumont's The Hunger (which predates THE TWILIGHT ZONE), but works by Bloch, Bradbury,
Fredric Brown, Jack Finney, Shirley Jackson, Fritz Leiber, Richard Matheson, Theodore
Sturgeon, John Wyndham, and many others. In Danse Macabre and elsewhere, King has
repeatedly shown himself to be knowledgeable about and appreciative of such writers, and
aware of his debt to them. But neither Magistrale nor any of the contributors to his essay
collection The Dark Descent seem aware of or interested in this aspect of King's
heritage. Instead, we get views of King as either something spontaneously generated by
American popular culture, or as the unmediated descendant of Poe, Hawthorne, Twain, and
In fairness, neither book sets as its aim the detailed tracing of King's
literary lineage, although the use of the term "horrorscape" in the subtitle of The Dark
Descent suggests more of this than we actually get. But what has prompted
this little fit of nitpicking is that both books seem to reflect an approach to
pop lit that virtually amounts to "depopularization." In general outline, this approach is as follows: a
general defense of fantastic and/or popular literature is mounted to introduce a
discussion of a favored author, and then in the discussion itself every attempt is made to
isolate the author from those same genres whose defense rationalized the discussion in the
first place. It has happened with Le Guin, it has happened with Dick, and now it seems to
be happening with King. Magistrale opens Stephen King: The Second Decade with the
assertion that King's work "belies the easy reductive characteristics condescending
academics often ascribe to horror and popular fiction" (ix), but only a few chapters
later Magistrale is arguing that King's "tales of science" ought to be excluded from
discussions of SF because they don't "provide technological solutions for the
technological problems raised" like "those who envision the future in terms of a
technological panacea" (85). The "easy reductive characteristics" of which Magistrale
complained have become part of his own arsenal, at least when it comes to liberating King
from association with such a popular genre.
The effect of all this, of course, is to undercut one's own argument at its root. If
fantasy and horror are worth discussing because an author such as King can putatively
produce complex and rewarding works within these formulas, then the formulas themselves
would seem to require some consideration. But to leap in a single bound back to Frank
Norris or Thomas Hardy as sources for King (as Magistrale does in discussing the
Bachman" novels) seems to imply that King's context really isn't worth our
attention, and that King can be just as profitably treated as a pure product of the
mainstream. A run-of-the-mill SF novel such as The Running Man thus gets compared
to Kafka (58) not because it bears any more relationship to Kafka than a hundred similar
novels, but because it's by Stephen King. King's apparent significance is thus inflated by
marginalizing the immediate context of his work in order to search for more respectable
Such a strategy probably does more good for the critic than for the author. Authors
want respectability, but they only need markets. For a critic or academic,
respectability virtually is the market, and one maintains it by discussing big
issues and canonical writers. Magistrale on the whole does a fine job with the big issues.
When King wants to get a message across, such as concern over nuclear power in The
Tommyknockers, he gets it across pretty clearly and unsubtly, and Magistrale
intelligently explores this theme in the novel. He also does a good job of showing how the
King-Straub collaboration The Talisman functions as a kind of nightmare critique
of Reagan's America--but the ambitious invocations of Twain, Dante, Milton, Ovid, and
Tolkien in the discussion of the latter novel tend only to make it seem more
ponderous--and pretentious--than it really is. When Magistrale focuses on issues of
narrative technique and characterization, as he does in his chapters on Skeleton Crew,
It, and Misery, he shows himself to be a sensitive reader and a capable
critic. And his overall thesis--that King can be viewed as a novelist of social criticism
in the grand American tradition-- seems defensible and is at times convincingly
articulated. But at the end of his book, he returns to the basic ad populem
argument with which he started, claiming that King's popularity is alone a measure of his
importance, and that for young readers it provides "a clear alternative to video games
and television" (158) and thus should be part of school curricula. Invoking Leslie
Fiedler, Magistrale concludes with a ringing defense of the importance of popular
art--even as he has just finished virtually denying the importance of such art in King's
Not surprisingly, most of the essays Magistrale has collected in The Dark Descent
reflect this general approach. Two of them are by Magistrale himself, and one of these, on
The Talisman, is the same essay that appears in his Twayne study, with a few
minor changes. Others explore King's works with varying degrees of insight, but almost
always with an eye toward mainstreaming. Greg Weller finds a reference to Galatea in Carrie and
hangs a whole goddess-archetype interpretation of the novel on it, although his account of
how the narrative works is perfectly fine on its own terms. Much more telling is one of
the best essays in the book, Mary Pharr's account of King's recurrent problems in creating
sympathetic and independent women characters. Edwin Casebeer's account of the mixed genres
of The Stand is also insightful, and is one of the few places in the book where
we get a sense of King's commercial and generic context. Another innovative essay is
Bernadette Bosky's awkwardly titled "Playing the Heavy: Weight, Appetite, and Embodiment
in Three Novels by Stephen King." That sounds like some bizarre new form of nutritional
criticism, but the essay makes salient points about King's near-obsession with body types.
Another intriguing essay with a misleading title is Douglas Keesey's "'The Face
of Mr. Flip': Homophobia in the Horror of Stephen King." Keesey doesn't find much evidence of
homophobia on King's part, but sees homophobic attitudes frequently satirized in his
fiction. The strongest theoretical approach to King is Jeanne Campbell Reesman's
Bakhtinian exploration of his dialogic narrative structures.
Other essays include Ronald T. Curran's exploration of fairy-tale motifs in The
Shining, Michael N. Stanton on The Dead Zone, Leonard Mustazza's argument
(complete with references to Oedipus and Hawthorne) that Pet Sematary qualifies
as a classical tragedy, Arthur Biddle's mythic treatment of "The Body," James F. Smith
on the Bachman novels, Gene Doty on "The Monkey," Mary Jane Dickerson on King and
Faulkner (arguing that It derives largely from Absalom, Absalom! and The
Sound and the Fury), and Lauri Berkencamp's account of how she read Misery one
summer afternoon. Several of the essayists, like Berkencamp, make references to their own
reactions while reading a King story, and one begins to get a sense that some of these
reactions may simply be innocent responses to what more seasoned horror readers would
immediately recognize as fairly standard conventions. Gen Doty's bland observations that
"The Monkey" "presents a world in which evil constantly threatens human beings" (135)
or that "there is a suggestion in the story that the monkey is more than a clockwork
toy" (134) seem almost deliberately obtuse unless you conclude that Doty has little or no
familiarity with Algernon Blackwood and a sizable number of other writers who've written
"evil toy" stories.
The irony of all this is that, for all the traditional literary virtues and linkages
that Magistrale and others find in the work of King, there is much in his work
that is still unexplored, no persuasive synthesis (that I have seen, at any
rate) which really defines King's "horrorscape" in terms of his recurring techniques, his miasma of pop
culture sources, his skill at narrative button-pushing. Only on rare occasions do either
of these books try to offer convincing explanations as to why King is such a success, or
exactly what he's a success at, or who else has been successful at this sort of thing and
why. It may very well serve our purposes as academics to find shadows of Yoknapatawpha
County in King's Maine, but there are shadows of Lovecraft's Providence there, too, and
plenty of other unexamined shadows as well. King is certainly worth studying, and on an
exegetical level Magistrale and his contributors often excel at demonstrating how his
texts yield to traditional critical approaches (and sometimes to more innovative
approaches as well), but there must be a middle ground somewhere between exegesis and
canonization, and that's what seems to be missing. There's still plenty of terra
incognita in this horrorscape.
--Gary K. Wolfe Roosevelt University.
in the Case of Mr. Poe?
Kenneth Silverman. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance.
NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991. xii+464. $27.50.
According to the dustjacket billing, Kenneth Silverman, the
Pulitzer-and-Brancroft-Prize-winning author of The Life and Times of Cotton Mather
(1984), has now produced "the first comprehensive Poe biography in English in half a
century." The slightly hedging word "comprehensive" is well chosen. We are invited to
compare Edgar A. Poe with Arthur Hobson Quinn's Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical
Biography (1941). Unlike Quinn, Silverman has not undertaken to recount every last
known detail concerning his subject at the time of writing. Silverman's strength is his
ability to create a smooth-flowing and engrossing narrative which brings Poe, the people
with whom he was associated, and the places he lived, vividly to life. He had the
advantage of being able to mine Dwight Thomas and David K. Jackson's more truly exhaustive
Poe Log (1987) and, given the existence of that compilation, a Poe biographer is
now justified in skirting over some of the minutiae. Almost everything of significance
that we have learned about Poe, before and since Quinn's biography, is in Silverman's
account, but it is, I think, fair to point out, given the dustjacket comparison, that
Silverman has no discoveries of his own to report that are in any way comparable to
Quinn's about the damaging forgeries that Rufus Griswold introduced into his version of
some of the letters Poe had written him.
Silverman's subtitle is taken from "The Philosophy of Composition," Poe's famous
guide to the supposedly mechanistic creation of his poem "The Raven." The bird,
Poe tells us, is emblematic of "Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance" (quoted
241). Silverman argues that the direction of Poe's life and his writing was determined by
the traumatic early deaths of his mother and his brother, for whom he grieved and with
whom he desired to be reunited his entire life. This thesis is not new. It goes back to
Marie Bonaparte's Edgar Poe: Etude psychanalytique (1933) and, more recently, it
provides the basis for three articles (1980, 1982, 1987) by Richard Kepley interpreting
Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Silverman's particular contribution is to
invoke "the modern [largely Freudian] understanding of childhood bereavement" (76) while
stressing that "no attempt will be made to 'prove' that the psychoanalytic prototype of
the bereaved child applies to [Poe], still less to examine by its light his every word and
Silverman's main title reflects the way in which Poe commonly signed his name and the
desire, presumably, to suppress the last name of his stepfather John Allan (a suppression
more thoroughly effected by the French preference for "Edgar Poe"). It is generally
supposed that Allan, standing in for a materialistic America, was unappreciative and
unsupportive of his charge. One result of the prodigious research that went into this
biography is a rather more favorable portrait of John Allan than we have become accustomed
to. Correspondingly, Poe, the often whining manipulative human being, emerges less
positively than in most biographical accounts. Indeed, Silverman does not appear to much
like his subject.
Over and over again, as Silverman acutely observes, the suppressed "Allan" may be
teased out of Poe's fictional names and titles: it "echoes in Al Aaraaf, Lalage, Phaall
(with his 'Unparralleled' [sic] adventures) and other characters and
places formed on the letters double-a, double-l" (126; Silverman's "sic").
Silverman later instances "Tsalal" and two characters named "Allen" who are put to death in Pym,
"Lasalle" in "The Pit and the Pendulum," and "Lalande" in "The Murders in the
Rue Morgue." He is equally insightful in finding hidden "Leonard"s (Poe's brother was named
William Henry Leonard): "E. Ronald" in Pym and "Leonore" (in the poem of that
title and in "The Raven"), and not so hidden "William"s (and a "Henry").
Edgar A. Poe, is, in fact, replete with incidental insight and several of
Poe's tales are more or less convincingly read in biographical terms. The "bibulous and
controlling" Uncle Rumgudgeon in "A Succession of Sundays" "is a sharp caricature of
John Allan" (169). "The Masque of the Red Death" is related to Virginia's hemorrhaging.
"The Oblong Box" "reimagines" Poe's journey to New York "with Sissy [Virginia] by
train and steamboat, while Muddy [his aunt and mother-in-law Maria Clemm] remained in
Philadelphia" (228). "On his voyage to New York the morose artist [of "The Oblong
Box"] had not only closed himself in his cabin with his wife's coffin, addressed to her
mother, but as if he were some Rufus Griswold [the anthologist, journalist, and forger
noted above], he had hammered open the lid to sob all night over her corpse, and in the
end killed himself rather than give up his tie to the thing so easily mistaken for the
treasure of his art" (229). The motif of vengeance in "The Cask of Amontillado" is
related to the brouhaha over Poe's "Literati" sketches, and to Thomas Dunn English's
novel, 1844, or, the Power of the S.F.[Startled Falcons] (1846), in which Poe is
attacked as Marmaduke Hammerhead.
As I have suggested, it was not necessary that Silverman recount all the known
facts about Poe and his work but there are at least a couple of salient facts that he
overlooks, dubiously interprets, or suppresses for one reason or another. This is
particularly unfortunate in a work which all along, in carefully setting aside the more
legendary aspects of Poe's career, aims to be strictly guided by the "facts" of the
case. Silverman's biographical reading of "The Oblong Box" should at least be qualified
by a historical source that he fails to mention: the murder of Samuel Adams by John Colt
on 17 September 1841 in New York.
Also much to be regretted is the omission of any reference to Jeremiah N. Reynolds
whose Address on the Subject of a Surveying and Exploring Expedition to the Pacific
Ocean and South Seas (1836) Poe favorably reviewed in the Southern Literary
Messenger (January 1837). The matter is important because that address and Reynolds'
novel, Voyage of the U.S. Frigate Potomac(1815), reviewed by Poe in the June 1835
Messenger, are among the sources of Pym; they should have been noted in
Silverman's extended discussion of that novel.
In the first of his three notoriously unreliable accounts of Poe's death (a letter to
Maria Clemm dated 15 November 1849), Dr. John Joseph Moran mentions Poe's repeatedly
calling for one "Reynolds." Because Jeremiah Reynolds was a promoter of Antarctic
exploration and because, in Pym, the Antarctic is associated with a realm beyond
death, most of Poe's biographers since 1902 (when James A. Harrison published the
speculation in the initial biographical volume of his edition The Complete Works of
Edgar Allan Poe), have assumed (certainly with a degree of poetic license) that
Jeremiah was the Reynolds whose aid Poe was seeking while dying. In his 1875 account Moran
records that he sent for a Baltimore family named Reynolds (Jeremiah Reynolds lived in New
York), and in his 1885 account that he sent for the Herring family (Henry Herring was
Poe's uncle-in-law). Silverman indicates in his "Notes" that he follows W.T. Bandy
("Dr. Moran and the Poe-Reynolds Myth," in Myths and Reality: The Mysterious Mr. Poe,
ed. Benjamin Franklin Fisher IV [Baltimore, 1987], 26-36) in supposing that Poe was
calling for the Baltimore Reynolds "or, more likely,...Henry Herring" (435). In a review
of Fisher's collection, Beverly R. Voloshin asks regarding Bandy's essay, "can we reverse
the old privileging of Moran's first account and now accept his last?" (PSA [Poe
Studies Association] Newsletter 17:8, Spring 1989). I have read Bandy's article
and I second Voloshin's question. Moreover, Bandy's and Silverman's conclusion does make
one wonder at Moran's extraordinary luck in imaginatively lighting (a few weeks after
Poe's death) on a name with such mythopoetic appropriateness.
There is, in fact, much of interest to be dug out of Silverman's 70 close-packed pages
of "Notes" (largely on sources of information). Apropos of the view that "Metzengerstein" be read satirically, occurs this loaded statement:
"I cannot agree
with this view, nor with the more general line of interpretation of Poe that inspires it,
begun in G.R. Thompson's intelligent and influential Poe's Fiction: Romantic Irony in
the Gothic Tales(Madison, Wis., 1973)" (467). In other words, Silverman is summarily
dismissing what has been most original in the Poe criticism of the past twenty years: the
satiric/ ironic/deconstructive approach. It is surely essential that any contemporary
critical biography of Poe (Silverman analyzes the major works) engage at least to some
degree with that "line of interpretation"--certainly before rejecting it in toto.
Edgar A. Poe is aimed at the general reader as much as the Poe scholar and it
is presumably for the benefit of the general reader that Silverman included eight
appendices summarizing five of Poe's more important works and offering notes on
Raven" and Eureka. Both the scholar and the general reader are well served by
the 30 carefully chosen illustrations embedded at the heart of the narrative. It is a
pity, however, that the awkward reference in Silverman's text to Illustration 32 (428),
one of Poe's last letters to Maria Clemm, will have readers mistakenly looking in the
illustration for her statement that she was "entirely unable to make the least exertion"
(quoted 428). The source of Clemm's words can only be found in the "Notes." This gaffe
will confirm for the scholarly reader the wisdom of reading Silverman's lucid text in
tandem with his clotted "Notes."
--David Ketterer Concordia University.
Gibson, Cyberpunk, Postmodernism.
Lance Olsen. William
Gibson. SRG 58. Starmont House (P.O. Box 851, Mercer Island, WA
98040), 1992. vii+131. $20.00 cloth, $11.00 paper.
This lucid, solid overview will be especially helpful to teachers and students who find
Gibson's style inaccessible, or who may have been dozing or rereading Trollope between
1985 and 1989, when the cyberpunk controversy raged. Olsen offers a concise and
fair-minded summary not only of Gibson's fiction in itself--there are separate chapters on
the short stories in Burning Chrome and on each of the trilogy novels--but also
(in an excellent extended introduction, the best thing in the book) a reprise of the
issues--critical and ideological--central to the debate surrounding Gibson and the
Olsen's critical stance is sympathetic but never fannish: he sees cyberpunk as
cultural manifestation" of a larger movement--postmodernism. In a tidy summary
characteristic of this work, Olsen lists traits common to postmodernism and Gibson's
fiction, giving parenthetical reference to the critics who have defined them: "incredulity toward overarching belief systems (Lyotard); an inability to reflect and
shape the world (Thiher), or self (Caramello); ontological instability (McHale); cultural
schizophrenia (Baudrillard); the fusion and confusion of 'high' and 'low' culture
(Huyssen)" (18). Olsen places cyberpunk's resistance to earlier SF in the
context of postmodernism's equal resistance to cultural consensus, its tendency
to idiosyncratic "reaccentuation." By including a discussion of the early century's technology-obsessed
Futurist movement in the visual arts--a topic Csicsery-Ronay has also addressed--Olsen
even locates a genealogy for the Movement within the 20th-century avant-garde. This is not
the familiar strategy of establishing "respectable" pedigrees for SF in order to
rationalize the critic's (otherwise presumably unaccountable) attraction to the field:
Olsen chooses here a truly generative line of argument. For it allows him to refute the
dismissive remarks of earlier critics--Gregory Benford in The Mississippi Review
was one among many--who saw Gibson and other leaders of the Movement merely as
opportunists and publicity-seekers (as though, incidentally, promoting the sales of one's
own books is either in itself reprehensible, or an unheard-of development in the SF
field). Olsen's link between Gibson and contemporary aesthetics effectively counters this
dismissive view, establishing Gibson as a serious, risk-taking writer. Comments quoted
from Gibson's early interviews take on the aura of simple truth: he turned to writing SF,
said Gibson in 1988, because it was a short-story medium, something he could do while
staying home with his children. He was not writing for a mass audience, and never foresaw
his wide commercial success: "I thought I'd be addressing a very small audience.
Writing science fiction seemed self-destructive, a willfully obscure thing to
Within the broad context of postmodern aesthetics, Olsen includes a detailed discussion
of plot and theme in Gibson's stories and novels. The chapters on individual works will be
very helpful to teachers still working up "cyberpunk" units to update their SF courses,
and will also be welcomed by students who are having difficulty with Gibson's pyrotechnic
style. While Olsen's focus on themes is helpful and appropriate, a separate chapter going
more deeply into matters of style would have made this book better still. The very few
references to imagery and language--as opposed to thematic motifs--are not sufficient to
convey Gibson's complexity, or to demonstrate his considerable contribution specifically
as a stylist. At times, too, Olsen's focus on postmodernism obscures traits that Gibson
shares with pulp and popular SF writers--a problem because it leads to overemphasis on
Gibson's originality, an assignment of traits exclusively to Gibson that he actually
derives from long-standing SF tradition. (Olsen's discussion, for instance, of
extrapolation--quoting Gibson's assertion that he has never tried to predict the future
but is, by contrast, intent on defamiliarizing the Now--overlooks the frequency of this
same approach to extrapolation among soft SF writers: cf Ursula Le Guin's defensive
introduction to the paperback editions of The Left Hand of Darkness.) In
addition, a chapter on The Difference Engine (1991) should have been included,
even if doing so meant keeping the book in press some months longer. As it stands, the
analysis concludes with a gently negative assessment of Mona Lisa Overdrive
(1988), drawing conclusions belied by the later novel, which is neither sentimental nor
safe. In general, more could have been said on such collaborative efforts as DE
(collaboration is mentioned but not explored in discussing Gibson's co-written
stories). Such further discussion of Gibson's writing-partnerships would have
shed light on one of Gibson's central contradictions: a highly idiosyncratic
writer, he is also responsive to, even dependent upon, friendly communal "backfeed" (as DE scrambles the word).
There are several editorial lapses. Was Gibson born in 1948 (4) or 1949 (chronology)?
Is the author's last name Olsen (cover) or Olson (title page)? Gulliver Foyle is a
character in Bester's The Stars My Destination, not The Demolished Man.
Finally, there is too broad a stretch in some of the generalizations, especially in the
strained allusions to Homer, Ovid, and Milton. But Olsen stands on the terra firma of his
wide knowledge of modernism and postmodernism throughout most of this useful, clearly
written guide to Gibson.
--Carol McGuirk Florida Atlantic University
The Latest SFFBRI.
Hal W. Hall, Comp. Science
Fiction and Fantasy Book Review Index. Bryan, TX: SFBRI, 1992. 73pp.
This is the fourth number in the indefatigable Hal Hall's ongoing series of
bibliographies of book reviews since that series' coverage was expanded along the lines
indicated by the addition of "and Fantasy" to its title. Though its copyright page
records Volume 20, 1989, the letter from Hall which came along with the 1988
SFFBRI at the beginning of July indicates that the next volume will not be out until
May 1993. It is also worth noting that the lag time between the latest SFFBRI and
its title-year is pretty much the same as for its three predecessors: 3-4 years. Like
them, too, it divides into two parts: the bulk (60pp) consists of a list of fiction and
non-fiction books (2192 by Hall's count) arranged alphabetically by author, with book
reviews recorded for each title. The remaining pages are given over to an index by title.
Apart from a small price increase (of $1.50), the main difference between the 1988
SFFBRI and its predecessors lies with its omissions. Hall purports to survey 62
magazines and the like (all of them Anglophone, all but four North American); and
course, figures in that number. But for some unfathomable reason the 1988 SFFBRI
does not record any of the book notices appearing in SFS in 1988 (whereas previous
SFFBRIs overlooked only some of the reviews in SFS's pages). As a result, seven
of the books reviewed that year in SFS go unrecorded in the SFFBRIs through
(year-title) 1988: four of them 1988 imprints, the other three dating from 1985-87 (see
the entries for Bessière, Draper, Holland-Cruz, Spehner, Thaon, Widdicombe, and Zaki on
pp 406-07 of SFS #49). Presumably a future volume will rectify this. But it does somewhat
impair the usefulness of Hall's noble effort when one has to consult any number of SFFBRIs,
starting with the one corresponding to the publication date of the book one is seeking
notices of, in order to get a complete list of reviews in the magazines Hall canvasses.
For that same reason, prospective purchasers may well want to wait for the next cumulative
SFFBRI, though I don't suppose that will be forthcoming presently.
History Without Scholarship.
Allienne R. Becker. The
Lost Worlds Romance: From Dawn to Dusk. Contributions to the Study of
Science Fiction and Fantasy #51. Westport and London: Greenwood Press, 1992. xvi+164.
$42.95. Credit-card orders 800-225-5800.
The contributions in Marshall B. Tymn's Greenwood series have been of mixed value for
the study of science fiction and fantasy, some of great value and others only so-so, but I
never expected to see in it any book as utterly valueless as this. The "Works Cited"
list for the introductory chapter consists of five studies in literary theory (none
concerned directly with her subject), but for the remaining chapters the only works cited
are the novels discussed. It seems that Professor Becker plunged into her research under
the impression that she had no predecessors in the study of her subject and that her
manuscript was sent to press unread by anyone with any knowledge in the field. To be sure,
there is a laudatory foreword by a famous novelist and scholar, Andrew M. Greeley, but
that foreword says nothing to indicate that Professor Greeley has any knowledge of
lost-world romance other than that provided by memories of boyhood reading. Gratitude is
expressed to a librarian for securing the books discussed, but no explanation is offered
as to how her list of books to be read was compiled. Bleiler's massive 1990 bibliography
was presumably too late for her purposes, but three works by Tom Clareson might and should
have been consulted--the essay "Lost Lands, Lost Races: A Pagan Princess of Their Very
Own" in Many Futures, Many Worlds (1977), the chapter "Journeys to Unknown
Lands" in Some Kind of Paradise: The Emergence of American Science Fiction(1985;
#16 in the Tymn series), and Science Fiction in America, 1870s-1930s: An Annotated
Bibliography of Primary Sources(1984)--not to mention such book catalogues as Stuart
A. Teitler's Eureka!: A Survey of Archeological Fantasies and Terrestrial Utopias (1975)
and the Reginald-Menville Lost Race and Adult Fantasy Fiction (1978). In sum, a
more thorough bibliographical investigation would have resulted in a much more
representative list than the one on which she depends, just as a study of earlier
criticism would have resulted in a less erroneous and more sophisticated history of the
A Canticle for Canticle.
William H. Robertson and Robert L. Battenfeld.
Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A Bio-Bibliography.
Bio-Bibliographies in American Literature 3. Westport, CT, and London: Greenwood Press.
xix+149. $39.95. Credit-card orders 800-225-5800.
One day in November 1943, at an O.P. high in the Apennines, I looked down on
the courtyard of a large building and spotted a number of German soldiers. When
I called in the coordinates, I was told that we couldn't fire on the target, for it was a
world-famous monastery and historical landmark. No great matter: our artillery could have
had little effect other than to cause the Germans to take shelter. Three months later, Sgt
Walter M. Miller was more fortunate, if that is the word, for he watched bombs fall from
his plane on the same target, which (so the story goes) was not occupied by the Germans
until after that bombing (perhaps the soldiers I saw were merely tourists). Some 15 years
later, "while writing the first version of the scene [in A Canticle for Leibowitz]
where Zerchi lies half buried in the rubble," Miller realized that he was remembering the
bombing of the Monte Cassino abbey (1-2).
In the 1950s Miller published 41 stories in the SF magazines, winning a Hugo
for "Darfstellar" (Astounding, Jan 1955). In the late 50s, he revised and expanded
three novelettes first published in F&SF, developing them into A Canticle
for Leibowitz (1959), which won him a second Hugo and made him one of the most widely
admired SF writers. He has published no fiction since, and only a little non-fiction. The
mystery of what he has been doing in the last 35 years is not cleared up in this
bio-bibliography: as for "the general public," he says, it is "none of [their] damn
business" (7). The most important thing we know is that "250 pages" of a "parallel
novel" to Canticle has been delivered to an editor at Bantam Books, who has
"extended the deadline [for the complete manuscript] indefinitely" (8-9).
Being devoted to a rather small corpus, this bibliography can treat its listings in
greater detail than bibliographies ordinarily supply. There are extensively annotated
entries for each edition of the books (including photos of jackets, covers, and title
pages), for each of the stories, and not only for each of the articles on Miller's work
but also for numerous passing references to it. In addition there is, for Canticle,
a glossary of names and terms and a three-page time line. One could hardly ask for more.
The Enlightened Asimov.
Donald M. Hassler. Isaac
Asimov. SRG 40. Starmont House (P.O. Box 851, Mercer Island, WA
98040), 1992. iii+129. $19.95 cloth, $9.95 paper.
This guide will work best for the reader who has already read a good deal of Asimov as
well as James Gunn's Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction (1982).
Donald Hassler does not duplicate Gunn's systematic plot outlines and detailed readings;
he is more interested in Asimov's "general ideas." According to Hassler, these ideas
derive not only from the obvious sources (Edward Gibbon, John W. Campbell Jr) but also
from the Enlightenment in general, William Godwin in particular, and the Old Testament.
Hassler gives some attention to Asimov's "anti-literary" (more accurately, a-literary)
style, but the book's most original passages concern Asimov as philosopher.
Hassler also offers insights into the psychology of Isaac Asimov. His comments on
Asimov's personality and motives are usually brief: "His ego is tempered by his feeling
of human community, and the two are not inconsistent since the rationality that drives his
ego is a move toward shared knowledge" (8). "Asimov is a writer driven by parallel
compulsions. He must always prove he is potent as a writer.... Clearly, this is
insecurity, but in another sense it is a program of trying again and again and of
gradually accumulating competence" (19-20). "For Asimov...the story [Fantastic
Voyage II] represents both a return to the Soviet Union and a fascination with deep
psychoanalytic notions, but grounded in the 'reality' of physics" (115). Hassler seems
hesitant to pursue these psychological speculations, perhaps because his subject was still
alive as he wrote them. They are worth further development.
The book's publication lag was rather long; coverage of Asimov's work ends in 1986,
with a few notes on 1987. Asimov's post-1986 fiction rang no dramatic changes on his
well-established themes. But in fairness, Starmont House should now give Hassler the
opportunity to do a revised edition, covering the complete science-fictional career and
the entire Foundation-Earth-Robot system of this compulsively systematic writer.
--Alan C. Elms University of California, Davis.
Two More Volumes of "Fantastic"
Donald E. Morse, Marshall B. Tymn, and Csilla Bertha, eds.
The Celebration of the Fantastic: Selected Papers from
the Tenth Anniversary International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts.
Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy #49. Westport, CT: Greenwood
Press, 1992. xv+309. $49.95.
Nicholas Ruddick, ed. State of the Fantastic--Studies in the Theory and Practice of
Fantastic Literature and Film: Selected Essays from the Eleventh International Conference
on the Fantastic in the Arts. Same series #50. Same publisher, 1992.
xvi+210. $49.95. Credit-card orders 800-225-5800.
These are the latest additions to the Greenwood Press series of selected essays from
the annual Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (1989, 1990). The proceedings from the
Ninth Conference held in 1988 were never published due to editorial problems. Although the
papers appearing in these publications are generally of high caliber, this on-going series
has been criticized for both its lack of focus and its overall eclecticism (v.
15:381-3, SFS #53, 18:140). These two new volumes offer more of the same: a wide-ranging
and very heterogeneous collection of conference papers on SF, fantasy, horror, myth, fairy
tales, legends, and the supernatural (i.e., all forms of non-mimetic narrative) in
literature, painting, film, and television from around the world and viewed from a wide
variety of methodological and ideological perspectives. Personally, I find nothing wrong
with such all-inclusive conferences; the exposure to variety they promote and the creative
energy they tend to generate are refreshing in an over-specialized academe. But published
batches of critical papers from such conferences most often result in fifty-dollar
"smorgasbord" reference books which, by attempting to span too wide a spectrum of
interests, undermine their own critical purpose and are of questionable usefulness to most
readers. To illustrate my point by way of a hypothetical analogy: who would purchase a
collection of selected essays from the annual MLA convention?
In all fairness, however, it must be noted that the most recent volume in this series
does exhibit (as its title suggests) somewhat more critical cohesiveness--and,
incidentally, fewer proofreading oversights--than almost all of its predecessors. Does
this signal a subtle change in direction for this well-intentioned but omnium-gatherum
series? Is the series editor finally beginning to shape the contents of each volume toward
a common theme? One can only hope. . . .
Among the twenty-six essays in the former volume, Celebration of the Fantastic,
those which I found of particular value to SF scholars are H. Bruce Franklin's "The
Greatest Fantasy on Earth: The Superweapon in Fiction and Fact," Robert A. Latham's
"Some Thoughts on Modernism and Science Fiction," Judith B. Kerman's "Virtual Space and
its Boundaries in Science Fiction Film and Television: Tron, 'Max Headroom,' and Wargames,"
Barbara Mabee's "The Fantastic in Recent German Democratic Republic Literature," Len
Hatfield's "Character Structures and the Subject in Greg Bear's Sequel Novels," and Joan
Gordon's "Joe Haldeman: Cyperpunk Before Cyperpunk was Cool?"
In the latter volume State of the Fantastic edited by Ruddick, some
of the SF essays which I found interesting include Veronica Hollinger's "Specular SF" (29-39)
which targets Ballard's Crash, Acker's Empire of the Senseless, and
Wittig's Les Guérlillères (among other works) as
"exercises in postmodern
allegory" (29) where "SF tropes function as allegorical components in narratives that
are not about the future" (30) and where "the imagery of SF...becomes a means of
collapsing the future back onto the present in a way that removes the historical
specificity and contingency of that present" (33). Peter Malekin's "Paradigms of
Knowledge in the Postmodern Fantastic" (41-48) discusses the work of Borges, Lem, Dick,
and Priest and concludes by suggesting that "Paradoxically, intellectual destabilization
has itself become a current Western value" (46) and that "this destabilization parallels
the extraliterary crisis in hermeneutical confidence that is afflicting literary
criticism, theology, the human sciences, and to some extent history" (46). Reinhold
Kramer examines Lessing's Briefing for a Descent into Hell, John Varley's Millennium,
and Robert Anton Wilson's Schrödinger's Cat II: The Trick Top Hat as instances
of what he terms "Gnostic SF" (49-57). Elisabeth Vonarburg's perceptively feminist
Reproduction of the Body in Space" (59-72) compares the SF of male and female authors in
their treatment of biological reproduction in outer space. Jianjiong Zhu analyzes Philip
K. Dick from the perspective of wu and Zen Buddhism in his "Reality, Fiction,
and Wu in The Man in the High Castle" (107-113). Len Hatfield looks at
chaos theory in "Getting a Kick Out of Chaos: 'Fortunate Failure' in Greg Bear's Future
Histories" (133-140) and argues that "Bear's strategies are the result of a postmodern
working-through of the implications of historical change" (134). And Gary Wolfe in
Dawn Patrol: Sex, Technology, and Irony in Farmer and Ballard" (159-167) conducts a
fascinating investigation á la Foucault on the question of
"whether it is
possible to construct a kind of pornography of the machine...in which the encounter with
the machine on its own terms is eroticized in a manner usually reserved for descriptions
of sexual encounters" (163).
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