The Garland Library of Science Fiction
J.D. Beresford. The Hampdenshire Wonder
Olaf Stapledon. Odd John
Karel Capek. The
Absolute at Large
Charles Fort. The
Book of the Damned; New Lands; Lo!; Wild Talents.
E.E. "Doc" Smith. The Skylark of Space; Skylark Three; Skylark of
Valeron; Skylark Duquesne.
Otto Willi Gail. The
Shot Into Infinity.
Stanton A. Coblentz. After 12,000 Years; Hidden World.
Tarrano the Conqueror.
Neil R. Jones. Planet
of the Double Sun
John Taine. The
Jack Williamson. The Legion of Space
Jack Williamson. Darker Than You Think
A.E. van Vogt.
L. Ron Hubbard.
George O. Smith.
George U. Fletcher. The Well of the Unicorn
Cordwainer Smith. You
Will Never Be the Same
Alfred Bester. The
Theodore Sturgeon. More Than Human
Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth. Wolfbane
Philip José Farmer. Night of Light; The Maker of Universes.
H. Beam Piper. Space
Viking; Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen
Four for Tomorrow; This Immortal.
Ursula K. Le Guin. Rocannon's World; Planet of Exile;
Samuel R. Delany. The Einstein Intersection
Christopher Stasheff. The Warlock in Spite of Himself.
#25-69. The Garland Library of Science Fiction: a collection of 45 works of science
fiction selected by Lester del Rey, with a separate introductory volume, Science Fiction 1926-1976, written by him
especially for this series.
Garland Publishing, Inc., 545 Madison Avenue, New York, NY
10022. The volumes are $11.00 each, except for the introductory volume, which is $15.00,
making a total of $510.00, but the set may be purchased as a whole for $447.75. Scheduled
for publication before November 1st, del Rey's introductory volume was not available at
the time this review was written.
Of the 45 books reprinted here, 38 are by writers directly associated with what I have
above called the science fiction movement. This being so, and the introductory volume
having the title it does, we may presume (in the absence of that introduction) that these
38 have been chosen to represent various stages in the development of popular SF, and that
the remaining seven have been chosen as influences on that development. But the Garland
Library is also a reprint series with the purpose of making hardback editions available of
books that have either been long out of print in hardback or that have appeared only in
paperback. The selection then would exclude books that are or have recently been readily
available in hardback editions, such as those by the big four of Modern SF--Asimov,
Bradbury, Clarke, and Heinlein--as well as such individual successes as Dune, and
perhaps books by such writers as Anderson, Blish, and Simak. With such exclusions
acknowledged we can say that the Garland Library offers a satisfactorily representative
selection, though it would be quite easy to name another 24 writers whose books would be
fully as representative of science fiction 1926-76 as most of the books of the 24 chosen
##25-31. FROM OUTSIDE THE MOVEMENT.
#25. J.D. Beresford.
The Hampdenshire Wonder (also pbd as The
Wonder). L 1911. Also in the Arno series (see SFS 2:192-93), but this edition is
#26. Olaf Stapledon. Odd John. [L 1935]. Berkley ph 1965. 191p. Since
the superman theme has been of considerable importance in science fiction (see ## 44, 49,
50, and 55 below), it is reasonable that del Rey should include Odd John in his
list as the most important influence on the development of that theme, and that he should
also include The Hampdenshire Wonder as an influence on Odd John. (See
#27. Karel Capek. The Absolute at Large. [Translation of Tov·rna
na Absolutno, Prague 1922]. NY 1927. viii+294. Although this book is one of the
genuine masterpieces of SF (see #18 above), it has surely had no great influence on
popular SF, and it is therefore difficult for me to see any reason for its being on this
list--especially since it appears on the Hyperion list at $8.50 in hardback, $3.50 in
Charles Fort. The Book of the Damned.
1919]. Ace pb 1972. 351p. New Lands.
[NY 1923]. Ace pb 1973. 222p. Lo!
1931]. Ace pb nd. 284p. Wild Talents.
[NY 1932]. Ace pb nd. 222p. The "Damned" are the excluded; i.e., reports of
phenomena that orthodox science has simply refused to investigate, reports that Fort
extracted by the hundreds from scientific and technical journals of the 19th century and
the first third of the 20th. Fort writes with great style and wit, and when he confines
himself to debunking the pretensions of orthodox science (especially astronomy), he is
immensely entertaining, but the passing of the years has not dealt kindly with the
neo-Tychonian astronomy that he elaborated to supply places of origin for things that fall
from the sky. Although these books are not science fiction, are not fiction at all, they
are of interest as the source for a number of SF concepts. (Note. The four books are
available in a single hb volume with index from Dover Publications, with a preface by
Damon Knight, who has also written Charles Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained,
Doubleday 1970, an interesting and valuable discussion of Fort's life and work.)
##32-42. PRE-MODERN SF.
##32-33-34-35. E.E. "Doc"
Smith. The Skylark of Space. [Amazing
1928; Buffalo Book hb 1946; rev edn, Pyramid pb 1958]. Pyramid pb 1970. 159p. Skylark
Three. [Amazing 1930;
Fantasy Press hb 1948]. Pyramid pb 1973. 207p. Skylark
of Valeron. [Astounding 1934-35; Fantasy Press hb 1949].
Pyramid ph 1973. 206p. Skylark DuQuesne.
[If 1965; Pyramid pb 1956]. Pyramid pb 1974. 238p. As all the world knows, the
August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories contained not only the first of the Buck
Rogers stories but also the first installment of The Skylark of Space by Edward
Elmer Smith, Ph.D. (as he then signed himself) and Lee Hawkins Garby (whose contribution
was not very extensive, and whose name was dropped from the title-page of the revised
The great success of the stories was surely due first of all to the skill with which
Smith mixed elements of the spy thriller and the western story (our hero is the fastest
gun in space, our villain the second fastest) with those of the traditional cosmic voyage.
It is not only that Dick Seaton discovers anti-gravity, builds the Skylark, flies it
through various dangers, and explores strange worlds (the principal one being very much
like the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs); it is also that he is relentlessly pursued by
Blackie DuQuesne, a scientist backed by all the resources of World Steel, determined to
take over Seaton's inventions so that with them he may rule the world, and casually
killing everyone who gets in his way. That the author's heart (and that of his more
devoted readers) was always with the cynically ruthless DuQuesne rather than the
idealistic Seaton is demonstrated in the fourth story (written thirty years after the
third), in which DuQuesne, without becoming any less a villain, is treated as the hero.
Although there were a few stories before 1928 in which spaceships ventured beyond the
solar system, the Skylarks were the first to roar around the galaxy in such an uninhibited
way. Everything gets bigger and bigger as the series progresses. Skylarks One and Two are
forty-foot spheres; Skylark Three is a two-mile-long torpedo; and Skylark Four (she of
Valeron) is a sphere with a diameter of one thousand kilometers. And whereas we visit only
three or four solar systems in the first story, in the later ones we go on to the entire
galaxy and then to the universe of galaxies.
The first story was written in 1920, the second and third not long after the
publication of the first in 1928. The temporal setting for the series is vaguely the
present (the universe-shaking adventures take place off-planet, with the Earth blissfully
unconcerned), and the internal chronology of the four stories covers only a few years.
When the first story was revised in 1958, Smith not only reduced its length some 30
percent by eliminating descriptive and expository material, he also "updated" it
with references to World War II and the atomic bomb. Since the fourth story was written in
the 60s with contemporary references, and since the second and third remain unrevised, the
series as it now stands contains all sorts of anachronisms.
In the 1950s it was generally thought that Smith's day was over: the major magazines
rejected his new stories, and the paperback houses showed no interest in either the
Skylark or the Lensman series, until Pyramid began issuing them in 1958. They have since
gone through printing after printing, repeating in the sixties and seventies their success
of the thirties and forties. They can be of little if any interest to students of
literature as literature, but they cannot be avoided by those concerned with SF as a
cultural phenomenon, or with the development of SF as a popular genre.
#36. Otto Willi Gail. The Shot Into
Translated by Francis Currier [from Der Schuss ins All, Breslau 1925]. With 14
illustrations by Frank R. Paul. Science Wonder Quarterly 1(Fall 1929):6-77.
Reproduced from the pages of the magazine in an oversize volume (8" x 10"). This
is in part a story of industrial espionage, with the inventions of our hero-inventor being
stolen by a villain-inventor who has the backing of a great corporation, and with a
mysterious woman who seems to be villainess but turns out to be heroine. But it is also a
story justly famous for the realistic detail with which it depicts the construction of a
rocket ship, its launching into space, and the experiences of its crew during its flight
between Earth and Moon. And it is certainly good to have the illustrations by Paul
##37-38. Stanton A. Coblentz. After 12,000
Years. [Amazing Stories
Quarterly 1929]. Fantasy Publishing Co. 1950. 295p. Hidden
World. [As "In Caverns Below," Wonder Stories
1935]. NY 1957. 224p. In these two stories, as in The Sunken World (see SFS
1:292-97), Coblentz sends an unreliable narrator into a strange world apparently much
different from and much more foolish than our own but really much the same--in the one
case via suspended animation, in the other via a mine cave-in, which suggests that one of
the models for his satire is Lytton's The Coming Race. While I have never
believed that style is everything in fiction, it is certainly indispensable in effective
satire, a fact pretty well demonstrated by After 12,000 Years, which anticipates
New World in some respects, and Nineteen Eighty-Four in others, but fails to
provoke either laughter or horror--or at least would fail to do so for any sophisticated
reader. To me the most interesting thing about Coblentz' stories is that although they
depend on satire rather than violent action for their effects, they still appeared in
and Wonder and thus demonstrated that their unsophisticated readership possessed
a considerable degree of intellectual curiosity.
#39. Ray Cummings. Tarrano the Conqueror. Chicago 1930. xii+345. A
romantic romance of romanticized politics, directly descended from such "tales of
tomorrow" as The King's Men (see SFS 2:185), and allied to the spy
thrillers, often set in the near-future, of such authors as E. Phillips Oppenheim, and to
the stories of Graustark and Ruritania, but of course much inferior to The Prisoner of
Zenda as an expression of this kind of sensibility. When I first read the story at
fifteen, the staccato of its prose style struck me as comparable to Hemingway. With
respect to its narrative technique, it will be worth our while to quote the author's
Foreword in full, for it could well have served as a manifesto for the "modern
science fiction" that was to emerge a few years later in John Campbell's Astounding:
In "Tarrano the Conqueror" is presented a tale of the year 2430 A.D.--a time
somewhat farther beyond our present-day era than we are beyond Columbus' discovery of
America. My desire has been to create for you the impression that you have suddenly been
plunged forward into that time--to give you the feeling Columbus might have had could he
have read a novel of our present-day life.
To this end I have conceived myself a writer of that future time, addressing his
contemporary public. You are to imagine yourself reading a present-day translation of my
original text--a translation so free that a thousand little colloquialisms will have crept
into it that could not possibly have their counterparts in the year 2430.
Apart from the text, you will occasionally find brief explanatory footnotes. Conceive
them as having been put there by the translator.
If you find parts of this tale unusual or bizarre, please remember that we are living
in a comparatively ignorant day. The tale is not intended to be fantastic or full of new
and strange ideas. I have used nothing but those developments of our present-day
civilization to which we are all looking forward as logical probabilities--woven them into
a picture of what life in America very probably will be five hundred years from now. To
that extent, the tale is intended to be only a love story of adventure and
romance--written not for you, but for that future audience.
Campbell would probably have deleted the footnotes and would have wanted the love
interest played down, but he would have admired the narrative technique--indeed, probably
did so, for he surely read the story, though I am not aware of his being on record about
it. At any rate, if you think it necessary to have a book by Cummings in your SF library,
this would be the one to have.
#40. Neil R. Jones. Planet of the Double Sun.
1931-32]. Ace pb 1967. 123p. The first three of a long series of magazine stories that Ace
Books issued in five pb volumes in the late sixties with no great success. In the first
story, "The Jameson Satellite," Professor Jameson, determined to outdo the
Pharaohs, arranges things so that after his death his body will be preserved in a cylinder
circling the earth as a satellite. Forty million years later it is discovered by a race of
people who have achieved immortality by transferring their brains to mechanical bodies.
Since his brain has somehow survived in a condition that makes its reactivation possible,
they do the same for him, and he thereupon joins them in their eternal avocation,
exploring the universe. Although this is certainly the most crudely written story of these
129 reprinted volumes, many readers have found it memorable. In the second and third
stories, almost as crudely written, the professor and his friends explore new worlds, but
what they discover seems to me of such little interest that I feel no desire to follow
them through the succeeding stories, in each of which, I understand, they visit a new
#41. John Taine
[i.e., Eric Temple Bell]. The Time Stream. [Wonder Stories 1931-32]. Buffalo Book hb 1946. ix+251. The theme of this story
is the "beast" in man's nature that makes for war and its possible elimination
through eugenic science. The story proper (there is an epilogue set 25 years later) begins
and ends in San Francisco in 1906, just before and after the earthquake, but its principal
scene is a planet with five suns some millions of years in the future--a planet where
utopia has been achieved by restraining the beast--a utopia so complete that everyone
obeys the law of reason voluntarily, no compulsion having been applied for countless
millennia. But now there appear a man and woman who out of lust wish to marry each other
even though they are genetically incompatible. The principal characters of the story are
sent back, as disembodied minds, through time and space to the planet where the race began
so that they may learn what life was like when the beast roamed free and, by telling their
story, persuade the man and woman not to marry. They make their journey and eventually get
back to tell their story (which does no good), but during their journey drift here and
there in time and space, somehow becoming incarnate in this womb or that, thus having a
life in 20th-century San Francisco as well as in other portions of the continuum, and thus
getting to witness the operations of the beast in a variety of environments. The fiction
that Bell wrote in his Taine persona is usually pretty dreadful stuff, but is sometimes
quite vivid, and in this book it is now one and now the other. I don't really know what to
make of it, and am inclined just to leave it alone, but I wish someone would study it and
write about it.
#42. Jack Williamson. The Legion of Space.
Fantasy Press hb 1947]. Pyramid pb 1967. 189p. "Who can ever forget," asks Alva
Rogers in A Requiem for Astounding (Chicago 1964), P 22:
Who can ever forget the thrill of reading "The Legion of Space"...for the
first time? The first part of this classic began in the April issue and ran for six
breathtaking installments. The adventures of John Star, Giles Habibula, the mighty Hal
Samdu, and Jay Kalam on the evil world of the Medusae, the planet Yarkand, as they fought
to save the lovely Aladoree Anthar and the secret weapon, AKKA, which she alone held in
her mind and which was the only salvation of Earth, were high adventure indeed with a
Sense of Wonder in ample measure.
The story of how the Legion of Space came to be written has been told several times,
most recently on page 176 of The Early Williamson (see #24 above): having heard
in a college literature class that Sienkiewicz had "borrowed the characters of Dumas'
musketeers and Shakespeare's Sir John Falstaff for a series of historical novels,"
Williamson had "thought the same trick should work in science fiction." So the
characters listed above are modeled on, respectively, D'Artagnan, Falstaff, Porthos, and
Athos or Aramis (or perhaps Athos and Aramis), so far as such modeling is possible in a
story that is idealistic rather than cynical about the world it portrays.
##43-59. MODERN SF UNDER
CAMPBELL AND GOLD. With very few exceptions, all the stories discussed in
this section were first published (in whole or part) in Astounding or Unknown,
both edited by John Campbell, or in Galaxy, edited by H.L. Gold. Anthony Boucher
and Robert P. Mills of Fantasy and Science Fiction were of course important
editors in the fifties, but evidently in a somewhat more passive way than Campbell and
#43. Jack Williamson.
Darker Than You Think. [Unknown 1940;
Fantasy Press hb 1948]. Berkley pb 1969. 282p. This was perhaps Williamson's first serious
effort to transcend the limitations of pulp fiction. Like a number of 20th-century
mainstream novels, it combines the fantasies of our darker superstitions with the
revelations of psychoanalysis: the protagonist gradually learns not only that he is a kind
of werewolf (it is much more complicated than that, and all very scientifically explained,
if one can ignore the principle of the conservation of mass), but also indeed the
Child of Night, bred over generations to lead the witch-people to victory over humanity. The story
ends rather abruptly, as if a sequel were planned, which if so was perhaps abandoned
because of the depth of the psychological, philosophical waters in which the author found
himself, which (the abandonment, not the depth) is to be regretted.
##44-45. A.E. van Vogt.
Slan. [Astounding 1940; Arkham House hb
1946]. NY 1951. vi+248.
The Book of Ptath.
[Unknown 1943]. Fantasy Press
hb 1947. 227p. The fact that Slan had first a fan-press edition and then a trade
edition by a major publisher indicates the high position that van Vogt held in the earlier
years of "Modern SF"; the fact that it appears in this series indicates
something about the precipitate decline in his reputation in recent years. The first,
perhaps the most widely read, and perhaps the best of his novels, Slan is set in
a far-future post-catastrophe world in which a mutant human species (of supermen) is
attempting to survive the "final solution" that has been decreed for them by
normal humans. Since an analogy with the position of the Jews in the Third Reich is
obviously intended, the ironic thing is that in this story there actually is a secret
world-wide conspiracy, and the Slans actually do control the world in much the same way as
is imagined about the Jews by students of The Protocols of Zion. Thus van Vogt's
use of what Blish has called the "extensively recomplicated plot," or of what
others have called the "pyrotechnic" story or the "kitchen-sink
technique," tends to lead to confusion even in the more simply constructed of his
In The Book of Ptath, which is not one of van Vogt's best known novels, we
begin millions of years in the future with an amnesiac protagonist who learns that he is a
man from A.D. 1944 and also a good god struggling with wicked gods and goddesses for
control of the world of humans. There is reason aplenty to have Slan in any SF
library, and perhaps several of van Vogt's other novels, but I can see none for The
Book of Ptath. (For a different opinion, see Lin Carter, Imaginary Worlds,
Ballantine 1973, pp 85-86.)
##46-47. L. Ron Hubbard. Final Blackout.
[Astounding 1940; Hadley
hb 1948]. Leisure pb 1970. 192p. Return to Tomorrow. [As "To the
Stars," Astounding 1950]. Ace pb 1954. 158p. Although realistic war novels
became popular in the 1920s and 30s, frequently made the best-seller lists, and developed
their own set of clichés, they had little effect on the treatment of war in the pulps,
and even less in the SF magazines. But a number of reputations have been made in SF by a
belated importation of best-seller clichés, and in Final Blackout it was done to
such an enthusiastic response that Hubbard felt it necessary to make a disclaimer in his
1948 preface to the book: "I cannot bring myself to believe that Final Blackout,
as so many polls and such insist, is one of the ten greatest stories ever published."
But this is a pretty good run-of-the-mill novel on the theme that if you and those
dependent on your leadership are to survive in this cruel universe, you have to be able to
dish it out as well as take it, which is also true of Return to Tomorrow, in
which the protagonist is shanghaied aboard a near-lightspeed spaceship and thus made a
member of that group of outcasts that finds itself a century or two in the future every
time it returns to home port. If what is said above does not give you a sufficient basis
for deciding whether or not you want these books in your SF library, let me add that you
might want (or not want) to have some examples of the fiction that Hubbard wrote before he
became the founder and grand panjandrum of Dianetics and Scientology.
##48-49. George O. Smith.
Venus Equilateral. [As a series of stories, Astounding
1942-45]. With introduction by John W. Campbell, Jr. [Prime Press hb 1949]. Pyramid pb
1967. 367p. The Brain Machine [© 1959, perhaps the same as The Fourth
"R," Ballantine pb 1959]. Lancer pb 1968. 221p. The eponymous space station
of the first book is so called from its having a position in the solar system that allows
it to relay radio messages between Venus and Earth when they are on opposite sides of the
sun. The stories have to do with industrial intrigue. In the first story the engineer-hero
proves that he is better able to manage the station than the financier-villain that the
Company has sent to take over. In the remaining stories the engineer and financier have a
relationship much like that of Seaton and Duquesne in the Skylark stories (see #32 above);
i.e., the engineer invents and the financier attempts to steal his inventions. In
Brain Machine we have a variation on the superman theme as developed in Odd John
and followed by Wilmar H. Shiras in his 1948 story "In Hiding" (and perhaps in a
1953 book I have not read, Children of the Atom). Here the superior mind comes
not from mutation but simply from education--and even though the education is made
possible by an SF machine that does things to the brain, the moral of the story seems to
be simply the old liberal idea that with perfected methods of education all our problems
will disappear. Though it becomes tendentious and sentimental in its last chapters, it is
up to that point a surprisingly good story of the difficulties of the superboy in a world
run by stupid adults.
##50-51. Henry Kuttner
[i.e., Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore]. Mutant.
[As a series of five stories by Lewis Padgett in Astounding, four in 1945 and one
in 1953]. Gnome Press hb 1953. vi+210. Destination
Infinity. [As "Fury"
by Lawrence O'Donnell, Astounding 1947; as Fury by Henry Kuttner, NY
1950]. Avon pb 1956. ii+192. In Mutant as in Slan (#44 above) we have a
story of racial persecution and of the emergence of the telepathic successor to Homo
sapiens, but the Kuttners concentrated less than van Vogt on violent action and
hairbreadth escapes and more on personal and social relationships and produced what is
perhaps the best novel on this theme. In Destination Infinity we have one of the
most fascinating worlds ever created in SF (the undersea Keeps on Venus to which men
retreated when the Earth was made uninhabitable by atomic war, and the fury of the surface
of Venus during its Jurassic period), together with the life story of the Moses who leads
mankind out of the fleshpots of the Keeps to the promised land that can be achieved by the
taming of the surface.
#52. George U. Fletcher
[i.e., Fletcher Pratt]. The Well of the Unicorn.
NY 1948. xii+338. with maps as frontispiece and chapter headings. Fletcher Pratt, who had
some standing in the wider literary world as an historian, contributed a large number of
stories to the SF magazines between 1928 and his death in 1956, usually in collaboration
with some other writer (most notably, L. Sprague de Camp) or as a translator from the
French or German. The present novel belongs to the type that Lin Carter calls "'epic
fantasy'--the huge, crowded novel of warfare, quest and adventure which takes place in an
imaginary pre-industrial age worldscape of the author's own invention" [Introduction
to Pratt's The Blue Star, Ballantine pb 1969]. The imaginary world is also of
course one in which magic works, but for Pratt it can be said that magic has only a
minimal role in his worlds, and that he develops his characters and societies not only
with imagination but also with logic, understanding, and style. I like this novel (and
Blue Star) better than Tolkien, but then I don't like Tolkien very much, and so
perhaps should say only that in my opinion Pratt wrote "epic fantasy" better
than anyone else.
#53. Cordwainer Smith
[i.e., Paul M.A. Linebarger]. You will Never Be the Same.
[Various magazines 1950-61; Regency pb 1963]. Berkley pb 1970. 170p. Contains five of the
stories on interstellar travel, "The Lady Who Sailed The Soul,"
"Scanners Live in Vain," "The Game of Rat and Dragon," "The
Burning of the Brain," and "Golden the Ship Was--Oh! Oh! Oh!," as well as
"No, No, Not Rogov!," "Mark Elf," and what is perhaps the best of the
Cordwainer Smith stories, "Alpha Ralpha Boulevard." The narrative voice in these
stories seems to be that of a skilled story-teller addressing a child, which means not
that these are stories for children, but rather that the diction, assonance, and rhythm
work with the strangeness of the events to evoke a childlike wonder that makes the
sentimentality and melodrama more acceptable.
#54. Alfred Bester. The Demolished
Man. [Galaxy 1952; Shasta
hb 1953]. NAL pb nd. 175p. Van Vogt with style. This is a detective story set in a
telepathic society of the future; its successor, The Stars My Destination (see
#19 above), is a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo set in a world in which
vehicular travel has been replaced by teleportation. The narrative technique is
Vanvogtian, but the writing displays a mastery of diction and prose rhythms far beyond van
Vogt's abilities, as well as a use of typographical gymnastics (learned perhaps during
Bester's years as a comic-book writer, but also surely from such surrealists as Kenneth
Patchen) so effective that the SF world has never ceased to wonder at it. While I cannot
agree that these are the greatest SF novels ever written, I will grant that Bester does
what he does very well indeed.
#55. Theodore Sturgeon. More Than
Human. [NY 1953]. Ballantine pb 1970.
iv+188. In the depiction of emotion (which SF as a commercial category for boys and men
normally tends to avoid), Sturgeon is perhaps as skillful as any other SF writer (with the
obvious exception of Le Guin) and far more skillful than most. Since he does deal with
emotion in far greater detail than most SF writers, and with a certain skill, he is widely
regarded in the SF world as a genius of the first order. It can be said that in this
famous story of the formation of a composite superman--Homo gestalt--he had a
theme well suited to his talents and inclinations, and that the result is a book that
pretty well avoids the mawkishness that mars most of his work. This book is not a
masterpiece, but it comes pretty close, and certainly belongs in any SF library.
#56. Frederik Pohl and
C.M. Kornbluth. Wolfbane. [Galaxy
1957; Ballantine pb 1959]. Ballantine pb 1969. 140p. Here we have a quite unusual world
catastrophe and a highly original depiction of a post-catastrophe world. Any SF library
ought to include all four of the Pohl-Kornbluth novels. Like the others, this one tends to
disintegrate in its final chapters, but the first half of any Pohl-Kornbluth story is
worth more than the whole of most SF novels.
#57-58. Philip José Farmer.
Night of Light.
[Shorter version, Fantasy
and Science Fiction 1957]. Berkley pb 1966. 160p. The
Maker of Universes. [Ace pb 1965]. Sphere pb 1970. 155p. Farmer was
at his best in the magazine stories of the 1950s based on biological speculation, such as
those collected in Strange Relations (Ballantine pb 1960). In the first half of
of Light he is close to his best (which makes the book well worth attention), but in
its second half he gives us merely a series of violent adventures which add nothing that
could not have been said in five or six pages. In The Maker of Universes we have
van Vogt's favorite plotline, the amnesiac protagonist who turns out to be a god, together
with another series of violent adventures out of Edgar Rice Burroughs. In the SFRA
Newsletter #43 (Sept 1975) there is a review by Mary S. Weinkauf from which I learn
that Farmer writes "mythic fiction...for grownups who know Notes from
Freud, Jung, and Plato," which may well be why I have never been able to read most of
#59-60. H. Beam Piper. Space
Viking. [Analog 1962-63]. Ace pb
1963. 191p. Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen.
Ace pb 1965. 192p. The first of these is set in a far future in which the Galactic
Federation has broken up, so that the weaker of the Civilized Worlds are all but helpless
against raids from the "vikings" of the Sword Worlds. Like many a pirate story
of the earlier years of this century, it opens as a tale of justified revenge, in which
the bride of the hero is killed on their wedding day by a rejected suitor who escapes in a
great spaceship especially designed for raiding with the hero hot in pursuit in another
ship of the same kind. There is a good deal of discussion of what is or is not moral or
ethical in a lawless universe, and a reasonably intelligent expounding of conservative
"I'm sorry, Prince Edvard" [says our hero]. "You had a wonderful
civilization here on Marduk. You could have made most anything of it. But it's too late
now. You've torn down the gates; the barbarians are in." (p 147) ...
"What they have on Marduk is a ruling class that has been discrediting itself. A
ruling class that's ashamed of its privileges and shirks its duties. A ruling class that
has begun to believe that the masses are just as good as they are, which they manifestly
are not. And a ruling class that won't use force to maintain its position. And they have a
democracy, and they are letting the enemies of democracy shelter themselves behind
democratic safeguards." (p 152) ...
He could probably name, without stopping for breath, a hundred great nations that went
down into rubble because their rulers believed that they should bow instead of rule, and
couldn't bring themselves to shed the blood of their people. Edvard would have been a fine
and admirable man, as a little country baron. Where he was, he was a disaster. (p 156)
For an action-packed story based on this kind of philosophy you could hardly do better
than Space Viking.
Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen is similar though more modest in the scale of the
story proper, which is set in a pre-industrial feudalistic world, on a time-track in which
the Aryans, instead of turning south to invade India, instead went east across Siberia and
Alaska, eventually reaching the eastern parts of what is in our time the United States.
Here our hero is a member of the Pennsylvania State Police who finds that his skills are
sufficient to make him an emperor in the world into which he has been tossed by an error
on the part of the Paratime Police.
##61-69. THE SIXTIES. Though books like
Piper's continued to be written in the sixties and seventies, there were new stirrings in
the SF movement, whether or not there was anything that could be called a New Wave.
##61-62. Roger Zelazny. Four for
Tomorrow [Various magazines 1963-65].
With an introduction by Theodore Sturgeon. Ace pb 1967]. Ace pb 1973. 216p. This Immortal. [As "...And Call Me
Conrad," Fantasy and Science Fiction 1965; Ace pb 1956]. Ace pb nd. 192p.
What was said in #55 above about Sturgeon and the depiction of emotion could also be said
about Zelazny, who would surely be a great success as a script-writer for soap operas, who
found the theme best suited to his talents and inclinations in one of the stories in
For Tomorrow, "A Rose for Ecclesiastes," perhaps the best story ever on
Mars as a dying world, but who went quite overboard in another, "The Doors of His
Face, the Lamps of His Mouth," perhaps the most turgid and cliché-ridden of all the
retellings of Moby Dick. The other two stories in the book, "The
Furies" and "The Graveyard Heart," are neither as effective as the former
nor as mawkish as the latter.
Early on in This Immortal the centuries-old protagonist is addressed as
follows: "I was curious as to the sort of sensibilities a human might cultivate,
given so much time--especially in view of your position as a master of your world's
history and art." But alas!, though we do have a quite original post-catastrophe
Earth in this story, we learn very little about its history or art, and even less about
the sensibilities of the narrator-protagonist, who turns out to be a great fighting man,
and who describes his fights in great detail. (And let me add that an author who feels it
necessary to use the word thou ought to learn that it cannot be used when
addressing more than one person and that its plural is ye, so that the plural of
"Thou fool!" is not "Thou fools!" but "Ye fools!")
#63. Edgar Pangborn.
Davy. [NY 1964]. Ballantine pb 1973. 266p. As the
depiction of a post-catastrophe world in which the survivors have been reduced to a
pre-industrial economy in a largely illiterate society, this novel takes its place nicely
in line with Jefferies' After London (see SFS 2:189) and Sutphen's The
Doomsmen (#11 above). When I first read the book in 1964 I was annoyed by the
tendentiousness with which it pursues its attack on fundamentalist religion, a theme
pretty well exhausted in American mainstream fiction in the 1920s. But then just as I grew
up in a repressive fundamentalist atmosphere in the 20s, I find that a number of my
students are still doing so today, so that for the general SF audience of young readers
this theme may still have some importance. In the annals of popular SF this book may also
have some small claim to fame as the first to be casually explicit with respect to sex and
excretion, so that Pangborn, who writes rather well and who is more concerned with
traditional mainstream themes than is customary in "Modern SF," seems at home
with the new writers of the sixties even though he was born in 1909.
#64-65-66. Ursula K. Le Guin. Rocannon's
World. [Ace pb 1966]. Ace pb nd. 136p.
Planet of Exile. [Ace pb 1966).
Tandem pb 1972. 126p. City of Illusions.
Ace pb 1967. 160p. The first three novels in Le Guin's Hainish series. It is good to have
them in hardback editions. For further comment, see the first 75 pages of this issue.
#67. Samuel R. Delany.
The Einstein Intersection. [Ace
pb 1967]. Ace pb nd. 156p. With its themes and images from classical myth, romance,
Hollywood movies, structural linguistics, popular SF, and the counter-culture of the
sixties (not to mention Einstein and Goedel), this novel is surely the richest mixture of
apparently disparate elements ever to win a Hugo or Nebula. Delany has acknowledged his
debt to Bester (see #54 above); that he also owes something to such surrealist writers as
Kenneth Patchen (if not to Patchen himself, especially The Journal of Albion
seems likely from this novel and certain from the more ambitious Dhalgren (1975),
though it is of course quite possible that he reinvented these techniques all by himself.
Be that as it may, Delany's persistence in his endeavor to do his own thing, create his
own audience, is certainly to be commended, as is the willingness of such editors as
Donald Wollheim and Fredrik Pohl to give him his head. Whether Delany will succeed in
finding an audience large enough to make such work commercially viable remains to be seen;
in the meantime he is still the most promising of the younger writers of SF.
#68. R.A. Lafferty. Past
Ace 1968. 192p. The theme of this
novel is the same as that of A Canticle for Leibowitz (#20 above), i.e. that
fallen man cannot create utopia and is doomed to go through cycles in which apparent
secular progress brings him to disaster. The prose style is Besterian and page by page a
joy to read, but the narrative technique is Vanvogtian not only in being pyrotechnic but
also in being indifferent to causal consistency, and this is perhaps not the best
technique for the theme. The hero is Sir Thomas More, fetched via time machine to a world
of the far future, ostensibly to set things right but actually, of course, to serve the
political purposes of the rulers of that world. The author seems to have felt free to have
More talk in any way that serves the satiric and didactic purposes of the book, without
regard to the character of the historic More--which is of course all right in popular
fiction, since the readers won't know the difference anyway.
#69. Christopher Stasheff. The Warlock in Spite of Himself.
Ace pb 1969.
286p. In the earlier years of this century it was not uncommon to have SF stories with a
mystical frame (e.g. the mind or soul of the hero travels through time or space or both to
become incarnate in the strange world to be explored); here we have "epic
fantasy" (see #52 above) in a science-fictional frame, i.e. the hero uses spaceships
and computers to reach a world in which magic works. In this case the hero is an agent of
"SCENT, the Society for the Conversion of Extraterrestrial Nascent
Totalitarianisms." Having determined that the society to be converted speaks
Elizabethan English and is medieval in its politics and economics, he enters an inn and
orders mine host to bring him a "steak as thick as both your thumbs" (p27),
which suggests that the author is more interested in making his hero behave like an
American he-man than in elaborating an internally consistent imaginary world. What follows
is an action-packed story in which the hero accomplishes his mission partly through magic
but primarily by engaging in and winning a large number of fist fights, knife fights,
sword fights, etc. (See last sentence in ##61-62 above).
Rottensteiner's Illustrated History of
When pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi framed SF magazine covers some years ago and sold them
under his own name, he got away with it because the art of science-fiction illustration
was only a minority fad. That things have changed since then is indicated by the
staggering initial print order of 100,000 for Franz
Rottensteiner's The Science Fiction
Book: An Illustrated History (UK: Thames and Hudson, £4.95 hb,
£2.95 pb; US: Seabury, $14.95). It's lavishly produced, inexpensive, and has a splendid
variety of illustrations, many from the author's own archive. If you have a coffee table,
this is for it. The text, which has to fight its way across different coloured papers and
around and sometimes on top of the graphics, is a wide-ranging account of SF history.
There are occasional oversimplifications and inaccuracies, but I don't think these will
spoil anyone's enjoyment. More regrettably, the text has been cut up into sections
arranged in rather haphazard order, in the style of Sunday colour-magazine journalism.
There is, however, a long and closely argued introduction in which Rottensteiner has
successfully resisted this sort of fragmentation. There are even a number of glimpses of
the abrasive critic known to readers of SFS; Rottensteiner suggests that we should regard
SF as a kind of pop poetry, of distinctly dubious aesthetic and ideological value. For the
most part, however, he sinks his misgivings in a mood of informative euphoria, and who can
blame him? The wide range of quotation in the text and the full bibliography are evidence
of the seriousness with which he has done his work, as is the international sweep of his
history of SF, which puts most Anglo-American critics to shame. Altogether, a most
attractive book, and a fine piece of popularization.
-- Patrick Parrinder
Gift Books for Bradburians,
Burroughsians, and All Fans
William F. Nolan.
The Ray Bradbury Companion
Irwin Porges. Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan
2000 A.D. Illustrations from the Golden Age of Science
James Gunn. Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of SF Fiction Pulps.
William F. Nolan.
The Ray Bradbury Companion: A Life and Career History,
Photolog, and Comprehensive Checklist of Writings With Facsimiles from Ray Bradbury's
Unpublished and Uncollected Work in All Media. Introduction by Ray
Bradbury. xiv+339. 130 illustrations. 7x10 in slip case. $28.50. Gale Research Co., Book
Tower, Detroit, MI 48226.
A long-time friend of Bradbury and himself a successful writer, William F. Nolan has
here produced what must be the most elaborate bibliography ever for a science-fiction
writer (and one of the most elaborate for a writer of any kind); its only rival in SF
would be the Henry Hardy Heins Golden Anniversary Bibliography of Edgar Rice Burroughs
(1964), but that consists mostly of sheets composed by typewriter, whereas this is a
typeset and typographically very handsome work. The bibliography proper presents for each
book (1) a photographic facsimile of the title-page of the first edition, (2) a collation
for that edition not by signatures but by listing the numbers of each numbered or
unnumbered page, e.g. [i-viii] [1-3] 4-21  23-38  40-53, etc.; (3) a list of the
stories or chapters; (4) a list of other editions, with variations carefully noted; and in
some cases (5) photographs of dust jackets, paperback covers, magazine pages, and
manuscript pages. The "all media" of the long title include magazines, comic
books, newspapers, films, the stage, radio, and television, with respect to interviews as
well as to adaptions of Bradbury's work and his original contributions to the various
media. There is also a long secondary bibliography. This book was obviously a labor of
love for Nolan, and I cannot imagine a better gift for any Bradbury enthusiast.
Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan.
Pictorial editor, Hulbert Burroughs. Introduction by Ray Bradbury. xx+819. 269
illustrations. 8‡x11. $14.95. Brigham Young University Press. What was said in the last
sentence of the preceding note may well be repeated here about this gigantic book: I
cannot imagine a better gift for any Burroughs enthusiast--nor a more economical one, all
things considered, for one would expect a book of this size to cost at least twice as
much--of this size and weight!, for this is not a book you can take to bed with you,
though a grown man when seated can hold it fairly comfortably in his lap.
As all the world knows, Edgar Rice Burroughs was a child of well-to-do parents and had
hoped first for a career in the military (he was an expert horseman) and then for one in
business, but found himself at 35 a failure, and so turned to the writing of magazine
fiction to see if it offered him a way of making a living. During a year of spare-time
writing, 1911-12, under the editorial encouragement and hectoring of Thomas A. Metcalf of
The All-Story, he produced A Princess of Mars, The Outlaw of Torn, Tarzan
of the Apes, and The Gods of Mars, of which Metcalf bought the first, third,
and fourth for $400.00, $700.00 and $750.00 respectively (i.e. about half a cent a word
for the first, and about a cent a word for the other two). Burroughs then turned full time
to writing, and after he succeeded in selling The Outlaw of Torn and The
Return of Tarzan for $500.00 and $1000 respectively to a Street and Smith magazine,
Metcalf offered him 2˘ a word (later raised to 2˘) for the privilege of having a first
look at all his stories. So in 39 months of writing (December 1912 to March 1916),
relieved by the vigor with which he pursued income from subsidiary rights in his stories,
he produced the novels and novelettes that make up seventeen of his books. At the end of
this period, income from book publication having begun to pile up, he was able to relax,
and so took a full year to write the stories that make up his next book, The Jungle
Tales of Tarzan (perhaps his best written and most thoughtful work, though one cannot
give it very high marks on either score). Thereafter Burroughs was primarily a business
man (which he had never really ceased to be, what with all the negotiations over the sales
and resales of his stories), devoting only a few months each year to writing, for he still
wrote his stories just as fast, with the difference only that he wrote fewer of them, one
or two or three a year.
There are no surprises in Porges' "definitive" biography, just an incredible
amount of detail, presumably the full story so far as that story could be derived from the
records, which are themselves extraordinarily full and to which he says he had full access
(which there seems no reason to doubt). The detail, aside from an interminal summarizing
of plots, is concerned with Burroughs traveling a bit, negotiating extensively with
magazine editors, newspaper editors, book publishers, motion-picture producers, radio-show
producers, comic-strip producers, and real-estate men; and with the creation of the
elaborate family estate and then the publishing company at Tarzana; with the decline of
the career as the pulp magazines found themselves unable to meet his high rates in the
thirties and the book sales fell off; and finally with the years in Hawaii during the war,
when he was a war-correspondent of sorts, and the last years in California, where he died
in December 1949.
This is not a literary biography, for Burroughs was not a literary man (e.g. he talked
so little about his reading that there is virtually no external evidence for his sources),
even though in his successful years he suffered a little, in the same way that Zane Grey
did, from the feeling that a writer as popular as he must really be a very good writer who
ought to be taken seriously by all lovers of literature. But for anyone who has ever been
fascinated by Barsoom or Tarzan's Africa, or for anyone who is interested in the sordid
details of the production of pulp fiction, this book, with its incredible array of
photographs, story illustrations, facsimiles of leaves of manuscript, and documents of all
sorts, is a real treasure house.
Jacques Sadoul. 2000 A.D.; Illustrations from the Golden Age of Science Fiction
Preface by A.E. van Vogt. Translation of Hier L'An 2000 (Paris 1973). 176p.
8x10‡. $7.95 pb, $17.95 hb. Henry Regnery Co.
The pb edition has heavy laminated covers in color, and there are 7 color pages within
the book, which otherwise consists entirely of illustrations except for a few notes and an
introduction by Sadoul. Since the book arrived just at going-to-press time, I can say
nothing about it other than that it seems pretty well to cover the field.
Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of SF.
Introduction by Isaac Asimov. 256p with 28 in color. 9x12. $29.95. Prentice-Hall.
This book ought to be directly compared with the Rottensteiner book reviewed above (the
Sadoul book is simply not in this league), but I have not yet seen that book, and Mr.
Parrinder has not seen this one. As a picture book, Alternate Worlds is simply
magnificent. As a history of SF it appears to be (on the basis of a very hasty perusal)
eminently satisfactory within its limits, i.e. those of a book intended for a popular
rather than a scholarly or literary audience, concerned with the broad sweep of SF history
in its cultural, technological, and mass-media context rather than with the analysis of
individual works, and intended to be factual, consensual, and non-controversial. Its most
original contribution is in its correlations between technological and SF history, done
very sketchily but suggesting what needs to be done in detail. With respect to the SF of
the last thirty years or so, the book has the advantage of Gunn's wide acquaintance in the
SF world and extensive experience as an author of magazine stories, books, and TV plays.
It deserves a more extensive review, but since it arrived just as the pages for this issue
were being made up, that will have to wait until at least the next issue.
Barnes on Linguistics in SF
Myra Edward Barnes is a pioneer student
of what she calls "exolinguistics." In Linguistics
and Language in Science Fiction-Fantasy (Arno, $11.00), she examines
the imaginary languages invented by fiction writers, explores the use of linguistics as a
literary device in utopian and dystopian fiction, and looks at it as a tool of literary
criticism. The book can not only increase the layman's appreciation of the writers she
discusses, but can also give him an enjoyable lesson in modern language science.
She commonly begins each chapter with a summary of some aspect of linguistics, written
with an admirable simplicity and clarity. From this she moves into an analysis of related
works of science fiction, which she calls "a literature of communication." Among
the writers she studies in detail are Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance, Sprague de Camp, Robert
Nathan, Robert Graves, and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Tolkien stands in a class by himself. A scholar of Old English, he seems to have
written his Lord of the Rings trilogy largely for the sake of the new languages
he loved to create. He worked out at least seven of these, each complete with linguistic
history. For three of them, he provided alphabets and complete phonetic descriptions. He
composed poems in Elvish, providing English translations. Barnes presents a linguistic
analysis of the Ent language, which she finds to be inflectional, polysynthetic, and
"presumably verbless." She concludes that it is a speakable language.
Though no other writer has approached his linguistic creations with such thoroughgoing
devotion, she finds a good many others which justify analysis. In her chapter on
historical linguistics she examines the alternative variety of English de Camp constructed
for "Wheels of If," a story set in a parallel universe in which there was no
Norman conquest to bring French and Latin vocabularies across the Channel. In his
might-have-been English, derived from Anglo-Saxon and Danish, a car is a "wain,"
labor is "swink," a reporter is a "newser." Projecting the future
history of English, Anthony Burgess writes The Clockwork Orange in Nadsat, a
Russianized teen-age jargon that has resulted from a Russian conquest of England.
In a chapter on interlanguages, she moves from Esperanto to de Camp's space pidgin,
Intermundos. She traces lexicography from Robert Cawdry and Dr. Johnson to Robert Graves,
Walter Miller, and R.A. Lafferty. From semantics she moves to Asimov's satire on the
notion of telepathy and Heinlein's definition of "grok."
Perhaps her most interesting comments are those on the languages of utopia and
dystopia. Working from the Boas-Sapir-Whorf theory that language controls the way we
perceive and think about the universe, she finds that the "naturally evolved"
utopian language is "one of convenience and utility," its clarity allowing
"the peaceful citizens to communicate with perfect understanding." The writers
say little more about such languages; the utopians themselves are more important than
Dystopian languages, in contrast, are generally artificial, designed to control and
reshape minds. The mathematical language in Zamiatin's We is used to limit or
eliminate the emotions of its speakers. Orwell's Newspeak, as he remarks in his own
appendix to 1984, is intended "not only to provide a medium of expression
for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all
other modes of thought impossible." In Jack Vance's Languages of Pao, speech
is manipulated on a large scale to change whole cultures. In Ayn Rand's Anthem,
the whole plot and theme derive from the enforced absence of the word I.
The Whorfian hypothesis has not, of course, gone unchallenged. If language can shape
culture, it's also clear that culture can influence language. The tongues of dystopia
reflect Whorfian "metalinguistics," Barnes concludes, and those of utopia ignore
She gives only incidental attention to the phases of exolinguistics most exciting to
me--the problems of actual communication with non-human intelligence and the occasional
works of serious science fiction which explore them--such for example as James Gunn's The
Listeners, itself more recent than her work. She does, however, glance at Lilly's
research aimed at communication with the dolphin, and she comments on two popularizations
of technical linguistics in science fiction, "How to Learn Martian," by Charles
F. Hackett, and "How to Talk to a Martian," by G.T. Shipman--who writes that
when the opportunity comes for communication with other thinking creatures, "the
linguistic anthropologists will be the ones who forge the links."
Her announced purposes are well achieved. She shows that many of these imaginary
languages reflect the linguistic knowledge of their creators. She makes the significant
point that the languages of dystopia follow the Whorfian hypothesis that language shapes
our thoughts. She demonstrates that linguistic analysis can be a useful instrument of
The book is her dissertation for the Ph.D. at East Texas State University (1971),
unrevised but surprisingly free from scholarly jargon. At eleven dollars, the price seems
high. Though the book is probably too narrowly specialized for the paperback publishers, a
low-cost reprint might be a useful supplemental text for science fiction courses and also
for those in basic linguistics.
Jules Verne drew his story premises largely from math and physics. As science fiction
has evolved, the extrapolations have come more and more from the "softer"
sciences, those closer to the study of man himself. Since language, more than anything
else, is what makes us human, the linguistic elements in modern science fiction have
enriched it with overtones of human complexity. With exolinguistics, Myra Barnes has
extended the study of science fiction into a new dimension, and her book is worth serious
[A response by Walter E. Meyers appears in SFS
8 (March 1976).]
The SF Film: Metropolis and Things
The Gregg Press Science Fiction Series includes two defiantly complementary reprints;
both of them are important to students of the SF film, and both need to be supplemented by
other volumes. They are Thea von Harbou's
novel, Metropolis (translated from Metropolis,
Berlin 1926; first edn in English, L 1927; here a Readers Library edn with unsigned
Editor's Note, L ca 1929; with a New Introduction by Peter Minichiello and 17 photographs
from or concerned with the 1927 film directed by Fritz Lang; xxix+250; $13.00) and
H.G. Wells's screenplay, Things to Come (L 1935; with New Introductions by
Allan Asherman and George Zebrowski and 16 photographs from or concerned with the 1936
film directed by William Cameron Menzies; xxix+142; $11.00). Scholars will of course wish
to compare the Wells with his speculative essay, The Shape of Things to Come, and
the Harbou novel with the 1973 Simon and Schuster edition of the screenplay of Fritz
Lang's film (even though this screenplay is transcribed from the heavily re-edited
British-American print of the film).
The two volumes are "defiantly complementary" because Wells heartily detested
Metropolis and set as part of his aim in Things to Come the making of a
work radically antithetical to Lang's. These two films even now divide the SF film between
them in terms of means, purposes, and vision. When Wells wrote in a "Memorandum"
to his production crew, "As a general rule you may take it that whatever Lang did in Metropolis
is the exact contrary of what we want done here," the grounds of his objections were
that Metropolis was merely cheap melodrama and that Lang's vision of the future
was absurd. He thought of it not as legitimate SF, but as "technological
Wells was absolutely correct, and Thee Von Harbou's novel bears him out. Her story-line
is as jerky and incoherent as a comic strip, the atmosphere is at all times overheated,
and the prose style is more than slightly berserk. Her book has interest only because of
the film, and if Wells could have directed his censures at the novel only, he would have
been right for all time. But his criticisms do not vitiate Lang's work; they simply
underscore the differences between two kinds of SF film.
Metropolis adheres tightly to the traditions of the German expressionist film;
every technical element--the stylized acting, the sharp blacks and whites, strong sidelighting, angular choreography, hard-edged backdrops, inebriated dissolves and
superimpositions--declares its expressionist intention. Its literary ancestor is not Verne
but Hoffmann; its cinematic forebears Caligari and Méliès. The future it
presents is no probable blueprint but a foggy arena suitable only for mythic
sensationalism. But for all this it remains an SF film; it does take place in the future
and some sort of future society is imagined, though madly.
That Metropolis is finally a horror film does not matter. The horror element
is historically the most salient in SF films, and this tradition is so firmly entrenched
that if we excluded all horror films from the category of SF there would not remain a
handful. Metropolis even includes that final staple of so many horror films, the
last-reel chase over the rooftops, which occurs at least as early as Caligari
(1919) and as late as Hammer's 1955 Curse of the Werewolf. Here are some elements
it shares in common with other SF-horror films: the obsessed scientist, the idea of
sensualism as desperation (When Worlds Collide), the laboratory in gothic setting
(Whale's 1932 Frankenstein owes Lang much), the diseased cathedral (The
Quatermass Xperiment), the robot and the featureless matrix robot whose personality
has yet to be determined (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), and above all an
unrelenting supercharged air of paranoia. This listing hardly begins to enumerate the
themes which find their way from Lang into later SF films, and which give most of them
what interest they have.
The contrary tradition--Wells's--can claim only a skinny body of work. There may be a
dozen or so good films in what we might term the "rationalist" tradition--Pal's War
of the Worlds and Destination Moon come to mind, and of course 2001,
the indisputable masterpiece of this type--but they are often limited in scope, and their
flat-footed earnestness dates them even more quickly than any silly expressionist
Things to Come is a pretty good film, but it clanks. It smells too
much of the dentist's office and the unwed mother's clinic. Its vision of the future is as
absurd as Lang's, but Things has the insuperable disadvantage of taking itself
seriously as an educational project. Wells committed the common but unforgivable sin of
the intellectual screenwriter: he wrote down to his audience. Thea von Harbou was no
thinker; Siegfried Kracauer says of her that she "was not only sensitive to all the
undercurrents of the time, but indiscriminately passed on whatever happened to haunt her
imagination." It is a helter-skelter enthusiasm which animates Metropolis,
and a lack of it which deadens Things to Come.
For all his ideas about his projects, Wells finally did not take the film medium
seriously. He attempted to do so, and it may have been only the cumbrous communal aspect
of film creation which hampered him; but for whatever reason Metropolis is still
exciting and Things a bit leaden. There is a real possibility that Metropolis
is the intellectual work--in film terms--and that Things to Come is just too
Brian Ash's Faces of the Future
Four pages from the end of Brian Ash's
Faces of the Future: The Lessons of Science Fiction
(UK: Eleck/Pemberton £3.95; US: Taplinger $10.00), the author reveals that his aim is to
"examine the social implications, whether intended or accidental, of those science
fiction stories which can be deemed of serious content--and to draw what lessons we
will." The sentence is a good specimen of Ash's turgid, flat-footed prose. Nor is
there much that qualifies as "serious content" in Faces of the Future.
Ash gives brief and heavily derivative histories of the SF and utopian genres, and then
tells the plots of countless SF stories, treating even the wildest fantasies as possible
forecasts of the future (though not, on the whole, drawing any lessons from them). Finally
he tells a somewhat bemused reader that the function of SF is not to predict the future
but to portray a dreamland for therapeutic purposes; all that can be said of the real
future is that it will be (a) human and (b) dark. The conclusion seems symptomatic of the
times; neither Ash's pessimism, nor his indifference to and apparent ignorance of
scientific thought, would have been likely in a "futurological" study of SF ten
years ago. The book itself is symptomatic of something else--the continuing low regard in
which (outside specialist circles) SF is held.
Who is Brian Ash writing for? Certainly not the fan or serious student. The title
suggests a work of popularization but, all too typically, the book totally fails to
deliver what it promises to the general reader. Ash's faces of the future are infinite, so
that the lesson he ultimately finds in SF is that there are no lessons except to go on
reading the stuff. In any case, neither Ash not his British publishers (who have a
reputation to maintain in the literary-critical field) seem to look on SF as a serious
literature. Or, to use Ash's own words, "No one would pretend that even the best
science fiction falls into the category of what critics of conventional literature would
conspire to earmark as 'great writing.'" From this it is obvious that the only
lessons to be drawn from Faces of the Future are lessons in the nature of
argument and misuse of language.
Put in suitably dogmatic fashion for the sake of prospective SF critics and publisher's
editors, these are as follows.
1. The pioneering days of "primitive capital accumulation" in SF criticism
are over. There is no longer any reason to be indulgent to the slap-happy amateur. SF is
not in need of popularization but of serious criticism and history as practised, for
example, in Scholes' Structural Fabulation and Aldiss' Billion Year Spree.
2. Books on SF should have a clearly stated (and preferably, realized) purpose. There
are several good histories of the genre. The only point in retelling it is to do it
better, in the light of new knowledge and from new points of view.
3. The meanings of concepts, and especially basic epistemological concepts such as
"explanation," should be respected--i.e. not treated as in, e.g. "science
fiction writers have frequently taken an existing superstition, or an invented one, and
illuminated it with a scientific explanation--witness Clarke's depiction of the Overlords
in Childhood's End in the commonly-accepted image of the Devil" (p 191).
4. Value-judgments should be systematic and defensible, not haphazard and meaningless
as in (e.g.) Ash's description of Vonnegut as "probably the most humanitarian writer
in the genre" (p 196).
5. Sources should be acknowledged--e.g. Ash's pp 102-03 on Forster and Zamyatin are
lifted from Hillegas's The Future as Nightmare. A bare bibliographical listing at
the end of the book is not enough.
I am not arguing that SF criticism ought to be formalistic or academic. Indeed, SF is
always an ideological and often a didactic form of expression. It may be regarded as a
branch of futurology, as it is by Ash, or of anthropology or even entomology. The
futurological approach has the sanction of H.G. Wells himself. But Wells did not forget to
distinguish between fable and extrapolation, and between the purposes of science and the
purposes of fiction. Such distinctions are elementary and inevitable, even though in
particular cases they are difficult to draw. Method and the drawing of distinctions are
essential constituents of science, and also of good criticism and good fiction. But it
remains only too true that a book described on its dust-jacket as a
"stimulating" and "challenging" piece of science-fiction criticism
is quite likely to be a hodge-podge.
Hall's Book-Review Index
So far as I can determine from H.W. Hall's Science Fiction Book Review Index 1923-1973
(8½x11, xviii+438, $45.00, Gale Research Co., Book Tower, Detroit, MI 48226), the first
book review to appear in an SF magazine was one by C.A. Brandt in the September 1929
Stories of an anthology, The Great Weird Stories. The "literary
editor" of Amazing under Gernsback and T. O'Conner Sloane, Brandt reviewed
two or three books in each issue, with perhaps some lapses, from 1929 to 1938. As I
remember them, these reviews were mere paragraphs, but they did have the effect of opening
up the wider world of SF books (including those by such authors as Stapledon, Huxley, and
Capek) to the not very well informed readership of the SF magazines. Whether or not Brandt
had anything intelligent to say about the books he reviewed might well make an interesting
Although the inceptive date of 1923 (the year of the establishment of Weird Tales,
which in the 20s published some SF but no reviews) is misleading, this volume does give us
an index by author (with a cross-index by title, though none by reviewer) to the SF
magazines since 1929, and to those in a wider range of periodicals in recent years, e.g.
in Extrapolation, Luna, and Riverside Quarterly since their
inceptions, in PW and LJ since 1970, in NYTBR and TLS since 1971, in Time since
1972. There is also a valuable checklist of the SF magazines.
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