Science Fiction Studies

(#79 = Volume 26, Part 3 = November 1999)



William B. Fischer. German Theories of Science Fiction: Jean Paul, Kurd Lasswitz, and After
George Locke. Wells in Three Volumes? A Sketch of British Publishing in the 19th Century
Christie V. McDonald. The Reading and Writing of Utopia in Denis Diderot's Supplément au voyage de Bougainville
atrick Parrinder. News From Nowhere, The Time Machine, and the Break-Up of Classical Realism
Lyman Tower Sargent. Themes in Utopian Fiction in English Before Wells

Darko Suvin. The Alternate Islands: A Chapter in the History of SF. With a Bibliography on the SF of Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance

PRoy Arthur Swanson. The True, the False, and the Truly False: Lucian's Philosophical Science Fiction.
David Winston. Iambulus' Islands of the Sun and Hellenistic Literary Utopias


William Fischer

German Theories of Science Fiction: Jean Paul, Kurd Lasswitz, and After

Abstract.-- German writers have produced a major, though neglected, body of SF and SF criticism. This essay discusses early German theories of SF, with particular attention to Leben des Quintus Fixlein and Vorshule der Ästhetik by "Jean Paul" (Jean Paul Friedrich Richter, 1763-1825) and a later novelist and historian of science often called the Father of German SF: Kurd Lasswitz (1848-1910), author of Auf zwei Planeten (1897) and numerous essays, influenced by Goethe and Kant, on the aesthetics of SF. Jean Paul wrote science-oriented fantasies and whimsical pieces, while Lasswitz (a historian of science and teacher of mathematics, philosophy and physics at the Gymnasium Ernestinum at Gotha) was more oriented to new scientific discoveries. But both participated (as theoreticians and as fiction writers) in the development of German SF, and their ideas deserve a place in the history of SF and the methodology of SF criticism. For the most part, the German critics exhibit a solid foundation in aesthetic theory, an interest in philosophical and ideological discussion, a thorough knowledge of mainstream literature, and an impressive familiarity both with German and non-German SF.

[A response by Edward J. Tabler, and William Fischer's reply, appear in SFS 17 (March 1979)]

George Locke

Wells in Three Volumes? A Sketch of British Publishing in the 19th Century

Abstract.-- This brief article cannot undertake to explore every tributary of 19th-century British publishing that may have provided an occasional outlet for science fiction. But generally speaking, I argue that British science fiction found its feet in the shilling shockers and their editorial requirements of short novels, and was refined by the high standards demanded for the high fees paid by Pearson’s Magazine, The Strand, and their competitors during the twenty years before the First World War. Suppose the three-decker novel had not been killed off in the 1890s. Suppose Newnes, Pearson and Harmsworth had not revolutionized magazine publishing in Britain at the same time. Would Wells have written all his scientific romances? I suspect not, and venture to suggest that his SF writing would have been confined to a few short stories, The Time Machine, and possibly one or two other novels before he moved on to Kipps and The History of Mr. Polly. Wells’s SF was the product of the publishing trends of his time.

Christie V. McDonald

The Reading and Writing of Utopia in Denis Diderot's Supplément au voyage de Bougainville

Abstract.-- In S/Z and Barthes par lui-mème, Roland Barthes has suggested that utopia is every writer’s province: his task—or his pleasure—is to bestow meaning, and he cannot do this without an alteration of values, a dialectical movement similar to that of a yes / no opposition. Such is the polarity between nature and culture in Diderot’s Supplément au voyage de Bougainville: the description of Tahiti (a "natural" society) becomes a springboard for critique of contemporary European culture. Yet something seems to go awry when the apparent simplicity of Diderot’s thematic statements are not borne out on other levels of the text. In the heterogenous and plural meanings produced within this single work, we find an acute questioning of the relationship between utopia, the problem of origins, and the text as writing. To ask if one has seen what Diderot wanted us to see is to seek out a single voice in an irreducible plurality of voices, a unity in dispersion.

Patrick Parrinder

News from Nowhere, The Time Machine and the Break-Up of Classical Realism

Abstract.--William Morris’s News From Nowhere and H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine are based on a fusion of propaganda and dream. Their complexity is due in part to generic interactions: Morris turns from the degraded world of Dickens to create his negative image in a Nowhere of mutual trust and mutual fulfillment. Wells writes a visionary satire on the utopian idea that reintroduces the romantic hero as explorer and prophet of a menacing future. Both writers were responding to the break-up of the coalition of interests in mid-Victorian realistic fiction, and their use of fantasy conventions asserted the place of visions and expectations in the understanding of contemporary reality. Schematically, we may see Wells’s SF novel as a product of the warring poles of realism and utopianism, as represented by Dickens and Morris. More generally, to study the etiology of works such as News From Nowhere and The Time Machine is to ask fundamental questions about the nature and functions of literary "realism."

Lyman Tower Sargent

Themes in Utopian Fiction in English Before Wells

Abstract.-- The different forms of utopia (eutopia, dystopia, or utopian satire) may be commonly defined as species of prose fiction describing in some detail a non-existent society located in time and space. In all its forms, utopia has been ill-served by scholarship. Many studies have been published, but they have often been flawed by a lack of definitional care and a failure to consider bibliographical problems. As a result, poor scholarship has sometimes been canonized by other scholars who have incorrectly assumed the accuracy of past work. Here, I indicate what themes concerned utopians before the impact of Edward Bellamy and H. G. Wells. Since there were about 400 utopias published in English in the period under consideration, it would be impossible to summarize each work. I therefore pass over the few famous works that have been analyzed many times and emphasize little-known works—from Stubbes’s "The Anatomie of Abuses (1583) through Goldsmith’s Asem, the Man Hater (1765) and Paulding’s "The Man-Machine, or the Pupil of Circumstances" (1826). Eight utopias were written in English during the sixteenth century, thirty during the seventeenth, thirty during the eighteenth (many concerned with the consequences of excessive regulation), and over 160 were published between 1800 and 1887. Between 1888 and 1895, there were about the same number of utopias written as in all the previous eighty-seven years. What happens to the utopia after Wells? No one really knows. The twentieth-century utopia is the least studied of all, the bibliography is the most difficult to establish, and the books are, surprisingly, often difficult to locate.

Darko Suvin

The Alternate Islands: A Chapter in the History of SF, with a Select Bibliography on the SF of Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance

Abstract.--Using More’s "Utopia" to suggest the genre’s reaffirmation of a world consonant to human nature, this essay surveys the earlier forms synthesized by More—the ancient legends of Cockayne, Dante’s Divine Comedy (More rejects the Earthly Paradise as a place outside history), Plato’s Republic, Aristophanes’ The Birds, Iambulus, and others. Sir Thomas More brilliantly adapts such earlier motifs, establishing the utopian as a rounded and isolated location (valley, island, planet) and emphasizing the inner organization of utopia as a formal, ordered system. This system is utopia’s supreme value: there are authoritarian and libertarian but no unorganized utopias. Following More, utopian writers describing the coming about of a new social order assume that all such changes must be explained in terms of the installation of a new social contract. In the Renaissance, the contract-maker is usually a founding hero, but later it will increasingly be a democratic revolution. Finally, following More, utopias use a dramatic strategy that counts on surprise effects. Though formally closed, significant utopian writings are in permanent dialogue with their readers—open-ended, like More’s. Francis Bacon and François Rabelais show later developments in the utopian tradition, exposing the latent contradiction of More’s crypto-religious construction of Utopia. After the Rabelaisian flowering, Campanella and Bacon mark a reaction against Renaissance libertarian humanism—and the logical next step was the end of utopia as an independent form. Having lost a fertile connection with popular longings, utopia—for all the effort of the 18th century "state novel"—disappears from the vanguard of European culture until Fourier and Chernyshevsky.

Roy Arthur Swanson

The True, the False, and the Truly False: Lucian's Philosophical Science Fiction

Abstract.-- Today, it is generally agreed upon that Lucian of Samosota, the Greco-Syrian satirist of the second century A.D. who wrote literary fantastic voyages, is an important figure in the early history of science fiction. The substance of his contribution to this genre, however—particularly his estimates of fiction as potentially superior to philosophy and to scientific cognition—have not been much considered. I propose here a reading of Lucian’s "true fictions" as truth-serving fiction: he exposes false views and misdirections in "philosophy" and is in fact a writer of philosophical science fiction. (The term "philosophical science fiction" is to be understood, not as referring to sf written by a philosopher or in a philosophical vein, but as indicative, in this case, of sf written by a satirist about philosophy.) Clarification of the phrase "true fictions" will include commentary on the word "true" in its Greek form and some attention to the proper translation of the title provided for his voyages, variously rendered as "A True Story," "(The) True History," and "True Histories." Lucian’s philosophical science fiction suggests that philosophy and fiction are complementary explorations into truth, but philosophy tends to claim success where fiction is content to sustain and constantly to renew.

David Winston

Iambulus' Islands of the Sun and Hellenistic Literary Utopias

Abstract.-- The original of Iambulus’ narrative (written sometime between 165 and 50 BC) is not extant, and were it not for excerpts made by Diodorus Siculus in his Bibliotheke, we should have to rely on two meager references in Lucian and Tzetzes. In introducing True Histories, his parody of imaginary-voyage literature, Lucian singles out Ctesias and Iambulus as representative. The latter, says Lucian, wrote much that was incredible about the lands in the great sea, but, though obviously fabulous, his story was not unpleasing. Ionnes Tzetzes (Chiliades) noted that Iambulus wrote of round animals found in the islands of the Ethiopians, and of double-tongued men who could converse with two different people simultaneously. Finally, from Diodorus’ excerpt (in spite of its disorder) we may reconstruct in some detail the form and content of this early utopian work. In general, Greek literary genres are sharply defined, and each has a set of themes (topoi) peculiar to itself. Conforming to this usage, Iambulus’ work exhibits themes frequently found in Greek utopias. Indeed, Iambulus’ main source—besides travel narratives on India—was the Greek utopian tradition of extraordinary voyages. Shaped by his imaginative genius, however, these disparate traditional elements became a distinct utopian art-form that found a permanent place in European literature.

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