restricted access Apocalypse and Science Fiction: A Dialectic of Religious and Secular Soteriologies, and: The Feminine Eye: Science Fiction and the Women Who Write It, and: Formula Fiction? An Anatomy of American Science Fiction, 1930-1940 (review)
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Reviewed by
Frederick A. Kreuziger. Apocalypse and Science Fiction: A Dialectic of Religious and Secular Soteriologies. Chico: Scholars, 1982. 247 pp. $13.50.
Tom Staicar, ed. The Feminine Eye: Science Fiction and the Women Who Write It. New York: Ungar, 1982. 148 pp. $11.95 cloth; pb. $6.95.
Frank Cioffi. Formula Fiction? An Anatomy of American Science Fiction, 1930-1940. Westport: Greenwood, 1982. 181 pp. $25.00.

To treat a literature as a body of revealed religious text is a strange apotheosis these days, and it seems to me especially strange for a literature as rooted in the Enlightenment tradition as modern science fiction. We want unity and coherence always. We want Bible-like canons for literatures. But somewhere in the eighteenth-century methodological revolution that we call the Enlightenment, about the time history as we know it was being discovered along with all the other systems of evolving change, literature began to be discussed more empirically. Hume and Johnson suggested that taste was not absolute but rather an evolving consensus; and devices such as "beauty" and the "sublime"—what we might call image and symbol—came to be understood not as revealed truth but as rhetoric, that is as phenomena that could be manipulated, changed, even learned. Obviously, we have been uncomfortable with such analytic and matterof-fact notions ever since. But we have learned to ground even our most exalted notions on empirical evidence, and the farthest extrapolation still points back to its takeoff point from reality. The latter is one characteristic that distinguishes science fiction from fantasy, though literary criticism of fantasy is hardly fantasy.

In any case, this impassioned preamble that threatens to engulf the books here under review is occasioned by what I consider to be the outrageous methodology of one of them. The second two books are empirical and sensible in approach with their arguments set out for us to examine, to learn from, to test. The Kreuziger text seems to me, however, deeply flawed with an approach to literature that, though it may seem to have high intellectual precursors in our time and perhaps even be "trendy," has no persuasive power or usefulness whatsoever. Not only does he never look closely at science fiction itself, but he argues with authoritative generalizations that to my reading successfully resist any analysis. If I had not been assigned to review this book, I would hardly have believed it could exist in a post-Enlightenment setting. But by means of such writing, perhaps, we can sense the fragility of the Enlightenment and the importance of continuing discussion as represented in the books I will come to in a moment. Two sentences from Kreuziger's Introduction may illustrate his method:

We have become so accustomed to reading even the Scriptures in this manner that we easily forget (or actively suppress) that the archetypal, the prototypical, "radically new" event in our Christian faith is a raising. There is a passivity, a passiveness existing at the heart of the Christian conception of history.

Religious ideas are important in science fiction (see Blish, Herbert, Miller); but one can learn nothing about writers in this study. The weakness here is, indeed, the "passiveness." This is an empty book as method and as analysis. It may point to revealed truth, but if it is full of truth it is full as a Black Hole is full. Nothing gets out. The Enlightenment should have changed all that. Science [End Page 465] fiction is in the tradition of the Enlightenment, and science fiction criticism ought to be.

We can learn from the collection of essays edited by Tom Staicar about nine important modern writers of science fiction who happen to be women. Two of the writers, C. J. Cherryh and Suzette Haden Elgin, are linguists; and the essays on them describe solid extrapolations from language. The larger mythmakers are Joan D. Vinge, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Suzy McKee Charnas; and the essays devoted to their work describe the intellectual suggestiveness of content clearly and well. Leigh Brackett, C. L. Moore, and Andre Norton flourished during the pulp origins of modern science fiction (though Norton is still going strong); and for each...


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