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I start with two assumptions about reading and about methodology that are moral assumptions, although in this world of such intense method one might deconstruct my "morality" into Chuzzlewitian selfishness or even Polonian vapidness. But a reviewer must be firm. So let me begin by observing that readers are always responsive both to practical advice of how to make the world a better place and to Whiggish exhortations that the inevitable moves of progress demand such practicality. Conversely, readers respond to strong voices that speak with authority regardless of the message. My children love to watch the evangelical TV preachers because they are so strong even though everyone senses they are foolish. I think it is remarkable how mature the critical discussion of science fiction and fantasy has now become so that we can read strong voices giving practical advice in each of the three books under review.
The most unified and strongest book is the Lucie Armitt collection in which thirteen women writers and critics nearly speak with one voice. This is a wonderful network of British writers, and another nice story to tell would be about the evolution of this network and this collection. Clearly, one of the women, Susan Bassnett, is professor/mentor of the editor. Many of the women teach nearby each other, far from London and from the Oxford/Cambridge establishment; and the group also includes important establishment writers such as Gwyneth Jones, Sarah Lefanu, and Lisa Tuttle—the latter an ex-patriate American. This network collectively approaches the old story of feminist liberation and the newer story of postfeminist theory. Both stories find a wonderful medium in the sense of newness and experimentation associated with what began in our century as space opera. In her introduction, Armitt highlights firmly the irony that this space opera began as male-oriented escapist fantasy that, in its most serious form, was also clearly nostalgic for some essentialist view of a lost golden age of humanness, and of writing. I would see Asimov for this interesting essentialism. All that changed, however, with movement toward a liberating future when feminist science fiction was spawned from the pulps, TV, and the movies. The strength of the collective voice represented well in this book, but also preceded by significant work from Lefanu, Susan Gubar, and others, can be heard in the irony of the title from Star Trek.
"To boldly go where no man has gone before" must serve some function as Latin tags did for Sam Johnson or like the phrase from melodrama in Dickens "a dark and dreary night" (I am rereading Martin Chuzzlewit as I dig into this practical, new criticism) because the trekkie phrase is also featured in the title of the second essay in the Philip John Davies collection. In fact, Jacqueline Pearson's fine essay also highlights the fiction of C.L. Moore which was a presage during the Golden Age in science fiction of this later feminist and cultured studies emphasis, and which is treated almost identically by Sarah Gamble in the Armitt collection. Like simultaneous discoveries in hard science, this coincidence speaks to the urgency and practicality of both collections. Certainly the feminist position is one energetic [End Page 540] corner of the social conflict treated in the strong collection from Davies. Other corners are racism, especially American racism dealt with in a thorough and scholarly way by Edward James, Cold War politics (dated now somewhat), and fiction about nuclear weaponry and holocaust. The latter conflict is particularly practical and interesting with contributions on adolescent literature by Paul Brians and with repeats of larger theses that they had promulgated recently in books on nuclear questions by H. Bruce Franklin and Martha A. Bartter. If the Davies collection has a unity of voice, it...