After years of dwelling on literary history and theme analysis, science fiction criticism has become pluralistic with a vengeance. The volumes at hand range from feminist studies to utopian studies, from texts treated in the most traditional exegetical terms to the writers treated as pop icons. And it is both frustrating and exhilarating to find that each approach has its own merits: the modern student of science fiction may find critical guideposts in huge reference tomes and popular memoirs as well as in theoretical essays and academic studies.
Such an academic study is C. N. Manlove's Science Fiction: Ten Explorations, an examination of ten science fiction works that the author takes to be representative of important aspects of the genre. Manlove is perhaps best known for his two earlier studies of fantasy (Modern Fantasy: Five Studies  and The Impulse of Fantasy Literature ) in which he took much of fantasy literature to task for various forms of spiritual anemia. It is somewhat surprising, then, to find Manlove attracted to science fiction, which seems even less likely to satisfy his very traditional mode of critical exegesis, but he seems to admire the works he discusses for their energy and for what he describes as science fiction's characteristic desire for "more life" (although he never makes quite clear what he means by this). Nor is he especially interested in providing much of a theoretical framework for his discussions: "Criticism lacks a language to evaluate inventiveness except through admiration: all that can be done is to describe it, and that we have tried to do."
Manlove describes his chosen texts well, but his selection is at best eccentric. He includes some famous works that we might expect, such as Herbert's Dune and Asimov's Foundation series, but chooses a comparatively minor early collection of Frederik Pohl stories to represent science fiction's satirical function and a Brian Aldiss novel that even that author considers anomalous. It is gratifying to see such authors as Robert Silverberg and Clifford D. Simak treated, although each has produced more significant works than the ones Manlove discusses. The volume is rounded out with essays on popular novels by Arthur C. Clarke and Philip Jose Farmer and recent ones by Gene Wolfe and A. A. Attanasio. Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun is probably the most complex of all the works discussed, and Manlove does a good job of explicating most of its narrative tricks, but I have no idea what he is trying to demonstrate with the Attanasio novel. An introduction and final chapter try to draw a few conclusions about science fiction, but these conclusions are for the most part lame; it is hardly a groundbreaking claim that science fiction looks to the future whereas fantasy looks to the past, or [End Page 399] that science fiction often deals with problems of identity, and we are finally left with a collection of careful and intelligent essays in appreciation that take few risks and do little to illuminate our understanding of the field as a whole.
Tom Moylan, on the other hand, takes decided risks in Demand the Impossible, his study of the revival and revision of utopian thinking in four comparatively recent science fiction novels. In the past few years, Utopian studies and science fiction studies have tended to take different paths, and anyone exploring the undeniable links between these literatures chances sniping...