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novels which deal with dynamite, anarchists, nihilists, Fenians. Most of these have little esthetic or intellectual merit, but are nonetheless significant as expressions of perhaps widespread political and cultural attitudes. As a catalogue, her book is commendable—she has included so much that it seems unkind to point out that she fails to mention several other well-known works: Dostoevsky's Possessed, Turgenev's Virgin Soil, Conrad's Under Western Eyes. Two of these are, of course, Russian rather than British. But Turgenev, an important influence on Henry James, coined the word "nihilist"; and as Avrom Fleishman notes in Conrad's Politics, Dostoevsky may well have provided Conrad with a model of how not to deal with the themes of political commitment and revolution. However that may be, Melchiori is right to conclude that "in some ways the social novels of the 1880s and 1890s seem more out of touch with reality than those of the 1840s and 1850s" (p. 222). Perhaps the apocalyptic threat and allure of dynamite prevented those late Victonan novelists who wrote about it from approaching the vision of an organic social reality that informs the great Victonan novels. Patrick Brantlinger Indiana University 9. TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY SPECULATIVE FICTION Brian Stableford. Scientific Romance in Britain: 1890-1950. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985. $29.95 Brian Stableford sets for himself the task of defining what he sees as a distinctive mode of speculative fiction that originated in Britain at the tum of the century and that for about sixty years remained different from other modes of the gerne, especially science fiction in America. In pursuit of this thesis Stableford divides his discussion into three parts: the first section presenting the fin de siècle works of George Griffith, H. G. Wells, M. P. Shiel, Arthur Conan Doyle, J. D. Beresford, William Hope Hodgson; the second section stressing the between-the-world wars writing of S. Fowler Wright, Olaf Stapledon, Neil Bell, John Gloag, among others; the third section emphasizing the post-World War II publications of such writers as C. S. Lewis and Gerald Heard. For each of these authors Stableford provides very brief biographical comments, short synopses of the plots of their major works, and a few remarks on the themes of their books. Unfortunately, I am sorry to say, the biographical comments are irrelevant to the thesis of the book, the synopses are dull and often veer the discussion into non-pertinent directions, and the themes relate to the most elementary of ideas (the end-of-the-world theme, for instance). The book is, in short, a rather unpleasant reading experience. It is a not particularly well-written act of description and enumeration of little energy and insight. Most of the works of the authors it covers have been discussed in detail by others in more probing studies over the last twenty years. 449 Moreover, Stableford not only abandons focus on his thesis—that British speculative fiction at the tum of the century developed a mode distinctive from American science fiction—he never proves it. It remains throughout the book a mere assertion. Concerning this problem, I suppose one ought always to be wary of a book which includes in its first ten pages the following sort of evasion: "The foregoing description of scientific romance is not only loose, but at present rather abstract. It is to be hoped, though, that it will be gradually clarified by the discussion of concrete examples which will fill out the chapters of this book." A lost hope: the thesis never gets clearer, is never more fully defined, is never rigorously argued. Stableford might be right when he says that American writers were much less disposed to adopt the premises of evolutionary theory, but his use of the equivocating word less alerts us to the fact that some American authors did so; and even if any did not, how does this mere thematic strand differentiate British imaginative fiction from the American mode as a gerne? Stableford is more direct when he says that scientific romance always tries to change the mind of the reader by modifying his or her world view. In fact, however, many of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 449-451
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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