Rich Erlich, English 122
StGd Road to SF, 3 Draft 1: August 1999
Study Guides for Introduction and Stories in
The Road to Science Fiction, #3: From Heinlein to Here
Edited by James Gunn
A. Bibliographic Citation.
The Road to Science Fiction, vol. 3. Ed. James Gunn. 1979. Clarkston, GA: White Wolf, 1996.
B. Introduction (§ = Section number)
Read this Introduction for background for our course and to pick up some basic concepts, several of which I stress below.
§1-§2: The stories in Gunn's third volume go from Isaac Asimov's "Reason" from 1941 to Joe Haldeman's "Tricentennial" from 1976; by some standards, this volume covers "the golden age of science fiction," and Gunn attempts to define the term, dealing with its two parts: "golden age" and "science fiction."
• Be sure you know what the different meanings are of "golden age"; different definitions will give different periods for "the golden age of S.F."
• Be sure you understand that Gunn is trying to help define "science fiction" and is dealing with what he sees as a movement in the history of the genre from a consensus in the Asimovian "golden age" (IX) to "dissensus"—disagreement—from the 1960s on.
Trying to define "science fiction" is a fairly serious game. Some genres, e.g., epic and theatrical tragedy, are over two millennia old, and their origins cannot be recovered. Other genres, such as the novel, are much younger. Still, few scholars suggest an origin for a genre of science fiction before Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818); many suggest some time around 1895 and H. G. Wells's The Time Machine; and at least one recent scholar, Gary Westfahl, holds that "the idea of science fiction" came into being with the founding of Amazing Stories magazine in 1926 and the literary criticism of Hugo Gernsback, as perfected by John W. Campbell, Jr., two early editors. I.e., S.F. is a very recent genre, whose history can be traced, making it into a very elegant example of the development of a kind (genre) of art.
§3: Note well Gunn's "three criteria for the existence of science fiction" (XI). Others, including I. Asimov, would stress S.F. as a literature of change and add practical concerns, primarily a criterion of ways for S.F. authors to earn a living writing S.F.
Note very well the quotation from H. G. Wells on the necessity for a fantasy writer "to domesticate the impossible hypothesis" (XII); much S.F. may be fantastic narratives rendered plausible by an overlay of science and a high-tech setting. (A flying carpet is strictly fantasy; an antigravity hovercraft is S.F., or can be S.F. [and in the Star Wars films is appropriate for a world somewhere between fantasy and S.F.].)
John W. Campbell was an important editor of S.F.; note his doctrine that S.F. stories should have at their center "the man, not the idea or machine" (XIII).
• It would be a man at the center of an S.F. narrative of Campbell's day, not a woman or girl; contrast much fantasy (Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, a succession of Warrior Maidens), where women and girls get to star.
• Following Northrop Frye and a tradition of criticism, Rich Erlich teaches that S.F. is largely in the modes of Satire and Romance, where human actors compete with their worlds for our attention. (Unlike Comedy and Tragedy, where the background is mere background, and our attention is fully on the human characters.) By this reading, Campbell would be calling for more (human) Comedy and Tragedy in S.F. As a more practical matter, Campbell just wanted more human interest, more traditional fiction stuff and less extended discussions of machines and ideas.
The tradition of "older science fiction" is still with us in techno-thrillers by Tom Clancy et al. and in the obsession with gadgets in James Bond films and high-tech war stories.
§5: Note the ideas of, first, future history and, second, "consensus future history." Since the story-telling tense in English is the past tense, and traditional stories began, "Once upon a time and long ago," the idea of future fiction should be a little strange; "future history" is downright paradoxical:
• How can there be a history of things that haven't happened and probably won't happen and certainly won't happen in the ways described?
• How can a bunch of lies be any kind of history?
Note very well the world-view and value system implicit in the consensus future history: man (sic) as a progressive animal, destined to expand into the galaxy. There are other possibilities for our species and other myths of the human destiny (e.g., see The Revelation to John, also called the Apocalypse, at the end of Christian Scriptures).
§6-§8: Again, you should read this brief history of S.F., but you needn't learn it for our course. (Students who try to learn it because they haven't used this study guide, probably haven't saved themselves much time not using this study guide [or saved money in the long-run not buying the Packet].)
§9: Gunn overgeneralizes about New Wave writers, but he definitely gets the trends right. Note the idea of "reality as the projection of cultural agreement" and that it was common back in the 1960s; there's been much ado of late about "The Social Construction of Reality," which was a book title back in the 1960s, and not all that new an idea.
• What's happened of late with "Social Construction" has been a kind of raising of the stakes. Back in the 1960s, the idea was epistemological—having to do with ideas: people's ideas of the world, our world-views and social realities, were socially constructed. Nowadays the idea is more ontological—having to do with the reality of the world: the universe itself is a construction of human minds; Nature is inside of human culture.
• Like Gunn, I find the idea of literal social construction of reality wrong and dangerous—but it's neat to play with in S.F. What may have changed as things settled down since the 1960s is not only increased "tolerance of difference" but maybe a bit more tolerance of playfulness (XXII-XXIII).
1. Robert A. Heinlein, "All You Zombies—" (1959)
If you have a study guide for Heinlein's Starship Troopers, see it for comments by H. Bruce Franklin in "Zombies."
bastard (4): The word literally refers to a child of unmarried parents; Heinlein's character appropriates the word and claims it as just a descriptive term or with pride. That was gutsy in 1959, and is probably still gutsy, although for different reasons.
One legitimate claim against "political correctness" is encouraging euphemisms where it might be better to claim and change pejoratives—as when Americans took the insult "Yankee Doodle" and became Yanks or when homosexual scholars said they did "Queer Theory" or when paraplegics at the University of Illinois called themselves The Gimps or Jews called themselves Jews and Blacks called themselves Blacks.
The Worm Ouroboros (4): As Heinlein describes it. One of my myth dictionaries says it symbolizes "concepts of completion, perfection and totality, the endless round of existence." It may also symbolize solipsism.
solipsism: The idea that only I exist, and I create the universe between my ears, in my mind. I exist; you don't, except so far as I dream you up.
paradox: centrally, a contradiction, a statement that contradicts itself. The shortest form is an oxymoron or "contradiction in terms": e.g., "darkness visible," "sounds of silence," "holy devil," "angelic fiend." (An old game is coming up with wise-ass variations, e.g., "military intelligence," "business ethics," "legal logic," "bureaucratic efficiency.") A very long form is the story that deals with an apparent contradiction, and time-travel stories often deal with such paradoxes. If I go back in time and kill my grandparents, do I cease to exist? Have I ever existed? If I never existed, how did I go back in time to kill my grandparents? (Cf. the title and content of the Back to the Future movies.) Be sure you recognize the paradox in "Zombies."
Christine Jorgenson (4): One of the first people to get a sex change operation, and certainly the first who got a lot of publicity.
In addition to "bastard" and question of prostitution, note the gender bending in having the protagonist able to sing a variation on "I'm My Own Grandpa" that includes sex changes.
Other politics: What are the implications of an elite Bureau of time-travelers, unknown to ordinary citizens and changing things? What do you feel Heinlein's view is in this story?
2. Isaac Asimov, "Reason" (1941)
You'll have trouble understanding the significance of this story unless you know that one definition of "human being" is "Man is a reasoning animal." The wise-ass young Rich Erlich, unknowingly following the satirist Jonathan Swift, corrected that to "Man is an animal capable of reason," but still the idea is there. Note also the old debate on Faith vs. Reason and the almost as old attempt to reconcile Faith and Reason. Read p. 27 very carefully and consider "Reason" as a careful, reasoned investigation of the limitations of reason, the epistemological question of how we can be confident in what we know—plus a suggestion that Truth is irrelevant for a lot of practical actions (see 29).
3. Clifford D. Simak, "Desertion" (1944)
In the great creation story in the biblical Book of Genesis, the crown of creation is adam: Adam, Man, Humanity—us. We are created of the dust of the earth but inspired with the breath of God (ruach) and so are both very weak and "crushed before the moth" and very great: "a little below elohim": just a bit below the angels, divine beings, gods—or God (they're all legitimate translations of elohim). As Gunn suggests in his Introduction, much of the future-history consensus in S.F. accepted a very high estimate of humankind. "Desertion" asks us to consider that "Maybe we are the morons of the universe" (41), and that there might be better creatures to be than a dog, or a man (43)..
4. Lewis Padgett (pseud. for Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore), "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (1943)
Who are the audience the Speaker tells, "There's no use trying to describe either Unthahorsten or his surroundings [. . .] ?
What does it mean that Snowen "passed over from Earth, after mastering the necessary technique"? If you don't/didn't know when you started the story, did you know by the time you finished?
For all the "good many million years" beyond 1942 AD, does Unthahorsten's family life very different from what you picture among humans in 1942? From what you grew up with?
Anno Domini: "Year of (our/the) Lord" (i.e., allowing for a four-year computational error, since the birth of Jesus of Nazareth; "CE" as "Christian" or "Common Era).
• In cheap S.F. films of the 1950s to early sixties, a major inciting incident was the irruption into a banal, everyday world of Something Uncanny. How is that motif used here?
• Note theme of children who are, well, special in some way or another, and frequently dangerous. To an adult point of view, children are Other, alien. How is this idea developed in "Mimsy"?
• Tone question: Does this main story have a happy ending? Is it happy or unhappy depending upon whose point of view we take? If your children become better than human and desert you, is that happy or sad? (Are such terms as "happy" and "sad" relevant?)
5. Ray Bradbury, "The Million-Year Picnic" (1946)
Historical background for a large number of stories written in the 1940s and 1950s: On 6 August 1945, the city of Hiroshima in Japan was hit by a small atomic bomb dropped by a U.S. bomber; according to my encyclopedia, "Most of the city was destroyed and about 75,000 people were killed or fatally injured," far less than the number killed in the fire-bombing of Dresden but a very impressive number for one bomb. On 9 August 1945, Nagasaki was leveled by a second atomic bomb, ending World War II. About three years later, the hydrogen bomb, a thermonuclear device, was developed, and H-bombs were tested in the 1950s—but that's getting ahead of the story. The use of atomic bombs changed things. Speaking hyperbolically and sometimes rather hysterically, some people talked about how the A-bomb could destroy the Earth or kill of all life on the planet. That's ludicrous: Earth will abide (as a story-title suggests), and humankind are incapable of destroying all life on Earth; putrefactive bacteria and tube worms and all will do fine, and, I suspect, so will cockroaches and some weeds. What human beings did develop the power to destroy was Homo sapiens sapiens—us humans—as a species. Earth will abide; life will survive, but World War III might destroy us as a species or at least set back to the Dark Ages almost all of human civilization.
If stories usually have conflict between protagonists ("the good guys") and antagonists ("the bad guys"), who are the villains in "Picnic"?
Tone question again: Does "Picnic" have a happy ending? As happy as one might expect, under the circumstances? Is it elegiac, a kind of prose-poem mourning a death? Is it tragic? Epic?
Would the new Mars be a good world for girls and women? For a variation on the theme of New Adam, New Eve—with one of the potential Eve's opting for death instead—see Joanna Russ's We Who Are About to: a radical feminist take on the science-fictional motif of the renewal of humankind and on the traditional theme of The Art of Dying.
Is "Picnic" science fiction? Bradbury and all but the least educated of his readers knew that Mars is nothing like the "Mars" in the story—can an S.F. story be set in so militantly unscientific a setting? Is "Picnic" a kind of moral fable, with the S.F. mere veneer over a fabulous story, with a pun and with some MORAL, like a fable by Aesop? (See Gunn 76-77.)
What were the politics of "Picnic" for the original audience? What are they from your point of view? Are they Leftist on A-bombs and Right-wing on gender?
6. Theodore Sturgeon, "Thunder and Roses" (1947): Did Pete do right to whack Sonny with "a fourteen-inch box wrench" and then destroy the machinery of retaliation?
How does Sturgeon want us to answer that question, and what does he do to encourage that we'll answer as he wishes?
What do you think?
7. Judith Merril, "That Only a Mother" (1954)
Note that Maggie operates a computer (112), but people still communicate by telegrams and letters. (MORAL: Even very good S.F. writers aren't very good at prediction.) Note also the saying that someone is such a loser "that only a mother could love." Plus:
• The motif of the special/Other/alien child.
• The fear of mutation from ionizing radiation.
• The handling of point of view, especially given the exchange of letters (Maggie) and telegrams (Hank).
How do you think the story ends—in terms of plot before you get to tone? Like, what do you think happens just after "Oh God, she didn't know...." and what evidence in the story can you cite to make plausible that speculation?
• If Hank kills the baby, is he the villain of the piece?
• What does it say about Maggie if she didn't know?
8. William Tenn (pseud. for Philip Klass), "Brooklyn Project" (1948)
Star Trek has as an ideal, "To boldly go where no one has gone before"; does "Brooklyn Project" share that ideal?
It is very difficult to write about a truly alien Alien, and a recent article in an Australian S.F. journal suggests it's hardly ever done. How successful is Tenn in presenting his final aliens? (See 128.)
I tried to write a story from the point of view of a very familiar "alien": a highly intelligent dog. The sense of smell of a dog is at least a million times better than ours, and as most humans live in a world of sight a dog lives in a world of smell. How does the world smell to a dog? What might be the canine world-smell to correspond to a human world-view? I couldn't do it. I think Tenn suggests how it might be done.
Just how paradoxical is "Project" in terms of time? Has nothing changed if creatures are there to send the device back to create those creatures?
A secular variation on humans as the crown of creation can be found in a (social?) Darwinist reading that says the fit survive, and we survived; therefore we were the fittest to survive; therefore advanced creatures on any Earthlike planet will be basically like us, humanoid. What does "Project" have to say on the inevitability of us? (Are we the foreordained, necessary product of evolution, or contingent: an accident produced by all sorts of chance events? [Cf. A. C. Clarke's novel 2001: A Space Odyssey.])
9. Fritz Leiber, "Coming Attraction" (1950)
This is an example of post-apocalypse, dystopian social science fiction. I.e., a horrible disaster (figuratively, an "apocalypse") produces a bad place (dys-topia) in which a story is told that concentrates upon the human aspects of the disaster.
What do you make of the disaster here? What do you make of the humans?
What are the politics of this story in terms of seeing humans boldly going to the Moon—as we would in the next generation (1969)—and/or in terms of sexual and gender politcs?
10. Arthur C. Clarke, "The Sentinel" (1951)
This is a First Contact story, and a very important one because it was the original story for Stanley Kubrick and A. C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. How does the Alien Other come across in this story? How do humans?
11. Philip José Farmer, "Sail On! Sail On!" (1952)
"What if ...?" applied to history can yield an alternative history story. These can be as stupid as the kids' question, "What if Superman had landed in Germany" mocked in a classic Saturday Night Live skit, or as profound as, well, "Sail On!"
Note that "Sail On!" is set in a universe alternative to ours (see 157) in more ways than just alternative history where the Roman Catholic Church strongly supported physical science. In this world, Earth is flat (163).
The humor columnist Dave Berry has suggested that most Americans have no idea how radio works; if that is the case, the Friar Sparkses are way ahead of most of us in having a plausible—and clearly technologically useful—theory for how radio works (159). Do you think in the universe of the story it is also a true theory? I'm serious here. If you don't believe in an ether "crammed with [. . .] cherubim," how do you account for radio? If you say, "Well, radio waves, might not a Friar Sparks tell you that you've named the phenomenon, not accounted for it. If the real proof of a theory is in its practical application, can you build a radio set ...? Without hypocrisy, could you accuse Friar Sparks of being unscientific?
For that matter—what are your proofs for belief in a round Earth?
12. Hal Clement, "Critical Factor" (1953)
Does Clement succeed in presenting highly alien Aliens here? Are they incredibly alien in the world they live in but like us socially?
Who are the audience for "Critical Factor"?
Do you believe in gravity? If so, why? Why might gravity be an amazing phenomenon for Derrell et al.?
In what sense is Derrell, whose "body was liquid" (175) a "he"?
13. Alfred Bester, "Fondly Fahrenheit" (1954)
Note the "prime directive" here and the variation on Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. That's part of the mystery: how to get a killer android who's been programmed to ensure "he" (?) will never, ever harm humans.
"Fondly" is a kind of crime story and mystery story, so you should expect some confusion until the end. I'll make it easy for you: the points of view of the man and his android are shifting, with the two identifying and both quite insane.
Do you see "Fondly" as S.F.? If so, what science is involved?
14. Tom Godwin, "The Cold Equations" (1954)
(1) Note handling of point of view: third person, limited omniscient, "over the shoulder" of Barton, the EDS pilot. Since there are only two real characters in the story, consider the effects of the other possibilities with point of view: third person concentrating on Marilyn Lee Cross; first person with Barton as Narrator; first person with M. L. Cross narrating (possibly the last entry to her diary); third person with much more objectivity, not telling what the two main characters are thinking.
(2) Dick Allen, editor of Science Fiction: The Future, notes the eminently nonliberated character of "Cold Equations." The point is a good one: Godwin may well be guilty of the assumption that "women and children" are a set—that human females never become real adults. (Note that even today some people will use "girl" where they wouldn't use "boy," where, indeed, "boy" would be an insult.) Still, does it help the story that the victim is one with strong sentimental possibilities—not only "only a kid" but "a girl in her teens"? CAUTION: Your humble study guide author may show less sympathy than he should. Marilyn Lee Cross is 18, and that's old enough for a "boy" to be drafted. I spent a long time resenting strongly the fact that "Americans aren't ready to see young women coming home in green body-bags" (as Sen. Sam Ervin put it, if my memory serves me well)—but we manage to adjust quite well to the idea of young men coming home in body-bags. The average age of US dead in Indochina wasn't much over 19 (and the average age of dead Indochinese may not have been much older).
(3) What's the tone of this story, in terms of the author's attitude, as you infer it, toward his subject? Does he approve of both of his characters?
(4) What's the point of "The Cold Equations"? Does it hinge on the difference between dear mother Earth and the "frontier"? Does it say anything about the nature of the universe? Consider Stephen Crane's poem "A Man Said to the Universe" (ca. 1895), which I rather pointlessly, but legally, paraphrase: A man asserts his existence to the personified Universe. The personified Universe—God—allows that the man exists but denies that human existence elicits in God any feeling of obligation.
(5) What does the story say about the nature of our species? Does it properly put us in our place (trivial)? Does it show that we're capable of compassion and even a low-key heroism? Is there merely pathos here, or does the story begin to approach tragedy? (When M. L. Cross's "kitten got run over in the street" that was sad and pathetic—but tragedy it wasn't. If a small child gets run over in the street, that's also sad and pathetic—but not tragedy, not in the sense "tragedy" is used in literary criticism.) Can an 18-year old girl have "tragic stature"? Maybe—Juliet isn't quite 14 when she kills herself at the end of Romeo and Juliet, and that play may be a tragedy.
15. Cordwainer Smith (pseud. for Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger), "The Game of Rat and Dragon" (1955)
What is the vision of the universe in "The Game"? Why should we believe there is "something out there [. . .] which was alive, capricious and malevolent" (225)? Especially given ITs location "underneath space itself," isn't this more Horror than S.F.?
What is the vision of man/woman relations in this story if the human protagonist doubts he will "ever find a woman who could compare" with his cat partner? What is the view of cats? (Do you find the story sexist, or just non humanist?)
16. Robert Sheckley, "Pilgrimage to Earth" (1956)
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and perhaps even more the 1990s film Romeo + Juliet suggest that the great religion of the English-speaking world isn't orthodox Christianity but The Religion of (erotic) Love. If so, is "Pilgrimage" blasphemous?
If it looks like love and feels like love, is it—even the "it" in this story—love?
17. Bryan W. Aldiss, "Who Can Replace a Man?" (1958)
I once summarized this story, "Machines try, after Man is nearly gone, to survive and continue functioning. Comic and pathetic ending has featured machines submitting to a lone man." Do you see the ending as more humanistically comic—any man is better than those machines—or mostly pathetic? If we've identified with the machines, seeing them as human, does the story end with a kind of allegory of the futility of revolt? I.e., even as the machines are programmed to serve and obey, so are we serfs and peasants and "wretched refuse"?
18. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. "Harrison Bergeron" (1961)
(1) From Thomas Jefferson et al., The Declaration of Independence (approved 4 July 1776): "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal . . . ." From Robert Ardrey, beginning of The Social Contract (1970): "A society is a group of unequal beings organized to meet common needs. In any sexually reproducing species, equality of individuals is a natural impossibility. Inequality must therefore be regarded as the first law of social materials [sic], whether in human or other societies. Equality of opportunity, must be regarded among vertebrate species as the second law."
(2) Kurt Vonnegut is now a certified liberal: he wrote an anti-war book, Slaughterhouse-Five, that has been burned by at least one school board and is up there for the "Grimmy" award for most banned book in the USA. Still, does Vonnegut come through here as a liberal? Is he anti-equalitarian here? Does he want fourteen-year old Harrison to become a real (political) emperor? Is he for competition and "social Darwinism" (survival of the most ruthless)?
(3) Note Vonnegut's use of details. Do they help him make his point. Do they get you to loath the USA of 2081? Also note Vonnegut's use of point of view: a third-person narrative "over the shoulders" over George and Hazel Bergeron. What, if anything, does that point of view do for the story? How, if it does, does this point of view help Vonnegut make his point? Ordinarily, authors get sympathy for or at least empathy with characters by telling stories from those characters' points of view. (Recall the expression, "See things from my point of view!") If we're to sympathize with the hero and title character, wouldn't it be better to tell the story from Harrison's point of view? Are the main characters actually Hazel and George?
(4) Is this a cautionary fable—cautioning us against misunderstanding the kind of equality Jefferson meant in The Declaration of Independence? If so, what sort of equality does the story allow? Is the nature of attack redutio ad finem (extrapolation to an extreme) or a reductio ad absurdum (pushing a proposition until it becomes absurd or grotesque)? (There is a short attack on equalitarianism in Ayn Rand's Anthem; for long attacks, see her other books.)
(5) "Harrison Bergeron" was written at the end of the cultural period in America usually called just "the 1950s" (ca. 1946 to ca. 22 November 1963). Is the story an attack on 1950s conformism? Is it a defense of at least one kind of elitism? Is it a defense of "self-realization" or self-fulfilment ("Be all you can be")?
(6) What should we make of Vonnegut's shift into fantasy at the end of the story—a fantasy immediately reduced to a kind of satiric "realism" with the entrance of Diana Moon Glampers with her "double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun"? (Note the name of the Handicapper General. "Glampers" just sounds sort of funny—and sounds a little like "Clampers," with a suggestion of restriction [clamp]. Diana is the chaste [and occasionally nasty] goddess of the moon and the hunt.)
(7) Is the major function of the story to defamiliarize lines from The Declaration of Independence that we don't take seriously anymore because we've reduced them to a mere cliché?
19. Harry Harrison, "The Streets of Ashkelon" (1962)
"Theological science fiction" may sound a little oxymoronic, but it's a standard variety. "Streets" is very straight-forward, but be sure you get the irony of the coming of sin to a world in the person of a priest. Three points, two relatively trivial:
• If someone comes up with stigmata in the palms of the hands (282), you're dealing with a false saint. The Romans had manuals for such things, apparently, and, for crucifixions with nails, the nails go through the wrists, not the palms.
• The Lex talionis (law of retaliation) of "An eye for an eye" (282) limits revenge and really is one of the better things in the Bible and from the ancient world more generally. Indeed, we'd be a much more humane society if we followed it, especially in its rabbinic interpretation: indemnification of the victim proportional to the harm (as opposed to the State's throwing someone into a hellhole of a prison for years). There are a whole lot worse things in the Bible (see Joshua, sections of Judges, sex crimes and gender rules in Leviticus, and the New Testament God of eternal vengeance in Revelation).
• I'd be very much interested in your reaction to the story, and to Jim Gunn's rather dogmatic assertion that "Science fiction cannot be written from an attitude of religious belief" (268). Harrison is indeed attacking a missionary in "Streets" (Gunn 269), but he is taking religion generally and Christianity in particular quite seriously, perhaps the major compliment a nonbeliever can pay.
Coming out of a tradition of faith myself, I much prefer an honest attack to the sort of tolerance that says, "Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion" (sic on the grammar) with, I suspect, the unspoken addition, "however dumb those opinions might be."
20. J. G. Ballard, "The Terminal Beach" (1964)
In addition to the characterizations of Ballard's work Gunn quotes (285), you might add: prose-poet of entropy. In any event, Ballard comes across to me as a high Modernist, very much concerned with things falling apart. Slowly. Sort of a slow-motion apocalypse, with the world emphatically ending "not with a bang, but a whimper."
Entropy: The inevitably movement of systems into which energy isn't pumped from more energy, more organization to lower states of energy and order. The process by which things run down, leading ultimately to the "heat death" of the universe as it expands ever outward and dissipates into Void. (Alternatively, the universe has enough matter to pull it back in a Big Crunch, where it will end—but that's another possibility we won't be around to see.)
Eniwetok (296): setting for the story. The place of US H-bomb tests in the 1950s. A series of very big bangs are in the past of this story.
Pre-Third: World War I, World War II—and the Cold War as "Pre-Third," seen as the final, apocalyptic war (288).
Blocks: Referring to blockhouses, from which the test explosions would be watched, but with an undertone of the inmate blocks in prisons and World War II Nazi death-camps like Auschwitz (288).
21. Gordon R. Dickson, "Dolphin's Way" (1964)
In the 1960s and since, there was much speculation about the ability of marine mammal like dolphins and porpoises to communicate. There have also been suggestions that their way of life is a whole lot better than ours. "Dolphin's Way" is part of what we might call the anti-chuzpah thread of the S.F. tapestry, questioning humans as the crown of creation and the center of things even on our little planet.
Chuzpah: comic arrogance, the pride that goes before a fall upon one's butt. Cf. and contrast superbia, sinful pride, and hybris (or hubris), tragic pride. If you feel pity for Mal and humanity that the dolphins were chosen and we weren't, if you feel a bit of fear from some suggestion in the story that human existence might be futile, then "Dolphin's Way" might be antihybris for you.
22. R. A. Lafferty, "Slow Tuesday Night" (1965)
In his intro. to the story, Gunn deals briefly with S.F. as prediction, which it doesn't do very well, and extrapolation, and with what I see as fabulation—telling stories with a point to them, often a MORAL, about our world. Like most authors, S.F. "writers deal in metaphors. The future they write about is not the real future" but "a metaphorical future that allows them to test their ideas free from the distractions of the real world" (323)—in other terms, thought-experiments, like all experiments, necessarily (over)simplified. The figurative variable here, is the rate of social movement. What if the entirely fictional "Abebaios block" could be "removed from human minds" and we could make decisions very, very fast (325)? What would the world be like. Alternatively, If this goes on—the speeding up of human life—what would our world be like? Let's extrapolate and see.
If "science fiction is the literature of change," is "Slow Tuesday Night" an exemplary S.F. story? Is there significant change in the world of this story? If not, what does that say about our apparently rapidly changing social world?
23. Frederik Pohl, "Day Million" (1966)
(1) The narrator here is a friendly sort of dude (as we said back in 1966): he speaks in the first person singular a lot ("I"), and he addresses us
(2) directly whenever he feels like it—which is often. He doesn't spend much time going into his characters' minds; but, then, they are hardly characters in the usual sense, so we won't be upset because we don't learn much about what they're thinking.
(3) Is "Day Million" what Isaac Asimov and others call "gadget" S.F.? If so, why does the narrator refer back so often to his audience's lives? Such frequent reference back to our time hardly seems necessary if his primary objective is to impress us with the glories of technological progress.
( 4) Pohl is, among other things, a professional editor and knows that one should avoid unnecessary use of big words. Why so many big words in "Day Million"? Are they appropriate in a story to be published in Rogue magazine? (If I recall correctly, Rogue in 1966 specialized in action/adventure, including some sexual "action," although not very adventurous varieties.)
24. Philip K. Dick, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" (1966)
As Gunn says, this story is about fantasy and reality. The classic example is a Daoist story, where the philosopher Chuang-Tzu dreamed he was a butterfly and awoke to wonder if he might not be a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang-Tzu. So, Quail may be the savior of humanity, preserving Earth from alien rule, or he may be just another guy with "a most interesting wish-fulfillment fantasy," but a stronger fantasy than most (356-57). I'll want to know how you read the ending of the story and what seems like a resolution for mighty hero Quail.
Two cautions, though, on Dick.
(1) He ended up pretty paranoid—literally, pathologically paranoid—and might've been tending in that direction even in his early work. So the "paranoid style" might be, as the shrinks say, "overdetermined" by Dick's view of a slippery world. On the other hand, William Burroughs might be right and "'A psychotic is a guy who's just discovered what's going on'" (quoted 285).
(2) He liked the rule suggested by A. E. van Vogt, I believe, that every 800 words or so an author should throw a figurative curve into a story and make a character we thought one thing into something else. Such a technique increases the apparent slipperiness of reality and emphasizes a "paranoid style."
So, there may be a bit less to Dick than meets the eye.
25. Harlan Ellison, "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" (1968): See Study Guides for The SFRA Anthology. (And see the Afterword to the story.)
26. Samuel R. Delany, "Aye, and Gomorrah ..." (1967)
Gomorrah: One of the Cities of the Plain, along with Sodom, according to Genesis 18.16-19, destroyed by the Lord because "their sin is very grave." The only sin we see is an attempt by men of Sodom to get their hands on and rape two guests of Abraham's nephew Lot. Since the guests are male-gendered angels, "Sodom" and its cognates have become a figure of speech for male homosexuality.
Note very well Gunn on Delany on the S.F. technique of "literalizing metaphors" (376). In what Delany calls "mundane" fiction, "His world exploded" is a figure of speech; in an S.F. story, we'd have to pause a bit at the sentence and determine if it's figurative or very literal. Similarly, though I'd say not identically for "She turned on her left side." In ordinary language, this means she rolled over a bit; in an S.F. story, she may be a cyborg who switches her left side from "stand-by" to "on." This bit of caution: literalizing figures of speech is also standard in satire, e.g., in the sight gag in Air Plane, where we're told the protagonist "has a drinking problem" and get to watch him spilling water on himself as he tries to drink a glass of water, or, more grotesquely, in Jerry Farber's essay, "The Student as Ni*ger," where we're told that faculty get screwed and then have that dead figure of speech reanimated with details getting us to picture the rape of faculty members.
For the story itself, note its defamiliarizing of perversion by throwing in a new one: the ultimate twist of being utterly sexless (382). Note also one bit of prediction that did come true: "the neo-puritan reaction to the sex freedom of the twentieth century" (381) is upon us, even before the end of the 20th century.
27. Larry Niven, "The Jigsaw Man" (1967)
This is an "If this goes on ..." story; check out the opening paragraphs and be sure you know the possible this's. One is a standard in S.F. from across the political spectrum: the increasing bureaucratization of everyday life in the developed world, often symbolized by the numbering of people.
Niven is usually on the political Right; how seriously should we take the critique here of the death penalty? How seriously should we take the suggestion that people would execute their fellow citizens for their organs: "What voter would vote against eternal life? The death penalty was his immortality, and he would vote the death penalty for any crime at all" (397).
Would it change your opinion on the death penalty at all if you're for it but found it would be applied to crimes you have committed and are likely to commit again?
28. Poul Anderson, "Kyrie" (1968)
Note well Gunn on S.F. vs. fantasy and magic and his suggestive line that an S.F. story somehow "demands to be read at a realistic level" (398).
"Kyrie" deals with telepathy, a very implausible possibility at any time but not quite so implausible in the 1960s as nowadays. (There were experiments read to suggest that humans use only 10% of our brains, leaving lots of potential for "psi" powers like telepathy and telekinesis and all. What the experiments showed, stated more exactly, was that drugged, unconscious rats use about 10% of their brains.)
p. 400: The first part of the Latin reads, "Grant them eternal rest, O Lord," and is identified in my Dictionary of Foreign Words as the antiphon in the mass for the dead. I'll need some help, but for now I will translate the second part, "And with perpetual light illumine them." The following Greek is the Kyrie eleison: "Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy."
Lucifer: Light-bearer, Venus as the morning star, Satan (before the Fall of the Angels). Here, a very good creature of light whose fall saves people.
Schwarzschild radius (405), a k a "gravitational radius," "event horizon": "the radius of size below which compression of a body must cause it to undergo irreversible gravitational collapse," in the case of a massive star, forming a black hole, where nothing gets out, not even light—but, in this story, telepathy does. "To an observer outside, matter falling into the black, hole takes forever to reach the Schwarzschild radius; but relative to an observing station moving in with the collapsing matter, the time of fall to the centre is very short. As the centre is approached, the curvature of the space-time 'whirlpool' continues to increase, becoming infinite at the central singularity," where the black hole drops out of our universe. "Under such extreme conditions an outside observer cannot associate meaningful times with interior events; and hence no communication is possible with an observer inside the Schwarzschild radius" (Ency. Brit., 1974)—except, in this story, by telepathy.
The point: Lucifer falls into the black hole and dies quickly, but his death, transmitted telepathically to Eloise, will be with her always.
Note question of Lucifer's manhood (408). What can be meant by "man," or by "human," if it could include an energy-creature like Lucifer?
29. Damon Knight, "Masks" (1968)
This is an important story detailing the antiorganic psychological effects of total replacement of a man's body with mechanical devices. It also raises important questions about to what degree our idea of the world, our values, etc. are not absolute but contingent upon our bodies. It's also important as a commentary upon the disgust with the flesh that may be implicit in Platonic idealism and overvaluing of technology.
p. 412: See end of story for the dream.
p. 419: How do you feel about the killing of the dog? What do you think is the "one emotion he could feel"?
If you believe that the human story is our rising from the slime toward the heavens, shouldn't you share the disgust of the main character with the flesh? If you find the killing of the dog disgusting, should you condemn disgust with the flesh?
30. John Brunner, Selection From Stand on Zanzibar (1968)
31. Norman Spinrad, "The Big Flash" (1969)
Four Horsemen, i.e., of the Apocalypse.
In The Revelation to John, John sees horsemen on horses white, bright red, black, and pale (6.1-7). The notes in my Bible identify them as follows: White: Jesus Christ, Red: War and Bloodshed, Black: Famine—and we're told that the Pale horse is ridden by Death. In popular usage, Jesus is dropped and the Four Horsemen are identified more or less as War, Bloodshed, Famine, and Death, or similar terms.
acid-head ... speed-freak: abuser of LSD and meth-amphetamine, which makes it likely that this is not a stable and nice person, even by the standards of people who do drugs.
Stokeley Carmichael: 1960s Black militant, chairman of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and one of the leaders of the Black Power movement, rejecting racial integration.
Rand Corporation: A research group important in the managing of the Vietnam war and other nastiness.
Bird: Great jazz musician.
pp. 440-41, T minus 199 days: Note the date of the story, during a very active phase of US warfare in Vietnam and the calling for "Bomb 'em back to the Stone Age!" We hear here some bureaucratic manipulator with an agenda: using tactical nuclear weapons in a war in Asia.
p. 448: The voice from 440 may be associated with the National Security Council, who may be just using the Four Horsemen and their cult or who created the group to start with.
pp. 449-50: The Polaris fleet carries strategic, thermonuclear armed ballistic missiles, not tactical nukes. Ditto for Minutemen missiles in hardened silos.
What's your response to this Ultimate Rock concert—starting with what you think its upshot is? The launching of all US (and other?) missiles and the End of Life As We Know It?
Is it fair to suggest that countercultural, heavy-metal Rock is militaristic and destructive and fits in well with nuclear Armageddon?
How does the use of different point of view work to get across the story? How is it different from handling of point of view in the stories we read from the 1940s-1950s?
32. Robert Silverberg, "Sundance" (1969)
Silverberg has asserted that "Sundance" got started as an exercise in person and tense. Stories in English are almost always in the first or third person ("I" or "s/he") and past tense; "Sundance" uses present tense and a good deal of the second person ("you"). Still—what are the politics of "Sundance"? What are its metaphysics and epistemology, its implications for the nature of reality and how much we can know of reality? What is it saying about the nature of culture and the ethical implications of a culture for the Eaters? Does the unusual uses of person and tense help get across those larger issues? If so, how?
33. Ursula K. Le Guin, Selection From The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
34. Joanna Russ, "When It Changed" (1972): See Study Guides for The SFRA Anthology.
35. Roger Zelazny, "The Engine at Heartspring's Center" (1974)
The Bork is a cyborg. To what extent is he human? To what extent do you see him as human? Do what extent do you see him as a him? If you see him as a man, why? Alternatively, how did Zelazny get you to see him as a man?
Note the careful structure of the story, and its elegant presentation of the great themes of Love and Death. Did you find the story moving, or perhaps too artful for its own good?
36. Joe Haldeman, "Tricentennial" (1976)
Note the year; 1976 was the Bicentennial of the American Revolution, which was enthusiastically celebrated.
L-5: the "L-5" Lagrangian point, i.e. a point between the Earth and the Moon where the gravities of the two (etc.) balance out so that objects put there tend to stay there.
bourgeoisie (517): the middle class.
drik (518): probably from drek (sh*t, excrement)
What do you make of the end of the story? The starship finds a planet some 17 years, shiptime, after the set out, ca. A.D. 5000 on Earth. "America's Trimillennial," as well as May Day, aren't going to be observed because the major lifeform on Earth is bacteria. The L-5 space habitat has the only humans in the Solar system, and they seem rather backward. Flash Gordon does not Conquer the Universe?