The Sociology of Science Fiction: Chapter IV

My look at Stableford’s work continues.

Review: The Sociology of Science Fiction, Brian Stableford, 1987.

In Chapter IV, “The Expectations of the Science Fiction Reader”, Stableford tries to discover what sf readers get out of the genre. He looks at three questions: what sf readers say they get out of the genre, how the various definitions of sf serve as rules for composing sf works, and what writers and apologists of sf say about the genre’s function and value. 

Stableford argues that the whole question of science fiction as a genre is that reading a work of sf is different than reading another sort of novel. That’s what defines the genre. He quotes Darko Suvin as defining a genre as a system of expectations, based on prior reading experience, of a particular type of material. Even innovations in the genre are just an evolution of expectations based on past experience with sf.

What are those expectations? To get an idea, Stableford turns to the letters columns of sf magazines. There are a couple of methodological problems with this acknowledges Stableford. 

These are, first of all, a self-selected sample, and, of course, not all the letters received were printed though Stableford notes early sf pulps frequently had letters insulting certain stories.

Continue reading “The Sociology of Science Fiction: Chapter IV”

Sam Moskowitz on WHH

I told you I wasn’t done with William Hope Hodgson, so this one got pushed to the front of the review queue.

Review: “William Hope Hodgson”, Sam Moskowitz, 1973. 

Cover by Stephen Fabian

So did I learn anything new about Hodgson from reading Moskowitz’s 108 page critical biography of Hodgson? (The book is small, the print is large, so it didn’t take that long.)

Yes.

Do I accept Moskowitz version of events? Mostly. We know, from Jane Frank, that Moskowitz had an archive of Hodgson material, and it appears that he talked to some of Hodgson’s family, two of his brothers.

But there is Moskowitz’s sloppiness. There are at least two occasions when a date has an obviously wrong year —  obvious even if you never heard of Hodgson before reading the essay. (Of course, these could have been the fault of Donald M. Grant, Publisher.)

And I’d like to know all the places where Moskowitz got his material. There’s not a footnote in the whole essay; however, it’s unfair for me to expect one in an introduction to a collection f Hodgson fiction.

Continue reading “Sam Moskowitz on WHH”

The Wandering Soul

I told you I wasn’t done with William Hope Hodgson.

With this post, I think I can claim to have blogged more about William Hope Hodgson than anybody else in the English-speaking world. Whether any of it was useful you will have to judge. But, as Joe the Georgian said, “Quantity has a quality all its own”.

Review: The Wandering Soul: Glimpses of a Rare Life: A Compendium of Rare and Unpublished Works, ed. Jane Frank, 2005.

Since I spent about $50 for this book, something I rarely do unless it’s a reference work, I guess I can now be considered a hardcore Hodgson fan. Considering that was the list price for this book when it was published by Tartarus Press and I got it new, I got a good deal – and there must not be that many hardcore Hodgson fans.

So, what did I get for my money?

131 of the book’s 365 pages is Hodgson fiction, specifically for a collection entitled Coasts of Adventure which was never published in his lifetime. In 2005, that might have been significant (frankly, I didn’t do my blogger diligence and check how many were anthologized before showing up here). But, now, you can get every one of these stories in Night Shade Books’s five volume The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson.

Continue reading “The Wandering Soul”

Counterfeit Hodgson

Douglas A. Anderson’s The Dream of X and Other Fantastic Visions: Being the Fifth Volume of the Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson concludes with a “Counterfeits” section.

This puzzles me.

First, why were these even included? Ross E. Lockhart’s introductory essay, “That Delicious Shiver”, gives no explanation.

Now, if you didn’t know anything about Hodgson apart from reading his fiction, I can see why you could think these stories are Hodgson’s. “The Raft” is about a shipwrecked group on a raft that is attacked, in the Sargasso Sea, by a giant octopus. “R.M.S. ‘Empress of Australia’” follows a ship from Sept. 1, 1923 through Sept. 7, 1923 in rescue operations after the Great Kanto Earthquake. Both have a style similar to Hodgson’s. Both are about the sea. The latter story reminds one of those “The Real Thing” stories Hodgson did.

However, “The Raft” is attributed to a C. L. in the book’s concluding “A Note on the Texts”. It just says it was supplied by editor Anderson. It evidently appears in no work attributed to Hodgson, and Hodgson was not a man to use a pen name. Indeed, he took efforts to promote himself in all his money-making endeavors.

“R.M.S. ‘Empress of Australia’” is even more puzzling. It was included in a Hodgson collection, Terrors of the Sea edited by Sam Moskowitz.

Now Moskowitz had to know Hodgson died in 1918. Did he think Hodgson was some kind of psychic? If so, why didn’t he make that claim? After all, we’re still hearing about how Morgan Robertson’s The Wreck of the Titan: Or, Futility from 1912 was oddly prescient about the Titanic disaster. This story is a superb example of a prophetic vision – if it was written by Hodgson.

To compound the mystery, Jane Frank, in The Wandering Soul, describes the story as a

science fictional account of the catastrophic earthquake that destroyed the city of Yokohama in 1923.

Again, why is a “science fictional account” being attributed to an actual event unless you think Hodson was a precog?

Now Terrors of the Sea is from 1996. There was no internet to easily research stuff like this. Still, it’s not an obscure event of history. The story of the R.M.S. Empress of Australia was covered in newspapers. Moskowitz would have had to go to the library though. Now I am lucky in that, even without the internet, I only have to walk a few steps to do research. The other reader in the house happens to have a collection of books on Japan and disasters. Pulling Jay Robert Nash’s Darkest Hours (1976) off the shelf, I found, right there, on pages 285 and 286, in the “Japan: Earthquake-Fire, September 1-3, 1923” entry, an account that mentions the ship.

I will try to keep the words of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction in mind:

Moskowitz’s scholarship and criticism were not to everybody’s taste, and these works have at times been criticized within the genre and by academics for inaccuracies and a not always fluent style. But the fact remains that, though some of his data and conclusions have been argued, Moskowitz did more original research in this field than any other scholar of his period and few since . . .

WHH Short Fiction: “Diamond Cut Diamond with a Vengeance”

Review: “Diamond Cut Diamond with a Vengeance”, William Hope Hodgson, 1918.

NSB V5
Cover by Jason Van Hollander

This is another crime story from Hodgson though the crime isn’t perpetrated by the protagonist, but he foils an attempt to steal industrial secrets he and his fiancé, Miss Gwyn, developed.

Tony Harrison and Nell Gwyn are Americans in London. A Jew, Mr. Moss, agrees to finance their experiments in producing diamonds artificially. The process takes about six months and starts with subjecting carbon to explosive pressure and then keeping it in a “pressure-box” for six months where it is very slowly cooled.

The two set up a lab on Cheyne Walk (the street that Hodgson’s Carnacki lives on though that is the only link to that series). The pressure-box is never unsupervised. Nell watches with her sister when Tony is out.

Moss takes to hanging out at the place when Tony is gone. He has a sexual interest in Gwyn. He confesses he really doesn’t expect the experiment to work. He just paid for it to get closer to Gwyn. He then starts pumping her for information on the process which indicates he does expect it to work. (After all, the story opens with a small diamond already produced in the process that Moss sees.) Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “Diamond Cut Diamond with a Vengeance””

Hodgson: A Collection of Essays

I will be reviewing more of William Hope Hodgson’s short fiction, but I’m now back to the usual posting procedure of taking things in the order I read them.

Ther’s a bit of morbid air about my posts on Hodgson.

Hodgson, of course, was dead more than a 100 years when I read most of him. But Andy W. Robertson, editor of The Night Land tribute anthologies, had been dead only a few years when I discovered him. Gafford was dead only a few weeks before I read this book.

Review: Hodgson: A Collection of Essays, Sam Gafford, 2013.Hodgson

There are two significant essays here that justify the Hodgson fan – or even those just curious about the man and his work – buying this 71 page book: “Writing Backwards: The Novels of William Hope Hodgson” and “Houdini v Hodgson: The Blackburn Challenge” Both were first printed elsewhere in, respectively, Studies in Weird Fiction No. 11 and Weird Fiction Review No. 3.

“Writing Backwards” concludes, by looking at some letters of Hodgson’s, with the following composition dates of Hodgson’s novels: The Night Land (1903?), The House on the Borderland (1904), The Ghost Pirates, (1905), and The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” (1905). This contradicts Gafford’s statement in “Hodgson’s First Story”, another essay in the book, that, by 1904, Hodgson had already written all his novels. Gafford speculates that Hodgson’s novels became less strange and imaginative as Hodgson worked towards a style he thought more commercial.

“Houdini v Hodgson: The Blackburn Challenge” deals with the legendary meeting on October 24, 1902 between Harry Houdini and William Hope Hodgson and documented by several newspapers. Houdini, as was his usual practice, publicized a challenge to the locals that he would pay a £25 reward if he couldn’t escape from “regulation restraints used by the police of Europe and America”. Hodgson offered a counter challenge. He would bring his own restraints to Houdini’s performance and bind the escape artist himself. If no escape was performed, the reward would be paid to a local Blackburn charity. Hodgson hoped his challenge would publicize his flagging gym, and Houdini complacently responded to another local challenge to his ability as an escapologist. Continue reading “Hodgson: A Collection of Essays”

WHH Short Fiction: “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani”

Essay: “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani”, William Hope Hodgson, 1919.

This is a strange story. Hodgson himself, when he finished it on January 26, 1912, said, “I wonder whether it will prove clear and interesting. Anyway, it is a striking notion.”

This is the closest to an anti-Christian story Hodgson the clergyman’s son ever wrote. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani””

“A Descent Into the Maelström”

Last week’s piece of weird fiction discussed over at LibraryThing was . . .

Review: “A Descent Into the Maelström“, Edgar Allan Poe, 1841.Annotated Edgar Allan Poe

Because this is Poe and you might know the story already, I’m going to spend less time discussing the plot and more time summarizing the criticism around the tale and its relevance as a scientific metaphor.

The tale is pretty simple in outline. The narrator has climbed to the top of a 1500 foot peak overlooking the sea. With him is an old, white-haired man who still seems spry despite his aged look. And he’s definitely not as nervous as the narrator as he overlooks the crashing waves and is buffeted by blasting wind.

Moskstraumen
Moskstraumen — Site of the Tale

On Mount Helseggen, they look at a gigantic whirlpool that’s been known to take down entire ships. The old man tells how he once was trapped in that whirlpool, but, unlike his two brothers who were also aboard, he escaped to tell the tale, an event which aged him and turned his hair white in a day. (The Oxford English Dictionary notes that Poe is the only known example in English of putting an umlaut in Maleström.)

200px-Maelstrom-Clarke
Harry Clarke Illustration for the Tale

The Sources

Stephen Peithman’s notes in his The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, Poe’s reworking of various sources. The immediate inspiration was Edward Wilson Landor’s “The Maelstrom: a Fragment” from 1834. (Sam Moskowitz, in the “Prophetic Edgar Allan Poe” chapter of his Explorers of the Infinite says a manuscript of Poe’s story exists from 1833. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore says no original manuscript is extant. I know which version I’ll believe.) Both stories have a ship trapped in the whirlpool with a hero escaping alive. But, whereas Landor’s hero faints after he escapes and can’t remember how he did it, Poe’s story is very much concerned with the how of the escape, the epitome of Poe’s applied ratiocination — though it’s not quite that simple as we’ll see.

Poe then seems to have gone to the Encyclopedia Britannica – anywhere from the third to sixth editions – and the 1834 Mariner’s Chronicle (which seems to have copied a lot from the Encyclopedia Britannica entry). The Mariner’s Chronicle added the supposedly true account of an American sea captain who went into the Maelstrom and lived. The Encyclopedia Britannica article also used material from the 1755 The Natural History of Norway by Erik Potoppidan, Bishop of Bergen, and Poe references his name.

17fda241-6522-4fd2-8ca8-50ad4a7b6059-741x1020
Ian Miller Illustration for the Tale

The Style

Peithman notes that Poe is frequently criticized for obscure, vague, and convoluted language. That, however, is usually used by him when describing a character whose mental state is unbalanced by terror or insanity. The old sailor’s account is quite lucid in its details and straightforward. Continue reading ““A Descent Into the Maelström””

Explorers of the Infinite

The Lovecraft series, sort of, with a book I read because it contained some material on Lovecraft.

Raw Feed (2005): Explorers of the Infinite: Shapers of Science Fiction, Sam Moskowitz, 1957, 1963.Explorers of the Infinite

I read this book now for its chapter on H. P. Lovecraft. (I had read the chapter on Edgar Allan Poe years ago as research for an English paper.) There wasn’t a whole lot there that I didn’t know except for the letters from other writers about Lovecraft and the stories of others inspired by Lovecraft.

Moskowitz’s great strength is the uncovering of a lot of obscure stories and others. His particular interest is tracing the treatment of certain technological and scientific ideas which is a valid school of sf criticism though I think it’s a mistake to think, and I don’t think Moskowitz does, to think sf exists to prophesize.

Most of the chapters are titled with the name of a science fiction author and were originally published in sf magazines. However, most chapters end by connecting a particular author — as well as more obscure authors — to the subject of the next chapter.

As with most sf criticsm, it makes me want to read a lot of this stuff.

Moskowitz sums up a lot of work including non-English language stuff. However, describing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as combining the travel tale, utopia, and “science story” makes me wonder about the accurateness of those descriptions. I’ve read Frankenstein twice and recall no element of the utopian in it.

I found the chapters on Hugo Gernsback; M. P. Shiel; Lu Senarens aka Frank Reade, Jr; Edgar Rice Burroughs; Philip Wylie, and Olaf Stapledon of particular interest.

Moskowitz details Gernsback’s importance as an inventor as well as publisher.

M. P. Shiel’s work, especially The Purple Cloud, seems interesting.  The plot descriptions seem to bear out Brian Aldiss’ remark, in his Billion Year Spree, that, “if ever there was a racist, it was M. P. Shiel.” Jewish Moskowitz simply lets Shiel’s work speak for itself in its anti-Semitism.

Frank Reade, Jr had an amazing career in its early start, prolificness, and financial success. Verne was an admirer. I never paid attention to the dates before, but Reade’s adventures started in 1876 with The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward F. Ellis, a dime novelist (Senarens continued the series to great success); therefore, its steam man and horse (imitated by Jules Verne in his The Steam House, which I have read) is sort of contemporary steampunk.

I was surprised to see how many of Burroughs novels were written to compete with his many imitators in setting and story.

Moskowitz’s covers the popularity of Wylie as both a fiction writer and, in his attack on “Momism”, a social critic.

Olaf Stapledon’s career as fiction writer and philosopher is nicely covered.

 

Reviews of more works touching on Lovecraft and his legacy are on the Lovecraft page.

City of Endless Night

Review: City of Endless Night, Milo Hastings, 1920.City of Endless Night

Yes, I was walking in Utopia, a nightmare at the end of man’s long dream – Utopia – Black Utopia – City of Endless Night – diabolically compounded of the three elements of civilization in which the Germans had always been supreme – imperialism, science and socialism.

It’s the year 2151. The German state, after sweeping through Eurasia and the Middle East in the Second World War which began in 1988, has been pushed back to the Armoured City of Berlin. The Ray, a weapon that calcifies bones, keeps the armies of the World State at bay. Aerial bombing cannot harm the vast underground fortress, the Black Utopia, which holds 300 million Germans.

But one man, Lyman de Forrest, a student of German culture and language from Chicago, penetrates its upper depths, impersonates one of its chemists, and learns its secrets. But should he destroy it with his knowledge? Or attempt to bring it into the larger family of the World State?

Hastings’ novel is an astonishing novel on several levels. Continue reading “City of Endless Night”