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Comments on the `Encyclopedia of Science Fiction'

(I originally sent these to John Clute in early 1997.)

This commentary on the `Encyclopedia Of SF' has turned into quite a project. I suppose, since I find myself writing an extended critique that goes beyond simple factual correction, that some presentation of my credentials and explanation of my background and viewpoint is in order.

I am a college-educated American white male born in 1957, a computer programmer and Internet expert with a high IQ and an extensive knowledge base in the sciences and technology. I am a libertarian, a neopagan materialist, an unabashed Heinleinophile, and I like my SF with rivets on. All these are thoroughly typical attributes for an American SF fan, and a great deal of the stuff is and has always been obviously written for people like me.

I have been reading SF omnivorously for over 35 years, ever since I was six years old. My personal library of SF and related literature includes over 3,000 volumes (still including the first SF book I ever owned, and including almost every major work uttered in the genre between 1938 and 1979), and I estimate that this represents approximately one eighth of my total reading in the field. I have been going to SF conventions regularly for two decades, am fairly well known in American fandom, and count many contemporary SF authors among my friends and acquaintances.

I have some other credentials which are less typical but quite relevant to the job of critiquing this work. I have more than the average fannish knowledge of cultural history and "great literature", having read quite a bit of both. I have been a moderately successful poet and songwriter and quite a successful writer for an amateur, with authorial credits on four books (one of those was a successful work of specialist lexicography involving challenges not unlike the SF Encyclopedia). I have read a lot of pre-Campbellian SF and many of the standard histories and critical works on the SF field.

Finally, it is not irrelevant that I spent many of my formative years overseas in South America, continental Europe, and Great Britain (where, in fact, I acquired my first SF book). I am accordingly much better equipped to understand the British and other international perspectives on SF than most Americans can be.

Many of my comments in what follows will be critical and therefore negative-sounding. I therefore wish to emphasize that I think the Encyclopedia as a whole is a remarkably fine and able piece of work.

I began reading with well-defined expectations about where and in what ways it would be weak, based on my knowledge of the editors' backgrounds. Although these expectations were in some ways fulfilled, I found in nearly every case that the Encyclopedia actually does a significantly better job than I had initially expected.

I do, however, see systematic errors of interpretation (and in a few cases of fact) in the following areas. I list them in order of increasing severity.

(1) Thematic and terminological entries touching on actual science and technical disciplines are often skimpy, erroneous, superficial, or out of date. None of the mistakes are really major (they're the sort of glitches and omissions I'd expect from editors with little science or technical background) but in a reference of this nature they are definitely embarrassing.

Some of the superficialities I have let pass without comment, as I judge they would probably only offend specialists. I have supplied factual corrections for a number of entries including ANTIMATTER, UNIVERSE, and GENERAL SEMANTICS. I have supplied additions for several author and theme entries including FASTER THAN LIGHT, ANTHROPOLOGY, CRAMER JOHN G(LEASON), ENTROPY, HYPERSPACE, SPACE WARP, etc.

(2) Misinterpretations and and misunderstandings of the political context and subtexts of American SF. Political here needs to be interpreted in a broad sense that includes elements of moral philosophy (the traditions of New England transcendentalism a la Emerson and Thoreau, for example) and American folk psychology (the editors' weaknesses in understanding the latter are unfortunate but hardly surprising!).

The Encyclopedia's coverage of these aspects was a very great deal better than I had initially expected, but a few serious errors and misconceptions remain which I have endeavored to correct (cf. my notes on LIBERTARIANISM, ECONOMICS and related topics).

(3) Even granting that certain earlier treatments of the history of SF were overly exclusive and overly focused on the American magazine tradition, the Encyclopedia appears to me to represent a critical overreaction which drags into the SF field everything but the kitchen sink, and then the sink itself with all attached plumbing.

The most obvious and tiresome symptom of this problem is the boatloads of entries on obscure pre-20th-century eccentrics included for their authorship of some tendentious piece of fictionalized crackpottery. But it ramifies elsewhere in more serious ways; see point (4).

A bit more discrimination, please! An annoyingly large percentage of the Encyclopedia's content is simply irrelevant to modern SF, having no tenable connection to the genre as it is today understood by readers and writers, and none of the fundamental structural features or aims of SF.

The effect of this overkill is to make the Encyclopedia at points appear padded, strained, and precious — as though the editors thought a crushing weight of obscurity would demonstrate their seriousness and erudition (and by extension the seriousness of SF scholarship).

No such maneuver is necessary — the quality of the relevant parts is quite high enough, and would only be improved by discarding a lot of the extraneous junk.

(4) Finally, and most seriously, I think the Encyclopedia's kitchen-sink approach to SF history combines with certain (perhaps excusable) parochialisms of some contributors to produce a muddled structural view of SF and its relation to other genres.

When I say muddled, I mean that — it's not a euphemism for completely bogus. At some points (notably in the entries on FANTASY, CONCEPTUAL BREAKTHROUGH, and SCIENTIFIC ROMANCE) the Encyclopedia's analysis is sufficiently excellent and incisive to re-form some of my own carefully-considered ideas about the genre. But other entries disregard the implications of that best analysis and wander off into what I cannot but see as dense thickets of error and self-contradiction.

I will get very specific about this in my entry notes.

Finally, before launching into an entry-by-entry critique, I'm going to try to give you necessary background on point (3), the political context of American genre SF, which the Encyclopedia frustratingly gets almost but not quite right. The material in the following mini-essay was originally part of topic-entry critiques; I have collected it here in order to organize the exposition better. It might be regarded as a candidate entry.

LIBERTARIANISM (proposed entry)

Libertarianism is the political philosophy which is defined in its purest form by the so-called "Non-Aggression Principle", i.e. first use of force or fraud is always wrong, no matter who does it and no matter what the motive. Libertarians advocate a society in which force is never used except in self-defense, and all social transactions are mediated either by the family, the free market, or mutual voluntary contract.

Libertarianism is discussed here because various forms of implicit and explicit libertarianism have been the most characteristic political stance of the SF genre since its Campbellian reinvention at the beginnings of GOLDEN AGE SF.

Libertarianism has roots in the individualist, limited-government classical-liberal tradition that sprang from the natural rights theories of John Locke in Great Britain and included many of the U.S.'s founding fathers (most notably Thomas Jefferson and his Anti-Federalists). Until its disintegration under pressure from Marxism at the end of the 19th century, classical liberalism dominated the left end of the political spectrum in the English-speaking world, opposing itself to an authoritarian conservative right.

After 1900, classical liberals in the U.S. made alliance with the conservative right against the new socialist/centralizing left. The marriage was uneasy from the beginning; as early as the 1930s, right-wing classical-liberal thinkers like H.L. Mencken were labeling themselves libertarian in distinction from authoritarian conservatives. But to the political left, and in the popular mind, classical-liberal ideas became entangled with conservatism in ways libertarians would later find difficult to escape.

Proto-libertarian ideas took root and and grew in the SF genre after 1938 as the implicit political face of a linked cluster of values central to Golden Age SF and hard SF, including the veneration of competence, moral individualism, and rational skepticism. These values, in turn, grew from the the American folk version of classical liberalism, as influenced by the frontier experience and 19th-century indigenous movements such as the Transcendentalist tradition in New England.

At first, genre proto-libertarianism merely took the primitive form of gut resistance to collectivist and paternalistic social philosophies (a stance certainly congenial to the SF pulps' largely adolescent audience). Typical of this early phase is Van Vogt's The Weapon Shops Of Isher (1941) in which the eponymous shops sell guns which (rather magically) can only be used for the libertarian purpose of self-defense.

A more reasoned and adult strain became discernable in much genre SF of the 1950s and early 1960s; consider Eric Frank Russell's ...And Then There Were None (1951), Cyril Kornbluth's The Syndic (1953), H. Beam Piper's 1958 A Planet For Texans (vt Lone Star Planet) and Poul Anderson's No Truce With Kings (1963). But libertarian speculations in the genre SF of that period cannot fruitfully be analyzed as the working-out of an ideology; rather, they were parallel, independent thought experiments asking what political consequences one might draw from more basic axioms in the shared worldview of the genre.

In the post-1900 political environment, however, the exploration of proto-libertarian ideas had the side-effect of pulling the Campbellian tradition of genre SF into the arms of the American political right. Indeed, John W. Campbell's personal combination of classical-liberal freethinking with occasional outbreaks of crusty, reactionary conservatism was a perfect mirror and model of the ideological confusion which would dog genre SF for years after his great period.

At the same time genre SF was groping towards libertarian conclusions, proto-libertarian thinkers in the 1950s and 60s were developing a distinct and radical take on classical-liberal conclusions (AYN RAND was a key though controversial figure in the latter development). At the same time, serious cracks were beginning to form in the right wing of the American political establishment. The libertarian faction of the U.S. Republican Party had been discredited after Barry Goldwater's failure in the 1964 presidential elections, and many Republican libertarians subsequently defected over the Vietnam War and counterculture-related issues.

However, libertarianism did not begin to resemble a separate political ideology until the late 1960s. When the U.S. Libertarian Party was founded in 1971 it explicitly repudiated the conservative right, and modern libertarian thinking rejects the left-right axis as essentially meaningless. Accordingly, Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress (1966) epitomized the genre's receptivity to Randite and proto-libertarian radicalism, but it was not until after 1971 that Heinlein would begin to call himself a libertarian and attempt to reject the authoritarian/conservative strain in genre SF's right-wing legacy. Even his fans admit that Heinlein, by then in his 60s, was not entirely successful in the attempt.

Many genre readers and writers with political interests either paralleled or followed Heinlein's evolution by 1975, leading to [what you have elsewhere described as] the dominance of libertarian polemic — albeit a libertarianism compromised in many cases by conservative reflex. The range of James P. Hogan's work, from the conservative chuntering of Inherit The Stars (1977) to the anti-militarism of The Genesis Machine (1978) and the outright libertarian anarchism of Voyage From Yesteryear (1982) perfectly illustrates this trend.

[I first described myself as a libertarian around 1980.]

Around 1980 explicitly libertarian SF began to appear in the works of new authors L. NEIL SMITH, J. NEIL SCHULMAN, BRAD LINAWEAVER, VICTOR KOMAN, MELINDA SNODGRASS and others. Libertarianism also gained more explicit and respectful treatment in the works of established genre authors not previously noted for sympathy to it; the anarchic asteroid habitat depicted in JOE HALDEMAN's Buying Time (1989) stands out as an example. The 1980s saw a growing and sometimes acrimonious breach between libertarians and genuine conservative right-wingers like JERRY POURNELLE who in previous decades might have been or at least seemed like allies against socialism. By the time Robert Heinlein died in 1987, about all both camps could agree on was their enormous respect for him.

These 1980s developments within the genre anticipated by a few years post-Cold-War changes in the larger American and world political scene which are still being played out at time of writing. While there are good structural reasons (as discussed above) to expect the genre's implicit pro-libertarian bias to continue, we may expect their explicit role to increasingly reflect the success or failure or libertarian ideas in the real world.

Editorial point: the term libertarian as an ideological tag should not be capitalized. The capitalized Libertarian should be reserved for members of the various Libertarian political parties (the U.S.'s, Great Britain's, and Norway's are the three I know about). Compare democrat vs. Democrat, tory vs. Tory, socialist vs. Socialist.

I have analyzed the political history of SF in more detail.


The commentary would do well to note that Adams is fundamentally (and unlike the superficially similar Terry Pratchett) an ABSURDIST, with all the implications of sub-surface bleakness and borderline nihilism that implies.


The praise for the Helliconia novels bothers me extremely, because I think they're a fraud. Yes, they're gorgeously-written planetary romances, etc., but the world-building is meretricious (the biology and astronomy in particular are utterly ridiculous — I could list howlers from here to next week.)

This would be less disturbing in a novice writer. But these are marketed as serious modern genre SF, and Aldiss has been around and knows what the implied contract is. His failure to honor it is egregious and offensive. As such, he is a terrible model to emulate and critical praise for these novels is inappropriate.


As a former AI researcher who is also a serious SF fan, I find this entry surprisingly perfunctory.

It would certainly be critically useful to divagate on the ways in which AIs in science fiction have come to implicitly resemble (and sometimes be explicitly related to) the disembodied spirits, djinns, gods, angels, and devils of mythology (William Gibson's voodoo-god AIs, which quickly became cliches in derivative cyberpunk, beg for mention here).

It might also be useful to observe that these SFnal images have helped shape AI research's view of itself in subtle ways (most AI researchers read the genre).

A survey or listing of the key AI-is-born books would be apposite here, including The Adolescence Of P-1, When Harlie Was One, Colossus: The Forbin Project, and Valentina. As a group these stories have thematic characteristics differing interestingly from the early ROBOT stories, which might be seen as their predecessors in an ongoing discussion of the nature of humanity and consciousness itself.

Want me to rewrite this entry?


In discussing Allen's space operas, I think JC might do well to replace outmoded narrative conventions with apparently outmoded narrative conventions or some weaker description. I agree with you that the space cadet thing has become horribly cliched, but Allen's very success is an indication that it is not outmoded; he was able to find new life and new emotional energy in it (an achievement, to be sure, if one about which any serious critic must have mixed feelings).


Film has no date!


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? needs an xref to BLADERUNNER.


I think the description of The Battle of Dorking as the most socially influential SF novel of all time is a serious stretch. More influential than Orwell's 1984, which may have played a rather important role in preventing itself from coming true? More influential than Stranger In A Strange Land, which crucially shaped the '60s counterculture and through it youth culture to this day? I could multiply examples.


PN correctly notes that original anthologies declined in importance beginning in the early 1980s, but should also finger the reason — the explosion in availability of SF novels, which most readers preferred. (The crack-up of Roger Elwood's theme-anthology monoculture was also a factor.) See also my more personal comments on the '80s revival of the hard-SF novel following BRIN, DAVID (GLEN).


The comments on the kinship between anthropological and SF viewpoints are acute and welcome, but there is a further point to be made. Implicit in much SF since the 1940s is a quasi-Darwinian view of organisms, cultures, and societies primarily as adaptive machines designed by evolutionary pressure to cope with environmental challenges. This stance (which should not be confused with the cruder and more reductive ideas of SOCIAL DARWINISM) is closely akin to that of the functionalist school in anthropology, whose vocabulary and insights it readily borrows at need. In Heinlein's Citizen Of The Galaxy this crossover became quite explicit in the character of Dr. Margaret Mader, an anthropologist of the functionalist school studying one of the societies Heinlein tellingly depicts in the book.


With Bruce Sterling's The Swarm one should perhaps mention Paul J. McAuley's Four Hundred Million Stars, an effective exploration of a similar theme.


The physics is about six years out of date. Manufacture of very small amounts of antimatter in particle accelerators is now routine (to the point where tumor-killing medical applications are being experimented with) though still extremely expensive. We do in fact know how to store and transport antimatter, in magnetic cold traps. The production and use of antimatter is passing out of cutting-edge physics into engineering and there is serious talk of antimatter factories.

Also, Scottie -> Scotty. He's a human, not a dog. :-)


For computer bulletin boards, read the Internet. :-)


It has been pointed out that ERB's John Carter of Mars rather strongly resembles Phra the Phoenician. This is worth noting at the end of the entry.


It is observed that a few moral tales of the 1950s ... suggested that atomic WAR might have been responsible. Add: This trope probably originated in Robert HEINLEIN's 1948 Space Cadet.


After the description of Manning/Platt's City Of the Living Dead add This image was tellingly echoed in James Gunn's The Joy Makers (1961).


It's a bit oversimplified to say the Baen line specializes in military SF. Increasingly in the 1990s Jim seems to regard the awful military potboilers as a way to subsidize handsome paperback reprints of Golden Age SF and fantasy and numerous originals in the same vein. Apparently these haven't lost money.


Considering what the Encyclopedia does elsewhere, it should not be beyond the pale to describe the Helmsman books here as regressive space-opera of generally teeth-jarring awfulness, which nevertheless manages to summon up an occasional naive charm.


Orbital Resonance is more critically interesting than the entry admits. It can fruitfully be seen as a part pastiche of and part reply to the semi-didactic Heinlein juveniles of 1945-1960, and stands comparison with them honorably.


I trust the editors are aware that Baxter has grown more complex, able, and darker in his subsequent novels. This entry deserves to be considerably longer now.


I think part of the thesis of this entry, that genre SF has failed to come to imaginative grips with the implications of biotechnology, is simply wrong. A couple of examples leap to my mind; John McLaughlin's The Helix And The Sword (c. 1982, my copy isn't handy), and Bruce Sterling's Shaper/Mech stories. As far back as the 1970s T.J. Bass was already writing fascinating SF that treated genetic engineering as a given.


JC missed one interesting point; there is internal evidence in the movie that the title and some minor ideas were lifted from an Alan E. NOURSE story titled Bladerunner.


I feel that something needs to be said in this entry about the ripple effects of Brin's early successes on the field in general, which were powerful. The success of Sundiver and (even more) its epic successor Startide Rising launched the 1980s revival of epic-scale HARD SF, creating market space for the major works of Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, and Vernor Vinge, among others.

The impact on me and many other fans of my approximate age (I had started reading SF as a small child in the 1960s and was 23 that year) was electric. With Sundiver and Startide Rising we finally got what we barely knew we'd been missing — intelligent new SF in the epic, rational, optimistic, technophilic Campbellian mode, a commodity depressingly absent in a previous fifteen years which (in retrospect) seemed to have been drearily dominated by bad science-fantasy, New Wave navel-gazing, faddish pessimism, and nervous polemics either for or against a '60s counterculture not very relevant to our experience of life. Brin's work was a revelation — sense of wonder was back, and it kicked ass.

I know I'm far from the only fan to have been affected this way.


After the description of Arena I would add: (This story, title and all, was reworked into one of the best episodes of the original Star Trek series.) I had the good luck to read Brown's original first.


IMO the rapid passing-over of The Shockwave Rider seriously weakens this entry. In this seminal novel JKB developed many of the characteristic concerns, tropes, and stylistic characteristics of cyberpunk by nearly a decade. The extent to which this book helped the then-infant culture of Internet hackers to define itself, and (by identification with Nicky Halflinger) fruitfully mythologize its values and its place in the future, should not be underestimated. I was there, and I know.

This novel may not have been JKB's best (I would rank it below Stand On Zanzibar and possibly The Jagged Orbit) but it has certainly been his most influential.


Not a specific request for change, but a criticism of the criticism: it is when the Encyclopedia eulogizes marginal writers of anti-SF like this sorry specimen that it looks weakest. There's nothing about Bunch's Moderan stories to commend them as SF, and nothing about his drearily fashionable pessimism or predictable political subtexts to recommend him as a writer. He's just another lit-fic clone peddling the same old angst — mostly boring, occasionally repulsive, and inexplicably popular with a handful of critics professionally conditioned to confuse ugliness with artistic daring.


In connection with the discussion of Heinlein's juveniles (or perhaps in a separate thematic entry), I think it worth noting how completely and near-exclusively genre SF and fantasy have absorbed since WWII the tradition of enlightened moral didacticism for children exemplified by (say) Rudyard Kipling. Mainstream children's and young-adult fiction, along with mainstream fiction in general, has largely abandoned the idea of autonomous moral agency, substituting lesser dramas of victimization, loss, and (at best) conformism vs. anti-conformism. Only in genre SF, with its tradition of moral individualism and fascination with the child's-eye view, do we see recognizable successors of Captains Courageous.

(I wrote this before J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter sequence, which is a noble exception in the fantasy genre.)


The Sten books deserve more attention than they get here. There are ten; they appear early on to be exemplars of the military SF genre (with obvious tributes to HEINLEIN and references to lesser recent imitators such as JERRY POURNELLE and DAVID DRAKE), but develop into a merciless deconstruction of SF's comfort with the military coming-of-age story and charismatic superleaders (point underlined in an authorial afterword to the last installment). Ironically enough they were probably both the best formula military SF of their decade and the most subversive of its assumptions. Nothing clearly superior would be written in this subgenre until LOIS MCMASTER BUJOLD's equally subversive Miles Vorkosigan novels in the 1990s.


Gregory Benford's essay Real Science, Imaginary Worldson the nature of hard SF, introducing the David Hartwell anthology Ascent Of Wonder, is (among many other good things) the best discussion of conceptual breakthrough I have ever seen. I think his argument that hard SF must be understood primarily as an attempt to induce the feeling (if not the reality) of conceptual breakthrough is sound. See also my comment on SENSE OF WONDER.


The vt Rax of his 1975 novel Pallahaxi Tide is incorrectly given here as Rex.


Since the date of this entry, Coppel has uttered two volumes of a genre-SF trilogy, Glory and Glory's War. Both are rather good.


The description hyperspherical Universe, finite in dimension but infinite in extent is flat wrong. It is not infinite in extent it is unbounded, which is a different matter altogether.


Cramer has since joined ROBERT FORWARD as one of the few SF writers to make his mark in fundamental physics, publishing a new transactional interpretation of the quantum equations which seems likely to displace the accepted Copenhagen interpretation.


JC's praise seems overstated. Perhaps Crowley's influence has been pervasive in the UK, but it's almost nonexistent in the U.S.


The interpretation of Walter John Williams's Hardwired is wrong, and symptomatic of a larger problem in the entry's analysis of cyberpunk. BS is too kind to the cyberpunks' mythologization of themselves.

Though it was released in 1986, I have it from Williams that the novel was actually written before Neuromancer was released. Williams later grew into one of the best genre writers of the 1990s with novels like Angel Station, Metropolitan and especially Aristoi, while Gibson and Sterling and that ilk dwindled into cliche and self-repetition.

Hardwired is thus not derivative of Gibson, but represents genre SF's internal development of the themes the self-conscious cyberpunks later appropriated as their own. It is continuous with earlier works of non-cyberpunk cyberpunk by Vernor Vinge, John Brunner, and others. (Frederik Pohl's 1966 short Day Million deserves a mention.) Also with later works exploring similar ideas, such as David ZINDELL's epic Neverness and Greg BEAR's Eon sequence.

In fact much of what was represented as cyberpunk in the 1980s and early 1990s was connected to the cyberpunks' self-aggrandizing propaganda only by the marketing label. Neal Stephenson wrote finis to the cyberpunk genre in his epic and comic masterwork Snow Crash (1992); all that's left of it today is the cliched backgrounds of a hundred interchangeable carnographic computer games.


The last sentence is precious nonsense. It's quite easy to imagine the genre without Davidson; he never significantly shaped or redefined it.

This is not to denigrate his work — he was a minor but very original figure, and I think the genre would have been poorer without him. But let's not overinflate the man's importance for the sake of rounded rhetoric!


It may be worth mentioning that George C. Scott's heroic delphinologist was modeled rather obviously on the real delphinologist John Lilly.


Dean's early success as album artist for the seminal progressive-rock group Yes (who frequently employed SFnal themes in their lyrics) merits a mention here.


This entry is seriously weakened by its failure to follow out the lines of analysis suggested in the entries on FANTASY and SENSE OF WONDER, which do in fact suggest a satisfactory positive definition of SF.

The paragraph ending tended to undercut those definitions that appear to fit most closely an idea of sf as a genre first cultured in US magazines rather gives the game away. That was clearly the aim of Aldiss and his ilk, not a mere side effect. Their scholarly divagations have had little or nothing to do with the reality, evolution, or internal dynamics of contemporary SF. They were, rather, a move in a game of cultural politics reflecting resentment against U.S. cultural hegemony and the Campbellian, anti-socialist political bent of the American genre.

This fact is obvious to most American fans and scholars and has led to widespread U.S. dismissal of Aldiss's definition(s) of SF as piffle, a judgement in while I must admit (for different reasons) I concur.

I agree with Peter Nicholls in regarding SF's respect for natural law as structurally central to SF in a way that distinguishes it both from fantasy and fabulation (and in particular from horror and gothic literature). I would go further and say that the distinguishing feature of SF is its embrace of the central faith of post-scientific consciousness — that the Universe is knowable, that humans (or quasihumans or superhumans or machines or aliens who are idealized authorial versions of ourselves) are capable of learning from and adapting to any challenge we are posed. All SF either acts out or reacts consciously against that belief. Nothing that is indifferent to that belief can be SF.

I agree with Gregory Benford that hard SF, which repeatedly seeks to use the tools and metaphors of science to evoke the splendor of conceptual breakthrough in the reader's mind, is the vital core of SF. And I submit that any definition which fails to admit and entail the centrality of hard SF dooms itself to irrelevance. Scholes, Fiedler, Robinson and others have merely concocted elaborate ways of missing this point.

After writing the above, I found a very similar analysis implied in your SENSE OF WONDER entry; see my comment on it for further development.


In discussing SRD's beliefs about language shaping reality, a cross-reference to GENERAL SEMANTICS is mandatory. :-)


I choke on the description of Dick as one of the two or three most important figures in 20th-century US sf. This is not just nonsense, it is unfair to others who did a great deal more to widen the scope and improve the toolkit of the genre. We may grant that Dick was innovative, original, inventive, and lots of other nice adjectives, without apotheosizing him, and the rest of the entry fails to support the initial grandiose claim.

In fact, Dick's influence on SF seems to me to have been minimal, because his particular mix of talent, theme and obsession was not imitable. The few writers who have attempted to follow in his footsteps have found themselves writing muddled anti-SF or pretentious fabulations with an early sell-by date. The surrealistic craziness of much of his oeuvre has come to seem less attractive in light of the literal craziness of his final years.

Ironically enough, it is probably through the movie Bladerunner and its cyberpunk imitators that Dick exerted the most influence on SF, by visually inventing the cliches of cyberpunk.


Disch is only considered an SF writer of the first rank among those overly impressed by the New Wave. I find it regrettable that the editors fall in that category. Very few fans (and almost no American fans) would agree.


It is asserted that Dr. Strangelove burlesqued a real-life scientist, and it is certainly possible to see him as a sort of composite caricature of Edward Teller, John Von Neumann, and Werner von Braun. However, Sellers himself asserted that the true target of the parody was a then little-known academic and policy bureacrat by the name of Henry Kissinger.


CND has since abandoned genre SF and fantasy for mystery and historical pastiche, most notably a sequence written around Irene Adler, the only woman Sherlock Holmes ever admired in which she is herself a detective of Holmesian scope.


I must take issue with the final sentence. Duncan does not almost dance with despair — he is far too good a writer to wallow in that sort of cheapness. What he does do is pose genuine moral questions in fiction which superficially adheres to escapist conventions (in this, though most of his work is fantasy, he continues one of SF's proudest traditions). The tragic element in his fiction proceeds from an understanding that serious moral choices often have high and painful costs.

In the 1990s I believe he has earned a place in the first rank of contemporary fantasists.


It is incorrect to credit Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress for launching the libertarian tradition in SF. See my comments under the LIBERTARIANISM background mini-essay above.

One of the SF genre's more curious flaws is the frequency with which SF writers have constructed idealized futures in which there is no money and no markets, with production planned by vast calculating engines. The model for all such utopias has presumably been Butler's Erewhon, but the same trope shows up popular SF such as Roddenbery's Star Trek universe and more recently in Iain Banks's "Culture" stories.

In truth, there has been as little excuse for this sort of thing as there is for Martian canals or a wet Venus since F.A. Hayek's description of the calculation problem in 1936. Without price signals to reveal preferences and markets to clear them, economies simply clog up with malinvestment until they collapse.


What a sadly parochial European view of the competent man JC has! The Edison who has to justify himself may be less charismatic than Richard Ballinger Seaton, but he at least has the possibility of being a moral and responsible human being (something impossible to Seaton's devastating innocence). JC slangs later Heinlein protagonists, but I'll take Lazarus Long over Seaton any day — whatever Long's failings, casual genocide wouldn't be among them.

Furthermore, I'm not impressed by (and actually feel kind of sorry for) anyone who uses entrepreneur as a term of insult. It smacks of the sort of elitist disdain for commerce and leveller's mistrust of wealth-creation that has relegated Great Britain to the economic minor leagues. Most Americans would think that kind of chuntering defines JC not as a sharp critic but as a blinkered and resentful loser representing a culture of losers (most would also be too diplomatic to say so, but JC is owed honesty on this point).

In fact, JC's attitude towards the self-aware competent man is so completely out of skew with the central gut assumptions of American genre SF that it calls his ability to understand the genre even on its own terms into question, let alone his standing to criticize it intelligently from outside.

I'm not propagandizing anyone to believe everything Americans archetypally believe about the relation between virtue, competence and economic success (I don't myself). But until JC overcomes his end-of-Empire imprints enough to understand that attitude a damn sight better than he gives evidence for here, his vision of genre SF (especially hard SF) will suffer from some very serious moral cataracts.

Everything from, For, the moment the frank lad of the primitive Edisonade... to the end of the entry should be scrapped. It reveals nothing about SF. And (sorry) nothing very flattering about its author.

This gross failure of critical vision pushes me into semi-seriously proposing the following entry:


The U.S. and Great Britain together probably account for 90% of the world's output of SF, and historically American SF authors have been well received in Britain and vice-versa. Nevertheless there are some subtle but consistent patterns of difference between American and British SF; in the content of the genre itself, in the stance of genre critics, and in the relations between SF and the mainstream culture.

It is a commonplace among fans on both sides of the Atlantic that bad American SF is about power fantasies, while bad British SF is about powerlessness fantasies. This is cruelly put, but has more than a grain of truth in it. An important signifier of the difference can be seen (for example) in the difference between archetypal American and British versions of the DISASTER NOVEL. In America the end of the world is frequently a stage-clearing device for a romantic drama in which the post-apocalyptic landscape becomes a new frontier. In Great Britain the process of ending is just as typically a metaphor for the psychological disintegration of its viewpoint characters.

American genre SF has classically been a literature of grand visions, individualistic larger-than-life heroes and Promethean accomplishment. The important early EDISONADE and SPACE OPERA forms set a pattern which still resonates in American SF, even in self-conscious reactions against the form. American SF cherishes its roots in the magazines, adventure fiction, and the scientific romance. American SF's relation to its cultural surround has been correspondingly defiant; American fans and writers have not been shy about their disdain for the literary academy.

British SF, on the whole, has always been more conscious of limits — more inclined towards the dystopian, more self-aware, more ironic, more stylish, darker. It has also sought, and found, a much easier accommodation with British high culture, and sturdily asserts its continuity with earlier modes of fantasy and fabulation.

It would be easy to overstate or caricature these differences, but it is equally hard to deny they exist. Correlations with the differing 20th-century historical experiences of the U.S. and Great Britain are not hard to find.

Correspondingly, there are characteristic differences in how American and British observers decode the texts of SF (some of which affect this encyclopedia). The American SF dream of techno-apotheosis and its ultra-competent heroes tend to seem to Britishers at best faintly adolescent and puerile, at worst crass and threatening — in either case a guilty escapist pleasure to be poor-mouthed, satirized, or deconstructed as a way of establishing one's maturity. Americans, on the other hand see themselves as the heroes and are prone to dismiss the British style as decadent, defeatist, and irrelevant — why bother writing SF at all, an American might archetypally ask, if all you're going to do is lose?

This divergence extends to critical perspective. If Americans (still naive about the price of empire) have a tendency too glibly to project manifest destiny onto every kind of frontier, the British (heirs to a failed empire) tend to confuse a desire to know and understand with a desire to dominate. Thus the tendency of British critics to read American hard-SF and competent-man stories as a kind of imperialism, a misinterpretation Americans as a rule find genuinely baffling.

American critics, on the other hand, often find it difficult to understand the ways in which the relatively mannered and claustrophilic style of British SF reflects necessary adaptations to living on a small island with a relatively static society and a lot of history — heroism is hard to tolerate where there's little elbow room.

Comparisons between recent major new writers in the U.S. and Great Britain (say, Neal Stephenson vs. Stephen Baxter) do not suggest that this divide is narrowing. Perhaps it will as mass communications continue to improve. Whether the U.S. will enter an era of limits that makes its SF more British, or British SF will be subsumed into an ebullient Americanized pop culture, remains to be seen.


The speculation that Philip K. Dick popularized the term entropy in genre SF seems to me clearly mistaken.

The term was already current and symbolicly potent in mid-1950s genre SF, before Dick was more than a blip on the radar. Cf. Willamson & Gunn's Star Bridge (1955) which features a nihilistic secret society called the Entropy Cult. That's the earliest reference I can think of offhand, but I'm certain research would reveal others — metaphoric extension of such scientific terms of art was an important thematic device in Campbellian SF from 1938 on.

This entry should also discuss the growing impact on SF of Ilya Prigogine's nonlinear thermodynamics (for which he won a 1974 Nobel). Prigogine's demonstrations that non-equilbrium thermodynamic systems often maximize entropy by spontaneous ordering turns both the literal and metaphoric implications of entropy on their heads, suggesting a universe in which life and macroscopic order are not doomed by entropy but perpetually re-created by it. Bruce Sterling used this idea centrally in his Shaper/Mech stories; similar insights had previously appeared in James Hogan's 1982 Voyage From Yesteryear, and have since begun to broadly shape genre speculations.


The earliest use of this term I know of was George O. Smith's 1956 Highways In Hiding, and I rather believe that was original. Jack Of Eagles was four years earlier, but Blish never actually used esper or ESP-er in the text (I reread it to check).


I think BS's reading of T.J. Bass's novels Half Past Human and The Godwhale as novels in which bioengineering is seen as implicitly horrific

is much too simple. Bass seems to regard the tools of bioengineering with cool respect and the possibilities with wonder. The hive-dwelling Nebish are certainly dystopic, but it is notable that humanity gets a future once again through the same genespinning technology that produced the Nebish. The most powerful image in the novels is the Godwhale herself, symbiotic with humans but both bioengineered and alien. This is what Bass invites us to embrace.

See also my comments on the Darwinian functionalist anthropology strain under ANTHROPOLOGY — and be careful not to confuse it with SOCIAL DARWINISM.


While I generally find this entry quite intelligent and effective within the constraints recognized in it, it contains one claim which appears to me rather bizarre and ironic. That is, that SF fans believe that SF dethroned the mimetic novel c.1926, etc, etc.

Is this British fans JC is talking about? In the U.S., the prevailing view among fans of my acquaintance who know any literary history at all is much closer to his — i.e. that one of genre SF's signal virtues is precisely that it is a continuation of the classical mimetic novel.

Indeed, many American fans (including myself) will go further than you do here and argue that SF is no bastard stepchild but the true heir of the mimetic tradition, having through various circumstances escaped the decadence and exhaustion of the 20th-century lit-fic (modern and postmodern) novel. JC's own discussion of fabulation suggests theoretical grounding for this conviction; hard SF's faith that the universe is knowable can be seen as an extension and objectification of the mimetic belief that the world does, in the end, have a story that can be told.

(Interestingly, this same appraisal that SF in strict classical epic form is the true contemporary heir to Western literature's humanist tradition has since been made from outside the field, notably in Frederick Turner's provocative 1995 Wilson Quarterly essay The Birth of Natural Classicism on post-postmodern art.)

Accordingly, many American fans share an implicit conviction that when the belles-lettrists of the year 2200 look back, they will regard SF and its sibling mystery, western, adventure-story, romance and other genres as the true mainstream), and lit-fic as a parochial dead end.

(A substantial part of the American resistance to the New Wave derived, in fact, from a conviction that the New Wave authors were bent on importing into SF the same kinds of preciousness that sterilized and devastated serious mainstream literature to the point that today only academics and their imitators can stand to read it.)


As a matter of potential interest (though not directly for the Encyclopedia), the observations about fan slang being anything but freemasonic neatly and exactly parallel some of mine in The New Hacker's Dictionary about Internet slang. In both cases, outsiders are identified not by gaps in their production vocabulary but by how they misuse jargon.

Rogow's Futurespeak is not merely erratic, it is wretchedly, horribly awful. The stuff relating to computers is particularly bogus.


Very well done! Bravo! Applause!

Needs editing down, though. I think much of the early protest about the impossibility of distinguishing SF from fantasy can be dropped, since the entry later describes exactly how to do so (narrative voice implies a post-scientific consciousness etc.)

The map of concentric circles begs for yet another one: hard SF with SF, which not only assumes that the universe is knowable (post-scientific consciousness) but insists that it is rationally knowable. Cf. my comments re DEFINITIONS OF SF.

Perhaps more should have been made of the implications of technology-of-magic stories for your categories. But this is a minor point.

I rather think this entry is the best single piece of sustained structural analysis in the Encyclopedia.


It may be worth noting that some small cracks have begun to appear in the lightspeed barrier. Frank Tipler's work describing multiply-connected spacetime in the neighborhood of a cylinder of superdense matter provides a mode of FTL travel within General Relativity (GR); this has been exploited by several writers, most notably by Poul Anderson in Avatar (1978). Lance Visser's development of a theory of dirigible wormholes within GR has stimulated much SF speculation, notably in Robert Forward's Timemaster (1992) and Stephen Baxter's Timelike Infinity (1993). In 1994, physicist Michael Alcubierre developed a GR description of something strongly resembling the classic SF warp drive. All these theoretical methods, however, depend on the utilization of exotic forms of matter or energy densities not yet available to human engineers.


In a throwaway line, the first entry implies that John Fowles's A Maggot must be regarded as one of the finest FIRST CONTACT novels ever written. Nonsense! A Maggot is a fine and haunting work, but Fowles shares too few of the interests or perspectives of SF's first-contact subgenre to be compared with genre exemplars. His deliberate refusal to apply post-scientific consciousness to the contact experience places A Maggot well outside the realm of SF — which, I gather, is where Karen Joy Fowler's Sarah Canary also belongs.

Self-deluding imperialisms of knowledge, eh? I suppose it's a collegial privilege of critics to occasionally utter such pomposities. But I'd respect JC more if he refrained.


This entry surprises me by confusing two fundamentally different SF tropes, not a mistake I would have expected in this encyclopedia. The archetypal Galactic Empire is quite a different place from the archetypal Galactic Federation and the two can only be confounded by throwing the intentions behind both out the window.

The archetypal Galactic Empire extends from Asimov's to the cod-medievalism of numerous space operas up to and including Star Wars (Edmond Hamilton's 1949 The Star Kings is a good early example). It is emphatically not the U.S.'s political system writ large. As a setting, it is designed for retakes of the Fall of Rome or Meiji Restoration, potboilers of RURITANIAN intrigue, and sheer science-fantasy swashbuckling. No democrats or moderns need apply.

The archetypal Galactic Federation is arguably the U.S. writ large. It is more typically the setting or offstage furniture for HARD SF, FIRST CONTACT stories, and the like. The whole point of the Galactic Federation is that it has modern culture and politics, rather than archaized and imperialist ones. Nobody in Galactic Federations wears swords.

The difference between Star Trek and Star Wars is diagnostic. The two settings carry vastly different freight and deserve separate and fuller entries.

It's unfortunate that BS chose Iain Banks as refreshingly alien, because his Culture is impossible. The abundance and techno-exuberance is fun and believable but the economics aren't — centrally-planned resource allocation is bound to run afoul of a Hayekian calculation problem no matter how much computing power the Culture Minds bring to bear (and this is no longer just a theoretical prediction; Hayekian accumulation of malinvestment was a major factor in the economic collapse of the Soviet Union). BS would be better off citing William Barton, who has invented novel and disturbing Empires in Dark Sky Legion and When Heaven Fell.


I'm personally tickled that the entry mentions Gary Wright's Mirror of Ice, which is still IMO the finest SF-sports story I've ever read.

Piers Anthony's Phaze/Proton books deserve a mention for their portrayal of a society in which serfs can gain status only by gaming. The game grid and the structure of Proton's ludi is by far the most interesting conceit in these otherwise routine novels.


(I've been wargaming for 25 years and know a lot about this!)

Sadly, the AH Starship Troopers was not actually a very good game. The ideas were clever, but the mechanics tended to lead to static and unsatisfying play.

The entry traces Traveller to Anderson and Pournelle; I fear this is well off the mark. Early editions of the game (which I played) made clear that it was basically set in the galaxy of E.C. Tubb's Dumarest sequence. This changed later when the game was reinvented to include aliens.

Steve Jackson's Car Wars, acknowledgedly derived from Ellison's Along the Scenic Route deserves a mention as one of the most successful and wittiest SF games. Indeed, Jackson's record of successfully translating a knowledgeable SF sensibility and love of the genre into games and game-renderings of classic works of SF is impressive and unmatched. (This is the U.S. Steve Jackson.)

The 'graph on live-action games describes only what aficionados call boffer games such as those run by Xanadria or various collegiate Assassin's Guilds. These were a late-80s development by D&D fans. There's another subtype (which I play regularly) that's actually a few years older and more closely associated with SF fandom; they were originally just called LARPs (Live Action RPGs) and are now distinguished as theater games. These often follow the first one (Rekon, held in Baltimore in 1983) in having SF settings, sometimes of almost novelistic richness. Since then LARP enthusiasts have developed a small but vigorous subculture of their own semi-detached from SF FANDOM.

It may be worth noting that ADVENT and Zork became important in the folk tradition of the Internet hacker culture.


There are significant errors and omissions in the entry now in the dictionary. Precis follows. Proposed replacement entry follows that.

Though non-Aristotelianism is an important idea in GS and received the most play in SF, it is not primary but rather a consequence of the central GS insight, best expressed by Koryzybski's dictum The map is not the territory; the word is not the thing defined. That is, all linguistic representations discard most of reality. Aristotelianism is merely one (though an important one) of the limiting representations reinforced by natural language. Others include Euclideanism and the assumption that object identity is a testable relation (of these two, the latter is more important, and may do more mischief than Aristotelianism).

Describing Science And Sanity as a handbook is funny on a couple of levels. Firstly, it's physically a massive, hernia-inducing tome; secondly, it is very difficult (though also quite rewarding) to read. The handbooks of GS are accordingly secondary sources like Stuart Chase's The Tyranny of Words and Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action.

PN is to be commended for noticing the connection with Wittgenstein and the Vienna school. In fact, the original edition of Science and Sanity actually pre-dated the language game analysis of Wittgenstein by some years.

GS is not and never has been a psychotherapeutic system though calling it one is a historically understandable mistake from anyone not familiar with its practices and primary texts. It has been interpreted therapeutically and has strongly influenced at least one successful contemporary therapeutic system, Grinder & Bandler's Neuro-Linguistic Programming; but GS itself rejects some of the basic premises about mental function suggested by the psychotherapeutic label. For one thing, it has little use for Freudian or quasi- Freudian theorizing about the unconscious mind; for another it is more interested in improving the functioning of already relatively well-adusted individuals than in tackling outright pathology. Unsanity is not insanity.

PN correctly cites Van Vogt (everyone does) but his use of GS was intellectually superficial and was never much respected by practioners. You miss a more important fact; GS ideas strongly influenced Robert Heinlein and are pervasive in his fictional backgrounds, especially from 1940 to 1960. In Gulf, 1941, the description of Newspeak is particularly telling. Explicit and approving references to Korzybski can be found in his later writings. Detailed cites on request (which means I don't have them at the tip of my brain but will dig them up if you tell me you don't believe the general thesis). Other writers were similarly interested — Blish's 1952 Jack Of Eagles leans heavily on Korzybski.

The influence of GS on Dianetics is not probable but certain. My grandfather was an early student of GS who flirted with Dianetics and knew L. Ron Hubbard slightly. What he told me is backed up by documentary evidence; Hubbard latched onto some GS ideas during the '40s and folded them into Dianetics and what became later Scientology. The GS content had been entirely discarded from Scientology by 1960; my personal suspicion is that Hubbard didn't want anything in the system that might actually teach his victims how to think effectively.

The factual corrections suggest a number of corrections and additions to the entry. The following is my proposed text for an amended entry. You'll note that it rearranges the original a lot but tracks it pretty closely except where necessary for corrections and additions.

GENERAL SEMANTICS (proposed entry)

A quasi-philosophical movement founded in Chicago in 1938 by Count Alfred Korzybski (AK), whose Science And Sanity (1933) was the foundation text of the movement. GS teaches that all linguistic representations discard most of reality (The map is not the territory; the word is not the thing defined.) and in particular that much un-sanity is caused by adherence to the Aristotelian representation of two-valued either-or logic, which Korzybski saw as being built into Indo-European language structures. From this simple beginning, with which many 20th-century analytical philosophers including their dean Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) would find it hard to differ, Korzybski developed a complex, controversial, jargon-riddled system of what he called mental hygiene intended to increase the student's effective intelligence. These ideas, retailed in more accessible form by Samuel Hayakawa's Language In Thought And Action (1941), Stuart P. Chase's The Tyranny of Words, and other secondary sources, achieved surprising success in the 1940s and early 1950s and influenced many SF writers of the period (including L. Ron HUBBARD, who coopted some GS themes into DIANETICS). A.E. Van Vogt famously wrote two novels featuring the non-Aristotelian SUPERMAN Gilbert Gosseyn (whose name was widely read as a pun, go sane); [insert existing biblio here]. The Null-A novels, which actually used GS only in a rather superficial way, encouraged naive adherents to believe that GS held out the promise of turning man into SUPERMAN merely by teaching non-Aristotelian (null-A) habits of thought; Damon KNIGHT famously parodied this attitude in MS Found In A Chinese Fortune Cookie. But it was through Robert HEINLEIN that GS had perhaps its most lasting influence on genre SF; GS ideas were explicit in his novelette Gulf (1941) and pervasive in his later fictional backgrounds, from which (often stripped of the brand label) they entered the standard intellectual toolkit of genre SF. After 1955 GS itself entered a period of decline, becoming popularly associated with SCIENTOLOGY and widely dismissed as PSEUDO-SCIENCE. Its ideas have continued to exert influence, however, especially in psychology, anthropology and linguistics. In recent SF, GS-derived themes are readily detectable in the works of Robert Anton WILSON, Stuart GORDON, Suzette Haden ELGIN, Samuel DELANY, and many others.


The notion that gods are powered by the force of their worshipers' belief and prayer (cited here in connection with Pratchett's Small Gods) has been a commonplace in SF and fantasy since the days of Unknown Worlds. It reflects both the implicit theogony of many aboriginal religions and the explicit theology of neopaganism (a modern religious movement derived from them and heavily overlapping SF fandom). I think the entry should explore this trope in more depth. It begs for interpretation as both a characteristic SF empowerment fantasy and a search for re-connection to the sacred.


While the end of the Golden Age will always be less definite than its beginning and more disputed, I personally think there's a strong case for locating it in the pulp-magazine crash of 1953-55. Many of the pulp titles that incubated early stf died out at that time.


Smile On The Void showed strong influence from Wilson & Shea's Illuminatus trilogy and might be regarded as an attempt to partly assimilate some of their energy and ideas into a more genre-friendly narrative.


I completely disagree with the premise of this entry (and with later related assertions under HORROR IN SF). While it is certainly true that the origins of SF partly involved fictions of gothic type, I believe one of the changes associated with SF's maturation has been the almost total elimination of gothic elements from the genre.

Gothic tropes are now almost never used seriously in genre SF. They may be used in a conventional, almost formal way to set up problems which are resolved in an SFnal manner, but they are no longer integral to genre SF. The gothic hero has become a B-movie joke, the gothic cautionary tale a hoary cliche.

It is certainly true that SF still evokes hair-raising experiences of confrontation with a terrifying unknown. But to call it gothic on these grounds does violence both to the basic dynamics of both truly gothic fiction and SF, because the gothic response to terrifying mysterium is completely different from SF's.

Whether in coping with supernatural malignity or a psychological return of the repressed, the gothic response is ecstatic surrender, an invitation to identify and even become one with the anarchic power of the dark. When Miss Lucy's casement flies open, the true frisson in our terror comes from our identification with Dracula.

In SF, on the other hand, the gothic eruption of primal threat is archetypally treated as a challenge, a problem to be solved, a datum to be re-integrated into a stable scientific world-view. The climax of the story is the re-assertion of rationality. In gothic fiction, on the other hand, any solution to the eruption would be transient, shadowed, left deliberately ambiguous by an author who knows deep down that the reader wants the monster to win.

In fact, one can readily distinguish SF from gothic horror by the following test: who, over the bulk of the novel, is the focus of reader identification? Is it the van-Helsing figure or the Dracula? Is the Dracula's comeuppance a true resolution or a formalized coda subverted by hints that the monster and its kin will in the end prove victorious?

While gothic and SFnal modes were often mingled in early SF, such crossover within a single work is now rare. Trends in the evolution and marketing of SF are making it more so. Granted we get an occasional Tim Powers (and I'm a huge fan of his work), but most of the authors you list as strongly gothic are second-rankers that SF fans at least in the U.S. see as fringy and dubious (Ray Bradbury being an excellent example).

The fundamental antigothicity of SF is nowhere more clearly seen than in the technology-of-magic story, which is now far more central to the SF genre than its purely historical links with gothic fiction.


JC may want to replace the phrase Austrian economist with Economist, born in Austria; to many readers, the existing phrasing will suggest as written an economist of the Austrian school exemplified by F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, a confusion a socialist like Hertzka would be certain to resent!


I think the entry has this writer exactly backwards. I haven't read his entire oeuvre, but in The Prodigal Sun, Invader on My Back and No Truce With Terra, his vision is far from dark and dystopian. Indeed the books exhibit an almost Pollyannaish faith that humans and human societies can surmount their troubles and achieve happiness through sufficient cleverness and self-awareness.


The Paratwa books got a pretty cool reception from a lot of hard-SF fans (including me) because they included without blushing a lot of pseudo-scientific absurdities like curving energy beams. Thumbs down.


Error of attribution: the water empire concept belonged not to Toynbee but the pioneering sociologist Max Weber (I did a paper on its history in college). I believe Niven's Integral Trees calls it by the original Weberian name, hydraulic despotism.

There the editors go again (in the discussion of Poul Anderson), confusing entrepreneurialism with militarism! This is a serious, glaring error — dammit, trade is not war and the market is not politics. Anderson himself knows better — in fact, one of the central tragedies in his future is the inevitability with which the mode of war and empire seems to destroy the more benign comity of trade and laissez-faire. You will miss one of the central points of his future history (and of American SF in general) until you get this.


I have to reject one of the entry's premises. I don't think SF can properly said to have become a self-aware genre until Gernsback in the 1920s. The late-19th and early 20th-century figures you cite can be called SF only in retrospect and rather questionably, because (though they anticipated themes and approaches later found in genre SF) they had not yet evolved the assumption of the universe-as-knowable and the entailed contract with the reader which you elsewhere correctly note characterizes the genre.

I think it best to label these early works scientifiction after Gernsback's term or else proto-SF, rather than terminologically forcing them into the mold of modern SF.

PN's claim that until the 1960s, Huxley/Orwell/Stewart et al. were thought of as respectable SF, and the genre magazines not respectable, must reflect British or Australian conditions. Accounts from American fans of the period make it clear that the picture was very different here.

American non-fans before 1960 had no concept of SF at all, and fans quickly learned a genre-centric view of it which defied any mainstream view of what was respectable or not. Your speculation that early U.S. scholarship in the field concentrated on the genre in order to rectify such prejudice is accordingly mistaken. The concentration developed instead because, to Americans, nothing outside the genre could properly be thought of as SF at all.

Whether concentration on the genre distorts history is by no means as clear as PN says. It depends on the degree of continuity between non-genre writers and genre ones — that is, the unsettled question of to what extent the ideas of stf and scientific-romance writers later became part of the corporate knowledge of the SF genre.

On these ground we may certainly admit Huxley, Orwell, Verne, and Wells to be retrospectively SF. But in general, I have found the efforts of Aldiss, Knight and others to argue for broad and important continuities unconvincing both in particular and in general. Most of the hundreds of minor writers of utopias, dystopias, edisonades and lost-race novels that rather clog the Encyclopedia's pages had no traceable influence on the living tradition of SF as it is written today. To include them in the history of SF is, therefore, arguably just a distraction from the really important issues.

What appears to be a lack of American perspective seriously damages the entry's recent history of the genre as well.

PN misses the pivotal importance of Star Wars in the U.S. It was only after the success of that film in 1977 that chain bookstores began stocking whole bookshelves-full of new SF, as opposed to the handful of titles (often safe reprints of Asimov or Bradbury) that had been the rule up into my teens. The change was rather sudden and dramatic. I remember it very well.

As a particular fan of the stuff, I must strenuously disagree with your assessment that hard SF is in decline or that CYBERPUNK came close to ... revitalizing it. Perhaps this is so in Great Britain or Australia, but not in the U.S. Hard SF, after a rough period between about 1965 and 1980, was doing quite well through the whole cyberpunk period of 1984-1992, thank you.

There are probably more fine writers of hard SF now than at any time in genre history, with good new ones like Greg Egan and Stephen Baxter popping up all the time. Nor does it exhibit any of the signs of exhaustion you aver. Go ahead, show me any recursivity or nostalgia in Vinge's A Fire Upon The Deep, or Baxter's Raft, or Egan's Permutation City. No decadence here!

The most exciting event of the 1980s was not, after all, the birth of cyberpunk — it was the nearly simultaneous rediscovery of Golden Age flair by David Brin, Vernor Vinge, Greg Bear, and others. The most heartening thing about the 1990s to me as a fan is that it proved no transitory phenomenon, that a new generation of sharp young writers as good as any since the early days of Campbell's Astounding is carrying the tradition forward today.


Heinlein's Solution Unsatisfactory certainly deserves a mention here.


Previous commentary should have made clear why libertarians like Hogan dislike being called right-wing (oh, well, at least you didn't say conservative). The editors may wish to consider changing that phrasing.


As a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a student of aikido, I can say that Anvil Of The Heart presents one of the best and most sensitive depictions in SF (or anywhere else for that matter) of what training in martial arts under a really good teacher is like. Holmes's ability to convey the nuances is remarkable. Nobody in genre history except STEVE PERRY has done this better.


See my comments on GOTHIC SF for extended refutation of the major premise of this entry.

The separation of horror from SF as a marketing category tells me that publishers (who, unlike critics, bet real money on their judgements) know that SF and horror are read by distinct populations and address different needs.

The premise that anti-scientific SF represents an important persistence of gothic/horror elements in the genre ignores two problems. One is that, almost without exception, anti-science SF is bad SF (either in the sense of being poorly and polemically written, or in the sense of violating or ignoring SF's contract with the reader, or both — usually both). There are so few counter-examples that, while I grant they occasionally exist, I'm actually unable to think of one.

Another problem is that anti-scientific is, in this context, a dangerously misleading term. To fear harm from misjudgements or hubristic errors involving technology is, in the post A-bomb world, quite rational. The catharsis of such fears (even if they involve the destruction of some technological artifact) is in fact the re-assertion of a stable, knowable order, not gothic surrender to the unknown. Don't mistake the stage furniture for the moral!

Then, too, much of what passes for horror/SF crossover is stories in which horror tropes are used to set up an SFnal problem, and the true interest of the story is precisely in the SFnal reconciliation of the problem — the victory (or at least persistence) of knowable order against the dark. I think it quite significant that the article goes for two pages and three-quarters of its length before mentioning a work of print rather than cinema, and that the first one you cite (Richard Matheson's I Am Legend) is clearly in this category. Granting that the plot tension in this story is set up by a gothic/horror trope, the story's interest lies in its fundamentally SFnal suggestion of vampirism as a communicable disease. Once this premise is revealed, we are no longer in the gothic darkness — we are in SF's universe of knowable order. The story as a whole becomes SF in spite of its gothic elements, highlighting the fundamental opposition between the mode of horror and the mode of SF.

The list of SF authors who regularly use horror themes is no better argument. With only one possible exception, they are second-rankers considered fringy and dubious by serious SF fans (I would say that applies even to Ray Bradbury). And Dan Simmons is a ringer — though he operates comfortably in SF and horror modes, he does not (at least to my knowledge) mix them.


I find myself quite shocked at the speculation that the Hugos might be chauvinistic. I've been going to Worldcons for close to twenty years and I find myself unable to even imagine fans voting on the basis of nationality. Politics, maybe; religion, maybe; but SF fans in my experience are so idea-centered that the notion they might vote Hugos on the basis of irrelevancies like birthplace, skin color or gender seems to me insupportably absurd.


The conventional wisdom that superluminal travel implies causality violation in fact depends crucially on one untested assumption of relativity: that there is no preferred reference frame. There have been variants of relativistic cosmology which violated this assumption, though they're not much studied because they're not yet subject to experimental test.

It also depends on the assumption that no natural phenomenon acts to exclude superluminal trajectories which imply causality violation. Interestingly, the physicist Lance Visser has found a natural causality protection effect involving virtual photon feedback loops while studying the theoretical behavior of dirigible wormholes.


Melissa Scott pays effective homage to Knight's The Country Of The Kind in The Kindly Ones (1987).


The description of On Wheels is a bit garbled. I don't believe the brand name Texaco was associated with the Firebird, nor was it a god — rather, it conferred the rare privilege of mating.


The phrase late capitalism used here and elsewhere seems embarrassing now that the ideological alternatives are dead.


The identification of the background of Heavy Planet with Jupiter repeats a gloss by Healy/McComas in the classic Adventures In Space And Time anthology, but is flat wrong and should be deleted. There's a line in the story mentioning that the unnamed heavy planet's solar system contains only five worlds!

See my comments under ROTHMAN, TONY.


The analysis in this entry fails to notice or account for the special hold which Kipling's legacy has on many readers and writers in the SF genre, one well attested by such recent tribute anthologies as Heads To The Storm (1988) and A Separate Star' (?, my copy is missing). Loving pastiches of Kipling are common in the field; the early part of Heinlein's Citizen Of The Galaxy (1956) reads as a take on ``Kim'', and thirty years later Poul Anderson would mine the same vein in the opening of The Game Of Empire (1985).


After VAN VOGT I would add (and, though less obviously, on Robert HEINLEIN), see above. Gardner's Fads and Fallacies is generally IMO an excellent book, but his section on Korzybski was a poorly researched hatchet job. Cite it if you must, but also for balance include references to the GS popularizations by Hayakawa and Chase that I mentioned under GENERAL SEMANTICS (proposed entry).


The fact that Laser published Tim Powers's early work seems worth a mention here.


It should be noted that one important element in Lee's success was the introduction of some of the more readily digestable genre-SF themes and approaches into comic-book writing. While comics before the mid-60s shared some roots with early pulp SF, their use of its material was on the whole exceedingly crude and primitive, typically lagging print SF by decades. Marvel, while never catching up to anywhere near the level of development of contemporary print SF, nevertheless raised the overall level of SFnal sophistication and closed the gap quite noticeably.

This development was to be carried much further in the 1970s and 1980s by other hands. The sense that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby reinvented superhero comics in a way quite comparable to the Campbellian reinvention of genre SF remains, however, almost universal in the comics field.


BS/DP correctly note The majority opinion seems to be that such escapists need to be brought back to reality whether they like it or not, and that those appointed to achieve that end need not be overly scrupulous in so doing. The failure to further investigate this insight or tie it into other astute observations in this entry is most curious, because to any student of American folk psychology and cultural history their observation is exceedingly pregnant.

One fruitful analysis would relate this attitude to America's Puritan/Calvinist heritage, specifically the persistent notion that Earthly life is a grim testing ground in which virtue is demonstrated by hard work and self-sacrifice, and confirmed by a stern God's gift prosperity and temporal success. A long line of cultural historians beginning with Max Weber has seen this Protestant ethic as one of the key ideologies of the Industrial revolution, and found both its purest and most secularized forms in the U.S.

To this dour Protestant way of thinking, escapists into passive hedonism are not merely weak and lazy, they are committing a moral outrage. By attempting a facile escape from this Earth of trials, they place their souls at risk — and, not incidently, tempt the virtuous to give up their courage and abandon the struggle for redemption. It would be the duty of any Godly man, on behalf of God the hedonist's own spiritual welfare, to rescue them from their fecklessness — and if the means of rescue are a bit painful, that is no more than God's chastisement to these errant tempters.

While the religious force of this argument is no longer significant to most Americans, its essential structure has been replicated in various secularized versions which replace duty to God with duty to society, to the species, to the future, to intelligence, or to any other individual or collective conception of human destiny. The basic line of logic is accordingly still central to the American character.

Some of these secularizations have (unsurprisingly) become important moral axioms of American genre SF. In this context they have commonly been misinterpreted as SOCIAL DARWINISM, but they are different from that doctrine in that they do not intend or imply any apologia for existing politics (or for that matter any politics at all).


I think it would be fair to add that the Screwtape material is possibly the finest Christian apologia of the 20th century, broadly appealing in its dark wit and trenchant moral passion even to many who [like myself] completely reject its religious underpinnings. It's certainly much better done than the clumsy, preposterous and regressive Perelandra trilogy.


I would add to the last sentence , disfigured by grotesquely intense scenes of torture and sadism.


Despite numerous cross-references, there is no LIBERTARIANISM entry. I presume it was this one but got renamed as a late stage. I have attempted to supply a replacement above.

Most of the entry is otherwise pretty good — surprisingly so, given that it was obviously written by a non-libertarian. But see my comments under POLITICS, POURNELLE and WAR. There are three specific problems with the entry text:

1. It's unfair to claim libertarian SF has a casual attitude towards violence when it would actually proscribe the use of force more strictly than any other political ethic (and this is reflected in libertarian SF, which may dramatically relish individual confrontation but never glorifies warfare or other forms of mass violence). NT's error here may stem from misidentifying Pournelle and other military-SF writers as libertarians. Violence in libertarian SF always has a strong moral subtext — it's the polar opposite of casual.

2. The association of libertarianism with optimism rings rather false. Much libertarian thought stems in fact from a deep pessimism about the unintended consequences of collective action, no matter how noble its goals. In this line of development (exemplified in SF by Russell's And Then There Were None and Kornbluth's The Syndic) libertarian decentralism is less a form of optimism than a damage-limitation strategy.

3. To say that libertarianism emphasizes competition is true but (without elaboration) fatally misleading. In fact, libertarians expect cooperation to be the rule rather than the exception in a libertarian society, just as it is today's market systems in which competitive pressures normally manifest by encouraging cooperation between self-interested allies.


The popularity of linguistics-related story premises after World War II is traceable to ideas from GENERAL SEMANTICS. The connection is direct and acknowledged in many Golden Age writers including RAH, but also obvious in later seminal works such as Jack VANCE's The Languages of Pao (1957) and Delany's Babel-17 (1967). The entry is correct in seeing Whorfian ideas as a powerful influence on the field, but misses the fact (obvious from period terminology) that they were largely mixed with or filtered through GS.

The droogspeak of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange deserves mention. So does the teen slang of Tanith Lee's Drinking Sapphire Wine (1979).


It is perhaps worth noting that, by Hitler's own account, he conceived the mythology of National Socialism while inspired by an operatic German-language version of The Coming Race.


This entry tries to talk down genre fans who regard mainstream SF as invasive and incompetent as operating from mere territoriality. I think this criticism is largely unfair.

The assumption that there is no good reason to reject outsiders can only sustained by arguing that genre protocols have only an accidental relationship to doing good SF. But on the Encyclopedia's own best analysis this is not true — in fact, the protocols constitute a growing body of corporate knowledge that allows SF to be immensely more sophisticated and interesting than it would be otherwise.

On this analysis, fans are no more to be faulted for rejecting the likes of Doris Lessing than a school of oil painters would be in rejecting someone barging around their galleries with spray-paint and crayons.


See my comments in the entry for STAN LEE.


The description of The Helix And The Sword as mere competent adventure is unfair. It was original, idea-packed and audacious, the boldest and most detailed attempt in genre history to imagine an entire technology and future history based on bioengineering. A lesser writer would have milked the world for an interminable series or multi-author tie-ins, and easily could have. I found Toolmaker Koan disappointing by comparison.


This entry must be amended to end by citing Larry Niven's relentlessly logical deconstruction of matter transmission in his sharply funny essay The Theory And Practice Of Teleportation.


In regard to the comment on the relevance to SF of Utopias: I would say the position suggested by the evidence is neither of the alternatives. I would say the Utopian tradition was very important to proto-SF, but is no longer significant to modern SF.


This entry should certainly mention Mark Stiegler's The Gentle Seduction (1981), one of the earliest nanotech stories and an instant classic for the profoundly stirring, almost Stapledonian sense of ever-unfolding vastness it creates.


The casual destruction of Neptune in Piers Anthony's Macroscope deserves mention.


Perry has unobvious virtues. One is that his grasp of martial arts and the psychology of the martial artist is excellent, a valuable antidote to the innumerable ultimate warrior stereotypes in bad SF and fantasy. A related one is that he combines an acute and non-reductive understanding of Zen-like mysticisms with hard-SF rationalism. The Matador trilogy established him as contemporary SF's best mythologist of the martial arts, and his subsequent fiction has not disappointed in this respect.


While The Thirteenth Majestral is an enjoyable entertainment on its own terms, I'm quite surprised that you pass over the accuracy and affection with which it spoofs the Gaean Reach stories of Jack Vance. Indeed, one of the Reach's notable scholars, offstage in Vance, appears onstage in this book.


The attribution of genre SF's libertarian tradition to Robert Heinlein is is incorrect and misleading, as I have shown above.

The entry goes completely off the beam in associating military SF with libertarianism. Libertarianism is consciously and explicitly anti-militarist, and can in fact be analyzed as a sort of muscular pacifism — it approves the wearing of personal weapons and urges that every adult be morally prepared to use lethal force in self-defence, but stringently rejects militarism, hierarchical command structures and war-making as the health of the State. These traits can be seen in quite fully developed form as early as Piper's 1958 A Planet For Texans and are well exemplified after 1980 in the writings of L. NEIL SMITH and others.

Military SF appeared as a defined subgenre with its own packaging conventions in the 1970s and early 1980s, at the same time as explicitly libertarian SF. This was not a coincidence but in fact marked an ideological break between libertarian and conservative elements in the SF tradition. Subsequently, genre libertarianism would tend to grow more radical and genre conservatism more crude and regressive (a trend which accelerated after the fall of the Soviet Union).

Military-SF yard goods are as a rule the genre face not of libertarianism but of authoritarian cultural conservatism. However, it is interesting in this respect that the best military SF has almost never been written by conservatives! This is a pattern from Starship Trooper through Haldeman's Forever War and the Sten novels to Lois Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan books.

The comment about proto- or quasi-libertarian ideas emerging in the genre from a conviction that governments are likely to be manned by corrupt incompetents, on the other hand, is perceptive and correct (the cite of Eric Frank Russell is especially apt here; were it not present I would have suggested it). Cf. my comments on optimism/pessimism in glossing your LIBERTARIAN SF entry.


Jerry Pournelle is not a libertarian by any stretch of the imagination, he is a statist cultural conservative. He violently dislikes libertarians, and they return the favor (in one incident, Pournelle actually assaulted L. Neil Smith during a political argument).

Nor can you find libertarian themes in his post-1980 fiction, which worships social order and glorifies men who kill on political command in a way more that (as more critics than just me have observed) is rather classically fascist. (See my comments about libertarianism and militarism above.)

What you detect as LIBERTARIAN hopefuleness is a function of the mixed heritage of the American right wing, which includes classical-liberal and proto-libertarian strains within a dominant authoritarian/conservative ideology. (See my mini-essay on this topic). But calling Pournelle a libertarian is wrong, and he would object as strongly to it as any libertarian. Any tendency he may once have shown in that direction is long dead.


IMO, the evaluation of the Discworld books as the best comedies in the genre is dead on.

Describing The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch as a fantasy about the end of the world fails to do justice to it. I would change fantasy to theological fantasy and add its apparent lightness conceals a genuine satirical bite.

I think it's worth noting that Pratchett is often compared to Douglas Adams, but is a more able writer and not fundamentally an ABSURDIST as Adams is. I think the extraordinary cleverness of Pratchett's writing is also worth notice — he can pack three or four good jokes and an equal number of apposite pop-culture references in one paragraph, and often does.

Pratchett started out by being very funny, and hasn't lost that. Books like Small Gods show that he is beginning to become wise.


The Blue Star is worth more notice than it has received. It combines elements of PSIONICS and ALTERNATE WORLDS story in a way which is essentially SFnal despite the fantasy framing device. The doomed relationship between the hero and heroine was a mature and ironic coment on the cliches (then and now) of genre fantasy.

It may be worth noting in passing that Pratt was a key figure in the development of recreational wargaming during its immediate pre-modern period in the '40s and '50s.


In the category of corrosive alternate interpretations of Christian myth, Fritz Lieber's One Station Of The Way (Galaxy 1968, anth in Harrison & Aldiss's Best SF: 1967) surely deserves mention. This story fuses theological speculation, trenchant moral argument, and a stimulating biological scenario into a powerful whole.


Once again, JC's failure to understand American folk psychology damages his critical vision. These novels were a bit lightweight and throwaway to be sure, but the exaggerated individualism JC poor-mouths did not seem at all nostalgic (or even particularly exaggerated) to the American market it was written for. And still doesn't.


Add: After Oversoul JR began presenting herself as genuinely possessed by a disembodied intelligence she called Seth and became briefly notorious as a New Age guru in the U.S., helping popularize the practice of channelling.


Everything here said about TRHPS and its fans is true (I was there!), and the observation in the last sentence particularly perceptive. It should perhaps be added that the movie achieved success in a cultural climate of economic malaise, nostalgia and sexual license; its attractions rapidly dissipated in the more prosperous and forward-looking but straitlaced 1980s, and SF reciprocally became much more popular. By 1990 it was generally seen almost as a quaint period piece, amusing almost more for its campy 1970s message than its camping on 1940s and 1950s material.


After the sentence describing Our Man In Space add: However, its frank sexuality and overtones of sardonic humor recall Len Deighton's James Bond novels, then near the peak of their popularity.


I think Milton Rothman deserves his own entry, if only to note the wide influence of his best-known story, Heavy Planet (1939). There is internal evidence in later exotic-environment stories such as Hal Clement's Mission Of Gravity suggesting that this one was their prototype. As such, it is a critically important early example of the tendency within early Campbellian SF which would become hard SF.

See also my comment under JUPITER.


Rowley has since published two prequels in the universe of TWFE; The Founder (1989), and To A Highland Nation (1993). Both were slight; a military action fantasy. Bazil Broketail (1992) was more successful and led to four sequels, A Sword For A Dragon (1993), Dragons Of War (1994), and Battledragon (1995). The Wizard And The Floating City (1996) is set in the world of the Bazil books but not directly connected to them. Further development of this fantasy venue, which oscillates oddly between juvenile/escapist sweetness and a dark, rather sadistic and perverse undertone, seems likely.

Your update note should be modified to read artificial POCKET UNIVERSE.


I am surprised that JC doesn't see fit to mention here Leonard Wibberly's two most popular novels, The Mouse That Roared (1954) and The Mouse On The Moon (1962). These put an entertainingly satirical spin on the Ruritania/Graustark archetype; the Cold War superpowers are twice technologically trumped by the tiny Duchy of Grand Fenwick, with comical results. (On further examination I see you have an author entry.)


It should be added that Wasp is probably EFR's best-remembered novel (apart from the fixup The Great Explosion) and has withstood the test of time fairly well. Reflecting this, a restored longer version appeared sometime around '94 as a paperback original in the U.S., but alas I do not own a copy and cannot supply an exact date.


In The Dragons Of Eden Sagan stopped so immediately short of suggesting that ornithorhynchoid dinosaurs might have evolved intelligence that the possibility hung in the air unspoken as powerfully as the rest of the book. Within a few years this possibility was fictionally exploited in several SF works including the MONTELEONE/BISCHOFF Day Of The Dragonstar (1983) and sequels, John McLaughlin's Toolmaker Koan (1988), and most famously in Harry HARRISON's West Of Eden (1984) and sequel. The notion quickly became a genre cliche.

Perhaps there ought to be a DINOSAURS entry?


In the 1990s RS made his name with Far-Seer (1992), Fossil Hunter (1993), and Foreigner (1994), entertaining and well-crafted tales of CONCEPTUAL BREAKTHROUGH on a world of sentient dinosaurs; these recall in their optimism, lucidity and world-building inventiveness the finest GOLDEN AGE SF. End Of An Era (1994) exhibited similar inventiveness in a slightly darker vein. The Terminal Experiment (1995 ser. ASF) was less successful, but Starplex (1996) returned to Sawyer's earlier form with vigorous and thoughtful novel of first contact and cosmogenesis. Sawyer stands out as one of the most inventive new hard-SF writers of the 1990s, and will certainly join SF's first rank if he bears out his early promise.


And here I find that your analysis of sense of wonder is nearly identical to Greg Bear's claim that the diagnostic aim of hard SF is to induce the feeling of conceptual breakthrough in the mind of the reader!

I think this is true. I also think it falsifies some lines of analysis which I have criticized in earlier annotations.


Much of the little this entry is to say about the Skylark novels is wrong. Enough so to make me wonder if JC was paying attention!

It is misleading to describe DuQuesne as foreign-hued. Aside from his Canadian-French name, he is quite thoroughly American, speaking accentless idiomatic American English and working alongside Seaton in the same government lab. In fact DuQuesne is simply the dark side of the American competent man, the moral obverse of Richard Seaton who otherwise differs from him in no significant way (I belabor this point because it is key to understanding the symbolism of these books). The power and ambiguity of DuQuesne's character derives from the fact that he is not a foreigner to Seaton at all — the kinship betweem then becoming quite obvious during the scenes on Osnome in which the two cooperate (white men against the perfidious wogs) to defeat the treacherous Urvanians.

Smith in fact took obvious pains to amend his early treatment of the series's women (which was poor only by modern reckoning — both are presented as quite competent and independent by the standards of 1914). By Skylark DuQuesne in 1965 Dorothy Seaton is shooting up alien monstrosities right beside her man, and the mother-daughter pair of witches who briefly appear in that novel are tough-minded powerful women who'd fit right in a feminist fantasy today.

I am surprised that JC, evidently determined to do these novels down for political incorrectness, failed to pick on their true and obvious flaw in this regard — their bloody-minded and rather racist view of right conduct. The ruthlessly eugenic slave society of the Osnomians and the casualness with which Seaton sponsors genocide on the Urvanians just before being declared Overlord of Osnome should make uncomfortable reading for any reader with Nazi Germany in his cultural memory — the more so since Seaton actually says at one point Humanity uber alles!.


I think BS's reading of Heinlein as a social Darwinist is wrong (though understandable — at one time I would have made it myself). Rather, I think Heinlein's moral approval of competition should be understood mainly as a consequence of the the secularized Calvinism I discuss as an integral part of American character in my comment on the LEISURE entry.

The difference is significant in two ways. First: for the Social Darwinist's world-picture to be validated, selection must occur — someone must lose. Heinlein would be just as happy if everybody won (everybody was saved in the original Calvinist motif); his most trenchant scorn is reserved not for those who lose but for those who give up the struggle.

Secondly, Social Darwinism implies an apologia for some existing set of power relationships. But Heinlein's conservatism was never an attachment to existing power relationships but rather to certain traditional American values. The difference is made almost explicit in stories like The Long Watch, in which a hero dies to thwart a conservative military coup and is effectively canonized in one of the most powerful elegiac endings in SF.

As with Heinlein, so with libertarians in general. A central belief of libertarians is that the free market is a positive-sum game — thus, there don't in principle have to be any losers (though some may not win enough to feel fully satisfied). And libertarianism, which seeks to abolish almost all power relationships, can hardly be accused of wanting to defend existing ones!

What BS reads in libertarians as echoes of Sumner and Carnegie is accordingly better understood in other ways, most notably as a revulsion against equality-of-results policies and coercive social engineering. The only class war libertarians cheerfully contemplate a la Sumner is of the oppressors against the oppressed — namely, everybody else against the taxing, coercing, war-making political class.

BS is, on the other hand, quite right to see social Darwinism in the writings of true conservatives like Pournelle. It is explicit in the slogan of the arcologists in Oath Of FealtyThink of it as evolution in action.


The existence of negative mass is not in fact prohibited by theory! Robert Forward has had much to say about this in his various articles on gravity physics (see 1995's Indistinguishable From Magic). Indeed it is possible that antimatter has negative mass — but nobody knows yet, because observed quantities of it have been so far too small to undergo observable gravitational interactions.

Nor it is it demonstrably impossible to warp space. See John Cramer's discussion of the Alcubierre warp in the November '96 Analog for refutation.


Append: For this very reason, genre fans have generally resisted and rejected the term.


Stover's critique of Wells may deserved renewed attention in light of trends in the post-Soviet thinking among Russian historians of Marxism and Communism. Since 1992 a consensus has been emerging that Lenin and Stalin, far from appropriating a basically benign Marxist ideology for their own ends, were in fact good Marxists acting out the implications of the theory in a fairly straightforward way.

This line of analysis (which gives due weight to Marx's own consistent advocacy of revolutionary terror) faces up to the necessary role of coercion in socialism. The new Russians would say that Wells's advocacy of elite-led social programs for the transformation of society diverges from Leninism only in that it sweeps the implied means under the rug.


Pigeonholing Swanwick as a cyberpunk writer has never worked. He is more intelligent and imaginative than any of the self-described cyberpunks, with the possible (but only possible) exception of Bruce Sterling on his best days.

Swanwick has taken some of the same material cyberpunks use and made it into far sounder and more resonant work. Stations Of The Tide is particularly telling, one of the very few novels in the history of the genre to fulfill both the 20th century's criteria of literary excellence and SFs own special standards of quality.


This entry sounds peculiar to an American reader. In the U.S., the term sword & sorcery is never used of works like Tolkien's or the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. It is confined to Howard, Leiber and their imitators; the likes of Tolkien is described as high fantasy or adult fantasy and both seen and marketed as a separate subgenre with rather different traditions.

Hambly and Gemmell aren't called either sword & sorcery or high fantasy, and are seen (both in terms of the fantasy field's internal development and of product marketing) to occupy a middle ground in the genre.


Please distinguish between libertarianism and extreme conservatism here.

The unspoken agreement not to publish socialist stories was not a taboo, it arose rather from a nearly genre-wide recognition that socialism simply could not be reconciled with the moral premises of SF (see my discussion of the obverse of this point in the mini-essay on libertarianism). Mack Reynolds was the only writer of significance to buck this current, and his efforts (while interesting in their own right) were largely failures with no continuing influence on the genre.


Perhaps the earliest major work to use the idea of tachyon communications was Silverberg's Tower Of Glass (1970). I am not aware of earlier ones, and that is within the period during which I would bet serious money my knowledge is effectively complete.


After academic and popular works on mathematics under his own name, add , most notably the biographical anthology Men of Mathematics. You'll have to look up a date, my copy went missing years ago. Mathematics: Queen and Servant Of The Sciences is nearly as well known but probably not quite worth separate mention.


The discussion here is peculiarly superficial.

This entry must discuss Tom Clancy, the defining and still-dominant writer of the technothriller, who inaugurated the genre with The Hunt For Red October (1980). It is possible to retrospectively recruit books going back to 1962's Fail-Safe into the technothriller genre, but it was Clancy who gave the genre its contemporary form and style in much the same way Heinlein had redefined the rhetoric of SF forty years earlier.

The simile is apt in more than one way, for Clancy has repeatedly averred that he learned how to write by studying Heinlein. Though Clancy's work occasionally verges on SF (notably in The Cardinal Of The Kremlin (1988), Clancy and his numerous imitators have essentially adopted the expository technique and technophilic aesthetic of hard SF without importing any of SF's urge for CONCEPTUAL BREAKTHROUGH or its philosophical curiosity. Occasionally SF writers like Dean ING have crossed successfully over into the technothriller genre with works like The Ransom of Black Stealth One (1990); nobody but Clancy (a genuinely able writer) has managed the reverse maneuver even by accident.

High quality technothrillers, to an SF fan, often feel entertaining but curiously denatured, like reading competently-crafted SF yard goods written by an author half asleep. At the low end, the technothriller tends to degenerate into a kind of soft-core porn with war machines as the objects of desire and wearyingly simpleminded conservative/militarist politics on constant display. The similarity to bad military SF is not coincidental.


This entry must be amended to end by citing Larry Niven's typology of evasions from time paradoxes in his sharply funny essay The Theory And Practice Of Time Travel, culminating in Niven's Law. Find it in a copy of All The Myriad Ways (1967).


It is certainly not the case that no reasonable definition of SF would encompass LOTR! It is possible to argue that LOTR is fundamentally SFnal in spirit because it induces suspension of belief via an accumulation of intellectually seductive detail. I no longer buy this argument, but it is not an unreasonable one either.


HT's big book has happened. It was Guns Of The South (1992) a remarkably fine successor to such alternate-Civil-War novels as Ward Moore's Bring The Jubilee (1953). In this one, white supremacists from the future equip the Confederacy with AK-47s; the results are not what they intend. Their machinations fade into the background as HT uses the premise to examine the character of those who fought the war, the cultures that gave rise to it, and the political and moral issues it involved. Robert E. Lee is a major character.

HT also displayed a gift for comic technology-of-magic very much in the Unknown Worlds mode with The Case Of The Toxic Spell Dump (1993). The Worldwar books (no bib.; I don't own them) are epic and popular but break no new ground, exploring territory well mapped by Christopher ANVIL (among others) as militaristic aliens invade Earth in an alternate 1942 only to find humans more than they bargained for.

HT is a keenly intelligent, historically aware writer limited by a tendency towards workmanlike but uninspired prose and perhaps a certain lack of ambition. Guns has shown what he is capable of when passionate about his subject (even the prose improves). Another novel or two of its quality would establish him within the first rank of genre writers.


I hope this will be the last time I have to point out that Jerry Pournelle is not a libertarian and the arcology in Oath of Fealty is not in the least bit libertarian in its premises or organization. Please correct this, it is simply wrong.

The North American Confederacy of L. Neil Smith's The Probability Broach (1980) and sequels is worth mentioning as a libertarian utopia.


A curious and interesting feature of early pulp SF and space opera, one strongly atypical for the popular literature of its time, is that its supervillains were often seen as Miltonically noble fallen angels, who could be relatively easily therapized or persuaded back to the side of the good guys. In John W. Campbell's The Black Star Passes (1930) the air pirate Wade is captured and reforms to become one of the trio that saves the solar system. In E.E. Smith's better-known Skylark novels (1914-1965) the villain DuQuesne is intermittently allied with the hero, and at the end of the sequence redeems himself and wanders off to found a eugenic utopia.


The entry misses some competent early work by Vinicoff/Martin, including The Weigher (ASF 1984), a tale of collectivist social change on a planet of anarchist aliens, and Swiss System (ASF, sometime around '85) a thought-provoking brief for defensive warfare by assassination. In 1992 a novel-length version of The Weigher appeared, startlingly reversing the moral of the original novella to libertarian effect.


After This is a philosophy very much in keeping with the contemporary Zeitgeist add of mainstream pop culture, but has won him little favor with GENRE SF fans.


It is unfair, and represents a serious lapse in critical judgement, to lump Lois McMaster Bujold's novels in with the carnographic trash perpetrated by the likes of Pournelle, Drake and their even sleazier imitators. LMB's work is of very high quality (recognized by multiple Hugos) and quite sensitive to the moral issues involved in institutionalizing violence.


Weber has since achieved greater success with a series of competently executed space-warfare romances pastiching C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower in the person of Honor Harrington (fill in dates here). Though hardly surprising, these are entertaining and have moments of subtle irony, as when we are invited to deduce that the royal house of Harrington's mock-Edwardian-English Star Nation Of Manticore is black.


An interesting point about the Omega Point trilogy; GZ originally planned to call it Star Wars, but the George Lucas movie beat him to market by a few months.


Metamorphosis: Alpha (which I have played) owes an obvious debt to Sterling Lanier's Hiero's Journey.

Another important early RPG, fantastic in flavor but with a marginally SF backstory, was M.A.R. Barker's Empire Of The Petal Throne, c. 1973. Barker later published two novels, The Man Of Gold (1984) and Flamesong (1985), which were among the earliest game-world ties. Barker, a linguist/historian/polymath, created in EPT perhaps the richest and most exotic personal milieu ever to function as a game world, and there remains a small but dedicated EPT fandom active twenty years after its first publication.

[The Lawrence Schick you cite was during the later 1980s and 1990s one of the most creative and respected designers of live-action role playing games.]

Update on M.K. WREN

The Phoenix Legacy trilogy was not fantasy, it was an epic space opera (and not a bad one).

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