Science fiction survey

Science fiction survey

Books/Science Fiction Survey 523 years of dramatic change in China; they also suffer acutely from the ‘heroic struggle’ approach to social and indus...

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Books/Science Fiction Survey

523

years of dramatic change in China; they also suffer acutely from the ‘heroic struggle’ approach to social and industrial issues.

to be narrowed down by the application of soft inputs if the forecasts are to play a role in decision making”. RJ

Small Area Employment Forecasting, by Kevin Allen and Douglas Yuill (Hants, Teakfield, 1978), 248 pages, E9.50. The authors spend much of the book coming to grips with the (lack of) data sources in the UK. However their conclusions may well be more widely applicable. “The testing of forecasting techniques was to have been the major component of this book . . . we concluded that the data was not sufficiently reliable to be used in any forecasting technique other than extrapolation and, even then, not at fine levels of disaggregation. The results of our tests show, first that the predictive accuracy of extrapolation techniques is extremely poor at all but the grossest levels of aggregation; and secondly that the resultant wide ranges of error need

World Index of Economic Forecasts, edited by George Cyriax (Hams, Gower Press, 1978), 379 pages, ESO. At first sight, this is a high price to pay for a short address list (175 organisations) of specialised interest, aimed at those in the market for forecasts. However, the information is intelligently cross-indexed to show : which organisation does what forecast (national forecast, exchange rates, commodities) ; who does the forecasts on the principal OECD members, plus a further 63 countries; and a one-page description of each organisation, giving details of the type of forecast (mainly short-term economic) produced. The directory is only of limited appeal but, for the harassed executive who is being pressed for an exchange-rate forecast on the Peruvian sole, it should prove a godsend. RJ

Stephen Wood

SCIENCE

FICTION

SURVEY

Dennis Livingston Vonda

N.

Dreamsnake

McIntyre,

Houghton (Boston, 3 13 pages, $8.95;

MifRin, London,

Gollancz, 1978, k4.95) John Varley, The Ophiuchi

(New

York, Dell, 1978, London, Sidgwick

$1.50; son,

1978,

Books, The

E4.95;

Futura,

creation

Victor

Hotline

237 pages, and Jack-

London,

1978,

1978,

Orbit

&O-85)

of alternative

societies

is

one of my prime interests, and the two novels under review provide strong indication of science fiction’s sophistication in this realm. These books are also fine examples of the kind of prognostication that several recent articles in Futures have stressed, where emphasis Dr Livingston is a member of the Division of Social Science, Marlboro College, Marlboro, Vermont 05344, USA.

FUTURES

35

December

1978

is given to the realm of changing values and lifestyles in the spinning out of ‘what if?’ scenarios. McIntyre’s novel is based on her Nebula award winning story, “Of mist, and grass, and sand”. Those words are not poetic allusions, but refer literally to the names of three snakes, companions to the heroine in her trade as a healer in the indefinite future of a post-holocaust Earth. As with several books previously reviewed, the society described falls into a definite pattern: feminist, tribal or neo-tribal, tolerant, frugal, small-scale, with strong doses of adventure and exploration of emotional attachments (the two were often separated in traditional science fiction). As is also common, a quest is at the centre of the overt plot. The woman called Snake practises her healing trade with biological aids-a living

524

ScienceFiction Survey

cobra and rattler, genetically tailored to provide the desired antitoxins, and the mysterious dreamsnake, an alien creature whose hallucinogenic venom comforts the dying. The dreamsnake is killed and Snake feels compelled to find another. Her search takes her to the peoples of the desert, the hill towns, and, briefly, an underground hightechnology city (also a common point in such stories). The feminism here is more subtle than in similar books, relying on the simple fact that the main character is female with no restrictions on her self-worth other than her own feelings of responsibility and professional ability. In addition, women appear throughout the book in such roles as police guards, tribal leader, and teacher of healers. It is the casual acceptance of women in these positions by all the characters the most radical that is, perhaps, statement the author could make, showing the limited imagination of those post-nuclear tales that have assumed the continuance or strengthening of patriarchal values. Most moving in the book, however, are the three bonds described between Snake and her adopted daughter, a desert man, and a city outcast who she is unable to save. Snake is no female Conan, but a warm and memorable human, capable of being devastated by the death of a patient and fully aware of her sexuality. I hope to read of her further adventures. Equally striking, though very different in tone, is Varley’s first novel, apparently part of a continuing future history. Here, it is high technology all the way, as the remnants of humanity make do in strange ways on assorted moons and planets in the solar system after civilisation is ended on Earth. The latter is carried out virtually overnight by the Invaders, vague creatures of an intelligence far beyond ours who are able to manipulate space and time, and who like to commune

with fellow beings living about gasgiant planets or with whales and dolphins in the ocean. Another set of aliens, the Traders, are busy sending messages to the scattered humans to enable them to head for the stars. It is hinted that the Invaders have come to Earth to save the whales-an intergalactic Greenpeace-but for what ultimate purpose is not told. It is a complex plot, made more so by the existence of technology which enables both cloning and the transfer of mind memories. Together, this means that clones will carry memories in common up to the time of the recording used, after which each, in turn, lives its own lift. The heroine of the story, then, comes in at least three separate but identical bodies, each involved in the machinations of the wily lunar politician, Boss Tweed, and his efforts to get humans back to Earth. Varley, indeed, provides a dizzyirrg array of advanced technologies reminiscent of ‘hard’ science fiction of the golden years, combined with a modern touch of sensuality and an appreciation for the potential diversity of human social forms. As in such books as Delaney’s Triton, casual body surgery and alteration is practised at will, sex changes are common, and unlimited energy is supplied by harnessed black holes. In a sense, this may be a preview of how things could go in a hedonistic, and literally alienated, energy-rich, culture. The book’s major fault lies in the grand cop-out of the superintelligent beings, whose motivations and source of power remain incomprehensible to all concerned. The Traders arc also left with cliches about their desire to intimately learn about all dispossessed cultures, so as to ensure their own longevity as they wander the spaceways However, the pace of the book is so fast and the social impacts of advanced technology so ingeniously drawn, that the reader is carried on willy-nill~7.

FUTURES

December

1978

Science Fiction Survey

Metafictions

525

from the physical sciences

Philip Strick Colin

Wilson, Science Fiction as Exi(Hayes, Middlesex, Bran’s Head Books, 1978), 16 pages, LO-75

stentialism

Colin Wilson’s amiable dissertation is engagingly chatty, conveniently brief (around 8000 words), and disconcertingly vague. Three main concerns are interwoven : a general history of science fiction, Wilson’s awareness of the genre and participation therein, and a theory of the ultimate importance of science fiction in the mental evolution of mankind. As the title of the essay suggests the third of these themes, readers should be warned that instead of venturing down the broad avenue of indicated possibilities, Wilson leads us up a number of minor garden paths only to abandon us at the starting gate. Dropping names and opinions at random, Wilson buttonholes us with an approach so informal as to persuade us that, friends as we are, we will be sure to agree with him. As if confident of such indulgence on our part, he comes up with a dazzling array of non-sequiturs and unsubstantiated (not to mention insubstantial) claims. There is the suggestion that Van Vogt may have a place in the history of psychology beside Freud and Jung; a concept the more unusual for being based, it seems, on Van Vogt’s past interest in Korzybski and L. Ron Hubbard. There is the unargued assumption that men have always accepted tragedy as the ‘highest’ form of literature; this appears to place The Iliud ‘above’ (wherever that may be) The Odyssey which, however, is fantasy Philip Strick is a council member of the Science Fiction Foundation, and lectures in science fiction at London University (extra-mural).

FUTURES

December 1978

and consequently more Popular, according to Wilson. There is the startling dismissal of Wells’s Island of Dr A&rem attempt to as “a jolly schoolmaster’s frighten the children by shouting boo”, plus a shameless confession that in his formative years Wilson was bored by the later chapters of War of the Worlds, ~nv~s~~~e&fan, and Time ~~hine. Presumably he never got around to a second look at them, either. Although the science fiction enthusiast, weatherbeaten by the rolling tides of critical opinion among the fanzines, can be expected to treat most of this with healthy scepticism, the possible effect of Wilson’s peculiar judgements on a newcomer to the subject is an unhappy thought. He sideswipes Ellison, Heinlein, and Vonnegut (although he reinstates the latter two within a couple of paragraphs), he says that most science fiction is appalhngly written, and he has no doubt that it was invented by Jules Verne. A burning interest Sparing a kind, if apologetic, word for A. E. Merritt, Wilson describes how his own interest in writing science fiction was rekindled by that “rather bad” writer H. P. Lovecraft; and how in 1975 “as one of those gifts of God” he dreamed up the amazing start to a new novel: a derelict hulk, floating among the asteroids, is investigated by a small spacecraft. That this came to him with such a sense of discovery is, more than anything else in the essay, an indication that Wilson’s reading of science fiction has not been altogether comprehensive. Nevertheless, his conclusion (quite early in the piece) that science fiction is “perhaps the most important form of

526

Science Fiction Surve_ylPublications Received

literary creation” ever discovered, is certainly a case we would all like to see argued some time. While few, unfortunately, will detect the incontrovertible in Wilson’s proposal that there is an undefined ‘something’ in the medium that appeals to our subconscious; it is disappointing that even fewer are

PUBLICATIONS T.

Harrell

Allen,

RECEIVED

_New Methods in Social Science Holt Saunders, 1978),

Research (Eastbourne,

157 pages, Ll1.25. Frederick R. Anderson

Improvement

et al, Environmental

Through

Economic

Incentives

(London, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), 195 pages, paper E3.25, cloth A9. J. Scott Armstrong, Long-Range Forecasting: From Cystal Ball to Computer (Chichater, John Wiley, 1978), 612 pages, E17.75. William Ascher, Forecasting: An Appraisal for Policy-makers and Planners (London, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), 239 pages, E10.50. Robert Asprin, Another Fine Myth (New York, Donning, 1978), 159 pages, no price stated. Robert U. Ayres, Resources, Environment and Economics (Chichester, John Wiley, 1978), 207 pages, E17.60. Neil Barron, Anatomy of Wonder: Science Fiction (London and New York, Bowker, 1978), 471 pages, paper L7, cloth 611. Trevor Beeson, Britain Today and Tomorrow (London, Fontana, 1978), 283 pages, Ll.50. Selina Bendix and Herbert R. Graham,

Environmental Assessment-Approaching (Chichester, E12.60. Alfred Bester, Berkeley, J. F. Bone, Donning, Edward de

John

Wiley,

likely to draw any firm links from the essay between science fiction and Sartre, Heidegger, or Pirandello. It all sounds, on Wilson’s own admission, “like pretentious, journalistic wordspinning-which, to some extent, it is”. To a considerable extent, in fact, although from the best possible motives.

1978),

Maturity 288

page

The Computer Connection (New York, 1978),

2 17 pages, no price stated. (New York, 1978), 211 pages, no price stated. Bono, Obbortunities: A Handbook of Business Opportu&-iearch (London, Associate; Business Programmes, 1978), 212 pages, E7.50. Raymond Bowers, Alfred M. Lee and Gary Hershey, Communications for a Mobile Society: An Assessment of New Technology (London and Beverly Hills, Sage, 1978), 432 pages, $25. Frank Bradbury, Technology Transfer Practice of fnnternational Firms (Alphen aan den Rijn, Suthoff and Noordhoff, 1978), 312 pages, Dfl95, $44.25. Ernest Braun and Stuart MacDonald, Revolution in Miniature (London, Cambridge University Press, 1978), 231 pages, E8.50. British Airports Authority, Forecasts of Trafic at Western European Airports to 1990 (London, BAA, 1978), 120 pages, no price stated.

Corzfederation Matador

Ronald Brown, Telephone Facsimile for Business (Stoke-sub-Hamdon, Post News, 1978), 152 pages, no price stated. Algis Budrys, Some Will JVot Die (New York, Donning, 1978), 179 pages, no price stated. Robert W. Burchell and David Listokin, eds, Future Land Use (New Jersey, The Center for Urban Policy Research, 1978), 369 pages, $17.95. Lawrence B. Burrows, Growth Management : Issues, Techniques and Poliv Implications (New Jersey, The Center for Urban Policy Research, 1978), 141 pages, $10. David Butler and A. H. Halsey, eds, Polig and Politics (London, Macmillan, 1978), 2 14 pages, ,C;lO. Adrian0 Buzzati-Traverse, The ScientiJic Enterprise, Today and Tomorrow (Paris, UNESCO, 1977), 429 pages, no price stated. George Chadwick, A Systems View of Planning (Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1978), 432 pages, $15. Alfred D. Chandler, Jr, The Visible Hand: The d4anagerial Revolt&on in American Business (London, Harvard University Press, 1978), 608 pages, A12.95. George ChaDman. Sureeon From Another World (London, &W. I-I. Glen, 1978) 185 pages, L5.50. Colin Cherry, World Communication: Threat or (Chichester, John Promise, revised edition Wiley, 1978), 229 pages, paper L4.75, cloth Lll. Council of Europe, Recent Demographic Develop-

ments in the Member States of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg, Committee for Population Studies; 1978), 76pages, no price staied. C. Csaki. First Version of the Hunearian Aericultural Model (HAM-l) (Laxenburg, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, 1978), 88 pages, no price stated. George Cyriax, World Index of Economic Forecasts (Farnborough, Gower Press, 1978), 379 pages, &SO.I. Darmstadter, 1. Dunkerley and .I. Alterman, How Indust&- Societies L
The Politics of Housing in Britain and France (London, Heine-

FUTURES

December

1016