A Biblio-Critical Study of Speculative Fiction Novels



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2001 or Thus Sprach Tharastra*

* I couldn't resist adding in the little musical "bits"

Copyright: Daniel R. Fruit and Albion College
Revised for internet publication: 2005

A Thesis Submitted for Honors by Daniel R. Fruit
April, 1982 at Albion College
Honors Granted: May, 1982


This Thesis, submitted by Daniel Fruit for Albion College Honors, Another World: A Biblio-Critical Survey of Speculative Fiction Novels has been approved by the Honors Committee.

Honors Director: Dr. Ralph Davis
Dean of the Faculty: Neil Schutz
Thesis Advisor: Dr. Lilian Miller
Committee Member: Dr. Hal Wyss
Committee Member: Dr. Ralph Davis


To my Mother who Typed This Opus and Philip K. Dick (1926-1982). He Found Another World.



Table of Contents

Chapter 00: Introduction
Chapter 01: The Futures of Yesterday
Chapter 02: Percursors of the Speculative Fiction Movement
Chapter 03: Babel 17: Samuel R. Delany
Chapter 04: Camp Concentration: Thomas M. Disch
Chapter 05: The Dream Master: Roger Zelazny
Chapter 06: Breakfast Among the Ruins: Michael Moorcock
Chapter 07: Love and Napalm: J.G. Ballard
Chapter 08: Frankenstein Unbound: Brian Aldiss
Chapter 09: Other Voices
Chapter 10: Another World: The Value of Speculative Fiction
Chapter 11: Bibliography




Fiction that examines the universe we live in is not new. It continues the tradition of the religious writers of the Middle Ages. This literature is didactic because it explains the laws of nature. Dante's Divine Comedy, for example, showed his perception of God's cosmos. Other religious writers conceived quite different models of the universe but within this general tradition of trying to explain the cosmos. Didactic fiction balanced explication of these laws with fictional example. As views of the universe altered, so did the content of this fiction. This equal balance between story and explanation of the story's backing marked this tradition.

The Scientific Revolution effectively eliminated religious fiction as the genre for world explication. Science, rather than religion, was thought to know the governing parameters of the universe. Darwin and Lamarck, rather than Genesis, told about the birth of the world and mankind. Science fiction became the genre through which information authors fictionalized these laws. In the science fiction novel, scientific plausibility rated above literary substance.

Science fiction, however, forms only one of a wider category of fiction that one can term "speculative fiction," fiction that speculates on the world's origins and laws. Speculative fiction includes any work whose explanation of the cosmos, its setting, ranks as at least as important as any other literary value it may possess. Obviously, a work in this category can simply negative or augment normal reality, and the author can make his creation subject to scientific and pseudo-scientific laws; this is generally termed "science fiction." Alternately, he can make his world subject to a non-scientific, but rational, system; this is generally termed "science fantasy." Speculative fiction, the subject of this thesis, covers both of these fields.

In the late fifties, there arose in the science fiction community a group of authors that wrote works that lacked some of the obsession with correct science that distinguished earlier science fiction, but paid more attention to the relationship between these worlds and that in which they themselves lived. In other words, they returned some of the balance to world exploration that belong to the earlier tradition in which a fictional world existed for more purposes than just exploring scientific laws and principles. For these authors and their works, I will use the looser term "speculative fiction" and refer to the "speculative fiction" movement. For this same group others have used the term "new wave" or "sf," the latter purposely chosen so that it might include science fantasy as well as science fiction. This greater concern with the non-scientific parameters of the future had always appeared as a fact of a select group of mainstream writers such as H.G. Wells, C.S. Lewis, and Olaf Stapledon who happened to write science fiction. Those mainstream writers inhabited the border territory of standard fiction; the new writers wrote for the science fiction audience but incorporated mainstream literary traditions into their work.

These new authors possessed two important qualities that make their fiction important. On the one hand, they fully possessed the traditional panoramic ability to create new worlds that had always traditionally distinguished science fiction. However, they supplemented this with a new literary awareness, and their fiction reached a higher literary quality than did that of their science fiction predecessors. These writers went beyond pure escape, moreover, and turned the new perspective that science fiction allowed back on the real world. They attempted to explore the non-scientific aspects of their story backgrounds, the so-called soft science and some cases, the entire work became metaphoric, or even simple metaphor. Science fiction had always allowed this kind of external vision on our world, but speculative fiction writers widened the focus. This thesis will survey some of the best writers in this movement and explore some of these new visions.

My own experiment with speculative fiction began with watching Lost in Space and Time Tunnel on television. I felt intrigued and fascinated by the strange worlds I saw. I read such "space operas" as Perry Rhodan, and vicariously visited the exotic locales of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I then moved on to the more scientific works of Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke. At about the same time, I began to read serious, classic literature. I generally became discontented with the literary quality of science fiction; I began to read science fiction novels purely for their escape value. I considered science fiction essentially an inferior genre.

About two years ago, I began to read genre criticism either praising or condemning the "New Wave," which claimed to try to "improve" science fiction. This interested me for a number of reasons. Most genre fiction such as the detective, the harlequin, and the Western hadn't evolved since their inception. Speculative fiction, I gradually realized, is evolving and approaching something of the quality of the classic novel though its inherent need to create worlds puts a limit on its literary quality. By studying this genre, one may see why other genres have not improved or, alternatively, how they could improve.

Another intriguing aspect of the speculative fiction novel involves its growing audience. Speculative fiction has the potential to provide the reader with a bridge between literary potboilers and the classics. The speculative fiction novel particularly holds this potential. In the short story, space is so limited that author must concentrate his attention on world creation; in the novel the author can concentrate on traditional literary quality as well. Speculative fiction also has unique merits that I have dealt with in my final chapter.

The work before you is the result of my personal study of the speculative fiction novel. I have tried to survey the field and point out authors' work that have literary and imaginative merit. I have used many titles for related reasons. For the genre aficionado, I wish to provide as many points of reference as possible; for the novels, I wish to provide a selective bibliography.

This study seems appropriate because of speculative fiction's present popularity. The pictorial media have made science fiction extremely popular in its least important forms. The movies emphasize space opera, a form that hasn't critically stood on its own merits within the genre since the thirties. Once science fictions readers feared that obscurity that might destroy speculative fiction; now they must fear its popularity. Today, a famous author's name can bring an enormous sum if he has achieved popular acclaim; Heinlein's latest novel sold for one half million dollars. Publishers have brought out a large number of new novels written simply to exploit the popularity of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Even first rate writers have succumbed to the lure of popular hackwork. Criticism seems the only real solution. Possibly critics can direct new readers to the "classics." Even if this doesn't happen, criticism may produce a large enough group of intelligent readers that publishers and authors will continue to issue important works even among the potboiling drivel.

The purpose of this work is to introduce reader and critic to some of these works. Given more time, I would have written more on the works of writers briefly mentioned in Chapter Nine. Chapter One is a thematic introduction to genre history. I do not claim to be complete; my objective is to introduce the reader to the persistent traditions in the field. The second chapter goes into some depth exploring the works of some of the literary precursors of the speculative fiction movement. The next six chapters deal with the works of specific writers. It will become apparent that they have individual, distinct voices. The ninth chapter lists some other important writers in the movement. Chapter Ten attempts to identify the literary and social merits of speculative fiction. This work is intended for the reader who says, "Speculative what? Oh, science fiction? Yeah, I like it. I read Star Wars three times."