Review of Gender and Environment in Science Fiction

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 4

Nonfiction Reviews

Review of Gender and Environment in Science Fiction

Patrick Sharp

Christy Tidwell and Bridgitte Barclay, eds. Gender and Environment in Science Fiction. Lexington Books, 2019. Ecocritical Theory and Practice. Paperback. 238 pp. $39.99. ISBN 9781498580595.

This anthology from Christy Tidwell and Bridgitte Barclay is a part of Lexington Books’ series on Ecocritical Theory and Practice. As Tidwell and Barclay explain in their introduction, the purpose of the volume is to engage the ways in which science fiction narratives take up, challenge, and transform the “often flawed scientific narratives” of scientists and “popular science writing” that are centrally important for examining “environmental and gender issues” (xii-xiii). The essays in the volume focus primarily on science fiction film and literature, with one essay on mid-century comics. Like most anthologies of this kind, there is not a tight coherence connecting all of the essays to one another, but this is not a flaw. The purpose of the volume also seems to be to open a broad-based conversation between branches of feminist science studies and the scholarly science fiction community on increasingly urgent environmental issues. As a result, each essay weaves together a new provocation from different disciplinary threads and theoretical approaches. While the overall book might seem eclectic to some, I enjoyed the variety of the essays and think that it provides a welcome and timely addition to the growing body of SF scholarship grappling with climate change and environmental themes.

The first section of three essays focuses on “Performing Humanity, Animality, and Gender,” and begins with Barclay’s essay on Mesa of Lost Women (1953) and Wasp Woman (1959). Both of these mid-century B movies focus on monstrous, hyper-sexualized “wom-animals” designed clearly to titillate (3). However, as Barclay argues, the films’ blurring of boundaries between “nature and science, humans and animals, masculine and feminine,” work to “destabilize both gender and human/nonhuman constructs” and open up rich possibilities for camp readings (3). As drag shows expose the artificial nature of gendered performances, such low-budget B movies expose the artificial nature of filmmaking (through clunky effects and non-sensical stories that destroy the suspension of disbelief). Barclay shows how they also expose master narratives and mid-century hierarchies of power, and proffers a camp reading through “ecocritical and feminist frames” that queer such narratives and hierarchies (5). Through her camp readings of these films, Barclay shows how their “sf warnings about” violating boundaries become “a pleasure” in violating those boundaries (6). In Mesa of Lost Women, a scene of mad science where “arachnid women […] with super intelligence and beauty” work feverishly in a laboratory becomes a vision of the traditional objects of the male scientific gaze—women and animals—becoming “empowered” by actively “undoing […] traditional gendered and anthropocentric boundaries” (10). In Wasp Woman, a businesswoman overcomes the condescension of men by “becoming the experiment and the experimenter,” reaching into the animal kingdom to give herself the power of a queen wasp (10). Barclay demonstrates how this appeal to alternative gendered arrangements in the animal kingdom shows the artificiality and mutability of the “sex/gender constructs of human culture” (13).

The second essay in the first section is by Tidwell, who takes up gendered performance in two recent films—Her (2013) and Ex Machina (2015)—and argues that they are narratives of escape and “freedom for […] female characters, who are not punished for their flight and who do successfully escape” (30). Tidwell rejects the readings of the films that try to limit them to standard exercises in male fantasy projected onto technology. What is more problematic, she argues, is the way in which the films “privilege the machine at the expense of the garden” and “take for granted human control of nonhuman nature” (36). By glorifying liberation for female characters at the expense of nonhuman nature, Tidwell shows how the films highlight “the need for stronger connections between feminist and environmental concerns” in science fiction (38). In the third essay of the section, Amelia Z. Greene addresses the embodied quality of knowledge in Octavia Butler’s novel Wild Seed (1980), focusing on the abilities of main character Anyanwu to read bodies and transform herself into any body—regardless of sex or species–that she could read. Greene shows how Butler rejects the masculinist eugenics associated with the novel’s villain Doro, opting instead for a kind of utopian queer ecology through the ways in which Anyanwu gathers and adjusts bodies and develops “alternative models of familial care” as a site “of ethical world-building” (47). As such, Greene argues that Wild Seed provides one possible alternative to the heteronormative, “future-oriented environmentalist thinking” that focuses on protecting nature for the benefit of future human generations (58). Anyanwu’s building of families as a father and mother, and also as a dolphin, queers the “category of the human […] as one piece of a much larger planetary organism or arrangement” (59). Though limited by Butler’s adherence to “reproductive futurism,” Greene shows how Butler “calls on readers to emulate Anyanwu” and “deviate from the scripts we have been given” (61).

The second section has two essays on “Gendering the Natural World.” The first is an examination of speciesism in the films Womaneater (1958) and The Gardener (1974) by Fernando Gabriel Pagnoni Berns and Juan Juvé. More specifically, they look at how the “vegetal monsters” are coded as “passive and feminine” objects of “imperialism and capitalism,” while also being coded as violently masculine threats to the social order (70). Using ecocritical theory that highlights the “interwoven nature of speciesism” with “misogyny” and other “forms of oppression,” Berns and Juvé show how the woman-eating Amazonian tree of Womaneater is an active phallic monster, while at the same time it serves as a passive and feminized extension of the colonial British explorer who captured it (71). Where Womaneater shows a critique of speciesism similar to the nascent counterculture movements of the 1950s, Berns and Juvé argue that The Gardener is an example of such critique during the full flowering of the consciously ecological “nature-run-amok” films of the 1970s (79).

The second essay, by Steve Asselin, looks at the gendering of nature in Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826). Using a “queer ecocritical” approach, Asselin notes how male characters think of the novel’s global plague in terms of feminine roles such as mother, lover, and female tyrant (91). Asselin makes clear that nature is “a nonhuman entity forced into a human and gendered persona,” and dismantles the “heterosexist assumptions” that Shelley’s characters use when they confront nature and the plague (92). Asselin also celebrates Shelley’s rejection of “reproductive futurism,” or the belief that people should think about “subsequent generations” as a motivating force for doing good (94). The novel makes clear that there will be no future generations, and Asselin makes clear that it also deconstructs “masculine cultural practices” that will vanish along with humanity (99).

The third section has two essays on “Contemporary Queering.” The first is by Tyler Harper, whose examination of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 (2012) emphasizes the importance of “alternate ways of thinking about nature” that help “combat […] forms of environmental and bodily violence and subjugation” (116). Harper argues that Robinson’s cyborg main character—and the novel’s critique of terraforming—lead to a “post-naturalism that would not presuppose to transcend nature” (124). Harper concludes that the strength of Robinson’s novel comes through its insistence on an awareness of making as an activity that exists within nature, and that must also contend with the limitations of the boundaries we create with our knowledge. For Harper, this means avoiding putting “the world […] under the thumb of techno-scientific mastery” and also avoiding the rejection of knowledge as radically contingent (127).

Stina Attebery provides the second essay in this section, “Ecologies of Sound,” in which she explores the sound elements of Upstream Color that further “feminist biopolitics” and lead to “queer forms of human and non-human reproduction” in the film (132). A story of cross-species parasitism that leads to heightened sensory awareness, Upstream Color (2013) uses sound to foreground the main character’s journey from trauma to understanding, particularly in her linkages in a “queer community of species” akin to Stacy Alaimo’s formulation of “trans-corporeality” (134). Attebery shows how the intimate sensual connection between the main characters and two pigs—created through “mediated listening” in a complex series of medical interventions and gestations—offers a “new political framework” for understanding “forms of reproductive futurity” that “are explicitly queer” (137).

The fourth and final section, entitled “’We Don’t Need Another Hero,” has three essays that critique the gendering of hero figures in comics and film. The first, by Jill E. Anderson, focuses on “Ecoqueer Hybrid Heroes in Atomic Age Comics” put out by branches of the U.S. government to teach ecological lessons. Analyzing such characters as Smokey the Bear and Nature Boy, Anderson shows how their campy stories and connections to nature make them particularly transgressive figures in the ultra-conservative era of the Comics Code Authority. Anderson convincingly reads Smokey as a ruggedly masculine “gay bear” who shows the folly of human treatment of nature while redefining “masculinity as forgiving, undemanding, and inclusive” (155-156). Anderson reads Nature Boy as a hilariously campy master of nature who rides phallic lightning bolts, uses his powers to fight “humankind’s violence, greed, and corruption,” and approaches conflict with “empathy and benevolence” (158). Anderson’s discussion of Swamp Thing and Aquaman reinforces the case that such hybrid characters effectively commandeered mid-century masculinity to show the interdependency of humanity and non-human species.

The second essay, by Michelle Yates, breaks down Eden imagery in Soylent Green (1973) and Wall-E (2008), in particular the nostalgic quests of white men in after-Eden stories looking to restore (feminine) nature and (masculine) civilization. As Yates shows, both films rely heavily on eco-memories of pristine nature and romanticize “a past when […] white people were seemingly in a harmonious relationship with extra-human nature” (174). Like much political nostalgia, however, these films romanticize something that never in fact existed, and use it to reinscribe hegemonic patriarchal whiteness at the center of modern eco-discourse in ways that obscure material relations of power and privilege. They also reveal the persistence of such white masculinist fantasies in eco-media.

The final essay in this section (and the anthology) is Carter Soles’s piece on petroleum culture and feminism in the Mad Max franchise. Soles shows that the rise of feminist characters beginning in the third film, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), undercuts the “patriarchal constructions of women as passive” and instead recasts them as the builders of ecologically sustainable civilizations (189). The move away from the petroleum culture of the first two films to a nuclear frontier setting in Thunderdome and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Soles argues, allows the films to connect patriarchy with the environmental devastation of capitalism. However, Soles shows that the films remain committed to a globalized capitalist economy supported by an “unsustainable dependence upon fossil fuel” (199).

The essays in this volume provide very different and engaging theoretical and methodological approaches to gender and the environment, and each speaks to the power of SF to provide transgressive and transformative possibilities necessary for building more ethical (and survivable) futures. One particular strength of this collection is this:  the essays in this anthology will bring  those unfamiliar with eco-feminist and eco-queer theory up to speed as they cover large swaths of the field and ground these theories in detailed readings of SF texts. Science fiction scholars should ensure that their library has a copy of this fine collection, and scholars interested in the intersections of gender, sexuality, and the environment in SF should get the paperback for their personal libraries.

Patrick B. Sharp is Professor of Liberal Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. He is the author of Darwinian Feminism and Early Science Fiction (2018) and series co-editor of New Dimensions in Science Fiction with the University of Wales Press.

Review of The Order and the Other: Young Adult Utopian Literature and Science Fiction

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 4

Nonfiction Reviews

Review of The Order and the Other: Young Adult Utopian Literature and Science Fiction

Thomas J. Morrissey

Joseph W. Campbell. The Order and the Other: Young Adult Utopian Literature and Science Fiction. UP of Mississippi, 2019. Children’s Literature Association Series. Paperback. 200 pg. $30. ISBN 9781496824738. Hardback. 200pg. $99.00. ISBN 9781496824721.

Joseph W. Campbell is a man on a mission. His goals are to differentiate SF from dystopian literature and to demonstrate “how essential it is for adolescents to come into contact with dystopian literature and science fiction and to understand these genres on their own terms” (5). For him, texts in both genres have a “use value” in the classroom, which is to say that texts in each genre invite an understanding of either othering (SF) or social critique (dystopia). The Order and the Other: Young Adult Utopian Literature and Science Fiction, consists of an Introduction, five chapters that take us from the theoretical underpinnings of the genres to observations about their future course, thorough notes, a bibliography, and an index.

Chapter One, “Interpellation, Identification, and the Boundary Between Self and the o/Other,” establishes ways of looking at subject formation and its relationship to cultural and state power. The sources—Althusser, Žižek, Foucault, Burke, Trites, and others—will be familiar to most critics. Campbell demonstrates that adolescents are themselves othered, that they are under surveillance, and that society wants the literature written for them to reenforce prescribed social constructs. However, SF is built upon the novum (Ernst Bloch) and cognitive estrangement (Darko Suvin). Paraphrasing Carl Freedman, Campbell writes that “the novum is the object or place that creates radical alterity, the ‘new thing’ that immediately pulls readers out of their assumptions about how the world-within-the-fiction works” (34-35). Furthermore, “what we might think of as normal ideological beliefs and rhetorical positions are estranged” (35). On the other hand, “dystopian fiction is a genre where the author can readily engage contemporary social situations and theoretically project what is to come for an audience that is perhaps not always as theoretically and politically aware as an academic one” (37). Campbell introduces Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA) and Repressive State Apparatuses (RSA). The former are the means of indoctrination and cultural hegemony; the latter are the violent methods that dystopian societies employ when ISA fail. ISA and RSA recur throughout the text.

The second chapter, “’The Electric Boy Grows Up’: Science Fiction for a Young Adult Audience,” discusses the use value of YA SF. Unlike YA literature in general, which Roberta Seelinger Trites says is primarily designed to reinforce established discourses and values, YA SF benefits from cognitive estrangement; hence, “science fiction can be used to help adolescents examine the ‘us/them’ orientation of the discourse that surrounds them” (43). Specifically, YA SF should be eye-opening. Campbell writes that “contemporary science fiction is engaged with the encounter with the other and exploring the nature of othering itself” (49), both of which endeavors result from the destabilizing effect of cognitive estrangement and the new opportunities inherent in the novum. Openings are created for newer discourses. Feminism and other critical perspectives emerged in SF precisely because the form invites them. Campbell gives attention to several texts that help illustrate his contention that the genre is “a literature of critical advocacy” (55).

Chapter Three, “’The Treatment of Stirrings’: Dystopian Literature for Adolescents,” seeks to define the scope and use value of the form. The chapter’s title is an unmistakable nod to Lowry’s The Giver (1993), a discussion of which concludes the chapter. Lowry’s sexless world is devoid of youthful hormones. Furthermore, the adults in the book experience infantilization. Hence, Campbell agrees with Lyman Tower Sargent’s observation that dystopias for adults and young people are not all that different. Campbell dismisses the argument that dystopia is about hope or the lack thereof. He points out that YA dystopia offers the opportunity for social critique. But the form also highlights the passage from childhood utopia to adult dystopia. This is precisely what happens to Jonas in The Giver when he moves from restricted childhood to the lonely and painful status of Keeper of Memories. There are informative discussions of several other novels including Todd Strasser’s  The Wave (1981), Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War (174), and Suzanne Weyn’s The Bar Code Tattoo (2004).

Having taught both SF (YA and Adult) and utopia/dystopia for over forty years, I enjoyed Campbell’s discussion in Chapter Four, “Teaching the Fantastic”: Using Science Fiction and Dystopian Texts in the Classroom.” His intention is to help give students the tools they need to read the texts with the goal that they will come to their own critical perspectives. One point on which he is adamant: “Studying science fiction and dystopian literatures can create a learning community within the classroom space” (129). I agree wholeheartedly. Teaching these texts requires that teachers allow students to own them. Since both forms employ social criticism, it is important to recognize that in order for students to recognize the ISA which trap them, they must be empowered. To teach top down is to miss the point entirely. While failure is implicit in adult dystopias, dystopia for younger readers must not be entirely hopeless, which does blunt, to some extent, the dire warnings. The remainder of the chapter surveys a number of pedagogical uses of the genre by multiple teachers, including engaging observations based on Campbell’s own teaching. Of particular note is the idea that instructors have a responsibility to deal with the impact on students of reading critical texts that might upset preconceived ideas.

Chapter Five, “’Signs of Life’: Consideration for the Future of the Genres and Their Critique,” is where Campbell shows his passion for his pedagogy, the goal of which is helping teachers to better grasp the immediate use value of two closely aligned genres. The boundaries between the genre are permeable. While the task of YA SF is to defamiliarize, to catch off guard, the job of YA dystopias is to create fictive societies that clearly resemble the world in which the YA audience lives and that offer hope for and pathways to life beyond adolescence. Campbell tells us that dystopias “tend to share one thing in common: a sense of totalitarian fascism” (157-8). Fascism is alive, well, and resurgent, and students need the tools to deconstruct it. This chapter also features strong individual discussions of films and texts.

This a multi-faceted book. It is an erudite and lucid discussion of critical theory as applied to SF and dystopia. It is a source book for instructors who want to learn how better to employ such texts. It is also a call to action. Teachers are urged to think more systematically about the two genres and choose texts that will develop in students an ability to appreciate new ways to look at the self, the other, and the struggles inherent in living in a largely dystopic world.

Thomas Morrissey is Emeritus Distinguished Teaching Professor of English, having retired from SUNY Plattsburgh in August of 2020. He has written numerous articles and book reviews, many SF-oriented. He is coauthor with Richard Wunderlich of Pinocchio Goes Postmodern: The Perils of a Puppet in the United States (Routledge). He is also author and composer of several musical comedies, one of which, “Puppet Song,” follows the trials and tribulations of Pinocchio’s descendants.

Review of The Tragic Thread in Science Fiction

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 4

Nonfiction Reviews

Review of The Tragic Thread in Science Fiction

Dennis Wilson Wise

Waugh, Robert H. The Tragic Thread in Science Fiction. Hippocampus Press, 2019. Paperback. 236 pg. $20.00. ISBN 9781614982463.

Robert H. Waugh’s latest collection of critical essays is an odd book—a throwback, really, to bygone days filled with humanist values and New Critical precepts. Virtually absent from The Tragic Thread in Science Fiction is historical context. Authorial biography fares a little better, but only just. Yet no matter how deeply readers look, they’ll not find any critical terminology, no theories or critical topics, from the last thirty years. In a way, this makes sense. The oldest essay in this collection hails from 1985, the second oldest from 1990. To be fair, Waugh significantly revised both essays—though not his third reprint, an article from 1997—for The Tragic Thread in Science Fiction, evidently in a sincere (if uneven) attempt to make this book read as a book rather than as a disjointed collection of essays. Still, this stylistic facelift leaves the articles’ core arguments untouched—and it shows. In neither case do Waugh’s revisions, despite a few updated citations, address major recent works or trends in SF criticism. Likewise, although Waugh’s nine other non-reprint chapters forego any dates of composition, they too exude the faintly musty aura of Rip van Winkle. These essays are formal, intelligently written, and sometimes even charmingly learned, but they nonetheless retain the terms and methodologies of our New Critical forebears. The real connecting thread in The Tragic Thread in Science Fiction, far from the “heroism, grandeur, and tragedy” stated in the introduction (7), is Waugh’s resurrection of close reading for imagery, quest functions, literary influence, source hunting, thematic oppositions, and aesthetic form and structure—especially aesthetic form and structure, in fact—in isolation from broader historical and cultural concerns.

Still, we should be careful not to dismiss a book too quickly simply because it stubbornly evades several decades of mainstream academic criticism. Sometimes, the old can teach us what the new no longer remembers it has forgotten. Yet, alas—in The Tragic Thread in Science Fiction, Waugh never once defends his critical methodology. Like a rhinoceros barreling on heedless of the new landscapes through which it travels, Waugh sets forth his arguments without much regard or interest for how other contemporary academic critics might see his approach. This leaves his collection a significant problem of audience. On one hand, the refusal to engage contemporary trends in SF studies—even if only to defend his own approach—means that relatively few academics will find his discussions particularly helpful to their own research. On the other hand, I suspect Waugh’s style remains much too formal to hold much appeal for general lay readers, a core audience for Hippocampus books, though he occasionally adds a few lively autobiographical touches. Waugh for instance, sounding very much like Frederik Pohl, mentions on his first page how “suddenly science fiction became an article of faith for me, a genre to which I became devoted” (7). Yet this passion seeps only infrequently into the collection. At the end of the day, The Tragic Thread in Science Fiction remains too traditional a book, too beholden to the great span of time over which its essays were written, to attempt a more reader-friendly (and more contemporary) autoethnographic style.

As mentioned already, Waugh’s introduction states his subject as “heroism, grandeur, and tragedy” in certain select SF writers (7). This is a noble claim, but also an attempt—a thin one—at imposing thematic unity upon the volume. Only a fraction of Waugh’s essays specifically deal with heroism, grandeur, or tragedy. Still fewer do so as their main focus. For example, on Waugh’s second page, he briefly outlines the “order of parts that occur in Greek tragedies,” but he undercuts himself almost immediately by admitting, “I will not press this nomenclature in my analyses of these books” (8). And, indeed, Waugh does not—almost another seventy pages pass before Waugh finds reason to cite the structure of Greek tragedy again, and then merely in passing (on page 77). Likewise, Waugh’s emphasis on SF itself is another thin attempt at unity, something to help along a pithier title for his book. Obviously, texts like David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus (1920), Mervyn Peake’s Titus Alone (1959), and Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories are all fantasy, not SF. Waugh attempts to sidestep this objection by calling these writings “Gothic”-style texts (7), but the Gothic mode itself, of course, maps imperfectly onto SF. But even if Waugh’s arguments rarely study the nature of the tragic within his chosen texts, his selection of texts showcases more clearly his preferences as a reader. Perhaps unsurprising in one who has written two previous non-fiction collections on H. P. Lovecraft, Waugh generally prefers fiction that imagines the infinite minuteness of humanity within the universe. For Waugh, this creates a sense of cosmic loneliness and a tragic falling off from older, more anthropocentric visions of humanity—a sense reinforced by German philosophers such as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.

After this introduction, Waugh dives straight into the essays. The first three concern David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus. In “The Drum of Arcturus in Lindsay’s Strange Music,” the oldest reprint, Waugh presents a convoluted argument that tries explaining the novel’s structure through an analogy with movements in music. Although Waugh presents so many qualifications that his proposed structure risks losing its usefulness, he nevertheless denies A Voyage to Arcturus to be an allegorical novel (23)—perhaps this chapter’s most interesting and counterintuitive claim. Next, Waugh turns to the séance in Lindsay’s first chapter. Here, he detects certain resonances—but few apparent direct influences, he hastens to add (28)—between A Voyage to Arcturus and Goethe’s Faust II (1832). The third of Waugh’s Lindsay essays presents his speculations on the names of various characters. This chapter best represents one of Waugh’s most idiosyncratic critical tics—namely, that names generally mean something. Sometimes, Waugh finds a good example. Other times, Waugh allows his undeniable erudition to get the better of him. In Lindsay’s novel, for instance, Waugh links the name of Lindsay’s psychic medium, Backhouse, to the Dutch painter Lodolf Bakhuysen—although what, if anything, hangs upon this identification remains unclear.

This Bakhuysen example is far from isolated in Waugh’s collection, and a few more are worth citing. In James Tiptree Jr.’s Brightness Falls from the Air (1985), we are told, the character name for Star / Sharon Roeback recalls the “erotic moments in the Song of Solomon” (199). For another example, Waugh reports as meaningful the name Hilvar in Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars (1956), since it is an “imperfect anagram” of the name Alvin from the same book (111). This is not exactly wrong, I suppose, but it’s weak. Likewise, the misspelling of Akeley’s name in Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1931) leads Waugh into confidently asserting that, “if misheard… [this name is] phonological cousins” with Whateley’s name in “The Dunwich Horror” (216, emphasis added)—a rather tenuous connection at best, though certainly both names share the last syllable in common. Yet the most egregious example occurs in Waugh’s discussion of Childhood’s End (1953). Here, he brings up the name of Earth’s alien colonial administrator:

Karellen’s name teases us the most, referring clearly to a carillon, a parallel to that voice calling out over Jan in his dreams. A Christmas carol may also lay in his name; but with a slight change of accent the name becomes Carolyn—and the name of George’s mistress is Carolle. (98)

In other words, if we deliberately change Karellen’s name slightly (which no character in the novel ever does), it almost resembles the name of a minor character who has no impact on the plot. This insinuation ultimately means nothing.

I mention this critical tic about names that almost-but-don’t-quite resemble other names, not exactly to disparage Waugh’s tendency toward free association, but to indicate something of the old-fashioned humanism that underlies The Tragic Thread in Science Fiction. Waugh, after all, hardly limits his free association to names. Anyone reading this collection should prepare themselves for a scholar steeped in classical and Biblical learning, not to mention the “traditional” Western literary canon. Waugh also knows German fluently, a point he likes to show off; he also knows enough Latin to get by. No fewer than five epigraphs introduce readers to his collection, ranging from Joyce to Shakespeare to Einstein. Waugh subsequently finds further occasion for allusions to Mathew Arnold, T. S. Eliot, St. Thomas Aquinas, Spinoza, Epictetus, Hegel, Dante, Goethe, Snorri Sturluson, Herman Hesse, Thomas Mann, John Barth (from The Sot-weed Factor [1960]), Thomas Pynchon (from Mason & Dixon [1997]), and more. At this point, given all I’ve said already, it seems almost unkind to point out the gendered and Western cultural homogeneity of all these authors, but there it is.

Still, these constant literary allusions do enliven Waugh’s frequent New Critical analyses. In chapters 4 and 5, respectively, he first discusses the music-like “aesthetic form” (53) of Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men (1930) and Star Maker (1937), then tackles the “archetype of the mountain-climber” (70) in several Stapledon novels. The next two chapters belong to Arthur C. Clarke. The former discusses Childhood’s End as a novel of lament built around certain imagery and themes, the latter various oppositions that structure The City and the Stars. Chapters on Mervyn Peake and William Gibson follow before Waugh devotes three separate chapters to Fritz Leiber. Here, I should highlight “The Word in the Wilderness” as deserving special praise; one section of this long essay (specifically pages 155 through 160) contains a remarkably lucid description on Leiber’s highly literate fantasy style—a style, according to Waugh, rich in “terms of rhetoric, vocabulary, and allusions, which consistently makes use of comic devices” (160). The last of these three chapters puts Leiber’s The Big Time (1958) in tandem with Tiptree’s Brightness Falls from the Air. Both novels are considered by Waugh as “neo-Aristotelian drama[s]” (192).

Finally, Waugh rounds out his collection with a chapter called “The Deeps of Eryx.” Nominally, this chapter concentrates on a little-known short story Lovecraft co-wrote called “In the Walls of Eryx” (1936), but Lovecraft’s other short fiction occupies half the chapter, evidently in Waugh’s hopes for taking this last opportunity to reinforce his initial claims about a “tragic tradition” in science fiction (208). Unfortunately, too many potential threads have been dropped already—too many opportunities for more significant arguments missed. To cite just one instance, Waugh briefly links (or more accurately implies a link) between Stapledon and Gibson by citing Stapledon’s “agonistic attitude toward the body” (75) against Neuromancer’s (1984) implicit Gnosticism, which holds the material body in contempt, yet Waugh somehow neglects to mention A Voyage to Arcturus as written by someone who literally believed in the gnostic Demiurge. To be sure, Waugh certainly knows this about Lindsay’s text, but I suspect incorporating that knowledge into a coherent, thesis-driven claim about SF and the body would have required too drastic a revision to individual essays whose essential organization he had already considered set. Waugh therefore attempts a patchwork solution that leaves readers the hard work of drawing the most interesting potential connections.

Overall, The Tragic Thread in Science Fiction will likely not launch any new research programs. Probably its prime usefulness lies in quotable snippets on authors whom various academics might be researching. Nonetheless, as far as modern New Criticism goes, Waugh applies his chosen methodology with competence and care, even if The Tragic Thread in Science Fiction might have been better left a collection of disparate essays rather than a purportedly unified monograph. More importantly, Waugh keeps the conversation going on a number of important SFF authors, some more neglected than others. This point holds especially true for Waugh’s three chapters on Leiber—a writer whose place within modern fantasy’s history even scholars of the genre fail to appreciate properly.

Dennis Wilson Wise is a lecturer at the University of Arizona, and he studies the links between epic fantasy and political theory. Previous articles have appeared in journals like Tolkien Studies, Journal of the Fantastic in the ArtsGothic StudiesLaw & Literature, Extrapolation, and more. Currently, he’s assembling a critical anthology, now under advance contract from Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, called Speculative Poetry and the Modern Alliterative Revival. Wise is also the reviews editor for Fafnir, which in 2020 became the first academic journal to win a World Fantasy Award.

Review of Stranger Things and Philosophy

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 4

Nonfiction Reviews

Review of Stranger Things and Philosophy

Nicole C. Dittmer

Jeffrey A. Ewing and Andrew M. Winter, editors. Stranger Things and Philosophy: Thus Spake the Demogorgon. Open Court, 2019. Popular Culture and Philosophy. Paperback.  256 pg. $19.95. ISBN 9780812694703.

Stranger Things is a retro-style Netflix series that indulges viewers in gratuitous 80’s tropes reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s films of epic childhood adventures, pastel and neon clothing, gravity-defying Aquanet hair, and devil-worshipping role-playing games. Drawing from such popular culture groups as the misfits from the Goon Docks in The Goonies (1985) and the Losers’ Club from Stephen King’s It (1986), the Duffer Brothers offer their take on the child collective through a modern lens. While this series offers a visually appealing aesthetic shell of science fiction immersed in popular culture from the 1980s, its core is rich with philosophical concerns that target real-world issues, such as Cold War fear, the AIDS epidemic, and personal identity. Striking a balance between cultural entertainment and substantial matters of existence, Stranger Things is replete with themes for both enjoyment and critical exploration.

This edited collection, with a parodic title referencing Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, offers varied philosophical approaches to the Duffer Brothers’ critically acclaimed series Stranger Things. Similar to Nietzsche’s themes of the übermensch, will-to-power, and the values of good and evil, this volume explores these subjects through the telekinetic abilities of Eleven, the strength of the child collective, and the invasive energies of new species. Broken into five sections, this philosophical investigation of Stranger Things offers an easy read both to those familiar with the series and those new to it. Whether purposefully or accidentally, this collection alternates its sections between the fictional and real-world issues represented in the series to present a juxtaposed jigsaw that conjoins thematic elements and offers varied approaches. Sections one, three and five, “Strange Thoughts,” “Nothing is Stranger Than Reality,” and “How Do We Cope with the Strange?” address the fictional world, while sections two and four, “The Joy of the Creepy” and “How Strange Are We?” explore the comparable real-world concerns.

The sections focusing on the show’s fictional universe delve into the primary themes prevalent throughout the series: 80’s tropes, Barb, and the Demogorgon. With focus on these subjects, each essay examines familiar theories of hyperreality, childhood and illusions of happiness, friendship, and anachronistic perspectives of 1980’s aesthetics. Specifically, the essay “Abnormal is the New Normal,” written by Fernando Gabriel Pagnoni Berns, Diego Foranda, and Mariana Zarate, explores and offers clarification to some questionable moments within the series. For those of us familiar with the behavior of so-called parental “normalcy” in the 1980s, such things as discussions of sexual preference or overt expression of sexuality were not typically held between parents and children (i. e. Joyce’s acknowledgement and acceptance of Will’s orientation or Karen’s meaningful “talk” with Nancy over her intimate relationships with Steve and/or Jonathan). This essay, however, suggests that Stranger Things and the behavioral techniques employed by the showrunners are constructed by the “use of a millennial voice packaged in 1980s aesthetics” (183).  Exploring the show’s anachronistic modern perspective beneath the façade of an 80’s style, this chapter not only deconstructs common questions of “inauthenticity,” but reinforces the other chapters sharing similar themes.  

The sections focusing on real-world issues, “The Joy of the Creepy” and “How Strange Are We?,” while cleaving to the themes of the 80s and consciousness, examine nature and the self through theories of the grotesque, phobias, fear, and reflections of horror in reality. Offering a seamless transition between the bracketing sections, these chapters provide insightful justifications of monstrosity (both symbolic and real). The chapter “Horror Appeals to Our Dual Nature,” by Franklin S. Allaire and Krista S. Gehring, juxtaposes previous theories of the Mind Flayer, or the Shadow Monster, and Demogorgons as embodiments of evil from the Upside Down by suggesting that these figurations are symbolic representations of realistic 80s fears and phobias (e. g. the AIDS epidemic). By relating these fantastical depictions of monstrosity to a terrifying and enigmatic real-world concern, this chapter provides a perfect example of the balance between fiction and reality which mirrors the overall collection.

This edited collection is highly recommended for both fans of Stranger Things and those who wish to revisit their childhood in the 1980s. While there are some repetitive theories applied throughout the collection, these scholars each demonstrate a unique approach to the varied elements of Stranger Things. Much of this volume represents a clear understanding and knowledge of the decade in which the series is embedded, as well as the theories that necessitate each critical analysis. Although not free of minor grammatical or mechanical issues, and the occasional incorrect reference to character names, this collection perfectly situates itself in the canon of Stranger Things philosophy. By providing alternating sections exploring the fantastic versus the realistic that fluidly transition into one another, the collection disrupts any repetition of theories which could ultimately detract from the purpose of the text. Many of these chapters offer a deeper understanding of perspective through intertextual analyses of good/evil, identity, and nature/culture, which would be valuable in an academic environment. Unfortunately, this volume was released prior to the release of the third season of Stranger Things; therefore, it covers only the first two seasons. However, for those interested in philosophy, horror, or a science fiction series that perpetuates the legacy of the 1980’s phenomenon, this collection is essential for your journey.

Dr. Nicole C. Dittmer is the Proofreader and editorial board member at the Studies in Gothic Fiction Journal, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Horror Studies at TCNJ. She writes and teaches about female monstrosities, penny narratives, Victorian literature, 19th-century medicine, ecoGothic, and Salem “Witches”. She was published in the edited collection, Global Perspectives on Eco-Aesthetics and Eco-Ethics: A Green Critique and is an editor of the forthcoming collection, Penny Dreadfuls and the Gothic.

Review of Inventing Tomorrow: H. G. Wells and the Twentieth Century

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 4

Nonfiction Reviews

Review of Inventing Tomorrow: H. G. Wells and the Twentieth Century

Stephen Mollmann

Sarah Cole. Inventing Tomorrow: H. G. Wells and the Twentieth Century. Columbia UP, 2020. Hardcover. 392 pg. $35.00. ISBN 9780231193122.

In her article “Rereading H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine: Empiricism, Aestheticism, Modernism” (English Literature in Transition, vol. 58, no. 4), Caroline Hovanec calls for an alternative history of modernism that places H. G. Wells at its vanguard, rather than Joseph Conrad: “it [would] challenge[ ] us to think beyond the heroic narrative of modernism rising up against a complacent positivism, and to imagine a literary history in which modernist epistemology is seen not as a radical break from Victorian positivism and realism, but instead as an evolution of a particular species of Victorian thought” (480). Hovanec argues that critics have been too accepting of Wells’s own claims about his distance from modernism.

Sarah Cole’s monograph proposes a different alternate history of twentieth-century literature, one where Wells’s ideals for “how literature would engage the public world” won out over the modernists’ (4). Cole argues that Wells’s writing—with its strong didactic bent, its grand projects, its lack of focus on interior life—seems strange from our current vantage point because the modernists won. She argues Wells benefits from being read outside the context that modernism created in literary analysis, which “uncover[s] a thriving form of literary accomplishment, germinating alongside the more familiar works from this period […] producing, perhaps, a broader and more capacious modernism” (4). The introduction to Inventing Tomorrow explicates the differences between Wells’s approach to literature and that of the modernists, exemplified by Virginia Woolf, but also shows how Wells and the modernists were allied in their reactions to the new century.

Cole argues that her analysis of Wells is distinct because of its capaciousness; Wells wrote voluminously in many genres across a long career, but most contemporary studies focus on his science fiction or a couple of well-regarded literary texts. Cole covers it all, from textbooks to autobiography to novels to pamphlets to short fiction to film scripts. The first chapter tries to lay out an overall sense of Wells’s attitudes, techniques, style, and tone across the totality of his writing. The other three chapters each focus on a key theme of his work: “Civilian” on his explorations of wartime and calls for peace, “Time” on his attempts to communicate new understandings of history and futurity, and “Life” on the role of biology and evolution in his thought.

I found the first chapter the least successful because of its amorphousness. It has some keen insights, such as Cole’s discussion of Wells’s propensity for self-insertion (61-3), and how his novels tell the reader how to read them, but not heavy-handedly (72). Wells had many novels with protagonists that were essentially him (e.g., The History of Mr Polly [1910], Love and Mr Lewisham [1900], In the Days of the Comet [1906], Tono-Bungay [1909], Ann Veronica [1909], The New Machiavelli [1911]), and one could see this as egoistic, but Cole argues that the primary feature of his self-writing is argument: his “voice discussing the problems of our world and offering solutions” (67). Even Wells’s autobiography, she claims, is more about his ideas than his actual life (66). There are other good insights, but limiting a discussion of darkness and light in Wells to just over four pages suggests more than it compels. (It was unclear to me, too, why and how these topics all fit into the theme of “voice.”)

The other chapters, though, are compelling, specifically for the breadth of Wells’s writing that they cover. The chapter on “Life,” for example, takes in SF such as The Food of the Gods (1904), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), and The Time Machine (1895), book-essays such as The Conquest of Time (1942), The Future in America (1906), and Mankind in the Making (1903), the popular science book The Science of Life (1929-30), the religious parable The Undying Fire (1919), and literary novels including Ann Veronica and Tono-Bungay. Cole doesn’t force all this into a single trajectory, however, as Wells is too diverse and self-scrutinizing a writer for that. Rather she explores how for Wells, life is all about energy (often unfulfilled) and waste (often necessary) in a variety of different contexts, from Doctor Moreau’s attempts to reshape evolution to Ann Veronica’s inability to achieve a political awakening. For the SF scholar, the real benefit is in seeing how the familiar SF texts interact with the less familiar literary and nonfiction ones. Most of Wells’s scientific romances are clustered at the beginning of his career, but Wells continued to explore the ideas in them throughout his life.

After the introduction, Cole’s placing of Wells in the context of modernism is usually implicit more than explicit, but one of the book’s strengths is in showing how Wells was influenced by his world and how he then made the world others reacted to. Many scholars note Wells’s claim about what such an influence Thomas Henry Huxley was on his thought; Cole actually incorporates discussion of a couple of Huxley essays into the chapter on “Life.” She also analyzes the scenes in Woolf’s Between the Acts (1941) in which a character is reading Wells’s The Outline of History (1919-20). Cole shows how Wells was reacting to his era—but also creating it.

The scale of Cole’s analysis is impressive, but in a sense, it just reflects the scale of Wells. He had a plan for the entire world, and that is what let him essentially invent the genre of SF, and what set him apart from his modernist contemporaries. Cole’s conclusion emphasizes this point: “Wells […] set literature on a path to social amelioration, seeing its forms as mutable and impermanent but its power and purpose as firm.[…] [W]riting need not be diffident […] change need not seem impossible” (319). It’s an almost inspirational conclusion: “I hope that, in considering Wells’s lifetime of writing, that reader—you—will feel motivated to ask of literature, what can and should it do for the world, for tomorrow?” (320).

It’s a big ask. And so too are the alternate histories that Cole and Hovanec propose. Wells is so big a writer that an alternate literature with Wells at its center is almost impossible to contemplate. For what Cole shows is that, like the sun of the dying Earth at the end of The Time Machine, Wells absorbed everything before the end.

Steven Mollmann is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of English and Writing at the University of Tampa, as well as associate editor of Studies in the Fantastic. He is currently at work on a book about the scientist in the nineteenth-century British novel, from Mary Shelley and Charles Dickens to Joseph Conrad and H. G. Wells, and he is also the author of several works of Star Trek fiction. He can be found on the web at

Review of Climate Fictions

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 4

Nonfiction Reviews

Review of Climate Fictions

Bruce Lindsley Rockwood

Alison Sperling, ed. Climate Fictions: Paradoxa #31. Paradoxa, 2019-20. Print, 451 pg. $48.00, ISBN: 9781929512416. PDF $42.00. Available for order at

Climate Fictions is an interdisciplinary collection of 30 short essays, offering critical interpretation and exploration of the role of art, performance, music, digital games, and stories in understanding the climate challenge and possible responses from diverse perspectives. In an introductory essay, editor Alison Sperling reviews the various terms for the genre, whether “Climate-change fiction, climate fiction, cli-fi, or in this introduction also denoted as CF” that she notes “was coined (and since championed, now policed) by blogger Dan Bloom in 2007, and popularized by a retweet from speculative fiction author Margaret Atwood in 2012” (9). The volume is divided into three parts: Part I: Simulation, Part II: Narration, and Part III: Speculation. Each part is further divided into Dialogues and Essays. Each contribution is documented by footnotes or lists of sources, and many include photographs or other illustrations of the work discussed.

The collection offers contributions that reflect “crucial insights that reveal the many ways in which climate change is bound to innumerable forms of oppression due to colonialism and extractivism, environmental racism, homophobia, and ableism” (17).

Sperling notes at the conclusion of her introduction, “Schneider-Mayerson has recently written that ‘in the very near future, almost all literature will become a form of what we now think of as climate change fiction, defined broadly’ (Schneider-Mayerson, “Climate Change Fiction” 318). It is possible that the more climate change comes to dominate the fictions and imaginative realms in the future, the already unstable category of cli-fi may prove to be overly capacious. [. . .] But the issue as a whole worries less about cli-fi as a category and more about the ways that climate fictional works interrogate inter-related histories and systems at work in a changing climate, as well as about how the fictions we tell ourselves also shape the climate” (18-19).

Cli-Fi’s importance is illustrated by a link showing 291 books under the term:, and numerous reviews on the subject, e.g., “Cli-Fi: Birth of a Genre,” by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, Dissent (Summer, 2013), and resources at This volume recognizes and responds to that reality while opening it up to new and wider perspectives.

The visual and performance arts center the first four dialogues in the collection. In “Tomorrow You Are a Cactus,” Simon(e) van Saarloos and Paula Chaves Bonilla discuss the role of performance in presenting their reality “[a]s queer people, as racialized artists,” (28) and explain “Omni Toxica [2019] is inspired by a myth about the message of the coca plant” (27). Chaves Bonilla affirms, “Speaking about climate change, marica, it’s important to say: the end of the world already happened a thousand times for marginalised communities, habibi. It’s been more than five hundred years of ongoing fight against the complete erasure of our peoples. More than five hundred years since the white Europeans came and the fight against the extraction and colonisation of our lands started. The end of the world already happened” (24).

In “Balance is Possible,” Stina Attebery carries on a conversation with Elizabeth LaPensée, “an award-winning artist who both creates and researches Indigenous Futurisms in media. She is Anishinaabe with family from Bay Mills, Métis, and Irish” (31). LaPensée’s work includes computer games Coyote Quest (2017) and Thunderbird Strike (2017), and the comic Deer Woman: A Vignette (2017) (32-33). They explore the role these pieces play in reaching young people. LaPensée notes, “My greatest hope is to reflect the importance of the land and waters as they are, to facilitate reciprocity, and to give space for people to make their own meaning” (36).

In “The Future was Yesterday,” Dehlia Hannah interviews Charles Stankievech to discuss his installations and video work projects, including “The Drowned World” (2019)  (based on J. G. Ballard’s novel) for the Toronto Biennial (38), and the video installation LOVELAND (2009-2011) and its relationship to M. P. Shiel’s 1901 novel The Purple Cloud (40-41). Stankievech asserts that “Good science fiction at its core is always conceptual, and some of the earliest pieces were more impressive as conceptual ponderings than written craft” (42).

In “Sun & Sea (Marina) Performing Climate Change,” Alison Sperling explores with creators Lina Lapelytė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Rugilé Barzdžiukaitė their work which “took place as an opera-performance in the Lithuanian Pavilion [. . .] as an adapted durational work in English at the 2019 La Biennale di Venezia.” It “took place on a constructed beach inside of a warehouse off-site from the main grounds of the Venice Biennale, where performers in beachwear and reclining on beach towels sang their respective parts of an ecological-libretto lasting about one hour” (47). The performers are largely white, “vacationers sipping planetary resources as a Pina Colada” (50).   

Part I’s essay section begins with Bogna Konior’s “Modeling Realism: Digital Media, Climate Simulations and Climate Fictions,” which argues that climate change is “a phenomenon that we know only through computerized simulation and statistical probability” (57). We can’t observe it except through elaborate computer models, which help us talk about the future in ways we can use to address the present. “Climate models are like petri dishes for growing fictional Earths so that we can learn about our real Earth” (66). Given the heat dome in the North American west in 2021, which is highly visible to all, this claim that climate change can only be observed through models is open to question. See, for example:

Péter Kristóf Makai then addresses the role of board games in talking about climate change, in “Climate Change on Cardboard: Ecological Eurogames,” to clarify the abstract nature of climate change to lay audiences (77). “The four board games presented here—20th Century, Rescue Polar Bears, Keep Cool and CO2—all work based on the assumption that humans make a difference; it’s also what makes the process adaptable to the board game medium” (82). He discusses the difference in American and European board game design traditions, and notes the emergence of cooperative games which play a role in some of those he reviews (84-89). He concludes that games “may also provide our best method for consciousness-raising, because they place human agency at the center of their rule-defined mechanics” (97).

In contrast, Cameron Kunzelman brings a skeptical eye (105) to “Video Games as Interventions in the Climate Disaster,” proposing that “modeling, affect, and direct intervention are modes of innervation that tie into distinct ways of politicizing play and generating some kind of player response around questions of climate” (107). Games reviewed to illustrate modeling and affect include Civilization IV (2005) and VI (2016), Frostpunk (2018), Fate of the World (2011), Subnautica (2018), and Gathering Storm (2019) (107-115). Kunzelman concludes by arguing that the third approach, direct intervention, by combining elements of modeling and the affective relationship with climate, is the best way for games to make a significant “ideological impact on players who might be either neutral or hostile to arguments about the necessity of addressing climate change. I see both Eco (Strange Loop Games, 2018) and the Minecraft (Mojang, 2011) mod GlobalWarming (Porillo, 2018) as emblematic of this synthetic mode that place [sic] players within a subject position within a broader system that models climate change” (116).

In “Nodding Off from the Anthropocene: Picnolepsy and Rehearsing Disappearance in Space Exotic,” Andrew Wenaus reviews a post-World War II musical subgenre, space exotica, “an eccentric take on popular mood music” that “at once prioritizes an optimistic escape from Earth while intimating a need to leave the planet” (123). The world may end but we can ignore this as the music “offers at once picnoleptic blips of escape from the anxieties of global catastrophe” (125).   

The concluding essay in Part I is “The Legend of Zelda in the Anthropocene,” by Gerry Canavan (143-167), which contains a detailed and thoughtful examination of the entire Zelda/Link/Ganon franchise story line framed as an examination as well of the deeply pessimistic Anthropocene worldview that the current generation of game players  face. ”The game’s breathtaking visuals and acclaimed open-world gameplay are thus part and parcel of what I will argue here is its sourly dyspeptic vision of climate crisis in the  Anthropocene  [. . .]; Wild’s Hyrule is no longer a site for wish-fulfillment and juvenile power fantasies but a grim premediation of a depopulated and (multiply) destroyed civilization, whose inevitable, always-already ruined future can only be partially and provisionally mitigated, not prevented or saved. In a twisted version of Jameson’s famous ‘nostalgia for the present’ (279 and passim), then, we therefore see registered within Hyrule’s collapse our culture’s anticipation of its own coming disruption by the climate crisis” (145-146).

Parts II and III similarly address important themes in climate fiction’s place in the diverse and cross-cultural world of the 21st century. The dialogs in Part II include “Stories of Where We Come From” by Viola Lasmana  and Khairani Barokka, a conversation “where we spoke about the possibilities of language and imagination (what Okka expresses as ‘cosmologies within languages’), the fictions already embedded in what one might think of as facts, and the inextricable links between capitalism, the environment, climate change, colonial violence, disability justice, and indigenous cultures” (169-174). Stef Craps follows with “Last Aboriginal Person Standing in a Climate-Changed Australia: A Conversation with Alexis Wright” (175-181).  Jim Clarke converses with SF scholar and author Adam Roberts in “The Malign Flipside of Fluke,” including a discussion of Roberts’s novel The Black Prince (2018) (183-187). In “Dear Environment: Dialog with Anna Zett,” we explore Zett’s on-going “project Deponie (Dump), which includes video works as well as sculptural installations deploying piles of gravel and remnant ashes from industrially incinerated household waste” (190-195). Callum Copley concludes with “Documenting Fictions” in conversation with Federico Barni, discussing his work on “how climate operates at the intersection of fiction and fact in literature and filmmaking” (196-202).

The essays in Part II explore the “Stories We Tell About the End of the World: (Post)Apocalyptic Climate Fiction Working Towards Climate Justice” by Julia D. Gibson (204-228), “Tracking Climate Change from Ancient Times” (230-245 ), an essay on J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (246-266), and an examination of the Australian author James Edmond’s 1911 short story, “The Fool and His Inheritance” (267-288). The concluding essay explores climate change and “Cosmic Horror in John Langan’s The Fisherman” (289-304).

Part III’s Speculations include the dialogues “Ruins and Erosion: Reflections on the CaseDuna Project” in Brazil (305-313); an exploration of the art of Janet Laurence in “Through the Portal” (315-323); “Architectures of Seed Banking” (323-331); a conversation with the educator, author, editor, and public speaker Walidah Imarisha, co-editor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements (2015), in “There Are No Givens” (333-339); and M. Ty’s interview with artist and filmmaker Shu Lea Cheang in “Uncertain Harvest” (341-351), including a discussion of Cheang’s 1994 film Fresh Kill, about an “outbreak of radioactive fish lips” in a New York restaurant (341). Cheang discusses her 2017 film Fluidø, and concludes by commenting, “To invite people for a dinner these days involves a survey of dietary situations, and certainly this takes us back to environmental and health issues, to ethical beliefs, body natures, and the demise of immune systems. Food is political. Sex is political. Being is political” (351).

In the concluding essays in Part III, Suzanne F. Boswell in “The Four Tourists of the Apocalypse” addresses “Figures of the Anthropocene in Caribbean Climate Fiction” (353-371). Alexander Popov and Konstantin Georgiev explore Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife (2015) and Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 (2017) in “Crises  of Water and the New Maps to Utopia” (373-395), while Conrad Scott examines “Ecocritical Dystopianism and Climate Fiction,” including the works of Atwood, Butler, Erdrich, Jemisin, Kingsolver, and others, and the criticism of Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek. Tyler Austin Harper examines the “Climate Fiction, Paranoid Anthropocentrism, and the Politics of Existential Risk,” discussing Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men, and a  British tradition of “paranoid anthropocentrism” (420) seen in such works as J.B.S. Haldane’s The Last Judgment (1927) and Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods (2007). Harper argues ”that paranoid anthropocentrism is intimately bound up with a disavowal, not of the possibility of utopia—paranoid anthropocentric depictions of the struggle for human survival are often deeply (and perversely) utopian—but of specifically emancipatory utopias in which responsibility for the survival of the human race would be democratically distributed” (427). Harper cites Kathryn Yusoff in A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (2018), who he says “argues that whiteness functions as a place of power from which to organize and administer the dispensation of environmental risk in an age of climatic crisis” (428). Glyn Morgan concludes the volume with “Economies of Scale: Environmental Plastics, SF and Graphic Narratives.”  He cites Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement (2016) for the claim that climate change “defies both literary fiction and contemporary common sense” (436) and offers to “examine comic book forms of SF to reinsert them into our discourse around climate change and genre fiction” (437), including a discussion of the Great Pacific (2013-2015) comic book series, William Gibson’s The Peripheral (2014), and Richard McGuire’s Here (2014). No review can do justice to every contribution to this fascinating and stimulating volume. It introduces the reader to specialist texts and insights that one would not otherwise encounter, while providing comprehensive critical essays on a range of SF texts that fall within the broad scope of Cli-Fi or Climate Fiction. It is a useful reference tool for researchers in the field and should be in any academic library collection.

Bruce Lindsley Rockwood, Emeritus Professor of Legal Studies at Bloomsburg University, Pennsylvania, is a long-time member of SFRA, having served as Vice President (2005-2006), and regularly writes reviews for SFRA Review from his retirement home in Midcoast Maine. He edited a symposium “Law, Literature and Science Fiction” for the Legal Studies Forum (XXIII #3, 1999), has taught and published on law, literature and science fiction, and attends SFRA and WorldCon with his wife Susan when possible (most recently in Montreal and Spokane, and the June, 2021 virtual SFRA). A fan of all things Terry Pratchett. Since retirement he has taught Environmental Law and Ethics for Coastal Senior College, and serves on the land use advisory committee for the town of Damariscotta.

Review of Children of Men

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 4

Nonfiction Reviews

Review of Children of Men

Zachary Ingle

Dan Dinello. Children of Men. Constellations. Auteur, 2019. Paperback. 133 pg. $24.95. ISBN 9781999334024.

Constellations is a series of small volumes (in the vein of the long running BFI Film Classics series) published by Auteur that focuses on individual science-fiction films and television series. By mid-2021, there had already been sixteen volumes published in the series, with several more on the horizon. Dan Dinello surely had a tough task in writing the entry on Alfonso Cuarón’s apocalyptic/dystopian Children of Men (2006), lauded as one of most enduring science-fiction films of this century, a rich text worthy of intense scrutiny that has only become more timely since its release with its “salient critique of anti-immigrant xenophobia and ultranationalism” (12). The film is set in 2027 at a time when there has not been a new human birth in over eighteen years. Britain has “soldiered on” even though most of the rest of the nations of the world have crumbled under environmental, nuclear, viral, or another form of destruction. Just as we inch closer to the film’s temporal setting, Children of Men has renewed relevance in light of Brexit and Trump, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the caging of immigrants—not to mention Covid-19.

Cuarón’s film is an adaptation of P. D. James’s acclaimed 1992 novel, and Dinello does devote a few pages to the differences between it and the film adaptation before rightly focusing on the film, not overly concerned with issues of fidelity. For instance, while the novel was more overtly Christian, the film still retains numerous parallels to the Gospels—from the obvious to the much less so—as Dinello scrutinizes in Chapter 6. However, the film focuses more on fascism, xenophobia, racism, and inequality—i.e. “tyrannical apartheid politics” (69)—that  Cuarón enhanced for the film, inspired by his post-9/11 milieu. But as Dinello notes, the anti-immigration rhetoric promoted by the media in Children of Men seems less concerned with terrorism (as it would have been at the time of the film’s release), but more about “medical nativism” as immigrants are constantly shown in locked cages in several key moments of the film for fear of microbial invasions from the Other. Though his book was published in 2019, Dinello now seems quite prescient of the xenophobic rhetoric surrounding Covid-19 (e.g., Trump’s “Chinese Virus” moniker).

The author invokes Camus more than anyone else, fittingly due to Camus’s “conception of fascism as a contagious plague against we must happily and relentlessly rebel” (123). Dinello delineates frequent connections to Camus in the latter half of the volume, from characters who exhibit his existentialist philosophy to the main protagonist Theo (Clive Owen) as quite similar to Camus’s protagonist in The Stranger (1942). Throughout, Dinello writes in a clear style that is accessible even for those with little background in existential philosophy.

Yet there are numerous reasons why Children of Men has become so acclaimed; certainly some are grounded in Cuarón’s use of long takes, moving cameras, and a cinema-verité approach, atypical at the time for the science-fiction genre. Dinello does not ignore an aesthetic analysis, offering a concise summation of André Bazin’s theory of realism (for those less familiar with film theory), a formal style that fits the content. Dinello considers Children of Men the most realistic science-fiction film ever. Indeed, Dinello devotes an entire chapter to the film’s visual design and how it enhances the film’s key political concerns (e. g. via the backgrounds which offer an “ambient apocalyptic” look) (61).

One potential negative, at least for readers of SFRA Review, is the lack of contextualization within the genre. Those readers looking for comparisons of Children of Men to other SF film and literature (and there are certainly interesting parallels that could be made to other dystopian texts on British fascism such as V for Vendetta—graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, 1989; film adaptation directed by James McTeigue, 2005) will need to look elsewhere, as Dinello proves to be more deeply fascinated with philosophical and political connections. 

Overall, this Constellations entry is highly recommended, illustrated with 42 black-and-white stills and enhanced by Dinello’s impeccably well-written prose that offers an intense textual analysis that never resorts to tedium. The brevity and affordable nature of books like those in the Constellations series make them excellent for the classroom setting and particularly recommended for a week-long focus on a film. Whether for classroom use or personal research, this volume is certainly endorsed as a study of a film worthy of further exploration (as those of us who have shown it recently in classes can attest). Despite the dystopian nature of Children of Men—and the depressing realization of its growing applicability—the film does end on a hopeful note, presenting the possibility of “an egalitarian, altruistic and non-authoritarian society that pursues the common good, accommodates plurality, and amplifies the sense of human and social possibility” (126).

Zachary Ingle is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Film at Hollins University in Virginia. He received his Ph.D. in Film and Media Studies at the University of Kansas. Ingle has edited four volumes: Robert Rodriguez: Interviews; Gender and Genre in Sports Documentaries; Identity in Myth in Sports Documentaries; and Fan Phenomena: The Big Lebowski. His articles have appeared in Post Script, Literature/Film Quarterly, and Journal of Sport History.

Review of Yet Another Heart of Darkness: American Colonial Films

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 4

Nonfiction Reviews

Review of Yet Another Heart of Darkness: American Colonial Films

Frances Auld

Noah Berlatsky. Yet Another Heart of Darkness: American Colonial Films. Self-published, 2018. $5.14. ASINB07GYBHQ1G.

Yet Another Heart of Darkness: American Colonial Films by Noah Berlatsky is a digital collection of essays previously published in magazines such as Playboy, SpliceToday, Pacific Standard, the subscription service Patreon, or the author’s blog, the Hooded Utilitarian. Berlatsky’s essays cover film, fiction, non-fiction, and 21st Century U.S. Politics. If that sounds eclectic, it is an eclectic book. However, the collection is united by certain touchstone fictional texts such as H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds (1897)and The Time Machine (1895), as well as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1912). Berlatsky also references the critical work of John Reider, Colonialism and Science Fiction (2008) throughout many of his essays, demanding the reader see the underlying colonial and imperial motifs in popular film, television shows, and fiction.

The text is organized by sections: The Lost World of Colonialism (an introduction to his thesis on colonialism and his touchstone texts, including Heart of Darkness [1899]); American Colonial Films (16 essays on war films that include Aliens [1986] and Predator [1987]); Invasion of the Mummies (four essays on Mummy films from 1932-2017); Invasion of the Superheroes (three essays on superhero films primarily from the Marvel Comic Universe); Invasion of the Science Fiction (six essays primarily about science fiction novels, although some films are mentioned for context of tropes); Off-Screen Imperialism (four essays concerning non-fiction texts and 21st century political narratives); Coda: Full Metal Bunny (a single essay that returns the reader to Berlatsky’s touchstone texts).

Berlatsky’s organization is hyperpermeable because as a digital text it allows for links within the essays. Thus, a reader might be reading the Coda, find a reference and a link to an essay on Rambo [1985] and be offered the jump to an earlier essay in a different section. This flexibility makes up for categorization which at times feels awkward or oddly drawn. Aliens seems to be excluded from the section on Science Fiction based on its genre (film), yet Berlatsky intentionally moves between film and text in his discussion of other Science Fiction novels and films or television shows. In addition, not all of his touchstone texts appear in all the essays. Seen as a collection of individual expositions written for different venues over time, this makes sense, as does the occasional repetition of a point made in an earlier essay. What makes the collection work is his scrupulous cinematic analysis, the depth of his comprehension and range of familiarity with films across genres (War Films, Horror Films, Science Fiction Films), and his consistent commitment to reading visual and written texts for their colonialist text and subtexts, as well as the occasional subversion of imperialism.

While this last comment may suggest a theory-heavy read, this book eschews deep theory or even a genuine literature review. Instead, the essays function as a series (not a sequence) of examples of colonialism in popular culture spread over more than a century. Berlatsky adds links to Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies (2017), as well as links to sources such as Slate and The Guardian, rather than offer a bibliography, reference pages, or pages of footnotes. Like the organizational structure, the selection and use of references is not slapdash, it is simply designed for a more popular audience, and a comparatively relaxed reading.

Yet Another Heart of Darkness: American Colonial Films belies its title. Rather than a text purely focused on “American colonial film” itis an application of select components of theory (America’s colonial past reappears in 20th century films; contemporary films are still busy domesticating America’s past; viewers pleasurably participate as colonizers in these films and other texts) applied to various genres, mediums, and time periods. The language and tone befit the essays’ previous publication in magazine and blog formats. There are some spelling/format errors which may be attributed to self-publishing, and they occasionally distract from the text.

Overall, this is an enjoyable and fascinating read. Select essays would be particularly effective for undergraduates being introduced to colonial theory, feminist theory, and popular culture. Some essays may lack the critical foundation for more advanced academic researchers, but they offer detailed readings in historical context. Berlatsky’s essays cover both British and U.S. historical imperialist actions and their sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle, inscriptions in fiction and film. However, despite the historical underpinnings, the book does speak to fantasy. Even when he is writing about a non-fantastic visual text (Rambo, Full Metal Jacket [1987]), Berlatsky identifies the colonialist, time-travel fantasy that allows film makers and audiences to replay, recast, and rewrite historical events. The science fiction and horror texts he discusses exemplify the public’s desire and the authors’ impulse to continue colonizing (even if they have to do it in the center of the earth or outside the galaxy).

Berlatsky’s rendering of American War film as an expression of a science-fictional attitude toward history is perhaps the most fascinating focus of his essays. His critique of whitewashing in Marvel Comic Universe’s Superhero films is clear and solid, but rethinking the fantastic cultural displacement underlying Rambo or Apocalypse Now (1979) and seeing it as kind of time travel narrative is especially thought provoking, as is his recognition of viewers’ ongoing attraction to the fantasy of colonization from the viewpoint of the good guy/superhero/colonizer.   

Frances Auld, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Language and Literature at State College of Florida where she teaches coursework in Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy; Fairy Tales; Medieval Literature. She watches way too many horror movies, occasionally writes horror and dark fantasy, and loves to introduce students to creepy literature.

Review of An Ecotopian Lexicon

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 4

Nonfiction Reviews

Review of An Ecotopian Lexicon

Ray Davenport

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Brent Ryan Bellamy, eds. An Ecotopian Lexicon. Minnesota UP, 2019. Paperback. 344 pg. $24.95. ISBN 9781517905903.

Many scholars have acknowledged the need to expand our current conceptualizations of the complexity and scale of climate change, and of the Anthropocene more widely. Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Brent Ryan Bellamy’s An Ecotopian Lexicon takes an unusually direct approach to this task by offering a collection of essays, each of which makes a case for adding a specific new loanword to English from another language. In the foreword, Kim Stanley Robinson suggests that this text can function as “sourcebook, clarification, diagnostic, and stimulus” (xiv) for conceptualizing contemporary climate issues. Each of the thirty essays and fourteen pieces of art in An Ecotopian Lexicon draws attention to crucial issues through examining a specific loanword. Most helpfully, each essay begins with a pronunciation guide and an example for its respective loanword. These loanwords aim to broaden the imagination and are highly diverse in origin; some, such as “heyiya” and “terragouge” are derived from speculative novels and science fiction. Others, such “Qi,” “nahual,” and “solastalgia” find their roots in Confucianism, Mesoamerican cultures, and ecopsychology, respectively. What they all appear to share, however, is the ability to address an existing gap in the English language. In other words, each loanword provides a concrete term for an existing concept, emotion, or movement that engages with environmental challenges but has yet to be articulated by the English-speaking world.

            An Ecotopian Lexicon offers two ways in which to navigate these loanwords. The first contents pages alphabetize the essays while the second groups them into the following themes: Greetings, Dispositions, Perception, Desires, Beyond the Human, and Beyond “the Environment.” Many may consider the latter option more helpful, given the unfamiliar nature of loanwords. However, if reading this text in alphabetical order, ~*~ is the first loanword presented. According to Melody Jue, in the “Apocalypto” entry, this loanword is pronounced by blowing softly on the back of your hand (15). In addition to its curious pronunciation, ~*~ is the most glyphically unusual loanword contained in An Ecotopian Lexicon. Inspired by Dolphinese, ~*~ can be described as the “vibratory jouissance” (17) felt when dolphins use soundwaves to tickle each other, often across considerable distances. In terms of its practical usage, Jue suggests that ~*~ can function as a metaphor for figurative language in relation to the aquatic within terrestrial and human contexts. Indeed, the example she provides at the beginning of her essay elucidates her suggested usage nicely: “That USB comedy sketch about a BP board meeting struggling to clean up all the coffee spilled at their table really ~*~ me when I watched it on YouTube” (15).

            Through drawing attention to a method of communication used by Dolphins and why we should also make use of ~*~ as a metaphor, Jue inadvertently subverts the Anthropocentric binary notion of “us” (humans) and “them” (animals). As noted by Matthew Calarco, this idea has continued to pervade Western philosophies since Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics suggested an innate separation between humans, animals, and other forms of nonhuman life alongside a corresponding hierarchy (8). While many may consider the subversion of this idea to be a worthy ambition, particularly as it has been used to justify countless ecological atrocities against nonhuman species, practical utilization of ~*~ is potentially problematic in many circumstances. This, unfortunately, undermines its presence within a text that seeks to embed the usage of useful loanwords into the English language. While it may be relatively easy to type ~*~, as demonstrated by the example that Jue provides, using it in lectures, presentations, and more casual conversation would be somewhat tricky, thus diminishing ~*~’s potential for widespread usage.  

            Carolyn Fornoff’s essay, “Nahual,” occurs approximately halfway through the text, finding itself placed before ~*~ within Beyond the Human. It is not entirely clear why this essay was placed first (the decision was evidently not based on alphabetical order) but Fornoff’s exploration of the loanword “nahual” is both interesting and engaging, nonetheless. Like Jue’s essay, Fornoff’s criticises the notion of humans as being separate from the animal kingdom and the suggestion that “humans and nonhumans occupy separate, discrete realms of activity and knowledge” (163). The term nahual, which can be pronounced as “na-wal,” represents a Mesoamerican concept that suggests every human is linked to an animal alter-ego. In this sense, the daemons featured in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (1995-2000)could be considered reminiscent of this idea. For example, in both, the form of each person’s nahual or daemon is determined according to key characteristics of their personality. Understood metaphorically, nahualism, Fornoff suggests, can offer a crucial counterpoint to current Western conceptualizations of humans as separate from animals and provide a way of conceiving our human selves as innately bound to non-human life. Furthermore, she suggests that a better understanding of the inseparability between humans and animals can shift our ethical relationship with nature from one that is generated by individual moral codes to a relationality-based code of ethics (169-170). Indeed, nahualism has the potential to provoke decisive action against ecological degradation and what scientists such as Samuel T. Turvey have described as the Holocene extinction. Although this research on nahualism provides an interesting insight into Mesoamerican worldviews and a symbolic method of visualising the interconnectedness between humans and non-human animals, it does little to help us conceptualise the complex relationships that exist within ecosystems.     

            Destabilising separatist views is clearly a recurring theme within An Ecotopian Lexicon; in some essays, it is a key motif while in many others it is a more peripheral motif. Janet Tamalik McGrath’s thought-provoking essay on the loanword “sila” critiques this view through her examination of the English language at a structural level. Given that An Ecotopian Lexicon aims to harness the power of language to expand our conceptualization of climate change, essays such as this one seem appropriate for inclusion. The term sila, which can be pronounced as “see-lah,” is a noun derived from Inuktut (one of several Inuit languages) and, unlike ~*~ and nahual, is placed in Beyond “the Environment.” Although McGrath acknowledges the difficultly of a direct translation of this loanword, sila can be thought of as a concept that suggests humanity is responsible for preserving nature due to our ability, as a species, to influence its progress. Of course, concepts that promote this sort of stewardship are not unfamiliar to the English-speaking world and can be found in Christian, Islamic, and Jewish doctrines alike. However, according to McGrath, sila differs from these ideas as it can be thought of as a “superconcept” that emphasizes the interconnectedness between abstract ideas such as intelligence, spirit, and the cosmos. In this essay, McGrath also highlights how the linguistic structure of Inuktut is used to convey the highly relational worldviews held by many Innuits. Unlike English, Inuktut utilizes transitive verb agreement endings (subject and object as a single unit), is ungendered, and does not distinguish between animate or inanimate objects. In addition to being a highly relational language, Inuktut places the subject at the end of the sentence rather than the beginning as English does. For example, in English we may say “I am going to the store.” In Inuktut, however, the morphology would be more akin to “the store-going to-will-I” (260). Through exploring sila in the context of the linguistic structure of Inuktut, McGrath raises intriguing questions about how the structure of language itself has the ability to shape our perception of and relationship to the world. In addition, McGrath raises intriguing questions as to what effect putting ourselves at the end of the sentence may have on how we react to climate change.             Overall, this text is highly thought provoking and has the potential to be widely influential. However, its level of influence is altogether dependent on how it is used. For example, if those who read it actively incorporate these loanwords into everyday conversation, presentations, academic work etc., it could significantly develop our conceptions of climate change. Therefore, perhaps this book can be used most effectively by educators, academics, and researchers. That being said, those with an avid interest in climate change and the Anthropocene would be likely to find its contents interesting and informative. The inclusion of artwork to represent selected loanwords is also a nice touch and acknowledges the role that art, as well as language, can have in allowing us to better visualise climate change. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone seeking to expand their understanding of climate change as well as to those seeking to educate others on this topic. However, a revised edition of An Ecotopian Lexicon with further loanwords that address its complex temporal aspects, and perhaps even climate change denial, would be a welcome addition to literature on climate change and the Anthropocene more widely.


Calarco, Matthew. Thinking Through Animals. Stanford University Press, 2015.

Ray Davenport is a PhD student at Plymouth University, England. Her current research involves examining pretrauma and anticipatory memory within contemporary environmental fiction.

Review of 12 Monkeys

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 4

Nonfiction Reviews

Review of Twelve Monkeys

Dominick Grace

Susanne Kord. 12 Monkeys. Auteur, 2019. Constellations. Paperback. 102 pg. $24.99. ISBN 9781999334000.

Auteur’s Constellations series of short monographs on key SF films and TV shows is uneven. Susanne Kord’s 12 Monkeys, which focuses primarily on Terry Gilliam’s film but also devotes a short chapter to the TV show, is a strong addition to the growing series. Kord, a Professor at University College London and author of several books and articles on popular culture, especially film, demonstrates intimate knowledge not only of the film but also of the critical tradition surrounding it. While one might quarrel with the back cover copy’s claim that 12 Monkeys is Gilliam’s best film (a claim not made within the book itself), Kord argues persuasively that it is Gilliam’s “least understood film” (13) because audiences and scholars alike have failed to see past the ways the film “deliberately confounds viewer expectations” (13). Kord cites numerous reviews and studies that express bafflement about the film, noting that commentators can’t agree “even on plot fundamentals” to a “startling” degree (8). Kord sets out to untangle the film’s knots, and she does so by exploring carefully and thoroughly how it deals with the implications of time travel.

Key to Kord’s reading is an explication of how the film denies the idea that time is linear, choosing instead to follow Einstein’s ideas (Einstein is even referenced in the film) of spacetime. Though the film repeatedly has characters point out that time cannot be changed, Kord argues that the implications of this fact have been insufficiently recognized in studies of the film, which often want to read some sort of hope or optimism into it—to see 12 Monkeys as the kind of time travel story in which one can change the past (or the future)—despite the fact that the film itself forecloses on that possibility.  Kord’s chapter on the TV series notes that this is a key aspect of the film discarded by the television show, which is predicated on the notion that the past can indeed be changed, if only one finds the right antecedent event to undo. Following the first chapter, which offers Kord’s synopsis of the film, Kord provides two chapters, “Pushing the (Reset) Button: Why You Can’t Start Over” and “’Thank You, Einstein’: Why You Can’t Turn Back Time,” in which she offers a detailed reading of the film’s time travel theory and some of the implications of that theory for concepts such as free will and determinism, a subject to which she returns in chapter 6, “Free Will, Determinism and Doing What You’re Told.” These aspects of Kord’s study constitute her most significant contribution to 12 Monkeys scholarship and should be illuminating to anyone interested in the film, whether as a fan or as a scholar.

            Kord is interested in other questions raised by the film, notably about the implications of point of view and perception. The film itself provides a meta commentary on this topic when Cole, while in a movie theatre watching Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), comments on how the movie itself can’t change but that one sees something different every time one watches it. Kord reads this not only as a commentary on the nature of the relationship between films and audiences (a relationship endorsed by Gilliam himself, who Kord quotes in the book’s coda as believing that there are multiple equally valid interpretations of his films, regardless of his intent) but also as a commentary on the nature of time in the film: time itself is fixed and immutable, but how one perceives it varies. This is of course very much in keeping with Einstein’s relativity. Kord makes much of the fact that a key problem in the film is that what is true is very much a matter of perspective; what seems like Cole’s insane babbling from the perspective of Railly in 1996 is, from Cole’s perspective, literally the truth.

            Kord also looks carefully at Gilliam’s filmic technique. She devotes considerable attention to the ways Gilliam fills the screen with significant information. This ranges from visual elements such as set dressings and objects shown on screen through camera point of view (e.g. the frequency with which characters are shown contained or enclosed, or even viewed through obstacles such as fences), the color palettes (e.g. how Cole frequently blends into the drab surroundings in which he is placed, or how the absence of color differentiation creates confusion even about which time frame we are in), camera angles, etc. Gilliam is a master of cinematic form, so it is unsurprising that so much of the film’s meaning is communicated not by dialogue and acting but by the visuals, but Kord expertly demonstrates how this is the case in clear prose that makes Gilliam’s technique evident even to those who are not film scholars.

            Indeed, one of the most admirable aspects of this book is Kord’s clear, engaging writing. This book is not only insightful but also a pleasure simply to read for the vividness and elegance of its prose. Kord is adept at communicating complex scholarly ideas in understandable language. That she can say so much of value in a mere hundred pages is impressive. This book makes an important contribution to Gilliam scholarship and should be read by anyone interested in the study of his films, but it is also eminently readable by a general audience. Given its relatively low cost, it would make a useful resource for students covering the film in a course, but it would be a worthwhile addition to any library’s Film and/or SF studies holdings.

Dominick Grace is Professor of English at Brescia University College in London, Ontario. His main area of research interest is popular culture, especially comics and Science Fiction.