The Plurality of Imaginary Worlds; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: The Plurality of Imaginary Worlds: The Evolution of French Roman Scientifique, 2nd Edition, Brian Stableford, 2016, 2017.

Cover by Timothee Rouxel

This is Stableford’s companion to his four volume New Atlantis series on British scientific romances.

As usual, Stableford writes in a clear way with some nice turns of phrase though he lets some of his snarkiness and sarcasm show at times. 

The book starts out in 1657 with Cyrano de Bergerac’s Histoire comique des États et Empires de la Lune [Other Worlds] and goes through 1939. Because of World War Two, little French work was published in the 1940s. Like the British scientific romance, it was subsumed into the dominant American mode of science fiction after the war.

Stableford mentions, as did James Gunn’s in his Alternate Worlds, some of the genres that fed into sf/roman scientifique: traveler’s tales (le merveilleux), imaginary voyages, utopias, and satires. (He talks about how French censorship of books meant many were published with bogus foreign printing information and under pseudonyms.) However, a unique French element was what Voltaire coined contes philosophiques. The interest in telling “fay stories” in the French court also played a role.

Stableford divides his analysis by historical eras and themes within them. 

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“Opening Minds”

The review series on the entries in Brian Stableford’s Opening Minds: Essays on Fantastic Literature continues with a look at the titular essay.

Review: “Opening Minds“, Brian Stableford, 1976.Opening Minds

Science fiction has, of course, long had a problem defining itself or now, with the blended genre crowd, wondering if it should define itself at all.

I say it should and that a definition is possible, but I’m not going to get drawn into that argument now.

Once you have a definition, the understandable tendency is to put writers on a spectrum of purity from defenders of the faith to those beyond the pale. I’m sure there are attempts to do this on more than just one-dimension. Stableford’s spectrum isn’t there as a genre purity test but to define two approaches to writing science fiction.

Others have created such continuums of genre purity. Brian Aldiss’ Billion Year Spree put writers on the critic/daydreamer spectrum defined by H. G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs, respectively. Stableford also uses Wells and the much more obscure Albert Jarry. Continue reading