Science Fiction: Its Nature, Faults and VirtuesIn 1957, the University of Chicago hosted a lecture series featuring leading science fiction writers of the day: Robert A. Heinlein, C. M. Kornbluth, Alfred Bester, and Robert Bloch were the invited speakers. Their lectures were published soon afterward in The Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Criticism (1959), a collection remarkable for the extent to which it asserts an importance for science fiction that some would deny it. Here's Robert A. Heinlein's part of this effort. For Heinlein, science fiction is or at least can be far more than mere escapist genre literature. In "our fabulously science fictional nation," he argues, SF and technological innovation go hand in hand.
First let us decide what we mean by the term "science fiction"—or at least what we will mean by it here. Anyone wishing a scholarly discussion of the etymology of the term will find one by Sam Moskowitz in the February, 1957 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I shan't repeat what he has said so well but will summarize for our immediate purposes. The field has existed throughout the history of literature but it used to be called by several names: speculative romance, pseudo-scientific romance (a term that sets a science fiction writer's teeth on edge), utopian literature, fantasy—or, more frequently, given no name, simply lumped in with all other fiction.
But the term "science fiction" is now part of the language, as common as the neologism "guided missile." We are stuck with it and I will use it . . . although personally I prefer the term "speculative fiction" as being more descriptive. I will use these two terms interchangeably, one being the common handle, the other being one that aids me in thinking—but with the same referent in each case.
"Science fiction" means different things to different people. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra"—in which case the term science fiction has piled up a lot of expensive overtime. Damon Knight, a distinguished critic in this field, argues that there is no clear distinction between fantasy and science fiction, in which opinion August Derleth seems to agree. I cannot forcefully disagree with their lines of reasoning—but I wonder if they have made their definitions so broad as to include practically all fiction? To define is to limit: a definition cannot be useful unless it limits. Certainly Mickey Spillane's murder stories could easily be classed as fantasies, as can many or most of the love stories appearing in the big slick magazines. But I feel sure that Mr. Knight and Mr. Derleth did not intend their definitions to be quite that unbounded and in any case my difference of opinion with them is merely a matter of taste and personal convenience.
Theodore Sturgeon, a giant in this field, defines a science fiction story as one in which the story would not exist if it were not for the scientific element—an admirably sharp delimitation but one which seems to me perhaps as uncomfortably tight as the one above seems to me unusefully roomy. It would exclude from the category "science fiction" much of Mr. Sturgeon's best work, stories which are to my mind speculative rather than fantastic. There are many stories that are lumped into the class "science fiction" in the minds of most people (and in mine) which contain only a detectable trace, or none, of science—for example, Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, Fritz Leiber's great short story "Coming Attraction," Thomas F. Tweed's novel Gabriel Over the White House. All three stories are of manners and morals; any science in them is merely parsley trimming, not the meat. Yet each is major speculation, not fantasy, and each must be classed as science fiction as the term is commonly used.
Reginald Bretnor, author, editor and acute critic of this field, gives what is to me the most thoughtful, best reasoned, and most useful definition of science fiction. He sees it as a field of literature much broader than that most often termed "main-stream" literature—or "non-science fiction," if you please—science fiction being that sort in which the author shows awareness of the nature and importance of the human activity known as the scientific method, shows equal awareness of the great body of human knowledge already collected through that activity, and takes into account in his stories the effects and possible future effects on human beings of scientific method and scientific fact. This indispensable three-fold awareness does not limit the science fiction author to stories about science—he need not write a gadget story; indeed a gadget story would not be science fiction under this definition if the author failed in this three-fold awareness. Any subject can be used in a science fiction story under this definition, provided (and indispensably required) that the author has the attitude comprised by the three-fold awareness and further provided that he has and uses appropriately that body of knowledge pertinent to the scope of his story. I have paraphrased in summary Mr. Bretnor's comments and I hope he will forgive me.
Mr. Bretnor's definition gives the science fiction author almost unlimited freedom in subject matter while requiring of him high, rigorous, and mature standards in execution.
In contrast to science fiction thus defined, non-science fiction—all other fiction including the most highly acclaimed "literary" novels—at most shows awareness of the by-products of scientific method already in existence. Non-science fiction admits the existence of the automobile, radar, polio vaccine, H-bombs, etc., but refuses to countenance starships and other such frivolities. That is to say, non-science fiction will concede that water is running down hill but refuses to admit that it might ever reach the bottom … or could ever be pumped up again. It is a static attitude, an assumption that what is now forever shall be.
An example of the great scope of this definition is Sinclair Lewis' novel Arrowsmith, a story motivated by the human problems of a man aware of and consciously trying to practice the scientific method in medical research in the face of difficulties. Arrowsmith was not labeled science fiction by its publisher, it is not concerned with space ships nor the year 3000; nevertheless it is science fiction at its best, it shows that three-fold awareness to the utmost and is a rousin' good yarn of great literary merit.
Let's back off for a moment and compare science fiction with other forms of fiction. First: what is fiction?
Merriam-Webster: "Works of imagination in narrative form."
Funk & Wagnalls: "Imaginary narrative."
Thorndike-Barnhart: "Prose writings about imaginary people and happenings."
Fowler's Modern English Usage equates "fictitious" with "imaginary."
These reasonably equivalent definitions are all based on the common element "imaginary"—so let's put it in everyday words: Fiction is storytelling about imaginary things and people. These imaginary tales are usually intended to entertain and sometimes do, they are sometimes intended to instruct and occasionally manage even that, but the only element common to all fiction is that all of it deals with imaginary elements. Even fiction of the most sordid and detailed ash-can realism is imaginary—or it cannot be termed fiction.
But if all fiction is imaginary, how is realistic fiction to be distinguished from fantasy?
The lexicographers cited above are not quite so unanimous here. However, I find certain words used over and over again in their discussions of fantasy: "dream, caprice, whim, fanciful, conceit, figment, unreal, irrational." These descriptive words have a common element; they all imply imaginings which are not limited by the physical universe as we conceive it to be.
I therefore propose to define "fantasy" in accordance with the implication common to the remarks of these lexicographers. There have been many wordy and fruitless battles over the exact meaning of the word "fantasy"; I have no intention of starting another. I ask merely that you accept for the purpose of better communication during the balance of this essay a definition based on the above. When I say "fantasy fiction" I shall mean "imaginary-and-not-possible" in the world as we know it; conversely all fiction which I regard as "imaginary-but-possible" I shall refer to as "realistic fiction," i.e., imaginary but could be real so far as we know the real universe.
Science fiction is in the latter class. It is not fantasy.
I am not condemning fantasy, I am defining it. It has greater freedom that any other form of fiction, for it is completely independent of the real world and is limited only by literary rules relating to empathy, inner logic, and the like. Its great freedom makes it, in the hands of a skilled craftsman, a powerful tool for entertainment and instruction—humor, satire, gothic horror, anything you wish. But a story is not fantasy simply because it deals with the strange, the exotic, the horrible, the unusual, or the improbable; both fantasy and realistic fiction may have any of these elements. It is a mere provincialism to confuse the wildly strange with fantasy; a fantasy story is one which denies in its premise some feature of the real world, it may be quite humdrum in all other respects, e.g., Eric Knight's The Flying Yorkshireman.
Conversely, a realistic story may be wildly strange while holding firmly to the possibilities of the real world—e.g., E. E. Smith's Gray Lensman. The science fiction author is not limited by currently accepted theory nor by popular opinion; he need only respect established fact.
Unfortunately there is never full agreement as to the "established facts" nor as to what constitutes the "real world," and definitions by intention are seldom satisfactory. By these two terms I mean the factual universe of our experience in the sense in which one would expect such words to be used by educated and enlightened members of the western culture in 1959.
Even this definition contains semantic and philosophic difficulties but I shall not attempt to cope with them in this limited space; I will limit myself to pointing out some stories which, in my opinion, deny some essential fact of the real world and therefore are, by the "imaginary-and-not-possible" definition, fantasy:
My story Magic, Inc.; E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros; the Oz books; stories using talking mules, or Seacoast Bohemia, or astrology treated as if it were a science; any story based on violation of scientific fact, such as space ship stories which ignore ballistics, stories which have the lizard men of Zlxxt crossbreeding with human females, stories which represent the surface conditions of Mars as being much like those of Earth. Let me emphasize: Assumptions contrary to fact such as the last one mentioned do not in themselves invalidate a story; C. S. Lewis' powerful Out of the Silent Planet is not spoiled thereby as a religious parable—it simply happens to be fantasy rather than science fiction.
Very well—from here on "fantasy" will be considered identically equal to "impossible story."
All other fiction including science fiction falls into the category "imaginary-but-possible." Examples: Frederic Wakeman's The Hucksters, Dr. E. E. Smith's galactic romances, Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders; stories about time travel, other dimensions, speeds faster than light, extra-sensory perception; many ghost stories, ones about extra-terrestrial life, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
You will have noted that I make the category "possible" very broad. Faster-than-light, time travel, reincarnation, ghosts, all these may strike some of you as impossible, contrary to scientific fact. No, they are contrary to present orthodox theory only and the distinction is extremely important. Such stories may be invalidated by their treatments; they cannot be ruled out today as impossible simply because of such themes. Speeds faster than light would seem to be excluded by Einsteinian theory, a theory which has stood up favorably under many tests, but such an exclusion would be a subjective one, as anyone may see by examining the equations; furthermore, Dr. Einstein's theories and related ones are now being subjected to careful re-examination; the outcome is not yet. As for time travel, we know almost nothing about the nature of time; anyone who has his mind made up either pro or con about time travel is confusing his inner opinions with objective reality. We simply don't know.
With respect to reincarnation, ghosts, ESP, and many related matters concerning consciousness, the evidence concerning each is, in 1959, incomplete and in many respects unsatisfactory. We don't even know how consciousness anchors itself to mass; we are short on solid facts in this field and any opinion, positive or negative, can be no better than a tentative hypothesis today.
Hypotheses and theories are always expendable; a scientist modifies or discards them in the face of new facts as casually as he changes his socks. Ordinarily a scientist will use the convenient rule-of-thumb called "least hypothesis" but he owes it no allegiance; his one fixed loyalty is to the observed fact. An honest science fiction writer observes the same loyalty to fact but from there on his path diverges from that of the scientist because his function is different. The pragmatic rule of least hypothesis, useful as it may be to orderly research, is as unfunctional in speculative fiction as a chaperone on a honeymoon. In matters incompletely explored such as reincarnation and time travel the science fiction writer need not be and should not be bound either by contemporary opinion or least hypothesis; his function is to speculate from such facts as there are and to do so as grandly and sweepingly as his imagination permits. He cannot carry out his function while paying lip service to the orthodox opinions or prejudices of his tribe and generation, and no one should expect it of him. It is difficult enough for him to bear in mind a multitude of facts and not wander inadvertently across into fantasy.
I have made perhaps too much of this point because it is a sore one with all science fiction writers; we are regularly charged with "violating fact" when all we have done is to disregard currently respected theory. Every new speculation necessarily starts by kicking aside some older theory.
To categorizing there is no end, and the field of prose fiction may be classified in many different ways: by length, plot, subject, period, locale, language, narrative technique; or by intent—satire, romance, burlesque, comedy, tragedy, propaganda. All these classes blend together and what categories a critic chooses to define depend upon his purpose. We have divided fiction into possible and impossible; now let us divide again by temporal scene:REALISTIC FICTION 1. Historical Fiction 2. Contemporary-Scene Fiction 3. Realistic Future-Scene Fiction FANTASY FICTION I. Fantasy laid in the past II. Fantasy laid in the present III. Fantasy laid in the future
This arbitrary classification has advantages; on inspecting it several facts show up at once:
So-called "main-stream" literature fills most of class 1 and class 2.
Class 3 contains only science fiction; a small amount of science fiction may also be found in class 1 and class 2.
In the second division, good fantasy, consciously written and skillfully executed, may be found in all three classes. But a great quantity of fake "science" fiction, actually pseudo-scientific fantasy, will be found there also, especially in class III, which is choked with it.
But the most significant fact shining out from the above method of classifying is that class 3, realistic future-scene fiction, contains nothing which is not science fiction and contains at least 90% of all science fiction in print. A handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method.
To make this definition cover all science fiction (instead of "almost all") it is necessary only to strike out the word "future." But in fact most science fiction is laid in the future; the reasons for this are not trivial and will be discussed later.
As always, categories tend to overlap, or stories turn out to overlap the categories. We will not offer them Procrustean hospitality—a story is what it is, regardless of a critic's classifications. John Taine's novel The Time Stream is science fiction which spans past, present, and future; Dr. Frank G. Slaughter's Sangaree is a fine historical novel which is also a science fiction novel; Lion Feuchtwanger's Success is an historical novel laid in the present and told as if the narrator were in the future; Maxwell Griffith's The Gadget Maker, Philip Wylie's Tomorrow, and Pat Frank's Forbidden Area are examples of science fiction laid in a future no later than tomorrow morning. Some stories are such exotic creatures as to defy almost any method of literary taxonomy. A skillful writer could combine in one story an element of fantasy, some of science fiction, a contemporary story, an historical and a bit of the future, some comedy, some tragedy, some burlesque, and a little straight hortatory propaganda—in fact I have seen one which includes all of these elements: Vincent McHugh's Caleb Catlum's America.
But realistic speculation—science fiction—is usually laid in the future, because it extrapolates from "what is" to "what might be." Some will say that this is the rankest form of fantasy, since the future is not "real." I deny that. We have the dead past, the dying moment and the ever-emerging, always-living future. Our lives always lie in the future; a casual decision to scratch oneself must be carried out at least an instant in the future. The future is all that we can change—and thank Heaven we can!—for the present has obvious shortcomings.
If the future were not real, no insurance company could stay in business. All our lives we are more deeply concerned with what we are going to do than with what we are now doing or have done. The poet who said that every child is the hope of the world understood that. This process is time-binding, the most human of all activities, observing the past in order to make plans for the future. This is the scientific method itself and is the activity which most greatly distinguishes man from other animals. To be able to grasp and embrace the future is to be human.
For this reason I must assert that speculative fiction is much more realistic than is most historical and contemporary-scene fiction and is superior to them both.
Are the speculations of science fiction prophecy? No.
On the other hand, science fiction is often prophetic. There was once a race track tout who touted every horse in each race, each horse to a different sucker. Inevitably he had a winner in every race—he had extrapolated every possibility. Science fiction writers have "prophesied" (if you will excuse a deliberate misuse of the word) so many things and so many possible futures that some of them must have come true, with sometimes rather startling accuracy. Having bet on all the horses we can't lose. But much has been made of the "successful prophecies" of science fiction—the electric light, the telephone, the airplane, the submarine, the periscope, tanks, flamethrowers, A-bombs, television, the automobile, guided missiles, robot aircraft, totalitarian government, radar—the list is endless.
The fact is that most so-called "successful prophecies" are made by writers who follow the current scientific reports and indulge in rather obvious extrapolation of already known fact. Let me pick to pieces two cases which I know well because the "prophecies" are attributed to me. The first is from my story Waldo, and refers to remote-control manipulators described therein which I called "waldos" after the fictional inventor. Willy Ley calls this "one of the neatest predictions ever to come out of science fiction" and goes on to describe how nearly perfectly I had described the remote-control manipulators now used in atomic "hot" laboratories, even to the use of stereotelevision to conn them … even to the development of master and slave teams to permit one operator to do multiple tasks. Sounds pretty good, eh? Especially as the word "waldo" has since become engineering slang.
The second refers to my story "Solution Unsatisfactory." John W. Campbell, Jr., in an essay on this point, lists nine major prophecies in this story, seven of which he says have come true, and two of which, he notes, may very well come true soon. All of them refer to atomic weapons and their impact on history. I might even add that one of those predictions would have come true even more precisely had I not finished writing another story on atomic power and wished to avoid repeating one of the incidents in it. All of these so-called prophecies were made in 1940 and they have "come true," so to speak, during the ensuing 19 years.
Sounds as if I own a crystal ball, doesn't it?
Now to pick them to pieces, the latter one first. At the time I wrote "Solution Unsatisfactory" there wasn't enough U-235 in pure state to blow the hat off a flea. But I had had my attention called to its explosive and military possibilities not only by technical reports but both by Mr. Campbell himself (who had maintained his connections at MIT) and by Dr. Robert Cornog, atomic physicist from Berkeley who later helped to develop the atomic bomb. Thus I had first hand and most recent scientific knowledge to build on—all this was before security restrictions were placed on the matter, before the famous first pile was erected at the University of Chicago.
I had two more all-important data: a great world war was already going on, and the basic knowledge which made U-235 potentially an unbeatable weapon which could win that war was already known to scientists the world around—even though the public was unaware of it.
Given all this mass of fact could a careful fictionist fail to come up with something near the truth? As prophecies, those fictional predictions of mine were about as startling as for a man to look out a train window, see that another train is coming head-on toward his own on the same track—and predict a train wreck.
The other one, the waldos or remote control manipulators, was even simpler. Back in 1918 I read an article in Popular Mechanics about a poor fellow afflicted with myasthenia gravis, pathological muscular weakness so great that even handling a knife and fork is too much effort. In this condition the brain and the control system are okay, the muscles almost incapable. This man—I don't even know his name; the article is lost in the dim corridors of time—this genius did not let myasthenia gravis defeat him. He devised complicated lever arrangements to enable him to use what little strength he had and he became an inventor and industrial engineer, specializing in how to get maximum result for least effort. He turned his affliction into an asset.
Twenty-two years later after I had read about his inspiring example I was scratching my head for a story notion—and I recalled this genius. Now I myself am a mechanical engineer who once specialized in mechanical linkages and had worked in industrial engineering. Is it surprising that with so much real fact to go on and with my own technical background I could describe fictionally remote-control manipulators—"waldos"—which would multiply human muscle power and at the same time handle things with delicate precision? Television had already been invented years before—about twenty years before the public got it—and somebody had already built such linkages, even though they were not in common use. So I "prophesied" them—twenty years after the fact.
What I did miss was that the development of atomics would make waldos utterly indispensable; I predicted them for straight industrial use—now even that is coming true as industry is finding other uses for the manipulators developed for atomics.
But as a "prophecy" I was taking as much chance as a man who predicts tomorrow's sunrise.
These manipulators exist in the opposite direction, too—down into the very small . . . micromanipulators for microchemistry and microsurgery. I have never worked with such things but I learned their details from my wife, who is a microchemist and microsurgeon. Working with such and using a stereomicroscope a skilled operator can excise a living nucleus from a living cell, transplant it to another cell, and cause it to live—a powerful tool in biological research . . . and a beautiful example of research scientist and engineer working together to produce something new. The scientist wanted it—working under his direction, optician and mechanical engineer could make what he needed.
There are other obvious extrapolations from these facts. Put these four things together, the remote-control manipulator with the micromanipulator, television with microscopy. Use micromanipulation to make still smaller instruments which in turn are used to make still smaller instruments which in turn are used to make ones smaller yet. What do you get? A scientist, working safely outside a "hot" laboratory—perhaps with the actual working theater as far away as the Antarctic while the scientist sits in Chicago—seeing by stereomicroscopic television, using remote-control microscopic manipulation, operating not just on a cell and a nucleus, but sorting the mighty molecules of the genes, to determine the exact genetic effect of mutation caused by radiation. Or a dozen other things.
I give this prediction about twenty years, more or less. The basic facts are all in and soon we'll be needing such a technique. There may be a story in it for me, too—another easy dollar as a fake prophet. I'm afraid the itch to prophesy becomes a vice. Forgive me.
Sometimes the so-called prophecies are even less prophetic than these two I have just deflated. For example, in one story I described a rather remarkable oleo-gear arrangement for handling exceedingly heavy loads. I was not cheating, the device would work: it had been patented about 1900 and has been in industrial use ever since. But it is a gadget not well known to the public and it happened to fit into a story I was writing.
Most so-called science fiction prophecies require very little use of a crystal ball; they are much more like the observations of a man who is looking out a train window rather than down at his lap—he sees the other train coming, and the ensuing "prophecy" is somewhat less remarkable than a lunar eclipse prediction.
However, science and science fiction do interact. There are close relationships between scientists and science fiction writers—indeed some of them are both. H. G. Wells had a degree in biology and kept up with science all his life. Jules Verne worked very closely with scientists. Dr. E. E. Smith is a chemist, a chemical engineer, and a metallurgist. "Philip Latham" is a world-famous astrophysicist. Philip Wylie has a degree in physics, as has "Don A. Stuart." "Murray Leinster" is a chemist. Dr. Isaac Asimov teaches at the medical school of Boston University, does research in cancer, writes college textbooks on biochemistry, write a junior series of science books as well—and somehow finds time to be a leading science fiction author. "John Taine" is the pen name of one of the ten greatest living mathematicians. L. Sprague de Camp holds three technical degrees. "Lee Correy" is a senior rocket engineer. George O. Smith is a prominent electronics engineer. Chad Oliver is an anthropologist. Is it surprising that such men, writing fiction about what they know best, manage to be right rather often?
But science fiction not infrequently guides the direction of science. I had a completely imaginary electronics device in a story published in 1939. A classmate of mine, then directing such research, took it to his civilian chief engineer and asked if it could possibly be done. The researcher replied, "Mmm . . . no, I don't think so—uh, wait a minute . . . well, yes, maybe. We'll try."
The bread-boarded first model was being tried out aboard ship before the next installment of my story hit the newsstands. The final development of this gadget was in use all through World War II. I wasn't predicting anything and had no reason to think that it would work; I was just dreaming up a gadget to fill a need in a story, sticking as close to fact and possibility as I could.
"Tout ce qu'un homme est capable d'imaginer, d'autres hommes seront capable de la réaliser." (M. Jules Verne—I am indebted to Willy Ley for the quotation.) "Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real." Or to put it in the words of Colonel Turner, first commanding officer of White Sands: "I'll go this far: anything we want to do, we now can do, if we want to badly enough." As Oscar Wilde puts it, "Nature mirrors art," … and it often does, in science fiction. If a writer knows that mankind wants to do something or needs to do something and that writer is reasonably familiar with the current trends in research and development, it is not too hard for him to predict approximately what one of the solutions will be.
However, "in science fiction as in law, ignorance is no excuse," to quote L. Sprague de Camp: the man who has neglected to keep himself informed concerning the frontiers of science, or, even having managed that, fails to be reasonably knowledgeable about any field of human activity affecting his story, or who lacks a fair knowledge of history and current events—failing in any of these things, he has no business writing speculative fiction. It is not enough to interlard an old plot with terms like "space warp," "matter transmitter," "ray gun," or "rocket ship" with no knowledge of what is meant (if anything) by such terms, or how they might reasonably work. A man who provides Mars with a dense atmosphere and an agreeable climate, a man whose writing shows that he knows nothing of ballistics nor of astronomy nor of any modern technology would do better not to attempt science fiction. Such things are not science fiction—entertainment they may be; serious speculation they cannot be. The obligation of the writer to his reader to know what he is talking about is even stronger in science fiction than elsewhere, because the ordinary reader has less chance to catch him out. It's not fair, it's cheating.
Let's cite another example of the strong interconnection between true science fiction and scientific development itself. Back in 1931 a story by Edmond Hamilton was published called "The Sargasso of Space" which portrayed the first space suits I happen to be aware of. In 1939 I wrote a story, "Misfit," which made use of such space suits, and I remembered how Hamilton had visualized them—remembered with approval—I had done a little suit diving and had some knowledge of engineering and it seemed to me that Hamilton had a good idea; my space suits were elaborated versions of his. A former shipmate of mine, now Rear Admiral A. B. Scoles, was then engaged in aviation research and development. A long-time science fiction fan, Scoles read my story. When we got into the war he sent for me, put me in charge of a high-altitude laboratory of which one of the projects was the development of a space suit (then called a high-altitude pressure suit). I worked on it a short while, then was relieved by L. Sprague de Camp, who is an aeronautical and mechanical engineer as well as a writer; he carried on with the research all through the war, testing and developing many space suits. The war ended; I wrote a story involving space suits in which I applied what I had had opportunity to learn. The story eventually was made into a motion picture, so I sent for a photograph of one of the space suits Sprague de Camp had helped develop, and we copied it as closely as we could for the movie.
With this crossing back and forth between fiction and technology is it surprising that the present-day space suit (or high-altitude pressure suit, if you prefer) now used by the U.S. Air Force strongly resembles in appearance and behavior the space suit visualized by Edmond Hamilton in 1931?
A more startling example of crossing back and forth between science fiction and technology occurs in space travel itself. I shall not go into it in detail as Arthur C. Clarke, the distinguished science fiction writer and scientist, has already done so—but I will mention some of the pioneers in rocketry who have also written fiction about the subject: Professor Hermann Oberth, Willy Ley, Wernher von Braun, Arthur C. Clarke, G. Harry Stine. This is by no means a complete list; it is illustrative only, and I use it to preface a quotation. I am indebted to Reginald Bretnor for this item; he found it in the pages of America's best known and possibly most respected journal of literary criticism:"Even before the German inventors created the first navigable rocket at Peenemünde the writers of this somewhat crude form of entertainment had developed the rocket ships which cruised to the moon and the solar planets and then burst into outermost space and explored the galaxies of the Milky Way. Driven by atomic power these apparently mad devices were as well known to the devotees of science fiction as the liners that cross our oceans. Nevertheless, it (space travel) remained unadulterated fantasy until scientists contemplated the experiments with rockets that have proceeded since the last war."
And this entire quotation is unadulterated tosh!
In literary criticism, as in science fiction, ignorance is no excuse. Let's take it bit by bit:
"—the German inventors created the first navigable rocket at Peenemünde—" The V-2 was not a navigable rocket; the first navigable rocket was developed in the United States long years after Peenemünde was destroyed.
"—this somewhat cruse form of entertainment—" This critic is speaking of the writing of, among others, Dr. Olaf Stapledon, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, C. S. Lewis, Philip Wylie, Edward Everett Hale, Johannes Kepler, Lucian of Samosata, Cyrano de Bergerac, Edgar Allan Poe. I readily concede that many stories about space travel are crude—but is there any field of literature in which most efforts are not crude? Take a look at any newsstand, any book stall. Is the literary work of the historical novel Quo Vadis gauged by the merits of dime novels and nickel shockers which purport to describe American history?
The examples I have given are a few of the writers of some claim to literary reputation who wrote about space travel prior to the time the first V-2 from Peenemünde fell on London. I submit that a critic who refers to Poe, Wells, Edward Everett Hale, et al. as writers of a "somewhat crude form of entertainment" is spiritually akin to the Hollywood producer who is alleged to have condemned Hamlet as "just a moldy old plot strung together with a bunch of familiar quotations." This critic really should familiarize himself with the literature he claims to be judging.
Let us see if he knows any more about science than he appears to know about literature. "—rocket ships which . . . burst into outermost space and explored the galaxies of the Milky Way—"
Any science fiction writer (and almost any twelve-year-old boy) knows that rocket ships are not appropriate for interstellar travel. Obviously this man knows nothing of rocket engineering … but his notions of astronomy are even more disheartening. "Galaxies of the Milky Way" indeed! This is about as mixed up concerning the elementary facts of descriptive astronomy as one can get. One could as reasonably call London a borough of New York. I won't take up your time setting him straight; instead I refer him to any Boy Scout.
We are not through with him. "—these apparently mad devices—" Dear literary critic, the telephone is a "mad device" to a Congo pigmy and flying machines were "apparently mad devices" to ignorant minds in the early part of this century.
"—remained unadulterated fantasy until scientists contemplated the experiments with rockets that have proceeded since the last war."
This is so filled with nonsense that I must take it to pieces almost word by word. In the first place, why does he pick this date (around 1944 or '45; he's vague though emphatic) as being the date on which space travel ceased to be "unadulterated fantasy"? Surely not because space travel has already been achieved, for it has not been. But, while space travel is as certain as anything in the future can be, it is not yet here.
In the second place, this critic seems totally unaware that many of the fiction writers about space travel and many of the rocket experimenters who are the true space travel pioneers are, in many important instances, the very same people.
In the third place, he seems just as totally innocent of the history of rocketry—he seems to think it started at Peenemünde sometime during World War II. Rockets as military missiles (which is what they still are today) date with certainty back through the 19th century and their actual first use is lost in the mists of Chinese history. Mathematical investigation of the problems of space travel and rocketry, and experimentation with rocket prototypes, consciously intended to be developed into space ships, both began early in this century. The basic mathematical physics on which a reaction-propelled vehicle capable of moving itself through airless space depends has been available to any educated man since Sir Isaac Newton published his famous Third Law of Motion nearly three hundred years ago. Yet this person seems not even aware of the pioneer work of Professor Oberth and our own Dr. Goddard.
The progress toward space travel has been unbroken and the basic knowledge underlying it has been available to anyone for almost three centuries. The imminence of space travel has been staring in the face of anyone who can read for at least thirty years. I submit that a man who can label all that has gone before as "unadulterated fantasy" is logically as likely so to label any research and development project, in progress but not completed, at Bell Laboratories or Westinghouse. Progress is always accompanied by the wiseacres who stand sneering on the sidelines, always unbelieving before the fact and always without wonder after the fact.
If one were to inflate a toy balloon, release it and allow it to flutter to a stop … There it is, ladies and gentlemen—the self-contained, reaction-propelled vehicle, the prototype of the space ship … known to mathematical physics since the time of Newton and now being realized on the drawing boards and in the proving grounds of our fabulously science fictional nation. Yet to ignorant and unimaginative critics it is just a child's balloon. There are none so blind as they who will not see.
Yet this is precisely the sort of "literary criticism" to which science fiction is all too often subjected. I have quoted a gross but not outstanding example.
But what is the literary merit of speculative fiction? By what standards should it be judged?
By precisely the same standards which apply to any other field of fiction. I myself prefer fiction which is entertaining, although some critics do not seem to care about this point. Rules of unity, plot structure, characterization, consistency, and all other rules which may fairly be applied to any piece of fiction also should be applied to science fiction; it is not exempt from any of them. It is also subject to another rule which I can best explain by analogy with respect to contemporary-scene and historical fiction. If a man does a story about the packing industry of Chicago, as Upton Sinclair did in The Jungle, he owes it to the public first to study the packing industry carefully. If a man writes a novel about Henry VIII he is obligated to know 16th century England as well as he knows his own back yard—and by the same token a man writing about rocket ships is morally obligated to the public to be up on rocket engineering. Since a science fiction writer cannon possibly know all about anthropology, law, history, cybernetics, biochemistry, psychology, mathematics, nucleonics, ballistics and four dozen more major subjects, he is obligated to do just as a competent historical novelist does—make good use of public libraries and other reference sources and seek the advice and help of specialist experts in the field he touches on. The science fiction writer is especially obligated to do this because many of the subjects he treats are even more esoteric to the average reader than are the facts of 16th century England. Furthermore, his task is both more crucial and more difficult because he is extrapolating, speculating. The historical novelist has a solid and readily accessible framework of known fact to fall back on; the man who speculates about the future has only his knowledge and his reason to guide him.
In other words, all the usual criteria of literature apply to science fiction … only more severely.
But, by the same token, I think we who practice it are entitled to be judged only by critics well enough educated to be capable of judging. I do not think that a critic who takes his profession seriously would attempt to judge a novel about Henry VIII without knowing something or learning something of the historical background. At least he should not. But apparently almost any bloke who can read without moving his lips considers himself qualified to take a roundhouse swipe at a speculative novel.
How well does the field of speculative fiction measure up to these conventional literary standards?
Not very well, I am afraid, in most cases. However, there are extenuating circumstances and the accused now throws himself on the mercy of the court. A goodly number of us who write it have had no formal training in writing; we are self-taught and the fact often shows. Regrettably, not too many people have both extensive scientific training and intensive literary training—and good speculative fiction calls for both. However, many excellent writers in many fields have been self-taught; this alone is not sufficient excuse.
A second and more important extenuating circumstance is that speculative fiction is the most difficult of all prose forms. Not only does it require greater knowledge to do it well, greater imagination to make it rational and consistent—these are not easy; almost anyone can write at least one autobiographical novel fairly well; he knows his material, life itself has shaped its consistency, and the editor will prune the surplusage—good speculation comes harder. But also, a speculative novel, to be entertaining, must accomplish something which is necessary to all fiction but which is technically very much more difficult in science fiction, i.e., a writer must create the scene and culture and make it come alive. In historical and contemporary-scene fiction the writer is greatly assisted in this by the fact that the reader is already somewhat familiar with the scene, either through personal experience or through common reading. The speculative story, laid in the future, or on another planet, or possibly in another dimension, cannot use this convenient assumption. The science fiction writer must build up a scene strange to the reader, perhaps a wholly new culture, and he must make it convincing, else he will not simply lose empathy with his reader, he will never gain it in the first place—and there is nothing more dead than a story in which the writer fails to bring his reader into that feeling or belief.
A writer of Western stories may say, "the lone rider topped the rise—spingow!—a shot rang out." Trite perhaps, but the reader knows where is; he's been there a hundred times before. An historical writer may say: "General Washington stepped outside his headquarters and gazed sadly at the ragged figure of a gaunt private soldier standing barefoot in the snow"—rather trite again, but we know where we are—Valley Forge.
But it is not enough to say, "With a blast the space ship took off for Mars." Oh, it may do for some comic books and for pulp magazines aimed at ten-year-olds, but not for serious literature; the writer must fill in this strange scene clearly enough to create empathy.
It's not easy. In the first place he must do it without slowing up the story; neither reader nor literary critic can be expected to hold still for long engineering discussions, or tedious sociological sermonizing. He must get his gadgets in, if he is using gadgets, without getting them in the way of his human characters and their human problems—yet get them in he must, else the story takes place in a literary vacuum and suffocates at once.
This is much harder than the other difficult problems of finding time to do adequate research and then blending that research into a consistent human story. But it must be solved; it is a sine qua non in any story involving a strange scene—the scene and all necessary postulates of the story must be made convincing without cluttering up the story. I will not attempt to explain how to do it; I have been studying the problem by trial and error for years and it still gives me headaches with each new story I write.
This difficulty alone is sufficient to account for the fact that there are very few really good science fiction short stories—solving this problem usually calls for more elbow room than a short story allows. Most short science fiction stories are aimed at the regular reader of the field who has learned to accept certain short-hand assumptions unfamiliar to the general reader (just as the regular reader of the "Western" accepts a complex of assumptions about the American Old West). The valid science fiction short story acceptable to the general reader is not an impossible art form, but it is so excruciatingly difficult that it is quite rare.
But the primary reason that there is so little good science fiction is that there is so little science fiction of any sort.
This may sound preposterous in view of the growing popularity of the field, the large number of trade books so labeled since the war, and the plethora of specialist magazines; nevertheless it is literally true. For every person now writing speculative fiction today there are a dozen writing historical fiction and at least fifty writing contemporary-scene fiction of one sort and another. The editors in any other field have an enormously greater mass of wordage to choose from. I believe that I know, personally or through his work, every regular writer of speculative fiction in the United States today. There are less than a hundred of us all told, both those of us who work full time and those of us who give it only part time. There are less than ten of us who make our livings through full-time, free-lance writing of speculative fiction—"ten" is probably too high; I can think of only six by name—and I am sure that I know all the full-timers.
With such a corporal's guard to draw from, how can we be expected to turn out very many great works of literature? We can't and we don't.
As a result of the excess demand over supply a great many poor speculative novels have reached hard covers these past few years. Anything readable and even moderately entertaining could be sure of publication—it has been a classic case of "We don't want good; we want it Wednesday."
This great demand has frequently resulted in authors with well-established literary reputations in other fields attempting to turn an easy dollar by whipping off a "science fiction" story or two. In most cases they have fallen flat on their scholarly faces, for this is not an art to be practiced successfully without hard and prayerful preparation. No man in his right mind would attempt a novel concerning the era of the Emperor Justinian without tedious research; the corollary is still more emphatically true when the "main stream" writer tackles speculative fiction. He simply can't do it, despite finished narrative technique, unless he already has, or painfully acquires, the necessary special knowledge.
Unfortunately, for these reasons, I do not think that we are likely to have a large volume of competent, literate speculative fiction in the foreseeable future. Those of you who are addicted to it in quantity must perforce resign yourselves to reading much that is second rate. The situation can be expected to improve slowly as demand eventually results in a larger number of competent writers in the field—but only slowly.
There is not space to discuss in detail the competent, literate speculative fiction which has been written, but I will give a list of speculative novels which I consider to be competent, and of literary merit by any standards. It is not a definitive list and represents simply a sample of my own taste, but these are examples of what I mean by good works in this field: General Manpower, by John S. Martin; Not This August and Takeoff, both by Cyril M. Kornbluth; Man's Mortality, by Michael Arlen; Woman Alive, by Susan Ertz; It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis; 1984, by George Orwell; The War With the Newts, by Karel Capek; Pebble in the Sky and The Caves of Steel, both by Isaac Asimov; Needle, by Hal Clement; Nerves, by Lester del Rey; Seven Famous Novels, by H. G. Wells; To Walk the Night, by William Sloane; Odd John, by Olaf Stapledon; The Doomsday Man, by J. B. Priestley; Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley; Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague de Camp; I Am Thinking of My Darling, by Vincent McHugh; The World Below, by S. Fowler Wright, and Prelude to Space, by Arthur C. Clarke.
For comparison, let me list a few fantasies, good by any criteria: The Sword in the Stone, by T. H. White; Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (Charles L. Dodgson); The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame; The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum; Out of the Silent Planet, by C. S. Lewis; and the collections Thirteen O'Clock, by Stephen Vincent Benét, and Fancies and Goodnights, by John Collier.
Again for comparison, two good contemporary-scene novels, in my opinion, are Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny and Pat Frank's Hold Back the Night, and examples of good historical novels by contemporary authors are Paul Wellman's The Female and MacKinlay Kantor's Long Remember. I think that science fiction, to be worthy of critical literary praise, should approximate the standards of these four novels and of the fantasies mentioned just above.
I had hoped to discuss the history of science fiction. However, there is in print one comprehensive history covering the field from the distant past to about 1935: J. O. Bailey's Pilgrims Through Space and Time. This is Dr. Bailey's dissertation for his Ph.D. and it is amazing to me that any university accepted the subject in view of the low esteem in which speculative fiction is held in most departments of English.
Of what use is science fiction? I have already said that it is not prophecy, that most of it is not very good from a literary standpoint … and now let me add that much of it is not even very entertaining in my opinion. Good heavens! Does it have any virtue?
Yes. It is the most alive, the most important, the most useful, and the most comprehensive fiction being published today. It is the only fictional medium capable of interpreting the changing, head-long rush of modern life. Speculative fiction is the main stream of fiction—not, as most critics assume, the historical novel and the contemporary-scene novel.
On behalf of all of my science fiction colleagues I have no intention of being modest about this. The speculative novel is both more important and more difficult than the so called main-stream novel. Speculative fiction has been expected to stand, hat in hand, a barely recognized illegitimate cousin of the "respectable" forms of literature. I claim for speculative fiction the prior place, the head of the table, even if I have to step on some tender feelings to seat it there.
The historical novel will always have an important place in literature and I have no criticism to make of historical fiction now being written save to note that plunging necklines and bedroom scenes are not in themselves a substitute for honest research. On the other hand the conscientious and competent historical novelist (of whom there are many) is assisted in creating a true picture of times past by the recent increase in freedom to describe in frank terms customs differing from ours.
But historical fiction can never be as useful to the human race as speculative fiction can be (and sometimes is) for the very reason that historical fiction concerns the past. The past can be instructive and very interesting—but the future is far more important … to us, to our children, to our children's children. We cannot drive safely by looking only in the rear-view mirror; it is more urgent to watch the road ahead. Too much emphasis on historical fiction partakes of the attitude of the fabulous bird who flew backwards because he didn't care where he was going but liked to see where he had been. Nevertheless, historical fiction has its proper and useful place.
But as for contemporary-scene literature, it is sick with a deep sickness—in its present state it cannot possibly interpret this fast-changing world. Time was when the novel of contemporary life could satisfy most reasonable needs of the spirit, back in a quieter, less rapidly changing day, back when the advancing front of human knowledge was not turning the whole world topsy-turvy every few years. But those quiet days are gone, not to return in your lifetime nor mine, nor in the predictable future. Most novels of contemporary life today tragically fail to live up to the needs of our times.
I am not speaking now of the detective story, the adventure story, or any other genre intended solely as entertainment. Nor am I condemning every novel offered as a serious interpretation of the contemporary scene—there are a number of fine ones. But I am condemning the overwhelming majority.
A very large part of what is accepted as "serious" literature today represents nothing more than a cultural lag on the part of many authors, editors and critics—a retreat to the womb in the face of a world too complicated and too frightening for their immature spirits. A sick literature. What do we find so often today? Autobiographical novels centered around neurotics, even around sex maniacs, concerning the degraded, the psychotic, or the "po' white trash" of back-country farms portrayed as morons or worse, novels about the advertising industry or some other equally narrow area of human experience such as the personal life of a television idol or the experiences of a Park Avenue call girl.
Ah, but this is "realism"! Some of it is, some of it decidedly is not. In any case, is it not odd that the ash-can school of realism, as exemplified by Henry Miller, Jean-Paul Sartre, James Joyce, Françoise Sagan, and Alberto Moravia, should be held up to us as "high art" at the very time when all other forms of art are striving to achieve more significant and more interesting forms of expression? Can James Joyce and Henry Miller and their literary sons and grandsons interpret the seething new world of atomic power and antibiotics and interplanetary travel? I say not. In my opinion a very large portion of what is now being offered to the public as serious, contemporary-scene fiction is stuff that should not be printed, but told only privately—on a psychiatrist's couch. The world, the human race, is now faced with very real and pressing problems. They will not be solved by inverted neurotics intent on telling, in a tedious hundred thousand words, they hate their fathers and love their mothers.
In any case, I, for one, am heartily sick of stories about frustrates, jerks, homosexuals, and commuters who are unhappy with their wives—for goodness sake! Let them find other wives, other jobs—and shut up!
True, some of this sick literature does shine a light into dark corners of the human soul. Even a sordid, narrow novel such as James Jones' From Here to Eternity can sometimes manage that. But is this enough? Does it meet the challenge of our century? At best such a novel shows only one frame of a complex and rapidly moving picture.
"I am a stranger and afraid in a world I never made."
Not true! "I am not a stranger and I am not afraid in a world I am helping to make . . . and I am 'damned from here to eternity' only if I abandon my human intelligence and, sheeplike, give up the struggle!"—that is the answer of science fiction, that is why it is alive when most of our current literature is sick and dying. Change . . . change . . . endless change—that is the keynote of our times, whether we face it or run away from it. The mature speculative novel is the only form of fiction which stands even a chance of interpreting the spirit of our times. Most literature has cut itself out of the competition by refusing to deal with the all-too-evident facts—most writers in other fields could not deal properly with the world today even if they tried; their education is too limited, their private world too narrow. They wear blinders.
Speculative fiction is the only form of fiction which does not exclude any area of human experience … and in particular it does not exclude that most truly human of all human activities, the one that sets us above animals: the exercise of the scientific method and the sober consideration of the consequences thereof. This is an era when the scientific method, its meaning and use, is indispensable to the mature man—we either use it, or we and our free democratic culture will go under. And yet most modern novelists find no need for it, are even afraid of it. True, they reflect a sickness in the culture, not alone a sickness in themselves. I refer to the increasingly strong trend toward anti-intellectualism, anti-science, demands for a "moratorium" in science, screwball cults and philosophies such as Zen Buddhism (Gautama Buddha must be spinning in his grave!), existentialism, astrology—I once counted more than a dozen different astrology magazines on a newsstand which had not one magazine on astronomy and only one on science in general.
But it is so much easier to consult the stars! So it is. It makes life simple to blame failures on a horoscope. It is much harder to study ballistics, study engineering, try to reach those stars—but it is a much more mature activity. It is always hard to face up to a complex world, try to figure out what makes it tick, try to cope with it, survive and triumph over it.
But this is precisely what science fiction strives toward . . . and what most so-called "main-stream" literature does not even attempt. It used to be that mature men discussed the world and its meaning through the speculative essay. The speculative essay is almost extinct today; it is rarely written, still more rarely published. Its place has been taken by speculative fiction, a tool which, properly handled, is more subtle and more versatile than is the speculative essay. By means of science fiction one can (as one does in mathematics) examine the extremes of a social problem, search it for inflexures, feel out its changing slopes. Nearly all stories in the "mainstream," by their very frameworks, are forever self-excluded from this important form of analysis. Through science fiction the human race can try experiments in imagination too critically dangerous to try in fact. Through such speculative experiments science fiction can warn against dangerous solutions, urge toward better solutions. Science fiction joyously tackles the real and pressing problems of our race, wrestles with them, never ignores them—problems which other forms of fiction cannot challenge. For this reason I assert that science fiction is the most realistic, the most serious, the most significant, the most sane and healthy and human fiction being published today.
I must add that some interlopers have sneaked in under the back of the tent and are masquerading as science fiction. I refer to the "anti-science-fiction" which sometimes appears labeled as science fiction, both in books and magazines. This stuff is still another symptom of the neurotic, sometimes pathologic, anti-intellectualism all too common today; it is the wail of the grown-up infant unwilling and perhaps unable to bring reason and reasoned action to bear on our pressing problems. Instead it offers a "devil theory" in which "science" is something outside of an inimical to the human race and "scientists" the inhuman high priests thereof. It reminds me of a plaint attributed (perhaps unjustly) to one United States Senator: "Why in the world were those scientists ever trusted with the secret of the A-bomb in the first place?"
I cannot sympathize with this hatred of science. Scientists are human beings, not devils, and they are engaged in that most typically human of all human activities, the attempt to understand the laws of nature. I myself am satisfied with the laws of nature as they are and I think it is virtuous to try to understand them. I do not believe that the Lord God Almighty made a stupid error when He created uranium.
But you will recognize anti-science fiction when you see it. Its childish, screaming, afraid-of-the-dark hysteria is easy to spot.
I claim one positive triumph for science fiction, totally beyond the scope of so-called main-stream fiction. It has prepared the youth of our time for the coming age of space. Interplanetary travel is no shock to youngsters, no matter how unsettling it may be to calcified adults. Our children have been playing at being space cadets and at controlling rocket ships for quite some time now. Where did they get this healthy orientation? From science fiction and nowhere else. Science fiction can perform similar service to the race in many other fields. For the survival and health of the human race one crudely written science fiction story containing a single worthwhile new idea is more valuable than a bookcaseful of beautifully written non-science fiction.
In a broader sense, all science fiction prepares young people to live and survive in a world of ever-continuing change by teaching them early that the world does change. Since that is the only sort of world we have, science fiction leads in the direction of mental health, of adaptability. In a more specific sense, science fiction preaches the need for freedom of the mind and the desirability of knowledge; it teaches that prizes go to those who study, who learn, who soak up the difficult fields of knowledge such as mathematics and engineering and biology. And so they do! The prizes of this universe go only to those able and equipped to reach out for them. In short, science fiction is preparing our youngsters to be mature citizens of the galaxy … as indeed they will have to be.
Where does science fiction go from here?—remembering that much of it is crude and not too competent. We can expect it slowly to increase in amount and quality. We should not expect it ever to become mass entertainment, as it is directed primarily at the superior young person and secondarily at his thoughtful elder. But serious and mature literature has never been mass entertainment; most fiction in all fields in all ages has been trivial and even trashy. Most people read classics of literature only under classroom compulsion and never touch them again. I see no reason to think that this will change in the foreseeable future and certainly no reason why the growth of a mature science fiction should be expected to change it.
I do expect to see some decrease in the neurotic and psychotic fiction now being palmed off on us as "serious literature"; I expect, perhaps too optimistically, that both editors and critics will someday begin to catch up with the real world and quit nursing such nonsense.
In the meantime, to the extent to which science fiction influences its readers toward greater knowledge, more independence of thought, and wider intellectual horizons, it serves its prime function.
While I alone am accountable for the opinions and assertions contained in this discussion, I would be remiss were I not to say that my thoughts have been strongly influenced by others. Among these others are Willy Ley, Reginald Bretnor, Dr. E. E. Smith, Dr. E. T. Bell, Arthur C. Clarke, John W. Campbell Jr., William A. P. White, G. Harry Stine, Damon Knight, L. Sprague de Camp and Dr. Isaac Asimov. In particular, anyone who has had the pleasure of reading Mr. Bretnor's critical writings will see my indebtedness to him. The above is an incomplete list of the living: I could not list the dead, but among them are T. H. Huxley (Essays), Socrates (Apologia), and A. Korzybski (Science and Sanity).
The references cited below are also incomplete:
The Checklist of Fantastic Literature, edited by Everett F. Bleiler, Shasta Publishers, 1948.
In Search of Wonder—Essays on Modern Science Fiction, by Damon Knight, Advent:Publishers, 1956.
Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Future, symposium edited by Reginald Bretnor, Coward-McCann, 1953.
Pilgrims Through Space and Time, by J. O. Bailey, Argus Books, 1947.
Index to the Science Fiction Magazines, 1926–1950, by Don Day, Perri Press, 1952.
"On Taking Science Fiction Seriously," by Reginald Bretnor, The Science Fiction Advertiser, Vol. VII, No. 1, Winter 1953–54.