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Common Errors in English Usage and More Science Fiction and Nuclear War

Ursula LeGuin: The Dispossessed (1974)


After World War I, the writing of utopian fiction gradually declined, until the genre almost disappeared in mid-century, to be replaced by dystopias (descriptions of ultimately evil places) like George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four (1948). However, in the mid-seventies there was a spate of new utopias written by Americans inspired by the upsurge of social reform begun in the late sixties and continuing into the new decade. The most famous examples are Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia, Samuel R. Delany’s Triton, and this novel, though there are many other examples.

What differentiated these new utopias was their attempt to evade the traditional criticisms of the old utopias like Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward: that they were static, boring, and unattainable. After all, utopias are not required, by definition, to be perfect. There seemed no reason to believe that all of humanity’s problems could be solved through improved social organization; but it seemed possible that some of them might be.

It is important to understand that one of the main functions of utopias, since Plato and Thomas More, has been to function as a critique of existing society, providing a kind of benchmark against which the flaws of real cultures can be more clearly revealed. Their proposals for reform have not always been seriously meant.

The original paperback edition of The Dispossessedbore on its cover this description: “The magnificent epic of an ambiguous utopia!” This description struck so many readers as apt that An Ambiguous Utopia became thought of as a subtitle for the work, and in recent printings it has even been adopted as the official subtitle. LeGuin has said she was attempting to work out how an anarchist society would function in reality. She was particularly inspired by the work of American pacifist/anarchist/reformer Paul Goodman.

Anarchism, which grew out of French social philosophy of the eighteenth century, posits that many of humanity’s problems come from living under governments. Jean-Jacques Rousseau had begun The Social Contract by writing “Man is born free, and is everywhere in chains.” One solution to this paradoxical situation was to inaugurate representative democracies; but the anarchists found even this solution too confining, for they argued that all governments, whatever their official form, quickly become plutocracies (societies governed by the rich). Many socialists and communists argued that the path to reform lay through collective ownership of the means of production to ensure that there would be no rich. The transition to full economic democracy would be managed by a centralized, all-powerful government. Anarchists argued that such centralization could never lead to the hoped-for decentralized egalitarian society: centralization leads only to more centralization, they claimed. If people want freedom, they must claim it directly.

Anarchists differ a good deal among themselves, but they tend to share a high regard for voluntary cooperation, local control, and mutual tolerance. Sharing is promoted as a social ideal, but only on a voluntary basis. All of these are values much promoted in the counterculture of the “Sixties” (which lasted from approximately 1967 to 1974); and the novel is clearly a product of its time. In many ways, Annares is an idealized hippie commune.

But LeGuin deliberately chose to depict Annares as flawed, for two main reasons: 1) it made her novel more credible: everyone objected to the perfectionism of the old-time utopias and 2) by focusing on Anarres’ flaws, its ideals were made all the more apparent. When Shevek goes to Urras he learns how deeply he has absorbed the values of the society he has rebelled against. How one reacts to Annares will depend powerfully upon one’s own social background and values. To many of its earliest readers Anarres, however flawed, clearly presented a preferable ideal to contemporary American society. Its stress on sharing, on volunteerism, and on tolerance was highly attractive. To some contemporary readers, Anarres seems rather like a nightmare. While it is crucial to understand that LeGuin did not expect or want this reaction from readers, it is interesting to explore why it developed. What values in current American society run counter to the ideals of Anarres? Keep trying to answer this question as you explore the novel.

LeGuin often presents an Anarran value by showing its limits. She is not saying these values are undesirable or cannot be attained, but that there are human tendencies which may frustrate their full realization. Sometimes the “flaws” she presents are so minor as to constitute merely a clever way of avoiding the criticism of perfectionism. It is as if someone were to describe a world in which AIDS had been conquered by complaining that other, less threatening diseases had become more frequent as the result of people abandoning “safe sex” practices: one would have to be very naive not to realize that the real point of such a description is to praise the conquest of AIDS, though in a back-handed way.

The philosophy of Anarres was provided by the philosopher Laia Odo, the founder of Odonianism. LeGuin later wrote a remarkable story about her entitled “The Day Before the Revolution.” She was an anarchist philosopher and rebel in the dictatorial state of A-IO on the planet of Urras. Her most influential book is called The Analogy. Beginning the day after her death, her followers led a revolution against that state which eventuated in their settlement of a neighboring planet, poor in agricultural resources, but rich in ore, named Anarres. The two worlds are of approximately equal size, but each regards the other as its “moon.” The symbol of Odonianism is the circle, which encloses all individuals within the group and which also emphasizes a holistic approach to life. Avoiding pyramidal hierarchy, the circle promotes the view that “true departure is return.” How is this slogan illustrated by Shevek’s story as told in this novel? But the circle can also be limiting. What circle at the very beginning of the novel indicates the limits of Odonianism?

The form of the novel is also circular. It ends where it began. Starting at mid-point in the plot with Shevek’s departure for Urras, the next chapter describes his childhood. The chapters alternate from that point on in describing events before and after his departure, each strand of chapters progressing in its own chronological order.

LeGuin has sometimes been severely taken to task for choosing a male protagonist. Her initial rather flip defense was to say that as a science fiction writer she enjoyed trying to enter alien minds, so she was naturally drawn to portraying men. In fact, most of the protagonists of her early novels are male. But her critics overlooked the fact that her novel incorporates many feminist values, even if it is not a radical feminist utopia. In some ways, it is especially revealing to have these values reflected through a masculine consciousness.

Unfortunately, many contemporary readers have only vague or distorted notions of what the feminism of the 70s was all about, so here is a checklist of views commonly asserted by at least some feminists during that period, and which LeGuin is being influenced by or reacting to in her novel:

  1. Men and women should not be stereotyped by their gender roles.
  2. One branch of feminism argued that there are no innate pyschological or social traits associated with being a man or woman; another argued that there are, but that the ones associated with women have been devalued and distorted by patriarchal culture.
  3. Men think in a linear fashion, women tend to think more holistically (the circle is a female symbol suggesting this idea).
  4. Men define themselves by what they own and control; women by their relationships to other people.
  5. Jobs should be done by whoever can do them, and gender is largely irrelevant to this.
  6. Women should have equal access to jobs with men.
  7. Marriage and motherhood should not prevent women from having careers any more than it prevents men from doing so.
  8. Women should be able to pursue their careers without having where they live determined entirely by their husbands’ jobs.
  9. The social emphasis on physical beauty depersonalizes and dehumanizes women.
  10. Language oppresses women: terms associated with them often create a presumption of passivity and weakness. New ways of using language to make men and women more equal are needed.
  11. Capitalism is a patriarchal institution which oppresses women.
  12. Women should not have to reshape and decorate themselves (removing body hair, for instance) to be accepted and loved.
  13. Homosexuality and bisexuality should be just as socially acceptable as heterosexuality–as should celibacy.
  14. Sex should be a matter of intimate sharing, not of conquest or trophy-hunting.
  15. Rape is a crime of violence which should be punished much more severely than it usually is.
  16. Women should not be defined by their childbearing abilities. Men can and should raise children as well as women.
  17. Men strive to compete, but women prefer communal decision-making in which all aspects of a problem are discussed until a consensus is arrived at so that the group is not divided into winners and losers.
  18. Modern childbirth techniques common in hospitals are dehumanizing and dangerous. Women should be able to give birth at home, without drugs, using such traditions as giving birth in a squatting position.
  19. Childbirth is a natural phenomenon, not a disease. Women should be able to return to work shortly after giving birth.
  20. The medical establishment is generally male-dominated; women need to reject the authority of doctors and insist on treatments appropriate to their needs.
  21. A marriage in which a woman is prized only for her sexual attractiveness and availability is a sort of prostitution.
  22. Children should be able to make many decisions about how they are raised.
  23. A few feminists even argued that children should be able to “divorce” their parents.
  24. Children should be raised to accept their bodies and their sexuality without shame.
  25. Children can be raised by all kinds of configurations of loving adults: the traditional nuclear family is not necessarily the best model for childrearing.
  26. Great women from the past can provide inspiration for us today; their influence and importance need to be more widely recognized.

Note that this is not a definition of feminism–just a list of common attitudes among some feminists in the period that LeGuin was writing. See whether you can identify where she is agreeing with these positions, illustrating them, or disagreeing with them.

It is also possible to argue that Shevek is to some extent an idealized male from a feminist point of view: a model of what a male should be like. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

It could also be argued that making Shevek a man provides a more impressive case for anarchist values than if he had been a woman. Argue for or against his position.

The title of the novel may be a reference to Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s much less sympathetic work about Russian anarchists, The Possessed, also known in English as The Devils.

Chapter 1

The wall described in the opening symbolizes several of the themes of the novel. Look for other references to walls in the text. What is the meaning of this sentence: “It enclosed the universe, leaving Anarres outside, free?” Can you see any irony in it? A “syndic” would be a representative of a “syndicate.” Although now the term is used almost exclusively in the popular press in the expression “crime syndicate,” syndicalism was at one time an important movement for social reform, urging the formation of voluntary groups to own and democratically control factories and other means of production. Syndicalists are anarchists in that they oppose any form of formal, centralized government, preferring society to be organized through voluntary labor unions. The most successful syndicalist organization in American history was the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), which peaked in the years before World War I. Syndicalists highly value power exercised from the bottom up (the IWW even organized hoboes) and reject authority imposed from the top down. They tend to be equally hostile to capitalists and communists. In the paragraph beginning “People often came out,” what evidence can you find of feminist values? Of a lack of radical feminist values?

What does it imply about the foreman’s culture that she cannot understand the term “bastard” in either its literal or figurative senses? What does her reaction to the pistol tell you about her culture? What qualities make the Odonians poor at mob action? What does their awkwardness in this situation tell you about their society’s values? What kind of values make knives preferable to firearms as weapons? Do these different values suggest that “human nature” has changed? Explain. Why do you suppose LeGuin begins her novel by depicting the Anarrans at their worst?

Shevek is a brilliant scientist, but his world does not give titles like “doctor” to indicate ranking. “Doctor” is merely a descriptive term for a physician. What is “the one law he had ever acknowledged?” What impression does this opening scene give you of Shevek’s character? What do you think this means: “I will go to Abbenay and unbuild walls”? What effect does being vaccinated have on Shevek? How does this incident illustrate the limits of pure freedom?

LeGuin acknowledges the reluctance of English-speakers to speak frankly about excretion by inventing her very own term for “toilet” (a word which originally means a table at which a woman applies make-up). There has never been such a word in English. “Outhouse,” “water closet,” “WC,” “lavatory” (meaning “place where one bathes), “bathroom” (as in “going to the . . .”): all are euphemisms. The use of “shit-stool” suggests that the Annarans are not ashamed of their bodily functions and see no need for euphemisms. As becomes clear in a moment, it is also a society which has no use for pajamas. What does the water valve in the washstand tell Shevek about the society that produced it? What passage a page or so later reflects the same ecological concern? This is a good example of utopian fiction’s (and SF’s) ability to comment from the outside on aspects of our society that we take for granted. Remember that at the time this novel was written, long hair was a symbol of freedom, short hair or shaven heads a symbol of conformism and repression. Why is Shevek so upset about the door being locked? What does the doctor mean when he says that Shevek is not “an alien in the same sense”? Why didn’t Shevek bring any money on this trip? What quality in the captain did Odo call “the creation of pseudo-species”?

What is Shevek’s attitude toward religion? Look for the wall metaphor in the paragraph beginning “All their conversations were like this. . . .” What is Shevek’s reaction to Kimoe’s arguments for a sexual division of labor? Evaluate his arguments. What does it mean to say that it feels as if there is “a woman in every table top?”Why are the Iotis so excited about Shevek’s arrival? What values do Ioti women’s fashions reflect?

Chapter 2

We now shift back in time to Shevek’s childhood. What does “Divlab” probably stand for? What does the struggle for the spot of sunlight tell us about Shevek? About his society? In the episode from Sheveks’ eighth year, we see him having independently reinvented one of the paradoxes of the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno. What does this incident tell us about Shevek? About his society? The teacher appeals to the feelings of the group to exclude Shevek. What is really going on? What does Shevek like about numbers? Follow the term “decad” and see whether you can figure out about how long a decad is. What is implied by the fact that Shevek knows his father is going to “copulate with a woman named Pipar?” How many facts about Anarran society can you tease out from this one passage? What does the wall imagery in Shevek’s dream suggest?

The third passage, from Shevek’s eleventh or twelfth year, begins with a reference to the Fort in Drio, where Odo was imprisoned for years. Look for it later in the novel. The game of “prison” that the children play seems exciting at first, then terrifying . What is this episode meant to convey? There is much more to it than a simple statement about “human nature.” Some critics have objected to LeGuin portraying the young boys as eliminating girls from their company. What do you think of this criticism? What can you deduce about the nature of adolescent male/female relations from the following passage, from Shevek’s mid-teens? In the preceding chapter it was mentioned in passing that Ioti women shave off their fine body hair: here, when the hairy corpses of children are mentioned, it is made clear that this hair, fine though it may be, is more prominent among Shevek’s race than among humans. What is Tirin’s reaction to the anti-Urrasti propaganda they are given in school? Why is Shevek’s reaction interesting, given the previous chapter? Summarize and evaluate Sheveks’ explanation to Tirin of why the Anarresti are not “forbidden” to help the Urrasti?

The afforestation project is meant to be a heroic undertaking, an inspiring example of cooperative effort that, for all its grueling aspects, shows the Anararresti at their best. Is this forced labor? Explain. What does the footnote to “Tadde” tell us about the nature of Odonian families? Gimar is not described as a conventional beauty. What do we know about her looks? Does monogamy conflict with the other values of Odonianism? See the later passage discussing the language of sex. What do you think of the argument over whether women are natural propertarians or anarchists? Why is it insulting to call someone a profiteer? Why don’t passersby intervene to stop the fight between Shevek and Shevet? What does the next passage convey about the normal course of sexual development in Odonian society? What hard lesson does Mitis teach Shevek when she sends him off to work with Sabul? What does Tirin’s beggarman skit tell us about the Anarresti? At the party Shevek meets his wife-to-be, the tall girl with the short hair. How else is she described? The argument she makes is a criticism frequently made by anarchists of Marxists. Communist society was supposed to build a paradise on earth through self-sacrifice; but many Marxists came to view the rejection of worldly comforts as good in itself. The problem in Russia was an extremely low level of industrial development which meant that the Communists had to coerce the population into industrializing whereas Marx always assumed that industrialization would have taken place under bourgeois domination in the period preceding any Communist revolution. The Odonians do not lack technology. What factor makes their society one of scarcity rather than abundance, encouraging the ascetic views which the girl rejects? Is it the fault of their social organization that they enjoy few luxuries?

Chapter 3

Shevek thought of “airships” earlier; now it becomes clear that these are dirigibles. What advantages do dirigibles have over airplanes in a society such as his? What appeals to Shevek about Urras? Is Chifoilisk correct in saying “Human nature is human nature?” What about the context suggests he is wrong, though his insight about Sabul is essentially correct?

“Ainsetain of Terra” is of course Einstein of Earth. Humans are “aliens,” as are the Hainish. Le Guin has written several novels set among the Hainish, who are ultimately the ancestors of all these races. Though it is not necessary to know those novels to understand The Dispossessed, it is important to understand that Urras is not a clone of Earth. As we shall see, it is neither so scrupulously maintained as Anarres nor so exploited as Earth.

How do Shevek’s memories about Mitis and his education contrast with the following conversation about the women Shevek had met at the party the previous night? Pae is a “moderate” on the issue of education for women. What is his position? What else is being said about gender in this passage? What is Shevek’s reaction to Oiie’s comment that he comes as an emissary of his society? How does the PDC function on Anarres? What pleasant surprises does Shevek experience?

As is revealed in Chapter 11, the Earth people call Anarresti and Urrasti “Cetians” because their planets orbit the prominent star Tau Ceti, eleven light-years from Earth.

What does Shevek’s comment “Perhaps our woes are inescapable” imply about the society he comes from? Thu is a sort of Stalinist, communist state as described by Pae. Benbili corresponds more or less to the underdeveloped world of Earth. Study the paragraph beginning “Traveling by car or train.” What messages is LeGuin conveying here? Is desire for profit the only natural human motive for work? How do the newspapers manage to censor Shevek despite their favorable reporting on his speech?

To understand the issues involved in Shevek’s research, one must know some basic physics. Relativity theory tells us that no object can travel faster than the speed of light, and in fact the amount of energy needed to accelerate a spaceship to even a large percentage of the speed of light is quite impractical. These facts make distant interstellar travel, trade, and warfare seemingly quite impractical and virtually pointless: a depressing conclusion that is usually dealt with in science fiction mentioned about either by ignoring it or coming up with various pseudo-scientific concepts such as “space warps” and magic “faster than light” (FTL) drives. LeGuin suggests that our inability to conceive of faster-than-light travel is a limitation of human science which might be overcome by a combination of elements from the Hainish, Earth humans, and the Anarresti and the Urrasti. “Sequency” refers to what physicists sometimes call “time’s arrow:” the fact that time moves in only one direction, one event after another. “Simultaneity” implies that time can be viewed differently, as is explained by Shevek at the party scene in Chapter 7. LeGuin’s proposal is no more scientific than the magic dilithium crystals which power the Enterprise; but it makes a striking metaphor for the synergy which can result from cooperation among different peoples.

What message does the Fort in Drio convey to Shevek? Note that the chapter ends with the Odonian symbol of empty hands.

Chapter 4

In what way is Anarres a colony? What motivates Anarresti to take on defense duty? Why did Odo advocate decentralization? What fact made it difficult for her to implement her anarchist philosophy? The clustering of similar businesses together in neighborhoods is very characteristic of pre-industrial cities, as are other features of Abbenay. What energy sources are used in Abbenay? What is implied by the open-fronted shops, the unlocked doors? Electric trolleys like those described in this chapter used to provide inexpensive and relatively unpolluting transportation in almost every town until the automobile took over. Many environmentalists still consider light rail a superior form of transportation. One perhaps paranoid theory (illustrated in Who Killed Roger Rabbit?) has it that the automobile manufacturers and petroleum companies conspired to destroy the old trolleys. What does the scene in which Shevek encounters the statue of Odo convey? How does Sabul exploit Shevek? What does the discussion of living/sleeping arrangements tell us about Odonian society? How much freedom is available? How much privacy? What do Shevek’s problems with Sabul tell us about the limits/problems of Odonian scientific research? What does Shevek’s meeting with Rulag tell us about Odonian family life and gender roles?

Chapter 5

What are the good and bad points of Shevek’s students? How do they react to his decision not to give grades? What does Shevek’s reply to their complaints mean? It may seem bizarre that students are not allowed to marry, but this was a common rule in colleges on our planet not so long ago. In fact, by allowing professors to marry, Urras is being more liberal than nineteenth-century England or America. Shevek is shocked by the price of the fur coat in the window. Why? But the high price of this coat is also a sign of what good aspect of Ioti society? One of the classic criticisms that socialists make of capitalist society is the “alienation” that it causes in the workers, the product of whose labor is separated from them, unlike the old guild system in which the craftsman was also the dealer. Judging by Shevek’s reaction to Ioti stores, how would the Odonians seem to have overcome this problem? When the communist Chifoilisk from Thu tries to get Shevek to think of him as an ally, what is Shevek’s reaction? Why does he claim that the Odonians are not idealists? Is this an altogether negative observation? Explain. What are his criticisms of Thuvian socialism? Odo’s saying that where there’s property there’s theft strongly resembles the classic saying by the socialist Proudhon, “Property is theft.” Can you distinguish between the two? What is the significance of the fact that Oiie’s children are the first to ask Shevek to describe Anarres? Explain and evaluate the Anarresti system for getting dangerous, hard jobs done and their method of controlling uncooperative behavior. The wall symbol returns at the end of this chapter, in Shevek’s dream. How is it used here?

Chapter 6

Why is Desar’s hoarding of goods irrational? What attitudes characterize the Odononian approach to the arts? How are they different from the dominant attitudes in our culture? When Bedap mentions the conversation about suicide and suffering, he lets us know that the tall woman was Takver, Shevek’s wife-to-be. What function does the symbol of the wall perform in Bedap’s talk with Shevek? What is Bedap’s theory of how ideas are crushed in Odonian society? What does he think the basic problems are? What is Shevek’s answer? (Hint: it is the same answer that used to be given to justify the repressive government of the U.S.S.R.) Note that throughout his childhood and youth Shevek is mostly a very traditional Odonian, shocked when others attack the system. Although he will become a rebel, he does so reluctantly. What effect does this pattern have on the novel? Does it make more credible his renewed appreciation of Odonianism when he is on Urras? Why is it blasphemy that kids are memorizing Odo’s words? How does Tirin’s punishment (which is strongly reminiscent of the Chinese Cultural Revolution) illustrate what has gone wrong on Anarres? Are these flaws inevitable, do you think? What does it tell us about Anarresti culture that Shevek can pair with Bedap for a while even though he is “pretty definitely heterosexual?” How do Salas’ difficulties in music parallel the problems Tirin talked about earlier? Describe Shevek’s second encounter with Takver: how is it different from the typical encounter of lovers in fiction? The relationship between Takver and Shevek has come under heavy criticism from some quarters. Can you see why? Note that there is no wedding. Anarchists generally reject the idea that the state should play any role in formalizing relationships. How does Shevek view Takver’s relationship with nature? In the scene of the couple lying out under the moon we are reminded of the fine fur that covers the skin of these people.

Chapter 7

Note the recurrence of the wall symbol at the top of the second page of this chapter. What does it stand for here? To what sort of familiar Earth event does the uprising in Benbili and A-Io’s response to it correspond? What does Shevek hear the birds singing on campus? What does Shevek learn about sex and gender on Urras in his relationship with Vea? Why does she think the Odonians have no morality? Why does she prefer a fixed morality? What does Shevek say is the characteristic that allows the strongest to survive? Can you make arguments for or against this proposition? Explain the meaning of Shevek’s statement “To break a promise is to deny the reality of the past; therefore it is to deny the hope of a real future.” What does Shevek’s long answer to Vea’s question about what Anarres is really like tell us about his current feelings concerning the two planets? Note the recurrence of the wall image at the end of this speech. Why does the sexual encounter between Shevek and Vea go so badly? At the end of the chapter Pae discusses the danger of an uprising, and mentions the possibility of a general strike. This was the chief revolutionary weapon advocated by syndicalists. Although most were not pacifists, they thought an armed revolution unlikely to succeed. The idea was to organize the majority of the population into labor unions which would then simultaneously agree to go on strike, essentially bringing the country to a halt, until the government was forced to step down. There have been a few notable general strikes in history, some of them fairly successful.

Chapter 8

Why does Takver have such trouble understanding the concept of hell? Shevek’s difficulties in getting his work published are a reminder of the old saying that the press is free for anyone who owns one. The perpetual excuse of the Soviet government for not printing unorthodox ideas a shortage of paper is alluded to as well. One of the major agenda items of the women’s movement in the seventies was childbirth reform: including less use of drugs (indeed an end to treating childbirth as a medical emergency rather than as a natural event), labor in the more efficient sitting posture, an end to the practice of whisking the newborn off to a nursery instead of letting it bond with its mother first, and the use of midwives instead of doctors for normal childbirths. All of these points and some others are illustrated in this childbirth scene, which was utopian at the time it was written but fairly commonplace now. What are the advantages and disadvantages of seeing monogamy as a purely voluntary, private institution without any institutionalization? Does LeGuin imply that monogamy is superior to other forms of relationships? What are the normal penalties for rape? Divlab’s willingness to separate couples for reasons of work will remind some of Chinese government policies; but couples in our own culture are often separated for work reasons. Is the Anarresti system more like the Chinese or like ours? In a capitalist depression, many people are without work at all while those still working must labor extremely hard to survive. What is the Odonian alternative to this pattern? Why are most telephone calls on Anarres long distance? The episode of the drought is meant to convey how this society deals with such a crisis. Be careful that your concern over Takver’s and Shevek’s separation does not obscure everything else that is going on here. How are they motivated in making the decisions they do? What works well during this crisis? Badly? Why is Pravic not a good swearing language? What weakness in the student-centered education system is revealed by Shipeg’s career?

Chapter 9

Why does Shevek say the bread he has eaten on Urras has betrayed him? The ansible, which allows instantaneous communication (in some mysterious way evading the Einsteinian light-speed limit), is a feature of many of LeGuin’s stories. It is characteristic of her socially-oriented SF that interstellar communication should be more important than transportation. Note that Terrans are thought of by Shevek as “jealous wall builders.” The search for a unified field theory discussed here has still been unsuccessful, though advances have been made since Einstein’s time. The wall metaphor recurs in the paragraph beginning “He had been groping and grabbing after certainty” and again on the next page in the paragraph beginning “After a while he got up shakily. . . .” What does Efor tell Shevek that helps motivate him to break out of the university grounds and contact the rebels? What is the essence of the argument between Tuio Maedda and “the girl” over the use of force? What does Shevek mean by telling the crowd “You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution”? Describe the two views of proper military organization argued by Atro and Shevek.

Chapter 10

In what way are the remarks about men and women made by the driver to Shevek in the paragraph beginning “By damn, I agree with that!” rather traditional? When Shevek sees Sadik again he notes her furry face. When Sadik says “You can share the handkerchief I use,” she is uttering for the first time a line which Shevek remembered in an earlier chapter. How are the attractiveness of youth and sexual desire linked in the Shevek/Takver relationship? How long is an emergency long work shift? How does Tirin’s play answer the common objection that a communist/anarchist society would inevitably fail because the rich will always be able to buy property and power? Explain Shevek’s diagnosis of what went wrong with Tirin in the paragraph beginning, “Well, this.” What do you think of Takver’s arguments about the relationship between pregnancy and ethics? They recall distinctly a similar argument made by one of Shevek’s childhood friends in Chapter 2. Explain this statement: “That the Odonian society on Anarres had fallen short of the ideal did not, in his eyes, lessen his responsibility to it; just the contrary” (hint: the explanation is in the following lines).

Chapter 11

Note that Shevek notices that Ambassador Keng has a hairless face and that he feels hairy next to her. His reaction to her features as being childlike and rounded suggests that the Urrasti and Anarresti have more angular features. What does the Earth ambassador’s reaction to Urras tell us about conditions on Earth? What does it mean that she thinks Urras is Paradise while Shevek thinks it is Hell? Note how carefully LeGuin has avoided a bipolar value system in throughout this novel, creating a spectrum of social arrangements with none perfectly good or perfectly evil.

Chapter 12

This chapter is set just before the events of Chapter 1, bringing us full circle. Analyze the argument against parliamentary procedures given in the third paragraph. This preference for process over results stems directly from anti-hierarchical strains in sixties political movements. Note how Rulag is reintroduced into the story with no reference to the fact that she was Shevek’s mother. Why? What role does she play here? “No vote was taken, as usual.” What grounds might anarchists have for arguing against voting? What do you think of Odo’s message on deserving as quoted by the middle-aged man next to Trepil? The essence of the anarchist ideal lies in the speech of Bedap in the paragraph “Of course not.” What does it tell us about how an anarchist society can exist? It is revealed in the final lines that Shevek had not intended at first to go to Urras. Throughout the novel he has been backed by circumstances and experiences from one position to another, often in directions he had not intended to go. This makes him strikingly different from the classic enterprising SF hero who always knows exactly what he wants and goes right after it.

Chapter 13

Note the recurrence of the wall image in this chapter. Why do you think LeGuin chose to end the novel in the fashion she does? What advantages are there in not resolving everything?

Recommended Reading

Samuel R. Delany: ” To Read the Dispossessed,” in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw. N.Y.: Dragon Press, 1977, pp. 239-308.
I disagree with much Delany says in this long criticism of LeGuin’s novel, but it’s still one of the most thought-provoking and interesting responses to her work, followed by his own fictional “hetereotopia” Triton (aka Trouble on Triton).

Moylan, Tom: “The Dispossessed,” Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination. New York & London: Methuen, 1986, pp. 91-120.
Emphasizes its flaws as a utopia, but situates it usefully among analyses of related works. Moylan’s book is a must for anyone studying modern utopias.

More Science Fiction Study Guides

Notes by Paul Brians, Department of English, Washington State University, Pullman

First published 1994.

Revised March 5, 2017

Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (1950)


Clearly Bradbury had a certain vision of the Mars in which these stories are set, a fantasy world based far more on Edgar Rice Burroughs novels (A Princess of Mars and its many sequels) than on contemporary science. Bradbury returned to this fantasy Mars in other stories not included in this volume (“The Exiles,” “The Fire Balloons” and “The Other Foot” in The Illustrated Man, “Night Call, Collect” and “The Lost City of Mars” in I Sing the Body Electric,; and “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed” in A Medicine for Melancholy). To a certain degree, Bradbury is also writing to counteract the image of a menacing Mars as portrayed first in H. G. Well’s War of the Worlds. In this work humans from Earth play the role of “invaders from outer space.”

The Martian Chronicles is best read as a collection of linked short stories rather than as a novel. Although such collections are unusual in “mainstream” fiction they are common in science fiction. Bradbury has always been more of a short story writer than a novelist, and most of the stories can be read separately from their present context. When that fact is realized, some of the inconsistencies and contradictions in The Martian Chronicles diminish in importance. The tone of the stories varies markedly. Some are very much in the mode of the horror tales which he had at first specialized in (collected in The October Country), and others are earnest parables of human folly. The Martians sometimes behave like monsters and sometimes like saints. A collection-novel such as this is often called a “fix-up” in SF, and Bradbury has clearly tried to fix this one up by adding connective bits between the main stories to smooth the joins; but that this smoothing-out process was not entirely successful is made clear by the fact that when the television miniseries was created the scriptwriters felt the need to impose far more unity on the stories than Bradbury had. But if the stories are considered as variations on a theme rather than as chapters of a unified novel, these variations should cease to be troubling.

One striking feature of many of these stories is the progressive political values which they embrace. Written during the height of the Cold War anti-Communist hysteria, they criticize imperialism, racism, environmental pollution, censorship, and the nuclear arms race. Bradbury was not alone. Several SF writers critiqued smug assumptions about the superiority of American values during that period. But that such a volume could become the single most widely-read SF book during the fifties is a tribute to the charm of Bradbury’s style, a compound of sentimental nostalgia, idealism, and above all delight in the pleasures of the senses. Note how often colors, textures, smells, and sounds are used in these stories to bring a scene to life.

But the qualities which made Bradbury America’s most beloved SF writer conceal other qualities more often associated with horror fiction: deep cynicism about family life, pessimism about progress, and disdain for people in the mass to a degree that approaches misanthropy (note his occasional preference for robots over human beings).His work reflects an adolescent discomfort with sexuality common among “Golden Age” SF writers, often viewing love and marriage as a trap to be evaded. Dialogue is also sometimes a weakness in his work, with speeches made more for poetic effect than for realism, and too many of the characters speaking the same peculiar Bradburian dialect (though similar complaints could be made about many fine writers, William Faulkner, for instance).

These stories made Bradbury’s reputation. They were embraced by many readers who never opened another SF book, so that many hard-core fans were jealous of his success and disdained him as not the “real thing.” With the passage of time, the book has been accepted with all its flaws as a SF classic whose charm and vividness still appeal. Many of the stories are as artfully crafted as anything in the genre.


Rocket Summer

Bradbury knew as well as anyone that no conceivable number of rocket launches could literally change the weather in this way; this is simply a fantasy, a tone poem evoking enthusiasm for the coming space age.


What features of this story make the setting and the characters alien and strange? Identify some specific “exotic” touches. What is Martian technology like? What features make them seem all too human, even old-fashioned? What are the unspoken assumptions about men’s and women’s roles in this story? What kind of relationship does this couple have? “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes” (set to a poem by Ben Jonson) was a sentimental popular song, old-fashioned even in 1950. If all Martians have last names that consist of a letter of the alphabet, there would seem to be only 26 possible names–rather restrictive. Can you think of any explanation for this pattern?

The Summer Night

How is this linking tale similar in theme to “Ylla?” “She Walks in Beauty” was written by Lord Byron in 1815 as a deliberate contrast to the tradition praising only “fair” (that is, blonde, light-skinned) women as beautiful. What qualities in the four lines quoted make it appropriate for its use here? Is the Martian ability to read thoughts an advantage or a disadvantage? Identify and discuss a familiar process that takes place among human beings for which this story could be read as a metaphor.

The Earth Men

How is Bradbury working against the standard expectations of a “first contact” story? Belief in telepathy (direct mind-to-mind communication of thoughts) has little or no scientific basis, but it is a staple of science fiction because it makes possible interesting plots and because as here it solves the knotty problem of how alien races can communicate with each other. What prevents the Martians from realizing that the men are really from Earth? Why might people who believe in “flying saucers” and other alien contacts like this story? In the previous stories the Martians had no problem in perceiving that the thoughts invading their minds were alien; can you come up with any explanation for why they might now view the earth people as manifestations of their own minds?

The Third Expedition

Bradbury nostalgically evokes his early 20th-century midwestern small-town upbringing in many stories, notably those collected in Dandelion Wine. Yet for all its sentimental appeal, he also repeatedly uses the setting for the evocation of nightmares. Here he portrays an America which by 1950 was already vanishing and would be quite unlike the background familiar to any probable astronaut young enough to be sent to Mars in the year 2000. Because we are reading this story long after it was written, this incongruity strikes us more forcefully than it would have struck those who first read it, for they shared Bradbury’s nostalgic memory. How does he rationalize his use of this setting? The music mentioned was popular during the first two decades of this century. When this story was first published, it was titled “Mars is Heaven.” Explain this title. The Martians in “The Ear th Men” seem to have acted out of confusion rather than malice. Is this true of the Martians in this story? What do you think their motives are? Why might those motives have developed since the time of the earlier story?

And the Moon Be Still as Bright

The title comes from the Lord Byron poem, “So We’ll Go No More A-Roving” (1817) which is usually read as a meditation on the inevitability of death. What might its meaning be in this story? This story seems modeled on World War II movies about a small troop of men from various ethnic backgrounds faced with a dangerous environment. The token minority figure here is a Native American named “Cheroke.” In the TV version, one character was made into an African-American instead; but why is Bradbury’s choice especially appropriate for this story? To what historic event does the death of the Martians correspond? The crew seems much like that of a traditional adventure novel: rough, ill-educated sailors, very unlike the astronauts of our day. Aside from the question of realism, why might Bradbury have wanted to use a group of “average guys” as his explorers? What is the point of Spender’s speech about the tendency of Earth Men to rename everything? (This theme is continued later in the story “The Naming of Names.”) What critique does Spender make of American civilization as regards art in his final conversation with the captain? What does Spender see as the two cultural forces that clashed on Earth but which the Martians succeeded in blending? How did Martians answer the question, “What is the meaning of life?” according to Spender? In 1950 tape recording on reels was brand-new cutting-edge technology (brought back from conquered Germany by GIs), so Bradbury has the Martians record their music in this futuristic fashion. What is the significance of the captain’s meditations on majority rule while he is hunting down Spender? What is the attitude of this story toward democracy?

The Green Morning

Even in 1950, it was known that Mars had little oxygen in its atmosphere. Its reddish hue suggested that at one time there had been more free oxygen on Mars which had slowly combined with iron to produce iron oxide. The standard science fictional Mars was an exhausted planet whose ancient civilization if any would have died with the atmosphere. Humans could live there only in sealed environments or by “terraforming” the planet to render its atmosphere more breathable: a project recently explored in the novels Red Mars and Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. Bradbury characteristically ignores scientific plausibility here to create a poetic image loosely related to such projects. What makes this account different from such a scientific project?

The Locusts

What significance do the similes used of the rockets have?

Night Meeting

One of the favorite SF themes with only very slim scientific justification is time travel. No rationale is offered here for communication between eras: Mars is magic. But it’s pointless to criticize Bradbury too much for this fact: very few time-travel stories even by the most rigorously scientific authors cannot be reduced to self-contradiction by a little elementary logic. What is the emotional impact of this encounter between two eras? What indication is there in this story that when it was written Bradbury was not thinking of a Mars covered by the trees described in “The Green Morning?” Is there a message in this story? What does the closing paragraph convey about the nature of life and time?

The Musicians

Bradbury gives no rationale for this determined obliteration of the Martian cities, much more thorough and deliberate than anything ever attempted in the history of Earthly colonialism. It is here that he first introduces the concept of “Firemen” who light fires rather than putting them out, a concept developed more fully in his novel Fahrenheit 451. What seems to be his attitude toward humanity here?

Way in the Middle of the Air

This story seems very dated–even condescending–now: but it was written during the first stirrings of the post-World War II civil rights movement, and was outspoken for its time in its attack on Southern lynching, segregation and racism generally. What would be the significance of naming a rocket “Over Jordan?” To what Biblical events one past, one future is this escape from Earth compared? Note that although in “The Shore” it is implied that only Americans can afford rockets, they are here available to poor people. These stories do not all exist in exactly the same fictional universe. Is human nature portrayed any differently in this story than in the stories immediately preceding it? There is a sequel to this story called “The Other Foot” in The Illustrated Man, in which the African-American immigrants to Mars have to decide whether to take their revenge on the whites who follow them into exile, making up a new minority group.

The Naming of Names

This theme of this story is more fully developed in “The Exiles” from The Illustrated Man. What quality of the later immigrants to Mars serves to introduce the next story?

Usher II

This story was omitted from the television version, probably partly because it would have been too expensive to produce; but also because it has no necessary connection with the other stories. It might just as well have been set on Earth as Mars. It reflects the Bradburian affection for fantasy and horror literature combined. The attack on censorship which it embodies (foreshadowing the more fully-developed attack of Fahrenheit 451 ) is justified by reference to fairy tales and other sentimental children’s favorites; but the works being defended most passionately are the horror tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Why do you think he includes the other seemingly unrelated, non-horror works? Many works by Poe are referred to in this story. How many can you identify? What movement active in 1950 seems to have inspired this attack on censorship? (Hint: Stendhal refers to it in his conversation with Bigelow.) The mentions of a number of characters from Oz will be unfamiliar to those unfortunate enough to know that land only from the Hollywood movie an d who have not read the long series of novels by L. Frank Baum. What is a Babbit? (Look it up.) Does this story successfully convey an anti-censorship message? Why or why not?

The Martian

From this point on, having seemingly exterminated the Martians, Bradbury brings them back again and again in various forms. Rather than view this as a damaging inconsistency it makes more sense to read these stories as variations on a theme. What human characteristics is Bradbury commenting on in this story?

The Luggage Store

This story seems wildly implausible now, but it was modeled on the flight of émigré s from Europe back to the U.S. at the beginning of each of the great World Wars; and would have seemed familiar to readers in 1950. What motivates the immigrants to return to Earth?

The Off Season

Visions of atomic apocalypse were published in some numbers in the years immediately following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even though in 1948 the Soviet Union was far from posing any serious nuclear threat, Bradbury’s story reflects the fears o f many that humanity had entered an era of unprecedented danger. In which earlier story did Sam Parkhill play a role? Is his behavior here consistent with that in the earlier story? Explain. How does this story compare with t he traditional battle-with-aliens-for-survival story? The description of the death of Earth is even more fantastic than the collapse of an entire city from the impact of a single bullet earlier in the story. Why do you think Bradbury uses such exaggerated language? What would a real nuclear war probably look like from Mars?

The Silent Towns

Bradbury wrote a variation on this story entitled “Night Call, Collect,” published in I Sing the Body Electric. This story is probably the most stereotypically sexist in the book. What do you think its message is?

The Long Years

This story celebrates love, marriage, and other traditional family values. Does it make you feel better about the human race?

There Will Come Soft Rains

This story was partly inspired by the silhouettes of people burned by the bomb onto buildings and streets in Hiroshima. Like “Usher II,” there is no obvious reason for it to be included in a volume of stories set on Mars, and was omitted from the television miniseries. It is an unusual story in that it has no living human beings in it. How does Bradbury manage to tell the family’s story anyway?

The Million-Year Picnic

This was the first of the Martian Chronicles stories to be written, shortly after the end of World War II. It was first published in Planet Stories in the summer of 1946. Does the story make you feel hopeful for the survival of the human race? What measures does the father take to try to ensure for his children a better future? Do any of these measures conflict with values expressed earlier in The Martian Chronicles? Many people who have read and loved The Martian Chronicles forget entirely that the Earth is destroyed in a nuclear holocaust during the course of the book and are surprised to be reminded of the fact. Why do you suppose this is true?

Recommended reading:

Gary K. Wolfe: “The Frontier Myth in Ray Bradbury,” in Martin Greenberg & Joseph D. Olander, eds. Ray Bradbury. New York: Taplinger, 1980, pp. 33-54. Ê

More Science Fiction Study Guides

Notes by Paul Brians, Department of English, Washington State University, Pullman

Version of June 6, 1995.

Copyright Paul Brians 1995

Last revised March 27, 2003

Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959)


Although A Canticle for Leibowitz was published as a book in 1959, one version of it was written earlier. The first section, also entitled “A Canticle for Leibowitz” (now “Fiat Homo” [“Let There Be Man”]) appeared in 1955, the second section appeared as “And the Light Is Risen” (“Fiat Lux” [“Let There be Light”]) the next year, and the conclusion appeared in 1957 as “The Last Canticle” (“Fiat Voluntas Tua” [“Thy Will Be Done”]), all in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. When he reworked the material for the novel, Miller made substantial changes and additions. Although he published a few stories before and after, and wrote most of a sequel to Canticle, at his death this remained his only successful work. The sequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman was almost finished when he committed suicide, and was completed by Terry Bisson and published in 1997. Canticle is widely considered a classic, has never been out of print, and is widely taught in science fiction courses.

Written during the height of 50s concern over the danger of nuclear war, Canticle was the most literarily successful science fiction novel written on the subject until Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (1980). Part of the novel’s success derives from its richly realized setting, a post-holocaust America where scraps of pre-war knowledge are gathered and preserved by a Catholic Church which no longer understands that knowledge. The novel takes for granted familiarity with the idea that after the fall of the Roman Empire, knowledge was preserved in Western Europe almost exclusively in small, isolated communities of priests and monks during a centuries-long dark age, recopied by men who often understood little of the ancient manuscripts of which they were the custodians.

There have been scores of novels set after a nuclear war in a neo-Medieval setting, but none so lovingly developed on the basis of a detailed study of the original Middle Ages. Miller remained a Catholic through much his life, though in tension with the Church, (he turned bitterly against it toward the end, as is evident in Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horsewoman). Most SF is highly critical of religion when it touches on the subject at all; but Canticle is distinguished by its serious consideration of religious issues, even though it sometimes departs from orthodoxy. Miller obviously could not have anticipated Vatican II’s movement away from the use of Latin, and he imagines its revival in the new Dark Age, with the English of our age functioning only as an archaic ceremonial language.

The other most memorable feature of the books is the delightful portrait of the feckless brother Francis. Richly detailed characterization and real wit are both unusual in SF, and have helped to make this work a classic. “Fiat Homo” is clearly the strongest part of the work, which suffers to some degree as a novel from the very long time spans which separate each of its sections. Like The Martian Chronicles, it is well to remember that each section was composed separately and can still be read rewarding on its own.

Many of the following notes require looking up passages in the Bible. If you do not have a copy you can access searchable one at It offers both the Vulgate Latin version which Miller draws upon and the Revised Standard Version in English.

Fiat Homo

Chapter 1

“Saint Raul the Cyclopean”; in Greek mythology a cyclops has only one eye, in the center of his forehead. This saint was presumably a similarly deformed person genetically damaged by the lingering radiation of the nuclear war which provides the backdrop for the novel. In the discussion of the Church’s attitude toward such mutations, how can one tell that the Church (unlike its Medieval predecessor) does not dominate the culture of the time?

“Adonoi Elohim” (“Lord God”, more conventionally spelled “Adonai”): a specifically Jewish chant. Lurking in the background of this tale is the Medieval legend of the “Wandering Jew.”According to this legend (unsupported by anything in the Bible, but widely told), when Christ was carrying his cross to the place of crucifixion, he paused to rest at the threshold of a house. Its owner roughly told him to move on. Jesus sadly replied, “You move on too, until I return.” The householder was forced to wander about the earth, undying, regretting his cruelty to the Savior, until Christ should return at the last judgment. Although this mysterious figure shares certain features with the Wandering Jew, Miller is no antisemite. What qualities characterize this character?

“I’m not a sport” a mutant.

“Leibowitz Abbey.” “Leibowitz” is intended to be immediately recognizable as a Jewish name. When the pilgrim mocks Francis by commenting that his kind are “still writing things backward” he reveals that he is more comfortable with Hebrew, which is written from right to left. Francis, however, is too ignorant to figure all this out.

“vocational vigils” a period of testing to see whether a novice (would-be monk) has the vocation “calling”–determining whether he is suitable, and chosen by God) to be a full-fledged monk.

“Ash Wednesday.” Six weeks before Easter, the beginning of Lent, which was traditionally a period of repentance and penance, involving abstinence from meat and other pleasures.

“Apage Satanas!” “Begone, Satan!”

“The natural results seemed to appear ex opere operato:” “from the operation, not the operator (literally, “from the work having been worked”),: a theological phrase which maintains the the sacraments are rendered valid not by the holiness of the priest who performs them but solely through the performance of the appropriate action. Though Francis thinks himself unworthy to perform an exorcism, his effort apparently works.

“Beelzebub” devil (the name was originally an insulting Jewish pun on the name of the Canaanite god Baalzebul, whose name meant “Lord of Lords;” the pun means “Lord of the Flies,” and was commonly used later as a name for the Devil).

“Et ne nos inducas in . . .” “And lead us not into . . . ” The phrase from the Lord’s prayer which concludes with “temptation.”

What does the stranger mean by his reference to changing stones into bread? (Hint: see Matthew 4:1-4.)

“Libellus Leibowitz “ “Little Book of Leibowitz.” Note that some of the following Latin lines are immediately translated by Miller.

Beatus (“blessed”) is a term assigned to those who are regarded as especially saintly, but who are not yet officially designated as saints. In what way does Leibowitz’s status resemble that of Francis?

What is the pilgrim’s attitude toward Francis? What is Francis’ attitude toward the pilgrim? Which of them seems more intelligent? How can you tell? Explain the symbolism of the keystone.

“Repugnans tibi, ausus sum quaerere quidquid doctius mihi fide, certius spe, aut dulcius caritate visum esset. Quis itaque stultior me . . .” “Resisting you, I have dared to seek whatever seemed to me to be more learned than Faith, more certain than Hope, sweeter than Love (“charity”) Who is therefore more foolish than I?” “Faith, hope, and charity” are traditionally considered the three theological virtues (see 1 Corinthians 13:13) (SS).

“O inscrutabilis Scrutator animarum, cui patet omne cor, si me vocaveras, olim a te fugeram. Si autem nunc velis vocare me indignum . . .” “O inscrutable scrutinzer of souls, to whom every heart is open, if you had called me, once I would have fled from you. If however now you should wish to call me, though unworthy. . . .”

“Libera me . . .” “Free me,” translated below as “Set me free. . . .” Francis will repeat part of this same prayer in Chapter 2, just after asking Leibowitz to pray for him.

The two Hebrew characters on page 10 are explained later in Chapter 3.

“pagan cabals” “The Kabbalah consists of mystical Jewish interpretations of the Hebrew Bible. Here the term stands for any mystical teachings disapproved of by the Church.

Why is it ironic to call the buzzards a “heavenly host?”

The Paraclete is a mysterious figure mentioned in the Gospel of John traditionally interpreted as the Savior. Note from Rev. Victor Peri Bogdanoff ( The term “Paraclete” is used two ways in John’s Gospel: by the author in reference to “the whole scope of Jesus’ and ministry both before and after his resurrection” and by Jesus himself to refer to a mysterious figure that will be sent to the disciples after his death, to ‘be with them always.'” In the Catholic tradition in which Miller is working, the “Paraclete” is normally taken to be the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, especially as manifested at Pentacost when it descended among Christ’s disciples.

Explain the reference to the “Dove.” (Hint: see Matthew 3:16.)

The Flame Deluge here refers to the nuclear holocaust which destroyed civilization, but “Deluge” originally designates the Biblical flood which destroyed all creatures outside the ark.

Salamanders were supposed in the Middle Ages to be able to survive in fire, probably because they were often found in the ashes of fires where they had taken refuge in search of residual heat after the fires were out.

Radioactive isotopes of cobalt, strontium and cesium were all much in the news as a result of concern over fallout from atomic bomb testing.

Chapter 2

“Domine, libera nos” “O Lord, deliver us.”

“A morte perpetua” “from everlasting death.”

“te rogamus, audi nos” “We beseech thee, hear us.”

To what does the term “Simplification” seem to refer in this story?

What does it tell you about this society that the term “servus puer” is familiar to Francis?

“ending the matter without benefit of clergy” dying suddenly, without any opportunity to confess sins to a priest and prepare for death and receiving the Last Rites: Confession, viaticum (communion for the dying), and anointing (“extreme unction”).

What was the probable explanation of the transformations undergone by the “launching pad site?”

In the 50s pastrami and bagels were eaten mostly by Jews.

Blueprints, now rare, used to be the dominant method of reproducing architectural and engineering drawings. They consist of white lines on a blue background and are prone to fade if exposed too much to light.

What was the evident occupation of Leibowitz?

Leibowitz seems to have scrambled together a collection of miscellaneous junk and papers and shoved them in the “first tool box he happened to grab,” sealed it and labelled it “Top Secret” and sent his wife to take it to this location. Why? Did he succeed in accomplishing what he wanted to do?

“Beate Leibowitz, ora pro me!” “Blessed Leibowitz, pray for me!”

Ut solius tuae voluntatis mihi cupidis sim, et vocationis tuae conscius, si digneris me vocare. . . . Repetition of the same prayer translated by Miller above, in Chapter 1.

Promotor Fidei The formal title of the so-called “Devil’s Advocate,” who challenges claims to sainthood. See below, Chapter 7.

“Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae” “The angel of the Lord announced unto Mary” (see Luke 1:26-35); the prayer recited at sunrise, noon, and sunset, but traditionally associated especially with sundown, called the “Angelus.” It commemorates the mysteries of the Annunciation (when Gabriel appeared to Mary and received her assent to bear the Son of God) and the Incarnation (when the Son of God took on flesh in the womb of Mary) (SS).

A “beatus” can only be recognized as a full-fledged saint if the Church confirms that he or she has performed a certain number of miracles after death. Even a beatus must have some documented miracles; a saint needs even more. In modern times the rules restricting the recognition of saints ( “canonization”) have become rather strict.

The passage about the debate over Mary’s “Preternatural Gifts” is a parody of the sort of tangled debate that led to the declaration of the Virgin’s “immaculate conception” (the doctrine that she was conceived without original sin, though the term is often confused with “virgin birth” the doctrine that she conceived Jesus while remaining a virgin) in 1854. The Dominicans are famous for their conservative theology (they were the order which ran the Renaissance Holy Inquisition).

What does the existence of “New Rome” suggest?

Chapter 3

What does Father Cheroki’s name suggest about his ethnic origin, given that the novel is set in the southwest of the old United States?

Since the monks very much want to have Leibowitz recognized as a saint, why is Father Cheroki so exasperated with Brother Francis?

What is a succubus? (Look it up.)

Chapter 4

What does it tell us about the social system of America that Father Cheroki “came of baronial stock?”

“Arkos” suggests “ark.” There are two arks in the Bible: Noah’s, which preserved human and animal life through the flood and the Ark of the Covenant, the box which contained the tablets of the Jewish law. It is thus an appropriate name for a preserver of knowledge in a post holocaust era (Olsen 140). But Ken Smith points out in a private communication that the word is Greek for “bear,” and that when Arkos is first introduced in the second paragraph of this chapter, “he reminded Cheroki of a were-bear only incompletely changed into a man.”

Why is Cheroki so hostile to the idea that the pilgrim was a miraculous appearance of Leibowitz?

“Benedicamus Domino” “Let us bless the Lord”: the standard greeting among monks. The standard response is “Deo gratias”–“Thanks be to God;” but Francis’ timidity is indicated by the hesitant question marks after each word in his reply.

“Magister meus,” “My Master.”

Chapter 5

Antiphon for Maundy Thursday: “Mandatum novum do vobis: ut diligatis invicem . . .” I give you a new commandment: to love one another” (John 13:34). Maundy Thursday is the day before Good Friday. This antiphon is sung during the “Maundy Laving” (see below, Chapter 25).

Chapter 6

What rationale does the legend say the creators of nuclear weapons used to justify their creation of atomic arsenals?

What is the motive for the “Great Simplification?” Such a movement is frequently described in older post-holocaust literature. Do you find it probable or credible? Why or why not?

How long ago did the nuclear war take place?

Chapter 7

“Ecce Inquisitor Curiae. Ausculta et obsequere. Arkos, AOL, Abbas” “This is the inquisitor of the Curia. Hear and obey. Arkos. Albertian Order of Leibowitz. Abbot.”

“Inquisition” The Holy Inquisition was an often ruthless and bloody Church organization dedicated to rooting out heresy, run by the Dominicans. Its chief officers were called “inquisitors.”

“Catharism” technically a Medieval religion popular in Provence until it was crushed by the Pope and the king of France in the infamous Albigensian Crusade of the 13th Century. Like Manicheanism, its predecessor in antiquity, it argued that the world is the locus of a struggle between two divine powers, one good, the other evil. Christianity argued that God was both perfectly good and supreme, and rejected the notion that Satan, for instance, had any power independent of God’s. Why do you think Catharism might have revived in the time during which this story is set?

“advocatus diaboli” The officer of the Church whose job was to challenge the evidence presented to prove that someone was a saint. His title means literally “devil’s advocate,” but his role is by no means seen as evil. His concern is to be certain that Leibowitz did not become a monk before establishing with certainty that his wife was dead because the Church forbid married men to become monks or priests, although widowers could.

“Ecce quam bonum, et quam jucundum” Psalms 133:1: ” Behold how good and how delightful.”The psalm goes on “to live together as brothers in unity,” so it is particularly appropriate for this ritual in which the new monks receive the kiss of brotherhood (SS).

A “missal” is a book containing all the prayers necessary for celebrating the mass throughout the year, a breviary contains the prayers used to be recited at various hours of the day, and the Summa is probably St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae (1267-73), the standard theological treatise of the Catholic faith.

“Glorificemus” Let us glorify [the Lord].”

“Miserere mei, deus” “Have pity upon me, God.”

“audi me” ” hear me”

Chapter 8

“Extreme unction” the last rite of the Church, preparing the dying Christian for death and judgment, involving anointing the dying person with oil.

“postulator” the official responsible for advocating the canonization of a saint, the opposite of an advocatus diaboli.

“prothonotory” one of seven members of the College of Prothonotaries Apostolic, responsible for recording major events in the history of the Church.

Chapter 9

Why does the Abbot veto the proposal to build a printing press?

Chapter 10

“Sacerdos Magnus” “Chief Priest (pope).

“Dei imago” “image of God.”

Why are mutant offspring called the “Pope’s children?”

The reference to Jacob overcoming the angel refers to Genesis 32:23-33.

Chapter 11

“Appropinquat agnis pastor et ovibus pascendis.” “The shepherd approaches to feed the lambs and the sheep.”

“Genua nunc flectantur omnia.” “Now let all knees be bent.”

“Jussit olim Jesus Petrum pascere gregem Domini.” “Jesus once ordered Peter to feed the flock of the Lord.” (John 21:16)

“Ecce Petrus Pontifex Maximus.” “Behold Peter, the Supreme Pontiff” (that is, the Pope).

“Gaudeat igitur populus Christi, et gratias agat Domino.” “Let, therefore, the Christ’s people rejoice, and give thanks to the Lord.”

“Nam docebimur a Spiritu sancto.” “For we shall be taught by the Holy Spirit.”

“plain chant” unharmonized monophonic song, such as the Gregorian Chant traditionally used in Catholic liturgy.

“Sancte pater, ab Saptientia summa petimus ut ille Beatus Leibowitz cujus miracula mirati sunt multi” “Holy Father, from the highest Wisdom we ask that the Blessed Leibowitz, at whose miracles many have marveled.”

“dulia” “Veneration (as opposed to worship, which is given to God alone)” (SS).

“Gratissima Nobis causa, fili” “Your cause is most pleasing to us, on account of her Son.”

“sub ducatu sancti Spiritus” “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

“miserere nobis” “Have mercy upon us.”

“Sancta Dei Genitrix, ora pro nobis,Sancta Virgo virginum, ora pro nobis” “Holy Mother of God, pray for us, Holy Virgin of Virgins, pray for us.” Invocations in a lengthy and repetitious chant called the Litany of the Saints, a traditional prayer that calls upon Mary and all the saints for their intercession on behalf of the faithful. (The following invocation, Omnes sancti martyres, is also part of this litany. SS)

“Omnes sancti Martyres, orate pro nobis” “All the holy martyrs, pray for us.”

“Veni, Creator Spiritus” “Come, Creator Spirit” One of the most famous chants of the liturgy, a hymn to the Holy Spirit, used for the feast of Pentecost or (as here) to in order to call down the guidance and insight of the Spirit (SS).

“Surgat ergo Petrus ipse” “Then let Peter himself arise.”

“Te Deum” “Thee, God” (a chant sung particularly in acts of solemn thanksgiving).

“sedarii” Bearers of the Papal chair on ceremonial occasions.

“licet adire” “He is allowed to approach.”

“sedarius” singular of sedarii.

Why is the clan chief described as “converted” in quotation marks?

“scala caelestis” heavenly stairs.

“His Supreme Unctuousness” a sarcastic description of this official’s behavior, not a real title.

“Behold Peter” Catholics believe that Jesus’ disciple Peter (formerly a fisherman) was the first Pope.

What evidence is there that despite all the impressive pageantry at New Rome, the Pope has little real power and knows little of the outside world?

“Noli molestare” “Do not molest” (warning on the pass).

“excommunicating” excommunication is the extreme penalty of the Church, forbidding the condemned to receive the sacraments, and therefore almost certainly condemning him or her to Hell.

The story ends with lavish descriptions of the continuation and proliferation of life. How can we tell they are ironically meant?

How does this story leave you feeling about humanity? Is it optimistic? Pessimistic? Purely nihilistic?

Fiat Lux

Chapter 12

What does the first paragraph tell you about America in 3174? Is the Church dominant? Is civilization increasing or decreasing?

“nuncio” papal ambassador.

“Caesar” figuratively, any secular authority, following Christ’s usage in Matthew 22:21.

What is the nature of the disagreement between Thon Taddeo Pfardentrott and Marcus Apollo? Note how the formal Spanish term of address”Don” has evolved into Thon.

“Sheba expects Solomon to come to her” reversing the Biblical story (1 Kings 10:1-13). What does this phrase mean in the context of the story?

“Sub immunitate apostolica hoc suppositium est. Quisquis nuntium molestare audeat, ipso facto excommunicetur” “This has been placed under apostolic immunity. Let whoever dares to molest the messenger be automatically excommunicated.”

What is the origin of the village name of “Sanly Bowitts?” What about the culture explains the evolution of this name?

“Cui salutem dicit” “To whom [Marcus Apollo] sends greetings.”

“Feast of the Assumption” August 15: the day celebrating the ascent of the Virgin Mary into Heaven.

“Quidam mihi calix nuper expletur, Paule. Precamini ergo Deum facere me fortiorem. Metuo ut hic pereat. Spero te et fratres saepius oraturos esse pro tremescente Marco Apollini. Valete in Christo, Amici.” “A certain chalice is filled up for me recently, O Paulo. Pray therefore to God to make me stronger. I fear that I am doomed to death. I hope that you and the brothers will pray more often for the trembling Marcus Apollo. Farewell in Christ, friends.” The image of the full cup, or chalice to symbolize bitter suffering is taken from Matthew 26:42, where Jesus prays that he may be spared his impending suffering.

“Texarkanae datum est Octava Ss Petri et Pauli, Anno Domini Termillesimo” “Given at Texarakana on the Octave of Saints Peter and Paul [July 6] in the year of our Lord, 3000.”

“vespero mundi expectando” “waiting for the evening of the world”

Why is old Benjamin said to have lived for 5,408 years?

Chapter 14

After centuries of preserving human knowledge, why are some of those in the Church not entirely happy about its spread? In what ways does history seem to be repeating itself?

“Logos” as used in John 1:1. Logos is far more than simply the Greek for “word.” It means something like: “meaning” or “underlying pattern, structure, purpose.”

“Veronica’s veil” according to legend, a woman named Veronica helped Christ on his way to be crucified by wiping his sweaty face with her handkerchief. An image of his face came off on the cloth, which was preserved and exhibited for many centuries. Some scholars think the story was born out of a misinterpretation of the Greek phrase “vera ikon,” meaning “true image.”

“De Vestigiis Antecessarum Civitatum” “On the Vestiges of the Preceding Civilizations.”

“Machina analytica” “analytical machine” (computers).

“Cave canem” “Beware of the dog” a not uncommon inscription on ancient Roman houses.

“Vexilla regis” The rest of the line is quoted and translated on the next page. The 6th-century poet and bishop Venantius Fortunatus composed a Good Friday hymn which begins “Vexilla regis prodeunt” (“the banners of the King advance,” hailing the Crucifixion). Dante Alighieri parodied it in the first line of the final canto of his Inferno (part of the Commedia DivinaDivine Comedy) in which the hymn is altered so that the banners referred to become the vast wings of Satan.

“Sancta Maisie, interride pro me” instead of the more common request to a saint–“pray for me”–he asks her to laugh for him. “Interride” is a pun on the more usual “intercede” (SS). “Maisie” is probably a reference to a popular radio comedy series starring Ann Sothern: “The Adventures of Maisie.”

Chapter 16

What evidence is there that Benjamin is the Wandering Jew, or some variation on that theme? What evidence is there later in the chapter that he doesn’t fit the Wandering Jew tradition precisely?

“prodigal” In this context, stray (though the word more specifically means “spendthrift.” This is an allusion to the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:13-32, concerning a young man who wandered away but returned home at last.

Benjamin’s speech about the goat is a compound of several Biblical references. Goats traditionally symbolized the damned in Christianity, as sheep symbolized the saved (see Matthew 25:33), at least partly because of the ancient Jewish tradition of the “scapegoat”–a sacrificial animal on whose back all the sins of the community were laid when it was driven into the desert to be destroyed by the demon Azazel (see Leviticus 16:8-10). Benjamin also identifies the goat as the beast on which the “Whore of Babylon” (originally symbolizing ancient Rome) rides in Revelation 17:3 at the end of the world.

Saint Paul was by profession a tent-maker; so it is not inappropriate that Benjamin should be a tent-mender.

The Hebrew inscription in this chapter is the Shema, the central statement of faith in Judaism, from Deuteronomy 6:4, which Jews originally wore in a container on their forheads and posted beside their doors in a container called a mezzuzah. Modern Jews often wear it in a small mezzuzah on a chain around the neck. In the King James translation it is rendered as “Hear, O Israel: the Lord your God is One God.”

“Torquemada” Tomás de Torquemada, infamously cruel Spanish Inquisitor General in the late 15th century, largely responsible for causing the expulsion of the Jews from Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella.

How does Dom Paulo rationalize to himself Benjamin’s claims to have lived for thirty-two centuries? Miller is careful to provide plausible rationalist alternatives for the seeming miracles in this book.

In discussing Christian theology with Paulo Benjamin makes some typically Jewish criticisms: whereas Jews believe in only one, undivided God, Christians claim that God can be three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and one at the same time; Christ’s resurrection (“life in death”) is not a part of traditional Jewish beliefs about the Messiah, who once born is never supposed to die; and Paul explains away the necessity to have faith in apparent absurdities in 1 Corinthians 1:17-25 in a passage that became a powerful tool against rationalism in the Middle Ages, whereas for Jews wisdom is identified with knowledge of and obedience to the Law.

“anchorite” a hermit, often living in the desert.

Why does Dom Paulo call the Jewish Messiah the “One-Who-Isn’t-Coming?”

“Come forth” Benjamin is referring to the story of Lazarus in John 11:1-44. What does he mean by alluding to this passage?

Manasses, Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, Caesar” worldly rulers, all except Cyrus depicted as wicked in the Bible.

“Samuel warned us against them.” In Samuel 8 the Hebrews reject rule by religious leaders and beg the prophet Samuel for a king. In Samuel 8:10-18 he lists the many disadvantages of having a secular ruler, but at their insistence he crowns Saul whose reign turns out–as predicted–disastrously.

What precisely is the danger that Benjamin sees emerging at the present time? Why is he skeptical of the value of reemerging science and technology?

“El Shaddai” an ancient Hebrew name for God.

“Memento, Domine, Omnium famulorum tuorum” “Remember, Lord, all your servants.”

Chapter 17

What recent invention is threatening the survival of the abbey?

“How neighborly of the lion to lie down with the lamb?” Explain this speech on the basis of Isaiah 11:6.

“Tibi adsum” “I am here for you” (“at your service”).

Why does the statue in the last paragraph remind Paulo of Benjamin?

Chapter 18

This chapter begins with a reading based loosely on passages from the books of Job and Revelation in the Bible, but actually retelling the story of the Flame Deluge (nuclear war). Also alluded to is the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). In ancient Jewish tradition sheep (Genesis 22:1-13) or goats (Leviticus 16:15-22 are sacrificed as a substitute for human sacrifice, often to atone for sin. Although Christians reinstituted the concept of human sacrifice symbolically by considering the crucified Christ as the sacrificial “lamb of God,” (John 1:29) Jews and Christians both generally regard the reversion to literal human sacrifice as a great evil.

The word “holocaust” (Hebrew olah) has a complex history. Originally it designated a particular type of Hebrew sacrifice: one which was entirely consumed by fire instead of the usual practice in which most of the sacrifice was consumed by the priests. The term was ironically applied to the incineration of millions of Jews in Hitler’s Germany. Later writers, anticipating a global nuclear war, extended its meaning to apply to such a catastrophe.

The word “Name” is used instead of the actual name of the ruler of the nation that begins the war. “Pik-a-don” is Japanese for “flash-boom” and was the name initially given to the Hiroshima bomb by its victims. Miller is building on the Jewish tradition of not pronouncing the sacred name of God (YHWH) when reading aloud, but substituting Adonai (“Lord”) instead. In some early editions the scientist-magi’s name is misprinted “Backeneth” the first time instead of “Blackeneth.”

What does this story convey about Miller’s thoughts on the threat of nuclear war? Give as many details as possible.

“lectio devina” “divine reading.” The term refers to the monastic practice of “spiritual reading,” i.e. using scriptural and patristic texts as a springboard for meditation and contemplation. In this quotation devina is a misprint for divina (SS).

During the test of the new arc lamp, the monks recite the opening of Genesis (verses 1-5, given below in the familiar King James Version because of its literary influence; consult a modern translation for a more precise rendering of the original Hebrew):

“In principio Deus” In the beginning God.”

“Caelum et terram creavit” created heaven and earth.”

“Vacuus autem erat mundus” “The earth however was a formless void.”

“Cum tenebris in superficie profundorum” “with darkness on the face of the deep.”

“Ortus est Dei Spiritus supra aquas” “and God’s spirit hovered over the water.”

“Gratias Creatori Spiritui” “Thanks be to the Creator Spirit” (not in the Biblical text).

“Dixitque Deus: ‘FIAT LUX”” “and God said, ‘Let there be light.”

“Lucem esse bonam Deus vidit” “And God saw that the light was good.”

“Et secrevit lucem a tenebris,” and he divided the light from the darkness.”

“Lucem appellavit ‘diem’ et tenebras ‘noctes:'” “and he called the light ‘day’ and the dark ‘night’.”

“Vespere occaso” “Evening having fallen.”

“Lucifer” the monk shouts a common name for the devil when he is shocked, but “Lucifer” is originally also a name for the planet Venus and means “light-bringer.” The first matches in the 19th century were called “lucifers.”

“ortus est et primo die” and morning, the first day.”

What is the effect of having the monks recite this passage as they inaugurate the lamp?

Before light bulbs were developed, the first electric lights were noisy, expensive, but extremely brilliant arc lights like this. Looking directly at one is much like looking directly at a welding tool.

Chapter 20

“Flectamus genua” “Let us bend our knees” (a ritual genuflection, briefly kneeling on one knee) (SS).

“Levate” “Rise.”

“Oremus” Let us pray.

“et Spritus Sancti, Amen.”; “and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

“Sedete” “Be seated.”

“ad absurdum” “to an absurd length.”

What is the poet implying when he suggests that Leibowitz will become the new scapegoat?

Why does the abbot pretend that he is not worried about the study Thon Thaddeo’s companions have made of the abbey’s fortifications?

“et tu, Brute” “you too, Brutus” supposedly the last words of Julius Caesar, shocked that among those who stabbed him was his former friend and ally Brutus.

What is indicated about the men at the abbey by their reaction to Thon Thaddeo’s description of Monsignor Apollo’s unscientific beliefs about the refraction of light?

What is ironic about the young monk’s use of Saint Augustine in this discussion?

What foreboding prediction does Thon Thaddeo make about the course of science in the future?

Explain the meaning of the two paragraphs toward the end of the chapter which begin “He also suffered them to know how it might be saved. . . .”

What is signified by Benjamin’s appearance and speech?p>

Chapter 21

“Regnans in Excelsis” “Reigning in the highest.” The bull Regnans in Excelsis was the document published by Pope Pius V on February 25, 1570, excommunicating Queen Elizabeth I of England (SS).

Chapter 22

The first line indicates that this chapter is set in November, since the feast of All Saints is November 1 (SS).

“Vaquero” Spanish for “cowboy.”

“interdict” In the Middle Ages an interdict was imposed when the ruler of a country was excommunicated. Essentially the Church would go on strike, halting all masses, confessions, burials, weddings, etc., in the hope of arousing popular sentiment to force the ruler to submit to the pope.

What does this chapter have to say about the relationship between science and government?

“simoniac” A term used to characterize corrupt Church officials, particularly those who buy and sell Church offices (derived originally from the story of Simon Magus in Acts 8:9-24).

What is the significance of the fact that the names of the bishops who have signed Hannegan’s proclamation are unknown to the abbot?

“Diluvium Ignis” “Flame Deluge.”

Why might Thon Thaddeo be drawn to the theory that humanity is a recent invention developed by a pre-holocaust race? What effect would that fact have on the value of his scientific research?

“Lege” “Read!”

Thaddeo has been misled into thinking that humans were created in the 20th century by reading a fragment from Karel Capek’s 1921 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), in which a scientist manages to breed artificial humans, called robotniki in the original Czech, translated as “robot” into English, becoming the word for “artificial human” in later writings. Click here for Ron Webb’s comments on this reference.

Over the whole course of the novel, who do you think turns out to be “right” about the importance of knowledge: Thaddeo or Paulo?

“ad Lumina Christi” “at the lights (‘lamps’) of Christ.”

“Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine. . . . Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare. . “ Excerpts from the gospel canticle that is sung during Compline, the night office, as a preparation for ending the day and going to bed, known as the Nunc dimittis (SS). The quoted portions means “Now let thy servant depart, O Lord [‘in peace” is omitted here]. . . . Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” The passage occurs originally in Luke 2:29-32 as the speech of Simeon, an elderly pious Jew who thinks he can now die in peace because he has seen the promised Messiah. What do you think is the speech’s significance in context of Canticle?

“For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof . . .” is from Genesis 3:4. What does this passage seem to mean in its original context? How does it relate to the subject of this chapter?

What does the last sentence of the chapter mean?

Chapter 23

“Ego te absolvo” “I absolve you” what a priest would say upon granting absolution for sins during confession.

“Cathartes aura regnans” “the reigning, purifying wind”–the buzzards’ God (SS).

How optimistic or pessimistic is the end of this chapter?

Fiat Voluntas Tua

The title comes from Luke 22:42, in which Jesus, facing crucifixion, prays to God to be spared, but concludes, “Nevertheless, let Thy will be done.” What tone does this set for the final section, given the original context of the speech?

Chapter 24

“manifest destiny” originally the 19th-century belief that the U.S. had the right to extend its power over all of America.

Adam and Christ, first paired by Paul (see 1 Corinthians 15), are traditionally taken to represent respectively humanity’s fall into sin and redemption from it. Here they represent the ambivalence of the new scientific age, full of both hope and fear.

“Wir marschieren weiter wenn alles in Scherben fällt” “We march further when everything falls to pieces” From a Nazi marching song glorifying war.

“Proteus vulgaris” This is a common amoeba named after the fact that it, like the ancient Greek God Proteus, has no fixed shape and can assume many forms. It would have in common with atrophy and entropy the quality of increasing disorder, as do the destructive forces of time which taunt would-be military conquerors in this passage. If you you have further suggestions about this reference, please write Click here for Ron Webb’s comments on this reference.

Lucifer: as noted above, the Devil is often referred to as Lucifer, here alluded to as the tempter of Eve. In the Canticle of the Brethren of the Order of Leibowitz, the phrase proclaims the fall of Lucifer from Heaven, where he was an angel until he rebelled against God (see Luke 10:18). The words are used as a code phrase to communicate the success of a nuclear bomb test. Remember that “Lucifer” had also been used earlier in reference to the arc lamp invented at the abbey. Instead of good triumphing over evil, then, the phrase could suggest the extinction of light.

“Kyrie eleison” “Lord, have mercy,” the Greek phrase occurs early in the Mass text.

The slashed “V” and “R” in the Canticle label the versicle (Versiculus) to be sung by one voice and its response (Responsum) by the massed choir (SS).

“bureaucratic Dutch boys” refers to a once-famous incident in the novel Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, in which a young boy saves his town by plugging a leak in a dike with his finger.

What is the point of the “Lady Reporter” sarcastically asking the Defense Minister whether he is in favor of Motherhood?

Just as Arkos, whose name begins with A, is the first of the abbots we meet, Zerchi, whose name begins with Z, is the last (Olsen 138). St. George is usually portrayed slaying a dragon. More information about St. George.

The Abominable Autoscribe would seem to be an advanced sort of word processor. Remember that when this novel was written the only computers in the world weighed many tons and filled large rooms but had less power than a common pocket calculator today.

“lèse majest&eacte;” “a French legal term which describes acts which are crimes because of the noble social status of the people against whom they are committed.

Father Zerchi ironically comments that if a computer can emulate a human soul, it can also “fall” like Adam and Eve. What tone does this passage set concerning technology?

What does the existence of incompatible American dialects imply about social organization?

Vulgate Latin would be the late Classical Latin of the Vulgate Bible, used by the Church for all official purposes until the mid-60s, and still used for official papal documents today.

“Oh, ye of little faith” is a quotation from is a quotation from Matthew 6:30.

“Before the cock crows thrice” refers to Christ’s prophecy on the night before his crucifixion that Peter will betray him (Matthew 26:34; Mark 14:30; John 13:38).

“Hinc igitur effuge” “Flee therefore from here.”

“Motu proprio” “on his own initiative” (literally “by his own motion.” This is also the title of a certain category of papal documents (SS).

“Anno Domini” Year of our Lord: A.D.

“Ab hac planeta nativitatis aliquos filios Ecclesiae usque ad planetas solium alienorum iam abisse et numquam redituros esse intelligimus” ” We understand that from this planet of their birth some sons of the Church have already gone off to the planets of alien suns, and will never return.” Intelligimus should be intellegimus (SS).

“Quo peregrinatur grex, pastor secum” “Where the flock wanders, the shepherd [goes] with it.”

“Casu belli nunc remoto” “The eventuality of war now having been removed.”

The essence of the message Dom Zerchi is trying to dictate has to do with a plan by the Church to promote emigration to other worlds in case of nuclear war; the vehicles referred to are rocket ships.

“Lazar” see note on Lazarus, Chapter 16

“Luciferum ruisse mihi dicis?” “Are you telling me that Lucifer has fallen?”

“Chris’tecum” An abbreviated “Christ be with you, used as a farewell like the old “God be with ye,” now abbreviated to “good-bye.”

“Cum spiri’tuo” “And with thy spirit.” A standard part of Catholic ritual, including the text of the Mass: “Dominus tecum; et cum spiritu tuo” “The Lord be with you; and with your spirit” (SS).

“Said the namesake of my namesake” Refers to a miracle performed by Joshua, the leader of the Hebrew invasion of Canaan, commanding the sun and moon to stand still so that there would be enough time to complete their victory in the valley of Gabaon. See Joshua 10:12-14. What does Joshua mean by saying that it would be useful to be able to perform this trick “in these times too?”

“et tu, Luna, recedite in orbitas reversas. . . .” “and you, Moon, move in reverse in your orbit” (literally, “go back into reversed orbits”–slightly different from the English version given in the just preceding sentence).

“bicephalous” two-headed.

Chapter 25

“dauntless Dutch boys” see note for the preceding chapter on “bureaucratic Dutch boys.”

The American War Department was changed to the more peaceful-sounding “Defense Department” after World War II.

What does this second press conference imply about the events the Defense Minister is so carefully denying?

Phoenix: a mythical bird that once every 500 years sets itself on fire and is reborn from an egg in the ashes.

Alpha Centauri is the nearest star (actually two stars) to Earth, about four light-years away. It is now believed to be incapable of having planets which could sustain life.

Why is “Joshua” an appropriate name for the leader of the Church’s project to emigrate to another planet?

Few of the names in this novel have obvious meanings, but “Grales” seems like an ironic reference to the Holy Grail of Medieval legend: the cup which Christ used at the Last Supper, which caught his blood on the cross, and for which King Arthur’s knights sought.

“Accedite ad eum” “Approach him.”

“lingua prima” first language.

Maundy laving: On Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday), the clergy (including the Pope) ceremonially wash the feet of some of the poor in commemoration of Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:5).

Latzar shemi “My name is Lazarus” (Hebrew).

Chapter 26

What has happened between the end of the last chapter and the beginning of this? Who started it?

Cain is famous being the first murderer in the Bible, having killed his brother (see Genesis 4:1-16).

What is the meaning of the quotation from Eleventh Pius?

“Non habemus regem nisi caesarem” “We have no king but Caesar.” See John 19:15. How does this relate to the preceding quotation?

“Grex peregrinus erit. Quam primum est factum suscipiendum vobis, jussu Sactae Sedis. Suscipite ergo operis partem ordini vestro propriam” “The flock will be a pilgrim [or “traveling, wandering”] one. As soon as possible the deed must be undertaken by you, by order of the Holy See. Undertake therefore the part of the work proper to your Order.” Sactae is a misprint forsanctae (SS).

Eminentissimo Domino Eric Cardinali Hoffstraff obsequitur Jethra Zerchius, A. O. L., Abbas. Ad has res disputandas iam coegi discessuros fratres ut hodie parati dimitti Roman prima aerisnave possint. “Jethrah Zerchi, A.O.L., Abbot, complies with the Most Reverend Lord Eric Cardinal Hoffstraff. I have already collected the brothers who will depart, so that, ready today, they can be sent off to Rome on the first airplane to discuss these matters.” Roman should be Romam (SS).

“the ass he rides into Jerusalem” see see Matthew 21:2-9.

“Excita, Domine . . .” Psalms 35:23.

“Retrahe me, Satanus, et discede” “Draw away from me, Satan, and depart.” Compare with Matthew 16:23. Satanus should be Satanas.

“burning bush” Exodus 3:1-6.

Is the Church escaping into space merely to preserve itself, or does it have other aims?

“Homo loquax nonnumquam sapiens” A humorous variation of “Homo Sapiens” (“Wise Man”) “Talkative–and sometimes wise–man” (SS).

“Discede, Seductor informis” “Depart, hideous [literally ‘shapeless’] Seducer.”

“Egrediamur tellure” “Let us leave Earth.”

“abbas” Literally “Father” in Hebrew, but used as the title of the head of an abbey: an abbot.

“Audi me, Domine” “Hear me, O Lord.”

“negotium perambulans in tenebris” “The pestilence that stalks in darkness.” (Psalms 91:6)

“Reminiscentur et convertentur ad Dominum universi fines terrae. Et adorabunt in conspectu universae familiae gentium. Quoniam. Domini est regnum; et ipse dominabitur.” “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee. For the kingdom is the Lord’s; and he will rule among the nations” (Psalms 22:27). Why is it ironic that this is the Psalm which happens to be scheduled for this night?

“de essentia hominum” “Of the essence of human beings.”

“Hoc officium, Fili–tibine imponemus oneri?” “This office, my Son–shall we impose this burden upon you?”

“honorem accipiam” I shall accept the honor.

“Crucis autem onus si audisti ut honorem, nihilo errasti auribus” “If however you heard the burden of the cross as an Ôhonor,Õ by no means have you erred with your ears.” The abbot thinks that Joshua mistook oneri “burden” for honori “honor” when he posed his original question (SS).

“Accipiam” I shall accept.

“the principle of Epikeia” The moral-legal principle that one can act against the letter of the law in a certain situation when it is supposed that the lawmaker would have allowed it, given the extenuating circumstances (SS). In this case the doctrine by which part of the Church–if separated from communication with the Roman hierarchy (in particular, the Pope)–may institute its own parallel hierarchy to assure the continuity of the Apostolic Succession (note by Steven A. Schoenig and Richard Reed).

Chapter 27

“Mori vult” “He wishes to die”

What is the essential disagreement between Father Zerchi and the Green Star representative?

“The serpent deceived me, and I did eat” Eve’s excuse for eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:13).

Note that Poet from the previous story has become popularized as Saint Poet of the Miraculous Eyeball.

“Orbis Judicans Conscientias” “The globe (eye) which judges consciences.”

“Oculus Poetae Judicis” The eye of the Poet-Judge.”

“Non cogitamus, ergo nihil sumus” “We do not think, therefore we are nothing,” reversing René Descartes’ famous dictum, “I think, therefore I am.”.

“Evenit diabolus” The Devil comes forth.”

Chapter 28

“Domine, mundorum omnium Factor, parsurus esto imprimis eis filiis aviantibus ad sideria caeli quorum victus dificilior” translated “Lord, Maker of all worlds, spare especially these sons, travelling away to the stars of heaven, whose way of life [will be] more difficult.” Sideria should be sidera; dificilior should be difficilior.

Note the return of the buzzards which were circling overhead at the beginning of the novel.

“ABANDON EVERY HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE” According to Dante’s Inferno,this is the message inscribed over the entrance gate to Hell.

“Golgatha” [More properly, Golgotha.] The “Mount of Skulls” called “Calvary” in Latin where Christ was crucified.

In your opinion, who wins the argument between Dom Zerchi and the young girl over euthanasia? Defend your opinion.

Chapter 29

“alter Christus” “Another Christ.”

“Te absolvat Dominus Jesus Christus; ego autem eius auctoritate te absolvo ab omni vinculo.”.”.”. Denique, si absolvi potes, ex peccatis tuis ego te absolvo in Nomine Patris”.”. .” translated “May the Lord Jesus Christ absolve you; I, moreover, by his authority absolve you from every bond.”.”.”. Finally, if you can be absolved, I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father.”

“Dealba me.” “Whiten me.” (See Psalm 51:7, Revelation 7:14.)

“Dies Irae” Hymn about the Last Judgment, written by Thomas of Celano in the 13th Century and incorporated into the liturgy for the Catholic requiem (funeral) mass, obviously appropriate here considering both the plight of Zerchi and humanity in general.

“Fas est” This is a Medieval Latin phrase meaning roughly “It is lawful”–that is, according to divine law.

“Nisi baptizata es et nisi baptizari nonquis, te baptizo. . . .”Zerchi is being cautious, not at all certain that it would be proper to baptize something he suspects does not have a soul, so he covers himself by saying, roughly, “Unless you have been baptized, and unless you cannot be baptized, I baptize you. . . .”

“Domine, non sum dignus, sed tantum dic verbo” “Lord, I am not worthy, but only speak the word” Spoken by a Roman centurion to Jesus in Capernaum (Matthew 8:8), when Jesus offered to come and heal his servant: “Domine non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo et sanabitur puer meus.” In the traditional Latin rite, the priest recites a modifed version of the centurion’s saying just before he receives the sacred host, substituting “anima” (“soul”) for “puer” (“servant”).

The first sacrament is baptism.

The Magnificat is the hymn of the Virgin Mary celebrating the fact that she is to bear the Christ (Luke 1:46-55). Dom Zerchi imagines that the newly-awakened Rachel is purely innocent, like Mary (born of an “immaculate conception,” free of all sin), and therefore does not need baptism, whose function is to wash away sins.

“Sic transit mundus” “Thus passes the world.” This is a play on the phrase used in a medieval ritual at the coronation of a pope. In the sight of the new pope, a cleric would burn some hemp and cry out, Sancte Pater, sic transit gloria mundi!, “Holy Father, thus passes the glory of the world!” He would then quench it and repeat the ritual twice more. It was meant to remind the pope of the transitory nature of earthly fame, so that he would keep humble and fix his priorities on eternal life (SS).

Tom Foster points out that the action of the last monk to enter the spaceship, slapping his sandals together, echoes such Biblical passages as Mark 6:11: “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”

The novel began with hungry vultures; it ends with hungry sharks. But whereas the vultures at least had a certain crude vitality, the sharks are presumably doomed like the rest of life on earth.

Is the ending of the novel optimistic, pessimistic, or something in between?

Recommended studies on A Canticle for Leibowitz:

Olsen, Alexandra H. “Re-Vision: A Comparison of A Canticle for Leibowitz and the Novellas Originally Published.” Extrapolation 38 (Summer 1997): 235-149.

Percy, Walker. “Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz.” In Rediscoveries: Informal Essays in Which Well-Known Novelists Rediscover Neglected Eowrks of Fiction by One of Their Favorite Authors. Ed. David Madden. New York: Crown, 1971.

Samuelson, David N. Visions of Tomorrow: Six Journeys from Outer to Inner Space. New York: Arno, 1975.

Senior, W. A. “From the Begetting of Monsters: Distortion as a Unifier in A Canticle for Leibowitz,Extrapoltion 34 (Winter 1993): 329-42.

Spector, Judith A. “Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz: A Parable for our Time?” Midwest Quarterly 22 (Winter 1981): 337-45.

Spencer, Susan. “The Post-Apocalyptic Library: Oral and Literate Culture in Fahrenheit 451 and A Canticle for Leibowitz.” Extrapolation 32 (Winter 1991): 331-42.

Stoler, John A. “Christian Lore and Characters’ Names in A Canticle for Leibowitz.” Literary Onomastics Studies 11 (1984): 77-91.

Walker, Jeanne Murray. “Reciprocity and Exchange in A Canticle for Leibowitz,” Renascence 33 (1981): 67-85.
The Spring 2000 issue of Listening: Journal of Religion and Culture (vol. 35, no. 2) is devoted to “A Canticle for Leibowitz at Forty.”

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Notes by Paul Brians, Department of English, Washington State University, Pullman 99164-5020.

Latin translations by Michael Hanly and Hack C. Kim, Washington State University, nitpicked by various Latinists online to whom I am very grateful, including especially Steven A. Schoenig, S.J., whose most extensive other contributions are noted above (SS).

First published on the Web, April, 1995.
Version dated May 29, 2007.

Stanislaw Lem: Solaris (1961)


During the Soviet era, Polish writer Stanislaw Lem was the most celebrated SF author in the Communist world. Although he read Western SF when he was young, he soon found it shallow and turned for inspiration to the long tradition of Eastern European philosophical fantasy. Western readers not familiar with this tradition often misread his works, expecting more action-oriented, technophilic fiction. Solaris comes closer to being a traditional SF novel than most of his works, but its main thrust is still philosophical. There is a deep strain of irony which runs through this work, for all its occasionally grim moments.

The great Russian experimental director Andrei Tarkovsky made an important film based on the novel which is considerably more confusing that the book. (For more information about Tarkovsky and his film, see The pared-down 2002 version by Steven Soderbergh keeps amazingly close–for a Hollywood film–to Lem’s original themes and ideas, but its emotional inertness (particularly on the part of George Clooney) prevents it from having the full effect intended. This is one case where reading the book before seeing the film may help you to experience the intended effect better. Perhaps Soderbergh remembered the anguish of Kelvin so clearly from his reading that he didn’t realize the need to convey it more vividly to an audience that would not share the same memories.

Keep in mind that what you are reading is a translation from a French translation which was in turn translated from the Polish original. We are some distance from Lem’s original words.

Chapter 1: The Arrival

The novel begins as the narrator, a scientist named Kris Kelvin, is descending toward the surface of the mysterious planet Solaris. How many instances can you find in this chapter of failures to perceive, breakdowns in communication, etc.? This is to be the main theme of the book. Whereas conventional SF poses puzzles only to solve them, Solaris concentrates on the puzzling nature of reality and the limits of science. The ship that has brought Kelvin to Solaris is called the Promethus, a name associated with civilization and enlightenment in Greek mythology, but also with condemnation to terrible torment. As he enters the station suspended above the planet’s surface, note the many instances of wear, disorder and confusion. In the original Polish, Snow’s name is “Snaut.” What do the many concrete details given suggest about the state of things in the station? Snow’s strange initial reaction to Kelvin will be explained later. What features of this chapter are reminiscent of a mystery story?

Chapter 2: The Solarists

Keep in mind the scribbled word “Man!” as you read on. See if you can understand why someone would have written it. Why does Lem treat Kelvin’s “premonition” as he does? Much of this novel is a well-informed satire on the process of scientific research and publication. What may seem to the novice like tedious passages of irrelevant exposition reminiscent of Jules Verne (what modern SF fans call “info-dumps”), are in fact often amusing parodies of academic scholarship–especially those which occur later in the novel. Whether or not you catch the humor in these passages, they are crucial for understanding the central themes of the novel. They provide a wide variety of interpretations which succeed only in revealing the minds of the interpreters, leaving Solaris as mysterious as ever. In this way they are strikingly reminiscent of the writings of another Eastern European master, Franz Kafka. The ability of Solaris to control its own orbit anticipates some of the wilder fantasies built on the “Gaia hypothesis,” according to which Earth has the ability to maintain conditions favorable to life. Solaris’ ability to remodel the instruments created to study it resembles quantum physics’ uncertainty principle: studying subatomic particles affects their behavior in ways that make it impossible to separate the observer from the observation. This theory underlies the whole novel, and embodies many of the most crucial problems facing modern science. “Ignoramus et ignorabimus” is a slogan of the ancient skeptics proclaiming the impossibility of certain knowledge: “We do not know and we will not [cannot] know.” Skepticisms’ approach to knowledge is being compared to that of quantum physics. What is the difference between these two theories: the “autistic ocean” and the “ocean-yogi?” What does the condition of Gibarian’s room suggest? What plan of Gibarian’s does Kelvin discover? In what way does the manuscript of this plan reflect the themes of the novel? Note how the ending of the chapter begins to resemble the mood of a ghost or horror story or monster movie. Watch how Lem begins to depart from traditional “monsters-from-outer-space” themes as the story unfolds.

Chapter 3: The Visitors

Even in 1961 the figure of the “giant Negress” would have been offensive to many Western readers; but keep in mind that Lem was writing in Poland, where there were very few black people. As it turns out, there are good reasons for her stereotypically cartoon-like appearance. How does Kelvin try to get more information about the X-ray experiments out of Snow? How did Gibarian die?

Chapter 4: Sartorius

“André Berton” is a pun on the name of the famous surrealist spokesman and leader André Breton, who delighted in breaking down logic by irrationally juxtaposing objects in an arbitrary fashion–an apostle of disorder and madness. ÒSartoriusÓ is the name of a thigh muscle, not a common personal name in either Polish or English. Lem studied medicine, and was probably taken by the name when he encountered it in his anatomical studies. The identity and nature of Sartorius’s child “visitor” are deliberately kept a secret. One can make guesses, but it would be a mistake to treat this as a conventional “mystery” to be “solved.” How do we slowly come to realize that Sartorius’ secrecy is motivated not so much by fear as by shame? What is significant about the “Negress’s” feet? An old-fashioned technique of discovering whether one is dreaming or awake is pinching oneself. What more sophisticated method does Kelvin invent? What does this mean: “I was not mad. The last ray of hope was extinguished”?

Chapter 5: Rheya

The name rendered “Rheya” here is “Harey” in Polish, doubtless altered because it suggests the English masculine name “Harry.” In what ways is Rheya like a traditional ghost? What does the hypodermic needle scar suggest, and how is it connected to what Kelvin “had said to her five days earlier”? Why does Kelvin prick himself with the spindle? How does Kelvin discover that this is not the original Rheya? Avenging ghosts deliberately set out to haunt those who have wronged them. In what way is Rheya different? Does this make her more or less terrible? How is the behavior of this Rheya different from that of the original? Why is it significant that she knows about “Pelvis”? What stops Kelvin from strangling Rheya? Why are there no fasteners on Rheya’s dress? “Spanner” is British English for “wrench.”

Chapter 6: “The Little Apocrypha”

Why is Snow now more willing to visit with Kelvin? The reference to the well-aimed ink bottle comes from a famous incident in which Protestant reformer Martin Luther was visited by the Devil in his study one day and threw an ink-bottle at the figure to frighten it away. Supposedly the stain of the ink remained visible on the wall. What does Snow mean by saying “We have two or three hours at our disposal”? Although scopolamine is famous as “truth serum” it is also a powerful sedative, and that is its use here. What is Snow’s theory about the nature of the ” visitors”? Snow’s long speech on space exploration in the paragraph which begins “It’s almost as if you’re purposely refusing to understand” is one of the best-known and most often-quoted in the book. What are its main themes and how do they relate to traditional science fiction? “Succubi” is the plural of “succubus,” a sort of evil spirit who haunts men by having sex with them. Why is Snow convinced that Solaris is not trying to destroy them? Why does Kelvin consider it important to point out to Snow that his burn wounds have not healed? Note that this being the early sixties, a growth of beard is considered a sign of emotional collapse. Why does Snow say it might be worth while staying on Solaris although they cannot learn anything about the planet? To understand Berton’s theory of how the ocean operates, one must understand something of Freud’s theory of the unconscious (not to be confused with the “subconscious”). The unconscious consists of feelings and memories which have been suppressed from the conscious mind by “contrary feelings” mostly having to do with shame and guilt. Although they are not accessible directly, their presence is revealed in a distorted form in dreams and as a powerful distorting force which can cause involuntary mistakes in speech (“Freudian slips”), and neurotic obsessions and illnesses of various kinds. How do Solaris’ activities seem to relate to the unconscious? Be careful not to use the common misspelling “unconscience.”

Chapter 7: The Conference

What is different about Kelvin’s second encounter with a “Rheya”? Why is he so horrified by the sight of the two dresses? What are the main superhuman qualities of “Rheya”? What can you infer from “Rheya’s” eating patterns? What does Kelvin discover about the visitor’s blood? The objections to Kelvin’ s neutrino theory are perfectly sound. The whole passage is merely a pseudo-scientific way of expressing a mystery, though the basic concept is important to grasp. The ocean has somehow created objects with a structure that differs at the deepest level from ordinary atomic structure. An angstrom is one-hundred-millionth of a centimeter. A neutrino has almost no mass and hardly interacts with other matter at all. It therefore makes a good basis for an unsolvable mystery. It is not clear whether or not there is any conscious intention behind the creation of the “phi-creatures.” Which possibility is more frightening, in your opinion?

Chapter 8: The Monsters

In what way is this speech of “Rheya’s” ironic: “I’m such a coward”? What kind of book does “Rheya” choose to examine? In the long passage describing Giese’s work we learn more about the “mimoids.” Their name comes from “mimic” and the suffix “oid,” which implies similarity. This sort of loving detail is a feature of Jules Verne’s fiction, but here it serves a different function. Whereas Verne is seeking to educate (sometimes simply copying out long passages from reference books), Lem uses a Kafkaesque technique to bewilder the reader with a plethora of concrete detail which does little to unveil the mystery, only multiplying possibilities, though in brilliant language. An “erg” is the standard unit of energy, defined as the amount of work done by one dyne acting through a distance of one centimeter. A dyne is the unit of force which in one second can alter the velocity by one centimeter per second of a mass of one gram. Analyze the philosophical statement in the paragraph which begins “The human mind is only capable. . . .” What are its implications? How has Kelvin’s attitude toward “Rheya” changed? What does “I’m divorced” mean? According to Freud, the rational and moral parts of our mind dwell in the conscious realm. It is their activity which keeps the unconscious suppressed. Therefore what is the point of beaming encoded versions of their conscious thoughts at the ocean via X-rays? What is the alternative plan, and how does it differ from this?

Chapter 9: The Liquid Oxygen

How is the arrival of the “new” Gibarian different from the other strange appearances which have occurred? What has happened to the tape recorder, and why is it important? What is different about the suicide in this chapter? What does “Rheya” learn from it? How have Kelvin’s feelings changed? How have “Rheya’s” feelings about herself changed? “First contact” with an alien species is a major theme in SF. What does Kelvin have to say on this subject?

Chapter 10: Conversation

Why does Kelvin shout “You’re out of your mind!” when Snow suggests that he determine whether the phi-creatures can exist away from the planet’s surface by examining the vehicle he earlier launched into orbit? According to the Greek historian Herodotus, when the Persian general Xerxes was frustrated in his attempt to invade Europe by a storm at the Hellespont which made it too rough to cross, he had the stream scourged by beating it with rods, cursing it. This has traditionally been used as an illustration of tyrannical egotism and irrationality. In the paragraph beginning “I’ll give you an answer” Snow keenly analyzes Kelvin’s motives. What are his main points? Why is Kelvin afraid to carry out the proposed experiment?

Chapter 11: The Thinkers

According to Kelvin, what did human beings have in mind when they first set out for other worlds? This chapter contains a long satirical passage in the Kafkaesque mode tracing the history of Solaristics, a passage also reminiscent of some of the stories of Jorge Luis Borges. The more scholarship you have read, the more amusing it will be. If you are not familiar with much of this sort of thing it may well seem pointless. Identify a few of the patterns that run through this history. The most important passage, one which underlies the philosophy of the entire novel, concerns the pamphlet by Grastrom. This is the other most famous passage in the novel. What are its main messages?

Chapter 12: The Dreams

Describe Kelvin’s dream (the long one, told in the paragraph beginning “On the fifteenth day”). What do you think it means? When Snow calls Sartorius “Faust in reverse” he is thinking of the fact that one of Faust’s first uses of the devil’s powers after signing his famous contract was to make himself decades younger, greatly prolonging his life. “Agonia perpetua” is Latin for “eternal torment, referring to the punishment of the damned in Hell. Snow calls Rheya ” Aphrodite, child of Ocean.” Why? (Hint: look up Aphrodite in any encyclopedia or mythology handbook.) What do you think Kelvin is feeling in the last paragraph of this chapter?

Chapter 13: Victory

Why can’t Rheya and Kelvin “live happily ever after?” How does Kelvin’s last dream affect the emotional impact of the immediately following scene? Why does Kelvin want to destroy Solaris at first? What does this title of this chapter mean?

Chapter 14: The Old Mimoid

How has Kelvin been changed by his relationship with “Rheya?” Manicheanism was a religion founded by a third-century prophet named Mani, distantly related to Persian Zarathustrianism. Like the latter, it argued that the presence of evil in the universe could be explained by the existence of an evil god named Ahriman who was perpetually in conflict with a good God named Ahura-Mazda. The sort of imperfect god Kelvin describes had in fact been described by at least two writers before him: Nikos Kazantzakis presents such an image of God in many books, particularly The Saviors of God, and Olaf Stapledon in The Star-Maker; and Lem specifically acknowledges having read the latter. What is the argument that Kelvin makes against the ability of human beings to create gods according to their individual desires? What do you think of this argument? What do you think Kelvin is trying to do as he plays with the waves? Why is it significant that he cannot actually touch the surface of the ocean? What does the growth of the flower in his hand suggest? “Finis vitae sed non amoris” means “life ends but not love.” What does the last sentence of the novel mean?

Recommended Reading:

Scicsery-Ronay, Istvan Jr.: “The Book Is the Alien: On Certain and Uncertain Readings of Lem’s Solaris,” Science-Fiction Studies 12 (March 1985): 6-21.

Collin Hughes has created an interesting related site that links these notes to his own discussion of the film versions of the novel.

Hughes site

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Notes by Paul Brians, Department of English, Washington State University, Pullman 99164-5020.
Originally posted June 13, 1995.
Last revised November 29, 2002.

Philip K. Dick: Blade Runner (1968)


Philip K. Dick is one of the crucial figures in modern science fiction. He was too prolific for his own good, churning out dozens of novels for cheap paperback publication, often in such haste that their conclusions tend to be their weakest part. He was obsessive, disorganized, and in his later years paranoid. Yet his conceptions were often brilliant, and he has come to be looked on as one of the masters, though only a small fraction of his work is in print at any one time. His titles are often wonderfully surrealistic, as in the striking Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said; and Blade Runner was originally titled (for reasons that will become apparent as you read it) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

When Ridley Scott made his 1982 film based loosely on the novel he eliminated the electric sheep (along with much else), and Dick’s title no longer made sense (nor would it have been very effective on a marquee). The film company bought the rights to another novel by a different author and threw away everything but the title–Blade Runner–a term which occurs nowhere in the book. The film eventually gained great fame, and the novel was eventually re-titled to match. Since then others of his works have been filmed (“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” was turned into Total Recall), “Second Variety” became Screamers, and an opera has been based on Valis, all after his death shortly following the release of Bladerunner. (His non-SF novel,Confessions of a Crap Artist was also made into an obscure French film in 1992 as Confessions d’un Barjo.)

He came out of a generation of 50s SF writers who took as their task the criticism of American mass society. As a result, certain themes recur frequently in his works: the threat of nuclear war, the evil effects of rampant capitalism and marketing, and the influence of mass entertainment media, especially television. But another theme which pervades Dick’s work is more personal: an obsession with the blurring of reality, dreams and waking confused together, mechanical replicas indistinguishable from their originals, drug-induced hallucinations more real than reality. His books are often structured as a series of unexpected trap doors: you think you know where you are and who is whom, then suddenly the bottom falls out and your certainties are thrown into doubt. He loves to play games with his readers, keeping them constantly off balance. The film version, on the other hand, was shaped along the lines of a mean-streets detective novel by Raymond Chandler. In it the pervasive confusion is a puzzle to be solved, not an exercise in mind-bending.

The film turned out to be one of the most influential pieces of SF in recent decades. Without Bladerunner it is hard to imagine Max Headroom or the whole cyberpunk phenomenon. Yet almost none of its influential elements are present in the novel, which has quite different concerns. (The influential visual style of the film was largely derived from the style of French cartoonist Moebius in Heavy Metal comics.) This is not to say that one is bad and the other is good: each is an outstanding example of its own kind and should be judged on its own merits.

A word of warning: Dick’s specialty is straight-faced satire. If parts of this book strike you as absurd, they’re supposed to.

Chapter 1
Why is Rick Deckard in so much better a mood than his wife? How does Dick satirize Americans’ dependence on television? The mention of lead codpieces as a common item of apparel introduces one of the major themes of the book: widespread sterilization as a result of nuclear fallout in the wake of a war. How crowded is the city in which they live? What are the main causes of the current level of population density? “Terminus” suggests the war was an end of things; but the end is more gradual than other SF writers have imagined. In the early sixties there was widespread anxiety about the effects of fallout from nuclear bomb testing which subsided in the wake of the signing of the atmospheric test ban treaty; yet Dick continued to be concerned about the danger of nuclear war at a time when most people were ignoring it. According to Greek mythology, the Thracian Mares of Boreas were impregnated by the wind. We are introduced here to the artificial mass-media religion of Mercerism, which will play an important role later in the novel. It is characteristic of Dick’s fiction that people who live in an advanced technological culture understand little of it and resort quickly to superstition and cultism. What do you think of this view of modern civilization?
Why does Mercerism consider it a moral duty to breed and raise animals, even in the city?

Chapter 2
We learn that the setting is San Francisco. Why do you suppose the film was set in Los Angeles instead? The Rand Corporation has been the major government-financed “think-tank” whose main job was imagining various nuclear war scenarios in order to justify the building of more and more powerful bombs and missiles. What effect does it have on you to learn that no one knows who started the war or why it was fought? (This is true of the overwhelming majority of fictional nuclear wars.) The first dead animals to be noticed were owls. What is the traditional symbolism of the owl, and why are they significant here? Dick here anticipates the “nuclear winter” theory in a striking way. What effect has the war had on the atmosphere? The term “android” was invented by science fiction writers to denote an artificial human made mostly of organic parts, in distinction to a robot, made of purely mechanical parts (though Carl Capek, from whose work the term “robot” comes, actually depicted androids). It comes from the Greek word “andros” meaning “man” and the ending “oid,” meaning “similar to.” George Lucas’ untraditional use of the term ” android” to designate purely mechanical robots who could be like R2D2, not at all man-shaped, has hopelessly confused the terminology ever since. What sales angle is being used in television advertising to promote the sale of androids? What is a “special?” Sloat is the name of J. R. Isidore’s boss, but it’s also the name of a major street in San Francisco. “Mors certa, vita incerta” is Latin for “Death is certain, life uncertain.” Why does the silence have such an impact on Isidore? “Kipple” is defined in Chapter 6. Mercerism is based on the same principle as the kind of Catholicism illustrated by the Stabat Mater: emotional identification with the suffering of a martyr. What effects might such a religion be expected to have on its followers? Why does Mercerism incorporate the belief that resurrection has been outlawed?

Chapter 3
How are escaped androids distinguished from humans? The book makes clear the purpose of the weird questions that are used in the test at the beginning of the film. Why has Mercer’s law that “You shall kill only the killers” not led to a more humane world? Frank Merriwell was the atheletic hero of a series of books for boys early in the 20th century.

Chapter 4
“Flattening of affect” (pronounced “AFF-ect”) means lack of emotion. What is the significance of the possibility that some humans experience extreme flattening of affect?

Chapter 5
What kinds of responses are considered normal on the Voigt-Kampff test? If only a bone-marrow test can distinguish an android from a human, there can be little difference between the two. This underlines a major theme of the novel. Why is it in the interest of the Rosen Corporation to prove that the Voigt-Kampff test is invalid?

Chapter 6
“Buster Friendly” is a sort of non-stop television show that provides an alternative reality for many people. Dick repeatedly treated this theme in other stories and novels like The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. What ominous qualities does Pris have? Why does she tell Isidore at first that she is Rachael Rosen?

Chapter 7
Milt Borogrove’s name comes from the opening of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky“:

Twas brillig, and the slithey toves
did gyre and gimbel in the wabe;
all mimsey were the borogroves,
and the momraths outgrabe.

“Mitteleuropäische” is German for “central European.”

Chapter 8
How does Dick begin to multiply the confusion in this chapter? What typically Hollywood change was made in Luba Luft’s occupation in the movie?

Chapter 9
Pamina’s song means “If every brave man could find such little bells, his enemies would be made to vanish without any trouble.” Entropy is the principle in physics which says that on the largest scale, over time, order tends to disintegrate into disorder. “Derain Associates” are named after the French artist André Derain, who painted human figures composed of machine-like forms. How does Luba Luft turn Deckard’s logic against him when he tells her what defines an android? This chapter is classic Dick. What characteristic discussed in the introduction to these notes is illustrated here?

Chapter 10
The first sentence speaks of “baroque, ornamented spires; complicated and modern.” At the time the novel was written, the “international style” of rigid geometrical shapes shorn of all decoration was triumphant. Clearly Dick anticipated a reaction, though so-called “postmodern” architecture has not gone so far toward a neobaroque style as this suggests. But here is the source for the film’s memorable architectural style. Dick continues to play with the reader here, but more is going on than mere obfuscation. Think about what Rachael, Luba Luft, and these policemen have said about Deckard. Even if he is not an android, what evidence is there that could cause him to be mistaken for one?

Chapter 11
What argument does Phil Resch offer at the end of the chapter to try to convince Deckard that he is human?

Chapter 12
The painting hanging in the opera house is Edvard Munch’s famous “The Scream” (1893). Note how Resch’s example continues to blur the lines between androids and humans. Besides creating suspense, what is Dick trying to accomplish by increasing the confusion? Munch’s “Puberty” is a typically harrowing adolescent nude. How does Resch seem to show Luba that she is right about him? What signs are there that Deckard is beginning to have doubts about his profession? How does the outcome of Resch’s test further blur the lines?

Chapter 13
What slip does J. R. Isidore make that makes Pris think he is like an android? What is the function of science fiction in this period? What kind of comment is Dick making on SF?

Chapter 15
What is ironic about Deckard’s using his new money to buy an animal? How has he changed? What lesson about life does Mercer try to teach him?

Chapter 16
Note the line “Do androids dream?” which was reflected in the original title of the novel. Why do you think Dick put his title into the form of a question? How does Rachael say she feels about Pris? Why is this significant? How about her feelings for Deckard?

Chapter 17
What important and tragic fact about androids do we learn only at this point? Why has Dick postponed giving us this information? What is Rachael’s real motivation for getting involved with Deckard?

Chapter 18
What effect does the revelation about Mercer have on the novel? How does it fit with the novel’s themes? “Al Jarry” is a tribute to the wild French writer Alfred Jarry, much admired by the Dadaists, author of Père Ubu and other plays. Why does Pris look so much like Rachael? Why is Roy Baty’s reaction to the death of his wife significant? Has he proven Rachael wrong about him by carrying out the “retirements?” What else has he proven?

Chapter 19
How does Rachael take vengeance on Deckard?

Chapter 21
Why is it appropriate for Deckard to fuse with Mercer now?

Chapter 22
Does this story have a happy ending? Explain.

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Notes by Paul Brians, Department of English, Washington State University, Pullman 99164-5020. Copyright Paul Brians 1995

Version dated October 7, 1999.

Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale (1986)


Many readers are surprised to hear Atwood’s novel labeled science fiction, but it belongs squarely in the long tradition of near-future dystopias which has made up a large part of SF since the early 50s. SF need not involve technological innovation: it has been a long-standing principle that social change can provide the basis for SF just as well as technical change. The Handmaid’s Taleis partly an extrapolation of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, attempting to imagine what kind of values might evolve if environmental pollution rendered most of the human race sterile. It is also the product of debates within the feminist movement in the 70s and early 80s. Atwood has been very much a part of that movement, but she has never been a mere mouthpiece for any group, always insisting on her individual perspectives. The defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, the rise of the religious right, the election of Ronald Reagan, and many sorts of backlash (mostly hugely misinformed) against the women’s movement led writers like Atwood to fear that the anti-feminist tide could not only prevent further gains for women, but turn back the clock. Dystopias are a kind of thought experiment which isolates certain social trends and exaggerates them to make clear their most negative qualities. They are rarely intended as realistic predictions of a probable future, and it is pointless to criticize them on the grounds of implausibility. Atwood here examines some of the traditional attitudes that are embedded in the thinking of the religious right and which she finds particularly threatening.

But another social controversy also underlies this novel. During the early 80s a debate raged (and continues to rage, on a lower level) about feminist attitudes toward sexuality and pornography in particular. Outspoken feminists have taken all kinds of positions: that all erotica depicting women as sexual objects is demeaning, that pornography was bad though erotica can be good, that although most pornography is demeaning the protection of civil liberties is a greater good which requires the toleration of freedom for pornographers, however distasteful, even that such a thing as feminist pornography can and should be created.

The sub-theme of this tangled debate which seems to have particularly interested and alarmed Atwood is the tendency of some feminist anti-porn groups to ally themselves with religious anti-porn zealots who oppose the feminists on almost every other issue. The language of “protection of women” could slip from a demand for more freedom into a retreat from freedom, to a kind of neo-Victorianism. After all, it was the need to protect “good” women from sex that justified all manner of repression in the 19th century, including confining them to the home, barring them from participating in the arts, and voting. Contemporary Islamic women sometimes argue that assuming the veil and traditional all-enveloping clothing is aimed at dealing with sexual harassment and sexual objectification. The language is feminist, but the result can be deeply patriarchal, as in this novel.

Without some sense of the varying agendas of mid-20th-century feminists and the debates among those agendas this novel will not make much sense. Women who participated in the movement from the late sixties and early seventies responded to this novel strongly, often finding it extremely alarming. Younger women lacking the same background often found it baffling. Ask yourself as you read not whether events such as it depict s are likely to take place, but whether the attitudes and values it conveys are present in today’s society.

Atwood’s strong point is satire, often hilarious, often very pointed. Humor is in short supply in this novel, but it is a satire nonetheless. Atwood’s love for language play (apparent in the anagram of her name she uses for her private business “O. W. Toad”) is a major feature of the protagonist of this novel. Her jokes are dark and bitter, but they are pervasive.

There are numerous biblical references in the following notes. You should provide yourself with a Bible, preferably a King James Version, which is what Atwood uses most of the time. Or use a great searchable Web Bible.


Genesis 30:1-3 is one of several passages that make clear that in patriarchal Hebrew times it was perfectly legitimate for a man to have sex and even beget children by his servants (slaves), particularly if his wife was infertile. It is unknown how widespread was the custom described here, of having the infertile wife embrace the fertile maidservant as she gave birth to symbolize that the baby is legally hers. Atwood extrapolates outrageously from this point, as is typical of dystopian writers: it is highly unlikely that the puritanical religious right would ever adopt the sexual practices depicted in this novel; but she is trying to argue that patriarchal traditions which value women only as fertility objects can be as demeaning as modern customs which value them as sex objects. She makes clear that this is a reductio ad absurdum, a theoretical exercise designed to stimulate thought about social issues rather than a realistic portrait of a probable future by comparing herself to Jonathan Swift, who in A Modest Proposal highlighted the hard-heartedness of the English in allowing the Irish masses to starve by satirically proposing that they should be encouraged to eat their own children. It is not so obvious what the application of the third epigraph is to this novel. It seems to say that no one needs to forbid what is undesirable. Can you interpret it any further?


Section I: Night

Chapter 1

Read the first sentence. What can you tell about the period just from this sentence? People generally sleep in gymnasiums only in emergencies, after disasters. But this “had once” been a gymnasium, which implies that it was converted to its present use a long time ago. Some major change has taken place, probably not for the good. A “palimpsest” was created when a medieval scribe tried to scrape clean a parchment in order to reuse it. Sometimes the scraping process was not complete enough to obliterate all traces of the original text, which could be read faintly underneath the new one. What is suggested by the fact that the immediate supervisors of the girls are women but these women are not allowed guns? What is suggested by the fact that the girls have to read lips to learn each others’ names?


Section II Shopping

Chapter 2

The setting has shifted. It is now much later. What is suggested by the fact that the narrator observes “they’ve removed anything you could tie a rope to?” Note the play on the proverb “Waste not, want not.” What is implied by the sentence, “Nothing takes place in the bed but sleep; or no sleep”? “Ladies in reduced circumstances” is a 19th-century expression usually applied to impoverished widows. How does the narrator pun on it? In the gospels, Martha was one of two sisters. She devoted herself to housework while her sister Mary sat and listened to Jesus. The irony here is that Jesus praised Mary, not Martha; but the new patriarchy has chosen Martha as the ideal. What is suggested by the existence of “Colonies” where “Unwomen” live? What are the crimes the Martha’s gossip about in their “private conversations”?

Chapter 3

What evidence is there on the second page of this chapter that the revolution which inaugurated this bizarre society is relatively recent? What evidence to reinforce that idea was presented in the opening chapter? Note that Serena Joy bears more than a passing resemblance to Tammy Fay Bakker.

Chapter 4

The automobile names are all biblical. Can you guess from the context what an “Eye” is? “Some of you will fall on dry ground or thorns:” see Mark 4:1-9. We will learn eventually that the narrator’s name is “Offred.” Her partner is named “Ofglen.” How do the names of Handmaids seem to be formed? How are we informed that this society is under attack? The place name “Gilead” features as a sort of ideal land in the Bible, in Numbers 36. It is mentioned many other times in the Bible as one of the twelve traditional divisions of the land of the Hebrews. But Atwood was probably thinking of Jeremiah 8:22: “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” This verse is famous because of its use in the old Black spiritual: “There is a balm in Gilead, to heal the sin-sick soul.” In this Christian context, Gilead becomes the source of healing: Jesus Christ. One can imagine a fundamentalist group calling itself Gilead because of these associations; but the original context in Jeremiah (the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians) causes considerable irony. It may even be that Atwood was thinking of that verse when the narrator is not allowed to have hand lotion (“balm”). Baptists have a long-standing tradition of local control and individualism. Can you guess at the function of the black-painted vans? What power does Offred have over men, powerless as she is? How traditional is this kind of power? Has the elimination of pornography stopped women from being regarded as sex objects?

Chapter 5

What is Gilead’s attitude toward higher education? Why is it ominous that the number of widows has diminished? Examine the passage that begins “Women were not protected then.” This is the heart of the ideology that underlies the founding of Gilead. What is its essential rationale? Analyze the narrator’s attitude toward the freedoms of which she speaks. Analyze the play on words in “Habits are hard to break.” The clothing store name “Lilies” is derived from Matthew 6:28. “A land flowing with milk and honey” is a common biblical phrase, often used to describe Canaan, the “Promised Land.” What is the women’s reaction to the pregnant woman? “All flesh” originally means “all of humanity” (see Isaiah 40:5) but here is given a more literal sense as the name for butcher shops. How are the Japanese women different from the women of Gilead? Is Atwood idealizing them? What do you think the point of the contrast is?

Chapter 6

What is the function of the Wall? Why have the doctors been executed? The rule that the evidence of one single woman is not adequate is based on Islamic tradition. What is significant about the shift to the present tense in this passage, “Luke wasn’t a doctor. Isn’t”?


Section III: Night

Chapter 7

To what time can Offred travel in her imagination that can be called “good”? The narrator’s pun on “date rape” depends on the fact that “rapé ” means “grated” or “shredded” in French; a date is a fruit, of course. Be careful not to leap to the conclusion that Atwood is mocking the concept of date rape; her attitude is far more complex than that. But why is this reference especially appropriate to the present context? What was the narrator’s reaction as a little girl to her mother’s participation in the burning of pornographic magazines? What relevance does this memory have to her present situation? The next passage is too fragmented to make much sense now, though more context will be provided later. What can you guess about its meaning now? Stories are rarely told in the present tense, as this one is. If a narrator speaks in the past tense, we can be fairly confident that she knows the end of her own story, and that she has survived to tell it. Note how much more open-ended and suspenseful Offred’s narrative is.


Section IV: Waiting Room

Chapter 8

What is “Gender Treachery?” The passage on the etymology of the term “Mayday” is correct. During World War II, the opening rhythmic pattern from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was interpreted as the Morse code for “v” (dot dot dot dash), and used to symbolize “victory”. What do we learn about Offred’s family in this passage? If a miscarried fetus may or may not be an “Unbaby” what would an “Unbaby” seem to be? “All flesh is grass” (Isaiah 40:6) is a quotation from the Bible meaning that all humans are mortal. Why does Aunt Lydia use instead the saying “all flesh is weak?” Does she really mean all humans? How about women? How is Offred’s silent correction a reply to her comment? Serena Joy’s speech making on behalf of housewifery is a clear satire on the career of Phyllis Shlafley, lawyer, right-wing activist, and co-founder of the Eagle Forum, who put most of her energy for many years into leading the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment while admonishing other women to stay home and raise their children. The Shape of Things to Come is the title of one of H. G. Well’s novels, alluded to ironically at the end of the paragraph beginning “She’s looking at the tulips.” Why does Offred envy Rita her access to the knife? Why is she startled at the end of the chapter when she realizes she has called the room “mine”?

Chapter 9

What feelings does she have as she looks back on the early days of her affair with Luke? Nolite te bastardes carborundorum will be explained in Chapter 29. Note that a posting lasts two years. This will be important later.

Chapter 10

Why are the words to the hymn Amazing Grace now considered subversive? Who did Aunt Lydia blame for the “things” that used to happen to women? What sorts of memories does she keep returning to in this chapter?

Chapter 11

What do we learn about the Handmaid system during the scene at the doctor’s office? “Give me children, or else I die.” (Genesis 30:1). Deuteronomy 17:6 requires that for a couple to be stoned to death on account of adultery there has to be two witnesses to the act.

Chapter 12

To what were women vulnerable in bathrooms “before they got all the bugs ironed out”? For Paul on hair, see 1 Corinthians 11:6-15. What does this mean: “I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely”? The old sexist society was said to reduce women to mere physical objects. Has this changed? What does Offred suggest by saying of the attempted kidnapping of her daughter “I thought it was an isolated incident, at the time”? “Inheriting the Earth”: see Matthew 5.5. If Offred was parted from her daughter when she was five and she is eight now, the separation must have happened three years ago. Since at eighteen months the pattern of change was not clear to Offred, the revolution which established Gilead must have been quite recent. It is difficult to believe that such a thorough transformation of society in such a short time, but it is important to remember that this is not a realistic novel, but a satirical dystopia. What associations are aroused by the tattoo on Offred’s ankle? She is remembering scenes from the end of World War II, in which women who dated the Nazi occupiers had their heads shaved in public. What two meanings of the word “compose” is she playing with in the last paragraph?


Section V: Nap

Chapter 13

What do you think about her comments on boredom as erotic? Offred lets herself go back in time to when she was in training with Moira. Does anyone blame women for being raped today? How has Offred’s attitude toward her body changed? What do her dreams about her husband and daughter have in common? What does she mean by saying at the end of the chapter “Of all the dreams this is the worst”?

Section VI: Household

Chapter 14

The mention of a Montreal satellite station reminds us that Atwood is a Canadian, but Montreal is evidently outside of the territory controlled by Gilead. The endless war, always on the brink of victory, is very reminiscent of the war depicted in Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four. What other locales seem to be on the edge of Gilead? You should be able to gradually construct a rough map of its territory. “The Children of Ham” is a designation for African-Americans. We are finally told that the narrator is called “Offred,” though it isn’t her real name. Why are we never told her real name? Why was the family warned not to look too happy when they are trying to escape Gilead?

Chapter 15

Why is the Bible kept locked up? In what era were Bibles routinely sequestered from the general population? Note the series of unflattering phallic images Offred runs over. What is the point of the joke in saying “One false move and I’m dead.” The passages the Commander is reading from the Bible are Genesis 8:17 and 30:1-8. The section beginning “For lunch” uses Matthew 5:3-10 (emended) to switch scenes back in time. When we return to the scene in the sitting room, the Commander has just read Genesis 30:18. The scene ends with Second Chronicles 16:9. Why is this verse chosen as the ritual ending of all Bible readings?

Chapter 16

Although this chapter depicts what is clearly the most sensational aspect of Gilead society, it is important not to use it to condemn the novel as “unrealistic.” Refer back to the note on the third epigraph of the novel. Even the perfume has a biblical name, “Lily of the Valley,” from The Song of Songs 2:1. Why is women’s pleasure in sex no longer valued?

Chapter 17

What is her reaction to Nick’s coming to fetch her?


Section VII: Night

Chapter 18

What hope keeps Offred alive?


Section VIII: Birth Day

Chapter 19

In thinking about the missing cushions, Offred is referring to 1 Corinthians 13: 13. What are the odds that any baby will be seriously deformed? What has caused this situation? The name of Jezebel, the wicked wife of King Ahab, is sometimes used as a label for any shamelessly wicked woman (see 1 Kings 21:1-29). The film shown the women about the former way of giving birth follows the same pattern as other themes in this novel: ambivalence about feminist reforms. Some women have argued strongly for natural childbirth, but others see this as a step backward. And many positions in between are advocated. Atwood points out that it was modern medicine that first made pain relief possible during childbirth, though it was at first denounced by preachers who cited the passage quoted at the end of this paragraph, from Genesis 3:16. Anesthetics used during childbirth can be harmful to the infant, but they can also be very beneficial for the mother. This example illustrates well Atwood’s general approach in this novel: certain radical feminist positions and their opposite conservative positions are both depicted as too extreme. Reality is more complex, she seems to be saying. “Agent Orange” was the defoliant widely used on the forests of Vietnam and which was later blamed for numerous biological problems among soldiers.

Chapter 20

Birthing stools were once in widespread use and have been reintroduced by women who argue that giving birth in a sitting position is both more natural and more comfortable. Do you know the real source of the quotation, “From each according to her ability; to each according to his needs”? (It has been slightly but significantly altered.) How valid is the use of sadistic porn films by the Aunts to argue against the old society? “Take Back the Night” originated as the slogan of Women Against Pornography, but has developed in more recent years into an anti-rape slogan. What themes of the women’s movement is Atwood blending together here? What do you think her attitude toward them is? It may be difficult to imagine now, but in some feminist circles in the seventies a woman who chose to bear a child could come under considerable pressure from other feminists, like Offred’s mother. What are the main tensions between Offred and her mother? These distinctions are part of the crux of the novel, which is about a society which reacted to the older feminists by repression and which the younger women did not sufficiently combat. Why did she rebel against her mother as a young woman? How does she feel about her mother now?

Chapter 21

What do we learn in this chapter about how an “Unwoman” is defined? The reference to a “women’s culture” at the end of the chapter refers to certain kinds of feminists who have argued that women possess superior values and could build a superior society. What is Offred’s attitude toward this idea?

Chapter 22

In what way is Moira a “loose woman”?

Chapter 23

How does Offred try to defend herself against her terror when she first enters the study? Playing scrabble seems like an absurdly trivial form of transgression; why is it significant in this setting? Why does she lie about her reaction when the Commander asks her to ki ss him?


Section IX

Chapter 24

How does Offred interpret Aunt Lydia’s teachings about men? What do you think of this idea? What does the story about the death camp commander’s mistress convey? In ancient medicine, hysteria was a disease of women, caused by unnatural movements of the womb. How does Offred describe the sound of her beating heart?


Section X: Soul Scrolls

Chapter 25

Why does Offred covet Serena Joy’s shears? What do these occasional dark comments tell us about the state of her mind underneath her usual bitterly sarcastic narrative? Women’s fashion magazines such as the Commander shows Offred were once the target of fierce criticism from feminists. What does she say these magazines offered? How do the pictures of the women impress her? “My wife doesn’t understand me” is such an old cliché as uttered by men trying to start an affair that it has become a joke.

Chapter 26

A British expression says that a pregnant woman has a “bun in the oven.” How have her feelings changed toward the Commander? How have his feelings changed toward her?

Chapter 27

Loaves and Fishes refers to a miracle story told in the Gospels (see the account in Mark 6:34-44). Note how the memory of the ice cream store leads Offred to thoughts of her daughter. The Soul Scroll machines are most obviously like Tibetan prayer wheels, which are turned to activate the prayers inside them; but they are also reminiscent to the old Catholic practice of paying priests to say prayers for the repose of the dead. What do Ofglen and Offred see immediately after they have revealed their true views to each other?

Chapter 28

Why did Moira criticize Offred for “stealing” Luke and how did Offred defend herself? “Discothèques” nightclubs with recorded rather than live music originated in France. The name was soon abbreviated to “disco.” The main feature of the book of Job is intense suffering. Why would a totalitarian dictatorship prefer computer banking to paper money? Note the statement by the newsstand clerk that sex-oriented enterprises can never be gotten rid of entirely. She turns out to be right later. The law prohibiting the ownership of property by women reinstates the law as it stood in the 19th century and earlier. Many of the extreme aspects of Giladean culture have actually existed in the past. In the passage which begins “Remembering this, I remember also my mother,” note how anti-porn and abortion riots are blended together, though her mother must have been against porn and for abortion. Her opponents in the abortion demonstrations must have been her allies in the anti-porn demonstrations. Why did Offred find her mother embarrassing when she was an adolescent? How has her attitude changed now? Why was Offred afraid to ask Luke how he really felt about her losing her job?

Chapter 29

“Pen Is Envy” is of course a pun on Freud’s “penis envy,” the notion that women who want to be like men are neurotic. When the Commander says of the previous Handmaid who killed herself “Serena found out,” what does this mean, and what is Offred’s reaction?


Section XI: Night

Chapter 30

There is a traditional Jewish prayer for men which thanks God for not having made them women. This prayer is satirized and parodied in this chapter.


Section XII: Jezebel’s

Chapter 31

What has changed about the holidays the Fourth of July and Labor Day? Why would Offred like to be able to have a fight with Luke? Taliths are the prayer shawls worn by Jews. “Magen Davids” are Stars of David, symbols of Judaism. How do you imagine Serena Joy’s offer of the picture affects Offred? Explain.

Chapter 32

“You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs” is a paraphrase of Napoleon justifying the carnage he caused in attempting to build his empire. When a character in fiction uses it, it almost always indicates the speaker’s ruthlessness.

Chapter 34

Arranged marriages seem hopelessly exotic to many Americans, but in Western civilization they were the rule rather than the exception until a couple of centuries ago. Evaluate and respond to the arguments that the Commander at the Prayvaganza makes against the old dating and marriage system. The “quoted” passages which begin “I will that women adorn themselves in modest apparel” are from 1 Timothy 2:9-15.

Chapter 35

React to Offred’s comments on love. In the next to the last paragraph, what does Offred mean when she says she has been “erased”?

Chapter 37

What is the Commander’s rationale for the existence of places like Jezebel’s? How does he misunderstand when Offred asks him “Who are these people?”

Chapter 38

“The Underground Femaleroad” is of course a pun on the old “underground railroad” along which escaped slaves were smuggled to freedom. What kind of work do the women in the Colonies do? What does Moira say the advantages are in working at Jezebel’s over being a Handmaid?


Section XIII: Night

Chapter 40

Why does Offred feel she has to make up stories about what happened between herself and Nick?


Section XIV: Salvaging

Chapter 41

Why does she say on the bottom of page. 268 “I told you it was bad”?

Chapter 42

Why are the crimes not described at “Salvagings”?

Chapter 43

Why does Ofglen attack the “rapist” so fiercely?

Chapter 44

Why does Offred tell her new companion that she met the former Ofglen in May?

Chapter 45

“She has died that I may live” is of course a parody of “He died that we may live,” a central Christian doctrine referring to Christ’s crucifixion as a source of salvation for believers.


Section XV: Night

Chapter 46

How does Nick reassure Offred when the black van comes? Note the offhanded, ambiguous, but emotionally loaded nature of the last line of Offred’s narrative, typical of her.


Historical Notes on The Handmaid’s Tale

This is the real end of the story, of course, told as a parody of a scholarly symposium. Note the date, two centuries from now. The title which Offred’s narrative has been given resembles those of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: “The Knight’s Tale,” “The Wife of Bath’s Tale.” Most SF dystopias end with a heroic conspiracy or uprising leading to the destruction of the evil government which has oppressed everyone. The jarring shift to pretentious scholarly jargon, while amusing to scholars, may be off-putting for most readers; but Atwood is trying to avoid fatalism and sensationalism at the same time. She is also parodying the ponderous, self-conscious attempts of scholars to be humorous. There is a long tradition of “nowhere” names in utopian fiction. “Utopia” means “nowhere” and Samuel Butler called his utopia “Erewhon.” The Chair comes from the University of “deny” which is in the country of “none of it.” But Gord Turner of Selkirk College comments further on these place names:

The Northwest Territories in Canada as an area has been associated with two large native groups–the Dene (read “Denay”) in the Western Arctic and the Inuit in the Eastern Arctic. In fact, the Northwest Territories through referendum (already held) will be divided into two massive land areas known as Denendeh and Nunavut. “Nunavut” means “Our Land” to the Inuit.So it’s quite likely that Atwood meant the University of Denay to be coloured by the Dene and its massive land claims in the 1980s and the huge area to the East of the Mackenzie River Valley known as “Nunavut.” That she changed the spelling of “Nunavut” to “Nunavit” is also interesting as “Nuna” still means “land” and “vit” may mean “our land.”

Anthropology has traditionally been carried out by whites on minorities. Here an evidently Native American scholar has as her specialty studying whites, a deliberately ironic twist. Other names suggest that this conference is in fact dominated by Native Americans. It is difficult to see what Krishna (the erotic lover in Hindu mythology) and Kali (the also erotic avenging demon slaying goddess) have to do with Gileadean religion, though that may be Atwood’s point. Scholars tend to read what they already know into what they are less familiar with. Certainly plenty of scholars have analyzed Krishna as a Christ figure. The reference to the “Warsaw Tactic” is more grim: the Nazis walled up the Warsaw Jews in the ghetto and proceeded to starve most of them to death. The reference to Iran is of course the most pointed, because of that nation’s conservative Islamic revolution which involved strenuous demodernizing and drastic restrictions on the freedom of women. The Iranian example is one of the main inspirations of this novel. Given what Professor Pieixoto has to say about the discovery of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” how drastically would America seem to have changed between the end of the last chapter and now? Anthropologists are famous for their refusal to judge the societies they study. What do you think is Atwood’s reaction to this striving for objectivity in the case of Gilead? How do you feel about it? William Wordsworth famously defined poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquillity.” Note the allusion. Many details about the Gilead society’s policies are revealed here. Atwood takes the opportunity to point to current tendencies which could lead in the direction depicted in the novel. The speaker’s jibe at Offred’s education is not a comment on women, but the smugly superior observation of a South American mocking the inadequacies of North America, clearly much fallen from its previous dominance. Note the Canadian references in this section. “Particicution” would seem to be a scholarly term formed out of “participant execution” to label what Gilead called “salvaging.” Gord Turner points out a parallel term promoted by the Canadian government: “participaction” for “participant action.” For the scapegoat, see Leviticus 16:10. Prof. Pieixoto’s talk is of a type familiar to literary historians: the attempt to connect a the author of a text with some historical person known from other records, particularly in Medieval studies. But for us, the identification is irrelevant, it is the knowledge that Offred survived and the rebellion eventually triumphed that matters. The final call for questions is traditional, of course, but also serves here as an invitation to further discussion of the issues Atwood has raised.

Recommended reading:

Raffaella Baccolini: “Gender and Genre in the Feminist Critical Dystopias of Katharine Burdekin, Margaret Atwood, and Octavia Butler” in Future Females: The Next Generation, ed. Marleen S. Barr. Lanham, Md.: Rowmont Littlefield, 2000, pp. 13-34.

More Science Fiction Study Guides

Notes by Paul Brians, Department of English, Washington State University, Pullman

First mounted March 27, 1996.

Last revised September 24, 2004.

William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984)


When Neuromancer by William Gibson was first published it created a sensation. Or perhaps it would be more precise to say that it was used to create a sensation, for Bruce Sterling and other Gibson associates declared that a new kind of science fiction had appeared which rendered merely ordinary SF obsolete. Informed by the amoral urban rage of the punk subculture and depicting the developing human-machine interface created by the widespread use of computers and computer networks, set in the near future in decayed city landscapes like those portrayed in the filmBlade Runner it claimed to be the voice of a new generation. (Interestingly, Gibson himself has said he had finished much of what was to be his body of early cyberpunk fiction before ever seeing Blade Runner.) Eventually it was seized on by hip “postmodern” academics looking to ride the wave of the latest trend. Dubbed “cyberpunk,” the stuff was being talked about everywhere in SF. Of course by the time symposia were being held on the subject, writers declared cyberpunk dead, yet the stuff kept being published and it continues to be published today by writers like K. W. Jeter and Rudy Rucker Perhaps the best and most representative anthology of cyberpunk writers is Mirrorshades., edited by Sterling, the genre’s most outspoken advocate.

But cyberpunk’s status as the revolutionary vanguard was almost immediately challenged. Its narrative techniques, many critics pointed out, were positively reactionary compared to the experimentalism of mid-60s “new wave” SF. One of the main sources of its vision was William S. Burroughs’ quasi-SF novels like Nova Express, (1964), and the voice of Gibson’s narrator sounded oddly like a slightly updated version of old Raymond Chandler novels like The Big Sleep, (1939). Others pointed out that almost all of cyberpunk’s characteristics could be found in the works of older writers such as J. G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, or Samuel R. Delany. Most damning of all, it didn’t seem to have been claimed by the generation it claimed to represent. Real punks did little reading, and the vast majority of young SF readers preferred to stick with traditional storytellers such as Larry Niven, Anne McCaffrey and even Robert Heinlein. Gibson’s prose was too dense and tangled for casual readers, so it is not surprising that he gained more of a following among academics than among the sort of people it depicted. Heavy Metalcomics and Max Headroom brought more of the cyberpunk vision to a young audience than did the fiction

Yet Neuromancer is historically significant. Most critics agree that it was not only the first cyberpunk novel, it was and remains the best. Gibson’s rich stew of allusion to contemporary technology set a new standard for SF prose. If his plots and characters are shallow and trite, that mattered little, for it is not the tale but the manner of its telling that stands out. His terminology continues to pop up here and there. Whereas an earlier generation borrowed names from its favorite author, J. R. R. Tolkien, like “Shadowfax” (a new-age music group), “Gandalf” (a brand of computer data switch), and “Moria” (an early fantasy computer game), there has been a proliferation of references to Neuromancer: there was a computer virus called ” Screaming Fist,” the Internet is commonly referred to as “Cyberspace” or–occasionally–“the Matrix,” and there are several World Wide Web sites are named “Wintermute.” (The rock group named “The Meat Puppets” existed before Gibson borrowed the term.) Gibson produced his vision in a time when many people were becoming haunted by the idea of urban decay, crime rampant, corruption everywhere. Just as readers of the 50s looked obsessively for signs that Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four was coming true, some readers keep an eye out for the emergence of cyberpunk’s nightmare world in contemporary reality. The fiction may not be widely read, but through movies and comics it has created one of the defining mythologies of our time.

The vision of Neuromancer was too confining for a writer of Gibson’s originality, and after a couple of sequels–(Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive )–he turned to other experiments, such as his “steampunk” collaboration with Bruce Sterling: The Difference Engine, depicting an alternative Victorian Age in which huge, steam-driven computers were developed. In 1994 he returned to Cyberpunk with Virtual Light and in 1995 published another novel set in Japan, Idoru.

Note that Gibson’s related story Johnny Mnemonic Official site of the forthcoming Neuromancer film.

In classic SF, a strongly independent individual often overcomes huge obstacles to solve problems affecting vast masses of people. In what ways does Neuromancer depart from this pattern?

Part One: Chiba City Blues

Chapter 1

In the eighties, the American image of Japan underwent a profound transformation. For generations it had been on the margins of our imagination: as the exotic land of cherry blossoms and geishas, later as the war machine sending out kamikaze bomber pilots in World War II, and later still as the source of every sort of cheap, shoddy, imitative gadget. All of these were shallow images, of course. Japan industrialized not long after northern Europe, and Western influences had been strong for centuries. But the success of brands like Sony and Toyota changed everything. Japan suddenly became perceived as the cutting edge of modernity. Whereas the rest of the world had looked toward the U.S. for innovation in the past, young Americans began to think of Japan as the future, and it became a frequent setting for science fiction. Not that the new image was any more profound or less stereotyped, but it was certainly different. Chiba City in this novel has developed into a small section of the megapolis. “The Zone” is the decayed inner core of Chiba City. Today Japan has half the population of the U.S. crowded in the area of California. Urban sprawl is a reality.

The opening image of the book, comparing nature to technology, sets the tone of the narrative. “Case,” the name of the protagonist, could suggest detective fiction, or it could suggest technology. His body–which he treats as almost an alien entity with which he is not friendly terms–is a kind of case for his mind and for the cyberspace with which it fuses, no more significant in itself than the case of a computer CPU. The persistent cyberpunk obsession with the mixture of flesh (called “meat” in the novel) and machinery is introduced through Ratz’s stainless steel teeth–unnatural looking but commonplace in Communist Eastern Europe. Why is it significant that Ratz is ugly? Ratz’ reaction to the unexpected moment of silence is an old cliché, but startlingly incongruous in this setting. Case’s addiction to cyberspace is certainly prophetic; someone half-jokingly set up a Usenet support group for victims of cyberspace addiction: (alt.usenet.recovery). A “coffin hotel” is a building which rents out cheap sleeping space not much larger than a coffin. How is a cyberspace cowboy similar to a traditional cowboy? Different? Case is a classic illegal hacker; but his present dilemma is caused by a classic crime-novel situation, a crook attempting to skim the proceeds from organized crime. Presumably the Russians developed the mycotoxin (fungal poison) as a chemical warfare weapon. It has blocked his ability to experience cyberspace. Why has he come to Japan? What evidence of pollution is contained in the paragraph beginning “Now he slept”? “Arcologies” are huge, self-contained cities enclosed in a single building, imagined by Paolo Soleri. “Dex” is dexedrine, a popular form of amphetimine. What characteristics make Case an anti-hero? What does he do for a living? The possibility of an underground market for body parts has been around since organ transplants became commonplace and has often been treated in SF.

“Miss Linda Lee” may be an allusion to the Velvet Underground song “Cool It Down,” which contains the lines “But now me l”m out on the corner/ You know I’m lookin’ for Miss Linda Lee/Because she’s got the power to love me by the hour.” Where had Case first met Linda Lee? Repeated references to war in Europe suggest it has been devastated in the recent past, probably by nuclear weapons. “Pachinko” is a very popular kind of Japanese gambling machine vaguely like vertically-oriented pinball. “French orbital fatigues” would be the uniform worn by French astronauts in orbit.” “Yakitori” is Japanese barbecued chicken, a common street snack always cooked on skewers. “Sarariman” is the Japanese word for a businessman employed by a large corporation, formed on the English words “salary” and “man.” Compare with English slang: “suit.” What does it tell us that the Japanese industrial giant Mitsubishi seems to have absorbed the U.S. genetic engineering firm Genentech? Although the computer images in the novel have had more impact, the biological ones are almost as important. Why is the “sarariman” in danger in Night City? “Gaijin” is a Japanese term for Westerners. The Yakuza is the biggest Japanese organized crime syndicate, their Mafia. A VTR is a “videotape recorder,” a “simstim” deck is a kind of virtual reality machine to simulate stimuli, Manriki chains and shuriken (sharp-pointed steel stars) are both familiar weapons from ninja movies. Hong Kong is famous for its tailors who can cut and deliver a custom-made suit in hours. Can you guess why the wearing of glasses would be an affectation rather than something normal in this society? The pioneering Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky specialized in shapeless blobs, lines, and smears in bright colors. More Kandinsky.Salvador Dali frequently depicted “melted” watches and clocks (for example, “The Persistence of Memory, ” 1931). Julius Deane uses expressions (“boyo,” “old son”) which indicate a British background. In the paragraph beginning”The cultivation of a certain tame paranoia” he sees in a display window an elaborate alternative to a pocket watch. What is it? A taser stuns its victims with an electrical shock, but is not meant to be lethal. In Japan gasps of pure oxygen could at one time be had from streetside vending machines. What is Case trying to sell now? Why can Ratz crush a shatterproof plastic ashtray to shards in his hand? “Wig”=”crazy;” after old hipster jazz, “flipped his wig,” “wigged out.” Flechettes” are darts (flèche is French for “arrow”). Molly is an extrapolation of the “tough dame” of Chandler-style mean-streets crime fiction. Suchfemme fatale assassins are a mainstay of modern futuristic fiction. Do they represent women’s liberation? What is her characteristic implant?

Chapter 2

A “fletcher” shoots “flechettes” (see above). In the operation called “Screaming Fist” (a typical karate film title, though Gibson probably got it from the title of a 1977 song by the Vancouver punk band The Viletones) a team had been hired to destroy a Russian computer network (“nexus”) in Kirensk with a virus, but Armitage failed and was caught. What does “ICE” stand for? What is an “icebreaker?” Note how computers have altered the economy. Molly tells Case that his surgery is being paid for in software. Samurai originated as the faithful defenders of feudal lords during the Kamakura period, but as Japan fell into disorder, many of them roamed the country as “hired swords” and as such are one of the most popular subjects for Japanese fiction, drama, and film. “Ninjas” are a related group who tend to have a worse reputation, though they could be just as honorable as samurai. “Working girl,” is slang for prostitute, though when Molly uses the term it is at first ambiguous, suggesting that she may be willing to work as a street samurai for anyone. Later we learn the horrifying truth. Note the mechanical crab in the courtyard. Endorphins are natural chemicals which provide pleasurable feelings and suppress pain. If Case has been injected with “endorphin inhibitors,” clearly his tormentors have been trying to make him feel as much pain as possible. Note that his surgery was carried out mostly without incisions. To what is the sex Case experiences with Molly compared? Note how Molly is presented as dominant, highly competent, and–most important–better informed than Case. Such women are very common in contemporary action fiction. Why do you think they are so popular with male readers? What is her job?

What is Case trying to find out from Deane? Note how “Watergated” has become a verb, evidently meaning that the “Screaming Fist” conspiracy proliferated in many directions. “Emp” stands for “EMP”=”Electromagnetic Pulse” weapons. Nuclear bombs detonated at certain altitudes with certain characteristics can destroy electrical circuits, effectively destroying the enemy’s defenses. Arpanet, the ancestor of the Internet was first constructed in an attempt to work around this problem. Here “emps” would seem to be a lower-level weapon aimed at penetrations like “Screaming Fist.” In a turkey shoot the birds are released to be shot at, therefore a turkey shoot is a very easy form of killing. Screaming Fist was a turkey shoot because the Soviet military had been informed in advance that it was coming. “Ivan” is the Russian government. Zaibatsus are the giant Japanese corporations which traditionally employ their male workers for life. What is the entertainment like at Sammi’s arena? Why was killed? (Her name is probably derived from that of a woman mentioned in the lyrics of the Velvet Underground Song “Cool It Down.”) Note the recurring question: “Who is behind all this?” This question characterizes this sort of paranoid conspiratorial fiction.

Part Two: The Shopping Expedition

Chapter 3

The New-York to Washington D. C. corridor is often discussed as an evolving megapolis. Here the process has gone much further, to develop into “the Sprawl.” Note that the map described on the first page of this chapter depicts not population density, but the frequency of the exchange of data: the new definition of civilization. When a star “goes nova” it explodes. Narita Tokyo airport, Schipol [or more correctly Schiphol] is in Amsterdam, Orly is in Paris. The silent train they rode on is a maglev (magnetic levitation) vehicle of the kind which has been tested in various places. A powerful electrical charge turns the rails into electromagnets which actually lift the train above them a fraction of an inch, reducing friction essentially to zero and allowing for great speed at a low expenditure of energy. “The heat” is old gangster slang for “the cops:” here, any form of law enforcement officer. How has Armitage tried to guarantee that Case will not betray his employers? Krill is the tiny shrimp on which baleen whales live. The Japanese process it into various fish and meat imitations. It has been proposed as a source of protein for an over-populated world. New York is enclosed by a dome, but typically Gibson introduces this fact by observing its malfunctioning: a freak wind blowing a piece of newspaper along the street.

The cerebral cortex is the most complex and vital part of the brain. A “cortex bomb” would obviously be very ominous. The team is being slowly assembled. “Dixie Flatline’s construct” is an electronic recording of the mind of a dead “cowboy” (free-lance hacker specializing in penetrating computer security systems) whose actual name was McCoy Pauley. His nickname suggests death (alluding to a flat line on an intensive-care room monitor) because he experienced brain death three times. We will learn more about the monstrous Peter Riviera later.

One of SF’s narrative difficulties is explaining future technology to the reader in a setting in which such explanations should not be necessary. How does Gibson justify providing his “info-dump” explaining the origin of the matrix? “Dermatrodes” would be electrodes which attach to the epidermis, or skin. A mandala is a complex Buddhist symbol, often in circular form. “Spiral arms” alludes the arms of distant galaxies, unreachable by any current technology. Here they are a metaphor for unreachable distant centers of power on Earth. The idea of a computer or network in which one can experience virtual reality has been around in fiction for a long time, but was first popularized in the movie Tron /CITE> (1982).

The stolen module the Finn has brought will enable Case to experience the world from inside Molly’s body without leaving cyberspace–telepathy made technological.

Chapter 4

What distinguishes simstim addicts from cyberspace explorers like Case? Tally Isham is a simstim star. What does Case experience about Molly’s effect on other people? Note the ironic use of the name “Memory Lane.” The sockets implanted in people’s heads were to become a standard feature of cyberpunk. “Softs”=software; the word is an abbreviation for “microsoft,” an obvious allusion to the giant software corporation. The Hosaka computer can function somewhat like the computer on the Starship Enterprise: query it vocally and it will tell you what it knows. The answer is given in multimedia form. Many Japanese women undergo surgery to remove the epicanthic fold in the eyelid, giving them “Western” eyes. What does it mean that people are now having epicanthic folds surgically created? Dr. Rambali alludes to the fact that terrorists depend on the news media to publicize their causes, but the media concentrate so exclusively on their acts of terror that the message they are trying to convey is usually suppressed. How have the Panther Moderns short-circuited this process? “Panther” is usually short for the Black Panther movement of the sixties and early seventies which advocated violent resistance to racism, but in this group is named after the San Francisco rock band “The Panther Moderns” led by Gibson’s friend and fellow cyberpunk author John Shirley. “Big Science” is a term for large, expensive research projects such as the Human Genome Project or the recently-cancelled Superconducting Supercollider; but the name here probably alludes to the title of a Laurie Anderson CD. Anderson’s fusion of live theater and technology is very suggestive of the kind of environment in which Neuromancer is set.

Molly is trying to penetrate the Sense/Net headquarters in Atlanta to steal the Dixie Flatline construct, assisted remotely by Case interfering with Sense/Net’s security software, the two of them linked by the broadcast network created and run by the Panther Moderns. Case’s mind is using Molly’s body. Why do you think Gibson chose Atlanta as media headquarters? A “blackbox” is any kind of illicit electronic device which can bypass normal circuits: the original permitted its users to make long-distance phone calls without paying for them. Strobe lights are known to induce seizures in certain people when pulsed at precisely the right frequency. How do the Panther Moderns terrorize the people in the Sense/Net building? Computer viruses are written mostly to do simple kinds of mischief today; but in the novel viruses are tools which can penetrate secure computers, retrieve information, and cover their traces. Case’s code name is “Cutter.” Molly is “Cat Mother.” “Brood” is the Panthers. How did Molly break her leg? How does Case fool the security system into letting Molly take the construct?

“Lupus” means “wolf” in Latin, although it’s also the name of a disfiguring skin disease. Describe Lupus Yonderboy’s appearance. “Mr. Who” is an allusion to the long-running British SF TV series, Dr. Who, featuring an unnamed hero usually alluded to only as “The Doctor.” Note that although this transaction is taking place in BAMA, the currency is new yen. The “Doppler” effect makes sounds seem to rise in pitch as the sound source approaches the hearer, fall as the recede. Note how Linda Lee continues to haunt him. Here we are first given the name “Wintermute.”

Chapter 5

Why is Molly able to dissect her crab “with alarming ease?” What is “jive” and what is its function in this environment? Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) is a much-discussed concept which would involve the creation of a complex computer system which would replicate the functions of a human brain. Debates rage about whether such a construct would possess consciousness, but research goes on toward developing AI. Molly and Case are both bent on learning who Armitage is working for. The tip that Wintermute is involved leads them to its parent corporation: Tessier-Ashpool S. A. “The gravity well” is a concept describing the difficulty of getting objects and people off the earth’s surface into orbit, where space colonies have been built. Cyberpunk seldom depicts travel to other worlds, but takes high-orbit space colonies for granted. An archipelago is usually a group of islands. What is the meaning of the term here? “Spook” is slang for ” spy.” Freeside is an orbiting space colony shaped like a spindle (or cigar). Explain why it is “hard to keep track of what generation, or combination of generations” is running Tesssier-Ashpool at any time? What does the slogan “Travel was a meat thing” mean? What does a “joeboy” seem to be?

Chapter 6

In this chapter we learn that “Armitage” is really Willis Corto, one of the agents who tried to carry out “Screaming Fist.” What does “Watergating” seem to mean in this context? How was he used by the military? How is Armitage another variation on the machine/human interface theme? How does the pattern of Armitage’s record suggest that he, like Case, is just a hireling and not an integral part of whatever force is behind this mission?

Chapter 7

Why does the Mercedes talk to its passengers as it takes them into Istanbul What is the significance of the existence of letter-writers? How many different kinds of mutual distrust can you find in this chapter among the various characters? Riviera has had an implant which allows him to project onto the retinas of his victims whatever he chooses–far-fetched, but not so unscientific as mental telepathy. What is significant about the horse that they see? How does Riviera deceive Case while Terzibashjian captures him? A seraglio is a harem. According to Case and Molly, who is probably responsible for rebuilding “Armitage” and sending him on this mission? Alan Turing<, a pioneer theoretician of machine intelligence, suggested that a computer might be made indistinguishable from a human being. The “Turing heat” would therefore be police assigned the task of preventing computers from reaching improper levels of intelligence and power. “Shopping politicals”=betraying dissidents. How do we learn that Germany was hit with at least one nuclear weapon during the war? What does the last line of this chapter signify?

Part Three: Midnight in the Rue Jules Verne

Chapter 8

The scene now shifts from Istanbul to Paris. Freeside is called “an orbital Geneva” in relation to that city’s emphasis on offering secret bank accounts which are very attractive to those involved in illegal transactions. What subliminal image does Riviera project to Case to symbolize his opinion of Molly? Since they are taking a Japan Air Lines shuttle from Paris to the orbital station called “Freeside” it is natural that koto music is playing the background. Rastafarianism is a movement that originated in the 1930s in Jamaica, which involves the hairstyle called “dreadlocks,” the hope for blacks to return to Ethiopia (identified with the Biblical Zion), reggae music, and the smoking of ganja (marijuana). It was inspired in part by the movement founded during the early 1920s by Marcus Garvey, who advocated a return of blacks to Africa. He created a fleet of ships called “The Black Star Line,” though it was never used for emigration purposes. Rastas refer to White civilization, and the U. S. in particular as “Babylon,” the demonic city of Christian apocalyptic writing. God is called “Jah,” short for “Jahweh,” which scholars think was the original pronunciation of the Hebrew name for God (though in the scholarship the “J” is pronounced as in German, as a “Y” sound). The rasta dialect is used by the characters in this chapter. Without rotation, an orbiting space station is in free-fall, and this creates an apparently weightless environment familiar from televised orbital missions. However, if such a station is spun around a central axis, centrifugal force pushes everything toward the rim. The closer to the rim one is, the stronger the apparent gravity is; whereas at the center of rotation, freefall weightlessness prevails. Note the various visual games Riviera continues to play. What reveals that Dixie Flatline is in fact bothered by knowing that he is dead? “Rue [Street] Jules Verne ” is of course a tribute to the French grandfather of science fiction. “Stepping Razor” is a 1977 song by Reggae great Peter Tosh (from his album Equal Rights). The lyrics of the opening verse and refrain indicate why Molly’s razor implants would remind the rastas of the song:

If you wanna live
Treat me good
If you wanna live, live
I beg you treat me goodI’m like a stepping razor
Don’t you watch my sides
I’m dangerous, said I’m dangerous
I’m like a stepping razor
Don’t you watch my sides
I’m dangerous, dangerous

Complete lyrics.

(Thanks to Thom Cosgrove for this note.)

Names spelled “Aerol” and “Maelcum” are approximations of the rasta pronunciations of “Errol” and “Malcolm.” Dub is a form of Jamaican rap music, popular throughout the Caribbean. Who has persuaded the rastas to cooperate with the team, and how?

Chapter 9

A “g-web” would be a retaining net able to absorb the impact of acceleration and deceleration as the tug maneuvers. Such impact is measured in “g’s” or Earth gravity equivalents. To experience 2 gs, for instance, is to be feel a force equal to two times Earth’s gravity. Rastas avoid saying “we,” using “I and I” instead. A “frog” company would be French. Gibson has no hesitation about using rather dated slang in his narrative mixed with futuristic locutions. When Case’s attempt to penetrate Wintermute is repelled, where and when does his mind seem to take him? Where is he really? What does Wintermute reveal to Case about its true nature?

Chapter 10

The description of the plants tumbling over the balconies of Freeside strongly suggests traditional images of the Hanging Garden of Babylon. The blue sky overhead is artificial, a recording made in the French sea resort of Cannes. Why does the pseudo-death of Deane haunt Case so much? How does Case react to trees and grass? What bizarre style does he encounter worn by three Japanese wives? Why is Case so puzzled about being sent the Kuang Grade Mark Eleven icebreaker virus? What is Dixie Flatline’s theory?

Chapter 11

“Vingtième Siècle” is French for “Twentieth Century,” now a “period.” Here we first encounter Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool. Why does Peter Riviera’s show upset Case so much? Of the expensive shops, Gucci is Italian, Tsuyako is Japanese, Hermès is French, and Liberty is English. What does Case learn about Linda from Wintermute in this chapter? Wintermute seems to be behaving like an old-fashioned melodrama villain: manipulating the protagonist by endangering the woman he cares about. The girl in Case’s cubicle is a “meat puppet,” a prostitute who has had her conscious mind artificially disconnected from her body by a “neural cutout” so that she can carry out her duties on “automatic pilot.” Why was Molly so furious at Riviera’s sadistic fantasy performance? “Snuff” refers to film or performances involving the killing of women for the sexual pleasure of sadists. Snuff films have a long-standing status as an urban legend–nobody has ever found an authentic commercial example–but they are commonly cited as the quintessence of pornography. So Molly’s boss was planning to have her killed. Why did she kill the Senator? This story makes clear what Molly has to gain by remaining an outlaw. What is Molly’s theory about how Wintermute is manipulating her?

Chapter 12

Why has Gibson invented the term “nighted”? “Le Monde” is French for “The World.” “Old money” means wealth combined with social status in old families such as the Rockefellers. “Old credit” would be mean the same in a culture where physical money no longer has a function. Remember that Case is using the name “Lupus” now. Origami (traditional Japanese paper-folding) cranes have come to be symbols of peace because of their association with the anti-nuclear bomb campaigns in Japan. What do you think is the significance of Cathy’s crane? Examine the metaphors in the paragraph describe the Case’s sensations when the drug hits; can you see any pattern in them? What do they have in common? Why is the zodiac on Freeside referred to as a “loser’s” zodiac? Cath had hoped to seduce Case with this drug. What goes wrong with her plan? What is Case’s attitude toward his anger the next morning? “Turing”=”Turing police,” defined above.

Part Four: The Straylight Run

Chapter 13

Case learns for the first time what his real mission is, from the police. What is it? “Good cop/bad cop” is a familiar routine in which one interrogator is angry and threatening while the other feigns sympathy. The suspect is meant to shrink from the first into the “protective” arms of the other and reveal his or her guilt. The “Recording Angel” is a mythical being who records all deeds good and bad to decide who makes it into heaven. Case’s surgical implant procedure, evidently designed by Wintermute, was so innovative it enabled the illegal clinic in Chiba City to capitalize on the knowledge involved to get rich. How has this fact led to Case’s arrest? Why does Michèle say that Case has no “care” for his species? Why will it be difficult for Sense/Net to protest the destruction of the Dixie Flatline construct? Since both the pilot of the biplane and the gardening robot have struck, to whom is Case speaking in the last lines of this chapter?

Chapter 14

When Case loads the Chinese icebreaker software, Dixie Flatline observes from outside it that it appears invisible–reassuring for the team. Dixie’s description of the way the virus works is a well-written example of SF pseudo-science talk: a set of metaphors that make a kind of sense without any real technical explanation. When Case finds himself facing what appears to be the Finn back in Metro Holografix, who is he really talking to? For the reference to the burning bush, see Exodus 3:2-6. An old philosophical puzzle asks, “If a tree falls in the forest where there’s no one to hear it, does it make a sound?” How is Wintermute able to recreate people and places Case knows? In what sense is the imaginary vacuum tube part of Wintermute’s DNA? What threat does Wintermute claim to want to protect humanity from? A “folly” is the sort of fantastic architectural construction built in late 18th-century England to suggest medieval or classical ruins. The explanation given by the jeweled head of the Villa Starlight is another example of an “info-dump.” What is the source of this one? “Semiotics” here refers to the meaning of the patterns of the Villa. Why does Wintermute need the team to penetrate past the head? Wintermute’s last speech is highly ambiguous. Can you puzzle a meaning out of it? In Exodus Chapter 3, God speaks to Moses from within a burning bush.

Chapter 15

The meeting with Wintermute this time “killed” Case temporarily. When he reestablishes simstim contact with Molly, Wintermute informs her of the connection on her implanted ocular display which normally acts as a digital clock. This trick is what she reacts to when she says “Cute.” The words in ALL CAPS in the rest of this chapter are similar displays. Molly uses her tongue to flip a control in her mouth that switches her vision from perceiving normal light to some kind of substitute which works in the dark. What is a “stash ” as Molly defines it? Molly’s story about Johnny reveals that she and Case have something important in common. What is it? Why do you think the ordinarily very private Molly is telling him this story? “Fancy dress” is British for costumes of the sort one would wear to a costume party. Note how compact discs, invented shortly before this novel was written, are treated here as antique technology. The combination of hypodermic and spoon indicates heroin use. The heroin is melted over heat in the spoon, then injected via the hypodermic needle. What is the symbolism involved in the rerouting of Molly’s tearducts? The Egyptian Pharaohs had their servants killed and buried with them. Ashpool has been in a sort of suspended animation for the last thirty years, forever on the brink of death but never dying, an idea that was earlier explored in Philip K. Dick’s brilliant novel Ubik. What does Case see in the face of the dead 3Jane? (It turns out later that this is not the real 3Jane, by the way.) What is suggested by the fact that a fiberoptic cable is connected to her neck? The theme of a rich, self-indulgent family, fallen into decadent madness, is a cliché of popular fiction, and can be found in Gibson’s model, Raymond Chandler.

Chapter 16

What does Molly like about her relationship with Case? His computer completes the search Case had directed it to make for the name “General Girling” and the result is displayed by Dixie Flatline on Molly’s optic implant since Case is jacked into her brain at present. Since the display is not very wide, only a few letters can be shown at a time. The crazed Armitage is trying to order the Rastas around, but they refuse because this is a “Babylon war”–a struggle involving outsiders, not really their concern. “Rude boy” is rasta slang for a tough gang member. Maelcom boasts that he is tough enough to defy the Zionite leaders and stay with Case. “Rocksteady” is one variety of Jamaican pop music, a predecessor to reggae. We learn why Riviera was important, to seduce 3Jane into giving up some of the secrets of how to penetrate Straylight to Armitage/Corto. When the latter next shows up, he has flipped back into the past, into the ill-fated “Screaming Fist” run. Why is Case so upset about Armitage falling apart? The maddened Armitage/Corto has not only killed a man in order to destroy one of the computers being used on the run, but he has set the escape pod that he is in to separate from the ship without closing its seals; he imagines he is escaping Russia for Finland, but in fact he is hurled into the vacuum of space.

Chapter 17

What makes the Tessier-Ashpool corporation more vulnerable than the zaibatsus? Who is ultimately behind the deaths of Armitage and Ashpool? What motivates Dixie Flatline to work for Wintermute? The way the books in the Straylight library are described suggests that books are antique rarities. The Dada artist Marcel Duchamp created a large sculpture out of glass and paint depicting some chocolate-grinding machinery and molds and gave it the characteristically surrealistic title “La mariée mis à nu par ses célibataires, même” The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. The object was badly cracked when it was being moved early in its history, and the lines of the shards have become a familiar part of the work of art. Knowing how Molly hates Riviera, her message to him to be delivered by Case is ominous. Why would spacial disorientation hold a peculiar horror for cowboys?

Chapter 18

Run Run Shaw owned one of the busiest film studios in the world in Hong Kong, churning out hundreds of martial arts films for distribution throughout Asia. Bruce Lee and Clint Eastwood are pioneering “bad-ass heroes” of action movies East and West, respectively. Riviera encases Molly’s hands in a variation of old paper “Chinese handcuffs”: the more you struggle, the tighter you’re trapped. As in classic hardboiled detective fiction (like The Maltese Falcon) , the lines of alliance are constantly shifting, and you never know whom you can trust. Cray manufactures the world’s most popular supercomputers. Using their brand name for a little commonplace monitor raises the ante on the technology. Molly reveals that she had her own agenda when she killed Hideo and tried to kill Riviera. Why has Riviera decided to ally himself with 3Jane against the team? Chairman Mao Tse Tung’s most famous saying was “Power comes out of the barrel of a gun.” How did Riviera prevent Molly from really killing the two men at the pool?

Chapter 19

With Molly crippled, Case and Maelcum have to penetrate Villa Straylight themselves to complete the mission, and to rescue her. How do the life-support systems of the Villa Straylight symbolize the role of the corporation itself? What does “decanted” usually mean? (Look it up.) What does it mean when 3Jane says “I was decanted?” Why does she use the present tense when she says “He strangles her in bed?” 3Jane’s mother’s idea of blending the family with artificial intelligences to achieve a sort of immortality is an old SF theme. 3Jane reveals an important fact about the AIs, which holds the key to the novel: Wintermute is only one of two AIs. When Molly abruptly sees her mutilated face, it is of course Peter taunting her again.

Chapter 20

When Case next jacks in, he is sent by Neuromancer back to Lady Marie-France Tessier’s recorded memory of a summer in Morocco, where she isolated herself in the bunker that Case moves into with the simulacrum of Linda Lee. Japanese Zen gardens consist of a few well-placed rocks and sand raked in elaborate patterns. Case discovers that the AI manipulating him at the moment is not Wintermute; it is the other one. What is the point of Case’s complaint about the food? The tan Case has acquired on Freeside is an expensive luxury. What is Linda’s reaction to it? When Case feels himself drawn down to the “meat” level by the projection of Linda Lee, he defines the latter in terms of information: spiral DNA molecules and pheromones, molecules which convey messages through smell. His seduction from the world of the Net down into the flesh is highly ironic, of course. Why?

Chapter 21

“Event horizon” refers to the border of a black hole and is used here to refer to the limit of the illusion the AI has constructed. It was widely believed in ancient times that you could only summon up and control a spirit whose secret name you had learned. There is a famous scene in Goethe’s Faust in which the protagonist tries and fails to identify the demon Mephistopheles. The name “Neuromancer” is a variation on “necromancer,” a magician dealing in evil spirits and death (“neuro”=nerves, artificial intelligence, “mancer”=magician). “Romancer” is yet another pun.

Chapter 22

The Coriolis force, which causes movement to deviate slightly from a straight line on rotating bodies (like the Earth) is perhaps exaggerated in the rapidly spinning spindle; but in fact it would be very small. Case thinks 3Jane may spare Molly because he has experienced the latter’s attraction to her through the simstim rig. A ROM construct would be fixed, whereas RAM is indefinitely expandable. Why does Riviera’s blinding of Hideo fail to defeat him? How has Molly gotten her revenge on Riviera? In an electronic world, old-fashioned mechanical locks are unexpected obstacles.

Chapter 23

In what ways is Neuromancer different from Wintermute? How are the dwarfs’ quarters in the palace of the Duke of Mantua like the Villa Straylight for the Tessier-Ashpools? Case needs to energize himself with hate to succeed in breaking through the final barriers. Whom does he hate? Again the Jamaican “dub” music welcomes him back to Freelight.

Coda (Chapter 24)

Why does Molly leave Case? The shuriken, so prominent throughout the novel, was never used. What does Case think it symbolizes? Why did Wintermute want to fuse with Neuromancer? What does this metaphor represent: “a series of warm blinks strung along a chain of winter”? Alpha Centauri is the nearest star to Earth. So what does it mean that Wintermute/Neuromancer has found recorded evidence of another AI there? Michael or Mikal is not a really rare name for a woman; so it’s difficult to know if we are supposed to read anything into the name. Constructs of Case, Riviera and Linda will exist forever in the AI’s mind. Why do you think male authors so frequently imagine highly desirable but dangerous women like Molly who get devastatingly involved with their protagonists and then leave?

Recommended reading:

Nicola Nixon: “Cyberpunk: Preparing the Ground for Revolution or Keeping the Boys Satisfied?” Science-Fiction Studies, vol. 19 (July 1992): 219-235.
Lance Olsen: William Gibson. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1992.

More Science Fiction Study Guides

Notes by Paul Brians, Department of English, Washington State University, Pullman 99164-5020.

First mounted May 1994.
Version of July 16, 2013.

Thanks to Tom Mathews for catching the “Miss Linda Lee” reference.

Selected Stories from The Norton Book of Science Fiction

Some of the following notes require looking up passages in the Bible.

Cordwainer Smith: “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard” p. 49

This story is one of a series with a similar setting and linked characters, the most famous of which is “The Ballad of Lost C’mell.” What changes have recently been introduced into this society? How are people reacting? Paul et Virginie (1788) was an enormously popular romantic novel by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre dealing with interracial love. Why is the allusion to it here appropriate? What are homunculi? “Abba” is Hebrew for “Father” whereas a dingo is a sort of wild Australian dog-like creature (See dingoes here) What does the name “Abba-dingo” suggest to you? “Macht” is German for “might” or “power.” What are the different kinds and functions of freedom treated in this story? How has Paul changed at the end of the story?

Theodore Sturgeon: “Tandy’s Story” p. 74

Sturgeon often deals with childhood in his stories. It is fairly common for small children to have imaginary companions. Is the point of view of this story adult or childish? What effect does that fact have on the story? What qualities make this a sort of ironic horror story?

David R. Bunch: “2064, or Thereabouts” p. 93

Bunch wrote a number of short sketches, mostly published in little literary magazines rather than commercial SF magazines (later collected in a volume titled Moderan ). For that reason, his work has not become widely known, but he brought a special intensity to this series, all set in the same post-holocaust world dominated by automated war machines. Who is the narrator? What would you say is the principal theme of this story? Is this a humorous story? A horror story? Or something else?

Clifford D. Simak: “Over the River and Through the Woods” p. 125

This story is set in 1896. What makes it a science fiction story? What has caused the sudden appearance of these children? Do you know of any parallels in actual modern history? What doesn’t Mrs. Forbes understand about the future? The title is taken from the first line of a familiar song; what is its second line?

James Blish: “How Beautiful with Banners” p. 132

This story features an encounter between a futuristic bit of technology the film wrap and an alien creature which is drawn to it, with the human caught in the middle. In trying to escape the situation she gets trapped in, to what degree is she successful, to what degree a failure? “Basta, per carita!” is roughly the Italian for “Enough, for goodness sake!” The myth of Nessus, the centaur, says that he took vengeance on Hercules for killing him (he had kidnapped Hercules’ wife Deianeira), by advising his wife to soak a shirt in his blood and give it to Hercules, telling her that it would cause him to love her forever. It turned out instead to be fatally poisonous, killing Hercules. In what way does this story reflect this myth? “Nun denn, allein!” is German for “Now then, alone!” A “sabbat” is a witch’s sabbath.The myth of Psyche and Cupid says that during this young woman’s affair with the love-god, she was forbidden to look upon him, making love with him only in the dark. When she lit a lamp in the bedchamber, he left her. In what way is Ulla like that lamp?

R. A. Lafferty: “Nine Hundred Grandmothers” p. 142

There are many stories about the quest for immortality; most of them offering the sour-grapes consolation that eternal life would be hellish, and death desirable. This one evades that simple-minded approach without offering the conventional consolation of religious or scientific optimism. It can be seen as more about communication than life and death. What does this story have to say about the typical SF notion that we can learn the secrets of the universe from wise alien races?

Sonya Dorman Hess: “When I Was Miss Dow” p. 151

This story can be seen as a variation on one of those typical 50s alien-takeover films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or I Married a Monster from Outer Space (don’t laugh, it’s not all that bad a movie). But the situation here is more complex. In what ways does the narrator’s relationship with the Doctor reflect certain patterns of human relationships?

Frederik Pohl: “Day Million” p. 166

Some SF writers like Isaac Asimov assume that “human nature” stays essentially the same. Pohl here makes an assault on that assumption by describing a future humanity that is almost incredible. What are the main features of the unusual narrative technique used here? What has not changed? What do you think Pohl’s purpose was in writing this story? “Callipygean” comes from a classical Greek word meaning ” beautiful-hipped.” “Meet cute” is an expression used in film criticism to describe a charming but artificial way of having two characters meet who are destined to fall in love. Vincent d’Indy (1851-1931) composed several popular orchestral works. Thelonius Sphere Monk was a brilliantly original jazz pianist. A “sponson” is an air-filled capsule projecting from a ship. Tiglath-Pileser and Attila the Hun were ferocious conquerors.

Samuel R. Delany: “High Weir” p. 183

Delany (be careful about spelling his name; it is often misspelled “Delaney,” even in print) is the most distinguished black SF author. In some ways this is a traditional puzzle story with a technical solution. It is not obviously about racism, but can you see any reflections of Delany’s African-American heritage in it? Can you compare it to any story in Bradbury‘s The Martian Chronicles? Most people know about the Parthenon, the famous Temple in Athens dedicated to Athena; but Delany also refers to the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, now in ruins, but at one time a very impressive building. The “Venus of Willendorf” is a prehistoric fertility sculpture with bulging thighs, belly, and breasts. The German quotation is the last sentence from German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Philosophicus. The complete sentence is “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darumber muss man schweigen”: “Whatever we cannot speak about we must remain silent about.” Wittgenstein argued not only that language is our only vehicle of knowledge, but that we are trapped within it, unable to reach absolute truth. “Phobos” means “fear,” “Demos” means “terror.” These names were chosen for the Martian moons because they are natural accompaniments of war, the Roman god of which is Mars. Note Hodges’ casual use of the old racist term “jungle bunnies.” Why do you think Delany, as a Black writer, has her use it? Slivowitz (more often spelled “slivovitz” is a dry Alsatian plum brandy.

Suzette Haden Elgin: “For the Sake of Grace” p. 211

What effect does it have on this story that it is set in such an extremely sexist future? Are the lessons conveyed by this story applicable in any way to our own culture, which is much less sexist? What ancient culture historically valued people primarily on the basis of their knowledge of poetry?

Zenna Henderson: “As Simple As That” p. 231

Henderson was a life-long schoolteacher, and the narrators of many of her stories are teachers too. Many of them concern The People, a supernormal alien race which tries to blend in with humans in Appalachia. This story is not a part of that series however. What effect does it have on our experience of the effects of the Torn Time to view it through the eyes of children? Do you find this an optimistic or pessimistic story? Explain.

Robert Silverberg: “Good News from the Vatican” p. 242

Silverberg likes to play with the topic of religion, often in highly irreligious ways. This story would seem to have been inspired by the “ecumenical movement,” a drive to reunite various Christian churches. This story illustrates well a common genre in SF which might be called after a famous Heinlein title “If this goes on. . . .” A current trend is extrapolated to absurd lengths for satirical purposes. That this is a satire is announced early on in the names of the Italian cardinals: Asciuga (“towel”) and Carciofi (“artichoke”), and made clear later by the silly name of the new pope. What has brought about the proposal to elect a robot pope? The Osservatore Romano is the official newspaper of the Vatican, and reflects official Church views. A “bar mitzvah” is the ceremony of manhood through which Jewish boys go. The International Herald Tribune [now the International New York Times] is an international English-language newspaper published jointly by the New York Times and the Washington Post which is sold all over the world. The Liebestod (love-death) scene from Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde contains famously aching harmonies. Hieronymous Bosch’sTemptation of Saint Anthony, based on the bizarre visions of an early Christian hermit, contains many strange creatures, including the frog referred to here. There have been popes named Sixtus (“six”) in fact, but it is especially appropriate for a robot to have a purely numerical title.

James Tiptree, Jr.: “The Women Men Don’t See” p. 255

James Tiptree, Jr. was the pseudonym of Alice Sheldon, who disguised her sex for several years while becoming one of the most distinguished short- story writers in SF. Does it change how you read this story to know that it was written by a woman? Characterize the narrator: what sort of person is he? What sort of thoughts does he concentrate on in regards to the women? Compare his attitude toward the Mayas with Mrs. Parson’s. What is his reaction to her feminism? What does Mrs. Parson’s last speech mean? Noli me tangere is a quotation from John 20:17, in which the newly-resurrected Jesus tells Mary Magdalene “Touch me not.” The phrase has often been sarcastically used of women who are not interested in sex (at least not in sex with the speaker). “Quién estás? A socorro!” is Spanish for “Who are you? Help!” “Chingarse” is Spanish for “F*** you!”

Vonda N. McIntyre: “The Mountains of Sunset: The Mountains of Dawn” p. 287

This is an unusual story in that it contains no human beings. The early part of the story uses the concept of artificial gravity induced through centrifugal force created by rotating a space vehicle. You can experience this phenomenon yourself by swinging a bucket full of water around your head on a rope, noting that the centrifugal force presses the water against the bottom of the bucket and prevents it from spilling. However, if one imagines a large space vehicle in rotation, there would be no “gravity” at the hub and the highest “gravity” at the rim. Therefore in the “higher,” more central portions of the vehicle, flying would be considerably easier. What is the nature of the relationship depicted in this story? Why is it important that the young man participates in the old woman’s death ritual?

Joe Haldeman: “The Private War of Private Jacob ” p. 300

Haldeman is a Vietnam veteran, and many of his stories reflect his war experiences. In what ways might this story be read as a metaphor for the Vietnam War?

Ursula K. Le Guin: “The New Atlantis” p. 317

The title echoes the title of a utopian work by Francis Bacon. Why is it ironic here? What was the fate of the original mythical Atlantis? What has happened to the environment? What effects have this events had on social organization? Why are such drastic efforts being made to reduce the population? The passages in small type portray poetically the thoughts of the original Atlanteans, now reclaiming the world after centuries of being drowned beneath the sea. How do they interact with the main narrative? Can you tell who has written them? (Hint: look for the manuscript to be deposited safely on a mountain top at the end of the story.) Alfred Nobel hoped that his invention of dynamite would terrify the world into peace, and used some of his wealth to set up the Nobel Peace Prize. Many “ultimate weapons” have been proposed since with the same goal. “Sammy’s Dot” is a phonetic spelling of the Russian term Samizdat (“for the drawer”), used to designate works written illegally, outside the regular state publishing system during the Soviet era. On p. 332 there are a number of historical allusions. “Mr. Watson, will you come here a minute,” was the first message delivered over the experimental telephone of Alexander Graham Bell. Wilbur Wright was one of the two brothers who built the first successful airplane. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in bread mold. The pre-Mousterian era is when our ancestors discovered the use of fire. What do all these references have in common? “Brighter than a thousand suns” and “The physicists have known sin” are both famous quotations from Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the project to develop the atomic bomb during World War II. What two very different technical approaches are being taken to dealing with the crisis in this story?

Joanna Russ: “A Few Things I Know About Whileaway” p. 337

When Seattle author Russ’ The Female Man, which incorporates this story, was published, it was fiercely attacked as the product of a radical feminist lesbian separatist–all of which was true, but neglected the fact that it was also brilliantly written and a wonderfully satirical. Since an all-female society is not probable in the near future, what functions can this sort of story serve? Compare Whileaway as a utopia with Anarres. Why does JE say that the women of Whileaway hack off their hair with clam shells? “Nicht wahr?” is German for “Right?” What messages does the bear myth (deliberately different from ” Goldilocks and the Three Bears”) convey? In some forms of Zen Buddhism the master tries to shock the novice into enlightenment by striking him abruptly. What criticisms of traditional romance/fairy tale values does section 13 make? Who are the gnats that block the way to Whileaway?

John Varley: “Lollipop and the Tar Baby” p. 357

Varley is well known for his interest in women and in challenging sexual taboos. Could this story pass for the product of a woman? Is this a feminist story? Compare it with James Tiptree, Jr.’s story in its values, point of view, and main concerns.

Philip K. Dick: “Frozen Journey” p. 386

What kind of mind does Kemmings have? What is the end result of exploring his memories nonstop for ten years? Note how Dick has found here yet another way to explore his favorite theme of interpenetrating realities. Dick was closely associated for a time with psychedelic hippie subculture. This story contains an affectionate tribute to the brilliant comic art of Gilbert Shelton, one of the most important contributors to the classic underground comics of the sixties and early seventies. His main characters were the “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers,” a sort of stoned Marx Brothers. Fat Freddy was the least intelligent and most lovable of the three. A collection of the Freak Brothers comics is in the underground and alternative comics collection in Holland Library’s Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections room (PN6728.45.R5F74x). What do you think the ending of the story is intended to convey?

Phyllis Gotlieb: “Tauf Aleph” p. 427

Many SF writers are Jews, but few of them are religious, or depict Jews in their works. Gotlieb’s affectionate portrait of the last living Jew is an exception. How does this story treat religion differently from the Silverberg story? Compare it to A Canticle for Leibowitz. If tauf is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and “aleph” is the first, what does the title of the story mean? The title may also involve a pun on the name of the planet where Begelman lives: Tau Ceti IV (the fourth planet of the prominent star called “Tau Ceti”). “Sol” means “sun,” so “Solthree” is the third planet from the sun: Earth. The Talmud is a vast, many-volumed commentary on the Jewish scriptures. How long does O/G5/842 study Judaism, and why is this significant? O/G discovers that illegal drugs are being smuggled out in the guise of powdered drink mix. “Pardes” means “orchard,” but also “paradise.” It is often used to refer to the Garden of Eden in the Bible. To some extent naming this forlorn place “Pardes” was a cynical promotional gesture, like the naming of a frozen island “Greenland;” but what other significance might the name have in this story? The Zohar is a Medieval mystical Jewish work, part of the Kabbalah. “Shalom” is “peace,” often used as a greeting in Hebrew. The medieval legend of the golem tells how a brilliant rabbi created this monster to take vengeance on the Christians for the sufferings they had caused the Jews. It ran amuck, however, and had to be destroyed by its creator, like Frankenstein’ s monster. Compare the Golem in this story to the legendary one. Kaddish is the ritual prayer said for the dead. Baal was a Middle Eastern god, according to the Bible, to whom were sometimes offered children as ritual sacrifices. This practice is identified as among the worst of all sins in some passages. “Clean” foods allowed to Jews are kosher, “unclean,” forbidden foods are tref. A tallith katan is a fringed prayer shawl. A convert can be called “ben Avraham” (“son of Abraham”) or “bat Avraham” (“daughter of Abraham”) to indicate adoption as a child of Abraham, the ultimate father of all Jews. Begelman uses the neuter “b’nei” instead. The reference to the victory over Og uses Hebrew spellings; non-Jewish Bibles spell “Moshe” as “Moses” and “Kana’an” as “Canaan.” In what way is Zohar like Moses? Look at the psalm that Og recites as Zohar is dying. In what ways are its images appropriate to a story of interplanetary travel and of renewal? The Shema is the central statement of the Jewish faith. It occurs at Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and begins, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” Mishna is commentary on the Jewish law. In what respect do the Cnidori replicate the experience of Earth’s Jews at the end of the story?

William Gibson: “The Gernsback Continuum” p. 457

Gibson originated cyberpunk in Neuromancer, but he cannot be pigeonholed in any one genre. However, this story displays one fairly constant aspect of his style: a dense allusiveness which demands a good deal of general knowledge, particularly of popular culture. Hugo Gernsback was the founder of the first science fiction magazines and in some ways the inventor of the modern concept of SF. The annual award for the year’s best writing is called the “Hugo” in his honor. His main era of activity was the 20s and 30s, and this story is an affectionate look at the “alternate future” described in the pages of and depicted on the covers of his magazines. A common concept in SF is the notion of parallel worlds. For various reasons it is argued that an infinite number of variations on our universe may exist side by side, so that every sort of world that could exist, does exist. None of the scientific speculations about this theory involve being able to pass from one parallel universe to another, but that is of course the main point of interest in SF treatments of the theme. Gibson takes for granted that his audience is familiar with the concept, and then begins to play with it. The version of the world dominated by ” American Streamlined Moderne” will be more entertaining if you are familiar with the style, which was especially prominent in the thirties and forties, promoted as futuristic, but now looking hopelessly though charmingly dated. If you’ ve ever seen the old black and white movie serials of Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon you’ll have some idea, but better sources are the two films mentioned in the story: Fritz Lang’s silent Metropolis and Things to Come, based on a book and introduced by H. G. Wells. Ming the Merciless was, of course, the cruel ruler of the Planet Mongo and Flash Gordon’s greatest enemy. How have modern times prevented the young girl from Virginia from being identified as a witch? What does the narrator’s last speech mean?

Carol Emshwiller: “The Start of the End of the World” p. 466

In the 50s there were many stories published that depicted sweet little old ladies, hopelessly naive and uninformed, encountering invading aliens, and usually saving the Earth. This is a witty variation on that theme. “Woman of a certain age” is the translation of a French euphemism for a middle-aged woman. Compare this story with War of the Worlds. How is this invasion different? Since this story makes fun of an old woman, is it anti-feminist; or can you detect feminist themes in it?

Octavia Butler: “Speech Sounds” p. 513

After Samuel R. Delany, Octavia Butler is the other most distinguished African-American SF author. Like him, she does not usually concentrate on racial issues; she is particularly interested in the healing of damaged societies. What have been the main effects of the loss of language on society? What hope for the future is presented at the end?

Kim Stanley Robinson: “The Lucky Strike” p. 538

The title is a pun alluding to the name of the most popular brand of cigarettes during World War II. What is its literal meaning in this story? This is an alternate-history story, somewhat related to the parallel world story. The author takes a well-known period of history and imagines how things might have gone differently. This is a detailed, well-researched variation on the events surrounding the first use of the atomic bomb. Nuclear scientist Leo Szilard, the physicist who had first conceived of the bomb and urged Roosevelt (through Einstein) to build it proposed to demonstrate the bomb to the Japa nese leaders at sea or on an uninhabited island to convince them to surrender. He was joined by many of the other scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project under him in Chicago. Debate continues on whether this would have worked. The actual names of the bombs used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “Fat Man” and “Little Boy.” What does January’s dream suggest? What leads January to believe that there will be more wars? How did January’s act alter history? Why is he so interested in the fact that one of the guns aimed at him will be unloaded? The novel referred to toward the end of the story is a minor work by William Faulkner: The Wild Palms.

Lewis Shiner: “The War at Home” p. 577

A popular slogan among the more radical Vietnam War protesters was “Bring the War Home.” In what way is this slogan ironically realized in this story? No scientific rationale is offered for this transformation, so the story is more strictly speaking fantasy than SF. A Huey is an Army combat helicopter of the kind that was used extensively in Vietnam. Clare’s costume is an imitation of traditional Vietnamese peasant wear. “Fragging” was the deliberate assassination of commanding officers by their troops, using fragmentation grenades. Does this story have a message? What is it?

Karen Joy Fowler: “The Lake Was Full of Artificial Things” p. 580

How has the Vietnam War affected the people in this story? How does cable television function differently in this time than in ours? How is this a particularly woman’s experience of the war? What is resolved at the end of the story? What is left unresolved?

James Patrick Kelly: “Rat” p. 654

In this cyberpunk story the protagonist is literally a rat, though clearly not an ordinary one. What affect does it have on the story to make this drug dealer not only figuratively but literally a rat? To “nova” is to become suddenly much brighter, like an exploding star, called a nova because ancient astronomers considered them “new” stars when they suddenly appeared. The Checker Cab Company built taxis for many years. The French on the first page means “Don’t pretend to study, my little one. What are you doing?” What is a Bahamian laundry loop? Why does the cabbie dare to defy Rat? Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is an epic celebration of American life. Why is its use significant here? What rat-like use does he make of the profits from his drug dealings? Where has Rat hidden the drugs, and what happens to him at the end of the story?

Eileen Gunn: “Stable Strategies for Middle Management” p. 705

This story is a variation on the famous Franz Kafka story “The Metamorphosis,” in which a meek bank clerk named Gregor Samsa is transformed overnight into a giant insect, usually presumed to be a cockroach. Samsa is rendered unable to continue his ordinary occupation as a bank clerk as he takes on more and more of the characteristics of an insect, and deteriorates slowly to a wretched end. How does Gunn reverse this pattern? What are the targets of her satire? What insects is the protagonist transformed into during the course of the day? How does her character change? What qualities make her good executive material?

Margaret Atwood: “Homelanding” p. 794

Canadian writer Margaret Atwood sometimes uses SF language in her philosophical sketches like this one. What effect does it have on how we view ourselves to be granted the perspective of an outsider? What is her attitude toward death?

More Science Fiction Study Guides

Notes by Paul Brians, Department of English, Washington State University, Pullman 99164-5020. Copyright Paul Brians 1995

Version of August 25, 2005

Science Fiction Research Bibliography:A Bibliography of Science Fiction Secondary Materials in Holland Library, Washington State University

If you are doing research on science fiction, this bibliography is a good place to start. It is not a complete bibliography of SF research, only of that in the WSU library; and the call numbers may not match those in other libraries. It does not include works of science fiction as such.

Paul Brians is now retired, and this bibliography is no longer be updated, so it is bound to be incomplete; but it may still be useful.


Look for reference works and indexes first in the Reference Room, not in the regular stacks.

Encyclopedias and general checklists:

*Barron, Neil: Anatomy of Wonder 4: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction. (fourth edition) PN3433.8 .A63x 1995
This is among the most important standard reference works in the field, summarizing hundreds of pieces of fiction. It is especially strong on foreign SF, though this coverage was reduced in the fourth edition. Recommended especially for small libraries. The still-useful second (PN3433.5 .A6x) and third editions (HolRef PN3433.8 .A63x 1987) are also in the collection.

Bleiler, Everett F.: The Checklist of Science-Fiction and Supernatural Fiction. HolRef PN 3435 B55 1978 (replaces The Checklist of Fantastic Literature, 808.3 ZB616c)

Bleiler, Everett F. & Richard J. Bleiler. Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years: A Complete Coverage of the Genre Magazines “Amazing,” “Astounding,” “Wonder,” and Others from 1926 through 1936. HolRef PS648.S3 B57 1998
Also available as an electronic resource for WSU users through Griffin.

Bloch, Robert N.: Bibliographie der utopischen und phantastischen literatur, 1750-1950. PT 148 1185 B5x 1984

Clarke, Ignatius Frederick: Tale of the Future: From the Beginning to the Present Day. (British) 3rd ed., PN 3448 S45c 56x (replaces 2nd edition, Z6207 P7 C48 1972)
The strong point of this survey is its coverage of early works, especially British fiction.

*Clute, John & Peter Nicholls, eds.: Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. HolRef PN3433.4 .E53 1993b
Generally considered the best of the encyclopedias. Articles on movements, themes, genres, as well as authors, etc.

Fletcher, Marilyn P. Reader’s Guide to Twentieth-Century Science Fiction. HolRef PN3433.8 R44 1989

*Gunn, James, ed. The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. PN 3433.4 N48 1988
Good as a supplement to Clute & Nicholls, above.

James, Edward & Farah Mendelsohn, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. PN3377.5.S3 C36 2003

*Magill, Frank: Survey of Science Fiction Literature: Five Hundred 2,000-Word Essay-Reviews of World-Famous Science Fiction Novels with 2,500 Bibliographical References. HolRef PN3448 S45 S88
Summaries, brief discussions, and selected bibliographies make this an excellent place to begin researching a particular work. Be sure to check the supplement listed below as well.

*Magill, Frank: Survey of Science Fiction Literature: Bibliographical Supplement. HolRef PN 3448 S45 S88 Suppl

Newman, John: Future War Novels: An Annotated Bibliography of Works in English Published Since 1946. HolRef R888.W37 N43x 1984

Nicholls, Peter, ed. The Science Fiction Encyclopedia. PN3448.S45 S29 Ê
Earlier, still useful, but now somewhat dated edition of Clute and Nicholls, above. Can be checked out.

Pringle, David. The Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction: An A-Z of Science-Fiction Books by Title. HolRef PN3448.S45 P75 1995

Reginald, Robert, ed.: Contemporary Science Fiction Authors. HolRef PS 374 S35 R44
Useful background information on major authors.

Reginald, Robert, ed.: Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, A Checklist from Earlier Times to 1974. Hol Ref PS374.S35 R442x

Reginald, R. Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, 1975-1991: A Bibliography of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Fiction Books and Nonfiction Monographs. HolRef PN3448.S45 R44x 1992

Searles, Baird: A Reader’s Guide to Fantasy. PS374.F27 S43x 1982

Tuck, Donald H.: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. HolRef Z5917 S36 T83
Replaced by more recent encyclopedias, but still contains some useful details about editions of early works for advanced researchers.

University of California at Riverside: Dictionary Catalog of the J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. HolRef PN 3448 S45 U59x v-13

Yntema, Sharon. More than 100 Women Science Fiction Writers. PN 3433.6 Y57x 1988

*Internet Speculative Fiction DataBase

Now the standard source for identifying SF stories and novels.

Indexes to short stories:

Bowman, Ray: Bowman’s Index to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. AP2 M2345x 1949/1983

Cole, Walter R.: A Checklist of Science Fiction Anthologies. Z5917 S36 C6 1975

Contento, William: Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections. (2 vols) HolRef PS 374 S35 C6x
Great for locating in which magazines and anthologies a story has appeared. The excellent Contento indexes have now been subsumed into the online Locus Index to Science Fiction, which should be used instead whenever possible.

Durie, A. J. L.: An Index to the British Editions of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction with Cross-Reference to the Original American Edition. HolRef Z5917 S36 H35

Fletcher, Marilyn P.: Science Fiction Story Index. 2nd ed., 1950-1979, PN 3448 S45 F55x
Replaced by Contento, above; but circulates.

Halpern, Frank N.: International Classified Directory of Dealers in Science Fiction and Fantasy Books and Related Materials. Z286 F3 H34 1975
Now very dated.

NESFA: Index to the Science Fiction Magazines 1926-50. HolRef PN 3448 S45 I53x
All the NESFA indexes are now obsolete. Use Contento instead.

Parnell, Frank H. & Mike Ashley: Monthly Terrors: An Index to the Weird Fantasy Magazines Published in the United States and Great Britain. HolRef PS374.F27 P37 1985

Siemon, Frederick: Science Fiction Story Index 1950-1968. Z5917 S36 S5
Replaced by Contento, above.

Indexes to criticism and reviews:

Clareson, Thomas: Science Fiction Criticism: An Annotated Checklist. HolRef Z5917 S36 C55
This pioneering work is now outdated. Use Hall, below.

Hall, Halbert W.: Science Fiction Book Review Index 1923-1973. HolRef Z5917 S36 H35

*Hall, Halbert W.: Science Fiction and Fantasy Reference Index, 1878-1985: An International Author and Subject Index to History and Criticism PN3433.5.S35x 1987
This invaluable source, plus its supplements–listed below–is now available in an updated online version at as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database.

Hall, H. W.: Science Fiction and Fantasy Reference Index, 1985-1991: An International Author and Subject Index to History and Criticism HolRef PN3433.5 S35x 1987 v.1, v.2

Hall, H. W.: Science Fiction and Fantasy Reference Index, 1992-1995: An International Subject and Author Index to History and Criticism. HolRef PN3433.4 S34x 1997

Tymn, Marshall B.: Research Guide to Science Fiction. HolRef PN 3448 S45 T93 1977x

Tymn, Marshall B.: The Year’s Scholarship in Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1976-79. PN 3433.8 T95x 1982
The Tymn and Schlobin indexes are replaced by Hall, above.

Tymn, Marshall B. & Roger C. Schlobin: The Year’s Scholarship in Science Fiction and Fantasy 1972-1975. PN 3448 S45 T94K (supplement to Clareson, above)

Film, illustrations, sound recordings, miscellaneous:

Burgess Meredith Reads Ray Bradbury. Record 287

Adler, Alan: Science Fiction and Horror Movie Posters in Full Color. PN 1995.9 P5 A

Baxter,John: Science Fiction in the Cinema. PN 1995.9 S26 B43

Beer, Gilian: Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter. PR468.S34 B44 1999
This interesting study of the rhetoric of science largely ignores SF, except for touching on books by Lem and Wells.

Bova, Ben: Vision of the Future: The Art of Robert McCall. ND237 M4116 B6 1982

Broderick, Mick. Nuclear Movies: A Filmography. PN1995.9.N9B76 1988
Replaced by the second edition, below.

Broderick, Mick. Nuclear Movies: A Critical Analysis and Filmography of International Feature Length Films Dealing with Experimentation, Aliens, Terrorism, Holocaust, and Other Disaster Scenarios, 1914-1990 [2nd ed.]. PN1995.9.N9B76 1991.
The most comprehensive guide to this subject.

Brosnan, John: Future Tense: The Cinema of Science Fiction. PN 1995.9 S26 B7

Bukatman, Scott: Blade Runner. PN1997.B596 B85 1997

Felshin, Nina: Disarming images: Art for Nuclear Disarmament. N 6512 D584 1984

Frank, Alan: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Handbook. PN 1995.9 S26 F73 1982

Freas, Frank Kelly: The Art of Science Fiction. NC 975.5 F74 A45

Gifford, Denis: Science Fiction Film. PN 1995.9 S26 C5

Greene, Eric: Planet of the Apes as American Myth: Race and Politics in the Film and Television Series. PN1995.9.P495 G74 1996

Hardy, Phil. Science Fiction: The Arum Film Encyclopedia PN1995.9.S26S345x 1991

Hendershot, Cynthia. Paranoia, the Bomb, and 1950s Science Fiction Films. PN1995.9.S26 H37 1999

Johnson, William: Focus on the Science Fiction Film. PN 1995.9 S26 J6

Kapell, Matthew & William G. Doty, eds.: Jacking in to the Matrix Franchise: Cultural Reception and Interpretation. Vancouver PN1997.M395 J33 2004

Kaveny, Roz. From Alien to The Matrix: Reading Science Fiction Film. PN1995.9.S26 K38 2005

Kevorkian, Martin. Color Monitors: The Black Face of Technology in America P94.5.A372 U558 2006

Kuhn, Annette, ed. Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema. PN 1995.9 S26 A818 1990

Kuhn, Annette, ed.: Alien Zone II: The Spaces of Science-Fiction Cinema. PN1995.9.S26 A8184 1999

Lee, Walt & Bill Warren: Reference Guide to Fantastic Films: Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror PN1995.9.F36L4

Lentz, Harris M., ed. Science Fiction, Horror & Fantasy Film and Television Credits Supplement: Through 1987. PN 1995.9 S26 L46

Lucanio, Patrick: Them or Us: Archetypal Interpretations of Fifties Alien Invasion Films. PN 1995.9 S26 L8 1987

Menville, Douglas: Things to Come (An Illustrated History of the Science Fiction Film). PN 1995.9 S

Napier, Susan Jolliffe: Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. NC1766 .J3 N37 2001 Ê

National Library Service for the Blind and Handicapped: Science Fiction: A Selected List of Books that have Appeared in Talking Book Topics and Braille Book Review. Holland Documents (on the 3rd floor), Stack 65,

LC 19.11

Nicholls, Peter: The World of Fantastic Films: An Illustrated Survey. PN 1995.9 F36 N53 1984

O’Neill, James: Sci-Fi on Tape: A Complete Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy on Video. PN1995.9.S26 O53 1997

Parish, James Robert: The Great Science Fiction Pictures. PN 1995.9 S26 P37

Pickard, Roy: Science Fiction in the Movies, An A-Z. PN 1995.9 S26 P5 1978

Pohl, Frederik: The New Visions: A Collection of Modern Science Fiction Art. NC 1882.7 S35 N4 1982

Randall, David Anton: Science Fiction and Fantasy: An Exhibition. Z6676 15 no 21

Resnick, Michael: The Official Price Guide to Comic and Science Fiction Books. PN6725 .O33x 1983
Now very dated.

Sadoul, Jacques: 2000 AD: Illustrations from the Golden Age of Science Fiction Pulps. NC 986 S2213

Sammon, Paul M.: Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner. PN1997.B596 S26 1996
Filled with fascinating inside information about the making of this seminal film.

Shapiro, Jerome F. Atomic Bomb Cinema: The Apocalyptic Imagination on Film. PN1995.9.W3 S52 2002

Shay, Don and Jody Duncan. The Making of T2: Terminator 2: Judgment Day PN1997.T397M35 1991, compact storage no. A5416

Skal, David. J.: Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture. PN1995.9.H6 S58 1998

Slusser, George & Eric S. Rabkin, eds.: Shadows of the Magic Lamp: Fantasy and Science Fiction in Film. PN 1995.9 F36 S5 1985

Sobchak, Vivian Carol: Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film. PN 1995.9 S26 S57 1987

Sobchak, Vivian Carol: The Limits of Infinity: The American Science Fiction Film 1950-1975. PN 1995.9 S26 S57 1980

Taylor, Al: Making a Monster: The Creation of Screen Characters by the Great Makeup Artists. PN 2068 T3

Telotte, J. P. A Distant Technology: Science Fiction Film and the Machine Age. PN1995.9.S26 T45 1999

Warren, Bill: Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties. PN 1995.9 S26 W37 1982

Weaver, Tom: Attack of the Monster Movie Makers: Double Feature Creature Attack: A Monster Merger of Two More Volumes of Classic Interviews. PN1995.9.S26 W43 2003

Willis, Donald C.: Horror and Science Fiction Films II. Ref. PN1995.9 H6 W53

Willis, Donald D.: Horror and Science Fiction Films: A Checklist. PN 1995.9 H6 W5

Willis, Donald: Variety’s Complete Science Fiction Reviews. HolRef PN 1995.9 S26 V37 1985

Wingrove, David, ed.: Science Fiction File Source Book. PN 1995.9 S26 S34x 1985


Aikon, Paul E.: Origins of Futuristic Fiction. PN 3433.8 A44 1987

Aldiss, Brian. The Detached Retina: Aspects of SF and Fantasy PR830.S35 A39 1995b

Aldiss, Brian: Billion Year Spree. PR 830 S35 A38 (superseded by Trillion Year Spree, below)

Aldiss, Brian: Hell’s Cartographers: Some Personal Histories of Science Fiction Writers. PS 129 H4 1975

Aldiss, Brian: The Pale Shadow of Science. PR 6051 L3 Z476 1985
Most of the content of this collection of essays is duplicated in other books by Aldiss, but it contains a handy defense of his choice of Mary Shelley as the founder of SF, plus useful essays on Stapledon, Philip K. Dick, and his own Helliconia trilogy.

Adliss, Brian: The Shape of Further Things. PR 6051 L3 Z5 1971

Aldiss, Brian: This World and Nearer Ones: Essays Exploring the Familiar. PR 6051 L3 T47 1981.
Miscellaneous prefaces and other brief articles, including ones on Dick, Vonnegut, and Tarkovsky’s Solaris.

Aldiss, Brian: Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction PR 830 S35 A38 1986b (replaces Billion Year Spree, above)

Amis, Kingsley: New Maps of Hell. 823.09 Am57n

Andriano, Joseph: Immortal Monster: The Mythological Evolution of the Fantastic Beast in Modern Fiction and Film. PS374.M544 A53 1999

Antczak, J.: Science Fiction: The Mythos of a New Romance. Educ PS 374 S35 A58 1985

Apter, T. E.: Fantasy Literature: An Approach to Reality. PN 3435 A65 1982

Armitt, Lucie: Contemporary Women’s Fiction and the Fantastic. PN3435 .A76 2000

Armytage, W. H.: Yesterday’s Tomorrows. CB 151 A77

Asimov, Isaac: Asimov’s Galaxy: Reflections on Science Fiction PS3551 S5 Z463 1989

Asimov, Isaac: Asimov on Science Fiction. PN 3433.5 A8

Asimov, Isaac & Martin H. Greenberg: Cosmic Critiques: How & Why Ten Science Fiction Stories Work. PN3377.5.S3C6 1990

Attebery, Brian: The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature from Irving to LeGuin. PS 374 F27 A8b

Attebery, Brian: Decoding Gender in Science Fiction. PS374.S35 A84 2002

Bailey, James O.: Pilgrims Through Space and Time: Trends and Patterns in Scientific and Utopian Fiction. PN 3448 S45 B47

Bainbridge, William Sims: Dimensions of Science Fiction. PN 3433.5 B35 1986

Bainbridge, William Sims: The Spaceflight Revolution: A Sociological Study. Science TL 788.5 B34

Barr, Marleen S. Alien to Femininity: Speculative Fiction and Feminist Theory [Part 1: Community Immortal Feminist Communities: A Recent Idea In Speculative Fiction “The Females do the Fathering!”: Reading, Resisting, and James Tiptree Jr. Eclipsing the Connecticut Yankee: Female Time Travelers Part 2: Heroism New Incarnations of Psyche: World-Changing Womanists Heroic Fantastic Femininity: Woman Warriors Part 3: Sexuality and Reproduction “Biological Wishful Thinking”: Strange Bedfellows and Phallic Fallacies Reproducing Reproduction, Manipulating Motherhood: Pregnancy and Power]. PN3433.6 .B37 1987

Barr, Marlene S. Feminist Fabulation: Space/Postmodern Fiction. PN3401.B38 1992

Barr, Marleen S.: Future Females: A Critical Anthology. PN 6071 S33 F84x

Barr, Marleen S.: Future Females, The Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities in Feminist Science Fiction Criticism. PS374.S35 F88 2000

Barr, Marleen S.: Genre Fission: A New Discourse Practice for Cultural Studies PS374.P64 B37 2000

Barr, Marleen S. Lost in Space: Probing Feminist Science Fiction and Beyond PS374.S35B33 1993

Barr, Marleen S., Ruth Salvaggio & Richard Law: Suzy McKee Charnas/Octavia Butler/Joan D. Vinge. PS 374 S35 B34 1986

Ben-Tov, Sharona: The Artificial Paradise: Science Fiction and American Reality. PS374.S35 B38 1995

Berger, Harold L.: Science Fiction and the New Dark Age. PN 3448 S45 B43

Bennett, Betty T. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: An Introduction. PR5398 .B46 1998

Biermann, Lillian: Images in a Crystal Ball: World Future in Novels for Young People. PN 3433.4 W4

Bleiler, E. F. Science Fiction: The Gernsback Years: A Complete Coverage of the Genre Magazines from 1926 through 1936. PS648.S3 B57 1998

Bleiler, E. F.: Science Fiction Writers: Critical Studies of the Major Authors from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present Day. PS 374 B35 S36 1982

Blish, James: More Issues at Hand. PN 3448 S45 B47

Booker, M. Keith: Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide PN56.D94 B66 1994

Booker, M. Keith: Monsters, Mushroom Clouds, and the Cold War: American Science Fiction and the Roots of Postmodernism, 1946-1964. PS374.S35 B66 2001

Bova, Ben: Notes to a Science Fiction Writer. PZ4 B782 Nox

Bova, Benjamin W.: Notes to a Science Fiction Writer. PN 3377.5 S3 B6 1982

Bretnor, Reginald: The Craft of Science Fiction: A Symposium on Writing Science Fiction and Science Fantasy. PN 3377.5 S3 C7

Bretnor, Reginald: Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Future. 809.3 B756m

Bretnor, Reginald: Science Fiction, Today and Tomorrow. PN 3448 S5 B7

Brians, Paul: Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction 1895-1984. PN 352 N83 B753x 1987

Bridenne, Jean Jacques: La litterature francaise d’imagination scientifique. 843.09 B763L

Brigg, Peter. The Span of Mainstream and Science Ficction: A Critical Study of a New Literary Genre PR888.S34 B75 2002

Broderick, Damien: The Architecture of Babel: Discourses of Literature and Science. PN55 .B74 1994

Broderick, Damien: Transrealist Fiction: Writing in the Slipstream of Science PN3433.5 .B76 2000

Bukatman, Scott: Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction. PS374.S35 B84 1993

Buker, Derek M.: Science Fiction and Fantasy Readers’ Advisory: The Librarian’s Guide to Cyborgs, Aliens, and Sorcerers. Z688.S32 B85 2002

Calkins, Elizabeth: Teaching Tomorrow: A Handbook of Science Fiction for Teachers. Educ LB 1631 C29

Campbell, John W., et al.: Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Future. 809.3 B7566m

Canaday, John. The Nucler Muse: Literature, Physics, and the First Atomic Bombs. QC791.96 .C36 2000

Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. PN3377.5.S3C37 1990

Carter, Paul Allen: The Creation of Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Magazine Fiction. PN 3448 S45 C36

Chapman, Edgar L. & Carl B. Yoke, eds. Classic and Iconoclastic History Science Fiction. PS374.S35 C58 2003

Chernaik, Laura: Social and Virtual Sace: Science Fiction, Transnationalism, and the American New Right HN90.M6 C43 2005

Cioffi, Frank: Formula Fiction? An Anatomy of American Science Fiction 1930-1940. PS 374 S35 C5 1982

Clareson, Thomas P.: Many Futures, Many Worlds: Theme and Form in Science Fiction. PN 3448 S45 M3

Clareson, Thomas P.: Science Fiction: The Other Side of Realism. PN 3448 S45 C5

Clareson, Thomas P.: Some Kind of Paradise: The Emergence of American Science Fiction PS 374 S35 C56 1985

Clareson, Thomas P.: A Spectrum of Worlds. PZ1 3542 Sp

Clareson, Thomas P.: Voices for the Future: Essays on Major Science Fiction Writers. PN 3448 S45 V6

Clarke, Ignatius Frederick: Voices Prophesying War. D445 C6

Colloque international de science-fiction: Actes du premier colloque international de science-fiction de Nice: Images de l ailleurs Espace interieur, ed. Jean Emelina & Denise Terrel. PN 3448 S45 C64x 1983

Conte, Joseph Mark: Design and Debris: A Chaotics of Postmodern American Fiction. PS374.C4 C66 2002

Cowart, David & Thomas L. Wymer: Twentieth-Century American Science Fiction Writers. PS 243 A45 v.8

Crosby, Janice. C. Cauldron of Changes: Feminist Spirituality in Fantastic Fiction. PS374.F27 C76 2000

Davin, Eric Leif: Pioneers of Wonder; Conversations with the Founders of Science Fiction. PS374.S35 D36 1999

Davies, Philip John, ed. Science Fiction, Social Conflict, and War. PN3433.5.S35 1990

de Camp, L. Sprague: Science Fiction Handbook. PN 3377.5 S3 D4 1975

de Camp, L. Sprague: Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy. PR830 F3 D4

Delany, Samuel R.: The Jewel-Hinged Jaw. PN 3448 S45 D4x

Delany, Samuel R.: The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-1965, PS 3554 E437 Z475 1988

Delany, Samuel R.: Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts & the Politics of the Paraliterary. PS3554.E437 Z4756 1999

Delany, Samuel R.: Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics: A Collection of Written Interviews PS3554.E437 Z476 1994

Delany, Samuel R.: Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. PN 3433.5 D45x 1984

Del Rey, Lester: The World of Science Fiction 1926-1976: The History of a Subculture. PS374 S35 D4

Dery, Mark. The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink. NX180.S6 D48 1999

Dewey, Joseph: In a Dark Time: The Apocalyptic Temper in the American Novel of the Nuclear Age PS 374 A 65 D4 1990

Disch, Thomas M. The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World. PN3433.5 D57 1998

Donawerth, Jane: Frankenstein’s Daughters: Women Writing Science Fiction PS374.S35 D66 1997

Dozois, Gardner, ed.: Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. PN337.5.S3W75

Dunn, Thomas P.: The Mechanical God: Machines in Science Fiction. PN3433.6 M4

Du Pont, Denise, ed.: Women of Vision. PS 374 S35 W64 1988

Eaton Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature: Bridge to Science Fiction. PN 3448 S45 E2 1979

Ellison, Harlan: Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed. PS 3555 L62 S65 1984

Erlich, Richard D., and Dunn, Thomas P., eds.: Clockwork Worlds: Mechanized Enrivonments in Science Fiction. PN 3433.6C56 1983

Eshbach, Lloyd, ed.: Of Worlds Beyond: The Science of Science Fiction Writing. PN 3448 S45 E7

Evans, Hilary and Dik: Beyond the Gaslight: Science in Popular Fiction 1885-1905. PR 1309 S45 B4

Fernbach, Amanda: Fantasies of Fetishism: From Decadence to the Post-Human.

Ferns, C. S. Narrating Utopia: Ideology, Gender, Form in Utopian Litrature. PN3448.U7 F47 1999

Ferreira, Maria Aline Seabra: I Am the Other: Literary Negotiations of Human Cloning. PS374.H83 F47 2005

Ferrerar, Juan: La Novela de Ciencia Ficcion. PN 3448 S45 F38

Fischer, William B.: The Empire Strikes Out: Kurd Lasswitz, Hans Dominik, and the Development of German Science Fiction. PT 747 S34 F57 1984

Flanagan, Mary & Austin Booth: Reload: rethinking women + cyberculture PS151 .R45 2002 Ê

Franklin, Howard Bruce: Future Perfect: American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth Century. PN 3448 S45 F7

Fredericks, Casey: The Future of Eternity: Mythologies of Science Fiction and Fantasy. PN 3433.6 F7 1982

Freedman, Carl. Critical Theory and Science Fiction. PN3433.5 .F74 2000

Garber, Eric: Uranian Worlds: A Reader’s Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction. PN 56 H57 G37x 1983. See newer edition, below.

Garber, Eric and Lyn Paleo: Uranian Worlds: A Reader’s Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. PN56.H57G37x 1990

Ginn, Sherry. Our Space, Our Place: Women in the Worlds of Science Fiction Television. PN1992.8.W65 G56 2005

Glut, Donald F. The Frankenstein Archive: Essays on the Monster, the Myth, the Movies, and More. PN1995.9.F8 G59 2002 Ê

Goswami, Amit: The Cosmic Dancers: Exploring the Physics of Science Fiction. Sci. Q162 G7 1983

Goulart, Ron: Cheap Thrills: An Informal History of the Pulp Magazines. PS 379 G6

Gove, Philip Babcock: The Imaginary Voyage in Prose Fiction: A History of its Criticism and a Guide for its Study, with an Annotated Check Lis of 215 Imaginary Voyages from 1700 to 1800.PN 3432 G69 1961

Greenberg, Martin H.: Fantastic Lives: Autobiographical Essays by Notable Science Fiction Writers. PS 129 F3

Green, Roger Lancelyn: Into Other Worlds. 809 G825i

Greenland, Colin: The Entropy Exhibition: Michael Moorcock and the British “New Wave” in Science Fiction. PR 830 S35 G73 1983

Griffiths, John: Three Tomorrows: American, British, and Soviet Science Fiction. PN 3448 S45 G75x

Gunn, James: Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction. PN 3448 S45 G8

Gunn, James: The Discovery of the Future: The Ways Science Fiction Developed. PN 3448 S45 G81x

Haraway, Donna: The Haraway Reader HQ1190 .H364 2004

Harris-Fain, Darren: British Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writers, 1918-1960. Holref. PN451 .D52x v.255 Ê

Harris-Fain, Darren:British Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writers Since 1960. Holref. PN451 .D52x v. 261

Harris-Fain, Darren: Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction: The Age of Maturity, 1970-2000. PS374.S35 H37 2005

Hartwell, David G.: Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction. PN 3433.8 H36 1984

Hartwell, David G. & Kathryn Cramer, eds.: The Space Opera Renaissance PS648.S3 S55 2006

Hassler, Donald M.: Comic Tones in Science Fiction: The Art of Compromise with Nature. PN 3433.8 H37 1982
Contains surprisingly little about SF, less about comedy. Examples discussed from Asimov, Clement, LeGuin, Pohl, Sturgeon

Hay, George, ed.: The Edward De Bono Science Fiction Collection. Z695.1 E4 N37

Hayles, N. Katherine: How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Q335 .H394 1999 (Owen Library)

Healy, Janet K. Miller: Simulated Realities: Contemporary Science Fiction, Golding and Robbe-Grillet. (Thesis) WSU L5 1980 H4

Heard, Alex: Apocalypse Pretty Soon: Travels in End-Time America. BR526 .H335 1999

Hellekson, Karen. The Alternate History: Refiguring Historical Time. PS374.H5 H44 2001

Hogeland, Lisa Maria. Feminism and Its Fictions: The Consciousness-Raising Novel and the Women’s Liberation Movement. PS374.F45 H64 1998

Hollinger, Veronica and Joan Gordon, eds.: Edging into the Future: Science Fiction and Contemporary Cultural Transformation. PS374 .S35 E37 2002 Ê

Hornum, Barbara G.: American Values and World View as Reflected in Science Fiction. Microfilm PN 3448 S45 H67x

Huntington, John: Rationalizing Genius: Ideological Strategies in the Classic American Science Fiction Short Story. PS 374 S35 H86 1989

Innes, Sherrie A. Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture. P94.5.W65 I56 1999

International Conference on the Fantastic in Literature and Film: Aspects of Fantasy: Selected essays from the Second International Conference on the Fantastic in Literature and Film, ed. by William Coyle PZ3435 I57 1981

International Conference on the Fantastic in Literature and Film: Contours of the Fantastic, Selected Essays from the Eighth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, ed. Michele K. Langford. PN 56 F34 I58 1990

International Conference on the Fantastic in Literature and Film: The Scope of the Fantastic: Theory, Technique, Major Authors. PN 56 F34 I 57 1980 or PN 56 F34 I 57 1980a

International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts: Spectrum of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Sixth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, ed. Donald Palumbo NX 650 F36 I59 1985

International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts: Reflections on the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Fourth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, ed. by Michael R. Collings PN 56 F34 I58 1983

Isaacs, Leonard: Darwin to Double Helix: The Biological Theme in Science Fiction. PR 830 S35

Ivison, Douglas, ed.: Canadian Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writers. PN451 .D52x v. 251 Ê

Jameson, Fredric: Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. PS648.S3 J36 2005

Jarvis, Brian.: Postmodern Cartographies: The Geographical Imagination in Contemporary American Culture. GF91.U6 J37 1998b

Jarvis, Sharon: Inside Outer Space: Science Fiction Professionals Look at Their Craft PN 3433.5 I57 1985

Johnston, John. Information Multiplicity: American Fiction in the Age of Media Saturation. PS374.M43 J64 1998

Jones, A.: Deconstructing the Starships: Science, Fiction and Reality. PN3433.8 .J66x 1999

Kasack, Wolfgang: Science-Fiction Osteuropa: Beitrage zur russischen, polnischen und tschechischen phantastischen Literatur. PG 512 S35 1984

Keim, Heinrich: New Wave: die Avantgarde der modernen anglo-amerikanischen Science Fiction. PR 888 S35 K44 1983

Kerman, Judith B., ed. Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? PN1997.B283R4 1991

Ketterer, David: New Worlds for Old: The Apocalyptic Imagination, Science Fiction and American Literature. PS 374 S35 R4

Ketterer, David: Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy. PR9192 S34 K48 1992

De Witt Douglas Kilgore: Astrofuturism: Science, Race, and Visions of Utopia in Space. PS374.S35 K43 2003 Ê

King, Betty: Women of the Future: The Female Character in Science Fiction. PS 374 S35 K44

Kitchin, Rob & James Kneale: Lost in Space: Geographies of Science Fiction. PN3433.6 .L67 2002

Knight, Damon: In Search of Wonder. 813.09 K743i

Knight, Damon: Turning Points: Essays on the Art of Science Fiction. PN 3448 S45t

Knight, Diana: Barthes and Utopia: Space, Travel, Writing PN75.B29 K55 1997

Kreuziger, Frederick A.: The Religion of Science Fiction PN 3433.6 K74 1986

Kumar, Krishan: Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times. HX806 K86 1987

Landon, Brooks: Science Fiction After 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars. PN3433.8 .L36 1997

Larbalestier, Justine. The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction. PS374.S35 L29 2002

Lederer, Susan E.: Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature. PR5397.F73 F75 2002 Ê

Lefanu, Sarah. In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction. PN 3433.6 L43x 1988

LeGuin, Ursula K.: Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places. PS 3562 E42 D36 1989

LeGuin, Ursula K.: The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. PN 3435 L4

LeGuin, Ursula K.: The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, rev. ed. PN3435.L4 1992

Le Guin, Ursula K.: The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagintion. PS3562.E42 W38 2004

Lem, Stanislaw: Microworlds: Writings on Science Fiction and Fantasy. PN 500 B25A5

Lenz, Millicent. Nuclear Age Literature for Youth: The Quest for a Life-Affirming Ethic. PN1009.A1L47 1990

Lerner, Frederick Andrew: Modern Science Fiction and the American Literary Community. PS 374 S35 L4 1985

Lewis, C. S.: Of Other Worlds. PR 6023 E926 O3 1967

Lofficier, Jean-Marc & Randy: French Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Pulp Fiction: A Guide to Cinema, Television, Radio, Animation, Comic Books and Litrature from the Middle Ages to the Present. PQ637.F3 L64 2000

MaGuire, Patrick L.: Red Stars: Political Aspects of Soviet Science Fiction. PG 3098 S5 M38 1985

Malik, Rex, ed.: Future Imperfect: Science Fact and Science Fiction. PN 3433.2 F8

Malzberg, Barry N.: The Engines of the Night: Science Fiction in the Eighties. PN 3433.8 M34

Malmgren, Carl Carryl. Worlds Apart: Narratology of Science Fiction. PN3433.5.M35 1991

Manlove, C.: Science Fiction: Ten Explorations PS 374 S35 M36 1986

Mannix, Patrick. The Rhetoric of Antinuclear Fiction: Persuasive Strategies in Novels and Films. PS374.N82M36 1992

Matthew, Robert. Japanese Science Fiction: A View of a Changing Society. New York: Routledge, 1989. PL 747.57 S3 M37 1989

McCaffery, Larry: Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers (Benford, Burroughs, Butler, Delany, Disch, Gibson, le Guin, Russ, Sterling, Wolfe) PS 374 S35 M39 1990

McCaffery, Larry: Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction. PS374.S35S76 1991

McKnight, Stephen A., ed. Science, Pseudo-Science, and Utopianism in Early Modern Thought. Q125.S43463 1992

McNelly, Willis: Science Fiction: The Academic Awakening. PN 3448 S45 S3

Melzer, Patricia: Alien Constructions: Science Fiction and Feminist Thought. PS374 S35 M45 2006

Meyers, Walter E.: Aliens and Linguists: Language Study and Science Fiction. PN 3448 S45 N46

Merrick, Helen & Tess Williams, ed.: Women of Other Worlds: Excursions Through Science Fiction & Feminism. PN98.W64 W66x 1999

Michael, Magali Cornier: Feminism and the Postmodern Impulse: Post-World War II Fiction. PR888.I45 M53 1996

Millies, Suzanne: Science Fiction Primer for Teachers. PN 3448 S45 M5

Moskowitz, Samuel: Explorers of the Infinite. PN 3448 S45 M65

Moskowitz, Samuel: Seekers of Tomorrow. PN 3448 S45 M66

Moskowitz, Samuel: Strange Horizons: The Spectrum of Science Fiction. PN 3448 S45 M665

Moylan, Tom: Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination. PS 374 U8 M69 1986

Moylan, Tom: Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia. PN3433.6 .M69 2000

Myers, Robert E., ed.: The Intersection of Science Fiction and Philosophy: Critical Studies. PN 3433.6 I 57 1983

Nadeau, Robert: Readings from the New Book on Nature: Physics and Metaphysics in the Modern Novel. PS374 P45 N3

Nahin, Paul J. Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction. PS374.S35N34 1993

Nicholls, Peter, ed.: Science Fiction at Large: A Collection of Essays by Various Hands about the Interface Between Science Fiction and Reality. PN 3448 S45 S28

Nicholls, Peter, ed.: The Science in Science Fiction. SCI Q 162 S4127 1982

Nye, David E.: Narratives and Spaces: Technology and the Construction of American Culture. E169.1 .N816 1997

O Leary, Stephen D.: Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric. BL501.O44 1994

Olsen, Lance: Ellipse of Uncertainty: An Introduction to Postmodern Fantasy. PN 56 F34 O47 1987

Panshin, Alexei: Science Fiction in Dimension: A Book of Explorations. PN 3448 S45p

Panshin, Alexei and Cory: The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence. PN 3433.5 P26 1989

Parker, Helen N.: Biological Themes in Modern Science Fiction. PN 3433.6 P37 1984

Parrinder, Patrick: Science Fiction: Its Criticism and Teaching. PN3448 S45 P37x

Pawling, Christopher, ed.: Popular Fiction and Social Change. PN 3344 P66 1984b

Perkins, Michael: The Secret Record. PN 56 E7 P4

Pettman, Dominic: After the Orgy: Toward a Politics of Exhaustion. BL503.2 .P47 2002

Philmus, Robert M.: Into the Unknown: The Evolution of Science Fiction from Francis Godwin to H. G. Wells. PR 830 S35 P5

Philmus, Robert M.: Visions and Re-visions: (re)Constructing Science Fiction. PR830.S35 P57 2005

Pierce, Hazel: A Literary Symbiosis: Science Fiction/Fantasy Mystery. PN 3433.6 P54 1983

Pierce, John J.: Foundations of Science Fiction: A Study in Imagination and Evolution. PN3433.8 P54 1987
Vol. 1 of a useful three-volume history of SF treated by theme.

Pierce, John J.: Great Themes of Science Fiction: A Study in Imagination and Evolution. PN 3433.8 P544 1987
Vol. 2 of the series. (Vol. 3 has not yet appeared.)

Plattel, Martin G.: Utopian and Critical Thinking. HX 806 P5513

Platt, Charles: Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction. PN 165 P56x

Pohl, Frederik: The Way the Future Was: A Memoir. PS3566 036 Z47

Porter, Jennifer E. & Darcee L. McLaren, eds.: Star Trek and Sacred Ground: Explorations of Star Trek, Religion, and American Culture. PN1995.9.S694 S72 1999

Pournelle, Jerry & Jim Baen, eds.: The Science Fiction Yearbook. PZ 1 S45x 1985

Rabkin, Eric S.: The Fantastic in Literature. PN 56 P34 R3

Rabkin, Eric S.: No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction. PR 830 U7 N6 1983

Rabkin, Eric S., Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander: The End of the World. PN 3433.6 E6 1983

Randall, David: Science Fiction and Fantasy: An Exhibition Jan-April 1975. Z6676 I5 no. 21

Reilly, Robert, ed.: The Transcendent Adventure: Studies of Religion in Science Fiction. PR 830 S35 T73 1985

Ridgway, Jim and Michele Benjamin: PsiFi: Psychological Theories and Science Fictions. PN 56 P93 R53x 1987

Riley, Dick: Critical Encounters: Writers and Themes in Science Fiction. PS 374 S35 C74

Roemer, Kenneth M., ed.: America as Utopia. PS 374 U8 A47

Rogow, Roberta: Futurespeak: A Fan’s Guide to the Language of Science Fiction. PN3433.4.R64 1991

Rose, Lois: The Shattered Ring: Science Fiction and the Quest for Meaning PN 3448 S45 R6

Rose, Mark: Alien Encounters: Anatomy of Science Fiction . PN 3433.8 R6

Rose, Mark: Science Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays. PN 3448 S45 S27

Rosenberg, Daniel & Susan Harding, eds.: Histories of the Future. PS374.F73 H57 2000

Rottensteiner, Franz: The Science Fiction Book: An Illustrated History. PN 3448 S45 R65

Rotschild, Joan, ed.: Machina ex Dea: Feminist Perspectives on Technology. T14.5 M3 1983

Ruddick, Nicholas. Ultimate Island: On the Nature of British Science Fiction. PR830.S35.R845 1993

Russ, Joanna: The Image of Women in Science Fiction in Images of Women in Fiction: Feminist Perspectives, ed. Susan Koppelman Cornillon. PN3411.C6 1973

Russ, Joanna: To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction. PS147 R87 1995.

Russell, Miles, ed. Digging Holes in Popular Culture: Archaeology and Science Fiction. PN3433.6 .D54 2002

Sabella, Robert. Who Shaped Science Fiction? PS374.S35 S18 2000

Saciuk, Olena H., ed. The Shape of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Seventh International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. PN 56 F34 I58 1986

Sadler, Frank: The Unified Ring: Narrative Art and the Science-Fiction Novel. PN 3377.5 S3 S2 1984

Sammons, Martha C.: A Better Country: The World of Religious Fantasy and Science Fiction. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Sandison, Alan & Robert Dingley, eds.: Histories of the Future: Studies in Fact, Fantasy and Science Fiction. PS374.F73 H57 2000

Samuelson, David: Visions of Tomorrow: Six Journeys from Outer to Inner Space. PS 374

Sargent, Lyman Tower: British and American Utopian Literature. 1516-1975. PR 149 U8 S3x & PR149.U8S3x 1988

Sawyer, Andy & David Seed, eds.: Speaking Science Fiction: Dialogues and Interpretations. PN3433.2 .S67 2000

Sayer, Karen & John Moore, ed.: Science Fiction: Critical Frontiers. PS374.S35 S333 2000

Schafer, Martin: Science Fiction als Ideologiekritik?. PS 374 S35 S28 1977

Schaffner, Val: Lost in Cyberspace: Essays and Far-Fetched Tales. PS3569.C46L6 1993

Schlobin, Roger C.: Urania’s Daughters: A Checklist of Women Science Fiction Writers, 1692-1982.

Scholes, Robert E.: Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision. PN 3448 S45

Scholes, Robert E.: Structural Fabulation: An Essay on Fiction of the Future. PR 830 S35 S3

Schulz, Hans-Joachim: Science Fiction. PN 3433.6 S34x 1986

Schwenger, Peter: Letter Bomb: Nuclear Holocaust and the Exploding Word. PN98.D43S39 1992

Science Fiction Writers of America: Writing and Selling Science Fiction. PN 337.5 S3 S3 1982

Scott, Melissa: Conceiving the Heavens: Creating the Science Fiction Novel. PN 3377.5 .S3 s37 1997

Seed, David: Anticipations: Esays on Early Science Fiction and Its Precursors. PR830.S35 A58 1995

Shinn, Thelma J.: Worlds Within Women: Myth and Mythmaking in Fantastic Literature by Women. PS 374 F27 S45 1986

Slusser, George E. & Eric S. Rabkin, eds.: Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction. PN 3433.6 A44 1987

Slusser, George E. & Eric S. Rabkin, eds.: Hard Science Fiction. PN 343.2 H37 1986

Slusser, George E., Eric S. Rabkin & Robert Scholes, eds.: Bridges to Fantasy. PN 56 F34 B7 1982

Slusser, George E., Eric S. Rabkin & Robert Scholes, eds.: Coordinates: Placing Science Fiction and Fantasy. PN 3433.2 C66 1983

Slusser, George E. & Eric S. Rabkin, eds.: Fights of Fancy: Armed Conflict in Science Fiction and Fantasy PN3433.6 F54 1993

Slusser, George E. & Eric S. Rabkin, eds.: Intersections: Fantasy and Science Fiction. PN 3433.2 I58 1987

Slusser, George E. & Eric S. Rabkins, eds.: Mindscapes: The Geographies of Imagined Worlds. PN 3435 M55 1989

Slusser, George E. & Eric S. Rabkin, eds.: Storm Warnings: Science Fiction Confronts the Future. PS 374 F86 S86 1987

Slusser, George & Eric S. Rabkin, eds.: Styles of Creation: Aesthetic Technique and the Creation of Fictional Worlds. PN3433.5.S894 1992
Interesting essays on various aspects of style in SF.

Slusser, George E. & Tom Shippey, eds. Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative. PN3433.6F53 1992

Slusser, George E., Gary Westfahl, & Eric S. Rabkin, eds.: Immortal Engines: Life Extension and Immortality in Science Fiction and Fantasy. PN3433.2 I56 1996

Smith, Curtis C., ed.: Twentieth-Century Science Fiction Writers. PS 374 S35 T89

Smith, Nicholas D.: Philosophers Look at Science Fiction. PS 374 S35 P4 1982

Spaulding, A. Timothy: Re-Forming the Past: History, the Fantastic, and the Postmodern Slave Narrative. PS374.S58 S66 2005

Spinrad, Norman: Science Fiction in the Real World. PN3433.5.S65 1990

Spittel, Olaf R. Science-Fiction: Essays. PN 3433.5 S34x 1987

Stableford, Brian W.: Scientific Romance in Britain, 1890-1950. PR 888 S35 S73 1985b

Staicar, Tom: Critical Encounters II: Writers and Themes in Science Fiction. PN3433.8 C73 1982

Staicar, Tom: The Feminine Eye: Science Fiction and the Women Who Write It. PS 374 S35 F45 1982

Stocker, Jack H., ed.: Chemistry and Science Fiction. PS374.S35 C48 1998

Stockwell, Peter. The Poetics of Science Fiction. PN3433.6 S76 2000
Interesting explorations of stylistic patterns in SF.

Suvin, Darko: Victorian Science Fiction in the UK: The Discourses of Knowledge and Power. PR878 S35 S8 1983

Suvin, Darko: Metamorphosis of Science Fiction. PN 3448 S45 S897

Suvin, Darko: Positions and Presuppositions in Science Fiction. PN 3433.8 S88 1988

Swanson, Roy A.: Voices for the Future: Essays on Major Science Fiction Writers. PN 3448 S45 V6

Swinfen, Ann : In Defence of Fantasy: A Study of the Genre in English and American Literature since 1945. PR 888F3 S94 1984

Tatsumi, Takayuki: Full Metal Apache: Transactions Between Cyberpunk Japan and Avant-Pop America. PL747.55.T37

Tymn, Marshall B.: Science Fiction: A Teacher’s Guide and Resource Book. PN 3433.7 S35 1988

Tymn, Marshall B.: Science Fiction: Fantasy, and Weird Fiction Magazines PN 3433 T9 1985

Wagar, W. Warren: Terminal Visions: The Literature of Last Things. PN 56 E63 W33 1982

Waller, John: Fabulous Science: Fact and Fiction in the History of Scientific Discovery. Q125 .W266 2002

Walsh, Chad: From Utopia to Nightmare. HX 806 W2 1972

Warner, Marina. Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self ÊPN56.M53 W37 2002 (missing)

Warrick, Patricia S.: The Cybernetic Imagination in Science Fiction. PN 3448 S45 W34

Weaver, John A., Karen Anijar & Toby Daspit, eds. Science Fiction Curriculum, Cyborg

Weber, Ronald: Seeing Earth: Literary Responses to Space Exploration. PS 228 O 96 W43 1985

Weintraub, Pamela: The Omni Interviews. Sci QH 311 046 1984

Westfahl, Gary: The Mechanics of Wonder: The Creation of the Idea of Science Fiction. PS3513.E8668 Z95 1998
A defensive of the importance of formative role of editor Hugo Gernsback over John Campbell in the creation of modern SF.

Westfahl, Gary: Science Fiction, Children’s Literature, and Popular Culture: Coming of Age in Fantasyland PS374.S35 W44 2000

Westfahl, Gary, ed.: Space and Beyond: The Frontier Theme in Science Fiction. PS374.S35 S63 2000

Westfahl, Gary & George Slusser, eds. Nursery Realms: Children in the Worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. PN56.5 .C48 N87 1999

Wolfe, Gary K.: Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy: A Glossary and Guide to Scholarship. PN 3435 W64 1966

Wolfe, Gary K.: The Known and the Unknown: The Iconography of Science Fiction. PS 374 S35 W34

Wollheim, Donald A.: The Universe Makers: Science Fiction Today. PN 3448 S45 W57 1971

Wolmark, Jenny: Aliens and Others: Science Fiction, Feminism and Postmodernism PN3433.6.W65 1994

Wolmark, Jenny, ed.: Cybersexualities: A Reader on Feminist Theory Cyborgs and Cyberspace. PN3433.6 .C83 1999

Wu, Dingbo and Patrick D. Murphy, eds. Science Fiction from China. PL 2658 E8 S36 1989

Yoke, Carl B. Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World. PS 374 R39 P48 1987

Yoke, Carl B. and Donald M. Hassler, eds.: Death and the Serpent: Immortality in Science Fiction and Fantasy. PN 3433.6 D4 1985

Yuen, Wong Kin, Gary Westfahl & Amy Kit-sze Chan: World Weavers: Globalization, Science Fiction, and the Cybernetic Revolution. PN3433.5 .W67 2005

Studies of individual authors:


Arbur, Rosemarie: Leigh Brackett, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Ann McCaffrey: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography. PS 374 S35 A73x

Keulen, Margarete. Radical Imagination: Feminist conceptions of the Future in Ursula Le Guin, Marge Piercy, and Sally Miller Gearhart. PS374.F86K48 1991

Zahorski, Kenneth J.: Lloyd Alexander, Evangeline Walton Ensley, Kenneth Morris: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography. PS 228 F35 Z35x


Aldiss, Brian. The Twinkling of an Eye. PR6951 L3 Z478 1998
Aldiss’ autobiography is best on his youth; has little to say about his fiction except for Greybeard, Barefoot in the Head, and the Helliconia trilogy.

Collings, Michael R.: Brian Aldiss. PR 6051 L3 Z6 1986

Griffin, Brian: Apertures: A Study of the Writings of Brian W. Aldiss. PR 6051 L3 268 1984

Henighan, Tom. Brian Aldiss. PR6051.L3 Z69 1999


Collings, Michael R.: Piers Anthony. PS 3551 N73 Z6 1983


Asimov, Isaac: In Joy Still Felt: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1954-1978. PS3551 S5 Z515

Asimov, Isaac: In Memory Yet Green: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1920-1954. PS3551 S5 Z517

Asimov, Isaac: It’s Been a Good Life PS3551.S5 Z473 2002

Freedman, Carl: Conversations with Isaac Asimov. PS3551.S5 Z465 2005

Gunn, James E. Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction PS3551.S5 Z62 1996

Ballard, J. G.:

Brigg, Peter. J. G. Ballard. PR6052.A46 Z59 1985

Delville, Michel. J. G. Ballard. In process.

Stephenson, Gregory. Out of the Night and Into the Dream: A Thematic Study of the Fiction of J. G. Ballard PR6052.A46Z88 1991


Ketterer, David: Imprisoned in a Tesseract: The Life and Work of James Blish. PS 3503 L64 Z74 1987


Greenberg, Martin Harry & Joseph D. Olander, eds.: Ray Bradbury. PS 3503 R167 Z85

Reid, Robin Anne. Ray Bradbury: A Critical Companion. PS3503 .R167 Z86 2000

Touponce, William F.: Ray Bradbury and the Poetics of Reverie. PS 3503 R167 Z88 1984

Weist, Jerry: Bradbury: An Illustrated Life: A Journey to Far Metaphor.” PS3503.R167 Z93 2002 Campbell

Berger, Albert I. Magic that Works: John W. Campbell And the American Response to Technology. PS3553 A47 Z59 1993
A brilliantly researched study of SF’s most influential editor.


Hollow, John: Against the Night, the Stars: The Science Fiction of Arthur C. Clarke. PR6005 L36 Z69 1983

Olander, Joseph D.: Arthur C. Clarke. PR 6005 L36 Z56


Delany, Samuel R. Correspondence. PS3554.E437 Z48 2000

McEvoy, Seth: Samuel R. Delany. PS 3554 E437 Z78 1985

Peplow, Michael W. & Robert S. Bravard: Samuel R. Delany: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography, 1962-1972. Z8223.2 P46

Reid, Robin Anne: Arthur C. Clarke: A Critical Companion. PR6005 L36 Z57 1997

Russell, Miles, ed. Digging Holes in Popular Culture: Archaeology and Science Fiction. PN3433.6 D54 2002

Sallis, James, ed. Ash of Stars: On the Writing of Samuel R. Delany. PS3554.E437 Z55 1996

Weedman, Jane Branham: Samuel R. Delany. PS3554 E437 Z75


Carrère: I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick. PS3554.I3 Z63 2004

Greenberg, Martin Harry. ed.: Philip K. Dick. PS 3554 I3 1983

Mackey, Douglas A.: Philip K. Dick. PS 3554 I3 Z75 1988

Robinson, Kim Stanley: The Novels of Philip K. Dick. PS 3554 I3 286 1984
Consists mostly of summaries of Dick’s novels, published and unpublished. Useful selected bibliography.

Sutin, Lawrence. Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick PS 3554 I3 Z89 1989

Umland, Samuel J., ed. Philip K. Dick: Contemporary Critical Interpretations. PS3554.I3 Z795 1995
The best of the various volumes of collected essays on Dick.

Warrick, Patricia S.: Wind in Motion: The Fiction of Philip K. Dick PS 3554 I3 Z92 1987

Williams, Paul: Only Apparently Real. PS 3554 I3 Z93 1986


Thompson, Raymond H.: Gordon R. Dickson: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography. Z82308 T47 1983


Weil, Ellen and Gary K. Wolfe: Harlan Ellison: The Edge of Forever. PS3555.L62 Z95 2002


Cavallaro, Dani: Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science Fiction and The Work of William Gibson. PS3557.I2264 Z64 2000

Olsen, Lance: William Gibson. PS3557.I2264Z76x 1992


Weil, Ellen & Gary K. Wolfe: Harlan Ellison: The Edge of Forever. PS3555.L62 Z95 2002


Gilman, Charlotte Perkins: A Journey from Within: The Love Letters of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1897-1900. PS 1744 G57 Z48 1995

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins: A Nonfiction Reader, ed. Larry Ceplair. HQ1413.G54 A3 1991

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins: The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography. PS1744 G57 Z5 1972

Gough, Val & Jill Rudd, ed.: A Very Different Story: Studies on the Fiction of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. PS1744.G57 Z89 1998

Hill, Mary A.: Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Making of a Radical Feminist. HQ1413.G54 H54

Kessler, Carol Farley: Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Her Progress Toward Utopia, With Selected Writings. PS1744.G57 Z73 1995

Knight, Denise D.: Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Study of the Short Fiction. PS1744.G57 Z734 1997

Meyering, Sheryl L. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Woman and Her Work. PS1744.G57 Z63 1989

Scharnhorst, Gary: Charlotte Perkins Gilman. PS1744.G57 Z85 1985

Scharnhorst, Gary: Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Bibliography. Z8342.415 .S32 1985


Blish, James. Heinlein in Dimension: A Critical Analysis. PS3515.E288 Z8 Ê

Franklin, H. Bruce: Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction. PS3515.E288 Z67 Ê

Heinlein, Robert A.: Grumbles from the Grave. PS 3515 E288 G7 1990

Olander, Joseph D.: Robert A. Heinlein. PS 3515 E288 Z84

Stover, Leon E.: Robert A. Heinlein PS 3515 E288 Z98 1987


Herbert, Brian. Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert. PS3558.E63 Z68 2003

Levack, Daniel J. H.: Dune Master: A Frank Herbert Bibliography. PS 3558 E63 Z65 1988


Widder, William J.: The Fiction of L. Ron Hubbard: A Comprehensive Bibliography & Reference Guide to Published and Selected Unpublished Works. Z8420.665.W53 1994


Haut, Mavis: The Hidden Library of Tanith Lee: Themes and Subtexts from Dionysos to the Immortal Gene. PR6062.E4163 Z69 2001


Bittner, James W.: Approaches to the Fiction of Ursula K. LeGuin. PS 3562 E42 Z56 1984

Bloom, Harold: Ursula K. LeGuin. PS 3562 S42 Z952 1986

Bucknall, Barbara J.: Ursula K. LeGuin. PS 3562 E42 Z58

Cogell, Elizabeth Cummins: Ursula K. LeGuin: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography. Z8495.88 .C63 1983

Davies, Laurence & Peter Stillman: The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. PS3562.E42 D576 2005

De Bolt, Joe, ed.: Ursula K. Le Guin, Voyager to Inner Lands and to Outer Space. PS 3562 B42 Z96

Selinger, Bernard.: LeGuin and Identity in Contemporary Fiction. PS 3562 E42 Z88 1988

Slusser, George E.: Farthest Shores of Ursula K. LeGuin. PS 3562 E42 Z9

Spivack, Charlotte: Ursula K. LeGuin. PS 3562 E42 Z92 1984

White, Donna R.: Dancing With Dragons: Ursula K. LeGuin and the Critics. PS3562.E42 Z985 1999


Byfield, Bruce: Witches of the Mind: A Critical Study of Fritz Leiber PS3523.E4583Z54x 1991

Staicar, Tom: Fritz Leiber. PS 3523 E4583 Z86


Ziegfeld, Richard E.: Stanislaw Lem. PG 7158 L392 Z53 1985

Swirski, Peter: Between Literature and Science: Poe, Lem, and Explorations in Aesthetics, Cognitive Science, and Literary Knowledge. PS2642.S3 S95x 2000


Wolfe, Gary K.: David Lindsay. PR 6023 I58115 Z96 1982b


Derleth, August: Some Notes on Lovecraft. PS 3523 O833 D4 1971

Joshi, S. T.: H. P. Lovecraft. PS 3523 O 833 Z7 1982

Joshi, S. T., ed.: H. P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism. PS 3523 O833 Z66

Joshi, S. T., ed.: H. P. Lovecraft and Lovecraft Criticism: An Annotated Bibliography. Z8520.9 J67 1981

Lovecraft, H. P. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. PS3523.O833 Z48 2000

Lovecraft, H. P. & Willis Conover: Lovecraft at Last. PS 3523 O833 Z526

Owings, Mark with Jack L. Chalker: The Revised H. P. Lovecraft Bibliography. Z8520.9 O93

Shreffler, Philip A.: The H. P. Lovecraft Companion. PS 3523 O833 Z86

Miller, Walter M. Jr.:

Listening: : A Canticle for Lebowitz at 40. AP2 .L5515

Roberson, William H.: Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A Bio-Bibliography. Z8575.56 1992

Moorcock, Michael:

Greenland, Colin: Michael Moorcock: Death is no Obstacle. PR6063.O59Z534x 1992

Priest, Christopher:

Butler, Andrew M.: Christopher Priest: The Interaction. PR6066.R55 Z65 2005


Stansky, Peter, ed.: On Nineteen Eighty-Four PR 6029R8 N644 1983 [See also many other studies of Orwell which contain discussions of Nineteen Eighty-Four.]


Cortiel, Jeanne. Demand My Writing: Joanna Russ/Feminism/Science Fiction. PS3568.U763 Z56x 1999


Wolf, Milton T., ed.: Shaw and Science Fiction. PR5366 .A15 v. 17


Making Monstrous: Frankenstein, Criticism, Theory. PR5397.F73B68 1991


Chapman, Edgar L. Road to Castle Mount, The: The Science Fiction of Robert Silverberg. PS3569.I472 Z57 1999

Elkins, Charles L. & Martin Harry Greenberg, eds. Robert Silverberg’s Many Trapdoors: Critical Essays on His Science Fiction. PS3569.I472


Sanders, Joe: E. E. Doc Smith. PS 3537 M349 Z87 1986


Fiedler, Leslie A.: Olaf Stapledon: A Man Divided. PR 6037 T18 Z66 1983

McCarthy, Patrick A.: Olaf Stapledon. PR 6037 T18 Z77 1982


Potts, Stephen W. The Second Marxian Invasion: The Fiction of the Strugatsky Brothers. San Bernardino, Calif: Borgo Press, 1991.


Menger, Lucy: Theodore Sturgeon. PS 3569 T875 Z78


Tiptree, James. Meet Me at Infinity. PS3570.I66 A6 2000


Costello, Peter: Jules Verne: Inventor of Science Fiction. PQ 2469 Z5 C66

Smyth, Edmund J., ed. Jules Verne: Narratives of Modernity PQ2469.Z5 J833 2000


Frenkel, James, ed. True Names by Vernor Vinge and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier. PS3572.I534 T78 2001


Boon, Kevin Alexander, ed.: At Millennium’s End: New Essays on the Work of Kurt Vonnegut. PS3572 .O5 Z535 2001

Merrill, Robert. Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut. PS3572.O5Z62 1990

Morse, Donald E. Kurt Vonnegut. PS3572.O5Z78x 1992

Morse, Donald E. The Novels of Kurt Vonnegut: Imagining Being an American. PS3572.O5 Z786 2003


Bergonzi, Bernard: The Early H. G. Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romances. 823 W462z6

Bergonzi, Bernard: H. G. Wells: A Collection of Critical Essays. PR 5777 H2 1976

Geduld, Harry M., ed. The Definitive Time Machine: A Critical Edition of H. G. Wells s Scientific Romance.

H. G. Wells Society: H.G. Wells: A Comprehensive Bibliography. Z8964.8 H2

Haining, Peter: The H. G. Wells Scrapbook. PR 5776 H16

Hammond, J. R.: H. G. Wells: Interviews and Recollections. PR 5776 H12x

Haynes, Roslynn D.: H. G. Wells: Discoverer of the Future. PR 5776 S35 H28

Hillegas, Mark Robert: The Future as Nightmare: H. G. Wells and the Antiutopians. PR 5777 H5

Huntington, John: The Logic of Fantasy. PR 5778 S35 H8 1982

Kargarlitskii, Iulii: The Life and Thought of H. G. Wells. PR 5776 K313 1966a

Ketterer, David, ed.: Flashes of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the War of the Worlds Centennial: Nineteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. PN56.F34 I58 1998

MacKenzie, Norman & Jeanne: H. G.Wells: A Biography. PR 5776 M3 1973b

MacKenzie, Norman & Jeanne: The Time Traveller: The Life of H. G. Wells. PR 5776 M3

Marvin, Thomas E.: Kurt Vonnegut: A Critical Companion. PS3572.O5 Z766 2002

McConnell, Frank: The Science Fiction of H. G. Wells. PR 577 M3 1981

Raknem, Ingvald: H. G. Wells and His Critics. PR 5777 R3

Scheick, William J. and J. Randolph Cox: H. G. Wells: A Reference Guide. Z 8964.8 S34 1988

Smith, David C.: H. G. Wells: Desperately Mortal: A Biography. PR 3774 S54 1986

Stover, Leon E.: The Prophetic Soul: A Reading of H.G. Wells’s Things to Come, Together with His Film Treatment, Whither Mankind? and the Postproduction Script (Never Before Published). PN1997 T42863 S78 1987

Wagar, W. Warren: H. G. Wells: Traversing Time. PR5777 .W37 2004

Williamson, Jack: H. G. Wells: Critic of Progress. PR 5777 W5


Williamson, Jack: Wonder’s Child: My Life in Science Fiction. PS 3545 I557 Z477


Krulik, Theodore: Roger Zelazny PS 3576 E43 Z75 1985


Note: this is a list only of periodicals containing criticism and reviews. It is not a list of all the science fiction magazines in the library.

Analog. PZ1 A1 A48

Astounding. Microfilm PZ1 A1 A48 (first issue reprinted in PZ1 A77x)

Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy. AP M2344 The full text of issues from 1997 to the present is available online through ProQuest Direct to subscribers. Password required.

Fantasy Newsletter. AP 2 F35x

Foundation. (subscription cancelled 1995) PS 374 S35 F68

Galileo. PS 648 S3 G34

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. AP2 M2344 (older issues on microfilm)

New Venture. PN 3448 S45 N4

Omni. AP2 O45x

Science Fiction Horizons. PN 3448 S45 S2

Science Fiction Studies. PN 3448 S45 S34

Originally mounted April 20, 1996.

Last revised April 25, 2008.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and the Dystopian Tradition, by Paul Brians

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is one of the most famous and popular novels ever written belonging to the literary genre known as “dystopias.” This term is derived from “Utopia,” the word that Thomas More used for the title of his sixteenth-century novel depicting an ideal society; but the earliest work of its type is generally considered to be the 4th-century BC Plato’s Republic, which has in common with the government of Bradbury’s novel a deep suspicion of literature as disturbing and subversive. Plato suggests that if the great epic poet Homer were to arrive in his ideal city, he should crown him with laurels, congratulate him on his achievements, and send him on his way—much less harsh than burning him to death, but depicting a similar determination to control the thoughts of citizens and ban the free play of the imagination.

Thus we see that one person’s idea of an ideal existence is another’s nightmare. Utopias proliferated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it is not surprising that dystopias began to appear then as well, including the earliest well-known example, Evgeny Zamiatin’s We, published in 1927 as a scathing attack on the increasingly repressive Soviet state.

The same year the German silent film Metropolis appeared, depicting a mechanized, rigid society with a mindless, self-indulgent upper class benefiting from the brutal exploitation of the working-class masses. This is one of the great films of all times, though it was subsequently edited almost to incomprehensibility. A relatively complete beautifully restored version was released in 2010. Ironically, the screenwriter of this hymn to equality and love, Thea von Harbou, went on to work with the Nazis as they implemented their own real-life dystopia, while her Jewish husband, director Fritz Lang, fled to the West.

The first dystopian novel commonly encountered by American readers today is Aldous Huxley’s 1932 Brave New World.  It depicts a society in which human beings are treated like different model cars trundling off the Ford assembly line, bred in bottles for designated roles in society comparable to those depicted in Metropolis, as drudges or as self-indulgent but loveless upper-class mindless twits hooked on orgies and drugs. (It is often noted, however, that Huxley himself was ultimately to embrace psychedelic drugs and took LSD while he was dying.)  Societal control is enforced by among other  means the suppression of literary classics. In this society Shakespeare’s plays are a revolutionary force. In its opposition to modern technology and science,Brave New World is a deeply conservative reaction against the innovations of the first two decades of the 20th century.

By far the best-known dystopia is George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, written in 1948 and published in June of 1949, in the early days of the Cold War. Although revisionist literary critics have tried for decades to portray the book as being as much a critique of the West as of the East, it is difficult to ignore the many obvious images reflecting aspects of Stalinist Russian society, including censorship involving the rewriting of history, the near-deification of the dictator, and the encouragement of children to spy on and betray their parents. Whereas Huxley’s citizens were amused into mindlessness, Orwell’s are treated much more brutally, with torture and murder of dissidents being commonplace. In this novel, unlike Huxley’s, loveless sex is a means of protest; and endless, inescapable television propaganda broadcasts have replaced reading. Although television had been developed in a crude form as early as the mid-1920’s, its commercial spread was delayed by World War II, and it had really erupted into public consciousness only in 1948, the year in which Orwell was writing his novel.

In his culture television is a two-way tool which watches the citizens even more intently than the citizens watch it. Orwell never really explains how everyone can be spied on so intently without at least one half of the population watching the other half. The improbability of this arrangement is typical of dystopias, which seldom strive to create plausible portraits of a degraded future culture, but instead exaggerate certain tendencies in order to isolate and highlight them.

In science fiction, the dystopia became immensely popular during the 1950’s as writers protested against what they saw as the overwhelming tide of conformity and cultural emptiness typified by mass-market television and other powerful forces in the postwar world. Many of them could be called stories on the theme “If This Goes On—” which was the title of a  1940 story by Robert A. Heinlein—not in itself a dystopian tale, but the phrase sums up the technique used by numerous authors: take a social tendency, extrapolate it to an extreme degree, and describe the consequences. Clifford D. Simak extrapolated the post-war flight of people from the cities to the suburbs in his moving but wildly improbable series of stories assembled into City (1952). Individuals not only isolate themselves on remote country estates in a rapidly depopulating world, but eventually abandon their human forms and leave Earth altogether.

In the next decade, authors would more plausibly imagine an overpopulated future in such works as Make Room, Make Room by Harry Harrison—later drastically reworked as a film titled Soylent Green—and Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner. Even with increased attention paid to believability, such works tend to strike contemporary readers as exaggerated because they ignore natural brakes on population which have led in our own time to a leveling off in the birth rate in most regions of the world.

Such catastrophic futures have since been commonplace in popular culture, especially in films like Mad Max and Escape from New York. This sort of dystopia is often no longer an anti-utopia—but simply a failed society in full collapse. It often ceases to function as what is called an “awful warning” (the formal literary term is “cautionary tale”) because the reader is encouraged to identify with the violent adventurers who enjoy the anarchy created by the fall of civilization. Macho thrillers set in post-holocaust radioactive wastelands became very popular in the 1980s, and decayed urban dystopias are common in contemporary video games.

In contrast to these macho fantasies, women authors began increasingly to write feminist dystopias in the 1970’s. Especially notable is the sharply satirical and hard-hitting The Female Man by Joanna Russ, and the fiercely misogynist culture depicted in Walk to the End of the World by Suzy McKee Charnas. But most interesting of all is Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, which like Bradbury’s deals with the repression of literacy. Fundamentalist pro-life militants have taken over society and severely repressed women, using a peculiar interpretation of the Bible to justify their actions. Women are forbidden to read, presumably to prevent their developing their own interpretations and ideas. In the novel the desperate but witty narrator makes a major breakthrough into literacy, introduced at first as  an illicit thrill by her master, who like Beatty in Fahrenheit 451, enjoys tasting forbidden fruit while still upholding the values of the repressive dominant order.

In  1955, Frederik Pohl wrote a seminal story titled “Tunnel Under the World,” which depicted a nightmare experiment where a miniaturized city lived through the same day over and over again to test the effectiveness of various advertising campaigns. It was turned into a radio drama broadcast the next  year. The same sort of artificial reality was depicted in the 1960 Philip K. Dick novel Time Out of Joint, and the even more closely related 1963 novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye (though the theme was only briefly alluded to in the 1999 film version, The Thirteenth Floor). This sort of fiction in which the audience of mass media winds up inhabiting it is of course best known from The Matrix and its sequels. Although the modern versions employ computer technology rather than video, the tradition has its roots over anxiety about the mesmerizing power of television to manipulate and transform its audience.

1950 was the year that television became a truly mass-culture phenomenon in the United States. People would visit friends simply to sit—or stand, if there weren’t enough chairs to go around—and stare mesmerized at the glowing little box for hours. To some people it seemed to portend the death of civilized discourse, literacy, and individualism. Among these was Ray Bradbury.

Bradbury had begun his career writing mostly stories in the “weird tales” tradition, spooky horror stories of supernatural and uncanny events, often with shocking endings. The best of these are collected in The October Country, and many were adapted for television in The Twilight Zone and other venues. But gradually he became more and more a science fiction writer, finally becoming famous for his best-selling 1950 story collection, The Martian Chronicles. Many of the stories included had been published in the 1940’s, and one can see in this work a complex and sometimes contradictory mixture of horror, science-fictional wonder, and sentimental nostalgia which was to become characteristic of his mature writing.

1950 also marked the beginning of the “Red Scare” period most memorably exemplified by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s vicious, irresponsible crusade against supposed communists and communist sympathizers which included attempts to remove suspect books from public libraries. This was also the period of the Hollywood blacklist, with many actors, directors, and screenwriters being banned from working on Hollywood films or television. Although Bradbury has said that the book-burnings in Fahrenheit 451 were inspired by the 1933 Nazi book-burnings, he was much more likely inspired by the censorship that accompanied the Red Scare of his own era.

He experimented with the theme of censorship in the story “Usher II,” which appeared somewhat awkwardly in The Martian Chronicles, where it seemed arbitrarily put into a Martian context. Fantastic fiction has been banned, and is burned wherever it may be discovered. A fanatical admirer of the works of Edgar Allan Poe invites the censors to his monstrous castle, to be murdered one after the other in imitation of grisly deaths depicted in Poe’s writings. The hero argues eloquently for the importance of the imagination, revealing among other things that Bradbury was an ardent fan of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books; but his bloody-minded behavior would seem to lend credibility to the censors’ fears of fantastic fiction rather than plausibly advancing the cause of the freedom to read.

But “Usher II” is also dark comedy, and one of his most memorable stories on that account. Dystopias have often been most successful as literature when they have incorporated humor. One of the most effective modern works of dystopian satire is Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, which incorporates themes and images from Nineteen Eighty-Four, but is all the more frightening for its fierce comic touches. Today it seems much less dated than Orwell’s novel or either of the movies based on it.

At the end of The Martian Chronicles the kindly father-hero of “The Million-Year Picnic” protects the next generation from repeating the mistakes of a violent Earth civilization by ceremoniously burning books from the past. This marks only one of the many inconsistencies that run through this loosely linked collection of stories. However, it is notable that the works destroyed in this story are nonfiction volumes relating to politics and that the works eulogized in “Usher II” are fantasy and gothic horror.

Bradbury seems to have had second thoughts about the wisdom of erasing past knowledge by fire when in 1950 he wrote “The Fireman,” the story which became the kernel of Fahrenheit 451. In this story and the ensuing novel he imagined a nightmare society in which reading has become all but banned: pornography, comic books, and television scripts seem to be the only print material allowed. A secondary target was the popular Reader’s Digest condensed books, which boiled down bestsellers for impatient readers, and which Bradbury portrays as a transitional stage to the annihilation of books altogether.

Caches of books, when discovered, are burned by “firemen” whose job is eradicating print. Socialization has been reduced to group television viewings, and creativity narrowed into brief moments in shows when the audience is prompted to respond to the virtual events they are witnessing, and which absorb them far more than the real world around them.

The novel was an immediate success, and has been widely read ever since, being made into a memorable film in 1966 by the famed French New Wave director François Truffaut.

It is a peculiar work in Bradbury’s oeuvre. He is best known as a short story writer, and his most characteristic books, such as The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine, are really compilations of stories. Fahrenheit 451 is his only fully successful novel. In addition, much of his popularity can be attributed to the perfumed sensuousness of his imagery, the often extravagant sights, sounds, and smells he deploys to engage the reader. Fahrenheit 451 lacks the evocative descriptions that characterize his other works, being set in a sterile, artificial world. Even when Clarisse speaks of her enjoyment of nature at night the language is abstract and general.

Once again the books most treasured by the literate characters are fiction, though religious and philosophical works appear as well. Works of science are entirely unmentioned. Bradbury is famously a science-fiction writer not particularly fond of science. One wonders how the technocrats who create the wallscreens and originate the broadcasts gain the knowledge they need to do their jobs if they too are illiterate. Orwell had depicted a civilization in decline, unable to innovate anything but new tortures; but Bradbury seems to imagine that technological advances can be carried out in the absence of knowledge gained from print.

It is easy to see why the book was warmly received when it was published in 1953. The prosperity of post-war America created a mass culture of vast complacency which valued conformity and blandness. The edginess which Bradbury’s beloved science fiction, horror, and fantasy featured was suspect. There were plenty of voices raised in protest, celebrating nonconformity, individualism, and creativity; and a large number of these voices belonged to science fiction writers.

The book probably continued to appeal to readers for the same reason that a great deal of science fiction has always appealed to certain readers. It portrays as heroes those who disdain sports, who like to read— in short, unathletic nerds like Bradbury—like me and my friends—who were swallowing science fiction in huge gulps in the 1950s. The masses are stupid, brutish, uncaring. Anybody who loves books is likely to be cheered by a tale in which depicts writers not only as the “unacknowledged legislators of the world,” as Shelley had called them, but as the keepers of the flame of civilization itself. Most people enjoy a story in which the underdog comes out on top. Imagine: Napoleon Dynamite saves the world!

One of the most striking characteristics of the novel to be frequently overlooked is its setting in an era of recurrent atomic war. In 1950, when Bradbury was writing, the Russians had just the previous year exploded their first atomic bomb, making real the nuclear arms race that had only been fantasized before. The first thermonuclear weapon was not to be tested for another year, though Bradbury depicts a society which has already weathered two atomic wars. As in Orwell’s novel, there are suggestions that this state of war is designed to preserve the supremacy of the tyrannical regime which governs this dystopia. A final apocalyptic nuclear exchange at the end of the novel marks its fall, but it is so briefly and distantly described that most readers entirely forget about it, as they forget about the much more vividly depicted annihilation of Earth by nuclear war in The Martian Chronicles.

Both of these are instances of what I like to call “muscular  disarmament,” in which one final cataclysmic war is depicted as preparing the way for an era of peace and enlightenment. One of the earliest examples was H. G. Wells’ 1914 novel The World Set Free in which—as the title suggests—atomic weapons clear the ground for the emergence of a utopia. Bradbury doesn’t go that far, but clearly the holocaust at the end of the novel is meant to be more cheering than horrifying. We are also expected to sympathize with Montag’s murder of Beatty with the flamethrower, just as we had been encouraged to be amused by  the grisly deaths of the censors in “Usher II.” Stories like these are the intellectual’s equivalent of gory computer games in which players can take out their frustrations on imaginary foes by blasting them to bits. When we think about the essential image of Bradbury we remember the scenes he evokes of sitting on the porch sipping lemonade and listening to the hum of cicadas and forget the fictional mayhem he sometimes inflicts on the people he disdains.

It is also easy to see why Fahrenheit 451 would seem especially timely today. Thanks to the Patriot Act, government agents secretly track the reading habits of citizens based on the books they borrow from libraries. Web technology makes it possible to go even further, and determine what sites people are browsing. It is not uncommon to hear of the electronic trails left by Web browsers being introduced as evidence in trials.

We have robot dogs and execution by lethal injection, though we have not yet combined the two. But we identify criminals by their unique DNA signatures much as the Hound of the novel identifies them by their unique smell.

Reading, particularly of fiction, has continued to decline in popularity. In Bradbury’s day there were dozens of popular general-audience magazines read by a broad public, and most of them published fiction. Bradbury himself published stories in Collier’s, The Nation, Maclean’s, Good Housekeeping, McCall’s, and The Saturday Evening Post. Now fiction is rare in mass magazines, and there is little of it.

Despite the vast success of isolated titles like the The Da Vinci Code and the Harry Potter books, Americans read very few books once they leave college, and those are largely confined to sensational memoirs, diet books, and books about business and religion.  The “reality” shows which draw a mass audience today are the equivalent of the mesmerizing serials in the novel.

Of course the notion that before the age of television people sat around chatting and enjoying each other’s company is a fantasy. I grew up in the waning days of radio’s “golden age,” when families sat in their living rooms transfixed by the same sorts of tales of horror and crime and family situation comedies that would later be televised. And before that most of what people read was junk. The culling process that operates over time glamorizes the writing of the past, isolating the few authors we can still enjoy.

Modern anti-depressants are often more effective than the tranquilizers taken by Montag’s wife, but her zombie-like state is all too familiar. Depression is so common and widely discussed today that she no longer seems as bizarre as Bradbury probably intended her to be.

American popular culture has always been profoundly anti-elitist and anti-intellectual, and that has not changed. A president who tells us students must be held to higher standards himself makes no effort to exemplify intellectual curiosity or profundity. Rather a folksy, unthreatening populism is celebrated by almost all modern politicians. John Kennedy could never be elected today—he’d be viewed as an intellectual snob. The slogan is “no child left behind”—not “encourage exceptional brilliance.”

All these are reasons that Bradbury’s novel resonates with contemporary readers. However, it is worth noting the ways in which our world differs from that of Fahrenheit 451.

We have our big-screen TVs, some of them approaching wall size; but increasingly we refuse to be passive recipients of what the networks want to hand out. We Tivo our favorite shows and skip past the commercials, infuriating the sponsors. DVD technology lets us view the films we want when we want. The mass quality of mass communications is eroding, and the television network executives and advertisers are growing frantic as they see the impending end of an era. Television viewing, though still consuming a huge amount of our leisure time, is actually declining as people spend more time playing video games or using the Web. The Internet is notoriously the greatest innovation that science fiction failed to anticipate, and it is far more anarchic, individualized, and unregulated than the mass media which preceded it and which shaped the nightmares of earlier dystopian writers.

The Internet has also helped to reverse in some measure the decline in reading. The classics Bradbury cites as endangered in his novel are all available for reading or downloading via the Web—though the foreign ones are usually available only in dated public-domain translations. On the Web the classics are more accessible than contemporary fiction and poetry, which remain locked in limited-circulation books and magazines.

The “seashells” that people insert in their ears today are earbuds through which people listen to highly individualized playlists of songs on their iPods, and they can even listen to an audio study guide for The Martian Chronicles, though the novel itself doesn’t seem to be available yet for downloading from the iTunes Store.

We now see a generation of young people who have grown up text-messaging, blogging, and creating Web sites online for whom reading and writing are constant, natural activities. Much of the prose they generate and read is appalling by traditional standards, but it is not just the passive consumption of images that Bradbury envisioned. Increasingly I encounter students entering college who think of themselves as both readers and writers, and who are interested in using these skills in the workplace. The number of English majors at Washington State University has climbed in the last three years from 200 to 230 to 282, with no signs of the rate of increase diminishing.

E-books have been slow to catch on. The paper and hardbound book is not yet in danger of extinction. Ironically, fat “airport novels” and huge science fiction and fantasy trilogies are more popular than the comic books Bradbury deplored, which in 1950 filled racks in stores all over town and now have to be sought out in specialty shops. Magazines have narrowed in focus, but they have proliferated wildly.

Attempts to censor fiction, like the fundamentalist attacks on the Harry Potter books, are largely doomed to failure—are greeted with contempt or indifference. And the much-criticized Federal government has granted a large sum to Seattle to support the study of a book that criticizes government opposition to the freedom to read. It reminds one of the Athenians paying Aristophanes for creating plays which fiercely attacked their foreign policy.

The problem with dystopias and other cautionary forms is that their exaggeration can cause us to become complacent because things just aren’t as bad as the novels predicted. But so long as we read them thoughtfully, understanding that they are meant to point us toward problems rather than accurately foretelling the future, they can still inspire us to work for a world which, if not utopian, is a lot better than our worst nightmares.



During my time in Enterprise I developed the following thoughts in discussion with the folks there, which may be useful things to think about.

1)    Some people feel just fine about being secretly spied on by the government, arguing that they have nothing to feel guilty for. This assumes the government is always trustworthy. Note that 2nd amendment defenders insist they need their weapons in case the government becomes tyrannical. One would think that 1st amendment rights would need even more vigilant protection from government abuse, especially since there are well-documented examples of government records being abused for political purposes by officials.


2)    Bradbury is notoriously weak at depicting women. One way to view his fiction is to think of the usual gender relations being replaced by the relations between macho, brutal stupid males and sensitive, intelligent males.


3)    The novel is least likely to appeal to insecure teenagers who are anxious to conform to their peers’ tastes and expectations. Its defense of learning and peculiar tastes is not calculated to appeal to the average high school student; and its lack of surface appeal is not likely to draw such readers in.


List of Books and Stories Referred To

This is not a formal bibliography but a guide to tracking down titles mentioned above, other than Fahrenheit 451, which it is assumed the reader already has. Inexpensive paperback editions have been preferred.

Paul Brians

September 24, 2007

Atwood. Margaret: The Handmaid’s Tale, 1985. Anchor.

Bradbury, Ray: Dandelion Wine, 1957. Spectra.

___: “The Fireman,” Galaxy Science Fiction Vol. 1, No. 5 (Feb. 1951). Reprinted in Science Fiction Origins, ed. William F. Nolan & Martin H. Greenburg. Popular Library, 1980.

___: The Martian Chronicles,  1950. Spectra.

___: The October Country. 1955, Del Rey.

Charnas, Suzy McKee. Walk to the End of the World, Out of print but readily available used. Berkley.

Dick, Philip K. Time Out of Joint, 1959, Vintage.

Galouye, Daniel F. Simulacron-3, 1964. J’ai lu.

Harrison, Harry: Make Room, Make Room, 1967. Out of print. Spectra, 1994.

Heinlein, Robert A. “If This Goes On…”, 1940. Reprinted in The Past Through Tomorrow, Ace.

Huxley, Aldous. First published 1932. Harper Perennial Modern Classics.

More, Thomas. Utopia. First published in Latin in 1516. Translated by Paul Turner in 1965. Penguin.

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949. Though Orwell always spelled the title out many editions read 1984 on the cover, and that’s how you’ll have to shop for it. Signet Classics.

Plato: Republic. There are several good translations of this ancient Greek classic, including the one used in the very cheap Dover Thrift Edition by G.M.A Grube, revised by CDC Reeve. The old Benjamin Jowett translation, freely available on the Web, is still quite readable.

Pohl, Frederik. “Tunnel Under the World,” Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1955.  Often reprinted, notably in The Best of Frederik Pohl, out of print but readily available used, Ballantine.

Russ, Joanna. The Female Man, 1978. Beacon Press.

Simak, Clifford D. City, 1952, Ace (out of print edition, but still readily available used).

Von Harbou, Thea: Metropolis. The novel version of her screenplay for Fritz Lang’s movie by the same name. First published in German 1926. Translated anonymously in 1927 and available currently from Wildside Press.

Wells, H. G. The World Set Free, Macmillan, 1914. .

Zamyatin, Evgeny: We. Written 1920, published in English 1924, Czech, and in the original Russian (My), 1952. Modern editions translated by Mirra Ginsburg, 1972 and Clarence Brown, 1993.


List of Films

Brazil, dir. Terry Gilliam, 1985. Criterion.

Escape from New York, dir. John Carpenter, 1981. MGM.

Fahrenheit 451, dir. François Truffaut, 1966. MCA Home Video.

Mad Max, dir. 1979. MGM.

Metropolis, dir. Fritz Lang, 1927. The only version to get is “The Complete Metropolis,” Kino International, 2010.

Soylent Green, dir. Richard Fleischer, 1973. Warner Home Video.

Thirteenth Floor, The, dir. Josef Rusnak, 1999. Sony Pictures.

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