DIMENSIONS OF SCIENCE FICTION by William Sims Bainbridge

DIMENSIONS OF SCIENCE FICTION

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A sociological survey of science fiction that's totally wrongheaded, thoroughly misperceived, utterly confused, and riddled with egregious errors. Bainbridge (Sociology, Harvard) begins well enough: ""Science fiction is the distinctive literature of our century."" Then we read with a sinking feeling: ""This book presents many hypotheses about the social causes and consequences of science fiction. . ."" How's that again? Well, here science fiction means science fiction random. This confusion of sf literature with sf random persists throughout the book. Proceeding jauntily into the morass, Bainbridge writes about ""ideal-type analyses,"" ""path diagrams,"" ""log-linear analysis,"" ""Pearson's r"" and so forth without explaining any of them. We stumble upon offerings like ""When I applied factor analysis. . .the correlations were effectively normed so that the resultant clusters of authors were not distorted by any latent positive response bias. . ."" Bainbridge collected his data from questionnaires administered to some 600 fans at a 1979 sf convention. Sometimes he uses all of the responses for his computer analyses; elsewhere he isolates groups of ""knowledgeable"" fans, namely, those who avoided voting for the ringers Bainbridge had inserted into the questionnaire. Among other things, the fans were invited to rank sf authors in terms of popularity and particular categories of stories (hard science, fantasy, occult, etc.) in terms of reader enjoyment. Bainbridge examines the opinions thus solicited as if they were facts. He identifies ""competing ideologies"" within the sf subculture: ""hard science,"" ""new wave,"" and a ""fantasy cluster,"" simplistic but inarguable categories. He found, unsurprisingly, that such authors as Harlan Ellison and Robert Silverberg are identified with the new wave group; Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov with hard science. Yet hard science fiction's leading practitioner, Gregory Benford, goes unmentioned. We learn with amazement that the master of pseudoscience, A.E. van Vogt, belongs in the hard science group. Ludicrously, the stories of such writers as Vance, Le Guin, Russ, and Lem are deemed to ""express antitechnology sentiments, or they violate physical science with impunity, or they ignore science and technology altogether."" Similar farcical errors abound. It does not occur to Bainbridge that his categories are poorly defined; or that one author may write stories that fall into several different categories; or that the categories don't necessarily represent ""ideologies"" at all. And as for ""competing"" ideologies: compete how, and for what? Bainbridge is silent. Appalling twaddle masquerading as serious research.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1986
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press