Gary Westfahl’s The Mechanics of Wonder

I just finished reading Gary Westfahl’s The Mechanics of Wonder as part of the research on my dissertation’s important theoretical chapter.

I wish that I had known about and read this book a long time ago. I have heard some of the things that he argues about Hugo Gernsback and John W. Campbell, Jr. in other places, but I see now that those other places likely based or were inspired by Westfahl’s book.

Having read The Mechanics of Wonder, I am persuaded by Westfahl’s arguments that science fiction came to be what it was from the work of Gernsback and Campbell. Their delayed influence on the writing taking place in the genre appears to have had profound implications. For the most part, Westfahl’s rigorous approach to evidence and his claims based on that evidence are very well received.

This is not to say that I am giving up my Aldiss or Suvin. I find their work equally stimulating even if their historical claims might not always be on target. I believe that we can find earlier examples of science fiction even if they are not part of the modern instantiation of the genre itself. Can we not say that a particular work is science fictional? Can we not go so far as to say that a given work is part of the science fiction genre, because it shares all of the characteristics of the work even if it was not yet part of the genre due to its chronological deficiencies?

Likewise, I believe that structuralist approaches such as that undertaken by Suvin are useful for understanding the mechanics of the science fiction genre. In fact, Suvin provides an advantageous link between two different spheres of knowledge in my theory chapter. Westfahl’s careful reading does knock a few sizable holes in Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, but I will gladly salvage the concept of cognitive estrangement.

The Mechanics of Wonder is a must-read for everyone studying science fiction. Westfahl not only presents compelling evidence, he also provides a demanding model for scholarly rigor and engagement of evidence.

2011-2012 R. D. Mullen Fellowship Winners

Last week, Rob Latham of the University of California, Riverside announced the winners of the 2011-2012 R. D. Mullen Fellowship winners. I am one among the three recipients! This fellowship will provide each of us with funding to travel to California during the next school year to conduct research in the Eaton Science Fiction Collection at Riverside. I am very honored to have been selected as one of this year’s winners, and I congratulate the other recipients, Alexander and Jennifer, listed below from the original release:

I would like to announce the winners of the third annual R.D. Mullen Research Fellowship, which is funded by Science Fiction Studies in the name of our late founding editor to support archival research in the J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Utopian Literature at UC-Riverside. The committee—chaired by me and consisting of Andrea Bell, Neil Easterbrook, Joan Gordon, and Brooks Landon—reviewed a number of excellent applications and settled on a slate of three winners for 2011-12:

JASON ELLIS is a PhD student in the English Department at Kent State University. His dissertation studies what he calls “neuronarratives,” sf texts that deal with the cognitive implications of artificial intelligence and human-machine interfaces. He is the coeditor of The Postnational Fantasy:  Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics, and Science Fiction (McFarland, 2011) and has published articles on H.G. Wells, on digital nomadism, and on World of Warcraft. He plans to visit UC-Riverside to do research towards the writing of a dissertation chapter on “the effects of brain trauma” in the work of Philip K. Dick.

ALEXANDER ISER is a PhD student in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. His dissertation focuses on how time-travel narratives draw out the links “between apocalyptic crises and societal conceptions of time.” He will be spending several weeks at UC-Riverside examining the Eaton’s extensive fanzine collection for evidence of how readers interpreted major time-travel stories as allegories of cultural crisis.

JENNIFER L. LIEBERMAN is a PhD student in the Department of English at the University of Illinois. Her dissertation, entitled Power Lines: Electric Networks and the American Literary Imagination, studies how “literature helped to shape American perceptions of electrical technologies between 1870 and 1952.” She has published essays on Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and on Gertrude Atherton’s Patience Sparhawk and Her Times. At the Eaton, she plans to explore dime novels, boys’ adventure stories, and other proto/early-sf materials in terms of their evocation of the engineer as “the new frontiersman of the twentieth century.”

I am very grateful to my committee for their work in vetting the applications, and my congratulations to the three winners, whom I hope to see soon here at UCR.

R.D. Mullen Research Fellowship Deadline on April 1 (no joke)

If you want to get funding to research in the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Utopian Literature at UC-Riverside, then you have until April 1 to get in your application. See below for all of the details.

JUST A REMINDER: The R.D. Mullen Reseach Fellowship Committee has extended the deadline for receipt of applications for awards in 2010-11 until April 1. Please spread the word to any eligible students in MA and Ph.D. programs and urge them to apply. There is one month to go and we’d like to have a reasonable pool of candidates from which to select winners.

Call for Applications: R.D. Mullen Fellowship Science Fiction Studies announces the second annual R.D. Mullen Fellowship supporting research in the J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Utopian Literature at the University of California at Riverside. Awards of up to $1500 are available to fund research in the archive during the 2010-11 academic year. Students in good standing in graduate degree-granting programs are eligible to apply. We welcome applications from international students. The Mullen Fellowship, named in honor of SFS’s founding editor, promotes archival work in the Eaton’s extensive holdings, which include over 100,000 hardcover and paperback books, over 250,000 fanzines, full runs of all major pulp and digest magazines, and the manuscripts of prominent sf writers such as Gregory Benford, David Brin, and Anne McCaffrey. Other noteworthy parts of the Collection are: 500 shooting scripts of science fiction films; 3500 volumes of proto-sf “boy’s books” of the Tom Swift variety; works of sf in numerous foreign languages, including Chinese, Czech, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, and Spanish; a large collection of taped fan conventions and taped interviews with American, British, and French writers; reference materials on topics such as applied science, magic, witchcraft, UFOs, and Star Trek; an extensive collection of anime and manga; and the largest holdings of critical materials on science fiction and fantasy in the United States. Further information about the Eaton Collection can be found online at: <>. Applications should include a cover letter explaining the candidate’s academic experience and preparation, a CV, a 2-3 page proposal outlining a specific and well-developed agenda for research in the Eaton archive, a prospective budget detailing expenses, and two letters of recommendation from individuals familiar with the candidate’s academic work. Applications should be mailed to: Professor Rob Latham, Department of English, UC-Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521-0323. Electronic submission (as RTF or PDF files) to <rob.latham [at]> would also be welcome.
The deadline for submission is April 1, 2010. Applications will be reviewed by a committee of sf scholars, and successful applicants will be notified by May 1, 2010. Any questions should be addressed to Rob Latham at: <rob.latham [at]>.