Out of this World: Four Days Left / Frankenstein

Until I started reading up for my short presentation on Lucian and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the “Science Fiction and Religion” panel* at Bradford the other weekend, I had no idea that Shelley had notably revised the text between its first 1818 edition and the better-known 1831 edition.

Small, frequent amendations and revisions** altered the text’s focus towards a much greater concern with Christianity, in particular, giving Victor Frankenstein a greater religious consciousness. Frankenstein, in the later text, refers at various points to a guardian angel, and to an angel of destruction leading him on. Although these need not necessarily have come at the cost of sacrificing descriptions of Frankenstein’s scientific practice, they have, such as a youthful scene in which he experiments with electricity, cut from the later version. Even the references to historical practices of natural magic are revised, in order to cast them in a more negative light.

I was conscious that there were many versions of Frankenstein simply because it has been memorably reworked in film numerous times over the years. I hadn’t realized how much the focus of the story was adjusted in Mary Shelley’s own revisions as well.

Some edition of Frankenstein (offhand, I cannot tell you which one!) is currently on display at the British Library as part of the Out of this World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It exhibition. You have four days left, including today until 18:00, to see it.

*  See also the contents of the talk which Una McCormack gave, on sf and religion in Dr Who and Star Trek, for the same panel.

** I used the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the 1818 text with its list of changes by Marilyn Butler in Appendix B.

Vector #250

Ken Slater sent me Vectors 41, 42 and 43 when I was asked to do this article and it all came flooding back to me.

I was the Secretary of the BSFA. We had a new Publications Officer, Steve Oakley, and review books and money were sent to him. Heh lived about 20 miles from me, but he had romantic problems (his mother refused to speak to me, as I had introduced the lady in question), and I don’t believe Vector ever came out during his tenure. In fact, he went off to university in the autumn. I had applied for and got a job in charge of a legal department, and was attending evening classes studying law, when Ken rang me about the non-appearance of Vector.

I arranged to go over to Wisbech, and we had a committee meeting. We decided that Ken and I would jointly edit Vector until the AGM at Easter, and Ken gave me a load of stencils (remember them?) which I took home to type. We had no material, so I wrote to Dan Morgan, Ted Tubb, Chris Priest (who was also auditor, and wanted to know whether we had any money), Ken Bulmer and Phil Muldowney.

Then the fun started. Ken typed his own stencil — no spelling errors — and I typed the rest. We got in touch with Phil Rogers (the Chair) and all me at Ken’s on Saturday. Phil turned up late in the afternoon to find Joyce and I stood there, duplicating. Ken had a really old Roneo, and on every fourth page it got stuck and destroyed the paper. We stood on our feet from 10am to 4pm. When the men appeared we had something to eat, and I remember getting very drunk that night and motoring back to Deeping St James with all the papers, envelopes given to me by Ken, and money for postage from Phil.

We were pleased with theh outcome, and carried on for Vector 42 and 43. You ought to read those Vectors get the flavour of them.

In the meantime Ken and I were meeting weekly (with Joyce, of course) and spent hours trying to think how to make the BSFA safer. Phil sometimes joined us, staying late on Saturdays — but never overnight, as he had a regular Sunday appointment. We expected there was a lady involved, but later when I married Phil (in 1972) and asked him, he just smiled and said he never kissed and told.

I was working, as I said, in a legal office. I was in charge of Probate; there was a company solicitor, Danny, in the same office who went all over the world forming companies. It was office policy that all solicitors and clerks had to do a certain amount of conveyancing. Danny hated conveyancing, though, and asked me to do it for him. I agreed, or the condition that he would help me. I explained all about the BSFA, and whether it would be feasible to form a Limited Company with shares. He said now, and explained to me about a Limited Company by Guarantee, which was one of the options that had been suggested by Ken. Whilst looking into this question, of course, we were still producing Vector as before; Trish (aged 9) was proofreading and helping me to assemble the pages, which we then stapled and posted. Ken and I had such good support — although of course not everyone was pleased with our efforts.

In the meantime, I was also studying for my examis, which I took in February (and passed), and approaching authors, publishers, etc. to ask whether, if the company was formed, they would become Directors. I asked everyone from Edmund Crisping to Brian Aldiss.

We decided to enact the change by referendum, and not at the AGM. There was a lot of approval, and a lot of opposition — some of the loudest from Peter Weston, who refused to become a member. I was surprised and hurt, as we had become […] good friends — it wasn’t until I read With Stars in my Eyes that I understood we were at cross-purposes. Peter thought I wanted to break up fandom; I wanted science fiction to be recognised and respected as a genre, but not at the expense of the breakup of fandom. I thought fandom was a vital part of science fiction.

We formed the company before November when the law was changed. (After forming BSFA Ltd., the company solicitor made me form another company for the theatre he’d started in Peterborough.)

I don’t remember who took over Publications. We never saw Steve again. I carried on for a few years, but after a time, with other things on my mind, my membership lapsed, and I haven’t seen Vector for years. I’m sure it isn’t typed on stencils any more.

What energy and what fun we had in those days! Terry Pratchett said recently that there are no old people, just young people looking around and saying “what happened? Where did the time go?” I couldn’t agree more.

Doreen Parker [Rogers]

In 2006, it is perhaps difficult for people who have grown up in a culture where science fiction images and references are splashed all over the place to understand what it was like in the days when sf readers were a comparatively small group, when the racks in general bookshops were not overflowing with trilogies with individual volumes the size of house bricks. Star Wars, Blake’s Seven and various other things were beginning to generate a new wave of popular interest in visual sf, and Dr Who had not entered its long hiatus at that point, but readers were still, on the whole, very isolated from one another, and I wanted the BSFA to put them in touch with one another. I also wanted to break down what I considered to be very narrow definitions of science fiction, the ABC — Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke — approach, with a little H for Heinlein thrown in for good measure. SF was undergoing its most radical transformation since the New Wave of the 1960s, with the arrival on the scene of William Gibson’s Neuromancer in 1984, and I wanted to challenge people to read widely, think about speculative fiction, not just science fiction. In Matrix I listed anything that looked as though it might have some sort of vaguely fantastical component — magical realism was particularly flourishing at that time, I recall, alongside cyberpunk — and did not simply focus on the output of the sf publishers. Paul Kincaid was taking a similar approach material reviewed in Vector. Soon enough, the Clarke Award would begin its eclectic odyssey to explore the boundaries of sf. What I enjoyed then, still enjoy now, is to find a book in an unlikely place, or from an unexpected publisher, and think ‘yes, this isf’, whatever the author and/or publisher might thing. It’s like prospecting.

I don’t know if any of us at that point actually started a revolution; I don’t think we effected any kind of reconciliation between two sf cultures. I’m not even sure there was a revolution that needed starting, or a reconciliation thaht needed to be made. Twenty years is enough time to realise that what goes around, comes around. Something becomes important for a while, then something else arises to take its place. I freely admit I glaze over when the discussion turns to Buffy but I will be there with bells on when the discussion turns to text again. The most important thing any of us has done, still does, is to stoke the fire, keep the discussion going, and make sure there is a place for it to keep going; one way or another the BSFA has been doing that since 1958 (the year before I was born) and keeps on doing so.

Maureen Kincaid Speller