JFA 27.3 (2016)

Introduction: Critical Networks

Any specialized discipline will develop a close-knit network of scholars who inevitably end up reading one another’s work in draft, vetting it for publishers, and reviewing or blurbing it. Within the field of the fantastic, that tendency is compounded by our adjacency to fan culture, in which readers, writers, editors, and publishers regularly gather at conventions and awards ceremonies and frequently exchange roles. Though all of this interaction sometimes creates friction, it also generates fruitful dialogues between creators and consumers, and it leads to powerful and long-lasting friendships.

Most of the books on my shelves come with memories attached: meet-ups at Children’s Literature Association or Science Fiction Research Association conferences, paper sessions and Board meetings and poolside chats at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, arguments over definitions and favorites, correspondence with far-flung colleagues. The more I have been involved in the field, the less I think of printed works as self-contained or final. They are partial records of conversations: conversations that led up to the writing and conversations that continue after publication. I believe this is an entirely accurate way to view both scholarship and literature. It is also (a little) comforting in the face of losses such as the death in April of former SFRA and IAFA president Michael Levy. Mike is gone; his influence and his ideas are still with us in such forms as his and Farah Mendlesohn’s Children’s Fantasy Literature (a book I was happy to blurb and not just because I knew the authors—it’s a major work of scholarship).

Editing a journal such as this presents occasional challenges in maintaining the integrity of the peer review process, since potential readers are also potential rivals or buddies. We have always been able to find objective reviewers, nevertheless, and to keep the process as blind as possible. Working behind the scenes I sometimes see odd bits of cross-communication. For instance, work by senior scholars will be faulted for lacking grounding in the field. (We senior scholars fall into lazy habits that emerging scholars haven’t had the leisure to acquire.) I even had one peer reviewer call out an author for failing to cite that author’s own work. I occasionally tap fiction writers as readers, in combination with scholars; the tradition of fan criticism within science fiction means that many of its authors are well grounded not only in the history of the genre but also in literary and cultural theory. (Plus a number of writers are closet academics, but I will not out them here.) I like to think of this periodical as an extension of the conference that gave birth to it: like the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, it is a congenial meeting place of many interests, many cultures, and many points of view.

I said before that texts are products of conversations, but so are individuals. We are all nodes in a network rather than isolated integers. I might wish I could claim sole credit for ideas that were, in reality, half-remembered and reworked insights from others. I don’t really wish that, though, since it would mean that I was cut off from the many voices I have assimilated, the many insights I’ve borrowed, and the many friends I have made in the field, especially those who are here now only as memories, recorded voices, texts, strands in a web.

The articles in this issue represent outgrowths and extensions of the network that is scholarship of the fantastic. José María Mantero discusses the work of fantasist Alberto Chimal in the light of a growing field of Mexican fantasy fiction. Chimal’s 2012 novel La torre y el jardín (The Tower and the Garden) employs the trope of the fantastic tower in a way that, according to Mantero, is both “informed by the national literary tradition and influenced by the consequences of globalization.” In other words, to be part of one network is not necessarily to reject connections with another. Genres and themes, like audiences, can cross borders and communicate across cultural divides. Some of that connectedness has been obscured by the tendency to refer to any fantasy from south of the US/Mexican border as “magical realism,” a term that implies a shaky understanding of the difference between reported reality and magical belief on the part of non-European or American writers. Bringing works like Chimal’s into the English-language conversation greatly augments the genre’s ability to critique social systems and ideological restrictions.

Robert Yeates examines two influential novels of the early 1950s and their film offshoots. One is British—John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, filmed in 1962 and again by the BBC in 1981 and 2009. The other is American—Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, source for the 1964 The Last Man on Earth as well as 1971’s The Omega Man and 2007’s I Am Legend. Yeates looks at both groupings in terms of their depiction of urban and suburban communities and especially the increasing identification of the suburb with whiteness and the city with racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities. The networks within which Yeates’s essay functions include not only science fiction scholars such as John Rieder and Veronica Hollinger but also the fields of film studies and social history. A point of particular interest in the piece is the similarity/difference that marks English and American versions of the embattled white straight male and the position of privilege that such males always seem to feel is slipping away.

Kai-Uwe Werbeck also looks at films, but in a different genre and from a different culture. Looking at German “no-budget” horror films from the 1980s and 90s, Werbeck considers how the official policy of non-censorship and the unofficial policing of content combined to turn imitations of American low-budget slasher movies into a form of social protest. Films like The Burning Moon and NekRomantic challenge ideas of artistic expression and taste in such a way that attempts to censor them become part of their message. The networks in which they function include not only genre but also history and suburban social norms. It would be interesting to see whether audiences outside Germany would be prepared to receive the same messages that Werbeck identifies as operating for their home audiences.

Staying with the theme of cities, Stefan Ekman formulates new definitions of urban fantasy, a term that variously indicates a gritty response to Tolkienian other-worldliness, a tradition of disruptive fantasies depicting magical intrusions into the everyday, a mode of supernatural romance (usually involving attractive werewolves, fairies, vampires, and the like), or, as Ekman proposes, the theme of the Unseen. This last combines the unrealities of fantasy with the invisible or ignored underlife of cities, including both “subterranean settings that obscure our view [and] social outcasts we consciously look away from.” Since Ekman’s article is a metacritical one, comparing various definitions and the communities of criticism they represent, it is also an implicit examination of the web of discourses within which we all function.

Finally, Daniel Baker looks at a specific mode of fantasy—or, per Farah Mendlesohn, a rhetorical trope—the portal-quest, as utilized and subverted by Neil Gaiman and China Miéville. Baker starts from the idea that “fantasy is a literature intrinsically situated at intersections: the intersection of history and culture; the intersection of ideas; the intersection of literary traditions; and the intersection between worlds.” One implication is that the fantastic is structurally well-suited for representing and investigating the nature of networks, including those within which it is situated. Its portals and parallel realms more accurately reflect our networked existence than can any single version of the real. It is no wonder that fantasies such as Miéville’s and Gaiman’s veer toward the metafictional: their meta-ness is built into the genre.

One further observation about this issue and the state of connectedness in the modern scholarly world: it is a remarkably international slate of authors and topics, representing Mexico, England, Japan (where Yeates teaches), Germany (though Werbeck resides in the U.S.), Sweden, and Australia. The editorial process involved multiple emails across borders and oceans. We would be far poorer in ideas and interactions if such borders were closed.


Introduction: Critical Networks
Brian Attebery

Evolutionary Architecture and the Construction of Cruelty: The Building As Symbiotic Monster in La torre y el jardin
José María Mantero

Gender and Ethnicity in Post-Apocalyptic Suburbia
Robert Yeates

The State vs. Buttgereit and Ittenbach: Censorship and Subversion in German No-Budget Horror Film
Kai-Uwe Werbeck

Urban Fantasy: A Literature of the Unseen
Stefan Ekman

Within the Door: Portal-Quest Fantasy in Gaiman and Miéville
Daniel Baker

Review Essay

From the Marketplace to the Classroom: A Teratological Trio
Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock


Carl H. Sederholm and Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock’s The Age of Lovecraft
Rev. by Antonio Alcalá

André M. Carrington’s Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction
Rev. by Marleen S. Barr

Hans-Jörg Uther’s Handbuch zu den “Kinder- und Hausmärchen” der Brüder Grimm. Entstehung—Wirkung—Interpretation. 2 vollständig überarbeitete Auflage [Handbook of the Grimm Brothers’ ‘Children’s and House Tales.’ Development—Effects—Interpretation. 2nd Complete Revised Edition.
Rev. by Bruce A. Beatie

Leo Braudy’s Haunted: On Ghosts, Witches, Vampires, Zombies and Other Monsters of the Natural and Supernatural Worlds
Rev. by Aaron Botwick

John W. Morehead’s The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro: Critical Essays
Rev. by Jaime R. Brenes Reyes

Michael Levy and Farah Mendlesohn’s Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction
Rev. by Anelise Farris

Mark E. Decker’s Industrial Society and the Science Fiction Blockbuster: Social Critique in Films of Lucas, Scott and Cameron
Rev. by Vincent M. Gaine

Francisco Bethencourt’s Utopia in Portugal, Brazil, and Lusophone African Countries
Rev. by Ramiro Giroldo

Ramzi Fawaz’s The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics
Rev. by Sean A. Guynes

Diana Pavlac Glyer’s Bandersnatch: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings
Rev. by James Hamby

Deborah A. Higgens’s Anglo-Saxon Community in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
Rev. by Carol A. Leibiger

June Pulliam and Anthony J. Fonseca’s Richard Matheson’s Monsters: Gender in the Stories, Scripts, Novels, and Twilight Zone Episodes
Rev. by Amy J. Ransom

Lars Schmeink’s Biopunk Dystopias: Genetic Engineering, Society, and Science Fiction
Rev. by Steven Shaviro

Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins’s A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages
Rev. by Dennis Wilson Wise