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Subterranean Worlds: A Critical Anthology
Peter Fitting
Early Classics of Science Fiction, Wesleyan University Press, 225 pages
Subterranean Worlds
Peter Fitting
Peter Fitting is Director of the Cinema Studies Programme at the University of Toronto, associate professor of French, and former chair of the Society of Utopian Studies. He has taught courses on science fiction for 35 years, and his major research interest for the last decade has been literary utopia.

About Subterranean Worlds
Wesleyan University's Early Classics of Science Fiction Series

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

While Hollow Earth fiction probably hit its peak in the lost race fiction era of the late 19th-early 20th century, excellent works in this genre continue to be produced, the recently reprinted "Black as the Pit, from Pole to Pole" (1977) by Steven Utley and Howard Waldrop being a prime example. It is this genre that is the focus of Subterranean Worlds, a predominantly academic (i.e., it bears endnotes and a bibliography) work which investigates Hollow Earth theories and fiction. An introductory chapter outlines previous scholarship, defines the major categories of such worlds (swiss cheese, concentric spheres and north Pole-south Pole passage), the period emphasized (pre-Victorian), and defines criteria of inclusion/exclusion of works. In the introductory chapter, the author/compiler goes on to survey the major fictional works which led to the development and enunciation of Hollow Earth theories (which are sadly still believed by some.)

Subsequent chapters are each devoted to a scientific works, with a terminal chapter presenting some works published after Jules Verne's Voyage to the Centre of the Earth. Certainly Subterranean Worlds presents a good checklist of early Hollow Earth literature, but some delving into additional pre-WWII works would have been interesting, if outside the parameters set by the author. The author discusses how each fictional work fits in the genre, or in some cases how previous scholars have incorrectly ascribed the work to the genre. He then gives representative excerpts, in English -- for many of the French works this represents their first translation into English. Given that some of the works cited run to over 1000 pages, not all of which are relevant, and some of which are likely fairly tedious, excerpts, while they don't allow one to follow a narrative thread, are not such a bad thing. Most of the full texts are available in one form or another (see below), albeit not always in English, so if a particular work piques one's interest one can expand one's reading-list. Given his interest in Utopian literature, Peter Fitting gives some emphasis to his discussion of societal elements of the subterranean civilisations, and presents a number of interesting and informative insights into the texts.

While I might have small issues with subtleties of meaning in the author's translations from the French (but then no two translators will translate a passage in exactly the same manner), these are not likely to be of much importance to the English reader. What I have greater difficulty in accepting is errors in citation/documentation, a number of which I was able to find within about an hour:

  • p. 35: the author cites a passage from Lamékis as being from page 75, where it actually spans pages 74 and 75.
  • p. 91: the author cites a passage from the Icosameron as being from page 29 (Vol. 2), where it actually spans pages 29-31
  • p. 82: in the translation the author omits a portion (see italics below), albeit a quasi-redundant one, of a sentence (from L'Aventurier françois) with no indication (i.e., ...) of having done so.
    - "[...] comme on étoit toujours aux lumieres, il n'y avoit réellement ni jour ni nuit; par consequent aucune heure fixée pour le sommeil ni pour le repas."
    - "Since it was always light, there were no set hours for meals or sleep."
  • The contents page (p. ix), chapter title (p. 85), p. 89, p. 203 give a publication date of 1788 for the Icosameron whereas the bibliography (and the Bibliothèque nationale de France) give 1787. (Admittedly there seems to be some controversy regarding this date, but then at least be consistent in dating the work.)
While all this might appear rather nit-picky, it suggests a certain lack of critical proofreading, which while perhaps inconsequential to the casual reader, might not be so to the academic.

Notwithstanding these minor problems, Subterranean Worlds treads on territory which has had relatively little coverage, presenting and discussing a number of rare and obscure works of proto-science fiction to which one would not otherwise be exposed.

Works discussed
(with links to online text where available)

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