Saturday, September 21, 2013

Did Virginia Woolf write science fiction? Not really

Photo from Wikimedia
     A recent post on Facebook got my attention: it linked to an article by Donna Dickens about "Nine Women who Shaped Science Fiction" at BuzzFeed.
     There were the usual big names, such as Mary Shelley, and some unfamiliar names, but there was one familiar name that surprised me: Virginia Woolf. The post claimed that Woolf, under the name E.V. Odle, had written several science fiction novels.
     I had never heard of Odle or that Woolf had written science fiction (unless you count Orlando, which is more of a meditation on sexuality and/or gender, or a fantasy at best since no scientific or even alchemical explanation is given for Orlando's sex change). So I did a quick Web search.
     Well, there was a reason for my ignorance: it's not true. As Annalee Newitz put it on the blog, "Sometimes you come across a satire that sounds so plausible that you wish you lived in an alternative universe where it were true. Such is the case with this article from Check Your Facts about Virginia Woolf's pulp career writing under the pen name EV Odle to make money."

     (Michael Walsh provided additional citations -- here and here -- in a comment on BuzzFeed.)

Cover image from HiLoBooks
     That being said, Odle's book The Clockwork Man (available from and other booksellers) sounds like a precursor of steampunk, so I'm sort of grateful for the shout-out. Less appreciated is the naming of several invented or misattributed books that either didn't exist or weren't written by Odle or Woolf, and all of which are claimed to be an influence or basis for another work of literature or film: "The Houyhnhnm," based on the intelligent horses from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, claimed in turn as a source for Pierre Boulle's Planet of the ApesThe Puppeteer God,  claimed as an influence on The Wachowskis The Matrix; and, most absurdly of all, An Unwanted Guest, which is said to have inspired The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. These don't seem to be mistakes but a deliberate fraud.
     (Interestingly, Woolf was a science fiction fan, having corresponded with one of my favorite neglected science fiction authors Olaf Stapledon, best-known for Odd John, Sirius, Last and First Men and Star Maker.)

     Was Dickens aware that this was a hoax, or was she simply too willing to be taken in by a hoaxer? Either way, it's a good reminder to not believe everything you read on the Web.


Blogger Unknown said...

Very True! People who post such nonsense should be fined and disallowed from using the internet. Here is the full text as original put online... by me.

February 20, 2014 at 2:56 PM 

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