Science Fiction Studies

#7 = Volume 2, Part 3 = November 1975


Notes, Reports, and Correspondence

James Blish, 1921-1975.August has brought the sad news of the death at barely 54 of James Blish of a long and serious illness. All who had the privilege of knowing Jim knew also just how long that illness was, how serious the operations and treatments he had been undergoing for a decade or so, how much they had impeded a full continuation of his triumphant debuts in science-fiction novels, stories, and criticism, and how heroically he had toiled on in spite of all.

Dr. Mullen has written on James Blish, and is proud to have been of some small help to him for the final edition of the Cities in Flight tetralogy. I have translated one of his books into one of the many languages in which Jim is known and appreciated all over the world, and am proud to have been, in a minor way, his friend those last seven years, ever since a discussion on the floor of a smoke-and fan-filled room in a New York City hotel that ensued when I tactlessly challenged the ending of his perhaps most famous book, A Case of Conscience. The memories of many subsequent sparkling discussions in Trieste, Marlowe, and Harpsden, on subjects ranging from his SF through music and witchcraft back to the theory and history of SF will remain permanently with me. For Blish in person was much more than even an assiduous reader of his works can gather: a polyhistor, one among the few authentic self-made Renaissance or Medieval men in the SF community—or at least as good an approximation to such a "universal man" as the present hectic, affluent and yet penurious times will permit. He had worked as a scientist, and he always remained a scientist in the sense of his Roger Bacon: a doctor mirabilis, a man to whom no knowledge, especially in its erudite branches, was uninteresting or foreign. But alongside this openness, not unknown among SF writers, he was also many other persons: e.g. one of the world's leading authorities on Cabell, and an erudite on writers like Joyce and Pound (the source of his "Atheling" critical pseudonym) and on musicians like Richard Strauss (the hero of one of his most significant short stories, "A Work of Art"). This is not the place for an appreciation of Blish's work, but there is no doubt that such a (here sketchily suggested) spread of favorites amounts to a fully formed—and in comparison with a solid majority in SF rather idiosyncratic—taste. As his preoccupation with witchcraft and the Middle Ages, with a universal religion and what he semi-seriously called his fascist (but what should properly be called his collectivist) leanings, all testify, he was in full retreat from contemporary bourgeois liberalism. His taking up permanent abode in England was as clear an expression of his feelings toward the condition of his native USA as was Joyce's leaving Ireland. All these will be precious indications for an understanding overview of his work—and we hope one of our readers embarks on it soon.

In the meantime we have to say goodbye to Jim. Dr. Mullen's life and mine, and the lives of all his friends and readers, have been the richer for him. We were happy to have him as an SFS consultant and contributor, and we grieve to think that we shall not now receive further, already promised contributions from him, nor read further stories by him. I like to think of him as carrying on his discussions in Elysium with the grave shade of Thomas of Aquinas, the systematizer of believing reason, and the ironic shade of James Branch Cabell, the chivalrous Virginian escapist; and since it is Elysium, there must be a typewriter around, many books, and at least three cats. Down here, in the sublunary world, James Blish will be remembered. By each of us in a different way, in his or her own "common time." By one of us, at least, as somebody much like the hero of his "Surface Tension": an indomitable man who stuck his neck and head out of the elastically tough limits of his inherited world; he got severely burned for it, but it was worth it. —DS.

 

A Book on Philip K. Dick. just arrived via air mail, but too late for more than a note in this issue: a book edited by Bruce Gillsepie, Philip K. Dick: Electric Shepherd ($7½x 7½, A$4.00 in Australia, $6.00 in US or Canada, from Norstrilia Press, GPO Box 5195AA, Melbourne, Australia 3001), with an introduction by Roger Zelazny, and composed of contributions on or by Dick to SF Commentary. In addition to Dick and Gillespie, the contributors include Stanislaw Lem, George Turner, and Fred Patten. With the possible exception of SFS #5, this is the most valuable work on Dick yet to appear. —RDM.

 

The NESFA Index. Also recently received is the edition for 1974 publications of The NESFA Index: Science Fiction Magazines and Original Anthologies (8½ x 11, 43p, $4.00, from NESFA, Box G, MIT Branch Post Office, Cambridge, MA 02139), with listings by magazine/ anthology, by title, and by author, together with a checklist of SF magazines and one of SF anthologies with annotations on the specified editorial intent of the work. Earlier volumes in this series are available for 1951-65, $12.00; for 1966-70, $8.00, for 1971-72, $3.00; for 1973, $2.00. —RDM.

 

A New Journal. Your readers may be interested to hear about Radical Science Journal, which aims to provide a "forum for serious and extended analyses of the history, philosophy, ideology and current practice of science and technology, within a socialist perspective." RSJ #1 (January 1974) contains rigorous and provocative essays on "Technology and the Construction of Social Reality" (David Dickson) and the "'Relevance' of Anthropology to Colonialism and Individualism" (Jack Stauder); #2-3 is a double number with further enquiries into the relations between science, society and ideology which are germane to much SF. The journal is edited by a collective from 9 Poland Street, London W1 3DG, England (subscription £1.40 for three issues).—Patrick Parrinder.

 

Moskowitz on P. Schuyler Miller. Sam Moskowitz has issued a 300-copy mimeographed edition of A Canticle for P. Schuyler Miller, the complete essay from which excerpts appeared in the February 1975 issue of Analog as an obituary. It is a "critical biography" similar to the chapters of Seekers of Tomorrow and as such is of interest to students of SF. It is to be hoped that this essay will become a chapter in a sequel to Seekers of Tomorrow, for such a sequel is long overdue. —RDM.

 

A Special Issue of SFS on SF Before Wells? Since several contributors have offered us articles or reviews on SF before Wells, we are thinking about devoting an issue in 1976 to that important but still (in spite of good spadework) rather neglected field. Whether we finally do so will depend on the response from potential contributors, who are hereby invited to submit a résumé (two or three pages for articles, half a page for notes) to either of the SFS editors by December 15, 1975. The deadline for finished manuscripts—articles of from two to four thousand words, notes from five hundred to a thousand—would be March 1, 1976. We would draw your attention particularly to, first, ancient myths, legends, and tales of all peoples (marvelous voyages, the Earthly Paradise, Cockayne) from tribal and oral literature, Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and all non-White literatures, with the proviso that the reasons for considering the texts as SF, proto-SF, or near-SF rather than as myths or folktales proper should be explicitly argued; second, the utopias, marvellous voyages, and "planetary romances" of the Renaissance (More, Rabelais, Cyrano, etc.); third, the politico-satirical marvellous voyages from Swift to Diderot and Restif in the 18th century; fourth, the SF aspects of Romantic utopian poets and planners such as Blake, Shelley, or Fourier; fifth, the rise of the 19th-century adventure model of SF in dime novels, Verne, and others; sixth, the parallel elder tradition of SF as allegory, satire, and utopia, from Mary Shelley and Melville through Bulwer-Lytton and Butler to the various socialisms between Bellamy and Morris, together with the conservative/ reactionary response. Material from Wells and later SF can be used if significant direct influences from, or typological parallels to, older SF are being established, but the focus should be on the older texts. We would especially encourage the submission of articles or notes on texts outside the tradition of More, Rabelais, Cyrano, Mary Shelley, Verne—e.g. from languages other than French or English, and from the Asian and African cultures. —DS, RDM.

 

Contributors new to SFS in #7 include JUDAH BIERMAN, Portland State University, who has contributed articles on Bacon's New Atlantis to Papers on Language and Literature and Studies in the Literary Imagination; JEFF LEVIN, who operates the Pendragon Press in Portland, Oregon; RAFAIL ILYICH NUDELMAN, a critic and theoretician of SF (five of his essays are annotated in Darko Suvin's Russian SF Literature and Criticism, Toronto 1971), who has written some SF novels and stories, has studied and taught theoretical physics, and now lives in Vladimir; DAVID L. PORTER, St. Mary's State College; DONALD F. THEALL, McGill University, who has written extensively on communications, applied linguistics, and literary and cultural theory, including The Medium is the Rear View Mirror: Understanding McLuhan (1971); and JACK WILLIAMSON, Eastern New Mexico University, who teaches courses in linguistics, although of course better known as an SF writer and scholar. 


moonbut.gif (4466 bytes)Back to Home