The Borgo Press Monographs
George Edgar Slusser. The Classic Years of Robert A. Heinlein (Milford
Series, Popular Writers of Today, Volume II). Borgo Press, 64 pp., $1.95. The Delany Intersection:
Samuel R. Delany Treated as
a Writer of Semi-Precious Words (Volume 10), 64 pp., $1.95.
Harlan Ellison: Unrepentant Harlequin
(Volume 6), 64
pp., $1.95. The Bradbury Chronicles (Volume
4), 64 pp., $1.95. Richard Mathews.
Aldiss Unbound: The Science Fiction of Brian W. Aldiss
(Volume 9), 64 pp., $1.95.
These five additions to the Borgo Press offerings require some evaluation of the series
as a whole. All the pamphlets are informative about the author's SF career and works and
all include a brief bibliography. There is no question here about basic usefulness and
intelligence, only whether there is anything special because this kind of information is
available to teacher and scholar in other resources. Hence, the real value of the series
must be decided on the basis of the critics' understanding of, and insight into, the given
authors. In these terms, as the following remarks suggest, it is difficult to gage the
intended audience for these pamphlets. Much of the writing remains at the level of
"appreciation": to understand what's going on in them at all, you have to read
the works in question pretty thoroughly -- otherwise they often are obscure and don't make
much sense; but if you have read the authors in question, it is difficult to justify the
many generalizations tossed off in passing. This kind of critical writing does make SF
seem like something important, but it doesn't really say why in any convincing way.
It is useful, to be sure, to have intelligent overviews of these five authors. Those on
Heinlein and Delany seem to be the most sensitive and convincing in getting us into the
authors further than previous critical writing -- there is really something new here. The
essays on Bradbury and Ellison are certainly welcome since not enough basic criticism has
appeared on either writer. However, the critical paradigms employed in these two essays
seem more limited and less well suited to the author in question; perhaps they take us in
the right direction but more awareness of these authors' particular merits still seems in
order for future SF scholars. Much the same dictum is to be applied to the essay on Aldiss
by Matthews -- welcome and informative, but not as cogent and convincing in the overall
generalizations as it might be.
Throughout his four essays in fact, Slusser tries too hard to judge the SF authors in
terms of American Transcendentalism and writers like Emerson and Thoreau specifically, for
it gives modern SF too religious a complexion and is probably too narrow a viewpoint on
the roots of the American genre. Slusser also likes to mention "the American
spirit" or the American heritage often enough in the essays on Ellison, Bradbury, and
Heinlein, but this does not seem to reveal much about the various authors, however true it
might be to say it. Too often all the essays in this group try to compare these SF
writings to literary mainstream figures like Milton or Shakespeare. This seems pretentious
overwriting, inaccurate, and not very revealing as well.
Slusser's essay on Heinlein answers the major objections I had to his first essay on
Heinlein for Borgo Press (SFS 3:293): Slusser now explores Heinlein's strengths and
weaknesses as a writer within the domain of fiction itself and is concerned to
treat the many didactic voices and lectures in the works as an essential part of the
fictional framework; he is more careful with Heinlein's peculiar reliance on
inter-relating two structuring devices, action/intrigue (as the basis of "plot")
and lecture/discussion (often leading to "generic discontinuity" and a coda
which reverses previously held norms). A willingness to accept literary
"subjunctivity" in Heinlein amounts to a substantial revision of the approach in
the first pamphlet.
Slusser proposes to explore a number of "Calvinist" themes; the Bradbury
essay also mentions Calvinism, but it isn't developed into an elaborate critical metaphor
as here. Patterns of "election and predestination" are traced through a
selection of the "classic years" (meaning 1939-1966 in this essay) culminating
in a lengthy close reading of Have Space Suit -- Will Travel, the same work
Slusser chose to conclude the earlier pamphlet, but here the analysis is deeper and better
related to the larger concerns of the essay. In the process, Slusser manages to show how
Heinlein's fiction centers on the nature and necessity of social hierarchy in human
affairs. In the fictions selected for examination, "election" means that a
typical Heinlein fable focuses on the socio-political processes whereby a certain
character, though unworthy perhaps in himself, is brought to greatness because his or her
particular expertise, profession or scientific know how amounts to a call to greatness;
ultimately this call cannot be refused because of the very nature of the demands of the
social or political environment (Lorenzo in Double Star is a strong case in
point). Yet there is a powerful counterpart to this apparent determinism in the themes of
self-determination, individual performance, and freedom which suggest that Heinlein's
universe is an open-futured one as far as mankind as a whole is concerned. In Slusser's
view, the real Heinleinian hero is a powerful personality or authority because he/she has
a special vision, and this in turn bridges the paradoxical gap between individual human
choice and a "Calvinistic" universe (p 6).
Yet it is also fair to say that Slusser understands Heinlein's universe as a strictly
secular one. One does not know how Slusser would treat Beyond this Horizon -- not
considered in this or the previous volume -- but he does specifically view Magic, Inc.
as "a study in comparative power structures" (p 31). On the other hand, Puppet
Masters, a demonized version of the predestination pattern in Slusser's schema, is
read critically in terms of religious concepts like ritual possession, exorcism, and
damnation. Of course, this "having it both ways" ultimately leads Slusser to
understand Heinlein's fictions of the classic years as "allegories" -- though
from what Slusser says about them in this volume they fit no definition of allegory known
to me. Much more needs to be done with Heinlein's quasi-theological conceptions -- with
Slusser, I agree that they are not to be understood literally, but a more rigorous and
truly comprehensive effort is needed here.
There are other limitations: the selection of works for close evaluation is still
idiosyncratic. "By his Bootstraps" is given a great deal of attention, while the
more important "All You Zombies" is ignored; Glory Road is now taken as
an important work but Stranger in a Strange Land is still left hanging in a
critical limbo, while the three monster-novels of the 70s, of course, are outside the
"classic years" anyway. But overall this is a welcome addition to the critical
literature on Heinlein because it takes us a step closer to a positive and open-minded
The Delany essay is something completely different from Slusser. A debt to Scholes'
"Structural Fabulation" is announced at the outset, and then the whole approach
is freely Structuralist, a method that sometimes proves inspirational and effective in the
case of this SF writer. Slusser also does a nice job with Delany's non-fiction articles on
SF of a critical or theoretical nature; he is equally sensitive to the fictional role of
the author's running non-fictional (?), autobiographical commentary in Einstein
Really concentrating on a few works -- the Towers of Toron trilogy, Babel-17,
Einstein Intersection, and Nova, to be precise -- Slusser is concerned
to see in Delany a writer who makes us more aware of "system," in the universe
as in specific human systems like language (Babel) and myth (Einstein).
As in the similar case of Bradbury, Delany's indebtedness to poetry as the basis of his
art is discussed: the writer himself admits an obsession with Rimbaud and believes in
French Symbolism as a starting point for modern SF.
Basically, the Structuralist approach is strongest when it considers metamorphotic
patterns in the works: Delany's universes are neither progressive nor static (p 13) but
are alternative reproductive variables of universals already available to us, a notion
exemplified especially in the analysis of the Towers and evidenced in Delany's
critical term, "heterotopia" (p 7). Further, in the area of human will and
values this metamorphotic alternate world is "suspended" between the
alternatives of dystopia and utopia, though it seems more dubious for Slusser to overread
the nature of the metamorphosis as an intersection of patterns of twos and threes or of a
duality suspended by a third term.
Strangely, Slusser does nothing with "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious
Stones" which inspired the subtitle of the pamphlet. Nor is he anywhere near adequate
on the late big novels like Dhalgren and Triton. Instead, he resorts to
John Barth's term, "the literature of exhaustion," to explain away further
pursuit of this phase of Delany. With Delany as with Heinlein, Slusser seems unable to
explicate the 70s fictions adequately. He is best with the novella or conventional SF
novel. However, his essay does improve our sensitivity to Delany and its Structuralist
attitude is laudable. There is still not enough solid critical writing on Delany and this
insightful essay might well stimulate further attention. Slusser's high regard for Einstein
Intersection is also unusual among recent critics. His reading is not convincing but
it may lead to reappraisal of a major work, perhaps a true "classic," still
Slusser's essay on Ellison is welcome since his stories are often difficult for even
the most sophisticated of readers. Slusser does a good job of tracing the journalistic
dimension: both the actual journalism, like the essay on television, The Glass Teat,
and the journalistic-style commentary that Ellison attaches to his own and others' work
across the many SF anthologies. The latter become ever more "fictional" in
character, ever more the elusive masks of a master ironist as Ellison's career as writer
advances. Slusser correctly identifies this fictional device as a persona and
traces its use.
However, much more could have been done with Ellison's relationship to the New
Journalism, and the treatment is still too superficial here. Nor is the distinction
between the two major categories of Fantasy and Myth very convincing (the fables which
Slusser places in the former group seem closer to conventional SF than those in the
latter). What is suggested is that Ellison stands in some interesting, yet problematical
and unidentified relationship to "hard" SF. Ellison is also a very elusive
satirist, and there is always some Gahan Wilson gallows-humor at work in his tales (the
barely noticeable cannibalism scene at the conclusion of the movie version of "A Boy
and his Dog" catches this tone of Ellison perfectly). Finally, though none of the
analyses of single stories seem to be the last word, the comments on each are solid and
interesting. There remains a large area of Ellison's short story output which hasn't even
been touched on in this volume. Slusser's lead here suggests this as a promising area for
The essay on Bradbury is only a middling effort -- worth reading, often informative, a
step in the right direction for this author, but flawed by a habit of over-writing and
Procrustean over-structuring the commentary (the outright Structuralist method and
rhetoric works better in the Delany essay). As a matter of fact, the individual tales in
Bradbury's "novels" (Martian Chronicles, Illustrated Man,
e.g.) aren't always related to one another on the basis of some simple formula or
philosophy, though some structure is certainly there, but in a cluster of associations
which makes us look to poetry and psychology for parallels. Slusser is right to
characterize Bradbury as essentially a 50s writer (he takes the period 1946 to 1955 as the
"Vintage Bradbury") and the work of the 60s and later as not quite so
stimulating and successful; Slusser is right to see an over-reliance on sentimentalism as
a limit on these later fictions. However, one of the major fictions of the Vintage era is Dandelion
Wine and it is given scant, even poor, consideration and this makes one wonder
whether Slusser's overall paradigm for Bradbury isn't misfocused from the outset. Slusser
is also correct to further characterize Bradbury as a short-fiction writer (though Fahrenheit
451 is treated insightfully as one of the author's Vintage long-fiction successes)
and as a prose writer who eminently fails when he tries to write poetry like "Christus-Apollo," although he is regarded as the most poetic of SF writers
Another strength of the essay is the recognition of the importance of American
literature and its traditions to Bradbury: Slusser gives particular attention to the
nostalgic fantasies on earlier literature ("The Exiles") and particular writers
like Hemingway ("the Kilimanjaro Device" and "The Parrot Who Met
Papa") and Thomas Wolfe ("Forever and the Earth"). Poe is important to
Bradbury in a more archetypal sense since both authors' tales are involved with
perversions of reason.
Slusser does well to recognize Bradbury's American regionalism (though, again, he does
not do justice for Dandelion Wine) and his Midwestern rootedness to land and
physical nature (this nature in turn sets limits on man's capacity for change). Bradbury's
America contrasts strongly with the extraterrestrial landscape of the Martian
Chronicles (in Slusser's view, the apogee of Bradbury's Fantasy) as with the lonely,
alien of Mexico of several short stories. One entire section of the essay, "October
Country" (pp 10-26), focuses on tales of man's inescapable bond to the rhythms of
nature and his bondedness to death especially: though man's reason and his science
powerfully, even inevitably, pull him to try to escape his earthly limits, just as
inevitably he descends again to his own earth-rooted mortality.
From such ideas as these, one can gage that Slusser can be pretty imaginative about
what he sees in his SF writers; yet even the best of his ideas seem to be free metaphors,
based mostly on the author in question, and they should be taken as helpful insights for
future readers and critics, but no more.
Richard Mathews' essay on Aldiss is well researched and expresses a more comprehensive
acquaintanceship with (and sympathy for) the author than any of the Slusser pamphlets.
Sometimes his writing can be eloquent, as with his analysis of Frankenstein Unbound,
which shows Mathews at his best, effectively introducing discussions of the Mary Shelley
original and Aldiss' non-fiction history of the SF genre, Billion Year Spree.
However, the analyses are not usually so interesting or insightful, especially those on
the earlier works of Aldiss in the first half of the pamphlet, but -- to be completely
fair to Mathews -- perhaps the limits of the essay are those of the Borgo Press format,
too constrictive for so rich, so protean an author. As Mathews does amply show, the
fictions of Brian Aldiss encompass entire genres and are often concerned to question or
test the epistemological limits of a genre, SF itself not the least (a notion Mathews
manages to convey in many analyses, in particular those on Hothouse and Barefoot
in the Head). Even more, Aldiss' fictions react to the entire history of literature
itself, and this writer's career has progressively involved him in greater self-awareness
about literature itself.
Because he knows so much about the history of literature -- from the inside as a master
practitioner and technician, from the outside as a historian with an academic's flair for
organized knowledge -- Aldiss can rightly be regarded as having as many relationships with
mainstream literature as with SF. Mathews should be praised for writing a stimulating
study which reveals, above all, how much there really is to Aldiss. This is a valuable
first essay, as it purports to be, and this critic or others should expand the ideas
available in it.
The Gregg Press Science Fiction Series
- David G Hartwell, ed. The [Third]
Gregg Press Science Fiction Series
- Fritz Leiber. Conjure Wife.
- A.E. van Vogt. The Players of
- Brian Aldiss. Galaxies Like
Grains of Sand.
- Theodore Sturgeon. The Cosmic
- Marion Zimmer Bradley. The Sword
of Aldones &The Heritage of Hastur.
- Samuel R. Delany. The Fall of the
Towers & Triton.
- Thomas M. Disch. The Early
Science Fiction Stories of Thomas M. Disch
- Philip K. Dick. Dr. Bloodmoney:
or How We Got Along After the Bomb
- Jack Vance. The Eyes of the
- Robert Silverberg. To Open the
- Chester Anderson. The Butterfly
- D.G. Compton. Synthajoy.
- Ron Goulart. After Things Fell
- R.A. Lafferty. The Devil is Dead
- Norman Sprinrad. The Iron Dream.
- Poul Anderson. The People of the
- Joanna Russ. The Female Man.
David G Hartwell, ed.
The [Third] Gregg Press Science Fiction Series. 25
volumes. Gregg Press Division, G.K. Hall & Co., 70 Lincoln St., Boston MA 92111. The
prices given below include a 50¢; handling charge; prices outside the USA are 10% higher.
The first five volumes in this series, counting by date, were reviewed in SFS #13, Nov
It was with considerable enthusiasm that I greeted the first SF reprint series and set
about to review them: the Hyperion series (Fall 1974), the Arno series (July 1975), and
the first Gregg Press Series (Nov 1975), for in nearly all cases the books reprinted were
older works of some importance in the history of SF -- works long out of print and
difficult to obtain on the second-hand market. It was with much less enthusiasm that I
greeted the Garland series (Nov 1975) and the second Gregg Press series (Nov 1976), partly
from weariness, but mostly because the emphasis had shifted to "modern" SF and
thus to books pretty readily available in one way or another. With respect to SF before
World War II the scholar needs to be something of a completist, which is quite possible if
one does not get sidetracked into lost-race or occult fiction. But since 1945 SF books
have been so numerous that one has to be selective, and it is not unreasonable to rely
largely on the winnowing process provided by library and commercial publishing practices.
Which is to say that I am far from certain that we need reprints from the post-1945
In SF since 1945 there are at least 300 authors that have produced novels or
collections of a competent kind, of average interest. The trouble is not that 90% of SF is
trash; it is rather than not even 1% is worth a second reading. Any of the books reprinted
below will do to while away a lazy afternoon; each of them can be regarded as
representative, in one way or another, of modern SF; but none of them (with the possible
exception of The Female Man) is essential to an understanding of SF since 1945,
for any of them could be replaced by some other book every bit as representative.
As representative popular fictions of our time, these books hardly need to have
introductions, and for the most part the introductions we find are little more than puffs.
For scholars, one point may be of interest. SF author-critics, fan-critics, and academic
critics have now pretty well rid themselves of any inferiority complex with respect to SF
in comparison to mainstream fiction. Again and again the book at hand is hailed as a
masterpiece -- not just in modern SF but in "any genre at any time."
Since the publication of this third series last summer, Gregg Press has issued a number
of books by Fritz Leiber, Poul Anderson, and Samuel R. Delany (the complete works of the
last now being available in Gregg Press hardback editions, except for The Einstein
Intersection, preempted by the Garland series). These books I have not seen, but they
have been sent, I understand, to my colleagues in Montreal, who will presumably review
them in later issues of SFS, and who may well be able to work up for them more enthusiasm
than I could.
#6. Fritz Leiber. Conjure Wife.
[Unknown Worlds, Apr
1943]; Twayne, 1953 (as part of the "triplet" Witches Three).
Introduction by Charles L. Grant; second introduction ("Conjure Wife into
Film") by Foster Hirsch, with stills from the films Weird Woman, 1944, and
Witch, Burn, 1962. xxxviii+154. $10.00 Not SF, but one of the best examples of the
"modern fantasy" published by John W. Campbell in Unknown.
#7. A.E. van Vogt.
The Players of Null-A. [Astounding,
Oct-Jan 1948-49; as The Pawns of Null-A, Ace pb 1956]; Berkley pb 1966.
Introduction by Charles Platt. xx+192. $10.50. In his Introduction to the 1970 Berkley
edition of The World of Null-A, van Vogt argues, if I understand him aright, that
if it had not been for the publication of that famous work (Astounding, Aug-Oct
1945; Simon & Schuster, 1948; numerous other editions), Korzybski's General Semantics
would have died in its cradle and Hayakawa would never have become president of San
Francisco State (nor, it follows, senator from California). If all this is true, and
perhaps even if it is not, van Vogt's second treatment of null-A reasoning deserves an
edition in hard cover.
#8. Brian Aldiss. Galaxies Like Grains of
Sand. [The stories, without
the intercalary sections, in various magazines, 1957-58]; NAL pb 1960. Introduction by
Norman Sprinrad. xii+144. $9.50. The intercalary sections, purportedly written by a
post-human philosopher of history, carry the narratives from the "war millennia"
of the present and near future to the "ultimate millennia" some millions of
years away. In Starswarm (NAL pb 1964) Aldiss has a similar collection organized
on a synchronic basis, infinite space being equivalent to infinite time, and the two books
really should be read together. In a booklet reviewed by S.C. Fredericks in this issue,
Richard Matthews finds the "linked narrative commentary...distracting and
artificial" and feels that it "spoils the individual character of the
stories." I disagree, and recommend Spinrad's introduction as a better assessment of
#9. Theodore Sturgeon. The Cosmic
Rape. Dell pb 1958 plus the briefer
original version, "To Marry Medusa" (Galaxy, Aug 1958) as pbd in a 1962
anthology. Introduction by Samuel R. Delany. xxiv+231. $10.00. Delany's long introduction
is a fulsome tribute to Sturgeon, whom he regards as one of "America's half-dozen
finest writers of short fiction in any genre at any time" (page xxx). The original
and expanded versions are offered together so that the aspiring writer, by comparing them
under Mr. Delany's guidance, can see a true master at work. Although Sturgeon might well
stand with O. Henry and Wilbur Daniel Steele, I must confess that I cannot see him in the
company of Hawthorne, Poe, James, Hemingway, Faulkner, and Katherine Anne Porter, or, to
name three of Sturgeon's contemporaries, Eudora Welty, Peter Taylor, and John Cheever.
Cosmic Rape is a present-time story in which a variety of people meet a world
catastrophe in supposedly characteristic ways, and is thus a story more easily compared
with mainstream fiction than most SF stories. I have expressed both my admiration for some
of Sturgeon's work and my reservations on the rest of it before; let me say now that in my
view we have Sturgeon close to his most sentimental and banal in "To Marry
Medusa" and at his very worst in The Cosmic Rape, the expansions being in
the sentimental treatment of character rather than in the development of the SF concept.
#10. Algis Budrys. Rogue
Moon. [Abbreviated version, F&SF, Dec 1960]; Fawcett pb 1960.
Introductions by Algis Budrys and Joseph Malicia. xxiii+176. $11.50. You can also see a
"true master" at work by comparing the full version of this novel with the
trimmed-down magazine version that appears in Volume 2B of The Science Fiction Hall of
Fame (Doubleday, 1973; Avon pb 1974). If you need more guidance than the comparison
alone can give, Budrys expounds on his techniques briefly here and at some length in a
recent issue of Locus (March 1978). This is also a tale of the present in which a
variety of people react to an extraordinary situation in supposedly characteristic ways,
and I do not doubt that Budrys is every bit as good at vivid characterization as Irving
Wallace or Harold Robbins, though I would feel safer in making such a comparison if I had
read the works of those great writers. But with all its melodrama and sentimentality,
Moon is exemplary as a well-made thriller with philosophical import, and a very good
story for use in the classroom.
##11-12. Marion Zimmer Bradley. The Sword of Aldones. Ace 1962. Introduction by
Richard A. Lupoff. xx+164. $10.00. The Heritage of
Hastur. DAW 1975. Introduction by Susan Wood. xxvi+381. $14.50.
According to Susan Wood, Ms. Bradley had only a most modest opinion of the worth of her Darkover stories, and did not work at them very hard, until many fans began telling her
that they were very good indeed and her publisher agreed (she has followed Donald A.
Wolheim from Ace to DAW): "Thus the escapist adventures on Darkover slowly evolved
into the fuller studies of a world in flux, and the people involved in those changes"
(page xii). Like the Gor novels of John Norman, the Darkover novels may be said to depict
an up-to-date Barsoom, with social and psychological matters treated in a more complex and
somewhat more sophisticated way, and with the sexuality frank though not wholly explicit.
Those who love the adventure of the Gor books but cannot abide Professor Lange's
chauvinist philosophy presumably find Darkover more to their liking. Whether the later
Darkover novels succeed in transcending the ideology of "Heroic Fantasy" I will
leave to such critics as H.J. Alpers (see SFS #14) and Norman Spinrad (see #23 as well as
Spinrad's letter in this issue).
##13-14. Samuel R. Delany.
The Fall of the Towers.
the Flame, Ace pb 1963; The Towers of Toron, Ace pb 1964;
City of a
Thousand Suns, Ace pb 1965]; omnibus edn under present title, somewhat revised, with
first part retitled Out of the Dead City, Ace pb nd [Author's Note dated 1970].
Introduction by Joseph Milicia. xxi+413. $16.50. Triton. Bantam pb 1976. Introduction by Jean Mark Gawron. xxiii+[ix]+369. $15.50. The highly
romantic trilogy of Delany's youth has some affinities with the "Heroic Fantasy"
of ##11-12, but probably owes more to the tradition of Ruritania and Graustark, perhaps as
transmitted through the movies, than to that of Barsoom. It is saved from triviality (from
utter triviality, at least) by wit and style. Triton is Delany's most ambitious
work. Since I cannot fault it from a negative point of view (that is, since it is free
from those things that make most SF novels unsatisfactory for me), and since it attempts
the tasks that I think SF novels should attempt, I am a bit puzzled as to why I do not
like it more than I do. Perhaps it is because I do not fully appreciate the connection
between the philosophy propounded in various ways and the series of events that make up
the life story of the protagonist; perhaps because although it has style and wit aplenty,
it lacks humor. For many years I continued to speak of Delany as the most promising of the
younger SF writers, but he is no longer all that young.
#15. Thomas M. Disch.
The Early Science Fiction Stories of Thomas M. Disch. A composite reprint combining One Hundred and Two H-Bombs and Other Science
Fiction Stories [various magazines 1963-66], UK 1966, and Mankind under the
Leash, Ace pb 1966, with the latter retitled The Puppies of Terra.
Introduction by Robert Thurston. xxxii+334. Disch has style, wit, and humor, and all came
fully into play with the expansion of "White Fang Goes Dingo" (one of the
stories reprinted here) into The Puppies of Terra, the best story I know on its
theme (a future in which superhuman invaders of the Earth have turned humans into domestic
#16. Philip K. Dick.
Dr. Bloodmoney: or
How We Got Along After the Bomb. Ace pb 1965. Introduction by Norman
Spinrad. xiv+222. $11.50. One of Dick's best novels; for a critique, see Jameson's essay,
SFS 2(1975):31-42. Norman Spinrad may be correct in calling Dick "the foremost
metaphysical novelist of our age, perhaps of all time" page xiii), but I would find
the judgment more persuasive if he offered some comparisons.
#17. Jack Vance.
The Eyes of the Overworld. [In part, F&SF
1965-66]; Ace pb 1966. Introduction by Robert Silverberg. xvi+189. $11.50. The adventures
of Cugel the Clever in his quest across the Dying Earth for the Eyes of the Overworld.
There are those who consider Vance one of the greatest of writers; I am not among them.
#18. Robert Silverberg.
To Open the Sky. Ballantine pb 1967.
Introduction by Russell Letson. xi+222. $11.50. As all the world knows, Silverberg in the
mid-60s ceased being a hack, became a serious novelist, and has since produced a body of
work that some readers regard as the best fiction of our time, if not of all time.
According to Letson, the great change took place with this, the first novel of the new
Anderson. The Butterfly Kid. Pyramid pb 1967.
Introduction by Paul Williams. xxii+190. $13.00. Williams tells us that this is "a
science fiction novel about bohemian life, rock music, psychedelic drugs, etc." (page
v); it would perhaps be more accurate to say that it is a fantasy that celebrates science
fiction by parodying its more juvenile varieties. Parodies of fashionable or widely
popular writing are sometimes amusing and are always flattering in their support for the
reader's superiority to the unsophisticated. If in the 1890s you admired The War of
the Worlds but felt you shouldn't, you would have been much amused by The War of
the Wenuses (see SFS 2:190). But if I was right in the preface to this review,
right in believing that SF readers no longer suffer from an inferiority complex, I do not
see why they would find this parody amusing.
Compton. Synthajoy. Ace pb 1968. Introduction by Algis Budrys.
xvi+189. $13.00. A novel of the perversion of science by commerce; specifically, of the
exploitation of a process for reshaping the human mind, as told by one of its victims. A
number of SF critics have been much impressed by Compton's work, though he has yet to win
a wide audience among fans.
#21. Ron Goulart. After Things Fell Apart. Ace pb 1970. Introduction by
David Shapiro. xvi+189. $10.00. A private-eye story set in the near future, when things
have fallen apart; the kind of book that gets described as "maddeningly
Lafferty. The Devil is Dead. Avon pb 1971.
Introduction by Charles Platt. xiv+224. $11.50. Since this story deals with the
supernatural rather than with fictive science, it is of course fantasy rather than SF
proper. As always, I find Lafferty a pleasure to read page by page. He has style, wit, and
humor. But the pages don't seem to add up to anything.
Sprinrad. The Iron Dream. Avon pb 1972. Introduction by
Theodore Sturgeon. ix+255. $13.50. For a few SFS readers it may be necessary to explain
that this book has a second title page, which converts it into "Lord of the
Swastika, a science fiction novel by Adolph Hitler." There is also a
biographical note explaining that the author came to this country from Germany in 1919,
was one of our leading SF authors in the thirties and forties, and received a posthumous
Hugo in 1955 for this novel, which was completed shortly before his death in 1953. All
right, so here we have the kind of novel that Hitler would have written if he had been an
SF writer; which is to say that we have here a parody of the Heroic Fantasy discussed by
H.J. Alpers in the preceding issue of SFS. Sturgeon regards the book as a masterpiece, and
was appalled when a "callow critic wrote 'The Iron Dream ceased to be funny after the
first twenty pages'" (page vi). All right, so the book is a serious effort to teach
us something important about the evil in the heart of man. All right, so it could have
been done only by a writer of considerable skill. But the fact remains that it ceases to
be funny after the first few pages, and therefore becomes identical with what it is
parodying. If it has cured any readers of addiction to the likes of John Norman, if it has
shamed any writers into ceasing to indulge themselves and their readers in heroic fantasy,
then let us give thanks. But I see no reason why you or I should read the book all the way
through. Or rather, why you should do so, now that I have done it and have assured you
that the "callow critic" was correct.
#24. Poul Anderson.
People of the Wind. [Analog, Feb-Apr 1973]; NAL pb 1973.
Introduction by Sandra Miesel. xvii+176. $10.00. This is one of the fourteen volumes (10
novels, 4 collections) that have so far appeared in what Ms. Miesel has dubbed the Technic
Civilization series, which spans some 800 years of a future history modeled (it seems) on
Toynbee. Anderson creates his worlds, both diachronically and synchronically, with
intelligence and care. He writes with some style, and has flashes of wit and humor, but
for the most part is content to tell an "exciting" adventure story. For truly
serious science fiction, I would say that in this future history he has enough material
for a trilogy or tetralogy, and that such a work could be an SF masterpiece, but only
after he or someone had worked out the proper techniques for covering 800 years of fictive
history in a continuous narrative rather than a series of adventure stories. Even so,
People of the Wind, with its interplay between two intelligent species, is about as
good a story of its type as you are likely to find.
#25. Joanna Russ.
The Female Man. Bantam pb 1975. Introduction by
Marilyn Hacker. xxvii+[v]+214. $11.50. As a work at once of art and propaganda, this book
is comparable to some of the later novels of H.G. Wells (albeit Russ's style is much
different from Wells's), and its publication was greeted in much the same way. That is,
reviewers tended to treat it simply as propaganda and then (having regretted its lack of
art) go on to find its message reasonable or unreasonable. But the time-travel, time-track
concept is worked out here better than in any other SF novel I know, and the characters
and settings are very vividly realized. In sum, it is a superior SF novel, though perhaps
too demanding in an emotional sense ever to be popular even with those expressing the
currently fashionable opinions on women's liberation.
The Horrors of Lovecraft