NOTES, REPORTS, CORRESPONDENCE
Stanislaw Lem and the SFWA. The first response to the statements on the "Lem Affair" by Ursula K. Le Guin and Darko Suvin that appeared in SFS #11 was an outraged letter from John Millard of Toronto, a long-time fan, who supported Le Guin's bringing the matter into the open, wondered why SFS had not supplied a reference for the Lem article which, when reprinted in the secret pages of the SFWA Forum, precipitated the affair, and suggested that we might reprint it, which we do below. But first, a note from a valued associate.
Brian W. Aldiss. What Dark Non-Literary Passions... The salient crime was not that Lem spoke up as a member of a Communist country but that he spoke up against science fiction—that he was also a Commie merely rubbed salt in the wound.
Many of us have suffered from trying to look squarely at SF, or from speaking up for infusions of new life or viewpoint. My speaking up for Ballard and Moorcock's New Worlds—and that was over a decade ago—led me to be stereotyped as a New Waver (a classification I repudiated even in what may be regarded as the eye of that particular hurricane, Judith Merril's England Swings SF, 1967), yet Dr Scholes in his forthcoming OUP volume and many other savants who should know better still mumble over the old formulae, as if some of us have not always been our own men. Similarly, the ineffable Dave Kyle, in his compilation on SF art, virtually threatens me with a broken arm for daring to express my views on Hugo Gersnback.
So we know what dark non-literary passions such literary criticism as Lem's can arouse. Yet in its foolish blunderings, the SFWA showed itself non-literate in more ways than one. It does not even read its own historical documents which it was supposedly defending against the Menace of Lem. May I draw your readers' attention to the magazine Imagination for May 1953, which includes, not only a first-rate photograph of L. Sprague de Camp wearing very big ears long before Mr Spock was created, but an editorial by William L. Hamling. Mr. Hamling, I believe, has not been too seriously regarded as one of America's foremost political commentators; yet in this valuable piece, so delicately laced with irony, Hamling valiantly defends those three things he sees as most dear to the Western writer of SF: a free way of life, enjoyment, and money—and defends them against Stanislaw Lem. Lem is quoted as uttering a
prescription for SF which ends with a directive to study "certain generalized teachings of the Marxist classics." Lem was branded as evil even then.
If only the prophetic voice of Hamling, speaking out alone in those dark days of 1953, could have been heard! The SFWA need not have made an ass of itself in 1975 and SF could still have been safe for democracy.
Stanislaw Lem. Looking Down on Science Fiction: A Novelist's Choice for the World's Worst Writing
Editorial Note. Originally published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, this article in the present translation and under the present title (for which Dr Lem is not responsible) was published in the August 1975 issue of, and is copyright 1975 by, Atlas World Press Review (230 Park Avenue, NY 10017); reprinted by permission.
Some 500 authors who share membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) annually publish some 100,000 pages of fantasy in books and magazines. They can count on some 200,000 steady readers, scattered across the globe from New Zealand to Europe and Canada. These sci-fi fans—known as "fandom"—are not only great book buyers; they also publish specialty magazines known as "fanzines" which are published in limited editions of fifty to 500 copies. The pages of these periodicals warrant the attention of sociologists, for they carry a high proportion of letters to the editor which suggest that fandom is largely made up of frustrated individuals estranged from society.
Together with the authors, they constitute a kind of Anti-Establishment challenging the hegemony of "normal" literature, derisively or enviously referred to as the "mainstream." They have, however, taken on some of the trappings of the mainstream literature, including science fiction prizes—the Nebula, awarded by authors, and the Hugo, voted by readers. The books so honored can count on sharply increased sales.
Just as the "normal" literary world has its congresses and PEN Club conferences, sci-fi also has its conventions. Since the prize-winning books are very bad, the conventions are largely devoted to costume dances, parties, and mutual flattery. The whole phenomenon would not be worth further discussion were it not that sci-fi appears to have been elevated to a level of both kitsch and mystification that make it a force to be reckoned with. By kitsch I mean a literary form that claims to be a mythology of technological civilization while in fact it is simply bad writing tacked together with wooden dialogue.
Kitsch is promise without delivery, drivel in the form of an intimate, self-satisfied ego trip. And while kitsch is the artistic ballast of sci-fi, mystification is the stuff of its intellectual pretensions. Science fiction tackles sociological, anthropological, and philosophical problems, insofar as it does not avoid them entirely, on an elementary level, in the form of adventure.
For years I suffered from the optimistic delusion that I had now plowed through enough of the bad books to get at the truly great ones. I wrote "critiques" in the "fanzines," on the naive assumption that I could alert readers to how awful the writing was, how hackneyed were its stereotypes, and how many opportunities are missed by the authors of this art form. As a result, judging by the fans' irate responses in letters columns, I have become something of a pariah.
Actually, my efforts were wasted since the readers are fans of science fiction and not literature; the very things they cherish are the ones most likely to make me ill. My actions were hopeless because the value judgments I was rendering were based on the worth of literary achievement unknown to the fans. Someone who had not read War and Peace might presume that Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind is the definitive work on war and peace. Hence it would be impossible to make clear to him in theoretical terms that this was not the case. Similarly someone who has never loved might assume that the acme of this experience is in genital contact. The analogy is reasonable since most science fiction is to authentic scientific, philosophical, or theological knowledge as pornography is to love.
To me pornography is not evocative of erotic stimulation but of gynecology and anatomy, which I once studied. Similarly science fiction does not convey to me the fate of man trapped in his own devices but rather removes itself from human concerns through deceptive ballyhoo. I have nothing against entertainment, even if it is nonsense. But idiocy that passes itself off as Faustian mythology is a cultural cancer.
A year ago I was voted an honorary membership in SFWA. I accepted the honor because I had not given up on working toward reform from within. Now I wonder why I ever bothered trying. Possibly because to this day the phenomenon of science fiction fascinates me. After all, the Americans are not stupid, nor could the market affect all of them with opportunism. That said, I am amazed at a situation for which no word but "terrible" will do.
Today science fiction is even taught in American universities, virtually without criticism. I can sympathize with irrational yearnings in the lap of an all-too-rational civilization. I can justify the anti-scientific attitude of both the culture and the counter culture that make possible a sort of escapism. I can even see the need for fantasy in a world that has lost much of its faith. But I simply cannot understand why scientific fantasy should be anti-scientific—why it should spawn the most patent foolishness and find the greatest response among those who understand it least.
In search of answers to these questions I read the SFWA bulletins. Poul Anderson, a noted sci-fi author, gives his colleagues some advice in the latest issue: "Think of Heinlein's warning—we are competing for our readers' beer money." He goes on to write that unless we clear away every barrier that would block the reader's understanding and pleasure he'll say "to hell with it" and head for the corner bar. Robert Heinlein, an author of the older generation, is a legendary figure, a classical sci-fi writer who lives on in "fandom" through anecdotes about him and dedications to him of bibliographies and monographs.
We Europeans shouldn't smile too smugly at this. We had better admit that in a sense Heinlein and Anderson are right, especially when we consider that the corner bar now also has a television set that shows, among other things, football games. Which of us literati, Shakespeare included, could hold a candle to a championship game? In this light the question is no longer to choose this book or that, but books vs. bar. And if that is the choice then we are all beaten.
Of course one could justify Anderson's thesis in sociological terms; put simply, sci-fi readers are neither snobs, experts, intellectuals, bookworms, nor sophisticates. They are part of the mass culture market, a portion of which is captured by sci-fi along with beer and championship games. Put this way, one can either accept or reject the thesis. How can space, the silent, endless void that Pascal so feared, survive as a literary theme and prevail victorious in a contest with beer? It can't unless it is painted over and propped up as some sort of ludicrous imitation. Only an artificial cosmos can compete with beer.
If in the past all authors had accepted the suggestions of the two Americans, we would have no literature worth mentioning. We would have none of the literary heritage of which we are so proud if every author worried about publishers, critics, censors, readers, public opinion, sales potential, and the like. My rebuttal to Anderson's thesis, then, is that marketing prospects or official approval or similar concerns have no business intruding in that narrow gap between the author's eyes and the blank piece of paper. That the muse cannot be pursued over a bottle of beer goes without saying. In short, honest literature can never conform to external pressures or exigencies. To do so would be its death.
Finally, the history of literature shows that authors rarely had an easy time of it. There is nothing in the equation of literary worth that permits us to discount an author's creation—so much for trash, so much for lies, so much for nonsense—simply because he has a wife and children. Of course it is embarrassing to learn that publishers still pay 2 cents a word—the same as in 1946—while books have doubled in price during the same period, along with the salaries of editors, printers, and all others on the production end with the exception of the authors. These data I gathered from the SFWA Bulletins. Unfortunately a bad standard of living is no excuse for bad literature.
Pamela Sargent and George Zebrowski. How
It Happened: A Chronology of the "Lem Affair"
In writing this record of the events surrounding the ouster of Stanislaw Lem from honorary membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America, we faced several problems. We were interested in giving a clear depiction of the issues and events rather than a picture of personalities. We do not want to polarize the SFWA, nor do we wish to embarrass anyone needlessly.
In order to write this chronology, we needed to mention arguments made in the SFWA Forum. The Forum is a publication in which members are free to speak their minds, in private, to other members only. It cannot be quoted elsewhere. Yet we could not write this account without it. We evaded this difficulty by paraphrasing essential arguments as accurately as we could and attributing them only to authors labeled A, B, etc. In this way we have tried to present the facts while preserving the anonymity of those who did not intend that their remarks be published elsewhere.
One drawback of this method is that it may provoke guessing games among non-SFWAns about who A or D is. Another problem is that some of the principals in the affair are not subject to a public accounting outside the SFWA, while those who attempted to resolve the matter, whatever their opinions, are. We considered this but saw no way around it. In addition, we may still have violated the spirit of the Forum by going even this far. Our only defense—or rationalization if you will—is that, since the matter is now public anyway, a record of how it happened should also be made public. We encourage those we "lettered" instead of named to step forward and give their views outside of SFWA.
Many arguments and comments were drawn from letters written to us. We tried to summarize the arguments offered by our correspondents, most of whom, whatever their feelings and however mistaken we may think they were in some respects, were trying to settle this dispute. We paraphrased their remarks as accurately as we could, leaving out extraneous material.
For every statement of fact in the chronology we have a supporting document, which we have labeled and filed. For obvious reasons, we prefer to keep these documents private. We want only to set the record straight. We are sorry that we did not compile this record sooner. It is possible that rumor may have distorted the incident. Confusion and honest mistakes, as well as malice, played a role in the matter.
We have included background remarks and personal commentary within the text of the chronology. These are clearly labeled as such.
To honor our obligation to the SFWA, we will be sending a copy of this article to the SFWA President and the Editor of the Forum.
March 17, 1973. Poul Anderson, at this time SFWA President, informs George Zebrowski (then SFWA Bulletin editor), that Stanislaw Lem will be offered an honorary membership by unanimous vote of the officers. The officers are aware that Lem can join as a regular (active) member but have no objection to honorary membership. Zebrowski is authorized to write Lem and offer him the membership. (Document A) [Background. Previously, the SFWA had made J.R.R. Tolkien an honorary member after aiding him in a dispute with a publisher. Tolkien was presumably not eligible to join as a regular member. Zebrrowski had asked Anderson if Lem could be considered for the same honor.]
March 27, 1973. Zebrowski, as authorized by Anderson, writes Lem and offers him a choice of an honorary or an active membership. (Document B)
April 1973. At the Nebula Awards Banquet Anderson announces that Lem and Phyllis White (widow of author Anthony Boucher) have been made honorary members of the SFWA. (Document E)
May 5, 1973. Anderson tells Zebrowski he will write Lem and welcome him to SFWA. (Document C).
May 14, 1973. Anderson informs Zebrowski that Lem's publisher is happy with the
news of Lem's honorary membership. Zebrowski is authorized to write stories about both honorary memberships for the Bulletin as he sees fit. (Document D)
May 14, 1973. Anderson writes Lem, welcoming him to the SFWA. A copy of the letter is sent to Zebrowski. (Document D-1)
Summer 1973. The SFWA Bulletin is published. It includes a page devoted to Lem's honorary membership and mentions Lem's work. The article includes this quotation from Anderson's letter of welcome: "Perhaps the most useful function of SFWA is to serve as a communications network. Experience shows that interest in science fiction is a powerful bond between otherwise very different people, and that the exchange of ideas is a stimulus to thought and to international good will...." The article mentions that Lem has accepted the membership with pleasure. (Document E) [Comment. It may be worth noting that the letter welcoming Lem expressed hope that Lem would enjoy the exchange of ideas among the members and would join in if he wished to express his own ideas. (Document D-1)]
July 1975. Lem's honorary membership was not mentioned again until, in the July issue of the SFWA Forum, a well-known writer (to be called Author A) asks who invited Lem to be an honorary member. He expresses anger at Lem's critical articles on SF. (Document F) [Background. Lem had published essays on SF in other publications. None had appeared in an SFWA publication.]
October 1975. The SFWA Forum editor reprints an article by Lem. The essay had appeared in the Atlas World Press Review, which had adapted it from a German publication. The essay is very critical of SF. In the same Forum, prominent Author B writes an open letter to Author A agreeing with A's July letter about Lem. Author B also mentions business problems he has had with Lem and a foreign publisher. A third member, Author C, also wanted to know why Lem is an honorary member in view of Lem's critical remarks about the genre. (Document G) [Background. In the article reprinted from Atlas, Lem mentions that he accepted his honorary SFWA membership because he wanted to work toward reform from within, though he became discouraged later. He apparently gathered some information for his article from the SFWA Bulletins, and says so.)
December 1975. A former officer of SFWA, Author D, states in the Forum that Lem is ineligible for honorary membership because he is eligible for regular membership. Author D, who helped write the SFWA by-law about honorary membership (Section 12), claims such membership was intended for notable authors who are not eligible for active membership. Author C says again that Lem should not be an honorary member but has no objection to his being a regular member. He wonders why Lem accepted the honor if he held SF writers in such low esteem. (Document H)
February 1976. Author X, who once admired Lem, says it is time to revoke Lem's honorary membership because of his harsh words about SF. Author Y, in charge of an SFWA straw poll, lists the various proposals on which the members are to vote. Among the proposals: a suggestion that Lem's honorary membership be revoked, stated in inflammatory language. [Background. The Straw Poll is taken to find out how members feel about various suggestions. It is not binding and its results are used to decide what will be voted on formally. Straw Polls are taken once or more a year.]
In this same issue of the Forum, Author B says he will resign from SFWA apparently because Lem is an honorary member. The Membership Chairman decrees that Lem was illegally made an honorary member without paying dues and that all members, honorary or otherwise, must pay dues. Lem is taken off the membership lists by the Chairman, who says Lem may apply for regular membership. Author B, in a second letter, says he will now stay in SFWA, gratified that Lem must now enter as a regular member. (Document I) [Comment. Author B had sent a copy of his first letter (saying he would resign) to the Chairman, who then apparently informed B that he had removed Lem from the lists. Author B then sent a second letter to the Chairman, and all three communications were published in the February 1976 Forum.]
February 17, 1976. SFWA Member Pamela Sargent writes an open letter to the Membership Chairman, sending copies to the Forum, SFWA officers, and a few past presidents as well. Her basic argument is that the revocation of any honor given a person, even if within the rules of an organization, sets a bad precedent. She feels
that the organization should simply make the rules clearer in the future. In addition, the circumstances under which Lem's honor was taken away indicate to her that he is being punished for his opinions. (Document J)
February 21, 1976. SFWA Vice-President F.M. Busby writes to both Sargent and the Membership Chairman, citing Section 12 of the by-laws, and asserting that Lem is ineligible for honorary membership because he can be an active member. Lem has also not paid his dues to the best of Busby's knowledge. (Document K) [Background. Section 12 is as follows: "Any person not otherwise eligible for membership may be elected an honorary member by unanimous vote of the officers. A member so elected shall have all the rights and obligations of an associate member." An associate member is one who has published SF in the past but not recently enough to be an active member. An associate has the same rights and duties as an active (regular) member, but cannot vote in elections.]
February 23, 1976. Zebrowski writes to the Forum, sending copies of his letter to officers, the Membership Chairman, and others. He views his letter as an attempt through humor to bring people to their senses. (The letter is written from the viewpoint of one glad Lem was ousted and uses sarcasm to make its point.) (Document L)
March 8, 1976. SFWA member Ursula K. Le Guin informs Sargent and Zebrowski that she has received copies of their letters to the Forum from SFWA member Jack Dann. She has sent a letter to the Forum objecting to Lem's ouster right after reading the February Forum. (Document M)
March 12, 1976. Sargent and Zebrowski reply to Le Guin. Sargent informs her that Busby thinks Lem was legally deprived of honorary membership. (Document M)
March 12, 1976. Sargent tells Busby that SFWA is making Lem pay for its mistake. She claims that if a well-loved author of SF had been given an honorary membership, and Section 12 had been brought to light afterward, no one would have thought of depriving the well-loved author of the honor. (Document O)
March 13, 1976. Zebrowski writes to Poul Anderson, saying: "As I remember, both you and Coulson (Robert Coulson, former Secretary of SFWA) brought up the problem of the membership rule when Lem was honored. Everyone considered it and decided against applying it strictly, since it would stand in the way of the spirit of the honorary membership, which is given by vote of the officers. For example, Tolkien was also eligible for regular membership, but no one brought up the fact." (Document P)
March 1976. Anderson tells Sargent SFWA may have made a mistake. He says he will write to the Membership Chairman for an explanation and will protest publicly if it is not satisfactory. (Document Q)
March 16, 1976. Jerry Pournelle, a former SFWA President, sends a copy of his letter to the Forum to George Zebrowski. He says Lem can only be removed by unanimous consent of the officers. He is personally for this course of action. He claims Lem is SFWA's only honorary member and that Lem requested this honor because currency restrictions kept him from paying dues; thus the membership was a courtesy, not an honor. He suggests a by-law giving free membership to special cases and ends by saying that Lem is SFWA's only living honorary member. He adds a postscript stating that Peg Campbell (widow of John W. Campbell, Jr.) had been given an honorary associate membership in the past by himself and the officers serving with him. (Document R) [Background and comment. Phyllis White was, so far as we know, still an honorary member. We have not found any indication that Lem ever asked for an honorary membership. Pournelle's case against the Membership Chairman's action was based, we assume, on Section 11 of the by-laws: "The officers of the SFWA may, by unanimous vote, expel any member for good and sufficient cause. In the event of such expulsion, the said member's dues, if paid, shall be refunded on a pro rata basis. The next official publication shall announce that there has been an expulsion but shall not give the expelled member's name. A member so expelled shall be reinstated upon a petition of two-thirds of the active membership. The responsibility for circulating such a petition shall lie entirely with the expelled member."]
March 18, 1976. The Membership Chairman tells Zebrowski that the threatened resignations of Members A and B were brought on by the publication of Lem's essay in the October 1975 Forum. The Chairman then checked the rules and found that Lem
could not be an honorary member. (Document S) [Comment. We do not know what the Chairman's motives were in taking his action, other than the stated one of applying the rules. But he has admitted a connection between the publication in the Forum of Lem's critical remarks, the threatened resignations of A and B, and his decision to check the by-laws.]
March 18, 1976. Anderson tells Zebrowski the mistake was made during his administration and he accepts responsibility for it. He says, though, that he could not find a copy of the by-laws in spite of trying, so he assumed there would be no problem in making Lem an honorary member. He believes SFWA must acknowledge its mistake, especially since Lem after all can join as an active member and have a vote (something he did not have before). He says Lem should receive an apology and offers to lend his efforts in settling the dispute. (Document T)
March 1976. Jerry Pournelle again mentions to Zebrowski that Lem's membership can be taken away only by unanimous consent of the officers. He implies that honorary membership can be given to those who can't afford dues. (Document U) [Comment. We have not found any evidence that Lem's ability or inability to pay dues had anything to do with the offer of honorary membership.]
March 19, 1976. Zebrowski tells Pournelle that Lem has said only what many American SF writers have said about the genre. He says the membership was intended to honor a successful SF author. (Document V)
March 19, 1976. Le Guin sends short note to Sargent and Zebrowski saying she will write to (then) SFWA President Frederik Pohl about Lem. (Document W)
March 22, 1976. Sargent writes to Anderson, repeating points she has made previously. Her main contention is that the SFWA should not, on possibly legal grounds, punish members for expressing their views. (Document X-W) [Background and comment. The SFWA has no permanent office or address; its officers are elected annually. The members are scattered over a wide area; most of its work is done by unpaid volunteers. It is therefore possible, because of the lack of clear procedures, that rules and regulations are inconsistently applied. One can therefore wonder about the motives for applying the rules so strictly in this case.]
March 22, 1976. Busby writes Sargent, expressing his regret at the way the Lem affair has been made to appear. He says that Lem must pay his dues like everyone else, and that the Membership Chairman had the authority to revoke the membership. He states that Lem is eligible for regular membership and that the initial validity of his honorary membership is a "gray area" at this time, although the Chairman's ruling is still in force, pending a possible vote of the Membership Committee overruling it. (Document AA)
March 23, 1976. Pournelle writes Zebrowski; he is critical of Lem but also says that no single officer can dismiss him. He writes that Lem should have tried to reform SFWA members "from within." He ends by saying that if Lem wishes to be critical, he should at least pay for the privilege (i.e. pay his SFWA dues). (Document BB) [Comment. Why didn't Lem work "from within," making his views known in the pages of SFWA publications as well as in other magazines? He may have assumed that members of the SFWA had access to other magazines and could read his opinions there. Also, Lem does not write his essays in English: translators prepared his work for other publications. Lem and his translators may not have known that some SFWAans consider it only fair that such views be expressed in the Forum too. Incidentally, there is even some disagreement on this point, since a few members have proposed that praise or criticism of a writer's work be excluded from SFWA publications.]
March 28, 1976. Anderson writes Sargent, saying he has sent an apology to Lem, and an explanation of how the error occurred to the Forum. He says he knows of only two other honorary members. (Document EE)
April 2, 1976. Zebrowski writes Pohl, reiterating his position. He believes that Lem will not want to join as a regular member now and mentions that a few SFWA members are willing to pay for a gift membership, if Lem wants one, as a sign of regret over the incident. This gift would not be an official SFWA act. (Document GG)
April 4, 1976. Pohl tells Zebrowski he has written to Lem, apologizing and asking if he wants to be a regular member. He encloses a letter he has sent to the Forum in
which he says Lem should join as a regular member. He suggests that if Zebrowski disagrees, he should propose an amendment to the by-laws creating an honorary membership category which would cover Lem, then propose Lem for it if it is passed. [Documents HH and JJ]
Undated letter. Pournelle tells Sargent he believes both Lem and Tolkien were illegally honorary members. He says the SFWA has two "Honorary Associate" members who did not have to pay dues. This type of membership is not mentioned in the by-laws. He hypothesizes that a statement by Lem in his essay reprinted in Atlas and the Forum may constitute a resignation from SFWA. [Comment. Pournelle admitted he invented the "honorary associate" category of membership. There is nothing in the by-laws making it clear whether or not the officers can do this; Pournelle had the agreement of the other three officers. (Document II)]
April 1976. The Forum is published. Straw vote results indicate that a large majority of those voting wish to revoke Lem's membership. Rough percentages: 15% voted against revoking the membership, 15% abstained, and the rest voted for revocation. More than half the SFWA did not vote.
Letters from members are published. Author A again says Lem should not have been an honorary member. He claims he never said the honor should have been revoked, only that he would resign his own membership, which led to the investigation of the by-laws. He says his and Author B's resignations would have stayed in force if Lem had been kept as an honorary member, and that he and B would resign if Lem was brought back in either as an honorary or as a regular member. Seven letters of support for Lem are also published. Two authors are highly critical of Lem but oppose the expulsion. (Document JJ-1)
April 7, 1976. Le Guin tells Sargent and Zebrowski she has written to Pohl, telling him that the SFWA was guilty of bad faith, especially since the question of dues had not been raised with other honorary members. She also mentions that a member previously for Lem's expulsion had changed his mind. (Document KK)
May 7, 1976. SFWA member Ruth Berman asks Sargent if she would help pay for a regular membership for Lem. [Comment. Sargent replied by saying yes, but suggested that Berman contact a third party to find out if Lem would want one.]
May 19, 1976. Author B writes Sargent, indicating that he has resolved the business dispute with Lem he mentioned in his open letter to the October 1975 Forum and is pleased about that. He sends a copy of the letter he sent to the Membership Chairman, disassociating himself from Author A's statement that both he and B would resign if Lem was any kind of SFWA member. B believes that Lem is entitled to a regular membership at any rate, no matter what he has said about SF. (Documents MM and NN)
June 1976. The Forum is published. One of the officers who had written to Lem apologizing for SFWA's error says that Lem replied in an amiable and generous tone, saying that he was not interested in being an SFWA member of any kind. Because of this, the officer suggests that the matter be considered closed, adding incidentally that his personal opinion of Lem is now higher.
Several authors comment on the matter. Author E is extremely critical of Lem but feels he should not have been kicked out. He believes that people in socialist countries who learn of the expulsion will assume that free speech does not really exist in the West. Author F does not care what Lem says and wonders why anyone else does, since he feels that Lem has to be anti-American to preserve his status in Poland. Author G ' a former SFWA officer, says Lem was not punished for exercising free speech, only for having bad manners; if Lem had been a regular member, he could have said what he wanted, but honorary members have no such right. G also admits to having sent the Atlas article to the Forum editor, but feels such essays should be published. [Comment. The by-laws state that honorary members have the "rights and obligations" of an associate member. An associate presumably has the right to say what he thinks.]
Author D (mentioned previously), a former SFWA officer, says that the honorary membership category was designed specifically for Tolkien, who had no SF credentials although he had been published in the US. He thinks it would have been simpler to drop Lem quietly for nonpayment of dues. He does not think it fair of authors to threaten resignation if Lem becomes a regular member. He proposes that Section 12
be repealed. [Comment. A few authors of fantasy who lack science-fiction credentials are regular SFWA members.)
Author H objects to the revocation of Lem's membership, feeling it has only made SFWA look overly sensitive to criticism. Author I wonders whether the Straw Poll results would have differed if the poll had been taken after the publication of letters in the April 1976 Forum. He proposes reinstatement whether or not other members resign as a result. (Document NN-1)
July 1976. Berman tells Sargent that Lem's agent has informed her that Lem does not want an SFWA membership, so there is no point in buying one for him. The agent told Berman: "I believe that he accepted the honorary membership only because he didn't wish to offend anyone; but in view of his critical opinions it seems only consequent not to join the SFWA." (Document 00) [Comment. Lem had stated in the Atlas article he joined the SFWA to work for reform from within.]
August 1976. The Forum is published. A newly elected officer of SFWA mentions briefly that the Lem dispute, among others, pales in comparison to problems with publishers, the SFWA's real business. Another author, who had written to Sargent previously, says it is rude to give a gift and then take it back. Author J points out that some Nobel Prize winners have rejected the prize vociferously and the prize committee has not taken it back as a result. He feels such honors should be given only after due consideration and that rules should not be invoked retroactively. He thinks Lem should keep his honorary membership, if only to remind the SFWA to be more cautious in the future. (Document OO-1)
August 1976. A review of several novels by Lem appears on the front page of The New York Times Book Review, praising him as an important Eastern European writer. The review is by Theodore Solotaroff.
August-January 1976-77. Zebrowski and Le Guin corresponded about doing an article on the affair for Science-Fiction Studies in the interest of setting the record straight. Various problems kept Sargent and Zebrowski from working on the article. At last Le Guin, anxious to write something for SFS, sent them a letter of her own about the affair. (Documents PP-AAA)
After Le Guin sent her letter to SFS, its co-editor, Darko Suvin, having heard that Zebrowski had started to compile a chronology, and feeling that the facts of the case should be publicly known, contacted him about its publication.
Note. A copy of the SFWA by-laws, compiled by officer-members F.M. Busby and Mildred Downey Broxon, has been mailed to all members by now.
Pamela Sargent. Comment and Conclusions
It is obvious that confusion existed within SFWA about the rule regulating honorary membership. The rule has not yet been definitely clarified.
It also seems clear that the Membership Chairman, in seeking to enforce Section 12 strictly, violated Section 11. Section 11, mentioned in the Chronology, states that the officers, by unanimous vote, may expel any member for "good and sufficient" cause. No such vote was taken. In addition, Lem's name was mentioned in SFWA publication after the expulsion; this is also in violation of Section 11. The by-laws give the Chairman the power to decide who is eligible for membership, but there is no power given to him to expel a member. Therefore, even if Lem's honorary membership was illegal, so was his ouster.
The Membership Chairman can argue, however, that he expelled Lem not only because his admission as an honorary member was illegal, but also because Lem had paid no dues. If Lem had paid no dues, then technically, under Section 12, he was no longer a member and the Chairman's ruling was unnecessary. But, under one interpretation of Section 12 (Dr Pournelle's), Lem never was obligated to pay dues. I have found no indication that Lem was ever told he had to pay dues, and other honorary members have apparently not been required to pay them either, though I believe all of them do pay now. Therefore, under Dr Pournelle's interpretation, Mr Lem may still be an honorary member of the SFWA (unless Lem's reply to Mr Pohl is taken as a
resignation), and will remain so until the officers vote unanimously to expel him. I believe this would set an unfortunate precedent, opening the ways to revocation of any honors given by the SFWA, but I cannot find anything in the by-laws forbidding it.
If Author D is correct in saying Section 12 was intended for authors ineligible for active or associate membership, then this jeopardizes the honorary membership of any person not a writer. Author D must be taken seriously, since he helped write the rule. I believe he is wrong, however, since this stipulation is not mentioned explicitly in the rule itself; nowhere does it say an honorary member must be a writer. This still leaves the position of "honorary associate member" open to question. I believe that all these people should remain members, though I wonder whether their memberships would be challenged if they ever expressed critical thoughts about the genre in print.
The argument that Lem had no right to express himself in the fashion he did, and that he was being punished for rudeness, is clearly wrong. Section 12 gives honoraries the same rights as associates.
If Author D is correct in arguing that Section 12 be repealed, it does not seem fair to apply such a decision to anyone now an honorary member.
The confusion about the rules played right into the hands of those who bore Lem ill will. I have found no indication that the Membership Chairman felt malice toward Lem, but the Chairman did admit a connection between Lem's published essay in the Forum, the threatened resignations of A and B, and his decision to check the rules. Therefore, whatever the Chairman's motives, his decision in effect punished Mr. Lem for expressing his views.
I wish to emphasize that more than half of SFWA has not yet, to my knowledge, expressed an opinion on this matter. Of those who have, some sought a strict application of the rules. They may be guilty of holding to the letter rather than the spirit of the law, and can be charged with inconsistency, since this seems the only case in which a rigid interpretation of the rules was applied.
Others used the rule to conduct a personal vendetta. This is a totalitarian tactic and I am surprised to find it used by SFWA members, who belong to an almost anarchic group. Some people defended Mr Lem. The vast majority succumbed to apathy, for whatever reason. In their defense, I can only say that many may have felt they did not know enough about the affair to make a judgment, or may have believed no one would care what they had to say.
Some personal remarks. Much of the correspondence about Lem, pro and con, contained remarks about the man that can safely be called anything from highly critical to abusive and unsubstantiated. The fact that some of those criticizing the expulsion made such remarks indicates that there was much hostility toward him. Some people asserted that Lem was not worth defending in the light of Lem's own expressed hostility toward American SF. This assertion, oddly enough, was sometimes made by those who criticize the Soviet Union for taking similar positions. Present in some letters was an undercurrent of xenophobia and distrust of a foreigner who is a citizen of a socialist country besides. All of this in one way or another contributed to the expulsion of Mr Lem.
What should have been done? I believe that a clarification of Section 12 was needed (and is still needed) but that Mr Lem and other honorary members should have been retained. I doubt that Mr Lem cares what happens now, but this public record is needed so that we can understand what did take place, perhaps putting to rest rumors which are contrary to fact.
I believe that the argument that SFWA was only seeking to apply the rules fairly has been proven wrong. The rules have been too inconsistently applied all along for this to be true. It is clear that if Mr Lem had written only complimentary articles about SF or kept quiet altogether, his honorary membership would not have been questioned. I have not located anything indicating that Mr Lem was ever told he had to pay dues; he may well have assumed, as did one of SFWA's Presidents, that he owed no money to SFWA.
Personally, I find it sad that SFWA missed this chance to honor one of SF's most interesting practitioners. We could have proved him wrong in his criticisms and looked
magnanimous as well. We could have learned from him, ignored him, or rebutted him, but instead we lashed out, hiding behind a shaky legality. We ended up proving some of his harshest criticisms correct.
George Zebrowski. Why It Happened: Some Notes and Opinions
The entire problem resolves into two possibilities: 1) an honorable application of SFWA by-laws was the only motive for withdrawing Lem's honorary membership; 2) to punish Lem for his views, rudeness, etc., was the motive.
Here the summary of facts, and the more detailed documentation on which it is based, may be of help. In the realm of pure possibility it is possible that observance of the rules alone could have been the only motive for discontinuing Lem's honors, but the existence of a large number of facts in the record strongly suggests that this was not the case, regardless of the feelings of the membership chairman who made the final ruling.
1) The rule (section 12 of the SFWA By-Laws) was applied against Lem 3 years after the ceremony in which the honors were given, and following the recent publication in the Forum of Lem's critical article on SF (excerpted from Atlas), and following pressure from prominent SFWA members.
2) The documentation shows beyond a doubt that every SFWA official who ever made a statement about section 12 of the By-Laws, interpreted section 12 differently in a significant way (about 10 differing views by my count). Therefore there is no reason to prefer the membership chairman's interpretation; this fact cannot be washed away; it strongly suggests that motive number 2 was the real motive; who would want to apply such a vague rule in such a way, except to use it as a weapon?
3) Enough documentation exists to prove animosity toward Lem. If he were a beloved figure in SFWA, no one would have dreamed of applying section 12 in such a way against him, simply to be conscientious about the rules. Section 12 is inconsistent, vague, and invites capricious application. Yet SFWA has put itself in the position of having to maintain that 1) above is the only motive for Lem's ouster. Even if section 12 were unambiguous, we are left with the conclusion that SFWA gives honors in ignorance of its own laws, then punishes the recipient for its mistakes. Naturally, if there had been no dislike of Lem, section 12 would have been quietly forgotten; no one would have dreamed of revoking a past honor, mistake or no mistake. Lem's opinions, right or wrong as they may be, sparked the search for a suitable weapon against him.
Further note: a unanimous vote of the officers can remove a member from the ranks of SFWA, for good and just cause; good and just cause is undefined in the By-Laws. Wrong opinions, as seen by the officers, may be enough and quite legal. Again, a unanimous vote of the officers bestowed the HM on Lem, and a unanimous vote might have been used to remove him; again, a desire to observe rules as vague as section 12, which has been applied first to give Lem the honor, then take it away, and about which no two officers are in agreement, makes for an incredible motive.
Lem has a right to be wrongheaded. My concluding point (4) is that a past president of SFWA admitted in print that Lem was being punished, for bad manners, and that an HM has no rights. This goes beyond proving point 2 as a motive; it enters the realm of the bizarre and surreal.
Finally, if section 11 of the By-Laws has been violated, Lem is still technically an honorary member. Clearly section 12 has been misused. If the legitimate motive (the honest desire to enforce rules) had been the case, there would be no problem with understanding the problem; perhaps section 12 should have been applied properly at the beginning. Its use 3 years later is certainly not how it was intended to be used. Lem was invited, 3 years later he was disinvited. SFWA knew that he was eligible as a regular member, but went ahead with the invitation anyway. Lem had never asked to join, but accepted. I know because I was the instrument; I offered him a choice of regular or honorary member. Any desire on the part of SFWA to be conscientious about rules came at the same time as Lem's disfavor among certain SFWA members. SFWA's "mistake" became a cloak under which to hide the punishing of Lem for his opinions (right or wrong, his opinions are irrelevant to the justice of the case). All this is true whether a particular SFWA member thinks of it in this way or not. This is the practical,
public result. At worst SFWA's rules are inconsistent and potentially capricious. To return to the case of Tolkien for a moment: the man was ineligible for membership in one view because his was a fantasy credential; yet fantasy authors published in the US are members of SFWA. Tolkien had been published in the US at the time, but he was a fantasy author, so an HM was created to give him membership. No one tried to oust him, even though the rule was a shaky interpretation, later denied. No SFWA official has dealt adequately with the Tolkien example as it affects the Lem case. I think it is clear that Lem's HM was identical to Tolkien's, in that it was created for him by officers wishing to honor him, regardless of eligibility questions.
At best the motive to punish Lem exists in some hearts if not in others; the fence sitters and rule-mongers helped these forces of hostility win.
This summary and the various conclusions drawn from it must not be taken to mean that the authors are in sympathy or against Lem's critical views; that is a separate and complex issue. Anyone who links the two in his mind is a poor logician (like those who look at a critic's own work for a bludgeon to beat him with after they have read his criticism. This ploy and others have been used against many of SF's more serious and high-minded critics, a number of them current SFWA members). Lem's right to speak without reprisal is the only issue, and I resent having to put a loyalty oath of my own into these comments. Justice is not for our friends and family only; principle must be embraced even if it goes against us. Well and good, I've been told, but we don't want to hear criticism from a foreigner.
Recounting these issues has made me sick and ashamed, not because I feel for Lem so much, but because this issue suggests far reaching problems about SFWA and science fiction. I worked for five years to help make SFWA work and will even now support much of the good work SFWA has done. The men on the "reprisal" side of the Lem case are mostly decent people; foreign criticism, however, has triggered responses akin to the body's immune reactions, mixed with hurt pride. Understandable, but untenable. So much for the kinship of SF writers, as expressed by so many of us through the years; so much for the ability of the human mind to hold distinct issues apart once our emotions are aroused; so much for the idealism I feel about SFWA. Inevitably, I will continue to support SFWA in its constructive work. It is the reality of constructive aims and actions that has prevented many of us from calling attention to SFWA's untenable position in the Lem case.
I do not pretend to know what went on in the heart of the membership chairman (a capable and helpful person in other matters) when he made his ruling; presumably, the other officers thought it just. But in light of the documentation which shows exactly how SFWA gave then later took away Lem's HM, the membership chairman's motivation would be puzzling if animosity toward Lem was ignored as a contributing factor. Lem was encouraged to direct his opinions our way by a welcoming SFWA president. Yet conscientiousness about enforcing a doubtful technicality will inevitably be trotted out, in the teeth of all of our tactfully presented evidence, as the sole motivation in revoking Lem's HM.
I hope I will be wrong. I did not want these things to be true, but they are true; they tear and gnaw at my insides because of what they say about us. Lem should have a public apology, and he should be reinstated whether he will accept or not. We will be restoring our own sense of honor more than anything else. In any case, a few of us stood up and said what happened as accurately as we knew how.
An emigre to this country, now an American citizen, said the following to me when he heard about the Lem affair (the person is not connected with science fiction): "Americans are sensitive to criticism by foreigners. Lem should have realized that."
Two Statements in Support of Sargent and Zebrowski
Why all this fuss about the ouster of Stanislaw Lem from SFWA? From his critical remarks, it is obvious that he dislikes much of American science fiction; and he is not interested in being a rnember of the SFWA either.
But the fuss is not about Lem; it is about us. Something nasty happened, and it has taken quite a bit of work on the part of Sargent and Zebrowski to put the facts in order so we can get a coherent picture of the events leading up to Lem's ouster.
I think the record indicates that Lem was thrown out of SFWA illegally as punishment for voicing counter-establishment opinions about certain SF writers and American SF in general. In fact, the Membership Chairman admitted a connection between the publication of Lem's remarks in the Forum, and the threatened resignation of certain SFWA members, and his decision to check the by-laws.
I was Managing Editor of the SFWA Bulletin when Lem was asked to join SFWA as an honorary member; the officers thought it was a good idea. It is a disturbing coincidence that that idea should have changed after the publication of Lem's critical remarks. And that was exactly what happened. Officers who had once thought it a good idea to invite Lem into the organization began to waffle—after all, if he doesn't like us, why should he remain in the organization?
Lem was thrown out on a technicality; there was barely a ripple through the ranks of SFWA; such is the apathy of our members—or perhaps it was because the real issues were buried.
The honor of SFWA and the misuse of its laws are at issue here. The mere fact that there is a connection between Lem's ouster on technical grounds and the threatened resignation of certain SFWA members is cause for alarm.
It is natural and human to be upset when we are criticized; it is unethical and wrong to respond by bending the rules of our organization.
We must not let this happen again; and I believe we should clear this matter up by simply permitting Lem to be an honorary member—whether he wants it or not! We should do it because it is right and will help to re-establish our sense of honor as an organization.
I think we can do that much. —Jack Dann.
This affair has generated elaborate officialese, solely designed to obscure motives and rouse ire. We have treated Lem shabbily. True, his own intellectual arrogance is considerable—the offending article he penned for European eyes abounded in tinker-toy thinking and cartoon ideas about western writing and publishing—and he never showed the slightest interest in working to improve the SFWA or American SF "from within."
But honors snatched away on a pretext dishonor us the more. What's been done in SFWA's name is at least unseemly. The damage cannot be repaired. But at least we can learn from this. The next time contact is possible between eastern and western writers, let us not expect to meet angels on either side. —Gregory Benford.
Andrew Offutt. How It Happened: One Bad Decision Leading to Another
That SFS was discussing what it terms "The Lem Affair" was made known to me only when a fellow fan wrote a letter in response to material in SFS #11, and was so courteous as to send a copy of his letter to me, the SFWA's president. I was amazed. No one had written me for information in 1975, or in 1976, or in 1977; neither Ursula Le Guin nor Darko Suvin nor R.D. Mullen nor—anyone. To learn how this professional writers' organization was being discussed, I wrote to request a copy. Editor Mullen was swift in sending me one; I thank you, sir. We thank you. Had Suvin asked for some clarifications, I'd have provided them; naturally his conclusions are in error, as his premise is. Had SFWA member Le Guin asked for the facts, advising that otherwise she'd make her own judgments and put those into the form of statements, I'd have provided information.
Now it is difficult to know where to begin. The SFWA allegedly emits "the smell of Red-baiting," and several hundred members in a dozen or so nations are "ordinary members"; the SFWA "clearly started as a trade union" and allegedly now has become or is on the point of becoming that most abhorrent of Bug-Eyed Monsters, a bureaucracy, and is publicly given operating advice.
In accord with the original definition of "trade union"—now "labor union"—the SFWA was founded that way; that is, to further the interests of writers qua writers; and to share information and knowledge to that end. Yet the word "union" now is construed to mean something altogether else, and has little to do with an organization of the essentially unorganizable: independent, individualistic creators. I believe there
can be no such animal as a union of freelance writers. I would not join it, for I would not strike because someone told me to, or slow down or shave my beard because someone told me to. In that regard, at least, I can be said to be typical of writers; we tend to be loners. We comprise no union, and cannot make ourselves into one, and many are grateful. If we were so foolish as to announce a strike (even for the most excellent of reasons, and so many, many remain!), many would ignore it. Others would raise a great cry at being told what to do. Nor would there be any disciplinary action; we aren't that sort of organization. We are not a union. Following that same basic-to-SF what-if line: those who did strike would either have to find work or starve: there are no SFWA funds for members, and I doubt that the HEW would support striking writers as it does autoworkers or stevedores, by the granting of foodstamps.
Oh heavens no! We are not a union!
As to bureaucracy: we have one paid employee, the Executive Secretary. (Make that "paid," as the amount is very small.) A main purpose of that post, a little over three years old, is to provide continuity—in an organization that has no bureaucracy. The current treasurer, secretary, and vice president have not held previous SFWA office. The previous president had held no previous office. Nor had the president before him. No president has served more than two one-year terms. With such frequent changes in elected officials, a bureaucracy just can't develop.
In one specific instance I am on somewhat shaky grounds, if any chooses to read this not as a response/clarification but as invitation to debate (which will not be fair, for I will not rebut; this letter represents a day's work, honestly, and I have no income other than from the writing of fiction). It occurs to me that I could conceivably be called a bureaucrat—in the broader sense of that word's meaning. In the spring of 1973 I was elected treasurer and membership chmn.; was re-elected in '74; and elected again in the spring of '75. That term ended in June 1976, at which time my colleagues decided to test the Peter Principle by electing me president. Lord, I may well be a budding bureaucrat—as well as a fool: giving away over a full day of each week, 52 weeks a year for four years, has cost me many thousands of dollars in fiction unwritten. Damn these inner needs!
At any rate: the SFWA is not a union, other than in terms of the most original meaning of that term. Nor have we a bureaucracy. And if one is developing: I make public announcement that I shall not stand for any office whatever in 1978.
These are doubtless matters of small importance. They are important to me, for I have profoundly high regard for this organization with its honorable goals, some attuned to the gaining of better treatment, monies, contractual clauses for many writers—in several fields!—including those who will sell their very first books tomorrow. I am more than content to have served it well—on balance—and thus all writers, and thus all of us in the extended family of sciencefictiondom. And I am ashamed of having made errors that, not which, have served us badly.
I fear that I am not known for not rocking boats, an activity abhorred by bureaucrats and not allowed of inmates in a bureaucracy. The signed Kelly Freas drawing is still on my wall, with the scrawled "Keep the boat rocking, Andy!"
Our Bulletin was our first publication. It swiftly became popular: non-members wanted it. We have made it available by subscription. A few years later the membership approved another journal: the Forum. It was created for the discussion of gripes, of proposed changes, for platforms both personal and official, for exchanges between individuals: in fan terminology, a "letterzine." A few members' speeches have been printed in Forum. Strong language has been printed in Forum. It is for us: we can never have a meeting of all of even our voting members. We must have an inside Forum for discussion, one that allows us to speak as we (supposedly) do best: by means of the typewriter. Some of the by-laws discussions or discussions of this or that publisher might be of some interest to non-members, but are certainly none of their business.
Forum is that: a forum, open and abuzz with numerous exchanges of information and conversations—yes, and monologues.
By 1975 it had grown, and was printing much that could have been in Bulletin. It had also become, in fan argot, what is called the "personalzine" of the editor. Presidents, including this one, have not monitored or censored or directed Forum and Bulletin: in an organization of writers we are fortunate to find those who will give away all that
time. Were that not true, the inflammatory first explosion that became what you call the Lem Affair would not have taken place.
A former president, years agone, was urged by a SFWA member of Polish ancestry to make Stanislaw Lem an honorary member. I am now advised he held hope of gaining some translating jobs, but cannot confirm. The president passed on the suggestion to his officers. They agreed to what they doubtless saw as a great international gesture. (The works of US writers have long been translated and reprinted in that part of the world, without notice or royalties to the writers.) No one realized that the action was taken in error, that they had just shattered the by-laws. Thoughts of honoring, of exalting the man, were not a part of that action: he was made the second honorary member in the SFWA's history under the mistaken belief that he could not otherwise join us.
Active members of the SFWA provide regular credentials in the form of newly published work in the field, and receive all publications, and vote; Associate members have published in past or have made the sale of work not yet published, and receive all publications, but do not vote; Affiliate members are among us by invitation: these make up a double handful of strong supports and contributors to the field, who have not published science fiction; they receive only Bulletin, and may not vote. The be-nice clause that provides for honorary members reads as follows: "Any person not otherwise eligible for membership may be elected an honorary member by unanimous vote of the officers" (now: "by unanimous vote of the Board of Directors": seven people rather than four).
Stanislaw Lem was otherwise eligible. Apparently no one thought of that. Such oversights take place, particularly when one is or several are delighted to welcome a writer from Eastern Europe. I believe that to be the case; I believe Lem was otherwise eligible then as he is now; I admit I have not followed his career to the extent of knowing his first US publication date.
Hence a writer who was (I believe) then published in this country and who could have joined us as an active, voting, dues-paying member, became a member in a way that may well not have pleased him: we have discussed this, and none I have spoken with would care so to be singled out and set apart, as Different. The only honorary members of the SFWA are the widows of John Campbell and of Anthony Boucher, to whom we are pleased to send Bulletin. Neither otherwise qualifies for membership.
Naturally there are writers who do not choose to be members, or have dropped out. Last month three people became members by sending dues and credentials from Germany. I see only the names at month's end; all goes to the treasurer who, as ex-officio chairman of the membership committee and indeed a sort of "executive secretary" for that group, has the decision-making authority along with the work. If she is uncertain, she asks for advice/consensus. If anyone objects to any of her decisions, that person has but to make known that fact and the membership committee meets—by mail.
Suppose that Writer, uh, Z thinks he can't send money from his country to this. Actually he can; it is simple. He can send us a cheque drawn to units of his nation's currency, which our treasurer's bank then sends out for conversion, and later advises the treasurer as to the amount deposited to our account. That writer can also go to his bank and have a cheque made out for Dollars US, and the conversion is handled in reverse. We receive dues in both those ways, from members off this continent. Nevertheless, the writer I am here calling Z thought he could not send money, and I had the devil's time reading his letters, as I have less than reading knowledge in his language. I made a suggestion; he agreed; his publisher now sends in Z's annual dues. Presumably he deducts that amount from Z's royalty payments or credits; that part of it is none of our business, so long as Z wishes to remain a member; we can't force anyone to remain a member, or to join.
Writer Z's vote is precisely equal to mine, and to that of John Brunner in England, and Herb Brennan in Eire, and Jack Wodhams in Australia, and Pierre Barbet in France, and Sam Lundwall in Sweden, and...Robert A Heinlein and the active member from the US who joined yesterday. Yes, I believe this is necessary to this discussion/clarification.
Now please think about it. Stanislaw Lem's membership had been created, in error,
long, long before October 1975. And now we get to bureaucrat Offutt. Just terribly conscientious, I read and re-read the by-laws on my election as treasurer/membership chmn., and studied the membership rolls, simplifying this and that as I made myself familiar with the SFWA and my duties. I even read three Gothic romances sent in as credentials by writers hoping to join us, and I call that giving my all! I became aware that we had an illegal honorary member: he was qualified to join as full active member, to receive all publications and to vote.
Lem was in print in this country. The books were earning money. Several other members who are citizens of other nations maintain membership in one of the ways I've just described. These writers are full active members (not ordinary, or even Brand X!). Pierre Barbet sends in his dues—via his publisher—just as Frank Herbert and Ursula Le Guin send theirs, by personal checks. All three have the same voice and vote, naturally. Stanislaw Lem, I saw, could be a member on the same basis.
On discovering that error previously made, I realized that we were carrying a potentially noisy error. His US publisher(s) could be sending in his annual dues; he could be a full active member, like other producing writers—with the added distinction of being the only one from his part of the world. He could be receiving all our publications. Suppose he decided to cry Unfair: Why am I set apart so; is this nationalistic or political bigotry? Or, less worthily: Another might well complain that he/she read little or nothing in our publications, and seldom or never voted! He/she would see justification in asking for the same rules-breaking, in order to be an honorary member, without dues.
That situation made me most nervous. I thought about it. Honestly, I did. I knew the situation existed. And—I wasn't speaking up. I was sitting on it. Should I? It would embarrass a former administration, and me, and the member who urged that honorary membership, and that honorary member, and...I might well be accused of having singled him out because he was Polish, or East European, or a happy and prospering citizen of a communist state. I shivered at thought of International Incident. The SFWA? Andrew Offutt? No. Better to let it ride....
Strange; that seems at least a dozen years ago. I made the wrong decision. I did nothing. I let it ride; I did not, with a gulp, rock the boat. If honorary member Lem, I reasoned, wrote to demand why in Gehenna he wasn't an active member when he was so qualified—why then I'd apologize, and instantly suggest that we so designate him, with dues to be sent annually by his US publisher, and with us sending him all publications, ballots, etc. Welcome, Full Active Member!
Meanwhile rocking the boat with regard to several other matters, I put the whole matter of Lem's ineligibility for honorary membership, the standing illegality of his being one, out of my sappy head, having "solved" the problem by electing to do nothing for reasons that seemed better than good.
That was in early 1974. A year went by. We/I took in a lot of members, a number from other nations. Publishers and agents sent dues for some; others sent cheques drawn to Dollars American, or cheques that our bank had changed into dollars. 1975 began. In February, an article by Lem was printed in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in Frankfurt, Germany. The article came down very strongly on science fiction, on US science fiction, and its writers, some of whom were mentioned by name. It was rough. I didn't see it; presumably none of us saw it. Nor did I see the issue of Atlas World Press Review that reprinted the article. The year 1975 moved on, and into the autumn.
And then came the SFWA Forum dated October, 1975 (#42, misnumered 41). On the cover was a (ghastly) picture of S. Lem. Its caption read: "Stanislaw Lem has been elected an honorary member of the SFWA by unanimous vote of the officers. Mister Lem has written: 'It is with pleasure that I accept the rank of honorary member in SFWA.'" As though it had just happened! Below, larger print directed us to page 10. There was the reprint of his article from FAZ., copyright AWP Review. The title is "Looking Down on Science Fiction," with the subtitle "A novelist's choice for the world's worst writing." The article was...an unusually harsh assessment of US SF, as Ursula Le Guin put it in SFS's last issue.
My reaction wasn't an "Oh dear"; my immediate thoughts were Why has (Forum editor) chosen to do evil within the organization by presenting this in this obviously deliberately inflammatory way? Lem's strong criticism disturbed me but little. I'dread strong criticism of SF before. I've made some. Too, Lem, a fellow writer, was existing, even prospering in a country in which he'd be suspect, or worse, if he said that aught about the US was good. I felt that he had embarrassed himself; his article told me much about his mental attitude and views of sexuality that he must not have intended. No, it was the design, the manner of presentation, that appalled me. Lem was nasty but hardly meant to be taken seriously, I thought; our Forum editor was deliberately vicious and inflammatory. Why?
Within four days I had two finger-scorching letters from members who are well-known. Both rased hell; both resigned at once. (Their names are just as irrelevant here as those of the president who made Lem honorary member, the member who urged that step on him, and Forum's then-editor. Let's stick to Lem, and Forum, and me, and please do not print their names.)
The phone rung. Someone whose voice I didn't recognize said, "Why can't I resign and be made an honorary member and not have to pay dues to an organization with you stupid bastards running it and making honorary members out of guys who shit on us?" And he hung up. Offutt kicked Offutt. I wallowed in anguish and self-castigation. If only I'd acted, over a year before! By now Lem would be an active member (or more likely have ignored my letter), or thundered No!—and then I'd have laid out the entire matter for the membership committee, with the appeal: What do we do?
I'd done none of that. Now the fan was set on High and bespattering me with excrement. My fault, I told me; this results from indecision and inaction, both against my nature and my code: I'd made a conscious decision to do nothing. And—never again! Hereafter it's back to mine ownself being true.
Meanwhile...Well, admit it. Most probably my knee jerked. I wrote a small notice for Forum; those two writers didn't have to resign: I wrote that Lem's honorary membership wasn't legal, and had been canceled. Yeah—right. To other members, that proved just as inflammatory; that is how one bad decision leads to another. The then-president wrote Lem, to invite him to join us as a full active member. (To my knowledge, he has never replied. By the time this is published, he'll have been written again.) Naturally I was roundly accused and castigated. I reread Marcus Aurelius, and took the flak. Now and again someone from far out in leftmost field would come at me with, "I heard about what you did, you bastard! You against free speech?" My reply was no, though his government was. I didn't want to go into all this explanation. (I still don't.) Lord, in print, in print, little Offutt, all by himself, was compared with the entire government of the USSR!
It seemed best to make no comment. "Cast away opinion," Marcus Aurelius told me across the centuries: "thou art saved. Who then hinders thee from casting it away?" and "I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all other men, yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others." Yes, my lord genius, I tried to tell him, but they speak so much more loudly in my ears than I!
Letters of support arrived; very few, and two for the wrong reasons. It still seemed best not to relate the entire story. I just took it all, swallowed it, absorbed it; bit my lip that intelligent people whom (or the work of whom) I respected were exalting Lem and castigating me and SFWA—for the wrong reasons, all around. Strangely, though it is less than two years agone, it all seems years and years ago.
All of it could have been avoided. If that writer hadn't urged a former president to make the honorary membership; if he'd said No, or his officers had done, and written Lem then, inviting him to come aboard on the same basis as the rest of us. If I had done that. If Forum's editor hadn't run the whole business in that way, as though Lem dumped on American SF and its creators, and simultaneously the incumbent officers of the SFWA voted him to honorary membership. If only—
So now Science-Fiction Studies has become SFWA studies, and printed Le Guin and Suvin, and it seemed to me that to spend the day drafting and typing this out is proper, trying to explain, to fess up. Not for Lem, or for me; we don't merit it. The SFWA does; it wasn't the SFWA did it. I can't dump on Forum's editor or anyone else. I did it. My error was in not announcing the obvious, back in '73 or '74: that Lem's honorary membership wasn't legal; that we couldn't vote any working writer to honorary membership, not Heinlein or Williamson or—anyone. My second error was in seeking to prevent the leaving —for the wrong reasons—in anger and anguish of two good writers, members for years.
I am guilty, I feel ashamed of having made the wrong decision at the right time and the right decision at the wrong time. I will pay and am paying; don't, please, pin it on "the SFWA." Heinlein has written that "Wisdom is not an additive; its maximum is that of the wisest man in a given group." I'd say that I have proven the corollary; some now condemn a fine organization of writers for two vehemently unwise acts of one man. In trying to undo my earlier lapse, I proved Pascal's observation that a "person never does evil with such thoroughness and willingness as when he is activated by conscience." Aye—and, it should be noted, thereby activates the consciences of others to do and write further wrongs, and foolishness.
Now I sincerely hope that this subject can be banished from SFS, which has purposes other than to print misapprehensions and class condemnations—and long, long letters from errant...bureaucrats.
R.D. Mullen. I Could Not Love Thee, Dear, So Much....
When in 1960 I became a regular reader of SF for the third time, I found myself as much absorbed by it as I had been first in 1928, when I began reading the Gernsback magazines, and again in 1946, when I discovered "Modern SF" in the Conklin and Healy-McComas anthologies. And after about three years I began to lose interest in it again, just as I had in the mid-thirties and late forties. At the beginning of each of these periods everything in SF seemed fresh and new, but towards the end each new story seemed merely to repeat something I had already read. What attracts me most in SF is ingenuity, but what seems ingenious the first time you encounter it seems much less so the third or fourth or fifth. And in these stories of the early sixties there was little or nothing to hold my interest other than the ingenuity of the science-fictional concept and its working out, for the language was flat, the characters stereotyped, the situations stereotyped, the plots stereotyped, and the imaginary worlds seldom worked out in sufficient detail to reward my ploughing through pages and pages of fist-fights, gunfights, sword-fights, or showdowns of whatever kind in which protagonist gets the better of antagonist.
In the mid-sixties, as in the mid-thirties and late forties, I felt like the chaste lover who discovers that his mistress is a whore: while entertaining me with the as-if speculations of her mind, she had also been favoring all comers with the sentimentality and melodrama of her body. In my disappointment and anger I railed at her. Look, I cried, thou needst not be sentimental and melodramatic; thou couldst be realistic in working out the consequences of thine assumptions. Marry come up! said she, 'tis sentimentality and melodrama pays the rent and puts bread and wine on the table, and if thou lovest me truly, thou wilt praise my body as well as my soul, even as doth my dear Leslie Fiedler. For body is form (she added slyly) and doth the soul make. But these ways (cried I, ignoring the inversion) were not the paths I meant unto thy praise: for silliest ignorance on these may light, which, when it sounds at best, but echoes right; or blind affection, which doth ne'er advance the truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance; or crafty malice might pretend this praise, and think to ruin where it seemed to raise. But she had already left the room.
In each of the three periods of my devotion, science fiction was for me a leisure-time activity, my workaday life being concerned with other things. But when SF began to pall on me in the sixties, I had an option that had not been available in the thirties or forties: if there was little in current SF that I could read with casual pleasure, the genre might still afford pleasure as an object of study—and very possibly more pleasure than those things with which I was then concerned. And now just as Lucasta's warrior argued that the attributes which drove him to war made him a better lover than any stay-at-home could be, so I as a student of SF argue that those who understand literature and hence have a distaste for the general attributes of popular fiction make a more appreciative audience for the specific attributes of science fiction than those fans who love sentimentality and melodrama, stereotyped characters and situations, all depicted in the now flat, now overwrought language of popular prose.
The other contributors to this discussion (even Mr. Offutt with his mea culpa) are
all here to defend Stanislaw Lem's right to say what he thinks, however heretical it may be. I am here to defend what he has said, by agreeing with the details of his criticism in the Atlas essay, in "Cosmology and SF" (above, p 107), in "SF: A Hopeless Case—With Exceptions" (in Philip K. Dick: Electric Shepherd, ed. Bruce Gillespie), and in his various essays in SFS, even though I might wish that he expressed himself somewhat less sweepingly on, allowed for more exceptions in, the teaching of SF in American universities, as well as the quality of popular American SF. For I see in Lem, as in myself, the disappointed but still loyal lover, seeking to establish a new and more honest relationship with his beloved.
Science-Fiction Studies exists to further the study of science fiction. As I have said before, I think that this purpose is usually better served for popular SF by seeking out those factors that draw us to it (and no one has done this better than Lem in "The Time-Travel Story," SFS 1:143-54) than by dwelling on those we find irksome. But we are ill served by the Leslie Fiedlers who argue (or seem to argue) against all criteria of value in praise of those factors that make for visceral response, and therefore need the Lems to keep us true to our faith in what literature is and in what science fiction can be—and is at its best.
The SF Conferences in Poznan and Dublin. The Poznan congress (Eurocon III, August 18-22, 1976), under the chairmanship of the Polish writer Czeslaw Chruszczewski, was held on a high level. Unlike conventions in the West, Eurocon III was not organized by fans, nor were fans encouraged to attend. Instead, members of the organising committee, notably Peter Kuczka, the big name in Hungarian SF, and Jean-Paul Cronimus, from France, were greatly helped by the city authorities in Poznan.
Poznan is a sprawling industrial city, largely rebuilt after the unfortunate excesses of the 1939-46 period, but it welcomed Eurocon III as a considerable event. Daily sessions were held in the Praesidium, which boldly flew the flags of all nations attending. Inside, the organisation was perfect, with properly functioning equipment, and all proceedings instantly translated into (as necessary) Polish, Russian, German, French and English.
The speeches were, with only one Western exception, unconscionably dull. One after another, delegates from East European countries proclaimed unwavering optimism in the future. One after another, they foresaw the perfection of science and humanity of a Marxist disposition, with SF playing an essential role in solving the technological and sociological problems confronting us. No questions were allowed from the floor at the end of speeches. The French writers, led by Daniel Walter, made a spirited attempt to enliven matters. As a result, the writers present were allowed, on the last day, to take over the podium—hitherto occupied by a multi-national phalanx of organisation members. Spanish, French and English writers then made a spirited defence of pessimism as a creative and critical force; this sally also ran into the sands, thanks to two one-hour papers read from the floor as 'questions' by delegates from East Europe.
It was promised that future congresses would be more flexible in meeting the needs of attendees. For the Poles, Eurocon III was both a trial and a considerable event. Not only did they attract a large Soviet delegation, led by Eremey Parnov, a man of charm, solidity and erudition; they attracted a fair attendance from Western Europe, including such stalwarts as Pierre Versins of Switzerland, Jon Bing and Tor Age Bringsvaerd of Norway, and Sam Lundwall of Sweden. It was the more unfortunate that the Poles' own stalwart, Stanislaw Lem, was unable to attend; rumour had it that he was unwell.
The Poles proved extremely kind hosts. Their friendliness, in the welcome they gave to foreigners in their somewhat baffling city, was a tonic. Congress members were in the main housed in the palatial Polenez, a fine hotel by any standards; and it was here, out of programme-time, that the real convention was played out—with vodka to help hurdle the language barrier. Here, the formal unanimity of protocol broke down into a more jovial diversity.
As for the official business, the Italians were outvoted in their bid to hold the next Eurocon, since I and II were held in the West. The privilege of holding IV was therefore reserved for the Eastern bloc, and the DDR won the bidding with its proposal for East Berlin as a site.
Since then, the East Germans have declared their inability to hold the Congress as proposed, so that the whereabouts of Eurocon IV remains in doubt at the time of writing.
The somewhat ponderous official proceedings were closed in grand style, with a trip to the country, for a picnic in the woods, with music, bonfire, fireworks, and much local colour (and more vodka) laid on. The Russian cosmonaut, Leonev, descended with entourage to lend extra lustre to the occasion.
Only a month later (September 24-26) the First World Science Fiction Writers Conference was held in Dublin. If a first for SF writers, it was also a first for Eire, which never had a science fiction convention of any kind to bless itself with. The spreading of our favourite contagion to the Ould Sod is mainly the work of two American exiles, Anne McCaffrey and Harry Harrison. Indeed, the convention appears to have been put on entirely by the Harrison family, with a modicum of aid from the Arts Council and Tourist Board of Eire.
With one more country biting the dust, it was perhaps appropriate that plans to form a truly international body of science fiction practitioners were formulated, following a strong lead from Eurocon III. The last-night banquet, with Irish piper and wolfhound to match, was a really great occasion, during which the John W. Campbell Memorial Awards were announced. The Award was, appropriately, wrought in Dublin under the Awards Secretary Harry Harrison's eagle eye; it could just about be carried a few yards by a reasonably healthy publisher.
Judges did not feel that there was a novel published in 1975 which reached the standards set by previous years; they therefore instituted a Retrospective Award, for a meritorious novel of the last ten years which, in their opinion, had been overlooked in the Hugo and Nebula rush towards something of more superficial and less lasting attention; this award went to Wilson Tucker's The Year of the Quiet Sun. A very popular choice, to judge by the applause. Second Prize went to Robert Silverberg's The Stochastic Man, Third Prize to Bob Shaw's Orbitsville. The entire occasion had a strong family feeling, the Burlington Hotel was hospitable, and everyone enjoyed themselves. —Brian W. Aldiss.
On Alexei Panshin and Heinlein Criticism. Reviewers commonly take authors of critical books to task for not writing the kinds of literary analyses they would have if they were the authors. However, when I referred to Alexei Panshin's Heinlein in Dimension (US 1968 x+198) as a "negative and polemical evaluation" (SFS 3:291), 1 believe I was criticizing him for not writing the kind of book he thought he had. This is especially true since Panshin himself has expressed surprise at my statement in an editorial correspondence and has called for a more detailed explanation.
First of all, Panshin purports to respect Heinlein as a writer of "intelligence, skill, and depth" (p 3), but this positive attitude is not the one that controls the argument of the book. Instead, by his own admission Panshin intends to concentrate on weaknesses and failures: "To a great extent, I have taken the tack that his (Heinlein's) good points are clear and go without saying, and have tried to find his weak points and deficiencies as a writer instead" (§3). This sentence is really the topic sentence of the book, and it is the one which is illustrated in detail and reinforced at length throughout the book.
Panshin divides Heinlein's writing career into three chronological phases. His discussion of the first of these, the "Period of Influence" (§2) lacks historical perspective on why Heinlein became so important, popular, and influential because of his earliest works (on p 8, Panshin explicitly admits that he finds it "strange"). If Heinlein's early stories were influential, I still don't know why after reading this chapter. All that Panshin manages to convey is an attitude of condescension as he comments on the inadequacies of these early Heinlein efforts at story-telling (examples on pp 9, 27, 30, 37). There is a better critical model for approaching this kind of older SF in James Gunn's essay on Kuttner and Moore in Clareson's Voices for the Future. By starting from a sympathetic openness to what is new, arresting, or sophisticated in their stories, Gunn manages to explain the basis of their later influence on SF.
Heinlein's second phase, "The Period of Success" (§3), shows another kind of negative emphasis. Though many stories are given the "ok" in passing, the longest look in the chapter is given to "Gulf," a work for which Panshin explicitly registers his distaste (p 53).
On the other hand, the warm reception accorded many of the narratives in this chapter seems polemically motivated. That is, stories complimented fit well with the poetics of Panshin's Rite of Passage, a very Heinleinian work which appeared in full novel form the same year as Heinlein in Dimension (1968) (see p 48 of the Heinlein book for the implication that the critical essay and the SF novel share a Heinleinian basis; also see p 14 for Panshin's admission of his debt to Heinlein as a writer). And is it not another indication of polemic that Panshin reserves most of his approval for Heinlein's juvenile fiction—again, those which share the most features with Rite of Passage?
Since Heinlein's third phase, up to 1968, is entitled "The Period of Alienation" (§4), I do not believe it is necessary to belabor the point that it is negatively oriented from the outset. (On p 8, Panshin writes specifically that this period saw Heinlein's "partial abandonment of his professionalism.") Thus, to summarize Panshin's scheme for Heinlein's opus in the diachronic order, we find two periods of inadequacy flanking one of moderate success. But any feeling of success is undercut by the presence of another negative essay ("Gulf") placed in the center of this chapter (and see pp 61, 74, and 84 for other cases of negative undermining of the "success" of this period).
Nor, I must admit, can I find much positive value in a critical book which so easily dismisses four of Heinlein's most important works: Double Star, a Hugo Award winner, Glory Road (regarded as so dismal it has not even provoked a formal interpretive essay from academic critics), Stranger in a Strange Land, whose very popularity has been taken as another mark against it, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. In the case of the last book we do have David Ketterer's insightful reading in New Worlds for Old (pp 149-56), which demonstrates what a positive intellectual schema can do to increase our sensitivity to certain authors' ways of communication. Really stimulating criticism makes us return to the text. However, if I were to rely on what Panshin says about him, I would never bother to read Heinlein at all. I grant that Panshin says he likes a number of things about Heinlein and his works, but he never analyzes or interprets these with insight or enthusiasm.
A reading of Heinlein in Dimension for style and rhetoric would show that Panshin often out-Heinleins Heinlein. All the irritating mannerisms of the master himself are present: opinionated writing (e.g. p 146), full of sermons on topics often not related to the subject at hand, delivered with a self-confidence that seems completely imperturbable. I often gain insights from Panshin's brand of slangy didacticism, but what I learn isn't about Heinlein. I receive Panshin's views of what constitutes a good SF yarn, how hard it is for an SF writer to earn a living by writing SF alone (pp 42-3), why the Golden Age of SF was Golden (p 21), why reading SF can be good for you (p 83), and any other number of topics worth knowing about in themselves. But if this is supposed to be "A Critical Analysis" of Heinlein as the title page of the Advent edition tells us, just how does the book go beyond the surface effort of putting the stories together in chronological order and then retelling various details of their individual plots and characters? Panshin is especially thin in accounting for Heinlein's environments, which remain deservedly part of his popularity.
Panshin defends his reaction to Heinlein as a personal one (p 3). But he is, of course, copping out when he goes so far as to deny the possibility of objective criticism, thus justifying his own random subjective approach. Subjective/objective is a false dichotomy, for the best literary analyses contain some recognition of the formal rules of the analytical game under which the interpretation is being conducted—sometimes this can be more implicit than at others. Thus, the ideal in formal criticism is to avoid idiosyncrasies in applying a given set of analytical rules and formulas. Given critics fail to achieve these ideals, but it is still better to have them and the various formal models rather than to give way to the total idiosyncrasy both preached and practiced by Panshin.
It is the job of writers to improve the possibilities of fiction, of the fans to encourage or discourage given trends and authors (to be sure this depends on the quality of the rationales), but it is the job of critics to improve our self-conscious awareness of how fiction works—in areas as diverse as genesis, history, genres, semantics. By even this wide-open perspective, Panshin's is not a critical book. It is a polemic by a writer and fan who wishes to improve quality in science fiction—a worthwhile enough goal—to debunk Heinlein's almost mythical reputation as one of modern SF's Founding Greats (is this why he is repeatedly so critical of Heinlein's plots?), and to assert the superiority of more recent SF (late 60s) over the Golden Age writers. Panshin's belief that he is a better writer than Heinlein seems to be the motivation for his superior attitude toward him as a critic, too.
It is not my purpose to defend Heinlein absolutely; only to defend him against consistent misreading and against a critical attitude which does little to foster understanding of what Heinlein's stories do for us. Since I do not wish to appear solely a negative critic myself, I will present some features or mannerisms of Heinlein's SF which might prove better territory for future critics to investigate so that SF criticism may move beyond the stage of focusing on bad SF or the bad in SF.
Recently (SFS #10), in my review of Slusser's critical essay on Heinlein, I proposed that various insights might be derived from a closer look at the two-part format (action/ adventure tales + moral/didactic fiction) and from Heinlein's use of what Fredric Jameson in SFS #2 referred to as "generic discontinuities." Plus, we should begin from Heinlein's "literariness"—or at least give that assumption every chance—and not be so quick to react to him as some sort of non-fiction.
Another fruitful approach might involve looking at Heinlein's characters in terms of Northrop Frye's concept of "alazoneia" (Anatomy of Criticism [US 1957 x+383], pp 226-8, 365, and elsewhere). Heinlein's central characters are "alazons" or "overstaters" with overly authoritarian voices and over-confidence in their own capacities for success; their speech is slangy and bold—or gushy, for even sentimentality is depicted in alazonic terms; they are brave and assertive and optimistic; even the bitter and cynical and oversexed old men exude self-confidence. Sometimes, these characters, like Podkayne, really are "hard to take," and the alazonic narrator voice assumed by Heinlein himself in so many novels grates on many readers as overbold and aggressive. Yet there are just as many readers—and here it is important that Heinlein really is a popular writer in America at large, and his reputation is not isolated within SF circles—who find in various of his tales, in the juveniles as well as in his purportedly sloppiest hackwork, a refreshing attitude and a tonic for our era's overemphasis on the ironic mode. Heinlein's fables are alazonic, apparently even at their most preachy and didactic, and this is a difficult lesson in orientation for critics and readers alike, steeped as we are in the ironic mode. It does not make matters clearer that Heinlein is often a good satirist, for we tend automatically to identify satire with the ironic mode.
Still another approach to Heinlein's presentation of character might look at it as the intersection of two dimensions: the diachronic, which describes human beings at various points along their life lines from youth through maturity to old age (and Panshin has rightly discovered Heinlein's emphasis on these three stages, pp 170-1); and the synchronic, which focuses on performance (competent vs. incompetent, especially) across a spectrum of social roles like leader, scientist, general, adventurer, teacher, and so on. The interrelationships among these two dimensions would thus constitute the dialectic of Heinlein's alazonic character typology.
There are still other kinds of omissions in our vision of Heinlein's career which should now be corrected by critics. For example, how could Heinlein publish Starship Trooper in 1959, his ultimate right-wing trip which even offended would-be publishers, then turn to its polar opposite, Stranger in a Strange Land, only two years later, this being a "new left" masterpiece, the height of whose popularity was achieved only years after its original publication? What does this "conversion" imply about the "hypothetical" or "as if" character of Heinlein's stories? Is it possible that we're being "put on"? —S.C. Fredericks.
On Heinlein in Dimension, S.C. Fredericks, and SF Criticism. S.C. Fredericks' elaboration of his remark on my "negative and polemical evaluation of Heinlein" makes it clear to me—at last—that whether or not you find Heinlein in Dimension negative and polemical depends on who you are.
Heinlein in Dimension was written under extremely trying circumstances in 1965. Robert Heinlein himself was apparently one who expected it to be negative and polemical. Heinlein was several times offered the opportunity to read the book in manuscript. Instead, however, without having read Heinlein in Dimension, Heinlein wrote to Advent, the publishers who had commissioned the book, threatening to sue them if it were published.
A number of fan magazine editors offered to print parts of the manuscript. As a further frustration to me, one of them, someone named Tom Perry, kept his portion of the manuscript for a great period of time without publishing it, until I finally had to ask for it back. It was only in the last several months, eleven years later, that an article by Perry in the fanzine Mota (#19, Aug-Sep 1976) was sent to me explaining what had happened:
Several issues later I offered to publish excerpts from Alexei Panshin's critical work on Heinlein. I had read that Heinlein was threatening to sue Panshin for libel and thus causing publishers to shy away from the manuscript. My motives were not as idealistic as they may sound. I had studied the laws of libel and slander in journalism school and from the description of Panshin's book I doubted that Heinlein would have a legal leg to stand on. If he did file a nuisance suit I felt sure I could rely on my father's law firm for legal representation. My chief motive was simply that I wanted to read the manuscript.
Panshin sent parts of it and I read them. They were disappointing. Heinlein had nothing to sue about, and hardly anything to resent. Panshin was in fact a great admirer of Heinlein, as his own sf books were to demonstrate. This was the book that Advent published as Heinlein in Dimension, and if you've read it you'll remember that it consists largely of extended plot summaries and criticism that seldom delves deeper than the mechanics of story writing. Panshin's harshest comments are reserved for Heinlein's treatment of sex.
I had boxed myself in. I should have forthrightly reneged, but I couldn't bring myself to do so. My initial offer had been made under the pose of fearless idealism, and now I didn't have the guts to chicken out.
On the other hand I really didn't want to stencil all those pages of bland comments. Panshin might have consented to a condensed version, but the nature of the manuscript's publicity had been such that condensing it would have given the appearance of omitting parts offensive to Heinlein. I looked for a strong piece to excerpt, but there was simply nothing I thought strong enough. My own review of Farnham's Freehold had been more vitriolic than anything Panshin had sent me.
I hope that it is apparent from this that "negative and polemical evaluations" are in the eye of the beholder. Perry, looking to find them, failed. Fredericks, on the other hand, did find them in exactly the same material.
Fredericks says: "When I referred to Alexei Panshin's Heinlein in Dimension as a 'negative and polemical evaluation' I believe I was criticizing him for not writing the kind of book he thought he had."
Well, what did I think I was writing? I thought I was writing a first word about Heinlein. I thought it was my business to lay a foundation of comment. As I said at the outset of the book, on page 3:
I have a great deal of respect for Heinlein's writing and I think it deserved to be examined. Heinlein is beyond any question a writer of intelligence, skill, and depth. To a great extent, I have taken the tack that his good points are clear and go without saying, and have tried to find his weak points and deficiencies as a writer instead. This may lead to an imbalance, but it strikes me that it is better to be too harsh with someone that you admire than to be too gentle.
In this book I have tried to examine Heinlein's individual stories, the general course of his career, and the individual elements and attitudes that make his voice his own.
At the end of the book, I said this: "I would prefer to look on this book as an interim report, and one that can and should be argued with. Even in the ground that it covers, there remains much to be said. I hope others will take the time to say it." I also said this, again on page 3:
This book is a personal reaction to Heinlein's writing. I don't believe in the possibility of objective criticism. To speak of objective criticism at all implies that there are eternal standards by which literature can be judged and that these can be known and applied. Those things treated as facts in this book are, to the best of my knowledge, actually facts. Those things which are not clearly intended as facts are my own prejudiced opinions. Even though I may omit an 'I think' from time to time, its existence is implied. There are no final, settled judgments in this book, unchallengeable and sacrosanct. There are only my opinions, subject to change, and justified as best I can manage.
In short, I hoped to steer my way safely through the minefield of reader reaction to Heinlein—both positive and negative—by writing as evenhanded a book as I could while admitting my limitations and subjectivity at the outset so that the reader might compensate for them. This is something that Fredericks has apparently been unable to do, finding "polemic" in my suggestions of weakness in Heinlein's work, rather than honest statements of opinion, subject to change and justified as best I can manage.
Fredericks cites page 84 of Heinlein in Dimension as an example of my "negative undermining" of Heinlein, even in a period I have called Heinlein's period of success. I'd like to quote that page in full. The reader may them judge for himself how apt Fredericks' judgments are:
The novel starts gently enough for anyone unfamiliar with science fiction: there is an eighteen-year-old boy who wants to go to the Moon, and who aims to get there by entering a soap slogan contest with a trip to the Moon as first prize. What he wins is a stripped-down space suit. That isn't quite what he wanted, but he spends a summer putting it into working order in his spare time. Heinlein tells you how he does it and in the process you learn what space suits are like—the account makes the description of space suits in Rocket Ship Galileo or any other story you ever read seem elementary—and it is all interesting, all pertinent.
Heinlein's greatest weakness has probably been his story construction. His very earliest stories were badly engineered—an odd criticism to make of an engineer—and even in Citizen of the Galaxy you have an example of a story whose parts don't hang together closely. On the other hand, Have Space Suit—Will Travel is put together amazingly well. It is pure magic.
Once you have accepted the space suit, the story opens a little: you are taken to the Moon. Once you have accepted the Moon—and Heinlein makes it painfully real; the Moon is his old stomping ground—the story opens again. And then again. First the Moon, then Pluto, then a planet of the star Vega, then the Lesser Magellanic Cloud. Each new place arises out of the last, each new thing implicit in what has gone before. Then the story closes together and comes full circle, back home again.
The difference between this and Citizen of the Galaxy is that Thorby becomes a part of each new culture so that it is a wrench to leave it before all the possibilities are explored; the roots of Have Space Suit—Will Travel remain on Earth. The traveling simply demonstrates that the world is bigger than it once seemed to be. If you want, you can take it as a guide to acceptance of the whole universe.
I have taken the liberty of not quoting the partial paragraphs at the beginning and end of the page, but they are more of the same. If this is negative undermining of Heinlein, then I must plead guilty.
The answer may simply be that Fredericks' own subjective commitment to Heinlein—as Fredericks reads him—is so great that any attempt at a serious analysis of Heinlein's limitations seems an act of lese majesty. After all, the sentence containing the remarks I first wondered at reads in full: "Samuelson has happily taken us a critical step beyond the negative and polemical evaluation of Heinlein by Alexei Panshin, but I still think even this excellent reading focuses too much on Heinlein's faults and failures." If instead of making his charges of negativity and polemicism, Fredericks had said, "Samuelson has happily taken us a critical step beyond the immature and half-formed first reading of Heinlein by Alexei Panshin," I might have swallowed hard, but I would have never thought to question the remark. Heinlein in Dimension was written when I was 24 and it has all the limitations of a young man's book. I am aware now, as I was aware at the time, that Heinlein in Dimension is a first statement, and in no sense a final word.
As things are—and now that I know what Fredericks means by his strange charges—I can take Fredericks' remarks for the subjective expression that they are. Fredericks says he is criticizing me for not writing the book I thought I had written. I thought I wrote a useful primer on Heinlein, a basis for further criticism. Just over a week ago, I briefly had the opportunity to look at a copy of Clareson's Voices for the Future for the first time, and I discovered that in his essay on Heinlein, Samuelson used Heinlein in Dimension in exactly this way—quoting remarks from it where he found it useful to do so, in some cases expanding on my insights, in some cases making counter-remarks. And that is exactly as it should be.
However, there is something in Fredericks' reply to my question that leaves me disturbed. He goes beyond calling Heinlein in Dimension a negative and polemical evaluation and denies it the name of criticism at all:
It is the job of writers to improve the possibilities of fiction, of the fans to encourage or discourage given trends and authors (to be sure this depends on the quality of the rationales), but it is the job of critics to improve our self-conscious awareness of how fiction works—in areas as diverse as genesis, history, genres, semantics. By even this wide-open perspective, Panshin's is not a critical book. It is a polemic by a writer and fan who wishes to improve quality in science fiction—a worthwhile enough goal—to debunk Heinlein's almost mythical reputation as one of modern SF's Founding Greats (is this why he is repeatedly so critical of Heinlein's plots?), and to assert the superiority of more recent SF (late 60s) over the Golden Age writers. Panshin's belief that he is a better writer than Heinlein seems to be the motivation for his superior attitude toward him as a critic, too.
It is not my purpose to defend Heinlein absolutely; only to defend him against consistent misreading and against a critical attitude which does little to foster understanding of what Heinlein's stories do for us.
Fredericks is mistaken in some of these remarks. Surely a young writer can write critical commentary on the work of an admired older writer without being accused of delusions of superiority. Surely it is possible to be critical of Heinlein's plots (as Boucher and McComas and Damon Knight writing twenty-five years ago were critical of Heinlein's plots) without being accused of intending to debunk Heinlein's reputation. And it is surely strange to say that I wish to assert the superiority of late 60s SF over Golden Age science fiction in a book written in 1965, a book in which the names Dick, Herbert, Ellison, Silverberg, Delany, Zelazny, Russ, Disch, Lafferty and Le Guin are not mentioned.
I will admit to seeking to improve quality in science fiction. However, I do believe that I did this not just as "a writer and fan," but as a serious student and critic of SF. There is no cosmic division of responsibility that I know of that says "writers improve the possibilities of fiction, fans encourage or discourage trends and authors, and critics, real critics, improve our self-conscious awareness of how fiction works by discoursing on genesis, history, genres, and semantics."
I very much fear that Fredericks means that only authority figures, academic authority figures with credentials as experts in literature, can be considered real critics. I hope this polarization never comes. I do hope that fan-critics, writer-critics, and academic-critics all continue to try to discover the meaning of the fiction we love, and all continue to seek to improve the quality of SF, each from his own perspective.
Much remains to be said about the nature, value and meaning of Heinlein's work. Fredericks suggests some points of approach to Heinlein. I hope that he follows them up.
I hope this, in particular, because none of his suggestions spring forth from my own background and interests. I couldn't possibly write what Fredericks suggests needs saying. My wife and I have written three further critical pieces on Heinlein—very different from anything that appears in Heinlein in Dimension—which are included in our recent book of essays. We may yet write another essay. And still more remains to be said. And more beyond that.
Rather than excluding each other as unworthy critics, rather than making charges of negativity and polemicism where clearly no negativity or polemic was intended, why don't all interested parties add their own critical readings and interpretations to a common dialog from which we all may learn? SF criticism is a wide-open field that is still largely unknown, undiscovered, and undefined. In a debate like this we can ill-afford to dismiss any work as unworthy of consideration. The fact is that Samuelson's essay adds considerably to the first-order remarks of Heinlein in Dimension, but it no more replaces Heinlein in Dimension than do our own recent essays on Heinlein. If Fredericks means to divide SF criticism into a superior and worthy part and an inferior and unworthy part, largely on the basis of origin and critical stance, I believe he is following a mistaken path and that one day his distinction will sneak up on him from behind and bite him in the ass.
Let's hope this doesn't happen. It doesn't need to happen. —Alexei Panshin.
Response to Alexei Panshin. Panshin is certainly justified in both explaining and defending his original intentions regarding Heinlein in Dimension. He is also right to insist on our sympathetic awareness of what SF and its criticism were like some ten years ago. But I still insist that in 1977 his kind of approach to SF, as a whole or by author, is obsolete; it just doesn't raise or answer interesting questions. SF criticism, both theoretical and practical, has matured dramatically in the last three to five years, and it is now time to progress beyond the naive view of Heinlein that Panshin offers.
I guess I couldn't have expected a reply from him much different from the one I got, but others who encounter this debate will surely read my comments at a more sophisticated level than Panshin apparently did. Only one thing—one of his concluding sentences—really bothers me. I sincerely wish he hadn't threatened me with ouroboric involvement with my own posterior. I feel like I'm under some weird SF ("Sink Fangs") curse. Can I now be expected to turn the other cheek?! —S.C. Fredericks.
The first James Blish Award for Excellence in Science Fiction Criticism has been made by the Science Fiction Foundation (UK) to Brian W. Aldiss for his all-round contribution to SF, for his Science Fiction Art (See SFS 3:94), but especially for his Introduction to Philip K. Dick's Martian Time-Slip (published by NEL in the SF Master Series, ed. Aldiss and Harry Harrison), which first appeared in SFS (2:42-47) as "Dick's Maledictory Web: About and Around Martian Time-Slip." The judges were Ursula K. Le Guin, Christopher Priest, Ian Watson, and Robert Louit, coordinated by Peter Nicholls of the Foundation.
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