Science Fiction Studies

#73 = Volume 24, Part 3 = November 1997


NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE

ON THE SFS OBITUARY FOR SAM MOSKOWITZ

Dear Mr Mullen. I appreciate your sending me the copy of “Science-Fiction Studies” with your obituary of my late husband, Sam Moskowitz, but I am rather disturbed by a number of the remarks you made in the article.                

I realize that there was always a tendency by academia to look down their nose at Sam's manuscripts because he did not have a college degree. Having spent 30 years of my life in the publish or perish game, I have seen a lot of material published just to meet the promotion criteria that was repetitious and trivial. At least Sam's material was original. The statement that he thought that Mary Shelley was more important than her husband is ridiculous. Sam never said such a thing and I know that he did not think so. You are apparently reading something into Sam's remarks that is not intended, nor did he ever think Edgar Rice Burroughs was a greater novelist than Wells. That is sheer nonsense. Sam was enthusiastic about certain authors that he thought were unappreciated, but that did not imply that he thought they were better than others.                

No one was ever a more meticulous researcher than Sam. He literally spent hours in libraries, museums and interviewing either the authors or their living relatives if they existed. He went to England to get the W.H. Hodgson material and interviewed a living relative who gave him material that had been that author's. If authors complained about facts I suggest their memories were bad, not Sam's. He has left me a legacy of some dozen four-drawer filing cabinets with letters, clippings, etc. on those authors, and other things written to him by others relative to the subject. The authors often resented Sam's encyclopedic memory of things they would rather see in a different light. Authors are often sensitive about what they write, and get touchy at any criticism of their literary work.

Sam was not “cavalier toward and disdainful of scholarly procedures,” and his books of the early writers were not poorly researched. They often contained previously unearthed material. He turned up some material on Edgar Allan Poe that had never seen the light of day previously. He was constantly getting letters from doctoral candidates requesting data which they were too lazy to look up for themselves. It was a shame that Sam was too poor to attend college, but he was self taught and at times tended to be too verbose, but he has provided a wealth of information that sf researchers constantly use.

 Sam read every book he ever commented on. He was a voracious reader and though I know he did not read all the magazines he collected, he would skim them as they came in and read those articles that interested him.                

I suppose by documenting his research you are referring to a bibliography with footnotes as per academia. He would have been hard pressed to refer to every letter, article, comment or recorded interview he used when he wrote because a lot of it was recorded in his extraordinary memory.                

Sam was a true gentleman in every sense of the word. He seldom held grudges, and was generous to his friends. He overcame three bouts of cancer including the loss of his beautiful voice. He was president of the “Nu Voices” at the time of his death and was an inspiration to other laryngectomies.                

I hold many degrees, and have produced many academic papers, but I will not be remembered in the future the way Sam will.—Christine E. Haycock, RN, PhB, MA, MD, FACS, FACSM, FPSA; Emeritus Professor, UMDNJ, NJMS; Proudly, Mrs. Sam Moskowitz. July 19th, 1997. cc. Ben Indick, Langley Searles.

Dear Dr Haycock. Thank you for your letter of July 19th. We will publish it in the next issue of SFS if you so wish.               

Herewith copies of the correspondence I had with Sam in 1973. If you will do me the courtesy of reading it, you will see that I had some reason for my remarks on Sam's attitude toward scholarly procedures and on his feelings about Burroughs vs Wells and Mary vs Percy. Sam did not respond to my letter of August 5th.  

My relationship with Sam was a strange one. My article “H.G. Wells and Victor Rousseau Emanuel: When the Sleeper Wakes and The Messiah of the Cylinder” was published in 1967 (Extrapolation 8:31-63). In it I noted that Sam was an exception among sf critics in regarding When the Sleeper Wakes as a bad book and that he had not mentioned The Messiah of the Cylinder in Explorers of Infinity. Whether he had read the latter before reading my article, I cannot say. The strangeness here lies in the fact that his disagreement with my evaluations of the two books was expressed not in a letter to Extrapolation (which would have been happy to publish such a letter), but three years later in Under the Moons of Mars (pp 395-96). That he does not mention me or my article is perfectly proper in a book intended for a popular audience, but it is still an example of a cavalier attitude toward scholarly procedures. His source for the details of Emanuel's life (395) was perhaps the “autobiographical sketch published in 1931” (396). His failure to specify the venue and specific date of that note is also a sign that he is writing popular rather than scholarly criticism. But if the note is one of the “Men Who Make the Argosy” pieces appearing in that weekly during the 1930s, it is highly unlikely it would have said anything like “the thought of being half-Jewish tormented him half his life.” A more likely source for that idea would be some speculations made in my article (see enclosure). Here we have speculation presented as fact in the utter absence of supporting evidence.   

In 1975, reviewing The Lord of the Sea, I chided Sam for having declared that work intensely anti-Semitic. Sam responded, again not with a letter-to-the-editor, but in a diatribe in another venue, Shiel in Diverse Hands (1983), which in effect accuses me of antisemitism. Sam's failing was that he could not distinguish between depiction and advocacy. The Lord of the Sea is a philo-Semitic novel that depicts anti-Semitic actions. Brian Stableford's article in the same volume is a better refutation of Sam's position than any I could make.                

Love and Mr Lewisham is a grimly realistic education novel (or, one might say, love-and-honor novel) in which the protagonist, having finally come to realize that his career is going nowhere, settles for love rather than honor. How anyone who had actually read the book could call it a “pleasant love story” is simply beyond my comprehension.                

Now I do not disdain those who lack the dubious advantage of a college degree, nor do I as an editor expect excessive documentation. But when one writes “the critics raved,” one should cite evidence for that supposed fact. Sam wrote, in his earlier books, for a popular rather than a scholarly audience, and, however diligent his research may have been, his presentation of the results of that research was unscholarly. As I have said many times in SFS, as I say in the (enclosed) review of Ash's Who's Who in Science Fiction, a work that does not cite its sources is not a work of scholarship at all.               

All these years (ever since about 1960) I have felt admiration and affection for Sam Moskowitz, who shared many of my interests and provided me with many leads (albeit, long-distance leads). As I say in the obituary, and as I had said on many previous occasions, his work has been and continues to be of great value to sf scholars. But I must add, as I did in the obituary, that it would have been of much greater value if he had cited his sources—and if he had responded to criticism, as one sf professional once said, by correcting his mistakes rather than by attacking the person who pointed them out.               

I regret that what I intended as a tribute to Sam caused you pain, but I cannot agree that it was unfair.—R.D. Mullen; July 24th, 1997. cc. Ben Indick, Langley Searles.

 

To the Editors. It is unfortunate that Science-Fiction Studies, by printing R.D. Mullen's Griswoldian obituary of Sam Moskowitz, tacitly perpetuates the longstanding resistance of what I have always hoped was a small sector of academe to accepting work originating outside its own ranks. I have already dealt with this tendency elsewhere (“Books on Science-Fiction, 1937-1973: A Critical Evaluation,” Essays in Arts and Sciences IX, #2, August 1980, 157-202; see especially 173-75), so few supplementary remarks are needed. By advocating their exclusivity, academics only bring about their own isolation; by denigrating writers who are prolific, they but emphasize their own low productivity; by the rigid observance of even the most trivial scholarly niceties they engender a prose style which encourages publication of thoughts too trivial or confused to be worth expressing. (As a critic once aptly observed, no work written in plain English ever furthered a professor's career.)                

This is bad enough, but Mullen's unbalanced account of a man no longer able to defend himself contains several gaffes. Most significantly, Moskowitz's articles were not, as claimed, poorly researched, nor was he ever disdainful of scholarly procedures. In his popular writings, where such technical apparatus would be inappropriate, he avoided it (just as, for example, Mullen chose not to use footnotes). He also rigorously eschewed academic jargon—believing, as did Gilbert Highet, that he could “talk about interesting books and important subjects without using the private and sometimes unintelligible language which implies that the Best is for the Few” (People, Places, and Books, NY, 1953, 36).                

An obituarist may be selective in noting his subject's accomplishments, but is it appropriate for him to leave out the most outstanding ones? Mullen neglects to mention Moskowitz's seminal research which uncovered the writings of Robert Duncan Milne and Edward Page Mitchell; that he taught the first college-level science-fiction course in 1953; that he received the genre's Pilgrim Award in 1981; that he was the author or editor of over sixty books and nearly a thousand shorter pieces; or even, sadly, that he happened to be the world's foremost authority on science fiction. These omissions do a disservice not only to Moskowitz but to history.                

Forty-odd years in academe have shown me that in the long run you don't increase your own stature by downgrading someone else's. I am comforted, however, by the reflection that the revisionist views in this obituary remain minority ones, and in a few years will probably be forgotten. As the old Oriental proverb has it, ``The dogs bark, but the caravan passes on.''—A. Langley Searles, Professor Emeritus, The College of Mount St. Vincent; Editor, Fantasy Commentator, July 24, 1997.

 

Dear Mr Mullen. Thank you very much for your kindness in sending me the copies of essays and private letters in reference to my old friend, the late Sam Moskowitz, and for your obituary in SFS for him, which, I appreciate, was written with respect. I should preface my letter by saying I have known Sam since the early 50s at ESFA meetings. Although I lost interest in the group and in science fiction for some 15 years, and rarely saw Sam, in the past few years we resumed our friendship, indeed became friendlier than ever, in the light of, perhaps, added years and added physical woes, some shared.               

I have always respected Sam as a man and as a historian. However, I read his essays for new information and interpretation, with which I might not always agree, and not as historiography. I cannot deny that your primary problem with his work, his lack of specific documentation, was justified, although I believe his reasoning was that he was writing for a general audience and not exclusively for scholars; perhaps, too, he had some impatience with technicalities. Insofar as college degrees are concerned, he may have sensed a lack thereof, but if so he never expressed it to me. Certainly degrees never guarantee anything. You know my style well enough, and were initially impatient with me for it, although I have several degrees.               

When I read Under the Moons of Mars, his account of the Munsey magazine group, it was not merely the historical facts which I read; it was the nostalgia for stories I had loved as a youngster, in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, not scholarship. Indeed, his insight was useful to me: not ever having given much thought to it, I was struck by his attribution of the influence of Burroughs on A. Merritt, as well as that of Haggard. As a child, I had had little tolerance for Burroughs, enjoying his Mars books strictly as a pleasure for a nostalgia-bound adult, in limited quantity at that. Such an insight had nothing to do with scholarship, but for me it added perspective.                

Insofar as the Shelley vs Shelley affair, Sam was, when younger, more prone to off-the-top-of-his-head and thence-cast-in-stone decisions. I do believe in his more mature years this was less so, and he might have agreed that as much as one admired Mary Wollstonecraft, with good cause, people will read and admire her husband's “Skylark” who know of but rarely read her works. I cannot speak for Sam, but I have this faith. I simultaneously admit it would have been delivered sotto voice in confidence, with a quick and mischievous smile.                

Insofar as Shiel goes, this was an unvarying but warm part of our friendship, and E.F. Bleiler immortalized it by our names as poles in his entry on The Lord of the Sea in his book Science-Fiction: The Early Years. You may have failed to notice I too had an essay in Diverse Hands, and, in fact, used, unknowingly, your very argument. I felt that the original book had been irreparably damned by the ghastly cuts of a misguided old man, that the “philo-Semitic” references, such as the initial scene of the original, within a synagogue, had been excised. I had carefully read both versions, and although my essay is sympathetic, I am not as generous as you. I believe MPS did have a curiosity about Judaism, and did indeed write a novel with a characterisitc breathless and magnificent last paragraph, but there is a dichotomy of attitude at its heart. The hero was only driven to Judaism by a plot gimmick, after all. The stage-Yiddish, as I labeled it, was so offensive that initially my patience was sorely tried. When I sent my adult daughter my essay with a copy of the novel, the former failed to mitigate the latter and she was infuriated. So much for Philo-Semitism.                

Dr. Haycock is more recently a friend of mine, a valuable one, and when I read your obituary for her husband, I wrote to her, unhappy too with the adverse remarks. I suggest, Mr Mullen, that inasmuch as much of your paper was laudatory, you might have been wiser to save the rest for an article at a later date appraising Sam's historianship. “Never speak ill...” However, it is in print, and I do not deny you have made forceful points. Sam did write and say much, and some was bound to haunt him.—Ben P. Indick, Teaneck, NJ, July 31, 1997.

 

Dear Sir. I was disquieted to read your recent obituary of Sam Moskowitz.

Could this possibly be considered a fair summary of the impressive achievements of a scholar whom The New York Times in its own obituary described as “the world's foremost authority on science fiction”?                

Or whom Clute and Nicholls, in their recent Encyclopedia of Science Fiction said, “did more original research in this field than any other scholar of his period and few since”?                

Your truncated account of Moskowitz's contributions is the equivalent of writing an obituary of Einstein, without mentioning relativity, or one of Franklin Roosevelt that described nothing beyond his Governorship of New York State.     

For an academic journal in the field to ignore the fact that Moskowitz taught the first college-level course in the field is unforgivable. Nor is it an acceptable or adequate response to say, “But, we ran his own account of that event in November of '96!”                

Nor is it excusable that an academic journal in the field would ignore the fact that Moskowitz was presented with the Pilgrim Award for his scholarship by the Science Fiction Research Association, the highest scholarly award the field bestows.               

Nor is it even adequate to omit mention of the fact Moskowitz published over 60 books and hundreds of articles in the field—which I doubt any other scholar in the field can soon hope to match.                

In short, this was a pathetically poor excuse for the obituary that “the world's foremost authority on science fiction” deserved from perhaps the foremost journal in the field. Is this how we treat our leading scholars?                

I would hope the journal corrects this oversight by running the objective and comprehensive obituary Sam Moskowitz finally deserves.—Eric Leif Davin, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, Department of History, University of Pittsburgh, August 12, 1997.

 

In Response. Let me say first, clarifying a misunderstanding in Dr Haycock's first sentence and responding to Mr Indick's final paragraph, that I did not send Dr Haycock (of whose existence I was scarcely aware) a copy of the July SFS (if she received a copy addressed to her rather than to Sam Moskowitz, who is on our 1997 mailing list, it was sent by someone else), and that in writing the obituary I gave no thought to either consoling or possibly paining Sam's survivors. I was writing not for them but for the SFS readership. I do not accept the dictum that an obituary in an academic journal should be entirely a eulogy rather than a balanced account of the subject's achievements.                

To put, in this response, Dr Haycock into the sentimental role of “the grieving widow” would be to dishonor her, for her letter is primarily a defense of Sam Moskowitz's work as literary scholarship and can only be responded to as such. It is also an attack on—a cavalier, disdainful dismissal of—the evidentiary procedures followed by scholars in the various fields of language and literature.                

As for looking down one's nose at critics and scholars who do not have a college degree, the fact is that degrees count for nothing in building a reputation in our fields. An M.A. or Ph.D. serves as a kind of union card in getting you your first academic position, but only the work you do thereafter will win you promotions where you are or positions in more prestigious institutions. The snobbery in departments of literature in the great universities takes the reverse form: the professors do not refer to each other as “Doctor” or affix their degrees to their by-lines; that, in their eyes, is a practice that marks institutions and individuals as second-rate. Furthermore, departments of literature, perhaps to a greater extent than those in the sciences, sometimes recruit men or women distinguished in their fields who have no or only minimal academic credentials.                

As for Sam Moskowitz's attitude toward Mary and Percy Shelley and toward Burroughs and Wells:

If we are to be coldly honest, as creditable as his poetry may be, Percy Bysshe Shelley ranks far below his wife in popular acceptance or influence.... only the most industrious efforts of the universities in force-feeding Percy Bysshe Shelley's poetry down the throats of English majors sustains any appreciation of his work at all. (Masterpieces of Science Fiction, 7)

The man who would replace Wells as the public's champion of science fiction would rise out of the pulps and some of his books would become far better known to the the masses that any individual work written by Wells.... Edgar Rice Burroughs was also a master of characterization, which aptitude was not shared by Wells. He gave his readers supermen, true heroes with which they could identify, set against a background more colorful and enthralling than anything since the fairy tales of their youth. Wells was one of the popularizers of the ordinary man in fiction. (Science Fiction by Gaslight, 49)

A characteristic failing of Sam Moskowitz as a literary historian is well illustrated by the second quotation. The reading public that took Burroughs to its heart was a quite different reading public from the one in which Wells was a best-selling author. This paragraph also brings to mind the failing in research that resulted in the sentence: “Tarzan of the Apes proved a runaway best-seller, accounting for nearly a million book sales under the McClurg imprint” (Explorers of the Infinite, 1963, 178). This speculation is probably based on Hackett's list of all-time hardback best sellers in the 1956 volume 60 Years of Best Sellers. At the end of that list appears the line “Tarzan of the Apes, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. 1914 McClurg. 750,000.”* As one can find by reading the preface to the list, the figure is for total hardback sales, not for just the McClurg first edition. Sam need not have made this error: he could have checked the best-seller lists in the files of The Publishers' Weekly. He probably discovered the truth about the sales of Tarzan of the Apes a year later when Heins' Golden Anniversary Bibliography of Edgar Rice Burroughs was published; if so, he still failed to eliminate the hyped-up claim from later printings of Explorers or to correct the error in his later rhapsodies on the greatness of Edgar Rice Burroughs. There were only three printings of the eMcClurg edition, the first “of perhaps 1000 copies” (32), “the last...a very few books” (33). The vast majority of the sales of the Burroughs books were as A.L. Burt or Grosset & Dunlap “popular copyrights,” which sold at about a third of the price of new novels, which were shelved in book stores in the rear rather than displayed up front with new books, and which probably found a considerable proportion of their market through listings in the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward mail order catalogues. In sum, the reading public for the Burroughs books was drawn from the pulp-magazine public rather than the general reading public, whereas Wells for many years was a genuine best-selling novelist in the sense that his new novels found a place in the monthly best-seller lists and his older novels were frequently reprinted.                

The same quotation implies that masterful characterization is the creation of superheroes of the comic-book type and that ordinary men cannot be masterfully characterized. I remember that J.I.M. Stewart in his Eight Modern Writers (the volume in the Oxford History of English Literature for the early 20th century) excluded Wells from consideration on the basis that he had little interest in men and women, a judgment that echoes the present consensus on Wells as a novelist. But if characterization is simply the creation of memorable characters, it may be remarked that Kipps, Polly, and the two Ponderevos were in their time among the most famous characters in literature, and that “Wellsian heroine” was long one of the cliches of criticism. Finally, it is doubtful that Tarzan of the Apes is far better known even among the “masses” as a book than The Time Machine, even though Tarzan in his various comicbook, movie, and TV avatars (which differ so greatly that the Tarzans thus known can hardly be said to constitute a character) is certainly far better known than the Time Traveller.               

Since I have not read the essay in which Professor Searles dealt with the tendency I am supposed to have, I'm afraid that his few supplementary remarks are insufficient for effecting my reformation. I am charged with evaluating work on the basis of whether it originates inside or outside the academy, with denigrating writers who are prolific, and with encouraging the publication of thoughts too trivial or confused to be worth expressing. The first two charges I deny; the third is for others to judge on the basis of what has been published in SFS during the years of my tenure as its senior editor (1973-78 and 1991-97).                

I am also accused of attacking a man no longer able to defend himself. I deny that I was attacking Sam Moskowitz in the obituary; I was instead paying him a tribute, and I said nothing in the obituary that I have not said in print many times in the last 25 years. Sam was well aware of my evaluations of his writings and I was aware of his evaluations of mine. Though we disagreed on many matters, and sometimes vehemently, he apparently bore me no grudges (and I bore him none). Sam wrote several letters to and notes for SFS; his article “The First College-Level Course in Science Fiction” appears in SFS #70; the notes and letters can found by consulting the comprehensive indexes that appear in SFS ## 33 and 52. My notes on and reviews of his work can be found by consulting those indexes and the volume index in #58. I also had occasion to mention him in Notes 1 and 2 to the article “From Standard Magazines to Pulps and Big Slicks” (22:144-56, #65, March 1995) and in the last paragraph of the note “First Fandom” (23:543-46, #70, November 1996).                

As for my leaving out Sam's “most outstanding” works, I wrote, “The result [of Moskowitz's delving into old magazines and newspapers for sf forgotten by or never known to present-day readers] was a valuable series of anthologies with extensive commentary, of which the first two were Science Fiction by Gaslight: A History and Anthology of Science Fiction in the Popular Magazines, 1891-1911 (1968) and Under the Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of the Scientific Romance in the Munsey Magazines, 1912-1920 (1970), the latter being also a history of sf in all the popular magazines of the period.” In my mind that statement includes all the work that resulted from the delving, including the books collecting the stories of Edward Page Mitchell and Robert Duncan Milne, whether or not they are his “most oustanding” works. As for Sam's being “the world's foremost authority on science fiction,” it is probably true that, to a greater extent than anyone else, he had in his files the data to compile the world's most comprehensive bibliography of and on science fiction, but he never published such a bibliography. Judged by his published work, such a claim is mere hype. At this moment, the world's greatest authority on science fiction is the Clute-Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, which contains a greater amount of valuable information and reasonable evaluation than the totality of Moskowitz's work. Even so, with all due respect, I often find myself disagreeing with an opinion expressed in one of its articles, which Mr Davin would presumably regard as lèse majesté.

I stand by my statement that the essays alluded to in the obituary were poorly researched. Whether the bulk of Sam's work was poorly, adequately, or brilliantly researched is a question virtually impossible to answer, since Sam refused to provide the documentation necessary for proper judgment. I have written on several occasions that literary scholarship is an ongoing cooperative endeavor that provides not final answers but materials for and leads to further study, and that work that does not cite its sources, no matter how extensive and careful the research behind it, is not scholarship at all. The author of an undocumented work (a number of such works have indeed been published by famous academics) expects us to accept its conclusions on faith; in being thus disdainful toward the evidentiary procedures followed by humble scholars, the famous author is cavalier in relation to the readers of the work. In a later letter Professor Searles writes that my “is not scholarship at all” is “strictly your own opinion. It is not a ukase thundered from Olympus.” The readers of this exchange can decide whether or not literary scholarship is an ongoing cooperative endeavor in which resources are shared or whether it is a competition in which each competitor hoards his or her resources as a capital asset. Shall industrial espionage be joined by academic espionage?                

I am a bit disquieted to find Mr Davin refuting my opinions not by considered judgments of his own but by opposing them to opinions of presumably greater authority. Who is this RDM that he dares disagree with The New York Times and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and The Science Fiction Research Association? Institutions, Mr Davin, do not have opinions except when their members meet and make resolutions, and even then we have only the opinion of a majority of the members. I do disagree with the contributor to the Times obituary page who wrote the Moskowitz obituary (if indeed that opinion was expressed as his own rather than as one of the “has been called” type). I do not disagree with the quantitative statement that Peter Nicholls made in the Encyclopedia article on Moskowitz, but, although I do not judge an author adversely simply because he is prolific, I also do not assume that an author is important just because he has published a large number of books (and neither, I am sure, does Mr Nicholls). As for the value of Moskowitz's work, Nicholls' carefully qualified judgment is more favorable than mine, but the difference between us is a matter of emphasis rather than of diametrically opposed views. Finally, though it may seem strange coming from one who was instrumental in establishing the Pilgrim Award, I do not believe that winning it or any similar award is an especially great achievement. The decision on whom to honor is made by a committee of three or five members of the association (the makeup of the committee changing each year) who carry on their discussions (such as they are) by correspondence. Their decision is neither affirmed by a vote of the entire membership nor debated on the floor of the annual convention. I cannot say whether Moskowitz would have won the award in 1980 if there had been extensive debate and a vote by the entire membership, but I can say that many of the members would have been strongly opposed to granting him the award.                

With respect to that “first college-level course in science fiction,” I am a bit bemused by Mr Davin's putting words in my mouth: “But, we ran his own account of that event in November of '96!” Mr Davin's representation of my language and attitude is based on nothing that appears in the obituary; it was apparently inspired by a sentence in my July 31st letter to Professor Searles: “As for not having mentioned things such as his having taught the first college class in science fiction, I felt it unnecessary, inasmuch as we had published his own account of that class in the November 1996 issue and had pretty well covered his career over the years.”                

As for the importance of this achievement which I am said to have unforgivably ignored, my assessment was expressed in SFS #70:

Sam Moskowitz of course deserves the credit for teaching the first college-level course in science fiction, but it should be noted that this was an extension course carrying no credit toward a degree and with the primary purpose of introducing students to the world of science-fiction professionals. Mark Hillegas established the first regularly scheduled, credit-carrying course at Colgate in 1962. (23:373)

Professor Searles ends his second letter with a warning: “I quite understand that you feel the need to reply to Dr Haycock's letter and my own of July 24th. I trust on your part you understand that if such replies did not take into account the matters I have gone into in this letter, they would themselves invite further rebuttal.” But I see no point to engaging in a lengthy argument with a person whose views differ so fundamentally from my own. As I have written Professor Searles, there are other venues (including his own) in which he can make such rebuttal and can charge me with all the sins and crimes he finds me guilty of.                

Sam Moskowitz wrote a large number of essays and at least two book-length biographical monographs on science fiction and science-fiction authors, with many of the essays gathered into books. Insofar as these books were intended primarily for a popular rather than a scholarly audience, it was quite appropriate that they were published without any scholarly apparatus. But the purpose of a scholarly apparatus is to provide the means by which other scholars can investigate the accuracy of details presented as factual and thence the fidelity to fact of the work as a whole. Works that do not open themselves to such investigation are entertainment for the laity, not contributions to scholarship, just as historical novels are entertainment rather than history. As an evaluator of the worth of literary works, Sam Moskowitz stated his opinions, but very seldom provided any detailed reasoning for those opinions and very seldom engaged in reasoned debate with those that held other opinions. Such work is reviewing rather than literary criticism.                

Although Moskowitz wrote sometimes of canonical or well-known fictions, his work was largely devoted to bringing to light and making available science-fiction stories and novels that had been forgotten by or never known to present-day readers. Given the widespread feeling that science fiction is something new under the sun, the principal value of that work was in demonstrating that science fiction has always been with us and thus in allowing us to investigate the role of science fiction in the culture of various eras.                 

In sum, though Sam Moskowitz has been the Great Pioneer in the study of science fiction, the abiding value of his articles and monographs, as opposed to that of the recovered fiction, is for sf scholars quite minimal. To say this is not to dishonor him except in the eyes of those who confuse entertainment with scholarship. To claim for him accomplishments in scholarship is to devalue the kind of work he actually did. Work of that kind has in full measure values of its own.—RDM.

*Lest I be accused of carelessness or deception, I must grant here that the line I quote is from the 1967 70 Years of Best Sellers. I am not certain that the 1956 volume covered paperback books at all, but if it did it surely published separate lists for paperback and hardback. It may be of some interest to note that the combined list for 1967 gives the sales of Tarzan of the Apes at only 1,033,525 copies, a figure presumably derived by adding 283,585 paperback copies to the 750,000 in hardback. The 1977 80 Years volume, ending its combined list with the 2,000,000 figure, does not list Tarzan of the Apes at all. Is it necessary to add the obvious conclusion? The popularity of the Burroughs books has been wildly exaggerated. 

 

To the Editors. Thank you very much for your letter of July 22, 1927. You are right: I have diverted myself to a new job and I have now practically no interest in SF. I am writing for PC Magazine essays concerning various faces of all possible connections between world computers—about World Web, Internet, Extranet, etc. They are published in German and Polish only, my English is insufficient for this task. So please be kind enough to DROP my name from the list of contributing editors to SF Studies.—Stanislaw Lem, Kraków.

 

“Alice Through the Zodiac,” a brilliant analysis by Everett F. Bleiler of Through the Looking Glass, appears in the August 3, 1997, issue of The Washington Post Book World. Intrigued by the fact that Chapter 10 consists only a quarter of a page, Chapter 11 of only a single line, and Chapter 12 of only a page and a half, Bleiler felt that Carroll must have made these otherwise inexplicable divisions so that the work would have exactly 12 chapters, and so cast about for significant twelves. Hours or months would not do, but, as he found, the signs of the zodiac would. This is a richly rewarding article for all of Alice's votaries—and who is not devoted to Alice?—RDM.

 

Stereotypes. Dear Editor. “A grasping or extortionate money-lender or usurer, or a trader who drives hard bargains or deals craftily.” A definition of the Ferengi? No, Definition no 2 of “Jew,” from the Oxford English Dictionary. We were astonished at Pamela Sargent's own astonishment (24:259, #72, July 1997) that anyone might think Star Trek's Ferengi might be seen as anti-Semitic stereotypes. Whether Quark and the Ferengi are stereotypical Jews, Scots, or Yankees, they are stereotypes. As with all other aliens in Deep Space 9, they are a species with only one set of character traits, and any deviation (Quark's brother) is the mark of mental handicap. Only humans get to be complex. Usually, this simplified understanding is known as “racism.”—Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, Reading, UK.               

 

Response. We do not think Pamela Sargent need apologize for not seeing anti-Semitism in Quark, and so have not troubled her for a response to this letter. It seems to us that the James-Mendlesohn quarrel is with popular literature rather than with those who do not see vicious racism in the innocently intended simplicities of shows like Star Trek, whose writers and directors try very hard not to offend anyone. Anti-usurer sentiment (by no means always identified with Jews) was once very common in popular literature and can still be called on. But what's a poor hack to do in these enlightened, hypersensitive days if any depiction of a usurer is called anti-Semitic? —RDM.

 

The True Source? Dear Dale. Just read your review of Delany's Longer Views. A small point, but I think both Delany and you miss the true source of Wells's “Things to Come.” It is indeed Shakespeare, but surely it's not Troilus and Cressida; it's to be found in the Sonnets, no. 107: “nor the prophetic soul /Of the wide world dreaming on things to come.” Wells has sometimes been likened to that “prophetic soul”! Best.—David (Pringle).               

Response. Sonnet 107 is certainly a more likely direct source than Troilus and Cressida. But since Delany and I are both linguistics buffs, my argument was based on the fact that “things to come” is a freely formed phrase like “time to come” (Sonnet 17), “things to do” or “someone to love” or “heroes to emulate” or “promises to keep” rather than a fixed phrase, and so needs no specific source. Blame my mentioning Troilus and Cressida on Bartlett, who in his Concordance treats the poems in a separate section.—RDM.

 

Stodginess Ameliorated and Dicks Docked. (1) FYI, an sf course at stodgy ol' Miami U. indeed followed an offering on utopias (and dystopias, in today's terms); I taught the Utopias/Dystopias—as exactly as I can reconstruct the chronology—shortly after 1977. I will claim some small credit for helping to hone the proverbial thin edge of the camel's nose that took Miami down the slippery slope to sf courses (which may count toward the major in our next revision of the curriculum).

(2) #70 = 23.3 (Nov. 1996): 365, the reference to “the Great London Dick Strike of 1889, which...won the legal right of unskilled labor to organize” .... Sort of a male variation on the idea of Lysistrata for a Women's Strike for Peace in the Peloponnesian War?—Rich Erlich.         

      

Response. (1) It was rather malicious of me to use the note from the Miami Bulletin as the epigraph for my introduction to our Science Fiction in Academe section, the note stressing that Miami's popular-literature courses are taught “with emphasis on what such literature reveals about the culture that consumes it,” but it was a temptation I could not resist. (2) In a later letter Rich Erlich suggests that an SFS editor might acknowledge the typo with some clever remark, but my coeditors are so clean-minded that they could not possibly be clever on such a delicate subject; so confident of my accuracy in transcription that they cannot spot ordinary errors in my copy, let alone bawdy ones; and so well-informed in history that they could not help but read “Dick” as “Dock” in “the Great London Dick Strike of 1889.” My thanks to Rich for pointing out the error, and my apologies to Leon Stover.—RDM.

 

Ballard and ``The Case against Space.'' Many academic journals go stale after ten years. A journal that continues to attract original, polemical and hard-hitting pieces after twenty-five years is obviously quite special. Westfahl's stimulating essay ``The Case against Space'' (SFS #72) was a reminder of why every issue of SFS is still eagerly awaited. At the same time, Westfahl seems to have forgotten the European dimension that was so well represented in the journal's earlier years.               

J.G. Ballard, for example, has consistently promulgated each of the ``fundamental truths'' about space travel set out by your contributor. If ``most of modern science fiction is actually fantasy,'' then Ballard, whose status has so often been questioned, comes to look like one of the few genuine modern sf writers. For myself, I would rather say that most of the literature of ``space fiction'' is false prophecy, and that Ballard was the first to explode it. —Patrick Parrinder, Univ. of Reading


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