Science Fiction Studies

#39 = Volume 13, Part 2 = July 1986



Theodore Sturgeon, 1918-85

On May 8, 1985, Theodore Hamilton Sturgeon (born Edward Hamilton Waldo, on February 26, 1918) died at the age of 67. He was recognized at the time of his death as one of the most important and influential writers in the history of modern SF by such diverse writers as Samuel R. Delany, Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King.                

Sturgeon's first sales were to Unknown and Astounding, in 1939, and although he wrote many stories in other genres, his career was principally in SF and fantasy. Sturgeon's commitment to stylistic excellence and the craft of writing made him an immediate influence on others even with his earliest works, perhaps most significantly on the young Bradbury (who contributed a glowing introduction to the first collection of Sturgeon's work, Without Sorcery [1948]). In the early 1940s in New York, Sturgeon founded a literary agency that was bought by another SF fan, Scott Meredith, and became part of the foundation of that famous agency. He became the center of a circle of younger writers in New York in the late 1940s which devoted itself to discussions of the craft of writing SF and interpenetrated with the Futurians (Blish, Knight, Merril, et al.); and (as Delany has pointed out in his essay on Sturgeon in Starboard Wine), he introduced the idea of revision into a field dominated by the pulp magazine practice of writing fast and selling (for the most part) first-draft material.

While his novels The Dreaming Jewels (1950), More Than Human (1953), The Cosmic Rape (1958), Venus Plus X (1960), Some of Your Blood (1961), and Godbody (1986) are significant contributions to the field, as are several minor collaborative works such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), perhaps his major impact was achieved through his short fiction, more than 150 stories in all. To date, the body of that work of his has received too little attention from students of the field, given its importance.                

Sturgeon's bohemian, Romantic lifestyle, his charismatic personality, and his decades-long commitment to the education and improvement of young writers made him a central figure in the field for more than four decades. His early career as a reviewer in the 1950s and '60s (especially his essay on "Sturgeon's Law") won him the assignment of SF reviewer for the New York Times throughout the early 1970s. He also wrote essays and was a popular speaker at conventions and at colleges. Many of his speeches are preserved only in obscure fanzines, and his essays are widely dispersed—his non-fiction writings are long overdue for collection.                

No figure in the SF field more saliently stood for the improvement of literary standards in SF and fantasy. In this he remains in part the inspiration for such diverse phenomena as the "New Wave" of the 1960s and Delany's critical writings. Much of the best in the SF field from the 1940s to date owes something to the life and work of Theodore Sturgeon. -- David Hartwell, Arbor House Publishing Co., NYC


The Experimenter Bankruptcy

One evening in February 1929 my father looked up from his newspaper, called my name, smiled as in triumph, and said, "Well, I see that your man Gernsback is bankrupt." The rest of the conversation I do not recall in detail, but he probably argued that anyone foolish enough to read pseudo-scientific trash would surely end up in the poorhouse and I probably invoked the sacred name of H.G. Wells. At any rate, the next few days were ones of dark depression for me.                

But March brought the April Amazing, still edited by Gernsback, and April brought not only the May Amazing, with its assurance that the magazine would be even better under the new ownership, but also a colorful circular from Gernsback himself, announcing the establishment of Science Wonder Stories, reproducing the front cover of the June issue, and offering eight issues to charter subscribers for one dollar.                

It was the Experimenter Publishing Co. that was bankrupt, not Hugo Gernsback, nor his brother Sidney, nor I.S. Manheimer, the only stockholders in the new Stellar Publishing Corporation, for if they had not had considerable capital, they would not have been able to launch Radio-Craft and Science Wonder Stories in May, Air Wonder Stories in June, Science Wonder Quarterly in September, and Scientific Detective Monthly in December. And if Amazing had not been a quite profitable enterprise, the new corporation would not have concentrated so heavily on SF rather than on popular science.              

Postal regulations at that time required the semi-annual publication of a statement listing the owners of any publication with second-class mailing privileges, and if the owner was a corporation, the names of all individuals owning more than one percent of the stock. The October 1, 1928 statement (Amazing, 3 [Dec. 1928]: 863) lists nine stockholders in Experimenter. Is it wildly speculative to imagine that the Gernsbacks and Manheimer held 51 percent of the stock and used their control to milk the corporation for the funds needed to establish their new company? If so, the real losers were the minority stockholders, of whom the most prominent was T. O'Connor Sloane, who had been associate editor of Amazing from its beginning.

Each of the last nine issues of Amazing edited by Gernsback carries a full-page announcement offering a free SF booklet (The Vanguard of Venus by Landell Bartlett) to anyone mailing in a coupon identifying himself as a subscriber or naming the newsstand where he bought the magazine: "We put out 150,000 magazines a month, and trust to luck that they will all sell, every month. Very frequently we do not sell more than 125,000 copies. The balance will then go to waste, which we have to take back and credit the newsdealer for. In order to cut down this waste, we must know just where our readers are located, and supply the newsstands with only those copies where we know a demand exists." For the purpose stated, this expensive survey would surely have been of very dubious value: Would the distributors, who lost nothing on unsold copies, break their routine for a special effort to see that Amazing reached only the right newsstands? On the other hand, the list of names obtained would have been of considerable value to a new publishing company: if I, for example, had not sent in the coupon, Gernsback would not have had my name and address for the circular I received, nor the dollar I sent in for a charter subscription.                

In sum, may I suggest that we cease to marvel at how quickly Gernsback was able to launch his new magazines, with only a single month between his last issues of Amazing and Radio News and the first issues of Science Wonder and Radio-Craft, for he evidently had several months to compile mailing lists, accumulate manuscripts, and make contracts with a new printing firm.                

Sam Moskowitz has written that Bernard Macfadden "helped engineer the bankruptcy of Hugo Gernsback's Experimenter Publications and then seized control of Amazing Stories" (Introduction to Milo Hastings' City of Endless Night [Westport, CT: Hyperion Press, 1974], p. v). This may well be true with some modification. The publisher's statement for April I, 1929 shows the Irving Trust Co. as Trustee for the bankrupt publisher, and lists B.A. Mackinnon as Business Manager of Amazing. The next three statements list B.A. Mackinnon and H.K. Fly as the only stockholders in the new corporation, with the last adding the stipulation "All stock allocated and pledged as security for loans" but not identifying those to whom the stock was allocated, seemingly a violation of the law. In the statement for April I, 1931, the three stockholders are Mackinnon, Fly, and one R.B. Asmus, who could of course have been a front for Macfadden if the latter had had any reason to conceal his ownership. As of October 1, 1931 and April 1, 1932, the owner is Teck Publications, Lee Ellmaker, President, which is in turn owned by Macfadden Publications; but as of October Ist, the sole stockholder in Teck is Lee Ellmaker himself. From all this it appears that it was more than two years after the bankruptcy that Macfadden "seized control," that he had control for only about a year, and that he gave up control as soon as Ellmaker was able to purchase the stock.

One last comment. If Amazing Stories actually sold 125,000 copies each month from a press run of 150,000, it was surely the most profitable fiction magazine on the stands in 1928-29. If it printed 100,000 and sold 70,000, which is much more likely, it would still have been a real money-maker. -- R.D. Mullen, Terre Haute, IN  


The Perils of Generalizing About Children's Science Fiction

In the November 1985 issue of SFS, Perry Nodelman argued that the four books he was using all fit a particular pattern common to children's SF generally. The books, he said, all deal with the journey out of an enclosed city to a world which is a pastoral paradise unspoiled by development. He concludes that this creates a feeling of security for the young reader, who then can assume that the natural world is superior to the technical one. However, the pattern does not surprise Nodelman in the end since, he asserts, "most novels for young readers are fantasies, descriptions of utopian worlds; even those that describe a recognizably realistic world make it safer and more understandable than most of us know the real one to be" (p. 292).                

Nodelman's reading of SF may be honest enough, but it does not agree with Margaret Esmonde's earlier interpretations of some of the same texts.* Nor does he explain why some of the SF books he chooses to discuss are not listed either in the 15th edition of The Elementary School Library Collection (1986) or in John T. Gillespie's The Junior High School Paperback Collection (1985). If they are typical, why wouldn't they be listed in standard bibliographic sources? And if other titles are listed instead, what do they show us about children's SF that Nodelman might not have pointed out?                

Nodelman begins his discussion with a book previously dealt with by Esmonde: John Christopher's Wild Jack ( 1974). He states that it is a story of "a boy from such a city...[who] learns that self-sufficient tribes survive happily in the wilderness" (p. 285), and he remarks in an endnote: "Indeed, John Christopher's SF novels for young readers often ring changes on the idea of the claustrophic closed city and the freer wilderness outside." His cursory consideration of other Christopher books ends with the statement that Christopher's SF is representative of others that he does not go into (p. 292). But Esmonde says that Wild Jack reverses the themes that had previously developed in The Guardians (1970) and becomes an adventure story that resembles Robin Hood more than it does his earlier SF stories. Nevertheless, Christopher's hero does not rob from the rich and give to the poor; instead, he plans to overthrow the prejudiced society which rules in the enclosed city. Wild Jack begins inside the walls of a city protected from "savages" who, the citizens believe, would kill anyone they captured. The young people profess that all of the social classes are content, that they accept the present social structure as being the best. Yet Clive, after he is forced to flee the city, finds that the propaganda is not true: meeting with Wild Jack, he discovers that the servants inside the city's walls inform those outside of happenings, and he comes to understand that the strength of the lower classes is building. Esmonde dismisses this book as a "fast-paced adventure story about courageous and resourceful boys" and calls it "perfunctory" (pp. 216-17). She gives more attention to a book which Nodelman mentions in his endnote as one of the "interesting variations on the basic idea of the enclosed space and the world outside" (p. 294), William Sleator's House of Stairs (1974).                

Esmonde (p. 215) calls Stairs "a nightmare of behavioral psychology," and says that it gives "a chilling glimpse of man's inhumanity as well as a vision of man's indomitable will to resist the darker side of his nature." Sleator's book purposely draws the adolescent reader into the plot and causes the reader to react against the isolation that society often teaches youngsters to expect and accept. Stairs shows what might be in a world dominated by experimental scientists who would use human beings in laboratory experiments without regard to the psychological or physical consequences. In fact, Sleator dedicates his book "to all the rats and pigeons who have already been here," confirming that he is not looking at a pastoral past, but to historic times when Germany used forgotten human beings and when US doctors used blacks in the South in experiments without regard for human life in their self-styled attempts to "further scientific knowledge." At the end of Sleator's drama, the two anti-heroes who do survive are not in a pastoral world, but are being deported to an island where misfits are sent, another isolated environment set up by the government. Sleator's final message to his readers is that they must not trust the past or give in to human inhumanities. His survivors live because they refuse to become mindless individuals following the dictates of a programmed society.                

Esmonde calls Stairs and Wild Jack "social criticism and speculation about man's possible future" which "predict the overthrow of our way of life through socioeconomic breakdown..." (p. 212). Both of these books do point to past history, but they do so as reminders that past human conditions have not always been better and that change has been brought by courageous renegades who defied their government. Because the characters are rebelling against the established rules and creating a new understanding of societal unrest, this kind of SF will not support Nodelman's argument that children's SF books give readers a "curious descent into complacency that distinguishes them from... adult SF" (p. 289).

The five books which Nodelman centers his arguments on all contain sterile, closed environments which have isolated themselves against others. One of the five, Mary Q. Steele's Journey Outside ( 1969), is not SF at all, but fantasy; and Nodelman himself says that it "offers none of those logical explanations for the oddity of the situation it describes that we expect of SF" (p. 268). Furthermore, the protagonist is leaving a society which is standing still, trapped in time, and not technologically advanced. Still, Nodelman asserts that it "closely mirrors the plot, the central themes, and the images" of the four SF books he examines. Dilar's people are boat people, caught in the circular passages of underground caves. Their lives are bleak and mindless; they are seeking another place which will be better than the one they left behind long ago. They have no knowledge of their past. It is not just the young protagonist who is seeking escape from an enclosed society; the entire population is fleeing that environment. And this society's real problem is that they are trapped in ignorance and cannot seem to change. While the story is like some SF because it is an adventure from one space to another and ends with the youthful protagonist's desire to free his own people from their superstitions, it is not a pastoral trip to the past but an adventure into the future. On the whole, then, it does exactly the opposite of what Nodelman claims. One could even argue that Steele taught her readers not to trust their elders, to find solutions for themselves; for the young hero is not pleased with his parents' early explanations of who they are and where they are going, and he only does what the old goat-herder asks so that he can find out about his people. In the end, Dilar sets out to find his family and to bring them into the world of change. Steele's hero returns to his past so that he can bring his people into the future. Journey Outside is not so much a celebration of security as an exploration of the meaning of change.                

Another book that Nodelman says is a variation of the enclosed city pattern is Laurence Yep's Sweetwater. Sweetwater is set in a decaying city which is inhabited by descendants of Earth, and it is surrounded by water. The entire story takes place in this strange watery land, and the major events deal with people's need to remember their past traditions, to learn to fight new demons, and to flee from their destroyed city. The first-person narrator, a boy named Tyree, immediately tells his listener: "But I think it's...important that we don't forget our city, Old Sion, now that we're about to leave it, and I think that it's even more important that we remember how we lost it" (1:4). Unlike the other enclosed cities that Nodelman cites, the strange environment is carefully described in Sweetwater, and Tyree's adventures continually focus on the city's subcultures of aliens, spider-like creatures called argans, who usually have nothing to do with humans but who teach Tyree all about music. Yep shows how prejudice builds walls, and in the end he destroys the bond which has developed between Tyree and the argans. Tyree leaves his old environment, taking with him the old argan's egg-shaped cocoon and "the jeweled memories of a summer, like my dreams of the city—to be my music wherever we might travel" (Epilogue: 201). Yep's writing is evocative and interesting not because the reader has been to a similar setting or seen a similar drama, but because Yep's creatures and his hero come alive in his story-telling. The listener learns to appreciate the unusual, to accept a foreign setting, and to admire the aliens. This is not a book which encourages reader complacency. It is a book which shows the reader how old attitudes can bring destruction, how prejudices can weaken a society.              

All of this seems to support Patrick Parrinder's observation (p. 40) that SF as a genre "is essentially oriented towards social criticism" and Philip K. Dick's assertion that the SF writer is trying to change what she or he sees and "will suggest on the basis of the known or plausible data how things could be better, or perhaps, worse" (p. 47). Nodelman's exploration, on the other hand, has less to do with what is found in all children's SF and more to do with his own theory of children's literature as a genre. Otherwise he could not ignore books such as William Sleator's Interstellar Pig (1984), a story (set in the US) which includes aliens, a board game, and a very caustic portrayal of adults; H.M. Hoover's The Shepherd Moon (1984), which portrays the young heroine's family as self-centered, powerful, and unloving; and Mildred Ames's Anna to the Infinite Power (1981), an SF tale which involves cloning and medical experimentation. Had he taken into account the likes of those, he would have noticed that SF can celebrate youth, imagination, curiosity, and even denial of tradition, in the hope for future change.                

What I am saying, in short, is that Nodelman is simplifying a subgenre in order to make his theories about literature work. And while such simplification is interesting and even provocative, it is also dangerous. That brand of criticism, Wayne C Booth warns, moves away from general definitions and into value judgments based on "the initial arbitrary exclusiveness of the general definition" and thus "allows a described theme to become normative" (Booth: 30-31). -- Jill P. May, Purdue University.                                                                                                                                                         

*See Esmonde's "After Armageddon: The Post Cataclysmic Novel for Young Readers," in Children's Literature: The Annual of the Modern Language Association Group on Children's Literature and the Children's Literature Association (Philadelphia, 1977), pp. 211-20. The other texts I cite are the following: Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago, 1961); Philip K. Dick, `Who is a SF Writer?" in Science Fiction: The Academic Awakening, ed. Willis E. McNelly (NY, 1974); Patrick Parrinder, Science Fiction: Its Criticism and Teaching (London, 1980); and Laurence Yep, Sweetwater (NY: Harper & Row, 1973).

In suggesting that books must be listed in standard bibliographic sources in order to be considered typical, Jill May seems to be confusing typicality with popularity; while many popular books are typical, not all typical books are popular. Whether or not the children's SF novels I discussed in my article are popular, I reiterate my opinion that they are typical—not, as May seems to think, because I believe that every single children's SF novel is exactly like them; obviously I do not, for the acknowledgement of generic similarities among works of literature does not mean that one assumes them to be clones of each other. In fact, my purpose was to suggest that the novels I discussed represent, in an obvious and therefore more easily perceived manner, characteristics that are less obvious but surprisingly common in many "typical" and, in some cases, more widely known children's SF novels: a conservative distrust of technology, and a paradoxical movement forward out of technologically advanced settings that are seen to be repressive into more primitive and more pastoral ones that are shown to be desirable because they are less repressive.                

In fact, May's own descriptions of novels make exactly that point. Sleator's House of Stairs (1974) shows how the quest for knowledge destroys the humanity of scientists; the experiment the book describes puts youngsters into an enclosed place that clearly represents the horrific repressions of technological control, and the book contains no pastoral paradise for its protagonists to escape to, not because such a place wouldn't precisely accord with their new-found values, but because a world controlled by technocrats contains no such retreat. The protagonist of Christopher's Wild Jack ( 1974) does discover a society with more respect for individual freedom in the forest outside the limiting walls of a technologically advanced city; Christopher shows the flaws in a futuristic utopia by comparing it with a pastoral paradise—and also, as May rightly says, by transforming a conventional SF novel into a retelling of Robin Hood, so that the humane values Robin Hood traditionally stands for oppose the stultifying technological perfection the closed city represents. For both Sleator and Christopher, technology is firmly equated with repression.                

But the essence of May's disagreement with me is her insistence that both Christopher's and Sleator's protagonists do indeed possess revolutionary fervor They wish to change the world they were born into, as do the protagonists of many other children's SF novels; and May takes this to mean that these books are neither as conservative nor as encouraging of complacency as I believe them to be—that they do indeed "celebrate youth, imagination, curiosity, and even denial of tradition, in the hope for future change." May can make that claim only because she has ignored one half of my argument—and, I believe, one half of the implications of the novels she discusses.                

I happily acknowledge that these books follow a pattern of rejection of tradition by youth that seems to celebrate change; what I find intriguing is that the imagery of their settings and the rhetoric of their statements of value imply exactly the opposite, that the revolutionary fervor is always directed at destroying sophisticated and repressive techonology and replacing it with trees and sunshine and flowers, and also with good-old-fashioned respect for individual needs and desires—that positive change is almost always associated with the conviction that technology is nothing but repressive and with a return to the traditional values we associate with rural landscapes. All the books May offers to contradict my theory do in fact confirm it; in one way or another, they all hide a retrogressive vision under their theoretically revolutionary fervor. That makes them interestingly ambiguous; it is May who dangerously simplifies these books by ignoring these ambiguities. -- Perry Nodelman, University of Winnipeg


An Exchange on "Dorking Revisited"

When I wrote, many years ago, Il senso delfuturo: la fantascienza nella letteratura americana(Rome: Edizioni di Storia della Letteratura, 1970), one of the outstanding texts I dutifully referred to was l.F. Clarke's Voices Prophesying War: 1763-1984, which I quoted twice in my footnotes as an invaluable source of historical information. Later on I enjoyed The Pattern of Expectation: 1644-2001, whose depth of scholarship and research I greatly admire, especially in the first part of the book.              

I am therefore honored by l.F. Clarke's review ("Dorking Revisited" [DR], in SFS No. 38) of my Introduction to Chesney's Battle of Dorking, published by Editrice Nord, in Milan, in a bilingual edition. All the same, while I thoroughly and happily accept all his useful points and observations, I must stress the fact that my Introduction was an attempt at interpretation in the field of the Victorian utopian fiction and that I had no pretension at all of shedding new light on the historical background of Chesney's little work. When I quoted historical sources about Chesney, I used (and, of course, acknowledged fully) Clarke's research; thanks to his research I very well know (and hoped I made it clear) that "Chesney was certainly not the first Englishman to describe an imaginary war of the future, and The Battle of Dorking was by no means the first of its kind" (DR, p. 85). (By the way, the suggested connection with the invasion of William I was obviously meant as a sort of archetypal pattern employed by Chesney, exactly as one would quote the Grail Legend in order to explain some of the imaginative roots of Eliot's The Waste Land.) In any case, I did actually consult biographies of Chesney and—what was more interesting to me—the Victorian magazines that, in 1870-71, were so crowded with articles, reports, and warnings about the Franco-Prussian War. I also compared the dramatic outcry of Frederic Harrison about the fall of a noble civilization and the triumph of a new Dark Age with the more factual, effectively "realistic" texture of Chesney's language.                

But I do not want to vindicate my historical preoccupations, knowing that Clarke is much more informed and careful than I could ever possibly be. What I do wish to emphasize, however, is that Clarke, I am afraid, mainly pinpoints what I did not want to do in any particular way, while he leaves aside all my efforts to analyze Dorking as a relevant fictional work which turns upside down the pattern of the extraordinary voyage to a new land by crucially exploiting the powerful and culturally meaningful theme of the invasion-from-outside into the defiled and humiliated body of a nation where class distinctions have become irrelevant or even dangerous. Considerations of the structure of Dorking were more important to me than biographical details or Chesney's knowledge of military tactics. Thus when I wrote (as l.F. Clarke kindly translates), "We do not have much information about Lieutenant-Colonel Sir George Tomkyns Chesney,' I meant these words to refer to the writer, not to the well-known figure of the Victorian Establishment, and my rather pompous succession of titles and names ("Lieutenant," etc.) should have been read, in the context of my discourse, as ironical.                

To be sure, Clarke is otherwise extremely generous to me: he does not point out, for example, the fact that I did not mention Darko Suvin's short, but (as usual) impressive entry on The Battle of Dorking in his Victorian Science Fiction (although I do cite Suvin's Metamorphoses of Science Fiction on Dorking and The War of the Worlds; Suvin himself, incidentally, singles out Chesney's Battle as a unique text in the Victorian tradition of utopian fiction). Nevertheless, I would respectfully submit that in reviewing my effort, Clarke should have taken into account more than the factual matters which I broach—the matters that would be most easily accessible to someone whose native language is not Italian.-He should, in other words, have attempted to do what I subscribe to in theory and try to carry out in my practice as a critic and a teacher: he should have attempted to understand my critical idiom and objectives and not simply (and somewhat solipsistically) judged my work to be deficient from the (unannounced) standpoint of his own preoccupations.  -- Carlo Pagetti,   Universita di Pescara                                                                                                                                                                                      
I am sorry that Carlo Pagetti does not accept all the points that I made about his valuable Introduction to his bilingual edition of The Battle of Dorking. Our differences, I suspect, largely derive from the problems of too little space and too much to say. I can understand very well why he felt it prudent to concentrate on Chesney as a writer rather than on the military side of the man. For Pagetti's part, I trust that he can appreciate how an Englishman responds to words like invasion with a whole series of stereotypes—images and phrases—that stretch from a consecrated date like 1066 to the famous defiant language of Winston Churchill in 1940.               

I agree with Pagetti that the divide of language can separate one critic from another; and I can assure him that, although I may not see entirely eye to eye with him on some minor points, his Introduction has added to the information we have on the Chesney episode. His Italian readers are fortunate indeed. L'esperienza di questa dolce vita, as Dante puts it in the Paradiso, persuades me that accurate communication remains one of our greatest human problems. -- I.F. Clarke


More from Damon Knight

In regard to "Sic or No" (SFS No. 38), a lay figure is a jointed human figure, usually of wood, used by artists as an aid in drawing the body in various positions (see Merriam-Webster). The term is a notorious trap for copy-editors.                

My copy of SFS No. 37 has disappeared into a stack somewhere, but I will try to respond to Mark Siegel from memory. Modern Japanese TV and film as he describes them seem to me reminiscent of US popular fiction of the 1930s in the following ways: ambivalence towards a foreign race and country; the view of alien women as seductive; the cooperative group of heroes (see, for example, Doc Savage); the reliance on imaginary technology to defeat an invader. This cluster of ideas and attitudes is typical of "Yellow Peril" stories, frequent in the '30s, in which the heroes were Anglo and the villains Oriental. The fact that themes and treatments so markedly similar appeared in American pulp fiction 50 years ago seems to weaken Mr Siegel's argument for a specifically Japanese response to World War II, the atom bomb, etc. There are some interesting novelties, for example the Japanese use of figures from myth and folklore, but the coherence of the Japanese and American stories seems to me more striking.                

My difference with Anne Cranny-Francis is a question of thoroughness. The suppressed homoerotic relationship between Kirk and Spock seems to me to be implicit in the TV series, and its overt expression by underground writers and artists to support Ms Cranny-Francis's cogent argument. This is a very different thing from a discussion of coffee mugs and T-shirts. I had better repeat that I wrote as I did because I liked the articles in issue No. 37 enough to wish they had been even better. -- Damon Knight, Eugene, OR

 The Impact of Publishers' "Star" Wars?

I spent the better part of one February day perusing the contents of various magazines that SFS receives on a complimentary or exchange basis. Among these is Science Fiction Chronicle (SFC), a monthly newsmagazine which reports, inter alia, on the F&SF publishing scene.                

Judging from the information in SFC over the last year or so, it appears to me that the fees and advances that US publishers pay to authors for F&SF books have escalated dramatically. Dean R. Koontz, for example, got $375,000 from G.P. Putnam's Sons for Strangers (SFC, Feb. 1986, p. 1); Warner Books paid Robert Silverberg $435,000 for publication or republication rights to Tom O'Bedlam and a yet-to-appear work tentatively called Star Gypsies (SFC, Feb. 1985, p. 1); Isaac Asimov signed a contract worth $425,000-500,000 with Del Rey Books for Robots and Empire (SFC, May 1985, p. 1); Peter Straub received $1,000,000 from the New American Library (NAL) for three forthcoming books (SFC, Oct. 1985, p. 4): and last but far from least, NAL has forked over $10,000,000 to Stephen King for book and film rights to two new titles of his scheduled to come out next year (SFC, Sept. 1985, p. 1). (That last figure is NOT a misprint, certainly not on SFS's part: it contains seven zeroes, all where they count.)                

Now I, for one, do not begrudge these sums to these writers, especially to those of them who for years were in effect working for under the minimum wage. Nor, except perhaps in King's case, do the amounts of their fees seem extravagant compared, say, to the average salary of a professional baseball player in the US. (If you don't know what that average is, you can get some idea from what a pinch-hitter who batted a little over .200 earned with the Montreal Expos last baseball season: US$360,000.) It does seem to me, however, that the monies publishers are willing to lay out for certain "star" writers come at the expense of lesser-knowns and of the book-buying public.                

Those of us who teach SF are (or should be) well aware of how much the prices of paperbacks have increased. Over the last five years alone cover prices have generally doubled, thus easily outpacing inflation and increases in production costs. Nor does there appear to be any reason for this phenomenon beyond the one I'm hinting at coupled with publishers' greed. Comparing, as a random example, an edition of We I obtained three years ago with the one that Concordia's bookstore just got in, the only visible difference has to do with the cover (and the price imprinted on it: $3.95 instead of $2.25). (I might add that in many cases the paper used in the new, more expensive editions is of poorer quality than that of texts from a few years ago.)                

But that is not the only—or even perhaps the most—considerable expense I am referring to. The other has to do with publishers' stock lists. How this bears on notso-famous F&SF writers may be inferred from a remark made by the way in a report about an SFC editorial complaint to the NY Times Book Review over the latter's delays in noticing SF titles: "it was incredible to read reviews in the November 25th [1984] issue [of NYTBR]...of books which had come out more than 18 months earlier and were now out of print" (SFC, Mar. 1985, p. 11). This, of course, is part and parcel of the same problem that teachers of SF have had to try to deal with or circumvent for years: not only do we continually discover that even "classic" or "standard" SF texts are "out of print" or "out of stock" (the two phrases are practically identical); we also find it impossible to determine whether an edition supposedly available at the time we request it will have gone out of existence by the time its publisher receives our order for it.                

Perhaps this problem is unrelated to King's $10,000,000, so to speak. On other hand, the fact that the problem has gotten even worse precisely in the period when F&SF publishers have initiated their own version of "Star" Wars suggests that there is a connection between the two phenomena. If I am right, we have yet to be confronted with the full impact of that kind of competition (which is also now jeopardizing the availability of texts for "traditional" literature courses); and we should expect to face increasing difficulties unless we collectively undertake countermeasures .—RMP


Calls for Papers

The 11th annual meeting of the Society for Utopian Studies will be held at the Asilomar Conference Center, Pacific Grove, California, on October 2-5, 1986. If you wish to organize a panel or give a paper, please contact the program chairman: Professor Samson B. Knoll/200 Upper Walden Road/Carmel, CA 93923. The absolute deadline for abstracts and session proposals is July I, 1986. Persons planning to attend the Conference should inform Professor Knoll no later than August 1, 1986. (The $50 registration fee includes a ticket to the conference banquet. - RMP

We are extending the deadlines for proposals and papers for the projected special issue of SFS on 20th-century SF in Russian and other languages of the USSR. Proposals for essays should reach SFS's McGill office by Sept. 1, 1986, and the essays themselves should be submitted by the end of the year. For further information, please consult the Note in SFS No. 38.—DS

The journal Thalia: Studies in Literary Humor is planning a special issue of articles on "Humor in Science Fiction" to be published in 1987. Submissions should be addressed to the editor of this special issue: David Ketterer/Department of English/ Concordia University/1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. West/Montréal, Québec, Canada H3G IM8. The deadline is December 31, 1986.

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