By John Hertz: Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game is one of the finest s-f novels, indeed one of the finest novels. I rejoice to find it on the Retro-Hugo ballot.
Its architecture, characterization, and what we’ve called world-building, are masterly. In these I include timing, and imagination and handling of its s-f element.
It raises to a peak Sturgeon’s great pun “Science fiction is knowledge fiction” (the Latin root of “science” means knowledge). It deserves fullest attention.
It was one of the S-F Classics we discussed at the 69th World Science Fiction Convention.
Here’s a story from my Westercon LV report, a few years earlier, in File 770 142 [PDF].
Before the con when Glyer [who was head of Programming] put me on The Glass Bead Game I thought to help find panelists. Against “The Popularity of Alternative History” and “The Bar’s My Destination” there were conflicts. Greg Benford, who I hoped might’ve read it in German, was distracted with other affairs. Ellison? Len Wein encouraged me.
I phoned. “Don’t even start with me,” Ellison said. “I’ve been asked to do every kind of panel, and I’ve done every kind of panel, and I don’t want to do any more just now.” What about The Glass Bead Game, I asked. He stopped. “You’re right,” he said. “No one has ever asked me to sit on a panel about The Glass Bead Game.” Until the end of the century it was the only Nobel Prize s-f novel, and it might be Hesse’s greatest.
Alas, Ellison still couldn’t do it. I phoned Wein to report. “You know,” I said, “I got the distinct notion he felt he wasn’t worthy.” Ulrika O’Brien and I had to do without him. Art Widner and Geri Howard came by.
E.B. Frohvet thinks Game isn’t s-f, but although I was half joking when I said the book Lord of the Rings was, treating manufacture of a device and its consequences, about Game I mean it. Poetic even in translation, superb at character study, it handles what-if wonderfully in its future world, and for lagniappe brings a fine unreliable narrator and hints hard questions.
From the audience: is there such a thing as decadent art? I said, maybe but watch out for that narrator.
For an 800-word note by me, go to the sidebar, below “meta”.