(1) DUCK! Science News explains, “Asteroid Day is a chance to learn about space and plan for disaster”.
Asteroid enthusiasts, rejoice! Thursday, June 30 is your day to remind the world that humankind is just one impact with a space rock away from annihilation (or, at the least, a very bad day)….
The date coincides with the anniversary of the most powerful impact in recorded history, when a roughly 40-meter-wide asteroid crashed near Tunguska, Siberia, in 1908….
(2) GIVING ANTIQUITY A CHANCE. In the second installment of Young People Read Old SF, James Davis Nicoll’s recruits share their reactions to A Martian Odyssey.
Stanley G. Weinbaum’s 1934 debut, “A Martian Odyssey,” is the second of the two short stories I have selected to represent the science fiction of the 1930s.
Weinbaum is one of the earliest hard SF writers, someone whose stories were shaped by what was then known (or guessed) of the other worlds of our solar system. Weinbaum’s stories are little known and little read these days, in part because his career was so short: eighteen months from the publication of his first science fiction story to his death.
Jamie, for example, has this to say:
What quaint ideas about “atomic blasts” and the medicinal benefits of hard radiation. Writers of SF in the deep past were much more free to be optimistic about new scientific discoveries. Nowadays every new advance is going to cause at least as many problems as it solves, and the unexpected downsides are what drive the plots. This story is just happy to be exploring a crazy new planet and all it’s crazy improbable life forms, held down by only the lightest of plots. Old fashioned optimism about progress, I suppose
(3) MADE YOU CLICK. Barry Malzberg, in a new Galaxy’s Edge column, says for Judith Merril, “There Is No Defense”. You know, it’s not every day you see someone literally say a woman destroyed sf.
Merril, before she gave up anthologies, criticism, and citizenship to expatriate herself to Canada in 1968, was made desperate by the unending, irretrievable, uncorrectable stupidity and murderousness of Vietnam. She had been on an increasingly evident, now unapologetic campaign to destroy science fiction.
She knew it: the campaign was purposeful. In her story introduction to Bob Shaw’s “Light of Other Days” in her final volume, she conceded that the excellence and rigor of the story called her back to an earlier time when she had been entranced by such work and her own desire to replicate. But that story introduction was half or three-quarters an apology: its appearance in Best SF, its very quality, were an implicit rebuke to the scattered, unfocused, false literary emptiness which had come to occupy most of the anthology. Meanwhile, she was writing savage reviews in Fantasy& Science Fiction, reviews as savage as those of Alfred Bester’s half a decade earlier which had created a good deal of foul karma and eventually got him fired.
Malzberg argues she was intentionally trying to destroy sf. I read Merril’s anthologies as they came out, and there were so many new and completing voices in the Sixties that it made sf a pretty robust literary form. Pulp writers and experimental New Wave authors were all getting published, which forces me to ask — If sf couldn’t be destroyed by bad writing, how could it be destroyed by good writing?
The column about Merril has been pulled back since earlier today. What was posted can still be seen via Google Cache — at least for now. I subsequently learned this was an effect of an ordinary transition from one online issue to the next. The Merril column is available at The Wayback Machine. So I have linked to that.]
(4) CONVENTION IN LISBON. The Portuguese SF convention Fórum Fantástico will take place in Lisbon from September 23-25 at the Biblioteca Municipal Orlando Ribeiro. Curator Rogerio Ribeiro is organizing the event. No registration needed, no entry fee.
(5) JOE SHERRY. At Nerds of a Feather, Joe Sherry’s analysis of his Hugo ballot moves on to the Best Fanzine category. First place goes to:
Lady Business: Lady Business is smart, incisive, and should be considered a required stop for anyone who wants to read more about genre. It is one of my must read blogs and I don’t have many of those anymore. When I talk about fanzines, this is what I mean. If you’re not too familiar with what Lady Business is all about or where to start, take a look at this post. The editors at Lady Business comment on media, generally SFF media, with “an intersectional feminist perspective”. Whether they are reviewing books, video games, or recapping Xena: The Warrior Princess, Lady Business is always worth reading and is consistently one of my favorite blogs. You’d think that I would have more to say, but all I want to do is wave my arm, point, and mumble “Lady Business – Awesome – Read” and try not to be awkward about it.
(6) SHORT FICTION NOMINEES. Jonathan Edelstein unpacks his Hugo ballot for novelette and short story.
The two categories are a study in contrasting quality. Despite the second year of Rabid Puppy interference (I still can’t believe I just wrote that), the novelette shortlist is quite credible. Folding Beijing is easily one of the best stories of 2015 and would no doubt have made it onto the ballot without Theodore Beale’s help. And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead belongs on the ballot too – yeah, gratuitous foul language and dated cyberpunk plot, but it’s a hell of a story. Obits isn’t Stephen King’s best work, but even bad King is better than most of what’s out there. Even the two Castalia entries aren’t terrible – What Price Humanity is a tightly written and suspenseful story of war veterans being trained in virtual reality for one last mission, and Flashpoint Titan is no worse than ordinary missile porn. Granted, in a year where the eligible works included Ian McDonald’s Botanica Veneris and Rose Lemberg’s Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds, I’m sorry to see the Castalia stories there instead, but the top of the shortlist is very good indeed and none of it is bad enough to get No Awarded.
The short stories, on the other hand, piss me off.
(7) NOVELLA NOMINEES. Doctor Science’s current post at Obsidian Wings is “Wednesday Reading including Hugo Novella nominees. All re-posts from File 770 comments, but collated.
Penric’s Demon by Lois Bujold. This is another one where the treatment of sexuality confuses me. I think I can say, without major spoilers, that the basic plot is the trope known as “Sharing a Body”, and in this case the body-owner is a young man, while the passenger turns out to be, essentially, n pbafbegvhz bs gjryir jbzra.
Now, I’m used to seeing this trope in fanfiction, where I would expect the story to be heavily focused on issues of sexuality, gender, and the characters’ feelings about bodies. At first I thought Bujold was heading there, but then she sort of veered off to Plot-land, before the POV character had done more than guvax nobhg znfgheongvat. I was left feeling rather wrong-footed, and only sort of interested in the Plot. In sum: for me it was a good enough story, but rather bizarrely incomplete.
(8) GONE VIRAL. Jeremiah Tolbert relives “My Short Time as a Viral Hit Maker”.
On June 23rd, as the results from the British EU Referendum or “Brexit” began to come in, it was clear that the Leave vote was ahead. Once the lead solidified and the BBC called the result, the Pound Sterling began to tank. The mood on Twitter turned grim. I had an IM window with Nick Mamatas open at the time. Sparked by I’m not sure what, I shared the notion that I might Photoshop the big reveal at the end of Planet of the Apes and replace the Statue of Liberty with Big Ben. Nick said, paraphrasing, “DO IT.” Not the most original joke I’ve ever come up with, but I’m fairly proficient with photo-editing, so I got to work….
I sent the image over to Nick, and before I could tweet it out myself, he tweeted the image along with credit:
"You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!"
Photo by @jeremiahtolbert. pic.twitter.com/20KuMJdKod
— Nick Mamatas (@NMamatas) June 24, 2016
Nick sending it out turned out to be the ticket to success for it, because it spread the image far faster and wider than my own followers list would have. Within seconds, the retweets began. Early on, Cory Doctorow retweeted it. By the time I went to bed just after midnight, the tweet had over a thousand retweets and showed no sign of slowing down as morning came in the UK….
(9) NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. CNN Money asks “Should robots have to pay taxes?”
If robots are going to steal human jobs and otherwise disrupt society, they should at the very least pay taxes.
That’s the takeaway from a draft report on robotics produced by the European Parliament, which warns that artificial intelligence and increased automation present legal and ethical challenges that could have dire consequences.
“Within the space of a few decades [artificial intelligence] could surpass human intellectual capacity in a manner which, if not prepared for, could pose a challenge to humanity’s capacity to control its own creation and … the survival of the species,” the draft states.
The report offers a series of recommendations to prepare Europe for this advanced breed of robot, which it says now “seem poised to unleash a new industrial revolution.”
The proposal suggests that robots should have to register with authorities, and says laws should be written to hold machines liable for damage they cause, such as loss of jobs. Contact between humans and robots should be regulated, with a special emphasis “given to human safety, privacy, integrity, dignity and autonomy.”
(10) MERINGUE PIE MUSEUM. John Kass cuts loose in the Chicago Tribune: “George ‘Star Wars’ Lucas releases the mayor’s mind and not a moment too soon”.
Somehow, the immortal words of little old Yoda finally got through to his creator, George Lucas:
Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.
So Lucas let go.
He let go of that ridiculous meringue pie of a museum he wanted to plop on Chicago’s lakefront.
And he let go of the mind of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, so that it was free once more to try running a city that is drowning in red ink and violence.
Unfortunately, Rahm and Lucas didn’t just hush up and go away. Instead, they whined and stamped their feet and complained (in prepared statements) and blamed everything on Friends of the Parks.
But Friends of the Parks did what it’s supposed to do: Stand up for the people of Chicago, to protect the lakefront, because the lakefront doesn’t belong to Hollywood moguls or their political footmen.
I said it a few days ago in the column on Lucas holding Rahm’s mind in thrall with some Jedi trick, and I should say it again.
Rich people have their country clubs and their estates and their private jets to take them away. But the lakefront is the country club for the people. It’s where working people go to take themselves away.
(11) TOFFLER OBIT. “Alvin Toffler, Author of ‘Future Shock,’ Dies at 87” reports the New York Times.
Mr. Toffler was a self-trained social science scholar and successful freelance magazine writer in the mid-1960s when he decided to spend five years studying the underlying causes of a cultural upheaval that he saw overtaking the United States and other developed countries.
The fruit of his research, “Future Shock” (1970), sold millions of copies and was translated into dozens of languages, catapulting Mr. Toffler to international fame. It is still in print.
In the book, in which he synthesized disparate facts from every corner of the globe, he concluded that the convergence of science, capital and communications was producing such swift change that it was creating an entirely new kind of society.
His predictions about the consequences to culture, the family, government and the economy were remarkably accurate. He foresaw the development of cloning, the popularity and influence of personal computers and the invention of the internet, cable television and telecommuting.
(12) PROPHET OBIT. SF Site News brings word that 1959 Worldcon co-chair Fred Prophet (1929-2016) passed away June 29.
Fred served as the co-chair, with Roger Sims, of the Detention, the 1959 Worldcon in Detroit. He and Roger were appointed Conchairs Emeritus at Detcon1, the 2014 NASFiC, which both men were able to attend. Prior to the Detention, Prophet was active in the Detroit Science Fiction League and Michigan Science Fantasy Society (MISFITS) after attending his first convention,The Eleventh World Science Fiction Convention, in 1953.
(13) MANTEC OBIT. Maurice George Dantec (1959-2016), a French naturalised Canadian science fiction writer and musician, died June 25 in Montreal reports Europa SF.
Dantec’s first novel, La Sirène rouge (“The Red Siren”), was published in 1993 and won the 813 Award for best crime novel. His second novel, Les Racines du mal (“The Roots of Evil”, 1995), had a cyberpunk affinity and was awarded the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire and Prix Rosny-aîné.
Dantec’s Babylon Babies was adapted for the screen under the direction of Mathieu Kassovitz as Babylon A.D. (2008), starrring Vin Diesel.
(14) TODAY IN HISTORY
- June 30, 1905 — Albert Einstein introduced his theory of relativity in his publication, On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies.
- June 30, 1974 — The July 4th scene from the Steven Spielberg movie Jaws was filmed at Martha’s Vineyard.
(15) THIS IS MY DUBIOUS LOOK. David Russell Mosley, in “The Magician’s Fairy Godmother: A Follow Up to Are there Elves in C.S. Lewis?”, says the answer is yes.
The other day, I wrote a post attempting to answer the question, “are there elves in the works of C. S. Lewis.” As I noted in the original post, the idea came from a discussion on Facebook where the asker was particularly interested in the elvish absence in the Chronicles of Narnia. Well, two nights ago I was reading The Magician’s Nephew when I came across this passage I had forgotten:
“‘For my [Uncle Andrew] godmother [a certain Mrs. Lefay] was a very remarkable woman. The truth is, she was one of the last mortals in this country who had fairy blood in her. (She said there had been two others in her time. One was a duchess and the other was a charwoman.) In fact, Digory, you are now talking to the last man (possibly) who really had a fairy godmother’” (The Magician’s Nephew, 21).
There it was, an elf (for we should keep in mind that fairy and elf are, linguistically at least, interchangeable), or really three partial elves in the Chronicles of Narnia.
(16) YOU’RE QUITE A CHARACTER. Austin Gilkesen explains “How To Tell If You Are In A J.R.R. Tolkien Book” at The Toast. From a long list of diagnostic tests, here are four examples:
- A Dark Lord fancies your jewelry.
- A mountain is out to get you.
- You had to learn the hard way not to follow the lights in the marsh.
- Your exhaustive knowledge of whimsical riddles has saved your life on multiple occasions.
(17) FANS WANT TO KNOW. Do the houses in Ilvermorny correspond to those at Hogwarts? J.K. Rowling says no.
“There is no equivalence between Hogwarts and Ilvermorny houses,” Rowling wrote when a fan asked if Wampus was equivalent to Hogwarts’ Hufflepuff. “But don’t diss Hufflepuff!”
(18) YEARS OF EXPERIENCE. Entertainment Weekly spotted the tweet — “Elizabeth Warren offers to teach at J.K. Rowling’s North American wizarding school”.
Looking for a Defense Against the Dark Arts prof, @jk_rowling? Where do I apply? Trump, Death Eaters – I got this! https://t.co/TDgHbeyApU
— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) June 29, 2016
(19) FINNCON. Catherynne Valente issued ecstatic tweets about breakfast at a Finnish convention hotel.
Oh my god, America, you need to up your hotel breakfast buffet game. I will never fully recover from the amazingness I just ate. #finland
— Catherynne Valente (@catvalente) June 30, 2016
But here! Mustard herring! A million kinds of cold cuts & fresh breads & vegetables & cheese & jam! Meatballs! Rice pie! Blueberry soup!
— Catherynne Valente (@catvalente) June 30, 2016
And whatever is in the oatmeal digestive cookie I just dunked in my coffee should probably be a controlled substance. #finncon
— Catherynne Valente (@catvalente) June 30, 2016
[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Sean Wallace, and David K.M. Klaus for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day JohnFromGR.]
Yeah, that was the pretty obvious route to take. I still think it’s stupid but not for the explanation, coz, well, comics – This probably doesn’t even make it to the top 5 craziest things about Captain America (CapWolf! Nomad!). I just think the timing was incredibly dumb – the character has an excellent movie out, and this is Marvel Comic’s effort to get crossover appeal?
:tired convention ticky:
I admire people who can read different things at once. My brain refuses to do this sort of thing. Audiobooks I can have on a separate stream, and I am *trying* to read the Shahmaneh as part of the Kate Elliott/Tessa Gratton project, but I keep wanting to “just finish that”.
Malzburg’s central thesis is interesting, though I don’t know whether it is defensible. ( It’s not well-argued).
His thesis is that there were some influential editors of anthologies in the field — Merril and Damon Knight being two examples — who were would-be or failed mainstream literary writers and who had come to feel trapped within the SFF category. Consequently, they wanted to destroy SF — that is, SF as a specific genre –from within, to break down the ghetto walls dividing SF from literary fiction.
Clack: Ah, thank you, that helps. That is, it helps me avoid the column even more than I already was. 🙂 I spent a lot of time in Damon Knight’s topic on GEnie in the years I was there, and it was crystal clear that he greatly valued a distinctive set of possibilities (and pitfalls) in sf, and that he approached the writing and critiquing of sf as tasks that drew on some of the same skills as writing and critiquing other kinds of prose but not identical with them.
I never had the opportunity to interact with Merril, but accounts from people I know who did have that same quality of love of the potential, and appreciation of it as something distinct.
I dunno, does Malzberg need a cuddly pet or something? I hate to see anyone go on with that much bitterness.
Malzberg has been a crank old man in his work and fiction for as long as I can recall. He seems to follow the school is thought that the fiction of despair is the only way to gain respect.
I liked some Bester’s reviews in F&SF because he found it wasn’t always a good thing to toady to the writers who were popular but weren’t producing good books. Ted Sturgeon did the same in Galaxy to Keith Laumer.
Judith Merrill’s anthologies began using experimental fiction in her collections before the term “new wave” was coined. Its strange to read that some people are still bitching about it–what–almost 60 years later?
…this is Marvel’s effort to get crossover appeal?
Not sure why, but reading this got me thinking again of the demise of Borders Books. As the company was going through the throes of deep discounts and everything else, I was in one of the moribund stores and saw that their attempts to get out of their hole included a campaign involving Silly Bands. Silly Bands! They were already well past their brief spate of popularity, but some poor bastard at Borders thought maybe they’d help somehow.
Something about it made me feel like I should cry for them. This was freaking Borders Books (pathos update: I even had to look up their name just now), where I spent happy hours with books. Where Buzz Aldrin shook my hand.
Jesus god. Silly bands. I just.
Called it, which does not seem like it was all that impressive an achievement but I’ll take what I can get. Still don’t get the outrage so much. Villains trying to subvert heroes so they become their opposite is old as the hills. (Isn’t that the basis for every tedious conversation between Wolverine and Sabretooth? And that Mark Millar story where Wolverine was brainwashed into Hydra and killed a million SHIELD agents was quite popular.)
I’m not talking about execution, where mileage may vary, and I’m not talking about surrounding hype, which is always painfully awful. I also find it a bit odd for chiding Marvel for not playing it safe creatively with their corporate property when a big successful film comes out. Wasn’t making Sam Wilson Cap and Thor a woman even riskier, all things considered? If they’d played it safe we’d never have either, and frankly I love both. I doubt Capydra will turn out to be as good, but I’d also be surprised if it goes beyond ten or twelve issues. (I would have said five or six, but devoting the whole second issue to the macguffin suggest a longer arc, pacing-wise.) Meanwhile we still have Captain SJW who is awesome. And She-Thor who is awesomer than Old-Thor.
(There were criticisms of that story because Wolverine killed off the one openly gay X-Man of the time, and then when he was cured killed the reanimated zombie corpse of the one openly gay X-Man all over again, because Millar gotta Millar. And there have been critiques of She-Thor and Cap Sam for shoe-horning a minority and female character into existing roles, replacing white men, which seem like valid criticisms to me, more so than most of the stuff I’ve seen said about Capydra. Hey! You know what’s way, way worse? (Spoilers!)
They just fridged War Machine and She Hulk, a black character and a female character, as if to balance Cap Sam and She-Thor, in the opening of Civil War II, just to give everyone something to get angry with each other about. I mean, Jesus. )
In one of his columns, Malzberg says that science fiction wanted to die as much as it wanted to live — that is, during the New Wave sixties at least, it wanted to be absorbed into the literary mainstream.
There’s an element of truth to that, especially in regards to such New Wavers as Aldiss, Ballard, Moorcock, Ellison, Disch, and Delany.
Harlan Ellison has been denying for decades that he writes science fiction, contending instead that he writes “magic realism”.
@Robert Whitaker Sirignano: I’m okay with stories of despair. I’m much less okay with assertions about everyone else’s villainy, and have learned that it’s often a sign of worse things wrong with the asserter. Hence wondering what might help Malzberg.
Is anyone else here going to be in Portland at Westercon this weekend?
I wonder if Malzberg needs anti depressants.
Ellison often tries to deny being a science fiction fan. But he did write SCIENCE FICTION and he was a FAN. After he “stopped”
writing SF, did his work get boring or lose something?
I think the word for Ellison and Malzberg is “posturing”.
Mike Glyer on June 30, 2016 at 10:58 pm said:
I just finished re-reading Ancillary Mercy and I would adore to see a novella with Sphene and Translator Ziet with reactions from those around them to their interactions.
@RWS et al:
Ellison puts on “schtick” – has been for years – but what he writes is genuine.
Barry – I tend to think that Barry is, was and remains very “vexxed” by the fact that the world could easily be a better place and isn’t, simply because we must pander to a great mass of marching morons.
Though not articulated directly, there was a sense that the “new wave” was endangering the ghetto by seeking mainstream acceptance. It can’t and shouldn’t – I believe the essence of SF requires an outsider looking in viewpoint.
What it can and should do is borrow – shamelessly – from mainstream whenever appropriate, taking those things and making them its own.
Me too. And just dark enough for my taste. The next one has been pre-ordered.
Read most of it at Glastonbury Festival while waiting for bands to come on and manuvering to get the sweet spot just by the crush barrier. Must say, that it was far less good as a festival book than the Seven Suns KJA book was last year. I actually had to think about it!
Top of ballot. Sorry Ms Novik, you are displaced.
Baldwin was a gay socialist who moved to France and was highly critical of the United States; Cassius Clay converted to Islam and refused to serve in Vietnam. Presumably Malzberg is saying that Merril was like Tracy and Hepburn in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner who approved of black men as long as they were model citizens like Sidney Poitier. (It doesn’t actually make sense, but that seems to be his intent.)
Me reading the Malzberg article: Wow, tearing down genre barriers, Borges… this Judith Merril person sounds great, right up my alley, I should really check out her stuff… oh… wait… that’s supposed to be a bad thing?
Also, as an aside, I find the reference to her as “the former Judith Grossman” kinda weird. As if it were somehow sinister that she used a pen name.
Oh, that Judith Merril. I need to spend more time in the collection; it’s housed in my home library.
I’m about 80% of the way through Seveneves, and I’ve finally learned to spell the title properly.* Like the Butcher novel, I’m enjoying it despite some pretty serious flaws. Unlike the Butcher novel, it might even go above no award. In many ways they’re both a good illustration of what not to do, and of how a novel can work for me despite its flaws.
I don’t find Stephenson’s genetics terribly convincing, though.
Fifth Season is next. I’ve only held off on that because I have a hard copy and I’ve been travelling.
*Assuming I got it right now.
Well, I read “What Price Humanity” to the end, and I’m very sorry. I should have quit when the one (1) black character is described and immediately named “Token”.
I now plan to not read any other fiction that isn’t on either the Locus or Nebula longlists. Except for Chuck Tingle, who I’ll read for the LOLs.
I first encountered Borges and Italo Calvino in the Merril anthologies. Literary fiction with great, original sense-of-wonder concepts. All-time Hall of Fame fantasy or science fantasy stories, never mind a mere “year’s best” anthology.
The Russell Baker and John Updike stories, at least as I remember them, had threadbare science fictional concepts used for lamely satirical purposes. My impression is that Merril included them because they were by “prestigious” (non-SF genre) writers, and not because the stories themselves were “year’s best” worthy.
Science fiction. Malzberg wants it to be an exclusive ghetto? Untrusting of outsiders and minority voices? Sounds a little like you know who.
I’ve yet to see any credible argument, from either side of the fence, as to why SF stories can’t have literary merit.
It’s exceptionally puzzling to see this coming from Malzberg, whom I’ve always thought of as one of the more literary-leaning SF authors anyway. (I mean, Herovit’s World, come on, how knowingly post-modern and self-referential can you get?)
Here I was starting to wonder if I had made that up in my head. There are worse names he could have had, but not all that many.
“The former Judith Grossman”…to indicate she had a history? According to her autobiography, she did. It was the kind of gossip that doesn’t die easily.
@ Leslie C., Doctor Science:
That jarred me, but the story is MilSF, and military people give each other nicknames like that. The portrayal of Token didn’t strike me as otherwise racist – he doesn’t speak in dialect, he isn’t portrayed as less intelligent or competent than the others, and he participated fully in the group’s attempts to solve the mystery. The story didn’t seem to me like “Seven Kill Tiger,” which is permeated with racism at a disgusting level, though your mileage may vary.
As I mentioned above, I’m slowly making my way through a best-of compilation of his works. I have the same confusion. I don’t know if you can get more meta than “A Galaxy Called Rome.” But then, “The Agony Column” has a very creepy feel given our current environment of angry men shooting up public spaces.
@Clack: Damon Knight “a would-be or failed mainstream literary writer”? The teenager who crossed the continent to join up with New York City fandom and become a Futurian? (BTW, Knight is not mentioned by name in the Malzberg piece.) Merril was part of that same social circle by the time she was 20 or so, which makes me wonder at Malzberg’s “a failed mainstream writer” assertion. Malzberg is in a position to have known the scene and the people at first hand, but his tone and strange take on events I have researched (often via contact with the principles) makes me question nearly every non-opinion point in the essay. (Taste there’s no accounting for, so it’s futile to argue about how he feels about X or Y situation.)
I read The Merril Theory of Lit’ry Criticism with considerable interest and attention, not only because I was reviewing it but because (like a number of posters here) I had first read much of it in real time as it appeared in Merril’s anthologies and review columns. And what I found there (then and now) was a broad-church view of SF that understood it as a part of literature-in-general and believed it worthy of the same kind of critical attention as anything appearing in The New Yorker or The Atlantic. She made shrewd, practical observations about the market, the constraints of commercial publishing, and literary qualities that crossed genre boundaries.
As far as I can tell, Malzberg is seriously misreading Merril and, I suspect, the scene he builds around her.
Regarding Science Fiction as a ‘ghetto’: I think that the fact that SF is marketed as a distinctive thing, that it has its own sections in bookshops and libraries, that it has SF conventions which give SF awards, that there are sites devoted to the discussion of it, does inevitably make it a ‘ghetto’ of a kind. If it were totally integrated into the mainstream, there wouldn’t be Science Fiction as we know it; there would just be books with speculative themes, some of which had science-based speculative themes. It might still be recognised by critics, in the same way that, say, coming-of-age fiction is, but it wouldn’t be a Thing as it is now.
Being a ‘ghetto’ in this sense is compatible with welcoming new voices. There can be new ways of doing what’s distinctive of science fiction; that’s not the same as just dissolving the boundary. The question then is presumably what is distinctive of science fiction. Malzberg, I take it, thinks that it’s defined in terms of approach, so that if too many ‘literary’ values are brought in, the boundary has been dissolved. I don’t think that’s true; the genre is primarily defined by theme. But that does seem oversimple; there is a conversation going on in science fiction, a set of expectations that it involves, and if there is a work with a speculative theme that stands completely apart from that conversation, it’s not clear that it should count as SF.
I think some people want SF to get more mainstream recognition, while still being recognised as a distinctive thing of its own, belonging to a distinctive community; I’m not sure that’s possible. And there are other people who don’t want to break down the barriers; they want to win. They think science fiction should be the mainstream, and literary fiction as we know it should be abandoned. After all, it’s all about adulterous professors, isn’t it? I’ve seen it seriously said that no one enjoys literary fiction, or even that it isn’t meant to be enjoyed, but is written to make people suffer. And if that’s so, why would SF want to be like that?
I agree with Steve Wright; science fiction can have literary merit. Since science fiction is defined by theme, and literary fiction by tone and approach, there’s no reason why they can’t overlap. But if you don’t think literary fiction has merit…
If so, that’s swinish sexism; NYC fandom of that time had some notable puritans, but also a number of males with “history” in that sense. (Zombies of the Gene Pool is nasty, but it’s not far off base when it talks some groups of early fans.) Not that I think that’s impossible — Malzberg has long struck me as the sort of person for whom “curmudgeon” is too mild a term — but it’s another reason to discount the column.
@Letson: “Malzberg is in a position to have known the scene and the people at first hand”. No. Malzberg was born in 1939; he might have known people after they scattered, but not when there was anything like a “scene”.
I just re-read Judith Merril’s anthologies and her general introductions to them as well as her intros to individual stories. She was joyously happy with the multitude of ways science fiction could express itself, within genre markets and outside of them. She was extraordinarily well-read and her only exasperation was the number of people trying to lecture her on what was and wasn’t science fiction. So it’s ironic that so much later Grimdark Space Eeyore comes along to try to have the last word in a way that doesn’t in any regard encapsulate who Merril was or what she was trying to do. Far from trying to destroy anything she was simply trying to repatriate like with like, ignoring the vagaries of where something happened to be published.
Stephenson’s biology: I don’t think he makes such definite biological claims as some people ascribe to him. In the key passage, gur trargvpvfg fnlf fur jvyy ernpu gbjneqf n pregnva bhgpbzr; V’z abg fher vg rire orpbzrf pyrne gb jung rkgrag gung nvz unf orra npuvrirq. Gurer ner enprf jvgu qvfgvapgvir culfvpny punenpgrevfgvpf; gurfr ner nffbpvngrq jvgu crefbanyvgl qvssreraprf, juvpu cebonoyl gb fbzr rkgrag unir n ovbybtvpny fbhepr, ohg ner pyrneyl ervasbeprq phyghenyyl; naq gurer vf nyfb n graqrapl gb birefgngr gurz va n fgrerbglcvat jnl.
Binti: This one puzzles me intensely; I’m not sure what story I’m reading. I wonder how seriously we should take the author’s claim that the plot was thought up by an eleven-year-old. There’s a very interesting review of it in Strange Horizons which sees a lot of very dark stuff in it; but I wonder if the reviewer may be seeing things that aren’t there. Without that, it’s a pleasanter story, but also, I think, an annoyingly simplistic one. For instance, gur erivrjre fhttrfgf gung gur jnl gur znffnper vf qvfzvffrq vf rivqrapr gung gur havirefvgl, n tnynpgvp vafgvghgvba jvgu srj uhznaf va vg, vf hapnevat nobhg uhzna yvsr. Ohg vg znl or gung gur nhgube vf qvfzvffvat gur znffnper nf havzcbegnag, orpnhfr gur nyvraf unir n yrtvgvzngr tevrinapr – gubhtu vg jnfa’g gur npghny ivpgvzf bs gur znffnper jub eboorq gurz.
@Robert Whitaker Sirignano, who says:
I am sadly ignorant about some of this stuff so I’m not sure, but based on googling and a couple articles–do you mean her romantic life? If so, it strikes me as pretty oblique, and is that relevant to her work as a writer, reviewer, and anthologist?
I had wondered if maybe it was a dig at her for using a pen name that is not identifiable as Jewish.
But Malzberg calls reprinting a Borges story and praising it “pandering”, as if Borges was not worthy of either reprinting or praise. Seems like the only attitude Malzberg would have found acceptable toward mainstream lit is a universal flipped bird – regardless of the quality of the mainstream literature in question. In which case, Ursula K. Le Guin would likely want a word with him…
Or most likely she (wisely) wouldn’t.
You can compose a bit by bit kind of the NYC “scene” by reading THE FUTURIANS, Merill’s autobiography, The introductions to William Tenn’s stories, Isaac Asimov’s autobiography and scattered introductions to many stories from that era. And the many footnotes in THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF THEODORE STURGEON (which misses one story). Malzberg was too late born to be in the stock.
borges published fiction gladly in genre mags so that malzberg comment makes zero sense.
That entire Malzberg piece makes no sense as an evaluation. As a sour, slanted, ahistorical retcon, it does make sense of a kind. Winners write the histories, but so do those whose primary advantage is having survived long enough. I wonder how long he’s been saving that up?
Damon Knight is named by Malzberg in a previous column, as being bitter and feeling trapped in SF. Malzberg also equates ‘Orbit’ with Merril’s Best anthologies, in that both series were attempting to transcend the SF genre (as Malzberg sees it).
“But then, “The Agony Column” has a very creepy feel given our current environment of angry men shooting up public spaces.”
I don’t think that the public is in physical danger from querulous, elderly Jewish intellectuals.
While I think Malzberg’s column is full of it, I appreciate strong opinions. Gets me thinking. Long may Barry shake an ineffectual fist at the murky clouds of contemporary benightedness.
@Arifel on Uprooted:
V srry yvxr gur frk fprar jbhyq unir orra terngyl vzcebirq ol Ntavrfmxn pbhagrevat gur Qentba’f bowrpgvba gung fur’f gbb lbhat ol fnlvat “lrf, V’z lbhat, naq V’z nsenvq orpnhfr jr zvtug qvr gbzbeebj. V’z nggenpgrq gb lbh, V srry yvxr lbh’er nggenpgrq gb zr, naq V qba’g jnag gb fcraq gbavtug nybar.” Nyfb gung tvirf uvz n punapr gb shyyl jnxr hc BZST. V srry yvxr fur chfurq gur vffhr orpnhfr fur qvqa’g jnag uvz gb guvax ybtvpnyyl nobhg jung jnf unccravat naq vafgrnq tb jvgu uvf rzbgvbaf naq uvf tebva. Htu.
V haqrefgnaq jul gur Qentba jnf fhpu n cevpxyl nffubyr. Xrrc va zvaq ur qvqa’g rkcrpg gb svaq n tvey jvgu zntvpny novyvgvrf, ohg jura ur qvq ur gubhtug vg jnf uvf boyvtngvba gb gnxr ure naq grnpu ure. Naq gura ure zntvp qvqa’g jbex gur jnl ur gubhtug vg jnf fhccbfrq gb. Naq ur jnf abg hfrq gb npghnyyl vagrenpgvat jvgu bguref. Ohg V nterr gung vg fubhyq unir orra nqqerffrq zber gubebhtuyl guna “ur’f whfg n ybaryl jbbovr ng urneg”.
@Jeff VanderMeer: Squeeeee! Hello there I read the Ambergris books last year and thought they were incredible. Shriek in particular I devoured in a couple of days. Thank you!
(Be cool, Dawn.)
I have little patience with people who want to put exact boxes around genres and declare this is what x is and nothing more which specifically keeps women, PoC, and new ideas out. In SFF wanting to keep new ideas out seems a spectacular failure of imagination and understanding of how SFF got its start and the whole point of SFF.
My reading background 12-30 also comes from the biggest ghetto genre out there – romance which frequently outsells all other books in total but isn’t considered real, serious, and certainly doesn’t count as reading. 😉
A genre =/= ghetto and SFF fans insistence on SFF only being good if it stays small and if they are outcast and persecuted is old and overused. Also offensive to those who have suffered more than mere bullying throughout their life – women PoC, LGBTI, disabled, etc.
Grumpy men still complaining about Futurians or the New Wave might want to consider moving into this century. I’m sure there is plenty in current SFF they could find wrong and at least they’d look relevant. I do have to thank OGH and BM for introducing me to yet another woman who wrote during the time there were no women writers as only men wrote back in the day. @_@
Sylvia Sotomayor asked:
I will be! And so will Kevin Standlee.
@Chip Hitchcock: I don’t mean to say that Malzberg is of the Futurians’ generation, only that as a working SF writer living in New York he did have access to and acquaintance with the previous generation of writers, editors, and fans. He should know better. I’m six years younger and geographically remote from that scene and I know better. Malzberg has become an unreliable narrator in the tale of his own times.
Science fiction is like the mold in your shower. You can’t destroy it no mater what you do.
I got tired of Barry Malzberg’s All Is Doom whinging years ago. Possibly decades.
Judith Merrill was one of the great editors of the field, and one reason why it’s so vibrant and thriving today.
Binti is a Heinlein juvenile for the 21st century. For those kids you want to share the pleasure you had in Heinlein fifty or sixty years ago, without the old man’s old hangups. Probably with a different set of hangups that will stand out to young readers fifty or sixty years from now, but there you go…
@Sirignano: I read The Futurians and Asimov’s autobiographies (for what those were worth) as they came out; you omit The Way the Future Was. (Pohl was at a Boston book festival the year his book came out, and was visibly displeased with Knight’s book — called it “gossipy”, among other terms.) That’s why I said what I said: singling out Merril for her “history” is the mark of a jerk (since I’m too tired to give Malzberg the evisceration he deserves).
I’d ask “what’s a “silly band”, but I suspect it is just a setup for a punchline related to Weird Al or something…
Binti is a Heinlein juvenile for the 21st century.
YES! That’s exactly what I said!
Having read many of Merril’s SF anthologies during my formative reading years, I’ll just say: what Jeff VanderMeer said.
(Also, Grimdark Space Eeyore is totally the name of my new death-metal band!)
And in what universe does the commercial success (or lack of it) of the England Swings! SF anthology have anything to do with its merit?