Ann and I are now in the process of reading for The Big Book of Science Fiction for Vintage, which will appear in 2016. This huge anthology of well over 500,000 words will collect the best and most unusual SF stories from approximately 1900 to 2000. This requires a lot of reading and research. Every so often I will report back about current reading, although not in any systematic way. In fact, almost deliberately not in a systematic way.
“Along with everything else he has to do to make his story believable and intelligible, the science fictioneer has to name his not-yet-invented things and methods, so the reader will recognize them. How shall he go about it? Well, he can use logic. It works sometimes…For example, you probably didn’t know that television and TV were first used in a magazine called The World Today back in 1907! Yet engineers and researchers persisted in calling it distant electric vision until halted by popular usage. Cellophane could also have been coined by the same classically educated writer; it comes from cella, small room, plus phanein, to appear, to seem. Instead, however, authors all settled on glassite as the term for transparent plastics, which did not survive. So much for logic; it’s not how things get named these days.” – from H. L. Gold’s introduction to The Weird Ones anthology, 1962
“…it is now clear that there is still plenty to argue about. The reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement, for instance, said we could certainly agree that science fiction stands or falls by ‘style.’ Oh no we wouldn’t…Hostile critics will generally except Jules Verne from their strictures; indeed, it is a favourite sneer of theirs to lament the failures of his successors. [But beyond disagreements about characterization and style in SF] A final homely analogy. A mint julep is not a more subtle and complex glass of bourbon, nor is a bourbon a classically simple and authoritative version of the vulgarly prettified mint julep. Such associations perhaps befit what we intend, for our critics, as a plea for tolerance, real tolerance, nothing less than thinking again.” – from the introduction to Spectrum 5 edited by Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest, 1966
“Some time ago most people gave up trying to say what SF was, for all attempts (such as [Kingsley] Amis’s New Maps of Hell) failed miserably to place it, show its common concerns, or explain what it was supposed to ‘do’.” – from Michael Moorcock’s preface to the Langdon Jones’-edited The New SF: An Original Anthology of Modern Speculative Fiction, 1969
“Significantly, what utterly refused to fit in these U.S.-derived categories turned out to be the ethical and philosophical, i.e., the utopian, aspects of Soviet SF.” – from the introduction to Other Worlds, Other Seas: An Anthology of Eastern European Science Fiction, 1970
“The fashionable answer to that question [of the successors of Verne and Wells] is, of course, that there hasn’t been a writer with one hundredth of one percent of Wells’ ability since nineteen twenty. But even the briefest study of the output of more modern SF novelists shows this attitude to be nonsensical, if not merely snobbish. No, the real problem is one of sources, and its solution lies in the fact that the type of fiction generally produced by SF writers doesn’t originate with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne at all. It was developed from the work of Beatrix Potter…Influenced heavily by The Wind in the Willows and tempered by the outlook of the Wizard of Oz, this new fiction…has to do with comfort: the repetition of form and content [with] careful rationalization of any change in the status quo.” – from M. John Harrison’s essay “The Literature of Comfort,” New Worlds Quarterly #1, 1971
“Science fiction has been standing neck-deep in bullshit for so long that some of its practitioners have come to accept that condition as more than just a fact of life—in some mysterious way the bullshit has been transmuted into a necessity, the argument being that we need all that bullshit around us in order to recognize quality when it floats to the top. That argument itself is part of the bullshit we have to cope with.” – from David Gerrold’s introduction to his anthology Alternities, dubbed “All New Electrifying Stories of Original Science Fiction!”, 1974
“…we all see the future through the spectacles provided by our own culture. Our reasoning is filtered through the things we hate about our culture, and the things we approve, and a host of other things we accept as given without question.” – from the introduction to Nebula Award Stories Nine: The World’s Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year, edited by Kate Wilhelm, 1975
“To be sure, the western has its occasional A.B. Guthrie, and science fiction its rare Ray Bradbury, and they are very good indeed; but we have yet to produce our Proust of the prairie, our Stendhal of the starways…It seems more likely, however, that both western and science fiction will be things of the past in another hundred years or so…As we escape further in time from our frontier heritage and our landscape is further eroded, polluted, and submerged in the spreading megalopolis, and the Indian is at last no longer isolated on his reservation, who will be left to sing of sagebrush and sixgun? [As for SF] It will no longer be fiction when we have colonized the star system and set foot on those now seemingly inaccessible planets orbiting the distant stars.” – Joseph Elder, 1976, introduction to the anthology The Farthest Reaches, 1976
“Regarded with a slightly pessimistic eye, this string of winners and runners-up over the twelve-year period since the Awards were begun could look to be a result of a series of favorable accidents—accidents so favorable, in fact, that it would seem to be flying in the face of statistics to expect they would continue.” – from the introduction to Nebula Winners Twelve: The World’s Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year, edited by Gordon R. Dickson, 1978
“Does it matter in which language the good SF story has been written? Does it really matter at all, as long as it is a good SF story? Why, of course it does! The language makes all the difference in the world. Have you read any good SF stories written in Hungarian, Serbo-Croatian, Hebrew, etc., lately? Probably not, unless it just so happens that one of these languages is your mother tongue. And it is not for lack of good SF stories in those languages. At least, I suspect it isn’t; I wouldn’t know; I’ve never read a good SF story in Hungarian, Hebrew, etc. Or any kind of story, for that matter. It’s simply that I can’t read the languages. I depend on translations. There are next to none of those.” – Krsto A. Mažurani from the foreword to The Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction edited by Brian Aldiss and Sam J. Lundwall, 1986.
“I would not wish to say that everything in the meat-and-potatoes cuisine of storytelling is ignoble; but at the very least SF should be permitted to be as innovative as contemporary fiction tries to be. Admittedly, much experimentation fails, but so does much conventional storytelling. ‘My books are water,’ Mark Twain once said, ‘and everyone drinks water,” Mark Twain said. Good enough; but who expects to find water in their wine bottles.” – from the introduction to Synergy: New Science Fiction, volume 3, edited by George Zebrowski, 1988
“Bloodchild was [Octavia] Butler’s second story sale to Isaac Asimov’s SF Magazine; her first…had already won her a Hugo Award the previous year, but Bloodchild was to prove even more popular, going on to win both the Hugo and Nebula Award. Bloodchild was another controversial story. In my headnote for it in The Year’s Best Science Fiction I wrote, ‘Here’s as powerful a story as you’re likely to see this (or any other) year,’ and although IAsfm lost a few subscribers over it, it was more than worth it.” – Gardner Dozois, story note for “Bloodchild” reprint in The Best of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, 1988
>>Coda: Most bizarre idea found in the week’s fiction reading…that Audubon speculated that the disappearance of birds might not be due to humans hunting them and destroying their habitat; instead, Scott Russell Sanders in “The Audubon Effect” (collected in The Sixth Omni Book of Science Fiction, 1989) speculates that birds may have achieved warp drive and “winked out” in mid-flight to find themselves on other planets.