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 in an ad hoc way about current reading related to the anthology. I don’t claim these are systematic reports.
“The dead astronaut: The phrase is filled with anxiety, the words themselves evoking the tension and anguish, the words themselves evoking the tension and anguish that gripped the whole world in that fateful month of April 1970, when a technical malfunction came close to costing the lives of astronauts Lovell, Swigert and Haise…All but one of the stories in this book were originally published before anyone set foot on the moon. And yet these stories foretold the perils of space travel, often with uncanny accuracy and curiously precise detail.
“A case in point is ‘Here Comes John Henry,’ [by Ray Russell] the protagonist of which is a black astronaut. The story was written in 1967, just a week or two before the announcement of the first real-life black astronaut, Major Robert Lawrence (since deceased). That appointment compelled the editors to delay publication of the story for over a year, to help dispel any erroneous assumptions that the fictional astronaut was based, even remotely, on Major Lawrence.” – from the introduction to the Playboy anthology The Dead Astronaut, published 1971
“Some of the ideological declarations that have been made concerning the New Wave have been as meaningless as they have been asinine. Proponents of so-called traditional science fiction have declared that the New Wave does not exist, while out of the other sides of their mouths attacking this supposedly nonexistent phenomenon as nihilistic, anti-rational, involuted, and a threat to the special virtues that supposedly distinguish science fiction from the ‘mainstream.’ For their part, some of the writers and critics who have become associated with the label New Wave…have expended a great deal of energy in attempting to substitute the label ‘speculative fiction’ for the label ‘science fiction’ when classifying their own product.” – from Norman Spinrad’s introduction to The New Tomorrows, described on the first page as “a predestined collision of fifteen first-rate stories of somewhat scientific speculative fiction”, published 1971
“[In The Mirror of Infinity anthology,] James Blish, that most erudite and academic of sf authors, can be discovered mourning the loss of the stringent plotting demands of the extinct pulps, and giving a little succinct advice about the art which gave rise to Lester Dent’s Master Plot Formula (an invaluable work, to be found on the shelves of all those much loved and sadly departed masters of interplanetary adventure). Who would remember Whip Queens of the Scarlet Asteroid, Mr. Blish implies, if that narrative of courage in extremity had not been founded on a ‘sympathetic character with whom the reader can identify’?…[followed by discussions of types of sympathy, bad and good in the writer’s estimation and reviews of novels by Blish and Jack Story, which leads to…] If the genre as a whole imagines that it has somehow become worthwhile [because of mainstream attention], that its relationship to real life has been consummated, because a few men have walked on the moon, then it had better stop and think. Because until…the Master Plot Formula and Mr. Blish’s ‘sympathetic viewpoint character’ are replaced by a little observation of reality and human understanding, it will never become relevant to anything.” – from M. John Harrison’s essay “The Problem of Sympathy” in New Worlds Quarterly #4, published 1972
“By now the ‘new wave’ as such has come and gone; those stories that could stand on their merits have…These writers realize a truth basic to all art [that] Innovations are positive to the extent that they open doors, and an avant garde which seems to destroy rather than build will only destroy itself all the faster…Personally, I thought most of the work produced during the height of the ‘new wave’ was just as bad as bad science fiction has always been; if there has been an effective difference to me, it was only that I sometimes had to read a story more carefully to discover I disliked it.” – from Terry Carr’s introduction to The Best Science Fiction of the Year #1, published 1972
“We are engaged in a planetwide crisis of the human species which is shared by all. We are well beyond the point of no return in technological developments which exert greater and greater influence upon individuals, often with shockingly destructive consequences which are amplified by war. – from Frank Herbert’s introduction to The Wounded Planet, an anthology of eco-fiction edited by Roger Elwood and Virginia Kidd (also published under the title Saving Worlds), published 1973
“The termination of the Apollo program and the generally gloomy prognosis of our entire space effort has to be one of the least agreeable developments of 1972 for science fiction fans and anyone interested in humanity’s future expansion. [But] I believe I see a way to revitalize and remotivate our space exploration…[followed by discussion of how rocket launches have gotten boring]…So imagine if you can how much more interesting those routine transmissions from space could be if, say, a couple of the astronauts began to kibbitz about getting vasectomies after they splash down. Or if, nearing the end of a long orbiting mission, one of them confided to Houston Control that he’d had a nocturnal emission.” – from Terry Carr’s introduction to The Best Science Fiction of the Year #2, published 1973
“Look as hard as you will [among these stories], but you will fail to find the slightest trace of national arrogance or inferiority, even a microscopic drop of sympathy for the tyrant and oppressor. Another quality the discerning reader is bound to note is the spirit of Soviet democracy, the respect felt for every ordinary mortal. On the other hand, not a word of praise will you hear for the so-called superman, not an iota will you see of any personality cult. One will necessarily remark, too, on the complete absence of any lust for money and property. No treasure hunts here, no legacies of inheritances to be fought over, no finale ensconcing the hero in the lap of luxury. And you will certainly realize how much we hate war and all those vicious, calculating firebrands, who crave to warm their hands over conflagrations set ablaze on the territories of others, and line their pockets by forcing others to spill their blood to net them juicy profits.” – from G. Gurevich’s foreword to Journey Across Three Worlds, an anthology of Soviet science fiction, Mir Publishers, Moscow, published 1973
“One would have to be a masochist to have read all the verbiage published last year labeled science fiction. Libeled would be a more apt description. Fragments and fever dreams. Heady stuff—but in the hallucinogenic sense. One would have to be a masochist—or an anthologist…An angry anthologist. An annoyed one. An irked. As I suspect you would be, if you were in my skull. Because to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and Niven’s Law of Temponautics and Sturgeon’s Law of Schlock Therapy (‘Ninety percent of everything is crud’) we must now add Ackerman’s Observation that: an inordinate amount of science fiction nowadays is NOT science fiction.” – from Forrest J. Ackerman’s introduction to Best Science Fiction for 1973, published 1973
“I didn’t altogether lose touch with science fiction; I did book reviews for Fantasy & Science Fiction under Bob Mills’s editorship and later Avram Davidson’s. Unfortunately, my standards had become so high that I seemed to infuriate the fans who wanted special treatment for science fiction. My attitude was that science fiction was merely one of many forms of fiction and should be judged by the standards that apply to all.” – from an essay/reminiscence by Alfred Bester in the anthology Nova 4, published 1974
“The year 1973 saw the acceleration of one of the most important changes in science fiction’s history: for the first time since science fiction became discrete genre, as many sf short stories and novelettes were published outside the specialty magazines as in the magazines themselves. The sudden burgeoning of original-stories anthologies has made the difference [including Orbit, New Dimensions, Nova, Infinity, Universe]…Moreover, because book publishers have less of an investment (financial and emotional) in science fiction’s traditions, the trend away from the action-oriented pulp-adventure formulas of the past gained considerable momentum[–]a virtual repeat of what happened…twenty years ago. Undoubtedly much of this change was due simply to the sort of snobbery that assumed a novel wasn’t worthy of publication in book form unless it dealt with more subtle matters than how to brain a Venusian with a broadsword. But there was also the fact that new editors were choosing these books…who [had] little knowledge of science fiction’s past and hence fewer preconceptions.” – from Terry Carr’s introduction to The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3, published 1974
“It seems that many writers are again looking at science fiction as a way of ‘teaching’ people—only now, instead of lecturing us about physics of biology, they want us to sit still for little lessons on sociology and ecology. One sf writer confided not long ago that a story she had written about the despoliation of Earth’s natural resources had been rejected by every editor in the field—until ecology became a subject of popular concern and the story was snapped up for publication…To be sure, we’ve always had a strain of faddish didacticism in science fiction…After Hiroshima, science fiction was inundated with tales of horrific mutations…During the Joseph McCarthy era we had Bradbury’s ‘The Pedestrian’ and other stories warning of police-statism. When racism emerged as a prime issue in this country, Bradbury and others were there with stories like ‘Way in the Middle of the Air.’” – from Terry Carr’s introduction to The Best Science Fiction of the Year #4, published 1975