Bring me the head of John Carter!
By Dave Freer
Ah. Good Morning. Please close and lock the doors. I’m watching you, Kate. Do not try and slide out while pretending to close the doors. You’re too astute for your own good.
I have decided to spring a surprise exam on you.
A while back Bill Swears made a comment on facebook about a friend (an agent IIRC) who hadn’t known who John Carter was. And then a few weeks back I was picking through the ignorance exemplified by the like of Atwood and Winterson about sf . It brought to mind my sending a proposal to a big name agent (one of the ones that I blame for the current state of the industry), and him writing back to say that I should mention the book is similar to various movies and TV serials, instead of comparing it to other genre books.
The implication was that they (and perhaps he) would recognize movies, but hadn’t actually read the books. Which, given the serious shortage of talking squids in space in sf, is a conclusion you could reach about literary ‘giants’ and critics too. There is, of course, generic sf, which often owes more to TV or Starwars than to the three laws of robotics, just as there are a lot of generic Tolkien clones. But to assume that is all of it, is to ignore more than a century of development of the genre. One of the arguments raised for ignoring this history is that writers who don’t have this background will come up with something different. It is possible. It is possible that those who ignore other forms of history will avoid those mistakes too. But I have certainly seen more (too many) TV/movie inspired ‘broken telephone’ garbled tropes in the last 20 years, than I have seen original ideas. It’s resulted in agents and acquiring editors thinking they’re ‘new’ — which has inevitably led to them not working well. I get the feeling that books which sold upward of half a million copies (a dream today) in our genre are largely forgotten, but not by the readers. If I was an editor, or an author, these are the books from the years of merit (which saw what people wanted to read) I would look at to work out what–at least then–what appealed to readers.
So I put a little quiz of pre-1980 sf together. It’s intended to be easy… if you are real sf reader. 5 marks a question. 3 for the answer, 1.5 for knowing either the book or the author, or a full 2 marks for both. And seeing as I am not really collecting marks, you don’t have to bother to Google them first. It’s just for interest and maybe nostalgia.
1) Who are Professor Von Hardwigg and Professor Lidenbrock
2)What are Eloi dinner for?
3) Where do Eddorians come from?
4) Who is Dejah Thoris?
5) Who or what is ‘Tweel’?
6) Which female sf writer, setting her stories in the American Southwest, and always using female lead protagonists, was very successful and nominated for a Hugo in 1959, long before Joanna Russ got around to complaining about discrimination against female sf writers?
7) What/who was Martak Sarno and the Dust?
8) What is an Offog?
9) Where is The Leewit?
10) Where is Liebowitz Abbey?
11) Name two sf books with Kraken (just to please Margaret Atwood) – but neither in space.
12)What is a ‘pfifltriggi’?
13)Light is the left ….?
14)In what book do the protagonists explore an alien place on a different world, where the sensory input from a matter-transmitted duplicate is experienced by the sensorially deprived original?
15) What is the Werewolf Principle? – for a bonus point, which state is it set in?
16) What kind of Rat was Jim DiGriz?
17) St Vidicon of What?
18)What was Dr Wendell Urth afraid of?
19) Mount LookItThat is where? And what is so special about it?
20) Watch out for stobor… and what are they?
OK the answers are below, if you need them. If you scored more than 75% you’re a a true sf fan.
If you scored more than 95% you’re a scary person :-). I like you.
If you scored 101% is your name Blue Tyson?
If you scored less than 65% you should not be agenting or editing sf. Go home to Modern Literary Fiction.
1)The same person, different translations of ‘The journey to the Center of the Earth’, by Jules Verne.
2)Morlocks, The Time Machine, HG Wells
3) Lundmark’s nebula – the second galaxy, Triplanetary. Doc E.E. Smith
4) John Carter’s love in A princess of Mars and later books, Edgar Rice Burroughs
5)A birdlike Martian native – A Martian Odyssey, Stanley G Weinbaum
6) Zenna Henderson – the Pilgrimage, the People, No Different Flesh
7) The Llralan Commander of the fleet which uses the ‘dust’ to put the people of earth into coma-like sleep. – Sleeping planet, William Burkett.
8)Official dog. Allamagoosa, Eric Frank Russell
9) On board the Venture 7333, James H Schmitz, Witches of Karres
10) Utah. A Canticle for Liebowitz, Walter M Miller.
11) The Kraken Wakes, John Wyndham; Blue Planet, Jack Vance.
12) One of three Martian species (Seroni, hrossa, and pfifltriggi – must be worst alien sp. name in sf – or at least in the running) tapir headed frog-bodied, in Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis.
13) The left hand of Darkness – Ursula LeGuin.
14) Not Avatar! Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys – 1960
15) An android, able to be a skin-changer, taking in alien personas – The Werewolf Principle, Clifford Simak. And Wisconsin, of course!
16) The Stainless Steel Rat, Harry Harrison
17) Cathode! Christopher Stasheff – Gets his first appearance in the Warlock in spite of Himself IIRC.
18) All forms of transportation. The Singing Bell, Isaac Asimov
19) On We Made It – it is a high plateaux of habitable land above the too hot to live lowlands – Larry Niven A Gift from Earth (and mentioned in various Niven tales of known space )
20) Every planet has stobor …all different. Robert A. Heinlein, Tunnel in the Sky.