Yesterdays book, Yesterday’s heroes…
Ah, yes. In the old days we had quality Nostalgia. They just don’t make it like they did when I was young. Mind you you tell the youth of today that and they won’t believe yer.
Our minds are quite good at selective retention. For conclusive proof of this look at any woman pregnant with her second child — or man entering on his second marriage. So too with ‘Golden age sf’ (for me that started about ? nine, with Jack Vance’s BLUE WORLD, (which I see has been nominated for a Prometheus Award a lot of times) shortly followed by a serialization of THE COMPLEAT ENCHANTER (Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt which I found part of in a tatty sf Magazine (now available as the The Complete Compleat Enchanter
, and was fascinated by – ergo, PYRAMID SCHEME
) It was full of great and wonderful books… The truth, of course was that it also had a fair amount of total drekk, but selective memory kindly got rid of most of that.
Inevitably, when the subject of the Golden age of sf comes up, we have a chorus of ‘Heinlein’ – and varying reactions to that, white hot praise, or rabid condemnation, usually depending on the whether 1)the person actually has read most of RAH’s books 2)Whether they’re a stupid camp-follower who hasn’t (or maybe one of the later ones) 3) Whether they actually understand the concept of ‘at the time of writing’ or just assume all people were born in the same year they were, went to their school, were part of their social set, faithfully absorbed the same indoctrination and thus expect all books to reflect their attitudes perfectly. We could have a jolly fun time dissecting this and the attitudes in it all.
Or we could try something completely different.
We could say ‘and who else’? Now, inevitably when you try this with one of those who has just told you what sexists/racists/misogynists the entire world of sf writers was until (depending on their age) their personal Golden age, will do a wonderful imitation of a goldfish, opening and closing their mouth until they manage to dredge up “Asimov!”. Don’t try pointing that they have several thousand other authors to go (from across the spectrum of sex, color and orientation, and political viewpoint) unless you are wearing suitable protective clothing. You really don’t want to try and clean that sort of gunk off your clothes and face, and besides it could be infectious.
Of course there were several thousand great authors, as well as some who should be forgotten as hastily as possible (this probably also depends on your viewpoint). I thought I’d dredge up a few of mine, perhaps from a different perspective and background, and you could offer a few of yours.
Clifford Simak: I often thought Simak’s ideas desperately needed better execution – because several of them had such vast book potential in them. None the less I really enjoyed his rural characters, and the fact that there was a philosophical and theological streak to the books which was neither preachy nor nasty, generally. Economics also play a role in his books, which set them apart rather. I can’t remember any major wars or conflicts, but quirky sense of humor. Simak managed to get two things very right: the sheer incomprehensibility of alien life and indeed the universe – “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine” (to quote the man), yet his books almost always fitted the human wave paradigm long before it was invented or needed (and it is now). Secondly his books were always about individuals, and the ability of these to transcend vast forces. The prose is simple, easy to read. The ideas are not. That is something so frequently missing in modern sf. And I role model on the rural characters and settings. Love them. And love the fact that these folk are not presented as all stupid rednecks.
The GOBLIN RESERVATION remains one of my favorites
And THE WEREWOLF PRINCIPLE one of the better ideas in Golden age sf, that deserved a far far bigger book.
I was amused to seem some critics saying Henderson out-Simaked Simak. It’s small rural settings again – an alien Humanoid people, refugees trying to fit into ordinary America (how very different!) She usually used female POV, and was one of the first female sf writers to use her own name — and was very popular, far more so for her writing than say Joanna Russ.
James White: The Sector General books – White wrote hospital stories (mostly) and I think Algis Budrys was right – he had a problem that I have myself, getting so involved with characters, that coming to grips with the truly horrible scenes was not executed as well as it could be. However, he wrote very ingenious stories in the hospital setting, with some delightful aliens. White was a pacifist, and this is reflected in his stories. They still make entertaining reading -another thing that modern writers could learn from.
If you haven’t read Poul Anderson and are trying to write sf/fantasy… you’re doing it wrong. It’d be like trying to write literary feminist… books, yes that was the word I was looking for, without reading Margaret Atwood. His heroes are heroes to breath life in a story. Yet they can be complex – even his villains are. Read it and learn, or read it and weep, as I do for the lack comparable skill. Anderson – possibly more than Heinlein for me, was the golden age craftsman. He got history right, he made me laugh and he made me weep, and he made me determined to stand tall.
Mack Reynolds: In a curious twist – in McCarthy era, as a life-long socialist, with books that often had post-capitalist utopias as their central theme, and a little later writing ‘Black Man’s Burden’ (with a black lead protagonist and hero) had reasonable success in Golden age. When that was over he struggled to get published -which kind of makes a mockery of the current revisionist history of the Golden Age of SF. I enjoyed a few of his books – where he kept to story and didn’t bury it in politics – Space Pioneer (if you ever come across it) was a real delight, with the conflict really well written – and the idea of not selling off tomorrow’s resources to foreigners for a pittance today being one I could really buy into.
Okay, your turn 🙂