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Posts tagged ‘Zenna Henderson’

Bring me the head of John Carter!

By Dave Freer, from Oct 2011 – how many of you were here for the first round?

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. Read more

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.

Zenna Henderson:
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.

Poul Anderson –

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 🙂

The crown of pride


Excuse me! I am sorry about that, but recently I was informed I was part of a group of disgruntled writers, and about this as well as nearly everything else she pontificated on, the writer was woefully misinformed. I definitely need further disgruntlement. I don’t believe I was ever fully disgruntled, and it is thus a lingering problem. It’s an absolute farrago of lies to claim it’s merely because the child refugees I eat after the woman has roasted them on the Amazon rainforest charcoal grill, are under-done and give me gas. I beat her if she undercooks them. My diet is just my modest way of showing how they can be beneficial to the publick.*

Just in case you’re as talented at grasping sarcasm and humor as our critic, Cora Buhlert, who took great pleasure in pointing out we certainly weren’t geniuses** It’s a joke, Joyce. Poking fun at myself***, and thus those who indulge in projection by assuming that anyone who doesn’t fit in their own neat little stereotype is naturally a barbarian, a worshiper of Heinlein and therefore stupid, brutish etc. (And thus spoke Zarathustra. – which is to me is very funny, but possibly less so to anyone else.)

Her little rant (if you really want to read all of it, you can find the link here in here ) was largely about the lack of need to have any respect – to quote her: ‘So in short, I have never gotten this “Respect people because of what they did in the past” or “Respect them, because they are old” attitude. And that fact the petition was signed by many authors whose works I have read and enjoyed and admired over the years (and many I have never read or whose work put me off when I tried to read it)’

Now, I’m sure some of us recall the horrors of being 13 and feeling much the same way. Especially when our peers told us that we should feel like that, or we’d out of fashion, instead of absolutely unique and therefore cool, just like all of them. It’s fairly typical adolescent behavior. Mostly, we grow out of it, and it gets knocked out of you PDQ on a commercial fishing boat, and the army. There are of course those of us who cling to it. You know – the elderly Lothario who tries to comb his three strands into a disguise for a head of hair, and ineptly tries to talk and act like 17 year old. The grandma – whose body shows it, trying to flaunt it in a mini-skirt and a broad belt on her boobs, and with the new belly button stud showing when the pages between the covered bits flap up and down. Shrug. It takes all sorts… but they’re a little sad, and rather funny. At 13 it’s almost acceptable to show a lack of respect for the achievements of one’s elders, for two reasons: 1) You may still actually achieve something yourself. We’ll give you a chance to do so, and to find out how hard it is. 2) You’re ignorant, immature and are going learn some hard lessons over the next few years. Time and the real world will save us the effort of showing you now.

Does it affect your writing? Improve it? Make it worse? Get you more readers? Make you appeal to the ‘unserved’ young?

When you’re in your late thirties (as our critic is) and still there… there are several points based on those two to consider. 1) To the youth, no matter how you behave, dress, talk or even think, you’re a fossil and past it. I was about that age when I had the interesting and amusing experience of taking my kids and friends to a popular rock-climbing cliff, and while they were walking around to the bottom (I was about to drop them a rope on something easy –now they are far better than I was, but has time moved on), chatting to a young 19 year old belaying on a route that I’d been on the first ascent of before he was born. He was a polite youngster humoring a boring old fogey. I introduced myself by first name, and we talked about climbing. I asked if he’d ever done any sea-cliff routes. He went off on a rave about the cliffs at Morgan’s Bay and some of the routes he’d done. I said I was glad he’d enjoyed them, I’d opened (been the first to climb them, grade and describe them) them, and that I’d been back to do the route he found impossible the year before with my kids. His facial expressions, as he figured out the greying little old man was the guy who opened the route he’d fallen off, was an entire movie by itself. His stunned “You’re Dave Freer?” made me laugh so much I was I was in danger of falling off the cliff. The 50% rule seems to apply well if you’re under 30. Anything more than half your age again, is dead or might as well be. At least in a Zimmer frame. So Cora, to the youth, you’re already old, like me. And as I can see no signs of what you did past being particularly noteworthy, even if you do get that faithful spear-carrier or deserve-it-because-have-vagina place on the TOC, very soon, that’ll be old too. I hope you can keep it up. Do you feel the youth should respect you? Or your opinion ought to matter to those who have achieved? It reminds me of my spinster sister telling Barbs and I how to raise our kids, but YMMV. Every now and then she said something sensible, but as source of understanding, not much help. 2) Many authors make very successful starts late in life. But it’s one of those things – where people cut you a bit of slack about respect for elders and achievement when you’re 13, they don’t when you’re pushing towards 40. 3) Ten years is less time than you think it is, and today’s ‘yoot’ will be tomorrow’s old farts (and as far 20 something are concerned that’s 30+ and as far 30 somethings are concerned that’s 40+, and around 40 almost all the writers suddenly start saying age doesn’t matter and finding last year’s old fart is really quite sharp.)

Oddly, I am vaguely with our critic on her lack of respect for people just because they’re old, but in a sort of inverse way. I’ve met, and have huge respect for, young folk carrying huge responsibility and with the life experience of people twice or thrice their years. They certainly have my respect and admiration. I take what they have to say very seriously. It seems a two way street. The school of hard knocks teaches the value of respect for experience. They can often write great books, helped by the fact that they have the experience to write from (it’s not a necessity, but it helps). I know plenty of old folk – including my Scottish dance teacher, 99 and still dancing – who inspire respect too. Got a lot I can learn from them, and lot to write from. And then you have people who have twenty – or fifty, repeated years of the same-again experience, with faithful unthinking regurgitation of the fashion that dictated their lives then and still does… who are still 13 in behavior and attitude. Of course they’re out of touch with real 13 year olds, but perhaps their writing may appeal to other belated adolescents. There is a market there, I guess. Just spare me.

One thing about the crew on MGC is that even our youngest writer – in years, is worthy of respect in experience. Some of the rest of us have bounced our way around so many blocks as to have knocked off all the paint long ago, and are like rusty old hulks with more dents than bodywork, but are still battling forward. Oddly I never heard one of us saying ‘respect me, because I’m old or have achieved much.’ We seem to be too busy writing.

But if you can’t grasp the value of what people have done, especially in context with the era they did it in, hey, run along and do better, and then come back and talk. I’ll be impressed then. I don’t take religious leadership from Heinlein or any author, but those who did stuff (and still do) get more respect than those who have not, or whose achievement – viewed in context, doesn’t come close. Let’s face having read and understood (especially in the context of the time) makes it very hard not to respect many of the writers of yesteryear. Not only does doing so enrich your writing, but they had audiences of orders of magnitude bigger – with a smaller pool to draw from, than today’s darlings. They were a lot more edgy for their time and pushed real limits too, not like most of the current batch. If I was a young author just entering the field, I’d be saying to the new ‘young’ grandees of SFWA ‘Why should I respect you? You shrank our readership by 90%.’ And they’d be telling me to get off their lawn (and to speak when I could do better).

Looking back I find myself in deep respect for Zenna Henderson. For her time, a person who did and who achieved, largely unrecognized. . I am sorry, it is a hardback link and rather expensive if you don’t know her work. There are used paperbacks available, and I’d recommend her books. Let’s have a few more suggestions :-)?

On a separate line, this sad little piece in which we hear the story of poor Emily who gets a $200 000 advance for her series of essays about being a young woman in the ‘right’ (how inadequate language is sometimes, with one word for so many things) crowd and avenue of experience to appeal NY publishing. NY publishing appears to be rather narcissist, which was what the little bit of the book I read, and the linked piece, seemed to be too. There is of course a space for these things, and appealing to the young is a great idea. But sales of 8000 paperback books despite the enormous expenditure that would have gone into publicizing it, shows how big the audience is. And if little snowflake is complaining about JK Rowlings (who added a lot of readers) taking away her chances, just think how many chances that collection of essays took up for no readers added to the future market. A track record of 8000 paperbacks means another offer – at 0.65 cents a book, should have been about 4-5K… she got offered 30K. My sympathy for the tribulations of NY publishing are not high. Wire brush and Dettol called for, for the second patient. (and who will get that reference first?)

And, as a final Monday link, offered without comment (bar that it comes from the Guardian, which is a caveat) this.

*If this floated straight over your head and roused your righteous wrath I suggest you google “A Modest Proposal”, by Johnathan Swift and look at the full title. That’s the sort of assumption we have to live up to here on MGC. I do my humble best.

** While White-out or Tippex may be common on the screen of those who struggle to comprehend that in a computer age anyone who leaves crossed out words on screen intended for you to see them, understanding this does not take genius. If clever Cora can produce the official SFWA transcript of those expulsion proceedings (there are very strict protocols in handling these things that ought to be followed, which largely mirror those in the country – which means that the record is accessible so anyone can see that it didn’t happen as it would in North Korea) or in fact the official SFWA notification of who was expelled and why they were expelled, I would feel she hadn’t missed the point about Vox Day, and that Kate and Sarah had. It’s not about socialists or trade unionists or Jews or incurable patients. Even if you don’t like those people, consider them your enemy, say nothing and eventually they will come for you, and no-one will speak for you.

*** Google is your friend, but if you reject such things you can find out here, that actually if anyone was to undercook anything in our household, it would be me. And while it’s not an object of mine to either preach it or to prove a point, the average inner-city Prius-driving vegan is undoubtedly an order of magnitude worse for the environment than this barbarian.

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.