Twila Price writes in:
I suppose I’m proof of your generation gap…. I have been reading sf since 1958. I expect people to have read Heinlein, Andre Norton, Asimov, Clarke, etc. Even though some of the older books can read oddly to the readers of today, it is still useful to know what has come before. And heck, some of it can stand head and shoulders above the “extruded fantasy product” you see too much of in the bookstore. But…. She says, thoughtfully, what you and the other puppies seem to see as a weakening of the sf/fantasy field, I tend to view as new and exciting things to read. I have read every Heinlein book, multiple times. I reread Merritt and Norton on a regular basis. I don’t need a retread of what I can get from the pure source. And I don’t want urban fantasy of the Buffy/romance novel to take over my shelves, although the original urban fantasies of Charles DeLint, Emma Bull, Tanya Huff and others made the early 80s sing. I have read Tolkien. I don’t need knock-offs like Sword of Shannara cluttering up my shelves. Or G. R. R. Martin’s Wars of the Roses in fantasy land, either. He wrote some awesome sf and fantasy standalone novels that I adore, but I want something that’ll knock my jaded little socks off. Something that has great world building, interesting characters (preferably traditionally heroic and upstanding human beings or elves or aliens), and can evoke that old sensawunder.
The thing that knocks my socks off is just how good stuff from the pulp era really is. Maybe you’ve read it all. If so, more power to you.
The culture is pretty clearly clearly on the decline, though. As much as I love seventies music, I have to admit that Duke Ellington and Count Basie hailed from a better generation. In science fiction and fantasy, the move away from romance was positively disastrous as I think Ray Bradbury pointed out. (By that I mean scientific romance or planetary romance.) The field was not built up by the communists, free love people, and atheists that eventually came to own it. But it was clearly being subverted by them in the fifties and sixties. The final kick in the teeth in my mind was the seventies fad of godawful de rigueur sex scenes– compounded by the burgeoning diktat that women could no longer be portrayed as needing men. Not much of a fantasy world in that if you ask me. Certainly not anything I’d want to escape to.
Thank you, but there are still a great many books by Lord Dunsany, A. Merritt, and C. L. Moore that I haven’t gotten to, yet. All very different writers to be sure– but each able to invoke the transcendent in their own way. Most people writing today don’t even know what we’ve lost. Like I’ve said elsewhere, the general view of science fiction history is that it just somehow jumps from Jules Verne and H. G. Wells straight on to Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein.
But in my opinion, anyone laboring under that misconception is ill-equipped to compete with anyone that wrote in the pulp era. (I wonder sometimes if that is the reason why so many medicocre writers spend so much effort denouncing authors from back then….)
But hey, listen:
Fredric Brown couldn’t imagine popular music declining through the eighties– just like C. L. Moore couldn’t imagine a movie star without a surprising combination of grit, charm, and class.
But most of us can’t imagine what these authors could take for granted.