Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Science Fiction’s Invasion

The mail bag is overflowing, so I’m going to do two responses in one here.

First up is member of the far (former anarchist) left Justinian Herzog, who graciously allows that I write well and that I’m a good critic. (In all honesty I do thank him for saying that.) However, he thinks I’m wasting my time in calling out the sort of people today that are unable to read anything from before 1980. He calls my cultural critic type posts “meta-criticism” and says I’m wasting my time delving into it.

Of course, he is talking to a game blogger here– the sort that spends countless hours arguing over the relative merits of Holmes, Moldvay, and Mentzer and whether or not Unearthed Arcana ruined AD&D. Telling guys like me that we’re wasting our time is kind of funny, really.

So why do I bother? Well look, I’m just trying to follow in the footsteps of my childhood hero John Robbins by making people excited to read classic science fiction and fantasy. These people that work overtime shouting about how “problematic” that stuff is are a natural enemy of sorts. And yes, even people that dislike those people get irritated that I spend time explaining something that should be self-evident. I mean, these people are clearly nuts, right…?

Meanwhile, a commenter (name of Robert) has been describing how The Science Fiction Book: An Illustrated History (1974), The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1977), and The Encylcopedia of Science Fiction (1978) treat the Appendix N authors. They were quite rightly revered and were synonymous with the field.

Today’s science fiction encyclopedias? They make my blood boil. Consider this:

Even though, by any absolute literary standard, Merritt’s prose was verbose and sentimental, and his repeated romantic image of the beautiful evil priestess was trivial – deriving as it did from a common Victorian image of womanhood (women being either virgins or devils) and from H Rider Haggard’s She – the escapist yearning for otherness and mystery that he expressed has seldom been conveyed in sf with such an emotional charge, nor with such underlying pessimism, for his tales seldom permit a successful transit from this world.

How patronizing.

You know, some people want to understand the origin of a thing in order better appreciate it. Others…? It’s as if invoking the historical context and a bit of Freudianism gives them the means to disqualify their betters. It sounds smart, sure. But it’s shallow. And seriously, it’s not as if this generation is actually in need of a catalog of even more reasons to dismiss people that were writing nearly a century ago. I think we have this smug thing well in hand.

I’ll tell you what this is like, though. You remember that time that Ann Coulter said “we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity”? (I don’t even remember the context anymore, just the outrage.) I think that something like that has happened to us. Oh, it’s a different religion to be, sure– and they didn’t use guns and bombs. They have a penchant for waiting until our leaders are dead before they really go after them, sure.

But it was an invasion all the same.

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13 responses to “Science Fiction’s Invasion

  1. twilaprice May 19, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    I agree that Merritt is being under-rated in that dictionary entry, though I’ll admit his prose can be called verbose compared to current fashions. It is still effective and conveys the breath and blood of his worlds with verve and immediacy. Not every writer needs to be a Hemingway. I’m not sure I would call his writing sentimentalist, in any sense. I can grok the Madonna/whore dichotomy being visible in his work (Evalee vs Lur) though I think that is too simplistic a view of his characterizations. Both of those women have strengths and flaws and lives beyond what Leif brings to the table.

    • Cirsova May 19, 2016 at 1:51 pm

      I’ll admit, I found Merritt’s prose style a bit of a challenge, but I think part of it was his intense desire to explain and describe as accurate as possibly things which are indescribable and so largely inconceivable to his audience. It’s kind of funny to see huge Robbie the Robot style figures in the art for The Metal Monster when instead you have these megalithic shapes moving and held together by invisible forces and behaving like colony organisms; Merritt went to great lengths to convey how unnaturally strange they were by – unlike Lovecraft who would call something unknowably strange, alien and eldritch – recounting them in exacting detail.

  2. Warren Abox May 19, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    I stopped after reading, “absolute literary standard”. Got up from my desk. Walked over to the window, where I stood for a time with my hands clasped behind my back and just watched the passing cars. A bird on the wing. Did some deep breathing. Just allowed myself a moment of quiet repose.

    Then I sat down to read the rest of it, and it didn’t get any better.

  3. Sky May 19, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    One thing you may not have thought of is that your coverage of these issues has enabled me as a writer to be more aware of what I am doing. Other than a general sense of “well, things change…” I had not really thought very hard about my craft in the context of what is happening now in SFF. When I decided to get serious about writing a few years ago I took a long look at the scene and I was frankly bewildered. The zeitgeist has its own gravity and there was a fair chance that I would have allowed my own voice to get pushed along until it was stuck in a place that didn’t reflect me or my values. By examining these things and the current trajectories of SFF you have helped me to avoid a number of pitfalls. When I write now I don’t suffer the slightest temptation to tweak or shape things into a product that would please anyone but myself, and I am coming from a background of lots of Howard and Vance. Whether I succeed or fail isn’t as important to me as creating something I find satisfying. Reading your coverage has been liberating. I am aware that I might be shooting myself in the foot; I know I will never get anything in any of the establishment magazines. But I am ok with that. Some stories in magazines that I like and a few self published works, I will take that over joining the lit crit set any day of the week. And if you in that set and those works do it for you, then I am happy for you and I wish you all the success in the world. It would be nice if you could do that without tearing down my temples but I am not holding my breath. Anyway, the point is that if old Jeffro is ever wondering if it is worth it, rolling up the sleeves and looking at things and getting tons of flack for it, just remember there is me and many others out there happy for that lighthouse you built.

  4. Robert May 21, 2016 at 3:50 am

    I’m glad you are finding these useful.

    January 1972, The English Journal (Vol. 61, pp. 43-51. Don Adrian Davidson, “Sword and Sorcery Fiction: An Annotated Book List”
    Poul Anderson, E. R. Burroughs, Lin Carter, de Camp, Lord Dunsany, E. R. Eddison, Jane Gaskell, Robert Heinlein, R. E. Howard, Katherine Kurtz, Fritz Leiber, Talbot Mundy, Mervyn Peake, Fletcher Pratt, J. R. R. Tolkien, Henry Treece, Manly Wade Wellman.

    Fantasy Literature: An Historical Survey and Critical Guide to the Best of Fantasy, Tymn, Zahorski and Boyer, 1979. (I recommend this one even though they don’t like Howard, you’ll see why)
    (Keep in mind that this is a general academic text)

    “Also appearing on the bookshelves are a number of reprint editions of the fantasy novels and short fiction of … H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925) … Especially popular are the Haggard works. Paperback reprint editions of a number of his high fantasy and borderline fantasy works are appearing with surprising regularity.”

    They weren’t just reading 40 year old books and stories in the 70s, they were regularly buying and reading popular stuff from 60, 70 even 80 years earlier.

    Only 9 of the Appendix N receive highlighting as part of the core collection section of the book. But 21 of 29 are discussed in some way.

    Again, I don’t think people realise how popular Andre Norton was, she gets nearly five full pages. Tolkien only gets one more page. Lord Dunsany properly gets seven pages. C. S. Lewis has a bit more than eight. Fritz Leiber nearly six. They are the only authors to get five or more pages. That’s right, Leiber has just as much as Tolkien, and Christianity is unavoidable – C. S. Lewis gets the most. Lewis’ Outer Space trilogy and Narnia are so important the authors discuss every single book.

    Some highlights about Merritt.
    ” … although some of Merritt’s prose is a trifle purple, most of it is exquisitely beautiful, as evidenced by the memorable descriptions of Emakh-tila or Sorcerers’ Isle, the sensuous ‘bubble women’ of chapter 13, and the ‘golden isle of chapter 10 [In the Ship of Ishtar]”
    ” … one of America’s finest contemporary fantasists”
    “… ‘The Women of the Wood.’ It is one of the author’s most popular stories … A hauntingly beautiful story about the primeval conflict between humankind and nature, it displays a tightly woven narrative thread, evocative descriptions replete with an abundance of strong visual imagery, subtle characterization, believable dialogue, appropriate setting and atmosphere, and strong thematic import. These traits, by the way, are exhibited in most of Merritt’s stories.”

    I’ve focused a lot on Merritt, because I have seen a lot of dismissive commentary about him online in general and in response to your articles. I think this comes from only reading a wiki article about him rather than reading his stories or even reading what people used to say about him and his writing.

    This post was written to the accompaniment of Leige Lord’s Freedom’s Rise and Master Control

    • twilaprice May 23, 2016 at 12:29 pm

      Andre Norton fans represent! I still have most of her books in my keeper piles AND I’d back her against any current YA author going. She was and remains one of my favorite authors.

  5. Robert May 23, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    I am sorry for my pedantic attitude, Tolkien “only has one more page” (He had six in total, like Leiber.)

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