Vector 249 — Articles Online

To start the week, here are some articles from the most recent Vector. “Storying Lives” was the loose theme; Gary K. Wolfe’s essay, “Framing the Unframeable“, takes a broad look of that theme in the context of sf:

When one looks at the published memoirs and autobiographical sketches written by science fiction and fantasy authors, mostly for the benefit of their fans – the sort of thing collected in Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison’s Hell’s Cartographers (1975) or Martin Greenberg’s Fantastic Lives: Autobiographical Essays by Notable Science Fiction Writers (1981) – one is initially struck by the relative thinness and lack of genuine introspection of many of the essays. Typically, such pieces read as a variety of Augustinian conversion tales, depicting a precocious childhood, often solitary and bookish, sometimes sickly, sometimes featuring battles with parents to get into the adult sections of the library, and characteristically leading toward a moment of revelation: “And then came Hugo Gernsback” (Alfred Bester) [1] “Then I saw and bought an issue of something called Amazing Stories” (Damon Knight) [2] “So science fiction entered into and began warping my life from an early age” (Brian Aldiss) [3] etc. In one of the still-comparatively rare autobiographies of SF writers, Wonder’s Child: My Life in Science Fiction, Jack Williamson ends a chapter with the following cliffhanger:

Something else happened, however, in the spring of 1926, the first year I was out of high school. Something that changed my life. Hugo Gernsback launched a new pulp magazine, filled with reprinted stories by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and A. Merritt and Edgar Rice Burroughs, stories he called “scientifiction.”

The magazine was Amazing Stories. [4]

Following these road-to-Damascus moments, however, these memoirs and autobiographies seldom become genuine testaments, instead amounting to not much more than narrative resumés, filled with anecdotes of encounters with fellow writers and editors and often with almost obsessively detailed accounts of sales figures and payments; one comes away with the sense that (a) science fiction writers all clearly remember the first SF story they read, and (b) they keep really good tax records.

While Graham Sleight considers storying some genres:

I have to say, in general, that debates about the definition of sf (or fantasy, or horror) don’t exercise me very much – though of course that may reflect a lack of rigour on my part. I am quite taken by Samuel Delany’s view that we should not try to define genres – because, for instance, definition inevitably means concentrating on boundary cases at the expense of the core of the genre, because it sets up a target which critics and writers can game, and so on. But there are plenty of people who do try to define sf in radically differing ways, and I thought it might be useful to try and sort some of those ways out.

And in “Founded on the Shambles“, Paul Kincaid discusses Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”:

‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’ breaks every rule. There are no named characters, indeed no real characters at all. There is no story, at least in the sense that we follow characters through a series of incidents and events towards a climax. There are only two lines of dialogue, unconnected to each other, in the entire piece. There isn’t even much in the way of authorial certainty: ‘I do not know the rules and laws of their society’ (274) she confesses at one point, and at another, having listed some of their technologies, she retreats: ‘Or they could have none of that: it doesn’t matter. As you like it’ (275). And the very subject of the story, that which gives it its title, appears only in the very last paragraph.

We don’t read ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’ because of these storytelling quirks, but because these storytelling quirks throw the theme of the story so much into focus.

Meanwhile, in reviews, Lesley A. Hall tackles Julie Phillips’ Tiptree biography:

Biography is a form in which perfection always lies beyond the possibility of achievement. However, Julie Phillips’ biography of Alice Bradley Sheldon, the complex and troubled woman best known to science fiction readers as James Tiptree Jr (with a subsidiary fictive literary identity as Racoona Sheldon, reclusive former schoolteacher), is about as good as it gets.

Gary Dalkin considers Rainbows End:

Central to all this is enigmatic cyber entity ‘Rabbit’, who may be one of the established characters in the novel, an AI, or, well… and herein lies the major flaw of Rainbows End. Much is made of not knowing who might be behind what persona on-line, so that as with the on-line world today Vinge’s protagonists may ultimately never know what is really going on. Which might be realistic, but leaves a plot riddled with absurdly improbable coincidences for want of the twist, the revelation, the narrative U-turn, which would tie the disparate yet interconnected narrative threads together in a convincing way. The result is a sprawling, highly imaginative novel in which all the many elements fail to resolve into a satisfying whole.

And L.J. Hurst discusses Desperate Moon:

Heidel’s two admitted influences are Ellison and Ray Bradbury, and they stand out, because if you like Bradbury you’ll like the mixture to be found here. On the other hand you will not find much advance on what Ray Bradbury was doing in mixing fantasies and horror stories in his collections in the 1950s. You will also find some stories remind you of other works within sf (‘The Thing-In-The-Back-Yard’ is reminiscent of Philip K. Dick’s short story ‘The Father-Thing’, for example) and outside of it (‘Dead Drunk’, in which a character meets Death, echoes Woody Allen’s sketch ‘Getting Even’).

While I’m at it, I should note that the Matrix website has also been updated. New content there includes Lon S. Cohen on fan-made films, Richard Matthews on an adaptation of The Atrocity Exhibition, and Martin McGrath on season two of Battlestar Galactica:

BSG does two very rare things. First, it recognises that while politics is messy, annoying and full of political differences that may be forever intractable, the democratic political process remains crucial to any kind of good society. And, second, it asks the viewer to do a very difficult thing – to like and respect those with whom you fundamentally disagree. BSG contains characters and plot elements that can resonate with or infuriate those on both the left and the right, yet it almost never collapses into a cosy centralism that imagines that everything would be better if people could forget their principles and “just get along”.

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