It’s really long past due that I put some content from Vector 250 online, particularly since reports are that the next mailing (complete with Award ballots) is on its way. So, here’s some Saturday reading.
The very first fans – people like you and me, who loved reading and talking about science fiction – popped up in Britain almost as soon as the early SF magazines crossed the Atlantic in the late 1920s, and by 1937 there were enough of them to hold the world’s very first science fiction convention in Leeds, which attracted over twenty people! They voted to set up the Science Fiction Association (SFA), which was rather optimistically ‘devoted to the stimulation of interest in science fiction and scientific progress.’ Unfortunately the SFA lasted little more than two years and had to be disbanded at the outbreak of war.
Somewhat closer to the present, Andrew M. Butler — in “Boom Fizz”, one of a number of retrospective pieces by former editors — looks back on ten years of Vector:
I walked into a PhD on PKD, and started going to academic conferences. Perhaps the weirdest of these was one in Warwick on Virtual Futures, in about 1995, where I met Istvan Csiscery-Ronay for the first time. (He claims we met in 1992, when he gave a paper at Reading, but that can’t have been me. Perhaps the twin from the other universe was passing through, but he’d long since given up on science fiction.) Istvan, part of the team that edits Science Fiction Studies, was excited about a number of British writers, including Gwyneth Jones, whom he got to meet that weekend, and Jeff Noon. He already had the sense that Something Was Going On, or his palate was already jaded by American sf.
It was not long after that that I became co-editor of features with Gary S. Dalkin, and one of the things we were keen to do was to take British sf seriously – we knew we were the British Association of Science Fiction rather than the Association of British Science Fiction, so to speak, but we were still aware of the nationality. I guess part of this was practical, since British authors were more getatable; this was pre-Blog, barely post-email. This didn’t mean we’d give British writers an easy ride, but we would give them a ride.
Graham Sleight’s column this issue takes a look at where we are now:
First, in North America – its homeland as a self-conscious genre – science fiction is in relative but not absolute decline. Looking at Locus‘s figures for original books published in the US, about 250 original sf novels have been published per year since 1990. Fantasy, by contrast, was at about 250 a year in 1990, and is now closer to 400. This is reflected in, for instance, the Hugo results: before Robert Charles Wilson’s superb Spin won the Hugo this year, the last time a widely-acclaimed science fiction novel won that award was Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky in 2000. Other wins have either been fantasy novels (Harry Potter, Strange & Norrell) or best explained by the circumstances of a particular Worldcon.
In First Impressions, Paul Kincaid reviews Hav by Jan Morris:
It is a book suffused with a sense of loss, a prolonged and exquisite lament for the passing of a world. Although there are lots of names in the book, lots of people that ‘Jan’ encounters during her stay, there are few real characters, but the character of Hav itself is huge and overwhelming. I cannot think of a single fantasy writer who could not learn from this book how to give depth and solidity to a place by the patient accumulation of detail: the way the market operates, the unique Havian fruit of snow raspberries, the extraordinary roof race, the old woman living in seclusion who still recalls when Hav was a summer retreat for Tsarist aristocracy, the curious architecture of the Chinese tower in the old town. And on and on and on, by the end you understand why some readers of the original novel believed it described a real place.
And Tony Keen looks at Emperor by Stephen Baxter:
It’s not always a good idea for historians to read novels set in periods they’re familiar with. However thorough the author’s research, the historian’s view of what actually happened is unlikely to entirely coincide. Best to go with the author’s flow, regardless of disagreements on issues of interpretation.
So, when I read Stephen Baxter’s previous Romano-British excursion, Coalescent, I put aside finding implausible a Cotswolds villa-owning family not speaking Latin as their first language, or having connections with troops on Hadrian’s Wall. I let Baxter take me through his version of Roman Britain’s end.
But sometimes the author pushes the historian too far, and that, sadly, is the case with Emperor.