3.04.2004

SF Coulda Been a Contender or Why We Need a History

This is an excerpt from Barry N. Malzberg's The Engines of the Night from an essay entitled, "I Could Have Been a Contender, Part One":

"Revisionist canon now holds that science fiction would have had a different--and superior--history if Hugo Gernsback, by creating Amazing Stories in 1926, had not ghettoized the genre, reduced it on the spot to a small asylum plastered with murals of ravening aliens carrying off screaming women in wonderous machines from a burning city and thus made it impossible for serious critics, to say nothing of serious writers, to have anything to do with it...."

Malzberg goes on to state Melville and Hawthorne wrote speculation without harm to their reputations.

"The argument has a certain winsome charm--I believed it myself when I was but a wee lad, and some of our best or better minds hold to it right now--but is flawed.... [H]e did us a great service and... were it not for Gernsback, science fiction as we understand it would not exist. We would have--as we do--the works of fabulation in the general literature--Coover, Barthelme, Barth, and DeLillo--but of the category which gave More Than Human, The Demolished Man, Foundation and Empire, Dying Inside, The Dispossessed and Rogue Moon we would have nothing, and hence these works would not exist. It is possible that some of these writers, who were inspired to write science fiction by a childhood of reading, would never have published at all.

" 'Science fiction builds on science fiction,' Asimov said once, and that truth is at the center of the form....

"Only the rigor and discipline of the delimited can create art...."

Malzberg cites the sonnet and Bach.

"Without the specialized format of the magazines, where science fiction writers and readers could dwell, exchange, observe one another's practices and build upon one another's insight, the genre could not have developed."

Malzberg describes how first generation readers of Amazing became Campbell's stable, and their readers, in turn, became...

"Science fiction, as John W. Campbell once pointed out expansively, may indeed outdo all of the so-called mainstream because it gather in all of time and space.... Extrapolative elements, cultural interface, characteriological attempt to resolve the conflicts between the two: this is science fiction.

"The fact pervades all the decades after about 1935: no one could publish science fiction unless exposed to a great deal of it."


I would only argue (with Campbell? or Campbell and Malzberg?) that no one outdoes anyone. It's just a different game, different rules.

Gabe would be happy if I finished the quote, so I won't finish it. Oh, okay. Malzberg predicted that SF may become so sophisticated that it becomes inaccessible. I don't buy it, however. I think it has essentially the same accessibility with more sophistication in some ways and forgotten sophistication in others.

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