Archive for the ‘new science fiction’ Category

If you noticed, I have a thing for Chandler.   If you didn’t – I have a thing for Chandler.

I particularly have a thing for his Rim Worlds milieu, but I can say honestly that I have read almost everything he has ever written for publication, a few things not originally intended for publication, and probably even a few things never intended to see the light of day, and I’ve never been truly disappointed.  I haven’t always been wowed. A few (very few) of his stories have left me saying ‘um – ok’, but I’ve never had to give a negative review.

David Mattingly's rendering of John Grimes, from The Anarch Lords

David Mattingly's rendering of John Grimes from The Anarch Lords

I’ve also seen the man writing – in the buff – and if you aren’t put off by an author who’s literally been stripped of all pretense and illusion, if in fact you can say you still enjoy his or her work, well then, you can only come to one of two conclusion: either they write some pretty damned good stuff, or you’re an unabashed, gushing fanboy.  And please note that those two conclusions are NOT mutually exclusive.

Now truth to tell, seeing ‘Jack’ Chandler writing in the all-together was a second-hand photographic experience (his friends called him Jack and I would have been a friend if I’d ever had the chance to meet him), but I don’t really think that deflates my argument all that much.  It is, however, certrainly much less awkward than experiencing it personally.

When someone has been stricken by unabashed gushing fanboyitis, no explanation is required if they are merely expressing their opinion (however over the top it might be) or somehow manage to keep it to themselves. (I’d keep back a few paces though. You never know when the geyser is gonna blow.)

Justification is only really required  when the goal is to convince others to share the disease.  So, on one level, I really don’t have to say anything else other than I really like his stuff and wish more people did too.  On another level –

I ought to tell you a little bit about his stories. And say something about why maybe you’ll want to hunt up a few of them to read yourself. But first, a bit about the man himself.

He was a sea captain, working his way up the ranks of promotion in the merchant fleet, first of England and later of Australia.  He served as an officer both during war and peace time. His travels during WWII took him to New York where he met with John Campbell, who encouraged him to write. Jack took up the challenge and sold his first submitted story.

The really interesting thing about the man’s personal history that informs his written work is – right now, in the real world, you can’t get much closer to being a starship captain than being a sea captain. Chandler recognized this and used it, bringing a level of work-a-day detail to his stories that has probably been equalled, but not by many.  The degree of realism comes through on every single page; the man didn’t have to ‘make stuff up’, all he had to do was look across the bridge and substitute the inky depths of space for the blue expanse of ocean out the port windows. 

This unique perspective for SF stories translates well to the page and immediately creates a background environment that is familiar and comfortable.

Enough about ‘Jack’.  There’s plenty more biographical and autobiographical material on the official website for anyone who’s interested.


One of the major charges leveled against ‘old’ science fiction is that it lacks characterization.

 Chandler’s work’s certainly qualify as old. His first story appeared in Astounding in 1944, his last novel was published in 1984.  One of the reasons for writing this piece is that his ‘last’ John Grimes/Rim Worlds story has finally seen print in Jack Dann’s Dreaming Again anthology (available this month).  The story – Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo – is the only known Grimes story that hasn’t been previously published.

But so far as characterization goes – It simply isn’t possible for a character about whom 18 novels and 31 stories have been written to lack characterization. Simply. Not. Possible.*

Character Characterization is not the only character building that’s going on in the stories.  In addition to the Grimes tales, there are at least eight more novels and at least a dozen more stories that share a common background – an internally consistent ‘future history’ that is at least as complex and as richly detailed as any other, including Niven’s Known Space and Heinlein’s Future History.

What other science fiction author can you name that has 25+ novels and 40+ other length stories devoted to the same consistent universe and ‘future history’?  Right now, off the top of my head, my answer is ‘none’.

 Another shaggy old argument against ‘old’ SF is that the stories are just ‘idea’ stories, with little to recommend them beyond nifty tech or nifty concepts that were out-dated four decades ago:  computers operated by punch card.  Invasive medical technologies.  Telephones with dials on them. Shopping in person.

Let’s talk about tech for a minute.  The man invented three separate and distinct faster than light drives – one of which still remains plausible today.

His first – the Ehrenhaft Drive – took mankind on its initial expansion to the stars.  The ED essentially turns itself and the vessel to which it is attached into a charged magnetic particle, which then travels along the ‘force lines’ between stars.

Out-dated, yes.  Unworkable, yes.  But extremely important for two reasons: first – Chandler abandoned it. Second – this drive often failed, stranding its crew and passengers, who then – if they were lucky – managed to crawl to a nearby habitable world and set up a ‘lost colony’.

Lost colonies – human societies cut off from the mainstream – are meat and potatoes in science fiction lore.  Chandler’s Ehrenhaft Drive gave him a tool he could use over and over again.

His third FTL drive – the Erikson Drive – only works on the outer edges of our galaxy where the fabric of space and time run thin.  The Erikson Drive is hokey, involving an extra kick with a reaction drive when a ship is already at .9999 c.  But it performs the trick of going FTL not by adding this extra push (a physical impossibility)  but by pushing the drive and its ship into an alternate dimension.

This drive has the added virtue of ‘reversing its sign’ and allowing trade and relations with the beings that inhabit anti-matter worlds.

(The Erikson drive is only featured in one novel and a few shorts and various clues throughout those stories suggest that they are not truly canonical works.)

Chandler’s bread and butter was the Manschenn Drive, a time and space distorting gyroscopic affair made with moebius strip rotors.  Chandler is sufficiently and properly vague about its inner workings that no holes can be poked in it (there’s nothing really to poke at); his descriptions of how it works properly intriguing and equally vague: the drive ‘moves ahead in space while moving backwards in time’.

Before the cosmologists jump on me with causality issues and the physicists attack – note that some recent hypothesis and even some experiments have seemed to indicate that some form of time-manipulation may be possible.  ‘May’ is key, because that’s ALL you need to keep your science fiction science plausible.  And Chandler gave due credence to the causality issues as plot devices and so was obviously aware that he was playing with fire. He didn’t shy away from it, he embraced it. 

And unlike many SF authors who get entangled in the strangeness that appears to be the foundations of our universe, he didn’t even try to explain it or wrap it up in some pseudo grand theory of everything.  Weird and bizarre things happen when you play with the Universe’s dice.  Instead he concerned himself with the effect these things had on people and how they dealt with them.

The Manschenn Drive is not the only tech that Chandler introduced which has withstood the test of time.  He was sufficiently familiar with the advance of technologies to realize that what was familiar to him (television with three channels, telephones with dials, no personal computers, etc) would not be what was used in the future.  He was sufficiently sly to dress his future with devices that are cleverly vague and yet workable.  His ‘playmaster’ device, a feature found on every spaceship and virtually every home, is telephone, radio, television, information retrieval and fact checker – home theater, video recorder, audio recorder.  In short, anything you can do with media electronically is embodied in a single machine that you can interact with in a multiplicity of different ways – voice command, keyboard, radio, etc.

There are even ‘planetary networks’ – that serve as air traffic control, security system, long-range communications devices and that interact with individual shipboard playmasters.  And all of this is activated and controlled in very ergonomic user-interfacey ways.  No one apparently has to ‘learn’ how to use these systems, it’s intuitive.  And we’re STILL trying to achieve that level of inter-connectivity and ease of use.

Finally, the boo-hissers say, that old stuff wasn’t literary enough.  It was poorly written and doesn’t take 15 pages to describe the nap of the carpet and another 15 to mention the smell of the new roof shingles. 

Ok,  You got me.  Chandler wasn’t a ‘literary’ writer.  He could write, competently, interestingly, engagingly, but not literarilly.

Although he did write sufficiently well to get  Australia to underwrite a ‘what-if?’ alternate history novel (in print as Kelly Country), one of the last novels he ever wrote.  I think that in this particular case I’ll let the literary review board of an entire nation speak for Chandler’s competence in stringing words together.

Credentials? He’s got plenty.  He’s won several Ditmars – the Australian Hugo award, some Seiun’s from Japan and was nominated for a retro-Hugo. His stories were steadily in print from the 50’s (with ACE) through the late 80’s (with DAW).  He’s in the top 50 of all time SF authors who appeared regularly in Astounding SF, based on reader response. Two of his stories are amongst the most anthologized in the industry – The Cage and Giant Killer.

Those two stories alone have given birth to entire plot schools, being the seminal, original works to introduce the plot: The Cage gave birth to the ‘aliens think we’re animals’ concept, while Giant Killer set the bar for ‘mutated rats as competition for humans’ concept (not to mention one of the best ever ‘think like an alien’ presentations to appear anywhere, anytime in print).

Very well developed characters. A huge and consistent future history.  Future tech that is still future tech. Writing that is at least acceptable to one country’s literary council.

Other than an inability to find his works, I can think of no other argument levelled against classic SF for which Chandler is NOT the exception that proves the rule.  So I’ll answer that one by saying – every single day virtually every single one of his novels and collections are available on Ebay, ABE and Amazon – usually for a couple of bucks each.

Not only are Chandler’s works fully up to snuff in the light of today’s offerings, he’s a cheap read too!

Do yourself a serious favor and check him out.  If you want to start at the beginning, visit the official Chandler site.  For some additional detail, visit my concordance site. If you want to start reading about John Grimes’ adventures from the beginning, pick up a copy of The Road to the Rim. (I just got an ACE double version off Ebay for a buck.)  

*John Grimes is probably one of the most fully realized characters ever created by an SF or fantasy author.  He’s a righteous old bastard who keeps his own counsel, intelligent and crafty enough to get himself out of the messes he  himself into, has no respect for authority just for authority’s sake, has a winning way with women and some well-developed ‘kinks’. He also smokes a pipe, prefers his gin pink and his women red-headed, doesn’t think all that much of convention (unless he’s the one trying to enforce the rules), can be a bit stuck up when it serves his purpose and can’t resist a lady in distress.  John always ‘does the right thing’ even if it might take him a bit to get around to it, and it is very doubtful that you’ll like the way he does it.

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Larry Niven. creator of KNOWN SPACE. Longtime co-conspirator with Jerry Pournelle. Award winning SF author and inventor of the RingWorld.  60’s and 70’s Science Fiction wouldn’t have been the same without him.

He recently returned to Known Space in collaboration with Edward M. Lerner, producing Fleet of Worlds and beginning an entirely new saga taking place in a relatively unvisited era – about 200 years before the first trip to the Ringworld.  The first one I thoroughly enjoyed and reviewed for SFReader.com The next novel is due out soon and I eagerly look forward to it.

While there are many sites devoted to Niven and his work including the author’s unofficial site, a particular favorite of mine is “The Incompleat Known Space Concordance” hosted by Lensman.  I’m fond of this site not only because its published a fun piece of mine speculating on an aspect of Known Space history, but also because Lensman is engaged, just as I am, in one of the most thankless possible tasks ever created by man: the compilation of a concordance of a favorite author’s works. (In my case it’s A. Bertram Chandler.)

Lensman has some very good pieces on that site (not just counting mine) that amply demonstrate how much fun can be had playing in an author’s sandbox.  But there’s one other reason to go there. Lensman sends out the monthly announcement, via email, of the Larry Niven IRC chat.

There’s one taking place this coming Saturday if you’re interested and would like to join us, go here.

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Only 100 days left to watch the original version of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL before you will forevermore be tainted with the CGI brush applied to the new version.

I have no idea if the new version is going to be a good one or not.  And I don’t really care, because my focus is on making sure that, at least in this one small case, the ‘next’ generation knows and is familiar with the ORIGINAL before watching the RE-MAKE.

Maybe they will like the new version better.  Maybe they’ll discover 50s SF cinema.  But at least I won’t have to listen to them talking about what a great NEW movie just came out.  At least they won’t be ignorant of the film’s origins, and we’ll have a basis – a solid, honest basis – for discussing and comparing the two versions, rather than comments delivered in a whiney, nasal tone like ‘but it’s in black and white – wah’, ‘they don’t have any CGI – wah’, ‘the music isn’t rap – wah’.

But probably not. They’ll whine anyway and then go to great lengths to demonstrate to me how Reeves is such a better actor than Rennie, and how it was so  much cooler to see a ship come up out of the water than it was to land from space, and how they just can’t relate to a world living under the threat of nuclear annihilation.  (Which statement will go a LONG way towards illustrating just how unconnected they really are.)  And – wah – it was in black and white.

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I like to make my opinions known (duh – blog).  I also like a good argument. Judging from commentary received here and in emails (not many, just a few, from folks who I wish would comment here instead), the position offered by Ian Sales (don’t use classic sf to introduce people to the genre) and my position against that position IS a good argument.

However. I’d like it to be an argument where the word is used to denote position, rather than heightened emotionality.  One where our different positions illuminate the middle ground (the place where the real truth often lies).

I used some language and presented my statements in a way that was over the top and provacative (I think mostly justifiably so – I was trying to strike the same tone that Ian used in his own piece) – not to make an emotionally charged attack on Ian, but by way of illustrating one aspect of his argument.

Such methods of argumentation can be easily misconstrued and quickly spiral out of control.  So, before returning to the discussion, I’d like anyone reading or participating to know this:

I don’t know Ian (well, now I do, sorta, kinda).  I am not familiar with his work (as I pointed out in the first piece) and my default position on authors with whom I’m not familiar is to assume that their work wouldn’t be out there unless some people called editors who know what they’re doing thought it was pretty darned good stuff.

I am not judging Ian the man based on this exchange (I hope he isn’t judging Steve the man on this exchange either) – only this particular position vis-a-vis old/classic/ancient/whatever SF. 

Nor am I suggesting by writing these few paragraphs that Ian is descending into emotional argument while I am maintaining the high road.  Not at all.  I’m just trying to make sure that the rhetoric we both have been using isn’t misconstrued as some kind of flame war.

And to apologize to Ian if he felt that I stepped on his toes or handled my response in a way that he felt was a personal attack.  Ian, if you did feel such, it wasn’t intended that way.  If you didn’t feel that way, then please ignore all this blather and just skip down a bit.


 “In 1968, the Science Fiction Writers of America voted Nightfall the best science fiction short story ever written prior to the establishment of the Nebula Awards in 1965 and included it in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964.” (Wikipedia, but accurate in this particular case.)

Okay, so they didn’t hand Isaac a plaque or something.  I’d still refer to the above as an award.

Ian said (in the comments) “For the record, I’ve been reading sf for around 30 years, and that includes pretty much all the classics. I’ve no idea why you decided I hadn’t read them”.  Well, because of this: “Readers new to the genre are not served well by recommendations to read Isaac Asimov, EE ‘Doc’ Smith, Robert Heinlein, or the like. Such fiction is no longer relevant,”  You were clearly encompassing the entire classic era and it is absolutely beyond me how anyone who has read ‘all’ of the classics can’t find a single work that they’d use as introductory material.  Yes, it was hyperbole.

Paul Raven: “Especially considering that, towards the end, you say that recommending books to new readers of sf is “a highly individualistic enterprise” (so, best not to blanket-recommend Asimov/Heinlein/Clarke, then, surely) and that “those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it in writing” (which might be why Sales suggests that sf writers should certainly be well-read in the classics of the genre, perhaps).”

Paul, I did cover that at the end: “Ian does try to redeem himself a bit at the end by saying “I don’t think we should refuse to read old classic works, but we must recognise that they’re historical documents. And add that caveat to any such recommendations or commentary. Further, modern sf readers shouldn’t need to be aware of everything which has gone before, but modern sf writers certainly ought to.”

This is all I have to say about that: “Here’s this really old, out of date, badly written, idea-based historical document, Billy.  Not only must you read it, but you MUST hate it. Later, we’ll have milk and cookies while I read you a modern SF tale with wonderfully written sentences in it.”

I recognized Ian’s caveat, didn’t ignore it.  I then went on to point out that presenting the classics in such a manner is just like one of those push polls: would you prefer to read this old piece of trash or this shiny new relevant and exciting piece?

Look.  It’s ALL science fiction.  It is a continuum and the present can not be divorced from its past.  If Ian believes that we can place all of literary SF into two distinct historical periods and only make recommendations to new readers from one of those periods – he at least has to recognize that the bar moves inexorably forward each and every day.  I guess the real question to be asking Ian at this point is – where’s the cut off?  Is it strictly based on the calendar (remove everything with a copyright date of 1983 or older from the shelves immediately!), is it based on the author (ooops!  This guy was born in the 1920s – strike him from the lists!) or is it based on the individual work.

Ian’s argument would seem to be based on either the calendar or the author, while I base it on the individual work (and think everyone else ought to also).

Oh, and Paul – this blog is devoted to Crotchety Oldness, so I need not explain why you must get off my lawn; use the path and knock on the front door.  Defense of the old guard and a belief that the OLD stuff is just as valid as the new stuff are givens over here.

Yes Ian, I did read your whole piece.  And I’m pretty sure I understood the thrust of your argument.  If we reduce it to its core, you are (my words) dismissing everything written prior to say, 1990, as an inappropriate vehicle for introducing new readers to the genre.

Obviously I disagree.  My point is: if you remain open to the entire genre as source material, you probably stand a better chance of finding the perfect work for introductory purposes.  One perfect example is Bradbury. In my experience, a lot of “I don’t read that SF stuff” people were captured by Bradbury and surprised to discover that he is considered an SF/Fantasy genre author.

Another way of looking at is the treatment that old works not of the SF genre receive: are the circumstances in Hamlet still ‘relevant’?  Yet it is still widely taught, revered and read – despite the fact that when it comes to writing, it’s hard to find anything more archaic (Chaucer of course, but who the hell reads him now?).  That Bill guy sure takes a lot of words to say some simple stuff.  Seriously off-putting to the new reader.

But we’re only talking genre-specific here, so mentioning the above is probably outside the argument.

Ian, your commentary went back over the same points – relevance (not every work was about the cold war, the cold war IS relevant as the headlines will attest) and perhaps I have more faith in the average readers ability to handle this historical perspective inherent in such works.

Offensive to modern readers – so we should pull Mark Twain from the shelves – or just not recommend Huckleberry Finn to readers we want to introduce to Twain?  Oooops, I’m slipping out of genre again. I’m sorry, I just don’t buy this argument at all.  SF readers are supposed to be a cut above – drawn to the genre because it plays with ideas and presents perspectives that are (often) way outside of the mainstream. If they can’t handle the concept that society was different when the author was writing, I find it difficult to see how they would be able to handle the general idea of what SF is all about.

And that last bit about Scalzi liking Asimov.  I wasn’t suggesting that Scalzi’s appreciation for Asimov denied your entire argument. I was using that quote to illustrate that DESPITE his acknowledged criticism of Asmiov’s writing style, he still liked the man’s stories and ideas.  This demonstrates that there is at least one contemporary (and highly acclaimed) SF author who has managed to find something redeemable in one ancient author’s works. Would he recommend Asimov to a new reader?  I don’t know – maybe, depending on the reader.

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Ian Sales, in Don’t Look Back in Awe wrote “Here we go again. I’ve complained before about the undeserving admiration given to many science fiction novels and short stories of earlier decades.”

Hat Being Worn: Snide & Dismissive.

Could that have anything to do with jealousy over (take your pick) – awards they’ve won, market presence they command or always being told that ‘so-and-so’ has ALREADY written that story?

Hat Being Worn: Fair and Balanced

Truth be told – I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Ian and his subject focuses not directly on the entire OLD works of the genre but on the recommendation of those works as a tool to get people to read SF.

Hat Being Worn: Investigative Journalist

Ian justifies his statement with: “Such fiction is no longer relevant, is often written with sensibilities offensive to modern readers, usually has painfully bad prose, and is mostly hard to find because it’s out of print.”

Point by point: No Longer Relevant.  OK.  Relevant to what? The history of the genre?  Seems pretty relevant to me on that score.  To a writer looking for new ideas?  Pretty relevant there too unless you really do want to cover old stories with new tricks that will be outed in the most painful and embarassing manners possible. To the reader of the contemporary author who said ‘I read and was inspired by (hoary old non-relevant SF author born before TV was invented)’?  Seems pretty relevant to them.

Written with sensibilities offensive to modern readers?  Maybe. If modern readers are A: hung up on political correctness and B. Totally incapable of understanding that history is context and things do change with time.  Of course, if both of those things are true for our hypothetical reader for whom old SF is not relevant, they aren’t readers of science fiction.

Usually has painfully bad prose: Oh, so you’ve read each and every last old non-relevant short story, novella, novelette, novel and series and haven’t found a single sentence of well-written prose?  Doubt.  Serious doubt – about which I’ll get to more in a minute.

Mostly hard to find and out of print:  Actually, completely untrue.  ABE, Amazon, EBay and individual collector/providers – not to mention SFRA, NESFA Press and a host of other resources are available and you can find just about anything you might be looking for.

Four declarative statements, all of which are either broad, essentially meaningless opinion (presented as fact) or untrue.

One really wonders about the motivation of an author who is actively promoting the idea that we should all run screaming away from our roots. Shame? Why? Sales didn’t write that awful stuff and won’t be held accountable.  Oh, except for those people who will hear that he writes SF and immediately associate his works with a centuries worth of awful writing.  Except that those people will not be familiar with those old works.  So who the hell is Sales talking to?

Sales offers up Nightfall as his strawman and then proceeds to burn Asimov in effigy.  All the while, Sales misses the point, surprising, because he himself says that such stories are ‘historical documents’. (Fear the historical documents my son.)

Of Nightfall (the award-winning short story by Asimov that was later turned into a novel by Silverberg) Sales says: “By all criteria, ‘Nightfall’ fails as a good short story. And yet it’s still regarded as a classic. Some people will even suggest it’s a good example of science fiction. Rubbish. It’s built around a single, not very interesting idea – a world has never seen darkness… and then it gets dark. Wow. There’s a comment on the boom-bust nature of civilisations in there, but it’s pretty much thrown away.”

Ahem. (Tap tap tap on the shoulder) Ian, it’s an HISTORICAL DOCUMENT. When Isaac wrote that story in 1941, all previous stories that had featured planets with multiple suns treated them just like Earth, except that there were two (or more) suns in the sky and multiple (many-tinted) shadows on the ground. No one before Ike had taken the idea to its furthest extreme, a world where the sun never set – except once in a great long time. 

And Ian also missed the meta-story inherent in Isaac’s tale: there are things out there of which we are completely unaware, that can and will bite us hard if we don’t put aside superstition in favor of fact.  Seems to me that’s a pretty relevant story concept that is STILL very much alive in ‘modern’ SF.

But see, this is what happens when you’re not familiar with the HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS.  You miss nuance. Fact that you are blissfully unaware of come back and bite you.  Hard.

Ian goes on to further attack the ‘primacy of idea’ in old SF: “In part, this harkens back to my earlier post about the primacy of idea in science fiction. ‘Nightfall’ contains a very obvious idea and it appears to me that many think the sheer in-your-face nature of it overrides all the story’s faults.”

Except, of course, since Nightfall is only an historical document, you missed what the REAL idea of the story was.  You failed to place it in proper historical context. No one, least of all me, is going to try and claim that Asimov wrote sterling prose that tripped lightly off the tongue. Just for contradiction’s sake, here’s Scalzi’s recent take: “Generally I like Asimov’s work quite a bit and fully acknowledge its (and his) importance to the genre, but speaking from a writerly point of view I don’t find his fiction writing skills hugely impressive. He is probably one of the best examples of a “classic” sort of SF storytelling that is heavy on very cool ideas but weak on things like character development — his writing is a vehicle to tell the story rather than adding to the story itself. There’s nothing wrong with it (I lean more toward that direction of things myself, after all), but on balance I wish there was more there there when it came to the writing itself.”

Let me remind you that Sales’ initial proposition was that it is WRONG!recommend old science fiction to new people.  Here we have Scalzi, a contemporary and award winning NEW SF author saying that he likes Asimov, recognizes his importance, knows that Ike was an ‘idea man’ and wishes his writing was a bit more there.  But he likes him.

Ian – there just may be a few potential SF readers out there who just like Scalzi.  Maybe a few thousand.  Readers who are perfectly capable of liking an idea based story just as much (or maybe more) than they like a prose based story.  Maybe they like both. Maybe their tastes are so eclectic that it won’t matter what you stick in front of them.  Or maybe they prefer idea based stories and just absolutely hate all that high-falutin lit’rury crap that so many NEW SF writers seem to want to turn out.  Maybe.

Just who are you recommending books to, Ian? 

Ian does try to redeem himself a bit at the end by saying “I don’t think we should refuse to read old classic works, but we must recognise that they’re historical documents. And add that caveat to any such recommendations or commentary. Further, modern sf readers shouldn’t need to be aware of everything which has gone before, but modern sf writers certainly ought to.”

This is all I have to say about that: “Here’s this really old, out of date, badly written, idea-based historical document, Billy.  Not only must you read it, but you MUST hate it. Later, we’ll have milk and cookies while I read you a modern SF tale with wonderfully written sentences in it.”

Good idea for writers to read that stuff though, Ian.  That’s a really good idea.  They might want to take a little historical context with them when they do.

But there’s more.  Several people riffed on Ian’s piece, like this one: “When I first joined GSFWC I went on a bit of a crusade so I could get up to speed with the “background knowledge” that everyone else seemed to have. I made a list of the classic writers and hit Obelist Books and Future shop for examples. I read one Clarke (Childhood’s End – enjoyed the idea-quota, but couldn’t believe how quickly the story was skimmed), two Le Guin (Dispossessed and LHoD – loved them), a Delaney (Nova – again, loved it), and got on okay with Poul Anderson, Cordwainer Smith and James Blish too. On the other hand I found Asimov and Heinlein unreadable. But that’s just me.”

“I read one Clarke…”

Ok, now this guy seems a bit more reasoned (“…it would seem a bit pointless to still hold those texts up as the best we have to offer, but on the other hand we’re looking at them out of context. At the time, they made a big splash for good reasons. They were all about challenging the ways people thought about the world, the universe, about science and the future. They were about challenging people – writers and readers alike – to expand their imaginations. They weren’t about good literary standards. No-one pretended they were, or indeed really cared much.”) – but we were originally talking here about ‘recommending these works’ as a way of introducing readers to SF and I’m sorry, but reading ONE story by Clarke does not by any means equip you to make recommendations to anyone else. (Nor does Ian’s background reading equipm him either, apparently, since he dismisses everything pre 90s out of hand.)

Childhood’s End is kind of dark, open-ended and requires a fair amount of background sophistication to really ‘get’ if you want our proto-SF Lit-Virgin to understand why it was a recommended piece and what was to be gained from it.

If I really wanted to get someone ‘into’ Clarke, I’d probably start them off with Tales From the White Hart.  They’re innocent stories, short, often amusing and successfully convey the idea that an SF tale is about having FUN exploring possibilities. 

The truth is that readers of SF DESERVE to be exposed to the classics – the right classics, in the right way, at the right time and in the proper context.  Their appreciation of the genre will be enhanced, their perspective on the genre wil be enhanced and (perhaps dangerous to some modern writers) they will be better able to judge newness, originality, relationships and whether or not that thar ritin has got improvification.  Plus they’ll be better (SF) people.

I just don’t get this NEED to attack the classics.  Doing so doesn’t make you any better as a person. It certainly doesn’t improve your own writing or sales. You don’t want to read the classics?  Don’t. Someone else does?  Let them.

If the issue really is ‘how to introduce new readers to the genre’, well, that’s an highly individualistic enterprise, isn’t it?  I mean, at least if you want to be real (and effective) about it. Every single successful convert is going to require a tailored capture methodology.  This friend likes SF film – find a book tie in. That friend is into Hard Boiled Detective Pulps – find some writers who worked in both genres.

It’s HISTORY man. That which has gone before has MADE THE WORLD WE LIVE IN NOW. As too many would-be writers have discovered, those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it in writing. An that gets you a rejection slip for UNORIGINALITY. 

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Hell, it would be great if some large media conglomerate decided to sue me in Federal Court – that’s BIG pr, man.

Lacking that avenue of promotional greatness, I’m forced to simply tell you that Chapter 8 of Pulp Comic Story (which has now been retitled Pulp Comic Fairy Tale – something I said I might do a while ago) is now available here.


A few other things while I’m thinking about it:

Fred Kiesche had to take a sledgehammer to my head to make me realize that his blog – which used to be called The Eternal Golden Braid is now called –



I’ve been thinking about this for a bit: what would entice someone to read the classics if they weren’t already inclined to do so.

I’ve spent a fair number of words exlaining the ‘whys’ here already (do your homework you lazy, good-for-nothing) so let’s just assume (momentarily or otherwise) that they’re valid reasons.

Of course I don’t mean at the expense of contemporary SF.  I mean in addition to.  As a means of obtaining some grounding, some history, some appreciation, some respect for the people who all the awards are named after (yes dear, there are real people behind those award names and good reasons for naming those awards after them – The Hugo for Hugo Gernsback, father of popularizing the genre – the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, because JWC had a nack for finding and developing new talent within the pages of Astounding SF (and the other award of the same name for best novel, given out by SFRA) – Andre Norton for YA lit, given by SFWA because she wrote so many tales that introduced young-uns to SF – Arthur C. Clarke for Best UK SF, because he helped found the UK SF dynasty and because he was, you know, British – Cordwainer Smith, for rediscovering overlooked authors of merit – Damon Knight, SFWA Grandmaster award because Damon founded the org – James Tiptree – for works that explore gender, because SHE did just that – Philp K. Dick, for having so much of his original work published in paperback – Robert A. Heinlein, for so much excellence – Theodore Sturgeon, for excellent short stories – if it weren’t for those folks we’d be giving out awards named for something stupid like The Spaceship Award or The Raygun Award.

Many of those people worked very hard at what they did and (should) leave a lasting, honored memory. And they deserve to be read, along with all of their brethren and sisteren.

So what I thought was – how about if we poll the contemporary favorites and compile a referral list like they do at BMG for music (if you liked so-and-so, you ought to like whosiswhatsis too).

I mean, we already know that If you like John Scalzi, you’ll probably like Robert A. Heinlein too and If you like David Weber, you’ll probably like A. Bertram Chandler, but who else?

So let’s ask some contemporary authors the following questions:

1. Did you read SF before you were a writer?

2. Who were your favorites?

3. Who do you think influenced you the most?

4. Which of the classic authors do you think your work most resembles?

Maybe if we tell the kids this, they’ll give those classics a try.

Maybe John at SFSignal will ask this one…

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*Above you will see the first incarnation of my ‘Nightline-esque’ reminder that we are STILL being held hostage by the eldritch horrors commonly referred to as Network Programmers.  Of the cable television variety.  Next to that, you’ll notice the countdown to TDTESSTWTOMD. For those coming late or not paying attention, that is the acronym for The Day The Earth Stood Still To Watch The Original Movie Day – which is December 10th, 2008.  I want everyone and anyone who might walk into the theater to see the remake to have already seen the original so that we can all form an unbiased opinion of the two as they relate to each other.  Clicking the link will take you to the page for that activity – where you can watch the original (over and over and over and over again – like I do).*

I had occassion yesterday to update some of the pages on the Rimworlds website, the personal page that started out as a home for my Rim Worlds/A. Bertram Chandler concordance project and has since grown to include The Classic Science Fiction Channel, Pulp magazine checklist and anything else I can cram in there.

I’ve obviously been paying attention to the ‘graying of fandom’/’old sf vs new sf’/similarly themed discussions floating around and as I was adding a couple of new items to the ‘Buy A. Bertram Chandler’ section I was struck by a couple of thoughts.

First, Chandler resides in the ‘old SF category; he unfortunately passed away in 1984, his 100th birthday is fast approaching (2012) and his works are becoming scarcer, although by no means are they completely absent.

Why he has faded remains a mystery to me, one that is probably equal parts fanboy blindness and publishing peculiarity; neither he nor any critic ever claimed literary pretensions for his works, but on the other hand he was a staple at DAW books and regularly appeared in the top magazines of the day.

His stories are what that they are: quaint adventures of an archetypical science fiction hero (John Grimes) – the man who always managed to get himself into deep yogurt, and always managed to come up smelling of roses and clutching the Shaara Crown jewels.

With HUGE tomes and ENDLESS series being all the rage these days in SF publishing, it’s a wonder that someone doesn’t do a little creative editing, retitle some of his works and bring out the Grimes series again.  The hype would be fun:

An Epic Space Opera Series!

Three Decades in the Making!


Featuring Science Fiction’s ORIGINAL Horatio Hornblower of Space!

When you consider that:

Chandler wrote some 20 novels (albeit 60’s/70’s/80’s 140 pagers) and 32 shorts dealing with John Grimes, 9 other novels and 30 other shorts dealing with alternate characters, other history or parallel universe versions of the Rim Worlds – you’ve got quite a canon!

In many respects, it seems like Chandler was writing for our time, rather than his own (not surprising if you consider how much he played around with time travel, alternate realities and world-as-myth). He’d fit right in: an on-going series that could count on a steady readership, long pieces for the book trade, short pieces for the e-zines and self-promotion, stories that play around in other parts of the universe…

I’ll note that SFBC did a series of omnibi editions which are mostly still available in the used book trade and that Baen Books offers all of the Grimes stories (with two exceptions that I can see – the recently published Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo – Dreaming Again – Jack Dann and Doggy in the Window, a short that appeared in Amazing Stories) in three e-book packages, compiled in a manner that reflects the three phases of Grimes’ career – officer in the Federation Survey Service, wandering, self-employed ship captain and citizen of the Rim Worlds Confederacy.  All of the current sources for Chandler’s material can be found here

Baen Books might want to think about offering a donwload pack of the rest of the Rim Worlds stories – there’s the Derek Calver tales (2 novels), the Empress Irene stories (3 novels – and they tie in to a Grimes novel), several other novels including The Deep Reaches of Space, Bring Back Yesterday, Frontier of the Dark – the novel based on a short story that Harlan Ellison called one of the best things he’s ever read – and a whole mess of shorts, including a Retro Hugo nominee – Giant Killer and one of the most anthologized short stories ever written – The Cage.

Me, I’d hype the space opera and continuing series aspects, hire some rabid fanboy (like me) to write a page or two of connecting material, combine three or four of the existing novels into one big tome, give them all new cover art, stick a new penname on the cover, maybe Whitley Dunstan (Chandler used both) and stick them out on the shelves.  Devoid of any connection to ‘old science fiction’, I bet they’d sell just dandy, thank you.

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S. Andrew Swann takes on the triptych of seminal military SF novels in a quick look at Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Haldeman’s Forever War and Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.

I think some of his views are more a reflection of hype and internet babble than they are a true representation of each book.

If you’re going to do a deconstruction of these three novels, you can’t just lightly skip over the surface, you’ve got to dig deep.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading all three: ST probably 20+ times, FW at least 6 times and OMW just the once – it will be due for a re-read in just a few months time.

Swann declares the existence of these three books to be an example of how broadly a single subject can be handled.  What’s the subject?  Military science fiction? War in space? Infantry war in space? The plot line of following a new recruit all the way through his career?

Probably what he means is that these three stand head and shoulders above the rest of military SF, because there have certainly been plenty of other novels that feature future infantry soldiers enhanced in one way or another.

He states that on a broad scale, these three novels are very similar, while looking more closely we find wild divergences.  True, but the differences Swann notes are not as accurate as he would have us believe:

Government: ST – benign and competent, FW – not – OMW – competent but ambiguous.  ?

ST – benign? You only get to vote if you’ve done service and this is benign? All high school kids go through an indoctrination class that they don’t have to pass but MUST attend?

FW – not competent?  They decide to go for quality rather than quantity – how is this not competent?

OMW – morally ambiguous? When they’ve accepted the way the galaxy is and are dealing with that reality mostly effectively?

Military Duty: – ST: respected and voluntary FW: – compulsory and a burden OMW: – a crapshoot

In ST military service is certainly respected and absolutely voluntary – if you can call not being a citizen unless you serve voluntary.  Rico’s family was entirely dismissive of the military at the beginning of the book.  Reactions to the then current society were not monolithic.

FW – compulsory.  Well, when you grab up the top 1 percent of the world’s young, smart, physically capable people and stick them in uniform it could be called compulsory.  I’d call it a harsh reality, since the human race can’t afford to do things any differently if it wants to win the war with the Taurans.

OMW – no idea what they’re volunteering for.  Hmmm.  Actually, they do.  They know they’re going into military service, they know they have to leave their old life behind and they know they’ll never come back to Earth.  Kind of like joining the French Foreign Legion.  They do all that in exchange for living longer.  Pretty fair trade, I’d say.

Training: ST: – relevant, FW: – pointless, OMW: – useful but lacking

He got it right on ST.  The training is relevant to the soldier’s tasks.  FW – woefully wrong.  The training was just as effective in that book as was the training in ST.  In fact, that training helped Mandela sort out a bunch of problems during the book – like the force field scene.  OMW – the training was fine, it taught the recruits that in order to handle a nightmarish galaxy, they had to do nightmarish things, like sacrifice a hand to win a knife fight.

Heinlein pioneered this type of gritty, military SF – as a YA title! He introduced the basic plot line and various key elements (powered armor) but the central theme of the story is responsibility.  Haldeman claims NOT to have written FW as a ‘response’ to ST.  He deals with many of the same issues because, after all, it’s a military SF story and basic training is going to be basic training no matter who writes about it.  The unique aspects he introduced in his novel mostly dealt with the effects of time-dilation on interstellar warfare.  Scalzi substituted new, enhanced bodies for powered armor, introduced a new and unique version of AARP and created one of the nastiest galaxies ever.

About the only sameness to be found in these three books is they are all ‘tales about a new soldier experiencing interstellar warfare’.  Just about EVERYTHING else in them is different.

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On December 12th, 2008, 20th Century Fox will be releasing their remake of the 1951 classic SF film The Day The Earth Stood Still. (Click the pic to go to the TDTESSTWTOMD webpage.)

The new version stars Keeanu Reeves and will benefit(?) from 57 years of film-making advances.

57 years is enough time for two generations to have passed since Michael Renne starred in the original.

That’s more than enough time to guarantee that the audience going to see this remake is unlikely to even be aware that it is a remake, and certainly more than enough time for anyone who has seen the original to forget how utterly fantastic and spot on it was.  Not just for its own time, but for all time.

That is why it is so very important for those of us who have seen and do remember the original to make sure that anyone who goes to see the remake will have seen the original BEFORE they do.

Nivair Gabriel, writing on IO9, explains some of the many reasons why:

There is no reason to remake something that is absolutely perfect.

Remakes insinuate that there was something deficient about the original movie, that it’s somehow necessary to update the film for today’s audiences. The vast majority of the cinema-going crowd will watch the version with the actors they know in an instant, and never bother to rent the first one.

We might be afraid of terrorists now instead of communists, but we still haven’t managed to end nuclear proliferation and create lasting worldwide peace. I think there’s still quite a lot to The Day the Earth Stood Still’s message that we might pose a threat to the rest of the universe if we can’t get a grip on our violent tendencies; and I think Klaatu’s non-destructive way of shocking humanity into action is even more brilliant today.

Michael Rennie’s alien, by the way, is an example of a truly flawless and understated performance; anyone who thinks that Keanu Reeves can show that up should stop reading now to go smack their head against a wall a few times. I don’t want to see any current child actor try to replace Bobby Benson; Billy Gray’s adorable portrayal of The Most Fifties Boy Ever will warm my heart for all time.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a treasure; it’s one of the best films we humans have ever managed to produce. It was fabulous in 1951 and it’s only matured with age, like the finest sci-fi-themed wine in all the world. The movie packs a huge amount of vision about human identity and aspirations — in fact, it’s almost impossible to believe it was made eighteen years before we Earthlings reached the moon. So why in the name of everything beautiful would a person want to taint those waters with a totally unnecessary rehash?

The viewing public has a right to be exposed to the original before they see the remake; they have a right to judge the two side by side – BEFORE the computer-generated dazzle has a chance to influence them. They have a right to view these films in their historical order, to be free from hype and marketing blitz before they are asked to choose which one they prefer.

The only fair and decent way to give the original the credit it is due is for everyone who has ever seen it to pledge that they will get at least one other person to watch the film before December 12th, 2008.

That is why I have declared December 10th, 2008 to be THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL TO WATCH THE ORIGINAL MOVIE DAY day.

I have added a page to my website that provides all of the necessary links – no need to rent or purchase a DVD, no need to schedule a special viewing.  Just grab your friends, siblings and significant others, sit them down in front of the ‘puter and watch. 

I’ve also added links to the original story Farewell to the Master by Harry Bates, the original soundtrack, movie posters and even model kits based on the original film.

If you would like to keep track of how many people you’ve gotten to watch the film, post a message in the comments of this post.

I’ve already done my bit – I got Karen, my wife, to sit still through the whole thing.  She likes super hero movies better than SF ones, but she enjoyed every minute of it. Her comment – why are they bothering to remake it?

Visit the webpage, stick 12.10.08 on your calendar and get others to watch!

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Just to make things perfectly clear –


For the week of August 15 thru August 21, Skiffy Tube’s Science Fiction Purity Percentage is –


This represents a drop in science fiction content from the previous week.

Notably, this coming Tuesday’s line up manages to achieve more than 50% SF Purity (15 hours for a single day) – 62.5% to be precise – but the SICs make up for it on Wednesday by dropping that back down to 16.7% (4 hours).

Remember, if you want to see 100% Science Fiction Purity in Programming, visit The Classic Science Fiction Channel!  Included in our line up are these two fine SF films – one for old fogies and one for young snots –


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