Friday, September 25, 2009
Friday's "Forgotten" Books: BENCHMARKS: GALAXY BOOKSHELF by Algis Budrys (Southern Illinois University Press, 1985)
Benchmarks: Galaxy Bookshelf, Algis Budrys
An Edge In My Voice, Harlan Ellison
Faces Of Fear, Douglas Winter
The John W. Campbell Letters, Vol.1, Perry & Tony Chapdelaine & Geroge Hay (editors)
The Pale Shadow Of Science, Brian Aldiss
Science Made Stupid, Tom Weller
A pretty good year, to say the least, though all of them might qualify as Forgotten, today, even the collection of Ellison essays (largely from Future Life magazine, the companion to the also-folded Starlog) or Winter's interviews with major horror writers, or the probably least-deserving, widest-in-appeal winner of the award, the Weller science-textbook parody.
Benchmarks was a collection of the book-review columns Algis Burdys had written for Galaxy magazine from 1965-1971, for much of the period when Galaxy could make a reasonable claim to have returned to its early-1950s status as the best sf magazine available (particularly if we consider The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and New Worlds as both going beyond sf for their remit in those years, as they did, and multiply Hugo-winning Galaxy companion If as being pitched just a bit younger, more adventure-oriented, and as a landing spot for work not Quite up to editor Frederik Pohl's standards for Galaxy; 1969 successor Ejler Jakobsson was a little less likely to make that distinction between the stablemate magazines, though he did keep the notion that If was more open to borderline fantasy). Budrys took Damon Knight and James Blish's critical articles, particularly Knight's as collected in In Search of Wonder, as his model for his columns, and as Frederik Pohl recalls in his introduction to the book, he wrote them in such a way as to help the reader understand the books under discussion's places in the development of the art of sf, and in the larger world of literature and human life...an approach that when sloppily applied could be dismissed as pompous (Paul Di Filippo has particularly taken delight in doing so on occaion), and Budrys was willing to mock himself for this potential pitfall (he noted that he took this approach in part because he'd failed to note that Knight had done something similar when creating chapters for his collection out of his reviews, more often than in the original reviews themselves), but AB would rarely get lazy (more frequently toward the end of his run at Galaxy and his later run at F&SF as the burden of the respective columns began to weigh upon him). His column reviewing Harry Warner's history of 1940s sf fandom, All Our Yesterdays, and then going on to speculate on how the flashier, more shallow aspects of sf had filtered out to the larger culture, as represented in part by Budrys's experiences on the periphery of the riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., was his own favorite among these essays, and with justice...it's an often brilliantly allusive account of how much our baser desires can trump not only our better judgment but also our necessary empathy. (I took a college course not long after this book was issued, in which we were asked by the instructor to bring in an example of essay we particularly admired, that we found provocative, for the class to read and discuss...the instructor was a freelance writer, who, after reading this column, started to say to me, "I didn't think science fiction writers cared about..." and trailed off, abashed, as she realized that, well, of course they cared about just that sort of thing.)
Budrys's reviews of Harry Kemelman's The Cook and Robert Coover's The Universal Baseball Association, A. J. Langguth's Jesus Christs and other idiosyncratic items are as valuable as his takes on Avram Davidson, Dangerous Visions, and the New Worlds school (he could never endorse their perpective on the world, nor fail to appreciate their attempts to expand and enrich the idiom of sf, which was his own project as well). As a former protege of John W. Campbell, he understood his towering influence, even as his interaction with the ex-Futurians (Pohl, Knight, Blish, Judith Merril, the already late C. M. Kornbluth, Richard Wilson, Donald Wollheim, and all) had also been formative in their expansion of what Campbell had done, and rejection of some of what Campbell strove for, through their influential work in the field. He also was of the first self-consious generation of college-graduate sf writers, along with Michael Shaara, Walter Tevis, Robert Sheckley, Philip Dick, Ursula Le Guin, Richard Matheson, and Harlan Ellison, among others, many of whom it will be noted made even more of a mark outside sf, or at least outside prose sf, and his consideration of this fact, and its consequences for the field, and reflections in the work of those who followed, were often telling.
an e-book of Benchmarks is available in the UK from Orion.
For a fine crop of other "forgotten" books (only one this time egregiously Not forgotten), please see Patti Abbott's blog...and thanks to Barry Malzberg, whose kind unposted comment nudged me into looking at the latenight first draft I had up here and cleaning it up where absolutely necessary...(he also noted that the post-assassination essay struck him as a better assessment of the zeitgeist of '68 than Norman Mailer's famous essays from that year, and so impressed was he that he wrote a fan letter immediately after reading the essay in its original Galaxy appearance; years later, Budrys told Barry that his letter was the only one he'd received about the essay, essentially the only feedback he'd gotten from the audience).