Friday, October 3, 2014

FFB: SF in the World, and the World is Changed: BENCHMARKS CONTINUED by Algis Budrys; THE DREAMS OUR STUFF IS MADE OF by Thomas M. Disch


I watched the new documentary on The New York Review of Books the other night, as it debuted on HBO (and, later, when I should've been catching up on sleep even more blatantly, a good chunk of the documentary about Iceberg Slim on Showtime), and decided that a similar hagiography could be produced about any magazine of any ambition over the last fifty years and be about as fascinating (and noted how gorgeous as well as intelligent and understandably filially blinkered about their father Slim's daughters are or, in the late not so elder eldest's case, were) (aside from a similar documentary about Harper's or The Atlantic or The New Yorker or New American Review or for that matter the likes of Salmagundi or The American Scholar, consider the potential for a documentary about, say, Fantastic, which aside from introducing the likes of Ursula K. Le Guin and Kate Wilhelm--and Thomas Disch--to the reading public, was edited by people with important or at least interesting connection to crime fiction writing and editing [the worst of the editors of the magazine, Paul Fairman, went on to be managing editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and to ghost books for a number of major writers--quite aside from the enjoyment even his version of the magazine gave to young readers such as Bill Crider and Mike Ashley], Hollywood scripting, the bridal/wedding industry, public-school teaching, the comics industry and American expatriate life, literary agencies and American drama, avant garde literature and erotica, jazz and rock journalism, and graphic design...quite aside from the often brilliant and usually frustrating magazine itself). Whether one realizes it or not, This Stuff Matters. As much as anything in the arts does or ever has. And that last is not insignificant.

So, I'm in a Mood to consider these two books, by writers who wrote often brilliantly and usually well, who both furthered the art of at least several sorts of fiction (and Disch, poetry), which are in large part about why this stuff matters. It doesn't hurt that these two are among those whose critical work helped shape my own approach to such activity, along with the similar work of Anthony Burgess, John Simon, Joanna Russ, Dorothy Parker, Damon Knight, Gore Vidal, James Blish, Vivian Gornick, Le Guin, Barry Malzberg, Harlan Ellison, James Agee, Spider Robinson, Anthony Boucher, Judith Merril and others...almost all of whom were at least some of the time writers of fantasy (and not a few also of crime fiction, and I'm making no apologies)...Gornick and Simon, the major exceptions, were not averse to the fantastic (nor the criminous).  For that matter, one of the few Budrys short stories published when he was busy writing ad copy and critical essays in 1960s won the Edgar; Disch wrote some notable crime fiction, in collaboration with John Sladek and on his own, the latter with usually some fantasticated elements, and the last set of novels from him were notable, linked horror volumes. Both were underappreciated in larger literary world and perhaps taken for granted even in the spheres where they were most productive, and both died horribly. I've written a bit about that last here on the blog.

But before that, they did the critical writing gathered here, which I still haven't completely crystallized my thoughts about these two brilliant, wide-ranging books, that deal in large part about the significance of fantastic fiction in the larger world, and will hope to return to the subject sooner rather than later. Budrys's is a collection of his review essays from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the first of three volumes collected those (and all three follow, some years after, a single volume of his similar, earlier work for the magazine Galaxy), and the Disch is spun out from essays published in Harper's and elsewhere, and to some extent his work in F&SF.  Both books are brilliant, the Budrys slightly moreso since it was Budrys at the height of his abilities, the Disch lessened only slightly by the breadth of its ambition...but even though I'm still putting off the head-on look, yet again...life is not cooperative.

However, Patti Abbott is, and is collecting today's book review links at her blog.

8 comments:

Richard said...

I read and very much enjoyed the first Budrys collection and have this but have not yet gotten to it... it's in a stack somewhere, I think I saw it a week or so ago.

Todd Mason said...

It's a great book, and the Disch is within shooting distance (and conceived as a book). The work didn't stop long enough for me to write more than a bare bones yesterday, it turned out.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Just about to start reading BLACK ALICE on your recommendation Todd :)

Todd Mason said...

Hope you like it, Sergio. Disch and Sladek both wrote (even) better novels on their own, but I liked it pretty well.

George said...

I read all three volumes. Budrys is an underrated writer and critic.

Todd Mason said...

All four, including the original BENCHMARKS, George?

Gerard said...

I've read a few Disch novels and really enjoyed them. I've never been much for poetry and would periodically check for new novels by Disch. I never knew Disch but his suicide was a shocker to me.

Todd Mason said...

It was a terrible thing. Gerard.