Saturday, September 12, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Book: THE CRAFT OF SCIENCE FICTION, edited by Reginald Bretnor (Harper & Row, 1976)

From the Contento index:

The Craft of Science Fiction ed. Reginald Bretnor (Harper & Row 0-06-010461-9, 1976, 313pp, hc)
ix · Foreword · Reginald Bretnor · fw
3 · SF: The Challenge to the Writer · Reginald Bretnor · ar *
22 · Star-flights and Fantasies: Sagas Still to Come · Poul Anderson · ar *
37 · Hard Sciences and Tough Technologies · Hal Clement · ar *
54 · Rubber Sciences · Norman Spinrad · ar *
73 · Extrapolations and Quantum Jumps · Alan E. Nourse · ar *
89 · Future Writers in a Future World · Theodore Sturgeon · ar *
104 · The Construction of Believable Societies · Jerry Pournelle · ar *
121 · Men on Other Planets · Frank Herbert · ar *
136 · Alien Minds and Nonhuman Intelligences · Katherine MacLean · ar *
161 · Heroes, Heroines, Villains: The Characters in Science Fiction · James Gunn · ar *
178 · The Words in Science Fiction · Larry Niven · ar *
195 · Short Stories and Novelettes · Jack Williamson · ar *
216 · The Science Fiction Novel · John Brunner · ar *
236 · With the Eyes of a Demon: Seeing the Fantastic as a Video Image · Harlan Ellison · ar *
292 · The Science Fiction Professional · Frederik Pohl · ar *
313 · Index · Misc. Material · ix

Reginald Bretnor, who often signed his fiction "R. Bretnor" (and his pun stories as "Grendel Briarton"), was by the latter '70s writing decreasingly tolerable fiction, his sustained "Papa Schimmelhorn" series in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction having gone from charming and inventive in the magazine's earliest years to misogynist twaddle, but was nonetheless putting together interesting and valuable compendia of essays, something he'd begun doing a quarter-century before. Since I'm finally getting around to William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade, I was reminded of Harlan Ellison's essay in this volume, which like the Goldman goes against the director-worshipping trend and notes that screenwriters have an obligation to give various sorts of image and acting directions, much as stage plays might, to do the job right. Looking at the contents above again, I'm reminded of how many of the best people for the job Bretnor was able to enlist, though of course Jerry Pournelle on Believable Societies has its own sort of amusing irony to it (JP was a post-Korean War Communist who became a quasi-libertarian-of-sorts who has been willing to argue for the virtues of Benito Mussolini, in fiction and otherwise, and has written some of the least believable sf I've attempted, though his collaborations with Larry Niven have averaged a bit better)(he's not a young man, and at last report, he was ailing, so I hope he's feeling better, as well...he's had a pretty various career as a columnist, including as pop-science columnist at Galaxy magazine, at which he's usually been more enjoyable than as a fictioneer).

The paucity of women's contributions to the book, which has of late arisen as a particularly gnawed-over problem with several anthologies, wasn't completely un-notable in 1976, when at least Ursula Le Guin or Joanna Russ might've been invited to contribute (and for all I know, they were), or Pamela Sargent, who was all but making speculation about cloning her personal territory with a series of fairly near-future, well-worked-out stories (Kate Wilhelm horned in soon after with her award-winning Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang [1977])--and Wilhelm has, like Le Guin and Russ, certainly been heard from since in serious nonfiction. But to have an essay from Katherine MacLean is a gift, as she was too long absent from the sf field, after a string of impressive stories in the early '50s (she was, among other things, distracted by a clangorous therapeutic regime that became a religion, which also took much of the attention of several other writers in the field in the early-mid 1950s). The Pohl essay was particularly valuable at that time, and in essence if not quite as much in detail is still (as a historical document of the Life of The Typical SF Writer in 1975, all but unrivalled); the Clement particularly and most of the others have not even lost so much in the details.

Barnes and Noble published a paperback edition with a notably ugly cover in 1977, and if you can look past that, this is still a fine book to have, in either edition.

Please see Patti Abbott's blog, for a roundup of the Forgotten Books of the last several weeks.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Got it.

C. Margery Kempe said...

... a clangorous therapeutic regime that became a religion

It's a shame that Swiss bell ringing became such a blood-thirsty cult. So many deaths, so much suffering.

Todd Mason said...

Those bell-bashing bastards.

C. Margery Kempe said...

I will never forget the chilling sight of the faded newspaper photos, all those lederhosen-clad corpses and the edelweiss...