|the paperback edition|
Knight had begun writing criticism along with his earliest published fiction (and cartoons and illustration), in the 1940s, the critical writing sparked by the example of Frederik Pohl's reviews, and Knight's mostly published in the better examples of the more "sercon" (serious and constructive, which could be taken at face value or imply an earnest dullness) fanzines of the day, as well as in Knight's own fanzine, Snide. In the 1950s, Knight and Lester del Rey co-edited and published two issues of Science Fiction Forum, as a more purely critical little magazine/fanzine, but apparently did no more till Knight revived the title Forum as that of the house organ of the Science Fiction Writers of America, of which he was a primary founder and its first president. While some projects like this one ran indefinitely (Inside Science Fiction became Riverside Quarterly, and lasted forty years in all), many more have been mayflies (Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss's SF Horizons managed two similarly impressive issues in the mid-'60s). Others, such as the titles mentioned above, had intermediate-length runs, and made names for themselves at least in certain circles...anyone who suffered through my squibs on this blog knows that I'm tempted to try to trace as many of those as possible, but I will desist for a moment (noting only, for example, that SF Eye had roots in Bruce Sterling's one-sheet zine Cheap Truth as well as editor/publisher Stephen Brown's work on such earlier, more conventional critical magazines as Douglas Fratz's Thrust).
Index of the contents courtesy ISFDb:
- 1 • Editorial (Monad #1) • essay by Damon Knight
- 3 • Children, Women, Men, and Dragons • essay by Ursula K. Le Guin
- 29 • I Dream Therefore I Become • (1990) • essay by Brian W. Aldiss
- 37 • An All-Day Poem • (1972) • poem by Thomas M. Disch
- 51 • Precessing the Simulacra for Fun and Profit • essay by Bruce Sterling
- 67 • Beauty, Stupidity, Injustice, and Science Fiction • essay by Damon Knight
- 89 • Letter (Monad #1) • essay by Tom Whitmore
Ursula Le Guin's essay is driven in large part by her recent completion of a fourth volume, Tehanu, in what had been for some years the Earthsea trilogy, and how over the course of writing the component novels, each in its turn, the very fact that she was a woman writing about outsiders in the heroic tradition (a dark-complected man, a woman, children) hit home, and slowly a critique of hierarchy and authority developed as her feminism and anarchism coalesced through her resolution and exploration of these tensions. Even as she credits particularly T. H. White and Tolkien for expanding the idiom before her, it's difficult to see how most of the more ambitious epic fantasy since her contribution would've been written without the example of her work (and that of Fritz Leiber and Jack Vance, among a small number of other most influential folks--I shall have to return to Le Guin's other critical writing to see how much her predecessors such as C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett and Sylvia Townsend Warner, to say nothing of Woolf and her Orlando, nudged and influenced her).
The Aldiss is an excerpt from his then-just-published book-length memoir, Bury My Heart at W. H. Smith's (the British bookstore); Aldiss had served as literary editor for the Oxford Mail newspaper from early on in his career, and had had some commercial and artistic success with his contemporary-mimetic fiction along with his fantaticated thoughout his career. The Disch is a poem, apparently originally in his1972 limited-edition chapbook The Right Way to Figure Plumbing; "An All-Day Poem" is, in part, how art helps the artist cope with the great ugliness, and small reverses, life hands us (Disch's mother is losing her fight with cancer as he writes). Bruce Sterling takes a somewhat bemused pass through the realms of modern literary theory, the post-Structuralist, post-Derrida and Bakhtin era (and this inspired an answer essay for the second Monad by John Barnes). And Knight rounds us out with a fine short essay that limns his early childhood first experiences with injustice (and the other Large Things mentioned in the title) and how he found them recapitulated in the crotchets of fellow editors and similar folk in his professional career as an artist.
Knight was one of the pioneering critics of note in fantastic-fiction circles, and remains controversial to this day (he would not stay his hand when he felt an affront to the art was being perpetrated, and Ed Gorman hasn't forgiven him for that yet). And yet Monad's three issues/volumes are a nice core-sampling of the most influential and serious critical writers active in its years (with some exceptions, such as Knight's great students Algis Budrys and Barry Malzberg, and Joanna Russ, who was already scaling back her critical writing in the face of health matters). Knight, like most of the more ambitious writer/editor/publishers in the field of the popular critical magazine, would tend to move online for much of what he wrote in this wise after Monad...as much as he continued with this kind of activity, as opposed to his writing instruction activities, as reflected by his Creating Short Fiction.
For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog. I will be gathering the links next week. ("Be there. Aloha.")