Friday, April 10, 2015

FFB: SF HORIZONS, edited by Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison (1964 and 1965 issues; facsimile reprint in boards 1975, Arno Press)

 Here's Brian Aldiss in 1964:

I avoid the usual term "mainstream" which erroneously suggests two things: a) that all sf writers are equal in aim, attitude and ability, and b) that all other writers are equal in aim, attitude and ability, and that all their works are homogenous.

That this line appears in a footnote to an essay about the literary difficulties in writing good sf, using an early novel by Jack Williamson as a jumping off point (while making copious note of the similarities of too much of the work still being written and published in the early-mid 1960s), leaves open the question of how formative reading that in 1979 might've been for the 15yo me, or even more likely, how much I would've found it utterly apropos, an excellent and all but thrown-away statement of a point most people (as it turns out) won't even argue with, so ingrained in their worldview that there's an Us and a Them and the demarcations are clear (except when they aren't). (Romance-fiction fans and writers these days might be the most disturbing example of accepting a ghetto mentality, as Judith Merril might've been the first to put it in re: fantasy and sf, inasmuch as so many of them buy into the writer's guideline commercial notion that it Isn't Really a Romance if it doesn't have a Happily Ever After, or potentially HEA, ending. Romeo and Juliet ain't no romance, you fool...just look at that ending.)

This was an excellent project that probably didn't sustain itself financially, while its editor/publishers were trying to make a living from writing...Damon Knight and Lester Del Rey similarly, in the late 1950s, produced two issues of a Science Fiction Forum that calls out for reprint or posting online, but hasn't seen any yet, as far as I know, even though Knight revived the title for one of the publications of the Science Fiction Writers of America when he co-founded it in the mid '60s. Before SF Horizons, there was PITFCS and Xero; since, we've certainly had Monad and SF Eye, and others that have had a similar ambitious remit (a few, such as Richard Geis's Science Fiction Review/The Alien Critic, Andrew Porter's Algol/Starship, and Douglas Fratz's Thrust/Quantum, which have occasionally approached the same adventurous feel). Maybe Inside SF/Riverside Quarterly as well...if your magazine lasts any length of time, it has to change names (SF Eye began as Science Fiction Eye). 

If you pick up the facsimile volume, or the original issues, today, you'll have access to some of  James Blish's criticism (collected since in volumes from Advent: Publishers), but in its natural environment, cheek by jowl with an excellent interview with C. S. Lewis and Kingsley Amis conducted by Brian Aldiss, and a good one with William Burroughs conducted anonymously (but by someone, I'm told possibly James Blish, who met Burroughs at a meeting of the New York City-based Hydra Club, a periodical gathering of writers and fans that flourished in the 1950s into the '60s); Burroughs is quick to note how much he admires the work of Theodore Sturgeon, Eric Frank Russell (rather unsurprisingly) and (perhaps more surprisingly) C. S. Lewis, in whose work Burroughs sees a strong kinship with his own. I'm not sure the Aldiss essays here (as by him and by "C. C. Shackleton," a regular pseudonym of his often for more satirical writing) have all been collected elsewhere, but one hopes so (the long take on three contemporary UK writers--Lan Wright, Donald Malcolm and J. G. Ballard--is utterly engaging); the editorial in the second issue, attributed to both Harrison and Aldiss, is a particularly acute brief analysis of the great appeal of what has come to be known as the technothriller, albeit ranging as far as Advise and Consent in the then-current crop, and tracing their roots through John Buchan's espionage novels as well as Ian Fleming's incidentally tech-obsessed entries. Harrison's close reading of an F. L. Wallace novel, and issue-taking with Blish's criticism of Aldiss's "Hothouse" stories in the first issue, seems unlikely to have been reprinted elsewhere so far, and that's a pity. Okuno Takeo and Francesco Biamonti's short surveys of sf in Japan and Italy are useful snapshots (Biamonte notes that Umberto Eco had devoted a chapter in a then recent book to how he felt Italian sf should be developed), the kind of coverage that Charles Brown was later keen to continue in Locus magazine, in dealing with international sf and fantasy worldwide. 

For those who seek out the Arno Press reprint: be aware that the text pages are on acid-free paper, but for some reason the endpapers are not. That atop not reprinting the magazine covers in the book, for no obvious reason, and slapping on what I suspect is a slightly expensively embossed and cutesy cover, perhaps one used on all the Arno SF line at the time; their books were clearly meant for the library trade, and before recently purchasing this copy, I'd first read a copy I borrowed and reasonably promptly returned to the Hawaii State Library's central branch, all those years ago.

Images and indices courtesy ISFDB:
Title: SF Horizons 
Authors: Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss 
Year: 1975 
Publisher: Arno Press
Notes: Photographic reprint of the two issues of the British journal/fanzine, originally published in 1964 and 1965.
Library binding on acid-free paper, less than five hundred copies printed.
No price or pub month in book.
Book cover artist not credited.

Please see a recollection of the first set of FFB links, and the rest of this week's ttiles, on this celebration of the first seven years of Friday Books at Patti Abbott's blog.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Todd, I read Amis and Lewis a long time ago though I never thought of them as sf writers. My most recent brush with Amis's sf was his short story "Hemingway in Space" which first appeared in PUNCH and later was included in the 6th Annual Edition: The Year's Best S-F. You were generous with your comments to my post. I know C.S. Lewis mainly through his Narnia series which, while being fantasy, has elements of sf depending on how the reader looks at it.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Thanks Todd - and I would certainly not disagree with Aldiss' statement, 50 years on. Though if you consider the recent kerfuffle over the Hugo there has been a genuine shift of late and clearly in the wrong direction ...

Todd Mason said...

Prashant--Amis had only begun to write a little sf by the mid '60s, had written more about sf, but would eventually write the likes of the altenrate history sf novel THE ALTERATION in the 1970s, along with such fantasy fiction as THE GREEN MAN. Lewis's Narnia books were very much his Xian fantasy work (some folks have a problem with that combination, but they are at best confused), and the Perelandra novels, such as OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, are the sf work...Lewis very much considered himself an sf writer with that work. I was once at my ex Donna's family's house when her father, a Mormon who no longer attended services, was vistied by two young men on their LDS missionary duty. One of them was quite happy about having discovered this great LDS writer, C. S. Lewis...I told him that Lewis was actually Anglican, to which the missionary said next to nothing. After he left, Donna, amused, told me, "He didn't believe you."

Sergio, the recent Hugo bloc-voting hassles have more to do with people putting their perceptions of what is Politically Correct, from the right wing much more than from the center or the left, but across the board to a limited extent, ahead of all else other than their resentment of perceived slights. It would be less of a problem if enough convention members cared about the Hugos to nominate work, but bloc voting would still tend to be effective. The award has always been too much of a popularity contest, too little about even a demotic sense of literary excellence, and the only Hugo ceremony I've been present for saw the novel award go to a Harry Potter novel...perhaps it was the best fantastic-fiction novel of its year, but since I couldn't make it through the cod-Roald Dahl of the first one, I had my doubts (I gather they improve as they go along). And I certainly barely voted for the Hugos that year, the only year I've joined, since I was particularly behind in my reading in the fields. I wondered,, Sergio, if that note about the Eco volume, or the state of the mid-'60s Italian field, mighht've caught your eye at all...

Todd Mason said...

The greatest consensus choice for Most Undeserving Hugo-winning novel so far is the second winner of that award, THEY'D RATHER BE RIGHT...the title was prophetic. Too many people who'd rather be right (as well as in this case Rightist) than judicious or good sports, not that some of the buzz that got the various Puppies' dander up was necessariy too unreflexive, either. But people don't have to be thinking solely in political terms to not like one's work, something the Tea Puppies have greater problem comprehending than anyone else involved.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

It's a funny thing about Eco - I have probably read more of his stuff while studying at University in the UK, than in Italy - I haven;t kept up with his really since the early 90s, but I do respect a lot fo what he say

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Todd, I wasn't aware of Lewis' Perelandra novels. I'll look them up including OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET. I wonder if Roald Dahl, too, considered himself a major sf writer considering his work in television. Besides, I always felt his GREMLINS was a pseudo-sf story.

Todd Mason said...

Prashant--some of Dahl's other horror, such as "Royal Jelly", also comes close to sf without quite reaching it...