Tuesday, October 10, 2017


I read a lot more stuff than I usually review here. Some of it doesn't seem worth writing a whole post about. A few examples:
* Barry N. Malzberg -- BREAKFAST IN THE RUINS. The first half of this book is Malzberg's brilliant, anguished THE ENGINES OF THE NIGHT, a 1982 history/critique of the science fiction field that I raved about way back in the early days of this blog. It's still one-of-a-kind. And every one of Malzberg's pessimistic predictions for SF in the '80s came true.
Throughout that earlier book, Malzberg kept threatening to write "The True, Terrible History of Science Fiction." BREAKFAST IN THE RUINS isn't it. There are some great things in it -- "Tripping With the Alchemist" is all about what it was like to work at the twisted Scott Meredith Literary Agency, an SF fan's revenge on the Real World. "Rage, Pain and Alienation" was Malzberg's angry farewell to SF back in 1976, and it's still angry -- not the whiny self-indulgence he now thinks it is.
There are other good pieces on SF writer Robert Silverberg, SF editor John W. Campbell, and mystery writer Cornell Woolrich -- but overall the new stuff is less angry, less outraged. I'd rather read "The True, Terrible History of Science Fiction." Malzberg still has time to write it.
There's one great joke: One of the hot-shot SF writers of the '80s is quoted as saying "Boy, I sure hope I'm not still writing this stuff when I'm 50. That'd be pathetic." Wonder what he thinks now?
There are numerous typographical errors in the Kindle edition.
* John Clute -- STAY. Not enough book reviews from science fiction's best critic since 1993. Included is a long horror "lexicon," THE DARKENING GARDEN. It's interesting, though I'd rather read a Horror encyclopedia that's like Clute's amazing SF ENCYCLOPEDIA. Didn't read the short stories.
* Judith Merril -- THE MERRIL THEORY OF LIT'RY CRITICISM. This collects all of Judith Merril's old book review columns from THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION and her commentaries from the annual best-of collections she assembled back in the '60s. I thought this would be a great read. But apart from columns I'd already read on Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny, and the English New Wave scene, I haven't found the great stuff yet. Disappointing.
* 20TH CENTURY SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS. 1,000 pages of biographies and bibliographies on well-known SF writers up through 1990. I'm sure there are later versions, but they've gotta be expensive. I like the critical essays, but there are many typos.
* Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg -- THE BUSINESS OF SCIENCE FICTION WRITING. A series of business-related columns for newer writers, first published in the SFWA Bulletin. Resnick and Malzberg assume the writer can get published repeatedly, regularly, and talk about what happens AFTER that. This came out almost 10 years ago, so discussion about on-line publications is skimped. For me, the best parts were various atrocity stories about publishing -- publishers taking forever to pay writers, writers who took cash advances and never wrote the books, etc.
* D. Scot Appel -- SCIENCE FICTION: AN ORAL HISTORY. Not really a history at all. Instead, a collection of interviews with SF writers. One long, excellent interview with Philip K. Dick. Other interviewees are from an earlier generation -- Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, etc.
* Damien Broderick and Paul DiFillipo -- SF: THE 100 BEST BOOKS. This recommended-reading list picks up from where David Pringle's SCIENCE FICTION: THE 100 BEST NOVELS (1985) left off, so it opens with Margaret Atwood's THE HANDMAID'S TALE -- which Atwood continues to proclaim is nothing as low-culture as science fiction. So I'm an old stick in the mud -- I'm not impressed with the list of novels and writers, and there's very little in here that I've read. So take me back to 1977....
* Jonathan Coe -- THE ROTTER'S CLUB (2001). I was sucked into this early-'70s English family saga because some of the teenage boys in it form a progressive-rock band. But the band only lasts for a 15-minute rehearsal, and then they become punk rockers! Also, the book's named after Hatfield and the North's second album -- and one of the characters tells another (who was injured in a terrorist bomb blast) that the Hatfields' album was recorded "for us, somehow." There is a funny, moving story that unwinds through this book, but somehow it wasn't charming enough to carry me along and I started skimming. It could work for you -- I may just be going through another one of my "I can't read fiction anymore" phases....

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