Affecting Everything that Follows

Friday , 17, February 2017 14 Comments

You’ve seen the lists. You’ve heard the way they talk. It would go right past you if you didn’t know what to look for, but really… outside of our circles here it’s as if science fiction just mysteriously leaps from H. G. Wells and Jules Verne directly to Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein. There’s a similar skip in fantasy: people act like it emerged from nowhere with Tolkien and Lewis, then there’s a lull that is later picked up with Brooks, Jordan, and Martin. To add insult to injury, it’s in this context of course that the Poindexters arrive to lecture us on how Mary Shelly invented science fiction.

This isn’t normal. It really isn’t. There’s something flatly pathological about it. And it sounds tinfoil hat crazy to come right out and say it, but… it’s as if the field has suffered from a coordinated effort to cut its own heart out.

Once again, the jazz scene provides a model for how sane people approach that canonization process. They aren’t even particularly self-conscious of it, either. Check out how the guy doing the voiceover introduces Dizzy Gillespie in this video of the 1975 Monterey Jazz Festival:

If greatness can be defined as affecting everything that follows, this man truly deserves that accolade.

The problem with pretty well everyone’s lists of fantasy and science fiction greats right now is that they leave out the people that all the truly influential works derive from. But the reality is, that the groundwork of fantasy and science fiction as we think of it today was laid by Lord Dunsany, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and A. Merritt.

The fact of who those men are and who they directly influenced is what makes Appendix N so much more than just a list of books that were looted in order to get the Dungeons & Dragons game off the ground. It’s a time capsule that preserves the hidden sources of everything we take for granted in fantasy and science fiction today. And a reminder that fantasy and science fiction are not at war with each other but in fact have the same foundation.

14 Comments
  • Nathan says:

    Jazz is an interesting comparison and an interesting warning since for many aficionados the canon closed in 1970 with Bitches’ Brew. While we’re pushing back the beginning of the canon of science fiction and fantasy from the 1950s to the 1830s* and earlier, it’s important not to close it off near the present even if the genres are presently going through a dry spell.

    *Looking at the works that inspired the pulp writers, it’s safe to place the earliest of the canon of SFF back a hundred of more years before Weird Tales.

    • Jeffro says:

      What if the closing of the jazz canon didn’t happen? What if… someone just decided somewhere that jazz wasn’t cool anymore like the execs that put the kaibosh on hillbilly television…?

      I’ll tell you what really put a damper on the medium. Go back and listen to Milt Jackson singing tunes from My Fair Lady. Then go look at what Broadway was putting out in the seventies. Can you blame the giants for not being that keen on doing “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man” or “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three”?

      I can’t. The thing that fueled the American songbook for decades was over the top romance. There’s really nothing else worth singing about. Take it away and the scene just dries up.

      Jazz and Pulp are powered by the exact same thing.

  • David VanDyke says:

    The genres aren’t going through a dry spell in the independent author world, or in the small publisher world. Only in the big traditional publishers and in the old awards do we see this problem. If you ever look at the author rankings on Amazon (which most people don’t, except for other authors) you will see indie authors constantly churning with the better-known names.

    The “old names” have staying power because they’ve been around for decades, but many new indies like me, BV Larson, Vaughn Heppner and all the Castalia authors have a few years under their belts now and are constant presences, proving what one might call neo-pulp adventures to a huge crop of people who have discovered-or rediscovered–the genre.

    https://www.amazon.com/author-rank/Science-Fiction/books/16272/ref=kar_mr_nav_b_2_25#2

    • Rod Walker says:

      This is very true. Some of the best books Rod Walker read in 2016 (and 2017) were indie books. Indie publishing is just a bit under the radar still, since it’s not common knowledge outside of the indie author ecosystem and people who read the Author Earnings website.

    • Jeffro says:

      We really need someone that can cover that beat the same way that Misha Burnett covered the New Wave last year.

      If you see anyone in the wilds that is on fire for this stuff, that can explain it in an entertaining way, and that can get people whipped up about it… please, introduce us.

    • Nathan says:

      What makes David’s correction so embarrassing (for me; he loses no face) is that until Jeffro can find someone better, I’m doing a bimonthly series of indie/small press short reviews. Perhaps I need to look in new places. Any suggestions are welcome.

  • John E. Boyle says:

    “…groundwork of fantasy and science fiction as think of it today was laid by Lord Dunsany, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and A. Merritt.”

    YES. The reaction of some people to those three names is telling: words like Racist, Misogynist, Colonialist, Hack, and worse, all shouted in an attempt to keep people from even looking at their work, let alone actually read it.

    Well, too bad. The truth is coming out.

  • deuce says:

    Great post.

    “But the reality is, that the groundwork of fantasy and science fiction as think of it today was laid by Lord Dunsany, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and A. Merritt.”

    I hate to nitpick, Jeffro, but H. Rider Haggard is the only writer — outside of Shakespeare — whom Doyle, ERB, Merritt, Talbot Mundy, HPL and Robert E. Howard all admired. There’s a reason for that. There’s also a reason why SHE is still the best-selling novel of all time. If you want to find the fountainhead, ya gotta read HRH. Luckily, he’s an excellent writer and wrote 70 novels.

    • Carrington Dixon says:

      Luckily too, the majority of Haggard’s works are in the public domain; so, they are available as free ebooks or in inexpensive paper editions. Not all HRH’s novels are fantasy but even his mundane novels are good reads.

      I found Cetywayo and His White Neighbours to be a slog, but I have enjoyed everything from King Solomon’s Mines on — including the mundane novels.

    • Jeffro says:

      I’ll put him on the shortlist of authors to cover in Beyond Appendix N along with Clark Aston Smith, Francis Stevens, C. L. Moore, H. Beam Piper, and E. C. Tubb.

    • Pat D. says:

      I ought to read more Haggard. Read King Solomon’s Mines for one of my classes in college and loved it. Also had 3 classes with Tom Shippey (King Arthur, Inklings, and Beowulf) and one on Shakespeare, I got lucky….

    • John E. Boyle says:

      I’m second to none in my admiration for HRH (full disclosure: I own a complete collection of all the Allan Quatermain stories and novels), but I wonder if the flow of influence might not have gone both ways with Dunsany. Both were friends with Kipling and both wrote a great deal in the first two decades of the 20th century.

      If you have not read HRH before, I recommend you try She and King Solomon’s Mines at the very least. He may seem slow reading at first, but Haggard is very good and worth reading through to the end.

      Also, consider this: while in South Africa, Haggard not only met such adventurers as Frederick Selous and F.R. Burnham, but became the friend and hunting companion of the princes who led the Zulu impis to victory at Isandlwana. He not only knew men who fought with spear and shield, he knew the generals who led such warriors to victory.

      Of how many fantasy authors can that be said?

  • deuce says:

    I don’t want to make it sound like I’m standing on some lofty height when it comes to Haggard. I read ERIC BRIGHTEYES years ago. There was a long break. Then I read SHE. That’s when the dam started breaking. Looking back on all those Haggard-less years, all I can say is, “I screwed up.” I’m making up for lost time.

    BTW, I forgot to mention that JRRT, CS Lewis and ER Eddison were all HRH fans. The man’s influence was YUUUGE. Not even Tolkien’s influence was/is as wide. You just can’t see it or hear it nowadays. He’s been memory-holed.

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