John E. Boyle writes in with this astonishing anecdotal evidence for A. Merritt’s enduring appeal:
I’d like to give you an example of just how good A. Merritt was. I read the Ship of Ishtar years ago, and then loaned out the paperback to someone, who either moved or loaned it to someone else, and it was gone. This just happens with books, sometimes.
Then Jeffro began this series, and the old magic of this book cast its spell on me again. I decided to buy a copy the next time I saw it in paperback. That decision became more immediate when I learned of the role Damon Knight and James Blish had in wrecking Merritt’s reputation, and I went on Amazon to buy a copy.
I lucked out; I managed to snag a copy of the memorial edition put out by Borden, illustrated by Virgil Finlay, autographed by Finlay himself (one of Merritt’s favorite artists). That copy arrived on 2/11/17, and I gave it to my mother to read (being Mater Familias has its perks). She loved it, but I wasn’t home when she finished, so one of my brothers grabbed it; he liked it, his wife liked it, then a sister got it and then another sister…
I’ve owned that book for 5 weeks and haven’t read a word of the text yet! This is almost as bad the those Rachel Griffin books by that Lamplighter woman. Four generations of the girls in my family are reading those books and I haven’t been able to finish even one of them. It just isn’t fair.
Oh, and that autograph by Finlay?
“In Memory of A. Merritt, The Lord of Fantasy, Virgil Finlay.”
Meanwhile, Karl Gallagher weighs in on the continuing Pulp vs. Campbellian SF debate with… a question:
So, speaking as someone who reads hard SF, writes hard SF, speaks on panels on cons about hard SF, where are you finding this “Hard SF is the only true SF” propaganda?
You know, they say there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but this one really should be embarrassing at this point.
I really have to salute David Brin on this because he at least acknowledges he’s taking a side in an ongoing debate. But to act like no one is out there pushing a party line of “Hard SF is the only true SF” is just plain dumb. After all, A. Merritt didn’t just quietly lapse into obscurity due to changes in taste, fashion, and impersonal historical forces. He had a lot of “help” from people that were all too willing to put their thumb on the scales within the greater science fiction marketplace.
Once you have listed the ungoodthink thoughts, and evenproscibed certain words to use to describe reality (as a precursor to telling a man who uses them what he actually, secretly means when he used them, albeit unconsciously) your argument stops being an argument, and you start trying to act as thought police.
I am as much in favor pf rescuing A Merrit from obscurity as anyone, and dislike Damon Knight’s attempt to act as an amateur Grand Inquisitor of SFnal purity; but not to erect another arbiter of purity in his place. So, my your leave, I will continue to speak and think as I see fit, and I will continue to write hard SF when and as I see fit.
And the Golden Age of Campbell will remain the Golden Age, thank you. We do not need to tear down A.E. Van Vogt in order to lift up Edgar Rice Burroughs, or deflate Robert Heinlein in order to magnify E.E. Doc Smith.
There are two ways for a drunk to fall off a horse, after all. To avoid the danger of falling off to the one side, he overcompensates,and leans too far to the other.
In reading through the Resnick/Malzberg dialogues, at least in the 1990s and the 2000s, science fiction was trending harder. Yet I’m also seeing slippage in the term. Hard SF used to be the scientific-marvelous, where one particular idea is examined and then the consequences are explored straight into the unknown. Now, it appears to be tech-SF, little more than rules or setting crunch with practically no exploration of the unknown. And that rules crunch hard SF ideal has gone into fantasy as well, with Brandon Sanderson being the best-selling example.
“Crunch” is a good, neutral term to use here. It has to do with how many rules are applied and how technical they get, no matter how much punching or adventuring or politicking is going on around it. I recommend we focus more on crunchiness and its uses/abuses than slashing at shadows when we really don’t have to.
I have no problem with Tech SF. I love STARSHIP TROOPERS. Same goes for the Tech SF works of Poul Anderson, Pournelle, Cherryh, Drake etc. Rod Walker and Mr. Wright are doing good work. I’m certainly not saying that it shouldn’t be written or read. Poul Anderson is one of my favorite authors. Period. I treasure all of his Tech SF fiction. So let’s not strawman things here and say that we’re trying to memory-hole or outlaw Tech SF. That’s not what is going on.
If someone is said to be “soft on crime”, is that a compliment? If someone takes a “soft line” on an issue, is that a compliment? In a military unit, do the “softies” or the “hard guys” have more respect? The very name implies that “Hard” SF is “REAL” SF. If someone — especially a guy — unfamiliar with the field or nomenclature was offered the choice to read “Hard” SF or “Semi-Hard” SF, which do you think he would choose, just from the name?
When that label was applied, and for all the years to the present day — whether consciously or unconsciously — it has set itself up as the SUPERIOR brand of SF. The Platonic ideal all SF authors should strive for. It’s not. It’s just another category of SF. Definitely not “better” than the other categories, despite the name. “Non-Hard” SF — see how lame that name sounds? — is just as worthwhile. Tech SF needs to get over itself.
I forgot to list Herbert and Neil Stephenson. I don’t mind some of Spraguey’s Tech SF. Certainly beeter than his attempts at Conan pastiches. I’ve yet to read Liu, but he sounds good.
Wow. What a Tech SF-hating bastard I am! Throw all that Tech SF on the bonfire!
If hard SF was the De Facto definition of sci-fi today,the Hunger Games, Divergent, Jurassic Park, the Mazerunner, and Firefly would all not be considered sci-fi.
But they are. That comment is simply not true. Pulp works fell down the memory hole, yes. Maybe that was Campbell. I don’t know. I’m not a historian.
Soft sci-fi did not. Vox’ s blue vs. Pink definition was actually very broad initially; It was more about pink SF than blue SF. Distinguishing further between red and blue happened later.
Call it what you want; hardness as a term makes sense to me for a variety of reasons. But “pulp works fell down the memory hole” is a different claim than “Hard SF is the only real SF”.
“My suggestion: Stick to the things I’m saying and the points I’m actually making, not the points you think I’m driving towards or things you’ve heard other people say.”
Jesus, we’re not saints, have a little compassion.
“Hard SF is the de facto definition of science fiction today.”
Did you write that in 1951? Because it’s sure as heck not true in 2017. Look at what’s being sold and discussed. Various flavors of message fic, dystopia, quest fantasy, paranormal romance, mil-SF shoot ’em ups, space opera, and alternate history are all outdoing hard SF. Hard SF is a minority of the field. A proud one, yes, and we can be annoyingly arrogant. But there’s no illusions we’re in charge. It’s just one segment of a large field.
Now in 1951 you’d have a case for the Hard SF folks running wild. But today you sound like someone showing up at boot camp wanting to fight the Germans. The DI will explain that you’re a few decades behind the times.
The “Hard SF is the not Only True SF” battle was waged and won by the New Wave writers before you were born, Mr. Johnson. It is becoming painfully close to a straw man.
Right now hard SF is a struggling flame in a sea of steampunk romances, teenage vampires, slipstream fantasies, Extruded Fantasy Trilogy Products, and books about people shooting monsters. I only WISH it was the monolithic tyrant you’re making it out to be. Then I could read your essays on a laptop made of platinum and emeralds and have my servants bring me iced champagne while I compose my reply.
This seems like a pointless argument.
The only thing we are doing here is going around and around trying to decide whether we have to make a new name for hard SF.
It is a waste of energy (and we already have a metric anyway: Pulp is red, hard is blue, everything else is pink-gray-goo).
The Pulprev will lose its way if we make ourselves about de-legitimatizing or demonizing the “boys in blue.” Their work has value of its own. I thought we were trying to de-legitimatize the pink slime which has NO OBJECTIVE VALUE. The difference is night and day. The one has a subjective quality based on personal preference, the other is UGLY, FALSE, POORLY CRAFTED and by and large has no business being published in a real meritocracy.
If what Cambias says is true, we may have isolated allies out there drowning in the pink sea. Let’s cast a line to any survivors who will sign articles with us against a common enemy, and welcome them aboard.
This isn’t to contradict Jeffro’s post, his bullet points in particular are convincing. But his post is about contradicting the hipster holier-SF-than-thou people.
So I do disagree with the pointless debate that always erupts when this topic is brought up. We want to provide a refutation to those who think they are so much better than us, but we’ll become as obsolete as we want to make them if we start to put on their airs.
We want to establish ourselves based on the objective truth, not on a counter-narrative.
I’ve always thought of “hard” SF as “real” SF – which is why I’ve always hated SF. I can read and enjoy books like Vance’s Tschai series or Moorcock’s “The Twilight Man” because in my mind they’re “not really science fiction.”
The name says it all. Calling it “hard” is a value judgement, an atribution of quality. If ALL they were trying to do, as they assert, is “describe” it, they would simply call it “Tech SF” or something similar. They don’t and they know why. The very name asserts superiority. Plus, “The Club of Tech SF Buds” just doesn’t have the same ring as “The Club of Hard SF Buds.”