Michael Dirda about books about the glory of the biblical life


Science fiction has long been a moral literature, using induction to investigate the impact of technology, politics, religion, gender, race, and the environment on the human race. That it has come to be seen as a worthy literary genre – in fact as a mainstream of modern fiction – can be attributed to several reasons, among them the 1979 “Science Fiction Encyclopedia”, which was edited and largely written by Peter Nichols and John Clout .

The Australian Nichols and the Canadian Clout, both living in London, were first and foremost serious critics who applied their categorical wit, their extensive and profound reading in all branches of literature, and their meticulous bibliographic scholarship to illustrate what was so despised at the time. Type. The encyclopedia—later expanded in its second 1993 edition and now constantly updated and freely available online—spurred a slow paradigm shift: henceforth, science fiction could no longer be considered merely children’s things.

If you can’t handle Proust’s 1.5 million words, try Swann in Love

Today, Clute remains the godfather of a sixth critique, but Nichols essentially stopped writing after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2000. He died in 2018 at the age of 78 at his Melbourne home. But this year, David Langford amassed much of his friend’s literary press — some originally written for the Washington Post Book World during the 1980s — inFantasy Genre: The Troubled Years“(Ansible Editions). It makes reading irresistible and a reminder of the sheer enthusiasm that Nichols brings to everything he has written.

From the outset, this academic once insisted that VI was a branch of literature, repeatedly asserting that “there is not a single point between realistic fiction and science fiction where we can confidently draw a dividing line.” In a long essay dedicated to the pioneers of the genre, he boldly includes Gilgamesh, Plato’s “Republic,” Dante’s “Comedy,” Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” and even Melville’s “Moby-Dick.” In these ecclesiastical classics, Nichols It highlights the reliance on techniques and motifs that were later central to modern science fiction, such as distorting the familiar, creating a sense of wonder, preoccupation with theological and philosophical speculation, as well as their use of such metaphors as fantastic. Journey, Utopia and Dystopia, and Encounters with an Alien. He notes of Beowulf, “The story of the hero discovering his ability to possess property after a series of arduous tests … comes back many times every year. It is, for example, Robert Heinlein’s basic plot, and he has used it at least a dozen times.”

Science fiction – please, let’s not call it “sci-fi” – is more than just a reaction to the present

Often the literary press of Nichols Playful, with Hunter S. Thompson-like reporting on drunken weekends at sci-fi conventions, but also subtle Analyzes of “The Far Shore” by Ursula K. Le Guin and “Bequeath the New Sun” by Jane Wolfe. As befitting a fan of the super-serious FR Leavis, he holds the genre to high standards. In an exhibition of science fiction art, Nichols notes “Sequential rows of imaginative images, incredibly imaginative in almost the same comic way as each other.” “Ringworld” critic Larry Niven rightly insists that “if a technical concept is not given meaning in a human context, it simply doesn’t matter.” The literature, after all, is about why it is important to be alive.

As editor of Foundation magazine in the 1970s, Nichols remembers encouraging “analytical review beyond the summary to make critical judgments and give readings of subtexts.” He does, however, pass so affectionately on his friend John Clout, “perhaps our best reviewer,” who “writes so clearly of implicit content that he sometimes forgets, inhaling electro-clean oxygen from his internal water respirator, that there is something mundane to text there on the surface, a site which he visits occasionally only with a bang and a tap before he beeps again in the depths of our sixth.”

This is weed simile intentionally reflects Clute’s baroque style and may also be the best description of his critical personality anyone has ever given. As proof, think “Holding on to the End” (Beccon), the seventh and latest collection of Clute Reviews and Articles. All the while, the syntax is strong and colloquial, while the spelling often grows brazenly. To paraphrase a line from “Jaws”: When you start reading Clute, you’ll need a larger dictionary. In just one review, I had to search for the words “aliquot”, “sophont” and “prelusive”. However, some of the important terms on which it is based, such as “Godgame”, “Mysterious Stranger” and “Slingshot Ending”, have been widely used and clearly defined in the “Encyclopedia of Science Fiction”, where it should also be worth noting His entries – hundreds, perhaps thousands – are not only authoritative, but clearly written.

Above all, Sticking to the End makes clear that Clute, after more than half a century in the salt mines, continues to approach the new works of science fiction with the zeal of a 20-year-old, albeit one who can count on unrivaled knowledge of the entire history of the field. Start, say, with his article on David Mitchell—or that on Jonathan Lethem and Nalo Hopkinson—and you might at first feel dumbfounded or sluggish, but if you pay attention, you’ll be rewarded with seeing the work under review in more depth than you thought possible. Clute’s analytical style was no less impressive in the second half of his book, commenting on dozens of films from “The Bride of Frankenstein” to “Wonderful Woman.” Among science fiction critics, there is no one more respected or admired.

Paper, books and the art of collecting

Let me briefly mention two additional sets of articles. I wouldn’t say much about RB Russell fifty forgotten books(and other stories) Because I loved him so much, I contributed a publicity stunt to his back cover. But when this novelist, short story writer and publisher (of Tartarus Press) discusses Roland Tobor’s “The Tenant,” Pamela Hansford Johnson’s “The Unspeakable Skipton” or Rachel Ferguson’s “The Brontës Went to Woolworth’s,” he remembers the place. From whom each title was purchased, what it meant to him at the time, and what he thinks of it now. As a result, these engaging personal essays form part autobiography, reminding us that a writer’s life can be an enviably satisfying one.

This is certainly an opinion that agrees with G. Thomas Tanselle. As our leading authority on all aspects of bibliography and textual criticism, he often writes highly specialized articles, but this is not true in the case of books in my life(Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia). Its centerpiece is The Living Room: A Memoir, in which the novels, scholarly stories, and magazines of Tansel’s Manhattan apartment evoke, as well as many decorative objects, happy childhood memories in Indiana, where he spent years as a teacher at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and his long tenure as Vice President of the John Foundation Simon Guggenheim Memorial and, above all, the many friends he made during his career as a “collective scholar”. He tells us that much of his library is kept in elegant, glass-faced bookcases, totaling more than 100 stackable shelving units. Can I express my serious envy?

Two other articles from this volume deal with the value of engraved books and the principles guiding the bibliographer. Perhaps the most interesting article, however, discusses the vital importance of the “non-first” in the study of the history and influence of any book. Since early editions are so highly regarded, not to mention fetish, few dealers bother cataloging or even noticing the publisher’s subsequent reprints of a popular title. As Tansell recalls, “When I once bought a copy of the twenty-first edition of ‘Main Street’ from a dealer in Chicago (having checked my listing to see I didn’t have it), he noticed that I was probably the only one who would have bought it. Because It was the twenty-first edition.”

As excellent as they are, it is unlikely that any of the four books mentioned here will make it into the twenty-first edition. However, this only means that lucky readers will only need to be satisfied, as they will undoubtedly be, with a nice, pure first edition.

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