Briefing, Scolding, Questioning

Cheap Science Fiction Reference Books

More than a few of the bloggers I read and regular visitors to this site (sometimes the same crowd) like old science fiction and might find old reference books on science fiction interesting. I’m talking about books from publishers like Greenwood Press — expensive and really only intended for libraries.

Well, enough time has passed that libraries are starting to get rid of them. Their loss might be your gain.

In the past year, I’ve picked up all but one of John J. Pierce’s critical works. (He’s still working on the subject and posts infrequently on his blog.)

And, when I was in the bookstore selling off a seven volume history of the Prussian Empire, I came across another: Science Fiction Writers: Critical Studies of the Major Authors from the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present Day, ed. E. F. Bleiler from Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982. It was all of $10.

There are articles on various authors from a variety of scholars. Some are expected: John Clute, Peter Nichols, Brian W. Aldiss, Malcolm Edwards, and Bleiler himself. Brian M. Stableford has several, but I have many of his lit-crit collections from Wildside Press, so many of these are not new to me.

Other names I either didn’t expect in this context or are new to me: John Scarborough, James L. Campbell, Sr, John R. Pfeiffer, Willis E. McNelly, Robert E. Myers, Charles L. Elkins, Ronald D. Tweet, L. David Allen, Chris Morgan, Gardner Dozois, John B. Ower, Richard Finholt, John Carr, L. David Allen, Marilyn J. Holt, and Susan Wood. Colin Wilson shows up not only with the expected essay on H. P. Lovecraft but also A. E. van Vogt.

As for subjects, all are defensible and familiar except for the name Luis Philip Senarens covered by Bleiler. Favorites of mine omitted are James Gunn and Charles Harness, but I think that’s defensible.

Fritz Leiber

Speaking of Bleiler, the modern incarnation of his old employer, Dover Books, has started a series called “Doomsday Classics“. One of the reprints is Fritz Leiber’s The Night of the Long Knives.

And There Arose a Generation Which Did Not Know …

Over at the Coode Street Podcast awhile back, Kristine Kathryn Rusch talked about an upcoming anthology, Women in Futures Past. Motivated by bizarre claims she would hear from writing students about women (or the lack thereof) in science fiction history, she has undertaken an educational mission.

But why does she have to? Why does this kind of ignorance exist among the most connected people in the world?

Back in the 1970s, when I started reading science fiction as a poor student in a backwater town in South Dakota, I knew about these authors — even if I couldn’t get my hands on their books. My high school library had The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. In the post Star Wars years, I managed to pick up a cheap, but new, copy of Encyclopedia of Science Fiction edited by Robert Holdstock. It also mentioned women science fiction writers besides Ursula K. Le Guin. So did Baird Searles’ paperback A Reader’s Guide to Science Fiction. So did James Gunn’s The Road to Science Fiction series.

I seldom, if ever mention, “diversity” issues. But even I bought, in the 1990s, three landmark anthologies on women in science fiction: Jean Stine and Janrae Frank’s New Eves: Science Fiction About the Extraordinary Women of Today and Tomorrow and Pamela Sargent’s two-volume Women of Wonder anthology.

Bought them and read them.

So why does the generation that grew up with huge amounts of data available with the twitch of fingers on the keyboard as opposed to a drive to the library or weeks long wait for loaned or purchased books know so little about this subject? Is the internet age or modern education destroying their curiosity?

The ignorance Rusch cites is among self-professed fans, neigh would-be writers.

I wish Rusch well on her project. If she has enough new material I don’t already have, I’ll probably buy the book.

I’m genuinely puzzled why it’s needed though. The digital age reducing the mental habitat of Arthur Koestler’s “library angels“? Overbooked schedules allowing less time for casual curiosity? Shortened attention spans? Still, we are talking about the age of the hyperlink.

I guess, as Merlin remarked in John Boorman’s Excalibur, “For it is the doom of man that they forget.”


Reading Bitter Bierce: Second Thoughts on Bleiler and Bierce

I favorably mentioned, in the first installment of this series, E. F. Bleiler’s introduction to the collection Ghost and Horror Stories of Ambrose Bierce.

It seems that Don Swaim, proprietor of the justly titled Ambrose Bierce Site, has some unkind opinions on Bleiler’s opinions of Bierce. While he “might accept some of Bleiler’s pungent but snarky literary analysis”, he regards Bleiler’s statement’s on Bierce’s life and character as flat out wrong.Bierce

He says Bleiler relied too much on two Bierce biographies: Adolphe de Castro’s Portrait of Ambrose Bierce and Walter Neale’s Life of Ambrose Bierce.

Since I have read no Bierce biographies, I have no opinion on the matter. I will say that I have heard a fan of Bierce the man and his work recommend both.

Reading Bitter Bierce: Was He a Proto-Fortean?

Bierce, as mentioned in the first installment in this series, is a Fortean phenomena — not for his art so much as his mysterious death. (I recently learned that science fiction and mystery author Fredric Brown wrote an entire novel on the idea of an “Ambrose Collector”.)

But was Bierce a proto-Fortean, a man who collected oddities?

He did do serious, non-fiction pieces on mysterious matters. Continue reading “Reading Bitter Bierce: Was He a Proto-Fortean?”

Reading Bitter Bierce: The Weird Stories, Part 8

Before I end my discussion of Bierce’s weird stories, I wanted to note a couple resources in case you don’t want to use the two main sources I did: S. T. Joshi’s Ambrose Bierce’s: The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs and E. F. Bleiler’s Ghost and Horror Stories of Ambrose Bierce.

The first is the grandly titled The Ambrose Bierce Project. It has online copies of all the works I’ve mentioned though I don’t know if the texts are identical to those in Joshi’s volume which uses Bierce’s last revisions.

While it doesn’t look like the Ambrose Bierce Project’s webpage has been updated for awhile, Don Swain seems to keep his Bierce page current.

“The Ways of Ghosts”

In his Can Such Things Be?, Bierce has a section, “The Ways of Ghosts”, with four short, fairly unexceptional ghost stories. His introduction to the section is actually more interesting than the stories. Continue reading “Reading Bitter Bierce: The Weird Stories, Part 8”

Reading Bitter Bierce: The Lovecraft Connection

As explained in a Terence E. Hanley posting on Bierce, Bierce’s influence on H. P. Lovecraft seems to be by way of Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow.

Specifically, two Bierce stories are explicitly referenced to in the Chambers book: “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” and “Haita the Shepard”.

Both these stories deviate from Bierce’s usual style described, in Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Literature, as “obviously mechanical, and marred by a jaunty and commonplacely artificial style derived from journalistic models”. E. F. Bleiler, in his introduction to Ghost and Horror Stories of Ambrose Bierce, says there is some merit in the description of Bierce’s stories as “too contrived, mechanical and artificial to be effective” though he does think they have other merits.Bierce LOA

Being more removed from the journalism of the 19th century than Lovecraft, I can’t comment on the standard journalistic matters of the time. I would say that most of Bierce’s horror stories are journalistic in the sense that they specify dates and locations. What Lovecraft calls jaunty and artificial seems to me more Bierce’s wit and cynicism requiring sentences that only seem jaunty on the surface but snag the reader with irony. Bierce is not an anodyne author one reads quickly.

Journalistic specificity is not the case with the two stories that Chambers used. Both are set in vague times and place. Continue reading “Reading Bitter Bierce: The Lovecraft Connection”

Reading Bitter Bierce: Life After the Civil War

BierceBierce LOA

After mustering out of the Union Army in 1865, Ambrose Bierce took a job as a US Treasury Agent charged with collecting “captured and abandoned property”.

He wrote about the experience in his autobiographical essay “‘Way Down in Alabam'”. I found this a very entertaining essay partly because I’ve done some time in the tax collecting business myself, though never with as much danger as Bierce faced, and partly because it fleshes out that time covered under the generic heading “Reconstruction” in American history books. Continue reading “Reading Bitter Bierce: Life After the Civil War”

Reading Bitter Bierce: The War Years, Part 2

Bierce LOABierce

“Killed at Recasa” (with Spoilers)

S. T. Joshi, in an interview regarding his Ambrose Bierce: The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirsclaims that all his work — essays, poems, journalism, and fiction — was written “under the satirical impulse”.

The target of this story is the cult of bravery under fire, specifically bravery to impress a woman. Continue reading “Reading Bitter Bierce: The War Years, Part 2”