Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What I've Been Talking About

Right now I'm reading Barry Malzberg's Breakfast in the Ruins, a much-updated and expanded version of his 1980 kiss-slap to science fiction, The Engines of the Night -- which, by the way, is fascinating and will likely be the best non-fiction book on SF published this year and a shoo-in as a Best Related Book Hugo nominee -- and finding much to think about.

For example, related to the chats we had here and at rec.arts.sf.written about the New Wave, here's Malzberg, from his 1980 essay, "The Fifties," on the end of that decade and the beginning of the next, in the aftermath of the 1958 breakup of American News Service:
John W. Campbell at Astounding had wandered from Dianetics to the Hieronymus Machine to the finagle factor and was just beginning to topple into Norman Dean's Drive, meanwhile running stories by a few writers functioning under innumerable pseudonyms, with virtually the same plot, conception, characters, and outcome. Only Rich Raphael (who was gone by 1965) seemed to be able to break into and sell interesting work to ASF in those years; Campbell had no other new writers of any visible promise.

An unhappy, airless time. An end of time for many. So emphatically hopeless that when science fiction began to pick up once more in the mid-sixties, first with the British New Worlds and then with the fusion of new writers, new approaches in the barbarous colonies themselves, a new audience was unaware of what had been accomplished in the fifties and talked of the field's "new literary merit," "new relevance," "new excitement," "new standards of contemporaneity" as if nothing innovative has occurred before Ballard or Silverberg.

If you were interested in my post on the New Wave, you really should read this book. If you're interested in the history of SF at all, you probably should read this book. (Though I warn you: Malzberg calls it "a work about losing and losers, conceived and executed in that mode." Those of you for whom SF is the glorious handmaiden of Technology Triumphant, surging boldly on into the Uncharted Nether Regions, will probably not like his tone.)


Anonymous said...

That collection is from Baen Books, isn't it?

Andrew Wheeler said...

James: Yes, it is; one of the odder publisher-project combinations I've seen. (Or at least seemingly so; Baen Books is not as monolithically MilSF as it sometimes looks, and it has done a lot of historical reprints over the last decade or so.)

Anonymous said...

I think Malzberg worked with Jim Baen in the past, during the period when Baen was at Ace.


Yeah, it looks to me that The End of Summer, edited by Barry N. Malzberg and Bill Pronzini (Ace, 1979) came out when Baen would have been calling the shots.

Anonymous said...

I believe the book is an updating/expansion etc etc of his Hugo nominated book "The Engines of the Night." It lost to: "Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction" by James Gunn (Oxford University Press. Details here:

I recall the book as a fascinating read and look forward to eventually getting to this new edition.

-- Michael Walsh

Anonymous said...

Just downloaded a copy.

While Malzberg's SF criticism makes an interesting read, I'm always a bit skeptical of his take given his biases.

George Gilbert posted this item many years ago---

[A.E. van Vogt, from the introduction to "The Milford
Series: Popular Writers of Today, Vol. 29", Borgo Press, San Bernardino, CA, 1980, page 3]

"A few years ago Pocket Books was planning a series of 'Best ofs' -- (Best of Keith Laumer...Harry
Harrison...myself, etc.) The idea was that we would all write an introduction to someone else's 'Best of' for which we would receive the additional modest sum of $75.

"Suddenly, the plans changed. It appeared that Barry Malzberg would write all the introductions. Barry is one of the three science fiction writers who has
periodically announced his retirement from science
fiction. And then there is a new story by him in a magazine; for whatever reason he has decided to stay in the field. My own guess: since he doesn't have many
books in print he keeps being on the verge of starvation. (I know the feeling well; I've been
there.) So I think he got all the introductions to write because an editor decided he needed the money.

"What interested me when I heard of the change of plans was that I had learned by the grapevine that
Barry didn't like my work. Yet I was calm. It is one of the cliches of introduction writing that the work has to be praised in some minimal way. How would Barry
M. handle the dilemma thus created for him by his poverty? I was sent an advance copy with, presumedly,
the right of refusal. But I let it all go by. There was some put-down stuff there but there were enough
sentences that the publisher could quote to qualify the introduction for those minimal praise

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[For the Malzberg introduction AEVV refers to, go to

and check it out for yourself if you're interested]

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