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April 2000
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
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Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
Kathi Maio
Lucius Shepard
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Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
Jerry Oltion
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F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
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Editor's Recommendations - April 2000
by Gordon Van Gelder

Only Hollywood filmdom can rival science fiction for the passion and zeal with which it celebrates its own history. In the literary fields, there are a couple of movements---the Beats or the Bloomsbury group---that approach the voluminous popular history sf has enjoyed, but certainly no other genre matches it.

Eric Leif Davin's Pioneers of Wonder (Prometheus Books) helped me see why. The book is a collection of interviews with sf professionals from the 1930s, including Charles Hornig, Raymond Z. Gallun, Stanley Weinbaum's widow, David Lasser, and R. F. Starzl's son. The interviews (most of which appeared previously in Fantasy Commentator) are often fascinating, such as in the case of Frank K. Kelly, who explains that as a teen, his fiction brought good money into his parents' household during the Depression . . . but when he went to college, his professors' condescending attitudes put him off the genre.

With the exception of swaggering Curt Siodmak, the writers all sound like level-headed kids who saw in sf a way to express their views and hopes for the world. But what Pioneers made clear to me is that science fiction (like Hollywood movies) is a mythmaking art. It's supposed to be larger than life, so of course the fans and historians are prone to aggrandizing the pioneers. Kudos to Mr. Davin for for both singing the deeds of these early giants and showing us their clay feet.

Frank Robinson understands this mythologizing tendency; in his big coffee-table book Science Fiction of the 20th Century (Collectors Press), his discussion of F&SF says the magazine "ran through a series of editors that reads like Biblical begats." Robinson's book reminds me a bit of a devotional or prayerbook, as it leads us skillfully through the familiar history. The real praises to be sung here are for the illustrations: bountiful full-color reproductions of classic magazine and book covers, well chosen and worth a chorus of hallelujahs.

If we continue this consideration of sf as religion, then it's clear from California Sorcery (Cemetery Dance Publications) that we had a Christ figure among us: the charismatic leader of a group of disciples who died young. There's no telling what Charles Beaumont might have achieved had he lived past the age of thirty-eight. This anthology is a fine celebration of the Group that orbited around him (including Ray Russell, Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, Chad Oliver, Ray Bradbury, and William F. Nolan---who coedited this anthology with William Schafer). The fiction here hits and misses but is mostly entertaining; the historical pieces by Nolan and by Christopher Conlon are delightful.


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