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September/October 2019
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Science Fiction: Complete with Everything: Aliens, Giant Ants, Space Cadets, Robots, and One Plucky Girl by No-Frills Entertainment (1981)

In a 1978 interview, Ursula K. Le Guin was asked if the label "science fiction" gave her frustrations. She said, "It really is a publisher's label, and a bookseller's label. And it's a useful label, I don't resent it. I like to go to a bookstore and find science fiction all together. And yet in a way it has—I don't use the label much for my own stuff, partly because everybody uses it differently. It's a convenience label, but it doesn't really mean anything, and of course nobody's ever been able to define it."

A few years later, when supermarkets began selling store brand items as generic foods—simply labeled "crackers" or "popcorn"—an editor at Jove Books conceived the notion of selling generic novels with similar monochrome labels. That editor was Terry Bisson, and he commissioned a Western, a Mystery, and a Romance. For the Science Fiction title he turned to another editor, John Silbersack, to write it. (Interesting that a Fantasy trilogy was not included in the batch.)

Silbersack's novella—just fifty-eight paperback pages—aims to be a quintessential sf story, featuring a stalwart space cadet, a plucky girl love interest, a robot sidekick, a dotty professor, and giant ants. The slapdash plot concerns a disappeared Pluto colony that left behind a message of CROATAN, but it makes little sense and the tale doesn't really work as either homage or parody. All of which suggests that it's better to apply the label to a book than it is to write a book to fit the label.

Thomas Kaufsek

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