Saturday, November 12, 2016

Questions for Investigation

I've been using my Google+ account as a scratch pad lately, thinking out loud about a few half-formed ideas. So that I can keep better track of them, and also in hopes that someone might batter the errors out of them, I've posted them here.


Did science fiction survive the death of Campbell in 1971?

By science fiction, I mean the branch of stories written for, against, in reaction to, or grew out from the Campbell revolution. I'd include, at the very least, Campbell, Futurian, and New Wave. Other rocketship stories exist outside of this group, but, unlike the Campbell strain of science fiction, they aren't typically considered to be the legitimate bearers of the mantle of SF.

There is no one smoking gun for what killed off a lot of weird literature in the 1970s, from new tax structures making backlists liabilities to the death of fiction magazines to rising pagecounts and an explosion of epic fantasy driving publishers away from the shorter weird tales. The newer editors of the 70s did not have their roots in the weird pulps and magazines either. But Campbell's death was mourned, not only for the loss of the man, but, as writer Barry Malzberg recounted of a friend's reaction to Campbell's death, "The field has lost its conscience, its center, the man for whom we were all writing. Now there's no one to get mad at us anymore."

Did Campbell science fiction survive this time, or was it supplanted by other rocketship tales in the 70s, as epic fantasy replaced sword and sorcery and the summer blockbuster replaced the dour artistic films of the same time? My gut now says no, but had I listened to my gut, I would have thought Campbell science fiction to be a more universal literature instead of being a literature of a clique. But while I might not yet have proof for a hunch, I am interested in hanging the pinyata out there for others to whack away at it.

In response, Jeffro Johnson pointed out that:
Something was out of whack when Asimov came backfrom nonfiction to do alien masturbation and low gee awkward sex. Heinlein was doing mega-novels about a guy traveling in time to have sex with his mom. Clarke? You know what he was doing in Sri Lanka and "Childhoods End" takes on an entirely different meaning because of it. These guys define the field for most people... these guys are what reformers are trying to move back to... but I'm telling you, this is batshit crazy stuff. If you think of this crap displacing Burroughs, Merritt, Brackett, Vance, Wellman, and Williamson, it's just plain bizarre.
And, indeed, Asimov and Heinlein's old man phases started after Campbell's death...


When did the idea that the pre-Campbell weird tales and the pulps suck become common?

I have a hard time believing that it was prevalent during the 30s through the early 70s. Many of the early Campbell writers were friends with Lovecraft and his Mythos circle. Others wrote for Weird Tales and similar non-Campbell pulps even as they wrote for Campbell. In fact, working in the pulps was a tradition that lasted decades. Kuttner wrote his own hero pulp. Bester wrote for the Shadow radio plays and even turned a Shadow script into the Demolished Man. Farmer wrote Tarzan novels and a fannish account of Doc Savage. Delaney wrote Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories for the comics.

Outside the pulps, Moorcock was Lester Dent's greatest disciple, using the Doc Savage author's pulp form and structure to create his early fantasies. Even Harlan Ellison used hero pulp radio plays to unironically convey the innocence of childhood in his stories.

Was it introduced by the anti-heroic Futurians? Or did the attitude arise after the 1970s, when the book editors took over from the magazine editors and no longer knew of the pulps or the magazines? Whenever it entered fannish thought, it created a lingering bit of "common knowledge" that just ain't so.

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