Sunday, May 13, 2007

John J. Pierce in the New York Times 2

Science fiction critic/editor/fan John J. Pierce is at it again. For the second time this year, he's gotten a letter to the editor about science fiction published in The New York Times. Last January, as previously seen on this blog, he weighed in on Heinlein's ever-controversial Starship Troopers.

Today, the NYT printed his response to a snooty article on Philip K. Dick. The article was one of many that take the "science fiction for people who hate to admit that worthwhile literature is science fiction" tack: take a single science fiction author (Bradbury, le Guin and Vonnegut are common examples) and proceed to argue that the author has some special talent that is completely different from the bulk of science fiction authors, and that their literary value is mutually exclusive to the science fictional aspects of their work. So, this article will note Dick's origins in pulps and Ace Double paperbacks, and then follow it up with "you don't read Mr. Dick for his prose". In response, Pierce notes that "it saves a lot of time and a lot of reading to anoint a single science-fiction writer as the only one worthy of consideration". To provide some examples of equally worthy authors, he plugs Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber and James Tiptree Jr. The latter did recently earn some attention from the NYT when a biography of her received a front-page book review; and only last week, a letter to the editor focused on science fiction author Leigh Brackett's screenwriting career.

Also, Pierce accurately notes that the recent film The Last Mimzy "hasn’t inspired the slightest interest" in Henry Kuttner, who wrote the source story "Mimsy Were the Borogoves". (Many of the reviewers didn't even realize that the credited author "Lewis Padgett" was Kuttner's pseudonym.) For me, the missed opportunity involved was a huge disappointment; it seemed like Kuttner was about to get his due at last, and that Hollywood would finally "get it", and realize the large amount of source material lying around by people not named Philip K. Dick. Alas.

At least the grand old The Best of Henry Kuttner collection has been brought back into print as a tie-in book, complete with Ray Bradbury's excellent introduction. As it so happens, the "Best of" series (in which Pierce edited three of the volumes) also had an entry for Dick; the entire series was published in the late 1970s, just before Blade Runner catapulted Dick into the spotlight.

Addendum: Sha LaBare points out in the comments that I should have credited Kuttner's wife and fellow writer C. L. Moore as co-author of "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (as well as most of the other stories in The Best of Henry Kuttner).

3 comments:

John J. Pierce said...

Gee, I never knew I was being mentioned in a blog until today (May 31).

NYT cut off a quip about how the Dick cult is so obsessive that if his laundry lists surface, there'll be an annotated edition.

Kuttner reprint never showed up at Borders and Barnes & Ignoble, at least not where I live. And despite the Sheldon biography, you don't see her books around much.

Sha LaBare said...

Hi Joel~
Just a reminder that Lewis Padgett is not in fact the pseudonym of Henry Kuttner, but of Kuttner and his wife, C. L. Moore. Eliding this collaboration does a disservice not only to an amazing husband and wife team known as Lewis Padgett, but also of course to one of sf's greatest early female writers, best known for her Jirel of Joiry series featuring one of the first female heroes in the swords and sorcery subgenre.
About six months too late to make much difference, but I figured I'd put my two cents in anyway!
remain in light,
Sha

Joel Schlosberg said...

Sha LaBare,

You're absolutely right! Rereading the post now, I see that I didn't give Moore proper credit at all, and it just doesn't sound right. At least I appended a correction now. Mea culpa!

I definitely knew about their collaboration on most of their stories (they were the Will and Ariel Durant of science fiction, if anyone still gets that reference), and her role as a pioneering female writer (like Tiptree and Brackett, who I did mention elsewhere in the post!) I think I associated that particular story more with Kuttner because it's in the Best of Henry Kuttner collection. The attribution of their stories in anthologies can be odd: sometimes both authors are credited; sometimes a joint pseudonym like "Lewis Padgett" or "Lawrence O'Donnell" is used; and sometimes only one of them is credited for a joint story, in this case an editor will sometimes just guess which one wrote more of a particular story. One anthology, The Astounding-Analog Reader volume 1, included two Lawrence O'Donnell stories despite a one-story-per-author rule, arguing that since there were two authors behind the pseudonym it didn't break the rule. Also, it so happens that all of the stories in the Best of Kuttner volume are from the period where they collaborated, while most of the stories in the Best of Moore one were written solo before she started collaborating with Kuttner (including some stories from the Northwest Smith and aforementioned Jirel of Joiry series, as well as memorable one-shots like "The Bright Illusion"), so Moore really did the majority of writing in those volumes! So, a reader who encountered Mimsy or another story attributed solely to Kuttner in an anthology, and who didn't know the background, might not know that a story was by both authors ... but I did know, so again, it was my mistake!