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193mm x 125mm
ISBN 0 86130 048 3
|Our worst jacket designa disgrace to all concerned. On the plus side, thirty top writers in the field of Science Fiction tell you how they created their most famous books. Charles Platt spent two years travelling America and England on a personal odyssey to get his material. Who Writes Science Fiction? was published in the same year in America as Dream Makers: The Uncommon People who Write Science Fiction. Savoy's edition contains an extra interview, with Robert Sheckley.
A few copies of this title are still available.
Interviewees: Isaac Asimov / Thomas M Disch / Ben Bova / Kurt Vonnegut / Hank Stine / Norman Spinrad / Frederick Pohl / Samuel R Delany / Barry N Malzberg / Edward Bryant / Alfred Bester / C M Kornbluth / Algis Budrys / Philip José Farmer / A E Van Vogt / Philip K Dick / Harlan Ellison / Ray Bradbury / Robert Sheckley / Frank Herbert / Damon Knight / Kate Wilhelm / Michael Moorcock / JG Ballard / E C Tubb / Ian Watson / John Brunner / Gregory Benford / Robert Silverberg / Brian W Aldiss
"Marvellously thought-provoking material."
"A writer I know told me to read Charles Platt's Who Writes Science Fiction? He said to read it with all the lights on. I can afford to care less than this writer, who has a family to support. So I read it with half the lights on. And I was up till 3 a.m. with a depression so total I would have taken my life if it had seemed worth the trouble. I recommend this book to any of you who think you'd like to write. It is horrifying. I wish I hadn't read it. Worse than confirming my darkest thoughts, it told me that my cynical pessimism is as starry-eyed idealism to the reality.
It's a book of interviews, in a chatty tone, with 30 SF writers. A massive polyphonic nightmare on a single theme, the same story over and over, the same structure elaborated with the savage psychotic inventiveness of personal circumstance. One voice: the genius loci of science fiction. A litany of pain, loss, defeat, capitulation, futility and silence. Edward Bryant, A E van Vogt, Barry Malzberg, E C Tubb, Kornbluth, Bradbury, Dick, Aldiss: one voice. One message. This field kills. Soon or late, one way or another, by success, neglect, or both in the wrong seasons, it will break you and leave you in pain so great it cannot be rationalised or repressed.
Some are frank about this; the message is implicit in the rest. What to think of van Vogt's "exhaustion therapy", in which psychic traumas are expunged by mental repetition till the painful groove's worn flat? Or Dick's earnest account of another mind taking him over? (This mind, he says, is with him yet). These are gruesome and vividly real images of the process of survival in SFand Vogt and Dick do not even realise that they are speaking in metaphor.
Stay alive, stay alive, is the message. Not one of these writers says, or can say: I did my work, I enjoyed it, and when it was over I stopped and never looked back. Alfred Bester wants to die with his head in the typewriter. Not all do, but, one way or another, all will. Bryant says he tells students "never to become writers because it will do them no good... discouraging them every chance I get", and it's no joke, friends. No joke to discover that what once seemed the noblest thing in the world is, by any yardstick of reality, about as vital as the marketing of pet rocks.
The situation's not unique to SF; it happens to writers everywhere. But there's an especially grotesque, cloying irony to it here; that men whose stock-in-trade is the future should have their own futures mortgaged so completely. No one's free. The balance of art and commerce is impossible to adjust. These men are professionals. They have all written soullessly, for money only. But they have also, most of them, tried at some time to reach past that. Silverberg believed that "as you grew, and deepened, and enhanced your craft and your art... there would be a rewardand I don't mean a monetary reward." I learned at an earlier age than Silverberg that this is not so; in fact the effort to improve your craft past minimum competence works against you in every way; it is hard work, and no one wants you to do it. I am, perhaps, still a little bitter about this; Silverberg is not. His is the healthier attitude.
How do you deal with this? "Serious" writers sometimes wish they had the audience of science fiction, but the audience is a beast. Ellison: "Who do I think I am? I think I'm the guy who can write a story as good as Count the Clock That Tells the Time while sitting on a goddamn pyramid while thousands of people are trying to break my bones." Wilhelm: "People aren't interested in good prose, or beautiful language. I wonder sometimes if it isn't a mistake to nitpick and go after the prose flaws in students, or even in other writers. Maybe it's beside the point." Knight: "They don't want prose that demands close attention... it would actually annoy them if the story were written very carefully, very well, because it would slow them down." Bryant: "Eleven short years, from Clarion to a Nebula. Another overnight success. Oh, Christ."
And after half a dozen interviews, this book, like all the science fiction that sells by the truckload, arouses no feeling at all. It merely stuns by repetition. It numbs. Not even cheery Bradbury can raise a grin. By the time he has praised his own poetry and mentioned his "all new" play of Fahrenheit 451, there is no way even to be bitter about what he once had. Nor to feel loss when Silverberg has his "odd moment of guilt" at "walking away" from the gift of Dying Inside. Nor upset at Aldiss's "Christ, where else do you go?" Nor anything for Tubb's "I started writing, as most authors do, first through love, and then through money; and I'm afraid, like the majority of authors, the love starts to vanish and the money stays." Nor this, from Malzberg: "I don't think it matters at all, and I think my career in science fiction to have been a mistake at best, a tragedy most likely. But if I had to do it all over again I would do it exactly this way." This is not an affirmation.
Confessions, or repressions, cowed or strident, beaten or self-secure, a decade's silence or an awful fetish for productivity... one voice, one story, finally deadening; a bitter, black play for voices all one voicelike the entire literature of SF itself, monstrously, psychotically rich in detail and incident, but every single work a compromise, a failure, a more or less good approximation, each a vantage point from which to view the one imaginary Ideal Science Fiction Book, which itself is unwriteable. Still we strive. One life, one story, refracted through 30 lenses. And mind you, these are the successful authors.
If this is so... if I believe it... then why do I write science fiction? Ah, my story is the same. One lucid moment caught my eye. There was a time when the field seemed full of promise. I believe it was on a Wednesday."
CARTER SCHOLZ, The Comics Journal
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