A Biblio-Critical Study of Speculative Fiction Novels

Chapter 09 Other Voices

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Chapter 9: Other Voices

The authors I have highlighted are by no means the only good writers of speculative fiction. In this chapter, I will attempt to name some of the others and list their more notable works.

A. Charles Platt

Charles Platt remains best know for his stories and editorship of New Worlds magazine, but he wrote several novels after the folding of that magazine. They include Twilight of the City (1977) and the Garbage World (1977). Platt's novels tend to concern the sociological, and he generally writes about near-future urban scenarios.


B. Christopher Priest

Christopher Priest also associated himself with New Worlds and Science Fantasy. His Darkening Island features an England overrun by blacks. Inverted World (1975) puts a new spin on the lost starship theme of Heinlein's Orphans in the Sky. In Priest’s novel, inhabitants travel endlessly around the world, ignorant of the fact that they lie just above their home world.


C. Keith Roberts

Keith Roberts probably holds the most importance of the groups of writer that regularly contributed to for Science Fantasy. Roberts’s novels include The Furies (1966), The Inner Wheel (1970), and The Chalk Giants (1974) with the latter still in print. His most famous work, Pavane (1966) uses the familiar theme of an alternate world. In Robert's work, the Spanish Armada defeated the English, and the Pope dominates Europe. Roberts writes with emotion and a unique sympathy and understanding for this alternate culture. In "The White Boat," for example, Roberts uses a girl's encounter with a group of smugglers as a metaphor for her sexual initiation. Roberts received considerably less attention in the United States than he deserves.


D. John Brunner

In decided contrast, John Brunner, received the enthusiastic applause of American critics or least after he entered his more experimental phase. Brunner began his career writing space operas for the American pulp magazines and wrote an outstanding number of quite ordinary mainstream science fiction novels, By the late 1950s, he began experimenting with science fiction-mainstream hybrids, making him one of the innovators, rather than a follower as other critics claimed. Brunner wrote a number of important volumes since the 1950s, including The Whole Man (1965), The Squares of the City (1966), The Production of Time (1967), Stand on Zanzibar (1965), The Sheep Look Up (1973), and The Shockwave Rider (1975). The last three novels continue the comic dystopia tradition of Pohl and Kornbluth, but Brunner's novels feature better characterization and less humor. More famously, they utilize Dos Passos's montage technique. Stand on Zanzibar won a Hugo award. Brunner writes social science fiction, however, he approach considers society from a more humanistic, speculative perspective than his precursors in that tradition.


E. Harlan Ellison

Though not a novelist, Harlan Ellison exerts an enormous influence on writers and critics in the field as short-story writer, critic, anthologist, and outspoken radical. Dangerous Visions and its successors anthologies, cited various times in previous chapters, introduced new subjects and authors to an American science fiction audience. Ellison balanced his artistic endorsement of new authors with a nostalgic enchantment with older science fiction, even space, making him an "acceptable revolutionary" within the field. His stories as well as his criticism return to the same themes: the importance of emotions; concern for the individual; the terrors of isolation; the need for individual action. In volumes such as Alone Against Tomorrow (1971), he organized his stories around single themes.

The dangerous vision of Ellison's writing, derives from his ability to write in a number of different authorial voices and even editorial voices. Occasionally, he assumes the pose of the Swiftian commentator, satirizing himself, but at other times he wants his readers and fellow writers to take him quite seriously. In some volumes, the editor overcomes the fiction with rhetoric. Ellison, still, wrote some of the most influential short stories in the genre in such volumes as Over the Edge (1970), I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (1967), Alone Against Tomorrow: Stores of Alienation in Science Fiction (1971), Approaching Oblivion (1974), and Deathbird Stories (1974). Ellison considers himself a literary crusader, though his rhetoric sometimes overshoots the mark. A recently interview shows that Ellison remains serious about his efforts to reform and updated speculative fiction. (2)


F. Ursala K. LeGuin

Ursula K. LeGuin (1929-) received some deserved attention outside the genre and forms the basis of an extensive body of criticism (3) Sometimes critics have failed to note her well-developed and enduring relationship with speculative fiction. The Lathe of Heave (1972) considers the duality of sex, a previously taboo subject. LeGuin's novels include A Wizard of Earthsea (1969), the Lathe of Heaven (1972), The Word for World is Forest (1973), the Hugo and Nebula winning Left Hand of Darkness, the Hugo and Nebula winning The Dispossessed (1975), and the Farthest Shore (1975). LeGuin's novels feature tight structures, meticulous development, organization around mythical structures, and heightened prose and poetry.


G. Robert Silverberg

Some consider Robert Silverberg along with LeGuin as the best speculative science fiction writers of the seventies. (4) Silverberg, like Brunner, began his career writing innumerable space operas, left the genre to write non-fiction, before gradually returning between 1965 and 1967. His writings in that period rank among the best though he wrote at a pace matched only by Philip K. Dick. Some of the best of these include: Thorns (1968), Nightwings (1969), The Masks of Time (1969), Passengers (1970), Up the Line (1970), the Tower of Glass (1971), The World Inside (1972), the Nebula Award winning Time of Changes (1972), and The Stochastic Man (1975). Silverberg again exited the field after 1978 but returned.

His novels work in two complementary directions. In Dying Inside and others, Silverberg writes a basically realistic novel but introduces the fantasized to highlight the philosophical theme he presents. In other works such as Tower of Glass he uses a basic science fiction setting as a metaphor for the placement of man in the universe; one can consider these, like Aldiss’s work, as symbolic novels. An important aspect of Silverberg's work lies in the fact that, in distinct contrast to writers such as Delany and again more in common with the non-experimental Aldiss, his deeper works read just as easily as his space operas. This allows viewing the better novel on a number of levels depending on the reader's ability or interest. Few other speculative science fiction writers can match Silverberg for sheer readability.


H. Barry Malzburg

Barry Malzburg's novels resemble Silverberg's in many ways. Both pack a lyrical intensity and concentrate on symbol more than almost any in science fiction. Malzburg, however, consistently criticizes American society while Silverberg more concerns himself with the relations between individuals within that society. Malzburg also wrote a relatively large number of novels. The best among them include The Men Inside (1973) and Herovit's World (1973), about a science fiction writer who believes himself going inside. Beyond Apollo (1972), concerns, again, insanity. An astronaut joins the space program and loves it because it compensates for the "inner space" his wife does not allow him to penetrate, i.e., her own body. Malzburg challenges the values of an American society he considers more bent on conquest than human relations. Ironically enough, this anti-NASA novel won the John Campbell Award. Some might perceived Malzburg’s pursuit of inner space as making him a sort of American Ballard, but the novels lack the visionary unrealism.


I. R. A. Lafferty

Robert A. Lafferty, a Catholic author somewhat in the tradition of C.S. Lewis, writes novels that feature religious themes, fantasy, and wild images. The most renowned include: Past Master (1969); The Devil is Dead (1972); and Fourth Mansions (1971). Past Master considers the future dystopia-utopia of Astrolabe. As our world constitutes a Utopia compared to the past, Astrolabe offers one in comparison with ours. In this world, machines force humans to accept the peace and plenty that they provide free to all, a familiar concept from the finale of Asimov's I Robot, but artists insist on living in the run-down slums of the planet rather than partaking. The government brings Sir Thomas More, the "Past Master" of the title and author of Utopia, forward from the past to try to cure this problem. More hesitates but eventually joins the rebels dying another symbolic death. This time, he dies opposing the very ideals put forth in Utopia, showing Lafferty's fiction does not usually produce easy answers to hard questions.


J. Norman Spinrad

Norman Spinrad's novels feature revolutionary politics, explicit sex, brutal violence, and satire. Agent of Chaos (1966) presents two revolutionary groups in a conventional space spy story, but Spinrad's heroic group works for total destruction rather than the building of any future society. Bug Jack Barron (1970), much hailed at first publication, no longer remains in print. The Iron Dream (1972) constitutes Spinrad's masterpiece.

The novel purports reproduces the work of Adolph Hitler, a Hitler in an alternate world where the Nazis failed to take power and Hitler became instead a science fiction writer. Hitler's novel sounds satirically close enough to a conventional swords and sorcery novel as to satirize writers of such work. The "editor" who introduces Hitler's work reports that Hitler's novel won the Hugo award, satirizing the fandom of science fiction as well.

A World Between (1979) contrasts feminism and male chauvinism in our society, but an overly-simplistic solution does not match the complexity of Spinrad's exploration of how sexism effects our society. Spinrad's novels often seem contrived, appropriately enough for a work like the Iron Dream, but they raise and consider important social issues.


K. Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison began writing conventional hard science, even Heinleinian, novels, but also possesses a satirical touch that put him above his sources. In the late sixties satire became the dominant element on his work. Bill, the Galactic Heroes (1965) probably best satirizes Heinlein's militant Starship Troopers. The Technicolor Time Machine and Star Smashers of the Galactic Space Rangers continue in the same manner. Soylent Green (Make Room!, 1967) considers the problems of overpopulation. Subsequently, it became a film. Harrison, through these works, helped make science fiction a much funnier genre.


L. John Sladek

John Sladek sold his first story to Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions and after became involved in a number of collaboration with Thomas M. Disch. Sladek's best works, however, like those of Harrison, use humor. Mechasm (1968) and The Muller-Fokker Effect (1971) both employ humor; some critics consider the latter a match for some of Vonnegut's more sentimental, self-parodying, but more critically praised later novels. (5)


M. Joanna Russ

Probably the most noted woman author of speculative fiction after Ursula K. LeGuin, Joanna Russ's works tend more towards the experimental, utilizing stream-of-consciousness and dominating female characters. The later make sense, as Russ is also a feminist. Picnic on Paradise (1969) and The Female Man (1975) feature women in heroic roles traditionally assigned to male characters. And Chaos Dies (1971) employs a homosexual, telepathic hero, allowing for a unique narrative. Critics including Silverberg, who employs something similar in Dying Inside, Delany and Fritz Leiber all hailed the book. (6)


N. Conclusion

These authors noted briefly in passing number only a few of those in the speculative fiction tradition that rose in the sixties. They suggest some of the wealth of the talent still dominating an evolving genre.


(1) Malcolm Edwards, "Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow," in Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, p. 189.
(2) Harlan Ellison in The Dream Makers, pp. 149-171.
(3) Edwards, p. 181.
(4) Ibid, p. 181.
(5) Inside Cover, John Sladek, The Muller-Fokker Effect (New York: Pocket Books, 1973).
(6) Back cover, Joanna Russ, And Chaos Died (New York: Ace, 1971).

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