Thursday, 21 February 2019

Fandom: An Illustrative History (Part III: Nightmares and Monsters and Stuff)

Welcome to the third part of this incredible journey through Fandom's history. I did not expect quite so much material to come from this book when I first found the thing packed away on a shelf in that store, but here we are entering part 3 of 5.

It turns out Star Wars releasing the same year as this book in 1977 really was a watershed moment. That one movie destroyed a number of delusions Fandom had about their genre as many of the claims in this work vanished overnight.

However, what has aged worst of all is the commentary.

Between packets of excellent information and intriguing history is stuffed some of the worst opinions I've even seen in a non-fiction book. It isn't just the views themselves but the bitterness behind many of them which stand out. Mr. Lundwell is a very smart man, but his take on the genre he works in borders on idolatry and an overenthusiastic priest assessing what belongs in official canon and which works are apocryphal. That doesn't mean he isn't right at times, but many of his points require double checking due to this approach.

Nowhere is this issue more obvious than in this chapter (and one to come in the next part) where the author describes his ideal way of inputting messages into science fiction. It is always the weakest part of this work, and this chapter is no exception.

Now we reach a subgenre that swallowed genre fiction and YA books over course of the '10s until nothing was left except misery and muddy colors. This is Dystopian fiction. This is the pessimistic view of the future of humanity whereas Utopian was the optimistic one.

Mr. Lundwell describes the difference quite well:
"Utopia is what is good for others. Dystopia, or anti-Utopia, is what others (erroneously) think is good for you."

Dystopian is considered a less didactic version of Utopian fiction from some pundits, being that it is the opposite of intent in telling you what is bad for you. That is not the case. Dystopia is only a thin layer of smoke over the same of story. At the end of the day, most Dystopian tales have the exact same sort of message as a Utopian story does. The only difference is that the Utopian tale tells you what is good while the Dystopian story tells you what is bad. They are both used for getting messages across.

The exception would be one where the setting is backstory to create a separate plot-line, instead of a driving force for the protagonists to "fix" the world into its proper place. It's a bit different from a Utopian story where the correct view is the one the author centers in on. In a Dystopian story it centers on an incorrect view that the author doesn't believe in, which masks the author's true opinion better. This gives it a subtlety that Utopian fiction can never have.

But just like a Utopian story, this didactism can affect the narrative in a negative way, especially when the premise is false. Just as Mr. Lundwell demonstrates with this now historically-proven lie to show how bad off North America was:
"It is significant that even during the McCarthy witchhunt in the United States during the 1950s, when almost every outspoken intellectual was dragged before the House Committee of Un-American Activities, no single science fiction author was ever subject to scrutiny by that remarkable organization--of course, since North American science fiction authors never really seriously questioned the (North) American way of life."
Ah, that intellectual wet dream of being persecuted by the fascists and then having your revolutionary work passed about like pamphlets to the sheep to build the Utopian society where the dumdums are in chains and your over-sized statue is erected in the capital square. Propaganda is A-Okay to write when it is for The Cause.

But the bigger point here is Mr. Lundwell's claim that no one questioned the North American way of life because of some defect in their person. This is revisionism, something Boomers went in hard with during the 70s and 80s to great affect on Generation X, Y, and Millennials. This is an attempt to smear the older generations in order to declare them persona non grata. It's as insidious as it is disrespectful.

It doesn't cross Mr. Lundwell's mind that people in the West were happier in the '50s, not because they were stupid as per propaganda from those such as he would have you believe, but because things were better. Were the times perfect? Since Utopia is an impossibility, no. However, no science fiction author ran around criticizing their country because they still believed in it and the ideals it was formed on. They believed that there problems that would be overcome by working together, not by sowing division through propaganda pamphlets disguised as stories, but by a shared cultural heritage that they could build on.

If you want the end result of the author's subversive aspirations take a look around Western Civilization today. Do you see many happy, fulfilled people? Is anything being built, or are things getting torn down? And why is it only Western Civilization where this poisonous attitude exists? There is a correlation here. Those that are not miserable are not the ones who follow Mr. Lundwell's blueprint for a better society through weaponizing art.

The subversives are the unhappiest people on planet Earth and are dedicated to ruining your happiness by infecting it with their own failed ideas.

But as already learned in earlier chapters, the author is not interested in continuing a tradition of art that has gone on for thousands of years. He is interested in warping it into his image instead.
"British and American science fiction authors of today were reared in the pulp magazine tradition, a heritage difficult to shake off. Pulp magazines were exported to Europe, together with the science fiction ghetto, after World War II along with other goodies of the Marshall plan, and Germany in particular has suffered from these--there is practically no Dystopian science fiction being written there now, only way-out space opera stuff with broad-shouldered heroes fighting obnoxious aliens richly endowed with tentacles."
I can't believe I have to say this, but here it is. That is how it is supposed to work. You're writing entertainment meant to entertain customers. You are not a priest, prophet, or king. The audience wants entertainment and you are the vendor for the product they want. This is not difficult to understand. You work for the customer. Art is the only place this selfish attitude exists.

No one walks to a hamburger stand, orders a hamburger, is handed a half-cooked soy dog because the cook decided it is "better" for them, and then continues to patronize the place afterwards. No one goes to a furniture store for a desperately needed bed and instead walks out with a table because of incredible salesmanship. No one calls a plumber and applauds when he hands them a Koran instead of fixing the pipes flooding the floor.

This isn't complicated. The audience is not your lapdog or trained seal.

Decreasing sales in the genre only proves this right. This entitled artist attitude has killed art and entertainment in the West--the only place this mentality exists. Now there is a division between entertainer and audience that never used to exist where the entertainer is put on a pedestal and the customer is required to shut his mouth and swallow whatever he is given otherwise he is a selfish child who deserves scorn. This is not how it is supposed to work.

Again, try this at a restaurant and see how long before the windows are boarded and everyone forgets the place existed while the customers continue to visit the family restaurant that has been in business for thirty years.

Art is no better, and to think otherwise is undeserved arrogance peddled by propagandists who are doing it for a reason.

This subversion of traditional exciting stories meant to unite people and offer fun and hope to readers has twisted into this sick obsession with becoming secular preacher over the braying masses instead. This is the gross mistake we need to correct. If you want a religion, then get one. Keep it out of entertainment. Readers want honesty, not a scheming propagandist whispering in their ear.

It doesn't mean Dystopian fiction can't work, but it requires a deft touch instead of a heavy hand.

Unfortunately, the author of this book is not entirely honest about works that oppose his views. He misreads some Dystopian novels deliberately.
"Another, Atlas Shrugged (1957), is a 1168 page novel describing what would happen if we don't give industrialists and millionaires more privileges."
Comments like this make it hard to take Mr. Lundwell seriously. I might not be a fan of weaponizing art, but I would at least try to present the story Rand was telling. But because it delivered the incorrect message to the braying masses it must be dishonestly buried and spat on. The message must be protected.

This open-air propaganda war is quite tiring.

Dystopian stories were more popular among the elites and the privileged then they were among the populace back in the day. It was as if they were battling over who should be the one to offer the homily to better humanity, and it is all so exhausting to look back on now. A bit embarrassing, as well.
"All of this goes to prove once again that Utopia is unattainable since Utopia demands unselfishness and altruism, something that at least the many followers of Mrs. Rand are not prepared to offer anyone."
I cannot imagine writing that passage seriously. This is a colossal blunder of Mr. Lundwell's that he does not see what he actually meant. He has missed the point.

Utopia is not unattainable because of those like Ayn Rand. It is unattainable because people like Ayn Rand will always exist! Just as people like Mr. Lundwell will always exist to prevent people such as me from purchasing A. Merritt paperbacks in bookstores. People who have different ideas of what is good and true will always clash with those who think different. Because that is humanity. This isn't new.

Then we have nebulous floating terms such as "unselfishness" and "altruism" which vary depending on the user. How do we decide the correct view and usage of these terms? Who gets to be the one that tells us what these words mean and to what extent? Mr. Lundwell? The Pope? Me? But the human race has different ideas of what being good means, so how do we come together on this issue to build the Utopia? I don't see it happening. It sounds as if Utopia needs a fascist in order to be realized.

And we know how some react to that term.

If you want to know why "fascism" (a synonym of "leader" from the big-brained crowd) takes hold in any Utopian vision possible, it is because a leader with defined vision is the only thing that can form a united society working towards a single goal. History has proven that time and time again. A collection of individuals all arguing over every single issue, and the terminology within, cannot come together for the simple reason that they do not believe the same things and cannot compromise on their ideas. Otherwise they wouldn't be individuals!

How you have propaganda stating everyone should be 100% original and unique like a special snowflake then turn around and say those same people should form a cohesive Utopian society is beyond me. It is impossible to a laughable degree.

This is classic 1970s arrogance from that decadent, drug-addled, bloated-corps of a decade. This isn't that out of step from what that time was like. Just an ugly era of hideous art.

I should give some context to this. In the 1970s the intellectuals believed that the disturbed and disgusting were the highest forms of art. Because they themselves were spiritually hollow with sick vices they couldn't control and believed them virtues, they asserted that normal people were the same and were forcibly served these lies to the masses in their art. It didn't take very well. This is why the only thing any normal person remembers the 1970s for is the music, cheesy B-movies, bell-bottoms, and Star Wars.

Hideousness fades. Truth wins out again.

The rest of the chapter contains more examples of Dystopia as propaganda to better the world, oblivious to how similar it is to the author's hated Utopian fiction. Aside from a bizarre claim that Solzhenitsyn was living on his own private property in North America as some sort of commentary of his personal Utopia (?), I'm at a loss as to what I could possibly add to any of this. The chapter is fairly straightforward and repetitive otherwise.

One last quote before I leave this section behind. When speaking about the works of Soviet writers the Strugatskiy brothers, he drops this line:
"... [T]hese works, so very different from the prevalent Western attitude in science fiction of looking at aliens as either monsters or supermen to conquer and teach civilized manners, are one hopeful sign that science fiction as a tool for social discussion and debate at last may be leaving the pulp ghetto."
I think a quick man on the street poll would reveal which approach is more popular between the Soviet brothers and Star Wars, but I'm more interested in his wording of science fiction as a tool for social discussion instead of storytelling to entertain the reader. This is the central point of his book, after all.

Whether we want something to be different or not is irrelevant because it still is what it is. Stories are meant to entertain first and foremost. All of fandom's work to mutate adventure stories about Big Men with Swords taking place in space, mystical lands, and far-out planets, to low testosterone literary think-pieces meant to educate masses that don't want indoctrination, was destroyed in the very year this book came out. Star Wars settled that debate. It should have ended right there.

We know what the people want.

White hat men fighting black hat monsters and aliens is what they want. Sure in recent years Disney has tried to warp Star Wars to being like Fandom's slop, but that has not been working out so well for them. Perhaps if someone in Hollywood would actually read a Leigh Brackett pulp story without gagging as Mr. Lundwell has done over the course of this book we would all be better off.

But if it didn't happen back in the '70s there's little hope of it happening now. They're still heading full charge into a dark and dreary future, and have long left the audience behind.

At some point Fandom is going to have to admit that their entire quest to change the world has been a waste of time and that they should get working on writing books about manly men punching mystical cyborg boars in the face. The audience has been telling you for over a century that this is what they want, but you just won't give it to them. Men against monsters is an easy place to start! That is, unless you can't help picturing your political opponents as some hack allegory for the alien beast. That would be pathetic.

Maybe it is you who are the true monsters.

Which leads us into the next chapter on monsters in science fiction. From mythical monster to alien beasts, this has been a staple in storytelling since the every beginning.

Of course we need to mention the old standby cheesy monster stories with bad prose and ridiculous plotting which have been used to tar all of pulp as garbage (and which the author gleefully engages in here) however there are also ancient creatures, Middle Age bestiaries, and those from Gothic Horror, all of which form a link to those such as the ones Lovecraft, Smith, and Moore, used in their stories in the pulp era. This would prove an even stronger link between the past than previously expressed, especially when beings such as aliens are involved.

However, Mr. Lundwell is not so interested in that as he is in the "messages" of books such as War of the Worlds. Once again it is more important to discuss what the monsters "represent" instead of what they "are". That is a fine discussion to have, but it is only half the conversation.

As I previously stated, readers didn't read Wells for what the monsters "represented" and a simple Q&A of any random person outside Fandom would tell you as much. People simply like creative monsters. It's that straightforward.

So let me be upfront about this, as I do not think anyone thinking they are writing in the "Wells tradition" really understands it. The stories are popular because they are about human protagonists engaging with alien, nearly incomprehensible, and disturbing antagonists. You will not find a single man on the street who cares that Mr. Wells was a socialist or anti-Imperialist or what in the story was an allegory for his position. They like the monsters. That's it. This is why his stories are popular and why literally no one who follows in the "Wells tradition" has ever achieved a fraction of his popularity.

What his monsters represent don't matter: they are monsters and they are imaginative and different. That is it. They are monster stories. There's a reason none of his political philosophy has survived while these stories have. Readers don't care about his messages, and they never have.

People enjoy monsters because they like the unknown, they like being scared, and they like heroic protagonists facing insurmountable odds. The more horrific and intense the enemy is, and the more they clash with the protagonist, the more the audience is engaged. This is why those bad horror stories from the splatter pulps still persist to this day while those writing in the "Wells tradition" need Patreon accounts to pay the rent.
"Wells and others had given some purpose to their monsters, but the monsters that now deluged science fiction, at least in the United States, had no purpose whatsoever other than offering cheap thrills to unsophisticated readers."
It should also be noted that the author does not mention Lovecraft or any of the Weird Tales writers in this chapter, framing this entire episode as being about intelligent allegories of smrt writers against stupid shallow pulp hacks. It should also be mentioned that I am waiting for a mention of Abraham Merritt, and have still not gotten one in this entire book so far. There probably won't be one, even though he was the biggest name in the field for decades and had many monsters in his stories. There is no way he wasn't aware of Abraham Merritt.

This is why the Pulp Revolution erupted in such a violent fashion when they realized what had been hidden from them. It was due to deceptive attitudes such as this. Back in 1977 they were already passing off this incorrect and blatantly false view as truth and hoping no one noticed. May of us simply had enough of it.

If I didn't know any better I would say he is carefully editing this chapter to frame a narrative instead of informing his "unsophisticated readers" of the truth.

That is perfectly in line with Fandom's past, though.
"Until the advent of Amazing Stories, science fiction had been enjoying a good reputation as a useful tool for social criticism and also for its literary quality; this flood of pseudo-scientific poorly written tales, abounding in racism, violence, puerile sex and primitive views of society, soon destroyed the last vestiges of that reputation. Science fiction became "that Buck Rogers stuff.""
Now we get to the entire reason this book exists: to craft a narrative. It's already been established that Adventure and Romance, of the old sort, go back far into recorded history and link up to Gothic Horror, the pulps, comics, television, movies, cartoons, anime, bande dessinee, Penny Dreadfuls, manga, and so much modern entertainment being made now. The pulps were not an aberration of anything. They were part of that tradition.

The question one has to ask is what "good reputation" is he talking about here and from what crowd? Who has the clout to tell us the correct way to use storytelling as a tool for shaping thoughts? No one. He is either making it up, or piggybacking off of someone who did.

This propaganda is the aberration. This is not part of any tradition aside from a subversive one made up to overturn tradition itself.

Instead of universal stories that connect to unite the audience, the goal is a dividing message to create arguments and debates meant to topple society for the greater future that the clique has in mind. Forever and Ever, Amen.

And lastly, he has given no evidence or examples of any racism, violence (?), puerile sex, or poor writing in Amazing Stories or other pulps. I'm sure there were examples of the poor writing (as there are in any genre) but he has given no examples of any of the former or how it would lead others to put them in their stories. That was a dishonest way to frame that paragraph because it was meant to craft a narrative and not a conversation.

But this was never about a conversation.

These stories were not hijacking "true" science fiction, they were following the same formula stories had followed since they were first recorded. "True" science fiction spearheaded by Fandom is the aberration, relegated to a small ghetto of elites who use their influence to foist stories on the masses that they just aren't interested in.

The "Buck Rogers stuff" is epic, imaginative, and exciting, full of heroes and villains and pro-social content. This is what all the great stories are made of.
"...[M]ost American writers were reared on the local cheap fiction magazine tradition, which called for WASP heroes, villains easy to hate, and simple sexual interest, with lots of gore, naturally. Science fiction in the United States faithfully followed the pulp magazine formula, as witness the greatest names of the time--Edgar Rice Burroughs, E. E. Smith, Edmond Hamilton and others."
He just described the majority of fiction pre-20th century, but that aside we now have hindsight on our side where Mr. Lundwell did not. We see the results of his group subverting the Burroughs tradition that went back much further than him.

The only argument he is making is that this is what people want and were given, and he thinks they should be given what he likes instead. Except that they have been given what he likes for over 40 years now and we see the results of it. Science fiction is the lowest selling genre, the Hugo Awards are an embarrassment with no clout or relevance and voted on by a tiny clique, and indie books outsell the Fandom darlings.

So, yes, the cheap magazine tradition is apparently what the majority wants, and not even decades of social engineering has changed that. In fact, attempts to do so with the recent Star Wars met with such backlash that Disney's profits in the franchise have sunk and they have put projects on hold. It doesn't work.

This subversive brainwashing bitterness has to stop. It's been a failure and all it does is make its proponents hateful and stupid. One perusal of social media shows this. There are 20 minute videos about how plot holes don't matter, for crying out loud. All to protect a movie that has the correct message and nothing else. Enough is enough.

And finally we get to the money quote. The admission that science fiction as it is today was deliberately concocted in order to form the genre that fandom wanted.
"With time, of course, strong-willed and single-minded editors appeared, forceful enough to affect a change. Good editors, such as John W. Campbell [. . .] found new authors by the dozen and also had enough muscle to develop them into the new generation of writers so urgently needed."
As those in the Pulp Revolution asserted, and Campbellian zealots denied, here is one man in fandom who is no fan of the pulps admitting what they did. John W. Campbell came in, forced out the old guard, put in his picks, and reshaped a kingdom in his image. They needed to replace the old ways because . . . I suppose because the advancement of the human race is that important. He rewrote history and forged a new science fiction into his image. This was a takeover, pure and simple.

In other words, there is no "Campbell invented the genre" or "Solidified the rules" or anything of the sort. There is only Campbell throwing out the old rule-book and deciding new ones for the shrinking cult of readers and writers.

It is in fact no different than what the New Wave writers did, but Campbell was never criticized for it. He was lauded.

Funny, that.

Mr. Lundwell then goes on to describe many Campbellian monster stories you probably haven't read unless you are a hardcore SF geek as the audience only shrunk and shrunk once his style took hold of the genre. But I suppose it was worth it to spit on the mouth-breathers and slit your own throat in sales.

Not to say any of the stories the author mentions are bad, but his constant shots at the pulps and their monsters while deliberately ignoring the weird magazines is dishonest. Therefore I feel no inclination to be charitable when it involves Campbell's contracting of the genre.

And let us not forget Mr. Campbell tried to take Gothic out of horror and fantasy with Unknown--another attempt at warping a genre for a small crowd who hated the genre in question. You can say Unknown was "important" and "gamechanging" all you like, but that doesn't make the assertion reality. It was cancelled because the readers weren't there long and it shuttered long before Weird Tales ended its run. Therefore the readers did not want Campbell's changes, despite a small clique pushing for them and ignoring what the majority wanted. Campbell created no Golden Age, just a rusted one.

In science fiction he deliberately changed the genre and it resulted in less success and an influence that no longer exists. That is not the mark of a Golden Age. Meanwhile the pulp authors that were not deliberately buried by his ilk still live on in pop culture today. Hopefully that will be kept in mind for future scribes to consider.

The rest of the chapter is Mr. Lundwell waxing poetic on Man being the Real Monster and Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama being about how there are no aliens: what we meet is incomprehensible because Man can't figure it out. Anti-human fiction at its finest. Then he brings up John Gardner's Grendel and how he subverts the story to, again, being about how the monster is really Man. This pattern is all too obvious.

In case you haven't noticed, the reason Mr. Lundwell doesn't like traditional monster stories is because he hates humanity. They are broken and filled with injustices and until they realize they are disturbed he can't prescribe the cure to fix them. Other people are the problem and he is the solution.

Stories about the monster being external, or sin within, involve humanity having to reach for the best in themselves and others to overcome hurdles are abominable to him. It requires a pro-social action to solve these issues. Stories with the monster being internal psychoses are whiny sobfests about an individual who cannot connect with others because of their broken nature. And the damaged individual with the disturbing personality is the one to laud.
These two sides are very different. One is something anyone can relate to and has positive content that can bring others together, while the other exists to wallow and pull the reader into the muck and alienate them from the larger world. Audiences have been rejecting that for centuries but those in charge insist on shoving it into their faces. One might even question why that is.

This is not to say stories cannot have interior reflection, but they have to involve self-assessment and moves to fix the problem. They have to realize harmful behavior and mindsets for what they are. Stories that exist solely to trash humanity have no intrinsic value except to plant seeds of doubt in the project of society--which is the goal of the worst propaganda. Insidious ideas should be shown for what they are. These are stories, by definition, that exist to harm.

In other words, these stories are themselves monsters.

In the religion of science fiction, Man is the Devil. The only salvation comes from lord god Science and its powers to atone by wiping away defects through evolution to lead us to the post-human Paradise. Is it any wonder Dianetics, Scientology, and Scientism, all sprang out through this cocoon of anti-social insanity? This is the result of "social" science fiction, and it might be the worst monster of all.

That is all for this installment. Next time we look at both Robots and E.E. Smith's Galactic Patrol in addition to other space opera. Seeing the author's views on humans should make the latter a real treat to explore.

Until we meet again: keep watching the skies!

Or just go to Church. Either or. I recommend the latter.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Fandom: An Illustrative History (Part II: Science Fiction at the Crossroads and The Eternal Bliss Machine)

Welcome back to our series on Fandom and its grip on entertainment, specifically on the genre fiction wing. Finally I am able to get to the second part and into the meat of this work.

Last time we talked about the beginnings of genre fiction and how everything you read emerged from the same place and only split apart due to preferences of those who seized control of the industry in order to mold it in their image. Before the 20th century alstories gelled in very straightforward genres. That is, until self-proclaimed experts decided to redefine words and meanings to fragment out what they didn't like from their chosen genre and lock them all to isolated islands. Things had changed hard in mere decades.

Mr. Lundwell's opinions in this book show that quite well.

However we now move into the twentieth century, the bloodiest one hundred years on record. This is where the book begins to make its case as to what true Science Fiction is, and what we must do in order to be labeled as such.

This time we wiltake a look at the next two chapters in his book, the first of which is entitled Science Fiction at the Crossroads and is about how the rise of industrialization necessitated a change in traditional forms of storytelling. Mr. Lundwell's claim is that because of the rise of science it means the form of study should now be used as a tool for tweaking this new age. Science will show us the way forward, and our fiction should reflect that. It must teach us. In other words, "Science Fiction" needed to mutate.

Of course he already made that case in the first few chapters, but now he will tell us exactly why a genre (just this one, actually) should be based on ideas instead of story form. This is quite obvious from the title of the chapter that he believes science fiction is special.

Let's just ignore the fact that a genre can't really be at a crossroads given that they are concrete things with set meanings and that good stories are universal no matter the time or age. That is beside the point. First we must see how Mr. Lundwell views his chosen genre and what its purpose is. What is different about it from other types of fiction that makes it relevant to his cause? This chapter is where he sets his definitions on the table.
"In my own view of science fiction, the genre takes on its modern form at this time, and also disperses in in four different directions . . . The four writers were Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, George Griffith and Alfred Jarry."
Of course this is not a widely held opinion, mostly. But as we've also discussed, over a century of this definition dodge-ball and no one has defined what science fiction is except to make their form of it unique and special and above the others. Which also tells us nothing.

Anyway, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are listed for fairly obvious reasons. Verne created stories about handy inventions that could potentially be made by man in order to go on adventures, and Wells wrote stories where the fantastical and 20th century pessimism met and were shaped by his personal opinions. Both influenced many writers in their wake.

They wrote adventure stories that happened to prominently feature man-made inventions or impossible beings and goings-on. None of this is out of joint with anything talked about before these authors were around and they were in fact adding a touch of their time and place as anchors to what they were getting across. They were already following a tradition.

Political propaganda, technology fetishism, or science fiction, they were still adventure stories and that is what they were praised as being by the larger unwashed masses.

But while Verne was merely writing what fancied him and Wells was trying to change the world through messages the audience didn't care about, it took until 1950 for Wells to really have any impact in a larger sense. "A larger sense" translates to "the last days of the pulps" as this was the era the magazines began to die out.
"In the United States this attitude is best exemplified by the sf magazine Galaxy, which first appeared in 1950 and finally brought the Wellsian attitude to the fore in American science fiction with satirists like Frederik Pohl, Cyril M. Kornbluth, and Robert Sheckley. The sort of corporativistic future envisaged in modern sf classics such as Pohl/Kornbluth's The Space Merchants (1952) and Gladiator-at-Law (1954), both originally published in Galaxy, would be unthinkable without the influence of H.G. Wells."
Some of those names are familiar, especially to those familiar with a certain movement, but there is more.

He goes on:
"When the Vernian monopoly of American science fiction--and through that, of a large part of post-war science fiction from other countries--finally ended (thanks to such editors and authors as Ilya Varshavskiy, Robert Sheckley and Donald A. Wollheim), it was the influence of Wells being felt at last."
Kind of him to admit it mutated because editors said it should, not due to any natural change. But there is a bigger point.

"Wells' influence" is not the same for writers and readers. This influence Mr. Lundwell speaks of is that of political and social engineer, not as a teller of weird tales. The latter is why he was popular and remained so over time. Simply look at any portrayal of him or his works in the mainstream over the decades. There is a reason no one remembers the man's non-fiction. But the former is what Fandom took from him, and it is what led sf down the dark and dingy path to where it is today.

This agenda was pushed by a small crowd who slipped in the door and decided what the audience should and should not get to read. This was not a natural evolution, and it is not even treated as such.

Nonetheless you are expected to accept it unquestioningly.

Next he describes George Griffith, an author one does not hear of much these days. He was a writer between that of Verne and Wells and is considered to be somewhat of a missing link between the two. According to Mr. Lundwell, he was more or less known for writing Penny Dreadful style works with an eye on future possibilities such as invasions from far off places. I have never read Mr. Griffith's works but they do sound quite imaginative and very reminiscent of the adventure fiction of the time with a "future possibility" angle.

Some info on Griffith from infogalactic:
"Griffith's epic fantasies of romantic utopians in a future world of war, dominated by airship battle fleets, and grandiose engineering provided a template for steampunk novels a century before the term was coined... 
His science fiction depicted grand and unlikely voyages through our solar system in the spirit of Wells or Jules Verne, though his explorers donned space suits remarkably prescient in their design."
Mr. Lundwell credits Griffith with creating Space Opera, or at least it's beginnings, and I can certainly see where he gets that. That said, his influence was not that well felt or acknowledged in the wider genre, especially outside his home country. Writing something first means little if later writers take no notice of it. Not to take anything away from his own writing, of course, but the man was buried rather fast. That said, I would be interested in reading some of Griffith's material for myself. It does sound exciting.

Lastly we reach the fourth in Mr Lundwell's list. That being Robert Jarry. This inclusion is sketchier than even Griffith as the reason for him being listed is mainly due to "'pataphysics" which is a "metaphysical approach to the riddles of reality" which some people, confusingly, consider a unique approach that sf covers which other genres do not. There does not appear to be any info about him online that I can trace, making his influence suspect.

I suppose his inclusion can cover for Dianetics and Scientology as well as general scientism that the genre became consumed in during the middle of the 20th century, but I do not think that means Jarry inspired or defined it. Especially considering there is little to no info about him easily available. Someone that important would have something.

Anyway, Nihilism is not exactly new, no matter how much you paint in pastel colors and wink about it. Reality still remains staring you in the face.

Plenty of fiction deals with the riddles of reality and doesn't need a cobbled together Dadaism to do it. That said, I understand Lundwell's point and this sort of attitude did come to define the worst of the genre (and art itself) as the decades went on. So its importance is noted.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Lundwell blames Hugo Gernsback and Amazing Stories as the reason this absurdity never really took off in the English speaking world. This doesn't take into account that the mass audience instinctively retches at any form of nihilism, no matter how sugar coated, and that Gernsback was a penny pincher who understood the market better than the absurdists who either committed suicide, went insane, overdosed on drugs, or grew bitter and hateful as the world went on ignoring them.

Gernsback was a much smarter man than he is given credit for being.
"English-language science fiction was cut off from this invigorating aspect of science fiction when Hugo Gernsback, an avid Vernian with as much true imagination as an empty bucket, created the English-speaking science fiction ghetto with his magazine Amazing Stories."
Mr Lundwell's vocabulary means that "true" imagination translates to "correct" imagination in this case.

I never thought I would be so thankful to Gernsback's underhanded practices, but if it kept Dadaist moon-bat nonsense out of adventure fiction for even one second then I salute him. He might have been shifty and cheap, but he wasn't pushing that sort of nonsense.

He has at least given us that reprieve.

But then we come to this delicious bit of irony that has aged as well as ice cream left in a broiler:
"A. E. Van Vogt's novels have been heavily criticized in the United States for not being logical (i.e. Vernian) enough, and of course they would appear absurd and incomprehensible for a reader raised on American pulp magazines. The more sophisticated French science fiction readers knew better..."
I know he couldn't see into the future, but it isn't going to stop me from pointing out how one who feels it their job to do so get it so very wrong. Even secular psychics can blow it.

What happened to Van Vogt was Fandom's fault. Hack critic Damon Knight is the one who destroyed Van Vogt's reputation and career, and he was no fan of the pulps. Fandom tore him down because he was "nonsensical" and full of "plot-holes" and not enough of a propagandist for them. That is why the writer they replaced him with was one.

I have never met a reader of the pulps who has anything bad to say about Van Vogt, nor have I seen any written evidence to the contrary from writers or readers of the time. The only ones these days talking about Van Vogt that aren't older readers are pulpsters. Blaming the audience for not understanding him is a dodge and a way to pass the buck.

The ones who attacked and dethroned Van Vogt from prominence was the very clique Mr. Lundwell has been referencing and praising throughout this entire book. The inferior and ape-like pulp readers this man has such disdain for were the only ones who kept buying and talking about Van Vogt's works years after they went out of print and were tossed the garbage to be replaced by Arthur C. Clarke's empty stories about nothing. He was no longer useful to them.

Pulp aficionado and sf writer John C. Wright even asked permission from Van Vogt's widow to write a sequel to his most popular novel and put it out via a major publisher. The more refined and smrt readers and writers? They did nothing as he fell into obscurity moving on to the next big thing. Burying the past will do that--revisionism exists to rewrite it. That's about how useful fandom is.

All those movements Mr. Lundwell described earlier are very loosely related and led to much confusion in the fiction world. Not so much to general audiences, however. They mainly walked away instead.

Naturally this mess led to a rebellion against the new world order of fandom by upcoming writers. Yes, I'm referring to New Wave. This was the post-modern movement that directly criticized the state fiction had been brought to. They made their style by ignoring the new rules. One would think Mr. Lundwell would be ecstatic for such a new movement. After all, he championed overthrowing the Vernsian order! But Mr. Lundwell simply wasn't interested in this new movement. He detested it.

This is a shame because New Wave's existence is fascinating, and should be for a science fiction scholar. To begin with, it only existed because of his movement. They threw out the old ways just as those like the Futurians did. Self-reflection would be go a long way.

You might think the hunger for reforming ideas and aesthetics that were shattered by the rebels is worth discussing. Especially from one who praises the old order getting chopped down and supplanted by his new one. Not so in 1977. These were Mr. Lundwell's thoughts on New Wave:
"New Wave is matter of form alone, the justification of fleeting images, invented words, and updated Dadaism as it were."
The irony is palpable for one who raved about a form of modern quackery that was two steps removed from Dadaism itself. The rest of his criticism says nothing about the stories themselves. But then he begins to miss the point of the movement by comparing it to . . . James Joyce.
"It can be powerful and exciting in the hands of a master, and James Joyce created a masterpiece with Finnegan's Wake. The trouble is that science fiction so far has not yet produced a James Joyce, alas, but it has authors who do their best to emulate him before an awed crowd of readers who do not know what Dadaism was and have never read Joyce and think these great science fiction authors have created the so-called 'New Wave' all by themselves."
Considering that James Joyce is the man who murdered literary fiction and sent readers running for the hills I suppose this could be looked at as compliment for those with literary aspirations. That is, if Joyce's post-modern nihilist outlook wasn't still coating a good portion of modern sf today.

But in regards to New Wave? I'm not sure that was the goal of it.

The worst that can be said is they simply took the next step the Futurians refused to take. If one in charge demolishes the old rules and makes up new ones then what is to stop someone new from destroying those and coming up and creating their own? It is almost as if the rules established were there for a reason. You can't pick and choose which ones you want to follow. It's either all or none. 

But I don't blame these new writers for being rambunctious. There was no reason for them not to be. They were dealing with a straight-jacket of rules that did not exist before fandom created them to keep out the riffraff.

New Wave just consisted of writers born after the war who were influenced by modern writers of the time. In essence the strangeness is not any different from post-modernists except there was not otherwise much of an overarching theme between the writers. You would have to stretch to find similarities to Harlan Ellison, Phillip K. Dick, Roger Zelazny, and Brian Aldiss, who all wrote in that era. But none of them followed the rules, and that was simply unacceptable to those such as Mr. Lundwell.

There is a good argument to be made that New Wave didn't really exist and it was merely just the new generation of writers coming up weaned on the anti-pulp and anti-tradition attitudes those such as the author of this book embodied. They were taught no respect for tradition so what did you think they were going to do? They wanted something different from the sterile sf they were being fed but were too tainted by postmodern ideas to look to those that came before fandom ruled them persona non grata. Instead they ended up rejecting the new normal around them. Which is no different than what the modern writers of the time did.

There is nothing you can criticize them for that you can't criticize the so-called "Golden Age" writers for.

Now Mr. Lundwell is surprised they had no respect for tradition when he and his ilk didn't? That's no surprise: that's justice.

Here's what Harlan Ellison had to say about the New Wave mess:
"It was all a manufactured controversy, staged by fans to hype their own participation in the genre. Their total misunderstanding of what was happening (not unusual for fans, as history … shows us) managed to stir up a great deal of pointless animosity and if it had any real effect I suspect it was in the unfortunate area of causing certain writers to feel they were unable to keep up and consequently they slowed their writing output."
This sounds like much of the pointless division in adventure fiction since those in the early 20th century decided to draw lines where there weren't any before. Just think how all of this conflict that never had to exist in the first place.

But this is why we are where we are.

And with this I want to move on to the next chapter, as there is nothing left to say in regards to this one.

Well, maybe just one last quote:
"But the Universe is really no secure place, the 'natural laws' are the ever-changing products of our own imagination and, really, anything could happen . . . Change is upon us, gentlemen, and this time not even the powerful spells of science and technology will help you!"
Indeed. Star Wars released months after this book did. It sure did change everything.

The next chapter, The Eternal Bliss Machine deals with a tradition that died out before John W. Campbell attempted to bring it back in the 1940s.

Utopian stories attempt to imagine how science will save humanity and create a paradise. They are meant to show the world an honest to science possibility of a perfect world if only they could be more like the author.

Star Trek in the 1960s might be the most famous example of this mentality, and is the peak of that thought and hope the materialists clung to before reality and strife pushed back in on them in the dreary '60s and '70s. For now, we take a look at this long forgotten worldview that once dominated this tiny fragment of a once larger genre.

Mr. Lundwell spends this chapter describing the Utopian fantasy and why it will never be realized. I actually do agree with many of his points as to why, though there are a few strange notions that he makes. Nonetheless, it was a common story idea in the late 19th and early 20th century before being repackaged as Campbell's answer to life's ills.

The world was changing fast and led to the mistaken belief that humanity was on a never-ending path forward to . . . well, this is hard to imagine from the 21st century. Those of us that have lived in an era of social decay, alienation, and emptiness, know that Progress does not exist. Technology can never repair humanity's ills or give them meaning.

But back in the '70s? This placebo was all they had to keep hope in the progressive cause alive.
"The dream of the perfect society, the ideal commonwealth, Utopia, Schlaraffenland, is as old as mankind--for obvious reasons. Man has never ceased to hope for a better world than his descendants, and this recurrent dream is, in fact, the basis for nearly all fantastic fiction, be it Utopian tales of descriptions of the horrors awaiting us all, should we not all do as the writer wants us to do."
They are a form of religious tract, yes. The only perfect future one could imagine would have to be one the author believed would be perfect. You can't write a true Utopian story if you don't believe in it otherwise it would just be a setting. They have to be propaganda to be true to the cause of the author.

Naturally there was kickback to this sort of story. Parodies and satires are quite easy to dream up, since all one has to do is poke holes in another's worldview to make them. But this also in turn led to a sort of fiction of its own.

Though some of Mr. Lundwell's own examples of anti-Utopian fiction aimed at religion are also embarrassingly juvenile and clueless in its criticism.
"If your idea of happiness is living in an army camp for the rest of your life, or playing the harp for eternity on a cloud with nothing whatsoever to do, then the traditional Utopia, nineteenth-century style, or the traditional Western Paradise, old, old style, would suit you to perfection. The rest of us would probably find it somewhat less than perfect."
Not that I don't doubt there were terrible stories using those ideas as a base, which might have even been parodies for all I know, but that is not the traditional view of Paradise. It wouldn't take more than reading a single theology book from . . . well, any Christian, to know that. But I digress.

He goes on:
"The best comment on this sort of Utopia is probably Mark Twain's short story Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven (1908), in which the rough, hard-drinking, hard-living Captain dies and comes to Heaven where he is given a harp and a couple of wings and is told to sing and play the harp and behave like a good, solid angel. Heaven soon bores him out of his mind. He throws away wings and a harp, hating the whole place, realizing at last that Utopia might be fine for a fairy tale, but only a fool would want to stay in it for more than five minutes."
Is it really so difficult to talk to a religious person to understand their religion before describing it to others like this? Mr. Twain's bitterness at his deeply trenched nihilism has always been his fatal, and most tiring, flaw. Not to mention that Twain's story is message fiction made purely to push a viewpoint by attacking a straw-man, making it no better than the silliness he is criticizing. Take out the moral and there is no story left worth engaging in.

Twentieth century religious criticism is the worst kind of religious criticism because it is based on ideas that no one actually believed. Mr. Lundwell's goofiness in embracing this stupid perspective has not gone unnoticed, either.

That aside, Paradise on Earth is an impossibility, one that was known to humanity before the industrial revolution lured optimists to the altar of science worship. Progress was a false god, and was known by the backwards theists long before the materialists got a clue. This is probably why the Utopian tale was practically strangled in its crib before propagandists tried their hand at it in the 1940s.

Despite modern examples of acolytes of scientism having to lie about Western suicide rates to push their agenda of the world constantly improving, and inventing moral systems out of concepts they admit don't objectively exist, most of the normal sane people realized the Utopia won't ever come. Decay is reality.

There's also the fact that Utopian writers can't imagine a world better than our own, let alone Heaven. This is why so many of them are dull and pointless like the above mentioned stories. How full of yourself would one have to be to think they have the key to cure billions of other people of their delusions and problems? If all one is hoping for is a world where other people are "fixed" then there is a good chance they don't understand what is broken in themselves.
"The Utopian tale as a genre points to some of the best and worse traits in Man--the best, since it hopes for the future and a desire to change society into something better and more perfect; the worst, since it gives no room for doubt that there exists a small Fascist in every man, or at least in every Utopian."
This is reductive and far too vicious. Certainly they are better left to fantasy than being played out in real life. At the very least there can be discussion as to why X and Y doesn't work and the writer can absorb criticism and grow from there. It should also be pointed out that just because a writer writes it, it does not mean he believes it. Mr. Lundwell, being a writer, should know this, and his conclusion is very uncharitable given that.

I understand mindless individualism was a religion in certain circles back then, but not everyone that isn't for destructive decadence and celebrating mental illness is a fascist waiting under beds to club the big brains and throw their broken bodies into the gulag. Sometimes ideas are just that.

The true issue with Utopian writing is that it is shallow. The story exists for one reason, to pursue a world where Heaven has come to Earth and where humanity has reached perfection. Beyond that premise there is nothing else to be done.

You cannot have conflict because it would destroy the central idea. You cannot have character arcs or strong villains for the same reason. You cannot have violence. In other words, all that is left is to write a fictional guidebook and pamphlet for this perfect world. There isn't anything else to do.

"This fairyland existed until 1912, when the greatest achievement of the machine age, the unsinkable passenger liner Titanic, collided with an iceberg and sank. Two years later, World War I broke out. The dream of the machine fairyland was shattered."
Conflict and evil are inevitable in this world. They will never go away. This is why the public saw the writing on the wall and understood mindless optimism was never going to save them. Why do you think that the romances of Burroughs, Merritt, and later, Howard and Tolkien, were what the audience craved? This was before the optimists decided they would once again try to use genre writing as a social tool in the late '30s, to far worse results and shrinking audience interest. This engineering tool could not be abandoned just yet.

To teach the audience a lesson, adventure was banished to Planet Stories, comic books, and television, away from the prophets of the new age and their serious stories of Big Brains With Screwdrivers. It wasn't quite the Utopian fiction of old, but the intent remained the same. They were leading the way forward!

Utopian writing never left, it merely changed its hat and clothes. I do credit John W. Campbell for at least trying to force a smile through a bad situation, but those who followed him soon shifted the goalposts and left the audience's needs and wants behind entirely. A new Utopia was sought, and it was even more ridiculous than the one of the late nineteenth century.

You won't see Mr. Lundwell address this elephant partially because of hindsight and partially because the endgame of his own crusade is a Utopia in itself. This is what he has already admitted his Science Fiction is for. Several times, in fact. Did you miss it? Social engineering exists in order to create a Utopia. No wonder the New Wave writers were unconsciously rebelling even though they didn't understand why.

Look at where we are now after decades of pursuing vices at the cost of losing our better traits. The new Utopia is worse than the old.

This individualist Utopia of endless sex, drugs, and sugar, replaced the one of flying buildings, fed orphans, and unlimited natural resources. So Mr. Lundwell offering criticism to those long gone writers has not aged well. What a step down in imagination the new age has brought. Far worse than any criticism of Hugo Gernsback he might have had.

The rest of the chapter merely goes over more examples of Utopian writing, with the writer oddly giving positive comments towards the Soviet Union (remember, this was written in the '70s) as an "enlightened" society, and giving examples of some certainly not censored works of the period. The message remained the same: Utopia will never come.

There is not much more to say. But I will close this post off with the final book he brings up as a Utopia, because it is a fundamental misread of the work and very telling.

It's J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

He describes Tolkien's worldbuilding and the way he crafted everything about it from the language to what Nordic myths he used as inspiration. Very meticulous stuff. This is what Tolkien was doing, not because he was crafting a perfect world or one humanity could aspire to (because he didn't believe either were feasible) but because it was fun for him to imagine such a world as a mirror of our own. His stories exist due to him playing around with the mythology of his own world. It is pure imagination.

Seeking out some grand plan for humanity in its pages is doing it a disservice, especially considering how Tolkien himself abhorred such stories and didn't enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia for much the same reason. He didn't believe in that. Tolkien is well known for disliking fiction as a moral tract.

But Mr. Lundwell can't help himself and has to have his say on the book audiences actually want to read. He also can't help playing armchair psychoanalyst.
"Tolkien's Midgard (Middle-Earth) is in many ways not so much a creation of unbridled imagination as a conservative man's Utopia, where an old white-haired philologist can expect to study to his heart's content without being disturbed by the coarse populace and their annoying cries of justice, food, freedom, human rights and other trivialities."
Now we get to what I dislike about this book.

Whenever we get some interesting information on history of the genre or a piece of work now lost to time, the author can't help shoving his inane worldview into every single aspect of every single facet of other people's lives and in the process making himself look like a complete ass. All because he can't process worldviews other than his own.

Tolkien was a war veteran and had seen his share of death, despair, and destruction. He writes about them very well in his works, if you're paying attention. He knows suffering, and has a worldview that includes it as a very important aspect of how life works. This isn't a deep read into the works, either. This is common knowledge for anyone who wants to look into the man. There is no shortage of depth in his material.

Tolkien was more interested in writing a story that was fun--that tickled his fancy and that excited him and his readers than he was in telling the stupid masses how they should correctly dole out bread in the state-run food line. He wasn't that much of a hack.

His books, not coincidentally, contain much philosophy, heroics, and imagination, that have inspired many for decades to come to this very day. To badmouth his books because they are baked into the world and story and not a bludgeon over the head is quite ignorant for one who fancies himself a science fiction scholar. Scholars are supposed to hang their tin foil hats on the rack to tell the audience what the author meant instead of what the scholar thinks they meant. Otherwise they end up looking like an ignoramus in the process.

You know who still gets talked about decades after his death? Tolkien. You know who doesn't? The Futurians. Maybe one had a better grasp on what the audience craved in their hearts than the other did. Or instead we can take the pathetic approach of ascribing stupidity to the masses instead. That's always possible with cultists who can't admit fault.

Star Wars releasing later that year and The Lord of the Rings being named, by actual readers, the novel of the century must have flabbergasted Mr. Lundwell. How do I know that? I don't. But if he feels fine assuming how other people think and act based on his own shallow religious dogma, I can do the same.

The audience had left this shattered shell of a science fiction behind for the glorious plains of action and adventure storytelling. All it took was an opening sting and text crawl of a space opera film directed by the man who made American Graffiti.

How embarrassing.

I apologize if I sound harsh, but there are few things more dishonest than misconstruing someone's meaning deliberately to warp perception of that person. Tolkien deserves better than that sort of libel. There are quite a few digs such as those in this book and they bring down the experience due to it. Professionalism would have gone a long way to address it.

But do not worry: there is more to come. This is not even the most egregious example of attempted character assassination. Thankfully that was the end of the section so we don't need to discuss it now.

Funnily enough, I will leave you and this chapter with a quote that the author puts at the conclusion as his last word. The quote is from a man with the exact same worldview as Tolkien and who is quite admired by others who share it. Yes, he quotes G.K. Chesterton.

I'm going to die of irony poisoning.

Here is the final word on Utopias:
"The weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones. They first assume that no man will want more than his share, and then are very ingenious in explaining whether his share will be delivered by motorcar or balloon."
Spare us, Lord, from Utopian thinkers. We could all use the break.

See you next time for Part III where we will see the flip-side of this Utopian nightmare: the Dystopic reality. I promise it will be even better. There are more monsters to come.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Fandom: An Illustrative History (Part I: Origins and Tales From the Crypt)

The last few years have been rough on the genre fiction scene. Plummeting sales and irrelevancy are unavoidable truths. On the other end is endless clique squabbling, blacklisting, and sexual scandals that flare up at the drop of hat. It feels like it has been getting worse, and it has, but there is an uncomfortable truth buried in this scene. None of this is new, but in fact has been ramping up for decades. It all started long before most of us were born.

But what we don't tend to emphasize is just how deep this sort of childish and anti-social behavior ran back then and how it has remained entrenched since.

This is where much of the conflict happening today comes from. It's a war between the fanatics and the normal people, and the inmates run the asylum.

Sometimes I like to peruse the local used bookstores before Saturday Mass. If I have a few extra bucks in my pocket I prefer to spend it on old mass market paperbacks that would otherwise rot on the shelf at the rear of the store. However, one trip was different. I went into the back where the copies of Forgotten Realms and Marion Zimmer Bradley and her ilk's works sit and found the above book sitting there staring at me with that evocative monster illustration on the cover. I flipped it open and saw scores of old promotional art and covers from ancient pulps and knew I had to get this book.

But what I didn't expect was the goldmine of information inside. Not only is this book an "Illustrated History" of Science Fiction, it contains one author's (and fan's) input on the development of the genre up to 1977 when the book was written. Yes, just before Star Wars came out and told us outright what the audience really wanted. Needless to say that I jumped at this chance to read a first hand account of a post-pulp (the author was born in 1941) science fiction scholar who thought they were changing the world with their space stories just before George Lucas's homage to all that was torn down by the author's heroes blew smoke in their faces.

I don't mean to come across as mean, but those were the thoughts gushing through my brain as I flipped through the book after purchasing it. And the author makes it too easy. Because after reading what Mr. Lundwall wrote about certain figures in the field my respect for him withered rather fast.

First some back story. Sam J. Lundwall is a Swedish writer/translator who translated many works from Swedish into English. He wrote a handful of science fiction works himself, which is probably why he was asked to construct this book. As far as I can tell he continued writing both fiction and non-fiction well into the current year in his vibrant homeland. There is not much information available, so I will assume he had a very fruitful and productive career, and am happy for him. This book alone is highly informative about a specific era and mindset which makes me wonder just what else he might have done that wasn't brought out overseas. But I digress.

He was also very active in fandom. Per Infogalactic:
"Lundwall was also the editor of the science fiction magazine Jules Verne-Magasinet between 1972 and 2009 and has been active in fandom, for instance he organised conventions in Stockholm in 1961, 1963, 1973, 1975, 1977 and 1979. He has been both a board member and chairman (twice) of World SF and north European coordinator for Science Fiction Writers of America."
Needless to say, this book comes from a very specific viewpoint and one fairly opposed to my own. This is why I was so eager to read it. I wanted to see a book written by someone in that crowd and to have them lay their cards on the table as to just what their intent in creating fiction was and why it is so different from those who came before.

I was not disappointed.

The book is split up into 10 sections mostly organized by tropes. This leads me to believe the written portions were originally essays re-purposed for this book, but that's not going to stop me from looking them over. It covers quite the spread of titles and years regardless.

The rear blurb states the thesis of the work is to prove that science fiction is a worldwide phenomenon that hadn't blossomed in English speaking countries until post-World War I and positions the author as a "qualified observer from a neutral standpoint" to lead the reader down the yellow brick road of the genre's history and where it is going. I'm going to contest the "neutral" assertion and I will go into why later. For now we will start at the beginning.

The first section is called Origins and is appropriately about the beginnings of the fantastical story starting with legends such as Gilgamesh as well as typicaFairy Tales. In fact the first sentence could be used to describe all genre fiction quite handily:
"The fantastic tale, which in this technological age is known as science fiction, has roots in the earliest fairy tales and tall tales, in its desire to entertain, romance and satirize by means of stories with a more or less factual basis."
He then goes on to skim through ancient Greece, the Middle Ages and romances, the Age of Enlightenment, and so on. This material is highly informative and makes for a fun read. The book starts off strong. However we soon reach a point of contention many modern genre fans stilhave with each other in the current day. He makes the assertion as to where modern science fiction started from.
"Modern science fiction in a sense appeared with the German romanticists of the late eighteenth century--Clemens Brentano, Achim von Armin, Adalbert von Chamisso, E. T. A. Hoffman and others. These romantic Marchen writers wrote what in effect were fairy tales for adults, including all the various paraphernalia common in modern sf, such as robots, monsters, strange machines etc, set against a curious background. They demanded an almost boundless credulity from their readers, for they described life, not as a reality, but as a dream of sorts--not what it is, but as it might be."
You will notice two other elephants in the room when talking about the origins of science fiction. That would be the other big genres. In this passage he is (unknowingly?) referring to the origins of both fantasy and horror. This is that link the anti-pulp crowd does not like to talk about.

This is the very link to Poe, Hawthorne, and eventually the Weird Tales and pulp era that SF aficionados really don't like the taste of. But here it is being spelled out again.

And to quash another canard, the author continues:
"When some critics argue that the English author Mary Shelley invented modern science fiction with the novel Frankenstein (1818), they forget that she was drawing upon more than fifty years of Marchen literature, most of it infinitely better and more modern than Frankenstein was."
No, that wasn't written by Jeffro Johnson. In fact you will soon see that the author is no friend of the pulps or the old stories at all. There is a larger point here. This is a man who stood at fandom's heart, and here he is admitting what no one currently in that position will. If you accept Mary Shelley as science fiction (and horror, when it's convenient to the argument) you have to accept many other works that came before hers. You do not get to pick and choose.

You have to accept fantasy and horror as a whole connect to science fiction, and she did not create either of those. She merely continued on in a tradition that started long before she was born and continued long after she was dead. Despite fandom's best efforts to rewrite the past, she did not create the genre. She was a participant in a unending conversation called art and had her piece. This should be enough.

Those using Shelley as a bludgeon for political reasons are doing her work and those who came before a disservice and are actively whitewashing history--a history, I might add that was crystal clear from all the way back in 1977. Even fandom understood this.

This fairy tale tradition is what later writers such as Jules Verne were pulling from when they wrote their scientific adventures. He did not wake up and decide to write stories about scientific speculation without prompting. His work was a modernized take on a marchen romance. This was the standard for many years.

Eventually writers attempted to swap out the Gothic influence with Science worship, and the genres began to stray from their roots. Lundwell even considers The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson from 1912 as the last Marchen romance and Lord Dunsany's work as an attempt to revive it. I assume this is when the style began to morph into the weird tale where fantasy and horror still clung together before D&D and Lovecraft-worship pried them apart years later with a little help from the failed magazine Unknown leading the charge.

But I'm getting off track. The point is that all genre fiction comes from the same place. It is clear to anyone paying attention. They were only pulled apart by fetishists who hyper-focused one aspect to the exclusion of the others. This is how we are left without Chesterton's fence as a signpost and a score of writers absolutely lost at sea and without a clue as to how to proceed without aping those who tore down the fence to begin with. It was forcibly pulled apart long ago.

And I'm still drifting. Back to science fiction.

Editors had been trying to make the genre label stick for decades until Hugo Gernsback pushed it into regular use in the 1920s with Amazing Stories. Considering his reputation I can only imagine how he managed that.

However, the problem with defining and pruning science fiction to exclude essentially everything it came from has left it with the issue of being unable to have an agreed upon definition. Lundwell himself posts several different opinions from 1851 up to the 1970s when the book came out. Over a century without defined terms. If it takes you that long to define your genre then you must not know what the point of it is to begin with.

There is one definition I want to post from 1973, because it is very revealing as to the type of people who made this separation such an obsessive goal to begin with. This is by Bulgarian writer Elka Konstantiova:
"Even though the origins of science fiction go back to the mid-19th century, nonetheless as a new literary genre, charged with special social functions, science fiction is the undoubted product of the nuclear age. The more meaningful the scientific and technological breakthroughs and their impact on modern life, the greater the role of science fiction, stimulating our vision for things to come, especially in the aspect of the changes wrought in man's mentality by the scientific and technological revolution. Science fiction brings home the awareness that the future will continue to bring radical changes in all areas of man's life; science fiction is there to prepare him for this eventuality."
In other words, it's secular scripture. Science fiction is a way to guide the populace by informing them on what path they should take to build a better tomorrow. Which better tomorrow, you might ask? Well, the one that will advance humanity as a whole.

And doesn't that sound familiar.
"SCIENCE FICTION HAS finally come to the parting of the ways with meaningless idealism, and, with that idealism, dies. Science fiction must mutate -- must change into a new form of idealism, a fighting, practical idealism, an idealism based on action and not on words, on experience and achievements and not on bombastic and irrelevant swaggerings."
More on this later.

There is not much more to say on the opening chapter. Mr. Lundwell continues to pry a genre definition from half-formed ideas and made-up terms in order to put to paper what science fiction is. The fact is that it doesn't have one, and that might be because it is not much in the way of a standalone genre.

Unlike, say, mystery which is about mystery, or romance which is about romance, or adventure which is about adventure, if your genre requires mental gymnastics to explain to a child then you should go back to the drawing board. One sentence should be enough. Genres aren't aesthetics or themes. Genres are defined by what emotion and sense they are meant to invoke in the reader. This is why the average reader picks up a book. They choose one based on the experience it will give them.

What they are fumbling around to define in the above definitions is Wonder. Wonder is a trait from adventure fiction and its subgenres fantasy and horror. It is the adventure of exploring new lands, peoples, and possibilities. Pair that with the origins of those listed in the paragraph above and you will see where I am going with this, and why the battle for an original definition has been fruitless for well over a century. It's never going to have one, and that is a point that should be discussed more than it is.

Nevertheless this is a good first chapter in setting up the work to come. The second chapter tackles the Gothic novel specifically. This is a form that was torn away from genre fiction and replaced by dry nihilism in horror and D&D tropes in fantasy. If there is a good place to focus a chapter on after going over the genre origins it would be on this subject.

He describes the Gothic novel as such:
"Its strong connections with the Medieval chansons de geste and other tales of chivalry with their unbearable noble heroes, incredible, constantly swooning ladies and unbelievable villains, gives the genre life and gusto and guarantees new, staggering thrills on every page. It is very dramatic, alternating between the pathetic and the grotesque and characterized by mighty heroics, swords, blood and hideous slithering things in the darkness of convenient crypts."
Edgar Rice Burroughs, eat your heart out. Or should I have said Abraham Merritt? Robert E. Howard? C.L. Moore? Manly Wade Wellman? Henry Kuttner? Leigh Brackett? You get my point. This is the soul missing in so many later pulp revivals.

The Gothic is the beating bloody heart in any good traditional romance story and is what gives it the universal core so needed in fiction. White against black. Dark against Light. Hero against Villain. Eternal Life against Endless Death. Temptation against Virtue. It goes beyond the surface into weighty themes of the Ultimate, God, and True Justice. The knowledge of a battle between forces beyond both parties at play that haunt the scenery and the overall world behind the story. It underpins every action and decision, and the thought that salvation or damnation is a stone throw away is the most nail-biting experience of them all. Now those are stakes, and they were an integral part of all fiction until the second half of the 20th century where the worst thing that can happen to you is that a monster might kill you in the dark where you can't see it.

Really makes you think.

But here is where we get the writer's real opinion of adventure fiction. What follows is his description of The Castle of Otranto, the single most important and popular Gothic novel.
"It had form and no substance, it horrors all lay on the surface as it were . . . the seminal The Castle of Otranto succeeded only in building up baroque facades without much content. In many ways this was the forerunner to the Penny Dreadfuls and the pulp magazines--lots of form, no content."
I will translate this from arrogant fandomese for the paupers in the audience. "Form and no substance" means the horrors are spiritual, implied, and obvious to those reading, and not explicit. "Its horrors all lay on the surface" means the characters were not psychologically damaged and that the horror is an underpinning of a deeper and richer world than the ones the good people are struggling to live through. In other words, he reads Gothic fiction for the debauchery and not the spiritual danger under the surface that makes the style work so well. He couldn't grasp the mindset of the audience it was written for.

Think I'm reaching? Here's what he had to say about The Monk, a Gothic novel finally worth his time:
"This novel is not very much better written than any of the already mentioned works, but its probings of psychological terrors, however clumsily done, shocks more than groaning ghosts and black magic..."
There's that obsession with debauchery and broken human beings the elite are known for loving. As if some sort of depth greater than that of the spiritual themes of the actual genre in question lies in how broken the main character gets. There's no accounting for taste, but a genre of this importance deserves more than a backhanded compliment that completely misses the point of its existence.

This is like reading mysteries despite not liking the protagonists actually solving them. This is what it is. Which is more than I can say for whatever science fiction is supposed to be despite it's uncountable definitions. It makes staving off criticism harder when you can't be nailed down and held accountable.

And then there's that line about the pulps in the earlier passage.

The pulp revolution already debunked this "no content" myth that Mr. Lundwell is peddling, but we can't blame him for being ignorant of the pulps' roots and connections with the Gothic fiction he was just talking about, after all he was born in 1941 after peak pulp and was a fifteen year old when most of them were already gone. He was told what they were by those in charge and that was that.

Penny Dreadfuls and the pulps do have one thing in common. They are far more connected to the heart of the genre than his nebulous ever-changing sola scriptura science fiction is. After all this half-life of a pseudo genre emerged from a pulp magazine that changed its name to shrug off any connotations of wonder for realism. Erasing the pulps is nothing new. When you want to shape the future you can't forget to shape the past, too.

The Gothic tale and Marchen romance eventually collided again as writers tried to strip the supernatural from the stories to replace with sexual content, as is man's first thought when it comes to anything creative outside of heroism or God. What was once a genre about good men against bad men in a world haunted by sin and death was slowly becoming a genre of broken men in a broken world haunted by their own broken reflection. It was becoming more insular and self-obsessed. For now, however, the supernatural and the natural remained intertwined as they should be.
"The Marchen tale, however, blended into the Gothic tale in the early nineteenth century, something that was easy enough since both of these genres were quite preoccupied with black magic, wizards, strange science and a love of the Medieval."
This is because they are superficially the same genre. Replacing the spiritual with psychological does not change the genre since both of those are intertwined regardless. A world of fantastical wonders and adventure is what all these stories are and what they contain inside. This is like saying paranormal romance and historical romance are separate genres because one has ghosts in it and the other has historical research. Variations on a genre are called subgenres, they don't become whole new things.

After trashing Bram Stoker's Dracula (Oh, he had connections! That's why it's remembered) and giving a backhanded post-modern compliment to Varney, The Vampyre as "unconsciously funny" he goes on to describe many of the monsters that came from this tradition from Alexandre Dumas to Robert Louis Stevenson, and many other besides. This is the best part of the section and a highlight of the chapter.

However, Mr. Lundwell can't help it with his bad taste, giving us another take that has aged like spoiled milk left by the radiator. This is about H.P. Lovecraft:
"Sad to say that these are not much more than Gothic surfaces once again, with Lovecraft assuring us all the time that these horrors really are unspeakably evil, loathsome and revolting, but never proving why. Heavily influenced by the Irish fantasy author Lord Dunsany . . . and Edgar Allen Poe, he paints all the appropriate pictures of decay, degradation and corruption, but it all ends up as mere sounds, terrors without substance."
Nothing about the cosmic view of Lovecraft and how it informs his terrors is mentioned. That is the substance of his stories. More than any "psychological" horror, Lovecraft's work is a reflection of the despair of the modern man and crushing realization that he does not know nearly as much as he thinks he does in a universe he will never control. That Mr. Lundwell missed the underpinnings of both Gothic fiction and now Lovecraft is not lost on me. This will come up again.

Mr. Lundwell's taste in horror would have better suited being edited out of the work since he clearly did not understand why it ever connected with a wider audience. His constant berating of anything popular with the mainstream probably has something to do with it.

There is one last quote I do want to go over. When discussing Lovecraft he begins to dip into black and white morality (proving he really didn't get Lovecraft) and gets to mentioning Lord of the Rings and the Christian relation to Gothic literature. Now buckle up because you're about to see why the genres got separated in the first place and why fandom cultists will do anything to keep them that way.
"An unbearable complicated reality is dissolved into simple parts black and white, of good and evil. Werewolves, witches, and vampires of popular folklore were evil, period, and a good silver bullet was an effective way of stopping them. This was an age of straight, uncomplicated emotions, and witches were burned at the stake all over Europe as the good peasants successfully liberated themselves from the Devil."

Stories were written from a framework of a protagonist and an antagonist and the best way to make them dynamic and clash with each other was for them to have opposing views and goals. What better opposing ideals then good and evil? What better than polar opposite worldviews? Those who want to be good and have something to look up to put themselves in the shoes of the good man who defeats the evil. They relate and they understand as they live in a society where such things are clearly defined and shared among the populace. It gives them excitement, it affirms their lives a little, and is a net positive to the world. That is why such stories sell the best even today.

The age of Complicated Emotions gave rise to a generation of novels no one wanted to read, failing sales, and a fracturing of culture.

So, yes, good and evil is the correct way to go. I'm sure Mr. Lundwell was upset when Lord of the Rings was named novel of the century, too. Those stupid, dirty peasants and their unrefined palettes just couldn't understand meaningless dross like Ulysses soaked in a grey goo of nihilistic hedonism from the upper class and the wannabe elites. No one who faces real problems in life wants to engage in entertainment that makes them miserable and pulls them down. They want to be lifted out of the doldrums, not have their faces shoved in the mud by those who aspire to be invited to cocktail parties hosted by others with Complicated Emotions.

But he isn't finished.
"This is the basis of the Gothic tale and its philosophy, faithfully built upon the Christian faith and its rituals and this may be the main reason for its popularity in our complicated age when nothing is purely black or white any longer. In the Gothic tale, evil is easily recognizable, just as grotesque and deformed, loathsome and corrupted as it ought to be, but never is. It is no coincidence that the number of Black Masses is growing and the belief in the Devil as an actual fire-and brimstone person (?) is returning. The fallen Monk Ambrosio and Lucifer are so much more agreeable than Song My. Only the improbable is enjoyable in this context; when the horrors become too real, they become too unpleasant."
I'm now wondering if Mr. Lundwell had front row seat for Woodstock. I have no idea what where this passage came from.

Let's put aside the fact that he completely misunderstands black and white morality and why the public at large believes in it and always has and always will. This whole paragraph does not understand the nature of evil. Yes, evil can be hidden and good can be subtle, but that doesn't make them grey gruel that are "complicated" or complex. They still exist even if you're too morally dead to see them. The point of the Gothic tale is that good and evil are but a choice away and damnation and salvation lie on the razor's edge of decision and repentance. This is the danger and mystery of Christianity that forms the entire backbone of the genre and the weight prepackaged with it. This is what makes Gothic literature far more interesting and engaging than preachy sterilized Christian Fiction or the morally confused psychotherapy sessions of all those unsold copies of modern literary fiction lining the shelves of the closed bookstores.

To imply people like straightforward morality because gosh darn reality is just too hard is such an overwhelmingly arrogant perspective that I wonder if the writer ever spoke to a Christian in his life before writing this passage. Science fiction writers tend to write a lot about those filthy Christians without ever speaking to them, after all.

It makes sense, though. The irony of this swipe against black and white morality being written it the 1970s, the most morally dead decade of the 20th century, is unconsciously funny.

I don't think I need to imagine the writer's reaction to Star Wars when it came out later that year. The audience showed once again what they really want. It only proves how horrendously wrong this viewpoint was, even though fandom hangs on it to this day. Now Star Wars is getting warped into grey slime and the audience is leaving that, too. It only proves how far things have fallen since this book was written.

That is where I will leave you for now. We walked through the beginnings of genre fiction and the Gothic novel and saw just where the connections between the genres were and just who it was that fought to have them splintered and rendered impotent on a large scale. There is more to come!

Next we will see just where the latter days of the pulp era steered the genre and just where it ended up. Utopian dream or dystopic reality?

We shall see.