The Stan Iverson
Memorial Library, Infoshop & Archives
(From Michael Moorcock's "The Opium General" Harrap (1984), reprintedfrom Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review 1978)
There are still a few things which bring a naive sense of shockedastonishment to me whenever I experience them -- a church service inwhich the rituals of Dark Age superstition are performed without anyapparent sense of incongruity in the participants -- a fat Sovietbureaucrat pontificating about bourgeois decadence -- a radicalsinging the praises of Robert Heinlein. If I were sitting in a tubetrain and all the people opposite me were reading Mein Kampf withobvious enjoyment and approval it probably wouldn't disturb me muchmore than if they were reading Heinlein, Tolkein or Richard Adams.All this visionary fiction seems to me to have a great deal incommon. Utopian fiction has been predominantly reactionary in oneform or another (as well as being predominantly dull) since it began.Most of it warns the world of 'decadence' in its contemporaries andthe alternatives are usually authoritarian and sweeping -- not to saysimple-minded. A look at the books on sale to Cienfuegos customersshows the same old list of Lovecraft and Rand, Heinlein and Niven,beloved of so many people who would be horrified to be accused ofsubscribing to the Daily Telegraph or belonging to the Monday Cluband yet are reading with every sign of satisfaction views by writerswho would make Telegraph editorials look like the work of Bakunin andMonday Club members sound like spokesmen for the Paris Commune.
Some years ago I remember reading an article by John Pilgrim inAnarchy in which he claimed Robert Heinlein as a revolutionaryleftist writer. As a result of this article I could not for yearsbring myself to buy another issue. I'd been confused in the past bylistening to hardline Communists offering views that were somewhat atodds with their anti-authoritarian claims, but I'd never expected tohear similar things from anarchists. My experience of science fictionfans at the conventions which are held annually in a number ofcountries (mainly the US and England) had taught me that those whoattended were reactionary (claiming to be 'apolitical' but somehowalways happy to vote Tory and believe Colin Jordan to 'have apoint'). I always assumed these were for one reason or another theexceptions among sf enthusiasts. Then the underground papers began toemerge and I found myself in sympathy with most of their attitudes --but once again I saw the old arguments aired: Tolkein, C. S. Lewis,Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov and the rest, bourgeois reactionaries toa man, Christian apologists, crypto-Stalinists, were being praised inIT, Frendz and Oz and everywhere else by people whose generalpolitical ideals I thought I shared. I started writing about what Ithought was the implicit authoritarianism of these authors and asoften as not found myself accused of being reactionary, elitist or atvery best a spoilsport who couldn't enjoy good sf for its own sake.But here I am again at Stuart Christie's request, to presentarguments which I have presented more than once before.
During the sixties, in common with many other periodicals, our NewWorlds believed in revolution. Our emphasis was on fiction, the artsand sciences, because it was what we knew best. We attacked and werein turn attacked in the all-to-familiar rituals. Smiths refused tocontinue distributing the magazine unless we 'toned down' ourcontents. We refused. We were, they said, obscene, blasphemous,nihilistic etc., etc. The Daily Express attacked us. A Tory asked aquestion about us in the House of Commons -- why was public money (asmall Arts Council grant) being spent on such filth. I recount allthis not merely to establish what we were prepared to do to maintainour policies (we were eventually wiped out by Smiths and Menzies) butto point out that we were the only sf magazine to pursue what youmight call a determinedly radical approach -- and sf buffs were thefirst to attack us with genuine vehemence. Our main serial running atthe height of our troubles was called Bug Jack Barron written byNorman Spinrad, who had taken an active part in radical politics inthe US and used his story to display the abuse of democracy and themedia in America. He later went on to write a satiricalsword-and-sorcery epic, The Iron Dream, intended to display thefascist elements inherent to the form. The author of this novelexisted, as it were, in an alternate history to our own. His name wasAdolf Hitler. The book was meant to point up the number of sf authorswho were, in a sense, 'unsuccessful Hitlers'.
Many Americans came to use NW as a vehicle because they couldn't gettheir stories published in the US. Thomas M. Disch, John Sladek,Harvey Jacobs, Harlan Ellison and others published a good deal oftheir best and at the time most controversial work in NW -- andHeinlein fans actually attacked us for 'destroying' science fiction.Escapism this form might be, but it posed as a 'literature of ideas'and that, we contended, it wasn't -- unless The Green Berets was aprofoundly philosophical movie.
Another example: in 1967 Judith Merril, a founder member of TheScience Fiction Writers of America, an ex-Trotskyist turnedlibertarian, proposed that ' this Organisation would buy advertisingspace in the sf magazines condemning the war in Vietnam. I was aroundwhen this was proposed. A good number of members agreed with alacrity-- including English members like myself, John Brunner, BrianAldiss, Robert Silverberg and Harry Harrison were keen, as wereHarlan Ellison, James Blish and, to be fair, Frank Herbert and LarryNiven. But quite as many were outraged by the idea, saying that theSFWA 'shouldn't interfere in politics.' Okay, said Merril, then let'ssay 'The following members of the SFWA condemn American involvement inthe Vietnam War etc.' Finally the sf magazines contained two ads --one against the war and one in support of American involvement. Thosein support included Poul Anderson, Robert Heinlein, Ann MaCaffrey,Daniel F. Galouye, Keith Laumer and as many other popular sf writersas were against the war. The interesting thing was that at the timemany of the pro-US-involvement writers were (and by and large stillare) the most popular sf writers in the English-speaking world, letalone Japan, the Soviet Union, France, Germany, Italy and Spain,where a good many sf readers think of themselves as radicals. One ortwo of these writers (British as well as American) are dear friendsof mine who are personally kindly and courageous people ofconsiderable integrity -- but their political statements (if notalways, by any means, their actions) are stomach-turning! Most peoplehave to be judged by their actions rather than their remarks, whichare often surprisingly at odds. Writers, when they are writing, canonly be judged on the substance of their work. The majority of the sfwriters most popular with radicals are by and large crypto-fascists toa man and woman! There is Lovecraft, the misogynic racist; there isHeinlein, the authoritarian militarist; there is Ayn Rand, the rabidopponent of trade unionism and the left, who, like many a reactionarybefore her, sees the problems of the world as a failure by capitaliststo assume the responsibilities of 'good leadership'; there is Tolkeinand that group of middle-class Christian fantasists who constantlysing the praises of bourgeois virtues and whose villains are thinlydisguised working class agitators -- fear of the Mob permeates theirrural romances. To all these and more the working class is a mindlessbeast which must be controlled or it will savage the world (i.e.bourgeois security) -- the answer is always leadership, 'decency',paternalism (Heinlein in particularly strong on this), Christianvalues...
What can this stuff have in common with radicals of any persuasion?The simple answer is, perhaps, Romance. The dividing line betweenrightist Romance (Nazi insignia and myth etc.) and leftist Romance(insurgent cavalry etc.) is not always easy to determine. A stirringimage is a stirring image and can be ,employed to raise all sorts ofatavistic or infantile emotions in us. Escapist or 'genre' fictionappeals to these emotions. It does us no harm to escape from time totime but it can be dangerous to confuse simplified fiction withreality and that, of course, is what propaganda does.
The bandit hero -- the underdog rebel -- so frequently becomes thepolitical tyrant; and we are perpetually astonished! Such figuresappeal to our infantile selves -- what is harmful about them in reallife is that they are usually immature, without self-discipline,frequently surviving on their 'charm'. Fiction lets them stay, likeZorro or Robin Hood, perpetually charming. In reality they becomepetulant, childish, relying on a mixture of threats and self-pityingpleading, like any baby. These are too often the revolutionaryfigures on whom we pin our hopes, to whom we sometimes commit ourlives and whom we sometimes try to be; because we fail to distinguishfact from fiction. In reality it is too often the small, fanatical menwith the faces and stance of neurotic clerks who come to power whilethe charismatic heroes, if they are lucky, die gloriously, leaving usto discover that while we have been following them, imitating them, anew Tsar has manipulated himself into the position of power andTerror has returned with a vengeance while we have been using all ourenergies living a romantic lie. Heroes betray us. By having them, inreal life, we betray ourselves. The heroes of Heinlein and Ayn Randare forever competent, forever right: they are oracles andprotectors, magic parents (so long as we obey their rules). They areprepared to accept the responsibilities we would rather not bear.They are 'leaders'. Traditional sf is hero fiction on a huge scale,but it is only when it poses as a fiction of ideas that it becomescompletely pernicious. At its most spectacular it gives us CharlieManson and Scientology (invented by the sf writer Ron Hubbard and anauthoritarian system to rival the Pope's). To enjoy it is one thing.To claim it as 'radical' is quite another. It is ratherunimaginative; it is usually badly written; its characters areciphers; its propaganda is simple-minded and conservative -- goodold-fashioned opium which might be specifically designed for dealingwith the potential revolutionary.
In a writer like Lovecraft a terror of sex often combines (or isconfused for) a terror of the masses, the 'ugly' crowd. But this isso common to so much 'horror' fiction that it's hardly worthdiscussing. Lovecraft is morbid. His work equates to that negativeromanticism found in much Nazi art. He was a confused anti-Semite andmisanthrope, a promoter of anti-rationalist ideas about racial'instinct' which have much in common with Mein Kampf. A dedicatedsupporter of 'Aryanism', a hater of women, he wound up marrying aJewess (which might or might not have been a sign of hope -- wehaven't her view of the matter)Lovecraft appeals to us primarily whenwe are ourselves feeling morbid. Apart from his offensively awfulwriting and a resultant inability to describe his horrors (leaving usto do the work -- the secret of his success -- we're all betterwriters than he is!) he is rarely as frightening, by implication, asmost of the other highly popular writers whose concerns are not with'meeping Things' but with idealised versions of society. It's notsuch a big step, for instance from Farnham's Freehold to Hitler'sLebensraum.
I must admit I'm not following a properly argued critical line. I'marguing on the assumption that my readers are at least familiar withsome of the books and authors I mention. I attack these books becausethey are the favourite reading of so many radicals. I attack the booksnot for their superficial fascination with quasi-medieval socialsystems (a la Frank Herbert). Fiction about kings and queens is notnecessarily royalist fiction any more than fiction about anarchistsis likely to be libertarian fiction. As a writer I have produced agood many fantastic romances in which kings and queens, lords andladies, figure largely -- yet I am an avowed anti-monarchist. Catch22 never seemed to me to be in favour of militarism. And just becausemany of Heinlein's characters are soldiers or ex-soldiers I don'tautomatically assume he must therefore be in favour of war. Itdepends what use you make of such characters in a story and what, inthe final analysis, you are saying.
Jules Verne in The Masterless Man put some pretty decent sentimentsin the mouth of Kaw-djer the anarchist and his best characters, likeCaptain Nemo, are embittered 'rebels' who have retreated fromsociety. Even the aerial anarchists of The Angel of the Revolution byGeorge Griffiths have something to be said for them, for all theirinherent authoritarianism, but they are essentially romantic'outlaws' and the views they express are not sophisticated even bythe standards of the 1890s.
H.G. Wells was no more the 'father' of science fiction than JulesVerne. He inherited a tradition going back some thirty or forty yearsin the form he himself used and several centuries in the form of theUtopian romance. What was unusual about Wells, however, is that hewas one of the first radicals of his time to take the trappings ofthe scientific romance and combine them with powerful and tellingimages to make Bunyanesque allegories like The Time Machine or TheInvisible Man. Wells didn't have his characters talking socialism. Heshowed the results of capitalism, authoritarianism, superstition andother evils and because he was a far better writer than most of thosewho have ever written sf before or since he made his points withconsiderable clarity. Morris had been long-winded andbackward-looking. Wells took the techniques of Kipling and preachedhis own brand of socialism. Until Wells -- the most talented,original and intelligent writer of his kind -- almost all sf haddevoted itself to attacks on 'decadence' and military unpreparedness,urging our leaders to take a stronger moral line and our armies tore-equip and get better officers. By and large this was the tone ofmuch of the sf which followed Wells, from Kipling's effective butreactionary With the Night Mail and As Easy as ABC (paternalisticaerial controllers whose rays pacify 'the mob') to stories by JohnBuchan, Michael Arlen, William Le Quex, E. Phillips Oppenheim andhundreds of others who predominantly were following Kipling inwarning us of the dangers of socialism, mixed marriages, free love,anarchist plots, Zionist conspiracies, the yellow peril and so on andso on. Even Jack London wasn't what one might call an all-roundlibertarian any more than Wells was when he toyed with his ideas ofan elite corps of 'samurai' who were actually not a great dealdifferent to how Soviet Communist Party members saw themselves, orwere described in official fiction and propaganda. Thequasi-religious nature of sf (which I describe in a collection ofpre-WWI sf Before Armageddon) was producing on the wholequasi-religious substitutes (a variety of authoritarian socialist andfascist theories). A few attacked the theories of the emergingdictators (Murray Constantine's Swastika Night, 1937, seemed to thinkChristianity could conquer Hitler but is otherwise a pretty incisiveprojection of Nazism several hundred years in the future). By andlarge the world we got in the thirties was the world the sf writersof the day hoped we would have -- 'strong leaders' reshaping nations.The reality of these hero-leaders was not, of course, entirely whathad been visualised -- Nuremberg rallies and Strength Through Joy,perhaps -- but Kristellnacht and gas ovens seemed to go a bit toofar.
At least the American pulp magazines like Amazing Stories andThrilling Wonder Stories were not, by and large, offering ushigh-profile 'leadership': just the good old-fashioned mixture ofimplicit racialism/militarism/nationalism/paternalism carried a fewhundred years into the future or a few million light years into space(E. E. Smith remains to this day one of the most popular writers ofthat era). John W. Campbell, who in the late thirties took overAstounding Science Fiction Stories and created what many believeto be a major revolution in the development of sf, was the chiefcreator of the school known to buffs as 'Golden Age' sf and writtenby the likes of Heinlein, Asimov and A.E. Van Vogt wild-eyedpaternalists to a man, fierce anti-socialists, whose work reflectedthe deep-seated conservatism of the majority of their readers, whosaw a Bolshevik menace in every union meeting. They believed, incommon with authoritarians everywhere, that radicals wanted to takeover old-fashioned political power, turn the world into a uniformmass of 'workers' with themselves (the radicals) as commissars. Theyoffered us such visions, when they attempted any overt discussion ofpolitics at all. They were about as left-wing as The NationalEnquirer or The Saturday Evening Post (where their storiesoccasionally were to appear). They were xenophobic, smug andconfident that the capitalist system would flourish throughout theuniverse, though they were, of course, against dictators and theworst sort of exploiters (no longer Jews but often still 'aliens').Rugged individualism was the most sophisticated political conceptthey could manage -- in the pulp tradition, the Code of the Westbecame the Code of the Space Frontier, and a spaceship captain had todo what a spaceship captain had to do...
The war helped. It provided character types and a good deal ofauthoritative-sounding technological terms which could be applied toscientific hardware and social problems alike and soundedreassuringly 'expert'. Those chaps had the tone of Vietnam twentyyears earlier. Indeed, it's often been shown that sf supplied a lotof the vocabulary and atmosphere for American military and spacetechnology (a 'Waldo' handling machine is a name taken straight froma Heinlein story). Astounding became full of crew-cut wisecracking,cigar-chewing, competent guys (like Campbell's image of himself). ButCampbell and his writers (and they considered themselves something ofa unified team) were not producing Westerns. They claimed to beproducing a fiction of ideas. These competent guys were suggestinghow the world should be run. By the early fifties Astounding hadturned by almost anyone's standard into a crypto-fascist deeplyphilistine magazine pretending to intellectualism and offeringidealistic kids an 'alternative' that was, of course, no alternativeat all. Through the fifties Campbell used his whole magazine aspropaganda for the ideas he promoted in his editorials. His writers,by and large, were enthusiastic. Those who were not fell away fromhim, disturbed by his increasingly messianic disposition (AlfredBester gives a good account of this). Over the years Campbellpromoted the mystical, quasi-scientific Scientology (first proposedby one of his regular writers L. Ron Hubbard and aired for the firsttime in Astounding as 'Dianetics: The New Science of the Mind'), aperpetual motion machine known as the 'Dean Drive', a series of plansto ensure that the highways weren't 'abused', and dozens of otherhalf-baked notions, all in the context of cold-war thinking. He also,when faced with the Watts riots of the mid-sixties, seriously proposedand went on to proposing that there were 'natural' slaves who wereunhappy if freed. I sat on a panel with him in 1965, as he pointedout that the worker bee when unable to work dies of misery, that themoujiks when freed went to their masters and begged to be enslavedagain, that the ideals of the anti-slavers who fought in the CivilWar were merely expressions of self-interest and that the blacks were'against' emancipation, which was fundamentally why they wereindulging in 'leaderless' riots in the suburbs of Los Angeles! I wasspeechless (actually I said four words in all -- 'science-fiction' --'psychology' -- Jesus Christ!'- before I collapsed), leaving JohnBrunner to perform a cool demolition of Campbell's arguments, whichleft the editor calling on God in support of his views -- anexperience rather more intense for me than watching DoctorStrangelove at the cinema.
Starship Troopers (serialised in Astounding as was most of Heinlein'sfiction until the early sixties) was probably Heinlein's last'straight' sf serial for Campbell before he began his 'serious' bookssuch as Farnham's Freehold and Stranger in a Strange Land -- takingthe simplified characters of genre fiction and producing some of themost ludicrously unlikely people ever to appear in print. In StarshipTroopers we find a slightly rebellious cadet gradually learning thatwars are inevitable, that the army is always right, that his duty isto obey the rules and protect the human race against the alienmenace. It is pure debased Ford out of Kipling and it set the patternfor Heinlein's more ambitious paternalistic, xenophobic (but equallysentimental) stories which became for me steadily more hilariousuntil I realised with some surprise that people were taking them asseriously as they had taken, say, Atlas Shrugged a generation before-- in hundreds of thousands! That middle-America could regardsuch stuff as 'radical' was easy enough to understand. I kept findingthat supporters of the Angry Brigade were enthusiastic about Heinlein,that people with whom I thought I shared libertarian principles weregetting off on every paternalistic, bourgeois writer who had evergiven me the creeps! I still can't fully understand it. Certainly Ican't doubt the sincerity of their idealism. But how does it equatewith their celebration of writers like Tolkein and Heinlein? The cluecould be in the very vagueness of the prose, which allows for liberalinterpretation; it could be that the ciphers they use instead ofcharacters are capable of suggesting a wholly different meaning tocertain readers. To me, their naive and emblematic reading of societyis fundamentally misanthropic and therefore anti-libertarian. We arefaced, once again, with quasi-religion, presented to us asradicalism. At best it is the philosophy of the Western applied tothe complex social problems of the twentieth century -- it isReaganism, it is John Wayne in Big John Maclean and The Green Berets,it is George Wallace and Joe McCarthy -- at its most refined it isWilliam F. Buckley Jr., who, already a long way more sophisticatedthan Heinlein, is still pretty simple-minded.
Rugged individualism also goes hand in hand with a strong faith inpaternalism -- albeit a tolerant and somewhat distant paternalism --and many otherwise sharp-witted libertarians seem to see nothing inthe morality of a John Wayne Western to conflict with their views.Heinlein's paternalism is at heart the same as Wayne's. In the finalanalysis it is a kind of easy-going militarism favoured by theveteran professional soldier -- the chain of command is complex --many adult responsibilities can be left to that chain as long asbroad, but firmly enforced, rules from 'high up' are adhered to.Heinlein is Eisenhower Man and his views seem to me to be morepernicious than ordinary infantile back-to-the-land Christiancommunism, with its mysticism and its hatred of technology. To be ananarchist, surely, is to reject authority but to acceptself-discipline and community responsibility. To be a ruggedindividualist a la Heinlein and others is to be forever a child whomust obey, charm and cajole to be tolerated by some benign,omniscient father: Rooster Coburn shuffling his feet in front of ajudge he respects for his office (but not necessarily himself) inTrue Grit.
An anarchist is not a wild child, but a mature, realistic adultimposing laws upon the self and modifying them according to anexperience of life, an interpretation of the world. A 'rebel',certainly, he or she does not assume 'rebellious charm' in order toplacate authority (which is what the rebel heroes of all these genrestories do). There always comes the depressing point where Robin Hooddoffs a respectful cap to King Richard, having clobbered the rivalking. This sort of implicit paternalism is seen in high relief in thecurrently popular Star Wars series which also presents a somewhatdisturbing anti-rationalism in its quasi-religious 'Force' whichunites the Jedi Knights (are we back to Wellsian 'samurai' again?)and upon whose power they can draw, like some holy brotherhood, someband of Knights Templar. Star Wars is a pure example of the genre (inthat it is a compendium of other people's ideas) in its implicitstructure -- quasi-children, fighting for a paternalistic authority,win through in the end and stand bashfully before the princess whilemedals are placed around their necks.
Star Wars carries the paternalistic messages of almost all genericadventure fiction (may the Force never arrive on your doorstep atthree o'clock in the morning) and has all the right characters. itraises 'instinct' above reason (a fundamental to Nazi doctrine) andpromotes a kind of sentimental romanticism attractive to the youngand idealistic while protective of existing institutions. It is theessence of a genre that it continues to promote certain implicitideas even if the author is unconscious of them. In this case theaudience also seems frequently unconscious of them.
It was Alfred Bester who first attracted me to science fiction. I'dread some fantasy and Edgar Rice Burroughs before that, but I thoughtthat if The Stars My Destination (also called Tiger! Tiger!) was sf,then this was the fiction for me. It took me some years to realisethat Bester was one of the few exceptions. At the ending of The StarsMy Destination the self-educated, working class, 'scum of thespaceways', Gully Foyle, comes into possession of the substance knownas PyrE, capable of detonating at a thought and probably destroyingthe solar system at very least. The plot has revolved around theattempts of various powerful people to get hold of the stuff. Foylehas it. Moral arguments or forceful persuasions are brought againsthim to make him give PyrE up to a 'responsible' agency. In the end hescatters the stuff to 'the mob' of the solar system. Here you are, hesays, it's yours. Its your destiny. Do with it how you see fit.
This is one of the very, very few 'libertarian' sf novels I have everread. If I hadn't read it, I very much doubt I should have read anymore sf. It's a wonderful adventure story. It has a hero developingfrom a completely stupefied, illiterate hand on a spaceship to abrilliant and mature individual taking his revenge first on those whohave harmed him and then gradually developing what you might call a'political conscience.' I know of no other sf book which sothoroughly combines romance with an idealism almost wholly acceptableto me. It is probably significant that it enjoys a relatively smallsuccess compared to, say, Stranger in a Strange Land.
Leaving aside the very worthy but to my mind journalistic TheDispossessed by U.K. Le Guin, it is quite hard for me to find manyother examples of sf books which, as it were, 'promote' libertarianideas. M. John Harrison is an anarchist. His books are full ofanarchists -- some of them very bizarre like the anarchist aesthetesof The Centauri Device. Typical of the New Worlds school he could bedescribed as an existential anarchist. There is Brian Aldiss with hisBarefoot in the Head vision of an LSD 'bombed' Europe almost totallyliberated and developing bizarre new customs. There are J. G.Ballard's 'terminal ironies' such as The Atrocity Exhibition andCrash and so on, which have brought criticisms of 'nihilism' againsthim. There is Joanna Russ's marvellous The Female Man. So little sfhas fundamental humanitarian values, let alone libertarian ideals,one is hard put to find other examples. My own taste, I suppose, issometimes at odds with my political views. I admire Barrington J.Bayley, whose stories are often extremely abstract. One of his mostenjoyable books recently published is The Soul of the Robot whichdiscusses the nature of individual identity. Charles L. Harness isanother favourite of mine. The Rose, in particular, lacks thesimplifications of most sf, and The Paradox Men with its sense of thenature of Time, its thief hero, its ironic references to AmericaImperial, is highly entertaining. I also have a soft spot for C. M.Kornbluth who to my mind had a rather stronger political consciencethan he allowed himself, so that his stories are sometimes confusedas he tried to mesh middle-American ideas with his own radicalism.One of my favourites (though structurally it is a bit weak) is TheSyndic (about a society where a rather benign Mafia is paramount).Fritz Leiber is probably the best of the older American sf writersfor his prose-style, his wit and his humanity, as well as his abidingcontempt for authoritarianism. His Gather, Darkness is one of the bestsf books to relate political power to religious power (this was alsoserialised in Astounding during the forties . John Brunner, author ofthe CND marching song 'H-Bomb's Thunder', often writes from adistinctly socialist point of view. Harlan Ellison, who for some timehad associations with a New York street gang and who has identifiedhimself for many years with radicalism in the US, writes many shortstories whose heroes have no truck with authority of any sort, thoughthe conventions of the genre sometimes get in the way of the essentialmessages of his stories. This has to be true of most genre fiction.Ellison's best work is written outside the sf genre. Philip K. Dick,John Sladek, Thomas M.Disch, Joanna Russ...
To my mind one of the best examples of imaginative fiction to ear inEngland since the war is Maurice Richardson's The Exploits ofEngelbrecht, written in the forties and recently republished by JohnConquest (available from him at Compendium Books). These 'Chroniclesof the Surrealist Sportman's Club' are superbly laconic pieces,concentrating more original invention into fewer words than almostany writer I can think of. They outshine, for me, almost anythingelse remotely like them, including the stories of Borges and othermuch admired imaginative writers. Richardson goes swiftly from oneidea to the next, using a beautifully disciplined prose. He has theadvantage of being a great ironist and I find that more palatable.Such a style can become one of the most convincing weapons in theliterary arsenal and it often astonishes me how cleverly Kiplinginfluenced generations of writers by disguising his authoritariannotions in that superb matter-of-fact, faintly ironic prose. Manywriters, not necessarily of Kipling's views, have used it since. Wefind a debased version of it in the right-wing thrillers and sfnovels of our own day. It is probably this 'tone' (employed tosuggest the writer's basic decency and commonsense) which enablesmany people to accept ideas which, couched differently, would revoltthem. Yet what Heinlein or Tolkein lack is any trace of realself-mockery. They are nature's urbane Tories. They'll put an armround your shoulder and tell you their ideas are quite radical too,really; that they used to be fire-eaters in their youth; that thereare different ways of achieving social change; that you must berealistic and pragmatic. Next time you pick up a Heinlein book thinkof the author as looking a bit like General Eisenhower or, if thatimage isn't immediate enough, some chap in early middleage,good-looking in a slightly soft way, with silver at the temples, ablue tie, a sober three-pieced suit, telling you with a quiet smilethat Margaret Thatcher cares for individualism and opportunity aboveall things, as passionately in her way as you do in yours. And then you might have some idea of what you're actually about to read.
Michael Moorcock, May 1977, Ladbroke Grove
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@nti-CopyRite 2000-3000, more or less
Visit the complete Stan Iverson Memorial Library
The Stan Iverson Memorial Library is freely produced for your use or abuse by Recollection Used Books