Short Review – Books, Algis Budrys

This article from the June 1977 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, along with Baird Searles’ “Films: Jolly Juvenalia on the Silver Screen (which I will write about in the next post), gave me a brief glimpse into the origin of the “Fan Writer” category; in the ancient days before everyone could blog about what they thought about this or that book or movie or tv show, the lucky few got short articles published in the serial zines telling us what they thought about what to read and watch. These posts won’t quite be reviews, though; I feel weird reviewing reviews, so instead I’ll just try to summarize them & highlight a few choice bits that convey their feel.

Budrys takes on “Jules Verne, a Biography” by Jean Jules-Verne, “The Book of Virgil Finlay” compiled by Gerry de la Ree, “Lone Star Universe” edited by Proctor & Utley, and “More Women of Wonder” edited by Pamela Sargent.

Budrys points out that despite our constant exposure to Verne and his influence on Science fiction, we know him mostly through film and tv adaptations, comics and childrens’ books rather than his actual work, which he describes as “usually awkward and damned dull” even “in the good translations”. Thinking back, I’ve only read the childrens classics versions of the various Verne books, and those decades ago, so I don’t feel I can comment on his statement. His general summation of Jean Jules-Verne’s book is that it’s charming though lacking in decent literary judgement, lending to its warm charitability towards even mediocre work. “God grant me a grandson…like [Jean Jules-Vern].”

“It has always been true that there were three or four who could out-illustrate Finlay at any given time, just as it has always been true that SF always has had better artists than it deserved, balanced by an equal number of people who should have remained luncheonette sign painters.” I actually had to look up some Virgil Finlay. Yowzah! Here Budrys writes less a review of the compilation and more a eulogy for a beloved artist who never quite got the credit (or at least the compensation) he deserved during his lifetime. “…the man was grievously misplaced among us, and terribly unrewarded. Yet, despite our help, he brought most of it on himself.”

Budrys seems wary of the need for ‘regional’ compilations, in this case one meant to capture “some particular geist which is uniquely Texan” in Sci-fi. “There are some things in here because you are going to meet these people, or their reputations, at the next regional con, and how could you explain the omission?” Politics are everywhere always, aren’t they? He has praise for a number of the stories, concluding “it does change your image of Texas”, though he never leaves me 100% sure he meant it as a good thing.

Finally, Budrys has favorable words for the stories in More Women of Wonder, though it’s his take on Sargent’s introductory essay that makes up the meat of his comments, some of which sound as though they could’ve been blogged just yesterday. “I think when fiction attempts to teach deliberately, it runs serious dangers of distorting life, and is in certain peril of not being fiction at all, but something else. ‘Literature has the tacit aim of improving us,’ Sargent goes on to say, and I say ‘Who says?’ … If you select out all the SF which fits [Sargent’s] definition and call it ‘serious science fiction,’ then by definition serious science fiction is that which questions, etc., and anything which does not have an overt aim at questioning past values or posting future alternatives – ie, does not have a dialectical thrust – is not ‘serious.’ And we all know that not to be serious is not to be of worth.”

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One response to “Short Review – Books, Algis Budrys

  1. Pingback: What IS science fiction? | Cirsova

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