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What the Hell is he Talking About? 
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Post Re: What the Hell is he Talking About?
I don't seem to have the "quote" option, for no particular reason I can identify.

At any rate, my problem with this "cocksure" statement is that the terms are really not defined or possibly even definable. I'd want some kind of unpacking or at least a good guesstimate of what Bester meant in the first place -- of both Kipling and of Heinlein -- and what people on this thread are agreeing with before I could understand it enough to make any kind of coherent comment on it.

My experience of trying to examine this kind of statement is that my best guess is that the speaker is talking about something going on inside his own head, rather than something that is in the text -- now, this is a perfectly normal aspect of what can loosely be called the "reading experience," but there needs to be more of a connection between the text and the reaction in those remarks than I have so far found, in order for me to understand what is being imputed to Heinlein -- a necessary preliminary to evaluating it.


Sun Dec 14, 2008 8:53 am
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Post Re: Bester's All Star Author
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If Mr. Heinlein's work can be described as massive black and white lithography, then Mr. Sturgeon's is the exquisite Japanese print . . . .
Clever imagery, but to my mind inaccurate and unhelpful, as are Bester's single-stroke portraits of the other authors and editors. This sensibility, worthy of Gully Foyle's obsession with revenge, invites a similar caricature that Bester's own novels are impressionistic cartoons.

In fact, Bester's "All Star Author" is not a useful concept in general. Is the ideal Russian novelist an amalgam of Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky? Is the ideal English poet an amalgam of Chaucer, Blake, and Auden? Authors are whole people with whole styles, and trying to split each glorious spectrum into pure slices for recombination is merely a parlor game.

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Tue Dec 16, 2008 10:54 pm
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Post Re: What the Hell is he Talking About?
I have little trouble with the "cocksure" part, especially as it applies to (some of) Heinlein's characters. I see it less in Kipling's characters.

"Xenophobic" doesn't fit either Heinlein or Kipling, in my opinion, although it is a fashionable view of both.


Thu Jan 01, 2009 1:47 pm
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Post Re: Damon Knight's Ideal Author
While doing some infrastructure tweaking to older reviews at Troynovant, I came upon this bit I quoted from Damon Knight's introduction to The Past Through Tomorrow:

"It is easy to say what the ideal science fiction writer would be like. He would be a talented and imaginative writer, trained in the physical and social sciences and in engineering, with a broad and varied experience of people — not only scientists and engineers, but secretaries, lawyers, labor leaders, admen, newspapermen, politicians, businessmen. The trouble is that no one in his right mind would spend the time to acquire all this training and background merely in order to write science fiction. But Heinlein had it all."

Note that this is the inverse of Bester's approach. Bester jokingly assembles body-parts, as it were, of writers, creating a sort of amalgamated monster. Damon Knight on the other hand describes a man with a synthesist's sensibility, and then points to Heinlein as real and noble exemplar.

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Mon Jan 05, 2009 2:43 pm
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Post Re: Damon Knight's Ideal Author
Robert W Franson wrote:
While doing some infrastructure tweaking to older reviews at Troynovant, I came upon this bit I quoted from Damon Knight's introduction to The Past Through Tomorrow:

"It is easy to say what the ideal science fiction writer would be like. He would be a talented and imaginative writer, trained in the physical and social sciences and in engineering, with a broad and varied experience of people — not only scientists and engineers, but secretaries, lawyers, labor leaders, admen, newspapermen, politicians, businessmen. The trouble is that no one in his right mind would spend the time to acquire all this training and background merely in order to write science fiction. But Heinlein had it all."

Note that this is the inverse of Bester's approach. Bester jokingly assembles body-parts, as it were, of writers, creating a sort of amalgamated monster. Damon Knight on the other hand describes a man with a synthesist's sensibility, and then points to Heinlein as real and noble exemplar.

True. I find myself disturbed at the degree to which Bester seems to make sense as an argument until you try to pin down what the sense of his argument is, then it falls completely apart. Given that this is going on, its hardly surprising that he sometimes veers over into the completely nonsensical -- but how do you get to be a successful (highly successful in his case) writer that way?


Tue Jan 06, 2009 9:39 am
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Post Re: Damon Knight's Ideal Author
Bill Patterson wrote:
True. I find myself disturbed at the degree to which Bester seems to make sense as an argument until you try to pin down what the sense of his argument is, then it falls completely apart. Given that this is going on, its hardly surprising that he sometimes veers over into the completely nonsensical -- but how do you get to be a successful (highly successful in his case) writer that way?

Maybe there's some slight difference between critical and fiction writing? Maybe skill in one has little or nothing to do with skill in the other? Ghu knows Stephen King has shown some absolutely wretched critical acumen, for example.

It seems that another famous critical name could be inserted there in place of Bester in that first sentence, too.


Tue Jan 06, 2009 10:45 am
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Post Re: Damon Knight's Ideal Author
James Gifford wrote:
Bill Patterson wrote:
True. I find myself disturbed at the degree to which Bester seems to make sense as an argument until you try to pin down what the sense of his argument is, then it falls completely apart. Given that this is going on, its hardly surprising that he sometimes veers over into the completely nonsensical -- but how do you get to be a successful (highly successful in his case) writer that way?

Maybe there's some slight difference between critical and fiction writing? Maybe skill in one has little or nothing to do with skill in the other? Ghu knows Stephen King has shown some absolutely wretched critical acumen, for example.

It seems that another famous critical name could be inserted there in place of Bester in that first sentence, too.

True. And there is an awful lot of this kind of nonsensical writing going on and passing itself off as "critical." SF has been very badly served by its critics just in general -- the hatchet jobs Heinlein criticism has suffered for more than a generation is only a specific instance of a general problem. Centrist SF has never had a first-rate intellect even look at it -- though there are a couple of people working on the fringe (Jameson comes to mind) who might qualify. The problem is, of course, that their fringe perspective makes them think they know something about SF, which is, lamentably, not really the case.


Wed Jan 07, 2009 9:00 am
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Post Re: What the Hell is he Talking About?
Science fiction still is a fairly young field to have fans growing up in it who also develop into great theoreticians and critics of it. I remain confident.

Going forward a few months from the Alfred Bester column titled "The Perfect Composite Science Fiction Author" which leads off this thread, in the June 1961 issue of F&SF we have Bester talking a bit about Algis Budrys' Rogue Moon, but then inviting in James Blish to do the heavy critical lifting. As a critic, Blish is of course a much sharper tack (in more ways than one).

To our purpose here, in a general introduction Bester states that the editor "has requested this department to explain our reviewing policy to readers and authors. ... We review only those books which we admire. ... The only exception to this policy are those authors of such standing that they cannot be ignored; but we deeply regret the necessity to handle them roughly."

Okay, I can empathize with that, although it's rather unctuous. Bester goes on, "... as a colleague, we feel obligated not only to point out the admirable qualities of a book, but to indicate its weaknesses as well, hoping that it will help the artist. We must accept this responsibility. We've said before that no one but a writer can understand another writer's problems. We must attempt to do for our fellow-craftsmen what we hope they will do for us."

Note his self-assigned responsibility to help the artist. I throw before the members of this Forum the challenge to consider in what ways Bester's assembly of "The Perfect Composite Science Fiction Author" benefits Heinlein or indeed any of the other authors who in Bester's imagination contribute a trait to his Perfect Composite.

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Sat Jan 17, 2009 3:34 pm
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Post Re: What the Hell is he Talking About?
In other fields it would be known as "being full of oneself."

The early 1960s led, in sf, to the rise of the New Wavers. Thank Ghu they all came along and saved science fiction from its first forty years. I believe Bester is among, or at least beloved of, the NWrs.

Shameful how sf suffered in those rough, incompetent hands for so long, without a single drag on a joint or one four-letter word. Shameful.

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Sat Jan 17, 2009 3:40 pm
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Post Re: What the Hell is he Talking About?
James Gifford wrote:
In other fields it would be known as "being full of oneself."

The early 1960s led, in sf, to the rise of the New Wavers. Thank Ghu they all came along and saved science fiction from its first forty years. I believe Bester is among, or at least beloved of, the NWrs.

Shameful how sf suffered in those rough, incompetent hands for so long, without a single drag on a joint or one four-letter word. Shameful.

Now, Now, Jim. Bester was admired by the new wavicles, but I don't think anyone would ever have considered him one of them. Besides he was in his long hiatus from fiction writing when they came along, and by the time he started writing fiction again, it was all over, even the shouting.

I think the "help the authors" language suffers from the same vagueness as th stuff we've been talking about, but you could rationalize it as -- give us an ideal to aim for. Consequently, I'm inclined to give him this one and let it go.


Sat Jan 17, 2009 5:21 pm
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