Cora Talks About Old SFF Elsewhere

“But what’s new about that?” some of you will ask. She always talks about old SFF somewhere.

However, today I had not one but two items coming out elsewhere. The first is my latest post over at Galactic Journey, where I talk about the science fiction anthology Orbit 1, edited by Damon Knight (and also about a lost whale on the Rhine). Orbit 1 is not only a very good anthology, where even the weaker stories are worth reading, but it’s doubly remarkable, because the table of contents is fifty percent women – in 1966.

Of course, we know that the “Women did not write SFF before [insert date here]” claims are nonsense, but it’s still nice to find an anthology or a magazine with a fifty percent famel table of contents in the 1960s, when all-male table of contents were the norm rather than the exception.

In some ways, the stories in Orbit are works of their time – 1960s/70s concerns about overpopulation pop up a few times as do the even older obsessions about racial memory and “Oh my God, we might devolve!” which pop up in SFF all the way back to the 1930s – but in other way, the stories feel remarkably modern. The stories deal with how humans can relate to the Other (usually represented by aliens), how to communicate with beings of different cultures, whether violence is really the best solution (spoiler alert: It’s not) and the dark sides of colonialism and imperialism. The story that most clearly criticises colonialism and points out that even initially good intentions can lead to bad outcomes is by Poul Anderson of all people, i.e. not an author anybody would accuse of being a strident Social Justice Warrior. Though this was likely written before the rightwing libertarian brain eater virus that spread through the SFF community in the 1960s and 1970s and beyond got Anderson.

ETA: In a stroke of cosmic serendipity, James Davis Nicoll has also just reviewed Orbit 1. Check out his thoughts here.

ETA 2: Apparently, I’ve also pissed off some people by daring to give the James Blish and Thomas M. Disch stories a low rating.

However, I’m not just at Galactic Journey today. I’m also the special guest in episode 97 of the Appendix N Book Club, a great podcast (which I featured as part of my fancast spotlight here) which discusses the inspirational works listed in the Appendix N of the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide.

In this episode, we discussed Xiccarph, a collection of Clark Ashton Smith’s interplanetary tales which came out in 1972 as part of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series, even though the stories date from the 1920s and 1930s.

I have two Clark Ashton Smith collections on my book shelf, but the first time I tried to read him, I bounced off Clark Ashton Smith’s work. This is not Smith’s fault at all – I was basically challenged to read Smith by someone who was convinced I was too stupid to understand him, which obviously did not make me inclined to enjoy the experience. Though the stories and the haunting atmosphere Smith creates were clearly memorable, because I found that I could recall details of several Smith stories, even though it has been more than twenty years since I first read them.

So I was happy to be given a most excellent excuse to revisit Clark Ashton Smith’s work. I appreciated his work a lot more the second time around. Indeed, one thing I’ve found with many of the authors associated with Weird Tales is that I enjoy their work more upon rereading it – including things like the Conan, Jirel of Joiry or Northwest Smith stories I liked the first time around, too. Though I still think that Clark Ashton Smith is best savoured in smaller doses.

Anyway, just listen to the episode and then listen to the other 96 episodes of the Appendix N Book Club, because it is a really great podcast.

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4 Responses to Cora Talks About Old SFF Elsewhere

  1. James Nicoll says:

    Ha! Tomorrow, on request of my web person, I will review Orbit 1, to be followed by Orbits 2-21.

  2. James Nicoll says:

    Oh, Anderson had gone libertarian by this point. 1960’s The Longest Voyage is about manly men manfully slapping away a hand up from well meaning off-worlders, while 1964’s No Truce With Kings is about how individualist cultures will always triumph over central states.

    • Cora says:

      I had successfully forgotten the existence of “The Longest Voyage”. And come to think of it, the Nicholas van Rijn and David Falkayn stories are also from this period and those are very libertarian.

      Though by 1966, Anderson was still capable of writing good stories that are not just a political mouthpiece. At any rate, I liked “The Disinherited” and Mark Yon found another good Anderson story in Impulse in 1966.

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