Late March

March 29, 2018

Again the trees remembered
to make leaves.
In the forest of their recollection
many birds returned
singing.
They sang, they sang
because they forgave themselves
the winter, and all that remained
still bitter.
Yet it was early spring,
when the days were touch and go,
and a late snow could nip a shoot,
or freeze a fledgling in its nest.
And where would we be then?
But that’s not the point.
Do you think the magpie doesn’t know
that its chicks are at risk,
or the peach trees, their too-frail blossoms,
the new-awakened bees, all that is
incipient within us?
We know, but we can’t help ourselves
any more than they can,
any more than the earth can
stop hurtling through the night
of its own absence.
Must be something in the sap,
the blood, a force like gravity,
a trick called memory.
You name it. Or leave it nameless
that’s better —
how something returns
and keeps on returning
through a gap,
through a dimensional gate,
through a tear in the veil.
And there it is again.
Another spring.
To woo loss into song.

Richard Schiffman

The serious writer

March 29, 2018

a city of the future - London

There has always been a difference between the SF author and the author who writes science fiction; the difference, say, between an Isaac Asimov and a George Orwell. These days the difference is becoming increasingly marked. The majority of SF published last year was category fiction, like the western and the detective story, with well-defined conventions within which writers rang changes on familiar themes (space exploration, robots, totalitarian megalopolises) with various degrees of skill. In the past year or so, however, there has been an increase in another kind of SF, written by people whose early reputations were made in the SF magazines but whose work has long since ceased to abide by the category conventions, and which many deny is “proper” SF at all.

When these writers still produce SF it is because they’re moved by the same spirit which produced Wells’ “Time Machine,” Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Orwell’s “1984;” they happen to find certain SF elements useful for expressing their particular moral concerns. These writers include Brian Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, Langdon Jones and Americans like Thomas Disch and Harvey Jacobs. Of late, and with similar moral intention, Jack Trevor Story has started to write SF, as have writers like Paul Ableman and Doris Lessing. The difference is between a writer who uses an SF idea and one who writes SF because he can’t easily do anything else. The only pity is that sometimes the better writers are given the least attention. The serious writer who has left the SF category behind him is often more talented and sophisticated.

I hope that next year we shall see closer attention given, say, to Thomas Disch’s “334,” about ordinary New Yorkers managing to live ordinary lives in a world which would seem hellish to us but which they accept (as people do) as perfectly normal. J. G. Ballard’s new novel, provisionally called “Crash,” will have a present day setting and will continue to define its moral themes in terms of man’s relationship to his technological myths (and to his automobiles in particular).

Some of the new SF novels might contain no SF. I speak from experience. It was only after I had finished my last SF novel that I realised I had included less than 400 words of what might reasonably be called science fiction. It wasn’t intentional: it happens naturally during the process of selecting what you need for your theme and discarding what is useless. A good writer, after all, should create his own conventions. Whatever the best SF is these days, it certainly isn’t SF any more.

Michael Moorcock
What does the future hold for Science Fiction
The Guardian 16th September 1971

writing

Where would Shakespeare have got if he had thought only of a specialized audience? What he did was to attempt to appeal on all levels, with something for the most rarefied intellectuals (who had read Montaigne) and very much more for those who could appreciate only sex and blood. I like to devise a plot that can have a moderately wide appeal. But take Eliot’s The Waste Land, very erudite, which, probably through its more popular elements and its basic rhetorical appeal, appealed to those who did not at first understand it but made themselves understand it. The poem, a terminus of Eliot’s polymathic travels, became a starting point for other people’s erudition. I think every author wants to make his audience. But it’s in his own image, and his primary audience is a mirror.

Anthony Burgess
Interview with John Cullinan in Paris Review spring 1973