Monday, February 8, 2016


Recently I've been rereading In Search of Wonder, the collection of Damon Knight's essays on the state of the field of Science Fiction/Fantasy since the early 1950's.

The book is a pleasure to read both as a tutorial on plotting, characterization, and structure as well as a stroll down memory lane.  December 1950 was the year I first picked up a copy of  Astounding Science Fiction and thus began my sad descent into this special olympics of literature.

It is fascinating to read Damon's take on the "new" writers of the fifties and sixties and their works; books that I read when they first appeared and some of which are now honored volumes of the canon. Even more interesting are the criticisms heaped upon the first appearance of volumes such a Player Piano, The Stars My Destination, and collections of Vance, Clarke, and too many others. He is particularly cutting with regards to van Vogt, although he savaged others just as cruelly.

Knight also describes the bumbling mistakes the writers of that time were making, itemizes their shortfalls, successes, their styles and affectations. Included throughout are asides about writers, the community in which they worked, and the changes overtaking the field.  In one section he speaks of the decline in writing by the new crowd and how, were it to go on, the excellent writers would become crowded out by less capable writers and consequently would have no place to sell their works.

Little has changed in the intervening years, I'm afraid.

The subtext that grabbed me was discovering that the giants of the field were at one time as insecure, naive, and struggling as me. Discovering that their failures of plot, characterization, and structure traced my own and that their working methods were as different from each other as mine are from yours.

What I've discovered is that struggling with the form is ever with us and trying to win that struggle is what moves our genre forward.


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