Tuesday, September 17, 2013

oddball notes on a Tuesday

       I find myself with a small amount of time on my hands to put something brief up on the blog.  I've been extraordinarily busy with orientations and bargaining work.  Both tend to translate into a lot of small and often repetitive tasks with no real end in sight.  It's important work that is on occasion interesting, but it tends to seep into all pores of your daily life, producing a seamless flow of union work.  Fortunately, we have some collective support networks in place on our campus to deal with such work, or the entire process would be overwhelming.  

       However, rather than union work, I'd like to turn briefly to science fiction.  The most notable occurrence from my perspective is the death of Frederick Pohl, the former member of the Futurians, who had a long career as an author, editor, and agent within the field of science fiction.  Pohl produced the significant critical works, The Space Merchants and Search the Sky with C.M. Kornbluth.  He also helped get a lot of folks into print through his work as an editor and as an agent.  The latter work produced some controversy as Pohl was not always able to get folks the money that they were expecting within that role, a failing I suspect that arose from his amateur status, rather than any systemic dishonesty.  His divorce from fellow Futurian, Judith Merril was also problematic, involving some fairly emotionally abusive behavior on his part, despite the fact the two eventually reconciled and became friends, again. (Pohl, in fact, provided the text for phonograph recording of two Merril stories that I own on lp).  Despite those issues, Pohl represented one of the last of the early generation of science fiction writers, outliving the rest of the Futurian collective, and more public figures such as Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke.  He was writing a blog that I have linked to up until the time of his death that provided his own recollections of his fellow Futurians and other figures within the genre.  It's really worth the read if you're interested in the history.  I'm in the process of reading his memoir, which I will write about in the next few days.

      As a last note in this conversation, it has struck me over the past few months that the field of science fiction criticism has been deeply harmed by the fact that Darko Suvin's important interventions, Metamorphoses in Science Fiction, and his work on Victorian Science Fiction, are not in print.  The former regularly goes for over fifty dollars online, and I have seen the latter for over six hundred dollars online.  This lack of accessibility translates into a lot of contemporary work only engaging in Suvin's work from a second hand perspective, which often translates into shallow and often tendentious readings of his critical framework.  This became most apparent in the surface reading that Peter Paik provided of the text, From Utopia to Apocalypse: Science Fiction and the Politics of Catastrophe, a reading that lacked the focus and thoughtfulness that Paik brought to his other subject material.  I don't think Suvin's work is flawless, but he provides a substantial engagement with the mutating formal quality of the genre, linking it with the rise of the capitalist world system along with the myriad of resistances that respond the creation of that system and deeply shape its trajectory.  It's difficult to think of an equivalent text in another field being similarly inaccessible.  At some point, Yale needs to reprint those volumes, or let someone else reprint them.

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