Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Short Review of The Merril Theory of Lit'ry Criticism

     The Merril Theory of Lit'ry Criticism is the fourth book in a recent series published by the feminist science fiction publishers, Aqueduct Press. The series reprints forgotten authors and out of print works by significant writers within the genre. So far, the selections made by the publishers have been fairly interesting, and this edition isn't an exception.  Judith Merril's contributions to the genre of science fiction both as an author and as a critic has received some recognition in the past decade, but her critical work has remained out of print until this publication.  Rather than being contained in a single collection, that work is spread over a series of small publications, anthologies, and other ephemera produced by the subculture of science fiction. The book rectifies this situation and is a collection of Judith Merril's reviews, introductions to anthologies, commentaries on the genre, and investigations in the work of individual authors.  The book cannot cover all of the material produced by Merril in the 1950's and 1960's, but Aqueduct offers an ebook version of the text, along with the paper copy of the text, that completes the collection.

     The material is fascinating if you already have an interest in the work of Merril, the history of the genre during the time period, or the early history of science fiction criticism.  The book provides a good sense of her approach to the genre, and provides some fairly interesting critical readings of work within the genre, for instance her reading of Dune. There is also a lot of interesting, if fragmented, commentary on the business side of the genre, discussing its commercial prospects, and the shifting nature of the science fiction publishing business. The two longer commentaries on the genre of science fiction are probably the most in depth engagements with the structures of the genre, but one gets a pretty good sense of her views in the columns, reviews, and anthology introductions. Just as significantly, the collection of articles is an excellent companion to the work of Damon Knight, James Blish, and the more recently republished reviews and essays of Joanna Russ in its contribution to understanding the early attempts of genre criticism, which was focused on a efforts to improve the genre, rather than attempting understand its basic structures.

     However, that material tends to make the book fairly esoteric reading. The critical material, while interesting, largely engages with a series of texts that have been largely forgotten by all but a small group of fans of the genre.  The material from the anthologies is interesting, but makes more sense within the context of the anthologies, which are fairly easy to find used copies, rather inexpensively. None of these issues should be of much concern if you are interested in Merril or the history of the genre, because the book provides a fun look at that history, and I recommend picking it up.  The materials add up to produce an interesting an unique perspective on the genre, produced by someone at the center of its artistic production, combining aesthetic and business concerns.  On the other hand, if you're looking to the collection to get an introduction to the work of Merril, I wouldn't recommend this book. Instead, I would recommend starting with a collection of her short stories or her novel, Shadow on the Hearth

No comments:

Post a Comment