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eight The Lives of Fantasists Unser Leben ist kein Traum, aber es soll und wird viellicht einer werden. [Our life is no dream; but it ought to become one, and perhaps will.] —Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenburg), as quoted in George MacDonald’s Phantastes (1859) And do not rely on the fact that in your life, circumscribed, regulated, and prosaic, there are no such spectacular and terrifying things. —C. P. Cavafy, ‘‘Theodotus,’’ as quoted in Elizabeth Hand’s Last Summer at Mars Hill (1998) When one looks at the published memoirs and autobiographical sketches written by science fiction and fantasy authors, often for the benefit of their fans—the sort of thing collected in Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison’s Hell’s Cartographers (1975) or Martin Greenberg’s Fantastic Lives: Autobiographical Essays by Notable Science Fiction Writers (1981)—one initially is struck by the relative thinness and lack of genuine introspection of many of the essays. Typically , such pieces read as a variety of Augustinian conversion tales, depicting a precocious childhood, often solitary and bookish, sometimes sickly, sometimes featuring battles with parents to get into the adult sections of the library, and characteristically leading toward a moment of revelation. Here are three examples from Hell’s Cartographers: ‘‘And then came Hugo Gernsback’’; ‘‘Then I saw and bought an issue of something called Amazing Stories’’; ‘‘So science fiction entered into and began warping my life from an early age.’’∞ In one of the still comparatively rare autobiographies of sf writers, Wonder’s Child: My Life in Science Fiction, Jack Williamson ends a chapter with the following cli√hanger: Something else happened, however, in the spring of 1926, the first year I was out of high school. Something that changed my life. Hugo Gernsback launched a new pulp magazine , filled with reprinted stories by Jules Verne and H. G. Wells and A. Merritt and Edgar Rice Burroughs, stories he called ‘‘scientifiction.’’ The magazine was Amazing Stories.≤ 142 WRITERS Following these road-to-Damascus moments, however, these memoirs and autobiographies seldom become genuine testaments, instead amounting to not much more than narrative resumés, filled with anecdotes of encounters with fellow writers and editors and often with almost obsessively detailed accounts of sales figures and payments; one comes away with the sense that (a) science fiction writers all clearly remember the first sf story they read, and (b) they keep really good tax records. To be fair, Williamson does go on to describe his bouts of depression and his encounters with psychology—he may have been the first sf writer to undergo full psychoanalysis—and he drops tantalizing hints as to how this may have a√ected the darker moments of his fiction. And the science fiction world has produced a handful of other genuinely thoughtful autobiographies, such as Brian Aldiss’s The Twinkling of an Eye (1998). But the most famous of all science fiction autobiographies, the fifteen-hundred-odd pages of Isaac Asimov’s In Memory Yet Green (1979) and In Joy Still Felt (1980) are monuments to the unexamined ego, filled with astonishingly minute details that reveal remarkably little about the man or his fiction and seem almost intended to obfuscate; even the poem that provided these titles turns out to be a fake, written by Asimov himself specifically to generate the titles. Only much later, literally on his deathbed , did Asimov revisit his life in another massive volume, I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994), with fragmentary—but one feels more unmediated—meditations on his work and his career. Similarly, Robert Bloch’s 1995 autobiography Once around the Bloch is essentially an extended version of one of his legendarily funny con speeches, Frederik Pohl’s The Way the Future Was (1978) is mostly an engaging insider’s history of much of American science fiction, and Piers Anthony’s 1988 Bio of an Ogre features more cranky score-settling than genuine introspection. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect more; after all, as I mentioned, for the most part these are celeb memoirs, written more to satisfy the curiosity of fans than to draw us deeper into the authors’ works and worldviews. And we can, if we wish to play games of psychological criticism, draw our own conclusions, speculating for example on how Asimov’s own self-confessed agoraphobia and love of Manhattan translated into the contained urban environments of The Caves of Steel (1954) or The Naked Sun (1957), much as an earlier generation of psychological critics found sources for Kafka...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780819571045
Related ISBN
9780819569363
MARC Record
OCLC
726747951
Pages
280
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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