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6 Russ Joanna Russ’s science fiction creates a peculiar embarrassment for anyone approaching our particular practice of writing with broadly critical intent. In his introduction to the Gregg Press edition of Russ’s second full-length SF novel, And Chaos Died (1970), Robert Silverberg avoids all mention of this embarrassment from what are, no doubt, the best intentions; but it is an avoidance that, intentions aside, still has its disingenuous aspect. In his Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), Darko Suvin cites as the 5 percent to 10 percent of contemporary science fiction that is aesthetically significant “the writings of Lem, Le Guin, Dick, Disch, Delany, the Strugatsky brothers, Jeury, Aldiss, Ballard, and others” (p. vii), daring the same disingenuousness by, presumably, consigning Russ to the “others.” (Unless the index errs, she is mentioned only in a single footnote, on page 67, for her piece “Towards an Aesthetic of Science Fiction” [R. D. Mullen and Darko Suvin, eds., Science Fiction Studies: Selected Articles on Science Fiction 1973–1975, Boston: Gregg Press, 1976].) I cannot speak for Jeury or the Strugatsky brothers, but I can say that all the AngloAmerican writers Suvin lists, as well as Lem, consider Russ’s work one way or another a touchstone for the SF field. (We are all alive; we talk about and correspond over such things with each other.) Let me add a few more names to the list of contemporary SF writers I can personally vouch for who have the highest regard for her work—writers I name precisely for the diversity in the kinds of science fiction they themselves write: Sturgeon, Leiber, Anderson, Tiptree, Benford, Dozois, and, by his own admission in the introduction at hand, Silverberg. By touchstone I mean that all of us are convinced some process inchoate to the writing of science fiction is occurring in Russ’s work at about the highest concentration available to a currently working SF writer. (And since I’m citing names, it is only fair to say that Professor Suvin himself first requested that I attempt this article, from his own sense that Russ’s 84 starboard wine work must be dealt with, even if he was not prepared to do so in his own study.) Now once you have all of us on that list in one room, trying to say just what this process is, or whether it is the most important process in SF writing, or just what other processes are needed to produce “great science fiction,” all unity will vanish, and we will become the brawling individualists any such collection of highly volatile temperaments must before any such question involving our very lively art. But so that my charge of disingenuousness is not met with the countercharge that I am simply (and ingenuously) trying to win for a colleague a position on what is after all a rather ephemeral list, I recount an incident from an SF convention, suggesting the two sides in conflict that produce this embarrassment. In 1977 I gave a talk at the Baltimore SF convention to an audience of roughly 250 college-age SF readers. During the question period following my talk, the subject of academia and science fiction came up; and from a show of hands I learned, somewhat to my surprise, that the vast majority of these young people had taken at least one SF course in high school or college or were enrolled in such a course now. The next question from the audience, rather oblique to the thrust of the discussion so far, was this: “What contemporary SF writers do you personally enjoy?” I answered that I was very impressed by Le Guin’s work. The hall filled with the applause of recognition. I went on to say that the work of Thomas M. Disch was very important to me. The applause swelled again, this time louder—and there were some surprised, indrawn breaths. The surprise was not only at my mention of Disch, but also at the extent of their common recognition of the name. A point here: the greater applause for Disch than for Le Guin did not mean Disch was the more popular among some greater statistical audience for which this audience could be taken as the representative. It did not necessarily mean Disch had given this audience greater pleasure than had Le Guin. Remember , this was an alert group of young people who read science fiction ; they picked it up off newsstands...


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