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Just received Issue 5: read Critical Embuggerance first as always (Pen is always interesting, whether I find him/her (which is it?) [It's a him - Ed] agreeable or not, and despite his/her tendency to use expletives as a stylistic tool), then Ian Nichols' review of the very book I've been browsing for the past couple of days - just to compare notes. I got no further (if you discount this letter).
Now, I've met Ian, briefly, and found him to be one of those rare fellows who, although self-obsessed, is still thoroughly charming company. And he has more than a modicum of intelligence. I've never met Damien Broderick, but have corresponded with him from time to time over a number of years and, coincidentally enough, found him also to be self-obsessed and thoroughly charming. [In a later letter, Peter states "Met Damien Broderick for the first time last week. He turned out to be . . . far more 'down to earth' than his letters indicate, and not at all self-obsessed . . . he's very interested in what others are doing, or trying to do . . . strike the 'self-obsessed' reference to Damien; it does him an injustice." - Ed] He is also blazingly intelligent. So what's Ian's problem? Can't he stand the competition?
There are three sf writers of world class presently plying their craft in this country. I won't list them in order; my point is that Damien is one of them. When I picked up The Dark Between the Stars, I read the introduction first (nothing unusual about that), then, not wanting to lose touch with the voice of Damien-speaking-for-Damien, proceeded to read all the forewords. What comes through from that personal voice, even more so than from his stories, is the vast storehouse of knowledge this fellow has at his command, his (I repeat myself) blazing intelligence, his humour (wit, both subtle and smart-arse) and his humanity. And he never patronises his readers; he pays them the supreme compliment of assuming they can match his knowledge and intelligence. ". . . just plain self-indulgence" Ian says. I suspect the compliment was too much for him.
I suspect also that "The Ballad of Bowsprit Bear's Stead" is an important story. In the foreword, Damien tells the story against Harlan Ellison and gives us a few other clues as well - tries to prepare us to judge the subtle differences between sexism and irony (another compliment: that he should think we possess the necessary mental apparatus). I cannot bring to mind another story (in any genre) where such an attempt has ever been made, let alone in such a masterly (forgive me) fashion. Ian, despite all Damien's helpful references, takes it upon himself to tell us what the story is about, and, of course, misses the point utterly. And this is only the first story he covers. He goes on to miss the point of just about every story. Still, he does it with great authority. You've got to give him marks for guts.
Actually, to cut a long outflowing of anger (yeah, stupid reviews make me angry) short, I've come up with what it is that Ian can't cope with: it's Damien's wonderful wit and humour. Ian, the poor bastard, despite his charm and intelligence, has no humour at all.
NORTH ADELAIDE, SA
Look, one hardly knows where to start. Maybe it's something to do with the obscene number of churches in Adelaide that the holier-than-thou attitude erupts there with such virulence. It can't be the wine. Please, all you powers of the vine, let it not be the wine.
Peter's missive seems to be one of those poetic little exercises (a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions) so beloved of the Romantics. One wonders whether he will still respect himself in the morning. Still, I'm bored, there's nothing on television, and the computer sits there, pleading to have its keys fondled, so I might as well.
I really can't answer the charge of having "no humour at all," since it's one of those "have you stopped beating your wife yet" questions. I mean, how does one go about disproving allegations such as this? Tell jokes? Plead to have past laughter remembered? Point out that in 1986 I smiled? I did think that I had pointed out that at least one of Damien's stories was "good-humoured" and "fun," and I had no idea that it was obligatory to snigger behind the toilet wall at what was in the rest. Rather, I thought that I would take the stories seriously, and review them seriously. Perhaps, in some later letter, Peter might care to examine exactly what it was which sent him into paroxysms of laughter.
As a matter of fact, I can only find one reference in the review to a story which I thought was not funny, and that was "The Drover's Wife's Dog". I still don't think it's funny. Laboured, forced and overstated, yes, but not funny. (Look, I might add in here that the one thing which really gives me the shits about fandom is its rampant sycophancy, which often makes it impossible to review works honestly.) Damien can write humorously, as he does in "Coming Back" and "A Passage in Earth", and even in "The Ballad of Bowsprit Bear's Stead", but I fail to see that it is necessary for a reviewer to note the humour in every story; give it a yock-rating, so to speak. With regard to the only other story about which I expressed somewhat negative views, "The Writeable Text", I thought it was self-indulgent; it was criticised as self-indulgent at the time of its first publication by those who are somewhat closer to Damien than either Peter or me, and if Peter doesn't understand, prima facie, why it is self-indulgent, he could, perhaps, refer back to the source. Even without knowing the story behind it, prior to writing the review, I thought that it was a slice-of-life in the worst tradition of bathetic prose.
Peter seems to like, and find significant, "The Ballad of Bowsprit Bear's Stead". I didn't mind it, as I thought I made plain at the time, but I don't even find it the best story in the book, let alone worth all the fuss. Again, Peter makes a sweeping statement about the significance of the story, and leaves us floundering as to what that significance really is, except that it concerns "the subtle difference between sexism and irony." If Peter really thinks that the difference between the two is subtle, then the OED needs a new editor (then again, the OED probably does need a new editor). If Peter sincerely believes that no other story, within or without the genre, has explored this, I can only suggest that his reading is somewhat limited. (There are a few to consider, such as the Jerry Cornelius stories, "In the A&P", "The Test", "Surfacing" and "Still Life with Woodpeckers". There are others, but I would trust to the reader to dredge those up from memory.)
I honestly don't know why Peter feels complimented by Damien "assuming they can match his knowledge and intelligence," unless he feels that he has now been allowed into the private club of those with "blazing intelligence." I assumed that Damien wrote his stories so that other people could read them. A story either stands alone, or it doesn't. All of Damien's stories perform this difficult balancing feat. No, I don't feel complimented, flattered or jerked off when a writer tells me how a story came to be. I admire Damien for his ability to write stories; his personal life, that small and heavily edited amount of it he chooses to reveal, is his own business. To judge a story by what one knows of its author is simply to review within the old boys' (and I mean, in this case, exactly that) club. I have given bad reviews to friends; I call them as I see them.
Now, this rankles. Peter leaps up and down upon the spot in a self-congratulatory orgy of finding the point in the stories where I have, apparently, missed every single one. Apart from the fact that I made absolutely no attempt to reveal to the reader the point of the stories, from my particular point of view, I find it quite amazing that someone who is sufficiently offended by my review to pontificate upon my missing the point of the stories absents exactly those points from his "outflowing of anger." Without wanting to get into a discussion of why the particular form of literary arsehole-sucking which went under the name of Leavisite criticism, wherein there was a point, a single point, and god help those who didn't get it right, to every story, is alive and well in Adelaide, I wonder why it is that Peter leaves us in the lurch with regard to this fairly important matter. Look, I think that readers can decide for themselves what the point of a story is. With regard to "Ballad", there was obviously some disagreement, within the SF literary circles as to the point. I'm really glad that Peter has the gift of seeing in tongues, and has established this point for all time, for all readers, and I expect to receive this from him, on top of Mt. Sinai, rsn.
I get very bored with the angry responses of those who have seen that the emperor is, in fact, adorned with underwear featuring bright red Bougainvillea, rather than imperial clobber. Damien wrote a good, readable book, with the exception of a couple of stories. I don't know of any writer who hasn't written at least a couple of dogs. I would pay money for the book. I would not crawl naked over a thousand miles of broken glass for it. Again, I thought I made that plain. Peter's response seems to indicate to me that he was very impressed, flattered and comforted by the junk at the beginning of the stories. He didn't understand, it becomes plain by his insistence upon a monoglossic reading of the text, half of what Damien was on about with his literary references. I suspect that Peter is simply out of his depth, and seeks to make up for it by the sort of outrage one normally associates with Elvis necrophiles at the suggestion that "The Bullfighter was a Lady" is a heap of shit. Sycophants! As for his suggestion that there are "currently three sf writers of world class plying their trade in this country," I'd like to know who gets left out. Sean McMullen? Terry Dowling? George Turner? Lucy Sussex? Greg Egan? Leanne Frahm? C'mon, Peter; you talked the talk, now walk the walk.
An important [name] inexcusably omitted in my reference to the '79 SF writers' workshop [Issue Five Letters Column] was Russell Blackford. Sam Sejavka was also there, and I recall him at the workshop sessions sitting amid what seemed to be a permanent cloud of cigarette smoke.
I'm something of a lazy reader, and the only fiction I've read so far in #5 is "The Robot Inspectors". Its twist sucked me in, though I think it cheated a little. And although I disagree with Mark Loney's comment on "throw-aways", short-shorts which rely solely on twist endings - unless they're really clever - will be ultimately forgettable. This was certainly not the case with Steven Paulsen's "Two Tomorrow" which was not hanging on a gimmick ending and had more emotional impact than many longer stories I've read. Length does not necessarily mean importance, nor brevity necessarily mean irrelevance.
I received the latest Eidolon at the end of last week. I haven't had time to read all of it yet, but the artwork for "Cock of the Dunghill" was excellent. The use of the black title page was superb and I'm very pleased you were able to present one of my stories so well.
I was looking over the letters page and was surprised to see a letter written by myself - glad you found my comments useful [well Geoff, you provided valuable comment on both fiction and artwork; something we're always looking to pass on to our contributors - Ed]. But I was even more surprised by Justin Cariner's comments about my writing. I'm not quite sure what I've done to upset him. Presumably his criticism is directed at "Last Lion . . .", as "Age of Democracy" was pretty lacking in any sort of passion. Some of the other letters I found a little strange as well. Why anybody would want to debate the precise percentages of your fiction content is beyond me. Oh well, as you said it's a big world.
I have just finished reading my first issue of Eidolon and I am tremendously excited to discover that there is good science fiction being written and published in this country.
I have been an SF&F reader since I could read - The Hobbit was my first novel. Until Legends [a professional Conference on SF&F, held in Sydney in July - Ed] I had always presumed that Van Ikin was a lone voice of SF in a vast pulp fiction desert. I had read Terry Dowling and George Turner but I had presumed they were the only Australian authors being published in anything other than the old Omni and Omega. Then I read about Legends '91 in the Sydney Morning Herald and nearly fell off my chair. I attended the Sunday sessions and picked up a copy of Eidolon and as many books as I could afford.
The thing I really missed at Legends was [the presence of] agents and publishers. I realise it must be hard to convince them to enter a room of starving authors, but did the organisers try? There was even a session aimed at helping new authors get published, and not once did any of the speakers give out a name or a phone number of an agent or a publisher that might be ready to read a manuscript from an "unknown" writer.
Sure, I could go find out for myself the hard way, but anything that can save me time would be appreciated. According to one of the speakers, even as a well-known author he sometimes waits as long as three years to get a manuscript back from a publisher. If there are, say, fifty publishers worldwide that might be worth sending my work to (assuming I can get their addresses from someone), it could take me 150 years to get my manuscript across all those desks. I don't have that kind of faith in geriatric medicine!
Is there someone out there who can give me a place to start? A publisher that is especially kind to unknown authors, or an agent willing to represent someone who has never been published as an SF author? Perhaps one of Eidolon's editors could write a short article on the topic . . . Other than that, Legends was great and Eidolon is a darned good read.
What good is fame if you're already dead?
Thanks for the compliments Alan. Your queries seem to be common ones, given the number of similar enquiries we've received recently. Check out this Issue's Editorial - hope it helps.
Originally appeared in Eidolon 6, October 1991.
Copyright © 1991 Letter Authors. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with kind permission of the authors.