|Readers Feedback and Forum|
Dear Sherry-Anne Jacobs
I was interested to see your letter in Eidolon #13 on gender issues, specifically with regard to Aurealis and Eidolon. I realise that I am reading your letter as an American not an Australian and I'm not knowledgeable about the state of Australian sf (although I have been reading some of the periodicals and anthologies coming out during 1993). But these are issues that have been discussed quite a bit in the United States in both the sf and horror fields. In American sf, I believe it's pretty much a moot point - when I came into the field as an editor in the early 80's there were still a few die-hard male writers who argue that "women writers are corrupting science fiction and creating this stuff that isn't real sf" e.g. hard sf).
Instead, what I think was happening was that a new type of writer was coming into the field - male and female, who were less influenced by the early sf writers and fandom than they were by mainstream writers. Style and characterisation began to attain equal weight with plotting. I don't want to get into this too much but by the late 80's I realised that the Nebula ballot was beginning to be dominated by female writers - at least in the short story categories. At the same time there were women writing just as hard or "harsh" an edge as male writers and men writing "relationship" and sociological fiction.
I think the dichotomy is a misleading one. I as a woman and as an editor, enjoy reading fiction with that harsh edge. In my spare time I read crime fiction, the very dark kind. I don't generally like the "soft stuff." Romance fiction is the equivalent of men's adventure, neither of which has "real" characters are equally puerile (but they don't generally claim to be more than escape literature).
Fiction with a hard edge does not negate the possibility for good characterisations or realistic depiction of relationships. That's merely good or bad writing.
As for optimistic themes and happy endings. I hear this every once in a while in complaint about what the American and British (Interzone gets this all the time) magazines publish. Why aren't stories happy and upbeat like they were in the golden age? You mean like "The Cold Equations", "All You Zombies", and "Nightfall"? Maybe more sf was upbeat in those days but frankly, I think this reflects a realisation that science and technology will not save the world and that these "wonders" have created whole new sets of problems and some pretty awful legacies.
Under your second point: I for one, do indeed accept that "on the whole, the fiction written by men and women cannot be distinguished by content alone". I've been reading all kinds of fiction since I was a child and I'm now in my 40s. Ed Bryant and Bruce McAllister write brilliant fiction from a female point of view on all kinds of subjects and themes. Pat Cadigan writes high tech hard sf. Michael Swanwick in his novelette "Trojan Horse" wrote about romance, hard sf, godhood and identity.
With regard to your point #4: "most women who 'get on' are those who have learned to put on male filters spectacles, behave in mock-masculine way, and to use or write male-speak." Maybe this is so in Australia but certainly not in the U.S.
While I think it would be useful to have females on the Eidolon editorial team I take exception to your words "not a female with a male voice." What the hell does that mean? Who judges whether a female is female enough to do this or that?
I think it's part of the editor's job to be gender-blind. In addition to working as fiction editor at OMNI I edit anthologies. Most editors prefer to work with writers they know or have worked with before. At OMNI I've been able to make connections I wouldn't otherwise so I've been able to get stories by Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Carroll, Peter Straub, Gahan Wilson, Tanith Lee, and Storm Constantine for anthologies. I bring this up because gender became a major issue in the U.S. in the late '80s. Several important horror anthologies were published that seemed to exclude women. To "remedy" this, some all-women-anthologies were published. I don't feel these anthologies did women writers a service. But the controversy did open the eyes of the male anthology editors (most of whom were writers - again, editors prefer to work with writers they know) and the editors go more out of their way to encourage women writers to submit to the anthologies. These things work their way through once the awareness is there. But I am against and will always be against a quota system in the material I choose, whether for OMNI or for my anthologies. That encourages mediocrity.
I have just finished read the three back issues of Eidolon, and will soon fill out my copy of your readers' survey, although it will be difficult to decide on a best story; in 5 issues, I found only one story that I didn't actively like. In addition to the question I've been pondering since ConFrancisco, how come all Australian SF people are extraordinarily nice, I'm now wondering how come there are so many Australian SF writers who write such beautifully classical SF.
I've been reading a new US magazine, the premier issue of which I picked up last week, in which there are a bunch of prepublication letters all congratulating the editor on his intention of putting out a real SF magazine, without any fantasy, whereas the other SF magazines that they are familiar with all include fantasy. But what do I find when I actually read this wonderful magazine? Plenty of science fantasy, with space exploration and mystical resolutions. Eidolon at least prints fantasy that knows it's fantasy, as well as a lot of good science fiction that doesn't have to get metaphysical to be thought-provoking. I suspect that, if the editor of Expanse really wants traditional hard SF, he'd probably do better to look for it in Australia than over here.
I'm developing some theories as to why Australian SF writing and people are so exceptional, have the full heritage of English-language SF to draw on, but being isolated enough to write what they want to say, not what they think the world is expecting from the current crop of SF people, since they don't expect the rest of us to be listening. But so much of it is so extremely beautiful! Sometimes I think I'm in love with the whole Australian SF community.
To comment on a point in your issue #12 editorial: no one would immediately identify a James Tiptree story as being written by a women, but what about a Raccoona Sheldon story? My writing isn't particularly feminist, but then I haven't yet managed any science fiction, perhaps because my standards for what constitutes true SF are rather extreme.
I assume the high level of Eidolon stories is a result of both what's available there and your (plural) own good taste, and I salute you on both counts.
Lucy Cohen Schmeidler
We include guidelines and resubscription info in all our replies in case correspondents are interested and because it's simpler to prepare all our envelopes with these inclusions than to make them up on a case by case basis. As to their relevance to overseas writers - Eidolon's policy is to publish the best work, regardless of origin, although we do feel an obligation to concentrate on Australian work and thus require overseas submissions to be exceptional. Lucy's thoughts on Australians using the American idiom appear as a mini-article at the end of this column. Eidolon welcomes in-depth comment of this type, some of which is likely to be presented in this way in the future.
As for others, I thought "The Neck of the Hourglass" was short, sharp and very pointed - a good example of how much can be conveyed with so little.
On a more general note, in response to your survey, I must say I really think the balance of content at the moment is great. I always read every issue cover-to-cover (though often not literally in order). I think your emphasis on fiction plus some review is your strength. There are other outlets for aspects such as SF news, publishing, computer games etc, so I guess I'd like to you stick to a formula that I think works very well. Of your columns, I guess I'm most ambivalent about "Critical Embuggerance" - sometimes I find Robin entertaining, other times it's just irritating. Put it down to divergent senses of humour - from your letters he obviously strikes a chord with many others.
Anyway, to wrap up, keep up a great job, and with luck I'll see you at Constantinople next Easter.
The response to our Reader Survey, while encouraging, was not really sufficient for us to draw any significant conclusions. We may try to run a supplemental survey with Issue 15 and publicise the results thereafter. Thanks to everyone who's participated so far.
Dear Eidolon People
My feeling is that unless the point of a story is explicitly stated, i.e. Geoffrey Maloney stating "this story is about the future of Australian politics!" in simple terms somewhere in the text, you miss the point. I suspect that women tend to be more subtle and subversive writers than men, and you will need to look deeper, and with a more open mind, at what they're trying to do. I base that comment on my own experience. I'm a male writer who has submitted a number of stories to you that employ subtexts for part of their exploration of theme, and whatever else you have to say about the construction of a story, good or bad, you've never once commented on this. A couple of times your comments have shown that you've completely missed the point of a story. Perhaps this is simply a failing of my writing, but other editors who have read stories I've sent to you don't have the same problem. By setting 'quotas' for representation of particular parts of our culture I feel that, once again, you're missing the point.
I guess we can do nothing but agree with you on our editorial criteria. We've always published only the best of what we receive, regardless of content. Sorry Bill if we've not been clear on this point: we don't ever intend to use quotas, except perhaps with regards Australian content.
Last August Lucy Sussex and I were interviewed for an article on Australian SF for Overland. The article has just come out in the summer issue, but several points that were made during the interview were transmogrified into something very different from their original meaning during the editorial process. Lucy's reaction was fairly quite, and along the lines of "There seem to be a few mistakes." My reaction? Well, I tend to be a little more excitable, and I doubt that I would have lived past the third page if I'd had a weak heart. Judith Buckridge, the interviewer and author, was also somewhat horrified by the number of misinterpretations that had crept in, but explained that she had been brought in to do the article at very short notice, and had been working under a number of constraints.
Many of the errors in the interview as published can be lived with, but the following seven really ought to be dealt with in print. Three of them concern Eidolon.
I was quoted as saying that Eidolon does not pay for fiction. Well, Eidolon magazine most certainly does pay for fiction, in fact back in 1990 it was I who convinced you, the editors, to pay at least a nominal fee for each story. My remark in the interview actually referred to Eidolon's profit margins not being all that great.
I was also quoted as saying that Greg Egan preferred sending SF to Aurealis because they paid better. The truth is that I have no idea what Greg Egan's motivations are for submitting his fiction to particular magazines. My original point was speculation about authors in general, and I'm not sure how Egan's name got included. Egan has an enviable reputation overseas, and I think that he is very generous to send as much fiction to Eidolon and Aurealis as he does.
I was quoted as implying that Eidolon did not give value for money because it published relatively long fiction. The Aurealis editors have told me that they try to publish a large number of short stories to try to give their readers value for money. Yourselves, the Eidolon editors, have told me that you publish a smaller number of longer stories for the very same reason! I never speculated about who might be correct.
I appeared to have said that the early Australian SF classic, Earl Cox's "Out of the Silence", was illustrated by Lionel Lindsay. "Out of the Silence" originally appeared in serial form in The Argus in 1919, and was definitely not illustrated by Lionel Lindsay. It was Cox's earlier short story "The Social Code" in The Lone Hand, January 1909, that had Lindsay illustrations.
I appeared to have said that Chandler's first SF was published in Man magazine. A Bertram Chandler's first stories were actually sold to the American magazine Astounding, not to Man. He subsequently sold several other stories to Man in the mid-1940s.
We're reaching the less-important material now, but I was quoted as saying that there was a boom in the publication of Australian SF in America in the early 1960s. Yes, there was such a boom in the early '60s, but it was in Britain, not America. Also, the editor of New Worlds at the time was Carnell, not Parnell.
The last point that I want to mention is that I reportedly said that The Bulletin looked like Hugo Gernsback's magazines in the inter-war years. No, The Bulletin did not actually look like the Gernsback magazines in the interwar years, but the did have a lot in common. The interwar Bulletin included many technical features on radio, motoring, aviation and general science, and alongside its more serious fiction it published occasional SF, fantasy and general adventure stories.
The forgoing points might seem trivial to the casual reader, but to authors, editors and publishers, and to the growing number of English Literature students doing serious study in this area, they are fairly important. I am not really concerned about how the errors happened: Judith is a personal friend, and I am confident that everything that she did was in good faith. The errors probably came about through a particularly bad combination of circumstances, so in closing I would like you make a few recommendations to prospective interviewees and interviewers in your readership.
Firstly, no article or interview where words will be attributed to you is ever so urgent that you should not insist on looking over the draft. Cleaning up the damage can take a lot longer. I am probably as much to blame as anyone in this case for not insisting on seeing the final draft. Taken out of strict context the statement "He sold his first stories to Man magazine in the 1940s" is ambiguous, but the ambiguity is far more obvious in print than it was when first spoken. Andy Warhol once said never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television. Sean McMullen says never miss a chance to re-check a manuscript, draft or galley proof with your name on it.
Secondly, try to have your own recorder running to provide a fallback copy of what was said in any interview. Judith's recorder was the type that turns itself off when it thinks nothing is being said, and it may have outsmarted itself and missed vital words here and there.
Lastly, always assume that you will be quoted, think twice before everything you say, and choose your words with exquisite care. I had thought that Lucy and I were being recorded to provide background facts for an article, but pressure from the deadline forced Judith to turn the article into an interview. It could happen to you, too.
As I said in the previous issue of Eidolon, public appearances (and interviews) are hard and demanding work, and are also a two-edged sword that can remove a careless user's fingers, but . . . I'd better leave it at that, I still have a couple more fingers to sew back on and it's slowing down my typing.
All the Best,
I was also interested to see that Life Force and Saturn 3 got a mention. Although Life Force is almost ten years old, it seems to be one of those little-talked-about, pleasant flick finds at the local video shop. I can't recall seeing it on TV, and I'm not sure why! It's an explosive, suspense-packed Sci-Fi thriller, on a par in SF circles with Romero's Dawn of the Dead in Horror circles. As far as I know, Saturn 3 is the originator of the Hardware style, robot-gone-insane movies. Although dated, the idea of the robot adopting the insane personality and desires of its insecure programmer remains pleasantly fresh.
A few movies I was disappointed to see fail to get even a mention (out of forty) were Invasion of the Body Snatchers, THX-1138 and Xtro. The remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, made in 1978 and starring Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams, is one of the few Sci-Fi movies I can recall in which an impossible situation doesn't suddenly solve itself in the last few moments, unlike counterparts such as War of the Worlds, Star Wars and Day of the Triffids. It has an ending which hits you at full pace, like the unexpected punch-line of a macabre joke.
George Lucas' first effort, THX-1138 starring [Robert] Duvall and [Donald] Pleasance, touches on the same path as Logan's Run, but much more successfully in my mind. It cynically mocks every aspect of human society, from controlled birth and death through drug use and our legal, economic, educational and career systems, finishing with a big-time payout (yes, yes) on religion. It's a clever movie, with an incredibly powerful and sadly ironic ending.
Has anyone seen Xtro? It's a must-movie for Sci-Fi buffs. It's a violent movie which hinges somewhere between hard-core science, shock-horror and suspense, with a little surrealism thrown in for good measure. It features the only scene I know of a woman giving birth to a fully-grown man! It's original, very powerful and rather freaky.
Time Bandits, featuring half the Monty Python team, and one of the first movies from George Harrison's experimental "Handmade" label, is another clever sci-fi/comedy which also failed to receive Robin Pen mention. It makes a farce out of the concepts of God and the Devil by laughing in the face of good and evil.
My top eight SF Movie picks would be: THX-1138, A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess-written Kubrick magic - how could you forget this one, Robin?), Outland, Mad Max 2, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Thing (1982), Time Bandits and Xtro.
If I had to extend this to my favourite ten, I'd add Phantasm (The Brood meets Reanimator in gory blood-lust as the body-searching, dwarf-making "tall man" wields his blood-hungry silver balls of death - awesome!) and The Quiet Earth. This rare New Zealand flick is in the same vein as Wyndam's Day of the Triffids and simply looks at the scenario of three lucky individuals who have been left alone on Earth while the rest of us have vanished.
I know as soon as I post this, another sci-fi classic will occur to me. Anyhow, I'm looking forward to your feedback Robin, and I'll be interested to see what other responses you get.
Robin replies that you may have mis-understood the purpose of his lists. To help clear things up, he offers the following:
Robin's 10 Most Significant Non-Amimated SF Films since 1950
Robin's 10 Favourite Non-Animated SF Films Since 1950
Robin adds that naturally, this list changes every time he reflects on it - there are always at least 50 films in his top ten.
Originally appeared pp. 89-93, Eidolon 14, April 1994.
Copyright © 1994 Eidolon Publications. Individual contributions are copyright to the respective authors.
Reprinted with kind permission of the authors.