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"A fast-paced, suspenseful dystopian picaresque, part Huck Finn and part bizarro-world Swiss Family Robinson..."



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Skinny Dipping

Long-listed for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and finalist for the Crawford Award. Title short story listed for the 2000 O. Henry award.

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A Few Notes on Reading The Best of A.E. Van Vogt (1976)

1. The intro has this:

Spinrad seriously believes that the dissidents of the 1960s-presumably including the LSD and marijuana imbibers-are the only individuals on our planet who are living meaningful lives.

And we’re off!

2. The first story, “Don’t Hold Your Breath”, has to be one of the most disjointed, disturbing (bad disturbing, not good disturbing), ham-fisted stories I’ve ever read. The plot macguffin largely involves the protagonist looking to punch his mistress in the stomach.

And it’s hard to read the story generously when you read in the afterword, “Pollution is rapidly becoming a quaint reality.”

Oh hell, let’s call a spade a spade: it’s a repugnant story, limned with paranoid certitude and childish morality lessons. Even if Art Atkins, misogynist, is somehow slanted as an anti-hero, and Not to Be Admired, he’s written as enough of a free-wheeling archon of competence that Van Vogt is posing the question to the reader: well now, shucks, don’t you like him, just a teeny teeny bit?

3. I’m hopeful this gets somewhat better with subsequent stories. IS THIS ASININE?

4. A question that could be posed is: why bother.

(a) interrogating received forms of the science fiction story
(b) unsplicing the DNA of the science fiction story
(c) how much do implicit cultural assumptions drive the science fiction story, and more importantly, how do Golden Age cultural assumptions (or post-Golden Age assumptions still pining for the Golden Age) drive the science fiction story now, when those cultural assumptions are at best vestiges and, at worst, denigrating and heartless.
(d) and if (c) is the case, why the science fiction community still insists on those forms, and rewards those forms — or reacts against to those forms without necessarily seeing ways outside of those forms.
(e) canon-deformation

5. I honestly don’t know what to do with an author who says (in the afterword of this book): “I write in what I call fictional sentences.” What an absurd yet tantalizing idea. Probably not in anyway Van Vogt intended, but still. Are the sentences we write truth or fiction? At what point, if they are “real” sentences, do they weave together into a fiction? (Sentences becoming a story.) Part of this is guided by his ridiculous compositional approach (800 word scenes, each scene with five steps). But he then states that “In writing science fiction, I tried to write each sentence in such a way that the reader would have to make a creative contribution-that’s the science fictional sentence.”

This bifurcation of the reading experience (there are sentences, and then there are SF sentences) is the heart of the matter of SF. Well, one of them anyway. It’s a many hearted beast.

6. Onward…

Tue, March 24 2009 » Fiction

2 Responses

  1. David Moles March 25 2009 @ 1:14 am

    It’s unfair of you to judge him by his best work!

  2. Marguerite Reed March 25 2009 @ 8:16 am

    Oh, I want to hear more about (c) and (d) please!

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