The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “relevant” as “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand” and “having social relevance”. Just so we’re on the same page, relevance is defined as “practical and especially social applicability” and “the ability to retrieve material that satisfies the needs of the user”.
Anne McCaffrey Photo: Edmond Ross/ Random House
Why, I’m sure you’re asking, am I quoting the dictionary? Well, Monday on the interwebz, one side of a conversation was showing up in my Twitter feed. I’ve been trying to stay off Twitter these days because it’s a time sink, and I don’t have much time to sink. What caught my attention was a quoted tweet from a person in the conversation whom I don’t follow. The statement was “I’d recommend broadening your horizons. Anything written in the last 15 years is more relevant than McCaffery’s entire oeuvre”.
Some context, and no, I’m not going to name the person who said that. My intention is not to engage in personal attacks but to challenge the mindset behind the words because it’s pretty widespread. Seems someone somewhere declared this week Space Opera Week. Tor dot com is posting a number of essays on that theme. There was one post that brought out the old saw about women haven’t traditionally written space opera, and the few that have, well, they wrote it from a man’s perspective, horror of horrors. Brackett and Moore, in other words.
Certain parties responded. Conversations ensued. Anne McCaffrey’s name was brought up. The statement above was made.
Let that sink in. Yes, you heard it right. Someone said that anything written in the last 15 years was more relevant than Anne Freakin’ McCaffrey’s entire oeuvre. Continue reading
So earlier this month, Jasyn Jones made the statement in a blog post that John Campbell did not usher in a Golden Age of Science Fiction. His thesis is that Campbell, when he became editor of Astounding, ushered in a golden age in which science fiction rose from being a genre of poorly written fiction with wooden characters and bad science to great heights. Indeed, this is the general narrative. Jones reasserts his thesis that this ain’t so in a followup post.
For those who are new to the field and think it began when you started reading it or shortly beforehand or have been around for a while and simply haven’t been paying attention, John W. Campbell, Jr., took over the editorial reigns of Astounding from F. Orlin Tremaine in 1938 and dominated the field for a dozen years until F&SF and Galaxy came along in 1950. Indeed, Isaac Asimov says as much in the opening paragraphs of his introduction to his anthology of Pre-Campbell science fiction, Before the Golden Age (Doubleday, 1974). Note to self: reread this book and blog about it.
Now, before I get started on this post, I want to say that I mean no disrespect to Mr. Jones and none of what follows in in any way meant to be a personal attack. Furthermore, I think he brings up a number of valid points, and for the most part I agree with him. My differences are more with some of the attitudes that have been expressed in reaction to the posts in question, as well as other posts in other places. I’ve not had a chance to read all of them, so rather than post links, I’ll let you hunt them down if you’re so inclined.
But since I grew up reading a great deal of Campbellian SF, much of it in the Ballantine Best of series and DAW’s Isaac Asimov Present the Great SF, I’m rather fond of the science fiction written by “guys with screwdrivers”, as Campbellian SF is being called. So I’d like to express my admiration of it. Continue reading