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Bi-Mon-Spec-Fi-Hi-Co'mn: Set Phasers to Learn!
March 31, 2014 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Andrew Liptak has been writing a bi-monthly column on the history of Speculative Fiction for Kirkus Review since May 2012, in which he covers authors, artists, themes and times in history. From T.H. White's 'Once and Future King', to Isaac Asimov and the Three Laws of Robotics, from Changing the (Sci-Fi Publishing) Playing Field: H.L. Gold & 'Galaxy Science Fiction' to The Elusive Margaret St. Clair, and even A Brief History of the Dystopian Novel, Liptak illuminates dusty shelves of speculative fiction.

If you'd like to read more of Litpak's work elsewhere, he has a convenient list of links on his website.

Bonus: an search for Galaxy Science Fiction turns up a couple Galaxy Science Fiction volumes and a few Galaxy Science Fiction Novels.

Extra bonus: Super Whost by Margaret St. Clair, also on
posted by filthy light thief (11 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

I just found this the other day; it's a brilliant column for those interested in the history of written science fiction.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:56 AM on March 31

And Margaret St. Clair is a great short story writer, probably best known for "An Egg a Month from All Over" and "Horror Howce", as well as the 1963 Wicca science fiction novel Sign of the Labrys, which seems to have been the first contact with Wicca for a lot of people and which also featured this brilliantly sexist back cover blurb:
Women are writing science-fiction!
Women are closer to the primitive than men. They are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides. They posses a buried memory of humankind's obscure and ancient past which can emerge to uniquely color and flavor a novel.

Such a woman is Margaret St. Clair, author of this novel. Such a novel is this, SIGN OF THE LABRYS, the story of a doomed world of the future, saved by recourse to ageless, immemorial rites...
posted by MartinWisse at 8:59 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]

HORRER HOWCE is one of the greatest little British shockers not written by a Briton. But St. Clair isn't very well known because she wrote only short stories, and, I think, never had much of a voice of her own. "Howce" is pastiche British nasty, "Gnoles" is pastiche Dunsany, "Idris's Pig" is pastiche Brackett, etc. etc. It's hard to be a St. Clair fan because there wasn't much to be a fan of. Joanna Russ did the same sort of contentless shapeshifting in her early years, but then she came into her own; the only time St. Clair pulled in a bit of her own worldview (orthodox Gardnerian Wicca) was for "Labrys," and there isn't much in there you couldn't get better from reading other books. Attempts to spin her obscurity as sexism don't hold water. Still, I push copies of "Horrer Howce" on anyone I think can take it, and it's given me a lot of shorthand phrases to describe the so-called "uncanny valley."
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:22 AM on March 31

re. title: I was half expecting a nethack ascension story
posted by oonh at 10:32 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]

I f-ing hate the way Margaret St. Clair gets summed up with that one blurb she didn't even write, but I've just had to get used to the Pavlov's Dog nature of certain moronic internet-popular sci-fi bloggers. It's so much easier to keep trotting out the same thought-ending clich├ęs every time you hear the name "Heinlein" or "Bacigalupi" or "Lovecraft" than it is to be a sophisticated, nuanced grown-up. </rant>
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:32 AM on March 31

Wikipedia lists 8-9* novels by Margaret St. Clair, and only three story collections. (* One title is listed both as a novel and a story collection, while ISFDb lists the title as a collection, and has more references to her various short stories.)

re. title: I was half expecting a nethack ascension story

It's a play on a Simpsons reference that has been lodged in my head since 1998.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:37 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]

"The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles" (here) is a favorite of mine by St. Clair. I just ordered her The Sign of the Labrys, which has been said to have significant influence on D&D.
posted by graymouser at 12:18 PM on March 31 [3 favorites]

> I push copies of "Horrer Howce" on anyone I think can take it

Me too. It scared the ever-loving shit out of me as a young'un.

> "The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles" (here) is a favorite of mine by St. Clair.

Hey, I'd forgotten about that one!
Mortensen underlined these, too. But he read on to the end of the paragraph without underscoring anything more, and it may be that his failure to put "tact and keen power of observation" on a footing with the other attributes of a salesman was responsible for what happened to him.
What a writer!
posted by languagehat at 12:34 PM on March 31

This is incredible. Thank you, filthy light thief!

Now it's time to go read about The Big Ideas of James Blish...
posted by Kevin Street at 1:20 PM on March 31

it's a brilliant column for those interested in the history of written science fiction.

He'll be publishing a history of SF next year.
posted by ninebelow at 2:14 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]

I read Sign of the Labrys as a tween, many moons ago. I always thought it was some obscure, forgotten bit of pulp SF; guess St. Clair was much better known than I thought. Re-read it recently, there's some very Ballardian touches in it -- a crystallized corpse at the bottom of a subterranean pool, scientific experiments gone terribly wrong, discarded remnants of the military-industrial complex. Not a great book or anything, but still a fascinating read.

He should write about R.A. Lafferty one of these days, a great writer due for a revival.
posted by Bron at 7:10 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]

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