Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sci-fi and crime: What's the connection?

A post about mystery and the moon earlier this week elicited some interesting examples of crime fiction with a space theme or setting as well as the information, new to me, that Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, two science-fiction giants, had written mysteries as well. I also had never known that John D. MacDonald wrote science fiction.

So here's a question: What, other than money, might dispose a crime writer to turn to science fiction or vice versa? What features do the genres share, or is it just a matter of certain writers' simply liking to work in both forms?

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Late addition: B.V. Lawson's In Reference to Murder blog adds Stanislaw Lem to the roster of science-fiction/crime-fiction boundary jumpers with his novel The Chain of Chance.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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80 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

MacDonald wrote for the pulps originally, so money was probably the principal interest. Asimov liked puzzles, I think, which require logic to solve (much like science). Bradbury was as much short-story author and playwright as novelist, and he himself said he'd written only one science fiction book (Fahrenheit 451); all else, he said, was fantasy.

True sci-fi (and oh, can you get arguments about what that it is!) and mystery share a predilection for rational explanations, I think.

You often find a bit of mystery in fantasy and sci-fi, in the same way that Butch and Sundance kept saying "Who are those guys?" In each genre there's a question of "what's going on here?"

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, we settled that one rather quickly, didn't we?

I wonder if arguments about what science fiction is are like ... well, I don't know if there are arguments about what crime fiction is, but the definition would certainly encompass more than detective stories. What do the arguments tend to be when the arguers argue over what science fiction is?

Appealing to history for guidance, one would have to note that Edgar Allan Poe was a pioneer of mystery, science fiction, horror and just about any kind of writing referred to as genre fiction. Too bad he's not around to answer my question.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Gerald So said...

I agree there's an element of mystery, of satisfying curiosity, in science fiction. There's also the idea of crossing boundaries and whether those boundaries should be crossed (transgression). Just because we can do something (cloning, time travel, behavior modification, etc.) doesn't mean we should.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Gary Corby said...

Most of the SF of the Golden Age was of the puzzle variety. The hero and heroine are stuck in a spaceship on a crash orbit for Mars, the engine's broken and the oxygen's running out. Now, what clever piece of physics will get them out of trouble?

The puzzle aspect is virtually identical to the myseries of the same time.

Since then, things have diverged wildly for both genres.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Some of a mystery writer's motivation for dabbling in SF may be due to an appreciation of the genre's conventions. Or it may be out of a desire to explore themes that would be difficult in a contemporary setting. Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man is one of the latter. In it telepathic police constantly scan the thoughts of the populace to prevent crimes, and a rapacious industrialist tries to get away with the first premediated murder in centuries. It's a little Freudian for my taste, but the blending of the genres is really well done.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

More generally, I suspect the answer lies in an author's desire to challenge himself or herself by attempting a different genre and different conventions. Genre writing is in many ways strictly formulaic in that publishers and readers expect conformity to absolute conventions, and any writer who diverges too much from those restrictions and boundaries does so at her or his own peril.

So, even though some might argue that a crossover writer is merely trying to capitalize on a different market, I suspect that those writers are motivated by a desire to move out of constraints within their established genre and to dabble in less familiar territory in order to flex their intellectual muscles under different conditions.

A smaller example in a different form of literature may help further the argument: In poetry, a poet has something to say but must make a choice (when writing in closed forms) about which form to use. Perhaps an Italian sonnet serves the poet's purposes; perhaps a villanelle would work better; or the poet might choose a sestina. In each case, the form fits the subject or theme but--and here is the point that relates to my opening comments--the poets often chooses a different forms as ways of challenging themselves to write in ways they had not previously experienced.

I think that something quite similar is often happening in SF and mystery crossovers.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger seanag said...

It's interesting that though there is some crossover between Sci Fi and fantasy readers and mystery readers, they tend to be quite distinct audiences. I definitely think mysteries satisfy quite a different itch than sci fi, and especially different from fantasy. Cross genre books must somehow satisfy both needs.

July 23, 2009  
Anonymous James O. Born said...

This is an excellent post and question. And I find myself, for a change, in a good position to offer insight.
I wrote five crime novels as James O. Born. But I have always been a science fiction fan and tend to read it for pleasure. Several years back I was visiting Seattle and stopped at the science fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. I realized I had seen virtually every film and read almost every book in the exhibit. That night I started sketching out a crime novel with a science-fiction backdrop. Before I knew it I had written a complete novel. The confusion didn't start until my agent sold it to TOR as a series.

To avoid confusing readers and keep my crime publisher happy, I had to come up with the pen name James O'Neal.

I did not write the novel for money, however I am not unhappy I got paid for it. It was just one of those projects that interested me. It's that flexibility as a writer that I enjoy.

Thanks,

Jim Born

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Most of the SF of the Golden Age was of the puzzle variety. The hero and heroine are stuck in a spaceship on a crash orbit for Mars, the engine's broken and the oxygen's running out. Now, what clever piece of physics will get them out of trouble?

The puzzle aspect is virtually identical to the mysteries of the same time.

Since then, things have diverged wildly for both genres. "


Thanks, Gary. Among other things, that may explain why none of the contemporary crime writers I know of writes science fiction. I don't know who the current sf writers are, but it does seem that graphic novels/comics are the one place where science fiction and crime have maintained their relationship.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Brian said...

Among other things, that may explain why none of the contemporary crime writers I know of writes science fiction.

This needs to be addressed but unfortunatley I have an appointment I have to get to. I'll do my best to get back here later though.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, when was The Demolished Man published?

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Wikipedia, that great arbiter of unbiased knowledge, tells me it was published in 1953. Bester also wrote The Stars My Destination, which is essentially a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., your comments put me in mind of Donald Westlake, who adopted the pen name Richard Stark for his Parker novels because of those books' stark outlook. Donald Westlake may have moved in this darker territory at his own peril, but Richard Stark could do so more safely.

I noted in a recent comment that fewer crime writers seem to be crossing over into science fiction these days. I suspect Brian will soon fill me in on whether that's true. If it is, perhaps crime writers feel that they have more freedom to break free of constraints today while still writing fiction marketed under the "crime" rubric.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, your job probably gives you a good deal more insight in the matter of genres and their audiences than I do. I wonder if comics the "steam punk" genre of urban dystopia could bring the two genres, or at least their fans, into closer contact.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for weighing in, Jim, thanks for the kind words, and thanks and for piquing my curiosity about James O'Neal. I had just written another comment about Donald Westlake's adopting the Richard Stark name when he starting writing books of a different type. (Of course, I don't why he adapted his numerous other noms de plume.)

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a provocative answer, Gerald. Does contemporary science fiction have counterparts to crime fiction's boundary crossing, such as cops crossing over into lawlessness, or hyper-realistic descriptions of violence?

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OK, Brian, don't miss your appointment on my account. But this blog is always open. I want to hear what you have to say on this matter.

I recognize, of course, that any of the crime writers I know may be interested in science fiction and fantasy. I just haven't discussed those genres with them.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, that publication date is just a few years after George Orwell's best-known book.

1984 does involve police, a pursued man, and a nightmarish future. One does not have to look hard for elements of science fiction and noir in it.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Lotsa noir in Demolished, now that I think about it. It's quite a good little book.

Looks like I'm going to have some reading time this weekend. How's The Hunter for getting started on Richard Stark?

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It can’t hurt to start where Richard Stark did. The Hunter is a good place to begin. And here’s a reliable guide to the Parker novels. My own favorite is The Score, also known as Killtown.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I feel like such a schlemiel doing a plug but I just reviewed a novel by Iain Banks which is a thriller but has been published by his science fiction imprint Orbit and by his literary fiction imprint Little Brown simultaneously.

Banks writes literary fiction under his own name and science fiction under the name Iain M Banks. This book is coming out under both names. Why is this? Well its too complicated to go into here but its just what you were talking about a mystery/sci fic book conflating two genres in one.

Anyway, with a red face, here's the review.

I think the Eyre Affair etc. are another perfect example of conflation. And dont forget Dick Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. My mind has been suitably expanded. You need not feel like a schlemiel for the plug nor like a schnorrer.

I haven't read Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books, but his Nursery Crimes novels arguably blend fantasy with detective stories. And our friend Eoin Colfer adds science fiction to the mix in the Artemis Fowl books.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

"And our friend Eoin Colfer adds science fiction to the mix in the Artemis Fowl books."

Aha! Definition error, comrade! The Artemis Fowl books have fairies, therefore they are fantasy, not science fiction!

See, that's the kind of argument one can get into when attempting to define "hard" sci-fi v. "soft" sci-fi v. "fantasy."

Personally, I stay away from those arguments on the grounds I'm not well-read enough in the field to venture an opinion. ;)

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I stay away from those arguments, too, not least because I know almost nothing about science fiction adn fantasy.

But those fairies use all sorts of weird personal propulsion devices and rockets powered by seismic activity and the like. And Artemis Fowl plays with all sorts of devices that manipulate time. So, whether or not the books satisfy a purist's definition of science fiction, they certainly have plenty of sci-fi trappings. Anf they're fun to read.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

On the Dirk Gently front - Eoin is writing the new Douglas Adams novel as we speak, but as I understand it its in the Hitchhiker series not the underrated Dirk Gently one.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Linkmeister,

my rule of thumb is magic. Magic, pace Arthur C Clarke, is fantasy.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll volunteer as an interested observer and poser of provocative questions if this turns into a debate about what is and what is not science fiction. Do science-fiction purists restrict their definition of the genre to stories that center on science that is at least theoretically possible?

Years ago, before I started reading crime fiction, I read some of the Hitchhikers' Guide books. I vaguely recall being put off by the title of the first Dirk Gently book, fearing that words like Gently and Holistic augured a novel full of wifty politics.

July 23, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I think you'd like it. Its a true scifi detective novel and isnt at all twee. Not quite the inspired lunacy of Hitchhiker but good. He was working on book 3 of that series when he died to be called The Salmon of Doubt, but the one Eoin Colfer's writing is Hitchhiker 6.

July 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's good to hear. His titles gradually begin veering toward cuteness, I think, e.g. So Long and Thanks for the Fish. It's good to hear that the book itself does not so veer. I shall put Dirk Gently on my list.

July 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I do recognize that The Salmon of Doubt is likely an allusion to the salmon of truth. Still, the title seems a bit arch.

July 24, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

What Adrian refers to when he says "pace Arthur C. Clarke" is Clarke's 3rd law of prediction: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Yeah, Adrian, that works for me. If it's got magic in it, it's fantasy.

July 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I likr Clarke's fourth law:

"In his 1999 revision of Profiles of the Future, published in London by Indigo, Clarke added his Fourth Law: "For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert."

July 24, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

The Demolished Man is a brilliantly imaginative novel, but I don't see it really as noir or oppressive. Now, Bester's Fondly Fahrenheit, which is a horror/serial killer/science fiction short story...


my rule of thumb is magic. Magic, pace Arthur C Clarke, is fantasy.

Of course there's by now the reverse of Clarke's law: any sufficiently explained magic is indistinguishable from science.

And countless novels straddle the line between the two, or show fantasy worlds which are explained scientifically or leave open the possibility that their existence is the product of sufficiently advanced technology.
Examples are legion: Zelazny's Amber cycle and most of his other novels, Silverberg, Farmer, Brunner, Jim Grimsley, Marion Zimmer Bradley' s Darkover series...

And what about Terry Pratchett, with his Thaum, the elementary particle of magic, created by the combination of five quark flavours called up, down, sideways, sex appeal, and peppermint?

July 24, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

marco, have you read Charlie Stross's "Merchant Princes" books? He says they were directly inspired by Zelazny's "Amber." I haven't read those, but I'm partially into Book One of Stross's volumes, and it's excellent so far.

July 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, let's discuss that reversal of Clarke's law. Will science fiction purists insist that a story's science be possible? If so, what about poor readers confounded by the counterintuitive aspects of quantum mechanics or by elementary prticles that have "flavors"? If not, is there really a difference, for an author's and reader's purposes, between science and sufficiently explained magic?

July 24, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

marco, have you read Charlie Stross's "Merchant Princes" books? He says they were directly inspired by Zelazny's "Amber." I haven't read those, but I'm partially into Book One of Stross's volumes, and it's excellent so far.

I've read a couple of Stross - Accellerando, which is hard-sf, and The Atrocity Archives, which is Lovecraftian horror-science-fantasy.
But I can see the similarities between Amber and The Merchant Princes.
My favorite Zelazny is "Creatures of Light and Darkness" set in a universe ruled by immensely powerful beings styled after the Egyptian Gods. It contains the beautiful Possibly Proper Death Litany, which came to be known as

The Agnostic's Prayer

Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to ensure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.

July 24, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

is there really a difference, for an author's and reader's purposes, between science and sufficiently explained magic?

I believe Pratchett (who is a nuclear scientist) wanted to make precisely this point with his "thaum". There's a scientist in his Discworld novels and in a passage I can't remember correctly "quantum" is basically used like "magic" in our world (mirroring the many sf novels or movies who drop quantum as a catch-all explanation for various phenomena).


Will science fiction purists insist that a story's science be possible?

This is a complex question.
Only Hard Science fiction in its strictest sense adheres to total real world plausibility. A lot of novels are considered hard science fiction when the science rigorously follows given premises, even if these are slightly at variance with our universe's physical constraints.


Faster than Light Travel and Time Travel may theoretically be possible in some sense of the words, but certainly not in the ways portrayed by science-fiction; yet works that use time travel and ftl starships probably outnumber pure "hard sf" ones.

There may be authors and fans who prefer to read plausible science fiction -there was a movement for "mundane" science fiction- but it's not really a question of purists. It's a big tent. Science Fiction was born with the pulps, and they weren't exactly big in the science part.

July 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, the agnostic's prayer sounds disconcertingly like the pro-forma apologies American public figures make when they get caught saying something stupid.

My v-word: agnocent

July 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

is there really a difference, for an author's and reader's purposes, between science and sufficiently explained magic?

I believe Pratchett (who is a nuclear scientist) wanted to make precisely this point with his "thaum". There's a scientist in his Discworld novels and in a passage I can't remember correctly "quantum" is basically used like "magic" in our world (mirroring the many sf novels or movies who drop quantum as a catch-all explanation for various phenomena).

That's a nice touch, then. Think of some of the touchstones of quantum mechanics and later physical theories: objects whose velocity and position cannot be precisely stated at the same time. Objects, if that's the right word, that show properties of both waves and particles. The possibility, on sufficiently minute sub-atomic levels, of time moving backwards. Such phenomena are simply not susceptible to common understanding. Magic may be the only medium through which most people can understand them.

It's a big tent. Science Fiction was born with the pulps, and they weren't exactly big in the science part.

I'd guess science fiction's closes relative among other fiction genres is that other child of the pulps, adventure stories.

July 24, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

I'd guess science fiction's closes relative among other fiction genres is that other child of the pulps, adventure stories.

While that kind of science fiction had a lot in common with adventure stories, the emphasis on "adventure" isn't really a minimum common denominator now. Science Fiction springs from an extrapolation of elements which are present in the real world- brought to a possible evolution, maybe to their extreme consequences, or only seen through different eyes in unfamiliar territories.
Many modern sf novels are much more closely related to the philosophical novels of the past than to adventure/sf/pulps.

v-word: hiptutes (astute hippies?)

July 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, the academic mystery that I'm reading now, Hare Sitting Up, contains a good deal of ethical musing in its early chapters. Perhaps science fiction with a similar bent might be right up my street.

July 24, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Marco

He was the press officer at a nuclear power plant, its not really the same thing. Very nice bloke though. He came 150 miles to speak at our poxy little SF&F society and stayed the night drinking with a bunch of fanboy geeks until the bar closed.

July 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, perhaps that job gave him good practice trying to explain abstruse phenomena in laymen's terms.

And I thought it was crime writers who were supposed to be the good blokes. Terry Pratchett is a fantasy/sci-fi guy, but he must be a nice fellow nonetheless.

July 24, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

This topic immediately reminded me of Raymond Chandler's views on sci-fi in a March 1953 letter to his literary agent, H.N. Swanson:
Did you ever read what they call Science Fiction. It's a scream. It is written like this: 'I check out with K 19 on Aldabaran III, and stepped out through the crummalite hatch on my 22 Model Sirus Hardtop. I cocked the timejector in secondary and waded through the bright blue manda grass. My breath froze into pink pretzels. I flicked on the heat bars and the Brylls ran swiftly on five legs using their other two to send out crylon vibrations. The pressure was almost unbearable, but I caught the range on my wrist computer through the transparent cysicites. I pressed the trigger. The thin violet glow was icecold against the rust-colored mountains. The Brylls shrank to half an inch long and I worked fast stepping on them with the poltex. But it wasn't enough. The sudden brightness swung me around and the Fourth Moon had already risen. I had exactly four seconds to hot up the disintegrator and Google had told me it wasn't enough. He was right.'
They pay brisk money for this crap?

July 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's pretty funny -- and it's a stereotypical hard-boiled opening, of course, with futuristic-sounding words pasted in. I wonder how accurately it reflects the state of fiction in 1953.

I always thought Chandler was better writing fiction than writing about it. His famous praise of Hammett fot "(taking) murder out of the Venetian vase and (dropping) it into the alley" always struck me as precious.

July 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I posted that before I could add that I wonder if science fiction at the time of Chandler's letter really was nothing but hard-boiled private-eye stories dressed up in space suits.

July 25, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

How the hell did Chandler know about Google in 1953?

July 25, 2009  
Blogger Gary Corby said...

Modern mystery writers also writing SF...

P.D. James wrote The Children of Men, which is dystopian SF.

But you are dead right the crossover has almost entirely disappeared.

July 25, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

Hmm, the academic mystery that I'm reading now, Hare Sitting Up, contains a good deal of ethical musing in its early chapters

It's not so much that SF contains ethical musings, rather it permits the creation of settings and situations which act as thought experiments, enabling to explore more freely philosophical ideas or ethical questions, to bring hidden implications to the surface, or to challenge unquestioned assumption by seeing alternative possibilities.
Therefore philosophical reflections often remain implicit and don't feel as if they were grafted on the narrative.
You should really try the three Le Guin novels mentioned by Adrian in the other post - each one is a brilliant example.

July 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, that crossed my mind, too. Chandler's Google was about as powerful as ours.

I knew not just about google (the number expressed by 1 followed by 100 zeroes) but googleplex (google raised to the power of google) thanks the the science I used to read as a child. I haven't heard yet that Google has tried to claim trademark rights to that use of the word.

July 25, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

The mathematical terms are googol and googolplex. Chandler may have had in mind the character of Barney Google, from the homonymous strip.

July 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Damn, Marco, you have depressed me. Lack of attention, fading memories of youth, and a giant corporation is ready to slip into their place.

From Wikipedia:

"The term was coined in 1938[1] by Milton Sirotta (1929–1980), nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner, when he was nine years old"

July 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gary, I mentioned Children of Men in one of these discussions. (I have seen the movie; I have not read the book.)

That seems an imaginative, well-thought-out sort of science fiction tale: a scientific problem set the story in motion and permeates every second of the story, but science has almost no role in the action.

July 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, I don't remember if you or Adrian mentioned Children of Men, but its characters don't walk around rubbing their chins thoughtfully. But the story, at least in its movie version, sure does invite the viewer to see alternative possibilities. It spends two hours flinging those possibilities into the theater, sometimes at high volume. (I liked the movie, by the way.)

July 25, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

Jeffrey Ford has a list of favorite crime/mystery novels here.

July 27, 2009  
Blogger Juri said...

Peter, sorry to comment this a bit late, but there's two things:

- I should think Bester's two SF novels are almost essential to anyone, but then again you said you know almost nothing about SF

- I think Chandler was referring to SF written earlier, say, in the mid-to-late-thirties when the state of the genre was pretty low and the stuff the pulps published was childish and awkward, and that must've caused him not to read anymore scifi when it got more mature. I'm sure Chandler would've enjoyed writers like Theodore Sturgeon or Alfred Bester, and most certainly Philip K. Dick whom he would've had a chance to read since Dick's first works appeared when Chandler was still alive (and you know, Chandler wrote a fantasy story for the Unknown magazine in the late fourties, called "Professor Bingo's Snuff" which is pretty good, as I recall, so must've been at least curious - hell, I first typed that Chandler might've even liked someone like Clark Ashton Smith and then I deleted it, but I may've well been right)

I'm sure someone out there knows more about this than I do and I'd like to hear other opinions. But I'm sure Chandler contact with SF happened in the thirties.

July 27, 2009  
Blogger Juri said...

BTW, Jeffrey Ford's list is great.

July 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Marco. I think I mentioned Jeffrey Ford in one of these discussions. He won an Edgar, I think for best first novel, which I know because one of my colleagues at work is a friend of his.

V-word: latin

July 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Juri, you could be right. Chandler may have formed his initial impressions of science fiction in its cheesy pulp days, and the impression lingered.

I did wonder when science ficiton became more ambitious and began to move away from its origins as adventure or P.I. stories tarted up with futuristic doo-dads. What would the state of the art been when Chandler wrote his letter, in other words?

A few people who post here from time to time know a good deal about science fiction and should be able to shed some light on the question.

July 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Juri, I've read a couple of the books on Ford's list and have one or two more lying around the house. It's nice to see he defines crime and mystery a bit more expansively than is usual.

July 27, 2009  
Blogger Juri said...

Chandler wrote his letter in 1953, so he would've had lots of chances to read good, mature SF which might've appealed to him (as I said, Sturgeon and Bester could've made it for him, or writers like Fredrik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth), but you have to remember lots of childish and awkward SF has been written all the time the genre has been in existence. So, if Chandler has grabbed a pulp mag in the early fifties and for some reason gone for a wrong one, that was aimed for juvenile markets (this is an important issue when we talk about pulp mags: some of them were for adults, some for juveniles), and met some of that stuff he describes he may've thought nothing has happened.

Quick googling, by the way, reveals I remembered wrong. "Professor Bingo's Snuff" was first published in something called Park East Magazine, in 1951. I must've been thinking about "The Bronze Door", and indeed that was published in Unknown, but already in 1939, so it could've been something like Chandler's answer to the cheesy SF he encountered in some of the worse pulp magazines.

And as to your question, when did SF grow mature? It was mature the day it was born - you have to remember SF isn't all about pulp. There's for example E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops (or something to that effect), from 1909, which seems like it prophecied the internet and people sitting alone staring at their computers. You also remember H.G. Wells's many SF novels, like The Time Machine. That's mature SF.

The pulp SF got more mature in the 1940's, with writers like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. And more mature - too mature, some say - it got with the 1960's New Wave and writers like Michael Moorcock and J.G. Ballard.

Satisfied now? I could go on about SF writers who also wrote crime, such as Fredrik Pohl, Jack Vance (who also got an Edgar), C.M. Kornbluth, Barry Malzberg, et al., but I gotta go make some late dinner for me and my wife. ;)

July 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It was mature the day it was born - you have to remember SF isn't all about pulp.

And Jules Verne, too, which reveals the limited application of biological metaphors, as does, perhaps, Edgar Allan Poe, in crime fiction. A master emerges, and inferior imitators follow.

Bon apetit!

July 27, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

1953 was the year of Bester's The Demolished Man and Sturgeon's More Than Human. Both are classic novels which have withstood the test of time - The Demolished Man, as already mentioned , is a police procedural in a world were telepathy is widespread, and while technologic predictions or the role of Freudian psychology may seem dated (but then, think about how heavily the latter features, for example, in Ross McDonald's novels),its stylistic experimentation, convincing description of milieu and sheer inventiveness make it very enjoyable to this day.
Science Fiction wasn't born with the pulps - Lucian of Samosata, Cyrano de Bergerac, Voltaire wrote science fiction - but the pulps created a market for the kind of sf Chandler mocks - the hero with his raygun, the damsel in distress, the caricature aliens. Yet, in the first part the Twentieth Century not only could you find authors of "serious" Science Fiction like H.G.Wells or Olaf Stapledon, or the science-fantasy of David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, hailed as a masterpiece by Harold Bloom - you could also find many gems in the pulps - the stories of Fredric Brown, C.L. Moore, Fritz Leiber ,and many others.
I have a collection of the Best Sf published in the 40s - a couple of stories are absolute excellence.

July 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, I've begun my mystery-fantasy/sci-fi fusion reading, and I'll likely offer a post on that subject in the next day or two.

Voltaire wrote stories of detection, too. He had quite the popular touch for a man who set himself up on a private estate. I visited Voltaire in the Pantheon a couple of years ago. A statue of him declaiming stands in front of his tomb. Across the aisle, a relief on the front of Rousseau's tomb shows a hand reaching out and grasping a door. Whether it supposed to be entering the tomb of leaving, I don't know, but the sculptures say much about the natures of the men.

July 27, 2009  
Blogger Juri said...

Marco, yes, you're right about the years - I was thinking that The Demolished Man came out in 1953, but wasn't sure and I didn't feel like checking. So Chandler's complaining about the genre was at least 15 years late! It's probably because there were no good reviews of SF in the papers at that time - was there? I know Anthony Boucher wrote lots about SF, but he was a New Yorker, right? So Chandler may have not read his writings and lost all the notes on Bester or Sturgeon.

July 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or maybe Chandler was just feeling especially peevish the day he wrote that letter.

July 28, 2009  
Blogger Brian said...

Sunday morning I had spent some time writing a lengthy response to this thread -- then the computer ate it. So I'm just going to throw some random thoughts up, coherency be damned.

I think that the main reason that authors want to try their hand at other types of fiction is far more simpler. Because they like to read all different types of fiction.

Michael Moorcock once said that if you want to write fantasy then you should read everything BUT fantasy. Substitute the word 'fantasy' for whatever genre you want and it's great advice as far as I'm concerned.

With tongue planted maybe a little in cheek let's take a quick look at shared features.

-Aren't The One Ring To Rule Them All and The Maltese Falcon just MacGuffins?

-What are criminal empires and fantastical landscapes but secondary worlds that both have their own rules, and language(s), histories and cultures

-In some types of crime fiction and some types of fantasy fiction there is a lot of power in names; having different names, hiding one's true name, the power of discovering one's true name.

Also Jeffrey Ford won The Edgar in the paperback category. Prior to The Girl in the Glass was 5 novels and 1 story collection.

July 28, 2009  
Blogger Brian said...

Cross-genre type books (off the top of my head) that I would like to see Peter try:

Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem

When Gravity Fails (the first of a trilogy but the strongest by far) by George Alec Effinger

Last Call and Declare both by Tim Powers. Lasy Call is actually one of my favorite novels.

9 Tail Fox by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan

After Silence by Jonathan Carroll

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

World Made Flesh by Jack O’Connell

The Insult by Rupert Thomson

July 28, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff

July 28, 2009  
Blogger Brian said...

I love Ruff. Set This House in Order is one of my all-time favorite novels. Love Bad Monkeys too.

July 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, thanks for salvaging those remnants, and thanks for the correction on Jeffrey Ford. My colleague who know him was too polite to correct the mistake.

Your "secondary worlds" theory may be less fanciful than you think. The comment reminds me of Kirk and Spock visiting 1920's Chicago and meeting up with Bella Oxmix. And I can quite easily imagine applying Michael Moorcock's advice to crime novels: "Want to write crime? Read romance novels or history -- then ask yourself, `What criminal act could screw this perfect romance or empire or republic or economic system up?'"

July 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Brian and Marco. I like the title Gun, With Occasional Music. I hope the book is not too aware of its own cleverness.

July 28, 2009  
Blogger Brian said...

Majestrum by Matthew Hughes -- A Holmsian story in a dying Earth type setting.

Interestingly in an interview that he did at BSC he stated that he considers himself a crime writer even though his books are acknowledged as SF & F


Matthew Hughes - I think of myself as a crime writer who has somehow wandered into SF. I like crime fiction of the Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly, Lawrence Block kind more than the classic mystery with the unaffected sleuth. In fact, until I had sold three or four Hapthorn stories, I’d never actually read a Sherlock Holmes story.

July 28, 2009  
Blogger Juri said...

Peter: I hated Lethem's Gun, with Occasional Music. I still remember how I wrote about it on the Rara-Avis e-mail list with the subject line: Boredom, with Occasional Music. As a crime novel, I don't think it stands at all. It's like bad Richard S. Prather. And I do know how much people love the book.

Effinger is pretty good.

I seem to have lost the track, but I hope someone mentioned The Steel Caves by Isaac Asimov? It's a pure detective novel.

July 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Matthew Hughes. Got it, Brian. Thanks, and I did find his comments interesting.

July 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Juri, I don't know if I have enough time in this universe to browse books whose descriptions are unappetizing. "Bad Richard S. Prather" means endless wisecracks, some of them charmingly self-effacing, some of them over-the-top salacious, strung together between covers. (I like at least one of his stories, though, even though I haven't been a fan of his novels.)

I've already done some shopping and library browsing based on these discussions. Maybe I'll compile all the suggestions into a master list. I am tempted to at least look at Lethem's book, hoping the book is less impressed with its own cleverness than the title seems to be.

July 28, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Thinking of the crime-fiction, science-fiction interface, I was belatedly reminded of a wonderful passage in a Dashiell Hammett short story, "The Gutting of Couffignal," "Black Mask," 12/1925. The Continental Op is on what he expects to be a routine and boring job guarding wedding presents at an estate on the island of Couffignal:
"The wind and the rain were hard at it when I went downstairs to give the lower windows and doors the up-and-down. Everything on the first floor was tight and secure, everything in the cellar. I went upstairs again.
"Pulling my chair over by a floor lamp, I put sandwiches, books, ash tray, gun and flashlight on a small table beside it. Then I switched off the other lights, set fire to a Fatima, sat down, wriggled my spine comfortably into the chair's padding, picked up one of the books, and prepared to make a night of it.
"The book was called The Lord of the Sea, and had to do with a strong, tough and violent fellow named Hogarth whose modest plan was to hold the world in one hand. There were plots and counterplots, kidnapings, murders, prison-breakings, forgeries and burglaries, diamonds large as hats and floating forts larger than Couffignal. It sounds dizzy here, but in the book it was as real as a dime.
"Hogarth was still going strong when the lights went out."
Based on this passage, I read the 1924 revised edition of "The Lord of the Sea," presuming that it was this version that Hammett himself had read. It is a wild mix of gothic romance, science fiction, and over-the-top Prisoner of Zenda (or even James Bond-type) action. The racial and ethnic stereotypes may be offputting to us today but reading some of the fiction that my favorite readers have themselves read is another way of putting myself in contact with them and their times. And I so wanted to be part of this scene, wriggling my own spine in a chair opposite the Op, munching on a sandwich, and reading an absorbing novel!

July 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"It sounds dizzy here, but in the book it was as real as a dime."

That is as beautiful a tribute to the joy of reading as any I can remember. Many thanks. I've read that Continental Op story. It may be time for me to read it again.

July 28, 2009  
Blogger Brian said...

Though it was mentioned elsewhere I can't endorse The City & The City by China Mieville enough.

I think you would really like it and I'd love to see your opinion on it.

In many ways a brilliant book.

July 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, I looked for it earlier this week at my local library, which does not yet have copies. I may decide to spring for the hardcover.

July 30, 2009  

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