Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Angry readers please apply

Damon Knight: Science fiction means what we point to when we say it.

Some readers (not to mention writers, editors and publishers) may be unpleasantly surprised by the pugnacious tone of the reviews that follow. I won’t apologize -- not very often, anyhow -- but I will explain. As a critic, I operate under certain basic assumptions, all eccentric, to wit:

1. That the term 'science fiction' is a misnomer, that trying to get two enthusiasts to agree on a definition of it leads only to bloody knuckles; that better labels have been devised (Heinlein’s suggestion, 'speculative fiction,' is the best, I think), but that we’re stuck with this one; and that it will do us no particular harm if we remember that, like 'The Saturday Evening Post,' it means what we point to when we say it.

2. That a publisher’s jacket blurb and a book review are two different things, and should be composed accordingly.

3. That science fiction is a field of literature worth taking seriously, and that ordinary critical standards can be meaningfully applied to it: e.g., originality, sincerity, style, construction, logic, coherence, sanity, garden-variety grammar.

4. That a bad book hurts science fiction more than ten bad notices.

The publishers disclaim all responsibility; angry readers please apply to me.

-- Damon Knight, In Search of Wonder, 1956.

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