Tuesday, December 16, 2008

DANGEROUS VISIONS? Bah! Nothing of the sort!

Occasionally when I need a quick reference or refresher on some writer or book or movement or era in science fiction, I will reach for my copy of Brian Aldiss's thick work of genre history and criticism Trillion Year Spree (only good up until the mid-1980s). Last night I was scanning through the section on the 1960s to see if Aldiss, whose intellect and body of work I greatly respect, had anything to tell me about Samuel Delany, my recent obsession. After finding what I wanted, I continued to browse in the pages and hit upon Aldiss's (is that the right possessive form of Aldiss?  I can't get a straight answer anywhere...) comments on Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthology. I'm a big fan of that book and its sequel, and I'm sure I'd like its infamous as-yet-unpublished third volume, too. I even invoke its name in my writers guidelines below as a sort of example of the spirit of imagination that I'd like to see in new stories. But now I wonder if I'm just a naive dupe.  

Says Aldiss: "But any comparison with 'all that literary stuff' [quoting Ellison's introduction] would have shown how uncontroversial most of it was set against writers like Henry Miller, William Burroughs and D.H. Lawrence, and how stylistically limited it was by comparison to writers like Herman Melville, James Joyce, B.S. Johnson and William Golding...What Dangerous Visions actually was differed substantially from what it was claimed to be...Within the American field, dominated by the artificially-sustained 'family' values of the magazine ethos, these stories did appear quite shocking: but it was rather like shocking your maiden aunt with ribald limericks."  Aldiss does go on from there to discuss at some length how the British magazine New Worlds was the real frothing hot-bed of revolution during those days.  And Aldiss himself was, of course, a mainstay of that publication. While I might not agree with his dismissal of Dangerous Visions, he is certainly correct in a lot of his comments on the New Worlds-era writers.  Thinking about all this makes me wonder if there is something new coming that will blow the doors off the genre in the way that the New Wave and, later, the cyberpunks did. (By the way, I want to mention (even though M-Brane is not about movies) that Aldiss penned Brothers of the Head which was made into a bizarre, lovely mockumentary-style film with a bunch of awesome proto-punk music in it.)  The 2005 image of Aldiss is taken from Wikipedia.

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