I’ve been busy the past few weeks reading books from a different time. Or is that different times. I finished re-reading Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, and am working my way through the 1961 biography written by Mark Schorer, which is far from kind. I’m in the middle of writing my brief introduction to my strangest review format yet, in sonnet form, of Lewis’ novel.
I also finished last night a book that’s long been on my list to read, Jack Williamson’s The Humanoids, first published in short story form in 1947 as “With Folded Hands.” (I am delighted to discover that my unread copy of Pulphouse Publishing’s Author’s Choice Monthly Issue 5 – Jack Williamson (1990) contains this story.) Somewhere in my library I also have the sequel, The Humanoid Touch, which is now on my must-read list. The former novel has been nominated twice for the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Hall of Fame award, yet I don’t believe it’s ever been a finalist. That’s a shame, as for at least the first 4/5th of the novel I was riveted by the action and plot, and the novel far exceeded my expectations. The conclusion surprised me, and left me wondering about the author’s intentions. I have a somewhat ambiguous view of Williamson’s fiction. On the one hand, he was a giant in the field of sf. He died a couple of weeks ago at age 98, and continued to teach and write virtually to the end. Yet I have read very few of his books. I tried a few years ago to read his then new novel, The Silicon Dagger, but I don’t think I finished it. His story in the recent Baen collection Visions of Liberty, “Devil’s Star,” was in my opinion the worst of the lot. I wasn’t sure if the style was deliberately pulp, or if Williamson eschewed style for straight two-fisted prose. On the other hand, his politics seem influenced by libertarian ideas, as he stated in this interview from 1999. I wanted to see how those ideas influenced his fiction. Yet my experience with the two works I mentioned prevented me from reading more of Williamson’s work, until his name came up again during a conversation I had in early November at the World Fantasy Con in Austin, Texas. Sadly, not two days after I started reading The Humanoids I read the news that Williamson died. I’ve nominated this book again for the LFS Hall of Fame, and intend to write a review in the January issue of Prometheus.
Although unrelated to the purpose of this blog, I’m currently reading The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith. Smith is probably my second favorite writer after Jack Vance, and a superb poet as well. The book is at times fascinting, mundane, sad, and illuminating. I wish I could afford the earlier Arkham House editions of his works, but instead I have to wait for newer and cheaper editions.
A current writer who deserves greater acclaim is John C. Wright, whose first published novel, The Golden Age could have, should have won the Prometheus Award for best novel in 2003. His latest novel appeared in bookstores last week. His regularly updated Livejournal blog contains many intersting discussions and thoughts. Wright recently converted from atheism to Christianity, which influences quite a few of his posts. As a non-militant atheist I have yet to read anything that will convert me to any theism, but he’s a damn good fiction writer.