Strong Holds from (Tribe 12)

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But when the following spring came, along with a wind- borne burst of ragweed pollen grains, somebody sneezed. He is abso- lutely right. I am a trifle more reluctant to hand over my own abbreviative tag of last month's column, but in all fairness I concede that the as- sociative connotations of TNT are far more suitable to Ellison's taste and image than to mine : surely he is s-f's most explosive popcorn package and snapcrackling fire- brand; and from the evidence of this book, his New Thing is char- acterized specifically by pyrotech- nic style and shock content, DANGEROUS VISIONS was Orig- inally advertised to the authors in- vited to contribute as a collection of ''unpublishable" stories — that is, stories either unsold or unwrit- ten specifically because of "taboo" themes or unconventional treat- ments that made them unpalatable to the existing markets.

The idea for such a volume had been in Ellison's mind for some time; I was myself involved, several years ago, in a painfully abortive effort to do a similar collection. I was to be the anthologist; Ellison was editor at a publishing house far better forgotten. The only useful outcome of that venture, I felt, was my discovery that there is no such thing as a good un- pubhshable story today.

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There are non-commercial stories which will go only to low-paid or unpaid markets, and there are highly spe- cialized themeswhich will be bought only by appropriately specialized publications; but the only good story that approaches unpublish- ability is the oddity whose treat- ment is at variance with its themes, and even these eventually find homes. And certainly the large majority of the inclusions would seem quite in place, for instance, in the pages of this magazine.

But every one of these would have found a home either in the literary reviews or in England — and half of the rest could have gone to popular general fiction magazines as well. For which rea- sons, I shall certainly reveal neither one here. The Dangerous Vision has be- come a commonplace of our society; the forecasting of such visions is one of the chief roles science fiction has played in the past twenty or thirty years. Yet this book, which began as a direct request to pre- sumably stifled authors to voice their most terrifying, shocking, or extreme viewpoints, is with two — well, perhaps three — excep- tions most effective in those stories which concentrate on liter- ary values and technical excellence, rather than idea content.

The Rand Corporation, and your daily news- paper, both make predictions free- ly. What it all goes to prove, pre- sumably, is that the established s-f writer can write much better than he usually does, and will — given a half-reasonable rate of pay, and apparently unlimited stylistic freedom: also that very few are inclined toward innovative or ex- perimental techniques, since all but a handful whose presence es- tablishes the parenthetical appar- ently above elected to put their best literary feet forward in a de- cidedly conventional style.

With any reasonable exercise of editorial judgement, one standard- length anthology could have been selected from this giant, to match and perhaps surpass any previous collections of imaginative fiction.

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I am not going to comment fur- ther on the introductions, except to say that when I found myself so disaffected that I began distrusting my own judgement if Ellison seemed to agree with it, I solved the problem of not being able to ignore the notes by reading them straight through first, and after a suitable interval going back to the stories without prejudice.

As a further happy accident, the reading copy I had was an advance set of galleys provided by Doubleday and auctioned off at the NYCon a few days ago — so that I am quite un- able as I write to give in to the temptation to quote from the intro- ductions, or refer to them specifi- cally. I have notes only on the stories I considered most worth discussing. I am, therefore, able to state with full enthusiasm and no sour overtones, out of memories still vivid in my mind, that those top twelve stories alone are worth the price of the book high as it is, and even adding in the possible cost of getting trapped into reading the introductions.

The four that make up the second quarter of my 32 grouping above, however, need some discussion. It is a cheerful, careening combination of neo- Joycean word-gaming and science- fiction imagery, homespun philoso- phy, homeloomed psychiatry, and witty comment on the contempo- rary scene — particularly in the arts and academia.