Friday, April 20, 2012

27. Spectrum I edited by Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest

This was the first in the Spectrum series that Kingsley Amis edited.  Though it was published in 1961, most of the stories come from the late 40s and early 50s.  It was a mixed bag.  I really love Amis' spirited defense of (and attack for) science fiction.  There were even more ignorant "literary critics" back then in relation to genre fiction than there are today and Amis must be credited as one of the first people to really go directly at them, especially in the UK.  I don't know who Robert Conquest is, but I should probably give him credit as well, as he co-wrote the intro with Amis and was the co-editor (and it is implied that they had some differences of opinion).  [edit to add that I did a bit of internet research and learned that Conquest was a well-respected Russian historian and poet and wrote two sci-fi novels as well, but—big surprise—the sci fi novels are barely mentioned and though his friendship with Amis is, there is nowhere I can find in any of his biographies the info that he edited several of these Spectrums, even in the Wikipedia!  Astounding.]

The problem is that it could be argued that a lot of these stories fell into some of the very criticisms levied against science fiction (Amis admits this as much).  They are often about the exploration of a concept rather than a good story.  There are a couple of really good reads though.  The best story (in terms of actual narrative) is John Berryman's Special Flightabout a freight ship making a standard, but in this case a rushed and unplanned emergency trip to the moon.  It's really quite a tense story, but focuses so much on the technical aspects.  It was written in '39, which is kind of amazing, and was probably really exciting to engineers who understood air flight and loved to speculate about how that would operate in space.  There is also a hilarious Robert Sheckley story about an offworlder who comes to earth to find love.  Another great concept was from Frederik Pohl's the Midas Touch about a future society where consumption and poverty were reversed and the lower down on the social and economic scale you were, the more you had to consume, with ration books and everything.  Very prescient, given the obese state of our lower classes today.

So all in all a mixed bag with some gems here and there.  But overall, this book gives you a feeling of the positive and imaginative spirit of those early sci-fi writers.  These people are enjoying themselves and so are their readers.


Nick Jones (Louis XIV, the Sun King) said...

Nice review, sir. And I'm pleased the anthology is worth reading, because I picked up an edition of it last year, which I'll be blogging about down the line. Robert Conquest, by the way, also co-wrote a novel with Kingsley Amis... and I'll be blogging about that too!

OlmanFeelyus said...

I think you'll really enjoy these. The stories are great, but there is so much history in them as well.

I look forward to your posts, especially the one on Conquest, as I'm sure you'll dig up some great background info.