Thanks for the Scythrops and the Gases. I especially like PG because there is a light-hearted acrimony-free tone about it. ((Sir, there is an explanation for that. You will no doubt recall Cervantes’s characterization of someone or other, maybe an innkeeper: ‘He was a fat man and therefore a good man.’ Similarly, I prefer the quiet life. Let the lean and wiry Geises and Gillespies of fandom publish the serious, provocative, pungent stuff, says I.)) I relished Le Guin’s article and Vonnegut’s speech in PG 25, though I thought it a shame that I had to read the works of American writers in an Australian fanzine. ((Why?))But this is a circuitous world, and what do I care how the current flows so long as at least two wires run into my house? ((Exactly. Fanzines are the newsletters of the peculiar global village which is sf fandom, and what the hell whether they come from Canberra, New York, Stockholm, Cape Town, Munich or wherever.)) ((And of those two particular articles, one was originally published in an American fanzine and the other written at my request. Just think: your letter (when I get back to it) may only be read in an Australian fanzine, and would not have been written but for that fanzine.)) ((Jeez, I do carry on, don’t I? Have I ever told you, sir, how much I enjoy your writing? O? Well, I do, but I’m not going to come right out in print in front of George Turner and say so. I’m sure you’ll understand. Let’s have a fresh paragraph: I’ve wrecked this on.))
I am a Vonnegut aficianodo, though I like best his non-sf book, ‘God Bless You, Mr Rosewater’. His finest work is, I believe, ‘Cat’s Cradle’. I don’t share your liking for ‘Player Piano’; for some reason I’ve never been able to finish it. Though I’ve tried thrice. It is a rather mundane book and it takes a conventional approach to a cybernated society. By the way, have you noticed how much Vonnegut resembles Mark Twain in physical appearance?
((I hate interrupting letter, I really do, but when I’m asked questions or feel otherwise impelled to break in, I can’t stop myself. On Vonnegut: my favourite Vonnegut novel is the last one I read, whichever that happens to be at any given time – and I have re-read Vonnegut more often than I have any other sf writer, even including yourself, sit. I suspect at times that ‘Player Piano’ was the first sf novel I ever read, but I can’t prove it. Anyway, the last time I read it was in 1969, when I reviewed a new British edition for ‘The Professional Engineer’. Maybe it is rather mundane and conventional, but that doesn’t spoil the book for me – perhaps because I am rather mundane and conventional. Certainly, what Vonnegut had to say back in 1952 or whenever still held a vital message for the engineering profession in 1969 and, I believe, for mankind in 1974. Mankind tends to be mundane and conventional, and I would still recommend ‘Player Piano’ to anyone concerned about where we are heading – but not especially as a work of literary genius. I have this problem with literature, that when a book or poem or something says exactly about society or the human condition what I feel but cannot express, my literary judgment, such as it is, tends to be over-ridden. So my favourite poets are Thomas Hardy, Robert Graves, and Alec Hope. I love Wordsworth, if we take things back as far as him, but with him I skim over the things I find repugnant for extra-literary reasons. In science fiction, unless a novel or story is so absolutely brilliant that I forget my philosophical hang-ups, I tend to enthuse over those works which reflect my attitudes. Does that make any kind of sense? ::: I think Kurt Vonnegut resembles Mark Twain in more ways than physical appearance.))
One of the many things I enjoyed in PG 26 was Willis’s column. I’m happy to learn about Flann O’Brien and intend to get his books. What Willis says about characteristics of Irish literature seems to be true: their most Irish-of-the-Irish writers write a prose and have a worldview that is unique, wild, fine-textured, unmatchable and, as far as I know, unimitatable. Lafferty, however, proves that you don’t have to be an Irish writer; you just have to have a fortunate and happy melding of Celtic genes with Celtic spirit. Joyce isn’t, I believe, a 100% example of the truly Irish writer; there’s too much of the Latin in him, Roman sand thrown into his Celtic gears by the Jesuits.
Honor Tracy said in her ‘The Straight and Narrow Path’ that though the Irish are separated from England by a narrow sea and are easily accessible from Europe, they might as well be several thousand miles away. They don’t think like Englishmen or Europeans. I got a big charge out of her English Anthropologist who was taking a vacation in an Irish Village after some years of study of a Congo tribe. After a while he began to notice certain remarkable resemblances in the mental attitudes of the Irish villagers and those of Congolese natives.
I don’t know, though, what Willis means when he says that Irish is the oldest spoken language in Europe. If he’d said the weirdest, I’d have agreed. But I fail to see how Irish is any older than any other language in Europe. If he meant by ‘oldest’ the least changed or most archaic, he is wrong. Lithuanian is much more archaic, closer to the parent Indo-European, and so for that matter is Russian.
George Turner says ‘Character determines action.’ Heraclitus said it first in in the 6th or 5th century BC: ‘Character determines destiny.’ He wasn’t giving advice to novelists when he said this, but it applies. Nor was Ecclesiastes (or Solomon) teaching a course in creative writing when he said ‘Consider thy latter end, my son, and be wise.’ But it applies.