PHIL FARMER SAYS:
Blish's letter, as usual, was not only interesting but instructive, Even , I might add, humiliating for me, since it shows me up as an ignoramus. Not a voluntary know-nothing, true, for I am far behind on my reading of s-f, having been submerged in anthropology and language texts lately. Wolfbane (the story Blish refers to?) I have not read, though it is piled with fifty other novels in my closet. I look forward to reading "A Dusk of Idols," not only because I like Blish's stories but also to determine if it is as controversial as he implies. However, at the time I wrote that letter, I was thinking of hardcover novels (mainstream in that they would not advertise themselves as sf, such as Brave New World, Limbo, On the Beach(?)). And also, of John Campbell. But further reflection, aided by Mr. Blish's gentle kick in the ass, shoes me I am again wrong. Brave New World certainly had a pessimistic tone, its characters enjoyed their life yet were (to us) in a blind alley. No, by God! I'm right! Or, rather, wrong about Huxley's novel, for the reader was not told that this sort of life really is the best. The moral did not go against contemporary values. Tell me, do you know of any mainstream novels speculating about the future which maintain that a rigidly regimented society could be the ideal society?
(I expect to deluged by the titles of such novels, thus again demonstrating my sad failure to keep up on current fiction. However, I also have The Manchurian Candidate in my closet. And I would also like to point out that Scribner's did reject Starship Soldiers. This, by the way, shows that publishers do have integrity; they must have realized what the loss of Heinlein to them meant, yet they spurned his book for moral reasons.)
As for my comments about Mr. Campbell. I have the highest regard for his abilities to make other people think, and I know that he is very generous and fruitful in feeding authors ideas. We corresponded several years ago about my doing a series on a society based on class divisions determined by intellectuality and knowledge. But I just up and quit because I could not bring myself to believe in the idea.Now, I don't have much trouble believing it, but I've lost interest in it. Besides, I still haven't been able to solve the question of Who, Then, Watches the Watchers? Moreover, extensive contact with the professional classes since then: electrical engineers, higher-echelon administrators, research scientists, college professors, has convinced me that they are not much more equipped to rule than the steel-mill, dairy, and construction workers and lineman that I knew for so many years. Once the high-I.Q.'ed (presumably) engineer, scientist, and professor steps out of the lab and classroom, he is just as emotional, irrational, and stupid as those lower classes he really despises and distrusts. I am speaking, of course, in generalities; plenty of exceptions in both classes. Democracy, as inefficient, bumbling, graft-ridden, and blind as it is, seems to me to be the best method of government so far known. Not that it will necessarily survive, but I haven't been able to think of a realistic superior form of government. Maybe some one else will; I wish they would.
One more point. I wasn't shocked by Heinlein's SS; I thought it a well-written and almost convincing novel although on the tractish side. But Heinlein, at least in the magazine version I read, was not thoroughly realistic. He did not say a word about the well-known and thoroughly authenticated tendency of the military system to be stupid. (For authentication, I refer you to your own observations and Pitkin's A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity.) A world ruled by veteran's would be as mismanaged, graft-ridden, and insane as one ruled by men who had never gotten near the odor of blood and guts. Look at your average Legionnaire.
I do agree with Heinlein's main point. That is, we'd better get up off our ass and outbug the bugs, or we're done for. And we won't do it with a nation of softies.
Wollheim's letter amused me. Why? I quote his last line. "They all write like so many hack characters endlessly repeating their special hook lines." Perhaps this is true. But does Wollheim realize that his letter does exactly the same thing for him? He, Too, writes his stereotyped letters, full of ill humor, snarling distaste, a general if vaguely worded hatred of the world. Disappointed is the word that best describes the tenor of his letters. I would classify him, on the basis of his correspondence, as a frustrated writer. Or as one who has waited too long for the Messiah.
As for being sick, I am (sobs of self-pity!) I'm a member of this society, so how can I help it? Not that it would have done me any good to have been born in a past society or to be born in a future. They all were, are and will be sick (for the next hundred years, anyways). Before anybody starts yelping, I will say that there are healthy people in this society, and it is my misfortune that I fell into one of the many traps set by this society. Don't ask me what the trap was; first, let all these people who have charged me with being sick come out and specify the illness. I'll bet they'll be surprised at the discrepancy between what they believe and what I believe is my illness. Am I a sex fiend because I wrote Flesh? Am I a fat little priest because I wrote "Father"? Do I have an Oedipus complex because I wrote "Mother," or am I searching for the father-image because I wrote "Father"? Do I have a compulsion towards incest because of "Open To Me, My Sister"? Am I a cannibal? A homosexual? Neanderthal? A Martian? Am I constipated? Do I enjoy regurgitations? Am I, worst sin of all, a hack?
The answer to the above is yes. Pick your own sickness, and slap a label on me. I could care less. I won't defend the others; they don't need my dubious help.
Actually, if I were to be given my choice of reincarnation or forecarnation, I would be (right by Poul Anderson's side) a Viking. KILL! KILL! KILL! RAPE! BURN! LOOT! DESTROY! Being inhibited as hell, I would, naturally, choose the most uninhibited role. Realistically, I suppose, the Vikings were just as bound as anybody else; they probably considered the performance of the above injunctions as carrying out Odin's will. They were more joyous at the task than the average Christian.
For Dean McLaughlin's benefit, I live in Arizona, not New Mexico. Not that it makes much difference. The only way you can tell you're in Arizona, not N.M. (aside from the signs on the borders), is that Arizona has saguaros. And even those are restricted to the southern area.
This issue--138--is so full of goodies I could write several more pages of comment but won't. However, I'm glad for Blish's tips about recent advances in psychology. But who has the time to read them all? I work eight hours a day as a military electronics technical writer, spend many evenings writing fiction, am taking a correspondence course in anthropology for credit, am going to an evening class in linguistics (The Structure of English), am studying Navajo, refreshing myself in French, reading all the anthropology books I can get my hands on, conducting domestic life, bringing up a Siamese cat who insists on getting up at four-thirty or earlier every morning, taking gold-hunting and archeological expeditions into the remote desert on the weekends, etc. So who can read everything? I spent $258 last year buying books, and I've only been able to read one-tenth of them. Who has time?