CHARACTERS AND SUCH
by Philip Farmer
Dear Sam: The June SS was a lulu. DRAGON'S ISLAND I didn't read because I'd read it in book form. It's a very good story, however. I'm jealous and green-angry at Williamson because he wrote ahout that tree that grew a spaceship. I'd had a similar idea for a story; now, I can't use it. Phooey on such a genius!
Williamson demands high praise. He, along with Leinster and Simak and Hamilton, are about the only old timers that had the bounce and what-it-takes to keep on surviving. They just refused to lie down and die and fossilize; Jurassic writers who decided to mutate.
Williamson has a fresh and ingenious imagination and the only criticism I have to make of him is that his style is too "adjectivy," too pulpy. But he has a good sense of character. After all, if you search your mind for the outstanding characters of sf, those who flash to your mind, how many do you remember offhand? Not many.
Gilmore's Hawk Carse comes readily, but he didn't have the life and the rotundity that Giles Habibula had. Taine's The Captain is another hard-to-forget fictional hero. As for villains, E. E. Smith's DuQuesne, for some reason, sticks. Naturally, one doesn't forget Kimball Kinnison, but not because he came so much to life as the fact that repetition wears a groove even in the hardest stone. Weinbaum's Tweel and Oscar, two nonhuman characters, won't be forgotten.
Speaking of characterizations, I'd like to put in a plug for Jack Vance. His ABERCROMBIE STATION and his current offering SABOTAGE ON SULFUR PLANET impress me because of the feeling for making individuals of their personages, plus the tough-minded attitude for reality. Vance has been getting better all the time, and now, as far as I'm conrerned, he's up on top of the list. Without imitating the Hemingway style, he possesses a very honest regard for life-as-it-is. No honey or sugar, but no superfluous acid, either. I hope he keeps it up; indications are that he will. The trouble with Hemingway, and writers like him, is that after a certain period they no longer are Hemingway looking at life, they are Hemingway looking at Hemingway looking at life. If you see what I mean--?
Thanks for them kind words in ETHERGRAMS. I hope I live up to them. As far as having new stories go, I've got, at a conservative estimate, two dozen germs and outlines. And new ones popping Minerva-like from my Jovian brow. They include both fantasy and sf, which pleases me, for I've noticed you're running a nice proportion of fantasies.
Your editorial on the ECONOMICS OF HUNGER was interesting and seems to tie in with the facts. The less food, the more children. More mouths, less food. What's to he done about it? I've got the outline of a short story about just that very thing, and I hope to have it written within the next two months.
I've talked enough. However, one more thing. I see you're going to be in Chicago at the World SF Convention. So'll I. The reverberations from THE LOVERS should be really bouncing about then. Maybe we can face the music together. In any event, I'll be looking forward to seeing you face to face.--621 Barker, Peoria, Ill.
Hemingway looking at Hemingway looking at life is a capsule indictment of success, I suppose. On the other hand success adds something quite measurable to the status of any personality--it supplies the necessary confidence for a man to be true to himself and not to be plagued by the everlasting doubts that are the constant companions of the nonsuccessful. The sureness of an accomplished artist is in no small way due to success itself. Unfortunately, it can be overdone, as noted.
Don't know about the Chicago convention--as it looks from here I doubt that I can make it. Got to stay tied to a desk and wait for those stories you've promised.