Archives for February 2013

Heinlein on literary snobs

A small further illustration in support of my thesis in ‘Why are dragons afraid of Americans?’:

In 1949, Robert A. Heinlein’s third juvenile SF novel, Red Planet, was summarily rejected by Alice Dalgliesh, his editor at Scribner’s. The tone of the rejection quite justifiably sent him into a fury. Here is an excerpt from a letter Heinlein wrote to his agent, Lurton Blassingame, on March 4, 1949: [Read more…]

A reply to S. Dorman

In my recent essai, ‘Why are dragons afraid of Americans?’, I made one or two passing references to Utopian Socialism. S. Dorman (cinda-cite on LiveJournal) writes the following comment:

it feels ungrateful of me not to mention…for many the misery–gone! but it’s back now. so unions?–flawed but needed again. there is no utopia, but people tend to work toward it personally, for familial reasons–when they are working.

I don’t normally write about explicitly political matters here, but when I attempted to reply on LiveJournal, I found that I had run over the limit for comments; so I beg indulgence of you all, and ask those not interested not to click on the link below, and not to bother with the remainder of this post. [Read more…]

Characterization by M. T.

I called upon Dr. Ellis with the air of a man who would create the impression that he is not so much of an ass as he looks.

—Mark Twain, ‘Letter from Steamboat Springs’ (1863)

Replying to a rejection slip

The correct etiquette, as demonstrated by Dylan Moran:

‘To do it with a flugelhorn was a stroke of genius.’

Gene Wolfe on the realism of fantasy

In an interview in Clarkesworld, Gene Wolfe was asked why his fantasy seemed ‘much truer to reality, truer to what we humans experience in this life than most of what passes for realistic, mainstream fiction’. His reply:

Because fantasy is nearer the truth, that’s all. Realistic fiction is typically about a married couple, both college teachers. He’s cheating on her with a student, so she cheats on him with whoever’s handy. Angst abounds. How true is that story for the bulk of humankind? Realistic fiction leaves out far, far too much. How old is realistic fiction? How old is fantasy?


Why are dragons afraid of Americans?

The chief business of an essayist — I speak here of the kind of essayist that I occasionally manage to be, and that better men than I are sometimes reduced to when not at their best — is to tilt at windmills. The second greatest delight such an essayist can know is to tilt at a windmill, in the full knowledge and expectation that it is really a windmill, and that he shall end by making a quixotic fool of himself, and discover in the heat of combat that it is only a giant after all. [Read more…]

Upcoming posts, and an appeal for formatting help

In the past week, I have bought (or, more accurately, received — some of them were paid for weeks ago) nine books, all of which I want to write about in these pages. These are Language of the Night, by Ursula K. LeGuin; The Discarded Image, An Experiment in Criticism, and That Hideous Strength, by C. S. Lewis; and the five volumes of the Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. The Prydain books are replacements for copies that went missing in a house-move several years ago; the others I have not owned before, though I had previously read That Hideous Strength and several of the essays collected in Language of the Night. I have now read or re-read all of the books except the LeGuin, which only arrived this afternoon.

The other night I began a piece on An Experiment in Criticism, but it has grown much larger than I intended, and is desperately ill-focused, so I shall have to go back and prune it severely. That will probably be the first piece to appear.


In other news, Writing Down the Dragon is being held up, because I have developed a desperate fear of formatting errors. I still have never been able to figure out why The End of Earth and Sky displays on certain readers without any paragraph indents; the HTML is immaculate as far as I can tell. Wendy S. Delmater has suggested that I send out a cry for help. I can’t afford any of the reputable ebook formatting services.

So I am asking some of you, my 3.6 Loyal Readers*, to look over the rough ebook conversion and tell me before publication if it contains any visible formatting glitches. I will need to test the MOBI file on an e-ink Kindle, a Kindle Fire, and in the different Kindle apps for Android phones and tablets, iOS, PC, and Mac; some of these I can do myself, but I simply haven’t got access to all the different devices. If you are willing to test my formatting, please leave a comment to let me know. I regret that I can’t offer any payment for your trouble except a free copy of the ebook, but I shall certainly do that much.

Thanks in advance to all.


*Possibly even more than 3.6, in these latter days. Strange are the ways of Providence. I thank you all.


Reviews of The End of Earth and Sky are beginning to trickle in. I have the particular honour to call your attention to two:

Sherwood Smith offers a fine and perceptive (and favourable) review on Book View Cafe:

‘New Discoveries — The End of Earth and Sky’

Jonathan Moeller reviews it on his own blog:

‘The End of Earth & Sky, by Tom Simon’

Encouraging news, to be sure.

Donaldson on the value of fantasy

Good fantasy (and science fiction) correct an imbalance which exists in most realistic fiction. A man named Pelz (if memory serves) once wrote, ‘Beauty is controlled passion. Passion without control is destructive. Control without passion is dead.’ This is the essential paradox of what Blake called ‘reason’ and ‘energy‘: ‘Reason is the circumference of energy.’ Neither means anything without the other. Well, to put Blake in my terms, ‘Intellect is the circumference of imagination.’ I believe that most realistic fiction these days has lost its potential beauty by sacrificing imagination to intellect. Control crushes passion; reason squeezes out energy. In good fantasy and science fiction, the imagination regains its crucial, energizing role. The result is the single most human thing in the world: beauty. (This is the argument from conviction.) My intellectual grad school friends used to denounce Lord of the Rings because it had no relevance to the ‘real world’. They were wrong. LOTR is intensely relevant to the human heart because LOTR is beautiful. I believe that the ‘escape’ into fantasy is an escape from materialism, dead intellect, and cynicism into humanity.

However, to avoid being misunderstood, I should go on to say that people who sacrifice intellect to imagination are making the same mistake which is killing realistic fiction. ‘Passion without control is destructive.’ The person who uses fantasy to avoid dealing with reality is in as much trouble as the person who uses intellect tou avoid confronting the inner dragons.

—Stephen R. Donaldson, interviewed in Fantasy Crossroads (1979)

‘Say to the seers, See not’

Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever:
That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord:
10 Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
11 Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.
12 Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon:
13 Therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant.
14 And he shall break it as the breaking of the potter’s vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not spare: so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit.

—Isaiah 30:8–14 (AV)

This passage, just as it stands, could serve rather neatly as a Leitmotiv or ‘argument’ for The Eye of the Maker as a whole. I shall not use it for that purpose, since Isaiah and Israel belong to this world and not to that one. Still, mutatis nominibus de his fabula narratur.