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Tuesday 28 June 2005

Artistic Insights: A Review of Two Non-Fiction Titles

by Rick Klaw

Voices of Vision, Jayme Lynn Blaschke, ed.
(University of Nebraska/Bison Books, 2005)

Projections: Science Fiction in Literature and Film, Lou Anders, ed.
(MonkeyBrain Books, 2004)

Bison Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press, is best known for reprinting lost or obscure science fiction and fantasy classics in their Frontiers of Imagination series. Their catalog includes long out of print works such as Gulliver of Mars by Edwin L. Arnold, Beyond Thirty by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Gladiator by Philip Wylie, The War in the Air by H. G. Wells and others. The books all feature introductions and/or afterwards by contemporary fantastical writers often with poor design and amateurish cover art.

Jayme Lynn Blaschke's Voices of Vision is an unusual addition to this line. Not only is this collection of Blaschke's interviews with contemporary science fiction and comic book professionals produced and marketed in of a line of fiction titles, but the design is above Bison's usual standards and while the cover image is disturbing and possibly inappropriate, it is well executed.

The book is divided into four sections: "Vaster Than Empires, And More Slow: The Editors"; "A Source of Innocent Merriment: The Unique Voices in Speculative Fiction"; "World's Finest Comics: The Comic Book Creators"; and "I Am Legend: Masters of Fantasy and Science Fiction". Subjects include Gardner Dozois, Stanley Schmidt, Gordon Van Gelder, Robin Hobb (Megan Lindholm), Charles de Lint, Elizabeth Moon, Neil Gaiman, Samuel R. Delany, Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison, Jack Williamson, and others. The interviews run from seven to ten pages and originally appeared in a variety of publications including Interzone, Science Fiction Chronicle, Black Gate, SF Site, and Green Man Review.

Each interview is preceded by a brief introduction from Blaschke. The interviews often have unique quirks and associated stories associated. In these pieces Blaschke, laments the inherent problems with email interviews1, mentions his love of the comic book character Green Arrow2, and chronicles Harlan Ellison's generosity. His forewords offer a glimpse into the role of an interviewer in relation to the subject and eventual publication.

The single biggest flaw in Voices of Vision is the lack of a general introduction that would create cohesiveness to the individual segments of the book. Who is Jayme Lynn Blaschke and why does he get access to all these cool people? The answers become apparent in his brief introductions before each piece, but an overall essay discussing these points would have been nice. Also, if Blaschke knows all these famous/talented people, why couldn't the publisher or writer find someone else to pen an introductory essay?

The other problem is with the interviews themselves. The quality of the interviews is uniformly excellent. Blaschke asks intelligent questions and receives interesting answers, which are edited nicely for maximum impact while keeping the distinct personality of the speaker3. The flaw is in the timing of the interview. Some of these were conducted over a decade ago, so elements of the information discussed has changed. For example, Gardner Dozois said in his 1997 interview: I'll stay [at Asimov's Magazine] as long as they want me. He resigned as editor in 2004. There are little things like that throughout. The original interviews should stand unchanged as historical artifacts, but a brief essay after each interview or perhaps updating some facts would have been appreciated.

MonkeyBrain Books4 is on the other end of the spectrum from Bison. They publish primarily non-fiction. All their books are attractive by design and feel good in your hands.5

Behind a suitable mechanoid science fictiony cover, Projections: Science Fiction in Literature & Film, edited by Lou Anders, collects essays from leading critics and writers. Michael Moorcock, Robert Silverberg, Jonathan Lethem, Robert J. Saywer, Michael Swanwick, David Brin, John Clute, James Gunn, Michael Resnick, and others discuss a variety of topics from Leigh Brackett to Star Wars, Harry Potter to Star Trek, and all points in between.

The quality of the essays varies greatly. Some meander without getting to any point. From several of the contributors, I've read superior essays elsewhere. Highlights include the two bracketing essays from Michael Swanwick, Brin on Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, Moorcock's remembrance of Leigh Brackett, Mike Resnick on Burroughs, a history Australian sf by McMullen, and Jonathan Lethem's thoughts on science fiction.

The single biggest flaw in Projections is similar to that of Voices of Vision. Most of the essays in this volume are reprints and often feel dated. The copyright dates range from 1984 to 2004. This could have easily been fixed by placing the copyright information with the essays themselves. To make matters worse, the reader is not made aware that the essays are reprints until they see the permissions listing at the end of the book.

Even with these minor flaws, Voices of Vision and Projections offer interesting insights into the minds of writers, artists, and editors of science fiction, fantasy, and comics. So when you have a hankering for intelligent non-fiction about sf, these books will fill the need. They will appeal to genre fans or anybody with a curiosity about the workings of the creative mind.

— Rick Klaw

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