Friday, February 29, 2008

Myths have a way of "supplanting" history? Tell me about it!

We have Potlatch here in Seattle this weekend, in the University District. For anyone who might be intereted: I'll be doing a reading tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m. (I still haven't decided whether to read from Blood in the Fruit or Stretto.)

I've only this week gotten around to reading the Autumn 2006 issue of Foundation and tonight finished it in the tub after I arrived home from Potlatch. (But then I often don't read journal issues in the order in which I receive them.) Consequently, I had already read reviews (in other publications) of some of the books reviewed in this issue. For instance, I'd read a review of a book with the apparent mission of saving women sf writers from feminists last summer in Science Fiction Studies. (See, women writers have never at any time found it difficult to be published or read in the sf genre, for the real problem has always been that feminists have brainwashed women writers into believing that even the most conservative male editors and readers haven't all along been falling all over themselves encouraging women to write sf, and thus feminists themselves held back women writers and, even worse, deliberately erased the work of earlier women writers of sf. I don't know the reason for such sinister behavior. But perhaps we are to take the reason as self-evident? I'll never know, since not even Foundation's praise of this masterpiece can tempt me to read it.) The SFS reviewer says in summary:

I am highly sceptical of anything else in the text [except bibliographical information]. His approach fails to satisfy my standards for scholarship: the use of newspaper articles to support scientific claims; the way he dismisses the actual words of Katherine MacLean and Samuel Delany in favor of his own interpretations of events; and the repeated distortions of feminist scholarship are examples of how this book goes wrong. Luckily, there are other studies of women in early sf to turn to...

The Foundation reviewer, however, not only loves this book and repeats its author's accusation that Jane Donawerth is guilty of "shoddy scholarship," he even delivers a bitch-slap to Katherine MacLean, implicitly chastising her for her ingratitude to John Campbell, that Great Defender and Promoter of Women Writers:

Perhaps most surprising of all is that one of the most accomplished women writers, Katherine MacLean, also falls into the trap. In a fascinating piece of deconstruction,* Davin uses MacLean's own evidence against her in disproving her belief that John W. Campbell was anti-woman at Astounding and establishing how much he had helped and encouraged both her and Judith Merril, a fact that twenty years after the event, MacLean seemed to have completely forgotten.

As the reviewer has it, MacLean is either an ingrate or an idiot.

But that's not the worst. The reviewer surpasses himself with his next sentence: "Clearly myths have a way of supplanting history."

Please don't imagine that the reviewer is talking about the myths that women writers and artists have constantly to deal with. Far from it. Rather, he goes on to say that the author of this atrocious book "makes it his quest here to set the record straight and he does it very thoroughly."

Ack!!! Where is Joanna Russ when we need her?

Enough of this frivolous banter. I have to be in the dealers room at an ungodly early hour in the morning, and so I'm off to bed.

*Never fear, we can be certain that the reviewer is using the term loosely, since the SFS reviewer notes in her review that the author is constrained by rigid, binaristic thinking, which means he could never in a million years manage to deconstruct a single sentence, much less Katherine MacLean's "evidence" and probably wouldn't recognize an actual piece of deconstruction if it walked up and bit him.


Farah said...

As then editor of Foundation, I was not at liberty to refuse to publish a review because I disagree with it. (Although as it happens, I had not then read the book in question).

However, as a private individual, I am firmly in agreement with the assessment of the SFS reviewer.

One irony is that Ashley's own work is susceptible to similar criticism as it repeats, without much question, many of the myths of individual stories' initial popularity which have grown up, without much reference to the letters pages of the magazine.

Josh said...

Timmi, you don't name the book; but if it's what I assume it is, can't we at least hope that Harlan Ellison will sue over the title?