Slaves of the Death Spiders and Other Essays on Fantastic Fiction

This one gets a low-res scan designation because it seems rather pointless to spend a lot of time on some of the pieces in this reprint collection.

Low Res Scan: Slaves of the Death Spiders and Other Essays on Fantastic Fiction, Brian Stableford, 2007.

In “Slaves of the Death Spider: Colin Wilson and Existentialist Science Fiction”, Stableford talks about Wilson’s Spider World series in a way that convinces me there’s probably not much of merit in them. He finds them not that original – specifically derivative of Star Wars and Murray Leinster’s “Mad Planet”. He finds it ironic that Wilson, who once accused science fiction of being fairy tales for adults who have not outgrown fairy tales, has written, inspired by his occult interests, a story that seems to suggest, a la L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics, that mankind’s salvation will come. In short, Stableford says Wilson neither delivers a new plot or anything conceptually satisfying

H. G. Wells and the Discovery of the Future” is a very informative essay on Wells. Stableford points to Wells’ 1901 futurological work Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Human Progress upon Human Life and Thought as marking a change in his career and approach to speculative fiction. From that point on, Wells’ would attempt to forecast the future rather than just deal with possibilities. His classic works – The First Men in the Moon, The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, When the Sleeper Wakes – predate this turn. These, and three short story collections between 1895 and 1901, are realistically, what Wells’ reputation as a vital sf writer rests on – not the turgid utopias he wrote later on. Interestingly, Wells’ The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth (1904) is seen as an example of Wells’ new direction. Begun as a scientific romance, it diverted to a new direction with the giants becoming an example of  what Wells’ thought humanity should be concerned with in the future. The giants are an example of a “new wisdom and new spiritual strength”. Stableford sees Wells’ participating in a general turn, around 1902, by British sf writers to pessimism, most specifically seen in the natural catastrophe and future war story. As the world became more secular, the belief that salvation and ultimate survival was not guaranteed begun to have effects. After World War I, the British scientific romance became fatalistic to the point of nihilism. Hope for civilization was in short supply. Optimism took a peculiar turn in Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men where man goes through various cyclic rises and falls in his civilization. But, says Stableford, Wells’ earlier approach did not go to waste. It was taken up by American sf. Ultimately, Stableford is fairly critical of the later Wells saying his work had a large element of folly. He says that the best of modern sf tries to strike a balance between the two Wells: an energetic, fun, romantic exploration of possibilities tempered with a desire to see and shape the future.

The Adventures of Lord Horror Across the Media Landscape” is a history of a notorious British novel and accompanying multimedia adaptations of it.

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Walking the Night Land: A Detour (The Wind From a Burning Woman)

No, I haven’t abandoned The Night Land series yet.

The subtitle of this blog is “Literary Reconnaissance into the World of Books”. Think of this as following the Greg Bear river downstream to see deposits of Hodgson. I’m told that, at the end of the Thistledown aka the Way series, Hodgson’s influence shows up. That series begins with the title story of this collection.

Essay: The Wind from a Burning Woman, Greg Bear, 1983.

Wind From a Burning Woman
Cover by Jim Burns

The very memorable title of Bear’s eponymous story comes not from him but a Michael Bishop poem.

Bear’s “Introduction” to this, his first collection, talks about how science fiction served as a gateway for much later reading in philosophy, history, and literature. It also talks some about how each story came to be. Bear, at this point in his career, doesn’t seem to plot his stories out much in advance.

The Wind from a Burning Woman” comes from an intellectual exercise. Bear, appalled by the idea of terrorism, decided to confront its morality by giving his terrorist a motive dear to his heart, space exploration.

Even if I hadn’t looked at the copyright page, I would have guessed this is an Analog story from the 1970s or 1980s. Its villains are Naderites, followers of the “good man” Ralph Nader. He along with, as I recall, Senator William Proxmire and Jeremy Rivkin were occasional real-life villains in the technophilic pages of Analog.

In the wake of a nuclear war, Earth and the Moon are under the rule of the Hexamon, a government dominated by Naderites. The minority party in this state are the Geshels (a name Bear says has no great significance). It’s the party of engineers and scientists.

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