In his incarnation as "William Atheling, Jr." the late James Blish wrote more than his share of the most incisive criticism of contemporary science fiction. Continuing in the vein of The Issue at Hand, this volume concentrates on science-fiction books of 1957 to 1970. Atheling's skillful rapier skewers literary malefactors of many kinds, including some well-known authors whose great popularity is all the more puzzling because there seems to be so little reason for it. He concludes with a long look at the "New Wave" that arose in the Sixties.
To be sure, Atheling does not stint praise where it is duesee especially the chapters on Budrys and Sturgeonbut it is in the nature of criticism that the sins and errors be dealt with in greatest detail. As Atheling puts it: "There is no such thing as destructive criticism. That is just a cliché people use to signal that their toes have been stepped on. After all, the whole point of telling a man he is doing something the wrong way is the hope that next time he will do it right. Simply saying that a given book is bad may serve the secondary function of warning the public away from it, if the public trusts the critic. But if you do not go on to say in what way it is bad, your verdict is not destructive criticism, or any other kind of criticism; it is just abuse. A good critic is positively obliged to be harsh toward bad work. . . . . [and] should be able to say with some precision not only that something went wrongif it didbut just how it went wrong."
Table of Contents
- Introduction: Criticism Who Needs it?
- Science Fiction as a Movement: A Tattoo for Needles
- New Maps and Old Saws: The Critical Literature
- Things Still to Come: Gadgetry and Prediction
- First Person Singular: Heinlein, Son of Heinlein
- Death and the Beloved: Algis Budrys and the Great Theme
- Caviar and Kisses: The Many Loves of Theodore Sturgeon
- Exit Euphues: The Monstrosities of Merritt
- Scattershot: Practice Makes perfect But It Can Also Cut Your Throat
- Science-Fantasy and Translations: Two More Cans of Worms
- Making Waves: The Good, the Bad and the Indifferent