Prometheus

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Volume 24, Number 2, Winter, 2006

Letters

Dear Anders:

It was a pleasure to read Eric S. Raymond’s history of science fiction, not least for its interesting reexamination of the concept of genre. However, I must question one of Raymond’s historical statements: his comment that “It was Heinlein who invented the technique of description by indirection—the art of describing his future worlds not through lumps of indirection but by presenting it [sic] through the eyes of his characters. . . .”

In fact, that technique had already been used, several decades before, in Rudyard Kipling’s two science fiction stories, With the Night Mail and As Easy as A.B.C. Set several decades apart in the same future (another anticipation of Heinlein!), they portray a quite strange future world, the first in the form of a popular magazine article, the second in the personal narrative of a recordkeeping officer of the Aerial Board of Control, on which most governmental functions have devolved as national governments cease operating, who accompanies four Board members on an investigative mission to a future Chicago troubled by memories of the past. Kipling used the technique of description by indirection with impressive skill, especially considering that he may well have invented it. The stories are also worth reading for their explicit avowal of libertarian values, notably in the poem MacDonough’s Song, which accompanies As Easy as A.B.C.

I have no explicit evidence that either Heinlein or Campbell had read these particular stories. But Heinlein, at least, was a Kipling fan, as evidenced both by references in his writing (for example, Kipling and Rhysling are the favorite poets of Joe and Jim Gregory, the conjoined twins in his early story Universe) and by borrowings such as Thorby Baslim’s mnemonic training in Citizen of the Galaxy, closely modeled on scenes in Kipling’s novel Kim. It’s hard to imagine that he would have passed by any Kipling story, especially a first-rate science fiction story, if he encountered it at all, or that, if he read it, he would have failed to learn from its literary methods. And even if he invented the same devices independently, without taking Kipling as a guide, Kipling went before him to this particularly literary frontier.

In any case, I urge Mr. Raymond, and all readers of Prometheus, to track down these stories and read them, not simply for their historical interest, but because they are still powerful visions of the future, which libertarians in particular will find sympathetic.

Very truly yours, William H. Stoddard

 

Eric S. Raymond responds:

I am very familiar with the Kipling stories you mention; I’ve been arguing for years that With the Night Mail anticipated the style and preoccupations of Campbellian hard SF. Kipling undeniably does anticipate Heinlein’s technique.

And you raise an interesting point—it should have occurrred to me that Heinlein might actually have learned exposition-by-indirection from Kipling. In fact, the more I think about this, the more likely it seems.

[Editor: a longer note from Raymond detailing how Bill Stoddard influenced his thinking on Heinlein and Kipling can be found online at:

http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=234, And reprinted on page 9 of this issue of Prometheus.]

 

Hi,

Just got my first Prometheus and it lists the 2006 nominees as of August 25th. I went to the site to see if I could buy via links to Amazon so LFS would get some credit. Discovered that we recommend LFB, but they have only one of the nominees on their online site (and it’s not listed in the fiction category, I found it via search).

Further, I can’t find the list of nominees on the LFS site, either. This seems strange. Are they confidential?

I’ve also sent a note to the LFB site. If they ask for a list of the nominees in order to stock them, is there any problem with giving it to them?

If LFB isn’t going to carry these nominated books, you should consider becoming an Amazon affiliate as well.

Thanks, Tim Kompara

 

A quick suggestion--- there are references to the LFS website, such as on page two box, but no actual listing of what it is. I think it should automatically be listed in the page 2 info/staff box. www.lfs.org

Michael Grossberg

 

Anders Monsen responds:

Tim and Michael make excellent points. In response to Michael’s comments, I have added the url for the LFS web page to the banner on page 2. I hope readers will use this resource, since a list of all previous winners of the Prometheus Award and Hall of Fame appears on the web page, as well as a complete index of Prometheus articles and reviews dating back to the first issue in 1982.

In response to Tim’s comments, I’m currently working with Tod Casasent to redesign the LFS web pages, overhauling how the pages look, as well as adding Amazon links to nominated books and previous winners.

Laissez Faire Books does include a fair amount of fiction, and is a great place to shop, but not always as current as Amazon. The nomination list was preliminary, and I am sure the web page soon will contain an official press release.

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