Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu May 31 18:22:06 EDT 1990

Raymond's Reviews #60

%T Full Spectrum 2
%E Lou Aronica
%E Shawna McCarthy
%E Amy Stout
%E Patrick LoBrutto
%I Bantam
%D June 1990
%O pb
%P 548
%G 0-553-28530-0

The world has too many SF writers in it who want to be "serious authors", respected for all the most tiresome reasons by the pompous nits who dominate "serious literature". It also has too many editors who believe that SF could be improved by substituting oodles of characterological nuance, symbolism, and "style" for its traditional strengths of engaging storytelling, sense-of-wonder and intellectual stimulation. Put enough people with these delusions together and you get an anthology like Full Spectrum 2.

Its first story, a pointless bit of atmospherics about a derelict who builds a dinosaur out of chicken-wire and compost, announces loud and clear that we are going for Significance here, and that anyone expecting entertainment or idea content had best prepare to be disappointed. And, indeed, most of the rest of the stories bear a strong family resemblance to it -- short, lushly written, and themed on loss, futility, enigma, failure and (often) a pervasive anti-rationalism.

Do I sound hostile to these goings-on? You bet I am. I've already lived through one episode of galloping literatus plague in SF, back when the "New Wave" was big. Those people devalued what made SF special and wonderful and enduring and wanted to make it over into a tired copy of academic and "avant-garde" literature. Most of the collaborators on Full Spectrum 2 seem to have been at least temporarily possessed by a similar wretched messianism.

It's significant to me although this anthology bills itself as a report from the frontiers of "speculative" fiction, innovations in content are damn thin on the ground here; stylistic experiment and ornamentation is king. And that (judging by the lack of any publishing history, and the contributors' notes) all these stories are original for the anthology -- none of them have stood a market test in the magazines. These are not stories written for fans, they're written for other writers and editors.

And yes, the micro-level writing is general excellent. But anthologies like this one promote the misconception that fine prose and conventional 20th-century litcrit virtue is enough to make good SF/fantasy, when in fact it's not and can even be antagonistic to SF's better qualities. Style is a good thing, but not when it drives out content -- and in this anthology it often does. That's not what I call a good model for SF.

A few good SF/fantasy stories escape from this ruck; Elizabeth Hand's The Boy In The Tree, David Ira McCleary's All My Sins Forgotten, David Brin's The Giving Plague, Stephen Spruill's Silver, Steven Popkes's Rain, Steam and Speed, James Kilius's Shiva, Alan Rodgers's Frankenstein Goes Home, Michael Swanwick's The Edge of The World; most of the rest of the 27 are failures, or merely good writing with little or no SF or fantasy content, or (and this is subtler) minimal content that merely limns a story any mainstreamer could have framed equally vividly (perhaps better) without the genre props. I think SF ought to hew to higher (and, yes, more exclusive) standards.

I'll leave this anthology with the second Too-Precious-To-Live Award for Higher Literary Persiflage by People Smart Enough To Know Better. And now, if you'll excuse me, I think I feel a sudden craving for a hit of "Doc" Smith's Old Original Space Opera Trash coming on -- just what I need to sear the cloying perfume of Full Spectrum 2 out of my nostrils.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu May 31 18:22:06 EDT 1990

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>