When I was young, with two large and rather obvious exceptions—Lewis and Tolkien—I read contemporary stuff, what I could find in the little mall Waldenbooks where I did most of my book buying. In early adulthood, my speculative fiction reading mostly fell away anyhow. When I seriously got back into reading speculative fiction, I started writing Amazon reviews and later started this blog, which naturally led me to read a lot of brand new speculative fiction.
It has not escaped my knowledge, however, that there is a whole wide world of speculative fiction out there beyond my ken. I slowly started to read a bit of it. I slowly became more aware of just what was out there, in particular from reading Jeffro Johnson’s wonderful Appendix N posts at Castalia House and more recently from reading Alan Brown’s wonderful Front Lines and Frontiers series at Tor.com. And I more quickly began to amass a nice little collection of the old stuff from con vendors and trips to the used bookstore (see book haul posts here and here, and my LibertyCon report).
At the same time, and despite protestations to the contrary, what was old school remains alive and well. A new Conan movie was released in 2011, Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter got the big screen treatment in 2012, and a new Tarzan movie just came out. On the small screen, Amazon adapted Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. But creators aren’t just adapting the old stuff; they’re writing new works that are self-consciously (and unabashedly) retro. Magazine editors ran successful Kickstarters for Cirsova, focusing on sword & planet and heroic fantasy, and Skelos, focusing on weird fiction and dark fantasy.
I had better start reading.
I’m going to make a concerted effort to read and review much more of the old stuff and my thoughts will be featured here on Thursdays. And by old, I’m talking roughly anything pre-1980s. One, because it predates me, and me reading. Two, and more importantly, it’s a decent demarcation of a massive shift that took place in speculative fiction, as fantasy and science fiction drifted further apart, fantasy came to be dominated by Tolkien-imitators, science continued to leave large chunks of fiction behind, and the number of titles published each month exploded while changes in distribution limited the books showing up on shelves in the store.
I will wind up reading and talking about all sorts of books, but I expect to focus in a few ways. I’m more interested in the stuff written by Edgar Rice Burroughs or from roughly 1930-1970 than the really old stuff or the newer stuff. I’m more interested in adventure fiction, planetary romance, and sword & sorcery than Lovecraftian horror or space opera. I want to highlight the great female pulp writers like C.L. Moore, Andre Norton, and Leigh Brackett whose contributions are too often erased because they don’t fit a narrative. I will be approaching the stories as a reader, and as a new reader coming from a later literary tradition. Rather than tackle works in any sort of systematic way, I’m probably going to continue to rely more on browsing the shelves of used bookstores.
I won’t limit myself to vintage SF. I will read (and watch) retro SF as well, whether it be modern day adaptations of the old stuff like John Carter (a movie that grows on me a little more every time I watch it) or new stuff with an eye on the past. Which could be everything from China Miéville’s New Weird to new magazines Cirsova and Skelos. There will be a bias toward works trying to take what was great about the old stuff and build on it rather than to deconstruct it, palely imitate it, or be too playful and self-aware of its tropes. There is of course going to be a big question of just what is retro.
I will be posting reviews and essays and everything in between and having a whole hell of a lot of fun and I hope you will join me.