I was kindly asked by Andrea over at The Little Red Reviewer to submit an article for SF Signal’s Mind Meld feature (she is also one of their editors). Along with a cross section of other bloggers/authors and the like, I discussed the range and variety an author’s less famous backlist might have and how it can be a minefield of unrealized potential and financial obligations (think of what John Brunner was writing in the same year as Stand on Zanzibar!). I wrote about Barry N. Malzberg [original link here]—I am the last contributor.
For those who do not visit SF Signal I have decided to put it on my site as well.
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Backlists can be unnerving places. Like the vibrations of residual sounds that gather across the urban landscape in Ballard’s “The Sound-Sweep” (1960), the lists themselves resonate both discordant and dulcet—a deluge of aborted passions, financial desires, experimental tendencies not yet crystalline. Although Clifford D. Simak might produce a Cosmic Engineers (1950), he also invoked a most extraordinary allegorical worldscape in Why Call Them Back from Heaven? (1967) where the promise of immortality (undelivered) causes irrevocable transformations—the living live through life without living waiting for a resurrection where they can finally live. Robert Silverberg might shift entirely, as if on whim, from old-fashioned SF adventure where young Heinlein-esque space boys look for those “cool artifacts that do great things” in Across a Billion Years (1969) to The Man in the Maze (1969), a restless and uneasy rumination on pariahism and filled with delusions of self-martyrdom and all those other uncomfortable emotions we try so desperately to hide. Backlists are contradictory places.
In the last two years there is not an author I have read and enjoyed more than Barry N. Malzberg. He fears the encroaching mechanical age. It is a future where the newly insane will stumble into a priapic wilderness where meaningful connections are dulled, where our passions are now perfunctory monstrosities. His work plays with us, with storytelling. Each novel, each short story is a carefully wrought existential trap. There is something profoundly daunting about opening a book, Guernica Night (1974), where the spectacle begins with JFK, now a plastic manikin in Disney Land/Disney World, stumbling across a stage delivering fragments of his famous addresses. The same thing goes with confronting the metafictional labyrinth of his most widely read novel Beyond Apollo (1972) whose 67 chapters could be the ramblings of an insane astronaut, or a deliberate novelistic construct of said astronaut, or… There is humor here among the implanted memories, deconstructions, and proclamations of artifice, I promise. But where to begin?
At first Barry N. Malzberg had other pretensions of course, under his own name. K. M. O’Donnell was the name under which his first SF experiments took form. From his backlist I present Universe Day (1971). As with many of his novels, it was cobbled together from both previously published and new material. It begins, quite adeptly, with “Apocrypha as Prologue or: The Way We Wish It Happened.” The delusion is laid bare for all to see. Universe Day is future history Malzberg-style where the entire range of nightmares are experienced: the scatological realities of space life, the moment after a totem proclaiming humankind’s achievement sinks into the Venusian mud, and the sadness that sets in—as all the parades and parties wind to a close—when broken heroes are interviewed not by the adoring public but the welfare office… Backlists are remarkable places.