From the Annals of Analog

I was sorting through some old issues of Analog magazine that had been collecting dust in my apartment, and in looking through the book reviews, came across a few passages that amused me, as much for where and when they appeared, and who wrote them, as for what they say.

September 1966 issue, from a review by P. Schuyler Miller of Judith Merril's 10th Annual Edition: The Year's Best S-F:
How to characterize all this? Judith Merril does it herself, of course, in her summation: this is the book that shows how "the distinction between the specialty writer and the writer-in-general has almost vanished." SF (science fiction plus fantasy plus all the borderlines, in the Merril application) may at last be approaching the point which mystery fiction reached long ago, when any good writer may try his hand at it without condescension, when many do, and when the protectiveness of cult-membership is no longer needed. Even non-initiates can enjoy; even the nonordained can preach.
July 1971 issue, the opening paragraph of P. Schuyler Miller's review column:
Increasingly, as you may have discovered if you read book ads or other reviews than these, "mainstream" writers are discovering science-fiction themes and using them in "respectable" books. In most cases, the internal evidence suggests that they know nothing about science fiction, see no reason to separate it from fantasy, and consider themselves tremendously original to have hatched such ideas. So do the critics and reviewers who read them.
August 1976 issue, the opening paragraphs of Lester del Rey's review column:
There seem to be a lot of science fiction writers who are obsessed by a peculiar neurosis -- they desperately want to be accepted into the mainstream, and yet they never sit down and write a mainstream novel. Apparently, they're secretly afraid to try. A number of them recently have been clamoring to "get out of the ghetto" by the simple expedient of having the science fiction label left off their book. They hope thereby, I assume, to have the booksellers place their books on the main racks where general fiction is sold.

Publishers stubbornly refuse to give in to their desires, because any publisher worth his salary knows a few things about the market. In the first place, the average science fiction novel sells more copies and makes more money than the average novel. That really happens to be true: a few general fiction books make a great deal of money, but many more are failures in the market. In the second place, any honest cover blurb would automatically turn off the general reader, the one who will read science fiction has bypassed the general section and gone to the science fiction shelves. And finally, it's a foolish publisher or author who tries to deceive a bookseller!

Still, there's nothing wrong with writing general fiction. In fact, one of the novels of mine which I consider my best had no hint of science fiction or fantasy in it. Maybe a writer should get away from science fiction once in a while. And writing general fiction isn't all that difficult. All it requires is a good idea, a set of interesting characters, and the basic ability to write decently; but just as in trying to write science fiction, the writer should familiarize himself with what he wants to do by reading a lot of the material in the field and seeing how it is done. (That is the step which most category writers neglect when they try to write mainstream fiction.)

Also, of course, there's nothing wrong with a mainstream writer trying to write science fiction, provided he takes the trouble to know what he is doing and is willing to write honestly. Too many in the past have tried condescending to a lucrative science fiction market for which they felt contempt, and the results have been pretty sad.

Today, there are a few signs that some very successful authors are thinking seriously about introducing at least some elements of science fiction into their work. And when they succeed, it might be well worthwhile for writers -- and perhaps readers -- to take a good look at what they do and compare it with what the regular science fiction writers do. Maybe they know something about the mainstream -- and story-telling in general -- that we don't.