It may surprise Carol McGuirk that her mind reminds me of my father’s. When I read this insightful article, nearly 40 pages long, which appeared in SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES in the summer of 2001, it seemed to me that I was watching two hawks flying — sometimes together, sometimes making huge loops alone and then reconnecting. Time and again, she puts out provocative, intriguing ideas. For example, “In my reading, Alpha Ralpha Boulevard is his most memorable symbolic representation of science fiction itself.” [p. 172] That never would have occurred to me, but she goes on to flesh out the idea in a paragraph or two. Like my father’s stories, if you work harder to see what’s going on, you are rewarded.
One sentence struck home poignantly. “Like Scheherazade in the tales of the Arabian nights, Smith plays a teasing game with death.” I was in college and just out of school during the years that my father was literally playing a teasing game with death, and I didn’t really understand how close to the edge he was coming until he was over the edge permanently. She is talking about the stories here, and continues the sentence: “deferring his ending, intertwining his stories, and opening the door to future installments even as he spins his present tale. His refusal to wrap up extrapolation in a tidy cognitive package is no doubt an idiosyncrasy. But I see it also as a strength. At a time when the best sf (including his own) was written at short lengths, he was able by this means to evoke a deep ambiguity.” [p. 164]
McGuirk’s abstract of the article appears at http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/abstracts/a84.htm#mcguirk
and it reads:
Abstract. — Defining historical, biographical, and literary contexts for Smith’s writings, I analyze his oblique, elliptical style and discuss his approach to the portrayal of heroes. Smith’s consistent focus, even in such non-sf as Ria (1947), Carola (1948), and Atomsk (1949), is on isolated protagonists caught in a maelstrom of contrary impulses; Martel in “Scanners Live in Vain” is torn between body and spirit, domesticity and duty, indoctrination and independent thought. Smith’s sf also assesses the “human” cost of shifting paradigms—sudden social and scientific change—and provides a haunting critique of social control, a matter addressed covertly in his fiction and quite openly in his military intelligence textbook, Psychological Warfare (1948). Inherently speculative, science fictional, in his bold extrapolation (into a very far future) of postwar social and epistemological issues, Smith is unique among postwar writers in rejecting the violence and xenophobia of the popular tradition and also the tidy closure of Campbellian hard sf. During the 1950s and 1960s, his enigmatic stories redrew the boundaries (and re-stocked the visionary imagery) of science fiction.
and ordering information is at
http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/masthead.htm#SUBS (Back issues are $10 postpaid in the U.S. and Canada.)