(can be found at http://efanzines.com/SFC/)
Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce
It is somewhat amusing to go back through old fanzines (especially to realise that this one is nine years old now!). The wonder is partly that the authors were concerned about that, back then, but also that we’re still concerned about that! And so this issue of SET opens with Paul Kincaid musing about the year 2002, and how it has no SF-related connotations (unlike 1999, 2000, and 2001) – which hadn’t occurred to me then and doesn’t concern me now – and then leaps into a debate between Gregory Benford and Russell Blackford about whether SF is waiting for its Shakespeare.
This debate, which I am sure is one we could still have, is nonetheless one I’ve never considered or been concerned by. Partly this may be because I am an iconoclast when it comes to Shakespeare, having some knowledge of how Shakespeare has been produced as a figure over the past two centuries. But even if I wasn’t, I don’t really see why it matters whether SF has one seminal figure to point at or not (and I’ll just mention briefly my scowl at Benford’s suggestion that our Shakespeare could be a “her?!”). Anyway, Benford goes picking through SF history, suggesting and then rejecting Verne, Wells, le Guin, Wolfe, Simmons, Clarke, Bradbury, and others, before eventually suggesting that SF is more like jazz anyway, and thus not in need of a Bard. For his part, Blackford (could they not have picked authors with more different names?) likes Benford’s jazz analogy, and makes some interesting suggestions about SF television and movies. However, his article for the most part reads like someone having a good old whinge about the state of the genre today. Although he names numerous people whose writing he respects, he still ends by suggesting that the genre has become popular by “giving up its heart”. This strikes me as ludicrous, and as falling into the trap of reading the genre solely through nostalgic eyes. Or perhaps not reading widely enough.
Perhaps starting a SET tradition (I admit I haven’t read issue 1, and issue 2 doesn’t have one), the third article is a reprint of Christopher Priest’s Guest of Honour speech at Novacon in 2000. I have not read anything by Priest, so I admit his speech was not immediately appealing to me. His discussion of the changes to the scene between then and his first GoH speech in 1979 was interesting as a reminder of how long people have been around, or not; in 1979 there was no Pratchett, no Iain M Banks, no Baxter. He discusses European SF and its not being translated into English – a situation which doesn’t seem to have changed – and then goes on to discuss his own career and why he writes SF. This was more interesting than I had expected, especially his discussion on the choosing of novel titles, and a fairly outrageous story about one of his editors.
In the middle of the ’zine is a piece called “Chrysalid: Growing up with John Wyndham”, by Kev McVeigh. This is said to be part of the Discoveries series, wherein people discuss their first encounters with SF, apparently begun in Acnestis in May 2001. It doesn’t seem to have continued in SET, which makes me very sad because this is one thing I’m fascinated by. And given that I too love The Chrysalids, it was a delight to read McVeigh’s discussion of how his young self viewed the book.
The last three articles in this issue are reviews, of a sort. Dave Langford reviews The Other Side, by Alfred Kubin and dating to 1908, apparently reprinted at the time he was writing. I have not read it, and the review didn’t really inspire me to seek it out. Paul Kincaid, in an essay adapted from a Novacon talk, discusses the work of Keith Roberts. And finally, Bruce Gillespie reassesses Arslan’s Hope (by MJ Engh) in light of September 11, suggesting that a novel written in 1976 can not lose but gain in importance over time.
This is a fairly concise issue of SET, and I only realised why at the end: there are no letters of comment, which in the later issues often take up half the pages. The reason for this is explained at the end of Kincaid’s editorial, where he muses that many subscribers will have received issues 2 and 3 at about the same time. As someone who doesn’t get a lot out of the letters, this is probably one of the issues I’ve enjoyed the most.