This is our truth, tell us yours
Some of my contributions to this series of books I wish I had written may seem a little snarky. It may seem as if I’m asserting that always, I could have done better.
That’s not the intention, even if it’s how it sounds, and to emphasize the point, here’s a book that I defy anyone to have done any better.
First though, a digression into why it matters to me. Genre fiction has been a little bit ofa theme running through these selections. The first genre I was exposed to, and immersed myself in, was science fiction. It was a classic lesson in how genres could be good, or bad, or even so varied as to defy categorization. I read Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov. The first piece of fan fic I ever wrote, even though I didn’t know the term, was a piece of school writing about cheating in a space yacht race that borrowed the concept of space yachting from a Clarke short story. I read John Wyndham and Ray Bradbury, Verne and Wells. But also, I read E E Doc Smith, the arch deacon of space opera, the deservedly derided and yet astonishingly widely read author of whole series of books about white men saving space aliens from their ignorance and their lack of civilized values.
Harry Harrison could only write Starsmashers as a brilliant parody of pulp science fiction because he loved it, and was immersed in it himself. He recognized,brilliantly, the dependence on magic in much early scifi, and parodied it with painful but forensic accuracy. He spotted, too, the way in which pulp scifi authors could all too easily assume values were permanent and moral codes universal; he made me think about scifi as an ideological vehicle as well as a set of intergalactic jolly japes.For a youth still in school that was an education.
Harrison demonstrated what could be done with scifi, even within the genre. Novels like Rebel In Time and A Transatlantic Tunnel Hurrah were excellent. Nothing, though, will top my joy at reading Starsmashers,and giggling helplessly as Harrison sent up books I had devoured as the best thing ever just eighteen months before. That humour, the sense of aman sending upsoemthing he loved, enabled me to absorb the critical pointshe was making about the limitations of some of the genre, and for that, I can only thank him.