Science-Fiction and Literary Criticism

Of This and Other Worlds - C.S. Lewis, Walter Hooper


While this book was eventually published in 1983 the essays that the book contains date back to the fifties and the sixties and tend to focus on both the emerging science-fiction and fantasy genre, as well as some essays looking at literary criticism in general. The thing with science-fiction and fantasy at this time was that it was still very much a fringe genre, generally looked down upon by the critics of Lewis' day, and these essays were designed to attempt to change the perception of this new form of literature, especially since it has existed in some form or another since people first started telling stories.


What we seem to have with regards to this genre are the generally recognised classics of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, however they weren't the only people who were experimenting with this new genre – Mary Shelly had published Frankenstein, which is basically about a robot that hunts down its master, and The Last Man, which is a post-apocalyptic story of the last man left alive on Earth. However, even around Wells' time we have writers such as Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the creator of Conan the Barbarian Robert E Howard. The thing is that in the case of Haggard, his stories about the adventures of Alan Quartermain, have found themselves moved out of the category of fantasy and into the category of adventure.


The reason for this is that when the world was smaller, and a lot less known, authors would imagine what the world was like in these mysterious places – Swift set is adventures out in the middle of the oceans, while Haggard set his adventures deep in the darkest parts of Africa. Even writers like Howard created a time that existed before recorded history, and created a civilisation that existed there but has since been all but destroyed. The problem is that as we explore and map the globe, and as we make educated guesses about the pre-historic times, setting stories in these places becomes less and less believable, so authors need to look for other worlds in which to set their stories – and the main reason for setting the stories in other, imaginary, worlds, is that there is a lot less demand for realism, while setting a story in, say, Hong Kong, probably requires a lot more research (not that writers actually do that). Mind you, when they made the film version of John Carter, one of the complaints was that now we know that Mars is little more than a barren rock so creating a movie where a civil war soldier lands up in a world full of Martians isn't going to sit all that well these days.



One interesting thing that Lewis comments on was how he was disappointed with a film version of King Solomon's Mines, and how the final cliff hanger was changed to make it somewhat more exciting. I can sort of see where Lewis is coming from here, because I'm sure many of us have been seriously disappointed when one of our favourite books has been put onto the big screen. However cinema is a completely different medium to a book, in the same way that a play isn't necessarily the same as a poem – reading a play and watching a play be performed are two completely different experiences, and as I have discovered watching the play performed means that you are able to understand it a lot better. However, noting Lewis' criticism of the cinema adaptation of Rider's classic adventure tail, we begin to see cinema take on a life of its own – Indiana Jones comes to mind. In fact Lewis even suggests that when he was writing we had only seen the beginnings of this genre and the best were yet to come – well, when I think about it after Lewis' death we did see the rise of cult sci-fi classics such as Star Wars, Star Trek, and of course Doctor Who.


Lewis also writes a couple of comments on literary criticism, which I'm sure should apply to us since many of us do write reviews on books on Booklikes. Lewis suggests that one of the worse jobs to have is to be a paid book reviewer. I sort of can appreciate that. I write reviews because I enjoy writing reviews – as soon as you start getting paid to do it the pleasure somehow disappears. Mind you, I suspect that you would be lucky these days to get a paid reviewing job, particularly since many of the websites that post reviews of, well, whatever, tend to rely upon the unpaid work of schmucks like us (yet will pocket the profits gained through click-bait advertising).


I can also appreciate how he mentions that as a paid reviewer your TBR list literally explodes, and you have a dead-line to read all of these books. Personally, I don't like being rushed when it comes to reading a book, which is basically why I ignore review requests (and I suspect that I am not the only one). Mind you, all you need is for one bad apple and even the most interesting book will be ignored (I had some guy request I review a book, and I agreed, only to have him hound me for a couple of weeks to write the review, and didn't even get a thankyou, or a like, when I did so – I also suspect that I am not the only person who had this problem). Mind you, since my tastes generally involve authors that are, well, dead, then it is going to be difficult for a Booklikes author to fall into that category.


What caught my attention though were the reviewers that would review a book that they had never even read, or review a book in an attempt to cover up some flaws in the story (though I'm sure it isn't possible to cover up bad grammar, or spelling, unless of course you are writing poetry then theoretically anything goes, but once again, as Lewis suggested, in former times a poet was simply another name for a writer of fiction and fantasy). Mind you, I do spend an inordinate amount of time trying to patch up the apparent contradictions in the X-men films, namely because they are supposed to be all in the same universe, but the more you think about it the more it makes your head hurt. As for reviewing books that one hasn't read – I'm sure nobody actually does that on Booklikes.

9 September 2016 - Singapore (or at least the Airport)