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I HAD A VERY HARD TIME comprehending Etelka Lehoczky’s meandering column about Samuel R. Delany’s new book, Atlantis: three tales (Books, 4/21). I am bewildered by Lehoczky’s claim that what Delany writes “is fiction, not fantasy,” since I understand fiction to be a general term that would incorporate fantasy. This odd statement was preceded by the claim that Delany, along with Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ursula K. LeGuin “laid the work for the foundation of the form” of science fiction “in the ’60s,” and that these writers “generally remain in specialized obscurity.” These inaccurate remarks force me to wonder if Lehoczky has any idea of what she is talking about.
Isaac Asimov published his first work in 1938, and his major science-fiction writing was mostly over by the ’60s. Much of Clarke’s work was also published before that decade, and all four writers would be astonished to hear that their work “laid the foundation of the form,” since although Asimov is considered a writer of the “Golden Age,” he would have been the first to say that the foundation of the field had been laid by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and other writers of the 19th century. And this not from modesty, which was never one of the Good Doctor’s many virtues, but from a scientific passion for accuracy, which was. All the other writers Lehoczky named I am sure would agree. Of the four, only Delany can by any means be considered to have remained in “specialized obscurity.” Asimov was a well-known public presence, and could have been even more so had he not had a fearsome acrophobia. Clarke could not possibly have been considered obscure after 2001, and LeGuin has written well-received poetry, criticism, and mainstream fiction as well as science fiction.
I sympathize with Lehoczky’s enthusiasm for Delany and his work. “Chip” is one of the most sensitive and intelligent writers the science-fiction/fantasy field can claim, with a broad general knowledge beyond its confines, and a knowledgeable passion for modern poetry. He is also a hell of a nice guy. But to write a confusing review of his work does Delany little good, and leads me to wonder if Washington City Paper could not find a reviewer with better qualifications.