Literary Analysis Book Review

From Barsoom to Malacandra: Musings on Things Past and Things to Come

by John C. Wright
Reviewed date: 2023 Jan 8
180 pages
cover art

A collection of essays about science fiction. I particularly enjoyed Fooled by Heinlein for Forty Years. I wasn't fooled for forty years, or even at all, but Wright puts into words what I've felt is the problem with Heinlein's libertine love philosophy. Which is not to say I don't enjoy Heinlein's writing. He's talented and skilled and I do like his writing.

The essay about Earth being invaded by alien species is fun too, mostly for the bit about the Ferengi:

The super evil evilness of the Ferengi consists of the fact that they are (gasp of horror, please) Yankee traders. (This phrase is used twice by Lt. Data when they are first introduced.) Getting Ferengied by the Ferengi is about like being robbed by a Robber Baron: in other words, a guy comes up to you and sells you something you want, like oil, steel, or computer software. He does it again and again until your economy is humming, and you are rich. Then you complain about what a bum he is. It is true that they might try to sell you shabby goods. Caveat emptor.

Wright's musings on Lewis's Space Trilogy is also worth the price of the book. His essay laying out an alternate—and better—plotline for Star Wars sequels is also interesting, but I found the way he presented it to be smarmy and mean, which detracted from my enjoyment.

In Nightfall and the Night Lamp Wright compares Asimov unfavorably to Jack Vance. I see Wright's point—Vance's cultures are more realistic than anything Asimov has created. I can stipulate to that. But I disagree that this makes Vance better. (Perhaps that is not exactly what Wright was saying.) Asimov wrote a different kind of story than Vance did, and Asimov wrote very well and was, I dare say, as talented or more so than Vance. I'd put them both at the top of their field. If there was a nuclear holocaust and I could save only one author's books for future generations to read, it would be a hard choice but in the end I'd go with Asimov, so perhaps I'm a little peeved at this criticism. Just because Asimov wrote a different sort of science fiction than Jack Vance doesn't make his work less valuable. I'm tired of critics slagging on Asimov. (And again, to be fair to Wright, he is probably being a lot more fair to Asimov than I'm making out. I'm just grumpy whenever anybody says a bad word about Asimov.)

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