Forewordby Shariann Lewitt (Fall 2016)
There have always been stories. As far back as we can trace in this history of our species, in every culture on our planet, people have told, written, recited, and acted them out. Our stories teach us who we are, who we want to be, and who we can become.
You hold in your hands a collection of fine stories, stories that stand at the crossroad of the best in genre and literary storytelling.
You are also looking at a historic crossroad of two converging sensibilities in our perceptions of literature as well. Once upon a time there were two kinds of stories, the kind people liked and the kind they did't. The kind they liked got told over and over again. The kind they didn't die or got relegated to the heap of minutia that in the best case become dissertations for desperate doctoral candidates. But then the binary changed. Somehow we ended up with Literature and, well, commercial writing (i.e., genre.)
That progression has some clear markers along the way. In the 1920s, important literary writer of the day Sherwood Anderson railed against the tyranny of plot and argued for deeper, more meaningful presentation of character in the short stories of the day. Today the modern literary story focuses on character and minute observation of emotional nuance told in beautiful language. One acquaintance said that, in her MFA Fiction program, a professor started out by saying something to the effect that everyone agreed that the short story illustrated a slice of life and there was no longer any need for discussion on this point.
Meanwhile, all that plot stuff went into genre. At the same time that Sherwood Anderson excoriated the tyranny of plot, legendary science fiction editor Hugo Gernsback started Amazing Stories, the first science fiction genre magazine. His stated purpose was to attract boys to careers in engineering. A running joke in the genre is that the Golden Age of SF is thirteen. Many of the early stories in Amazing and the many other magazines that followed were, indeed, dreadful. Wooden characters, grade school grammar and long explanations of science and engineering all in service to almighty plot--no wonder the literati at the New Yorker looked down on genre and genre writers from the heights of the Algonquin Room.
But Hugo Gernsback was not the only editor, science fiction was not the only genre, and the 1920s and 30s were not the only decades. While no one in the literary world watched, genre grew up. Science fiction and fantasy, noir and mystery (which always did have somewhat more cachet), even westerns started to dig deeper into nuances of character and emotion while the writers in these genres started to gain more mastery of language.
In the sixties the tide began to turn. In Science Fiction, the New Wave brought strong literary values to the forefront of the genre. While there had always been a few writers of high caliber, the nineteen sixties saw a shift in vision of what this genre could and should be. Writers married the longtime concern with plot and storytelling (and science and engineering) with character and worldbuilding and attention to language. More writers came from literary backgrounds, and those who didn't read serious fiction and mastered finer style.
And then came Dhalgren. Yes, there were other books and other authors, but Samuel R. Delaney's work put character front and center. And his prose often bordered on poetry. Sometimes you just had to read his sentences aloud for the pleasure of the language. No one could argue but that Delaney was and is a literary writer, an iconoclast, and a visionary. He was by no means the only truly literary writer to shake up the literary world's perception of genre, and the genre's perception of itself, but he was and remains among the most vital, the most outspoken, the most long lasting.
You hold in your hands his great-grandchild, mixed with DNA stolen from the New Yorker and from Ellery Queen too. Because the editors of Aliterate have created a magazine where they have gone back to the first binary. They have chosen tales with nuanced characters and beautiful language. And rip-roaring good stories, too, because they like stories.
Once upon a time there were stories that people liked and those that people didn't like. I think you will like these stories. Very much.
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