Thursday, February 12, 2015

two memoirs

Jack Vance and Daniel Keyes both entered the SF field professionally in the decade after WW2. Both had served in the merchant marine, for what significance that's worth. Their memoirs - small-press books, which is why I didn't find them earlier - are, however, very different.

Algernon, Charlie and I: A Writer's Journey by Keyes (Challcrest Press, 1999) conveys by its title that Keyes is going to tell you all about his most famous story, and he does: where he got the idea for Algernon, the idea for Charlie, the idea for the experiment, how he put them together, how he convinced himself to drop a frame narrative and just present Charlie's diary, how he expanded it into a novel. He's a very psychologically self-analyzing author. And most of all, how he stoutly defended his story's integrity: against Horace Gold who wanted to give it a happy ending (which is why it was published by F&SF instead) and against various drama adapters who wanted to do the same thing. Keyes doesn't mind sensible changes that enhance the story, but he is the opposite of the author who doesn't care what's done in an adaptation. It was his story to begin with and, if possible, he'll keep the adaptation true to his story.

This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is "I") (Subterranean Press, 2009) is the exact opposite. Vance does not believe in shop talk, and apart from a brief discussion of how he came to read SF in the '20s, and a grudging couple pages at the end on technique and naming authors who inspired him, there's virtually nothing about his fiction. Once he gets out of his childhood - spent mostly in the Sacramento Delta, amidst little towns I've also been to, so I appreciated the local history aspect - the book is mostly a travelogue of exotic trips he's taken, interspersed with accounts of his attempts to vacation on a houseboat in the Delta. There's lots of anecdotes, but they're mostly about how he was taken advantage of by people of staggering greed or selfishness, and none is funny enough to quote.

The SF community impinges lightly on these books. Keyes got his first editorial job through Scott Meredith and Lester del Rey, took "Flowers" to Milford (of which he says nothing except that they liked it), and mentions his Hugo and Nebula. Vance says he mostly eschews SF cons, without saying why he dislikes them, and that, when there, he prefers answering questions to making a speech. He does describe Frank Herbert and Poul Anderson as his bosom buddies, without saying much about what made them so.

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