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John Brunner Question?

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  • John Brunner Question?

    Hi Mike,

    We were recently at Worldcon in Glasgow, and attended the John Brunner Retrospective Panel (with Bob Silverberg, Joe Haldeman, Christopher Priest, and Brian Aldiss)

    This ended up as a largely negative affair about John (in fact he was there Brian Aldiss had his ashes enshrined in the base of a Hugo award)

    Your name was mentioned during the panel, as having some fairly strong views on Brunner.

    I'd be interested to hear what you thought of him, and his output.

    I did remember reading somewhere, that you thought highly of 'The Compleat Traveller in Black'

    Thanks

    Rich W

  • #2
    John could be a frustrating friend and, as they say, his own worst enemy, but I certainly didn't dislike him. Many of his contemporaries found him annoying, in that he had an 'unfortunate manner'. His shyness came across as arrogance. And sometimes so did his arrogance... But I was glad to publish him and think NW did some of his best stuff, including The Last Lonely Man, which nobody else would publish until we did and which was subsequently televised in a very good version. We also ran large chunks of Stand on Zanzibar. I loved his Traveller in Black stories and in some ways liked his fantasy better than his sf. He was something of an enignma. I do think some of his contemporaries put him down too often in public and I must admit fora while I was glad he wasn't talking to me, though he continued to believe I'd had something to do with my friend Mike Dempsey throwing a glass at him during a London convention. Dempsey had thrown the glass, apparently, with a shout of 'How dare you compare your third rate poetry with that of Tom Disch' while I was out of the hall, but it didn't stop John thinking I'd somehow egged Dempsey on. Rather than confront Dempsey's challenge, he preferred to see the action in a different light which somehow involved me. When I spoke to him about it later he continued to be pompous about it and I then lost my temper saying 'Well, if you weren't such a pompous idiot people wouldn't throw glasses at you!' and didn't have much to do with him for a few years. WE eventually became good friends again, however, and I did everything I could to get his work back into print, though he was in difficulties for a long time and died a rather disappointed man. If he had listened to his friends, he might have had a somewhat happier life before he died. I wouldn't say either Brian or Harry Harrison were friends of John's.

    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
    The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
    Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
    The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
    Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

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    • #3
      I seem to recall reading somewhere that Miss Brunner was named after an sf author. Or did I just dream that?

      Comment


      • #4
        I was somewhat surprised to see Robert Silverberg's name in the above list of people who were critical of the late John Brunner. He wrote an essay on Brunner following his death. Silverberg's reaction seemed very similar to that of Mr. Moorcock: respect and some affection mixed with a certain amount of perplexed exasperation. Silverberg also seemed moved by the feelings of pathos produced by the problems and frustrations of Brunner's last years.

        I gather Brunner was, in some ways, a difficult man to know. I never met him, so I have no opinion. And in truth, an author's personality should have nothing to do with the way we view his books. At this point, the problems people may have had with Brunner personally shouldn't matter, and attention should be turned to his work. Stand on Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up, and The Compleat Traveller in Black are worthy of our attention. There are more, too, if those books excite interest.

        LSN

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by L_Stearns_Newburg
          And in truth, an author's personality should have nothing to do with the way we view his books.
          Sorry to bust in here for a moment...

          Admittedly, I don't have any objectivity with those sorts of things. Personally, it makes me feel better about my judgment when I admire an author's work and the author turns out to be a person worthy of similar admiration. The opposite may produce an even stronger response. Yes, I'm a small person :oops: :)

          My more important point is that "should have" and "do have" are often two different things. What we know about authors is often entangled in our readings, for better and worse, even when what we know fails to show up in the text itself.

          Comment


          • #6
            I was sure I'd read some of John Brunner's work until I saw this bibliography. It would seem I'm only familiar with the titles of his work. His name will certainly be one I will keep in mind, next time I am browsing for books,
            You see, it's... it's no good, Montag. We've all got to be alike. The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal.

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            "I am an observer of life, a non-participant who takes no sides. I am in the regimented society, but not of it." Moondog, 1964

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Doc
              Originally posted by L_Stearns_Newburg
              And in truth, an author's personality should have nothing to do with the way we view his books.
              Sorry to bust in here for a moment...

              Admittedly, I don't have any objectivity with those sorts of things. Personally, it makes me feel better about my judgment when I admire an author's work and the author turns out to be a person worthy of similar admiration. The opposite may produce an even stronger response. Yes, I'm a small person :oops: :)

              My more important point is that "should have" and "do have" are often two different things. What we know about authors is often entangled in our readings, for better and worse, even when what we know fails to show up in the text itself.
              Sometimes we can't help it. I can't read any of L Ron Hubbard's books without that glaring siren going off that says 'SCIENTOLOGY GUY' but since Battlefield Earth made me want to kill myself 50 pages in, that might be a good thing.

              Comment


              • #8
                Thanks for the insight Mike.

                John is largely out of print once again, with 'Stand on Zanzibar', 'The Shockwave Rider', 'The Sheep Look Up', and 'Jagged Orbit'. being all there is available now.

                >The Last Lonely Man, which nobody else would publish until we did and >which was subsequently televised in a very good version.

                Interesting, I didn't know there had been any televised Brunner. Can you remember where/who televised it?

                We went to the dealers room at Worldcon with our main goal of collecting as much of Johns work as we could that we didn't already have.

                We did pretty well, picking up a bunch of missing titles, plus some autographed poems from the mid-fifties.

                And: Johns own copy of 'Shockwave Rider' in a 1st hardcover (Johns widow having recently sold off what was left of his library).

                It's very sad when you see an authors collection sold off. But at least we will give it a good home.

                Rich W.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Michael Moorcock
                  John could be a frustrating friend and, as they say, his own worst enemy, but I certainly didn't dislike him. Many of his contemporaries found him annoying, in that he had an 'unfortunate manner'. His shyness came across as arrogance.
                  As a fairly shy person myself, I can identify with that. It generates an impression of aloofness, when all it really is is not knowing what to say to people. Frustrating, very frustrating, and difficult to conquer.

                  The Last Lonely Man was broadcast by the BBC in 1969:

                  http://www.eofftv.com/episodes/o/out...y_man_main.htm

                  A brief clip from the transmission was included in the profile of John in the Time Out Of Mind series in the early 80s, which also included a profile of Mike. I also like the story Nobody Axed You, which was published in New Worlds.
                  'You know, I can't keep up with you. If I hadn't met you in person, I quite honestly would NOT believe you really existed. I just COULDN'T. You do so MUCH... if half of what goes into your zines is to be believed, you've read more at the age of 17 than I have at the age of 32 - LOTS more'

                  Archie Mercer to Mike (Burroughsania letters page, 1957)

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by manmiles
                    Originally posted by Doc
                    Originally posted by L_Stearns_Newburg
                    And in truth, an author's personality should have nothing to do with the way we view his books.
                    Sorry to bust in here for a moment...

                    Admittedly, I don't have any objectivity with those sorts of things. Personally, it makes me feel better about my judgment when I admire an author's work and the author turns out to be a person worthy of similar admiration. The opposite may produce an even stronger response. Yes, I'm a small person :oops: :)

                    My more important point is that "should have" and "do have" are often two different things. What we know about authors is often entangled in our readings, for better and worse, even when what we know fails to show up in the text itself.
                    Sometimes we can't help it. I can't read any of L Ron Hubbard's books without that glaring siren going off that says 'SCIENTOLOGY GUY' but since Battlefield Earth made me want to kill myself 50 pages in, that might be a good thing.
                    :lol:

                    A perfect example...

                    Ahem, back to Brunner...

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I must admit that I Never read people like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky or Rousseau or Voltaire -- or Hemingway, for that matter -- with thoughts to their personalities, behavior or public personae.

                      Such matters are completely irrelevant if the books are good. To the extent that the writer's life and opinions intrude into the book, and knowledge of them is a prerequisite for understanding the work, it will practically always be unsuccessful.

                      I can't imagine reading War and Peace looking for evidence of Tolstoy's crotchets -- and he was a dreadful person. But the book is quite enthralling. If I speak of my admiration for The Brothers Karamazov and someone tells me, "Oh, how could you like his book? He was such an awful person!" I'm liable to reply somewhat scornfully, "Who gives a sh*t?" As evidence in the courts of literary judgement, it's irrelevant and immaterial. Similarly, William Faulkner: in his daily life, I gather he held rather typical-for-the-time attitudes towards matters of "race." He made some rather curious pronouncements on the subject during the late '50s and very early '60s. I'm not surprised by that. Yet the same man wrote Absalom, Absalom!, The Sound and the Fury, The Unvanquished, and Go Down, Moses. The books reveal an intelligence and awareness of those same issues and problems that seems superior (and more fundamentally humane) than his public personae would lead one to believe.

                      If one starts discrediting work done by less than perfect specimens of humanity, a lot of art is going to be judged pretty harshly and unfairly. Quite a number of artists of all kinds have led "irregular" lives, and appear (by bourgeois standards of "decency") highly questionable. That's one of the central points to Mann's Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man. Take a look at Chapter 4 of that book.

                      Liking or disliking a writer's books because of his what he did, thought, or said outside his books resembles a cult of personality. Even letting such considerations influence one's thinking strikes me as questionable, and a bloody waste of time.

                      We don't need knowledge of L. Ron Hubbard's loony tunes cult to see that his texts have certain, ah, deficiencies of style and thought. It's evident on every page. (I'm mostly thinking of his notorious "Battlefield Earth" era books. The pulps he wrote in the '40s are different.)

                      Of course, if the text in question s*cks, I don't care if it was the joint work of Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama.

                      LSN

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Of course, I said "should influence readings" and "do influence readings" were two distinct things.

                        Hubbard is an example of someone whose clumsy megalomania spilled onto the page, which makes him unreadable. Similarly, Lovecraft's personal insecurities shroud much of his writings, making them inpenetrable to some. In cases such as these, the merger of person and work is fairly complete. You can accept or dismiss one as you accept or dismiss the other. I agree with you that in such cases a cult of personality may develop, simply because the work strikes a psychic chord with readers that may be even stronger than the literary ones.

                        Of course, it would be fairly easy to add Hemingway's bravado or MM's humanism into this conversation. Cases such as these make it relatively easy to say that author and work often reflect one another, for better or worse.

                        Is that the way it should work? I think that is a matter of personal choice. For personal reasons, I approach literature (and other art) from a very subjective standpoint, intentionally distancing myself from objectivity. I don't claim to privilege one point of view or another, but I certainly don't take it simply on its own terms. However, that's specifically how I want to consume it.

                        To take it out of the realm of literature, I find it impossible to watch either a Mel Gibson or Tom Cruise film because of their recent public displays. It shouldn't matter, but it does. In a much more literary sense, many people dismissed Sartre as a writer and a philosopher because of his long standing relationship with Simone de Beauvoir. Did they miss out? Surely.

                        Film theory (and literary theory, for that matter) accounts for the ways in which artists and authors become part of a secondary reading, especially as we know more about the artist involved.

                        People bring a storehouse of knowlege with them as they engage with any text. This is especially relevant when we are familiar with an author's total output.Some people cannot dismiss that, others do not want to dismiss it. Such a position is not indefensable, even though people like this this may miss out on a certain literary experience.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I suggest the hypothesis that the risk of this sort of confusion/identification (of an artist's work with his life or public persona) is at its greatest when the artist has a public persona that is constantly in one's face, as it were.

                          Actors are obvious examples. Other examples are people with public positions who choose to write books; think of "fiction" for political operatives or even worse, politicians (remember that ghastly book by Gingrinch?)

                          Curiously, it has been done effectively by a very *few* politicians. Disraeli wrote a number of interesting novels. Now that his public persona has been mostly forgotten (except by students of history), his books can be pretty easily read simply as books.

                          Concerning the relationship between an author's life and his books, I remember something the generally pretty astute W. H. Auden once wrote on the subject. He observed that an author's life never really shed much light on a book, but that a book often revealed quite a bit about an author's psyche. This is I think the fundamental problem with becoming overly familiar with the details of a living writer's life: there's a temptation to interpret the writer's life through his works. In general, I don't want to know much circumstantial detail about a living writer's life for that reason.

                          I stopped reading Harlan Ellison's introductions and prefaces many years ago because I felt I could discern certain connections between his work and his persona. It's distracting, and I wasn't paying money to read about his life. Besides, the feeling that one can sometimes read between the lines in those cases feels alarmingly like a sort of voyeurism. We generally don't *need* to know such things, and trying to discover them feels like an impertinance.

                          By the way, I'm fairly immune to the Cruise and Gibson cases you cited. I rarely watch American cinema. It's far too often constructed out of the "star system" cult of personality. I like to remember what Hitchcock said about actors in such cases.

                          Was it Pynchon who made the movie joke about "PeeWee Herman, starring in 'The Robert Musil Story'"? That one was so grotesque that it pleased me enormously. It captured some of the essence of the problems of a lot of casting in cinema.

                          LSN

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I'm pretty sure Bob Silverberg wouldn't have said anything bad about John. It's a great shame his widow (whom I don't think had much affection for him by all accounts) sold his books off piecemeal, but there again there probably wasn't a lot of money around, given how badly John was doing in his last years. I remember having an incredibly frustrating conversation with him years ago in which I begged him to reconsider what he was doing with his career. I felt I had to say something as a friend. He just told me I was wrong, and that was that. It was John's greatest weakness, an enormous faith in his own rationalism. In my view he was often at his best as a writer when his rationalism was thrown out of the window.
                            Everyone knows my disgust with Scientology, but I rather enjoyed those rough and ready yarns written at white heat before he, too,began to take himself too seriously -- Typewriter in the Sky and Slaves of Sleep used to be published together, since both were long novellas. Not the subtlest literarature, but a lively read. Phil Dick started to believe his looniest fans, too, and it meant his late work became pretty hard going.
                            I argued somewhere that sf writers are usually better visionaries than logicians -- H.G. Wells offered better fiction before he became a 'futurist' for instance. I think we have to stay in touch with our devils, rather than rationalise them away, to produce our best stuff.
                            Worth remembering that Disraeli's best work -- and it was good work, if a little purple for today's tastes -- was done BEFORE he went into politics. And he was moved by anger, which is probably better than being moved by logic, to write Sybil, for instance. Well, anger and a rather creepy love of English monarchy, which ultimately got him the ear of Queen Victoria. I wouldn't say he was forgotten, incidentally, by the Conservative Party (or The Primrose League) since he was probably the best PM they ever fielded, unless you count Churchill (who was the best wartime PM they fielded), and got them a lot of mileage. He identified the two nations (rich and poor) and Thatcher gave them back to us...

                            Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
                            The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
                            Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                            Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                            The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                            Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I should add here, I suppose, that I've included a bit of Disraeli in MOORCOCK'S MISCELLANY, forthcoming from Constable/Robinson, allegedly in September (but I'd guess a little later). Also a bit of Mysteries of London, for what it's worth. Dickens was by no means the only Victorian writer to be distressed by the state of the nation.

                              Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
                              The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
                              Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                              Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                              The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                              Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

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