Bad SF lexicon

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Thu Nov 10 04:10:45 UTC 2005

On 11/9/05, James A. Landau <JJJRLandau at> wrote:
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> Sender: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: "James A. Landau" <JJJRLandau at AOL.COM>
> Subject: Re: Bad SF lexicon
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> In a message dated Mon, 7 Nov 2005 21:42:51 -0600, Jim Parish
> <jparish at SIUE.EDU> writes:
> > 'It may be worth recalling, though, that SF novels
> > of that period were a deal shorter than they tend to be today. (I
> recall,
> > when I first read Zelazny's _Lord of Light_ back around 1970, thinking
> > that it was quite long; I recently came across a copy, and found that it
> > was of no more than average length by today's standards.)
> No, you're not imagining things, and it turns out there is a sound
> economic
> reason for the increasing length of SF novels.
> From the Gernsbach era (circa 1926) through circa 1970, most SF writers
> found
> it impossible to make a living from the royalties on SF books. In addition
> to flipping burgers, many supplemented their book income by selling their
> book-length manuscripts to the SF magazines to be run as serials.
> Worthwhile to do
> this: at one cent a word, a 50K word story would bring in $500 from a
> magazine serialization, a serious sum of money in those days, and some
> mags paid more
> than one cent.
> The downside was that the magazine editors had space considerations to
> worry
> about, and therefore established strict word limits. For example,
> Analog/Astounding under John W. Campbell seemed to have a policy of never
> running a
> serial in more than four installments (the one exception was Frank
> Herbert's Dune,
> run as two serials of 3 and 5 installments respectively) and seemed to
> prefer
> three. This meant that a writer hoping to get a serial sale for his novel
> had
> to meet the editor's word-count restrictions. Of course a novel could be
> expanded for book publication and some were, but most writers either did
> not
> bother or did not have the time.
> Then, about the time that Baby Boomers started to be a major part of the
> book-buying public, there was a change. It became fashionable for literate
> people
> to be seen reading science fiction novels in public, and I believe (I have
> no
> figures) that sales boomed. In any event, the number of book titles in SF
> rose, and as a result a smaller percentage of books got published as
> magazine
> serials. Book lengths were now dictated by book publishers, not by
> magazine
> editors, and book publishers had different thoughts on the right length
> for a
> book. Perhaps some book publishers thought that a longer and presumably
> meatier
> SF novel would sell better, and started advising their writers to up the
> word
> count.
> I checked the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction pp 676f. The Koontz book
> appears to have been "Dark Symphony", published in 1970. The reason I say
> it was
> hackwork was that Koontz took one idea---a world consisting only of
> musicians---and tossed in a cliched plot without taking the time to think
> his idea
> through, e.g. the coming-of-age ritual for his musicians was a
> gladiatorial contest
> (huh? why?).
> I have a question about the title of this thread (apparently I missed the
> lead-in posting). Is it about a lexicon of bad SF, or is it about a
> poor-quality
> lexicon that happens to be about SF?
> - James A. Landau

Someone on an SF TV show spoke of aliens "terraforming" the earth.
-Wilson Gray

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