- See:IMMORTALITY.LONGEVITY (IN WRITERS AND PUBLICATIONS)A curious phenomenon in GENRE SF is the extreme longevity of some of its writers and many of its publications. In referring to the longevity of writers, we mean their professional lives rather than the span between their births and deaths. Although sf careers spanning more than 50 years are not usual, neither are they especially uncommon. The present records may be those held by Jack WILLIAMSON (1908-), whose first published story was "The Metal Man" (1928) in AMZ and who was still writing at the time of Beachhead (1992), a span of 64 years; and by Frank Belknap LONG (1903-),whose first published story was "The Desert Lich" (1924) in Weird Tales, and who was active at least until 1986, making a span of 62 years. Others to break the 50-year mark have included Lloyd Arthur ESHBACH (1910-), who has published comparatively little fiction but has played an important role in sf publishing, and whose writing career nevertheless runs 60 years from "The Man with the Silver Disc" (1930) to The Scroll of Lucifer (1990); Andre NORTON (1912-), whose first novel, not sf, was The PrinceCommands (1934) - her first sf being "The People of the Crater" (1947) as by Andrew North - and whose most recent book is Songsmith (1992) with A.C. CRISPIN, a span of 58 years; Raymond Z. GALLUN (1910-), who began with"The Space Dwellers" (1929) and whose most recent novel was Bioblast (1985), a span of 56 years (increased to 62 years if we take into account his sf memoir Starclimber (1991)); Clifford D. SIMAK (1904-1988), whose first published sf was "The World of the Red Sun" (1931) and whose last was Highway of Eternity (1986), a span of 55 years; L. Sprague DE CAMP (1907-), who began with "The Isolinguals" (1937) and who recentlypublished The Swords of Zinjaban (1991) with his wife Catherine A. Crook de Camp, a span of 54 years; Frederik POHL (1919-), who published a slew of short stories under pseudonyms in 1940-41 and whose most recent book is Mining the Oort (1992), a span of 52 years; Fritz LEIBER (1910-1992), whobegan with "Two Sought Adventure" (1939) in Unknown and whose late collection The Leiber Chronicles: Fifty Years of Fritz Leiber (coll 1990) ed Martin H. GREENBERG announces his writing lifespan on the cover; and Murray LEINSTER (1896-1975), whose first published sf was "The RunawaySkyscraper" (1919) and whose last was Land of the Giants No 3: Unknown Danger (1969), a span of 50 years. Among non-genre writers who nevertheless published several books of sf, the prolific Eden PHILLPOTTS (1862-1960) had altogether a 70-year career (1889-1959), and his fantasywriting career ran 54 years from A Deal With the Devil (1895) to Address Unknown (1949). Even a comparative youngster, in terms of naturallifespan, like Isaac ASIMOV (1920-1992), whose career began when he was very young with "Marooned Off Vesta" (1939), managed a 50-year span up to the solo novel Nemesis (1989), and indeed continued to write stories, collaborative novels and articles until only months before his death early in 1992. Robert A. HEINLEIN (1907-1988), even though he began writing quite late, managed 48 years between "Lifeline" (1939) and To Sail Beyond the Sunset (1987).The lengths of these professional lives and of others like them are not merely trivial material for the record books. They came about partly because the sf community, made up of writers, editors, publishers, agents, critics and fans, exists as a community - a community which, sometimes sentimentally, and in the face of a clear decline in their writing power, cares for its elders (although surprisingly many have continued to write well, Fritz Leiber being a particularly clear example). It is ironic that the literature of the future is, to a degree, in thehands of men and women of the past; and there is no doubt that many young writers, trying to get published, have cursed the names of Asimov or Heinlein, who not only took up valuable space in the bookstores but also,it must have seemed, would never stop writing.The longevity of these careers is matched by the longevity of the texts. There is no other genre which keeps its classic texts in print or focuses on its past with anything like the same selfconscious zeal as sf does. In sf, work dating as far back as the mid-1930s, like the Lensman books of E.E. "Doc" SMITH, was still finding new readers in the 1980s. The writers of the GOLDEN AGE OF SF - Asimov, Heinlein, Simak, James BLISH, A.E. VAN VOGT, Ray BRADBURY,Arthur C. CLARKE and many others - are recycled for each generation (though some, like Simak and van Vogt, seem at last to be fading from sight). The same is true of more recent classics (some of them almost 40 years old now) by Jack VANCE, Frank HERBERT, Philip K. DICK and a host of others.The oddity of this is that contemporary visions of the future exist side-by-side with rivals that, in the context of our century of rapid change, are ancient history. What confuses the issue further is the tendency of sf, like the Worm Ouroboros, to eat its own tail (or its own parents). There is a strangely conservative self-cannibalism in the sf culture, always redigesting "new" ideas which might easily be 60 years old, and this practice is not restricted to its lower echelons. Of all genres, one might expect sf-with its focus on change and the future - to be the one whose cutting edge would be continually resharpened. But, faced with the actual situation, we might cynically propose that sf is more like a wave, whose constituent molecules - the writers working at any one time - are always changing, but which seems as it approaches us to be exactlythe same wave it was while still distant.There are good aspects, however, to the longevity of successful sf texts. Sf's generic stability is a function of its past co-existing with its present, and it is for this reason, too, that sf's icons take on such density and richness, so that it has become the most resonant of all popular literatures. Its words and its metaphors and its narrative structures carry not just the burden of yesterday but also that of some of yesterday's excitement (and these images are not static; they slowly grow and change with the years, like a tree).An sf that was always genuinely new would be intolerable; it would concuss us with future shock. The reward for sf's longevity is that it remains workable; the cost, too often, is that it is also kept familiar and safe.PN
Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. Academic. 2011.