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As some of you are aware, Forry's been moved from Kaiser to Amberwood
Convalescent Hospital, 6071 York Blvd., Highland Park, CA 90042. He does
not have a fone in his room, but Amberwood's # is 323-254-7580. He will be
moved this weekend from his current 3-bed room to a 2-bed room.
He's undergoing physical & vocal therapy; two session each day. Bjo & I
visited him yesterday (Thurs, 5/23) & Bjo was shocked at his appearance. He
doesn't look as good as he did the last day in Kaiser, but still lots better
than when I first saw him just out of ICU. Part of the problem is the move
& the new routine of therapy, which makes him tired & upset.
It's going to be a long process for him & there's no prognosis for how full
a recovery he will make, but there is hope. Forry's beaten the odds more
than once. He loves getting cards & letters, so please write to him & urge
friends to do the same. Knowing how many people are interested in him and
want him to get better will be a big help in giving him the will to overcome
24 May 2002
Dear Locus Online,
I realize that it has now been a month or so since Gabe Chouinard's essay
"Where Epic Fantasy Went Wrong" first appeared at Locus Online. However and
despite excellent criticisms having previously been made by Greg Beatty and
Alec Turner in their respective letters there are still a few of my own
lurking around, waiting to be voiced.
Personally I've always agreed very much with Sturgeon's Law: 90% of
everything is crap (I forget his exact formulation, but it works well enough
as a rule of thumb). This law applies to nearly anything you can imagine, to epic fantasy as well as anything else. Yet so many epic fantasies and
fantasy novels of all kinds are published every year, that that
fabled 10% begins to look not only pretty healthy, but downright roomy. It's
hard to conceive of a genre where Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, China Mieville,
and Philip Pullman can all manage to coexist nicely as "dead," creatively or
Mr. Chouinard, however, seems to feel that nearly every epic fantasy
novel published since 1955, which is when I believe that The Return of the
King was published, has been a derivative blight on the genre, and he then
proceeds to give us only two examples by name those of David Eddings and
Terry Brooks to prove his argument, which is presented as something akin to
received wisdom we are supposed to say, "Yes, they do write terribly
derivative books, don't they? Wow, epic fantasy is dead." End of
discussion. Mr. Chouinard also goes on to mention John Marco, Tad Williams,
and George R. R. Martin as exemplars of this problem, which he calls "writing
the perception of epic fantasy." How the perception of something differs
from the actuality is something no two people will ever agree on, but I would
argue that in this case, the perception is the reality you may not like the
fantasy written by these men, but they are clearly working within a
To write a good novel, not necessarily one that will be a masterpiece or
an Earth-shaker but just a plain good novel, the most important part is
having characters that we care about. How many times have Shakespeare's
plays been rewritten? Romeo and Juliet has surely been rewritten hundreds of
times, yet people continue to love the story, and it occasionally continues
to come to dramatic life for all its flaws, nobody is going to seriously
convince me that West Side Story is not a great musical simply because it
reuses an old plot. It's the people within the stories we come to care
about, not the milieu, not the language, not the maps that might be included.
You can write a moving, exciting, or frightening novel set in your own
backyard as easily as you can one set on Mars or in the Magical Land Of
Kwabba-Zoom. It's the emotions, experiences, and ideas met along the way
that engage readers, and if not, then something is very seriously wrong with
the book. Lose sight of this focus, and you end up writing a technical
manual (or an Elvish grammar, which I suppose would be the epic fantasy
equivalent). Even hard science fiction or good hard sf, anyway carries
this kind of focus (the bad kind gets bogged down in explaining how every
stupid device in the story works, leading to the point where the reader
begins to suspect that he or she has blundered on to an issue of Popular
Mechanics from the year 2929). The structure, or seeming originality, is
almost beside the point. A good writer will always make his or her work seem
original, unique, or innovative, even if it's anything but, by virtue of his
or her dedication to that work (and innovation is really nothing more than
the unique pairing of two old ideas to form a new idea, not the creation of a
genuinely new thing, which I think is impossible we are limited in the
number of new pairings we can create even by our own genes).
I have an extremely catholic taste I like literary fiction as well as I
do mysteries, sf, fantasies, and stories about things that go bump in the
night and all I ask for in return is to be competently entertained (or,
likewise, made to think so without being bludgeoned into it). Quality matters
more to me than any other part of the reading experience. Yet I haven't had
any trouble finding plenty of good fantasy novels within the last couple of
years, and, in fact, I have privately thought that the genre was already on
the verge of a renaissance. Mr. Chouinard's essay puzzles me precisely
because he has managed to come to the opposite conclusion. His call to
reinvent the wheel ought to be answered by any editor in the field who can
tell you precisely what happens when most young writers attempt to reinvent
I owe you my congratulations, Mr. Chouinard, even though I disagreed with
virtually every word you wrote, because you at least made me think about why
I enjoy reading fantasy novels.
Scott E. Miller
23 May 2002
At the end of his list of reasons to love Attack of the Clones, Paul Levinson concludes "So how come so many critics have been disappointed? My guess is, they don't really love science fiction."
This does present the answer but perhaps not in the way Levinson thinks.
Critics don't have to love science fiction to do their job (though they may
well like good sf) they just have to review films on their merits.
Unfortunately Attack of the Clones has precious few of these.
Almost all of Levinson's list is composed of technical points as if this
was an ILM show reel rather than a film. This seems to be Lucas belief as
well. The only bit of The Phantom Menace universally applauded was the pod
race. So in Attack of the Clones he starts with a pod race look-a-like
aircar chase then gives us half a dozen exotic vistas, some battle scenes
and a climatic showdown. However, this amazing visual spectacle is hung on
a narrative frame so shoddy, so preposterous, so risible as to be upsetting
to watch. When the sound effects are one of the best things about a film you
know something has gone wrong.
Near the end of his piece Levinson asserts that "tone-deaf or myopic
critics seemed to have missed" self-referential elements, such as Obi-Wan's
quip that Anakin will be the death of him. You would indeed have to be deaf
to miss this. More likely they thought it unbelievably crass. As with much
of the dialogue and character based scenes this was executed in an extremely
hamfisted manner. For example, later on in the film Anakin wakes from a
nightmare whilst screaming "no!" for all the world as if this cliché hadn't
been parodied for fifty years.
After watching Attack of the Clones I am left with the same overriding
emotion as after The Phantom Menace: anger. It is deeply frustrating to
see so much money and technical skill frittered away on such an empty film.
21 May 2002
I'd like to agree with Alec Austin's critique of Gabe Chouinard's recent article on epic fantasy, and to build on it. What Chouinard said was accurate, but only in limited and familiar ways, and even then only if Chouinard is allowed to define the terms used. Philip Martin's recent book The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature includes a section by Patricia McKillip on "Writing High Fantasy," which starts by delineating the existing formula in high fantasy, part of what Chouinard bemoans.
McKillip is part of a long list of other writers who provide counter-examples to Chouinard's complaints. A moment's reflection suggests the names Patricia McKillip, Lloyd Alexander, Barbara Hambly, Jane Yolen, Susan Cooper, Ursula K. Leguin, Orson Scott Card, Roger Zelazny, Suzy McKee Charnas, and of course, Philip Pullman. All of these authors have written works that are epic in scope and spirit. All are quite distinct from the Tolkien model. All have created wonderful worlds. Such a list suggests rather than being in a terrible state, epic fantasy may be in its heyday. Certainly, at the very least, it is alive and well.
15 May 2002
Kathryn (our retarded adult daughter) & I went down to visit Forry Ackerman
today. He'd just been moved out of ICU, and is now in room 634, still at
the Kaiser Permanente Hospital on Sunset Blvd, in L.A.
He recognized us & we were able to hold a short conversation with him, but
he tired very quickly, so we didn't stay long. One of the orderlies, Rick
is a good friend of Ray Bradbury's driver, so he's been paying extra
attention to Forry. He said he lives nearby, so he's been able to visit him
on his days off. That's good news.
While Forry seemed lucid, he asked if we'd seen a recent TV special
featuring him, Ray Bradbury & others. I said we'd missed it & he remarked
that other people said he was hallucinating & it'd never happened. When he
said that Charles Hornig had made a surprise appearance on the special,
saying that reports of his death (like Mark Twain's) were greatly
exaggerated, I began to have my doubts, too. Charlie Hornig has been dead
for over 2 years. But I didn't say anything; he's entitled to his
Forry asked if the report about LA sf fan Bruce Pelz's death was correct & I
told him that sadly, it was true & in fact Bruce had died last Thursday
(which is the same day that the LASFS meets).
It is quite ironic that the Kaiser hospital he's in is across Sunset from
the LA Church of Scientology's big blue hq building (in fact the street just
east of that building has been renamed L. Ron Hubbard Way!), considering
Hubbard's long-ago connection to LASFS & the 40's LA sf community.
Please, anyone who can do please visit him for the few minutes he's able to
stand having visitors; if you're female, wear something low-cut, so he can
ogle you. He'll love it.
He's still in Building H at Kaiser Permanente Hospital, 4747 Sunset Blvd, L.A. 90027.
Visiting hours are 11am to 8pm; remember, its now room 634.
15 May 2002
I wish to correct the Locus report regarding Forry, as it has led to the spread of some very disturbing misinformation.
Forrest J Ackerman is indeed seriously ill and in the hospital. I just spoke with the duty nurse and was able to confirm that he is recovering and he is no longer in ICU.
I understand from people who visited him Saturday and Sunday that he has been getting so many phone calls and visits, including apparently lots of nurses, that he is in fact not getting the rest that he needs to recover (which I understand was also disturbing his roommate). He has been flirting with nurses and female visitors and his sense of humor appears to be intact.
Because of his need for rest, it would be best to keep his visits and phone calls limited, but cards would certainly be appreciated.
I hope this helps to clear up the issue. I know we all want to see Forry get well and don't want to do anything that would hinder his progress.
The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, Inc. (LASFS)
14 May 2002
Readings on Forry
[Letter to Recipient List Suppressed],
For those who do not already know, Forry Ackerman is the hospital, Kaiser
on Sunset. He had either a stroke or a heart attack. They are in the
process of trying to rule out a heart attack.
We just got back from visiting him in the hospital. First, they have
transferred him out of ICU (as of yesterday) and he is now in room 634 in
building H. Second, his face really lit up when Allie walked into the
room, which means he can still recognize people. In fact, other than being
tired, I would have to say his mental functioning is completely normal. He
is aware of time passage and recognized people from family pictures we
He cantankerously groused about having to stare at the ceiling all day and
all of the poking and prodding (like blood tests) that goes with a stay in
the hospital. He says he's bored, but the nurse says his phone keeps
ringing, enough to tire him out, so go figure.
Now for some real good news: while we were there, an occupational
therapist came by and said that she would be back in half an hour to help
Forry *WALK AROUND* (emphasis mine). Forry didn't quite hear what she said
and wanted, winkingly, to know "What new torture have they devised for me?"
in a voice of mock horror that sounded just like the Forry of old.
So, for reasons of patient confidentiality, I can't really report on his
medical condition, but if will and joie de vivre are enough, then I will
happily dispute the claim on the Locus webpage
(http://www.locusmag.com/2002/News/News05Log.html [since amended ed.]) that he is not expected
to recover. I'm not a doctor, of course, but my Father looked much more
ill and "out of it" when he was dying.
11 May 2002
Actress Julie Sands sent me the following message, which I thought might be of interest to you.
I saw Forry last evening in the hospital. He is critically ill (has been for
a few weeks) and is not expected to recover. Forry is in Kaiser Permanente
Hospital in Hollywood on Sunset Blvd. (cross street Vermont), he is in
Building H room 474A which is in I.C.U. It was very disquieting to discover
not many of Forry's friends have visited and he is very lonely. He is
paralyzed except for the ability to move his head, his speech is very sparse,
but he is cognizant. In fact he let me know even at his age he was able to
see my cleavage very well-lol He cannot receive flowers, but letters, visits
(even by non-family members-he really has no family), phone calls and cards
As you know Forry has touched many of us in the entertainment industry and
the creative arts. I know I would not be doing a movie as a horror vixen
w/Robert Englund had it not been for Forry-I would have stuck to things like
Shakespeare (oh Forry, what did you do??? ;) )
Cemetery Dance magazine
10 May 2002
Essence of Fantasy
Dear Locus Online,
I think the points brought up in Mr. Chouinard’s essay are worth
considering, but not entirely germane to the issue of epic fantasy.
Certainly speculative fiction of all branches could do with more interesting
and *ahem* creative world creation. But is it necessary that every story or
novel break completely new ground? Of course not. That would swiftly lead
to the kind of experimental paralysis that certain sections of mainstream
literature are prone to, forcing everyone into contrived and odd tenses,
points of view, and story forms just to make their readers pay attention.
Also, despite Mr. Chouinard’s rhetoric as to how “fully-realized,
highly-individualized, and wholly-unique” they are, all of Arrakis, Middle-earth, and Urth can have their origins traced fairly easily: Arrakis is the
Sahara writ large, with giant worms which excrete space-navigation drugs,
while Middle-earth is a transparent composite of English and Norse myths
that had been used in various forms by Lord Dunsany, E.R. Eddison, and many
other writers of the generation before Tolkien. As for Urth, from The Book
of the New Sun, its debts to classical history and Jack Vance's The Dying
Earth are openly acknowledged by Gene Wolfe himself. Certainly, many epic
fantasies on the market today are horribly unoriginal, but their lack of
quality cannot be pinned solely on their worlds being underdeveloped, as
even the most hackneyed of settings and tropes can come to life if
considered with a keen intelligence. Considering how endless the stream of
Arthurian romances, epic poems, and novels has been for centuries now, it
would seem impossible to produce an interesting and original take on the
Camelot mythology... and yet one seems to crop up every few decades. The
same goes for stories set in ancient Rome or elsewhere in the classical
world. What could be a more hackneyed setting than the Rome of Julius and
Augustus Caesar? But somehow we still end up with the occasional I,
Mr. Chouinard accords The Lord of the Rings a special quality of originality
over the course of his argument, asserting that it, unlike the books that
preceded it, engaged in the full creation of a fantastic or “secondary”
world. Furthermore, he asserts that the creation of vivid secondary worlds
is the purpose of epic fantasy. Yet Tolkien himself did not create Middle-earth for itself, as much as for a world-context in which he could indulge
in the creation of imaginary languages (and, as I mentioned earlier,
Middle-earth's originality is debatable). In lumping together for scorn and
derision almost every work of epic fantasy published since The Sword of
Shannara, Mr. Chouinard is not only engaging in a gross over-generalization,
but ignoring the many works which, by drawing on cultures and elements of
history other than those utilized by Tolkien, produce fantasy worlds
arguably more unique than Middle-earth was even when The Hobbit was first
published. Also, the works which Mr. Chouinard cites as exemplars of recent
fantastic literature generally recombine elements familiar to the educated
reader in new ways: or rather, ways that doubtlessly seemed new to Mr.
Chouinard when he read them. I fear that if I mined details and incidents
from Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West and used them
to create a fantasy world that was not transparently ancient China, both Mr.
Chouinard and the majority of the English-speaking public would not be able
to tell that I had not invented it from whole cloth, despite the fact that
schoolchildren in China would be bored to tears by the results of my
I submit that, instead of pursuing some illusory ideal of originality,
readers would be better served if the authors of epic fantasies put more
effort into examining their works for signs of imaginative and literary
laziness. At base, the problem with epic fantasy these days is not so much
that it is unoriginal as that much of it which is being published is AWFUL
incompetently written, sloppily imagined, and shoddily researched. An
author may have an original and intriguing world, but if it is drowned in
interminable and mediocre prose and populated by cardboard characters, I
would rather read something set in more familiar territory, even if said
familiar territory is the present day, lacking any and all fantastic
Quality trumps badly-executed innovation any day of the week.
7 May 2002
A 5th edition of the standard critical guide to SF, Anatomy of Wonder,
may be published if sufficient interest is shown by potential buyers. I'm
seeking suggestions for improvements and comments from anyone familiar with
the 4th (1995) edition, still in print, or the 3d (1987), OP. If you'd like
to help, request a questionnaire by e-mail from email@example.com.
4 May 2002