Science Fiction Writers
TO: Editor, RALPH

FROM: Dr. Phage

RE: Science Fiction Writers

TNR has a review of a biography of Robert A. Heinlein, the crusty, ex-Navy science-fiction author. One paragraph, in particular, caught my eye:

    Going further: Isn't the truly self-made man also self-engendered? In his explorations of the mechanics of self-pleasuring and self-creation, Heinlein made Philip Roth look like a piker. In Heinlein's 1959 story "All You Zombies," a combination of time travel and a sex-change operation allows the protagonist to become his/her own mother and father. In "I Will Fear No Evil" (1970) a 94-year-old billionaire first has his brain implanted in the body of a 28-year-old black woman and then has his frozen sperm impregnate that body.

Hombre!, this surely brings new dimensions to the concept of incest.

I once read a long memoir by Isaac Asimov, which described the personal characteristics of all the sci-fi authors we used to read in our youth. Heinlein comes off as very unlikeable. On the other hand, A.E. Van Vogt (remember "The Weapon Shops of Isher"?) was apparently the soul of courtliness and generosity. Cyril Kornbluth --- the most brilliant of them all, who died young --- was neurotic and difficult. Poul Anderson spent part of his childhood in Denmark, and retained a dead-pan, Danish sense of humour. In one of his stories, the nations of the world entrust Sweden with overseeing universal disarmament, with the result that they end up living under the heel of the restored Swedish Empire.

Asimov himself, between the lines, emerges as an irrepressible wise-ass who could never, from childhood on, keep his mouth shut. I guess this explains how he produced an average of about ten books every year for 50 years --- which must be the world record. This kind of logorrhea also yielded up an instructive object lesson. "Nightfall", a marvelous early story of Asimov's, is a classic, and was voted the best sci-fi story ever written by a panel of fellow sci-fi authors in 1968. But his compulsion to churn out those ten books per year led him to turn it into a novel many years later, and the novel is a real dog; it may not be the worst sci-fi novel ever written, but it comes close.

A correspondent reminds me that the correct term for Isaac Asimov's affliction is hypergraphia. Patients suffering from this lunatic, uncontrollable compulsion to write, also called graphomania, included Asimov, Stephen King, Rod Serling, J.K. Rowling, and Noam Chomsky. Until quite recently, it was so rare that psychiatrists considered the disorder as exotic as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease or Korsakoff's Syndrome. In the 21st Century, however, the onset of Facebook and Twitter have converted graphomania into a world-wide epidemic. The World Health Organization has begun searching for a vaccine.

--- Dr. Phage

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