Taking Notes: 'Ray Guns and Rocket Ships' (1952) by Robert A. Heinlein

這篇短文是 Heinlein 為圖書館員所撰的科幻選書指南。當年他也曾為了打書而奮鬥,寫下這篇沒稿費的東東。文雖短,一些觀念還是值得科幻人思索。

Robert A. Heinlein, "Ray Guns and Rocket Ships" in Expanded Universe (New York: Ace, 1982), pp. 373-377.

p. 374
But what, under rational definition, is science fiction? There is an easy touchstone: science fiction is speculative fiction in which the author takes as his first postulate the real world as we know it, including all established facts and natural laws. The result can be extremely fantastic in content, but it is not fantasy; it is legitimate -- and often very tightly reasoned -- speculation about the possibilities of the real world. ......


But how is one to distinguish between legitimate science fiction and ridiculous junk? Place of original publication is no guide; some of the best have appeared in half-cent-a-word pulp magazines, with bug-eyed monsters on their covers; some of the silliest have appeared in high-pay slicks or in the "prestige" quality group.

"The Pretzel Men of Pthark" -- that one we can skip over; the contents are probably like the title. Almost as easy to spot is the Graustark school of space opera. This is the one in which the dashing Nordic hero comes to the aid of the rightful Martian princess and kicks out the villainous usurper through superscience and sheer grit. It is not being written very often these days, although it still achieves book publication occasionally, sometimes with old and respectable trade book houses. But it does not take a Ph.D. in physics to recognize it for what it is.

But do not be too quick to apply as a test to science fiction what are merely the conventions of better known fields of literature. I once heard a librarian say that she could not stand the unpronounceable names
p. 375
given by science-fiction writers to extraterrestrials. Have a heart, friend! These strings of consonants are honest attempts to give unearthly names to unearthly creatures. As Shaw pointed out, the customs of our tribe are not laws of nature. You would not expect a Martian to be named "Smith." (Say -- how about a story about a Martian named "Smith?" Ought tomake a good short. Hmmmm--)
〔最後他終於寫出來了,這個故事就是 Stranger in a Strange Land

But are there reliable criteria by which science fiction can be judged by one who is not well acquainted with the field? In my opinion, there are. Simply the criteria which apply to all fields of fiction, no more, no less.

First of all, an item of science fiction should be a story, i.e., its entertainment value should be as high as that which you expect from other types of stories. It should be entertaining to almost anyone, whether he habitually reads the stuff or not. Second, the degree of literacy should be as high as that expected in other fields. I will not labor this point, since we are simply applying an old rule to a new field, but there is no more excuse here than elsewhere for split infinitives, dangling participle, and similar untidiness, or for obscurity and doubletalk.

The same may be said for plotting, characterization, motivation, and the rest. If a science-fiction writer can't write, let him go back to being a fry cook or whatever he was doing before he gave up honest work.

I want to make separate mention of the author's evaluations. Granted that not all stories need be morally edifying, nevertheless I would of other writers. ...... In
p. 376
my opinion, such abstractions as honor, loyalty, fortitude, self-sacriface, bravery, honesty, and integrity will be as important in the far reaches of the Galaxy as they are in Iowa or Korea. I believe that you are entitled to apply your own evaluating standards to science fiction quite as rigorously as you apply them in other fiction.


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