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Pardon This Intrusion: Fantastika in the World Storm
John Clute
Beccon Publications, 375 pages

Pardon This Intrusion: Fantastika in the World Storm
John Clute
John Clute was born in Toronto in 1940. He was raised there, and in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Montreal. He first left Canada in 1956, and returned to Toronto in 1964, where he wrote for the Varsity, did the New Fiction weekly column for the Toronto Star (1966-1967), and wrote reviews for the Globe and Mail and other papers before 1968, when he moved to London, England.

John Clute's work as an author and editor include his first novel, The Disinheriting Party (Allison and Busby, 1977), the 5 volume Interzone: the Anthology series and his key role in putting together The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and The Encyclopedia of Fantasy.

John Clute Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Appleseed
SF Site Interview: John Clute
SF Site Review: Appleseed

Past Feature Reviews
A review by D. Douglas Fratz

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I am certain that John Clute knows more about science fiction and fantasy literature than almost any of the rest of us, and that he may have written more words on the subject than anyone else over the past 50 years. His knowledge is both broad, spanning the breadth of the field's many subgenre, and deep, extending back to the earliest roots of the literature. Much of his vast wordage of commentary on the genre can be found in the various editions of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction that he wrote with Peter Nicholls and many others (whose Third Edition is now being compiled at www.sf-encyclopedia.com) as well as The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (written with John Grant) and Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia. He has also written many hundreds of book reviews published in the British magazine Interzone, the British journal Foundation, and numerous other magazines and journals (both print and on-line), and numerous introductions to various volumes of fiction. (He even writes fiction occasionally, including the science fiction novel, Appleseed, just to prove he can do it.) He has won numerous awards for his nonfiction over the years, culminating this year with the Solstice Award from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. I think that it fair to say that no other science fiction commentator has been more central to the discourse of literary criticism in our field.

Pardon This Intrusion is Clute's seventh collection of commentary on the field. It is an eclectic collection of material reaching back to the 80s, but has its main focus on his 21st century writings about the evolution of the genre over the past century. Its title is a reference to the first words spoken by Frankenstein's Monster in the seminal 19th century novel by Mary Shelley, words which Clute argues provides a touchstone of meaning. Pardon This Intrusion includes 47 essays and talks, several of which have not been published previously.

Clute's writing in this volume is complex and nuanced, and like much of his work, requires a concentrated effort to be understood even among those of us who have been engaged in the field almost as long as he has. I am also certain that John Clute knows more words than most of the rest of us, and he uses a vast number of them in his commentary. Clute adds to the vast and often redundant vocabulary of the English language the lengthy lexicon of academic literary criticism, and even that is not enough -- he also adds his own unique critical terminology as necessary to explicate his concepts. Two examples of this also can be found in the title to this volume. Fantastika is Clute's term for the broad genre that spans science fiction, fantasy, horror, and all of the various subgenres of fantastic literature. The World Storm is the vast planetary crisis -- political, moral, intellectual, economic, environmental and social -- in which we have become embroiled over the past century. Clute makes a complex case that Fantastika has become the primary literature relevant to addressing the issues mankind now faces. I was considering providing in this review a quoted passage to give a feel for his prose style, but I have concluded that any Clute out of context cannot be considered representative.

Reading this volume elicits in me some of the same feelings I get in my primary career as a scientist when I read the work of the greatest experts in a given field. When I make a concerted effort to read a book on relativity or quantum theory, I often attain that eureka! moment when it all makes sense, only to discover days or weeks later that I cannot quite remember what it was that I understood. I found the same experience with Clute's Frankenstein and World Storm essays, among others here. In short, Pardon This Intrusion is not light and easy reading. But it is worth the effort.

Aside from his encyclopedic work, which is often very straight forward and readable, Clute does not make an effort to assure that his complex commentary can be easily understood by those less knowledgeable in the field. Although Clute never has engaged in the pointed diatribes and feuds so common in SF, one does get the feeling occasionally that he disdains anyone unable to aspire to his erudite level of discourse. I have at times found this subtle tendency both amusing and, in a way, endearing. I have been fortunate enough over the years to have been publishing my book reviews in some of the same venues as Clute, most notably the Sci-Fi Channel's on-line Science Fiction Weekly and its later SciFi Wire incarnation, and therefore had a front row seat in the latter days of SciFi Wire a few years ago when Scott Edelman was slowly losing his battle to keep science fiction literature a focus in a site becoming more and more sci-fi media oriented. (Now, with the latest reincarnation, Blastr, the battle is essentially lost.) Clute's final SciFi Wire columns were book reviews of—shall we say -- Clutian complexity. With each new review, readers posted stronger and more numerous diatribes of the nature of "what the hell is this guy trying to say here?" Clute's only response was to make his next column even more intricate and erudite until at the end even I had trouble following his prose, with each sentence and paragraph seemingly taking minutes to parse. It was an amusingly subtle but effective repudiation, I thought, of all things anti-intellectual in the genre.

So this book might not be the best choice for many science fiction fans, but for those willing to work at attaining a deeper and more profound understanding of our literary field, it is worth perusing. Clute has dedicated his life work to the field of SF, fantasy and horror -- to Fantastika -- and all of us in the field should be profoundly grateful that he has done so.

Copyright © 2012 D. Douglas Fratz

D. Douglas Fratz has more than forty years experience as editor and publisher of literary review magazines in the science fiction and fantasy field, and author of commentary and critiques on science fiction and fantasy literature and media.


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