by William Tenn
429 pp/$29.00/September 2004
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Philip Klass is better known as science fiction author William Tenn, and William Tenn is best known for his witty science fiction. While NESFA Press collected his science fiction in previous books Immodest Proposals and Here Comes Civilization, this third volume, Dancing Naked, collects non fiction Tenn has published over the years.
The collection begins with a series of pieces Tenn wrote in 1939, when he was nineteen. These are slight tales which ease the reader into the non-fiction presented throughout the book. The following pieces are divided thematically with stories of his family, articles about writing, this history of science fiction, various introductions and obits he has written and the text of two lengthy interviews with Tenn/Klass conducted by Josh Lukin and Eric Solstein.
Tenn's stories are known for their wit, and his nonfiction is no different. His descriptions of himself, his friends and colleagues, and their activities are entertaining and often provide the illusion that rather than reading an essay published in a magazine or book, but rather a personal letter in which Tenn shares intimate details with you.
The interviews between Tenn and Solstein and Tenn and Lukin are perhaps the most illuminating section of the book. Whereas Tenn chooses what to reveal about him in all his essays and the interviews, only in the interviews does he have someone pushing against him, trying to illicit stories and information which Tenn otherwise may not have thought to include. In these interviews, Tenn discusses his personal life as well as science fiction, much as he does throughout the rest of the book, although the various threads of separate essays are more fully integrated in the interviews.
While it is often easy to try to read a writer's personal opinions into his stories, it is also a tricky thing to do. When writing fiction, an author assumes a persona, just as an actor assumes a role. However, when writing non-fiction, especially autobiographical essays, as Tenn does in Dancing Naked, it provides a better look at the person behind the stories. Readers who have read Tenn's stories and novels and think they know him will come away from reading Dancing Naked with a better understanding of who the author is.
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