Too Good to Be True: The Life and Work of Leslie Fiedler

By Mark Royden Winchell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
Mutants New and Old

THE SAME YEAR that he became chairman of the Buffalo English department, Leslie published his third novel, The Messengers Will Come No More. The book contains two dedications: “To Sally / who broke the block / with love”; and: “To Phil / who showed the way, / with thanks.” If Leslie's many friends and colleagues knew who Sally was, probably few would have been able to identify Phil as Philip José Farmer, a writer who successfully combined the lowbrow genres of science fiction and pornography. (One of his books— a “feral-man anthology” called Mother Was a Lovely Beast—is dedicated to Leslie.) Although he had read science fiction for years, it was not until the mid- 1960s that Leslie began discussing it in print. (A few comments in Waiting for the End constitute the first tentative breakthrough.) His son Eric had introduced him to the genre, and in turn, Leslie had tried to convince Eric that highbrow writers such as Kafka were actually writing science fiction before the term was invented. In fact, Leslie has argued that “the history of science fiction is essentially the history of a name.” 1.

Although futurist fantasy had been written since ancient times (some literary historians cite Plato's work as a forerunner of sci-fi), science fiction as we know it was impossible before the revolutionary technological developments that took place late in the Victorian era. Jules Verne and H. G. Wells—both of whom began writing at the end of the nineteenth century—are regarded as the inventors of modern science fiction, although some devotees believe that the genre was anticipated in some of Poe's tales. The term science fiction itself was coined by Hugo Gernsback, editor of Amazing Stories magazine in 1929. What Gernsback had in mind was “a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision” (Dreams, 11). This definition was consistent

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1.
Leslie Fiedler, In Dreams Awake: A Historical-Critical Anthology of Science Fiction, 11. Subsequent references will be cited parenthetically in the text as Dreams.

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