published under pseudonym K.M. O'Donnell
Ace Double (bound with The Gates of Time by Neal Barrett, Jr.)
Book read in April 2000
Rating: 5/10 (Mildly Recommended)
Review by Aaron Hughes
Barry N. Malzberg was a prolific and talented writer in the 1970's, whose work ranged from straight humor to satire to extremely dark stories. Malzberg soured on the SF field in the early 1980's (and many readers soured on him, perhaps due to the unhappy tone of many of his books or to unpopular positions expressed in them, such as denouncing the space program). He still writes short fiction on occasion, including two stories nominated for Hugos in the 90's, but nothing more. Of the dozens of SF novels and collections he published between 1968 and 1985, none are currently in print, with the exception of a small press reprint discussed below.Like much of his early work, Dwellers of the Deep was published under Malzberg's pseudonym K.M. O'Donnell, although in an introductory note O'Donnell insists that Barry Malzberg is his pseudonym. One of Malzberg's lighter works, it was printed as half of an Ace double.
Dwellers of the Deep is a recursive novel centering around the unlikely adventures of a group of science fiction fans and collectors. Much of the book is devoted to explaining the difference between fans and collectors. Collectors obsessively accumulate science fiction books and magazines. Fans gather to talk about science fiction books and magazines. Very often, neither group can actually be bothered to read the science fiction books and magazines. This is one of three recursive science fiction novels Malzberg has written. I know. They are all lined up on my shelf. This is the first time I have read any of them. I am a collector.
Our protagonist, Izzinius Fox, is a collector. He has gone so far as to quit work and live off his unemployment checks so he can devote himself to finding those rare issues of Tremendous Stories he needs to complete his file. In his defense, this also gives him time to read all the magazines he collects.
Lately, Fox has become the target of a series of peculiar alien abductions. What do the aliens want? Naturally, they covet the December 1946 issue of Tremendous Stories. They are interested in Cupboard's article on "Engineering and Science of the Mind." They say this will allow them to help mankind, but Fox refuses to turn over the magazine. He has a hunch that the aliens are bent on enslaving mankind (or does he just have a premonition that the aliens will require us all to watch John Travolta in Battlefield Earth in the future?), besides which he doesn't want to create a gap in his Tremendous Stories file. Fox confides in science fiction fan Susan Forsythe, who convinces him to turn to fandom for help. They go to a volatile meeting of the Solarians, not to be confused with their splinter group and feared rivals, the Plutonians. Fox will have to decide which is worse: being threatened with torture by tentacled aliens, or getting involved in fan politics.
It's amusing to see how many of the writers mentioned in the book you can identify. But while the portrayal of science fiction personalities was dead-on accurate, it wasn't as funny as I hoped. This is basically a novelette built on anecdotes about SF fans, padded to fit into an Ace double package. What's more, the padding seems to have been done in a hurry - details change frequently, such as which issue of Tremendous Stories the aliens are after (usually it's December 1946, sometimes it's May 1950). Either there isn't enough parody here to really make me laugh, or I'm not enough of an insider to get all of the humor.Still, this is a quick read sure to offer some entertainment for any science fiction fan. If you're interested, you can try to find a used copy of the original Ace double edition. Alternatively, there are still a few copies out there of The Passage of the Light, from NESFA Press, which collects all of Malzberg's recursive science fiction, including Dwellers of the Deep.
The Author Responds:
Came across your review which amused me and for which I thank you. Would have helped if I could have kept the sought issue of TREMENDOUS STORIES (l2/46 or 5/50?) straight but that was a grim winter and I was a pretty grim guy then. As opposed to now, of course. Just a big, friendly, rumpled, superannuated kid, that's what I am.
Nice and tolerant review; thanks again.
Barry N. Malzberg
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