This is from Locus Science Fiction Paul Di Filippo has written some of my favorite contemporary science fiction. Here he takes a look at a truly forgotten writer and not only assesses his work but also talks about the fate and relevancy of those minor writers.I read a lot of Robert Moore Williams in my early teens. Here Di Filippo gives him an honest and honorable overview.
Paul De Filippo:
If we regard the world of literature and publishing as a forest ecosystem, then somebody has to be the mulch, the humus, the duff. It’s not a glamorous role. You’re not a giant sequoia or even a pretty little mountain laurel shrub. You’re the compost, the soil that supports everything else. Humble, overlooked, but essential.
Okay, maybe that metaphor can be stretched to the snapping point. But still, that near-anonymous supportive functionality is always how I think of a certain tier of writers. They had long, productive careers, selling books, providing mild pleasure to many readers, somehow serving as a foil to the luminaries of the genre. Taken together, they were the substrate of competence on which the masters flourished. You can’t have a genre composed of one-hundred-percent geniuses, simply because there aren’t enough geniuses to go around. Modern commerce and the recreational demands of consumers mean there has to be a pipeline full of decent but nearly interchangeable product all the time.
But guess what? Sometimes reading these humus authors delivers a certain kind of modest, unique pleasure otherwise unobtainable. With them, you don’t confront the pressure of being worthy of their masterpieces. They labored in quiet and without expectations or constraints, rewarded so long as they delivered on time. Occasionally their work bordered on the surprising, and even the brilliant. Also, after enough time has passed, their work evokes a greater nostalgia, because it is generally timebound, a distinctive product of the era, rather than some timeless, transcendent work of genius.
By any standard, the forgotten Robert Moore Williams was one such figure. Here’s what the Science Fiction Encyclopedia has to say about him. “[By] the 1960s [he] had published over 150 stories. Though most are unremarkable, he was an important supplier of competent genre fiction during these decades, and tales like “Robot’s Return” (September 1938 Astounding)…retain a dawn pathos.”
If you want to sample Williams’s work in a very handy and attractive format, you should pick up the new collection from Armchair Fiction, a fine firm that specializes in reprints of neglected writers, as well as lesser-known items from the famous.
I’ll put the original sources for these tales in parentheses. The litany of old zines is potent in itself.
The volume opens strongly with “Time Tolls for Toro” (Amazing, 1950). Right from the start we sense that Williams can command an emotional immediacy and impact which overcomes his often blunt prose and erratic plotting. A man is walking down a city street in a kind of automatic fugue state, unknowing of his own identity or much else. Williams gives us a red herring, with news that police are looking for an escaped killer named Toro. Is this our hero? But no, he proves to be William Sumner, the inventor of time travel. We also get a beautiful mystery woman, and the eventual appearance of Toro, who proves to have surprises of his own. There’re kidnappings and cloak and dagger stuff and a gruesome set piece of mass murder by Toro, and then everything is resolved rather matter-of-factly. Endings were not Williams’s strong suit. But while the van Vogtian or Phildickian confusion is ongoing, it’s marvelous.
for the rest go here: