Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Benchmarks Benchmarks
by Algis Budrys
Ansible Editions

Supplied for review by Ansible Editions

Reviewed By: Mark Turner

Benchmarks Continued: 1975 - 1982
Benchmarks Revisited: 1983 - 1986
Benchmarks Concluded: 1987 - 1993

In the 1970's, in spite of what you may remember, some things of note did happen. The adoption of orange and brown as an interior colour scheme was not one of the happier ones. For me personally it was in the early 70's that I discovered genre fiction, specifically Science fiction.

In 1975 Algis Budrys began writing a column of book reviews for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science And Fiction (known to history as F&SF). Picking up where he had left off with Galaxy Science Fiction in 1974. He continued with it until 1993. The Galaxy columns were collected and published as Benchmarks: Galaxy Bookshelf. It was always intended that the same would be done with the F&SF columns. Unfortunately, after several false starts, he passed away before anything made it to print. Thanks to the efforts of David Langford and Greg Pickersgill, under the Ansible Editions imprint, the F&SF columns have been rescued from the recycling bin of history.

Algis Budrys grew up on a diet of 'pulp' magazines, before the paper shortages of the war (that is World War II) killed them off. In many respects his career in publishing mirrored that of several of his contemporaries. Author, editor, manager, critic. In one respect it didn't, the quality of his canon. Although he was not a prolific author his work includes a high proportion of what are regarded as classics of the genre.

He was one of the generation of writers to follow those who had come of age in the pulps. What one might term a third age of Science Fiction (depending on how you categorise it). As if there is any tidy linear evolution through the pulp magazines of the 30's and 40's to today. The point is he knew the writers and editors of the 30's and 40's first through their work and then through his own. He knew the writers and editors of the 50's, 60's and 70's and beyond as his contemporaries and latterly (as a teacher at the Clarion Writers Workshop) as his students.

He may be more widely known for his own writing but it is arguable that he was more influential as an editor and critic. Much criticism and especially genre book reviews are quite ephemeral. Quickly produced, quickly read if not skimmed and soon forgotten. To dismiss the columns written by Algis Budrys as mere 'book reviews' is to do the man a great disservice.

The columns are by turns whimsical, incisive, scathing, humorous. Always entertaining and informative. They are filled with reminiscence and analysis. They are, in large part, mini-essays on the art of writing. Specifically writing science fiction. They are, to paraphrase Forrest Gump's mother, like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get. One thing you can be sure of is that it will be good.

The three volumes span the period when Science fiction and fantasy made up the vast majority of my reading. Leafing through the pages I was reunited with many familiar old friends. Reading about them I was re-introduced to them in a new way. I was introduced to new ones, titles that I missed at the time. Some of the joy of discovery and rediscovery was rekindled.

These columns, like all rich food, are best sampled in small portions. The wit and wisdom therein savoured before moving on to the next morsel. There is no beginning, middle or end to contend with so you can dip into them at any point, at any time and you will be richly rewarded.

One of the nice features of these editions is that they contain an index. So you can more easily find that reference you vaguely remember or a favourite title or author.

I can heartily recommend this collection without reservation.

As an aside the earlier work, Benchmarks: Galaxy Bookshelf is available as a Gateway e-book.

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