Proceedings of the Institute for Twenty-First Century Studies (PITFCS)
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PITFCS - Proceedings of the Institute for Twenty-First Century Studies
Edited by Theodore R. Cogswell
With an Introduction by Algis Budrys
Before SFWA there was PITFCS—
In 1959 the late Ted Cogswell started a "fanzine for pros" with the mock-pompous title Publications of the Institute of Twenty-First Century Studies, soon to be known as PITFCS. Its circulation was limited to science fiction writers and editors, and its contents were mostly their letters discussing their own and each other's work. PITFCS quickly became the place where s-f professionals talked to each other about the problems of the field, both literary and economic.
The discussions were frank, discerning, insightful, humorous, occasionally a little insulting, and even a bit bawdy. PITFCS was where the pros could let their hair down. It lasted only a few years—Cogswell had to give it up in order to write his doctoral dissertation. Then the Science Fiction Writers of America was organized, and SFWA's publications began filling the niche that PITFCS had occupied. PITFCS was short-lived, but has been remembered with joy all these years, and Advent is proud to reprint it now.
(How is the acronym PITFCS pronounced? Don't ask. But if you insist, Tony Boucher tells you in a limerick.)
This volume reprints PITFCS from first issue to last, and adds an index which is perhaps more comprehensive than it needs to be. However, we have omitted most of the typos for which Ted Cogswell was famous. (His motto was "PITFCS are never proofread.")
Here are letters and essays from such science fiction notables as Brian Aldiss, Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Algis Budrys, John W. Campbell, Arthur C. Clarke, Avram Davidson, Gordon Dickson, Harlan Ellison, Harry Harrison, Damon Knight, Fritz Leiber, Frederik Pohl, Eric Frank Russell, Kurt Vonnegut, and Don Wollheim.
Amazing and astounding to note, this is not a period piece with only historical interest. Most of the problems discussed in PITFCS are still living issues today. It seems the tensions between writers, editors, and publishers don't change.
For example, here are several excerpts from a running debate about what an author owes to his art, and how much editors should be privileged to change an author's words:
- "Once [an editor] added a paragraph to a story of mine that changed my whole climax, but he had bought the story and it was his to do what he liked with to make it more acceptable to his readers."
- "The writer is his own public. His obligation to make his writing 'attractive' is an obligation he owes to himself. When he stops writing for himself and starts writing for the 'public,' he becomes a technician rather than an artist."
- "I disagree emphatically... that the writer is or should be a completely 'dedicated' artist upheld by his own act of creation.. To me, it's the thing created, not the creator that counts, and the distinction between the craftsman and the artist lies in the work not in himself."
- "I disagree sharply with several of my colleagues who claim that a story becomes the property of an editor, to do with as he pleases once he's bought it. Does the canvas become the property of the art dealer to re-paint as he pleases? Does the symphony become the property of the conductor to re-score as he pleases?"
- "Professional writers—unlike professional journalists, ghost writers, editors, or admen—have traditionally been eccentric types egoistic, individualistic, and nasty as all hell about editorial interference. That is to say, the writing of fiction (as of poetry) is not a trade; it is an art. And... it seems to me the (even) would-be artist can hardly claim to be making so much as a stab at eternity, if he does not start by insisting that the statement of his work be his statement, and the form thereof his form.... Leave me say loudly I do not sell my stories. I only sell the right to publish them. Anything that appears under or over my name in the public prints is my property. It is I, and not the editor, who will be judged by it —whose word rate and literary reputation will go up or down be cause of it—whose meaning will be understood or misinterpreted in accordance with it."
- "Science fiction is, actually, far better written than it deserves to be. Which isn't saying much."
- "We want our mistakes to be our own, and not have our names signed to somebody else's mistake."
- "Reading this emotional tirade of 'I don't sell my stories, I only sell the right to publish them,' I wonder.... The magazines are not in business to provide [the writer] with a living or to encourage literature, or to provide the artist with a field for self-expression. ... The writer who wants to 'express himself' should be content to pay for printing his own work. If he wishes to make a living, or even to be paid at all, he must perform a service for which some one is willing to pay... in this case, he must entertain the reader.
"All the arts have this curious schizophrenia. And artists are divided into two classes; the ones who are so eager to express themselves that they will pay for the privilege of doing it, and the ones, no less eager but much cannier, who insist that they should be paid for the pleasure they give to others. But then there are also the egotistical slobs who want to express themselves, profess great contempt for the public who will read or look at their work—and yet want this same damned public to subsidize them! The writer who wants to be paid should render value received; he should give the man who pays a just return in pleasure for his money."
The debate never reached any conclusion, of course, and it is still going on today—and not only in science fiction. (What, you want to know which writers produced these nuggets? Buy the book and read it!)
Other goodies to be found in this volume include Gordie Dickson's analysis of A. J. Budrys' Rogue Moon, several conflicting critiques of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers, and Norman DeWitt's essay "Is Science Fiction Literature?" There are also limericks and other verses (some of them clean), and the photographic explanation of why Isaac Asimov laid this curse on Ted Cogswell: "A murrain upon thee and a pox as well.... May the bloody flux seize upon thy vitals, Ted." (See pages 233 and 288.)
The issues of PITFCS form a huge book of some 350,000 words (8 1/2 x 11 inch pages of small type in double column), for the delectation of the general science fiction readership.
"This is a spectacular thing—it's like being allowed to sit in as the best writers in SF talk about SF, their craft, themselves and the world at large."
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