Bewildering Stories

Prakash Kona writes about...

Organizing Principles

I see that Bewildering Stories has a wider range of writers and readers these days. I attribute it to the fact that yourself and Jerry are willing to open your space to such a bewilderingly broad range of ideas.

A teacher of mine told us at college that too much openness would mean that nothing stays, everything simply goes away. I did not agree with him then, and neither do I now: a certain liberal streak is absolutely essential to absorb the best life has to offer.

P.S: I’ve been reading Stanislavsky's Art of the Stage these days. Deeply moving. I never knew that acting is a spiritual activity until I read Stanislavsky.

Affectionately,

Prakash

Thank you for your kind observations, Prakash! They lead to an important discussion.

To be charitable to your college instructor, I think the phrase “too much openness” may not have expressed exactly what he had in mind. He may have meant “incoherence,” a lack of an organizing principle. If everything is a priority, then nothing is.

And that raises a question: if Bewildering Stories offers a “bewilderingly broad range of ideas,” what are our priorities, exactly? What is our organizing principle?

First, what is it not? It is certainly not literary doctrine. Analog, for example, wants stories in which the physical sciences, primarily, play a crucial role. Well and good, but that’s Analog’s organizing principle, not ours. If it ever had been, we could not have published the remarkable and unconventional works of authors like yourself and so many others.

Let’s apply the principle in another way. In a forum discussion I pointed out that time travel is a literary device, not a mechanical one. Some readers missed my point. A few seemed to be wishing for blueprints to a time machine they could build for, presumably, recreational use. Others would have settled for a mechanism like the quite pretty one in H. G. Wells’ novel.

That, too, is all very well and good, but I look at it from the opposite direction. The literary device is the premise that one can move from one timeline to another. The time machine itself is of no more interest than Odysseus’ ship, which we know moves by oars and sail rather than steam or diesel power. And that’s good enough.

In the broader sense, all literature involves time travel: it necessarily displaces the reader to other times and places. As a genre, time travel stories are a form of alternate history: they create a tension between the history we know and one we don’t, be it in the past, present or future.

If the organizing principle of Bewildering Stories is not a literary doctrine, then what is it? Simple: we’re a university in the etymological sense. We publish what’s good of what we receive. And we have few preconceived notions: we love pleasant surprises. Isn’t the subject matter important? No, not really. We love science fiction, but our every issue shows that we’re not hidebound and that we’re receptive especially to the new and unusual.

Very often we recommend that an author make changes. That’s not a contradiction: the recommendations are always based on what the story itself does. True, submissions occasionally fail to make a point or are trivial in other ways. I may suggest a scenario illustrating how the premise could be made to work; most authors understand that we’re trying to help them see their work through a reader’s eyes. Our principle is that of mediating communication between the writer and the audience.

* * *

On another topic, Prakash, your reading of Stanislavsky comes at the same time as Carmen Ruggero’s observations about the relationship between writing and acting in issue 188. Carmen summarizes succinctly the role that imagination plays in the actor’s and writer’s art.

The reference to acting as a “spiritual experience” is interesting: the medieval church saw it in somewhat the same way. And, as we know, the reaction of the church was the opposite of ours. The profession was made taboo, and actors were denied burial in consecrated ground.

How, then, could the church perform miracle and morality plays, not to mention passion plays like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, made six hundred years too late? Two reasons: The church wanted to maintain a lock on subject matter. Also, actors were thought to be the persons they portrayed; those who played evil roles in church-sponsored plays automatically received absolution. In a word, the church did not distinguish between reality and fiction. The same attitude can be found even today among the literal-minded, especially politicians.

Always good to hear from you, Prakash.

Don

Copyright © 2006 by Prakash Kona
and Bewildering Stories

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