Shaft

I am reading Shaft. I did not even know until recently that it was a novel instead of a movie.

When I read an old genre novel like that, I often have difficulty falling into it. I find myself thinking about the world the writer lived in, and the assumptions he makes, and the world and assumptions of the novel’s target audience. In this case, a lot of that is tied up with race and ethnicity of course — not just blacks but also Italians, and a little bit Jews. And there’s casual homophobia and the novel is sexist as hell. I’m not trying to see these things, they jump out at me and won’t get out of the way so I can just enjoy the story. Perhaps because the story is rather thin.

I’m making the novel sound worse than it is. It’s actually pretty good.

I had the same problem when I tried to read “The Skylark of Space” recently. “Skylark,” by E.E. Smith Ph.D. (that’s how the magazines always ran his byline), was the prototypical space opera, ancestor to Star Trek and Star Wars and the Expanse and all the rest. It was written in 1915-21, and published in 1929.

I was unable to stop marveling at a fully formed space opera written so long ago.

For example, the novel gets around relativity by simply having a character say that “Professor Einstein” was, of course, a genius, but he was wrong. And why not? The theory of relativity was still new and unproved then!

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