Saturday, February 1, 2014


After Isaac Asimov's response in the fanzine Peon to what he, fairly, perceived as book reviewer Henry Botts' personal attacks rather than legitimate criticisms in his column in the science fiction pulp magazine, Imagination, both Bott and Imagination's publisher William L. Hamling, leapt back into the fray with a riposte in an editorial the March 1955 issue.

 One of the regular departments in Madge is our "Science Fiction Library", in which each month Henry Bott reviews one or more of the current crop of science fiction books. This department renders a service to the reader in that it provides a critical review — complimentary or otherwise — upon which a reader may base his decision to purchase and read the books reviewed. From the book publisher's and author's position it provides free publicity for their wares.
   Those who review books are necessarily placed in a unique position; they are applauded by some, denounced by others — depending upon the opinions of the person who agrees or disagrees with the reviewer. For this reason reviewers of science fiction books should be chosen with an eye toward their background and/or qualifications.
    In Madge's case, Henry Bott was  selected because your editors believe him to be a highly qualified science fiction critic.    His background covers some nineteen years as reader, writer, and editor in the field. Coupled with this is his academic background with a mathematics major and his current position as Head of the Technical Writing Section, of one of our country's major scientific
equipment corporations. From technical and literary aspects Mr. Bott fills our book of qualifications for a science fiction critic-reviewer.
   We have elaborated in this regard because one science fiction writer who has had several of his books reviewed by Mr. Bott unfavorably — has felt piqued to the point of first questioning the identity of our reviewer in correspondence to this office, and later with a public protest of the reviews he has "suffered" in one of science fiction fandom's publications, Peon. The writer in question is Isaac Asimov.
    In his public protest Mr. Asimov  accuses Henry Bott (referring to him as "The Nameless One") of indulging in personal insult, and not being bound to accuracy and fact. Mr. Asimov further berates Mr. Bott as being a critic who substitutes invective for reasoning and personalities for analysis. Mr. Asimov also includes in his protest the lectural point that a reviewer ought not to imply that no one likes the book being reviewed, especially since the record indicates that thousands of copies were sold.
    For those interested in reading the full account of Mr. Asimov's protest, we feel sure copies can be obtained by writing to the editor of Peon, Charles Lee Riddle, 108 Dunham St., Norwich Connecticut.    Listed price of the publication is 10 cents.
    It is not our intention to attempt to prove that any book review given in our pages is necessarily gospel word on the subject, inasmuch as opinions differ. We do however take exception to a writer's attempts to nullify the effect (in his mind) of an unfavorable review by condemning the reviewer with untrue remarks.
Further, any reply to Mr. Asimov by Mr. Bott, we feel, should be made in the pages of this magazine, the source of Mr. Asimov's ire. We also extend to Mr. Asimov, if he should so desire, the opportunity to reply in the issue immediately following this one. Forthwith we present Henry Bott's open letter to Mr. Asimov:
   I am grieved that Mr. Asimov is perturbed about my dislike of his books. Ordinarily this would not disturb me greatly; a natural rancor must exist between author and critic.
    Mr. Asimov takes me to task, as the "Nameless One" for identifying the author with the book, and criticizing the former, not the latter. This accusation prompts me to reply to his criticism of a critic.
   I do not know Mr. Asimov. I know he has written numerous books. .1 have heard they have sold well. I know that many critics have praised his books.
   I do not dislike Mr. Asimov. I have read most of his books. I do not like his books. I do not think they are well-written, interesting, or worth bothering about.
    As a critic it is my privilege to say so.

    I do say so.
    Mr. Asimov is determined to force me to admit that his books are "good" even though we probably do not even agree on a definition for "good".
   Mr. Asimov, if the criterion of quality is necessarily measured by the number of sales, comic books would be "good", the Spillane material would be great, and. the vast majority of paperbacks would be magnificent. However, I do not concede that the interests or purchases of ten million morons indicates that makes those interests or purchases "good".

    By the same 'reckoning, the fact that thousands of your books have been purchased cannot make me believe your books are well-written. To paraphrase an epigram: "There is no such thing as a good or bad book. Books are well-written, or badly written. That is all." In my opinion, Mr. Asimov, your books are badly written.
    If I think that, as a critic, it is my duty to say so.
    I do say so.
                 —Henry Bott

   Any opinions held by your editors on the subject of Mr. Asimov's literary capabilities are not pertinent to the issue here. For as we see it Mr. Asimov has simply created an opportunity to express his indignation by descending to a personality level, one of the things he has accused Mr. Bott of engaging in. In concluding his protest Mr. Asimov wonders how an author can defend himself without opening himself to the charge of being a sorehead. We will not attempt to define a sorehead; however, it seems to us that a non-sorehead may be a writer who can take accolades and criticism —
               wlh (William L. Hamling.)

[Asimov made his own parry in the next issue of Imagination. Read how the gentlemanly Asimov buried the hatchet and brought the feud to an end here at the FuturePast Editions blog magazine soon.]

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