Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Chanukah and Howard Fast
Back to My Glorious Brothers. I remember when I first saw it, on a rack of paperbacks in the local milk bar. I was there to buy a few groceries and homed in on it. It cost me about 40c, a small thin paperback - not the cover above, one I couldn't find in Google Images. It has almost fallen apart from all the times I've re-read it.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Simon, last of the five brothers, now an old man, looking back over his life. As an adult, sadly, I know how it all ended, with the Romans conquering the country (they had actually helped the rebellion succeed) and the descendants of the heroes fighting among themselves in a style worthy of Hollywood soap opera.
And he wrote science fiction as well. The first story he ever sold, when he was in his teens, was SF, and he wrote a number of SF short stories and novellas, published in such collections as The Edge Of Tomorrow and The General Zapped An Angel. The title story of the latter has, in recent years, been updated and adapted for theTV series Masters Of Science Fiction.
Fast's SF is thoughtful stuff; you won't find light space opera or straight adventure here. Notice the cover of the first one? The story is called "The Large Ant". A man on holiday wakes up to see a giant ant standing by his bed. He kills it and takes the body to a scientist friend. Turns out it's not an ant - it's an alien, and the question is - was it actually a threat or did the man just assume it would be because we're scared of big insects? In another story, a company finds a way to drill very deep for oil and what comes up is not oil but blood. If that had been written today, reviewers would have complained about bloody greenies and cliches.
Why do I love his work so much, even today? I love his characters. They are a bit black-and-white, but he cares about them, deeply, so you do too. His language is beautiful. He cares about the story he's telling and can send a message without hitting you over the head with it.
Most of his historicals are about America, and that's fine. He loves his country, but isn't a flag-waver.
Most of all, I have been moved enough by his work that it has had an influence on my own style.
I've become the kind of writer I am because of my love for Howard Fast's writing. Whether that's a good thing or not, you will have to decide when you read my books, but for me, it works.