Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, September 24, 2021


 Those Who Can:  A Science Fiction Reader, edited by Robin Scott Wilson  (1973)

Sometimes it seems as if science fiction is the Rodney Dangerfield of literature.  It gets no respect.  That's not true except to some myopic mainstream reviewers and critics, those who, when they find something they like, declare it's not science fiction -- really.  SF has long been out of the ghetto and a good reason is the twelve authors collected in this anthology -- talented, respected writers who also have strong credentials as teachers in the field, whether it be in an academic setting, in lecturs, or as leaders in various writing workshops.

The editor, Robin Scott Wilson (1928-2013), a former military intelligence officer and CIA employee, who decided on a career change to become a writer and teacher.  His first story was published in F&SF in 1970.  He taught at Tulane and Michigan State before he was appointed president of Californis State Univerisity, Chico -- a position he held from 1980 to 1993.  A strong supporter of science fiction he was onne of the founders of the annual Clarion Science Fiction Writer's Workshop in 1968.  Clarion is an intense six-week workshop that continues to today and is now held on both the East Coast and the West Coast.  Among its alumni are Alan Brennert, Edward Bryant, Olivia Butler, Ted Chiang, Robert Crais, Cory Doctorow, Geroge Alec Effinger, Nalo Hopkinson, Robert Kadrey, James Patrick Kelly, Kathy Koja, Kelly Link, Marjorie Liu, Vonda McIntyre, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Al Sarrantonio, Darryl Schweitzer. Dean Wesley Smith, Bruce Sterling, Lisa Tuttle, and William F. Wu.  The instructors at the workshop over the past 53 years incude a Who's Who of science fiction writers nad editors.  Wilson editd the first three anthologies of stories from the workshop (1971-73).

Wilson asked each of the contributor to Those Who Can to submit a story they had written that would have certain qualities (Plot, Character, Settinng, Theme, Point of View, and Style) and to provide brief essays that would that would put these qualities into context related to their stories.  The result is thirteen thoroughly entertaining stories (Frederik Pohl submitted two) and eleven essays ranging from the theoretical to the personal.  The twelfth essay was submitted as annotations to Damon Knight's story "Masks" -- perhaps the most effective "essay" in the book.

This is a volume that is a godsend to those who wish to explore the writing process and the various ways a writeer might approach a story.  For those who are just casual readers of SF, Those Who Can remains an excellent anthology.

The stories and essays:


  • Jack Williamson, "Jamboree" (from Galaxy Magazine, December 1969)
  •      "     , "Plotting 'Jamboree' "
  • Samuel R. Delaney, "We, in Some Strange Power's Employ, Move on a Rgiprous Line" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1968, under the title "Lines of Power")
  •      "     , "Thickening the Plot"
  • Daniel Keyes, "Crazy Maro" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1960))
  •      "     , "How Much Does a Character Cost?"
  • Harlan Ellison, "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes" (from Knight, May 1967)
  •      "     , "Whore with a Heart of Iron Pyrites:  or, Where Does A Writer Go to Find a Maggie?"
  • Joanna Russ, "The Man Who Could Not See Devils" (from Alchemy & Academe, edited by Anne McCaffrey, 1970)
  •      [Russ]     , "On Setting"
  • Robert Silverberg, "Sundance" (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 1969)
  •      "     , "Introduction to 'Sundance' "
  • Ursula Le Guin, "Nine Lives" (from Playboy, November 1969, under the name "U, K. Le Guin;" Le Guin was the first female to have a story published in Playboy and the editors evidently tried to hide the fact)
  •      [Le Guin]     , "On Theme"
  • Damon Knight, "An Annotated 'Masks' " (original story from Playboy, July 1968)
  • Kate Wilhelm, "The Planners" (from Orbit 3, edited by Damon Knight, 1968)
  •      "     . "On Point of View"
  • Robin Scott Wilson, "For a While There, Herbert Marcuse, I Thought You were Maybe Right About Alienation and Eros"  (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1972)
  •      [Wilson]     , "Point of View:  The Quick-Change Artist in the Typewriter"
  • James E. Gunn, "The Listeners"  (from Galaxy Magazine, September 1968)
  •      "     , "On Style"
  • Frederik Pohl, "Grandy Devil"  (from Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1955)
  •      "     , "Day Million" (from Rogue, February/March 1966)
  •      "     , "On Velocity Exercises"

Wilson produced a similar anthology in 1996 with Paragons:  Twelve Master Science Fiction Writers Ply Their Craft.  The contributors to this anthology were some of the leading writers of the day -- Nancy Kress, James Patrick Kelly, Greg Bear, Pat Murphy, Kim Stanley Robinson, Lucius Shepard. Karen Joy Fowler. Bruce Sterling. Joe Haldeman, John Kessel, Pat Cardigan, and Howard Waldrop.  Interestingly, all of the contributors (with the exceptions of Greg Bear and Pat Cardigan) have been students and/or staff of various Clarion workshops.  I have not read this one, but I feel very comfortable in recommending it.


  1. I've beeb meaning to read THOSE WHO CAN for decades...and I think I've managed to not even purchase it for the house stacks, much less the successor. So thanks for the nudge! Le Guin, fwiw, wasn't the first woman to have a short story in PLAYBOY...but she was the first who would not also be a model for typical PLABOY photography...Alice Denham the first, thus, in 1956. Denham would later publish, among other things, a rather slight novel called AMO and a novelization of the tv series THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR, despite the film the series is based on was in turn based on a novel, all with the same title. Denham was apparently rather adept at sleeping with other writers, as per her two memoirs.

  2. I've BBC'd meaning to read the Wilson, clearly.