Anthopology 101: The (Non)Final Stage
By Bud Webster
Anthologies come about in any of several different ways, and for any number of reasons. Some happen quickly and without undue hassle: the book is announced (or invitations issued), submissions collected, read and chosen, the book is finalized, contracts are signed, and it's hey-nonnie and on to the printer and binder.
Some are not so lucky. There have been books delayed by editorial sloppiness, orphaned by publishers, and ones that dishonestly collected submissions for years before simply fading away into the ether1. There was at least one small-press anthology deliberately sabotaged by its disgruntled editor, in fact.
Final Stage: The Ultimate Science Fiction Anthology (Charterhouse 1974; Penguin, 1975), edited by Ed Ferman and Barry Malzberg, was one of the unlucky ones.
It began well enough. Charterhouse's new editor-in-chief, Carol Rinzler (who died in 1990 at the age of 49 after a number of years of ill-health), asked her cousin, Ed Ferman, if he could use his influence to help her get a book from Isaac Asimov. Ferman replied to the effect that his (or anyone's) influence on Asimov was, at best, questionable; however, he and Barry Malzberg had just delivered an anthology to Doubleday (Arena: Sports SF, published in 1976) and he opined that they could be talked into doing another one for her. She agreed, and Malzberg suggested a far-reaching premise: in the editors' words, "...stories that carry [science fiction's] basic themes as far as possible given the current state of the art...."
Very specific invitations went out. Chosen authors were asked to write on appropriate themes - Asimov was asked to write the ultimate robot story, Russ and Ellison the ultimate sex stories, etc. - and nine months after conception, Final Stage was born.
Before we go any further, let's look at the contents:
Introduction - Edward L. Ferman & Barry N. Malzberg
"We Purchased People" - Frederik Pohl
"The Voortrekkers" - Poul Anderson
"Great Escape Tours, Inc." - Kit Reed
"Diagrams for Three Enigmatic Stories" - Brian W. Aldiss ("The Girl in the Tau-Dream," "The Immobility Crew," "A Cultural Side-Effect")
"-That Thou Art Mindful of Him!" - Isaac Asimov
"We Three" - Dean R. Koontz
"An Old Fashioned Girl" - Joanna Russ
"Catman" - Harlan Ellison
"Space Rats of the C.C.C." - Harry Harrison
"Trips" - Robert Silverberg
"The Wonderful, All-Purpose Transmogrifier" - Barry N. Malzberg
"Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" - James Tiptree, Jr.
"A Little Something for Us Tempunauts" - Philip K. Dick
For those of you who pay attention to such matters, I should point out that the Asimov story is the only reprint herein, albeit one having been written specifically for this anthology. In volume two of his first autobiography, In Joy Still Felt, he wrote:
"Ed Ferman, the editor of F&SF, joined forces with Barry Malzberg, one of the more spectacular of the new generation of science-fiction writers.... They asked me to do a robot story, and after some hesitation, I agreed.... There had always been one aspect of the robot theme I had never had the courage to tackle, although [John W.] Campbell and I had sometimes discussed it. The laws of robots [sic] refer to human beings. Robots must not harm them and they must obey them, but what, in robot eyes, is a human being? Or, as the Psalmist asks of God, 'What is man that thou art mindful of him?' So on March 6, 1973, I began a robot story entitled, 'That Thou Art Mindful of Him.' It appeared in the anthology [and] also appeared in the May 1974 F&SF."
(Barry Malzberg amplifies: "Ed found using it in the magazine irresistible once it was in hand. It was the only story not original to the anthology in the sense of prior appearance but it had been commissioned for same.")
Note that this is a book of heavy-hitters, with not a minor league writer in the lot. Every one of these writers was established, with six Nebula and seven Hugo winners among them by the time the book was published. The sheer breadth of styles is significant, too traditionalists like Asimov and Anderson are smack up against Brian Aldiss and Robert Silverberg; literary fantasists Ellison and Russ hob-nob with the sweet madnesses of Tiptree and Dick. In spite of a few difficulties assembling the book (in one case, Alfred Bester had offered the first third of his novel Indian Givers as the ultimate immortality story, but contractual obligations prevented it from being used), editors Malzberg and Ferman succeeded in delivering pretty much exactly what they claimed. How could it possibly go wrong?
Well, it did, or I wouldn't be writing this. All too frequently, the best laid plans gang aft agley, and in this case they gang awfully agley pretty damn fast. Carol Rinzler extensively re-wrote the stories by Anderson, Silverberg and Ellison. That she did so without consulting the authors or the editors, and without issuing galleys to the editors in a timely fashion2, only compounded what was already a serious error in judgment. As it was, no one knew the extent of the liberties she took until the book was printed, bound, and shipped.
Ellen Datlow, now editor of Sci-Fiction, was the Charterhouse staffer at this point, and was in the office when author Ellison dropped by to pick up his copy. "At the time Harlan picked up the book he was delighted but he didn't really look at it till after he left," she said, with an afterthought that this might have been all for the best.
What was actually done to the stories? In the case of the Ellison, I can give personal, if anecdotal, evidence: in 1975 I obtained copies of the original Charterhouse edition as well as the Penguin reprint from that year. I sat down with pen in hand and listed the alterations in the text, ranging from simple changes in punctuation to wholesale re-ordering of sentences and the excision of entire paragraphs. When I was done, the list covered both sides of two and a half legal-sized pages. Ellison's own list of changes runs a dozen letter-sized pages. I think that qualifies as extensive, by any definition.
At this point, after having seen the documentation, I'd like to address some of the mythology that surrounded this book when it came out, especially in the fan press. I'd heard, and for years had believed, that Ellison brought suit against Charterhouse and Rinzler on behalf of himself and the other injured authors involved; that, as befit his reputation in fandom, he had gone ballistic, threatening and demanding reparations, causing the demise of Charterhouse and Rinzler's resignation. This is demonstrably and provably untrue.
Ellison did, in fact, bring suit against David McKay, Charterhouse's parent company a small claims suit for a little over $100 to cover phone calls, secretarial fees, and photocopying costs, all relating to the costs of documenting the situation and informing Anderson and Silverberg, as well as the two editors, of what was going on. What's more, in all the correspondence Ellison had with Rinzler and Charterhouse, he was courteous, polite, and professional. So much for legends.
As far as unwarranted changes went, author Silverberg fared no better. "Trips" is divided into sixteen sections, each set on a different alternate Earth. Rinzler simply removed two of them, one supposes, to keep the book from running long. Silverberg, as can be imagined, was not terribly pleased:
"I labored mightily on this, and was much displeased to discover that in the published book someone had simply excised sections 7 and 12...of course I much resented the casual removal, behind my back, of two of my highly inventive worlds in what was supposed to be an "ultimate" story.
"I don't think there was any significant rewriting of the prose, though I haven't done much in the way of line-by-line comparison. But where the copy editing was particularly brutal was in the breaking up of long paragraphs into cute little ones. For example, my eleventh section was a single headlong passage a page and a half in length. The copy editor broke this up into four short paragraphs. The same sort of pabulumization took place everywhere else in the story."
Co-editor Ferman's recollections are somewhat different:
"Carol did edit a few of the stories fairly heavily, primarily the stories she liked least or ones that she thought were overwritten and paced poorly....Barry and I thought the changes were either minor, harmless or beneficial, but for various reasons (time pressure, inexperience, etc.), we did not give some contributors an opportunity to approve or reject all of them. For instance, I recall informing Bob Silverberg that Carol thought cutting the end of his story would improve it (I agreed). He rejected that idea and we left it alone, but he was not informed about other changes."
Obviously, there's a divergence here in the editors' accounts, a divergence that can be attributed to a thirty-year gap, but is more likely a fundamental difference in professional attitude: Ed Ferman was, first and foremost, a successful full-time editor and publisher. Barry Malzberg was and is a writer, with only one other editorial experience under his belt at the time. To an editor, a story is raw material which must then be carefully refined3 for publication; to a writer, what he or she turns in is the final draft, and aside from minor copy-editing (the correction of typos, misspellings and the like), changes are, at best, perceived as meddling.
As a side-by-side comparison shows, the Anderson story got much the same treatment, with long paragraphs being split into smaller ones, shorter 'graphs consolidated, and a rather heavy-handed shifting about and excision of text. Taken individually, they don't seem to amount to much, but in toto, they are, at best, meddlesome, and at worst, demeaning and short-sighted. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to communicate with Anderson about the book before his death, and so I have little to go on in the way of evidence with which to present his side as eloquently as the other principals have presented theirs.
But he did have significant problems with Ms Rinzler's editing, as he indicated in a letter ostensibly to Malzberg, but copies of which he sent to the others:
"Now we come to FINAL STAGE, a beautiful and challenging idea for a book, which got loused up by some reject from teacher's college who just knew that he, she, or it could write a story ever so much better than its author...I think about every comma in a MS. I know there is such a thing as a publishing style, and am prepared to concede to it. I also know how well! that in spite of all this pondering and scribbling across a preliminary draft, goofs will get made, and am therefore grateful to the good copy editors who point them out....But you yourself will be acutely aware that in the end, nobody knows a text as well as its author....
"It's a great shame that you and Ed Ferman have gotten caught in the gears...There is no intention to make a feud out of the matter.
"But there is, I think, all around, and certainly on my own part: there is, by God, a sudden decision to make this a test case."
Elsewhere in the same letter, Anderson speaks of "the responsibility of established writers toward their younger colleagues, and thus to the field as a whole," and of his repeated "butchering" by Horace Gold in Galaxy, as well as the terrible copy-editing from Ace under Wollheim. So this, after decades of tilling the fields, must surely have been the last straw.
But what possible reason might Rinzler have had to take it upon herself to rewrite three stories by well-known authors in a genre she was, supposedly, interested in publishing? Co-editor Malzberg is characteristically trenchant:
"Rinzler, like the Bourbons, never apologized, never explained. Never, in fact, acknowledged that she was the person who had made the changes. Refused phone calls, would not address the issue, ever. But later we learned third hand - and I can't remember from whom, this is over three decades ago - from someone in-house that it had been her. She knifed three stories, then got bored. It was only sci-fi, so why bother any more?"
(This is, by the way, confirmed by a telephone conversation author Ellison had with Rinzler at the time and which he related to me in helping me prepare this article; he asked her, "Why did you pick those three stories?" She replied, simply and perhaps damningly, that they were the ones on top, and after she was done with them, she got bored.)
Silverberg agrees, with a bite in his words that still echoes his original anger:
"The answer that eventually came back to me was, as I recall, that the editor (Carol Rinzler) was surprised that sci-fi writers would care so much about what happened to their stuff en route to print. The implication was that it's only junk, anyway, and its authors a bunch of hacks, so why not cut a few sections from a story to keep the book down to size, and break up those boringly long paragraphs so that the nitwits who read sci-fi can follow the story more easily, etc? Not a word of explanation or justification, only, in essence, 'What's wrong with treating crap like crap?'"
Indeed. Such an attitude begs comparison with the worst and most venal of the pulp editors and publishers, and certainly it would be nice to think that it was an attitude long since purged from the field. We know better; new horror stories about contemptuous publishers and incompetent acquiring editors seem to crop up every year, each one more heinous than the last.
Because of this, it's tempting to view Carol Rinzler through decidedly dark glasses as an example of the worst sort of editor, and if I were to do that there would be few who would cry foul. But as easy as it might be, it simply wouldn't be a complete picture, and if I criticize her for the unfairness of what she did, then it's only right that I demand the same fairness from myself.
Ms. Rinzler was a woman working in what was still a field largely dominated by men. She was by all accounts an attractive woman, but instead of being an asset, this almost certainly made it that much more difficult for her to be taken seriously. This is true even now, so how much worse must it have been in 1973?
She has been described as "arrogant." Fair enough under those circumstances I would expect her to be nothing else, it was quite likely the only way she could make herself heard. Add this to the normal level of arrogance that publishing requires of any editor, and you have someone who was accustomed to bulldozing her way through "obstacles" that most male editors would ordinarily jump over or work around simply because it was the only way to make her decisions stick. Barry Malzberg recognizes her innate abilities, for all the nightmare she put him through, saying, "If she had not had that heart condition, had lived out a normal lifespan, she would have long since been editor-in-chief of something like COSMOPOLITAN or MARIE-CLAIRE."
In point of fact, she was a founder of the Women's Media Group and was president of the organization beginning in 1984. She is described by them as "a hard-working, determined, and inventive president...one of the wittiest women around." Under her presidency, the WMG organized classes in communications at three high-schools in New York, and actively recruited new members from varied media, as well as increasing the number of Asian and African-American members.
So we're not talking here about an embittered, cynical hack of an editor trying to crank out a paperback original for a third-rate company more used to soft-core than science fiction, but a woman aggressively trying to make her mark in a frequently hostile field, a mother of two facing a nasty divorce who honestly (if somewhat contemptuously) believed that she could improve the prose of a gaggle of (in the words of author Silverberg) "comic-book writers." That she was wrong is regrettable; that she did what she did the way she did it is, perhaps, unforgivable; but given her mainstream experience and attitudes, it's understandable. And probably inevitable, as well.
When the book was published, the reviews were good, as befitted most of the stories in it. But as word got around about the wholesale changes made on the three noted here, fandom began to mutter. Within weeks, the three most influential semi-prozines, Locus, Delap's F&SF Review, and Dick Geis's The Alien Critic weighed in negatively. Reviewers wrote scathingly about the book, urging buyers to stay away.
They did, in large numbers, and they missed out on what was otherwise a terrific book. The painful reality of hard-cover collections, either single-author or anthologies, is that most of the run sells to libraries, and a few more sell to that handful of fans who collect the authors inside (or who, like me, collect the anthologies themselves). Unfortunately, the stigma stuck even after the corrected Penguin paperback edition was published a year later; that version didn't sell very well, either, in spite of an open letter to Locus written by Ellison explaining the changes made and urging the readers to buy.
This is a shame. Leaving aside the three damaged stories, the rest are excellent examples of their authors' work. Of the 13 stories, seven have been reprinted several times, including two of those altered by Carol Rinzler (after being restored, of course).
However, my purpose here is not to dwell too long on the negative aspects of the Final Stage story, or the inevitable personality clashes that arose from it, but to examine the book itself in light of its treatment. Space precludes me from addressing all the stories herein, but I will try and point out the high spots.
Many anthologies from this period date as badly as some of those assembled 20 years earlier. Some age even less gracefully, as many of the "cutting edge" anthologies of the period seem now to be excessive and self-indulgent.4 But not so this one. Ferman and Malzberg wanted their authors' best work, and they got it. Look back at the contents again: the Tiptree and the Asimov are now classics; the Dick, Ellison, and Silverberg only slightly less so; and most of the others are at least well-known to fans of their authors, for all that said fans may be unaware of where the stories originated.
The Asimov in particular is something of an experiment, being a series of similarly-structured scenes culminating in a resolution that I'm fully confident that John W. Campbell would have hated. "That Thou Art Mindful of Him!" was both a Hugo and Nebula finalist.
"We Purchased People" is the First Contact entry, and as usual, Pohl comes at the subject from above the plane of the ecliptic; we never see the aliens (nor does anyone in the story), but we do experience their long-distance presence in the form of criminals who are literally owned and operated by various alien races to inscrutable ends: the trading of advanced alien technologies for works of art, rare plants, rockets to transport all this and, of course, more criminals. It's a nasty little story on several levels.
Kit Reed's "Great Escape Tours, Inc.," is quite the best story by her I've ever read. Her take on the theme of Immortality posits a kind of temporary fountain of youth, and gives us a story that is both cautionary and hopeful; the Twilight Zone be damned, recovering your youth isn't all it's cracked up to be, especially around suppertime. But if the alternative is so much worse....This is a story that should be read more than once or twice.
Editor Malzberg bought a story from himself, of course. What editor can resist? Especially when they have a terrific idea? "The Wonderful, All-Purpose Transmogrifier" may have had its roots in Kuttner and Tenn, as the author says in the afterword (all the stories have afterwords by the authors, by the way, as well as suggested reading lists, some more informative than others), but it has an almost Cordwainer Smithian feel. As the book's entry for Uncontrolled Machine, it shows us not an animated television set, nor even an Iron Chancellor, but the uncontrollable machinery of addiction and disappointment in Malzberg's trademark gleeful bitterness.
In Tiptree's story, a young hunter holding his first gun becomes a slightly less-young man holding his first breast becomes a doctor, then a Nobel hopeful, all brought back by entities unknown, long æons after man disappeared from Earth. Every small triumph, every immense pain he ever felt is relived over and over for reasons he will never understand. Tiptree knew much about pain, and her After the Holocaust story is perhaps the most famous to come from Final Stage. "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" bleeds, but it's the weary blood of a wound re-opened over and over by Someone who is unable to feel, and is thus curious. If the book needed no other justification for its existence, this story would be enough. (I should take a moment to mention that as of the time this book was published, James Tiptree, Jr., was just that and nobody else; Alice Sheldon wasn't "outed" until three years later.)
Time Travel is represented by Philip K. Dick's "A Little Something for Us Tempunauts," a story best described as, well, Dickian. A team of time travelers deliberately commit collective suicide, and are caught in a loop that causes them to be present at their own funeral procession. In true PKD fashion, the story uses the characters' clashes and conflicts to examine the almost Tralfamadorian consequences of fooling with this particular avatar of Mother Nature, and mirrors the author's own disillusionment with the space program.
And what of the Truncated Trio? What can we say about the stories that Carol Rinzler chose to tamper with?
Poul Anderson could break your heart. There are scenes in Three Hearts and Three Lions and Brain Wave that are worthy of Shelley. He approached the Exploration of Space theme from an almost trans-humanist stance: star travel is possible, but with such limitations of space that ships can't carry life-support or radiation shielding. The answer is either to use unmanned probes, or to imprint human personalities into the machinery of the ships themselves, which, if warranted, can create organic android bodies and copy those imprints into them. The imprinted personalities are whole and sentient, possessing the same memories and traits as the originals back on Earth (and some forty years earlier).
Two such androids, imprinted with the neural paths of a man and a woman who knew each other from the beginning of the project, fall in love, fall ill, are cured by their mechanical counterparts (the ship itself and a multi-functional robot), then fall under an inevitable sentence of death, as they can no more survive in the ship as androids than they could as humans. Rather than watch each other die slowly of starvation, they opt (with the help of their "other" selves) to die by lethal injection, together.
Anderson skillfully weaves this four-way web of tragedy, showing us the intricate relationship among ship, robot, and androids, all sharing the same two original personalities, and probing the question of what makes a human human. It would be Wagnerian if it weren't so delicately crafted.
In "Trips," Silverberg gives us one Christopher "Kit" Cameron, who can move easily between alternate universes. It would have been simple enough for the author to utilize one of the expected emotions to motivate Cameron's perambulations fear, revenge, hatred or, perhaps, to set up a more or less commonplace circumstance that would cause Cameron's obsessive flitting between worlds. In fact, fairly early on, Silverberg hints at just such a possibility, but he's too fine an artist to paint on so thin a canvas.
Cameron travels the universes in order to find his wife. And, of course, himself who could resist? but primarily his wife. Is she dead in his own existence, to send him scurrying from world to world frantically trying to find her replacement? Not a chance. That might be the easy way, but it wouldn't be the Silverberg Way.
Instead, Cameron willingly leaves his wife in order to seek out her infinite permutations. In one alternate San Francisco, he finds her analogue living under her maiden name at her old address, introduces himself, and attempts to...what? Court her, seduce her? Convince her that they were destined to be together, if only for a night? A little of all those, I think, but like many Silverberg protagonists, it isn't safe to try and pigeonhole Cameron too quickly.
The author examines, almost as an afterthought, the vast differences in the Bay Area from world to world: in one, Kennedy is alive, and is the puppet president under Fuehrer Goering; in another, Slavic primitives make Cameron their god. There are Mongols, Indians, and a peaceful green light floating in space as well; Silverberg is one of the best at this sort of thing, not only limning the vast variations on the Wheel of If, but making them fascinating. "Trips" is one of his best.
Ellison's entry for the Ultimate Sex story is "Catman." In typical Ellison fashion (is there a typical Ellison story, I wonder?), he hits us with several body blows before delivering the thematic uppercut. The title character is a policeman, weary to death of both his job and his family. The viewpoint character is a thief with the ability to teleport, and a burning (if bizarre) passion which he will go to any lengths to attain. The connection between the two is stated early on, but I am nevertheless reluctant to reveal it; having it evolve through Ellison's prose is a frisson that readers should experience for themselves.
The climax, in more than one way, of the story comes in a mad rush of heat and hatred, as the sexual obsession of the thief destroys not only his own life, but those of the Catman and his wife. There's no happy ending here, but there is love of a sort, however unexpected it might be.
As is true of all of Ellison's best work, there is layer upon layer of detail that illuminates a subtly alien society, expressed in almost hallucinatory prose. Elements that at first seem tagged-on for no reason become important as the story progresses. Vital information is handed to the reader in small bits, easy to miss unless said reader is paying attention. Ellison is frequently criticized for being "hard to read," and in fact, there have been times when I've found him so. But the reality is that Ellison requires his readers to engage with his stories, to expend the effort to involve themselves in the intricacies of plot, character and description. It's an effort that pays off here in coin of the highest denomination.
This can be said for the entire anthology, in fact. The stories in Final Stage might demand that the reader be somewhat more than casual, that they not be perceived as substitutes for a six-pack or a DVD, but so what? Attention and involvement are little enough for writers of this caliber to ask for, and they deliver far more than an evening's distraction. Editor Malzberg is, for all his heartaches over the original edition, understandably proud of the book as a whole, calling it "...the second best original science fiction anthology of the l970's."5 I can find little reason to argue with that.
In the thirty years since Final Stage was originally published, a number of the people involved have passed on, James Tiptree, Philip Dick, and Isaac Asimov among them. I deeply regret that I was unable to fully represent the viewpoints of Poul Anderson and Carol Rinzler; without their direct input, this article is forever flawed. I am therefore most grateful for the willingness shown by Robert Silverberg, Barry Malzberg and Ed Ferman to answer question after question on a subject long in their past; extra appreciation must go to Malzberg for his unflagging support for this article, and his insistence that Carol Rinzler not be portrayed as a soul-less monster; and most especially to Harlan Ellison, for his generosity and trust! - in allowing me the use of his personal files, placing his faith in the vagaries of the United Parcel Service twice so that I could peruse them at my own pace, and without which I would have had no way to present evidence on behalf of Anderson and Asimov, not to mention many other details.
As I write this, there are several dozen copies of the corrected Penguin edition available on-line, priced from $2-15. You could spend your money less wisely.
2Apparently, the editors were given page-proofs and a whopping 48 hours in which to vet them, make corrections, and turn them around. Which, considering the extent to which corrections would have had to have been made to the Chosen Three, was about enough time to stammer, "B-but what the HELL...?"
3Or not so carefully. Horace Gold was famous for changing the stories he bought for Galaxy, and did it to such an extent that when one of his "victims" found himself in the enviable position of editing a Gold story, he couldn't resist the opportunity for a gleeful pay-back prank. I refer the reader to Chapter Eight of Fred Pohl's excellent memoir, The Way the Future Was, for the details.
4 No, I am not willing to mention specific titles here, in deference to those authors and editors who really did try their best. However, lest anyone get the wrong idea, I will, in fact, state categorically that the landmark "new wave" anthologies edited by Harlan Ellison and Judith Merril belong on the shelves of every reader who considers him/herself With It, stfnally.
5He cites Again, Dangerous Visions as the greatest, in case you were wondering. Well, yeah.