Herovit’s bygone world (with addition)

Barry N Malzberg, Herovit’s World (Pocket 1974)

HerovitI picked this out from my huge Science-Fiction-Books-To-Be-Read cache because it’s very thin, and because James Tiptree Jr/Alice Sheldon mentioned Malzberg as one of her favourites (though she did characterise him somewhat deterringly as a writer ‘in overt pain’, so that ‘Everybody and everything hurts, for no known reason’).

This is almost certainly not a book that Barry Malzberg reputation rests on. It’s hardly science fiction at all, in fact, rather a grimly comic tale of a hack sf writer’s disintegration after writing 92 novels and 51 pages, plus innumerable magazine stories in little more than 22 years. It’s a prolonged self-hating in-joke, or possibly a prolonged in-joke about self-hatred. After much anguish, the writer, Jonathan Herovit allows his much more practical pseudonym to take over his own life, but when the latter fails miserably to deal with the real world, he is replaced by the even more man-of-action but even less cluey main character from Herovit/Poland’s SF series. It’s a book that has dated severely, as the science fiction world it satirises is (I imagine) no longer with us, and because its sexual politics are repulsive. Even allowing for irony, the portrayal of sex/sexism is strikingly unreconstructed. Herovit rapes his sleeping wife at one point; waking up, she makes it clear that she’s not a willing participant and that he’s hurting her. No one ever calls it rape: it seems to be just one of a series of terrible sexual experiences all round. A couple of days later Herovit’s wife leaves him. It’s not the rape that was the final straw, however, but an episode of impotence. Clearly, for the staunchly feminist Tiptree to have seen Malzberg as a favourite, his writing elsewhere must offer something extraordinary to offset this horror. It’s true, though, that in this book everybody and everything hurts, including the reader.

There is a lighter note. I’m notorious for failing to respect books as physical objects (Hi Judy!). But considered as an artifact, this cheap US paperback from the early 1970s is a thing that even I could appreciate. Look at this spread:


The narrow margins suggest that the publishers really want to give you maximum wordage for your dollar, and then the ad takes even less of the burden of cost from the reader’s shoulders. I’m grateful that there are only two ads altogether, both for the same brand of cigarettes. This one is clearly for the romantic, the one on the reverse page features an elegant model steam train, clearly for the man’s man.

Added later by request, the other ad:


5 responses to “Herovit’s bygone world (with addition)

  1. Grrrr…. book basher!


  2. The thing is, Ms Rule, I can easily imagine you throwing this book across the room at the marital rape scene, even though you meant the object itself no harm at all!


  3. Please show the train ad – sounds fab. 🙂


  4. Added now


  5. I notice that the “possibly related posts” links automatically generated by WordPress include one to an article about Barry Malzberg that makes it clear that, at least as far as his writing goes, the book is much more autobiographical than I would have guessed. This information makes it seem much less like bleak humour and much more like just plain bleak; it also makes me think more highly of the book.


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