For many years, hiding under a cloak of anonymity, the most penetrating critic of the field of magazine science fiction was known as "William Atheling, Jr." It soon became a challenge to guess his real identity. And that was no easy game, for Atheling's dissection did not spare even his other ego, the noted science-fiction writer James Blish.
Having shed his protective covering, Mr. Blish has assembled many of the Atheling papers and edited them into the present book. While it covers principally the science-fiction magazines from 1952 to 1963, it is a timeless textbook for would-be writers of science fiction. Nor is its value limited to that genre; the rules of good writing are universal, and Atheling's critiques are not restricted to the peculiarities and special interests of science fiction.
The essays take the aspiring authors and editorsthe Heinleins and Campbells of tomorrowby the hand and lead them painstakingly through the dense forests of "said-bookism," the treacherous moors of "repetitive phrasing," and other forbidden territories. And even an old hand or three will find cause to wonder and reflect, and perhaps even to re-evaluate professional skills too long taken for granted.
No subject is too sacred or taboo for Atheling's shredding typewriter; from sex to God, from religion to satirical poetry. No author, however fragile, is spared the bloody mark of his relentless lash; from Anderson to Heinlein to Zirul. . . and all stops in between. No editor or publisher, from Campbell to Columbia, is spared hisor itsdue share of any responsibility.
But most important, The Issue at Hand is not justor even primarilya textbook for students of writing. It is a vastly entertaining collection in its own right, affording many hours of pleasant and informative reading and re-reading, urging the reader ahead with the wry comments, unexpected humor, and undeviating attention to standards that were the hallmarks of William Atheling, Jr.
Advent has also published More Issues at Hand, and The Tale that Wags the God, further collections of Atheling's critical essays.