(Charles Moll’s cover for the 1974 edition)
Note: Today is Barry N. Malzberg’s birthday!
Upon reading In the Enclosure (1973) I was immediately seduced by Barry N. Malzberg’s metafictional brand of science fiction — best illustrated by his masterpieces Beyond Apollo (1972) and Revelations (1972). Although Herovit’s World (1973) contains many of the same metafictional trademarks of Malzberg’s best work, it should be noted that the novel is not science fiction and more a work about writing (pulp) science fiction. In this case, the mental collapse of a pulp writer whose life may or may not contain “true” autobiographical kernels from Malzberg’s own experience in the field…
Woven into the classic Malzberg narrative framework that features in most of his works — tormented man going through a difficult time with his wife while he experiences a mental breakdown — are scathing jabs at authors of his day, notably the Scientology practitioner A. E. van Vogt.
Brief Plot Summary/Analysis (*some spoilers*)
Jonathan Herovit “is one of the ten to fifteen most prolific science-fiction writers in the country, with an audience of somewhere between seventy to eighty thousand for the paperbacks” (4). Under the pseudonym Kirk Poland, Jonathan has written ninety-two novels and five hundred and three pieces for magazines. He imagines that his pseudonymous self, whom he has “visualized from the start”, is sexually potent, tall, and aware of his own inept writing abilities (something which profoundly troubles Jonathan) (6). Jonathan even speculates that without Kirk he would have been a fine writer…
Jonathan’s, or rather Kirk Poland’s, popularity (which is not based on actual merit) within the genre is due to his Mack Miller Survey Team series (imagine early Heinlein or Silverberg juveniles). Because few people know the true individual behind the name Poland, Jonathan has received very little actual exposure to his fans. Those that do figure out his real name are more likely to condemn his work: “You stink, Herovit. You’ve been doing this damned crap for so long it molders, and you’d better get yourself out of science fiction before we throw you out” (2).
In true Malzbergian fashion, his main character contains three separate personas whose interaction is the focus of the work: Jonathan Herovit, who can barely tolerate his young child, despises his wife who resists his sexual advances and resorts to drink in a desperate attempt to overcome his writer’s block; Kirk Poland, the pseudonym whom he has created for his pulp SF who knows what Jonathan writes is horrid; and Mack Miller the all-action pulp hero who features in most of Jonathan’s novels.
The novel contains many selections from the current Mack Miller Survey Team installment that Jonathan is attempting to write (Malzberg take on the pulp style prose is hilarious). In the past Jonathan has never had trouble writing — however, this particular work (which he knows is probably his single worst novel) resists all attempts to be put to paper. It is at this moment of writers block that Jonathan’s world unravels. His wife moves out, he visits a prostitute, sleeps with one of his fans (who actually hates science fiction), and Kirk Poland threatens to take over.
Within the narrative of Jonathan’s breakdown are satirical jabs at SF fandom, authors, and editors. I found the observations about the field itself the most interesting sections of the novel. For example, a comment about A. E. van Vogt: “Vivaldi was one of the senior and most drunken members of the organization although the fact of his drinking was strange because in 1951 Viviladi had converted to Process Religion — a sect which held that food, drink and narcotics of any kinds merely destroyed the brain cells — and since then had been making a nice living on the side administering the religion[…]” (56). In the 70s van Vogt almost stopped writing completely — the works that were published were rewrites of earlier stories — and made money through Scientology.
Long portions of the novel are jabs at the pressures exerted by the editors, the low quality of pulp science fiction, and the shoddy editorial and authorial standards of the genre. Although Malzberg himself never wrote a multi-novel pulp series along the lines of Mark Mack Survey Team, he did use a pseudonym (K. M. O’Donnell) and did write sleaze novels early in his career (as did Jonathan Herovit).
The final product is a dark, at moments hilariously funny and sexually explicit, critique of the science fiction editors, authors, and fandom of Malzberg’s day. The transference of Malzberg’s trademark obsessive and depressed character into the very world that Malzberg himself is operating in (whether or not Jonathan Hervot is closely modeled on himself) is a fantastic metafictional premise. However, Herovit’s World is in no way as literary or evocative as Beyond Apollo (1972), Revelations (1972), or Guernica Night (1975).
(David Bergen’s cover for the 1976 edition)
(C. A. M. Thole’s cover for the 1977 German edition)
(Franco Bombilla’s cover fort he 2012 Italian edition)
For more book reviews consult the INDEX