My annoyance with HiLo Books …


I’ll start with bit of background.  If you’re a science fiction fan — especially if you’re in the ‘sf as literature’ camp — you should take a look at HiLo Books’ “The Radium Age” series:  a collection of “lost science fiction classics” from 1904-1933 (i.e., the last generation of pre-genre, “proto-” science fiction).  It’s a great idea for a series, and respectably successful, showing us what the possibilities for the new “scientifiction” genre would have been had Gernsback been willing and able to pay for more professional and/or contemporary authors:  e.g., Arthur Conan Doyle, and Jack London, alongside lesser known but solid authors like Edward Shanks.

Like I said, it’s a great series, but I confess I’m behind in reading the ones I’ve already bought; I certainly haven’t been keeping track of HiLo’s newer releases.  I just found out they re-issued Muriel Jaeger (nee Jagger, apparently, and “Jim” to her friend Dorothy L. Sayers), specifically The Man with Six Senses.  I find I’m more than a little annoyed with them.

Jaeger definitely deserves to be remembered.  BUT … I’ve two complaints.  First, why didn’t they re-issue her first novel The Question Mark instead?!  Sure, her take on ESP in The Man with Six Senses is good, but Stapledon’s Odd John is a much better contrast to later treatments of superpowers.  And I love The Question Mark:  it reads like a really late (1926) Victorian utopia; dated of course, but still interesting, especially in her treatment of religion, and (as she points out in her introduction) in her inability to believe that no matter our “progress,” humanity would be perfecting itself any time soon:

“I accept the Bellamy-Morris-Wells world in all essentials—with one exception; I do not and cannot accept its inhabitants. At this point my effort to realize Utopia fails. With the best will in the world, I have found myself quite unable to believe in these wise, virtuous, gentle, artistic people. They do not seem to have any relation to humanity as I know it” (Jaeger 1926: 11-12).

The second reason I’m annoyed is a little embarrassing.  I think I can say safely that Muriel Jaeger is a pretty damn obscure author, even for science fiction fans.  I only know her from stumbling across her name in a footnote, then looking her up in Bleiler.  To the best of my knowledge, her nonfiction books have been out of print for decades, and her fiction even longer.  Of all the people I know, I’m pretty sure that I’m the only one who’s ever read her, and I found I really liked her.  Which is to say (in a rather elitist, smug, stereotypically male kind of way) I kind of feel like she’s mine.  And dammit, I like having a few favorite authors that nobody’s heard of, if only so you can whip them out at the end of the debate.

Yes, HiLo did a good thing by trying to give her her props.  But still … Hrumph!


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