"Lies" and Forgotten Innovation

All too often, sometimes more often than not, those who make the innovations or who create something new aren’t the ones recognized for it. Robert Fulton, for example, didn’t build the first steamboat; Robert Fitch did, but he went bankrupt, while Fulton made money. Galileo certainly wasn’t the first scientist to propose the heliocentric solar system, nor was Guttenberg the first one to come up with the idea of moveable type and the printing press. The listing of those recognized as “firsts” who weren’t is long, and, given human nature, that’s probably not surprising, because, for someone to be recognized as a “first achiever,” it’s necessary that the knowledge of that achievement be disseminated, both about the action, and with some supporting information explaining why the act or achievement is worthy of recognition. Sometimes, explanation isn’t all that necessary, but knowledge of the act is vital for societal recognition.

In addition, sometimes a figure well-known for popular achievements never receives his or her true due for other substantial accomplishments. Benjamin Franklin certainly falls into this category. With all the notice about his political successes, his scientific career is reduced to the story of the key, the Leiden jar, and the kite. Yet Franklin also invented bifocals, the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, a flexible urinary catheter, not to mention the armonica [glass harmonica], and, with his cousin, was the first to name and to chart the Gulf Stream. He was the first to document and write up many of the basics of electrical behavior, and the first to document the principles of evaporative cooling.

These examples suggest that often what we “know” about innovation or about people happens all too often to be incomplete, or sometimes close to a complete lie.

In the field of fantasy and science fiction, this is also true. Popular recognition of “innovation” often has not coincided with reality. As I wrote almost a year ago, Fred Saberhagen was a very innovative writer, but one who never truly received his due for all the innovation and uniqueness in his work, perhaps because he accomplished it without bells and whistles, without overwhelming self-promotion and rhetorical excesses.

Although “alternative history” dates back to the Roman writer and historian Livy, H. Beam Piper was one of the first twentieth century SF writers to create more than one or two works of alternate history, beginning with “He Walked Around the Horses” in 1948, but comparatively few readers today would recognize his name, and most of those would likely do so because of the tributes of current writers to his legacy.

Even with popular and well-known writers, at times, works of a high caliber are overlooked or lost behind the clamor about popular works. Examples of this include, in my opinion, Roger Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness, Michael Moorcock’s The War Hound and the World’s Pain, David Drake’s The Forlorn Hope, George R.R. Martin’s The Dying of the Light, and Gordon R. Dickson’s The Way of the Pilgrim. Of course, in accord with the trend noted in a recent blog, these are all stand-alone works unrelated to the more popular series of these writers.

So… on a day of remembrance, some remembrance for works and achievement forgotten or not remembered as they should be, including all those I haven’t cited.