Herovit's World Paperback – August 1, 1974
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Jonathan Herovit has written ninety-two Space Survey novels, but the ninety-third finds him at the end of his tether:
... He sits quickly, extends a leg to kick the door more firmly closed, pulls the chair to the desk, and considers what is in his typewriter.
“Get those rockets aligned now, men!” Mack said to the crew-slaves, and slowly the great ship shuddered as it shot showers into space, then ground its engines for the launch. Mack felt himself partake of the power of the ship; it was a good feeling to know that you had at your beck and call something so vast and capable of weaponing such enormous destruction.
Not so good. Not good at all; this is very bad stuff, Wilk was right, and maybe a man would be better off dead than turning out garbage like this for adolescents, most of whom were afraid of their own erections and would have to work themselves gradually to a state where they could function with girls. Not that he wants to pursue this line anymore. It is just all too depressing
... Yet somehow all this self-loathing, with his wife, his friend, and his agent heaping additional contempt on his scotch-addled head was fun to read. The humor s sardonic, and for the most part too rude to quote.
"... The world begins to make sense to him in its weary, banal way; there are only so many confrontations possible or so many sequences of events; given its chance, the tired world, like a hack writer, will settle at the easiest level of accommodation. Not for the sake of structure, but because it has nothing else on its mind, no better idea."
Jonathan Herovit, successful author of ninety-two novels, has been going downhill for a long time--everybody knows it; his fans, his editor, his wife, himself. Even his alter ego, the pseudonym Kirk Poland knows it--Kirk Poland, who Herovit imagines to be everything Herovit is not, and who offers, finally, to step in and replace Herovit, and to get everything back on track again. Herovit can only avoid the lure of this kind of escape for so long, and soon enough, Poland is calling the shots--but is Herovit's life as easy to direct in reality as it seemed from the sidelines?
In many ways, HEROVIT'S WORLD reads as if Mr. Malzberg never really had a clue where he was going with it--just kept inserting paper into the typewriter, and whatever came to him next was what went into the novel. For me, this actually added to the charm of it--several times I thought I knew where it was going, and it took off in a completely different way. Conversely, there is a somewhat disjointed feel to it, as well as material that reads like filler. All of which conforms to the way Herovit is described as writing--I don't know if Mr. Malzberg's descriptions of Herovit gave me the idea, or the material itself, but knowing that Mr. Malzberg wrote dozens of novels himself, I have to believe at least some part of his description of the writing process was taken from his own experience.
This passage, in particular, seems to sum up the idea of churning out book after book, and might be an insight gleaned only from real life:
"But he tries never to revise. It was an old policy settled from the beginning. Once you started revising, there was just no end to any of it: first it was a line here or there, then a paragraph or a shred of dialogue that didn't quite work; soon you were up to whole scenes that didn't work...if you got deep into the revision question, you might never be able to write new stuff again. Hunks of novels and short stories, like dismembered limbs, would be fed through the typewriter over and again and nothing would ever be right. That was the problem once you started looking at this stuff critically: it NEVER could be right; it was already rotten to the bottom."
Whether or not HEROVIT'S WORLD is another `rotten to the bottom' piece of pulp-fiction hack work, or something that rises above is surely a matter of taste. For myself, it seems to fit well into the Stanley Elkin, Bernard Malamud style of humor, with the added benefit of dealing with a genre that I've dearly loved in the past.