ALGIS BUDRYS has been a distinguished member of the science fiction community for going on 40 years. Three of his novels -- Rogue Moon, Who? and Michaelmas -- belong in that small category of books that adolescents read for the adventures and adults reread for the artistry. But of all his contributions to sf, Budrys is probably best known as the genre's premier book reviewer.
In Benchmarks Budrys gathers together all his columns written for Galaxy magazine from 1965 to 1970. Anyone interested in the history of science fiction, or in the workings of a fine critical mind, will want to read this book. Here, for example, are ground-breaking reviews of Dangerous Visions, Pavane, The Left Hand of Darkness, Stand on Zanzibar, Rite of Passage and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, among other milestones of modern sf.
Not that these are all raves. As a reader who values story and craftsmanship above all, Budrys finds the 1960s New Wave (J.G. Ballard, Thomas M. Disch, et al.) opaque, slow-paced, over-written, and generally wrong-headed. He admires old hands Poul Anderson and Keith Laumer for their expert space operas; yet just as he starts to seem a conservative fuddy-duddy he will unexpectedly acclaim Samuel Delany's Nova and the short stories of Roger Zelazny. Indeed, Budrys seldom runs with the pack: when Dune first appeared to a round of hosannas he observed that Frank Herbert seriously weakened his book with pointless subplots and windy philosophizing -- the very defects that drown that novel's sequels.
Besides discussing three to six books each month Budrys often opens these pieces with a short polemical essay about some aspect of sf: blurbs, fan magazines, "best of" anthologies, the mechanics of publishing, and horror writing all come in for instructive comment. Whatever the subject, Budrys' style remains easy-going, a bit abstract (he should quote more), and very human. It's hard not to like a guy who confesses, "I had not up to now thought of James White as a writer whose work was worth watching for, but we all live and learn." He can also be scathing. In criticizing Stanislaw Lem he observes that "while we may grant that genius consists of an infinite capacity for taking pains, an infinite taking of pains does not require the capacity of a genius. See your nearest postal clerk."
Despite a lifetime of literary accomplishment in science fiction, Algis Budrys has never won a Hugo award. With this collection his time may have come round at last.