Remember the nineties? Remember how we wanted to be writers, and painters and filmmakers, musicians—wanted it so badly like an anguished constant hunger? And maybe it was the eighties or the aughts but you remember what it was like, don’t you? Desperate to know if we had “talent,” aching for just an atom of recognition.
And then as that first decade of adulthood plays out a few people you know start to get somewhere; the book deal, the column, the attention. And then some don’t, and the differences become more and more obvious, it cuts like broken glass and nobody wants to talk about it but talking about it is what gives the farce of “Enoch Soames: a Memory of the Eighteen-Nineties” its glass-sharp edge, its twist of the knife.
Enoch Soames is—you know it’s coming—the best science fiction story you’ve never read. It was published in 1916, early 20th century Golden Age of British science fiction and fantasy, a moment (not so different from right now) when genre was a place where literary writers went to play and genre writers brought their A game and there wasn’t quite so much fuss about the distinction—writers like H. G. Wells and G. K. Chesterton and Max Beerbohm.