Just what the title says.

Oh, but this is a tough one.

In the 1950’s, Asimov did a number of science fiction-y parodies of songs from various Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Two of them appear in Earth is Room Enough: “The Author’s Ordeal,” and “The Foundation of SF Success.”

This poem was published in the November 1956 issue of The Original Science Fiction Stories and so was probably just too late for inclusion in Earth is Room Enough. In this case, the poem is modeled on “If You Want a Receipt for a Popular Mystery” from Patience.

“If You Want a Receipt” is a patter song, meaning it’s supposed to be sung rapidly but with perfect diction. It’s nominally a recipe (the American term for “receipt”), telling you how to make a Heavy Dragoon by mixing together bits and pieces of various other people, starting with “The pluck of Lord Nelson on board of the Victory—/Genius of Bismarck devising a plan.” As such, it’s a long list of people that a middle-class Englishman would be likely to know about, meaning it’s loaded with more than the usual number of references to popular culture which are lost to us today.

Asimov mimics this perfectly. In his case, he’s trying to tell the reader how to write the perfect sf story by mixing the talents of various people starting with “plot complications by me, (Isaac Asimov),” and going on from there, running through the names of about three dozen different sf writers a fan of the mid-1950’s would be reasonably expected to recognize.

Now, “If You Want a Receipt” is notoriously difficult. Annotators—including Asimov himself—have trouble identifying all the references. The parody is just as tough for a modern audience since almost all of the authors are listed using their last names only.

The first verse and about half of the second lists only men, and without looking anybody up, I can manage to identify all but two of the 29. The last half of the second verse names eight women, and in this case, I don’t recognize six of the names. I’ve probably read more pre-1960 sf than the average fan today, but I’m rather disappointed that I can’t do any better than that. (Since most of the major sf writers of the time were men, it’s only natural that Asimov has to use less prominent names to get more than a few women mentioned. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it.)

The poem is accompanied by a delightful illustration of a mid-1950’s Asimov surrounded by books by various people. It’s followed by a “Cadenza, by The Editor”: “Go ahead; try it! But after your trouble, you/Can’t hope to sell it to Lowndes, Robert W.” Guess who the editor was.

The fun here is in the game of identifying everybody, and it is fun—if you’re reasonably conversant with the history of sf. Most modern fans would flounder pretty badly, I’m sorry to say—but, hey, it’s an excuse to reread the Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories series.

Now, where’s my copy of The Flying Sorcerers…?

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