Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fantasy Killed the SF Star

Yesterday I wrote about the continuing question Is science fiction dying? While I was writing, I was also listening to music and watching videos from the 1970s and '80s. I started with "In a Big Country" by Big Country, a song of hope and of soaring, passionate feeling ("I'm not expecting to grow flowers in the desert/But I can live and breathe/And see the sun in wintertime"). It returned to me that so much of the music from that time was full of great hope and expectation, energy and passion. The music and the people who sang it and listened to it were looking to a brighter future.

After awhile, I watched the video for "Cars" by Gary Numan, and it occurred to me that this was science fiction. Next came "Are 'Friends' Electric?", a song with a science-fictional title (and a question that has since been answered in the affirmative by Mark Zuckerberg). Song after song and video after video from the 1980s is science-fictional or futuristic in content or technique. The music itself--reliant upon electronics and technological experimentation--is also science-fictional or futuristic, as are the names of the movements, New Wave and Technopop, and even some of the groups, such as Level 42 and T'Pau. It is clear that the music and the musicians were moving towards something new.

In considering Gary Numan, my thoughts went to the song "Breathe" by another British electronic music act, The Prodigy. Whereas Gary Numan's videos seem science-fictional, the video for "Breathe" is nightmarish, full of images of horror and decay. (1) So if "Cars" is representative of British music from 1979 and "Breathe" from 1996, what happened in the intervening seventeen years? A larger question: If science fiction was still alive and kicking in the 1970s and '80s and is now on its deathbed, just what has happened to make it so?

(1) A little more than three and a half minutes long, the video version of "Breathe" seems longer, epic in fact, like "Eight Miles High" by The Byrds, which clocks in at 3:33. "Breathe" is a fascinating and scary video. Have a look when you get a chance.

Copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tyranny or Chaos?

I wrote recently about the future and science fiction. In its infancy, in the 1920s and '30s, science fiction looked towards a better future. It was a genre of hope and confidence, reflective of the society that created and sustained it. Then somewhere along the way science fiction as a genre of hope and confidence went off the rails. Today it seems caught between two alternate futures. The choice is between dystopia and apocalypse. Gone are hope, energy, confidence, vigor. I consider that evidence that we are living in an age of decadence. The resurgence in popularity of fantasy and horror would seem further evidence of a turning away from the future.

When I first started writing about these things several months ago, I made comparisons between our age and that of Weimar Germany (1919-1933). In mid 1918, as the Great War was nearing its end, Oswald Spengler published his opus The Decline of the West, a book that set the mood and appeared to predict the course of a decadent society. Six months later, the Weimar Republic came into existence. With all that fresh in my mind, I was drawn to a book I recently found. It's called From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (1947; Princeton University Press, 1971) and it was written by Siegfried Kracauer (1889-1966). I'll provide a few quotes:
Whether intentionally or not, Caligari exposes the soul wavering between tyranny and chaos, and facing a desperate situation: any escape from tyranny seems to throw it into a state of utter confusion. Quite logically, the film spreads an all-pervading atmosphere of horror. (p. 74)
Caligari was too high-brow to become popular in Germany. However, its basic theme--the soul being faced with the seemingly unavoidable alternative of tyranny or chaos--exerted extraordinary fascination. Between 1920 and 1924, numerous German films insistently resumed this theme . . . . (p. 77)
Among [these films], Nosferatu, released in 1922, enjoyed particular fame for initiating the fashion of screen vampires. (p. 77)
When speaking of Nosferatu, the critics, even more than in the case of Caligari, insisted upon bringing in E.T.A. Hoffman. However, this reference to the film's romantic antecedents does not account for its specific meaning. The horrors Nosferatu spreads are caused by a vampire identified with pestilence. . . . He is a blood-thirsty, blood-sucking tyrant figure looming in those regions where myths and fairy tales meet. (p. 79)
The Germans obviously held that they had no choice other than the cataclysm of anarchy or a tyrannical regime. (p. 88)
The German soul, haunted by the alternative images of tyrannic rule and instinct-governed chaos, threatened by doom on either side, tossed about in gloomy space like the phantom ship in Nosferatu. (p. 107)
There is much more of course. The point is that, judging from our popular culture, we seem to be repeating a pattern of decadence seen in Weimar Germany and doubtless other societies before and since. We both fear and fantasize about dystopia (what Kracauer called tyranny) and apocalypse (what he called anarchy or chaos). Those fears and fantasies are expressed in art, more specifically in the genres of science fiction and horror, where they are embodied in the figure of the tyrant, Caligari or Nosferatu, the latter of whom also represents pestilence, as vampires and zombies have in American pop culture since at least the 1950s or '60s.

Europeans are indisposed to a middle ground between tyranny and chaos. Like electrons in different quantum states, they jump from one to the other without passing through the in-between. America is different--exceptional, to use a politically incorrect term--in that we discovered the middle ground in the rule of law, guaranteed rights, and a republican form of government constrained by a constitution. That worked for awhile. To look at our current polity and popular culture--as Siegfried Kracauer did in the 1940s in his own country--you might conclude that we are living in a time of decadence. That didn't turn out very well in Germany. I hope we can find a better way.

If there is a consolation, it might be that there is probably decadence or the seeds of decadence in every time and in every place, yet not every society descends into tyranny or chaos. For fans, the question presents itself: Why do real-world political, societal, and cultural developments find such ready expression in the lowly pulp genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror? Maybe it goes back to the original purpose of monsters as warnings to us all.

Text copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

L. Harper Allen (1878 or 1879-?)

Llewellyn Harper Allen
Author, Exporter
Born December 19, 1878 or 1879, Kansas
Died ?

Llewellyn Harper Allen was born on December 19, 1878 or 1879, probably 1878. His father, Harper Allen, was a publisher. On his World War I-era draft card and in the 1925 New York State census, Llewellyn Harper Allen gave his occupation as exporter. In 1930, living in Manhattan, L. Harper Allen considered himself a writer. I have found just three credits for him:

  • "The Blood Veins of the Robot" in Weird Tales, June/July 1931
  • "The Hound of Hell" in Thrilling Detective, October 1933
  • "Knives at Night" in Thrilling Adventures, December 1934

I don't know anything more about Allen, not even the date or place of his death.

L. Harper Allen's Story in Weird Tales
"The Blood Veins of the Robot" (June/July 1931)

Further Reading

Copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, October 20, 2014

Robert Choate Albright (1903-1973)

Newspaper Reporter, Author
Born September 1, 1903, Alexandria, Virginia
Died October 12, 1973, Washington, D.C.?

Robert Choate Albright was born on September 1, 1903, in Alexandria, Virginia. When he was two years old his family moved to Washington, D.C. Albright graduated from Central High School in the class of 1922. In 1926 he went to work for the Washington Post as a reporter. Albright spent forty years with the Post covering Capitol Hill with time out working for the United Press (1929-1933) and Time magazine (for a few months). Howard Simons, managing editor of the Washington Post, called him "the sweetest and gentlest man, [and] the best Senate correspondent I ever knew." Fellow reporter Edward T. Folliard remembered him as "one of the most persevering, tenacious newspapermen in American journalism." Robert Choate Albright wrote one story for Weird Tales, "Flame of the Ages" in the November 1928 issue. That is his only known work in the field of fantasy and science fiction. Albright died on October 12, 1973, at age seventy.

Robert Choate Albright's Story in Weird Tales
"Flame of the Ages" (Nov. 1928)

Further Reading
"Robert C. Albright, Capitol Hill Reporter," obituary by Cathe Wolhowe, Washington Post, October 14, 1973, p. B6.

Note: My posting here assumes that Robert C. Albright and Robert Choate Albright were the same person. Aside from the fact that both were writers, I can offer as evidence that Albright's mother, Hattie Albright, had the middle initial C. Tenuous to be sure, but sometimes all you've got is tenuous.

Robert C. Albright (1903-1973). Photograph from the Washington Post, colorized for posting here.

Text copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Vida Tyler Adams (1896?-1976?)

Author, Bookkeeper
Born February 4, 1896, California
Died October 2, 1976, Alameda County, California

I have one piece of very tenuous evidence that the Vida Tyler Adams who wrote for Weird Tales was the same Vida T. Adams who was born in 1896, lived in Oakland, and died in 1976. First, what I know of Vida Tyler Adams comes from the online FictionMags Index and a list of her stories:

  • "Land of Hope" in American Needlewoman, March 1927
  • "Love Shy" in Love Story Magazine, February 28, 1931
  • "Women Are Funny" in Good Stories, May 1931
  • "Maid of Honor" in All-Story Love Stories, June 1, 1932
  • "The Blue-Spotted Daffodil" in Good Stories, June-July 1932
  • "Cloud High in Love" in Street and Smith’s Love Story Magazine, November 14, 1936
  • "Never Save a Man!" in Street and Smith’s Love Story Magazine, January 9, 1937
  • "Clothes Make the Woman" in Street and Smith’s Love Story Magazine, December 1945

Also in that database is the following by Tyler Adams:

  • "Villa" a serial in Overland Monthly, January 1927 and following issue or issues

If Tyler Adams and Vida Tyler Adams were the same person, and if a writer for Overland Monthly, published in San Francisco, was most likely to have been a Californian or even from the Bay Area, then maybe, just maybe, Vida T. Adams was Vida Tyler Adams. If that's the case, then Vida Tyler Adams was born on February 4, 1896, in California. She was married to Edward F. Adams, a salesman, then a manager and owner of a lumber yard. In the 1930 and 1940 censuses, the couple lived in Oakland. In 1930, Vida was also a bookkeeper for the lumber yard. She had one story in Weird Tales, "Whoso Diggeth a Pit," from the jumbo-sized first anniversary issue of May/June/July 1924. Vida T. Adams died on October 2, 1976, in Alameda County, California, at age eighty.

Vida Tyler Adams' Story in Weird Tales
"Whoso Diggeth a Pit" (May/June/July 1924)

Further Reading
You can read Vida Tyler Adams' story "Love Shy," from Love Story Magazine, February 28, 1931, pp. 110-119, at the following website:

Significantly or not, the byline is given as "Vida T. Adams."

Copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Howard Ellis Davis (1883-1951)

Soldier, Engineer, Author
Born August 14, 1883, Florida
Died April 25, 1951, Mobile, Alabama

Howard Ellis Davis was born on August 14, 1883, in Florida. During the Great War he served in the 319th Field Artillery, 82nd Division, and rose to the rank of major. An engineer for the Alabama Power Company and later the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), he moved often during the 1920s through the 1940s. In 1920 he was in Oak Grove, Alabama, and working as a writer. Nineteen thirty found him in Meriwether, Georgia, as a superintendent of a lumber plant. Ten years later Davis was in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and director of a reservoir as part of the TVA.

Howard Ellis Davis wrote stories for Adventure, Argosy, Breezy Stories, Detective Story Magazine, Droll Stories, Top-Notch, and other magazines from 1916 to 1935. According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, his only credits in the fields of fantasy and science fiction were "The Unknown Beast" for Weird Tales (Mar. 1923) and "The Walking Shack" for Argosy (Nov. 29, 1930). Davis also wrote articles for The Editor and Western stories. He died on April 25, 1951, in Mobile, Alabama and was buried at Bay Minette Cemetery, Bay Minette, Alabama.

Howard Ellis Davis' Story in Weird Tales
"The Unknown Beast" (Mar. 1923)

Further Reading
None known.

Two covers of Adventure with Davis' byline, from May 15, 1932 (top), and December 15, 1932 (bottom). The bottom cover is signed "A. Cucchi." Presumably that was Anthony Cucchi.

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, October 17, 2014

Miriam Allen deFord (1888-1975)

Author, Poet, Essayist, Editor, Teacher, Reporter, Feminist, Socialist, Insurance Adjustor, Fortean Investigator
Born August 21, 1888, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died March 22, 1975, Ambassador Hotel, San Francisco, California

Miriam Allen deFord was born on August 21, 1888, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Moïse deFord and Frances Allen deFord, both of whom were physicians. She grew up in Philadelphia and attended Wellesley College, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania. While attending Wellesley, she worked as a journalist for the Philadelphia North American. After graduating college in 1911, she wandered through Boston, San Diego, Spokane, Baltimore, Chicago, San Francisco, and other places in California. Along the way she held odd jobs, worked as a reporter, spoke out on socialist, feminist, and pacifist causes, and picked up two husbands in succession, the anarchist and mystic William Armistead Nelson Collier, Jr. (1874-1947), and the socialist, lecturer, and author Maynard Shipley (1872-1934). (1)

Even after arriving in California in 1915, Miriam's peregrinations continued. In 1920 she and her second husband moved to Sausalito. In 1922 they left the Socialist Party, and from 1924 to 1932 focused on their work with the Science League of America. Maynard Shipley died in 1934. In mourning, his widow went to Hawaii, then retreated to the East before returning to San Francisco. By the early 1940s, Miriam Allen deFord was living in the Ambassador Hotel in San Francisco, where she resided for all or most of what remained of her life. You can read more about Miriam Allen deFord on a blog called From an Oblique Angle by Joshua B. Buhs, here.

If the Golden Age of Science Fiction ended in 1950 as Isaac Asimov claimed, then Miriam Allen deFord squeezed in at the end with her story "The Last Generation" published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Winter-Spring 1950. According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, that was her first work in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, but it came only about halfway through a career that stretched from 1920 to her death in 1975. (2) The online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction disagrees:
She began to publish work of genre interest with "The Neatness of Ann Rutledge" for The Westminster Magazine in 1924, releasing close to eighty sf and fantasy stories over the next decades, mostly in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction between 1951 and 1970, though several tales appeared later.
I think we can take the author's word as final. In the Winter issue 1973, Sam Moskowitz printed her stories "The Cats of Rome" and "Ghostly Hands" in his revived Weird Tales. According to Moskowitz, "Ghostly Hands" was originally printed in the magazine Tales of Magic and Mystery in January 1928. In the Summer issue 1974, Miriam submitted a clarification to "The Eyrie":
["Ghostly Hands"] was originally called "The Neatness of Ann Rutledge" (they chopped off the final "e"), and it appeared in a defunct magazine called Westminster sometime around 1924. Tales of Magic and Mystery apparently just swiped it without notifying them or me--or paying for it. They changed Ann's name to Jane . . . .
Miriam Allen deFord contributed most frequently to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, co-edited by Anthony Boucher. Her first story for that magazine was the aforementioned "The Last Generation" from the magazine's second issue. Her last in her lifetime was "The Treyans Are Coming" from June 1974.

Like Boucher, Miriam was a writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. The two met in 1943 when Boucher was investigating falls of stones from out of the sky, near Oakland. He consulted with her on similar falls that she had investigated in Chico in 1922. An active Fortean, she and her husband had corresponded with Charles Fort between 1921 and Fort's death in 1932. "We never met in person," she wrote, "but we became good friends on paper." (3) In January 1954, Boucher and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction published her essay "Charles Fort: Enfant Terrible of Science."

According to The FictionMags Index, Miriam Allen deFord's first published story was “Little Bit” in Little Story Magazine for July 1920. (2) Over the next half century and more, she had scores of stories in titles that included Amazing Science FictionBeyond Fantasy FictionBrief StoriesDouble DealerEllery Queen's Mystery MagazineFantastic UniverseGalaxy Science FictionIfMike Shayne Mystery MagazineThe Overland MonthlyReal Detective Tales and Mystery StoriesThe Saint Mystery MagazineScribner'sSpace StoriesStartling StoriesTop-Notch, and Venture Science Fiction. Miriam had three stories in Weird Tales and was one of only a few authors who contributed to the original magazine and to the revival of 1973-1974. Her letter to "The Eyrie," quoted above, would have been one of her last published works during her lifetime.

Miriam's credits include not only dozens of science fiction and fantasy stories from 1950 to 1974, but also two collections of her own stories, Xenogenesis (1969) and Elsewhere, Elsewhen, Elsehow (1971); many stories anthologized in other books; a number of Little Blue Books; non-fiction books, including Bellamy's Looking Backward (1944), The Real Bonnie and Clyde (1968), and The Real Ma Barker (1970); a biography of her husband, Up-Hill All The Way: The Life of Maynard Shipley (1956); and the editorship of Space, Time and Crime (1964). A few of her stories were also adapted to television.

Miriam Allen deFord died at the Ambassador Hotel in San Francisco on March 22, 1975. She was eighty-six years old.

Miriam Allen deFord's Stories and Letter in Weird Tales
"Never Stop to Pat a Kitten" (July 1954)
"The Cats of Rome" (Winter 1973)
"The Ghostly Hands" (Winter 1973)
Letter to "The Eyrie" (Summer 1974)

Further Reading
See the websites of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, The FictionMags Index, The Speculative Fiction Database, and Wikipedia for more on Miriam Allen deFord. You may find more complete and accurate information on the Online Archive of California and the Suffragists Oral History Project, here.

(1) Miriam married Collier on February 14, 1915, in La Jolla and divorced him in 1920. She married Shipley on April 16, 1921, in Santa Rosa. That marriage lasted until his death on June 18, 1934.
(2) According to Sam Moskowitz in Weird Tales, Winter 1973, her writing career began in 1907.
(3) Quoted in Charles Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained by Damon Knight (1970), p. 170.

Space, Time & Crime, an anthology edited by Miriam Allen deFord, in the 1968 edition with a cover by Jack Gaughan.
Xenogensis (1969) with cover art by Richard Powers.

Copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley