Saturday, October 25, 2014

Kurt Barle-A Speculation

Kurt Barle wrote one story for Weird Tales. Published in the February 1935 issue, "Anything Could Happen" was his only story in the field of fantasy and science fiction. If it had been translated from the German, I might have a little more confidence in this speculation. Anyway, here it goes.

Curt (or Kurt) Schwabe-Barlewin was born on May 19, 1892, in Varel, near Oldenburg, Germany. On September 27, 1938, he and his family--wife Frieda and sons Arthur and Paul--sailed from Hamburg, Germany, on board the S.S. President Roosevelt. He gave his occupation as merchant and his race or people as Hebrew. The family arrived in New York on October 9, 1938. While the Schwabe family was en route to the United States, Nazi Germany began its occupation of the Sudetenland. Only a month later, on November 9-10, 1938, came Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. Curt Schwabe had made previous trips to America in March 1926, September 1930, and June 1937. He had also previously traveled to Argentina and Canada. In 1938, he apparently came to stay.

In the 1940 census, the Schwabe family was enumerated in Watsonville, California. Curt was then the proprietor of a lunchroom. When he filled out his draft card during World War II, he was unemployed and gave an address in Santa Cruz. That city would remain his place of residence for the next couple of decades. Curt Schwabe died on August 13, 1971, in Los Angeles city or county.

The 1940 census is useful for giving, for those enumerated, their place of residence in 1935. Curt Schwabe gave his place of residence in 1935 as Varel, the city of his birth. (In 1934, he was listed in a local directory as a milliner.) In February 1935, "Anything Can Happen" by Kurt Barle was published in Weird Tales. Presumably Curt (or Kurt) Schwabe-Barlewin was then in Germany. If he was the author, perhaps the story was translated. But if he was a well-traveled merchant who had made trips to South and North American, perhaps he knew English well enough to write a story. In any case, that is my speculation and the best that I can do considering there isn't any Kurt Barle in the United States census.

Copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, October 24, 2014

Richard Harris Barham (1788-1845)

Aka Thomas Ingoldsby
Born December 6, 1788, Canterbury, Kent, England
Died June 17, 1845, London, England

Richard Harris Barham was born on December 6, 1788, in Canterbury, England, and attended Saint Paul's School and Brasenose College, Oxford. At age seven he inherited his father's estate, and while in school he was crippled in his right arm by a coach accident. Rather than living a vigorous physical (or dissipated) life, he became a cleric and writer, contributing first to Blackwood's Magazine (in 1826), then to Bentley's Miscellany (in 1837). His tales for Bentley's, some in verse, some in prose, became very popular. They were collected in three volumes collectively known as The Ingoldsby Legends and published from 1840 to 1847 under the nom de plume Thomas Ingoldsby. According to Alan Major, "[They] were the first burlesque and horror tales in verse in the English language." Weird Tales reprinted "The Specter of Tappington" in its October 1928 issue. The story was originally published in Bentley's Miscellany in the February 2, 1837, issue. The editor of the magazine was Charles Dickens, and the story was the first in the Ingoldsby Legend series.

Barham also wrote for the Edinburgh Review, Literary Gazette, and John Gorton's Biographical Dictionary. His novel, My Cousin Nicholas, was published in 1834, and his collection of verse, The Ingoldsby Lyrics, posthumously by his son. Richard Harris Barham died in London on June 17, 1845, at age fifty-six.

Richard Harris Barham's Story in Weird Tales
"The Specter of Tappington" (Oct. 1928)

Further Reading
"Thomas Ingoldsby of Tappington Hall" by Alan Major, an extract from Bygone Kent, Vol. 9, No. 9, Sept. 1988, here.

Richard Harris Barham, aka Thomas Ingoldsby (1788-1845)

Text copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Faith in the Infinite Future

I have been writing about the question Is science fiction dying? Here is Donald A. Wollheim on the subject:
The essence of science fiction is that this is a changing world. . . .
If we are to survive into that Infinite Future that science fiction writers of previous decades have managed to insinuate into the mental background of the world's dreams, then we are going to have to pay close political attention to what we have done with the products of science and their undesirable biproducts [sic]: pollution, overpopulation, and atomic warfare.
Of course science fiction does not play solely the role of Cassandra. It cannot afford to. It must, in occasional stories, point to these evils, but to rely on its enlarging audience, to keep the contentment of its constant readers, it must continue in the main to maintain a belief in human infinity. . . . To do otherwise would very soon cause science fiction itself--as a marketable category--to disappear. A steady diet of foreboding and horrifics would be palatable only to the misanthrope.
Wollheim wrote those words more than forty years ago in his introduction to The 1972 Annual World's Best SF. Did he sense then that science fiction was in trouble? Maybe not. Nonetheless, he diagnosed a problem and predicted a course for science fiction, perhaps without knowing it.

I don't know whether science fiction is dying or not. If it is, it could be because we have given up on what Wollheim called "that Infinite Future" and "a belief in human infinity." There is reason to believe that science fiction has in fact become "[a] steady diet of foreboding and horrifics." Does that satisfy the current science fiction readership? If so, does that mean the science fiction readership has turned into one of misanthropes? My contention is that you can't be against something and succeed. You have to be for something. If science fiction is not for something, it can't survive, let alone succeed. If it isn't hopeful, if it doesn't have faith, if it doesn't look to the future with excitement and enthusiasm, it can't very well carry on.

Again, if science fiction is dying, the dying seems to have begun during or after the 1970s. So maybe we have narrowed the timing of the onset of disease. But what of the cause? Did Donald A. Wollheim make the diagnosis forty-two years ago?

The 1972 Annual World's Best SF, edited by Donald A. Wollheim and with cover art by Frank Frazetta. The imagery comes from fantasy rather than from science fiction. The mood however, is hopeful, confident, forward-looking, and triumphant, all hallmarks of classic science fiction. 

Text copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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