Thursday, December 8, 2022

Husbands & Wives-Part Five

Husbands and wives wrote for Weird Tales, sometimes together, sometimes separately, sometimes before they were even married. Following is a list. It is probably incomplete.

  • Frances Garfield, née Frances Obrist (1908-2000) & Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986), who also wrote under the pseudonym Gans T. Field
  • Sonia H. Greene (1883-1972) & H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)

There were other contributors to Weird Tales who were married to writers who did not contribute. For example, Frederik Pohl (1919-2013) was married to Lesli Perri (1920-1970), Judith Merril (1923-1997), Carol Metcalf Ulf (1927-2005), and Elizabeth Ann Hull (1937-2021), all of whom were also writers.

I think I'll find more husbands and wives who wrote for "The Unique Magazine." I'll add them to this list as I do.

* * *

I have written this series to show that wives have been instrumental in the success of their husbands as authors. I was on the lookout for that kind of thing while reading Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee (2018, 2019). And I found it in Robert A. Heinlein's own words regarding his second wife, Leslyn MacDonald, and in Mr. Nevala-Lee's words regarding John W. Campbell's first wife, Doña Stebbins. Campbell's second wife, Margaret "Peg" Winter, was more nearly a full and equal collaborator with him, at least in his pseudoscientific research. Heinlein's third wife, Virginia "Ginny" Gerstenfeld, was also a powerful influence on her husband. She helped him in life and she helped after his death to protect him and his reputation, to preserve his work, and to promote the study and appreciation of his work. All of these wives were personally, intellectually, and creatively formidable figures. I should add that L. Ron Hubbard also married strong and able women. But then these are things that we already knew about wives and women. I am reminded here of a quote by Alexis de Tocqueville:

And now that I come near the end of this book in which I have recorded so many considerable achievements of the Americans, if anyone asks me what I think the chief cause of the extraordinary prosperity and growing power of this nation, I should answer that it is due to the superiority of their women.

That's not to take away anything from women of other nationalities, but it gets to a truth, and it's one worth remembering and keeping close at hand.

C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner, two married writers at work.

Text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Mary Sue

Speaking of a woman named Mary Sue, it wasn't very long ago that I learned about the Mary Sue-type character used in science fiction and science fiction criticism. You probably already know about Mary Sue. If you don't, it's easy enough to read about her on the Internet.

Mary Sue originally came from Star Trek fan fiction and fanzines. She didn't stop there, though. Some people see Rey, from the last Star Wars trilogy, as a Mary Sue character. It's hard to argue with that idea.

It occurs to me that Mary Sue may be the female version of the Superior Man of science fiction, especially as he appeared in Astounding Science Fiction of the 1930s through the 1950s. (You could call her Mary Superior except that that sounds too much like the name of a Catholic nun.) The Superior Man of science fiction is a powerful and ultimately triumphant character, as opposed to the flawed, weak, or defeated character of weird fiction. There may be something to Jack Williamson's concept of the Egyptian-Hebraic versus the Greek hero or protagonist. Mary Sue may also be triumphant. If she doesn't die in the end, everything comes to her and everything belongs to her. If the comic book superhero is the fulfillment of adolescent male power fantasies, then maybe Mary Sue serves the same kind of purpose for adolescent females and their adult counterparts.

Not long ago, I read an article entitled "The 25 Best Space Opera Books of All Time" by Rachel Brittain. It's on a website called Book Riot, here, and dated October 4, 2022. Because we live in an age of lies, it's hard to say just what their number is, but at least half of the authors in Ms. Brittain's list are women. (Her list seems to serve political rather than literary or critical purposes. In that, it seems pretty well useless. Alternatively, the purpose of this list is to hawk books, in which case it may be useful after all, at least to all who stand to gain financially from it.) That makes me think that at least some of the protagonists in these books are the Mary Sue- or Superior Woman-type character. The same type is all over TV and movies. You'll know her when you see her. She's twenty-five, well-dressed, attractive, and in charge of everything. Her underlings, mostly men, do what she says without question, even though they have more experience and training than she does. She can also beat up every man in sight even though she weighs only 120 pounds and punches with the force of a whiffle ball in flight.

Space opera was invented by men and for decades men were its main practitioners, including J. Schlossel and Edmond Hamilton in the pages of Weird Tales. The term--a derisive one at first--was also invented by a man, Wilson Tucker, a critic and an outsider, in 1941. Never mind any of that. At least half of the best space opera books of all time have been written by women. There can be no dissent.

Text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Hubbard & Wives

Lafayette Ronald Hubbard was born on March 13, 1911, in Tilden, Nebraska. There are lots of lies and a lot of nonsense about his life. We'll skip over all of that and get to his wives and children.

First came Margaret Louise "Polly" Grubb. She was born on September 22, 1907, in Beltsville, Maryland. The two were married on April 13, 1933. They had two children, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, Jr. (May 7, 1934-September 16, 1991) and Katherine May "Kay" Hubbard (January 15, 1936-May 29, 1910). Both changed their names. Hubbard, Jr., nicknamed "Nibs," became Ronald Edward "Ron" De Wolf. Kay became Catherine May "Kay" Gillespie by a change to the spelling of her Christian name and her marriage to James P. Gillespie. L. Ron Hubbard and his first wife were divorced on December 24, 1947. She married John W. Ochs and died on November 17, 1963, in Valley, Pennsylvania.

Hubbard had already married his second wife by the time he was divorced from his first. She was Sara Elizabeth Bruce Northrup, former girlfriend of rocket scientist and occultist John Whiteside "Jack" Parsons (1914-1952). Sara was also an occultist and went by the witchy name of "Soror Cassap." Born on April 8, 1924, she was younger by half a generation than her paramours.

Sara and Hubbard were married on August 10, 1946, in Chestertown, Maryland. Their daughter Alexis Valerie Hubbard was born on March 8, 1950, in New Jersey. The attending physician was Joseph A. Winter (1911-1955), future brother-in-law of John W. Campbell, Jr. The infant Alexis came into the world in complete silence so that no engrams would be lodged in her brain. Dianetics was born two months later in the pages of Astounding Science Fiction, May 1950. It was, in contrast, damaged from the beginning. Anyway, Hubbard was more devoted to his brainchild, such as it was, than his real child. The way he treated her can be considered nothing less than a disgrace, but what else can we expect from one of the most monstrous figures in all of genre literature?

Hubbard and his second wife were divorced on June 12, 1951, in Sedgwick County, Kansas. She afterwards married Miles F. Hollister (1925-1998). Sara Hollister preceded her last husband in death, her end coming on December 18, 1997, in Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1968, L. Ron Hubbard had this utterly bizarre exchange with an interviewer from Granada Television:

Hubbard: How many times have I been married? I've been married twice. And I'm very happily married just now. I have a lovely wife, and I have four children. My first wife is dead.

Interviewer: What happened to your second wife?

Hubbard: I never had a second wife.

L. Ron Hubbard's third and last wife was Mary Sue Whipp. Born on June 17, 1931, in Rockdale, Texas, she was younger still than Hubbard's never-was second wife. She became involved in Dianetics in 1951 and journeyed to Kansas to be with fellow believers. She and Hubbard were married on March 6, 1952, in Kay County, Oklahoma. They had four children together, Quentin, Diana, Mary Suzette, and Thomas. Quentin killed himself. The others are still living.

In 1981, Mary Sue Hubbard was maneuvered out of her position of power within Scientology. Not long after that, she served a prison sentence for crimes she had committed while occupying that position. I like the words of Mr. Justice Latey of the English High Court of Justice regarding a different legal matter. They bear repeating here and everywhere: "Mr. Hubbard is a charlatan and worse, as are his wife, Mary Sue Hubbard, and the clique at the top privy to the cult's activities." (Quoted in "Judge Raps 'Slave' Cult" by Maureen KnightDaily Express, July 7, 1984.)

A dissolute and utterly corrupted L. Ron Hubbard died on January 24, 1986, in Creston, California. I picture him at the end as being in the same condition as M. Valdemar of Poe's story. Hubbard's second and third wives survived him. Mary Sue Hubbard died on November 25, 2002, in Los Angeles, California. Scientology is supposed to have prevented two out of the three of those deaths, I think. In fact, after his death, Hubbard's successor at the head of Scientology said in a public address to his followers that Hubbard had "discarded" his body because it "had become an impediment to the work" he was to do outside the confines of the universe. In other words, he didn't really die. (Quoted in Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee, p. 402).

In all of this, I'm reminded of other totalitarian and gnostic belief systems. Like Joseph Stalin and his Marxist-Leninism, Hubbard and his Scientology considered certain persons to be actually nonpersons and sought to scrub them from the record. That's what he attempted with his second wife. Sorry, Ron, the world remembers her. Like Karl Marx, Hubbard had seven children. Four of Marx's children died in infancy or childhood, partly because he was such a layabout. (Say what you will about L. Ron Hubbard, he was at least energetic and ambitious.) Two others died by suicide. Only one of Hubbard's children has died in such a way. And like Marshall Applewhite (1931-1997)--and the fictional villains of That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis--Hubbard believed that the body can be discarded and the soul live on within an otherwise material universe (although, as his successor pointed out, Hubbard is now working outside the universe, address unknown). There is in the world of today a similar gnostic belief in what is referred to as "gendered souls" stuck in bodies of the wrong sex. We're supposed to believe that altering and mutilating those bodies will set things right. In other words, the universe and nature are flawed, and we are wise enough and powerful enough to correct those flaws. We have believed these things since very near our beginning. Old ideas die hard.

That's enough of Hubbard for now and for a long time to come, I hope. I promise to write about some better things to end this year.

Original text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, December 4, 2022

More on the "New Weird"-Part Two

Weird fiction came into its own during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I don't know who came up with the appellation, nor when it was first used. There were lots of books from the late 1800s with weird in their titles. I feel certain that Jacob Clark Henneberger fell back on those books from his childhood when he was casting about for the title of his new magazine. Thus Weird Tales.

H.P. Lovecraft seems to have been the principle theorist of weird fiction. Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales from 1924 to 1940, should be given his due in the development of weird fiction, too. I think of weird fiction as its own genre or sub-genre, separate from science fiction to be sure, but separate from supernatural horror and fantasy, too. Weird Tales published a broad range of genres and sub-genres, which included weird fiction. The best example I have of a distinction that may be made between weird fiction and stories of supernatural horror or fantasy is in Herbert J. Mangham's brief story "The Basket" from the first issue of Weird Tales, March 1923. "The Basket" is a weird tale but does not have any supernatural elements, nor is it a horror story or fantasy. "The Basket" as weird fiction relates, I think, to the original meaning of the word weird as a noun, something like "fate" or "destiny."

The term science fiction was first used in print, at least during the pulp era, in 1929. Before that, Hugo Gernsback, a real booster of a then-nascent genre, called it Scientifiction. Maybe we can say that weird fiction was more organic in its growth and development, whereas science fiction, at least as a term, was invented. There may be some significance in that distinction. What I mean is this: boosters, hucksters, or insiders--people who have something immediate to gain--may be motivated to invent and name and brand a thing for their own benefit or aggrandizement. On the other side are critics, observers, or outsiders who do not stand to gain so much. Their interests may be more intellectual, scholarly, or academic. For example, the term film noir did not come from the Americans who made movies in the style of what we now call film noir. Instead, it was coined by French movie critics Nino Frank and Jean-Pierre Chartier in 1946. The film noir style evolved from what we should probably consider romantic sources, on one hand, the crime and detective stories of American pulp magazines, and on the other, German Expressionist moviemaking.

So what about the "new" movements of the late 1950s and early 1960s? Well, I guess nobody knows very well how the term bossa nova came about. It seems to have evolved rather than to have been invented. The French New Wave, or Nouvelle Vague, may have been more nearly an invention, but if it was, it was a slow invention carried out by several filmmakers, as well as by critics and academics. The term New Wave as applied to British science fiction of the early 1960s was apparently an invention. According to the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, it was first used by P. Schuyler Miller "in his regular book-review column 'The Reference Library'" in the November 1961 issue of Analog. Miller is supposed to have been inspired by the French filmmakers' New Wave, but there may also have been inspiration in the title of the British science fiction magazine New Worlds. So was it an invention or an evolution? Either way, it was made by a critic and an observer or outsider, not by someone from within the movement itself.

The "New Weird" as a term was first used in print by British author and critic M. John Harrison (b. 1945) in his introduction to China Miéville's novel The Tain (2002). In my first part of this series, I speculated that the "New Weird," even just by the sound of it, is meant to evoke the original science fiction New Wave of the 1960s and 1970s. Well, as it turns out, Mr. Harrison worked as literary editor of New Worlds from 1968 to 1975. I think the association of the terms "New Weird" and New Wave is real and unavoidable. In any case, the "New Weird" as a term appears to be a hybrid: a more nearly self-conscious invention and only partly a product of evolution, its origins discreet and traceable to a known date and place but coined by a critic rather than an insider. Jeff VanderMeer and Ann Kennedy VanderMeer, two insiders, applied Mr. Harrison's term to their later anthology, The New Weird, published in 2008, perhaps in a boosterish sort of move in favor of their supposedly new, preferred genre.

And here is where a quote I just discovered seems appropriate. It's from New Worlds for Old: The Apocalyptic Imagination, Science Fiction, and American Literature (1974) by British-born critic and professor of literature David Ketterer (b. 1942). Professor Ketterer was referring to the word apocalyptic when he wrote this, but it could easily apply to any amount of academic or critical theorizing on any number of topics:

It is perhaps a moot question as to whether such usage is of any real worth or just another flashy and confusing tag popularized by attention-seeking critics. (p. 4)

At this late date, there is still nonsense about Francis Stevens and her supposed invention of "dark fantasy" going about on the Internet. As the saying goes, the Internet is forever. Once a bad idea gets out into the digital world, it's hard to get it back.

* * *

One of the things that seems to be lacking in any talk of the "New Weird" is a coherent theory behind it or body of criticism about it. For example, here is a link to an online thread from April-May 2003:

https://www.kathryncramer.com/kathryn_cramer/the-new-weird-p-1.html

The source is the website of Kathryn Kramer. The thread was started by M. John Harrison with these questions:

The New Weird. Who does it? What is it? Is it even anything? Is it even New? Is it, as some think, not only a better slogan than The Next Wave, but also incalculably more fun to do? Should we just call it Pick 'n' Mix instead? 

These are my thoughts exactly: What is it? Is it even a thing? Is it really new? Isn't it really just a recombining of genres and sub-genres after their long (and possibly very artificial) separation? Anyway, there is plenty of talk following Mr. Harrison's questions, but nothing, as far as I can see, that's very conclusive. The language is imprecise, unfocused, in some places vulgar. There are typical twenty-first-century mishmashed buzzwords and nonsense, signifying mostly nothing. One man converts "umbrella" to a verb. There are other offenses, too. So who writes this way? Who thinks this way? The thread is long but nothing much is accomplished. It's also difficult to read in that it looks like a long string of computer code. Written by people who are presumably artists, it has a decidedly unaesthetic appearance. Again, if this is any indication at all, no one seems to have written about the "New Weird" with any great coherence or at any great length. Mr. Harrison's questions seem to have gone unanswered.

Three things seem clear in discussions of the "New Weird": First, proponents don't seem to like high fantasy. Second, they don't seem to like heroic fantasy. And third, they are fond of the words "subvert," "subversion," and "subversive." These are cute words, used, I think, by people who are play-pretending at something. They are the words of adolescents, issued from the bull session or the college dorm room, the words of people trying to shock the world with something they believe to be new. I'm not singling them out, but Jeff VanderMeer is fifty-four years old. China Miéville is fifty. It might be time for the proponents of the "New Weird" to forget about subverting anything. It might be time for them to disregard theories, ideologies, and pseudo-academic talk of genres, sub-genres, and so forth, and instead concentrate on their art. Besides that, "subverting" the reader's expectations already has a name. It's called "the plot twist" or "the surprise ending." If you want to see subversion in a novel, read The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles, published in 1969 when Mr. VanDermeer was an infant and Mr. Miéville was still in the womb, if that. Then ask yourself, is there really anything new under the sun? Besides that, you could say that subversion has already won a completely one-sided victory in our culture, a prime example being that this year in the United States a man was selected by a well-known newspaper and news website as its woman of the year. If there is anything left to subvert, it is subversion itself. Let someone do that. We'll wait . . .

While we're waiting, consider what Huey Lewis sang: It's hip to be square. Or, as I-330, a female character from Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel We says:

"And why then do you think there is a last revolution . . . their number is infinite . . . The 'last one' is a child's story."

The true revolutionary is the one who overthrows the revolution. The true rebel is the man who goes against the current regime of lies and oppression. The truly radical and subversive ideas are that human beings are autonomous individuals worthy of respect and dignity, that we are and by rights free, that we are made this way by our Creator, that what he has done cannot be undone by any person or persons. Consider this: that socialistic, atheistic, and materialistic ideas are, to use (ironically) one of H.P. Lovecraft's favorite words, puerile, and come over to the good side of things. You're welcome here.

A Polish advertisement for the film The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), from the novel by John Fowles. If you're seeking a work of fiction to subvert your expectations as a reader, look no further than this one. The image here makes me think of "Shambleau" by C.L. Moore.

Original text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, December 3, 2022

More on the "New Weird"-Part One

Before it was an adjective, weird was a noun. In their use of the label, proponents of the "New Weird" have made a return to the past. That's fitting for weird fiction, for I believe that weird fiction is indeed about the past. In contrast, the future is in the province of science fiction. The present, meanwhile, is up for grabs. Anyway, to see a word used as a noun that we normally think of as an adjective is jarring. At least one commenter on the Internet has referred to the "New Weird" as the "New Weird fiction." If the "New Weird" is a revolution, we're not there yet, even after twenty years.

One of the defining characteristics of the "New Weird" is supposed to be a mixing of genres. What we too often forget is that genrefication (my new word) is a pretty recent development in fiction. Before the Great War, popular fiction was published in magazines, afterwards reprinted in hardbound books, intended for a general readership. If the advent of specialty magazine titles is an indicator of the separation of general-interest fiction into individual genres, then 1919 was the year it all began, as long as we consider the first title listed below as an early outlier.

Specialty or Genre Fiction Magazines, 1915-1926, a Selection

  • October 15, 1915--Detective Story Magazine (Street & Smith) began in print
  • January 1919--Der Orchideengarten (Dreiländerverlag)
  • March 1, 1919--The Thrill Book (Street & Smith)
  • September 5, 1919--Western Story Magazine (Street & Smith)
  • April 1920--Black Mask (Pro-Distributors Publishing Company)
  • October 1, 1922--Real Detective Tales (Rural Publishing Company)
  • March 1923--Weird Tales (Rural Publishing Corp.)
  • April 1926--Amazing Stories (Experimenter Publishing Company)

Crime, detective, and mystery stories were probably considered a genre unto themselves before the war. So, too, were ghost stories. But what about stories of fantasy and science (or pseudoscience) such as the Lost Worlds romances of H. Rider Haggard or the interplanetary adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs? These and countless other works written before the Great War defy categorization, probably because they came before there were narrow categories of fiction. So, unless someone can put forth a compelling argument to the contrary, I think we have to consider a mixing of genres to be another return to the past for the authors and proponents of the "New Weird." In other words, "new" does not mean new.

The phrase "the new weird" was first used in print in reference to the work of British writer China Miéville (b. 1972). Mr. Miéville is an accomplished author of dozens of novels and short stories. He has expressed what I think of as a very laudable goal of writing stories in every genre. I wish him every success in that effort. He is also a Marxist, and as we know, Marxism is essentially a reactionary belief system. It, too, seeks a return to the past. In this case, the sought-after past is in the Lost Worlds of the Middle Ages, before the Renaissance, before the rise of the middle class and their perceived usurpation of the power, status, and prerogatives of the aristocratic élite, of which people like Marx have believed themselves to be a part. Marxism, like Progressivism in general, is made up of very old ideas, discredited by experience, that purport to be something new.

It's worth noting here that William Morris (1834-1896), a forerunner to a great deal of twentieth-century fantasy, was also socialist (though maybe not a Marxist--I'm not sure about that part) who sought a return to the Medieval past. He was associated with Pre-Raphaelite artists and a leader in the very Medievalist Arts and Crafts movement. L. Sprague de Camp devoted a chapter of his book Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy (Arkham House, 1976) to Morris and considered him a pioneer in that genre. We think of the stories of Robert E. Howard, originally in Weird Tales, as exemplars of heroic fantasy. Howard wasn't a socialist, though. His desire to return to the past had nothing to do with politics but instead with his primitivism and his emotional and romantic yearnings.

As an aside, I should add that William Morris wrote a utopian novel in which the protagonist wakes up into a new world of the future. It's called News from Nowhere and it was published in 1890 as a response to Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward: 2000–1887 (1888). By the way, Utopia is literally "nowhere" or "no place," and Erewhon, the title of Samuel Butler's utopian-Lost Worlds novel of 1872, is an anagram of that same word, nowhere. A reminder to socialists and progressives everywhere: Utopia is not possible. It can be accomplished exactly nowhere, so stop trying.

So, the use of the word weird as a noun is not new, the mixing of genres is not new, and any Marxist or progressive background to fiction is not new. It may be called the "New Weird," but is there really very much about it that's new?

To be continued . . .

The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris (Ballantine, 1969), with cover art by Gervasio Gallardo. This is number three in Ballantine Books' Adult Fantasy series edited by Lin Carter. The title of Morris' novel is echoed in that of Abraham Merritt's story "The Woman of the Wood" (Weird Tales, Aug. 1926) and Ursula K. Le Guin's novella The Word for World Is Forest (1972). 

Text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Two Recent Losses--and Recent Gains

These losses have nothing to do with fantasy, science fiction, or weird fiction, but I would rather not let them go by without notice. Thoughts of them lead into further thoughts and speculations.

* * *

First, jazz musician Pharoah Sanders died on September 24, 2022. He was eighty-one years old. In listening to his music, one has ineffable feelings about human life and pain, intimations of suffering, melancholy, joy, triumph, and spiritual transcendence. I am saddened that he is gone.

Second, Gal Costa died on November 9, 2022, at age seventy-seven. She was a Brazilian singer of great sensitivity and charm. Although she was part of the Tropicália movement in her native country, she and her music came out of a slightly older Bossa Nova movement. Her death is also a very sad occasion.

* * *

The phrase bossa nova literally means "new wave" or "new trend" in Portuguese. It was first used in reference to a new musical style in Brazil in the late 1950s. At around the same time in France, cinéastes were involved in a movement called the New Wave, or Nouvelle Vague in French. (1) Shortly after that--all of this seems to have happened in about a two- or three-year period--the term New Wave was applied to science fiction written by British authors and published in the magazine New Worlds. There were American authors of New Wave science fiction, too. By the 1970s, the wave had either subsided or washed over and become a part of a greater science fiction. After a few years, new things aren't new anymore.

Although most people are temperamentally conservative, we also like new things. Newness must have been a hard-driving force in the late 1950s and early 1960s. We can speculate that it had to do with demographics, or populations finally beginning to recover from nightmares of world war. Coincidentally, the idea that science fiction might be dying also came up in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Maybe old waves were drawing back as new ones were rolling in.

There has been at least one effort to revive the new waves of the past. That sounds like a contradiction to me. It sounds like the workings of nostalgia, an attempted return to past glories and not at all a progressive or innovative thing. Call it quixotic. Maybe even silly. Alternatively, it might be considered ambitious--or hubristic. We puff ourselves up by imagining that we have made or discovered new things. There's an awful lot of that in this world. Anyway, that new return to the old past is a so-called "New Weird." The term itself first appeared in print in 2002. I suspect it is meant to evoke memory of or an association with the New Wave in science fiction, right down to the initial assonance and monosyllabic construction of the words weird and wave. (In order for it to happen, weird had to be turned back into a noun: another return to the past.) Former editor of Weird Tales magazine Ann Kennedy VanderMeer and her husband Jeff VanderMeer are or were champions of the "New Weird." In 2008, they published an anthology called just that, The New Weird.

Two thousand two was twenty years ago. Two thousand eight was fourteen years ago. What was new then isn't any more. So is there still such a thing as the "New Weird"? Was there ever? Or could it have been an imitation--or a conceit, a self-conscious conceit at that? I can't say. I haven't read any authors of the "New Weird" unless Thomas Ligotti is one of them. I certainly haven't read any literary criticism or any real literary theory behind any of it. I wonder if there are such things. And I wonder if the term New Weird gained any traction at all outside of a small, or medium-sized, circle of writers and editors.

New things are generally made by young people. João Gilberto was still in his twenties when he made his breakthrough as what Antônio Carlos Jobim called "O Baiano bossa-nova." Gal Costa began singing professionally at age eighteen. She was not yet twenty-three when the seminal album Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis was released. Pharoah Sanders made his first record at twenty-four. There are examples after examples. Young people are new in the world. They literally are a new wave. Their elders are less often innovators. Although many of the writers and editors of the "New Weird" were still young adults at the turn of the last century, they are now in middle age.

One of the complications for their generation--Generation X--is that they are outnumbered not only by the generation above them but also by the one below them. Maybe Generation X didn't have all of the opportunities to distinguish themselves that other generations have had. Maybe they didn't have much of a chance to thrive. Then again, maybe that's just bellyaching and excuse-making. Remember that in the 1980s and '90s, Generation X were referred to as the "Slacker Generation."

There's another thing to consider, though, for Generation X is unique in American history. (3) That uniqueness comes from a historical event that came halfway through their generation, possibly at the exact midpoint. Before that, things were normal. After that, all hell broke loose. What happened is that Generation X became prey. Call them instead the Truncated Generation, for millions of their cohorts--their brothers and sisters, their friends, classmates, and coworkers, their lovers, husbands, and wives--were eliminated, tipped in pieces into an enamel pan. Moloch had returned and for decades reigned supreme--until this year. The Truncated Generation were the first to be born into the Moloch State and first to bear the brunt of its murderous violence, its aggressions and depredations. Growing up, they must have been aware of their narrow escape. Is it any wonder, then, that their art is so dark, negative, violent, pessimistic, and nihilistic? That they would create or revive something they have called the "New Weird" in which, apparently, there is an underlying anti-life, anti-human, and anti-child philosophy?

As the wise man of Ecclesiastes wrote, there is nothing new under the sun. One of the claims of the "New Weird"--one of its claims to newness, I think--is that it subverts and combines and mixes the conventional genres and sub-genres that exist under the general heading of fantasy. One thing to consider here is that those conventions may have formed, or at least hardened, during the pulp era. Likewise, the genres and sub-genres of fantasy fiction were drawn apart during that same era and during the paperback era that succeeded it. Before the pulp era, there weren't really conventions within individual genres and sub-genres because those categories had not yet been separated from each other, nor had they been named, described, delineated, or formalized in their conventions. In other words, if there is innovation in the "New Weird," it may just be in the putting back together of things that were drawn apart before living memory began. Proponents of the "New Weird" as both new and a thing unto itself should also consider the fictions and metafictions of writers like Jorge Luis Borges, John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, and Kurt Vonnegut. Could it all have been done before?

Beyond all of that theorizing, there is this question: Where is there left in this world--in our society or in our culture--to make anything new? Technology still leaves us with openings, I guess, and so there appear to be remaining possibilities in science fiction. There are also still openings made by human depravity, which knows no limits. We are witnesses every day to its advances. It runs ahead of us, in fact, each step carrying it, and us, into new territory. Maybe that leaves possibilities for weird fiction, too.

Notes

(1) There is a current French pop group called Nouvelle Vague. One of the primary figures in the original Nouvelle Vague, French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, died just this year, on September 13, 2022. He was ninety-one years old.

(2) Many years ago, I met two British birders at a state park in California. They were of an age that they could remember in the early 1960s playing on piles of rubble in London made by the Blitz.

(3) Unique until now anyway, but this new uniqueness goes in the opposite direction. It will be years or decades before we understand just where it goes.

* * *

We're now in the week ahead of Thanksgiving. I write on Saturday, November 19, 2022. It was a cold day today, but sunny. I was out and about. In my very small part of the world, I saw people who seem happy, positive, cheerful, and energetic. Terrible things have fallen behind us this year and we can be happy again now that they're gone. Let us give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving

to the Readers of

Tellers of Weird Tales!

* * *

There was a lot of Americanized bossa nova during the 1960s and '70s, and there are lots of Anglo names on this record cover from 1968. But there is also the name of the great Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida (1917-1995), who, as it so happens, played on an episode of Star Trek in which the late Nichelle Nichols sang "Beyond Antares." To hear influences of Brazilian music on American (and Canadian) popular music, listen to "Undun" by The Guess Who (1969) and "At Seventeen" by  Janis Ian (1975). I have posted this image for its expression: Viva Bossa Nova! 

Text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Caleb B. Laning (1906-1991)

U.S. Navy Officer, Technical Advisor, Teacher, Writer

Born March 27, 1906, Kansas City, Missouri

Died May 31, 1991, Falls Church, Virginia

Robert Heinlein's friend Cal Laning has come up more than once in this blog. You can find plenty of biographical information on him on the Internet, but it isn't all in one place. And most of what you will find is about his very illustrious naval career--or his death. There is far less on his involvement in science fiction. That information is scattered, too. I'd like to put some of it together here.

Presumably named for his paternal grandfather, Caleb Barrett Laning was born on March 27, 1906, in Kansas City, Missouri, to Levin Dirickson Laning and Jessie Inez (Butt) Laning. For those who know something about the family of John W. Campbell, Jr., there is the birth of a child named Randazzo recorded on the same page as Laning's birth. Sometimes you come upon some very strange coincidences.

Cal Laning graduated from Westport High School in Kansas City in 1924 and attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis from 1924 to 1929. One of his classmates--and his friend--was Robert A. Heinlein. Both men graduated in 1929, and both were commissioned as ensigns. Laning remained in the Navy throughout the 1930s, in fact throughout his career. Heinlein on the other hand was discharged in 1934 for ill health. Would he have become one of the great science fiction authors if it had not been for a case of tuberculosis? Although what-if questions are a staple of science fiction, they are unanswerable in real life.

In January 1932, Laning introduced his girlfriend Leslyn MacDonald to Heinlein. Heinlein proceeded to take her way and marry her. No hard feelings, I guess: Heinlein and Laning remained friends and even collaborated later in life. In fact there is a fifty-year record of their correspondence with each other. We should see those letters, but I can't say where they are or who controls them. The Heinleins, on the other hand, were married for just sixteen years, from 1932 to 1948, and a good deal of that wasn't very happy.

As a Navy man, Laning specialized in microwave radio, radar, electronics, and communications. As executive officer assigned to the destroyer USS Conyngham (DD-371), Laning was there during the attack on Pearl Harbor and helped to fight back against the Japanese. He continued in combat during World War II, participating in the battles of Midway and Leyte Gulf, as well as the campaign for New Guinea. For his actions as commander of the destroyer USS  Hutchins  (DD-476) at the Battle of Surigao Straits, he received the Navy Cross, the Navy's highest award for valor. Laning also twice received the Legion of Merit, as well as the Gold Star. He was promoted to captain late in the war and to rear admiral afterwards. His headstone refers to service in Korea, too, but I don't have anything on that. Laning's last assignment was as chief of communications for NATO forces in Southern Europe. He retired in 1959, afterwards working for Lockheed Electronics Company and System Development Corporation.

In regards to Cal Laning's involvement in science fiction and science fiction-based developments in the real world, I have three items from two sources on the Internet. First, from the French-language version of Wikipedia:

  • Laning "actively campaigned for the transformation of the US Navy into a 'space navy' and, from 1945, for a first unmanned lunar mission."
  • "Always passionate about science fiction, he is [sic] an active member of the Trap Door Spiders, model of Isaac Asimov's the Black Widowers."

Founded by Fletcher Pratt, the Trap Door Spiders were a writer's club active in New York City from 1944 until the 1990s. Other members included Isaac Asimov, L. Sprague de Camp, Lester del Rey, George O. Smith, and Theodore Sturgeon.

Second, from the English-language version of Wikipedia:

  • "Laning was involved in the development of the U.S. naval Combat Information Center (CIC) during World War II. The idea was taken 'specifically, consciously, and directly' from the spaceship Directrix in the Lensman novels of E. E. Smith, Ph.D., and influenced by the works of his friend, collaborator, and Naval Academy classmate, fellow Missourian Robert Heinlein, but for bureaucratic reasons the source of the idea was not disclosed." 

Both sources provide documentation, but I don't have access to those original sources.

Cal Laning is also in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb) with two credits:

  • "Flight into the Future," a piece of nonfiction written with Robert A. Heinlein and published in Collier's magazine for August 30, 1947.
  • "System in the Sky," also with Robert A. Heinlein, a sequel to "Flight into the Future" but not put into print until 2011 in The Nonfiction of Robert Heinlein: Volume I.

I haven't read either of these articles. Judging from a letter to the editor of the Bridgewater, New Jersey, Courier-News (Sept. 3, 1947, p. 18), submitted by Herbert M. Merrill (1871-1956), I have the impression that "Flight into the Future" involves the kind of peace-from-above theme common in a certain brand of idealistic and progressive science fiction from H.G. Wells to The Day the Earth Stood StillHere's an article implying a different angle:

(From the Marysville [Ohio] Journal-Tribune, August 22, 1947, page 1. This was actually a syndicated article that went out to newspapers all across America.)

Laning wrote on technical subjects during and after his naval career. According to an article in the Washington Post, published after his death, Laning also wrote unpublished science fiction. At his death, Laning's occupation was, again, writer.

I have one more point about "Flight into the Future," this one regarding the historical context of its publication. Laning and Heinlein's article was published at the end of August 1947. Less than three weeks later, on September 18, 1947, the provisions of the National Security Act of 1947 took effect. These included the establishment of the Department of Defense, the establishment of the U.S. Air Force as a separate branch of the U.S. military, and the establishment of the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Conspiracy theorists should note that the summer during which our national security apparatus changed began on June 24, 1947, when the first flying saucers appeared in the skies over America.

Having lost his wife, with his own health in decline and not wanting to go through what she had gone through at the end, Rear Admiral Caleb B. Laning, USN (ret.) died by suicide on May 31, 1991, in Falls Church, Virginia. In doing so, he made a return to the past, for he shot himself while standing in a boat, using the same pistol his mother had used to kill herself more than seventy years before. Cal Laning was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. One final, terrible irony: his place of death is recorded as a hospital on Gallows Road.

Further Reading

"Decorated Rear Adm. Caleb B. Laning Dies" in the Washington Post, June 8, 1991.

"The Story of One Man's Decision" by Laning Pepper Thompson in the Washington Post, Aug. 20, 1991.

Collier's, August 30, 1947, with cover art by Stan Ekman (1913-1998).

Original text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley