Friday, March 20, 2020

The Mysterious Dolgov-Part Three

One of the things about this ever-expanding Internet is that sources that were unavailable even a week ago are now suddenly here before us. I first wrote about Boris Dolgov on August 27, 2016. At the time, the only person I could find in public records by that name or anything close was Boris Dolgoff (1897-1989), a Russian-born Jewish poultry dealer in Seattle, Washington. I knew then that he wasn't our artist, but I wondered about a possible connection to Hannes Bok, who lived in Seattle for a couple of stints during the 1930s. Now, through a new search, I have a candidate for the Mysterious Dolgov, a supposition based on two and a half bits of evidence.

First, I found a death record. And after I found a death record, I found mention of Boris Dolgov's cause of death. I'll take the cause of death first.

On the website Notasdecine, the author, who seems to be anonymous, wrote in June 2009 a parenthetical statement about Dolgov's cause of death. Here it is in its entirety:
(Over the years I've heard stories from several old timers that he fell to his death by falling from the fire escape to his own apartment)
You might say the author at Notasdecine skimped on his information and sources. His sentence doesn't even end in a period. But if we accept that Dolgov fell from a fire escape; and we know that his genre credits ended in the 1950s, suggesting that something greater ended then, too; and we can guess that Dolgov was about the same age as Hannes Bok, then we can say that his death was untimely and tragic, just as Bok's own death would be in 1964.

That's half a piece of evidence. Now comes a whole piece from the Internet and posted there since I first wrote about Dolgov in 2016: a death record, from the New York, New York, Death Index, 1949-1965, states that a Boris Dolgoff, born circa 1910 (meaning, I think, that his age at his death was thought to be about forty-eight), died on November 4, 1958, in Manhattan. All of that lines up pretty well: the age is about right (Bok was born in 1914, making the presumed Dolgov four years his senior), the disappearance from genre work is about right (according to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, Dolgov's last genre illustration was in the penultimate issue of Weird Tales, July 1954), and the untimely death is right (leaving only "old timers" to remember it).

Boris Dolgov isn't in the indexes for The Immortal Storm: A History of Science Fiction Fandom by Sam Moskowitz (1954), All Our Yesterdays: An Informal History of Science Fiction Fandom in the Forties by Harry Warner, Jr. (1969), or The Futurians: The Story of the Science Fiction "Family" of the 30's That Produced Today's Top SF Writers and Editors by Damon Knight (1977). I have only a paperback edition of The Way the Future Was: A Memoir by Frederik Pohl (1979). There isn't any index, and I came up empty in only a cursory search of the text. The Mysterious Dolgov seems to have remained mysterious even among science fiction fans, writers, artists, and editors of the 1930s and '40s. It would seem also that he was a pretty peripheral figure. If a fan-based artist of that time was remembered at all, he was the middle third of the pen name Dolbokov, i.e., Hannes Bok. All of that is a shame because Boris Dolgov was a good and interesting artist.

Now for the second whole bit of evidence: In the Manhattan City Directory of 1957, there is a listing for a Boris Dolgoff with an address of 630 East 14th Street and a telephone number of O Regn 3-8552. (I take that to mean that his number was OR3-8552, or 673-8552.) I don't know much about Manhattan (the Bronx and Staten Island, too), but it looks like that address would fall within the East Village. In reading about the East Village on that ultimate source of all knowledge Wikipedia, I find that it was home to the Yiddish Theatre District in the early to mid twentieth century, also that it became home to poets, artists, musicians, writers, and general Beatniks during the 1950s. That second fact is pertinent when we're talking about an artist, but the first fact may be pertinent, too. The reason is that there was a Jewish performer of the 1920s through the early 1950s who shared Boris Dolgoff's last name, and so maybe we have a place of origin and a possible family member for the Mysterious Dolgov.

To be continued . . .

Copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, March 13, 2020

The Mysterious Dolgov-Part Two

Readers have suggested two possible identities for the Mysterious Dolgov. Hannes Bok is one. The other is Boris Artzybasheff.

Boris Artzybasheff (1899-1965)
Once or twice a century, an artist comes along whose vision is so extraordinary that he can hardly be categorized or placed with other artists. Boris Artzybasheff was one of these artists. He was born on May 25, 1899, in Kharkov, in what is now Ukraine. I believe that birthdate was under the old calendar, as Artzybasheff gave his birthdate as June 5, 1899, in his petition for naturalization. He arrived in the United States, at the port of New York, on June 17, 1919, after having left Russia from the Black Sea port of Novorsisk more than a month before. I don't know much about the tangled and tragic history of the Russian Revolution, but I believe Novorsisk may have been a last refuge of White Russian forces in 1918-1920. There were pogroms in Ukraine at about the same time, carried out by the Green Army, but I believe Artzybasheff's family to have been Eastern Orthodox and not Jewish. Still, socialism has its depredations, and the young artist escaped from them at about the same time that so many of his countrymen and countrywomen did, including at least three tellers of weird tales, Maria Moravsky (1889-1947)Nadia Lavrova (1897-1989), and Edith M. Almedingen (1898-1973). Artzybasheff's father, Mikhail Artsybashev (1878-1927), also an artist, escaped not long after his son, going to Poland in 1923. Artsybashev was a fierce opponent of Bolshevism and edited a newspaper in Poland called For Liberty! According to endlessly repeated sources on the Internet, his surname became the root of a Soviet pejorative, artsybashevchina.

One of my readers has suggested that Boris Artzybasheff, who by the 1940s was a well-established and successful commercial artist and illustrator, contributed to Weird Tales under the pseudonym Boris Dolgov, effectively slumming among the pulps. I don't like to call improbabilities impossibilities, but I also don't think that to be very likely. Although it's true that the Mysterious Dolgov worked in a uniquely 1940s style, his art bears little resemblance to that of the other Boris, Artzybasheff. Beyond that, Artzybasheff was famed for his advertising work, moreover for his covers for Time magazine, of which he created more than 200 from 1941 to 1966. It doesn't seem likely that he could have been induced to contribute to Weird Tales for the kind of pittances the magazine offered artists during the 1940s and '50s. I like writing about Boris Artzybasheff and showing his art. I would like to think that he could have contributed to "The Unique Magazine." But it just doesn't seem to me that he was Boris Dolgov, especially considering that there really was a person by that name and identity. We know that from the photograph shown in the previous posting (here). I'll show more evidence in the next. I would like to thank my reader, though, and invite him and others to continue to comment and offer their research, suggestions, recommendations, and so on. It's always good to explore possibilities.

Boris Artzybasheff in his studio, ca. mid 1940s. In contrast to the Mysterious Dolgov, Artzybasheff was well known and frequently photographed. He was also very successful and widely published as an artist. And we know a lot about his life, including his birthdate, May 25, 1899 (O.S.), and his death date, July 16, 1965. A dedicated artist to the end, Artzybasheff died in his studio in that artist's haven of Connecticut, in his case, in Lyme. Artzybasheff moved from New York City to Lyme in mid 1955 at his wife's behest. Tragically, she died just half a year later, on December 11, 1955. She was the former Elisabeth Southard Snyder (1904-1955), whom he had married on February 22, 1930, in Manhattan. They spent just a quarter of a century together. The image is from Forty Illustrators and How They Work by Ernest W. Watson (New York: Watson-Guptill, 1946), page 9.

As I said, Artzybasheff was an artist of extraordinary vision. He could only have understood that about himself, as demonstrated in the cover image and title of his own book, As I See, from 1954.

Artzybasheff was the son of Mikhail Artsybashev, or Artzybasheff as in this cover. The elder Artsybashev (1878-1927) was a Polish-Russian writer, editor, artist, and journalist. Among his novels was The Savage, published in paperback in 1951 when just about any piece of literature, high or low, could be put into print as long as it had a suitably trashy and suggestive cover. The artist here was Tobey. I'm pretty sure that he wasn't the painter Mark Tobey (1890-1976), who knew Hannes Bok, but like I said, I don't like to call improbabilities impossibilities.

Boris Artzybasheff was not only a painter but also a graphic artist. Here is what looks to be a scratchboard drawing from his own book, Poor Shaydullah, from 1931, reproduced in Forty Illustrators and How They Work. The Wizard of Oz-like character in the middle of that blossoming whatsit looks like George Bernard Shaw.

Artzybasheff was renowned for his personified machines. "I like machines," he said. "I would rather watch a 1,000-ton dredge dig a canal than see it done by 1,000 spent slaves lashed into submission." That quote, from The Hartford Courant, July 17, 1955, I think has hidden meaning in it, for Artzybasheff, having lived under socialism, had had personal experience with the mass slavery of the Machine Age. Another biographical note coming from this image: Artzybasheff was born in Kharkov, later site of four great battles during World War II between Nazis and Communists.

Artzybasheff's art might be called unique but it seems to me to have been a part of a distinctive look of mid-century American illustration, advertising art, and commercial art. For example, this image looks like it could have been created by the great James Flora (1914-1998) . . .

While this one bears resemblance to the crazy art of Basil Wolverton (1909-1978) . . .

And this one looks a little like drawings made by Hannes Bok (1914-1964), who of course collaborated with the Mysterious Dolgov. I'm not sure that Bok had repressed hostility, but I'm pretty sure that he had a repressed something or other.

There is still more to come in this series, including a possible death date and cause of death for Boris Dolgov.

Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Mysterious Dolgov-Part One

I have written before about the artist Boris Dolgov, dates currently unknown, who contributed to Weird Tales in the 1940s and '50s. You can read what I wrote about him by clicking hereAlmost nothing is known of Dolgov. We might wonder whether he ever really existed. I have comments from a couple of readers speculating that Boris Dolgov could have been Hannes Bok or even Boris Artzybasheff. I'll take those speculations one at a time.

Hannes Bok (1914-1964)
Boris Dolgov and Hannes Bok (nĂ© Wayne Francis Woodard) were friends who worked together on a few published illustrations under the combined name Dolbokov. I suspect that they met in New York City in about 1939-1941. Born in Kansas City but a wanderer in his childhood and young adulthood, Bok had arrived in the city from Seattle in December 1939. That was the same month in which his first illustrations appeared on the cover of and in Weird TalesDolgov's first illustration for "The Unique Magazine" was for Thorp McCluskey's short story "The Music from Infinity," from September 1941.

Dolgov may already have been in New York City when Bok arrived. He may even have been a native. Whatever the case, the two artists had met and had begun collaborating as early as the summer of 1941 when their first joint drawings, published under their Dolbokov name, appeared in Science Fiction Quarterly. The stories they illustrated together were "Earth Does Not Reply" by John B. Michel and Donald A. Wollheim and Michel's own "Path of Empire."

John B. Michel (1917-1968) and Donald A. Wollheim (1914-1990) were active in science fiction fandom in New York City during the 1930s and '40s. Bok (1914-1964) had been, too, in Los Angeles, before moving permanently to the East Coast. Damon Knight (1922-2002) reported that Bok attended a meeting of the New York-based science fiction fan club the Futurians on August 21, 1940. (The Futurians by Damon Knight [1977], p. 53) Those facts lead me to think that Dolgov came out of fandom, too, possibly New York fandom, and that he may have been around the same age as Bok, Michel, Wollheim, and Knight, who was the baby of the group.

Both Bok and Dolgov were acquainted with the renowned American painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966). Proof of that is in a photograph that I have seen in three different places on the Internet. I'll show it again here:

American painter Maxfield Parrish (left) and Boris Dolgov (right) in a photograph taken by Hannes Bok. The date is supposed to have been sometime in the early 1940s. This image is from an unknown original source and has been repeatedly reproduced on the Internet, here for the fourth time at least. The original photograph was presumably taken at Parrish's home in Cornish, New Hampshire. If so, and if this really is a picture of Dolgov, then he and Bok may have scored a kind of coup, for as Susan E. Meyer wrote, "Parrish was an intensely private man, preferring to keep others at a distance at all times." (From America's Great Illustrators [New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1978], p. 115.) There is distance even in this image. In later years, Parrish did not recall having met Bok. Bok told a different story.

Here are the three websites on which I have found the image above showing Parrish and Dolgov together:
  • Notasdecine, June 2009, here.
  • Null Entropy, October 26, 2012, here.
  • Darkworlds Quarterly, January 12, 2020, here.
I suspect that each has simply copied from one of the previous sources, as I have done also. The website Notasdecine shows an accompanying photograph of Bok posing with a painting made by Parrish. That picture was presumably taken by Dolgov. Bok is known to have had art done by Parrish in his possession later in life.

If you look closely, you will see that the image reproduced here has been screened for printing. Presumably, then, this version was originally either in a book, a magazine, or a newspaper. It does not appear to have been scanned from a photographic print for reproduction on the Internet. That tells me that it was mass produced in print, on paper, and that there could be more information on it in that original published source. Now if we can just find the original source. A place to start might be in the writings or collections of  either Emil Peteja (1915-2000), Bok's friend and biographer, or Gerry de la Ree (1924-1993), a science fiction fan and collector and also a Bok biographer.

In any case, if the story behind this picture is correct, then there really was a Boris Dolgov (or variation thereof--you'll get my meaning in a few days), and he was not Hannes Bok. I think you can see that in their artwork anyway. There are similarities to be sure, but it's clear to me that Bok had deep psychosexual problems and that these problems came out in his artwork. That's not to say that Dolgov didn't, but if even he did, they don't clearly show through in his work, which is far more innocent and even has a childlike quality. As some people have already noted, Dolgov's work also resembles that of Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981), who had psychosexual or just plain psychological problems of his own.

So, I think we can fairly say that Boris Dolgov was not Hannes Bok, based in part on the photograph shown above, but also, I think, on the respective works of art made by these two men. If you're okay with all of that, we can move on to Part Two.

Revised and corrected February 29, 2020
Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, February 24, 2020

Cabal in New York, 1939

I noted in July last year that 2019 was the 80th anniversary year of what is now called cosplay. The first cosplayers were Forrest J Ackerman and his friend Morojo, who went to the first World Science Fiction Convention dressed in character. The dates were July 2-4, 1939. The place was New York City, including at the World's Fair. What I neglected to mention is that the characters they were portraying were from Things to Come, a movie that had been in theaters just three years before. What a powerful influence it must have been on young science fiction fans of the time. Here was a perfect vision of the future--clean, pure, streamlined, attractive, progressive, based in science. Unfortunately those visions began crashing down just two months after the convention when first one brand of forward-looking socialists, then another, invaded and subjugated Poland. I'll remind you once again of William Gibson's story "The Gernsback Continuum" and the connection it makes between Gernsbackian (or Wellsian) science fiction and fascism.

I have used the word cosplay here even though I hate it for its ugliness. Filk is another word from fandom offensive to the ear. Thinking of the ugliness of these words and so many other aspects of science fiction and its fandom brings up a question: Is science fiction essentially an unaesthetic or even anti-aesthetic genre? Put another way, is science fiction interested first in things other than aesthetics? Remember, in Things To Come, the artists are the ones who object to the perfect society of the future. They rebel and riot and threaten the impending moon mission. Within science fiction itself, it is usually the artists who make of it beautiful things: witness the art of pulp magazine covers or artists such as Virgil Finlay. Writers and fans so often seem to turn their attention and efforts elsewhere. So I'll ask again, is science fiction essentially an unaesthetic or anti-aesthetic genre?

Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, February 21, 2020

Wells and Cabal Again

The image from my previous article, the aeronon of the twentieth century, is from the book Predictions by John Durant, published in 1956. In his book, Mr. Durant quoted from the original source:
As entirely new profession--that of airmanship--will be thoroughly organized, employing a countless army of airmen. . . . Boundaries will be obliterated. . . . Troops, aerial squadrons, death-dealing armaments will be maintained only for police surveillance over barbarous races, and for instantly enforcing the judicial decrees of the world's international court of appeal. (p. 28)
That sounds an awful lot like Cabal's speechifying in Things To Come (1936). In other words, H.G. Wells spouted the same kind of thing in his screenplay that an American magazine had written about nearly six decades before, when he was just twelve years old. (The golden age of science fiction by the way.) But then Wells was an adherent to socialism, just one of myriad, useless, nineteenth-century visions for the future, outdated in his time, delusional in its own, and even more delusional in the 1930s. (Deadly delusion.) These people call themselves progressives, yet they keep getting themselves mired in the ideas of the dead and distant past. And now we have several of them running for president, one of whom is old enough to have been dandled on Grandpa Marx's knee. Sheesh.

Anyway, the quote from above also sounds like the motivation behind Klaatu's mission to our planet in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), one in which Gort is to act as "police surveillance over barbarous races." The Day the Earth Stood Still is a great and very enjoyable science fiction movie, but I think it helps to take it as one of a pair, the more liberal (I won't say "progressive") face of a coin that has on its other face the more conservative film The Thing from Another World (also 1951). All of that, though, is subject for another day.

Just one more thing . . . it occurs to me now that Michael Rennie as Klaatu may have been intended to invoke memories of Raymond Massey as Cabal. Both actors were tall, dark, slender, and British, or at least British-oid. (Massey was Canadian.) Both characters have liberal-slash-progressive views on things, bordering on the tyrannical or totalitarian. (One is far more arrogant and dangerous than the other.) They also both wear the broad-shouldered outfit of the future, like Carol Burnett playing Scarlett O'Hara: "If I don't find some sparkling outer-space duds to wear, it's curtains for me!"

Wells and Cabal will return yet again in the next installment. Stay tuned.

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

A Flying Saucer Lineage

In my previous article, I wrote about a picture drawn in 1920 of what look to our eyes like flying saucers. Some of the details are wrong. For example, the occupants ride in gondolas slung under the main body of their ships. Also, the domes on top look like classical architecture. Then, too, there are planes--I guess they're supposed to be flight control surfaces--extending from each craft. Flying saucers don't have flight control surfaces. On the whole, though, the flying saucers drawn by the unknown artist E.R.H. conform pretty well with visions and images from what I call the Flying Saucer Era, 1947 to 1968 (or 1973). If you look on the lower left of the drawing, you will even see one of these craft firing a death ray at Earth's surface. A plume of smoke rising into the clouds is the obvious result. No word on how many people were vaporized in the blast.

The flying saucers drawn by E.R.H are disc-shaped. Oblate spheroid might be a better description, but even that isn't quite right. Maybe a geometer can come up with a better term. Anyway, let's assume that the flying saucer shape evolved sometime in the early twentieth century. (Like I said before, science fiction is for the most part evolutionary and not revolutionary. I'm not sure that there have been many truly radical events in the history of the genre.) Where, then, did that shape come from? That question got me to thinking.

The flying saucer shape differs from the shape of conventional aircraft in that it has radial rather than bilateral symmetry. Every edge is potentially a leading edge, leaving its opposite as a trailing edge. This every-directional shape allows flying saucers to move in every direction, to change direction, and even to reverse direction instantaneously. And that's how they're reported to move. The flying saucer drawing made by E.R.H. would appear to show craft of this type, except for the presumed flight control surfaces extending from them. These planes--each ship has a pair--turn what at first looks like a radially symmetrical craft--a disc-like or oblate spheroid-like vehicle--into a bilaterally symmetrical ship with fore and aft ends and discernible starboard and port sides. Even with E.R.H.'s leap, we were still not there in the full development of the flying saucer.

As an artist, I started thinking about the early twentieth-century evolution of the flying saucer, not of the thing itself but of the image or depiction of the thing. A drawing is a two-dimensional representation of what is supposed to be a three-dimensional object or world. The real (or imaginary) thing is flattened in the process of drawing it. We know now about streamlining. We test aircraft and cars in wind tunnels to see how they perform. Early shipbuilders knew about streamlining, too, of course, and they made their ships a particular way so that they might slip more efficiently through the stream. In this they plagiarized from nature, as we do with most things we make. So if you slice a ship lengthwise as you would a tomato and look at the cross section from above, you will see a fusiform shape: a three-dimensional object now reduced to its two-dimensional essence, in this case, a shape that is somewhat broader in the middle and tapered on both ends for purposes of slipping through the stream. Fish have fusiform bodies. So do birds when they fold their wings. Their wings, too, are more or less fusiform in cross section, although the leading edge is more rounded while the trailing edge is more pointed, just as in the wings of our own plagiarized aircraft.

What happens, then, when you flatten--in the form of a drawing--a three-dimensional, fusiform object? Well, you get something like this:

The "aeronon of the Twentieth Century" as depicted in The Century Magazine in 1878. Drawn and engraved by B. Sayer and R.M. Smart, though I'm not sure which was the original artist and which was the engraver. 
The aeronon of the future is fish-like or whale-like in appearance--in other words fusiform--but if you take away the tail, gondolas, and other protuberances, it also looks in its two dimensions like a flying saucer. And if you want to bring it back into three dimensions, one of your options is to make it radially rather than bilaterally symmetrical. So is that what artists of the early twentieth century did? Did they spin the fusiform airship on its vertical axis like a pinwheel to make a disc shape or oblate spheroid in which any lengthwise cross section that passes through the center (or focus) is also fusiform? Excellent. Now craft from other worlds are freed from the bounds of direction, by notions of forward and aft, of starboard and port. They can now move about our atmosphere as they please, leaving us to gape at their advanced capabilities. That still leaves up and down--in other words, three-dimensional space--as a problem in the design of the craft and its movement, but not every problem can be solved at once. Or, the up-and-down problem can be solved by way of anti-gravity or some other unexplained technology that negates weight.

Anyway, that's what it looks like to me, that the flying saucer of the twentieth century is simply the airship of the nineteenth, taken from two-dimensional representation, spun on its axis, and freed into three-dimensional space. (Remember that the alien spacecraft in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, from 1956, spin. Could this have been a holdover from the turning of the object in the artist's imagination? Probably not. I suspect it was to invoke the spinning of a gyroscope, done for stability's sake, and the lack of stability is one of the things that undoes the aliens in the movie.) If that's what really happened, then flying saucers were actually created by artists and not by writers at all. They were literally spun from the imagination. (Another word for fusiform is spindle-shaped.) I'm not sure that Charles Fort ever described the craft of the outer-space people who had their great battles in the sky, the same people who now own us. I wonder whether any writer did in fact. But artists imagined flying saucers and by drawing them brought them into reality.

We should remember in all of this that the first flying saucer flap in American was actually an airship flap and that it took place in 1896-1897, fifty years before Kenneth Arnold and Raymond Palmer launched us into the Flying Saucer Era. With their fins, propellors, gondolas, and gasbags, those airships were distinctly nineteenth-century in appearance. It was only during the first half of the twentieth century that they became saucer shaped and freed from the forces of weight and drag. My how alien technology advanced in just fifty short years!

Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, February 15, 2020

A Century of Forteana

December of 2019 marked the centennial of Charles Fort's first published book, The Book of the Damned. From it flowed a good deal of fantasy and science fiction and a good deal more of pseudoscience. According to Fort's biographer, Jim Steinmeyer, the official publication date of The Book of the Damned was December 1, 1919. Fort signed the first copy of his book for his wife, Annie, on January 7, 1920. The earliest review that I have found is from one hundred years ago this month, February 1, 1920:

A very early review of The Book of the Damned by Charles Fort, from the San Francisco Chronicle, February 1, 1920 (p. 2). Note the last sentence: "It [. . .] will be cherished by collectors of the curious in pseudo-scientific literature." The online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has a long and interesting entry on pseudoscience as we know it. I think that the anonymous reviewer of 1920 was referring not to what we call pseudoscience but to the nascent genre of science fiction itself. (The first use of the term science fiction was still almost a decade into the future when he or she wrote.)

In July of 1920, an illustrated feature on Fort's book began making the rounds of American newspapers. Its author remained anonymous, and I don't know the title of the newspaper in which it originated. The artist's name might have given us a clue, but we have instead only his initials: E.R.H. I checked two good sources for American illustrators and cartoonists with those initials and came up empty. That's a shame, because E.R.H. may have been the first artist in the world to have drawn a flying saucer:

The title of this article varies from paper to paper, but the text, the portrait photograph of Charles Fort, and the illustration by E.R.H. are the same. This version is from The Times of Shreveport, Louisiana, July 16, 1920 (p. 7).

When I say that the drawing by E.R.H. may have been the first of a flying saucer, I mean that it is what we would now call a flying saucer, i.e., a disc-shaped spacecraft of extraterrestrial origin, carrying "[s]pies from another world--celestial emissaries--[. . .] planning the destruction of man, the annihilation of his civilization and the annexation of his globe!" When I saw this image I was wowed. Here, twenty-seven years before Kenneth Arnold's fated flight, are fully formed flying saucers, complete with domes on top. The main holdovers from nineteenth-century concepts of flying machines are the gondolas hanging underneath, suggesting that these are balloons or dirigibles. Even if they are, why the disc shape? A good explanation might be that this drawing of alien spacecraft shows a leap of the artist's imagination from nineteenth-century visions of the future to twentieth-century "pseudo-scientific literature," inspired by Charles Fort.

Much has been made of the sub-genre of fantasy called "dark fantasy." According to Wikipedia, that ultimate authority on all things, Charles L. Grant "defined his brand of dark fantasy as 'a type of horror story in which humanity is threatened by forces beyond human understanding'." H.P. Lovecraft's so-called Cthulhu Mythos is sometimes considered a dark fantasy of this type. But what else is the Cthulhu Mythos but a chronicle of alien invasion, or at least of visitation? There was precedent for this type of story in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, but wouldn't a more proximate influence on Lovecraft have been the writings of Charles Fort? Here's the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction in its entry on pseudoscience:
Perhaps the greatest single source of pseudoscientific ideas in genre sf has been the work produced by Charles Fort in the 1920s and 1930s. [. . .] The two areas of his theorizing that have most influenced sf are ESP/Psi Powers and the notion that we are being secretly observed, and perhaps controlled, by mysterious intelligences. The latter hypothesis is reflected in many theories at the wilder end of ufology, in the sort of Paranoia demonstrated in the lurid stories of Richard Shaver, in the lasting popularity of H P Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos--extensively imitated and developed by others--and, in a roundabout way, in the idea that we have been visited many times in the past by Aliens, who have directed the evolution of our technology [. . .].
I have already written about Fortean writers in Weird Tales (on October 16, 2014, here). Fort's influence goes beyond Weird Tales, though, into science fiction and pseudoscience (which are sometimes just two sides of the same coin). I have also remarked that Charles Fort was the inventor of science fiction; I was being about half-facetious when I wrote that. But it's not an idea easily dismissed, and if Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, or H.G. Wells didn't do it, who is the next best candidate for the title? And who among these authors gave twentieth-century science-fiction writers more material from which to work in imagining their own creations? Something to think about in this, the beginning of a second century of Forteana.

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley