Thursday, July 22, 2021

Return to Utopia

Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008) is in The Faces of Science Fiction (1984). His statement covers almost an entire page. I'll quote some of it:

I was a secular humanist before I knew the term. I have not believed in God since childhood's end. I believe a belief in any deity is adolescent, shameful and dangerous. [. . .] I am embarrassed to live in a world retaining any faith in church, prayer or a celestial creator. [. . .] My hope for humanity--and I think sensible science fiction has a beneficial influence in that direction--is that one day everyone born will be whole in body and brain, will live a long life free from physical and emotional pain, will participate in a fulfilling way in their contribution to existence, will enjoy true love and friendship [. . . .] I have devoted my life to amassing over a quarter million pieces of sf and fantasy as a present to posterity and I hope to be remembered as an altruist who would have been an acceptable citizen in Utopia. (Emphasis in the original.)

There is a lot to say about the things in that quote and in Ackerman's larger statement. First, there is his seeming sense of superiority, a sense that exists not only in science fiction but also in the world at large, especially among intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals. The Superior Man seems to have been a recurring character in science fiction during the 1930s and '40s, especially in Astounding Science-FictionKarl Marx, another atheist and materialist, believed himself above ordinary men. Curiously, both he and Ackerman died.

Ackerman was a materialist in more ways than one. In his lifetime, he collected a lot of things. The final count may have been a third of a million. Yes, he may have saved those things, but I believe them today to be scattered: Nothing made by man endures. I am reminded of Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias," a poem to which I will soon return:

["]My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

 Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!["]
Nothing beside remains.  [. . .]

Nothing that we make, mighty or low, shall remain. That includes big bunches of sci-fi memorabilia.

Ackerman had his hopes for humanity. They are admirable. But why are those hopes only for the future, or more precisely, in the future? Why aren't they now? Why haven't they been in the past? What keeps them from happening? A progressive-minded person--a Marxist for instance--would say that society or the system hasn't and won't allow them. Thus the system must be overthrown and society remade. History--that Irresistible Force--will guarantee a better future.  There is a fierce urgency now, but it will still take some time before we have perfection. And in that time, by the Marxist and socialist formulation and ambition, countless millions will die by deprivation, war, and murder. These things are of course historical necessities.

In his statement, Ackerman claimed wisdom, or at least a hope that he had gained some wisdom in his then sixty-eight years on this earth. But he placed his hopes in a process that is almost certainly illusory. There is no wisdom in believing in it. That process? History, of course, a Force or Forces that are, incidentally, always imprecisely described, always undetectable, always unmeasurable. Progress is another name for it. I'm reminded here of Sidney Harris' cartoon in which a miracle inserted in the right place guarantees that your equation comes out right:

That's the hope and plan of the hard-nosed materialist: that a miracle will occur, human nature will be altered, and we will have a better world as a result. What he, the materialist--Ackerman included--fails to understand is that we will never be whole, we will never be free of pain, we will not always be fulfilled, we will not always have love and friendship, for the world can never be made perfect. Our only chance for having any of these things is to reject atheism and materialism and to seek something greater to fill the hole in our hearts, a hole that always and everywhere has the same shape.

So Ackerman was a utopian. Ironically, he posed for photographer Patti Perret in front of some of his memorabilia for the utopian/dystopian picture Metropolis (1927). I doubt that he was aware of the irony. After all, the Progressive lacks a sense of irony and self-awareness. But as we know, every Utopia is a Dystopia, the reason being that in order for a society to be made perfect, people themselves must be harried into perfection. Only an overarching State can accomplish that--or believes that it can accomplish that--and so the State must be made supreme over the lives of men. So, Metropolis may depict Dystopia, but in its way, it also depicts Utopia: Utopia for the powerful is Dystopia for the rest of us.

Socialists of one stripe might quibble with those of another over the meaning of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Workers in revolt? They are the Proletariat. They are oppressed. Their situation is intolerable and they will have an end to it. This is History in action. . . . Or maybe not. Here is Joseph Goebbels, propagandist for the Nazi party, writing in 1928:

The political bourgeoisie is about to leave the stage of history. In its place advance the oppressed producers of the head and hand, the forces of Labor (Arbeitertum), to begin their historical mission. This is not a matter of wages and hours--though we must not fail to realize that these demands are essential, perhaps the most important single manifestation of the socialist will. More important is the incorporation of a potent, responsible estate (Stand) in the affairs of state, perhaps indeed in the dominant role in the future politics of our fatherland. (Quoted in Hitler's Social Revolution by David Schoenbaum, 2012.)

Note the sophomoric patois of the socialist revolutionary: bourgeoisie, history, oppressed, Labor, historical mission, the socialist will, the future. Always: the Glorious Future. Here is more of Goebbels:

We are not a charitable institution but a Party of revolutionary socialists. (Emphasis added. Also quoted in Mr. Shoenbaum's book, from 1929.)

Before I go on, I must emphasize: Nazis were socialists. They said it themselves. They inserted that word into their own name for themselves. As people would say nowadays, they self-identified as socialists. They were anti-liberal, anti-democracy, anti-capitalist. They wished to create a perfect State and a perfect society, set, of course, in the future. This would be their Thousand-Year Reich. In other words, National Socialists, like their International cousins, were and are essentially utopian in their aims. So enough with the slander that American conservatives have anything to do with Nazis. If anything, it is the American Socialist or Progressive--the anti-liberal, anti-capitalist Progressive--who finds in the Nazi past his or her ideological bedfellow, or at the very least shares in the techniques of Nazism.

A last quote, from Siegfried Kracauer in his book From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (1947, 1971):

In the case of Metropolis, Goebbels's own words bear out the conclusions drawn from this film. Lang relates that immediately after Hitler's rise to power Goebbels sent for him: ". . . he told me that, many years before, he and the Führer had seen my picture Metropolis in a small town, and Hitler had said at that time that he wanted me to make the Nazi pictures." (p. 164; Lang quoted from the New York World Telegram, June 11, 1941.)

Fritz Lang decided instead to flee Utopia, first for France, then for the United States. My hope is that our country will forever be an enemy of socialism in all its forms and consequently of Utopia.

I'm not sure that there is a strong or unequivocal connection to be made between utopianism and Esperanto, but Forrest J Ackerman was both a utopian and an Esperantist. He was fluent in that made-up language and knew its theme song by heart. Here is a pertinent passage:

On a neutral language basis,

understanding one another,

the people will make in agreement

one great family circle.

Wow, what a catchy lyric that is. I sometimes find myself singing it when I'm in the shower or walking down the street or when I'm hanging out with the Lion King on the endless plains of Africa. Anyway, one of the aims of the socialist/statist/progressive/utopian program is the creation of the One State. (That's what Yevgeny Zamyatin called it in We.) All the better if the One State is really just a big, happy family, living together in a great circle of happy happiness. On top of course is a Benefactor or Father Figure (or in our current case, a creepy, befuddled, hair-sniffing Uncle Figure), one who bestows upon us, his children, every material--and therapeutic--blessing and frees us all from our own freedoms.

Like so many pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-historical, pseudo-scientific, pseudo-religious, and otherwise just plain crackpot ideas, Esperanto was invented in the nineteenth century. (The whole idea of it reminds me of Richard Shaver's Mantong.) It caught on during the 1920s and '30s, I think, around the same time as communism, fascism, Taylorism, technocracy, and other cult-like and/or totalitarian belief systems. It seems to have been custom-made for the person who had ceased believing in God but, being human, needed to believe in something larger than himself anyway, in this case a happy circle of humanity. It was perfect, too, for science fiction fans, for here was a language for the future. Perfect for the atheist, perfect for the materialist, perfect for the science fiction fan: perfect for Forrest J Ackerman. Beyond that, made-up stuff, as opposed to things that grow organically and through tradition, is one of the hallmarks of progressivism, for the Progressive despises the past and lives for a better future. That means everything for the future has to be made up because we will destroy everything from the past. Ackerman said it himself in so many words: he was a progressive and believed in a better future.

Guess who else is or was an Esperantist? George Soros. Funny.

I was at a secondhand store on Wednesday this week, July 21. (The birthday of both Ernest Hemingway and a girl I knew in high school.) Strangely enough, I found an Apollo 11 drinking glass, fifty-two years and a day after men first set foot on the moon. The day before, the Bezillionaire blasted off into space in a Tower of Babel built on the flames of a rocketship. I'm not sure whether that was an homage, a tribute, or something else. Anyway, he's not the worst of the Big Tech moguls, at least I don't think so. In going into space, he seems to be living a lifelong dream. I think we should all be happy with people who do these things. Dreams are made to be lived. Too few are. And after all, it's his money. He gets to do what he wants with it. And before you object to that idea, recall that about forty-five seconds ago you bought something from his company, thereby putting some of your money into his pocket in a voluntary exchange. What was yours is now his, and vice versa. Anyway, if you think that his money isn't his, and that it's rightfully yours, or "the people's," you might join with Joseph Goebbels, who wrote that his party:

was not against capital but against its misuse . . ., against capitalism in every form, that is, misuse of the people's property (Volksgut). Whoever is responsible for such misuse is a capitalist. . . . For us, too, property is holy. (Quoted, again, in Mr. Shoenbaum's book.)

Property is, after all, material, and the socialist is also, by necessity, a materialist. Property is holy to him. It's just that he wants to make yours, his. The transfer ain't voluntary and there ain't no exchange.

Like I said, I think there are worse people in Big Tech than the Bezillionaire, the reason being that they have utopian aims. They are thoroughgoing progressives. They believe, I think, that they can create and are creating a better world. They have even admitted these things, boasted of them. I used to think, naïvely, that they want our money. But I don't think they want our money so much as they want our data. Their hope, I think, is to gather enough data by which they might write an equation describing human behavior, no miracle needed. And with that equation and the knowledge they believe will come from it, they hope to understand and predict everything. The future, the universe, all of human existence will be to them an open book. What they don't realize is that such a thing cannot be done, for we have infinite and irreducible variety within us. No man was the author of that variety and no man can duplicate it. In their ambitions towards godhood, these men (and a few women) are making a go at the infinite. What they don't realize is that only one Being is capable of anything infinite, absolute, or eternal. He has already written the equation and his terms are beyond our understanding. They can't do it. They aren't capable of anything that is rightly his. But then, like Forrest J Ackerman, they don't believe in such things. They are materialists. To them, human beings are merely material. For them, property is holy. The equation can and will be written. But first they need the data.

Supposedly Tamerlane spoke the word impossible only once in his life, and that was as death came for him. Like him, these people believe they cannot die, and they are working towards immortality for themselves by attempting to place their own ghosts--ours, too, I guess--into their own machines. They believe themselves to be gods or soon to be gods and cannot countenance that they and all of their fine ideas and wondrous works will in the end surely die. But they will. These men and women will find that the impossible--death--is indeed possible, and not just possible but inevitable. And not just inevitable but necessary. (They may never learn that part.) Like Tamerlane they seek to conquer the world and thereby make themselves immortal. Instead, they will become like yet another prideful figure from history, the aforementioned Ozymandias, who was himself silenced and conquered by time and death, by the lone and level sands of the bare and boundless desert that lies over his ruined works and will surely lie over all of our own.

* * *

That's an awful lot to read, I know, but I'll be gone for a while. I'll pick up again on this topic when I get back. So:

To be continued . . .

Text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Los Angeles Science Fiction League, Circa 1939

I have begun swinging back around to my series on Utopia and Dystopia in Weird Tales. Step One: Show group photograph of Los Angeles Science Fiction League, circa 1939.

Last week I stopped by Half-Price Books, one of my favorite stores and one of few commercial establishments that I will mention by name in this blog. (I have a policy against advertisements.) I planned mostly on selling books and buying only a little. The store I went to had a different idea, though, because it put out for sale a book called The Ray Bradbury Companion, written and compiled by William F. Nolan (b. 1928) and published in 1975. How was I supposed to pass that up? It may have some writing in it, but it's a book I have never seen before and may never again.

As you might expect, there are all kinds of things included in The Ray Bradbury Companion. One is a group photograph, shown below. Before getting to that, I'll tell you about the man who wrote in my new copy of this book.

I don't like it when people write in books. We think we own these things, but aren't we really just caretakers? Shouldn't we do the best that we can to ensure that every book makes it into the next generation with as little damage and wear as possible? And shouldn't we all want to avoid any comparison at all to Carlos Allende and his little personalities? Anyway, inside the front cover of my new book, a previous owner wrote his name, Max Westbrook, and the date, September 1975. Like Allende's Mr. A, Westbrook used green ink for his inscription, underlining, and marginalia. I sensed that he could have had some connection to Ray Bradbury, but after looking into it, I'm not sure that he did. I found out about Max Westbrook, though, and he was a literary critic and teacher of some note. So:

Max Roger Westbrook was born on April 6, 1927, in Malvern, Arkansas. He attended Pine Bluff High School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and served in the U.S. Navy in the World War II era and again in the Korean War era. Dr. Westbrook received his bachelor's degree from Baylor University, his master's at the University of Oklahoma, and his doctorate at the University of Texas. He taught at the universities of Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Texas. His books included The Modern American Novel: Essays in Criticism (1966), Walter Van Tilburg Clark (1969), Country Boy (verse, 1979), and Oregon or Bust (1985). He was a longtime member of the Western Literature Association and won the association's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1988. His headstone reads like the title of one of his books: "Country Boy." Dr. Westbrook died on July 25, 2002, nineteen years ago next week.

Knowing that Max Westbrook owned my copy of The Ray Bradbury Companion before I did takes away some of the bad feelings I have about writing in books. Anyway, here is the photo, just as it appears on page 28:

And here is the caption, ditto:

The first thing I noticed about this picture is that it shows Leslyn MacDonald (1904-1981), the diminutive wife of Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988). The second is that she is sitting far away from her husband and next to an always-smiling Ray Bradbury (1920-2012). Others labeled in the photo include Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008), Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013), Jack Williamson (1908-2006), Edmond Hamilton (1904-1977), and Heinlein himself. I have a feeling other well-known people are in there somewhere (Morojo and Hannes Bok are candidates), but I don't recognize any of them. Maybe you do. Maybe you recognize the art on display, too.

Ray Bradbury was friends with Forrest J Ackerman. Ackerman is in the book The Faces of Science Fiction (1984), about which I wrote not long ago. A discussion of that entry is Step Two in my return to Utopia and Dystopia.

To be continued . . .

Original text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

1,000,000

This morning, shortly after sunup, I had the one-millionth visit to my blog. I suspect that a lot of those have been Russian hackers, Ukrainian spammers, and Chinese robots, but even so, that's a lot of visits. I would like to say thank you to all of my readers. I still have a series to finish for you. I hope you'll come back for it and all of the things that come after it.

Text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, July 9, 2021

Lady Eleanor Smith & The Ballerina's Last Dance

I have written before about Lady Eleanor Smith (1902-1945), a British aristocrat of the first half of the twentieth century. She was also of course an author who had one story, "Satan's Circus," in Weird Tales (Oct. 1931). Lady Eleanor wrote more than a dozen books, mostly about dancers, circuses, and Gypsies. As with so many highborn or elite kind of people, she seems to have been attracted to the low life. I'm sure that in the opinion of some, there isn't much in culture lower than pulp magazines. If there is, comic books are probably it. So imagine coming across Lady Eleanor Smith's name in that lowly form:


The story shown above is from Ripley's Believe It or Not! True Ghost Stories #11, published by Gold Key (Western Publishing Company) in November 1968. I found my copy of this comic book at a mini comic con in Nitro, West Virginia, in May of this year. It was the first comic con I have gone to this year. After more than a year of the not normal, things are getting back to the way they used to be, or as much as is possible in our current situation. Here's to more comic conventions, get-togethers, parties, celebrations, and on and on, and no return at all to the coronavirus regime established the world over in 2020-2021.

Original text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

From Solstice to Equinox

Frank Bonner (1942-2021) has died. Most people remember him as Herb Tarlek from the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-1982), but he got his start on screen more than a decade earlier in a completely different kind of role and in a completely different kind of film.

You may have seen Equinox (1970). If you haven't, you should. It's not a great movie, but it's a fun and interesting one. Originally filmed in 1967 as a short subject called The Equinox: Journey into the Supernatural, Equinox was expanded and reworked for theatrical release in 1970. (That explains the anachronistic clothing worn by the young people in the film.) Billed as Frank Boers, Jr., the late Mr. Bonner was one of the two male leads in a group that included two young actresses as well. It occurs to me now that the plot device of two young couples encountering the supernatural in a remote location has some similarities to the first Mothman sighting, which took place in November 1966, only a few short months before the original version of Equinox was made.

Equinox became a cult classic. It played at the drive-in and in cheap theaters and was on late-night television. That's where we saw it when we were kids, all as a family, including my dad, who didn't like fantasy or science fiction movies at all. According to the Internet Movie Database, "The story combines numerous elements of various novellas by H.P. Lovecraft." That may be true, but a thing isn't true just because a source on the Internet says that it's true. If you're going to make an assertion, you have to back it up with evidence. Let's have the evidence.

There may have been an influence of H.P. Lovecraft on the making of Equinox. Any researcher looking into that question could extend his or her work into the influence of both Lovecraft and Equinox on Sam Raimi's film The Evil Dead (1981). Mr. Raimi is said not to have seen Equinox before making his film, but the similarities are apparent. It seems to me, though, that both he and the makers of Equinox were working from the same general idea, one that nobody really invented but that is useful when you're creating a horror film. The idea begins with the intended audience: young people, more specifically young couples, who are out at night, in their cars, in the dark, away from home and the safety of home. Once you get a bunch of young people into an isolated place, cut off from everything safe and familiar, the horror-story ball starts rolling. See The Blair Witch Project (1999) for another example, one more overtly influenced by Lovecraft and his creations. See also The Blob (1958), which was based on a story by Joseph Payne Brennan (1918-1990), "Slime," from from Weird Tales, March 1953. (Click here and here for images.) Both Equinox and The Blob were produced by Jack H. Harris (1918-2017).

You might search here and there and come up empty, but there are in fact easy connections to be made between Equinox and the Lovecraftian oeuvre of old. One of the actors in the film is Fritz Leiber, Jr. (1910-1992), who was of course a teller of weird tales and a Lovecraft associate. Leiber had acted in movies from time to time since his young adulthood. His father, Fritz Leiber (1882-1949), was also an actor and a famous one at that. Leiber the elder was in movies from 1916 to his death, including the genre films Cry of the Werewolf and Cobra Woman, both from 1944. Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008) was also in Equinox, but only his voice. Always the performer, Ackerman had appeared in movies as early as 1944 and would continue to appear as late as 2017, after his death. He and Leiber the younger shared billing in the 1957 short subject The Genie. Oddly enough, writer, artist, and future Star Trek savior Bjo Trimble (b. 1933) was also in The Genie.

We offer our condolences to the family and friends of Frank Bonner, who died on June 16, 2021, at age seventy-nine.

Text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, June 27, 2021

June: Kate Wilhelm & the Nebula Awards

The Nebula Awards, given out annually for the best science fiction of the previous year (or so), were announced earlier this month. The conference and ceremonies, if you can call them that, took place online on June 4 through June 6, 2021. An online conference. Fun fun. I wonder if it occurred to a bunch of sciencey science fiction writers that their risk of catching coronavirus at this late date is pretty minimal. I imagine that most by now are Star-Bellied Sneetches and have nothing to worry about. But worry has no end for the worried person and so there is always something new to cause her fear and anxiety. Maybe the worstest and most deadliest disease in human history will break through our walls of immunity and do us all in after all.

I went to a pulp fiction convention earlier this month, on June 13. It might have been the first of its kind to take place this year in the United States. It was indoors. I didn't detect any sparkling clouds of coronavirus in the convention hall, so I think we're all safe. Phew! That was a close one! For a long time now, I have been looking for a book called The Faces of Science Fiction (1984), with photographs by Patti Perret. I finally found it at the convention, and what a find it is. My new copy is an old library edition, bound in plain forest green but essentially pristine in its interior. I read The Faces of Science Fiction and studied those faces over the course of a couple of nights in the week after I came upon it. I might call it an essential book for the American science fiction fan.

One of the book's featured authors is Kate Wilhelm (1928-2018). Born ninety-three years ago this month (on June 8, 1928), Kate Wilhelm was one of the great figures in American science fiction after mid-century. She was also married to one of the great figures, Damon Knight (1922-2002). In Patti Perret's portrait photograph, they are together on a couch. She leans towards him, smiling. I have a feeling that Kate Wilhelm smiled a lot. She seems to be drawn to him, as if by force of gravity. He has a somewhat intense look in his dark eyes and the beard of an Old Testament prophet or ancient Greek philosopher. The pronounced bald dome of his forehead bespeaks, too, a man of thought and erudition. Above their heads is a painting of planets, a spacescape you might call it. There are two larger planets on her side of the painting and a smaller one on his. Who, then, has the greater gravity? To their right is a potted plant, growing from earth and perhaps representing Earth. Above the plant is an abstract representation of the Crucifixion. I would like to think that one or both of the subjects of this photograph were believers in something positive and hopeful rather than negative and despairing, as so many people are in today's world. I think Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm knew who and what they were and came from generations in which those things were (and are) plain. It's worth noting that their double portrait was published in 1984, a year that was forecast to be a nightmare.

Kate Wilhelm was born in Toledo, Ohio. I found the book graced by her picture most of the way across the top of the state, in Westlake, just outside of Cleveland, ninety-three years and five days after her birth. Like I said, she married a science fiction writer. The subject of my posting from eleven days ago, J.A. Lawrence did, too. Those two happy events happened within a year or so of each other, in 1963-1964. Both marriages lasted until the end of the men's lives.

Kate Wilhelm and Judy Lawrence collaborated in their creative lives. In the mid 1960s, Kate made a sketch of a proposed award trophy. Judy worked from that sketch to create the design, one that is still used today. The trophy is for the Nebula Award, given out every year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Originally the Science Fiction Writers of America, the organization was founded in 1965 by Damon Knight. It would seem pretty obvious to me that his wife had a pretty big hand in that, too. The trophy is the same or more or less the same as when it was first awarded in 1966, a peak year in American pop culture by the way. Unfortunately I have not been able to find an especially good image of it in this pile of mostly dreck we call the Internet. Anyway, the upper part of the trophy is a transparent block in which are embedded a spiral galaxy and several subordinate planets. The planets are like those circling above the heads of Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight in Patti Perret's portrait of them.

You hear talk of supposed attempts to silence or erase women, especially women in culture and history. I find this ridiculous. For one, women will never be silenced or erased. To believe that they will be is to lack confidence in the strength and power and natural status of women. Weak women--weak people--may be silenced, I guess, but the words weak and woman don't really go together very well. Women have their power. It may not be a man's power, but it is power nonetheless. Anyway, women will go on speaking and go on being strong because those things and many others are in their nature and built into the nature of the universe.

The Nebula Award trophy was created and designed by two women. The word nebula itself is feminine. The reaching and enfolding arms of the galaxy might also be seen as feminine, as are the full, rounded planets embedded within the trophy, like those lighting the painted skies above Kate Wilhelm's head in her photographic portrait. The earth is feminine, too. (In her song "Banana," Brazilian songstress Joyce Moreno sings of "terra generosa." She has an equally good song called "Feminina.") In her artist's statement, Kate writes about her gardening and her ruminating over a story while she gardens. In working the earth (working may be too hard and rough a word in this case), she solves a problem of creativity. We work and we create, in the fertile soil of the earth, in the fertile soil of the mind and imagination.

Kate Wilhelm never won the Nebula Award for best novel, though she was nominated four times. She did however win twice for her shorter works, in 1969 for "The Planners" (short story) and in 1987 for "The Girl Who Fell into the Sky" (novelette). Nine out of the last thirteen winners for best novel have been women, though, including the last four. The most frequent winner was Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018), with four awards out of six nominations. Those are curious numbers for a sex that is supposedly being silenced and erased. And contrast the trophy itself with the one presented at the World Fantasy Convention. Previously the World Fantasy Award trophy represented a man, H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), and was designed by a man, Gahan Wilson (1930-2019). That trophy has been canceled. Now it is a tree. (In Italian at least, the words for oak, forest or woodland, and I think some other words related to trees are feminine rather than masculine. And though the flower--il fiore--may be masculine, the fruit into which it develops--la frutta--is feminine.) The tree in the trophy embraces the circle of the sun: the feminine Earth reaches towards and wraps her arms around the masculine Sun--masculine, though it be full, warm, and round. Kate and Judy's galaxy has arms, too. They, too, are reaching, enwrapping, enfolding. Galaxy, constellation, and star are likewise feminine words in Italian, a most wonderful and beautiful language. The new World Fantasy Award trophy, by the way, was also designed by a man, the American sculptor Vincent Villafranca, whose surname is feminine and a compound of two feminine words, for a place upon the earth and a people upon the earth.

Another annual event happened this month, of course, a greater event built into the workings of the universe. It was the summer solstice, one of the happiest days of the year in which the sun essentially refuses to set. We are now on the downhill slide towards its opposite, which happens, of course, in December. (So we have a religious celebration--Christmas--coinciding roughly with the winter solstice and a pseudo-religious event--the sighting of the first flying saucers--coinciding roughly with its opposite. It just so happens that Flying Saucer Day is also St. John's Day. There is some significance in that, I think.) The day and the author have come together in recent years, for among the annual Nebula Awards is the Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award "for distinguished contributions to the science fiction and fantasy community." (Community--a mostly atrocious word.) The winners this year were two men and a woman. One of the men, science fiction author and editor Ben Bova (1932-2020), died late last year. His death was related to coronavirus, proof that the disease is in fact a serious matter and one that should be taken seriously, including in geopolitical ways. (Let us have the facts and let the facts lead to their logical--and necessary--conclusions.) I think the first book I ever read by Mr. Bova was his adaptation of THX 1138 (1971), but I have also read some of his scientific writing. I marvel at the things so many of these men and women of the interwar and wartime generations accomplished. In the past three years we have lost four of them, Kate Wilhelm, Ursula K. Le Guin, Gahan Wilson, and Ben Bova--all very nearly contemporaries--and so many more like them. In my family we have lost our own father.

Let us remember them. 

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm (Pocket/Timsecape, 1977), with cover art by Ed Soyka. It is summer and so the sweet birds sing: the American robin, with its loud, piping notes, echoing in the streets and alleyways and in the narrow places between houses and houses and houses and garages; the northern cardinal, with its high, sweet, melodious song; the irrepressible song sparrow, who will break into its loud cascade of notes at any moment, in any place, for any reason, even if it's only because the bright sun is shining upon the welcoming and grateful earth . . .

Text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Happy Flying Saucer Day!

Today is Flying Saucer Day, the anniversary day of the sighting of the first flying saucers over Mount Rainier in Washington State. Flying saucers are at first glance a science-fictional concept. (As I have written before, flying saucers come not from outer space but from science fiction.) But our ideas about them originate in the works of Charles Fort (1874-1932), who greatly influenced the writers and editors of Weird Tales. You can argue that their origins are far older than that, but as works of science and technology, spaceships from other planets coming to Earth are a nineteenth- and early twentieth-century idea.

There were tellers of weird tales who became caught up in the flying saucer mystery. Chief among them were Donald E. Keyhoe (1897-1988) and Wilma Dorothy Vermilyea (1915-1995). Also known as Millen Cook, Wilma helped her husband, Brinsley Le Poer Trench (1911-1995), in his work researching and writing about UFOs. Others included Vincent H. Gaddis (1913-1997), who coined the phrase "Bermuda Triangle" and helped get it into the popular imagination. Anyway . . .

Happy Flying Saucer Day from Tellers of Weird Tales!

Text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley