Sunday, October 27, 2019

From Things To Come into The Space Trilogy-Part Two

H.G. Wells (1866-1946) is in the Space Trilogy. Out of the Silent Planet, from 1938, begins with this disclaimer from its author:
Note: Certain slighting references to earlier stories of this type which will be found in the following pages have been put there for purely dramatic purposes. The author would be sorry if any reader supposed he was too stupid to have enjoyed Mr. H.G. Wells's fantasies or too ungrateful to acknowledge his debt to them.
Are we to believe him? I'm not sure. Maybe C.S. Lewis was too polite to go at Wells and his ideas outside the bounds of fiction. It seems to me, though, that Lewis had more than a little to say about the overweening faith in science and technology, also the materialism, collectivism, and progressivism, exhibited so obviously in Things To Come. Maybe Lewis saw that film while he was planning or beginning to write his book. (1)

Here is a pertinent quote from The Science of Fiction and the Fiction of Science: Collected Essays on SF Storytelling and the Gnostic Imagination by Frank McConnell (2009):
It was once fashionable to attack Wells for his optimism--to denigrate his boyish insistence that if only the world could he handed over to the engineers and the scientists, they would produce a clean, sane, chromium and glass civilization.
This optimistic side of his vision is expressed most unabashedly in his one screenplay, Things to Come (1936). The Marxist critic of the 1930s, Christopher Caudwell, accused Wells of being irresponsibly "spiritual" in his hopes for the future. C.S. Lewis, at almost the same time, accused Wells of being overly "materialistic."
So Lewis accused Wells of being "overly 'materialistic'." Great! That fits my thesis. Except that the late Mr. McConnell admitted that he was unable to find a source for the quote and the accusation. Drat! That's kind of a problem. But do we really need a quote from Lewis directly about Wells in order to see that they were at odds, or that at least Lewis was at odds with Wells? Maybe not. Maybe the works speak for themselves.

Weston, the villain in Out of the Silent Planet, makes a return appearance in the middle book of The Space Trilogy. Called Perelandra, it is my favorite of the three. Although he is only human in the first book, Weston descends into a demonic or satanic state in Perelandra. What I mean is that he's really bad. Really, really bad. For he wishes to seduce and corrupt an entire innocent people even before they are a people. He is the serpent in the garden of the planet Perelandra, what we call Venus, and he wishes to do to it what Old Nick has done to us here on Earth. (Or I guess what we have done to ourselves by succumbing to his temptations.) Weston has arrived--or soon will--on the planet, and this is where the ideas of H.G. Wells once again show themselves. Pay attention, because this is the earliest mention that I have seen within a work of fiction itself of the opposition fantasy (or at least Lewis' brand of fantasy) has to science fiction (or at least Wells' brand of science fiction):
He [Weston] was a man obsessed with the idea which is at this moment circulating all over our planet in obscure works of "scientifiction," in little Interplanetary Societies and Rocketry Clubs, and between the covers of monstrous magazines, ignored or mocked by the intellectuals, but ready, if ever the power is put into its hands, to open a new chapter of misery for the universe. It is the idea that humanity, having now sufficiently corrupted the planet where it arose, must at all costs contrive to seed itself over a larger area: that the vast astronomical distances which are God's quarantine regulations, must somehow be overcome. This for a start. But beyond this lies the sweet poison of the false infinite--the wild dream that planet after planet, system after system, in the end galaxy after galaxy, can be forced to sustain, everywhere and for ever, the sort of life which is contained in the loins of our own species--a dream begotten by the hatred of death upon the fear of true immortality, fondled in secret by thousands of ignorant men and hundreds who are not ignorant. (Chapter 6) (2)
Weston, who has evolved since his debacle on Mars, explains himself again in the pages that follow. You can read them for yourself. Here's the really important part, the meat of his desire:
"The goal, Ransom, the goal: think of it! Pure spirit: the final vortex of self-thinking, self-originating activity."
Weston adds:
"Time is one of the things it will transcend."
He then describes a Force--yes, that's his exact word--
"a great, inscrutable Force, pouring up into us from the dark bases of being. A Force that can choose its instruments. [. . .] I've become conscious that I'm a man set apart. [. . .] It--the Force--has pushed me on all the time. [. . .] It is through me that the Spirit itself is at this moment pushing on to its goal."
So not only did Lewis respond to Wells, probably to Things To Come, and without a doubt to what he called "scientifiction," but he also anticipated the atheistic/materialistic space-fantasy of George LucasStar Wars, as well as the ideas of Lucas' mentor Joseph Campbell and the latter-day, half-baked, quasi-Marxist and early science-fiction fan Paul Krugman. And when I say he anticipated them, I mean that he headed them off, making their ideas obsolete even before they were formed.

Anyway, there is a lot of talk here of things that have traditionally been within the domain of faith, theology, and religion: spirit, transcendence, immortality, immanence, eschaton, and so on. I'm not a philosopher or theologian. I'm not exactly in my league in writing about these things. But it seems to me that the leftist-socialist-progressive drive, exhibited so often in science fiction, is towards a new kind of religion, one that is atheistic/materialistic and that wishes to bring about transcendence, immortality, and a material perfection called Utopia within the bounds of Time and Space. In this religion there is and will be no God, no heaven, no hereafter, no eternal life. (Sounds like lyrics from a John Lennon song.) And now I find that the same Frank McConnell whom I quoted above had these words written about him on a website, which shall remain nameless:
A member of the Pulitzer Prize jury, the late Frank McConnell helped science fiction gain standing as serious literature. [. . .] Initially believing that science fiction is primarily one of many forms of storytelling, McConnell gradually recognized science fiction as a modern expression of Gnosticism, rejecting bodily concerns for an emphasis on spirituality.
I love it when these things come together.

And now I wish I had his book. Anyway again, I think that Gnosticism, one version of which was a medieval Christian heresy, has showed up again in the modern world like in a game of Whack-a-Mole. I by no means have diagnosed this problem. In fact I have about as much as I know about it from a twentieth-century German-American philosopher named Eric Voegelin (1901-1985). He's another I would like to read. But for now we're on C.S. Lewis and there are one and a half books in his Space Trilogy to go.

To be continued . . .

(1) Lewis dedicated Out of the Silent Planet to his brother, Warren H. Lewis (1895-1973), "a life-long critic of the space-and-time story." I guess the question is this: Does "critic" mean "one who criticizes"? I don't think so. More likely, Lewis meant that his brother was a person who read and judged the merits of what we now call science fiction.
(2) I'll refer you once again to William Gibson's essential short story "The Gernsback Continuum," from 1981. The Gernsback of the title, yclept Hugo, was the originator of the term scientifiction and a successor to Wells in the field of utopian, progressive, and even a faintly fascist or socialist science fiction.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, October 25, 2019

From Things To Come into The Space Trilogy-Part One

I'm going back farther now into the past, into spring when, in a week when I was sick, I read The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis. Things To Come (1936) was still fresh in my mind when I read these books. That freshness may have influenced my thoughts on Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That Hideous Strength (1945). I shouldn't spend too much time on this, but I'm sure I will. There is a lot in The Space Trilogy and it's hard to move past some of these things without commenting on them and applying them to issues current in this blog and in our world of today.

Ransom is the protagonist in The Space Trilogy, yet much of the narrative turns on the actions of its villains (as is so often the case in our popular culture). In Out of the Silent Planet, the villain is Weston. When he explains himself in Chapter 20, he reminds me of Raymond Massey's character Cabal in Things to Come, which was released in 1936, just two years before this book was published. The premise is that Earth, called Thulcandra, the Silent Planet of the title, has been quarantined from all others because of the influence of its "bent" Oyarsa, or planetary leader. Weston himself is referred to as "bent," meaning, I think, fallen in his nature and given to pride and other sins (as we all are). Not satisfied with confinement to Earth, Weston seeks, as Cabal does, to conquer the universe. Speaking to the Oyarsa of Malacandra (Mars), he says:
"To you I may seem a vulgar robber, but I bear on my shoulders the destiny of the human race. Your tribal life [. . .] has nothing to compare with our civilization--with our science, medicine and law, our armies, our architecture, our commerce, and our transport system which is rapidly annihilating space and time. Our right to supersede you is the right of the higher over the lower. Life [. . . .] has ruthlessly broken down all obstacles and liquidated all failures and to-day in her highest form--civilized man--and in me as his representative, she presses forward to that interplanetary leap which will, perhaps, place her for ever beyond the reach of death. [. . .] It is in her right [. . .] that I am prepared without flinching to plant the flag of man on the soil on Malacandra: to march on, step by step, superseding, where necessary, the lower forms of life that we find, claiming planet after planet, system after system, till our posterity--whatever strange form and yet unguessed mentality they have assumed--dwell in the universe wherever that universe is habitable."
The comparison between Weston and Cabal is imperfect. I don't want to overstate it. But it looks as though Weston is, like Cabal, a Darwinist, thus more or less a materialist, also a believer in the March of Progress and a subscriber to Scientism. I think you could fairly interpret Weston as a seeker after transcendence within a purely material universe, one that exists solely within Time and Space. To him there is likely no hereafter. Like too many real-world people today and of his own day, he appears to be a seeker after an immanentized eschaton. Like Cabal, too, he is a collectivist rather than an individualist. Cabal says: "Rest enough for the individual man, too much and too soon and we call it death, but for man, no rest and no ending." Weston, speaking in pidgin Malacandrian, echoes and simplifies Cabal's thought: "Me die. Man live."

Weston expresses a more complex idea--or his creator, C.S. Lewis, expresses it--through an exchange between Weston and the Oyarsa, summarized by the Oyarsa:
"Strange!" said Oyarsa. "You do not love any one of your race [. . . .] You do not love the mind of your race, nor the body. Any kind of creature will please you if only it is begotten by your kind as they are now. It seems to me [. . .] that what you really love is no completed creature but the very seed itself: for that is all that is left."
I'm not sure what Lewis was getting at here unless it is that Weston, and by extension all of us, is not satisfied with the "completed creature" made by God but wants instead to make of himself/humanity something new, created by himself/itself through technology, or maybe by a corrupted Nature. Call his desire a kind of transhumanism. In any case, Weston, like so many of his fellow travelers in the real world of today, claims to love humanity but no single member of humanity, nor does he love the human body. We have seen and continue to see that lovelessness--actually an outright loathing--of the human body, i.e., the "completed creature" made by God, in our real world, too, in ancient and medieval Gnostic beliefs and in modern-day iterations of Gnosticism such as socialism, generic kinds of leftism and utopianism, the entirety of transgenderism, and a politicized and scientified (or pseudo-scientified) brand of homosexuality. Within Lewis' Space Trilogy, that loathing or disregard of the body rears its head again in That Hideous Strength. Anyway, some of the philosophy or metaphysics of these three books is a little beyond me: I'm happy to hear other interpretations and opinions.

To be continued . . . 

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, the Avon edition of 1949 with a cover illustration by an unknown artist.

Avon reprinted Lewis' novel in 1956 with new cover art by Everett Raymond Kinstler. 

The version most readers know is probably the Macmillan edition of 1965. The cover artist was Bernard Symancyk, who I find is missing from the Internet. So . . .

Bernard Edward Symancyk was born on November 4, 1917, in Westfield, Massachusetts, to Konstanty and Marion Symancyk. He lived in Massachusetts and New York in the 1930s and '40s. By the time he enlisted in the U.S. Army on June 15, 1942, he had received two years of college education and was working as a commercial artist. Symancyk served in the army until October 11, 1945. Previously, in 1943, he had married Dorothy Margaret Curry.

I don't know much about Symancyk's career as an artist, but in the 1940s, he was a practitioner of an art movement called Perceptionism. In the 1960s, he created stylized or conceptualized scientific and technological-type illustrations. His covers for the Space Trilogy are his only genre works listed in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Symancyk died on July 13, 1987, and is buried at Calverton National Cemetery, Calverton, New York.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, October 5, 2019

July: We, The Moon, and Things to Come-Part Two

Despite having been made during a decade of collectivist horrors and hints of even greater horrors to come, Things to Come (1936) is seemingly in earnest and has an almost childish ignorance or naïveté to it. Blame that on H.G. Wells, who wrote the screenplay when he was around seventy and still, apparently, an unreformed socialist. Though maybe not yet in his dotage, he seems to have failed to keep up with the times and the world's events. For example, Stalin's great purge of just about anybody who breathed began in 1936. That same year, the Nazis rounded up Gypsies and Jehovah's Witnesses, opened the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen (later used by Communists in East Germany), and occupied the Rhineland as a prelude to further aggressions--and ultimately to a war in which tens of millions died. (Many more tens of millions would probably have died, too, but they had already been killed off by their Soviet masters. Or, to use a recently made euphemism, "Some people did something.")

We have these very nearly useless terms now of Right and Left, with the Nazis at one extreme and Communists at the other. My question is this: what kind of classification system is it where two opposites are the same? The Nazis and Soviets may have had their differences, but they were more alike than they were different. Both fall under a category that someone before us called the One State--a totalitarian state--ruled over by one man who is seen as the hero and champion of the people (the Volk or Proletariat) and the nation (the Fatherland or Motherland). He is the great Benefactor and all praise must come his way--or else. We'll see those terms--One State and Benefactor--again in a minute.

The Nazis were pulled in two different directions, I think. On one side was a kind of irrationality so extreme that it almost defies explication. On the other were socialism, science (or pseudo-science), technology, and the Teutonic propensity to establish and maintain order. When it comes to reason, though, the Soviets went whole hog--or at least they claimed to. (Never mind Lysenko and his crackpot ideas.) We should remember that both regimes were extremely illiberal and had nothing but hatred and contempt for western values, including democracy and free-market economics (which includes capitalism). Wells seems to have been ignorant of all of that. It's as if he had used his own fictional time machine to go back to the Victorian or Edwardian era, before the Great War and the Russian Revolution, to a time when collectivism, socialism, and the totalitarian state were still mostly abstractions.

Nobody dies in an abstraction, though many have died because of one. Although Wells seems to have shared some of his ideas with the Nazis and the Soviets, one of his saving graces is that he never killed anybody or commanded anybody to be killed. In Things to Come, though, he prescribed a system that in his own age was busy killing people and would soon be busier still. The body count of twentieth-century totalitarianism or statism or socialism, whatever you want to call it, is staggering: perhaps nearly 100 million people killed by worldwide Communism, another 25 million killed by the Nazis (according to the authors of The Black Book of Communism.) Those figures don't count wars in which many tens of millions more were killed, including almost 400,000 Americans. (Please explain your support for a system of government that has resulted in the deaths of so many Americans, including your fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, and cousins. You may use as many words as you like in your answer. You will need them.)

We are presented in Things to Come with a series of dichotomies: future vs. past, progressive vs. reactionary, revolutionary vs. counterrevolutionary, reason and rationality vs. romanticism and emotionalism, collectivism vs. individualism, science vs. art. We are supposed to believe, I think, that the former in each of these pairs of values is right and proper and of course far superior to the latter. H.G. Wells, though, in his lack of insight or irony, or because he simply would not see the truth, also in his old-fashioned faith in socialism and collectivism, failed to see that his ideas had already been, in his very age, discredited.

So, two long excerpts from two vastly different works . . .

At the end of Things to Come (1936), Raymond Massey's character, called Cabal, does a bit of speechifying that I think is supposed to inspire us. He and Passworthy, played by Edward Chapman, who have sent their children into space, stand next to an immense telescope and gaze into the night sky:
Cabal: There! There they go! That faint gleam of light.
Passworthy: I feel what we have done is monstrous.
Cabal: What they have done is magnificent.
Passworthy: Will they come back?
Cabal: Yes and go again and again until the landing is made and the moon is conquered. This is only a beginning.
Passworthy: But if they don't come back, my son and your daughter, what of that, Cabal?
Cabal: Then, presently, others will go.
Passworthy: Oh, God, is there never to be any age of happiness? Is there never to be any rest?
Cabal: Rest enough for the individual man, too much and too soon and we call it death, but for man, no rest and no ending. (1) He must go on, conquest beyond conquest. First, this little planet and its winds and waves, and then all the laws of mind and matter that restrain it. Then the planets about it, and at last, out across immensity to the stars. And when he has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time, still he will be beginning.
Passworthy: But we're such little creatures--poor humanity, so fragile, so weak, little . . . little animals.
Cabal: Little animals, eh? If we're no more than animals, we must snatch each little scrap of happiness and live and suffer and pass, mattering no more than other animals do or have done. It is this [looking downward, at earth or at his own body] or that [looking upward into the stars]. All the universe or nothingness! Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be? Which shall it be?
Choral voices (singing): Which shall it be, __? Which shall it be, __? Which shall it be, __? Which shall it be, __? [I can't tell what the last word is in this repeated question.]
A couple of observations first, then to my main point. One, Cabal is ready to accept that his daughter will never come back, in other words, that she will perish in outer space. Nice father. Two, Cabal--and by extension probably Wells himself--also seems to believe that "we're no more than animals" and that "we must snatch each little scrap of happiness [. . .] mattering no more than other animals do." Okay, so Cabal says "If" to begin his statement, but that word seems to be there so that Wells himself could say to anyone who might object: "I didn't say that, my character did." In any case, Cabal's cause is clear: to conquer "all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time." Reason shall reign everywhere and there will no longer be mystery anywhere. In case you haven't gotten the idea yet, Cabal knows how we should all live, and we must be made to live in his way. Again and again throughout Things to Come, he declares the superiority of his ideas, and he won't let anything stand in the way of his reshaping the world to meet his vision. Does that sound familiar? It should, because we have seen and continue to see the same thing in aspiring, incipient, and actual tyrants the world over, including among the current candidates for president from one of our major political parties. Anyway, this is why I call Cabal the true villain of Things to Come. He is arrogant, certain that he is right, that his ideas are right, that other men must live as he wishes them to live. He is a subscriber to a priori systems of thought, systems that have, when brought about in the real world, resulted in the deaths of countless millions of people. He is driven by a vision of how the world should be--a vision of practically religious intensity. In short, he is a true believer and an incipient tyrant. We should feel sorry for the people of his future world except that they are very likely to throw off his rule as people always do once they have had enough.

Now to my main point: I was struck by this final scene in the film because I saw in it a kind of inversion of the beginning scene of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which was first published in English in 1924. In Record One (Chapter One), a notice appears in the State newspaper:
"In another hundred and twenty days the building of the Integral will be completed. The great historic hour is near, when the first Integral will rise into the limitless space of the universe. One hundred years ago your heroic ancestors subjected the earth to the power of the United State. (2) A still more glorious task is before you: the integration of the indefinite equation of the Cosmos by the use of the glass, electric, fire-breathing Integral. Your mission is to subjugate to the grateful yoke of reason the unknown beings who live on other planets, and who are perhaps still in the primitive state of freedom. If they will not understand that we are bringing them a mathematically faultless happiness, our duty will be to force them to be happy." (3)
A sentence bears repeating: "Your mission is to subjugate to the grateful yoke of reason the unknown beings who live on other planets, and who are perhaps still in the primitive state of freedom."

That is what Cabal has in mind, I think, in Things to Come, first in regards to the society led by the warlord known as The Boss, played by Ralph Richardson, then, in the closing moments of the film, to the entire universe. Things to Come reaches its end. Then We begins. The latter can be seen as a kind of continuation or extrapolation of the former. The mission of the crew of the Integral is the same as Cabal's mission: to conquer the universe using reason as a weapon. Cabal, then, is Zamyatin's Well-Doer, in other translations called Benefactor, and the society he envisions is one in which reason, science, and technology are the ultimate arbiters of all things. By the way, the last sentence in We is this: For reason must prevail. We not only begins as Things to Come ends, it also ends as Things to Come ends.

The progressive mind in general is lacking in irony, more than that, in an understanding of human nature. So, too, was Wells at this late date. That seems clear to me. I don't know whether he ever read Zamyatin's book. Probably not. It may not have mattered anyway. Once progressive ideas become fixed in the mind, they seldom become unfixed. (Just look at Crazy Bernie: a hundred and fifty years old and still shouting and growling about the evils of all of those rich people who are not he and his wife.) Even if Wells had read We, he may still have written his screenplay the way it has come down to us, failing all the while to understand that his ideas and his story had already been rendered obsolete by the cutting and prescient satire of We.

(1) There are faint echoes of this line in Neil Armstrong's words upon setting foot on the moon: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."
(2) Note the singular: the United State, not the United States. In some translations, it's called the One State.
(3) I have the Dutton paperback edition (D39). The quote comes from page 3. (D39 sounds like the name of a character in We.)

I saw the commercials for the TR7 before I saw the movie Things to Come. The phrase "The Shape of Things to Come" became associated in my mind with the car first. I think that was the opposite of what Triumph had in mind: it was supposed to invoke memory of the movie, which was based on a previous novel by Wells called The Shape of Things to Come (1933). The idea, I guess, is that here is a car for the future. Technology has made it this way. Technology and the future are good.

Finally, I have not read The Shape of Things to Come. I have read a description of it, though, and it seems to be a different kind of story, perhaps not so naïve, perhaps a little more skeptical of progressive ideas and the possibility of building a future Utopia. Maybe someone who has read it can tell us more.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, September 29, 2019

July: We, The Moon, and Things to Come-Part One

Here it is the end of September and I'm still on topics from July. This is the last of this series, though. Even so, I'm going to go farther back into the early part of this year and try to catch up on some things that I have left hanging, including a return to the Thompson-Pendragon controversy, plus I'll look at a couple of Weird Tales-related books that I read this past winter and spring.

On July 20, 2019, we celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the first moon landing. I had already been thinking about moon-related topics--actually just one moon-related topic, the subject of this essay and its sequel. The anniversary only brought these thoughts to the fore. I was working on my science-fiction story that weekend, too, and there is a silver moon in the green sky of Carillon, my fictional, faraway planet. That weekend was also the birthday of a girl I knew a long time ago, and she was on my mind as well.

Some friends and I get together once every month or two for a movie night, usually a science-fiction movie night. In March--on the evening of the new moon, March 6, to be exact--we watched Things to Come, from 1936. It was the first time I had seen this movie since I was a teenager or young adult. I have to say, I didn't remember it very well at all, and I had almost forgotten the core of the movie in which Ralph Richardson gives a bravura performance as a kind of strongman leader in a post-apocalyptic world. He is tough where other men are weak, decisive and brave where they are afraid. "I adore him," says his consort, played by a very attractive Margaretta Scott. There might be a lesson in her words and the feelings they express for every man of today.

There are three parts to Things to Come, and they cover a lot of science-fictional ground. First is a future-war. Moviegoers of the 1930s could hardly have avoided thinking about some true things to come when they saw the cinematic Things to Come: just three years after it was released--and eighty years ago this month--the Nazis invaded Poland and thereby plunged the world into war. There are some effective scenes in the first third of the movie, perhaps none more so than the one in which some partygoers step out into the evening to witness the start of the air campaign against their country. In a scene that's as true-to-life as any, they can hardly believe what is before them--that war has come into their lives.

The middle part of the movie depicts the post-apocalyptic world of 1966 and after. As I said, Ralph Richardson plays the Boss, whom I think might have been intended to remind people of Benito Mussolini. Played by another, less skilled actor, this role might have been simple and stereotyped, even comical. Instead we have something a little more nuanced and complex. We're supposed to root against the Boss and in favor of the man who comes along to spoil his fun, played by Raymond Massey. Instead, the Boss has our sympathies--or he at least has mine, or at least a little of mine. I'll get to that in a while.

My friend Hlafbrot made what I think is a really important observation: in this post-apocalyptic world, there are those who suffer from "the wandering sickness." Hlafbrot pointed out that these poor people might have been the first zombies in cinema--not the helpless, solitary zombies of Haiti as in the movies and stories of the 1930s and '40s but zombies as we think of them today, that is, as victims of a contagion that turns them into hordes turned loose in the world, very often in a post-apocalyptic setting. There are some very brief scenes in Things to Come that could easily appear today in The Walking DeadThe Boss, by the way, demonstrates his strength, toughness, and decisiveness by shooting the zombies down.

The last part of Things to Come is a Utopia where everything is clean and modern, everybody is perfect and dresses in gauzy curtain-like garments, and the world, guided by science and reason, has progressed into a great and glorious future. In other words, it's a Dystopia. But in H.G. Wells' extraordinarily breathtaking naïveté (he wrote the screenplay), this is the world we're supposed to want to come about: we're supposed to be in favor of Raymond Massey's character, called Cabal, and his very progressive ideas--he's a man of science and reason after all--and we're supposed to be against the irrationality and reactionary conservatism of the artist played by Cedric Hardwicke, who wants to say, if not "Stop," then at least "Go slowly."

And this is where I had my own insight, for I realized by the end of the movie that Cabal is the real villain of Things to Come, and the whole thing is an exercise in the same kind of utopianism, internationalism, scientism, and collectivism that resulted in the deaths of countless millions of people during the century just past. In other words, here was a movie warning against the true-to-life war that was about to be waged by socialists--national socialists and fascists to be sure, but socialists nonetheless--and offering as a favored alternative just another brand of socialism. I ask myself, how could anyone have been so naïve, so ignorant of history and human nature? But then we have nearly ninety years of history that were unavailable for Wells' review.

In watching the end of Things to Come, I also realized that Wells had been unknowingly outflanked a decade before by a far more clear-seeing author who had had personal experience with the crimes and horrors of socialism and collectivism. In effect, Wells' movie had been rendered obsolete even before it was made.

To be continued . . .

Directed by William Cameron Menzies and with art, design, and special effects by a large crew headed by Victor Korda and others, Things to Come is visually extraordinary. It's still hard for me to believe that this film was made in the 1930s. How did the moviemakers ever figure out how to show these great vistas of buildings and spacecraft, ramps and walkways, with apparently real people walking and rushing here and there among them and over their surfaces? Anyway, as you can see by the movie poster above, Things to Come has a classic science-fiction look that must have influenced artists and writers for years and decades after its release. But that may have been a problem. If it was or is still, the problem was diagnosed nearly four decades ago by William Gibson in his story "The Gernsback Continuum" (1981), which ought to be on your reading list if it isn't already. Again, Wells was outflanked, this time by an author of a later time.

By the way, Things to Come ends in the year 2036, a century after its release and only seventeen short years from now. We should be happy that we haven't yet had an apocalypse as it foresaw, but we should also be happy that the socialist/progressive/collectivist/internationalist Dystopia envisioned--and longed for--by H.G. Wells and others hasn't befallen us . . . yet.

(Just wait until the fake Indian and Crazy Bernie get ahold of us. Then the wailing will begin.)

Copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, September 26, 2019

July: Geismar and Fiedler-The Science Fiction Connection

In writing about Ernest Hemingway and H.P. Lovecraft, I also wrote about two eminent literary critics of the twentieth century, Maxwell Geismar (1909-1979) and Leslie A. Fiedler (1917-2003). We might think of these two men as high falutin' academics, but both had their connections to the lowly pulp genre of science fiction. Fiedler's connection is more well known. In addition to treating science fiction (and other genres) in his landmark work Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), he wrote on Olaf Stapleton, Philip José Farmer, James Branch Cabell, and Kurt Vonnegut. (Two of those four writers were Hoosiers--can you guess which two?) He also edited a collection called In Dreams Awake, published in 1975. (I detect a bit of Freud in the title: Fiedler was influenced by Freud.) And, Fiedler wrote a published science fiction novel, The Messengers Will Come No More (1974), and an initially unpublished science fiction short story, "What Used to Be Called Dead" (1990). The latter was one of the stories assembled by Harlan Ellison for his collection Last Dangerous Visions, which has famously (or infamously) never gone to print. You can find an entry on Fiedler in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb), here. He's also in the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. A couple of the names mentioned here will come up again in a bit.

Maxwell David Geismar is not in the ISFDb. I found his connection to science fiction through that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia. Born in Manhattan on August 1, 1909, Geismar grew up in Westchester County, New York, and graduated from Columbia University in 1931. (1) He spent a year writing short stories (could there have been a pulp story in there somewhere?) and began teaching at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York, in (or about) 1932. He was the author of many essays, articles, and books of criticism, most famously, I suppose, of Writers in Crisis: The American Novel 1925-1940, published in 1942. Here is at least a partial list of his works:
  • Writers in Crisis: The American Novel 1925-1940 (1942)
  • The Last of the Provincials: The American Novel, 1915-1925 (1947)
  • Rebels and Ancestors: The American Novel, 1890-1915 (1953)
  • American Moderns: From Rebellion to Conformity (1958)
  • Henry James and the Jacobites (1963)
  • Introduction to Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver (1968)
  • Mark Twain: An American Prophet (1970)
Geismar also taught at Boston College and Harvard University and was an editor with two left-leaning magazines, Ramparts (which originally published Soul on Ice) and Scanlan's Monthly.

As a left-leaning university professor and an opponent of the Vietnam War, Geismar became involved in the countercultural movements of the 1960s. He signed his name to "The Triple Revolution," a memorandum sent to President Lyndon B. Johnson and other members of government on March 22, 1964. I don't want to go into "The Triple Revolution" too much, but the three revolutions of its title are the cybernation revolution, the weaponry revolution, and the human rights revolution. The cybernation revolution, one in which the increased use of automation results in large numbers of unemployed human workers, is the basis of the short story "Riders of the Purple Wage" by Philip José Farmer, originally published in Harlan Ellison's first Dangerous Visions anthology in 1967. (It's funny how these things fit together, isn't it?) According to Wikipedia:
At the 1968 World Science Fiction Convention in San Francisco, Farmer delivered a lengthy Guest of Honor speech in which he called for the founding of a grassroots activist organization called REAP [sic] which would work for implementation of the Ad Hoc Committee's recommendations.
I have done a quick search on the Internet for Farmer's speech or a summary of it and have come up empty. I can't say what its significance might have been then or might be today. I also can't say what REAP or Reap might signify. I can say that one of the conditions in the future society depicted in "Riders of the Purple Wage" is a universal guaranteed income. Who says that science fiction lacks predictive power, right, Andrew Yang? By the way, "Riders of the Purple Wage" was co-winner of a Hugo Award in 1968 for best novella.

I'll close by noting that Maxwell Geismar died at his home in Harrison, New York, on July 24, 1979, a week before his seventieth birthday and now forty years in the past. He was survived by his wife, two daughters, and three grandchildren.

(1) Geismar's parents, Leo and Mary Geismar, were German-born immigrants. Leo Geismar worked in the millinery industry.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

July: Hemingway and Lovecraft-Part Two

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) and H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) were hardly alike as writers and men, but if Leslie A. Fiedler was right to put them together in the mainstream of American literature (or to lead us in putting them together), then maybe they were more alike than what we think.

First, both had fathers who more or less abandoned them and who also ultimately destroyed themselves (thus setting a pattern for their sons' own self-destruction). Both also had overbearing, oppressive, or domineering mothers. If you're a Freudian, you might look for family dynamics like those to lead to psychosexual problems among the offspring, and in the case of these two men, you might find what you're looking for. Whereas there is reason to believe that Hemingway had latent homosexual tendencies, also tendencies towards a general kind of gender bending, there aren't any indications at all of that kind of thing in Lovecraft. If anything he suffered from a kind of asexuality.

Hemingway married four times and had three sons, one of whom thought in later life that he was a woman. Lovecraft married only once and died without issue. Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson, was eight years older than he, while Lovecraft's only wife, Sonia Greene, was seven years his senior. Again, if you're a Freudian, you might see some significance in those age differences, especially in regards to the relationships that these two men had with their mothers. In any case, Hemingway was married for most of his adult life and was doted upon by women. Lovecraft lived a scarce two years as a married man (his divorce was never finalized), but he, too, was looked after by the women with whom he shared a household.

Hemingway admired Mark Twain and helped to bring a new kind of prose style into American literature. Lovecraft had his own nineteenth-century American idol in Edgar Allan Poe. In terms of prose, he is not really thought of as an innovator. In fact, Lovecraft was a backward-looking author and was fond of archaic words, spellings, and pronunciations. Nonetheless, I detect elements of modernism in his work, specifically in "The Call of Cthulhu," with its nonlinear narrative, multiple viewpoints, and use of found sources, such as newspaper articles and diary accounts. Hemingway may have gone against all of that old-fashioned prose of the pre-World War I era, and Lovecraft may have written after those fashions, yet Lovecraft is still read with real pleasure by people of today. In fact there may be more Lovecraft fans than there are Hemingway fans among readers of the twenty-first century. It's not so simple to dismiss Lovecraft's prose, no matter its shortcomings, as an artifact of the early twentieth century. It still holds up, at least for his fans. Like Hemingway, he carefully labored over his writing, all for what he hoped would be maximum effect.

Hemingway famously nicknamed himself Papa. What's less well known is that he did this while he was still in his twenties. In calling himself Grandpa or Grandpa Theobald, Lovecraft also took on a nickname denoting age, wisdom, and authority. I don't know when he did this, but it seems to me that Lovecraft thought of himself as an old man even when he was quite young. Both men seemingly wanted to be looked up to and thought of as men of wisdom. Both were part of extensive literary circles.

Lovecraft is mentioned, but only by his last name, in Love and Death in the American Novel by Leslie A. Fiedler (1960, 1966). Hemingway gets a little more coverage in those pages. Seemingly by Fiedler's estimation both are within the mainstream of American literature, though perhaps for slightly different reasons. In Hemingway's case, it's because of the author's obvious flight from women into the wilderness and into the company of men. Lovecraft fled from women, too, but he more nearly matches the other half of Fiedler's thesis, namely, that "the American novel is pre-eminently a novel of terror," (Delta/Dell, 1966, p. 26) and that "our classic literature is a literature of horror for boys." (p. 29)

Here is Fiedler on a quite different author, but in discussing Herman Melville, could he just as easily have been talking about Lovecraft?:
Everywhere the figure of the Stranger moves through Melville's work . . . . Snob, greenhorn, madman, schlemiel, god and exile: the Outsider has a score of forms in Melville's fiction, but he remains, in his various masquerades, always the artist, society's rejected son with his "splintered heart and maddened hand . . . turned against the wolfish world." Though Outsider, he is not alien; invariably a native white American in Melville, he remains so as Twain's Huck and Faulkner's Ike McCaslin and Hemingway's Nick Adams or Jake Barnes: lonelier and lonelier in a country overrun by other stocks; "Chinese and African and Aryan and Jew, all breed and spawn together until no man has time to say which one is which nor cares . . . ." (pp. 361-362)
Remember Lovecraft's story "The Outsider." Remember, too, Lovecraft's notorious nativism. I'm not sure that Lovecraft had the confidence in character--any character--that those other writers had, though.

I'll close by pointing out that Lovecraft was not really a sentimental author, whereas Hemingway very often was. I'm not sure that Hemingway was a believer, but he also doesn't seem to have worked out a philosophy of cosmicism as Lovecraft did. Okay, so humanity is saved and Cthulhu is returned to his crypt at the end of "The Call of Cthulhu," but that's only because the stars aren't quite right. They will be right one day, we can be sure of that, and when they are, well, it will be Katie, bar the door. And then there's this last thing: we should consider in all of this talk of maturity and immaturity the possibility that Lovecraft was a more mature person than was Hemingway.

Chew on that one for a while.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, September 8, 2019

July: Hemingway and Lovecraft-Part One

You don't ordinarily see the names Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) and H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) together in one place, but they're in Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (1944), Hemingway near the end of the section called "Tales of Terror," Lovecraft at the very end of "Tales of the Supernatural." They're also in Love and Death in the American Novel by Leslie A. Fiedler (1960, 1966). Lovecraft is barely mentioned in that book. Hemingway gets a little more space. If Fiedler was right, both fit within the mainstream of American literature.

I wrote the other day that Hemingway "was not an escapist and did not seek to retreat into otherworldly fantasy," also that he "was not an arrested adolescent." Those things aren't entirely true; my purpose in writing them was to draw a contrast between men of Hemingway's generation and those of today. The contrast appears strong, but it may also be deceptive and due more to time and circumstance than to anything else. More to the point, today's Star Wars fans may simply be acting out a natural evolutionary process that began long before Hemingway came into the world and of which he was only a part. Maybe there's less of a difference than I indicated.

Hemingway killed himself on July 2, 1961. A year later, literary critic Maxwell Geismar (1909-1979) wrote an evaluation. My emphasis here is on the twin questions of fantasy and arrested adolescence. Geismar began in that regard by writing:
Hemingway . . . had very early trapped himself into the stereotype of the romantic and virile literary "man of action," so American in essence, and so little conducive to either intellectual or emotional development.
The suggestion here is that by trapping himself in this stereotype, Hemingway was never able to move beyond a kind of childishness, immaturity, or arrested adolescence either in his personality or in his writing. Geismar was not the first nor the last to see the author in this light, nor was Hemingway the first nor the last American author to act out the stereotype of a "virile literary 'man of action'."

A second quote from Geismar:
"For Whom the Bell Tolls"--a novel of the Spanish Civil War which sold close to a million copies. Sometimes called Hemingway's best novel, too, it is a curious mixture of good and bad, of marvelous scenes and chapters which are balanced off by improbably or sentimental or melodramatic passages of adolescent fantasy.
Here, then, are the words themselves, adolescent and fantasy. Along those same lines, Geismar wrote towards the end of his essay, using here the words youth and romantic instead:
Hemingway . . . continued to pour the romantic emotions of youth, now somewhat stereotyped and stylized, into his aging later heroes. In this respect, "Across the River and Into the Trees" (1950) was probably his worst novel. (1)
And so we have Hemingway and his work characterized, first, by youth, adolescence, and a lack of "either intellectual or emotional development"; and, second, by romanticism, sentimentality, melodrama, and fantasy. So Hemingway wasn't given to fantasy and was not an arrested adolescent? Maxwell Geismar had a different opinion on all of that.

You'll find the same kind of thing in Love and Death in the American Novel, the main thesis of which is that the American novelist repeatedly acts out a flight not only from women and mature, erotic, and progenitive love with women but also from everything that women might represent, including domesticity and civilization. Put another way, in and through our literature we flee into the wilderness and into worlds of men without women, wherever those worlds might be found (2). Like Geismar, Fiedler remarked on the immaturity of the American novelist:
     There is a real sense in which our prose fiction is immediately distinguishable from that of Europe, though this is a fact that is difficult for Americans to confess. In this sense, our novels seem not primitive, perhaps, but innocent, unfallen in a disturbing way, almost juvenile. The great works of American fiction are notoriously at home in the children's section of the library, their level of sentimentality precisely that of a pre-adolescent. This is part of what we mean when we talk about the incapacity of the American novelist to develop; in a compulsive way he returns to a limited world of experience, usually associated with childhood, writing the same book over and over again until he lapses into silence or self-parody. (Delta/Dell edition, 1966, p. 24)
What Fiedler wrote here about the American novelist in general can be applied more specifically to Hemingway, including that last part where the American author "lapses into self-parody." We can't rule out that Geismar was influenced by Fiedler, or vice versa. In either case, both seem to have been on to the same thing, namely, that in Hemingway in particular and in the American novelist in general, there is, first, childishness, juvenility, immaturity, arrested adolescence, and an overall lack of emotional or psychological development; and, second, a tendency towards romanticism, sentimentality, melodrama, and fantasy of one kind or another.

Fiedler didn't otherwise devote a lot of space to Hemingway, but here is an apt quote:
     In Hemingway the rejection of the sentimental happy ending of marriage involves the acceptance of the sentimental happy beginning of innocent and inconsequential sex, and camouflages the rejection of maturity and of fatherhood itself . . . . and surely there is no writer to whom childbirth more customarily presents itself as the essential catastrophe. (p. 317)
Again we see an American author in flight from maturity, erotic and progenitive love with a woman, and adult responsibility into perpetual childhood or adolescence. (3) That flight, which began in our earliest literature, continues even today in our most popular forms and genres, namely, in movies, television, comic books, video games, science fiction, fantasy, and the literature of mystery, crime, and detection. It is also within our general society, in which men have run away from women (or have been driven away) for whatever reason and seem determined to stay there.

Back to my original point, it's not really accurate to say that Hemingway was not an arrested adolescent, but compared to countless men of today, he might be called a paragon of masculinity and adulthood. Likewise, I wrote that he "was not an escapist and did not seek to retreat into otherworldly fantasy." Hemingway obviously was an escapist, though, the difference being that his was an escape into the West, Spain, Africa, or wartime Europe. In every case he remained in the real world and played at real-world games of life and death. He definitely did not play video games. He obviously also indulged in fantasy. In staying in the American mainstream, though, his fantasies were romantic, sentimental, or melodramatic in nature. (4) They were not otherworldly, and he did not dress up as Yoda. (Of course there weren't video games and Star Wars during his lifetime, but you get my point.) In any case, maybe what I have described as a hard break between generations of the past (B.S.W.) and the present (A.S.W.) is actually more of a natural evolution, a kind of stepping down from the conventional American romantic, sentimental, or melodramatic fantasy of the past and into the more extreme otherworldly fantasy of the present: Star Wars as a natural outgrowth of the Leatherstocking Tales. So maybe there isn't after all a strong contrast between the men of yesterday and the men of today. Like us, Hemingway was a man of his time, he remained in a state of arrested adolescence as many men of his time did, and he indulged in the romantic, sentimental, or melodramatic fantasies of his time. Maybe we of today are not very much different from him, for we are also arrested adolescents, and we all indulge in our own types of fantasy. The difference is that after Star Wars our fantasies detached themselves from the real world and became otherworldly--and we have followed them where they have led to the point where we have become ridiculous, even contemptible.

Leslie Fiedler's idea is that American literature is essentially gothic in nature. Although I would not describe Hemingway as a writer of gothic works, he still remains within the mainstream of our literature by writing on themes of death, violence, and the flight from women. But if we have never grown up and will never grow up--if we have always fled and will always flee from reality into fantasy, from women into the company of men, from civilization and domesticity into the wilderness--then what we are witnessing today is really just a continuation of an old story. Maybe in fifty or sixty years, once we have all retreated into our FaceGoogle virtual fantasy pods and our gender-fluid bodies have wasted away into soft, white, maggot-like masses, we will look back on the grown men of today--those who wear flip-flops, shorts, baseball caps, and t-shirts and wield plastic light sabers--as like Ernest Hemingway. And using our Amazoft brain-to-brain interfaces we'll say to each other, Now that's when men were men. Except that by then men and maleness will have been extirpated from the earth and we'll all be happier for it.

(1) Quotes are from "Was 'Papa' a Truly Great Writer?" by Maxwell Geismar in the New York Times, July 1, 1962, accessible by clicking here.
(2) A phrase that--with or without irony--forms the title of an early collection of short stories by Ernest Hemingway, Men Without Women, from 1927.
(3) Fiedler also commented on suggestions of homosexuality in Hemingway's life and work. You could easily follow that line of inquiry into another issue involving the men of today.
(4) Even the hardest American authors seem incapable of escaping sentimentality in their work.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, September 5, 2019

C.L. Moore in Traces Magazine

The magazine of the Indiana Historical Society, called Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, has published my biographical article on Catherine L. Moore (1911-1987). Entitled "Amazing Tales: The Weird and Wondrous Fiction of C.L. Moore," it appears in the Summer 2019 issue of the magazine. The article is eight pages long and includes photographs as well as full-color reproductions of the covers of Weird Tales and many hardbound and paperbound books.

C.L. Moore grew up in Irvington, the same neighborhood in which my brothers and sisters and I grew up on the east side of Indianapolis. One of the houses in which she lived as a child was only about two blocks away from our own childhood home. Strangely enough, around the corner from the Moores lived the Cornelius family, who later financed and printed Weird Tales. Catherine's house is gone now, but I believe the Cornelius family home is still standing on Layman Avenue.

C.L. Moore was an innovative writer in her chosen field of weird fiction. As a Hoosier, Indianapolitan, and Irvingtonian, I'm proud to recognize and write about her. I'm happy and thankful to Traces magazine and its editor, Ray E. Boomhower, for the opportunity to introduce her to readers and fans of Indiana history.

Copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

July: Weird Tales #363

Four years ago this month I asked the question, "Where Is Weird Tales?" The magazine hadn't been seen since Spring 2014 when issue #362 was published. For years afterward there wasn't any news forthcoming from the publishers, and the Weird Tales website was stuck in an information-less state. Now I have news that Weird Tales is back with issue #363, published in July 2019 and announced on August 14 on a website which shall remain nameless. The Weird Tales drought seems to have ended for now.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database doesn't yet have anything on this issue. Information seems hard to find in general (a continuing trend, I guess), but I have the following:

Weird Tales #363, July 2019
Publisher: Nth Dimension Media (presumably)
Editor: Jonathan Maberry
Cover art by Abigail Larson
80 pages

  • "The Eyrie"
  • "What Waits in the Trees" by Stephanie Wytovich
  • "Up from Slavery" by Victor LaValle
  • "Erasure" by Stephanie Wytovich
  • "By Post" by Josh Malerman
  • "A Housekeeper’s Revenge" by Lisa Morton
  • "A Woman Who Still Knows How to Die" by Stephanie Wytovich
  • "Due to the Memory of Scars" by Stephanie Wytovich
  • "The Shadows beneath the Stone" by Jonathan Maberry
  • "Outside the Shells of Horseshoe Crabs" by Stephanie Wytovich
  • "I-O-U" by Sherrilyn Kenyon
  • "Payday" by Hank Schwaeble
  • "Distant Drums" by Marc Bilgrey
  • "Amelia Delia Lee" by Tori Eldridge

I don't know whether there is any interior art. If there is, I hope that it doesn't include any digital dreck, but that's probably too much to hope for these days.

The blurb above the title reads: "The Return of the Magazine That Never Dies." Down below you'll see that this is "An Unthemed Issue." (I guess the plan for an all sword-and-sorcery issue went by the wayside years ago.) The cover, by the way, is a swipe of Margaret Brundage's iconic bat-woman from October 1933. And although the Weird Tales website now has some content, it is--well, suboptimal might be a nice way to put it. Finally, I should tell you that I don't have any of this directly from the publisher or editor, and I have no idea how they are going to handle the backlog of complaints against them, from authors, fans, readers, and subscribers. Anyway, Weird Tales is back. Let's hope that it's a worthy successor to previous incarnations, and let's wish the new editor and staff good luck in their efforts.

Copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley