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, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

July: Ernest Hemingway, Star Wars, and the Adolescentization of America

Two birthdays came in July while I was working on my story. One was of a girl I knew a long time ago (though not in a galaxy far, far away). The other was Ernest Hemingway's. Both came on the same day, July 21, and I thought of both as I wrote.

Ernest Hemingway was not a genre writer, even if his name is in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. (It's there because his story "The Killers" appeared in Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, from 1944.) In fact it's hard to imagine an author less interested in genre fiction than he would have been. (Being blown up at age eighteen will do that to you.) He was not an escapist and did not seek to retreat into otherworldly fantasy. On the contrary, he faced life (except when he didn't anymore) and pursued and embraced life at its extremes. No matter what else he might have been, Hemingway was active and engaged in the world, as an outdoorsman, journalist, wartime ambulance driver, author of big novels, war correspondent, world traveler, adventurer, bon vivant, father of three sons, and husband of four remarkable women. He was, in short, a man (more or less), and a strong contrast to entirely too many genre authors, moreover, to too many myriads of fans of science fiction and fantasy of today. Although he wrote about adolescence, most notably in his Nick Adams stories, Hemingway was not an arrested adolescent, or at least not as we might think. Unlike another suicide about whom I read recently, a forty-two-year-old man who lived and worked in the West, Hemingway was not buried in a baseball cap and a Star Wars t-shirt. Even if there had been Star Wars in 1961 when Hemingway killed himself, he would not have owned a Star Wars t-shirt, let alone have been buried in one. Men of his time didn't do such things. They were too busy being men. In these and so many other things, he was emblematic not only of his own generation but of the two generations of men that followed his own. (The women of those generations were pretty tough, too.) But all of that changed, and if I had to pinpoint the date that it all changed, I might say that it was on May 25, 1977, when the one and only Star Wars was released.

Star Wars was great. There's no getting around that. The movie itself, though immensely enjoyable, especially for children, is not great (not in the big sense), but the phenomenon of Star Wars was. But only for children. Therein lies a problem, for Star Wars, far more than Star Trek and most if not all other science fiction and fantasy franchises, has allowed, attracted, and invited grown adults to remain in adolescence for all of their lives. (1) Even now, forty-two years after the movie was released, we live among children masquerading as adults and attempting at all costs to avoid life as adults and the responsibilities and obligations that come with it. (That man who killed himself was forty-two when he died by the way.) They would rather try to live as children, even though living such a life beyond childhood is an absurdity and an impossibility. Call it the adolescentization of America, and consider the possibility that it began in 1977, coincidentally or not the year in which the largest cohort in American history aged out of their teens and into their twenties. (Carrie Fisher was older than they were by only a year.)

* * *

Kat Timpf is a humorist and political commentator. In November 2015, about a month before Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened, she said and wrote these words:
"I have never had any interest in watching space nerds poke each other with their little space nerd sticks, and I'm not going to start now."
"Yesterday I tweeted something, and all I said was that I wasn't familiar with Star Wars because I’ve been too busy liking cool things and being attractive." (2)
In response--and probably very predictably--Star Wars fans threatened to assault, rape, sodomize, and murder her, or they expressed hope that these things would happen to her. In other words, they confirmed the stereotype of Star Wars fans--and fans of fantasy and science fiction in general--as immature geeks and nerds who don't know how to deal with adult situations or differences of opinion, or how to respond to disagreement, or least of all how to treat women. Or, as Joaquin Pheonix's character in Signs points out, they're the kind of guys who don't have girlfriends. Or, as I have written here, they have never moved beyond adolescence and are forever stuck at an age when somebody else made their lunches for them and the clothing that now seems to be a uniform among adults in our country was what you wore because you were a kid. How did this ever happen--grown "men" with their Big-Mac-and-pizza guts and their ugly, crusty feet dressed not even as teenagers dress but as a bunch of five-year-olds in t-shirts, shorts, baseball caps, and flip flops? When are they ever going to grow up? Never, I guess, not in our thoroughly adolescentized America. (Yeah, I know, it's an ugly word.) I suppose all of this represents a business opportunity for the enterprising casket makers and undertakers of the near future, as these generations of never-adults go the way of Darth Vader (yeah, I know, he was burned up, but stay with me here): caskets made to look like your favorite Star Wars spacecraft, plus all of the accessories you'll need when you go into the ground, including your favorite-colored nerd stick at your side or clutched in your cold, dead hands. (3)

(1) Just this week on the radio, in a story about how there are too many white men who have accomplished things, I heard a medical student--a grown man--talk about the talking portraits in Harry Potter and how something or other . . . (I just couldn't listen anymore after that.)
(2) To read more, go to "I Will Not Apologize for Making a Joke About Star Wars" by Kat Timpf on the website National Review, dated November 24, 2015, by clicking here.
(3) Or here's another possibility: the undertaker, dressed as Darth Vader (both wear black after all), sweeps through your standing corpse with his light saber, and in that instant you are vaporized (through some currently undeveloped and un-patented process), your Jedi's cloak and light saber drop to the ground, and all of your mourners (consisting only of your mother) cry and cheer now that you've gone to that great beyond. Before your death, you could even record messages like a jihadi and these could be played back at key moments after your death in a blue 3-D haze as if you're a Force-ghost. (Just make sure your comments are generic enough to suit all occasions.)

Pulp magazines didn't just go away: they evolved. One successor to them was the mass-market paperback, which, even if it contained a piece of serious literature, might have pulp-type art on its cover. Such was the case of  the Bantam edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls. I had this book at one time. I wish I had it back.

The men's magazines of the 1950s through the 1970s were another successor to pulp magazines. They, too, had pulp-type art on their covers and in their interiors. Artists such as Ed Valigursky and Norman Saunders kept busy on them even after their previous employment in pulp magazines had dried up. Note the links to Hemingway: Booze, sex, war, Chicago, and Cuba.

Original text copyright 2019, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, August 25, 2019

July: Edith and Ernest

Once a month I go to a book club on weird literature and art. In July (on July 25 to be precise, while I was working on my own story), we looked at the works of Edith Wharton (1862-1937), specifically her short stories "Afterward" (1910), "The Eyes" (1910), and "Pomegranate Seed" (1931). These are good and well-written stories, though I found "The Eyes" to have a lot of ugliness in it. My favorite among them is "Afterward." One line alone, actually a fragment of a line, is worth the price of admission for this story: "but he wasn't dead enough . . . ."

I read "Afterward" in my copy of Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, edited by Herbert A. Wise and Phyllis Fraser and published in 1944 by Random House as part of its Modern Library. One of the things that I noticed in reading this story is how drastically American prose styles changed in just a very short period, from prewar to postwar. Written by a woman born in the Victorian era and published in 1910, "Afterward" is to my mind dense and weighty. It's not a story that moves. In reading it, I thought, "Thank God Ernest Hemingway came along and knocked the stuffing out of Victorian prose." It's not that Edith Wharton was a bad writer, because she wasn't--not at all. But my tastes are more to lean, muscular, quintessentially American prose. If your story can be adapted to a movie starring Steve McQueen, I'm there, but if it takes someone like Hugh Grant to bring it to life, I might pass. Or, as I said in the July meeting of our book club, if I read even one more story in which even one more character drinks even one more cup of tea, I might scream.

* * *

Here is the New York Times on Ernest Hemingway's first novel, The Sun Also Rises, from 1926: "It is a truly gripping story, told in a lean, hard, athletic narrative prose that puts more literary English to shame." (1) That's what I'm talking about, and I'm not the only one to recognize it and prefer it. Hemingway's writing may have been a kind of death knell for all of those old-fashioned authors--old-fashioned in their prose, their concerns, or both. They were from another time and their time had passed. Few today even read what they wrote. I'm thinking here of writers like Booth Tarkington (a Fortean and fellow Hoosier by the way) and Robert W. Chambers, the so-called "Boudoir Balzac" who also happened to be a teller of weird tales. Hemingway's early work still lives, though, as do stories such as The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, originally published in 1925 but still astonishingly contemporary and as near-to-perfect as any novel by an American author. Older by a generation, Edith Wharton may have seen the writing on the wall: her story "Pomegranate Seed," from 1931, is a far cry from her stories of just twenty years before. There are even automobiles in it.

* * *

Ernest Hemingway is also in Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural with his story "The Killers," originally published in 1927. I get a sense that the editors were stretching the bounds of their title in order to get him (William Faulkner, too) into their book. I suppose the idea was to lend Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural an added kind of weight and importance by including works by two men who were very soon to win Nobel prizes in literature. In fact, most of this volume is filled with works by authors held in some kind of esteem by the literary establishment. Nonetheless, H.P. Lovecraft is in its pages, the only author there to have been more closely associated with the pulps than with slick magazines or more literary hardbound fiction.

* * *

I'll have more to say about Ernest Hemingway in the next part of this series, but before that, I would like to point out that Necronomicon Providence, the International Festival of Weird Fiction, Art, and Academia, is taking place in Providence, Rhode Island, this weekend and that the leader of our book club, Nathaniel R. Wallace, is presenting his paper "A Sequence of Paintings so Horrid: 'Pickman’s Model' Visual Adaptations" there. Good luck, success, and safe travels to Nate this weekend.

(1) From "Marital Tragedy," dated October 31, 1926, and accessible here.

Original text copyright 2019, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, August 24, 2019

July: Losses and Gains

During the month of July just passed I did two things: forestry work and work on my story.  And during a very hot week and more here in the Midwest, I stayed home and wrote for ten to twelve hours a day some days. That might not have been good for work that pays, but it was good for my story: in about four days' time I wrote 10,000 to 12,000 words, and in another week or so I wrote 5,000 to 10,000 more. I finished my first draft on July 28 and printed it on July 31, thus meeting my own personal deadline. It's not often that I meet or have met deadlines during these past few months or years, but I did in this case. That alone was cause for happiness, but to write a story at its own rapid pace and to finish it to my own satisfaction was a kind of elation. As C.L. Moore wrote, "To be panting along behind a headstrong story . . . is one of life’s major glories--a high better than drugs or drink." (1)

* * *

Also during July I wrote a little on this blog, but only a little, and I missed out on a lot. If it's okay with you, I would like to catch up . . .

On July 16, I noted the passing of João Gilberto, who died on July 6, 2019, at age eighty-eight. What I failed to note is that his wife, Brazilian singer Miúcha, had died six months earlier, on December 18, 2018, at age eighty-one. Their daughter, singer Bebel Gilberto, then, lost both of her parents in half a year's time. I would like to express my sorrow for her loss and to extend the same feelings on behalf of all of you if you'll have it. I would also like to urge all of you to listen to Bebel Gilberto's very fine album Tanto Tempo (2000), which opens with a slow, sultry rendition of "Samba da Bênção" by Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell, two giants of Brazilian music with whom her parents performed and recorded.

* * *

I was also saddened to learn of the death of Rosemary Ellen Guiley, who left us on July 18, 2019, at age sixty-nine. I met her at the Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, many years ago, and she seemed to me a kind and gracious person. Rosemary wrote on occult and quasi-religious topics, but she also wrote on Fortean topics and was an editor with Fate magazine, co-founded by Raymond A. Palmer as a journal of Forteana. I don't think that she wrote fiction, but in being influenced by the writings of Charles H. Fort, directly or indirectly, Rosemary Guiley joined legions of authors of fantasy and science fiction, including many tellers of weird tales. This is the centennial year, by the way, of the publication of Fort's first book, The Book of the Damned.

(1) Quoted in "C.L. Moore (1911-1987) [and] Henry Kuttner (1915-1958)" by Frederick Shroyer and Richard Bleiler in Science Fiction Writers, 2nd edition (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1999), pp. 545-546.

Charles Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained by Damon Knight (1970). In addition to being a biographer, critic, and author of science fiction and related topics, Damon Knight was a poet and artist who contributed to Weird Tales. His first illustration for the magazine was for H.P. Lovecraft's "Herbert West: Reanimator," from the issue of November 1942. So again, we have mention of Lovecraft in the week of his birthday.

Original text copyright 2019, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Problems in Science Fiction No. 2-Continued

On July 8, I wrote about problems in science fiction. I had thought that I was done with that topic, but am I ever done with any topic? Maybe not. Anyway, I had an exchange of email messages with my friend Hlafbrot who is a fan and student of science fiction, and that exchange helped me clarify some of my thoughts. I would like to say thank you to Hlafbrot for putting so much time and thought into his messages to me and for inspiring further thought on this topic of problems in science fiction.

* * *

As I have thought more on it, I see that a distinction can be made between two types of projection, speculation, or extrapolation in science fiction:

First are things that don't change. These are easy to project into the future because what is true today will also be true tomorrow. I'm thinking specifically here of human nature. If you write convincingly about human nature, your story can never be obsolete. Witness the Iliad and the Odyssey, composed nearly three millennia ago and still comprehendible to us today because its people are real. Now, some people believe that human nature is changeable, malleable, or perfectible. This belief in the perfectibility of human beings is what makes the utopian scheme or story seem possible. I think that belief is unfounded, though, as I don't believe that human nature changes, and because of that I see Utopia as an impossibility. It might make for a good story, but it's purely a fantasy, and I think that the characters in a utopian story are unlikely to be recognizable as human beings because of their fully perfected state. (1) Anyway, if you're writing about the people of the future, you can be certain that they will be like us: at the same time angel and devil, noble and base, civilized and savage, loving and murderous, and on and on, just like everybody else throughout history. If you recognize that human beings have an unchanging nature, and you're good with characterization and dialogue, you might write a good story set in the future, regardless of the scientific and technological background of your story. (2)

Second are things that change: science, medicine, technology, culture, government--basically any and every human institution. (The basic principle here might be that anything created by God or Nature is eternal and unchanging, while anything created by human beings exists within Time and is subject to change.) If you try to create a plausible future and you stray towards prediction, I think you're likely to be overwhelmed by the possibility of change. This is what I meant when I wrote that no one can keep up with the many rapid changes going on today or the things that will change even more rapidly in the future. If you try to make predictions, you'll go off course: your story will lose its focus because you're trying to meet the requirements of plausibility instead of the requirements of storytelling. I have been working on a long science fiction story and have completed a first printed draft of it. My story, called "The Shoals of Carillon," is set far in the future when, in actuality, the issues treated in it are issues of today or of the very near future. So I wonder, is my story already obsolete or will it soon be obsolete? Is my story implausible because its projections are likely to prove inaccurate? I hope not. I hope that it's good enough as a story that the reader can ignore its (admittedly) skewed future-chronology.

* * *

In my story, I have reduced the problems treated to just a couple, and I have linked them. As I have already written in this space, I have tried to isolate a certain problem and treat only that problem. I have ignored associated problems, as well as unrelated problems that might logically be a part of this or any future society. One of the problems that I treat is the ever-present danger of the overarching and controlling State. The other is the use by the State of technology to expand and perfect its control over the populace in its grasp. This is, I think, a somewhat conservative idea, but I don't want to hit anybody over the head with it as such. I have tried to keep it subtle and real--a perfect horror not only for the freedom-loving conservative but also for the freedom-loving anybody and everybody. I think the reader will see this problem in the world of today not so much in the threat represented by the State (very often the villain of the conservative-minded person) as in the threat represented by the Corporation (the more likely villain in the eyes of the more liberal- or progressive-minded person). I'm thinking here of the threats--real or imagined--represented by Google (which created and maintains the platform for this blog), Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Apple, and so on. (3) In my story, I have combined the State and the Corporation as an institution called a Unity, which is in control of a fully networked world-society in which there is no separation between the State, the government, the economy, the corporation, the society, and the people as a whole and as individuals. The technological, cultural, and societal mechanisms of tyranny might change in the future, as human inventions and institutions do, but the tyrannical impulse is, I think, a permanent part of human nature, and so I believe it to be unchanging: it will be the same five hundred years from now as it is today. I have built my story around that unchanging impulse and two eternal and unchanging aspects of human nature that will forever be arrayed against it, namely love and the human desire to be free. Ultimately, my story is a love story, and I hope that that fact, if none other, will save it from obsolescence and implausibility.

(1) As I have said before, how does anyone propose to make a perfect society out of imperfect parts? And on those perfect parts, the perfected people of Utopia: Are they not just robots or inhuman monsters? Aren't they really just things that exist beyond and forever separated from us by the uncanny valley?
(2) Some science fiction writers aren't very good at these things. I think, for example, of Isaac Asimov, who seems to have been lacking in the department of characterization. In contrast, Robert A. Heinlein, despite whatever else might have been true of him as a human being, was pretty well guaranteed to write snappy dialogue and to create recognizably human characters.
(3) I recently saw a really terrifying video produced by Google about its plans for what the rest of us could only call Dystopia. And I mean really terrifying. It's called "The Selfish Ledger," and you can watch it on a website called The Verge, accompanied there by an article called "Google's Selfish Ledger Is an Unsettling Vision of Silicon Valley Social Engineering," written by Vlad Savov and dated May 17, 2018, here.

And by the way, Happy Birthday to Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who would have been one hundred twenty-nine years old today, had he lived longer than anybody ever (except for maybe some of his characters).

Copyright 2019, 2023 Terence E. Hanley