Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Mysterious Dolgov-Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 24, 2020

Cabal in New York, 1939

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

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

Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, February 21, 2020

Wells and Cabal Again

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

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

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

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

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

A Flying Saucer Lineage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, February 15, 2020

A Century of Forteana

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Gahan Wilson (1930-2019)

Cartoonist, Illustrator, Author, Editor, Essayist, Movie Reviewer, Book Critic, Screenwriter
Born February 18, 1930, Evanston, Illinois
Died November 21, 2019, Scottsdale, Arizona

Gahan Wilson had the last illustration in the last issue of the original Weird Tales and he was probably the last living artist to have contributed to that incarnation of the magazine. If you were making a list of the top two cartoonists of the macabre, the late Mr. Wilson would be on it. His accomplishments in the worlds of fantasy, horror, and science fiction were legion in a career that began in 1954 and ended only with his death late last year. According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb), his earliest genre credit was a cartoon for Fantastic in the issue of January/February 1954. His last were for books published in 2019. He was born dead or heavily anesthetized and brought back in time to escape being put into a box. His parents, Allen Barnum Wilson (1898-1980), a steel engineer, and Rose Marion (Gahan) Wilson (1895-1960), an artist and advertising copywriter, had a tumultuous marriage. The effects extended into the life of their only child. Each gave him a name, for its fullest form was Gahan Allen Wilson. His mother's family, the Gahans, were Irish. Their surname supposedly means "rocky field."

Gahan Wilson served in the U.S. Air Force and 
like his mother before him studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. When he told his father that he wanted to become a cartoonist, the elder Wilson said simply, "Good luck." It worked. Wilson was more than a cartoonist, though. He reviewed books for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction from 1968 to 1976 and for Realms of Fantasy from 1994 to 2006. He also reviewed movies for The Twilight Zone Magazine from 1981 to 1989. He designed the World Fantasy Award trophy in a likeness of H.P. Lovecraft. The trophy was in use from 1975 until 2015 when it was deemed too offensive to feeble sensibilities. He won the World Fantasy Special Convention Award in 1981, Best Artist Award in 1996, and the Life Achievement Award in 2004. The first illustrations I ever saw by Gahan Wilson were probably for Jerome Beatty's Matthew Looney series of children's novels. Matthew Looney's Voyage to the Earth (1961) may have been the first science fiction book I ever read. That was in fourth grade. My friend and classmate Matt C. introduced me to it. I'd like to say thanks, Matt. Thanks, too, to Jerome Beatty, Jr., and Gahan Wilson.

Gahan Wilson married Nancy Dee Midyette Winters Hurwitz in December 1966 in Broward County, Florida. Born on November 24, 1931, in Brooklyn, New York, she attended the Academy of St. Joseph and Scarsdale High School in New York and Bradford Junior College in Massachusetts. She was a writer, too, and had an early short story, "The Sea Shells," in All Manner of Men: Representative Fiction from the American Catholic Press, in 1956. Assuming I have the right person--she wrote under the pen name Nancy Winters--her other works include: Feasting Afloat (1972), The Girl on the Coca-cola Tray (1977), There's No Place Like the Ritz (1988), and Man Flies: The Story of Alberto Santos-Dumont, Master of the Balloon, Conqueror of the Air (1998). I think there were others. I'd like to have a fuller list of her credits. Nancy Winters also wrote syndicated newspaper articles for Women's News Service and was travel editor for Boston magazine.

Gahan Wilson was devoted to his wife, even if they lived separately from each other for long periods of time. After fifty-two years of marriage, she died on March 2, 2019. He survived her by nine months and died just three days before her birthday, on November 21, 2019. He was eighty-nine years old.

Gahan Wilson's Illustrations for Weird Tales (Original run)
Illustration for "Prediction" by Curtis W. Casewit (May 1954)
Illustration for "This Night" by Dorothy Quick (Sept. 1954)

Further Reading
"Gahan Wilson and the Comedy of the Weird" by Richard Gehr in The Comics Journal, Apr. 27, 2011, here.
"Gahan Wilson, Vividly Macabre Cartoonist, Dies at 89" by Neil Genzlinger, the New York Times, Nov. 22, 2019, here.
"Gahan Wilson (1930-2019)" on the website of Locus, Nov. 23, 2019, here. There is supposed to be a fuller tribute to Wilson in the January 2020 issue of Locus.

Gahan Wilson's illustration for "This Night" by Dorothy Quick from Weird Tales, September 1954. It was the last original illustration to appear in the original run of "The Unique Magazine." The artist was twenty-three years old when it appeared.

Wilson designed the World Fantasy Award trophy in the image of H.P. Lovecraft. The design was in use from 1975 to 2015. Sorry, people, no trigger warnings here. Look upon this image and weep for all the racism it represents.

Gahan Wilson married Nancy Dee Midyette Winters Gurwitz in December 1966. Here is her yearbook photo from Scarsdale High School, New York, 1949. Even then she was an "aspiring author."

Nancy Wilson went by the pen name Nancy Winters. She was married before and through her Gahan Wilson had two stepsons. She died in early 2019. Her husband followed in the latter part of the year. Here they are in happier times, 1972. Is it any wonder that we loved the 1970s?

Gahan Wilson had two heroes, H.P. Lovecraft and Charles Addams. Here is his tribute to Lovecraft on the cover of The Twilight Zone Magazine, August 1985. Wilson's drawing--the part on the left--looks like a self-portrait. It would have come when role-playing games were popular, hence the dice (I guess).

Wilson had just one cover for Weird Tales, for the Spring issue of 1991, illustrating Robert Bloch. This cover joins Virgil Finlay's cover of September 1939 as another illustrating an author of fantasy and the macabre.

I am remembering some of the events of 2019, but even without my meager remembrance of him (in his birthday month by the way), we would never have forgotten Gahan Wilson. We send our condolences to his family for the loss in one year of two parents. I lament the loss of all of those fine years, too.

Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Weird Tales #363 at Half a Year

I'm still catching up on things from last year. Some of these things are moving pretty slowly, though, so the catching up is easy. In late July 2019, it was announced that Weird Tales would be back with its 363rd issue. There was no cover date, but the latest issue became available in August, shortly before H.P. Lovecraft's birthday. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb) didn't have a list of contents until September. The first list I saw was on a website called The Silver Book Lamp (here). The date was August 25. Good work, Silver Book Lamp. Weird Tales itself has a Facebook page. The announcement there looks to have been dated August 14. Like all Facebook pages, it's un-look-at-able.

You can buy Weird Tales #363 for about ten dollars. Reviews look mixed. Early reviews on a website that shall not be named are more critical. Later reviews are more enthusiastic. That makes me wonder a little bit. Commerce has its ways.

The newest issue is 80 pages long. That's okay with me. At least we have a new magazine. The editor is supposed to be Marvin Kaye, but I'm not sure that's really the case. Anyway, the cover art, a swipe (a commissioned swipe that the editors probably call an homage), is by Abigail Larson. The interior contents are as follows, condensed from the list on the ISFDb:
Click on the names for links to websites. I haven't made any links to Facebook pages, as Facebook is really terrible in visual terms. I hope I have the right people in each of these links.  The Weird Tales still down. Don't ask me why.

It has been six months now since the last issue. At this point, maybe a semiannual schedule is too much to hope for. We'll just keep hanging on until the next issue comes out, I guess. In the meantime, I would like to wish the makers of Weird Tales good luck in their endeavors.

Copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, February 6, 2020

From War of the Worlds into Star Trek

I think the history of science fiction is evolutionary: there have probably been few really radical events. In 1953, Paramount Pictures released The War of the Worlds, a big-budget adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel of 1897 (magazine serial) and 1898 (hardbound book). In the movie version the Martian tripods no longer walk. Instead they glide, and there isn't anyplace they can't go as they rain terror upon the people of Earth. These ships may have seemed an innovation, but they had precedent in magazine science fiction. More importantly, they would have brought back only recent memories of death from the skies for people then living in Europe, Asia, and the Pacific, from Great Britain to Japan to Pearl Harbor. I think there's a third influence, though, one that came from a place where real life--or supposed real life--meets the science-fictional (and Fortean) imagination. You can see that, I think, through a series of images:

If you take the head and neck of the Loch Ness Monster from the famous photograph of 1934 . . .

And attach it to the top of the supposed "disk"--the first flying saucer as described by Kenneth Arnold in 1947 and published in the book The Coming of the Saucers by Arnold and Raymond A. Palmer in 1952 . . .

You kind of get the Martian ships from The War of the Worlds (1953).

These were designed by Albert Nozaki (1912-2003). There may have been an influence in his designs of the flying wing- or lifting body-type aircraft, too.

Now that's not to say that the makers of the movie were directly influenced or inspired by these previous visual sources, but few imaginations operate in a vacuum or in isolation (thus few really radical events).

The evolution continued into another Paramount production of the 1960s:

Here in the Klingon battlecruiser from Star Trek, the boom of the head and neck are rigid and attached to the front of the ship. (Note that the top part of the head is shaped like a flying saucer.) There are also pods like the wingtip fuel tanks or missiles of real-life aircraft. (Remember that the Vietnam War was going on at the time and images of aircraft would have been in the daily news.) The general shape of the hull or fuselage is more or less the same, though, as in the previous Martian ship.

The Martian ship and the Klingon ship both have a biomorphic appearance. This works well not only in visual terms but also for storytelling purposes, for the ships become almost like characters in themselves rather than just cold, hard, inanimate machines. I remember when I was a kid playing with Star Trek models and toys and thinking of them almost as animals, with a head, neck, body, and limbs. The Romulan Warbird even has animal art on its underside, a depiction of a bird in flight. The Romulan ship is probably the least biomorphic of the three main ships in the original series. The addition of the art helps to make it more relatable as a living thing, thus as a kind of character . . .

With its rounded leading edge and notched trailing edge, the Romulan ship also resembles an alternative version of the first flying saucers, here shown on the cover of the first issue of Raymond A. Palmer and Curtis Fuller's magazine Fate, from the spring of 1948. (Having worked on airplanes, I see these ships in terms of aircraft instead of as naval vessels.)

The head and flexible neck of the Martian ship from The War of the Worlds reappeared on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the form of the gooseneck viewer shown in the first pilot for the show, "The Cage," from 1966 . . .

As for the Enterprise itself, we should remember that it is made up three main sections: the engine nacelles and booms (behind), the secondary hull or fuselage (below), and the primary hull or fuselage (in front), also called the saucer section. Yes, if you take away the rest of the ship, the primary hull is simply the flying saucer of the popular imagination, which originated not in real life as some people might think or hope, but in science fiction.

The designs were by Matt Jeffries (1921-2003), an aviator, aircraft draftsman, and flight engineer who served in World War II aboard bombers over Europe. He, too, thought of his creations in terms of aircraft designs.

Star Trek was heavily influenced by the science fiction of the 1940s and '50s, but it was also influenced by the flying saucer culture of the time. Science fiction was likewise influenced by flying saucer culture, and vice versa. Both can be traced back to The War of the Worlds, but there is another possible lineage, too. Before long I'll write about the progenitor of that alternate line of descent. Hint: you have already seen the adjectival form of his name in this posting.

Text and captions copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Humblest Things . . .

Ruthless, predatory--they arrive. They will make of their new empire a purely material thing, made and engineered for their own benefit and for the ruination of everyone who is not they. But then all of their very finest plans are ruined when they are laid low "by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth." I have been writing about the late H.G. Wells. Those quoted words are from the early version of himself when he might have put prayer and belief into his work with far less squeamishness. Tyranny--the totalitarian ideal--is often shown to be like a plague or a creeping, biological menace, obliquely in The Plague by Albert Camus (1947), less so in I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954), least of all in these three examples in The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney (1955). But in The War of the Worlds (1897), microbes do for humanity what we are powerless to do for ourselves, that is, to defeat the invaders:
But there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. [Emphasis added; from Chapter VIII, Dead London]
That's a neat way for a Fabian socialist and student of biology to place material means (i.e., bacterial disease) within an act of God so as to wipe out his villains the Martians. I imagine that Wells did this to stay true to his belief in science and materialism while also making his story palatable for the popular readership of his day, which was at least nominally Christian.

The coronavirus isn't quite at the level of a pandemic yet, but could it help to lay low the tyrants of Earth?

Famous Fantastic Mysteries, July 1951, with "The War of the Worlds" as the cover story and cover art by Lawrence.

Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley