Sunday, January 31, 2021

Weird Tales #364

There is a new issue of Weird Tales available. There isn't any date on the cover, but I think it came out in October 2020. Real print-on-paper magazines are supposed to have been sent out in December. That's according to the Weird Tales website.

For some reason, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database does not yet have a listing for this issue. I'm sure there will be one soon. Until that happens, here is a list of credits for Weird Tales #364:

  • "Too Late Now" by Seanan McGuire, a California native and a very prolific author
  • "Ellende" by Gregory Frost, an instructor of English at Swarthmore College
  • "Hats" by Joe R. Lansdale, a well-known author from Texas 
  • "Lightning Lizzie" by Marie Whittaker, who writes children's books and darker things
  • "Last Days" by Dacre Stoker, a Canadian-American author, athlete, and conservationist, also great-grand nephew of Bram Stoker, and Leverett Butts, who teaches at the University of North Georgia
  • "The Beguiled Grave" by Marguerite Reed, a native Kansan
  • "The Last War" by Linda Addison (poem), a Philadelphian who writes verse, fiction, and non-fiction
  • "To the Marrow" by Rena Mason, a Thai-Chinese-American author    
  • "Feathers" by Tim Waggoner, an author and teacher of writing at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio
  • "Trailer Park Nightmare" by Gabrielle Faust, a writer and artist 
  • "No One Survives the Beach" by Weston Ochse, a Westerner and an author of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and comic book scripts 
  • "The Good Wife" by Lee Murray, a New Zealander about whom I have written before   
  • "The Canal" by Alessandro Manzetti (poem), an Italian author and poet
The cover art is by Lynne Hansen, an artist, writer, and filmmaker from Illinois. If I had to give a piece of advice to the editors and publishers of the new Weird Tales, it would be this: Don't make us hunt for the name of the cover artist! She's helping to sell your magazine. Give her some credit. Anyway, I don't know whether there is any interior art, but as an artist, all I can say is that there ought to be. Why else would anyone buy a print magazine?

Anyway again, congratulations to the new Weird Tales for a second issue.

The cover of Weird Tales #364 shows a woman turning into a crow. Her transformation reminds me of what happened to David Hedison's character in The Fly (1958) (same head, same left hand) and Sharlto Copley's in District 9 (2009). All suggest a body horror that must be, I think, deep-seated in us. By the way, there have been corvids on the cover of "The Unique Magazine" before. This one is from September 1939. The cover artist was Virgil Finlay.

Original text and caption copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Scraps of Research

The Grand Inquisitor in Star Wars

The Grand Inquisitor is a character within a story or poem told in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1879-1880), but he is also in the animated TV show Star Wars Rebels, appearing first in 2014. I'll admit I have never seen him at work. I have seen images on the Internet, though. I'm struck by a similarity to the cover illustration of The Grand Inquisitor on the Nature of Man that I showed the other day, namely, the nearly monochromatic scheme of each but with bright red highlights: the original Grand Inquisitor has a red serpent tongue, while the Star Wars character has red facial markings, a red light saber, and red background lighting. Like his namesake, he's bad but more obviously bad. He's also bald and has sunken, though shining, eyes. A great difference: the Star Wars saga takes place in a more or less amoral universe. The original parable of the Grand Inquisitor is of course one of good versus evil. I should add that the other red highlights in the cover illustration for The Grand Inquisitor on the Nature of Man are the stigmata of Jesus Christ.

The Sith

Speaking of Star Wars, I was reading The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature: From Irving to Le Guin by Brian Attebery (1980) when I ran across a word I had heard before but not in the same context. Mr. Attebery was referring to a folkloric creature in his writing. It's a new one for me. The creature is called a sith, and it's in Scottish folklore. There is the Cat Sith, the Dog Sith (or Cu Sith), and the Baobhan Sith, a female vampire. Darth Vader is of course the Dark Lord of the Sith. We didn't know what that meant in 1977 but it sounded cool. I'm not sure that George Lucas knew what it meant either. He is, after all, renowned for his retroactive changes to his original creation. I think Mr. Lucas drew concepts and inspiration from lots of different sources, but I have never read that his word sith comes from the Scottish original, even if Star Wars is something of a fairy tale. 

"I Am Not a Number, I Am a Free Man!" 

I have written a lot about We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1924). To me it is an essential book. I would urge everyone to read it, especially because of what we're facing right now.

We is narrated by a character called D-503. Over the course of the book, he falls in crazy-love with a woman called I-330. I started thinking about those numbers, and so I said to the Internet, "Hey, Internet, is 503 a prime number?"

The Internet's answer?

"Yes, 503 is a prime number."

But, wait, there's more. According to the website Find the Factors, 503 is the sum of the cube of the first four prime numbers (2, 3, 5, and 7). And more still: "503 is the smallest prime number that is the sum of consecutive cubes of prime numbers. 503 is also the sum of three consecutive prime numbers: 163, 167, and 173."*

Is any of this significant? I don't know. As Doctor McCoy might say, I'm a writer, not a mathematician. But it seems to me that D-503, a mathematician driven by the need to bring about a mathematically perfect happiness among men, has an alphanumeric designation of some significance.

So, 503, a number, applies to a mathematician and an instrument of the United State. And what of I-330? Well, I is not significantly a letter but a word: I, signifying the individual in recognition of her identity and individuality.** Her number, 330, is composite--being a woman and a rebel against the State, she has manifold aspects and is made up of manifold things.

In traditional culture, numbers were made into words: deuce, trey, dozen, score, gross. You might say they migrated from one hemisphere of the brain to the other. In the nineteenth century--the first mass century--words, that is, people's names, made the return trip and were made into numbers, at least in literature. From The New Utopia by Jerome K. Jerome (1891):

"Oh! there was so much inequality in names. Some people were called Montmorency, and they looked down on the Smiths; and the Smythes did not like mixing with the Joneses: so, to save further bother, it was decided to abolish names altogether, and to give everybody a number."

I can't say for sure, but I imagine that was the first use of alphanumeric designations in the literature of Utopia/Dystopia. Here is a list of a few more instances, the first edition of the Internet Dystopian Fiction Alphanumeric Designation Database (IDFADDb):

  • We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (novel, 1924)
  • Anthem by Ayn Rand (novel, 1938)
  • The Prisoner, created by Patrick McGoohan and George Markstein (TV show, 1967)
  • Logan's Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (novel, 1967; film, 1976)
  • THX 1138, directed by George Lucas (film, 1971)

By the way, in Anthem, I is the word that the rebels discover once they have fled from the control of the State. Before that, each calls himself or herself we and the other they. The State prefers the plural to the singular, the collective to the individual, We to I, Unity to Individuality, Rebellion, and Dissent. Some things never change.

Of course we have numbers now, too, and are tracked and monitored by them. Numeric or alphanumeric designations might be a little old-fashioned, though. I don't know much about these things, but it seems to me that they are being or soon will be replaced by graphinumeric (my new word) designations: bar codes or UPC codes, matrix codes or 2D barcodes, Quick Response or QR codes, etc. And what is facial recognition software but the conversion and reduction of the face--the visage of the living, ensouled, sacred human being--into soulless binary code, all for the purposes of the State? There is something saving us right now: facial recognition technology is essentially racist. Once that problem is taken care of, though--and it will be--we will all be in greater peril.

*A note in revision, January 30, 2021: It occurs to me now that 330 is the sum of two of these three consecutive prime numbers: 163 + 167 = 330. It follows then that 330 is the difference between 503 and the third: 503 - 173 = 330. So is any of this significant? I still don't know.

**A second note in revision, February 10, 2021: In the English version of We, her designation is I-330. The I- prefix is no doubt significant. But what is the prefix in the original Russian? Is it я, the equivalent personal pronoun in Russian? Is it in fact І, a letter eliminated from Russian orthography in the first years of revolution, 1917-1918? Or is it something else? I think the answer is significant, but I think it would take the work of a Russian scholar to figure these things out.

Original text copyright 2021, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Still with Us, the Grand Inquisitor

It has been awhile since I wrote and it will be awhile yet before I continue with my series on Utopia and Dystopia in Weird Tales. I have been reading H.G. Wells: Critic of Progress by Jack Williamson. I have also been caught up in my regular work. It is still cold here in the great American Midwest, but there are promises of spring in the morning song of the cardinal and the mourning dove's cooing. It won't be long now.

Since I last wrote, John Gill has been installed as the figurehead of our government. Kamelakon has yet to machine-gun him. It has only been a week after all. It would be indecorous to do it so soon.

If you don't like the Star Trek reference, you might call our new leader President John Paul I instead. He'll probably last longer than that long-ago pontiff. He is already more revered, even worshipped. To some people, he amounts to a saint and our savior. It's kind of vomit-inducing to listen to the things that people say about him. But he is their new god, and these are the things that the True Believer believes about his god.

I am a Catholic and he is a Catholic, but we don't belong to the same Church. Like his co-religionists, he worships power and reveres the State. He makes me think of another superannuated supposed Catholic:

He is an old man, almost ninety, tall and erect, with a withered face and sunken eyes, in which there is still a gleam of light.

Except that there isn't a gleam of light in our new president's eyes. They are instead dark and clouded over, not sunken so much as shallow. They are windows into his shrinking and darkening mind, into the tangles of his plaque-thickened neurons.

He has other things in common with the Grand Inquisitor, though. That ancient cardinal speaks:

But let me tell Thee that now, today, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet.

Ivan, the storyteller, explains:

He claims it as a merit for himself and his Church that at last they have vanquished freedom and have done so to make men happy.

The Grand Inquisitor repeats the words of Christ's tempter:

Thou wouldst go into the world, and art going with empty hands, with some promise of freedom which men in their simplicity and their natural unruliness cannot even understand, which they fear and dread--for nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom.

He continues in his own words, towards his own point:

And we alone shall feed them in Thy name, declaring falsely that it is in Thy name. Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, "Make us your slaves, but feed us." They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them!

And more:

They will marvel at us and look upon us as gods, because we are ready to endure the freedom which they have found so dreadful and to rule over them--so awful it will seem to them to be free.

He addresses again the silent figure before him:

Choosing "bread," Thou wouldst have satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of humanity--to find someone to worship. So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship. But man seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but to find something that all would believe in and worship; what is essential is that all may be together in it. This craving for community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and all of humanity from the beginning of time.

And then it becomes harder and harder to tell the difference between these two ancient men, not necessarily in their exact words but in their ideas:

It has long to await completion and the earth has yet much to suffer, but we shall triumph and shall be Cæsars, and then we shall plan the universal happiness of man.

Then the Grand Inquisitor sums up "all that man seeks on earth":

someone to worship, someone to keep his conscience, and some means of uniting all in one unanimous and harmonious ant heap, for the craving for universal unity is the third and last anguish of men.

Emphasis added, but there is the word: Unity. We shall have it. Unity.

* * *

It hasn't happened yet, but the midnight knock on the door will come, and we will all individually be taken away to be unified.

If nothing else, that's a seed for a story of science fiction--or Dystopia.

The Grand Inquisitor on the Nature of Man by Fyodor Dostoevski, translated by Constance Garnett. This is the edition that we read long ago in Humanities class, in ancient times when people still read in the humanities to free and expand their minds, to encounter and come to an understanding of human nature, human history, and human culture. Unfortunately, I no longer have my copy of this edition, and I don't know the name of the cover artist. I have a different edition instead without any cover art.

Original text copyright 2021, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, January 8, 2021

Utopia & Dystopia in Weird Tales-Part Four

Utopia Into Lost Worlds

One of the problems with stories of Utopia and Dystopia is that their authors often spend so much time describing their imaginary societies that they forget to tell a story. When I was in high school, I read Edward Bellamy's utopian novel Looking Backward: 2000-1887. I don't remember very much about it except that I didn't think it was very interesting--a lot of description and no action. Nearly six years ago, I read the yin to Bellamy's yang in the form of The Republic of the Future by Anna Bowman Dodd. I found her book more interesting but only in an intellectual or political-historical way. Like Looking Backward, it doesn't really tell a story. Even George Orwell's 1984, which is a more conventional kind of novel, includes long passages describing the nightmarish society of the future, long quotes from a fictitious book by the equally fictitious Emmanuel Goldstein, and even a closing essay by Orwell on Newspeak, the language of the future (which unfortunately approaches our present). It's almost like the very dark flip side of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, a kind of anthropological or ethnological examination of a carefully constructed society, complete with a discussion of linguistics.

For readers of genre fiction, part of the problem with stories of Utopia and Dystopia is that they often serve as vehicles for satire or philosophical speculation rather than for purposes of storytelling. That's one argument against classifying utopian and dystopian stories as science fiction and fantasy. I don't know about you, but I don't think 1984 or Brave New World or Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, sits very easily in either of these categories. Even We, with its rocketship and its glassed-in towers and its curative surgical operation, is more satirical than it is science-fictional. In other words, it's not meant merely to entertain. On the other hand, if a writer of science fiction or fantasy can fit Utopia/Dystopia into a larger bit of storytelling, it can work and genre readers might not really object. For example, screenwriter and producer Dave Filoni recently set an episode of The Mandalorian on a brilliantly imagined dystopian planet. Outside the city walls on Corvus is a burned-out hellscape, like a smoking battlefield from the Great War. Inside is a dim, gray, concrete nightmare, the place where the proles and the peasants live and are oppressed and tortured by their overlords. At the core of the city, behind yet more walls, is the pleasant, green garden of its tyrant, who is eventually, thankfully, brought down. This is one of my favorite episodes of the series, not only for its visuals and overall aesthetic but also because it resonates in the real world in which we today find ourselves, one in which our rulers live in comfort and splendor while we are punished simply for wanting to live our lives in peace and freedom. I don't think Mr. Filoni intended it, but "The Jedi," otherwise a bit of entertainment, also acts as a kind of commentary on our current situation--as a bitter satire and well within the dystopian tradition.

* * *

It seems to me that Utopia and Dystopia each has its own related and more popular subgenre. It probably had to be that way if Utopia and Dystopia, which are at their hearts philosophical and high-literary forms, were going to make their way into popular fiction. For Utopia, the chief subgenre is the Lost Worlds story. I'll let The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls (update, 1995) , describe it:

This rubric covers lost races, lost cities, lost lands: all the enclaves of mystery in a rapidly shrinking world that featured so largely in the sf of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This subgenre was obviously a successor to the fantastic voyages [q.v.] of the 18th century and earlier, but there are important distinctions to be drawn. The earlier tales had belonged to a world which was geographically "open" [. . . .]. The lost-world story, however, belonged to a cartographically "closed" world [. . .]. (pp. 734-735)

(The Internet Speculative Fiction Database uses the tag "lost race.")

Not all Lost Worlds stories are utopian. I would guess that most aren't. King Solomon's Mines by H. Ride Haggard (1885), another novel I read--and loved--as a teenager, is a perfect example of that. (Unlike Looking Backward, a novel of about the same vintage, it actually tells a story, and an exciting one at that.) But if the Garden of Eden is Utopia, then it is surely lost. Like the tyrant's garden in "The Jedi," it is closed to us, secreted forever behind unbreachable walls (but only because we wanted it that way). Plato's ideal city-state is also lost, and his opposing Atlantis has disappeared forever under the waves. Subsequently unreachable, both have proved fertile ground in which to set stories of Utopia and Lost Worlds. (What else is Looking Backward but a description of an ideal republic?) Thomas More's Utopia, which could exist as a real place only in a "geographically 'open'" world, disappeared in a puff of smoke once the whole surface of the earth was mapped. It was only as the geographic world--and possibility--was closing that the Lost Worlds story reached its heyday. Maybe we realized what was really being lost and wanted to snatch some of the romance and adventure and pleasure from it before it was gone forever. In any case, the world closed. Yes, there were twentieth-century stories of this kind set in Africa (Thun'da by Gardner Fox and Frank Frazetta), the Amazon (The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle), Antarctica (Dian of the Lost Land by Edison Marshall), the South Seas (King Kong), the North Polar region (Island at the Top of the World by Ian Cameron), and even inside of a Hollow Earth (The Warlord by Mike Grell). But as the nineteenth century slid into the twentieth, stories of Utopia and Lost Worlds--if they were to be more plausible--would have to be set either in Time, as in Looking Backward (published at about the same time that the American frontier closed), or in Space . . .

And that's where Edgar Rice Burroughs came in.

To be continued . . . 

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1828) by Thomas Cole (1801-1848), an American artist of the Hudson River School. In his painting, Cole emphasized landscape; the figures here are diminished, dwarfed by Creation, disgraced and humiliated by their actions. On the right is Paradise--the only Utopia possible on Earth, possible precisely because it was created by God. Note that it is surrounded by a high wall of seemingly impassable mountains: the lost valley ringed by impassable mountains became a theme in the Lost Worlds subgenre of fantasy and science fiction. Two quick examples: the comic-book version of Cave Girl by Gardner F. Fox and Bob Powell, and The Last Valley, a not-quite-fantasy film from 1971. And on the left? What we might call a dystopian landscape for a still rural or agrarian America. Mass living--urban, industrialized living--which makes Dystopia plausible, had not yet set in when Cole executed his painting. But replace the dead trees and craggy cliffs with a gray and decrepit cityscape and the smoke and fire of the erupting volcano with the spew and furnace of some great manufactory--like the orc-plant in the Lord of the Rings--and you would have a scene surely familiar to readers of twenty-first century dystopian fiction.*

*And the image of the erupting volcano should be familiar to some because of its use by one of the more totalitarian and dystopian of the religions of science fiction.

Text copyright 2021, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Utopia & Dystopia in Weird Tales-Part Three

Dystopia Before Utopia

Today, Year 2021 said to 2020, "Anything you can do, I can do better." I'm a forester and like being in the woods, but I'll be as glad as anybody finally to be out of the wilderness we're in right now. I'm not sure we're going to make it anytime soon.

* * *

I left off on December 17 with part two of this series on Utopia and Dystopia in Weird Tales. I began part one by writing that Utopia came before Dystopia. Then I finished reading Science Fiction: Today and Tomorrow (1974), edited by Reginald Bretnor, and found another view of things. It's an uneven book. Some of its essays are not especially interesting. Others are excellent. Jack Williamson's entry, entitled "Science Fiction, Teaching, and Criticism," comes last. I read it during the week of Christmas. Here is a long and pertinent quote, with emphasis added:

Taking an even longer perspective, we might suggest that the culture of science is simply a current phase of the utopian tradition that begins, perhaps, with Plato's Republic--the idea that reasonable men can create an ideal society here on earth. The tradition is Greek: it reflects the self-confidence of Homer's Odysseus. The anti-utopia tradition appears even older. Its roots are Egyptian and Hebraic, I think; its mythic anti-hero is Adam. Homer's symbol for reason is the glorious Athena, the comrade and helper of epic man. The Hebrew symbol is the snake, the betrayer. In the pattern of the culture that built the stone pyramids, the Hebrew tradition makes society dominant, visiting divine wrath on any impious individual who tries to disturb it. The Greek tradition allows more individual freedom, a more hopeful view of change. H.G. Wells, I think, was torn between those two traditions, with the Hebraic dominant in his great early fiction and the Greek in his later campaign for a modern utopia. (pp. 326-327) (1)


[. . .] I think it does make some sort of sense to say that Asimov and Clarke and Heinlein and a good many others are spokesmen for the Greek tradition in those optimistic moments when they choose to show men solving problems to make things better. I think it makes sense to call the New Wave writers [then in vogue] the sons of Adam--along with all the earlier anti-utopians who show men tripping over his own intelligence, and even the producers of the science-fiction horror films in which arrogant scientists came to grief for seeking "what man was not meant to know." (p. 327)

So Jack Williamson (1908-2006), who was in a position to know a little more about these things than I, suggested in his essay that the dystopian tradition preceded the utopian. That makes sense in that Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is the story of the fall of man: the mind that imagines Dystopia understands that we are indeed fallen, that we and all of the things that we make are imperfect and, perhaps more importantly, imperfectible. (The spellchecker in Blogger doesn't like that word. Maybe the makers of this platform are strict utopians and brook nothing that might go against their visions of the eschaton.) I don't know much about Ancient Egypt, but it seems to me that the Egyptian-Hebraic tradition of which Williamson wrote would have passed easily enough into Christianity. But then Christian-European civilization had its Ancient Greek components as well.

It's interesting that Jack Williamson classed one tradition as Egyptian-Hebraic and its opposite as classically Greek. That would suggest that the first is older, more Eastern or Asiatic, more conservative in the sense of looking backward--there's that phrase again--as well as in emphasizing the bonds among men and women living together as a society, bonds that stretch forward and backward through time. The emphasis, too, would seem to be on a universe made and governed by G_d (or gods in the case of the Egyptians). (2)

The second tradition, the utopian, is correspondingly younger, more Western or European, more progressive, more individualistic. It is also more humanistic. In the first, there would appear to be humility, in the second, pride or even hubris. If we continue these lines into the modern world, its art, and its literature, the first might lend itself to the more conservative genres of fantasy, romance, weird fiction, and horror--Dystopia, too, of course, which is its own kind of horror story. The second would lead into science fiction and stories of Utopia.

Even if the dystopian tradition preceded the utopian, that's not the same as saying that Dystopia as a type of story came first. It's more accurate to say that an awareness of the fallen nature of man preceded the idea that man and his society are perfectible and that progress is not only possible but inevitable. In actuality, the utopian story seems to have come first, originating in the humanistic Greece of antiquity but not named or formalized until the humanistic England of the Renaissance. We should remember that our word Dystopia is kind of a back-formation of Thomas More's original Utopia.

Anyway, when Weird Tales first went to print in March 1923, utopian stories had already been around for centuries. Dystopia was a much younger genre or sub-genre, but it could not have been unknown, to the well-read at least, and even if there were those unfamiliar with it in formal terms, all would have known of the Hebraic tradition, as Jack Williamson called it, from their reading of the Bible; thereby, all should have understood that the perfect society is not attainable and that even if it were so, such a society could only prove nightmarish. Socialist, statist, totalitarian regimes were just then forming in Italy and the soon-to-be U.S.S.R., but their advent had already been envisioned by authors of Dystopia, including Anna Bowman Dodd in 1887, Jack London in 1908, and Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1921. If we are to form a hypothesis from all of this, we might predict that Dystopia is more likely than Utopia to have been in the pages of "The Unique Magazine." But then there's a little something we haven't considered yet.

To be continued . . .


(1) I have noticed the seeming conflict in H.G. Wells. Sometimes, as in The Time Machine (1895), he seems to have been aware of the fallen nature of man and skeptical of the idea of progress. Other times, as in his screenplay for Things to Come (1936), he showed a breathtaking unawareness of human nature and human history and an almost embarrassing--and blind--faith in reason and the idea of progress. But we should remember that Wells was a man just like any other and full of dualities.

(2) Remember, in Zamyatin's novel, We--a conformist and obedient society--is from God, while I--the rebellious individual--is from the devil.

Science Fiction: Today and Tomorrow, a discursive symposium edited by Reginald Bretnor (1911-1992) and published in 1974. The cover design is the work of James Walters.

Revised on January 7, 2021.

Original text copyright 2021 Terence E. Hanley