Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Strange Case of Allison V. Harding

For decades, no one knew or cared very much about Allison V. Harding, a pseudonymous author for Weird Tales from 1943 to 1951. That has changed in recent years, not so much for her stories as for what she and they represent to readers of today. I'm not sure any of that was possible until we knew who she was. Luckily for the Allison V. Harding literary-industrial complex, somebody figured it out. I was that person by the way. I wrote about my investigations in an early entry on this blog called "Who Was Allison V. Harding?" dated May 24, 2011. You can read what I wrote by clicking here.

For years, everything that we knew about Allison V. Harding came from Sam Moskowitz, who examined the files of the original magazine then in the possession of the purchaser of the Weird Tales property, Leo Margulies. I don't know when that took place. It may have been in the early to mid 1960s. It may have been later, perhaps in the late 1960s or early 1970s. In any case, by the time Margulies sold Weird Tales to Robert E. Weinberg in the mid to late '70s, the original files were gone. They had become infested with insects while being stored in Margulies' garage. As a consequence of the infestation and possibly other kinds of damage, Margulies destroyed or disposed of the files--an invaluable resource, an incalculable loss, another Weird Tales disaster like so many others. Robert Weinberg never saw the original files. He certainly didn't know the real identity of Allison V. Harding. I base that on an exchange of email messages I had with the late Mr. Weinberg in 2011 after he had read my article.

When I say that we knew only a few things from Sam Moskowitz about Allison V. Harding, there were really only two as far as I can tell. Two other things he told us were assumptions, one strong, the other weak. The last was just plain wrong.

First, the things we knew:

1. Checks for payment for the Harding stories were sent to a woman named Jean Milligan.

2. They were addressed to her at an attorney's office in New York City.

Now the assumptions:

3. Because she received payment for the Harding stories, Jean Milligan was their author.

4. Because she received her payments at an attorney's office, she was an attorney.

Finally, the one bit of information provided by Sam Moskowitz that was incorrect:

5. Jean Milligan was no longer living when he provided his information.


No. 1 and No. 2 are simple facts. We can assume that Moskowitz was telling the truth when he put them forth.

As for No. 3, I'd say that's a pretty fair assumption. Put another way, if we apply Occam's Razor to the problem, then we have the simplest answer: Jean Milligan was Allison V. Harding.

As far as I can tell, No. 4 is one assumption too far. Just because a person receives mail at an attorney's office doesn't mean that she was an attorney. It looks like other researchers have looked into this recently and haven't found any evidence that Jean Milligan was an attorney. She may not have had even a college degree.

I'm not sure why Moskowitz wrote that Jean Milligan had died. Maybe he came up with that himself. Maybe Margulies gave him that bit of information. If that's the case, I wonder whether Margulies knew her identity and was protecting her for some reason. Then again, maybe one man or the other was just plain mistaken. All of this is mere speculation.

I recently read an article called "The Elusive Allison V. Harding and How to Suppress Women’s Writing . . . Again" by Cora Buhlert. The article is posted on Ms. Buhlert's own website and is dated November 12, 2020. You can read it by clicking here. My reading of Cora Buhlert's article comes from a comment (a link) made by Jean-Yves on this blog on June 4, 2022. Thank you, Jean-Yves.

Cora Buhlert offers a defense of Jean Milligan as Allison V. Harding, as well of her work. Part of her discussion is based on a work of criticism called How to Suppress Women's Writing by Joanna Russ, from 1983. I haven't read that book, but critiques made by Ms. Russ and in turn Ms. Buhlert carry some weight, especially when you consider a review of the Harding stories made by a writer for The Paperback Warrior and quoted at length in Cora Buhlert's essay.

I have made my own speculations about the author of the Allison V. Harding stories. One is that Jean Milligan's future husband, Lamont Buchanan, associate editor of Weird Tales, was the real author of the Harding stories. Anyway, I don't find the Warrior reviewer's argument very convincing. Cora Buhlert is more convincing in refuting it. But then she makes her own arguments that are also based on assumptions and not entirely convincing. For example, she writes that "even if Lamont Buchanan wrote the stories, it makes no sense for him to use a female pen name." Well why not? How can anyone today say what he or anyone else was thinking when all of this happened more than seventy years ago, especially considering that all of the principals are now gone from this good earth? That's one of the problems with this whole strange case of Allison V. Harding: almost all of the evidence is gone. What remains is either circumstantial or solely in the form of the stories themselves. Lamont Buchanan and Jean Milligan are supposed to have been hoarders. I'd like to think that there are still manuscripts, typescripts, correspondence, and so on among their possessions. On the other hand, knowing what I know about hoarders in my own family, there may be nothing of value left. We may have to accept that the evidence is gone. And so the mystery will likely remain until the end.

Again, I have speculated that Lamont Buchanan was the real author of the Harding stories. I'm willing to consider that he and his future wife worked on at least some of the stories together, in other words that they were co-authors. And I'm willing to consider that everything is as it appears on the surface: Jean Milligan was Allison V. Harding. But that would mean dismissing my feelings and intuition in my reading of the Harding stories, especially The Damp Man stories of 1947-1949.

Again, I'm not trying to take anything away from a woman author, nor to silence her or erase her or cancel her or any other such thing. I am not trying to suppress women's writing. I like and appreciate women's writing in fact. Some of my favorite books have women as their authors: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847), To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960), Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (1974). One of my favorite science fiction/fantasy authors, C.L. Moore, was a woman. (And favorite not just because she grew up just four or five blocks away from where I grew up sixty years later.) I wrote recently about Kate Wilhelm, a wonderfully good writer who, for example, pulled off a near tour de force in her novella "The Plastic Abyss" (1973)Very often, women writers can offer things that their male counterparts seem unable to offer, or that they offer only with difficulty, for example, mood, emotion, color, genuine human feeling, depth of personality, sensitivity, perception, and so on.

Again, I base the idea that Buchanan was Harding more than anything on the stories themselves--not by trying to take anything away from Jean Milligan but by not putting things on her that don't belong. What I mean is that at least two of the Harding stories--"The Damp Man Again" and "Take the Z Train"--seem to issue from the male psyche and not at all from the female. "The Damp Man Again" in particular is a man's story. A woman may be able to approximate what a man thinks, but the author of this story seems to have had firsthand knowledge of a man's state of mind, of a sick man's cruelty, misogyny, and warped, sick, and twisted thinking in regards to women. I believe the author of that story didn't just imagine The Damp Man's state of mind--he actually lived it, even if only for moments at a time. We should remember that Buchanan had not yet married when The Damp Man stories were published. His being joined to Jean Milligan was still three years in the future when the last appeared in May 1949. Anyway, a woman doesn't think these things about other women, or at least I don't think she does. I'm not a woman, though, and never will be. I can't say for sure. What we need is for a sensitive and perceptive female literary critic to read the Allison V. Harding stories and let us know what she thinks.

Is anyone up to it?

Several years ago I contacted New Canaan High School in Connecticut looking for a yearbook in which a picture of Jean Milligan might have appeared. They didn't have anything from that long ago. I didn't think to ask about the large class pictures that used to hang on the walls of our high schools. (Do they still?) Someone else thought of it, though, and took this picture--a pretty poor one to be sure--and posted it on the Internet. So now, finally, we have a likeness of Jean Milligan, assuming this is she. She looks genuinely happy and cheerful. I hope that lasted for a very long time to come.

Thank you to the photographer.

Text copyright 2022 by Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Fantasy Against the Machine

If you're looking for an example of the antipathy that fantasy might have towards science fiction, That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis (1945) would be a place to start. One of the basic ideas in this blog is that, being about the past, fantasy and weird fiction (other genres, too) tend towards conservatism. Science fiction is of course about the future and tends to be progressive. That's not a perfect formulation. There is conservative science fiction and progressive fantasy and weird fiction. That Hideous Strength in particular, though, is fantasy rather than science fiction and conservative rather than progressive. The author's opposite--a figure he pretty effectively skewers in That Hideous Strength--is H.G. Wells, a father of science fiction in Britain.

My formulation is useful in its way, but it goes only so far. As always, we should take things as they are and not try to theorize too much, label too much, categorize too much, least of all intellectualize too much. Too many of the horrors of the past century have come from intellectualized systems and from the desire to turn things and people into collectives and categories rather than to recognize and accept them as individuals. Marxism, for example, is a progressive intellectual system that seeks to collectivize--to render individual people into masses. It's a crime and an injustice to murder one person. Masses, though, can be slaughtered without hesitation or compunction.

There were other mass movements that worked their horrors during the twentieth century. Nazism and fascism were two. The facile mind calls them far-right or rightwing, less often conservative. Another imperfect formulation. Nazism and fascism were, I think, more complicated than any of that, certainly irrational and hard to describe. They were backward-looking in their way, but they were also progressive, collectivist, and socialist. We should always remember that: nazism and fascism were socialist systems. Mussolini was a dyed-in-the-wool socialist. The Nazis had the word socialism in their very name. I'm not sure that these two groups tried to hang their hats on an intellectualized idea like Marxism did. There was a pretty large dose of irrationalism and romanticism in them, especially in nazism, I think. In contrast, the Marxists liked to pass off their system as strictly scientific, never mind such antiscientific ideas as Lysenkoism. Marxists understood then and understand now that if it's scientific, it is, in our modern age, held to be undeniable and indisputable. We have with us now the pejoratives "anti-science" and "science denier," a term that I believe is meant to invoke the far more pernicious idea--a neo-nazi idea, I guess--of being a Holocaust denier. If you question The Science™ you're basically a Nazi, you Nazi, so don't do it. We should remember that Nazis especially had their own brands of pseudoscience, including racial "science." On the other hand, they also came up with real-life, hard-science gadgets such as jet engines, guided missiles, and rockets, in other words, the stuff of science fiction.

I'm writing about this now because of a real-world development of which I was totally unaware until I read about the Italian elections taking place today. (I write on Sunday, September 25, 2022.) The expected winner of the premiership is Giorgia Meloni. (She will make the second female conservative or supposed conservative to take control of a European government this month.) It's probably not too strong to say that progressives hate her. They probably also fear her. (The hate may come from the fear.) They call her far-right and say she's a fascist. I don't know the ins and outs of these things. Good luck trying to understand the intricacies of Italian politics--unless you're Italian. Politics seems to be one of their national hobbies--there is no word for "hobby" in the Italian language--passions, obsessions, and pastimes all rolled into one. It's no coincidence, by the way, that manifesto is an Italian word. They turn to us for hobbies, we to them for manifestiAnyway, I find that Signora Meloni is a fan of fantasy, especially J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. In fact, she considers the books "a sacred text." (1) And she attended at least one of Italy's Hobbit Camps (Campo Hobbit), an institution I had never heard of until today. Things are getting interesting.

So--or allora because we're talking about Italy--if you read about Giorgia Meloni and Hobbit Camps, you are likely to see the words "fascist" and "far-right" over and over again. (See if you can get someone to give you a nickel every time you read them.) For example, here is a link to an article called "How 'Hobbit Camps' Rebirthed Italian Fascism" by John Last, from the website Atlas Obscura, dated October 3, 2017. It's an interesting article, even if it seems meant to scare you. (There is talk about people dressed like the fascists of old, yet all of the pictures in the article are of typical non-scary 1970s people. The flags are a little worrying, though.) There are also attempts to tie Tolkien to fascism and fascist ideas. But then that's a standard tactic for progressives, who seem to fall back on their own faulty formulation, that everything they don't like is fascist. Just look at our current president, John Gill, who has stopped short of calling half of his fellow Americans fully fascist by his use of just two syllables, sem- and -i-, this while standing in front of a lurid, blood-red background, flanked by two faceless members of his military, while shouting and shaking his fists in anger. (2) Sometimes irony can be pretty ironic. (3)

And now I wonder if any government, political party, or political movement has ever been based on a work of science fiction or a science-fictional idea . . .

Anyway again, we should be wary of writers and journalists who let their own ideas about things distort their writing and reporting. If you have already drawn the conclusion that Giorgia Meloni and Hobbit Camps are fascist, then every bit of evidence that you find can only confirm that conclusion. There is no longer any room for balance or straight presentations of fact. Maybe she is and maybe she isn't. Maybe they are and maybe they aren't. But write about those questions. Look for those answers. Don't tell us what you think. We don't really care what you think. And especially don't tell us what to think. Given the facts, we're smart enough to draw our own conclusions.

To get back to C.S. Lewis (remember him from the beginning of this essay?), well, he and Tolkien were friends. Both were Christians. Both were conservative. Both were authors of fantasy. Both were more or less traditionalist and anti-modernist. One at least had some antipathy towards science fiction, especially a prominent author of science fiction, H.G. Wells. Do we know anything about how Tolkien felt about science fiction?

Allora, finally, we have a literary work of the twentieth century, written by a Catholic and culturally conservative author, which has been embraced by what may actually be a pagan political movement. (Remember, believers in Christ hold up a different book as their lone "sacred text.") That political movement may or may not be rightwing or fascist, meaning it may or may not be some possible weird combination of progressive and conservative; working class and middle class; backward-looking and forward-looking; irrational, romantic, and pseudoscientific; and so on. It may or may not hold certain cultural and historical or pseudo-historical ideas that may or may not be diagnostic of fascism. But it's about to take over the reins of power in Italy. I have a feeling that it's not fascist and not scary after all. But we're supposed to believe that it is because people who adhere to the other side--a side responsible for its own myriads of atrocities during the last century--tells us to believe that. It's all so convoluted that you could write a book--maybe a long trilogy complete with maps and songs--about it and maybe still not wear out all of the possibilities. And all of this follows the birth week of both Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. What an interesting world we live in!


(1) According to Jason Horowitz in his article "Hobbits and the Hard Right: How Fantasy Inspires Italy's Potential New Leader," in the New York Times, September 21, 2022.

(2) John Gill, of course, is a character from Star Trek, which has also been called fascist.

(3) Here is a link to another article, "Of Hobbits and Tigers: The Unlikely Heroes of Italy's Radical Right" by Tobias Hof on the website Fair Observer, December 23, 2020.

"Faramir," an episode from the Hildebrandt Brothers' J.R.R. Tolkien calendar for June 1977, the month during which the first Hobbit Camp was held in Italy and just six months after Giorgia Meloni was born. Sorry for the digital watermark. I guess some numbskull on the Internet believes that he owns this image just because he digitized it. These things are like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant and calling it his.

Update (Sept. 27, 2022): The news is now that Giorgia Meloni will in fact be prime minister of Italy. She will be the first woman to hold that position. I think that's supposed to make her "historic," but good luck hearing anything about that in the mainstream media. Instead, the drumbeat message of the past couple of days is that she's a fascist. That will go on I'm sure. I have seen a few videos of Signora Meloni speaking in that time. Now I know why the left hates and fears her so much, for she stands firmly and fiercely against their organizing principle, which is that there shall be nothing to intervene between the individual and the State, and now, in the twenty-first century, all of the State's associated corporate and transnational bodies. Let's remember Mussolini's words, which are in contrast to Signora Meloni's: "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State."

In the videos I have seen, Signora Meloni speaks for faith and family and against the State, for her own nation and people and against internationalism, transnationalism, and globalism, for the things that make us individual, spiritual, and human and against corporatism, consumerism, and materialism. It's worth noting that her opposite, Ursula von der Leyen, German of course, now speaks with all arrogance of "the tools" by which Signora Meloni will be made to heel and the Italian people presumably punished for choosing her. It was a democratic election but with an undesired outcome, and so the media howl and Frau von der Leyen and people like her scheme and plan against it.

In seeing the video of Ursula von der Leyen, I remember two things: First, I remember something that my Italian friend told me, that in World War II, the Nazis did not want to let go of Italy, that they treasured it more than any other place they had conquered. You can ask Italians now how Germans in their country conduct themselves and how they see and treat bell'Italia and her people. Second, I remember the film Roma città aperta (1945) in which the Italian people are shown as being for life, family, children, and humanity. They are full of hope and strive to be free. In contrast, their Nazi occupiers are sterile, perverted, oppressive, despairing, and anti-human, seeking only "morden, morden, morden!" Those are the unforgettable words of Captain Hartmann, who also says, "We Germans refuse to realize that people want to be free."*

We'll see how things go. One thing I know for sure is that we--humanity--will live and be free. Those arrayed against us can only perish along with all of their grand ideas, which are built of course upon foundations of slime.


*Another imperfect formulation: Giorgia Meloni as the Italian Pina (played by Anna Magnani) versus Ursula von der Leyen as the German Nazi Ingrid (dubbed by Roswita Schmidt). Maybe we can work Klaus Schwab into that formulation somehow.

Original text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Edna Bell Seward at the Indiana Society Dinner

You may have noticed that I haven't written very much lately. That includes not writing replies to comments left on this blog. I'll do my best to catch up, beginning with a reply to a comment left by Anonymous at the bottom of my article on Edna Bell Seward (1877-1963). I last wrote about Edna Bell Seward on November 16, 2018, here. She wrote one letter to "The Eyrie" and one story in Weird Tales. It's called "The Land of Creeping Death" and it appeared in the issue of June 1927, ninety-five years ago this summer.

Edna Bell Seward was married more than once. Her last husband (I think) was George Morton Seward (1856-1926). Seward was from Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. In the 1920s, he and his wife lived in Chicago, Illinois. For those of you who don't know where Chicago is, it's slightly to the west and a little to the north of Indiana. I don't have to tell you where Indiana is because we all know that already.

In the early part of the twentieth century, a group of Hoosiers, living in exile, formed the Indiana Society of Chicago. George Ade (1866-1944), famous for his Fables in Slang, was a founding member. Ade's friend and fellow Purdue University alumnus John McCutcheon (1870-1949) was also a member. The comment left by Anonymous is actually a link to a newspaper article about the 18th Annual Dinner of the Indiana Society of Chicago, held on December 9, 1922, at the Drake Hotel. The article is called "Indiana Society Honors Mrs. Seward." It's from The Highland Park Press, December 14, 1922, page 1 (column 6) and page 14. Included in the article is a photograph of Mrs. Seward, the same one I used in 2018 when I wrote about her. Click here to see the article. According to the article, "Mrs. Seward wrote the lyrics for all of the satires and songs that were featured during the evening." This was when Americans still had fun.

Reading about that dinner in 1922 led me to a further search on the Internet. As a result I found images of the original program book for the evening's events. These are on a website called Indiana Memory. Here is the URL:

In looking through the book, I made another discovery, namely that Mr. Seward was an artist of sorts. Here is his revised map of Indiana for 1922:

It looks like the revisions are to accommodate the Hoosier State's bulging Literary Belt, which is encroaching on neighboring Illinois and Ohio. Note the "Manuscript Special for Eastern Markets." Some of the references here are probably obscure for the unfortunate non-Hoosiers among us. For example, the southwestern-most county in Indiana is named Posey. Look for the flowers. Still others are obscure even for native Indianians. I would have to do a little research to figure out what a couple of these things mean. By the way, that's Abe Martin in the middle, a creation of Kin Hubbard (1868-1930) of Indianapolis.

George Seward's map is from a century ago. Time flies. At the time, Indiana was in its Golden Age of Literature, hence the bulges. In 1922, in fact, Booth Tarkington (1869-1946) won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his novel Alice Adams (1921). Katherine Hepburn played the title character in a film adaptation of Alice Adams in 1935. The movie poster puts Tarkington's name on prominent display. Unfortunately for him and his fellows, few of the Indiana writers from that Golden Age are read today. But before you dismiss Indiana and its forgotten writers, remember that Weird Tales had its editorial offices in Indianapolis from its founding in 1923 until moving to Chicago in 1926. Remember, too, that, facing ruin, "The Unique Magazine" was saved by Cornelius Printing Company of Indianapolis and that the magazine originated from the Circle City--or Naptown as jazz musicians call it--until 1938 when it was sold to Short Stories, Inc., and made its final move to Manhattan.

Thanks to Anonymous for the link.

Text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, September 19, 2022

The Queen and the Professor

As I write, the funeral cortege for Queen Elizabeth II is about to enter Windsor Castle. She will be interred this afternoon. So her seventy years' reign reaches its end and we are severed again from the historical past. This pleases some people, who want to destroy the past, all custom, and all tradition. They are people who essentially seek to overthrow reality and to usher in something they believe to be new. They believe, I think, that they can create something new, that reality--the universe and all of its laws and underpinnings, all of nature, including human nature, more things still--is both flawed and alterable. This is the progressive program, I think, and it rages against conservatism. Progressivism is in more than one heir to the queen's throne. I hope that they may draw back once they realize that the time for playing games is behind them. I think the survival of their nation is at stake. I'm an American and farther back than that Irish, but if we are forced to choose between mooring ourselves to the verities and certainties of the past and unmooring ourselves from those things and casting ourselves into storms of chaos, then I think we have to choose the safe harbors of the past. Life and living depend on it.

C.S. Lewis wrote about progressivism. In The Screwtape Letters (1942), in the voice of the demon Screwtape, he wrote:

     But the greatest triumph of all is to elevate this horror of the Same Old Thing into a philosophy so that nonsense in the intellect may reinforce corruption in the will. It is here that the general Evolutionary or Historical character of modern European thought (partly our work) comes in so useful. The Enemy [i.e., God] loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking "Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?" they will neglect the relevant questions. [. . .] And great work has already been done. Once they knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and others again indifferent. We have largely removed this knowledge. For the descriptive adjective "unchanged" we have substituted the emotional adjective "stagnant." We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain--not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is[.] [Emphasis added.]

In That Hideous Strength (1945), Lewis created among other things an organization called the National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments, or N.I.C.E. The aims of N.I.C.E. can only be called progressive: they seek to overthrow the past, transcend their bodies, and make of themselves as gods. They are of course defeated, as any rebellion against reality must be.

This summer I read an article called "Lockdown and the Price of Suppressing Dissent" on the website Spiked (Aug. 26, 2022). The author is Fraser Myers. In his article, Mr. Myers mentions another organization, this one apparently real. It's called SAGE, for Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. According to Mr. Myers, SAGE's "unelected advisers were effectively 'empowered' to set policy during the pandemic, with little pushback from the government." As soon as I saw that acronym, my thoughts went immediately to That Hideous Strength. Again, there is predictive power in the conservative imagination.

Queen Elizabeth herself was subject to the COVID regime. Imagine: she was the queen and yet not sovereign in her own nation. At her husband's funeral, she was forced to sit alone in church. Meanwhile, her prime minister and all of his corrupt and morally decadent cronies partied on. The queen lived long enough to see him out of office, though, and to approve his successor. It was her last official act in fact. There may be some satisfaction in that. Like I wrote before, we can only hope that that new boss, who I believe is seated right now in the funeral chapel, will not be the same as the old boss, and that she will do something--anything--to banish even the smallest part of progressivism from her government and its policies.

I have been to so many funerals these past few years. Maybe you have been, too. It's hard to watch another one. It's hard to fall away from the past again. But there are still steadfast and imperishable things. We can still hold on to them. The priests have called the queen a "most excellent" monarch. That she was. I don't think we'll see her like again.

Original text copyright 2022, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, September 11, 2022

The Phantom of Flatwoods

Seventy years ago this weekend, a West Virginia woman and a group of boys were coming back from the fright of their lives. On Friday evening they had gone up a hill in their hometown of Flatwoods in search of a flying saucer. They came back down soon enough after encountering a creature that came to be known variously as the Phantom of Flatwoods, the Braxton County Monster, the Green Monster, and most famously the Flatwoods Monster. The monster's ace-of-spades headshot is also famous. Fans would know it anywhere.

Two years before, on May 26, 1950, Lippert Pictures had released the science fiction film Rocketship X-M. In doing so, the company had beaten George Pal and his film Destination Moon to the punch, but only by a month and a day. Both have become classics of science fiction filmmaking, for fans if for no one else. Destination Moon is based on Robert A. Heinlein's novel Rocket Ship Galileo, from 1947. It was the first of his many juvenile science fiction novels. Don't let the "juvenile" appellation fool you, though. Heinlein's juveniles are very good books and better than many novels written for adults.

The setup in Rocketship X-M is roughly the reverse of the setup in Edgar Rice Burroughs' planetary romance The Moon Maid (1923): the travelers in The Moon Maid are aiming at Mars and end up on the Moon, while those in Rocketship X-M mean to go to the Moon and end up on Mars. The movie itself is based in part on an article called "Rocket to the Moon" that appeared in Life magazine for January 17, 1949. Here's a still from the movie, the rocketship here based on the original article:

Remember that part where I said that fans of the Flatwoods Monster will recognize the ace-of-spades-like head or helmet of the creature anywhere? Well, I think there might be some recognizing going on right now.

I have written before that flying saucers come from science fiction, not from outer space. I have also written that before these things can be seen, they must be imagined. I was not there on that long-ago Friday as twilight crept over a misty hilltop in central West Virginia. (I was there, in Flatwoods, this Friday, though.) I don't know what the witnesses saw. But I feel certain that they saw something they could not explain and that terrified them. They were primed to see something, though: they went up the hill to look for a flying saucer they thought had landed there. In other words, science fiction had placed a vision in their heads. You could say that fantasy or horror or weird fiction had placed a vision there, too, for the Flatwoods Monster was the first monster of the flying saucer era. It remains as one the best. And the story of the monster and of the encounter is a real story, one that makes them appealing even now, seventy years later.


I dedicate this to Jane, Steve's mother, who was born there and remembers the event. With a borrowed dollar, she bought a coloring book from me and put me over the top for one of my own events. I dedicate it to my own mother, too, who didn't remember the original event at all, even though her young son implored her and expected her to.

Text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Notes on Heinlein

When I last wrote, I wrote about Robert A. Heinlein. I'll write some more about him today.

I read Starship Troopers (1959) earlier this year for the first time. I read it in a weird format and kind of cheap edition published by Ace/Berkeley in 2010. For some reason mass market paperbacks are taller than they used to be. Maybe they have hybridized with more upscale and respectable trade paperbacks. The sensationalistic covers are gone, too, replaced by art that seems to have been created by a computer.

I never knew it, but the movie Aliens (1986) is essentially Starship Troopers. There is no getting around that realization as you read the book, likewise if you read the book first and then see the movie. Aliens is Starship Troopers.

Starship Troopers is heavy on hardware. In fact, there are almost pornographic descriptions of weapons, spaceships, and armored suits in the book. In that way, it hearkens back to the hard science fiction of the 1930s and 1940s, when Heinlein got his start. You could say that Starship Troopers is written in prose guaranteed to make your science fiction hard.

Starship Troopers hearkens back to an earlier time, too, to the author's own naval/military career of the 1920s and '30s. Last year I read Heinlein's Glory Road (1963). Glory Road is a book of nostalgia, this one for Heinlein's childhood reading and dreaming, especially in regards to the Martian novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. That made me think that we should be on the lookout for a third book in a possible Nostalgia Trilogy written by Robert Heinlein. If there is one, it probably came during the same period of Heinlein's writing career. Remember that he turned fifty in 1957.

I'll record just one quote from Starship Troopers, this one for today--not today as in September 8, 2022, but as in Today:

"That was the sliver of justification underlying the attempted coup d'état just before the Treaty of New Delhi, the so-called 'Revolt of the Scientists': let the intelligent elite run things and you'll have utopia. It fell flat on its foolish face of course. Because the pursuit of science, despite its social benefits, is itself not a social virtue; its practitioners can be men so self-centered as to be lacking in social responsibility." (pp. 230-231)

I might replace can be with are. Witness the trail of death and suffering left by the scientists' recent virus.

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The blurb on the cover of my weird edition uses the word controversial in reference to Starship Troopers. That used to be just a word. Now it's more often a code word meaning something we don't agree with. People call Heinlein or his works fascist, a word that has lost almost all meaning due to overuse and inaccurate use. Not long ago, I saw a snippet of an old interview with George Michael. He said he liked the group Joy Division but called them fascist. I don't know about the politics of Thatcher-era music in the United Kingdom, but that seems a little odd to me.

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Speaking of British music, I was listening to The Who the other day when word came that the United Kingdom has a new prime minister. One of the songs that played closes with the words: "Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss." We can hope for better things whenever there's a new boss, but usually it's just more of the same. Or maybe worse. Remember the saying, "Hope is for the hopeless."

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And speaking of leaders, Queen Elizabeth II died today. I feel for her children, her family, and her whole nation. All of the dying and all of the grief have taken their toll on us all. It's the main reason it has been so long since I last wrote.

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Nichelle Nichols died this summer, too, on July 30, 2022. She sang a science-fictional song, "Beyond Antares." Now she has gone there, beyond Antares, and we wish her well in her journey. Robert A. Heinlein alluded to another science-fictional song, written by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, in his title "The Green Hills of Earth" (1947). Heinlein dedicated one of his last works, the novel Friday (1982), to the woman who played Lieutenant Uhura. A circle for today closes.

Starship Troopers, the dust jacket of the original hardbound edition of Heinlein's loved and (I guess) hated novel. The cover artist was the cartoonist, comic book artist, and comics historian Jerry Robinson (1922-2011). We're in the centennial year of the late Mr. Robinson's birth. Let us never forget him.

Original text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley