" In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again"

Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Clare Winger Harris, the first woman published in Amazing Stories




Some time ago Helen sent me the link below to Brad Ricca's introduction for the collection The Artificial Man and Other Stories, by Clare Winger Harris, Belt Publishing (2019). The introduction was a well written piece providing some real insights into Harris' career (she only published from 1926-1933)  and subsequent life. I was also intrigued that she lived in Lakewood, Ohio outside Cleveland when she wrote her stories. I was born in Windsor and had cousins in Cleveland who we visited a number of times. I have always have an attraction to "rust belt" writers who transformed the landscapes of my youth into the material of science fiction, evolutionary mishaps, mad scientists, alien worlds, far future Earths etc..

https://lithub.com/meet-the-reclusive-woman-who-became-a-pioneer-of-science-fiction/

Ann and Jeff Vandermeer included Harris' story "The Fate of the Poseidonia"​ in The Big Book of Science Fiction,  (which I would urge you to buy), and I had read it there. In their introduction to the story they note;

Clare Winger Harris (1891–1968), a US writer, was the first woman to publish science fiction in the first generation of American pulp magazines. Her first story publication was “A Runaway World” in the July 1926 issue of Weird Tales. Harris wrote about women protagonists fairly regularly, especially in stories like “The Fifth Dimension” (Amazing Stories, December 1928) and “The Ape Cycle” (Science Wonder Quarterly, Spring 1930). In an environment that suffered from a dearth of strong female characters, this fact made Harris an early feminist in the field by default. Her work also contained a preoccupation with creatures not quite human, cyborgs and ape-people in particular. Although Harris has been reprinted frequently in the modern era, when she first assembled her work in Away from the Here and Now: Stories in Pseudo-Science (1947), she had to resort to self-publication through a vanity press. The story reprinted here, “The Fate of the Poseidonia” (1927), also features a female lead and won third prize in an Amazing Stories contest. In addition to portraying women in a way uncommon for the times, the story deals with the surprisingly modern themes of fear of technology and loss of privacy. This was the first science fiction story by a woman published in that magazine. 

They go on to say that  "Harris went on to publish eleven more stories with Gernsback over the next three years. She stopped writing in order to see to the education of her children, but her name in the table of contents inspired other women to write and submit their own stories."


The Big Book of Science Fiction (p. 62). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 


I have to say that I was perhaps a bit lukewarm on Harris'  "The Fate of the Poseidonia". I found it a bit long. The story takes place in 1945. The protaganist Gregory meets a man named Martell at a party. Martell is swarty, copper coloured, not unlike that of an American Indian. He is wearing a skull cap, his hand feels sponge like, and when the lights are extinguished for a slide show (lantern) his eyes glow in the dark. He also emits an air of distinct hostility toward Gregory. Gregory instantly dislikes and distrusts as well Martell, a situation that is not improved when Margaret Landon the young lady Gregory is interested in not only becomes interested in Martell, but breaks off relations with Gregory when he persistently try to warn her against him. Against this background of romantic entanglement the Earth begins to loose vast quantities of sea water. I found Harris' story as I said a bit overlong, but it was not atypical of other works of the period, the characterization was fairly perfunctory and the plot somewhat melodramatic and romanticized. Landon does play a greater role in the plot than many of the female characters of the period, and shows some independence of thought. 



The story and Ricca's introduction (as well as the cover by J.M.?) did inspire me to get my own copy of her collection Away From The Here and Now, published by Dorrance & Company in 1947. I have to admit the subtitle "Stories in Pseudo-Science", a claim that could rightly be applied to much of science fiction, right through the John W. Campbell period and beyond, also attracted me. I found the information on the back of the book especially interesting. As it is a self published work, Harris has taken the opportunity to include information on each of her three sons and their service in the Second World War.



I did want to look at another of Harris' stories for this post, and well I could not resist the Paul illustration below. 



 It appeared in the Winter Edition of Amazing Stories Quarterly for 1929.



And the editor gives her story a nice introductory paragraph. Sorry it is a bit fuzzy.


This discussion will include spoilers, I warn you now.  

"" I believe you three fellows are going to startle the world yet" Professor Lewis of the Biology department remarked." The three in question are Ted Marston, the brightest of the lot and the holder of some interesting ideas about evolution and bacteria, Irwin Stanley the heir to a large fortune, and Fred Caldwell who will act as the narrator of the story. Despite their closeness, the three soon part ways. Stanley offers to finance Marston's experiments, and the two of them retire to the Stanley estate. Caldwell stays at the university as Lewis's assistant. He does not hear from his friends until the that summer when they invite him to the estate. Upon his arrival he meets Stanley's mother who begs him to convince them to stop their experiments. It seems one involved her cat Cutey who soon makes an appearance in search of Caldwell.

"It stood upright on two clumsily padded feet. Furless, its flesh the color of a decaying corpse, it seemed to me a miniature ghoul. The lidless eyes stared into mine with implacable hatred. But it was what I presume had once been whiskers that held my half reluctant, half fascinated attention. They bristled separately as though imbued with individual volition.
  Suddenly a shrill whining voice spoke and I forced my eyes from whence it came. It issued from the tiny malformed object on the rug; a travesty on feline beauty as we know it.
  "You are wanted in the laboratory. Come at once."

One the way to the lab Caldwell meets Dorothy, Stanley's younger sister, a beautiful but rather insipid young lady. She admits she finds Cutey a dear and quite intelligent. She also indicates that Marston is in control and Caldwell realizes she is infatuated with him. Having met Cutey Caldwell's reunion with his friends does not go well and rather than join them in their work he goes back to the university. Before he leaves Stanley admits to some worries about Marston's approach and he indicates that he fears Marston has introduced some of the evolutionary bacteria into his own system. Stanley also admits that he is unable to free himself from Marston's control. 

Caldwell leaves, three years pass. Caldwell assumes Professor Lewis' s position upon his death. He has read of Mrs Stanley's death two years earlier. When he finally attempts to visit, some feeling of fear drives his away. It is not until he receives a note from Dorothy Stanley asking for his  help that he can bring himself to intervene. Caldwell goes to the estate and meets Dorothy. She has not seen Marston in over a year, all contact is through her brother who is his helpless tool. He has told her Marston means to rule the world and wants her as his queen. Her brother also administered the first of what is supposed to be a series of injections of the bacteria injections to Dorothy. Stanley appears with another injection, Caldwell notes Stanley seems to have become "more primitive", he knocks Stanley down to protect Dorothy. Caldwell and Dorothy are in love, within two pages, wow.  Caldwell take Stanley back to the lab, before he leaves he assures Dorothy that "Environment must play a part in the future development of the race, and Ted has no greater environmental experience then we have had. His physical body may have changed but not exactly as ours will, for the mollifying influence of man's changing surroundings would tend to soften and temper any radical tendencies of development." That is good to know because between Harris's description and Paul's illustration, Marsten has not faired well. 

              

Once interesting note is that Dorothy admits to Caldwell that her maturity may not be the result of her experiences but rather the result of the initial injection, which also left her with a feeling of increased well being. Hopefully there will be no other side effects, as Marsten is eventually defeated and lovebirds reunited. Much like the "The Fate of the Poseidonia"​ Harris has provided a fairly standard pulp story. In this case we have a mad scientist bent on world domination, a brutish minion, a damsel in distress and a intrepid hero. I was surprised with how quickly Caldwell and Dorothy formed such a strong attachment but Gernsback subtitled his own signature work, (reprinted in this issue), Ralph 124C  41+ A Romance of the Year 2660, and both of the Harris works discussed here have the same strong romantic structure. To some extent I think that may be one of the factors ( as well as her gender) that lead Harris to try imbue more life into her female characters that some other pulp writers.

Keeping in mind remember that Harris would later call her work, stories in pseudo-science, Gernsback perhaps to add some appearance of verisimilitude to the speculations in Harris' story, inserted a sidebar containing a column from the UP (United Press) on Wallin's "Theory of Evolution" on one of the pages of the story.

A brief discussion of Wallin's work can be found here.


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Gene Wolfe (May 7, 1931 – April 14, 2019)


I have not read as much Gene Wolfe as I should have but I did read The Book of the New Sun. Rather that providing my comments, I thought I would let you read Michael Dirda and Gene Wolfe's discussion of the series here.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/entertainment/books/1983/01/30/gene-wolfe-talks-alout-the-book-of-the-new-sun/4314a055-0d38-4d69-ae03-d80f961fe938/?utm_term=.91e7c97313a5

For an overview of his career you might like this tribute from the Guardian.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/apr/16/gene-wolfe-science-fiction-author-dies-aged-87

And a nice post with links can be found at, Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased, Adventures in Fiction

https://yellowedandcreased.wordpress.com/2019/04/22/in-memoriam-gene-wolfe/

I found this link to fascinating article on Wolfe in the New Republic there;

https://newrepublic.com/article/153615/gene-wolfe-proust-science-fiction

The Timescale edition above has my favourite Wolfe cover, it is by Don Maitz.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Robots


  My buddy Doug sent me a clip of this advance in robot locomotion. 10 years of progress in Boston Dynamics robotics GIF.

https://gfycat.com/dapperdamagedkoi

  
I have to admit I found it somewhat frightening. My comment to Doug was, "Pretty cool I would feel even better if I did not think it was probably designed to kill me in my bed. Too much SF, maybe." Doug suggested that I would hear it coming. All the more reason to allow all three dogs to sleep in the bed, (like they would move anyway). But hearing it coming and doing anything about it will, I suspect be two very different things.


  I have been thinking about robots a bit, in part because they appear in so much of the science fiction art I see, in part because they were a huge element in the first science fiction I read. 


  Asimov's robots were my first memorable introduction. But they were constrained, we hoped, by the 3 laws. Then there were lots of robots, good bad and indifferent, but for me the next really memorable robots were Simak's. 


They were everywhere, often as domestic help. Jenkins in City looks after the dogs, Richard Daniel in All the Traps of Earth is a servitor who has outlived his owners, Elmer in Cemetery World is a free robot who earned his living as a construction robot. Then you have the superseded robots who have adopted earthly religions that men have mostly abandoned, Simak must have liked this idea, they appear in in a number of this novels including Project Pope and A Choice of Gods.











But mostly they seemed to have entered domestic service. As this cover for Special Deliverance featuring a tea making Jurgens can attest. 

Jack Williamson in the story "With Folded Hands" indicated the even well meaning robots could go bad, but let us not go there for now.

Jurgens' shape above, was the robot shape I expected, bipedal, head, two arms, two legs, pretty much us in armour with a couple flashing lights.

Some even acted like us.


                


The first ones we got, in my home town of Windsor were not metal us, but basically arms with tools grafted on. They could not move freely or communicate, they didn't even have heads or legs. They could only perform simple repetitive tasks and violate, a cynic might say, all three laws.

This idea of robots and machine culture in general has progressed of course with golems, drones and AI's getting citizenship in Bank's Culture or Asher's Polarity series. And Well's Murderbot does seem to blur the line a bit, human? machine?, though we all love her and wish her well.

  

Inhuman robots are still scary. They can really push our buttons.

Which is why I absolutely loved this CLARKSWORLD cover "We are the Robots" by Waldemar Kazak.

        

Any robots in your life?

Cover Credits;

Caves of Steel, Pyramid (1962) cover by Ralph Brillhart


I, Robot, cover by Robert E. Schulz


"Aesop", Astounding (1947) cover by Alejandro
Project Pope, cover by Rowena Morrill

A Choice of Gods, (1972) cover by Michael Hinge, you can tell it was the 70's I had shirts with these colours like this, sigh.

Special Deliverance, cover by Micheal Whelan

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science fiction, one of Mel Hunter's Lonely Robot covers, but in this one he has a friend.

The Case Against Tomorrow, cover by Richard Powers

City, (1958) cover by Ed Valigursky, possibly the king of robot illustrators for this period.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Annals of the Former World April 8, 2019 Issue The Day the Dinosaurs Died, New Yorker, Douglas Preston

  Since dinosaurs have been a major interest in my life, and a subject of abiding interest in science fiction books and films since the genre began, I though I would share this link to a fascinating New Yorker article about what could, potentially, be a fairly significant discovery. 

As article author, Douglas Preston (Dinosaurs in the Attic - An Excursion into the American Museum of Natural History) states:

A young paleontologist may have discovered a record of the most significant event in the history of life on Earth.


https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/08/the-day-the-dinosaurs-died




What the paleontologist Robert DePalma might have discovered are fossils laid down just after the asteroid impact that is believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. I have included a couple of quotes from the article. The first is part of the best description of the kind of damage the impact could have caused, that I can remember reading. As a science fiction fan the fact that the impact could have dispersed material, possibly even living microbes, so far out into space is quite exciting. It could be the dispersal that could launch a thousand plots one might suggest. The discussion of the finds themselves are incredible, hopefully this site will merit a documentary at the very least. So since I love dinosaurs and books, and books about the dinosaurs, plus dinosaurs in films and dinosaur models and since my most memorable birthday cake was one my mother covered with plastic dinosaurs, I wanted to share this link. And some photos of dinosaur goodies of course. Maybe this discovery is too good to be true, but I hope not, and so does that little boy looking at that cake, all those years ago.



"Some of the ejecta escaped Earth’s gravitational pull and went into irregular orbits around the sun. Over millions of years, bits of it found their way to other planets and moons in the solar system. Mars was eventually strewn with the debris—just as pieces of Mars, knocked aloft by ancient asteroid impacts, have been found on Earth. A 2013 study in the journal Astrobiology estimated that tens of thousands of pounds of impact rubble may have landed on Titan, a moon of Saturn, and on Europa and Callisto, which orbit Jupiter—three satellites that scientists believe may have promising habitats for life. Mathematical models indicate that at least some of this vagabond debris still harbored living microbes. The asteroid may have sown life throughout the solar system, even as it ravaged life on Earth."

  ------------------------------------------------------


“We have the whole KT event preserved in these sediments,” DePalma said. “With this deposit, we can chart what happened the day the Cretaceous died.” No paleontological site remotely like it had ever been found, and, if DePalma’s hypothesis proves correct, the scientific value of the site will be immense. When Walter Alvarez visited the dig last summer, he was astounded. “It is truly a magnificent site,” he wrote to me, adding that it’s “surely one of the best sites ever found for telling just what happened on the day of the impact.”


  ---------------------------------------------------------

But eventually life emerged and blossomed again, in new forms. The KT event continues to attract the interest of scientists in no small part because the ashen print it left on the planet is an existential reminder. “We wouldn’t be here talking on the phone if that meteorite hadn’t fallen,” Smit told me, with a laugh. DePalma agreed. For the first hundred million years of their existence, before the asteroid struck, mammals scurried about the feet of the dinosaurs, amounting to little. “But when the dinosaurs were gone it freed them,” DePalma said. In the next epoch, mammals underwent an explosion of adaptive radiation, evolving into a dazzling variety of forms, from tiny bats to gigantic titanotheres, from horses to whales, from fearsome creodonts to large-brained primates with hands that could grasp and minds that could see through time.

All quotes from the New Yorker, hopefully they will not mind.

Cover credits:

Dinosaur figures; Papo France

Prehistoric Animals; Zdenek Burian

Cryptozoic!; Don Punchatz

Analog; H. R. Van Dongen

Science Wonder Stories; Frank R. Paul

The Beast from 20,0000 Fathoms; VHS design?, signed by Ray Harryhausen at Royal Tyrrell Museum

Dinosaurs Past and Present; Cool Weather by William Stout

The Greatest Adventure; Ed Emshwiller

Saturday, March 30, 2019

(Weird Tales, Pt. 2) W. S. Merwin and Weird Tales; an unlikely combination



Here is the story I selected for the second Weird Tales science fiction story.

It is quite short, six pages, has almost no action and only one character. It is the kind of future history that I enjoy. Explorers visiting a uninhabited planet and trying to piece together what happened to the civilization from the ruins. For a very different take you might look at my post for "Omnilingual" by H. Beam Piper here,

https://ajaggedorbit.blogspot.com/2017/05/omnilingual-by-h-beam-piper.html

"The Red God Laughed" appeared in Weird Tales, for April 1939. The story in brief, concerns the visit to Earth by Thvall the Seeker, a kind of squishy, soft bodied alien who is visiting 21st Century Nu Yok. But while the incredible city, with four thousand foot high towers still stands, it seems Asia (the yellow races, yes we are back to the "yellow peril"), you can see my post, Weird Tales, Pt 1 for more on this topic, and America have unleashed poison gas rockets, (of course they started it), and destroyed almost all life on earth, except deep sea fishes, worms and plants. So Thvall, who is looking for a world with water for his dying planet wiggles around casting aspersions on the likelihood of a race with rigid skeletons developing intelligence. Until that is he fiddles with an unexploded canister and well, Merwin's poem sort of sums it up.

"Merwin’s great single-line poem—not the greatest short poem, but perhaps the shortest great poem, ever written—is about the converse problem, that of outliving. This is the poem in its entirety:"

"Who would I show it to"


https://www.newyorker.com/culture/postscript/the-final-prophecy-of-w-s-merwin


And with Thvall's death, his people will never learn of the planet that could save their race. Earth itself will be forgotten with no one to appreciate it's accomplishments or take warning from it's stupidity. I have always been fascinated by ruins, Darwinism, evolutionary theory and tales about the end of the world or even the universe. Science fiction in the pulps has lots of these stories that appeal to me. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has a lovely essay here;

http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/end_of_the_world

Another thing I find interesting is the period in which a story is written or read. I can rarely prove that any particular event influenced a writer. Also editors often held stories for years before publishing them which further confuses the issue. But one can make some statements about what the original reader would have been experiencing when they read the story. In this case the story concerns the outcome of a future war between Asia and America and 1939 the year it was published was a significant date. The Sino-Japanese War had been raging since 1937. In Sept 1938, Neville Chamberlain declared we would have "Peace in Our Time and five months after this story appeared Germany would invade Poland and the Second World War would begin. So the reader would perhaps have been reading or hearing many discussions about the possibility of war during this period. 


A lot of people today like to read science fiction through the lenses of the present, which is fine. I prefer to try to understand how writers and readers embraced the themes of science fiction, within the context of their world and their daily lives. So it makes me wonder what they thought when they read "The Red God Laughed".