" 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

Sunday, February 24, 2019

What do you see when you read

Some time ago Emily Asher-Perrin posted an article on Tor.com asking:
"How Do You “See” the Books You Read?"


Based on the fact there were 75 comments, her essay did seem to strike a chord with people. So I am also asking, do you just read the words or do you create visual images of the places and characters the author describes? I was is my late 50's before I realized that other people did (I don't). I attribute some of this to skimming the text, but I have also noticed this inability to form a visual image using my imagination when trying to pick frames for a picture or paint from a sample. (just ask Helen) I need to see the thing complete. 

I wonder if that is part of the reason that science fiction illustration is so important to me. I own multiple copies of the same book because of the covers. I will buy one to read but then be seduced by a "better" possibly more representative cover. They don't need to be representative, I like artists was diverse as Weird Tales alumni like Hannes Bok and Virgil Finlay, the Gernsbeckian Frank R. Paul or the increasingly surreal/abstract stylings of Richard Powers but something just calls to me. That said, traditional SF tropes, space ships and suits, alien landscapes, futuristic cities and powers plants really attract me. I have discussed what conjures up science fiction to me in earlier posts, something I will come back to again and again. 


Here are a couple of new arrivals that are certainly candidates based on the covers. They also have a bit of a WWII vibe (at least to me) based on the style of the suits and equipment, which reminds me of the b&w films of my youth.

Cover by H. Fox (1962)

Cover by Gordon C. Davies (1957)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Betty Ballantine, Who Helped Introduce Paperbacks, Dies at 99

 Yesterday Doug let me know that Betty Ballantine, who with her husband Ian began Ballantine Books, a huge publishing presence in science fiction had passed away at 99. The New York Times published a nice tribute.  "They started Ballantine Books in 1952, publishing reprints as well as original works in paperback.

While Ian Ballantine, who died in 1995, was the better known of the publishing duo, Betty Ballantine, who was British, quietly devoted herself to the editorial side. She nurtured authors, edited manuscripts and helped promote certain genres — Westerns, mysteries, romance novels and, perhaps most significantly, science fiction and fantasy.
Her love for that genre and knowledge of it helped put it on the map.
“She birthed the science fiction novel,” said Tad Wise, a nephew of Ms. Ballantine’s by marriage. With the help of Frederik Pohl, a science fiction writer, editor and agent, Mr. Wise said, “She sought out the pulp writers of science fiction who were writing for magazines and said she wanted them to write novels, and she would publish them.”
In doing so she helped a wave of science fiction and fantasy writers emerge. They included Joanna Russ, author of “The Female Man”(1975), a landmark novel of feminist science fiction, and Samuel R. Delany, whose “Dhalgren” (1975) was one of the best-selling science fiction novels of its time.
The Ballantines also published paperback fiction by Ray Bradbury, whose books include “The Martian Chronicles” and “Fahrenheit 451”; Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote “2001: A Space Odyssey”; and J.R.R. Tolkien, author of “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy."
full obituary here:
When I moved from reading science fiction to collecting science fiction as well, Ballantine Books, with top notch writers and wonderful covers by Richard Powers were favourites. So I decided to pull some of the books from Ballantine's first two years (1953-1954, pre me even) from my shelves with a few comments. I will only attribute the covers if they are not by Richard Powers. Search the Sky is the first book I remember my buddy Doug and I discussing, possibly before we even started our reading project. We both enjoyed it. I love the covers where Powers combines his surrealist flourishes with realistic elements. 
Brain Wave is an old favourite with both of us, ah! nostalgia and I love the chimp with the inexplicable device. I looked for years for a reasonably priced copy of More Than Human with possibly my favourite Powers cover of all time.

Out of the Deeps better known as The Kraken Wakes is my favourite Wyndham and my favourite "cozy catastrophe" lots of favourites in this post. The Space Merchants was I believe the first novel we tackled on our reading project. And I think I can say we were both impressed. It covered a number of SF tropes, including one of the first examples of meat grown via cell culture in this case "Chicken Little"

So I have a lot to be grateful to the Ballantines for, without this opportunity for authors to find paperback markets outside the pulps who knows what gems we would have missed.  


Also I will include a couple links from ISFDB of some of the full wrap around covers.

Out of the Deeps


Star Science Fiction Stories


Brain Wave

The Space Merchants

Shadows in the Sun, cover uncredited

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Reading, Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury

  When I finished reading Astounding, Alec Nevada-Lee's book on John W. Campbell and some of the writers most associated with Astounding, Isaac Asimov,  Robert A, Heinlein, and L. Ron. Hubbard, I was of course, turned off by the behaviour of all four men. Women and minorities were not only not treated well in their fiction, but many of these attitudes continued into their public and private lives. That said I did not conclude that I should actually stop reading their work, indeed I made note of two stories mentioned in passing in the book that I wanted to read or reread as the case may be. Cover above by Joseph Mugnaini.

The first was "The Green Hills of Earth" by Robert Heinlein and the second was "The Red Queen's Race" by Isaac Asimov. I also read a third story "The King of the Grey Spaces" by Ray Bradbury, I am not sure were I saw this story mentioned, I do not think it was in Nevada-Lee's book. Ray Bradbury is occasionally mentioned in the book, but he was certainly never part of the Campbell school. Indeed Campbell turned down several significant stories that became part of The Martian Chronicles, including "Mars is Heaven" and "The Million-Year Picnic" (183) both of which were published in Planet Stories. 

I will certainly continue to read and discuss all four authors. Asimov and Heinlein, and to a lesser extent Campbell formed an important aspect of the genre as I first experienced it. They also cast a long shadow over the field, shaping the tastes of many of the readers and at least some of the authors that followed them. I think it is important to at least understand what forces and individuals shaped science fiction as a genre. Many modern readers have noted that they find many of these early works poorly written, I cannot argue. They also object that these works typically feature exclusively white male protagonists and that the women and minorities that appear are poorly realized caricatures, again this is true. 

Sadly when I look at the politics both in Canada and worldwide, I still see a world in which misogyny, racism and homophobia are forming large parts of the political platform and discourse of many parties, whether they acknowledge this or not. Science fiction has a number of features as a genre, one is that it allows us to examine aspects of our own culture through the examination of fictional societies. Also science fiction often reflects the influential events and cultural trends of the period in which it is written. This allows it to act as a lens by which we can understand not only the history of our own culture but if we read widely, offers insights into other cultures or groups as well.

I will touch on the Asimov and Heinlein stories only briefly. These descriptions do contain spoilers. "The Red Queen's Race" appeared in Astounding Science Fiction, January 1949. A physics professor, Elmer Tywood has died during an unsanctioned experiment at a nuclear power planet. Investigators determine that he was obsessed with altering the past. The crux of the story was, has he succeeded? It is pretty typical of Asimov's short fiction. It contains experimental science, including some explanations of physics and chemistry. It also contains the elements of a mystery story.

The reason I wanted to reread "The Green Hills of Earth", is that it was Heinlein's first appearance in a "slick", basically a general interest publication, in this case The Saturday Evening Post for February 8, 1947.  This story was part of Heinlein's Future History, a series of short stories, novellas and novels in which Heinlein " describes a projected future of the human race from the middle of the 20th century through the early 23rd century."  


Cover by Stanley Meltzoff

"The Green Hills of Earth" is the story of Rhysling, the blind singer of the Space-ways, and his act of heroism. This is a typical Heinlein story, the focus on a single man, Rhysling, a somewhat eccentric and manipulative cynic who typically gets what he wants. However despite his blindness he also remains one of Heinlein's/Campbell's idealized, competent man. The Future History is considered one of Heinlein's greatest fictional achievements John Clute notes, "Robert A. Heinlein's Future History was the first to appear in genre science fiction, being published in Astounding magazine in 1945.

John Clute, Science Fiction The Illustrated Encyclopedia; 1995 (66) (a beautiful book for anyone interested in science fiction)

Cover by Clifford Geary, Scribners, 1948

Ray Bradbury was (for me) one of the most important authors when I began reading science fiction. His work is often nostalgic and sentimental, the plots were not science oriented or propelled by engineering problems. Instead they focused on societal or personal change, sometimes with a strong leavening of horror as one might expect from an author who cut his teeth in Weird Tales Magazine. They are stories of atmosphere and mood, memory and a certain gentle melancholy. Ray still transports me out of myself and today better that any other writer. 

I read it here. Cover by Richard Powers 

"King of the Gray Spaces" first appeared in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, in December 1943. It is the story of a teenager, Chris who spends his time attending school and hanging out with his friends. While the future is definitely different from ours it is not really developed in the story. Certain aspects are mentioned, but there is no depiction of the society as a whole. It is certainly an odd society, "Every Saturday morning the guys met at my house and yelled until the neighbors were moved to brandishing paralysis guns out their ventilators and commanding the guys to shut up their damned traps or they'd be frozen solid on the spot for an hour" (208) it certainly beats yelling "hey kids get off my lawn". And school seems a bit harsh, when Chris flunks his semantics test the teacher says. "if this keeps up I'II have you reclassified at the next psych-board meeting." (212) And this is important because, while Chris is part of a group of five other boys, he and his best friend in the group, Ralph Priory share an especially intense love of the great interstellar rockets and hope to work on them one day. 

To do this they must be join the Patrol. Two thousand  young men a year are picked for training, no there is no mention of young women, some seventeen hundred will become solar engineers after ten years training. If you are selected you cannot tell anyone but your family. (Your friends will be told something like, you require psycho-reorganization, great) Chris and Ralph are about fourteen years at the time of the story, if not selected for training by twenty-one they will no longer be considered. This is not the mature Bradbury, his prose is often stilted. At one point Ralph is staying with Chris and "He reached out and punched me in the arm-muscle lightly" (223)

There is little world building, we get snippets here and there but nothing that will allow us to form any idea about what the lives of most people are like or the historical context of the current society.

While thinking about the Bradbury story I immediately thought of Robert Heinlein. Heinlein wrote a number of juveniles and his work often dealt with transition of teens to adults. But as one might expect of someone who attended Annapolis and wanted nothing more than a career in the Navy, it is often an organized transition and that is what Heinlein wrote about in books like Space Cadet and Starship Troopers. Should Chris be chosen by the Patrol he will also undergo intense training and discipline but that is not the part that interested Bradbury and in effect his story ended where Heinlein's would have begun. Because what interested the Bradbury who wrote books like Dandelion Wine and The Halloween Tree was childhood, running around town with your friends, yelling and rough housing, trick or treating and generally being kids. 

And as clunky a story as this was, that is what I took away from it. I immediately thought of Windsor where I lived until I was 16, Willistead Park where we often played, (it also contained a public library), and the friends and classmates who I spent my time with. My brother once said no one did the joy of childhood better than Bradbury, while I added that no one did the dark side of childhood better either. This story captures the joy, it is the nervous joy of knowing that change lies ahead, but it was joy. 

Dylan Thomas knew the feeling as well, in his poem Fern Hill

'"All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay 
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, 
it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass. "

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Carol Emshwiller 1921-2019, Discussion of her short story Pelt

  A few days ago Rich Horton, who maintains the website, Strange at Ecbatan posted on the death of science fiction writer Carol Emshwiller. 

"The remarkable Carol Emshwiller died, age 97, on February 2. She was one of the most individual voices in SF over a career of nearly six decades, beginning in the mid 1950s. She also wrote contemporary novels set in the American West."

Her entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is here


One advantage to collecting more anthologies than I can ever read is that I can use the ISFDB to find certain stories by certain authors and see if I have a copy. I did have a number of stories by Emshwiller so I will be reading them over the next few weeks. 

For many years I would have suggested that the Science Fiction Hall of Fame vols. provided a good introduction to science fiction. I still think some of the stories are among the best of their period but others are hopelessly dated. Now I would recommend The Big Book of Science Fiction by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. I will discuss this volume in more detail in another post, but one thing I enjoy is the detailed biographical entry that proceeds the author's story. Their anthology The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories is also great but that is another post on another website, 

"Ursula K. Le Guin has called Emshwiller “a major fabulist, a marvelous magical realist, one of the strongest, most complex, most consistently feminist voices in fiction.” Karen Joy Fowler said of Emshwiller, “She still defies imitation. But it is my contention that sometime in the last fifteen to twenty years, she has become stealthily influential.”

and "Emshwiller has given her own assessment of her work: “A lot of people don’t seem to understand how planned and plotted even the most experimental of my stories are. I’m not interested in stories where anything can happen at any time. I set up clues to foreshadow what will happen and what is foreshadowed does happen. I try to have all, or most of the elements in the stories, linked to each other."

The Big Book of Science Fiction (p. 365). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.  

The Emshwiller story they include in this volume is "Pelt" which first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for November 1958.

"At the time of its publication, “Pelt” was considered to exemplify a strand of “literary” science fiction that bridged the gap between mainstream realism and core science fiction. In the modern era, of course, “Pelt” would not be considered anything other than an excellent and unusual science fiction story,"

The Big Book of Science Fiction (pp. 365-366). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.  

The point of view character for "Pelt" is a big white dog. The dog is the companion of a hunter. While several names are used throughout the story it is unclear if they are the dog's actual name. The dog and her master have been on the planet Jaxa for two days. It is winter and the dog loves the planet, there are lots of smells and the ice and snow make for a wonderful landscape of sounds that Emshwiller describes in detail for us. The dog wears a throat mike and has been trained in a series of signals that alert her master to prey or danger, etc. The dog ranges ahead looking for game the hunter can kill. The hunter is collecting furs to sell to "rich earth ladies" he also collected the heads of the animals. On this day the dog encounters a new smell which it describes as honey-furry-fatman, the dog is unclear whether this represents prey or danger. Then it meets one of the creatures, a large alien with beautiful striped fur and huge orange eye in the centre of it's forehead above it's two smaller eyes, which are kind. The alien uses telepathy to ask the dog a question that will be asked several times in the story. "We have watched you, little slave. What have you done that is free today?" (368)

Normally I would stop here but the story impressed me so much I want to look at it in some detail. Be warned this will involve spoilers.

First looking at the use of the dog as the point of view character. (London's Call of the Wild does spring to mind) This choice of the dog does limit Emshwiller's options, the hunter does not say anything substantive to the dog, and while we are told at one point that he talks to himself, he does not say anything meaningful that the dog picks up. So we are reliant on the hunter's smell and actions to convey his feelings. Also the aliens communicate with the dog but only to urge it to be free. They either cannot or will not communicate with the hunter, except through their actions. While these are limitations they also make us work to understand the subsequent actions of both the hunter and the aliens. Emshwiller does not tell us what is going on in the minds of the characters, we have to work it out. 

The dog will not track the sentient aliens, but when an alien, apparently distracted, steps into view, the hunter kills it. Once he approaches it he realizes it is sentient, it was carrying a bag of food. Despite this he skins it and takes the pelt, however the dog notes he leaves other trophies, the head and the hands. He then begins to return quickly and directly to the ship. On the way another alien steps directly into his path but he makes no attempt to shoot it. When he arrives at the ship a group of aliens are waiting. He tries to return the pelt but instead they force a package containing the head and hands on him as well. 

So my interpretation, the hunter is upset to find he has killed a sentient being, but this does not seem to be a moral issue. He does take the pelt after all.  Does he leave the head and hands because if he attempted to sell them they could indicate to any buyers or regulatory agencies that he has killed a sentient being? I suspect he has broken a law and wants to leave the planet immediately before there is more trouble.

The actions of the aliens are harder to fathom, but this is as it should be. Too often the aliens in science fiction are just humans with pointy ears or blue skin. Emshwiller walks a narrow line, we can understand or think, we understand some of what the aliens are trying to do, but not all of it.They show themselves to the hunter even after he has already killed one of them, don't they fear death or can they sense he will not kill again?  

They value freedom.

"We have watched you, little slave. What have you done that is free today?" (368)

But with freedom comes the responsibility for one's choices, one cannot slough off the responsibility. By forcing the head and hands on the hunter, they force him to carry the symbols of his guilt with him. They seem genuinely interested in freeing the dog from it's slavery. But the tragedy is that through conditioning or indecision the dog cannot choose, and so is denied the freedom of the planet Jaxa, which it desires. They will not choose for it.

Too often the science fiction of the 1950's features some explanation of what just happened tacked on to the end to clean up the ambiguous bits. Emshwiller makes us work while we read, so we have to try to understand the characters and the alien environments she presents, the choices she made in plotting the story. In the quote above she mentions "foreshadowing" I think she uses this technique to draw from the reader what she wants or expects. She wants the reader's attention. She wants them to immerse themselves in the text and think about where the story is going and what she is trying to say. My conclusions are based on a single story, I will be reading more of her stories, so my interpretation may change. I do know this was a well written story and one that kept me thinking.  

Your thoughts? 

This story also appeared in Judith Merril's SF The Best of the Best, 1970, with a lovely cover by Josh Kirby.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

New Arrivals; SFBC. Trip to the Moon

Hi, I am working on some more substantive entries, but I spent this week reorganizing my collection. So for now some more new arrivals.

Another quirky cover for Amazing Stories 
by Ed Valigursky (Sept. 1956).

Future Science Fiction offers a more workman like depiction of events on the moon. Cover by  Rudolph Belarski, Dec. 1955.

The cover is uncredited

I have seen countless membership offers for The Science Fiction Book Club (SFBC) and have bought a number of the Conklin anthologies and Asimov or Van Vogt collections that were used as inducements. But I have never seen this offer before. 

Despite the blurb below, we know Lewis Padgett was actually the husband and wife team of Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, who were responsible for some of the best genre breaking science fiction of the 1940's/50's including "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" and "Vintage Season".

Cover by Mitchell Hooks (1954)