" 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

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,


"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"


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;


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".

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Stories that make you go Wow. Morning Child by Gardner Dozois


Early Tuesday morning, during a spell of insomnia, I was reading James Davis Nicoll's article on Tor.com about the Science Fiction Book Club, Six Bulky Classics Delivered by the Science Fiction Book Club


 when I encountered a link for the Gardner Dozois story "Morning Child" in the comments. Thank you from me as well, Sophie Jane.


Sometimes you start reading and you just know this is going to be sad, this is going to be poignant, this is going to be powerful. Your going to remember this for a long time. This story was all those things within a couple of paragraphs. 

"The old house had been hit by something sometime during the war and mashed nearly flat. The front was caved in as though crushed by a giant fist: wood pulped and splintered, beams protruding at odd angles like broken fingers, the second floor collapsed onto the remnants of the first. The rubble of a chimney covered everything with a red mortar blanket. On the right, a gaping hole cross-sectioned the ruins, laying bare all the strata of fused stone and plaster and charred wood—everything curling back on itself like the lips of a gangrenous wound. Weeds had swarmed up the low hillside from the road and swept over the house, wrapping the ruins in wildflowers and grapevines, softening the edges of destruction with green."

Williams brings the boy John here (the house they once lived in before it was destroyed) almost every day. He gathers plants for food while John plays.

'John erupted out of the tall weeds and ran laughing to where Williams stood with the foraging bags. “I been fighting dinosaurs!” John said. “Great big ones!” Williams smiled crookedly and said, “That’s good.” He reached down and rumpled John’s hair. They stood there for a second, John panting like a dog from all the running he’d been doing, his eyes bright,'

Then gathering done they proceed to their camp by the river to cut wood and pull in the fish nets. Their walk is uneventful, Willams limping a bit from the load. In their whole long journey to return to this area they have never encountered another person.  

 “Can I help you carry the bags?” John said eagerly. “Can I? I’m big enough!” Williams smiled at him and shook his head. “Not yet, John,” he said. “A little bit later, maybe.”

It is clear by the time night falls all is not well with John, or the with the world "Somewhere on the invisible horizon, perhaps a hundred miles away, a pillar of fire leapt up from the edge of the world."

The story first appeared in Onmi and is available free on Lightspeed. Don't read about it, read it and let me know what you think. I loved this story, I need to do a list of my favourites and put this high on it.

My take:

Dozois has written a fairly compact story, the action takes place within a single day. Details about the characters or events are minimal. The story relies on mood, atmosphere and the evidence of the affection between the Williams and John to convey the story and provide the emotional weight for the resolution. If I had to compare "Morning Child" to other works, I would suggest the stories of Ray Bradbury or the moody black and white episodes of The Outer Limits, where bittersweet joy, horror and nostalgia bleed through into our world and tinge our futures. Dozois leaves many questions unanswered in this story, but after I thought about it for some time I realized the only important question was, how long?

I know there is a copy of Geodesic Dreams: The Best Short Fiction of Gardner Dozois around here somewhere and I need to dig it out. 

Cover image from ISFDB: Omni, January 1984 by Tim White (variant of Ring Around the Sun 1979)

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Vintage Science Fiction on DVD (Weird Tales, Pt. 1)

Some time ago I mentioned I had purchased a DVD containing old issues of Weird Tales magazine. I thought the product was reasonable and enjoyed the stories so I purchased some more DVD's of classic titles such as Amazing, Astounding and Wonder Stories. I am also considering adding other titles such as New Worlds and Nebula Science Fiction. I have always enjoyed reading older science fiction with all it drawbacks not the least of which are, misogyny racism, and homophobia (and bad writing). But misogyny racism, and homophobia are everywhere, even today. I am capable of separating truth from lies, and I can read without accepting stereotypes and hate speech. Possibly my reading even gives me a greater understanding of how such ingrained attitudes are perpetuated in our society, but that sounds like a very pompous and self serving claim. I read early science fiction because I enjoy it. What positive elements do I find in these very pulpy stories? I recently found a post by my favourite criticMichael Dirda that captured some of my reasons. He is talking about mysteries, but I think it holds true for my reading of science fiction as well.

"By the time Inspector Richard Queen and his bookish son Ellery arrive at Manhattan’s Roman theater to examine the dead body of crooked lawyer Monte Field, I was registering a distinct sense of well-being and contentment. Here was a classic Golden Age puzzle — Ellery Queen’s first case, in fact — and virtually all the characters were caricatures, the dialogue was stilted and corny, and the elaborate plot verged on the ludicrous. What more could one ask for?

That sounds paradoxical, but artificiality is a welcome attraction in many vintage who-and-howdunits. The stories deliberately leave out the messiness of real life, of real emotions, thus allowing the reader to mentally just amble along, mildly intrigued, feeling comfortable and even, yes, cozy."


I am also interested in how people at the turn of the century, the 1920's 1930's etc. incorporated the tropes of science fiction into their stories, elements like, future war, time travel, space travel, scientific advances, societal change, technology, and environmental degradation. I like to see how these ideas move through the science fiction stories that come after them. I am also interested in how real events bleed over into science fiction, the great depression, the various wars, atomic power, free love, the rise of computers etc. I like to read, ruminate and reflect, it keeps me out of trouble and mildly entertained.

Weird Tales, September 1940, cover by Ray Quigley. Let's be honest, I choose this issue because I was seduced by the, skull headed planes. If this illustration was indeed for Leifred's, "Seven Seconds of Eternity", I have to asume it is only a symbolic representation of events. The cover image was taken from the ISFDB, the interior illustrations are by Harry Ferman.

The story starts in New York, the year is 2001. The city is quiet, moving sidewalks have replaced subways, cabs and private vehicles and the turbines powering the city are underground. The world has been at peace for two months, following ten years of war. The war ended with the sudden death of Marshal Huen Feng Zaryoti, in his headquarters plane seven miles above San Francisco. " Zaryoti might have won that lightning war against North America had not a combination of forces set in motion by a young scientist, working with difficulty against the bureaucracy of government, found a way to combat the world's most deadly weapon-the atomic bomb." (5) I wanted to mention two things before I proceed. First I intend to cover two Weird Tales stories in parts 1 and 2 of this post and both feature some mention of that favourite trope of genre fiction of the period, the" yellow peril". I could discuss this in detail but I think at present I will simply provide a link to the topic at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Marshal Zaryoti doesn't really figure in the rest of the story and basically the plot just needed someone to provide an enemy force in the war.


The second item that interested me was the mention of the deadly atomic bomb is a story from 1940. Much has been made (a lot of it by John W. Campbell) of the government's reaction to atomic bomb in the 1944 story "Deadline" by Cleve Cartmill that Campbell published in Astounding. While the bomb in "Deadline" was described in detail, it is interesting to note that the concept was alive and well in science fiction years before the Cartmill story. Wikipedia has a nice discussion of the controversy around "Deadline" here.


However our focus now shifts to the young scientist Arron Carruthers, having defeated not just Zaryoti but also a stifling government bureaucracy, he should be happy. But a strange mood was on him, he felt all was not right with the world. "He was troubled and a little afraid. Nature, he knew, was never wasteful. Only man threw things away and forgot about them after afterwards. And nature sometimes reclaimed this waste to man's sorrow." (5)

For the stories I pull from the DVD's I will include spoilers, since I want to discuss them in some detail, and I suspect most people will not be reading them anyway.

And indeed Carruthers was right, for ten years man had not only released the toxins from vast explosions but also the smoke from incendiary fires and wastes released from the vast munitions factories built by both sides. All this material has formed great clouds above the earth. Eventually these clouds release a deadly ash like snow that kills everything it encounters. The government reluctantly consults Carruthers, because well be is smarter than them and they feel insecure. He discovers that in one location the clouds have been dispersed by a meteorite, and convinces the government to send up 20 planes to seed the clouds with fragments of meteors. Everyone on the air crew dies because, well not all meteors contain the same elements. Something my collection of How and Why Science books could have told Carruthers, had he looked it up.

Carruthers does manage to isolate the active ingredient but faces two problems, no one in Washington wants to hear from him, and the element is unique to the sample he has and is much too small to be of any use. But Carruthers has the answer, he has Carborlium "Carboralium is a peculiar metal with a powerful affinity for any metal it is brought in contact with." (19) By exposing bars of it to the Neutronium in the meteor they can create all of the material needed to destroy the clouds. However the amount is the meteor is infinitesimal, the only way to place the Carborlium next to to Neutronium is to shrink to the subatomic level, so small that a wandering electron would appear to be moon. Carruthers enters the meteor with George Vignot a fellow scientist and Langham the government's Chief of Intelligence. They are to remain in the subatomic world for no more that seven seconds of Earth time, however time will pass at a very different rate where they are.

So now we have yet another science fiction trope, the alteration of scale as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction in their entry "Great and Small" calls it. It is a trope I enjoy and intend to cover in a longer post. I have read a number of stories of this type from The Girl in the Golden Atom by Ray Cummings, to The Land of Dreams by James Blaylock, and I am currently reading "The Diamond Lens" (January 1858 Atlantic Monthly) by Fitz-James O'Brien. Looking at the entry below there are lots more waiting for me, and I have to say that the first story I read in my Amazing DVD also dealt with the alteration of scale. I have to admit I did not expect it would be part of this story when I started reading, but that was part of the fun of this type of exploration.


The other thing that I was really surprised with in Leitfred's story was the environmental aspect. I was surprised that someone in the 1940's would discuss the environmental consequences of war, not only the use of but also the production of vast numbers of weapons. If anything I think this was the one element of this story that I will remember, and it was one I wanted to highlight for others.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Futurism: What does our future look like; Peter Watts, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke

Science fiction writers have long been asked their thoughts on what the future will look like. I am currently reading Arthur C, Clarke's Astounding Days where among other things he discusses his appearances on news broadcasts during the Apollo program and his work on the film 2001. At the time of his death Ray Bradbury was remembered by Disney in the following post.

Honoring Ray Bradbury’s Contribution to Epcot


This morning Helen sent me a post by Canadian science fiction writer Peter Watts about one of his experiences participating in a futurist "think tank". I thought I would include it here because I found it quite interesting. Two things stood out for me. One, there are a lot of really smart inventive people out there with great ideas, and there are also a lot of people out there indulging in fuzzy/wishful thinking. (Probably nothing new) Over all, there was some humour and some food for thought. I could also identify with a number of the concerns, Watts expresses. 


My wife and I have been watching panel discussions put out by the World Science Festival, on topics as diverse as research on the human micro biome, dark matter, and the nature of consciousness. The discussion we probably liked the least featured three scientist doing very interesting research and a philosopher whose contribution to the discussion was, let's be nice and say, less clear. So I could share at least a bit of Watts' pain. But then, I like Watts, am a science geek. As an infant I was placed for some months in a facility to be treated for TB, I may not remember but my family does. I do have a photo, (thanks Aunt Vera) that I will decline to share, I look pretty cheerful, maybe they just feed me. I am only slightly older that the Salk polio vaccine and grew up in neighbourhoods where the memories of dead or crippled children were still fresh. 

"An estimated 11,000 people in Canada were left paralyzed by polio between 1949 and 1954. The disease peaked in 1953 with nearly 9,000 cases and 500 deaths -- the most serious national epidemic since the 1918 influenza pandemic. "


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I underwent cataract surgery in the last two weeks and my vision, in my 60's is literally. the best I have every experienced, they corrected for more than just the cataracts. So the current anti-science rhetoric, stemming it seems from both the left and the right, baffles me. I do still hope for the future utopias some science fiction offers us, but boy are we publishing a lot of dystopian stuff right now, even in the newspapers. I will now dismount from my soap box and take a "Flight to Forever" with Poul Anderson.

Happy Reading

Covers: Future by the great Hannes Bok

Astounding Days by Gavin Harrison

Thursday, March 7, 2019

New Arrivals, an absurdly large purchase, Pulp Sf on DVD's

Readers of this blog will know I purchase a lot of books. Two events have lead me to place a couple of big orders recently, the latest and largest of which I photographed this morning. First I reorganized the the spare bedroom that houses my main collection of science fiction and weird literature, it is quite full. The second was my recent cataract surgery. I have had fairly aggressive cataracts for two years, and been waiting for surgery for 16 months. This did impact my hobbies of bird watching, photography and reading. This also meant my wife and I have not traveled as much as we might have otherwise done. So I wanted to celebrate my surgery, which seems to have gone well. I am also very grateful that I had a condition that was correctable through a very standard procedure. Thank you Helen for weeks of administering lots of different eye drops to a wimpy patient.

After accessing the collection I wanted to add a few things, some favourite authors, themes, and illustrators, including aliens, robots, rockets, and authors like Dick, Simak, Van Vogt, Wyndham, Lanier and Lymington.  I also added some magazines from the 1950's, when I was born, to see the state of the world through the science fiction (admittedly, mainstream, and NA centric) of this period. I plan to slow down my acquisitions, probably (or at least trying to) limit my purchases to what I find in local used book stores and otherwise simply enjoy what I have.

I recently purchased a dvd of pdf's of some earlier issues of Weird Tales, which does contain some science fiction. While I would have liked more of the earliest issues, there was a good selection. Since the same vendor sells a lot of science fiction magazines on dvd, and since the coverage of the earliest issues seems better, I purchased a number of them. I think having these available, and having access to more stuff than I can possibly read will cut down on my purchases of science fiction magazines at least.

While I normally attribute cover artists I will not attempt it here. I plan on creating individual posts for a number of these items, and I will identify the cover artist, wherever possible at that time. Unlike Scrooge McDuck I will try to avoid piling everything in the middle of the floor and screaming, mine all mine. A strange definition of wealth but it works for me.

Happy Reading

Friday, March 1, 2019

Web Link Alan Brown's (Buck to the Future: The Many Incarnations of Buck Rogers)

  In his post on Tor.com 
Buck to the Future: The Many Incarnations of Buck RogersAlan Brown offered not just a discussion of various manifestations of  Buck Rogers in print and film but also a wonderful discussion of his father's experiences growing up in New York City. The city these experiences evoked, conjured up for me, the future city as depicted in the pulp magazine covers of the 1930's and the editors and artist who brought them to life. I love these depictions of the future, resplendent with jet packs (still waiting for mine) , flying cars and wondrous towers, so I went to the shelves to see what I could find.  So here's to Buck Rogers, the city of the future and the Browns, father and son.

"My dad was born in 1922, and grew up in the suburbs of New York City, a metropolis with one foot in the future. His father worked at Bell Labs, and he remembered being taken to work to see new inventions like the first televisions. His father also, in the wee hours of one morning in 1927, took him to Roosevelt Field so he could watch Charles Lindbergh take off on the first non-stop solo flight from New York to Paris. He watched the construction of the world’s highest skyscraper, the Chrysler Building, followed shortly by a new highest skyscraper, the Empire State Building. The city was criss-crossed by an ever-expanding network of mass transit, with new aircraft flying to the growing airports, and all manner of new ships plying the waters." from



1. Editor T. O'Conor Sloane, Ph.D. Cover by Leo Morey

2. Editor T. O'Conor Sloane, Ph.D. Cover by Leo Morey

3. Editor Hugo Gernsback Cover by Frank R. Paul

4. Editor Hugo Gernsback Cover by Frank R. Paul

5. Editor Hugo Gernsback Cover by Frank R. Paul