The Big Three and a Lesson About Fixing Things Wrong

Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and Isaac Asimov, Philadelphia Navy Yard, 1944. Heinlein and Asimov were two of The Big Three. Who was the third?

Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and Isaac Asimov, Philadelphia Navy Yard, 1944. Heinlein and Asimov were two of The Big Three. Who was the third?

Last weekend, Vox Day set out to score a point for Infogalactic over the Wikipedia. Infogalactic is the rival online encyclopedia Day launched in October.

…And finally, another example of how Infogalactic is fundamentally more accurate than Wikipedia due to the latter’s insistence on unreliable Reliable Sources.

Robert Heinlein on Wikipedia

Heinlein became one of the first science-fiction writers to break into mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s. He was one of the best-selling science-fiction novelists for many decades, and he, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke are often considered the “Big Three” of science fiction authors.[5][6]

Robert Heinlein on Infogalactic

He was one of the first science fiction writers to break into mainstream magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s. He was one of the best-selling science fiction novelists for many decades, and he, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke are often erroneously considered to be the “Big Three” of science fiction authors.[5][6]. The original “Big Three” were actually Heinlein, Asimov, and A.E. van Vogt.[7]

This is what winning the cultural war looks like. Getting the facts straight one at a time.

Since Vox Day’s post, an Infogalactic editor has revised the Heinlein entry to phrase the correction even more emphatically:

He was one of the best-selling science fiction novelists for many decades, and he, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke are often considered to be the “Big Three” of science fiction authors[5][6], however the inclusion of Clarke is erroneous. The original “Big Three” were actually Heinlein, Asimov, and A.E. van Vogt.[7]

Proving that you’re never too old to learn, while I knew Heinlein, Asimov and van Vogt were Campbell’s top writers in the 1940s, I couldn’t recall ever hearing them referred to as the Big Three, whereas I had often heard that term applied to the trio named by the Wikipedia.  (Michael Moorcock wrote that Clarke was one of the Big Three in an article published just this month.) Was the Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke identification really “erroneous”? I have to admit that seeing Infogalactic’s cited source was a John C. Wright essay from 2014 made me want to check further before accepting the information.

Google led me to the Fancyclopedia (1944). Originally, “the Big Three” was a label 1930s fans applied to the three dominant prozines. Obviously at some later point they also endowed it on three sf writers. When did that happen, and who were the writers?

Isaac Asimov supplies the answer in I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994):

There was no question that by 1949 I was widely recognized as a major science fiction writer. Some felt I had joined Robert Heinlein and A.E.  van Vogt as the three-legged stool on which science fiction now rested.

As it happened, A.E. van Vogt virtually ceased writing in 1950, perhaps because he grew increasingly interested in Hubbard’s dianetics. In 1946, however, a British writer, Arthur C. Clarke, began to write for ASF, and he, like Heinlein and van Vogt (but unlike me), was an instant hit.

By 1949, the first whisper of Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov as “the Big Three” began to be heard, This kept up for some forty years, for we all stayed alive for decades and all remained in the science fiction field.

Therefore, John C. Wright (in “The Big Three of Science Fiction” from Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth) correctly stated that Heinlein, Asimov and van Vogt were “the three major writers of Campbell’s Golden Age.” (The Science Fiction Encyclopedia also calls them “the big three”.)

But Infogalactic, unfortunately motivated by a need to get in a jab at the Wikipedia, has oversold Wright’s argument and missed a chance to be really accurate. The truth is that both trios were “the Big Three,” each in their own era.

Ray Bradbury and the Power of the Subconscious in Storytelling

Ray Bradbury as the Spirit of the Elephant.. Photo by Bill Warren.

Ray Bradbury as the Spirit of the Elephant.. Photo by Bill Warren.

By Carl Slaughter: When Ray Bradbury visited his hometown, his barber dropped his scissors on the floor and said, “I’ve been waiting for 50 years for you to walk through that door.”

The barber rented a room from Bradbury’s parents when Bradbury was a little boy. The barber watched as Bradbury’s father showed him how to make dandelion wine. Bradbury was only 3 years old when this happened.

Bradbury was in tears because the barber had just given Bradbury confirmation that his story in Gourmet Magazine, “Dandelion Wine,” came from experience. This confirmation made Bradbury realize the story came out of his subconscious. This episode made Bradbury a believer in the power of the subconscious in storytelling.

I give up, why didn’t the barber just send Bradbury a postcard…

The Train To Busan

traintobusan

By Carl Slaughter: Every semester for most of the last 15 years, I have assigned my college students in China to make a short speech describing a movie.

In school after school, class after class, enormous numbers of students have identified Titanic, Shawshank Redemption, The Pursuit of Happiness, The Legend of 1900, and Leon the Professional as their favorite movies. But I get a good mix of current movies too.

This semester, three students talked about the Korean zombie film Train to Busan. One of them said, “What we learn from this movie is that the human condition is worse than the zombie condition.” My interest was sufficiently piqued.

Having no taste for zombie munching scenes and not wanting to hunt down English subtitles, I sought Wikipedia for answers.

“Seok-woo, a divorced fund manager, decides to take his young daughter Su-an to her mother in Busan as her birthday gift. They board the a Korean High-speed rail at a station in Seoul. The train is also occupied by the tough working-class husband Sang-hwa and his pregnant wife Seong-kyeong, a high school baseball team, rich but selfish CEO Yon-suk, elderly sisters In-gil and Jong-gil, and a homeless man.”

Without spoilers, some of these people sacrifice themselves for others and some of them sacrifice others for themselves. Reviewers pointed to the subtle social politics and class warfare symbolized by these decisions. One Amazon reviewer described it as Snowpiercer meets 28 Days Later.

Train to Busan’s Rotten Tomatoes score is 96%.

I’ve taught English in Korea twice. One of the things about Korean society that made a very good impression on me is the exceptionally low crime rate. Not surprisingly, Korea is a not gun country. So if you watch Train to Busan, look for creative ways to fight zombies.

That Book Silverlock

johnmyersmyers_silverlock

By John Hertz (reprinted from Vanamonde 1213):  After John Myers’ Silverlock was published in 1949 it languished two decades until Terry Carr at Ace published a paperback (1969).

In 1979, while Jim Baen was at Ace, his arm was twisted by Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, and Jerry Pournelle, and Ace reprinted; in 1982, again; then a Buccaneer hardback (1992); Ace again (1996); then the NESFA (New England S-F Ass’n) Press hardback, with Bruce Pelz’ music for some of the songs, and the invaluable Companion by Anne Braude and Fred Lerner (2004); and not to be slack, an Ace trade paperback (2005) followed by a Kindle version (2008).

Let’s suppose you know a white streak in the hair of our protagonist Clarence Shandon makes him Silverlock.  He, a 35-year-old Chicagoan — Dante’s age when he dreamed The Divine Comedy (1321) — shipwrecked and afloat nine days out of Baltimore, meets in the water a man calling himself Widsith Amergin Demodocus Boyan Taliesin Golias none of which Shandon recognizes, watches Moby Dick smash the Pequod which he also does not recognize, and goes through three hundred pages of adventure in the Commonwealth of Literature, footing, fighting, feasting, finding thirtyscore characters of song and story none of whom he recognizes.

Eventually we wonder at his having seen a Pacific Ocean whale (H. Meville, Moby-Dick, 1851) a century later in the Atlantic, and indeed his saying blandly in the first place he was on the Naglfar, which being the ship made of the nails of dead men Loki will navigate when all things are destroyed at Ragnarok seems at best strange for the mundane vessel equipped with a radio our protagonist describes until he gives us its name twice in the fifth paragraph and we never hear it more.

Stories a poet and audience have in common are a great resource.  Say “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?” and you bring without naming Helen of Troy from Greek mythology three millennia ago, and quote without citing Marlowe’s Faust (Act V, sc. i) from the 16th Century.  An audience who knows them delights.

To sing of the known is a time-honored art: The Iliad and The Odyssey three millennia ago, the Vedas earlier.  The Ballad of Harlaw that Jeannie Robertson (1908-1975) sang, about a battle in 1411, was printed in a 1549 collection; Sir Walter Scott published another about it in 1806.  The fame of Scott and Robertson came from an audience that did not know, reached by artists so good their work appealed intrinsically.

We begin to touch on speculative fiction, which tells of things an audience cannot have known because they have never happened.

To introduce the 1979 printing (and thereafter) Anderson says, “it’s incomparable fun….  more….  Life is often stark and, in some sense, ultimately tragic.  Good comedy recognizes this truth and draws strength from it….  Golias makes the tale surge with energy from the beginning … [Silverlock] has experiences terrifying or heart-wrenching….  high seriousness is enhanced by mirth [NESFA p. 17].”

Niven says, “Myers must be in love with words (as I am).  He must roll them around in his mouth (as I do) to get the taste….  I went through it like a tourist in Paradise….  I recognized about a third of the characters….  Afterward I went hunting for others….  Silverlock is a … B.A. in Business Administration learning how to read, and why [pp. 21-22].”

Pournelle says, “It is the sort of book that can take an engineer obsessed with putting man into space and send him to the reference library…. it did this for me [p. 20].”

Not everything in Silverlock comes under never happened.  A third of the way along, Golias gives a hall of feasters “The Death of Bowie Gizzardsbane” in a hundred four-stress lines, like a skald or a scop, which he is, and might lead you to remember the Alamo: it’s about that battle, Sam Houston (1793-1863), Davy Crockett (1786-1836), and hero of the song Jim Bowie (1796-1836), “the war-wise winner of battles … melting with death.  Yet the might of his spirit / Kept a tight grip on the trust he’d been given….  Killing, though killed.  Conquered, he won” (pp. 126-129).

Our protagonist, who is from that world — Golias seems to have been everywhere — does not recognize this story either.

Silverlock is full of fighting.  Also drinking.  Heart of oak are the men, and it is men, mostly, and of that kind.  Silverlock himself is athletic; he was on his school’s rowing team.  The women are mostly submitters or seducers.  What if you don’t think that the good life?  What if you find yourself thinking “Is that all there is?”

You could say, in Peggy Lee’s next line, “Then let’s keep dancing” (J. Leiber & M. Stol­ler, 1969) — although there’s booze in that ballad too.  You could say Silverlock is a book of its time — and indeed, how not?  You could say Myers wrote what he knew.  Let’s follow the Ernie Kovacs Rule and take a good look (as his strange — of course — 1959-1961 television game-show was entitled).

That name Naglfar is Myers’ signal there is something strange about this book.  Is it the adventure?  The incongruity?  The congruity that upon inspection underlies it?

Why does Silverlock go to Hell?  Why is he so helpless there?  Why doesn’t the book end when Satan tells him there’s no way out?  What happens with Silverlock and the horse?  Why?

Speculative fiction often carries characters who not knowing can be explained to or shown learning.  But nobody explains to Silverlock, and he hardly learns.  He sees what he can.  Yet that does increase.  The remarkable thing — I believe the book is a comedy — is that he learns at all.

Cult Movie Bracket: The Final Final!

Cult Movie Bracket Logo SM

By Hampus Eckerman: For each pair, vote for the top cult movie. Vote for what is rememoralizable, what is fun, what is interesting, what is cult. You will have at least 24 hours to answer, but after that it depends on when I have time to count the votes.

1. QUOTABLE QUAGMIRE
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
The Princess Bride (1987)

2. What movie should have won?

3. Which movies were voted out too early or were never in the bracket in the first place?

4. Which would be your favourite mashup between two of the cult movies?

Cult Movie Bracket: Semifinal

Cult Movie Bracket Logo SMBy Hampus Eckerman: For each pair, vote for the top cult movie. Vote for what is memorable, what is fun, what is interesting, what is cult. You will have at least 24 hours to answer, but after that it depends on when I have time to count the votes.

1. ESSENCIAL CULT
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Dr. Strangelove or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

2. BATTLE OF BRITAIN
Rank the films from 1 to 3, 1 being best.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
The Princess Bride (1987)
Time Bandits (1981)

Cult Movie Bracket, First Fifth Element Quarter Final

Cult Movie Bracket Logo SMBy Hampus Eckerman: For each pair, vote for the top cult movie. Vote for what is rememberable, what is fun, what is interesting, what is cult. You will have at least 24 hours to answer, but after that it depends on when I have time to count the votes.

1. DON’T LET THIS PAIRING UPSET YOU
Dr. Strangelove or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
This is Spinal Tap (1984)

2. THIS LANDING IS GONNA BE PRETTY INTERESTING
Serenity (2005)
The Princess Bride (1987)

3. WITH A BIT OF A MIND FLIP
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Labyrinth (1986)

4. QUIET, DIGNITY AND GRACE
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

5. AND THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW… THE WORLD!
Time Bandits (1981)
Groundhog Day (1993)

Cult Movie Bracket, Fourth Round

Cult Movie Bracket Logo SMBy Hampus Eckerman: For each pair, vote for the top cult movie. Vote for what is rememberable, what is fun, what is interesting, what is cult. You will have at least 24 hours to answer, but after that it depends on when I have time to count the votes.

1. BRING US A SHRUBBERY!
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

2. STAYING IN THE PAST OR THE PRESENT
Groundhog Day (1993)
Army of Darkness (1992)

3. IF HIS BRAIN’S RAN DOWN, HOW CAN HE TALK?
Return to Oz (1985)
Young Frankenstein (1974)

4. PRINCESS VS QUEENS
The Princess Bride (1987)
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

5. RELATIONSHIPS WITH GOD
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Time Bandits (1981)

6. OUT OF THE DOOR, LINE ON THE LEFT, ONE BOMB EACH
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Dr. Strangelove or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

7. DUDE VS DUKE
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Labyrinth (1986)

8. IT’S SUCH A FINE LINE BETWEEN STUPID, AND UH…
Blazing Saddles (1974)
This is Spinal Tap (1984)

9. GREAT HEAVENS! THATS A LASER!
Better Off Dead (1985)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Cult Movie Bracket, Third Round

Cult Movie Bracket Logo SM

By Hampus Eckerman: For each pair, vote for the top cult movie. Vote for what is rememberable, what is fun, what is interesting, what is cult. You will have at least 24 hours to answer, but after that it depends on when I have time to count the votes.

1. HIDING UNDERNEATH
Tremors (1990)
Labyrinth (1986)

2. FEATURING GEORGE HARRISON
Army of Darkness (1992)
Die Hard (1988)

3. BRITISH HUMOUR
Yellow Submarine (1968)
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

4. BIG VS LITTLE
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

5. LEADER BY BOMB OR POND
The Mouse That Roared (1959)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

6. THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF OUR LIVES
Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)
Groundhog Day (1993)

7. ALIENS GOING HOME
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Repo Man (1984)

8. BUCK UP LITTLE CAMPER
Better Off Dead (1985)
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

9. WHO BUILT THIS STINKING ROAD?
Return to Oz (1985)
Death Race 2000 (1975)

10. DISTINCT TYPES OF VISIONAIRIES
This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Forbidden Planet (1956)

11. CREATURE MOVIES
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Godzilla (1954)

12. ON A MISSION
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Escape from New York (1981)

13. TAKEN ON A STRANGE JOURNEY
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Dr. Strangelove or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

14. USED AS PUPPETS
Time Bandits (1981)
Being John Malkovich (1999)

15. BATTLE OF THE DRAG QUEENS
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Pink Flamingos (1972)

16. A MATCH FOR YOUR BRAIN
The Princess Bride (1987)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)

17. WHERE DO I EVEN BEGIN TO NAME THIS TITLE!?
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Barbarella (1968)
Serenity (2005)