The Origin Story of Vurguzz

By Waldemar Kumming: [reprinted from Vanamonde 483 — John Hertz’ fanzine — August 12, 2002]

It all started 40 years ago. In the fanzine Munich Round-Up 8 was a whole page of “advertisements” for “The Bar to the Three and a Half Planets”, for Urm, the Newsmagazine for Retrotemporarians, for “Kraahkarm in Jelly, in 20-ton Containers”, and similar things, and finally for “Vurguzz, with 250% alcohol content.” Of course the alcohol over 100% was in hyperspace; this would allegedly lead to seeing not only double but 3 times after only one small glass of the drink.

The idea of vurguzz [pronounced “foor-goots” — jh] left Franz Ettle (who unfortunately died many years ago) no peace of mind until he had after various trials perfected a booze which had some of the effects. It had about 80% alcohol, and among other ingredients something that made it work very fast and strong but lasted only a short time. This vurguzz was poured at several German conventions, including an admission ceremony of the international and still existing Saint Fantony group. Later a liqueur factory took over but the vurguzz then had only 65% alcohol in it, that being the maximum allowed under German law. Lately the Pabel Verlag has been supplying a liqueur called vurguzz with only 17% alcohol content, apparently without knowing the story of the original vurguzz.

The present occasional supplier of the original vurguzz is Hermann Wolter, Am Hebewerk 57, D-45731 Waltrop, Germany. I have no idea whether it is possible to send bottles of the stuff without paying exorbitant taxes, or whether he is willing to do so, or has any of the stuff on hand at the moment.

A World-Building Hugo

By John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1249) The best notes I know for Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables (1862) are James Madden’s in the 2008 Modern Library edition, tr. Julie Rose. My own copy is the 1987 Lee Fahnestock & Norman MacAfee rev’n of Charles Wilbour’s tr. 1862, whose notes appear at the feet of pages (where notes belong! grr!) but not nearly enough.

Modern Library apparently first published the Wilbour in 1931; the ML ed’n with Stephen Alcorn’s woodcut on the jacket is not dated; ML reïssuing the Wilbour in 1992 [dieresis mark for Phil Castora] still offers both it and the Rose.

Yes, it’s a masterwork. Yes, it’s long; 1,194 pages by Rose (who after expatiating how faithful she was, which I can’t judge, says Alexander Pope 1688-1744 reïnterpreted Shakespeare 1564-1616 primly [p. xxiv] — aiee!) + 136 pp. of notes, 1,222 by Wilbour (and how he managed to get his tr. published in the year of the original is a story in itself).

No, there aren’t any digressions. Every side-path and detail is of the essence, from giving Cambronne’s answer at Waterloo as Merde! (the journalist Rougement reported La garde meurt et ne se rend pas! “The Guard dies and does not surrender!”, which was put on the base of a statue of C after his death; C denied he’d said either) to the sewers of Paris.

Hugo said he was writing a polemic: “So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilisation, artificially creates hells on earth … books like this cannot be useless” (beginning and end of his preface, tr. Wilbour). But that last word is strange.

For years the coal of my desire to read this book was cold. I hearkened too much to how Hugo was a social critic — ipse dixit — and how Les Misérables was about relentless Inspector Javert’s pursuing Jean Valjean for stealing a loaf of bread.

Although “a loaf of bread” is an oafish misstatement, the criticism is there; the pursuit is there — oh, the pursuit! O Javert, what an end for you! — but we’d not call Rembrandt’s Night Watch (1642) a painting about men’s hats.

I’ve said the works of Jane Austen (1775-1817) are to us like writing by a Martian for fellow Martians; of Georgette Heyer (1902-1974), set in that period, like a science fiction author’s writing about Martians: Austen assumes we understand. Hugo is a Martian from across a canal.

What do these Martians tell one another to evoke the world they all share? We, who are in the business of verisimilitude, evoking fictional worlds, can watch.

I mention the notes first here because Les Misérables is so studded with allusion and reference that we need the help.

A Skiff Hails a Bark

By John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1246, 26 Apr 17) Cherry-blossom viewing (hanami) season had largely ended last week at Kyôto, Nara, and Tôkyô; at Sapporo, in the north, blossoms should begin to open about May 1st and be at their peak for the following few days. Cherry blossoms are so beloved in Japan they not only have a name of their own (sakura), but also are understood from the word for blossom (hana) if no more is specified. Here there were e.g. a Cherry Blossom Festival 4-5 & 11-12 Mar 17, Descanso Gardens, La Cañada – Flintridge; a Nat’l Festival 16 Mar – 12 Apr at Washington, where a Japanese friendship gift of 3,000 trees had been accepted by First Lady Helen Taft.

Cherry blossoms are beautiful and fall soon. As long ago as the Man’yôshû (“Collection of Ten Thousand [not literally] Leaves [or maybe ‘to last ten thousand ages’]”, about the year 800), “the first and, in the opinion of most who have written about Japanese literature, the finest collection of Japanese poetry…. the falling of cherry blossoms could stir an awareness of transcience…. Some poems on cherry blossoms … convey so poignant a sense of the passing of time as to bring tears to the reader’s eyes,” D. Keene, Seeds in the Heart pp. 85, 91 (rev. 1999; J literature through the late 16th Century).

I was at Oakland, 350 miles (550 km) from home, 5,300 miles (8,600 km) from Kyôto, for a memorial to an uncle who died in February. He was 92, swimming a mile a day, working, and playing saxophone and clarinet in a jazz band. There were a few hundred people and a good hand­ful of speakers. On a printed program I saw Michael Dalby. Perhaps not an unusual name, I thought, but “Liza and I” in his speech told me he must be the husband of Liza Dalby, whose book Geisha (1983; 25th-anniversary ed’n and 17th printing with new preface, 2008) had so impressed me (Van 368). Afterward I found him; he said “she’s right over there”, and I thanked her.

She is the only American ever accepted as an apprentice geisha; for her Stanford Univer­sity Ph.D. she went to Kyôto, heart of Japanese culture, and served 14 months in one of the old­est geisha-houses; Geisha (actually Kyôto calls them geiko) is based on her dissertation. We foreigners have supposed them members of the world’s oldest profession, which they are not. Their primary arts (gei) are the shamisen (three strings played with a plectrum, long neck, no frets) with its song repertory, which she brought with her surprising her new companions, and dance; also superb dress, deportment, and wit.

When I met her she wore in her ears, and at her neck, the Japanese character mu (“nothingness”) in the distinctive calligraphy of the Zen Buddhist master Hakuin (1686-1768; famous inter alia for “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” which he thought led beginners to the Great Doubt — “At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening. If you doubt fully, you will awaken fully” — better than the answer of Jôshu [778-897] to “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?”: “Mu!“).

I thought she might like to hear, and with only a few minutes I tried to tell her, that when I was sent to Japan for the 65th World Science Fiction Convention (2007), the first held in Asia, by the one-time traveling-fan fund Murray Moore invented, HANA (Hertz Across to Nippon Alliance, for which we used the character hana in the calligraphy of Seiichi Shirato’s uncle Seihou Mikado), her book had been a great help to me.

I left out the Haiku Contest and other adventures of bidding for that Worldcon, adventures of holding that Worldcon, and the careers of Takumi Shibano and Peggy Rae Sapienza. I did say I’d gone to the Bashô (1644-1694) Museum and stood where he stood at the Sumida River; at the Kiyosumi Garden, had asked to see the iris beds; she remembered the acrostic poem about irises by Narihira (825-880) and said “I hope you were there in May” — irises are a May flower — so I explained “No, September; I wanted to see where the irises had been,” but (just as befell me and several friends at the Garden, only there we were rescued by the pocket computer of Etsuko Kodama, who’d been At-Con Registration) neither she nor I could recall the name of Kenkô (1284-1350), who’d written that chrysanthemums are most beautiful when their edges start to brown.

Since Geisha, Ms. Dalby has written Kimono (1993), a novel The Tale of Murasaki (2000) being a fictional biography of the author of The Tale of Genji (1012), a memoir East Wind Melts the Ice (2007), and another novel Hidden Buddhas (2009). When I got home I re-read Geisha, Mineko Iwasaki’s memoir Geisha of Gion (2002; the United Kingdom title, United States title Geisha, a Life), The Diary of Lady Murasaki (covers only 1008-1010; R. Bowring tr., rev. 1996), and read E. Underwood’s Life of a Geisha (1999, foreword by LD) and N. Ogino’s photograph book A Geisha’s Journey (2008, text by the Kyôto geiko Komomo), then East Wind and Tale of Murasaki, all which I recommend.

A Thousand Years

By John Hertz: Traditional Chinese and Japanese often have a thousand years for “long”.  Raising a drink one may say A thousand years! meaning roughly “Live long and prosper!”

The book which many think the first novel in the world really was written a thousand years ago, The Tale of Genji, completed about the year 1012.  Its author was a court lady, which is remarkable, but that’s another story.  In English it now has four translations, by Arthur Waley (1933), Edward Seidensticker (1976), Royall Tyler (2001), Dennis Washburn (2015), each with fans.

We call the author Lady Murasaki.  She may have been Fujiwara no Takako (i.e. Takako of the clan Fujiwara), who served the Empress Shôshi.  Murasaki is a nickname, after the main female character in her book, called Murasaki (“wisteria”).

We know little about the author personally.  She left a diary, also a work of art, but what has come down to us only covers two years.  The immense Genji scholarship includes labor over the diary.

In re-reading Richard Bowring’s 1996 translation The Diary of Lady Murasaki just now I came across these passages good for a thousand years (pp. 53, 56).

It is very easy to criticize others but far more difficult to put one’s own principles into practice, and it is when one forgets this truth, lauds oneself to the skies, treats everyone else as worthless, and generally despises others, that one’s own character is clearly revealed.

It is so rare to find someone of true understanding; for the most part they judge purely by their own standards and ignore everyone else.

King of Kings

By John King Tarpinian: This is the time of year a story of Jesus comes around that could be said has a deep sci-fi connection.  One of the many behind the scenes jobs that Ray Bradbury had was as what is called a script-doctor.  That is when somebody is called in to repair a script that has problems.  In this case they did not have an ending.  Ray was called in to fix things.  In their first meeting they said they did not have an ending for the movie.  Ray asked “Have you read the book?”  After pointing the script in the right direction it was decided that a narration might help the movie’s advance forward.  Ray wrote a narration.

They loved his narration and decided to use it but needed a powerful voice.  Ray suggested his friend, Orson Welles.  They loved this idea but feared they could not afford someone of Welles’ stature.  Ray thought he could get Orson to do the narration for scale.  (Orson played Father Mapple in John Huston’s Moby Dick, the script written by Ray Bradbury.)

This I do not quite understand, but since the producers could not afford to pay Ray and Orson a special fee both names were left off of the credits.

So what do we have here?  One of the greatest writers of the 20th Century.  A man who panicked the country with his radio drama, War of the Worlds and, oh yes, the man who played the blonde-haired blue-eyed Jesus, Jeffrey Hunter. He who went on to play Captain Christopher Pike in the pilot for the original Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” that was re-edited into the episode, “The Menagerie.”

An Earlier Forerunner Saga

By John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1242)

Queenly women of forests unmanned,
How may we go to reach Herland?
Feat and feat and other feat.
May any helpful easement be?
Smooth each road that ye can see.

Every month from November 1909 through December 1916, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) wrote all thirty pages of The Forerunnner, including advertisements.  She serialized Herland there (1915), and its sequel With Her in Ourland (1916; completed in F’s final issue).

By 1909 she was already famous for Women and Economics (1898), with four printings (nine by 1920), translated into Danish, Dutch, German, Italian, and Russian.  She had speaking engagements across the United States and in Britain.  Jane Addams praised her, and she worked at Hull House; William Dean Howells said she had the best brains of any woman in America.  She played whist and chess.  She was a contributing editor to The American Fabian.

I have not found she read Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888) – that may be in her archive, Schlesinger Library, 3 James St., Cambridge, MA 02138 – but she appeared in the Nationalist, journal of the Bellamy movement, and was an officer in the Nationalist Club of Oakland, California.

Herland was neglected until Ann J. Lane (1931-2013) got Pantheon to republish it in 1979.  On the back Joanna Russ says “It’s a lovely, funny book.  There is a wonderful flavor of Golden Age science fiction, which adds to the fun and doesn’t in the least spoil the argument, which is still fresh and very much of today.”

Ourland was republished by Praeger in 1997.  Mary Jo Deegan (1946-  ) in a 57-page introduction calls it “no less witty, no less sage” (p. 1), “less pessimistic about human relations”, “more courageous” (p. 3), and regrets Lane’s moan, in a 24-page introduction to Herland, that “where Herland skips and sprints, Ourland trudges” (H p. xvi, O p. 5); on the contrary, there is (O id.) “hilarious satire….  Ourland is intellectually more difficult”.

In Herland three men hear of and then find a remote country, somewhere in South America, populated only by women for two thousand years.  No other male visitors; no men hidden, nor born and expelled or worse; a woman bore a daughter parthenogenetically, it bred true, and their descendants thrive.  “We had expected a dull submissive monotony, and found a daring…. a social consciousness…. a broad sisterly affection, a fair-minded intelligence…. health and vigor … calmness of temper” (ch. 7).  The men each fall in love; marriages are invented; one man offends and must go, one couple stays, one man returns with his wife to the wide wide world as told in Ourland.

These might be science fiction; anyway, they are speculative fiction.  We might deem them thought-experiments.  With due respect to Russ and nil nisi bonum, my view is not that the fun doesn’t spoil the argument: I think the shoe is on the other foot.

Herland is neat, imaginative, warm-hearted; I’m not sorry I read Ourland, but.  Eventually the emigrant asks her husband “What is your prejudice against socialism?” to which he – narrator of both books – replies “I was obliged to exhibit my limitations…. without waiting to be careful … I produced a jumble of popular emotions…. [she] laughed merrily, both at this nondescript mass of current misconception, and at my guilty yet belligerent air….  She … looked far past me – through me” (O ch. 9); alas, so must we with the author.  Nero Wolfe in Prisoner’s Base (ch. 12; R. Stout, 1952) said “You also know when to stop.”

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.