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


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


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.

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.

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

Rank the films from 1 to 3, 1 being best.

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