Fandom’s Most Beloved Typo

Wordnik.com’s “Word of the Day” for May 25 is “filk” –

adj. (adj) About or inspired by science fiction, fantasy, horror, science, and/or subjects of interest to fans of speculative fiction; frequently, being a song whose lyrics have been altered to refer to science fiction; parodying.

The Wordnik post takes its definition from the Wikitionary entry for “filk”.

Unlike most developments in the history of popular culture, how the word “filk” got its start is precisely known. Lee Jacobs typoed the word “folk” in the title of his manuscript “The Influence of Science Fiction on Modern American Filk Music” intended for distribution in a mailing of the Spectator Amateur Press Society in the early 1950s. While I’ve never seen the article and can’t say what the problem was, Wrai Ballard, SAPS’ official editor at the time, feared its bawdy content could get him into trouble with the Post Office under the Comstock Laws and he refused to send it out. Ballard nevertheless enjoyed the typo, as did the others he told about it. “Filk music” rapidly became part of the faannish jargon.

Thanks to Lee Gold, we even know that the first composition to designate itself a filksong was “Barbarous Allen”, lyrics attributed to Poul Anderson, in Karen Kruse Anderson’s SAPSzine Die Zeitschrift für Vollstandigen Unsinn #774 (1953).

[Thanks to Sam Long for the story.]

Disaster Tourism

Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland.

In these Phil Dick-ian times it’s a coin toss whether an idea will be imagined as an sf story before it really happens and gets reported by journalists.

Take “disaster tourism.” Just the other day MSNBC ran a report by a writer who took a tour of Chernobyl:

Even before the crisis at a Japanese nuclear plant broke out in March, interest in visiting Chernobyl was growing so much that the Ukrainian government started an initiative to bring in more visitors by streamlining procedures for signing up for the tours.

“We want to say ‘come and see for yourselves,’” Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman Yulia Yershova told The Associated Press. Then she added a remark indicating that the meaning of Chernobyl is elusive even for those who live closely with it: “We want to dispel the myth that Chernobyl still remains dangerous for Ukraine and the world.”

But Chernobyl is in fact still a dangerous place, as the rules for visitors make clear. Don’t touch any structures or vegetation, don’t sit on the ground or even put your camera tripod there, don’t take any item out of the zone, don’t eat outdoors. Guides make sure the visitors understand that various spots in the zone are more contaminated than others and insist no one wander off the designated paths.

I was initially going to spin the story of “disaster sightseeing” tours to Chernobyl as more-science-fictional-than-science fiction. But doesn’t this precise combination of morbid curiosity and imagination drives a great many sf stories?

One example that comes to mind is Kage Baker’s “Company” story, “Son, Observe the Time,” set on the eve of the San Francisco Earthquake. Baker’s story involves much more than the quake – because a lot of smash and crash, without more, doesn’t add up to a story. And that fact is one of the ironic distinctions between fiction and reality. Loads of people want to visit real life scenes of wreckage and ruin, and no character development or plot resolution is needed.    

There are guided bus tours to New Orleans neighborhoods that were severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Discover The World, a British tour operator, runs a “volcano hotline” and calls travellers as soon as a volcano erupts, offering them a trip to see it. Tourists left for Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland within 48 hours after the eruption began:

From a couple of miles away, we first catch sight of the crater, spewing fire into the darkening sky, and we stop to take photos. This is dramatic enough, but our guide motions at us to start up the snowmobiles again and we head closer. Suddenly, we crest a rise, the ice turns from white to ashen black, and the fiery crater is there before us, no more than 500m away. The sight is mesmerising, but oddly familiar from films and TV – you have to remind yourself this is for real. The sound is thrilling and unexpected though, a succession of low booms as the lava explodes up 100 metres into the air, then comes crashing to earth.

Where science fiction writers have the edge on travel agents is that they can send people to the edge of jeopardy in cosmic environments that can only be reached in the imagination, like Poul Anderson’s Flandry, stranded on the surface of a Jovian world and trying to imagine how to attract the attention of alien rescuers, or Niven’s Beowulf Schaeffer snared in the tidal pull of a black hole.

Edd Cartier Passes Away

Cartier illustration for Hoka story

Edd Cartier, who created some of the signature images from the Golden Age of Astounding Science Fiction, including the one above for Dickson and Anderson’s Hoka tales, died on Christmas Day at the age of 94. Robert Greenberger’s obituary for ComicMix reminds that Cartier not only was John W. Campbell’s favorite artist, he also did hundreds of illustrations for Street & Smith’s other magazines, such as The Shadow, Red Dragon and Super-Magician Comics.

Here is a link to a gallery of his art, including images collected and published as a 1950 calendar by Gnome Press:  http://www.scanraptor.com/hiper/ecartier2.htm

 

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the link.]

Where Real Writers Work

The desk and chair Charles Dickens used while writing Great Expectations sold for £433,250 at auction in early June. It is the original of the desk shown in Filde’s drawing known as “The Empty Chair” and upon it were written Dickens’ last works.

When I looked at “The Empty Chair” I immediately wondered: How did Dickens ever get any work done in such a neat room? Impossible. Someone must have cleaned it up before they let the artist in. I don’t know any writer who could even begin to work in such a sanitized environment.

Certainly Dickens’ contemporary Mark Twain didn’t. Go to the interactive map of Mark Twain’s House. Click on the Third Floor “Billiard Room” to see where Samuel Clemens did Mark Twain’s work. Even now that it’s a museum, the curators haven’t forgotten to spread around some clutter to simulate the great man at work. (While you’re there, click on the First Floor “Entrance Hall” and look at the three-story spiral staircase. Legend holds that whoever seeks to be a writer should touch the staircase’s mahogany railing. Now wipe the fingerprint off of your monitor.)

Thanks to Google, it’s easy to find lots of photos of science fiction writers’ offices to illustrate the same point. A collection of links appears after the jump.

Continue reading