Magical Mystery Tour: NYRSF Readings Spotlight the Beatles Across Space and Time

By Mark L. Blackman: The Beatles entered my consciousness not through the bathroom window but with my brother telling me about a new singing group with “haircuts like Moe” of the Three Stooges. (Decades later, he watched Sir Paul perform in Tel Aviv.) Soon after I saw their landmark first appearance on Ed Sullivan. By then Beatlemania had erupted – the moptops were the Fab Four – everyone had to get them into their lives. We followed their long and winding road from sweet love songs to India and Sergeant Pepper and The End.

When friends visited from England, they made a pilgrimage to Strawberry Fields – a place to go – then across the street to the Dakota.

This time of year is a sad one for Beatles fans. Last month saw the anniversary of George’s death, next week will be that of John’s murder. A celebration of their music, fame and legacy, what they meant, something to say that it’s O.K. and make us feel good in a special way, is most welcome. We saw a reminder of their status as The ’60s Icons last summer as fans gathered on the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road on, where else?, London’s Abbey Road.

Yesterday, on the evening of Tuesday, December 3rd – Giving Tuesday – at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Brooklyn, the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series hosted a launch party (we’re going to a party party) for Across the Universe, an anthology of 25 freaky and twisted (and shouted) speculative fiction stories about the Beatles and alternative variations of the still-Fab Four. Edited by Michael A. Ventrella and Randee Dawn, the ticket to ride features what-ifs by Spider Robinson, Jody Lynn Nye, David Gerrold, Cat Rambo, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Allen Steele, Pat Cadigan, Gregory Frost, Gregory Benford, Matthew Amati, Ken Schneyer, Bev Vincent, Patrick Barb, Gail Z. Martin, Barbara Clough, Eric Avedissian, Alan Goldsher, R. Jean Mathieu, Beth Patterson, and Christian Smith, coming together, plus the, um, Fab Five readers of the evening: Charles Barouch, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Carol Gyzander, Gordon Linzner, and Sally Wiener Grotta.

All together now.

As we gathered, Beatles tunes played to get us into the spirit of things. The event opened, as usual, with producer and executive curator Jim Freund, host of the long-running sf/fantasy radio program Hour of the Wolf (with WBAI-FM back on the air, he’s no longer sitting in a nowhere land) welcoming the audience to the last reading of 2019. He began by noting that tonight’s readings would be on Facebook Live, rather than streamed on Livestream, plugging that the Café’s kitchen would be open through most of the evening, and announcing that next month’s readers (January 7th) would be Hildy Silverman and A.C. Wise (though without glitter). He reminded those who can to donate to the Series ($7 is the suggested donation, but no one is ever turned away due to lack of funds), and reported that the home audience may donate on its Patreon page, Jim Freund.

Randee Dawn

Bringing up guest host and the book’s co-editor Randee Dawn, he reported that Across the Universe is actually the second such anthology, the first being All Together Now, edited by James Ryan. Dawn is a Brooklyn-based author and entertainment journalist who focuses on speculative fiction, but is co-author of The Law & Order:  SVU Unofficial Companion. After recounting how she and Ventrella pretty much simultaneously came up with the idea, presented it to Ian Randal Strock of Fantastic Books and launched a Kickstarter campaign to realize it, she introduced the evening’s first reader.

Sally Wiener Grotta is the author of The Winter Boy and Jo Joe, a journalist and the co-curator of the Galactic Philadelphia author reading series. She read from her story “The Truth Within,” in which George goes to Key Biscayne and tries to get Nixon interested in (“hooked on”) transcendental meditation: “Imagine a chilled Nixon at peace with himself. … And poof! No more carpet bombing and napalm.”

Carol Gyzander, writer of various crossgenre ’punk stories and the second reader, read from “Deal with the Devil”, which is one answer to “how did the Beatles get so good?” Set in Liverpool after their return from playing clubs in Hamburg (Pete Best is still their drummer), two kids, fans of Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne, using black magic to connect with their idols, instead reach – through their old black and white “telly” – the Beatles.

Next up was Gordon Linzner, founder and former editor of Space & Time Magazine, author of The Spy Who Drank Blood, and who, as lead singer of the Saboteur Tiger Blues Band, has covered a fair share of Beatles songs. His story alludes to a tv show with four protagonists, “The Hey! Team.” With John as leader and wacko Richard “Ringo” Starkey in the Murdoch role, they try to prevent the abduction of Chuck Berry’s guitar Maybellene, while being pursued by Colonel Pepper (he was promoted).

Charles Barouch

“The Perfect Bridge,” Charles Barouch’s quickie was another time travel story. A computer programmer in 1978, using a “Yellow Subroutine,” reaches across to 1967 to plant an Appleseed.

During the intermission, a raffle was held for those who donated, with three prizes: from Carol Gyzander’s What We’ve Unlearned;  Sally Wiener Grotta’s Jo Joe; and Gordon Linzner’s The Spy Who Drank Blood. Freund reported that the Brooklyn Commons was starting a series or festival of short subject films and invited us to sign up electronically at a terminal up front.

Keith R.A. DeCandido

Opening the second half of the show was Keith R.A. DeCandido, who is perhaps best known for his media tie-in work across “33 different universes, from Alien to Zorro.” In “Used to Be,” which is set sort of in his “Precinct” fantasy police procedural series, the Beatles are recast as Jahn, Gyorg, Paol and Starki, D&D tropes (Jahn is a bard, Starki a barbarian).

Filling in for the scheduled final reader, Dawn read Matthew Amati’s “Apocalypse Rock.” Set in an alternate history where the U.S. lost JFK’s Cuban Missile Crisis gamble, four musicians wander a postapocalyptic landscape of gangs and cannibal mutants to a battle of the bands at the titular site.

Ian Randall Strock

Then, in a bonus, the book’s publisher (“the guy who writes the checks”), Ian Randal Strock, read “Rubber Soul” by Spider Robinson. In the 1985 story, John is resurrected 24 years after his death at 40, making him…

Finally, it being a party party and all the world is birthday cake, Dawn brought out a huge cake (though not honey pie or marshmallow pie) decorated with a copy of the cover art by Dave Alvarez. (I took a piece but not too much.)

The traditional Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered a small assortment of books. The audience of close to 80, counting Freund and the readers, included Karen Heuler, (House Manager) Barbara Krasnoff, John Kwok, James Ryan and Susan Bratisher Ryan.

It was a hard day’s night. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

The Cat That Walked by Himself

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 39)  John Paul Stevens (1920-2019) was the 101st Justice (as we call judges there) appointed to the United States Supreme Court (served 1975-2010), taking the seat vacated by the retirement of William O. Douglas (1898-1980; served 1939-1975).  Justice Stevens was appointed by President Ford; Justice Douglas had been appointed by President F.D. Roosevelt.

Upon retiring, Justice Stevens wrote Five Chiefs (2011), a memoir of the Chief Justices he had served under.  A fuller memoir The Making of a Justice (2019) appeared two months before his death.  Only Douglas and Justice Stephen J. Field (1816-1899; served 1863-1897, appointed by President Lincoln) were longer on the Court.

Justice Stevens and I both went to the University of Chicago Laboratory School and Northwestern U. law school.  He was and I am a Chicago Cubs baseball fan.  At Northwestern, he and I had the same professor for Antitrust law, James A. Rahl (1917-1994).

It’s been said that a man who wears a bow tie is a joker.  On the strength of my grandfather, of one of my brilliant first-year law school professors, and of Justice Stevens, it may be true.  The Making of a Justice is full of jokes, many dry, some wry.

I was a few feet from him at a law-school reception when he muttered to another of my brilliant professors – who didn’t wear bow ties, but always wore a gray three-piece suit, white shirt, black knitted four-in-hand; not until watching him closely in a second class I carefully took with him did I see from slightly differing lapels, or buttons, or tie weave, that he had several – “I never had the Latin for the judgin’”.

The only time The Making shocked me was a manifest set-up.  The title itself is a joke; how can it cover Stevens’ entire life and not merely the years 1920-1975? but he was famous for saying learning on the job was essential to judging (e.g. his 2006 article “Learning on the Job” [based on a 2005 speech], Fordham U. Law Review, vol. 74, beginning at p. 1561).

The consummation devoutly to be wished is that judges, most of all – supremely – on the Supreme Court, will study the law, study the facts of the case before them, and decide how the law applies to the case and with what result.  In the words of Gelett Burgess’ poet (“The Protest of the Illiterate”, 1897), that’s hard as the deuce; we can have panels of three judges, or seven, and on the U.S. Supreme Court are nine.

What can happen, what we hope will not happen, and what the mass news media and, it seems, many politicians insist always does happen, is that judges unconsciously or otherwise bend toward their existing opinions – alas, their prejudices – and reach results accordingly.  A Spanish proverb says Every man pushes his own sardine closer to the fire.  So we worry about liberal and conservative judges, if wisely then unfortunately.

To the extent that is real and not false wisdom I think the Supreme Court should have two thoughtful articulate liberals, two thoughtful articulate conservatives, and the rest moderates.  Thus various views will be expressed, and if I may quote Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. (1906-1997; served 1956-1990, appointed by President Eisenhower), praised, when he is (literary present tense), as a thoughtful articulate liberal, It takes five votes to get anything done around here.

Law and politics are neighbors.  Supreme Court justices, who are not elected, are nominated by a President and confirmed by a Senate who are.  It is tempting, and some would say rightful, for the President and the Senate (where the President may not have a sympathetic majority) to try moving the Court in a favored direction.  Even so that does not always eventuate.

Justice Stevens, nominated by a President who was a moderate Republican, appeared to be a moderate Republican.  By his retirement liberals were boasting of him.  But he always said he was a conservative, and as time went on, he said the Court, not he, had shifted.

He had sometimes been called “even Stevens” for delivering both opinions conservatives liked and opinions liberals liked.  At his death both Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. (born 1955; serving since 2005, appointed by President G.W. Bush), a conservative, and Justice Elena Kagan (b. 1960; appointed by President Obama to succeed Justice Stevens), a liberal, praised him for kindness, humility, and independence; Justice Kagan said he was fiercely independent.

She also called him a model of collegiality (which another of my brilliant law professors always deliberately pronounced “colleague-iality”).  That shows in both Five Chiefs and The Making of a Justice.

He many times wrote the opinion of the Court, many times a concurring opinion to record why he could not wholly agree, many times an opinion in dissent.  I’ll record one dissent of mine; to keep this note from being technical, not on a legal point – and I concur in his result.

Judging a moot-court competition which argued whether the actor Shakespeare (1564-1616) had actually written the plays under that name, he held that the challenger had not brought evidence enough to overturn the prevailing view in favor of the actor, but “confessed to having some doubt….  the striking difference between the spelling … of his … actual signatures and the name ‘Shakespeare’”, adding in his memoir that, when visiting the Shakespeare home in Stratford-upon-Avon later in the year, he “found no evidence whatsoever that the house ever contained a library.  The man who wrote those plays must have owned some books,” Making pp. 235-36.

In his legal opinions Justice Stevens insisted on understanding the facts.  Here in my own view he was alas ill-informed of contemporary spelling in written English, of what actors like Shakespeare had in ready memory, of the notorious errors indicating the playwright had not consulted books, and of the cost and availability of books then.

But in 2005 Gerald Ford said “I am prepared to allow history’s judgment of my term in office to rest (if necessary, exclusively) on my nomination thirty years ago of Justice John Paul Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court….  He has served with dignity, intellect, and without partisan political concerns,” Making pp. 527-28.  R.I.P.

Laboratory schools: some universities and other institutions engaged in teacher education maintain these to train teachers, further educational research and experimentation, and like that.  Antitrust law: so called in the U.S. because at the turn of the 20th Century businesses perceived to exercise oppressive economic power acted by using, or abusing, the form of legal entity known as a trust, one person (which need not be a natural person, could be a corporation) holding property for others’ benefit; thus e.g. the 1914 Sherman Antitrust Act.  “Never had the Latin for the judgin’”: P. Cook as E.L. Wisty (1960), see his Tragically I Was an Only Twin pp. 43-45 (2002).  Moot court: a mock trial or arbitration examining a hypothetical case as an academic exercise.

Wandering Through the Public Domain #25

A regular exploration of public domain genre work available through Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and Librivox.

By Colleen McMahon: I had a vague memory that I began this little column/project last November, and just checked to make sure. Yes, the first “Wandering Through the Public Domain” was posted on November 16, 2018, so this will mark my first anniversary here. Thank you for reading and for your comments over the various columns, and thank you so much to Mike Glyer for hosting my natterings!

It’s been a fun project and I look forward to keeping it going for the foreseeable future. If you have any feedback or suggestions, and especially if you have sought out and enjoyed anything I’ve mentioned here, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

As so often happens, I prepared to write today without any clear notion of what I wanted to do (though I have a document with author and topic ideas to rev my brain up when needed). And as so often also happens, I was gifted with a suggestion somewhat randomly.

A very recent Librivox release (described in detail below) is An Earthman on Venus by Ralph Milne Farley (1887-1963). When creating the listing for it, I had to look up Mr. Farley to get his birth and death dates, and found something interesting when I did. His Wikipedia entry was under the name Roger Sherman Hoar.

That in itself is not too surprising, since many authors use pseudonyms. What did catch my eye was Mr. Hoar’s day job — he was a state senator and assistant attorney general in Massachusetts. He was descended from a distinguished American family. His grandfather had served as a U.S. Attorney General, and his great-great-grandfather was Roger Sherman, founding father and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Hoar was a graduate of Harvard for both his undergraduate degree (1909) and law school (1911). The same year that he finished law school, 1911, he began serving in the Massachusetts state senate, although I could not find any detail about the circumstances as to whether he was elected or appointed and how long he served. He continued to have a distinguished career in law in Massachusetts and later in Wisconsin, as well as taking a turn into engineering and teaching.

Hoar also began writing and publishing at a young age. He wrote multiple books about law, mainly business law, under his own name. He published a tariff manual in 1912 and a book about constitutional conventions in 1917.

Meanwhile, he was turning out pulp fiction stories and novels, with most of his work being published between the world wars. After he moved to Wisconsin, he joined the Milwaukee Fictioneers, whose members also included Robert Bloch and Stanley G. Weinbaum (both of whom were covered, coincidentally, in Wandering Through the Public Domain #13)

His most famous works were a series of “Radio Man” stories published through the 1920s and 1930s, beginning with 1924’s “The Radio Man”. The stories began as serials in magazines like Argosy and Amazing, but found a wider readership when they were reprinted as paperback novels in the 1950s. 

There are three Farley works available through Project Gutenberg:

As mentioned below, An Earthman on Venus was just released on Librivox, and The Radio Planet is currently listed as “in progress”. “The Danger from the Deep” is included in the recording of the complete August 1931 Astounding Stories issue.

Recent Librivox releases:

  • An Earthman on Venus by Ralph Milne Farley (1887-1963)

    When Myles Cabot accidentally transmitted himself to the planet Venus, he found himself naked and bewildered on a mystery world where every unguarded minute might mean a horrible death.

    Man-eating plants, tiger-sized spiders, and dictatorial ant-men kept Myles on the run until he discovered the secret of the land—that humanity was a slave-race and that the monster ants were the real rulers of the world!

    But Cabot was resourceful, and when his new found love, the Kewpie-doll princess Lilla, called for help, the ant-men learned what an angry Earthman can do.

    An Earthman on Venus was originally published as The Radio Man in 1924.

  • The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (Dramatic Reading) by Hugh Lofting (1886-1947)

    Doctor John Dolittle is an animal doctor and famous naturalist whose success hinges on his ability to speak the languages of many different kinds of animals. This book, the second Dr. Dolittle adventure, is narrated by Tommy Stubbins, who meets the Doctor after finding an injured squirrel. Stubbins becomes interested in the Doctor’s work and has the opportunity to travel with him and several animal companions to a mysterious floating island called Spidermonkey Island.

  • The Green Odyssey (Version 2) by Philip Jose Farmer (1918-2009)

    A rip-roaring, pulpy and quirky space odyssey for your listening pleasure. Follow earth man Allen Green as his space ship fails and leaves him on a barbaric planet filled with other human descendants who have reverted to pre-technology existence. Naturally he is made a slave and must connive, plan, love and fight his way across 10,000 miles of danger to freedom. Full of strange beings, this planet highlights the amazing imagination of Philip Jose Farmer and his ability to make it scary and fun at the same time.

Streetlights on a Local Centenary

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 38)

Of course a wood ear
Grows on that trunk, city boy.
Learning’s everywhere.

California in November 1919 became the 18th State ratifying the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Congress had passed it on June 4th. It would become effective if ratified by three-quarters of the States. Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin ratified it first on June 10th. Tennessee was the 36th and conclusive State in August 1920.

XIX. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

This was (18 Aug) six months after the hundredth birthday (15 Feb) of women’s-suffrage pioneer Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906). Her eightieth birthday had been celebrated at the White House at the invitation of President McKinley.

She became the first female citizen to be depicted on U.S. currency when dollar coins with her portrait by Frank Gasparro (1909-2000), 10th Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, were issued in 1979. President Carter, signing into law the Congressional bill authorizing them, said

I am particularly pleased that the new dollar coin will — for the first time in history — bear the image of a great American woman. The life of Susan B. Anthony exemplifies the ideals for which our country stands. The “Anthony dollar” will symbolize for all American women the achievement of their unalienable right to vote. It will be a constant reminder of the continuing struggle for the equality of all Americans.

The reverse of the coin continued Gasparro’s design for the reverse of the 1971 Eisenhower dollar, showing an eagle clutching a laurel branch in its talons displayed over a landscape of the Moon, with the Earth in the sky behind and thirteen stars, based on the Apollo 11 Moon-mission patch designed by astronaut Michael Collins (1930- ).

President Eisenhower had approved the first U.S. Space mission (1955) and signed into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act (1958). Anthony, it might be said, stood for the ascension of women into new space, renewing their strength, mounting up with wings as eagles, running not weary, walking not faint.

California had granted women’s votes as a matter of State law by referendum in October 1911. Among opponents the Los Angeles Times said (“Women-Made Laws”, 21 Jan 11 p. I-14)

women…. by their inferior physical strength … are unable to compete on an equal basis in any line of endeavor where ability is determined by sheer bodily prowess. All positions of physical power — such as in our police forces, our armies and our navies — will necessarily be filled by men. In other words the enforcement of all law must inevitably rest with men. No law … could be effectually upheld except through the willingness of men to uphold it. And no matter what words were written on the statute books of any State, if the physical power (which is the masculine power) behind it were withdrawn, the law would immediately become void and impotent.

This fallacy, arguing to cynicism, even to barbarity, contains its own refutation. Let’s set aside how cynical, even barbaric, is the notion that laws’ only potency comes from physical force – which is setting aside a lot: behold No law … could be effectually upheld except through … willingness … to uphold it.

Law operates when it is reasonable and people see it is reasonable. Of course some enforcement will be needed; but much more are wisdom and communication.

The inadequacy of physical force as a basis for law was expressed by a maxim attributed to Genghis Khan (1162-1227), if not earlier, You can gain a country on horseback, but you cannot rule it on horseback – i.e. cavalry, armed forces.

In fact we have learned a lot about physical prowess of women police, soldiers and sailors – powered aircraft were first used in war nine months after the Times article (Italians against Turks at Tripoli) – but, as Mark Twain might say (Life on the Mississippi ch. 44, 1883), that’s lagniappe.

There’s a Women’s Rights National Historic Park, seven acres in and near Seneca Falls, New York, established by Congress in 1980.

In July 1848 Jane Hunt (1812-1889), Mary Ann McClintock (1800-1884), Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), Elizabeth Stanton (1815-1902), and Martha Wright (1806-1875) meeting there decided to organize a convention “to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman”. Over 300 men and women attended, filling Wesleyan Methodist Church.

The Park includes the church; the Hunt, McClintock, and Stanton houses; a Visitor Center; and the Suffragette Press Printshop. A freestanding plaque outside the church says “First convention for woman’s rights was held on this corner, 1848”.

Stanton is regarded as the principal author of a Declaration of Sentiments read at the convention and signed by a hundred of those present. Following the 1776 Declaration of Independence – which had been signed by fifty-six – it began

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal….

In a heated debate whether women’s suffrage should be included, Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) urged that it should, and it was.

All these people – Anthony, Hunt, McClintock, Mott, Stanton, Wright – Douglass – Collins – Gasparro – Carter, Eisenhower, Genghis, McKinley, Twain, Wesley – are worth attention.

Me and my shadow,
Or two, or three, as I walk
Under the streetlights


“a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word – ‘lagniappe’…. something thrown in, gratis, for good measure.”

Learning by Example

By John Hertz: (mostly reprinted from No Direction Home 35)  I know two books entitled The Vicious Circle.  Each book and both together are of interest, indirectly, to us speculative-fiction fans.  The 1957 motion picture (G. Thomas dir.; renamed The Circle in 1959 United States release) is not related.  Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (A. Rudolph dir. 1994) is, but I haven’t seen it.

“The Vicious Circle” was a name its members, or constituents, or something, gave to a group of writers and their friends who met at the Algonquin Hotel, New York, mostly for lunch, during the 1920s and 1930s.  It was the kind of joke they made.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) was one of them.  She won the O. Henry Award for her 1929 short story “Big Blonde”.  She was the reviewer “Constant Reader” for The New Yorker; three volumes of poetry, Enough Rope (1926), Sunset Gun (1928), Death and Taxes (1931); two of short stories, Laments for the Living (1930), After Such Pleasures (1933); plays for stage and screen – two Academy Award nominations, for A Star Is Born (1937, with Alan Campbell and Robert Carson) and Smash-Up (1947, with Frank Cavett).  She wanted her tombstone to say “This is on me” but her remains were cremated.

The owner of the Algonquin, Frank Case (1872-1946), provided the Circle with a round table.  Harpo Marx (1888-1964) didn’t have a vicious bone in his body, so his 1961 memoir Harpo Speaks! – his stage character was mute – just talks of the Algonquin Round Table.  It seems to have started as a joke on Alexander Woollcott (1887-1943).  The date has been given as April 4, 1919, making 2019 its centenary.

Frank Case’s daughter Margaret Case Harriman in her 1951 Vicious Circle has Al Hirschfeld illustrations.  Otto Penzler’s 2007 Vicious Circle is his anthology of a dozen stories by nine of the Circle, Robert Benchley (1932), Marc Connelly (1930), Edna Ferber (1911), George S. Kaufman & Howard Dietz (1931), Ring Lardner (1925, 1929), Parker (1929), S.J. Perelman (1944, 1951, 1971), and Woollcott (1931, 1932).

On the jacket of the Penzler book is a 1938 photo showing Alan Campbell, Case, Fritz Foord, Wolcott Gibbs, Russell Maloney, St. Clair McKelway, Parker, and James Thurber.  If you get The Ten-Year Lunch (A. Slesin dir. 1987; Academy Award, Best Documentary) you’ll see on the box a 1962 Hirschfeld illustration showing Franklin P. Adams, Benchley, Heywood Broun, Case, Connelly, Frank Croninshield, Ferber, Lynne Fontanne, Kaufman, Alfred Lunt, Parker, Robert Sherwood, and Woollcott.

These were great names once.  Some still are.  Some should be.

Life in these United States eight or ten decades ago is just alien enough now that we see another world in fiction written then.

Fiction is in the verisimilitude business.  Speculative fiction must attend to verisimilitude particularly – because readers can’t have seen the invented world.  Fiction from another time makes a good study.  What’s mentioned?  How much, in what and which detail?  What do characters take for granted?  What do authors suppose their readers will take for granted?

Fiction from another culture can also make a good study.  But if it is put into English from another language, the perspective we in SF want may be clouded by the work of the translator.

To what extent is a story by a U.S. author of 1911, using English, written in a language other than ours?

Detective fiction has a parallel interest in verisimilitude.  The author must see readers are sufficiently informed that they themselves could answer the question which the detective is presented with.

There may not be a detective.  The term mystery fiction is sometimes used, although not terminologically admirable.  A bookshop in Glendale, California, called itself “Bookfellows” and also – liking speculative fiction and what for the moment I’ll call “detective fiction” in a broad sense, as science fiction is sometimes used broadly to include fantasy (a usage whose terminological inadmirability has led some to propose speculative fiction) – “Mystery and Imagination Bookshop”.  I told the owners, half jokingly, “But all books are books of mystery and imagination.”  In 2016 the physical shop closed, operation going on electronically here.

Perhaps in mystery fiction the author must see readers are sufficiently informed that they can recognize why they should feel mystified. Perhaps in this sense speculative fiction can be mystery fiction.  One thinks of George O. Smith’s 1943 novelette “Lost Art” – 1943! aiee! did I forget to nominate it in this year’s Retro-Hugos? where are my notes? anyway it got fewer than 4 nominations; and I can’t say I’d prefer it to Kuttner & Moore’s “Mimsy Were the Borogoves”, which won.

Satire has a parallel interest.  The author must see readers are sufficiently informed that they can tell what is satirized.

Margaret Case Harriman subtitled her book the story of the Algonquin Round Table.  Otto Penzler, who owns the Mysterious Bookshop in New York and has won two Edgar Awards (for Best Biographical or Critical Work), subtitled his book mystery and crime stories by members of the Algonquin Round Table.

I’ll make a comparison regardless of magnitude.  Two geometrical figures of the same shape are similar even if very different in size: consider a scale model of the Moon 10” (25 cm) across; it and the Moon itself (2100 miles, 3500 km) are similar.  Jane Austen (1775-1817), I’ve said, is like a Martian writing for fellow Martians; Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) writing historical fiction set in the same period is like an SF author who introduces us to Martian life – never mind that science now indicates there might not be any. Penzler’s authors are like Austen, Harriman is like Heyer.

I recommend these two books to you – and if you care to pursue the subject, Harpo Speaks! and works by other Circlers.  Frank Case’s own memoir is Tales of a Wayward Inn (1938).  Read them for themselves, and read them as an SF fan.  What are they doing?  How do they do it?

Wandering Through the Public Domain #24

A regular exploration of public domain genre work available through Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and Librivox.

By Colleen McMahon: It’s hard to escape the fact that the vast majority of science fiction in the public domain was written by men, so when I come across work by a woman, I’m eager to feature it here. That was my thought when I saw the name Kris Neville (1925-1980). 

I soon discovered, however, that Kris Neville was a man, but with an intriguing history as a writer of science fiction. Both Science Fiction Encyclopedia and Wikipedia agree that despite Neville’s early success (he began publishing in magazines in 1949 and continued steadily well into the 1950s), he made a conscious decision to largely stop trying to have a full-time fiction writing career due to what he saw as limitations in the field.

Although he never became a widely known “big name,” Neville was well respected by his fellow authors. Barry Malzberg wrote about him in 1979:

Kris Neville could have been among the ten most honored science fiction writers of his generation; instead, he virtually abandoned the field after conquering it early on…I can hardly blame him for this decision, and it was in any case carefully thought out. Neville, who sold his first story in 1949 and another fifteen by 1952, concluded early on that the perimeters of the field in the 1950s were simply too close to contain the kind of work he would have to do if he wanted to grow as a writer, and accordingly he quit. A scattering of stories has appeared over the last quarter of a century, and a couple of novels….Nowadays a short-short story shows up once a year or so in a magazine or original anthology; sometimes written in collaboration with his second wife, Lil, and always so astonishingly above the run of material surrounding it as to constitute an embarrassment to the other writers.

Project Gutenberg has one novella and eight shorter works by Neville. The novella is Earth Alert! from the February 1953 issue of Imagination: Stories of Science and Fantasy. The short stories and novelettes:

None of Neville’s stories have been recorded for Librivox so far. 

In one of those serendipity moments, I noticed the name Damon Knight (1922-2002) on the cover image from the April 1963 Galaxy issue that accompanied “Voyage to Far N’jurd”. Knight is probably best known as the author of “To Serve Man”, a short story that became the basis of one of the best-remembered Twilight Zone episodes (and a Halloween episode parody on The Simpsons). “To Serve Man” is not at Project Gutenberg (it’s been reprinted and anthologized enough times that it surely remains under copyright several times over), but three other stories are:

“The Worshippers” has been recorded twice at Librivox, in Short Science Fiction Collection 014 and Short Science Fiction Collection 050. “Special Delivery” also appears Short Science Fiction Collection 050 (two Knights in one!), as well as in Short Science Fiction Collection 037.

I did find one female author to include this week: Catherine Moore, who usually published as C.L. Moore (1911-1987). She was married to Henry Kuttner from 1940 until his death in 1957, and they frequently collaborated. (Kuttner is covered in Wandering Through the Public Domain #13) She was a lifelong and active SF fan, but stopped writing in the 1950s, turning to a scriptwriting career in Hollywood for several years before retiring entirely upon her second marriage. Sadly, she was nominated to be the first woman SFWA Grand Master in the 1980s, but the nomination was withdrawn by request of her husband, as Moore was too ill with Alzheimer’s to accept or attend.

Project Gutenberg has two of Moore’s early stories from the 1930s:

“The Tree of Life” appears in one Librivox anthology, Short Science Fiction Collection 038. “Song in a Minor Key” has been recorded three times, in Short Science Fiction Collection 042, Short Science Fiction Collection 056, and Short Science Fiction Collection 058.

Librivox has an additional Moore novelette, “Shambleau”, included in Short Ghost and Horror Collection 024. The original text is available on Internet Archive.

One more work to briefly mention, Log of the Ark by Noah; Hieroglyphics by Ham by Irving L. Gordon was recently released on Project Gutenberg. It’s a short comic work that spoofs both the biblical story and ocean liner travel of the time (1915) and includes plenty of silly illustrations.

Recent Librivox releases:

  • Coffee Break Collection 24 — Ghosts, Ghouls, and Spooky Things by Various

    This is the twenty-fourth Coffee Break Collection, in which Librivox readers select English language public domain works of about 15 minutes or less in duration — perfect to listen to during commutes, workouts or coffee breaks. The topic for this collection is Ghosts, Ghouls and Spooky Things in honor of Halloween. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, prose, essays… all chill and perplex.

  • John Thorndyke’s Cases by R. Austin Freeman (1862-1943)

    John Thorndyke was one of the many successors to Sherlock Holmes’ “scientific deduction” approach to mystery solving. Thorndyke was a British doctor AND lawyer who practiced what we now call forensic science. Like Holmes, he had a friend who narrated his adventures (Jervis, not Watson), and appeared in numerous short stories and novels between 1907 and 1942.

  • Short Ghost and Horror Collection 035 by Various

    A collection of twenty stories featuring ghoulies, ghosties, long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night. Expect shivers up your spine, the stench of human flesh, and the occasional touch of wonder. This collection includes stories by Poe, Le Fanu, H.G. Wells, Lovecraft and more!

  • The Stolen Bacillus and Other Stories by H.G. Wells (1866-1946)

    A collection of 15 humorous short stories by the original master of speculative fiction: H. G. Wells. This was the first collection of short stories published by the author, and contains a mixture of fantasy, science-fiction and humour!

Two Warnings and a Guide-Star

By John Hertz:  I’m a fan of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), poet, playwright, essayist, conversationalist, biographer, critic, editor, lexicographer.

With that wide range he was what was long called a man of letters.

Now and then come his politics, or his religion, which I don’t much agree with, but I don’t read books to be agreed with.

He writes wonderfully (literary present tense), and his perception is penetrating.

Lives of the English Poets (1781) is his last project; some say his greatest, which luckily I don’t have to decide.

Samuel Johnson, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)

While looking up something else I re-read his Life of Milton (1608-1674).  Three things struck me particularly.

Two Warnings

“It has been observed that those who most loudly clamor [SJ wrote clamour] for liberty do not most liberally grant it.”

This is a pit along today’s road too.  Let us take care not to fall into it.

“Those who have no power to judge of past times but by their own, should always doubt their conclusions.”


A Star

Here he is discussing “Paradise Lost” (1674; incidentally, he didn’t much agree with Milton’s politics or religion).  What he credits Milton with achieving is a star we may well follow – and at our best we do.

The appearances of nature, and the occurrences of life, did not satiate his appetite…. [His] delight was to sport on the wide regions of possibility; reality was a scene too narrow for his mind. He [went] out upon discovery, into worlds where only imagination can travel … to form new modes of existence, and furnish sentiment and action…. But he could not always be in other worlds; he must sometimes revisit earth, and tell of things visible and known. When he cannot raise wonder by the sublimity of his mind, he gives delight by its fertility.

Wishing you the same.

Space Cowboys in Austin

By Sheila Addison: Labor Day Weekend, I had the opportunity to visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, TX.  The museum is hosting a special exhibit, “COWBOYS IN SPACE AND FANTASTIC WORLDS: A journey through the history of Westerns in Science Fiction,” through December 1, 2019.  The museum’s exhibit blurb reads:

From Jules Verne’s 1868 book, Trip to the Moon, Gene Autry’s 1935 Phantom Empire, Star Trek, Star Wars, and on to a galaxy full of contemporary science fiction, visitors discover how the cowboy went from herding cattle on the Texas plains to flying spaceships around distant planets and fantastic worlds.

The exhibit does a fantastic job of connecting themes and tropes from classic Westerns to the use of those same tropes in Sci-Fi movies, books, and comics, digging deep into the history of genre entertainment to draw connections between the two.  Check out this Italian poster for Star Wars” which deliberately evokes Spaghetti Westerns:

One of the more interesting pieces in the exhibit is a video presentation of scenes from movie and TV westerns, put side by side with similar moments in SF, some of which could almost be shot-for-shot recreations. I can’t effectively include that here, but I can share the wonderful “Jukebox” they created to play versions of the ultimate crossover song, “Space Cowboy”:

Perhaps of interest to the 770 crowd, there are a number of books and comics on display, including a first edition of a Jules Verne with a gorgeously designed cover:

There’s a good many toys on display as well, and naturally material from Firefly, the ultimate modern “space western.” 

There was a section on women in “western” SF, featuring of course Zoe Washburn but also Wilma Deering and Judge J.B. McBride.

I particularly appreciated the final section which looked at how SF aliens are often presented using the same tropes that authors & directors of Westerns apply to Native Americans.  The exhibit also commented on SF’s use of slavery as a cause of conflict, in a genre which often completely ignored actual Black people’s existence. 

The exhibit ended with a nod to “indigenous futurism,” though this section reflected more art than narrative.

Since the exhibit runs for another month, perhaps some 770 readers can still check it out in person.

That Shining Ray

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 30)

Two jets’ contrails pass
Contrariwise. Look, a hawk
Soars. Freedom, freedom.

Once upon a time in these United States there was a National Broadcasting Company which had a Red and a Blue radio network.

That isn’t really the beginning.  Earlier the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. had the notion of using its telephone lines for radio.

That isn’t the real beginning either.  And I wonder how many people dealing with AT&T today know what those letters stand for – or originally stood for.

Anyway, in 1927 the Red Network broadcast a Music Appreciation Hour while schools were in session.  Teachers were provided with textbooks.  It also aired on Saturdays.  Radio station WSM, an affiliate in Nashville, Tennessee, broadcast a Barn Dance just afterward.

Music appreciation then meant what was and still is called classical music.  At a barn dance you’d hear country music.  I hasten to add I’ve been a classical-music announcer and programmer, and have won a pair of blue jeans in a country-music dance contest.  Blue jeans.  None of those expressions is terminologically admirable.

Under “classical music” you might hear grand opera – also not admirable terminologically.

On December 10, 1927, WSM announcer George D. Hay (1895-1968) said at the beginning of the Barn Dance “For the past hour we have been listening to music taken largely from grand opera.  We will now present the Grand Ole Opry.”

In fact he had come to WSM from WLS in Chicago, Illinois, and was born in Attica, Indiana.

But his dialectal pronunciation was a success.  Ninety years later The Grand Ole Opry is the longest-running radio broadcast in U.S. history.

On October 8, 2018, the Opry put on “An Opry Salute to Ray Charles [1930-2004]”.  This 90-minute program was recorded for later public-television broadcast: 15 Aug 19 on Nashville’s station WNPT, then into national syndication beginning 5 Sep.  I believe the electronic may now see it here.

He was blind by 1937, learning to write music in Braille, and playing Chopin (1810-1849; one of the greatest classical-music pianists) and Art Tatum (1909-1956; one of the greatest jazz pianists).

In 1954 he arranged, produced, and was on piano in Guitar Slim’s million-selling single “The Things That I Used to Do”.  His own first national hit was “I Got a Woman” (1954; co-written with Renald Richard).  By 1957 he was famous enough for a debut album entitled only with his name.

In 1958 he formed the Raelettes choir of women to back him up.  Fusing – as some of us would say today – blues, gospel (or “spirituals” – two further expressions more evocative than terminologically admi­rable), and jazz, he was an architect of soul music (or rhythm & blues – both at least better than their predecessor race music).

Also in 1958 he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival (live-recording album Ray Charles at Newport) and released the album Soul Brothers with Milt Jackson (1923-1999) of the Modern Jazz Quartet.  He became known as the Genius (The Genius of Ray Charles, 1959; The Genius Sings the Blues and The Genius Hits the Road, 1960; The Genius After Hours and Genius + Soul = Jazz, 1961).

Living in Georgia until 1945, then Florida until 1948, he listened regularly to The Grand Ole Opry.  Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell wrote “Georgia On My Mind” in 1930.  The Genius recorded it in 1960.  It was made the anthem of the State of Georgia in 1979.  On the B-side, as records were then labeled, of RC’s single was “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” (J. Bland 1878; not to be con­fused with “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia”, E. Christy 1847).

His album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962) sold a million copies and was promptly followed the same year by a Volume 2.  “After all,” he said, “The Grand Ole Opry had been performing inside my head since I was a kid.”

He kept at it – Love Country Style (1970; you’ll expect me to note the ambiguity of omitting a comma, and I do); Friendship with Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash, Janie Fricke, Mickey Gilley, Merle Hag­gard, George Jones, Willie Nelson, the Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs, B.J. Thomas, Hank Williams Jr. (1984; note, the title song was Cole Porter’s, 1939).

So when the Salute’s host Darius Rucker said “Being asked to join the Opry six years ago was one of the greatest highlights of my career…. I am moved to see the Opry recognize Ray and the magni­tude of his contribution to country music,” he wasn’t – ahem – just whistling Dixie.

Sally Williams, the Opry’s Senior Vice President and General Manager, said “The Opry [is] thrilled to salute Ray Charles and his passion for [our] music and storytelling.”  Valerie Ervin, President of the Ray Charles Foundation, said he “had a deep love for country music.  I know he would have been extremely proud and grateful for all of the artists who joined us this evening to pay tribute.”

Travis Tritt reprised “I’m Moving On” (H. Snow, 1950) which he’d sung with RC in 2002 and RC recorded with the Raelettes in 1959.  LeAnn Rimes sang “Fever” (J. Davenport 1956) which RC recorded with Natalie Cole in 2004; Charlie Wilson sang “Unchain My Heart” (B. Sharp 1961), which was recorded first by RC in 1961; Rimes and Wilson sang “Crying Time” (B. Owens 1964) with which RC won two 1967 Grammy Awards.

Rucker sang “Don’t Change On Me” (J. Holiday & E. Reeves 1971) which was on Love Country Style.  Boyz II Men won a standing ovation with “Georgia On My Mind”.  Lukas Nelson sang “Seven Spanish Angels” (T. Seals & E. Setser 1984) which his father Willie recorded with RC in 1985.

To close the show everybody sang “America the Beautiful” (K. Bates & S. Ward 1910) which RC recorded in 1972 and by television I saw and heard him perform at the 2001 World Series before 50,000 people to a standing ovation.

And that ain’t the half of it.

Wandering Through the Public Domain #23

A regular exploration of public domain genre work available through Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and Librivox.

By Colleen McMahon: A Pixel Scroll item on October 11 mentioned a discussion among younger SF readers of a Katherine MacLean story. This led me off to see what kinds of public domain works might be available.

Katherine MacLean (1925-2019) mainly wrote short fiction from the 1940s through the 1970s. She was well respected among the “hard” SF writers for stories that involved real science. Her Wikipedia entry includes a fabulous anecdote in which her science fiction fans help her get into an engineering conference in the 1950s:

In the 1930s and 1940s, scientists and boys planning to be scientists read Astounding (Analog) with close attention to the hottest most promising ideas and took them up as soon as they could get funded lab space. They did not openly express their gratitude to science fiction, because the funding depended on keeping claim to have originated the ideas they had put so much work into testing and verifying….

“I hastily looked around for a door to a lecture hall where I could sneak some listening time and get a line on current research, and be out of sight before the desk was reoccupied by the guardian of the gate….

Too late, a man built like a fullback in a business suit was bearing down on me. “I see you don’t have your badge. May I have your name? I’ll look it up in the registry….”

“Katherine MacLean, I came in because I am interested in–“

He interrupted. “Katherine MacLean! Are you that Katherine MacLean?” He gripped my hand and hung on. Who was that Katherine Maclean? Was I being mistaken for someone else?

“Are you the Katherine MacLean who wrote ‘Incommunicado’?”

Speechless with relief, I nodded. I would not be arrested or thrown out if they would accept me as a science fiction writer. He kept his grip on my hand and turned around and bellowed to his group of chatting friends, “Guess who I’ve got here. The little woman who wrote ‘Incommunicado’!”

…I had not been aware that my playing with communication ideas would attract the attention of prestigious Bell Telephone researchers. I had left radio and wavelength theory to my Dad as one of his hobbies and learned early that I could get a nasty shock from playing with his wiring. I could not account for their enthusiasm. I went back to the typewriter and lost myself in the story again.

The point is, that scientists not only read Astounding-Analog, they were fans of the writers and understood all the Ideas, even the obscure Ideas that were merely hinted at.

“Unhuman Sacrifice”, the story under consideration at Young People Discuss Old SF, is not on Project Gutenberg, but several other stories are available:

Contagion is a stand-alone audiobook at Librivox, and the other stories (except “The Man Who Staked the Stars”) are available in various of the short works collections.

“The Snowball Effect” was adapted for the radio SF series X Minus One. More recently, two Maclean stories were read for the radio show Buxom Blondes with Ray Guns (scroll down for the specific episode). One of the stories, “Carnivore”, is also available through Project Gutenberg and Librivox, but the other story, “Collision Orbit”, doesn’t appear to be available anywhere else.

Fitz James O’Brien (1828-1862) was an early American writer of fantastic fiction who has largely been forgotten, though one of his stories is still frequently anthologized. He is best known for “What Was It?”, the tale of a man who is attacked by a seemingly ghostly presence in the middle of the night. However, the presence turns out to be more of an invisible man — or man-creature — and the main character is able to overpower and capture it. It becomes a local curiosity for several weeks, and then dies, with no one the wiser as to what the creature was or where it came from.

O’Brien was a contemporary of Poe’s, and his stories have a similar tone and style. Like Poe, he was a major influence on later writers, including M.R. James, Ambrose Bierce, and H.G. Wells.

“What is It?” is collected in Famous Modern Ghost Stories, edited by Dorothy Scarborough (Librivox recording). Two more stories, “The Golden Ingot” and “My Wife’s Tempter”, were included in The Lock and Key Library: The most interesting stories of all nations: American. Both were recorded for Librivox as part of another anthology collection, Library of the World’s Best Mystery and Detective Stories, Volume 3, along with two other stories, “The Bohemian” and “A Terrible Night”. 

Another weird tale, The Diamond Lens (Librivox), could be considered proto-science fiction, since it concerns a scientist using a new type of microscope and discovering (and, of course, falling in love with) a tiny woman he finds in a drop of water.

Recent Librivox releases:

  • Short Science Fiction Collection 066 by Various

    Includes stories by Harry Harrison, Frederic Brown, Charles Fontenay, Laurence Janifer, and others.

  • The Raid of Dover: A Romance of the Reign of Women, A.D. 1940 by Douglas Morey Ford (1851-1916)

    Britain is ruled by women who experience invasion and natural disasters. Men eventually figure out a plan to regain power to replace the government.

  • Lion Loose by James H. Schmitz (1911-1981)

    The most dangerous of animals is not the biggest and fiercest—but the one that’s hardest to stop. Add intelligence to that … and you may come to a wrong conclusion as to what the worst menace is….

  • 3 Science Fiction Stories by William Tenn (1920-2010)

    These are three imaginative SF stories by an author I admire a lot, William Tenn. Venus is a Man’s World, (Galaxy Science Fiction, July 1951), Project Hush (Galaxy Science Fiction, 1954) and Of All Possible Worlds (Galaxy, Sept 1956).