Devoutly to Be Wished

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 32)  In the present season – in 2019 the New Year on the Jewish religious calendar began at sundown on 29 Sep, followed by Ten Days of Repentance, and Atonement Day beginning at sundown on 8 Oct (it’s a lunar-solar calendar adjusted by a leap month, so the dates shift back and forth on the secular i.e. Gregorian calendar) – I sometimes see this poem, attributed to Judy Chicago (1939-  ) and said to be from 1979.


A Poem Praying for Us Then and Them Right Now

And then all of what has divided us will merge.
And then compassion will be wedded to power.
And then softness will come to a world that is often harsh and unkind.
And then both women and men will be gentle.
And then both men and women will be strong.
And then no other person will be subject to another’s will.
And then all will be rich and varied.
And then all will share equally in the earth’s abundance.
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old.
And then all will nourish the young.
And then all will cherish life’s creatures.
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the earth.
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.


It appears elsewhen too.  Maybe I should add elsefaith; I’ve seen it among Christians.

At the moment I have three scholarly questions to pursue.  The title does not always appear.  The word “often” does not always appear.  When it is omitted – so maybe these are just two questions – a further line appears after “And then all will be rich and free and varied”: “And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many.”  I’m not sure about the title; I think often, greed and need, matter.

Wandering Through the Public Domain #22

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

By Colleen McMahon: This was a slow week. No new Librivox audiobooks that fit into the genre categories, however broadly drawn. So this might be a good time to mention that Librivox does have a lot of older short science fiction available. They have been doing a series of short science fiction collections for years. 

The way it works is that a volume is started, and anyone can contribute a short science fiction story that is known to be in the public domain. Once there are 15-20 stories, the volume is closed and released and a new one opened. They are up to 64 volumes at this point. If you are curious and would like to sample some of them, the whole Short Science Fiction series is here.

I have a bit of a backlog of random authors who were mentioned in the birthday lists over the last few months, and this is a good time to do a little catching up with some of these.

Stanton Coblentz (1896-1982) had a birthday back in August. He is represented in Project Gutenberg by two short stories:

“The Cosmic Deflector” has not been recorded yet for Librivox, but “Flight Through Tomorrow” has been recorded three different times for Short Science Fiction Collections 

Paul W. Fairman (1909-1977) was active as an author from the late 1940s through the early 1970s, publishing several novels and many short stories under his own name as well as the pseudonym Ivar Jorgensen. He is also the founding editor of If science fiction magazine, and later became editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic from 1955-1958.

He has four stories on Project Gutenberg:

Librivox recordings:

Bryce Walton (1918-1988) is best remembered now as a television script writer (Captain Video and His Video Rangers, Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and a pulp mystery author, but he was quite prolific in science fiction too.

Project Gutenberg has 16 of his stories. He published most often in If: Worlds of Science Fiction and, interestingly, in two cases he had two stories in one issue, one published under his own name and one under the pseudonym “Kenneth O’Hara”.

Only two of Walton’s stories have been recorded for Librivox so far: “Has Anyone Here Seen Kelly?” in Short Science Fiction Collection 028, and “Strange Alliance” in Short Science Fiction Collection 035.

Recent Librivox releases:

As I mentioned at the top of this installment, I could not find anything genre-related in the list of recent releases, which is very unusual. However, there is one book that might be of mild interest here: an all-but-forgotten 1923 mystery novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs!

  • The Girl from Hollywood by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950)

    The countryside outside of Los Angeles is a paradise on Earth: nature gives bounty on the land, the animals are majestic, the oaks breathe and the natural pools and ponds are all you would want on a summer’s day. And if you are a Pennington or an Evans, life is simple and complete. However, every paradise has a serpent. For Rancho Ganado, that comes in the shape of Bootlegging, Drugs and Murder. All the vice of nearby Hollywood manifest themselves in the picturesque landscape, throwing the lives of these families into turmoil.

What a Difference a Day Makes

By John Hertz: (reprinted, mostly, from No Direction Home 31; written September 25th) Five centuries ago Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1475-1519) was the first European to see the Pacific Ocean (25 Sep 1513). Two centuries ago John Keats (1795-1821), not historically, but poetically, right:

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific – and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise –
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

“On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer” (1816)

It wasn’t Cortez (Don Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano 1485-1547). Charles Cowden Clarke (1787-1877), who showed Chapman’s 16th Century translation of Homer (The Iliad and The Odyssey, Greek poems of twenty-seven centuries ago) to Keats, stayed up all night with him reading it, “Keats shouting with delight as some passage of especial energy struck his imagination”, and found this sonnet on the breakfast table at 10 a.m., told Keats the eagle had been Balboa, but Keats wouldn’t change. You’ll have noticed the sonnet is in the Italian form sometimes named after Petrarch (1304-1374) i.e. rhyming abba abba cd cd cd, with a shift of thought after the eighth line; the new planet is Uranus, discovered 1781 by Herschel (1738-1822). The celebrated translation then was by Pope (1688-1744), a shining river if you put yourself in the Classical mind (“equals the original in its ceaseless pour of verbal music…. Pope worked miracles in highlighting the play of vowels through his lines”, Wills, “On Reading Pope’s Homer”, New York Times 1 Jun 97 sec. 7 p. 22), but Romanticism had come between Pope and Keats, to whom Pope was only a versifier.

For the quincentennial, Juan Carlos Navarro (mayor of Panama City 1999-2004) told Smithsonian Balboa was “the only one willing to immerse himself in the native culture…. In Panama, we recognize the profound significance of Balboa’s achievement and tend to forgive his grievous sins” as a conquistador (Lidz, “Tracking Balboa”, Sep 2013 p. 32).

Three and three-quarters centuries ago Stephen Daye (1594-1688) established the first printing press in North America at Cambridge, Massachusetts (25 Sep 1639). There was a United States 3¢ postage stamp for the tricentennial in 1939 (1st-Class Mail first ounce 1933-1958; 54¢ in 2019 money).

Three and a third centuries ago was born Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), whose Treatise on Harmony (1722) showed him a great theorist, and whose Hippolyte et Aricie (1733) was acknowledged the most significant opera since the death of Lully (1632-1687), but those who thought that good and those who thought it bad engaged in a pamphlet war for the rest of the decade; many more operas and other stage works. Rameau and Couperin (1668-1733) are the masters (literary present tense) of 18th Century French harpsichord music.

Two centuries ago François Arago (1786-1853), elaborating on the work of Oersted (1777-1851), announced finding that the passage of an electric current through a cylindrical spiral of copper wire caused it to attract iron filings as if it were a magnet and that the filings fell off when the current ceased (25 Sep 1820), one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. His is one of the 72 names on the Eiffel Tower (S.E. side, between Thénard [1777-1857] and Poisson [1781-1840]).

A century and a quarter ago was born William Faulkner (1897-1962; Nobel Prize in Literature 1949, which he hated). I’m glad I read The Reivers (1962, his last; Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) before Absalom, Absalom! (1936) or the rest.

Nine-tenths of a century ago was born Glenn Gould (1932-1982), of whom George Szell (1897-1970) muttered “That nut is a genius” and Jim Svejda said (“The Record Shelf” Guide to the Classical Repertoire p. 12, 2nd ed. 1990; “The Record Shelf” JS’ weekly program on Radio Station KUSC since 1983, syndicated nationally; I’ve later editions but I could find this one; S in Svejda like sh in shake, ej like ai in paid),

Willful, unpredictable, eccentric, reclusive, and maddeningly brilliant … easily the most provocative pianist of his generation and one of the great musical originals of modern times…. the 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations [J.S. Bach, 1741] introduced Gould to an unsuspecting world and began an entirely new chapter in the history of Bach interpretation…. driving tempos, a bracing rhythmic vitality, and an ability to clarify and untangle the dense contrapuntal lines…. re-recorded in 1981 … every bit as controversial…. sacrificing none of the razor clarity … more profound and reflective.

A third of a century ago (25 Sep 1981) Sandra Day O’Connor (1931- ) became the first woman judge on the U.S. Supreme Court, nominated by President Reagan (1911-2004; Pres. 1981-1989). He was a Republican (U.S. conservative party; the Democratic Party is progressive; the names are terminologically unsatisfying, and the parties exchanged places around the beginning of the 20th Century), as was she; service on the Court (to 2006) moved her toward the center, as it has so many from either side.

A decade ago died Catalan pianist Alicia de Larrocha (1923-2009). Spanish music became her calling card; she recorded Albéniz’ formidably difficult Iberia (1909) four times. Here’s Svejda (KUSC Members’ Guide, Jul 2016 p. 3).

[Her] Mozart is a well-known (and extremely valuable) commodity, her Beethoven has hardly been a glut on the market…. splendidly straightforward version of the C major concerto [1795] … came with an even finer version of the composer’s “Pastoral” Sonata [1801]…. her reading of the darkest of the Beethoven concertos is poised and meticulously executed, with little left to chance…. far from seeming calculated, the playing has a hushed intensity and brooding power, heard to particular advantage in the turbulent central plateau of the opening movement and in the grinding struggle of the finale…. through it all, there’s an elegance that keeps reminding us that this is a composer with one foot firmly planted in Mozart’s century, with the heaven-storming … still several years away. [Her] poise, wit, and probing insight recall the work of the great Mozart pianist of the last century, Clara Haskil [1895-1960]…. live De Larrocha recordings are far from commonplace, this one [CD: RCA 09076-6176-2] mustn’t be missed.

Hoping you are the same.

Wandering Through the Public Domain #21

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

By Colleen McMahon: I wanted to start out this week with two offbeat suggestions that are not strictly fantasy or science fiction literature, but that might be of interest to some Filers. Both are recent audiobook releases from Librivox.

The first is The Lost Art of Reading by Gerald Stanley Lee (1862-1944). Lee was an American author and Congregationalist minister, and he wrote The Lost Art of Reading in 1902. Long before the age of Netflix and screentime, even before radio and widespread movie attendance, passionate defenders of the written word were lamenting a decline in reading. In this case, Lee blames cities, trains, and industrialization for speeding up life too much.

If listening to an audiobook about how no one reads anymore is too meta, the text edition is available through Project Gutenberg. (While searching around for information on this book, I discovered that a book of the same title was published 108 years later, this one by Paul Ulin!)

The other is one of Librivox’s quirkier collections: Insomnia Collection Vol. 004, in which volunteers found the most soporific reading material possible with the idea of boring the listener to sleep. I can vouch for previous volumes, with their excerpts from early 20th century telephone directories and copyright renewal lists, as they have sent me off to dreamland on many mornings after overnight shifts, when it was otherwise hard to settle down to sleep.

The new volume is promising for more of the same, with selections like “W. Kent and Co’s Annual Catalogue, April 1859,” and “Disinfection and Disinfectants.” I contributed an excerpt from the U.S. Bureau of Ethnology’s detailed listing of items collected in field expeditions in 1881, and it nearly put me to sleep while I was trying to edit it, so it should work for anyone else who is battling insomnia.

Alan E. Nourse (1928-1992) was on the August birthday lists, and it turns out that he was a very prolific author. In addition to his science fiction writing, he was a physician and wrote plenty of nonfiction books as well, with titles like So You Want to Be a Doctor (1957) and The Backyard Astronomer (1973). Late in life, he seems to have turned toward sex education, with books on sexually transmitted diseases, herpes, AIDs and a 1990 Teen Guide to Safe Sex.

His public domain works on Project Gutenberg include lots of short stories and novelettes, 25 titles in all. That’s too many to include here, so I’ll just mention a few below and include a link to his complete works at PG.

Jerry Sohl (1913-2002) is probably best remembered now as a scriptwriter for television, including shows like The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, and Star Trek. (He wrote or co-wrote the episodes “The Corbomite Maneuver,” “This Side of Paradise,” and “Whom Gods Destroy”.) However, he was also a novelist with over twenty titles to his credit, as well as nonfiction books on chess and bridge, and numerous short stories. 

Five of his stories are on Project Gutenberg:

“The Hand” is included in Short Science Fiction Collection 065.


Recent Librivox releases:

“Man’s Rights; or, How Would You Like It?: Comprising Dreams” is the first known feminist utopian novel written by a woman. The text features nine dreams experienced by a first-person female narrator. In the first seven dreams, she visits the planet Mars, finding a society where traditional sex roles and stereotypes are reversed. The narrator witnesses the oppression of the men on Mars and their struggle for equality. In the last two dreams, the narrator visits a future United States ruled by a woman president. 

This is a collection of original and interesting fairy tales. We have here princes and princesses, pirates, wizards, and all the other ingredients for entertaining stories for kids.

Sabotage accidentally takes Earth’s first manned interplanetary expedition to the Moon, where a sublunar adventure ensues, involving two intelligent species and a good deal of fighting as well as romance. The perceptive reader will perceive the author’s peculiar notions concerning the behavior of volcanos, an offense against scientific fact that is hard to pardon in a writer of science fiction, but if it can be overlooked, the variety of incident and the fast pace of the action, full of surprises, amply repay the reader’s generous indulgence.

Librivox volunteer Kirk Ziegler assembled his own anthology of 30 ghost stories (including multiple selections from a book of ghost stories from India) to record as a solo project. The collection includes intriguing titles like “The Phantom Toe,” “The Fight With a Ghost,” and “What the Professor Saw”.

“Papa Can You Hear Me” …Precious Moments With Nehemiah Persoff

By Steve Vertlieb: Here is, perhaps, the most exciting moment of my recent pilgrimage to Los Angeles and Hollywood, California. I’ve been a huge fan of character actor Nehemiah Persoff for some sixty years. We’d begun a degree of correspondence in May 2019. I was watching an episode of tv’s The Untouchables during a televised weekend retrospective in the late Spring and there, of course, was the great Nehemiah appearing as a guest in three separate episodes of the classic television series.

I began to wonder whatever became of this marvelous actor and so, before retiring for the evening, I started to research Mr. Persoff’s whereabouts on my computer. As luck would have it, I found him and wrote him a rather hasty letter of personal and lifelong admiration. To my shock and utter astonishment, he responded within five minutes.

I told him that I was coming West in a few months, and wondered if there was even the most remote possibility that I could personally pay my respects. Born in Palestine (now Jerusalem) on August 2nd, 1919, this gifted actor was about to turn one hundred years old.

Mr. Persoff generously consented to a visit and so, on Wednesday, August 28, 2019, my brother Erwin and I commenced our long drive to his home. We spent two hours at the feet of this remarkable human being, and shared a virtual Master Class on the art and history of screen acting. He spoke reverently of working with Marlon Brando at The Actor’s Studio, and in On The Waterfront, as well as studying with Elia Kazan in the late nineteen forties.

When Billy Wilder was casting Some Like It Hot, he’d chosen Edward G. Robinson to play Little Bonaparte, opposite George Raft and Pat O’Brien. When the two had a falling out, however, someone suggested Nehemiah Persoff for the part. The rest, as they, is history. When Barbra Streisand sang the moving “Papa, Can You Hear Me” in Yentl, she was singing to Nehemiah Persoff in a performance that, I’d like to believe, most effortlessly captured this remarkable actor’s gentle soul.

I shall remain forever grateful to have spent such joyous hours with this blessed soul … and for the gift of your friendship, dearest Nehemiah, I can only express my heartfelt gratitude. God Bless and Keep You.

National Palindrome Week

By John Hertz: In the United States a date is often written as Our Gracious Host does.  For example, September 17, 2019 is often written 9/17/19.

If you allow adjustments to punctuation “9/17/19” backwards is “9/17/19” – the same as forwards: a palindrome.

English is an alphabetical language.  We can have palindromes like “Able was I ere I saw Elba” which Napoleon 1769-1821 could have said (it seems to have appeared in 1848), or “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!” for Theodore Roosevelt 1858-1919 (coined by Leigh Mercer 1893-1977).

Incidentally, 2019 is the centenary of TR’s death.

If English were an ideographic language, where a character is a word (we do that with Arabic numerals: “2” is “two”), we could read “You ain’t seen nothing yet” backwards as “So far nothing ever seen matches you.”

Opinions vary over whether a palindrome must have the same meaning read backward and forward, or may have different – perhaps comically different – meanings.

Chinese is an ideographic language.  Its grammar is flexible, or powerful, or something: for example, there are no nouns or verbs, which we sometimes manage with “He laid a knife on the table” and “I’ll knife you.”  It’s great for poetry.

Su Hui, a Chinese woman of seventeen hundred years ago (I give her name in Chinese style, “Su” the family name, “Hui” the personal name), made a poem of 112 characters, or some say 841.  One story says she embroidered them in a circle.

A thousand years later her poem was known as a grid of 29 x 29 characters that could be read forward, backward, horizontally, vertically, diagonally, or in sub-grids, three thousand ways – some say eight thousand.  This note includes translation by David Hinton (1954-  ).

And here’s a note on Hsiung Yin-tso and his Chinese Palindrome Poems of Four Seasons (1978).

Do geese see God?

Wandering Through the Public Domain #20

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

By Colleen McMahon: I swear this happens almost every time I start to write one of these entries. I open up the blank document with no idea what I’m going to write about, and decide to do just a quick roundup of some links without going into any detail about any of the authors, etc.

Then as I’m poking around looking for what I want to link to this week, something catches my eye and sends me in a completely unexpected direction.

This week it was Captain Midnight.

There were a couple of mentions of the Captain Midnight TV show in recent Pixel Scrolls. September 4 saw the anniversary of the first broadcast, and September 9 was the birthday of Richard Webb, who played the title character.

Off I went to Internet Archive, to see if there were any Captain Midnight episodes available (since a lot of lower-tier 1950s TV appears to have fallen into public domain). I found two full episodes (at least one includes the Ovaltine commercials) but I’m not linking them because they aren’t tagged as public domain. There are some Captain Midnight comic issues and old-time radio shows as well, but again, not clearly labeled as public domain.

So at this point I would normally drop the idea and do something else. But then I saw another video item intriguingly labeled “Captain Midnight HBO Broadcast Intrusion”…and the rabbit hole opened up and down I went.

Turns out that in April of 1986, in the middle of an HBO showing of The Falcon and the Snowman, the movie was interrupted for several minutes, first by a flickering screen, and then a “rainbow bar” screen overlaid with text reading “GOODEVENING HBO FROM CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT $12.95/MONTH? NO WAY! (SHOWTIME/MOVIE CHANNEL BEWARE).”

This was a now largely-forgotten protest by one John R. MacDougall, a satellite dish seller/installer in Florida who was angry about HBO’s rates for satellite subscribers. He figured out how to take over of the HBO satellite to put out his message.

It was a small gesture by a guy angry that HBO and other paid cable services had begun scrambling their satellite signals so that dish owners could no longer watch for free. The $12.99 HBO subscription price for dish users was significantly higher than the cable price. (That’s over $30/month in today’s dollars; for comparison, you can currently subscribe to HBO NOW for $14.99.) And the subscription cost was on top of the several hundred dollars you would have to pay for descrambling equipment.

While the protest was fleeting and mostly unnoticed, the response was major. MacDougall was ultimately charged and pleaded out for probation and a $5,000 fine. But new laws were passed that made satellite hijacking a federal felony, and the ATIS signal identification system was developed.

The Wikipedia entry about the incident has a lot more interesting detail about MacDougall, the event, and the aftermath. John R. MacDougall is still around and still has his Florida business; the biography page on his business website proudly claims his Captain Midnight identity.

So, how about some actual public domain material before I call it a week?

Jack Williamson (1908-2006) is another recent Pixel Scroll mention. I enjoyed the 1992 interview in the September 9 Scroll.

Several Williamson works are on Project Gutenberg:

A recent Librivox edition collects three of Williamson’s stories (see below in new Librivox releases). Other Williamson stories are included in various Short Science Fiction volumes:

There is also a standalone solo recording of Salvage in Space.

Internet Archive has plenty of Williamson stuff of uncertain copyright status. A couple of items of interest that are listed as Creative Commons but not public domain:

Recent Librivox releases:

Lady Truman received word fourteen months ago that her husband, Sir George Truman, has died in battle. Now a very eligible widow with a large estate, she has more suitors than she knows what to do with. As if that wasn’t enough, her house is now being haunted at night by the horrible and ghostly sound of a drum, apparently caused by the restless spirit of her husband. When an old man arrives who claims to be able to lay the spirit to rest, she is so desperate for relief that she determines to give him a chance. Written with wit and good humor, this play will have you laughing out loud!

Three classic SF stories by Jack Williamson: The Cosmic Express, The Pygmy Planet and Salvage in Space. All were published in Astounding Stories in the very early 1930’s. and all are fine examples of the far ranging imagination of science fiction writers of the day. 

When Earth loses contact with the colony planet Eden, an expedition is sent to find out why. Even though the planet has been determined to have no hostile properties, the second expedition is astonished to find no evidence of the colony. The colonists are spread out, naked, wandering dazed among the bushes, with no sign of any of the technology they brought from Earth.

An anthology of short, chilling stories from Algernon Blackwood. They will make you start at noises in the night and wonder about your neighbors. These stories likely stem from Blackwood’s investigations into haunted houses for the Psychical Research Society and reflect his fascination with the weird, occult and supernatural. 

Solo project by reader Kirk Ziegler, collecting 20 public domain science fiction stories. Authors include Jerome Bixby, Randall Garrett, Algis Budrys, August Derleth, Edward Bellamy and others.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #44

Names and Legacies 

By Chris M. Barkley: If I had told you a month ago that legacies of three of the biggest names in the fantasy and sf community would come under scrutiny and that one in particular would have his name removed from two prestigious awards, you probably would have looked at me oddly and thought I was crazy.

Well now, welcome to Crazy Town.

I, on the other hand, would not have been surprised as much because of what had happened a year ago.

Tuesday, November 27 2018, was the BEST day of Linda Fairstein’s life. Well, you could say it was the LAST best day of her life because forty-eight hours later, it began to unravel.

Fairstein, an acclaimed and best-selling crime writer of many years, awoke that day to find out that her peers in the Mystery Writers of America had named her as a Grand Master, the highest award of their organization could bestow. She was being honored for her series of 20 novels featuring Alexandra Cooper, a sex crimes prosecutor.

When she found out, she took to Twitter, writing,“How is THIS news for a thrilling surprise. I am Mystery Writers of America 2019 GRANDMASTER…..I’m pinching myself.”

But, almost immediately, prominent crime writers, with novelist Attica Locke in the lead, were protesting the announcement. Locke explained vociferously that Fairstein was directly responsible for the false imprisonment of five innocent men. 

Linda Fairstein’s previous occupation was a district attorney for New York City. For nearly a quarter of a century she was the lead prosecutor of the Sex Crimes Unit in Manhattan. In that capacity she became a feminist icon for her tough stances on crime and advocacy for victims’ rights in court.

Unfortunately, she was also responsible for personally supervising the prosecution of the Central Park Five, a 1989 case in which a jogger was brutally beaten and raped. The five Latino and black male teenagers were arrested, questioned, tried and eventually convicted for the heinous crime. They all claimed that the confessions they signed were coerced and that they were innocent. In 2002, all of them were exonerated by DNA evidence, freed and were given a substantial financial settlement from the city.

So, when the MWA reversed themselves, they released the following statement:

“After profound reflection, the Board has decided that MWA cannot move forward with an award that lacks support of such a large percentage of our members. Therefore, the Board of Directors has decided to withdraw the Linda Fairstein Grand Master award. We realize that this action will be unsatisfactory to many. We apologize for any pain and disappointment this situation has caused.”

By this past June, Dutton, her current publisher, had dropped her and activists on social media outlets called on the public to boycott her books and anyone selling them.

Fairstein exacerbated her situation by not apologizing for what happened or at least admitting that our judicial system failed these young men miserably. But no; instead she doubled down and she stood by their original convictions despite the evidence to the contrary, and hinted that if they were not guilty of that offense, they were probably guilty of something else and absolutely deserved exactly what they got. When HBO’s drama about the Central Park Five, “When They See Us” was aired this past spring, it featured a less than flattering portrayal of Fairstein. 

When I heard about Linda Fairstein’s problems with the Mystery Writers of America, I got into an semi-argument with a bookselling friend about what should happen to her. He stated, unequivocally, that her actions in her life should have nothing to do with her work as a writer. 

And, In a fair and a just world, that would happen. But, as we have seen repeatedly over the advent of the internet and social media outlets, there are people out there who would vehemently oppose the most harmless and innocuous you could come up with, including kittens. knitting and lawn bowling. 

I told my friend back then that while it was more than likely that Linda Fairstein probably did deserve the MWA honor, people, her peers, critics, and the public at large and the tidal forces of social interaction she helped foment were going to deny her because of her past actions and her adamant defense of them. 

And the very same scenario has played out again, in high definition no less, in these past few weeks. 

When Jeannette Ng made her speech denouncing John W. Campbell, Jr. at the Hugo Award Ceremony three weeks ago, it set off a tsunami of arguments, retrospectives and reassessments of Campbell, the late Alice Sheldon (best known under her pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr), Amazing Stories founder Hugo Gernsback and other various literary luminaries of the past and present.

John W. Campbell, Jr.

By sheer coincidence, I discovered Campbell the editor in high school, several months after he died. My neighbor, Michaele, had a subscription and loaned me her copies of Analog, which were among the last he had edited. The stories were ok but what really caught my eye were the strangely cranky editorials, which made me curious enough to want to meet him. It was well enough that he had departed; had I gone back a few years and read of his 1968 endorsement of George Wallace for President, that would have been quite enlightening.

From 1937, for their first fifteen years or so, Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction magazine (and for the few years it existed, its fantasy counterpart, Unknown) were the biggest influences in sf literature and fandom at large.

But, along came Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas. And Horace Gold. Cele Goldsmith. Frederik Pohl. Ian and Betty Ballantine. Joseph and Edward Ferman. And Harlan Ellison.  And many other editors and publishers who followed in their footsteps. Like all good literary movements, sf diversified, became more inclusive and expanded.

 And Campbell himself? Not so much.

To be sure, he still was respected by authors and artists who produced for him. And don’t forget that he was the first to serialize Frank Herbert’s magnum opus, Dune, and, ironically, the very FIRST story by one James Tiptree, Jr (who is waiting on deck, so to speak).

But Campbell was estranged from a number of major authors such as Robert A. Heinlein, whom he had clashed with over ideological and political differences. 

When the two awards were established in his name two years after his death, John W. Campbell, Jr. was so well thought of and revered that there was no virtually opposition from any of the sponsors; Conde Nast Magazines (which later morphed into Dell Magazines) and the World Science Fiction Society (as the administrator) for the Best New Writer and the Memorial Award for Best Novel by late authors Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss. (The Gunn Center Conference of the University of Kansas formally took over the administration of the Campbell Memorial Award in 1978).

Harrison wrote this of the awards in 1977:

When John died it was a blow to all of us. After the memorial service a number of his writers were talking, and out of the talk came the Astounding anthology, what has been called the last issue of the Campbell magazine. It was a good tribute to a good editor. There is another tribute I think of just as highly, the award for the best SF novel of the year presented in his name and memory. An award I am sure he would have loved because it instantly became involved in controversy when the first prizes was presented. How John enjoyed a good argument and a good fight! That this fight sprawled through the letter columns of Analog for some months would have cheered him even more.

(For those among you who are intensely curious about that first recipient, the very first winner of the Memorial Award for Best Novel award was Beyond Apollo by Barry Malzberg, a book whose plot and themes probably would have turned his brain inside out. Don’t believe me? Check it out sometime.)

In the wake of the events of the past three weeks, Campbell’s grandson, John Campbell Hammond, has expressed some distress and disappointment over the removal of his name from the two awards. Others have been more pointed in their criticism, calling it a reactionary response of “political correctness” or “erasure”. 

Mr. Hammond may be saddened but at least he can be consoled by the voters of the 1944 Retro-Hugos, which held his grandfather in some high esteem because they awarded him in the Best Editor, Short Form category.

Here’s the thing; while he was a brilliant innovator in our branch of literature, there is also no doubt that his views on women and race were abominable. We can only speculate how much better things might have been if he hadn’t been such a person. Looking back, it is quite evident that the only thing holding up his reputation up for all these decades was white privilege, willful or unknowing ignorance and racism. 

And what’s happened to Campbell is not “erasure” but, as John Scalzi elegantly put it on his blog, a “reassessment”. And part of that process is a condemnation of your past actions.  

Alice Sheldon

Almost immediately in the wake of all of this, The Tiptree Motherboard, the administrators of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, were inundated by requests that they change the name of their award, citing that Alice Sheldon (the alias behind the Tiptree pseudonym) had committed the murder of her spouse, the ailing and terminally ill Huntington Sheldon, and then committed suicide.

Where I had no doubt that removing Campbell name was correct thing to do, I was equally adamant that Tiptree’s name should remain in place.

I am proud to state that I voted for Sheldon’s Hugo winning novella, “Houston, Houston, Do You Read,” on my very first Hugo Awards ballot back in 1977. At that time, no one knew “James Tiptree, Jr.” was other than a as a damn good writer. Upon first reading, I found her short fiction to be entertaining, intensely personal and incredibly enlightening. And I still do.

The bubble burst the very next year when, in her guise as Tiptree, slipped up and revealed to several of her correspondents that her mother had recently died. That led a few clever people to a Chicago newspaper obituary and directly her real identity.

Sheldon continued to write, as Tiptree and “Raccoona Sheldon” until her and her husband’s deaths in 1987. It was long rumored among her friends and family that she and “Ting” had made a long-standing murder/suicide pact if either became too ill for the other to care for. In her 2006 Hugo Award winning biography, The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, author Julie Phillips did not state conclusively that this was the case. Recently, Phillips wrote on Twitter:

“The question has come up whether Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr) and her husband Ting died by suicide or murder-suicide. I regret not saying clearly in the bio that those closest to the Sheldons all told me that they had a pact and that Ting’s health was failing.

Ting’s son Peter Sheldon also said there was a pact, and that Ting was declining. Alli probably wanted to die more than Ting did. But the pact didn’t have to do with his blindness or disability. He was going, and they chose to go out together.”

Recently on the Tiptree Motherboard, Phillips elaborated further:

“Ting didn’t leave a statement, but all Ting’s friends that I talked to plus his son Peter were unanimous that it was a pact, and that Ting’s health was failing when it happened. The only one who cast doubt on that was the lawyer who talked to her on the last night, James Boylan. He didn’t know either Ting or Alli very well, and I have doubts about how well he understood what was happening. I’m planning to write up what I know, because I left too much room for doubt when I wrote the book.”

I got into a very brief argument on the Tiptree Motherboard Twitter feed with a troll (with no previous history of posting) who stated unequivocally that Sheldon was nothing more than a common murderer.  I countered that while John W. Campbell was a serial offender in life, Alice Sheldon should not be condemned forever for one desperate and tragic choice.

Even moreso, the name “James Tiptree, Jr.” and the meaningful and influential fiction that was presented under that name has transcended the life of the author. I believe that the award cannot be what it is, a celebration of the exploration of sex and gender roles in fantastic fiction without that name attached to it.

On 2 September, the Tiptree Motherboard issued a lengthy statement covering the controversy and stated that a name change was not in the offing. Two days later they, issued the following clarification: 

 We’ve seen some people discussing this statement and saying we’re refusing to rename the award. Of course it’s easy to read what we’ve written in that way; our apologies. While this post focuses on the reasons why we have not immediately undertaken to rename the award, our thinking is ongoing and tentative, and we are listening carefully to the feedback we are receiving. We are open to possibilities and suggestions from members of our community as we discuss how best to move forward. You can contact us at feedback@tiptree.org.

So, at least for the foreseeable future, The James Tiptree Award will remain as it is.

Hugo Gernsback

Our last person of interest is Hugo Gernsback, an immigrant from Luxembourg who founded the 1926 magazine Amazing Stories, the very first publication completely devoted to publishing science fiction (which he originally dubbed “scientifiction”). Through it, he also created the “Science Fiction League”, a club whose members published letters in the magazine and corresponded with each other eventually met in person, thus creating the first wave of sf fandom and conventions. 

But before Amazing Stories, Gernsback was better known as a publisher of all sorts of other publications. He was notorious for not paying his contributors very much (or in some cases, not at all) and his business practices were seen by many at the time as very shady or outright fraudulent.

As author Barry Malzberg once wrote:

Gernsback’s venality and corruption, his sleaziness and his utter disregard for the financial rights of authors, have been well documented and discussed in critical and fan literature. That the founder of genre science fiction who gave his name to the field’s most prestigious award and who was the Guest of Honor at the 1952 Worldcon was pretty much a crook (and a contemptuous crook who stiffed his writers but paid himself $100K a year as President of Gernsback Publications) has been clearly established.

The very next year, the Science Fiction Achievement Awards were first given out at the11th Worldcon in Philadelphia. And despite his scurrilous reputation, people began to nickname this new award, “The Hugo”, after him! And I have no doubt that this just tickled his fancy up to his death at the age of 83 in 1967. The name became so universally used that by1992, it was officially codified into the Constitution of World Science Fiction Society.

I am amused that some people are showing some genuine outrage that the most prestigious award in sf is named after such a scoundrel. And not because I think it’s a bad idea. Oh no, on the contrary, this might be a GREAT idea whose time has come. 

All these pundits have to do is come up with a name to replace “Hugo Award”. Something that has a consensus of fandom behind it. A name that can be protected legally by the World Science Fiction Society. And…

A name that will have to endure at the very least, four or five years of committee studies and formal Business Meeting debates, amendments, substitutions and serpentine votes.

To those who wish to embark on this fool’s errand, I wish you all the luck on this Earth and all of its known (and unknown) alternate versions as well. 

In any event, fame and legacies are all fleeting and a fool’s deepest desire. All that really matters in life in the long run are your family, friends, memories and knowing that you tried to do the right thing and the best you can under the circumstances.

My advocacy of new categories for the Hugo Award will probably be my legacy. And I’m hoping for more. But It is my hope that my work will not stand and that others will study, deconstruct, demolish and build on the ashes of my efforts.

I hope a new Best Dramatic Presentation category is even more expansive and inclusive. The Editing category should formally include anthologies and author collections. Manga should definitely be included in the description of the Comics and Graphic Story category. And a Best Translated Novel award (or, at least a test of such a category) should be inevitable and welcomed, not feared.

If I had to single out one of the greatest moments in my life in fandom, I could tell you exactly when it happened, the night before the 2012 Hugo Awards Ceremony at Chicon 7.

My partner Juli and I were hanging out in the Hyatt Regency bar overlooking Michigan Avenue when we were approached by a woman and her partner. She said she sought me out to to thank me personally for working so hard to establish the Best Graphic Story category in which she was a nominee that year. I, in turn, congratulated her on the nomination and wished her the best of luck.

And the next day, Ursula Vernon won her first Hugo Award for her graphic omnibus, Digger. She did not thank me on stage. She didn’t have to because she already had.

It is always better to give than to receive. And I have always strived to create the possibility to give the highest award we have to the most deserving creators. And that is all I have ever wanted.

Or needed.

NYRSF Readings Open New Season with Gregory Feeley and Michael Swanwick

Michael Swanwick and Gregory Feeley

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, September 3, 2019, the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series opened its 29th Season with the stellar line-up of  Gregory Feeley and Michael Swanwick at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in, of all places, Brooklyn.

The event opened, as ever, with producer and executive curator Jim Freund (and host of the long-running sf/fantasy radio program Hour of the Wolf) welcoming the audience back after the summer hiatus. For a while now, the Readings have streamed on Livestream, however, due to a difficulty, tonight’s wouldn’t be – we were on Facebook Live! (Livestream will be back in October.)  He reminded those who can to donate to the Series ($7 is the suggested donation, but no one is ever turned away), and reported that the home audience (to coin a phrase) may donate on its Patreon page. He concluded by announcing future readers:  on Monday, October 14th, guest host Michael J. DeLuca will present readers from Reckoning, including Emily Houk, Krista Hoeppner Leahy, Marissa Lingen and Brian Francis Slattery. On Tuesday, November 5th (Election Day and Guy Fawkes Day), the readers will be Gay Partington Terry and Robert V.S. Redick. December 3rd will be “party time,” an evening of Glitter Spec Fic, featuring A.C. Wise and others “reading stories and performing music to do with glitter.” (On the Series webpage, this notice was displayed in multiple colors.)

Gregory Feeley

Gregory Feeley, the evening’s first reader, describes himself as a writer of and about science fiction. His first novel, The Oxygen Barons, was nominated for the Philip K. Dick award and his short fiction has twice been nominated for the Nebula Award. His most recent novels are the historical novel Arabian Wine and Kentauros, “a fantasia on an obscure Greek myth.” He recently completed a long novel, Hamlet the Magician. (In addition, he is Thomas M. Disch’s literary executor for prose, and was part of the Series’ tribute to Disch last year.) He read the first half of “Cloudborn,” which also draws from Greek myth. (Despite my childhood reading of Greek mythology, not to mention watching Mighty Hercules cartoons – his sidekick, recall, was a centaur – I was unaware that “cloudborn” was an epithet for centaurs; as their genesis involved two separate instances by Itzion of cross-species copulation, this omission is understandable.) The story centers on children aboard a spaceship very slowly heading toward Neptune to terraform and settle it; there are, of course, secrets being kept from them. The girl Asia, it should be noted, is very into Greek mythology.

During the intermission, a raffle was held (for those who donated), with the prizes being copies of Kentauros and The Iron Dragon’s Daughter. I was asked to draw the tickets; no surprise, and despite the small number of raffle tickets, the winning numbers were one immediately before and one immediately after mine.

Michael Swanwick

Michael Swanwick, the evening’s final reader, is the author of ten novels, including Vacuum FlowersStations of the TideThe Iron Dragon’s Daughter, Jack Faust, Bones of the Earth, The Dragons of Babel, Dancing With Bears, Chasing the Phoenix and the recently published The Iron Dragon’s Mother; and roughly 150 stories, many of which have been reprinted in Best of the Year anthologies. Notable among his non-fiction is Being Gardner Dozois, a book-length interview. Since his first story was published in 1980, Swanwick has been honored with the Nebula, Theodore Sturgeon and World Fantasy Awards, and received a Hugo Award for fiction in an unprecedented five out of six years.  (He also has “the pleasant distinction of having lost more major awards than any other science fiction writer.”) The Iron Dragon’s Mother, from which he read, completes “a trilogy begun with The Iron Dragon’s Daughter twenty-five years ago. That’s far longer than it took Professor Tolkien to complete his trilogy.”

Caitlin, of House Sans Merci, a dragon pilot, after a hard landing, is immediately arrested when she returns to her base, and charged with corruption, a wide-ranging crime. It’s quickly evident that the trial is rigged (her virginity is denied), so she escapes on a Kawasaki and attempts to get answers from a dragon committing perjury against her. As Swanwick’s reading selection breaks off, she discovers that she has the mind of a dying old woman in her head.

The traditional Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered a small assortment of books. The audience of about 20 – we were mystified by the size of the turnout (but what there was, “was cherce”) – included Alan Beck, Amy Goldschlager, (House Manager) Barbara Krasnoff, John Kwok, Marianne Porter, Hildy Silverman and Henry Wessels. The Café closed early.

Fandom, Entitlement and Toxicity

By Hampus Eckerman: On the second day of the Dublin 2019 Worldcon, I went to a panel with the promising name of “With fans like these, who needs enemies?” I hadn’t really read the description, instead going by the idea that it might have something to do with fans sucking the energy out of convention organizers, whether caused by anger, entitlement or a sincere wish to help. Instead it was about how fans made life miserable for creators with George Lucas and Star Wars fandom as the prime example. Most of the panel was about the big media phenomena in SFF, Star Wars, Star Trek and GoT, but there was also an interesting discussion on why Doctor Who fandom hadn’t reached the same levels of toxicity.

And it made me think. Think of my own reactions to changes. To the anger. Resentment. And how I both could understand and be aghast over reactions from fans.

My first understanding of my own potential for toxicity was with the infamous Spider-Man storyline “One More Day”. For you that have never heard of it, the basic plot is as follows: Spider-Man married Mary Jane in 1987. This changed the dynamics of the comic. There was no longer the possibility to add soap elements of romance to the story, Spider-Man being too much of Goody Two-Shoes to be unfaithful. Killing Mary Jane would have caused an outrage, a divorce would still have left the dynamic. And that was not the only problem. Spider-Man had given up his secret identity in the Civil War-storyline, thus even more limiting the possibilities for writing a traditional story. So the decision was made in 2007, some 20 years later, to make a drastic change: Mephisto would for some flimsy reason magic Spider-Man so he wasn’t married, his identity had never been revealed, and a lot of stuff was retconned for no apparent reason, such as Harry Osbourne being alive again.

I remember the enormous *anger* I felt at the time. It felt like they were spitting in my face. And that is where I understood how much of my love for Spider-Man was connected to the accumulation of knowledge. The true nerdhood, to spend an enormous amount of time and money to build up expertise in an obscure subject that most people would most likely have a more casual relationship to. I had read all the Spider-Man that had been published in Sweden. Many American comics too. I had bought all the old comics that were published before I was born. I knew my Spider-Man. Storylines. Villains. I didn’t only have favourite comics, I had favourite panels. Favourite lines.

And suddenly, this knowledge and time investment was rendered obsolete. It no longer mattered. Things I had painstakingly learned over time no longer had happened. People suddenly lived again with no explanation and there would never be an explanation. I had no longer any idea of how much of my knowledge that was useless or how much was still in play. It was *worse* than any reboot in DC, because then I knew everything started from the beginning (except for Batman, because he was too popular). Now I just had no idea.

This was when Twitter was still in its early childhood, before artists and creators had become accessible. I think I would have been one of those sending angry and outraged tweets at Marvel or artists otherwise. Because I felt disrespected. Slapped in the face. I tried to read Spider-Man afterwards, but the joy was out of it. Some 3-4 issues later I quit entirely. And with quitting Spider-Man, I also started to quit other Marvel comics. And DC. In a way, it changed my whole relationship to comics.

* * *

Afterwards, I can see that most of it was a healthy reaction. I quit reading. I didn’t continue, becoming more and more discontent, feeling more sidelined or out of step with the Marvel universe. Instead I found other things to read. Other books. Graphic Novels. Took a step away from superheroes. Thank god I had never been one of those comic book readers that was totally focused on Marvel or DC. My main interest had always been in the broader comic world.

But still remembering that feeling of righteous anger, I have an understanding of what other comic fans feel when they feel slighted or disrespected. And while I think most peoples’ reactions will be somewhat like mine, a quick anger that then passes to something else, there will of course always be the small minority with less control of their feelings and frustrations that will take everything a step further.

But that was of course not my only insight in toxicity with regards to myself. I remember a flatmate inviting her friend to a visit. The flatmate was also a comic nerd, so I remember starting to talk about comics, trying to see what we had in common, what likes we both shared, on what level we could discuss. Until she asked if I was interrogating her. And that was a clear wake-up call. What I was doing was in practice seen as if I was trying to find out if she was a “fake geek girl”, that toxic concept where only women are questioned about their statuses as geeks or nerds. I stopped at once. I can’t remember if I apologized or grumbled something, but I didn’t dare to talk more about comics then. We did talk about other nerdy things afterwards, but then I was much more careful to not spout out questions, instead trying to listen more.

A third insight was only this year while watching first Captain Marvel and then Avengers: End Game. The sudden understanding that I didn’t really get any pleasure out of these movies. I was never that much of a fan of action movies and that is much of what the Marvel movies are. I wasn’t watching them as much out of enjoyment as I was out of addiction. I was watching them as a completionist, wanting to learn all the details, again building up an expertise. But building up that expertise also forced me to spend time on things that I didn’t really like. Often sitting there bored while Captain Marvel was having another uninteresting fight, waiting for it to stop to at least get a bit of plot or dialogue.

Reading articles about fans making petitions, starting online campaigns, attacking and harassing creators, making demands on how comics should be made, I think I’ve started to understand where these fans are coming from. And I think it is something that is not only connected to fandom, to the works we love, but to a whole slew of other things. Thinking of nerds as addicts puts things in a different perspective. Not only as addicts but as persons who come to identify themselves as, let’s use a grandiose expression, Keepers of Knowledge. People who have for 10-20 years built up a knowledge about a subject, are addicted to add to this knowledge, but suddenly recognize that they don’t enjoy it anymore. And the frustration of needing to do things *they don’t like* just to feed the addiction. Not only that. People fearing change because it is possible that they will not like this new thing and what is their patiently learned knowledge worth then?

* * *

Myself, I walked away from Spider-Man and Marvel. They didn’t fit my needs anymore and I moved on. Toxicity, I feel, is for those that can’t move on. But I feel it is good to admit that I myself have these feelings, because that makes it possible for me to recognize them before I grow angry enough. Recognize the pattern in myself and thus being able to also see the flaws it is built on. So when I get my *get of my lawn!*-moments, I can hopefully moderate my reactions a bit.

Perhaps that is my best advice to myself. When I and my friends aren’t the youngest in the park anymore and the lousy kids haven’t got the simple decency to play Motörhead, Slayer or AC/DC on their boom boxes anymore, instead listening to K-pop and talking about their last posting on Booktube – then I do not really have to complain about them not getting off my lawn. Because it is a public park. And Motörhead still plays louder than everybody else.

Whether people like it or not.