Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #37

Bill Higgins (left) and Steven H Silver (right), photo by Chris M. Barkley at Capricon 39, 16 February 2019

Capricon 39: Information PLEASE!

By Chris M. Barkley: When I was attending Worldcon 76 at San Jose, Chicago area fan writer and editor Steven H Silver approached me with an unusual proposition: would I be interested in participating in a fantasy and sf version of an old radio show Information Please.

I had been a radio talk show host myself, which was called Bad Moon Rising and was broadcast on a public access radio station from the summer of 1976 through the spring of 1983. As an aficionado of old-time radio shows, I knew about Information Please but I had never heard an episode. But I knew about the basic premise and format and was sufficiently intrigued to agree.

According to its Wikipedia entry:

Information Please was an American radio quiz show, created by Dan Golenpaul, which aired on NBC from May 17, 1938 to April 22, 1951. The title was the contemporary phrase used to request from telephone operators what was then called “information” but is now called “directory assistance”.

The series was moderated by Clifton Fadiman. A panel of experts would attempt to answer questions submitted by listeners. For the first few shows, a listener was paid $2 for a question that was used, and $5 more if the experts could not answer it correctly. When the show got its first sponsor (Canada Dry), the total amounts were increased to $5 and $10 respectively. A complete Encyclopædia Britannica was later added to the prize for questions that stumped the panel. The amounts went up to $10 and $25 when Lucky Strike took over sponsorship of the program.”

Mr. Silver’s idea was to present this show in a panel format at sf conventions on a regular basis. Steve Davidson, the current publisher of Amazing Stories, agreed to be the sponsor these contests and eventually offer prizes of subscriptions to winners who submitted questions that stumped the panel.

Since it was not widely publicized, there was a lack of audience material to work with and as a result, Mr. Silver wrote all of the questions himself.

Besides myself, Steven also invited Rich Horton and Bill Higgins of General Technics to participate as future hosts or participants.

There was no room on the 2018 Windycon programming schedule so it was mutually agreed that the pilot episode of “F&SF Information Please” would be held this weekend at Capricon 39.

Mr. Silver was our host and seated to his right were myself, Mr. Higgins, Chicago fan David Hirsch and Capricon 39 Author Guest of Honor Seanan MCGuire.

Unlike Jeopardy! or other quiz shows, you can’t really study for it; the questions are so arcanely phrased that you have to rely on all of the inherent knowledge you possess plus and improvisational comedy skills you can muster. And believe me, had there been an audio recording of the panel, you would have gotten an earful of both.

Mr. Silver began with a series of common knowledge questions regarding Hugo Award winners, Harry Potter characters and fan related items of interest. (I am being deliberately vague here because the questions that were used may turn up at future conventions.)

The questions became harder and more perplexing as the panel progressed, much to the delight of the 40 plus members of the audience attending. In fact, several members of the audience knew some of the tougher entries involving Disney movies, fantasy characters from novels, spaceship names and sf convention history.

At one remarkable point in the proceedings, we were all treated to the splendid singing voices of Ms. McGuire and Mr. Higgins, who both sang filk songs from memory.

I must say that I modestly held my own during the proceedings with a few swift answers and some snappy repartee. And I also also admit I laughed so hard that afterwards I thought that I had stressed my vocal chords.

Alas, all of this has been mostly lost to history because I did not think of setting up my smartphone to record the panel.

I think that this particular game show would be a welcome addition to local and regional conventions and I am urging everyone reading this to participate if and when this may show up on a programming schedule.

I can say with some certainty that Information Please will be performed at Windycon 47 this coming November (where, coincidentally, I am the Fan Guest of Honor.) I am hopeful that other venues around the country will be announced as well.

If you would like to participate and have a chance to win a subscription to Amazing Stories, please send your questions to Steven H. Silver at: infopleasesf@gmail.com 

Let the flow of knowledge, and hilarity, ensue!

Wandering Through the Public Domain #8

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

By Colleen McMahon: I stumbled onto a fun book on Project Gutenberg today while I was looking for something completely different — as so often happens with me. I was checking to see if an 1835 book about Georgia was available on PG, and the author’s name was Longstreet. I couldn’t remember the first name, so I was checking all the authors named Longstreet. When I got to Hattie Longstreet, I found this eye-catching cover:

I never did find that Georgia book — at least, not today — but after skimming the first section of The Little Match Man, I downloaded it to read in its entirety, and perhaps organize a Librivox project to record it.

The narrator of the story is a foreign correspondent based in Japan. One day, he is bored and entertains himself by making a tiny man out of matchsticks, as he used to do when he was a child. Then, ready to smoke a cigarette, he tells the match man that he is going to strike his head. And then this happens:

But I got no further. The little man moved, and falling on his knees held out his hands as if in prayer.

I was very much surprised, and examined him carefully on every side. I had made a great many little men just like him, but I had never seen any one of them move by himself. I looked to see if there was anywhere a bit of string that I had pulled without meaning to. But no, I found nothing. The little man remained quite still in his new position, until at last I was reassured. I thought the jar of some one passing outside, or a puff of air had thrown him from the box, he was so slim and light. I sat him up again and watched him closely.

After a few minutes I saw distinctly that he moved himself. For some time he trembled very slightly, then he held out his arms, and slowly rose to his feet. I could hear a tiny voice, which seemed to come from him, but it was so feeble that compared with it the voice of a cricket would sound like a trombone.

There follows a series of stories, each with several charming illustrations by Hattie Longstreet, of their adventures together for the next few months.

I next looked up the author, and that’s where things got a bit dark. The author’s name is Luigi Barzini (1874-1947) and he was an Italian journalist. Among other assignments, he was embedded in the Japanese army in Manchuria during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. He wrote several non-fiction books, but The Little Match Man appears to be the only fiction he ever published. The English translation came out in 1917.

In the 1920s, Barzini became a Fascist and was one of the 250 signatories to the Manifesto of Fascist Intellectuals in 1925. In the 1930s he joined Mussolini’s government and served on various high-level commissions, culminating with his heading of the official press agency of the Italian Social Republic (the puppet state maintained in Italy after the Germans took over in 1943). After the war, he was charged and convicted for his role in Mussolini’s regime and banned from journalism. He died in poverty in 1947.

His politics also tore apart his family. One of his sons, Ettore, joined the Italian resistance, was captured, and died in a German concentration camp. His namesake, Luigi Barzini Jr., also went into journalism and was a foreign correspondent in Asia, covering the rape of Nanking among other momentous events in Japan’s war in China. Back in Italy in 1940, Barzini Jr. was charged with leaking information to the enemy and disparaging Il Duce, and was confined under house arrest and forbidden to write. The war’s end allowed Barzini Jr. to resume his career even as his father’s was ended, and he went on to become an influential writer in both Italian and English in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as a political mover and shaker.

The senior Barzini’s later career may explain why The Little Match Man is so thoroughly forgotten, but it does seem to be a fun little story.

The Pixel Scroll birthday list recently surprised me with the inclusion of Victorian scholar and art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900), someone I never thought had any connection to the science fiction or fantasy worlds. It turns out that he wrote a kind of fairy tale, a short novel called The King of the Golden River, also available as a Librivox audiobook. Here’s the description from Librivox:

When three brothers mortally offend Mr. Southwest Wind, Esquire, their farm is laid waste and their riches lost. Desperate for money, the brothers become goldsmiths and melt down their remaining treasures . . . only to find that the spirit of the King of the Golden River resides with a molded tankard, and knows the secret of the riches of the Golden River.

Sounds downright whimsical for someone remembered as a Very Serious Intellectual in the high Victorian age!

Recent Librivox releases:

  • Five Children and It by E. Nesbit (1858-1924)

    The book follows the journey of five children who discover a mysterious creature (called by them as It) who grants them their wishes. Join in as they ask for the craziest of wishes, which are granted true for a day!

A collection of poetry about ghosts, hauntings and other spooky topics, including poems by Kipling, Longfellow, Yeats, Rosetti and many others.

A Deal with the Devil is a classic tale with a humorous twist. We find that on the night preceeding his 100th birthday Grandpapa, a cantankerous yet loveable sort, has made a deal with the devil, which his granddaughter, in part, will pay.

  • Wolfbane by Frederik Pohl (1919-2013) and C.M. Kornbluth (1923-1958)

A rogue planet, populated by strange machines known as Pyramids, has stolen the Earth from the Solar system, taking it off into interstellar space. The moon has been ‘ignited’ by alien technology to serve as a miniature sun around which both planets orbit. This new sun is rekindled every 5 years, though as the book opens, the rekindling is nearly overdue and there is fear among the populace that it may never happen again.

Of Course the Scythe Got Him

By John Hertz:   I’ve been thinking about Steve Sneyd. Maybe you have too.  He died last June (1941-2018).  His name meant the handle of a scythe.

In 2015 the Science Fiction Poetry Association named him a Grand Master. Here’s a short poem.

red mist all round this
far realm, we can no longer
see to add more blood

He called it “A Real Test of Human Resorce”.  I’m reluctant to change his spelling; he was hardly illiterate; consider if he might have meant This may happen if U aren’t there.

You can and you might like to look around for things he wrote.  Maybe you have, some.  I often disagreed with him.  That doesn’t always matter.

Among other expressions he published the fanzine Data Dump, quarterly for a quarter-century.  I was a regular contributor for half its life.  He published five dozen of my poems.

Among things from me that couldn’t fit in Data Dump –  four pages handwritten on both sides of a sheet of A5 paper folded in half (oops, out of room!) – you might like these, so far not appearing elsewhere.

* * *

Besides Toledo, whose claims are old and sound, I am told that since 1998 there has been a Marzipan Museum at Kfar Tavor, i.e. Mt. Tabor, in the Galilee, i.e. north Israel, where almonds grow.  You yourself are an Almondburian.

* * *

To call Will Yeats a cubist
May seem a jolly lark,
But shoot your next shaft better.
This one has missed the mark.
His painting never left a view
Mechanical and stark;
For him the link of heart and eye
Kept hold of skin and bark.

* * *

An Irish friend has explained to me there’s only one bean sidhe (“banshee”).  One, she comments, is quite enough.

* * *

Barbarella is the eponym, and Durand Durand is another char­acter, in Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella comics, translated from French by Richard Seaver and published in the Grove Press Evergreen Review (##37-39, 1965-1966) then separately by Grove Press (1966).  In French the final “d” of “Durand Durand” is silent.  Haven’t seen the film, whose images do not suggest any grasp of the original – maybe I’ll let that pun remain.

* * *

The doltish accusation that Poe was against science is sometimes made to rest on his 1829 sonnet

To Science
Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomèd mine –
Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made
The tender-person’d Lamia melt into a shade.

– an argument which ignores Poe’s exquisite irony, and may earn its place in the Hall of Shame simply by not troubling to look up “Lamia”.  Tender-person’d!  A tender-person’d succubus!  Poe is applauding science, and satirizing those to whom its help at best seems the ghost of folly haunting their sweet dreams (Keats, “Lamia” ll. 376-77, 1820).

* * *

Indeed Austen’s world is alien to us.  So few of us who read her now trouble to look what it is, instead of only seeing our own notions in it, that I tremble at the thought of our meeting off-planet aliens any time soon.

* * *

Any man who seeks a sexbot deserves what he gets.  Courtesans laugh at us.  “Love for sale – old love, new love, every love but true love” (C. Porter, 1930).

* * *

Eliza Butler’s Myth of the Magus (1948; 3rd ed. 1993 pp. 100-101) calls Phoebilla a treacherous woman.  But Domenico Comparetti’s Vergil in the Middle Ages (1872; Benecke tr. 1895, p. 361), discussing Jean d’Outremeuse, Ly Myreur des Histors (14th Cent.), points out that Phoebilla, in love with Virgil (so spelling since we discuss the legendary magician, not the historical poet), made clear she expected marriage, and only after he took advantage of her by enjoying relations while con­tinuing to defer legitimating did she humiliate him with the basket – or, if he was omniscient, put him to the trouble of sending a demon in his semblance.

* * *

We can certainly do call and response if you like.

Ozymandias, King of Kings!

Ozymandias, King of Kings!

Ozymandias owns nothing!

Ozymandias owns nothing!

Ozymandias, great and strong!

Ozymandias, great and strong!

Ozymandias, gone so long!

Ozymandias, gone so long!

Ozymandias was so vain!

Ozymandias was so vain!

Ozymandias’ legs remain!

Ozymandias’ legs remain!

Ozymandias, mighty man!

Ozymandias, mighty man!

Ozymandias, empty sand!

Ozymandias, empty sand!

* * *

Why should poets be useful?
We’re busy being juiceful.
Let the prosy be newsful
And harden their minds to be ruseful.
The sterile may dream us seduceful
And press us back to a cabooseful
Where we’ll play.

The French painters know we’re Toulouseful,
To U.S. folk Dr. Seuss-ful,
But Ogden Nash was the most gooseful
Of his day.

* * *

“Ents & Tech”.  Now there’s an image.

* * *

Once I saw a large graffito

There is only

ONE
ENO

whose tautology so impressed me that I verified by adding below

naturally

although, or perhaps because, I had then neither heard, nor heard of, Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, RDI.

* * *

Of course a preacher fails if he is taken for a free-floating miasma of misdeed.

* * *

What a name for a poet-scientist is Valerie Laws!

* * *

In Vanamonde I’ve like others elsewhere wondered about the reality or existence of fictional characters.  Perhaps few today believe in Thor. Yet in a sense he exists.  O’Brian says to Winston Smith “You do not exist.”

* * *

You very nicely begin [DD 221 p. 2] with the Space Race and end it “Out of Space”.  Indeed one wonders what could be out of space.  Maybe this is like Hui Neng’s “What was your face before you were born?”

Yes I Can

By John Hertz:  Maybe the spirit of Sammy Davis, Jr., will allow my borrowing his title. My reason can wait till the end.  You may find it sooner.

In this year’s Hugo Awards I’ve recommended Alternate Routes (Powers) for Best Novel and The Glass Bead Game for Best Novel of 1943 (Hesse; Retrospective Hugo).  Nominations close March 15th.

We’ll have a trial run of Best Art Book, besides our regular Best Related Work.  University of Chicago professor Harry Kalven used to talk of United States law on freedom of speech “working itself pure”, which seems to have been the story of Best Related Work so far, and may continue if Best Art Book is established.

Meanwhile I can recommend Out of This World at Home, vol. 5 of Mark Evanier’s Pogo collection The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips, without injustice to the Michael Whelan art book Beyond Science Fiction – which, if regrettably titled, is full of wonders; see my note on an exhibit preceding it here.

Evanier says This World contains “two prime years of what I think is the best newspaper strip ever – and even folks who disagree with me on that don’t usually disagree by much.”

He knows a lot more about comics than I do, but I don’t have to decide about Little Nemo — or Krazy Kat — to applaud This World.

Rick Marschall in America’s Great Comic-Strip Artists (rev. 1997; p. 255) says, “Walt Kelly was master of all that could be surveyed….  Pogo generously included … fantasy, literary and intellectual touches, farce and parody, graphic brilliance … poetry … and good old-fashioned slapstick.”

Pogo, in the Okefenokee Swamp where he lives, is a possum.  Many things prove to be possible, or impossible, there.  In Latin – we can all guess whether Kelly delighted in this – possum means I can.

Q&A On Sci-Fi Package, Better Worlds w/ The Verge’s Editor Andrew Liptak

In January The Verge launched Better Worlds, a new series of short fiction and animation that explores how technology could shape our society and environment in better, more equitable ways. Here’s a Q&A about the series with The Verge’s Andrew Liptak.

MIKE GLYER: There are many ways of defining science fiction — one is that SF tells about the implications of science on humanity. How much emphasis do you place on the technical aspects of a story and how much emphasis on the human element?

ANDREW LIPTAK: As a science fiction writer and commentator, I certainly want to see cool future technology — handheld gadgets that we might someday hold ourselves, futuristic vehicles to take us from place to place, or advanced suits of armor that might someday protect soldiers and contractors on the battlefield. That’s always been at the heart of science fiction, ever since people like Hugo Gernsback began turning over pages of his electronics magazines to stories.

But at the same time, writing about futuristic technology on its own is just a technical manual. You need to have someone to press the button, and with that human (or alien, or robot) action, you need to have something behind it that gives it meaning. I’m a big fan of Isaac Asimov’s collection I, Robot, which explores what are very technical subjects in very emotional ways — Asimov worked through the various logical flaws with his Three Laws of Robotics, and in many instances, they hinged on ways that weren’t mechanical flaws, but emotive ones; Robbie saves a little girl, Herbie wants to try and make sure that nobody’s feelings are hurt, while Nestor’s overseers are desperate to find him when he takes their orders literally and hides. Each of those stories in the book deal with the impact of technology through a larger societal context, and that’s why that book has endured so well over the decades, because it frames those logical puzzles from the human perspective.

I think what’s most important about this balance is that science fiction at its best explores the ramifications of those technologies you’re imagining. I’m reminded of a quote from Frederik Pohl: “a good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile, but the traffic jam.” I recently read a fantastic book about the history of the iPhone that reminded me of that — The One Device by Brian Merchant. The book delved into all the technical details of how various components that make up the iPhone were invented. But alongside that, he explores the human cost of the device, from the engineers who were berated by Steve Jobs to the workers who are paid very little do mine the raw materials, or to assemble the devices. There was an anecdote that really stuck with me from the book — as the iPhone (and to be fair, other smart phones) came into widespread use across the country, there was an uptick in deaths of the workers who were installing and maintaining cell towers, because of that increased demand so that you could watch YouTube whenever you desire.

MG: “Better Worlds” is keynoted by words like inspiration and optimism. What ripple effect do you see the project having on the SF genre?

ANDREW LIPTAK: I hope that there are a lot of ripple effects! When we were designing the project, something that we came to quite a bit was that we wanted something that was essentially an anti-Black Mirror. I really love Charlie Brooker’s show, because it’s an example of really good science fiction storytelling, particularly when it comes to exploring the ramifications of technology. But it’s also so damn bleak. It’s not a show that I can binge watch, because I have to step away and decompress after watching each episode.

If there’s any big impact, I’m hoping that this highlights that “science fiction” doesn’t equate to “worst case scenario.” Charlie Jane Anders published a really excellent op-ed in The Washington Post the other day, where she highlights the need for science fiction to imagine what the future holds, and how we can get there. It’s not just parading in disaster porn where rugged survivalists find a way to survive amidst the collapse of society, but figuring out how people collectively come together to navigate a world in which the rules are continually changing.

Plus, the world is incredibly bleak right now. There’s a lot to be worried about when it comes to any number of issues, whether that be climate, politics, privacy, massive corporations, and so forth. But there’s still a lot of good that’s going on right now. The Better Worlds series isn’t about utopian futures — not by a long shot — but they do show how people coping with terrible problems can make the world better in their own ways.

MG: This is a beautifully-designed collection of multi-media works – how much of a collaborative process was involved, or were the different components produced autonomously?  

ANDREW LIPTAK: With each story that we’ve published so far, I’m constantly blown away by the creativity in the fiction, videos, artwork, and audio that come together. I was primarily involved on the editing side of this project, but I will say that it was a highly collaborative puzzle.

On one hand, you have all the authors who came up with the stories and put them down to paper (figuratively speaking), and the editors who take those stories and provide feedback and editing to make them the best that they can be. You’ve also got the artists, animators, and voice actors who interpreted those works and brought them to life.

On the other hand, you have all the unseen efforts that go on in the background: our managers, our fantastic copyeditor, business partners, social media people and our site’s leadership who help turn those stories into the fantastic finished stories that are on the website, but who also helped champion and encourage and otherwise make the series a reality that you can now read on our website.

Like any film, book, or TV show, nothing happens in a vacuum, and without the efforts of everyone involved, the series wouldn’t be what it is.

MG: What’s your advice for aspiring science fiction authors?

ANDREW LIPTAK: There’s a lot of advice out there that’s good — read a lot, write a lot, and read what you’ve written out loud, and so forth.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is how incredibly valuable it is to break out of your shell / community / circle of writers / group to discover new ideas and viewpoints. I recently moderated a panel on the implications of artificial intelligence at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and I came out of that three-day experience with a notepad full of ideas for potential stories, based on what I’d seen and heard.

A lot of that came from the fact that I was surrounded by experts in military affairs, artificial intelligence, and robotics, and while a lot of them were certainly science fiction fans, they weren’t hung up on the genre’s long-standing conventions. I certainly think that if you’re out there writing science fiction, having a really solid familiarity with your subject matter is essential, even if you only use 1 percent of that. Go directly to the experts when it comes to science and technology. Spend a weekend at a conference for geologists or astronomers! Read a ton of nonfiction books about science and technology. Attend talks about ethics and social sciences that might be near you. (And take notes.) That type of multidisciplinary study and research will help bring new and useful perspectives to the genre.

Wandering Through the Public Domain #7

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

By Colleen McMahon:I turn up material for this column in the most roundabout ways. For example, I was looking at CLEWS, a historic true crime blog, and saw a reference to Miriam Allen DeFord (1888-1975), who apparently wrote some crime books. The illustration with the blog entry looked like a 1950s paperback, and I know that many of those were reprints of material that had already fallen into the public domain at that point.

So I did a quick search on DeFord and found that her birth year was 1888, which makes her promising for potential Librivox recording material. At this point I was thinking true crime works, which are scarce on Librivox, so I’m always looking for a chance to record a new one.

Off to Project Gutenberg to check their DeFord holdings. To my surprise, the four works they have are all science fiction! Time to dig further into Ms. DeFord’s background. It turns out that she was a very prolific writer who wrote across many genres. She was an editor and journalist as well.

She began her career in journalism in the early 1900s, with a distinct leftist and feminist bent. She wrote for multiple socialist publications, was a proponent of birth control and women’s suffrage, and wrote several non-fiction books early in her career. Later, she turned to fiction and published stories in just about all of the major mystery and science fiction magazines from the 1950s-1980s. She even made an appearance in Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology, and one of her stories became the basis of a Night Gallery episode.

She seems mostly forgotten now, and the little I read of her made me want to know more. I’m particularly intrigued by two anthologies she edited. Space, Time, and Crime (1964) has stories where the mystery and SF genres intersect. The other, Xenogenesis (1968), is a collection of her own short fiction dealing with gender themes.

Project Gutenberg has 4 of Miriam Allen Deford’s short stories:

All have been recorded at Librivox.

From a really obscure old-time SF author, to a really well-known one — at least by name, though I don’t think his own writings are widely read any more. John W. Campbell (1910-1971) is best remembered now as a prominent editor who did much to shape the early decades of modern science fiction through the kinds of stories he purchased, commissioned, and/or encouraged aspirants to write.

There are five John W. Campbell works on Project Gutenberg, four full-length novels and one short story:

All have been recorded at Librivox at least once, with “The Last Evolution” having three different versions in various short SF collections.

Recent Librivox releases:

  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

    This story deals with the obvious fact that we humans are split, dual. We have urges to do the ‘right’ thing, to be honorable and wise, but we also frequently fail to follow these better instincts and follow instead urges to do dishonorable, evil things. We seem to battle within ourselves. Are we really composed of two different personalities housed within the same brain, within the same person? Dr Jekyll in this story is so convinced and manages by scientific means to actually split himself into his ordinary composite self, and his evil self whom he calls Mr. Hyde. The horror of this unnatural split is well documented here and shows what might happen were this possible.


  • Mars is My Destination by Frank Belknap Long (1901-1994)

    MARS

    … Earth’s first colony in Space. Men killed for the coveted ticket that allowed them to go there. And, once there, the killing went on….

    MARS

    … Ralph Graham’s goal since boyhood—and he was Mars-bound with authority that put the whole planet in his pocket—if he could live long enough to assert it!


  • Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott (1838-1926)

    This is a satirical novel written by Edwin A. Abbott, first published in 1884. Abbott uses a two-dimensional world, with himself as the protagonist, known simply as “A Square”, to deride the Victorian aristocracy and its hierarchies. But the book has retained its value throughout the years for its unique portrayal of a two-dimensional world, and how a Sphere introduces the Square to the incomprehensible possibility of a third dimension.


  • A Mirror of Shalott by Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914)

    Fourteen stories of the strange by the Anglican then Roman Catholic priest, Robert Hugh Benson. The form of the book is of stories told by a gathering of Roman Catholic clergy.


  • The Vampire; or, The Bride of the Isles by James Planché (1796-1880)

    Set in the Scottish Isles, Planché’s play begins with our heroine having a prophetic vision of her own demise. Lady Margaret is besieged with a nightmarish visitation from a vampiric fiend who threatens to feast upon her blood. These premonitions are quickly borne out when she meets her betrothed, the villainous Lord Ruthven, an otherworldly creature alluded to in local gossip and rumor. He seeks to marry Margaret in order to drain her of her blood. Will her prophetic dreams come true? Or will she be saved from Ruthven’s villainous schemes?

The Biggest Star on Broadway

By Rich Lynch: This January, as has been the case for most Januaries that Nicki and I have visited New York, there were several big-name actors and actresses who were appearing in Broadway shows.  Bryan Cranston and Tatiana Maslany were the leads in a new stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning film Network.  Ethan Hawke and Paul Dano were getting great reviews in a revival of Sam Shepard’s True West.  Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles and Tony Award-winning actor Gavin Creel had taken on leading roles in Waitress.  And Jeff Daniels was starring in Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaption of To Kill a Mockingbird.  But, in spite of their prominence, none of these luminaries were actually the biggest star on Broadway.  That would be Kong.

Outside the Broadway Theatre on the evening of January 8th

King Kong is a recent addition to the Great White Way.  Even though it’s very New York-centric, at least in its final act, it had originally been adapted for the stage back in 2013 in Melbourne, Australia.  And it’s a musical! 

To be frank, I was a bit skeptical going in that it would work very well.  When you go to see a show about a literally larger-than-life stage character, you don’t do it because of the music.  And while that was true even for Nicki and me, we still found that the songs, though not memorable, were good compositions which did move the plotline along. 

But in the end, it was Kong that everybody came to see.  And we weren’t disappointed.  He didn’t make his initial appearance until about halfway through the first act of the show, and when he did he had his own talented assemblage of handlers – about a dozen people dressed all in black (listed in the show’s Playbill as the “King’s Company”) who were the manipulators.  And they were so expert in their machinations of controlling a 20-foot tall puppet that it was able to exhibit a broad range of nuanced facial expressions and body language.  Truly sophisticated.

Kong’s curtain call with his handlers.

And there was certainly considerable talent in the rest of the cast – in particular, Christiani Pitts (who played soother-of-the-savage-beast Ann Darrow), appeared to be a future Broadway superstar.  As a review on Yelp! put it, she “sang her butt off” and from our viewpoint she was the only one in the cast who succeeded in not being upstaged by Kong.  The professional reviewers, however, were not nearly as charitable, the worst of the lot being The New York Times, which described the show as “the Mess that Roared” and The Observer, which offered that “Broadway’s disastrous King Kong is a $35 million crime against puppets”.  We, however, beg to disagree.  When you go to see a Broadway musical, the one thing you don’t want to happen is to come away with a disappointing experience of an unmemorable production.  That was certainly not the case for King Kong.  It was a good show.

(This is part of a longer essay about New York that will be reprinted in December in My Back Pages 23.)

The Greatest S-F Novel of 1943

By John Hertz:  We’re doing Retrospective Hugos this year.

I say “this year” because we don’t always do them.  The current Hugo Awards will be done as always, the 2019 Hugos for what appeared in 2018.

Dublin2019, the 77th World Science Fiction Convention, will administer both.  You can look it all up here.

There was no Worldcon in 1944.  These will be the 1944 Hugo Awards, for what appeared in 1943.

Great things happened in our field then.  This is our moment to applaud them.

Science fiction and fantasy are both eligible.  Theoretically they’re distinct; practically the distinction isn’t always so plain; some authors blur it, sometimes on purpose.  Heinlein may have started us saying speculative fiction.

It could be argued there’s a sense in which science fiction includes fantasy (science fiction is knowledge fiction), another in which fantasy includes science fiction.  But we digress.

If, as of 31 Dec 18, 11:59 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, you had an Attending or Supporting Membership in the 76th or 77th Worldcon (or both), you may nominate.

In any category you may propose up to five nominees.  Those with enough nominations will be finalists when we vote later.

You’re nominating for what will be voted the best.  What best is you decide for yourself.

For 1943 novels there’s already talk of Ravaged (Barjavel; English tr. Ashes, Ashes), Conjure Wife (Leiber), Perelandra (Lewis), The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (Lovecraft), Earth’s Last Citadel (Moore & Kuttner), Mary Poppins Opens the Door (Travers), The Book of Ptath (Van Vogt).

You’ll expect me to call your attention to The Glass Bead Game (Hesse; also tr. as Magister Ludi – Latin, “master of the game”, a title the protagonist receives).  And I do.

It was one of the Classics of S-F we discussed at Conagerie (Westercon LV; West Coast Science Fantasy Conference); also at Lonestarcon III (71st Worldcon), where I said

The first and for fifty years the only Nobel Prize s-f novel, the author’s last and crowning work, one of the rare s-f masterpieces from outside our field, a satire, a story, a character study, poetic even in translation, we hope not prophetic, searchingly profound.

An 800-word note by me appeared in YHOS (Your Humble and Obedient Servant) 59, reprinted in The Drink Tank 352, and here. It ends with a Jane Austen and Jack Benny joke no one’s ever asked me about, maybe because everyone’s gotten it or because no one’s read that far.  My address is public, 236 S. Coronado St., No. 409, Los Angeles, CA 90057, U.S.A.

The Glass Bead Game only to some extent reflects my own opinions of life, the universe, and everything.  But I don’t read books to be agreed with.  It’s a towering achievement in world literature.

Wandering Through the Public Domain #6

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

By Colleen McMahon: When I first discovered Project Gutenberg and Internet Archive, I struggled with how best to read the books I found, because reading on my regular computer was hard on the eyes and the layout was not always ideal. There are numerous formats for the texts on both sites, and many options for e-readers, so it might take some experimentation to figure out what works for you.

I thought I’d take a minute to describe the system I’ve worked out, in the hopes it might help someone else overcome this obstacle to enjoyable (and free!) reading experiences. My experience is mainly with Apple devices and I’m not familiar with the equivalent apps and procedures in Android, but the overall process should have similar steps.

As I’ve reached the age of needing reading glasses, I’ve found I have a strong preference for reading ebooks, usually on my iPad using the Kindle app. No need to find my reading glasses and a strong light with a backlit screen and easy text resizing!

However, it turns out that downloading the books in the so-called “Kindle format” (MOBI) often produces scrambled layout and punctuation — if you have ever attempted to read the free public domain books available through Amazon, you will be familiar. So for Kindle, I recommend using the PDF format rather than MOBI, on both sites.

Unfortunately, it can be a tedious process to get the PDF into Kindle. Each file must be “sent” via Amazon. They can be slow to show up in your Kindle library, and sometimes they get lost in the ether. The one advantage is that once the file does arrive, you can access it through any Kindle reader or app.

Recently I discovered that for both IA and PG texts, it’s much easier to use the Apple Books app, so it’s become my go-to for public domain texts.

On Project Gutenberg, the easiest way to transfer the file is to click on the Google Drive or Dropbox icon next to the EPUB option on the main page for the book. This puts a copy of the file on Google Drive or Dropbox, after which you simply open whichever one you use and select the “Open in…” option. Click on the Books app to open the file. After that, it is in your Books library on that device until you decide to remove it. If you use more than one Apple device, you will have to repeat it for each one.

Although Internet Archive offers EPUB and Kindle format for most of its files, I have found it far easier to open the text in PDF format and download that. If I’m looking at Internet Archive on my iPad (I use Chrome), then once the PDF version is open, it’s simple to click the “Open In…” button at the bottom of the screen and drop it directly into the Books app. On my laptop, I download the PDF, then upload it to Drive. Then I can pull it up on my iPad and open it in Books.

As I said, there are many routes to get the files to your preferred reader. If you have other methods that work well for your preferred formats, please feel free to share in the comments!

For everyone who hasn’t slipped into a coma after that scintillating discussion, how about some actual book suggestions?

In a comment on the previous installment, Robert Whitaker Sirignano mentioned that Nikola Tesla had written for Electric Experimenter magazine, edited by Hugo Gernsback. If you are curious about that magazine, Internet Archive has four single issues from the 1910s, as well as the complete volume 7 (1919).

F. Orlin Tremaine (1899-1956) had his 120th birthday on January 7, and it turns out that he has one work on PG, published under the name Warner Von Lorne: Wanted–7 Fearless Engineers! This is a multi-chapter novella originally published in Amazing Stories in 1939. It has been recorded as a stand-alone work on Librivox.

Algis Budrys (1931-2008) has several short stories on Project Gutenberg:

All of the Budrys stories except “Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night” have been recorded at least once at Librivox, as part of various Short Science Fiction Collections.

Recent Librivox releases:

  • Queen Sheba’s Ring by H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925)

    A famed archeologist, an aging doctor, and a young army engineer set out across the African desert on a great adventure. Professor Higgs is in search of new archeological discoveries, Dr. Adams seeks to rescue his kidnapped son, and Captain Orme wants to forget an unhappy love affair. Maqueda, Daughter of Kings, ruler of the Abati, enlists their aid to destroy the sacred idol of a neighboring tribe with promises to help the doctor rescue his son.

  • Short Ghost and Horror Collection 032 by Various

    A collection of 20 short stories about various things that go bump in the night. Includes stories by Lord Dunsany, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Ambrose Bierce, M.R. James and others. (Full disclosure: I recorded the Le Fanu story).

  • The Enemies of Books by William Blades (1824-1890)

    The author, an avid book collector, calls for the better protection of books against the “enemies” which lead to their physical destruction. In a series of brief chapters, he details the losses caused by raging fire, floods of water, noxious gases, sheer neglect, ignorant bigotry, invasions of bookworms and other vermin, inept bookbinders, clueless book collectors, clumsy servants, and mishandling by children.

Yes, I know that last one is not SFF, but it is certainly filled with horrors for the passionate book lovers among us!