My Life at Loscon, Part 3

By John Hertz:  (mostly reprinted from No Direction Home 43)  Saturday 11:30 a.m. at Loscon XLVI, a panel discussion “The Asimov Centenary”.

We were starting early, or maybe right; without birth records, he celebrated 3 Jan 1920 but it could have been in 1919.  Moderator, pro author and interviewer Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, with Fan Guest of Honor Edie Stern, Joe Siclari of FANAC (Florida Association for Nucleation And Conventions, sponsor of the 50th World Science Fiction Convention [which Siclari chaired] at Orlando, Florida, and currently a fanhistory Website <fanac.org>, fanac our long-time slang for fan activity), Matthew Tepper the con chair and Asimov scholar, and me.

The panel was billed as discussing “his growth as a writer, and the impact that his writings have had on real life culture and science”; I thought, as Johnson said, those people have gone to milk the bull.

The work of Asimov the SF author was imagination; of Asimov the science writer – his four hundred science columns for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, his six dozen popular-science books – was explanation.  He said he strove for clarity; at both this was his talent, his skill, perhaps we may say his genius.  Let us not turn away to having an impact (that wretched cant) on real life culture and science.  His growth as a writer – alas, I thought he shrank.  I could not think The Gods Themselves (1972) his best SF; on the contrary.  Nevertheless he was a wonder.

Tepper said Asimov brought sweeping stories up close and personal.  That also applied to his non-fiction.  Stern said, he worked out a premiss (yes, that’s how the logic kind is spelled, plural “premisses”; “premises” is the land kind).  He showed how social forces shaped.  Siclari said he could present complex science simply.  He had a spirit of play; not only in his writing, he was active in Gilbert & Sullivan fandom.  I said he was one of our best what if writers.

Zinos-Amaro asked, accusations of his mistreating women have emerged: does that complicate what we think of him?  Stern reminded us these things were no news; everyone with a skirt, she said, knew he was grabby.  She told of a woman in a shirt printed with six-finger outlines who retorted “Isaac, if your hands fit these, you can, otherwise no”; he stopped.  Tepper said, we’re faced with even greater creative personalities who were flawed – like Wagner.  We can’t minimize either side.  A woman in the audience said “I ran a convention; he was very professional.”

On yet another side, Stern told of a Boston collating session in the mimeograph days; just as a man declined to pitch in, saying “I’m a published author”, Asimov stuck his head out of the collating room calling “Hey, Tony, we need more of Page 2.” 

Zinos-Amaro asked us each what one book we’d recommend.  Stern said, Pebble in the Sky (1950).  Siclari said, Foundation (1951).  Tepper said, The Caves of Steel (1953).  I said, The End of Eternity (1955).  Look too for the collections of his short stories and of his science essays. With fiction and non-fiction he had published five hundred books – plus anthologies – plus founding Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine.

In the Art Show the best for me was Elizabeth Berrien. This extraordinary wire-worker was famous among us for years.  Her animals and other creations are in many of our homes.  At Lonestarcon II, the 55th Worldcon, she won Best in Art Show.  As her career grew, she found herself making things for airports, hotels, museums, offices, restaurants, television advertising, zoos.

Chris Marble said “It’s been 21 years since she exhibited at Loscon.”  In 2019 she was in the Art Show at Spikecon, the combined Westercon (West Coast Science Fantasy Conference) and NASFiC (North America SF Con, held when the Worldcon is overseas), fifty miles from where the Final Spike completed the Transcontinental Railroad 150 years earlier; Marble had carried her work to and from the 77th Worldcon in Ireland.

When she’s present, at a party or a panel discussion, you’ll see her listening or contributing to the conversation, all the while twisting wire.  She must carry the whole in her mind, like Michelangelo saying “I just get a block of marble and chip away anything that isn’t a Madonna and Child.”  If you look at wire sculpture around the world, you’ll see hers is distinctive.  It may be unique.

We have fan tables.  We don’t know any better name for them.  Along the traffic flow are people and displays on behalf of scheduled cons, bids to hold cons, contests, SF clubs, to answer questions and as may seem suitable.

At Loscon, the Orange County SF Club usually has a table.  Their logograph is a Space ship taking off from an orange.  To be friendly there’s usually an orange-colored bowl with orange-flavored candy.  I keep meaning to ask whether OCSFC is in touch with the Netherlands national football team.

Drawing by Tim Kirk.

If you can’t remember whether you have a membership in something or other there may well be someone at a table with a list paper or electronic who might, in case you don’t and want one, offer you a do-it-now discount.  Non-profit organizations have to get along somehow.

I had to go off-site three times for errands that took hours.  Half of one later proved needless.  Another could have been avoided, but Life is a continuing series of adventures in which you learn you’d have done better to think of something else in advance.

I saw I’d be late for the Saturday night Paul Turner memorial panel (1936-2019).  High-tech folk helped me tell Operations.  I arrived after 8:30, but I arrived.  Neola Caveny moderated Greg Benford, Paul’s son now known as the Wizard, Suzanne Vegas, and eventually me.

Paul was given the Evans-Freehafer Award for service to the LASFS in 1964.  He was Fan Guest of Honor at Loscon XX.  In our audience Bill Ellern said that while Paul is with some justice credited for inventing the LASFS Building Fund (Jerry Pournelle, “You’re out of your mind”; Paul, “Sure I am”), by which LASFS indeed bought a clubhouse, Betty Knight as Treasurer in the 1950s kept saying we should start one but nobody listened.  Paul held salons with SF authors, Jet Propulsion Lab scientists, and like that, for conversation and nourishment.  His mind ranged wide.

Sunday 2:30 p.m., the second Classics of SF book talk, C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra (1943; reached the Retro-Hugo ballot).  I’ll stay with “audience” although I invite and perhaps some would say drag in participation.  Is it a classic? why?  From the audience: the people – and the other characters – are genuine; I asked, how could we know; a woman said, “If we met them they’d be like that.”  She had hit on what Johnson said of Shakespeare (two geometric figures of the same shape are similar, regardless of differences in size):

He approximates the remote, and familiarizes the wonderful; the event which he represents will not happen, but if it were possible, its effects would probably be such as he has assigned; and it may be said, that he has not only shown human nature as it acts in real exigencies, but as it would be found in trials, to which it cannot be exposed. 

Another said the descriptions of landscape were almost as interesting as the plot.  Another: the portrayal of Ransom’s internal reactions.  Another: Ransom isn’t too perfect.  Sean Smith said he wrestles with his moral dilemma.  He asks “Why me?” and painfully answers.  Father John Blaker said, Lewis takes these questions seriously – but not, ran our consensus, at the expense of his fiction.

Unfortunately sermonizing, which might ideally mean inspiring, has too often proved to mean oppressing; we thought Lewis avoided falling into that pit.  Another said a truly loving person discusses.

If Perelandra had anything in common with our Friday book, Asimov’s Second Foundation (1953) – gosh – it might be the centrality of dialogue.  Look at the nearly impossible task of characterizing Ransom’s adversary – and I don’t mean Weston.

I bought Craig Miller’s “Star Wars” Memories (2019) from his own self.  Later, helping take down the Dealers’ Room; dinner; I got to the Dead Dog Party (until the last dog is –) round about midnight.  As it happens I’d helped to supply it – and the Staff Den; at length I’d been made Chief Hall-Costume Judge (the costumes some people build or assemble for strolling the halls; Marjii Ellers called them daily wear for alternative worlds) after all.

Some of us were still alive.  Karl Lembke, chairman (the suffix -man is not masculine) of the LASFS Board and a refreshments wizard, was still on duty.  A good thing, too.

Frank Capra, The Man Who Saved Christmas

By Steve Vertlieb: Spending a quiet afternoon with one of cinema’s greatest, most distinguished motion picture directors, the brilliant Frank Capra. A memorable afternoon in which Frank and I sat together at the home of a mutual friend…just the two of us…watching a 16 mm print of his Oscar-winning classic. “It Happened One Night.” This cherished afternoon with the acclaimed director of It’s A Wonderful Life, Lost Horizon, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Meet John Doe, and A Hole In The Head, among so many other classic motion pictures, was absolutely sublime, and a wondrous remnant from a lifetime of cinematic memories and unforgettable experiences.

Steven J. Vertlieb and Frank Capra.

During a particularly sad and lonely Christmas for my friend and hero, I wrote Frank Capra a few ineffectual words of hope and inspiration. His nearly heart breaking response remains one of my most treasured letters. This poignant note from the man who offered hope to so many year after year with his Christmas masterpiece, It’s A Wonderful Life, is a cherished remnant of true humility, and all too common human frailty… a tender personal document for this holiday season.

Together with “The Man Who Saved Christmas,” the great Frank Capra … one of Cinema’s most influential pioneers, and the director of the quintessential Christmas movie, It’s A Wonderful Life.

“Star Wars…Nothing
But Star Wars”

By Steve Vertlieb: The moment that I’d dreamt of and imagined for decades had at last arrived. Nicchi Rozsa, Miklos Rozsa’s lovely granddaughter, said that she’d never seen me look so happy. Here was the moment that I’d longed for … to meet my last living, life-long hero at last. When he smiled at me, and wrapped his arm around my shoulder, I thought that I’d died and gone to Heaven. It was so unforgettably sweet.

John Williams, at the tender age of 87 years, remains the most important motion picture composer on the planet. This weekend marks the release of his final score for Star Wars, and it is truly a momentous event.

Simply one of the greatest moments of my life… Meeting John Williams for the very first time in his dressing room at The Hollywood Bowl in late August, 2010.

Among the many highlights of my pilgrimage to Hollywood in 2017 was an entirely unexpected, nearly miraculous, accidental “close encounter” with the current star of one of the most lucrative and beloved movie franchises in motion picture history. I’m still amazed, two years after this most astonishing occurrence, that our meeting actually occurred, as this remarkable photograph will happily attest to.

While waiting backstage to speak with composer John Williams at the venerable Hollywood Bowl, I noticed that Daisy Ridley’s name was posted on one of the dressing room doors. She hadn’t appeared on stage with Maestro Williams during the Star Wars concert selections, and so I wondered why. I turned to my brother to mention the strangeness of the occurrence when I inwardly gasped at the realization that the young star of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and, currently, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, was standing just inches in front of me.

Listening to her British accent in conversation with the director of The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson, I nudged my brother Erwin, and whispered “I think that Daisy Ridley is standing right in front of me.” Hearing my admittedly excited observation to my little brother, she turned toward me with a big smile and said “Hello.”

She was as delightfully adorable in person as she is as “Rey” on the big screen in the spectacular continuation of the cherished science fiction franchise. I couldn’t help but recall John Williams’ own wonderfully charming admission, upon receiving his A.F.I. Life Achievement Award in 2016, that he didn’t want any other composer but himself writing music for this lovely young actress. I completely understood his feelings upon meeting Miss Ridley.

My Life at Loscon, Part 2

By John Hertz: (mostly reprinted from No Direction Home 42)  On Friday night at Loscon XLVI (local SF convention, sponsored by the L.A. Science Fantasy Society; see here) after Regency dancing (see Mimosa 29; or read Georgette Heyer‘s Regency romances – or both) I changed back to my conventional attire and went to wander the world of parties.

I’ve long felt an in it but not of it quality is elemental to fandom.  More usually interest-groups seem tighter focused on, or entangled with, their topic.  It makes us harder to explain.  People ask me “Are you a writer?” and I have to answer with something like my father’s scrupulous reply when we played Guess What Daddy Had for Lunch, “Not within the normal meaning of that term.”  My best formulation so far is A love of SF is the thread on which the beads of fan activity are strung.  Anyway, it shows in our social life.

At our cons we have open (everybody welcome) and closed (invitation-only) parties.  Some of them have a particular reason for existence.  Some of them.  See what I mean?

Drawing by Tim Kirk

I dropped by the Baycon party.  This is the San Francisco Bay area local con, held over the United States Memorial Day weekend; Baycon XXXVIII will be in 2020 (we’re not always careful terminologists: Westercon XIV – the West Coast Science Fantasy Conference on or near U.S. Independence Day, though not necessarily within the U.S.; Westercon LXXIII will be in 2020 – was “Baycon”, apparently the first SF con [in two senses of “SF”] so called: later the 26th World Science Fiction Convention, combined with Westercon XXI, and famous in song and story, was also “Baycon”).

A calendar conflict keeps me from Baycon, although I have friends there, and am an honorary officer of the Bay Area SF Association (Club motto, also Rule 0, “We do these things not because they are hard, but because we are weird”), which was convenient when the 66th Worldcon was at Yokohama Bay – in a Bay Area, and BASFA wanted a quorum.  So I seek out Baycon parties.

To some extent a Baycon party is an attempt to sell Baycon memberships.  (Among our better acts of terminology we insist we sell not tickets, but memberships: not admittance to a thing others have made, but participation in making it.) Why not?  See, we can host a party: we can host a convention.  But also it’s a contribution to the conviviality (good word to look up) of the time and place where it’s held.  I’m in favor of that.  Also similar parties thrown by other cons, and by bids to hold cons.

Some cons have themes.  I’m not particularly in favor of that; I’d rather they had theremins (seems unfair to ask for the Island of Kalymnos dance Thymariotikos, although I’m fond of it).

The Baycon XXXVIII theme is “The future is now!”, elaborated as “This year’s theme celebrates science fiction’s influence on our present day”.  I found that particularly regrettable.  It seemed to draw in the notion that SF is in the business of predicting the future, one of the nastier poisons to afflict us.  Also the current cant of influence too often operates as a nasty distraction from actually looking, substituting instead what other people think.  So I had the nourishingly demanding task of managing conviviality with my friends, making new friends, and conferring about the health of our field.

Down the hall was Keith Kato’s, combined as happens at Loscon with Carol & Elst Weinstein’s, and Kenn Bates’.

At cons Kato has for years been hosting chili parties, some open, some closed.  He cooks up a vat of hot (“To Everyone Except Bob Silverberg”) and a vat of mild (“To Everyone Except Marion Zimmer Bradley”), recently also a vat of vegetarian and, at Loscon, one of bison.  He has not been hindered by his career as a physicist, his achieving a Black Belt in shõtõkan karate, nor his term as President of the Heinlein Society.  In File 770 159 (PDF) p. 35, his own story to that date, I was in his Gang of Four.  If he’s on the night of Regency dancing he knows I can’t show up soon; nor can I fairly ask him to save me a bowl of mild, I have to take my chances.

The Weinsteins at Loscon have hosted Herbangelist wine and cheese parties (on Herbie Popnecker, see Forbidden Worlds 73; he had his own title 1964-67; zeal lasts); Bates has hosted dessert parties, usually with a chocolate-fondue fountain; that they would co-host was inevitable, and they have.

Brad Lyau had been given the Moskowitz Archive Award at the 77th Worldcon (Dublin, 15-19 Aug 19).  I congratulated him.  The Award, named for Sam Moskowitz, is from First Fandom, for excellence in SF collecting; First Fandom is both a historical fact – those happy few active since at least the first Worldcon, 1939 – and an organization devoted to fanhistory.

Lyau had revealed in Scientifiction 61 (N.S., i.e. New Series) that he has Julie Schwartz’ copy of SaM’s 1954 Immortal Storm, inscribed to Julie by SaM – then when Lyau told them he’d gotten it, inscribed by each of them to him!  Gosh!  Forry Ackerman had helped with Lyau’s Ph.D. dissertation on 1950s French SF.  Lyau has been at it a while. 

I was fascinated to learn he’d studied with Hans Küng (1928-  ).  We spoke of epistemology (good word to look up); I repeated my jest that I’d long been an amateur epistemologist – I was a Philosophy major – and now I’m also a professional epistemologist, although we lawyers don’t like to think of ourselves as philosophers.  We’re engineers, too.

Lyau talked of the “scholastic stranglehold” in the days of the Schoolmen, say 1100-1700.  I said that wasn’t really fair to Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) for one.  Lyau said it wasn’t Aristotle’s fault (lived fifteen centuries earlier) that Aristotle’s work became ossified.  I said the poor Buddha (a century before Aristotle), if that expression could be used, told people not to make statues of him. Lyau said the Buddha was a messenger of universal truth.  I had been with a Japanese Buddhist priest during the Bon Festival (rhymes with “hone”; short for a Sanskrit word referring to suffering by the dead in the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, which the Festival hopes to relieve) who said “We don’t worship our ancestors, we just venerate them.”

Saturday 11:30 a.m., “The Asimov Centenary”, Joe Siclari, Fan Guest of Honor Edie Stern, Matthew Tepper, and me, moderated by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro.  Isaac Asimov didn’t know his birthday, no records.  He celebrated January 2, 1920, but it could have been a day in 1919. Anyway, why not start now?

Siclari had chaired the 50th Worldcon (Orlando), has long been a student of SF particularly graphic art, also fanhistory; was the 2005 Down Under Fan Fund delegate; with Stern his wife received the 2016 Big Heart Award; heads (although he and Stern moved back to New York) the Florida Association for Nucleation And Conventions (yes, that spells FANAC, since at least the 1940s short for “fan activity”), sponsor of the 50th Worldcon and these days a fanhistorical Website.

Tepper, the con chair and in fact an Asimov scholar, had been the “Let’s kill him now” boy of Asimov’s anecdote in The Hugo Winners; to be fair, Asimov himself didn’t say that.

Zinos-Amaro has on his Website, along with Lao Tzû and Emily Dickinson, Asimov’s line from I. Asimov “The interplay of thought and imagination is far superior to that of muscle and sinew.”

To be continued.

My Year at Goodreads

The elves at Goodreads put together a graphic from my Kindle reading for the year.

I thought it would be fun to post it for two reasons.

It documents that I really did read Somtow Sucharitkul’s autobiographical account of his summer as a monk —

And I thought Craig Miller would get a kick out of seeing this cover collage and the august (or at least bestselling) company his book is keeping.

Media Birthday Party
– December 18

This is one of the best dates to be a sff movie and tv fan.

Compiled by Cat Eldridge.

December 18, 2013 Forbidden Planet (premiered in 1956) was selected by the Library of Congress for induction in the National Film Registry. It was just one of twenty-five such films to be added to the growing archive of American motion pictures earmarked for preservation because of their cultural, historic or aesthetic significance. 

December 18, 1947 Brick Bradford, a 15-chapter serial film starring Kane Richmond, was produced by Columbia Pictures. It’s based off was the SF strip created by writer William Ritt and artist Clarence Gray. The strip was first distributed in 1933, it ran for over fifty years. Kane Richmond was the hero of the serial. You can watch the first episode here.

December 18, 1968 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang premiered. Directed by Ken Hughes and written by Roald Dahl and Hughes, based very, very loosely on Ian Fleming’s Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car. (Well they sort of used the title.) The cast is amazing and includes Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, Heather Ripley, Lionel Jeffries, Helpmann and Gert Fröbe to name but a few. Critics, with the exception of the one at Time when it came out, loved it, and reviewers agree — it has a 67% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. 

December 18, 2009 Avatar premiered. It was directed, written, produced, and co-edited by James Cameron, and stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, and Sigourney Weaver. It made more money than bears thinking about, had generally strong critical reviews and rates 85% at Rotten Tomatoes.  It would place fifth of the final five nominees in the Hugo voting at Aussiecon 4 with the winner of Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form being Moon

December 18, 1987 — Stephen Spielberg’s Batteries Not Included premiered. Directed by Matthew Robbins, it was the feature film screenwriting debut of Brad Bird. It starred real life couple Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. Need I say that it was a box office success, and that critics and reviewers alike enthusiastically embraced it? Well it wasn’t and it didn’t. It did OK, it  got a mixed review and it currently has a decent 60% at Rotten Tomatoes. 

December 18, 1985 Brazil premiered. It was directed by Terry Gilliam and written by him as well, with contributions by Charles McKeown and Tom Stoppard, too. The film stars Jonathan Pryce along with Robert De Niro, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Katherine Helmond, Bob Hoskins and Ian Holm. It finished fourth in the voting at ConFederation, the year Back to the Future won its Hugo. Critics were decidedly mixed on it, but Rotten Tomatoes has it at 98% among reviewers currently. 

December 18, 1976 — The Wonder Woman series premiered on ABC. It would be on ABC  a single season before airing on CBS for another two seasons. Based on the comic-book series of Charles Moulton in the Forties, it stars Lynda Carter as Yeoman Diana Prince who is Wonder Woman along with Lyle Waggoner as Major Steve Trevor. The fanboys are dumping on it at Rotten Tomatoes so it has an abysmal rating of 10% over there.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #48

Who Watches The Watchmen?  Part Three: Episodes 7-9

By Chris M. Barkley:

Mr. Phillips: “Was I a worthy adversary, Master?”

Adrian Veidt: “No. But you put on one HELL of a show!”

  • Episode 7: “An Almost Religious Awe,” Written by Stacy Osei-Kuffour and Claire Keichell, Directed by David Semel.
  • Episode 8: “A God Walks into Abar,” Written by Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen, Directed by Nicole Kassell.
  • Episode 9: “See How They Fly,” Written by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, Directed by Frederick E.O. Toye.

*BEWARE SPOILERS*

In the beginning, there were good guys and bad guys. And all was well.

Until it wasn’t.

The good guy versus bad guy scenario could sustain the comics industry, and their readers, for only a relatively short period of time. Nowadays, the good-evil paradigm has been replaced by who lives or dies, whose ethics are in question, will the right thing be done or will the most pragmatic or expedient course be taken? How far can a hero, or a villain, be pushed in a story?

Have you ever stopped to think about who would ever want to be a superhero? To actually put on a mask, cowl or a cape? Or, conversely, would you have the nerve to do it yourself?

This is particularly pertinent question in a week that not only closes out HBO’s Watchmen miniseries, it also coincides with the momentous milestone of Superman publicly disclosing his Clark Kent identity, a decision that is not likely to be reversed anytime soon.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen wasn’t the first comic book story to dabble in social injustice, heroic ambiguity or the psychological costs of double identities, but the storyline’s deconstruction of the superhero myths brought it to an entirely new and enthusiastic audience. Everyone who has ever been involved in the industry since its publication has recognized it as the gold standard of visual storytelling.

When Laurie Blake told Angela Abar back in Episode Three (“She Was Killed By Space Junk”) that people wanted to become masked vigilantes because of their unresolved issues with some deep, traumatic experience that they have never resolved, it was a moment resonated with me.

As a victim of many childhood traumas myself, I sometimes look back and marvel (no pun intended) at how I held onto my sanity, progressively healed and survived.   

And while Laurie’s cynical observation is somewhat tainted by her own personal history of tragedy, it does, to a certain extent, ring true… .

But, let’s face it, what we’re really talking about here is a basic desire for wish fulfillment; to right wrongs and on some level, fight injustice. And ever since Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox and many others created the comics industry in the late 1930’s, many variations have been spun from their creations and mythologies.

The abandonment of Superman’s secret identity has been the latest in a long line of  events and stunts solely created to keep readers involved, engaged and. most importantly, buying comics and graphic novels.

Damon Lindelof and company’s adaptation of Watchmen is a corporate extension this notion, a television event no one could have possibly imagined doing, a proto-sequel to one of the greatest graphic novels ever written. And while it’s too bad it was done at the expense of its original creator Alan Moore, I am very grateful that it turned out so magnificently. 

After seeing Episode Nine of Watchmen, I can hardly wait to buy a DVD of this series to wallow in and unpack the details of how Damon Lindelof’s puzzle box of a story eventually comes together to form a perfect mosaic of ego, false entitlement, pride, desperation, faith and fate and, of course, love.

In addition, Watchmen is also an exciting, and paradoxically, meditative parable about how America has continually failed in reconciling its past injustices, racist acts and broken promises.

As a viewer, I found it immensely satisfying to watch all of these thematic threads of race, white privilege, cultural appropriation, class, revenge, arrogance and egotism and redemption play out.

Just the musical (and egg) references alone are worth a deep dive, as evidenced here in a (very spoilery) analysis by Jen Chaney at Vulture.com: “Let’s Talk About Watchmen’s Egg-cellent Finale”

In the first six episodes, we more-or- less wondered when Doctor Manhattan would show up. In Episode Seven, we found out he was right in front of us all along.

Besides the big reveal involving Angela (Regina King) and Cal Abar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) at the end of the episode, the most remarkable thing that happened was Laurie Blake’s (Jean Smart) boneheaded mistake. Since her first appearance she has repeatedly shown herself to be an almost preternaturally observant investigator and usually the smartest person in a three-mile radius. But her blunder, which ended up in her being captured by the Seventh Kalvary, was an attempt to reach out emotionally to a person central to the investigation. And while it advances the plot, it also reveals her to be as human and vulnerable as anyone else in the story.

Another admirable moment happened when Senator Joe Keene, Jr. (James Wolk) attempts to explain his nefarious plot, Laurie, who has obviously experienced this particular trope literally her entire life, cuts him off and says she doesn’t give a shit about his monologuing to her. While monologuing has been a standard (and WAY overused) tool to clue the audience into what may come next, it was refreshing to see it being rejected on screen here (AND in the finale as well).

Episode Eight was an acting showcase for both Regina King and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and I expect both to be nominated for Emmys next year because of it. In this mostly timey-whimey set piece, we discover how Angela and Jon Osterman met a decade earlier in Saigon, experience the devastating deaths of her parents and grandmother, which, in turn, leads her to becoming a police officer in Vietnam and meeting and being initially wooed by a disguised Doctor Manhattan.

As often as he as been portrayed as aloof and omnipotent, the one boldest risks of the series was the decision to have him roll the dice and attempt to be human again. (But then again, he saw himself being in love with Angela, so he may have just been following the fate he saw for himself.) However, his ability to see the future, and be in several places in the time continuum at the same time, turns out to be his greatest power and his fatal flaw.  

In the brief vignette with Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons), he finds himself on the wrong end of a kangaroo court trial with the “Game Warden” as the judge. When called upon to defend himself, Veidt rises from the defense table and gives one of the most unusual, and deliberately hilarious, defenses in the history of television. 

Over the hour and nine minute finale, all of the narrative strands of our story come together and are pulled taut; Doctor Manhattan finds himself in imminent danger of being utterly destroyed by the Seventh Kalvary AND Lady Trieu, Adrian is freed from his virtual prison to be a spectator of the impending disaster, Will awaits to see his final act revenge comes to fruition and Angela, Laurie and Wade are helpless as they see the  climax unfolding before them.

In the aftermath, Angela ponders the possibility of becoming Doctor Manhattan herself. And while she seemingly accepts the challenge, she, and the viewers, are left in suspense; has she gained his power or will something else happen?

“Considering what he could do, he could have done more,” her grandfather Will tells Angela, which is her impetus to take up the reins of power. Angela may have learned to look past putting on a mask to deal with her trauma, but is she seems to be ready for what happens next.

Because, at its very core, Watchmen is about power; who has it, who doesn’t, who thirsts for it, who dares to accept it and uses it responsibly.

Angela thinks she’s ready. I hope she is. And collectively, we should be rooting for her, too.

Because she is us.

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

This column is Dedicated to Curtis Flowers, an African-American political prisoner who was freed on bail on December 16 after spending more than half of his life behind bars. Mr. Flowers was tried FIVE times for 1996 robbery in which four people were killed. Three of the convictions were thrown out due to prosecutorial misconduct by the district attorney who prosecuted him, Doug Evans, and two other trials resulted in hung juries. While his innocence is still in question at this point, the case against him has been found to be incredibly suspect by several independent investigations of the crime. I hope that the small measure of freedom he has been granted this week allows him the opportunity to see and enjoy Watchmen.

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

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

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

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

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

All together now.

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

Randee Dawn

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

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

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

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

Charles Barouch

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

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

Keith R.A. DeCandido

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

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

Ian Randall Strock

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

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

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

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

The Cat That Walked by Himself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wandering Through the Public Domain #25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are three Farley works available through Project Gutenberg:

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

Recent Librivox releases:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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