Wandering Through the Public Domain #18

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

By Colleen McMahon: In the previous installment of this column, I began looking at early time travel stories, mostly involving some sort of magical or fantasy time travel. “Time slip” stories don’t explain much about the time travel mechanism. The character falls asleep and wakes up in a different time, or experiences the time travel as a dream or vision.

The rapid growth of scientific understanding coupled with the spread of industrialization laid the groundwork for more mechanized imaginings of time travel. The seminal work is, of course, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (4 Librivox versions available here). The idea of a machine that could carry passengers to a targeted point in time became one of the key tropes of science fiction. The Doctor’s TARDIS and other modern time machines are direct descendents of Wells’ machine. 

Last time, I promised that this column would look at The Time Machine and the stories that followed it. However, most of the tales directly inspired by Wells are, unfortunately for my purposes here, still under copyright so I couldn’t go very far in that direction.

However, there are several intriguing stories that laid the groundwork for The Time Machine, including a mostly-forgotten tale by Wells himself. So I thought I’d dig into the forerunners of mechanical time travel instead.

1881 saw the publication of two stories that illustrate the emergence of “scientific” time travel.

The first, by Grant Allen, is “Pausodyne”. It appeared in Belgravia magazine’s Christmas Annual in 1881, and was collected in Allen’s Strange Stories in 1884.

“Pausodyne” combines a time slip — falling asleep and waking up in the future — with a science-based explanation. The narrator meets a man on the streets of London who is asking strange questions about coaches to Yorkshire and seems to be unfamiliar with the concept of rail travel. As they talk, the strange man reveals himself to be Jonathan Spottiswood, great uncle of the narrator, who had disappeared years before. 

It turns out that Jonathan had been a “philosophical chemist” and had experimented in a hidden lab with a chemical concoction he called “pausodyne”, which produced a state of suspended animation. As he experimented with animals, one night he was overcome by the pausodyne fumes and fell asleep in his laboratory. When he woke and went outdoors, he discovered a completely changed world, and gradually realized that he had been in suspended animation for century. 

It’s basically Rip Van Winkle with some chemical trappings, but it feels like a much more modern time travel story because much of it focuses on how confused Spottiswood is by the vast changes that have taken place in a hundred years. Time travel has become more interesting as a theme because there is now a real sense of transformation over relatively short time spans.

The Clock That Went Backward” by Edward Page Mitchell appeared in the New York Sun in 1881. The time travel device is the titular clock, of course, which takes the narrator and his cousin 300 years backward to the siege of the Dutch city of Leyden. It’s one of the first stories that I know of with the trope of the time travelers themselves being the cause of well-known historical events, as well as one of the pair apparently becoming his own ancestor! (Audio version is included in Short Science Fiction Collection 50).

A timepiece, in this case a watch, is also the time traveling mechanism in Lewis Carroll’s last completed novel. Sylvie and Bruno is a 2-volume series of tales taking place in both Fairyland and our world, published in 1889 and 1893. Several of the stories revolve around a special watch, the “Outlandish” watch. This appears to be an early instance of an author working out “rules” for time travel, as in one case a character tries unsuccessfully to use the watch to prevent an accident from taking place in the past. They find that they can only witness events, not change them. (Librivox has both volumes, plus a dramatic reading version).

H.G. Wells published “The Chronic Argonauts” in his college newspaper in 1888, and it is a bit of a mess. Much of it is given over to describing the weird things that the inhabitants of a small village in Wales witness after a mysterious Dr. Nebogipfel takes up residence and begins doing strange experiments. Eventually the townspeople opt for the time-honored tradition of torches and pitchforks, only to find that the Doctor has vanished!

Several weeks later, the local minister who had disappeared at the same time turns up alone. He proceeds to give a deposition of “the murder of an old man named Williams, which occurred in 1862, this disappearance of Dr. Moses Nebogipfel, the abduction of a ward in the year 4003 —-…Also several assaults on public officials in the years 17,901 and 2.”

Unfortunately, we only get a portion of that before the minister expires. He does explain how he came to be traveling with Dr. Nebogipfel — he was visiting and talking with him on the evening the mob came, and is forced to depart with Nebogipfel out of fear that the villagers would kill him otherwise. The story ends frustratingly with the promising sentence, “The voyage of the Chronic Argonauts had begun.”

My biggest takeaway from reading “The Chronic Argonauts” is how much Dr. Nebogipfel sounds like the inhabitant of a certain blue police box. He is even repeatedly referred to as “The Doctor”! 

One of the things that disquiets the villagers is the late night noises emanating from his house, thus described: “at first a complaining murmur, like the groaning of a wounded man, “gurr-urrurr-URR”, rising by slow gradations in pitch and intensity to the likeness of a voice in despairing passionate protest.”

When he suggests that the minister accompany him, the Doctor proposes, “I was thinking while I was . . . away . . . Would you like to come? I should greatly value a companion.” In the end, however, the arrival of the mob leaves him no choice. When the villagers break in, they are stunned — “For the calm, smiling doctor, and his quiet, black-clad companion, and the polished platform which upbore them, had vanished before their eyes!”

All of this sounds awfully familiar, no? I’m amazed that this hasn’t turned up as an episode of Doctor Who already, with the actual Doctor bringing about the events that led to Wells’ story. (Maybe the part of the story where Wells’ Doctor actually MURDERS the previous inhabitants of his mansion is too big an obstacle?)

On the whole, Wells’ The Time Machine is a much better piece of work, but you can see the seeds sprouting in “The Chronic Argonauts”. Sadly, there is no Librivox recording of the piece yet.

I hope you have enjoyed this side trip into time travel tales; I’ll be back to more random ramblings next time!

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #43

Dystopia, With a Dose of Sudden Death

“Any time a life is lost, it’s a tragedy. But when it’s young people, it’s even worse.” — Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee in the aftermath of a mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, July 28, 2019.

“The United States was once grand, very grand,” she says. “The whole world idolized it. But now, I don’t know what’s happening. It’s becoming an ugly place.” — 13-year-old Ana Sofia Valverde, the niece of Elsa Mendoza, an elementary school principal from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, killed in a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, August 3, 2019.

“The house can be rebuilt. I can’t rebuild a father.” — Dion Green, a Dayton, Ohio tornado victim whose father, Derrick Fudge, died protecting his son and his partner, Donita Cosey, in a mass shooting in the early morning hours of August 4, 2019.

By Chris M. Barkley: As I write this on a warm sunny Saturday, several funerals are well underway. Some are taking place in California, Texas, Mexico and fifty miles up the road from where I live in Dayton Ohio.

It is also 48 hours before my partner Juli and leave home to travel to the 77th World Science Fiction Convention being held in Dublin, Ireland. We both are leaving with grieving hearts for the victims of these incidents of mass murder and wondering about America’s state of mind and mood.

I have been active in sf fandom for forty-three years. I am going the Worldcon in Dublin to attend and celebrate our annual “family reunion” and to advocate a trial run of a Hugo Award for the Best Translated Novel. I and a few others proposed this category as a signal to the literary world at large that we value inclusion and diversity in this troubled world.

In all of my years in fandom, I can say with some certainty that I have felt incredibly comfortable around fans, most of whom were white. I also felt assured that while I was in their company and, with a few rare exceptions, I was not judged by the color of my skin but the content of my character. That is, until recently.

Since the advent of the internet experience, I have been accused of being racist (by a File 770 commentator who was totally unaware I was black) and of being ignorant and unaware (by a prominent fan from the UK in an argument over judicial due process for police officers in the US) and of being insensitive to gender identity (by a moderator who walked off her own panel in protest).

I will be the first to admit that I am only human and I have apologized when it has been warranted. But there have been very disturbing personal attacks directed towards me because of my ethnicity. But I am quite fortunate in knowing that my friends and acquaintances who know me well far outnumber my detractors.  

Besides a brief foray via a cruise ship to the Bahamas for a wedding in 2015, I have never been off the North American continent before.

For my older sister Gwen, this was a cause for concern.I found it very amusing that Gwen, who works for a well-known insurance company, is actually fearful for my safety by flying over the ocean because “it’s not something the Barkleys do.” 

Well, if she was referring to herself or my late parents (Alice and Erbil) she would be right. The furthest we ever went with them in a car on vacation was north to Dayton to visit my numerous cousins (9), frequent visits northwest to Oxford, Ohio to see a maiden aunt, and south to Camp Marydale, where we were placed (dumped) for two or three weeks each summer to give our beleaguered parents a break.  

I told Gwen this: That statistically speaking, I am probably safer 40,000 feet in the air, squeezed into a winged, pressurized metal tube full of people, burning fuel and hot, roaring engines than I would be stepping out my front door and going shopping. Far safer, in fact.

Which is a shame, because I allegedly live in the greatest country in the world.

As a child, I used to believe that. Then I grew up. 

I grew up mainly in the 1960’s, one of the most turbulent eras of American history. (Then again, looking back over six decades, when HASN’T it been turbulent? The mind boggles.)

When I was very young, I was spoon fed the propaganda that America’s founding and history was just one stupendous struggle after another, all culminating in the magisterial greatness of our republic. 

Except, it seems, for people like me. Although I attended a Catholic grade and high school, it was quite evident that the people of color were treated differently than the white kids we went to school with. Even more so if you were overtly introverted, Intellectual, philosophically-minded or gay. That was a lower circle of hell that kids like myself had to endure.  

As I grew older, informed histories told me that America has always been embroiled in a conflict in which those who would stand for the values embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution have always been in conflict with vested interests of white citizens, who in wrapping themselves in the flag, embraced nationalism, manifest destiny, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia of others from foreign countries and a general fear of “the other” to ensure they maintain solid grip on their political and financial power. And this struggle continues to this day.     

So, when I do step outside, I know I am a marked man. My granddaughter, Lily is white and we are together five days a week as her mother works. It hasn’t happened yet, but I dread the day some racist busybody comes up to me demanding what the hell was I doing with this adorable child who is obviously NOT YOURS! (And fingers crossed, it won’t because we only go to safe spaces where our relationship is known.) 

Sometimes I can feel the hostile stares and see the aggressive stances people take in my presence. It is a statistical fact that I am more likely to be shot by the police than any other segments of the population. That when I enter any retail establishment, I am under a bit of extra scrutiny, that any move I make can possibly be misinterpreted, misconstrued, misunderstood or taken completely out of context, in which case. I may, MAY, find myself facing the business end of a police officer’s 9mm Glock. All because my skin color does not conform to white society’s alleged state of normalcy.

What do I do? Because by any sane person’s standard, America can be considered a dystopian state.

Some might argue that this very real dystopia isn’t anything new, it’s always been present, humming in the background as we went about our daily lives. The difference is that with the election of the current administration, the false veneer of civility that has been slowly eroding since the end of the Watergate era, has finally been ripped away and the hate and terror it abides is visible for all to see. Some see for what it is, others refuse to acknowledge it for what it really is. 

The current administration has not hesitated to pump out false narratives, “alternative facts”, unsubstantiated rumors and outright lies and present them as either facts or policy. Their main ally is a major news network (whose name I am loath to mention) that repeats these lies and distribute their own brand of doublespeak as relevant and vital information to be fed to an increasingly fearful segment of the population. Their sole concern is the profit margin that is dependent on getting the president’s attention AND pleasing his base of voters.  

As far as I’m concerned, one of America’s most urgent problems is that it is awash in firearms and in the grip of generations of a virulent and ugly gun culture. It is estimated that 22 percent of adults in the United States own firearms and that more than 90 percent of them are white and a majority of them live in the southeast and Southwest. Even if we, as a nation, decided to enact more restrictions on future purchases of guns, there are still more of them in circulation now than there are people in the country. 

As the investigations of the mass shootings have proceeded, they are being accompanied by theories from the administration, the NRA and gun enthusiasts that the root causes of these murders are the proliferation of violent video games, salacious movies and tv shows and, more prominently, people with “mental health issues”. 

This “theory” has been slammed by more coherent commentators, stating that other countries seem to be coping with video games and various media outlets but only America seems to have a chronic problem with mass shootings, which, as of this writing, there have been 249 incidents so far this year.

I find it particularly insidious that pro-gun pundits are stigmatizing the mentally ill with these murders. A majority of gun deaths in America are suicides by gun owners or people who gained access to them. They were mostly only dangerous to themselves. It seems to me as though the only motivations of these pundits is either retaining and propagating access to a variety of guns to as many people as possible. 

So, I am leaving my country in a very troubled state. But, I have hope. 

At this moment, politicians across the country, including those who have been ardent NRA supporters in the past, are reluctantly heeding the cries from alarmed citizens to do something; to eliminate the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons, legislate more stringent background checks and require the registration of arms and detailed sales records. Personally, I would make it as hard as possible to purchase any gun, requiring all of the suggestions above plus the mandatory purchase of insurance for each weapon, licensing, and periodic testing as well.   

And activists across the country are tirelessly working night and day, every day, to address gun violence, immigration policies, voting rights and election security, climate change and environmental issues. The enemy they battle is ignorance, fear, apathy and complacency.

Their concerns are my concerns. And their agenda should be your agenda. 

This is why I love fandom, especially our family reunions each year. When the World Science Fiction Convention convenes, it boldly endorses and embraces the diversity of literature, art, criticism and culture the world has to offer. We stand as one against the bullies, liars and false pundits who would see the world burn.  

Because those politicians, religious leaders, bigots, racists and white supremicists who inspire and perpetuate the violence are terrorists.

We don’t negotiate with terrorists. 

Neither should you.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the ONLY thing that ever has.” – widely attributed to cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, 1901-1978.

Marty Helgesen and an Amazing Co-Religionist in the Realm of the Mind

By John Hertz: (reprinted, mostly, from No Direction Home 23) It’s been a while since I’ve heard from or about Marty Helgesen (“All syllogisms have three parts. Therefore, this is not a syllogism”). I miss him.

Besides contributing to APA-L and MINNEAPA (APA = amateur press, or publishing, association), and publishing Radio Free Thulcandra which I still hope to see more issues of, he sparked good conversation at Christian Fandom parties I found at science fiction conventions. I’m not a Christian, but I’m not in fandom to be agreed with.

Just the other day I saw a storefront with a sign The Chiro Man. Helgesen would have understood why I was disappointed to find this was only a chiropractor and not a church.

I thought of him when I happened to meet (on paper) a remarkable co-religionist of his. She died 330 years ago. That’s not too many.

I’ve warned you I’m becoming a man of maxims. I feel it coming over me. My grandfather was a man of maxims, for instance “If it weren’t my fool, I’d laugh.” The two of us pale in comparison to

Queen Christina of Sweden, 1626-1689

Here are a few of hers, from Maxims of a Queen, Birch tr. 1907.

Conscience is the only mirror which neither flatters nor deceives. p. 22

To praise anyone either more or less than he deserves is to betray truth. p. 23

Nature seldom makes a hero and Fortune does not always proclaim those that she makes. p. 24

Reading is part of the duty of an honest man. p. 25

We should always try to surpass ourselves. This occupation will last our lives out. p. 33

And a few more, from F. Bain, Christina, Queen of Sweden (1890).

One is, in proportion as one can love. p. 358

There is a star which unites souls of the first order, though ages and distances divide them. p. 359

He who loses his temper with the world has learned all he knows to no purpose. p. 361

I had to learn about her.

When her father King Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632) died at the Battle of Lützen, she became Queen at the age of 6. He had been 37. Until she was 18 the regent was Lord High Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna, Count of Södermöre (1583-1654). She was happy to study ten hours a day; she learned Arabic, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Spanish. Oxenstierna discussed Tacitus (56-120) with her.

She assembled a great library, including treasures collected by Rudolph II (1552-1612; Holy Roman Emperor) which came to her when her armies took Prague Castle in 1648. At her death connoisseurs were impressed by her taste in antiques, enamels, engravings, pictures, statues.

She fenced, rode – astride, at a gallop – hunted, and was a crack shot, but “I never killed an animal without feeling pity for it.” Ambassadors treated only with her, never being passed to secretaries or ministers. She never drank anything but water. She never married.

“She collected savants as she collected art” (W. & A. Durant, The Age of Reason Begins p. 503, 1961; v. 7 of The Story of Civilization); she invited Grotius (1583-1645) to become her librarian, but he died on the way; Pascal (1623-1662) sent her one of his calculating machines (“pascalines”) with a letter complimenting her on being a queen in the realm of the mind; she brought Descartes (1596-1650) to organize a scientific academy (1649).

She founded the Regular Mail Times (1645), still the oldest currently published newspaper in the world (merged with Domestic Times, 1821; alas, Internet-only since 2007).

She built a college at Dorpat and gave it a library; she founded six more colleges. She made the college at Åbo (Swedish name of Turku, Finland) into a university, endowing it with money and books (moved to Helsinki 1827, now known as U. Helsinki); she gave the Finns their first translation of the Bible.

She brought in an Italian opera troupe and a Dutch theater troupe.

She made Georg Stiernhielm (1598-1672; historian, jurist, linguist, mathematician, poet; Fellow of the Royal Society of London, 1669; when on his deathbed he asked his friend Samuel Columbus 1642-1679 to write his epitaph, Columbus cried “What shall I write?” and Stiernhielm said “Oh, just a few words, for instance ‘He lived merrily, while he lived’”, which was done) court poet (1649); that year his masque The Captured Cupid was performed with Christina dancing the lead role of the goddess Diana.

She made the French soprano Anne Chabanceau de La Barre (1628-1688) court singer (1653).

“The unanimous testimony is that in government she did her own thinking, made her own decisions, ruled as well as reigned” (Durant, p. 504). But she dreamed of abdication – and of reconciliation with the Catholic Church.

A Catholic could not then hold the throne of Sweden.

She negotiated with the Diet to protect the hereditary character of the monarchy.

In 1654 “the final ceremony was almost as moving as the abdication of Charles V [her grandfather] ninety-nine years before. She took the crown from her head [the Lord High Steward, Count Per Brahe the Younger 1602-1680, was supposed to do that, but did not move], discarded all regal insignia [ceremonially removed one by one], removed her royal mantle, stood before the Diet in a dress of plain white silk, and bade her country and her people farewell in a speech that brought taciturn old nobles and phlegmatic burgesses to tears” (Durant, p. 505).

She left Sweden in man’s clothes and rode through Denmark under the name of Count Dohna (Count and Burgrave Christopher Delphicus of Dohna & Carwinden 1628-1668, Major General of her Royal Guard); a former Swedish queen could not have traveled there safely. Pausing in Ducal Holstein, Hamburg, Leiden, Utrecht (visiting Anna Maria van Schurman 1607-1678, calligrapher, engraver, musician, painter, papercutter, poet, who knew Arabic, Aramaic, Dutch, English, Ethiopic, French, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Persian, Syriac, and had corresponded with Christina in Latin), and Antwerp, she arrived in Italy with a queen’s entourage of 255 persons and 247 horses, announced her conversion, met Bernini (1598-1680) who became a lifelong friend, and was fêted by Pope Alexander VII.

In 1656 she went to France hoping to mediate between France and Spain over Naples. She returned to Rome in 1659. She made three more visits to Sweden, Hamburg again, France again, Rome. She established Rome’s first public opera house (1671). She was the patroness of Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) and Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725); Corelli dedicated his first publication to her (12 Church sonatas for two violins and basso continuo, 1681).

She rebuked King Louis XIV of France for revoking the Edict of Nantes and abolishing the rights of French Protestants; she made Pope Clement X prohibit the chasing of Jews through the streets during Carnival, and she issued a declaration that Roman Jews were under her protection (1686).

She had asked for a simple burial, but she was given the Grotto Vaticane, one of only three women to receive this honor. Pope Clement XI commissioned a monument for her (1702).

Queen Christina (R. Mamoulian dir. 1933; Greta Garbo as Christina; written by S.N. Behrman and Ben Hecht) is famous but inaccurate – unless, as has been suggested, her fictional love for a Spanish ambassador is an allegory for her real love of the intellect and her embrace of the Catholic faith.


One of the symbols of Christianity is the first two Greek letters of Christ (a Greek word), chi and rho (or ro).

Filers at Worldcon — A Schedule

By Hampus Eckerman: Now that the Dublin 2019 Worldcon Program has arrived, I have tried to compile all schedule with all appearances of Filers. I might have missed some, especially when I can’t remember what names they have apart from the nick, so there might be gaps. Please enter a comment here if I have missed you.

I also added the main events that I expect a lot of Filers will be at, and thus not good for meetups (Opening Ceremonies, Business Meeting, Masquerade, Hugos, Closing Ceremony).

After having reviewed these schedules, my proposal for Filer meetups are the following:

First Filers Almost Sleeping on SFF Meetup

Thursday 15:th of August, 18:00

I will try to find out the best place for the meetup, somewhere in the convention center (or extremely close nearby). This should be a good place to meet to go to the Opening Ceremonies together for those that haven’t already made arrangement with other fans. Or go and have a snack together before.

Filer Live Action Pixel Scroll Meetup

Saturday 17:th of August, 17:30 – 19:30

There will still be a collision with some filer panels here, but it is a hard time to find a gap where no one is occupied. I will try to book something as close as possible to the convention center.  We can do a meetup in the convention center and walk together.

Thursday 15th of August

  • 10:00 – 10:50      Fanzines Now!     Greg Hullender
  • 11:00 – 11:50      Is it about a bicycle? The influences of a comedic genius     Nicholas Whyte, Nigel Quinlan
  • 11:00 – 11:50      Crime and punishment in the age of superheroes     Chris M. Barkley
  • 11:30 – 12:20      Introduction to working with leather     Ingvar Mattsson
  • 12:00 – 12:50      A musical history of swedish fandom    Karl-Johan Norén
  • 13:00 – 13:50      Non-English language SFF television     Cora Buhlert
  • 13:00 – 13:50      Reading     Jo Walton  
  • 13:00 – 13:50      Evolution of Fanzines     Jerry Kaufman
  • 13:30 – 14:20      Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker     Liz Bourke
  • 14:00 – 14:50      Sports in science fiction and fantasy     Chris M. Barkley
  • 14:00 – 14:50      Dragons and debutantes: fantasy set in the Regency     Heather Rose Jones
  • 15:30 – 17:20      Speed crafting – session 1     Cora Buhlert
  • 15:30 – 16:20      How to Manage Finite Natural Resources     Nigel Quinlan
  • 16:00 – 16:50      ‘Celtic’ Fantasy and Mythology     Kathryn Sullivan
  • 16:00 – 17:50      Mark Protection Committee (MPC) meeting     Kevin Standlee
  • 16:30 – 17:20      Armour and armour-making     Ingvar Mattsson
  • 17:00 – 17:50      Literary Beer: Ellen Datlow     Ellen Datlow
  • 17:00 – 17:50      Is Literary Escapism Good for Kids?     Nigel Quinlan
  • 18:00 – 18:50      Talking Animal Characters in SFF     Lise Andreason
  • 20:00 – 20:50      Introduction to hopepunk     Jo Walton
  • 20:00 – 21:50      Opening Ceremonies, featuring the 1944 Retro Hugo Awards 

Friday 16th of August

  • 10:00 – 12:50      WSFS Business Meeting: preliminary
  • 10:00 – 10:50      Autographs     Jo Walton
  • 10:30 – 11:20      Star Trek: Discovery season 3     Liz Bourke
  • 11:30 – 12:20      So you want to enter the Masquerade?     Kevin Roche
  • 10:30 – 11:20      Autographs     Catherynne Valente
  • 12:00 – 12:50      Bridging the language barrier: translated SFF     Cheryl Morgan
  • 13:00 – 13:50      Sharp storytelling     Ingvar Mattsson
  • 15:00 – 15:50      Introduction to SFF romance     Cora Buhlert
  • 15:00 – 15:50      How to create anthologies     Ellen Datlow
  • 16:00 – 16:50      Using SFF as sandboxes for ideas on politics and society     Nicholas Whyte 
  • 16:30 – 16:50      Reading     Catherynne Valente
  • 17:00 – 17:50      Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading     Kathryn Sullivan
  • 17:00 – 17:50      Autographs     Ellen Datlow
  • 19:00 – 19:50      Hugo finalists discussion: Best Dramatic Presentation     Olav Rokne
  • 20:00 – 20:50      Anniversary: The Left Hand of Darkness (book)     Cheryl Morgan

Saturday 17th of August

  • 10:00 – 10:50      Revolutions in an era of advanced technology     Catherynne Valente
  • 10:00 – 11:00      Masquerade contestant briefing     Kevin Roche
  • 10:00 – 12:50      WSFS Business Meeting: main session
  • 11:00 – 11:50      Critics talk 2018: the year in books     Liz Bourke
  • 12:00 – 12:50      Building the SFF community online     Heather Rose Jones
  • 13:00 – 13:50      Kaffeeklatsch     Catherynne Valente
  • 13:30 – 14:20      The global multiverse: the comics scene worldwide     Cora Buhlert
  • 13:30 – 14:20      Re-imagining national epics     Jo Walton
  • 14:00 – 14:50      Young adults versus… the world!     Catherynne Valente
  • 15:00 – 15:50      Changing climates, changing world     Olav Rokne
  • 15:30 – 16:20      Robots before RUR     Cheryl Morgan
  • 16:00 – 16:50      Group Reading: Speculative Performance Poetry     Nigel Quinlan
  • 16:00 – 17:50      Fan Funds Auction     Jerry Kaufman
  • 17:00 – 17:50      Tall technical tales     Ingvar Mattsson
  • 17:00 – 17:50      Horror: where are we going?     Ellen Datlow
  • 17:00 – 17:50      Kaffeeklatsch     Jo Walton
  • 20:00 – 22:00      Masquerade 
  • 21:00 – 21:50      Panel show: ‘That was unexpected!’     Catherynne Valente 

Sunday 18th of August

  • 10:00 – 10:50      What I read when I was young     Catherynne Valente
  • 10:00 – 12:50      WSFS Business Meeting: Site Selection
  • 10:00 – 10:50      Autographs      Heather Rose Jones
  • 10:00 – 10:50      Down the Rabbit Hole: The Appeal of Portal Fantasy     Kathryn Sullivan
  • 11:00 – 11:50      Orville vs. Discovery     Lise Andreason
  • 11:00 – 11:50      How Science and Ordinary People Can Change the Future     Rich Lynch
  • 13:30 – 14:20      Get us out of the Twilight Zone: the work of Jordan Peele     Chris M. Barkley
  • 14:00 – 14:50      Ditch Diggers podcast: live recording     Ursula Vernon
  • 15:00 – 15:50      Breaking into short horror fiction markets     Ellen Datlow
  • 15:00 – 15:50      Autographs     Kathryn Sullivan
  • 15:30 – 16:00      Children’s singalong / filking session     Karl-Johan Norén
  • 15:30 – 16:20      Behind the seams of the Masquerade     Kevin Roche
  • 15:30 – 16:20      Fan podcasts     Heather Rose Jones
  • 16:00 – 16:50      Using science in fantasy writing     Jo Walton
  • 16:00 – 16:50      Origins of Irish Fandom     Jerry Kaufman
  • 17:30 – 18:20      Parents and children in fandom     Karl-Johan Norén
  • 20:00 – 22:00      The 2019 Hugo Awards Ceremony

Monday 19th of August

  • 10:00 – 12:50      WSFS Business Meeting
  • 10:00 – 10:50      No, what do you mean by AI?     Kevin Roche 
  • 10:30 – 11:20      Irish science and scientific discoveries     Nicholas Whyte
  • 11:00 – 11:50      Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast: live recording     Jo Walton
  • 11:00 – 11:50      Kaffeeklatsch     Liz Bourke
  • 13:30 – 14:20      Challenges in men’s costume     Kevin Roche
  • 13:30 – 13:50      Reading     Heather Rose Jones
  • 16:30 – 17:20      Irish Myths and Legends for Children     Nigel Quinlan
  • 16:30 – 17:20      Closing Ceremonies

[Update 08/05/2019: Added Filer schedule items.]

There in Black and White

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 22)  I’ve just had three remarkable meetings, all on paper.


Arriving at a friend’s home and finding him not yet ready to receive me, I picked up a copy of Cities in Flight from a bookshelf and began more or less idly re-reading.

This is the 1970 Avon Books collection of James Blish’s four novels about cities that leave Earth and travel the stars with a gravity-manipulation drive (the Dillon-Wagoner Polarity Generator, colloquially “spindizzy” for what it does to sub-atomic particles; it gets higher speeds the more mass it’s applied to, so cities travel), helped by an anti-agathic drug that stops human aging.

They go off looking for work, like people from Oklahoma in actual history decades ago; the books were at first known as the “Okie” novels: They Shall Have Stars (1956; originally Year 2018! – I’ve joked how the title had better mean “Year 2018, goshwow” and not “Year 2018-factorial”), A Life for the Stars (1962), Earthman, Come Home (1955; Retrospective Hugo Award for its 1953 novelette form), and The Triumph of Time (1958).

I’d read through all four more than once.  Maybe you have too.  Indeed my own current copy is this collection.  At Denvention III, the 66th World Science Fiction Convention, in a set of Classics of S-F discussions under the heading “Wonders of 1958” I took The Triumph of Time and A Case of Conscience (1958; also by Blish; Hugo Award) together, asking “How does Time compare to Conscience?”

So I began They Shall Have Stars.  At the bottom of Page 1 was Jerry Pournelle.

Pournelle and I were friends.  We met for lunch and disagreed. We’d read many of the same books; our talk could be allusive.

Now and then when the American Association for the Advancement of Science came up he might say “or as some have called it, the left-wing Triple-A–S”.  He didn’t wink at me – not his style – but his face and voice indicated he did not necessarily endorse that appellation.  Alas, I can’t remember any instance of my recognizing it.

On Page 1 of They Shall Have Stars it’s given us in the mind (though not actually in the mouth) of Senator Wagoner, the context indicating he does not necessarily endorse the appellation.

Depending upon the circumstances of After-Fandom, Pournelle may be chuckling.


Eric Frank Russell’s novelette “Symbiotica” (1943) is on the Retro-Hugo ballot.  I hadn’t read it in years.  Re-reading, I was going along, remembering as I met them things like the chrysanthemums, when suddenly (Part VII) I saw Jay Score throw an atomic bomb.

A what?

People have been complaining recently of stories set in the far future that show unlikely familiarity with our time instead of Churchill, or Genghis Khan, or Alexander, or some other pre-fusion hero.  Here on the contrary was “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards” (L. Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass ch. 5, 1871; or maybe I should have said “contrariwise”, ch. 4).

You’ll tell me science fiction is in the business of predicting the future.  I don’t think so; I don’t think we earn merit for a speculation which proves right, or lose for one which proves wrong.  To me that’s like You should get a bicycle because it’s good to have a couple of round things in your life.  I was however taken by the appearance of this expression.

Now (or, I suppose, then) Cleve Cartmill’s novelette “Deadline”, published the next year, imagined bomb development actually resembling what was then being done in the Manhattan Project.  He hadn’t gotten at any secrets; he was working from unclassified information; as Confucius said in another context, “Who can go out except by the door?” (Analects VI:17).

The wretched thing should really be called a nuclear bomb.  Physics and chemistry being what they are, any bomb is an atomic bomb (even a pumpkin bomb). However, “atomic bomb” is what lots of people called it then, and still do.

Compare Jay Score’s bomb, which seems about the size and heft of a hand grenade.  Big explosion.  No mention of radiation or fallout.

Russell might just as well have written He fired an electron gun.

But, terminologist that I am, I wondered about “atomic bomb”.  What did we know and when did we know it?

Hunting around, I learned H.G. Wells used “atomic bomb” in The World Set Free (1914; ch. 2).  I haven’t yet found whether Russell saw that.  I haven’t yet read Ingham’s 2010 biography Into Your Tent, nor other Russell stories featuring Jay Score.  I haven’t yet asked Rick Katze, editor of the NESFA (New England S-F Ass’n) Press collection Major Ingredients (2000; does not contain “Symbiotica”).


Also on the Retro-Hugo ballot is Anthony Boucher’s superb “Q.U.R.”

Also Robert Bloch’s “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper”.

Both are in the Short Story section, i.e. less than 7,500 words in length.  The ballot being in alphabetical order by title, “Q.U.R.” is immediately above “Yours Truly”.

Boucher was one of our greats, author, editor, critic, anthologist.  He co-founded The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  In mystery fiction next door (Why “next door”? and Why “mystery” fiction? will have to wait for another time) too he was excellent.

Bloch was active as both pro and fan.  My connection with him via the 61st Worldcon – if that doesn’t remind you – will have to wait for another time.

“Q.U.R.” was published under a Boucher pseudonym, H.H. Holmes, so credited on the ballot.  That put Holmes right above the Ripper.  Go ahead and look up the original H. H. Holmes.

Depending upon the circumstances of After-Fandom, Boucher and Bloch may be chuckling.

The Original William Shatner ‘Star Trek’ Fanzine Interview Origin

By Steve Vertlieb: It was fifty years ago this month that I interviewed William Shatner for the British magazine L’Incroyable Cinema in July1969 (later re-printed in The Monster Times in early 1972) at The Playhouse In The Park. Star Trek was still in the final days of its original network run on NBC.

My old friend Allan Asherman, who joined my little brother Erwin and I for this once in a lifetime meeting with Captain James Tiberius Kirk, astutely commented that I had now met all three of our legendary boyhood “Captains,” which included Jim Kirk (Bill Shatner), Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers (Larry “Buster” Crabbe), and Buzz Corry (Ed Kemmer). It’s funny how an often charmed life can include real life friendships with childhood heroes.

Steve Vertlieb, William Shatner, and Erwin Vertlieb (1969).

L’Incroyable Cinema Issue 3 Centre Spread for what may have been the first fanzine interview ever conducted with William Shatner while “Star Trek” was still airing over the NBC Television Network.

L’Incroyable Cinema No. 3 Wrap round cover for their special Star Trek interview issue.

Here is the cover for The Monster Times 1972 “Star Trek issue featuring my published 1969 interview with William Shatner from L’Incroyable Cinema Magazine.

Wandering Through the Public Domain #17

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

By Colleen McMahon: I recently had the privilege of attending a free lecture (via the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library) by Dr. Lisa Yaszek, who is a professor of Science Fiction Studies at Georgia Tech. She gave a presentation on the history of time travel in science fiction. Not only was it fascinating for itself, it also led me to lots of works in the public domain to mention here. (Bonus: I also met fellow Filer Kirby Bartlett-Sloan there!)

In fact, there are LOTS of interesting time-travel tales in the public domain, and it seems like the more I dig, the more I find. So this will be the first of two back-to-back columns on time-travel themes, with more random installments to come in the future. Because there is a lot to say on this topic, I’ll also be departing from my usual format to focus just on the time-travel topic for these two columns.

One of the most intriguing points is that time-travel fiction as we know it, SF or otherwise, didn’t really exist before the 19th century. There seems to be two main reasons for that.

The first is that one of the main ideas of time travel is visiting historical eras in the past, or bringing people from historical times to the present day and interacting with them. But the sense of historical periods being very different from and foreign to the current day, and thus more interesting to interact with, is relatively recent. For vast swaths of human history, the past looked a lot like the current day, as people stayed in the same places and did the same things. Since much of the narrative interest in time-travel fiction is in the contrast with earlier times, it does not seem to have been as much of an imaginative stimulus.

(However, even in those centuries, there was a sense of a distant past that was different — the days of Moses, Jesus, or the gods of ancient mythologies worldwide. It seems odd to me that there wasn’t much apparent imaginings or discussions of what it would be like to see those times in person or talk to legendary figures like Buddha or Confucius or Hercules.)

The other reason was that, while time as a linear concept existed, the cyclical sense of time, based on seasons and repetitions of holidays and festivals, was far stronger in people’s minds. The rhythms of the agricultural year reinforced this, and even the few who did not directly grow their own food were keenly aware of the annual cycles of food production. 

It’s really the standardization of time intervals, time zones, and calendars that began in the 18th century and fully took hold in the 19th, that gave most people a distinct sense of a one-way march of clearly delineated time periods. The fact that more people were becoming detached from the farm and food production, with its cyclical emphasis, and were moving to towns and cities where transit, factories, and stores ran on strict schedules, helped reinforce the rise of linear time sense.

Dr. Yaszek points out that it’s not a coincidence that the first mechanical time-travel stories, where a machine could precisely target and “jump” to a particular era, appear within the same decade as the 1884 International Meridian Conference that established standard time zones worldwide.

However, the earliest time-travel story device is one that is still used, and is more of a fantasy trope than a science fiction one. That’s the “time slip”, where a character interacts with another time period through an unexplained or magical connection. This can be seen as far back as portions of the Indian Mahabarata or the Japanese folk-tale Urashima Taro, where characters magically travel to other dimensions, and return to themselves to find that years have mysteriously passed. Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” is a variant of this theme that most of us are familiar with.

Mid-19th-century tales like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court also use this “time slip” device — the authors are not as concerned with how the time travel happens as the experiences that the main characters have as a result. 

A less well-known example is “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains” by Edgar Allen Poe. This 1844 short story is a rather confusing tale in which an unnamed narrator tells the story of his meeting, years earlier, a mysterious young man named Arthur Bedloe. Bedloe was in his 20s, but seemed far older to the narrator, perhaps because of ill health. He was attended by a physician, Dr. Templeton, who specialized in a form of mesmerism. 

Bedloe narrates his strange experience of hiking in a deep mist in the “Ragged Mountains” of Virginia (which appear to be the Blue Ridge Mountains) and suddenly hearing drumming sounds and noticing plants and people that appear to be native to India rather than Virginia.  Bedloe ultimately finds himself in an eastern city in the midst of a battle between English soldiers and native people. He is struck by an arrow and dies.

Bedloe insists that it was a real experience, and not a dream, but the narrator points out to Bedloe that he is not dead, so it could not have been real. Bedloe reacts by becoming visibly ill, and Dr. Templeton intervenes to explain that the experience Bedloe narrated sounded much like that of his old friend Oldeb, who had been in India in 1780 and died in a battle there in the way that Bedloe described. What actually occurred with Bedloe is left vague — he was under the influence of both mesmerism and strong drugs when he had his experience, but it’s also strongly implied that Bedloe time-traveled into the mind of Oldeb or was a reincarnation of him. When the narrator later sees Bedloe’s name misspelled on his tombstone as Bedlo, he realizes that Bedlo is Oldeb spelled backwards.

Edward Bellamy’s 1884 novel Looking Backward is another time-slip tale, although this time the narrator has a dream-vision of the future rather than the past. Bellamy’s main purpose was to write a political utopian tale to illustrate possible resolutions to the contemporary political and economic conflicts in the United States, but his book has the distinction of becoming the third best-selling American novel of the 19th century after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur, which I believe would make it the first SFF best-seller.

The time-slip trope remains alive and well down to the present day, and drives the plot in stories ranging from the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day to the best-selling Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon. 

(In fact, while time travel in science fiction gets most of the attention, the romance genre has a strong tradition of time-travel romance stories, nearly all of which use the time-slip trope, as the hero or heroine is thrown backward or forward in time by devices ranging from standing stones to family curses to mysterious pendants and more).

Librivox has recordings of most of the above-mentioned works:

Internet Archive has the 1910 one-reel Edison adaptation of A Christmas Carol

There are no extant complete copies of the 1921 film of Connecticut Yankee, but the trailer for the very hokey 1949 version is in the public domain!

In the next column, I’ll look at the H.G. Wells novel, The Time Machine, which popularized the mechanical time-travel plot device, and the many tales that followed.

Great Deeds

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 21; written 20 Jul 19) It’s National Lollipop Day.

I went to a See’s Candies shop and got a root-beer lollipop. Their lollipops are resolutely un-discoid.

And it’s the Glorious 20th, indeed the 50th anniversary of humankind’s first landing on the Moon. Sweet.

I’ve seen two fine commemorations, Unsolicited Opinion No. 42 (!) from Chris Barkley, and No. 46 of Journey Planet (PDF) from Chris Garcia and (currently) James Bacon, an issue guest-edited by Steven H Silver.

Looking backward can have two edges – or more. Maybe it’s not so much like a sword as like a snub cube.

I remember Larry Niven’s saying “We put a man on the Moon, why can’t we put a man on the Moon?” Others have said it too. Maybe not enough have.

More recently people have been saying we should put a woman on the Moon. I hope for it.

Then there was, and there still is, the question of resources. Where should we put those?

When President Obama was inaugurated I sent him a poem and urged he consider leadership into math and the physical sciences. He never answered, but he was busy.

I said it as a liberal-arts guy. I could say it again.

Chris Garcia published the poem.

The best I’ve made so far today is (unrhymed 5-7-5-7-7-syllable lines)

When governments pay,
Conquest fuels discovery;
When private wealth pays,
It hopes for a quick profit:
But science, explorers, go.

I’m not content but there isn’t much more of today left.

In an airport bookshop on the way home from Spikecon I got a copy of the 50th-anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings (J. Tolkien, 1954; 2004 ed. corrected various errors introduced in reprinting, and had an improved index; I’d only the 2nd ed. 1965; haven’t seen the 60th-anniv. ed. 2014).

This remark struck me (bk. 5, ch. IX; 2004 ed. at p. 877); Tolkien’s Elves (Legolas Greenleaf is speaking), who lived long, and were not weak, loved language, and sped what was sung well.

Follow what may, great deeds are not lessened in worth.

We reached the Moon with the Apollo 11 mission of the United States National Aeronautics & Space Administration. Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) was the first human being to set foot there. E.E. Aldrin, Jr., “Buzz” Aldrin to us and the world, was the second. He’s on the front cover of Journey Planet 46, a famous photograph taken by Armstrong, on the Moon in a white Space suit, feet apart.

Barkley met Armstrong while Armstrong was a University of Cincinnati professor in 1974. The tale in Unsol. Op. 42 doesn’t mention eponym Cincinnatus of Rome, two and a half millennia ago, who was summoned from his farm in a crisis, accepted dictatorial power, defeated the enemy, and returned to his farm; Armstrong, having had to fly the Apollo 11 Lunar Module manually to a safe landing with 20 seconds of fuel left, and upon return having ticker-tape parades in New York and Chicago attended by six million, was teaching aeronautical engineering when Barkley met him.

Silver chauffered Aldrin to and from an International Space Development Conference in 2010. Greg Benford, also in Journey Planet 46, tells of going to see Aldrin, who asked if Benford would collaborate on a science fiction novel. Didn’t happen; Benford thought existing commitments wouldn’t leave him free enough, so recommended John Barnes, with whom Aldrin co-authored Encounter with Tiber (1996) and The Return (2000); but Benford did get to drive Aldrin home from a Planetary Society meeting another time.

Aldrin on the Apollo 11 mission was able to return a service given his father, acknowledge a pioneer, and put a further link in one of history’s little chains, with a book.

Robert H. Goddard (1882-1945), called with good reason the father of modern rocketry, perhaps of the Space Age, launched the first liquid-fueled rocket at Auburn, Massachusetts, in 1926. He taught physics at Clark University and taught Aldrin’s father. Other scientists and the press ridiculed Goddard’s theories of Space flight. He wrote an autobiography around the time of launching that rocket; it remained unpublished until 1966.

Aldrin took a copy with him, autographed it “Flown to the Moon on board Apollo 11 / July 16-24 1969 / Buzz Aldrin”, and gave it to Goddard’s widow, who later gave it to Clark where it may be seen.

The New York Times on July 17th, i.e. the day after the Apollo 11 launch, published under the headline “A Correction” a summary of its 1920 editorial mocking Goddard and concluded “Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th Century and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error.”

Aldrin, a Presbyterian, using a kit given by his pastor, took Communion. Later he said “Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate…. Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the Moon in the name of all mankind.”

Tonight he said “Looking back, landing on the Moon wasn’t just our job, it was a historic opportunity…. Today belongs to you”, and an hour ago ”Goodnight Moon!”

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #42

Neil Armstrong and First Man – A Personal Review

By Chris M. Barkley: Meeting Neil Armstrong was one of the most memorable moments in my life.

Professor Neil Armstrong

From the fall of 1974 through the spring of 1975, I was employed as a server at the University of Cincinnati Faculty Club. It was my freshman year there and I enrolled thinking I was going to major in broadcasting. I needed a part time job to supplement my comic book habit so I looked for something immediately after classes started. Since my previous job had been as a dishwasher in a local restaurant, when the club advertised for a server, I figured (wrongly, as it turned out) that this was probably be a promotion. 

Since my schedule had a huge gap between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., I drew duty tending to the buffet for the professors in the basement of the club.

One fine spring afternoon, while tending a huge pot of turtle soup, I saw a lone figure descending the stairs and walking towards me. He was slight in build and surprising shorter than me. As he approached he was instantly recognizable to me, the most famous and celebrated man on planet Earth at that time. 

I had heard that he was teaching a course on aeronautical engineering on campus (and did so between 1971-1979) but I had not seen him before now. Thinking quickly, I had read that he was loath to have people geeking out on him so I decided to play it totally cool and treat him like any other faculty member.

Professor Armstong walked up and politely requested a bowl of soup. He looked around at the sparsely populated dining area as I ladled soup into his bowl.

“Not much going on around here today, eh?” he said with a slight grin.

“No, not much,” I replied. “Is there anything else I can get for you today?”

“No, thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Have a nice day.”

“You, too.”

And with that he proceeded to help himself to the salad bar and sat alone in a corner table for the rest of the hour.

Neil Armstrong. Polite. Reserved. Courteous. Living as quietly as possible in shadows, ever so wary of the glaring limelight of fame.

I never saw him again.

But we are still connected, albeit in a sad way. 

Neil Armstrong died on my birthday in 2012.

Nearly everyone who was alive on July 20, 1969, should know this date, what happened that day and where it happened.

When Michael Collins was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air in 1988, he described the Apollo 11 mission as a delicate daisy chain of events; if one or more things went terribly wrong, things could have quickly taken a lethally tragic turn.

On that Sunday, at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, I was in my parent’s living room, glued to the television for a good portion of the day, watching Walter Cronkite and the CBS news team’s coverage of the Apollo 11.

An hour and sixteen minutes earlier, the lunar excursion module carrying Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin separated from the command module piloted by Michael Collins. At 4:04 pm, the LEM was 50,000 feet from the surface. A minute later, the main engine fired up for a powered descent. 

Although I was an incredible space geek at the age of twelve, I had no idea what the astronauts and Houston were talking about most of the time. I relied on the studio commentators for that information. So when things went south and everyone went silent in light of the historic occasion, all of the trouble that occurred went right over my head.   

As the LEM descended towards the surface, the radar system completely failed. It was quickly rebooted by opening and closing the circuit breaker on the LEM. A glitch in the guidance computer handling radar data was triggered four times along with another alarm, but ground controllers easily provided quick fixes.

But the biggest problems were two fold;  the LEM’s automated guidance system had overshot the original landing area by approximately five miles and was heading towards a stadium sized crater and a field of car sized boulders. And they were running out of fuel. Reacting quickly, Armstrong took over manually and steered the LEM over the crater to a clearing beyond it.

I was obvious to all of this; very few in the audience watching had any idea what was happening beyond hearing “alarm” several times over the live audio. The landing itself was rendered by an elaborate NASA animation that played over all of the voice communications.

Armstrong finally found a relatively level surface with less than 30 seconds of fuel left. Aldrin called out the altitude until he spoke the first words heard broadcast from the surface of the Moon: 

102:45:40 Adrin: Contact Light.

l102:45:43 Armstrong (onboard): Shutdown

102:45:44 Aldrin: Okay. Engine Stop. 

102:45:45 Aldrin: ACA out of Detent.

102:45:46 Armstrong: Out of Detent. Auto.

102:45:47 Aldrin: Mode Control, both Auto. Descent Engine Command Override, Off. Engine Arm, Off. 413 is in. 

102:45:57 Duke: (Reporting that Houston has received telemetry confirming engine shutdown and that they have heard Buzz’s transmission regarding address 413) We copy you down, Eagle.

102:45:58 Armstrong (onboard): Engine arm is off. (Pause) (Now on voice-activated comm) Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

102:46:06 Duke: (Responding to Neil’s transmission but momentarily tongue-tied) Roger, Twan…(correcting himself) Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.

102:46:16 Aldrin: Thank you.

The image I remember most vividly that afternoon was that of Walter Cronkite right after the confirmation of the Eagle’s landing Profusely sweating, slightly flustered, his kindly face looked relieved and happy at the same time. He knew exactly what had just happened and that a disaster had been barely averted. And his assertion of giddiness mirrored what everyone else watching was feeling; we were on THE MOON!  

At 10:55 p.m., my mother, Alice Elder Barkley and I were watching Neil Armstrong climb down the LEM ladder, live on my grandmother’s vintage 1950’s hand-me-down Philco black and white television set. Everyone else in the house was asleep.

As Armstrong stepped off the vehicle and spoke those words that we know so well, we said nothing. Our two generations had just witnessed one of the most historic events in our brief existence on this planet. What could we say? It was quite profound.

After a while my mother went to bed. I stayed up and heard President Nixon’s call and the rest of the lunar excursion. Afterwards, I stepped out into our backyard and marveled at the spectacle of seeing the moon overhead that night. 

The human race was up there. And since then twelve others have walked and explored there. And some day in the near future, we will return.

Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and President Barack Obama

Originally, I was going to write this column in conjunction with the October 2018 release of First Man, a film based on the 2005 autobiography of Neil Armstrong by James Hansen. While I was very enthusiastic about it, I found myself strangely blocked. Only as the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing approached did I slowly realize that I was just waiting for the right time to express my feelings about it and my connection to Neil Armstrong.

My partner Juli and I went to the opening night screening and I was disappointed to see that it was sparsely attended. Of the twenty or so people there, most were in the 50’s and 60’s like us. After it was all over, most of us lingered for the credits and magnificent closing score by Justin Hurwitz.

First Man was released with great fanfare among film critics and is generally regarded as a great cinematic triumph but a box off failure, only grossing an estimated $107million on a budget of $50 million. I think if the Universal, Dreamworks  and Amblin, the producers of the film, should have rolled the dice and released First Man much closer to the actual date, it might have done much better at the box office. Then again, considering that it might have been competing against Spider-Man, Far from Home, The Lion King and a host of other summer movies might have been a contributing faction.

Director Damien Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer had actually started working on an adaption of First Man before Chazelle had begun work on his multiple Academy Award winning breakout film, La La Land. 

First Man covers the life of Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his then wife Joan (Claire Foy) and two sons Rick and Mark, his struggles as a civilian test pilot, his application and selection as a NASA astronaut to his Gemini and Apollo missions.

Nothing was handed to him on a silver platter; he suffered through the cancerous brain tumor that claimed his young daughter Karen’s life, problems connecting emotionally with his wife and children and the sudden and incredibly tragic deaths of his fellow test pilots and astronauts. 

Although certain liberties were taken with the chronology, Chazelle and Singer managed to accurately convey the essence of Neil Armstong’s life realistically, with all of his flaws and emotional struggles. Gosling portrays him brilliantly; a somewhat doting dad one moment and a repressed, withdrawn and almost too self-centered engineer in many others.

Claire Foy matches him scene for scene as his wife Janet, a woman whose love and compassion for her family runs deep and is unafraid to confront Neil or any other authority when something threatens it.

The screenplay makes it clear that while Armstrong is driven and ambitious, he’s very wary of seeking out fame and undue influence that comes with it. This is illustrated in a very telling scene when Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler), the chief of the Astronaut’s Office informs him that he has been selected to be the commander of Apollo 11, he stoically accepts the assignment but as he looks in the restroom mirror afterwards, you can almost feel the range of emotions raging inside him as he contemplates what he just agreed to do. 

First Man also joins an elite group of films (Destination: Moon, Marooned, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Apollo 13) that shows exemplemary care in the depiction of space flight. The visual effects, designed and executed by Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles, J.D. Scwalm, deservedly won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Not only did they recreate a realistic and harrowing descent of the Eagle to the Moon, they also made space flight personal by mostly using Armstrong’s point of view during the flight sequences and engages the audience in an intimate way.

Twenty-seven prominent film critics listed First Man in their Top Ten lists of 2018. I am very hopeful that its reputation will become even more burnished as time passes and will lead the more curious to James Hansen’s book and other adventures in science.  

So tonight, if you can, look up and gaze at the moon. Remember those who had the training, skill, luck and privilege of orbiting and exploring it over a half a century ago. And never forget the supporting cast of 400,000 people who made it all possible. 

Also of interest: