(1) James H. Burns shares his personal vision of a recent TV debut:
There is much that is wonderful, and also much that is silly, about the new Supergirl TV series.But Melissa Benoist, and so many of the cast, are simply so winning, it just more often than not, is utterly charming, For someone raised with the whole Superman mythos, particularly the Kryptonian elements introduced by DC Comics editor Mort Weisinger, there was actually something quite moving about many of the moments in the first Supergirl episode. (We all, after all, ultimately have our lost Kryptons…) But one surprise, and a small spoiler for those who have not yet seen the CBS series’ debut episode. Towards the finale, Kata receives a present from her cousin, Superman… In my mind’s eye, remarkably, I did not see any of the recent Kal-Els, but George Reeves, preparing the small package. Reeves, of course, was television’s Superman of the 1950s, and forever, really… And it’s fascinating to think how these two characters have finally been reunited, across the decades.
(2) Lenika Cruz’ article in The Atlantic about the World Fantasy Award, “’Political Correctness’ Won’t Ruin H.P. Lovecraft’s Legacy”, argues that the changing the award trophy signals that the genre is able to be inclusive to writers of color.
Starting next year, the World Fantasy Award trophy will no longer be modeled after the massively influential horror-fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft.
The convention organizers didn’t offer a reason for the change, nor did they name a replacement, but the decision is notable nonetheless. Lovecraft’s rise to fame happened largely after his death, but as he received more attention, so too did his racist and xenophobic beliefs. His disassociation from the WFC after 40 years feels in line with a growing inclusiveness in the science-fiction and fantasy community of women and people of color. The author Daniel José Older, who started a petition last year to replace Lovecraft with Octavia Butler, praised the decision. “Writers of color have always had to struggle with the question of how to love a genre that seems so intent on proving it doesn’t love us back,” he said. “We raised our voices collectively, en masse, and the World Fantasy folks heard us.”
Not everyone agreed with this sentiment. In a letter to the co-chair of the WFC board, the Lovecraft biographer and author S.T. Joshi called the decision “a craven yielding to the worst sort of political correctness.”
(3) At Black Gate, Jackson Kuhl puts Lovecraft in his idea of the proper context, in “S. T. Joshi Is Mad As Hell”.
Debate over Lovecraft’s racism — and let’s face it, he was a racist, and even if it blunted in his later years, he was never going to join the ACLU — generally falls into two camps: that he and his views were products of his times; or that his beliefs were particularly venomous even for the era. As usual with truth, I think it’s somewhere in the middle. Lovecraft was a naive shut-in, his head a Gordian knot of neuroses. No one will argue that Lovecraft was a well-adjusted individual; from sex to seafood, a psychiatrist would have worn out an IKEA’s worth of sofas itemizing a complete list of the man’s phobias. I contend those same anxieties are precisely what make Lovecraft’s writing so much fun. If his racism was more vile than that of his neighbors and contemporaries, then it originated in that same pool of existential paranoia from which only madmen sip. It was part and parcel with his oversensitivity to smells, his finicky eating habits, and all the rest. H.P. Lovecraft may have been a genius. He was also crazy.
Having said that, I often worry that scolding Lovecraft too harshly is to rub Vaseline on the lens through which we view early 20th-century America. For this country, those first three decades were a period of peak racism in a Himalayan history. The 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, by which SCOTUS granted the South carte blanche to do their worst, was the tamping of the soil upon Reconstruction’s grave; and 1915 saw the rebirth of the Klan, though this time with a more anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant bent, attracting millions of members in the 1920s. The nativism of the 19th century — which shows no signs of abating in 2015 — came to full bloom, with passage of the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act (which was intended in large part to circumscribe Irish, Italian, and other immigrants) being its greatest successes. Somebody at this year’s NecronomiCon described Lovecraft as the last of the Victorian gentleman scientists, a man who had the leisure time to read journals and magazines about science and new discoveries and contemplate their repercussions. Alas, this was also a high time of pseudoscience, of theories about genetic memory and phrenology and racial traits; they are recurring topics in letters between Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, both of whom read widely on the subjects and included them in their stories. To say Lovecraft lived in racist times and channeled them through his writing is not to apologize for him so much as it is to confront our not-very-distant past.
(4) Lee Martindale, SFWA Director-at-Large, should have been credited for assembling the SFWA Accessibility Guidelines in yesterday’s post here at File 770. Today the SFWA Blog ran Martindale’s history of the guidelines, “Back Story: The Accessibility Guidelines Checklist”.
When I was elected to SFWA’s Board of Directors in 2010, I brought with me the desire to see the organization move toward greater accessibility at SFWA-sponsored events, particularly the Nebula Awards weekend. That desire stemmed from my own experiences at SF conventions, particularly the Nebula Weekends I’d attended. But it was largely prompted by how ashamed I was of SFWA that, at the Nebula Weekend at which she was named Grand Master, the only way Anne McCaffrey could get to spaces in which she was being celebrated involved going through a very busy kitchen and up a service elevator.
I’m proud to have been involved in the work that resulted in SFWA’s Accessibility Guidelines Checklist and a member of the Board of Directors that approved it, in January 2014, for use at SFWA-sponsored events. And I’m delighted that SFWA is sharing it at http://www.sfwa.org/accessibility-checklist-for-sfwa-spaces/
(5) British Fantasy Award winner Juliet McKenna has a guest post on Sean Williams’ blog.
I see variations on the writing process as a spectrum, with Outline Writers at one end and Discovery Writers* at the other. I’m definitely way over there at the Outline end. I’ll know the beginning, the middle and the end of a story before I begin to write it, and a whole lot more besides. I’ll have notebooks full of background on people and places and all sorts of aspects of the world that I’m writing about. (I’ve learned a wonderful acronym for these vital scene-setting elements from a panel at Fantasycon 2015, thanks to Karina Coldrick. PESTLE: Political. Economic. Social. Technological. Legal. Environmental. Isn’t that great?)
(6) Today’s Birthday Boy and Girl
- Born November 13, 1850 — Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island and Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
- Born November 13, 1955 – Whoopi Goldberg. From the Wikipedia: “According to an anecdote told by Nichelle Nichols in the documentary film Trekkies (1997), a young Goldberg was watching Star Trek, and upon seeing Nichols’ character Uhura, exclaimed, ‘Momma! There’s a black lady on TV and she ain’t no maid!’ This spawned lifelong fandom of Star Trek for Goldberg, who would eventually ask for and receive a recurring guest-starring role on Star Trek: The Next Generation (as Ten Forward’s Guinan.)”
(7) Brandon Kempner originally stated that Chaos Horizon’s mission is “predicting the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel by using statistical and data mining techniques.” How does he square that with his unsupported comment about Ann Leckie’s work in “Final 2015 SFF Awards Meta-List”?
So how did 2015 turn out? There wasn’t a single dominant book, as was the case with Ancillary Justice in 2014 (7 nominations, 4 wins, with 2 additional nominations and wins in “First Novel” categories). This year, Cixin Liu did the best with 5 nominations, but he managed only 1 win. I suspect that if The Three-Body Problem came out earlier in the year (it was published in November), it would have done a little better. Leckie won twice for Ancillary Sword, and she was the only author to win two awards. Those wins, depending on how cynical you are, could be chalked up to last year’s success of Ancillary Justice.
(8) Morgan Holmes, in “Primary Research” at Castalia House blog, starts with a good anecdote about L. Sprague De Camp, but the best part is about researching Donald Wandrei.
Second story: I was going through the listing of the Donald Wandrei items in possession of the Minnesota Historical Society. Donald Wandrei was a member of the Lovecraft circle and pulp magazine writer. One could describe a good portion of his fiction as a logical continuation of H. G. Wells’ short stories though with a Lovecraftian cosmic inclination to them. Wandrei also wrote a number of detective stories that read like Lovecraft writing for Black Mask magazine.
Going through a list of letters, one popped up that grabbed my attention. A letter from Robert E. Howard to Donald Wandrei. No one knew of this before I found it. Another case of primary research.
This past week, I remembered looking into a Wandrei story in Robert H. Barlow’s small press zine Leaves. I remember reading that Wandrei has fiction in the first issue. I found a table of contents of Leaves, Summer 1937 and “A Legend of Yesterday” did not register with me.
I contacted Dwayne Olson who is the Donald Wandrei expert on this to see if this story had been reprinted under a different name. Dwayne got back to me and this story had gotten past him for the Fedogan & Bremer collections. He did not know the story existed. So, we have another case of depending on work done before.
Take home point: Thoroughly research your subject. Go back to primary sources. Don’t depend that someone before has done the ground work.
(9) At Amazing Stories, MD Jackson discusses the “Science Fiction and Fantasy Spoken Word Recordings” from Caedmon Records.
This was back in the days of the vinyl record, of course and it was always a special, almost magical thing to have and to listen to one of these recordings. To hear the author of a famous work reading selected passages aloud was thrilling. Most particularly if it was J.R.R. Tolkien.
J.R.R. Tolkien Reads and Sings his The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring was a record released by Caedmon in 1975. It was taken from a reel to reel recording made in Tolkien’s study in 1952. One side was a recording of Tolkien reading the chapter Riddles in the Dark from The Hobbit. The other side featured poems and songs from The Fellowship of the Ring.
I had the recording as a teen and it was absolutely marvelous to hear the words from The Hobbit read by the author himself. His “Gollum” voice was hysterical and the songs –yes, songs – Tolkien actually sings some of his poetry to old tunes. He even reads some Elvish poetry!
The recordings can be found today fairly easily on Youtube if one is so inclined to look.
[Thanks to David K.M. Klaus, Dana Sterling, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Brian Z.]