Confucius and a Home-Cooked Meal

by John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 11)

Blond woman and dog
Running for joy in Van Nuys
Lift my heart today

Liang Yun-hê was playing erh-hu at the Huntington, Pasadena; in the Chinese Garden, naturally.  I arrived in time to hear the end of “Fisherman Singing in the Evening”, a ku-ch‘in [seven-string zither, sometimes called the Chinese lute, e.g. R. van Gulik, Lore of the Chinese Lute (1941) – the author we know for his Judge Dee stories; Van Gulik (1910-1967) inter alia played the ku-ch‘in himself] piece Mr. Liang had arranged for the erh-hu [two-string fiddle].  I’ve left out the drunken part [Tsui-yu ch‘ang-wan is really “drunken fisherman singing in the evening”].

Seated across from him in the Studio of Pure Scents was a young Caucasian boy, which was particularly suitable since Mr. Liang started playing erh-hu at age 8; he inter alia is music director of the Chinese school A Little Dynasty, Irvine, California, and composed the erh-hu theme music for Disneyland Shanghai.

The Chinese Garden Liu-Fang Yuan [liu fang, “flowing fragrance”, meaning the scents of flowers and trees as the seasons turn, is from “Rhapsody on the Luo River Goddess” by the prince-poet Ts‘ao Chih (192-232)] opened in 2008 although it isn’t expected to be finished until 2020.

Around the lake, which I saw and heard men draining for maintenance, are weathered limestones from Lake T‘ai [T‘ai Hu, “the great lake”, Chiang-su province; third-largest freshwater lake in China].

I drank a cup of T‘i Kuan Yin tea at the Huo Shui Hsuan “freshwater pavilion” tea shop [an oolong from An-hsui province; Kuan Yin is the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who hears the cries of sentient beings (Buddhists really mean sentient and not sapient, unlike SF authors who for some reason misuse this word) and reaches down to help them; the Lotus Sutra ch. 25 explains there are male and female manifestations; Chinese Buddhists venerate Kuan Yin as female; one story of how the tea was named tells of an iron statue of Kuan Yin; T‘i Kuan Yin is often somewhat misleadingly translated “Iron Goddess of Mercy”].

On the Bridge of Verdant Mist, which quite unfairly brought to mind Mist on the Waters from Between Planets, I heard a woman say to a man “It smells like mud,” and I ventured “That’s because it is mud,” meaning the drainage; they smiled.

The Pavilion of Three Friends is named for bamboo, pine, and plum, symbolizing fortitude, integrity, and resilience; all three grow nearby; carvings of them decorate the ceiling; I quite unfairly thought of the Three Friends as Confucius, me, and you – like the Hal Clement collection Trio for Slide Rule and Typewriter, whose title I’ve explained to more than one reader by asking “Who or what do you suppose is the third in the trio?” and looking expectantly.

A glossy reddish-brown upholds and joins and rails the white walls, coloring pillarettes (a word I just made up) and else.  It’s Mountain Camphor paint, supplied by Dunn-Edwards to match samples from Su-chou [the city, in Chiang-su province, long (by our standards) rendered “Soochow”].  I saw a scale model of the Garden, 3 1/2 x 2 1/2 standlees (more or less; Kevin Standlee is taller than I and his steps larger).

I saw a baby Confucius camellia (Camellia reticulata) about two feet high – I couldn’t walk up it – with, so far, only leaves.  William Hertrich was superintendent of the Huntington gardens 1903-1948, loved camellias, started growing them from seed in 1912; 80 different species by now; the International Camellia Society has named the Huntington an International Camellia Garden of Excellence.

A couple of standlees up the slope was a Chinese snowball (Viburnum macrocephalum) with three white flower clusters facing the path.  Confucius was a Chinese snowball.  From his historical life two and a half millennia ago, how he has grown.

Across the path I saw a coast live-oak (Quercus agrifolia), its trunk only a little taller than I.  Live oak has struck me as a strange name ever since I first met it in Macroscope but I know it means the trees are evergreens.  The coast is the West Coast; native here.

On the way out I saw, by taking a moment for a sign, that I had been right, it was a Calder stabile: Jerusalem, or not to be unfair a 1/3-scale version lent by the Calder Foundation: the original, 72 feet long, is at Mt. Herzl, installed 1977, the last sculpture he produced.  He loved gateways and it has them.  He invented mobiles – Duchamp named them – in 1932.

The Red Car Café had Fosselman’s ice cream, as right for Pasadena as Mr. Liang’s erh-hu music was for the Chinese Garden.  I took another moment for a cup of lemon sorbet.

– o O o –

Owen K. Garriott, Ph.D., died last month (1930-2019; he was 88).  He had been a Star Scout and president of his college senior class.  He went to Space twice: for sixty days during Skylab 3 (1973), at the time a world record, and for ten days aboard Space Shuttle Columbia (1983).

In 1973, operating the first amateur radio station from Space, call sign W5LFL, he connected with his mother in Enid, Oklahoma; Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona; King Hussein of Jordan: 250 in all.  On September 10th, Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) Bob Crippen in Houston was startled (the New York Times said “flabbergasted”, 17 Apr 19 p. B15 col. 1) to hear a woman’s voice beaming down, calling him by name, and explaining “The boys haven’t had a home-cooked meal in so long, I thought I’d bring one up.”

She described forest fires seen from Space, and the beautiful sunrise; after several minutes she ended “Oh-oh, I have to cut off now.  I think the boys are floating up here toward the command module, and I’m not supposed to be talking to you.”

Dr. Garriott later revealed he had recorded his wife’s voice in a private radio transmission the night before.

It all started with a Third Grade teacher who had an orrery; as the Times quoted Dr. Garriott, “Fascinating.”

By the time he was 15 he had learned Morse Code and gotten an amateur-radio license.  In 1965 he was one of the first six scientist-astronauts of NASA (United States Nat’l Aeronautics & Space Adm’n).

In 2008 he published the Skylab history Homesteading Space (with David Hitt and astronaut Joseph Kerwin); his son Richard was the sixth Space tourist, and first second-generation American, to go up.

Dr. Garriott said he never got bored, which the Times thought was news and probably was.  “Anyone who runs out of something to do must have had a failure in their imagination.”  One of us.

Classics of Science Fiction at Spikecon

By John Hertz:  Spikecon, 4-7 July 2019, will combine two general-interest s-f conventions, Westercon LXXII (West Coast Science Fantasy Conference – oh, all right, it’s been in Colorado and Texas) and the 13th NASFiC (North America Science Fiction Convention, held when the World Science Fiction Convention is overseas), and two special-interest ones, 1632 Minicon and Manticon 2019.  There’s a big tent for us!  Or maybe a geodesic dome. Or a Dyson sphere.

The con is named in honor of the Golden Spike, the last spike driven to join the Central Pacific and Union Pacific creating the Transcontinental Railroad on 10 May 1869, just forty miles from the con site.

We’ll do three Classics of SF discussions, one story each.  Come to as many as you like.  You’ll be welcome to join in.

I’m still with A classic is an artwork that survives its time; after the currents which might have sustained it have changed, it remains, and is seen as worthwhile in itself.  If you have a better definition, bring it.

Here are our three.  I think each is interesting in a different way.  Each may be more interesting now than when originally published.

Kuttner & Moore, “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” (1943)

The authors each said, after they married, anything under their names or their various pseudonyms was by both.  Decades later, Tim Powers is known for explaining the real – i.e. SF – reason for something in history; here’s the real – i.e. SF – reason for something in fantasy; yet even that’s hardly the greatest element.  The title alludes to Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1871), as we – maybe – eventually understand.

Heinlein, Rocket Ship “Galileo” (1947)

We’ve also come to the golden anniversary of the Glorious 20th, when humankind first set foot on the Moon.  Decades earlier came this speculation.  It isn’t, incidentally, a rocket ship built in a back yard; and as A.J. Budrys used to demand, it answers “Why are they telling us this?”  Nor are these pioneers the first – nor yet the second.

Hoyle, October the First Is Too Late (1966)

This first-rate astronomer – he was knighted six years later – also wrote SF.  In both fields he was famously willing to propose speculations far from others’.  In science one may someday be proved right or wrong; fiction doesn’t work that way.  We might say of this story It’s about time.  Only maybe it isn’t.  Maybe time isn’t.

Honey Mixed With Aloes

By John Hertz: (some of this appeared in No Direction Home 8-9) As a Philosophy major I’d liked Will Durant’s 1926 Story of Philosophy. I might have read his magnum opus, The Story of Civilization, had he called it The Story of a Civilization; what a difference an a makes.

Its eleven volumes are Our Oriental Heritage (1935), The Life of Greece (1939), Caesar and Christ (1944), The Age of Faith (1950), The Renaissance (1953), The Reformation (1957); The Age of Reason Begins (1961), The Age of Louis XIV (1963), The Age of Voltaire (1965), Rousseau and Revolution (1967), The Age of Napoleon (1975) — four million words, ten thousand pages.

He (1885-1981) was 28 when in 1913 he married his Ferrer School pupil Ida Kaufman (1898-1981). He nicknamed her “Ariel”, which stuck; she adopted it legally. She became his lifelong collaborator, helping with The Story of Philosophy and everything else; he got co-author credit for her at last beginning with Reason.

Philosophy sold two million copies in its first three years. For decades Will’s lectures drew hundreds, thousands, across the country. In 1977 the Durants were given the Medal of Freedom. On the dust jacket of their 1978 memoir, Will & Ariel Durant is an inch and a half high, A Dual Autobiography half an inch. I recommend it.

Bernard Baruch, Bernard Berenson, Charlie Chaplin, Maurice Maeterlinck, H.L. Mencken, Will Rogers were Durant fans; so were university presidents; Richard Simon and Max Schuster were the Durants’ publishers, fans, and friends.

The Durant strengths are synthesis, fluency, address to the general reader. Underrating these has hurt philosophy. You know I applaud these strengths. From the titles of Civilization you can see, and the really very fine Autobiography confirms, what I think its weakness. What’s this “begins”?

Will says (p. 402), “I … prefer a moral code independent of supernatural belief, but I am far from sure that our ingrained individualistic impulses of greed, hatred, pugnacity, and violence can be controlled without the inculcation of supernatural hopes and fears.”

Never mind that he seems not to know inculcate means grind in with the heel, or that he seems to think control means suppress. Or maybe we should mind.

To misquote Shakespeare, what’s religion to him, or he to religion?

My point is not, of course, whether he believes or disbelieves. For all his labors, which were huge and may have been great – and even his successes likewise – and his applause, which he has certainly earned – what story of civilization can he tell without at least waving his hat at this boat as it goes by?

What lesson is here for us in our labors, which may have to be huge and I hope may be great, toward diversity?

In April 1944 two men consulted him seeking “some constructive enterprise that could give their social ardor some work and wings. I proposed that they do something to mitigate racial and religious animosity in America…. a Declaration of Interdependence” (Autobiography pp. 236-37; emphasis in original).

On July 4th “eighteen thousand people — Catholics, Protestants, Jews, agnostics, Negroes, Mexican Americans — each with a copy of our Declaration in his hands” (p. 240) gathered at the Hollywood Bowl.

There was a “Jewish choir under the direction of Cantor Leib Glantz, [a] Catholic choir under Roger Wagner … [a] Protestant choir under Halsted McCormack, and [a] Negro choir directed by Lavinia Nash”.

Mayor Fletcher Bowron and Archbishop John Cantwell [alas, what a name for a prelate] were present; the Archbishop gave an invocation; United States Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy gave the principal address.

Will goes on, “I asked the audience to recite the Declaration with me, sentence by sentence, as a solemn pledge taken before a Justice of the Supreme Court. It was done…. Rabbi Magnin spoke eloquently … Señora Consuelo de Bonza for the Mexican community, Dr. Harold Kingsley for the blacks…. The four choirs united symbolically to sing ‘America the Beautiful’. Choirs and audience together sang a stanza” (pp. 240-241).

This was an achievement.

Edgar F. Magnin was the rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the leading Reform Jewish synagogue in Los Angeles; Leib Glantz was Chief Cantor at Sinai Temple (Conservative [Reform Jews {as I am} often, Conservative Jews sometimes, use temple for their synagogues, Orthodox Jews reserving it for the two historical Temples in Jerusalem and the third to be built by the Messiah]).

They might not have, but if as I expect the choirs included women, that would have made attendance very difficult for Orthodox Jews.

If I agreed with such rules I might be Orthodox myself. But when and where does one disagree in the course of trying to be inclusive?

Later, Bishop Timothy Manning wrote (p. 252),

I have devoted much conscientious consideration to the separate points of the Declaration of Interdependence. What it says of race and color I can most heartily subscribe to.

The religious implications, however, are such that I cannot agree to them without compromising … [my ellipsis] my faith…. [Autobiography’s ellipsis] It would do no good service were we to create the impression that truth in religious matters is something relative…. [my ellipsis] we are bound by the law of charity to regard all our fellow men with brother-like love. However, the tenets implied in the Declaration are more basic.

The Declaration included a clause (p. 237) “That since no individual can express the whole truth, it is essential to treat with understanding and good will those whose views differ from our own”. Angels and ministers of grace defend us! What required the 2nd through 8th words?


Extra credit for anyone who recognizes the title from J. Blish, Doctor Mirabilis (1964).

Update 05/05/2019: Changed 9th to 8th per comment.

Cross-cultural Contact Is Homework for Science Fiction

By John Hertz: (some of this appeared in No Direction Home 6-7) I realize that with the word homework I’ve lost half my readers.

I’ll go on talking to the other one.

The notion in the title I’ve been proposing for years. I propose it to you.

I can’t say whether other sapient (not sentient, please) beings exist in the Universe. If yes, I can’t answer “Where are they?” If no, I can’t answer “Why not?” But that’s hardly our business in s-f — ­ which is fiction. We imagine things. In one of Forry Ackerman’s greatest puns, we’re the Imagi-Nation.

The pit along the road, into which we keep falling (a moving pit? O metaphor!), is to imagine aliens feebly. Our Gracious Host in another context memorably wrote “Strangers Just Like Me”.

Well, we can work it up. Meeting another culture here on Earth, its people, places, and things, can be alien all right. Fascinating. Exciting. Humbling. Exalting — ­ no, I don’t mean Look how much better we are (let’s save for another time whether any of that might be false ­ — or true — ­ and How could we know?) ­ I mean, as John Campbell and Larry Niven independently said, Minds as good as you but different.

Morris Keesan once said he liked hanging around with me because I might say “I just happened to re-read Henry IV Part 1, and — ­” I do read Shakespeare. I read lots of things. Maybe you do too.

Shakespeare is good for this present purpose. You can decide for yourself how good a candidate he is for greatest writer ever. We know his plays were hugely popular in his day. Folks kept asking for more of them. Everybody went to see them, rich and poor, high and low, sophisticated and un. So he reached people.

Four hundred years have made him somewhat alien.

His English is nearer to ours than is, say, Chaucer’s. We still need footnotes ­ for example, we’ll miss “So shines a good deed in a naughty world” unless we understand that naughty in Shakespeare’s day was closer than now to the root naught: it meant worthless, with an overtone of wicked (which also didn’t mean what some of us mean by it now): it wasn’t a slap-you-on-the-wrist line, it was a punch-you-in-the-gut line.

His characters love and hate and strive and succeed and fail. But they pack their lives into different baggage from ours.

Let’s save for another time Puck and Ariel and the Hamlet ghost and whether, as of the time of their writing, they were fantasy.

So let’s take that step. Here’s another. For our present purpose, as well as for itself, I recommend T. Kishi & G. Bradshaw, Shakespeare in Japan (2005). Kishi is Professor Emeritus of English at Kyoto University and was (1999-2001) President of the Shakespeare Society of Japan. Bradshaw teaches at Chuo University and is Editor of the Shakespearean International Yearbook.

That such a book as S in Japan exists at all is exemplary. What basis do you suppose there would be for a book Zeami in the United States (Z 1363-1443, perhaps the greatest exponent of Japanese theater)?

As our authors note early on, “Shakespeare first arrived in Japan with Ibsen, Chekhov, Gorky, George Bernard Shaw, and trams [p. 2].” By then Japan had two long-established theatrical traditions, and Kabuki, three counting the puppet theater Bunraku, none of which had anything to do with Shakespeare or Elizabethan theater except to the extent of “two eyes on top, nose in the middle, mouth under” (L. Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass ch. 6, 1871; Humpty Dumpty the enormous egg explaining why human beings look alike to him).

The language, Anglo-Saxon attitudes, theatrical conventions, all had to be explored and some corresponding points found. Our authors not only discuss this ­ — in just 150 pages! — ­ but provide insight.

When Othello collapses into prose in the eavesdropping scene [Act IV sc. 1], is the character Othello choosing to speak prose, or is his prose … really … a poetic-dramatic and shaming measure of the character’s unconscious degradation [p. 69]?

J.A.K. Thomson’s Shakespeare and the Classics (1952) is another book I recommend both for itself and for its help with Cross-cultural contact is homework for science fiction. Its author begins,

If, about the time when Shakespeare began to write, you had visited the universities, or consulted educated people anywhere, inquiring where you should look for the leading figure in contemporary literature, whom must we suppose that most of them would have named? Calderón [1600-1681] or Tasso [1544-1595] or Montaigne [1533-1592] or Spenser [1552-1599]? None of these, but Joseph Scaliger [1540-1609], whom men called princeps literatum. To what did he owe this eminence? To his classical scholarship. If you had asked Scaliger himself (who was not ignorant of England and English writers) whom he considered the head of English literature, he might have replied in the words of Henri Estienne [1528-1598] that George Buchanan [1506-1582] was poetarum nostri saeculi facile princeps, ‘easily the first poet of our time’. This judgment was formed entirely on the basis of Buchanan’s Latin verse. Or take Isaac Casaubon [1559-1614]. He was an almost exact contemporary of Shakespeare, and he was living in England, chiefly in London, during the very years when Shakespeare was writing his great tragedies. Who except a handful of scholars now remembers Isaac Casaubon? He was a man of vast and accurate learning, which he applied with discretion, and he had the rare virtue among Renaissance scholars of personal modesty. Alas … it is not possible to discern any element of greatness in him. (This could not be said of Joseph Scaliger, who was a man of genius and in his own field a very great critic.) Yet on no other ground than his classical, especially his Greek, learning the possession of this amiable little gentleman becomes an object of contention between France and England. He is the personal friend of Henry Quatre [1553-1610], and of James I [1566-1625], who could never have enough of his conversation.

Such an estimate of relative values in literature is so far from any [which] could now be made that even historians, although they know the facts, hardly grasp their implications. Yet a little reflection will show how important they must have been…. when Shakespeare was young…. roughly… nothing was studied at the universities that was not studied in Latin. Of the grammar schools it might be said that their primary function was to teach the rudiments of Latin [hence their name]. To know Latin was the same thing as to be educated.

Thomson (1879-1959), then Professor Emeritus of Classics at King’s College, London, knew whereof he spoke. And that was decades before the College Board discontinued the Advanced Placement examination in Latin literature (2009). He ends (p. 254),

The spirit of great poetry transcends not merely the form but the language in which it finds expression. What I have written is a little chapter in the history of European literature.

Meaning no disrespect for his modesty, few of us today have, without his help, this perspective of the man we are likely to consider the foremost poet of that time — ­ meaning, as I do, and I believe I may say most now do, another surprise for the audience then were they to know it, the poetry of Shakespeare’s plays, not Venus and Adonis or The Phoenix and the Turtle (and we need mental discipline to remember this meant a turtledove).

We struggle with smoking and sexism, to name just two, in s-f of even a few decades ago. I hardly say a knowledge of Latin is immoral! nor contrariwise suggest that When in Rome, do as the Romans do never implicates one’s own moral standards. But look how much trouble we have with Hal Clement’s Iceworld (1953), which if it is trying to tell us anything ­ and we may well be unfair to art if we insist art has a message ­ is trying to tell us about culture-bound assumptions. How about Remember, when in Rome, to see what the Romans see?

I write on the day most often thought to be Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23rd. Have a happy one.

Two Remarkable Books We Hardly Know

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 5) Fred Waitzkin’s Mortal Games (1993) is about Garry Kasparov (1963- ), particularly his 1990 World Championship match with Anatoly Karpov (1951- ) – their fifth and last – which Kasparov won by one point, 12 1/2 – 11 1/2. Writing about chess is hard. The topic is abstract. I’ve recommended The Kings of New York (M. Weinreb, 2007), a year with a Brooklyn high-school chess team, by a sports writer. Nabokov’s novel The Defense (1930) is by one of the greatest authors in Russian or English, a translator, a poet. There’s The Master of Go (Kawabata Y., 1951; i.e. the game known in Japan as go), which its author thought his finest work. Anyway, Kasparov called for a time-out after Game 20; Karpov called for a time-out after Game 21; and (Mortal, p. 231)

On Saturday, December 22, I came to Kasparov’s house…. Garry had spent the day reading Master and Margarita [1940] by Mikhail Bulgakov. It was his favorite novel and he had read it five or six times. He read passages of it aloud to Masha [Maria Arapova, his first wife], while Beethoven played from the stereo.

I took this as a cue from the Cosmic Joker to read The Master and Margarita. I got the Pevear & Volkhonsky tr. 1997 (rev. 2016). Pevear’s Introduction says (pp. xv-xvi, xxii),

Mikhail Bulgakov worked on this luminous book throughout one of the darkest decades of the century. His last revisions were dictated to his wife a few weeks before his death in 1940 at the age of forty-nine…. Another twenty-six years had to pass before…. The monthly magazine Moskva, otherwise a rather cautious and quiet publication, carried the first part … November 1966…. The 150,000 copies sold out within hours…. second part appeared … January 1967…. Bulgakov was known…. But, outside a very small group, the existence of The Master … was completely unexpected…. a major novel, the author’s crowning work.

Ellena Proffer’s 1984 biography Bulgakov says (pp. 525, 531, 557),

Bulgakov’s last novel is … ambitious…. [he] felt free to create fantastic characters and place them in familiar surroundings, to risk his talent in retelling a sacred story, and to describe … the devil. Ignoring the danger of writing about a writer, Bulgakov superbly demonstrates that … the Master is indeed a great writer, by showing us his novel about Pilate…. satire, realism, and fantasy … [The Master is] an elaborate network in which virtually all characters and events are interdependent…. Margarita, not the Master, allies herself with the devil…. in this seemingly Faustian work there are no true Faust figures…. all the Faustian references [are] set decoration.

A cue for getting around to another book came while I was looking up something else in A Reader’s Guide to Science Fiction (B. Searles, M. Last, B. Meacham & M. Franklin, 1979).

William Hope Hodgson [1877-1918] wrote one extraordinary novel which assures him a special place in science fiction…. The Night Land [1912] … hair-raising … vision of the future … a stranger one has never been conceived. The land is dark. The sun is dead. [From] an eight-mile-high pyramid…. One man sets out to rescue whom he can. The entire novel, of 200,000 words [the Guide’s emphasis], is a minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow account of that journey.

Not the least merit of this indeed very strange book is the author’s achievement in maintaining his focus and our attention over, under, around, and through detail other stories omit, so that they leave us to wonder, however engaged with their artistic success, “How did he get there?” And too this author, though filling his tale with event, eschews coruscation; even the drama, and there is much, is shown to us minutely — as indeed a protagonist meets it. This is an almost molecular story – writing which, borrowing from Gelett Burgess (1866-1951), is hard as the deuce, that’s what!

Poetry, No Fooling

By John Hertz:  It’s National Poetry Month in the United States.

I didn’t dare submit this for posting on April 1 (if Our Gracious Host so wished).  You might have thought I was fooling.

As I sometimes am.

Since Edgar Allan Poe wrote fantasy and science fiction, was poetic in prose and verse, and remains worth trying 170 years after his death, you could argue for calling this National Poe-try Month.

Go right ahead.

I’ve brought your attention to Chinese poetry – sometimes thought, with reason, to be the greatest in the world.  Just now I’m going to write about Japanese.

For centuries many of the great Japanese poets also wrote Chinese poetry.  Chinese was part of a good Japanese education, like Latin in a good European education.  One of the finest Japanese anthologies, the Kokinshû (920; short for Kokin Waka Shû, “Old-and-New Poetry Book”), has a Japanese and a Chinese preface.  Having a Japanese preface was the unusual gesture.

Japanese poetry is on my mind with the recent death (February 24th) of Donald Keene, one of the great translators of Japanese literature.  Yes, that means I rank him with Arthur Waley, which is saying a lot.

“What about Uncle A.J.?” you ask.  Quite rightly.  A.J. Budrys used to say “Always ask, Why are they telling us this?”  So here’s something else to try.  Consider whether s-f is poetry.

Heinlein liked the term “speculative fiction”.  In a sense science fiction can be thought to include fantasy.  Or it could be the other way round.  Sturgeon said “Science fiction is knowledge fiction”: one of his better puns; science, in its Latin root, means knowledge.

Vladimir Nabokov said (“Good Readers and Good Writers”, in Lectures on Literature, posth. 1980; you can look here):

The work of art is invariably the creation of a new world, so that the first thing we should do is to study that new world as closely as possible, approaching it as something brand new, having no obvious connection with the worlds we already know.  When this new world has been closely studied, then and only then let us examine its links with other worlds, other branches of knowledge….

Bleak House [C. Dickens, 1853], that fantastic romance within a fantastic London, can we call it a study of London a hundred years ago?  Certainly not….  The truth is that great novels are great fairy tales.

…. minor readers like to recognize their own ideas in a pleasing disguise.  But the real writer, the fellow who sends planets spinning … has no given values at his disposal: he must create them himself.

I’ve said “Cross-cultural contact is homework for s-f.”

So let’s go to Japan.

I recommend two of Keene’s books, World Within Walls (1976) and Seeds in the Heart (rev. 1999).  Walls surveys Japanese literature during the years the country was closed to foreigners; Seeds from earliest times to the beginning of Walls.

About s-f, Niven and Campbell have each said it’s Minds as good as you but different.

Happy National Poetry Month.

Another Brother for Diversity

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 3) André Previn (1929-2019), Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (no Commonwealth citizen, he could use the initials K.B.E. but not the honorific Sir), died six weeks before his 90th birthday.  He had come to the United States (1938) from Germany via France; English was his third language, which he learned from comic books and films with a dictionary, like Nathaniel Bowditch while a boy learning Latin to read Newton’s Principia (1687) as I was taught by Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (J. Latham, 1955) in 5th Grade, except young Nat used a Bible.

By 1946 Previn was working for Metro-Goldwin-Mayer and in 1949 earned his first film credit, the music-score for The Sun Comes Up (R. Thorpe dir.; 4th film about the collie Lassie).

While serving with the Army he managed during 1951-1953 to get lessons in conducting from Pierre Monteux. He won four Academy Awards (1958-1959 [Music – Scoring of a Musical Picture, Gigi {V. Minnelli dir. 1958}, Porgy & Bess {O. Preminger dir. 1959}], 1963-1964 [Score – Adaptation or Treatment, Irma la Douce {B. Wilder dir. 1963}, My Fair Lady {G. Cukor dir. 1964}]; eleven nominations; so far the only person to receive three nominations in one year, 1961; the soundtrack albums for Gigi and Porgy & Bess won Grammys too).  Uncontent he developed a new career, or maybe two, in classical music and jazz.  His discography runs into the hundreds.

On piano, with drummer Shelly Manne and bassist Leroy Vinnegar, he recorded Modern Jazz Performances of Songs from “My Fair Lady” (1956, as by “Shelly Manne and His Friends”, Contemporary 3527), the first album consisting entirely of jazz treatments of tunes from a single Broadway musical, the first jazz album to sell a million copies; Lady had then been running on Broadway only five months.  An interview and music-making with Oscar Peterson (1925-2007) for the British Broadcasting Company’s Omnibus (1 Dec 74) was applauded as “one of the greatest hours I ever saw on television” by Marlon Brando. Previn received the Glenn Gould Prize in 2005, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 (eight other Grammys); O.P., the Gould in 1993, Lifetime Achievement in 1997.  Previn with Ella Fitzgerald in 1983 recorded Nice Work If You Can Get It (Pablo Digital D2312140; the jacket by Al Hirschfeld shows P & F and both Gershwin brothers  – for extra credit, where’s H’s Nina [his daughter’s name, which he characteristically worked in]?); five dozen jazz records through Alone (2007; EmArcy, ASIN B01G99X0DY).  Dizzy Gillespie  said, “He has the flow….  A lot of guys, they have the technique, the harmonic sense…. the perfect co-ordination….  But you need something more…. you got to have the flow.”

Previn recorded chamber music of Mozart (1756-1791), Debussy (1862-1918), Ravel (1875-1937).  He recorded Rachmaninov’s Music for Two Pianos (Suite No. 1, 1893; Suite No. 2, 1901) with Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca 444 845-2, 1974).  He was if anything still more famous as a conductor, inter alia principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra 1968-1979; music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra 1975-1985 (a television series Previn and the Pittsburgh ran 1977-1980; three Emmy nominations), of the Los Angeles Philharmonic 1985-1989.  Speaking of Rachmaninov, Ashkenazy and the LSO, all four piano concertos and the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini (1934, which some call R’s fifth piano concerto) are on a Decca 3-CD set (ASIN B000076GYF; recorded 1970-1971).  The first complete recording of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No, 2 (1907) was Previn’s in 1970 with the LSO (Warner Classics, ASIN B00000K4FI), which in 2015 Gramophone reviewing all recordings to date called “an interpretation [that] retains its legendary emotional charge” (12 Mar; also noting “Jack Brymer navigated the Adagio’s endless [clarinet] cantilena … with unparalleled subtlety”).

I’ve left a lot out.  Auditioning for George Szell, who with no piano at hand (I wish I’d invented that pun) said “Play on that tabletop”; after a while, Szell directing “Slower; faster; more tender,” Previn said “I’m sorry, Maestro, my tabletop at home has a much different action,” and Szell threw him out.  Comic appearances as “Andrew Preview” on The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show (BBC television 1971-1972; in 2005 “Taxi drivers still call me ‘Mr. Preview’”).  Career as a composer.  Five marriages, one of which lasting seventeen years produced a Hollywood memoir No Minor Chords (1991) edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1929-1994), the fifth though also ending in divorce producing such an ongoing collaboration that Previn joked “the divorce that didn’t work.”

I wish we had more diversity, but we have more than we used to.  Obviousness is relative, and so of course is fame.  You may never have heard of Previn, Gigi, Fitzgerald, chamber music, Gramophone.  It’s still unusual that Previn was active, and achieved, in different media, or idioms, or subcultures, for which he’s now praised – although I’m not here to say he’d have been less praiseworthy if he’d done wonders in only one – and for which he was sometimes then, and is sometimes now, thought questionable.  I try not to make unreasonable assumptions.  Let’s not, any of us.

On February 28th, the day of Previn’s death, The Guardian quoted Andrew Marriner of the LSO (Bymer’s successor as principal clarinet, son of Sir Neville Marriner), “it was the extraordinary sound [Previn] conjured from an orchestra, unmistakably his own, that dazzled….  he drew the players into a deeply moving collaboration.  His touch on the piano in Mozart piano concertos and in chamber music was divine.”  May his memory be for a blessing.

The sweet season that bud and bloom forth brings,
With green hath clad the hill and eke the vale;
The nightingale with feathers new she sings,
The turtledove to mate hath told her tale.
Summer is soon, for every spray now springs,
The hart hath hung his old head on the pale,
The buck in brake his winter coat he flings,
The fishes fleet with new repaired scale,
The adder all her slough away she slings,
The swift swallow pursueth the flies smale,
The busy bee her honey now she mings —
Winter is worn, that was the flowers’ bale:
And thus I see, among these pleasant things
Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs.
               Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547)

Women Hold Up Half the Sky

By John Hertz:  (reprinted from No Direction Home 2)  It’s Women’s History Month in the United States.  Here are some people and events worth thinking about.

Ruth and Esther are the only two women with books named for them in the Bible (i.e. the protocanonical Bible; Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians also include Judith).

Atusa, wife of Darius the Great (522-486 B.C.E.), is credited with inventing the Persian script.

Aspasia of Miletus (470-410 B.C.E.), the partner of Pericles, made her home an intellectual center, and extraordinarily established a girls’ school.

Mary (i.e. the mother of Jesus) is the only woman named in the Koran.

Hypatia of Alexandria (350-415) was the first known woman mathematician.

The first Muslim after the Prophet was a woman, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (555-619).  The person to whom the first compiled copy of the Koran was given to keep and preserve was a woman, Hafsah bint Umar (605-665).

Murasaki Shikibu (973-1014) wrote the first novel in the world, The Tale of Genji (1012).  Kawabata Yasunari (1888-1972) in his Nobel Prize lecture (Literature, 1968) called it “the highest pinnacle of Japanese literature….  down to our day there has not been a piece of fiction to compare with it….  wide and deep … nourishment for poetry … fine arts … handicrafts … landscape gardening.”  Nine centuries after it was written, the great Arthur Waley (1889-1966) put it into English (1933), earning from Jorge Borges (1899-1986; “The Total Library”, 1939) “Genji, as translated by … Waley, is written with an almost miraculous naturalness….  I dare to recommend this book to those who read me.”  For a guide I recommend The World of the Shining Prince (I. Morris, 1964; the Shining Prince is Genji).

Li Ch’ing-chao (1084-1185) has been called the greatest Chinese woman poet.

We were the guests of those on swaying lotus seats.
They spoke in splendid language
Full of subtle meanings;
They argued with sharp words over paradoxes.
We drank tea brewed on living fire.

Although this might not help the Emperor to govern,
It is endless happiness.

Two of the greatest rulers in history were women, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) of England and Queen Victoria (1819-1901) of the United Kingdom.  Sir John Neale’s Queen Elizabeth (1934; after 6 Feb 52, Queen Elizabeth I) remains unsurpassed.  These two women, not only strong and powerful, but wise, have naturally been splashed by some, but as Elizabeth said (speech to joint delegation of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, 1566), “How have I governed since my reign?  I will be tried by envy itself.  I need not to use many words, for my deeds do try me.”

Jane Austen (1775-1817) has a claim to Greatest Author in History, her six novels against Lady Murasaki and Shakespeare (1564-1616).

“Pride,” observed Mary [Bennet], who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, “is a very common failing, I believe.  By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed; that human nature is particularly prone to it, and that there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary.  Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously.  A person may be proud with-out being vain.  Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us [Pride and Prejudice ch. 5 (1813)].”

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).  As senior class vice-president at a high school over 95% black, I thought an Uncle Tom was a toad — then I read the book.

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) was the first woman physician in the U.S. (M.D. 1849).

Harriet Tubman (1822-1913), born into slavery, escaped and then on the Underground Railroad in thirteen missions rescued seventy people: William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) called her “Moses”; she never lost a passenger: later, with the Union Army, she was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the Civil War, guiding the Combahee Ferry raid (1863) which freed seven hundred.  Afterward she was active for women’s suffrage.  She was the first black woman on a U.S. Postage stamp.

Edith Wharton (1862-1967) was the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize (Fiction; for The Age of Innocence, 1920).

Marie Curie (1867-1934) was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (Physics, 1903), and is the only woman so far to win more than one (Chemistry, 1911).

Frances Perkins (1882-1965) was the first woman U.S. Cabinet member (Secretary of Labor 1933-1945, i.e. throughout F.D. Roosevelt’s presidency; The Roosevelt I Knew, 1946).

St. Teresa of Calcutta (“Mother Teresa”; 1910-1997; “Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier”) was the first India woman to win a Nobel Prize (Peace, 1979). In 1931 Jane Addams (1860-1935) won the same Prize.  My grandfather worked with her at Hull House.

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) became a U.S. film star with Algiers (J. Cromwell dir. 1938); she made two dozen films; typecast as a glamorous seductress, she employed that fame to sell war bonds; Howard Hughes (1905-1976) discovered her aptitude in science and used her suggestions of streamlining in aircraft design; in 1942 she and George Antheil (1900-1959) developed spread-spectrum technology, eventually used on Navy ships (1962), then in Wi-Fi® (wireless local area networking), GPS (the Global Positioning System), and Bluetooth (short-link radio), winning the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award (1997) and placement in the National Inventors Hall of Fame (posth. 2014).

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova (1937-  ) was the first woman in Space.


B.C.E. = “before the Common Era”, used by many who do not care for dates according to divinity in Jesus.

Peut-être qu’ils restent les mêmes et peut-être qu’ils ne le font pas

By John Hertz:  Maybe they stay the same and maybe they don’t.

Filling up the corners, as hobbits say, of Hugo and Retro-Hugo nominating ballots, you might have looked at Le Zombie 48 (Brother Tucker’s fanzine, 1943) and noticed Page 4.

If not, I invite you.  See here.

They’re answers to a set of questions he mailed.

Compare with fandom today.  Never mind, for the moment, whether this was a representative sample.  And there was, of course, a war on.

The answers he tabulated and printed were age and occupation.

Sixty-seven including him (27; movie projectionist).  Age range, 14 – 48; mean, 28; mode, 21.

Okay, look at the occupations.  Never mind the Army (four), the Navy (three), and “offense worker” (one; obviously Tucker couldn’t resist letting it stand).  Never mind that eleven of sixteen age 18 or younger were student.  In 1943 there was no one to say software engineer; look at the rest.

Tucker’s comment at the end was “What a motley crew!”  Then he explained he wanted to know because he was building a space-ship.

I’ll not copy the list.  See for yourself.

Till they ring inside my head forever

By John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1309)  On June 28th, Christine Valada told us.

Susan Ellison has asked me to announce the passing of writer Harlan Ellison, in his sleep, earlier today.  “For a brief time I was here, and for a brief time, I mattered.” — H.E., 1934-2018.

Susan is his widow.  Valada, the widow of Len Wein, is Susan’s and was Harlan’s friend.  His birthday was May 27th.  He was 84.

Among much else he wrote science fiction and fantasy.  His first story “The Gloconda” was published in 1949; his first in a prozine, “Life Hutch”, in the April 56 If, illustrated by Emsh.  The L.A. Times’ 2,100-word obituary, 29 Jun at p. B4, did not mention his eight Hugos and four Nebulas – “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (1965) and “Jeffty Is Five” (1977) won both; most recently, a Nebula for “How Interesting: A Tiny Man” (2010) – but did observe he was the third-most anthologized s-f author, after Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.

He reviewed Joel Nydahl’s fanzine Vega in Spaceship 22 (1953; his own zine at the time was Science Fantasy Bulletin).  With six Hugos and two Nebulas behind him he had thoughtful engaged letters in Janus (1976-77).  “Nissassa!” by Nalrah Nosille began in Science Fiction Five-Yearly 2 (1956) before “Assassin!” (1957) by Ellison in the prozine SF Adventures, and continued through SF5Y 12 (2006) in which I appeared myself.

The Avram Davidson Treasury (R. Silverberg & G. Davis eds. 1998) has H.E.’s after­word to “Polly Charms, the Sleeping Woman” (1975) – noting H.E.’s “Paulie Charmed the Sleeping Woman” (1962), which Davidson while editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction published there – and H.E.’s Afterword to the whole.  The 1999 Van Vogt collection Futures Past has H.E.’s Introduction.

He had a superb relation with the Dillons; they did three dozen covers and interiors for his work, to which I paid tribute in my exhibit “The Art of Diane & Leo Dillon” at Chicon VII, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention.

If we had to choose a leading s-f author whose work was most unlike Ellison’s, that might be Asimov.  The memoir I. Asimov (1994) says “Harlan … is a writer in the fullest sense of the word….  one of the best writers in the world….  if you … work your way past his porcupine spines … you will find underneath a … guy who would give you the blood out of his veins if he thought that would help” (p. 244).

The twenty-third annual Odyssey workshop [was] going on [while this note was originally written], 4 Jun – 13 Jul [the week after his death], Saint Anselm College, Manchester, New Hampshire.  In its third year, H.E. was Writer in Residence for a week; twenty students, four hours each weekday morning; eight hours’ homework each weekday, twenty-four each weekend.  These remarks by and about him were published.

Harlan holds back nothing.  He shared moments from his own life that moved some of us to tears.  He gives in full measure, whatever he does. The night he arrived … he told us, “I’m here to give you what I can…. I can be as wrong as any of you.  Do not think in any way that I am a deity.  But I’ve been doing this for forty years and there’s … some stuff that I can … do well, and I will give you as much of that as you want.  There is nothing you can ask of me that I will not give you in this week.  So ask me.”

Harlan does not lecture about art.  He critiques stories.  Nothing is too small or too large.

“Write by hand on actual paper with an actual pen, ball-point, or the bloody end of your … index finger, if that’s what you need.  Because only in that way will you come back into con­tact with your words.

“Without character, you are thrown back on … anecdote….  That is the dopey way of writing.  There is no subtext, no confluence, no something back here that pays off up there.  Character is the engine that drives the story.

“If you want to be a good writer, all you have to read are the Sherlock Holmes stories.  They are based upon observing.

“There is no nobler chore in the craft of writing than holding up the mirror of reality and turn­ing it slightly, so we have a new and different perception of the commonplace, the everyday, the ‘normal’, the obvious.  People are reflected in the glass.  The fantasy situation into which you thrust them is the mirror itself.  And what we are shown should illuminate and alter our perception of the world around us.

“You never reach glory or self-fulfillment unless you’re willing to risk everything, dare any­thing, put yourself dead on the line every time … once one becomes strong or rich or potent or powerful it is the responsibility of the strong to help the weak become strong.”

He devoted every waking moment to the class and the students (and there were very few sleeping moments for him or any of us that week).

Some of us felt it incongruous that he died in his sleep.  But he was a dreamer.  Nor shall I decline to say May his memory be for a blessing.


A. McGarrigle, “Going Back to Harlan” (1995)