Plastic and Fantastic

By John Hertz:  There is a down town Los Angeles – somewhat.  I hasten to add I’ve lived in Chicago and Manhattan.

At 7th. & Figueroa Sts. between two office buildings is one of those shopping malls (715 S. Figueroa St., L.A. 90017).  After various names it’s currently called FIGat7th.  There’s underground parking, bus and light-rail lines, and like that.

If you’re within reach in the next couple of days you can see four giant humanoids by Amanda Parer of Australia hanging out.  They have no faces or clothes or detail.  They’re illuminated at night.

She calls them Fantastic Planetwhich she says is an homage to the 1973 René Laloux – Roland Topor stop-motion film. But these are quiet gentle visitors who only wonder what we are.  They don’t twinkle so much as glow.

Pacing off the length of a reclining one I made it about twelve standlees.  

A man and a woman under a canopy were taking questions and offering to write down E-mail addresses (or as the late great Harry Warner, Jr., so well termed it, eekmail).  So I conversed with them.  They didn’t know about Loscon XLVI or fanzines or this here Weblog (oops, sorry, Brother Farey).  So I invited them.  It seemed the fannish thing to do.

Two Warnings and a Guide-Star

By John Hertz:  I’m a fan of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), poet, playwright, essayist, conversationalist, biographer, critic, editor, lexicographer.

With that wide range he was what was long called a man of letters.

Now and then come his politics, or his religion, which I don’t much agree with, but I don’t read books to be agreed with.

He writes wonderfully (literary present tense), and his perception is penetrating.

Lives of the English Poets (1781) is his last project; some say his greatest, which luckily I don’t have to decide.

Samuel Johnson, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)

While looking up something else I re-read his Life of Milton (1608-1674).  Three things struck me particularly.

Two Warnings

“It has been observed that those who most loudly clamor [SJ wrote clamour] for liberty do not most liberally grant it.”

This is a pit along today’s road too.  Let us take care not to fall into it.

“Those who have no power to judge of past times but by their own, should always doubt their conclusions.”


A Star

Here he is discussing “Paradise Lost” (1674; incidentally, he didn’t much agree with Milton’s politics or religion).  What he credits Milton with achieving is a star we may well follow – and at our best we do.

The appearances of nature, and the occurrences of life, did not satiate his appetite…. [His] delight was to sport on the wide regions of possibility; reality was a scene too narrow for his mind. He [went] out upon discovery, into worlds where only imagination can travel … to form new modes of existence, and furnish sentiment and action…. But he could not always be in other worlds; he must sometimes revisit earth, and tell of things visible and known. When he cannot raise wonder by the sublimity of his mind, he gives delight by its fertility.

Wishing you the same.

Paul Turner

By John Hertz:  Paul Turner has died (1936-2019).  

He left our stage near the end of last month.  His son called me.  I reported to the October 24th meeting of Paul’s club and mine, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society.  I still have few data.

Paul had been living alone in the Kern County desert, near Johannesburg (pop. 172).  I had visited him there.  He and his son and I drove to the 76th World Science Fiction Convention (San Jose, 2018).  The widow of a friend found his remains.

Paul was given the Evans-Freehafer Award for service to the LASFS in 1964.  He was Fan Guest of Honor at Loscon XX in 1993 (our local convention; Loscon XLVI will be 29 Nov – 1 Dec 2019).

He invented the LASFS Building Fund.  Jerry Pournelle told him “You’re out of your mind.”  Paul said “Sure I am.”  He nurtured the Fund for quite a while until, leaf by niggle, it had grown to what would in today’s money be a low five-figure sum.  This not quite infinitely improbable result sparked Bruce Pelz, whom Paul had earlier defeated for head of the Club, at the time called Director, later President.  In the following while, we all, including Bruce, discovered Bruce’s ability to get money out of stones.  Or maybe we were turnips.  The LASFS got a clubhouse, outgrew it and got another, outgrew it and got a third, outgrew it and is now hunting a fourth.

Paul couldn’t attend the LASFS’ 75th anniversary celebration (founded 1934!) but gave me some remarks to read for him, which I did, and you can see here.

You can also see some of him occasioned later by the LASFS’ 4,000th meeting.  Look here.

He was a good friend to, among many others, Bill Rotsler.  Here’s a photo I’ve long liked that Len Moffatt took of Bill and Paul at Westercon XIX.  

Bill Rotsler and Paul Turner at Westercon XIX in 1966. Photo by Len Moffatt.

Bill may be displaying better judgment by carrying his blaster in a holster than Paul is by drinking Miller beer.  I hasten to add I for another while worked happily with a man named Miller who kept on a shelf in his office a neon sign saying “It’s Miller time”.  These things have a subjective element.

Paul was an electrical engineer and worked on the Space Shuttle.  I’m only a lawyer.  We didn’t talk of science too much – although lawyers are engineers, and to some extent scientists.  We did talk of shoes – and ships – and sealing wax – of cabbages – and kings; usually by phone after he’d moved to the desert; sometimes at length.  I don’t remember getting to why the sea is boiling hot.  I think it’s the influence of the Sun, myself.

A woman he knew said, when I called her after his death, that he could show an indomitable spirit.  She didn’t mean the time the three of us went to hear Yuja Wang play piano at Disney Concert Hall.  We all thought Yuja Wang was swell, and in fact indomitable.  It was more like the time Paul went climbing alone in the Sierras, and somehow got two counties’ rescue forces looking for him and giving up saying he couldn’t be found, after which he emerged, hungry and thirsty from lack of food and water, but safe.  He was a couple of years short of eighty then.

He shared, with a friend we had in common, a love of hot, I mean spicy, food.  Once when Paul and I met for breakfast at a Vietnamese restaurant, each ordering a bowl of pho, noodle soup (Vietnamese uses diacritical marks, which I leave out), Paul tasted his broth, threw in his slices of hot peppers and mine, put in some black sauce, added enough orange sauce that his bowl was glistening radioactive orange, and called over the waiter to ask “Don’t you have any hot food in this restaurant?”

One of his unexecuted ideas was Project 44.  He considered building a compass dial outdoors with each of its 44 points – I never did ask why not 32 or 128 – named for a man or woman who had contributed outstanding guidance to humanity.  Think about it.  Whom would you put in?  Whom leave out?  Why her and not her?  What a topic.

I thought of entitling this note “If you say so, King Solomon” (to whom is attributed the book Ecclesiastes, with “To every thing there is a season”), but I didn’t.

Requiescat in pace.

Paul Turner at Worldcon 76 in 2018. Photo by and (c) Andrew Porter.

That Shining Ray

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 30)

Two jets’ contrails pass
Contrariwise. Look, a hawk
Soars. Freedom, freedom.

Once upon a time in these United States there was a National Broadcasting Company which had a Red and a Blue radio network.

That isn’t really the beginning.  Earlier the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. had the notion of using its telephone lines for radio.

That isn’t the real beginning either.  And I wonder how many people dealing with AT&T today know what those letters stand for – or originally stood for.

Anyway, in 1927 the Red Network broadcast a Music Appreciation Hour while schools were in session.  Teachers were provided with textbooks.  It also aired on Saturdays.  Radio station WSM, an affiliate in Nashville, Tennessee, broadcast a Barn Dance just afterward.

Music appreciation then meant what was and still is called classical music.  At a barn dance you’d hear country music.  I hasten to add I’ve been a classical-music announcer and programmer, and have won a pair of blue jeans in a country-music dance contest.  Blue jeans.  None of those expressions is terminologically admirable.

Under “classical music” you might hear grand opera – also not admirable terminologically.

On December 10, 1927, WSM announcer George D. Hay (1895-1968) said at the beginning of the Barn Dance “For the past hour we have been listening to music taken largely from grand opera.  We will now present the Grand Ole Opry.”

In fact he had come to WSM from WLS in Chicago, Illinois, and was born in Attica, Indiana.

But his dialectal pronunciation was a success.  Ninety years later The Grand Ole Opry is the longest-running radio broadcast in U.S. history.

On October 8, 2018, the Opry put on “An Opry Salute to Ray Charles [1930-2004]”.  This 90-minute program was recorded for later public-television broadcast: 15 Aug 19 on Nashville’s station WNPT, then into national syndication beginning 5 Sep.  I believe the electronic may now see it here.

He was blind by 1937, learning to write music in Braille, and playing Chopin (1810-1849; one of the greatest classical-music pianists) and Art Tatum (1909-1956; one of the greatest jazz pianists).

In 1954 he arranged, produced, and was on piano in Guitar Slim’s million-selling single “The Things That I Used to Do”.  His own first national hit was “I Got a Woman” (1954; co-written with Renald Richard).  By 1957 he was famous enough for a debut album entitled only with his name.

In 1958 he formed the Raelettes choir of women to back him up.  Fusing – as some of us would say today – blues, gospel (or “spirituals” – two further expressions more evocative than terminologically admi­rable), and jazz, he was an architect of soul music (or rhythm & blues – both at least better than their predecessor race music).

Also in 1958 he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival (live-recording album Ray Charles at Newport) and released the album Soul Brothers with Milt Jackson (1923-1999) of the Modern Jazz Quartet.  He became known as the Genius (The Genius of Ray Charles, 1959; The Genius Sings the Blues and The Genius Hits the Road, 1960; The Genius After Hours and Genius + Soul = Jazz, 1961).

Living in Georgia until 1945, then Florida until 1948, he listened regularly to The Grand Ole Opry.  Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell wrote “Georgia On My Mind” in 1930.  The Genius recorded it in 1960.  It was made the anthem of the State of Georgia in 1979.  On the B-side, as records were then labeled, of RC’s single was “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” (J. Bland 1878; not to be con­fused with “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia”, E. Christy 1847).

His album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962) sold a million copies and was promptly followed the same year by a Volume 2.  “After all,” he said, “The Grand Ole Opry had been performing inside my head since I was a kid.”

He kept at it – Love Country Style (1970; you’ll expect me to note the ambiguity of omitting a comma, and I do); Friendship with Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash, Janie Fricke, Mickey Gilley, Merle Hag­gard, George Jones, Willie Nelson, the Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs, B.J. Thomas, Hank Williams Jr. (1984; note, the title song was Cole Porter’s, 1939).

So when the Salute’s host Darius Rucker said “Being asked to join the Opry six years ago was one of the greatest highlights of my career…. I am moved to see the Opry recognize Ray and the magni­tude of his contribution to country music,” he wasn’t – ahem – just whistling Dixie.

Sally Williams, the Opry’s Senior Vice President and General Manager, said “The Opry [is] thrilled to salute Ray Charles and his passion for [our] music and storytelling.”  Valerie Ervin, President of the Ray Charles Foundation, said he “had a deep love for country music.  I know he would have been extremely proud and grateful for all of the artists who joined us this evening to pay tribute.”

Travis Tritt reprised “I’m Moving On” (H. Snow, 1950) which he’d sung with RC in 2002 and RC recorded with the Raelettes in 1959.  LeAnn Rimes sang “Fever” (J. Davenport 1956) which RC recorded with Natalie Cole in 2004; Charlie Wilson sang “Unchain My Heart” (B. Sharp 1961), which was recorded first by RC in 1961; Rimes and Wilson sang “Crying Time” (B. Owens 1964) with which RC won two 1967 Grammy Awards.

Rucker sang “Don’t Change On Me” (J. Holiday & E. Reeves 1971) which was on Love Country Style.  Boyz II Men won a standing ovation with “Georgia On My Mind”.  Lukas Nelson sang “Seven Spanish Angels” (T. Seals & E. Setser 1984) which his father Willie recorded with RC in 1985.

To close the show everybody sang “America the Beautiful” (K. Bates & S. Ward 1910) which RC recorded in 1972 and by television I saw and heard him perform at the 2001 World Series before 50,000 people to a standing ovation.

And that ain’t the half of it.

Classics of SF at Loscon 46

By John Hertz:  We’ll take up two Classics of Science Fiction at Loscon XLVI, one discussion each.  Come to either or both.  You’ll be welcome to join in.

Our working definition is “A classic is a work that survives its own time.  After the currents which might have sustained it have changed, it remains, and is seen to be worthwhile for itself.”  If you have a better definition, bring it.

Each of our two is famous in a different way.  Each may be more interesting now than when first published.  Have you read them?  Have you re-read them?

Isaac Asimov, Second Foundation (1953)

Thousands of years in the future humanity has merged into a galactic empire.  One man, Hari Seldon, foresees its collapse.  He establishes a Foundation to preserve knowledge and advance technology so the dark age afterward will be shorter. He hints at a Second Foundation behind.

The almost-secret Seldon Plan succeeds for centuries.  Another man, a powerful mutant known only as the Mule, gains interstellar power and grows impatient.  To re-unite the worlds himself he searches for the Second Foundation.  He can read and control emotion. Who could hide from him?

The Mule has a human lifespan and no heir.  The Foundation itself then becomes distrustful.  The Second Foundation, if it exists, begins to seem dangerous, and anyway needless.  The Foundation’s superior science should be able to find and eliminate it.  A fourteen-year-old girl proves to be the heart of the story.

C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (1943)

We get few authors like this one, who took a triple first (highest honors in three subjects) at Oxford, taught there three decades, then accepted a chair at Cambridge and taught there another decade until his death.  He was a friend of Tolkien’s.

He opens the novel as the narrator.  The first thing he does is leave a railway station and start a three-mile walk: we’re in another world.  It’s 1940s England; so there are blackout curtains, and language (and thought) not quite like the 1940s in the United States.  Far stranger things lie ahead.

The protagonist, a man named Ransom, goes to Venus, given as a world possible at the time of writing, and described poetically.  Indeed this is a highly poetic book.  His journey is not only of sight and sound, but of mind.  He lands in a world-shaking argument.  His opponent is extraordinary.  Watch the author’s characterization.

The argument becomes a fight.  Its climax leads to another climax – which leads to another. There is a passage which has been called hymnlike.  Nor is that the end.

Is the moment near the end of the last chapter – only seven hundred words – comparable to Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker (1937)?

A Netherlander has posted a glossary of allusions and quotations here.

Devoutly to Be Wished

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 32)  In the present season – in 2019 the New Year on the Jewish religious calendar began at sundown on 29 Sep, followed by Ten Days of Repentance, and Atonement Day beginning at sundown on 8 Oct (it’s a lunar-solar calendar adjusted by a leap month, so the dates shift back and forth on the secular i.e. Gregorian calendar) – I sometimes see this poem, attributed to Judy Chicago (1939-  ) and said to be from 1979.

A Poem Praying for Us Then and Them Right Now

And then all of what has divided us will merge.
And then compassion will be wedded to power.
And then softness will come to a world that is often harsh and unkind.
And then both women and men will be gentle.
And then both men and women will be strong.
And then no other person will be subject to another’s will.
And then all will be rich and varied.
And then all will share equally in the earth’s abundance.
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old.
And then all will nourish the young.
And then all will cherish life’s creatures.
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the earth.
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.

It appears elsewhen too.  Maybe I should add elsefaith; I’ve seen it among Christians.

At the moment I have three scholarly questions to pursue.  The title does not always appear.  The word “often” does not always appear.  When it is omitted – so maybe these are just two questions – a further line appears after “And then all will be rich and free and varied”: “And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many.”  I’m not sure about the title; I think often, greed and need, matter.

Hambly Wins 2019 Forry Award

By John Hertz:  The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society on October 3 voted its annual Forry Award to Barbara Hambly, author of science fiction & fantasy and indeed a graphic artist of no small ability.

Her first published book was Time of the Dark (1982); forty more. Those Who Hunt the Night (1989) won a Locus Award.  She’s written originally for Star TrekStar WarsBeauty & the Beast, the DC Comics Metaverse.  She’s been translated into Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Russian.  She was President of SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) 1994-1996. 

Writing outside our field she’s done – among others – a dozen and a half historical-fiction novels about Benjamin January, starting with Free Man of Color (1997), i.e. him; Lady of Perdition is expected in February 2020.

She’s been a teacher, model, waitress, technical editor, all-night liquor-store clerk, and Shotokan karate instructor (she has a Black Belt).

When someone asked me about her fantasy writing, I said “If she sends a man of today into Swordland, and he has to pick up a sabre and use it, he’ll have been athletic enough already to defend himself, but afterward he’ll realize his hand is blistered.”

The Forrest J Ackerman or Forry Award has been given by the LASFS each year since 1966 for lifetime achievement in the SF field.  It is decided by a vote of members at a club meeting, usually in the fall, and currently presented at Loscon, the SF convention hosted annually by the LASFS since 1977.  The eponym of the award – you were waiting for me to use that word, weren’t you – was a pioneer of SF, fandom, and the LASFS in particular.

This year’s nominations and voting were conducted by Program Chief Charles Lee Jackson II, assisted by Christian McGuire.  The names of all previous winners were posted.  They can be seen listed by year here and alphabetically here (LASFS Website).

Each attending member was allowed three nominations; this resulted in twenty nominees.  In the first round of voting, members were allowed three votes; eliminating the lowest gave a list of ten; a second round, with members allowed two votes, gave a list of five; a third round, with one vote, gave a list of two; a fourth round gave the winner.

Most winners have been pro SF authors, illustrators, editors; some have been fans.  Some people are both.  A Forry Award anthology was published in 2016; see here; the LASFS motto De profundis ad astra (Latin; “From the depths to the stars”) is reflected in the title.

The LASFS is the oldest SF club in the world – founded 1934.  This was its 4,286th meeting.

LASFS President Marty Cantor announced he would present the Forry Award at Loscon.  This year’s Loscon will be Loscon XLVI, held 29 November – 1 December (United States Thanksgiving weekend) at the L.A. International Airport (LAX) Marriott Hotel; see here.  

That’s my SF club.  How’s yours?  Anything to report?

What a Difference a Day Makes

By John Hertz: (reprinted, mostly, from No Direction Home 31; written September 25th) Five centuries ago Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1475-1519) was the first European to see the Pacific Ocean (25 Sep 1513). Two centuries ago John Keats (1795-1821), not historically, but poetically, right:

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific – and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise –
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

“On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer” (1816)

It wasn’t Cortez (Don Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano 1485-1547). Charles Cowden Clarke (1787-1877), who showed Chapman’s 16th Century translation of Homer (The Iliad and The Odyssey, Greek poems of twenty-seven centuries ago) to Keats, stayed up all night with him reading it, “Keats shouting with delight as some passage of especial energy struck his imagination”, and found this sonnet on the breakfast table at 10 a.m., told Keats the eagle had been Balboa, but Keats wouldn’t change. You’ll have noticed the sonnet is in the Italian form sometimes named after Petrarch (1304-1374) i.e. rhyming abba abba cd cd cd, with a shift of thought after the eighth line; the new planet is Uranus, discovered 1781 by Herschel (1738-1822). The celebrated translation then was by Pope (1688-1744), a shining river if you put yourself in the Classical mind (“equals the original in its ceaseless pour of verbal music…. Pope worked miracles in highlighting the play of vowels through his lines”, Wills, “On Reading Pope’s Homer”, New York Times 1 Jun 97 sec. 7 p. 22), but Romanticism had come between Pope and Keats, to whom Pope was only a versifier.

For the quincentennial, Juan Carlos Navarro (mayor of Panama City 1999-2004) told Smithsonian Balboa was “the only one willing to immerse himself in the native culture…. In Panama, we recognize the profound significance of Balboa’s achievement and tend to forgive his grievous sins” as a conquistador (Lidz, “Tracking Balboa”, Sep 2013 p. 32).

Three and three-quarters centuries ago Stephen Daye (1594-1688) established the first printing press in North America at Cambridge, Massachusetts (25 Sep 1639). There was a United States 3¢ postage stamp for the tricentennial in 1939 (1st-Class Mail first ounce 1933-1958; 54¢ in 2019 money).

Three and a third centuries ago was born Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), whose Treatise on Harmony (1722) showed him a great theorist, and whose Hippolyte et Aricie (1733) was acknowledged the most significant opera since the death of Lully (1632-1687), but those who thought that good and those who thought it bad engaged in a pamphlet war for the rest of the decade; many more operas and other stage works. Rameau and Couperin (1668-1733) are the masters (literary present tense) of 18th Century French harpsichord music.

Two centuries ago François Arago (1786-1853), elaborating on the work of Oersted (1777-1851), announced finding that the passage of an electric current through a cylindrical spiral of copper wire caused it to attract iron filings as if it were a magnet and that the filings fell off when the current ceased (25 Sep 1820), one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. His is one of the 72 names on the Eiffel Tower (S.E. side, between Thénard [1777-1857] and Poisson [1781-1840]).

A century and a quarter ago was born William Faulkner (1897-1962; Nobel Prize in Literature 1949, which he hated). I’m glad I read The Reivers (1962, his last; Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) before Absalom, Absalom! (1936) or the rest.

Nine-tenths of a century ago was born Glenn Gould (1932-1982), of whom George Szell (1897-1970) muttered “That nut is a genius” and Jim Svejda said (“The Record Shelf” Guide to the Classical Repertoire p. 12, 2nd ed. 1990; “The Record Shelf” JS’ weekly program on Radio Station KUSC since 1983, syndicated nationally; I’ve later editions but I could find this one; S in Svejda like sh in shake, ej like ai in paid),

Willful, unpredictable, eccentric, reclusive, and maddeningly brilliant … easily the most provocative pianist of his generation and one of the great musical originals of modern times…. the 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations [J.S. Bach, 1741] introduced Gould to an unsuspecting world and began an entirely new chapter in the history of Bach interpretation…. driving tempos, a bracing rhythmic vitality, and an ability to clarify and untangle the dense contrapuntal lines…. re-recorded in 1981 … every bit as controversial…. sacrificing none of the razor clarity … more profound and reflective.

A third of a century ago (25 Sep 1981) Sandra Day O’Connor (1931- ) became the first woman judge on the U.S. Supreme Court, nominated by President Reagan (1911-2004; Pres. 1981-1989). He was a Republican (U.S. conservative party; the Democratic Party is progressive; the names are terminologically unsatisfying, and the parties exchanged places around the beginning of the 20th Century), as was she; service on the Court (to 2006) moved her toward the center, as it has so many from either side.

A decade ago died Catalan pianist Alicia de Larrocha (1923-2009). Spanish music became her calling card; she recorded Albéniz’ formidably difficult Iberia (1909) four times. Here’s Svejda (KUSC Members’ Guide, Jul 2016 p. 3).

[Her] Mozart is a well-known (and extremely valuable) commodity, her Beethoven has hardly been a glut on the market…. splendidly straightforward version of the C major concerto [1795] … came with an even finer version of the composer’s “Pastoral” Sonata [1801]…. her reading of the darkest of the Beethoven concertos is poised and meticulously executed, with little left to chance…. far from seeming calculated, the playing has a hushed intensity and brooding power, heard to particular advantage in the turbulent central plateau of the opening movement and in the grinding struggle of the finale…. through it all, there’s an elegance that keeps reminding us that this is a composer with one foot firmly planted in Mozart’s century, with the heaven-storming … still several years away. [Her] poise, wit, and probing insight recall the work of the great Mozart pianist of the last century, Clara Haskil [1895-1960]…. live De Larrocha recordings are far from commonplace, this one [CD: RCA 09076-6176-2] mustn’t be missed.

Hoping you are the same.

Felix? Felicissimus!

By John Hertz: (reprinted, mostly, from No Direction Home 29)  Also reaching a centenary this year is Felix the Cat, who arrived with The Adventures of Felix or, if as sometimes considered he continued Master Tom introduced earlier, Feline Follies (each 1919). He came from the studio of Pat Sullivan, created by Sullivan (1885-1933), Sullivan’s lead animator Otto Messmer (1892-1983), or both, the first animated-cartoon character to win international fame. In 1921 Winslow B. Felix (1890-1936), a friend of Sullivan’s, opened a Chevrolet automobile dealership in Los Angeles irresistibly called Felix Chevrolet; in 1958 new owner Nick Shammas (1915-2003) put up a giant Felix the Cat sign, still proudly maintained by the current owner, 3330 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles 90007. Everyone knew Felix’ pacing deep in thought during the cartoons (at left, from Oceantics, 1930). There was also a comic strip for newspapers (1923-1966). The fantasy element was broader, or something, than anthropomorphism; at a moment when a man might tip his hat, Felix might raise an arc with his ears from the top of his head; wanting to see at a distance, he might take off his tail and look through it as a telescope. Later, at the hands of Joe Oriolo (1913-1985) for television, Felix had a satchel Bag of Tricks; this may have been a weakening, or even a blandification, but it produced an object which an opponent could try to get. Joe’s son Don (1946- ), a painter, musician, and maker of guitars, inherited Felix, became known as the Felix the Cat Guy, and licensed him in the United States and abroad, particularly in Japan; dozens of Felix paintings by Don have appeared, some with guitars, at least one noting the resemblance of Felix and the Kit-Cat® Klock (invented 1932 by Earl Arnault 1904-1971, adopting a distinctive bow tie in 1954, or pearls for the Lady Kit-Cat in 2001). In 2014 rights to Felix were acquired by DreamWorks Animation, now part of NBCUniversal owned in turn by Comcast.

In 1925, Felix at his height, Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) led a Vanity Fair article with him.

In the course of one of his adventures, my favorite dramatic hero, Felix the Cat, begins to sing…. little black notes hang in the air above him…. He reaches up, catches a few handfuls of them, and…. fit[s] them together into the most ingenious … scooter … the wheels … made out of the round heads of the notes, the framework of their tails. He helps his companion into her seat, climbs in himself, seizes by its barbs the semi-quaver which serves as the lever of propulsion and, working it vigorously backwards and forwards, shoots away…. What the cinema can do better than literature is to be fantastic…. A study of Felix the Cat would teach … many valuable lessons.

“Where Are the Movies Moving? The brilliant success of the cinema in portraying the fantastic and preposterous”; July, pp. 39, 78

Having spoken of a fictional black cat famous through graphics I must bring another, who started earlier, ended earlier, stayed mainly on the plain printed page (though there were 230 animations – half as many as Felix), was less widely known but perhaps greater: Krazy Kat, in the eponymous 1913-1944 comic strip by George Herriman (1880-1944). Fantasy element broader, or something, than anthropomorphism? The landscape is strange, and while the characters are stationary may change. Krazy has been called androgynous; sometimes she seems to be female, sometimes he seems to be male. The characterization, the layout, the language, the plot (if any) – is there anything that isn’t extraordinary? maybe the policeman, Officer Pupp? – no – maybe Ignatz Mouse’s bricks? yet if they are the anchor to reality, that is very strange. And William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) loved it. P. McDonnell et al. eds., Krazy Kat (1986) is a good overview. Bill Blackbeard while at Eclipse reprinted the 1916-1924 Sunday strips in nine volumes 1988-1992, then at Fantagraphics the 1925-1944 Sundays in ten more volumes 2002-2008.

Because Herriman illustrated the tales of Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis (“MAR-kwiss”; 1878-1937) we know Mehitabel, an alley cat with whom Archy the cockroach hung out, was also black. Starting in 1916 Marquis ran them in his column for the New York City newspaper The Evening Sun, then in the Tribune, then in Collier’s magazine, then The Saturday Evening Post. Archy, the protagonist, had been a free-verse poet in an earlier life; he took to writing stories and poems on a typewriter in the newspaper office after everyone had left, climbing onto the machine and hurling himself onto one key at a time; he couldn’t manage capital letters, which called for simultaneously pressing the Shift key (though once landing on the Shift Lock key he wrote CAPITALS AT LAST). Several collections have been published; Herriman is in them only, starting about 1932. Michael Sims edited The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel in 2006.

Filers know a long run of photographs from people under the topic “Cats Sleep on Science Fiction”. Last September I sent a photo I took at the 2018 World Science Fiction Convention of Steven Barnes asleep on some SF he was writing. He was, I explained, one of the coolest cats I knew. Note that Our Gracious Host uses the spelling “SFF”, presumably to make certain-sure, in these days of uncertainty, that both science fiction and fantasy are included.

The KitKat candy bar, wafers coated in chocolate, was originally made in England by Rowntree’s of York; now by Hershey in the United States, by Nestlé elsewhere. When I went to Yokohama for the 2007 Worldcon (“The Worldcon I Saw”, File 770 152 [PDF]; “The Residence of the Wind”, Argentus 8 [PDF]), Terry Karney said I should be sure to try a green-tea KitKat, because they were strange. He was right. I had been brought from the U.S. by the Hertz Across to Nippon Alliance (hana meaning flower or blossom is a Japanese word much used in poetry), Chris O’Shea from the United Kingdom by the Japanese Expeditionary Travel Scholarship (JETS).

As I was going my way west
Farther than ever one day,
I met a traveler going east.
The world is round, they say.


Title, Felix Mendelssohn and His Times p. 1 (H. Jacob, 1963; J.L.F. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy 1809-1847); felix in Latin means happy or fortunate, felicissimus is the superlative; fortunate lingers in English happy (which is mostly cheerful, contented, sunny), since hap is occur, and English still has happen, still allows e.g. “He had the happy knack of bringing people to like him”.

National Palindrome Week

By John Hertz: In the United States a date is often written as Our Gracious Host does.  For example, September 17, 2019 is often written 9/17/19.

If you allow adjustments to punctuation “9/17/19” backwards is “9/17/19” – the same as forwards: a palindrome.

English is an alphabetical language.  We can have palindromes like “Able was I ere I saw Elba” which Napoleon 1769-1821 could have said (it seems to have appeared in 1848), or “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!” for Theodore Roosevelt 1858-1919 (coined by Leigh Mercer 1893-1977).

Incidentally, 2019 is the centenary of TR’s death.

If English were an ideographic language, where a character is a word (we do that with Arabic numerals: “2” is “two”), we could read “You ain’t seen nothing yet” backwards as “So far nothing ever seen matches you.”

Opinions vary over whether a palindrome must have the same meaning read backward and forward, or may have different – perhaps comically different – meanings.

Chinese is an ideographic language.  Its grammar is flexible, or powerful, or something: for example, there are no nouns or verbs, which we sometimes manage with “He laid a knife on the table” and “I’ll knife you.”  It’s great for poetry.

Su Hui, a Chinese woman of seventeen hundred years ago (I give her name in Chinese style, “Su” the family name, “Hui” the personal name), made a poem of 112 characters, or some say 841.  One story says she embroidered them in a circle.

A thousand years later her poem was known as a grid of 29 x 29 characters that could be read forward, backward, horizontally, vertically, diagonally, or in sub-grids, three thousand ways – some say eight thousand.  This note includes translation by David Hinton (1954-  ).

And here’s a note on Hsiung Yin-tso and his Chinese Palindrome Poems of Four Seasons (1978).

Do geese see God?