Fanziners Too Convene

Illo created by Teddy Harvia and Brad Foster for Corflu Heatwave publications.

By John Hertz:  The only current annual fanziners’ convention I know of is Corflu.  Another called Ditto having run two decades, not always annually, fell asleep.  An attempt at another called Toner lasted, if memory serves, two years.

Corflu is mimeograph correction fluid, once indispensable.  The Mimeograph was a 19th Century invention for making inexpensive copies by forcing ink through stencils held on a rotating drum.  In the United States, “Mimeograph” was a registered trademark of A.B. Dick Co., but was allowed to become generic.

Bob Tucker with a mimeograph in the 1940s. Collection of Toni Weisskopf

Gestetner-brand machines appeared a few years later.  With Roneo-brand machines you could change drums to change the color of ink.  Rex Rotary was another brand.  I’m not sure how widely mimeograph or mimeo was used as a generic term outside the U.S.

Many thought this the Grade A technology for fanzine publication until cheap photocopying arrived.  Corflu was essential so as to cure misteaks.

Spirit duplication, which always sounded to me like something out of a fantasy story, was a 1920s tech.  Writing on a master sheet pressed the master against a second, inked sheet; the master, duly inked on its back side, and attached to a drum, was rolled over a wick holding an alcohol-based solvent that transferred ink onto paper.

The Ditto brand was best known; another was Heyer.  You could correct errors with skillful use of a razor blade, or an X-Acto knife, and rewriting (or even retyping).

Each of these had various advantages, disadvantages, and know-how.  Generally mimeo could reproduce more copies, spirit duplication was cheaper.

Toner is the powdery ink used in laser printers and many photocopiers.

As Paul Skelton recently quoted from Marshall McLuhan in Raucous Caucus 7, when technology becomes obsolete it reshapes into an art form.  Actually McLuhan also said obsolescence isn’t an ending, it’s a beginning.  Speaking for myself I’m big on Right tool for right task.

Corflu XXXVII was March 13-15, 2020, at College Station, Texas, U.S.A. (some cons get names; this one was “Corflu Heatwave”).  Corflu XXXVIII is scheduled for March 26-28, 2021, at Bristol, England, U.K. (“Corflu Concorde”).  Seldom able to attend in person, I’ve been a faithful Supporting Member, and happily recommend membership in either kind.

If you’re electronic you can start here; or you can always write to me, 236 S. Coronado St., No. 409, Los Angeles, CA 90057, U.S.A.

That’s the Spirit

By John Hertz:  The other day I passed a Catholic church that had a sign out “Masses and services temporarily postponed.  Church open for adoration and prayer.”

I thought, That’s the spirit.  Pun intended.

Here in California the Governor on account of the pandemic virus COVID-19 has ordered us to stay home, and operations with physical mingling to pause, unless essential.  Even to a disaster one can overreact.  One had better not underreact.  Some of each can be found.  I report what one church announced.

I’m not a Catholic.  I’m not even a Christian (I’m a Jew, Christians’ older brother – which reminds me how rich brown – no capital letters in his name – used to say he was everyone’s rich brother).  You may be a Muslim, or Baha’i, or pagan, or none of the above – pun intended.

If you’re a Catholic, here’s my applause.  For the rest of us, here’s another of my maxims.  Let us do as well in our way as they in their way.

Pixel Scroll 3/23/20 So Tomorrow We Are Heading Up That Scrolly Road, Rocks And All. Got Any Dragons You Need Pixeled?

(1) WORTH YOUR WHILE. Having seen what shoppers are lined up for, James Davis Nicoll tracked down five highly time-absorbent novels — “Five Massive SFF Books to Read While You’re Social-Distancing” at Tor.com.

Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle

Clocking in at a streamlined 1120 pages, Ash tells the tale of 15th century mercenary Ash, a woman whose Europe is both very much like and very much different from our own. A natural soldier, she is drawn into the effort to defend a disunited Europe from the Visigoth army that threatens the continent. Visigoth-ruled Carthage has numbers and a seemingly magical technology the Europeans cannot match. Key to the invader’s success: the Faris, a woman guided by mysterious Voices…a woman who could be Ash’s twin.

(2) INSTANT TSUNDOKU. Paul Weimer presents “Mind Meld: The 101 and the 201 of SFF” at Nerds of a Feather. The feature involves asking people a genre-related question and sharing their responses. Answering this time are Marissa Lingen, Megan O’Keefe, Alix Harrow, Adri Joy, Marina Berlin, Lisa McCurrach, Melissa Caruso, Andrew Hiller, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Keena Roberts, J Kathleen Cheney, Elizabeth Fitz, Camestros Felapton, Catherine Lundoff, Sophia McDougall, and Julie Czerneda. His question is:

Some readers are looking for entry points into fantasy and pointing them at a book rich in the conversation and assumed tropes can throw them right out of it again. Other readers want more than a basic experience but are frustrated with novels that retread the same basics over and over.

So I’d like for you to recommend me *two* books:

1. A 101 SFF book that someone who may have seen Lord of the Rings but never cracked open an SFF book might fruitfully read. 
2. A 201 SFF book for someone looking for a deeper, richer experience, rewarding their previous reading in genre. 

(3) NEW ZEALAND GOING TO TOP ALERT LEVEL. Of concern for those hoping the 2020 Worldcon might still be held this summer, New Zealand’s Prime Minister announced yesterday that the nation has gone to Level 3 status, and tomorrow they will be going to Level 4 status for at least 4 weeks.

A New Zealand Herald article explains: “Coronavirus: What Covid-19 alert levels 3 and 4 mean for you and your family”.

New Zealand has 102 confirmed cases of coronavirus and is now at alert level 3 – and will move to level four for likely at least four weeks from Wednesday.

Alert level 3 means the risk of the potentially deadly virus not being contained and there will either be community transmission of the virus or multiple clusters breaking out.

Level 4 means people are instructed to stay at home, schools and universities closed, as well as non-essential businesses, major reprioritisation of health services, and severely limited travel.

Essential services will be open at all alert levels, but level level 3 means limited travel in areas with clusters of Covid-19 cases, affected educational facilities closed, mass gatherings cancelled, public venues closed (such as libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, amusement parks), some non-essential businesses closed, and non face-to-face primary care consultations, with non-elective services and procedures in hospitals deferred.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has just told the nation “we are all now preparing as a nation to go into self-isolation in the same way we have seen other countries do. Staying at home is essential”.

That would give the health system a chance to cope, she said.

(4) LAFFERTY FANS DISAPPOINTED. Laffcon, a one-day event about the works of R.A. Lafferty that had been scheduled for June 8 in Lawenceville, New Jersey has been postponed until June 2021.

(5) HELP NEEDED. A GoFundMe to help the late Kate Hatcher’s family has been launched by Rick Kovalcik: “Help Ben (and Ireland) Hatcher”.

As you may know, Kate Hatcher passed away early in March after battling pneumonia (http://file770.com/kate-hatcher-1974-2020/). She left behind her partner, Ben Hatcher, and a daughter with health issues, Ireland. Various people have asked if there is anything we could do for Ben and Ireland. Well, John Hertz called me yesterday and said Ben and Ireland really could use some money, especially in the next month, while Ben tries to straighten out the finances and government payments to Ireland. Since John is not on the Internet, the suggestion was that I create a GoFundMe and send the money to Ben Hatcher. I am doing so. As I did for the Boskone ASL Fund, I will make up the GoFundMe fees (up to the asking amount) in addition to my personal contribution so that Ben and Ireland get the full amount that people are donating.  As suggested by John Hertz, I will send Ben a money order on about March 31st with what is raised to that point and then follow up with additional funds as appropriate (perhaps weekly). If anyone wants to check the veracity of this, please feel free to contact John Hertz; if you don’t have his phone number, I can give it to you.

(6) FAN FAVORITES. The nerd folk duo doubleclicks will livestream interviews with two sff authors this week. (Times shown are PDT.)

TUESDAY:
11am: Interview with Hugo Award-Winning author Becky Chambers, author of the Wayfarers Series, which we’ve read about 2 dozen times. The second book has an AI in it whose story makes me feel one million things. Becky’s latest book is To Be Taught, If Fortunate and is also completely lovely!!

THURSDAY:
11am: interview with Hugo Award-Winning author Martha Wells, author of the Murderbot Diaries, which we’ve also read about 2 dozen times. This series is about a “robot” who just wants to binge tv shows and protect people and the books are so funny and real and emotional.

(7) A CHAPTER IN GENRE HISTORY. Joel Cunningham, the person who started the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, tells the story of the site, which closed last December after five years. Thread starts here. He’s got a new job at Lifehacker. 

(8) NOSTALGIA AVAILABLE. [Item by Daniel Dern.] An Ontario guy set up a site with all sorts of old broadcasts and bits and pieces many locals grew up with. Did you know that in 1972, Dan Ackroyd voiced the call sign for a TV station? They also have Judith Merril’s post-show discussions of Doctor Who episodes from 1980, old commercials, stuff from the Buffalo TV stations … a lovely rabbit hole to slither down: Retrontario.com.

(9) PLAGUE INVADES THE LOCKED TOMB. Bad news for those awaiting the sequel to one of last year’s most talked about sff books. Tamsyn Muir told readers today —

(10) UNEVENLY DISTRIBUTED. “Not like the pictures”: “William Gibson Says Today’s Internet Is Nothing Like What He Envisioned”

William Gibson writes visionary stories — in his early work, he imagined an information superhighway long before the Web existed. But in a dozen novels over the last 35 years, Gibson has stalked closer and closer to the present.

His latest, Agency, has a complicated plot that jumps between the far future and the immediate present; Gibson says his favorite type of science fiction requires time and effort to understand. “My greatest pleasure in reading books by other people is to be dropped into a completely baffling scenario,” he says, “and to experience something very genuinely akin to culture shock when first visiting a new culture.”

Gibson imagined that sort of culture shock back in 1982 when he coined the word “cyberspace” in a short story. Two years later he popularized the term in his first novel, Neuromancer, about a washed up hacker hired for one last job.

…”He said once that he was wrong about cyberspace,” says author Lev Grossman, “and the internet when he first conceived it, he thought it was a place that we would all leave the world and go to. Whereas in fact, it came here.”

Grossman is a former book critic for Time magazine and author of the fantasy bestseller, The Magicians. “You have an artificial intelligence that is everywhere. It’s in all your devices. You’re looking through it as a lens to see the rest of the world. It’s an extraordinary vision of how computers will become aware, and become the thing that mediates between us and reality.”

But Gibson himself thinks the future of artificial intelligence will require human sensibility to take it to the next level. “Over the past few years, I’ve more and more frequently encountered people saying that the real change-bringer might not be something, an intelligence that we build from the ground up, but something like an uploaded healing consciousness that we then augment with the sort of artificial intelligence we already have.”

(11) WILD ABOUT HARRY. Marie Claire ran an article about nineandthreequartersco whose products we mentioned here the other day: “Harry Potter-inspired tea and coffee just launched in a whole range of magical flavours”. See more Harry Potter-themed beverages on the company’s Instagram page.

All the names take inspiration from J.K. Rowling’s fictional world; from ‘espresso patronum’, to ‘butter brew’, to ‘brew that must not be named’, there are flavours for every Potterhead.

The ‘espresso patronum’ coffee blend is, as you may have guessed, an espresso blend, promising to provide a smooth and chocolatey cup of coffee with a slightly fruity finish. The ‘butter brew’ coffee on the other hand, is a sweeter butterscotch flavour brew, taking inspiration from the beer the wizards drink at Hogsmede pub. More information about the other coffee flavours on their website.

(12) TODAY IN HISTORY.

  • March 23, 1962 — The third season episode of Twilight Zone entitled “Person or Persons Unknown” first aired. Written by Charles Beaumont Who wrote a number of other classic episodes in this series such as “The Howling Man” and “Number 12 Looks Just Like You”, he also was the scriptwriter for such films as  7 Faces of Dr. Lao and Queen of Outer Space. The premise of his script is simple: upon awaking from a bender, his protagonist find no one recognises him. Richard Long is David Andrew Gurney and the supporting cast are quite fine in their roles as well.  

(13) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born March 23, 1882 Charles Montague Shaw. His most remembered role came in 1936 as Professor Norton in the quite popular Undersea Kingdom serial. It was done in response to the Flash Gordon serial then being played. Ironically, he would appear several year later in the Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars serial as the Clay King. (Died 1968.)
  • Born March 23, 1904 H. Beam Piper. I am reasonably sure that the first thing I read and enjoyed by him was Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen followed by Little Fuzzy and related works which are damn fun reading. Has anyone here read Scalzi’s Fuzzy novel? (Died 1964.)
  • Born March 23, 1934 Neil Barron. Certainly best known for Anatomy of Wonder: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction which actually is still a damn fine read which is unusual for this sort of material. If memory thirty years on serves me right, his Fantasy Literature and Horror Literature guides were quite good too. (Died 2010.)
  • Born March 23, 1937 Carl Yoke, 83. One of those academics that I stumbled upon when I was looking for information on Zelazny. His 1979 study of him, Roger Zelazny, is quite excellent, as is his essay, “Roger Zelazny’s Bold New Mythologies” which is to be in Tom Staicar’s Critical Encounters II: Writers and Themes in Science Fiction. He also wrote “What a Piece of Work is a Man: Mechanical Gods in the Fiction of Roger Zelazny” which you’ll find in Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy, one of those serious academic volumes no one really reads for the most part. Yoke does have two genre stories to his credit, they’re called The Michael Holland Stories.
  • Born March 23, 1952 Kim Stanley Robinson, 68. If the Mars trilogy was the only work that he’d written, he’d rank among the best genre writers ever. But then he went and wrote the outstanding Three Californias Trilogy. I won’t say everything he writes I consider top-flight, the Science in the Capital series just didn’t appeal to me. His best one-off novels I think are without argument (ha!) The Years of Rice and Salt and New York 2140.  I should note he has won myriad Awards including the Hugo Award for Best Novel, BSFA Award for Best Novel, the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the World Fantasy Award. And the Heinlein Society gave him their Robert A. Heinlein Award for his entire body of work! 
  • Born March 23, 1958 John Whitbourn, 62. Writer of a number novels and short stories focusing on an alternative history set in a Catholic universe. It reminds me a bit of Keith Robert’s Pavane but much more detailed. A Dangerous Energy in which Elizabeth I never ascends the throne leads off his series. If that’s not to your taste, Frankenstein’s Legion’s is a sheer delight of Steampunk riffing off Mary Shelley‘s tale. He’s available at the usual digital suspects. 
  • Born March 23, 1959 Maureen Kincaid Speller, 61. British reviewer and essayist who has been nominated for Hugos for Best Semiprozine and Best Fan Writer. She’s had an extensive career with her writing showing up in MatrixSteam Engine TimeThe Gate and Vector (all of which she either edited or co-edited), Barbed Wire KissesFire & HemlockLocal FanomenaRed Shift, Interzone and The BSFA Review. Other than a brief collection by BSFA, And Another Thing … A Collection of Reviews and Criticism by Maureen Kincaid Speller, her work has not yet been collected. 
  • Born March 23, 1977 Joanna Page, 43. It’s not the longest of genre resumes but it’s an interesting one. First, she’s Ann Crook in From Hell from the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. Next up is appearing in yet another version of The Lost World. (I think there’s there a legal contract requiring one be made every so often.) And finally she’s Queen Elizabeth I in The Day of The Doctor

(14) COMICS SECTION.

  • Bizarro answers the question, “What’s Heaven to a chicken?”
  • Bug-eyed aliens from Neptune invade Calvin & Hobbes.
  • Cul de Sac chronicles The Attack of the Monster Worm!  

(15) COMICS PIPELINE SHUT OFF. Bleeding Cool reports “Diamond Comic Distributors No Longer Taking In New Comics”.

Bleeding Cool has been informed by multiple senior industry figures that Diamond Comic Distributors is requesting that no more product be shipped to any of its warehouse until further notice. Product already in its warehouses will be distributed, such that it can, but after that they will be distributing no more comics, magazine, books, toys, games, or any other product until further notice….

The company’s reasons for the decision are chronicled at Adventures in Poor Taste: “Diamond Comics Distributor explains choice to halt shipping and marks March 25 as last slated shipment”.

… Our publishing partners are also faced with numerous issues in their supply chain, working with creators, printers, and increasing uncertainty when it comes to the production and delivery of products for us to distribute. Our freight networks are feeling the strain and are already experiencing delays, while our distribution centers in New York, California, and Pennsylvania were all closed late last week. Our own home office in Maryland instituted a work from home policy, and experts say that we can expect further closures. Therefore, my only logical conclusion is to cease the distribution of new weekly product until there is greater clarity on the progress made toward stemming the spread of this disease….

(16) CORONA CARTOONIST. In the Washington Post, Michael Cavna profiles Chen Wang, who uses the name “Messycow” for her cartoons, who uses her background as someone born in Wuhan but who now lives in Seattle, whose comics deal with how she copes with the coronavirus. “Chinese American cartoonist finds satire in coronavirus crisis — with a perspective from both cultures”.

“People in the rest of the world might not have known much at the time, but it was all people cared about in China,” says the artist, who has family in Wuhan. “I followed the news closely and experienced a lot of emotions.”

To channel those emotions creatively, she took a humorous tone with the comic “Quarantine Makes Life Better,” which depicted a faux-news report of characters coping with stay-at-home life.

(17) PIXAR’S ONWARD ONLINE. Adweek reports “Disney’s Onward Available for Digital Purchase Tonight as Coronavirus Shutters Theaters”.

Disney’s latest Pixar film, Onward, opened in theaters just two weeks ago, but the company is already making it available for digital purchase tonight, making it the latest current release to quickly migrate to video-on-demand platforms as the novel coronavirus’ spread wipes out traditional movie theater attendance.

The film, which follows the adventures of two elf brothers voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, will be available to purchase on digital platforms for $19.99 beginning at 8 p.m. ET, Disney said this morning.

It will then be released on Disney’s streaming service Disney+ just two weeks from now, on April 3.

(18) BRITISH FAN HISTORY. The British Science Fiction Association has made its archive of its official journal Vector available on the Fanac.org website: “Early Vector now open access”.

The BSFA have partnered with FANAC.org to make sixty years’ worth of back issues available free online. This collection includes for the first time scans of all of the first seven issues (editors inclue E.C. Tubb, Terry Jeeves, Roberta Gray, and Michael Moorcock).

Most of what has been digitized is now available on Fanac: issues from the 1980s and 1990s should follow shortly.

(19) COMFORT READS. The New York Times features includes a couple of genre books (one of them by Harlan Ellison): “Celeste Ng, Ann Patchett, Min Jin Lee and Others on the Books That Bring Them Comfort”.

Celeste Ng – ‘The Princess Bride,’ by William Goldman

In 1987, my sister was halfway through reading me “The Princess Bride” when she went off to college. The day she left, I cried myself to sleep — and then, after I got my bearings again, I read the rest of the book on my own. So this has always been a comfort read for me: a fairy tale that acknowledges that life isn’t fair (“It’s just fairer than death, that’s all”) yet still manages to make you feel that the good guys might win, that justice will be served, that there’s a point to it all. If you only know the (fantastic) film, pick the book up, too — it’s just as much of a delight. —Celeste Ng’s most recent book is “Little Fires Everywhere.”

(20) DEPTH SHALL NOT RELEASE YOU. BBC has the bad news — “Climate change: Earth’s deepest ice canyon vulnerable to melting”.

East Antarctic’s Denman Canyon is the deepest land gorge on Earth, reaching 3,500m below sea-level.

It’s also filled top to bottom with ice, which US space agency (Nasa) scientists reveal in a new report has a significant vulnerability to melting.

Retreating and thinning sections of the glacier suggest it is being eroded by encroaching warm ocean water.

Denman is one to watch for the future. If its ice were hollowed out, it would raise the global sea surface by 1.5m.

…Most people recognise the shores around the Dead Sea in the Middle East to have the lowest visible land surface elevation on Earth, at some 430m below sea level. But the base of the gorge occupied by Denman Glacier on the edge of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) actually reaches eight times as deep.

This was only recently established, and it has made Denman a location of renewed scientific interest.

(21) NOT BLASTS FROM THE PAST.  Got to love this title: “Not Rocket Science: SF Stories Involving Alternatives to Space Rocketry”, a Tor.com post by James Davis Nicoll:

…A cousin to the sling is the accelerator, a (presumably firmly bolted down) device which uses some force other than centripetal to accelerate payloads. Such devices have some obvious limits (namely, power supply, heat management, and the trade-off between accelerations low enough not to crush the payload and final velocities high enough to be useful). They also have advantages, not least of which is not having to haul a gigawatt-plus power supply off-planet and across space. Accelerators of various kinds go way back in science fiction, at least as far as Jules Vernes’ From the Earth to the Moon, whose Baltimore Gun Club delivers a living payload past the Moon using a very, very large gun. No, larger than that.

Various flavours of accelerators show up all through SF. One of the more striking examples is Michael Swanwick’s Vacuum Flowers, whose “transit rings” manipulate space-time to accelerate payloads to high speeds without the payloads feeling the forces involved. I wonder if this was inspired by Robert Forward’s Guidelines to Antigravity

(22) LET THE SUNSHINE IN. Oh, sure, if you’re going to count everything“Electric car emissions myth ‘busted'”

Fears that electric cars could actually increase carbon emissions are a damaging myth, new research shows.

Media reports have questioned if electric cars are really “greener” once emissions from manufacture and electricity generation are counted.

The research concludes that in most places electric cars produce fewer emissions overall – even if generation still involves fossil fuels.

Other studies warn that driving overall must be reduced to hit climate targets.

The new research from the universities of Exeter, Nijmegen – in The Netherlands – and Cambridge shows that in 95% of the world, driving an electric car is better for the climate than a petrol car.

The only exceptions are places like Poland, where electricity generation is still mostly based on coal.

(23) SEA FOR YOURSELF. SYFY Wire applauds a scientific development: “Creepy Extinct Fish With Fingers Unearths The Bizarre Truth Of How Hands Evolved”.

Humans may not be directly related to fish (except maybe Abe Sapien or that creature from The Shape of Water), but the fossil of an extinct fish known as Elpisostege watsoni was a breakthrough for a research team from Flinders University in Australia and Universite de Quebec a Rimouski in Canada. This literal fish out of water had fingers, as in actual finger bones, in its pectoral fins. Its 380-million-year-old skeleton revealed how vertebrate fingers evolved from fins — and how prehistoric fish morphed into tetrapods.

(24) ANCIENT PILOT. William Shatner was Archie Goodwin in this adaptation of Nero Wolfe.

An unsold, 1959 pilot for a proposed NERO WOLFE TV series starring Kurt Kasznar as Nero Wolfe and William Shatner as Archie Goodwin. The theme was composed by Alex North. Rumor has it there are two additional unsold pilots with this cast out there somewhere.

(25) VULCAN LIVES. John Prine’s “Lonesome Friends of Science” is news to me!

“This song here is an epic.  This tells you about the humiliation of the planet Pluto, when it was told it was no longer a planet, the romantic escapades of the Vulcan in Birmingham, Alabama, and the end of the world as we know it.  All in a little over four minutes.” 

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Nancy Lebovitz, Cat Eldridge, Daniel Dern, Michael Toman, rcade, Joe Siclari, Mike Kennedy, Ben Bird Person, Darrah Chavey, Iphinome, Michael J. Walsh, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contirebiting editor of the day Brian Z.]

You’re Wise, Here’s Your Word

By John Hertz:  As you probably know, a word can be a whole utterance or one of its building blocks – a molecule or an atom.

In the famous story about Calvin Coolidge, that a Society matron accosted him with “Oh, Mr. President, I’ve just bet someone that you’d say more than two words tonight,” which he answered “You lose,” he could be counted as giving her two words (atoms) or one (molecule).

So I’m calling this one; but you can call it seven.  It has one in it, and you can even bring in Seven at one blow  jokes.

I’ve warned you I’m becoming a man of maxims.  My grandfather was a man of maxims (like “If it weren’t my fool, I’d laugh”).  Some day I may tell you the Fortune Cookie Story, with my Uncle Bob in it.  He’s gone now, but Bob really was my uncle.

Anyway, here’s a maxim from me.  Call it my thought for the day.

Ready?

Even to a disaster one can overreact.

We now return you to our regular program.

Kate Hatcher (1974-2020)

By John Hertz:

Bright-spirited – fool? wise?
Bees from flowers and from weeds
Bring honey.  Shall we?

Who walks in where fools fear to tread? 

I can’t say Kate Hatcher was an angel; she was a human woman.  Angels are something else.

That much was true of her.  She was something else.

Maybe she’s an angel now.

Ben Hatcher, who had devotedly husbanded her, telephoned me early on Friday – March 6th.  Kate would have wanted, he said, for me to hear it from him.  I said I’d try to keep worthy of that.

I had known her since 2014 when she worked on the first Utah Westercon.  Five years later she chaired the second – which was combined with the 13th NASFiC, another first.

Until 2014 the West Coast Science Fantasy Conference had never been in Utah.  It had found its way out of Los Angeles by 1951 (Westercon IV, San Francisco), out of California by 1959 (Westercon XII, Seattle); out of the United States, 1977 (Westercon XXX, Vancouver); as far east as allowed, 1996 (Westercon XLIX, El Paso); off-continent, 2000 (Westercon LIII, Honolulu).

But someone must bid to host it, and win votes.  Salt Lake City fans did that with Westercon LXVII.  In 2019 it was in Utah again (Westercon LXXII, Layton).

That was not extraordinary enough.  Since 1975 a North America Science Fiction Convention has been held when the Worldcon is overseas; in 2019, the Worldcon was in Dublin, so there was a NASFiC; Kate chaired the bid for the 2019 Westercon, also the bid to host the NASFiC conjointly, and chaired the two combined cons after both bids won in two separate votes; also, joined with them, a 1632 Minicon (fans of Eric Flynt’s 1632 series), and Manticon 2019 (fans of David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, with its Royal Manticoran Navy i.e. Space navy).

Some of our cons get names; this combination of four was called Spikecon, being 50 miles from where the Final Spike was driven to complete the Transcontinental Railroad 150 years earlier.  Railroad engineer’s caps were part of the con.  The Transcontinental Railroad is historic.  So are wrongs in its accomplishment.  Human history is part honey, part aloes.

Kate and Ben, reading and watching and gaming with SF, knew little of organized (if that word may be used) fandom when they came to LTUE half a dozen years ago.  They found out – or were recruited – or something.

LTUE – Life, the Universe, and Everything – began as the Marion K. “Doc” Smith Symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy at Brigham Young University.  Three decades later it’s still held at Provo, Utah, in February, describing itself as both “a three-day academic symposium on all aspects of science fiction and fantasy” and “a gathering place for fans of our creative and innovative world to hang out and share their love of all things amazing, obscure, and even not-quite-real”.

That’s not the 1890-1965 “Doc” Smith who wrote Skylark and Lensman stories, it’s the 1932-2002 BYU professor.  There’s a book People Named Smith.

Dave Doering, the Westercon LXVII chair, was glad Kate arrived among us.  Three months before his con he found he had no program; I’ll omit details; anyway Kate in those circumstances was willing to give it a try: did remarkably well: was then recruited by Westercon LXX (Tempe) and LXXI (Denver), and the 76th Worldcon (San Jose).

She developed the art, science, or mystery of getting sponsorships.  Here is another balancing act.

Our cons are non-profit.  The fees we charge for membership (we insist we offer memberships, the privilege of participating, not tickets, the entitlement to watch what someone else makes) may prove insufficient to cover costs.  Whatever commerce means, still unclear after centuries or millennia, we don’t want to be commercial; the road there isn’t our way.

With all this in mind can we – should we – get individual, or even (gasp) corporation sponsors?  Healthfully?  How?  For what?  Think about it.

We vote for Westercons two years in advance.  By voting time at Westercon LXX the bid Kate chaired for LXXII remained unopposed.  This amounts to a compliment, the community’s saying “We can’t do better; go ahead.”  Westercon history shows that an unopposed bid might still not win our votes.  I’ll omit details.  Anyway, Kate’s bid won; then she was made, and served as, chair of the con – another thing which ain’t necessarily so.

We vote for Worldcons two years in advance; NASFiCs, one year.  At the 2017 Worldcon we voted for Dublin in 2019 – so there would be a 2019 NASFiC.  Where?  Conducted by whom?  This was decided at the 2018 Worldcon – a year after voting for the 2019 Westercon – and by members of the 2018 Worldcon, not necessarily the same voters.

Someone – Kate has been credited, or blamed – had the bright idea of combining the 2019 NASFiC and Westercon.  She was made the chair of a bid.

If you took part in that discussion, you’ll remember it.  If not, imagine it.

By NASFiC voting time the Utah bid remained unopposed – and won.

As the Beatles sang – remember them, or imagine them – “Only the beginning.”

Also in this story is SMOFcon.  Our term SMOF, for “Secret Master of Fandom”, seems to have been coined in the early 1960s, maybe by Jack Chalker.  Later Bruce Pelz called it a joke-nonjoke-joke.  It came to be used, more or less good-humoredly, for people often involved with conducting our cons, clubs, and like that.  By 1984 we had a SMOFcon, hoping to hand on, or off, expertise.

SMOFcon XXXVI was 30 Nov – 2 Dec 2018 at Santa Rosa, California (SMOFcon XXXVIII is scheduled for 4-6 Dec 20 at Montréal, Québec).  Kate figured she’d better attend.  How?  Luckily she won a scholarship.

She went to study.  Naturally she was asked to teach about sponsors.  In principle that was jes’ fine, share and share alike.  In practice – well, I’ll continue to omit details and only say that as the adventure went on, to and through Spikecon, SMOF was not always praise in her private conversation.

Of course some people were very helpful.  It would be tragic to draw a false conclusion like expertise is bunk and condemn oneself not just to re-inventing the wheel but, as Dean Gahlon of Minneapolis says, re-inventing the square wheel.  Perhaps in a free-form world like fandom both gaining and giving know-how may call for extra thought.  And one has to look.

What struck me, over many hours by phone and in person with her during these few years, was a willingness to try things, to reach her own conclusions about what could or couldn’t be done, and perhaps as a product, an ability to find ways of making things work.

Other folks noted how she could get sought out and brought in.  If she herself was left holding the bag, she made it a Bag of Holding.

In my own metaphor, which I think I can now tell you, I called her Pennzoil.

I can’t wholly omit her physical health.  It was, to speak mildly, wretched.  She wasn’t entirely wheelchair-bound.

Besides Ben, her family included – as she sometimes described her daughter – an autistic giggle factory named Ireland.

Kate did not push burdens to the fore.  She had a bright spirit.  Luckily she had an independent mind.  With these gifts she achieved much.

Dave Doering said she always gave 110%.  Even from him that was an understatement.

Kowtowing never, asking from allone
(As Heinlein said), she learned
To look, think, for herself and others,
Easy or hard, whether advice helped or burned.

                                                      

My poem at the beginning is in unrhymed 5-7-5-syllable lines more or less like Japanese haiku; at the end, an acrostic (read down the first letters of each line) more or less like a quatrain in Chinese regulated verse: for the scansion, I try sentence-stress instead of the First Tone (Chinese has no sentence-stress), and disregard insubstantial words (omitted in literary Chinese); below, / marks the caesura, R the rhyme; “allone” alludes to Time for the Stars ch. 17 (1956), where our narrator is told, in System Speech, “Outdown go rightwards.  Ask from allone.”

– – / – x x
x x / x – – R
x x / – – x
– – / x x – R

Exeunt duo; manemus

By John Hertz:  (mostly reprinted from Vanamonde 1378-79)

Beyond the hills are
Mountains; beyond the mountains
Is the sky; beyond –

Shakespeare used Latin in stage directions.  It was the thing to do at the time.  Exit means one person leaves the stage; exeunt, plural.  Manet means one person remains; manent, plural.  But those are in the third person.  We are in this play.  Manemus means we remain.

Mike Resnick (1942-2020) and Steve Stiles (1943-2020) both left in January.  The month is named for the Roman god Janus.  He had two faces, to look back and forward.

When significant people die, we often hear “Their like will not be seen again”.  In truth we don’t know that.  How could we?

The more aching a death leaves us, the more its true significance – I propose – includes Grab that torch.

If we feel helpless at an important loss, we can take that as a kind of compliment to the actor who left the stage.

We can conclude Let us do as well in our way as he did (as it happens, Mike and Steve were men) in his way.  This can even be among the challenges of diversity.

Mike Resnick at Chicon 7 (2012). Photo by Joel Zakem

A few years ago someone found Mike was the leading award-winner for short fiction among all speculative-fiction authors living or dead.  His 5 Hugos (37-time finalist), 1 Nebula (11 nominations) – his novella “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge” (1994) won both – 3 Ignotus Awards and 1 Xatafi-Cyberdark (Spain), 2 Prix Ozine Awards and 1 Tour Eiffel (France), 1 Seiun and 1 Hayakawa’s SF Magazine Readers’ Award (Japan), 1 Futura Poll Award (Croatia), 1 Nowa Fantastyka Poll Award (Poland), show he had the gift of reaching people, internationally.

In 2007-2018 he was a judge for the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award.  He won the Skylark in 1995, the Writers of the Future and Illustrators of the Future Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.  He was Author Guest of Honor at the 70th World Science Fiction Convention.  He was executive editor of Jim Baen’s Universe, and founded Galaxy’s Edge, now in its seventh year.  He edited forty anthologies.  His papers are at the University of Southern Florida in Bulgarian, Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.

Among his various collections the titles Once A Fan…. (2002) and ….Always a Fan (2009) are telling.  Once has among various lists “My 25 Favorite Fanzines”.  In the costume competition we call the Masquerade, he and his wife Carol, who survives him, won major awards at four Worldcons; he judged Masquerades and was Master of Ceremonies.  Among his various anthologies are Alternate Worldcons (1994) and Again, Alternate Worldcons (1996).  At the 60th Worldcon he led a fanhistory tour.  Among things he called outstanding at the 50th Worldcon was the arrival of Harry Warner’s fanhistory A Wealth of Fable in a hardcover edition.  He wrote for ChallengerFile 770Lan’s LanternMimosa.

He believed that whether or not you can pay it back, you should pay it forward; he was known for giving a hand to authors younger in their careers, many now calling themselves Mike’s Author Children – besides his daughter Laura.  Three of his Hugo finalists were Putting It Together: Turning Sow’s Ear Drafts into Silk Purse Stories (2001), I Have This Nifty Idea … Now What Do I Do With It? (2002), and The Business of Science Fiction (2011).

I’ll mention two moments I was in and one I saw.  When The Dying Earth (J. Vance, 1950) was on the Retrospective Hugo ballot for Best Novel at the 59th Worldcon he said “If Kirinyaga [MR, 1998] is a novel, it’s a novel.”  Another time, of Second Foundation (I. Asimov, 1953) he said “Having nearly destroyed the Seldon Plan with a Mule, he shouldn’t have saved it with a planet of Mules.”  In one of his stints as Masquerade M.C. – he was otherwise unstinting – an entrant shot him with a tachyon gun: he froze, motionless: as Diana Morales sang in A Chorus Line (1975), What he did for love.

Steve Stiles in 1979. Photo by Jeff Schalles.

Steve, one of the best-loved fanartists in recent years, was already a Hugo finalist in 1967-68; then 2003-2008 and 2010-2018, winning at Midamericon II the 74th World Science Fiction Convention (17-21 Aug 16; Midamericon I was the 34th, 2-6 Sep 76; Kansas City, MO).  Meanwhile he won fourteen Fan Activity Achievement (FAAn) Awards, 2001, 2003-2006, 2010-2012, 2014-2018.  He was in fanzines from Cry of the Nameless to Xero, including Vanamonde.

Jophan says, pub your ish; Steve did, sometimes; there were nine years between Sam 14 and 15, thirty-one between Sam 15 and 16.  In Mimosa 18 he said the first two issues of Sam had appeared by 1956, when he was thirteen; in Sam 16 he said Sam 1 came in 1960; Sam 18, the latest I know of, is dated 2016.  This is Fanzineland, where zines come and go; Science Fiction Five-Yearly – which also had his fanart, sometimes on the cover – was published on time for sixty years.

Also in 1968 he was already well enough known and loved that he was voted the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund delegate, over Ed Cox and Ted Johnstone; his TAFF report Harrison Country, which began to appear in 1968, was completed in 2006, its various chapters collated and published in 2007, including TAFF Terror Tales 3 originally pubbed, as TAFF has sometimes done, to solicit votes in the next year’s contest, Stiles having become in turn the North America administrator: a pastiche of Krazy Kat (1913-1944), reprinted in Locus 56 and Chunga 12, where Randy Byers said (p. 6)

Steve managed not only to capture Herriman’s drawing style, but also the dialect of the characters, the wordplay, the ever-mutating abstract landscape, the self-awareness of the frame, and the strip structure that renders mini-stories within each strip but also builds a larger story between strips … fannish and also stefnal (or at least Dickian [i.e. Philip K.])….  fans were jiants in those days.

Science at its root
Tells us knowledge; are artists,
Even, scientists?
Voluptuously they look
Each to each at what and how.

Let’s look forward.  We have to anyhow.  In Mimosa 30 I called an article “Forward to the Basics” saying we couldn’t go back to the basics, because it wasn’t so clear we ever had them, and because anyhow we couldn’t go back.  We can look back, and we should; but we can only go forward.  In File 770 152 reporting the Yokohama (65th) Worldcon I said I was struck by the Japanese proverb On-ko chi shin, “Study the old to appreciate the new”.

If you feel you might be able to write, will you try it, please?  If you find you can, will you, please?  If you feel you might be able to draw, will you try it, please?  If you find you can, will you, please?  In any event will you look round for anyone whose work you think worthy – what do you care what other people think? – and encourage them, support them, help them, please?  Forward.

                                                      

Originally faan was an unhappy form of fan; the extra a, or more of them e.g. faaan, signified excess; enough of this lingered in 1975, when Moshe Feder and Arnie Katz started the FAAn Awards, that the name showed a self-depreciation thought suitable; the FAAn Awards were given 1975-1980, then 1994 to date; since their revival they have been associated with the annual fanziners’ convention Corflu (corflu = mimeograph correction fluid, once indispensable).  Jophan is the protagonist in The Enchanted Duplicator (Willis & Shaw, 1954; “Once upon a time in the village of Prosaic in the Country of Mundane there lived a youth called Jophan…. strange longings … from time to time perplexed his mind … which none of the pleasures offered by Mundane could satisfy”; duplicator in the sense of a machine for printing fanzines); earlier Bob Tucker used “Joe Fann” in Le Zombie for quips he wished some reader had sent in; “Come on, publish the next [or first!] issue of your fanzine” is an encouragement for all; among many instances, Art Widner used to wear a T-shirt with ”Jophan says, pub your ish”.  Stefnal, our old adjective, from Hugo Gernsback’s word scientifiction; Rick Sneary’s spelling is evoked by jiant.  My poem at the beginning is in unrhymed 5-7-5-syllable lines, like Japanese haiku; at the end, an acrostic (read down the first letters of each line) in unrhymed 5-7-5-7-7-syllable lines, like Japanese tanka.

Thanks, Hampus

by John Hertz:  I’m always glad to agree with Hampus Eckerman (although neither he nor I should be the fans you know if either of us expected that of the other).

This time I thank him for calling attention to The Wind on the Moon (E. Linklater, 1944).

After 

Cora Buhlert on September 5, 2019 at 5:54 am said:

I haven’t even looked for left field finalists such as The Glass Bead Game or The Little Prince yet

Hampus Eckerman on September 5, 2019 at 7:10 am said:

And here comes the left field finalist….
The Wind on the Moon by Eric Linklater
Oh god, how I love this book.  It is bestest, bestest ever.  It shall has to win.

I borrowed the 1951 reprint from the Los Angeles Public Library.

It’s strange and wonderful.

Discussing the Retrospective Hugos with a librarian, I said The Little Prince wasn’t really a children’s book.  He said “Of course not.”  The Wind on the Moon may be.

It has magic, and two girls who turning into kangaroos learn animals’ language.

It has a very bad man who loves peppermint creams.

In Chapter 8 are 

weary hours they had spent with Miss Serendip trying to learn French

and in Chapter 30, without comment,

voices outside, that now spoke French

Its treatment of lawyers is horrid, though alas not without – I’ll say it – justice, but nevertheless they accomplish (ch. 22) a historic feat. 

It has (ch. 30) 

a sudden clamour, of men shouting and iron gates flung open, and the sky above the trap-door quivered and grew bright in the sudden glare of searchlights. 

Their powdery radiance poured into the van. 

Does it deserve nomination, bearing in mind Ape and Essence and Time Must Have a Stop (both A. Huxley), and Sirius (O. Stapledon)?

That we each decide for ourselves. 

Meanwhile I’m reading Renaissance (R. Jones).

In 1963 it was re-named Man of Two Worlds, which by then was Adam Strange and indeed Julie Schwartz.  But that’s another story.

And to Think That I Saw It on Figueroa Street

By John Hertz:  Here’s something I found in Los Angeles the other day.

I think it’s stefnal (our old word, from Hugo Gernsback’s scientifiction; also “stfnal”; noun “stef”, “stf”; if you look at the signature of fanartist Dan Steffan you’ll see he writes it DAN STEF FAN).

You tell me.

Actually it was the other night.  At San Fernando Rd. and N. Figueroa St. I came across these heads.  I drove round to look at all nine.

Another time I saw them by day.  I’m not sure which was more impressive.

“Faces of Elysian” (2017) by Freyja Bardell and Brian Howe

They were made by local artists Freyja Bardell and Brian Howe.  The faces are also local.

Bardell and Howe made a life-size mammoth out of bent-steel pipe, too.

What have you been making?

And I’d Do It Again

By John Hertz:  – is the title of a 1936 memoir by Aimée Crocker (1864-1941), among much else eventually Princess Galitzine (sometimes spelled “Golitsyn”; geležìs is “glove” in Old Lithuanian, a prince wore an iron glove at the 1514 Battle of Orsha; “The prince [Mstislav Galitzine, 1899-1966] is my twelfth husband if I include in my matrimonial list seven Oriental husbands, not registered under the laws of the Occident”).  There’s a 2017 reprint.

Speaking of which, a friend found on the Internet this 2013 note of the 56th World Science Fiction Convention (Bucconeer, 1998).  You might like it.  I omit the author’s name, but if she sees this she can of course claim it.

FRIDAY: woke 10 a.m.

2:00 – The Regency Dance at the Hilton Ballroom.  Master of Ceremonies was John F. Hertz, who has researched and re-created various dances from the Regency period (early-mid 19th century? After Waterloo, anyway, I think, and definitely before Victoria) in England.  Program notes specifically mention Georgette Heyer novels for charm and accuracy to period.  The dance is a Worldcon tradition, though I don’t know how it got started [see “The English Regency and Me”, Mimosa 29; but I’ll say no more – JH].  About 150 people came.  Some were in street dress, some (mostly women) were in Regency dress or varying imitations thereof (some half-hearted, some quite beautiful), some women wore party dresses or ball gowns.  One guy came dressed as a Minuteman, and 2 men were in kilts.  Besides that, there were the convention costumes – a lot of SCA / Renaissance Fair costumes, numerous pirates, and a few aliens: a Klingon, a Minbari (Babylon 5), and some guy wearing devil horns.  I realized that I had forgotten to take my camera to the con – arrgh!

John Hertz wore silvery pants-to-the-knee and hose, a white shirt, silver-on-silver patterned vest and blue coattails.

John Hertz said that wearing a period costume helps you understand what people of that era lived through, especially women’s corsets.  But he also talked about the general move toward comfort in that era – from hoop skirts to Empire waists, for example.  He said that the style of the time was elegant but comfortable, straight but not stiff.

Hertz had numerous other opening remarks, trying to get us in the spirit, and also sprinkled comments throughout the afternoon.  For instance, if anything ever goes wrong in a dance, it’s always, by definition, the gentleman’s fault – if nothing else, he must not have been leading his lady correctly.  “I’ve done everything I can to wash the skill from these dances,” he said, about simplifications to be able to teach dances in an afternoon rather than weeks with a dancing-master.

“Take small steps.  Don’t try to get anywhere.  Remember, these dances are pastimes,” he said.  Compared Regency “leisure class” to 20th-century mode of always being in a rush to get somewhere, do something.  Also said that with smaller steps, mistakes don’t matter as much – you won’t bump into the person next to you in a line dance if you’re both stepping small.  While stepping, “don’t lurch, and don’t clutch.”

Another point Hertz made is that with these dances, footwork is far less important than the shape that the dancers are making together – a circle, two circles inside each other, a square or rectangle, two parallel lines, two parallel lines at the perpendicular to the previous lines, etc.  He seems to have been right; after he said that, I had a much easier time keeping my place in the dances.

Dances: We started with a quadrille called “Hole in the Wall.”  The quadrille is a set dance, which means it’s composed of sets of couples.  In this case, everyone line up in two long parallel lines, men on one side, women on the other (actually, there were enough people in the ballroom that we had 3 double-parallel-line groupings).  Each line was divided into sets of four people (quadrille – get it?).  Each set had an “A” couple and a “B” couple.  Each couple performed various maneuvers with each other and with the other couple in the set, and after the maneuvers were done, the A couple moved up the line, and each couple got a new A or B couple to dance with.  After reaching the head of the line, each A couple became a B couple and started moving down the line again.  My partner tended to forget what he was doing, so I quickly learned to give him cues as we went along.

Next was a group of waltzes.  I didn’t get a partner for this, so I sat on the sideline and watched the pageantry.  But I already know how to waltz, so it was OK.  During the waltzes, they did promenades, open and closed waltzing, and waltzing with a smaller circle of dancers inside a large circle of waltzers.

Next, we did a set dance called “Bath Carnival”.  My partner this time was a woman, also named [omitted]. This set dance is in long parallel lines, like “Hole in the Wall”, but this time there are 3 couples in each set, “A”, “B”, and “C.”  Here the B couple becomes a C, and the C couple becomes a B, after each set-repetition of maneuvers is over; however, the A couple, after each repetition of maneuvers, moves down the line toward the foot or end of the line, staying an A each time.  There was great confusion and repetition of instructions.  After John Hertz was done giving instructions, and before the music started, I sang, “When you’re an ‘A,’ you’re an ‘A’ all the way….” and a guy a couple of places down the set obligingly finished, “from your head to your toes, to your last dying day!”  That got a really good laugh from those who heard and understood my reference (a takeoff on “When you’re a Jet” from West Side Story) – about 10 people laughed, I’d say – so I was in a triumphant glow all through that dance.

There was one more dance starting after that, but it was 4:40 so I had to leave to make a phone call, sadly.

Wishing you the same.

A Thought for the Month

By John Hertz:  It’s Black History Month here in the United States.

There are plenty of reasons to have it in mind, even outside this country.  Some have to do with speculative fiction.

The sorrows of slavery, its temptations for both the enslaver and the enslaved – when my own co-religionists finally got out of Egypt, with a river that turned to blood! plagues of frogs! a sea that parted! we begged Moses “Take us back to Egypt! They fed us!” – can inspire us to think better when we meet beings who look radically different, whether we or they seem more powerful.

As it happens I just re-read the novels Too Many Cooks (Rex Stout, 1938) and To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee, 1960).  As it happens their stories are contemporaneous: Many is set in 1937 and Mockingbird in 1936.  They relate to Black History Month.  I think they’re relevant here.

I think cross-cultural contact is homework for speculative fiction.

I’ll go on talking to you who didn’t run away when I said “homework” – both of you.

I recommend these two masterly books.  If you know them, or if you take my recommendation, and go after them, and come back, compare them.

Neither of them is SF.  Each is very much concerned with aliens.

As it happens each is very much concerned with crime.

Some of the characters are alien because of race.  Some because of sex.  Some because of aesthetics.

Each book is a first-person narrative.  The narrator is somewhat alien to what’s going on.  Some of the characters are inclined to suppose the narrator naïve. To borrow a line from an SF book I happen to like, that turns out not to be the case.

Each book is very much concerned with lies.

In each book the narrator is only in a sense the main character.

In each book alienness gives rise to the story; complicates it; leads to a resolution.

One book’s author with various techniques invites us to think it light, even frivolous – although it turns on eating, sex, and death.  Also large amounts of money; fifty thousand dollars then would be nine hundred thousand now.  The other book’s author invites us to think it serious.

I don’t say these invitations are insincere.  I only say they’re literary.

There’s also the human comedy.

My grandfather used to say “If it weren’t my fool, I’d laugh.”

If you’ve come this far, do you think these books illuminate SF?  Does the comparison?