We Can Do This Thing

By John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1286; January 31, 2017)  Today is National Gorilla-Suit Day (Don Martin Bounces Back, 1963).

I’ve just come to the passage in Scott Kelly’s Endurance (2017) where his twin brother Mark announces sending a gorilla suit to Scott at the International Space Station.

“Of course you need a gorilla suit,” Mark says (p. 219, in the large-print edition, which is what I could get).

Its launching rocket explodes, but – this is ahead of where I am in the book – another is sent, upon arrival captured with a robot arm (p. 498) by Kjell (pronounced “chell”) Lindgren, who also while at the Station 22 Jul – 11 Dec 15 was a long-distance Guest of Honor of Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention, presenting the Hugo Award for Best Novel by video.

Indeed Scott Kelly gorillas up, as he puts it (p. 529), of which a video got onto the Internet 23 Feb 16.

The Greatest S-F Novel of 1943

By John Hertz:  We’re doing Retrospective Hugos this year.

I say “this year” because we don’t always do them.  The current Hugo Awards will be done as always, the 2019 Hugos for what appeared in 2018.

Dublin2019, the 77th World Science Fiction Convention, will administer both.  You can look it all up here.

There was no Worldcon in 1944.  These will be the 1944 Hugo Awards, for what appeared in 1943.

Great things happened in our field then.  This is our moment to applaud them.

Science fiction and fantasy are both eligible.  Theoretically they’re distinct; practically the distinction isn’t always so plain; some authors blur it, sometimes on purpose.  Heinlein may have started us saying speculative fiction.

It could be argued there’s a sense in which science fiction includes fantasy (science fiction is knowledge fiction), another in which fantasy includes science fiction.  But we digress.

If, as of 31 Dec 18, 11:59 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, you had an Attending or Supporting Membership in the 76th or 77th Worldcon (or both), you may nominate.

In any category you may propose up to five nominees.  Those with enough nominations will be finalists when we vote later.

You’re nominating for what will be voted the best.  What best is you decide for yourself.

For 1943 novels there’s already talk of Ravaged (Barjavel; English tr. Ashes, Ashes), Conjure Wife (Leiber), Perelandra (Lewis), The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (Lovecraft), Earth’s Last Citadel (Moore & Kuttner), Mary Poppins Opens the Door (Travers), The Book of Ptath (Van Vogt).

You’ll expect me to call your attention to The Glass Bead Game (Hesse; also tr. as Magister Ludi – Latin, “master of the game”, a title the protagonist receives).  And I do.

It was one of the Classics of S-F we discussed at Conagerie (Westercon LV; West Coast Science Fantasy Conference); also at Lonestarcon III (71st Worldcon), where I said

The first and for fifty years the only Nobel Prize s-f novel, the author’s last and crowning work, one of the rare s-f masterpieces from outside our field, a satire, a story, a character study, poetic even in translation, we hope not prophetic, searchingly profound.

An 800-word note by me appeared in YHOS (Your Humble and Obedient Servant) 59, reprinted in The Drink Tank 352, and here. It ends with a Jane Austen and Jack Benny joke no one’s ever asked me about, maybe because everyone’s gotten it or because no one’s read that far.  My address is public, 236 S. Coronado St., No. 409, Los Angeles, CA 90057, U.S.A.

The Glass Bead Game only to some extent reflects my own opinions of life, the universe, and everything.  But I don’t read books to be agreed with.  It’s a towering achievement in world literature.

Fire on the Mountain

By John Hertz:

It isn’t too late, fans, to know

”What Happened to August Clarot?”

Eisenberg – wrote about him –

Has died.  Let’s not flout him.

Instead, to the bookstores!  Let’s go!

At the moment I’m on a hand-me-down chain for The New York Times, which I don’t see regularly, in full, or soon..  So I just read the December 27, 2018, obituary (p. B12) for Larry Eisenberg, who died on the 25th a few days after his 99th birthday, a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, a director of the Rockefeller University electronics laboratory, a co-developer of a battery-operated cardiac pacemaker when earlier models were, well, wired.

His name meant iron mountain.  No, not “Lawrence”; that’s laurel, “used by the ancient Greeks to crown the victors in the Pythian games….  Later, a crown of laurel was used to indicate academic honors.”  No, that’s not from the Times, it’s Webster’s Second (I have the 3-vol. ed’n of 1949, among other dictionaries), accept no substitutes.

Dr. Eisenberg published fifty stories in our field, about Clarot in Dangerous Visions (1967), which the Times duly acknowledged “the noted anthology edited by Harlan Ellison”; and in Amazing, Asimov’s, Fantastic, Galaxy, If, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Venture, Vertex, Worlds of Tomorrow.

He contributed 13,000 comments to <nytimes.com>, “verse – mostly limericks – perfectly rhymed, (usually) metrically impeccable and always germane to whatever recent news item had caught his eye”, earning renown in the “lively, atomized, fiercely opinionated parallel universe of The New York Times’ online commenters.”

Parallel universe!  There we are again!

The Times, wanting to end with one of his limericks, unfortunately quoted him in a six-letter expression that would not have helped Ellison’s lit fuse.

I shan’t end there.  On paper his obituary was headed “Larry Eisenberg, 99; His Well of Limericks Never Ran Dry”.  That’s good.  But the electronic version has “Larry Eisenberg, 99, Dead; His Limericks Were Very Well Read”.  I bow.

Is Nothing Always Absolutely So?

By John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1334)  The s-f community knows Sturgeon’s Retort “90% of everything is [worthless]” (he’d been told “90% of s-f is [worthless]”).  William Tenn reported hearing it from Theodore Sturgeon in 1951.

I’ve mentioned the 80% – 20% proportion found so widely by Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923); Kipling had it yet earlier (“Four-fifths of everybody’s work must be bad.  But the remnant is worth the trouble for its own sake,” The Light That Failed ch. 7, 1890).  Sturgeon was fairly well-read; I don’t remember his ever mentioning Pareto, or Kipling on this point; I’m sorry I never mentioned it to him.

Sturgeon’s Real Law as formulated “Nothing is always absolutely so” (“The Claustrophile”, Galaxy Aug 56) invites two jests, if I may call them that.

First, it’s a kind of pseudomenon (like “Does ‘Rules get exceptions’ get exceptions?”) – is it always absolutely so?  But this is actually what Heinlein’s characters in “Gulf” (1949) call a grammatical error (“Paradoxes are verbal, do not exist in the real world”).  Russell and Tarski showed that even the ultimate pseudomenon “‘Yields a falsehood when appended to its own quotation’ yields a falsehood when appended to its own quotation” falls when subjected to better grammar: it should be “‘Yields a falsehood-0 when appended to its own quotation’ yields a falsehood-1 when appended to its own quotation” whereupon it is plainly seen to be false-2 (see e.g. W. Quine, The Ways of Paradox rev. 1976, pp. 7-8).

Second, it’s a wonderful Taoist pun.  To a Taoist “Nothing is always absolutely so” taking nothing in the sense of the Tao Têh Ching (“the formless form, the immaterial image” ch. 14, “here before Heaven and Earth … dwells apart and never varies” ch. 25, “not conferred but always so” ch. 51).  This is so Sturgeonesque I’m really sorry I never mentioned it to him.  Of course a Confucian would say “That’s right, you should take nothing in the sense of the Tao Têh Ching.”

                                            

Since a well-known fan, who is still my friend, once called me “an earnest man in a propeller beanie”, two notes.  When I misspelled the fannish missspelling “poctsarcd” (see H. Warner, Jr., A Wealth of Fable rev. 1992, pp. 163-64; or here) as poctsacrd, Jack Speer promptly replied “Nothing is sacrd.”  And this.

As Her Wimsey Takes Me

By John Hertz: I’m a big fan of Dorothy L. Sayers’ translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Even Gillian Polack agrees the annotations are superb.

Larry Niven says the Comedy is S-F, but what do I know?

Sayers (1893-1957) wrote a lot of other fine things, non-fiction and fiction.  She earned first-class honours at Oxford (1915), pioneering for a woman then.

This passage from Five Red Herrings (1931) strikes me as pertinent just now.  Her fictional detective Lord Peter Wimsey (younger son of a Duke, thus formally “Lord Peter”; “Wimsey” to his friends) is in Scotland talking with Hugh Farren (ch. 20; I use U.S.-style quotation marks).

“Wimsey, you’re rich; and there’s nothing to stop you from doing what you like. Why do you trouble to be respectable?”

“…. I get my fun out of it.”

“I know you do,” said Farren, looking at him in a puzzled way. “It’s odd. You create an illusion of liberty. Is it money? Or is it being unmarried? But there are plenty of unmarried men who –”

“Aren’t we wandering slightly from the subject?” said Wimsey.

Pixel Scroll 1/2/19 A Noble Pixel Embiggens The Smallest Scroll.

(1) A STRANGER FOURTH. A creepy New Year’s countdown heralds the third season of Stranger Things.

1985 will never be the same. Stranger Things returns for a third season July 4, 2019 on Netflix.

(2) WHO SPECIAL CHALKS UP FEWER UK VIEWERS. “Ratings Low for Time-Shifted ‘Doctor Who’ Festive Special” says The Hollywood Reporter.

But its overnight viewings in the U.K. were anything but stellar, with 5.15 million tuning in on the BBC, a 22.4 percent share, according to reports, half a million less than Idris Elba’s return as Luther the same evening. The figure — which is before consolidated views have been included — marks the lowest for any Doctor Who festive special since the series returned in its modern form in 2005, and also Whittaker’s second-worst episode this season. By contrast, David Tennant’s first special landed 9.4 million overnight views, Matt Smith’s 10.3 million and Peter Capaldi’s 6.3 million. However, these were all broadcast Christmas Day.

(3) AQUAMAN. He’s doing the backstroke to the bank: “Aquaman swims past Wonder Woman at global box office, could pass Batman v Superman next “.

James Wan’s Aquaman became one of the highest-grossing DCEU films this week when it surpassed $822 million at the global box office, reports Variety.

This figure placed the feature above Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, which lassoed a little over $821 million during its theatrical run in 2017. Domestically, Aquaman also broke the $200 million mark in North America, but it still needs $197 or so million to beat Wonder Woman‘s total American gross of $412 million.

(4) WU AND ARISIA. During Brianna Wu’s 2018 congressional race she focused on issues with wide appeal, and on attracting attention from major media. But the other day on Facebook she returned a fannish subject, the forthcoming Arisia convention:

If you attend Arisia, Inc. this year, I’m not going to say anything to you – but I will absolutely think less of you.

A convention that had multiple sexual predators at senior leadership levels and ignored the rape of a teenager is not a convention you should support. You cannot attend Arisia and also also support women.

I will not be buying your books. I will not support your art. I will never do you a favor.

You are the choices the [sic] make.

(5) BLACK MIRROR IN FINANCIAL TIMES. Martin Morse Wooster peeked behind the Financial Times paywall to report on their coverage of Black Mirror’s “Bandersnatch” episode.

In the December 29 Financial TImes, Shannon Bond interviews “Black Mirror” showrunners Charlie Brooker and Anabel Jones about the forthcoming episode of Black Mirror called “Bandersnatch” which will be interactive.  It’s about a choose your own adventure writer who gets trapped in “a branching set of storylines that descend down rabbit holes exploring free will and mind control.”

“‘We didn’t know what the story would be and we were like, ‘Wouldn’t that just be a gimmick?’ said Mr Brooker.

But once the pair hit upon a plot with the right themes, they were quick to embrace the opportunity, said Ms Jones,

‘It’s absolutely baked into the story this idea of freedom of choice and control and the illusion of control and the illusion of choice.  Once you’ve got that as the basic conceit and you have the protagonist and you can give them multiple endings but these endings only build to reinforce the whole, then that’s delicious,’ she said.”

They could call it “Choose Your Own Adventure–To Despair!” says Wooster. “Good times!”

(6) BEWARE THE BIRD BOX CHALLENGE. Ethan Alter, in “Netflix to Fans:  Don’t Be Like Bullock And Avoid BIRD BOX Challenge,” says that Netflix is telling fans to avoid a viral challene to do things while blindfolded just like Sandra Bullock does in BIRD BOX, saying they could hurt themselves and Bullock announced she bumped into the Steadicam several times while doing her blindfolded scenes.

(7) ROBERTS OBIT. BBC reports “Net’s founding father Dr Larry Roberts dies aged 81”

American scientist Larry Roberts who helped design and build the forerunner of the internet has died aged 81.

In the late 1960s, he ran the part of the US Advanced Research Projects Agency (Arpa) given the job of creating a computer network called Arpanet.

He also recruited engineers to build and test the hardware and software required to get the system running.

Arpanet pioneered technologies underpinning the internet that are still used today.

Dr Roberts is recognised as one of the four founding fathers of the internet along with Bob Kahn, Vint Cerf and Len Kleinrock.

The son of two chemists, Dr Roberts reportedly chose electronics as a field of study because it was more forward-looking.

(8) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born January 2, 1920 Isaac Asimov. I can’t possibly summarise him here so I won’t. My favourite novels by him are the original Foundation novels followed very closely by his Galactic Empire series and I, Robot. I also still like the Robot series a lot and I know I’ve read a lot of his short fiction. (Died 1992.)
  • Born January 2, 1929Charles Beaumont. He is best remembered as a writer of such Twilight Zone episodes such as “The Howling Man”, “Printer’s Devil”, and the “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You”, but he also penned the exemplary 7 Faces of Dr. Lao screenplay, and The Masque of the Red Death, a horror film with Vincent Price which is rather good. (Died 1967.)
  • Born January 2, 1978 Renée Elise Goldsberry, 41. Currently Quellcrist Falconer in the Altered Carbon series with her first SF role having been Crewman Kelly on the “Vox Sola” episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. I think her only other genre appearance is as Denise Watkins in the long titled “Things to Do in New York When You Think You’re Dead” episode of Life on Mars series. I’ve read the entire Altered Carbon series but not seen the series, so how is it? 
  • Born January 2, 1979 Tobias Buckell, 40. I read and enjoyed a lot his Xenowealth series which was both both original and managed to wrap nicely. Do note that “The Alchemist and The Executioness “ novella  he wrote with the latter and is which is part of the latter’s Tangled Lands Universe is definitely worth chasing down out for reading
  • Born January 2, 1983 Kate Bosworth, 36. Not a long resume in the genre I grant you but her Lois Lane in Superman Returns certainly was impressive and she’s was recently in a series that I’m looking forward to seeing no matter how depressing it probably is, an adaptation of Len Deighton’s SS-GB, and she’s got The I-Land, a web series which sounds more horror than SF forthcoming. 

(9) FINALLY THEY TRIED SCIENCE. The popular theory about learning-by-guess was always wrong: “Why Millions Of Kids Can’t Read, And What Better Teaching Can Do About It”.

Harper attended a professional-development day at one of the district’s lowest-performing elementary schools. The teachers were talking about how students should attack words in a story. When a child came to a word she didn’t know, the teacher would tell her to look at the picture and guess.

The most important thing was for the child to understand the meaning of the story, not the exact words on the page. So, if a kid came to the word “horse” and said “house,” the teacher would say, that’s wrong. But, Harper recalls, “if the kid said ‘pony,’ it’d be right because pony and horse mean the same thing.”

Harper was shocked. First of all, pony and horse don’t mean the same thing. And what does a kid do when there aren’t any pictures?

This advice to a beginning reader is based on an influential theory about reading that basically says people use things like context and visual clues to read words. The theory assumes learning to read is a natural process and that with enough exposure to text, kids will figure out how words work.

Yet scientists from around the world have done thousands of studies on how people learn to read and have concluded that theory is wrong….

(10) OLD TECH MADE NEW. NPR “Climate Change Is Bad For Peru’s Pastures … But There’s A 1,200-Year-Old Fix”

Climate change, vanishing ice and erratic rain patterns are causing the wetlands in two Andean communities to shrink — and that’s a big problem for the communities of Miraflores and Canchayllo. The villagers depend on the puna, a set of alpine ecosystems above 13,000 feet that include grasslands and wetlands to graze sheep, cows, alpacas, llamas and vicunas — animals that provide them with their livelihoods.

Instead of looking for modern solutions to improve access to water, the villagers turned to an old one: centuries-old hydraulic systems that dot the Nor Yauyos Cocha Landscape Reserve, a state-protected natural area seven hours east of Lima. These ancient systems have been used to help irrigate the reserve’s pastures and provide nutrient-rich soil for hundreds of years.

So in 2013, the communities teamed up with scientists from U.S. nonprofit The Mountain Institute (TMI) and reserve authorities to devise plans to revive their historic waterways, including canals, lakes and reservoirs. In addition to providing water, the project would also help mitigate the effects of climate change on the landscape, which has been degraded by grazing, melting glaciers and erratic rainfall.

(11) THE SPEED OF DARK. The real world moves past Moon’s novel: “The firm whose staff are all autistic”.

Peter, Evan and Brian work at a small technology firm based by the beach in Santa Monica, testing software and fixing bugs.

On first inspection it seems like any other Los Angeles-based company, with tasteful art on the white walls and calm-inducing diffusers dotted about.

Peter describes the working atmosphere as “quiet, but fun”, and especially likes the fact that there is no pressure to socialise, while Evan says of his employers that they are “very accommodating and understanding”. Brian describes his office as “unique”.

Auticon is one of only a handful of companies that cater exclusively for employees who are on the autistic spectrum.

Formerly known as MindSpark before being acquired by German-based Auticon, the firm was founded by Gray Benoist who, as the father of two autistic sons, saw few options in the workplace that could cater for their needs.

(12) BETTER FUZZY PIXELS. “New Horizons: Nasa probe survives flyby of Ultima Thule” – BBC has the story.

The US space agency’s New Horizons probe has made contact with Earth to confirm its successful flyby of the icy world known as Ultima Thule.

The encounter occurred some 6.5bn km (4bn miles) away, making it the most distant ever exploration of an object in our Solar System.

New Horizons acquired gigabytes of photos and other observations during the pass.

It will now send these home over the coming months.

The radio message from the robotic craft was picked up by one of Nasa’s big antennas, in Madrid, Spain.

(13) THE FAR SIDE. Follow-up to a previous Scroll item: “China mission primed for landing on Moon’s far side”

China is preparing to make the first attempt at landing robotic spacecraft on the Moon’s far side.

A static lander and rover are expected to be deployed to the surface in the next day, state media reports.

The vehicles are carrying a suite of instruments designed to characterise the region’s geology, as well as a biological experiment.

In recent days, the Chang’e-4 spacecraft had lowered its orbit in preparation for landing.

At the weekend, Chinese state media said the probe had entered an elliptical path around the Moon, bringing the vehicles to within 15km (9 miles) of the lunar surface at its closest point.

Authorities have not specified the exact time of the attempt to touch down in the Von Kármán crater. But a report in the state-run China Daily newspaper suggests Chang’e-4 could begin descending on its thrusters sometime from 2-3 January.

(14) ORBITAL OBSTETRICS. The Atlantic reports a proposed experiment: “Imagine Giving Birth in Space”.

“SpaceLife Origin, based in the Netherlands, wants to send a pregnant woman, accompanied by a “trained, world-class medical team,” in a capsule to the space above Earth. The mission would last 24 to 36 hours. Once the woman delivered the child, the capsule would return to the ground. “A carefully prepared and monitored process will reduce all possible risks, similar to Western standards as they exist on Earth for both mother and child,” SpaceLife Origin’s website states. The company has set the year 2024 as the target date for the trip.

“The concept raises a host of questions—we’ll get to those later—but perhaps the most immediate may be this: Why?

(15) JEOPARDY! Direct from Andrew Porter’s living room, tonight’s sff reference on Jeopardy!

In Final Jeopardy, in “British Memoirs,” the answer was, “Before his death in 1996, this famous son wrote the memoirs “The Enchanted Places” & “The Hollow on the Hill”.

Wrong questions: “Who is Churchill?”, “Who is Christopher Tolkien?”

Correct question: “Who is Milne?” — Christopher Robin Milne

(16) HERTZ PENS COOLEST VERSE. John Hertz cheered me up after reading my complaint about a cold house —

We all of us knew you were cool,

But now it seems too you are cold.

We’ll hope that you had a good Yule

And were safe while Old/New Year change rolled.

But we still don’t see a new header,

And your scrolling voice has been scant.

Are you merely under the weather?

Or does some worse thing mean you can’t?

I join my small voice to the others

Who wish you both good and the best.

You know that if we had our druthers

You’d not go through any such test.

(17) THE VOLCANIC KIMCHI CURE. But if I need it, LAist touts “Kimchi Jjigae, The Volcanic Korean Stew That Can Kill Colds”.

When the winter sun sets before 5 p.m. and you’re nursing a nasty case of the sniffles, there’s a piping-hot Korean stew that provides the perfect antidote to illness and hunger. Huge, hearty and volcanic red, kimchi jjigae can blaze the mucus out of your body better than a Neti pot.

The Korean dish is believed by some to have originated in the mid-Joseon era, during or shortly after the Imjin Wars of 1592 to 1598, when Japan invaded Korea and brought Portuguese traders’ chili peppers with them. Others argue that the chili has been farmed in Korea for 1,500 years, after it was brought to the region millions of years ago by birds. Still others believe the chili came from China, thanks to Indian and Arab traders peddling the seeds along the Silk Road.

Whatever kimchi jjigae’s origins, it lets thrifty Korean cooks use super-ripe kimchi that’s not ideal to eat on its own. With the kimchi’s intensity mellowed by pork, tofu, gochugaru (chile pepper flakes), garlic, ginger, scallions and broth, the spicy stew has become a year-round favorite. During long, harsh winters, like the kind we have here in Los Angeles, jjigae with pork has a reputation as an almost magical antidote to winter colds….

[Thanks to John Hertz, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, Carl Slaughter, and Andrew Porter. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew.]

Witchy-witchy-witchy

Theodore Sturgeon in 1976. Photo by Carol De Priest.

By John Hertz:  (reprinted from Vanamonde 1333)  It’s the centennial year of Theodore Sturgeon.  Let us salute him.

He left seven novels, one published posthumously; two hundred shorter stories, republished in two dozen collections, then fully in The Complete Stories, thirteen volumes 1995-2010, a labor of love – I use the word deliberately – by Paul Williams, Debbie Notkin, Noël Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, and a host of others.

Hundreds of book reviews, for Galaxy, Venture, Twilight Zone, National Review, The New York Times, and Hustler while Paul Krassner was editor, are so far uncollected.

The sounds above open “The Man Who Lost the Sea” (1959), title tale of Complete Stories vol. 10, whose editor found it apparently the first science fiction chosen for The Best American Short Stories (i.e. 1960).

Best was edited 1941-1977 by Martha Foley (1897-1977), whose magazine Story had introduced J.D. Salinger, William Saroyan, Tennessee Williams, and in 1938 gave first prize to Richard Wright; Best had previously introduced Sherwood Anderson, Edna Ferber, Ernest Hemingway; Foley’s own first story, published in the Boston Girls’ Latin School magazine, was “Jabberwock”.

An Ellison story was in the 1993 Best (“The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore”; the oceanic coincidence does not seem substantive, although Robert Bloch, who like Ellison was both a fan and a pro, said Ellison was the only living organism he knew whose natural habitat was hot water).

Ellison wrote the foreword to Collected Stories 11, which volume includes one they co-authored (see Partners in Wonder, 1983), a Western co-authored with Don Ward, two from mystery-fiction magazines, and one from Sports Illustrated.

In 1952 Sturgeon said a good science fiction story was one “built around human beings, with a human problem, and a human solution, which would not have happened at all without its scientific content”.  That was before “The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff” (1955) – which one of our finest editors, Anthony Boucher, put into one of our finest anthologies, A Treasury of Great Science Fiction (vol. 1, 1959).  Come to think of it –

In theory science fiction and fantasy are distinct.  In practice – well, I don’t want to decide whether, say, “Seasoning” (1981), which I apparently rate higher than the editor of Collected Stories 13, is science fiction or fantasy, or in what sense we are to suppose the two characters know what is happening at all.

“Yesterday Was Monday” (1941) must be fantasy.  But another of our finest editors, Groff Conklin, chose it to open another of our finest anthologies, Science Fiction Adventures in Dimension (1953).  It’s been translated into Dutch, Finnish, French, German, and Japanese, and reprinted two dozen times.  Its protagonist, and other characters, don’t know what’s happening.

In “The Skills of Xanadu” (1956), another candidate for Sturgeon’s best, the protagonist doesn’t know what’s happening.  Everybody else knows.

The title character of “The Comedian’s Children” (1958) – another candidate – is the only one who does know what’s happening.  If the protagonist of a story is the one who changes, that may be Nobel Prize scientist Iris Barran; she finds out.  This is a transformation story.  We transform.  There is a bad guy.  If his immense talent were not genuine, there would be no story.  Is he sympathetic?  Well –

Sturgeon also said Science fiction is knowledge fiction.  If the best puns resonate in each meaning, this is one of our best.  Consider the Latin root of science.

Robert Heinlein (Collected Stories 3, p. 367; from his 1985 introduction to Godbody): “Mark Twain said that the difference between the right word and almost the right word was the difference between lightning and lightning bug.  Sturgeon did not deal in lightning bugs.”

Isaac Asimov (v. 3, p. xi): “He had a delicacy of touch that I couldn’t duplicate if my fingers were feathers.”  Connie Willis (vol. 12, p. ix): “he was writing about different things….  problematic, dangerous … ultimately tragic….  in a simple … style….  Like Fred Astaire, Theodore Sturgeon made it look easy.”

Samuel Delany (v. 2, p. x): “The range of Sturgeon’s work is a … galaxy of … dazzling and precise lights shining out against … ordinary rhetoric….  the single most important science fiction writer during the years of his major output – the forties, fifties, and sixties.”

Ellison (v. 11, p. xiii): “He could squeeze your heart till your life ached.”

Horace (The Art of Poetry, l. 143 – two millennia ago): “His thought is not to give flame first and then smoke, but from smoke to let light break out.”

Sturgeon became fond of Ask the next question, and used as an emblem a Q with an arrow through it.  I never asked him about Ask the previous question.

Into the Spider-Verse

By John Hertz: 

     Sheem made one of us;

     Punning Robinson, for two;

     I can’t forget Tub;

     Descent had Niven and Barnes.

     Really, this is a marvel.


Acrostic (read down the first letters of each line) in unrhymed lines of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables, something like Japanese tanka.  Sheem, The Witches of Karres ch. 7 (J. Schmitz,1966); Robinson, e.g. Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon (1977); Tubby Tompkins, see Icons of the American Comic Book v. 1 p. 453 (R. Duncan & M.Smith, 2013); The Descent of Anansi (L. Niven & S. Barnes, 1982); marvel, e.g. Amazing Fantasy 15 (August 1962).

Memories Are Made of This

By John Hertz:  Fred Patten’s sister Sherry phoned inviting me to a gathering in memory and honor of Fred on December 9th, at Big Jim’s Restaurant, in Sun Valley.  I saw Nick Smith on my bus (not a Ken Kesey allusion – although, come to think of it –). Sure enough he was going to the same place.

There were two dozen of us, LASFSians (L.A. Science Fantasy Society, Fred’s local club and mine, oldest S-F club in the world) or at least all the folks I recognized.  We met at two in the afternoon, so I’m not sure whether to call it lunch or supper –lupper?  Isn’t that a Brazilian band?

Seated near enough to converse were Smith, Scott Beckstead, John DeChancie, His Majesty the Emperor, Lee and Barry Gold.  We talked about knowledge, formalism, song, writing, activity, Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), verisimilitude, contribution, imagination — the things fans talk about.

I was glad to have DeChancie there because he being both a fan and a pro had a helpful perspective.  I was glad to have Smith there because he being both a filker (our home-made music, named after a 1950s typing error that turned “folk music” into “filk music” and stuck) and a fanziner had a helpful perspective.  I’d known Lee and her husband Barry Gold longest; both had done filking, fanzining and, as the saying goes, much much more.

At first we’d all supposed Sherry Patten was only providing the occasion and we’d each pay for ourselves. No.  She made clear she was our hostess – “Come and dine, the pleasure’s mine, and I will pay the bills” (that is a Johnny Mathis allusion).  This was a fine gesture on her part.  She said it was in appreciation for all that the LASFS had done for Fred.  At such moments one can only say thank you.  All that Fred had done for the LASFS could not be measured.

She’d made a display of photographs.  If there was going to be time for speeches I was ready to take my turn; Fred was a giant. But unfortunately I had another bus to catch – just as the cheesecake came in.

Sherry had been a devoted sister and had done wonders.  I went to thank her.  I looked at the clock and saw I’d missed my bus.  DeChancie gave me a ride to the next stop in the chain.

It was a good day.