Wandering Through the Public Domain #9

A regular exploration of public domain genre works available through Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and Librivox.

By Colleen McMahon: I’ve had some upheaval in my personal life in the last month, and I haven’t been keeping up with this column or with some of the older comments. So I’ll start by taking an opportunity to clarify a couple of things which may have been misunderstood, based on some of the comments on older entries.

First, when I mention a work here, it’s generally because it’s either one that I have come across in my own “wanderings”, or because it has some tie to something recently discussed, such as when an author’s birthday comes up in the daily listing, and it turns out that they have some public domain books or stories available.

It’s not meant to imply that a book is just now entering the public domain (unless otherwise stated, as in the recent discussion of the 1923 copyright expirations) or that it is in any way a new discovery to anyone but me. So, for example, Flatland by Abbott has indeed been in the public domain for many years, and only came up here because a new audiobook recording of it was recently released.

Second, someone apparently took offense at my passing observation that John W. Campbell is better known nowadays for his role as an editor as a writer. That is no judgement on Campbell as a writer, or any of the other forgotten or less-remembered names that come up. It’s just a general impression of the overall collective memory or focus of 2019 fandom and who tends to be well-known and who does not. If I’m off base on my estimation of how well-known any particular writer is at this point, I welcome correction.

Most stories and novels pass out of popular notice in a few decades, no matter how worthwhile they are. There’s no point in hand-wringing about this or decrying the crappiness of modern fandom for not being sufficiently aware of certain writers. I prefer to look at it as a vast realm of potential buried treasures, and poke about looking for some forgotten books that are worth unearthing. I started writing this series merely to share some of these finds.

On that note, let’s turn to some of the recent diggings:

In Cat Rambo’s introduction to this month’s StoryBundle featuring contemporary female speculative fiction authors, she mentions four names as examples of women authors who have largely faded away. This, as usual, sent me off to see if anything by those authors is available on my favorite sites.

Miriam DeFord was already covered in a previous installment. I could not find any public domain works by Zenna Henderson, alas. However, the other two authors that Rambo mentioned, Judith Merril and Katherine MacLean, are each represented by several short stories on Project Gutenberg.

Judith Merril (1923-1997):

To date, neither story has been recorded for Librivox.

Katherine MacLean (1925- )

All of these stories have been recorded at least once for Librivox.

Speaking of women authors, Andre Norton (1912-2005) had a February birthday. She has short stories as well as several full-length novels available on Project Gutenberg:

In addition to her science fiction, Norton has a YA adventure novel (Ralestone Luck) and two Westerns (Ride Proud, Rebel! and Rebel Spurs) on PG. All of her works have been recorded, most in multiple versions, for Librivox.

Staying on the topic of women authors, Leigh Brackett’s (1915-1978) name is probably most recognizable as one of the credited screenwriters of Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. She was well-known enough as a screenwriter in the 1940s that Howard Hawks is said to have once demanded, “Get me that guy, Brackett” to help William Faulkner finish the script for The Big Sleep. Brackett is also notable as the first woman author to receive a Hugo nomination, for her 1956 post-nuclear-war novel The Long Tomorrow.

The Long Tomorrow does not appear to be in the public domain, but two stories by Brackett are available on Project Gutenberg:

Both stories have been recorded for Librivox.

Recent Librivox releases:

  • The Mermaid’s Message and Other Stories by Various

    This is a collection of fairy tales and fables compiled in 1919. The stories contain original but old-fashioned tales which modern children and grown-ups will enjoy.
  • Master of Life and Death by Robert Silverberg (1935- )

    When Roy Walton becomes the new director of the UN division of population control, after the director is assassinated, he becomes the most hated man in the world. Being Director involved him in not only population control, but a terra-forming project on Venus, and negotiations with aliens. Not only that, but some people were trying to kill him. To stay alive, he had to become The Master of Life and Death.

Delany Campaigns to Make Katherine MacLean a SFWA Grand Master

Katherine MacLean

Samuel R. Delany called on SFWA today to honor Katherine MacLean as a Grand Master:

Let’s make Kathryn McLean [sic] a Grand Master of Science Fiction. She is in her 90’s and the award can only go to a living writer!

It is the renewal of a plea he made in 2013 when his own selection as a Grand Master was announced.

His latest Facebook post quoted praise for the author from the Wikipedia entry for MacLean:

Damon Knight wrote, “As a science fiction writer she has few peers; her work is not only technically brilliant but has a rare human warmth and richness.”[1] Brian Aldiss noted [citation needed] that she could “do the hard stuff magnificently,” while Theodore Sturgeon observed [citation needed] that she “generally starts from a base of hard science, or rationalizes psi phenomena with beautifully finished logic.”

The full title of the SFWA honor being the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, Knight’s accolade should count for even more.

Delany adds:

Since it is not about quantity, but quality and influence, that is why the award should be given her. As I wrote to her when I the award was announced for me:

“Among the great absurdities of the SF world is that I am a grand master and you are not. Happy birthday and much love.” By not honoring her, we make our awards mean less. Her single collection of short stories (The Diploids) and her Nebula Award winning novel [sic] (Missing Man) pointed a new generation of writers the way sentences had to be put together to tell a story both humanly and intellectually satisfying, and an older generation recognized it.

MacLean’s novella “The Missing Man” won a Nebula Award in 1971. The expanded novel-length version was nominated for a Nebula in 1976. In 2003 MacLean was honored as an SFWA Author Emeritus. In 2011, she received the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award.

[Thanks to Brian Z. for the story.]

Pixel Scroll 10/20/16 Pixeled In The Scroll By My Own Pixel

(1) PLAYING WITH REAL NUMBERS. Aaron tests the idea that EPH will not distort the results when there is no slate in a new post at Dreaming of Other Worlds. Find out what changed on the 2014 final Hugo ballot.

E Pluribus Hugo was passed largely in response to the results of the 2015 Hugo nomination process. I outlined the background leading up to this in my previous post about the 2016 E Pluribus Hugo Revised Hugo Finalists, and I’m not going to repeat myself here. Anyone who wants a summary of the Sad and Rabid Puppy campaigns, the responses from non-Puppy Hugo voters, and an outline of the mechanics of E Pluribus Hugo can go read about that there.

The E Pluribus Hugo system had several goals. One goal was to dampen the influence of bloc voting. A second goal was to create a system that presented a nominating voter with a means of voting that was substantially similar to the one that voter had under the old system. The third was to create a system that would return results that were as close to those that the old system did in a year in which there was no bloc voting. To test this third goal, the system was used on the 2014 Hugo ballots, which was a year in which there was a Sad Puppy campaign, but no slate in any meaningful sense, and therefore no real bloc voting….

(2) SUMMERTIME. Chapter 10 of T. Kingfisher’s Summer in Orcus has now been released.

When the witch Baba Yaga walks her house into the backyard, eleven-year-old Summer enters into a bargain for her heart’s desire. Her search will take her to the strange, surreal world of Orcus, where birds talk, women change their shape, and frogs sometimes grow on trees. But underneath the whimsy of Orcus lies a persistent darkness, and Summer finds herself hunted by the monstrous Houndbreaker, who serves the distant, mysterious Queen-in-Chains…

(3) RIDERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE. Max Florschutz enters the perpetual debate about “literary” vs. “genre” in “You Just Keep Pushing Me Away…” .

Granted, I could write a whole thing on how genre fiction can (and does) approach the tough questions, demands intelligent thought and reason, and present ideas (and when it comes down to it, most who disagree are either cherry picking their examples or of the mindset of “that doesn’t support the message and ideas I want,” which doesn’t help). I could talk about that, pull examples, etc. But I won’t. Not at this point.

No, instead, I’m going to tackle a different point. The idea that “literary” fiction is automatically intelligent and thought-provoking. Because this isn’t accurate. No, more accurate would be that it’s fiction that thinks it’s intelligent or thought provoking, written by someone who thinks they’re presenting something much more “intellectual” than it actually is. When it really isn’t … but they’re too “smart” to do the research to know otherwise.

… What’s sad about this is I could see myself enjoying more “literary” works.  The writing is more tell, sure, and more purple, but sometimes that’s pretty good purple. Sometimes there’s some neat ideas buried in there.

But my issue is that they are buried in there. It’s like “literary” writers can’t be bothered to do the most basic of research. And that pushes me away. Back towards genre fiction, where, despite not being the “intelligent” fiction choice, the science is real, the facts are usually real (or pretty close), and even when I’m reading about fantasy kingdom of some kind, said kingdom is actually laid out like a real government and civilization would be. As opposed to the “literary” version, which comes off feeling like Disney-mythology in comparison.

It just keeps pushing me away. Especially with all the battles over how “literary” fiction is the “superior” fiction, or the more intelligent, or the more meaningful, etc. I just can’t take a story seriously that can’t grasp basic parts of life, like how a car works. Or a TV. Or science.

(4) ANOTHER MIDDLE-EARTH TALE ON WAY TO PRESS. “JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth love story to be published next year” reports The Guardian.

JRR Tolkien’s legend of the mortal man Beren and the immortal elf Lúthien – a story that meant so much to the Lord of the Rings author that the characters’ names are engraved on the headstone shared by him and his wife – is to be published next year.

The Middle-earth tale tells of the love between the mortal man and the immortal elf. Lúthien’s father, an Elvish lord, is against their relationship, and so gives Beren an impossible task to fulfil before the two can be married, said HarperCollins, which will publish Beren and Lúthien next May. The pair then go on to rob “the greatest of all evil beings, Melkor, called Morgoth, the Black Enemy, of a Silmaril”, or jewel.

(5) PULITZER EXPANDS ELIGIBILITY. Crain’s New York Business reports print and online magazines are now eligible for Pulitzer Prizes in all journalism categories.

The Pulitzer Prize Board announced Wednesday that entries of work done in 2016 will be accepted beginning in December for the 2017 prizes.

The board says it made its decision after two years of experimentation.

New entry guidelines are posted at Pulitzer.org.

(6) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY VAMPIRE

  • Born October 20, 1882 — Bela Lugosi.

lugosi-birthday-card

(7) HORROR READING.Ellen Datlow’s photos of the “Children of Lovecraft Reading October 16, 2016” are on Flickr.

Laird Barron, John Langan, A. C. Wise, Siobhan Carroll, Richard Kadrey, and David Nickle all read wonderfully at the Lovecraft Bar on Avenue B in NYC’s east village.

chidren-of-lovecraft-reading

(8) PLAYTIME. I got a kick from John Scalzi’s first line in one of his mallet-is-out warnings:

  1. Hey, two political posts in the same day! Can you tell I finished my book?

(9) TIME TO LEVEL UP YOUR ALIENS. Motherboard’s post “The Way We’ve Been Imagining Aliens Is All Wrong” sets us straight.

Why do we always picture aliens as distorted humans?

Science fiction has failed to creatively, or even accurately, imagine alien life, said British science writer Philip Ball in an article, “The Aeon Idea: Why our imagination for alien life is so impoverished.” Now Aeon, a digital ideas and culture magazine, just released a video called Stranger Aliens, adapted from Ball’s theory and narrated by Ball himself.

 

(10) DIVERSITY ON DISCOVERY. Otaku-kun at Haibane comments on the proposal: “A Muslim crew member on Star Trek: Discovery?”

I think including an explicit Muslim would be jarring since tehre is no other “real world” religion represented in Star Trek, at least for the Human society. It was Roddenberry’s world and he chose to eliminate religion from it. Adding a character who is explicitly Muslim complicates canon and introduces tension that undermines Star Trek’s appeal to all of humanity. Then you also need canon explanations for the status of Jews, Christians, Hindus, etc. This mess is exactly why religion was introduced to DS9 using the alien Bajoran society rather than picking one from our own.

The solution is to recognize that Islamophobia is not an intellectual reaction to a religion’s precepts, but rooted in racial and ethnic fears. Having a stand-in on the crew for a “Muslim-y” ethnic type would be great because that way when someone sees a Muslim on the street, they should be able to counter their knee-jerk stereotype by relating that person to this crewmember. Therefore, the ethnic choice of the actor is relevant to maximize that stereotype-defeating analogy. Which ethnicity works best for this purpose?

(11) WHO’S THE GEEZER? selenay articulates the cross-generational stresses affecting fanfic writers in “Regarding all the AO3 bashing” (AO3 = Archive of Our Own).

Us olds remember the old days. The days when you had to label all slash–even when it was just hand-holding–as NC17 and plaster it with warnings. The days when only certain archives accepted slash at all, and you could get your FFN account or LJ suspended if someone objected to your boy kissing fics, so everything was locked down under f-lock or posted to the adult slash-friendly archives with a thousand warning pop-ups. The days when RPF was never to be spoken of because almost no archive accepted it. The days when we all danced around carefully because at any moment, our favourite fics could be deleted and never seen again if a site advertiser threatened to withdraw funding….

Current fandom has splintered and seems to have broken into generational buckets. The youngest part of fandom is on Tumblr and Snapchat. The older part of fandom is on Tumblr a bit, but not much, and many of us have stepped a long way back from it because we’re made so unwelcome. We’re still here on LJ, DW, Twitter, and Imzy, where the youngs aren’t so much. Due to those divides, there isn’t that interaction and mutual learning, so the younger fanfolk don’t know the history. They don’t know why AO3 exists and why we’re so passionate about not censoring it. They’ve never had to creep around on the edges of fandom because they were slashers, or RPF-ers, or wrote explicit fics after FFN banned them.

The divide is also contributing to the feeling that anyone over thirty shouldn’t be fannish anymore, and I suspect that’s part of the AO3 wankery. There aren’t many people from that very young end of the fandom involved with the OTW or AO3, so it feels like the olds run it. We created it, we fundraised for it, we continue to work on it and we’re old, by their standards. We should have shuffled off to our graveyards or our adult lives or something.

Except we haven’t, because when we were the fandom babies, there were all these fans older than us who were still active and we learned we’ll never be too old for fandom. With the divide getting so sharp between the youngest and everyone else, they’re not getting that part of the fannish experience, either. They can’t imagine being thirty (or forty, or fifty), never mind being that age and still being in fandom.

You’ve also got the problem that Tumblr-style activism is very different from what we were doing five or ten years ago. It’s all about protecting young eyes not just from the content, but from knowing the content is even there. About removing it so it doesn’t need to be thought of. For them, “don’t like, don’t read” isn’t enough. They don’t want anyone to read it or see it or write it.

(12) A VISIT TO ANTIQUITY. James Davis Nicoll has posted his latest Young People Read Old SF, assigning them “Snowball Effect” by Katherine MacLean.

Although she won a Nebula Award for The Missing Man, Katherine MacLean is hardly a household name these days. Her most productive period ran from the 1950s to the 1970s. That Nebula was won in 1971; other honours (such as being a professional guest of honor at the very first WisCon in 1977) are almost all of a similar vintage. She was admired for her ability to combine character with plot, character being an element of fiction many of her contemporaries seemed willing to do without.

In her heyday, MacLean was one of the few high-profile women working in the field. In the specific context of these reviews, she is remarkable in a different way: the first author selected who is still with us: born in 1925, she is but 91. Her birthday is January 22: join me in raising a glass to this grand figure of science fiction.

(13) LARPING FOR PEACE. In a piece on Vimeo called “Bjarke Pedersen:  Becoming the Story,”  Danish LARPer Bjarke Pedersen explains what “Nordic LARP” is and how in Scandinavia, LARPers work together to come up with stories they wouldn’t be able to create on their own.  Pedersen’s video was presented at the Future of Storytelling conference held in New York City two weeks ago.

As the Creative Director of Odyssé and one of the world’s experts on LARPing, Bjarke Pedersen has spent many years exploring the power of this collaborative form of storytelling. He’s observed that by getting a chance to engage with different characters, LARPers are also able to learn more about themselves. LARPing is also particularly powerful for the ways in which it relies on building trust among people. Many individuals are able to tell their own stories within a given framework, but it is the larger output of so many different stories being told at the same time that makes LARPing so unique and powerful.

 

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster, Andrew Porter, John King Tarpinian, Aziz Poonawalla, and JJ for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Josh Jasper.]