The Honorable Detective

Even in these politically correct times it’s still possible for a literary historian to speak approvingly of Charlie Chan. Here’s how Donna Seaman closes her review of Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous With American History by Yunte Huang:  

After interpreting a rich bounty of rarely examined material, and carefully sorting through pro and con responses to Chan over the decades (Huang places Chan beside Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe and Hercule Poirot), Huang reminds us that Charlie Chan is complicated, unruly, chimerical, possibly mythic and certainly politically incorrect. With his brilliant and hilarious Chanisms and subtle ways, the honorable detective, Huang declares, is a trickster and a folk hero, a classic embodiment of grace under pressure in which one fights oppression by camouflaging one’s power and intent with humor and mock humility.

TV Writer Jackson Gillis Dies at 93

TV writer Jackson Gillis, a prolific contributor to fantasy and sf series, died August 19 of pneumonia in Moscow, Idaho.

If you watched TV in the 50s and 60s you saw a lot of his work. He broke into television in its early days by writing an episode of Racket Squad (1952). The following year he became a regular writer for The Adventures of Superman — and four decades later when his story “Panic in the Sky” was remade for Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (as “All Shook Up,” 1994) that would be the final credit of Gillis’ remarkable career.

In between he wrote for numerous fantasy and sf shows, Lost in Space, The Wild, Wild West, Jason of Star Command, The New Adventures of Wonder Woman, Mission: Impossible, Land of the Giants, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., Tarzan and Zorro.

He even acted in the “Great Caesar’s Ghost” episode of Superman where Perry White actually meets the ghost (though Gillis didn’t get to play that part.)

Grown-ups at the time knew Gillis much better as a writer, story consultant and associate producer for the top-rated Perry Mason television series. Young Mike Glyer didn’t know his name at all but loved the work he did writing serials for The Mickey Mouse Club,  “The Adventures of Spin and Marty,” and the Hardy Boys (“The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure” and “The Mystery of the Ghost Farm”) – all shows I watched from the earliest age I could park myself in front of my parents’ RCA black-and-white.

Despite his omnipresence Gillis was never an award-winning writer, though he did receive a single Emmy nomination for one of his two dozen episodes of Columbo — “Suitable for Framing (#1.4)” (1971).

[Thanks to David Klaus for the link.]

Heinlein Letter on Ebay

Robert Heinlein’s 1945 letter sympathizing with Forry Ackerman about the death of his brother, Alden, at the Battle of the Bulge was discussed here a few months ago. Now that letter has suddenly popped up for sale on Ebay.

Listed as coming “From the Collection of Forrest J Ackerman,” the letter is offered for $1200 by James Van Hise. Here’s a physical description:

Original two page letter sent to Forrest J Ackerman by Robert Heinlein dated January 28, 1945. Two separate pages, 8 x 10 1/2, original typescript. Excellent condition. Signed “Bob” and last sentence refers to Heinlein’s then wife Leslyn. Heinlein letters of this early vintage are scarce.

It’s quite the letter, Heinlein taking the death of Forry Ackerman’s brother as an opportunity to deliver a long, stinging criticism of “the way active fans have met the trial of this war.”

I’m not discouraging anyone from buying the item because of its historic value. Though speaking for myself, if I was inclined to pay four figures for an autographed Heinlein letter I’d be looking for more than “Bob” on the signature line.

[Thanks to David Klaus for the story.]

Dial-a-Meal Getting Closer

Dining Chicago has Leah Zeldes’ latest report on food fabricators titled “Push-button food emerging from the science-fiction kitchen”. Looks like another technology visualized by classic Star Trek is close to realization.

You’ve heard about the paper food that the molecular gastronomists at the West Loop’s Moto print out … well, that may soon be old hat.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology research group has designed the Digital Fabricator, a personal, three-dimensional “printer” for food. The device would layer ingredients from an array of food canisters into a mixer and then extrude them, with sub-millimeter precision, into a heating and cooling chamber.  

 [Thanks to David Klaus for the link.]

Snapshots 48 States

Here are 14 developments of interest to fans.

(1) “Cults of an Unwitting Oracle: The (Unintended) Religious Legacy of H. P. Lovecraft” by Dennis P. Quinn covers several minor religious groups claiming a link with Lovecraft’s Mythos, and mentions others associated with different sf/fantasy writers such as the Heinlein-inspired Church of All Worlds, and Star Wars. There is irony in this, so the author tells us, because “Lovecraft considered his own philosophy to be based on a ‘cosmic indifferentism’ in which there are no gods here to help us.”

Legacies are a bit like children. We wish them well, but have very little control over them.  And although we are most of the time happy to even have one, a few wind up becoming an embarrassment. Take, for example, the strange case of Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937), who, if he were still alive, would be celebrating his 120th birthday on August 20, 2010. Of the various legacies to which H.P. Lovecraft lays claim, one turned out to be a set of fascinating individuals and subcultures that find religious inspiration in this most creative, though irreligious parent….

(2) Scott Edelman posted a link to the illustrated guide explaining what to do if you meet aliens — presumably the kind in Spielberg movies rather than the ones in Lovecraft stories:

We’re not saying that when it finally happens it’ll happen to you. But on the other hand, it might. You COULD be the person who gets to make first contact with aliens. Don’t you want to make sure you don’t screw it up?

(3) The birthday of comics legend Jack Kirby and the first annual international Read Comics In Public Day fall on August 28. Full details about Read Comics In Public Day are available on Chriss Cornish’s blog.

(4) The Yahoo headline “Radioactive boars on rise in Germany” sounded funny to me ‘til I read the story. Seems this is a continuing consequence of the fallout released in the Chernobyl disaster.

(5) Video chain Blockbuster may be preparing to file a pre-packaged bankruptcy. Wow — not so long ago that business was such a cash cow that the company’s founder was using his spare change to buy the great baseball players who won a World Series for the Florida Marlins. (Though it was long enough that he sold the company — somebody else is suffering its death at the hands of the internet.)

(6) The two largest bookstore chains are in turmoil, with Borders laying off employees and Barnes and Noble appearing to move closer to a sale of the company. People wonder if Amazon will buy B&N to kill it off:

“Amazon has been a thorn in Barnes & Noble’s proverbial side since its inception in 1995, when it was solely a purveyor of books. B&N has consistently lost market share to its non-bricks-and-mortar rival, which has bested it on lower prices for hardcovers,” writes Jeanine Poggi, adding,”Now the battle has gone purely digital.” She notes that, by purchasing B&N, Amazon could eliminate its number one bookselling competitor.

(7) But if the Evil Internet Bookselling Empire is invincible how come the  Kindle is getting punked in the New York Times?

We know how many iPads were sold because Apple is straightforward about reporting the unit sales of all of its products. Amazon is a different story. We don’t know the size of Amazon’s Kindle business because the company is averse to disclosing details of its operations. When it reports its financial results, the company that sells just about anything that can be put in a box or sent electronically divides its businesses into just three categories: “media,” which lumps books, music and videos into one indistinguishable agglomeration; “electronics and other general merchandise,” an even larger, indistinguishable agglomeration; and “other.”

…. Sure, Amazon can talk of a future 20th-generation Kindle. But unless it’s brave enough to reveal Kindle’s actual sales numbers, it sounds as if it’s whistling past the graveyard. Dedicated word processors, purpose-built machines of the 1970s, had a good run of about 10 years.”

(7) According to danwei on Twitter, the World Chinese-Language Science Fiction Research Workshop has released its August newsletter.

(8) Here are links to YouTube videos from George Clayton Johnson’s 81st birthday party:,,,–U4xA.

(9) Annie Wu is an impressive artist!

By Annie Wu.


(10) Michael Dirda reviews William Patterson’s biography of Robert A. Heinlein in The Washington Post.  And at, the publisher is running a Heinlein symposium with articles by Jo Walton, John Scalzi, etc.

(11) What are Toronto’s top minds reading this summer? Fascinating stuff. For example, Eugenia Kumacheva, Professor of Chemistry at University of Toronto recommends Eurekas and Euphorias: The Oxford book of scientific anecdotes by Walter Gratzer:

This is an insightful and entertaining book that describes the episodes of drama and comedy of scientific discoveries. Although entitled ‘an Oxford book of scientific anecdotes’, it can be opened at random to meet scientists making discoveries in prison cells or in a madhouse, the physicist dissolving his Nobel Prize medal in acid in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Nazis, or the battle of the female scientist with the French Academy.

(12) Dave Langford has allowed his Corflu 2010 photos to be posted on Graham Charnock’s website. Dave teases, “There are no captions, so no point in following the link unless you can recognize shifty fan characters like Earl Kemp and Ted White…” Of course I recognize them — it’s all those British fans I last saw in 1995 whose names are escaping me. And no picture of that Langford fellow, of course. (You’ll figure it out in a moment.)

(13) What fun is fandom if nobody thinks that Buck Rogers stuff is crazy anymore? I hear the local tv news neglected to make fun of the 2010 NASFiC:

“There’s the attraction of the unknown, the weird the strange the extrapolation of science, the exploration of your fantasy worlds, science fiction and fantasy has everything and we get together and talk about it,” said [GoH Toni] Weisskopf.

Gary Farber also has a few observations about NASFiC.

(14) Finally, let io9 tell you about that NSFW musical tribute to Ray Bradbury. But right here’s the place to find out “What did Ray think about it?” John King Tarpinian downloaded the video and showed it to Ray on his big screen TV last week before they went to the LA City Council session. The verdict? “Ray saw the video and thought it was ‘nice.’”

I was hoping for a more poetic reaction, but there you have it…

[Thanks for these links goes to David Klaus, John Mansfield, John King Tarpinian, Michael Walsh, Gary Farber and Andrew Porter.]

Update 08/25/2010: Restored the faanish “h” I omitted from the end of Michael Walsh’s name.

Jeff Orth: A Pre-Hysterical Pre-History
of the Pre-Bid

[Jeff Orth tells how he, Diane Lacey and Ruth Lichtwardt caught the vision for a KC in 2016 Worldcon bid.]

By Jeff Orth: We have worked as a team for several projects since forming for the Anticipation Hugo Administration.  Diane was the Consuite Department head for Anticipation and Ruth and I helped her where we could, both in recruiting staff and taking shifts as needed.  It was one of the best consuites I have ever seen.  Not that I am at all unbiased.  We also recently worked on-site con registration for the Raleigh NASFIC.

We all worked on ConQuesT 2010, Ruth in Facilities and Diane and me in programming.  It was this venue that spawned the idea of a Kansas City Worldcon. (Well that and somebody else trying to thrust $20 at me.  And of course a Worldcon Bid not inspired by late night, drunken conversations would be just wrong. We can, and probably will, make up more stories as we go along.)

After Diane had headed off for Toronto to continue working on SFContario, Ruth and I approached Margene Bahm and asked her to look into facilities downtown. She happily agreed and contacted the Kansas City CVB (called VisitKC []) Margene made arrangements to tour the hotels and convention center, Bartle Hall, with a representative from VisitKC named Becky.  I unashamedly invited myself along.  We spent a wonderful day in June touring some of the most wonderful hotels I have ever seen.  I don’t recall if you were at the KC Smofcon at the Hotel Phillips.  It was a great hotel and yet it was not the most impressive of the five we saw.  The Hilton President and the Holiday Inn Aladdin, both within 2 blocks of the Convention Center, were at least equally impressive.

Bartle Hall is slightly too large for us, but not so large that any other event of any size could occupy the space we would not use. Becky referred to us several times as a “City Wide” meaning that we would
consume all of the available Hotel Space downtown, thus again precluding any other group from utilizing that space. We would be a big deal in Kansas City, indeed.

We judge the existing hotel space to be more than adequate. If we need to resort to overflow hotels, (the Hyatt Crown Center, where ConQuesT is currently held) it would be a very successful Worldcon.  The other two hotels, the Marriott Downtown (which incorporates the old Muehlbach) and the Crown Plaza Downtown are within a block of the convention center, as is the Holiday Inn Aladdin.  The Hotel Phillips and the President are two blocks away.

I came away from the tour stunned and more excited about a Kansas City Worldcon than I had ever been.  (Margene came away vowing to never take me anywhere, ever again.  I think I behaved like a farm boy in the big city for the first time, which isn’t far from the truth.)

All of this is, of course, subject to the normal ebb and flow of negotiation.  Numbers will be crunched and spreadsheets will be drawn up and disposed of. We expect to have facts for people to chew over
and not just the goshwow of a Kansas farmboy.  And we do have lots of time to get our ducks lined up.

Which brings me to the non-announcement at NASFIC.  We realize that it is too early to bid for a Worldcon in 2016. We believe that fandom has a limited amount of resources (as do we).  But, we wanted to get the word out that we are very serious.  We actually have fans excited here in the KC area and elsewhere. A bunch of them are likely to be in tow in San Jose in December.  (And “in tow” is almost not an exaggeration. Some of them are worried about finals that week.  Just where did all these kids come from?  Don’t answer that, just keep ’em off my lawn.)

Our primary challenge here in KC for the next two years will be keeping the fire stoked.  You can judge how well we have done when we start throwing parties for keepsies at Chicago in 2012.  We might
sneak a few in here and there, just to keep our hand in, look to SFContario and Reno for example. We do like throwing parties, but, we won’t be actively soliciting pre-supports until our official announcement two years before the vote. Planning, organizing and having fun for now, and keeping an eye on the fannish landscape are our priorities. Oh, and looking for people all across that landscape who might like to join us in the craziness.

Regards, Jeff Orth — and for Diane Lacey, Ruth Lichtwardt

Photos of Bradbury
at Los Angeles City Council

Here are John King Tarpinian’s photos of the Ray Bradbury Week ceremony in the Los Angeles City Council chambers on August 20, 2010.

(L to R): Cynthia Shor, director of the Walt Whitman Association; Steven Paul Leiva; Eric Garcetti, President of the Los Angeles City Council; Ray Bradbury. Two unidentified representatives of the Planetary Society hold their birthday card.

Eric Garcetti, President LA City Council, with Ray Bradbury

Text of LA City Council's resolution creating Ray Bradbury Week.

These Aren’t Your Father’s Superheroes

Dr. Fredric Wertham

The Golden Age comics that Dr. Fredric Wertham blamed as a cause of juvenile delinquency in the 1950s look pretty good to one contemporary psychologist who feels the superheroes in today’s movies set a horrible example:

“There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic book superhero of yesterday,” said psychologist Sharon Lamb of the University of Massachusetts-Boston, according to a press release from the American Psychological Association. “Today’s superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he’s aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity. When not in superhero costume, these men, like Ironman, exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns.”

Dr. Sharon Lamb

I agree with Dr. Lamb that these are characteristic of the hero in Iron Man 2 — except that more needs to be said. All these excesses were his downfall, 

costing him public adulation and the respect of his friends. Tony Stark/Iron Man had to overcome them to continue functioning as a superhero. I’m surprised Dr. Lamb doesn’t approve that example of moral consequences and redemption.

Her co-authored book, Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons from Superheroes, Slackers, and Other Media Stereotypes, published in 2009, sounds as if it might be interesting, because the first sentence on its publicity website is certainly true:

Boys are besieged by images and messages from marketers and the media that encourage slacking over studying; competition over teamwork; power over empowerment; and being cool over being oneself.

[Thanks to David Klaus for the story.]

All Bradbury All the Time

Moto Hagio with Ray Bradbury at Comic-Con 2010.

Time to refresh Taral’s screen with these links (courtesy of John King Tarpinian)….

(1) Artist Moto Hagio, who did a manga adaptation of R Is for Rocket, got to meet Ray for the first time at Comic-Con:

For me, and even more so for Hagio, the most moving moment was a very private one, in which Hagio was introduced to the great Ray Bradbury in a quiet room in the convention center. Mr. Bradbury has difficulty hearing and speaking, but the two of them were able to communicate quite well without words. (No interpreter required.) Ms. Hagio had tears in her eyes at the end of the meeting. For her it was a dream come true.

(2) Ray Bradbury’s play 2116, previewed in South Pasadena last December, gets its world premiere at the Fringe in Edinburgh on August 22. Claire Prentice interviewed Ray for the Scotsman:  

Relaxing in the study of his Los Angeles home, sandwiched between a Tiffany lamp and a large plastic dinosaur, Bradbury says: “To have it performed is a gift. When I saw it here in LA, I wept with joy.” While 2116 is on in Edinburgh on 22 August, Bradbury will be celebrating his 90th birthday with his four daughters and his grandchildren.

The man charged with resurrecting the piece was Steve Josephson, the multi-award winning artistic director of Gallimaufry Performing Arts. By the time Bradbury dug out the original script of 2116 to show Josephson, the musical was missing numerous pages, the original score and an entire second act. “All I got was pages and pages of lyrics with character names and no music,” recalls Josephson, sitting next to Bradbury in his study….

(3) FX Feeney’s Comic-Con report “Young Hearts Versus the Undead” offered a long quote from Ray Bradbury’s talk:

“The man you see here is in reality a twelve-year-old boy,” iconic sci-fi author Ray Bradbury thundered before a capacity crowd of a thousand or so who’d gathered to hear him speak. Bradbury’s hearing and eyesight may be at full fathom-five these days, but his mind is as sharp as Captain Nemo’s at the console of his submarine. “How do I do it, you ask? By exploding, every day! If you are dynamic, you remain a child. I’ve remained a boy because I’ve never looked back. That’s me—The Running Boy.”

As a bonus, several photos of Comic-Con panels accompany the article, and LASFSian Craig Miller appears in one of them.

(4) CNN ran a story on Ray’s approaching 90th birthday:

Ray Bradbury lives in a rambling Los Angeles home full of stuffed dinosaurs, a tin robot pushing an ice cream cart, and a life-sized Bullwinkle the Moose doll lounging in a cushioned chair.

The 89-year-old science fiction author watches Fox News Channel by day, Turner Classic Movies by night. He spends the rest of his time summoning “the monsters and angels” of his imagination for his enchanting tales.

(5) John King Tarpinian promises this is a link to a Classical Birthday Card for Ray on YouTube.