OA (Older Adult) Science Fiction

Man in His Time by Brian W. Aldiss

Science fiction is youthful literature. Its bestsellers are often YA titles. Overall SF fans are mostly young, as are the protagonists in SF. My hunch is most science fiction readers discover science fiction early in life and eventually put it away for other interests as they get older. There’s a certain percentage of SF fans that stay loyal their whole life, but often they stick with the kind of science fiction they grew up reading. We just don’t see much science fiction aimed at readers in their last third of life, or feature lead characters in their waning years. There’s a reason for this – science fiction is future-oriented, and old readers don’t have much of a future.

Last year I started reading anthologies that collect the best SF of the year. Annual best-of-the-year anthologies first appeared in 1949, but Isaac Asimov and Martin Greenberg produced a retrospective annual series starting with 1939. So far, I’ve read the best stories for 1939-1950, a time period often referred to as The Golden Age of science fiction when John W. Campbell reigned as supreme editor of the genre with his magazine Astounding Science-Fiction. I feel less than a quarter of these stories still work in 2019 and for a reader my age. For the most part, the genre was youthful, the writers youthful, and the readers were youthful. There was an abundance of optimism back then.

After a lifetime of reading science fiction, I feel the genre has a problem with maturity. However, that might be because I’m 67 and I’m having trouble finding science fiction that’s relevant in my waning years. Science fiction doesn’t want to grow up. Even when science fiction deals with a serious subject the treatment is often YA. In the past, I guess the editors and writers knew most of their readers were under 25. Campbell was acclaimed in the 1940s for producing a science fiction magazine for adults. Well, at least readers in their twenties and thirties.

The genre matured in the 1950s when The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy Science Fiction appeared, and the major New York publishers began publishing science fiction in hardback. The New Wave in the 1960s pushed the genre even further into growing up. Then in the 1970s academics started teaching about the genre, boosting the maturity a bit more. On average, science fiction books have gotten larger, more ambitious, better written, and a bit more adult. The genre left the young adult stage, but most adult science fiction today is still aimed at readers in their restless twenties or maturing thirties. I seldom find SF books that reflect the maturity of middle-age, much less old age.

Since 1977 science fiction has been taken over by movies and television, and readership for the magazines has dwindled. At one time Analog had 130,000 paying readers, but now it’s one-sixth or one-seventh of that. Star Wars has lowered the maturity of science fiction, and science fiction based on comics reduces its concepts to childishness. There is little movie science fiction that appeals to the mature mind. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with Star Wars or superhero movies, but from my age perspective, they are for children. Too much of science fiction suffers from arrested development, especially the films and television SF. I have to admit that I didn’t tire of being a YA until my forties.

I write this because I just listened to The Best SF of Brian W. Aldiss from Audible, which I believe is based on the collection Man in His Time: The Best Science Fiction Stories of Brian W. Aldiss which came out in 1988. These stories have completely derailed me from my best-of-the-year reading project. His stories have grabbed my attention because they are different and for the most part serious and adult. I read a couple of Aldiss novels and a handful of short stories way back when but have mostly forgotten about him and his work. In researching Brian W. Aldiss, I think most SF fans have forgotten him too. Three of the books I bought were library discards and they had date-due paper glued in their back. None of them seem to have ever been checked out.

If you look at the entry for Brian W. Aldiss in Wikipedia, most of his bibliography has no separate linked entries, and the content for those that do are often skimpy. That implies that he doesn’t have the fans to keep his work alive, which is a terrible shame. If you look at the bibliography for Robert A. Heinlein at Wikipedia nearly every last novel and short story has a link to its own entry in the encyclopedia, and often they are extensive.

Part of the problem is Aldiss is English, and English science fiction writers other than Arthur C. Clarke have never been hugely popular in the United States. Aldiss and J. G. Ballard achieved a certain level of success. And readers have always loved the odd novel from John Wyndham or John Christopher, but for the most part, I don’t see these names mentioned when people state their favorite SF writers today. Sure, some of the New Space Opera writers from Great Britain have gained a swelling of new fans in the last two decades, but I really don’t know how big their fanbase is compared to American SF writers.

1I assume part of my attraction for Aldiss right now is he’s both serious and British. I’ve gotten into Aldiss so much that I bought and read his memoir about writing, Bury My Heart at W. H. Smith’s. Aldiss does a lot of name dropping in that book, referring to British science fiction and literary writers, and to be honest, I know of only a small percentage of those supposedly famous people. It’s like an alternate universe of science fiction. I’m incredibly thankful for pulp scanners because I can now look up works in New Worlds, Science Fantasy, and Interzone.

Brian Aldiss isn’t OA, but he is MA (Middle Adult Science Fiction), and his stories feel like they are more serious and adult than most SF that was written by his American contemporaries. The stories I listened to were:

  • “Outside” (1955)
  • “The Failed Man” (1956)
  • “All the World’s Tears” (1957)
  • “Poor Little Warrior!” (1958)
  • “Who Can Replace a Man?” (1958)
  • “Man on Bridge” (1964)
  • “The Girl and the Robot with Flowers” (1965)
  • “The Saliva Tree” (1965)
  • “Man in His Time” (1965)
  • “Heresies of a Huge God” (1966)
  • “Confluence” (1967)
  • “Working in the Spaceship Yards” (1969)
  • “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” (1969)
  • “Sober Noises of Morning in a Marginal Land” (1971)
  • “The Dark Soul of the Night” (1976)
  • “Appearance of Life” (1976)
  • “Last Orders” (1976)
  • “Door Slams in Fourth World” (1982)
  • “The Gods in Flight” (1984)
  • “My Country ‘Tis Not Only of Thee” (1986)
  • “Infestation” (1986)
  • “The Difficulties Involved in Photographing Nix Olympica” (1986)

Aldiss published over 300 short stories, and his collected short stories run 5 volumes just for the 1950s and 1960s. Except for “The Saliva Tree” which won a Nebula, and “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” which was the inspiration for Spielberg’s film A.I., these tales aren’t that well known, at least with American readers and anthologies. Aldiss has 41 short stories in our database with at least one citation, but none of them made it to our list Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories which required a minimum of 8 citations.

This is an exciting change for me and reading science fiction, I’m really digging Aldiss. I even bought Apertures: A Study of the Writings of Brian W. Aldiss by Brian Griffin and David Wingrove. Aldiss says in his memoir that they did a good job covering his work. My copy is also a library discard and no one had ever checked it out either.

Of these stories I wish “Appearance of Life” which I’ve written about twice already, and “The Saliva Tree” were on the Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories list. I’ve also written about “The Saliva Tree.”

There’s a story in The Best SF Science Fiction of Brian W. Aldiss that divides his work, “The Girl and the Robot with Flowers” from 1965. In this story, a character named Brian W. Aldiss is talking to his wife about his struggle to write his latest science fiction story. He tells his wife the plot and she said it sounded like a pretty good run-of-the-mill SF story, but it also felt like something from Poul Anderson, and Brian replies, it also sounded like something from an anthology edited by Harry Harrison. Brian the character tells his wife that he’s pretty sure Michael Moorcock at New Worlds or Fred Pohl at Galaxy would buy it. Then the Brain W. Aldiss character goes on to narrate to the reader why he didn’t want to write anymore 1950s kind of science fiction. All that interplanetary stuff wasn’t about real-life or his life.

Could this be Aldiss’ conversion to the New Wave? Could this have been when Aldiss decided to become a grown-up SF writer? Of course, his novels after that seem to have lost readers in America. It wasn’t until his Helliconia Trilogy in the 1980s did he make a comeback, and even then only with limited popularity among the average American SF fan.

Science fiction has gotten more exciting in the last two decades as it has gotten more diverse writers and readers. It is taken seriously. I believe The Calculating Stars which just won the Hugo is a serious novel that has an adult appeal. But its heroine Elma York is just in her twenties. I loved her story. Yet, it’s about an alternate past that I wished had happened (except for the reason the world changes) that might appeal to people my age. But it’s POV still focuses on the very young. Philosophically it asks why we didn’t go to Mars. That’s what I asked too when I was young. Now I ask, why did so many of us have that Mars fantasy?

I’m looking for science fiction aimed at people in their seventh decade of life that takes reality deadly serious and explores realistic possibilities. Modern science fiction books like The Calculating Stars still work well for me, but I still want something different. Something philosophically deeper. I might need to leave the genre, but for now, I’m picking up the trail where Brian Aldiss and J. G. Ballard diverged in the 1960s.

James Wallace Harris, 9/11/19

Be sure and read MarzAat’s review of this book, “Man in His Time; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax,” which gives each story its own review. That’s what I sat down to do when I started writing this essay. But my memory forgets stories almost as fast as I read them, so it’s a real struggle for me to review anthologies and collections. I wish I could have reviewed <i>Man in His Time</i> like MarzAat.

Who Were the Korlevalulaw?

Brian W. Aldiss

A funny thing happened on the way to writing this essay. I sat down to review the short story “Appearance of Life” by Brian W. Aldiss. I thought I’d check Google before I started to see if I could find any history about the story. The first item returned was ‘“Appearance of Life” by Brian W. Aldiss‘ – a review of the story I had written back in 2009. I know my memory is deteriorating, but I found it hilarious that I had completely forgotten something I had written and I was about to write the very same thing then years later. I wish I had finished writing this new review before discovering my old review so I could have compared the two. I know I should be depressed over the existential holes in my memory, but nowadays, I just laugh at myself. I’m going to worry when I stop laughing.

Reading that forgotten review from a decade ago shows I damned the story with faint praise and use it for a jumping-off point to discuss the nature of science fiction. I will quote parts of it in this review. I liked “Appearance of Life” much better this time around. Most stories do get better with rereading. I’ve also learned since 2009, that the more I read works by a single author, the more I can map their range of abilities and interests. Back in the 1960s, Aldiss was among the Big Three of British SF writers: Aldiss, Ballard, and Clarke. His legacy has been fading in recent decades — but then so has most of the science fiction writers I grew up reading. I know I’ve pretty much forgotten about Aldiss since the end of the 1970s.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been gorging myself on science fiction short stories. I haven’t completely logged my 10,000 hours yet, but I’ve acquired a decent sense of the art form. Every SF short story must stand on its own, but it also competes with all other science fiction short stories. Science fiction by its nature is in conversation with itself. Science fiction is about ideas. The challenge to a creative SF writer is to come up with fresh insights to old ideas, and if they want to be cutting-edge, add a new idea to the genre’s repertoire.

Science fiction wants to be infinite in novelty but is often repetitious in routine, improvising on old melodies. Long term readers who have consumed a critical mass of science fiction will understand the genre recycles all the great concepts for each generation of young readers. Neophyte fans often feel they are experiencing a mind-blowing concept for the first time when reading current SF. They believe those ideas are new to them and original with the author they are reading. They can’t tell if the presentation is a brilliant revision or a tired retread. Nor do new SF readers understand that science fiction has evolved over time and gone through many revolutions in writing styles. It isn’t easy to spot the changing prose styles in science fiction as it is flipping through art history textbooks.

I’ve only read four novels by Aldiss, but only vaguely remember two, Hothouse and Non-Stop which I’ve read twice each. (Called The Long Afternoon of Earth and Starship when I read them in their first American editions back in the 1960s.) Over the decades I’ve only read a scattering of his short stories. I’m currently listening to The Best SF Stories by Brian W. Aldiss from Audible.com.

What got me interested in Aldiss again was Joachim Boaz’s review of The 1977 Annual World’s Best Science edited by Donald Wollheim. It contains “Appearance of Life” which Boaz rated 5/5 (Near Masterpiece). How could I resist that? Boaz said of the story, “It is powerful and mysterious. Aldiss at the height of his powers.”

Here is my original description of the story:

“Appearance of Life” can be found in these anthologies, but it’s not a very famous story.  I’m reading it because it’s the opening story from The 1977 Annual World’s Best SF edited by Donald A. Wollheim, a collection we’re reading in the Classic SciFi reading group.

The story opens with two sentences that sum up the story, “Something very large, something very small: a galactic museum, a dead love affair.  They came together under my gaze.”  The story immediately evokes the awe associated with tales about mysterious missing aliens who leave galactic ghost worlds behind, like the Krell that once lived on Altair IV in the film Forbidden Planet, or the strange civilization that once existed on Bronson Beta, from the novel After Worlds Collide. These were my first encounters with the sense of wonder brought on by discovering long dead alien cultures back in the 1960s, but it’s a very common cliché in science fiction that I see over and over again.  It’s odd what Aldiss does with this common idea.  His aliens are called the Korlevalulaw, a tongue-twisting name to say or think.

One cool idea in the story is the Korlevalulaw abandoned written writing, which is something our culture is doing now because of the Internet.  What will aliens discovering our civilization ever make of keyboards and LCD monitors?  Reading this short story also makes me wonder what if anything could be made of my life from the possessions I’ll leave behind.  Think about it.  Photographs tell more than anything else.  How long will this blog endure?

On the planet Norma, humans find a vast building that girdles the planet for sixteen thousand kilometers.  Humans have decided to use this alien construct that is impervious to the electro-magnetic spectrum as a museum to house the history of mankind.  Androids tirelessly store humanity’s artifacts, supervised by twenty human female staff members.  The narrator is a “Seeker” who gets to prowl the collection and develop theories.  The entire structure was left empty by the Korlevalulaw, and after ten centuries humans have filled several thousand hectares of space.

Seekers are specially trained people to intuit understanding from scant evidence, perfect for studying the junk left in this vast Smithsonian like attic a thousand light years away from Earth.  At the current rate it will take 15,500 years to fill the alien structure.  To the Seeker, the human artifacts are almost as alien to him as the Korlevalulaw is to us, because humans have been around for so long that they no longer look like 20th century people.  That’s a nice science fiction speculative concept to come up with, to be a far future anthropologist, and it’s not an uncommon idea.  H. G. Wells’ Time Traveler spent time in a far future human museum trying to figure out that changes that people experienced over 802 millennia.  So far, Aldiss hasn’t presented us with anything new in this story, yet.

The Seeker explores a spaceship from the time when humans were split 50-50 by gender and discovers a wedding ring.  In the Seeker’s time, gender population is 10 to 1 in favor of females.  We readers don’t know why, but it’s an interesting thing for Aldiss to throw out.  Eventually the Seeker discovers two cubes, from different spaceships, that were holographic recording devices.  By unbelievable luck, they are from a married couple that recorded messages to each other fifteen years apart, and were design to only respond to the face of their beloved, so the Seeker sets them together and lets the holograms chat out a long dead love affair in an out of sequence conversation of regret and love that is sixty-five thousand years old.

Jean and Chris’ love story takes a couple of pages to play out, but ultimately it seems completely mundane to me, even though they were separated by interstellar war.  I’m surprise Aldiss didn’t invent something new to add to marriage and love.

Now we come to the intent of the story, called the “secret of the universe” by the Seeker in his epiphany, “Like the images I had observed, the galactic human race was merely a projection.  The Korlevalulaw had created us – not as a genuine creation with free will, but as some sort of a reproduction.”  Then the Seeker decides his flash of intuition is nonsense, but we know that isn’t true by his final actions.

In the end the Seeker flees the world Norma to desperately seek out an isolated world to hide away from humanity, fearing that if he communicated his secret it would doom mankind.  And this is why I’m writing this review.  What is Aldiss really implying?  I think he’s saying something philosophical that’s more than making up a spooky SciFi story ending.  I feel Aldiss wants his story to be disturbing like those Mark Twain stories written in his collection Letters from the Earth, which featured Philip K. Dick paranoia about existence.

Experience SF readers will have read many stories about our species exploring the galaxy. Galactic empires are an over-explored territory. When considering intelligent life in the galaxy stories tend to fall into three camps: humans are the only intelligent beings (Foundation series by Asimov), intelligent beings show up infrequently (“Appearance of Life”) and the galaxy is teaming with life (Star Wars, Star Trek). One of the common assumptions of the infrequent model is intelligent beings evolve, spread through the galaxy, and then die out or evolve into a higher nonmaterial existence leaving the galaxy unoccupied again. Childhood’s End and 2001: A Space Odyssey both take the evolution to a higher plane of existence route.

The stories of alien archaeology where humans only find the material remains of a vast civilization of disappeared inhabitants is one of my favorite themes. Often in these stories, the mystery is to solve why the ancient aliens disappeared. Characters usually feel that will lead to either of three outcomes. First, such as the works of Olaf Stapledon, show humans an evolutionary/spiritual purpose to follow. Second, they feel it’s some kind of test, a rite of passage, to joining the league of advanced beings. Third, there is a drive to acquire the knowledge and technology of these senior beings. I believe Aldiss was trying to come up with something different in “Appearance of Life.”

The famous science fiction editor John W. Campbell didn’t like the idea of humans being inferior to aliens, so we often see Homo sapiens as the top dog in the galaxy. I’d say most science fiction writers assume the galaxy is full of intelligent life, but humans will play a significant role, and no species will truly dominate. Most galactic empire stories are about the high tech potential of humans but fall short of becoming non-physical energy beings.

In “Appearance of Life” Aldiss opens with:

Something very large, something very small: a galactic museum, a dead love affair. They came together under my gaze.

The museum is very large. Less than a thousand light years from Earth, countless worlds bear constructions which are formidably ancient and inscrutable in purpose. The museum on Norma is such a construction.

We suppose that the museum was created by a species which once lorded it over the galaxy, the Korlevalulaw. The spectre of the Korlevalulaw has become part of the consciousness of the human race as it spreads from star-system to star-system. Sometimes the Korlevalulaw are pictured as demons, hiding somewhere in a dark nebula, awaiting the moment when they swoop down on mankind and wipe every last one of us out, in reprisal for having dared to invade their territory. Sometimes the Korlevalulaw are pictured as gods, riding with the awfulness and loneliness of gods through the deserts of space, potent and wise beyond our imagining.

The two opposed images of the Korlevalulaw are of course images emerging from the deepest pools of the human mind. The demon and the god remain with us still.

 

I believe that opening captures the routine reactions of most science fictions stories about missing ancient aliens. Humanity has spent thousands of years speculating what God and Satan, or gods and demons, are like. How is that any different than speculating about possible superior alien beings? There is an ineffable quality to that problem that we never tire of putting into words.

Most SF stories predict we will be able to communicate with any alien species we encounter. Aldiss has major doubts. In “The Failed Men” also from The Best SF Stories by Brian W. Aldiss Aldiss casts more doubts on our ability to communicate between vastly different cultures. In “Appearance of Life” Aldiss uses a clever analogy with the talking holographic heads of Jean and Chris to explain why humans will never understand the Korlevalulaw. Aldiss’ insight is we can’t talk to each other, so there will be no communication possible between humans and gods, or humans and advanced aliens, or even humans and average aliens.

The Seeker who narrates this story is trained to synthesize ideas and experiences. In the end, he claims to have an insight into the secrets of the universe. However, like his insight at the beginning of the story, it parallels ancient theology, that the Korlevalulaw created us as their art. How is that different from the Biblical idea that we’re created in God’s image?

In my original essay I concluded:

Aldiss doesn’t sell his idea to me.  Having humanity be the art of an alien culture is no more real to me than believing man was made in God’s image, although I find it fascinating that billions of humans desperately refashion their lives to fit three thousand year old writings that shaped the long lost twelve tribes of Israel.

The trouble with science fiction writers is they don’t believe their own ideas, they just like to churn out weird concepts to mess with our heads.  The best science fiction concepts are the ones we want to accept, like space travel and life extension, so I’m surprised this story has even gotten the attention it has.   I’m betting most people liked it for the setup, for the sense of wonder buildup, even though it wasn’t original, and the weird ending didn’t mean much to most readers, but I could be wrong.

Now for the second thoughts a decade later. 

With each science fiction story I read I ask myself a number of question:

  1. Do I want to read this story again?
  2. Is this story worth writing about?
  3. Should I recommend it?
  4. Is it on the Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories list?
  5. Is it a story that contemporary readers will like?
  6. Is it a story that is essential in the history of science fiction?
  7. Would I put it on my all-time favorite SF short story list?

For this review, I read the story, then bought the audiobook collection so I could listen to it, and I’m even reading it again for writing this review because I find it pleasantly compelling. And I’m pretty sure I’ll come back to it again in the future, maybe many times.

Since I’m writing about it, that answers question #2. I do recommend it, but the chance of readers finding a copy is damn small unless they own one of these old anthologies, or is willing to buy it on audio. I can’t find any print or ebook editions for sale.

“Appearance of Life” did not make it to the final Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories list. It only got 2 citations, one for the Wollheim anthology, and one for the Gunn anthology, The Road to Science Fiction Volume 5: The British Way. Currently, the minimum number of citations to get on the list is 8, and that grows over time. It’s extremely doubtful “Appearance of Life” will become a classic, either for our list or with science fiction fans.

Would young new readers of science fiction like the story today? My one data point is Joachim Boaz who is in his early thirties. But Boaz isn’t like most fans, he’s a historian, and also loves the history of science fiction.

Compared to other classic SF short stories, it’s doubtful many will consider “Appearance of Life” significant in the history of science fiction. Part of the problem is it came out in an obscure original anthology, and then it’s never been reprinted in an enduring retrospective anthology. Another factor in hiding its light under a bushel is the Aldiss star is fading.

Two of the definitive retrospective anthologies from recent years  The Big Book of Science Fiction (2016) edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer and Sense of Wonder (2011) by Leigh Grossman had a large percentage of stories from the Classics of Science Fiction Short Stories list. Huge anthologies like these come out every few years and help keep SF short stories alive in the minds of new readers. Between them and fan polls, it’s about the only way older stories are remembered. But who knows, maybe between Joachim Boaz and myself we can get more people to read “Appearance of Life.”

Finally, I am considering putting “Appearance of Life” on my all-time favorite SF short story list I’m constructing. However, that list is limited. If I was creating 1,000 Science Fiction Short Stories to Read Before You Die it would be on it. Even if I was creating something like Billboard’s Top 100 All-Time Great SF Stories I might include it. However, I’m not sure if it will fit on my Jim Harris’ Top 40 playlist.

My Top 40 playlist is the science fiction stories I want to keep rereading as I get old and approach checking out. The ones I want to remember as my mind fades away. But what makes a story worth cherishing in your fading memory tontine? Before my friend John Williamson died, he got down to loving only two things: the music of Duane Allman and Benny Goodman. My favorites list is growing now, still below 50 titles, and it might eventually reach 100 before my mind pushes me to start thinning it out.

What ultimately matters with a short story or even a novel, is what lingers in the mind. With “Appearance of Life” the images of a giant museum, two memory cubes of lovers in an endless loop of conversation, and the Seeker running away to find absolute solitude. That ending keeps reminding me of the ending to ” Press Enter ▮” by John Varley.

Isn’t getting old and approaching death also a withdrawal into solitude? Do we keep the stories we understand best, and throw out the rest? Or do we keep the stories we don’t understand, and winnow out those that become obvious? I don’t know what my last novel will be, the one I’ll keep reading to the end. But I do know the short story that will win the tontine, “The Star Pit” by Samuel R. Delany. “Appearance of Life” is still in the rotation for now.

I do believe Brian W. Aldiss had a personal epiphany writing “Appearance of Life.” I’m not sure how well he expressed it, or how well I’m perceiving it. Like the story suggests, communication is not possible. But don’t we always keep trying? This is my second attempt to communicate my reaction to “Appearance of Life.” I don’t know if I’ve done a better job or not.

James Wallace Harris

I Miss Martians

Martians - The Martian Chronicles

I think we can divide science fiction fans into two eras – before and after July 15, 1965. Before NASA’s Mariner 4 spacecraft flew by Mars there was a certain amount of hope that Mars could have been inhabited, or once inhabited. But those 22 grainy pictures that Mariner 4 sent back shocked us. Mars looked like the Moon, full of craters, a dead world. I was fourteen years old and devastated. I wanted Mars to be like Heinlein and Bradbury imagined.

I’m not sure SF readers today can know what it felt like before Mariner 4. Of course, science fiction was full of Martians, but so was popular culture. The Twilight Zone regularly featured Martians and Venusians. Martians were memes that appeared widely in newspapers, magazines, TV, comics, and movies. There was even a sitcom My Favorite Martian. People back then, even people who didn’t read science fiction, wanted to believe that Mars was an old world, occupied by intelligent beings.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Everyone remembers the menacing Martians of H. G. Wells, and many people remember the exotic Martians of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but I remember the Martians of Robert A. Heinlein. The first Heinlein novel I read was The Red Planet which came out in 1949 but I didn’t discover until 1964. Jim Marlowe its protagonist had a pet Martian he called Willis. It was round with three eyes and could parrot human speech. We eventually learn that Willis is a nymph and would metamorph into what the human settlers called the Old Ones. Heinlein later used these Old Ones in his classic novel Stranger in a Strange Land. They were wise, ancient, and had yogi like psychic powers.

Starting in the 1940s with short stories, later collected into a fix-up novel in 1950, Ray Bradbury gave the world The Martian Chronicles. His Martians were also old, wise, with great mental powers, but they were a dying race. Ray Bradbury’s science fiction never felt realistic, even back in the 1940s. His stories felt more like magical realism, or allegory, yet his Martian chronicles hold up better today than those by Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov.

A Rose for Eccelesiastes

Today Mars is a hostile environment for life. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy is the SF standard model for Mars. But I miss Martians. I want Mars to be like Heinlein, Bradbury, and Roger Zelazny imagined.

“A Rose for Ecclesiastes” by Roger Zelazny came out in the November 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I’m pretty sure that Zelazny knew Mars would be like what Mariner 4 would show us, but he also loved the old Martians and wrote this beautiful eulogistic tale about them. I consider it the best story about Old Mars ever written.

Martians Go Home by Fredric Brown

Sure, Martians weren’t always nice. Sometimes they were evil, and other times they were annoying pests, like in Fredric Brown’s Martians, Go Home.

But I still miss Martians. I wish that Mariner 4 had sent us back 22 different pictures, ones with ancient cities visible. I’d love to write an alternative history novel about that, but I’d rather it had happened for real. Wikipedia has a long article about Martians in fiction. We can still read those stories, but wouldn’t it had been great if we had discovered Martians in 1965?

This solar system is too lonely, don’t you think? I wish the planets and moons were inhabited like Leigh Brackett and Stanley Weinbaum imagined. The universe is far out. Reality is so much more than we can ever discover, yet sometimes, I wish it was closer to fiction than fact.

Leigh Brackett

Weinbaum_Odyssey_1

James Wallace Harris

Vultures of the Void by Philip Harbottle

Vultures-of-the-Void

I came across Vultures of the Void: The Legacy by Philip Harbottle by accident. Paul Fraser chided me in an earlier post being too American-centric when talking about science fiction history, so I went looking for more information on British science fiction history. I found a mention of an earlier edition of Vultures of the Void in Mike Ashley’s Transformations: The Story of Science Fiction Magazines From 1950 to 1970 (itself out-of-print.)

Vultures of the Void is a print-on-demand (POD) book, which can be ordered from a number of sources. Here’s how Amazon describes it:

An earlier, very much shorter version of this book was published as VULTURES OF THE VOID in 1992 by Borgo Press, along with a companion bibliographic volume, BRITISH SCIENCE FICTION PAPERBACKS AND MAGAZINES 1949-1956. Now the compiler and editor of those books, Philip Harbottle, here presents the result of his further and ongoing researches into British science fiction publishing history. This greatly expanded version includes entirely new coverage of the generic hardcover titles that briefly and paradoxically flourished alongside the indigenous British paperbacks of the early 1950's, spearheaded by an influx of outstanding American science fiction by such authors as Isaac Asimov, Fredric Brown, Edmond Hamilton, Robert Heinlein, Jack Williamson, and A. E. van Vogt. VULTURES OF THE VOID: THE LEGACY also deals in fascinating detail with related shaping events both before and after the notorious postwar 'mushroom' decade. In particular, it describes how many of the original founders of the pre-war British Interplanetary Society - including fledgling young science fiction writers such as Arthur C. Clarke and Eric Frank Russell - were to become giants and shapers of their field after the war. And how pioneer editors such as Walter Gillings and John Carnell struggled against overwhelming odds to establish British science fiction magazines both before and after the Second World War. In this new book, Harbottle also reveals the astonishing latter-day legacy of the turbulent postwar decade for himself and some of the most prolific authors such as John Russell Fearn, E. C. Tubb, and others, whose work he has been instrumental in returning to print.

The book is almost four hundred pages of fairly small print spiced with black-and-white photos of covers from old British science fiction books, paperbacks, and magazines. While flipping through it I realized Paul was right, I do have an American-centric view of science fiction. Vultures of the Void shows an alternate history of science fiction that I know little about.

This is an obscure book, not because it’s unavailable, but because so little is written about it. There are only three reviews at Goodreads. I was able to find one review by science fiction writer  David Redd.

If you collect old science fiction magazines and books, you might want to buy this one.

James Wallace Harris

The Year’s Best Short Science Fiction: 1959

1959-SF-Magazines

Few people think about 1959 today – at least not consciously. Yet, 1959 hangs around. If you hear “So What” by Miles Davis or “Take Five” by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, that year creeps back into your mind. And if you play “Moanin’” by Art Blakey – now that’s 1959 down and dirty! 59′ also returns if you throw on the Blu-ray of Some Like it Hot, Ben-Hur, Anatomy of a Murder, or catch a rerun of The Twilight Zone, Rawhide, Bonanza, or The Untouchables. Three novels dominated The New York Times bestsellers list in 1959 were Doctor Zhivago, Exodus, and Advise and Consent, although it might be more common to be reading A Separate Peace, A Canticle for Leibowitz, or Starship Troopers today.

I’ve become an aficionado of short science fiction, a particularly minor aspect of pop culture, but even here 1959 still matters. I’ve always wanted to pick a year and read all the science fiction magazines that came out that year. But I’m lazy. However, back in 2014, Gideon Marcus did just that for his blog Galactic Journey. This week I read all his columns covering 1959.

I’ve always wondered if anthologists have missed great stories. Are there a few classics still to be unearthed? In 1960 Judith Merril told us which stories she liked from 1959. Bold ones are the titles Marcus also liked.

  • “No Fire Burns” by Avram Davidson (Playboy)
  • No, No, Not Rogov!” by Cordwainer Smith (If)
  • “The Shoreline at Sunset” by Ray Bradbury (F&SF)
  • “The Dreamsman” by Gordon R. Dickson (Star Science Fiction No. 6)
  • “Multum in Parvo” by Jack Sharkey (The Gent)
  • Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes (F&SF)
  • A Death in the House” by Clifford D. Simak (Galaxy)
  • “Mariana” by Fritz Leiber (Fantastic)
  • Day at the Beach” by Carol Emshwiller (F&SF)
  • “Plenitude” by Will Mohler (F&SF)
  • The Man Who Lost the Sea” by Theodore Sturgeon (F&SF)
  • “Make a Prison” by Lawrence Block (Science Fiction Stories)
  • What Now, Little Man?” by Mark Clifton (F&SF)

Why did Merril miss “All You Zombies—” by Robert A. Heinlein that year? It was on her honorable mention list. I’ve read in later years Heinlein wanted too much to reprint his stories so it might have been true in 1960 too. Gideon Marcus didn’t read Fantastic, the 1959 men’s magazines, or original anthologies, so he gave no opinion on those stories.

Also, in 1960, fans voted the Hugo award for Best Short Fiction:

Winner:

  • “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes (F&SF)

Runner-ups:

  • “The Alley Man” by Philip José Farmer (F&SF)
  • “The Pi Man” by Alfred Bester (F&SF)
  • “The Man Who Lost the Sea” by Theodore Sturgeon (F&SF)
  • “Cat and Mouse” by Ralph Williams (Astounding)

Why wasn’t “All You Zombies—” among the top stories nominated for a Hugo? Fans loved three stories that Merril overlooked – “The Alley Man,” “The Pi Man” and “Cat and Mouse.” All three were on her honorable mention list, but it included over a hundred stories. Those three weren’t popular with Gideon Marcus either.

We never know if the stories anthologists published as the best of the year are their exact best of the year, or the stories they could get the rights to publish.

In 1990 Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg told us their favorite in The Great SF Stories 21 (1959). Stories in bold are those that Merril didn’t pick in 1960.

  • Make a Prison” by Lawrence Block (Science Fiction Stories)
  • The Wind People” by Marion Zimmer Bradley (If)
  • “No, No, Not Rogov!” by Cordwainer Smith (If)
  • What Rough Beast?” by Damon Knight (F&SF)
  • The Alley Man” by Philip José Farmer (F&SF)
  • “Day at the Beach” by Carol Emshwiller (F&SF)
  • The Malted Milk Monster” by William Tenn (Galaxy)
  • The World of Heart’s Desire” by Robert Sheckley (Playboy)
  • “The Man Who Lost the Sea” by Theodore Sturgeon (F&SF)
  • “A Death in the House” by Clifford D. Simak (Galaxy)
  • The Pi Man” by Alfred Bester (F&SF)
  • “Multum in Parvo” by Jack Sharkey (The Gent)
  • “What Now, Little Man?” by Mark Clifton (F&SF)
  • Adrift on the Policy Level” by Chan Davis (The Expert Dreamers)

Asimov and Greenberg added 8 stories that Merril didn’t anthologize, while still ignoring “Cat and Mouse” but remembered “The Pi Man.” In the early years of their series, Asimov and Greenberg would give the Heinlein stories they wanted to include a placeholder page in their anthologies. It told readers they couldn’t get the rights to publish Heinlein’s story, but they would have included it as one of the best of the year stories. They stopped even that recognition after a while. I assumed “didn’t get the rights” meant they didn’t want to pay Heinlein’s price.

In 2014 Gideon Marcus identified his favorites at Galactic Journey. His is a longer list than the others. The stories below are Gideon’s 5-stars or highly recommended, or his Galactic Stars Awards recommendations. I’ve cobbled this list together from my reading notes, and they are in no order. I’ve bolded stories the others didn’t recognize.

  • “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes (F&SF)
  • “The Man Who Lost the Sea” by Theodore Sturgeon (F&SF)
  • “What Rough Beast” by Damon Knight (F&SF)
  • This Earth of Hours” by James Blish (F&SF)
  • To Fell a Tree” by Robert F. Young (F&SF)
  • The Good Work” by Theodore L. Thomas (If)
  • The City of Force” by Daniel Galouye (Galaxy)
  • The Sky People” by Poul Anderson (F&SF)
  • Cat and Mouse” by Ralph Williams (Astounding)
  • Seeling” by Katherine MacLean (Astounding)
  • Whatever Counts” by Frederik Pohl (Galaxy)
  • Return to Prodigal” by J. T. McIntosh (If)
  • “Death in the House” by Clifford D. Simak (Galaxy)
  • The Aliens” by Murray Leinster (Astounding)
  • Someone to Watch Over Me” by Christopher Grimm (Galaxy)
  • Operation Incubus” by Poul Anderson (F&SF)
  • “What Now, Little Man?” by Mark Clifton (F&SF)

Marcus finally confirms the Hugo nominated “Cat and Mouse.” Most of the previously unremembered stories that Marcus rediscovered were not on anybody else’s list. “The Aliens” was reprinted in The World Turned Upside Down, ed. Drake, Baen, and Flint, 2004, and “The Sky People” were on a list of all-time favorite stories by Gardner Dozois. My guess is these stories need to be reread and reevaluated, but they might be like Pohl’s “Whatever Counts” – just standout stories for the issue, and not all-time classics. I thought “Whatever Counts” was quite innovative – it opens with a dramatic scene of parents trying to burp a baby in freefall and eventually explores different states of consciousness. If I was doing an anthology of Forgotten 1950s SF Stories, I’d include it. But I can’t say it’s a classic like “So What” or “Take Five” are for 1959 jazz. SF’s version of those jazz classics would be “Flowers for Algernon” and “All You Zombies—”

Marcus didn’t say much about “All You Zombies—” but he did rate the March F&SF issue at 4 to 4.5 stars, meaning there must have been some 5-star stories in that issue. He never said which ones, and he did say that F&SF had eleven 5-star stories for 1959. I can only identify eight by reading the columns. Maybe “All You Zombies—” was one. Because Marcus didn’t gush over the obvious classics, maybe he was specifically trying to promote overlooked stories.

In 2018 we created The Classics of Short Science Fiction that identified just four stories from 1959. They each had five or more citations – the requirement to make the list. They were:

  • “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes (12)
  • “All You Zombies—” by Robert A. Heinlein (11)
  • “The Man Who Lost the Sea by Theodore Sturgeon (7)
  • “The Pi Man” by Alfred Bester (5)

If Merril and Asimov/Greenberg anthologies had included “All You Zombies—” it would have gotten 14 citations, making it the most remembered SF story of 1959. It’s interesting that both “All You Zombies—” and “Flowers for Algernon” have been made into movies.

If you add in stories that got at least three citations the list would expand to:

  • “The Wind People” by Marion Zimmer Bradley (4)
  • “The Store of the Worlds” by Robert Sheckley (3)
  • “No, No, Not Rogov!” by Cordwainer Smith (3)
  • “The Alley Man” by Philip José Farmer (3)

When we do version 2.0 of The Classics of Short Science Fiction these four stories might get more citations, especially if I use Gideon’s picks as a citation source – that would at least put “The Wind People” on The Classics of Short Fiction list (unless I up the minimum citation requirement – now at 5).

If someone in 2019 created a new anthology series for the best short SF of the year, what should it contain? After 60 years have the classic short SF finally been identified? And if an anthologist in 2059 collected The Best Short SF of 1959 would they see the same classics we do today? Are there still SF stories from 1959 that haven’t revealed their genius yet?

And as Paul Fraser pointed out the stories above are mostly American and that Marcus didn’t read the British SF magazines New Worlds, Science Fantasy or Science Fiction Adventures. And the above lists ignore the rest of the world. We know Merril knew about Russian science fiction because she edited an anthology of Russian SF. Hopefully, by 2059 we’ll know more about the best 1959 SF short stories from around the world.

You can play with our database to create lists of best stories of the year lists.

James Wallace Harris, May 4, 2019

The Limits of Believability in Science Fiction

Skylark-Three

There are two kinds of believability in science fiction. The first is internal, does the story make sense in its own fictional reality? The second kind asks if the concepts in the story are believable in our reality? In this essay, I’m concerned with the second kind. I believe all science fiction readers have built-in bullshit detectors that vary in accuracy depending on the science they know. To complicate the problem, none of us know the real potential of science and technology.

Last year I started gorging on science fiction short stories. I’m reading stories from the last two hundred years, jumping around from decade to decade in no particular order. This is giving me a sense of what every generation feared and hoped for the future. What I discovered, and should have predicted but didn’t, is that every era has the same hopes and fears, they just apply their current science to their speculation. However, over time we accept the reality of what science teaches us while still wildly speculating about what science could still discover. It’s a form of neverending hope.

Those reading space operas today no longer expect futures where Dick Seaton hurls galaxies at his enemies, but they do believe our minds will be easily transferred between bodies (human, alien, artificial beings), virtual realities, machines, and spaceships. Every generation wants to go where no human has gone before, to escape the limits of mortality, and create what’s never been imagined.

When we’re young we’re willing to believe almost anything. However, the closer we get to knocking on heaven’s door the more we disbelieve. Aging means education and experience, lessons that define our boundaries of believability.

I’m almost finished reading The Very Best of the Best edited by Gardner Dozois that collects 38 science fiction short stories first published from 2002-2017. It’s giving me a great overview of what 21st-century writers think what might be possible in the future. The trouble is, I doubt most of what they dream will come true.

One of the most popular science fiction themes of our time is brain downloading. Essentially, it’s a psychological replacement for accepting Jesus and attaining everlasting life. Sure, getting downloaded into a robot, clone, or artificial body is as entertaining to read as magically getting turned into a dog or cat, but my bullshit detectors start clicking loudly when science fiction acts like Harry Potter.

Science fiction shouldn’t be let’s play make-believe. There’s a huge difference between what if and if this goes on. Just because we can imagine it doesn’t make it possible. In recent decades some science fiction writers have pulled away from faster-than-light travel. And time travel is a much less popular plot device in serious science fiction. Yet most science fiction readers and writers ache to zip around the galaxy at whatever magical warp factor makes the story work, or escape a plot conundrum with a bit of time travel.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m 67 or reading science fiction for sixty years, but I’m now craving bullshit free SF stories. I now consider most stories labeled science fiction to be fantasy. Some writers even claim that science fiction is merely a subgenre of fantasy. I believe, or want to believe, that real science fiction is separate from fantasy. That science fiction is a genuine cognitive tool for speculating about what might be possible.

Yesterday, The Guardian ran “‘It drives writers mad’: why are authors still sniffy about sci-fi?” by Sarah Ditum. It’s another report about how literary writers sneer at science fiction even when they use its storytelling techniques in their work. Every few years essays like this appear, and science fiction fans get in a snit. The reality is published science fiction is not a successful publishing category and ambitious writers don’t want to get pigeonholed into our genre. It’s perfectly understandable. However, the cognitive tool of writing science fiction is very successful, and literary writers want to use it from time to time. Ian McEwan has just published Machines Like Me that is obviously science fiction. He wants his science fictional speculation taken seriously, thus the reason why he’s avoiding being classified as a science fiction writer. It sounds like Catch-22, but then the Yossarian’s Catch-22 meant something real too.

What some science fiction fans don’t understand is the average person might have better SF bullshit detectors than we do. It’s somewhat analogous to religious true believers being angered by skeptics who reject their truth out of hand. Faith in anything tends to disable bullshit detectors.

What I’m saying is either my age or my study of science fiction has made me a skeptic in my faith in science fiction. In other words, I’m becoming the Bart D. Ehrman of my religion – science fiction – by studying its history.

James Wallace Harris, 4/19/19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Purple Death” by W. L. Alden

The Purple Death by W. L. Alden

“The Purple Death” by W. L. Auden first appeared in the January 1895 issue of Cassell’s Family Magazine. I read it in my copy of Science Fiction by the Rivals of H. G. Wells edited by Alan K. Russell, but I also own The Wordsworth Collection of Science Fiction edited by David Stuart Davies, the other anthology that ISFDB.org says contains the story. However, it is also available to read online.

In the last decade, I’ve come to admire science fiction from the 19th-century and collected a number of anthologies that mine that era for early tales of sense-of-wonder. I dip into these volumes now and then, often to discover ideas I thought original to the golden age of pulp SF magazines of the 1930s and 1940s. It makes me wonder if anthologists shouldn’t scout the 18th-century for even earlier examples of common science fiction themes.

“The Purple Death” is a quiet story about an Englishman vacationing in Italy who meets Professor Schwartz, a mad scientist from Germany living the cottage next door. Schwartz wants to help the poor and downtrodden by reducing their numbers. He believes overpopulation is the source of the planet’s problems. His has a solution, one we’d call terrorism today. In fact, the description of his bioweapons of mass destruction and how he would deploy them sounds exactly like possibilities we regularly hear on the nightly news.

Wikipedia has little to say about Alden, other than he was Consul General in Rome, Italy from 1885-1890, appointed by Grover Cleveland. He brought the sport of canoeing to the United States and was the founding member of the American Canoe Association. That I thought strange since I assumed native Americans invented the canoe.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is a bit more revealing, with a concise rundown of his other SF/F tales. Their themes support my idea that many of the famous science fictional ideas of the 20th-century had earlier versions in the 19th. To quote SFE:

Alden's sf and fantasy seems to date only from around 1890 or so, his first title of genuine genre interest seeming to be A Lost Soul: Being the Confession and Defence of Charles Lindsay (1892), narrated by a physician who re-animates the frozen body of an Italian countess (see Sleeper Awakes), only to find that she has retained the amoral ways (see Sex) that caused her husband to immolate her in the first place. Most of the stories in Among the Freaks (coll of linked stories 1896) are tall tales, narrated by the owner of a freak show (but see Monsters); The Mystery of Elias G Roebuck and Other Stories (coll 1896) includes several fantasies and sf tales, including an interesting Apes as Human tale, "A Darwinian Schooner" (August 1893 Pall Mall Magazine) and several tales involving Inventions, a topic more intensely (and humorously) deployed in the stories assembled as Van Wagener's Ways (coll of linked stories 1898), in which the eponymous professor's inventions, all of which go wrong but which are not hoaxes, end with his death in something like a nuclear explosion. Drewitt's Dream (1902) is partially set on an Island Utopia. Alden was prolific and fluent, and further exploration of his works may uncover more material of interest.

I think I’d like to give A Lost Soul (1892) a try. In his bibliography, SFE also mentions A New Robinson Crusoe (1888), which also intrigues me.

By the way, I highly recommend Science Fiction Rivals of H. G. Wells if you can find a copy. They are getting expensive on the used market. I only snagged a copy of one without its dust jacket, so in some ways, I hate to make this recommendation, because I’d still like to find a cheap copy in its wrapper. However, it’s a cool volume, reprinting Victorian era SF from the magazines and including their original illustrations. It’s a shame there is no ebook or audiobook edition.

James Wallace Harris, April 2, 2019

 

Before there was Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, before there was Blogs, Forums, and Listserv, there was the Fanzine!

The Science Fiction Fanzine Reader

I’m not sure people who grew up after the internet can comprehend living before the computer era. They are used to instant communication with anyone around the world. They are used to finding their peeps in a Facebook group just by typing in a search phrase or battling tempests in a teacup with digital acquaintances they’ve never met on Twitter. The internet lets everyone easily locate like-minded members of their subculture or the foes of their philosophy. Anyone can have a world-wide distribution of their writing. But in the days before networked computers, most people only knew other people from meeting face-to-face. Writing letters were about the extent of distant communication, and generally, they were to Mom and Dad when you were at camp.

However, Amazing Stories in the 1920s inspired science fiction fans to communicate with other unmet fans through the letter columns, which led them to invent their own magazines, the fanzine. That allowed SF fans to express themselves and find other fans to share and argue over the mighty topic of science fiction. Instead of HTML, they used letterpresses, ditto machines, and the mighty Gestetner mimeograph to publish text and graphics.

Luis Ortiz has just come out with a new anthology of fanzine essays and artwork called The Science Fiction Fanzine Reader: Focal Points 1930-1960. He ties 400 pages of reprints with commentary and history. Sure this is a big book about a tiny subculture. Only 200 people attended the first Worldcon in New York City in 1939. Most science fiction fans lived in isolation, hungry for contact with their fellow fen.

In my recent essay about Hugo award-winning fanzines, I provided links to sites where you can read these classic zines. What Ortiz has done is give those archives a coherent overview and history. I don’t think many people will be buying this $30 book. The old science fiction fandom is dying out. It’s been completely overshadowed by social media. But I want to let those who remember to know that it exists. And maybe let those who don’t remember a chance to see how the ideology of science fiction was spread before the world knew the term science fiction.

I joined Spectator Amateur Press Society (SAPS) in 1971 and my cousin-in-law let me use his church’s Gestetner to run off my first zine called The Blue Bomber (named after my car). SAPS was an amateur press association (APA) where I shared my zine with 36 other people around the world. In 1974, Greg Bridges and Dennis McHaney and I purchased a Gestetner together. I helped Greg publish a genzine called Diversity for our local science fiction club, but we traded it for other zines in other states, and I think England, Canada, and Australia. Dennis published a zine devoted to Robert E. Howard. I used our mimeograph for publishing my SAPS and SFPA zines.

Communicating with distant people I’ve never met in the 1970s via zines prepared me for the BBS boom in the 1980s. I joined Prodigy, AOL, Genie. I had a 2-line BBS system to discuss science fiction. When I got access to the internet in 1987 I contacted other SF fans via email, forums, mailing lists, and USENET. I created the first version of The Classics of Science Fiction for a fanzine Lan’s Lantern. I reprinted it on a gopher server in the early 1990s, and right after the web was created I set up the first web version. This site is version 4.

I feel all of this communicating across the planet was a natural progression from publishing my first fanzine.

James Wallace Harris, March 27, 2019

 

How Many Hugo Award Winning Fanzines Can You Read Online?

 

Hugo winning fanzines

In the 1930s fans began publishing amateur magazines devoted to the science fiction genre. They were dubbed fanzines, as compared to prozines, where science fiction was published by professional writers and editors. Eventually, other pop culture fans created fanzines chronicling the subcultures of comics, horror movies, rock music, the counter-culture, etc.

In the 1950s when the Hugo awards began, a category for best fanzine was created. In recent years Retro Hugo voters looked back to the 1930s and 1940s, giving awards to now legendary titles that are almost impossible to find. Most fanzines had very small print runs. Reading them today reveals how readers of the past felt about science fiction, long before the genre became well known. Fanzines including gossip, feuds, nonfiction, fiction, poetry, art, letter columns, book reviews, and anything you’d read now on the web.

Since the advent of the internet, some fanzines have been digitized and put online. Fanac.org focuses on the fan history of the SF genre, especially fanzines from before 1980. eFanzines covers all kinds of zines, including current ones. The University of Iowa is digitizing 10,000 fanzines from Rusty Havelin’s collection. And ZineWiki is the encyclopedia of fanzine history. Fanzines chronicle the histories of subcultures. Fredric Wertham, M.D. who campaigned against comics in the 1950s as a negative influence on children, praised fanzines in the 1970s in his book The World of Fanzines, claiming they were a special form of creative communication.

Fanzines were the precursors to blogs and home pages. Fanzines allowed people to inter-network using postal services around the world. Access to a school ditto machine or an office Gestetner gave fans publishing power. The web, for the most part, killed off the fanzine because HTML serves the same purpose as the mimeograph, but cheaper and more efficiently.

A complete list of Hugo nominated fanzines and winners can be found at Wikipedia. Below are the fanzines that won the Hugo Awards. This is the smallest drop in the bucket compared to what was published. I’ve tried to find the best link possible to sample issues. In recent times the award for fanzines has gone to websites. The art of writing, editing, illustrating, and printing an amateur magazine is disappearing. Fanzines are still remembered by collectors who buy them on eBay and discussed on Facebook. However, they are disappearing quickly. Booksellers often refer to them as ephemera. I have been scanning a few issues of old zines and putting them on the Internet Archive, a library system that hopes to preserve everything that can be digitized. If you have old fanzines you might consider scanning them for IA. Especially if you believe your spouse will toss your collection in the recycle bin when you leave this world.

Retro Hugos

Hugos

  • 1955 – Fantasy Times (James V. Taurasi, Sr. and Ray Van Houten)
  • 1956 – Inside (Ron Smith), Science Fiction Advertiser (Ron Smith)
  • 1957 – Science-Fiction Times (James V. Taurasi, Sr., Ray Van Houten and Frank R. Prieto, Jr.)
  • 1959 – Fanac (Terry Carr, Ron Ellik)
  • 1960 – Cry of the Nameless (F. M. Busby, Elinor Busby, Burnett Toskey and Wally Weber)
  • 1961 – Who Killed Science Fiction? (Earl Kemp)
  • 1962 – Warhoon (Richard Bergeron)
  • 1963 – Xero (Richard and Pat Lupoff)
  • 1964 – Amra (George H. Scithers)
  • 1965 – Yandro (Robert and Juanita Coulson)
  • 1966 – ERB-dom (Camille Cazedessus, Jr.)
  • 1967 – Niekas (Edmund R. Meskys and Felice Rolfe)
  • 1968 – Amra (see 1965)
  • 1969 – Science Fiction Review (Richard E. Geis)
  • 1970 – Science Fiction Review (see 1968)
  • 1971 – Locus (Charles and Dena Brown)
  • 1972 – Locus (see 1971)
  • 1973 – Energumen (Michael Glicksohn and Susan Wood)
  • 1974 – The Alien Critic (Richard E. Geis)
  • 1975 – The Alien Critic (see 1974)
  • 1976 – Locus (see 1971)
  • 1977 – Science Fiction Review (see 1968)
  • 1978 – Locus (see 1971)
  • 1979 – Science Fiction Review (see 1968)
  • 1980 – Locus (see 1971)
  • 1981 – Locus (see 1971)
  • 1982 – Locus (see 1971)
  • 1983 – Locus (see 1971)
  • 1984 – File 770 (Mike Glyer)
  • 1985 – File 770 (see 1984)
  • 1986 – Lan’s Lantern (George “Lan” Laskowski)
  • 1987 – Ansible (David Langford)
  • 1988 – Texas SF Inquirer (Pat Mueller)
  • 1989 – File 770 (see 1984)
  • 1990 – The Mad 3 Party (Leslie Turek)
  • 1991 – Lan’s Lantern (see 1986)
  • 1992 – Mimosa (Richard Lynch and Nicki Lynch)
  • 1993 – Mimosa (see 1992)
  • 1994 – Mimosa (see 1992)
  • 1995 – Ansible (see 1987)
  • 1996 – Ansible (see 1987)
  • 1997 – Mimosa (see 1992)
  • 1998 – Mimosa (see 1992)
  • 1999 – Ansible (see 1987)
  • 2000 – File 770 (see 1984)
  • 2001 – File 770 (see 1984)
  • 2002 – Ansible (see 1987)
  • 2003 – Mimosa (see 1992)
  • 2004 – Emerald City (Cheryl Morgan)
  • 2005 – Plokta (Alison Scott, Steve Davies, and Mike Scott)
  • 2006 – Plokta (see 2005)
  • 2007 – Science-Fiction Five-Yearly (Lee Hoffman, Geri Sullivan, and Randy Byers)
  • 2008 – File 770 (see 1984)
  • 2009 – Electric Velocipede (John Klima)
  • 2010 – StarShipSofa (Tony C. Smith)
  • 2011 – The Drink Tank (Christopher Garcia and James Bacon)
  • 2012 – SF Signal (John DeNardo)
  • 2013 – SF Signal (John DeNardo, JP Frantz, and Patrick Hester)
  • 2014 – A Dribble of Ink (Aidan Moher)
  • 2015 – Journey Planet (James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery)
  • 2016 – File 770 (see 1984)
  • 2017 – Lady Business (Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan)
  • 2018 – File 770 (see 1984)

James Wallace Harris, March 22, 2019

The Winston Science Fiction Series

 

Winston-Science-Fiction-series

There are pleasures of the past you can buy — if you’re willing to pay the price. For some bookworms who got hooked on science fiction in the 1950s and 1960s, the Winston Science Fiction series aimed at children trigger an intense sense of nostalgia. However, I don’t believe it was the words in those 37 volumes that are burned into our memories, but the cover and endpaper art. Finding one of these stories reprinted without the art doesn’t set off those same intense emotions about the past, at least for me. I often wonder if nostalgia isn’t predominantly a visual thing. I’m in a number of Facebook groups where people are crazy about posting images of the past.

I never owned any of the Winston books as a kid, but got them from my school library, the Miami-Dade County Public Library, or from the Homestead Air Force Base library in the mid-1960s. There were three kinds of science fiction novels aimed at children that I remember from back then. The twelve Heinlein juveniles from Scribners, books by Andre Norton, and the Winston Science Fiction series. When I got my first job I ordered all the Heinlein books in hardback from the publisher. I wish I had ordered the Winston books at the time too. Those Winston books today in VG to Fine condition run hundreds of dollars each if they have the original dust jackets.

Mists of Dawn by Chad Oliver Another important visual bond with these books was the endpaper art that was part of most of the first editions by Alex Schomburg. In fact, this artwork can set off a flurry of comments on the Facebook groups Space Opera Pulp and Science Fiction Book Club. It seems to capture the essence of 1950s science fiction. And it’s a shame that all hardback books don’t all have endpaper art. The Heinlein juveniles did have beautiful endpapers, but just a star pattern, not like the sense-of-wonder artwork below.

Winston_Endpaper For many years I’d keep an eye out for the Winston Science Fiction books when I shopped at used bookstores. I never saw any. I eventually assume they were all owned by collectors. A few years ago my friend Mike found The Ant Men by Eric North at a library book sale in good condition but without a dust jacket. I was envious of him for his luck. We then found WinstonSciFi that sells reproductions of the dust jackets at very reasonable prices. Now his copy of The Ant Men looks like this one:

The Ant Men by Eric North

The other day Mike and I were shopping at a used bookstore and found a Dover reprint of The Ant Men by Eric North. It had a stylised version of the cover that was okay, but what really shouted at me to buy the book was the original Schomburg endpaper art. I didn’t buy it because the book’s cover looked wrong. I’m still tempted to go back to get it because of the endpaper art.

Last year I discovered that many titles in the Winston Science Fiction series were being sold on Amazon as ebook and trade paperback reprints and they used the original cover art (but not the endpaper art). I ordered one just to check it out, Rockets to Nowhere by Lester del Rey. The publisher of these reprints is Dan Thompson of Thunderchild Publishing from Huntsville, Alabama. He also offers a reprint of The Ant Men with the original cover. You can read about how Dan got into reprinting vintage science fiction here. Like me, Dan also read the Heinlein and Andre Norton books growing up. He discovered that most of the Winston books were out-of-print and thought that was a shame, so he got into the publishing business. A few were in the public domain, but for most, he had to track down the copyright holders to arrange contracts for reprinting. He’s been able to reprint many but not all of the series in both ebook and trade paper editions.

Even though I’d love to own a mint condition original copy of Rockets to Nowhere, having Dan’s trade paperback reprint visually fulfills my nostalgic needs.

Rockets-to-Nowhere---both-editions

Of course, I would prefer to own the 1st-edition, but I don’t want to spend $200. $7.99 is a great compromise between my eyes and my bank account.

If you’d like to see what the other covers look like for the entire series, check out Worlds Without End. Publication history and other details can be found at ISFDB.org.

The-Year-When-Stardust-FellSome of these books have never been reprinted, and for some, Thunderchild is the first publisher since Winston to publish them. Which makes me wonder just how good are these stories? I decided to give one a read, but the one I picked wasn’t from Thunderchild. I’ve been wanting to read some Raymond F. Jones, but I now prefer to listen to books. The Year When Stardust Fell was the first one I could find on audio. I got it for $2.99 at Audible.com because I bought the 99 cent ebook edition at Amazon. Thunderchild also sells an ebook and trade paper of this title, and I might get it too because of the cover.

These stories were aimed at children, sometimes even targeted to elementary school kids, but mostly to junior and senior high. I found this story far more adult than I remembered. I don’t think I read The Year When Stardust Fell as a kid, but I had a couple of Deja vu experiences while listening to it. The story is about when Earth passes through a comet’s tail and its dust affects metals, so eventually, all machinery breaks down. Civilization slowly collapses. The story is told from the point of view of Ken Maddox who lives in Mayfield in an unspecified state. Ken’s father is a chemistry professor at a local university. Because of Mayfield being isolated, it’s citizens are able to survive with rationing while in larger cities millions die. As the story progresses the people of Mayfield must learn to live with less and less, and even deal with the moral problem of lifeboat ethics.

Ken and his science club buddies run a ham radio rig that stays in touch with other research sites who are trying to solve the problem of the dust affecting metals. Ken and his buddies also help his father in the lab. This allows the story to emphasize the workings of science. I found the tale thoroughly engaging. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either. To me, it holds up well with other 1950s science fiction stories. In fact, I was always anxious to get back to the story. But then, after-the-collapse stories are among my favorite kind of science fiction story.

Winston-Science-Fiction-at-eBay

To be honest, I can’t remember any of the details from the books I think I read. Of course, I read these stories 55 years ago. I’ll have to read several more to see if I think the series deserves to be remembered for its fiction. What I’m discovering is I want these books because of their physical artistic appeal that trigger my nostalgia. I saw a group of 8 of them on sale at eBay today for $300. The idea of holding those old books again is very tempting, even though $300 could probably get me “reading copies” of the entire series if I shopped carefully. A reading copy in used book terminology meaning its beat to hell but you can still read it. I could get most of them as ebooks for less than $100, and all of Thunderchild trade paper editions for under $300.

Dan says these books aren’t big sellers. It’s probably hard to market books for kids in the 1950s to kids or nostalgic adults in the 2010s. I wonder what will happen to these stories when the baby boomers all die off. I doubt any of them will ever be considered classics of the genre. It’s a shame that Thunderchild doesn’t have the right to publish the entire series again as one uniform set so they might have collector appeal.

Here the complete list of titles with cover artists. My favorites tend to be the ones with Alex Schomburg cover paintings. Links are to Thunderbird trade editions at Amazon.

  1. EarthboundMilton Lesser, cover by Peter Poulton (1952)
  2. Find the Feathered Serpent, Evan Hunter, cover Henry Sharp (1952)
  3. Five Against Venus, Philip Latham (Robert S. Richardson), cover Virgil Finlay (1952)
  4. Islands in the Sky, Arthur C. Clarke, cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
  5. Marooned on Mars, Lester del Rey, cover Paul Orban (1952)
  6. Mists of Dawn, Chad Oliver, cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
  7. Rocket Jockey, Philip St. John (Lester del Rey), cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
  8. Son of the Stars, Raymond F. Jones, cover Alex Schomburg (1952)
  9. Sons of the Ocean Deeps, Bryce Walton, cover Paul Orban (1952)
  10. Vault of the Ages, Poul Anderson, cover Paul Orban (1952)
  11. Attack from Atlantis, Lester del Rey, cover Kenneth S. Fagg (1953)
  12. Battle on Mercury, Erik Van Lhin (Lester del Rey), cover Kenneth S. Fagg (1953)
  13. Danger: Dinosaurs!, Richard Marsten (Evan Hunter), cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  14. Missing Men of Saturn, Philip Latham, cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  15. The Mysterious Planet, Kenneth Wright (Lester del Rey), cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  16. Mystery of the Third Mine, Robert W. Lowndes, cover Kenneth S. Fagg (1953)
  17. Planet of Light, Raymond F. Jones, cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  18. Rocket to Luna, Richard Marsten (Evan Hunter), cover by Alex Schomburg (1953)
  19. The Star Seekers, Milton Lesser, cover Paul Calle (1953)
  20. Vandals of the Void, Jack Vance, cover Alex Schomburg (1953)
  21. Rockets to Nowhere, Philip St. John (Lester Del Rey), cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  22. The Secret of Saturn’s Rings, Donald A. Wollheim, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  23. Step to the Stars, Lester del Rey, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  24. Trouble on Titan, Alan E. Nourse, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  25. The World at Bay, Paul Capon, cover Alex Schomburg (1954)
  26. The Year After Tomorrow, eds. Lester del Rey, Cecile Matschat, and Carl Carmer cover and interior illus. Mel Hunter (1954) – an anthology of nine short stories
  27. The Ant Men, Eric North, cover Paul Blaisdell (1955)
  28. The Secret of the Martian Moons, Donald A. Wollheim, cover Alex Schomburg (1955)
  29. The Lost Planet, Paul Dallas, cover Alex Schomburg (1956)
  30. Mission to the Moon, Lester del Rey, cover Alex Schomburg (1956)
  31. Rockets Through Space, Lester del Rey, cover and interior illus. James Heugh (1957) – Special Companion Book (nonfiction)
  32. The Year When Stardust Fell, Raymond F. Jones, cover James Heugh (1958)
  33. The Secret of the Ninth Planet, Donald A. Wollheim, cover James Heugh (1959)
  34. The Star Conquerors, Ben Bova, cover Mel Hunter (1959)
  35. Stadium Beyond the Stars, Milton Lesser, cover Mel Hunter (1960)
  36. Moon of Mutiny, Lester del Rey, cover Ed Emshwiller (1961)
  37. Spacemen, Go Home, Milton Lesser, cover Ed Emshwiller (1961)

JWH