“The Fate of the Poseidonia” by Clare Winger Harris

With the ninth story of The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, we’ve finally reached the land of science fiction. In our group discussions many have questioned whether the earlier stories were truly science fiction. With “The Fate of the Poseidonia” by Clare Winger Harris from the June 1927 issue of Amazing Stories we’ve finally reached the era of pulp science fiction magazines. If anything defined the concept, it was the science fiction magazines.

Clare Winger Harris images a much different winter of 1994-95. George Gregory discovers his girlfriend Margaret has taken up with another guy, a Mr. Martell. Martell looks odd, and acts suspicious. George tells Margaret of his worries, but she defends Martell and dumps Gregory. Mr. Gregory starts spying on Mr. Martell out of jealousy, and learns that Martell is a Martian spy. Unfortunately, no one will believe him, and he’s committed to a mental hospital.

Is “The Fate of the Poseidonia” the earliest example of Martians living amongst us stories? My two favorites of that theme are A Mirror for Observers (1954) by Edgar Pangborn and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963) by Walter Tevis. Both of these novels have a quiet beauty you don’t often find in science fiction. This theme was also used on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. The idea of Martians passing for humans is very entertaining to me which caused me to like “The Fate of the Poseidonia” more than it probably deserves. It’s a decent story, mainly suffering from an unskilled writer, but Harris did win third prize for it at Amazing Stories.

What makes this story so distinctive among those we’ve read so far is how the reader in thrown into the future. This isn’t a dream, or an experiment in storytelling, a political allegory, or philosophical musing. This story contains the real essence of science fiction. The setting is science fictional, and the intent of the story is science fictional. Clare Winger Harris asks us to believe that there are intelligent beings on Mars who come to Earth to steal our water. Their planet has dried up and they have the technology to lower ocean levels by many feet. Harris has created an entertaining example of “What if …?”

In 1927 it was widely assumed there could be life elsewhere in the solar system, especially Mars and Venus. Until Mariner 4 flew by Mars in July of 1965, hope was held out for life on Mars, even intelligent life. I’m not sure people growing today can understand how it was almost a common assumption that Mars and Venus could actually be inhabited. Sure, most scientists held little hope, but the public did, and it was reflected in Pre-NASA science fiction. From H. G. Wells to Roger Zelazny there were endless science fictional speculations about Martians. I loved the idea of Martians as a kid, and even wrote an essay, “I Miss Martians.”

I also grew up with NASA, so I quickly gave up all hope for finding any kind of life within our solar system. The more I read popular science, the more skeptical I became about science fiction. Eventually, I doubted most of what science fiction hoped. But in my old age I realized I still love the old unscientific science fiction. (I’m really digging listening to The Best of Walter M. Miller, Jr.)

I’ve mentioned this before, but I grew up reading Oz books before I discovered science fiction. At the beginning of the 20th century L. Frank Baum produced a series of children’s books about a fictional location that existed somewhere on Earth, but in a geography that had eluded all explorers. Over the series, the Land of Oz became richly complex. As a gullible nine-year-old in 1962 I wanted Oz to actually exist. I knew it didn’t, but I wanted it to be a real place. Hell, it was crushing to lose Santa Claus at 6, then Oz at 9, and Christianity at 12. So I turned to science fiction. My 69-year-old self realizes that for most of my lifetime, science fiction was my replacement for Oz and religion. I always rationalized that reading science fiction prepared me for the future, and inspired me to learn about science, but in reality, it was my way to escape the mundane.

This is very different from my middle-age self who wanted science fiction to be scientific. Now I see very little difference between science fiction and fantasy. Both are fairytales for readers who have left childhood. Both are about world building fictional universes. There seems to be some differences because some readers show preferences for one over the other. Maybe science fiction are those tales that seem more realistic. However, in 2021 how realistic is “The Fate of the Poseidonia” then? It’s far from scientific. In 1927 it was thought to be more realistic, but not if you were properly educated.

I’m using these essays reviewing the stories in The Big Book of Science Fiction to understand the evolution of the genre, but also to psychoanalyze myself. Why do I love science fiction so much? I want to define the term science fiction because it seems to point to exactly something that pushes my buttons. A good deal of pop culture is now science fiction, so I’m not alone in my attraction. Maybe we should all analyze this fixation?

We could say science fiction is fiction set is the future. That might be the one telling trait that defines science fiction for me, but maybe not everyone. Fantasies are set in the past, present, or never-never land. When they are set in the future, like Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, I want to call them science fiction. This lets us file steampunk and alternate history in the fantasy bin. I like that, because neither of those types of stories feel like science fiction to me. We could split the difference on time travel stories. If characters head to the past, it’s fantasy, but if they go forward, it’s science fiction. But there’s a problem. All those stories about visiting dinosaurs are definitely science fiction to me.

What if someone today wrote a story set in the future where we discover an ancient dying civilization on Mars, something that’s been proven to be impossible? I can amend my definition by saying even fantasies set in the future belong in the science fiction bin too. In fact, older unscientific SF has become my favorite kind of science fiction in recent years. And I’ve notice a trend for writers to produce alternate history science fiction, like the novel The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, or the Apple TV+ series For All Mankind. I might not be the only person nostalgic for what science fiction used to be.

As I read and review the stories in The Big Book of Science Fiction, and our Facebook group discusses them, I’m trying to find a reason to keep the term science fiction. I swing back and forth from wanting to throw out all genre labels, to finding a practical meaning for the term science fiction that most people can agree on.

Right now my working definition is “Science fiction is fiction set in the future.” That leaves a lot of holes, but then we have almost a hundred stories yet to consider.

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James W. Harris, 9/4/21

“The Comet” by W. E. B. Du Bois

The Comet” by W. E. B. Du Bois is the first story we’ve read in The Big Book of Science Fiction that reads like a modern short story, and feels like modern science fiction. Is there a name for the form of fiction we now consider the standard model? All the stories we’ve read so far felt quaint, experimental, philosophical, pretentious, or unnatural. “The Star” by H. G. Wells was the closest to normal, but it did feel old fashioned, like other stories from the 19th century. Du Bois story is from 1920, yet felt more polished and modern than most science fiction from the 1920s, 1930s, and into the 1940s.

I know I’m not being very precise here when trying to talk about writing styles or forms. I just don’t have the terminology. I’m trying to describe something I’ve observed from personal experience that might have precise labels among academics. The prose of Charles Dickens, Henry James, or Edith Wharton has a quality that makes them feel old to me, but they are still very readable. Then in the 1920s, Hemingway and Fitzgerald and other writers made their prose more streamlined, and thus created what I think of as the modern form of fiction. Modern fiction has a greater percentage of dialog, and that dialog rings more natural. In the 19th century, the narrative part of fiction was quite wordy, especially with writers like Henry James. H. G. Wells was long on narrative and short on dialog, and his characters sounded Victorian.

The prose in 1920s Amazing Stories and early 1930s Astounding feels oldy too, and has a clunky quality of bad writing. Science fiction has always had the extra burden of explaining the science fictional aspects. This is called info-dumping, and is comparable to 19th descriptive narration that would spend paragraphs describing a mantelpiece.

“The Comet” feels more like Fitzgerald in its storytelling techniques, which are more advanced than the first decades of science fiction of the 1920s and 1930s. A large part of Heinlein’s success when he made a splash in the early 1940s was his use of modern streamline writing. The focus was on dramatic dialog, while minimizing the infodumping and narrative descriptions. Heinlein’s prose sounds snappy, even breezy compared to his predecessors. Heinlein’s style immerses the reader into the fantastic with the minimum of fuss and notice.

In other words, I’m quite impressed with W. E. B. Du Bois writing in “The Comet.” It’s a shame he didn’t become a genre writer during the pulp era. “The Comet” is pre-apocalyptic, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic, as was “The Star” by Wells. The difference was Wells was narrating a ponderous worldwide overview, while Du Bois used the POV of one person.

Both are good stories, but “The Comet” points the way to the future. As we progress through the stories in The Big Book of Science Fiction, we’re seeing both science fiction themes evolve, as well as the techniques of fiction writing.

I would love if I could quantify these two progressions. I have no idea how to track changes in fiction writing. For science fiction themes I picture myself building a database of theme examples. Designing the structure of such a database will take considerable thought. Most science fiction stories have multiple themes. For example:

Notice that Earth Abides and The World, The Flesh, and The Devil do away with Pre-Apocalyptic and Apocalyptic phases of the story, jumping immediately into the Post-Apocalyptic phase. The direction of storytelling is towards getting into a tale quicker, and when there, conveying the action in prose that is speedier to read. Modern bestsellers are very easy to read, dominated by near realistic dialog. Older fiction have archaic dialog, sometimes sounding like lectures, that slow the story.

Written fiction, novels and short stories, can convey the inner world of thoughts and opinions, that media fiction, movies and television shows, seldom attempt to express. But written fiction seems to be moving away from this unique attribute in favor of speed. But it would be a shame to abandon it entirely. (As an aside, some modern written fiction comes across like the young writers were inspired by movies rather than books.)

All stories have a setup and something to say. In “The Comet” Du Bois wants to say things about race, using the setup of a science fiction theme to express himself. The collapse of civilization allows Jim Davis, a black man from 1910s New York City to connect with Julia, a white woman. This connection was impossible before the apocalypse. Like Rod Sterling talking about a character entering the twilight zone, science fiction allowed Du Bois to put Jim Davis in a setting to show how race is an artificial construct of society.

Because Du Bois’ goal was to change readers’ minds about race, can “The Comet” still be science fiction? In an earlier essay, I said science fiction are those stories set within specific themes, like the future, traveling in space, or after the collapse of civilization. Racism is a universal theme that SF can’t claim. Science fiction is the setup of “The Comet,” but the story was written to say things about racism.

This brings us to an interesting question: Do both the setup and the intent of the story have to be science fictional to make the story science fiction? Eventually, in The Big Book of Science Fiction, we’ll reach such stories. I expect that will be soon, maybe with “The Star Stealers” by Edmond Hamilton. Both Earth Abides by George R. Stewart and The World, the Flesh, and The Devil use both science fiction as a setup, and to say things about living in a post-apocalyptic world. Sure, they also say things about us and our society, but the purpose of these stories is to speculate about life after the apocalypse, in that territory of the future belonging to science fiction.

Because W. E. B. Du Bois brings back civilization at the end of “The Comet,” we’re not really in the future. “The Comet” feels like science fiction, even great science fiction, until the end, that is. We’re jerked back to the present like in the earlier story “Sultana’s Dream.” Du Bois ventured into the shadows of the twilight zone, but didn’t stay.

On one hand, does the label science fiction really matter? “The Comet” is an excellent short story. The literary world has had several major writers rejecting the science fiction label on their work. They have good reason to reject the label. On the other hand, if a literary writer strays into science fiction’s territory, using science fictional techniques for their story’s setup, and especially when what they have to say is science fictional, shouldn’t the work be called science fiction? On our third hand, if the term science fiction isn’t precise, isn’t it unfair to use the label on those who don’t want it? And if science fiction is just a marketing term, shouldn’t it be restricted to genre fiction? “The Comet” is literary fiction. The Handmaid’s Tale and Nineteen Eighty-Four are literary fiction and science fiction by my definition. But I can understand why literary writers wouldn’t want the science fiction label if its also equated with genre writing.

I believe we’re still on the road to science fiction, but we haven’t gotten there yet. But I’m starting to wonder whether or not I’m painting myself into a corner. I do not know our ultimate destination, but my intuition tells me I’m going to define science fiction in way that only I use. Most people will gladly accept “The Comet” as a perfectly good example of science fiction. I’m sure old Hugo Gernsback would have reprinted this story in Amazing Stories if he had known about it.

What would W. E. B. Du Bois think? 1920 was well before the term science fiction existed, but Du Bois lived until 1963. Did anyone ever ask him, “Were you writing science fiction when you wrote ‘The Comet?'” I believe he had a very clever idea for a story setup to express significant insights about racism. I’m not familiar with his work, but did he ever write a story about the future where racism didn’t exist? “The Comet” almost goes there. Such a story would be fully within my definition of science fiction.

Didn’t Du Bois pull back at the last moment because he knew most of his readers couldn’t go all the way? My point is science fiction is about going places we haven’t thought about going before. Du Bois got so very close. I’d like to even imagine he wanted to write that story.

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James Wallace Harris, 9/3/21

“The Doom of Principal City” by Yefim Zozulya

Reading The Big Book of Science Fiction is causing me to reevaluate my relationship with science fiction. For most of my life I wanted science fiction to be serious speculation about the future. I considered ideas the pinnacle of science fiction’s virtues. But after reading a couple thousand science fiction short stories over the last decade, I realize storytelling is the primary consideration. Insights and ideas are secondary. Anyone can have a cool idea, it’s how they’re presented that determines the success of a story.

“The Doom of Principal City” by Yefim Zozulya reeks of Western Union. It might be an interesting example of an early dystopia, but that’s all it has, academic appeal. The reason why Nineteen Eighty-Four is still read and why its still so damn readable, is because we care about Winston Smith. The next reason we read Nineteen Eighty-Four is the marvelously crafted world building. We don’t have a character to care about in “The Doom of Principal City” and the setting only feels didactic. I’ve come to really dislike satire. Too often satire is buckshot broadsides, whereas beautiful storytelling uses precisely placed bullets. Of course, when I was young, satire was easy to love because it made us feel grown up and superior, but now that I’m old satire feels childish and snooty. “The Doom of Principal City” came across as vague cleverness, but then the writer might have feared political reprisals.

I should give Zozulya credit for the context in which was written, but I can’t. There was a certain level of cleverness in having the city conquered by peaceful means that turn oppressive, but the solution is the same old violence and destruction. I should give Zozulya credit because the story is still topical. Principal City could be Kabul. Think about it. Reread the story. But like I said, real art is about specifics. Its easy to be vaguely clever, but much harder to be vividly detailed.

Which gets me back to my new realization of what I love about science fiction. Storytelling is becoming everything. Science fiction only grabs me now with how the story is told. It can be simplistic or sophisticated, but its got to suck me in. Philosophical fiction, satire, social protest, experimental fiction just doesn’t dance anymore. I can admire writers for what they’re trying to do intellectually, but not as science fiction that moves me emotionally.

And I think this is due to aging. When I was young, I was easily amused, and easily impressed. “The Doom of Principal City” might have struct me as clever, or meaningful. Now, not so much. And partly that’s due to its narrative style. It feels like a parable, or allegory, rather than modern fiction. It’s setup reminds me of “The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm” by Daryl Gregory about a small country under attack by a powerful country with a superhero military force. I’m not fond of superhero stories, but Gregory’s storytelling was vivid and rich. That’s what’s missing from “The Doom of Principal City.” I have to wonder if writers back in 1910s didn’t have such abilities, or we’re just getting the weak examples of what they could do. I don’t think its the translation. “The Dead” by James Joyce was from that decade, so we do know what’s possible, although it might be fairer to use Arthur Conan Doyle or Edgar Rice Burroughs to compare, since they were genre writers.

I worry that the poor storytelling examples we’ve had at the beginning of The Big Book of Science Fiction is because the genre lacked for better ones. Or, are the VanderMeers more impressed with ideas?

Two Truths and a Lie” by Sarah Pinsker is a recent example of what I consider captivating storytelling. It does have plenty of sparkly ideas, but what really sparkles is how they’re presented.

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James Wallace Harris, 9/1/21

“Mechanopolis” by Miguel de Unamuno

In his very first sentence in “Mechanoplis,” Miguel de Unamuno, lets us know his story was inspired by reading Erewhon by Samuel Butler. That 1872 novel is considered one of the first books to imagine artificial intelligence. Butler extended Charles Darwin’s recent ideas on natural selection to apply to the machines of the industrial revolution. Could machines develop consciousness and become self-replicating? This makes it hard not to consider Erewhon a major science fiction novel of the 19th century. However, I’m still on the fence about whether or not genre science fiction can claim utopian literature. My current thought is those old utopian novels inspired the birth of genre science fiction by getting people to think about the future. But along the way there was a fork in the road. Some science fiction has continued to worry about the future, like the recent novel The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. But most genre SF has made the future into a Disneyland of thrills, adventures, and fun. The future becomes a place we want to visit.

It’s hard to trace the evolution of ideas in utopian novels and proto-SF stories of the 19th century to mid-20th century genre science fiction. Butler used the future to comment on Victorian society with satire closer to Jonathan Swift’s 18th century work than how Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov used the future in the 20th century science fiction. But I do see stepping stones, from story to story.

Reading “Mechanopolis” by Miguel de Unamuno in The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer provided an immediate sense of déjà vu. I can’t remember if I read this 1913 story from the Spanish writer Unamuno in another anthology, or because it feels so much like other science fiction stories I’ve read, especially, “Twilight” by John W. Campbell, Jr. from 1934.

“Mechanopolis” begins with an unnamed narrator lost in a desert, nearly dead, who happens upon an oasis where he finds an automated railway system that takes him into a deserted city where machines maintain an automated society long after humanity has left. The forgotten cafeterias allow our narrator to eat. That was true in the Campbell story too. However, in this story the narrator goes mad as he realizes the machines have souls, and even write about his activities in their daily newspaper, spooking the hell out of him. The abandoned cities in “Twilight” still functioning by self-repairing machines, but they inspire a great sense of wonder, not fear.

In the end of “Mechanopolis,” the narrator escapes the city and returns to the desert. He encounters Bedouins who save him. When the narrator returns home he works to stay as far away from machinery as possible. Of course, this reminds me of the ending to the 1984 classic SF story “Press Enter ▮” by John Varley. I’ve written about it before. Victor Apfel, in the Varley story becomes so afraid of machines he rips the wiring out of his house.

“Mechanopolis” is a rather brief expression of a theme that shows up time and again in science fiction. We are definitely on the road to science fiction with this story. Unamuno completely ignores how his narrator finds his way to the mechanical city. In “Twilight,” Campbell has his story told to a man of our times by a wayward time traveler he picks up hitchhiking.

This reveals an interesting aspect to the evolution of science fiction. Writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries had a difficult time setting their story in the future. Often, those early tales about the future have people from the present stumble into some kind of suspended animation. In 1819 Washington Irving has his title character in “Rip van Wrinkle” fall asleep for twenty years. In 1888 Edward Bellamy has his character, Julian West, go under a hypnotic sleep for 113 years to get to the future described in Looking Backward. Of course, the most famous solution was by H. G. Wells in 1895, when he sent his character into the future via a time machine. But then in 1928 Buck Rogers returns to the old method getting to 2419 by being trapped in a cave in where radioactive gas puts him into suspended animation.

All these writers evidently felt there must be some connection between the present day and the future. Maybe they thought we needed a POV like ourselves to react to the future. However, Ray Bradbury did away with the human viewer altogether in “There Will Come Soft Rains” where he describes an automated house working after the humans are gone, and we assume extinct because of WWIII. It’s a beautiful story. However, the machines aren’t sentient, and we don’t fear them. We’re just wistful to see them working without us.

Unamuno has his character take a strange train ride. Does his narrator ever realize he’s in the future? Or is it possible that this mechanical city is somewhere on Earth like the land of Oz, in current time but having a quite divergent development from the rest of the world? Or is Mechanopolis in another dimension? I’m not sure we know. The train is a portal, but not much else is explained. I’m assuming Mechanopolis is in the future. Art the narrator sees in the machine’s museums he feels are the originals might imply the narrator was in the future. But he also wondered if our museums held perfect forgeries. That could imply Mechanoplis was not in the future.

One of the surprising aspects to the 1909 story, “The Machine Stops,” is E. M. Forster just puts his readers into the future. That approach eventually becomes the standard for science fiction. We read science fiction so we can jump into the future. Any comparison to the present is at an unconscious level.

“Mechanopolis” anticipates automated cities in future stories like The Dying Earth by Jack Vance or The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke. In those two the humans aren’t quite gone but our species is fading away. I just remembered, The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson from 1912. He took his readers to the far future too, where the remaining humans survive in the remnants of a technological civilization. Hodgson got his readers there with a reincarnated character from our times. Some editions of that book lop off that introductory section, and jump immediately to the future. Evidently, those editors felts modern readers didn’t need the connection with the present day.

Another story where the humans are gone but the machines remain is the connecting filler to the fix-up novel City by Clifford Simak. We are told humans have left and only intelligent machines and uplifted dogs remain. The gimmick of the fix-up is the robots and dogs are telling tales about humans, which are just reprints of Simak short stories. With Simak, we love the machines.

“Moxon’s Master” the 1899 story by Ambrose Bierce features a chess playing machine killing a human. We have a long history of anthropomorphizing animals and objects, so when did the idea of sentient machines first develop in science fiction? Unamuno’s 1913 story is way before computers, or even the concept of robots were developed. That was even more true of Erewhon. Why does Butler or Unamuno imagine machines will become aware? It’s one thing to assume automated machinery will keep running, or could even be made self-servicing. It’s a whole other concept to imagine that machines could observe people, and in this story, feel concern for the narrator’s state of mind. Evolving machines was quite a leap for Butler, but Darwin inspired all kinds of fears about evolution. A great case could be made that Darwin is really the father of science fiction.

In this very short story, Unamuno comes up with automated cities, the extinction of humans, cities that keep functioning without humans, self-aware machines, and even machine inheriting the Earth. He also comes up with the fear or paranoia of intelligent machines. It’s doubtful many English writers and readers knew about Unamuno’s story. Could there have been any chance of Campbell reading it? I wonder what Spanish writers Unamuno influenced with science fictional ideas?

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James Wallace Harris, 8/30/21

“Elements of Pataphysics” by Alfred Jarry

If fiction could be classified like a biological taxonomy then labels like science fiction could have a fairly exact use in categorizing literature. We could point to an infographic of a circle on a page, and say everything inside the circle is science fiction, and everything outside of it is not.

The VanderMeers want to call “Elements of Pataphysics” by Alfred Jarry science fiction. I don’t. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, the editors of The Big Book of Science Fiction, the anthology our short story club is reading, are disciples of Judith Merril. Merril wrote science fiction, but is mostly remembered for her annual anthologies from 1956-1968 that collected what she considered the best science fiction of the year. Merril was notorious for including stories that she called science fiction but which her readers disagreed. Nor would I think the world-at-large would call “Elements of Pataphysics” science fiction. See this Wikipedia entry, which considers it a spoof or satire on science. I’d call it experimental fiction that plays with language, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, and communication.

As a collector and reader of best-of-the-year science fiction anthologies I have a hard time reading Merril’s annual anthologies because I felt some stories just aren’t science fiction – and I wanted them all to be science fiction. I keep reading similar complaints about The Big Book of Science Fiction. I’m trying very hard to be open minded and stretch my sense of science fiction to meet the VanderMeers half-way, but I’m afraid “Elements of Pataphysics” is outside of that circle I call science fiction.

As much as I admired Merril, I also believe by trying to expand the genre she neglected some solid middle-of-the-road SF stories that deserved to be remembered. Instead of claiming the experimental and avant-garde for the genre, she could have used the anthology space to boost a few mid-level SF writer’s careers, but that’s parsecs in the past.

Not that “Elements of Pataphysics” isn’t a wonderful story. Not that it isn’t brilliant. Not that it doesn’t deal with science and fiction. And this was also true for the stories Merril wanted to call science fiction but her readers didn’t. Merril wanted to expand the domain of science fiction and often claimed the hard-to-define experimental work as sci-fi. But in many cases, and with Jarry’s story here, I believe its literary poaching. Just because you Shanghai a story and call it science fiction doesn’t mean its is.

And just because science fiction is hard to classify doesn’t mean we should stop trying. We just can’t cull anything we like with our SF branding iron. I know I’m trying to bail the ocean with a sieve when I argue to define science fiction, but when I eat a dessert I expect it to be sweet, and when I read science fiction I expect it to be science fictional.

The trouble is the reading public and publishers have often classified anything weirdly like science fiction as science fiction. It’s a classification kitchen sink. To begin with, I don’t believe all books need a classification label other than fiction. If a story doesn’t fit a clear classification, just call it a story or novel. We need to only use the label science fiction when a story has the exact traits of science fiction.

If we copy the structure used to classify life forms then fiction could be a very high level domain, and genre could be one level down. Science fiction could be in a domain below that. Any domain or order within it should be clearly definable. We should be able to list characteristics that readers universally respect as belonging to science fiction. And if you think about them, there really isn’t that many that science fiction has a right to claim. Science fiction has homesteaded certain lands for decades and I believe has a legitimate right to claim them now. Some of the obvious ones include:

  • Stories set in the future
  • Stories set in space
  • Stories about time travel
  • Stories about aliens from space
  • Stories about robots and any human created intelligence
  • Stories about new inventions and new technology that hasn’t been invented or discovered
  • Stories about humans that aren’t Homo sapiens sapiens.
  • Stories about artificial life possible within our physical reality
  • Stories about artificial realities, but possible within this physical reality
  • Stories about other dimensions, but part of this physical reality
  • Stories about metafiction related to science fiction
  • Utopias and dystopias if set in the future or in space
  • Alternate history (this could be contested and established as its own domain)

“Elements of Pataphysics” defined pataphysics as territory outside the circle of metaphysics, and metaphysics as the territory that surrounds the physical. I believe that puts pataphysics into the realm of the abstract theoretical. It intentionally defined its territory as not existing. I could use the definitions of pataphysics to classify Flatland and Alice in Wonderland, and maybe works of fantasy in general. Especially if we reserve the metaphysical as territory that could exist even if it’s outside our physical reality. (The hopes and ambitions of religion and spiritualism’s dwell there.)

Science fiction belongs in that circle defining physical reality because science is confined to that territory. Science fiction does not extended into metaphysical territory, so it can’t extend into the pataphysical. Fantasy belongs to the pataphysical, and maybe the metaphysical, but not the physical. Jarry’s fiction creates pataphysics by alluding to the science, mathematics, linguistics, logic, and rhetoric of the physical. In other words, he describes the impossible and ineffable by analogy to the tools we use to understand the physical. For me, its essential that science fiction stay out of the metaphysical, and thus the pataphysical. The metaphysical belongs to the woo-woo and things that go bump in the night. Reality’s only portal to the metaphysical is through leaving our bodies and imagination is our only portal to the pataphysical. Science fiction holds out hope that we can get there from here.

“Elements of Pataphysics” is a 5-star story that belongs in The Big Book of Experimental Fiction. It’s a marvelous piece of writing, and the translation feels very well done. What Jarry describes as pataphysics could apply to metafiction, and other experimental forms of fiction. I’ve always thought that Merril and the Harrison/Aldiss anthologies tried to latch onto works of experimental fiction and relabel them science fiction to give prestige to our genre. We need to accept who we are without such pretensions.

I suppose some will claim I’m limiting science fiction. If the word “science” is part of the label, then that label must limit itself to the territory of theoretically scientific. But more importantly, I believe we should recognize what science fiction is and embrace those aspects. The literary world has always criticized science fiction as appealing to adolescents. I agree with them. We shouldn’t take offense. There is a certain excitement during that stage of life from ages 12 to 22 that science fiction targets. Certain kinds of music, movies, and television shows resonate with that stage too. Most of us look back on what we fell in love with in adolescence for the rest of our lives. It’s a peak time of life. Sure, we might have been stupid, but we were passionate.

I believe religion originates in the pre-adolescent mind, and embracing science fiction is a rejection of religion. Instead of heaven, we claims the heavens, instead of gods, we look for aliens, instead of everlasting life, we seek immortality. In our teen years we are told about reality, and we ask, “Isn’t there more?” The difference between science fiction and fantasy, is the difference between accepting pipe dreams and holding out hope.

“Elements of Pataphysics” targets the next stage in life, our twenties, one that inspires people to be artists. Although there are exceptions, science fiction has never been particularly arty, or even seriously intellectual. At its best its visionary, can even be a bit literary, but it stands between the fairytales that appealed to us in the previous stage of life, and the hard reality of adulthood. It has the sense of wonder of discovering reality, but the childlike desire to reshape reality into exciting possibilities of what if. Science fiction considers all the possibilities of growing up, all the portals of what might be possible. Those possibilities are a comfort to the stress of metamorphizing from child to adult. The odds are long, but in adolescence we have tremendous hope.

Many of us keep consuming science fiction for the rest of our lives because of that Zoloft-like quality it confers. It helps us to remember what we wanted to be. I think it’s existentially vital we recognize science fiction for exactly what it is. In classifying science fiction, there is an essential trait to be observe. It’s a unique strain of hubris that says, “We can create anything that’s possible in this reality.” Anything not possible need not apply.

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James Wallace Harris, 8/28/21

“The New Overworld” by Paul Scheerbart

These early stories in The Big Book of Science Fiction represent fiction on the road to science fiction. I already know where we’re heading because I’m well versed in 1930s and 1940s science fiction. What I classify as science fiction is down the road a piece further, into the 1950s and 1960s. Science fiction evolved and mutated in every decade of the 20th century. 21st century science fiction is already rejecting this past, those stories and authors I love. The ones I use to define my sense of the genre. It’s becoming something else again. But the road goes on, and I don’t.

I believe as we read the stories in the VanderMeers’ anthology, we’ll learn to sense the essence of science fiction, which is to use certain techniques of storytelling to speculate about the edges of science. In “The New Overworld” Paul Scheerbart creates a fairytale about two lifeforms on Venus that I mentally pictured as illustrations from Dr. Seuss books. We can call this story science fiction because its set on Venus and it speculates about alien lifeforms, but it’s closer in tone to a children’s picture book. It’s all too obvious that the story is about solving social problems with cooperation and technology. But we never believe Scheerbart believes he is speculating about Venus or alien lifeforms. It’s all allegorical in intent. The story obviously has a philosophical lesson.

On the road to science fiction, our destination is fiction that convinces us we are there, in the future, out in space, on other planets. Wells was there in “The Star” because we could picture the worldwide catastrophes. In “Sultana’s Dream” we were almost there but then had it snatched away from us when we learned it was all a dream. In “The Triumph of Mechanics” we got there again because we were meant to believe mechanical rabbits were possible. However, the story was a tall tale and we knew Strobl didn’t mean it.

Science fiction writers know they can’t predict the future, but real science fiction feels like they have. It has to be convincing. It doesn’t matter if their future can’t possibly become real, it’s got to feel real when we read it. We’ve got to believe while we read. It has to be a fully realized fictional reality.

Back in 1911 when “The New Overworld” came out, what we think of as science fiction was an oddity. The following year, in 1912, A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs will be serialized in All-Story Magazine as “Under the Moons of Mars” by Norman Bean. Probably most readers wouldn’t buy astral projection, but they wanted to believe in Barsoom. Burroughs triggers a certain kind of desire in readers, and that’s the heart of science fiction. Readers still want to believe in Barsoom, long after NASA put a stake in that dream.

I have not read Paul Scheerbart’s other works, or novels, which this article in Science Fiction Studies describe. The VanderMeers regrets Scheerbart isn’t remembered, but from the description of his stories I can see why he is. But Erik Morse in The Paris Review has read some of the recent English translations of Scheerbart and he found them interesting, even captivating, but strange.

Authors and their books are forgotten over time for many reasons. Usually, it’s because the work just doesn’t hold up. Sure, academic publishers will come out with expensive editions that are historical curiosities, but they just aren’t readable by the public at large. Wells was not forgotten because his SF novels are still page-turners.

I will give one other reason why Paul Scheerbart is forgotten, he was German. I wouldn’t have considered this reason until I read The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf. Alexander von Humboldt was probably one of the most amazing men to ever live. In the 19th century, he was probably the most famous of the century, maybe even more famous than Napoleon or Lincoln in their times. I had no idea who he was before I read the book, and neither do most English speaking people, even though in the 1800s most Americans loved him very much.

At the end of the biography, Wulf gives an interesting reason why von Humboldt was forgotten in America and Great Britain. During WWI Americans actually burned German books, and anti-German sentiment became ever greater during WWII. So if we can collective erase Alexander von Humboldt who inspired Thomas Jefferson, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and many other influential Americans, then it’s easy to imagine not remembering Paul Scheerbart.

The 19th century was full of brilliant eccentric writers who wrote far out books with wild ideas, many of which could be considered science fiction. And we’ve forgotten most of them. Actually, we’ve forgotten probably 99.99% of them. If we don’t remember Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky for his great science fictional predictions, why should we remember Paul Scheerbart?

It’s a shame that pop culture has such a short attention span. Books like The Big Book of Science Fiction try to correct that. Sure, our group argues over what the VanderMeers collect for us to read, but shouldn’t we judge them not by whether or not we enjoy the stories, but by what they are helping us to recall from a pop culture ancestry? There was a great deal of proto-SF published before Amazing Stories came out in 1926, but we remember damn little of it today. What I want to remember is what popular literature was like from 1900-1925, in all its forms. Their anthology helps. The VanderMeers’ introductions hint at so much more I want to know.

I do have one quibble. Why did they leave out “The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster? Was it already too famous? Or too long? That 1909 story was the best single science fiction story from 1900-1925.

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James Wallace Harris, 8/26/21

“The Triumph of Mechanics” by Karl Hans Strobl

Because “The Triumph of Mechanics” by Karl Hans Strobl is included in The Big Book of Science Fiction, we have to assume Ann and Jeff VanderMeer had a good reason other than it just being a fun story. It is the first English appearance of this 1907 Austrian story translated by Gio Clairval, so they must have had it translated for a special reason. Wouldn’t they? However, I am at a loss to see its historical significance to science fiction. Although, in retrospect, we’d call it science fiction today for several reasons. “Sultana’s Dream” also came out in 1907. England, India, and Austria. It’s still a long way to April, 1926 America.

My reaction to an American inventor, Hopkins, coercing a town to give him a building permit by producing a billion mechanical rabbits was to instantly recall Flat Cats, those quickly reproducing Martian animals in Heinlein’s novel The Rolling Stones. The idea of overproducing pets was also used in the classic Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.” When I saw tribbles in 1967 I instantly thought flat cats too. However, Heinlein admits getting the idea from the 1905 story “Pigs is Pigs” by Ellis Parker Butler, about Guinea pigs that reproduce at an exponential rate at a train station. Full text of the story is here. There have been several animated films based on that story, starting in the silent era, but here’s Walt Disney’s version from 1954. Any chance that Strobl reading “Pigs is Pigs” before writing his story? And could Ellis Parker Butler have snagged the idea from an earlier tale, maybe an old German fairytale?

The main reason “The Triumph of Mechanics” is science fiction is the little toy robotic rabbits can reproduce – self replicating machines. But I have a question. Why would Hopkins need a factory to manufacture toy rabbits when he can quickly produce a billion of them without a factory?

I wish I knew more about the original publication of “The Triumph of Mechanics.” Did it first appear in a magazine or newspaper? Did it have illustrations? 1907 was years before the word robot came into vogue. However, mechanical or clockwork creatures have been around in fiction for a long time. The story also mentions some other far out ideas for creating wonderful toys, including making a glass like material out of solidifying air. They marveled at how such an artificial substance could take over the toy industry. I thought of plastics. I imagined whispering into Benjamin Braddock’s ear, “Two words – solidified air!”

I wonder if there was any significance that the go-getting inventor was American? Had Europeans stereotyped us as marvelous inventors because of Thomas Edison? The overall tone of this story was amusing, just a tall tale, like something Mark Twain would have written. Since it was also written well before the term science fiction existed, I wondered if its readers thought it was some special kind of fiction, something out of the ordinary? As we read each story in The Big Book of Science Fiction, we need to remember we won’t reach stories published in a genre magazine until the 9th story, and even then, the term science fiction wasn’t coined right away by Hugo Gernsback. He tried to pass off scientifiction on us. The tag science fiction began to emerge in the 1930s but didn’t catch on with the public at large until the 1950s.

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James Wallace Harris, 8/24/21

“Sultana’s Dream” by Rokheya Shekhawat Hossein

The second story in The Big Book of Science Fiction is “Sultana’s Dream” by Rokheya Shekhawat Hossein. First published in The Indian Ladies’ Magazine in 1905. By today’s standards, “Sultana’s Dream” is a rather simple narrative that imagines Ladyland, where gender roles are reversed. It doesn’t feel like a traditional short story in structure, and the VanderMeers called it a conte philosophique, which means philosophical fiction. In this case Hossain is writing utopian fiction, which is often science fictional. I assume the story was intended to be satirical, or even humorous, with it’s topsy-turvy gender role reversals. Now, it just feels quaintly sci-fi, but visionary feminist.

I wonder if Hossain was a proto-SF fiction fan, or had read utopian or science fiction fiction? Only when we use our imagination to put “Sultana’s Dream” into the context of when and where it was written does it become impressive. Hossain lived in British controlled India, and was Bengali, well educated and well-to-do. Wikipedia spells her name slightly different, Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, and said she published under the byline Mrs. R. S. Hossain, but was commonly known as Begum Rokeya.

It’s in retrospect that we admire this story. For example, Chitra Ganesh created a graphic novel “Sultana’s Dream” in woodcuts, and the University of Michigan created an exhibit at their Museum of Art. Their website has a copy of the story to read online, and four different narrators reading an audio version of the story. They pick women of different ages to narrate the story. The same exhibit was at the University of Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery with a different set of presentations and videos.

I assume the VanderMeers were inspired by the recent republication of the story in Sultana’s Dream: A Feminist Utopia and Selections from the Secluded Ones by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, edited and translated by Roushan Jahan. That volume appears to have come out in 2015, the year before The Big Book of Science Fiction. However, there was from 2005 Sultana’s Dream; and Padmarag: Two Feminist Utopias by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain; translated with an introduction by Barnita Bagchi. I’m curious, are feminists finding these stories first, or science fiction historians? How was my favorite early feminist utopia, Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, discovered? I find these old SF stories through SF researchers, but did they find them first? And could Gilman have possibly read “Sultana’s Dream” from 1905 before she serialized her novel in 1915? Wikipedia says there was a novella version of Sultana’s Dream published as a book in 1908. Was it expanded from the 1905 story? Could a copy have gotten to America?

Although “Sultana’s Dream” is a simple story, its feminist ideas, as well as its speculation about futuristic technology and science, are as mind blowing for 1905 as time travel, space alien invasion, and space travel was in the 1890s when Wells was blowing minds. Especially, when we consider what India was like in 1905. Please read “Feminist Visions of Science and Utopia in Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s ‘Sultana’s Dream’” to learn more about Hossain and why her story really is more than what it seems. I also recommend, “Sultana’s Dream And Its Conception Of A Feminist Utopia” by Deeksha Sharma, especially for its link to “6 Indian Muslim Feminists In History” by Amna Nasir, that also profiles Hossain.

Do we rate the story by today’s standards of storytelling, or 1905’s standard of thinking? If you read “Sultana’s Dream” as just another science fiction story you might dismiss it. If you read it as the VanderMeers intend, to understand the evolution of science fiction, then its quite impressive.

The VanderMeer’s anthology is dedicated to Judith Merril who was famous for looking far and wide for stories to expand the reputation of science fiction in her anthologies. I think we have to accept the VanderMeer’s goal here. Although “Sultana’s Dream” is a quaint read, not famous in its time like “The Star” by H. G. Wells, their second story shows that science fictional thinking was happening all over the world.

But I have to wonder where Hossain got her ideas for solar power, and the other Jules Verne inventions? I wish I had more access to popular magazines of the time, because I believe they reveal popular thinking and culture better than history books. Far out gadgets and futurism was all the rage by some readers. Was it just a few geeks of the day, or were those ideas popular with everyone? Did the science fiction books that excited people in England get read in India as well?

Of course, I assume, science fictional speculation has always existed. My commonly used example is the Noah’s Ark, a catastrophe story that could have been the inspiration for “The Star.” This makes me ask, are there older, even much older, visions of feminist utopias? Could Hossain have been inspired by the ancient Greeks stories about the Amazons. Or are there feminist utopias in Hindu and Bengali literature? I don’t mean to suggest Hossain wasn’t creative, but my pet theory is all concepts have been around since pre-history, even science fictional ones.

When I discover old science fiction stories that I want to believe are the earliest examples of a science fictional idea, eventually if I keep reading, I find older examples. The Big Book of Science Fiction captures the examples from the 20th century. But if we had The Big Book of 19th Century Science Fiction, would we find earlier examples of all the ideas we thought first appeared in the 20th century? I believe there’s a kind of generational myopia that feels like everything cool was created for by some slightly older dudes and dudettes. For example, The Beatles and Bob Dylan are about ten years older than me. Us Baby Boomers thought they were revolutionary geniuses of our times. But actually, they were inspired by some slightly older musicians and songwriters, who The Beatles and Dylan were convinced were the revolutionary geniuses of their times.

I wish I had some kind of software where I could plot science-fiction ideas on a timeline that also positioned them on a map of the world. That way we could plot the progress of a concept as it evolved over time and space. When were flying cars first proposed? Hossain’s flying car was rather unique, but hardly the first. How far back do flying cars go as an idea, aren’t they really just a descendant of flying carpets and flying chariots?

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James Wallace Harris, 8/22/21

“The Star” by H. G. Wells

This my second review of “The Star” by H. G. Wells, because I attempted to read The Big Book of Science Fiction earlier this year. I didn’t get far. I’m hoping the group read will get me to the end this time. But we will see. Since this is a second review I’ll need to find new things to say.

One thing I noticed this time while poking around on Google to see how “The Star” is used in a number study sites for classroom discussion. Being taught in school is one indicator that a work of fiction has become a classic. Three cheers for science fiction then. The story came out in 1897, between the publication of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. Hugo Gernsback liked it so much he reprinted it twice, in 1923 and 1926.

“The Star” had already been repackaged in several collections by Wells, including an edition put out by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1925, the prestigious publisher of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald in the 1920s. I’ve read that before pop culture used Albert Einstein’s name to imply the smartest man in the world, people used Mr. Wells. One of the more popular books in the early days of fandom was The Short Stories of H. G. Wells that ran over a thousand pages. Another giant collection of short stories by Wells was put out the The Literary Guild, for the high-brow crowd. This listing of reprints at ISFDB is one of the longest I know about, and I’m sure that database hasn’t indexed all the places “The Star” has been reprinted.

In other words, “The Star” was widely read outside of science fiction, especially in the 1920s and 1930s before the genre had established itself in the public’s consciousness. I can’t help but wonder what the average person thought of the story? Did Charlie Chaplin talk about it at Hollywood parties while he was working on The Gold Rush? What did the average British citizen think of the story when they read it in The Graphic, the Christmas Number for 1897? Here’s an ad from that issue to give you an idea of the times.

Why would they run an end-of-the-world story in their Christmas issue? I have to assume they really thought the story something special. So what did people say about it then? I wish I could find references to how average readers reacted to early science fiction. So far my best indication of what people read back then that we’d call science fiction is the anthology Science Fiction by The Rivals of H. G. Wells which presents thirty stories that came out around the same time as “The Star.” I wish I had a book of letters to the editors about those stories, or extracts from diaries and personal letters where people wrote about them.

In the introduction to The Big Book of Science Fiction the VanderMeers say this about science fiction:

This kind of eclectic stance also suggests a simple yet effective definition for science fiction: it depicts the future, whether in a stylized or realistic manner. There is no other definitional barrier to identifying science fiction unless you are intent on defending some particular territory. Science fiction lives in the future, whether that future exists ten seconds from the Now or whether in a story someone builds a time machine a century hence in order to travel back into the past. It is science fiction whether the future is phantasmagorical and surreal or nailed down using the rivets and technical jargon of “hard science fiction.” A story is also science fiction whether the story in question is, in fact, extrapolation about the future or using the future to comment on the past or present.

But “The Star” isn’t about the future, and neither are most of the stories in that rivals anthology. Back then, the fantastic happened in the present. When Wells was writing, science fiction hadn’t evolved into its future oriented self. The VanderMeers wants their anthology to show the evolution of science fiction and I think this is an important distinction about “The Star.” I believe as we read along in the volume, we’ll observe how science fiction moved into the future.

There is one weak area in “The Star.” I was never sure what kind of astronomical object the intruder was. At different times in the story it’s implied that the intruder is a comet, planet, or star. Wells was big on science, so why was he so sloppy here? If the visitor was another planet, wouldn’t it and Neptune have shattered when they collided? If it was a comet, Neptune would have absorbed it. I’m guessing it was some kind of dark or dwarf star that absorbed Neptune in the collision. We know Wells knew about stellar evolution because he has the Earth being destroyed when the sun expanded into a red giant in “The Time Machine.”

Rating: *****

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James Wallace Harris, 8/20/21

The Short Story Club

Most people have heard of book clubs, but we have a short story club devoted to science fiction. It’s a Facebook group. Anyone can join even though it’s a private group. Just answer the two questions. However, many people don’t like Facebook, and that’s cool. Because we’re about to read and discuss The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, I thought I’d post my thoughts on each story here so those people who don’t use Facebook can participate via the comment section.

The Big Book of Science Fiction has over one-hundred short stories. We’ll read and discuss a story every other day. This is a huge book and a major commitment to read. I’ve owned it for years and have been too intimidated by its size to try reading it. What I hope is the discipline of the short story club will push me to climb this Mt. Everest of anthologies. Because it’s a recent retrospective anthology it aims to give a contemporary overview of the history of science fiction by including more women writers and foreign stories, I expect reading its stories will be a graduate course in science fiction literature.

If you don’t already own this book and are tempted to join the group or buy it to read along with the discussion here, I should warn you about its size – it’s a monster. Like the size of a large city phone book back in the day, and also printed on thin paper. Reading the Kindle edition is the practical way to go. If you want the paper edition, you might check it out at Barnes & Noble first. I’d hate to recommend people to buy this dingus and not be able to read it because they don’t have weight-lifter arms.

Many of the stories will be in old anthologies, so you don’t have to buy the book if you want to read along from you own library. However, about two dozen stories are foreign translations commissioned for this anthology and won’t be available elsewhere.

I should also warn anyone who is thinking about buying this book that if you prefer the traditional classics of science fiction this book skips over many of them. No Heinlein, no Bester, etc. Some older fans have complained they didn’t like a lot of the stories. I’m reading it because I want to see a new view of old science fiction. I have read about a quarter of the stories before, and some of them are among my favorites.

We start discussion August 20th, beginning with “The Star” by H. G. Wells. The group will discuss a story every other day until March 20, 2022. The links below are to my reviews. Here are other group member’s online reviews:

Here is the table of contents:

The Star – H. G. Wells
Sultana’s Dream – Rokheya Shekhawat Hossein
The New Overworld – Paul Scheerbart
The Triumph of Mechanics – Karl Hans Strobl
Elements of Pataphysics – Alfred Jarry
Mechanopolis – Miguel de Unamuno
The Doom of Principal City – Yefim Zozulya
The Comet – W. E. B. Du Bois
The Fate of the Poseidonia – Clare Winger Harris
The Star Stealers – Edmond Hamilton
The Conquest of Gola – Leslie F. Stone
A Martian Odyssey – Stanley G. Weinbaum
The Last Poet and the Robots – A. Merritt
The Microscopic Giants – Paul Ernst
Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius – Jorge Luis Borges
Desertion – Clifford D. Simak
September 2005: The Martian – Ray Bradbury
Baby HP – Juan José Arreola
Surface Tension – James Blish
Beyond Lies the Wub – Philip K. Dick
The Snowball Effect – Katherine MacLean
Prott – Margaret St. Clair
The Liberation of Earth – William Tenn
Let Me Live in a House – Chad Oliver
The Star – Arthur C. Clarke
Grandpa – James H. Schmitz
The Game of Rat and Dragon – Cordwainer Smith
The Last Question – Isaac Asimov
Stranger Station – Damon Knight
Sector General – James White
The Visitors – Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Pelt – Carol Emshwiller
The Monster – Gérard Klein
The Man Who Lost the Sea – Theodore Sturgeon
The Waves – Silvina Ocampo
Plenitude – Will Worthington
The Voices of Time – J. G. Ballard
The Astronaut – Valentina Zhuravlyova
The Squid Chooses Its Own Ink – Adolfo Bioy Casares
2 B R 0 2 B – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
A Modest Genius – Vadim Shefner
Day of Wrath – Sever Gansovsky
The Hands – John Baxter
Darkness – André Carneiro
“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman – Harlan Ellison
Nine Hundred Grandmothers – R. A. Lafferty
Day Million – Frederik Pohl
Student Body – F. L. Wallace
Aye, and Gomorrah – Samuel R. Delany
The Hall of Machines – Langdon Jones
Soft Clocks – Yoshio Aramaki
Three from Moderan – David R. Bunch
Let Us Save the Universe – Stanisław Lem
Vaster Than Empires and More Slow – Ursula K. Le Guin
Good News from the Vatican – Robert Silverberg
When It Changed – Joanna Russ
And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side – James Tiptree Jr.
Where Two Paths Cross – Dmitri Bilenkin
Standing Woman – Yasutaka Tsutsui
The IWM 1000 – Alicia Yánez Cossío
The House of Compassionate Sharers – Michael Bishop
Sporting with the Chid – Barrington J. Bayley
Sandkings – George R. R. Martin
Wives – Lisa Tuttle
The Snake That Read Chomsky – Josephine Saxton
Reiko’s Universe Box – Kajio Shinji
Swarm – Bruce Sterling
Mondocane – Jacques Barbéri
Blood Music – Greg Bear
Bloodchild – Octavia E. Butler
Variation on a Man – Pat Cadigan
Passing as a Flower in the City of the Dead – S. N. Dyer
New Rose Hotel – William Gibson
Pots – C. J. Cherryh
Snow – John Crowley
The Lake Was Full of Artificial Things – Karen Joy Fowler
The Unmistakable Smell of Wood Violets – Angélica Gorodischer
The Owl of Bear Island – Jon Bing
Readers of the Lost Art – Élisabeth Vonarburg
A Gift from the Culture – Iain M. Banks
Paranamanco – Jean-Claude Dunyach
Crying in the Rain – Tanith Lee
The Frozen Cardinal – Michael Moorcock
Rachel in Love – Pat Murphy
Sharing Air – Manjula Padmanabhan
Schwarzschild Radius – Connie Willis
All the Hues of Hell – Gene Wolfe
Vacuum States – Geoffrey A. Landis
Two Small Birds – Han Song
Burning Sky – Rachel Pollack
Before I Wake – Kim Stanley Robinson
Death Is Static Death Is Movement – Misha Nogha
The Brains of Rats – Michael Blumlein
Gorgonoids – Leena Krohn
Vacancy for the Post of Jesus Christ – Kojo Laing
The Universe of Things – Gwyneth Jones
The Remoras – Robert Reed
The Ghost Standard – William Tenn
Remnants of the Virago Crypto-System – Geoffrey Maloney
How Alex Became a Machine – Stepan Chapman
The Poetry Cloud – Cixin Liu
Story of Your Life – Ted Chiang
Craphound – Cory Doctorow
The Slynx – Tatyana Tolstaya
Baby Doll – Johanna Sinisalo

James Wallace Harris, 8/19/21