One of the joys of science fiction is that we can extrapolate and then argue as if it had all really happened. For instance, there is an anthology called 'Free Space,' which contains stories exploring various ways that Humanity could move out into space, and other worlds, without imposing the usual rigid forms of government.
By contrast, we have sets of books, like David Weber's Honor Harrington series, which assume a Human Empire, with all the old British trappings. We have also seen a variety of books from authors like Bruce Sterling and John Barnes, and before that, C.J.Cherryh, in which corporations ruled.
One of the more interesting conversations I've had in some time was an email discussion on how Corporate Space versus Empire Space would differ, and why one would be more likely than the other. The point was made that Corporate Space assumes an economic basis: people pledging loyalty toward the source of their income. Empire Space assumes a territorial basis: people pledging loyalty toward their community, making common cause with those who live around them.
There are past examples of company towns, particularly around Pittsburgh, to cite for Corporate Space. You could envision a planet as mining colony, where the company owns everything. (and I can think of a couple of SF novels that use this motif, usually as background). But, just as we all know from local history, this doesn't get you loyalty. At the first opportunity, people rise up and unionize. Or something more revolting.
Territorial instinct has both an aspect of physical link to the area itself, plus an aspect of group loyalty, to your extended family, your community. Lots of sf has worked over this theme. Cherryh uses it in her ship cultures, in the DownBelow universe, where crewmembers of the ship are also family. Many of her plots (TriPoint, Heavy Time, etc.) are concerned with an outsider breaking down the 'walls' and becoming accepted within the family. Robinson's Mars series (insert color of choice) invokes this instinct, in both its aspects. The Martians throw off the yoke of Earth as much out of love for Mars as for common brotherhood.
My sense is that the corporate model will NOT move into space, unless the corporation is the Japanese model, where family and country are strongly mixed into the company. There are novels that predict this, by the way. American corporations are too shaky; their lifespan is too short. It is very unusual to see a company last 50 years, let alone succeed and grow for hundreds of years. Empires, sad but true, have much longer track records.
Ah, but you say, space will be different, in ways we can barely imagine (but are trying real hard to). So far, none of the authors I've read have come up with convincing reasons why Corporations will rule in space. Most, like Weber, and Niven and Pournelle in The Mote in God's Eye, just 'make it so,' and get on with their story.
I have a suspicion that while space may be different, Humankind will not be. Humans have a strong territorial instinct, and I think that loyalty will prevail over the economic ties. Where you live, the physical world around you, and the folks around you, all are key to strong Human compulsions.
Our speaker next time is going to tell us about the effects of a vastly different environment on a group of Humans engaged in a very normal activity. Philip Smith, who is a professor of English at Pitt, a PARSEC member, and has been a panelist at Confluence several times, spent a semester teaching science fiction on a cruise ship, in the Semester at Sea program.
Did the sound of waves and the absence of land produce a creative surge that made all the students emphasize with alien concepts in sf? Did it put them all to sleep? Were they all to seasick to care?
Come next time, to Squirrel Hill, and find out!
The Worldwrights were pretty quiet this month. The only news is that Timons Esaias's poem "Eisenberg Haiku" came #9 in Asimov's Science Fiction's readers' poll.
Here's an E-mail letter to Diane from Marie Rengstorff. She replied to Diane's comments and then asked me if we could put it in SIGMA.
Marie Rengstorff wrote:
Subject: SF exchange critiques
I am looking for serious SF writers for exchange critiques via email.
I live in Hawaii and am having some problem finding a writers' group of the variety I need. I have had one story purchased by ANALOG since I retired a year ago. Before retirement, my SF was basically given away while fiction writing was a hobby to buffer the stress of being a Division Chairman at a college. I had one of my SF articles stolen from a fanzine and published in BEST OF TREK 18. BEST OF TREK is published by ROC/Penguin. Another story sold, but the magazine went bankrupt. I am now retired and can take the time to write SF at the professional, rather than the fanzine, level.
I am a prolific writer. I usually work with five or six people to keep them from being worn out and bored.
Is anyone in Penn. interested? (Which reminds me, my one novel was published by a fan club in Harrisburg, PA.) By email, who cares where writers live. Or, would you have suggestions for contacting other online groups?
Marie Rengstorff (Marie Ming, Marie Greene) firstname.lastname@example.org
And a fun and informative time was had by 94.7% . . . Present at the impromptu Venus Diner Breakfast on Saturday, August 12th:
|Greg Armstrong||Mia Sherman||Kevin Hayes||Nora Hayes|
|Ryan Hayes||Henry Tjerlund||Irene Tjerlund||Timons Esaias|
|Kira's Mom and Dad||Kira Heston||Keith Heston||Sasha Riley|
|Yonaton Nansel||Ann Cecil||Bobby Nansel||Diane Turnshek|
|Matthew Turnshek||(who would have rather been elsewhere)||Nancy Hagen-Liddle||who started it all.|
Thanks to all who came. May your Confluence Science Fiction and Fantasy Contest stories be enriched by your experience. (And if you didn't make it, that's the list of people to hit on for "telling" diner details.) One interesting note: Tim has ruled that for this year, con-com members ARE allowed to submit stories to the contest, (as long as the authors aren't pro SF/F writers and/or contest coordinators). URL for full guidelines at: http://trfn.clpgh.org/parsec/contest.html
Science fiction historians have often been uncritical in accepting unexamined personal anecdotes because the anecdotes served to confirm their own preconceptions and prejudices. In the process, they have engaged in the creation of false history. Such has been the case with the alleged anti-Semitism of the field in the 1930s.
As in so many other eras, America was not immune from anti-Semitism in the Thirties. While not as virulent as Europe's anti-Semitism at the same time, it nevertheless found expression in many forms and in many places. Yale University, for just one example, had a "Jewish quota" on student admissions - which existed up to the 1960s! It made sense, therefore, to assume that New York publishing - and science fiction publishing in the present case - also exhibited the anti-Semitic bias found in so many other institutions. Because this was so easy to believe - it has been believed. But, the charge has never been investigated. It was assumed to be too self-evident to need investigation.
The charge, however, is false. Indeed, just the reverse. Science fiction publishing in the Thirties was not only hospitable to Jewish authors, but also proved a unique vantage point from which to criticize the racist ideas of Hitler and his followers then gaining ascendancy in Europe. It is unfortunate, therefore, that this rare haven for Jewish writers and their ideas has been tarred with the brush of anti-Semitism.
How is it, then, that history has come to condemn science fiction for displaying the anti-Semitic bias found in so many other places in America in the Thirties? Science fiction critic Janrae Frank, author Jean Stine, and long-time fan and collector Forrest J. Ackerman have helped to spread the myth of science fiction's anti-Semitism in the Thirties. Their charges were levelled against the gigantic Street and Smith publishers, who published Astounding, the leading science fiction magazine of the Thirties. Speaking of Street & Smith they said, "These conservative East Coast establishment gentlemen dictated that writers whose names were ethnic (especially Jewish) adopt Anglo-Saxon pseudonyms..."1 One has to be entirely ignorant of the contents pages of Astounding during the 1930s to believe this, for on those pages were listed many stories by well-known Jewish writers under their "Jewish" names, including Isaac Asimov, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Nathaniel Schachner, and H. L. Gold by the end of the Thirties - under his actual name, not the pseudonym he adopted earlier in the decade.
However, it is not these commentators alone who have made this allegation. It seems this spurious bias has been used often in the field to explain the supposed prejudices and practices of science fiction publishers of the 1930s. Feminist science fiction historian Pamela Sargent also repeated this charge as illustrative of the kind of bias supposedly operating against women authors at the same time. Let us see if we can trace this anti-Semitic charge back to its source.
In both of her respected and influential 1970s Women of Wonder anthologies of science fiction by women, Sargent repeatedly accepted unverified statements from which she wove an entire false history of discrimination against women in the Thirties. But, "Women, of course," she tells us, "were not the only ones suffering some form of discrimination in science fiction."2 There were fellow victims who also suffered discrimination. Thus, she repeats science fiction writer and editor H. L. Gold's claim that, because of deep anti-Semitism at the magazine, he had to use an Anglo-Saxon pseudonym in order to publish his first science fiction story, "Inflexure," in the October, 1934 Astounding. Sargent (as did Frank, Stine, and Ackerman) then used this alleged institutional anti-Semitism as evidence from which to prove a similar case of institutional anti-female bias. But was it true?
"Nazism's anti-Semitism had spread all through the world," Sargent quoted the Jewish Gold as saying, "and it permeated Street and Smith, so I knew better than to write under my own name." This pervasive anti-Semitism at Astounding was "somewhat altered," Sargent simplistically explained, when Hugo Gernsback published Jewish writer Stanley G. Weinbaum's first story, "A Martian Odyssey," at the rival Wonder Stories in July, 1934. "Weinbaum used his own name as a byline, readers loved the story, and anti-Semitism vanished at Street & Smith. When John Campbell took over Astounding in 1938, he encouraged writers like Gold and, later, Isaac Asimov, to use their own names."3
In fact, I asked Asimov about this very issue and he told me that Campbell never once spoke to him about his name.4 But there are other reasons to doubt the validity of this fabricated history. Not least of these reasons is that Gold was the editor of a rival science fiction magazine and made his charges against Astounding in the pages of that rival magazine. True, at the time he made the statement he was no longer editor of Galaxy, but his antagonism toward rival Street & Smith was of long duration. Their publication, Astounding, was the foremost magazine of the day when Galaxy was launched in 1950, with Gold as editor. Street & Smith was the horse to beat, which Gold worked hard to do, beginning with paying writers more money to woo them from Street & Smith. Additionally, Gold was frustrated by Street & Smith's initial refusal to allow him to reprint stories from Astounding as part of Gold's series of Galaxy novel paperbacks. (He finally overcame their resistance and the first of his Galaxy novels was Eric Frank Russell's Sinister Barrier, which had appeared in Street & Smith's Unknown.) Thus, anything a rival editor says about a competing magazine in the pages of his own magazine should have been taken with a grain of salt and investigated for veracity before endorsing.
But, there is a further reason for doubting Gold's story. The record itself refuts it! Street & Smith purchased Astounding in mid-1933 from rival Clayton Publishing Co. F. Orlin Tremaine, who had been an executive at Clayton but was now working for Street & Smith, was named editor. However, he handed most of the editorial chores over to Australian-born Desmond Hall, who had been assistant editor of Astounding at Clayton for about nine months. Thus, both of the two editors in charge of Street & Smith's Astounding had been Clayton employees and were new to Street & Smith, therefore unlikely to have been acculturated by any anti-Semitism which may have "permeated" Street & Smith due to the rise of Nazism in Germany. And they were the ones who dealt with the authors, buying and rejecting stories. Indeed, according to Gold himself, most of his dealings with the magazine under the new ownership were with Hall.
In the very first Street & Smith issue of Astounding, October, 1933, new editors F. Orlin Tremaine and Desmond Hall published not one, but two stories by Jewish author Nat Schachner, under his real name. The next month, November, Street & Smith's Astounding trumpeted an upcoming story by Schachner with this blurb: "The next issue of Astounding Stories will contain a story that will awaken more controversy than any story ever published in a science-fiction magazine. ANCESTRAL VOICES by Nat Schachner slices daringly through the most precious myths, legends, and folklore of mankind, and attacks boldly a present-day wave of race-hysteria."
That story, published in the December issue, was a devastating critique of Nazi-inspired race hatred. In it, a time traveller from 1935 went back to ancient Rome, where, in self-defense, he killed a Hun who attacked him. The time traveller disappeared, as did tens of thousands of others in the present of the 1930s, including blacks, whites, Asians, and those of all classes and occupations. The reason was that the Hun never lived to sire children, of whom the time traveller was one, as well as all the others. Significantly, another of the disappeared descendants of the murdered Hun was Aryan superman Adolf Hitler, described in a wild caricature. The gist of the story was to mock the absurdity of Nazism's concept of "racial purity" - a bold anti-Nazi statement which would have been impossible for a Jewish author to have published if anti-Semitism had indeed "permeated" the magazine. Thus, there was obviously no need for Gold to conceal his Jewish identity in order to be published in Street & Smith's Astounding. Indeed, of all the commercial magazines, Astounding had proven itself to be perhaps more receptive than any other to critiques of Nazi anti-Semitism.
The decline of alleged anti-Semitism at Street & Smith's Astounding is similarly difficult to credit. Gold published his first story in Astounding in October, 1934, less than a year after Schachner's furious attack on Hitler in the same magazine. He did so under an Anglo-Saxon pseudonym in order to supposedly conceal his identity from Desmond Hall, who, presumably, had been quickly saturated with the anti-Semitism which "permeated" the magazine. Yet, well before this, Desmond Hall was asking Jewish literary agents Julius Schwartz and Mortimer Weisinger to obtain a story from the Jewish Stanley G. Weinbaum for Astounding. This they were eager to do.
Having obtained his address, Schwartz and Weisinger wrote Weinbaum on June 18, 1934, soliciting his business and telling him a top editor had commissioned them to get a story from him.5 Weinbaum immediately agreed to send a story, which he did in late June. This was "The Circle of Zero," which Hall read and rejected in August due to weak science.6 However, Weisinger wrote Weinbaum on September 23, 1934, to say that Hall had purchased "Flight on Titan" for Astounding and, on October 22, 1934 (the same month Gold appeared in Astounding under a WASP pen name to sneak past Hall's alleged anti-Semitism), Weisinger wrote that Hall had also like and purchased "Parasite Planet," and enclosed payment for both stories.7 Four months later, in February, 1935, Astounding enthusiastically published Stanley G. Weinbaum's "Parasite Planet" under Weinbaum's name - and the supposed deeply rooted racial hatred quickly vanished at Astounding.
Not only is it highly dubious to believe that such an elemental ideology could be dispelled so quickly and easily - but there is no reason to believe it ever existed at all. As the record demonstrates, at the very time Gold was claiming he had to conceal his Jewish identity in order to sell to Desmond Hall, that same editor was pursuing, purchasing, and publishing stories from the Jewish Weinbaum and allowing Jewish author Schachner to use the magazine as a forum to attack Nazi race hatred. However, from such a thin strand an entire web of supposed anti-Jewish discrimination at Astounding has been woven and historians and critics have been easily, almost willingly, ensnared in it. But the primary sources - which none who have repeated this charge bothered to consult - demonstrate there is no reason to believe the mythology.
At issue here is more than just a matter of setting the record straight, of writing factual history instead of mythology. By accepting the charge that Astounding shared in the general anti-Semitism of the times, the fact that a genuine refuge for Jewish writers and, even, their attacks on Nazi race hatred has gone unrecognized. There is much that America and its institutions should apologize for during the Holocaust era. Anti-Semitism in science fiction magazines, however, is not among them. Indeed, the fact that science fiction offered a forum for Jewish authors to publish and to speak out against the gathering storm should be something of which we can be proud.
1Janrae Frank, Jean Stine, and Forrest J. Ackerman, Eds., Introduction, New Eves: Science Fiction About the Extraordinary Women of Today and Tomorrow, Long Meadow Press: Stamford, CT, 1994, p. x. (Emphasis added.)
2Pamela Sargent, Editor, More Women of Wonder: Science Fiction Novelettes By Women About Women, Vintage Books: NY, 1976, pp. xxxii
3Sargent, More Women of Wonder, pp. xxxii-xxxiii. The Gold quote was originally published in Galaxy, October, 1975, p. 22.
4Eric Leif Davin, "The Good Doctor at St. Vincent," Fantasy Commentator, Fall, 1992, V. VII, No. 4, p. 248.
5Sam Moskowitz, "The Marketing of Stanley G. Weinbaum," Fantasy Commentator, Fall, 1991, p. 107. They did not tell Weinbaum at the time that the editor was Hall, perhaps fearing he would sell directly to Hall instead of through them. Only after Weinbaum agreed to become their client did they reveal the identify of the editor who had sent them after Weinbaum. Weinbaum's correspondence is located in the Special Collections Dept. at Temple University, but see the synopsis of the Schwartz-Weinbaum-Weisinger correspondence in the Moskowitz article.
6Moskowitz, "The Marketing of Stanley G. Weinbaum," p. 108.
7Moskowitz, "The Marketing of Stanley G. Weinbaum," p. 109.
What do astronauts do When they get the flu? How do they blow their noses? Use hoses? Do they have a messy view After they ker-choo! And spray the faceplate With icky goo? Wouldn't you just hate To share their fate? Eeeeeeuuuuuuu! What a zoo! I don't know what I'd do. Hold that sneeze till I was blue. Wouldn't you? What would you do If you, too, Knew You had the flu? Would you sit and stew? Or throw a shoe And say, "Oh, poo!" Would you boo-hoo? (Better watch that tear!) I know what I'd do: Stay right here With a tissue near And the least of my woes Would be blowing my nose!
BEAUTIES AND BEASTS: BLESS THE CHILD, HOLLOW MAN, THE CELL
Three movies have come out lately which, as diverse as they are, are basically the same. In a tradition as venerated, and yet as hokey, as a sexually confused Creature From the Black Lagoon lunging at a shrieking female in a swimsuit, we are seeing beautiful women terrorized and even victimized by digital special effects in the form of make. Or presumable male, devils.
The most lightweight of the three is Bless the Child, which seems to prove that Kim Basinger is having no more luck choosing projects after her Oscar than she did before. In somewhat the same way that Starship Troopers audaciously assumed that it was playing to a whole other parallel Earth where Fascism is in vogue, Child seems determined to forget that The Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby, or even The Sixth Sense, was ever made, somehow preferring the chintzy cartoonish scariness of Ghost or even Ghostbusters, let alone last year's misfire The Haunting, to anything resembling eerie semi-realism. (Compared to Child, even Stir of Echos looks good.) Child trots out basic ingredients: sweet girl with nice miraculous powers, Satan worshippers. It's one thing when a movie can successfully argue for only its ninety minutes that there's Good and Evil and ya gotta choose the angels to help you, but Child is not even persuasive for ninety minutes. It winds up feeling more sweet and cute than a genuine thrill.
The point being, we see beauties terrorized. Basinger keeps having hallucination-like visions of snarling winged monsters, then seems to think "Huh, cool" and keeps going right on about her business. The girl, Holliston Coleman, is swamped by a horde of strange red-eyed rats in a dream sequence. And poor Christina Ricci gets ripped apart by demons in a subway (which is as close to realism as Child gets.) Meanwhile, Jimmy Smits sees none of this and comes storming into the climactic evil ceremony to shoot lots of Satanists like Gary Cooper at high noon.
This Demons vs. Damsels theme gets worse with Hollow Man. Once and for all: can't we put the Invisible Man to rest? It is so old and downright magical; the best-realized Invisible Man of all time was probably Bilbo Baggins wearing the One Ring. Play with optical wavelengths all you like, but meat and bone are still opaque, they still solidly block the light that hits them. Yet here the concern is not so much with the Invisible Man as the visible Man - you know, the ghoulish plastic skeleton with muscle all over it, like someone skinned alive. After the demon like horrors of a skinned-alive gorilla, we are then treated to the nastiness of a frequently skinned-alive Kevin Bacon. Skin is a major obsession in Hollow, for pretty much every scientist involved is some cocky young wiseass with hormones to burn, and Bacon winds up raping his sexy neighbor whom he peeps at from his window. It is a minor compensation that this victim never sees Bacon with his skinned look, but one can put two and two together. It's Hideous Sci-Fi Incubus time again at the movies.
Sir Anthony Hopkins was only joking on "The Tonight Show" when he said that in a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Clarice would marry and live in Malibu. Yet by all indications author Thomas Harris has taken Sir Anthony seriously; Jodie Foster has backed out of the filming of Hannibal, and very wisely it would seem. But now The Cell is already on hand to ease the near-inevitable disappointment of that Hannibal movie.
In the near future, an experimental form of electronic telepathy using virtual reality can make contact with comatose psychiatric cases. Jennifer Lopez is Catherine Deane, master therapist of this surreal technique. As luck would have it, bizarre serial killer Carl Stargher (Pittsburgh's own Vincent D'Onofrio - why can't he play a nice guy for once, like he did way back in Mystic Pizza?) has been arrested but gone comatose, and he alone holds the secret to locating a victim (female, of course) trapped in an automated cell which is timed to killer within 40 hours. The answer: send in Deane. The plot is sort of Fantastic Voyage meets Tron by way of Being John Malkovich.
The damsels get the worst and the best of it in Cell. Not only are they slain and bodily altered, but in Stargher's mind they are humiliated in death as mechanical mannequins in a tawdry funhouse of degrading sexual fantasies. It is easy to mistake The Cell for being good simply by virtue of its being intense, yet Intensity For Intensity's Sake leaves me with a lot of disturbing questions. The one saving grace in all this is the character of Deane, who triumphs by sheer love and courage.
What is going on here? As I write this, an infamous duo of rapists has Pittsburgh's so-called East End in a panic. Not an evening goes by at my Swissvale work site that I do not feel obliged to see my female co-workers safely to their cars as I relieve their shifts. How might I feel as a woman, working alone in the night? Of what use to me would be the dumbed-down catechism of Bless the Child? Why couldn't someone inform the makers of Hollow Man that the cover of night and the element of surprise can give a rapist all the invisibility he craves? And would I really need The Cell to show me a gallery the size of the Smithsonian dedicated to my degradation?
Movies have the power to lend strength, and in their very mixed way they have done just that. Fay Wray survives, King Kong does not. In the hands of both Cocteau and Disney, Beauty wins over the Beast; in the TV series, they are one tough team. Even now I am haunted by Jennifer Lopez in her world of glittering snow, wearing her queenly bridal suit transforming her into a dove, reaching out to little boys lost deep inside their private universes of hate. The Cell is the best of the three, but I wish none of them had so enthusiastically stylized their evils. Evil is not really that exotic. It is, in fact, far too ordinary.
Mirage is labeled an Isaac Asimov's Robot Mystery, but it's actually a very entertaining book. We're in the future, the world of positronic robots, but not quite to the "Caves of Steel" time. Humanity has spread out to the stars; there are Spacers and Settlers, as well as Earther factions. Spacers are those from colonies like Aurora and Solaris; Settlers are from near Earth habitats.
The book starts with a conference, where Earther representatives are meeting with Spacers, to reconcile and rebuild relations, and incidentally restore positronic robots to Earth. Mia Daventri is a trained Special Service agent, security for the Earther Senator. Part of her team includes a special case positronic robot named Bogard.
Disaster strikes: most of the Spacer delegation is gunned down, as is the Earther Senator and his Special Service staff, except for Mia, who is wounded but not killed. She is saved at least partly thanks to Bogard, who takes on guarding her as a top priority.
This is a world where Asimov's three laws rule; Bogard will meltdown, if he is forced to confront his failure to protect the Senator. Keeping Mia alive is a distraction that allows Bogard to function.
Helping to solve the mystery is Bogard's creator, Derec Avery, and Calvin Institute attache Ariel Burgess. Together they work to penetrate the conspiracy and save the world. There is lots of action, several neat twists, and a sad but realistic conclusion.
This book is a genuine page-turner, with believable characters, a well-constructed plot, and lots of tension. The robot, Bogard is particularly well done, quite as charming as R. Daneel Olivaw, or even Mr. Data.
I highly recommend this book! And now for the extra good news: Mark Tiedemann will be in Pittsburgh, October 7th, signing at Barnes & Noble, Squirrel Hill at 1pm. It turns out, according to the flyer, that Mirage is the first in a trilogy (it stands alone just fine!); next will be Chimera, and then Aurora. I plan to be at B&N to get my copy of Mirage signed, and ask Mark for teasers about the next two books!
NEXT MEETING: Sept. 9, 2000 12:30 PM to 4:00 PM
Jason Taverner is the definition of a successful television star, followed and adored by millions of devoted fans. But after a freak accident, he awakens one morning in a world where he doesn't exist. Void of required identification materials and no longer recognized by millions (or even one), this "unidentified walking object" struggles to survive the relentless pursuit of a Machiavellian police officer, who is determined to eliminate him. Dick's visionary novel predicted the "identity theft" of today's headlines. For more information, please call 412-624-PLAY (7529).
The regular price is $12 per person; if we can get together a group (15 or more), we can get a discount. Ann is negotiating with the Director of Public Relations and Marketing as we go to press.
To Contact PARSEC
mail: PO Box 3681, Pittsburgh, PA, 15230
President: Ann Cecil
Vice President: Sasha Riley
Treasurer: Mia Sherman
Editor: Don Cox
Secretary: Tom Morrow
Snide Commentator: Chris Ferrier
Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.
Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.
This page maintained by Greg Armstrong.