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books, history, writing and science fiction, etc
My parents aren’t all that into science fiction, but when the Star Wars Special Editions rolled into theaters, my parents discussed taking me to see the first one. I was 12 at the time.
“Do you think it’ll be too scary for him?”
“Well, if it is, we can leave early.”
So, we went to Montpelier’s Capitol Theater, where I spent the entire film with my eyes glued to the screen, and babbled the entire way back about how cool it was. A week or so later, we went to The Empire Strikes Back, and shortly after that, to Return of the Jedi.
Since then, science fiction has been a major part of my identity, and I can’t be happier. Thanks, Dad!
One of the things that I’ve really loved about this column is getting a sense of how connected everyone was. Truly, everyone seemed to know one another, even as small groups formed around certain editors. A case in point, over the last couple of columns, I’ve been looking at the Golden Age of SF, which is generally regarded as beginning with John W. Campbell Jr.’s rein at Astounding. Campbell’s star was bright and enduring, but it lost its innovative edge. H.L. Gold, I think, deserves more attention for his role during the Golden Age, as his magazine Galaxy Science Fiction provided some of the genre’s most enduring classics.
Go read Changing the Playing Field: H.L. Gold & Galaxy Science Fiction over on Kirkus Reviews!
Here’s my sources for this post:
Earlier this week, SF Grandmaster Jack Vance passed away at the age of 96. His writing career lasted over six decades, and he’s known for his fantastic worldbuilding in addition to his enormous volume of works.
Vance wasn’t an author I came across often as a kid – looking back through my anthologies this week, I found only a handful of stories, but the one that stuck out in my mind was ‘The Moon Moth’, collected in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume IIB. Reading up on his life, I found that most of my usual sources mentioned him sparingly – often in the context of his first great work, The Dying Earth. At other times, it seems as though he was an author who’s influence faded to the background, which seems to have suited his personality.
Last year, I picked up and read The Stars My Destination for the first time. It’s an astonishing book, one that I alternatively wish that I’d read it earlier, and that I’m glad that I read it now, with the capabilities to really get how important of a book it is. The book was used in a science fiction class that I sat in on this past semester here at Norwich, and it was interesting to see the student’s reactions to it.
I’ve been waiting to get to Bester for a while now, and after a bit of digging around, I’m astonished to see that there isn’t more about him in the SF non-fiction arena. Certainly, he appears in a number of sources (see below), but often, it’s centered around his two major, landmark works, The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination. He had an exceptional career, working in the SF pulp, comic, radio, television, magazine and novel markets over the course of his life, all the while turning out an incredible amount of material. His career is notable for his writing and his sheer influence on the genre, and there is possibly no other author writing at this time that had more of an influence on where the genre would go.
Here’s the sources that I used for this piece:
I’m also particularly indebted to Maxwell Neely-Cohen for sending me an interview with Bester in Tangent Interviews. This was an interesting piece taken sometime in the 1980s, with a fairly interesting interview with Bester about some of his stories, and how he generally went about the writing process. There’s not a whole lot that’s new here when taken against some of the other sources that I had, but it’s a great look at Bester as a person.
John Joseph Adams also provided some extremely helpful materials: An obituary from Locus Magazine, which shed some interesting details on his life, as well as an excerpt from Paul Walker’s Speaking of Science Fiction and a review of Tender Loving Rage in Science Fiction Eye.
Little Bram was born this morning at 10:18am, and I’m now a father. Achievement unlocked, I guess. Abraham Charles Liptak is 7 lbs, 3 oz, 20 inches long and 100 % cute. He has features from Megan and myself, and so far, he’s been fairly quiet: some fussing, a little crying, but mostly, sleeping and holding onto my fingers. He’s one of the newest members of the human race, along with three others born last night and this morning here.
He’s a wonder to behold, and I’ve seen that said more than once when it comes to describing one’s newborn offspring, and as clichéd as it sounds, I’ve spent more time just staring and marveling at how utterly beautiful he is. For the last 9 months, I’ve realized in a conceptual sense that this is a life-changing event in my life, and it wasn’t until I first saw him that the full impact of that meant really hit home, in a wave of emotion that left me breathless.
It was a long night: almost 24 hours in all, from beginning to end, and I’m happy that that’s over. Megan did an insane job these last nine months, and she’s gone through something utterly terrifying to me, and what she’s gone through is nothing short of incredible. I’m sitting here, in the hospital room as the two sleep, and I can’t think of anything else in the world that I love more.
He’s barely 12 hours old, and I already can’t wait to introduce him to the world. I’m excited at the possibilities that the future holds. It’s going to be an adventure, I think.
One of the interesting things that I came across recently was the story of the Futurians at the 1st WorldCon in 1939. The Futurians were a legendary group of fans – quite a few notable authors came out of their ranks over the years, and it looked like an interesting story, one that was far more complicated than I thought.
Fandom is really an artificially constructed thing – Gernsback helped jumpstart it alongside his magazines with his Science Fiction League clubs around the US, probably recognizing that if you keep your readers engaged, you’ll have a more reliable cash flow. Would fandom have emerged on its own, without those clubs? Maybe, but I’d bet that it helped define the identify of a science fiction fan far earlier, and from what I’ve seen, you really don’t have the same communities in other genres (although that’s just from my own observation, rather than any actual research.
I’ll admit, I have a bit of an ax to grind with this piece: the fan community can be infuriatingly annoying at times. It doesn’t matter if it’s amongst book reviewers, 501st members, authors, literature fans, movie fans, or any other community, there’s always drama. And, it looks like there’s always been drama. It’s something that I’m a bit tired of, and I’m beginning to just ignore people who are drama-prone in my own life. It’s a bit liberating, but isolating, at times.
The Futurians, Damon Knight. This is probably the best place to go to read about the Futurians, written by one of their members. It’s certainly one-sided, but it’s an interesting read.
The Immortal Storm, Sam Moskowitz. This is an exhaustive, egotistical and defensive book, and I wonder if Moskowitz had some lingering resentment about the event. This book is a fairly exhaustive (and it’s utterly exhausting to read) look at fandom. I found myself very disheartened by what I read here: it’s a petty survey, but it does contain quite a bit of information about the early days.
Basement and Empire series, Frederik Pohl. Pohl talks a bit about early fandom in this series of blog posts for his website, The Way the Future Blogs. These, and the rest of his website, are a very, very interesting read.
The Way the Future Was: A Memoir, Frederik Pohl. Polh’s biography is a neat who’s who of the early science fiction days, but he doesn’t go into much detail about the events of the 1939 convention, simply noting that it happened, and who was involved.