The price for the Kindle edition — $27.99 – was ridiculous. (Evidently, McFarland and other academic publishers think there are no non-academics who want to read their books.)
I’ve known about Charles Fort and his relationship to science fiction for 40 years since encountering Brian Ash’s The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fictionand Robert Holdstock’s Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. I’ve read Charles Forts four famous books. I’ve read Damon Knight’s and Jim Steinmeyer’s biographies of Charles Fort. I sought out the blatantly Fortean science fiction novels: Eric Frank Russell’s Sinister Barrierand Dreadful Sanctuary and James Blish’s Jack of Eagles. I’ve long known about the Fortean influence on Arthur C. Clarke explicit Fortean influence. I’ve subscribed to Fortean Times for decades.
Was Boyle going to tell me anything I didn’t know?
Charles Fort was the father of what Boyle calls “maybe fiction” – all those “occult” and paranormal studies and personal accounts, all the hidden (and usually ancient) histories, and UFO abduction stories we’ve heard of, authors like Graham Hancock, Richard Shaver, and Whitley Streiber whose accounts we either believe, judge as innocent mistakes, or regard as works of insanity. These are tales we are asked to believe whether couched as academic works or autobiography.
I’ve longed liked Gary Lachman’s articles in the Fortean Times. I’m also an admirer of his work, under the name Gary Valentine, with the rock band Blondie, particularly his song “X Offender”.
So, it was only a matter of time before I decided to read one of his books.
Review: Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius, Gary Lachman, 2001.
Lachman’s basic thesis is that several elements of the mystic 1960s led not just to the Summer of Love but the murders of Charles Manson and that the strains of thought that produced both go back to the late 1890s.
It’s an interesting story, but most parts of it were familiar to me already, and I’m not going to talk much about them. I am also not sympathetic to mysticism, the Summer of Love, or the spirit of the 1960s.
What I am going to talk about is the surprising amount of material in the book about writers and works of fantastic fiction and how they were connected to the mystic Sixties.
Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier’s not only wrote the very popular The Morning of the Magicians, but Bergier also wrote a letter praising H. P. Lovecraft that appeared in the March 1936 issue of Weird Tales. The Morning of the Magicians, published in 1960, had Fortean material and centered on mysticism, transcendence, mutation and the evolution of consciousness. It was a heady mix that drew from the zeitgeist.
This collection is not entirely horror or weird stories. Many of them deal with people in the arts, particularly music, and they are often written by a narrator claiming to be untutored in the art of writing an account of their experiences. The stories often seemingly digress and move back and forth in time, but Cross always ends his stories by satisfyingly tying everything together.
The collection has a quite deliberate order of stories, and there are links between some of them, so I’ll be looking at them in order. All of these stories first appeared in this volume.
J. F. Norris’ “Introduction” to the Valancourt Books edition is useful. This was not Cross’ first book, but his previous ones were children’s books under the name Stephen MacFarlane – the man “now dead” that Cross dedicated the collection to. Cross was an influential figure. Arthur C. Clarke said Cross was the first professional writer he knew. Ramsey Campbell credits Cross’ Best Horror Stories anthology as shaping his view of the genre. After this book was published, Cross was a scriptwriter for the BBC and adapted many other author’s stories to acclaim.
“Petronella Pan” is a creepy story about a vain woman that, to remain the center of attention, has chemically kept her daughter in the physical (though not mental) state of an infant for 30 years via chemical means. Like many Cross stories, it’s a twice-told story, and the narrator, who doesn’t like babies and goes on a riff about how innocent seeming babies grow up to become grotesque moral or physical monsters, gets the story from his sentimental German-Scottish friend Konrad who has been judging baby contests for thirty years. There is a nice bit with the baby seemingly reading Proust in her baby carriage. The mother’s former husband was a brilliant chemist, and she learned enough of his job to make the necessary formula. Cross wrings some horror out of Christ’s line “unless you become as children”.
It isn’t just Greg Bear saying in interviews that this novel was both a homage to William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land and Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars or critics guessing that. Hodgson shows up right on page 398, and Bear subsumes the man and his novel into his own creation:
’Like a battlefield,’ said Glaucous. ‘I walked the trenches around Ypres, almost a hundred years ago, looking for a particular gent – a fine strapping fellow and a poet. He dreamed, so I was led to believe, of a place he called the Last Redoubt. He’d written a book before shipping out, detailing his dreams . . . But the war had already blown him to bits. Lean years for hunters, during wartime.’
Glaucous is one such hunter, or, to be exact, he’s a “chancer”, sort of a man who can unconsciously manipulate probabilities to help hunters like Whitlow find “shifters” and “dreamers”. Continue reading →
My reactions to this book follow three veins: comparing Part 1, Clarke’s “Against the Fall of Night” with the expanded version The City and the Stars, Benford’s sequel to Clarke’s novella in its own right, and the combination as a whole.
As an alternative to The City and the Stars, I liked the latter better than “Against the Fall of Night”. The novel gave full rein to Clarke’s mournful vistas of an ancient Earth where man huddles fearfully. The novella has the same feel but Clarke simply doesn’t have as much space to portray these emotions. Also the novel had many interesting details, notions, and speculations: the psychological and social effects of no new births in Diaspar — just recycling of personalities with undesired memories edited out — and immortality, the instant creation of desired forms of matter (for role-playing games and much else), the sex games of Diaspar’s inhabitants and their evolved state, the mysterious Jester and the more mysterious matter of Alvin actually being born not recanted, the creation of the Mad Mind and Vanamonde (dealt with here but not in as great detail), and the religion of the Master and the enforced silence of his robot servant to spare him embarrassment. The mere length of the novella lessens the tone and emotion that goes so far in making the novel a classic.
I’m not sure if Benford’s addition really stands alone, but I liked it. From what I’ve heard of his novels (I’ve only read his collaboration with David Brin in Heart of the Comet), this story has his characteristic concern with man’s evolution and his place in the vaster evolution of life and intelligence. The vistas of millennia are reminiscent of Olaf Stapledon I suppose, but this part reminded me most of the bizarre future of Brian Aldiss’ Hothouse. Benford’s life forms are just as bizarre, even more rationalized (particularly the creatures whose consciousness exist in the magnetic fields of the galaxy), but less well described. Which is just as well. Benford’s creatures are too vast, too alien to be minutely described like Aldiss’. They can just be suggested. Continue reading →
This was one of those sf classics I didn’t know much about and really wasn’t too interested in reading till I read Clarke’s comments on it in his Astounding Days. However, I really enjoyed this book.
Like Clarke’s Childhood’s End, this book uses the metaphor of childhood to weave a story of loss, gain poignancy, innocence, and adventure. Hero Alvin’s adventures propel man from the fearful adolescence of Diaspar’s and Lys’ stagnation to its place — again — among the stars.
Clarke builds, block upon block, a suspenseful story that moves ever outward. We start the narrative in a cave (at least the image of one) and end with the stars, with the illusion and threat of white worms to the reality of Vanemonde’s pure mentality and the threat of the Mad Mind which will be freed one day. The people of Earth, locked in decadence, are the new children of the cosmos. The other intelligences of the cosmos and Man have left the universe. Continue reading →
Yes, it’s an actual book review of a title I committed myself to 25 months ago. I haven’t done a similar review in 10 months.
The reviewing mill of MarzAat grinds slow. Whether it grinds fine or even produces anything useful you will have to decide.
The mill’s scheduling is also erratic. This book wasn’t even the next in the chute, but I found myself limited to what was on the kindle one day, so I started it.
It came from NewCon Press whose offerings I’ve reviewed in the past: Dark Currents and David Hutchinson’s collection Sleeps with Angels. And I’ve enjoyed them. However, even my blogger conscience was starting to feel guilty about asking for any more of their offerings without reviewing what I had been given.
In fact, the next “new” title I will be reviewing is Simon Morden’s At the Speed of Light, also from NewCon Press.
I’ve enjoyed the Watson I’ve read before. There was the amusing bit of recursive science fiction in his “The World Science Convention of 2080” (fan experiences in journeying to the event in a world where technology has regressed). There was “The Great Atlantic Swimming Race” (the link takes you to James Gunn’s The Road to Science Fiction #5: The British Way so we haven’t escaped all Gunn references), a rumination on LiveAid charity stunts. A versatile writer, he turned in a couple of effective Lovecraftian bits with “The Black Wall of Jerusalem” and “The Walker in the Cemetery”. I enjoyed what seemed to be a witty takeoff on J. G. Ballard’s Concrete Island in the short story “Long Stay” in a collection edited by Ian Whales, also associated with NewCon Press.
That was my first reaction to finishing up Gunn’s Transcendental trilogy.
The second volume, Transgalactic, had a plot, according to Gunn, structured on The Odyssey, this one is structured along the lines of Jason and the Argonauts’ tale. Our questers are the two main characters of the trilogy, Asha and Riley, and Tordor who didn’t, in fact, die at the end of Transcendental. Joining them is Adithya, son of Latha, leader of the covert rebellion against Earth’s pedia in Transgalactic.
They want to know what menace, revealed in the preceding book, is making the sentient races of the Galactic Federation go silent on the fringes of the galaxy.
A subplot also has Jer, cloned descendant of mad scientist Jak whom we met in Transgalactic, attempting to convince the staid Federation Council that the modified Transcendental Machine (named, what else?, the Jak Machine) poses no danger and works. These sections are sometimes humorous. She also suggests that, to fight the destroyer of the “silent worlds” (whose nature she doesn’t know), the Galactics will need to be Transcended.
In this long essay, Stableford presents a taxonomy of man-made catastrophes presented by science fiction.
The sense that humans could compete with nature in creating catastrophes started in the latter part of the 19th century.
There were works hostile to the growing effects of technology like Samuel Butler’s Erewhon and William Morris’ News from Nowhere, but they didn’t present notions of true catastrophe at the hands of man’s machinery. Stableford claiming that Richard Jefferies After London (1872) left the reasons for a pastoral, medieval like England being created as “deliberately unspecified” doesn’t quite jibe with my memory of that novel.
While he doesn’t nominate it as the first work of man-made catastrophe, he notes that Ignatius Donnelly’s Caesar’s Column had a world wrecked by the capitalist system. (And, I suppose, I should clarify that catastrophe does not equal a literal doomsday or human extinction.) Continue reading →
Combining his training as a sociologist and literary criticism of science fiction, Stableford does a concise summary of the myth of human progress and how science fiction has used it.
Starting in the 18th century, the notion of progress in human affairs, “softened” manners, enlightened minds, and nations being connected by commerce, a move toward “still higher perfection” as French philosopher Turgot put it, started to appear.
It was an improvement sought in knowledge and technology.
However, soon the grandiose idea of “human perfectibility” was espoused by the French philosopher Marquis de Condorcet.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels also saw progress in human affairs though not pushed by knowledge but its manifestations in production technologies. Continue reading →