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. 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.
Since I mentioned this novel recently — and because I still don’t have any new reviews written, you get this.
Raw Feed (1998): Final Blackout, L. Ron Hubbard, 1940, 2991.
Algis Budry’s “Introduction” is somewhat incredulous about Hubbard’s purported accomplishments but has interesting things to say about this novel’s importance. Originally published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1941 (March through May I believe), this novel is remarkable. It’s not just a novel of future war. They existed before this novel. Budrys finds the novel original in its political sophistication. He explicitly compares it to George Orwell’s 1984 which was to come years later. (Though he doesn’t specifically mention it, both feature worlds under the thumb of constantly warring totalitarian states.) It was also one of the first (maybe the first) US novel to feature US Marines suppressing the “hero”.
Hubbard’s own “Preface” is for the 1948 postwar edition of his novel. (Unfortunately, I don’t know how it varies from the magazine edition.) Hubbard’s account of the controversy around the novel (he was called a Fascist and a Communist) is true. But the preface is a bit too fulsome and coy. Still, as Hubbard points out, when he wrote this novel Britain banned its publication and was not Socialist (as it became post war) and Russia was sitting out the war. It also predicted (no great trick) civilian casualties and atomic warfare (H. G. Wells did that first). His most awkward moment is when he thinks most of the novel’s critics were Communists.
This novel stands, I suspect, at the fount of modern military science fiction. There were certainly future war stories before. H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds springs to mind immediately. But the modern incarnation of military men in science fiction, the no-nonsense mercenaries of David Drake and Jerry Pournelle immediately come to mind, probably all go back to Hubbard’s Lieutenant. (He is never called anything else.)
I read this one for a couple of reasons. First, it’s mentioned as a source for the Traveller role-playing game in Shannon Appelcline’s The Science Fiction in Traveller – the book that initiated my recent burst of H. Beam Piper’s works. Second, it’s listed in “The 5 Parsec Shelf” of 50 significant science fiction novels in A Reader’s Guide to Science Fiction. (After seeing it 40 years ago, I still haven’t read the entire list.)
It’s an essay this time around because I had enough trouble writing this without the stricter structure of one of my reviews.
The gears of this novel did not easily engage my brain on a first reading.
There was the violation of expectations. For a novel cited, not only in David Drake’s introduction but elsewhere, as being, with Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, the founding text of the military science fiction subgenre, only a very small portion of it has scenes of combat. (I could make an argument for including L. Ron Hubbard’s Final Blackout as an ancestor of the subgenre too.)
There is a lot of talking including in the combat scenes.
The names were, for some reason, hard to remember.
Dickson’s universe is sketched in very broad terms only. Humans have spread to the stars and are undergoing speciation of a sort with “exotics” of a rather ill-defined sort.
Review: Timeslip Troopers, Théo Varlet and André Blandin, trans. Brian Stableford, 1923, 2012.
When Lieutenant Renard rotates into command of a group of poilu defending on a small French village, he finds out that the officers have a very well-stocked wine cellar. But the Englishman who left it – he was shot as a German spy — also left behind a time machine and his journal. While the tone of the book is closer to Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, it is explicitly a sequel to H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine since that Englishman is Well’s time traveler.
When Renard discovers the journal and machine, he shows it to Sergeant Dupuy, the unit’s clever radio man and a mechanic before the war in the factory owned by Renard’s father.
When an accident with a time machine transports a group of French soldiers from the Western Front of World War One to the Spain of 1321, we get a wry, entertaining novel. It’s the first science fiction work I know of in the tradition of radically displacing earthly soldiers in time and space. It blazes – without, presumably, any influence on those later works – the path followed by Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade, David Drake’s Ranks of Bronze, Jerry Pournelle’s Janissaries, and Pat Kelleher’s No Man’s World series.
The two take it out on some test flights for a bit of R & R in Paris before and during the war. Both trips are near disasters, and the Germans unexpectedly attack the unit during one, and Renard has to come up with an unconvincing story about why he and Dupuy were gone at such a critical time.
It was near Halloween, and I usually like to read something suitable to the season, so inspired by the autumnal cover (which doesn’t really have anything to do with anything in the book), I pulled this one off the shelf.
This is a collection of five stories, presented in chronological order, with two being reprints.
Old Nathan is an old man. But he’s a feared old man with a reputation for working magic that his neighbors in the Appalachians sometimes seek out. Nathan’s not a man to turn down a challenge, whether issued by a mere man or something else.
He’s spent his whole life in those hills. He never got further than King’s Mountain where, in a battle in the Revolutionary War, he got his testicles shot off.
That seems to be where he picked up the ability to work magic. Unfortunately, Drake never really gives us his origin story or why he considers himself the Master of the Devil.
Besides a self-imposed celibacy, he can talk to animals – which proves useful in gathering intelligence, but it also means he only eats fish and plants. He also can, when needed, pull a jacknife from another dimension.
In the year 53 BC, Crassus, the richest man in Rome, led an army to a humiliating defeat by the Parthian Empire at Carrhae. The poet Horace mentions, in the novel’s Prologue, captive Roman soldiers marrying barbarian women and growing old fighting for their new masters.
That bit from Horace’s Odes neatly sums up this story except, rather than growing old with the Parthians, the Romans become the military assets of an alien trading guild who uses them to fight the low tech wars somehow required by their political system. The Romans prove quite adept at their new duties. In between campaigns, they whore with aliens surgically altered to mostly resemble human women, watch and participate in strange combat simulations with alien beasts, and try not to think too hard about how they and their comrades are repaired after nearly every injury.
There’s plenty to like in this novel: the development of tribune Gaius Vibulenas from a callow youth to a true leader of men; Drake’s nitty gritty consideration of all the physical aspects – balance, footing, strength, stamina, sight – of battle; the understated relationship Vibulenas has with alien “woman” Quartilla; the very believable spark that finally triggers revolt and characteristic Roman terror.
The only disappointment I had with the novel was its sometimes confusing descriptions of battle and Roman military organization – even though I know something of the Roman army of the period.