The series on James Gunn’s Modern Science Fiction: A Critical Analysis continues with a look at more plots of circumstances.
An Alien in a Human Environment
Gunn sees this as similar to the “ancient or primitive man in a modern human environment” in its use as a vehicle for satire, but it does have other uses and is popular. It’s also more “thoughtful and less adventurous” than the human out of place in the modern world plot.
Alien Being in the Past
At the time of writing his thesis, Gunn says science fiction writers are not fond of “placing aliens in the past”.
His description of when this plot is mostly used is valid:
When such a situation is used, it is usually tied in with human history or mythology to give the story an air of plausibility or a philosophical application. A number of stories, for instance, have tried to explain the presence or evolution of humanity by emigration and later degeneration of an alien race, or by alien experiments with sub-human life forms (usually in such circumstances as to suggest reasons for the springing up of legends of creation, paradise, heaven, Satan, etc.).
He then goes on to anticipate the
fiction non-fiction of Erich von Daniken by talking about how some uses of the plot are to explain past mysteries and monuments and mythologies by citing aliens.
He then judges this is a plot of no real importance. It focuses, in his mind, on the opposite of what sf should focus on – the future. Continue reading →
A while back I did a Jack Williamson series and I found a few more related reviews in the archive, so I’m taking a brief detour from the H. P. Lovecraft series.
And I am working on some new material.
Raw Feed (2002): Darker Than You Think, Jack Williamson, 1940, 1948.
I originally read this novel because Fortean Miriam de Ford listed it as one of the sf works influenced by Charles Fort. I see no evidence of that.
Fort is not mentioned or even obliquely alluded to.
I think, amongst other things, Williamson was clearly influenced by the work of Rhine on psychic powers, and the notion that these strange powers (which are mentioned in, partially, Fort’s Wild Talents) may be studied scientifically almost certainly comes from there.
If there is any Charles Fort influence, it may be by way of Eric Frank Russell’s Sinister Barrier.
Both novels were published in John Campbell’s Unknown magazine, Russell’s in 1939, Williamson in 1940.
Both novels feature a broad battle between humans and non-humans, Russell’s Vitons and Williamson’s witch-people, with the evidence of those battles showing up in human psychology and odd events. Continue reading →
A retro review from May 28, 2012:
Review: Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural, Jim Steinmeyer, 2008.
The influence of Charles Fort on popular culture isn’t that of some seeping, hidden stream percolating out of the depths of history to mysteriously water modern ideas. It’s more of a shaded river whose twisting path abuts a surprising number of cultural vegetation. The subtitle is a bit of marketing hyperbole. As Steinmeyer himself notes, Fort said the word “supernatural” had no place in his vocabulary, no meaning. But his peculiar works, four bizarre mixtures of satire and philosophy; compendiums of strange events and sometimes whimsical, sometimes sinister, sometimes absent explanations, known as The Complete Books of Charles Fort: The Book of the Damned / Lo! / Wild Talents / New Lands, are an important source stream for the torrents of writing on the paranormal the 20th century saw, Berlitz and von Daniken, ufology and raining frogs. His works are explicitly referenced in horror fiction as long ago as H. P. Lovecraft and as contemporaneously as Stephen King and Caitlin Kiernan. His ideas show up in the film Magnolia and an actual character in the recent movie The Whisperer in Darkness. He even gave us the word “teleportation”. And, of course, his name lives on in that indispensable journal of oddities, The Fortean Times.
This isn’t the first work from a major publisher on Fort. Damon Knight, the science fiction writer, did the worthy biography Charles Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained in 1970. But this has several advantages, besides availability, over Knight’s work. Not only does this work have photographs, but it also has numerous quotes from Fort’s earlier writings before 1920’s The Book of the Damned as well as the reactions, in private and in reviews, to those works. There are also selections from Fort’s unpublished autobiography Many Parts. This edition helpfully sets these quotes off in italics which further makes this a handsome production. After an unhappy childhood under a domineering and sometimes violent upper-middle class father, Fort left home at 17; worked as newspaper reporter for about three years; bummed about America, South Africa, Canada, and Britain for a couple of years; and returned home where he married, in 1896, Anna, a woman four years his senior. For the next 12 years, Fort and Anna lived poorly, supported by numerous stories, mostly of a realistic nature and noted for the verisimilitude of their dialogue and setting, that were published in several well-known magazines of the time. These brought him to the attention of Theodore Dreiser who was to become a lifelong friend. Dreiser used his growing reputation and fame to get Fort’s first novel published: The Outcast Manufacturers. Steinmeyer presents some interesting selections from this comic yet realistic novel of slum dwellers – usefully drawn from the Fort’s own impoverished circumstances. Continue reading →