Jack of Eagles; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Since I mentioned this book in my last post, you get this . . .

The website From an Oblique Angle supplies the parallax on this one.

Raw Feed (2002): Jack of Eagles, James Blish, 1952. 

I looked at this book several times in the Lead High School Library, but I never read it then. 

First, the cover art and jacket blurb made it sound rather boring, and, second, I was less of a fan of psychic powers stories then. I read it now because it was mentioned by Damon Knight as bearing the influence of Charles Fort. 

Indeed, Charles Fort and his Wild Talents are mentioned explicitly in the novel as is the Fortean Society.  However, it’s unclear if Fort is brought in to dress out an idea Blish already had or if Fort inspired him. Protagonist Danny Caiden’s psychic powers are referred to as “wild talents”, and, of Fort, it is said,

He could see why writers loved the man. He wrote in a continuous and highly poetic display of verbal fireworks, superbly controlled, intricately balanced, witty and evocative at once,

So Blish seems to have admired Fort, and it’s quite possible was inspired by him. As Damon Knight notes in his Charles Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained, the head of the Fortean society in the novel, Cartier Taylor, is a thinly disguised (the name certainly is) version of Tiffany Thayer. Both are given to iconoclastically encouraging cranks (including a mention of Dianetics) and attacking political and religious institutions. Taylor, however, actually has a small but significant role in the novel when, at novel’s end, he aids Caiden. 

What struck me most about the novel was that it seemed to be an attack on the notion of van Vogtian supermen and the sort of plots van Vogt would often feature. 

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The Fortean Influence on Science Fiction

You won’t be surprised I first heard about this book from a review in Fortean Times.

Review: The Fortean Influence on Science Fiction: Charles Fort and the Evolution of the Genre, Tanner F. Boyle, 2020.

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 Fiction and 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 Barrier and 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?

Yes.

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.

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First Cycle

After Fuzzy Sapiens, Piper had “Gunpowder God” and “Down Styphon!” published. They were combined and expanded for Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen which I’ve reviewed. Those two stories are the last mentioned in Piper’s story log. Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen does not seem to have been published before Piper’s suicide on November 5, 1964.

In the mid-1970s, Jim Baen bought Piper’s literary estate and the Piper revival began. “When in the Course — ” made its first appearance in 1981’s Federation.

Review: First Cycle, H. Beam Piper and edited and expanded by Michael Kurland, 1982.

Cover by Wayne Barlowe

This novel doesn’t get a lot of respect among Piper fans and scholars. John F. Carr in Typewriter Killer only mentions it seven times in the body of that book.  First Cycle was written about 1953 for the Twayne Triplets series from Twayne Books. They were the first of what we now called “shared-world anthologies”. Piper’s Uller Uprising was written for the first in the series, The Petrified Planet. The next Twayne Triplet was a fantasy anthology called Witches Three. The next two proposed installments, science fiction anthologies, were never published. 

Piper wrote this story, originally called “The Heavenly Twins”, for the fourth proposed volume which was also to include stories by James Blish and Murray Leinster. It was discovered in Piper’s estate. Michael Kurland made some minor changes and revisions to it, but this version largely matches Piper’s original manuscript. The framing device of having a Terro-Human Federation starship show up was a Kurland addition.

Like The Petrified Planet, the story starts with astronomical history, here the planets Thalassa and Hetaira came to be. They circle a common center of gravity in a system with both yellow and red dwarf stars. Hetaira has much more water than Thalassa. Each planet has its own sentient race.

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The Sociology of Science Fiction: Chapter IV

My look at Stableford’s work continues.

Review: The Sociology of Science Fiction, Brian Stableford, 1987.

In Chapter IV, “The Expectations of the Science Fiction Reader”, Stableford tries to discover what sf readers get out of the genre. He looks at three questions: what sf readers say they get out of the genre, how the various definitions of sf serve as rules for composing sf works, and what writers and apologists of sf say about the genre’s function and value. 

Stableford argues that the whole question of science fiction as a genre is that reading a work of sf is different than reading another sort of novel. That’s what defines the genre. He quotes Darko Suvin as defining a genre as a system of expectations, based on prior reading experience, of a particular type of material. Even innovations in the genre are just an evolution of expectations based on past experience with sf.

What are those expectations? To get an idea, Stableford turns to the letters columns of sf magazines. There are a couple of methodological problems with this acknowledges Stableford. 

These are, first of all, a self-selected sample, and, of course, not all the letters received were printed though Stableford notes early sf pulps frequently had letters insulting certain stories.

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The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Vol. One: To Be Continued

Looking back in my posts after posting a review of volume six in this series, I see I hadn’t posted anything on volume one. I suspect that’s because, for whatever reason, I didn’t make notes on the last story in the book.

That makes this a …

Low Res Scan: The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume One: To Be Continued, ed. Robert Silverberg, 2006.Robert Silverberg 1

Introduction” — An interesting introduction to this, the first volume in what Silverberg says is the third attempt to collect his stories. Silverberg continues to amaze me with his prolificness while not working weekends and while in college. Here he casually mentions all the stories, as a professional writer (not working weekends but while in college), he sold in the years 1953-58. He says that he will let his mediocre sports and mystery stories languish. Silverberg is unapologetic about being a hack to fund sf projects he did care about. It was only years later that he discovered that the writers he admired, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, and Theodore Sturgeon weren’t supporting themselves by in the same way. Leiber had an editorial job. Bradbury sold to the high paying slicks. Sturgeon simply lived near starvation — which Silverberg decidedly didn’t. However, he is happy to reprint his early pulp stories which he thinks show compentency and that he has affection for.

Gorgon Planet” — Silverberg justly points out that this, his first professional sale, is nothing special. But it is pretty good for an eighteen year old, and he’s right in showing that he had an early command of effectively linking exposition and dialogue. The plot itself is a lackluster retelling of the Perseus-Medusa myth in a sf context. Continue reading

H. P. Lovecraft: A Life

The Lovecraft series continues with a look at S. T. Joshi’s biography of that writer.

Joshi has expanded this 708 page book into 1,200 pages with the updated edition called I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to do my wrists a favor, when I do, and get the kindle edition.

Raw Feed (2005): H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, S. T. Joshi, 1996, 2004.H P Lovecraft A Life

Joshi is such a concise writer that it would do little good to sum up all the points of interest in this book’s 655 pages of text, and some it, expectedly, repeats Joshi’s H. P. Lovecraft and H. P. Lovecraft:  The Decline of the West. Since Joshi sums up all of Lovecraft’s fiction including some of his most important revisions, I think this book comes about as close as you can get to a one volume introduction to Lovecraft without reading his work.

He gives brief summaries of Lovecraft’s most important correspondents and professional contacts, the magazines he published in, and other matters related to Lovecraft’s interests, life, and times.

Granted, some of this gets a bit far afield.

Is it really necessary to give a summary of Antarctic exploration when mentioning Lovecraft’s interest in it even though it is, of course, relevant to his “At the Mountains of Madness“?

Still, I learned a lot about Lovecraft. Continue reading

“Science Fiction and the Mythology of Progress”

The review series on Brian Stableford’s Opening Minds: Essays on Fantastic Literature continues.

Review: “Science Fiction and the Mythology of Progress“, Brian Stableford, 1977.Opening Minds

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

Stealing Other People’s Homework: James Joyce and Science Fiction & Alternate Histories of the American Revolution

Andrew May looks at references to James Joyce in SF with attention paid to Philip K. Dick, James Blish, and Brian Aldiss.

Razib Khan looks at the complicated consequences of the colonies losing their war with Britain. I’ve reviewed one such alternate history, Robert Conroy’s Liberty: 1784. There are others: