Futures Past

Futures Past

Those of you who like gazing at the pictures in John Clute’s Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia or at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction‘s cover gallery or just like reading about the history of science fiction will welcome Bill Emerson’s new electronic publication Future Past: A Visual History of Science Fiction.

At $6 an issue — with no ads, this is a bargain at 64 pages. Every one of the quarterly volumes will concentrate on a single year. The first issue is “1926: The Birth of Modern Science Fiction”. Emerson plans to publish enough volumes to take the history through 1975.

Each volume tries to cast a wide net over not only English language magazines and books but foreign-language publications, radio dramas, plays, and movies

Some of the surprises and revelations, for me, in the first issue were:

  •  The City Without Jews, a 1926 Austrian novel, whose author would later be gunned down by a Nazi.
  • That Hugo Gernsback didn’t just wake up one day and decide to publish the world’s first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories.
  • That the play Berkley Square didn’t just inspire H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time” but a slew of movie versions and that its author, John Lloyd Balderston, went on to write the scripts for many of Universal pictures famous monster movies.
  • The Savage, a science fiction comedy about a dinosaur visiting New York City.
  • Before he wrote science fiction (including “A Logic Named Joe” which kind of predicted the internet), Murray Leinster wrote for The Smart Set under his own name of William Jenkins.
  • An 800 page H. G. Wells novel called The World of William Clissold: A Novel at a New Angle existed.
  • How important Edgar Allan Poe was as a writer of the stories Gernsback wanted to publish and how often he reprinted Poe.
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Reading Bitter Bierce: The Weird Stories, Part 3

The Meta-Weird Story

You are brave enough to read me in a street car, but — in a deserted house — alone — in the forest — at night! Bah! I have a manuscript in my pocket that would kill you.

So Colston, writer of ghost stories, says during a tirade to his editor Marsh. Colston says a writer of supernatural fiction has the “right to the reader’s undivided attention”, that his stories be read in “The Suitable Surroundings” of the story’s title. To  evoke horror, his work must be removed from the context of the newspaper which signals it as fiction.

Marsh accepts the challenge.Bierce LOA

What happens that night in a deserted farmhouse ten miles outside of Cincinnati is, in typical Bierce fashion, the beginning of the story. We see a farmer’s boy going by the putatively haunted Breede house about midnight. Surprised at seeing a strange light on in the house, he overcomes his fear and looks in the window. There he sees a man seated at a desk with papers on it.

The man’s eyes were fixed upon the blank window space with a stare in which an older and cooler observer might have discerned something of apprehension, but which seemed to the lad altogether soulless. He believed the man to be dead.

And dead he is. Continue reading

Would You Like a Little Weird Fiction In Your Cultural Cavier?

Taki’s Magazine is an unexpected place to find the occasional review of science fiction and weird fiction, but editor Ann Sterzinger has made it part of the magazine’s fight “against the junk culture foisted upon us and mirages of a new world order.”

She has pounded out some genre related pieces:

Reading Bitter Bierce: The Weird Stories, Part 2

More Dead Bodies, Coincidences, and Interludes

Bierce LOA

“The Death of Halpin Frayser” is, like “A Holy Terror” and “A Watcher by the Dead”, another story with a plot where a character goes wandering for several years and is unhappily reunited with old acquaintances. Here, though, we get a seemingly a genuine ghost, a satire on families, particularly Southern aristocrat families, and a whiff of incest.

The story opens with Frayser, asleep in the California woods after a day of hunting, suddenly awaking with the name “Catherine Larue” on his lips. He goes wandering in the night, coming on a “long abandoned” road which takes him into a haunted wood with blood everywhere, in pools on the ground and dripping from trees. Strange laughter sounds in the night. He rapidly writes in a notebook with a twig dipped in blood. Continue reading

How Diverse Do You Really Want Your Characters?

I’ve been reading Peter F. Hamilton’s latest two books (yes, I will be reviewing them after I finish with Ambrose Bierce).

One of his long term themes, since he started setting stories off Earth, is the idea of an ethnostate.

The orthodoxy throughout most of the western world is that “diversity is our strength”, so an ethnostate could even be deemed “fascist” in certain quarters. The funny thing is, though, given the opportunity, racial and ethnic groups tend to self-segregate.

The 20th century could be seen, with the aftermath of World War One, the Holocaust, the breakup of the Soviet and Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, the India-Pakistan partition, even the conflict between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as a long, bloody statement that people don’t want to share a polity with those not like them.

America continues to have racial strife, and many of our cities show voluntary segregation patterns on a variety of jurisdictional lines from school district to city.

But science fiction, particularly of the media sort, strikes me as mostly denying this real world phenomena. (The Village, as Steve Sailer noted, is a sort of science fictional film strikingly exceptional in this regard.)

The ethnostate seems to have largely vanished from modern science fiction, at least what I’ve seen. Poul Anderson’s The Boat of a Million Years had such societies, as I recall, especially those who rejected modern technology. When the idea of O’Neill L-5 colonies was big, it was assumed they might be populated along ethnic and racial lines. But only Peter F. Hamilton, that I know of, does anything with the idea.

Over at Unz.com, geneticist Razib Khan’s “Fear of a Black Fantasy” talks about what we seem to really want in regards to the racial makeup of characters in fantasy and science fiction novels.

I will probably deal with Hamilton’s use of the idea when I review him.

Reading Bitter Bierce: The Weird Stories, Part 1

I’ll be using “weird” in a broad sense, basically Bierce stories I’ve read with a macabre, horrific, uncanny, or supernatural element to them. I’ll be covering Bierce’s science fictional tales separately.

Plenty of spoilers follow.

Bierce LOA

Dead Bodies

Besides “A Tough Tussle”, which I talked about elsewhere, “A Watcher by the Dead” is another story centering on a dead body. On a bet, a man, Jarette, spends a night with a corpse to prove that anybody not inured to corpses, in another words not a doctor or soldier, is instinctively superstitious around the dead. The story is something of a morbid farce. Continue reading