NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE
Italo Calvino: In Memoriam
The death of a writer is like the death of a sun, in a way. It leaves us, readers, dazzled and sad with incomprehensible finality, beyond vision or speech. It is a death without regeneration or rebirth. It is for ever.
"Before birth," Italo Calvino wrote, "we Œe part of the infinite possibilities that may or may not be fulfilled; whereas, once dead, we cannot fulfill ourselves either in the past (to which we now belong entirely but on which we can no longer have any influence) or in the future (which, even if influenced by us, remains forbidden to us)." This rational or historical-materialist sense of death as the end of infinite possibilities—whether realized or not doesn't matter—is much more difficult to accept than the mystical or mythic sense of death as the closure of a cycle, which contains promises of regeneration. For the death of the writer, like the death of a sun, has shrunk our universe by putting an end to those "infinite possibilities" and preempting all the possible worlds which that writer alone, and no other, could have illuminated. Nor does it help, right now, to think that, though the writer will write no more, still the texts written will live on, open, as all texts are, if not to infinite at least to as yet indefinite possibilities of interpretation.
Calvino, the brilliant creator of constantly diverse and always uncanny fictional worlds, died last September 19th of a cerebral hemorrhage that struck him two weeks earlier, in his summer home of Castiglione della Pescaia (Siena), while he was working on a series of lectures he had been invited to give at Harvard University during the coming fall and winter.
Born in Santiago de las Vegas (Cuba), where his parents worked for a brief period as agronomists, Calvino grew up near Genoa and then lived in Turin, Paris, and lastly Rome. Since the beginning of his career as an intellectual, a critic, and a creative writer, Calvino took an active role in the making of Italian cultural history. The early years were spent in the most radical literary and political milieu of postwar Italy, the Einaudi publishing company in Turin, where Calvino worked as an editor. But even before, at the age of 20, he had joined the partisans of the Italian Resistance in 1943, and two years later the Communist Party (which he left in 1957, as did many other Italians, after the Soviet invasion of Hungary). As it was for Cesare Pavese and Elio Vittorini, his distinguished fellow writers and editors at Einaudi's, the Resistance came to mean for Calvino more than a single historical event or political action. It meant the total renewal of a cultural tradition that had worn itself out and disastrously shipwrecked on the shores of Fascism.
The Resistance, which shaped the landscape of Calvino's first novel, The Path to the Nest of Spiders (1947), represented the opening up of a stifling provincial culture to influences from the great world outside: the myths of America, Hemingway, Melville, the immense frontier and ever-expanding horizon, and of Soviet Russia, the people's revolution, Marxian praxis, socialist utopia. At the same time, the Resistance created a new national heritage, the basis of different values, myths,
memories, and aspirations for the people of Italy. Thus, the task of Calvino's early stories in the '50s (some only recently translated, in Difficult Loves), his "Ancestors" trilogy (The Cloven Viscount, The Baron in the Trees, The Nonexistent Knight 1951-59), as well as his collection and transcription of Italian folktales (1956), was to recuperate and integrate with the new post-war culture a great popular-literary tradition dating back to the Middle Ages.
In the '60s and '70s, responding to the growing international concerns with space, scientific exploration, genetic engineering, communication technologies, and theories of meaning (linguistics and semiotics), his stories took on a more specifically S-F quality. Whether set in geological time or intermolecular space (Cosmicomics and t zero, 1965-1967), whether inscribed in the combinatory figures of a tarot deck (The Castle of Crossed Destinies, 1969) or in the voices of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan dialoguing across the centuries of Western civilization (Invisible Cities, 1972), these works were all highly imaginative, scientifically informed, funny and inspired meditations on one insistent question: What does it mean to be human, to live and die, to reproduce and to create, to desire and to be?
Meditations these, but in the form of fiction, in the style of a consummate narrative art that is conscious of being at once fantasy and reality, that is conscious of being artifice, constructed and socially produced, yes, but no more so or no less so than human life is and, for that matter, nature itself. Not coincidentally, then, Calvino's last two novels, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller (1979) and Palomar (1983), were also keenly self-conscious meditations, on the telling and the reading of stories and on the observation of nature as self and other respectively. There, too, as in all of his works, theoretical sophistication in matters scientific or philosophical was firmly grounded in a profound, genuine respect for everyday life and for popular culture in the broadest sense of the term.
If the trajectory of Calvino's writing, from the neo-realism of his early tales to the S-F and meta-narrative modes of his later fiction, can be said to reflect the major shifts that have occurred over four decades in contemporary poetics, and is thus a sign of his uncommon literary and historical awareness, it is all the more extraordinary that he did remain, amid such wealth of invention and expressive variety, so perfectly consistent in his own poetic vision and so faithful to his craft, storytelling.
Calvino knew that stories are instruments for the obliteration of time, and this is why we love them: stories construct time in order to negate it. But he also knew that neither storytelling nor writing can ultimately defer that moment of dazzling and incomprehensible blankness that marks the end of all possibilities. The passage I quoted above is from the chapter in his last book of fiction, Palomar, entitled "Learning to Be Dead." And if I may be allowed to honor him by a very personal statement, I would recall his reply to a letter I sent him almost 10 years ago, wherein I observed that his stories had the effect of annulling death as well as time. He was flattered, he said, by my attributing to him such powers, but believed that those powers were in me—in my ability to find them in myself. Only now do I fully understand how generous his answer had been. -- Teresa de Lauretis, University of California, Santa Cruz
Nils Frome in The Golden Atom
Information about how Nils Frome first became interested in SF, about the early stories that engaged him, and about certain facets of his pre-War and early World War II activities in the field is to be found in the files of The Golden Atom (TGA). Its editor and publisher was Litterio B. Farsaci (who later altered his name to Larry Farsace), a lifelong Rochester resident; the title and a respectable part of the contents of the magazine were derived from Ray Cummings' famous series beginning with "The Girl in the Golden Atom." Farsaci's magazine is almost unknown today, but it was arguably the most valuable repository of new research and reference on SF between Science Fiction Digest and The Fantasy Fan, both of which had terminated publication by 1937, and The Acolyte and Fantasy Commentator, both of which began publication during the Second World War.
The first issue of TGA was dated October 2O, 1939, the first ten numbers published by 1943, appeared in letter-sized mimeographed format; and two additional special issues, in 1955 and August 1959, were letter-press productions. Issued as supplements to TGA were Stars, The Rochester-American Patriot, and Science Fiction Fandom Quarterly. This last was a coverall title for five individual magazines—with as many publishers—bound into one volume: one eponymous, the others named The Asteroid, Tales of Infinity, The Fantasy Collector (preceded by two special issues of very high bibliographical value), and Strange Fantasy. The supplements had material as valuable as TGA and all of them featured poetry of unusual merit. (Farsaci's taste in traditional rhymed units of fantasy interest or by outstanding fantasy authors was impeccable.)
TGA itself contained feature articles (usually with a bibliographical slant) by such prominent authors as John W. Campbell, Edmond Hamilton, P. Schuyler Miller, Benjamin De Casseres, and myself. Poetry was contributed by—or through the estates of—H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Stanton A. Coblentz, and Virgil Finlay. Important letters included those from H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, R.H. Barlow, Edmond Hamilton, Ray Cummings, and Harold Hersey.
Most outstanding was the bibliographical material. Farsaci ran a six-part series on the tales of Ray Cummings titled "Golden Atom Tales." Fred W. Fischer ran an every-issue department, "From the Observation Port," giving plot outlines and comments on stories, most frequently from the old Munsey magazines. Farsaci ran annotated bibliographies of the contents of Amazing Stories, Amazing Stories Annual, Miracle, Science and Fantasy Stories, Weird Tales, Thrill Book, Landell Bartlett's The Vanguard of Venus, and Allen Glasser's The Cavemen of Venus. Also included were: an index of pre-publication SF titles; a directory of pen names of SF authors; "Who's Who in Science Fiction Fandom"; a "Check-List of Kodak City Fan Magazines"; a complete reprint of Donald A. Wollheim's carbon-copy fan magazine Curious Stories (otherwise available in an edition of four copies); "Favorite Stories of Fans and Authors" (an invaluable guide to the most highly regarded stories of that period); fan pen names; an index of story winners in Astounding Science-Fiction's "Analytical Laboratory"; publication from original stencils of uncompleted issues of other fan magazines (Funtasy, Outre, etc.); authors" lists of their favorite stories; reviews of rare books; and endless information—in every nook and cranny of the magazine—of use to collectors of SF.
It was in the first issue of TGA that the readers were told they could soon expect a story from Nils H. Frome, "White Walls of Vahalla." They waited patiently (if not eagerly) for the appearance of this story; and true to the eccentric quirks of Frome, in December of 1940—14 months after it was announced—a synopsis of the story appeared on page 11 of TGA. The piece is about two rival races, from different dimensions, whose spirits carry on a nightly war in their sleep, where they battle with swords while mounted on shell-shaped craft. The science that permits transition from dimension to dimension in their dreams has been forgotten. The hero then falls into still another dimension, where all memory of his previous existence is wiped out.
The February 1940 issue of TGA carries an excerpt from a letter to Farsaci from Frome which is important for those who still expect to find a cache of important SF material among Frome's papers. Dated January 9, 194O, it reads: "No, I have no fan mags for sale. I have no fan mags. I've destroyed them all—I dislike a lot of useless paper lying about. I do have a couple or so Planeteers and some early Science Fiction Fans that somehow missed the fire, but that is all. Them you can have for as little as you care to offer."
The Planeteer was published by James Blish out of East Orange, NJ. He had conceived the idea from a letter in the "Discussions" column of Astounding Stories wherein Wollheim had proposed a single-character magazine with just that title (patterned after The Shadow, Doc Savage, Bill Barnes, etc.—eventually Standard Magazines/Better Publications' Captain Future fulfilled that suggestion). The first issue of The Planeteer was dated November 1935, and consisted of 12 half-lettersized hektographed pages with a crude story and cruder art by James Blish.
"Yelps from the Editor's End," the editorial in the second (Dec. 1935) issue, announced that "next issue our new artist begins drawing our covers and another new one is getting after our interiors." The new cover artist was Nils H. Frome, and the "other" (who resided on the same block in East Orange as Blish) was William H. Miller, Jr. The Blish editorial in the January 1936 issue informed readers: "the new artist is here, too. Unfortunately, Nils Trome [sic] could not get a drawing to us in time, so that Miller did the cover too. I don't think you'll object." The March 1936 editorial announced: "We expect more illustrations soon, and two new artists—Erwin Lane and Nils Trome [sic]. Both have something in this issue, but wait for next month." The only conceivable illustration that could have been Frome's was an unsigned heading announcing "Bat-Shadow Shroud" by James Blish and showing a sleeping (or unconscious) spaceman with his helmet and ray-gun alongside him. The drawing revealed inexperience in tracing onto a mimeograph stencil.
The April 1936 issue of The Planeteer was enlarged to letter size, and had Frome's name on the cover as one of the illustrators and on the contents page as a "Staff Illustrator." The editorial read, "Nils H. Trome's [sic] first illustrations for us are in this issue—a heading for The Reader Spanks and the drawing for the story forecast page. We have been promising you this artist for a long time—since the beginning of the year, in fact—and he's here at last. More by him in the next issue." On the title page's illustrators' list Frome's name was again spelled "Trome," but on the same page, under Staff Artists, it appeared as "Frome." (Blish's chronic mispelling of "Frome" is inexplicable in view of their preceding correspondence of at least a year's duration.) A crude illustration of a crystalline mass accompanying the announcement of Blish's forthcoming "Death's Crystal Towers" was signed as by "Nils"; the other illustration was signed "Frome." Under that heading Blish has "NOTICE!—Nils H. Trome, staff artist who drew the above head, will give away free an original drawing to the writer of the best, most interesting, most thoroughly thought-out letter to this department." In the same issue: "Coming! 'Spaceship of the Kan' novel-length serial, by Nils Helmer Frome and Andrew Coltman."
The never-completed, September 1936, issue of Tesseract Combined with The Planeteer did not run "Spaceship of the Kan" but announced it as coming up, this time without any collaborator and the explanation: "Because of lack of space, this epic of interstellar intrigue has once again been carried over into the next issue. Illustrated by the author." Facing it was a full-page ad for Frome's fanzine Supramundane Stories ("At last out!") featuring "The Cosmic Vampires" by Lionel Dilbeck.
The story by Frome was never seen again; it is quite possible that the "collaborator" was Jim Blish. It might be added that writing stories, articles, and poems and drawing illustrations, often to "rush" order for fan magazines that never appeared, was typical rather than unusual of the period.
The other magazine Frome still had copies of, The Science Fiction Fan, was launched from Denver, with the issue dated July 1936 and edited by Olon F. Wiggins. A feature of the first issue was a news column by Wollheim entitled "Fanfarade." A member of the Science Fiction Advancement Association, Wollheim had read, in the May and June 1936 issues of Tesseract, "Notes on Writing Science Fiction," allegedly written by Nils H. Frome and "adapted" by James Blish. "Who is Nils H. Frome?" Wollheim demanded in his column. "This column can find no one who has ever seen any stf. in print by this writer—yet he is blown about as an authoritative author."
It was this remark that exposed Blish's deception and forced Frome into hasty and repeated disclaimers of any authorship of the controversial piece. But Wollheim's column in the August 1936 SF Fan revealed an even more outrageous ploy on the part of Blish. Reported Wollheim: "Jim Blish will issue a sister magazine to The Planeteer to be called Supramundane Stories! Incidentally, his copious use of my name in his advertising was entirely unauthorized and misleading. The remarks quoted referred to an old issue of his magazine and not the one being advertised." The evidence accumulates as to an early flaw in Blish's character which widened with time.
In the September 1936 SF Fan, Wollheim in his column reported Blish's recantation: "Jim Blish states that he has no connection with Supra-Mundane Stories, but that it is entirely the idea of Nils H. Frome." Blish, in April of 1937, turned the title The Planeteer over to Wollheim, who said he would combine it with his semiprofessional magazine, Fanciful Tales of Space and Time; but there never was an issue after the first (dated Oct. 1936): only Morris Scott Dollens' cover design and interior illustrations for a second issue (dated Jan. 1937) exist, unpublished (I have them in my files).
Frome's article "But Stars Still Shine!," which appeared in the March 1940 TGA, was the most important piece he ever published from the standpoint of revealing how he became interested in SF and fantasy and what his personal preferences were. According to that piece, the first SF that Frome remembered seeing was A. Merritt's The Metal Emperor (published in 11 installments in Hugo Gernsback's Science and Invention between Oct. 1927 and Aug. 1928). When he first saw The Metal Emperor, or rather an installment of it, Frome had not yet learned to read the English language. "All I remember of that was a couple of illustrations by [Frank R.] Paul which had an incredible effect on my imagination. Science fiction and fantasy is still the only kind of fiction that holds my interest, for I'm not a very avid reader any longer, but even that godly fiction I can take or leave alone now. There is no longer the tingling awe and wonder that had a life scarcely incidental to reality." Paul's numerous illustrations for this novel, though uneven in quality, had an incredible imaginative vitality that fired the mind.
The first SF story Frome remembered reading was the third installment of Edward E. Smith's The Spacehounds of IPC in the September 1931 issue of Amazing Stories. (By a peculiar coincidence, the cover of that issue—showing two spacesuited men, each with six appendages above and beyond the usual biological complement, projecting deadly multi-colored rays—was also the one that attracted C.L. Moore to SF: the cover illustrated Awlo of Ulm by Army Capt. S.P. Meek.) "I remember 'Spacehounds of IPC'—it was the last part I believe," wrote Frome. "Every word had magic in it, to me, then; every sentence individualized itself from the rest."
The story Frome liked next to Spacehounds of IPC was, he said, "'The Ice Entity' by Clark Ashton Smith....I read this while I was still able to enjoy it with the unique relish of the formative mind, although I had added a bit to my library in the interim. That story really struck a responsive chord in me—I suppose because it was flavored with the awe of time travel." There is a great deal wrong with that statement, however. Clark Ashton Smith never wrote a story called "The Ice Entity"; but he had written one titled "The Ice Demon" for the April 1933 Weird Tales. Set in ancient times when a glacier is gradually covering the "civilized" world, it describes how an artificial "sun" built to melt it is countered by an intelligence that has formed in the ice. The Ice Demon, through supernatural means, thwarts efforts to retrieve the jewels that an ill-fated expedition had carried with them in an attempt against the glacier, and visits a slow, horrifying death upon those who again invade its domain.
To judge from its mood, that would seem to be the story Frome is referring to... except that it has no time travel. There is, however, another candidate, with a plot quite probably derived from Smith's story, that may be the one Frome was thinking of: Jack Williamson's The Ice Entity, which appeared in February 1937's Thrilling Wonder Stories. (Williamson had the opening chapter of his novel Golden Blood in the same issue of Weird Tales as Smith's "The Ice Demon.") In Williamson's story, a glacier has developed intelligence and is even clouding the atmosphere to prevent the Sun's rays from acting on it. It has green streamers which trap and kill living things, but is eventually overcome by the invention of atomic energy generated from gold. The only problem is that Williamson's story has no time travel in it either!
All this supports the inference that in giving his background in the field, Frome was writing off the top of his head and confusing his facts. (Twice in "But Stars..." he puts himself at an age which would make him far too young to mesh with the stories he says he remembers.)
"The City of the Singing Flame" by Clark Ashton Smith he cites as his third favorite. His reason for selecting it, he says, "is because of the mystery that was an essential part of the plot. In this all that happened served to emphasize the element of mystery. Life is like that—no matter what happens, when it's all over, we find that we don't really know anything about why the things happened. What was left out of the...story was more real and exciting than tens of thousands of words of today's hackisy [sic] drivel."
"The City of the Singing Flame" is probably C.A. Smith's most famous story. It appeared initially in the July 1931 issue of Wonder Stories, during a period when the author was writing much effective straight SF for that magazine. It tells of a man who steps from a spot in the Sierra Mountains into another dimension where there is a colossal city. A haunting melodious sound permeates the atmosphere, drawing thousands of alien creatures of every description from as many worlds towards a single spot occupied by a gigantic, all-consuming flame, into which all these creatures walk as though in a trance and are consumed. The story ends with the message from the earthmen to the effect that he sees no reason to further resist the siren call of the flame.
Next on the list of Frome's favorites was Edmond Hamilton's "The Man Who Evolved" (Wonder Stories, Apr. 1931). A scientist builds a machine that speeds up evolution, and Hamilton provides real intellectual expectancy as he describes the various changes ending in a gigantic brain—apparently—but then devolving into protoplasm to begin again. The strange fact about this story, which has remained a short-story classic in the field, was that Hamilton treated the same theme somewhat better in "Evolution Island" (Weird Tales, Mar. 1927), a story virtually unknown today. This indicates that circumstances other than merit play a role in the creation of "classics."
Frome was influenced, at first, by stories from Weird Tales as well as those from SF magazines. He mentions that "The Twin Soul" from Weird Tales, by an author whose name I have forgotten, is on my list of favorite stories. Besides being among the first of the weird stories I read, it was a perfect example of all the ingredients of a good weird story. It dealt with a man who had a twin [soul] without a body, and between the two twins there was a struggle for control of the one body until finally a scientist created a body for the disembodied soul.
The story was by Amelia Reynolds Long, and it was the first of six she would sell to Weird Tales between March 1928, the date of its appearance, and the end of 1936. Almost everything she wrote, including "The Twin Soul," contained elements of SF, and if a review of the pioneer SF authors who were women is ever written, she would have to be included. Other of her works appeared in Astounding Science Fiction, Amazing Stories, and Science Fiction. She had several novel-length hardcover detective novels to her credit, but her most unique publication is known only to a handful of people. In 1936 when William Crawford ran off The Shadow Over Innsmouth, H.P. Lovecraft's first hardcover book, on his creaky handfed press in Everett, Pennsylvania, he issued simultaneously, in identical type and binding, a volume entitled Behind the Evidence by "Peter Reynolds" (a pseudonym of Long's). Crawford did not think that Bruno Hauptman was guilty of kidnapping Charles Lindbergh's son. Neither did Amelia Reynolds Long. She reversed the situation and created "a world of if," in which American Richard Reynolds is convicted in a German court for the kidnapping and murder of Helena von Laurig, infant daughter of Captain Karl von Laurig, German World War I hero. The apparent master mind of the kidnap plot and murder is a "greedy little Jew," Ikey Silverman, a furrier. He eventually also proves to have a distinguished accomplice. Good detective work finds the real builder of the makeshift "ladder" used to kidnap the baby and Reynolds is freed. (Crawford said that 300 copies of the book were printed and 50 bound. The rest got thrown out. Only five or six were ever sold, for a dollar a copy.)
"Another [story] that sticks in my memory, from the same magazine, is `Burned Things,'" wrote Frome. Written by Robert Sandison and published in December 1930, it was the second of three stories he sold to Weird Tales. It was 3,000 words long, and he was paid $23.00 for it. It skillfully recounts how the burnt, fragmented bodies of the workers dead in a sugar mill fire utilize the chance visit of a stranger to burn to death the man who set the fire. In a poll of Weird's readers, Sandison's story placed third.
Among stories of more recent vintage, Frome singled out Robert E. Howard's "Pigeons From Hell" from the May 1938 issue of Weird Tales. (L. Sprague de Camp in Dark Valley Destiny , the biography of Howard he wrote in collaboration with Catherine Crook de Camp and Jane Whittington Griffin, notes that this story was written in 1934.) A readers' vote gave it first place in the issue, and deservedly so; for like a number of later non-"Conan" stories by Howard, it reveals in its dark narration of slave-inspired voodoo in a haunted house a rich grasp of the essentials of horror and the method of plotting that has no dependence on the mighty thews of a Conan or on physical action for its effectiveness. There were in Howard the elements of a true master of regional horror that transcended mere craftsmanship.
(Dr Isaac Mordecai Howard, Robert E. Howard's father, had secured the services of the literary agent and author Otis Adelbert Kline to market his son's unsold work. Kline sold "Pigeons From Hell" to Farnsworth Wright of Weird Tales, receiving $108 for its 11,200 words and relinquishing only radio and first serial rights. )
Commenting further on the stories which had the greatest impact in converting him to a rabid SF fan, Frome identified "'Between Worlds' by Keith, published long ago in Wonder Stories," as "another favorite of mine." He added: "There is another story by Garret Smith with the same name with which I don't want this confused.... [Keith's] is about a world between different dimensional worlds, as I remember it, a world peopled by robots with intelligent minds."
Again working off the top of his head, Frome is actually thinking of "Between Dimensions" by J.E. Keith (Wonder Stories, Oct. 1931). Between Worlds was the title of a Garrett Smith novel originally serialized in Argosy Weekly in five installments (Oct. Il-Nov. 8, 1919) and then reprinted (1929) as a Stellar Publications quality paperback by Hugo Gernsback, who intended it to be the first of a series of SF classics. Keith's story was featured on F.R. Paul's Wonder Stories cover, which (along with Paul's full-page interior illustration) so completely captures, both in mood and technique, the essence of the period's SF that it compels one to study with admiration the alien robots Paul sets against the backdrop of an otherwordly city.
Keith's story, I discovered in rereading it some 54 years after its first and only publication, is a forgotten masterpiece. From the standpoint of a man inexplicably transferred to another world, it relates the "natural" laws, the geography, the life-forms, cities, and technical advances of that world; and eschewing surrealistic tricks, it brings home to the reader as forcibly as any tale I have ever read how truly difficult it would be to make rhyme or reason out of what was going around about us if we suddenly emerged on another planet. Keith seems to have an excellent feel for the sciences: his views on the changes in warfare occasioned by the invention of an atomic bomb and on the revolution in flying brought about by the rocket or jet plane he subordinates to explaining, on the basis of the Lorenz-Fitzgerald Theory of Contraction (and in a manner eminently satisfactory for 1931), how people get to and from his other-dimensional world. His narrator makes no attempt to coherently mesh what he has seen, simply because he lacks enough information; but you follow him around the strange world so intrigued that you would have been willing to have something of novel instead of novelette length.
The only other SF that Keith has been credited with is "2193" (Amazing Stories, Feb. 1936). Its theme is similar to that of E.M. Forster's classic "The Machine Stops." Human beings have gradually moved underground to live a more orderly scientific life, but an earthquake causes the oceans to flood their great city. The story ends with a few survivors facing the need for a new beginning, yet lacking some of the physical vitality they once had. Here again Keith displays a good grasp of science, but this fiction of his is so compressed that the first two-thirds reads more like a synopsis than a story. (It may have been written at the same time as "Between Dimensions" for it was not unknown for the editors of Amazing Stories to hold a story five years before publishing it.)
"I think I was started on science fiction by a nickle kid magazine published in England at about the time Amazing came out," wrote Frome. It was entitled Boys Magazine, now defunct....The first interplanetary story I ever read was in that little magazine, although only one installment of it. It dealt with a party of English school kids going off with a scientist in a space ship 'that had come from the stars' to explore the universe. In the part I read they were on Venus, and there met a man who had traveled there in a space ship, had become crippled in a crash that also marooned him on Venus, but, an intelligent race of Venusians, like humans but with wings, had adopted him as a sort of god and leader, and carried him about in the air in a sedan chair.
Here Frome hands us a riddle indeed. By conservative estimate, 50,000 weekly issues of general adventure weeklies for boys appeared, most of them running an SF serial occasionally if not regularly. Printed on newsprint (the epitome of perishibility) and disdained by libraries, they were never even checklisted, let alone indexed. Easily several dozens of them had titles beginning with Boys. Moreover, during the period Frome is referring to, two weeklies were running simultaneously with the same title of Boy's Magazine. I found in my archives bound runs of one of them. Its first issue (Feb. 27, 1922) features an SF serial by John Hunter, The Lure of the Lost Land, combining futuristic aircraft and prehistoric dinosaurs; but this is not the story we are loking for. (John Hunter was an extremely prolific author who wrote some of the "Sexton Blake" series and gained a reputation as a detective writer under the pen name of "Anthony Drummond.")
This Boy's Magazine had many competitors. One of them was Young Britain. Publishing SF as a matter of policy, it had two-color covers, 24 pages (of pulp paper), and copious illustrations, all for two pence (about six cents). The cover of its March 31, 1923 issue depicts a spaceship crashing on the surface of Venus to illustrate Alfred Edgar's The Planet of Peril! This spaceship has two young boys operating it, searching for the father of one of them, Don Clair, who built a spaceship earlier, rocketed to Venus, and there disappeared. It took nine installments (through to May 26, 1923) for them to bundle him back into the spaceship and return to Earth; in the interim, they ally themselves with one Venusian civilization against another in a deadly war. (Lest academics believe that juvenile yarns like this are below their dignity, be it known Alfred Edgar was the author of the international hit play The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse, which contained fantastic elements and was made into a movie starring Edward G. Robinson. Edgar also wrote the acclaimed The Man from Half-Moon Street, and went on to do The Lodger for the screen.) However, The Planet of Peril! has no flying people in it—which does not rule out the possibility that Frome was confounding it with something else.
"The strangest story I ever read," said Frome, "the most off-trail story, is one that was published years ago in the long since defunct Mystery, entitled `The Man in the Mirror,' about a girl who first meets a man as a reflection in her mirror. Meets him later and falls in love. Then sees him again for the last time as a reflection in the mirror and he is never seen again." Here again is a problem....I have a complete run of Mystery Magazine (1917-29), but "The Man in the Mirror" is not among the occult stories it made a policy of running one or more of in every issue.
There was a magazine called Mystery published in the early '30s by Tower Publications. It was unique for being larger-than-letter-size, on coated paper (140 pp.), and replete with photos of posing models in place of most illustrations; it also had a roster of great mystery writers that topped any competitor. It was one of a group of magazines that included Illustrated Love, New Movie, Home, and Tiny Tower (a children's magazine), and sold for only ten cents (it was distributed primarily through Woolworth's stores). It sometimes carried off-beat stories (including some of Sax Rohmer's), but my run is not complete enough to verify whether "The Man in the Mirror" was among them.
Frome was growing sour on SF in 1940: "For the present day pulp s-f I have nothing but contempt, particularly so in the case of the Ziff-Davis science fiction magazines" (Amazing Stories, Fantastic Adventures). This contempt, however, was not unequivocal. "[T]here is something to be said for the slant they try to develop—it has its good side too—witness 'The Judson Annihilator' and Bond's 'The Scientific Pioneer."' "Judson's Annihilator" by John Beynon (John Wyndham) had come out in the October 1939 issue of Amazing Stories, reprinted from the (then) new British professional magazine Fantasy, in whose inaugural (1938) issue it had appeared as "Beyond the Screen." It was indeed an engrossing story about a "force screen" which absorbs anything that passes through it; put to defensive purposes, it swallows up 1200 German and Italian planes and thereby aborts World War II. (Those passing through the screen are deposited in a future which is a primitive, forested world.)
Nelson S. Bond's "The Scientific Pioneer" appeared in the March 1940 Amazing Stories. It was the first in a series of stories about "Horsesense Hank, a hayseed turnip farmer who has no education but so much common sense that he can figure out the answers to almost anything." This makes for a very entertaining story, by far the best of Bond's entire series.
As a companion to TGA, Farsaci turned out one issue (only) of Science Fiction Fandom Quarterly, dated Winter, 1940. The lead article in the Science Fiction Fandom portion of the Quarterly was titled "Fantasy is Growing Up" by P. Schuyler Miller, who was then a well-known SF author. He addressed himself to the complaints of readers that there were no more breakthrough stories like "The Moon Pool" by A. Merritt, "The Blind Spot" by Austin Hall and Homer Eon Flint, or "The City of the Singing Flame" by Clark Ashton Smith. He outlined the history of these and other memorable stories and concluded that there would be plenty more like it for as far into the future as the eye can see. (He was, of course, very right; and if you don't know why, you shouldn't be reading this magazine.)
Farsaci in a personal letter to Frome, asked him if he agreed with Miller. An excerpt from Frome's reply appeared in the March, 1940 issue of TGA. "Well, he seemed optimistic—not so me," responded Frome.
I think that the field is being so diluted that it will never return to what it was. It was created for the few imaginative ones—and went to the limit of the imagination, because the fans of that time, fewer but better ones, desired it so. After the handful of pioneers get stf and fantasy going, what happens but there comes [sic] new fans into the fold—fans whose desire for imaginative works wasn't as great as those who to satisfy their craving got things going in the first place and, half heartedly imaginative, if more so than their fellows, demanded that fantasy come down from its lofty perch to some level they could better savvy—and so it has descended, rung by rung, pulled down by the followers, each crop more half hearted than the rest. Its all so simple and inevitable....I think the story writing style I prefer, and the story structure belong to the vanished, old-fashioned fantastic literary age Famous Fantastic Mysteries reprints are drawn from [the old Munsey magazines]. All of those old stories have a definite mode of treatment, style that is gone today—alas.
Since Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Fantastic Novels, and A. Merritt's Magazine of Fantasy would continue until the early 'SOB, reprinting predominantly the material that Frome preferred, it would seem that he should have been well provided with reading matter. It is also worth commenting that those reprints flourished during Campbell's Golden Age and beyond, indicating that there was a very large audience that saw things the way Frome did—or at the very least, enjoyed his type of fiction as part of their fare.
In early 1938 I had begun a "Who's Who in Science Fiction Fandom," comprising short entries about active fans and collectors of SF. I have a memory that this was originally intended for Olon F. Wiggins' The Science Fiction Fan, but he had banned all my material because of my anti-communistic attacks against the Futurians, whose philosophy he preferred. The result was that I never finished the "Who's Who" or polished what I did finish. Farsaci, however, had a policy of publishing uncompleted worthwhile projects, so he picked up what I had done (which still has reference value). Among those I included was Nils H. Frome. There was little material in the entry which I have not already included in my previous letter in SFS (No. 36), but something more can be added thanks to Farsaci's TGA.
The reader's column of the Winter 1943 issue of TGA carried a letter of Frome's. This was prompted not by anything in that magazine, but by the demise of Spaceways, published by Harry Warner and a landmark fan magazine since its first issue (Nov. 1938), with an incredible record of publication dependability and very high editorial standards. It folded with its 30th issue, undated but scheduled for mailing in September 1942. Farsaci, true to his grab-bag approach, secured from Warner the letters commenting on that final issue of Spaceways and printed them in TGA. (The result was incomprehensible for those readers of TGA who had never seen Spacaways.)
In the next-to-last Spaceways (No. 29) Frome had had an article called "Devolution," which title he borrowed from Edmond Hamilton's provocative story in the December 1936 Amazing Stories. The thesis of the article was that the intelligence of human beings was not a result of evolution but a desperate necessity, developed when they became physically too weak and inept to otherwise compete, and therefore a sign of "devolution." "Natural selection" in this case did not make for superiority but inferiority inasmuch as "that intelligence is like some hideous fungus flourishing on corporeal decay."
Literally facing Frome's article was another by Gerry de la Ree, Jr: "Do Fans Suffer From Dementia?" His observation was that most active fans actually suffered from slight to serious cases of dementia and warned against becoming too immersed in SF. In Spaceways' last issue Frome took "a most emphatic opposition to Gerry de la Ree's revolting theory," and said if it was valid, then all the avid baseball fans were mentally ill. He suggested that far from retreating into SF, fans who embraced it may be more mentally alive than the average.
Jack Speer took issue with Frome's "revolution," pointing out that physique was not the sole criterion of superiority, though even by that standard, humans were no slouches compared to the rest of the animal world. The argument carried over into Winter 1943's TGA. There Speer, commenting upon Frome's objection to the idea that fans are somewhat cracked, agreed with him that they differed from normal more in the direction of superiority.
Frome, in a letter immediately following, for his part conceded that there was some sense to Speer's rebuttal to "revolution." However, he wanted to know why, if all the other animals were also under pressure for change, only humans developed intelligence of a high order. The latter, he felt, overcome their infirmities by technological advance; yet each physical decline requires another advance, and this leads to another and another until humankind gains the stars but loses its place in nature.
In trying to substantiate some of his theories, which he seems to have obtained from SF, Frome appears to be heading into areas where he is fervent but not competent. His overreaction to de la Ree's somewhat tongue-in-cheek piece is perhaps likewise psychologically symptomatic.
In tracing the career of an SF fan of 50 years ago who never achieved professionalism, we begin to understand the importance SF fandom could have assumed for many people (not excluding myself). We find Frome corresponding with major authors (H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith), publishing magazines, and having stories, articles, and artwork appear in perhaps a dozen different publications. His name was well enough known so that as early as 1938 I had no hesitation about including him in my "Who's Who" as the most important single Canadian fan. His letters appeared in many fanzines, and all the leading fans of the day knew who he was. His material received comments in reader's columns. In this literary world, he was an individual of some importance. -- Sam Moskowitz, Newark, NJ
Sic or No
I would like to offer some scattered comments on issue no. 37, which struck me as unusually lively and interesting. I particularly enjoyed Joseph Francavilla's intelligent (on both sides) interview with Tom Disch, and I found enough matter of interest in other articles to make me wish they had been just a little better.
For example, Anne Cranny-Francis's article on sexism in Star Trek does not mention the network of underground Star Trek porn publications which deal with an explicit homoerotic relationship between Kirk and Spock. These publications, I believe, are produced and read mostly by women.
I was stimulated by Mark Siegel's article on Japanese film and TV, a very welcome change from the usual diet; but I could not help noticing that many of his generalizations would apply equally well to our own popular fiction of 50 years ago.
Now a more picayune complaint. I object to your contributors' habit of attaching sic, with its suggestion of "this author has made a dumb mistake," to any unfamiliar word. "Amnionic" (p. 302) and "lay figure" (p. 319) are both correct. If the contributor had merely wanted to call the editor's attention to these words in order to make sure they were not altered, a simple row of dots and a "stet" in the margin of the manuscript would have sufficed.
Finally, did Karin Blair, quoted on p. 281 by Cranny-Francis, really say "Dr Spock?" And no sic? -- Damon Knight, Eugene, OR
It is no doubt accurate to say that sic is oftentimes used superciliously. Nevertheless, the term does have the legitimate function of indicating that a particular word or passage has not been mistranscribed by the person editing it.
That is almost always the purpose to which SFS puts it.
The instances that Damon Knight objects to are cases in point; and in both, the responsibility for the sic was wholly or partly mine. "Lay figure" in Wells's Postscript made no more sense to me than it did to Nancy Steffen-Fluhr: considering the immediate qualification "with hollow pasteboard limbs," we concluded that a typographer had misses "clay" (though we would, of course, be grateful to Mr Knight if he would supply a meaning of "lay" that fits Wells's context). "Amnionic" is a slightly different story. I decided to sic that as a proleptic measure: after all, any reader who finds that adjectival form of "amnion" odd and goes to the (13-volume) Oxford English Dictionary to verify it will discover there only "amniotic." (It is true that Webster's Third lists "amnionic" as a variant of "amniotic"; but Ballard, after all, is English. )
A private communication from author to editor in the form of "stet" is, of course, no substitute for sic when that author is quoting someone else. Nor is it satisfactory to amend the text by using brackets: "[c]lay" or "amnio[t]ic" would offer no clear indication of what the original actually says—and hence would give our readers no basis for the kind of judgment Mr Knight makes about such editorial decisions of ours.
"Dr Spock" we consciously made an exception to this rule. Having been complicitous in Karin Blair's mistake (inasmuch as we did not correct it), we were not masochistic enough to let Anne Cranny-Francis's "sic" stand, especially since it seemed safe to assume that our readers would suppose (as Mr Knight surely does) that citations of SFS in SFS are accurate.
In regard to that last point, we should perhaps add that sic can also be significant (at least as we use it) for its absence. From the fact that we have not sic'd "unwindly," for example, in a passage from Tiptree that Marleen Barr cites (p. 44 of this issue), the reader can rightly conclude that the word is not a typo, but part of the idiolect of Up the Walls of the World (where its basic meaning is defined by the "against nature" which precedes it).—RMP
No, I didn't deal with the Kirk/Spock (K/S) pornography in my article, for the reasons given in my second paragraph. While acknowledging that there is a wealth (!) of Star Trek (ST) related material with which one might deal—not just the K/S porn, but Kirk porn and Spock porn, T-shirts, film clips, films, coffee mugs, memorial plates, etc.—I decided to write about the most well known and widely (geographically) appreciated version of ST, the original TV series. This project in itself seems to me large enough to require more than one article, dealing as it must with a sequentially developed set of semiotic practices. Adding to this the complexities of other ST products seemed a bit too much to bite off at once. I should, however, be extremely interested to read anything written on this material (perhaps Mr Knight intends to do this?), though I suspect one would learn more about the processes of erotic transference and sublimation than about the semiotic practices of ST the TV series. -- Anne Cranny-Francis, New South Wales Institue of Technology
I'm not sure how exactly Mr Knight meant for me to understand his remark that many of the generalizations in my article about Japanese SF television and Japanese culture "apply equally well to our own popular fiction of 50 years ago." Perhaps he means the generalizations are too broad; or perhaps he means that they are more typical of an aesthetic phase of popular literature than of any particular national culture; or perhaps he means to suggest that behind the general similarities in these national literatures lies a cultural similarity likely to be found in any modern society. Any of these could be reasonable assumptions, but I would like to emphasize some qualifications.
Fitzgerald might have said, "The Japanese are very different from you and me," and Hemingway might have responded, "Sure, they live in Japan," and both attitudes could be supported. I'm not quite sure which of my generalizations about Japanese SF reminded Mr Knight of American SF circa 1936, but I presume they would have something to do with the paradoxical fear of and interest in foreigners felt by Americans between the two world wars. Perhaps also he was referring to an emphasis in American popular film and literature at that time on group orientation, on Americans setting aside their differences and pulling together to beat the Depression and realize their apparent social and economic potential. The Japanese may live in Japan, but, as I pointed in my article, they have reasons for feeling these ways now. The reasons, on the other hand, the particulars from which my gross generalizations arise, are somewhat different, as are the cultural engines that structure and drive them.
Most generalizations can seem too broad to someone some of the time. My own do even to me, and I regret my limitations of space and time and mind. I would not be surprised, for instance, to be called out on my comparison involving TV cartoons, since in the past few years children's programming in the US and Canada has moved dramatically away from the individualistic hero-outcast (the Lone Ranger with his mask, the alien Superman in his Fortress of Solitude, the Hulk, alienated even from himself) towards a more group-oriented approach to problem-solving. (Even Spiderman has friends these days.) Just about every "good guy" out there is part of a team (although each character still must be purchased separately). Hemingway triumphant? Well, I think there's still a big difference between the ways that Westerners interact in a group and the way Japanese do, and that this is quite plain in the group dynamics of the League of Justice as compared with those of Ultraman's "keibitai" or the color-coded crew that mans Dynaman. The Japanese characters are task-oriented and remarkably able to submerge their individual identities in that of The Group. They spend time planning and talking to each other. American superheroes, by contrast, tend to spend a lot of time cursing and threatening the "bad guys," emphasizing not the co-operation of the group but the conflict of two opposite groups, and when they do get down to the action it tends to emphasize each group member splitting off to do his or her own thing, albeit for the general good. I think these elements in SF and fantasy programming reflect deepseated differences in the cultures of Japan and of the US.
Maybe I wrote this way just because I wanted to tell people about Japan. (Thanks for listening, Mr Knight.) And maybe at heart I'm just more like Fitzgerald, with his interest in the differences that can be found between groups of people. -- Mark Siegel, Los Angeles
Several issues back we printed a call for contributions to an anthology of Canadian SF stories entitled Tesseracts. That volume has just come out as a Press Porcépic "quality paperback," with a foreword and afterword by Judith Merrill Its 292 pages offer 24 short stories and 8 poems; about half their number (more than that if one counts translations from the French) are being published for the first time; the rest have been culled from a variety of sources. The book costs Can.$9.95 and can be ordered directly from Beaverbooks/235 Market Square, 560 Johnson St./Victoria, British Columbia VOW 3C6.—RMP
A new Québec fanzine, Pandore, is now into its second number. Its 22 letter-size pages contain, among other things, two short stories, an article on Theodore Sturgeon, and comic strips. Virtually all in French, Pandore can be had for Can.$2.00 per sample issue by writing to Guy Paquette/245, rue Victoria/Longueil, Québec/ Canada J4H 2J4.—RMP
The Radical Science Co-Operative has recently put out a paperback volume (of 160pp.) entitled Compulsive Technology: Computers as Culture. It includes a number of articles of potential interest to readers of SFS: "Artificial Intelligence: Cleverly Disguised Politics," a short piece on "Infotech Newspeak," a long review of Alan Turing and Grammatical Man, etc. Edited by Tony Solomonides and Les Levidow, the volume is available for US$6.50 from Free Association Books/26 Freegrove Road/London N7/England.—RMP
Gigamesh, published in Barcelona and scheduled to appear every two months, is defined by its editor, Alejo Cuervo, as a bulletin on SF and fantasy. His editorial in the inaugural issue stresses the fact that SF in Spain does not have a good reputation as a literary genre and has become a sort of consumer's product. Cuervo and his team would like the bulletin to promote SF&F as well as contribute to tearing down barriers; they will try to reach these goals by publishing articles on major SF&F authors and works.
Thus the very first Gigamesh contains three critical articles on John Brunner, and one each on Italo Calvino and C.J. Cherryh, plus a short short story by Charles E. Fritch ("The Curse of Hooligan's Bar," 1976). Last but not least, seven pages are devoted to a listing of SF&F publications (novels, novellas, short stories, anthologies, journals, and fanzines) available in Spanish as well as a list of novels and short stories in Catalan.
Those who read Spanish may subscribe to the first six numbers of Gigamesh by sending a money order for 600 pesetas to Sr. Cuervo, C/. Ali-bey, 7-1 2a/08010 Barcelona/Spain.—LM
"Science Fiction and Fantasy in Films and Television" will be the topic of one of the sessions at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Convention taking place on November 13-15,1986 in Atlanta, Georgia. Anyone interested in participating in that session should submit a paper or proposal by May 1st to me, c/o English Dept./4008 Turlington/University of Florida/Gainesville, FL. 32611. -- Andrew Gordon
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