" In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again"

Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Godzilla giant passes, Haruo Nakajima


Sad news, Haruo Nakaijima the actor that played the original Godzilla has passed. I love Godzilla movies, with the exception of a few very obviously aimed at children like All Monsters Attack, and the abomination starring Mathew Broderick, okay I am not so cool on the whole Minilla (baby/son of Godzilla idea) but I have some 20+ Godzilla CD's, books my favourite being Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters by William M. Tsutsui. I have limited myself to one figurine however. I did not bother to see the latest movie from Toho after reading reviews but I am enjoying the latest American reboot.  A link to my comments on Kong Skull Island appear below. So i was saddened to hear of the death of  Haruo Nakajima. It is fun to watch the original Japanese version and then the American version with Raymond Burr to see how he is inserted into the film. I just love the nuclear theme, the models (even the wires), the huge number of alien threats and the general look of the early films. 

They also led me to other, rather cheesy Japanese films like AragonThe Mysterians, Warning from Space etc. I still re-watch my favourites when I need a break from reality.  Since the number of films I brought to the cabin is limited I think tonight I will re-watch The  Mysterians an alien invasion story (they want our women) featuring Haruo Nakaijima as Moguera one of the oddest looking giant robots ever seen in SF films. Now that's entertainment 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I live my life surrounded by books. Books I have read, books I mean to read, books I bought largely for the covers, or illustrations, books I bought because I remember them from other people’s libraries. Like the hard cover book club edition of Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization, with it’s brightly coloured covers, which my brother owned and which I got as my free gift when I joined the book club. I suspect I thought owning them meant you were quite smart, it doesn't, I suspect most copies go unread. I occasionally dip into them but really, they exist somewhere in the intersection of nostalgia, my search for “lost time” and what I think constitutes a library. And yes, for me books have to be physical books.


A Wrinkle in Time, Scholastic Book Services 1962, cover by Ellen Raskin

So when I packed up books for my woefully neglected deep dive back into the genre I love, I brought A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I am not 100 percent sure how old I was when I read it, I was probably a bit older than the target audience but still a teenager. What is more important to me is that the book conjures up memories that are intrinsically bound up with the subject matter of the book itself. At the point I read the book I still had some interest in, if no aptitude for mathematics,  (it faded, I simply did not study hard enough) but the interest was there then and stories like “And He Built A Crooked House” by Robert Heinlein or “A Subway Called Moebius” by A.J. Deutsch and A Wrinkle in Time fuelled it, ( Flatland remains sitting in my TBR pile) . I have to say I remembered little about the novel, mainly bits from the planet Camazotz, the newspaper boy, the child with the ball and the brain, but the description of the highly regimented town has remained with me through the years.

A Wrinkle in Time is very much a young adult novel, but as a retiree with an Andre Norton blog, who feels Robert Heinlein's best novels were his young adult works that does not dissuade me. 

The novel focuses on 13 year old Margaret Murray (Meg) and her family. As the novel opens Meg is upset about school, a pretty typical scenario for a YA novel. Meg is, in her words unattractive, a poor student and a disruption in class. Her only interest is in mathematics but while she can solve the problems, she does it through the use of intuitive leaps (something she learned from her scientist father), instead of the correct classroom procedure. Her latest misdeed was beating up an older boy who called her younger brother Charles Wallace a name. Charle Wallace is a five year old, who did not start to talk until four but immediately began to talk at an adult level. He also has a  strong empathic sense that allows him to monitor the moods of Meg and their scientist mother. Meg also has annoyingly well adjusted twin brothers but they do not play a significant role in this novel. The family is struggling at present, Mr Murray a physicist at the Institute for Higher Learning in Princeton University has gone missing while engaged on a secret government project. The family can get no information on the project or his whereabouts due to national security. The community is convinced he has run off with another woman and the family is subjected to snide remarks and unwanted advice. It is on a dark and stormy night that Meg, who cannot sleep, joins Charles Wallace and her mother in the kitchen. Charles Wallace has just admitted he recently made the acquaintance of a Mrs Whatsit and her two friends, who are living in a nearby abandoned, i.e. haunted house. At this point Mrs. Whatsit appears out of the storm, a rather strange and comedic character, who Meg does not trust. As she is leaving she tells Mrs Murray that there is such a thing as a tesseract, a revelation that distresses Mrs Murray. The next day Charles Wallace convinces Meg to pay a visit to Mrs Whatsit and her friends, Mrs Which, and Mrs Who. On the way they encounter Calvin O’Keefe, a boy who attends the same school as Meg, Calvin is a bit older and Meg does not really know him. Calvin is a gifted athlete and student but considers himself a biological sport, he has come to the woods due to a compulsion, a feeling he has learned not to disregard. After a quick trip home for supper and a vetting by Mrs Murray the three are off to visit Mrs Whatsit and her friends, who are obviously powerful beings masquerading as witches. The six of them then start off on a trip to rescue Mr Murray, whose disappearance is related to a universe wide conflict between good and evil. They travel by tessering, using folds or winkles in space and time to cover immense distances. Wikipedia has a lengthly summary of the novel, as well as it’s publishing history, information on the novel's reception, it won several awards etc. so I will not go into a great deal of detail here. 

Several things struck me upon rereading A Wrinkle in Time, the strongest was the use of Christian symbols and thought. I had a tendency as a youth, not entirely lost now, to disregard or skip an author’s philosophical or moral digressions or bias to get to the resumption of action. I am trying to do a better job of close reading but it is a struggle. So a lot for things I would notice now, tended to go over my head then. On page 108 a list of fighters for good starts with Jesus Christ and then includes a fairly obviously western based list of artists and scientists although it is nice to see Madame Curie, Buddha and Gandhi are included. The Christian religious focus, similar to that in the SF and Fantasy novels of C.S. Lewis I was reading at the same time, was of course everywhere then, at least, in my life, my public school and the church (United) that I attended. It was also fairly common in the Western media of the day. On rereading as an adult, the scene that takes place on the planet Uriel, where winged centaur-like beings, it turns out that Mrs Whatsit is once of these beings, stars who lost their lives in the struggle against the evil darkeness, sing the praises of God 

“Sing unto the Lord a new song,
and his praises from the end of the earth, 
ye that go down to the sea,
and all that is therein:

etc. 

This scene really reminded me of the scene in Dante’s Purgatory where Dante and Virgil visit the Valley of Rulers, where the rulers sing hymns to God.



Dante, Purgatory Canto 8.13-19, Cover artist?

"Creator of all things, before the end of light, we beg you to guard and protect us with your usual compassion. Let the dreams and fantasies of night retreat; " etc.

http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/purgatory/02valleyofrulers.html

Given this quote " She said "I cannot believe that God wants punishment to go on interminably any more than does a loving parent. The entire purpose of loving punishment is to teach, and it lasts only as long as is needed for the lesson. And the lesson is always love."[I suspect that  L'Engle was not a fan of Dante, maybe she just skipped the Inferno.


Reading the wikipedia article on her life it was interesting to note that some secular readers found her books too religious and some Christian readers found her version of Christianity too inclusive. Sometimes you cannot win.

Even before rereading A Wrinkle in Time the religious focus of the series was underscored when I picked up a sequel in the Value Village in PA. Entitled Many Waters it narrates the adventure of the twin Murray brothers Sandy and Dennys who go back in time and meet Noah. I know I read at least two other sequels years ago but I don’t think they ever made the same impression on me as the first book. The wikipedia entry also notes that 


Dell Laurel-Leaf 1987 edition, cover by Rowena Morrill.


“Nearly every novel by Madeleine L'Engle connects to the Murry-O'Keefe series either directly or indirectly with appearances by recurring characters" 


I enjoyed rereading the novel for many of the reasons I enjoyed it the first time, the nod to mathematics, the idea of jaunting around the universe meeting aliens, and the horrific regimentation of the planet Camazotz. In my mind I have always envisioned Camazotz as a beautifully laid out suburb of the model communities that appeared in the 1950’s and 1960’s media when I was  a child. The novel brought back memories of my life and feelings at the time I read it and the people and places that were part of this period. I still take the religious focus with a grain of salt and skip onto the adventure, as I did at the time, but it did not impact my enjoyment of the novel then or now.



Friday, August 4, 2017

New Arrivals the sequel Popular Mechanics

When we last meet our bemused narrator he was checking out of Westgate Books with a handful or two of paperbacks. While at the counter he noticed a collection of Popular Mechanics in a glass display case. On determining that the average price of $7.50 CDN would not impoverish him, much more, he dug in. As I mentioned earlier I love the pulp era and have always been intrigued by the, some might say brightly coloured, some might say garish, covers of early Popular Mechanics. They really remind me of the wonderful Frank R. Paul covers for Gernsback's magazines Air Wonder Stories, Science and Invention etc. These magazines all dated from 1941 and 1942, the magazine itself started in 1902. These dates obviously gave the magazine a more martial flavour than the covers I prefer which have a more SF focus with rockets and flying cars and such, but these were still neat and in great condition and since I did not own any Popular Mechanics I could not resist. 

Looking at the articles I was surprised at the wide range of topics covered and the sheer number of snippets per page amid the longer articles. Of course, especially in articles concerning resource extraction at home and abroad you get the imperialism, colonialism, and lack of environmental awareness one might expect from this period. Publications like these are time capsules and should of course be thought of as such.  But they are also a great window on the technological focus of the first half of the century that engendered a lot of the early science fiction, when every problem had a solution and the solution was always the application of science and technology.

I have not located information on the cover artists, any hints would be appreciated.





Yeah!!!! Science that somewhat beleagured pastime.






My favourite cover features neat welding masks, I think.




Thursday, August 3, 2017

New Arrivals, Russell, Aldiss, Collins and others

I came to the cabin with great intentions to update my blogs regularly and as normal a lot of small jobs, photographing critters and general farting around has happened and I don't. Mostly I post to my nature blog. I am working on several new posts but in the meantime some new arrivals. Last week we took the dogs to be groomed in Saskatoon, a city with lots of beautiful trees, including Elms which are rare in the prairies. On arriving at the groomer we discovered Nina had chewed through her very expensive carrier. While all three dogs were getting haircuts, we went in search of a new carrier and discovered Westgate Books a cool used bookstore. I of course bought lots, my wife looked at lots but practiced restraint and left empty handed. Nina returned to the cabin in a brand new, relatively, inexpensive metal crate.


As a devotee of Fortean SF, whose wife receives The Fortean Times every month how could I resist. Cover by Schultz?


This very odd cover is by Don Punchatz.


This title by Clarke started as a novella in 1948 in Startling Stories, was revised and expanded to a novel in 1951, was revised again in 1956 and released as The City and 
The Stars. Cover by Ron Walotsky.


You know I am going to buy something that suggests a mixture of horror and SF. Cover by Walter Rane.



Bit of a gamble, but I liked the cover by Jerome Podwill.


My favourite cover of the bunch, for the 1956 printing, cover by Bob Lavin.
Tros covers by Chris Achilleos.


As I love pulps I also picked up the first four volumes of this series by Talbot Mundy (to reread) originally published in Adventure in 1925. He did not seem to write much if any SF but his work is much better written than most of the pulp SF of the same period. He was an interesting fellow, who seemed to change countries, professions, wives and religions with an equal facility. The wikipedia article on him is quite detailed and he was a very prolific writer.

And because I cannot resist, Sandhill Cranes photographed this morning near Lac Le Peche Saskatchewan.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Some thoughts on Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon, first pub. 1937, Penguin cover design David Pelham



  I had in the past started and not made any appreciable progress on Stapleton’s classic Star Maker. I haven’t actually finished anything by this important science fiction author, Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future had, I recall, some odd beach scene, that sent me in search of another book. But I will try it again. Odd John, oh no, not another superman. I have and will continue to avoid Sirius, because stories with dogs can be hard for me ever since watching Old Yeller or reading Where the Red Fern Grows, and even though it was not a dog The Yearling ehhh!!!! sniff. 

However as part of my get reacquainted with science fiction project I brought along my dogeared, water stained Penguin edition for another kick at the can. As you can see it looks like it has been through the wringer. One nice thing about a reading copy is you can mark it up and I did. Every night before I fell asleep I read a few pages, but I have to admit as I got further into it, to the later chapters on “More Worlds”, “The Community of Worlds”, etc., the page count went up as the concepts Stapledon dispensed with a flick of the pen, versions of Dyson spheres, planetary spacecraft, a civilization of telepathic symbiotes that explore the universe and stay home at the same time, a cloud of birds that comprise an individual mind, civilizations of plant men, creatures that transmigrate through lives in a number of universes, creatures that move backwards and forwards in time depending on their moral choices, universes that were a continuous fluid, others of a “ ‘musical’ type,…, The creatures appeared to one another as complex patterns and rhythms of tonal characters.” (238) enthralled me.

My favourite part was probably "The Maker and His Works " where among the many universes, some of which I mentioned above there was a universe “ constructed as a series of concentric spheres” (240) which reminded me of Dante’s paradise. 

Now I would normally try to offer a brief synopsis but after finishing the novel a quick google search took me to the following link which offers the type of review I aspire to write but have not yet produced. I will be studying it for future reference and I encourage you to look it over for more information about this title.


I also read a review of Star Maker at the SF Site reviews section and found a couple of quick quotes which aligned perfectly with my own experience of reading this book. 

“In my graduate school science fiction seminar taught by the noted critic H. Bruce Franklin, Star Maker was left off the syllabus because it would take too long to read -- not because of its length, Franklin explained, but because every couple of pages you'd have to stop and think over for a while what you'd just read."

from SF Site Reviews
by David Soyka

"As Kim Stanley Robinson puts it, "Every few pages contain all the material of an ordinary science fiction novel, condensed to something like prose poetry." "

from SF Site Reviews
by David Soyka

For the full review see this link. https://www.sfsite.com/09a/sm88.htm

So what is Star Maker , for me it is not a novel but a journey through space and time. 

The narrative is a human male who having quarrelled with his wife has gone out to a hill near his home to cool off. He begins to contemplate the stars, when after some time he realizes that he is immaterial, disembodied, his soul, mind, conscious whatever, has left his body and is capable of moving out into the universe. So off we go, after some time spent adjusting to the logistics of travel, his passage slows if he becomes emotionally upset or unfocused for example, he is finally able to locate another inhabited world. He calls it the “Other Earth”. Here he learns he is able to share the body of one of the inhabitants, to experience life as they see it. He can communicate with them and even take their consciousness with him when he leaves. This forms the pattern of Stapleton’s story. As the narrator moves he becomes part of a larger consciousness of the individuals who choose to accompany him. They may stay of a planet for a brief period or for some years. The merged entity can move through time as well as space.  

It is here I felt the book dragged a bit, Stapledon uses the Other Earth as an allegory for problems within our own society. The theme, repeated through a number of the early encounters with alien civilizations, is the same but thankfully less detailed than the Other Earth section, the narrator encounters a civilization, and follows its technological and spiritual evolution through one or more crisis points.

The engrossing part of the work for me was the sheer scope of Stapledon’s imagination, ideas he tosses off in a paragraph or  few pages could be the stuff of multivolume series in today’s publishing climate. I would love to know which of my favourite science fiction writers read Star Maker and how much of an influence some of Stapleton’s ideas may have had on their work . When reading this book it is important to remember it is not really a novel. Stapledon offers no real characters and few details. The Star Maker  is all breathless scope, Stapledon can take us back to the origins of the expanding universe growing out from a single point to the end of it all.

For history or astronomy buffs Stapledon was had his science up to date.
(Georges LemaƮtre first noted in 1927 that an expanding universe could be traced back in time to an originating single point, scientists have built on his idea of cosmic expansion. )


One (happy) surprise for me, is that the narrative does not limit himself to our universe, for the Star Maker tinkers with multiple universes as part of it’s own emotional or spiritual growth, universes, beautiful or horrific. Universes familiar or virtually incomprehensible for the reader, useless as suggested in the earlier quote, you stop and think about what you have just read. Star Maker can be seen as a allegory or treatise on politics and culture but that sells it short, it is the scope of Stapleton’s imagination that lifts it above this, so it becomes an almost encyclopedic introduction to many of the science fiction concepts in the genre that would follow.

Postscript:

 "Freeman Dyson was also a fan, admitting to basing his concept of Dyson spheres on a section of the book, even calling "Stapledon sphere" a better name for the idea."

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Maker