Yet another great time at Readercon this year! The panel topics had their usual sweep of the field, from Mark Twain, to Mark Clifton, and most places interstitial…yet the mood of the conference was clearly influenced by the passing of two major figures in SF’s new wave: Joanna Russ and Tom Disch. In memorializing Disch, can you imagine a more appropriate set of panelists than Charles Platt, John Crowley, John Clute, Chip Delany, and Gregory Feeley? It is always interesting to be part of a living literary tradition — sf fandom — that celebrates itself, its heroes and villains, its friendships and bitter feuds, by directly mixing the authors, editors, fans and miscellaneous hangers on in a single venue.
The fascinating novel _Rings of Saturn_ by W.G. Sebald captured my interest at the outset when he described the journey of Thomas Browne’s skull. The intrepid adventures of Browne’s skull, included an interlude beneath a glass bell jar at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital Museum, as well as two burials. This gives Sebald ironic license to remark on passages from Browne’s book Urn Burial — in which Browne “offers the most fitting commentary on the subsequent odyssey of his own skull when he writes that to be gnaw’d out of our graves is a tragical abomination. But, he adds, who is to know the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried?”
Portrait of Marat While reading the remarkable book by R.R. Palmer, _Twelve Who Ruled, the Year of Terror in the French Revolution_, I began to wonder what sort of monstrous evils can be unleashed in the name of “protecting the people,” or in the French example, both liberating them from a corrupt aristocracy while at the same time plunging them into other forms of tyranny. One can only wonder: whose security is being protected, the security of the people? Dont la sécurité et qui est sans danger? The security of the committee itself? And who will make sure that these precious tribunals will not turn into paranoid and despotic cages of lunatics? En effet, personne ne regarde, car personne ne se soucie… And then, of course we have our own contemporary examples, with a war on terror, and with invasive full-body scanners stripping the populace to their short hairs. No, you will not find any of the people whose security is really being protected going through those scanners, but they will beat down the rest of us with the idea that we must submit to all of their demands, to keep us on the defensive, because naturally all of us, even the most patriotic citizens who believe in freedom, equality, and justice are suspect! If we are not sniveling with our heads bowed, obviously we must be under suspicion. Is there no end to the preposterous bullshit that the ruling class will come up with to keep us in line? hmmph, as Proudhon said, “The great are only great because we are on our knees. Let us rise!“ And so we might pause to consider these portraits of the twelve who ruled that committee for public safety, along with some other grands hommes et femmes from the French Revolution. Remember, they did not achieve their goal of establishing a fair government and democracy…since chopping off heads - apparently - is not enough to eradicate the predatory ruling class. Should we, yes mere mortals here, seek to remove the “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity“ (to borrow the apt metaphor from Matt Taibbi), we must follow the money and deprive them of their access to it. It’s blood simple. Get the bastards away from the money.
From the editorial “Communication Between Minds” by Fred Pohl [Worlds of Tomorrow, Nov 1965] “Reading Vitus Droscher‘s fascinating The Mysterious Senses of Animals (Dutton), when it occurred to us that an experiment Droscher had described could be construed as a proof of telepathy. The experiments in question were performed by von Holst and Jechorek at the Max Planck Institute. The subjects were two chickens, connected by a wire and an amplifier that carried a current from the brain of one chicken to the brain of the other, via stereotaxically implanted electrodes. When the first chicken was exposed to the sight of a dog, the second chicken — completely out of sight and hearing, in another room — fluttered up the wall, squawking in alarm. Not telepathy?”
This panel, moderated (with immoderate gusto) by James Patrick Kelly, featured Scott Edelman, Eileen Gunn, Gene Wolfe, and Catherynne Valente. John Shirley was scheduled to participate, but got stuck in San Francisco, where I can picture him flailing savagely around in the airport trying to get on any flight to anywhere! The premise of the panel was based on Michael Swanwick‘s contention that “modesty and a reasonable awareness of one’s limitations have no place in a writing career.” Yes, that’s the same Swanwick who declared at Readercon one: “With the possible exception of Gene Wolfe, I’m the best writer here today.” Thus egocentrism…
It is hard for me to imagine, but I am more than forty years old, indeed very close to fifty years! I know, dear reader, you will be startled to hear such a thing, since all you encounter on my blog are absurdities, and many seemingly juvenile links to old comic books and science fiction artists. But there is reason encoded behind the screen of disconnected trivia that you find here. In fact, I am arranging these posts into a secret code; nor would it especially please me to know that you have figured it out…the news is not pretty! These are clues, do with them what you will. But mind you, time and decades are flashing past like lightning! Like a cinder snapping out of a burning log in the fireplace, ride this moment like a rocket…
At first, the survey of political systems in Mack Reynolds‘ interstellar spy novel, Planetary Agent X, seems quite whimisical and superficial. There are planets full of anarchists, and planets crawling with feudalism, nihilism, socialism, and what have you. There are some playful jabs at democracy, individualism, and even the tyranny of the uninformed voters (a la John Stuart Mill). The tone is not as playful as Ron Goulart, but definitely not very serious either. So it came as a pleasant surprise when the protagonist, Ronny Bronston, is given a sarcastic lecture by his handler, the mysterious Tog Lee Chang Chu, on the disasters brought about by “industrial feudalism.” How strangely familiar!