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Readercon 2015: Veering Towards Pluto

Readercon is generally my favorite con of the year, and in 2015 Readercon was up to the usual standard of fun times and excellence. The guests of honor Nicola Griffith and Gary K Wolfe were on hand throughout, and the memorial GOH was Joanna Russ. How could you go wrong? Indeed there were no less than three sessions on the life and work of Joanna Russ, including the participation of the author’s long-time associates: Jim Freund, David Hartwell, Michael Dirda, Ron Drummond, and Samuel R. Delany. Freund told some great stories about the early days of his career at WBAI Radio in New York, when he was literally living in the station offices, and broadcasting his radio show, “Hour of the Wolf,” five days a week at 5:00am. One time Freund called up Russ at about 8pm and invited her to join him for an interview on Hour of the Wolf. Russ declined the interview, but she did invite him out to eat at a nearby diner. The meal turned into an eight hour long conversation. Finally, having talked through the night, at about 4:30am, Russ asked to stop over at the Radio Station to use the bathroom on her way home, while Freund was getting ready for his show. Just as he was going live, Russ stopped by the control room to wave good-bye, and she heard Freund say into the microphone: “This is the Hour of the Wolf, and my guest today is Joanna Russ.” The first words Russ spoke on that particular live broadcast were: “You motherfucker! I’m going to kill you!” Which she subsequently did, by killing off the character based on Freund in her novel, We Who Are About To.

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The Surrealist Path of Harry O. Morris

It was great to finally read _Harry O. Morris - Artist Portfolio_ from Centipede Press. Flipping through the lush images that take up most of the 320 pages, you can journey through the strangeness that has characterized the long career of this remarkable artist. I am really lucky to have known Harry from way back when. We first met in Albuquerque in the mid-1970s. At that time, Harry’s friend and fellow artist, Leslie Hall, was working in the same office as my father. Leslie was a frequent visitor to our house and noticed that I was a rabid reader of science fiction. He recommended J.G. Ballard and loaned me a copy of the anthology,_ Terminal Beach_. This was a cool discovery for me, around the age of 13, when I suddenly became aware of the difference between New Wave science fiction writers and the various space opera and Campbellian authors that I had been reading. Pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fell into place, and I had a whole new appreciation of books by Spinrad, Moorcock, M. John Harrison, and Samuel R. Delany. Not only did I re-read Driftglass, with a whole new kind of poetic awareness, but I shortly devoured all of Ballard’s books, and soon found that Van Vogt no longer satisfied in the way that R. A. Lafferty, Roger Zelazny, and Stanislaw Lem did. So in this friendly context, I took more interest in the peculiar artwork of Leslie Hall, and his friend and collaborator, Harry O. Morris, who had both been working with the techniques of Max Ernst and Wilfried Sätty, pushing the surrealistic and horror aspects of those methods as far as they could go. At that time, I enjoyed being peripherally involved in Leslie’s art projects: cutting out old engraved plates from books with X-acto knives and moving the pieces of unrelated images around to create surrealist collages. Some of the images that Leslie came up with were published in limited edition portfolios by Harry O. Morris, including a set from 1982 called, Inclement Weather. Hanging around with Leslie Hall, soon resulted in meeting Harry O. Morris, who had been working on similar art projects. That is when I first found out about his Lovecraftian zine, Nyctalops, which is now considered a classic. I admired Harry from the start. Here was a fellow who clearly didn’t really “fit in” with the rest of society, and yet he had his own print shop and typesetting operation, and was creating some really astonishing and interesting art. Here was someone who I could talk to about the Franju film, _Yeux sans Visage_ [Eyes Without a Face], and who not only knew the film, but knew the horror of it, on a deeply personal level.

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The Magic Flight of Thought

  Today I was talking to my sister (Happy Birthday, Chi!) and we were chatting about the crazy speed of new technology. How strange it is to collapse our life experience into a series of new devices and how they affected us, and then try to imagine what it is like to be born digital, with all this shiny stuff that has no historical context. As Peter Goldman said: “Between the twitterverse and the 24-hour cable news cycle our history keeps disappearing.” Now, everything is instantaneous, all knowledge is free, one-to-one communication is a such a waste of time… “duh! old timer, how can you be so passé.” This got me thinking about the impact of earlier communication technologies and what they were like in the popular culture before they were taken for granted. What was it like 100 years ago, when the telephone was first established as a fixture of modern life? In 1880, there had only been 108,000 telephones in use, by 1890 there were 467,000 telephones installed. Think of the rapid change as this newfangled device penetrated American society. 1900 600,000 (for 76,000,000 people) reaching 0.79% of the population 1905 2,200,000 (for 83,000,000 people) reaching 2.6% of the population 1910 5,800,000 (for 92,000,000 people) reaching 6.3% of the population During the first 25 years of its existence the telephone was physically accessible to less than 1% of the population, but that number nearly tripled between 1900 and 1905, then doubled again, between 1905 and 1910. This exponential growth, and the exposure of greater and greater numbers of people to this technology — which could project their voice instantly to almost anywhere — must indeed have seemed like magic, like something from mythology come to life! So it was not surprising to find an advertisement in the 1914 Farm Journal in which the American Telephone and Telegraph Company actually portrayed their service in mythological terms. AT&T was established only nine years earlier, in 1885, and by 1914 they had been riding a totally unparalleled explosion of telephony…and yet, from their point of view, they had more than 90% of the population left to capture as customers! How to capture their imagination and then their money? That must have been the operating question for the AT&T publicity machine of the time. And here is what they came up with:

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An accidental psycho-geography courtesy of Franz Kafka

Traveling to Chicago in the winter you expect snow, ice, and bitter gray skies. We had mild temperatures and lots of sunshine! One day at Half Price Books, I picked up the UK Granta edition of Elif Batuman’s The Possessed, and also a copy of Franz Kafka’s Paradoxes and Parables, in the 1961 Shocken paperback edition. I noticed an old card and folded piece of paper in the Kafka, which I thought deserved further research. To my amazement, I found tucked into the Kafka book two bits of New York beatnik history! First, there was a folded flyer for a performance at Caffe Cino, the famous alternate theatre run by Joe Cino at 31 Cornelia Street. Caffe Cino Flyer - May 20th 1962 Joe Cino (1931-1967), originally from Buffalo, New York, opened the cafe theatre in 1958, creating what is now considered to be the first off off Broadway theatre in New York. The venue, which had no real license to be used as a theatre, was always in trouble with the law, and somehow survived by running impromptu events with no publicized schedule. Finding this actual flyer for a performance at Caffe Cino, was intriguing. The director of the two Ionesco pieces was Roberta Sklar, who apparently was the co-director of Jean-Claude Van Italie’s 1968 production of “THE SERPENT.” There is a video documentary about this play on Youtube in three parts: 1 2 3 The performers at Caffe Cino that night were Rob Reigler and A. J. Reigler, and the lighting was by Louis Torrey. Was that Louis Torrey any relation to John Torrey, Joe Cino’s lover, who some suspect was responsible for the 1965 fire that nearly destroyed the theatre? Well, a lot of these details are no doubt lost to history, but it is still amusing to find tid-bits like this floating up from the memory well. The other amazing find in this copy of Kafka’s Parables and Paradoxes, was an original “discount card” from Limelight Bookshop!

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Ka-chow! sneezes the roscoe.

The opening of Jack Womack’s _Going Going Gone_, injects us into an unpredictable world that wobbles between an alternate hipster-scene of New York City in the 1960s and the seemingly hallucinatory ramblings of a drug-addled protagonist, Walter Bullitt. The story begins in a Washington, D.C. hotel room, where the first person jive talk kicks in: “Soon as I spiked I turned my eyes inside. Setting old snakehead on cruise control always pleases, no matter how quick the trip.” Sprinkled through almost every sentence are hokey metaphors. The phone doesn’t ring, “those jingle bells“ do. And on the other end of the line is a Federal agent of some kind, who is so square that he can’t understand a word of the hipster-narrator. But the narrator is more like one of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers than a secret agent, and he himself was so startled by the phone that he almost made for the john to “drown his bagged cat.” To flush his pot down the toilet, get it?

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Finding your way around Mars...

Pretty soon we will be able to know the solar system like the back of our hand. Then what? Stars in our pockets like grains of sand? watch on Youtube

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Steele Savage - Adventures with the Heroes

A nice surprise at the Davis Square Goodwill!   An ex-library copy of Adventures With the Heroes (1954), illustrated by Steele Savage.   This is the companion volume to Adventures With the Giants (1950) that you can find nicely scanned over at Ragged Claws Network. In both volumes, you will find Steele Savage’s crisp rendering in pen and ink, with a beautiful depth and texture provided by two-color separations.    For example, the illustration for the chapter, Sigurd’s Horse (p45), shows a wonderful use of a single color — darkened with black hachure lines for the foreground figures, loosely rendered for the curving river, and lightly washed across the background for mountains. The painted cover (presumably done in watercolor) is a lovely composite of the major scenes found in the book, with a mild looking dragon lying slain at the feet of a diminutive hero, and with its tail wrapped across the pale green landscape.  This altogether dreamlike image reveals the mastery of an artist who deserves our attention all the more. The complete set is posted at yunchtime.tumblr.com  

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A Mirror Full of Noir: Tyador Borlú Gets Lost

Just finished China Miéville’s _The City and the City_, a very satisfying, even inspiring, book, rich with metaphor and symbolism. It is like a film noir, set in a mythical Eastern European city — I’m convinced it is partly based on Prague — where populations living in mutually incompatible paradlgms “unsee“ each other. The beauty of this idea is that, (quite beyond the metaphor,) it could be almost any *real* city; with populations that are utterly invisible to one another. Old and young, rich and poor, leftist and fascist, black and white: there are, in fact, far too many axes of unseeing in our everyday lives…

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Unboxing a 1964 Smith Corona Sterling

It would be great if everyone was as lucky as I was today when unboxing a Fedex carton containing a used manual typewriter.   The typical horror stories of rattling loose pieces and totally brok