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?”
It is rather hard to believe, but by pure chance the last three novels I read in sequence were all Metahistorical narratives - not in the sense of Hayden White or Gaian ecology… What I am referring to in the case of these three books is a Metahistory as a condition, or perhaps even a technique, for examining the inter-locking possible “worlds” which are branching off from one another at pivotal moments, like fractals in space-time. This may seem like a rather typical science fiction trope - that of parallel universes or multiple simultaneous dimensions - but strangely enough, the device was used in all three of these books in a particular way, which was to provide a narrative arc for the characters to experience another world the way things might have been, but weren’t, in their own worlds. Let me take them in the order that I read them, to explain.
At Boskone 48, not only were there great works of Greg Manchess, Omar Rayyan, and Bob Eggleton, among others, taking up several rows of panels, but there was also an entire wall dedicated to an exhibit of original SF and Fantasy paintings! Curated by Joe Siclari and Edie Stern, the exhibit featured dozens of works from their collection, as well as many more loaned by other major collectors. Now that I have a decent mini voice recorder, I decided to do a long walk through the exhibit and comment on the paintings. Fortunately, I remembered to mention most of the dates and the sources where the paintings were published, so now I can reconstruct a major part of the exhibit from the recording for this post. In fact, it would probably make the most sense to just listen to the MP3 (below) as you browse down the images of the works being discussed. Hope you enjoy the virtual exhibit!
The first paintings by Milton Luros that I remember seeing featured beautiful women, rendered with a soft, almost flat touch. For some reason the image of a green-skinned Amazon, struggling in bondage as two human spacemen try to drag her into a cage always sticks in my mind. With a light touch, the artist shaped her glamorous lipstick into a snarl of defiance that would make Betty & Veronica proud, and he framed her pointed ears and antennae with a wild mane of red hair. Plus, you’ve got to give those wild alien women credit for their fashion sense - who wouldn’t kill for that strapless red shag mini-dress! Then there was the cracking good composition of a woman fainting in the embrace of a blue-skinned alien man, framed against a vivid red planet. Unlike the previous image, this is very much a loving embrace, the woman’s hand is delicately twined around our blue-skinned superman’s bicep, while his figure is framed by a simple white backlight for dramatic effect. This image is iconic, like some sort of Gone With the Wind in outer space. Years later, when I read Earl Kemp’s article, Cherry Pink and Uncle Milty Time, I was amazed by the number of covers Luros had painted during the 40s and 50s, before his career as a porno publisher took off.
Another artist who appeared briefly then disappeared into the woodwork of the illustration world was Lloyd Birmingham, who created one of my favorite covers from the early 1960s. His illustration for Mark Clifton’s story Hang Head, Vandal! (April 1962) has always fascinated me. It’s an image of a spacesuit being used as a scarecrow, propped up on a post so that it floats above a flat plane by a few inches. Tufts of straw are poking out of ragged holes in the suit,which is missing it’s left hand and right foot, and more straw is brimming out of the open visor of the helmet.