Before I go into the post proper, I want to speak about Shadowdancer. Since bad news spreads like wild fire, I think most of you know she lost her beloved 11 week old son to SIDs last week. Since all her online family had been living her joy and motherhood through pictures of him (sometimes daily) and progress reports, it very much feels like I lost a grandchild or a favorite nephew.
Even so we had to contend with her to LET us help with something, anything. As many of you know this is the second son that Shadow as lost. Her son Damien was stillborn (heart stopped during labor) sometime last year.
Her young family could use some help defraying funeral expenses, and also, unfortunately, because of the distance to her, the only way we can send her hugs is monetary. I shall send my contribution later today. And if any of you wants to help Shadow through this, here’s the link:
Now, today’s post.
As you guys know when I’m on painkillers I sleep like the dead, only better. I think I’m paying back years, maybe decades of sleep debt.
I woke up int he morning, warm and snuggled next to my husband and decided this would not be a post about the Hugos. This is good, because the piece my husband read me over the breakfast table would… well… We’ll save that for later. We’ll save Arthur Chu for later, too. As several people have assured me, he’s not even edible, and he’s OF COURSE misrepresenting my words and actions. Eh. It’s what he does. Cr*p weasels got to cr*p weasel.
I decided this would be about Simak in general and Way Station in particular. Some reference to the establishment in sf/f is needed, but it’s not about the Hugos in particular.
You see, I started reading SF with Have Spacesuit Will Travel but I had clue zero it was science fiction. In my hopper of a mind, all times and places crossed. I was eight. (Later a teacher had to correct me, that atomic war hadn’t in fact happened.)
However the first science fiction/fantasy book I read knowing it was sf/f was Out of Their Minds. And part of the reason I read it (the other part was because my brother, who was 10 years older, in engineering, and borrowing these from a friend, had been warned some had unsavory explicit sex, and so had forbidden me from reading it.) was because standing next to my brother’s bedside, ready to throw the book in the drawer and be in my room looking perfectly innocent at the first step on the stairs, I came across Snuffy (sp?) Smith, a cartoon I followed in our newspapers.
After that came A Canticle for Leibowitz and after that a string of seventies crap-sf.
One of the things that made me roll on the floor laughing yesterday (laughing while growling understand) was a claim from the anti-puppy side that what those concerned with puppy sadness wanted was a return to the “pulps of the seventies.”
Since this claim was made by a man who looks older than I, my mouth dropped open in wonder and astonishment at the ignorance. Does he have Alzheimers? Has he totally forgotten the history of the genre? Or is he one of the homunculus with no trace of real humanity who recreates past reality in his mind according to the dictates of the party line and the push of politics?
Seventies. Pulps. With space guns and rockets and manly men having adventures. In the seventies.
Heinlein wept, people. Or he would if he heard that nonsense.
Beyond the fact that no one on our side called or would call for retro-sf (though in a way that’s exactly what I’m doing with Darkships — doing very well thank you very much — but it’s modern SF with a retro nod) if we were calling for “SF like in the seventies” we would be calling for a lot of communist-apologia, a lot of hopeless dystopia, a lot of pointless, plot-useless sex and a lot of the explorations that led to the present day class/genre/race precious jewels of social justice.
Yeah, no, we’re not calling for that.
But what is revealed in this idiot’s accusations is how little the other side knows of the history of the genre. What they know is from the outside, and not even from a scholarly study of our genre from the outside, but from the outside VIA THE MOVIES.
It is known in our family that if a tv series is about something we know or do — math, or writing, for ex — the person who knows the most about it can’t watch it. You should see Dan when the Numbers thing came up. No, really. He’s the nicer half in this marriage, but he was foaming at the mouth. Though for once it was nice to be the one to say “no, you can’t throw your shoe through the monitor. You’d regret it. No, you can’t throw your notebook either. And you can’t even lift your son.”
In the same way, sff came through in movies and series as what it had never been, the myth of the forties and fifties SF/F about scantily clad women and monsters. (To be fair, the covers were like that. And if you didn’t read it…)
And this is the sf/f these people talk about, only in their minds it was all monsters, scantily clad women and daring do THROUGH THE SEVENTIES and maybe even through the 2000s. Up till then, to hear some of these people talk, SF only allowed women in as “prizes” and women were kept in burkas at conventions, or could only attend as drag kings. It boggles the mind.
You see, as a reader I came into SF in the seventies (fantasy only in the nineties because it doesn’t work well with my mind and I had to work myself into it by stages.)
Here some explanation of the Portuguese method of printing stuff is needed. Or what was the method of publishing stuff at that time. Now I understand they import a lot from Brazil, so it’s different.
At the time there was one science fiction imprint, and that science fiction imprint (Argonauta!) came out twice a month. When my brother and I started buying the books, we were often so broke that we had to go halvsies on the cost. Man, was he happy when I married abroad and left him the collection. The only semblance of fandom, which I joined in the late seventies, at least in my area, were the lost souls lining up four hours before the store opened to make sure you got one of the copies of whatever was coming out. Because if it sold out, you couldn’t get it again. The business ran so close to the bone that there were no reprints, and I never found a used bookstore carrying SF.
Now some printruns didn’t sell out, so once we’d exhausted the library amassed by my brother’s friend, and his father, we bought mostly those “less successful” authors.
Some of these I actually found worthy and interesting. I can’t remember when I discovered him, but Phil Dick was one of those that languished on the racks till I bought it.
Most of those books I don’t even remember. I do remember throwing one against the wall when the “typical colonization novel” was turned on its head and the fearless leader died in a horrible manner, then one by one, till the only survivor — the self-rocking, cringing hysteric — kills himself.
I remember another one, in which the US is a backwater behind some sort of Star Wars defense and the future comes from (snort, giggle) the USSR and this woman, being a corrupt capitalist goes out and has a lot of sex with men and women. I was 14 and I read it, but I thought it was stupid and pointless (even if I didn’t spot the crazy geo-political message) so I don’t remember the name of the author or the title.
It is a merciful part of my makeup (lipstick, I think) that I forget the names of authors and books I hated. (Of course this used to mean I sometimes bought the same book three times. Or more. There was this one gorgeous cover in mystery for a book called The Wandering Arm. From the blurb it sounded right up my alley. I bought it TEN TIMES. I never got past the first two chapters, and I don’t think it even offended me, just bored me to death. Thank heavens I now buy mostly from Amazon which tells me “oh, you’ve bought this.”)
The ONLY book I ever found that fit the “he man space man” and exploited hot babes wasn’t a book. It was a French magazine called Panspermia. It turns out — pats 14 year old self on the back — it wasn’t as idiot me thought about the theories of Fred Hoyle and a universe populated by genetic kin. No. It was SF-erotica. (Pinches nose, inclines head, closes eyes.) Let’s just say when I got to the page with the… ah… illustration, I gave it to my brother. Who might still have it, for all I know.
Anyway, like all human beings, I immediately developed favorites. My high trinity, the books I HAD TO have were Heinlein, Asimov and … Clifford Simak. Once when talking to Jerry Pournelle I mentioned that my tastes were fairly average for Portuguese and we both felt a little sad that Simak never visited Portugal where he would have been greeted as a living legend and feted and appreciated as he never was in the US.
After that came a host of others, more minor but still loved: Anderson, A. E. Van Vogt and a lot more I’d recognize if I saw the names, and even Anne McCaffrey who never appealed to my brother, but whom I was reading when I got married and changed languages. (Moreta was read in English.)
And like everyone else, my tastes changed, in my case more so due to changing languages and acculturation.
By the time I got married, Heinlein had replaced Simak as my favorite author. And I’ll confess, partly because Simak’s work is so hard to find (it was in Portugal too, most of it having been published before I discovered, sf/f. Fortunately one of my friends’ dads was “clearing out” his closet and found a box of sf from his dad, which he gave me. It contained among other things City and Way Station. (I’d already read They Walked Like Men and The Werewolf Principle.)
I think I know, now, why I shifted tastes. But at any rate, because I’m sick and recovering, and because the surgery means a move to another stage of life (you do the math, bucko) and possibly because my hormones are adjusting and I feel a little fragile, I’ve been re-capturing my reading journey, starting with Disney comics, moving on to mystery and then to my beginnings in SF/F.
Partly the mystery and SF/f are in audible because I’m supposed to engage in walking and other gentle exercise and my main issue with exercise is that I get bored. So, audio books. Fortunately Audible just brought out three Simaks. I’ve listened to Werewolf Principle, I’m two thirds through Way Station and I’m going to listen to City next.
As I’ve been doing that, it hit me how much of an impact Simak had on me. A lot of my themes and fixations seem to come straight from him: the ethics of modifying humans for instance, and what is a human.
There is also an understanding of what a novel was at the time. Way Station was published in 69, when I was seven, and I would estimate it at around 70k words (?) maybe a little more or less. It is the right length, I think. Put any more into it, and you destroy the magic, because you can’t do the dance of the seven veils fast enough to stop the questioning mind. (More on that later.)
OTOH Werewolf principle felt too short and like some of the more interesting psychological conflict was elided. I don’t think in that case it would have broken the enchantment to have more. It might have deepened it. But at the time novels were kept short. Printing costs. Fitting in a spinning wrack. All that. Art is not the materials, but the material world informs the art.
As is, Werewolf Principle was a major (conscious) influence on Darkship Thieves.
Not that Clifford Simak wrote Space Opera. His world is one of the Earth, though an Earth sometimes modified by what came from space. His formula, now that I’m a writer, seems to be the natural world disrupted (and enhanced) by something alien.
Neither Werewolf Principle nor Way Station are about buff men and helpless females. In fact, the wisdom of the feminine seems to be a Simak ingredient. And both his main characters, in both books, are in a way handicapped.
I intend to do a podcast about each of these books for Otherwhere gazette as soon as derpy me figures out the tech site, and maybe one of you edits them. Until then, I’ll tell you the part of the blurb I remember for Way Station “Enoch Wallace didn’t die in the civil war. He is not in his grave.”
It is not a zombie or vampire novel, but it deals with some of the same problems. Enoch Wallace is a man who traded the Earth for the stars but can’t have either fully. It is a novel of profound loneliness, a novel of a man who traded the normal life he could have had for high principles, for a better future for mankind.
It is also a gentle novel — I think because Simak was a gentle man (though I don’t know, never having heard much about him and knowing only he was a journalist and a family man.) — where both the natural world and the stars it touches are enchanted by a patina of wonder and touched with a reasonableness I can only call “the milk of human kindness.”
I challenge anyone not blinded by ideology and hate to read (or listen to) Way Station and find any of that he-man machismo and chest beating I hear old SF accused of. If I compared Simak to any living writer, it would be Connie Willis (whose work I also love, even if we’re at political odds, and whom I was sad to see implicated by association — the picture — in the Federalist article. Her Hugos, log rolling or not, corrupt process or not, were deserved. It was her Lincoln’s Dreams that brought me back to reading and writing Science Fiction. Which I suppose means the podcast series will end there.)
Yeah, Enoch Wallace carries a gun. He is a man of the nineteenth century and rural. If you’re going to scream, put a sock in it. No, two socks. I have no words for that kind of stupid crapweaseling.
I don’t know if I can bring myself at this time and in this place — and I mean particularly at this time and in this place — to believe in a world of reasonable and kind aliens (though there is a story reason for that.)
But I’m glad Simak did and that his work cast a golden light over my adolescence and now. I’m glad too that he didn’t do that he man and cowering female that idiots and illiterates think classic sf means. I doubt I would have loved that. And without that love of the strange and wondrous my life would have been a lot poorer.
So, if you have a chance, read or listen to Way Station. Note the big ideas and the sheer love for Earth and its creatures.
I’ll talk about it more/later in podcast, maybe as early as next week. It’s a wonderful and worthy book.
It’s human wave all the way.
And then go and find a book that suits you the same way. And if it doesn’t exist, write it. There’s room in SF for all visions. I was going to say “except for hate” but there’s room for that too, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Me, I’ll write what I love instead. There isn’t time enough for hate.