Island Under the Earth
kokonor

Originally published at Yunchtime. You can comment here or there.

That inertia is the tendency of a body, when cold, to stay cold; and when hot, to stay hot — that during Star-flux when the thin white lines which cross and crisscross the skies of night tremble and waver and bend and then, for a long, mad moment, tremble and waver and melt and become compressed into tiny, brilliant points of light, and pulse and throb — that on such occasions wise mariners never put out of port, for how can one steer? — that murrain-eels taint the water, which, once drunk of, turns the drinker into a homophage:  rogue, mad, a skulker, solitary, incapable of sustaining his brute life on any food but men’s flesh, and that but new-dead — that Earth-flux is when that fixed dark corner of the sky which conceals the gate of Human Hell changes form and moves —

Avram Davidson, The Island Under the Earth  (p.46)


Another Blood Moon, Another Howling
kokonor

Originally published at Yunchtime. You can comment here or there.


What a hullaballoo was kicked up for the recent blood moon.  You’d think that a total eclipse occurring when the moon passes closest to Earth only happens, say … once every generation.   Oh snap!   Barely once in a generation.

I’ve been thinking back to the last time I saw such a moon:  it was on the deck of my small double-ender boat in Queensway Bay, Long Beach, California.  That little motor-sailer, with it’s oak frames and cedar planks was converted from a decommissioned Navy lifeboat  into a 30 foot day sailer.  I bought it in decrepit condition as it was rotting and sinking in Naples Marina, and had it hauled out onto the dry-dock at Seal Beach Harbor;  but that’s a different story!   I remember standing on the deck, bobbing in the darkness as the water gently sloshed the hull, and how the mooring lines occasionally twanged when the boat rocked a certain way.   It was a mostly clear night. The lights of Los Angeles were far enough so that the huge blood red moon was fully visible overhead.  Thin strands of cloud seemed to slither behind and above the grayed out, slightly sinister lunar disk.  That vision of the ochre and crimson moon had me completely mesmerized.  I was scarcely aware of the chilling breeze over the water, the chiming halyards of the sailboat masts, and of the hours passing.   That eerie night, early in the Reagan years, is burned into my mind forever.  Thirty-three years ago!

This time around, Sophia and I camped out on our dining room floor, with pillows and beach blankets.  I swung open the plastic thermal-pane windows, which have a hinge that lets them tilt freely out of the their frame.   This gave us a clear line of sight, unobstructed by glass panes, trees, or clouds, so that we could look directly up at the mighty and mysterious glowing orb.   It was just as strange as the first time I’d seen a blood moon, and we couldn’t resist letting out a few wolf howls now and then.   Another blood moon, another howling.

Another boost for the eternal popularity of werewolves.   Jeez, even Ubuntu has turned into a Wily Werewolf all of a sudden.     “What’s a good werewolf yarn?” I thought, rummaging through my overflowing stacks of SF novels.   I loved Lycanthia by Tanith Lee, and enjoyed Tim Powers Anubis Gates,     but I wanted something I hadn’t read before.   Jack Williamson’s Darker Than You Think  was the obvious choice, and I was delighted to discover that this is really the best book I’ve ever read from that stalwart SF author.

Williamson’s characters are always solid, his plots riveting, and his settings believable.    What I didn’t expect was the graceful prose and transcendental consciousness of the shape-shifters in Darker Than You Think.   Williamson takes his protagonist, a mediocre reporter named Will Barbee, from his self-pitying drunken existence, and runs him up and down the scales of doubt, suspicion, paranoia, fear and terror — and ultimately beyond his own psychic limitations, into a realm of predatory, savage ferocity, even madness!

In fact, I would say that the book Darker Than You Think transcends the run-of-the-mill science fiction thriller genre and verges on higher planes of literary merit, just like the book’s characters, who escape their physical bodies to become wild beasts of the night.   It is not so much in the solid and straight-forward narrative that the book shines, but in the weird places that Williamson takes us in the course of this traditional narrative.

When Barbee becomes a wolf, the readers are sent reeling drunkenly through the intensified smells of the night;  when he shape-shifts into a snake, our stomach muscles go twitching across the soil and the grass; when he slashes out to kill, we taste the horrible sweetness of human blood!   These scenes are so effortlessly knocked out, in his usual pulp style, we can almost relish what a great time Williamson must have had writing this book.   In this book, all of Williamson’s inhibitions are cast aside.   He gleefully gallops through the woods at midnight, with a gorgeous naked woman clinging to his back.  He is goaded onwards to find the darkest, cruelest parts of his mind, turned into a blood-thirsty ravening beast.   Another blood moon, another howling!

Weaving together the fantastic images of eroticism and violence, Williamson also provides plenty of plot twists.    At one point, the main character checks himself into an insane asylum, trying to stave off his transformation, which he nervously assumes cannot be real and must be a symptom of his troubled mind.   Oh, the reader knows quite clearly that those dreams are perfectly real!   But the wonderful tension that is drawn out between Barbee, the asylum’s psychologist, and the femme fatale is written with such delight, you can’t help but be aware of the author himself in these scenes, roaring with laughter and banging the keys of the typewriter with maniacal amusement.

Ultimately, Darker Than You Think, lives up to its title.   It does not deliver the typical good-guy-punch-in-the-jaw ending, but dashes off into unexpected zones of strangeness.  The inescapable conclusion is just as Curt Siodmak said, in his Wolfman script:

Even a man who is pure by heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf
When the wolfbane blooms
and the Autumn Moon is bright.




MICE swarm in University Hall: Mass Independent Comix Expo 2015
kokonor

Originally published at Yunchtime. You can comment here or there.

The MICE invasion of Cambridge was a swarming crowd of anarchistic fun.   Hundreds of comix-crazed attendees jammed the halls of Leslie University, chatting with 200 comic artists and publishers.  Tables of eye candy stretched through the second floor of University Hall, connecting with additional jam-packed side rooms named after comix greats, such as the Crumb Room, Doucet Hall, and the Bechdel Room.

You gotta love the idea of independent comix artists actually being recognized in the mundane society for their pure “genius” — proven by Alison Bechdel’s Westinghouse Genius Award in 2014!

Here is a gang of fervent, possibly feverish, and yes, well, let’s face it, mostly starving artists who are so adamant, so tenacious, and so in-your-face diversified, that their official genius is the inventor of the gender-bias principle known as the Bechdel Test.

Yo, MICE artists, kudos to the whole lot of you!   You are giant mice among scampering human conformists, in my book.

Read the rest of this entry »


Russian Science Fiction Oddities from the John H. Costello Collection
kokonor

Originally published at Yunchtime. You can comment here or there.

The book and zine collection of John H. Costello, who passed away in early 2015, was donated to fandom recently at Readercon 26. Here I will take a quick look at some of the Russian language materials that I found among Costello’s collection.

As I was digging through these large stacks of books, David Hartwell mentioned that Costello was a translator, so my attention was drawn to the foreign language books in the stacks, primarily in Russian and German.

After a little bit of follow-up research, I found out that Costello indeed had translated some of the works of Russian SF author, Kir Bulychev. One of the items I found among the piles of old zines was Bulychev’s poetry collection Chto nashe zhizn? [What is our life?].

This wasn’t particularly interesting, aside from the inscription to Costello inside the front cover, and the odd choices of clip art used to illustrate the poems.    I couldn’t quite figure out the poems:

In the world of little people,
Many of the usual whores.
But there are these whores
Less – aunt,
More – uncle.

More interesting for me was the gorgeous copy of Technika Molodezhni (April 1975). I have always admired the gorgeous covers of this long-running magazine, but the copy I found in Costello’s collection is the first one I have actually held in my hands. It has all sorts of interesting contents and deserves a post of it’s own (coming soon!)

Definitely the most spectacular item I found was the Russian edition of Heinlein’s “Door into Summer” [Dver v leta]. The wonderful cover art is uncredited. Nonetheless the glittering green eyes of the black cat over the sleeping astronaut are amazing and unforgettable!

Then there was the cartoonists collection that I found called Joking Aside [Shutki v storonu] from 1991. This is quite an interesting period for Soviet cartoonists, as they were testing the waters of Glasnost. I particularly liked the cartoons of Garif Bacyrov (1944-2004). According to his biography on the Tretyakov Gallery website, he was born in Kazakhstan at Akmolinsky Prison Camp for the wives of men who were accused of betraying their country. This perhaps explains the intensity of his images, like the wrecking ball cracking open the shoulder of an anthropomorphic brick building.

Another cartoonist I liked in this book was Mikhael Zlatkovskii, who also had a cynical sense of humor, of the type you might find in Zap Comix. This iconic illustration — apparently about the dangers of prostitution — also appeared in other publications around the same time.

Then there was the humorous illustration of two opposing camps of protestors. The farm animals marching under the sign: “BREAD!” facing off against humans who are marching under the sign “MEAT!” Somehow, this illustration by I. Novikov seems relevant today, too, in the context of animal rights & veganism against carnivores. But I don’t really know what it meant in Russia in 1990…

For the curious you can download the whole book of Joking Aside as a PDF.

From the fannish perspective, probably the most historically interesting find was a copy of FENZOR #1, a Russian fanzine edited by Sergei Berezhnoi and published in May 1990. This is just the coolest little fanzine (about 11 x 14cm in size), very nicely printed in crisp type and with neat line drawings. The inscription shows that the editor was keen to share the premiere issue of FENZOR with his first American friend, John (Costello)!

By far the strangest item I found in Costello’s collection was a custom-made fannish pinback button featuring a Japanese manga-style vampire. The vampire appears above the balloon-style font that says: KISS [Nimta]. On the upper left, in the vampire’s hair, are the letters NTTM, which I am guessing as referring to the Tsentr nauchno-tekhnicheskogo tvorchestva molodozhi, or the
Center for Scientific and Technical Creativity of Youth.

This NTTM seems worty of further research. It appears to have been the legacy institution built to replace the old Komsomol (Young Pioneers) of the Soviet Union, as a way to promote the sciences for young people in the new Russia. Apparently it was built on the crumbling and despirited edifice of the Communist cadre system. One can only assume that the usage here on this badge is tongue-in-cheek, and a sort of snarky reference to the “authority” of their fannish mission.

The text encircling the badge is more what I would expect: “Unusual research into the Mystical, Fantastic, and Absurd [Neobychnyye Issledovaniya Mistika Fantastika Absurd].”

The transition of Science Fiction fandom from the Soviet period to the Russian Federation, has got to be interesting, though I know so little about it. These lucky finds among the items of John H. Costello’s library are the first window I have had on this bit of fannish history. Hopefully these leads will take me down some interesting pathways.


Readercon 2015: Veering Towards Pluto
kokonor

Originally published at Yunchtime. You can comment here or there.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Surrealist Path of Harry O. Morris
kokonor

Originally published at Yunchtime. You can comment here or there.

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.


Read the rest of this entry »


The Magic Flight of Thought
kokonor

Originally published at Yunchtime. You can comment here or there.

 

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:

Read the rest of this entry »


An accidental psycho-geography courtesy of Franz Kafka
kokonor

Originally published at Yunchtime. You can comment here or there.

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!

Limelight Books Discount Card 1962

Read the rest of this entry »


An accidental psycho-geography courtesy of Franz Kafka
kokonor

Originally published at Yunchtime. You can comment here or there.

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.”   I found a video documentary about this play on Youtube in three parts:  1   2   3

The performers were Rob Reigler and A. J. Reigler, and the lighting was by Louis Torrey.   Was Louis Torrey any relation to John Torrey, Joe Cino’s lover, who some suspect was behind 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!

Limelight Books Discount Card 1962

Read the rest of this entry »


An accidental psycho-geography courtesy of Franz Kafka
kokonor

Originally published at Yunchtime. You can comment here or there.

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.”   I found a video documentary about this play on Youtube in three parts:  1   2   3

The performers were Rob Reigler and A. J. Reigler, and the lighting was by Louis Torrey.   Was Louis Torrey any relation to John Torrey, Joe Cino’s lover, who some suspect was behind 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!

Limelight Books Discount Card 1962

Around the edge of the card are prices of books, 75 cents along the left, 25 cents the top, 50 cents to the right, and $1 books along the bottom.    Punched out of the lower corner of this card are two prices, $1 and 50 cents.   The punch-hole is in the shape of the capital letter L — in a very nice serif font — hardly the sort of detail that anyone could fake.    Also, the Kafka book had a cover price of $1.45, which corresponds with amount punched from the discount card.   All in all, this appears to be an artifact of genuine Greenwich Village history!

Limelight Books was founded in 1954 by Helen Gee (nee Wimmers) (1919-2004), a German American New Yorker who married the artist Yun Gee (1906-1963).
The bookstore was not only famous as the best cafe to hang out in for artists, writers and intellectuals in the Village, it was also home to the first successful photography art gallery in New York.  Like Cafe Cino, the Limelight served as a venue for various performers in it’s day, for instance this 1965 appearance by comedian Jean Shepherd.

Jean Shepherd at Limelight 1965 (photo by Dave Michelson)

Limelight photo 1965, Jean Shepherd (photo by Dave Michelsohn)  http://shepquest.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/dave-michelsohn-photo.jpg

When I saw this photo, various details stood out:  the bare plywood “stage,” the well stocked bar, bentwood chairs, exposed brick walls, and the general unadorned scruffy interior.

This reminded me of my own days in New York, probably half of which I spent wandering and hanging around the Village.  By 1978, when I moved there from New Mexico, the art scene had begun to drift southward to what was then still a warehouse and office district in Soho.  There was not so much living theatre as there was punk and new wave music, though nobody called it by those names.   Typical hangouts for me on MacDougal Street were Bleecker Bob’s Record Store and Cafe Reggio.  I can’t remember what, if anything was located at 103 MacDougal in the late 1970s, but I think it is in the building currently taken over by Panchito’s Restaurant.

This lucky find at the bookstore took me on a pleasant little excursion into psycho-geography and the history of the Village art scene.  How appropriate for it to all hinge upon a few scraps of paper falling out of a Franz Kafka book!


?

Log in