Alec Nevala-Lee, Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (Dey Street, 2018)
πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀνθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει.
The world is full of wonders / terrors, and the most wonderful / terrible is mankind
Choral speech on the wonders of technology, Sophokles, Antigone, line 334 (Perseus Project)
Astounding is a feminist prosopography of John W. Campbell Jr‘s circle from the Second World War. It is a prosopography because it is a group biography which focuses on the connections between people, what they did at different life stages, and how their careers resemble the careers of other people with similar backgrounds. And it is feminist because he says out loud that many writing and editing teams of the time were a family business, with the husband out front speaking to fans and the wife revising, suggesting plots, and administering the business in the background. E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith split his cheque for The Skylark of Space with a Mrs. Garby because they had started to write the novel together (Goulart’s Informal History of the Pulp Magazines p. 163). The role of women was acknowledged at the time but tended to get forgotten as marriages ended and fandom grew.
There is now a Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction (https://sfdictionary.com/) which got started with help from the Oxford English Dictionary. When I encounter a new historical dictionary or encyclopedia, the first thing I do is check some entries to see if they exist and how good they are.
H. Beam Piper’s Terro-Human Future History features two weapons, planet-busters and hellburners. Planet-busters are some especially powerful kind of atomic weapon, like a hydrogen bomb but even more destructive, while hellburners are atomic weapons which create some kind of self-sustaining incendiary reaction (Piper alluded to Hans Bethe’s solar phoenix reaction). Planet-busters go back to a popular article on the hydrogen bomb from 1950 and appear in many writers’ stories, but hellburners are rare outside Piper’s works. In a chat with Jesse Sheidlower, I realized where the name ‘hellburner’ may come from.
In fall 2021, Winchell ‘Nyrath’ Chung [Patreon] – [hellbirdsite] was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As of April 2022 it is in remission. His site Project Rho is one of the great Internet preservation projects: it collects material in various essays, books, and Internet posts and organizes it so it can be turned into something more digestable one day. In his case, that material is calculations and speculations about how high-powered spacecraft would work, especially in combat. This week I will talk about some of the things I learned from worldbuilding geeks which I did not learn from science fiction stories.
S.M. Stirling’s Nantucket trilogy is a Late Bronze Age alternate history which does not involve Akhenaten or the Exodus (it does involve the Trojan War). That makes it a novel for me. It even quotes some Stan Rogers lyrics! So in 2021 I re-read my copy of the second volume in Canada. After being cast back to the Late Bronze Age, the Nantucketers have been divided into a majority based on their island and a renegade faction lead by William Walker (not the filibuster). Both factions are rushing to industrialize and expand like unto a game of Civilization.
Another classic Michael Whelan cover for the 1977 Ace edition of H.Beam Piper’s Space Viking c/o SpaceBattles Watching Star Trek: Discovery, I rediscovered the symbol of the Terran Empire of the Mirror Universe: a planet with a sword behind it. That makes me think of the heraldry of H. Beam Piper’s Sword Worlds. The Nemesis... Continue reading: Did H. Beam Piper Influence The Imagery of Star Trek?
Elizabeth Moon, Hunting Party (Baen Books: Riversdale, NY, 1993). Later released in an omnibus as Heris Seranno.
Calgary is a hard town for the poor and pedestrian, but when I lived there I discovered some authors in the few hardy used bookstores which held out like poplars in draws along the rivers. One of those was Elizabeth Moon. I had read a few of the Kylara Vatta novels and not felt inspired to finish the series, but when I read some of her earlier novels and short stories I was very impressed.
For Dr. Leire Olabarria and Dr. Eleanor Dobson’s conference “Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?” I have been trying to think of science fiction that engages with ancient Egypt. This was much harder than I expected, and the difficulty became the basis for my proposal. My understanding of science fiction is centered around people... Continue reading: Science Fiction with Egyptian Themes
Fuzzy Nation (by John Scalzi: Tor, 2011) is a fun quick read of a novel, and I hope it inspires more people to read H. Beam Piper. The author has the good taste to blog and to focus on what he loves about old science fiction not on proclaiming that he is morally and intellectually... Continue reading: Some Thoughts on “Fuzzy Nation”
In another place somebody cited Randall Garrett’s “Despoilers of the Golden Empire” (John W. Campbell Jr.’s Astounding Science Fiction, March 1959). If you don’t know that story, pop over to Project Gutenberg and read it, at least for a few pages until you understand the gimmick. Because this one story tells some things that most of the people talking about Silver Age science fiction don’t want you to hear. Read more