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Worlds Without End Blog

An Expostulation on Mundane Science Fiction Posted at 12:47 AM by Jonathan McDonald

jynnantonnyx

Though known most of all for his Narnia and Cosmic Trilogy works of fiction, C.S. Lewis was also an avid writer of poetry, much of which apparently remained unpublished during his life. As I was browsing through his Poems collection, I came across one such piece of verse that I thought deserved to be shared on the site, as it is a rather insightful critique of many popular forms of science fiction.

An Expostulation
Against too many writers of science fiction

Why did you lure us on like this,
Light-year on light-year, through the abyss,
Building (as though we cared for size!)
Empires that cover galaxies
If at the journey’s end we find
The same old stuff we left behind,
Well-worn Tellurian stories of
Crooks, spies, conspirators, or love,
Whose setting might as well have been
The Bronx, Montmartre, or Bethnal Green?

Why should I leave this green-floored cell,
Roofed with blue air, in which we dwell,
Unless, outside its guarded gates,
Long, long desired, the Unearthly waits
Strangeness that moves us more than fear,
Beauty that stabs with tingling spear,
Or Wonder, laying on one’s heart
That finger-tip at which we start
As if some thought too swift and shy
For reason’s grasp had just gone by?

Philip K. Dickathon: The Simulacra Posted at 12:32 AM by Charles Dee Mitchell

charlesdee

Guest Blogger and WWEnd Member, Charles Dee Mitchell, has contributed a great many book reviews to WWEnd and we’ve invited him to contribute to our blog. This is the latest in Dee’s series of Philip K. Dick reviews that he started on his blog www.potatoweather.blogspot.com. We’ll be posting one every week until he runs out of reviews or gets tired of Philip K. Dick books.


The SimulacraThe Simulacra is Philip K. Dick‘s grand, panoramic novel. He sweeps the reader from the highest corridors of power in Washington, D.C., to the lush rain forests of the Pacific North West and the colony of mutants who inhabit them. We meet Nicole Thibodeaux, the First Lady of the United States and the most powerful woman in the world; Richard Kongrosian, a psycho-kinetic musician who performs without touching the keyboard; and Looney Luke, semi-legal dealer in jalopies, outdated spacecraft good enough for a one-way trip to Mars. There is intrigue, betrayal, deception, and the threat of war.

Wait a minute. PKD didn’t write grand, panoramic novels. Not that all the above isn’t true. In fact it suggests no more than a fraction of the goings-on in The Simulacra. But it all goes on in the usual two hundred or so pages common to PKD’s novels. This is his most chaotic book. Every chapter for the first third of the novel introduces two or more new characters. What connections there will ever be among them is difficult to imagine. But much of what happens focuses on pleasing Nicole, who spends much of her time auditioning new acts to perform at her functions, or planning yet another televised tour of the White House. (Only readers of a certain age will get this joke.)

PKD tossed a lot of stray ideas into this one. Most of the ideas are good, the situations very funny, but he does not manage to do much more than let them fizzle out towards the end. Readers may be either irritated or exhausted, but the wiser choice is to just go along for the ride.

As in most of the novels from this period, there is moment when a female character lets loose with either a kind of praise or criticism that PKD must have wished for or dreaded hearing from whoever was his wife at the time. Here is Nicole talking about Richard Kongrosian.

"Oh the hell with it," Nicole said. "I’m tired of his ailments. I’m tired of having him pamper himself with his hypochondriacal obsessions. I’m going to toss the entire power and majesty and authority of the state at him, tell him point blank that he has got to give up his imaginary diseases."

Ouch. But even though Kongrosian is a hypochondriac he still has the power to psycho-kinetically transport one of Nicole’s gun-wielding agents to the White House laundry room when necessary. The author remains in control.

Worldcon gets in the Holiday Spirit with “The 7 Days of Chicon” Posted at 10:54 PM by Rico Simpkins

icowrich

Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention, Chicago, IL – August 30 to September 3, 2012

Chicon7Chicago, Illinois, USA – Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon), is bringing seasonal joy to science fiction fans everywhere through "The 7 Days of Chicon." From December 20 to 26 inclusive, Chicon will be reducing its adult Attending membership rates by $15, with young adult Attending membership rates lowered by $10. Family rates will also be reduced. Full details of this special sale can be found on the convention’s web site at www.chicon.org.

The first six days of the discount period will celebrate our five Guests of Honor and our Toastmaster. The seventh day, December 26, is our gift to the fans, in appreciation of everyone who has made Worldcon into a unique event since it was first held over 70 years ago.

Chicon 7 is comfortably on track to be the largest and most spectacular Worldcon since 2006, when the event was held in Los Angeles. Nearly 2500 people have already registered, and some 5000 are expected to attend the five-day event which will take place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Chicago from August 30 – September 3, 2012.

According to Chicon 7 chair Dave McCarty, "Chicago has hosted the Worldcon more often than any other city, and we’re delighted by the enthusiasm of fans who will be visiting us again next year. Over a thousand members have joined us in the last five months alone, and we expect many more to join in January when we open our hotel bookings and start accepting nominations for the 2012 Hugo awards. We have a great site, with the whole event happening under one roof. We hope many people will take advantage of this offer to sign up now and save money on their memberships."

Chicon 7 is the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention ("Worldcon"). The first Worldcon occurred in New York City in 1939 and Worldcons have been held annually since then except for 1942-45 when there was no event due to World War II. Chicon 7′s Guests of Honor are five-time Hugo winning author Mike Resnick, artist Rowena Morrill, art agent and collector Jane Frank, science fiction fan and former Worldcon chair Peggy Rae Sapienza, and astronaut Story Musgrave. Chicon 7′s Toastmaster is John Scalzi.

For more details about the convention or to purchase memberships, visit www.chicon.org.

Noise by Darin Bradley Posted at 3:12 AM by Charles Dee Mitchell

charlesdee

Guest Blogger and WWEnd Member, Charles Dee Mitchell, has contributed a great many book reviews to WWEnd and we’ve invited him to contribute to our blog. This review originally appeared on his blog www.potatoweather.blogspot.com.


NoiseWithout realizing it, Hiram and Levi had been in training for the Collapse most of their lives. They learned lessons in shop class, Boy Scouts, Renaissance Fairs, and all night sessions of Dungeons and Dragons. The began to receive instruction and train in earnest after television went all digital. On the unmonitored analog channels, ‘Casters began sending out coded messages buried in the static, saying what to expect and how to prepare. Other messages were hidden in the wild style graffiti covering the walls of their college town somewhere in North Texas. When the Collapse occurred, Hiram and Levi would be among the prepared. The ‘Casts had helped them assemble The Book, a sort of army training manuel for the survival of your Group. Following instructions Hiram and Levi already have established their Place in the country and stocked it with Salvage, i.e. stolen stuff. They have planned an escape route.

I was reading Noise on Black Friday. I took a break after about fifty pages, turned on the computer to check email, and saw first thing the videos of ambulances driving the fallen away from Best Buys in Colorado. Then I read the story of the woman at the California Wall Mart who pepper sprayed her fellow shoppers to protect her xbox console. And all morning I had thought I was reading a novel.

What Hiram and Levi have been learning, what they have assembled in The Book, are lessons in ruthlessness. They will not be victims. They will take advantage of chaos. They will regard all those outside their Group as enemies, and they will neutralize them when necessary. They neutralize some unsuspecting National Guardsmen who have been called in to discourage the turmoil breaking out in malls and on the campus. They steal the NG’s Humvee with its 50 caliber machine gun. It comes in handy when dealing with disgruntled suburban males who don’t like the look of what’s going on. Hiram and Levi pick up some followers before their escape from the city, but this crowd, only partially trained in the disciplines of the ‘Casts, prove to be a mixed blessing. When one thirteen year old is caught trying to escape — he wants to go home to his parents across town — he is tied to a porch railing, judged, and neutralized. The Group has done the right thing. The kid knew too much.

Noise is an unsettling read. It follows its relentless logic for just 200 pages and gets the survivors of Hiram and Levi’s group to their Place of safety. I am one of those movie watchers who always wonder why characters hit guards and bad guys over the head instead of killing, I mean, neutralizing them, but I also know there is always payback time. Much of what is in The Book makes an awful sort of sense, given the situation. But nobody’s long-term prospects look good.

Automata 101: The Artist as Golem Maker – Part Two Posted at 2:14 AM by Rhonda Knight

Rhondak101

Rhonda Knight is an Associate Professor of English at Coker College in Hartsville, SC. She teaches Medieval and Renaissance literature as well as composition courses. This blog will outline her experiences teaching an Honors English Composition course about created entities, beginning with the golem of Jewish legend and continuing through cyborgs, robots, androids, and artificial intelligence.


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay“They’re all Jewish, superheroes. Superman, you don’t think he’s Jewish? Coming over from the old country, changing his name like that. Clark Kent, only a Jew would pick a name like that for himself.” (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, 585).

The students and I concluded our examination of Kavalier and Clay by looking at the role of comics in the book and how they connect to the protagonists and the figure of the golem. One thing that I like about Michael Chabon is his symbolism is often obvious, but it is executed so beautifully that unwrapping it is a joy. The students, of course, missed much of the obvious, so it was fun watching them see the symbolism unfold. For example, the first viable superhero whom Sammy and Joe create is the Escapist, whose alter ego is Tom Mayflower. It was easy for them to see how Joe–who trained in Prague as an escape artist and a magician and who had to escape Czechoslovakia stuffed in a coffin with the Golem of Prague–is a model for the Escapist. However, the fact that Tom Mayflower represents Sammy was a bit harder for them to see. Tom is crippled just as Sammy is. Tom is an orphan, and Sammy had an absent father, a circus strong man. A similar strong man figure, Big Al, serves as Tom’s surrogate father in the comic. Through Tom and the Escapist, Sammy and Joe are able to fight their personal demons (and Hitler) in the pages of the monthly magazines they create. However, Chabon does not want us to forget that their actions create a golem not just a superhero. He ends the chapter of the Tom Mayflower back-story by connecting Tom and his compatriots in their theater lair with their youthful creators, Kavalier and Clay:

The sound of their raised voices carries up through the complicated antique ductwork of the grand old theater, rising up and echoing through the pipes until it emerges through a grate in the sidewalk, where it can be heard clearly by a couple of young men who are walking past, their collars raised against the cold October night, dreaming their elaborate dream, wishing their wish and teasing their golem into life. (134)

From Joe Kavalier’s first attempt at drawing a golem superhero on his first morning in New York to his magnum opus, a 2,256-page, wordless script called The Golem!, Chabon never lets us forget about the connection between the superhuman golem and America’s comic superheroes. The class and I looked back to Piercy again and again to examine Joseph the golem’s role as a superhero protecting the ghetto. We talked about his size, strength, and ability to heal rapidly. Also he was a more strategic thinker than the humans. He could only die through kabalistic magic. This constant comparison back to Joseph helped the students see what Chabon was attempting in his comparison.

The GolemHowever, through all of this, Chabon wants us to see that we can’t rely on golems any more than we can rely on superheroes. After all, the Jews of Prague don’t activate their golem to fight Hitler. Instead, they send it away in order to protect it. When the box with that same golem mysteriously arrives at Sammy’s home many years after the war, it is nothing but a box of dirt. According to Jewish legend, when it left its homeland, it disintegrated and lost its potency.

Chabon’s message is that the modern golem is found in the creation of art. His own piece about golems and novel writing shows this. I ended the class by reading an engaging passage from the book, and I will end this blog in the same way. Here, Joe is thinking about all of the detritus of his life as a comic book artist:

In literature and folklore, the significance and the fascination of golems—from Rabbi Loew’s to Victor von Frankenstein’s—lay in their soullessness, in their tireless inhuman strength, in their metaphorical association with overweening human ambition, and in the frightening ease with which they passed beyond the control of their horrified and admiring creators. But it seemed to Joe that none of these—Faustian hubris, least of all—were among the true reasons that impelled men, time after time, to hazard the making of golems. The shaping of a golem, to him, was a gesture of hope, offered against hope, in a time of desperation. It was the expression of a yearning that a few magic words and an artful hand might produce something—one poor, dumb, powerful thing—exempt from the crushing strictures, from the ills, cruelties, and inevitable failures of the greater Creations. It was the voicing of a vain wish, when you got down to it, to escape. (582).

The Hobbit Movie Trailer, My Precious! Posted at 11:32 AM by Dave Post

Dave Post

OK, this just totally sneaked up on me, gollum, gollum! I’m not sure it starts out very strong but by the time the dwarves started singing I squeed like a little girl.

There is a lot to see in this trailer too. Galadriel and Gandalf consulting about Dul Guldor in Southern Mirkwood? Flashes of some key adventures like the trolls and Rivendell and a dwarf covered in spider webs. I really love the look of the dwarves here. I always pictured them more homogeneous so I like that they all seem to have their own look and personalities.

Very excited to see this coming together after the rough start. What say you?

The Martian Chronicles: Essential and Still Relevant Posted at 3:08 AM by Scott Lazerus

Scott Laz

Scott Lazerus came to Worlds Without End looking for a good list of books. He found David Pringle’s Best 100 Science Fiction Novels list to his liking and is currently working his way through the list. Check out his review of one of the all-time classics of SF below and help us welcome him to WWEnd. Thanks, Scott!


The Martian ChroniclesIt was fascinating to return to The Martian Chronicles over three decades after first reading it. (Ray Bradbury was the first SF writer I read as a child.) It remains beautiful, relevant, and unique.

Bradbury, in a series of linked short stories, presents the history of the exploration of Mars and the subsequent emigration and abandonment of the planet by humanity. The stories include rockets, robots, and Martians, but Bradbury clearly has no interest in scientific extrapolation regarding these SF tropes. Instead, they are used as plot device or metaphor to get at his real concerns about the state of humanity (Americans, especially), at the time he wrote these stories. In fact, if you think too much about the literal events of the book, it won’t work for you. The first Mars expeditions made up in part of yahoos who get drunk and vandalize ancient Martian artifacts? Thousands of people colonizing Mars within a couple of years of the earliest explorers reaching it, bringing with them all the trappings of life on Earth? Almost the entire human population of Mars returning en masse after seeing their home planet on fire as the result of a nuclear war?

Yet these events seem almost foreordained in the context of Bradbury’s themes, which include cultural and racial intolerance, imperialism, humanity’s propensity for violence, the consequences of ignorance, the repression of individuality, and the inability of people to learn from history. Yes, it’s a laundry list of cold war alienation, but the issues take on added relevance and added interest in the SF context. It seems that, for Bradbury, technology merely gives humanity’s unfortunate tendencies new venues in which and tools with which to manifest themselves. The arrival of humanity spreads Earth’s (actually, America’s) culture to Mars, wiping out the Martians in the process through the spread of disease–a point reminiscent of what happened to the Native Americans. Book censors and hot dog stands are not far behind…

Ray BradburyThe telepathic Martians take on different roles in different stories, serving mainly as metaphor rather than character. They serve alternately as victim, nightmare, conscience, oracle, empath, and mirror. They are projections of us and, at the end of the book, we must become them, if there is to be a future for humanity.

Not every story is up to the level of the half-dozen classics in the book, but each does make a contribution to the theme. The format allows Bradbury to make use of his forte–the emotional punch of the short story–while building theme and resonance as in a novel. When I began rereading, I suspected that The Martian Chronicles might not be as good as I remembered, but I think it may be even better, though in ways I probably didn’t see back in the ’70s. Other Bradbury short stories from the late ’40s and ’50s reach the same heights as those in this book, but the added resonance of the links between them makes this the essential Ray Bradbury book. An enduring contribution to SF and to American literature!

Automata 101: The Artist as Golem Maker – Part One Posted at 8:23 AM by Rhonda Knight

Rhondak101

Rhonda Knight is an Associate Professor of English at Coker College in Hartsville, SC. She teaches Medieval and Renaissance literature as well as composition courses. This blog will outline her experiences teaching an Honors English Composition course about created entities, beginning with the golem of Jewish legend and continuing through cyborgs, robots, androids, and artificial intelligence.


Note: I’m not sure why I feel the need to announce spoilers here since I have not done so with my previous blogs, but be warned I give away a lot of plot here.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and ClayThe last book that we read was Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I highly recommend this book. I think it is much more interesting than the Hugo-winning The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, and it has convinced me that I need to read everything that Chabon has written.

I put this book last on the syllabus for a couple of reasons. First, it is very long (636 pages), so I wanted to spread the reading out. The students were working on their research papers at the same time, so there were writing and research days interspersed. Second, because the book is recent, I was not sure how much research existed on it, so I placed it late in the semester so that it would not be an obvious choice to be the subject of the research paper. While the students did not like the length of the novel (and had a hard time keeping up with the reading schedule), they did like the book very much. I think that they were appreciative of a non-science fiction book at this point in the semester. One thing that I’ve learned is that habitual readers of speculative fiction grasp an author’s constructed world very quickly and therefore, understand the culture, laws, etc. without much effort. Many of the students, either through age or reading experience, were not facile in their grasp of Dick’s or Piercy’s dystopias. Therefore, Kavalier and Clay gave them a world that they knew something about and operated in much the same way as their own.

Michael ChabonTeacherly confession: I loved Kavalier and Clay when I read it in July, but I had no idea how I was going to teach it or how I was going to tie it into the other texts. I decided I’d figure it out, and luckily I did. I could have never made the book work if I had not taught Piercy’s He, She and It. In Piercy’s novel, Malkah’s interwoven story of Joseph the golem laid the foundation for Chabon’s golem. The students entered the first section with most of the background they needed to understand Josef Kavalier’s escape from Czechoslovakia.

Our discussion opened with a look at the narrative voice. The book is written in the third person, but not in the typical third person omniscient manner. One feels that the narrator is a scholar, historian, biographer or comic book fan, as the book’s first sentences show:

In later years, holding forth to an interviewer or to an audience of aging fans at a comic book convention, Sam Clay liked to declare, apropos of his and Joe Kavalier’s greatest creation, that back when he was a boy, sealed and hog-tied inside the airtight vessel known as Brooklyn, New York, he had been haunted by dreams of Harry Houdini. “To me, Clark Kent in a phone booth and Houdini in a packing crate, they were one and the same thing,” he would learnedly expound at WonderCon or Angloulême or to the editor of The Comics Journal.

In support of this voice, the book contains footnotes (although not to the level of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell) that informs the reader of such things as $42,200 was the selling price of Amazing Midget Radio Comics #1 in 1998 and Roy Lichtenstein might have been inspired by an enlarged comic page framed in Sammy’s office that revealed the lithography dots. I taught the students to look for such textual clues that reveal the humanity of the narrator.

In the second class, I told the students that I wanted to look at the protagonists’ names, Josef Kavalier and Sammy Klayman. We talked about their meanings: Kavalier = Cavalier = Chevalier = Knight; and Klayman = Clay Man = Golem. I admitted to them that I was unsure what to do with those meanings but suggested that we think about how to apply them as we continued to read. We came to the meaning of Joe’s surname quickly. If we took “knight” to mean “knight in shining armor,” then it is easy to apply the cliché and find a hero and a rescuer in Joe. His commitment to his Czech relatives and his actions during WWII are heroic in their own way. In his return after the war, he becomes a superhero, like one of his creations, with a secret lair and a disguise.

The EscapistSammy’s role as the golem was harder to understand. Once we started to think about the golem’s role as a protector of the Jews, we were able to see that Sammy becomes the protector of Joe’s fiancée, Rosa, and her unborn child. Sammy, who was planning on moving to L.A. with his male lover, marries Rosa after Joe runs away and joins the Navy. Instead of protecting the ghetto, Sammy as golem makes a family and moves it to the Long Island suburbs. He suppresses his own sexuality to play the straight family man for Joe. In our discussion of He, She and It, we looked at the callous way that the Rabbi “deactivates” the golem Joseph. We felt that the ambiguity of Kavalier and Clay’s ending indicated Sammy’s deactivation as a golem: his job was done, and he became disposable. I stressed to the students that everything the narrative voice had been telling us about Sammy demonstrated that Sammy had a good life after he left. We decided that his golem, unlike all of the golems we had encountered, received his freedom.

I’ve managed to demonstrate only a portion of our discussion. In my next blog, I will talk more about Chabon’s use of the superhero and its relation to the golem.

Game of Thrones Season 2 Trailer: Let all true men declare their loyalty. Posted at 10:30 PM by Dave Post

Dave Post

I am totally stoked for season 2!  The shit is really going to hit the fan now.  I hope we’ll get more than 10 episodes this season.  The story is just too big.

The new season starts in April so there is still time to catch up on your reading:  A Song of Ice and Fire.

Philip K. Dickathon: Clans of the Alphane Moon Posted at 9:18 AM by Charles Dee Mitchell

charlesdee

Guest Blogger and WWEnd Member, Charles Dee Mitchell, has contributed a great many book reviews to WWEnd and we’ve invited him to contribute to our blog. This is the latest in Dee’s series of Philip K. Dick reviews that he started on his blog www.potatoweather.blogspot.com. We’ll be posting one every week until he runs out of reviews or gets tired of Philip K. Dick books.


Clans of the Alphane MoonPhilip K Dick spent a great deal of time in and out of psychiatrists’ offices. He had bouts of agoraphobia from the time he was a teenager and went through several spells of clinical depression. He knew the psychiatric lingo and at times used it as rigorously in his personal relationships as he did in his books.

Alpha III M2, the setting for Clans of the Alphane Moon, is one of the purest creations of his experiences with mental health professionals. Alpha III M2 is a small moon in the Alpha Centauri system used by Earth as a global mental facility. The moon was one giant hospital treating all known forms of mental derangement. The fact that these break down to only a half dozen or so reflects the mid-sixties when the novel was written. The DSM had not yet expanded to include everything from psychosis to social anxiety disorder (shyness.) A minor war with the Alphanes has left Alpha III M2 to its on devices for over twenty years. Earth is finally sending ships to check up on how things are going.

Meanwhile back on earth, Chuck Rittersdorf has been tossed out by his wife, a successful marriage counselor, and now lives in a rundown conapt that sounds a little bit like the first apartment I had in college. He survives on the small salary he makes programming simulacra for CIA propaganda missions. His best new friend is a Ganymedean slime mold named Lord Running Clam.

One reason I enjoy writing about PKD is that I can write Paragraph One (above), follow it by Paragraph Two (above), and still be writing about the same novel. PKD said later in his career that he realized his writing technique involved starting multiple plots and then seeing how he could bring them together. I think this is usually referred to as "making it up as you go along." Chuck contemplates murdering his wife. Bunny Hentzman, one of PKD’s frequent world-renowned entertainers that exercise a bizarre control over Earth’s culture, hires Chuck at a terrific salary, but counter-intelligence operations within the CIA and the Hentzman organization make Chuck a hunted man. As in a French farce of a Preston Sturges comedy, everyone ends in the same place, Alpha III M2, either shooting it out with laser pistols or making desperate diplomatic moves to keep Earth and Alpha out of a war and the main characters out of prison.

A strangely touching and revealing moment comes when Chuck, having agreed to another battery of psychological testing, has these thoughts which sound straight from the heart of PKD:

"Suppose the tests show no drift, no neurosis, no latent psychosis, no character deformation, no psychopathic tendencies, in other words, nothing. What do I do then?" … he had an inkling that that was exactly what the tests would show. He did not belong in any of the settlements here on Alpha III M2; here he was a loner, an outcast, accompanied by no one even remotely resembling him.

Maybe not exactly a cri de coeur, but it seems one of the most personal statements PKD has made in his work to this time.

But then again, his is also improving his knack for toss away nuttiness. Here’s the opening to Chapter 8:

When, late that night, Chuck Rittersdorf wearily returned to his rundown conapt in Marin County, California, he was stopped in the hall by the yellow Ganymedean slime mold. This, at three a.m. It was too much.