SOL Rising
Number 14, September 1995

The View from a Chair: Patterns, Dreams and Wonderful Visits
News from The Merril: The Move Part II; or, Love Amidst the Ruins
In Charity and Diversity
The Wave of the Future: An Interview with Ellen Datlow
Remembering Sergeant Saturn
The Time Machine: 100 Years of the 4th Dimension
Interview with Sean Stewart: Part II

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The View from a Chair: Patterns, Dreams and Wonderful Visits

by Hugh Spencer


Hugh recently attended The Time Machine: Past, Present, Future, a symposium held by the H. G. Wells Society to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Time Machine. The following is an excerpt from the paper he presented at the symposium.—ed


It is not easy to determine the impact and influence of any single writer on a single genre or school of expression. This analytical exercise is even more challenging in the case of science fiction‑which is more than genre or a community of artists. Science fiction today has developed into a cross-media, global movement which synthesizes entertainment, education, social and scientific commentary with folk and commercial activities‑all cast in the imaginative field of "the sense of wonder."


In the case of H.G. Wells, it is important to at least attempt this task. Starting with his seminal work, The Time Machine, Wells has been a dramatic and powerful influence on science fiction. Much of Wells' work, from all periods in his career, explores the concept of change‑social, technological and personal. In this way, Wells has established the "deep structure" of the contemporary science fiction phenomenon.


This paper is the result of a long-term collections research project. From 1992 to 1995, I worked as co-curator with Dr. Allan Weiss on Out of This World, an exhibition on Canadian science fiction and fantasy at the National Library of Canada in Ottawa. Out of This World was a joint project sponsored by the National Library and the Toronto Public Library's Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy.


The thesis and content of the exhibition were supported by extensive bibliographic and archival data. Dr. Weiss and I dedicated over two years to reviewing and documenting the sf holdings of the National Library of Canada, the Merril Collection and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).


The result of our efforts was a Canadian Science Fiction Database1 with over 10,000 entries relating to published and produced works in print, radio, television, film, animation and comic books, popular music and the stage. The database is a new source of quantifiable information on the development and character of fantastic expression in Canada.


Some of the findings of the database suggest that Wells has exerted an important influence on the past and present nature of Canadian science fiction and fantasy. I have addressed some of the findings as answers to the following questions:


  1. What is the wider historical context? Canadian sf does not exist in isolation‑therefore we first must consider Wells' impact on world science fiction.
  2. What is the Canadian context? How is it meaningful to speak of Canadian sf as something distinct from the fantastic fiction of other countries?
  3. What is the synthesis? Can we identify important Wellsian influences and common patterns in Canadian sf?




Superficial examination of the relationship between Wells and Canadians in the past would suggest a series of troubled and unhappy associations. This historical debris must be cleared away.


While preparing this paper for The Time Machine Symposium, I started to experience fears which might have been similar to those of Canadian biographer Lovat Dickson when he was about to be introduced to Wells in 1931.


Dickson recalled a long-standing nuisance lawsuit initiated against Wells by a Canadian schoolmistress concerning The Outline of History:


"Wells had only recently won the final appeal but had not been able to recover the (court) costs. The case must have cost him many thousands of pounds... Had this turned him against all Canadians?"


Fortunately for Dickson's sake, it had not. The biographer goes on to report that Wells' greeting was very friendly. Wells told Dickson that it was a Canadian, Frank Harris, who published his first essays in The Fortnightly (Dickson, 1969: 17).


Wells might not have been so gracious had he been able to foresee the instances of Canadian "Wells abuse" that would occur in the future. It is an embarrassing list‑two low-budget, low-quality film projects: a "sequel" to The Food of the Gods and a 1979 "re-make" of The Shape of Things to Come. Also, from 1989 to 1991, a television series entitled "War of the Worlds" was produced in Toronto. It is inaccurate to think of any of these projects as dramatizations of the scientific romances as none of Wells' original characters, themes or concepts are in evidence. Rather, the producers seem to have acquired the rights to use Wells' titles. Toronto journalist Michael Coren's 1993 superficial and unkind biography of Wells is just one more recent example of the difficult relationship between Wells and certain Canadians.


While preparing my paper for The Time Machine Symposium, I had some concerns similar to Dickson's. Have these unfortunate associations turned students and scholars of Wells against Canada and Canadians? I hope not.


I do hope that these historical disagreements can be put aside, because our exhibition research suggests that Wells has exerted a significant influence on Canadian sf writers.




Wells is the literary equivalent of a "revolutionary scientist". His scientific romances marked the territories and established departure points for future writers. From this point of view, the "revolutionary" Wells establishes the paradigm of time travel and the evolutionary fable, while future "normal" science fiction writers elaborate on the themes and concepts established by Wells. The Time Machine was the first accessible time travel story. Subsequent writers such as Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein, and even the producers of The Terminator and Doctor Who, have farther developed and explored this idea.


Wells' profound impact on world sf was understood by one of the most influential American sf writers, Robert A. Heinlein. In his address to the 1941 World Science Fiction Convention entitled "The Discovery of the Future,"2 Heinlein states that Wells "did the pioneer work" and that he "happens to be the greatest of science fiction writers" (1992: 163).




Years before the Out of This World project, scholars and critics such as John Robert Colombo, Robert Runte, John Clute, David Ketterer and Élisabeth Vonarburg asked: is it meaningful to speak of Canadian science fiction in anything except a geographical context, and if so, what are the unique features of Canadian sf?


The work carried out for the exhibition indicated that much of Canadian sf has been written within the thematic fields set out in the Wellsian paradigm.


Our research also revealed that Canadian sf had content and form with more distinct and specific features:


a. Canadian sf often portrays the search for identity... at the level of the individual—"Who am I?"—of the nation—"Who are we?"—,and of the species—"What are we?". These related themes have particular significance for Canadians; we have long debated our national identity and even questioned whether we possess, or will continue to possess, one.


b. Canadian sf has a greater emphasis on the social and political context than on scientific or technological concepts. Canadian sf often asks societal "what if?" questions. What if the province of Quebec (or Newfoundland or Alberta) separates? What if Canada is invaded by (the United States, the Soviet Union or Germany)? What if society is someday ruled by a sexist theocracy?


c. Canadian sf has a more active and meaningful connection to the "mainstream" literary world. Canadian science fiction and fantasy is dismissed by some as genre fiction and purely escapist entertainment. However, there is not the pronounced alienation between writers of sf and writers in other fields in Canada. Some of Canada's greatest literary talents‑Atwood, Findley and Kinsellahave written works of science fiction, speculative fiction or magic realism.


d. Much Canadian sf has been written for non-print media. Historically, print markets in Canada have been limited, particularly for genre fiction. Radio was more accessible to sf writers because audio productions are more effective for less cost than television or film dramatizations, and because of the CBC's cultural mandate to present radio drama to the public in all regions of the country.




The world-wide impact of Wells as the "revolutionary" science fiction writer has already been established. Wells had the same influence on Canadian sf as he did elsewhere in the world.


Are there common themes and shared values between Wells and Canadian sf? The research for Out of This World suggests a number of unique connections: Dedication to speculative social and political commentary, reminiscent of the political commentary found in Wells' later scientific romances, [and] a commonly recurring theme in Canadian sf stories ...the innocent traveller from another world who becomes trapped in our world.




Works such as The Unnamed Planet tetralogy [radio play-ed.], the Tesseracts anthologies, and the emerging body of Canadian sf are often tributes to the enduring impact of Wells on Canadian sf.




1. The Canadian SF Database is not yet available for public use. Drafts are currently held at the Merril Collection and the National Library of Canada.


2. There is no indication that Heinlein was aware of Wells' essay of the same name.




Dickson, Lovat. H.G. Wells: His Turbulent Life and Times. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England. Pelican Books. 1969.


Heinlein, Robert A. "The Discovery of the Future", Guest of Honor Speech at the Third World Science Fiction Convention, Denver, 1941 in Requiem: Tributes to Robert A. Heinlein edited by Yojo Kondo. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, Inc. 1992.


Weiss, Allan and Hugh AD. Spencer, "Aliens Among Us" in Out of This World: Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. Ottawa and Kingston: Quarry Press and National Library of Canada. 1995.

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News from The Merril: The Move Part II; or, Love Amidst the Ruins

by Loma Toolis


"Did you see those pieces where the ceiling fell down?" A morning which begins with a question like that is only going to get better, I tell myself. It is 8:20 AM and I am still smiling. It is important to keep on smiling. It is easy for me to keep on smiling; the ceiling didn't fall in on my books. The person in charge of that department is not smiling. She is having a bad day. I go upstairs and prowl my stacks, staring at the lights, trying to check the ceiling, watching the floor for bits of the ceiling.


These days, or more precisely these nights, I dream the same dream over and over. It is based on a movie I saw many years ago, in which the hero was in prison. He had to move cannon balls from one side of the prison compound to the other, for no particular reason. As soon as he got all the cannon balls to the far side of the prison yard, he then had to move them back. Moving a library is rather like that, except that the staff don't have to move the items back. Equally, the convict didn't have to unpack each and every individual cannon ball, so, in my dreams, I think we are breaking even.


Unpacking, it turns out, is only a part of our problem. I tend to think of problems in sequences these days, rather like paperclips strung together. The longest string of problems is the building deficiency string. A building deficiency is something about the building that didn't get done right. Clean-up is an inevitable part of each construction process, I say to myself, as I try to work around the offending problem. This can be awkward, when, for instance, the deficiency involves the shelving. It is difficult to unpack onto shelves which have something wrong with them, like not being attached to the wall.


Some problems are not deficiencies. The mice, for instance, seem to have moved with us. We're not quite sure how we managed this. All I can be sure of is that the mice are highly stressed mice. Everyone else in the building is sweating blood, trying to get the building ready for opening, so it is only fair that the mice should be miserable, too. Wherever they were nesting, we have overheated it (just testing), cooled it to the point of freezing (still testing), dumped furniture on top of it (What do you mean, it doesn't fit here?) and repacked and reorganized the area.


Staffing problems are not a building deficiency, either. Mary is in Scotland. Lorna is in the Maritimes. Annette is making a break for it; maternity leave will release her from the joys of unpacking. Giles has unpacked rather more than his fair share and he is beginning to talk about making a break for freedom as well. Fine. After he's finished unpacking the basement. No doubt this will involve disturbing the mice. Perhaps we can borrow the copyshop's white cat; it seems to have a placid disposition.


All staff members have developed a new nervous tic, a sideways sweep with the eyes, just checking. "Lights? Yes, lights, present and accounted for. Do they go on? Yes, good. Do they fall down? No, good. Next?"


The Merril Collection will be opening at our new home at 239 College Street momentarily. Staff look forward to seeing you all at our opening celebration, where they will be very, very calm...

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In Charity and Diversity

by Lorraine Pooley


The Infinite Diversity International Corporation (I.D.I.C.), more commonly known as the USS Hudson Bay, is a charitable, non-profit organization which holds its command crew meetings at The Merril Collection once a month. I.D.I.C. is a Toronto-based Star Trek fan club which participates in many different community outreach activities. Past outreach projects have included sorting food at a local food bank during the Easter Food Drive, collecting non-perishable food items for food banks, and hosting blood donor clinics. In addition, club members have donated reusable materials such as magazines, eyeglasses, clothes, and educational texts to shelters for the homeless and Third World countries. Donations to Third World countries are co-ordinated through Global Ed Med.


Members of I.D.I.C. also staff local science fiction conventions such as Toronto Trek and do security for community events such as the Mississauga Santa Claus Parade.


I.D.I.C. publishes a monthly newsletter entitled The Voyageur featuring original artwork and articles by members. Articles on space exploration, the environment, and health issues, as well as reviews of Star Trek and other science fiction books, movies and events, trivia quizzes, and Star Trek news and gossip are all contained in this publication. The club also launched a fanzine entitled Holodeck One in July, 1994 which contained short stories, poetry and logic puzzles created by members of I.D.I.C. and other affiliated fan organizations.


I.D.I.C. is active on several computer networks including Fidonet, the Internet, Usenet, GEnie, and CompuServe. Information about club activities is disseminated on the nets and instruction is available to members who wish to use their computers to communicate with others on these networks.


The primary goal of the USS Hudson Bay is the realization of the optimism expressed in the Star Trek philosophy. Club members believe that they, as individuals and as a group, have the ability to ensure the survival and advancement of humanity through to the twenty-fourth century and beyond. They believe that this will be achieved through improvements in human relationships, knowledge, technology and environmental care.


I.D.I.C. members believe that these goals can be realized by contributions to charitable works through donations of money, goods, and services; by participation in activities which reflect an increasing concern for the environment; by promotion of healthy lifestyles; and by promotion of tolerance, respect, and the just treatment of all individuals. These objectives can also be achieved through education about and promotion of space exploration and other technologies, by the organization of social activities which nourish imagination, relationships and the enjoyment of life, and by mutual support leading to the advancement of the individual.


The USS Hudson Bay is probably the largest Star Trek fan club in Canada, with approximately 230 members. Members of the club live not only in Toronto, but in St. John's, Newfoundland; Hamilton, Ontario; Beaconsfield, Quebec; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Kingston, Ontario; Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; Listowel, Ontario; Regina, Saskatchewan; Buffalo, New York; and Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Members are employed in various professions including medicine, law, publishing, writing, graphic arts, and acting. Some members are also employed in the hospitality and tourism industries or are students at local colleges or universities. Ages range from new-born babies to senior citizens in their seventies.


In June of 1993, members of the USS Hudson Bay presented a series of skits for children at the Downsview Regional Branch of the North York Public Library. The skits were designed to teach the audience about the various activities in which they could participate as members of the science fiction community in Toronto.


The club is now involved in organizing its own convention planned with a similar educational theme in mind. The convention, to be called Fleet Academy North, will take place April 26, 27 and 28, 1996 at the Holiday Inn in Yorkdale. Convention guests will include science fiction author Karl Schroeder. Planned activities include a writer's workshop, an artist's workshop, and several sf related information panels.


I.D.I.C. would also like to establish a foundation whose sole purpose would be to issue a scholarship to a disabled individual which would enable that person to continue a formal education otherwise unaffordable at an institute of higher learning. They hope to name the scholarship after Gene Roddenberry, if the appropriate legal permissions can be obtained from his estate. Call Lorraine Pooley at (416) 251-3006 to find out more about I.D.I.C.

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The Wave of the Future: An Interview with Ellen Datlow

by Mici Gold


At OMNI magazine, where she has been the fiction editor since 1981, Ellen Datlow feels that change is the wave of the future. She talked about the changes at OMNI and in the genre of speculative fiction over coffee at Ad Astra 15, the science fiction convention held in Toronto in June 1995. She attended as a special guest.


"The last monthly issue [of OMNI] was in April and with the September issue, we're going to go quarterly," she said amidst the bustle and noise of the convention. "We're going to be doing double-sized quarterly issues, perfect bound, I hope, which means squared-off spines. I'll be having four stories in the September issue, which will bring me up to date, because I've only been getting in one story a month for the last few years anyway. So, hopefully, I'll be doing at least the same amount of fiction."


As subscribers to the magazine have discovered, OMNI has discontinued offering subscriptions. "It's going to be completely newsstand," says Datlow. "Most magazines lose money on subscriptions. You get readership which is kind of falsely inflated for the advertisers, but basically you don't make money off subscriptions. Major magazines want people to buy newsstand copies of each issue. It costs more and they get more money from it."


As the cost of paper has soared, the magazine has also begun the transformation to electronic format. "It's a pretty important technology," says Datlow, "and I think a lot of people are getting involved with it. I think that the people who run the company feel that it's the wave of the future.


"We've been on-line for about two years now. I have America On Line. I have my own world, Ellen Datlow's Science Fiction and Fantasy World; it's a bulletin board. We have a lot of interactive material, where you can ask questions. We have chat sessions that are run about three times a week by various volunteers. We have a letters-to-the-editor department, where people can ask questions, and an "Ask Ellen" thing, where people can ask me something."


In February 1995, OMNI began to offer some fiction electronically, thanks in part to corporate sponsorship by Chrysler Neon. Six novellas are available through America On Line, until the end of the year. "We're getting people downloading it," she notes. "I hope that more people will be downloading it. The most so far is 500 [readers] per story, and in the scheme of things, I don't feel that's very much. We would very much like more people to be aware of it, to read the stories." For those with no access, however, some of the stories are going to Gardner Dozois at Asimov's magazine after six months on-line.


"This is an experiment to see how it works. Right now, Penthouse has an Internet site that, apparently, is quite popular." She laughs and adds, "Yeah, yeah, I think you can look at the pictures, too."


Does that mean that the whole magazine will some day be available on the 'net, too? "I don't know how or when that's going to happen," Datlow admits. `But that's what we're aiming for, in addition to the quarterly issues."


As well as editing for OMNI, Datlow has assembled many anthologies of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Some of her best known work includes the World Fantasy Award-winning The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (St. Martin's Press) and several volumes of retold fairy tales (AvoNova), all of which she co-edited with Terri Windling. As a result, some of the world's best short fiction comes across her desk, and she's noticed some trends within the genre.


"In the last few years, I think science fiction has gotten more literary. It's become more science fantasy. It doesn't feel like science fiction. It doesn't really feel like fantasy. It's almost like surrealism. Or, it's almost like fantastic realism. It's just changing. I know Analog seems to be making a come-back with its hard science fiction. What I would like to see is hard science fiction with heart and soul and characters. That's what every editor, I think, wants. And I don't think there's enough out there.


"The alternative history and famous person story has taken over the field and I think it's a real problem. It's totally arbitrary. You can pick any part of history and just change it. I'm sorry, but that's not a good story. It's cannibalizing the past rather than creating something. It's not using your imagination.


"I can't see any particular trend in theme. I hate to define a particular trend, because, as someone said in the last panel, it's over by the time you mention it. And it's true—they usually come out of nowhere. Cyberpunk came out of nowhere. I don't think you can predict that. It just happens. That's it: you shouldn't be following a trend, you should be creating your own."


Datlow says she reads Canadian fiction. "I took two stories from Northern Frights 2, Don Hutchison's horror anthology, for the Year's Best," she says. "On Spec is very good and very interesting, and I think that it has a good variety of material. I read the first issue [of Transversions] and I thought it was terrific. I recommended a lot of stories in Transversions, and I have a great hope for that."


In spite of her enthusiasm for Canadian fiction, Datlow doesn't see much difference between Canadian and American stories. "Unless you deal with politics, which are different from country to country, I don't feel the other issues are that different. But if there is a difference, I think the Americans would like to read about that difference. That's going to impress an editor more. If it's a good story, we'll buy it. What's unique about Canada is what the writer should be writing about. Infuse your fiction with it, and that will get the attention of the American editor, as long as it's not too esoteric. Don't be intimidated by the American market. Believe me, we want new voices. It's a joy to get different cultures."


Anthologies by Ellen Datlow


Blood is Not Enough (Berkley, 1989)


A Whisper of Blood (Berkley, 1991)


Alien Sex (Roc, 1990)


Snow White, Blood Red (AvoNova, 1993) with Terri Windling


Black Thom, White Rose (AvoNova, 1994) with Terri Windling


Ruby Slipper, Golden Tears (AvoNova, December 1995)


The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror series (St. Martin's Press, 1989—) with Terri Windling


OMNI Best Science Fiction, l (OMNI Books, 1992)


OMNI Vision One and Two (OMNI Books, 1993, 1994)


Little Deaths (Dell/Abyss, September 1995)


Off Limits: Alien Sex 2 (St. Martin's Press, March 1995)


Look for a "revenge" anthology from Millennium‑UK in about a year.

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Remembering Sergeant Saturn

by Don Hutchison


In September 1962, Playboy published an article by the late, great Charles Beaumont on the pulp fiction magazines.


"What were the pulps?" Beaumont wrote. "Cheaply printed, luridly illustrated, sensationally written magazines of fiction aimed at the lower and lower-middle classes ...Were they any good? No. They were Great!"


By definition, the so-called pulps were magazines of popular fiction handling such staples as adventure, action and romance. Between their birth in the first years of this century and their demise in the middle fifties, they represented the greatest explosion of mass entertainment by way of the printed word that a thrill-seeking public ever experienced.


How to explain the euphoria of the pulps? Perhaps you had to be there. You had to be young—at least in spirit. Perhaps you had to be poor (most people were). You had to be part of that troubled, more innocent time. I first discovered the pulps in the early 1940s, as a youth growing up in the peculiar milieu of World War II. The science fiction pulps were my favourites back then, with their vivid (and now hopelessly optimistic) messages of life on far-flung planets and the adventurous World of Tomorrow.


Ironically, the field of science fiction has often attempted to eschew its humble pulp origins. In a lust for respectability, sf critics employ the term "pulp" to describe bad writing. But the field of science fiction was virtually invented by the pulps and many of its finest practitioners learned their craft in that demanding market.


One of the side effects of the world's first sf magazine was that youthful readers discovered each other through Amazing Stories' letter column. They soon began to correspond with each other, produce amateur fan magazines, and form local sf groups. They did so in mutual recognition of the essential worth of something that most people labelled as trash. They did not judge a book by its cover—even if the book was called something preposterous like Super-Science Stories or Thrilling Wonder Stories. They looked past the wildly lurid covers and they saw magic names like Bradbury and Heinlein and van Vogt and Sturgeon and Asimov and... well, I could go on and on. Yes, they were all pulp writers.


Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories, which appeared in the spring of 1926, was the first magazine ever to be devoted exclusively to science fiction (then called "scientifiction"), but it was not a pulp magazine. Gernsback went to great trouble to avoid that stigma. His magazine was printed on expensive book paper, was large size with trimmed edges, cost a staggering twenty-five cents and... it was as appetizing as cold porridge.


While Gernsback has been properly credited as the father of modern sf, the fact is that the general pulp fiction magazines had been publishing science fiction all along, but of a less didactic stripe than Papa Gernsback's attempts to educate and inform. Beginning as early as 1910, adventure pulps like Argosy, Blue Book and All-Story Magazine had featured "scientific romances," stories of lost races, adventures on other planets and scientific extrapolation. They were written by some of the top writers of the time and most of them displayed the pulp virtues of good plotting, fast pace and readability. Some are still readable today, whereas many of the stories in Gernsback's "respectable" science fiction magazine can only be regarded as museum pieces, fossil records of sf's antiquarian past.


W. L. Clayton, publisher of a chain of pulps, finally introduced a true science fiction pulp in 1930. Astounding Stories of Super-Science was published in standard pulp paper format and was issued the first Thursday of each month. From its beginning, the new magazine left science lessons to school text books. Instead, it featured the driving action and heroic adventure so beloved of pulp readers, introducing such ingredients as interplanetary wars and space battles and suitably terrifying Bug Eyed Monsters (fondly referred to as BEMs) as staples of the genre.


It wasn't until later, however, when young John Campbell took over Astounding that sf as we know it began to take shape. Campbell believed that in addition to scientific accuracy and detail, a science fiction story should also feature the elements of good story-telling to be found in general literature. He even wrote a story, "Who Goes There?," to show how it could be done.


There was little question that Astounding Stories in the 1940s, under the dynamic editorship of John Campbell, featured the field's most mature and innovative work. He insisted on the highest standards of writing and attracted the best writers. His rejection of all but the best meant that many lesser stories by leading writers were available to the new magazines which swam in his magazine's wake. Even so, I have to shamefacedly admit that Astounding never captured my youthful heart the way such ragtag rivals as Startling Stories and Planet Stories did.


Ali yes. Planet Stories.


It was one of the most outrageous pulps of the period. The magazine's garish cover paintings made the average circus poster appear circumspect. With artwork dominated by mighty-thewed warriors, semi-naked space Valkyries sporting copper bras, and legions of leering BEMs, Planet was enough to turn a parent's head grey. If the covers weren't enough to grab you, the stories boasted such titles as: "The Virgin of Valkarion," "The Beast-Jewel of Mars," "The Dead Star Rover," "Lorelei of the Red Mists," and "The Werwile of the Crystal Crypt."


Was the magazine any good? No. It was Great. For thousands of gawky kids it was just what the doctor ordered: an anodyne for reality.


It was "The Vizigraph," Planet Stories' letter column, that introduced me to the curious delights of science fiction fandom and its inventive vocabulary. Rival publications featured equally wild and woolly readers' departments under such headings as "The Reader Speaks" (Thrilling Wonder Stories) and "The Ether Vibrates" (Startling Stories).


In the early forties the letter columns in the Thrilling Publications group were hosted by a creature called Sergeant Saturn. Surrounded by three elvish myrmidons known affectionately as Wart-ears, Frogeyes and Snaggletooth, the old Sarge guzzled something called Xeno in order to fortify himself against his readers' love-hate bouquets and brickbats.


"Tap that Xeno, Frogeyes, and douse the Sarge with inspiration," he would growl. "He needs it this time out as any fool—even you, Snaggletooth—can plainly see. Slice off my warts and call me smoothy, Wart-ears, and no offense intended."


Prime among fan complaints were the magazines' untrimmed edges and cover paintings featuring undraped females and the ever-present BEMs. Sometimes readers burst into poetry ("Roses are red, violets are blue; SPACE TRAP smells, and the drawing too"). Sarge Saturn would usually reply in suitably matching doggerel. The joys of indignation!


Meanwhile, over at Astounding, less frivolous types spent their time picking holes in the science articles, while loyal readers of Famous Fantastic Mysteries submitted scholarly shopping lists requesting reprints of various fantasy classics. Some of the fans who had letters published in those old pulps included such future luminaries as Robert Silverberg (plugging his fanzine), Jack Vance, William F. Nolan, Philip Dick, and Poul Anderson.


It was Sergeant Saturn's fanzine review column that induced me to spend allowance change on amateur publications. Most of these were mimeographed, although a few lower budget efforts were "hectographed" with a splotchy purple ink. They usually arrived folded in two and locked with thumbnail-fracturing staples. Eventually I even co-produced a fanzine with the help of a childhood chum. To our great pleasure, it was reviewed favourably in the July 1948 Startling Stories by editor Sam Merwin who, by this time, had dropped his Sergeant Saturn disguise, and had gone on to publish such adult "firsts" as Arthur C. Clarke's "Against the Fall of Night," and Phil Farmer's groundbreaking "The Lovers."


As a memory jogger I've stacked a pile of old science fiction pulps next to me as I write. Old friends all, the names of such now neglected writers as Henry Kuttner, Edmond Hamilton, Murray Leinster and Leigh Brackett leap off the covers with an electric thrill that time has not diminished. Here's a letter by yours truly (name misspelled) in the March '47 Startling Stories, and another in July. It must have been an active year for me. I spot another of my letters in the April Famous Fantastic Mysteries and another in December. Look, here's a letter in the February 1953 issue by a Kitchener, Ontario fan named John Robert Colombo. Young John is planning to start a collection of Sax Rohmer books and he's hoping someone will help him out.


Great magazines. Great memories. I hope you'll pardon me if I bring this little essay to a halt. I've got some serious browsing to do. You have a good day, too.


Don Hutchison is the editor of the Canadian dark fantasy series Northern Frights and is author of the forthcoming book The Great Pulp Heroes.

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The Time Machine: 100 Years of the 4th Dimension

by Gordon Black


Nowadays, science fiction people are almost as familiar with time machines as they are with space ships. For the past century, both fact and fiction have made space and time fierce rivals in the battle to characterize our era. From Jules Verne to Deep Space Nine, space-age exploits have probably held the edge in the popular imagination. After all, there is something spell-binding in discovering new worlds and unfamiliar life forms. But thanks to Wells and his profoundly scientific concept of time travel, modern science fiction is also peppered with countless time-age exploits. The Time Machine is pivotal because it heralds the arrival of the "Time Age" for the general reader.


Both Wells' parents grew up in surroundings far removed from the grimness of England's industrial revolution, and their lives were much less affected by time than people caught up in the web of modem technology. It was Wells' genius to grasp the pre-eminence of time: in evolution, the history of the universe or in the sheer drudgery of assembly line production.


After studying under Darwin's close disciple, T.H. Huxley, Wells quickly realized that time, not space, was the key to unravelling the story of human evolution, and perhaps tracing the history of the entire universe. His new "weapon" enabled him to become a prophet—not a bad goal for a serious science fiction writer.


The Time Machine launched Wells' writing career in 1895, but it is far from being the perfect sf novel. In reality, it's an 80-page novelette that begins in a rather stilted style, is weak in plot and character and has only minimal dialogue. But its brand new approach to time travel was epoch-making. It was the first fictional work to suggest that time was a property of the fourth dimension, the first to turn its time traveller into a credible scientist and the first to attempt a study of society three quarters of a million years hence, with humanity now divided into two different species—the gentle, effete Eloi and the cannibalistic Morlocks.


After painting a brutal picture of humanity's ultimate fate, Wells finally hits his stride by propelling his machine all the way forward to the final death of the solar system.


All this is quite an advance on old-fashioned "Rip Van Winkle" tales, or Mark Twain's Yankee making his dreamlike trip to King Arthur's court.


After 1895, Wells spent the next decade producing some of the most memorable science fiction ever written. His Invisible Man stands out as a classic of strange science and weird psychology, with none of the stylistic faults of The Time Machine, and his The War of the Worlds (1898) is probably the greatest space invasion story ever written.


One of the high spots of Wells' golden age was the publication in 1896 of The Island of Doctor Moreau. It's a bizarre tale of a scientist who goes to a remote island and sets up a laboratory to challenge evolution itself by attempting to turn animals into intelligent "human" beings. Any writer analyzing Darwinism on this scale can only be dabbling in macro-time. Wells was pre-Einstein and pre-Stephen Hawking, but his instincts told him that the 1890s was the right decade for writers of "scientific romances" to incorporate time into sf once and for all.


The Time Machine may have been pivotal in introducing the idea of time into science fiction, but it's still only a jumping off point. The novel never hints at alternate histories, reversals of time's arrow, or virtual time, all part of the pyrotechnics of modern sf.


The serious reader can simply pick up Wells' book and regard the work as a no-nonsense account of events in the year 802701. Unfortunately, Wells did not use straight, fast-forward speculation again in his sf. Instead, he decided to write "real history": his 1,000-page recapitulation from the chaotic birth of the planet to the rise of the modern nation state.


Personally, I believe there is a place for writing "future history"; not the plodding predictions of the futurists, or the veiled obscurities of a Nostradamus, but speculative history tinged with a certain grandeur.


Although he has fallen somewhat out of favour, another British writer, Olaf Stapledon, did achieve a brilliant combination of time, history and sf. Two of his novels, The Star Maker, and Last and First Men, propel humanity and the universe into the far future—a future that seems real rather than imagined. This is speculative history on a majestic scale, something Wells only hinted at in The Time Machine. No wonder some admirers have compared Stapledon to Dante.


To Wells' credit, he did more than introduce time into science fiction. He also introduced thought. But over the past century, thinking sf has often had to yield to swashbuckling space—or time—opera with both sides of the continuum doing a sort of ritual fire dance to wow audiences and make them believe they are really part of the new cyber universe.


Wells would probably have laughed at our virtual reality games and would have viewed the holodeck's real-life-adventure memory banks as so much guff. Even a really clever time novel like Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity (1955) would likely have struck H.G. as rather trivial.


Whenever Wells wrote sf, he had to make a strong point. Even his silliest science fiction story, The First Men in the Moon (1901) concludes with a spectacular audience between a terran spaceman and the Grand Lunar (ruler of the moon) comparing the peaceful, highly specialized but totalitarian moon society, with the freer, if more violent, ways of earth.


Clearly, by the turn of the century the gloss was off Wells' science fiction magic. Re-read The Time Machine and you get the impression that perhaps the master was right the first time. The key to great sf is to dream up a few brilliant ideas, with flashy dialogue, frenzied plots, and oh-so believable characters all coming second.


The 100th anniversary of The Time Machine might be a good moment to hope that future sf will produce more speculative history.


History need not necessarily be dull. Even after two centuries, Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire still makes engrossing reading, or to mention something more contemporary: the factual Timelines that terminate S.M. Stirling's Marching Through Georgia seem far more satisfying than the 400 pages or so of Draka battles and melodramatic encounters that precede them.


In the final paragraph of The Time Machine, Wells describes a conversation between the time traveller and the tale's narrator: "We thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind, and saw in the growing pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end. If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so."


Wells probably abandoned the idea of putting time-forward history into his novels because he wanted to become a "real" prophet. But as German philosopher Friedrich von Schlegel wrote some 180 years ago: "An historian is a prophet in reverse."


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Interview with Sean Stewart: Part II

by Allan Weiss


This is the second half of the interview I conducted with Sean Stewart at WorldCon in Winnipeg, September 4, 1994; this part further reveals his thoughtful approach to writing. We expanded our discussion of religion and its portrayal in fantastic literature, focusing on the role of religion, or rather the religious outlook, in the lives of his characters. We also explored his views on the meaning of evil and its role in his writing. The pursuit of philosophical truths and, more importantly, principles of behaviour, proves to be a dominant theme in his work.


SS: It's so obvious to me how neatly The Lord of the Rings fits into that God-shaped hole. In a society that had lost a sense of values, of a moral centre, there it went, and I think the same is true of The Mists of Avalon, and probably as many more really carefully understood, carefully apprehended and articulated religious visions as there are, will be very successful fantasy works. Dune‑there's another one, you know, with the Islamic layer.


AW: So fantasy and science fiction require us or at least allow us, to ask broader questions than you get in a novel or short story, of what's being called around here the "typical CanLit sort," where the focus is primarily on the character's individual development.


SS: Yeah, that's right. And there's nothing wrong with that. You know, we all like The Double Hook or whatever. But it's nice to be able to extend the question of the individual into the question of the community, or extend the question of the individual's relationships beyond their relationship with their husband, to their relationship with their existential position. "Where am I on the map of existence?" And try to define it in some way other than, "I am three steps to the left of my husband."


AW: And the whole question of myth-making, which is so dominant in your fiction; and this raised my interest in how you're perceiving the development of religion and what happens when it seems to be getting lost. One thing I noticed your protagonists facing in both books is the Void, a Godless universe, and your detective [Diane] is very clear at a couple of points: "There can't be nothing." Do you see religion as providing us with a necessary simplifier? How's that for a loaded question?


SS: No, God has not been beating his wife again. Well, it's a small quibble, but I will just stop for a moment and quibble with the idea of religion as a simplifier. I think over the history of human consciousness religion has been the most sensitive, most complete, most completely articulated expression of people's relationship to their universe, so it's the thing that by and large the smartest and wisest people of the last 30,000 years have spent the majority of their time on. I'm hard-pressed to believe that this is appropriately seen as a simplifying act. I think it's a traditional science fiction fallacy to view religion as some sort of way that people protect themselves from the naked gaze of the true, the morally empty, universe. I think that's a very common science fiction trope, but I don't think that's the only way of reading the situation.


AW: When I said simplifier I was referring precisely to that. The moral guidelines provided by religion that allow you to make sense of the world around you seem to be something that people need even when they have doubts that any of it is valid. It's as if the very nature of having these answers available to you makes religion something that people can't let go [of] even when intellectually they may think, "Well, you know, what reason do we have for believing that there actually is Somebody up there?"


SS: But, first of all, the question of whether there is a God or not is a non-question. That's a long argument, but it's like saying, "Is the universe red or blue?" It's a non-issue. Secondly, a lot of religion does not work. Religion is big, so it addresses everything somewhere. A lot of the religious traditions in which I'm interested, it is not necessary that the universe have a moral order. However, people are not the universe; it is necessary that people have a moral order. It's not just a protection... it is not something you do in denial, even if you absolutely, one-thousand-percent believe that the universe is morally neutral, which seems like a good bet to me. You would still have to develop and articulate a response to that in terms of your own action. It's certainly not enough to say, "The Crab Nebula is morally neutral; therefore, I will break into this car." And so, how we live as individuals and how we respond to that environment which may be empty or may be morally neutral or may be some damn other thing, is an important question, whether or not you believe there's a God and whether or not He has a beard.


Speaking of unspoken holes, there's an unspoken hole in this conversation, because I sort of can't exactly mention, and you of course haven't read, the actual book about this, which is the book that was written between Passion Play and Nobody's Son, and is an entirely more intense meditation on these issues than Nobody's Son is. With any luck I'll be selling it to Ace within the next two weeks. But if it ever comes into existence it will be called Cloud's End, and if you want to see my post-Nietzschean, post-World War II, existentialist mythopoetic version of a moral order as one would construct it after the death of God in a fantasy context, then I invite you to read that book [laughs].


AW: I'm very much looking forward to that.


SS: Yeah, it's not a bad little book. It's got some good things in it. It's got—what is the line from Princess Bride?sword fights, beautifullest ladies, giants, tigers, lots of stuff. It's much longer than either of the other two. It's about 570 pages in manuscript, so it's twice as long as Passion Play and almost twice as long as Nobody's Son. Nobody's Son was written after I had written Cloud's End, and I almost killed myself doing it. It took an incredible amount of time, and Nobody's Son was the first book where instead of saying, "How can I extend my range some more?" I said, "How the hell can I consolidate what I just did, and write for once a book that won't kill me to write, and that people will enjoy. But Cloud's End is the "for full credit" version of Nobody's Son, an entirely more in-your-face and savage iteration of the issue or the theme. If it comes out there will be more topic for the conversation.


AW: I've noticed in my reading of 'CanLit' that evil is considered to be an existing phenomenon for a number of people. It has its different definitions, but [people] like Robertson Davies, and especially Timothy Findley, are very strong believers that evil has an existence in the world. The theocracy in Passion Play and the crisis in Nobody's Son are both social reactions to the emergence of evil in a concrete form (which happens in science fiction novels)—the kind of moral decay that leads to the theocracy in Passion Play and the crazy magic that goes on in Nobody's Son. And so I'm wondering, based on some of the things you've said about ignoring the cosmic "Crab Nebula" form of moral order and coming down to the human and social, whether you feel that evil is indeed an existing phenomenon at a social level, and how would you define evil in that sense? Or is this too abstract a question?


SS: No. I guess I can't answer that in exactly I think the way that would be niftiest for me to answer it for you. For my own self, what I'm interested in is people's responses; often in the work I do there is something which is challenging and scares the shit out of people, but I wouldn't characterize it as evil. I don't characterize, for instance, the magic that comes out in Nobody's Son as evil; it is simply that which has been denied by that culture for a long time. It's what is sometimes magic and sometimes ghosts which someone else defines simply as the past. The things you don't look at. And, I think, whether there is or isn't evil, I'm more interested in how people react on the ground.


I'm interested in the ways in which they deny looking at things, the ways in which they respond to potentially morally neutral situations. I mean, one of the things that Cloud's End is about is that it's a more articulated fantasy world. It's a civilization that has a lot to do with the sea, and the sea has a habit of capriciously and without warning killing people. But that doesn't make it evil, it doesn't make it good, it is simply outside that frame of reference. But nonetheless, humans who live inside that frame of reference have to evolve some way of dealing with the fact that they can be capriciously killed. That's what we called the problem of evil back in university. Why do bad things happen to good people? Or why does anything happen to anyone? Or more precisely, how the hell do you live your life, given that bad things can happen to good people?


AW: So you have to expand your perception of the world around you to include the things that you've denied before.


SS: That sure as hell comes up a lot. I mean, if you look at the stuff in Nobody's Son about the past, that's let out and denied for a long time; and then in Passion Play there's the shaping stuff and the empathy and trying not to feel other people and then the risks when you do and things about yourself that you'd rather not know. If you read Resurrection Man, boy, you're going to get that in spades [laughs]. You know when you've been denying that there's anything odd going on for a long time and then you wake up and you find your own dead body in your room, you know something is definitely going down.


AW: Time to open your eyes.


SS: Yeah. Resurrection Man opens with a scene of a man performing an autopsy on himself. You can't get a more intense metaphor than that [laughs.]


AW: Well, I'm going to let you go, and I want to thank you very much for this. I've really enjoyed chatting with you.


SS: Well, me as well. Thanks very much.

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