Challenger - Return Home   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2003

 

EPISTLES II

Joseph Nicholas
S. Tottenham, London U.K.

Very belated thanks for Challenger 16. I think (I'm sure) that the chief reason I haven't responded before now is that so much of this issue concerns R A Lafferty -- not a particular favourite of mine. I could take his stories in small doses, but somehow could never get much further. And of course I didn't know him personally, as you did.

So I tended to skim the Lafferty-related material, and spend more time with the rest of the contents - which regrettably haven't provoked much thought here. Other than a giggle or three at Taras Wolansky's letter, and the parallel universe he inhabits, in which "illegally registered felons...in Florida" were able to vote in the 2000 US Presidential election and Democrats rather than Republicans disrupted the recount before an utterly un-partisan Supreme Court disposed of the result in the most aloofly neutral way possible. Well, I suppose these Conservatives have to get their stories down now, in the hope that if they repeat their nonsense often enough it will assume such a weight of fact that historians, when they come to write of this episode in fifty or so years time, will accept it at face-value....

The other notable thing about Wolansky's letter is that it pretty much matches the pattern of those he used to write to Fosfax (when that was still being published) -- that is, to complain loudly about the rude and hurtful things he believes have been written about him by others, before launching into ad hominem attacks on someone else (in this case, Al Gore). Perhaps we should just call Wolansky a hypocrite, unable to behave as he says others should, and have done with him.

And since your response to Wolansky, of course, Enron has been joined by other paragons of virtue -WorldCom, Tyco, Arthur Andersen - whose actions have similarly exemplified the capitalist system's inherent superiority to all other economic orders and the unimpeachably pure manner of its operations: a bright smile, some clever patter to mislead the public, and balance sheets which bear scarcely any relation to the truth. (Perhaps they come from the same parallel universe as Wolanksy's Florida.) Money laundering? Blatantly lying to the public? Who cares if you can cash in your stock options early and buy a $4million mansion in a severely upscale part of Houston or Long Island? Isn't this what robber-barony is all about? Isn't this, indeed, the reason why regulations to control corporate larceny were introduced in the first place?

Reading the two pages detailing how you created the cover for the previous issue [actually, how Alan White did it] made me feel really tired. All that work, just for a cover! And much of the work we do with computers, I think, can be attributed solely to the fact that we have hardware and software which can do more things - although the more the software is tweaked, the less useful and certainly the less user-friendly it becomes. The more tiring it is to use, too - for example, I spent a large part of yesterday creating a webpage to hold some photographs of our recent trip to Tallinn (www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~josephn), and while I was able to knock out the accompanying text in pretty short order, three-quarters of the total time spent on the project was consumed by the fiddling around required by Corel PhotoHouse to prepare the photographs, followed by the additional fiddling around required by Allaire HomeSite to get them correctly embedded in the text. The fact that this was also the first webpage I've ever constructed doubtless had some bearing on the length of time taken; but while in theory it should be quicker next time, because I now have a base of knowledge which I didn't have before, I'm sure that it will be many months before I try constructing another!


Martin Morse Wooster
Silver Spring MD

Many thanks for Challenger 16. I thought the R.A. Lafferty tribute was very nicely done. I’m not as familiar with Lafferty’s writing as you are, but it’s clear that the tribute was done with a great deal of love and care, and I’m glad you did it.

Bob Whitaker-Sirignano prepped a great bibliography of Ray’s work for At the Sleepy Sailor, but it’s now incomplete and out of date. Besides, so much of Ray’s work is out of print! At least, Past Master and Fourth Mansions are available through Wildside Press; well worth the expense.

Mike Resnick, as always, contributes an entertaining article. I haven’t been to many of the museums Resnick writes about, but then I’m not a frequent traveler to Africa. My favorite anecdote about the Field Museum is its guest appearance in the very trashy monster movie Relic. We learn in this film that museums have fire doors to keep people inside, and that all museums have secret tunnels so that people can sneak in and out of the Chicago wharves. It also had the immortal line, “The creature is 30 per cent homo sapiens.” (Other elements of the creature: used rubber tires, surplus string, and BHA and BHT for preservation.)

I second Guy’s request that Mike write about his favorite game parks. And I hope he will tell us a little more about the banquets at the La Brea Tar Pits. I hope the food served isn’t too sticky. (“Try this mastodon - it’s only been here a few hundred thousand years …”)

Barry Malzberg isn’t as reclusive as Tim Marion makes him out to be. He was at Millennium Philcon, which was his first worldcon in many years. He also has a very robust e-mail presence.

I challenge Alexis Gilliland’s assertion that “Al-Qaeda” means “foundation” and was taken from an Arabic translation [of Asimov]. This notion, which originated from an item that China Mieville contributed to Ansible, is apparently an urban legend. An exhaustive search by librarians associated with the Fictionmags newsgroup couldn’t find any Arabic translations of Asimov. (However, it’s likely true that the head of the Aum Shirikyo cult in Japan did read Foundation and was trying to advance history by his crazed efforts to gas people in the subways.)

I’m glad that Guy Lillian has continued to talk about his life as defense attorney. I don’t know where I stand on the insanity rule, but I thought Guy’s first-hand experiences were very informative. I’ve learned that one of the pleasures of being an attorney is that you meet a large number of memorable people; here’s hoping that that more of Guy’s clients are colorful and entertaining and fewer are violent and psychotic!


Trinlay Khadro
Brown Deer WI

Hey, it’s Rosy on the cover!

     Nope - Rosy’s much prettier.            

Egads! More obits and memorials? Hey fans! Quit dyin’ already! I haven’t met enough of you yet!

Some people, and it can be sporadic, are keenly aware of nature’s rhythms. I find this to be most common amongst the “country” and people who grew up in more wild places. It’s not very common amongst the city born & bred.

Guy, you’re very good at grabbing just the right pieces to show us who someone is. I’d read some of Mr. Lafferty’s work - but your zine was my first contact with and about him. I keep finding myself missing un-met friends.

By the way, there is nothing shameful about an earthen pot - however humble.

I enjoyed [Alan White’s] “Quick Photo-shop” lesson and I’m tickled to have my art run in your zine.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin has some fine museums and a world-class zoo. If you’re ever out this way, you’ll have to see them. Especially the new Catnaliva [sic?] addition to the Art Museum.

Thanks for the article on the insanity plea - by the way, Ms. Yates always looks exhausted even in the “happy family” photos.

Me?! Green? Hmmm, I guess I very well am; like an elf … I’m always a bit puzzled about how folks perceive me. I think much of what has shaped me was a childhood with plenty of peaceful solitude in the woods and wild places. Brown Deer is pretty much “the burbs” though technically our wee village is as older or older than the City, which now surrounds us. We do have a good share of wild places along the creek and river and the park (part of which is the golf course where the GMO tourney is played). We have deer, raccoons, turtles, squirrels, rabbits and skunks.

Response To LOCs: E.B. Frohvet observes people within fandom saying “We didn’t lose anyone [on September 11th]… ” I agree with E.B. that we all lost all those people and many more each day. My conversations inside and outside of fandom have been around a pervasive sense of collective grief, but I don’t seem to know anyone anywhere near six steps away. A friend of mine from the Buddhist list was an eyewitness. A friend from an SF list missed her bus that morning - and thus missed the event. Another sine editor had two friends die in the attack on the Pentagon.

Lloyd Pernney - I find that I am still dismayed by “jingoism” being passed off as “patriotism.” The whole point of “Americanism” really isn’t to “defend our commercialism” or “shut up and let the government do its work” but rather it’s always been “I might despise what you say, but I’ll gladly die fighting to defend your right to say it.”

Well, not “gladly,” but I’ll do it too.

Font usage - IMHO as long as you don’t look like a freakin’ ransom note - it’s OK! A change in font can support the particular voice of a particular writer or serve to show a “change of voice or speaker.” In the main body of a zine though there ought to be a tight limit on the number of text fonts. Title fonts can be a great deal of fun.

I vaguely recall a Social Science / Government class in high school wherein the discussion was of a Supreme Court case from the 1800s (Yick Woo v. Harrison?). The determination was that while the Chinese immigrant was denied citizenship, law enforcement was still required to protect him and his business from hooligans. “The Constitution protects everyone, not just citizens.”


M. Lee Rogers
Chattanooga, TN

This issue works better than the last couple, even though the past numbers were filled with solid material. It’s a shame you had to get a theme from the passing of an author whom you admire. On the other hand, we’ll all be gone someday. You and your contributors have given Mr. Lafferty a fitting tribute.

Lafferty’s article makes one think. I almost agree with the premise that we are cut off from the previous world of Western civilization. If so, it’s because we have turned away from it. It could be recaptured to some extent, but few people really want to. It feels like a sort of collective willful amnesia. History is not often kind to peoples who forget their past. I’ll agree with him this much: our civilization is adrift. Somewhere.

I almost got to see the Dali museum this summer while in the Tampa Bay area. If my mother and I had stayed in the area longer, I would have gone to it. But the area was a steambath and our beachfront room was crawl-over-each-other too small, so we booked down the road after a couple of days. If I ever get back to that part of the world... If I ever get to Paris, I will see the Louvre. Resnick and I must disagree on the French impressionists. At their best, they created a new world of shimmering beauty. I also have a soft spot for the musical side of the movement, even if composers like Debussy hated the term.

You mention in your reply to Frohvet that you would not support summary execution of the would-be shoe bomber. Are you saying you would not support "kill on sight" for anyone? Even Osama "Yo Mama" himself? Hitler (had we gotten there first instead of the Russians)? I might be willing to let Osama live long enough for some kind of trial, but it would certainly not be in an American criminal court. Scumbags like him don’t deserve that level of protection. Neither does M. Moussaoui. Mr. Lindh, being an American citizen who may not have taken any hostile action against the U.S., may warrant more lenient treatment.

I have every confidence that should Osama bin Laden be brought before an American court, and accorded the due process of a criminal defendant - as he deserves - that he would be convicted. Due process is our strength as a society, not our weakness.

To follow that topic, Alexis Gilliland mentions the passengers of Flight 93 and their cell phones. The hijackers wanted the passengers to call and spread the fear and terror, but that was a major mistake on their part. They must have believed no one would fight back once they dealt with the flight crew. At least now, any potential hijacker has to calculate that American passengers will use anything at their disposal to kill the hijacker since their own lives are forfeit. That may calm things down for this generation of terrorists.

Sorry, Ms. Hanna, but the best way to deal with the violent crime in your area of Britain is to let the citizens defend themselves. All articles I have read recently says that in your country, victims who use force to stop an attack are prosecuted more vigorously than the criminals who attacked them. Presuming that is true, it is a sign of a dying society. One good part of living in the southeastern U.S. is that most Southerners have managed to hang on to a more realistic attitude about crime and criminals. The Brits may choose to submit to the slaughter. I might even choose to visit the Isles someday. But I won’t voluntarily live in an area with such a death wish.

As to Leighton’s comments about many policemen wanting to control everyone in their path: I’ll accept the idea because I’ve seen some who do. But “many” might be too much. Perhaps a sizable minority. My solution would be to pay them much better so we could get better candidates. Starting salary should be in the $50-75K range depending on the income levels of the area. I’ll be curious to hear how Ms. Stinson responds to Leighton’s argument.

I can commiserate about your printing house’s handling of #15. It looks from this perspective like service people care less and less about honoring the customer’s special instructions as the years go by. I just had a headstone installed on my future grave. I told the people at the monument company to call me before installing the stone since the grave is next to a tree and placement was important to avoid the grave eventually cutting a major root. Of course, I got a call telling me that the stone had already been carved and planted. It turned out they got it in the right place and all was well. But I was rather pissed about not being called. When I went to pay, the guy admitted he wanted to get it over with before the holiday began. In other words, he didn’t care what I wanted! I guess I’m lucky they carved the stone properly.

Just so long as they didn’t include your “departure” date, and when asked how they knew, smiled wickedly …

On O’Brien’s correction on Swedish spelling, it’s easy to insert letters with diacritical marks into a document in the Windows environment regardless of the Win version. Look for the Character Map, usually on the Accessories menu. Just about every non-English letter from Western European alphabets can be found. Just copy the character onto the Clipboard and paste it into your document. Other alphabets are possible if you install the correct font on your computer.

As to the Massachusetts conviction of a guy who secretly taped his arrest, I could not find the original column by Paul Craig Roberts. But I did find a summary. It appears that the guy was suspected of having drugs in his vehicle. For what it’s worth, the Mass. Supreme Court let the wiretapping conviction stand. No word on whether the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Alexis Gilliland
Arlington VA

The unusually impressive Challenger #16 arrived in the usual way, for which many thanks: 104 pages, golly. Dell Morris’ cover is spectacularly well done, and a fruitful recycling of artwork used at the last Nolacon. And yet, and yet … one wonders how the lady’s corset (bustier?) would look from the rear, given that the bottom half of her lacing can give no support since the garment does not encompass that part of her body. Cut longer and adding a garter belt would make it more enticing, suggesting naughty lingerie rather than a risqué Mardi Gras costume.

It was astonishing to encounter Stephen Hawking in Greg Benford’s excellent article. Conceding his past optimism, Hawking suggests that we might - with luck - find a complete unified theory in the next 20 years, perhaps derived from the theory of superstrings. Given that superstring energies are beaucoup orders of magnitude greater than could be generated in any machine that can be built, such a theory would be nontestable. Which leads to the question: is Hawking still doing science? If the proof of this prospective unified theory relies on its aesthetic appeal, its style if you will - or its beauty for those who have eyes to see - then maybe Hawking has moved insensibly from science to poetry. When Keats said: “‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ - that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” he was talking about a Grecian urn, not a complete unified theory. Or maybe not. If the theory were sufficiently divorced from practical application, maybe it would qualify.

R.A. Lafferty’s “The Day After the World Ended” was entertaining if more than a little obscure, not unlike a lot of his writing. His dates bracketing The End, 1912 to 1962, embrace the First and Second World Wars, with the fall of the dynasties ruling the Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Empires after World War I, and the dismantling of the Japanese, British and French Empires after World War II. Subsequently, even the Russian Empire has been much reduced from what it was. The crash of Empires consigned to history’s dust bin seems not to be what disturbs him, so perhaps his event is more in the nature of a crisis of faith. At a guess one could speculate that technology is to blame, in the sense that our culture chose to use the “wonderful things” technology made available to us, and as it did so the culture insensibly started to change. What “wonderful things”? Birth control was what made the Roaring 20’s roar, a trend reinforced when the pill came on line in 1966, and in 1973 Roe v. Wade made abortion legal. The Catholic Church, an institution dear to Lafferty’s heart and associated with the theology central to his thinking, resisted change, declaring even contraception a sin. The utterly predictable result was that women of childbearing age, when forced to choose between the Sacraments and birth control overwhelmingly chose birth control. Either these women left the Church, or they stayed and made bad confessions - disobeying the Church and lying about it. Either way, the Church had a problem, and one way that problem may have manifested itself is by the disappearing novice; candidate nuns are currently scarcer than hen’s teeth.

Maybe John Paul II’s successor will correct the situation, or - given all those other fish to fry - maybe not. On p. 9, col 2, Lafferty says: “I’m not even pushing transcendence over gosh-awful secularism.” Given the rare opportunity to make a new and better world, people should do it, only he doesn’t see anything happening. Maybe Lafferty wasn’t looking in the right places. The Fundamentalists, believing in the literal truth of the Bible are trying to promote “Creation Science” as a counter and replacement to Darwin’s theory of evolution. The religious impulse is powerful, but here the Fundies are fighting a rear guard action. If Darwin had been around in 100 A.D., he would have been hailed as a major prophet, and Genesis might well have been the Book of Darwin. Grafting the new chapter into the ancient text shouldn’t be all that hard; just say that evolution is God’s solitaire, and then point at the fossil record, which records major extinctions every 26 million years and say that every 26 million years God starts a new game. Once that “gosh-awful secularism” aspires to transcendence it’ll be a whole new ball game, but you’ve got to be patient.

Which brings us to the Epistles, where Rich Dengrove touts the hard science fiction novel Edison Conquers Mars, in which Thomas Alva Edison kills all the Martians with his electric ray gun. He should recall E.E. Smith’s Skylark Duquesne, in which the formidable “Blackie” Duquesne wipes out a whole galaxy full of evial Chlorans in a truly epic climax. Also in Epistles, the well-read if somewhat tendentious Taras Wolansky, who explains why Al Gore must be crazy. Alas, the symptoms Taras sets out have alternate explanations, and since Taras was wrong about most of his assertions about Bill Clinton - and all of the really outrageous ones -- we can safely assume that he is, as usual, revising reality to fit his ideology.


Henry L. Welch
Editor, The Knarley Knews
Grafton WI
http://www.msoe.edu/~welch/tkk.html

Thanks for the latest Challenger and congratulations on your Hugo nomination. You continue to do a fine job with your zine with a fine host of articles and the demonstration of your sensawonda.

I believe that Wisconsin is one of those states where the insanity defense is Guilty by Reason of Insanity. It then becomes the burden of the defense to show insanity since the guilt has already been admitted to. This was how it went with Jeffrey Dahmer and he was eventually found to be sane. He survived a few years in prison before another inmate killed him to make a name for himself. It was never made clear how the guard who was watching them clean the bathroom didn't notice what was happening until it was too late. I suspect he was not a popular inmate.


Rich Dengrove
Alexandria VA

I wrote about Ray Lafferty’s essay once before, and now I’m taking another shot at it. What ended after the 1910s? I’m not being totally critical here. In fact, I think it was important to what Ray was trying to do that we are not told. He is right that, no matter our nostalgia for an age of purpose and meaning, we are afraid to name the zeitgeist that moved us in the past. It would not go over too well today. It is considered evil. And, to use a passé term which suits our attitude to a tee, sinful.

On the other hand, we are not quite ready to embrace the zeitgeist of the future. It seems all wrong right now and we cannot embrace it. We look for other alternatives to reconcile all and give us purpose. But we are trying to reconcile a contradiction. We are between Charybdis and Scylla, two monsters of the Odyssey. Things will have to change before we can get away from Charybdis completely and embrace Scylla

Now let me name names. The zeitgeist of the past was a minutely hierarchical universe. . There was God, the angels, the stars, man, the lion or elephant as king of beasts, gold as the king of the metals. The lowest rung was unformed matter. Of course, nobles rightly ruled over the peasants. This hierarchy ceased in the 17th and 18th Centuries to be a natural hierarchy, but remained a moral hierarchy until the 20th Century. Then it was totally obliterated. Right now, hierarchy is an anathema. “We are all equal” goes the refrain. Of course, people are always trying to replace the old hierarchy with a new one, which they don’t call hierarchy.

Now hierarchy is gone; I think it is slowly being replaced by the new zeitgeist, ecology. Everything makes a whole and everything is interdependent. It works in the animal world. It works in group psychology: psychologists have found even the dissenter is needed. It works in the physical world too. Einstein said that matter needs space and space matter. They are interdependent.

Of course, we cannot embrace interdependence totally because we in good part believe ourselves rugged individualists, independent of everything and everyone. And a part of us would like to believe the rest of nature rugged individualist. Of course, that attitude has got to go before we have this new zeitgeist of ecology.

Ray was more artistic than I not to name names but to be vague. He could depend on us to know enough about his meaning to shake our heads Yes. But not enough to shake our heads No. No unpleasant ideas sounded a discordant note. Which is good because he was making music. Which I definitely am not.

About Mike Resnick’s article on museums, I have my own list based on my own much narrower experience. I live in the Washington area is the Smithsonian museums are really impressive to say the least. I could tell you stories about them.

However, the museums I was really impressed by were the ones in New Orleans. Were these in the Cabildo or the other museum whose name I forget. These exhibits were really impressive in the 1980s. Only in New Orleans. There was a Gay Mardi Gras exhibit with a man dressed as Mother Goose. Then I saw an exhibit about a governor who stole $100,000 in the 19th Century, when $100,000 was something. It said, by the time they got around to impeaching him, he was out of office.

I enjoyed your talk about insanity in law. There is problem with allowing Irresistible Impulse to be a sign of insanity and deserving treatment rather than jail. Which, despite wording, McNaughten doesn’t really allow but Durham comes closer to allowing. We presume that we have will power and that we can push back the throes of cause-and-effect. It is the basis for the whole legal system. Without this idea, the legal system would have no ethical rationale.

So I can see that it is insanity if someone actually does not know the difference between right and wrong, even if it is only in one situation. I cannot see that it is insanity if someone has an irresistible impulse he knows is wrong.

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