Challenger - Return Home   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2003


Dale Speirs
Calgary Alberta Canada

Richard Dengrove’s article about 18th Century beliefs on flying saucers was an interesting read. The study of such lore is more correctly a brand of psychology, not astronomy. What always made me disbelieving of little green men (nowadays little grey men) buzzing about is that they used so many different styles of transport. Disks, cigars, spheres, giant asterisks, you name it. One would think a star-faring race would minimize the number of types of vehicles they use so as to reduce spare-parts inventory.

Hugh Dempsey, a western Canadian historian, published a study on flying saucers on the Canadian prairies during the pioneer days of the 1860s to World War One. The earliest recorded UFO sightings were in Manitoba in 1897 after the Andree balloon disappeared over Spitzbergen. Many people thought it must have drifted over the prairies. The next spate of UFO reports was in 1909, when the first heavier-than-air machine flew in Canada (the Silver Dart, designed and built by Alexander Graham Bell). When Canada entered the war in 1914, suddenly the prairie skies were filled with Zeppelin-shaped objects.

My favourite UFO report was back in my hometown of Red Deer (Alberta), when one evening in the early 1970s, our elderly neighbour excitedly called me out to look at a UFO. He knew I was an astronomy fan and had a refracting telescope. He said he noticed the UFO on the horizon, hovering over the railway yards several kilometres distant. I told him it was the planet Venus. “Nonsense,” he said, “I’ve never noticed it before.” He was going to call the Mounties about it, but I eventually managed to talk him out of it. It is astonishing how inattentive some people are. Recently I had a co-worker point out a rare astronomical event: the Moon was visible in the daylight sky. He had never seen it up there before by day.

Elizabeth Garrott
Louisville KY

Re: “we didn’t lose anyone 9-11”.

My cousins who work in NYC, but now live out, initially only had their work schedules disrupted. I’m sure after the dust settled they discovered friends missing. The same is no doubt true for New York fans, and the fans who have non-fannish contacts in the Big Apple.

My church has a sister church, New Colony Baptist Church in Billerica, Massachusetts. New Colony members had personal connections with some people on those planes. As vast as Boston area fandom is, you want to bet none of them lost friends that way, too? They wouldn’t need to publicize it to non-NESFAns.

So without casting my net as wide as Frohvet did his, I can still say you drew your “we” too narrow.

The fannish network spread quickly after 9-1-1, and it’s my understanding that no one active in fandom was lost in that day’s horrors; by the “six degrees of separation” standard, and common humanity, we’re all connected to the disaster.
It tolls for thee.

Alex Slate
San Antonio, TX
Fascinating article by Greg Benford on his meeting with Stephen Hawking. The world will be a much poorer place when Hawking finally succumbs to his disease. I have read both A Brief History of Time and the newer The Universe in a Nutshell and have very much enjoyed both. Not only is Hawking a genius in terms of his being able to conceive and understand these physics theories; he is also a genius in being able to communicate these theories to others, including the average person, in terms they can understand.

Speaking of communicating... If for whatever strange reason anyone wants to figure out what I do for a living, I have just had an article published in Program Managers magazine. It is available free on-line at /pm_issues.asp. Look at the May/June issue. My article begins on page 6.

"A Grinding of the Mind" - My own opinion is that there is no defense in insanity, particularly for the crime of murder. Anyone who would commit murder is, by my definition, insane, ipso facto. Of course, we may sort of be discussing semantics, but the idea of "not guilty by reason of insanity" just don't cut it. Now "guilty, but insane" is a slightly different matter. It's a question of the "punishment" you mete out to the guilty party. Either way I don't want these people walking the streets again. There is no way that Andrea Yates is ever going to be sane again. Let's face it! There are some people you can't reform and some things we just don't know how to treat. But for someone who is insane, or at least not normally dangerously so, I certain would expect some form of treatment while they are institutionalized. The real tragedy in the outcome of the Yates case (besides the deaths of those children) is not that Andrea Yates was found guilty, but that no one else was charged with anything either. Particularly the husband! He and (if memory serves me correctly) hsi mother knew that Andrea was ill, and that she was either not responding to treatment or was receiving the wrong treatment. Their own testimony proves this. Yet they still left her alone with the children extended periods of time. The husband, at the very least, should be serving time by now.

Anyway, Guy, you get some pips for clients, don't you?

To Rod Leighton: Yes it has, even longer now. Guy (in response to my LOC in Challenger 16) you indicate that you don't have a problem with the questioning techniques [used on “the Empty Man”] per se, just that it could be used wrongly. Well, anything can be misused (well almost anything), the system has to have other things in place to prevent it. Point taken on praise in relation to dislike.

Janine G. Stinson
Big Pine Key FL
Gorgeous cover!

Alexis Gilliland has been misinformed - as have many others - as to the proper translation of the Arabic word jihad. It means struggle - which does not automatically imply war. Certain people who claim to be followers of Mohammed have stolen this word and perverted it for their own political ends. The word jihad (from my researches at the Web site references the human struggle to become fit or right according to God’s instruction through Mohammed. Among those of Islamic faith, the Prophet’s name is nearly always followed by the letters PBUH or the phrase “praise be unto him”; not being of that faith, I don’t use it, but do wish to state that I know about it. Jihad has nothing to do with “holy war,” and is very probably another media construct used to encapsulate an idea without properly informing - something the American news media does far too frequently. I should know, I work for such people.

Robert Kennedy and Rodney Leighton: It’s obvious that our individual experiences with law enforcement are widely divergent, to put it mildly. Please therefore accept my offer to agree to disagree as I don’t intend to comment further on this matter.

Joseph Major: I don’t consider you scum. I don’t know you well enough yet. <grin>

Joseph T. Major
Louisville, Kentucky

The only time I ever met R. A. Lafferty was at MidAmeriCon. (That seems to have been such a crucial Worldcon!) He was at the Find the Pros, er Meet the Pros party. I ran into him shortly thereafter and asked him to sign my Program Book. He took the pen I gave him and tried to sign with the eraser.

When I ran into him the next day he used the proper end of the pen.

I liked the way he gave autographs. “Hmm,” he’d say, studying the page. “‘R’. That’s easy. ‘A’. So far so good. Now it gets tough.”

I wish John Clute and Alexei Panshin had considered Lafferty’s article. Panshin wrote that the Myth of Science Fiction had died in 1945. Clute smote said heresy hip and thigh, explaining that Science Fiction had died in 1957. Somehow, ignorantly, writers continued to write science fiction. Whatever would we do without critics?

Lovely cover by Alan White - and the Mystic Secret of How It Wuz Done only makes it more interesting.

Given that Hawking appeared as the Holodeck generated replica of himself on ST: TNG, it’s hardly surprising that he has a touch of whimsey. Better him than the usual lot of Cambridge graduates I read about.

Lisa and I visited the Kentucky Derby Museum last month. A place with somewhat more Kentucky Derby trophies is the International Museum of the Horse, near Lexington, Kentucky. (Unlike the National Museum of Racing, which is in Saratoga Springs, New York.) They have all the Derby trophies (along with all the other trophies) won by horses from Calumet Farm, plus the Triple Crown trophies of Secretariat.

As I’ve commented before, if you want to live the Ray Bradbury story “Icarus Montgolfier Wright”, go to the National Air & Space Museum, step in the front door, and look. Straight ahead is the Apollo 11 Command Module. Above it is the Wright Flyer. To its left is the X-1 “Glamorous Glennis”; to its right The Spirit of St. Louis. What else is there?

Terry Jeeves: Yes, we have the body here …

M’Naughten sounds like the sort of person who infests the Net, being advised on where to buy the best foil for his hat. Nowadays he would be lionized as a political activist and victim (“‘the Tories in my native city have compelled me to do this.’”).

Note that Hinckley, for an alleged madman, showed several signs of premeditation, planning, and forethought in his stalking of the candidates.

Dan White’s case should really not be brought up in the NGRI context. Apparently the alleged premeditation was not the case; the reason he went through the basement door instead of the door with the metal detector was that as a councilman, he was accustomed to coming through the basement door to avoid setting off the metal detector. That is, he wasn’t trying to sneak a weapon past the security.

The Conan/Machiavelli (also LotR/Machiavelli, Elric/Machiavelli, etc.) parody in Alexiad was my way of saying what he might see about the events in said stories. You did see the point about it being “Chapter 9 3/4"; one on SF would be “Chapter 42" for reasons too obvious to state.

Tomb Raider: It is a sign of the artistic bankruptcy of movie producing that movies are made based on video games. But that is a High Concept - something that can be stated in three sentences or less, with no word of more than two syllables, thus well within the comprehension and attention span of your typical Hollywood top banana.

Man’s: There was a Men, also a Stag, Men’s World and other such magazines, all adhering to the same format. The stories were interesting, especially when I was fourteen.

Charles Williams sent me an e-mail about how his aunt knew my Quarles cousins in Paducah. One of whom was Roach Quarles. His full name was Cuthbert Roach Quarles. Do you think his parents hated him?

Well, if they stuck a nipple on a can of Raid …

“Until you’ve walked a mile in another man’s moccasins you’ll never believe the smell.”

Has Timothy Marion seen all of the Rodney King tape? Making a decision in partial knowledge of the facts is fraught with hazards. (Myself, I saw it on a broadcast hosted by that well-known reactionary Andy Rooney.)

The real Lamont Cranston went off to find enlightenment in Tibet. He permitted the master Kent Allard, who was lit up, er enlightened enough already, to use his identity. Presumably the Secret Power to Cloud Men’s Minds stretched to hiding the differences.

Also, I was rereading Jim Harmon’s book on The Great Radio Heroes and he quotes a passage from a Shadow book where the Shadow comes into Margo Lane’s bedroom and she is, well, happy to see him. Which may explain why Phil Farmer wrote a story about a guy named Kent Lane.

“Astro Boy is created because his inventor felt great guilt over the death of weight.” What?

Thanks to Harry Warner for his explication de texte on “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” The edition I used lacked such annotations.

Improved translations of Verne are now appearing. For example, when I first read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea I was mildly puzzled by the comment by M. Arronax that Conseil spoke of himself in the third person, since he didn’t. But one found out, upon reading the recent improved translation, that he had done so, but the translator “corrected” the “error”. This made one very very angry! (Angry enough to drop the Conseil imitation, even . . .)

Also, “new” Vernes are coming out. Paris In the Year 2000 for example, and there is a translation just out of a heretofore untranslated late Verne work, Invasion of the Sea, about a gigantic hydropower project. He will get his Hugo yet!

Verne used many of the modern strategies of publication:

Shared Worlds: Verne wrote sequels to The Swiss Family Robinson and The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym.

Collaborators: The first draft of The Begum’s Fortune was written by someone else.

Grand Unification Sequels: The Mysterious Island is the sequel to three different Verne books (not only Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea but Around the World In Eighty Days and In Search of the Castaways).

Enron: Look at www.drfrederick and see if the era of “corrupt business brokers who see the economy as a highway to personal loot” is “just” upon us. Verne Robinson (“Verne” again!), the keeper of said site, really seems to have it in for Dr. Cook, “the inventor of the Ponzi scheme”.

Harry Potter died May 27. Er. I mean, Colonel Henry A. “Hank” - but in Britain it’d be “Harry” - Potter, died May 27. He was Doolittle’s navigator on the Tokyo Raid. Therefore, Harry Potter guided Doolittle to Tokyo.

Jack Calvert
Oakland CA

Thanks a lot for sending Challenger. Now I see why you are up for the Hugo. Challenger is huge, beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable. Gregory Benford interviewing Stephen Hawking. Goshwow indeed.

I particularly liked the Lafferty material. I know that I have read many Lafferty stories, but when I looked in my anthologies for a story or two to re-read, I found that there were none. So I did a crawl through the Berkeley bookstores, looking for a used paperback collection of his stories and a copy of Past Master, which I have not read, and had no luck. So I’m going to have to hit up ABE Books for some Lafferty, but it seems odd that his work is not more widely available.

“Odd” … and criminal! Lafferty’s writing should be required reading, and not only among the Camiroi (in joke). You provoke a wistful tear when you mention Berkeley’s bookstores; the block between Dwight Way and Haste on Telegraph Avenue is still the closest thing to book paradise I’ve ever found. Cody’s… Moe’s…that-place-on-the-corner-whose-name-I-can’t-remember … Oh, I weep for days gone by. By the way, the best Lafferty collections are 900 Grandmothers and Strange Doings, and there might be copies on Amazon or E-Bay.

Cosmology is not something that I claim to understand, but I found the distinction that Stephen Hawking made between space and nothing-at-all evocative. I just finished a novel in which sub-universes are created, and are visible in this one as sort of glowing vortexes. This must be a wrong picture, but I’ve got to allow that it might be hard to work something into a story that is invisible, intangible, and not even conceptually reachable.

Richard Dengrove’s piece provides a history of speculative world building, rather than just a background for flying saucer beliefs. The Great Chain of Being combined with modern cosmological thinking would provide a really complex story setting.

I’ll add my voice to those in the letter column saying that you ought to do a book of courtroom stories. The insanity plea piece reads like a detective story. (Maybe a lawyer procedural?) Someplace I read that the insanity plea is comparatively rare. Is this not so, or are you uncommonly lucky to have so many clients who qualify?

One NGRI client I mentioned in Chall #16 - accused of aggravated arson -- pled guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge of “criminal damage to property.” He received a negligible sentence and is free.

I looked through my reference books for something on [Mark Clifton’s collaborator] Frank Riley with no success, then tried a Google search. According to, Frank Riley was a pseudonym for Frank Rhylick (1915-1996). He is credited with, in addition to They’d Rather Be Right, several short stories, including “The Cyber and Justice Holmes” and “A Question of Identity”, and also the cover art for the novel When Harlie was One.

I agree about the war on terror and the dangers to civil liberties. For a time after 9/11, I suspended my dislike of W, but now it’s back in full force.

I don’t so much dislike W as possess absolutely no respect for him. He’s an obvious front man, without any trace of personal strength, character, wit or philosophy. Not to disparage Oakland by recalling Gertrude Stein’s famous spear at her home city, but the same could be said of Shrub: there is no “there” there.

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