Challenger - Return Home   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2003

 

EPISTLES IV

Milt Stevens
Simi Valley CA

In Challenger #16, the close proximity of the material on R.A. Lafferty and Stephen Hawking created a strange juxtaposition. Normally, I wouldn’t think that these two men had any similarity to each other. However, in one way, they do. both of them had things going on in their heads that the rest of us probably couldn’t even imagine. It isn’t that they just had more intelligence. They really had different intelligence.

Without the thinking of Stephen Hawking, I would have never imagined that I might have a pocket universe in my living room. Termites, I could imagine, but not pocket universes. Now if he could only figure a way of using it for storage. In many ways, theoretical physics resembles a trial for The Little Man Who Wasn’t There. Maybe he was there, and maybe he wasn’t there, or maybe he was born there and not there simultaneously. And what do we mean by “there” anyway? It’s all terribly confusing.

Lafferty’s speech has the familiar theme that we are living in the era of Post Something-or-other. I don’t think it is quite as bad as The Day After the World Ended. Fortunately, we didn’t have a nuclear war, and end up as Post-Toasties. Something has left, and something else hasn’t arrived yet. The academics have been booting around the term Post Modernism, but it seems like nothing more than a place holder term. Future academics may decide we were really living in the era of Post Saturated Animal Fat. And what slim beast jogs towards Bethlehem to be born?

Reading Alan White’s explanation of how he did the cover on Challenger #15 was a humbling experience. Previously, I had thought that it was only a complete lack of talent that kept me from being a successful artist. Now, I realize that wasn’t the complete story. I also lack the technical expertise. Bummer.

Even before reading Richard Dengrove’s article, I had noticed that early magazine SF always represented aliens as either saints or monsters. I hadn’t thought about it being a continuation of an earlier tradition. Stanley Weinbaum was the first SF writer to represent aliens as critters who are just slithering to a different drummer. I knew that Weinbaum had made a revolutionary change in science fiction, but I hadn’t realized he had made a major break with most previous human thinking on the subject.

I see more sense in the idea of the insanity plea after reading your explanation of it. I was always willing to accept that guys who went around chopping people up with axes and eating them weren’t exactly poster boys for mental health, but I didn’t really care. As far as I was concerned, it would be a good idea to make it a capital offense to kill people while crazy. I see that the key word is “choice.” Someone who can commit a series of murders and conceal their activities is exhibiting enough choice not to be considered legally insane. The insanity plea is just for people who didn’t seem to have any choice at all. OK.

Last but not least, “In Touch with the Spirits” by Terry Jeeves is a really clever piece of writing.


Ned Brooks
Lilburn GA

Nice covers on Challenger 16 - with that front cover, one might think you were aiming for newsstand sales. Good to see the tribute to Ray Lafferty. I have been asked who controls the literary estate, and my only guess was Dan Knight, or that he would know.

Interesting article by Dengrove on antique aliens. I read once that whereas people in the 20th Century saw flying “saucers,” earlier sighting had been of spindle-shaped objects, at least when they weren’t seeing women mounted on broomsticks. Did the aliens change technology, or is it a matter of perception - a saucer, after all, might be thought spindle-shaped if seen only edge-on.

Good question. I’ll ask Elvis.

Hilarious tale of his encounter with the Mystic East from Terry Jeeves! Joseph Major’s Tolkien spoof is a bit too silly for me - hard as that may be to imagine.

You are right about the drama of criminal law - though as with most drama I think it is enjoyed most by the spectators. The issue of insanity as a defense is clouded by the fuzzy state of psychology as a science and by the corrupt state of the prison industry. From the standpoint of public safety it matters little whether a violent criminal is sane or not - he can hardly be left to continue his depredations. And yet humane reason gags on the notion of punishing someone for acts he could not control. I am doubtful about the notion of “punishment” in any case.

The ideal response to murder by a lunatic was provided in at least one case. - one of the major contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary was an army doctor in the Civil War who after the war went to London and killed an Irishman in the street because he thought all the Irish were out to get him. This doctor spent the rest of a long life in a comfortable asylum - because the family had the money to pay for it. But there seems to be a lot of borderline cases where the gurus cannot agree whether the defendant is crazy or not, or even what “crazy” means.


Lloyd Penney
Etobicoke, ON Canada

So many familiar names march through the obituary column that many zines can't help but have, and it's a damned shame to see R.A. Lafferty there. I never met Ray, but did see him here and there at worldcons, smiling, even when by himself, wandering the organized chaos in the hallways. For some of us lucky ones, there is a comfort in knowing that being in that throng means that you are in your element, your people. I think Ray enjoyed that feeling, too.

Thanks to Alan White for the detailed explanation of that marvelous cover from the previous Challenger. I'd like to learn to use Photoshop, and we've got it where I work, and lots of people use it, but they won't teach it to me. They say it would take me away from my work for too long, and besides, they have me right where they want me, stuck at my desk. The resumes continue to flow out, and all I want is for one person to say "Yes, you're hired." That's not so much to ask, is it? (I've been four years in an abusive, dead-end job now. I need something new!)

I keep hearing that Stephen Hawking does get progressively worse (such is the nature of his condition), so I hope he is able to get as much of that fine mind of his on paper as possible, and tell us all about our universe. At least, as much as he can figure out himself. In the meantime, I am glad Prof. Hawking has been indulged by so many who study his theories in the makings of their own fictions. I still remember that episode of ST:TNG where Data is playing poker with Hawking, Einstein and Newton. The real Hawking, of course. Paramount's willingness to acknowledge the accomplishments of Hawking, as well as the memories of the Challenger astronauts. It is somehow comforting to know that Prof. Hawking has read and enjoyed some SF. I wonder if it would be possible to send him a copy of Challenger 16? He might enjoy this kind of discussion, and who know, you might get a sidebar to publish from an illustrious potential contributor.

It sounds like those scientists and social commentators of the 18th Century, as described by Rich Dengrove, once their gaze was directed outwards instead of just inwards, asked many questions we still ask today... Are we alone? What’s out there? Can we get there? However, today, we ask... If we could put a man on the moon, why can’t we put a man on the moon today? If we can hope that we are not alone, can we afford not to go and find out? I would like to think that our ancestors may have asked that last question. It does make me wonder why we’re not as curious as they were.

I am very happy to rediscover where Dan Knight is hanging his hat. Dan, of course, lives just north of Toronto now, where I hope he is still producing chapbooks extolling the writing skills of R.A. Lafferty. Many years ago, when I was running dealers’ rooms at our local convention, I sold Dan a table, with both of us hoping to find an audience that could appreciate Lafferty... I think our hopes were in vain, for I never found out how he did that weekend. Good to hear from him again.

This marvelous zine list reminds me how many of them I get, how many of them I don’t (wish I did).

Is Worldcon finally becoming too expensive for even the richest of us? Torcon 2 was called the last intimate Worldcon; will Torcon 3 be the last affordable Worldcon? I pray not.

Frank Denton strikes a familiar note in his LOC. I was dateless in high school, and as I was most of the way through university, I expected to be a life-long bachelor, not ever finding any young woman who might like what she might see in me. And then, I met Yvonne, and we will be celebrating 20 years of marriage next May. (In fact, we attended a wedding earlier today, that of our niece Palmer.) Life has a way of listening to what you might say, and sometimes saying in return, “Oh, yeah? that’s what you think!”

I wish I could have been at the Effinger memorial reading. Some years ago, GAE was our guest in Toronto, and knowing of his love for baseball, we took him to the Skydome the Thursday before the convention for a game between the Jays and the Twins. We bought him all the souvenirs he wished, we ate true baseball cuisine (dogs and popcorn), and the game finished in a 1-0 loss for the Jays, a real defensive battle. George raved about it all weekend; the con was an anti-climax. I hope the legalities will be straightened out, and the fourth Marid Audran book can see the light of day.

It is about two weeks to the first anniversary of the World Trade Towers disaster. I expect to see a maudlin, Hollywood-style marking of this horrific event, which would certainly cheapen the whole thing in my eyes. Instead, I hope we will see a quiet, introspective time of remembrance and thought of why America was hated so much. The efforts in Afghanistan barely make the news these days, and neither does the efforts of Bush, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft to abrogate your Bill of Rights, and even your human rights, under the guise of vigilance and improved security. Do not let the paranoia of a few allow this to happen. I heard an accusation a short time ago to describe what the Bush administration is doing, something I’d never thought I’d hear...that what it’s doing is nothing less than fascist. And then, I see that word in your editorial at the end. Truly sad that patriotism is being exploited at the cost of liberty.


Here’s a LOC to Challenger #15 which took a little time to make its way
around the world.

Erika Maria Lacey
Queensland Australia

Thank you for sending me Challenger 15 - it was very surprising to see your zine to begin with, and I felt kind of overwhelmed by its thickness, to the point that I am only just now getting around to writing you a letter of comment. It’s a very good-looking issue!

I don’t understand the publishers’ insistence on series, for half the time whenever I get into books and look at those I really like they’ll end being stand-alones. The time between books two and three and four or whatever makes it easy form me to forget the previous ones were about and less likely to go on reading - just this month I tried reading book three of a series, knowing that I’d read the previous, but for the life of me couldn’t remember what the previous ones were about. Happens too often for my liking, but then again I have the attention span of a gnat.

Your piece on meeting Poul Anderson was very heart-warming and amusing. I wonder what he thought of a young fellow turning up and asking all sorts of questions - kind of like an amateur journalist, it sounds like you were. It would have been interesting to see if there is anyone floating around with the knowledge of all the Hugo winners of the past.

Poul was simply a generous, open, understanding Sfer - well-familiar with the near-comic awe a Real Writer instilled in star-ha!-struck kids. Everyone should do it like he did; he was a champ.

Your mother and brother waited for you the first time you went to visit the Andersons - I hope it wasn’t too long.

Poul was horrified when he found they’d been sitting outside while we’d been talking.

Lovely photographs of your wedding. I must admit to find it of amusement to see the names “Joe,” “Justin,” and “Lance” all on the same page - puts me into mind of N*Sync, although it’s a Joey in that group, not a Joe. Blame it on an overdose of pop at the moment.

It’s nice of those guys to include a baby kangaroo in their group.

I must admit to not having been impressed by A.I. - its sentimentality was over-done and it was too obvious what reactions it was supposed to solicit. If they’d done away with all the tear-jerker stuff and fixated a bit better elsewhere - though I couldn’t say where - I’m sure it could have been better. As it was all I felt by the end of the movie was a numb backside and a strong sense of boredom.

The amputation I’ve heard most often suggested for A.I. was the entire final segment, featuring the aliens and the resurrection of the mother. It was obviously meant to counteract the cynical despair of the earlier scenes, but only ended up underscoring it, by continuing to portray love only as a need to be fulfilled. Perhaps, had the little robot learned to offer love, to sacrifice in its name, then the heartsickness at the core of the movie might have been cured. But Spielberg opted for shallowness and sentimentality, as he almost always has.

Not too long ago a friend of mine leant me her copy of Fred Hoyle’s The Black Cloud with the instructions that I was to read it because it was really great. I hadn’t also realised that it was revolutionary.

Another thing I’d not seen before was [Terry Jeeves’] Soggies. Indeed it’s amazing what one can convey with a few strokes of the pen and a couple of eyeballs.

Ack! Lloyd Penney’s mother threw out his comic books! I remember once as a preteen my mother decided I was reading too many romances [with] too much sex in them so threw them in the rubbish bin.

I remember Janis Ian’s account of meeting up with pros and people she’d always admired, and how she’d gone all fangirlish at C.J. Cherryh [from] her web-journal. It was very touching to read how she’d felt that Cherryh had meant a lot to her in her life, and getting to meet her and say so made her realise how fans must feel towards herself and her music.


And finally, a teary bow to my past …

Jim Kingman
Pasadena CA

The reason for this letter is one of appreciation for a wonderful aspect of comics that is suddenly no longer with us. With its comics released in October 2002, DC has eliminated its letter columns in favor of a “Direct Currents” page. I was disappointed with this change, and it got me feeling nostalgic for some of those great letter pages of the past, so many of which you contributed to.

The other day I pulled out a stack of Detective Comics, issues #401-425 (1970-1972), and found myself completely enthralled by the letter columns in those issues. This was the time, as you well know, when writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams were raising The Batman to new creative heights, while writer Frank Robbins introduced Man-Bat and focused his Batman tales on the Caped Crusader’s detective abilities. The letter writers at that time were thrilled with what was going on in the title. Martin Pasko, Chris Juricich, Scott Gibson, Clem Robins, Bob Rozakis, yourself, the late Steve Berry and Richard Morrissey … these were just a few of the many readers (some soon to be comic book professionals!) who wrote in issue after issue to applaud, criticize, and offer critical analysis of Batman’s adventures. It’s a shame that this important part of comics interaction is gone.

The letters page was a neat way getting feedback on a comic book released just a few short months before; to get other readers’ opinions on the stories, the writers, the artists, and the editorial direction of a particular series. It was a wonderful forum to have right there in the comic itself. Current comic book editors and readers will tell you that the feedback action is now on the internet, and I certainly believe that, but it’s not the same. A neat little aspect of comics is suddenly gone, and hopefully it will be missed enough to someday return.

I just wanted to thank you personally for years and years of wonderful letters that saw print in various DC letter columns.

Jim publishes a fine comics fanzine called Comic Effect, reviewed in this issue’s Zine Dump. It’s obvious that the only feedback today’s comics industry cares about is that reflected in the sales, not the opinions of fans. More the fools they.

My favorite era in letterhacking was in the sixties, my teenage years, when they provided a wider sense of the world and my possible place in it than my little piece of California. The comics opened my imagination. The letter columns opened my life.

The value I’ve found in the letter columns has been enormous; their influence on my life has been incalculable. They put me in contact with other fans - most memorably Mike Friedrich and Irene Vartanoff. They gave me my first taste of fannish fame. They brought me lifelong friendship with Julie Schwartz, the greatest of men and the first adult ever to treat what I had to say with attention and respect. As you note, they brought me my first job. Most importantly, they taught me both to write from my heart and try to express myself well. I wouldn’t be a lawyer, I wouldn’t be doing Challenger, I wouldn’t know fandom or know my wife if it wasn’t for the letter columns in comic books.

Julie published my first LOC in early 1963. It’s been about 40 years.


And finally …

Naomi Fisher
Huntsville AL
Challenger
16 was much appreciated, though as I’ll explain later, its arrival was not timely! Was pleased to see this issue begun and laced throughout with tributes to R.A. Lafferty. I’m sure he’d have appreciated it, and been quite touched to see how many people had fond stories to tell of fine experiences with him. I never had a chance to meet him, so these reminiscences and his speech notes are as close as I’ll ever come to that privilege. Thanks to all for sharing your memories, and thank you, Guy, for bringing them to your readers.

Would’ve been interesting to see immediate reaction of the audience to Lafferty’s DeepSouthCon speech. Suspect it was mostly applause, covering stunned non-comprehension by many - how can he say the world already ended? That we’re stalled, Flatlanded, mired in maintaining? That we’re failing to create or to move forward? Some probably walked away crestfallen, pessimistic, maybe even angry. Reading this, though, I find it deeply hopeful. May not agree with his premise, though really, how can I compare the world he grew up in with what exists today? I know no other, have nothing against which to hold it for examination. But the thought that we can build an existence, our experience of living, from the ground up, and that the time is right for doing so, is one that has enormous resonance for me. All the possibilities, waiting only for us to make them real - YES. Absolutely. New worlds, without end, Amen.

One of my favorite parts of Challenger is always the “About this issue…” section. I find the thought processes (and occasional lack of them!) that go into ‘zine production to be fascinating. It’s like a factory tour of fannishness, with side trips into obsession - you get to see the whys, as well as finished product. But this ATI had a genuine shocker - Guy Lillian, hesitant to put Babe Art on the cover of one of his fanzines? ‘S’almost as worrisome as his marrying a lovely and sane woman (Hi Rosy!). Checking out my window for “the hornéd Moon, with one bright star, within the nether tip”, or other signs of madness and doom.

In all seriousness, Dell Harris’ playfully sexy Harlequin is gorgeous, and absolutely should have fronted a Nolacon II PR, as intended. This glowing work, obvious product of much time, thought, and loving effort, was hidden away in an interior, for no better reason than Committee fears of appearing sexist? That’s far more offensive to me than anything Dell could draw! Beauty should be celebrated, as should our fan artists’ astonishing and generously shared talents. And even bearing changing standards of modesty in mind, I see nothing that should have offended back in ’87, though it might have been too painful a reminder than time and consuite potato chips exact a price. Good to see you’ve righted fearful foolishness, 15 years later, by letting her frolic across the Challenger cover. The rest of us can only wish we’d age so well.

Oh, hey, just realized, what was the theme supposed to be this issue? Don’t think you said… I’m thinking it was “Different Perspectives”. It certainly ran throughout - Lafferty’s premise (“deadpan insanity”?) of unrecognized post-world existence, Rosy’s and your snippet reviews of wildly contrasting books. It continued with Alan White’s highly educational behind-the-curtain recounting of creating the C15 cover, and (my favorite!) Gregory Benford’s thoughtful account of a visit with Stephen Hawking.

Hawking exemplifies an almost alien viewpoint, working endlessly as he does to understand the ways of the universe, from the confines of a shell-like body and a motorized chair. Benford’s recounting of that time at Cambridge read like a written snapshot, a look at the person on an ordinary day, not just the world-class intellect. Very different than the way the media portray him as the remote, almost mechanical, Icon of Popular Science, almost a caricature of saintly suffering (though they certainly seized on his divorce and re-marriage as fodder for scandal and headlines!). This small glimpse made him real, human, and yet rather humbling, intimidating despite his frailties. Couldn’t help wondering - how can this man hold to life, joy, and his quest for comprehension, through everything? How is it done, how is it sustained? These seem larger, more compelling mysteries to me than the esoteric physical workings of the universe. The sweeping complexity of Hawking’s thought processes is staggering, far beyond what I can understand, but it’s his continued zest and wit that awes me. And as many of us will eventually face similar constraining of our selves through infirmity, this doesn’t really leave us any excuses for our “nows”.

The “Perspectives” motif twisted strangely, as usual, with Richard Dengrove, and his comparing current theories re superior extraterrestrial intelligences with similar 18th Century beliefs and reasoning. Dengrove did make this more readable, less alum-dry, than some past articles, but I still think his chattier APA style would serve much better in fanzine writing than the scholarly approach he uses in Challenger. Being fact-heavy and highly educational does no good if the material isn’t read, and these can be a bit of a slog. Fred Chappell’s review of Lafferty’s novel, Past Master, on the other hand, flows so smoothly that I frequently lost the chain of thought in my delight at turns of phrase. Much like reading the book itself, actually - ought to again, see if I get more than the kaleidoscope-flashing enjoyment I originally found. Mike Resnick’s take on which museums are his favorites, and more importantly, why, was terrific. Some surprises, like anything on which you ask his opinion, but the ones listed that I’ve been to (nine of 14) are all worthy, interesting, inclusions. One major gripe, though - Resnick forgot to say where several are! Having driven over major portions of Alberta before going to the Royal Tyrell Museum (near Drumheller, incidentally), I can attest both that town names are essential, and that it’s nowhere near “the middle”! You don’t want to get lost in the Canadian Badlands. Other’s locations could be deduced, if you know SF con locations, but the National Museum of Racing would remain undiscovered.

Can’t find much common ground for the other contributions, interspersed with more Lafferty anecdotes and tributes, except in their diversity and their showing the many facets of fans’ interests and experiences. Your article on the subject of “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity” was, as always with your legal tales, very thought provoking. Slows the leap to judgement, even with such horrors as the Andrea Yates case, when you consider why the insanity defense was originally created and allowed. I don’t necessarily agree that looser definitions are called for, but my own experiences with sociopaths and clinically psychopathic personalities probably have much to do with that opinion. Some were able to convince almost anyone of anything, and were unbelievably dangerous. Hard to think of mercy when contemplating that if you’re wrong, such people could go free. Glad I don’t have your job. Defending the indefensible… that line’s going to haunt me.

“On the Spot” was more enjoyable - I like your freewheeling personal journal-style writing. Some excellent thoughts on the dangers of allowing our own government the freedom to act as if we’re engaged in a perpetual war - Mom’s family certainly paid the price for trampled civil rights in WWII. Can’t see much difference between some measures and means being advocated now, and the hysteria that led to the internment of the Japanese-Americans back then. When someone can explain why my pre-school age mother (a third generation US citizen!) and her spotlessly law-abiding family should have been jailed, without trial, for three years, I’ll try to understand why we should give up essential freedoms for nothing more than the temporary illusion of safety. Probably won’t succeed, though. Your serious musings were nicely balanced by the comic aspects of your life - funny story about the Hugo nomination!

Finally, “The Challenger Tribute”. Oh dear, Guy - I know about your policy of never warning yourfemale objects of admiration, but the fallout from your so honoring me last issue, without my knowledge, was bizarre. Was it perhaps more than strange coincidence that Alan White’s article, on using Photoshop to alter reality for the purposes of art, immediately preceded Gregory Benford’s contribution? Benford, who I note is your Contributing Editor (same context as “Your puppy just…”), ran amuck at this DeepSouthCon, gleefully altering reality for the sole purpose of being a smartass…

DSC was in Huntsville this year, June 14-16. There’s a tradition here that the Con Committee, and whatever Guests have already arrived in town, go out to dinner the night before a convention starts. Adrienne Martine-Barnes and Greg Benford had been told about this, as we’d known their flights were arriving Thursday evening, so they joined our dinner in progress. Introductions were made all around, and they were seated.

Greg and I have been bantering at Worldcons and such, in friendly and semi-flirtatious fashion, for well over a decade. So I wasn’t surprised when he called “Hey, Naomi!” down the table to get my attention. Must have responded in some way, because his next comment, falling with unerring precision into one of those unpredictable near-silences, was…
“I really liked the pictures in Challenger, but where did Guy get the nude photos?”

What conversation there was slammed to a stop, and most of that end of the table turned to look at me, ears practically pricked up. Others studiously avoided looking anywhere in my direction - teapots briefly became objects of fascination. Greg careened on, talking with Allen Steele at roughly Warp Eight, cheerfully oblivious to the effects of his having lobbed a verbal hand grenade into my lap. I was quite literally stunned silent. All I could think was, “Good God, what was I doing at Philadelphia after Boston won the Worldcon?!? I don’t remember anything till the Hugos next evening!” That was immediately followed by, “No, surely not - if Guy had any, he’d be blackmailing me into writing articles! Well, I think he would… “ Meanwhile, those who hadn’t heard anything except the “Nude Photos” part of the remark (interesting how selective fan’s hearing can be!), were asking questions of those who’d been nearer. I watched the buzzing, and realized that not only would nothing I say squelch this, but not having received a copy yet, I couldn’t even say for sure that there weren’t any such pictures! I had no idea what Benford could be referencing, and I remembered when Guy ran topless Mardi Gras snapshots in KAPA. Was just going to have to get a current issue of Challenger, oh, yeah…

Fans talk - we all know that. By the time I made it to the Baen party Friday evening, eight people (who hadn’t even been at the dinner!) had asked me “What’s this I hear about nude pictures of you in some fanzine?” Give them credit - most looked somewhat concerned, mildly curious; not desperately interested. I told ‘em I didn’t know of any such, and went on, thinking “Where IS Guy?!” I couldn’t find you anywhere! By Saturday mid-morning, at least 20 fans had made inquiries, and I knew it wouldn’t make any difference if there were photos or not - I was still going to get kidded on this for years. By then, I just wanted to know what pics that blasted Benford had been talking about…

Finally caught up to you and Rosy on Saturday, in the bar, and you greeted me with “Hiya, kid! How’d you like the Tribute?” What tribute?! Practically snatched the issue out of your hands, and found… a lovely, affectionate and funny homage. Written by a dear old friend, who obviously remembers our ’93 outing to the Ghirardelli Ice Cream Parlor with pleasure (albeit incorrectly - I ate that sundae all by myself!). With really nice pictures, that aren’t embarrassing at all, and that are actually pretty flattering. Wow!!!

Reality didn’t make a difference to the rumor mill, as I’d figured - I was still getting questions about the “nude photos” (from people who weren’t even at DSC, fer Ghu’s sake!) four months later. But it made all the difference to me.

Thank you, Guy - I’m very flattered, and quite touched, by the honor. And I’m gonna get you for that someday, Greg! Wait and see…

Artwork in this section by: William Rotsler, again and again, Sheryl Birkhead, James Pauger (that’s me, ca. 1974, or so he said), anon., Neal Pozner, Scott Patri, Joe Mayhew {webmaster note: art is in the print edition}

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