John O'Hara's Assembly (1961) is a collection of 26 short stories (including two novellas), all written during the summer of 1960. O'Hara is a genuinely fascinating figure in American literature: one of those quasi-commercial, quasi-literary best-selling giants that now seems, rather disappointingly, to be consigned to the second-hand shelf of history. Perhaps his two most famous works are his two earliest - Appointment in Samarra (1934) and BUtterfield 8 (1935), both of which were turned into film (the latter earning Elizabeth Taylor an Oscar for Best Actress in 1960). But O'Hara also wrote a dozen other novels and at least that many collections of short stories. He picked up the National Book Award for Ten North Frederick and was a regular columnist for Newsday and Colliers.
That said, O'Hara was also a bit of a grump. Perhaps most interestingly - and this is something shown in his stories over and over again - he was incredibly class-conscious. Although a promising student, the death of O'Hara's father left the young man unable to attend Yale. Whether intentionally or not, this disappointment is deeply embedded in his writing career: story after story about the noble 'haves' and their orbiting 'have-nots'. Like Fitzgerald, O'Hara had a knack - perhaps even an obsession - for describing the social elite: how they waft about, seemingly immune to the problems of lesser men and women. "O’Hara kept an unrelenting fist on the most trivial signs of social differentiation", says the New York Review of Books, and much of the pathos and the subtle drama of his stories comes from his descriptions of the daily life and micro-dramas of the 'four hundred', as well as their interactions with the middle-class rung right beneath him. Later in his career, and again based on his own experiences, O'Hara brought to life the parallels between the golden gods of the Old Rich and the new pantheon created by Hollywood.
During the years I was not writing short stories I was occasionally invited by magazine editors to excerpt passages from my novels which the editors thought would "stand up" as short stories. I never did. I am a great believer in the creative flow, that once you have commenced the writing of a novel, all that follows is part of that novel. In spite of digressions and interruptions, a novel is continuous and should not be capsulized or "digested" or even synopsized, unless the synopsis is clearly labelled as such. (I allowed a novel of mine to be "digested" and I promise not to let that happen again.)
By the same token it is artistically wrong to take a passage out of a book and present it as a short story, no matter how it is labelled. The short story is such a different art form that an author simply must not have the same approach to a novel that he has to the short story. The author must say to himself that this is to be a short story; he must say it over and over again so that he conditions himself and disciplines himself before setting words down on paper, until the habit of thinking in short-story terms is re-formed. Obviously he must make all the words count, obviously he must set space limits ahead of time. But at the time he is preparing himself to compress, he must also bear in mind the fact that this may be the only thing of his that some reader will ever read. In other words, the artistic conscience must be functioning.
The author may write rapidly, and I do, but let it not be inferred that I "dash them off". The way I feel about writing, which is practically a religious feeling, would not permit me to "dash off" a story. And there is another aspect to it: the work of writing is fun, and without the work the writing is not fun, pleasure or a joy.
You will have heard of our mother, the astronaut Saga Wärmedal. She is famous, and she is infamous. Her face, instantly recognizable, appears against lists of extraordinary feats, firsts and lasts and onlys. There are the pronounced cheekbones, the long jaw, that pale hair cropped close to the head. In formal portraits she looks enigmatic, but in images caught unaware - perhaps at some function, talking to the Administrator of the CSSA or the Moon Colony Premier; in situations, in fact, where we might imagine she would feel out of place - she is animated, smiling. In those pictures, it is possible to glimpse the feted adventurer who traversed the asteroid belt without navigational aid.
Heroines are all well and good but bad girls have all the fun. The world of comics is overflowing with wicked women - from the obvious supervillains and rebels to the women perceived to be wicked through their defiance of local social and cultural norms. These are women who use their superpowers to please themselves, gleefully indulge in their criminal tendencies and let no one dictate how they live their lives. So here’s a celebration of women who aim to misbehave!
There’s not many who misbehave more than Mystique. With a long and complicated history, this highly intelligent ass-kicking gender fluid bisexual shape-shifter has been an assassin, a spy, a political leader and freedom fighter, among a great many other professions. She’s passionate about mutant rights, and will do what the more mild mannered won’t to defend them. While she’s most recently been seen in the various X-Men movies, Brian K Vaughan & Sean McKeever’s Mystique series is an excellent focus on this versatile villain. Coerced into working as a secret agent for Professor X, Mystique combats a variety of foes, while trying to trick her way to freedom and avoid the government agency currently hunting her. She keeps both allies and enemies constantly guessing, comes up with some devious and wonderfully creative shape-shifts and is never too banged up to deliver some well aimed snark.
Some of you may recall that Jesse Bullington and I used to do these columns pretty frequently on our blogs and Fantasy Magazine, back (as the kids say) in "the day." The idea was that we’d re-watch films that one or both of us saw as youths, and compare our remembered reactions then to our feelings as adults. Some withstood the test of time pretty well—say, Barbarella. Others… not so much. Hey—The Craft? I’m looking at you.
The initial inspiration for the column was me not having seen a lot of iconic genre films from the 70s and 80s, or from the 90s for that matter, as a child. For whatever reason, while I have seen nearly every Disney film, Hitchcock entry, or movie featuring Fred Astaire dancing, I never saw Robocop, Willow, Predator, The Abominable Dr. Phibes… you get the idea. After Jesse showed me Conan the Barbarian when I was perhaps 27, and enjoyed watching my reactions as much as the film, we decided to blog about the experience, with each showing the other unfamiliar films, or settling in for a simultaneous return to childhood. For good or for awesome we’ve slogged through many a turkey (Dungeons Ampersand Dragons, anyone?) and many a surprising delight. Like, uh… Vampire Hunter D. I… guess.
Anyways, after a several-year hiatus, Jesse and I are back in the saddle, for realsies this time. We’ll be here at Pornokitch once a month, talking smack and offering up praise when either (or both) are warranted.
Don’t call it a comeback. We’ve been here for years!
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Responsibility Roundup: Directed by the most triumphant Stephen Herek (Critters, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead). Written by Ed Solomon and Christ Matheson, who also co-wrote Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, the animated Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures, and Mom and Dad Save the World. While Solomon later worked on blockbusters like Men in Black and Charlie’s Angels, Matheson’s solo career peaked with 1994’s A Goofy Movie, though word on the backlot is he’s writing a made-for-TV reboot of The Greatest American Hero. The supporting cast is a who’s-who of who’s-that character actors, including Amy Stock-Poynton (Summer School), Bernie Casey (In the Mouth of Madness), Dan Shor (TRON), Terry Camilleri (The Cars That Ate Paris), Hal Landon Jr. (Eraserhead, The Artist), and Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s as Noah’s wife. Hauntingly sincere performances by leads Keanu Reeves (pretty much everything) and Alex Winter (pretty much nothing), and, of course, George Carlin (duh).
Quote: “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.”
Alternate quote: “It seems to me the only thing you've learned is that Caesar is a ‘salad dressing dude.’”
Alternate alternate quote: “Gentlemen [puts on sunglasses]... we're history”
A few years ago, I stumbled on a copy of A History of the Hugo, Nebula and International Fantasy Awards by Donald Franson and Howard DeVore. It was published in 1978 by Misfit Press, and by "published", I mean this is actually mimeographed and bound with staples. It is wonderful.
It is also the gift that keeps on giving, especially when it comes to shining a light on the these awards' charming and chaotic early years.
The Hugo Award
The first Hugo Awards were given out at the Philadelphia World Science Fiction convention in 1953. From the first, the awards were decided by popular vote.
That said, the nomination procedure - and the definition of 'the populace' - changed from year to year. In 1961 the germ of the present system became codified in Hugo law, as the organisers of that year's convention still allowed for public nominations, but changed it so only convention attendees could vote on the final ballot. In 1963, this was changed futher - so that only members of the current or previous convention could nominate. This is largely the system we now have today. (Well, except in terms of governance - the new WSFS constitution came about in 1974 and changed the definitions of everything, although the theory is still the same.)
The number of prizes varied from year to year as the individual convention committees chose to add or subtract categories that they felt relevant. Other categories - such as Dramatic Presentation - came and went depending on interest.
I want my money! I shout these words at the council who decided these things, because the money is rightfully mine, and there are not many ways that I can subsist in this world without it. Because, what else is the driver? What else moves the world in the way that we likely expect? A deal, as I seem to repeatedly have to inform gentlemen, is a deal; and these are not men of their words, despite their protestations of the opposite. They say that they need more tests before releasing anything, because the device that I have built is untested, unverified. Tests! Does Harrison need tests? A man who is proven perhaps circumvents these things. For me, lost as I am, crawling from beneath his shadow… I am tested. I am pushed to my break. I stand before them with my sea-clock, and they all hide their smirks. I can see their lack of faith in me, in mine. I ask for a funding, as I have heard that Harrison received such a release. They refuse me. Their laughter is less than hidden this time.
Money is the perpetual hag that seems to outweigh all other of humanity’s concerns! Forfend that we should think about the betterment of ourselves. (And still, the deep irony of it: I am working on this clock for a reward, because living is not enough; and the clock itself will enable the crossing of the oceans with something resembling expedience, thus furthering the income and profit from trade and such. If I were to stop and examine the reality of this, perhaps it would all begin to collapse under the weight of such flawed logics.)
"I want my money! I shout these words at the council who decided these things, because the money is rightfully mine, and there are not many ways that I can subsist in this world without it. Because, what else is the driver? What else moves the world in the way that we likely expect? A deal, as I seem to repeatedly have to inform gentlemen, is a deal; and these are not men of their words, despite their protestations of the opposite..."
Like The Last Spin, Happy New Year, Herbie (1965) is a collection from the versatile and multi-named Evan Hunter. However, unlike The Last Spin, this collection is less prone to wander across genres: the eleven stories contained within are all contemporary literary fiction.
The opening story, "Uncle Jimbo's Marbles", is the longest, and perhaps my favourite of the collection. A young man is convinced by his girlfriend to become a camp counselor for the summer. It is better for them to across the lake from one another at "Camp Marvin" and "Camp Lydia" than trapped in New York under the scrutiny of her disapproving father. At least, so the theory goes.
Unfortunately, Marvin himself - the head honcho - has other ideas. A polio scare means that he declares 'quarantine', and the two camps are no longer allowed to come into contact (except for passed notes). As Camp Marvin goes stir crazy, a new obsession arises: marbles. Soon, it turns out that one of the counselors - Jimbo - is a marble maven, and threatens to capture all the glassy loot available. The story describes the camp's slow degeneration into madness, as marbles become objects of current, despair and, ultimately, a sort of cultish fixation. Our narrator, grounded by (what we assume is) puppy love, is the only one to keep his head - but even he can't escape his bizarrely dystopian setting.
"Uncle Jimbo's Marbles" is a coming of age story, but also one that mixes an improbable tension with a heart-warming resolution. Definitely a camp story, but one that comes equipped with some strange life lessons.