Sunday, April 25, 2010

Early Promotion for L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics

1950 was the year when L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics was first published. Dianetics was heavily promoted in the pages of Astounding Science Fiction, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr., a magazine that was central to the so-called "Golden Age" (late 1930s through the 1950s) of the science fiction genre in the United States.

Campbell enthusiastically embraced Dianetics, later reversing his position in 1951. Using the concepts begun with Dianetics Hubbard would go on to found the Church of Scientology in 1953.

Reproduced below are pages from issues of Astounding Science Fiction from the year 1950. Click on the pictures for bigger, more readable images.
L. Ron Hubbard's "To The Stars" on the cover
of Astounding Science Fiction, February 1950.

Astounding Science Fiction, August 1950.
Back page advertisement for Dianetics.
"This book reveals the results of fifteen years of study and research on the working of the human mind. Tackling the problem by the scientific method, the author has discovered what he believes to be the source of all mental and psychosomatic ills, and has developed a technique of Dianetic Therapy that has work successfully for everyone one of the two hundred and seventy unselected cases treated and tested."

Astounding Science Fiction, November 1950.
Back page advertisement.
"The Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation has established Departments in several cities; further Departments are scheduled to open soon." Addresses are listed in New Jersey, New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Astounding Science Fiction, November 1950.
Subscription advertisement inside front cover. 
"DIANETICS started in Astounding SCIENCE FICTION. It is not the first, nor will it be the last time, Astounding SCIENCE FICTION precedes science generally." Indeed. Cost of a one-year subscription to Astounding: $2.50.

Astounding Science Fiction, September 1950.
Back page advertisement.
"Successfully Treat Complex, Obscure Symptoms" sounds like it would make a good t-shirt slogan.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lavinia Revisited

Here at the Strangelove for Science Fiction blog we reviewed Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin not too long ago and we found it to be particularly wonderful, a standout book from a distinguished author. As a resource, here is a roundup of interesting reviews and discussions regarding LeGuin's Lavinia (Harcourt, 2008):

Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle puts it succintly: "The single best SFF novel of the year, I'd say." (Roberts' short item.) At Strange Horizons Roberts wrote a full-length review: " ... there is a pervasively numinous quality to LeGuin's imagined world; finely rendered and completely believable, it makes for a brilliantly compelling textual universe." Yes, and yes again.

Roberts also participated in a discussion that spread across several blogs:
Introduction -- Torque Control
Lyric and Narrative --
Fantasy -- 
Asking the Wrong Questions
History -- 
Eve's Alexandria

Laura Miller at wrote:
Lavinia is an old writer's book -- Le Guin is 79 -- in the best sense of the word; it is ripe with that half-remembered virtue, wisdom. This, Le Guin seems to be saying, is what it feels like to be the personification of your land and your people, to speak the words and perform the rites of "the old, local, earth-deep religion," to be the sacred guardian of harmony and plenty for a handful of rustic villages and farms, and to carry their past and future in your body.
I could go on quoting other reviews, but I think the point has been made. This is a book worth your time.

Monday, April 19, 2010

2010 Locus Awards Short List

The top five vote-getters in each category of the 2010 Locus Awards have been announced. Unlike the Hugos there is no second round of voting. Winners will be presented during the Science Fiction Awards Weekend in Seattle WA, June 25-27, 2010.

Science Fiction Novel
The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker (Subterranean; Tor)
Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress (Tor)
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Tor)
Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson (HarperVoyager; Ballantine Spectra)
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)

Fantasy Novel
The City & The City by China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett (Harper; Doubleday UK)
Drood by Dan Simmons (Little, Brown)
Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
Finch by Jeff VanderMeer (Underland)

First Novel
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)
The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry (Penguin)
Soulless by Gail Carriger (Orbit US)
Lamentation by Ken Scholes (Tor)
Norse Code by Greg van Eekhout (Ballantine Spectra)

Judging from the few that I have read (so far) these are fairly strong lists. The SF Strangelove Locus Awards ballot included The Windup Girl on both First Novel and Science Fiction Novel categories. Five out of six Hugo Awards Best Novel Finalists appear on the Locus Awards short list. Only the Hugo Finalist Wake by Robert J. Sawyer does not appear above.
Full Locus Awards short list.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The City & The City and The Other City

The City & The City

Having read two of China Miéville’s previous novels, Perdido Street Station (2000) and The Scar (2002) -- two shuddering, juddering, shambling mounds of story, parts of which work quite well and parts of which do not -- I was prepared to expect whopper-jawed plotting and inventive imagery. Instead, The City & The City (British edition: Macmillan, 2009; U.S. edition: Del Rey, 2009) takes the form of a conventional police procedural -- a police procedural that is emotionally flat and uninflected.

The crux of the book is the setting: two Eastern European cities, Besźel and Ul Qoma, foreign to each other, are superimposed in the same space, where it is against the law to interact with or even look at the people and buildings of the city that is not your own. The citizens of both cities are required to master the ability of not seeing the other city and its inhabitants as they go about their lives, walking around obstacles that they are not allowed to overtly perceive.

Miéville cites Franz Kafka and Bruno Schulz in his acknowledgements, and fans of those authors likely will be entranced by the overlapping cities. It is the precision of Miéville’s rigorously worked out concept that moves this slightly fantastic setting into the realm of science fiction. Miéville invents a vocabulary to describe the odd societally-imposed gymnastics of what citizens can and cannot perceive. “Crosshatch” refers to spaces that are simultaneously in use by both cities. Inhabitants of one city “unsee” the buildings and “unnotice” the people of the other city. “Breach” is the term for violating these rules; it is also the name of a mysterious and powerful agency that ruthlessly enforces the separation of the cities. Unificationists are radicals who advocate the merger of the two cities.

The story concerns a murder investigation that unfolds methodically, and it provides an excuse to tour the strange dual existence of the cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma. Unfortunately, the murder mystery plods somewhat and only very slowly gains enough momentum to hold the reader’s interest.

A similar strategy was used in Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (HarperCollins, 2007). Here, too, a detective story allows the author to provide a tour of an exotic, science fictional setting. Chabon’s alternate-world setting is one where Jewish refugees are resettled in Alaska after World War II. Chabon’s character interactions seem lively compared to the perfunctory tone of the central character of The City & The City, Inspector Tyador Borlú.

Among Miéville’s many nice touches in The City & The City are the different architectural styles and economic statuses of the two cities, ancient artifacts that may or may not have unusual properties, and enough shadings regarding the secretive Breach agency to leave open the question of whether their powers are fantastic in nature.

The Other City
The Other City by Michal Ajvaz (translation by Gerald Turner, Dalkey Archive, 2009; originally published in Czech in 1993), on the other hand, contains all the outrageous and endlessly inventive imagery that I had expected to find in The City & The City and did not. The Other City concerns two Eastern European cities superimposed in the same space, too. Here, the cities are not mutually ignoring each other. One city is Prague; the other city is a secret city that is fully aware of Prague, while citizens of Prague are rarely aware of it.

The surreal imagery leaps from a fish festival, to sepulchral streetcars, to a shark attack in a church tower, with something wild on nearly every page.

A couple of quotes picked at random:
They all took little wooden caskets out of their bags and placed them on the desk in front of them. Then they removed their lids. There was a rustling sound and weasels stuck their heads out of the caskets, resting their forelegs on the front side of the caskets and started to hiss. The listeners stood at attention; so did I. Although there was little light in the lecture room, the people standing alongside me soon noticed that I had no animal hissing in front of me. A scandalized whispering spread around the room and soon the entire auditorium was staring at me. (p. 43)
The red blood trickled across the floor and soaked into the tassels of the carpet. In the foreground of the room the anonymous artist had painted a writing desk with several letters scattered on its surface; on the envelope of one of them could be seen a letterhead with the words Société des Bains de Mer. At the edge of the desk a thick book lay open; a ray of light from the adjacent room fell onto this part of the canvas, so I was able to read the text on its pages. It was The Odyssey and the line: O moi ego, teon aute broton es gaian ikano -- “Alas, what country have I come to now?”  (p. 120)
Our narrator pursues an elusive young woman from the other city. What emerges is a fantastical tour of Prague, with well-known landmarks and others less well-known. The dreamlike sights and events become circular and interwoven to a degree. Still, there is at times a distinct lack of story to drive the narrative.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Awards and Other Verdicts

Hugo nominees
Best Novel published in 2009:
 -- Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Tor)
 -- The City & The City by China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
 -- Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)
 -- Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
 -- Wake by Robert J. Sawyer (Analog 11/08-3/09; Ace; Gollancz)
 -- The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)
Having read three of the six novel nominees so far the nominees seem strong this year. I will have more to say about the fiction nominees at a later date. Locus Online's complete list of the nominees. Abigail Nussbaum's commentary at Asking the Wrong Questions.

BSFA awards
The 2009 British Science Fiction Association awards have been announced. Best novel was The City & The City by China Miéville. For a list of nominees and winners: Locus Online and the BSFA website.

Philip K. Dick award
The winner for the distinguished original science fiction paperback published for the first time during 2009 in the U.S. is Bitter Angels by C.L. Anderson (Ballantine Spectra). A special citation was given to: Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald (Pyr). Locus Online article and Philip K. Dick Award website.

John Clute on American Fantastic Tales
John Clute essays the two-volume overview of American fantasy, American Fantastic Tales (The Library of America), edited by Peter Straub. Along the way we learn: "That a fully shaped self is a mask for amnesia. That a root task of fantastika is to shame the self." John Clute part one and part two.

Peter Watts court case
Science fiction author Peter Watts was convicted of obstructing a U.S. border officer, a felony. Sentencing is scheduled for April 26. 
 -- a brief news item about the verdict from Locus Online.
 -- Avram Grumer at Making Light writes, "Peter Watts has been found guilty of being assaulted by a border guard." Full article.

Jonathan McCalmont on The Shadow of the Torturer
With astonishing logic, McCalmont decides to treat the first volume of a four-volume novel as self-contained and then faults it for not answering all his questions: “. . . this is a book that is strangely free from meaning. It is a series of puzzles with no solutions.” The fault, dear critic, lies not in the text but in your premise.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield

In Great Waters (British edition: Jonathan Cape, 2009; U.S. edition: Del Rey, 2009) is an alternate history fantasy set in England in the equivalent of the Elizabethan era. In addition to standard-issue humans there are mer-people, presented in unsentimental, un-Disney-fied style. The two tribes of sentient beings are called landsmen and deepsmen. While there are a number of differences in physical characteristics -- deepsmen are larger, stronger, and have a single large tail instead of legs -- the key similarity is that the two tribes are cross-fertile.

History in the novel diverges from our own in the early 9th Century when the deepsmen announce themselves in the canals of Venice. Until this time deepsmen were assumed to be a sailor’s fantasy. Handily revealing the vulnerabilities of wood-hulled ships, Venice was the ideal city for them to demonstrate their power: the murky waters of the canals gave easy and undetectable access throughout the city. The deepsmen invasion precipitates a political crisis in Venice among the landsmen. The leaders of Venice send for help from the French to defeat the deepsmen. The people of Venice rebel, rejecting subjugation to the French as more objectionable than the trouble that the deepsmen present. At this critical juncture a half-breed woman, Angelica, emerges from the water and allies herself with the rebellious people. She directs the deepsmen to attack the approaching French navy and the French are soundly defeated. Angelica, with her unprecedented sea power becomes the ruler of Venice by popular acclaim. Her children and grandchildren are sought as spouses by every royal family whose nation has a navy. Angelica’s offspring are required in order for each nation with a coastline to ally with local deepsmen. All of this is backstory for the narrative at hand, which takes place about 800 years later.

The English royal family has no male heir. A half-deepsman boy, Henry, found tossed up on the shore, is being raised in secret as a possible usurper for the throne. Anne, granddaughter of the current king, realizes her family’s predicament and works toward a solution.

Henry and Anne are both troubled and dysfunctional, but they are troubled and dysfunctional in interesting ways. They both are starved for attention from their largely absent mothers. Henry’s mother shoves him out of the water at age five and he never sees her again. They both have entirely absent fathers. Deepsmen don’t pair-bond and fathers have no role in nurturing the young. Anne’s father was killed in a battle in Scotland when she was quite young. Henry makes do with a surrogate father, the emotionally aloof scholar Allard, who found Henry on the beach and attempts to raise him and civilize him. Anne’s surrogate father is Bishop Westlake, the moral and ethical center of the novel.

The stories of these two distressed childhoods are the best parts of the book. Henry, when he arrives on land is nearly feral, as if he has been raised by wolves, with nothing resembling an education and no social customs that the landsmen recognize. Deepsmen have no recorded history, relying solely on a rudimentary oral tradition to pass on information about hunting, tribal dominance behavior, and basic survival. Allard must teach Henry how to dress himself, the English language, history, and how to interact with others in something other than aggressive displays to establish dominance. Henry’s isolation is nearly complete. If word of his existence reached authorities, his execution would be certain.

Anne, by contrast, has been educated in English and Latin and church dogma. Her isolation is amid people. She has tutors and maids, where familiarity and friendship is dangerous to both parties. Family is estranged or largely absent. The predators at court are every bit as hungry and dangerous as those at sea. Anne’s strategy is to pretend stupidity, hoping to be non-threatening and invisible. As part of her deepsmen genetic heritage, she has a large patch of bioluminescent flesh on her face that glows whenever she is embarrassed.

Because of their partial deepsmen blood, Henry and Anne have physical differences from landsmen, making it difficult to walk upright, something they share with nearly all the royal families of Europe. They can manage to walk with crutches, if gracelessly.

After these two characters and their childhoods are presented, quite wonderfully, the story structure and plot lurches into action, rather awkwardly, with Anne chasing after a cure for Bishop Westlake, who has fallen ill. Henry, through a rather large coincidence, falls into the hands of Bishop Westlake and a plan is hatched to marry Henry to Anne and place them on the throne. The machinations at court are not entirely convincing and obstacles tend to fall away easily. As his coronation approaches, Henry causes a fuss by refusing to swear an oath to uphold the Church and keep the laws of God. He finds Christianity inscrutable and the more people attempt to explain it to him the more he rejects it. This threatens to alienate their key ally, the Bishop. The controversy is dropped without resolution.

There is a lot to like: the dysfunctional childhoods of Henry and Anne, the imagery of the royal families of Europe on crutches, and Anne’s delightful bioluminescent blushes. More importantly, Whitfield has done a service to the mythology of merfolk by providing this fresh and unsentimental variation.

Still, I can’t help thinking that the backstory about Angelica’s conquest of Venice 800 years earlier, leading to the introduction of deepsmen blood throughout the royal families of Europe, which is developed in considerably more detail in the book than the summary above suggests, might have made a superior novel to the one at hand.