Marcel Proust

The Reading Room: Groff Conklin

I have just finished reading a great fat Groff Conklin anthology, The Classic Book of Science Fiction, known as The Big Book of Science Fiction upon its original release in 1950.  How good is it after sixty-two years, how relevant?  Well, of the 32 stories included, I distinctly recall reading only Ray Bradbury's "Forever and the Earth" and Damon Knight's "Not With a Bang," though I must also have read "Arena" in The Best of Fredric Brown.  I had read about a few others, such as T. L. Sherred's "E for Effort" and Eric Frank Russell's "Dear Devil," but the rest, even those by authors I know, were entirely new to me.

Conklin issued other big anthologies around the same time, e.g., The Omnibus of Science Fiction and Treasury of Science Fiction -- not to be confused with The Treasury of Science Fiction Classics (Harold W. Kuebler, editor, 1954), A Treasury of Great Science Fiction (Anthony Boucher, 1959, this being the two-volume set owned by everybody who ever brushed up against the Science Fiction Book Club), or The World Treasury of Science Fiction (David Hartwell, 1989).  Possibly I am overlooking a treasury or two.  In any case, Conklin also edited more than three dozen paperback anthologies, in one of which I am pretty sure that I read my first Bradbury story, "The Million-Year Picnic."  As Barry Malzberg writes, "all of our postwar history exists in the penumbra of his work."

Currently I'm reading C. P. Snow's The Sleep of Reason and, parsecs away from The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales, a book for young readers.  I never expected to find Hawthorne, whom I habitually picture as a dour Puritan, in such a playful mood.

  • Current Music
    Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler, "I'll See You in My Dreams"
Godless Commie

One tired, hungover, happy political junkie

I was up till late last night, savoring electoral developments.  Although I live in a Republican state, so red that it gives off infrared radiation,  I defiantly vote for progressive candidates every two years.  One of these times I may be pleasantly surprised and wake up in a blue state.  Or at least a purple one.

Anyway, as I said, I was up all till all hours, watching GOP peckerwoods go down to defeat before Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Tammy Baldwin, etc.  Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington came out against bigotry and for marriage equality.  A coupla states even legalized marijuana.

I did finally get smashed, but had the decency to hold off on reaching for the rum and Coke until President Barack Obama was declared the winner.  I have a few issues with Obama but nevertheless feel very, very good about his re-election.  We have dodged, not a bullet, but an entire barrage of 16-inch shells aimed at Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Planned Parenthood, Big Bird, oh, the list goes on.

As for the opposition, it gives me an added thrill to know that right-wing billionaires pissed away tens of millions of dollars and have relatively little to show for it.
  • Current Music
    The Animals, "Around and Around"
Marcel Proust

The Reading Room

Not that I needed more books in my house, not that I didn't already have sufficient reading matter in hand to last me through the winter, but I went to a Friends of the Library book sale in Murfreesboro this morning and came away with the following hardcovers:

Resistance, Rebellion, and Death -- Albert Camus
Adam Bede -- George Eliot
A Brief History of Time From the Big Bang to Black Holes -- Stephen W. Hawking
Tanglewood Tales -- Nathaniel Hawthorne
Joseph Stalin: Man & Legend -- Ronald Hingley
Gideon at Work: Three Complete Mystery Novels -- J. J. Marric (a John Creasey pen name)
Grave Mistake and Two Other Great Mysteries -- Ngaio Marsh
Photo Finish and Two Other Great Mysteries -- Ngaio Marsh
Ashenden or: The British Agent -- W. Somerset Maugham
Triple Zeck: A Nero Wolfe Omnibus -- Rex Stout

I do almost all my reading stretched out in bed, and there's nearly always a stack of books at my bedside.  Currently: The Holy Terror, by H. G. Wells; House of Ghosts (a Shadow novel reprinted from the old pulp magazine), by Walter Gibson; 100 Sneaky Little Sleuth Stories, edited by Robert Weinberg, Stefan Dzienmianowicz, and Martin H. Greenberg; and The Classic Book of Science Fiction (originally published in 1950 as The Big Book of Science Fiction), edited by Groff Conklin.
  • Current Music
    Mozart, Don Giovanni (Overture), Salzburg Festival Orch.

Invisible Kingdoms

Publishers Weekly has reviewed Invisible Kingdoms and thereby made my day, again.

Invisible Kingdoms

Steven Utley. Ticonderoga (, $13.99 trade paper (260p) ISBN 978-1-921857-33-1

This is the second volume collecting Utley’s Silurian Tales, following November 2012’s The 400-Million-Year Itch. Presented in an internally chronological order, 15 stories and novellas continue the ongoing narrative of a scientific expedition that has traveled through a space-time anomaly to the Earth of 400 million years ago, during the Paleozoic Era. Utley focuses on an ever-changing cast of scientists and creative types, using them as mouthpieces to debate politics, religion, parallel universe theory, love, environmentalism, and other weighty matters. There’s an understated disdain for big business, a melancholy yearning for a pristine world, and a keen understanding of human nature running throughout the stories, many of which are linked only by shared characters. Playing with the many-worlds hypothesis, Utley hints at a much larger picture without giving straight answers. No aspect of the premise goes unconsidered in these intelligent, provocative character- and concept-driven tales, making this collection a treat for readers in need of a challenge. (Feb.)
Utley himself

Pulp feminism

I have got this far into my weekend correcting galley proofs, doing laundry, hauling stuff to the recycling station, and reading 40-year-old thrillers, e.g., Bill Pronzini's The Vanished, recently scooped up from the discard table at the Smyrna Public Library.  Last night's selection was by the English writer John Creasey (1908-73), who published more than 600 hundred crime and science-fiction novels under 28 different pseudonyms.  I trust they weren't all as silly as The Voiceless Ones (1973), in which a worldwide army of "militant feminists" in powder-blue uniforms attempts to overthrow patriarchy by means of a chemical compound called silena, which robs people of the power of speech.  This plot is thwarted by Dr. "Sap" Palfrey, head of Z5, an international evil-fighting organization along the lines of U.N.C.L.E.

Militant feminists may have long since put away their powder-blue uniforms and their silena, but, according to one well-known right-wing blowhard, they are still trying to overturn the "natural" order of things, apparently to some effect.

The Writing Life, cont.

Russell Farr of Ticonderoga Publications has made my morning by passing along the following item from Publishers Weekly.

The 400-Million-Year Itch
Steven Utley. Ticonderoga (, $13.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-921857-17-1
For the first time, 18 of Utley’s intriguing Silurian Tales (and an additional original offering) have been collected and placed into chronological order, starting with the introductory “All of Creation,” in which a link to the mid-Paleozoic Siluro-Devonian era grants present-day people a unique opportunity to study the Earth of 400 million years ago. These stories range in tone and style as they explore a wide variety of topics. Utley eschews action in favor of character-driven tales and weighty discussions, tackling the many-worlds hypothesis in “The Gift Horse,” time travel in “The Age of Mud and Slime,” and theology in “Half a Loaf.” The real focus is on Utley’s thought-provoking exploration of the concept from every angle, since the sprawling cast and lack of obvious connecting narrative leave each story standing alone. The result is subtle but powerful, and will leave readers wanting to do their own research into prehistoric eras. (Nov.)
Godless Commie

The Democrats

I didn't watch this week's Democratic National Convention but followed it by live blog at Daily Kos.  Even allowing for the fact that coverage was provided by the same bunch of commie fag junkies who naturally dissed last week's sour (and, once Clint Eastwood had come on stage, surreal) RNC, in terms of almost everything, from message to musical accompaniment, the difference between the two events was striking, comparable to, say, the difference between Citizen Kane and Manos: The Hands of Fate (look it up).  You almost would have thought the two conventions took place in separate universes, one with and the other without people of color and non-heterosexuals.  Among the myriad delights: that powerhouse line-up of women -- Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Sandra Fluke, Elizabeth Warren, Gabby Giffords, Tammy Duckworth, Caroline Kennedy, Jill Biden ....  The men weren't too shabby, either.  A splendid time seems to have been had by all, and I wish I could have been there.
  • Current Music
    Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, "Take It Easy"
Godless Commie

The Republicans

I didn't watch so much as a second of the Republican National Convention this past week, but lurked with fellow commie fag junkies at Daily Kos and followed each evening's action, such as it was, by live blog.  I had sorta been hoping for fistfights on the floor and police brutality a la Chicago 1968, or maybe an Irwin Allen-type disaster with Hurricane Isaac bursting through the convention site and sweeping everything away.  Instead, the proceedings seemed pretty half-baked and half-hearted.  GOP presidential prospects for 2016 made self-aggrandizing speeches and barely remembered to mention in passing the 2012 presidential prospect, Mitt somebody.  Paul Ryan, the creepy veep nominee, evidently went for the Guiness Book record for most whoppers told at a go.  Jeb Bush reminded us that his brother George had kept us safe, never mind about 9/11, the two wars, the economic meltdown, etc.  Ann Romney once again made Nancy Reagan look almost like Eleanor Roosevelt.  And Clint Eastwood either came onstage as himself, a typical angry ranting white male Republican, or else delivered a profoundly Andy Kaufman-esque satire on typical angry ranting white male Republicans.  As much as I like the second explanation, Occam tells us that the simpler explanation is probably correct.

If I had to convey my impression of the whole convention in a word or two, I would go with: amateur night.
  • Current Location
    Cab Calloway and His Orchestra, "Trickeration"
Godless Commie

Quote of the week

My favorite quote of the week about the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket is from Floyd Elliot, over at Daily Kos: "... seriously, Mitt looks like the cocoon that Ryan crawled out of ...."  I wish I had said that, but I didn't, and all power to Mr. Elliot.  The essay from which the line comes, "Paul Ryan, Thinky Guy," is worth reading in its entirety.

I went over the galley proofs of The 400-Million-Year Itch this week and got the corrections off to Russell Farr; still to go is Invisible Kingdoms.
  • Current Music
    Ray Charles, "Ain't That Fine"

The Writing Life, cont.

Russell Farr of Ticonderoga Publications (way yonder on the far side of Down Under) has e-mailed me galley proofs of both volumes of Silurian tales, The 400-Million-Year Itch and Invisible Kingdoms, and even as I write my little Hewlitt Packard All-in-One office machine is steadfastly chugging along, printing out the 287 pages of 400MYI.  This will be the first time I have actually read the three dozen tales in proper narrative sequence (see below), because I wrote them all out of order, as they occurred to me, over a period of almost twenty years.

Here are the contents for both volumes, assembled from all over.

All of Creation
The Woman Under the World
Walking in Circles
Beyond the Sea
The Gift Horse
Promised Land
The Age of Mud and Slime
The Wind Over the World
The Tortoise Grows Elate
Cloud by van Gogh
Half a Loaf
Chaos and the Gods
Chain of Life
The End in Eden
Lost Places of the Earth
A Silurian Tale
The 400-Million-Year Itch

Invisible Kingdoms
The Real World
"Another Continuum Heard From!"
The World Within the World
The Despoblado
The Wave-Function Collapse
Treading the Maze
Slug Hell
There and Then
Silv'ry Moon
The World Without
Five Miles From Pavement
A Paleozoic Palimpsest

  • Current Music
    Ray Charles, "Blackjack"