Posts tagged ‘World SF’

Frederik Pohl

 

 
By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull

Windycon 41 was a lot of fun for me this year, especially the session dedicated to Frederik Pohl and his impact on science fiction.

Some highlights: We opened with a solemn presentation to me of a polished brass plaque which appeared on a commemorative bench at Loncon this year by Helen Montgomery and Dave McCarty from the executive committee of Chicon 7 and ISFiC. I was truly touched.

Gene Wolfe, our friend who lived in nearby Barrington till just recently, joined the panel at the last minute, and set the tone for the panel and made the audience laugh when he talked about how upset he was when Fred and I got married, and I soon after stopped being one of the hosts of our local fan group, SFFNCS (a.k.a. Science Fiction Fans of the Northwest Chicago Suburbs, pronounced “Sphinx”). In my defense, being Fred’s wife took a lot more time than being his girlfriend! Not to mention that I was holding down a full-time job at Harper College and developing their Honors Program, as well as the fact that Fred and I did a lot of traveling together to some pretty interesting and exotic places around the world.

Fred’s long-time editor Jim Frenkel kept us focused on the description of the panel: Fred’s multifaceted contributions to the field. He revealed some of what it was like to work editorially with Fred, who could always recognize a good editorial suggestion when he received it. We all agreed that all of Fred’s experience as an editor both for magazines and for books had sharpened his fiction skills and the ability to self-edit, and his period of agenting had also made him very aware of how important marketability is to a writer’s career.

I admitted that Fred was already a Big Name Pro and had a lot of experiences that I knew about only second hand when I met him at the Worldcon in Kansas City in 1976. I had in fact, taught The Space Merchants in my SF class but changed to Gateway in the late ’70s.

Long-time Chicago-area fan Neil Rest talked about the sensation Fred made on local fans when he came with me to one of parties held every month at the apartment of George Price (of Advent:Publishers) —or perhaps it was at one of the weekly meetings on the North Side called “Thursday,” quite possibly at the home of Alice Bentley, who might have been still a teenager or at least wasn’t yet a bookstore owner. We did a lot better at remembering our feelings than actual details, as will happen over more than 30 years.

From his beginnings in the New York area in the ’30s, Fred never gave up fanac and his sense of being a fan when he became a pro. I told how thrilled Fred was at Foolscap in Seattle in 2000 where Fred and Ginjer Buchanan (then an editor at Ace) were co-fan guests of honor. They called the con the “Fred and Ginjer Show.” In the ’30s and ’40s, Fred told me many times, he was very fond of the beautiful and talented Ginger Rogers, who he said, had to do all the steps Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels.

Much more recently, Fred was also entirely thrilled in 2010 when he won a Hugo as Best Fan Writer at Aussiecon for his work in this blog. He was happy to give credit wherever due, and thanked his blogmeister, Leah A. Zeldes, who allowed him to concentrate on writing without having to worry about the technicalities of the Internet posting, as well as Dick Smith, who enabled Fred to use his obsolete word processor to write both fiction and non-fiction.

Continue reading ‘Windycon Honors Frederik Pohl’s Contributions to SF’ »

SCOTUS

How will the Supreme Court’s decision in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning affect democracy?

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.


Elizabeth
Anne Hull

When Pope Francis named 19 new cardinals to be installed in February, it underscored the efficiency of a nondemocratic government. The elevation of Les Cayes Bishop Chibly Langlois (at 55 the youngest of the appointees) from Haiti, shows how much can be done very quickly by an autocrat, in this case, to implement Francis’s agenda of ministering to the poor of the world. Bishop Langlois’ youth makes likely he will still be around and under age 80 when the time comes to vote for the next pope. All this in less than a year since Francis became the pontiff.

I likewise saw how efficient the totalitarian government of China could be in clearing the roads blocked by a landslide after a great rainstorm in 1991, when Fred and I were stranded for an extra day in the Tibetan foothills while visiting the Panda Breeding Station.

With us were Charles Brown, Brian Aldiss, Brian Stableford, Malcolm Edwards, and a couple of dozen others from outside China for the occasion of the World SF meeting in Chengdu, Sichuan. The authorities were not going to let their honored guests be inconvenienced one more day than absolutely necessary!

It’s an old joke that at least Mussolini got the railroads to run on time during World War II.

Contrast this with our seemingly dysfunctional Congress in the United States where democracy rules. Well, actually we have a representative democracy, which means we have established checks and balances that are supposed to preserve the basic rights of minorities and prevent too hasty decisions from being implemented by well-meaning people who fail to see potential unintended consequences of their agendas. But for the sake of brevity, we call it “democracy” and are quite proud of it.

Democracy as we practice it is, undeniably, a much slower and more cumbersome way to reach decisions and implement change. And it’s an equally self-evident logical principle — sorry, those who want to maintain the old ways no matter what — that situations can not ever be improved without making changes. But democracy (we’ll call it that for shorthand) has one big advantage over totalitarian, top-down management. That is, when everyone can have his or her say before a decision is finally reached, the decision is likely to be fairer and last longer before it too needs to be changed. Americans don’t like having stuff shoved down our throats.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the question of whether the president has the right to make interim appointments to key positions, including judicial appointments, which in turn may lead to appointments to the Supreme Court itself. We do live in interesting times!

Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison

After the Harrison family settled in, just outside of Dublin, I feared we would lose touch with them again. That didn’t happen. Those were the years when the airlines were cutting their prices and increasing their amenities every week or so; world travel became easier for many of us, and tempting science-fiction cons and other events kept cropping up in all sorts of foreign settings. Both Harry and I took full advantage of the new opportunities, and if I didn’t run into him in Rio de Janeiro I was likely to have another chance before long in Milan.

We weren’t the only sf jet-setters, either; fans and writers like Brian Aldiss in England and Sam Lundwall in Sweden covered about as much of the Earth’s surface as Harry and I. We were together in some town when Harry got a truly brilliant idea. We all, on one occasion or another, had visited the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries, and we had all had the experience of meeting a local or two who turned out to become a friend.

And then one of us said, “What a pity Russians can’t get visas to come to Worldcons.” And Harry spoke up, with a sudden big smile, “You know what? Your countries and theirs wouldn’t give them visas because of the Cold War. But I’m from Ireland, and Ireland isn’t a member of NATO!”

And as soon as he got home he began talking to some friendly Irish diplomats. They all confirmed that there wouldn’t be any political problem to inviting Russians to a Dublin con.

So Harry immediately set about creating one.

 

When Harrycon happened, it was a blast. A couple of dozen top sf writers showed up, as well as numbers of editors, fans and general hangers-on from all sorts of European, North American and South American countries. And from the Soviet Union, among others, my own personal best Russian friend, Yuli Kagarlitsky, author of the USSR’s only scholarly book on science fiction, Shto eta fantastika, and Vasili Zakharchenko, editor of a boys’ magazine that sometimes published translated American sf stories, and paid for them, in rubles and kopecks, in cash. And when it was over four of us — Harry and I, plus Brian W. Aldiss and Sam Lundwall — kept wishing we could do it regularly, and among the four of us, we thought up a way of getting it done.

The USSR, and indeed almost all the Stalinite countries, wouldn’t let their people go abroad just for fun. But if the purpose was to be delegates to some world literary or scientific societies, well, certainly they wanted the hammer and sickle flag displayed on the world stage.

It turned out to be the easiest revolution we ever caused. We constituted ourselves a scholarly body called World SF, printed up letterheads with Harry listed as president and the other three of us, our countries of origin prominently displayed, listed as vice-presidents and began mailing invitations to people of interest. And almost at once they began to arrive.

Of course, to invite people to speak at international meetings required that we cook up meetings for them to address. But that was easy to do, and, somewhat to our surprise, the World SF meetings themselves became important annual events. Some were quite small, involving twenty or thirty, or rarely even fewer, in attendance, but some were huge, for example the one hosted in Chengdu, China.

World SF kept going until the collapse of the Soviet Union began the changes in many of the world’s repressive governments that eased travel restrictions. Then it wasn’t needed any more and it gradually withered away, but it did the job Harry wanted it to, and without his driving energy, it might never have happened.

Harry was a good and crowd-pleasing writer. He was also a human being who did his best to make the world a kinder place. We’ll miss him.

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Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber, 2009. (Photo by Cat Sparx.)

Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber, 2009. (Photo by Cat Sparx.)

From time to time, Robert Silverberg has told the world that he had written himself out and was retiring from the field. Fortunately for the rest of us, these periods of abstinence from the computer were so depressing to his irrepressibly auctorial psyche that he fled back to the keyboard before long each time. Now he maintains a delicate balance between time spent in putting words on paper, as it seems God has intended for him to do, and time spent traveling the world to view art treasures in the greatest museums and the tiniest of ancient churches.

Betty Anne and I were lucky enough to join him once or twice when we found ourselves inhabiting the same land mass at a convenient time. One such episode that sticks in my mind took place in Italy in 1989. Bob with his wife, Karen Haber, and I with my own, Elizabeth Anne Hull — the wives both had elected to keep their maiden names, which tells you something about them, but at least they didn’t make us take theirs — had been attending a World SF annual meeting in a little town, up in the mountains, called Fanano.

The meeting had been good. World SF had been started by a few of us in order to give sf writers in every country that possessed any examples of any such native creatures a chance to interact with the major writers and editors of the world, and it had come to function very effectively, especially in helping writers from travel-restricting countries get permission to join us. The Fanano meeting had people from all over Europe, including a couple of groups from the USSR, as well as people from several countries in Asia and, of course, a large contingent from North America.

When it was over, Bob wanted to visit a bunch of old churches along the Adriatic on the way north to Venice, and Betty and I volunteered to go along with him.

I can’t say that I have a compelling interest in old churches. I do like to wander around new places, though, so Betty and the Silverbergs parked near a church and I went off to explore. I did peer into one or two churches that might have been where Princess Mathaswentha was saved from a loveless marriage by Martin Padway (at least, she was in L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall, though in the real world she was less fortunate). But really, after a week of concentrated good fellowship with friends from all over the world I was content with peace and quiet.

Venice, of course, was something else. None of the four of us had been there before, though I had barely missed it once when driving from Trieste down along the (then Yugoslavian, now multinational) coast to the Ancona ferry. And Venice itself was a constant delight.

We had pretty much lost any detailed contact with the world we usually lived in, not having any English-language newspaper or TV handy, but more language-gifted friends in Fanano had told us about big trouble in China. Something was going on in Tianenmen Square, the big open space in Beijing usually given over to crowds of young people anxious to try their imperfect English — or their teacher’s — on us so we could help improve their accents. No crowds of happy youngsters were there now, and no tourists. What young people there were were staring down the barrels of Chinese tanks, and the tank captains — we heard when we found an English paper — were said to have their fingers on the triggers.

It was at that point that we ran across a couple of old friends who, like us, had been at the World SF meeting in Fanano and decided to add on a little Adriatic exploration.

Takumi and Sashiko Shibano, from Tokyo, had been doing the Worldcon for years, and once or twice had stayed with us for a day or two before the con. Yang Xiao, from Chengdu in China, was the editor of the very successful Science Fiction World, by far China’s most prestigious sf magazine. Not one of them spoke a single word of Italian, so they had banded together to do their exploration, in spite of the fact that Yang didn’t speak either Japanese or English, either, and the Shibanos had no Chinese. At home in Chengdu, Yang Xiao didn’t need to know languages, having a staff of translators to keep her informed of what was in all those articles, stories and letters, but they were all still in Chengdu, while she was a world away. A clearly courageous human being, Yang had done all sorts of world traveling, with no more English than you can get out of a Chinese-Engish “useful words” booklet.

I admired her pluck, but immediately discovered she had heard nothing about the drama being played out in Tiananmen Square. I began to worry about how to inform her of the problem that looked like it was convulsing her home country.. We all put our minds to it. We succceded, too. Our American team went over the principal stories about Tiananmen Square in the English and Italian papers to clarify any parts that the Shibanos were unsure of. Then either Takumi or Sashiko wrote each story out in Japanese characters. It is a fortunate quality of the two languages that, although the spoken tongues are mutually incomprehensible, the written ones are enough alike that, with some effort, a Chinese reader can make sense of a Japanese story. And Yang Xiao got the news of the dismal encounter that was shaking her homeland up while she was a world away.

Which just goes to show you what a bunch of science-fiction types can do when they put their minds to it.

Ion Hobana

        Ion Hobana

So long, old friend.

Twenty-some years ago a few writers and editors from assorted parts of the world — Harry Harrison from Ireland, Brian Aldiss from England, Sam Lundwall from Sweden and your servant from the U.S.A. — got together to form the organization World SF. Its primary purpose was to constitute a formally existing organization of science-fiction professionals, with regular meetings all over the world, since a formal organization would help our fellows in countries like the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union get through their travel barriers to join the rest of us in truly international meetings.

It worked pretty well much of the time, with science-fiction writers turning up in several score of the countries of the world. One of the most active was Ion Hobana, from Bucharest, Romania, and it was with real sorrow that we learned that he died in a Bucharest hospital in February, at the age of 80. Some of his stories that were translated into English appear in anthologies, including The Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction.

The Demolished Man was worth all of Horace Gold’s editorial aggravations. The Demolished Man was fresh, adventurous and beautifully written, and it began a stretch of five years or so during which Alfred Bester was turning out what was arguably some of the best writing in the sf field, right up to his second great novel, The Stars My Destination, sometimes called Tiger! Tiger! in 1956.

But, as far as great sf novels were concerned, that was it. Alfie did produce a group of first-rate short stories and novelettes around that time — “Fondly Fahrenheit,” “5,279,009” and my own personal favorite, “Disappearing Act,” for example — and he did write more novels later on, but I don’t think anyone has ever argued that they came up to the standards of those first two terrific books. Maybe Alfie really needed Horace’s nagging to make them great.

And, actually, science fiction lost a lot of its interest for Alfie Bester.

Alfie hadn’t stopped being a money writer. He had returned to science fiction because the money had got better — magazine word rates had tripled after World War II, and now the stories were being picked up by book publishers for even more money. And Alfie had just gotten some significant Hollywood money (for a film which, of course, was never made), which gave him and Rolly the chance to live in Europe for a while.

This suggested to him that he try a little nonfiction travel writing for a magazine named Holiday, which he discovered was just as painless to write as anything else, provided you were Alfred Bester. That paid pretty well. In fact, the magazine’s editors liked his writing so much that they offered him an editorial job, at quite a decent salary, and Alfie suddenly had a new home.

That is, for eight or nine years he did, up until the time when the magazine, as magazines do, went bust.

And then, after he and Rolly had been happily married for forty-eight years, Rolly died. And he began to lose his vision. And things, which had been going quite well for Alfie Bester, were beginning to be less idyllic.

Continue reading ‘Alfie, Part 2: When Bester was the Best’ »