Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Man vs. Nature, as of 1932

Every time one re-reads a worthy book, one finds new resonances within it. I believe this is my fifth time with this volume, and its ecological view would have found agreement back then with J.R.R. Tolkien, as it finds resonance today:

He wondered how all this cultivated part of Dartmoor would have looked, say, in Tertiary times, before the advent of man on the planet; before that uglifying master-brute had put a hand to his congenial and self-honoured labour of clearing lands of their established life. Savage and lovely beyond thought, no doubt. So what had been gained by the substitution? Additional sources of food supply for man himself and some dozen kinds of degenerated animals, his servants. For this, fair trees had been uprooted, strange, beautiful beasts and snakes of the wild exterminated, exquisite birds made rare or extinct, the inhabitants of the streams slaughtered and poisoned. Verily, a ruthless campaign!

And the effective result? Why, this foul trail of earth-viscera and metamorphosis wheresoever man passed. All over England and Europe, and gradually all over the world, the houses, pavements, factories, mines, quarries, cuttings, bridges, railways, cars, engines and machinery, slag-heaps, gas-works, roads, stagnant canals, the grime of unreckonable chimneys, the grit and dust of a hell-maze of thoroughfares; and the slums, and backyards, and hidden corners of filth and shame. Or the cabbage-rows, and manure-heaps, sties, stables and pens—to demonstrate the superlative vulgarity of this scrambler for easy food, the human biped, whose stomach was paramount in the existence of a mystic universe.

The source?  This comes from  Chapter VI of Devil's Tor (1932) by David Lindsay.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Hell's Cartographers

This book passed under my radar for a long time, but I'm glad to have finally discovered it. I guess I never made a connection with what is referenced in the title, and thought the book was merely another anthology of stories. But the title references one of the first books on science fiction, New Maps of Hell (1960) by Kingsley Amis. By 1975, when Hell's Cartographers, edited by Brian W. Aldiss and Harry Harrison, came out, Amis's book was receding from memory.

Yet the subtitle of the book (in small typeface on the cover) is more descriptive:  "Some Personal Histories of Science Fiction Writers."  And that's what the book is: personal histories by Robert Silverberg, Alfred Bester, Harry Harrison, Damon Knight, Frederik Pohl, and Brian Aldiss. Each writer also contributed a short piece to an appendix entitled "How We Work" covering their own writing habits.

I've read books by all six writers before reading this volume, and even had some (small) associations with two of them. Of the six, only Robert Silverberg is still alive, forty-five years later, and he was the youngest contributor when the book originally came out. Silverberg's essay is arguably the most interesting in the book, for his writing career, in the period covered, changed and evolved more than that of most of the other writers. Yet each author has worthwhile things to say, and it is quite interesting to encounter autobiographical reflections by a writer like Bester--from whom I don't think I've previously read anything but fiction. Aldiss, Harrison, Knight and Pohl have each written autobiographies of one sort or another.

There are some good moments throughout the book, and I'll share a few here.

Robert Silverberg noted: "I wrote my strangest, most individual book, Son of Man, a dream-fantasy of the far future, with overtones of Stapledon and Lindsay's Voyage of [sic] Arcturus and a dollop of psychedelia that was altogether my own contribution." (p. 39).

Alfred Bester recalled attending meetings of science fiction authors in a London pub in the mid-1950s.  This would have been at the White Horse or the Globe.  Bester recalled:  "John Wyndham and Arthur Clarke came to those gatherings. I thought Arthur rather strange, very much like John Campbell, utterly devoid of a sense of humour and I'm always ill-at-ease with humourless people" (p. 68).

Brian Aldiss's comments on the state of science fiction writing forty-five years ago are still applicable today though there has been a good deal of books on "new and darker ages" in the decades since: 
“Most of the science fiction being written is disappointing and not merely on literary grounds; so many of its basic assumptions are fossils of thought. The philosophy and politics behind the average sf novel are naive; the writer takes for granted that technology is unqualifiedly good, that the Western way of life is unqualifiedly good, that both can sustain themselves forever, out into galaxy beyond galaxy. This is mere power-fantasy. As I have often argued, we are at the end of the Renaissance period. New and darker ages are coming. We have used up most of our resources and most of our time, Now nemesis must overtake hubris” (p. 201). 
There's much to reflect upon in this book. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Violet Apple by David Lindsay

In sorting some large piles of research notes there emerged an advertisement for the first publication of David Lindsay's The Violet Apple and The Witch, forthcoming from the Chicago Review Press (then distributed by the Swallow Press) on their Fall/Winter 1975 list. Here is the advertisement from Publishers Weekly, 25 August 1975. (Click on any scan to make it larger.)
It is interesting that the price of the book is given as $10 (for comparison I note that in 1977 Tolkien's The Silmarillion was priced at $10.95). But The Violet Apple and The Witch wasn't published at that price, nor did it come out in 1975. When it finally appeared in April 1976, the price was upped to $15. Here are scans of the front and rear covers, with flaps, of the dust-wrapper (scanning with the mylar still on the wrapper has resulted in some unfortunate glare streaks).
Note the quotes from reviews, on the rear cover, of A Voyage to Arcturus, and Devil's Tor. The new book apparently did not sell well. The trade paperback edition came out in June 1977. Every page--including the copyright page--is identical to that in the hardcover edition, so it looks as though the trade paperback edition came out in 1976, but of course that wasn't the case. In fact, the trade paperback gives the impression of having been made up of repurposed pages from unsold copies of the hardcover edition. In any case, neither edition sold well, and copies are pricey today (though the hardcover is by far the rarer of the two editions). Here are the front and rear covers of the trade paperback.
Some of the flap copy on the dust-wrapper has been reworked on the rear cover of the paperback, and of the quotations from reviews only one concerning A Voyage to Arcturus remains.

A British edition of The Violet Apple (omitting the severely edited version of The Witch) was published in hardcover by Sidgwick & Jackson on 29 June 1978. Priced £5.50, it restores Lindsay's chapter titles that were omitted from the earlier edition, and corrects some transpositional errors in the text. Here is the simple and elegant front cover along with the front and rear flaps.

This edition, too, sold poorly, and a sticker was later added to the front flap dropping the price to only £1.50.  Here is the flap of another copy, with the sticker affixed.
Even that drastic a reduction in price was not enough to get rid of unsold copies, and in 1981 the publisher rebound the unsold sheets together with another book (A Double Shadow, by Frederick Turner) as a Science Fiction SPECIAL 33, issued without a dust-wrapper. Here is the cover.
 To date, these are the only published editions of both of Lindsay's posthumous books.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Pronouncing "Cabell"

The source of the rhymed couplet, "Tell the rabble / My name is Cabell" (discussed briefly in my previous post), is still unknown.  It is usually mentioned as something that Cabell told an unnamed journalist, but Bill Lloyd (of the excellent website for all-things Cabell, The Silver Stallion) notes that the closest actual source by Cabell that we have for this is a letter from Cabell to Sinclair Lewis dated 26 November 1917:
And the name of the sulky beast is Cabell, in ironic consonance with rabble. I don't wonder you did not know, since I was forced to spend two years in New York under the alias of Cáy-bel and Cay-béll, through the utter impossibility of persuading any Northerner to pronounce my actual name.  (Between Friends: Letters of James Branch Cabell and Others, p. 13)
The James Branch Cabell Library at Virginia Commonwealth University produced a nice button with the couplet. (See also their website for further information.)

Thanks to Bill Lloyd!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Worlds Imagined: An Exhibition of Maps

In 2017-2018, the Cushing Memorial Library & Archives at Texas A&M University hosted an exhibit on Worlds Imagined: The Maps of Imaginary Places Collection.  At the end of last year, after the exhibition had closed, a pdf of the 100 page catalog was posted online, as well as a 25-minute video view of the exhibition, hosted by the curators.  Both are accessible here.  They are quite fun, but one should be wary of the pronunciation of the various names and places as given by the curators. For instance, Poictesme is correctly pronounced  pwa-tem (not pwa-tez-may), the setting created by James Branch Cabell (whose surname is mispronounced as ka-BELL).  Cabell himself made up a rhyming couplet to correct the frequent mispronunciation of his name:  "Tell the rabble: / My name is Cabell" (I've also seen this quoted as "Stop all this rabble / My name is Cabell." I'm not sure at present which is correct.). The name Dunsany is mispronounced in a way I've never heard before, as "DUNSE-nee"; whereas correctly the name is three syllables, "dun-SAY-nee"

Sunday, July 28, 2019

A Dunsany quote from James Blish?

In his Guest of Honor speech at EasterCon 21 in London in 1970 (audio, with illustrations, here), James Blish gave a supposed quote from Lord Dunsany that I have been otherwise unable to source.  Here what Blish said:
Like all the arts, science fiction adds to our knowledge of reality by formally evoking what Lord Dunsany called "those ghosts whose footsteps across our minds we call emotions." 
Blish's talk was basically his introduction to Harry Harrison's anthology The Light Fantastic: Science Fiction Classics from the Mainstream, published in 1971. But where does the Dunsany quotation come from?  Anyone?  Is it even really a Dunsany quote?

I found a very similar idea in an essay "The Symbolism of Poetry" by William Butler Yeats from 1900, as follows: 
"certain disembodied powers, whose footsteps over our hearts we call emotions" 
Apparently, either Dunsany might have slightly restated Yeats's words somewhere, or Blish might have misattributed the (slightly inaccurate) words to Dunsany rather to Yeats. I'd lean towards the latter.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Further on the Grill/Binkin Lovecraft Collection

Back in March, I wrote on the Lovecraft Collection of Jack Grill and (later) of Irving Binkin.  It's posted here

This is a follow-up, bringing the story to the present as far as I am able. 

The original blog post received the following comment from someone who signed their name only as JohnK:
Quite a few pieces of the Grill Collection wound up in the 'Undead' Book Sail (John McLaughlin) catalog 1984. McLaughlin also had the Cats Of Ulthar manuscript for sale in the early 90's as I recall. McLaughlin was eccentric to say the least, he had a shop in Orange Ca. that was hardly ever open to the public and was loaded with weird collector's items that he really wasn't interested in selling.
After McLaughlin passed away many of his treasures were auctioned off by Heritage, including the mostly unsold Lovecraft Grill collection. McLaughlin's dream like many collectors was to have a museum devoted to his collections. His family had other ideas. I actually looked at that Dracula script at his shop one time, it was stashed in a pile of other equally rare stuff.”
I remember that catalog primarily for its long six-page description of the typescript of Dracula (originally titled "The Undead"), and the fact that the package in which it was sent was marked: "Open with Care, Contents UNDEAD." I'd completely forgotten that the catalog included HPL and Weird Tales materials. The catalog itself is dated 1984, but my copy wasn't mailed until February 28th, 1985.

And sure enough, among all of the Lovecraftiana are listings for the manuscripts of “The Cats of Ulthar” and “Some Dutch Footprints in New England,” as well as Lovecraft's Astronomical Notebook, 1909-1915, among many other items. The Lovecraft material is quite extensive, and runs some forty-six heavily descriptive pages, covering items 355 through 468. Additionally, there are many photographs of the various items.

Cover to the 1984 Undead Book Sail catalog
The catalog itself is a lavish production. Most copies were done in trade paperback, with a new color cover by Rowena Morrill, and new materials by Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, and others. The print run was evidently fairly large, as the colophon notes that the edition consisted of 1,400 numbered copies, of which one thousand were bound in wrappers, and four hundred bound as deluxe hardcovers (with extra material, and the signatures of the contributors). On top of the 1,400 copies, another one hundred fifty were made for the publisher's use, including fifty copies bound in half-leather for presentation to contributors. The copies were hand-numbered with an ink compound that contained actual human blood. (To add to the absurdity, the inserted errata slip, correcting only one item's price, has a notation that “This errata is limited to 1500 copies.” Presumably the contributor copies were given out without this photocopied errata slip.)

The catalog is subtitled the “16th Anniversary Catalogue” of the Book Sail out of Orange, California. It was edited and catalogued by Bruce Francis, and published and coordinated by John McLaughlin. It is probably fair to call the whole enterprise eccentric, for, basically, it's a kind of vanity publication to show off the materials that McLaughlin had collected and which he really didn't want to sell. (The high prices alone are evidence of a desire not to sell the materials.) And the catalogue itself was sold to inquiring customers. I don't remember the price, but it wasn't cheap, and one was really paying for the privilege to read the often lengthy descriptions of rare and unique items, of which the Stoker manuscript was the prized example.

The proprietor of the Book Sail must also be described as eccentric. John Kevin McLaughlin (1942-2005) was the only child of an IBM executive and his wife. He grew up in Endicott, New York, and graduated from high school there, after which he attended college at World Campus, which was a float that went around the world. He married (and divorced) twice, and was survived by two sons from his first marriage. He founded the Book Sail in Anaheim in 1968, and moved it to a larger location in Orange in 1975. Meanwhile he amassed a legendary collection of antiquarian books, vintage comics, pulp magazine, and movie scripts and memorabilia. He must have purchased the Grill/Binkin collection of Lovecraft manuscripts in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

McLaughlin was reportedly given lavish amounts of money by his father, and thereby was able to build his collections. His parents died in Endicott in the early 1990s, and McLaughlin died there at the age of 63 in June 2005. In August 2006, major chunks of his collections, including it seems much of the Lovecraftiana, was auctioned by Heritage Auction Galleries and Diamond International Galleries. Some of McLaughlin's collection—this looks mostly to be movie ephemera (posters, scripts, photos, contracts, etc.)— ended up in "The John McLaughlin Collection of Popular Culture" in Special Collections at Binghamton University.

Thus, through the auction of McLaughlin's collections, much of what had been the Grill/Binkin collection of Lovecraftiana re-entered the market, and was apparently completely dispersed. Many of these materials are probably still out there somewhere, though individual items are not easily located, and it appears that most of it did not end up in institutions or libraries.

At least the collection per se did not end up in a dumpster.