Jerry Pournelle: May His Wings Be Made Of Tungsten

Slightly modified from the original post on my blog about the passing of Jerry Pournelle, The Logoccentric Orbit for the SF fans I can rely on finding here.

I have been asked to say a few words on the passing of Jerry Pournelle. I scarcely know where to begin. He wrote several novels I loved, especially High Justice. But my first thought about Jerry Pournelle was the awestruck realization that here was someone who could make Larry Niven even better. This team produces two of my favorite SF novels: Footfall and The Mote In God’s Eye, which to me deserve a place in the eternal canon of SF for being, respectively, the greatest alien invasion and first contact novels of the latter 20th century. (Although I will admit that Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow could give Mote a run for its money.) Another of their works that I will always admire is Inferno, a rewrite of Dante, in which they quite literally put a science-fiction writer through Hell. I loved it so much that during graduate school I talked it up to a visiting professor from Yale. She was nice enough to write me back thanking me for the tip and saying she was adding it to her curriculum!

I was reminded of how privileged I am to have spent even one evening in Jerry’s company when I saw so many of my Facebook friends, most of whom are more accomplished authors than I am myself, saying that they had only met Jerry last week at DragonCon for the first time, or never.

I met Jerry eighteen years ago, at Writers’ Of The Future. I’d won 2nd place in the 1999 contest for my story “Bearing The Pattern,” and I still remember it as one of the proudest moments of my life that he and Mr. Niven handed me — ME! — my first ever science-fiction writing award. That I promptly made an ass of myself with my thank-you speech, which I had not rehearsed, is a somewhat less-proud moment, but that’s life.

But I will always treasure the memory of the after-party, when I got to speak with Jerry and many other writers.  I’ll always remember that he came up with the best explanation I’ve ever heard of for the infamous Roswell  Incident, which I will recall here. I’m going to emphasize that this was Jerry speculating, NOT releasing actual knowledge. Obviously, what follows is not an exact transcript, but I’m going to reproduce it as best I can recall from eighteen years ago:

“You got to remember that this was the old Air Force, with all the pilots still veterans of World War II. And those pilots were pretty much drunk as their ground state of being. On top of that, this was 1947, when the entire nuclear arsenal of the world was approximately eight weapons, all of them bombs, and all of them owned by the United States of America.

“Well, what it seems to me is that at some point, the Air Force wanted to move a bomb. Naturally, you’d keep that as secret as you can; why would you tell even the pilots? And so, two pilots, enjoying the long and boring flight over the New Mexico desert as best they could, climbed into the night sky, and never arrived at their destination.

“Now a nuclear weapon, of course, has safeties to prevent a mushroom going off in case the plane carrying it crashes, but crashed planes tend to burn, and the chemical explosive wrapped around the plutonium can certainly catch fire. So you have the Air Force looking for a missing plane, carrying an atomic bomb, and suddenly reports from Roswell of a a burning wreck in the middle of the desert. It doesn’t take the Air Force long to put those two facts together, but by the time they arrive, several VERY unauthorized persons have seen the wreck and the burned bodies (Author’s Note: Ever seen a photo of a very badly burned body? They do tend to shrink and attenuate. So they look very thin, with disproportionately-sized heads. Funny, that.) and strange fragments of highly-classified equipment.

What the Air Force very much wants to do is to make all this go away, so they whisk away all that they can, but they can’t disappear U.S. citizens, and they very definitely do not want it getting out that a couple of idiots managed to destroy by incompetence an eighth of the world’s nuclear arsenal. So they make up the story of a crashed weather balloon, which is an obvious fabrication, and pray. Sure enough, people disbelieve this and their theory about what the Air Force is covering up is… aliens. Alien spacecraft, crashed in the desert, whisked away by the Air Force.

The Air Force, of course, with its competent people now on the job, send up praises to heaven and immediately refuse all comment on such things, pointing with increased energy to the “weather balloon,” and looking as stupid as they can. Because the more they do, the more people think “Ah-HAH! So it IS aliens,” and the less they think, “I wonder whether the Air Force might have lost a nuclear bomb.”

I remember thinking. My gods, of course. That makes absolutely perfect sense, and no matter how high up the chain of command you go, all the way up to President Truman, absolutely NO ONE in the government is going to have an interest in coming clean on that story, and neither would anyone in Eisenhower’s administration after that. How simple and brilliant.

Well, we all laughed, and whether it’s true or not, it’s a good story. And then Jerry talked to me. He asked about my story, and said he remembered it, and that it was a good story. And that’s something I will always remember when I feel that I can’t hack it as a writer. More than anything else, I remember that Jerry made me feel included, and truly part of this wonderful thing that I had always imagined fandom to be. And you know what? I think he did that with everyone. While I have talked to people who hated Jerry’s politics (and hated his fiction) and said he could be an ass when he was arguing, I never heard anyone who said that Jerry snubbed them or made them feel unwelcome.

There’s been a lot of — shall we say, discord — in fandom lately. A lot of exclusivity. I’ve seen friends made to feel unwelcome and friends threatened and excoriated and called liars and slanderers and worse. I’ve experienced some of it myself, as people made it clear that for one reason or another, I was not good enough or important enough to be worth their respect or time. For the purposes of this piece, though, I am not interested in the rights or the wrongs of any of it. All I would like to say is, that I would like all of us to remember Jerry, and how he took the time to befriend and welcome a newbie author. I never had the privilege of truly working with him, but I will always be grateful that for that evening, and that the man I met was as gracious and entertaining as the worlds he had brought to life for me. Thank you Jerry. And I hope to meet you again, where all is

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, worlds without end. Amen.

The Beginnings of Pulp

And a reminder that modern attitudes towards the pulps are certainly not new. This one is for the Castalia crowd.

Here is the estimable Mr. Tom Simon, in part 4 of his essay series “The Exotic and the Familiar”:

Up to the middle of the nineteenth century, while printing was relatively cheap, paper was an expensive commodity. It was made mostly from waste linen, and consequently, the quantity of paper manufactured could never exceed the quantity of linen that was thrown away. (You could make paper directly from flax fibres; but it was much cheaper to let the linen industry use the flax first, and buy up the worn-out linen afterwards.) Men and women made a decent, if undignified, living as rag-pickers – the recyclers of their time. Ragpickers scavenged all kinds of useful stuff from the rubbish-heaps of the world, but their chief stock in trade was linen rags for the paper trade: hence the name of their profession. So long as the supply of paper was limited in this way, books remained a luxury; literacy for the masses, a pipe-dream.

In the 1840s, separately but almost simultaneously, two men invented machines for turning wood into a fibrous pulp. One was a German, F. G. Keller; the other a Canadian, Charles Fenerty. This wood pulp, it turned out, could be used to make paper almost as good as linen-rag paper, and much cheaper. For a few years before this, a few small firms in London had been turning out cheap pamphlets containing lurid adventure stories for a mostly working-class audience. The new pulp paper allowed the pamphlets to be printed by the millions, and ‘pulp fiction’ was born. When The String of Pearls appeared, the usual thing was to release a novel in weekly instalments, and charge (in England) a penny for each issue. The stories were not chosen for highfalutin literary quality; they were written to please a large and not very sophisticated audience.

The English upper classes ignored the new medium. The middle classes, who feared anything that might diminish their advantages over the working class, hated it and sneered at it, dismissing all stories so told as ‘dreadful’. This was a calumny. As Theodore Sturgeon would certainly have said, nine-tenths of the penny serials were crap; but then, nine-tenths of the expensive books favoured by the middle classes were crap. The real sin of the penny dreadfuls was not that they were bad stories, but that they brought printed books within the reach of the Lower Orders.

Included in the article is a link to the also excellent G.K. Chesterton essay “A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls”.

Read the whole thing after the link! It is truly an excellent essay, as is the norm with Mr. Simon.

The Dragon Awards: A Win for the Superversive!

The Dragon Awards got handed out at Dragon Con this past weekend. Several other contributors here were present, and some had works up for an award. Before I get to the point, this: congratulations to all of you, gracious in both victory and in defeat.

For years we’ve had the so-called “Secret Masters of Fandom”, centered around WorldCon, claim that the Hugos were the voice of the fandom. (Or “Fandom”) Their subversive, corrosive, and dyscivic output of propaganda disguised as literature has now had the last of its illusions dispelled. The Dragon Awards clearly demonstrate what the world’s fans in their respective categories regard as the best in SF/F/Horror for the year- and, again, it is not what the subversives of WorldCon want us to believe.

That these cliquish, holier-than-thou, obnoxious, reactionary fanatics (“CHORF” for short) with their delusions of grandeur got repulsed for the second year running (when they didn’t quit the field pre-emptively) and repulsed so soundly that no one noted their absence until after the fact shows clearly what Brian Niemeier pointed out the other day at his blog:

Luckily, the final decision still lay with the vast legions of science fiction and fantasy fans. Shutting out the CHORFs was the only way to reverse the inroads they’d made and safeguard the Dragon Awards from political meddling.

And you guys came through with flying colors!

Take a look at that list of winners again. It’s wall-to-wall best sellers and fan favorites. In short, the most popular nominees won the popularity contest. The process worked!

For those pursuing the restoration of the Superversive, this is a fantastic sign. The audience has not abandoned the Superversive. Indeed, it hungers for it and wants more. Sure, there’s competition and not of of that is Superversive, but we aren’t shying away from that.

Now is the time to join the fray. Get in that seat, take to the skies, form up on the wing, and dive into the furball. We got a big win, and the enemy still doesn’t realize that it’s badly damaged and leaking fuel. Once they realize what’s really going on, it’ll be too late and the entire fortress of foulness will fall from the sky, hit the ground with a terrible crash, and immolate itself in the explosion.

The future belongs to those that show up and stand for what is true and beautiful. That’s the Superversive.

The Superversive is Everywhere. Join the Chorus!

Since I began writing here at SuperversiveSF, I’ve emphasized already-existing examples of the Superversive. The reason is simple: so that, when you’re talking to others, you have ready examples to point to of existing works that are popular, influential, or both. This matters when persuading others, because if they can associate the Superversive concept with things they already know (and, hopefully, like) then getting them to look into what the Superversive Movement has to offer becomes easier.

By the same token, we should seek out others working in those other media and encourage them in creating their own Superversive works. Comics, films, poems, statuary, paintings- whatever. As the word grows (and it will), so will more flock to the banners, and with that change comes the opportunity to make visible the invisible damage done to our cultures worldwide- and then to present the replacements that repair and rejuvenate it.

Which is why I’m making a shift in my posting topic. Rather than show you more of what is already there, I want to show you how to add your voice to that mighty chorus and sing forth again the Song of Creation that made this beautiful world possible.

You’ve seen where the Superversive exists, and have taken from there into yourself. Now? Now we make our own, here, and bring it forth unto there and harmonize with that infinite chorus to carry the music forward yet another generation and drown out the discord of the subversive that seeks to reduce one and all to nameless goo under some disposable psuedo-culture. Write, draw, sculpt, play- however you do, do here and do now. Come join the chorus.

The Superversive from the East: Giant Robo – The Animation

Giant Robo is, as the linked article states, both one of the oldest of Japan’s comic franchises and the source of one of the best original animation series in the last 30 years. As such there’s some familiar issues that any franchise faces, starting with multiple continuities that often drastically reshape the premise into something very different from other versions. That’s why I’m specifying the OVA series: “The Animation”.

The reason for this specific incarnation’s enduring appeal is that this story is one of the most boldly Superversive stories to come out of Japan. Just take a good look at the trailer below:

That’s all you need to know, right there. The details that really deliver on the story’s promise aren’t in the trailer, but you will see that every element gets used–and used well–to tell a tale that uplifts the audience, inspires them to face great fears with courage, and press on even when you think you’re done for. That boy, Daisaku, is your protagonist and he gets put through the ringer over the course of this short series, but he does make it happen at the end–albeit with help (and a Pellenor Fields moment that is ridiculous, awesome, and (by that point) makes logical sense).

And it is thoroughly entertaining at all levels. The music is fantastic, the aesthetics are brilliant, and the production team did your Avengers or Justice League style of “heroes band together to stop a world-wide doom” story better than Marvel or DC have to date, in any medium. Daisaku’s the plunky youth you want to cheer for, Big Fire’s villains range from love-to-hate to completely despicable, and the other Experts of Justice may be rough around the edges but they are still heroes.

And, as for the necessity of virtue, the plot centers around two virtue-related matters: the origin of the Shizuma Drive, and the truth about the disaster that nearly derailed its introduction. Big errors got made, and everything about this story is a logical consequence of those errors, but there is no fixing it without fixing those errors- and that final bit shows this story’s value as a Superversive work.

The commercial availability of this animation isn’t what it once was, but you can get it at Amazon in a boxed set on DVD at a reasonable (for commercial anime) price. It’s not a long series: just under 6 hours, total. Agent Carter‘s first season ran longer. Recommended highly!

The Superversive from the East: Legend of the Galactic Heroes

In the 1980s, one of the greatest works of science fiction ever to come out of Japan first hit the shelves as a light novel: Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It would later get adapted into a 110-episode anime series, produce two movies, and several side-stories mini-series. Unfortunately, only recently did the original light novels get licensed for release into the West. (You can fix that here)

Whether you read the novels or watch the anime, you’ll find a truly epic Space Opera that hits most of the things you want out of a Superversive work. While the moral clarity is muddled at times, as this story reflects the mood of its day, the protagonist and the deuteragonist (and their key allies) are clear heroes with heroic virtue and epic flaws.

There are no supernatural powers. There are no aliens. There are no giant robots, laser swords (save for those shown as part of an in-fiction feature film), transformable machines, or other tropes popular with the famous SF/F franchises arising in Japan at this time. The fantastic elements are confined to FTL travel, cybernetics, the many technologies implied by the fact that galaxy-wide human colonization occurred, and high-end medical technologies. Yet there are massive fleet battles only eclipsed by E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series, and cultural conflicts (with attendant political intrigues) that drive the plot overall (and thus many subplots therein).

What there is, however, is true love (but often filial instead of romantic). What there is, however, is courage against often ridiculous odds. Faith held against powers willing and able to destroy you and yours, and fortitude in times of struggle are what you will find here. And, while individuals can succumb to their tragic flaws, the overall conclusion is hopeful in both absolute and practical terms. If you can find a good playlist online, and you can deal with subtitles, the long-running series and its related works will bring you up without lying to you on what it often takes to climb that mountain to a better tomorrow.

Moreso than any other work of science fiction or fantasy out of Japan, I recommend Legend of the Galactic Heroes, especially if you like your key characters to be competent as well as their opposition. Victory here is earned, and therefore deserved- including the hopeful end.

Marvel MCU at #SDCC, with Captain Marvel, Thor, and Infinity War

This may not be strictly superversive, but as we have a surfeit of geeks and nerds in our readership (assuming we’re not the entire readership), I thought we should take a quick look at some of what the Marvel Cinematic Universe had at San Diego Comic Con this year.This is “some,” in part, because they dropped an Avengers trailer during SDCC … and not to the public. It was leaked and taken down in short order.

To start with, it seems to have been confirmed that the Punisher will be in The Defenders. Meaning there will be a fourth person I will actually care about in The Defenders (The other three being Stick, Daredevil, and possibly Luke Cage).

And if the Punisher isn’t in Defenders, then they’ve got some explaining to do. (At the 60 second mark)

Other than the Punisher, the trailer didn’t add much … except show us that Stan Lee is still alive. Good for him.

And then, we’ve got Thor: Ragnarok

Early on, I had been a little worried that they were going to be focused on the wrong things in this film. I like that Bruce Banner appears in the trailer as Bruce Banner. It could have been all too easy for them to have the not so jolly green giant have all the screen time. But seeing Mark Ruffalo is reassuring. And …

Is that Hulk versus the wolf Fenris? Really? And Thor, with Loki, with fully automatic blasters, mowing people down like Arnold in Commando. And Valkyrie riding a winged horse. Again, we’ve got more of a humor vibe here, with our opening to the trailer, and even the conversation — actual whole sentences from Hulk, huh — at the end. And I’m still getting more and more of a Guardians, over the top vibe. Gee, I think someone’s been taking notes on what audiences actually like. (If only Sony would do the same.)

Though I’m amused that Jeff Goldblum is even in the franchise now. And it sounds like he’s stopped with the Jurassic Park stutter.

I especially like how Loki is revealed here. I was wondering how they were going to handle it.

But, dang it, I want to see how Doctor Strange shows up in the film. I’d rather it would be more than just a glance at the end.

Though, I’m a little curious about how much Ragnarok is going to act as a direct lead in to Infinity War. Why? because the Infinity War trailer opened with the Guardians running into space debris … an unconscious, beaten up Thor. Which makes me wonder if Ragnarok is actually well-titled.

Speaking of Avengers Infinity War, it’s also got some poster art.

infinity-war-poster

In other news, SDCC discussed the Captain Marvel film. In the comics, Carol Danvers, air force fighter pilot, was kidnapped by aliens called the Skrulls, experimented on, and turned into a flying juggernaut who shoots lasers out of her hands, and is build like Marilyn Monroe.

In the Cinematic universe … Captain Marvel will be set in the 1990s.

… What?

Sigh. Okay. Let’s dig down into this a bit.
It’s been confirmed that the Skrulls will actually show up in the film, despite the half dozen missed opportunities for them to have shown up earlier. In the comics, the Skrulls are the long-running foe of the Kree … yet in Guardians of the Galaxy, they were at war was Xandar? It’s almost like they were cautious about showing another alien race that wasn’t tall and blue. But I suppose that legal issues have been settled.
Captain Marvel will apparently feature the Kree-Skrull war. Unless Captain Marvel  will feature an actual end to said war. Eh. Who knows?

The film will also star Samuel L. Jackson with two eyes. Because the 90s.

Yeah, I have no idea why they’d set it in the 90s. The actress they have for Captain Marvel, Brie Larson, looks like she’s 12. Unless they’re going to say that her powers have slowed down her aging, this would make her a middle aged superheroine today … but if that’s the case, where the bleep has she been through: three alien invasions, a robot army, and a SHIELD meltdown?The answer is probably … IN SSSSSPPPPPPAAAAAAAAAACCCCCEEEE.

But we’ll see. They may have the balls to actually kill off a superhero… No, I don’t think so either.
All in all, it looks like Marvel is going to stay on top for another year or so. As long as you don’t count their network TV shows. Those still look like they merely suck.