Browsed by
Author: John-Henri Holmberg

Today is Jack Vance’s 104th Birthday

Today is Jack Vance’s 104th Birthday

Jack Vance-smallToday, just 104 years ago, Jack Vance was born in San Francisco. Or, actually, John Holbrook Vance. He grew up to live on a farm, suddenly become almost destitute and have to leave junior college, work in a cannery, as a bellhop and on a gold dredge. Later, at UC Berkeley, he studied mining engineering, physics, journalism and English, and wrote his first science fiction stories. Still later, he worked as an electrician in the naval yards at Pearl Harbor, but left a month before the Japanese attack. During the war he worked as a rigger and a merchant seaman, after faking his eyesight test. A jazz musician, a carpenter, a surveyor and a ceramicist he was a sailor throughout life, building his own boats and dreaming of vast oceans and rivers on distant planets.

He began publishing science fiction in 1945, had his breakthrough with The Dying Earth in 1950, became a staff writer for the Captain Video TV show in 1952, had further breakthroughs when his first crime novel under his own name, The Man in the Cage, had a 1961 Edgar Award for best first novel, and again when his novellas “The Dragon Masters” and “The Last Castle” won Hugos and Nebulas in 1963 and 1966. But his real and lasting breakthrough was as one of the finest, most bitingly satirical and ironic, most stylistically intransigent and most unforgettably original science fiction (and, by all means, also fantasy) authors of the 20th century.

In 1976 I and Per Insulander, who co-chaired that year’s Swedish national SF convention, invited Jack to be our guest of honor. He accepted, stayed for a week in Stockholm, and called us his friends; I think we were. A year later we sailed with him in San Francisco bay and stayed at his house in Oakland; for many years, I kept in touch with him and continued to publish him in Sweden. When Jack grew almost totally blind in the 1990s, he kept writing. If you haven’t already read his work, you must. It is sui generis; nobody else has written science fiction as Jack did, and you either love it or just can’t see what he was doing. Nobody else has written science fiction that to the same extent bares our souls, satirizes our most cherished idiocies, heckles the hypocrisies and nonsensicalities of our religions, social codes, moral codes and pointless squabbles. Read the five novels in his Demon Princes series; read his wonderful and absurd Tschai novels (published in the US as the Planet of Adventure books); read his subversive Lyonesse fantasy trilogy; read him. Thanks to his son, John Vance, all of Jack’s books are in print. I hope they remain so. Jack Vance was a writer for the ages, and of the enlightenment.

Jack died on May 26, 2013. I mourn him still, but more importantly I still read him. So should you.

A Woman as President?

A Woman as President?

Eclipse John Shirley-small Mike Resnick Alternate Presidentss-small Allen Steele Coyote-small

Eclipse by John Shirey (Questar/Popular Library, 1987), Alternate Presidents edited by Mike Resnick (Tor, 1992),
Coyote by Allen Steele (Ace, 2002). Covers by Joe DeVito, Barclay Shaw and Ron Miller

“It’s rigged,” said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump four years ago. What was? Everything. The system, the primaries, the TV debates, the media. And probably even the election itself.

His view, of course, was and remains that it’s all rigged against a hard-working, self-made billionaire who started out with two empty hands (and a small loan of $14 million from daddy – and this was more than 45 years ago, so consider inflation). But if you look at another aspect, that of general expectations, you might find a different kind of rigging.

So far, no woman has been president of the United States. Consequently, no historical or contemporary realistic fiction has portrayed a female President. But since science fiction is reality-based speculation, and since women make up a little over half of humanity, it would seem reasonable to expect at least some writers to write about possible futures, or alternate pasts and presents, where women inhabit the White House.

But in fact, such speculations have been few and far between. Kristin Lillvis (in “Take Me to Your Lady Leader,” in New Ohio Review #20, 2016) suggests that the first example of an imagined woman president may be found in C. L. Moore’s “Greater Than Gods,” in Astounding, July 1939. Moore’s story is basically about gender stereotypes: her protagonist, Bill Corey, considers which of two women to marry and visits the two possible alternate futures that would result from this decision. One of them is a patriarchal, technologically advanced but militaristic society of blind obedience to strong leaders; the other a matriarchal society with a succession of female presidents (though the first elected no earlier than around 2300), peaceful and comforting but also static and stagnant. “Women as a sex are not scientists, not inventors, not mechanics or engineers or architects,” the story says. And Moore lets her hero marry a third woman, who will add balance and reason to his own limitless ambition, and so give rise to a more diverse future.

Read More Read More

We Are All Genetic Brothers: The Life and Fiction of Clifford D. Simak

We Are All Genetic Brothers: The Life and Fiction of Clifford D. Simak

Simak Time and Again-small Simak Way Station-small Smiak A Choice of Gods-small

Time and Again (Ace, 1976), Way Station (Manor Books, 1975), and A Choice of Gods (Berkley Medallion, 1977).
Covers by Michael Whelan, unknown, and the great Paul Lehr

116 years ago this week, one of the finest science fiction authors or the 20th century was born. He died 32 years ago, in 1988. And currently he is almost forgotten, which is a great shame and also a great pity, since his humanism, his respect for all living creatures and his tolerance for the alien, the divergent, the different viewpoints, backgrounds and expectations are qualities no less needed now than when he was alive.

I’m talking about Clifford D. Simak, author of seminal works of sf like Time and Again (1951), City (1952), Time Is the Simplest Thing (1961), Way Station (1963), All Flesh Is Grass (1965), A Choice of Gods (1972), as well as of dozens of unforgettable short stories. The author who said, in an interview,

When I talk of the purpose of life, I am thinking not only of human life, but of all life on Earth and of the life which must exist upon other planets throughout the universe. It is only of life on Earth, however, that one can speak with any certainty. It seems to me that all life on Earth, the sum total of life upon the Earth, has purpose. If the means were available, we could trace our ancestry – yours and mine – back to the first blob of life-like material that came into being on the planet. The same thing could be done for the spider that spun his web in the grass, and of the grass in which the web was spun, the bird sitting in the tree and the tree in which he sits, the toad waiting for the fly beneath the bush, and for the fly and bush. We are all genetic brothers. The chain of life, tracing back to that primordial day of life’s beginning, is unbroken…

Clifford Simak was a newspaper man and an author. He wrote of love for all living things, of respect for life and of acceptance both of the supreme importance of life and of the inevitable differences between living things. Reading him as a child, I learned from him the importance of tolerance and inclusiveness. His was one of the important voices in science fiction. He still should be.