JUNE / JULY 2004
Editorial Notices Books Received
Publisher's Note: The personal views of the publisher, expressed here, do not necessarily mirror those of other contributors to this magazine. This is strictly my personal rant.
History as Science Fiction: Memorial Day By an odd coincidence, I am re-reading Prof. Stanley Lombardo's brilliant translation of The Iliad of Homer as we move into the throes of one of our great martial festivities in the United States. How fitting that, of all the cover images Dr. Lombardo could have chosen for his rendition of this war epic, he chose a photograph of the D-Day landing on June 6, 1944. Like all veterans (in this case, six years behind a U.S. Army typewriter, or make that the early IBM Memory Writer, grandmother of all wordprocessors; to be sure, ready for World War III at the time, in fatigues, with my M-16A1 and my M-17A2 protective mask handy, along with blister and nerve agent packs and so forth; but clerking nonetheless and mostly in harm's way from platoons of fine German Parkbraeu Pils bottles) I take the occasion to reflect upon my good fortune in the Big Green Lottery to be here alive and in one piece today (and composing these Ciceronian sentence monsters ending in the long-awaited verb, to be able).
You wonder why I speak of these things in a magazine of speculative fiction. Consider: like the even more ancient The Epic of Gilgamesh, the epic of the Trojan war contains an interesting mix of grand SF and fantasy elements. The wooden horse is pure science fiction, while the meddling gods and goddesses are straight out of high but dark fantasy. In fact, the gore smacks of spatter, and there's enough horror here to satisfy the most demanding genre enthusiast. Gilgamesh also, wonderfully, embodies traditions of speculation, which we'll discuss another day.
The men and women whose holiday this is are resting in eternal silence, amid the flowers and bees of a thousand sunny hillsides across the world's major continents. Where I spent my childhood, in Luxembourg, lies General Patton among thousands of the soldiers he led in an increasingly long-ago war. I've heard this war referred to as a modern-day Iliad, a monumental struggle between titanic forces, a combat of men raised to immortality as long as human legend endures. In fact, the cover of the eminently readable Stanley Lombardo translation features a black and white photo of Allied soldiers storming ashore at Normandy on June 6, 1944.
George Patton was fond of quoting Homer and Caesar and Alexander, among other doers or knowers of long-ago combat. How little it all changes! You'll find in The Iliad, perhaps more than in any other book about humans and wars, certainly more so than in Caesar's self-serving tales of his Gallic Wars, the entire panoply of human emotion wrapped around primeval strife. You'll find lots of vainglory, lots of human folly, lots of brotherly and wifely grief. You'll find the follies of leadership in the destructive pride of Achilles, the pathetic heroism of Patroklos, the savagery with which both Trojans and Greeks tear the armor off one another's fallen heroes and roll their severed heads about like play-balls (yes, it's one of the most gory and violent books ever written). You'll curl your lip at the self-serving, Nixonian leadership of Agamemnon, the shallow and reckless Bushismo of Priam's son Paris, and a squad of other archetypes you'll recognize from our modern world. You'll think of the old generals who failed so miserably on all sides in World War I, inundating Europe in a senseless ocean of blood precipitated by obsolete royalty (the Kaiser, in particular) who were nothing more than amoral warlords trashing modern society. You'll think about the concept of why we go to war, and why different warlords have their petty little agendas for tossing the lives of good soldiers into oblivion, and you'll wonder if things will ever get better. I read in The Iliad (I'm reading both the Fagles and Lombardo translations, though I have read Lattimore and at least one or two others, each with their own strengths in breathing life into ancient truths) of how so-and-so was run through by a shining bronze blade, which clove his skull below the right ear, drove through blood and brains amid chips of bone finer than ivory (I'm making this up as I go along, but that's the tenor of it), and came out the other side. Amid a red haze of fading memory, he sinks to his knees vomiting thick streams of black blood (that's Hektor dying, actually, before Zeus revives him and sets him back on the field to rescue flagging Trojan fortunes however temporarily) and then, as his life evaporates like sunlight in dew on a morning meadow, the hated blackness of Hades wraps itself around him. Sleep, death, fear, and panic wrap him in their cloaks as his light forever cuts out. His spirit crawls away from him. And so on, and so forth.
Those who run from truth ('telling it like it is') will not be comfortable with this ancient tale of daring and tragedy, Homer's The Iliad. Like the Bible, which speaks freely of David's adultery, and regales us with stories of the great violence constantly waged in honor of a Bronze Age deity around Jericho, Homer's epic is one of those books that probably wouldn't get published by either today's politically correct Left or the partisans of tyrannical, white-shirted and crewcut corporate Big Religion as promoted by the Rupert Murdochs of our time. We suffer from a relentless assault by book burners, prudes, religious zealots, and similar souls misguided with sinister purpose by those, like Murdoch, whose goals are evident by their contradictions and moral failings. The extreme right today controls both houses of Congress, the Presidency however illegitimately, the Supreme Court, and even the Fed, so that we are perhaps for the first time in our history bereft of the crucial system of checks and balances our Founding Fathers built into the Constitution to shield us from repeating the errors of history. More damaging by far than any of these cranks are those in the news media who have lost sight of the absolute need in a democracy for objective truth-telling.
A failed free press is our last domino to fall, and we can only hope it gets to its feet once again, and quickly. The New York Times, that Gray Lady of Journalism to which reasonable and moderate people look for the last remaining pillar of our checks and balances (the best possible objectivity in presenting the truth, so that free men and women can make intelligent choices) has admitted in the past week to grievous lapses in judgment in supporting the Bush war in Iraq. We expect nothing but lies, propaganda, and cynicism from Fox, the sleaze network. We do, however, expect that legitimate journalists will hold fast that first and last bastion of liberty, a Free Press. Therein, we have been failed in recent years as this generation immerses itself in a vitriolic, petty orgy of anger and childishness. If we listen, the wisdom of ancient times speaks to us above the follies of its times. We hear the Biblical prophets assailing the Israelites, who never cease to go astray the minute times are good. We hear Marcus Aurelius sickened by the spiral of blood that played out for centuries in that moral abyss known as 'the sand,' the arena, where countless souls and fine animals died under horrible conditions for the amusement of society's most debased citizens (to keep them busy, so they wouldn't tear society apart brick by brick in their need to be dramatically entertained and instantly gratified at every moment).
The same forces are alive and well today. I posit a new world order amid the ruins of democracy, whom I call the votigarchy. Those are the people who actually bother voting, whose voices still determine (except on occasions like Florida 2000) whether we shall be ruled by Augustus or by Caligula. It's sad so few people vote in our nation, as opposed to 95% turnouts in new democracies, for example in certain South American mountain lands where people hike for days through danger and hardship to exercise the wondrous gift of democracy. Of those votigarchs who bother to vote in our nation, many blindly take instruction from cynical demagogues who infest the media microphones and pulpits of our nation. Those demagogues, like their bedfellows who destroyed Athenian democracy in Classical times, are persons of small stature who collect huge paychecks while they gleefully turn American and against American in a sort of modern-day civil war fought with the weapons of invective and road rage. The silence from a thousand sunny hillsides around the world is deafening. The missing ingredient in our scenario is the capacity to feel shame, and to wish we could rise above our banality. We will need some Biblical prophets to yell at us and remind us of our shame, but few seem to be forthcoming in this generation. Maybe, after all, these prophets are here, the John Kerrys and John McCains, the Max Clelands and thousands of others who shine so brightly versus the flag-wrapped fakery of Bush II and his slavering pike-bearers, who adore their fuehrer for showing up once for a free dental exam at the Alabama National Guard while his peers were dying in Vietnam. It wasn't an issue, actually, until he had himself flown onto that aircraft carrier. Some truths are simply self-evident to those who bother honestly looking.
Here is a remarkable fact: I turn 55 in June. That means—are you ready?—my humble and tiny lifetime to date coincides with one fourth the entire span in which the United States of America have existed as a nation. Just as startling is the fact that a person of about 75 today (which surely isn't very old) has lived one third the span of mankind's brief instant of liberty amid a historical sea of tyranny. Democracy is still new. It's a child that must be carefully and lovingly nurtured. We must understand how tenuous is the tiny candle of freedom that gutters in the storm. The ancient Aechaeans understood all this, in their own way, as they personified the forces the work relentlessly against human well-being. It's no surprise that modern psychoanalysts invoke archetypes (whether African animist statues, or Bronze Age deities) from early human societies to cure the human spirit when it is sick.
The early people already created a kind of periodic table of elements to codify the various evils that stalk our world, ambushing us when we aren't paying attention. We remember much of that collectively, in the same way individuals have hazy but enduring glimpses of childhood events. We remember it in the days of our week (Monday, dedicated to the moon god; Tuesday, sacred to the thunder god; Wednesday, sacred to Wotan; Thursday or Thor's Day; Freya's Day, she to whom the northern Europeans particularly made human sacrifices to ward off her fearsome anger; Saturn's Day, and of course the day of the Unconquered Sun, Sol Invictus, now belonging to the Hebrew God who demands we rest in honor of Him). We remember it in our months, for example in January (month of the twin-faced god of doorways, whose young face looks forward and whose old face looks backward, a metaphor now split into that old skeleton with the scythe chasing away the tuxedo-clad old year and ushering in the baby new year; think of it as midwifery by Death). Just as there is no 'up' in evolution, and deoxyribonucleic acid simply unfolds and repackages itself opportunistically without benefit to or from anthropomorphic designs, so the human spirit continually reinvents itself. For example, our friend Janus was originally Jana, a goddess associated with agriculture and hunting (and everyone in those days was involved in fertility, for good measure, otherwise why bother with any of this?), and we came to know her as Diana. She's the man-hating goddess of the hunt, lover of virginal girls and of forest animals, whose beauty shimmers in the full moonlight when Sol ain't looking. What we must hope, friends, is that our modern-day Pax doesn't morph back into something horrible when we aren't looking. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
Already, like the Biblical Israelites, we have forgotten the lessons of Vietnam. We are in the midst of one of those forgettable wars that influence the course of history and cause such grief to little, forgettable people. On one side, we have a person whom one of our great generals described as 'one of the worst generals of all time.' On the other side we have a person whose quality of leadership can only be quantified as belonging to a Napoleon IV. If you don't know who Napoleon III was, and what he did to be remembered as one of history's most huge buffoons, look it up. Then, in November 2004, vote Napoleon IV off the stage of history. Bada-boom, bada-bing!
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Just around the corner: Comic-Con International: It's called WonderCon 2004 and will be held July 22-25, 2004 in San Diego, California. Read the full scoop at http://www.comic-con.org. We'll be covering this story for the next six months, so stay tuned.
Clarion West: June/July 2004. Pat Murphy, Larissa Lai, Geoff Ryman, John Kessel, James Patrick Kelley, Kelly Link, and Charles de Lint will instruct at the 2004 session in Seattle, WA. Contact Nisi Shawl, email@example.com or (206) 720-1008 or http://www.sff.net/clarionwest/ for info.
Received: Nebula Express Science fiction novel by Terry Sunbord, author of Robinson Crusoe 1,000,000 A.D. (April 2004, Clocktower Books). Ridge is a highly skilled engineer on a deep-space cargo vessel (Neptune Express) of the near future--family man, ex-military officer, and cyber engineer-1. The huge ship is on a standard two-year run between Luna and Triton--all very routine. Ridge and seven fellow specialists awaken today in the cozy, home-like confines of WorkPod01. He must lead them out to repair minor foreign impact damage to key ship's systems. Then they step out from their cushy quarters into the reality of Nebula Express...Look for Nebula Express and other great books now at Fictionwise.com.