Archive for the ‘A. Bertram Chandler’ Category

I was originally going to start off with a bit of personal news, but what you see up there knocked that story off the front page. 


If there were any justice in the world, that headline would knock the economic woes off the front page of every paper in the country.

Fortunately for me, I get to be the one to break the news. 

In one weeks time there are 168 hours available for a broadcaster to fill with content.  Ten percent of that would be just a few minutes shy of 17 hours.  I don’t know about you, but 17 hours of television is about as much as I watch in a week. It would still constitute the bulk of three or four days worth for the average person.  And yet, Sci Fi can’t even give us that.

It won’t be long now before they change their name and the fact that there used to be a channel exclusively devoted to science fiction will have become a thing of the past.  Guess I’ll have to spend more time hanging out with the ‘geeky young guys’…

My personal news is a bit more personal.  A few months ago, Fred Kiesche III – college friend and book reviewer extraordinaire, (and blogger for Texas Best Grok) announced that he was a featured character in one of David Drake’s forthcoming novels.

Naturally I was jealous.  Green with envy.  Apoplectic.  Which I told Fred at the time.

Well, now I don’t have to be so jealous.  I got my mention – not as a character, but as one of the people who helped get Chandler’s last unpublished story into print.

And Matt, the book review editor at Ray Gun Revival (who I’ve started writing for) just sent me along a copy!

It’s Jack Dann’s Dreaming Again if you’re interested.


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Says Wernher von Braun.

The title is from Tom Lehrer’s song Wernher von Braun.  The song is pretty critical of the ‘father of the US space program’.  Brief re-cap: von Braun was inspired by rockets and space in his youth; he would go on to develop the A4/V2 for Nazi Germany during World War 2.  Von Braun was a member of the SS.  His claims that he joined because he had to are disputed. Perhaps most revealing is this quote following the first attack on London with a V2:  “The rocket worked perfectly except for landing on the wrong planet.”  He also described it as his “darkest day.”

Regardless, von Braun was spirited to the US following the end of the war and would go on to develop the rockets and systems that took the US to the moon.

von Braun’s work was popular and popularized in books and magazines of the day.  His vision of the future of space travel was, for quite a while, a vision shared by everyone.  It was in large part the future that was written about by many science fiction authors in the 40s, 50, 60’s and 70’s.

Chesley Bonestell transformed our view of the universe with his depictions of space and space travel, images that were based in part on von Braun’s designs. 

All of that is why I think this is REALLY COOL –

The New York Times Science section has a piece on an space memorabilia.  A gallery of some of the items is here

The above is a sketch of a space vehicle designed by von Braun, the kind of spaceship that writers like Clarke and Chandler and Piper and Russell and… all had at least partially in mind as they wrote their science fiction adventures.

You can find essentially the same vehicle here on the cover of a Bonestell illustrated book and here in Colliers magazine.

Some of von Braun’s papers, including the sketch, are being auctioned tomorrow by Bonhams. Other memorabilia can be found at collectspace.com.

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Yes, that’s the title to a Warren Zevon song.

I miss Warren.  More than anything, I miss the new songs he’d be producing now.

He never knew it, but his discography (along with Tom Petty’s) served as the go-to source for inspirational songs for my paintball team, the Werewolves.  Werewolves of London was the team’s theme song and its last line – ‘Draw Blood!’ (which we all shouted as loudly and nastily as we could) often preceded our first game at a tournament.  From the reactions, we’re pretty sure it had the desired effect on our opponents.

Lawyers, Guns and Money was another good song for the ‘Wolves, as were Petty’s Won’t Back Down and Free Falling.

Not that I’ll spend any more time on this subject at least right now, but as I think about it, I realize now how important music was to the paintball tournament scene.

I chose Zevon’s title for my title because I’m still in desperation mode – but some major progress has been made.  I’ve finally managed to finish the re-do of all of the individual image pages on the SF pulp magazine checklist.  349 images, 349 anchors, 349 titles…

I think it looks pretty good if I do say so myself – but you can say so for yourself if you go on over to the site and check it out here.

I’ve got one remaining section to do over there, the history pages (displaying all related titles on one page).  Once that’s completed, you’ll be able to click from image to image in all of the magazine sections of the site.

I figure a couple of days, as there aren’t nearly as many history images as there are individual magazine images.

Once that’s done, I can finish up the Chandler Concordance page re-dos and the whole site will be ‘new’.  Then back to tackling the wordpress transfer.

“I can hear the air conditioner hum.  It goes hmmmmm hmmmmm…..”


Hey, just noticed the add in to SFFix’s blogroll.  Thanks guys!

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The cover of the first issue of Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine recreates the flag raising on Iwo Jima in a science fictional setting.

I’m very familiar with this cover because that issue is both a Volume 1 Number 1 issue and contains a short story by A. Bertram Chandler.  Which I was pleased to discover when I went on a hunt for ‘everything Chandler’, since I had already owned a copy.  Now I dither over whether to keep it with the magazine section of the library or with the Chandler ‘special collection’.

Anyhow, I was pretty sure I had seen a similar scene elsewhere on another SF pulp magazine and eventually I discovered that I was correct.  More than once.

The Iwo Jima flag raising has been honored on multiple occassions.  So here are those covers:

Jeez.  Looks like EVERYONE wants the moon.

That’s a Soviet Union flag, in case you’re too young to recognize it.  They used to be the bad guys until Ronald Reagan crushed them with beam weapons from space. Kinda. Sorta.


The F&SF cover isn’t strictly a flag, but close enough to the theme, I think. The Unknown Worlds cover is also a slight take-off, doing a variation on a scene from the John Wayne film Sands of Iwo Jima (I think).

and now the rest of the flag raisings – whimsy first:

now a bit more patriotic –


 And finally, in honor of the anniversary of September 11th, these last three:


*The IF cover’s flag says “TANSTAAFL” – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Including freedom.

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I forgot to cover a few points the other day while gushing about Chandler.   What I most forgot to mention were links to Chandler material that’s available for free (or cheap) on the web.  Here you go:

Stories, articles, pictures and such are all available on David Kelleher’s Bertram Chandler website. In particular, you’ll find this autobiography of John Grimes of particular interest, since it provides some detail about Grimes’ career prior to the first published story about Grimes (The Road To The Rim).  Although it’s not the character’s first appearance.  More about that in a bit.

You might also want to listen to the South African radio program SF68’s production of The Cage.  Unfortunately, I can’t give you a legal link to this one – but it is out there.

Baen Books has his much anthologized story Giant Killer on line as well and, if you are looking for reads that are almost as cheap as buying Chandler used on line, you can check out Baen’s e-books.


A necessary part of the concordance process (Rim Worlds Concordance) is determining which of an author’s stories are part of the canon.  An inevitable part of that task is to work things into some kind of order, presuming there is one.

I’ve got a whole page on the concordance site devoted to the Rim Worlds stories (of which Grimes tales are a major portion) presented in their presumed correct order, with plot synposis.  Be warned as that is spoiler material.

If you want to get the whole Rim Worlds feel, you really need to start at the beginning, during the 2nd Expansion of mankind to the stars. The first expansion featured frozen-sleep slowboats to the stars, a fact that we only learn about when it comes in to play in later stories. 

The 2nd Expansion utilized a true FTL drive – the Ehrenhaft Drive.  The first two stories (chronologically, not the first two published or authored) are identified as such by the use of this FTL drive in the stories.

Both are relatively early Chandler and feature his penchant for ‘shaggy dog’ tales – literary puns. The first is The Left Hand Way (also published under the title Naval Engagement) and the other is Fall of Knight. You can hunt up TLHW here.  FOK is, unfortunately not available on line, but the magazine it originally appeared in – Fantastic Universe (June, 1958), an anthology of stories from that magazine The Fantastic Universe Omnibus and the anthology Rulers of Men (both books edited by Santesson) are usually readily available at ABE and frequently on EBay.

If you don’t want to to start with Rim Worlds tales and just want to dive into the life, time and crimes of Commodore John Grimes, planetary governor, space privateer, lady’s man and interstellar delivery boy, you’ll need to read that autobio piece I mentioned above and then pick up the NESFA Press publication Up To The Sky In Ships, (or buy a copy of New Worlds magazine, #81, March 1959 issue) a commemorative collection of Chandler stories which includes Close Encounter, the first published story wherein Grimes makes a cameo appearance.  To throw a little confustion into the mix though, this particular story actually takes place very late in the Commodore’s career.

If you want to read the saga in chronological order, obtain a copy of The Road To The Rim. Grimes appears as a wet-behind-the-ears shave tail, loses his virginity and offs space pirates in that one. Abe or EBay – I just got another copy for a buck on EBay.

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If you noticed, I have a thing for Chandler.   If you didn’t – I have a thing for Chandler.

I particularly have a thing for his Rim Worlds milieu, but I can say honestly that I have read almost everything he has ever written for publication, a few things not originally intended for publication, and probably even a few things never intended to see the light of day, and I’ve never been truly disappointed.  I haven’t always been wowed. A few (very few) of his stories have left me saying ‘um – ok’, but I’ve never had to give a negative review.

David Mattingly's rendering of John Grimes, from The Anarch Lords

David Mattingly's rendering of John Grimes from The Anarch Lords

I’ve also seen the man writing – in the buff – and if you aren’t put off by an author who’s literally been stripped of all pretense and illusion, if in fact you can say you still enjoy his or her work, well then, you can only come to one of two conclusion: either they write some pretty damned good stuff, or you’re an unabashed, gushing fanboy.  And please note that those two conclusions are NOT mutually exclusive.

Now truth to tell, seeing ‘Jack’ Chandler writing in the all-together was a second-hand photographic experience (his friends called him Jack and I would have been a friend if I’d ever had the chance to meet him), but I don’t really think that deflates my argument all that much.  It is, however, certrainly much less awkward than experiencing it personally.

When someone has been stricken by unabashed gushing fanboyitis, no explanation is required if they are merely expressing their opinion (however over the top it might be) or somehow manage to keep it to themselves. (I’d keep back a few paces though. You never know when the geyser is gonna blow.)

Justification is only really required  when the goal is to convince others to share the disease.  So, on one level, I really don’t have to say anything else other than I really like his stuff and wish more people did too.  On another level –

I ought to tell you a little bit about his stories. And say something about why maybe you’ll want to hunt up a few of them to read yourself. But first, a bit about the man himself.

He was a sea captain, working his way up the ranks of promotion in the merchant fleet, first of England and later of Australia.  He served as an officer both during war and peace time. His travels during WWII took him to New York where he met with John Campbell, who encouraged him to write. Jack took up the challenge and sold his first submitted story.

The really interesting thing about the man’s personal history that informs his written work is – right now, in the real world, you can’t get much closer to being a starship captain than being a sea captain. Chandler recognized this and used it, bringing a level of work-a-day detail to his stories that has probably been equalled, but not by many.  The degree of realism comes through on every single page; the man didn’t have to ‘make stuff up’, all he had to do was look across the bridge and substitute the inky depths of space for the blue expanse of ocean out the port windows. 

This unique perspective for SF stories translates well to the page and immediately creates a background environment that is familiar and comfortable.

Enough about ‘Jack’.  There’s plenty more biographical and autobiographical material on the official website for anyone who’s interested.


One of the major charges leveled against ‘old’ science fiction is that it lacks characterization.

 Chandler’s work’s certainly qualify as old. His first story appeared in Astounding in 1944, his last novel was published in 1984.  One of the reasons for writing this piece is that his ‘last’ John Grimes/Rim Worlds story has finally seen print in Jack Dann’s Dreaming Again anthology (available this month).  The story – Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo – is the only known Grimes story that hasn’t been previously published.

But so far as characterization goes – It simply isn’t possible for a character about whom 18 novels and 31 stories have been written to lack characterization. Simply. Not. Possible.*

Character Characterization is not the only character building that’s going on in the stories.  In addition to the Grimes tales, there are at least eight more novels and at least a dozen more stories that share a common background – an internally consistent ‘future history’ that is at least as complex and as richly detailed as any other, including Niven’s Known Space and Heinlein’s Future History.

What other science fiction author can you name that has 25+ novels and 40+ other length stories devoted to the same consistent universe and ‘future history’?  Right now, off the top of my head, my answer is ‘none’.

 Another shaggy old argument against ‘old’ SF is that the stories are just ‘idea’ stories, with little to recommend them beyond nifty tech or nifty concepts that were out-dated four decades ago:  computers operated by punch card.  Invasive medical technologies.  Telephones with dials on them. Shopping in person.

Let’s talk about tech for a minute.  The man invented three separate and distinct faster than light drives – one of which still remains plausible today.

His first – the Ehrenhaft Drive – took mankind on its initial expansion to the stars.  The ED essentially turns itself and the vessel to which it is attached into a charged magnetic particle, which then travels along the ‘force lines’ between stars.

Out-dated, yes.  Unworkable, yes.  But extremely important for two reasons: first – Chandler abandoned it. Second – this drive often failed, stranding its crew and passengers, who then – if they were lucky – managed to crawl to a nearby habitable world and set up a ‘lost colony’.

Lost colonies – human societies cut off from the mainstream – are meat and potatoes in science fiction lore.  Chandler’s Ehrenhaft Drive gave him a tool he could use over and over again.

His third FTL drive – the Erikson Drive – only works on the outer edges of our galaxy where the fabric of space and time run thin.  The Erikson Drive is hokey, involving an extra kick with a reaction drive when a ship is already at .9999 c.  But it performs the trick of going FTL not by adding this extra push (a physical impossibility)  but by pushing the drive and its ship into an alternate dimension.

This drive has the added virtue of ‘reversing its sign’ and allowing trade and relations with the beings that inhabit anti-matter worlds.

(The Erikson drive is only featured in one novel and a few shorts and various clues throughout those stories suggest that they are not truly canonical works.)

Chandler’s bread and butter was the Manschenn Drive, a time and space distorting gyroscopic affair made with moebius strip rotors.  Chandler is sufficiently and properly vague about its inner workings that no holes can be poked in it (there’s nothing really to poke at); his descriptions of how it works properly intriguing and equally vague: the drive ‘moves ahead in space while moving backwards in time’.

Before the cosmologists jump on me with causality issues and the physicists attack – note that some recent hypothesis and even some experiments have seemed to indicate that some form of time-manipulation may be possible.  ‘May’ is key, because that’s ALL you need to keep your science fiction science plausible.  And Chandler gave due credence to the causality issues as plot devices and so was obviously aware that he was playing with fire. He didn’t shy away from it, he embraced it. 

And unlike many SF authors who get entangled in the strangeness that appears to be the foundations of our universe, he didn’t even try to explain it or wrap it up in some pseudo grand theory of everything.  Weird and bizarre things happen when you play with the Universe’s dice.  Instead he concerned himself with the effect these things had on people and how they dealt with them.

The Manschenn Drive is not the only tech that Chandler introduced which has withstood the test of time.  He was sufficiently familiar with the advance of technologies to realize that what was familiar to him (television with three channels, telephones with dials, no personal computers, etc) would not be what was used in the future.  He was sufficiently sly to dress his future with devices that are cleverly vague and yet workable.  His ‘playmaster’ device, a feature found on every spaceship and virtually every home, is telephone, radio, television, information retrieval and fact checker – home theater, video recorder, audio recorder.  In short, anything you can do with media electronically is embodied in a single machine that you can interact with in a multiplicity of different ways – voice command, keyboard, radio, etc.

There are even ‘planetary networks’ – that serve as air traffic control, security system, long-range communications devices and that interact with individual shipboard playmasters.  And all of this is activated and controlled in very ergonomic user-interfacey ways.  No one apparently has to ‘learn’ how to use these systems, it’s intuitive.  And we’re STILL trying to achieve that level of inter-connectivity and ease of use.

Finally, the boo-hissers say, that old stuff wasn’t literary enough.  It was poorly written and doesn’t take 15 pages to describe the nap of the carpet and another 15 to mention the smell of the new roof shingles. 

Ok,  You got me.  Chandler wasn’t a ‘literary’ writer.  He could write, competently, interestingly, engagingly, but not literarilly.

Although he did write sufficiently well to get  Australia to underwrite a ‘what-if?’ alternate history novel (in print as Kelly Country), one of the last novels he ever wrote.  I think that in this particular case I’ll let the literary review board of an entire nation speak for Chandler’s competence in stringing words together.

Credentials? He’s got plenty.  He’s won several Ditmars – the Australian Hugo award, some Seiun’s from Japan and was nominated for a retro-Hugo. His stories were steadily in print from the 50’s (with ACE) through the late 80’s (with DAW).  He’s in the top 50 of all time SF authors who appeared regularly in Astounding SF, based on reader response. Two of his stories are amongst the most anthologized in the industry – The Cage and Giant Killer.

Those two stories alone have given birth to entire plot schools, being the seminal, original works to introduce the plot: The Cage gave birth to the ‘aliens think we’re animals’ concept, while Giant Killer set the bar for ‘mutated rats as competition for humans’ concept (not to mention one of the best ever ‘think like an alien’ presentations to appear anywhere, anytime in print).

Very well developed characters. A huge and consistent future history.  Future tech that is still future tech. Writing that is at least acceptable to one country’s literary council.

Other than an inability to find his works, I can think of no other argument levelled against classic SF for which Chandler is NOT the exception that proves the rule.  So I’ll answer that one by saying – every single day virtually every single one of his novels and collections are available on Ebay, ABE and Amazon – usually for a couple of bucks each.

Not only are Chandler’s works fully up to snuff in the light of today’s offerings, he’s a cheap read too!

Do yourself a serious favor and check him out.  If you want to start at the beginning, visit the official Chandler site.  For some additional detail, visit my concordance site. If you want to start reading about John Grimes’ adventures from the beginning, pick up a copy of The Road to the Rim. (I just got an ACE double version off Ebay for a buck.)  

*John Grimes is probably one of the most fully realized characters ever created by an SF or fantasy author.  He’s a righteous old bastard who keeps his own counsel, intelligent and crafty enough to get himself out of the messes he  himself into, has no respect for authority just for authority’s sake, has a winning way with women and some well-developed ‘kinks’. He also smokes a pipe, prefers his gin pink and his women red-headed, doesn’t think all that much of convention (unless he’s the one trying to enforce the rules), can be a bit stuck up when it serves his purpose and can’t resist a lady in distress.  John always ‘does the right thing’ even if it might take him a bit to get around to it, and it is very doubtful that you’ll like the way he does it.

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Hell, it would be great if some large media conglomerate decided to sue me in Federal Court – that’s BIG pr, man.

Lacking that avenue of promotional greatness, I’m forced to simply tell you that Chapter 8 of Pulp Comic Story (which has now been retitled Pulp Comic Fairy Tale – something I said I might do a while ago) is now available here.


A few other things while I’m thinking about it:

Fred Kiesche had to take a sledgehammer to my head to make me realize that his blog – which used to be called The Eternal Golden Braid is now called –



I’ve been thinking about this for a bit: what would entice someone to read the classics if they weren’t already inclined to do so.

I’ve spent a fair number of words exlaining the ‘whys’ here already (do your homework you lazy, good-for-nothing) so let’s just assume (momentarily or otherwise) that they’re valid reasons.

Of course I don’t mean at the expense of contemporary SF.  I mean in addition to.  As a means of obtaining some grounding, some history, some appreciation, some respect for the people who all the awards are named after (yes dear, there are real people behind those award names and good reasons for naming those awards after them – The Hugo for Hugo Gernsback, father of popularizing the genre – the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, because JWC had a nack for finding and developing new talent within the pages of Astounding SF (and the other award of the same name for best novel, given out by SFRA) – Andre Norton for YA lit, given by SFWA because she wrote so many tales that introduced young-uns to SF – Arthur C. Clarke for Best UK SF, because he helped found the UK SF dynasty and because he was, you know, British – Cordwainer Smith, for rediscovering overlooked authors of merit – Damon Knight, SFWA Grandmaster award because Damon founded the org – James Tiptree – for works that explore gender, because SHE did just that – Philp K. Dick, for having so much of his original work published in paperback – Robert A. Heinlein, for so much excellence – Theodore Sturgeon, for excellent short stories – if it weren’t for those folks we’d be giving out awards named for something stupid like The Spaceship Award or The Raygun Award.

Many of those people worked very hard at what they did and (should) leave a lasting, honored memory. And they deserve to be read, along with all of their brethren and sisteren.

So what I thought was – how about if we poll the contemporary favorites and compile a referral list like they do at BMG for music (if you liked so-and-so, you ought to like whosiswhatsis too).

I mean, we already know that If you like John Scalzi, you’ll probably like Robert A. Heinlein too and If you like David Weber, you’ll probably like A. Bertram Chandler, but who else?

So let’s ask some contemporary authors the following questions:

1. Did you read SF before you were a writer?

2. Who were your favorites?

3. Who do you think influenced you the most?

4. Which of the classic authors do you think your work most resembles?

Maybe if we tell the kids this, they’ll give those classics a try.

Maybe John at SFSignal will ask this one…

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