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Posts Tagged ‘Jack Dann’

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. 

Skiffy Tube DROPS SF CONTENT BELOW 10%!

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  I got my mention – not as a character, but as one of the people who helped get Chandler’s last unpublished story into print.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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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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*Above you will see the first incarnation of my ‘Nightline-esque’ reminder that we are STILL being held hostage by the eldritch horrors commonly referred to as Network Programmers.  Of the cable television variety.  Next to that, you’ll notice the countdown to TDTESSTWTOMD. For those coming late or not paying attention, that is the acronym for The Day The Earth Stood Still To Watch The Original Movie Day – which is December 10th, 2008.  I want everyone and anyone who might walk into the theater to see the remake to have already seen the original so that we can all form an unbiased opinion of the two as they relate to each other.  Clicking the link will take you to the page for that activity – where you can watch the original (over and over and over and over again – like I do).*

I had occassion yesterday to update some of the pages on the Rimworlds website, the personal page that started out as a home for my Rim Worlds/A. Bertram Chandler concordance project and has since grown to include The Classic Science Fiction Channel, Pulp magazine checklist and anything else I can cram in there.

I’ve obviously been paying attention to the ‘graying of fandom’/’old sf vs new sf’/similarly themed discussions floating around and as I was adding a couple of new items to the ‘Buy A. Bertram Chandler’ section I was struck by a couple of thoughts.

First, Chandler resides in the ‘old SF category; he unfortunately passed away in 1984, his 100th birthday is fast approaching (2012) and his works are becoming scarcer, although by no means are they completely absent.

Why he has faded remains a mystery to me, one that is probably equal parts fanboy blindness and publishing peculiarity; neither he nor any critic ever claimed literary pretensions for his works, but on the other hand he was a staple at DAW books and regularly appeared in the top magazines of the day.

His stories are what that they are: quaint adventures of an archetypical science fiction hero (John Grimes) – the man who always managed to get himself into deep yogurt, and always managed to come up smelling of roses and clutching the Shaara Crown jewels.

With HUGE tomes and ENDLESS series being all the rage these days in SF publishing, it’s a wonder that someone doesn’t do a little creative editing, retitle some of his works and bring out the Grimes series again.  The hype would be fun:

An Epic Space Opera Series!

Three Decades in the Making!

THREE MASSIVE DOORSTOP VOLUMES!

Featuring Science Fiction’s ORIGINAL Horatio Hornblower of Space!

When you consider that:

Chandler wrote some 20 novels (albeit 60’s/70’s/80’s 140 pagers) and 32 shorts dealing with John Grimes, 9 other novels and 30 other shorts dealing with alternate characters, other history or parallel universe versions of the Rim Worlds – you’ve got quite a canon!

In many respects, it seems like Chandler was writing for our time, rather than his own (not surprising if you consider how much he played around with time travel, alternate realities and world-as-myth). He’d fit right in: an on-going series that could count on a steady readership, long pieces for the book trade, short pieces for the e-zines and self-promotion, stories that play around in other parts of the universe…

I’ll note that SFBC did a series of omnibi editions which are mostly still available in the used book trade and that Baen Books offers all of the Grimes stories (with two exceptions that I can see – the recently published Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo – Dreaming Again – Jack Dann and Doggy in the Window, a short that appeared in Amazing Stories) in three e-book packages, compiled in a manner that reflects the three phases of Grimes’ career – officer in the Federation Survey Service, wandering, self-employed ship captain and citizen of the Rim Worlds Confederacy.  All of the current sources for Chandler’s material can be found here

Baen Books might want to think about offering a donwload pack of the rest of the Rim Worlds stories – there’s the Derek Calver tales (2 novels), the Empress Irene stories (3 novels – and they tie in to a Grimes novel), several other novels including The Deep Reaches of Space, Bring Back Yesterday, Frontier of the Dark – the novel based on a short story that Harlan Ellison called one of the best things he’s ever read – and a whole mess of shorts, including a Retro Hugo nominee – Giant Killer and one of the most anthologized short stories ever written – The Cage.

Me, I’d hype the space opera and continuing series aspects, hire some rabid fanboy (like me) to write a page or two of connecting material, combine three or four of the existing novels into one big tome, give them all new cover art, stick a new penname on the cover, maybe Whitley Dunstan (Chandler used both) and stick them out on the shelves.  Devoid of any connection to ‘old science fiction’, I bet they’d sell just dandy, thank you.

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Jack Dann (editor and author) who made a name for himself with an anthology of Jewish themed SF stories (Wandering Stars) and has quite an established career, especially amongst Aussie fans, has just had his second anthology of Australian SF released (available in the US in September – you can order now on Amazon).

Called Dreaming Again, the anthology features 35 stories by authors from down-under (TOC below).  Taking nothing away from the many fine authors, one in particular is of special note: Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo by A. Bertram Chandler.

This is the very last John Grimes story to see print (unless there exists somewhere a hidden treasure trove of A. Bertram Chandler stories.  One can only hope).  Its led a rather tortuous path to print publication and a great many thank yous are owed to Jack Dann and Paul Collins for having finally made it available to us.

Paul Collins (writer, editor) acquired the story quite some time ago for a project that never materialized.  He held on to it and resisted several opportunities to get it into publication electronically, believing as many of us do that it deserved to see print first.

When Jack Dann announced a sequel anthology to his very popular Dreaming Down Under (Tom Doherty), Sean offered him the still unpublished Chandler story and the rest, as they say, is history.

Its taken nearly fifty years, but Chandler’s John Grimes saga is now as complete as it is ever going to be; every single story he wrote about SF’s original Horatio Hornblower of Space is now or has been in print.

Most of the John Grimes stories are readily available through Amazon, ABE, NESFA press and various collector resources.  Completssts will also want to hunt down the Dreamstone memorial edition of From Sea to Shining Star.

Collectors can visit David Kelleher’s official Chandler site for a very complete bibliography, Todd Behr’s site for additional information, and if you really want to delve into detail on Grimes, you can visit my Rim Worlds Concordance site.

Thanks to Paul Collins for his persistence and Jack Dann for his vision and assistance.

Sean has a story himself in the new anthology.

The Grimes tale is part of the Kitty Kelly series of tales. Kelly is a human interest reporter who interviews Grimes for her galactically broadcast show – he’s always got a salty tale or two to tell.  This series of stories allowed Chandler to backtrack and fill in some of the Commodore’s past history.  This one features a bit of time travel, a bit of Asian spice and a bit of alternate history.

Contents of Dream Again

Introduction: Dreaming Again

JACK DANN

Old Friends

GARTH NIX

A Guided Tour In the Kingdom of the Dead

RICHARD HARLAND

This Is My Blood

BEN FRANCISCO and CHRIS LYNCH

Nightship

Kim Westwood

The Fooly

TERRY DOWLING

Neverland Blues

ADAM BROWN

The Jacaranda Wife

A. G. SLATTER

The Constant Past

SEAN MCMULLEN

The Forest

KIM WILKINS

Robots and Zombies, Inc.

LUCY SUSSEX

This Way to the Exit

SARA DOUGLASS

Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo

A. BERTRAM CHANDLER

Lure

PAUL COLLINS

The Empire

SIMON BROWN

Lakeside

CHRISTOPHER GREEN

Trolls’ Night Out

JENNY BLACKFORD

The Rest Is Silence

AARON STERNS

Smoking, Waiting For the Dawn

JASON NAHRUNG

The Lanes of Camberwell

CECILIA DART-THORNTON

Lost Arts

STEPHEN DEDMAN

Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh

JASON FISCHER

Europa

CECILY SCUTT

Riding On the Q-ball

ROSALEEN LOVE

In From the Snow

LEE BATTERSBY

The Lost Property Room

TRUDI CANAVAN

Heere Be Monsters

JOHN BIRMINGHAM

Purgatory

ROWENA CORY DANIELLS

Manannan’s Children

RUSSELL BLACKFORD

The Fifth Star in the Southern Cross

MARGO LANAGAN

Twilight in Caeli-Amur

RJURIK DAVIDSON

Paradise Design’d

JANEEN WEBB

The New Deal

TRENT JAMIESON

Conquist

DIRK STRASSER

The Last Great House of Isla Tortuga

PETER M. BALL

Perchance To Dream

ISOBELLE CARMODY

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