Storm the Fort

I’m reposting this five-year-old entry because I happened to see that the complete works of Charles Fort are now available online (see link at end of post).

 

Just to prove I’m more than a big, steaming plate of obnoxious noodles, here’s a quick rundown of what I would consider a basic (if now rather dated) library of pseudoscience/paranormal phenomena overviews — with a strong slant toward the skeptical. (I’m probably missing a couple of key titles in my haste.)

Charles Fort, The Complete Books of Charles Fort
From 1919 to the early ’30s, British Museum and NY Public Library gnome Charles Fort invented the modern concept of the uncanny/unexplained event. In a dry, wry, sprightly newspaperish style he chronicles rains of fishes, rains of blood, weird noises from the earth, secret passages beneath continents, odd giant patterns in the sea and so forth and so forth. His tone is tongue-in-cheeky most of the time, with the occasion flash of “who knows — maybe so.” Sample a few passages in a store or online. If you like him, you’ll really like him.

Jerome Clark, Unexplained!
Clark is the great modernized, popularizer of Fort principles. Too credulous and gee-whiz, he nevertheless knows all parts of the field and is well worth reading as a survey.

The Fringes of Reason — A Whole Earth Catalog.
This thing is dedicated to fun and you can get it for peanuts on line. Lot of kicky writers and the subtitle says it all: “A Field Guide to New Age Frontiers, Unusual Beliefs & Eccentric Sciences” Includes guides to much other lit and sly essays about, for example, how meteors were once considered utterly impossible …. scientifically.

Various, Science and the Paranormal
Wide-ranging and nicely organized collection of essays from the usual hard-asses like Martin Gardner, Issac Asimov, Carl Sagan, James Randi, etc.

speaking of which —

Martin Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science
The grandaddy of debunking books. Again, reading a couple pages will tell you if you need this on the shelf or not. If you find Gardner too stuck in the mundane mud —

Terence McKenna, The Archaic Revival
Ol’ dead ‘n’ gone Terry McKenna certainly is not. This is a loopy ramble-tamble of all the connections between psychedelics and the unseen world and the unknown mind that processes them both. You’ve never read anything like. On the other hand, the foreword is by Tom Robbins and that may tell you you don’t want to read anything like it.

Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things
Probably more relevant than when I read it almost 10 years ago. This is, at bottom, a book about the pervasive appeal of the irrational (to fear, to ego, to career advancement) in the modern world. Very sharp on Holocaust Denial, Creationists, and the limits of intellectuals (hey, just because you’re certifiably smart doesn’t mean you’re smart about everything).

Robert Park, Voodoo Science: the Road from Foolishness to Fraud
This overlooked book details how honest intentions in research and curiosity can become twisted into anxiety- and venality-driven BS. Especially important in this science-uncertain time.

More Fort info and link to works at end of entry.

A.E. Van Vogt’s “Discord in Scarlet”

A bit of spooky-sci-fi entertainment for Friday night. This story is a landmark: not only is the writing almost eerie-flawless and the tale an even-more-brilliant extension of the author’s groundbreaking “Black Destroyer,” but it’s the clear originator of the “alien monster on a spaceship” concept that would become Alien decades later.

Also, “Xtl” — they knew how to name aliens back then

PS: I should  clarify: certainly “Black Destroyer” is the first “alien monster on a spaceship” fiction. But the problem is that the Black Destroyer looks like a deadly monster and no matter how sweet-puddy-tat he acted, it seems dubious that the crew would get such a creature on board with them. Xtl is a hidden agent, undetectable until he’s on the ship, and therefore much, much more dangerous.

Le Guin Nails the Charm of Ace Doubles

In the introduction to the first Volume of her Hainish Novels and Stories she recalls from 50 years earlier::

The first three novels in this volume were published by Donald A. Wollheim, the tough, reliable editor of Ace Books, in the Late-Pulpalignean Era, 1966 and ’67. The first two, Rocannon’s World and Planet of Exile, came out as Ace Doubles: two short novels by two different authors in one paperback cover, like two trains running towards each other on one track. When one train hit the other you turned the book upside down and started from the other end. And Ace Double was a very good deal for under a dollar. It was not a very good deal for the authors, or a brilliant debut in the publishing world, but it paid, it got you into print, it had readers.

And one of them was this high-schooler in Montana named Miles. I loved Ace Doubles because they were well-edited and of reliable quality. And even on my teeny budget I could get whatever ones appealed to me. Of course, the what didn’t occur to me is that, “Yikes, this low price means the writers didn’t get paid scrunt!” I didn’t read Le Guin until the unavoidable The Left Hand of Darkness, but some of my favorites included: James White Second Ending / Samuel R. Delany The Jewels of Aptor (1962);  Samuel R. Delany The Towers of Toron / Robert Moore Williams The Lunar Eye (1964); Fred Saberhagen The Golden People / Lan Wright Exile From Xanadu (1964); A. Bertram Chandler Space Mercenaries / Emil Petaja The Caves of Mars (1965); Jack Jardine and Julie Jardine (jointly as Howard L. Cory) The Mind Monsters / Philip K. Dick The Unteleported Man (1966); Lin Carter Tower Of The Medusa / George H. Smith Kar Kaballa (November 1969). I took a pretty extensive break from sci-fi from the time I graduated college until I moved to MA.

 

Martian War Machines — Good Accurate Representations

The first is from the original edition of the H.G.Wells landmark. The second from a fairly contemporary Brazilian translation. The third from the terrific, much more recent, treatment by Edward Gorey.

War of the Worlds 1

War of the Worlds 3

War of the Worlds 2

The thing that always puzzled me about these creations is that Wells accurately presented the Martians — giant heads on top of tentacle-like fingers — as crawling around and gasping, clearly oppressed by the thick atmosphere and strong gravity of Earth (compared to Mars). And yet these weird, spindly war machines, persuasive products of the Martian environment, were not similarly crushed and slogged by the Earth environment. Maybe they worked out a magic technology in prep for the invasion.

R.I.P.: Brian Aldiss

I recommend Trillion Year Spree to anybody who might remotely be interested.

Due no doubt to some failure of my literary imagination, I have a hard time with a lot of his other works. (Thought Non-Stop was boring as hell, tried to get started with the Helliconia Triology several times without success.) But I do want to hail two short stories — “Let’s Be Frank” (very original idea) and “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” (you can read the whole thing from a link in the obit), very different from the film “A.I.,” more of a mere inspiration, both works engrossing in their own way.

Game of Throwns Away

I can’t deny it … “Game of Thrones” has entered a wrap-it-up-quick-and-dirty phase since expanding beyond the end of the book sources. The quest to nab a wight was fun enough to watch, but was a grindingly obvious plot-pusher from the start. The revelation that wights collapse when their maker is killed an apt surprise — but then doing in the Night King becomes such an obvious game-ender that it’s obnoxious it doesn’t happen. My favorite zinger — the undead bear. A truly cool monster and a nice foreshadow that animals get to walk the night, too.