Archive for Brian Aldiss

Page Seventeen III: The Revenge

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2022 by dcairns

And yet my ideas and convictions on this subject have not changed. I still consider legalized cohabitation to be foolish. I am certain that eight husbands out of ten have wives who are unfaithful – and that is just what they deserve for having been idiotic enough to fetter their lives, give up the freedom of love, the only good and cheerful thing in the world, and clip the wings of the romantic fancy that constantly urges us to take an interest in all women . . . More than ever I feel incapable of loving merely one woman, because I should always be too fond of all the others. I wish I had a thousand arms, a thousand lips, a thousand . . . personalities, so that I could embrace at the same moment a whole regiment of these charming but insignificant creatures.

I will give a few instances of each of the three methods of changing bodies mentioned above. Freya and Frigg had their falcon dresses in which they visited different regions of the earth, and Loki is said to have borrowed these, and to have then appeared so precisely like a falcon, that he would have escaped detection, but for the malicious twinkle of his eyes. In the Vǫlundarkviða is the following passage:-

Her mouth was not rouged, but yet was pomegranate red. And she smiled so unconsciously down at the beverage that it caused the other girls to laugh aloud.

She turned her back on Transition. There was a thickness in her throat. She knew she should feel shame at the enormity of her mistake – and yet she could not. She knew that her identification with Andro had been too intense, and yet she did not wish it any other way.

In her own mind the tall dark girl had been in those days much confused. A great restlessness was in her and it expressed itself in two ways. First there was an uncanny desire for change, for some big definite movement in her life. It was this feeling that had turned her mind to the stage. She dreamed of joining some company and wandering over the world, seeing always new faces and giving something of herself to the people. Sometimes at night she was quite beside herself with the thought, but when she tried to talk of the matter with the theatrical companies that came to Winesburg and stopped at her father’s hotel, she got nowhere. They did not seem to know what she meant, or if she did get something of her passion expressed, they only laughed. “It’s not like that,” they said. “It’s as dull and uninteresting as this here. Nothing comes of it.”

Like Joyce, Dorothy too begins her letter by discussing her “strict upbringing.” She can remember lying in bed as a child and thinking about her fantasies. “I was never able to banish these deliciously nasty thoughts from my mind,” she writes. What heightened her pleasure in these erotic fantasies was to imagine them while she could hear her mother moving around in another part of the house. Right under her mother’s nose, so to speak, she could play with these forbidden thoughts. In the secrecy of her mind, she could be sexually defiant.

The first few times nothing clicked. The fantasies were O.K. but belonged to nobody important. But the Firm is patient, committed to the Long Run as They are. At last, one proper Sherlock Holmes London evening, the unmistakable smell of gas came to Pirate from a dark street lamp, and out of the fog ahead materialised a giant, organlike form. Carefully, black-shod step by step, Pirate approached the thing. It began to slide forward to meet him, over the cobblestones slow as a snail, leaving behind some slime brightness of street-wake that could not have been from fog. In the space between them was a crossover point which Pirate, being a bit faster, reached first. He reeled back, in horror, back past the point – but such recognitions are not reversible. It was a giant adenoid. At least as big as St. Paul’s, and growing hour by hour. London, perhaps all England, was in mortal peril!

Seven passages extracted from seven page seventeens from seven books cluttering up the Shadowplayhouse.

He from Tales of Supernatural Terror by Guy de Maupassant; The Book of Werewolves by Sabine Baring-Gould; Metropolis by Thea Von Harbou; Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson; Escape to Chaos by John D. MacDonald, from Galactic Empires 2 edited by Brian W. Aldiss; Forbidden Flowers by Nancy Friday; Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.

Page Seventeen III: At World’s End

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2021 by dcairns

The lift was not working so I had to walk down all the stairs to the studio. They had Conversation after Midnight on Stage A, and on Stage B they were shooting the night-club sequence for Black and White Blues. Outside in the yard they were trying some extra scenes for Peep and Judy Show, the Inigo Ransom comedy which was long over schedule time. I met the continuity girl from the new studio and I asked her whether she had seen anything of Robertson lately. She was tired and said no she had not and asked me how I was getting on with the cutting of The Waning Moon. She was interested in it because she had been the floor secretary for the production.

“Let her go,” said Port to Tunner, whose face showed concern. “She’s worn out. The heat gets her down.”

But Porter was not only making his own films now, he was training new directors to work under him. The motion-picture audience and my mother’s middle were growing proportionately. My infancy, the infancy of Edison’s Kinetoscope, and Porter’s callow moving-picture shows, are intertwined.

As editor of IMP films, Jack Cohn provided an invaluable service to the economy-minded Laemmle. IMP directors were led to believe they were shooting one-reel films and hence were encouraged to be niggardly with film stock and production time. Through chicanery by the executives, the movies were actually released as two-reelers.

‘But how did you discover by means of our watches?’ asked Clinton.

“I tell you nothing. You can work it out for yourself.” Thunderpeck loved to lecture me. “You know the cost of these new anti-gravity units; it’s phenomenal. Only a very rich man could afford one. There are few of them in production as yet; they go only to heart cases. A ten-stone man can wear one of these units and adjust it so that he weighs only two stone. It saves the heart pump a lot of work. So we know our friend was rich and suffered from heart trouble. Right. Where do such people often live? On the coast, by the sea, for the good of their health. So he died walking along the front–people do, you know. An offshore breeze carried him out to us.”

In the Middle Ages there was a curious belief that everything in the air or on the earth had its double in the sea. So when a previously undiscovered fish was found washed up on the coast of Norway and described as having a close-shaven head and an ungracious face, it was straightaway called a monk-fish. Its shoulders were said to be covered with what appeared to be a monk’s hood with feathering fins for arms, and a long tail at the end of its body. The King of Poland took a particular interest in this odd fish, and asked for it to be sent to him to see.

Seven passages from the page seventeens of seven books from around here. The last-quoted is the only book I have left from my childhood, its sentimental value somewhat tarnished by the discovery that it’s substantially plagiarised from Borges’ own monster dictionary.

The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor by Cameron McCabe; The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles; Moving Pictures by Budd Schulberg; King Cohn by Bob Thomas; The Warder of the Door by Robert Eustace & L.T. Meade, from The Black Veil & Other Tales of Supernatural Sleuths edited by Mark Valentine; Earthworks by Brian W. Aldiss; A Dictionary of Monsters and Mysterious Beasts by Carey Miller.

Star-Craving Mad

Posted in literature, MUSIC, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 22, 2020 by dcairns

I went down a rabbit hole investigating The Jet-Propelled Couch, a chapter of the book The Fifty-Minute Hour by Robert Mitchell Lindner, a celebrated collection of psychiatric case histories.

In The Jet-Propelled Couch, Lindner tells of successfully treating a “government scientist” seemingly involved in the atomic bomb project, who had gone partway off his rocker reading sci-fi novels in Polynesia as a child, and was spending increasingly long periods of mental estrangement when he believed himself to be away in the future, battling in distant galaxies. Lindner boldly combatted the obsession by going into it himself, identifying with his patient’s mania until he reckoned himself to be at some risk of getting lost in it. Fortunately, there wasn’t room in this particular constructed universe for two, and Lindner’s elbowing his way in helped “Kirk Allen” escape.

Lindner disguised his patient’s identity so carefully that we still can’t be sure who “Kirk Allen” really was. The best guess to date has been that he was science fiction writer Cordwainer Smith, real name Paul Linebarger. If this is so, it kind of suggests that “Allen” wasn’t wholly cured of his obsession, since Smith was to construct an entire future history spanning tens of thousands of years, lovingly piecing together whole civilisations that rose and fell, spawning new species (the underpeople! a very appealing character in A Planet Named Sheol has been assembled from bits of cow) and leading to “the Rediscovery of Mankind.” His stuff is absolutely nuts, and it’s easy to find yourself believing the author had mental issues. But maybe he was just really good?

Harry Harrison, sf scribe, on British TV was asked if you needed a special mind to write sci-fi. “No, just talent.”

Linebarger was remarkable in all kinds of ways. As a China expert, Linebarger’s proudest achievement was aiding in the surrender of thousands of Chinese troops in Korea. Cordwainer Smith expert John J. Pierce writes that the troops were averse to surrendering, considering it shameful. Linebarger had leaflets printed explaining that the men could come forward shouting the Chinese words for “love,” “duty,” “humanity” and “virtue.” Say these words in Chinese in that order, and you have phonetically said “I surrender in English.” Smith’s stories are pun-happy too.

I came across the Linebarger-Lindner story in Brian Aldiss’s critical history of science fiction, The Billion-Year Spree. He got his info from one Leon Stover, who was subsequently very cagey about how he’d supposedly heard it from Lindsay. The Linebarger-Lindner connection is tenuous at best, though we know Lindner knew other sf writers including Theodore Sturgeon, and we know Linebarger spent a lot of time in analysis. In Behind the Jet-Propelled Couch, Alan C. Elms, at work since forever on a Cordwainer Linebarger bio, examines the evidence in detail.

Since Linebarger was a cultural expert on China for the Pentagon, not a nuclear physicist working at Los Alamos, we can see that Lindner must have disguised him pretty thoroughly, but a lot of the biographical facts do add up, or find equivalents in Linebarger’s lonely and dislocated upbringing. (Loneliness has been remarked upon as a recurring theme in his fiction, from the astonishing Scanners Live in Vain — “I need to kranch!” — right through to his final published works at the end of his short life.)

Remarkably enough, Lindner’s chapter was televized as an episode of Playhouse 90 in the fities, under the direction or Burgess Meredith and James B. Clark (the combined talents behind THE YIN AND YANG OF MR. GO and A DOG OF FLANDERS. The show starred David Wayne as “Kirk Allen,” Donald O’Connor as “Dr. Robert Harrison” (so Lindner gets his own pseudonym), and featuring Peter Lorre and Maila Nurmi in her Vampira guise. I’d love to see it. It sounds dreadful and/or wonderful. A live broadcast, it doesn’t seem to have been preserved.

The TV play evidently interested Stephen Sondheim, who planned to make a musical out of it, but this never materialized. I would be interested! One can imagine a more serious WALTER MITTY affair, and it would be best if the sci-fi elements had some real clout and conviction, instead of the more usual Flash Gordon parody stuff. If one had access to Cordwainer Smith’s work and knew of the rumoured connection… it’s not too late! Paging Mr. Sondheim!

Other plausible candidates have been proposed as the real Kirk Allen. “Kiko” Harrison, a scientist who really was at Los Alamos, and who also had similarities in his personal history to the case file recounted by Lindner, could be the man. Nobody had managed to find a series of sci-fi stories starring a character called Paul Linebarger or even just “Paul” which would fit the description Lindner gives of his patient discovering a hero with his own name. Other investigators have looked for a physicist called John Carter, assuming that the most famous sci-fi hero in print at the time was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian adventurer. Aldiss suggests E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series as a likelier fit to K.A.’s intergalactic romps. Which would, with a bit of shoehorning, fit — the Lensman books don’t have heroes with usefully similar names to any of our protagonists, but Linebarger did later adopt the name Smith for his sf writing.

Saul-Paul Sirag, championing the “Kiko” Harrison hypothesis, does find a sci-fi hero called Harrison, star of two stories by Stanley G. Weinbaum which appeared in Wonder Stories, a 1930s pulp magazine. It’s not a long series of books, but at least there’s a name-match. I don’t know how likely it would be for “Kiko” to find a US pulp mag in England, France or Scotland, where he was living as a kid in 1934 (going by how impossible it was to find Famous Monsters of Filmland in Scotland in the seventies, I’d say not very likely), but per Lindner Kirk Allen discovered his namesake in a crate of imported literature on a Pacific island, so “Kiko” Harrison could have done the same thing when his family moved to the Philippines.

(I’ve read one of Weinbaum’s Captain Harrison stories, The Valley of Dreams, and it’s terrific. Hawksian sf adventure with alien ecology and plenty of mystery.)

It would be an exaggeration to say you could go mad thinking about this. But I’m getting a bit obsessed. I do think Cordwainer Smith/Paul Linebarger makes the most poetically beautiful candidate, because if it’s him, he OBVIOUSLY WASN’T CURED. Which is fine, because the tall tale Dr. Lindner span about “Kirk Allen” is wildly implausible and the techniques he describes would be highly unlikely to “cure” anyone suffering from a psychotic break. Still, schizophrenia, for instance, can come and go for no obvious reason, so maybe “Kirk” (the name suggests another, later space captain) just got better on his own? Or maybe he was never ill? He had a responsible position, but his bosses became concerned about his space fantasy obsession, his doodling on official documents using alien pictograms of his own devising, and sent him to a shrink? Lindner’s account of his therapy ends with K.A. saying that he’s realised for some time that all this futuristic stuff is “just nonsense,” but he didn’t want to admit it and disappoint Lindner, who seemed so into it. How much is Lindner distorting here? Obviously, he was duty bound to disguise his patient’s identity, falsifying details in the process. This of course means that we can’t fact check him.

Alan Elms points out that Linebarger/Smith’s working title for his only novel was Star-Craving Mad, which doesn’t work at all for the book that became Norstrilia (about a planet named after Northern Australia — Linebarger had an Australian friend so he got the vowels right), but would fit perfectly as an alternative title for The Jet-Propelled Couch.

Which ends with Lindner wondering about Kirk Allen and his apparently abandoned universe…

“How goes it with the Crystopeds? How are things in Seraneb?”

(Seraneb is Benares backwards. But that doesn’t seem to be a clue to anything.)