Tag Archives: history

386. Chief Seattle

Beware, I occasionally rant. Like today.

If this post had a descriptive sub-title in the nineteenth century style, the full spread would be:

Chief Seattle: White Man’s Indian
or, how a movie took a fine old man and turned him
into a puppet and a joke

How’s that for laying out a political agenda for all to see?

Yesterday and today I presented an ersatz Miwuk legend. Ersatz is a fancy word for “I just made it up”. I don’t apologize for that. Spirit Deer is a work of fiction, and I used Miwuk Indians as the basis for Tim’s knowledge because they were the resident Native American’s in the places he finds himself. (When I wrote the book in 1975, it wasn’t yet a crime to say Indian instead of Native American.) Later, I will also have a “family story” about his grandfather’s grandfather. That is also made up, to meet the needs of the novel. Again, no apologies. Fiction is fiction. Historical fiction has some responsibility for maintaining accuracy, but Spirit Deer isn’t even subject to that.

I wrote this novel, all of it, including the legends and family stories. It’s fiction, okay. If it were ever to be published, I would make sure that those facts were clearly stated.

Actually, that’s what I’m doing here.

There is a point to all this, beyond simply taking responsibility for what I have written. When I was a teacher, I came across a book called Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A Message From Chief Seattle and also the supposed text of Chief Seattle’s speech. This took place decades ago, and I can’t remember which I saw first, but my Hemingway style “writer’s shit detector” went off like a siren. I was sure that this was another white guy putting words in an Indian’s (excuse me, Native American’s) mouth, after he was long dead and couldn’t set the record straight.

It turns out, I was right. The version of Chief Seattle’s speech in question, which comes complete with the statement, “I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairies left by the white man who shot them from a passing train,” was written by screenwriter Ted Perry for the 1971 film Home. Those buffaloes were killed and rotted decades after Chief Seattle made his speech, and half a continent away. To be fair to Perry, he tried for years to claim credit for the speech and counter its false historicity, to no avail.

Actually, as fiction, or as a soupy environmental statement, it is a powerful piece of writing. But it has nothing to do with Chief Seattle.

The publication of Brother Eagle, Sister Sky led to a 1992 Newsweek article that named Perry as the author of the speech. In researching for this post, I also found a more complete article from the New York Times. You can check them out for yourself.

All this slapped me in the face four ways.

As a writer, I work hard to keep my fiction from telling lies, either morally or factually. I am a long time student of ecology, and I abhor the way a hard-edged science gets turned into a set of slogans. As an anthropologist (B.S., M.A., and two summers on archaeology digs), I hate the way Native Americans are rarely seen for themselves, but as savages or saints, according to whatever is the current fashion. I am a student of history as well, and . . . you get the picture.

You might have guessed by now that I can be irritated by lies, and seeing a screenwriter’s version of “Chief Seattle’s” speech accepted as history grinds all my gears.

379. Westercon

You know that I write these posts in advance, and it’s a good thing because today I am leaving for Tempe, Arizona and Westercon 70.

Westercon is a western US regional science fiction and fantasy convention. It has been around since 1948, when the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society organized it for those who could not travel to the east coast where most Worldcons were held at that time.

This will be my third Westercon. I attended Westercon 33 in Los Angeles the year Zelazny was the guest of honor. I stepped out for air during the afternoon and a lovely young woman told me I looked lonely (I wasn’t), told me she was a wannabe actress – actually she said “I’m just an LA nobody” – and told me the story of her life. I know what you’re thinking. There is no romantic ending, no money changed hands, and she didn’t steal my wallet. I think she was just exactly what she said she was.

Later that night I was cornered at a party by a guy who wanted to tell me about his screenplay. He wouldn’t take the hint that I wasn’t interested, or that I was in no position to further his career. The screenplay turned out to be for a space opera about a ray gun shooting femme fatale. He whipped out a copy of Playboy and showed me a beautiful naked black girl on the centerfold. He said she was the one he had in mind to play the part.

I don’t remember his name (a high functioning forgettery is a very useful tool) but he is probably living in a big house in Hollywood today. The plot was just dumb enough to sell.

I don’t think most Westercons are that weird, costumes notwithstanding. I think it was just LA.

The next year Westercon 34 was in Sacramento. It was a bit more sedate and I gave the paper “How to Build a Culture”. There was a good turnout; as best I can remember a couple of hundred attendees in a small auditorium. I had prepared a piece of mat board with a hand-drawn circle, divided into four pie-slices with the words environment, technology, world view, and biological structure hand written in the quadrants. It was makeshift because my first computer was still five years in the future.

When I said, “Which brings me to my visual aid”, I stood it up and, to cover it’s crudity, added “We have spared no expense!”

The joke got the small chuckle it deserved, but the sound died instantly. A young man in the middle of the auditorium was saying, in a conversational voice, “He is showing a chart. It’s circular, divided into quadrants . . .” We all realized that he was describing the chart to a blind companion, and for the length of time it took him to give his description, you could have heard a feather drop in the room. The respectful silence from crowd made me proud to be a part of the moment.

Last year I wanted to go to Westercon 69 in Portland. I hadn’t gone during all the years of my dry spell; it just didn’t seem like it would be fun under the circumstances. Then Cyan’s release was delayed again, so I skipped Portland. Now that Cyan is out, I am off to Tempe.

It will be good to be back.

363. Masters: Coming to America

What sort of country would (the United States) have now if the Indians had had an Immigration Service when the Pilgrims set out in 1620?
John Masters

When I first read John Masters, something he said stuck with me. Before going to Westercon this year, I wanted to run down that quotation, and in doing so I found much more worth sharing. What he said about writing will appear here later, but today I want to give his insights on immigration, or, as he called it, his Seven Year’s War with the U. S. Immigration authorities.

For reasons detailed in his book, John Masters decided that, though he was an Englishman, there was no life for him in England, and that America should become his home. He applied for an immigrant visa, knowing that the British yearly quota of 65,000 was never filled. His reactions to the questions asked on the application form were humorous, but too long to place here. Apparently the questions were as inane then as they are now. (see 329. Green Card Blues and 361. Take This Test)

A week or so later, he was told that he would have to wait about four and a half years. He had been placed on the Indian quota. He went back to inquire and was told that American law only recognized the place of his birth, not his actual citizenship. Never mind that he was born in a British military hospital. Never mind that he was born of a British mother and a British father, stationed in the British army in a British controlled area. Never mind that a child born of an American parent (and it only takes one) anywhere in the world is an American citizen. Never mind that he was born in 1914, and India didn’t become a country until 1947. He was born in India, so he was on the India quota.

It was a good thing he hadn’t been born while his father was stationed in Greece. The Greek quota was eighty-one years. (Yes, that is not a misprint. 81 years.)

Masters decided to withdraw his application for an Immigrant visa, get a visitor’s visa, and work things out later. That was not allowed. Since he had applied for an immigrant visa, he was no longer eligible for a visitor’s visa. Too many others when facing impossible waits had made that same move, then disappeared once they were in America.

As you might guess, as a British Army officer with plenty of friends, he was eventually allowed a visitor’s visa, came to America, and managed to stay permanently, although with many additional bureaucratic battles.

Good thing he wasn’t actually Indian.

More to the point in 2017, good thing he wasn’t Mexican, or poor, or not a native English speaker.

Master’s comments on writing will come in later posts.

362. Masters of India

     Wasn’t it barely a week since I had thrilled to learn what was inscribed on the base of the Statue of LIberty:
          Give me you tired, your poor,
          Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .
     What generosity, I had thought, what a marvel of welcome!
                         John Masters

We’ll let that quotation hang there, and return to it later. This post, and several more, are connected to John Masters’ third installment of autobiography, Pilgrim Son.

I read the first installment of his autobiography, Bugles and a Tiger, during the 1970s. Normally a military biography would be the last thing to interest me. Furthermore, I was in the Navy against my will at the time, it that made it even more unlikely. However, Masters was a famous novelist specializing in India, so I read Bugles . . ., and I was impressed.

I had just finished four years studying South Asia and was about to return to another year of the same. My experience had shown me that there is wisdom (and stupidity) in writing on all sides of any issue. Wiser’s The Hindu Jajmani System (anthropologist), Nehru’s The Discovery of India (nationalist agitator, then national leader) and Masters’ various works (officer in the British Army in India) all showed accurate views from different perspectives.

I skipped Masters’ second autobiography, The Road Past Mandalay because I had no interest in sharing the horrors of WW II’s Burmese campaign, but Pilgrim Son was about the start of his life as a writer. I was beginning to write, so I ate it up.

That was nearly four decades ago. One particular story from that book stayed with me, and sent me back to seek it out again. I found that the whole book was a gem, far better than I remembered, and with more than one brief bit worth sharing.

For one thing, Masters had a lot to say about immigrants. That had not stuck in my memory because it was not an issue in the early eighties when I first read Pilgrim Son.

I have to set the stage by reminding American readers, whose world historical knowledge is typically shallow, that India is an ancient culture, but is new as a nation. Until mid-last century, it was controlled by Britain. In 1947, what was then India was partitioned into India and Pakistan, and each part became a self-governing nation. Decades later, Pakistan also split, into Pakistan and Bangladesh. What had once been a more-or-less uniform culture divided into hundreds of petty kingdoms, was first unified under British rule, then split into three modern nations.

After several hundred years, members of the British Army and of the British governing class, many of whom had lived in India for generations, had to take ship for England. John Masters was one of those Englishmen who was born in India, had lived his life there, and now found himself an immigrant to his other homeland. He soon found that there was nothing for him in England, and became an immigrant to America, where he began his writing career. more tomorrow

361. Take This Test

Berlin WallMexican Wall

TAKE THIS TEST TO SEE IF YOU ARE FIT TO BE AN AMERICAN

Have you ever knowingly committed any crime for which you have not been arrested? [Never mind the fifth amendment. It does not apply here.
Have you ever been arrested? [Whether convicted or acquitted.]
Have you ever received public assistance?
Are you likely to receive public assistance in the future? [As if you could know that.]
Have you ever gambled illegally? [Yes, the Super Bowl counts.]
Have you ever encouraged an act of illegal immigration? [Yes, that includes hiring the maid who cleans you toilet, cooks your meals, and babysits your kids.]
Did you smoke pot before it was legal?
Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? [Yes, Joe McCarthy is dead, and yes, the question can still be asked, and no, you can’t refuse to answer.]
Did you, in support of the Nazi party, aide in the persecution of any person because of race, religion, national origin, or political opinion. [If such aid was to the KKK, answer no.]
Have you ever assisted any organization engaged in kidnapping, political assassination, or any other form of terrorist activity. [If that organization was the CIA, answer no.]
Have you ever left the U.S. to avoid the draft?
Have you ever served in the armed forces?
Have you ever been a police officer?
Have you ever been a prison guard?
Have you ever been been a Boy Scout?

If you answered yes to any question above, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

If you could not read any question above, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

If you could not afford a lawyer to help you answer any question above, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

If you were too repulsed to finish the test, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

Finally: List your present and past membership in or affiliation with every organization, association, fund, foundation, party, club, society, or similar group in the United States or in other places since your 16th birthday. Include any military service in this part. If none, write “None.” Include the name of each organization, location, nature, and dates of membership. If additional space is needed, attach a separate sheet of paper. If you are unable to remember and list these affiliations, you may not be eligible to enter the United States.

—————-

All of these questions were drawn, with snide but accurate rewording, from Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence. If you think this is a joke, click here to read the actual form.

Aren’t you glad you are an American citizen? If you weren’t, we probably wouldn’t let you in.

Golden Age of Science Fiction (3)

Raven’s Run concluded Monday, May 22. A new novel will begin soon.  Meanwhile, this is the third of three posts of material for the panel “What Makes the Golden Age Golden?”, to be presented at Westercon.

.  .  .  Some say the golden age was circa 1928; some say 1939; some favor 1953, or 1970 or 1984. The arguments rage til the small of the morning, and nothing is ever resolved.
         Because the real golden age of science fiction is twelve.
                                   David Hartwell

That the golden age of science fiction is twelve — or thirteen — has some validity, but also has limitations. If you are a thinking reader, the golden age of science fiction begins when your maturity begins.

For fun, let’s put that into pseudo-mathematical terms:

MATURITY = ENTHUSIASM – CALLOWNESS

Old age comes when you also subtract enthusiasm — some of us will never reach it. A mature reader loves the good stuff (by his/her lights) but doesn’t love everything.

I had a life crisis just short of my sixteenth birthday that drop kicked me into maturity. From sixteen to college was Hell. Then I escaped. Once I was on my own, I grew like a weed after a rain storm — fast, sprawling, and a little bit prickly. I reveled in being part of a community of scholars, but I didn’t ignore that rack of science fiction paperbacks at the back of the college book store.

I had read The Way of All Flesh in high school. Samuel Butler was good. I read Davy after I was on my own. Pangborn was better.

I had read the stories in the Old Testament in church, sitting in the back pew, with my Bible in my lap so I could look like I was listening to the preacher. They weren’t bad. I read A Wizard of Earthsea after I escaped. Le Guin was better.

I don’t disparage the classics, but consider this. Setting aside the universals of the human experience (which are reason enough to go to the classics), Dickens and Butler were fighting the battles of their day. Those battles were won or lost before we were born. The best science fiction writers are fighting the battles of today and tomorrow.

Is Dickson as good as Dickens? I doubt it. But the Friendlies, the Exotics and the Dorsai are probably more relevant to today than Oliver Twist. Aside from the universals, that is.

My college roommate introduced me to Marvel comics, something that wasn’t allowed in my childhood home. That led to a decade long addiction. I finally kicked Marvel cold turkey, so I would have money enough to eat. I swear the idea of crossovers would make Wall Street proud.

My roommate also introduced me to the Lensman books. Thanks, Bob. It’s hard to read them fifty years later without lip-syncing, but I still do.

If you read enough, and treasure the good stuff, you will create your own golden age.

You can find my golden age in tattered paperbacks on the shelves of my writing room. They are the ones I didn’t get rid of, out of the thousands I read. You will find Ursula Le Guin there, but shoved to the back. Her fantasies would be at the top of my fantasy list, and a long way above Lord of the Rings, but not her science fiction. They are all thoughtful, intelligent, meaningful, and powerful. The problem is the people with whom she populated them. They were all Mrs. Brown’s of both genders (including both genders in alteration in Left Hand of Darkness). How someone who created Sparrowhawk/Ged could fail to write any science fiction protagonist I could like, even while I was enjoying her stories and respecting her skill, is a continuing mystery to me.

You will find Pavane on those shelves. It is my second favorite fantasy and near the top in science fiction. Technically an alternate timeline story, Pavane tastes like fantasy. If they ever put on a panel, “Is there any difference between science fiction and fantasy?”, I’ll propose Pavane as exhibit number one, for the prosecution and the defense.

The Road to Corlay is there, along with everything Zelazny wrote; also everything from Dickson’s Childe Cycle, but very little of his other writing. Everything from Heinlein is there, even For Us the Living. I don’t understand why, but I re-read Heinlein more than any other author. If I could solve the conundrum of Heinlein, and apply it to my own writing, I could make a million dollars and be equally loved and hated by the whole science fiction community.

I could go on for hours, but you would quit reading. It doesn’t really matter what makes up my personal golden age. It only matters what makes up yours.

#              #              #

And then there was New Age.

No concept as fuzzy as New Age has boundaries. It’s even hard to point to a center. Is Michael Moorcock part of it? Certainly. Harlan Ellison? Maybe. Defining New Age is like trying to nail fog to the wall.

During the sixties and seventies, everybody was talking about the New Age. It was going to save moribund science fiction from itself. It was going to destroy science fiction by drowning it in a sea of whining. It depended on who you were listening to.

I never was clear on who was or wasn’t New Age. I just knew there was a lot of weird new stuff coming down and I really liked a lot of it.

J. G. Ballard blew my mind. I never knew where-the-hell his stories were going while I was reading them. I often wasn’t sure after I had finished. If you ever despair of the decency of humanity, don’t read “Deep End”, and least not if you have the means of suicide ready to hand.

Harlan Ellison was the best writer of short stories ever. No qualifiers. If you want a clinic on how to craft the perfect last line, without gimmicks, read “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes”.

If you want a clinic on how to write a soap opera, in the sense of a story that goes on and on with each sub-climax leading to new start, with suspense and resolution, but no final resolution — in short, a story that can go on forever and keep its readers happily following book after book — read Zelazny’s Amber series. It will take a while. Or if you want to sample Zelazny in a short novel that doesn’t commit you to a lifetime of reading, try Isle of the Dead.

I think there is one golden age that I missed. About mid-eighties I hit a dry spell in my writing — or more accurately, in my selling. It had consequences. When I saw a newly published science fiction novel that wasn’t as good as mine, I got angry. When I saw a newly published science fiction novel that was better than mine, I got depressed.

I was still re-reading old science fiction, and new novels by old favorite authors. I found some new favorites — John Varley, David Brin, and others come to mind — but I largely bypassed a generation of new writers. Recently I have been reading Neil and Neal, Gaiman and Stephenson, but I know I must have missed a feast of others.

I have probably missed more than one feast. Is there a Golden Age of Steampunk? Probably, but I don’t know the sub-genre well enough to talk about it.

So now I’m off to Westercon to participate in a few panels, including the Golden Age panel that prompted this series of posts. While I’m on that stage, I’ll not only be sharing my thoughts, but also taking notes. I have some catching up to do.

These posts called out a short story, which will show up Monday, over in the A Writing Life side of this website.

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This is an insert, placed in the last days before Westercon. The change in the Golden Age panel caused me to write additional material on the subject of political correctness getting in the way of reading old books, but the earliest space available for that post is on July 13. Click here to go there. If you saw me at Westercon, and have arrived here via the Westercon page, I think you can get to the post early. If you click and nothing happens, try again after the 13th. Sometimes posting seems to have all the paradoxes of time travel.

Golden Age of Science Fiction (2)

Raven’s Run concluded Monday, May 22. A new novel will begin soon.  Meanwhile, this is the second of three posts of material for the panel “What Makes the Golden Age Golden?”, to be presented at Westercon.

Yesterday, we looked at Jules Verne. Meanwhile, over in England, there was a fellow named H. G. Wells, but I place him with all the other unreadable Victorians. In my opinion, if he had been a German or a Spaniard or — God forbid — a Hindu, we would never have heard of him. Actually, that is probably true of most of the denizens of British Literature 101. Others differ on this opinion.

Science fiction, as we know it, got its start in France and England. The next major event in science fiction history, possibly not a golden age, but at least an efflorescence, was the era of the magazines, starting with Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories in 1926 and extending, much attenuated, until today.

The era of John Campbell’s Astounding from 1939 is probably the most cited period in the search for a golden age, and a list of stories from that venue is compelling. The list of authors from the Campbell era is of almost unbelievable quality.

At that time, science fiction was mostly a literature of short stories. Novels existed, but were typically presented serially — a technique that has been in play at least since Charles Dickens. All that changed around the time of the end of World War II, with the rise of mass market paperbacks. It is a complicated story with dozens of players, but no one was more influential than Donald A. Wollheim.

Wollheim began as a fan, went on to write novels and short fiction, and eventually found his métier as an editor. He began with fanzines, moved to the editing of anthologies, then became an editor at Avon books. In 1952 he moved to Ace, where he introduced Ace Doubles. These were twin novels, published together back to back, head to foot. Two for the price of one was a real selling point in the era when paperbacks were introducing cheap literature to the masses. That’s me; I was part of the masses.

Was this a Golden Age? In terms of the availability of new writers like Delany, Le Guin. Zelazny and Brunner, certainly. And Andre Norton’s works finally got to shed their tattered cloth library look and to sport bright, new multicolored covers, sometime two on one double. But technically, this might not be a true golden age, since large numbers of the titles were recycled from the John Campbell era magazines.

It sure felt like a golden age to those of us who were reading the hundreds of titles that were suddenly available to us.

Here lies one of the answers to what makes a golden age. Any time you publish material, some of it will be golden. If your output is large enough, there will be enough gold to make an age, notwithstanding all the rest of the sludge-flow that carries it along. The influx brought about by Ace doubles and the rest of the paperback revolution made huge numbers of new works, and equally large numbers of lost classics from the past, available on every street corner for prices that everyone could afford. If that isn’t a golden age, I don’t know what it takes.

With no intention to disparage the genius of Le Guin, Zelazny, or any other, I am reminded of an old Irish story:

A group of men in an Irish bar were solving the world’s problems one by one. Deep into the night, one of them asked the group, “If every poet in Ireland were all killed tonight, how many years would it take before a new generation of poets rose up?” Another of the group raised his hand with one finger showing, and the rest nodded in agreement.

It is my opinion that for every literary genius who arises, there are a hundred like her or him that we will never know. For every award winning novel, there are many more as good moldering away in typescript, awaiting their author’s death and their final trip to the trash bin.

Literary genius is a part of the whole human race. A golden age comes when opportunity arises for the distribution of genius. Change the venue, change the world.

Today there is a mass of unread eBooks, self published through Amazon. You wanna get rich? Invent the algorithm that winnows through this crop of eBooks, and separates genius from the rest. Of course, if you do, would-be authors everywhere will hate you.

Why? Let’s consider traditional editors as Valkyries. (I didn’t say vultures, I said Valkyries.) They cruise above the field of battle and choose those worthy of Valhalla, or at least publication. Self-publication bypasses this process. An algorithm to decide on quality would be an AI-editor. Now there’s a scary science fiction concept.

The onslaught of paperbacks was not the last golden age. Beginning with the original Star Trek, there was a golden age of television science fiction, although its quality was never very pronounced. CGI, starting with Star Wars, brought a golden age of movies, at least visually. I watch them occasionally, but I have yet to see one which rises to the quality of a good novel. That may be just a personal prejudice.

I watched the Wild Wild West in its original run, and had no idea I was there for the birth of steampunk. I’m still trying to figure out what steampunk is, as something more than a sales tag. Jules Verne, plus sex? That’s puzzlement, not disparagement. I have liked the steampunk I’ve read and watched, but it won’t come into focus for me as a movement. more tomorrow

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