Sunday, September 30, 2012

Short Story of the Week (October 2012)

Each week at the Classic Science Fiction Message Board we read a short science fiction piece (short story, novelette or novella). These stories are always available for FREE online so that anyone can participate in the discussion. The stories are chosen by a different member every month, so that we get to read a variety of stories. October's stories are being picked by Jim Harris

I’ve lived in Memphis, Tennesse since 1971, but spent most of my first 20 years living in Miami Florida, but also lived in South Carolina, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Texas.  I’ve been married since 1978, to my wonderful wife Susan.  She sometimes reads science fiction, but mostly not.
I’d say science fiction is the defining attribute of my life.  Science fiction gave my childhood a tremendous sense of wonder that has never diminished.
I discovered Robert A. Heinlein in 1964 and he became my literary father, and lifelong favorite science fiction writer, although I rebelled against him four years later because of the Vietnam War.  After I got over my Heinlein hero worship, I read widely in science fiction, finding many writers to admire, but I never found any other science fiction book that gave me the sense-of-wonder thrills than those 12 Heinlein juveniles I read at age thirteen.
I moved to Memphis in 1971, I joined the local science fiction club, started going to conventions, put out fanzines and apazines, and embraced the whole fan culture.  I gafiated in 1974 and sold off my whole collection of books and pulp magazines. Because of getting married, finishing college and starting my career in computers, I didn’t read science fiction for many years.
For some reason in 1984, I got back into science fiction, and have been reading it ever since. 
In 2002 I joined and I started buying audio books of all the science fiction I read as a teenager.  I still read science fiction with my eyes, but I mostly listen to it.  I love finding audio editions of classic science fiction short stories, but they aren’t that common.  

Week #1- "Tumithak of the Corridors" by Charles R. Tanner 

From the January 1932 issue of Amazing Stories.  I discovered this story decades ago in Asimov's Before the Golden Age anthology.  All I can remember about the story was it was my favorite of the whole anthology.  I haven't even reread it yet.  I thought it would be fun to see if it's still good, and for us to read something really old.

If you like Tumithak, there was three sequels that were made into a book.  Amazon even has it as a $3.99 ebook.

Week #2- "The Chronic Argonauts" by H. G. Wells

Did you know that H. G. Wells wrote this short story about time travel seven years before his classic novella, "The Time Machine" came out in 1895? 

I vaguely knew this and always meant to check it out, but until now I haven't.  I'm hoping that picking it for this week's story will get me to finally read it.  I always thought it was just a shorter version of the novella, but that's not true.

By the way I have this really cool edition of THE TIME MACHINE called A Norton Critical Edition edited by Stephen Arata, which contains both stories and many essays, early reviews and even an alternate ending and other writings by Wells related to the story.  Here's what they say about it at Amazon:

Intrigued by the possibilities of time travel as a student and inspired as a journalist by the great scientific advances of the Victorian Age, Wells drew on his own scientific publications—on evolution, degeneration, species extinction, geologic time, and biology—in writing The Time Machine. This Norton Critical Edition is based on the first London edition of the novel. It is accompanied by detailed explanatory annotations and “A Note on the Text.”

“Backgrounds and Contexts” is organized thematically into four sections: “The Evolution of The Time Machine” presents alternative versions and installments and excerpts of the author’s time-travel story; “Wells’s Scientific Journalism (1891–94)” focuses on the scientific topics central to the novel; “Wells on The Time Machine” reprints the prefaces to the 1924, 1931, and 1934 editions; and “Scientific and Social Contexts” collects five widely read texts by the Victorian scientists and social critics Edwin Ray Lankester, Thomas Henry Huxley, Benjamin Kidd, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), and Balfour Stewart and Peter Guthrie Tait.

“Criticism” includes three important early reviews of The Time Machine from the Spectator, the Daily Chronicle, and Pall Mall Magazine as well as eight critical essays that reflect our changing emphases in reading and appreciating this futuristic novel. Contributors include Yevgeny Zamyatin, Bernard Bergonzi, Kathryn Hume, Elaine Showalter, John Huntington, Paul A. Cantor and Peter Hufnagel, Colin Manlove, and Roger Luckhurst.

A Chronology and Selected Bibliography are also included.

Week #3- "Gulf" by Robert Heinlein 

"Gulf" is a fascinating story. It was a trial run back in 1949 for what Heinlein would later explore in Stranger in a Strange Land.

"Gulf" might be one of the most subtly offensive stories ever written for science fiction, and might reveal the basic beliefs of Heinlein.  It appears to suggest, if you study this story in context of his other writing, that Heinlein thought he knew better than other people about how things should work.  There's a kind of hidden elitism here that's fascinating to observe.  I think back in the 1940s and 1950s science fiction fans really wanted to be Slans.

Apologists for Heinlein always claim that his characters aren't speaking for him.  But when you hear character after character express the same old ideas, it's hard to believe that.

It explores the problem:  Do geniuses know how to rule better than ordinary men?

The story deals with language and developing the mind.  It also deals with ESP, but a different take.

I think this story is worth knowing as part of knowing about science fiction history.

Week #4 "The Scarlet Plague" by Jack London

Here's another classic science fiction story, "The Scarlet Plague" by Jack London. It's a little long though. It's something I've always wanted to read.

Friday, September 21, 2012

How Do You Take a Baby's Temperature?


Henry is only 8 months old, but he’s already proving one of the laws of raising children, no matter what you buy them they are going to end up playing with the box the thing came in for even longer than the actual present. Case in point, one of Henry’s favorite toys is the empty box a case of diapers came in. We had it lying around because one of our cat’s Spock would go in it and sleep. But one day I had the bright idea to put Henry in it and push him around and the rest, as they say, is history. Now I’m pushing him all around the apartment and making train noises every night and he loves it. It’s like a roller coaster for babies.

Taking Henry to the grocery store can be a lot of fun. Something about it puts him on his best behavior. I think he is the kind of person that likes to get out of the house and see the world. When he’s holed-up inside the apartment playing with his toys all day he gets cranky, but if you take him out to the stores or on a walk he doesn’t make a peep. He’s too busy looking around at everything and everybody. If you park the grocery cart in one spot Henry will track people as they go about their shopping. I was in the produce section last week and two or three people commented on how observant Henry was and how he was watching what they were doing. I couldn’t help but wonder at what age does being observant fail to be cute? At what age will people start to say, “Why is your kid staring at me?”

Last month I talked about reading “Green Eggs and Ham” to Henry (and even posted a video) about how I started developing voices for the characters. I guess it’s just something to do when you’re reading the same stories to the kid over and over again. Well, I’ve also started doing voices for “The Cat in the Hat.” I’ll spare you a video this month, but I will say that my voice for the Cat is a sort of obsequious used car salesman. I can picture him saying something like “we’ll find you the perfect car. I just know you’re going to love it.” Carol said that my Cat has an affectation. My voice for the fish is definitely out there; I just started doing it because it amused me. His voice is my attempt at Sean Connery and depending on the night it sounds something like a Darrell Hammond’s Connery or on worse nights just some sort of bizarre attempt at a Scottish accent, but Henry doesn’t care. I think he’s just trying to figure out what the heck is happening in that crazy story.

Henry had his first bad cold and fever this past week. He seems to be all over it now, but for a couple of days we constantly had to check his temperature. How do you check a baby’s temperature?… All the parents are laughing now…. Well let’s just say it’s easiest to check his temperature while you’re changing his diaper. I felt sorry for the kid; I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to stick a thermometer up there. Have you ever seen the Skeptical Baby meme? One of them says “You want to take my temperature where exactly?”  Carol and I both caught Henry’s cold too. One night, Henry is in the bathtub and Carol starts taking her temperature the normal way under her tongue and I’m whispering to her, “don’t do that in front of the baby, it’s cruel to let him know there are other ways we could be taking his temperature.” Hence my contribution to the meme “You mean to tell me there are other ways you could have taken my temperature.