Thought for the day...
2016 December 31st:
AT MARTIAN SWORDPOINT - HOW NOT TO DO IT - AND HOW TO DO IT
How not to do it:
...He stared at me in horror for a moment.
That moment was all I needed. In a flash I had darted forward and snatched his own sword from his belt!
I pressed the point gently against his throat and said with a grim smile on my lips: "Call for your guards, Chinod Sai - and you call for death!"
He paled and gurgled something. I gestured for him to come into the room and shut the door. I had been lucky. Everyone had been too busy with whatever else they were concerned with to notice what had happened to their 'Bradhi'.
"Speak in a low voice," I ordered. "Tell me what is happening and where my comrade is."
"How - how did you escape?"
"I am asking the questions, my friend. Now - answer!"
He grunted. "What do you mean?"
"The scum are attacking my palace," he said...
- City of the Beast (1965), by Michael Moorcock
And this is how to do it:
...He looked at me suspiciously. "You bring a written order?" he asked.
"Of course not," I replied, "it is not necessary. She is not to be taken out of the palace; merely from one apartment to another."
"I must have a written order," he snapped.
"Haj Osis will not be pleased," I said, "when he learns that you have refused to obey his command."
"I am not refusing," said Yo Seno. "Do not dare to say that I refuse. I cannot turn a prisoner over without a written order. Show me your authority and I will give you the keys."
I saw that the plan had failed; other measures must be taken. I whipped out my long sword. "Here is my authority!" I exclaimed, leaping towards him.
With an oath he drew his own sword, but instead of facing me with it he stepped quickly back, the desk still between us, and, turning, struck a copper gong heavily with the flat of his blade...
- A Fighting Man of Mars (1930), by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Enough said? If not, if you want more prompting, then just ponder, for example, that last sentence in the Burroughs passage; how perfectly it combines the three elements or revelations: 1) the enemy drawing his sword, 2) the enemy then surprising the hero by moving back (and this part contains a bit of action-description, "the desk between us"), 3) the enemy performing another unexpected action which promises to change the scene's "balance of forces" drastically... A typical long ERB sentence, sinuously effective. Nothing like it in the Moorcock passage.
2016 December 30th:
MORE UNREASONABLE DEMANDS AND ABSURD COMPARISONS
On a moral and mental holiday, I am relaxing into unreasonableness, as readers will doubtless have noticed from yesterday's entry.
...I must have seemed like some apparition melting out of nothingness, so swift and silent had been my approach. Indeed, the man closest to me turned with a start, eyes goggling, as I sprang from the alley's mouth to drive my steel through his shoulder. His cutlass rang on the cobbles and his hoarse cry of astonishment and pain drew the attention of his fellows to the fact of my presence.
Surprise is always a strong advantage in any battle, and I managed to slay two of the mob before a sufficient number engaged my blade...
Why the heck - here the rant begins - could not this account of the swordfight on page 136 of Lin Carter's Jandar of Callisto - not a badly written episode - be better than it was; why could it not have been as good in its way as Ransom's fight with the Un-man on pages 139-143 of Perelandra?
That's a demand with quite a high unreasonableness-quotient.
...the Un-man was upon him, howling like a gale, with eyes so wide opened that they seemed to have no lids, and with all its hair rising on its scalp. It had caught him tightly to its chest, with its arms about him, and its nails were ripping great strips off his back. His own arms were inside its embrace and, pummelling wildly, he could get no blow at it. He turned his head and bit deeply into the muscles of its right arm, at first without success, then deeper. It gave a howl, tried to hold on, and then suddenly he was free. Its defence was for an instant unready and he found himself raining punches about the region of its heart, faster and harder than he had supposed possible. He could hear through its open mouth the great gusts of breath that he was knocking out of it. Then its hands came up again, fingers arched like claws. It was not trying to box. It wanted to grapple. He knocked its right arm aside with a horrible shock of bone against bone and caught it a jab on the fleshy part of the chin...
Incidentally, C S Lewis' mastery of pace and style of English enables him to get away with very long paragraphs. And yes, I know the comparison I made is stupid, I know I ought to have compared Jandar's sword fight with another sword fight, not with an all-in wrestling match against a demon. The whole point of being unreasonable is one is liberated from such logic...
Now, to match that unequal juxtaposition of fight scenes, here's an equally cheeky comparison - of Edgar Rice Burroughs with Homer.
Homer has his resonant stock phrases: "the wine-dark sea"; "rosy-fingered dawn". So does ERB: "sleeping silks and furs"; "the dead sea bottoms"; "the thin air of dying Mars"; "far Gathol".
Except - is it really unreasonable? As a comparison, doesn't it actually achieve validity?
Burroughs has many virtues as a writer, as well as many defects, but what makes his work something special is - in my opinion - the secret of his prose-rhythm, the incantatory power of his cadences. Imagination is vital, but many writers have it. Many a book is dull not because of a lack of ideas but because they clunk onto the page. ERB never clunks.
Meanwhile, if possible, I shall try to go back to being reasonable tomorrow.
2016 December 29th:
UNREASONABLE DEMANDS AND ABSURD COMPARISONS
There's a clownish side to me which every so often surfaces in a sudden urge to make ridiculous literary comparisons. Thus, more than once I've fancied the idea that one day I might write a learned piece of criticism comparing (say) Robert E Howard's Conan novel The Hour of the Dragon with Jane Austen's Mansfield Park; or Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Fighting Man of Mars with George Eliot's Middlemarch.
I might then decide in favour of the Howard and Burroughs novels because of the superior coverage they give to vistas of other cultures and worlds, while Austen and Eliot dismally fail to give us any perspective regarding Barsoom and the Hyborian Age.
Not fair, obviously. An approach which misses the point, many will say, raising their eyes to the ceiling... But this is where the clowning might stop and the discussion really get interesting: why is it that some of us go for Barsoom etc and others can't get beyond admiration for Austen and Eliot? (For the record: I greatly enjoy reading Austen except for Mansfield Park; I liked Middlemarch when reading it but don't want to read it again.) What makes one person a certain kind of reader and another person different? "No accounting for tastes", one might say, shrugging, but isn't this a crucial mystery?
For we all like vistas; we all read so as to have our consciousness expanded in some way or other. Why, then, do some people want it expanded by one means rather than another?
So what started as a comparison between books develops into a comparison between types of reader.
Here's an analogy that has just popped into my head: an OSS fan is like a jeweller, whereas a "mainstream" fan is like a watchmaker. The jeweller sees fascination in the essence of a jewel's light; the watchmaker sees fascination in the complexities of a system.
I'm trying to get at something - but the analogy isn't really good enough.
2016 December 28th:
MORE PERELANDRIAN INSIGHTS
Continuing to mine the rich seam of perceptions in C S Lewis' Venusian masterpiece, I revisit a passage on page 186-7 in which Ransom of Earth inquires of the Intelligences that govern Venus and Mars: how come the myths of Earth guessed at the femininity of the one and the masculinity of the other?
The answer, when it comes, chimes in with what I have been trying to say on the Mercury page and elsewhere, about the convergence of mythic and planetary character.
...He called them by their Tellurian names. With deep wonder he thought to himself, "My eyes have seen Mars and Venus. I have seen Ares and Aphrodite." He asked them how they were known to the old poets of Tellus. When and from whom had the children of Adam learned that Ares was a man of war and that Aphrodite rose from the sea foam? Earth had been besieged, an enemy-occupied territory, since before history began. The gods have no commerce there. How then do we know of them? It comes, they told him, a long way round and through many stages. There is an environment of minds as well as of space. The universe is one - a spider's web wherein each mind lives along every line, a vast whispering gallery where (save for the direct action of Maleldil) though no news travels unchanged yet no secret can be rigorously kept. In the mind of the fallen Archon under whom our planet groans, the memory of Deep Heaven and the gods with whom he once consorted is still alive. Nay, in the very matter of our world, the traces of the celestial commonwealth are not quite lost. Memory passes through the womb and hovers in the air. The Muse is a real thing. A faint breath, as Virgil says, reaches even the late generations. Our myth is based on a solider reality than we dream: but it is also at an almost infinite distance from that base...
So there you go. It's round that universal "whispering gallery" that the inspiration went to nudge the author of Valeddom, for example, to ascribe the perilous ultimate language, Noleddern, to the Mercurians - the inner planet being the messenger of the gods, the spouter of linguistics... see the page on alien scripts.
2016 December 27th:
HOLIDAYING ON THE PLANET OF LOVE
Though I have been given some fascinating OSS fiction for Christmas my most relaxing hours have been spent re-reading a work already in my collection - one that has been there most of my life, and which I have read more times than I can remember.
The newly received works have merits and are interesting, but I find myself having to make some concessions as I read them. Not so with the other book - the familiar yet always enthralling masterpiece, Perelandra.
A sort of poetic coincidence, that Venus won the Interplanetary Knock-Out this month, at the same time as I felt drawn to re-reading the greatest ever tale set on that planet.
As noted above, the reader needs make no concessions, no allowances; his mind can relax in the hands of a master, a literary superman who can and does do things no-one else can do.
He continually opens out avenues of awareness which set the story he is telling in a wider context. His world - like Tolkien's "Middle Earth" - is much, much wider than the story-line, hugely great though that storyline is.
...The crying of these birds was often audible, and it was the wildest sound that Ransom had ever heard, the loneliest, and the one that had least to do with Man. No land was in sight, nor had been for many hours. He was on the high seas, the waste places of Perelandra, as he had not been since his first arrival. The sea noises continually filled his ear: the sea smell, unmistakable and stirring as that of our Tellurian oceans, but quite different in its warmth and sweetness, entered into his brain. It also was wild and strange. It was not hostile: if it had been, its wildness and strangeness would have been the less, for hostility is a relation and an enemy is not a total stranger. It came into his head that he knew nothing at all about this world. Some day, no doubt, it would be peopled by the descendants of the King and Queen. But all its millions of years in the unpeopled past, all its uncounted miles of water in the laughing present... did they exist solely for that? It was strange that he to whom a wood or a morning sky on earth had sometimes been a kind of meal, should have had to come to another planet in order to realise Nature as a thing in her own right. The diffused meaning, the inscrutable character, which had been both in Tellus and Perelandra since they split off from the Sun, and which would be, in one sense, displaced by the advent of imperial man, yet, in some other sense, not displaced at all, enfolded him on every side and caught him into itself...
There you are: the "diffused meaning", the "inscrutable character" - just what I have been trying to say in my page on characters of worlds. Lewis makes the point much more efficiently, besides enlarging upon it with the entire power of the setting and the tale in Out of the Silent Planet and in Perelandra.
2016 December 26th:
WEIRD MERCURIAN LIFE-FORMS
Two snippets from stories set on the Inmost Planet.
The first is set on the "the coldest spot in the solar system, where midnight crosses the equator on the black back of Mercury":
...There was supposed to be life here. Nobody had even tried to guess what it might be like. Two years ago the Messenger VI probe had moved into close orbit about the planet and then landed about here, partly to find out if the cap of frozen gases might be inflammable. In the field view of the camera during the landing, things like shadows had wriggled across the snow and out of the light thrown by the probe. The films had shown it beautifully. Naturally some wise ones had suggested that they were only shadows.
I'd seen the films. I knew better. There was life.
- The Coldest Place by Larry Niven (Worlds of If, December 1964)
That's from Niven's first published story, which, he notes, became obsolete before it was printed. (I should have said rather that it was shortly after, not shortly before, but never mind.) Niven the realist is not one to say "nuts" to the discovery that Mercury has non-synchronous rotation. So it's just as well he wrote The Coldest Place when he did - a year later and it would have been too late. Then we'd have missed his intriguing little hint of liquid-helium life on Coldside.
A much longer, and somewhat earlier, account of Mercurian-adapted life takes us to the opposite hemisphere, Hotside:
...It had been one of those days when everything went wrong, and he couldn't believe his bad luck had run out yet.
Johhny Quicksilver had started it. Johnny was one of the native balls of pure electricity that somehow were alive. The spooks, or wispies - from will-o'-the-wisp - as they were called, had caused nothing but trouble for the miners, until they were finally chased from the domes. But Dick had found Johnny almost dying out in the hotlands and had revived him with electricity from a storage battery. Since then, Johnny had been something of a pet, and fairly well behaved.
This morning, though, Johnny had insisted on following Dick from the big dome across the mile of hotlands to the mine, acting very strangely...
- Lester del Rey, Battle on Mercury (1953)
I intend to write more about this children's tale. Not often that Santa brings me a Mercury novel!!
2016 December 24th:
ANOTHER LOT WHO DON'T KNOW HOW LUCKY THEY ARE
Some while back I mentioned the Mars colonists in Lester del Rey's The Years Draw Nigh who felt lonely and gloomy at the fact that an intelligent race of Martians had died out millions of years ago. Contrast that attitude with how thrilled we'd be nowadays to discover evidence of any life on Mars at all, at any time in its history.
Now here's another lot who "don't know they're born", as the saying goes:
Captain Jensen of the spaceship Southern Cross was bored sick with Mars. He and his men had been here for ten days. They had found no important archaeological specimens, no tantalizing hints of ancient cities such as the Polaris expedition had discovered at the South Pole. Here there was nothing but sand, a few weary shrubs, and a rolling hill or two. Their biggest find so far had been three pottery shards...
- Robert Sheckley, Meeting of the Minds (Galaxy, Feb-Mar 1960)
I shall probably not get round to doing an entry tomorrow, so let me now wish a merry Christmas to all my readers on whatever planet, moon, planetoid or other celestial body they may reside, and here's to hoping that 2017 will see the discovery of some weary shrubs and pot-shards on Mars!
2016 December 23rd:
A CONTRASTING PAIR OF ASTEROIDAL HERMITS
Continuing in my recent vein of comparing two tales with the same theme - let's look at two lonely people on two different asteroids.
The first example is the crashlanded castaway of Clark Ashton Smith's Master of the Asteroid. I have already written extensively about this tremendous story on the asteroids page. It's one of my top favourites, and if any over-"realistic" critic is inclined to carp at those aspects which might be deemed ridiculous by some, I need merely point out that great art often by-passes literal representation in favour of some deeper realism. The pictorial arts are an obvious instance of this. Think of "modern primitive" painters.
Edmond Beverly, the crashlander, is stuck in his cabin, cannot get out and is doomed to pass the rest of his days, until his air runs out, in the contemplation of the planetoid's landscape through the crystal port of his wrecked ship. A bleak tale, one would think, and yet the mood goes beyond bleakness to a kind of beyondness - it is indescribable. The thin insectlike forms of life on the planetoid add to the phantasmal effect.
And now for the other example - in a story by Robert Sheckley, entitled Alone At Last (Infinity, February 1957).
This time, the protagonist wants to be left alone on an asteroid. He longs for solitude. He has great difficulty in convincing the authorities to let him go where he years to go.
Really this is quite a slight story, a piece that might have been written in an afternoon. But the ending is so good, I have never forgotten it. I won't spoil it for you - but this is what happens just before the ending.
His android was now activated. There was work to be done. But fascinated, he looked again into space.
The ship, that faint star, was gone from sight. For the first time, Arwell experienced what he had before only faintly imagined: solitude, perfect, complete and utter solitude. The merciless diamond points of the stars glared at him from the depths of a night that would never end. There was no human near him - for all he knew, the human race had ceased to exist. He was alone.
It was a situation that cold drive a man insane.
Arwell loved it.
"Alone at last!" he shouted to the stars.
And then... we have the wonderful final two sentences, for which I refer you to the Sheckley story collection, Shards of Space, where you will find this tale.
2016 December 22nd:
UNEXPECTED SURVIVAL AT PLANETFALL
It has occurred to me for the first time to compare planetfall in two very different books by two very different authors. The passages I am thinking of have one aspect in common:
They are both superbly exciting accounts of unexpected survival.
Carson Napier in Pirates of Venus does not expect to survive his encounter with the inner planet. He was doomed anyway, his ship falling towards the Sun, having been deflected by our Moon's gravity after an attempt to head for Mars. When it became apparent that Venus had got in his way, he simply thought he would be facing death sooner.
...Even though I do not shrink from death, even though the world's best astronomers have assured us that Venus must be unfitted to support human life, that where her surface is not unutterably hot it is unutterably cold, even though she be oxygenless, as they aver, yet the urge to live that is born with each of us compelled me to make the same preparations to land that I should have had I successfully reached my original goal, Mars.
There follow about two and a half pages of some of Burroughs' best writing. The sudden flare of hope when the hero finds out that he may survive after all is a great theme, perfectly realized.
And - I don't know why I never noticed this before - the unforgettable crash-landing of Gorden Holder on Mars in No Man Friday can be paired with ERB's story at this particular point of the stupendous reversal of fortune, of conveying the truth that there's all the difference in the universe between certain death and a chance, however slim, of survival. Rex Gordon the intellectual, technically-minded philosopher is an immensely more scientifically realistic writer than Burroughs the colourful and fantastic dreamer, yet just at this one point their geniuses coincide.
Just as Carson Napier had not set out for Venus, so Gordon Holder's rocket had not set out to land on Mars - the mission plan called only for a fly-by. In both cases, disaster had intervened to force a fateful change of plan.
...Slowly, standing, I came to myself. I had landed on Mars. Not well. Not badly. I was still alive in the remnants of my ship...
...If the lower levels were intact, even the top two, then I would have a pressure suit and an airlock. But I must not be rash. The slightest mistake would be irretrievable.
Was I actually thinking of living on Mars? It seemed I was.
2016 December 21st:
DARK-BRIGHT THOUGHTS ON THE ASTEROIDS
I've re-read the fine tale Prodigal's Aura (Astounding, April 1951) by Raymond Z Gallun. It's in the sub-sub-genre of OSS tales which tell of the return of a spacer to Earth, and the effect his return has on his relatives and friends and neighbourhood.
His wide-eyed nephew is all agog to hear of his exploits, whereas his staid brother-in-law bitterly opposes his unsettling effect upon the younger generation.
Jorgensen cursed the wild romanticism.
Certainly Bob's mind was among the asteroids... those fragments of a planet that had been blown up by splitting atoms at its center... Bobby's spine would be tingling gloriously. He knew all about it from scientific picture books. Whole chunks of landscape, miles in extent, had gone skyward with white-hot fire and the dissipating atmosphere. And the relics of the old civilization that had fought Mars were still on some of those chunks, preserved in the vacuum of space...
Contrast this with an asteroid which has never been connected with any known life, except the artificial life given to it by human engineers:
The asteroid was enveloped in the perpetual twilight of the far-from-sun and its frosty peaks speared up like sharp, silvery needles stabbing at the stars.
The air was sharp and cold and thinner than on Earth and the wonder was, Sutton told himself, that any air could be kept on the place at all. Although at the cost that it had taken to make this or any other asteroid habitable, it would seem that anything should be possible.
- Time And Again by Clifford D Simak (1951)
That's the hunting-asteroid, the preserve of the rich duellist Geoffrey Benton, inherited by the man who killed him, and which is the scene for one of the unforgettable episodes in Simak's novel - though that novel is not mostly concerned with the Solar System.
My point, in quoting from these two very different stories, is to show how "asteroid" is such a powerful word, it can mingle ground and Space in vastly different literary plots. That dark-light mingling is the magic of asteroid literature.
On an asteroid, we're up in the sky and on the surface of a world at the same time.
2016 December 20th:
It's a bit of a struggle to justify discussion of The Incandescent Ones, by Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle (1977), on this site - since the Jupiter it portrays (in the climax, the novel's last few pages) is the Jupiter known to science; and the beings who hang around it are not the sort to be confined to the OSS sub-genre; they are "wholly different" creatures, and so they'd be as much at home in the New as in the Old Solar System. So maybe I'm breaking my own rules by talking about this book.
However, I'm going to do it. After all, if any critic casts aspersions on my space-operatic credentials, I can always refute him by calling for my guards and having him blasted.
I like The Incandescent Ones, like it enough to have read it twice, though I'm not sure I understand all of it. Hoyle (Fred, with or without his son Geoffrey) is a fun read, yet his outlook, in this and other novels, is melancholy and bleak if it is taken seriously. In that respect he reminds me of John Wyndham. But he is less urbane, more blunt, than Wyndham.
It appears that his philosophy is that "scientism" which holds that values are emergent rather than transcendent, as though one could derive value from fact. Yet like many such thinkers he seems drawn to something more profound.
I like the bit when we see the reaction of a being who discovers for the first time that he is not a man but a robot. He argues quite spiritedly with the human, a Mr Edelstam, who has broken the news to him.
"I'd like to know in what way the two of us are really different. You speak... of me being programmed to do certain things. O.K. Suppose I accept that. But what of you? Aren't you just a robot in your own way, programmed just as certainly to do your own thing?"
Edelstam thought about this for what seemed a very long time...
"I'm not going to take my stand on a question of the soul," he said, "although there are a lot of people of my faith who would do just that. Maybe I am programmed. But I am programmed through the relation of mankind to the whole world."
"And I'm programmed by the incandescent ones?"
"But maybe it's better to be programmed by a creature who knows exactly what it's doing than by a blind relationship to the whole world. Mr Edelstam, on reflection I'm prepared to assert that you, as a human, are nothing but a random creature, a freak of fate, whereas I and my kind are of a purposive construction, well designed by a great and subtle intellect..."
Maybe I'm right after all, to discuss this book on my OSS site. Hoyle is an sf romantic at heart, and though he's too much the scientist to write in neo-OSS mode, and too late in time to write in old-OSS mode, one feels he wants to push for the most colourful remaining options.
So let's regard The Incandescent Ones as a sort of echo or afterglow of the OSS.
2016 December 19th:
INNOCENCE AND THE PLANET OF LOVE
The true sf sense of wonder from open-ended adventure doesn't only involve new spatial horizons. A new category, or the mystery of a known category, counts as adventurous too. Thus a good tale about artificial intelligence, for instance, can give us that special sf frisson, just as much as the first voyage to some other world.
In fact the two types of wonder overlap in the characters of worlds of the Old Solar System. Each OSS world is as individual and unique as a primary colour. It's a category of being, as well as an arena for struggles, pioneers and quests.
With C S Lewis it all comes together. His Cosmic Trilogy explores both categories of being and characters of worlds.
For example, he can make one reflect on what "innocence" really is, at its unattainable core:
...She had recovered from her laughter and sat with her legs trailing in the sea, half unconsciously caressing a gazelle-like creature which had thrust its soft nose under her arm. It was difficult to believe that she had ever laughed, ever done anything but sit on the shore of her floating isle. Never had Ransom seen a face so calm, and so unearthly, despite the full humanity of every feature. He decided afterwards that the unearthly quality was due to the complete absence of that element of resignation which mixes, in however slight a degree, with all profound stillness in terrestrial faces. This was a calm which no storm had ever preceded...
In other words it's something you couldn't find on our world... for whether or not one accepts Lewis' rendering of the idea of the Fall, it does seem that "nature red in tooth and claw" would not allow for a Perelandra-like peace here, even with the best wills in the world. And why need Nature be "red in tooth and claw"? Lewis does not go into the link between, on the one hand, natural savagery, and on the other hand that Fall which involves the moral and intellectual nature of thinking beings. In his account of how evil came to Thulcandra (Earth), he accepts that nature was corrupted long before Man fell. So if you look at it logically, the timing of things presents a big problem.
I'd say he did right to leave these matters for the reader to speculate on. His deployment of mythic sources is so powerful, he can simply set it all its various elements in motion, and leave us to comment on his fait accompli.
For instance one might say, "All right, there were two Falls on Earth: nature's, right at the beginning, and then Man's, much later. But perhaps Man had an opportunity to undo Nature's Fall if he had also avoided his own. Perhaps he had been given a Garden to live in that was immune to the corruption of the rest of Nature. If he had resisted the Tempter, then, the zone of uncorrupted Nature might have spread to reclaim the entire world, which would then have become a global Eden."
2016 December 18th:
LIVING AS LONG AS JOHN CARTER
My stream of consciousness today takes me from the mention of "that deathless Virginian, John Carter" in The Moon Maid, where it's stated that he's still around in the twenty-first century, to another, further thought -
That in an effective sense - that of witnessing historic change - many other Americans have a longevity approaching his.
This is because American history is so amazingly compressed. Consider the following true mind-boggler:
The outbreak of the Civil War, and America's entry into the Second World War, are only 80 years apart. In other words:
The same person might easily have witnessed, as an adult, both the attack on Fort Sumter and the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The equivalent for a Briton would only be possible if one could live for three centuries: to witness both Charles the First's raising of his standard at Nottingham in August 1642 and the 1939 declaration of war on Hitler's Germany.
And if you stretch things a bit so that the person doesn't have to be an adult on both occasions, you could have (say) a child patted on the head by General Custer on the way to the Little Big Horn in 1876, later watching TV images of the Moon landing in 1969 and perhaps Nixon's resignation in 1974.
Of course, human culture is now to a great extent global, and we all share in the speed of change. But actually globalization has coincided with a slow-down in technological progress. The 48 years that have now elapsed since the Christmas flight of Apollo 8 can't rival the preceding 48 years, 1920-1968, in that respect. (Unless you think that playing with computers is the aim of life!)
2016 December 17th:
A BOOK THAT VEERS AWAY
It's woefully tantalising, the way R W Mackleworth's Starflight 3000 (1972) breaks off from its opening theme.
It's the fascinating theme of a future Moon which has begun to acquire air and water.
...In the late afternoon of a long day... the Earth exerted its pull with a special vengeance on the infant atmosphere.
To his left he saw the shadowy heights guarding the crater Hippalus. The crater opened onto the Mare Humorum like a tilted cup. When the water began to respond to the Earth's pull, the cup would be full of torment; the sea would leap in fury, tearing into the rock walls, leaving the sea bed bare in places for a second or so.
Suddenly he doubted if he dare take to the water before nightfall. At night the seas might calm down between tides but he would have to sail blind, unless the Earthshine broke through the cloud...
I'm not sure why there should be severe tides on the Moon, since it rotates only once a month with respect to the Sun, and does not rotate at all with respect to the Earth; but never mind. I was charmed and fascinated by the Moon's coming to life; and sadly disappointed when, early on in the novel, the process is sabotaged and the focus of the plot veers away to a starflight. I never read beyond that point. I completely lost interest.
What is especially worth noting, with regard to the brief account of a living Moon, is that its character is still that of the Moon. It's like a person being given a wholly new set of clothes and maybe a new attitude or set of hopes - while continuously remaining who he or she is.
I wonder if the psychologists are ahead of me and have already concocted a terminology to describe such associational thinking, whereby Old Solar System worlds in various tales can each possess such a range of conditions, sometimes contradicting each other (see especially the Venus page), but still allowing the gestalt overview to subsume all the visions. Any professional psychologists among our readers? Any academic experts?
2016 December 16th:
HAMILTON GOES ON A DETOUR
Edmond Hamilton is one of the greatest-ever OSS authors because of his instinctive fidelity to the archetypal characters of worlds of the Old Solar System. But on two occasions that I know of, he... shall we say... deviated from the script.
One is the grimly realistic tale What's It Like Out There? in which he envisages a space program founded upon optimistic lies. Very well written, but not our cup of tea.
The other occasion is his humorous tale, Wacky World (Amazing Stories, March 1942). The plot is reminiscent of Bradbury's The Exiles, as it postulates a Mars peopled with characters who depend for their reality upon the ideas of terrestrial writers. But where Bradbury uses the theme darkly, to make a point about the vulnerability of our literary traditions, Hamilton uses it merely for a merry spoof on certain depictions of the standard model Mars (including his own).
...Ard Vark motioned to his three fellow Martians. "My friends here are Ok Vok, Zing Zau and Moo Koo."
"How in the world can you keep their names straight?" Lester asked, speaking the first thing that came into his whirling mind.
Ard Vark's red face darkened. "We have a tough time with our names, I have to admit. Why the devil couldn't we have been called by something sensible?"
And so it goes on. The poor Martians, unwittingly summoned into existence by lines of mental force from the sf pulps' mass readership on Earth, have to put up with all the clichés of OSS literature. Their cities are full of clashing architectural styles, as writers can't agree on what Martian architecture is like; the Martians themselves, for similar reasons, appear in all forms from humanoid to octupoid; and the women, inconsistently, are all ravishingly beautiful Terran girls no matter what the males look like.
"And the way the canals come and go is nearly as bad," grunted Ard Vark.
"You mean there are canals here?" cried Hoskins.
"Sometimes there are and sometimes there aren't," declared Ard Vark. "Apparently some stories have canals in them and some don't. The way they appear and disappear is upsetting."
The bug-eyed man, reciting his grievances, seemed to have worked himself into a rage...
Lester and Hoskins, the two Terran pioneers, are in big trouble, and soon wish they hadn't been the first two Earthmen on Mars.
2016 December 15th:
MARTIANS - CHEERFUL OR FATALISTIC?
My appreciation of the cheerful Martians of Barsoom is heightened when I compare that scene with other literary depictions of Martians. The only major cheerful Mars that I can think of right now, apart from Burroughs', is C S Lewis' Malacandra, whose inhabitants are likewise imbued with a positive outlook.
Contrast the sombre mood of Leigh Brackett's unforgettable, romantic, mysterious Mars. To be sure, the night life in Jekkara is sprightly enough (see the magnificent opening paragraphs of The Sword of Rhiannon), but with more than a whiff of corruption, and in general the planet is suffused with a sense of decay.
The Martians in No Man Friday and in Red Planet don't seem to feel threatened; they have reached such equilibrium with their environment, that one feels they have millions of years ahead of them. So you don't get a sense of decay; but neither is there room for the brave contrast between defiant gaiety and impending doom that you get with the Barsoomians.
And just now I was glancing through John Wyndham's Sleepers of Mars - the novella-sequel to his novel Stowaway to Mars. This is an example of the Martian situation affecting the mood of explorers from Earth.
...the many millions of a few thousand years ago were now reduced to a mere handful, working out their existences in seven cities far too big for their needs, in the face of the knowledge that a few more generations must see the end... And the comparison between the end of Mars and the end of Earth was inescapable. It was in that that the real pang of depression lay for the Tovaritch's crew. After the first few days they had found themselves unconsciously asking: What's the use?
Indeed, what was the use? Why civilise? Why build? Why try to live by a code? Why try to cross space? Why do anything if this was to be the end of it all?...
The answer, as Lewis or Stapledon could have told the questioner, is that the purpose of living is not mere "survival".
However, Wyndham's outlook is different; for him, one feels, survival is what counts, and life has no ultimate meaning beyond a pitiless self-justifying struggle between one species and another. It's a bleak philosophy, masked by the author's urbane and civilized style, a style so cosy and attractive and readable that it was a long long time before I tumbled to the hardness of the philosophy. Yes, he pulled the wool over my eyes, and all credit to him for his skill in doing so.
2016 December 14th:
BEETLES OR WINGED FOLK - WHO RULES MARS?
...The terrace overhung a thicket of the most luxuriant and graceful vegetation, and beyond this was a wide grassy lawn on which certain broad creatures, in form like beetles but enormously larger, reposed...
For some reason, when as a youngster I first read Wells' The Crystal Egg, my imagination was snagged by those Martian beetles to such an extent that my memory of the story was dominated by them, and I took away with me the wrong message, namely that the big beetles were the ruling race of Martians! This mistake is bound to seem odd to any adult who has recently read the story. If it's fresh in your mind, you'll know, of course, that the ruling Martians are the bird-people:
...Their heads were round and curiously human... The body was small, but fitted with two bunches of prehensile organs, like long tentacles, immediately under the mouth... ...the persuasion at last became irresistible that it was these creatures which owned the great quasi-human buildings and the magnificent garden that made the broad valley so splendid...
Nevertheless, although Wells didn't mean to, he has left me with a vision, triggered by his story but not accurately linked to it, of a Mars ruled by great slow-moving beetles lazing along its canals. An offshoot-vision, therefore.
Mis-readings of stories can be interesting - even productive!
A related topic is that of amnesiac experiences, when a tale turns out to contain an episode one had not remembered, or vice versa, turns out not to contain an episode one has (falsely) remembered.
I always thought I knew Burroughs' Carson of Venus fairly well - the third Amtor book, and the first of them which I managed to obtain - and yet I remember re-reading it one day and discovering to my astonishment a "new" episode, that of Carson's rescue of little Naa, daughter of Taman, from the kidnappers. I simply could not remember ever having read it before, yet I must have done. And it's a good episode, so how could I have forgotten it so completely? Some trick of the mind. Unless the explanation given in Keith Laumer's Worlds of the Imperium is true, and we are constantly shifting in a minor way among the net of world-lines (a kind of Brownian motion of probability-fuzz, I suppose)... in which case, I slid from one probability world, in which ERB didn't write that episode, into one where he did.
In which case, roll on the day when I slip into the world in which he completed John Carter's adventures on Sassoom.
Anyone else got some misreadings to tell?
2016 December 13th: The title of this Diary, "The Sunport Vista", sounds - come to think of it - like a good title for a Solar System daily newspaper. Main offices on Ceres, perhaps, centrally placed between the inner and the outer System, but there'd be a special Earth edition printed locally on the third planet... And as for headlines, the subject matter of the Diary could furnish ideas - for instance today, let's start with:
VENUSIAN SQUID CAPTURED ON FILM
A seascape broke the shadows of a cloudy but brilliantly bright horizon. The sea was flat, a tideless expanse of water. Suddenly, in those murky depths, there was stirring. A creature charged into view. It burst the surface and leaped up, twenty, fifty, a hundred feet. Its enormous, bulbous head and vast, yawning mouth seemed almost to touch the camera. And then it began to fall, still struggling, still furiously determined to grasp the prey at which it had leaped.
It failed. It fell. It hit the water with a splash so gigantic that Dorman was startled. He had been admiring the illusion of stark reality that had been produced with what must be an artificial monster-being activated in some indoor imitation sea. But those splashes looked real...
A E van Vogt, Film Library (Astounding, July 1946)
(This little vision deserves a place in the great encyclopaedia of OSS CLUFFs which I shall probably never have time to write.)
Film Library is a perfect example of the kind of van Vogt story I read again and again, without remembering anything of the explanation of its events between one reading and the next. Perhaps that's because there isn't any adequate explanation, but I can't even remember whether there is or not. The strength of the tale is in the inspired vision of a certain unforgettable situation. In this particular case, the scene is a small pre-space-age college with humdrum college politics, and the impingement of something extraordinary on this everyday atmosphere: namely, some canisters of film from the future.
Not all of van Vogt's great stories are like this. Some do have memorable explanations - an obvious example being Asylum. Even so, the main source of his power is that sharp crystallization of a certain image and situation, an unforgettable dramatic moment.
You wonder where it all comes from...
And this kind of genius has its down side. An author who cannot possibly understand the source of his own strength - because it's an inspiration beyond human understanding - is in danger of not noticing when that strength wanes. In danger, therefore, of producing a lot of rubbish along with the masterpieces.
2016 December 12th: Negotiations with neo-OSS author Robert Gibson have taken a good turn from my point of view, with finalization of what you might call the Zendexor-Gibson Facebook Treaty of December 2016.
I wasn't getting anywhere much with his recent kind offer of letting me use a facebook page under his guidance (and his wife's); and I couldn't very well hope to set up my own account without sooner or later revealing my extra-terrestrial identity for all Earthlings to see.
Besides, social media just aren't my scene. On the other hand, I do acknowledge their importance.
So - I have persuaded RG simply to take over the management of the Solar System Heritage Facebook page himself. After all, he set it up; he can use it as he sees fit.
On a different topic: I thought it might be a good idea to do day-by-day cumulative scores in the Interplanetary Knock Out, from the quarter-final stage onward. Statistically it adds to the interest.
2016 December 11th: It can be very interesting to ponder how what seems like a sad disappointment to one era might seem wildly fortunate in another. I think of this in connection with Lester del Rey's The Years Draw Nigh (Astounding, October 1951) - a powerful mood piece set on a dusty, tired old Mars, in an age when men had gone out to the stars and found no life anywhere.
It had proven to be a barren universe, except for Earth and the Mars of perhaps ten million years ago. Zeke looked at the ruins again, still faintly visible in the light that sliced out from his window. Whatever had built them had reached a civilization at least as high as man's. What had happened to them that had made a culture capable of such work come to a sudden and unexpected end?
The answer - so the story suggests - is cosmic loneliness. The Martians went out into space and found nobody, just as the Terrans did ten million years later.
The entire story is suffused with a bleak despair, illuminated for a while with a flash of false hope. In its own terms it's a great tale, but what I find most remarkable about it is what one might call the alteration in demand between the time it was written and our own time. In the intervening 65 years, our expectations have so changed, that now if one were to discover 10-million-year-old ruins on Mars, and no other life in the cosmos, I reckon we'd still think that was pretty good going.
Ruins on Mars! Real remains of ancient Martians! Hurrah! And as for the otherwise empty Galaxy - well, that means it's ours to permeate in due course with our Galactic Empire... so no need to mope!
The more I think about it, the more I reckon that The Years Draw Nigh is one of those writings that pack an emotional punch which distracts the reader from an underlying psychological improbability. It reminds me of the defeat of the Last Men in Stapledon's Last And First Men. I accept the stories in their own terms, but I don't believe it would really happen that way. I believe human beings would continue stubbornly to survive and expand their reach. Even after the catastrophe of Clarke's Childhood's End, when the race's young are lost, I think in reality people would have gone on to have more children to replace those who had been absorbed by the Overmind.
That would have been less poetic than the ending of the book, and doubtless more messy, but that's humanity for you.
2016 December 10th: "Minerva" is a great name for an extra planet for the Solar System. I can think of two novels in which it has been used for such. Both date from the 1970s.
One is James P Hogan's Inherit the Stars, in which Minerva is the name given to the vanished asteroid progenitor planet.
In the other tale, Minerva is The Tenth Planet in the Edmund Cooper novel of that name.
On this site I have often tried to pin down and record the process whereby different works score pathways in the collective consciousness of the OSS, creating traditions which attract further followings, so that a literary gestalt begins to form... but in the case of Minerva, from what I have mentioned so far, the two novels are at odds: Minerva can't be both the 5th and the 10th planet; it has to be one or the other.
I'd plump for the Hogan version. Cooper is by far the better writer, but Inherit the Stars gives us a better version of Minerva. The Tenth Planet is icy and dead, as far as native life is concerned, though it is the vital refuge for humanity after the populations on Earth and Mars have destroyed themselves by war; whereas Hogan's asteroid progenitor planet is superbly envisioned. Inherit the Stars transcends the author's usual clunky prose - maybe it still clunks but the clunkiness doesn't matter so much in that book, or maybe it actually is better written; I can't decide, but I do know that I have read it more than once. As an epic of scientific discovery and mystery it is fascinating.
I believe Hogan later wrote a novel entitled Mission to Minerva, in which people go back in time to try to rescue that world from its self-destruction. Has anyone read it? If so, could we have your reactions? For me, Hogan is a writer with great ideas but (except for Inherit the Stars) poor performance; I am thinking of his alternate-World War Two novel The Proteus Experiment, which I couldn't bring myself to finish, it made the most riveting notions seem dull.
2016 December 9th: Novels about alien invasion from elsewhere in the Solar System are bound to count as OSS tales, because - well, who is there to invade us, in our New Solar System? Nobody. So it has to be OSS. And yet, one tale I am thinking of, published in 1953, has a very modern feel, as far as the nature of the threat is concerned.
I wonder if the type of aliens depicted might actually be NSS as well as OSS, after all.
The threat comes from Earth's ocean deeps, but there are strong hints that the creatures did not evolve there - that they arrived by spaceship from some high-pressure environment, such as the deeps of Jupiter.
Making themselves at home in our deeps, they begin to alter the terrestrial environment, excavating new channels to connect separate areas of great depth, and melting the ice caps to increase the volume of ocean.
I refer, of course, to John Wyndham's magnificent disaster novel The Kraken Wakes. Now it would be interesting, to say the least, to have a sequel to that story, set maybe a century later, when a revived humanity achieves spaceflight as far as Jupiter, and begins to investigate, and perhaps to interfere, in turn...
This train of thought is part of a game one can play, of dreaming up sequels to novels. Perhaps readers might contribute their own favourite ideas in this field. Of course, with some tales, you'd have to posit an alternate reality - for instance, you could only have a sequel to Well' The First Men in the Moon, if the Moon is viewed as very different from what we know it to be. But that's all right - permission is granted!
2016 December 8th: Here, from a not very good novel set on Mars, is what I think is an interesting fragment:
Down there in front, where hummock grass was growing, some beast squeaked continuously, till I shouted at him, then he stopped a minute, and began again in another note. Away on the hills two rival monsters were calling to each other in tones so hollow they seemed as I listened to penetrate through me, and echo out of my heart again. Far overhead, giant bats were flitting, the shadow of their wings dimming a dozen universes at once, and crying to each other in shrill tones that rent the air like tearing silk.
As I listened to those vampires discussing their infernal loves under the stars, from a branch right overhead broke such a deathly howl from the throat of a wandering forest cat that everything else was hushed for a moment...
Edwin Lester Arnold, Lieut Gulliver Jones: His Vacation (1905)
The "cat" rather lets it down, for me, and yet a few decades later Burroughs gets away with his "cat-man" on Phobos in Swords of Mars. With Arnold, the reader's senses are likely to waver: how close are we getting to the real stuff?
I reckon that with Arnold's book (which is of historical interest only) we're just on the cusp of literary development, in which a real Martian Mars is about to appear. The mention of bats as "vampires" immediately reminded me of the more serious vampires in Gustave Le Rouge's Mars novels, of about the same time, which I am reading at the moment with real enjoyment. Le Rouge's second volume is, indeed, La Guerre des Vampires. It's quite a way towards a real Martian Mars. There are still too many Earth-like creatures with Earth-like names, but there are also life-forms that bear little resemblance to anything on Earth - such as a horrifying vampyric cloud of floating vegetable creatures, which almost suffocates and desanguinates the hero. The Red Planet as it existed in literature is about to become a worthy OSS Mars.
The first decade of the twentieth century, then, is a kind of literary threshold across which we are about to be ushered into Barsoom.
2016 December 7th: Exactly 75 years to the day since the attack on Pearl Harbor. World-shaking history continues to happen, but perhaps the 55 years 1914-69 were the peak of change - the summit of the dy/dx curve.
Now, as I sit here living in the future, I wonder which year is "The Present" for you? Any thoughts?
From an article by John Varley published in 1979:
I never really stopped living in 1955. This means that for almost 25 years I have been seeing into the future. It's not a bad perspective to have, if one plans to be a science-fiction writer.
From my vantage point in 1955, I can look ahead and see things with the utmost clarity until late in the year 1979. Beyond that my crystal ball clouds, but every day I see a little further. There's a good chance that one day I'll be able to see as far as the year 1990. The turn of the century might even be attainable.
From where I sit here in the mid-fifties, the future is going to be much a stranger than anyone around right now suspects...
Varley's article is entitled, simply, 1955. (It's in the Fall 1979 Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America.) As for me, unlike Varley, 1955 is the past, but not by much, for I am stuck somewhere in the years 1964-66. I think I'd pick 1966 as the expectant future-haunted present. Very futuristic, those double digits. And back in January 1965 Churchill had died - signalling the end of an era. But in 1966 my young self felt he could have it both ways: a glorious past, a proud cultural identity, and an enthralling future. The bright future was something I assumed would be an accumulation of good things on top of what already existed - not a substitution, a trade-off, or a throwing-away to make room for what was new.
Preservation of heritage is vital if we are to enjoy the future - else it is not we who are enjoying it. However, nothing can take away from me the fact that as a teenager I watched on the tv screen in December 1968 as sf came true. (Apollo 8, the first trip into deep space, actually perhaps excited me even more - marginally more - than Apollo 11.)
2016 December 6th: Just a quickie today as I have a hectic round of visits, not being at home at the moment.
It struck me as I looked at today's stats in order to do round one of December's Interplanetary Knock-Out, that one might start a new branch of astrology for the credulous. A spoof of mainstream astrology, almost. For example, so far this month, the Amtor page has had more views than the Mercury page - an unheard-of development. "Amtor is in the ascendant... Astronauts must be wary of landing on the wrong planet by mistake... Those who work in the media (influenced by Mercury the Messenger) must beware of being led astray by the emotions (Venus being the Planet of Love), etc..."
Anyone wants to try their hand at it, just have a look at the results for round one...
2016 December 5th: For some reason I was thinking about the modern movement known as "slow food", a rebellion against the idea of "fast food" - that's to say, a wish to take more trouble over the business of meals, and appreciate them more carefully. Quick as a flash my analogy-prone mind presented me with the notion of "slow space-travel", a revolt against the facile zooming around which tends to devalue the seriousness of journeys through the great void.
Of course, sometimes you have to zoom, for instance if you're Captain Future - there isn't time to have lengthy voyages between world and world, if you have to save the System in double quick time from the evil machinations of so-and-so.
Still, it's good when we find a nice slow serious voyage.
The voyages to Mars in those two very different books, Out of the Silent Planet and The Sands of Mars, take a decent length of time, very productive as regards plot and characterisation. Then there's the even longer voyages from Mars to Earth attempted in The Moon Maid:
In 2015 Mars had dispatched a ship for Earth with a crew of five men provisioned for ten years. It was hoped that with good luck the trip might be made in something less than five years, as the craft had developed an actual trip speed of one thousand miles per hour. At the time of my graduation the ship was already off its course almost a million miles and was generally conceded to be hopelessly lost. Its crew, maintaining constant radio communication with both Earth and Mars, still hoped for success, but the best informed upon both worlds had given them up...
I guess that one was a bit too slow.
In general, earlier writers, I suppose, had more taste for slow space travel. I'm speaking very generally now, fully aware that there are exceptions - "Doc" Smith for example, an early sf writer, was nevertheless very much a "zoomer" in his OSS tale Spacehounds of IPC, if I remember correctly.
I wonder if it would be possible to write about a long Solar System space voyage today. Difficult, but if a writer could pull it off, he'd unlock some source of power in the tale. The aim is to bring back the primal sense of awe and immensity at the vastness of space, an emotion which has (I think) receded to the interstellar realm, where it still holds sway, though even there it's not what it was...
Perhaps one day the sentiment will have receded even further, so that one will have to write about intergalactic voyages in order to hold out any hope of conveying a real feeling for distance. (Doc Smith didn't even preserve intergalactic far-ness in his Lensman series, which zooms roughshod over the void between the Milky Way and "Lundmark's Nebula", whatever that may be.)
2016 December 4th: Missed out on the Diary yesterday because I was so busy on the Zones Cup - among other things; and I still haven't finished it, but I want to take a breather from that and mention a Martian adventure which is, I strongly believe, well worth recommending.
Actually the first half of it is an Earth adventure - a desperate one. It's a matter of choosing who on Earth is going to survive an imminent increase in the Sun's output of heat. Not just a flare, but a permanent stepping-up of solar radiation, it will roast and parch the Earth, and there are only a few months to choose who can be taken to the one available refuge, the colony on Mars.
The book is J T McIntosh's One In Three Hundred (1956).
It's very much a character-driven book, the main interest being in the personalities involved in the story. Mars itself is described adequately for the book's purpose, but I can't even remember whether or not there is any native life. Probably there's some native vegetation, for the atmosphere is marginally breathable, making this a borderline WOM/BREM (see the Mars page on this site).
The Sun's brightening causes big changes on Mars as well as on Earth, of course, but whereas the effect is to kill Earth, it helps make Mars more habitable for those people who manage to get there.
...If the pre-space-travel calculations had been correct and Mars had had an atmosphere too thin and too little oxygen to support human life, human life would simply have ceased to exist when the sun underwent its change. As it was, we could only be thankful that Mars had just enough air, water, and whatever else we needed to enable us to live fairly comfortably on it until we were once more in a position to take command of our environment...
But though the plot gives adequate care to the practicalities, this isn't some fascinatingly worked-out Clarkian Mars - this is an arena for raw human tragedy, with plenty of extremely bad people along with the good. People so monumentally selfish that even the greatest crisis of the human species can't move them to act nobly. Thus we are shown some individuals who don't appreciate their fantastic luck in having been saved from a solar roasting on Earth; who don't value the fact that they belong to the fortunate few who are being given a chance of life.
By and large, they get their comeuppance, and the good guys (and ladies) win, but the fact that there was a need for a struggle against evil in these circumstances makes One In Three Hundred a starkly horrifying story as well as a great read.
2016 December 2nd: Here's a good old-style spacesuit looking like a suit of armour:
It's from a book of the paintings of Ralph Smith, a member of the British Interplanetary Society, who died in 1959. The book is a BIS publication entitled High Road to the Moon, and contains a lot of quite technical stuff comparing early assumptions about a moon-voyage with what actually happened. For a non-engineer like me, the main point of the book is the pictures. Fascinating to see the juxtaposition of imagination with reality.
The realistic end of the OSS spectrum - where "Old" means merely "former realistic ideas" - gives us the old space program, something which, in the main, we can say actually might have been true, without the need to pre-suppose any drastic alterations in reality: merely changes in policy.
Of course, the old space program shades into less realistic versions of the OSS by degrees. Rex Gordon's No Man Friday gives us a superbly realistic-in-feel space program run on a shoestring budget; his depiction of Mars, a great Worn-Out Mars, nevertheless overlaps - with its intelligent Martians - with more "romantic" visions such as that of Red Planet. So gradually we edge our way along the spectrum...
2016 December 1st: Not much of a diary entry today - or, rather, the diary today consists of the comments on Page View Winners, since I've spent most of the day on the end-of-month summary, which as usual fills me with a sense of wonder at the changing fashions of my readers.
For instance, in the month just gone, there was a mighty surge in views of the Triton page. What's going on out there?
Visits from the Ukraine have shot up from 1% in October to 8% in November. Again, what's going on? An eightfold increase is hardly to be dismissed as a bit of statistical noise.
I shall probably not be as prompt with the results next month, as doubt whether I shall spend New Year's Day in front of the computer screen...