the sunport vista:

late 2017

2017 September 21st:  

Just a couple of comments.  I've added two more items to the CLUFFs page.  One for Io, one for Jupiter itself, and both obtained from Philip K Dick's Now Wait For Last Year, in my opinion one of his best and most haunting novels.  (Interesting that it only takes about 6 hours to fly to Mars in the year 2055.  John Greer would have something to say about that - see his comments on "crackpot realism" in his latest pose on the ecosophia site.)  The point about CLUFFs is that one wishes one knew more; in this case in particular I'd like to know how "rerexoid compounds" are obtained from Jupiter.  Is it done remotely or can miners go down and work on the Jovian surface?  Unfortunately we can't ask Dick... 

On a different note, as an Asteroid fan I'm delighted that the Minor Planet team have reached the IKO final.  They've done so twice before and failed at the last hurdle.  A bit like the Netherlands football team in the World Cup (three times, in their case, if I remember correctly).

Regarding the Anthology Project, I have added a note to the page as it has suddenly occurred to me to emphasize that an effective story set on the Sun itself would be most welcome!  Just get your excuses right, that's all...

2017 September 13th:   


Tolkien coined the term "eucatastrophe" to denote a sudden plot resolution in favour of the protagonist's well-being - in other words, a happy ending.  I'd like to find a related term which I could use in a more widespread sense, to denote the opposite of a general disaster.  An irruption of happiness, goodness, well-being or some kind of positivity on a global or cultural scale.

"Eudisaster"?  Anti-disaster?  Dis-disaster??

I dare say that there are more novels that have "happy endings" than those which do not.  However, works that concentrate on eudisaster, on exploring it, rather than just ending with it, are few and far between.

Right now I can only think of three central examples.  Arthur Machen's fascinating and mystical tale The Great Return - a contrast to his usual preoccupation with horror.  Poul Anderson's first novel Brain Wave, which is a superb exploration of what might happen if humanity's intelligence (and animal intelligence) were suddenly to soar.  And Frederick Brown's delightful tale The Waveries, about what happens when a life-form that consists of, and eats, radio waves and electricity, comes to Earth; how society has to adjust to the loss of electricity and return to steam power, and how our quality of life is hugely increased as a result.

So what about eudisasters in our OSS sub-genre?

To focus at length upon happiness, goodness and positive things must be the hardest task for an author.  C S Lewis performs the feat with a glow of numinous success in the first and last parts of Perelandra.  But that tale is one of the preservation, not the arrival, of paradise.  Rather than a eudisaster it's the prevention of a disaster.

The closest thing I can think of to a eudisaster is likely to arouse disagreement.  The classification is, to say the least, problematic, the mood of the book ultimately somewhat melancholic, the whole thing amounting to a bittersweet saga of human strivings and destinies.  How, you will ask when I name the work, can it possibly fit the category into which I'm trying to place it?

It's the collection of tales by Clifford Simak, entitled City.

You have to forget the mood, forget most of the main characters, and perhaps forget the main message, and think instead of what the book actually says about the fate of the majority.

Dang it all, most of us end up having a great time in adapted bodies on Jupiter, the giant world appearing ravishingly beautiful to us in our altered state.

And for others of us, there are the infinite "cobbly worlds", the alternate Earths which Simak loves to write about in so many memorable tales - Auk House, Ring Around the Sun, All Flesh is Grass...

All right, so some of us just feel futile, but that only applies to the minority who stay behind on our particular Earth...

2017 September 10th:   


Partly in preparation for future pages, I'd like to suggest - in good time - a distinction which I shall be relying on.

It's the distinction which can arguably be made, between, on the one hand, those writers whose tales are weighted towards our familiar life, and who like to show us the impingement of alien forces upon that life...

...and, on the other hand, writers whose tales are weighted towards what in some sense is a different or separate world, and who are primarily interested in it, itself, for its own sake.

Sometimes one and the same author may belong to the first category - the World-Disturbers - in one story, and to the other category - the World-Builders - in another.

A striking example of this range is H G Wells.  He is a top-notch World-Disturber in The War of the Worlds, and an equally top-notch World-Builder in The First Men in the Moon.

Remember, we're considering how the tales are predominantly weighted.  Of course the better they are, the more they're likely to contain elements of both categories.  A great WD will hint at evolutions into a WB.  A great WB will reflect back and cause us to make comparisons which may imply a WD, either inside the story or in our own lives.  But the basic distinction of categories remains valid.  I can't just now manage to think of an example of an equally WD and WB tale.  They are one or the other.

Some authors always produce only one of them.

Examples of authors who are always or almost always World-Disturbers, never world-builders: Stephen King (never WB); Charles Eric Maine (never WB); Philip K Dick (never WB unless you count the entire Dickian atmosphere as a special world of its own); John Wyndham (never WB except in Time To Rest).

Examples of authors who are always or almost always World-Builders:  J R R Tolkien (never WD); Cordwainer Smith (never WD except in No! No! Not Rogov! and his non-sf); Robert Gibson (never WD).

I suppose a few tales remain so hard to categorize, that an attempt to place them in one or the other "box" might cause endless argument.  What, for example, do we do about Simak's Desertion?  I would call it a World-Disturber, as it's about the likelihood of forgetting one's humanity if one's awareness and empathy of other kinds of life could sufficiently expand.  On the other hand, the tale's evocation of Jovian life is so superbly powerful, you might argue that that has the most pull, and call it an achievement in World-Building.

2017 September 9th:  


Musing on an aspect of Barsoomian culture, namely, that there are "no thieves on Mars":

If and when the process of OSS literary achievement ever becomes more of an exact science, I predict there'll have to be discoveries about "saving up" or "accumulating points" which you can then splurge.

You invent a world, like Barsoom.  You give it lots of well-rooted explanation, e.g. you show why and how the old cities of the dead sea coastlines are now inhabited by savage green men after the seas have dried up...

Each time you fit a new idea into the whole, you enrich it and thus gather more credit, like points on a supermarket loyalty card.  Finally you can cash those points in - by doing what?

Answer: by going on holiday from explanation; by making a mere assertion, like "there are no thieves on Mars", without any hint of why or how this could be.  Leave the reader to think of his own theories.  You need merely plonk the phenomenon in front of your public.  Pure GAWI!  You've earned so much credit on your explanations for other stuff, you can coast along without any further effort on this one.

As a member of the public I do the author's work, e.g.:

The lack of thieves on Mars might be due to the lack of emphasis on moveable wealth.  Barsoomians maybe travel light through life so there isn't much to steal.  Anyone can get his own sword and radium pistol and harness quite easily.  As for flyers, if John Carter is to be believed (in Llana of Gathol), almost anyone on that world can construct one.

The lack of thieves on Mars is also a way of showing how less sordid that world is than ours.  Plenty of evil there, but it's more dramatic and picturesque than Terran evil.

It also contrasts interestingly with the Brackett Mars.  There, you get plenty of thieves, but the thievery and rascality that exist there are kind of romantic!  A markedly different atmosphere - yet still Mars.  And that difference leads us into another fascinating train of speculation...

But my main point here is to say that Burroughs could take it easy while the reader does all this.  He had earned the free gift voucher for a GAWI assertion.

2017 September 7th:   


"Emorion" is the up-to-date Jovians' name for their world, as the reader learns in the latter part of Flame Lords of Jupiter

My fellow-author and I were stuck for a long time for a sufficiently resonant native name for the giant planet, and I can't resist revealing how the conundrum was at last solved. 

In one of my literary exchanges with Dylan Jeninga - possibly with regard to our collaboration on Mission to the Tenth Planet - he used the word "emotion" but (being a busy man) mis-typed it, fortunately, as "emorion".  The rest is Jovian history.

And looking back, I can guess that my subconscious may have seized on the "-orion" suffix as being in common with ERB's Jovian Skeletan Man, Vorion.  But I first needed the nudge from Dylan's mis-typed word.

Anyhow, the moral is: note down any promising typos, for you never know when such sheer accident might crucially combine with the other labyrinthine processes of associational thinking which a writer depends on.  (It helps if you are a bad typist.)

Who knows, methodologically we may be in illustrious company...

2017 September 2nd:  


Forgot to give the breakdown of August visits by country.  I've now added that to the Page-View Winners page.  From it you'll note France supplied 13% of the visits; the second highest proportion after the US (59%) and way ahead of the third (Ukraine, 5%, which is also noteworthy).

And this isn't the first time that the French have been outstandingly supportive.

My fellow-Brits chipped in with 4%.  Not sure what to say.  Must try to remind people that Dan Dare came from this country...  not to mention Wells, Stapledon, Eric Frank Russell...


See Fictional Dates.  A great enemy of the Solar System got his comeuppance in that futuristic year.

2017 September 1st: 

The site stats for August are now in.

August was an all-round record month, just as June and July (but not May) were. 

Most especially, the number of users topped 2,000 for the first time.  It went up from 1,877 (the previous record, July) to 2,152.

The number of visits also increased markedly, from the previous record (5885, July) to 6,430.

Only the number of page views was less spectacular: 14,318, a record, to be sure, but not exactly light-years ahead of July's record of 13,856.

Much of the general surge must be due to the excitement roused by the Anthology Project, a page which had 416 views in the month.

But not all the increase is down to that.  I've just updated the page-view winners page and you will see that the number of super-pages (one or more view per day) has crept up from 93 to 96.  Within that category, the number of para-pages (two or more views per day) has slightly increased also, from 11 to 13, owing to the rising prestige of Vulcan and the Sun. 

Such signs of modest, solid progress perhaps indicate that the new users are still feeling their way, browsing the main nav bar pages first, before venturing further afield.

2017 August 31st:   


See Ganymedean wap-frog croquette and Balki the pool.

2017 August 30th:  


The past few days, it's become an insistent thought, that I must bring the Diary back.

I stopped it two months ago, because the strain of writing a full-blown article every day was getting to be too much of a commitment.  And that remains true.  Henceforth my silences, when they occur, will no longer cause me guilt.  Racking of the aged brain must cease.  On the other hand, sometimes, quite often in fact, I do have something to announce, or comment upon, or muse about, and without the Diary I'm stuck for a way to do it; the little bloglets on the nav bar are hardly sufficient, and besides their main point is to announce new pages - a role which we don't want swamped by other stuff.  So here we are, back again with a proper diary page.  You will note that it's not named for the month - I envisage this particular page sufficing for the rest of the year, with perhaps one or two entries per week.


I want to refer my readers to John's brilliant essay, Men Unlike Gods.  Like a bridge's heavy traffic-load must be sustained by high quality engineering, profound arguments need the support of lucid style and skillful expression, and here the reader has the rare experience of being placed in the hands of a philosopher who can convey his meaning by means of a pleasurable read. 

In my page on Star's Reach I try to argue that the author is showing us how Earth can acquire the patina of ancient mystery which currently is conveyed by the concept of ancient Mars.  The process must involve an evolution of cultural atmosphere, and for this evolution I refer you to Men Unlike Gods.  The essay doesn't say what our destination will be, but it is very suggestive about the kind of process involved.

Don't know about you, but I find it comforting that we're not headed for a grey technological fix.  Something more colourful, though maybe less comfortable, is on the way. 

Maybe not quite a case of "Zothique, here we come".  But Clark Ashton Smith had a point when he decried the over-emphasis on machinery...

>>  OSS Diary, June 2017