the sunport vista:

late 2017

2017 December 31st:   


I've been wrestling with some ideas, some of which I've tried to tackle in the pages on Barsoom and on moral dimensions.  No doubt there will be those like Stid who reckon that I'm seeing a problem where none exists.  But often, to me, a striking success represents a mystery, the sheer strength of which becomes problematic.

I'm thinking now of an issue not covered specifically in the pages mentioned above -

The duels in the arenas of Barsoom.  The fights to the death.

(Burroughs leaves it unclear as to whether the noblest Martian nation, Helium, indulges in this blood-sport, but certainly the Heliumites don't condemn it.) 

Moral dilemma - or just something to shrug off with the comment that it's just a story?

To me the problem is: yes it's just a story but how does it work?  Successful story-telling involves some spiritual identification with the protagonists.  How does ERB get me to enter into his bloodthirsty world with so much love?

A leap of analogy now follows.  My grasshopper mind jumps to the topic of the agile time-lines in Asimov's The End of Eternity and Barrington Bayley's The Fall of Chronopolis.

Any profound time-travel tale will find itself tackling the need for a new time-axis at right angles (as it were) to the familiar one - simply because once you travel back and forth along the known axis, you create another one in so doing: namely, the physical duration of your own extra-temporal travels, necessarily transcending what you're travelling through.

I suggest that there must be a valid analogy between this and the creation by Burroughs of the overarching moral dimension in his Barsoom tales, whereby whatever sustains the vividness of the stories is, in itself, a kind of "literary morality".  A new ethical axis, in which the bloodthirsty games in the arena become "good" in the sense of their drama and style.

Am I making any kind of sense?  I feel as if I am.  I sense furthermore that all this could be viewed as instances of a wider principle, that the kind of sub-creation writers achieve is liable to involve the triggering of new linear sequences, spectra of values that vary along their lengths, axes that become wands that can be waved about to bind the reader in spells which could not exist here on our actual Earth.

On this last day of 2017 may I, in advance, wish a happy New Year to all readers of this website.

2017 December 14th:   

Just a note to my readers to say I haven't forgotten to see to the November Zones Cup.  Rather than a case of amnesia, it's a case of not having had the time.  Next week, however, it should get done.  Of course, it's possible that those particular results are of interest mainly to myself; on the other hand, the entire System's intelligentsia may be awaiting them with bated breath - I have no way of knowing.


A different topic: something awkward has happened, not my fault but that of the search engines.  I was googling something to do with Neptune and I noticed a reference to my Neptunian Allure page, and the reference gave a highly unrepresentative snippet of text from that page - a negative remark by Stid, denigrating Juve's The Monsters of Neptune

The engine would have to drag up something like that!  I hope it doesn't put anyone off the page, or the story.

Not that that's likely - Neptunian Allure is just about the most phenomenally successful planetary page I've ever done, with about 25 views per day this month so far. 

Harlei:  You should sit on Stid.

Zendexor:  No, he's my devil's advocate - he fulfils a necessary role, as in this case where the page has got "canonised" despite his remarks, or even, who knows, because of them...  I mean to say - it's been getting about five times more views per day than the Mars and Venus pages; and that's pretty saintly by this site's standards.

2017 December 12th:   


Some words of welcome and appreciation for this latest tale by Dylan Jeninga to adorn the site - a brilliant short-short piece to add to the body of Solarian lore, a rather recondite niche of science fiction.  Who else has written of life on the Sun or of creatures from the Sun?  Olaf Stapledon, David Bryn, Hal Clement, Arthur C Clarke, Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett.  Apart from the question of solar life, who has written of men visiting the Sun?  Theodore L Thomas and Charles L Harness.  Also the borderline case of Ray Bradbury who has written of a very close approach in The Golden Apples of the Sun

These are the ones I know of, anyhow.  Not a long list.  Perhaps some readers may suggest others.  Anyhow, Dylan, it would see that you are in select company.

Incidentally, no one, so far as I know, has written of a Sun habitable by human beings in a normal-seeming way, such as William Herschel, back in 1795, considered possible.  To suspend our disbelief, such a tale would have to involve some sort of translation of sense impressions, like the "metaphoric deformation" in Sheckley's Mindswap

Come on, all you literary geniuses...

2017 December 8th:   


That much-loved work of genius, C S Lewis' seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia, belongs to the genre of fantasy, and certainly not to the sub-genre of the Old Solar System.  But by accident I came across A Field Guide to Narnia, by Colin Duriez, which has chapters on the history of Narnia; the geography of Narnia; a who's who of Narnia; and other thematic essays; and it got me thinking how good it would be if Field Guides on similar lines were available for (say) the Solar System of Edmond Hamilton or of other authors or combinations of authors.  As in John Flint Roy's A Guide to Barsoom - only with a System-wide arena.

It would be harder to do, no doubt, than it was for Narnia (or for Barsoom).  Narnia is more or less coherent as a concept.  It's not too ramshackle.  Still, it's the attitude that counts; the determination to make unified sense out of a disparate mass of material.

One interesting challenge, with regard to weaving as much as possible from a limited number of clues, would be "A Field Guild to the Solar System of Clark Ashton Smith".  I'd do it myself, if I had time...  I remember how the historian A R Burn impresses in his The Lyric Age of Greece, by the way he deduces so much from an age that left so few records.  One is amazed at the feat.  Reconstructing a dinosaur from one bone is about the same level of achievement.

2017 December 1st:   

"Page-view winners" stats are delayed because, due to a temperamental computer, I can't get at  icrosoft Excel at the moment.

However, here are some general figures for November:

2,129 individual users (not far different from previous 3 months).  But the number of visits (5,952) and page-views (11,477) have decreased substantially.  So - the site has languished in the doldrums during November.  With some exceptions.  In particular, Neptunian Allure proved wildly popular - 304 views, an average of over 10 a day, beaten only by the Home Page.  I'm starting to wonder if some people think it's a perfume...

2017 November 30th:   

In case anyone has been experiencing malfunctioning links between Guess The World questions and answers, I'd like to say that I had some weird trouble on the site this morning, with page-building and linking tools functioning inconsistently.  All seems back to normal now.  Let me know if there's any further trouble - you can email me on  (Provided my emails are working, of course...)

2017 November 25th:   


I have just re-read an old favourite of mine, Asimov's Nemesis, and to my embarrassment I realize I had mis-remembered it when talking about it previously on this site. (See the Diary for 12th November 2016 and for 23rd January 2017.)

I erroneously wrote that the eponymous body was a brown dwarf star, i.e. not a real star but a sub-stellar object.  However, that isn't the case.  Nemesis in the book is a red dwarf star.  (Its gas giant companion, Megas, may be a brown dwarf.)

Not that it matters as far as the merits of the book itself are concerned - but I like to get things right.  I suppose I wanted Nemesis to be a brown dwarf, and so remembered it that way.

The influence of my wants upon my memories applies also to what I said about Nemesis being a "companion star" to the Sun.  A "companion star", especially if it's no more massive than a brown dwarf, can be regarded as in some sense a member of an expanded solar system, and hence relevant to this website, which is just how I'd like to categorise it.  However, we have a problem here too.  For - I had completely forgotten this - in Asimov's tale it transpires that Nemesis is not in a stable orbit around the Sun but, on the contrary, is heading straight for our Solar System.  It's an interloper, therefore, and not a companion.  I had also forgotten the distance of Nemesis - over two light-years.  As much as half the distance to Alpha Centauri.

After this, what's left of my fond idea that the book can be read as a great tale of the outermost reaches of our Solar System?

Well, it's still a favourite of mine, and I'll never lose the sense of it being a kind of bridge between OSS and interstellar fiction.  That's the tenor of my remarks, in those previous diary entries which contain the errors of fact.  I recommend the book as being that kind of fascinating in-between thing, border Solar System, border interstellar, and fortunately it's one of Asimov's best efforts.  My experience of it is that it grows on one, grows and grows (I've read it three times now, I think) until the thought comes, hey, this is actually a masterpiece.

2017 November 24th:  


It occurred to me this morning to wonder why I was uneasy abut the idea of an OSS story which ignores the fact that Saturn's satellites (with the exception of Phoebe) orbit in the ring plane.

You can imagine the kind of thing: someone on (say) Rhea or Titan looking up into the sky and admiring the banded Rings.  In reality, he wouldn't see the surface of the Rings; he'd see them only as a thin line, edge-on.

Well, why bother about that?  We're happy to swallow far bigger inaccuracies than that.  The Captain Future stories are all written with the convention that every world in the System has a breathable atmosphere; compared to the suspension of disbelief required for the acceptance of that whopper, what's wrong with allowing a bit of licence with regard to orbital inclination?  And besides, the whole point of neo-OSS tales like Valeddom lies in their nostalgic defiance of certain facts.

Undertaking some research by rummaging around in my emotions, I came up with an answer.

The defiance of fact in Captain Future and in Valeddom is deliberate, and necessary for the story.  It is not the result of carelessness.  By contrast, I feel that when the orbits of Saturn's satellites in the ring plane is left out of account, it is through carelessness or ignorance.

It's seems that I'm promulgating a somewhat idiosyncratic doctrine, that it's alright to regard Facts as the enemy when they get in the way of a good story, but that it's not so good to be ignorant of them.  "Flout them if you like, but don't despise them."

This still leaves one with the problem that there may be cases in which one isn't sure whether the inaccuracy is deliberate or not.

Still, it's an answer of sorts.  It'll do for now... maybe.

2017 November 22nd:   


I omitted to mention, in the previous Diary entry, that the colourful Mercury picture comes from a little booklet for children entitled "The Planets", published in 1969 as part of a series called "First Interest in Space". 

The page with the picture informs us that

People like us could not live on other planets.  Some are much too hot.  Others are much too cold.  Your blood would boil on the sunny part of Mercury.

(That last phrase suggests to me that the author was still a believer in a synchronously rotating Mercury, four years after this idea had been disproved.)

I expect there's an enormous treasure-trove of under-appreciated illustrations in old out-of-date books about astronomy.  The OSS beliefs of olden times seep into the pictures in a way which is hardly possible to recapture now.  My guess is, it's easier to write Neo-OSS tales than it is to paint in the old mode of vanished belief.


Note to readers: I have added a section at the end of the Titan page, having just read a very enjoyable Titanic adventure, Nelson S Bond's Wanderers of the Wolf Moon, on the online-archive Planet Stories for Spring 1944.

2017 November 20th:   


The most eccentrically elliptic orbit of all the nine planets brings Mercury, at perihelion, as close as 29 million miles to the Sun.  That must make the angular diameter of the Sun in the Mercurian sky over three times as great as it is from Earth.

Over three times, yes.  But not four times.  And - despite this picture - not ten or more times!

Or can the picture be right after all?  With the zoom lens of emotional truth, various measurements in the OSS develop an interesting stretch aspect.  While preserving their respective places in order of size, they make use of a great deal of leeway in their absolute or apparent sizes.

Thus it isn't hard to find artists' renderings of Barsoom which chime in with ERB's suggestion that the inner moon Thuria looks enormous from the Red Planet's surface - despite the fact that Phobos in reality would only have about a third of the apparent diameter of Luna seen from Earth.

See the Asteroids and the Pluto pages, for more thoughts on magnitude-leeway in the OSS.  In the case of the asteroids, I discuss the density of the Belt, as well as the licence to invent large asteroids which haven't been yet accounted for. In Pluto's case, the size of this fringe world is more than usually variable: even its position in the size-order of the planets is not fixed.

OSS literature accumulated many odd little liberties, much like a Burkean organically-grown conservative society, ruled by custom rather than rationality.  And our literature is the richer for it - though this raises some darned difficult questions about the nature of, or the worth of, truth.

2017 November 15th:   


For many, many months I have been intending to write a proper page on Le Rouge's 1908-9 Mars epic. 

My desire to do proper justice to the work has meant, in practice, a failure to do the page at all - "the best is the enemy of the good" in this case.

I'm now of the opinion that a change of approach is needed.  Instead of my usual practice, in which the whole page is done at once, I shall build it up more like a diary, from notes that can be posted up incrementally.

This will help get round the problem posed by inputting extracts in the French language, which requires me to type more slowly as I put in the à's, â's, é's, è's, ê's, î's and ô's where necessary.

You may wonder why I should not get round that problem by translating the passages into English.  But my abilities in that direction are not such as to inspire confidence.  Reading and appreciating French is one thing; translating it properly is another. 

Besides, a sizeable proportion of the readers of this site are French - about ten per cent, judging from the current statistics.  And presumably these people know English pretty well and would be in a position to judge my translations, if I were so rash as to provide them.  Better not to risk that...

2017 November 13th:   


Easy - just make sure you're married to the writer who invented it.

Having recently hunted around in Edmond Hamilton's Outlaw World for a Guess The World entry, I went on browsing in the book.  Suddenly my eye was caught by a reference which ought to have stuck in my mind from earlier readings.  How anyone could have missed it, who had read Leigh Brackett's The Lake of the Gone-Forever, I can't imagine...

..."Long ago, pirates planted wave-projectors on the 'toids and swarms here in the zone," the Martian outlaw explained.  "Each gives off a distinctive individual signal in that specially tuned buzzer.  If you know the code of those signals, as all the pilots of the Companions of Space do, you can navigate the zone safely."

"So that's why the asteroid Iskar is such a safe rendezvous for space pirates?" Curt exclaimed, and Bork King nodded. 

"Iskar is at the center of a region just choked with swarms, and nobody but pirates ever try to reach it," Bork said, and added thoughtfully, "Of course, some day the Patrol will find it and clean it up, just as they did Pallas and the other pirate asteroids in past times.  But until then, it's a safe base for all the Companions of Space."

...They went deeper into the wilderness of spinning swarms and meteor drift, limping on precariously.  Then at last the big Martian pointed to a small reddish speck of light not far ahead in the zone.

"That's Iskar," he said.

Blood-red as a glittering ruby, the almost inaccessible pirate asteroid beckoned like an ominous crimson beacon.

"Small, isn't it?" said Bork King.  "But not a world in the System is as deep with blood and treasure as wild Iskar when the pirate fleets are in..."

The red hue, we learn, comes from dense forests of brilliantly red club mosses that cover Iskar's surface.  Rather different from the landscape in Brackett's tale - see the Travelogue page, Chill on Beautiful Iskar.

I wonder if Brackett's hubby asked permission to use the name. 

Be that as it may, it's certainly hard to forge a continuum to link the two tales. 

Chronologically, you'd have to place the Brackett tale quite a few decades before the Hamilton one, because Iskar in the former is largely unknown except to its inhabitants, whereas in the latter it has become a nest of pirates.  So the Captain Future story comes second in time.  But all the Captain Future stories are set in the early twenty-first century - round about now, in fact - which means that there isn't much time in which to fit The Lake of the Gone-Forever.  Let's suppose the Brackett Space Age began in the 1960's; Conna could have discovered Iskar in the 1970's; Conna's son returned there in the 1990's; that leaves maybe twenty years for the transformation, ecological and socio-political, into the Hamilton Iskar with its club-moss forests and pirate base...  Doesn't ring true.  Too much of a squeeze.

So let's settle for an indirect connection.

The two versions of Iskar aren't on the same timeline but they could both be ectypes of the same archetype...  Lay the images on one another, like transparencies on the same projector, and see what hints you get.

Something rather distinguished in the way of asteroids, at any rate...  Iskar, whatever it may "really" be like, is not run-of-the-mill.

2017 November 3rd:   


Further to the contribution by James M Jensen - An Ice-Age Venus? - I wish to report a tale which I came across in the online Science Wonder Quarterly archive: the SWQ issue for Spring 1930.  (How marvellous that we can access these old mags at last!)

The story is The Stone From The Moon by Otto Willi Gail.  I haven't read it all but I have noted that it includes a landing upon an icy Venus.  The dialogue - stilted, yet effective in places - includes a discussion of why a world so close to the Sun can nevertheless be cold.

..."I wonder that the sun, which is much nearer to Venus than to the earth, is unable to melt these masses of ice.  One would think that it would have to be hotter here than on the equator on earth."

"As you see, this is not so.  Little heat penetrates the thick atmosphere...  The radiation from the sun cannot do it all.  A planet must profit from the talent lent it by the sun..."

...Everywhere were masses of ice, broken places, mountainous piles of ice, little lakes and streams of water, which quickly changed into steam when the sun broke more strongly through the mists...

Sometimes, reading these old tales is like prospecting for gems amid mounds of dross.  Exciting, if one has the patience.  And sometimes, when one is especially in the mood, there isn't any dross and all of it is good stuff...

2017 November 1st:   

End-of-October figures:  13,970 page views; 2,200 individual visitors making a total of 6,586 visits.  So, a slight decline from last month which thus remains the record holder.

However, as you will note from Page-View Winners, which takes the whole year so far, some trends are up.  Though the number of "super-pages" (1 or more views per day) has gone down from 96 to 94, the more elite band of "para-pages" (2 or more views per day) went up from 25 to 28.

Mars had an excellent month and went up from 8th place to 7th.

The Anthology Project page continued its steep rise - from 22nd place to 14th.

Quizzes shot up from 30th place to 19th.

The Sun had its best ever month (exactly 100 views) and went from 24th place to 21st.

Earth and Pellucidar rose from "super" to "para" status.

Edgar Rice Burroughs had his best month of the year.

Other pages that notably climbed the table include Leigh Brackett, The Old Space Program, Primordial Worlds, Asteroid Progenitor Planet, Tales Unwritten, Enceladus and Europa - the last OSS worlds? and CLUFFs.

Robert Gibson seems to be in vogue - it was the best ever month for Kroth and Valeddom.

The religion page became a "super" at last, jumping on to take 89th place.  Brightside Crossing also jumped on - at 92nd.

Of course, with all these winners, there has to be a number of comparative losers, but let's let sleeping pages lie; their turn will come on Fortune's Wheel.

I'm allowing myself a rest from Guess The World today.  (That page is among the most popular on the site but it started too late in the year to be likely to figure in the 2017 Page View Winners.)

2017 October 28th:   


It strikes me forcibly, as I reminisce or browse in my sf collection, how often I find stories about hostile plants.

In fact, you can see the effect in Guess The World.  I didn't set out to crowd that page with plant perils, but they forced their attentions on me.

Fact is, the idea is irresistible.  If you're looking for a quick and easy way to convey an alien world, then the theme of mobile and/or intelligent plants gives immediate entry to a convenient fund of images and  ideas.

It's not the only such trope, but it's one of the best.  Another good one is the theme of intelligent arthropods.  I should do a page on that one too.

About the plants: I was prompted just now after settling down in my armchair with the December 1937 Thrilling Wonder Stories.  There I found The Bloodless Peril by "Will Garth" (a house name, used by, among others, Edmond Hamilton).  Never heard of that story, but it's not bad.  It's set fifty-one years in the future - i.e. in 1988.  There's a world war going on between the "white" and "yellow" races.  Professor Laura Hart, despairing of humanity, is breeding intelligent plants by accelerated evolution in her lab in the Rockies.  Refusing to use her discoveries for military purposes, she confides to a friend that the world will be a better place after mankind has destroyed itself and her peaceful plants have taken over.  But - trouble is brewing, or rather growing, in the lab...

Earth and Venus are perhaps the two best planets for vegetation to take over, but Mars also has its possibilities, as we see in Clark Ashton Smith's The Planet Entity, and Gallun's Seeds of the Dusk.  And then there are all those Jungle Moons...  besides the deadly Jovian flora appearing twice so far in Guess The World... and the laser-tipped "narps" in Uranian Gleams...

As well as exploring what has been written, the theme gets me wondering about tales unwritten. Could anyone someday do a neo-OSS vegetable epic on a par with the brief but powerful 8-page extra-solar depiction by Olaf Stapledon in Star Maker?  Complete with plant-philosophy and/or plant religion?  That would be really something.

2017 October 16th:   


A snippet of an idea, to collate with others, to help build up a picture of the Jovian zone as a mini-solar-system of interacting worlds:

The snippet comes from a footnote in Revolt on Io (see Space Western Admixture) relating the Spot on Jupiter to the climate in Io's "Lost Valley". 

Lost Valley is stated to be

An inaccessible depression some two hundred miles long by ten wide, surrounded by thousand-foot-high cliffs.  These cliffs, through absorption of the rays from Jupiter's Red Spot, protect and foster the growth of the moss in the valley to the almost incredible depth of ten feet or more, whereas the mosslands in unprotected areas rarely reach a depth of more than two or three inches.

The special richness of the Jovian Zone in OSS imaginings, due to the relative mutual proximity of four sizeable worlds and their closeness to their giant primary, furnishes enormous potential for stories, for epic series, for ramshackle opulence of cycles of tales; a potential as yet unfulfilled (see tales unwritten).  But we can hope that it may yet come into its own.  We just need the right writers to come along.  Meanwhile, every snippet helps, to accumulate substance for the composite identities of these worlds... 

2017 October 11th:   

Finished re-reading Philip K Dick's The Simulacra.  One of his most delightfully crazy novels. 

It has furnished me with another Ganymedean CLUFF and some fictional dates (when I add the references to that page you'll see them under the years 1980, 1990, 1994 and 2023).

2017 October 6th:  


These last few days I've taken to browsing in online archives of golden-age sf magazines, to supplement the crumbling copies on my bookshelves.  The pulps aren't yet all available, but quite a few issues are, and it's exciting to explore their contents.  I guess the archives are growing, and this to me is big, big, BIG news.

I've been leafing online through the November 1940 Amazing Stories, and found an interesting example of a story which drifts in and out of being a mere "space-western".

Revolt on Io, by the aptly named Jack West, starts out in the proper tone of interplanetary adventure.

...Conovan's fingers gripped the wheel of the tiny space rocket so hard that they ached.  His eyes sought once more the spinning, magnetized instruments, and he swore silently...

The magnetic storm causes him to crash on Io, and it seems a good Io, habitable by humans but not too Earthlike, and with interesting monsters and giant mosses.  However, as the hero interacts with the settlers, a change creeps in.  There comes a point when one thinks: hey, this has turned into a space-western.  Partly this is doubtless because the settlers have imported dogs and burros... and why not, if they can live there?  But the plot does also go into a recognizable western groove.

...Quirk Conovan sat behind a heavy growth of moss high above the Orm ranchhouse.  He had a perfect position.  He could cover both the pass and the ranchhouse from here...

But later, before the end, it swings back to the proper planetary mood, the Ionian monsters come back into the plot, and we get given an ingenious slant on their evolution.

Well, it just goes to show, you can't always judge a tale from its middle episodes.

2017 October 1st:  


Another record month.  The main August figures, themselves records, have each now been surpassed, as follows:

Individual users 2,209 (up from August's 2,152).  Visits 6,910 (up from 6,430).  Page-views 15,236 (up from 14,318).

However, you may note from page-view winners that the number of "super-pages" (1+ views per day) is still 96, same as August. 

That means, I suppose, that the increases in views have been spread rather towards the "low" end of the 230-or-so pages on the site; attention, in other words, is shifting to what were comparatively neglected pages. 

Indeed, on this occasion I only found 2 pages that had been viewed less than 15 times (i.e. on average once every 2 days).

But there are trends within trends.

The Anthology Project and the Jupiter pages have "gone para", their now showing up green, meaning they get 2+ views per day.

Other up-and-coming pages suggest to me that people may be eyeing some data for their submissions to the Anthology (three cheers for that).  Consider these events:

Tales Unwritten has gone up from 49th to 44th - maybe because of the Anthology Project?  Similarly the CLUFFs have risen from 64th to 55th.  All this may well be due to writers preparing their themes - I hope so.  And maybe this also has something to do with the progress of Characters of Worlds - up from 75th to 70th place.

But also you may note other surges e.g. Quizzes has shot up from being 46th place in August to being in 30th place now; Enceladus and Europa - the Last OSS Worlds? from 96th up to joint 80th place; GAWI from 86th up to joint 80th; the arrival of C L Moore's Tales of Northwest Smith among the super-pages; good old Edmond Hamilton climbing up from joint 54th to joint 50th.

Visits by country of visitor origin:  US 57%;  France 9%;  UK 5%;  China 5%;  Ukraine 5%;  Germany 3%;  "EU 3%" (whatever that means); Slovakia 3%;  Canada 2%;  Russia 2%.  97 countries altogether - the remainder 1% or less.

2017 September 28th:  


O frabjous day - I have found, and devoured, a wonderful freebie.  Edmond Hamilton's The World With a Thousand Moons is available online - you'll find it easily.

I'd never heard of it.  EH is an author who wrote so many hidden treasures, I keep coming across more of them, though in a trickle rather than a flood of discovery.

This particular story's title made me guess that it's about Saturn - the Rings being the "thousand moons".  I was wrong - it's about the asteroid Vesta, which Hamilton imagines as being surrounded by orbiting meteor swarms.

His version of Vesta is inhabited...  I won't say more about the plot.

I will say, though, that it's a splendid example of that un-named sub-genre of tales in which the only necessary equipment for exploring the System is transportation.  If you've got a spaceship, that's all you need.  No absolute requirement for space-suits, oxygen bottles, heating units...  at a pinch you can manage with just a space-ship.  And of course a hand-weapon if you're strolling about in a jungle on a dangerous asteroid...

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