1960s

More ISDC Goodies

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Humanity’s greatest achievements are the moon landings. Nothing comes close. It’s literally (as well as figuratively) on another plane to everything else we’ve ever done. It was a statement of intent, that we are not going to live and die as a single-planet species doomed to irrelevance.

Since the landings, of course, the misguided souls who believe that we need to focus on Earth first have, unfortunately, stunted humanity’s growth, but a new generation of explorers are now focused on important stuff again… and they’re rich enough not to care if someone whines, which governments sadly could never do. Spurred by this, governments have been forced to put space front and center again, and we have a new space race.

But when I went to the International Space Development Conference in 2019, it was poignant to see what the last thing humanity has to be proud of actually is. They gave me a reprinted copy of the article in the December 1969 Issue of National Geographic that reported the Apollo 11 landing, complete with the original covers.

We should have something better by now. But the closest thing we currently have going for us is that the last time there was no human being in space was on October 30, 2000. Hopefully, that will be the last day in history in which the human race is chained to a single ball of dirt.

So I reread this Nat Geo excerpt. It’s an emotional experience. Sometimes, the fifty-odd years that have passed seem to have blunted the importance of the event in daily life. We forget that a quarter of the humans on the planet were watching the Apollo 11 mission. Everyone in the world stopped what they were doing when the landing occurred. Baseball games were interrupted so people could sing patriotic songs. Foreign leaders were glued to the TV. We just can’t imagine, in 2020 what it was like for those who experienced it.

That emotion and sense of something incredible happening hits you with full force as you read the fifty-year-old coverage. Thanks to this reprint (more than 60 pages), I lost hours watching moon landings one after another. 11. 12. 14. 15. 16. 17. Each different, and each the most important thing any human has ever done except for the others.

If you’re too young to understand, try to get a copy of the magazine (no one throws away National Geographics, so they should be cheap) and read the coverage from people who appreciated just what they were seeing, unsullied by years of earth-first dullards and pessimism breaking the human spirit. It will be an eye-opening experience into a world where anything seemed possible. It was possible, but people who hate seeing others spread their wings have worked against it since.

It’s the only way you’ll truly understand the new space age which is coming.

Gustavo Bondoni is a science fiction writer from Argentina whose critically acclaimed Siege deals with how humanity can evolve and still find itself at the brink of extinction… taken there by its own offspring. You can check it out here.

An Obsessive’s Delight

As longtime readers of this blog already know, I often throw in a review of a book about auto racing.  While the modern game is a bit tame, I think the history of the sport represents a romantic, hard-nosed and dangerous pastime worth reading about.  Our most recent post dealt with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but I also like reading about the heroes of earlier ages.

Of course, at some point one needs to talk about Formula one, right?  Well, we need to do more than just this

Peter Higham - Formula One- Car by Car- 1960-1969

So I picked up a copy of Peter Higham’s book Formula 1: Car by Car: 1960-69.  Now, this book does exactly what one would expect, namely discusses  every single car that raced in the hugely innovative decade of the sixties, a decade that began with the last vestiges of the front engined cars of the sixties still on the track and ended with (as you can see on the bottom right photo of the cover above) with cars that had begun to sprout 1970s style wings.

All right. It does what it says on the cover.  So what?

So, the sheer amount of research, looking for the information, the description and, especially, decent photos of every car that made it onto the grid of every race is not an easy task.  In fact, I’d call it Herculean.

Of course, front runners are easy.  We all know everything about every chassis that Jim Clark ever drove, tested or even glanced at, but what about the LDSs and Sciroccos of the world?  Can anyone keep track of the different engined people shoved into Lotus 18 chassis?  Apparently Higham can, and you can follow along with this book.

Of course, labors of love of this sort can often be boring reads.  If you are at all interested in race cars, this one bucks that trend. The accompanying text is not only full of information, but also of interesting anecdote and period feel.

So for any car buffs out there looking for a definitive guide to what raced when, this series (there are books on other decades) is a great place to get the data.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine author.  For completists looking to get his previously-published stories all in one place, a good starting point is Virtuoso and Other Stories.

Somewhat Scholarly Reflections on Science Fiction – Part 4

As you probably realized by the mere existance of this series, I love going back into the past of he genre and looking at the short fiction of the past.  Of course, the actual subject matter is dictated by my strict first-in-first-out reading order which, by making things even more random and eclectic aparently jives with our manifesto.

This time, we travel back to the sixties, and if we’re talking about short fiction in the sixties, one name towers above the rest: Judith Merril, the decades great anthologist.

By great, of course, I mean the most influential and trend-setting as opposed to the best.  I’ve gone on record more than once in saying that her attempts to turn science fiction into a bastion of literary experimentation aligned with the pop consciousness of the era were misguided.  She isn’t well-rememberedtoday outside of the students of the genre.

I still read any of her books I can get my hands on.  The history of SF in the sixties, though much less significant than the Golden Age, is still interesting. It was then that the genre gained a cerain amount of respectablity: stories from Merrill’s antho’s having origins as diverse as The Atlantic and even The New Yorker, something unheard of in Campbell’s time.

All of the above actually prefaces a Merril antho that is less literary than most – after all, as the major anthologist of her era, she couldn’t dedicate herself exclusively to the obscure, experimental and unreadable.  It’s entitled SF The Best of the Best Part Two.

SF The Best of the Best Part Two Edited by Judith Merril

By pulling out the best of the stuff from her series of anthologies, a certain amount of dross that seemed like a good and cutlurally relevant idea at the time could be eliminated.  The cream that rose to the top and populates this book is still an annoying mix of pseudoscience, PSI and media (in that infant era of media which thought it was mature) without much in the way of exploration of things that weren’t of concern to the intellectuals of the day, but at least it’s perfectly readable.  Any one of these stories inserted into a book of more traditional SF tales would make a nice change of pace.  There’s even  Sheckley stoy that foreshadows The Truman Show.  An entire book is a bit much, though.

A reader looking for far future stories, space opera or even just some fun Earth-bound tech stories, will need to look elsewhere.  For Merril, those things don’t belong in Science Fiction and are a bit lowbrow.

Even the Asimov and the afrementioned Sheckley are pretty much character driven social stories.  Not bad, just a little lacking in the sensawunda compared to other offerings from these two.  Aldis or Budrys, of course, are a much more comfortable fit here.

Anyway, this is an interesting book, like everything Merril edited.  She was influential even if she was guiding the genre in the wrong direction.  When SF stops being fun to lock itself in an ivory tower, what happens is wht is happening today: readers flock to fantasy in droves, and SF moves away from the printed page to the big screen.