Saturday, May 18, 2013

How the Digital Age Is Changing Everything - Joe Vadalma

Joe Vadalma is the author of several major science fiction and fantasy series including his Chronicles of Morgaine the Witch, the Raven Lenore, Psychic Investigator, the Books of Retslu, and the norish Isaac, the Android saga.

When I first started reading science fiction, around the age of twelve, the world was a different place. A telephone was a black instrument chained to the wall by a cord. Books had hard covers. Computers were a gleam in some scientist's eye. Even science fiction was packaged in 8 ½ by 11 magazines printed on blotting paper with garish covers on them. Getting to the moon was an impossible dream. The only people you considered your friends lived in your neighborhood, and you corresponding with people by writing a letter on paper and mailing it. Only a few people had TV sets and the shows were in black and white. Even the science-fiction writers I read could not guess the changes that would occur in the twenty-first century.

Of all the changes that have occurred since then, none changed our way of life more profoundly than the home computer and the internet. And the changes are accelerating. Who would've ever believed that one could carry around a powerful computer in your pocket? That people would read books on devices that would threaten the print book industry? And who would believe that you could get information on any subject simply by typing in the subject and clicking on an icon labeled Search? Or order any item at the lowest possible price simply by typing and clicking an the back of a gadget that looks like a bug or a mouse?

That people would be in constant touch with people they hardly know all over the world and get all the details of their lives? Or that people would spend hours in virtual worlds? Or that secrecy would come to an end where even the most repressive government cannot control what information their people receive or what secrets are revealed? Or that people would get in traffic accidents because they are typing messages while they drive? That I could talk to my daughter face-to-face even though she lives three thousand miles away? That a gadget in my car would give directions on how to go anywhere as I drive, telling me exactly when I need to turn as I approach the intersection?

And that is only the beginning of the changes that are occurring. Soon we'll have robot servants, driverless automobiles and the ability to speak to our computers instead of having to type or use a mouse. Just recently a video game allows a person to control the action by simply waving arms around. And what about the special effects in movies these days? And now 3D TV sets are available.

The digital age has ushered a new language as well. Here are few of the new words: LOL, FAQ, IM-ing, E-mailing, E-books, download, upload, web site, internet, web page, tweeting, unfriending, writing on a wall, Twitter, Facebook, Google and googling, and on and on.

It's hard to say what will be next. Today's world goes so far beyond the world of my youth that even the most imaginative SF writers of that time could not imagine it.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Jean Marie Stine Recalls Robert Bloch

Long before I met him in the early 1970s, Robert Bloch made an off-the-cuff quip at his own expense that stuck. So that you could read any science fiction or horror movie magazine and in profiles of him encounter the following. "Horror writer Robert Bloch says he has the heart of a little child - in a jar, on his desk."

He had the face of a mortician and a ghoulish twinkle in his eye, and was so soft spoken you had to listen carefully, or you would miss the rapier-thrust of his lightning wit.

Here is an example. At one time, and likely they still do (tradition dies hard with futurists), the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS) held an annual Fanquet to fete any members who had sold their first story to a science fiction magazine, book publisher, or anthology.

And as you may have guessed, long ago in my youth, it fell my lot that I was one of two members who were so honored (I for my first book, the erotic science fiction novel, Season of the Witch). (Out of discretion, I shall not drag the name of the other honoree into this sordid story.)

Someone had told me that we were each expected to make a few remarks about our book. What led me to decide it would be appropriate to talk about the origins of my erotic work, and that of most erotic writers, in our sexual fantasies, I can, alas, at this late date no longer recall. Nor can I recall just how a 20 minute speech (for which I made copious notes) and "a few words" became conflated in my youthful brain. Writing this now, and reading it, as it were, over my own shoulder, it seems blatantly demented.

(Leaving out the part about the man who rushed up to Barry Gold and myself, waving a barber's knife in our faces and spouting something utterly incoherent as we left my apartment for the Fanquet, and especially leaving out how I managed to divert the man and send him back happily to his place of employment - which we then saw was a barber shop (apparently, he had wanted us to come in and try his handiwork) - I will hasten on to the Fanquet itself and Robert Bloch who appears in the very next paragraph of what is becoming another interminable JMS anecdote.)

As my fate would have it, Robert Bloch had been asked to be the toastmaster at this particular Fanquet (which was a thrill), because he was a writer who had also "graduated" into the profession as a member of a science fiction fan club. And he had graciously accepted the position. He no doubt introduced the event in his usual adroit and courtly manner. Blochian witticisms must have been enjoyed by all.

Then my turn came. I stood and gathered my five pages of notes to begin speaking. (Up to this point everything is a blank, after this point it is all to mercilessly clear.)

Just exactly how I thought people who had come to eat good food and have a good time with friends - and show their regard for two fellow fans who had "broken into the big time" as professionally published authors - would react to a frank discussion, over dessert, of sexuality, masturbatory fantasies, and how these fantasies fueled the underpinnings, activities, and imagery of erotic novels, is a mystery to me.

As I reached the half way point in my remarks, it began to dawn on me that some people seemed a bit taken aback, others had croggled expressions on their faces, and some were eying others a bit uncertainly - and almost no one really seemed to be on-board with what I was saying.

Sitting near me was Jane Gallion, a woman easily 50 times braver and more capable than I in every way. She had just sold an erotic novel of her own (Biker), and I turned to her and appealed for support. "Jane, you've written one of these things. Don't the scenes come from your masturbatory fantasies?" I mean, holy smoke, talk about putting a friend on the spot!

Jane, choosing what I now know to be the wiser course, shrunk down in her chair and muttered something noncommittal. (After all she had to look those folk in the eye every week at the club.)

I know I troupered "bravely" on, finished the entire speech, and sat down. I don't have the sense there was much applause. More like stunned and disbelieving silence.

Then Robert Bloch stood and returned to the podium. He looked out over the audience and in his deliciously mordant voice declaimed. "I never had a wet dream. I had a dry dream once. But I told it to Frank Herbert and it became Dune."

He broke up the house, relieved the tension, and he certainly broke me up.

Jean Marie Stine
Futures-Past Editions
author, Herstory & Other Science Fictions, ebook and paperback.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Robert Bloch – Comedic Horrorsmith

Some memories by J. D. Crayne

When I was a child my father owned a small collection of science fiction and horror pulp magazines from the '40s and '50s.  Among the stories in them was one about a magicians' convention at a hotel that was invaded by a group of sorcerers from the nether regions.  It was a delightful bit of comedy, especially a sequence where some very drunk conventioneers went to a wax works Chamber of Horrors and decided to take two of the "axe victims" out to breakfast with them.  This was a scenario worthy of humorist Thorne Smith at his best.  Growing up, I did not know the name of the tale or of the author, but it was a story that always stuck with me.  It wasn't until many years later that I discovered it was "Black Magic Holiday" by Robert Bloch, published in Imaginative Tales in 1955.

Probably best known for the novel Psycho, Bob Bloch wrote some amazingly creative horror stories that can still send a shudder along the spine.  He also had a wonderful sense of comedy noir and he wrote some of the funniest bits of fantasy you will ever be able to find.  It is this versatility which makes him such a remarkable writer.  His output spans crime, horror, and comedy with equal facility, and his  writing is clear, concise, and yet manages to convey an extremely rich sense of atmosphere.  

He began his writing career with horror stories that were modeled on those of the Lovecraft Circle and added two titles – De Vermis Mysteriis and  Cultes des Goules -- to the imaginary source library began by Lovecraft with the Necronomicon.  After Bloch wrote The Shambler from the Stars in Lovecraftian mode,  Lovecraft wrote him into The Haunter of the Dark as a character named Robert Blake, who naturally dies a horrible death. After Lovecraft's death in 1937, Bob Bloch began to move away from his mentor's type of fiction and swiftly developed a style of his own. His tales about the time and space traveler, Lefty Feep, filled with riotous puns and tongue-in-cheek humor are still amusing after sixty years (and make me wonder if they inspired Grendel Briarton's "Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot"). At the same time he was writing horror that can make one's skin creep. His output was phenomenal, with over thirty novels to his credit plus hundreds of short stories. He was one of those writers who make writing look easy. Along with all of his fiction, he was a prolific screen writer with numerous horror movies to his credit.  (Not Psycho, alas.  It was scripted by Joseph Stefano.)

As a person, he was a delight to know.  Tall, swarthy, and suave, he was the perfect picture of a Hollywood screenwriter. I remember him best in a suit with an ascot tie, gesturing with a long cigarette holder. He was always ready with a quip or joke and his facility with words could be both inventive and hilarious.  He was a regular attendee at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society in the 1960s,  when it was meeting at various park clubhouses, and was often present at parties thrown by club members.  I remember that when he came to one of my birthday parties, he brought me a jack-in-the-box as a present.  The figure inside of the scarlet box was a shrunken head with a bone through its nose and long black dreadlocks. 

As a young man Bob had corresponded with H. P. Lovecraft and had a large collection of letters from him.  Unfortunately he ran into trouble with the IRS in the 'Sixties and was forced to sell the letters to meet his tax debt.  I have always sort of wondered about the identity of the lucky purchaser.  (It is interesting to speculate that collections of letters like those of Lovecraft will be fewer and fewer in the future, since so many writers have changed to electronic correspondence. The days of trying to puzzle out some writer's nearly-indecipherable cursive are about gone. The same thing applies to literary manuscripts.)

Bob and his wife, lly – a charming and lovely woman (at the time a buyer for an interior decorator) - had a comfortable home in the Hollywood Hills, one of those houses that are perched at the top of a steep slope, in this case covered with flowering azaleas.  He had set up a bird feeder further down the slope and they used to watch the local birds with binoculars – until rats showed up and became regular visitors and seed thieves.  Somehow, that seemed only appropriate for someone of Bob's reputation.

I knew him and Elly best from the mid 1960s through 1993, when my husband and I moved to Northern California.  We all belonged to a writer's club which met monthly at different member's homes, and I remember the two of them on those occasions with great affection. They were an extremely harmonious couple, always sociable, friendly, and filled with a wide fund of information on practically any subject. I remember one time, when the monthly meeting was at our house, I found Bob looking over some shelves filled with rather shabby books and I said, rather apologetically, that they were only readers' copies.  "Those are the best kind," he replied with a broad smile.

Towards the end of his life, Bob wrote Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography which was published by Tor in 1993.  I recommend it highly to any Bloch enthusiast, giving as it does his reflections on a long and productive life. For those of you who were not privileged to read his short stories on their original publication, there are three collections which can be nosed at your favorite used book store, The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch, published in three volumes in 1987.   There is an article about him on Wikipedia, which has an extensive chronological bibliography and is well worth reading.

J. D. Crayne is the author of the Captain Spycer send-ups of rip-roaring space opera for Futures-Past Editions, and of cozy mysteries, including the Mark Stoddard series for Deerstalker Editions

An omnibus book edition of her feline detective novels featuring "Lucky Pierre," Three Cat Mysteries, is available free via the Amazon Lending Library for all Amazon Prime Members.