[An excerpt from my current big project, whence came also the Sasquatch thing a while back. Dedicated respectfully to A.R.R.R.R. Roberts, an obvious Bilbo Baggins manqué, who bears no resemblance to anyone in this piece, my hand to God, except in terms of one coincidental isophony -- and Englishness, of course. Oh, oh, dude's got Englishness coming out his ass.]
Collected worlds (complete with scholarly annotations) of authors famed for what the donnish corpse with the tobacco pipe called ‘subcreation’: chief among them Dandrel’s horrible but influential Helion trilogy (Apogee, Perigee, Anapsis). God I spent so many hours wishing I could live there. The interstellar-travel-by-giant-solar-trampoline conceit was more or less the cognitive soundtrack to my ages 13–15. Play and dissipation. So much wanting to believe that swashes would in the spacegoing future still be buckled, planks (airlocks, probably) nervously walked (or the equivalent) by those richly deserving of such mistreatment – or heroes sure suuuuuure c’mon c’mon! to make it Outta This Scrape in one piece. Back then there was this growing idea that outer space was at once a solved problem, ready to fade from dream to waking like a Christmas present turned out to be socks, and an increasingly distant/inaccessible bureaucratic zone, cowboys being replaced by factory farms, except the cowboys were never actually real, not in my lifetime anyhow. Machines all the way down. Nah. That tentative/reckless phase of early space exploration was done by the time I popped out. Or in, I guess.
So in order to get at the shared pre-Sputnik awe and aspiration of limitless space, indeed the recognition or belief that a place could still somewhere exist which was limitlessness itself, a dark principle, well ironically enough you had to turn back the clock a little. Big-time thing with kids all throughout history, probably: realizing first that time passes, then finding a way to escape into a new present which was the past’s future, today what shouldabeen. You dreamed of being an astronaut, but always as somebody’s angry libertarian writer grandpa had imagined it: the spacesuits less marshmallow, more race car; rocket ships like big sleek motorcycles, or just nuclear-powered flying cocks pretty much (because of course that – the implied parallel term, ahem – was the other forbidding limitless void to focus on, back then, after you’d learned that babies come from there but before you really internalized that holy shit babies really actually come from there; and maybe that’s the moment Cthulhu awakens?); laser guns actual guns, instead of…
Come to think of it, that was the worst part. The further along time went, the harder it was to convince ourselves that we’d be able to defend against whatever Inevitable Menace might rear up out of the frigid wastes to, not eat us probably, but digest, or cognitively-scramble, madden, suffocate, poison, freeze, unmake us…the way grief manifested in those days was I was never going to geta laser gun because by that point it’d be utterly pointless. You didn’t need one to deal with your fellow man, and even low-slung hip-holstered laser pistols (such as F.R. Dandrel’s interplanetary gunslinger Tubby Crozan might wear) would be no match for bacteria that turned flesh to slime, or movies so entertaining that to look at them was to will yourself suddenly toward death by consumption (by consuming – just looking into the staticky whatever it was supposed to be, forever). Fuck grownup literature. And fuck the Department of the Galactic Interior or whatever for spending all its astronaut time making minute adjustments to the lenses of telescopes, as if slightly clearer pictures of nebulae were some kind of substitute for the immensity, impersonality, the divinity of the frontier. It was UN-AMERICAN.
Tubby Crozan comes in for it hard in the footnotes, is one of the additional childhood-beshittenings awaiting the grownup SF fan here. The greatest of all mechanical-engineers–9th-class-turned-pistol-packing-mercenaries, the first man to make a solar trampoline jump in just a suit (not even a ship! the unmitigated gall, the titanic fucking balls on that guy!)…and all editor Avram U.N. Robers wants to talk about is ‘Crozan, a too-obvious Heinlein manqué, comes close at times but never quite breaks with the dreary juvenile misogyny of his author, not to mention his thinly-veiled SFnal homage-referent; the lasting popularity of the Helion cycle is testament to the guilelessness and vivacity of Dandrel’s prose and his just-left-of-the-familiar plotting rather than any psychological insight. Like C.S. Leavis’s Hornea books, Dandrel’s novels grow more difficult to like as their readers grow older; though perhaps – like reactionary family members sinking into familiar, almost comforting gesture, thereby losing their power to wound – for the very same reason they grow easier to love.’
Robers won an award for the annotated edition, not a big deal award but enough to feel good about being, at death’s door, a SF scholar of all things; and it’s hard to separate gratitude for his hard, revelatory biographical work (Dandrel collected butterflies but refused to kill them, adding them to his library only after they’d died natural deaths in captivity?!) from frustration at the characteristically British is-it-really-ironic-after-all-these-centuries snippy melancholy which pervades his scholarly work. Robers (an obvious Franklin C. Kitzis manqué if you must know) deserves his reputation, though perhaps we can with a wink-n-nudge admit to one another, right here and now, that that’s not meant solely as a compliment. Fa!
Oh, shit. Damn. That felt good. I can’t tell you how much I hate Frank Kitzis. And no, it’s not because he dated one of my grad school professors for a while and was cheating on her either before, during, or after the worst of all time guest lecture he gave in our SF-and-feminism class, which I think he actually had the stones to call ‘Criminal, Liminal, Subliminal: something something something Rosetti something something rape.’ I liked that class well enough for most of its run, but maybe it’s testament to every thinking human being’s overall feelings about grad school in the humanities – so long, fuckers – that that really is all I can remember of the talk’s title. And nothing whatsoever of the content. Kitzis had fashion hair, you know? The kind you’re supposed to look at and maybe notice without recognizing outwardly that you’re noticing it, like Wow that guy’s got Cool hair, it’s just messy, but then it’s only hours later you’re supposed to realize that he must’ve spent ten minutes and five dollars in product (people just call it ‘product’ now) to get his hair into that ‘artful’ dishevelment, only my curse – talk about First World Problems so to speak! – is that I always notice the time/’product’ costs of hairstyles right in the moment. Right there in that instant. Or like how someone’s courier bag is brand new but he’s walking around like he’s King Hardcore Biker of Bikerville, complete with the clip-in shoes and everything, but also brand-new sunglasses that he takes off super carefully because while he wants you to think he doesn’t care about the money, He cares. About. The Money. Wouldn’t you? That’s why they call it money.
Or how all the pronouns are ‘he’ and all the metaphors are balls this and stones that, and there’s some racism maybe, plus weird nationalism? And who actually thinks it’s awesome that spaceships look like dicks? I notice that stuff too. But since they severed my corpus callosum in the course of an otherwise routine cranial probe, prefatory to my first Saturn trip (boooooooring!), even when I see my worst impulses as if secondhand, even in moments of what pre-AI cultures called ‘self-awareness,’ I’m powerless to prevent such heedless action.
And you know what?
‘I’m a man,’ Crozan said, and aimed the laser blaster at Freia’s heart. ‘You’re a monster,’ she replied. Her eyes were defiant but she shrank back. Crozan laughed then. ‘A distinction without a difference, Your Highness.’ He pulled the trigger, and as warm blood splashed his handsome face – her blood, his lover’s blood, royal blood – he found that he could not stop laughing. He laughed and laughed, and in his triumph he grew larger, and darker, and more joyful…
I’m a monster.