Man, I Am Harshing My Own Mellow

by Joe Coluccio, President, Parsec

Writing is a chore. Writing is a joy.
Reading is a joy. Reading is a chore.

It is 2016 yet; I have been living my life of the 21st Century smack dab in the middle of the 20th. I have been leading my life in the sphere of my parents. I am aware of the world buzzing around me. I am aware of the growing non-cognitive consumer commercial crassness enveloping the globe, the poor in the thrall of the wealthy. I also know it was always thus. Been, to offer the other side of my titular cliche, down so long, looks like up to me.

body snatchersThe 1950s through the 1960s turn is not “Happy Days” to me. They were the decades when I came of age. Post World War II optimism tinged with a the shadowing spectre of economic depression and wrapped in the sure knowledge we would blow our middling selves apart with a searing world-ending thermonuclear explosion. My thrifty inner mother tells me to save the plastic sandwich bag for multiple use. My burning eyes still envision the beautiful bulbous mushroom shapes on the horizon.

It is passing strange, from the beginning, Science Fiction has been there for me. Has guided me down many an interesting path. Some wrong. A few so right it is hard to calculate.

In reflection, it is even more bizarre, more outré than a dense dark collapsing star, that reality shines strong from works born in imagination and considered by so many as frivolous pie-in-the-sky entertainment. I suspect many members of Parsec, know that fact as well as I do.

In America, we live in an age tempered by a practicality brought long ago from the Old World to our teetering New World. The pious dream was of the New Jerusalem. Pesky natives, not members of the Twelve Tribes, could be eliminated.  To make matters worse damn “furiners”, alien breeds, kept straggling onto our shores, badgering us to become a part of our paradise. We have been building walls so long Robert Frost might want to reconsider what makes a good neighbor.

Stories, then, as now are our salvation. Speculation, consideration, imagination and a good dollop of satire and self-parody are in order. We could do worse than sit around a campfire to speak the beauty and horror of the cosmos on a chilly night when the stars are bright.

I can’t even step into the same river once

– by Joe Coluccio, President Parsec
Tarnished Utopia Starling StoriesTurns out you can’t go home again. At least, not often. Kinda like stepping into the same river twice. So, when I revisit books that have been on my shelves for years, I believe it is not an act of nostalgia but a deepening of my life experience. Sometimes the magic does not happen.

From 1950 to 1961 Herbert L. Gold, editor of Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine started a series of forty-one digest sized novels of science fiction. Some of them not too shabby. Many of them abridged. C.L. Moore’s “Shambleau”, L. Sprague de Camp’s “Lest Darkness Fall,” Hal Clement’s  “Mission of Gravity,” Eric Frank Russell’s “Sinister Barrier,”  Arthur C. Clarke’s “Prelude to Space,” and on the list goes. A complete index is available online – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galaxy_Science_Fiction_Novels.

The one I thought was the most romantic, the most astonishing, was Malcolm Jameson’s “Tarnished Utopia (1956).”Tarnished Utopia
I read it to shreds. Planned whole series of dreams based on it. You all know how well that works out. My psyche was as unreliable then as it is now. I picked up a copy of old Galaxy #27 at a thrift store some years ago and rushed home to read it. Began to have serious doubts about my twelve-year-old sense of the aesthetic. As I read, I became convinced that some foul being, perhaps from a parallel universe, placed a substitute copy of the pulp pages within the thin paperback cover, I so innocently scooped up. A copy that had none of the virtue of the original. The pages fell from my eyes, each one a dolorous tear rolling toward the floor.

This spring I have been liberating the tumbling stacks of books that fill the basement. To the thrift stores, they shall return. I really don’t know what to do with the cuneiform tablets of Gilgamesh crumbling at the far edge of the garage. Selecting which volume will stay and which must leave is much like trying to decide which property you have to sell off to your odious money bags competition to remain whole in a game of monopoly. “The Handbook of Casaba Mellon Facial Art” was a particular trial.

Utopia, Tarnished or not, and the rest of the Galaxy group, I have managed to acquire, remain under a stack of SF Mags I should set free. I stopped mid morning from my book wrangling and began to read. A period of thirty or more years, more than the time between my twelve-year-old and my thirty-something disillusioned encounter, has wiped all affection and memory of the Jameson novel. The story of two somnambulists, Allan Winchester, and Cynthia Schnachelbauer escape into a bomb shelter during a Munich bombing, WWII. They eat, so it seems, the perfect food that will sustain a body for centuries. The unfortunate side effect is they also must sleep for a concomitant thousand years and awake to a land in the thrall of a regime as repulsive as the Third Reich. I am on Chapter Three and contemplating swallowing some of the perfect Mad German Scientist Gelatin that surely must exist along with unlabelled can goods on one back metal shelf above the Radial Arm Saw at the rear of the garage. The machine and circular saw dado blade set will require a powerful oil and clean when I beat back the surrounding paperback avalanche. After my delicious repast and Van Winkle nap, all my books will have crumbled to dust and with an application of the 31st Century version of the Roomba, I can quickly clean the entire lower level.

We’re captive on the carousel of time

Digs.Kennywood1951008

Pinned against the wall by three times the Earth’s gravitational pull. Above me, a boy is beginning to squirm and contort his body so his feet will replace the position of his head. When we slow down his noggin will melt toward the floor. The clown beside him looks like he is running, one knee up, the other behind. His hair plastered against the padded grey wall. End of the school year 1957 on “The Rotor” a quick stroll down and three tickets from the Wild Mouse. Kennywood Park.

Ever heard of Colonel John Stapp?  I strove to emulate him while pressed into the rotating wall. Several times I would return to the “Rotor” to experience my high “G” take off on a rocket to the moon. Later, toward evening, I soared, freefall, in the Flash Gordon Silver Rocket Ships over the lake. Among stars and galaxies and nebulae lit across the sky. Reflected in the black water below.

I didn’t break one bone in my body that day. Can’t say what happened to the upside down kid. Some say Stapp broke every bone in his body. No, he was not a sideshow daredevil flying over a parking line of cars. Just a guy who believed we soon would fly beyond the atmosphere strapped to a cylinder filled with volatile igniting chemicals struggling to thrust beyond the universal gravity that grips us to the earth.

What would happen to the human body? Aerospace Medicine Doctor Stapp set out to track down the answer. He became “the fastest man on earth” by buckling himself to a sled on a track in the desert. Fired off a row of rocket engines attached to the rear. He eventually achieved a speed that pressed 42 torturing G’s against his body. BUT. It wasn’t the speed that interested him. It was the stopping. The vehicle carrying him went from 632 mph to a wrenching stop in a cushion of water in 1.4 seconds. It could give you two black eyes. Not to mention a deviated septum. Made Stapp blind for ten days.

He was swung high and fast from a chair into a beam. Was rocket thrust up a track of steel. Was dropped to the ground in a seat rig. First rule, you don’t have human volunteers do what you won’t do yourself. Flew in a jet airplane less a cockpit canopy at 540 mph to enjoy the breeze.In June and August of 1957, Stapp directed a project which sent three high-altitude balloons to the edge of space. Lt David G Simons sealed in an aluminum capsule, reached an altitude of 102,000 feet (19miles) before he bumped back to Earth thirty-two hours later. All endeavors in the name of medical research. All stretching the limits of human endurance. Risking fragile mortality. Stapp’s data helped prepare for Alan Shepard’s quick jaunt into outer space and all of Mercury that followed.

I cry when I get a splinter in my finger. I felt in mortal danger the day an errant particle scratched the cornea of my eye. I’d like to think, after my early flight training, I might whiz around on an aerospace centrifuge, the granddaddy of amusement park rides until I pass out. Anyway, I don’t sleep all that well anymore. When I do nod off, I  visit and revisit some of the far reaches of outer space. You should see what is beyond our parochial galactic cluster.
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Book Signing at CopyLeft Gallery, May 13

PARSEC SF/F/H BOOK SIGNING   ♦   May 13, 2016   ♦   6:00-10:00 pm

COPYLEFT GALLERY

127 Brownsville Road, Pittsburgh, PA, 15210

starchildDoors into other universes exist in the tales of novels by ten local, science fiction, fantasy and horror authors. Parsec, the premier speculative fiction organization in Pittsburgh, will host this multi-author book signing and party. Come see our world!

The event is free and open to the public. No registration or RSVP necessary.

Venue is wheelchair accessible.

Authors: Stephanie Keyes; Timons Esaias; Heidi Ruby Miller; Jason Jack Miller (more to be announced)

Dune, but not forgotten.

by Joe Coluccio, Parsec President

dune

I’m the kind of dope that spent one whole summer seated at the dilapidated picnic table in my backyard. A true pain in the ass to swing your legs over the bench seats and under the rain worn planks. Breathe a sigh of relief and realize you are trapped in a leg lock that prevents you from getting up to answer the phone which is in the pocket of your jacket in the dining room and rings the minute you settle in. A deep thirst envelops you, and there is no easy way to hop to the refrigerator to get a cold drink. Then the pressure in your bladder forces you to stand, untangle your twisted legs and slip on the grass as you move in a frenetic drum tattoo to the bathroom for relief. And I think it’s gonna rain today. Continue reading

So Long, Mom and Dad, I’ve Got A Living to Give

by Joe Coluccio, Parsec President
20th Sunday-01I’ve been obsessed with books on popular science for as long as I can remember. As a toddler, I carried a copy of Fred Hoyle’s “Frontiers of Astronomy” in the back pocket of my diaper. Willy Ley’s “Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel” in the front basket of my bike.  “One, Two, Three… Infinity” by George Gamow tucked away under the covers of the Latin Mass Missal Sunday mornings. The Abbé Georges Lemaître meant a whole lot more to me than did Father Gildea at St. Joe’s swinging a boat of choking incense to cleanse the altar. Those books contained and informed the totality of my imagination. They were each a sweet adventure. Continue reading

Jeepers Creepers Where’d Ya Get Them Peepers

by Joe Coluccio, Parsec President

gorts-eyeMy old man, a fierce, brave, two-fisted sort of a guy, turned to a quavering shake of fear on the viewing of “The Hands of Orlac” or “The Beast with Five Fingers.” “Something scares the hell out of me,” he told me one candid day, “about a disembodied hand crawling around on the floor.” Lord, knows what he thought about the five fingertip spider ramble of the Adams Family’s “Thing.” Continue reading

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to the 4th Century BCE

by Joe Coluccio, Parsec President
Alphaville Spectacle is the last of the six components of tragedy according to Aristotle in Poetics. In order of importance are Plot, Character, Thought (here’s one Hollywood seems to miss altogether), Diction, Song (or melody – got to have a chorus, of cour-us.) Yeah, I know, it says tragedy, but when comedy and tragedy are the choices in drama, today’s “serious” SF films fall under the rubric of “tragedy. When I get enough energy to shuffle off to a movie theater, the films I am doomed to view only manage to present spectacle. The argument that special effects and noise are the only things that bring in the money are pretty poor ones from almost any but the point of view of corporate greed. If I see one more, confusing transformation of a mobile vehicle to autonomous alien simulacrum or the cranking view of explosions in the workings of the internal combustion engine, I may turn my drinking from a sipping glass of Jack in the evening to a quart of 10W30. Continue reading

Bleak and White

by Joe Coluccio, Parsec President
Einstein_tongue For what it’s worth. Somethin’s happenin’ here. I’ve come across it too many times. Whisking through a series of internet sites, on the prowl for an interesting bit of information. My eyes drawn to an image from the turn of the Nineteenth Century, or in the second or third decade of the Twentieth. It’s subtle enough. A dab of dull red, washed out green, faded orange. The likeness of a newsstand in the center of a busy street filled with garish three colored pulp magazines, or Mark Twain with pink cheeks, or Bonnie, in a chartreuse dress and Clyde in gray spats over black shoes on the running board of a red tinted automobile, grinning out from behind a brace of guns. All, I am told, to give me an “actual” view of history. To re-envision the past. Continue reading