Dagnab that flibbertigibbet

by Joe Coluccio

Gort_Klaatu_KlingonLanguage lives and is far too vital to be ossified in a graveyard of grammar books, the commercial guidelines of publishing house editors, or in the strictures of those who claim to hold our key to linguistic structure.

If it isn’t obvious by now, I will point out that my tack is toward descriptive, not predictive language. Grammar and word usage should not be something akin to a literal interpretation of the Bible. All rules passed from on high applied by tightening fingers around your stiff starched collar.

On the other hand (four fingers and a thumb, a friend of mine would say every time he was faced with a dilemma) I dislike common parlance and works of fiction that insist on peppering speech, prose, or script with the topical phrases, mostly gathered from popular movies and television, which rise then fall with the depressing regularity of a row of rotating sheet metal ducks at a busy bee bee gun gallery. It’s kinda like using a cellophane wrapped greeting card to express your emotion. I guess you could say that I dislike it big time, bro.

I believe that one of the important concepts of writing and reading is novelty. I’m not sure what I make of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, but I love the fact the end of the Wake, “A way a lone a last a loved a” wraps back around to the beginning sentence “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s…” Ouroboros. Eternal Return. World Without End, Amen. I like the fact that the very words of the story carry as much meaning as the story structure. And many thanks to Murray Gell-Mann who discovered quarks then drove the name from Joyce’s elementary text into the sea of our language. “Three quarks for Muster Mark! Sure he hasn’t got much of a bark. And sure any he has it’s all beside the mark.” Strange and Charmed. It is all great fun. Great fun is important. Maybe more important than you think.

Science fiction, full of neologism and wacky meme, from its pulp roots, seems the best place to find novelty. Darko Suvin, who would most likely disagree with everything I think about the importance of the pulp origins of SF, describes the field by what he calls “cognitive estrangement” the presence of a “novum,” a novel device, that leads us to conceive our world in a different way.

“Ninety percent of everything is crap,’ observed Theodore Sturgeon. Ninety percent of crap may reveal everything of value. It’s a grand feeling to throw off the pristine uniform and wallow in the muck.


by Joe Coluccio, President, Parsec

As I look at the trees in my backyard, I am transported in an instantaneous mind snap to a younger time. This one is for Tom, who tells me the only desire that SF stirs in him is to be transported. Scotty was only interested in getting the cast down to the planet surface to advance the story. Gully Foyle jaunted and transformed. Perhaps this is the telling difference between a visual narrative and a written/read tale.

I can tell you to transport in time and in space only takes a scent, or a sound, or a fleeting glimpse. I can tell you that memory is reality. As much as the moment you inhabit now. I can also tell you that the spiritual journey that leads to the shadow of memory is travel in time and transport in space. No mechanism required.

moonrocket_tall  I can’t tell you which synapse takes my whole psyche back to a dreaming childhood. Each summer when I gaze up through the backyard trees at dabs of green and sun flashing yellows and deep emeralds filling the branches. A clearing blue sky with billow white clouds. I am transported. All because of the moment and a paint by numbers kit portraying the Disneyland Moon Rocket located in Tomorrowland. Proust had his crumb of madeleine. I have the swaying leaves resembling colors in plastic pots of paint, the scratch of a hard brush in my hand against the feel of a stiff cardboard canvas, combining outlines guided by numbers. I find my way out of my yard into the painting. A quick slip and a trip to the Moon.

It is some of the wonder of Science Fiction that the parts of the Disney parks that age most quickly are those that posit a vision of Tomorrow. That often SF special effects set a film in a previous decade, as surely as Twiggy and Carnaby Street or the bisecting gymnasium pool in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” That Crashing Suns and Captain Future only are left with some nostalgic value. The future, the supposed realm of science fiction, remains, no matter how solemnly you interpret Nostradamus or revel in the words of Jean Dixon, thankfully, potential. Sure, once in a while even the least of us seems a prophet. What we imagine is far too important to be relegated to simple prophecy. Visions from the past mock our present which is the past future revealed.

Are black holes nothing but two dimensions? Is our consciousness in lock step with the quantum universe? Is the pinpoint of light in the sky an alien visitation. Is there anti-entropy? Is Soylent Green people?  Are we greater than the sum total of our parts? Did Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe have a kid?

Can I transport from my Inner Reaches to the Outer Limits? To Tomorrowland in a blot of paint or a glance at the sky?

You betcha I can. You come, too.

Wilbur, Chic and the Gang

by Joe Coluccio, President Parsec

abbottcostellofrankenstein“How dare you resemble someone I despise?” says the passing woman as she slaps Lou Costello, who, unassuming and innocent, is waiting at the bottom of the tenement stairs for the return of Bud Abbot  You laugh, but that’s funny. Every bit as funny as The Susquehanna Hat Company and the tragedy that occurred at Niagara Falls. No bout a doubt it. I meally rean it. Bud and Lou are two of my comedy faves.

In succession, from 1948 to 1955, Abbot and Costello met the whole of the famous Universal Horrors. “Frankenstein,” “The Killer, Boris Karloff,” “The Invisible man,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and “The Mummy.” Both Horror and Comedy are treated with respect in the films.

In the first of the movies Abbot (Wilbur Grey) and Costello (Chick Young) meet Frankenstein, they also meet Béla Lugosi, in the only film where he repeats his role of Dracula and Lon Chaney Jr. As Larry Talbot, The Wolf Man. “Even a man who is pure of heart, and says his prayers at night, may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the moon is full and bright!” After The Wolfman and Dracula fall into the sea, and the Frankenstein Monster succumbs yet again to a fiery demise, and all is right with the world, the disembodied voice of The Invisible Man (Vincent Price) disappears as a cigarette floating in the air.

As the series progresses, the monster gag becomes a little frayed, but the happenings are always more than a ton of fun. Even when the duo meets the Mummy, which is the weakest of the five films, has a clever chase sequence with three rag wrapped Egyptian princes.

I can’t help myself. Every once in a horror I grab the entire four volume DVD set (27 seven films) of “The Best of Abbot and Costello” off the shelf and watch them all over a period of a few days. When I get to the Universal horrors, like a comedy/horror freak zombie with a weak will and a powerful sense of nostalgia, I find copies to watch of Martin and Lewis in “Scared Stiff,” Bob Hope in “The Cat and the Canary” and “The Ghost Breakers.” Even “The Three Stooges “Have Rocket Will Travel” and “in Orbit.” Finally, I celebrate Halloween watching “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Once in a particularly virulent strain of my horror/comedy disorder, I also viewed the classic, Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo blockbuster “Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.”

I was found babbling, much as Renfield, “ Abbot and Costello try to fly to Mars and end up in New Orleans. The Stooges accidentally end up on Venus. What cruel conspiratorial creatures on Mars are clouding our minds. Were Welles and Wells right? Did I hear the news correctly? Was there a landing in Grover’s Mills this morning? I sov you low much”

Friends and family dragged me away from the TV set and put me on a strict diet of more substantial fare. Did you know there are four more Antoine Doinel movies after “The 400 Blows?”

Switch Hitter Boucher

by Joe Coluccio

Rocket to the MorguejpgAnthony Boucher was a switch hitter.

One day he’d bat for the sf genre and the next for the mystery genre. There are others who have played in both gardens, Isaac Asimov one of them, but none so complete and successful as William Anthony Parker White, which, after all, was his real moniker. In the mystery world there is the legacy of annual Bouchercon, named after him, and in the SF world, there is the legacy of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine.

Boucher’s writings were full of wit and whimsy. I always take my humor laying down with a hand holding my belly jiggle steady, sometimes it’s even my own. Take “Rocket to the Morgue” (yes, I know, Please!), a mixed genre piece where you find the thinly disguised likes of Robert A Heinlein, John W Campbell Jr, L Ron Hubbard, Henry Kuttner, Julius Schwartz, Edmond Hamilton and Jack Williamson, and a murder, in a locked room. The novel was written under the nom de plume, H. H. Holmes, a name that will live in infamy as one of America’s first serial killers. Chicago circa 1893. In turn, Holmes was the alias of Herman Webster Mudgett. Ain’t fiction and real crime complicated? which White, ehhr,  Boucher, uhh, Holmes used as a pen name for some of his verse.  For a closer view of Holmes the killer, read Erik Larson’s “The Devil in the White City” or Allan W. Eckert’s “The Scarlet Mansion.”

Boucher is also responsible for, “Join the Science Fiction Book Club for just a dollar and receive,”A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, Volume One and Volume Two.””
Here is a complete list of the stories contained therein:

Volume One

SF vol1Re-Birth by John Wyndham (novel).
The Shape of Things That Came by Richard Deming.
Pillar of Fire by Ray Bradbury.
Waldo by Robert A. Heinlein.
The Father-Thing by Philip K. Dick.
The Children’s Hour by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore.
Gomez by C. M. Kornbluth.
The [Widget], The [Wadget], and Boff by Theodore Sturgeon.
Sandra by George P. Elliott.
Beyond Space and Time by Joel Townsley Rogers.
The Martian Crown Jewels by Poul Anderson.
The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt (novel)

Volume Two

SF vol2Brain Wave: Poul Anderson (novel)
Bullard Reflects: Malcolm Jameson
The Lost Years: Oscar Lewis
Dead Center: Judith Merril
Lost Art: George O. Smith
The Other Side of the Sky: Arthur C. Clarke
The Man Who Sold the Moon: Robert A. Heinlein
Magic City: Nelson S. Bond
The Morning of the Day They Did It: E. B. White
Letters from Laura: Mildred Clingerman
The Stars My Destination: Alfred Bester (novel)

I believe this anthology, 1959, may have been my first entry into serious SF. It was a great beginning.  Helped make The Stars My Destination!

But wait, there’s more. Boucher reviewed mysteries for both the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times and was also involved in radio drama. He provided hundreds of scripts for “The Adventures of Ellery Queen,” and plots for many of the Sherlock Holmes radio programs. In 1949, he created his own show “The Casebook of Gregory Hood.” All are available for download or audio streaming at the Internet Archive.

In 1948, he, and J. Francis McComas created “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.” He stayed on as editor until 1958. By all accounts, he was an exacting editor. William F Nolan says, “Tony was a “tough sell” due to the strict, exacting standards of quality he imposed; for me, getting a story into F&SF was akin to cracking The New Yorker.”

Much of Anthony Boucher’s work is extant. Even a collection of his mystery reviews for the San Francisco Chronicle from 1942 -1947. A search on the internet will clue you. If you’re like me, you could, and probably, have done worse. He’s a little bit SF; he’s a little bit Mystery. Who says you can’t step into different rivers at the same time? Some pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, or a Sanskrit guru on the hill, I’ll bet.

Swimming the Lucinda River

The-Swimmer-1968-MovieSeems I have been on a quest, circling the science fiction and fantasy whirlpool in a distant, yet interesting manner. On the periphery, far away from the madding bustle, I’ve been reminded of some quirky works of film and literature that don’t fit into any category. They are moving, deep, wonderful, and, at times, disturbing experiences.

In 1968, Burt Lancaster starred in a film, The Swimmer, directed by Frank Perry from a screenplay by Eleanor Perry adapted from a 1964 short story by John Cheever that appeared in The New Yorker. How’s that for SF? Neddy Merrill, who has been away for a time, appears in a bathing suit at a summer cocktail party in an upper-class suburb of New York City. As he schmoozes with his former friends who are surprised and happy to see him, he talks about his wife and kids, then looks across the well-maintained community landscape, dotted with homes and lawns and swimming pools. He realizes he can swim home, which is miles away, by stroking across the line of his neighbor’s backyard pools that form what he calls the Lucinda River, in honor of his wife. Ned jumps into the pool, energetically swims from one end to the other, and leaves his friends behind. He navigates the River for the rest of the film. I will reveal no more.

It is quite an experience to take the journey with Ned. Each step reveals part of the mystery of Ned that grows but is never addressed directly. It is the kind of quest story you find in fantasy stories. In a certain sense, the film reads like an episode of The Twilight Zone. There is a cameo performance by Joan Rivers and an appearance by John Garfield’s son. Sydney Pollack (uncredited) was brought in to direct some of the scenes. You can stream “The Swimmer” as an Amazon rental. It is also available on Blu-ray and standard disc. Or come out to my house and we can have a glass of wine and watch. There once was a single swimming pool in the neighborhood so that we will be landlocked. Unless, of course, we empty a line of vino bottles up to Frankstown Road.

I cut the cable, but I didn’t cut the intertubes, oh no-o

by Joe Coluccio – President, Parsec
Apologies to Bob Marley.
Joe Hollodck
Cable TV is a seductive mate. We pay the exorbitant price not only in hard earned bucks but in some loss of self and a dose of atrophying physical and mental ability.

Newton Minow, then director of the FCC, in a speech in May of 1961 called television a “vast wasteland.” They named the S.S. Minnow of Gilligan’s Island after him. Telling it like it is, is never popular. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

We’re captive on the carousel of time


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. Continue reading