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In the looking glass

I was born six hours short of the new year in 1944. There, now you know how old I am.

My birthday, the last day of the year, troubled me for years. I entered public schools old enough that my peers (though they never had the gumption to question it aloud) wondered if I was held back because my grades toppled to the sub-basement inhabited by deficient students and reprobates. I can now reply, I was an above average student, neither genius nor dolt. There, now you know how smart I am.

I found myself out of place and out of time. A year behind the brave new world of my friends. They marched in joyful lock-step into a future that promised a whole bunch of some vague contentment. I was not a part of the new exciting dance of the Mid-twentieth Century. I was obscured in the dust of an expiring age. Too late for one era and too early for another. The oldest son-of-a-bitch in elementary school.  Unable to join in the fun of the party.

Third grade, I discovered the absolute marvel of science fiction. My fellow students were bound on a journey to become the cream of the crop, the apple of society’s eye. Gray flannel, white collared providers of the social order. I chose to live in a science fiction cosmos unbound in all dimension. Aware of the dystopian. Involved in the outré. Challenged by the surreal. Aware of wonder. Bathed in the mystery. I began to understand my date of birth indicated an avant grade, not a rear guard.

astroundingmagazine-otrcat.comScience Fiction from 1926 until the beginning of the 1960’s, filled with many of the dire cosmic warnings we find so troubling today, was optimistic. Comets plowed into the earth. Stars crashed into one another. Galaxies collided. Beaches in the twilight hours before the last days filled with our sightless crawling descendants would in short order be snuffed by an engorged sun. Blasters and ray guns gave way to tractor and pulser beams that lit the dark of space with a purple pulsing prose. Time travelers and UFO’s landed in obscure parts of the terrestrial globe by the score. Somehow, through the pages of cataclysm, we all survived to become stronger and whole

Hugo Gernsback, deep in love with the idea of technological change, created a magazine, “Amazing Stories.” Dedicated to the amateur tinkerer who hoisted on personal bootstraps and innovative invention, showed the way to the new world order. Gernsback called this new kind of literature scientifiction. He, without shame, stated scientifiction, which was hitherto created by scientists who experimented in fiction, would take on the new role of creating a new breed of scientists who practiced science created by fiction.

John W Campbell pushed the rolling slug further down the path. Somewhere along the line, while he and his writer’s were perfecting the fiction side of the equation, he became involved with several movements that stressed a new human potential. Alfred Korzybski and the time-bound General Semantics included in A.E. Van Vogt’s Worlds of Null-A. The Rhines at Duke University flashing cards of telepathic impressions portrayed in endless tales of telekinesis and fearful mind reading überfolks. The science fiction writer Damon Knight claimed would disappear off into the desert of the American West never to be heard of again. The creator of Campbell’s most deep dip off the end of the pier, the science fiction writer who created Dianetics, L. Ron Hubbard. Campbell wore out the e-meters of his writers and his readers.

All in the name of an enhanced zeitgeist. I found it an exciting and dangerous time to come of age. Full of energy, hope, and a sense of overwhelming grand destiny. SO. Where did it all go wrong?