Sunday, May 13, 2018

How I Came to Science Fiction


Recently my son Gabe gave me back a book of mine he found on his shelf: Andre Norton's Star Rangers. This was quite a cool "reunion" for me because not only was this the first book by Andre Norton that I read — I've been a huge fan of hers for over half a century and have read most of her many, many works! — Star Rangers was the very first book of science fiction I read.


I remember distinctly that it was my first SF book (not counting comic books . . . a "book book," in other words) because I recall very clearly how I came to read it. During 5th grade at St. Agnes School in San Francisco (that would have been 1963-1964) we kids had been reading the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. This was not part of our schoolwork; it was like we were a book group before we knew book groups were a thing. We just all read the Oz books together for fun. After we got through the Oz books — 14 by Baum — we moved on to read The Borrowers series by Mary Norton.

We ran out of Borrower books pretty quickly; there were only 5 novels. I then discovered that right next to the Borrower books in our school library was a novel by another Norton: Andre's Star Rangers. I remember being captivated by the cover image, a spaceman poised on a rock spur points to our right, silhouetted against a bright orange and scarlet sky. Here's that entrancing cover.


Well, my 11-year-old self found the story pretty entrancing too: a crew of military spacemen crashland on a planet far off their star charts and must learn to survive there. I was a tenderfoot Boy Scout and so living off the land was probably something much on my mind at that time. My father, a U.S. Army soldier during WWII, a member of the elite Philippine Scouts, had told me Army stories since I was quite a young child, so the military themes of duty and honor in Star Rangers must have been attractive to me as well.

After devouring Star Rangers, I began to seek out other SF writers in our school library as well as in our neighborhood public library and also in the library at the Presidio of San Francisco (my father was a retired Army officer and so I could borrow books from that library). It was a heady time, discovering H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov's I, Robot, Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars, Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, and many others. You'll notice that all of the authors named here are men; the SF field was dominated by men at that time and women often had to publish under male pseudonyms. In fact, Andre Norton is the pen name of Alice Mary Norton, who was eventually the first woman to be inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

Reading Star Rangers again now, what strikes me, given the US's current political climate vis-à-vis ethnicity and immigration, is the novel's central theme of racism and its ills: in this case, humans vs. "Bemmys" (i.e., nonhuman aliens). The phrase "Bemmy lover" even comes up in the story, a thinly disguised allusion to the phrase "n----r lover" that was current during the time I was reading Star Rangers, using the n-word to disparage European Americans who felt the oppression of African Americans was wrong and unjust. ("Bemmy" is a fascinating coinage, an acronym based on the contemporary phrase "Bug-Eyed Monster.")

When I first read Star Rangers as an 11-year-old, I'm fairly sure I didn't catch on to this theme. I hadn't yet personally encountered racism and discrimination as I would soon enough, in later years. However, I was certainly well aware of the presence of racial prejudice as something that came up in current events and was alluded to in my parents' dinner conversations, so the novel may well have piqued my interest in that regard somewhat. In any case, Star Rangers is an interesting read now, highlighting how in the 65 years since its 1953 publication our country has been unable to shed racism. "Make America Great Again," indeed.

Reading Andre Norton's Star Rangers at the age of 11 changed my life. I have loved science fiction ever since, in all its lovely and incandescent forms. That I am now the editor of Star*Line, the print journal of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association, comes directly from that moment.


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Ingat, everyone.  
 


Monday, April 30, 2018

Day 30 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2018


          S P O I L E R   A L E R T
          Do NOT read below this line
          if you have not yet seen the
          movie Avengers: Infinity War.

Maureen Thorson’s NaPoWriMo prompt: "write a poem that engages with a strange and fascinating fact. It could be an odd piece of history, an unusual bit of art trivia, or something just plain weird."

Robert Lee Brewer’s Poem-a-Day prompt: "write a closing time poem. Or another way of coming at this prompt is to write a poem in which something is coming to an end–like this month’s poetry challenge. Could be the end of a concert, an era, or whatever else must come to a close."

My "strange and fascinating fact" is only within the MCU, and it is more unbelievable rather than fascinating. Though fact it seems to be. Within canon, that is. And . . . "closing time," yes.

The End

Infinity War.
Can’t believe the casualties,
so many undone.
Thanos snaps his fingers. Death:
leaves, ash, drift in a soft breeze.

—Draft by Vince Gotera    [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]



Well, friends, another April's worth of poems done. Thanks for reading! See you next year.


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Ingat, everyone.   


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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Day 29 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2018


Maureen Thorson’s NaPoWriMo prompt: “Today, we’d like to challenge you to write a poem based on the Plath Poetry Project’s calendar. Simply pick a poem from the calendar, and then write a poem that responds or engages with your chosen Plath poem in some way.”

Robert Lee Brewer’s Poem-a-Day prompt: “write a response poem. Respond to whatever helps you get your poem written, but my thought is that you should respond to one of your poems from earlier in this challenge.”

My poem today is a response to this poem excerpt from the Plath Poetry Project: “The smile of iceboxes annihilates me. / Such blue currents in the veins of my loved one! / I hear her great heart purr.” (from “An Appearance” by Sylvia Plath). The combination of “iceboxes” and “purr” elicited a childhood memory.

Fifties Frigidaire

When I was around ten years old, I began to fear
the refrigerator in our kitchen on Woodland Avenue.

Some late Friday night, after my parents went to bed,
I watched the horror movie The Blob, which starred

a teenage-looking Steve McQueen, battling a monster
that moved like a humongous amoeba, dissolving

people left and right. Now, it’s all just cheesy schlock,
but to my ten-year-old brain, it was believable and

terrifying. How do you stop a giant gelatinous mass
that was both intelligent and hungry? Worst of all

was the gurgly hum The Blob would make, because
it was the exact noise that issued from our Frigidaire.

I couldn’t go into the dark kitchen for a midnight
snack because of that sound. And forget about jello!

I eventually got over it, but deep inside me a little boy
is afraid of the fridge. Watch out, it'll eat you! Glurg.

—Draft by Vince Gotera    [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

That was fun, wasn’t it? Here’s a movie poster for The Blob (1958), though it doesn’t match my remembrance because that time I saw the movie it was on a black-and-white TV in 1962.



And here’s a photo of the door of one of those old ’50s Frigidaires. That handle always intrigued me, so reminiscent of automobile design and car culture: opening the fridge felt like opening a car door.




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Ingat, everyone.   


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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Day 28 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2018


Maureen Thorson’s NaPoWriMo prompt: "we challenge you today to draft a prose poem in the form/style of a postcard."

Robert Lee Brewer’s Poem-a-Day prompt: "take the phrase '(blank) Wave,' replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and then, write your poem. Possible titles include: 'Tidal Wave,' 'Next Wave,' 'Friendly Wave,' 'Heat Wave,' and/or 'Sound Wave.' "

Here's a haiga, with a haiku on an image of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

>

Light Wave

curlicue necklace
of lights swings across the Bay
—starts playing leapfrog

—Draft by Vince Gotera    [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

I hope you enjoyed this poem/postcard, my first haiga!


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Friday, April 27, 2018

Day 27 ... NaPoWriMo / Poem-a-Day 2018


Maureen Thorson’s NaPoWriMo prompt: "we challenge you to pick a card (any card) from . . . the tarot, and then to write a poem inspired either by the card or by the images or ideas that are associated with it."

Robert Lee Brewer’s Poem-a-Day prompt: "write a story poem. Think of a story, could be a long, complicated, winding story, but for a poem, it may make more sense to make it a short, direct story."

Although I'm mainly clueless about the Tarot, I'm fascinated by The Hanged Man, who is typically imaged as hanging upside down, not hanged execution style.


Googling "the hanged man" I discovered this card drawn by Swedish artist Alexandra "Erkegris" Alexandersson. What intrigued me is that "the hanged man" is female and not upside down.


Frankly, I found this image a bit disturbing and decided to write today's story poem about it, undoing the execution vibe.

The Hanged Man

is not a man. She
floats, in a white silk dress, tied
to a huge oak tree.
Alex was at a cocktail
party, and then she woke here.

Hanging upside down
next to her, a dragon named
Alex too, somehow.
He wonders how this Alex
and he came to be here, now.

With a precise burst
of flame he burns through the rope.
Human Alex climbs
on Dragon Alex’s back,
and into teal sky they soar.

Alex and Alex,
white silk dress, jewel green scales,
seeking destiny,
knowledge: who they are and why.
Gold sun beckons, azure sky.

—Draft by Vince Gotera    [Do not copy or quote . . . thanks.]

For those interested in poetic craft, these are linked tanka in the traditional 5-7-5-7-7 syllable format. I'm aware that contemporary haiku and tanka writers in English generally do not follow the 5-7-5 patterns any more. To me, the 5-7-5 is a craft problem, a poetic puzzle: how to stick to the syllable count and yet still have purposeful line breaks; so, for example, while "she" at the end of my first line might seem over-enjambed, I've done it on purpose to emphasize the gender play in Alexandersson's card.


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