Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, November 23, 2020


 Openers:   Petrified with astonishment, Richard Seaton stared after the copper steam-bath upon which he had been electrolyzing his solution of "X," the unknown metal.  For as soon as he had removed the beaker the heavy bath had jumped endwise from under his hand as though it were alive.  It had flown with terrific speed over the table, smashing apparatus and bottles of chemicals on its way, and was even now disappearing through the open window.  He seized his prism binoculars and focused them upon the flying vessel, a speck in the distance.  Through the glass he saw that it did not fall to the ground, but continued on a straight line, only its rapidly diminishing size showing the enormous velocity with which it was moving.  It grew smaller and smaller. and in a few seconds disappeared utterly.

The chemist turned as though in a trance.  How as this?  The copper bath he had used for months was gone -- gone like a shot, except for an electric shock and a few drops of the unknown solution.  He looked at the empty space where it had stood, at the broken glass covering his laboratory table, and again stared out the window.

He was aroused from his stunned inaction by the entrance of his colored laboratory helper, and silently motioned him to clean up the wreckage.

"What's happened, Doctah?" asked the dusky assistant.

"Search me, Dan.  I wish I knew, myself," responded Seaton, absently, lost in wonder at the incredible phenomena of which he had just been a witness.

-- Edward Elmer Smith, in collaboration with Lee Hawkins Garby, The Skylark of Space(from Amazing Stories, August 1928)

Thus the world was introduced to Richard Seaton, who used the above discovery to propel the first inter-stellar spaceship.  The Skylark of Space first appeared as a three-part serial 1928 in Amazing Stories and led to three sequels, Skylark Three (Amazing Stories, August through September 1930), Skylark of Valeron (Astounding Stories, August 1934 through February 1945, and Skylark DuQuesne, (If, June through October 1965).  The first three volumes were published in book form in the late Forties by two early science fiction small presses; from 1958 through 1965, the four books were issued as mass-market paperbacks from Pyramid Books.  Bringing the sage to a much wider reading audience.

Smith soon became E. E. Smith, preferring the initials of his first and middle names.  Smith was a food chemist working mainly on doughnuts -- a somewhat unglamorous calling for a man who would become known as the "Father of Space Opera" -- and when magazine editor Hugo Gernsbach added "PhD." to his byline, Smith became known affectionately as "Doc" Smith to his fans.

Smith's co-author was the wife of a school-friend of Smith's and who helped smith with the manuscript (mainly with dialogue and "other people things."  Over the years, Garby's name vanished from the book.

The Skylark books were wonders of imagination for their time.  Super-inventions, space battles with the fate of worlds hanging in the balance, a villain everyone could hate, a clean-cut hero with a small group of friends fighting for goodness and decency against impossible odds, planets conquered or destroyed...throw in a bit of racism common in that time and a rather demeaning view of women (again common at that time) and you have a hit with the (mostly) young, (mostly) male readers of science fiction at the time.

Smith went on to pen the Lensmen series, which, in the first four to appear, at least, showed his powers to out-do, out-imagine, out-thrill, and out-destroy worlds in a galaxies-expanding battle of good over evil as alien races use entire galaxies in their war with each other.  The series, planned by Smith as The History of Civilization included Triplanetary (magazine version, 1934; book publication, 1948), First Lensman (no magazine version; book publication, 1950), Galactic Patrol (magazine version, 1937-1938; book publication, 1950), Gray Lensman (magazine version, 1939-1940; book publication, 1951), Second-Stage Lensman (magazine version, 1941-1942; book publication, 1953), and Children of the Lens (magazine version, 1947-1948; book publication, 1954).

As the science fiction field matured, Smith's writing did not.  His star (and his writing powers) began to decline.  His reputation as a pioneer in the space opera field remained and his personality helped keep his name alive.  Following Smith's retirement from his day job in 1957, he returned to space opera, but his work during this period lacked the verve of his earlier work.  Yet, because of the paperback reprints of earlier novels, Smith was popular once again.  

Smith died in 1965.  Beginning in 1976, a number of books using Smith's characters began to appear.  William B. Ellern wrote a sequel to the Skylark series, followed by three more sequels by David Kyle. and a fifth sequel (published only in Japan) by Hideyuki Furuhashi,  Arthur Lloyd Eshbach wrote a sequel to Smith's singleton Subspace Explorers. which appeared under Smith's mane only in 1978. Stephen Goldin published 10 books in the Famkly D'Alembert saga from 1976 to 1985, basing the books on unpublished notes by Smith.  Gordon Eklund likewise contributed four books from 1978 to 1980 in the Lord Tedric series, based on a 1953 Smith short story.  E. Everett Evans (uncredited) helped to flesh out Smith's 1961-1962 Masters of Space stories for a 1976 book publication.  Although these books appeared to sell well, they did little to maintain or expand his reputation.

Smith's Lensman series had an acknowledge influence on the Navy's Combat Information Centers.  In addition, "literary precursors of ideas which arguably entered the military-scientific complex include SDI (Triplanetary), stealth (Gray Lensman), the OODA Loop, C3-based warfare, and the AWACS (Gray Lensman).   

Many science fiction writers have cited Smith as a major influence, most notably Robert A. Heinlein.  One of the first computer games, Spacewar!, was influenced by the Lensman series.  Smith served as Guest of Honor at the 2nd World Science Fiction Convention in 1940.  The 21st World Science Fiction Convention in 1963 presented Smith with the inaugural First Fandom Hall of Fame award.  He was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2004.

Today, Smith's books are important reading only to give one an understanding of how the science fiction field developed,


  • Piers Anthony, How Precious Was That While.  The second volume of the best-selling fantasy author's autobiography, following 1988's Bio of an Ogre.  The book begins with some early incidences in Anthony's life, but the majority of the book covers the fifteen years after Bio of an Ogre was written.  I've thumbed through the book and the sections about his fellow writers seems very interesting.  Anthony's full name is Piers Anthony Jacobs, by the way. 
  • Mike W. Barr & Jerry Bingham, Batman:  Son of the Demon.  Original graphic novel from 1987, an early release from DC Comics.  Batman has just stopped a coordinated robbery of a Gotham chemical plant, but has been wounded by a bullet and was dropped in the very polluted Gotham River and has collapsed on his way back to Wayne Manor.  He was rescued by Talia, the daughter of Ra's al Ghul.  There's a murder of a top scientist, a threat to control the weather, and a monstrous killer call Qayin.  Batman, Talia, and Ra's al Ghul call a truce and join forces to stop Qayin and the mad dictator who is supporting him.  Along the way, Batman marries (Holy Matrimonial Bliss, Batman!) and, by golly!, gets her pregnant.  There's battles and action galore.  Batman becomes a worried father-to-be and...
  • Lyle Blackburn, editor, Rue Morgue Magazine's Monstro Bizarro:  An Essential Manual of Mysterious Monsters.  Just what the title says: a teenaged cryptid lover's assortment of articles, photos, myth, and nonsense about such monsters as Ogopogo, the Mongolian Death Worm, and the Bishopville Lizard Man.  Sometimes it's just good to sit back with a collection of mindless fluff and wonder, Wouldn't it be cool if...
  • Ellen Datlow, editor, Blood is Not Enough.  Vampire anthology with, 17 stories -- 10 original to this volume.  Authors include Dan Simmons, Fritz Leiber, Harlan Ellison, Tanith Lee, Joe Haldeman, and Edward Bryant.   Datlow's anthologies are always worthwhile.
  • William Campbell Gault, Come Die with Me.  The fourth (out of fourteen) Brock Callahan mystery.  "Brock 'the Rock' Callahan, the former L.A. Rams guard turned private eye, is hired by a statuesque beauty.  She wants to find out if her jockey husband is playing the field.  But Callahan doesn't get far.  The jockey's career is cut short when he ends up on the business end of a twelve-inch carving knife.  Was it the wife?  The wife's millionaire daddy?  Or the jockey's mob-connected girlfriend?  The only thing for certain is that whoever snuffed the little guy left a pint-sized stiff and a sordid collection of suspects -- all odds-on favorites."

A Holiday Tradition Via Mama Stamberg:  One thing NPR listeners look forward to every year is Susan Stamberg's "Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish," a recipe Stamberg has been sharing with NPR since 1971.  It turns out this very popular dish was not created by Stamberg's late mother-in-law, but originated in a 1959 recipe by Craig Clairborne.  (When Stamberg discovered this fact, she contacted Clairborne, who said he was delighted that the recipe had gotten "more mileage" than almost anything he had printed.) 

The relish is tangy and delicious.  If you haven't made it a part of your Thanksgiving tradtion, perhaps it's time you did.

The recipe and a bit of its history follows:

Addams Family Values:  In the 1993 movie, Wednesday Addams (Christina Ricci) is sent to camp with her brother.  Bad mistake.  During a play presented for the campers' parents, Wednesday deconstructs the origin and meaning of Thanksgiving  Enjoy:


Stan's View:  The events leading up to and including the first Thanksgiving, as seen by the great Stan Freberg:

Why I Don't Like Thanksgiving Week During a Pandemic:  There's no school.

The house should be quiet with just Kitty, myself, and the damncat.  But there's a pandemic and Christina is quarantined until the 30th with Mark.  Which means that Jack is staying with us.  Eight-year-old Jack.  Over-active eight-year-old Jack.  **sigh**

I have to keep interrupting writing this post to play Avengers with him.  (If I don't play, the consequences are dire.)  How do you play Avengers?  Well you take about a gazillion old Avengers toys from McDonald's Happy Meals and divide them into teams.  I get two and Jack gets all the others.  Then we fight and Jack knocks my men over and wins.  If I happen to knock over one of Jack's men, that means I'm cheating and it doesn't count.   I think Jack got these rules from Donald Trump.  Anyway, we play over and over and over again and I always lose.  Doesn't matter.  I'm not as invested in this game as Jack is.  We play the game for a half hour or son until Jack is distracted  by the television and I can writ a few more sentences.  Then Jack decides to play Avengers all over again.  I willingly submit (?) because this allows Kitty to relax while my men get another trouncing.

I have a whole week to look forward to unending this torture because THERE'S NO SCHOOL DURING THANKSGIVING WEEK!  Grrr.

(Do I need mention that Jack is a sweet, adorable child and no one could possibly love him any more than we do.  But he is EIGHT-YEARS-OLD.  And we are NOT.)

A  Class Act:  According to Wikipedia, it was on this day in 534 BC that Thespis of Icaria became the first recorded actor to appear on a stage.  I have no idea how they were able to pinpoint the date so accurately, given the many changes to the calendar, among other factors.  Of course, November 23 is better known as the birthday of Miley Cyrus -- but I'm sure that is just a coincidence.

I don't know if Thespis actually existed, but several sources, including Aristotle, say that he did.  He was either the first person to play a character (instead of speaking as himself) in a written play, or , perhaps, was the first person to be a principle actor outside of a chorus.  Anyway, tragedies were all the thing back in the day and Thespis was said to have been the most accomplished tragedian.  In competitions for tragedies held in 534 BC, Thespis was declared the winner.  There were probably other actors before Thespis but their names were never recorded and are lost to history, so if he was not the first, he was definitely the first to realize the importance of promotion.

He had a major role in changing the way how stories were told to audiences and has been credited with creating modern theater as we now know it.  Legend also has it that he invented theatrical touring.  He would tour various cities while dragging along his masks, costumes, and props with him.  

Several plays have been attributed to Thespis, but most scholars agree that these were forgeries written by Heraclides Ponticus (c. 390 BC - c. 310 BC) or were the works of later Christian writers.  Copyright laws were evidently much less strict back then.

The Worst?:  Previous to Donald Trump, the worst president in American history was...James Buchanan?  Mo Rocca investigated this claim shortly before 45 took the Oath of Office.

The World Is Weird:  Rather than concentrating on Florida Man, let's take a look and see what has happened in the world this month:
  • In France, Parents of students attending the Trillade primary school in Avignon have been warned not to throw their children over the school's fence.  This evidently was a thing for parents who brought their children to school after the gates had been closed and locked.
  • Our presidential election was not rigged, but voting for New Zealand's "Bird of the Year" was beginning to look that way.  The spotted kiwi was ahead in the race before it was found to have garnered 1500 illegal votes, all coming from the same email address.  After eliminating the false votes, the Kakapo rushed into the lead but was then overtaken by the Antipodean albatross.  Not to be outdone, the Kakapo surged forward to win the title as the contest closed on November 15.
  • On November 2, a Dutch metro train in Spijkinesse (just outside of Rotterdam) burst through a concrete barrier at the end of its tracks to hurtle through the air, only to be saved by a whale.  A massive, 30-foot-tall,  public sculpture of a whale's tail, erected in 2002, caught the runaway train as it soared through the air.  The front of the lead car rested squarely on the tail, while the rear of the car balanced on the precipice at the end of the track.  No injuries were reported.  If it wasn't for the fact that whales are mammals, I might have called this a fishy story.
  • A library in Ontario received a copy of Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewitt in its return box some fifty years after it had been loaned out.  Come on, now.  Dickens isn't that slow of a read.  With an overdue fine of 2 cents a day, the patron would have owed about $585.  The library waived the fine.
  • Three people were cited this months for attempting to cook chicken in a hot spring at Yellowstone's Shoshone Geyser Basin.  When asked by a park ranger what the group was planning to do with the burlap bag of chickens, he got the answer, "Make dinner."  Marijuana was evidently involved.  All three are now banned from the park for two years, which us just about enough time for them to work up an appetite.
  • A man who stole a pair of penguins from a London zoo and sold them on Facebook now faces 32 months in prison gaol.  The penguins, yclept Pablo and Penny, were sold to an animal collect who was upset when he discovered they were in poor health.  The buyer then took the birds to a veterinarian, who notified police.  The original thief's offer to refund the buyer's money cut him no slack, for he was arrested when he went to the buyer's house with the refund.  The thief had also stolen other birds, including spoonbills, egrets, and macaws.
  • No matter how hard I try, I still can't get away from reporting Florida news.  A 10-foot Burmese python was removed from a car engine of a Ford Mustang in Dania Beach.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission removed the snake.  No word on what they did with it.  Pythons have become an environmental nuisance in Florida, especially in areas near the Everglades, because they eat almost everything and have no true natural predators.  Responsible owners (such as my nephew Mark and my niece Amy) care for their reptiles and would never let them loose or escape.
  • Also in Florida, at Okechobee's aptly named Everglades Elementary School (and whose mascot is an orange-clad alligator), the real thing appeared at their playground this month.  Sheriff's deputies removed the gator.  No word on whether the students wanted to see it go.

Good News:
  • Covid patient who could not talk thanks hospital staff with a violin serenade
  • Zoom is lifting its 40-minute time limit for Thanksgiving so families can "get together" for the holiday
  • 100 years after first breakthrough, Canadian scientists believe they have found a cure
  • Arkansas schools install solar panels to save millions on energy and to increase teacher pay
  • Homebuyers find $15,000 in coins that had been hidden and forgotten; they return the  money to its proper owners
  • Healthy sleep habits can lower heart failure risk by 42%
  • Barack Obama agrees to "prank" a fan and shows up on her Zoom call  
  • We probably have all seen the story about the baby owl found in the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, but I can't get enough of it
  • Dolly Parton has done more to help bring a Covid vaccine near than a certain US President has     Just another reason to like Dolly
  • Biker finds a sickly swan in New York City and carries it 23 miles via foot, auto, and subway to get it help

"If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it." -- Lucy Larcom

Today's Poem:
Perhaps the World Ends Here

The world begins at a kitchen table.  No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table.  So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it.  Babies teethe at the corners.  They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human.  We make men at it.  We make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children.  They laugh at us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

The table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table.  It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror.  It is a place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared out parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow.  We pray of suffering and remorse.  We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

-- Joy Harjo

So, for this Thanksgiving week I wish you joy and happiness, gratitude and courage, peace and friendship, endurance and love, and a startling awareness of all the good and wonderful things this world has to offer.

Coda:  I have posted this song before, but it always seems so much more meaningful over the Thanksgiving holiday,

1 comment:

  1. A happy and Avenging T-day and week to you, too, Jerry. Do you get to play Black Widow? Or did any of the other female characters slip in there in the household set? It's only gentlemanly to lose gracefully to the non-super-powered woman who still cleans one's clock.

    Buchanan is a pop choice for worst, but there's such a panoply of terrible USPs that one can argue for hours...Pierce is a strong challenger, as is Hoover, as is Harding, as have been Shrub/Cheney. But the ones I tend to return to are the Horribly Overrated terrible presidents such as Clinton, Reagan, Wilson, goodness. Someone once tried to get me to see the light on Fillmore. As the only ex-pres to run again for a worse set of causes than even his administration furthered (as distinct from Van Buren and elder Roosevelt), he is permanently downgraded by me even if he was any damned good in office, which not so much.

    Surprised you hadn't already gathered BLOOD IS NOT ENOUGH, but there are so many books to have, and Datlow has produced no few. I still haven't read half the Callahans.