Living Backward in Time with 20/20 Vision

Fifty years ago I learned about having a wizard for a tutor.

once.and.future.king

A touchstone work is one you return to throughout your life for the simple reason that its ring is ever true, it illuminates your contrived and contorted life rather than darkening it.

Merlyn had a skill that made him a profoundly wise teacher: the ability to live life from the future into the past. When you live life backward in time you meet the people who live lives forward into the future: you and I. People look to the past for better choices, being raised in different families in different schools.

going.back.to.a.simplier.time

Were that Franklin Roosevelt had died from his polio in childhood. Reconnect the dots: fractals snap that way, but if you proceed from the future-as-history into the past-as-future?

Alternate histories in science fiction are fractals of life, roads not taken in a panorama of maybes. Setting out one way, becoming derailed or re-railed. Hindsight might be gift or torture.

Henry_II,_Plantagenet_Empire
Randall Garret’s “Lord Darcy” series:

The Angevin Empire in 1172, before the point of divergence of Randall Garrett‘s “Lord Darcy” series.

Let me live my life backward. Let me celebrate my first birthday one year in the past. It would take me from 1947 to 1946. I would become an adult in 1926, the present moment would be in the year 1879.

And the best thing for  being sad?

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then–to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.  Learning is the thing for you. Look at what a lot of things there are to learn–pure science, the only purity there is.  You can learn astronomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six. And then, after you have exhausted a milliard lifetimes in biology and medicine and theocriticism and geography and history and economics–why, you can start to make a cartwheel out of the appropriate wood, or spend fifty years learning to begin to learn to beat your adversary at fencing. After that you can start again on mathematics, until it  is time to learn to plough.”

(Merlyn, advising the young King Arthur in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, Berkeley Medallion Edition, July, 1966, page 183.)

 

 

 

Africans without Europeans

uncolonized.africa.upside.down

What’s wrong with this map? What’s right? What’s just? Who decides? Who benefits?

Maps are important ways to perpetuate a Big Lie.  Here is Africa from a fresh perspective.

Alkebu-lan is Arabic for “Land of the Blacks.” The map above uses familiar color and shading schemes to name the distinct cultures and people. Human geography.

Zoom in and experience the fractal quality of intense diversity:

sokoto_etcetera
Sokoto Kuilafat surrounded by neighbors. Please read Big-think perspective

 

 

 

The unlabelled land mass at the bottom is the uninhabited realm of lands depopulated by an extinction level event such as Black Death: an alternate history suggested by Frank Jacobs elucidated here:

Africa, Uncolonized: A Detailed Look at an Alternate Continent

A few interesting land areas stand out: places Empire Expanders call Sinai, Levant, Sicily and Spain. Their unexpected presence gives pause.

Please look at this planet from the Other’s perspective, remembering that you too are the “Other.” Call me Ishmael.

The equator is the dashed line. To my eye that great lake in  Alkebu-lan looks like a chick’s eye. What a strikingly different way to look at this enormous continent. The solar system doesn’t have a top and bottom, so I can just imagine visitors from another star system mapping the southernmost continent as the top of the third planet out.

The Latin for the interior sea is Mediterranean: the sea at the middle of Earth. It’s natural but unfortunate to look at the world from where you name “us.” It could be New  York or the Middle Kingdom (China) or Middle Earth.

Anywhere, really.

America must not remain the center for geopolitical advantage studies.

The land of the fulsome and the home of the nice.

Imperialism is brutal exploitation of a land and its people: gain without pain for the well armed and the already comfortable.

Here are the paths the genomes took.

out.of.africa.route.ibm
From IBM recombinational analysis on the human genome. Source.

Simply stated, a map projection is a compromise achieved by forcing a sphere in three dimensions onto a two-dimensional surface. Only a globe presents accuracy to scale on behalf of the earth orb, but you can only see one side of the globe at one time. And it doesn’t fit well in your pocket.

When you have looked at the same combination of continents 100,000 times or so, it gradually takes on the ring of “truth.”

Consider the azimuthal equidistant projection for establishing a center point anywhere. It’s the polar opposite (figuratively and literally) of the mercator projection. Mercator places the North Pole at infinity. Azimuthal places Santa’s Workshop at the center of the world.

azimuthal.equidistant.north.pole
Source: David Rumsey Map Collection

Expect maps to push agendas hard. In 1978 the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said produced the book Orientalism,in 1978. It explains the way an occupation force imposes its perspective on the occupied: imposition of language and Eurocentric concept of unchangeable truth.

cecil.rhodes.colossus
The wide stance of Cecil Rhodes as Colossus of Rhodes in this famous cartoon. Founder of the Rhodes Scholarship fund. Before Zimbabwe there was Rhodesia. Cecil left a legacy.

From Allen Webb, my source for Cecil Rhodes, a quote from gentle Cecil:

We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labor that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories.

The British imperial overlords used a straight-edge to define borders for the people they exploited before leaving former colonials to sort it all out. Once they left they didn’t look back. What’s past is passed. Let’s just say ‘we’re history.’

Consider the absurd British decision to create an East and a West Pakistan in the South Asia theater of interest and profit. It’s folly most insane. Lord Balfour had as much insight as the architects of East and West Pakistan when he crafted a  67-word statement in 1917.  Nakba is one result. Truth is one casualty.

partioning.colonies.middle.east.british.empire
Arbitrary borders possibly drawn by an idiot with a straight-edge

I mention alternate histories. Here is one such at DeviantArt.Net, a resource for speculative art.

alternate_history_map__1__central_power_victory_by_drawnzilla-d77hpbv

Keep a window open for Yanko Tsvetkov, the cartographer for the indispensable Atlas of Prejudice.

atlas.of.prejudice

Thanks for reading.

The Jailer Mentality and Alternate Histories

One of the oldest entries in my “Commonplace Book” is from an article titled simply “Science Fiction” in the small but wonderful book Of Other Worlds by C.S. Lewis. I still own that book, but have decided to quote a passage via internet; I originally typed it on an Underwood manual typewriter in 1974 (it’s one reason for my deformed fingers).

people are so ready with the charge of ‘escape.’ I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, ‘What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape?’ and gave the obvious answer: jailers. The charge of Fascism is, to be sure, mere mud-flinging. Fascists, as well as Communists, are jailers; both would assure us that the proper study of prisoners is prison. But there is perhaps this truth behind it: that those who brood much on the remote past or future, or stare long at the night sky, are less likely than others to be ardent or orthodox partisans.

A Pilgrim in Narnia reflects my own lifelong role as pilgrim and longer for other worlds. It feels like that “visit to the deck” when I go there. Science Fiction brought me instantaneous wonder one summer in Northern Michigan: 1963. In the checkout aisle next to the Snickers was this:

case.of.identity
Looking at the calendar to discover that it is the present year. Modern telephone on the wall.

It turned out to fit right in with Davide Mana’s Karavansa. Certainly recommended for those who have read this far.

Alternate histories locked in as a theme the moment I saw the calendar on that seemingly medieval wall. May 1964.

H. Beam Piper’s Gunpowder God provided precise detail on combining sulphur, charcoal and sodium nitrate. I was already combining every household chemical available to discover what the periodic table let me know about free ions, so I was among kindred.

gunpowder_god-schoenherr
Looking at the calendar to discover that it is the present year. Modern telephone on the wall.

Within the next month I had found a brown-paper wrapped Analog and the first printing in magazine form of Frank Herbert’s Prophet of Dune series.

It was in this mailbox on 315 Glenroy for firsthand accounts from the 50’s and 60’s. I still have the large-format magazines in mylar sleeves. They’re over there in the dining room. Make yourself comfortable.

Language, geography, literature and wonder.

And a recognition that our record-breaking incarceration economy and military armament madness destroys far more souls far more innocent than me.

An alternate history that does not press world armament manufacture and mega prison complexes loom in my mind 53 years hence.

The Rock of Three Planets

What to look for, text to accompany this post, great read to share
What to look for, text to accompany this post, great read to share

Lisa and I share an interest in the long-lost and the newly lost novel of prized genres: science fiction, circa 1911 American popular culture, Bobbsey Twins and the like in the unexpurgated original, pulp mysteries of the 1940 and 50’s written by forgotten giants, such as Cornell Woolrich. I could continue the inventory categories but you’re better served by stopping by to browse our bookshelves, to discover the unexpected titles on book spines with faded or striking illustrations. Should you encounter a loose copy of Penrod and Sam let us know. But let’s consider a recent emergent from the stacks, a youth-oriented novel (part of a trilogy even) from 1963 by A.M. Lightner: The Rock of Three Planets.

 

We frequent a library discard sale of the best-kept-secret-kind: the bimonthly  Campbell County Library Friends of the Library Discard Sale. This volume lay undiscovered among its fellow book travelers in the youth section of the sale. As is material for legend, Lisa’s eye is ever alert for the unrecognized endangered species of collectable. You’ll want to clamor for her secret power, but its a day for Ms. Lightner.

You may already wax familiar with an internet niche site that offers used copies of The Rock of:

The Amazons

You don’t always expect to find a jaw-droppingly good cult classic text among your 50-cent purchases, but this one does drop such a jaw. 1963 cover art of rare device, circulation pocket holding a card for dated rubber stamps, another page for more rubber stamps. Hey, this is the property of the Third District School Library in Covington KY and it was rebound by New Method Book Bindery. Library volume 5944.

OK Bill, you pedant. What about the story, tell us about the story.

I’ve just reread this book blurb and now realize that the last sentence contains an enormous SPOILER ALERT. If you don’t want to have the ending irrevocably spoiled, consider this a cautionary.

A thumbnail sketch of our characters. You'll get to know them well by the end of the book. Count them among your friends and join the cult following.
A thumbnail sketch of our characters. You’ll get to know them well by the end of the book. Count them among your friends and join the cult following. Keywords: rock, three, planets.

This book was published at a time in my life when science fiction opened avenues of wonder upon discovering science fiction magazines in the year it appeared. Lightner’s perspective appeals to me on just such a personal level. Lisa read it first, she kept encouraging to just read the dang thing and see how great a book we owned. Well the cover struck me right away, only upon reading though did I discover how well the illustrator captured the essence of this novel. It takes place at a crucial point in the plot. As Lisa noted the action only really gets underway in the second half, but does it get going. Yes, it gets going. The rock as character bonds with the reader, becoming a real pal upon introduction. This is not something you expect immediately from a rock of several origins but the creäture residing within its shell stays in memory. The author balances her characters deftly and with ingenuity. The book is peopled with characters you care about. The language does not condescend to a younger audience, it challenged my vocabulary. A whole-heart approval, worth the sticker shock.

Cult classics arise from the grass-roots, no exception with Rock since genuine enthusiasm is contagious, so if you’ve ever visited Google you might find points of departure and encouragement from Lightner’s fans. I offer a single warning: beware the spoiler.

Now that your appetite is whet consider that trilogy I mentioned earlier, or explore the internet, your local or non local library perhaps. We may just see you there. Just saying.

 

 

Synchronicity Gone Wild: Karavansara and Me

It has been some time since I’ve engaged in a conversation that simultaneously included Clutch Cargo, Pat Novak for Hire and Frank Herbert’s Dune series but the Déjà Vu may conjoin: much as a solar eclipse occurring concurrently with a lunar variety.

Carefully tear the brown paper wrapper, such that you do not also tear the cover. Most fortunately I did not tear it and it's still here.
Carefully tear the brown paper wrapper, such that you do not also tear the cover. Most fortunately I did not tear it and it’s still here.

Yes, billziegler1947 is referring to the latest of waking hours in a longish sized day, when a last second neuron fires a memory segment while reading Karavansara. There you may find coverage on the deservedly famous Sand Worm cover by John Schoenherr on a March 1965  Analog Science Fact – Science Fiction.

As noted by Davide Mana this is a first printing. Mine arrived at 315 Glenroy in a brown paper wrapper. Now it’s preserved in a mylar sleeve. Yellow hues on a stone-like sand swirl. Too close even for discomfort. I can’t imagine it took that behemothic beast much time to scare its way out of arid surface and into a more than unforgiving Arrakis’ afternoon.

To make a short description yet shorter, I tuned in to Karavansara on the WordPress dial and submitted “Frank Herbert.” Frequenters of the Karavan and its Sara will know now that a non-ending journey into the possibilities of Herbert’s inimitable mind wash over into the impact of an introduction to Frank. Dune spice. 17 year-old self discovering that no one could better spark a science fiction journey

That trek began in 1964, while I gazed at another famous Analog cover (Schoenherr of course) for Randall Garrett’s alternate history series, another Sherlockian look at roads taken this time/not this time in the same year on the calendar: 1964 modern times. Not like the other magazines, it was not.

Looking at the calendar to discover that it is the present year. Modern telephone on the wall.
Looking at the calendar to discover that it is the present year. Modern telephone on the wall.

Back to 2015.

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