Thursday, September 21, 2006

Challenger #24

Heard Also We Did From, We Did, We Did:
Roger & Pat Sims, Kevin Smith (that DSC was in ‘75), Brian Comnes, Ms. Ruby Bernstein, Earl Kemp, Quinn Yarbro, Charlie Williams, John Pelan, Joe Green, Mike Resnick, Joe Celko, Ditmar, Elst Weinstein, Sandra Burley, Fred Chappell, Joyce Worley Katz, Joe Perez, Rodi Culotta, John Hertz

Mary Ann van Hartesveldt, Fort Valley GA, USA

The most recent Challenger was your best ever.

Dennis Dolbear’s account of his Katrina ordeal was eloquent and moving.

Mike Resnick’s stories of third world bathrooms remind me of one of my own. At age 19 I visited Nigeria’s University of Ife with a student group. The architect who designed the girls’ dorm had put in a latticework of bricks on one side of the bathroom, but no other screens. At night the lights attracted thousands of lovely African moths followed by scores of unlovely African spiders, toads, lizards and snakes. It looked like an Indiana Jones movie. We had sentries posted, saying things like, “Sue, you’ve got a toad approaching your feet. Mary, watch that spider on the ceiling over you. Jane, snake! Run!”

Your editorial about what liberals should do was great. As chair of the Peach County Democratic Party I’d like permission to distribute it to my executive committee members. [Of course.] One small quibble: political correctness. My high school driver’s ed teacher ended his explanation of his grading policy with “and of course anybody kills a nigger gets an automatic ‘A’.” It was the political correctness movement that made such speech unacceptable now, and rightly so.

Finally, thanks for giving Fred and me a chance to know Cindy Snowden.
You and Fred (your husband) were never anything but kind to Cynthia, inviting her (and me) into your home during Hurricane Georges, allowing her to call and bend your ear whenever she wanted, exchanging Christmas cards, taking her to lunch when you visited New Orleans – being her friend. Phil Dick once said that the true measure of what it means to be human is kindness. Through your kindness to Cindy you proved what I’ve always known: that you are a full and great human being.

Chris M. Barkley, Middletown, OH, USA

I must admit upon reading it, Challenger 23 is your finest hour.

Having been only been once to the Big Easy (for NolaCon II in 1988), I had very little to offer in the way reminiscing about what a wonderful city it was.

What I do remember most is that New Orleans, street for street, block for block, had more ambiance and excitement than any other Worldcon venue I have ever
visited. And now, having read the trials and anguish of Dennis Dolbear, Peggy Ransom, Don Markstein, Joe Major, John Guidry and Linda Krawecke brought tears to my eyes.

Most affecting were Dennis’ harrowing tale and your remembrance of the late Cynthia Marie Snowden, a kind soul who deserved a better fate than what she was dealt.

I have been following the continuing coverage on the recovery efforts (mostly through National Public Radio) and the attempts of people to return to rebuild. While I am not very assured by what I have seen and heard so far, I have a faint hope that the people of New Orleans will eventually come together and rebuild their community. I only wish that I were in a position to go help myself. I’m also glad you and Rosy weren’t caught up in this disaster.

Joseph L. Green’s “Our Five Days with John W. Campbell”, Jr. was fascinating as well. One of my regrets in life was that I never had the opportunity to meet him because I’m sure we would have had a very interesting encounter. Having read quite a bit about Campbell, I am sure that for the most part he was not overtly or consciously racist in debating the advantages of slavery with Mr. Green, he was just being provocative to test his meddle. Joe’s descriptions of Campbell’s visit to the Vertical Assembly Building were riveting.

I also must praise Alan White’s cover; howcum he hasn’t won a Hugo for Best Fan Artist yet? I’ll be sure to remember him on my ballot this year.
I wish more fans had done so.

Jeffrey Copeland, Bellevue, WA, USA

Challenger 23 is an amazing issue. The “dispatches from the front”‘ in the aftermath of Katrina are all just amazing. Linda Krawecke’s sadness as she watched the city she loves in danger – and unable to do anything about it – mirrors exactly the reaction I had on September 11th, as I watched the World Trade Center (whose construction dominated my teen years) fall. And similarly, Don Markstein’s criticisms of our “leaders” in Washington is well-put, and to the point. Peggy Ransom’s dispatch from the ground in the aftermath is just amazing. In calm terms, in paragraphs of “here’s what happened,” she gives a very clear picture of what life was like through the autumn in NewOrleans.

And then, there’s Dennis Dolbear’s wonderful piece. It’s the scariest thing I’ve read in a year or more – and I’ve been reading the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and some blogs by soldiers on the ground in Iraq. Dennis just reports, but the fear and frustration and danger come through. His simple observation, “Of all our angels, I hold these dearest, with a gratitude that is profound and a debt we never really repayable,” is moving beyond words. His is the real story of triumph, of people helping each other because that’s just what we do, it’s what makes us human. It didn’t do any good, but I added Dennis to my Hugo shortlist for best fanwriter because his was the best piece of fanwriting I saw in 2005.
I completely agree. Awesome work, DD!
Your editorial in ``Two Four-Letter Words’’ provides a wonderful twelve-step plan for a liberal political revival – “Respect suffering... Care for the uncared for... Adhere to the Bill of Rights... Torture is unacceptable... Mind our own business... Forget political correctness... Rebuild the infrastructure... Develop fiscal sense... Practical environmentalism... Support science... Rekindle conversation on race relations... Honest and Intelligent War... A decent respect for the opinions of mankind...” That is a good and necessary policy statement, but is insufficient as long as the Republicans:
  • control who gets on the voter rolls, as they did in Florida in 2000 and 2004, and also in Ohio in 2004 when they disappeared a quarter of a million voters from the rolls of the three largest (and most Democratic-leaning) cities in the state, and now with the new poll tax in Georgia;
  • are free to commit absentee ballot fraud as they did in numerous counties in Florida in 2000 and 2004, and with military ballots in Florida in 2000;
  • are allowed to suppress the votes of blacks and the urban poor by means such as threatening voter registration drives, challenging black (but not Hispanic) voters, and setting up police roadblocks outside of minority polling places, shorting those precincts of voting machines;
  • control what voting district everyone is in, as they did with the illegal redistricting in Texas and Colorado;
  • control what votes get counted, and launch ad hominem attacks when they lose by small margins, as they did on (Republican) secretary of state Rob McKenna after losing the Washington governor’s race;
  • control the voting machines themselves, and they companies who build them;
  • and control the courts who rule on these issues by appointing judges for their political purity and fundraising prowess, not for their legal scholarship.
It will continue as long as we liberals are insufficiently dogged in our pursuit of what is right, as long as we believe that the only way to beat them is to join them, as long as we screw up on strategy, as long as we allow lies to be told without shouting the truth from every rooftop.

I want a candidate who will adopt the rhetorical flourishes of the Right and say things like: “Restricting the liberties of our citizens for hyped enemies under the bed is not something the voters should tolerate from their government. We must repeal the onerous domestic spying provisions of the Patriot Act immediately. And lest anyone suggest that I sympathize with the terrorists, I do not, but rather I stand with every right-thinking American and believe that the way to defeat the enemies of liberty is to push for more of it.”

So yes: your platform is good. But to win, I’m afraid we may need someone as amoral and vile as Karl Rove to work behind the scenes, and I’m not sure I want to win enough to be that much like them. If we have to nominate Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman, who are Republicans in all but name, in order to win we’ve won nothing. While I don’t believe in Howard Dean, per se, I do stand with him in saying that I am from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. The way to win back Congress is not for Democrats to pretend they’re mini-Republicans, it’s for them to be Democrats. I believe in the values that came out of the liberal wing of the party – even if not all the excesses of the McGovern apparatchiks – and your list encompasses those values.

The problem we’re going to face, however, is exactly the struggle between Dean and the imbedded functionaries in the Democratic party. When Paul Hackett, an Iraq War veteran, ran in the 2005 special election for the second congressional district in Ohio, he wanted to take ending the war as a campaign issue. The Democratic congressional campaign committee tried to stop him, and wouldn’t fund his campaign. Their attitude was that opposing the war wasn’t an issue to win seats in Congress. Nonetheless, after raising his own money, Hackett came within 3% of beating the Republican candidate Jean Schmidt. As long as the national committee hacks keep trying to run the party like Karl Rove runs the Republicans, we’re going to miss by narrow margins like this.

Meanwhile, I’ll support any candidate – on either side of the aisle – who is willing to stand up to President Frat Boy and say ``You and your boys screwed up both the war and the peace in Iraq. The Iranians wanted diplomacy. The North Koreans wanted diplomacy. I won’t be party to a blanket authorization for you to invade Iran, for you and your cronies to steal more oil, until you’ve really tried diplomacy. And sending John Bolton to rattle sabers doesn’t count.’’

However, that all said, there is the redistricting problem. Congressional districts are drawn to be safe for incumbents. Even with the level of voter disgust with the crony capitalism, the lying, and the outright bribery of the Republicans, is there enough play in the population on maps they’ve drawn to make a difference? I don’t know, but I sure hope so.

Maybe – just maybe – Americans are tired of having their country ruled out of ignorance, impulse and brutality. We shall see.

Richard Dengrove, Alexandria, VA, USA

I liked Challenger #23. You started out depressed over the destruction Katrina wrought on your New Orleans. Then you got further depressed because you foresee a totally yuppified future for the city. I am not certain the future is that bleak.

What may save New Orleans is that everyone knows it is prone to flood. What incentive would the big corporations have to come in, and homogenize it? What incentive would yuppies have to set up shop there? I suspect that the people who remain in Nawlins will be committed Nawlineans. It may yet have more soul than ever.

I believe this because I can empathize, though vaguely, with committed Nawlineans, like Linda Krawecke. I come from the most rootless State, New Jersey; the State its citizens love the least. However, every time I visit the old hometown, walk its boardwalks and gaze at its faux Spanish style, a little of my youth comes back. For several days my life is bright and wonderful again.

Of course, Linda must have ten times the commitment to Nawlins I do to New Jersey.

Speaking of roots, Joseph Green writes about one of our science fiction roots, John W. Campbell, Jr. While Campbell told us about the future, he was obviously a man from the past. Maybe that is why he was able to us about the future.

He smoked, something no longer fashionable among our set, although it is right now fashionable among a younger set. Also, he made pro-slavery remarks. While they were ostensibly an attack on the p.c. of his time, I bet they had something to do with the way he was brought up. The world he came from was that long ago.

Other people’s motives are not apparent either. It’s a widespread belief that the War in Iraq was instigated by Big Oil. However, I doubt that, and what Morrie the Critic says about Iraq backs me up.

No, the Bush Administration invaded Iraq for Pie in the Sky. It deluded itself that that invasion, and others, would solve all our problems in the Middle East and make Bush, Jr. more popular than George Washington. That is why, as Morrie points out, advocating postwar planning and sufficient troop strength indicated a lack of faith.

Another thing that has taken faith, besides the Iraqi Invasion, is going to the bathroom. That was Mike Resnick’s experience in different places, mostly Kenya. That is astonishing. I knew that when animals feed, things can be dangerous. However, going to the bathroom? Mike proves that it can be.

You could get killed showing up, or, like Woody Allen said, you can fall into the embrace of the bitch goddess Success. He said 80% of his success was just showing up. I have to tell Dick Jenssen, I’m sorry, but his success had to take a lot more talent than just showing up.

Of course, what talent you need depends upon the endeavor. Greg Benford needed method and goshwow for science. He only needed goshwow to write science fiction.

Some talents are not apparent. Mike Resnick does not understand that Gene Stewart has a talent for political rhetoric.

Yes, it is not for convincing Republicans; but for playing to the choir, the liberal Democratic choir. It gets out the faithful; a political talent not to be sneezed at. The Republicans won because of it, and the Democrats may yet.

The way to get out the faithful is not with facts but a visceral attack. Political rhetoric is not aimed at the head but the viscera. The faithful respond to that better. In fact, if politicians don’t give them that rhetoric, the faithful make it up themselves. Of course, even with a message of political rhetoric, you have to find some way to get it out. Guy, you were wondering about some way affordable to get out Challenger. Maybe, a return to mimeo, like you muse. It was cheap. Of course, it was messy too. On second thought, maybe PDFs e-mailed in installments might be better.

Over the years, we liberals are getting our own buzzwords. You’re approaching buzzwords: decency, Bill of Rights, respect. Maybe it’s preparation for us finally being re-elected again. You can’t be re-elected without emotions.

All those things you want, law alone can’t provide. I have come to the conclusion ideologies are just a smokescreen. There are decent people, savages and degrees in between. Even when we want this to be a nation of laws, it can’t be unless enough people are willing to apply them. The highest good in politics is to have a decent electorate that elects decent officials.

I disagree with your subtle distinction between free speech in Stalin’s constitution and free speech in ours. The distinction is not that the State grants free speech. It’s that free speech in Stalin’s constitution was a lie. There was no free speech under Stalin by any stretch of the imagination.

It’s as I said at the beginning, we are a government of people we hope with some law attached. To eliminate pork, we need a less venial more honorable Congress than we have, and a less venial more honorable constituency. Otherwise, no legislation gets passed.

“Survivor”: Yeah, you surpassed the reality show Survivor. For one thing, unlike the Survivor show, you weren’t prepared. You didn’t volunteer to be a survivor, you were drafted. You had lived, up till then, in good times, and it was hard to believe that anything can happen at any time: hurricanes, floods, serial killer. But of course, a hurricane and a flood did.

On the other hand, you were all working together and not working against being voted off the island. In fact, that was the one thing good about a situation like that: people get more helpful. It is clear they are all in the same boat, and they will sink if they don’t bail. You were helped by neighbors, helped by nurses – helped by Hell’s Angels for Christ’s sake! That’s great!

Randy Byers, Seattle, WA, USA

I’ve just read much (but not all) of Challenger 23, and I feel a bit overwhelmed by the hurricane coverage. I feel that I learned a lot about both you and the city from your piece. I’ve read a lot of post-Katrina stories, but yours was one of the best I’ve seen at personalizing it. Likewise for Linda Krawecke’s story of watching the events from the UK while worrying about what was happening to her family.

Both of these stories brought back the horror and anger and distress I felt in the aftermath of the hurricane. At the time, the destruction of New Orleans seemed worse to me than 9/11, because my own country was failing its people. Both my sister and my mother went down to the area with the Red Cross afterwards, and listening to their stories helped me feel that decent people were working to fix things. But the Bush administration’s stall tactics with the congressional hearings are in the headlines today, and just this morning I overheard a woman in a coffee shop talking about how she’s just been down in New Orleans and how devastated it still looks.

I hope you continue to give your perspective on the aftermath in the years to come. As you say, it will take years to see how well the city can survive this disaster. It seems like the soul of our nation has been laid bare, and it’s hard to look at. It’s not a pretty sight, and yet you can’t look away, because it’s you, too.

Don’t know if this makes any sense. Reading the stories in Challenger was like grabbing onto the live wire again. I feel like I’ve been jolted.

Milt Stevens, Simi Valley, CA, USA

A large part of Challenger #23 deals with the aftermath of Katrina. Of course, the media had lots of coverage on Katrina, and nobody could doubt it was a world class disaster. However, the media coverage only lasted between one and two weeks before they got bored and went away. The articles in Challenger get the idea across that this is an ongoing disaster. It didn’t just end in two weeks. I suppose it might be compared to the Blitz in London where bodies were being discovered for years afterward. Except that the citizens of London had more chance to prepare for it.

As far as FEMA’s incompetence is concerned, it isn’t exactly a new thing or limited to the Bush administration. Elsewhere I’ve explained why I think, FEMA was never worth anything. I first became aware of them after the 1994 earthquake in Los Angeles. They arrived with a whole bunch of people and a whole bunch of equipment. Some of their gear was pretty good. At one location my colleagues and I visited, they had all sorts of boxed equipment like about 50 PCs, color printers, plotters, etc. None of their people knew how to connect any of it, and this was in the pre-LAN era. We offered to set the whole place up in exchange for a couple of PCs and a color printer. They declined our offer, and as far as I know, they never got their computers set up.

A couple of years later, FEMA came back with a bunch of money to loan to people with earthquake damage in South-Central Los Angeles. The epicenter of the 1994 quake was in the Northwestern San Fernando Valley. That’s a long way from South-Central, and there wasn’t any earthquake damage in South-Central. That didn’t even slow them down. Once they had determined to loan money, they were going to loan money no matter what. By analogy, I suppose you can expect FEMA to show up in Shreveport in a couple of years with lots of money to loan. Take it, it’s cheap money.

As Greg Benford says, science has become the emblem of truth in our society. From studying the commercials, I have noticed this has even had an influence on cat food. There is a cat food named Science Diet. They say it has all the nutrients every cat needs. Unfortunately, it has one minor problem. Cats won’t eat it. There seems to be a difference between the nutrients cats need and the nutrients cats want. I can sort of see the problem. I don’t like all the stuff I’m supposed to eat any better than the cat does. Even at that, science has enlightened us in a way. Now I can share a pizza with a cat knowing that it is equally bad for both of us.

Joe Green gives an interesting account of five days with John W. Campbell. His article made me realize something I hadn’t thought of before. Campbell was only 61 when he died. When I was John Campbell’s age I’d already been dead for two years. That’s a sobering thought.

Lloyd Penney, Etobicoke, ON, Canada

When Hurricane Katrina hit with all its force, we were glued to the television the same way we were when the Challenger exploded (a sad anniversary a few days ago), or when Mount St. Helens redrew the geography of Washington state. The coverage of Katrina stayed with us a little longer because the storm was so strong, it drenched Toronto and area, and eventually became just another low pressure cell around the maritime provinces. It also reminded us that just because we are so far north in comparison to the tropics, [it doesn’t matter;] we can still be touched by that kind of disaster. In 1954, Hurricane Hazel came to Toronto, and tore it up, and changed this city forever. Check to see how Toronto, and indeed, the province of Ontario, was affected. (Hazel destroyed much property, and killed hundreds. Hazel doesn’t stand up to Katrina’s utter destruction, but we know of what you speak.)

Mardi Gras is less than four weeks away, and New Orleans is a shadow still rebuilding. Some say rebuild, others say rebuild elsewhere. Time will tell if people use sense or spirit; there’s good argument in both. I remember NO from Nolacon II, and we had a great time in the French Quarter; it’s up and going again, but things have changed so much. I hope you and Rosy find the old joy you remember on that Fat Tuesday. This place must live on in more than just fond memory.
This year’s Mardi Gras showed that New Orleans does live on, in righteous spirit.
The news regularly brings us examples of how the US sends millions of dollars overseas to help banish hunger and poverty. It generosity knows no parallel. Yet, when the US was offered by many countries help in recovering from Katrina, the response was an almost overly-macho silence. You helped us before; can we return your generosity now? This heart-felt offer to help was often rebuffed, and often in an abrupt fashion. Later, when the incompetence of the Bush regime and the head of FEMA was revealed, help was accepted, grudgingly and in near-silence. A Canadian Armed Forces task force helped with temporary housing and clean drinking water. They did their job, stayed a little longer than was required or asked for, and then left. Bush later did his clumsy PR job with public thanks for the help received, but it seemed to have been shamed out of him.

When I saw the title “Survivor”, I thought of that cubic zirconia of all ridiculous reality shows. What a stupid and abused phrase that is, reality show. Katrina and the evening news was a reality show; people surviving through impossible conditions and odds. How is a scripted show like Survivor more real? How is it more real than the experiences Dennis Dolbear relates? What about Peggy Ranson’s e-mails of adventure and travail? I cry for their losses, and smile for their triumphs. I do not watch the pap and nonsense of Survivor; after Katrina, I am surprised that anyone does. But then, I’m not into escapist television. For me, reality television consists of documentaries and the news. (Saw on TV that New Orleans just endured a tornado. What an insult after such an injury.)

Yummy Soylent! Just remember, you are what you eat! And soon, perhaps you’ll eat what you are…

Bravo to Don Markstein on his good words. For so many people, the character of New Orleans is a stereotype of good times, party, drink anywhere, etc., they know nothing of what New Orleans is all about. They know nothing of its history and origins, of the Acadians banished from the good farmlands of Nova Scotia and sent to the hot swamps of the American south where they slowly became Cajuns. (Why do so many people understand others only through tired old stereotypes?)

I think it’s been worded otherwise elsewhere, but Ditmar names the reason for enjoying SF that really appeals to me…it offers intellectual pleasures, perhaps an expansion of the imagination, an exercise of the brain. Like a muscle, it needs that exercise to thrive and grow, to learn to imagine and create ideas and images outside its experience. No wonder those with ideas and imagination are perceived as weird and dangerous in this unimaginative age. I have received publications from the Melbourne club since the late Ian Gunn was the editor of Ethel the Aardvark. I still receive it, which means I probably have more issues of Ethel than most of its members. (I try to remember to give my thanks from time to time to the members of a club that sends me a copy of their clubzine. I know that my copy is subsidized by the dues of its members, and sometimes, I feel like a freeloader. I loc those zines as much as I do any other, and I hope that my contribution has enough value to offset the costs of the issue, and the costs of getting it to me.)

If indeed liberal politicians need to get reorganized to regain the White House, I think they need to say that more than being Americans, we are humans. We have friends all over the world, and we haven’t treated them very well. We have a lot of wrongs to put right, and we will do that. We won’t lie down and turn over, but we will have a slice of humble pie, and admit our failures. And why? Because it takes true strength, of morals and character, to admit being wrong. America needs to regain its place of defender of the right, and not be an example of a superpower gone wrong. (I saw a report of a very popular Turkish movie where American troops in Iraq are portrayed as the bad guys. Ah, to see ourselves as others see us…) America must also embrace the world and be a part of it, instead of depicting itself as an island of right and morality in a unknown world of depravity. I honestly doubt that the Bush regime knows how hated they are in the rest of the world because of its acts, and if they know, I doubt they care. That’s the key word … America must care. Thank you for this essay, Guy … once America can regain its human face to the world, perhaps the world will hate it less, and perhaps America might begin to understand why 9/11 happened. British journalist Robert Fisk summed up the reasons for 9/11 very succinctly…see this link. He said basically that 9/11 happened because the East had had far too much of the West’s interference. Please read that transcript.
You owe it not only to yourself, but to your American compatriots, to see An Inconvenient Truth, if for no other reason than to strengthen any faith you may have in the decency and passion of your neighbors. Sleaze has owned America since the 2000 election. Maybe – maybe – its influence has run its course.
I am sitting here in front of my computer, wiping tears from my face. I teared up a little reading about Dennis Dolbear’s efforts, Peggy Ranson’s adventures, and John Guidry’s losses, and now I read about the death of your friend Boo. You saved the most powerful for last. I don’t know what to write, you’ve got me stalled. How could one not be moved by this human tragedy, and not angered by the government’s incompetence? Too many precious lives, lives of honour and sunshine, lives of honesty, were taken by Katrina, and many more have gone to waste through the Bush regime’s rank acts and vast negligence.

I will dry myself off, and thank you kindly for a publication that this time has been much more than just a fanzine. Thank you very much for smiles and tears, and much to think about and consider. I am certain the response will be worth reading in the next issue, which I look forward to very, very much. Take care. The discussion will be memorable.

Brad W Foster, Irving, TX, USA

I think I’ve managed to make my way through all of the new issue. I’m still getting the hang of this on-line zine stuff. I’ve noticed that the zines that pop up in PDF format things have an actual page count at the bottom of the screen, so it gives some idea of how much material there is, just like getting an actual print zine. More web-oriented zines like you’ve set up Chall are another matter, I’m not sure if I’m still missing parts, since sections re set up independent of each other, and some are even on other hosted sites.
Every article is accessed from the Contents page. If there is more to an article, an arrow or URL at the bottom of the page will take you there. The interactive sites (blogs) are the exception. But all the articles for the current issue will be on the front page of the blog. And each blog has links back to the Contents page.
~Guy's Web Slave ;-p
It was interesting, saddening, enlightening, and hopeful to read all the various accounts of New Orleans from yourself and so many of the other contributors. That’s a story that is going to be going on for a long, long time.

Enjoyed Joe Green’s memories of having John Campbell as a house guest. And on the travel theme, Mike Resnick’s “Bathrooms” article was funny, but probably the wrong thing for a travel-wuss like myself to read. I’ve always considered Nature as something you pass through from the air-conditioned house to the air-conditioned car. Indoor plumbing is a given in all my travel plans!

And a very lovely tribute to your friend Cynthia to wrap things up.
Cynthia is interred in Hammond, Louisiana.

E.B. Frohvet, Ellicott City, MD, USA

Thank you for Challenger #23. The obvious theme was New Orleans the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and the different takes on it were dramatic and moving. If there was an aspect that troubled me, it was the generally nasty tone of the Bush-bashing. Much of the criticism appeared fair, and I hold no brief for Mr. Bush (except that, as an honorably discharged veteran, I still feel oathbound to “protect and defend the Constitution,” and thus respect the office even if I have substantial differences with the incumbent or his policies). The side of it which concerned me was the problem of Chall becoming the anti-Fosfax, a mainly political zine of the left, as Fosfax is a mainly political zine of the right.
In her play Watch on the Rhine, my onetime teacher Lillian Hellman had a Nazi tell a guy “You’re too cynical to be really dangerous.” I never want to get that cynical. Of course, in person Hellman once told me, “Somebody’s got to stop them.” No doubt who “them” was, or is.
I regard her comment as a charge.
I was really interested by Joseph Green’s article on John W. Campbell. I never had the opportunity to meet Campbell; he was before my time. As you probably know, Bob Sabella’s Who Shaped Science Fiction lists the three most important figures in SF history as: Campbell, Wells, Heinlein, in that order. It also took me a moment to realize that the shy teenager mentioned in the article is the charming lady whom I had the pleasure of meeting briefly in Chicago!

Richard Dengrove: I had never heard of G. Pope before, and I think of myself as moderately well read in SF. But certainly E.R. Burroughs was a pulp hack of the times – even Tarzan was not a greatly original concept; so it’s certainly possible he might have been influenced by the earlier work to some degree. A good sercon piece.

Gregory Benford: Even if we are confining the conversation to fiction, I would have second thoughts about “I don’t think you should write anything unless it is fun.” Down that road lies “You shouldn’t read anything unless it is fun,” which would rule out 80% of the world’s great literature, and probably a higher percentage of SF. Then there’s the questionable overlap between what’s fun for the writer, versus what’s fun for the reader.

Indeed – and “great literature” got that way because it was satisfying – enjoyable – stimulating – compelling to its audience. Hamlet and Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick and Ulysses are all of those things to me. What “fun” means to a writer is another story—because art flows from deeper waters than mere diversion.

Mike Resnick: Whether Jefferson was “devout” remains to be seen.
Since T.J. died in 1826 – on July 4, according to legend – there doesn’t seem to be much that isn’t known about him. His deism may be questionable, but on one subject he certainly was a true believer: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” On that point he was devout. Are we?

Lloyd Penney: I read an interesting observation that one of the reasons boys enjoy video games far more than girls is that failure at them is private.

Joseph Major, and Guy: I have decided not to have a birthday this year. The custom simply bores me.

Sheryl Birkhead: I’m with you. The Hugo rules ought to be clarified to prevent double-dipping for both “fanzine” and “website.” Not that I really care, except abstractly.

Guy, on politics: A good, fair-minded, liberal rant on how the system should work. Much of your take is admirable, much less of it is feasible. You assume that congress-critters should want to govern fairly and for the benefit of the nation as a whole. That is just not the case.

Joseph Nicholas, Tottenham, London, U.K.

Well, this is odd. Or weird. Or, more likely, reflects my failure to pay detailed attention to your e-mails announcing the availability of recent issues of Challenger.

That is, I received an e-mail from you back in, er. I obviously noted that another issue had been posted to the web, but (on reflection) must have failed to do anything about it (such as follow the link and read the contents). But when I received another e-mail from you, more recently, and did follow the link, I ended up where I would have been had I followed the link in the previous e-mail.

I’m sure this isn’t because your links were all over the place; it’s more likely that, as I said a few lines ago, I wasn’t paying detailed attention. For one thing, I got promoted at work at the end of October/beginning of November 2005 and (although I do all my fanac at home) the upsurge in my work responsibilities inevitably meant that I had less energy over for reading and responding to fanzines (never mind doing anything else – in fact, the last two months of last year were so fantastically busy that I didn’t manage to address anything other than work). (I shall spare you a detailed resume of the reading backlog. Suffice it to say that I’m about five months behind on my history magazines.) Of course, this doesn’t quite explain how I managed to get the letter column for Challenger 22, dated August 2005, muddled up with that for Challenger 23, dated December 2005, but there was a response to me in the former, from Henry Welch, to which I certainly should have responded in turn – viz:

“If Joseph Nicholas is indeed correct that the exploration of space is dead,” said Henry, “that is indeed unfortunate, as that also represents the end of human evolution.” This is a very old-fashioned, and indeed entirely superseded (almost nineteenth century) view of evolution – firstly of evolution as something with a sense of direction and an overall purpose, and secondly of the human species as evolution’s finest achievement to date but still at some intermediate stage in its development, partway between the plains of Africa and the gulfs between the stars. Yet if the debates of the past fifty years have taught us anything, it’s that evolution is quite the opposite: not a teleological process but a dynamic response to changing environmental contingencies, with no favouritism given to any species and all equally malleable and vulnerable. Niches open, species radiate to fill them, the geology or climate changes, and species go extinct. Humanity is no exception -- not evolution’s finest achievement, but just one in a long list of the many species it’s thrown up during the past four billion years of the Earth’s history, and as likely to be replaced, in turn, as all our predecessors.

If evolution were re-run from the pre-Cambrian, there’s not only no guarantee that after four billion years it would produce us, there’s no guarantee that the vertebrate principle on which most life on Earth is organised would be the dominant one either. The only thing one can say for certain is that, drawing on the evolutionary record to date, the average lifespan of any species is ten million years – and that because this is an average, the actual lifespan of complex species such as ourselves is much less, around one million years. (Meaning that we’re just about at the end of our run.) Evolution won’t stop with our disappearance – indeed, our disappearance, and the disappearance of the biodiversity we’ve eliminated in our rise to global dominance (“the sixth extinction” which is currently in train), will clear the stage for a new wave of biological experiments which in time will repopulate the world with something else.

Whether our successor species will be as intelligent as us, or even have any intelligence at all, is questionable. Big brains helped us in the past, allowing us to overcome our environmental obstacles and alter the niches to fit ourselves rather than vice versa; but big brains could be a hindrance in the future because of the energy they consume – energy which other species devote, and which our successor species may have to devote, to the business of survival: food, shelter, procreation.

(The late Steven Jay Gould once argued that there was no evidence to
demonstrate that intelligence conferred an evolutionary benefit – we had survived so far, but the real judgment would be history’s, which could have an entirely different opinion.) But to speak of this as “the end of human evolution” is quite meaningless, because (much though it’s misused in this way) evolution is not a synonym for development. For example, there is nothing about our brains now (size, capacity, neural connections) which differs from the brains we had when our ancestors left Africa to populate south Asia 80,000 years ago, and nor is there any reason why our brains should differ – is there anything materially different about our forms of social organisation (family – social clan/tribe – work group/cadre), our political structures (parliaments – senates – royal dictatorships), our economic relationships (buyers/sellers – employers/employees), and/or our religious beliefs (apart from the replacement of one deity with another)?

The problem with evolution as a term is that it’s become enslaved to or incorporated within the now discredited and abandoned Whig view of history – that is, a view of human culture which sees it as brutish and nasty to begin with but one which has advanced through various stages to ever-higher planes of sophistication and learning: an advancement which will continue into the indefinite future. Yet Darwin himself never liked the term “evolution”, and continued to argue for the use of “descent with modification” long after the point at which “evolution” had entered common usage (in chief part because it fitted with late Victorian ideas of progress). Recapturing our understanding of the word, and breaking free of the widespread misperception of it as a synonym for progress/development, seems to me a crucial task. Whether it is possible to do this in the face of such anti-scientific assaults as “intelligent design” (a.k.a. garbage) is another matter entirely. But, to respond more directly to Henry: evolution (and the Earth) won’t notice if we don’t spread through the galaxy, and neither will the galaxy.

Meanwhile, in issue 23, Gregory Benford recalls my comments a few issues back “downplaying the chances for a manned exploration of the solar system”. “All seemingly plausible,” he continues, “until one notes that over 20 billion dollars goes into space programs already, the majority of it for manned.” But what proportion of total annual global GNP is $20 billion? Answer: bugger-all. Even if the annual expenditure was $200 billion it would still be bugger-all as a proportion of total annual global GNP. The notion that space tourism – which is highly unlikely to ever be available to other than the super-rich, as now – will make up the funding shortfall, and transform our current fiddling about in Earth orbit for a couple of months a year into a full-scale colonisation of the solar system, is just daft. Space tourism won’t even provide follow-on vehicles for the shuttle and the international space station, and why should it? Taking the super-rich for jaunts to view the curvature of the Earth is an entirely different proposition from sending a crewed mission to Mars. (Or even the Moon – although this hasn’t stopped some US start up company claiming, as recently as last autumn (fall in US terminology), that sending tourists to photograph the far side would have a scientific purpose and so justify the whole venture, even though a robot probe would obviously be far, far cheaper. And safer.)

As I’ve remarked several times previously, here and elsewhere, the real impediment to the continuation, never mind the expansion, of crewed spaceflight, is the lack of political will by governments to meet the costs involved. Space enthusiasts who wish to see the continuation – and expansion – of crewed spaceflight have no option but to address this issue directly: to explain how they propose to overcome governments’ reluctance to spend the money, and then put that explanation to work to achieve their goals. For space enthusiasts to avoid this, by falling back on patent nonsense about space tourism, is effectively to concede that they have no idea how to overcome governments’ reluctance, and prefer instead to retreat into wish fulfillment. (Not even private industry will make up the funding gap – do you see private industry lining up to help NASA out with the International Space Station, originally budgeted to cost $8 billion and be complete by 2003 but now expected to cost $100 billion and not be complete until 2017 (a “completion” which will entail dropping many of the science modules in the original plans)? No; and for the very good reason that private industry only funds projects on which it will get a guaranteed return, not bottomless what-if space-exploration-for-the-hell-of-it.) But wish-fulfillment is no substitute for rigorous argument.

[Re:] the Hurricane Katrina-related material:

Of course, none of the other commentary comes remotely close to Dennis Dolbear’s story of surviving the hurricane and its chaotic aftermath. If anyone were still publishing annual fanthologies – Corflu seems to have abandoned the exercise, possibly over a decade ago – his article would be a natural inclusion. Even though one is left with some questions at the end of it, inconsequential though they are by comparison with the events he relates – such as: what happened to his house? And his possessions? Were they insured? Come to that, how many of the inhabitants of New Orleans had the contents and buildings insurance which will allow them to rebuild and recover? Answer: probably none, if they were inhabitants of the Ninth Ward ...
Dennis and his mother are living in a FEMA trailer outside of a second house they own, which escaped flooding, and which they plan to renovate.
A little over a week ago, as I write, we watched a programme in the Horizon series of science documentaries on BBC 2 which reviewed Katrina’s impact on New Orleans, focusing on not just what happened but (more importantly) why – the force and track of the hurricane itself, the disappearance of the coastal marshes and offshore islets which might have absorbed some of the storm surge, the damming and canalisation of the river which had reduced the silt loading which contributed to the maintenance of the islets. But perhaps the most startling piece of information was that concerning the flood defences, many of which – because they were situated on ground which had sunk since their construction, or were founded on ground where the water table was only a few inches below the surface even in the driest years – were revealed to have been incapable of withstanding even a category 1 hurricane. In other words, they could have been overwhelmed at any time before now, and it was pure luck that they weren’t. Pure bad luck, even – because if they had, they might have been rebuilt to withstand stronger forces. As it was, said one of the US Army Engineer officers overseeing the reconstruction of the flood defences, they weren’t being funded to do other than rebuild what Katrina had demolished – so vastly increasing the risk that the next hurricane will just knock them down all over again.

The wider question is whether New Orleans should be rebuilt at all. As Don Markstein (and others) remark, all major rivers have port cities on them at or about the point where they reach the sea; New Orleans and the Mississippi are no exception, and in this particular case the Mississippi is so important to US commerce that not rebuilding is not an option. But should one rebuild more than the port facilities? There’s probably an argument for keeping the French Quarter and the Garden District, both of which were on higher ground so were less affected; but what about the rest, given that much of the city sits in a bowl below sea level and will almost certainly be hit by another hurricane at some point in the future? (Echo answers: well, *I* certainly wouldn’t want to live there. And if the neocons who are salivating to turn the New Orleans Reconstruction Area into another fully privatised ultra free enterprise zone get their way – having failed in Iraq, why shouldn’t they fail at home too? – few people would either want or be able to live there.) A number of experts (geologists, flood management specialists, marshland ecologists, river engineers, and others) are saying that as much as 80 percent of the former city area should be abandoned, left to revert to wilderness and swamp to provide storm protection for the rest. This will indeed reduce the city to a tourist rump of its former self, but on the other hand it would also ensure that the next hurricane doesn’t do as much damage or kill as many people. Anyway, as history and archaeology have shown, no city lasts forever!

Easily said – when the city in question isn’t one’s home, and its destruction didn’t injure or kill people one cares about.

I invite – no, I beg – other Challenger readers to let us hear their ideas and opinions on rebuilding New Orleans.

Greg Benford c/o Challenger

Mike Resnick’s article [“Bathrooms I Have Known”] is one of the funniest I’ve ever seen in a fanzine. I’ve been in some terrible johns in this world, mostly in Asia or the old Soviet Union. The worst was in a marbled conference center in Soviet Georgia cloaked with huge banners proclaiming the wonders of socialism, where the Soviet Academy of Sciences held a big meeting. I was a foreign guest and marveled at the alabaster wonder of the place – until I went to the loo. Clearly, as in much of the unlamented Soviet Union, maintenance was a problem. The toilets had overflowed and delegates had taken to voiding in the booths, so the marble room assaulted your nose upon entering. Keeping up a face before me (The Enemy), one elite professor from Moscow apologized, saying it was a “momentary” problem. He turned to a colleague, not knowing I spoke Russian, and said, “It’s always like this here, a pig sty!”

Peggy Ranson,

Ya know a curious little “addendum” struck me tonight about the whole Katrina thing. A little history. I’m PLAGUED with pigeons. They build their nest over my windows and poop all over the front porch and the acid eats away at my front porch. I even have those plastic needles up and it doesn’t work. When I was driving home from Memphis I remember thinking “well, at last, the pigeons will be gone.” And what was the FIRST thing I saw when I drove into my driveway???? A few pair of happily cooing pigeons right where I left them and pooping away. I was screaming NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO when I got out of the car. I thot at least this one little problem would be gone and I was thunderstruck to see them still there.

This little incident left more than a few of us at the Paper wondering. WHERE DO THE WILD LIFE GO???? And believe me they know before us all how bad it’s going to be. Bear with me, cos City Park reported one tree being absolutely dense with squirrels. For some reason they only picked that one tree. Who are we to question.

About 10 days ago I finally got in touch with the guy who had, out of goodness of his heart, boarded up my windows for “the thing.” I was pretty desperate cos the guy I usually use and who had cut the plywood was incommunicado. Greg usually washes my house and cuts a few tree limbs for me. He was laughing hysterically that I was actually leaving. Hell, he said, I went thru Betsy. What’s the big deal? In the background his wife was yelling at him “you were FOURTEEN during Betsy, you moron. It was an ADVENTURE!!!! You’re a f--king old man now! Get over it!!!!” At any rate he rustled up a friend and they came over and boarded up my house and my friend Mary’s.

I had been back about a month when I tried to call him. It was the only call I made in the city where the operator came on line to say due to the storm the service would not be back to this area in the foreseeable future. Greg and his friend had refused to take the money for boarding up saying pay us when you get back (!)

Well, as I said I finally got him on his cell phone a few days ago. A really great guy and I was SO afraid of the worst. Yes, they lost everything. But here’s the real story (back to the animals). They had stayed till the last minute. Then his father in law called who lived in New Orleans East. He told Greg he reallllllly had a very bad feeling about this so Greg said come and stay with me. He said he went and got his father and brother in law and brought them back to his house. Later that night or early morning he went out to the front yard. He said, “Peggy, it was soooo strange. Not a sound. Not a bird, a dog, a car not nothing.” That’s when he knew. He absolutely knew that hell was on the way. He went back into the house and told everyone they were leaving right then and there. He was totally creeped out. “The thing” was already beginning to hit so they had no traffic to deal with. He said they barely made it out.

But it was the animals, the birds. the silence. Like the howling of dogs before an earthquake. Where do they GO????

Where in hell did my pesky pigeons spend the storm?

I really want to know....

Larry Epke,

It’s difficult to know how to respond to the many personal stories about New Orleans that fill Challenger #23. I find myself filled with a whole range of the Kubler-Ross stages of response to tragedy: Anger, Depression, Acceptance. (I never felt Denial; I’ll leave that for the Bush Administration, since it was their only response.)

To Dennis Dolbear’s “Survivor” my reaction was Shock and Awe. It’s like a bad Made-for-TV movie, but Real. I do hope you’ll be able to update us on Dennis’ post-Katrina recovery – naturally all of your readers will want to know. (And I don’t want this missive to neglect to give my “requiescat in pace” to John Guidry’s mother, Anne Winston’s grandmother and Cindy Snowden.)

New Orleans won’t be the same, of course – it can’t be after what has happened. Entrenched powers now seem to be willing to leave the poorest people to fend for themselves, while corporations gain reconstruction funds. Some parts of the city will rise, but the poorest part of an already poor city may stagnate for decades before any improvement – benign neglect in action.

Even as I write this (late March 2006) the Bush Administration is claiming the 11,000 unused trailers in Arkansas are the result of bureaucracy, but won’t admit that they’ve been running that bureaucracy for the past five years, and it’s overlords are the people Boy George insists are doing “a great job.” Their ideology is that government can’t do anything, and they intend to prove it! Public monies, as they see it, exist to be given to donor corporations that may or may not do the job they’ve been contracted to do. It is a true kleptocracy – government of thieves.

I don’t blame the hurricane on the Administration, and I don’t blame the destruction of the levees on the Administration – but when given a chance to act to help thousands of Americans in need, the Administration found themselves too busy with other things. They could do nothing because they don’t believe in expertise. If you think only YOU have the answers, then those who don’t agree can’t be right. They routinely disparage other views, and then fail miserably – all the time insisting that things are going fine!

For those with an interest in views of NOLa after the horrors, I’d recommend the blogs posted at

There was indeed more in Issue 23 – I was interested in Alexis Gilliland’s article on Iraq. He’s convinced Bush will pull out when the generals tell him to, but I’m dubious. He’s not shown much connection to reality in the past five years, and there’s always a sycophant on hand to assure him he’s right (which assurance he doesn’t need anyway). He may destroy the Army to save his skin. (Right now in Doonesbury, the Army is getting the new slogan, “Remember the November Elections!” Seems about right.)

Re: Don Markstein’s reference to: “…semi-literate Yankees.” In Ohio, my Maine family are “Yankees.” In Louisiana, Ohioans are “Yankees.” In England, Don would be a “Yankee.” The meaning of the term varies by the speaker’s location. (Of course, my family, Don and I all far surpass the “semi-literate” state.)

You lived in the Easy for many years – and have been much missed since you left. Be no more a stranger!

Robert Kennedy, Camarillo CA,USA

Your commentary on New Orleans and the various personal commentaries about hurricane Katrina and the flooding were outstanding and very much appreciated.

The John W. Campbell article by Joseph Green (your father-in law?) [yep] was quite interesting. Mike Resnick’s “Bathrooms I Have Known” was hilarious. Hilarious if one wasn’t there.

We’ve been having quite a bit of rain which is very much needed. (Actually, to be up to normal we need another three or four inches.) No flooding here. But, further North levees broke and there was flooding. A few weeks ago I was informed that my area has now been categorized as a 100 year flood plain. I do not have any intention of obtaining flood insurance. The earthquake insurance premium is quite high. Adding flood insurance on top of my homeowner’s policy and earthquake insurance is financially out of the question. Anyway, there is a solution. There is a narrow bridge that goes over Calleguas Creek to the Seminary (it’s called Seminary Bridge for some reason). This bridge is the problem because of what it does to the flow of water. Remove the bridge and my area is no longer a flood plain. It’s being considered and the sooner it is removed, the better.

By the way, Camarillo did have a flood on February 6, 1998. My street turned into a river, the water was way up onto my lawn, and the back yard was like a lake. No damage. But, other areas of Camarillo were not so lucky. We made the TV news.

If we really want to get levee rebuilding right we should bring in Dutch experts.

A thoroughly enjoyable issue. Thank you.

Terry Jeeves, Scarborough, N. Yorks. U.K.

Very many thanks for the magnificent issue of Challenger which arrived here safely a couple of days ago.

A super cover on C23, but no word of how or what in its creation -- was it a photo, a drawing or a computer graph-ic? Whatever, it is a striking work of art.
Alan White provided a highly entertaining explanation of the creation of his cover art for Chall #15 five years ago; what say we ask him for a sequel about #23? And check out his cover to The Antipodal Route, our DUFF report.
“Gone with the Wind” was a fascinating piece of nostalgia, how is it that past event in one’s childhood are so much more interesting than contemporary events – I have read the type of Con Report which is a mess of “I met so and so, I had a meal with x, y had a sore throat and so on. You avoided that trap.

“Survivor” was a real tour de force and deserves a wider audience than a fanzine. What a determination and refusal to submit to horrible events. It was, is marvelous writing, which did a far better job than newspaper or media breast-beating.

I also enjoyed the meeting with John Campbell, I had the pleasure of meeting him at the 1957 Worldcon in London. I was sitting quietly minding a Hieronymus machine made by Eric Jones when JWC came by and stopped to talk about it. I was too in awe to make a proper set of responses, but I met him.

The piece on toilets reminded me of some unusual ones I have met. On the Frontier mail from Bombay to Delhi, a 24 hour trip, the toilet was a small cubicle with two painted footprints which told you where to crouch and hope your aim (and that of the last person) was true. A similar hole in the ground was standard on 356 Squadron aerodrome where I lost a full cigarette from the back pocket of my shorts. Then there was the time when in a Barcelona toilet I was peacefully standing and minding my own business when an old crone came along whisking a twig broom around my feet. The most unusual was on a troop ship going to India. Two long planks were above a gutter down which ran a constant stream of water. It was uncomfortable to sit on the planks but it got even more so when some joker set fire to a bit of old newspaper and dropped it upstream to make its way past half a dozen hot bottoms!

The New Orleans hurricane was a disaster but I`m not so sure that the rescue services were at fault in coping with it. They too had their problems and communications must have been chaotic.

Much more to say, but my back is getting tired. A great issue GUY and like you, I am not a lover of e-fanzines.

Sue Jones, Shrewsbury, U.K.

It may seem like we’re tooting our own tuba, but one fanzine’s review of Challenger #23 must be reprinted, if only to offer thanks to the author – Sue Jones, of Tortoise (available for the usual at Flat 5, 32-33 Castle Street, Shrewsbury SY1 2BQ, U.K.).

I knew that Guy Lillian’s Challenger 23 would be bound to be concerned with the recent devastation of New Orleans and its aftermath. And so it is. Not a zine to skim through lightly. The articles are often grim, but full of real stories of real people, with direct and powerful writing. It moved me to tears more than once. Chall 23 is a fine lament for a drowned city, but it is also a hymn to the human spirit and its will to survive. Go read.