Thursday, January 29, 2009

Curt Phillips, Abingdon , VA



I know people who don't like dogs. Just honestly and sincerely don't like them. I don't *understand* such people, and certainly I don't really trust their judgment or their character, but I do know some. (I offer no apologies to anyone reading this who also doesn't like dogs; there's something wrong with people like that.) I always feel very sorry for them in the same way that I feel sorry for the 98% of the population who say they don't read books for pleasure. Anyone who shuts themselves off from the best of what life here on planet Earth has to offer just isn't fulfilling the promise of their own humanity, and books and dogs are certainly two of those best things. There are others, but your editorial in Challenger 28 reminded me of the several dogs I've known since I was a young child and whose ghosts still walk companionably beside me each day. Liz and I have been incredibly lucky to have had some truly great dogs in our lives, and they always seem to choose us instead of the other way around.

Our current dog is a large mixed-breed named Smudge. We found her at the local animal shelter here in Abingdon a few years ago – or rather Liz found her there. I was still in denial about needing a dog in my life after the death the previous year of our small terrier named Muffy, who at the age of 12 suffered a stroke and lingered about a week. On her final day I had stayed home from work and took care of her while I tried to convince myself that she might yet recover. But she had stopped eating and drinking, and was having great difficulty in responding to anything. After a few hours of struggle with myself, I accepted with great difficulty that I was going to have to let her go, and I called the vet to make an appointment that day to have her put to sleep. I hung up the phone, went back to my bedroom where Muffy was waiting on the bed I'd made for her, and I picked up my dog and just held her and silently cried. About half an hour later Muffy managed to lick my face once, and then she had another stroke and died there in my arms. Liz found us there later when she got home from work. Late that evening, I took Muffy out to my parents' farm and buried her under a tree. I thought then that I'd never have another dog.

More than two years later, Liz brought Smudge home from the pound. It was a complete surprise to me. She said that some impulse just made her go and look at the dogs in the shelter that day, and in the midst of about 40 loud, yapping, snarling dogs, one small, skinny bedraggled mess of black fur just sat there in the middle of its cage and looked at her. It was love at first sight and she brought the dog home. The dog was hard to look at. It had
evidently been neglected as it was about 10 months old and emaciated. It had patches of fur missing, motor oil on its back from sleeping under cars somewhere, and she smelled terrible. We cleaned up most of the mess that night and tried to start her on some soft food, but soon realized that Smudge was sick and a trip to the veterinarian the next afternoon confirmed my suspicion. Smudge had Parvo virus; a debilitating condition and in her already weakened condition, almost certainly a fatal condition. The veterinarian told us "no promises" but that with IV antibiotics she might be able to save the dog. The cost? $600. We'd only had this pound puppy for a bit more than 24 hours and the *reasonable* thing to do would have been to have her put to sleep right then, and if I'd been there alone that day I'm afraid that I might have done the reasonable thing. We were – at that time – still recovering financially from the loss of my 19 year job from a plant closure a few years earlier followed by going back to school to become an RN while working in a lumber yard to put food on the table, and at that moment I didn't have $600 in the bank. I would have *wanted* to save the dog if I could, but as I said, if I'd had to make that decision alone I'm afraid I couldn't have justified spending the money that my family needed on saving that sad, sick dog.

Fortunately – thank God – Liz was with me. She didn't say a word and if I'd told the veterinarian to put Smudge to sleep, she probably would never have said anything to me about it, ever. But she looked at me, and I could see that she needed – not a miracle, exactly, but she needed me to make a leap of faith for that dog. And then I looked at Smudge and saw that Smudge was looking to me for something... heroic. Laugh in you want to reader; but I know what I saw in my dog's eyes that afternoon. So I took Smudge's head in my hands, looked deep into her eyes, and said, "OK Smudge; I won't give up on you, so don't you ever give up on us."

We started the antibiotics, I found the money to pay the bill somehow, and Smudge slowly recovered. Today she's a healthy full grown dog with a beautiful black coat tinged with a few gray hairs, and is the calmest companion, the best watchdog, and the most loyal friend I've ever had. Sometimes when I'm sitting in the living room reading a book, she'll come in, jump on the couch with me, and lean against my shoulder, and the look I see in her eyes then reminds me once again that spending that $600 was the best investment I've ever made.

A great dawg story! Pepper sends Smudge a friendly sniff.

Sheryl Birkhead's article on the farm critters of her youth certainly brought back my own memories of my grandparent's farm with its dairy cows, hogs, and 100+ chickens. I well understand her battle with laying hens that will enthusiastically attack with beak and talon any small child who ventures too near their nest, and I learned the hard way that the only way to deal with chickens is to show them who's boss. If you show any fear around chickens that *will* gang up on you and attack. Been there, done that. My Grandfather Poe never had any trouble with the chickens because if one tried to peck at him he'd swat it with his old straw hat. The chicken – outraged – would run squawking off to tell all the other chickens about her ill-treatment, and Grandfather would quickly collect the eggs and leave before the hens could organize a counter-attack. Grandfather lived to be 89 and no chickens were involved with his death, so I guess he was right about them all along.

I had no idea until I read it in
Challenger 28 that Sheryl is a veterinarian. That was my first career ambition when I was 14 and doing the Veterinary Science project in the 4-H club. There are times when I still wish I'd gone ahead and tried to follow that dream, but I let myself become distracted. And I'm tickled to learn that Sheryl went to school at Virginia Tech, just about 80 miles up the road from where I live. I spent a lot of summers there with various 4-H camps and Congresses. It's a great school and a great community.

Warren Buff's article on Animal Companions and Empathy is well written but since I've not read any of Philip Pullman's books I had trouble following the explanation of his themes. I found myself wondering if Warren has read Clifford Simak's classic novel City with its evolved and very empathic dogs? If not I'd very much like to read an expanded article from Warren someday that incorporates his commentary about that work too. Simak was clearly a dog man anyway. His Hugo-winning Way Station included (if I'm remembering correctly) a dog character that
figured prominently in the story. I must read Simak again very soon.

I greatly enjoyed reading Joseph Green's article "Science Fiction: Entering the Great Divide" and was particularly intrigued with his comment "With a little vision on the part of coming American administrations, new and perhaps highly beneficial discoveries await us (in space)." This must have been written early in 2008, long before most of us let ourselves believe that the next American administration would be one led by Barack Obama, a man who seems to be "one of us" in his belief that science is a good and powerful tool that can be used to enhance the lives of everyone on the planet. The previous administration seems to have had rather less faith and considerably less understanding of the wisdom of scientific inquiry in solving the challenges of the 21st century. Even standing here in the ashes of late-2008 America I'm more hopeful about the future now than I've been in several years – but I digress...

Joe's observation of Earth-based vs. space-based SF hadn't particularly occurred to me before but I see his points. I've been more concerned with the trend towards outright fantasy works being nominated for and winning the Hugo awards for the past few years, a point that Joe also touches on. But I'd not considered his observation that the trends in Hugo and Nebula award choices might reflect the way that the SF reading public innately sees the future unfolding within our own lifetimes. Could be, but I would have thought that it was more a case of there being fewer writers willing to tackle vast space epics anymore. After "Doc" Smith started his career in the late 20's by throwing whole galaxies around like beanbags, what does a new SF writer do to top that? Some are certainly
holding up the tradition today – and I'm thinking of Alistair Reynolds, Charles Stross, Ken Macleod, and others of that school – both by looking outward as well as looking inward in the ongoing SF exploration of human destiny (*there's* a phrase for you...) and even though the ever shrinking pool of SF *readers* seems to generally prefer fairly basic Sci-Fi mind-candy to actual ground-breaking SF, there are still writers and readers who thrive on the good stuff.

Just not that many of us, really. I worry greatly for the future of the remaining SF magazines as each year their circulation numbers creep lower and lower. I hope they all rebound and thrive for decades yet to come, but it's harder and harder to see how they can continue to publish for many more years. And with the economy on life-support (thanks for that, Pres. Bush...) here in late 2008, bookstores across the country – as well as many other marginal businesses – are starting to close their doors. The B. Dalton's store in Bristol – a bookshop I've shopped at since 1973 – is closing at the end of January. I stopped in there today after work to find them in the middle of a "half-price Going-Out-Of-Business" sale. Very depressing. I'm not sure where I'll go to shop for new SF now. I suppose the computer generation will happily adapt to shopping for books and most other things on-line, but being old-fashioned, I like to hold a book in my hands and let it speak to me before I buy. But then, I'm just odd like that.

I can't agree with Laura Haywood-Cory that there is a "profound generational gap" that divides fandom. Generation gaps have little or nothing to do with the issue, in my opinion. Fandom *does* certainly have many subgroups, as Laura points out, and it is *that* fact which accounts for the division that afflicts fandom. "Trufandom" (not "true
fandom") is the group that traces it's roots back to the very beginning of organized Fandom in 1929 and which still practices the same traditional fan activities that the first fans did; fanzines, correspondence with other fans, and actually *reading* SF. I'm a member of that group and like my fellow Trufen I secretly consider *my* fandom to be *the* fandom. The real thing, the big kahuna, and so forth. The problem is, *every* fannish group can likewise trace their lineage back to 1929 – and some (pulp fandom, for instance) to decades before that – and all of them (as far as I know) also secretly consider *their* fandom to the *the* fandom.

And actually, that in itself is really no problem at all. Just because I like to read old pulp magazines, write for fanzines, and hang out with other fans who enjoy talking about Bob Tucker and Walt Willis and exploring fannish history doesn't mean that people who like to do other things and call it "fannish" are any less a part of Fandom than I am. I have to admit that some of the activities that pass for fannish today confuse me greatly; gaming fandom, for example. I just don't see the point or the attraction. Comics, filking, and a few other activities all leave me likewise unimpressed. But that's just me, and I know there are some people active in fandom who think my fascination with collecting old pulp magazines is a silly waste of time. But *I* like it, and I have a few friends who also enjoy the same hobby so I have someone to talk with about it. What more can I ask from a hobby?


The real problem – or so it seems to me – is a matter of definitions. Fandom long ago began fracturing into splinter interest groups. That's a very natural thing for human beings to do with their interests, but we somehow all allowed ourselves to fall into the trap of looking at the other fan activities and snobbishly thinking – or even saying – "my fandom's better than yours". Heck, I did it myself in the paragraph above with my off-handed snub of the gamers. Am I going to take it back? Heck no, because I really *do* think that my fandom is better than *their* fandom. That's why I'm *in* my fandom rather than theirs. We all select the interests that we want to pursue in life and we all tend to gather in herds with others who more or less share our particular collection of interests. And if the gamers want to call me up and say, "Curt, we think *your* fannish interests are just as silly as you think ours is," I'll have to admit that they have a perfectly valid point. Now, I'm not ready to put on a Star Wars storm trooper costume and march in the Rose Bowl parade, but none of this should really matter to any of us so long as we can admit to ourselves that we're all equally silly and equally majestic in our very human explorations of the intellect. We could all stand to show a little more tolerance and respect for the other areas of fandom that whirl madly about the fannish cosmos. All are fueled by our passions and all have the potential to illuminate our lives.

Except, of course, for the furries. They're just honking weird...

I enjoyed Greg Benford's review of Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near. Of all the science fictional concepts to emerge in the past 30 years, the Singularity is one of the most compelling to consider. Largely because although it
arose from SF, it's a concept that looms staggeringly above us all like a Sword of Damocles ready to lop off our heads at the first false move. Or maybe it's really the Lamp of Diogenes, offering illumination to the destination we should all be striving for. I dunno which one yet. Stick around a bit and we'll all see for ourselves soon enough. I think Benford is all too correct in his implication that we all need to successfully achieve and survive a social Singularity before we start rending our garments over the pending technological Singularity. Having new tools is one thing; having the wisdom to use them without exterminating ourselves is quite another.

Your "Birth of a Notion" was compelling reading. I have a deep loathing of the Ku Klux Klan both for the usual reasons (that they foster racism and incubate murderers, etc.) as well as for the lesser reason that as a white southerner and the descendent of Confederate soldiers (as well as a couple of Union soldiers) the Klan drags a part of my heritage through the same muck that they proudly march in. They continue to illegitimately appropriate our common southern heritage to serve their monstrous goals and in so doing they shame us all. They are the principal reason that southerners still have to apologetically explain their own culture here in the 21st century. They are the final festering wound of the American Civil War and the very embodiment of the true evil of American racism.

I enjoyed Rich Dengrove's review of Edison's Conquest of Mars, but then as a devotee of antique STF I'm predisposed to like that sort of thing. Thanks for printing T.K.F.Weisskopf Reinhardt (heck, I'm just gonna call her
"Toni"...) DSC GOH speech. I deeply wish I could have been there to hear it presented live but reading it in Challenger is a nice consolation for not having attended the convention myself. Chall 28 had the first bit of fan fiction I've ever read by Mike Glyer and though I'm not a Flashman fan, Mike's piece is pretty good and the jokes still work even though I probably missed a few references. I enjoyed Kurt Erichsen and John Widmer's trip report since a well written trip report is a joy all by itself even if I don't know the places they mention. For the same reason I greatly enjoyed reading James Bacon's "Truman in Trouble", (great photos, James) though I'm forced to add, "Too close to the Cheetahs James." "Too close to the LIONS, James." "TOO CLOSE TO THE BULL ELEPHANT, JAMES!" Somehow, I think I'd not enjoy a trip to a South African game preserve quite as much as just reading about such a trip in Challenger...

I knew that Mike and Carol Resnick had been involved in breeding Collies but I didn't know how deeply they'd been involved in the dog show world. This was a fascinating look at how that business works, but it convinces me that I could never be involved in anything like that. I'd make pets of them all and would have 20 dogs living in the house with us. Not with Collies, perhaps, but I could see having that many West Highlands White Terriers around the house. Lots of work, but fun if you like that sort of thing.

I'd heard the story of the SFPA 100 collation before from others who were there, but you seem to have a lot more
meat on the bones of that story. I actually have a copy of that mailing even though I wasn't a member of SFPA at the time (My sojourn in SFPA came much later.) It came to me through Lynn Hickman when his family gave me his fanzine collection after his death in 1996. I never have completely reassembled the mailing but I do have more than half of it all together and I assume the rest of it is there, scattered among the 15 or 16 assorted boxes of fanzines still occupying my library. I'm sort of hoping that you and Rosy will visit us here in Abingdon someday since I *know* that if I show you that heap of fanzines and the partially assembled SFPA 100 mailing, you'll creep back down there after I've retired for the night and you'll spend the rest of the night reassembling it. I know you, Guy; you won't be able to fall asleep until you've finished it. I'll waken the next morning all bright and well-rested and will find you sitting bleary-eyed and haggard at the kitchen table waiting for me. "Here!" you'll growl as you push that great stack of paper towards me. "Make sure you keep it together from now on. I'll be back someday to make sure you've taken care of it!" And only then will you stumble off to sleep the sleep of the Just and Untroubled.

Challenger 28 had an excellent lettercol and I could easily write a LOC as long again as this one *just* in responding to your letter writers. Many good comment hooks there, and I'm tempted to recount my own trip to Atlanta in 1986 for Confederation, but maybe I can get an article out of that Worldcon trip someday... Very good article by John Purcell – one of my favorite fanzine publishers. (All you folks out there ought to be reading John's Askance. It's good solid zine, "full of whole-wheat words and other uplift", as Albert Alligator once said of some other fanzine...) That photo of the swimming kitty un-nerves me somewhat. I know that cats are hiding Many Things from us, but the thought that they may be secretly planning to take over the Olympics is more than I can grok.

That bacover illo by Liz Copeland is a *quilt*? Wow! My old grandmother would be so jealous...

Get back to work Guy, and pub us another stunning fanzine. Fandom needs what you got, buddy. Now more than ever before!

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