Bewildering Stories

John Thiel writes...

about issue 85

Don and Staff (and other writers in #85 too):

You refer to the totality of a dismaying, negative or oppressive environment whose totalism is sometimes reinforced by totalitarianism. I find the normal conditions of life on Earth to be conducive to the setting in of this oppressive condition. What we have is a way of living which thwarts certain of our impulses and desires and which, eventually, in its progress through time, thwarts most of them.

Sartre saw earthly living conditions as being timelessly rigged against the fulfilling of other than mortal purposes, and tends to have pointed out that even he had no desire to change this; man had lived his way into these conditions through his own inclinations, which had not changed any. But Sartre's writings, unlike Sartre himself, did want out of this; and, similarly, mankind as a whole would like to find a way out of this "inharmonious weird predicament" from which the individual identity suffers, if the general identity as a human being does not.

Death may be no problem, but dying unfulfilled is a problem. The spirit existing in the present time and place feels a resentment of the probability of oppression of potentialities culminating in "meaningless" death, as the existentialists put it.

Thereby I take this to be a major preoccupation in our most vital speculative writings, and as you ask about the relevance of SF, I would say that its tendency to seek out future possibilities is relevant to the matter of decreasing possibilities and potentialities and a good medium through which to discuss such matters.

As to my own piece, the characters are war-bred, but are thinking their way out of a war which is an oppressive, everlasting condition, as Eric Frank Russell suggested might be done.

Speaking of everlasting conditions, I see more references to bookstores and feel I should point out that both Barnes and Noble and Borders are solid Establishment outlets. I bought a book on acting at Borders recently and sure enough, it contained doctrine. The doctrine was Russian, but that never bothered the Establishment any.

As a further note on oppression, you have entrenched magic in one of your tales this issue — a neighbor presenting a subpoena is hoodoo. As there's also black magic and cannibalism in the tale, I think it's an example of a story with a background of social oppression, considering that enforced magical conditions are oppressive.

Er, a lot of Deep Bora's letter tends to establish that his stories do kick ass, whether readers have given them that accolade or not.

Best wishes,
John Thiel

Thank you again, John. Speaking of “staff,” Jerry and I look upon each other more as a pair of crutches than as canes. We wish we did have a “staff” in the figurative sense: we have projects big enough for a number of people to work on.

Deep Bora’s stories are indeed unique. They’re rather different from his letters in issue 85, which are written in a “reportorial” style. And yet the situations depicted in the letters might be compared with those in his stories. I’m thinking particularly of Deep’s travails and conversations with the contractor and workmen. Perhaps one can find stylistic and cultural parallels with the conversations that take place among the scientists in Deep’s stories.

I’ve always liked Eric Frank Russell partly for his dry humor but mainly for his humane outlook. A well-known story of his, “And Then There Were None,” first published in Astounding, captures most of all his pacifism and faith that intelligence — or call it sheer cleverness — can overcome brute force. And I gather that’s what you found in Russell, too.

“Death may be no problem, but dying unfulfilled is a problem.” A timeless preoccupation, one that Montaigne, notably, wrestles with at length in his Stoic phase. In the end, though, the problem is resolved by living “fulfilled.” And what is that fulfillment? Something that writers — like everyone — must seek, each for himself.

Copyright © 2004 by John Thiel and Bewildering Stories

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