David Lang­ford digs up SF gems of yes­ter­year, while the re­turn of Star­gate gets Bon­nie Bur­ton mus­ing.

SFX - - Contents - David Lang­ford won­ders how long in the tooth he’ll have to be be­fore his own early works qual­ify as Cu­riosi­ties.

One odd cor­ner of the SF world is “Cu­riosi­ties”, the back page of the ven­er­a­ble Mag­a­zine Of Fan­tasy And SF. Here, var­i­ous old fo­geys in­clud­ing me go on about for­got­ten books that tickle their aged fancy.

Here are some un­likely works I’ve writ­ten about there:

CH Hin­ton’s non­fic­tion The Fourth Di­men­sion ( 1904) is ar­guably even dead­lier to san­ity than the Ne­cro­nomi­con. Peo­ple have been driven round the twist by its ex­er­cises in vi­su­al­is­ing 4D space through sets of coloured cubes. With mnemonic chants like “satan, sanet, satet”...

Mus­rum ( 1968) by Eric Thacker and An­thony Earn­shaw, a deeply weird cult fan­tasy, fea­tures many wise say­ings like “A tor­pe­doed cathe­dral sinks rapidly into the earth.” Its cen­tral McGuf­fin, tastier by far than the One Ring, is the Gi­ant Mush­room. Com­pli­ca­tions in­clude the Sec­ond Crimean War.

Lord Dun­sany’s The Last Revo­lu­tion ( 1951) is his one straight SF novel, with sel­f­re­pro­duc­ing robots that re­volt and threaten English ru­ral life. Luck­ily they weren’t built for the out­doors: just as bac­te­ria nob­bled Wells’s Mar­tians, the ma­chine horde suc­cumbs to rust.

The Cruise Of The Talk­ing Fish ( 1957) by WE Bowman spoofs The Kon- Tiki Ex­pe­di­tion but turns into SF when the raft crew’s pet cats eat ra­dioac­tive fly­ing fish. This flips them into su­per- speed, liv­ing and breed­ing in fast- for­ward un­til... does any­one re­mem­ber a Star Trek episode about trib­bles?

A fa­mous epi­gram: “You can­not hope / to bribe or twist, / thank God! The / Bri­tish jour­nal­ist. / But, see­ing what / the man will do / un­bribed, there’s / no oc­ca­sion to.” Hardly any­one knows it’s from The Unce­les­tial City ( 1930) by Hum­bert Wolfe, a book- length after­life fan­tasy in verse. I read it for Cu­riosi­ties so oth­ers wouldn’t have to.

Leo Lionni’s Par­al­lel Botany ( 1977) is a non­fact pop- sci­ence book about an imag­i­nary plant king­dom that’s un­fairly ne­glected be­cause many ex­am­ples are in­vis­i­ble. If vis­i­ble, their colours may be an un­ob­tru­sive “gamut of blacks”, though some cast lu­mi­nous shad­ows. And so weirdly on. Botany by Jorge Luis Borges.

The “real” facts in David Hughes’s alt- his­tory But For Bunter ( 1985) were sup­pressed by the gov­ern­ment be­cause “they em­bar­rass the en­tire cen­tury. They make his­tory it­self look ridicu­lous.” It emerges that Billy Bunter and his chums at Greyfri­ars School were all real peo­ple ( the school rot­ter grew up as Sir Oswald Mosley); Bunter him­self is bum­blingly re­spon­si­ble for many dis­as­ters in­clud­ing the wreck of the Ti­tanic.

Heavens ( 1922) by Louis Un­ter­meyer is a par­ody col­lec­tion spoof­ing var­i­ous au­thors’ ver­sions of heaven. Vic­tims in­clude James Branch Ca­bell, GK Ch­ester­ton... and HG Wells, be­gin­ning with a 21st- cen­tury utopia where “cor­ners and all dust- col­lect­ing an­gles had long since van­ished from ar­chi­tec­ture”, and shift­ing by Time Ma­chine to slightly em­bar­rass­ing come­up­pance in AD 5,320,506.

In John Buchan’s only sci­ence fic­tion novel The Gap In The Cur­tain ( 1932), var­i­ous ter­ri­bly English chaps get one quick glimpse of a news­pa­per a year in the fu­ture. Can they profit from this inside knowl­edge? There doesn’t seem much hope for the two who see their own obituaries, but Time turns out to be a tricky business.

My first Cu­rios­ity was about an Ernest Bramah story, and F& SF doesn’t let you re­visit the same au­thor – so I can’t tackle The Se­cret Of The League ( 1907), where in­stead of jet­packs peo­ple have strap- on me­chan­i­cal wings, lead­ing to ques­tions of English pro­pri­ety: “Hast­ings per­mit­ted mixed fly­ing.” And Tun­bridge Wells was Dis­gusted.

It emerges that Billy Bunter and his chums were real peo­ple

SF writer David Lang­ford has had a col­umn in SFX since is­sue one. David has re­ceived 29 Hugo Awards through­out his ca­reer. His cel­e­brated SF news­let­ter can be found at http:// news. an­si­ble. co. uk. He is a prin­ci­pal ed­i­tor of the SF En­cy­clo­pe­dia at http:// www. sf- en­cy­clo­pe­dia. com.

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