|A Science Fiction Fanzine||Spring-Summer 2007|
THE DEEP FIELD
Guy Lillian III
… a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
…And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? Yeats: “The Second Coming”
Lately I’ve been searching the sky for the largest and most distant thing a human being can see with the naked eye: Messier 31 – the Andromeda galaxy. I know the directions: you start with the Big Dipper, find the Pole Star, draw a line from Polaris through one of the “V” shapes in Cassiopeia and just port of that line … there it is. Of course, when you find it in the sky, you don’t see the majestic radiant disc from observatory photographs; only the glow from its central core. If you could see the whole galactic expanse, we’re told, it would stretch across the sky six times the diameter of the moon. Try as I might, I’ve never seen it. I should have better luck come autumn; M31 is pretty close to the horizon during summer months. In the meantime, there is always Astronomy Picture of the Day, my favorite site on the web, and its many shots of our beautiful, serene galactic neighbor..
Astronomical photos are fascinating: all that size, beauty, distance … and baseness. It’s hard to be more basic, after all, than amorphous gas sculpted by gravity, solar wind, and brute physics. Probably the most stunning shots I’ve seen are Hubble’s Deep Field photos, taken when they pointed the great orbiting telescope at an empty spot in space and focused on infinity. One of the resulting pictures encompassed ten thousand galaxies, of all shapes, types, and colors, dating back as close as we have ever come to the beginning of all things. When you think of not only how many lives and civilizations, but how many geological ages have passed since that light left those sources, and it’s a remarkably calming view.
Take a look at The Atlas of the Universe by Richard Powell. The website starts with something far larger than most people can fathom: the Solar System. It moves on to the Galactic Arm, then the Milky Way, the Local Group, the Virgo Super-cluster, and finally, the known universe. With each step in that magnificent progression from individual to universal, our selves and our planet become smaller, to and past the point of infinitesimal – into atomic insignificance. Consider the Deep Field: it’s a wonderful method for putting one’s problems into perspective.
Or at least it would be so if we were simply elements, moved only by gravity and cosmic rays. But people are more than matter. We do more than exist. We care, and this summer, we mourn.
I deal in the world of crime – it’s my profession. As a defense lawyer, I try to bring the patina of sanity and civilization to insanity and savagery, by championing due process against people’s impulse to reckless retribution, and trying to build understanding for those who often commit acts beyond understanding. In this job, as I’ve said before, we always defend the undefended, occasionally defend the defenseless – i.e., those unjustly accused – and sometimes, God help us, defend the indefensible.
I often feel inadequate in the face of this profession’s demands, not only because of my own failings, lassitude and simple stupidity, but because sometimes I have to explain horrors. That verb is important, because attorneys are not trying to excuse crime, but to explain it, and by explaining it, to restrain our base vengefulness – and preserve what’s best about society. That’s the point behind “Healter Skelter”, reprinted in this issue: to make sense of senselessness, to find humanity in inhumanity, to offer a path to forgiveness and peace of mind. Peace of mind and justice are after all, one and the same.
But even justice has its limitations, and that’s just what we slam into when faced with Virginia Tech. Just as with Columbine, in this present tragedy unknowable forces are at work: arbitrary psychopathy, “a grinding of the mind,” lunacy, hatred. The legal principles in which I believe cannot answer the questions that follow. Only the strongest – some would say the blindest – faith could answer them. I don’t have such faith, but I envy those who do. Maybe it’s too easy to accept the obscenities of life as God’s will, but I can’t blame anyone for embracing such solace.
Solace is forbidden to most of us when faced with Virginia Tech. At Tech our own community, the world of science fiction, was scoured and burned. The fine son of a fine couple, people who have enhanced the lives not only of their friends and their readers, but everyone in the genre, has been taken from them and from the world. Jamie Bishop was a man of talent and generosity with that talent., and his loss is an inestimable disaster.
We don’t understand why. There is no why to understand. As we did after Katrina, after Columbine, after the destruction of Challenger and Columbia, all we can feel is confusion, and regret. We can’t even feel anger, because the acts of Cho Seung-Hui, being beyond comprehensibility, fall beyond anger, too. Anger requires blame. Who do you blame? Society? Guns? Video games? Cho’s family? The maniac himself? None suffice. How do we answer this frustration? What do we do?
I have a small and no doubt ridiculous idea. Again, look to the infinite and indifferent stars.
The aesthetic beauty of Andromeda and the other celestia is wondrous, but I propose that for real wonder, use your imagination. Consider the people living in those impossibly distant venues – it’s a mathematical certainty that there are multitudes. Imagine their lives, their hopes, their loves, their gains, their losses, their happiness … their grief. Imagine the dreamers among them looking up into their night skies, and finding the hazy glow that, for them, is the Milky Way. Imagine them imagining … us.
Imagine the communion that creates – the truly Deep Field. We needn’t look to the heavens to find it, either. It’s the only answer we have to the indifference of the sky and the insanity of the moment, the brother- and sisterhood of living, the unbreakable bond of care.
Before Virginia Tech, issue #26 of Challenger sported a funny cover by Ken Mitcheroney – but these aren’t funny times. I’ve put Ken’s ‘toon off for an issue and replaced it with “The Laughing Lion” by my old grad school friend, Susan Russell. (It ties in perfectly with the Yeats verse above.) The issue also had a theme going, and that survives – travel. Look at all the fine writing on our contents set hither and thither about the globe! Eve Ackerman takes us to Israel. Greg Benford takes us to Asia. Gary Robe takes us to Peru – and is damned glad to get home again! Mike Resnick hails the establishments where he has hung his hat during his many journeys far from our shores. I may never get there, but at least I can read about it. (Mike and Greg also provide editorials for this issue – statements of opinion on topics that hit their fancy. I urge any reader so moved to chime in with such comments for future issues.)
Acting on my request, and to keep the issue of my adopted home city before the world, Tom Feller explains New Orleans’ “post-K” insurance woes. (Has any presidential candidate besides John Edwards – who opened his campaign in the ruins of the Crescent City – addressed the tragedy of the Easy, or have they forgotten New Orleans, too?) Finally, Curt Phillips chimes in with a final farewell to our main man, Bob Tucker … and a special gift. Here’s Curt:
Earl Kemp tells me that Dean Grennell most likely took the photo of Lee Hoffman and Tucker on our back page. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better portrait of a fannish friendship.
As always, Challenger is blessed by marvelous artwork. These pages have seen Kurt Erichsen and Charlie Williams often (Charlie’s picture of Astrid Anderson is reprinted from Mimosa, courtesy the artist and Rich Lynch), but this is only the second time Julia Morgan-Scott has graced us. Both she and Sheryl Birkhead are on deck for cover appearances here. Also, we feature the lasting, seemingly inexhaustible genius of William Rotsler, Ian Gunn, and Joe Mayhew. Thank you, people, and I’ll be bugging you again.
Three closing notes. First: Ned Brooks provided essential help in locating the original publication of my Alfred Bester interview, republished last issue. A special salaam of gratitude to him.
Second: a reminder that my DUFF trip report, The Antipodal Route, is on sale through me for ten dolla’, every cent of which will go to the fabulous Down Under Fan Fund. If you send a check, make it out to Joe Siclari, current administrator; I’ll send him the money and you the zine.
Finally, very special thanks to you, our readers, for nominating Challenger for the Nippon 2007 Hugo. We can’t attend, alas, but have asked Naomi Fisher to represent us at the ceremony. It’s just a thought, but … wouldn’t it be great to if she got the chance to show off her new dress?