Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Spring - Summer 2008

 

Critters:  An Editorial

GHLIII

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Her name was Lady. I don’t think she was named for the movie, because the Disney classic came out when I was 6, and my thoughts of her go back further than that. In fact, memories of my grandfather’s beautiful cocker spaniel are among the earliest I have. I have a photo of myself, in a gold jumpsuit, playing with her puppies. I remember that idyllic moment.

When I was ten or so my father got us a German Shepherd puppy whom my friend Steve Sullivan named Punch. He rapidly got to be too much dog for our home, so we gave him to our barber.

Best dog I ever had was Short Dog, an eighth-breed corgi my other grandfather, the great L.E. King, found in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Old L.E. was on his way to work at Edwards Air Force Base when he spotted a little yellow dog crossing the road, pulling a long chain. He picked him up, and when we next visited he told his son-in-law, my father, “Got a dog for you!” Dad took one look at the friendly hair machine and said, “Thanks a lot.” But Short Dog was with us for at least ten years, weathering Hurricane Camille, getting hit by a car, torn up by a bigger pooch and many another catastrophe before succumbing to old age during my college years.

My folks brought home a handsome idiot named Twink when they lived in upstate New York. He was fond of running off for days at a time and once I had to wrestle him out of a hole he’d dug beneath a tree. RORF! Poor thing got hurt badly by a car and was never the same.

During my first semester of law school I adopted one of the neighborhood mutts that hung around my Baton Rouge apartment complex. I was going through a divorce and pets, I was told, are therapeutic. Samantha stayed there when I moved to New Orleans, and when I went back, they made up some story to keep her there. Oh well, she was anybody’s dog.

When I married Rosy, Jesse came with her. Later you’ll read about Pepper.

And there were the parakeets, one named Bodie, one named Sam and several named George, and the cats, Whistler and DaVinci and many, many others … and to return to the canine world for a minute, a sad-faced, harmless beagle mutt I was cruel to when I was a kid visiting my grandmother in California, just because I got some idiot idea into my head that he was a pest. I have never forgotten that dog.



Critters – our companions in this world. This issue’s theme came to me the second I saw Sheryl Birkhead’s whimsical “gleph” cover. I was inspired by love … and guilt. Critters put up with an awful lot. I don’t know they stand us. Remember Hazel’s exclamation of anger in Watership Down: “Men won’t stop until they’ve ruined the world!” Remember the transcendent climax of The Bear, when the huge grizzly (played by Bart) confronts the hunter that has been tracking him – not with violence, but with roars of ursine dismay and anger and confusion. It was as if he was demanding, You are the masters of this world. Just what the hell are you doing to it?

I don’t claim to such profundity here in Challenger no. 28, but the theme does have a profound attraction. How do we interact with our fellow creatures? You will find some interesting answers in several pieces submitted by our Chall Pals. Mike Resnick describes his career exhibiting show dogs. James Bacon takes us into darkest Africa – on his honeymoon. Dennis Dolbear has a different perspective on lions. Warren Buff recalls Phil Dick’s great novel of critters, great, small, and replicant, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? John Purcell’s life with his household pets takes on Olympian proportions. Our bacover combines two obsessions of Liz Copeland’s – quilts and birdwatching. If you look on Heinleinian arachnids as critters, you’ll find a unique perspective in Mike Glyer’s superb Flashman pastiche, “Flashman at Klendathu”. (Yes, I know scorpions aren’t spiders! Sue me!) ‘Toons from Alexis Gilliland and Brad Foster and a poem from Mike Estabrook add immeasurably to the mix. Scattered throughout the issue, art by Randy Childers, discovered at Kentucky’s Con*Cave – that’s his immaculate owl above. Haveth Childers Everywhere! (Quick! The source?) And of course there is a cover, artwork, and a remarkable autobiographical document from the inspiration for this theme, and the tributee for this issue, Sheryl Birkhead, vet and fan artist, whose love for critters knows no equal.

There’s more, of course. Editorials and articles by Joe Green, Greg Benford, Laura Haywood-Cory, Kurt Erichsen and Rich Dengrove – plus the aforementioned tribute to George Macdonald Fraser and the great Flashman from Mike Glyer. (Terrific stuff, Mike, but it can’t make up for the fact that we’ll never – never – see that Civil War book.) And I’m in here, too, prattling on about the incident that compelled me to law school, and one of life’s most eh-pic fannish moments. Artwise, in addition to Sheryl, Brad, and Alex, find work of Charlie Williams ranging over almost 30 years of his fannish career. Where is that bwah’s Hugo? Kurt illustrated his own article, and both Bacon and Purcell sent photos of their adventures. N.B.: much of our art and many of our photos appear in color on our website, www.challzine.net.



I’ve already begun collecting stuff for our next issue. On hand are a superb cover from Alan White, a funny philosophical piece from Alexis Gilliland, an article from Rich Dengrove, and a stunning Italian travelogue from Nicki Lynch. Just as this issue has a theme–animals – #29 has one of sports. Either could encompass the tragic story of Eight Belles, the filly whose heroic place and subsequent death in the Kentucky Derby made one niche occupied by critters in this world very clear to me.

I paid special note during the Derby to Eight Belles, the filly. Hillary Clinton had mentioned her on the stump the day before. She ran a fine, brave race, coming in second to the astonishing Big Brown – and then collapsed, her ankles broken, and had to be immediately put down. Rosy, an animal lover, was of course aghast. To cut through her disgust and dismay, and convince her of the beauty of horseracing, I showed her tape of Secretariat’s supernaturally magnificent run in the 1973 Belmont Stakes – one of the most exquisite performances of any kind, anywhere, by anyone I’ve ever seen. I hope it helped.

Thoroughbreds race for us – for their riders and for their audience. But let’s hope, because we can never know, that they also race for their own bestial equivalent of joy. Believing so might make the Derby tragedy a little easier to bear. Remember the horse in Cordwainer Smith’s “On the Gem Planet”, whose only thought when galloping with a man on his back was the joyous mental cry, “I’m a horse! I’m a horse!” Big Brown’s flawed run for the Triple Crown (see Mike Resnick’s analysis, later) may overshadow Eight Belles’ sacrifice in history, but she ran the race of her life for us, and before her misstep one can only hope that she felt that same joy, in carrying a rider, in running, in being what she was.

Critters give so much, and ask so little. For what they do for us, for the companionship, the entertainment, and sometimes the sustenance, the least we can do is be grateful. This Challenger’s tribute goes to Sheryl Birkhead, but this zine is also for all the critters. You name yours. For me it’s Lady and Punch and Short Dog and Twink and Samantha and Jesse and Pepper … and Whistler and DaVinci and Max and Malibu and Boo (even though he crapped on my coat), and Boots and “the big black bastard” who mooch around outside, and the three kittensThis is a picture of a man holding up a kitten; the caption is Whither thou goest. whom Rosy has rescued and for whom she is trying to find homes, and their brother Scooter, who didn’t make it and whom I buried outside beneath the bushes. For the Georges and Bodie and Sam. For that sad-faced beagle. And Secretariat. And Eight Belles.

 

 

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