Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine  Summer 2009

 

editorial:

THIS WHEEL

GHLIII

Iíve been delving into old storage boxes lately and here’s something I found. It’s dated 3-11-03. I don’t remember what caused me to write it.

We’re told by geniuses that the universe will eventually lose all coherence, and evolve into a uniform soup of individual hydrogen atoms spread too far apart to attract each other and coalesce, and that eternity will be just so: a vast pointless motionless gas.

I don’t think so. Now, the people who put forth this model are geniuses, & I am spending my life desperately trying to attain mediocrity. But I can’t help thinking that they’re wrong. Through this miasma forecast by the scientists there will move something. A bit, a tiny neutronic bit, of the stuff generated by all the living beings that have felt and imagined, planned and considered throughout the universe in the complete span of its existence. In short, a thought.

It’s my belief that just as the conversion of matter into energy leaves residuum, so does the inchoate act of imagination. And that the residuum of imagination will survive the heat-death of the physical universe, and even if only one elemental pip of that residuum persists, its presence will be incomprehensibly significant.

For I imagine this pip, this single thought, zipping through the universe, the near-empty infinity of drifting hydrogen – seeking something, not knowing what, restless, endlessly patient, searching – gathering. And that this thought, this tiniest of incorporate things, will gather unto itself the stubbornly stupid physical items upon which it chances. One by one, it will find them, and over the numberless multi-millennia gather them, and take them with it – until finally, it has enough of them with it to do what every thought, even the smallest, even the last thought there is of all the thoughts ever thought, wants to do.

Which is create.

And the thought will take up the meaningless detritus of the universe, and say what it will say.

LET THERE BE LIGHT.

And there will be light.

(Remembering Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question” and Phil Dick’s assurance that if the physical world ever begins to feel, it has not conquered us, we have conquered it.)

~~~

Ask someone about their faith and you ask them to expose their innermost feelings. What are mine? Here in the present day – late spring, 2009 – and in these opening pages of Challenger #30, to which welcome – more musings along these lines …

I call myself an agnostic, since I haven’t the slightest idea if a Supreme Being created the universe, but I value, admire, even envy what I feel I'm a militant agnostic... I don't know... and your don't either -- art by brad w. fosterto be genuine religious feeling. A co-worker I admire, for instance. Last November they found Stage Four cancer percolating in his liver. There is no Stage Five. But the sharp attorney and devout Christian keeps on living and lawyering, stronger every time I see him. Part of that is chemo, of course, but he’d credit his religious faith – acceptance of God’s Will. As with Chloie Airoldi’s Unitarian community, it’s what provides possibilities in the face of disaster – it’s what binds him to living. Such peace of mind is impossible for me – what do I have instead?

Recently I changed the screensaver on my work computer to the Hubble telescope’s Ultra Deep Field. I’ve talked about that picture before. It was taken the third time astronomers simply pointed our great eye in the sky towards a seemingly empty patch of space, opened the shutter and kept it open. This is what they found. Thousands of galaxies – in myriad hues –aThis is the Hubble Deep Space Fieldbox of cosmic Trix. Spirals, elliptics, twisted shapes in near-collision … and all so old they must be new. You know what I mean. The light captured by Hubble’s point-&-shoot is 10-13 billion years old. That dates back to when the universe was just being formed. These are old images – of young galaxies.

The center of the picture is a literal (if not a scientific) black hole – you can almost feel yourself falling in. But if you look closely you see microscopic specks – they could almost be dust on the screen. Instead they are the dimmest, and most distant, aspects of this image – galaxies at the far end of Hubble’s resolution. The dimmer, the older. We’re seeing very close to the beginning of All Things.

That’s mind-staggering enough, but better is the idea I’ve mentioned before, when speaking of Andromeda, the great spiral galaxy a relative stone’s-throw away. Looking at each and every one of the spiral nebulae in the UDF, it’s a matter of mathematical certainty that now, in present time, someone is there. Can’t imagine what he looks or sounds or smells like, whether he’s made of carbon or silicon, breathes oxygen or methane, solid or liquid or gas – but he’s there. The physical necessities for life being what they are, and as common as they likely are, you can rely on it as fact. Life permeates the universe.

But here’s where faith comes in. And if you want to know what I believe in that you cannot see, that you must intuit, that stems from hope as much as experience, here it is. That person, in that most distant of places, is capable of care. Care, too, is common throughout Creation. That being in that furthest galaxy and I can care about one another. We are brothers.

And if that’s true for that impossibly distant being and me, then it’s certainly true for me and you.

See? Clear as glass. Oh, well. Fortunately, the contributors to this issue are more coherent than I. Gaze upon the contents of

THIS ISSUE.

My cover is a previously-unpublished portrait by Frank Kelly Freas, and I am indebted to two fine ladies for its appearance here: Laura Freas and my mother-in-law, Nita Green. Laura has the right to say yea or nay to the publication of her late husband’s work, of course, and Nita owns the painting. It hangs in her condo in Royal Palm Beach, Florida. I suppose you should call it a collage – the face is on canvas, the body on treated burlap. I’ve been staring at it for years, dreaming of the day I could do what I’ve done here – and feature it atop Challenger. Voila.

When I started planning the Challenger which would accompany such a masterwork, I first took its theme from Kelly’s portrait. Write about faith, I asked my contributors – what you believe in. Charlie Williams and Binker Glock sent thoughtful squibs on the topic. Later still, I expanded that concept – and brought in the title of this fanzine. Write about challenge, I suggested, and how you handled it. With such vague and murky and confusing instructions I’m lucky I got any responses at all – but as you see, I heard many.

Greg Benford poses a powerful question – Rich Dengrove and Binker Hughes provide contextand Chloie Airoldi, Chattanooga fan, Unitarian, and survivor, offers something of an answer. Her victim’s view of homicidal madness and the community strength that helped her get past it, demonstrates the undeniable value of a church as a community. Chloie directed me to Olivia Spooner’s wonderful, prize-winning essay on the Church’s response to that monstrous horror. My thanks to the UU and Olivia’s family for permission to excerpt it. Also included, a terrible backdrop to Chloie’s story and Olivia’s account, the killer’s so-called “manifesto”. Against his black obscenity their vitality and decency shine all the brighter.

Community is one thing – Authority is another. Mike Resnick’s piece on the short film made from his novel, The Branch, shows the danger of religion as dogma. Faith without freedom can be fearsome. Remind me to thank America’s Founders again for that First Amendment. (By the way, Mike’s current Hugo nominee, “Article of Faith”, is a superb treatment of these issues.)

Moving away from religion, others tell of other challenges and other responses. Challenger #7 was one of my favorite issues. It had a beautiful David Cherry cover, its tributee was la belle Rose-Marie, and it featured “Susan Whitmore’s” “Challenge on the Cutting Edge” – one of the strongest pieces Challenger has ever run. It’s reprinted in this issue, with the kind permission of its author. Jeff Copeland’s paean to his papa’s experiences in World War II shows how a man of character can meet a terrible challenge in a way both stoic and heroic. Chris Garcia’s story of his dad is touching and powerful. I tell the story of John Henry Faulk, who met the challenge of the blacklist through law, humor, and character – and just incidentally, changed my life. Mike Estabrook faces down a personal obsession in the best way possible: through poetry.

Finally, off-theme but on-target, Joe Green actually talks about science fiction and the predictive ability of Robert A. Heinlein. Lezli Robyn, whom we were delighted to meet at Denvention, sends us a refreshingly happy autobiographical vignette. Curt Phillips proffers entertaining vignettes from his fannish life. Taral Wayne reveals a surprising influence on his art (I saw that movie too), work he shares by illustrating Alexis Gilliland’s philosophical musings “in the Night Kitchen.” Hmmph – both art and writing from Charlie, Alex and Taral – one could easily create a big genzine tapping the talents of these polymaths alone! Speaking of artists, thanks to Kurt Erichsen and Brad Foster, and congrats to Randy Cleary for winning the Rebel Award at the latest DeepSouthCon!

This issue is also something of a tribute to Kelly Freas. There is, of course, the hitherto-unpublished painting on the cover and the familiar self-caricature on the Contents. (“But Kelly wasn’t a southpaw!” True – the illo, like the editor, is flipped.) The penultimate page in this issue was taken at Kelly’s home sometime in the ’60s. Behold Kelly, the aforementioned Joe Green, and the late Wally Wood chewing the fat. The sketch Wood gave Joe on that occasion rides our back cover. I have a lot to thank Joe for – his daughter, for one – and this is only my latest gratitude.

~~~

 

Among the folks I contacted about possibly telling their stories in this Challenger was Mr. Charles deKunffy, a teacher of mine once upon a long ago at Ygnacio Valley High School. In 1966 he assigned my Social Studies Honors class to keep personal journals of our thoughts and experiences. I still keep mine. Mr. deK went on to write several successful tomes on horse dressage, one of his loves, but when I wrote to him this spring it wasn’t concerning equestrian matters. (I’m scared of horses, anyway.)

When he was teaching and I was student-ing, Mr. deKunffy told us about his young manhood in 1956, when his country – Hungary – fell under the boot of Russian invasion. He escaped. I vividly remember his account of walking with his brother out of Budapest, the muzzles of Soviet machine guns trained at their backs – how they were almost fooled by an illuminated Austrian flag – the ditch into which they stumbled, beyond which was the West, and liberty. It was a tremendous story – and if Mr. deK had ever written it down, I hoped, mayhaps he would let me reprint it.

We got in touch. It was wonderful to hear his Hungarian accent again. Alas, he said, although he’s written about a great many topics, he’s never put his escape to paper. It would be too long for a journal like Challenger anyway. But, calling me his muse, he told me I’d gotten him thinking about it. Cheered to my gills, I sent Mr. deK a couple of Challengers – and he replied with one of his books on dressage. Autographed!

 

NEXT ISSUE.

I have a splendid cover, several contributions, but no theme picked out for Chall #31, so I call upon my contributors simply to relax and have fun. Write what you enjoy. My deadline is December, but the zine may be a bit delayed. With the idea of exercising my brain cells, I want to write a short story this fall, and since I compose at the breakneck speed of a snail mounting a redwood, I anticipate a long haul. But please don’t let this fact keep you from penning LOCs, composing articles, assaying artwork, and sharing it with the world through our pages. C’mon … be a (Chall) Pal.

Rosy and I ardently anticipate Anticipation! See you there! Come to the Fan-Eds’ Feast!

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Challenger is (c) 2009 by Guy H. Lillian III.
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