A StubbornThings Interview by The Editor 1/22/16
Your trusted Editor interviews StubbornThing‘s unofficial official librarian and statistician. Timothy (some call him “Tim”) has an encyclopedic memory of books. If the Library of Congress ever burns down, he could be another Thomas Jefferson and lend his collection to get a Federal one started.
StubbornThings: One of your main interests is science fiction and fantasy, although you seem to have a wide variety of reading interests. Can you first of all tell us what the general difference is between the genres of science fiction and fantasy?
Timothy Lane: The difference between science fiction and fantasy has been given in many places, but it amounts to “I know it when I see it” (as someone on the Supreme Court once said of pornography). Thus, time travel would usually be considered science fiction (though Larry Niven did a series of stories about a time-traveler named Svetz that were based on the idea that it’s really fantasy) and werewolves fantasy. But Anthony Boucher once argued that there was more evidence for werewolves than there is for time travel. Of course, I have non-fiction works on many of these topics, both science fiction and fantasy (such as The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology), and about numerous authors in various fields.
Besides that, there is “science fantasy”, which looks like science fiction but really isn’t. Star Wars would probably be grouped here.
ST: And I assume your interest in sci-fi and fantasy are mainly in books, but are you a big movie nut as well for these genres? If so, name your top five favorite movies in each category. (The Editor wonders if “Legend” or “Stardust” will appear on the fantasy movie list.)
TL: My favorite movies in the 2 genres (I will add them together) would probably be Star Wars and The Wrath of Khan. Of course, many of the James Bond movies could be considered science fiction, and they all could be called fantasy. I’d probably agree with those who list Goldfinger as the best of those (For Your Eyes Only would be up there as well, though it’s debatable that it really fits in either genre). The worst movie would probably be Ice Pirates or Plan 9 From Outer Space./
I have seen a number of the old Vincent Price movies on Edgar Allan Poe’s works (I have a complete collection of Poe, not surprisingly), and the best of those that I’ve seen is probably The Raven. I will also point out that one of them, The Haunted Palace. is actually based primarily on H. P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Both are good.
As for books, you might want to check out Baen Books. They do a lot of good material by writers such as David Weber, John Ringo, Lois McMaster Bujold, and David Drake. (Eric Flint has a lot of interesting material as well, but he’s a socialist so you might not enjoy them so much.) Elizabeth Moon used to appear there as well. They’re also bringing back a lot of good material by deceased writers, such as Christopher Anvil. In addition to Baen, I read an awful lot of alternate history (some of it from Baen), especially by Harry Turtledove. (I also read straight historical fiction, but there isn’t as much of that available.) I’m also a fan of Cincinnati writer Mike Resnick, who does a lot of humor and writes a lot about Africa (or alien worlds thinly disguised from Africa). In his case, I would especially mention Ivory, about the future history of the largest elephant tusks recorded, and Kirinyaga, about a Kikuyu utopia and its fate.
ST: Either I have already read most of the great sci-fi that was out there when I was in my twenties, thirties, and forties or else they’re just not writing good sci-fi anymore. It’s all so full of boring Leftist shtick like environmental destruction, etc. Tell me what I’m missing. If I wanted to pick up sci-fi again, what are some recent books worth reading for fellows like me who like their hard science fiction (generally of the Arthur C. Clarke variety).
TL: An interesting hard-science fiction writer a few decades ago was Marti Steussy, who did a couple of excellent books oriented toward biology (and in one case actually biochemistry). Sharon Webb also dealt with that field and wrote a couple of excellent hard-science books. I would have nominated Pestis-18 for the Hugo Award for Best Novel, but it was debatable if it was actually science fiction rather than techno-thriller, and I figured it would get few nominations anyway. John Stith did a number of interesting books, including one (Redshift Rendezvous) dealing extensively with advanced physics on a relativistic ship. (I first heard of him when he looked through the Fandom Directory, and selected some people who listed a particular set of interests to send his author’s copies of Memory Blank to. A very good move for both of us.)
I will conclude the discussion of SF books with Catherine Asaro, a physicist and dancer whose books often reflect her varied interests (including one in which each chapter reflects something out of quantum physics, The Quantum Rose).
ST: I didn’t know you were a big baseball fan. I find baseball to be nice-background music on a summer’s day but it doesn’t tend to hold my interest as a main event except come playoff time. What do you find is baseball’s main appeal? And do you enjoy reading about the history of the game? If so, what are the best books on the subject?
TL: I tend to multi-task when watching TV or listening to music or the radio (mostly Rush Limbaugh), so to some extent I watch baseball much as you do. Some things require paying more attention than others. There’s a reason I like the Web Gems (best fielding plays of the day) on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. Of course, it helps when the game involves a team I’m interested in. I started following the Yankees in 1960 and the Astros in 1964; Elizabeth follows the Indians. (Incidentally, a sport she used to follow when she was in Japan, and probably still would if she could, is sumo wrestling. Perhaps she appreciates me because I have the shape of a sumo wrestler, though their big belly is muscle and mine is a reminder of my tendencies toward gluttony and sloth.)
My interest in baseball includes statistics and history. Trying to list all the historical baseball books I’ve read would be hopeless (the most recent was about the 1957 Milwaukee Braves). I used to be a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR, from which Bill James came up with sabermetrics as a term for baseball study), but unfortunately I can’t afford it anymore. SABR supplied a number of interesting books on the subject, and James is one of the most famous baseball students (he also wrote a book on true crime as a popular genre).
One interesting book I read a while back on baseball history was Cait Murphy’s Crazy ’08, about the 1908 season that featured a large array of oddities. The American League ended with a half-game margin between Detroit and Cleveland, and featured arguably the greatest pitchers’ duel in the history of the game — the October 1 duel between Ed Walsh of the White Sox (who ended up third, just behind Cleveland) and Addie Joss (both Hall of Famers today), probably the two best pitchers in the league last year. Walsh struck out 15 and only allowed a single unearned run — but Joss pitched a perfect game to win. Meanwhile, in the National League, the Giants and Cubs ended up tied because of “Merkle’s boner” (arguably the most famous baseball blooper in history). The game had to be replayed, and the Cubs won — and then won the World Series, their last so far.
ST: My sister-in-law, who has worked as a legal assistant for a prosecuting attorney is way into crime dramas, both in books and TV. This is a much bigger category than I had previously imagined. So tell us what you like about it. What elements make for a good crime drama? And do you do true-crime only or also mix in some fiction?
TL: I read both mysteries and true-crime. It would be useless to list all the mystery writers I read because there are so many. Of course, I’ve made a number of Sherlock Holmes references here, but there are plenty of others in several different categories.. One interesting mystery is Lillian Stewart Carl’s Ashes to Ashes (the third book I got with that title; she also wrote one titled Dust to Dust), which is set in a haunted castle outside of Marion, Ohio (where Carl grew up). She once noted that her Amazon listings include frequent references to me, because few others have reviewed her books.
Similarly, my works on true crime cover several categories. Some deal with forensic science (probably the first I came across was a Reader’s Digest condensation of Jurgen Thorwald’s The Century of the DetectiveKidnap, about the Lindbergh case, and I have a large number of books on that subject, as well as similar arrays on Jack the Ripper, the Borden murders, and the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy, and the thrill-killers Leopold and Loeb (including Meyer Levin’s fictionalized Compulsion). I also have a complete collection of the works of Ann Rule. And there are many books on the violent history of the American West, as well as on individual cases such as Bonnie and Clyde or Julia Wallace or Dr, Parkman.
But there are plenty of other books. One interesting item is Evidence for the Crown by Molly Lefebure, who spent several years as secretary to British forensic pathologist Sir Keith Simpson (whose memoirs I also have). She pointed out how useful she was in identifying items of women’s clothing for men who didn’t know much about the subject. She also noticed that when she brought material to a party, the men would be very interested but the women would be too squeamish to pay attention. This would be reversed when she met people more privately — the woman suddenly weren’t squeamish at all, and the men had other concerns.
After all, as true crime writer Edmund Pearson once observed, 8 of 10 people are interested in murder — and of the two who aren’t, one is only pretending. (Pearson was especially noted for his coverage of the Parkman and Borden cases. The judge in the Parkman case, as I recently learned in a Smithsonian article, was Herman Melville’s father-in-law.)
As for what I like and why, that can be hard to say given the omnivorous nature of my reading tastes. I think I do like brilliant reasoning, but read plenty of stories that don’t feature that. One thing I will mention is that mysteries by female writers tend to have very good meals in them (and not just the works of Dianne Mott Davidson, whose heroine is a caterer). This can make them quite delicious to read.
ST: What do you think is the best sci-fi TV series ever….and the worst. Extra points if you and I agree on the worst. (Voyager.)
TL: The best science fiction TV series I’ve seen is probably original Star Trek. I’m not about to state a worst, since there are so many I haven’t seen. I remember we used to watch Lost in Space to see what new alliterative nickname Doctor Zachary Smith would come up with for the robot (my favorite was “tin-plated tintinnabulation”, but I also wouldn’t disagree with the parody of it in MAD Magazine.. Twilight Zone would be considered mostly fantasy, and the best in that category. I can’t comment on Voyager because I never saw an episode (except for a few individual later episodes, the last Star Trek season I saw was the first season of The Next Generation).
ST: If you were a contestant in the Miss America Pageant, would you be for A) World peace, B) Ending hunger, or C) Free tattoo removal as a human right? This is a silly question, but I know we’re both Monty Python fans. So take this where you will.
TL: Some years ago,my main income source was plasma donations. Though I always brought something to read, I was inevitably aware of what was on the TV. In Miss Congeniality, the FBI agent in a beauty contest answers that question initially that she wants harsher punishment for parole violators. That seems reasonable to me.
ST: Now on the personal side, what have you learned from life that you would most like to pass on to people to thus save them a little time and trouble?
My father once told us of an incident he had witnessed in Greece, in which they were holding some minor ceremony to honor the senior attaché — who happened to be the Russian. He was all eager to be so named, but they named someone else. My father could understand that there might be political reasons for the decision, but they still should have notified him first. In other words, don’t gratuitously injure someone, either physically or (in this case) emotionally.
ST: Finally, answer a question I haven’t asked that you think would most interest people. Maybe Elizabeth could supply some inspiration.
TL: As for a final conclusion, I would cite one of my favorite Bible verses (a natural for an Army brat), “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.” In the world Obama is creating, this will be very necessary. And what the heck, currently there’s no campaign for control of plows and pruning hooks — or even swords and spears.