The WSFA Journal April 19, 1996

The WSFA Journal

The WSFA Journal April 19, 1996

The Official Newsletter of the Washington Science Fiction Association -- ISSN 0894-5411

Edited by Joe Mayhew

WSFA Minutes March 15th at Ginter's
Super-Geniuses in Science Fiction, Part I
Space Tom

An early WSFA meeting (c. 1950) at the Transportation Building. Chick Derry with cigar and glass, Bob Pavlat sitting on spool of wire. Below: Left: March 16, 1962, Left: Dr. Bill Evans & Dave Ettlin. Right: Rev. Tom Haughey, (?), Joe Mayhew and Don Studebaker (now Jon DeCles)


Attending: VP. Terilee Edwards-Hewitt, Treas; &. 96 Chair Bob MacIntosh, Trust. Trust. David Grimm, Trust. John Pomeranz, Chris Callahan, Karl Ginter, Erica Ginter, Lydia Ginter, Chris Holte, Eric Jablow, Richard Lynch, Nicki Lynch, Candy Myers, Barry Newton, Judy Newton, Evan Phillips, Rachel Russell, George R. Shaner, Colleen Stumbaugh, & Madeleine Yeh. [The 8 members in good standing are highlited. No quorum was present.]

The meeting was called to order at 9:20 by Vice President Terilee Edwards-Hewitt, President Beach being at Lunacon. Erica Ginter took notes for the minutes, Secretary Mayhew being at Lunacon. Bob MacIntosh, who was actually there, reported a Treasury balance of $6,242.79.

DISCLAVE: Bob said most positions were filled, that no one had volunteered to run babysitting. The Chairs of 97 & 98 were at Lunacon.

MEETING SITES: Erica Ginter asked that an alternative site for the third Friday meetings be provided. The Ginters are, for the present, willing to host most of the "Maryland meetings" but need an alternative now and then. The Gillilands will be at Balticon, as no alternative meeting site has been offered, there will be not First Friday meeting in April. The next scheduled meeting will be at Ginter's on April 19th.

ANNOUNCEMENTS: Colleen Stumbaugh has been appointed Library of Congress Alternate Recommending Officer for SF, she will be in charge of Fantasy acquisitions. Any suggestions about what should be in LC's collections should be directed to her.

Eric Jablow will settle contract on a three bedroom townhouse in Herndon, VA around the end of April.

The meeting adjourned at 9:34.

THESE 28 MEMBERS WERE IN GOOD STANDING (dues paid up) AS OF MARCH 15, 1996: Covert Beach, Bernard Bell, Chris Callahan, Steven desJardins, Jim Edwards-Hewitt, Terilee Edwards-Hewitt, Dave Grimm, Dan Hoey, Chris Holte, Judy Kindell, Sam Lubell, Bob MacIntosh, Joe Mayhew. Mike Nelson, Lance Oszko, Peggy Rae Pavlat, Sam Pierce, John Pomeranz, Dick Roepke, John Sapienza, George Shaner, Vickie Smith, Lee Strong, Colleen Stumbaugh, Mike Taylor, Mike Watkins, Beth Zipser, and Mike Zipser.

In order to vote in the May lst elections, dues of $5.00 must be paid to the WSFA treasurer, and paid, staff or comp. membership in the 1996 Disclave must be had.


A Themed Review by Samuel Lubell


Note: This review includes a number of books that are out of print or otherwise difficult to obtain. Consult your local library.

A science fiction author has few problems describing people who can fly, travel through time, or has extraordinary strength; mind reading causes some problems (especially if the author actually tries to think through the changes this ability would cause in the character's thinking) but is usually handled through italics *or stars*. However, the same author faces enormous difficulties when writing about genius characters who, by definition, is smarter than the writer who created them and so should be easily able to think their way through any difficulties the writer can invent. While some writers get around this by focusing on the superscience inventions created by the genius, as early as the 1930s and 40s, writers recognized that super-smart characters called for special treatment.

In general there are two main ways that authors have sidestepped this problem. The first is to make the genius characters children who think on a level of a very bright adult. This allows the author to have a genius who the author and the audience can understand. It allows the author to state that the character is a genius without having him or her be too advanced for the plot. The themes for these books tend to focus on the character trying to hide his/her abilities (in fact the story that began Wilmar Shiras's CHILDREN OF THE ATOM was called "In Hiding") or dealing with his/her loneliness or struggle to fit in. Other books of this type include George O. Smith's THE FOURTH 'R', Orson Scott Card's ENDER'S GAME, and David Palmer's EMERGENCE. The other way is to present the geniuses as extremely different from ordinary humanity so that ordinary humans cannot understand them or their logic. This is the approach used by Theodore Sturgeon's MORE THAN HUMAN, George Turner's BRAIN CHILD, R.A. Lafferty's SERPENT'S EGG, and the grand-daddy of sf geniuses ODD JOHN. Also worth mentioning are those books whose characters have intelligence plus other abilities including Nancy Kress' BEGGARS AND CHOOSERS (which otherwise falls into the second category), John Brunner's CHILDREN OF THE THUNDER (first), and A.E. van Vogt's SLAN (first). It is worth noting that in many of these books the narrator/viewpoint character is not that of the genius whose life/adventures are the focus but a normal person, usually a psychiatrist or journalist.

Wilmar H. Shiras' CHILDREN OF THE ATOM may be the first of the quiet genius books. Its genius character, Timothy Paul, is literally "In Hiding" but is discovered by the hero, the psychiatrist Peter Welles. Reluctantly at first, then with added enthusiasm, "once you get started bragging, there's no end to it," he shows his writings, experiments, and plans. But throughout he maintains his facade: "While he was still writing his age with one figure, Timothy Paul had faced alone, and solved alone, problems that would have baffled the average adult. He had adjusted to the hardest task of all--that of appearing to be a fairly normal, B-average small boy."

The second section, "Opening Doors" deals with Tim's efforts to contact others of his kind. When one of geniuses is found in an asylum, Peter Welles goes to try to get her out, which means convincing another psychiatrist that different doesn't mean insane. "Where would you guess a child of three would always run to?", "The library, in this case." There are some fun moments as the children reveal their pen names and plans for the future, but there is no real conflict. The psychiatrists speculate on what one of these children would be like as a master criminal (who would doubtless write mysteries and also consult as a criminologist) but the only one to be even moderately naughty limits himself to fairly juvenile pranks.

While the very first story raises the question of what Tim would be like as an adult, "The adult friends whom he now met on fairly equal terms-would they then, too, seem like babies or puppies?" this question is never resolved. Instead, in an ending that still seems like a cheat, Tim and his fellow "children of the atom" rejoin the normals so that those trying to demonize them can be confronted by those who know them as people.

In general this is a book that grows weaker as the author goes along. While it is fun to read and touches the lonely child inside most sf readers (the fans are slans idea) the concept is better than Shiras' execution of it. The children behave more like fairly bright college students {aside from selling their stories under pen names) than 14 year old super geniuses. Neither the rather elementary ad Tim writes to try to find others like him nor the responses of the other children seem unusually smart. I must admit that in the age of Pat Buchanan, the rabble rouser at the end of the book seems much more believable than the good characters. Still it is definitely worth reading for its intriguing treatment of the genius characters. You may have easier luck finding the first story "In Hiding" which is frequently reprinted.

James Holden the hero of George O. Smith's THE FOURTH "R" (1959) would get along fine with CHILDREN's Timothy Paul. He gains his intelligence and large vocabulary through a special educating machine that enables him to memorize everything that he reads. At the age of five, with an education of a far older student, James is forced to survive on his own when his parents, the inventors of the machine, are killed by the man whom they had designated as their son's legal guardian. After several escapes and captures, and after his guardian replaced all of his books and play things with "age-appropriate materials" (and a rather snide look at elementary school from the point of view of a naive genius) he runs away permanently. To survive he writes stories and books for children (his first effort gets a letter saying it is unlikely that a real five year old would make so many mistakes in his typing). For his daily needs he invents the character of a hermit who no one ever sees and who does all his business by mail. He hires a housekeeper and lives with her for several weeks before admitting that there is no hermit and that he, although only seven, runs the show. James then proceeds to educate the housekeeper's daughter with the machine and hatches a plan to try to gain the legal rights of an adult.

The tale is played more for the excitement of the chase and the legal battle over the machine than an indepth study of intellect. Indeed the title "The Fourth R" is only explained on the back cover (where it is identified as reason.) And, as an educator, I have my doubts as to whether cramming a child with facts would make a five year old as independent and as capable as James Holden is here. The author does do a good job with James' surprise that the housekeeper is uninterested in the machine for herself, save for memorizing a few recipes and in the pre-adolescent James' first struggles with love. However, the ending, where things really get interesting from an educational point of view, is the most rushed. The Judge makes a long speech on the need to educate the politicians. "Is it bad to elevate the mind of the average ward-heeler? To provide the smalltime politician with a fine grasp of the National Problem and how is little local problems fit into the big picture? Is this making a better world or isn't it?" James Holden for all his intelligence as a youth, will probably not exceed the capabilities of a normal person as an adult. He maintains that he is not a genius. but merely someone who "happen[s] to have an education that provides me with the right to criticize your social behavior." He acts as would an adult, not a child with a big education (the children in CHILDREN OF THE ATOM do a better job here) as the author sometimes mistakes intelligence for maturity. The book does provide a brief glimpse of Holden as an adolescent which portrays his intelligence (or at least his learning) as higher than a modern college graduate. Timothy Paul and his fellow "Children of the Atom" may have intelligence that goes beyond that of adults someday, but their adulthood is not covered in the book. Other books however, do cover super-geniuses as teenagers and will be covered in the next column.

Ironically, although Olaf Stapledon's ODD JOHN is significantly older than CHILDREN OF THE ATOM, dating back to 1935, it can be read without as much historical perspective. It is probably the sf novel most cited by other works (Gotlieb's SUNBURST and May's INTERVENTION for example.)