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Brain in an SF Fog

June 29th, 2018

As I’ve been mentioning, I spent the last two months doing final revisions for my two novels Return to the Hollow Earth (written 2017-2018, to appear from my Transreal Books in August or September, 2018) and Million Mile Road Trip (written 2015-2016, to appear from Night Shade Books, May 2019). Like ordering a dessert, and getting two. Fun, interesting, but now I’m worn out. Made (literally) about three thousand changes, large and small. By now I’m in a drifty, twinkling sci-fi fog, with my brain falling out.

In the 50s and 60s, there was a notion that science fiction was a subliterature on the same low level as porn. Paul Di Filippo dug up this old photo to instantiate this notion. When I tweeted it, one of my followers commented to a friend, “That’s him in the doorway,” meaning me. I kind of liked that. Almost like being beatnik.

What with all the revising, I haven’t gotten around to blog posts, other than a recent one about how to make an ebook. So today, as I sometimes do, I’ll just be putting up some things from my bulging photo stash—even when I’m writing, I keep taking pictures.

Did I ever post this photo of the Big Wheel race on Potrero Hill on Easter? Such a jolly event, and somehow nobody seemed to be getting injured. Adults (mostly) riding random scavenged kids’ tricycles, Big Wheels, or office chairs.

Here’s my Notes for Return to the Hollow Earth manuscript from when I was nearly done revising the novel and (for that matter) the notes. Plus a corner of my home made Keith-Haring-style UFO painting, “I Once Was Blind, But Now I See.” I don’t understand why nobody has bought this painting…for sale for a (relative) pittance on my fab Paintings Page. And that’s my nice Panama hat that I got about a year ago. They tend not to last more than one or two years…either getting lost or getting a cracked hole. Really the subject of this photo is shades of beige and yellow…and the use of the triangle.

My writer friends Paul Di Filippo and Richard Kadrey delight in posting altered covers of old pulp paperbacks, somehow transmogrified into fantasy, science-fiction or horror titles. [See photo of me in the doorway at the start of this post.] This cover is the actual 1953 Ace Double edition of William Burroughs’s first novel, Junkie, which he published under the nom de plume Willy Lee. My book dealer pal Greg Gibson gave me the book years and years ago. I knew of this book from the earliest days, and it’s existence inclined me to send my 1979 novel White Light to Ace Books, as did Ian Watson’s “Miracle Visitors.” Like, “Those Ace guys are cool…” Greg was outraged when I actually took my rare Ace Double out of its plastic bag and read it, wanting to soak up the seedy 50s atmosphere. By the way, I feel it cannot be emphasized enough that William Seward Burroughs was fundamentally a science fiction writer, and is the true father of us all. But who is us?

Went for a hike in the Santa Cruz Mountains near the famed Alice’s Restaurant with Sylvia, Rudy Jr., and two of his kids. My granddaughter coiffed me with a Bozo do, kind of nice. Like a Mr. Frostee cone.

Big show by the surrealist Rene Magritte at the SFMOMA in San Francisco. Here’s a painting I’d never seen—I forget the title now, easy to do, as a true surrealist often chooses a title that has nothing whatsoever to do with the image, although, of course, any image and any title do, at the deep waking-dream level, illuminate each other. I’d never thought of candles as being, potentially, flexible snakes. Aha!

Our veteran artist pal Paul Mavrides came to the show with us. “Paul broke a big Magritte painting.”

Synchronicity and randomicity. Both my new books involve one specific 4D construct: which you might call an “unny tunnel,” or “anomaly,” or “wormhole,” or “Einstein-Rosen bridge.” “You know what they are,” insisted the seedy old writer. And synchronisitically I did the photographic equivalent of a “butt dial” on Valencia Street last week, that is, I shot a picture without noticing I did it, and the image has a very nice “lost in the fourth dimension” look to it. A calling card from the Muse: “Crossing a 4D street.”

Here’s a diagram explaining something complicated that happens near the end of Million Mile Road Trip. That square with the tail and the higher-dimensional eyestalk, I call her Yulia, or the flat cow.

Demotic art of the graffitist, seen under a bridge over a woodland creek where I like to hike. I walk in the water on the gravel mostly, wearing Keens sandals. I went here the day after I finished fixing Million Mile Road Trip. Dig the five Us in the Puuuuuf…one U is unseen. Marveling at the woods, and beautiful disorderly order of the clouds and the ripples in the creek and the wind-wobbling leaves, it seems to me that it would be odd and unnecessary to vape to “get higher” Chaos is Enuuuuuf. But whatever works, dude. Far be it from me. Not even. Joie de vivre.

“Woomo Hunters” oil on canvas, May, 2018, 24” x 18”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

While I was working on the ending to Return to the Hollow Earth, I did a painting of five large “woomo” creatures floating over a sea, with two men catching a baby woomo, and slitting it open, with their little boy watching. I don’t think that the hunters are prudent.

I took the composition of the hunters/fishers in the boat from a very famous 1556 drawing by Peter Bruegel. When the drawing was made into an etching, the publisher put the signature “Hieronymous Bosch” on it, just to help the sales. I love the thought of that. Bruegel forging Bosch! Like Jimi Hendrix playing Dylan’s “All Along the Watch Tower.”

That’s enough for today. I’ll post some more later this week, or next week. Here’s a passage from Million Mile Road Trip that I find amusing and heavy. The flat cow (shown above) is talking to my character Villy about the nature of reality as related to the two connected universes in the novel.

The world is made of stoooories,” says the flat cow, getting into a divine wisdom routine. “Not atooooms. Words weave the cosmoooos. A tangle of gossip, archetypes, and jooookes.”

The moos echo in Villy’s head. He’s always imagined his thoughts to be images of the firm external world. But Yulia’s saying it’s the other way around. Villy makes an effort to get to that state of mind. And for a few seconds he’s there. Reality is a sea of sensations, feelings, and tales, intricately linked, with everything alluding to everything else. And the stodgy, solid, kick-a-brick, normative world—that part is the illusion. That part is the dream.

As for the split between ballyworld and mappyworld—there’s really no difference between dreaming the world as a bunch of planets, or dreaming the world as an endless sheet of basins. Either way, it’s the same gnarly thing underneath. Feet on a welcome mat. A tangle of talk. Yeah. Villy feels high as a kite.

Just like the forked birch stick and her shadow, eh?

Quickly Convert a Document into an Ebook

June 23rd, 2018

I just finished doing my final revision of my novel Million Mile Road Trip, which will appear in hardback from Night Shade Books in May, 2019, and in ebook from Transreal Books at the same time. And today I wanted to quickly make an ebook out of it to share with Marc Laidlaw, who’s going to write an intro.

Re. ebooks, it means turning your doc into an EPUB and/or a MOBI file, for use as ebooks. Kindles read MOBI. Browsers and the iBook app and other devices read EPUB. And today I’ll explain a way to get from a a text RTF file to an Amazon ebook using just the free Calibre program.
And, like I”m saying, I tested the method on Million Mile Road Trip today.

[The Night Shade release will have a different cover, very cool, with art by Bill Carman. The art here is by me, and it depicts the novel’s chief villain, an evil extrademensional alien bagpipe who spews “leech saucers” that want parasitize us here on Earth.]

Although I’d like to let you to get your hands on the Million Mile Road Trip book right now,I’m going to hold back on distributing it until after we go to official publication in May, 2019. But here’s a tiny taste that I think is funny.

“The world is made of stoooories,” says the flat cow, getting into a divine wisdom routine. “Not atooooms. Words weave the cosmoooos. A tangle of gossip, archetypes, and jooookes.”

The moos echo in Villy’s head. He’s always imagined his thoughts to be images of the firm external world. But Yulia’s saying it’s the other way around. Villy makes an effort to get to that state of mind. And for a few seconds he’s there. Reality is a sea of sensations, feelings, and tales, intricately linked, with everything alluding to everything else. And the stodgy, solid, kick-a-brick, normative world—that part is the illusion. That part is the dream.
As for the split between ballyworld and mappyworld—there’s really no difference between dreaming the world as a bunch of planets, or dreaming the world as an endless sheet of basins. Either way, it’s the same gnarly thing underneath. Feet on a welcome mat. A tangle of talk. Yeah. Villy feels high as a kite.

Feet on a welcome mat. Yah, mon.

[Sculptures by my friend Vernon Head of Sacramento.]

Okay, back to maximum geekage.

* In converting a document into an ebook, you want to have a decent Table of Contents, which is sometimes a stumbling block. So now I’ll describe a pretty simple method that takes one step in Calibre. Sometimes I use more complicated processes. In fact most of the time, I first bring my document into InDesign and export an EPUB from there. But that’s hard for a beginner. Another more complicated option is to do an intermediate conversion from document to HTML and then convert the HTML into EPUB. When I was starting out with self-pubbing ebooks I used to do that. For some of my earlier thoughts on the process, see my series of posts “How to Make an Ebook.”. These posts are from 2011 and I updated them in 2016. But now I’m giving you a fresh 2018 look.

* I work in Microsoft Word, with DOC files that I can then convert to the agnostic format RTF (rich text format). But you can use another word processor just as well, and save your file as an RTF just the same. In order to get a good table of contents, you have to give all your chapter headings the same style in your DOC. Use the standard Word style name Heading 1. (If you use the more HTML-like style name h1, this method won’t work.) Re. putting the Heading 1 style on each chapter title, you have to be kind of robotic and geeky about this. (a) Search through the book for every chapter title and double check that it has the Heading 1 format. (b) Search through the book for the Style Heading 1, and make sure it’s not on things like blank skipped lines or on random works. If you want subsections in your TOC (not always a good idea) you have to format the subsection titles with standard Word formats like Heading 2, Heading 3 and so on.

*Save the edited DOC for safekeeping. And then save it as an RTF. If the document has a built-in table of contents that you generated with Word or with some ohte wordprocessor, delete that from the RTF. It’ll just put a junky looking TOC (with irrelevant page numbers) into the start of your ebook, also having the TOC puts extra links into the ebook that you don’t really need. Now Open Calibre and do “Add a Book” based in the RTF file. (You can’t add DOC files to Calibre). By the way, note that if you later revise your RTF, you can use the Convert Books dialog to delete the old RTF and add in your new one, without changing all the other settings.

* Set the Metadata fields in Calibre. That is, put in an image for the cover, if you have one, 1200 x 1600 works fine. Also put in your name and the title, and maybe a Copyright line, and a comment on what the book is, like what version.

* Go into the Convert Books dialog in Calibre and set output to EPUB In the Convert Books dialog. If that one works, then you can convert to MOBI later. I’m in the habit of making an EPUB because I can look at it on my Chrome browser using, like the Magic Scroll app. Also if there’s something screwed up about the book I get, I can open up the EPUB in the freeware Sigil program and look at the code inside the EPUB. Also if I want to post my book to KDP to appear on Amazon, I have to send them an EPUB…they don’t want a MOBI that I made.

[My friend Edward Marritz, cinematographer.]

* Before setting the conversion in motion, go to the graphical menu bar on the side of the Covert Books dialog, open the Look and Feel dialog and go to the Layout sheet and put a checkmark by “Remove Spacing between paragraphs” The default paragraph first line indent is set to 1.5 em, which is reasonable. It looks better to have indents than to skip lines.

* Now go to the Convert Books | Table of Contents. My sense is that you will get a good table of contents no matter what settings you have here, as long as you have your chapters all in Heading 1 format. I tend to think you might as well have all the boxes unchecked. If you want, you can put a check mark by “Force use of auto-generated Table of Contents,” but so far as I can tell, it does not in fact matter. My sense is that if Calibre sees an RTF with Heading 1 chapter titles, it assumes that’s what’s supposed to be in the Contents. (Correct me in a comment if you find this is wrong.)

* If you have problems with the contents, try this. Convert again, but this time, go into the Table of Contents dialog, and go way down at the bottom of the dialog, and put a checkmark by “Manually fine-tune the T0C after conversion is completed.” Then do the conversion, and Calibre will open an “Edit the Toc” dialog after building the EPUB. If the autogenerated Toc sucks, click the “Generate Toc from major headings” button in the “Edit the Toc” dialog and probably you’ll get a chance to ask for the Heading 1 style headings, and maybe you’ll get a full book TOC then. Possibly you have some of bogus entries (if you’ve been careless about using the Heading 1 style), or possibly you have some missing entries (if you’ve been to stingy with your Heading 1 style.) You can fix these using the the “Remove this Entry” and/or the “New Entry” buttons.

* Now you’re good. Close the “Edit the Toc” dialog, and click on the “Path: Click to Open” line in the lower right corner of the Caliber screen. This directs you to some obscure directory holding your new-built EPUB with the good Toc. Copy this EPUB file to somewhere where you can find it easily again.

* Test your file in, say, an epub reader app or extension in your browser, or directly in Safari, or in iBooks.

* And test your EPUB with the downloadable Kindle Previewer tool if you like. In the Kindle Previewer, the Toc will not seem to work, but this is misleading. The NCX View over at the right side of the Kindle Previewer menu bar does work . And this means that Amazon will in fact be able to build a working ebook with a proper Toc from your EPUB.

* The Kindle Previewer saves a MOBI version of your EPUB to your disk, you’ll find it in a subdirectory of the directory where your EPUB lives. You can copy this MOBI to your Kindle device to test it some more. The Toc will work on your Kindle. Also you can email this MOBI to your friends who have Kindles. Alternate: you can use Calibre to convert your original RTF to a MOBI as well.

* By the way, what if Kindle Previewer finds errors or warnings in your EPUB? What if Amazon KDP won’t convert it? Open the book in Calibre. Select Edit Book. In that dialog there should be a pane for “Check Book.” Click on “Run Check.” If it finds errors, click, “Try to correct all fixable errors automatically.” If that works, resubmit the EPUB.

* If the automatic error fixing doesn’t work, Calibre allows you to “Edit your Book,” that is, edit the EPUB files, which are basically a bunch of HTML files. This is tricky for a beginner, as these edits may break things, but going back to the “Check Book” can often fix things.

* If you don’t like how your EPUB looks, you can poke around in the Calibre settings, The Convert Books | Look and Feel dialog has a number of panes. And sometimes it makes a nicer output if go to Convert Books | Heuristic Processing and check the box by “Turn On Heuristic Processing.” If you’re unsure about the other checkboxes here, try Googling about them or try looking at the Calibre documentation.

* When you’re done, upload the EPUB to Amazon KDP to publish it on Amazon! Alternately you can upload the MOBI to Amazon, as long as you use the MOBI that was created by the Kindle Previewer. (KDP won’t accept a MOBI made by Calibre.)

Writing “Return to the Hollow Earth”

May 8th, 2018

I can’t quite remember where I first heard about the concept of the Hollow Earth.

Early on, I read Jules Verne’s 1864 Journey to the Center of the Earth—I was a huge fan of Verne—but even as a boy I could see that his novel was a failure. The book is about a large underground cave with a small ocean in it. Big deal. Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Pellucidar novels of the Hollow Earth were equally disappointing. Nothing’s all that different or special in these books, it’s just a bunch of people running around and fighting with each other.

The first book that really gave me a taste of what I was after was Edgar Allan Poe’s 1838, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, which I didn’t closely study until I was about thirty, at which time I got a European Penguin edition of the novel, annotated by the excellent scholar Harold Beaver.

Poe’s novel is seemingly unfinished—as it’s a narrative written by Arthur Gordon Pym, who disappears. It describes a sea voyage to the walls of ice around the Southern pole, with the implication that there is a huge opening to be found there, a great shaft leading into Mother Earth’s womb. So deep was Eddie’s subtlety that when his voyagers made it to the lip of a great maelstrom at the South Hole, it takes some deep thought to figure out that’s what they’re seeing. In the final scene on March 22 (my birthday!), they seem to go over the edge and into the hole. Here’s Poe’s ending:

The darkness had materially increased, relieved only by the glare of the water thrown back from the white curtain before us. Many gigantic and pallidly white birds flew continuously now from beyond the veil, and their scream was the eternal Tekeli-li.

Wanting more of this, I reasoned that, even if Poe had erred about the hole being clearly visible, it might still exist, but be hidden beneath a sheet of accumulated snow and ice. In 1986, I started work on my novel, The Hollow Earth: The Narrative of Mason Algiers Reynolds of Virginia. The Earth is hollow, like a tennis ball. And you’re weightless in there. The wondrous Hollow Earth holds jungles, seas, native tribes, flying pigs, killer nautiluses, giant ants, and live flying saucers. Godlike sea cucumbers at the Hollow Earth’s core illuminate the great spherical space with branching rays of pink light.

I began preparing to write a novel about my new hero Mason Reynolds’s journey from Virginia to Antarctica and through the South Hole into the Hollow Earth. My old friend Gregory Gibson, in his capacity as antiquarian bookseller, sent me some nineteenth century sailing narratives, and a fine twenty-volume edition of the collected works of Poe. I pored over these, coming to identify with Eddie. Poe wrote of being possessed by an imp of the perverse, who impelled him to do deliberately alienating and antisocial things—which described my punk attitude to a tee.

While still in Lynchburg, my expanding researches had led me to the rare book room in the library of the University of Virginia, where I found writings about John Cleves Symmes Jr., who began proselytizing his doctrine of the Hollow Earth in 1818. Symmes lived in Newport, Kentucky, and he styled himself the Newton of the West. He was too busy lecturing—or too sly—to publish any books under his own name, but I found a nonfiction Symmes’ Theory of Concentric Spheres, and a novel, Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery, which are purportedly written by Symmes’ followers. My feeling is that, as the books speak so very highly of Symmes, he either wrote them himself or collaborated heavily.

In 1985, the Lynchburg, Virginia, traffic police remanded me to a series of driver education classes. (It was a kind of turning point for me—the first time that I internalized the fact that I had some problems. Not that I managed to fix them as yet—that would take me about ten more years.) Anyway, in these classes, I sat next to a Black guy called Otha Rucker. He wasn’t from Lynchburg proper, but from way out in the country. I had a kind of family feeling towards him, and I hung out with him during the class breaks. Otha’s country accent was so strange that I could hardly understand a word that he said—often I couldn’t even discern the general topic he was talking about. But I liked being with him anyway. After we left Lynchburg and I got going on The Hollow Earth, I’d write about a white boy from a farm near Lynchburg who makes a fabulous voyage with his Black half-brother, Otha. [In that painting above, that’s Mason on the left, but it’s not Otha on the right, it’s Mason’s wife Seela from the Hollow Earth.]

My dog Arf was another influence. One day in 1985, he and I floated down the James River from Lynchburg in a rubber raft, just the two of us.. Arf spent most of the ride sitting like a person, with his butt down, and with his back leaning against the fat ring of the raft. He raised his noble muzzle to the gentle breezes, staring off across the water, cocking his ears, taking everything in, twitching his beautiful black nose. Eventually we fetched up in some shallows and made our way to the highway. An old farmer in a pick-up gave us a ride back into town. This little outing was another seed for The Hollow Earth .

Another key to getting the book started was my recollection of Newton’s so-called “Shell Theorem” of 1687, which I’d even proved for myself using calculus…it’s not even that hard. As Newton puts it: “No net gravitational force is exerted by a hollow shell on any object inside, regardless of the object’s location within the shell.” Inside the Hollow Earth, you float around like in space—but there’s air to breathe! Perfect.

Oddly enough, so far as I know, nobody else’s Hollow Earth novels take this key fact into account. Blind fools! They always have the characters walking around “upside down” on the inner surface of the Rind. Thereby missing the real adventure and excitement of being inside the Hollow Earth. I was writing, as I liked to say, “Geography SF.”

It took me several years to finish my novel as, just as I was starting, my family and I moved from Lynchburg, Virginia, to Los Gatos, California, where I’d found a job teaching math and computer science at San Jose State University in Silicon Valley. It was hard getting started, as I didn’t know jack shit about computers. I only had time to write during the summer months—when, metaphorically speaking, the pack ice would melt.

Once I got going, I wasn’t sure how to light up the inside of the Hollow Earth. If you put an Inner Sun in the center, then it seems like everything would fall up into the sun. By now we were settling into California, and I was walking around San Francisco with my new friend Marc Laidlaw, also an SF writer. This would have been 1986 or 1987. In a new age store called Star Magic on 24th St. near Castro St., Marc and I spotted a new science toy called a plasma sphere. By now nearly everyone’s seen one of these things—it’s a hollow glass ball with an electrode in the center. Branching lines of electrical discharge reach out from the electrode to the outer surface, and if you move your fingertips around on the sphere, the glow lines trail after them. Aha! That’s the way to light up the Hollow Earth! Have titanic aurora-like streamers of light reaching from the Central Anomaly to the inhabited inner surface of the Rind.

I had some fun flipping the races back and forth in The Hollow Earth. At the core of the Hollow Earth they find the sky-surfing tribe known as the black gods. Nearby are a cluster of great sea cucumbers, who are known as the woomo. Mason’s traveling companion, the Black Otha, stays at the core. Mason, his wife Seela, and Eddie Poe make their way out through the crust and back to Earth. Due to their time in the strong light of the woomo, their skins are now black. And they have to deal with that, as it’s 1850 in the South.

Repeatedly iced-in by my teaching duties, I took nearly three years to finish writing The Hollow Earth, which finally appeared in 1990, edited by, as I recall, John Douglas at William Morrow. The book got good reviews. One might have termed it steampunk, but that word wasn’t yet widely in use. My favorite review wasn’t even printed, it was just something that Marc Laidlaw said in an email: “Rudy has written the great American science fiction novel.” [That’s a recent photo of Marc and me above.] For more blurbs, and more about the book’s publishing history, see my Hollow Earth book page.

At the end of the book, I used the hoaxing Poe-like expedient of writing an afterword to the effect that The Hollow Earth was a manuscript that I’d found in the rare books room at the University of Virginia. For years I got occasional emails from readers taken in by the hoax. They wondered why I haven’t done anything to help mount an expedition to retrace my hero Mason’s steps. One guy even assumed that since The Hollow Earth was just an old public-domain manuscript that I’d edited, it was okay to post a page-scan of my book on the web!

My kids liked hearing me talk about the Hollow Earth. Once, while cross-country skiing with my daughter Isabel near Lake Tahoe, I pointed out the blueness of the light that seemed to emerge from the holes our ski-poles made in the snow.

“Proof that the Earth is hollow!” I told Isabel. “As if more proof were needed,” she responded cheerfully. “When will they see?”

In 1990, there was an article about my novel in the San Jose Mercury News, and a street person came by my office to tell me some news. “The sun is cold and hollow,” he said. “That light you see overhead is just the interaction of some special rays from the sun with our upper atmosphere. You should write about the Hollow Sun.”

I’m always wondering how long I can keep writing books. I even have an ongoing Excel graph of of my books per year, with a curve fit to the numbers.

I started thinking about writing Return to the Hollow Earth in January, 2017, but I didn’t get down to writing the opening until April, 2017. First I had to go through a lot of possibilities. I did even, in fact, consider a side trip to the interior of the Hollow Sun—but I decided there were still a lot of interesting things to do inside the good old Hollow Earth. A big breakthrough was when I decided decide to bring back Eddie Poe as a character—even though it seemed like he died at the end of The Hollow Earth. But writing the book without Eddie would have been like a hotdog without a bun or a dog.

For a long time I wondered what kind of twist I could put at the end. And then I decided to have Mason jump into the future at the end of this new narrative. In April, 2017, I emailed Marc Laidlaw about this plan.

I thought of an angle to pick up the pace on Return to the Hollow Earth. Mason and the not-dead-after-all Poe go back into the Hollow Earth, fine. And Poe wants to go back through the Anomaly to the original Earth he came from, as he would still have a shot at a literary career there. Mason goes along for the ride. But they don’t actually get back to the old Earth. They get hung up inside the Anomaly, the taffy-slow-time zone in between the two worlds, and the stay too long, and end up being spit back out, still on our side…only now it’s 2050 AD. Boffo! It took me three solid months of note-writing to get here. I worried I was done writing novels, out of the biz. I always think my process won’t work, and then, thank you muse, it does again. My trick, as you know, is to start a separate manuscript that’s my writing notes for the book I want to write, and keep going back in there and wheenking, and trying ideas and discarding them, and pushing like it’s a car mired in mud or deep snow, and finally I get so desperate and hopeless that I finally notice a tiny air hole or a stock move where I might, if I just go and try it, might find some oxygen to breathe, even if it’s dumb, and, gasping and sobbing, I claw my way onto a floating bit of flotsam and jetsam that I ride down into the roaring glorious maelstrom of the novel.

Later, I changed my mind about how far Mason goes into the future, and I had him emerge from the Hollow Earth in 2018—so he could meet his editor, yours truly, Rudy Rucker, who, as it turns out, has in fact already written Return to the Hollow Earth via woomo tekelili transcriptions of Mason’s thoughts. This is what I’d call a “wild hair” fix for the question of when Mason wrote this second narrative, and how I got hold of it. Love it. Such total bullshit! A Poe-quality hoax! Here’s the scene where Rudy meets up with Mason in a Santa Cruz graveyard on March 28, 2018.

Old Rudy strode up to me and shook my hand. He seemed to know exactly what was going on. And he wanted to tell me all of it at once. “I knew you’d come to Santa Cruz,” said Rudy. “So I drove over today, and right away I saw your story in the Good Times free newspaper, and of course I went by their office. The woman said to look for you in this cemetery, and here you are. And you’re still black. What a trip. I can hardly believe this is happening. And, oh my god, there’s Poe and Ina. They look so gnarly. Hi Eddie! So insane that you buried yourself in a bronze casket for a hundred and forty years. You’re nuts! I love it! Glad to see you’ve got your box. And here’s Seela and Brumble? So wonderful to meet you, Seela. You’re gorgeous. I know it’s hard when your baby cries like that.” He drew out a handkerchief, dried Brumbles face, and cooed to him in a high voice. “Did the policeman scare you? Do you need a new di-di? Can I hold him, Seela? Maybe he’ll be so surprised that he stops.” Seela glanced at me, and I nodded, and she handed the baby to Rudy. Brumble emitted a single, shocked squall, and then settled down into hiccups, resting his head on Rudy’s shoulder. Finally I found my voice. “How do you know all this?” I asked Rudy. “I understand that you edited The Hollow Earth—so of course you’d know my history. But the new things—how do you know them?”

To make Rudy’s channeling of Mason plausible, I mention several times during Return to the Hollow Earth that Mason was longing to start writing his narrative, and was embroiled in too much ongoing chaos to write, but he was composing the book in his head, with his mind singularly enhanced by the rumbies. He was in effect writing it to “the cloud” via telepathy, and Rudy was in effect receiving it from the cloud. The cloud here being the shared cosmic mind of the woomo. And then, naturally, Mason and Rudy have to negotiate about the royalty rights!

“Honeymoon” oil on canvas, April, 2018, 24” x 18”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Inspired by a new painting, I wrote a nice scene in Big Sur at the end, where we have humans riding in flying saucers with the Hollow Earth woomo aliens. Also giant ants, of course.

Return to the Hollow Earth is my twenty-third novel and I’ve now finished writing the first draft. I’m currently revising it, with an eye to publishing it by August, 2018, in ebook, paperback, and hardback. I’ll be publishing it as a set of three titles; The Hollow Earth, 3rd Edition, Return to the Hollow Earth, and Notes for Return to the Hollow Earth. My daughter Georgia is designing the covers.

Rather than taking the book to a commercial publisher or to a small press, I’ll be publishing it myself via my Transreal Books and running a Kickstarter to garner the equivalent of a book advance for my year of writing labor. By the way, Mason Reynolds is angry at Rudy for not getting a large commercial publisher to take on this new narrative. But what else can I do? That’s how publishing is in this odd future world of 2018.

Out here on the surface. But maybe we won’t be here long. As I point out in my Editor’s Note to Return to the Hollow Earth:

Definitive proofs of the Hollow Earth doctrine are in the cards. Eventually the passageways at the poles will reopen. As the Antarctic ice melts, the cap across the South Hole will crumble. And, as ice vanishes from the Arctic and the speeds of the polar jet streams increase, the pre-1850 North Hole maelstrom will reemerge. And then will Mason Reynolds be granted his place in the Pantheon of great explorers!

And if you don’t believe all this, you can come to my house and see Mason’s dog…who happens to be named Arf. Living proof that the Hollow Earth is real.

Great Book on 4D. Christopher White, OTHER WORLDS!

April 25th, 2018

For the last couple of months I’ve been obsessively busy with finishing my novel Return to the Hollow Earth—which I’ll discuss in a different post next week. Re. blogging, what with the rampaging ubiquity of social media, long-form blog posts are slippping in their popularity as a communication format. But there’s no replacement for a meaty post when I’ve got a lot of things to say and a lot of photos to show.

Today’s topic is Other Worlds: Spirituality and the Searth for Invisible Dimensions, by Christopher G. White (Harvard University Press 2018), available in hardback or Kindle for about $35. I met Chris a couple of times while he was working on the book—it took him a number of years. He’s a professor of religion at Vassar, and a nice guy. I like his book exceedingly, and I wrote an official blurb for it.

Other Worlds is a magisterial and deeply satisfying work on the history of a peculiarly modern idea: the fourth dimension. This esoteric concept points beyond the quotidian world, and Christopher White’s volume shows how readily the notion of hyperspace blends with human spiritual aspirations. The fun is that White makes his history into a juicy narrative, rife with geniuses, scientists, charlatans, impresarios, and artists of every stripe. The depth of research and wealth of information is stunning. One almost feels the author has surveyed our times with an all-seeing, higher-dimensional eye. A book to treasure, a feast.

In my post today, I’ll present some excerpts from the book, along with a more or less random bunch of my recent photos.

The core 4D book that most people know about is Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland of 1888. It’s what we might now call a first-person science-fiction or fantasy novel, narrated by A Square, who lives on a plane called Flatland. A 3D sphere shows herself to our Square by passing through his plane, and then she lifts him out into “higher space” (that is, into three-dimensional space) and he looks down upon his world and sees…the insides of things. I kind of took off on this in my novel Spaceland.

Perhaps the fact that Abbott was a clergyman helped promote a movement to start thinking of the supernatural in terms of the fourth dimension—and this is one of the key notions in White’s book. The following quote, and all the others, are from his Other Worlds.

It was not that Abbott thought spirits existed in a higher, fourth dimension, though other Christians would make such arguments, as we will see. It was more that the overall aim of the Flatland narrative was to expand the imagination, to show that extra-empirical realms might exist. “I hope,” Abbott once commented about Flatland, that it “may prove suggestive . . . to those Spacelanders of moderate and modest minds who—speaking of that which is of the highest importance but lies beyond experience—decline to say on the one hand that ‘This can never be,’ and on the other hand, ‘It must needs be precisely thus, and we know all about it.’ ” Elsewhere he arrived at a similar formulation, saying that he hoped to help others “conceive that there may be a Thoughtland, as much more real than Factland as the land of three dimensions seems to us more real than the land of two.”

There’s a countervailing notion of the fourth dimension, which even now we still see in Lovecraft—the fourth dimension as a crazy, almost evil concept. I myself have taken some flak about this over the years. “Won’t the fourth dimension drive you crazy?” White:

Contemporary fiction also dealt at length with the idea that the fourth dimension could be an unhealthy obsession, though the topic was sometimes dealt with humorously. (One notice in Life Magazine from 1912, for example, warned readers about professors who taught esoteric higher-dimensional notions that entangled one’s mental faculties.) Though Howard Hinton denied that developing fourth-dimensional vision caused mental problems, he often encountered these criticisms. It did not help that there were widely publicized cases linking fourth-dimensional enthusiasms and mental illness, including one notice, picked up by a number of British newspapers, that an Oxford undergraduate and son of a local priest committed suicide after studying the fourth dimension. Newspapers reported his brother saying that the evening before the suicide the troubled undergraduate “wished to discuss the ‘fourth dimension,’ and higher mathematics. He was very excited. The next morning, he was very white, and his eyes were staring. He said he had been out of his mind, but was then sane, and that he knew it at that time, but might forget it.” Did transcending normal perceptual abilities make one unfit for regular, three-dimensional life?

The fourth dimension is of course invoked in the Minkowski-Einstein notion of spacetime, as used in the theory of Relativity. But it’s not really time that true aficionados of the fourth dimension are after. We want to think of a different space direction. So, yes, time is like a higher dimension, but we want four dimensions of actual space. This notion had early currency among physicists as well. White:

While many mathematicians and scientists did not embrace the fourth dimension as a pathway to ecstatic religious visions the concept nevertheless did important imaginative work for them. Some, including the mathematical physicists James Clerk Maxwell and Peter Tait and the Canadian-American mathematician and astronomer Simon Newcomb, seemed to think that the fourth-dimension concept made the existence of heaven or a spirit world more plausible. In The Unseen Universe, for example, Tait and his coauthor speculated that the soul was like a knotted vortex ring that came from an invisible dimension.

One of my favorite writers on the fourth dimension is Charles Howard Hinton, indeed I once edited a book of his essays and somewhat science-fictional stories. Hinton also appears as a character in my novel Jim and the Flims. Here’s White’s very dramatic account of Hinton’s death.

On April 30, 1907, C. Howard Hinton and his wife Mary attended the annual dinner of the Society of Philanthropic Inquiry in Washington, D.C. Hinton did not know it, but it would be not just his last time socializing with friends but also his final exit from three-dimensional existence. The evening began auspiciously, with printed programs that featured Hinton’s talk at the end of the night. When his turn came, Hinton stood up and gave what his wife remembered, writing in a sad letter to William James, as a “wonderful speech.” By the end of it, however, something was wrong. Hinton finished his remarks, walked out of the banquet, and fell to the ground dead. Hinton generally promised a lot, but that evening’s remarks were particularly ambitious—a brief talk, the program announced, on “Psychic Entrance into Life in the Fourth Dimension or Heaven or any Other Place.” On this occasion at least, Hinton succeeded in ways no one could have imagined.

In the early 1900s, numerous ministers began drawing on notion of the fourth dimension as a symbol or even an explanation of God, heaven, and the afterlife.

There was nothing specifically Christian about higher-dimensional notions. In fact, most people who used higher dimensions did so not to buttress Christian doctrines but to argue for more general spiritual notions such as the existence of a spirit world, life after death, or transcendent intuitions and visions. Certain that modern people needed religious ideas even if they could not accept them on dogmatic authority, W. F. Tyler argued in a thoughtful book on The Dimensional Idea as an Aid to Religion (1907) that the dimensional idea might “be grafted on to any existing religion,” lifting all religious believers out of the “quagmire” of superstition and irrationality.

The Russian mystic writer Pieter D. Ouspensky is another key figure in four-dimensional thought. I was a great student of his work when I was younger. White:

In 1909 the Russian mystic and fourth-dimensional philosopher Pieter D. Ouspensky moved to St. Petersburg, where he held court at a bar called the Stray Dog, a seedy, foul-smelling, and badly lit bar where metaphysical seekers talked all night long. The Stray Dog crowd called him “Ouspensky Fourth Dimension” and dancers, poets, painters, musicians, and radicals came to smoke, drink, and listen, day and night, as Ouspensky expounded with authority on the Tarot, yoga, “reality,” time, consciousness, God, and higher dimensions. Even Leo Tolstoy listened patiently over lunch one day as Ouspensky drew multidimensional diagrams on the tablecloth. This metaphysical bar chatter was collected in Ouspensky’s The Fourth Dimension (1909) and Tertium Organum (1911). As one who had experienced altered states of consciousness that were both frightening and revelatory, Ouspensky spoke with some authority. He studied James’s Varieties of Religious Experience and other books on consciousness, and he experimented with nitrous oxide and hashish. His experiences varied.

I well remember one of Ouspensky’s essays on “Experimental Mysticism.” He talks about how after one of his “experiments.” he awoke with the unpleasant sensation that everything was made of splintery, rough wood. Every pot-smoker knows this feeling all to well.

Claude Bragdon was another early favorite of mine. I studied his work while writing my very first book, Geometry, Relativity, and the Fourth Dimension. , which is still in print from Dover Books, having sold an astounding 200,000 copies. (I got $1000 for the rights back in 1976.) White:

The Rochester architect Claude Bragdon believed that specific types of art and design could help people develop this kind of higher-dimensional sight. His pen and ink renderings, for instance, instead of using vanishing-point perspective, were isometric, employing a kind of perspective in which objects that are drawn seem to oscillate between different views. Isometric drawings oscillate in this way because parallel lines are drawn parallel on the page instead of receding in a triangle toward a vanishing point. There are a number of famous examples of isometric depth ambiguity, such as Escher’s drawings [and the Necker Cube], which have unstable corners and thus cause the eye to move between different views. Bragdon used the technique because it put the viewer in simultaneous multiple positions vis-a-vis the drawing, forcing a kind of higher vision upon the viewer: The viewer saw different sides of a thing at once.

And here’s more:

After 1919 … Bragdon turned to the theater as a way to develop spiritual spaces and narratives. A Broadway actor, manager, and (later) film actor, Hampden asked Bragdon to be the artistic director of his production of Hamlet.
This involved designing everything—all the costumes, sets, stage elements, and lighting. The close friendship between the two turned into a successful collaboration, and by 1923 Bragdon had closed his architectural practice in Rochester and moved to New York City, where he became a full-time stage designer. He moved into the Shelton Hotel, sharing the building and often his breakfast table with Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, and other likeminded artists, writers, and spiritual seekers.

As I discuss in my book The Fourth Dimension, that magic cupboard in C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books is a magic door to another world. As it happens, the physicists have designed such a construct, a kind of tunnel that leads from one sheet of reality to the next—it’s called an Einstein-Rosen bridge.
Religion was another great interest of C. S. Lewis’s, and here White discusses that.

At some point Lewis annotated and underlined copies of Flatland and Hinton’s New Era of Thought. At different times he spoke of Flatland in particular as a modern classic—“the original manuscript of the Iliad,” he once proclaimed, “could not be more precious.” He used dimensional ideas to argue that nature was open and layered rather than closed and determined. In his book On Miracles, for instance, he used dimensional ideas to argue that nature was “perforated” and “pock-marked” rather than closed, as logical positivists and scientific materialists insisted. Like Abbott and other theists, Lewis knew that in order to persuade others about the existence of a higher, spiritual realm (not to mention miraculous incursions from that realm) he would have to advocate for a universe that was open-ended.

In Madeleine L’Engle’s books such as Wrinkle in Time, tesseracts become passageways between worlds—and now there’s a hugely popular movie about it. Her ideas were drawn from the earlier 4D philosphers such as Hinton. White:

The word “tesseract,” of course, was Hinton’s term for a hypercube, and in many ways L’Engle continued in the tradition of Hinton enthusiasts deploying this mystical object in order to glimpse higher realities. In Wrinkle, Mr. Murray and other government scientists had studied tesseracts and had had some success in creating them. Mr. Murray had “tessered” through the universe, in fact, landing, unfortunately, on an evil planet where he was now imprisoned. When the Mrs. Ws began their search for Mr. Murray with Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe, they explained tessering to them as a folding or wrinkling of spacetime. Mrs. Who lifted the hem of her skirt and stretched it into a straight line. She told the children to imagine an ant traveling along the hem. It would take a long time to travel straight across, but imagine if the path itself could be folded and its two ends brought together? If this were the case, the ant could very quickly travel from one end to the other. Tessering, she said was folding the fabric of spacetime to create new, shorter paths between destinations. When Meg complained that she did not understand, Mrs. Whatsit said that Meg was thinking of space “only in three dimensions,” and that tessering involved higher levels of spacetime. This led to a lengthy lesson on dimensionality that would have made Hinton proud.

White has a final chapter discussing various oddly hyperspatial ways to think about contemporary media.

A sense of mystery surrounded how moving images and information were transmitted invisibly and received by television antennae. In fact when televisual technologies emerged they were understood by many as a type of psychic seeing-at-a-distance. Stefan Andriopoulos has argued that the arrival of the television in Europe in the 1930s was facilitated not just by advances in engineering and physics but also by occult beliefs and practices related to telepathy, telesight, and clairvoyance. The imaginative insight and technical knowledge that made electrical television possible, he has shown, developed in part from “occultist studies on psychic ‘clairvoyance’ (Hellsehen) and ‘television’ (Fernsehen), carried out in the same period by spiritualists who emulated the rules and procedures of science.” When early electrical televisions brought wireless moving pictures into peoples’ homes many wondered if this was a new way of bringing the “supernatural or marvelous in one’s own living room.” Televisions were like crystal balls or the magic mirrors of fairy tales.

So, yeah, Other Worlds is a wonderful book. Here’s a photo me with a 72nd birhtday card from my daughter. I feel kind of nostalgic, recommending a young writer’s 4D book. Like I’m passing the baton. One of the first writers on the fourth dimension whom I encountered was the redoubtable Martin Gardner, who ran the “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American all through my youth. He was a great hero of mine and, eventually, my mentor. When he retired from writing his column in 1981, I managed to get a freelance writing gig to interview him for a magazine called Science 81. And when I told Martin I was working on a book about the fourth dimension, he loaded me down with about a dozen rare old 4D books—on loan. And the next year he wrote a great intro for my book, The Fourth Dimension, which I mentioned above. And now it’s Chris White’s turn.

And so I bid a hail and farewell to all the great 4D thinkers up and down the timeline!

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