SFWA Author Kaffeeklatsches

As a longtime reader of science fiction and fantasy I follow some of my favorite authors on twitter. From their tweets I’ve been aware of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Association’s annual conference and auction for a few years now. The auction is online; attendance at the conference is not required. Some of the more intriguing items up for auction each year are hour-long “kaffeeklatsches” with authors, writers, illustrators, and others involved with the science fiction world. Usually there are four seats for every kaffeeklatsch, each auctioned off separately.

Having watched from the sidelines in prior years I decided to dive in this year. I bid on a session with a big name author and watched the price go way beyond my budget, so I looked around at other possibilities. The starting bids are around $20 or $30; I found a group of other authors, put in some bids, and watched how the auctions went. I was outbid on a seat with one author but noticed other seats for the same session were still in my price range. I bid on those at the lower, starting price.

In the end I won seats at three kaffeeklatsches, for a total price of $70.00; this is a bargain! I had only read works by one of them, though I had looked up the others online (Wikipedia, their websites, reviews, etc), and thought they sounded interesting.

The first two sessions were on the same day (watch the dates / times of events when bidding so you don’t end up doublebooking yourself). There was only one other person in each of those events, and, as it turns out, it was the same person. That made it interesting for several reasons. For one that person was really smart and interesting, and I enjoyed talking with them as much as with the authors. For another the audience was a constant while the authors changed so it was almost an experiment in how changing that personality affected the interaction.

I had not read anything by either of the authors, but I had familiarized myself with their works, reading snippets on Amazon, looking at reviews, and short biographical sketches. Honestly, we didn’t talk that much about their writings. One of the authors was more interested in engaging with me and the other participant, asking us about ourselves and our interests; at one point we had a wonderful conversation about a rather grim musical that we had all seen and enjoyed. That author teaches writing classes, so we also talked about writing methods and plot development. It was not just a fascinating conversation but very educational as well.

The second session focused more on the author’s writing, and I have put some of their books on my “to be read” list. We talked about where the author’s inspirations came from, and about the author’s life, which is worthy of a novel in and of itself. This author was not born or raised in the US and the other participant had a non-American accent so the discussion had a much more international feel to it.

The conversations were wonderful and I felt that the other participant and I meshed well. It was great fun talking with that person and the authors, very much like if we had all sat together at a table during lunch or shared stood around a hallway between sessions at a convention. The kaffeeklatsch comparison is both excellent and apt. That is exactly what it felt like, a group of people just sitting and chatting; in fact, that is exactly what it was.

The third kaffeeklatsch was a few weeks later. This was with an author whose works I had read, at least some of them, and who had a larger name recognition that the other two, at least in my view. There were two other people in the session with me. As before, the participants were all very respectful of each other, talking in turn, not talking over one another. Everyone contributed and the conversation was very natural and organic, jumping from one thing to another, and then going back to pick up a thread that someone had started but had gotten lost in the larger discussion. This author has some unusual and unique book tie-ins; something I had never considered, and it was fascinating to hear about them.

Each of the sessions was interesting and really enjoyable, in overlapping and also different ways. Seventy dollars is not a lot of money to spend for three hours of stimulating conversation, especially after two years of covid related isolation. People spend more than that for a photo with an actor at cons. My worries going in were that I would be quizzed on my views about the author’s work, or that one participant would monopolize the conversation. Nothing even remotely like that happened. Everyone involved in the process, the auction organizers, the authors, and the other participants, were delightful.

I’ll be watching next year’s auction, and will certainly place a few bids for kaffeeklatsches. It is for a good cause; this year’s auction raised $18,000 for SFWA, an organization that spends its money wisely. According to the emails I received from the auction site at least part of the cost is tax deductible, an added plus. This really is a great way to interact with authors, and meet people with similar interests.

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The Bene Gesserit in To Boldly Go

Many people who read Frank Herbert’s Dune focus in on the environmental aspects of the plot. What I remember most, not surprisingly, are the female characters:  Princess Irulan and her memoirs, Chani and the Fremen, Alia and her relationship with Duncan Idaho, and the famous Lady Jessica. All of them had an influence on their society but in different ways.

Someone I know had agreed to write a chapter in a book on military strategy, leadership, and how these are represented in science fiction literature. We had talked about her work and where it might go, what she might write about. We both liked Dune and were intrigued by the Bene Gesserit, the female order whose motto “I exist only to serve” is simple on the surface but contains a multitude of meanings (for example, serve whom?). I jumped in as a co-author and we wrote the chapter on that organization and their place in the society  that is sometimes called the “Duniverse.”

You can read “I Exist Only to Serve: The Bene Gesserit and Informal Power,” co-written with Kelly A. Lelito, in To Boldly Go: Leadership, Strategy and Conflict in the 21st Century and Beyond, edited by Jonathan Klug and Steven Leonard. Casemate published the book in October 2021. It’s past one of the major gift-giving holidays but if you received an Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Bookshop.org gift card you can still pick up a copy, or buy directly from Casemate.

Our premise is that when people are locked out of the formal power structure, as women are in the Duniverse, they find other ways to influence the world around them. The Bene Gesserit do that in an organized and stealthy fashion. They can’t rule in their own name, but they educate and train many of the daughters, wives, and concubines of rulers. While this training is presumed to be of the domestic variety, how to be diplomatic and act as a good hostess, the lesser-known parts of the curriculum include statecraft, physical fighting, control of one’s own body, including fertility, gender of children, and breathing. They provide advisors and truthsayers. They can modulate their voice in such a way to control or influence those who hear it. These are not docile housewives (if, indeed, there actually is such a thing).

The Bene Gesserit are also involved in a generations long breeding program to bring forth a messianic male figure; even they could not imagine a woman playing such a role. As a student of folklore, I was also fascinated by their Missionaria Protectiva program – on new worlds they plant the kernel of stories that other members of the order can play upon when landing on that planet in greater numbers. In the initial Dune book there isn’t a lot of backstory for the Bene Gesserit; it is teased out in bits and pieces. Because they are women in a male dominated world they are overlooked.

People often overlook things they weren’t expecting to find or that don’t fit their worldview. As one simple historical example, people talk about discovering oil. That isn’t accurate. It has always been there. What we discovered was a use for it. Women in the workforce, whether as mill workers, or Rosie the Riveter in World War II, didn’t appear out of nowhere. Women had always been there; it’s just that other than domestic help there wasn’t a place for them outside the domestic sphere.

A discerning mind learns to look for things that are present but unseen. For military strategy this is a necessity, as the present but unseen can be dangerous.

Doing research for the chapter I used both a print and digital version of the text. We limited ourselves to the first book in the larger series, as it introduced the Bene Gesserit, and some of the other books took place in much different time frames. Studying a group over a large geographic and chronological area becomes difficult when working with a short document like a book chapter, and as this book contains 35 chapters each is allotted a relatively small number of pages. All of the chapters are interesting and provide a good introduction to military science fiction, or just science fiction generally, in print, on television, or in film. It is a great way to dip into a large selection of works, and then decide what to read in depth.

Interestingly, one of the more difficult aspects of writing the chapter involves a quote from Sun Tzu. I read it initially in a Sunday newspaper supplement, I think an article in Parade, but am not certain at this point. However, the quote wasn’t footnoted. I couldn’t use it without a citation, so I started searching to find the edition it was from. I couldn’t find it, and all of the editions I did find used different translations, each with a different nuance. I finally did find one I could use. That took longer than any other aspect of the research. It’s odd the things that trip you up with a writing project!

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On Being A Peer Reviewer

There is a decided push, if not an outright edict, in academia to publish in peer reviewed journals. It is a gold standard for research in most areas, and viewed favorably even in areas where monographs are more prevalent. The linchpin is peer review – it has been read and evaluated by other scholars before publication. The entire structure of peer review is built upon this.

And yet, being a peer reviewer essentially counts for nothing on an academic cv. The act of participating in the scholarly scaffolding is a voluntary effort that brings no benefit to the person doing that work. This is one of many conundrums in the life of scholarship.

I am a peer reviewer for three academic library journals, and read, on average, about eight to ten manuscripts a year. Some are a joy to read, and others are not. At the best of times being a peer reviewer means that I have an advanced look at scholarship that is directly related to my work and interests. It’s like having someone read the journal for me and send me the articles that would be of the most interest. Some of the best articles I have reviewed have provided me with new ways of looking at things or concrete suggestions for how to improve my day-to-day work life.

Other manuscripts provide me with examples of what not to do. Sometimes there is no “there” there – no real information or research or structure. Or it is clearly a “least publishable unit” situation where the information is a tiny part of a larger project. Some manuscripts are clearly based on internal reports, a “how we did it good” manuscript. There are publication outlets for these types of materials, but probably not a peer reviewed journal. Some could be reconstructed into a peer review project, but it would be a lot of work. The most confounding materials, for me at least, are those with a very involved mathematical basis, lots of formulae and equations. I just don’t have the training or knowledge to do well with those and always include that in my remarks. Another issue is manuscripts written by people whose command of the English language and American word usage is limited at best. The terminology used in other countries is not always the same as that used here, and trying to figure out how the academic structures they are mentioning operate can be challenging. I’m sure it is just as frustrating on the other end of the process. I believe firmly that people should use the terminology of the culture presented, but it might take some explanation for others to understand. I do admire the tenacity of international scholars. I read one manuscript through three different versions before it was published. Even when the process is difficult I do tend to learn something about libraries and information networks in other countries.

That leads to the last thing I want to mention. Being a peer reviewer has also spurred some of my own research. I learn new things or am introduced to places, programs, and so on, that I hadn’t known about before, and doing additional research to adequately evaluate the manuscript brings questions to mind. Sometimes I wonder about the larger picture, or something sort of related or how that idea would apply to something else entirely. The same thoughts come to mind when reading published materials, this is just an early window, and, of course, the only window on manuscripts that don’t quite make it to publication. It doesn’t mean they don’t bring good ideas to mind, just that this particular manuscript doesn’t work for this particular journal.

I wish all of the authors of the manuscripts I read good fortune, even though I don’t know who they are. When I see some of the articles in final published form there is a sense of almost parental pride. Though, to be honest, I tend to forget most of the manuscripts not long after reading them. The publication process can take a long time and by the time an article hits print I have probably reviewed at least a few more manuscripts and gone through some other journal issues or readings for my own research. Sometimes I will skim an article and think “oh, this seems familiar,” and realize that I read it in an earlier form during peer review. It is like running into an acquaintance, a friendly flash of a warmth and recognition.

Publishing in a peer reviewed journal does, at least to me, imply a debt to the process, easily fulfilled by being a peer reviewer. I do wish more weight was given to this as professional service. It is a positive influence on my research and work life so I will continue to do it regardless and encourage others to do the same.

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A Thirty Year Update

The second article I wrote on a library related topic was published in 1990. I was in my first full-time professional job, at a community college, and researched library services to transfer students. There really wasn’t anything specifically on libraries or librarians and transfer students, so I expanded the research to what factors contributed to transfer student success and how they might relate to the library. It was, more or less, a literature review with a particular focus and interpretation.

The article got a little attention and I was thrilled to see my name in print. Then the moment passed. I moved on to another job and to other research interests. Once I set up a Google Scholar profile I would watch to see what got cited. There are reasons why monitoring citations can be productive. In this case, I noticed that in the mid-2010’s the article became more popular, over a quarter of a century after it was originally published. What was happening?

Libraries and librarians were studying transfer students more frequently and intensively. Since there weren’t a lot of articles out there mine was finding its way into other people’s literature reviews. So, when I saw a call for chapters on transfer student success I thought it might be a good way to close the circle. A younger colleague, Samantha Kannegiser, and I reviewed the current scholarship on libraries and transfer students. There is quite a bit out there now.

The chapter, actually more of a bibliographic essay, was included in the newly published Transfer Student Success: Academic Library Outreach and Engagement, edited by Nancy Fawley, Ann Marshall, and Mark Robison (American Library Association, 2021). If you will pardon the blatant ego involved, I was especially pleased to note this in the introduction:

We were thrilled when Julie Still, who wrote one of the earliest articles about the library’s role in advancing transfer student success (“Library Services for Transfer Students,” Still 1990) submitted a proposal  to write an updated overview of the literature with her colleague Samantha Kannegiser. Their literature review launches the book and provides a foundation of current scholarship on the topic. Readers who are new to this conversation will find their review a useful entry point. (p. xiii).

The editors are exceptionally kind in their description. The chapters in the book are all well-written and present useful research and program overviews. I see a lot of familiar names there, and some new names, like Samantha’s, that we will all surely be seeing a lot more of.

I don’t imagine I will write on this topic again. It is an important one, but my time with it has likely passed now. A number of newer librarians are doing good research in the area. It was just very exciting to see that something I wrote thirty years ago was still remembered.

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Unusual Corn Casserole

(recipe at end of post)

This recipe is part of my spouse’s holiday tradition. When I’ve mentioned it to people I’m surprised at how many use the same or a slightly varied recipe. We all think it is something that was handed down through our own family, and known only to our clan.

Several versions of this recipe are available on the internet but it seems to be regarded as a very homespun domestic recipe and is not included in classic cookbooks such as The Joy of Cooking (at least not in the 1975 version, though it does have an old version of spoon bread). However, variants of it show up in school and church cookbooks (e.g. Our Best Home Cooking from the Glenside United Methodist Women, and Parkway Faculty Favorite Recipes, from a St. Joseph school). Its primary appeal is the ease of use – only a handful of ingredients and things that can easily be kept in the pantry or fridge. Two are canned goods and a third is a box mix. The popularity of Jiffy mixes is passed along by word of mouth or from parent to child. The company does not advertise. It has not needed to.

Hilary Cadigan, writing on the recipe in Bon Appetit traces the earliest mention of it to a grocery store in the 1950’s. Cadigan, like many people, assumed it was a family recipe. The head of Jiffy told her he hears that all the time – people contacting the company sharing something they think is original. The use of canned and boxed ingredients might be a reason why it might be considered both common and created. Like Christensen’s scrapbooks it is intended primarily for use at home or perhaps for sharing with friends and extended family (church dinners and the like), homey not fancy. The ingredients are too commercial and accessible to need much culinary skill, and this is something that a harried household cook might throw together after looking to see what was in the cupboard on a particularly hectic night when provisions were running low.

And yet, there are very deep historical roots within this plain, quick, holiday dish. While there is an expression that something is “as American as apple pie” that really isn’t correct as apples were a European transplant. Corn and pumpkin are native plants, so “as American as pumpkin pie” or “as American as corn” would be more accurate statements. Amelia Simmons, in her 1796 book American Cookery, includes three corn-based recipes “Nice Indian Pudding” (p. 26), “Johny Cake” (p. 34), and “Indian Slapjack” (p. 34). All of these use cornmeal (or Indian meal as Simmons refers to it).

Canned goods started working their way into recipes in the 19th century. Alice Kirk Grierson, the wife of a Civil War soldier, kept a cookbook later published as An Army Wife’s Cookbook. She includes two corn-based recipes, one using a can of whole kernel corn for an omelet (p. 19), and another version of the classic Indian pudding recipe (p. 59). Ads for canned cream corn started appearing around 1906. (The earliest one this researcher could find in the Philadelphia Inquirer was on 29 April 1906). Jiffy began selling packaged mixes in 1930, and introduced the corn muffin mix in 1950. Searching through the newspapers.com database, it is possible to find recipes from the early 1950’s using canned cream corn and cracker crumbs to give it body. One recipe just used a can of creamed corn, a cup of milk and some eggs. On October 9, 1969 the Estherville Daily News (Estherville, Iowa) published a recipe similar to the modern version: can of corn, can of creamed corn, Jiffy mix, eggs, green pepper, onion, with sour cream or cheese on top. It mirrors a pre-Jiffy mix recipe that used cracker crumbs.

However, this recipe clearly has antecedents going back to the newly formed United States. Either Indian Pudding or Johny Cake or Spoonbread, all of which were eaten in the colonies, or some combination, must surely have morphed into what is now made with two cans, a mix, some sour cream, and butter (or margarine); my recipe reduces the amount of butter and adds in an egg.

The recipe is what Kirshenblatt-Gimblett might refer to as a material companion, something that we keep because it provides comfort. The recipe gets handed down through generations, with deep roots going back to colonial days, that provides us with a continuity at holiday events.


1 egg

1 cup sour cream

½ cup butter

1 can cream style corn

1 can whole kernel corn

1 pkg Jiffy cornbread mix

Mix all ingredients together, put into a greased casserole, bake 45 minutes at 350. Serves 6-8.


Cadigan, Hilary. “This Cornbread Casserole Was My Family’s Secret Thanksgiving Recipe…Until It Wasn’t,” Bon Appetit November 9, 2018. Available at: https://www.bonappetit.com/story/family-secret-cornbread-casserole

Chelsea Milling Company. JiffyMix. 2020 https://site.jiffymix.com/

Christensen, Danielle Elise. “(Not) Going Public: Mediating Reception and Managing Visibility in Contemporary Scrapbook Performance.” In Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds. Edited by Jason Baird Jackson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992, pp. 40-104.

Glenside United Church Women. Our Best Home Cooking. Collierville, TN: Fundcraft Publishing, 1996.

Grierson, Alice Kirk. An Army Wife’s Cookbook. Tucson, AZ: Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1972.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. “Objects of Memory: Materia Culture as Life Review.” In Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: A Reader, edited by Elliott Oring. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1989, pp. 329-338.

Parkway Faculty Favorite Recipes 1979-1980. St. Joseph, MO: Parkway Elementary School, 1980.

Rombauer, Irma S. and Becker, Marion Rombauer. The Joy of Cooking. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co, 1975

Simmons, Amelia. The First American Cookbook [A Facsimilie of American Cookery, 1796]. New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1984.

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A Few Notes on Fantômette

The blog post is intended to provide some context and background to the article I wrote on Fantômette that was recently published in Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures.  Fantômette, a French media character, appears in 50+ books, 2 television series, some graphic novels, and an encyclopedia. I’ve come to think of her as a cross between Nancy Drew and Batgirl, only younger. (See Mille Pompons! Fantômette, the Famous, Unknown, Schoolgirl Superhero of France. Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures12(1), 168-183. Retrieved from https://jeunessejournal.ca/index.php/yptc/article/view/519)

A French professor, Dr. Alisa Belanger, mentioned her to me. I had just co-organized a conference on women and gender in science fiction and fantasy and she said “Oh, you’d love Fantômette.” I had never heard of Fantômette. But, as I found out, very few people in the North America had, and very few libraries in the English-speaking world owned any of the books.

So off and on for a few years I researched the character, who she was, what she did. I bought some used copies of the books online. (Good luck finding new copies on this continent.) What I found appealed to me for a variety of reasons. One being that Fantômette is just cool (more on this later). A second is that having taken French in high school and college and visited the country a few times I maintained an interest in the language and culture. I have the Le Monde app on my phone, some French language books on my bookshelf, and part of my morning routine is playing 7 petits mots, but it would be incorrect to say I am in any way fluent. The idea of using primary and secondary sources for a research project became a “bucket list” item. This presented an ideal setting to dig in. I used the Cairn database (www.cairn.info) to find articles published in French in European journals that would not necessarily be findable in databases created and marketed in the United States.

True confessions: I had to look up a lot of words and sometimes resort to Google translate, as I always do when using French materials, but I could get enough of the gist to figure out what the author was saying. Unfortunately, one downside of this is having to figure out how to put diacritics into the text and the bibliography. Also, I was too clever by half trying to include vague translations in the text. Eventually I took most of them out because I didn’t think they were that good. Moral of the story: don’t try to show off and know what your limitations are.

But the more I found out about Fantômette the more certain I was that this character deserved to have a wider North  American audience, and that North America really needed to know about her. I mean, just look at some of the book covers (here and here). In other titles she goes into space, she crosses the desert, does all sort of interesting things. She fights bad guys, solves crimes, and still gets to class the next day. If I had had access to these books as a young girl I would have devoured them all.

One or two journals rejected the article, which was depressing, but I kept revising it. Before sending it out again I went back to the beginning and looked at some of creator Georges Chaulet’s original drawings and some of the later book covers show her with a darker skin tone than her friends have. This is especially noticeable in some of the illustrations in Les Secrets de Fantômette, an encyclopedia on the character. This is something that no one else that I could find had noted. So far, this point has created the most interest among readers, as least the ones that I have been in contact with. I would have liked to included some of the drawings from the encyclopedia but the thought of trying to get the rights was daunting. My theory that the character may have had a mixed racial heritage seems to be a novel one.

Another point of discussion in the article is why the books were never translated into English. I could see them being very useful in high school and college French classes, either in the original French or excerpted as English translations, especially in an era where pop culture is acceptable in educational settings. While they have been translated into other languages, they’ve never been translated into English. I have theories on this. One being that the main character spends a lot of time with an unrelated male. That sort of thing tends to be viewed with suspicion.

The main point, however, was simply to introduce a new audience to the character. I hope a few more people will track down the books or watch some of the episodes of the shows that are on YouTube. Certainly I enjoyed the process of researching the character, learning new resources, and stretching some academic muscles. I am also grateful to Jeunesse for publishing the article.

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Amazing Stories

In today’s diverse world the saying “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” refers to the importance of representation.  While the wording may be modern, the sentiment is perennial.  Trailblazers, however flawed or rudimentary they might be, provide pathways for the giants to follow.  As it is with other aspects of life, this is true of literature as well.  Scholars disagree on whether the first science fiction novel is Kepler’s Somnium (1634), or Andreae’s The Chemical Wedding (1616), or something else entirely.  Scholars even disagree on who wrote the first American science fiction novel, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, or George Tucker, all writing in the early nineteenth century.

However, without question, the first English-language science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, started in April, 1926.  The first issue surely caused a stir.  The cover features a bright yellow background, with two sailing ships caught on a mountaintop, a colorful ringed Saturn-like planet in the sky and several people ice skating on a frozen lake.   By contrast, other newsstand publications that month had pale white or beige cover backgrounds.  Good Housekeeping showcased two rosy cheeked cherubs sheltering under an umbrella; Pictorial Record had a similar background and scene, with one cherub in a big feathered hat and two puppies.   Cosmopolitan featured a white background with the shoulders, neck, and head of a relaxed woman.  Even other pulp fiction titles, like Action Stories, had pale covers and tended to feature Western scenes or standard “women in jeopardy” images.  Covers depicting other planets?  Sailing ships anchored or moored on mountaintops?  Lurid colors?  This was something new.

Hugo Gernsback, who had previously published scientific publications, and included some science fiction in them, started Amazing Stories.  Prior to that science fiction stories may have appeared in other publications but not in any regular or systematic way.  No real outlet existed for those who enjoyed that literary genre, no shared publication, no spot on the public literary square. The lack of a shared vocabulary prevented readers from even having a name for their interest.  Gernsback coined the term science fiction after first trying out scientifiction.  Initially the content primarily focused on reprints of previously published stories; the first new story appeared in the second issue, in May, 1929.  Gernsback lost the publication in bankruptcy proceedings in 1929 and the magazine changed hands several times, but, with some gaps, is still published today.  Gernsback’s role allowed him to be the first of the big science fiction gatekeepers, deciding what was and was not “science fiction” by what they chose to publish.  These gatekeepers played a dominant role in the development of the genre.  His commentaries in each issue provided early examples of literary criticism for science fiction.  Thus, while he did not control the publication for long, his influence remains.  In fact, he went on to start other science fiction magazines, with varying degrees of success.  He created the structure for the readership, scholarly study, and even fan appreciation (by setting up the Science Fiction League) of science fiction as an accepted form of literature (Westfahl, 1999).   Gernsback’s assistant, T. Sloane O’Connor, served as editor for the next ten years, 1929-1938, continuing Gernsback’s policies and general outlook, though in a somewhat toned-down fashion.

Gernsback’s mixed record in the publishing field mirrored his accomplishments in other areas.  For example, while he was not overly enthusiastic about women writing science fiction he welcomed women as readers and was known to say that women made up half of his readership (Matze).  The publication continued under O’Connor and other editors and publishers down through the years, all with mixed records of their own.  Even fans would acknowledge that the quality of the stories published varied, not only under the leadership of various editors, but sometimes from issue to issue.

Yet, just the existence of such a publication, inspired readers.  Isaac Asimov, who for some years published an eponymous science fiction magazine, recounted in a 1985 collection of Amazing Stories stories, seeing an issue of that magazine in 1929, as a nine-year old.  He was so fascinated and inspired by it that he started writing himself a few years later.  In 1938 he sold his first story, to Amazing Stories.  As a side note, it was not Asimov’s first choice, as that publication did not pay as well as others, but it was the publication that was willing to take a chance on him.  Robert Silverberg, in a 1986 collection of stories from the magazine, remembered the first issue he read, as a high school freshman, in 1948.  Eight years later, in 1956, a story he wrote was published in the magazine.

Other science fiction magazines came along, such as Astounding Stories in 1930, which is still being published as Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and later titles such as Galaxy Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  The continued publication of these titles demonstrates that a market exists, and has for some time.  But in 1926 starting such a publication involved significant risk.  Literary fiction and sentimental fiction appeared in mainstream publications.  Adults did not readily admit to reading genre fiction, such as detective stories and science fiction.  Asimov’s father carried Amazing Stories in the magazine rack of his candy store but forbade young Isaac from reading it.  Isaac cleverly portrayed it as a science publication to get a reprieve.

Science fiction is now a part of mainstream culture, both popular and upper class.  The orchestra in Philadelphia performs the music from the Star Wars and other science fiction film franchises.  In 1926, though, the genre was less than respectable.  Not many people would find it in the course of their daily reading.  By publishing the first magazine devoted to science fiction, Hugo Gernsback created a place where people who liked science fiction could find the stories they wanted to read.  It created a common space and allowed readers, both old and young, to congregate.  By publishing and quoting from readers’ letters Gernsback showed that a fan community existed.  Without this publication there may not have been the others that followed.  Young Robert Silverberg and Isaac Asimov might never have read, and later written, science fiction.

Representation matters, and with that first issue, Amazing Stories represented science fiction in a way that allowed people to pick it up on a newsstand or subscribe so that it regularly arrived in the home.  Before that people might stumble across it in other publications, which ran such stories on an irregular basis if at all.  By creating a literary home for likeminded readers the magazine provided the first step in creating a steady readership and the fandom culture which exists today.


Asimov, Isaac, and Greenberg, Martin Harry (eds). Amazing Stories : 60 Years of the Best Science Fiction Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1985.

Greenberg, Martin Harry. Amazing Stories : Visions of Other Worlds Lake Geneva, Wis: TSR, 1986.

Gunn, James. “The Gatekeepers.” Science Fiction Studies 10 (1 [29]) (1983): 15–23.

Matze, Brian S.  ‘The Weaker (?) Sex’: Women and the Space Opera in Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories.” Foundation. 46, no. 126 (January 1, 2017): 6–20.

Westfahl, Gary. 1992. “‘The Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Edgar Allan Poe Type of Story’: Hugo Gernsback’s History of Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies 19 (3 [58]) (1992): 340–53.

Westfahl, Gary. 1999. “The Popular Tradition of Science Fiction Criticism, 1926-1980.” Science Fiction Studies 26 (2 [78]) (1999): 187–212.

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Buffy to Batgirl book

It’s out!  It’s out!  The proceedings volume for the 2014 Buffy to Batgirl conference has been published by McFarland, co-edited by Zara Wilkinson and myself.


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Economic and Business History Society

The Economic and Business History Society met for its annual conference in Detroit, June 5th through 8th, 2019.  As always, this was a fun conference.  There were several people named Erik / Eric in attendance.  At one session there was a discussion on what the group name for this gathering would be.  It was decided that a group of Eriks with a K would be a raid of Eriks.  Erics with a C are a castle of Erics.  Now, honestly, what other conference does this sort of thing?

These are some of the panel sessions I attended:

Trade and Manufacturing in Colonial America

Sophie Jones started off the session with a talk on “An Absence of Manufacturing:  The Curious Case of Colonial New York.”  New York City imported a lot of its manufactured goods from the UK instead of developing manufacturing in the city.  Later local manufacturing emphasized ties to the UK, and UK social norms set standards for dress and behavior.  In lieu of manufacturing the city developed leisure activities, such a shopkeeping and gardening.

This set up the next talk, “Locally Global:  Capital Investment and Merchants in Colonial Boston, New York, and Philadelphia,” by Jeremy Land, who also helped organize the conference.  One of his points is that local investment provides capital investment.  This led to rising purchasing power of British America.  Merchants were also key sources of funding for public projects like roads and wharves.

For a change of pace Eric Oakley talked about “These Beautiful Isles:  Small Islands as Commercial Outposts in the Age of Sail.”  He focused on small islands, roughly the size of Hawaii or smaller.  Some were navigational aids or seamarks, others were logistical points, providing fresh provisions, and some were “entrepots,” places of maintenance and other ways of enhancing the trade.

Appearances Matter:  Popular Culture and Identity Economics

The first talk of this session, “Trrrappings of a Revolution:  The Commercial Co-option of the Riot Grrl Punk Aesthetic,” by Anna Stoutenburg, focused on the riotgrrrl movement that started in the late 1980’s and spread through zines.  As it got more press mainstream culture adopted some of the riot grrl aesthetic.

Mikko Juhani and Anna Sivula presented information on a collection of interviews with 121 shipbuilders in Rauma.

Deryuan Yang spoke about the Ghost Month in his presentation “The Impact of the Ghost Month:  Evidence from Marriage and Birth Data.”  There is some belief that the 7th lunar month is unlucky.  There are fewer weddings that month.

New Methodologies in Colonial Atlantic History

I missed one of the papers in this session.

Christine Cook, with “Your Little Madam Snip,” focused on women in the Askin family and their impact on the family business.  Male tailors made patterns and cut fabric pieces, female seamstresses sewed the pieces together.  Buttons were removed to wash garments and then sewn back on.

In “What’s in a Name: Wealth and Slave Names in York County, Virginia Probate Records,” Wendy Lucas’s research was read by moderator Fred Gates.  Lucas reviewed probate records to see which mentioned slaves by name.  It was beneficial to list the names of slaves with specific skills (blacksmithing, etc) and was also a function of estate wealth.

Sports and Tourism

Diana Ahmad talked about “Hawaiian Culture:  Little More Than a Crop to be Harvested.”  The popularity of “Moby Dick” led to an increase in Hawaiian tourism and cargo ships had more room for tourists.  There was a dramatic increase in tourism in the early 1900’s.

Michael Haupert in “There’s a Girl on the Field, but Who’s in the Stands?” focused on the women’s baseball league in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  He talked about the popularity of baseball, as wholesome entertainment, and that people went to women’s baseball games for the same reason they went to men’s baseball games.

New Research Methodology in Economic History

The first of two papers on aviation history, Peter Meyer presented on “The Great Aviation Patent Spike of 1910.”  He noted that the spike in patents came after public demonstrations of aircraft, and gave examples of varying terms used to describe different types of air vehicles.  He also pointed out that there was an increase in bibliographies on aeronautics to provide information.

Erik Benson spoke on “Curbing the Enthusiasm:  Recent Aviation History from an Economic Perspective.”  I was a little too nervous to listen as well as I should have to this talk.

I spoke last, talking about the pitfalls of searching online newspapers.  Some of my points were taking into account spelling variations, abbreviations, the change of word usage over time, and how the Tasini vs New York Times Supreme Court case affected information retrieval.

Global effort:  Case Studies in Labor and Human Capital

This research focused on the labor force in Russian factories.  Amanda Gregg presented “Modernization in Progress:  Part-Year Operation, Capital Accumulation, and the Labor Force Composition in Late Imperial Russia.”  She looked at 1894 industrial data.  Factories that operated part of the year were more rural and in more agricultural areas, especially wheat.  Factories that operated all year were more likely to survive.

Olli Turunen spoke on “Creating a Multilingual Corpus of Nineteenth Century Economics to Research Conceptual Development.”   He would like to create a database of nineteenth century economic literature in French, German, and English, in a consistent accessible format.

Robert Kaminski’s talk was entitled “Harvesting Horizontal Integration:  Labor Relations, Corporate Strategy and the Great Merger Movement, 1885-1902.”  He examined strikes at McCormick in 1885 and how the company responded.  There was a lockout and another strike in 1886.

As usual the conference offered a group field trip one afternoon.  This year we went to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.  The Village was comprised of historic buildings that were moved or recreated to this site.  I went to the Wright Brothers bicycle shop, the childhood home of George Washington Carver, and William Holmes McGuffey (of McGuffey Reader fame).  The village is also a working farm with horses, sheep, and at least one resident cat.  The Ford Museum had several interesting exhibits, including one on Star Trek.

The keynote speaker at the annual dinner was John Naglick, Chief Deputy CFO / Finance Director for the city of Detroit.  He talked about the process the city went through to get back on track financially.  It was illuminating and interesting, and at times alarming.  It is the sort of presentation people are unlikely to hear anywhere else.


Next year EBHS will meet in Atlanta.

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An Interview in Russian

You meet the most interesting people at CCAHA conservation workshops!  I was at a workshop on preserving photographic scrapbooks and met Irina Glick, who has a website in Russian.  She has been interviewing Special Collections librarians, posting the interviews in Russian, and then later posting English translations.  You can take a look at the Russian version here.

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