Introduction to AWAY FROM THE HERE AND NOW
It was the spring of 1956. I was a very young soldier at the time, stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison, a Midwestern army post now many years defunct. I’d been a science fiction fan since my schoolboy days (not so very long ago, as of 1956), and I missed my civilian life and friends. I’d hooked up with a local fan group, the Indiana Science Fiction Association, and attended its biweekly meetings-cum-spaghetti feasts whenever I could get a Friday night off.
The nation was at peace in 1956, and army life wasn’t really too hard. One Saturday afternoon I left the post and was strolling down a quiet street in Indianapolis, the nearest large city to “Fort Ben.” As I passed a used book shop a volume dressed in a brightly colored dust jacket caught my eye. The scene, illustrated in bright red, white, and black showed a spaceship resting on the lunar surface. Four astronauts could be seen. The Earth loomed large in the distance. The design was signed with a tiny, discreet “JM.”
The book was titled Away from the Here and Now. The author was Clare Winger Harris. I entered the store and looked at the book. The price on the jacket was $2.50, but this used copy—the publication date was 1947—was marked down to $2.00. That was a lot of money on a soldier’s salary in 1956, so with regrets I passed on the book.
You can guess the rest of the story. The book stayed in my mind. I experienced something that I can only call “non-buyer’s remorse.” At my first opportunity I returned to the store where I’d seen Away from the Here and Now, but of course the book was gone.
Flash forward twenty-two years. It was 1978. I’d come a long way since my army days. I’d married, started a family, spent some years in the computer business, and then become a book editor and finally an author in my own right. I still thought about Away from the Here and Now on occasion, and one day I saw a dealer’s catalog that listed the book. I can’t tell you the price—memory fails—but I’m very damned sure it was more than two dollars!
Even so I sent off an order as fast as I could, and in due course the book arrived in the mail. There it was, Away from the Here and Now, complete with that crudely executed but wonderfully evocative dust jacket. To make a happy occasion even happier, when I opened the book I discovered that it had been autographed: E.W. Fritz—from Clare Winger Harris—6/19/47. I wonder who E.W. Fritz was. I suppose I shall never know.
Two more bonuses: the dust jacket carried extensive information. Here is the flap copy:
AWAY FROM THE HERE AND NOW
Stories in Pseudo-Science
By CLARE WINGER HARRIS
In this age of atomic bombs and radar to the moon, Mrs. Harris’ stories may prove closer to the “here and now” than the title would indicate. Mrs. Harris proudly claims the distinction of being the first woman science-fiction writer in the country. Each of her stories is based upon a sound scientific fact, carried so plausibly to the nth degree that at no time does it overstrain credulity. The stories possess the qualities of dealing with ideas of big importance to the human race, of presenting those ideas in a plausible form, and of appealing to emotions that exist deep within the heart of every human being whether he be scientific or not.
Here is sugar-coated science.
And here is the back cover copy:
About the Author
Clare Winger Harris was born in Freeport, Ill., January 18, 1891. As a young girl she preferred reading the stories of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, while her young girl friends were reading Elsie Dinsmore and Beverly of Graustark. After attending Smith College in Northampton, Mass., she made two trips to Europe and one to Egypt and Greece. She was married in 1912 and has three sons all of whom inherited their mother’s love of science. Clyde is a graduate of California Institute of Technology and Physicist for B.F. Goodrich Co. A second son, Donald, a graduate of Ohio State College of Engineering, was a Major of the 8th Air Force in World War II with twenty-one missions over Germany. He was presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross. The third son, Lynn, was a Master Technical Sergeant in the Marines (Aerial Photography) and saw major service at Bougainville. The third generation of scientists is composed of three grandchildren: a boy and two girls, ages 5, 3, and 2 respectively.
Very likely the characterization of Clare Winger Harris’s stories as “sugar-coated science” will strike the modern reader as odd and perhaps anachronistic. The idea that science fiction existed chiefly as a tool for transmitting scientific concepts to bright but lazy high school students was clearly in Hugo Gernsback’s mind in the late 1920s when he founded Amazing Stories, Science Wonder Stories, and their assorted companion magazines. This demeans the intellectual and aesthetic legitimacy of science fiction and reduces it to something that the late James Blish referred to as “functional art.” In fact, readers are drawn to science fiction for any number of reasons, but it is most unlikely that the typical fourteen year old opens a science fiction magazine or book in order to learn about the Wheatstone Bridge or the periodical table of the elements.
The claim that Clare Winger Harris was the first woman science fiction writer in the country is subject to debate. That title probably belongs to Gertrude Barrows Bennett (1883-1948), whose science fiction antedated Mrs. Harris’s by two decades. Working under the pseudonym “Francis Stevens,” Mrs. Bennett wrote at least two science fiction novels and a number of science fiction and fantasy short stories. These appeared in Argosy, Thrill Book, All-Story Weekly, and People’s Favorite Magazine as early as 1904.
“Francis Stevens’ ” true identity and gender, however, were not to be known until 1952, when an industrious fan ferreted out that information. Further, her works appeared in general or “variety” pulp magazines, alongside westerns, detective stories, and other types of fiction. It is true that Clare Winger Harris was both the first woman to publish science fiction under her own (female) name and was the first woman to publish original fiction in established science fiction and fantasy magazines: Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, Amazing Stories Quarterly, and Wonder Stories Quarterly.
Nor were her pulp excursions her first published works of fiction. In 1923 she published a fantasy novel, Persephone of Eleusis: A Romance of Ancient Greece. Her first science fiction story, “A Runaway World,” appeared in Weird Tales for July, 1926. The first real science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, had made its debut just three months earlier. In the years between its founding in 1923 and the explosive growth of science fiction magazines in the late 1920s and ’30s, Weird Tales carried as many so-called “weird scientifics” as it did “weird supernaturals.”
Mrs. Harris continued to contribute to the science fiction pulps until 1930. She usually wrote alone, but on occasion collaborated with Miles J. Breuer, MD. Following the appearance of “The Ape Cycle” in Wonder Stories Quarterly for spring 1930, Mrs. Harris retired from writing to devote herself to her family.
As for the stories themselves, they demonstrate the author’s amazing ability to see reality from an unconventional angle and her penchant for asking unexpected and disquieting questions. “The Miracle of the Lily,” for instance, is her most famous and most frequently reprinted story. It asks the question, What is human? . . . and asks this question in a way that leaves the reader pondering long after he has read the story (Amazing Stories, April 1928).
“The Diabolical Drug” may have been inspired by two earlier, classic narratives, H.G. Wells’ “The New Accelerator” and Fitz-James O’Brien’s “The Diamond Lens.” Themes from these stories—the existence of human life at varied time scales and on different levels of size—are interwoven here to create an astonishing narrative (Amazing Stories, May 1929).
“The Menace of Mars” is the author’s most audacious work, envisioning the contraction of the solar system as the “cosmic molecule.” And that’s just the beginning! In this story, Mars is a single, giant, crystalline organism and the famous Red Spot on Jupiter is a Martian colony. Mind-bending notions (Amazing Stories, October 1928).
In 1947, thirty-seven years after the publication of her last story, Clare Winger Harris collected her own works from the magazines. Did she try to market the collection, Away from the Here and Now, to a commercial publisher? There appears no way of knowing. If she did, there were obviously no takers. So she brought the collection to a so-called vanity publisher.
Why did she do this? She may have been contemplating her own mortality. Born in 1891, by the mid-1940s she would only have been in her fifties. Still, with three small grandchildren, one imagines her wishing to leave them this book as a remembrance. In fact, she lived until 1968.
By the time I obtained my copy of Away from the Here and Now in 1978, the author had been dead for a decade. I did not know that. I hoped that she was still living and attempted to contact her through the Office of Alumnae Affairs at Smith College, but my efforts were unsuccessful. When Surinam Turtle Press set about to reissue Away from the Here and Now, I made another attempt to reach surviving descendants of the author, but once again, alas, without success.
In the years since Clare Winger Harris’ death her stories have been reprinted from time to time. She has been recognized as a pioneer of feminist science fiction. Femspec, styled “an interdisciplinary feminist journal,” devoted the cover of its volume 3, number 1 (2001) to a reproduction of the dust jacket for Away from the Here and Now. The author’s alma mater, Smith College, lists her on its alumnae website along with such literary notables as Julia Child, Betty Friedan, Molly Ivins, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Sylvia Plath, and Gloria Steinem.
The present Surinam Turtle Press edition of Away from the Here and Now is the first new edition of this important book since its initial publication. It is my fervent hope that it will bring this talented and historically important author to a large and appreciative new audience.
Richard A. Lupoff