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Sunday 1 February 2015

Anthology Nostalgia

Nostalgia is a subjective thing. It’s not just a function of time period (e.g. 60s, 70s or 80s) but also how old you happened to be at the time. This struck me recently when I was looking at some so-called “Eighties nostalgia” blogs on Tumblr, which were all about toys, games and children’s TV. Personally, I associate those with the 1960s rather than the 80s, by which time I was in my twenties. To me, 1980s nostalgia means things like Dallas, Miami Vice, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Traci Lords.

But the height of nostalgia for me is not the 60s or 80s but the 70s – my teenage years. During this period I went through a number of fanatical interests, from amateur radio and Marvel Comics to astronomy and science fiction. In those days, the latter usually meant short stories and novelettes rather than blockbuster novels and movies. At least two-thirds of the SF books I read during the 70s were multi-author anthologies. Wherever possible I bought imported U.S. paperbacks, for the perfectly logical reason that they smelled better than British ones (I mean a lot better – almost as good as comics).

Seven of the books pictured in the photograph above are my original copies from the 70s (Nova 2 and Dangerous Visions 2 are signed by their respective authors, Harry Harrison and Harlan Ellison). The odd one out is the battered-looking one in the bottom right-hand corner – Omega, edited by Roger Elwood. I bought it online last week on a nostalgic impulse. It wasn’t a completely random choice, though – I noticed that several of the stories had a potentially Fortean sound to them:
  • “Amfortas” by Laurence M. Janifer. Amfortas is a character in Wagner’s most Fortean opera, Parsifal (the science-fictional aspects of which I’ve discussed elsewhere). The story starts with a quote from the opera, but it only has a tenuous relation to the plot – which is pretty Fortean in its own right, about a transplant recipient who takes on the personality of the donor.
  • “Beast in View” by Miriam Allen de Ford isn’t Fortean in itself (it’s about how to deal with a murderer in a futuristic crime-free society), but the author is. She was mentioned by Charles Fort himself in New Lands (“Miriam Allen de Ford has sent me an account of her own observations”) and in Wild Talents (“Clipping sent to me by Miriam Allen de Ford of San Francisco”).
  • “Symposium” by R. A. Lafferty consists of philosophical musings by semi-sentient building-blocks in a futuristic child’s toy box. When one of the blocks, labelled with an archaic mediaeval letter, is told “You just don’t fit in!” it replies “You can’t get rid of the awkward. It does not really dispose of a thing to call it Fortean.” Lafferty was one of the most frequently anthologized authors during the period we’re talking about, and his stories often mention Charles Fort (as Daniel Petersen pointed out in a comment to my blog post about Charles Fort in Fiction).
  • “Running Around” by Barry N. Malzberg is about a loser who decides to commit suicide by the paradoxical method of travelling back in time to kill his grandfather (and then his father, when that doesn’t work). Like Lafferty, Malzberg was a regular contributor to these anthologies, and another of my favourites at the time (both for his offbeat writing style and his propensity for sex scenes – he’s one of the authors I was trying to parody in Six Dimensional Sex).
  • “After King Kong Fell” by Philip José Farmer is the only story in the book that I’d already read in another anthology. It’s basically an eyewitness recollection of King Kong’s rampage in New York by someone who was just a child at the time. On re-reading it, I noticed a few things that would have gone over my head when I read it back in 1976 – such as the cameo appearances by pulp heroes Doc Savage and the Shadow. Also I can see now that the calculation of the length of King Kong’s penis (which fascinated my 18-year-old self) is based on a misapplication of the square-cube law... although I suspect that was intentional on Farmer’s part, for humorous effect.


Kid said...

A number of years ago, in the previous century, I purchased three video tapes called something like 'The Best Children's TV of the...' One was the '60s, the next was the '70s, and the last was the '80s. I was surprised to see that Captain Scarlet was included on the '70s tape rather than the '60s one, and there were a couple of other anomalies like that, I think. So, like you say, nostalgia can be subjective.

Andrew May said...

Yes, and there's a kind of faux nostalgia too, where you get sentimental about things from a past decade that you weren't especially interested in at the time, or maybe even looked down on... but then came to appreciate at a later date. There are several things in that category for me!

Anonymous said...

It's the '70s I feel nostalgic about too though I was born in 1966. For me the '80s were mostly horrible culturally, politically and personally (my sister died in 1988 among other things) and I ignore the whole decade. But your point about faux nostalgia would apply to me with '70s music - my father didn't like pop music at all and I only saw Top Of The Pops now and then on other peoples' TVs but I've become so familiar with '70s music since that I often forget how little I was actually aware of it at the time.

Andrew May said...

You're right, Colin - that's another subjective aspect of nostalgia I hadn't thought of. As well as how old you were, it depends on your personal situation and feelings at the time.

What you say about 70s music is true of both 60s and 70s music for me. I wasn't interested in music at all as a child, then got interested in classical music in my mid-teens. It was only when I was in my early twenties, circa 1980, that I belatedly discovered pop music and a "nostalgic" taste for 60s and 70s music!