Saturday, January 20, 2018

Everything Old is New Again

Whether you believe Newton’s idea that time is absolute, a measureable force inexorable in its progression, or Einstein’s general relativity which Scientific American describes as time and space “woven together…to form a malleable fabric that is distorted by matter,” all of us humans agree on one thing: we never have enough of it.

Thus the long hiatus of Vex Mosaic.

Charlie Brown, Managing Editor, Vex Mosaic

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Charlie Brown (yes, really), the freshly-minted managing editor of this site. I am a writer, filmmaker, small press publisher/editor, and college professor. I am also a longtime fan of speculative media with many obsessions, both mainstream and obscure.

I live in Los Angeles (but you will no doubt be reading many references to my hometown of New Orleans as these editorials continue), a city dismissed by some, reviled by others, and held in general contempt by most Americans. Yes, we have congested freeways, hundreds of miles of urban sprawl, and an overabundance of fake Hollywood types; we are as unreal as those in the smaller corners believe.

But we also produce the collective dreams of our society, the unbound optimism allowing us to see beyond the cul-de-sacs and vast empty swaths of America to stare into the sky so as to imagine what is beyond the stars.

If I could choose one movie as the perfect conception of the L.A. experience, “Blade Runner” jumps to the top of the list. Subtracting the flying cars (see Wallace, Matt on this site), watching this movie is quite similar to driving through Koreatown, a neighborhood where sleek glass-and-metal high rises are dotted with multiple-story-high billboards of Asian women smiling with aluminum cans, although they have outlawed the video ones.

Vermont Avenue, the eastern border of the neighborhood, is packed at every corner with mini-malls, signs featuring four to five different languages. To try all of the restaurants, tour all the shops and experience all of the clubs in this twenty block run would take a decade or more. And it would leave the tourist as soul weary as Rick Deckard, the hero of Ridley Scott’s movie.

While the source material started with science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick, the movie feels like a futuristic take on Raymond Chandler, the hard-boiled detective fiction writer and unofficial poet laureate for the mean streets of Southern California. I went on a bus tour a few years ago which hit some of the big locations of the author’s life and within his work. What I learned about downtown Los Angeles is that new construction stands cheek-and-jowl with Art Deco buildings, iconic post-war designs like the Los Angeles Police Headquarters (think the opening credits of “Dragnet”), and other ‘80s style skyscrapers.

Unlike many modern cities like Houston and Atlanta, historical places stay standing. Two recent events highlight this push and pull between the city’s history and future.

William Krisel, early 1970’s

The first happened in Palm Springs, the desert suburb most famous as the playground for Rat Pack-era swingers. The city just named a street for William Krisel, an architect famous for creating their iconic tract homes featuring such flourishes as gull wing roofs, glass walls and open concept living room/kitchens. His designs are the Platonic ideal of Mid-century Modern, the clean shape and chrome accent design most recently celebrated in the early seasons of “Mad Men.”

While the late 20th Century found residents tearing these down to build the latest trendy styles, Krisel and his contemporaries built so many homes that a great multitude survived to the present, waiting for the hippest cats on the scene to move in to restore and recreate the original feel. I used one of these houses as a location in my first short film, the sex farce/comedy “A Couple On The Side,” and found a small community of obsessives looking for just the right hutch to go with their vintage sofas and glass tables.

But it’s another famous Los Angeles obsessive whose history might soon be lost that would be most concerning to readers of this website.

Forrest J. Ackerman
Forrest J. Ackerman

Forrest J. Ackerman, agent to Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, publisher of the cult magazine “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” and writer of pulp fiction and comic books, was mostly celebrated for his memorabilia collection, which includes the Bela Lugosi’s cape used in the movies “Dracula” and “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” plus innumerable paintings, books and other collectibles. While some of the items were sold off when he moved in 2002, his second home is in danger of being torn down and being replaced by a parking lot (with its own shades of a famous song written in Laurel Canyon by Joni Mitchell).

Located in Los Feliz not far from my own apartment, the Craftsman house (another one of the highly desired styles for architecture buffs) has its own campaign to have it declared a cultural landmark. This strategy worked for Norm’s Restaurant on La Cienega, the flagship of the local retro diner chain where Tom Waits used to get “strange looking patty melts,” so the neighbors are hoping to save this small but important slice of sci-fi history.

I bring up Ackerman because he and his compatriots had a huge fight on their hands when they began publishing thoughtful science fiction. They wanted respectability, to be taken as seriously as the literary fiction of the day. But those outside the genre could only see it as whiz-bang pulp for kids. But they succeeded by the end of the ‘60s when they had the help of the New Wavers.

So we at Vex Mosaic get to reap the rewards of Ackerman and other giants of this field. And we can look at modern trends, the hippest and most cutting edge, and see that they are using old pieces in a new way.

Starla Huchton

Our first article this month comes from the prolific and popular author and graphic designer Starla Huchton whose latest series “Flipped Fairy Tales” changes the focus of the foundational stories of youth. But when asked about the latest fairy tale resurgence, she flips the question in her essay “The Immortal Fairy Tale.” We plan on taking this position on many ideas, hopefully without becoming a spec fic


Next, we have an article I wrote before being added to the masthead. While hundreds of thousands of words have been spilled on the social and psychological implications of role playing games, I took another track. As a newly-minted composition teacher, I wanted to look at the actual words Gary Gygax used when writing Dungeons and Dragons. I examine his textural style in “Reading the Rules: The Rhetoric of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.” While I feel this may be groundbreaking, I would love to hear of any similar work.

Paul E. Cooley

Paul E. Cooley rounds out the month with an essay for our “How To” section. The premiere book in his series of monster horror novels “The Black” takes us to one of the oldest places on Earth, but one completely new to humanity: the deep ocean. His research led to many interesting discoveries and he shares these rabbit holes with us in “The Science of The Black.”  Like the novels, Cooley takes us to some seriously dark places.


Final Thoughts…

When I look at Hollywood, I see we are in an age of Re. Remakes, reboots and re-imaginations fill the slate of every major movie studio and television network. So in that spirit, we hope you like Vex Mosaic’s reintroduction, as we work to find the new in old and the old in new.

We are pleased to meet you once again.

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