Hellboy in Mexico! Charles Fort damned! A missing planet! This week in books

Despite the cover, HELLBOY AND THE B.P.R.D. 1956 by Mike Mignola and the usual assortment of collaborators doesn’t have much Hellboy in it. This overlaps with the time frame of Hellboy in Mexico so while Hellboy is off brawling and drinking with luchadores and making the Hellboy vs. Lobster Johnson film, the BPRD is continuing its investigation into US/UK/USSR occult espionage programs, which is not making people in the spy world happy. This was good, but feels more like an installment than it should for five issues of story: there’s no payoff, just setting off for a big finish in (maybe) 1957.

Interweaving the timing of the two books for the Hellboy Chronology was difficult, but I’ve done the best I could. I may revise it later so if anyone has questions about my reasoning, feel free to comment there.

THE BOOK OF THE DAMNED is my first encounter with the legendary researcher of the occult Charles Fort and makes me appreciate why he was so influential, though I can’t say I’m blown away. The strength of the book is Fort’s long catalogue of weird events, with so many cannonballs, frogs, fish, blood and raw flesh falling out of the sky even a skeptic might wonder if “picked up in a cyclone” really explains it all (the one event I looked up proved to be a head-scratcher even today). However Fort’s arguments against conventional scientific thinking (his title reflects his view that his unorthodox ideas have been cast out into the dark) come off like a bad mix of hippie mysticism and deconstruction, made murkier by his writing style. For instance, writing about the failure of astronomers to locate the planet Vulcan (inside Mercury’s orbit, where it supposedly explained Mercury’s orbit not following Newtonian physics) Fort’s conclusion is not that science is fallible but that scientists know nothing except what orthodox dogma says they should no! And unsurprisingly his 1919 theories that falling objects come from a nearby planet/UFO (though he doesn’t use the term) haven’t aged very well now that we’ve gone up and found nothing there).

Reading Fort prompted me to check out THE HUNT FOR VULCAN … And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity and Changed the Universe by Thomas Levenson, which looks at the seismic impact Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity had, seemingly explaining everything from planetary orbits to tides to why things fall to the ground. That made it unthinkable that Uranus and Mercury didn’t conform exactly to Newton’s predicted orbits; when astronomers successfully predicted and found Neptune, it was logical to think a similar planet might be the cause of Mercury’s fluctuations. While some astronomers reported seeing Vulcan, the sightings weren’t replicated, leaving an awkward puzzle until Einstein’s general theory of relativity showed how gravity’s distortion of space-time explained the departure from Newton’s laws. Levenson uses the story to show how scientific advance is more awkward than popular portrayals suggest; even after it appeared Newton’s theories were discredited completely, astronomers refused to let go. A more levelheaded account of the issue than Fort (who doesn’t mention Einstein’s explanation, but that wasn’t common knowledge yet when Book of the Damned came out).

#SFWApro. Cover artist Dave Johnson, all rights to image remain with current holder.

 

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