Lost In Track Changes is an ongoing literary remix experiment featuring Cate Kennedy, Fiona Capp, Krissy Kneen, Ryan O’Neill and Robert Hoge. Starting from a short work of memoir, the authors remix each other’s work in series, with changes tracked between.
From sci-fi to faux biography: Ryan O’Neill creates an imagined author for Fiona Capp’s remix last week, though not perhaps the author you expected. These remixes are based on Robert Hoge’s memoir. Use the tabs to flick between versions of the story.
Rand Washington (Bruce Alfred Boggs) (1919-2000)
Rand Washington was one of the most prolific and controversial science fiction writers in the history of the genre. Best known for his once hugely popular Cor series of science fiction novels and short stories, and his extreme views on race, gender and politics, Washington was born Bruce Alfred Boggs on 11 August 1919 in Wollongong, NSW, exactly nine months after the armistice which brought an end to the First World War. He was to claim later in life that the last shot fired in anger during the Great War had been his father impregnating his mother just before 11am on Armistice Day.
Washington’s father was a police constable, and his mother worked as a maid in one of the wealthier areas of Wollongong. The writer’s childhood was defined by, on the one hand, the frequent, brutal beatings he received from his father, and on the other, his endless reading and rereading of the novels of H. G. Wells which his mother first borrowed, then stole, from the houses she worked in. Washington’s critics have been quick to seize on these facts to explain the sadomasochistic bent of much of his fiction, especially the Cor sequence.
The petty thefts of Washington’s mother were eventually discovered by a gardener working for the same household, leading to her dismissal from service and her turning to alcohol. This would lead to her death in 1930 from cirrhosis at the age of only thirty-nine, when Washington was eleven years old. Washington was never to forget the gardener, or the fact he was aboriginal. By the time of his mother’s death, Washington, having all but memorised the works of H. G. Wells, began to search out the few pulp magazines that reached Australia from America, months and sometimes years after publication. His discovery of the pulps was to have an enormous effect on Washington, both physically and psychologically. Seven months after completing a coupon cut out from Spicy Detective Stories and sending it to New York, Washington received the first instalment of ‘Hercules Strong’s Twelve Lessons to Physical Perfection.’ After diligently following Strong’s instructions for three years, Washington had, by the time he was fifteen, succeeded in transforming his physique to such an extent that (he once claimed) he was offered a job as strongman when a circus visited the town.
Washington’s reading ranged across every genre the pulps offered, from cowboy stories, wilderness romance, and medical dramas, to science fiction, fantasy and horror. He was an early correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft, whose work he first came across in the October, 1933 issue of Weird Tales. Washington’s first short stories were in the horror genre, and Lovecraft, always generous with his time, offered to critique them. Though these early stories have not survived, Lovecraft’s responses have, and demonstrate the Providence writer’s acute literary judgement tempered with an endless patience at Washington’s absolute ignorance of grammar and punctuation. As well as advising Washington to buy a dictionary and thesaurus, Lovecraft also warned Washington that filling his stories with extremist views on race could, as he knew from personal experience, alienate editors. Washington did not listen. Eventually, even Lovecraft became wearied by the young Australian writer’s endless jeremiads against ‘the mongrel races’ and the correspondence petered out after two years. Washington always maintained that this was because he had outgrown Lovecraft and his genre, and had discovered his true love, science fiction.
Surprisingly, Washington’s last letter to Lovecraft makes no mention of Washington’s father’s death, which occurred two days before the missive was dated. Washington’s father was killed on 6 January 1935, his neck broken and his head almost torn off while on night patrol in the warehouse district. The murder was never solved. With the insurance payout from the Police Union, Washington moved to Sydney, rented a one-room flat in Kings Cross and devoted all his time to writing. Washington was nothing if not prolific. In the second half of 1935 he wrote an estimated 500,000 words, submitting ten novellas and forty short stories to Australian pulps ranging from Thrilling Housekeeping Yarns to Spooky Bush Tales. All these submissions, under the name Bruce Boggs, were swiftly rejected. The absolute dismissal of all his work only led him to redouble his efforts, as he wrote an average of one million words a year from 1936 to the outbreak of the war.
In July 1936, one month after adopting the pen-name, ‘Rand Washington’ the young writer finally made his first sale, ‘The Rockets of Uranus V’ to Bonzer Science Stories for £5. This sale encouraged him to focus entirely on the burgeoning, and increasingly lucrative, Australian pulp science fiction market. Bonzer Science Stories was one of two dozen pulps published by the Siegfried Press, founded, managed and edited by James Smith (born Johannes Schmidt, Munich, 1882) a German war veteran who had immigrated to Australia in 1921. Smith was keen to expand into the novel market, and after accepting and publishing nine stories by Washington in 1936, he arranged to meet with the young writer in January, 1937 to discuss ideas for longer works. It was at this meeting that Washington was first introduced to the tenets of National Socialism. Smith presented the young writer with a signed copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, to which the Siegfried Press held Australian publishing rights. The result of Hitler’s, and to a lesser extent, Smith’s influence on Washington’s hitherto virulent but directionless racism can be seen in Washington’s first novel, Whiteman of Cor, published in July 1937.
This story, the first in the seemingly endless Cor cycle, was to set the template for those that followed. ‘Buck Whiteman’ a space scout employed by the nation of ‘Ausmerica’ to seek new worlds for colonisation, is lost and shipwrecked on the hostile desert planet (read, ‘Australian Bush) of Cor. Here, the ‘white race’ led by the love interest in all the Cor novels, Princess BelleFemme Blanch, have been over-thrown and enslaved by the ‘Agarboilin,’ described as ‘a savage, untrustworthy, genetic-ally inferior race of evil blacks.’ After rescuing the princess and inciting a rebellion, Whiteman leads the new ‘White Masters of Cor’ on a mission of extermination against their erstwhile ‘dusky overlords.’ Despite the blatant, sickening racism directed towards Australia’s indigenous inhabitants which permeates every word of the Cor ‘saga,’ and a writing style that has been most generously described as ‘sub-literate’, Whiteman of Cor was an immediate popular success, being reprinted six times in 1937 alone.
Smith immediately ordered Washington back to the typewriter, and over the next two years, a further twenty five Cor novels appeared, first serialised in Bonzer Science Stories and its newly launched sister publications, Bonzer Scientifiction Tales and Astounding True Blue Science before being published as standalone novels. All were bestsellers, and, along with the rapid translation and publication of the Cor books into German in 1938, beginning with Der Weise Mann Von Cor, helped make Smith a millionaire. Unfortunately for Washington, he had signed the rights to all present and future Cor novels over to Smith in June 1937 for £200.
Sadly, Smith’s good fortune was not to last. The outbreak of war in 1939, the paper shortages that followed, and most damningly, Smith’s continuing and vocal support of Hitler, led to the virtual bankruptcy of Smith’s publishing empire by 1941. One year later, though his company had just posted a small profit, Smith committed suicide by leaping through the closed window of his tenth floor Sydney Harbour apartment. Fortunately for Washington, Smith had written a new will on the night he died, naming Washington as his sole beneficiary, and most importantly for the writer, returning the Cor rights to their creator. In another stroke of good luck, Washington was exempted from military service because of his work in publishing, a reserved occupation.
Throughout the war years Washington rebuilt the Siegfried Press (renamed in 1943 as the Fountainhead Press) primarily by capitalising on the public’s fear of Japan. Whiteman of Yellos, the beginning of a new series, saw Buck Whiteman and his insipid princess journey to the neighbouring planet of Yellos, where ‘yellow demons’ had overthrown the race of ‘Purewhites.’ At the same time, a new line of pulps, including A Bonzer Selection and Bonzer Down on the Farm Stories took advantage of the public’s nostalgia for simpler times. By the end of the Second World War, Washington was solely responsible for writing a dozen science-fiction pulps, editing a further twenty bush, romance and medical themed pulps, and overseeing the ghostwriting of the latest Yellos novels. Exhausted, he decided to hire an editor to look after the company’s increasingly profitable romance line which included Sheilas in Love, Nurse Sheila Romances and Spicy Sheila True Confessions. In June 1946, Washington arranged to meet with J. R. Hardacre, the most prolific contributor of stories to the romance pulps, to offer him the position. Washington was stunned to discover that Hardacre was actually a woman, real name Joyce Reith (born London, 1920. See entry for Washington, Joyce).
Though aware Washington’s novels, stories and editorials were full of references to the weakness and helplessness of the female sex, Reith still accepted the offered role. Washington proposed to Reith several times throughout 1947 and 1948, but it was only after Reith’s father was forced to declare bankruptcy after losing his uninsured bookshop in Newtown to a mysterious fire that she finally accepted. Washington and Reith married in June, 1948, the same month that the sales of Reith’s romance pulps exceeded, for the first time, those of Washington’s science fiction magazines. After their marriage Washington made his father-in-law a substantial loan, an act of generosity Washington memorialised in several editorials in Fountainhead pulps.
The birth of the couple’s son, Peter, in November 1950, inspired Washington to establish a new line of pulps to cater for the post-war baby boom, led by Stupendous Bubba Stories. The romance and baby bubble, expertly edited and marketed by Joyce Washington, was to continue until the mid-1950s, and was, by that time, all that was keeping the Fountainhead Press solvent. In 1956 it had become obvious to Washington that the Australian pulp market was dying, and he reluctantly sold his company to a competitor for £5,000.
Though several more Cor and Yellos novels appeared in the final years of the 1950s, Washington was to complain in letters to the few Australian SF pulps still active that it was becoming increasingly difficult to get his work published. He blamed a ‘shadowy Aboriginal cabal in the publishing world’ for the denouncing of Slave Girls of Cor as ‘a literary embarrassment, and a revolting stain on the national character’ in a book review in The Sydney Morning Herald, on 12 June 1959. Though conservative commentators such as Graham Nutt leapt to Washington’s defence, arguing that the Cor novels were ‘a unique attempt to create a mythology for this great country, which has never had one,’ Washington never completed another Cor novel after 1960. Instead he turned his attentions to non-fiction, writing a number of bestselling travel books including, I Got the Wog in Greece and Who Needs Italy? the popularity of which only increased after it was revealed Washington had never set foot in the countries he wrote so scathingly about. Although non-fiction proved a steady source of income, Washington decided to return to science fiction in 1966, in response to reading Michael Moorcock’s seminal work of the New Wave, Elric of Melniboné. On seeing the cover of Moorcock’s novel in the bookshop, with its gaunt albino protagonist, Washington bought it believing it to be a tribute to his Cor series. Instead he was appalled to discover the adventures of Moorcock’s melancholy, sexually ambiguous, drug-taking anti-hero, leading to Washington’s vow, in a 1968 letter, ‘to reclaim SF!’
Washington’s efforts were not successful. In 1969 his new novel, Hip Spaceways to Happeningtown was rejected by every mainstream SF publisher in Australia and America. Disheartened, Washington destroyed the novel, an act SF critic Damien Johnson characterised as, ‘Rand Washington’s one lasting contribution to Science Fiction.’ Washington spent 1968 researching for his next project, which he decided was to be an exposé of organised religion. Profits in Prophets: How to Make a Million from Founding Your Own Religion was published in July 1969, to low sales and lukewarm reviews.
Six months later, while camping near Uluru, Washington claimed to have experienced a vision of a ‘Universal Galactic Controller’ who existed outside of our spacetime continuum, and who had chosen Washington to spread his ‘Gospell’ (sic). This Gospell was found by Washington, neatly typed, under a rock near his campsite. Many ridiculed Washington’s conversion, paralleling exactly as it did the instructions he had given in his book on religion published earlier that year. Yet Washington’s new religion, ‘Transvoidism’ proved surprisingly popular among the Sydney elite. At the height of the Transvoidist craze in October 1970, at least a hundred individuals, including the son of a media baron, and the wife of a state senator, assembled at Washington’s recently purchased compound near Gloucester, NSW, to hear him preach. The precise doctrines of Transvoidism were shrouded in mystery, though it was rumoured that by following its tenets as given in the Gospell, eternal life through would be gifted to the faithful who had attained the ‘fifth level.’ However, only the most generous of adherents were initiated past the second level. Washington’s wife, Joyce, reached the fourth level. Only Washington was understood to have reached the fifth.
Washington’s commitment to Transvoid-ism was tested by the return of his son, Peter, from fighting with the Australian Defence Force in Vietnam in July 1971. Peter had been maimed after stepping on a land mine in Hoi An, and had lost his both legs and his left arm. In a sermon he had delivered shortly before news of his son’s injuries had reached Australia, Washington claimed that the Universal Controller had recently gifted him with several special powers, including the ability to cure cancer, and to regrow damaged organs and tissue. After Peter’s arrival at the compound from hospital in 1972, Washington’s followers became increasingly insistent he exhibit his powers by regrowing his son’s legs. Washington put off the demonstration several times throughout 1973, claiming the Universal Controller would not approve of the resulting publicity. Finally, on 6 February 1974 Washington announced he would perform the regeneration ceremony the next day. That night all eighteen of Washington’s remaining disciples were struck down with severe stomach pains and diarrhoea. At first insisting that this was a sign of the Universal Controller’s displeasure, Washington finally admitted doctoring the evening meal with laxatives. He was arrested on 7 May 1975, and charged with reckless endangerment. Washington famously claimed he told the police, ‘They were giving me the shits, so I gave them the shits.’ However, transcripts of Washington’s police interviews do not include this statement; only his pleas to be released, and his attempts to blame his wife, are recorded.
Washington was sentenced to three months in prison and after his release in February, 1975 he returned to Gloucester, and his wife and son. Legal action brought about by his former adherents had almost bankrupted the family, and Washington was therefore keen to make some money by writing. He toyed with writing another Cor novel, provisionally titled, Bad Trip on Cor, but soon abandoned the idea. In fact, despite his announcing the beginning or completion of several novels throughout the rest of the 1970s, Washington published nothing, instead living off his son’s disability and army pensions.
It was not until 1982 that the short story ‘Walking the Walk 2050’, generally considered to be Washington’s best work, appeared in the February issue of the short-lived but influential Australian SF journal, Up Above, Down Under. The story, set as the title suggests in the year 2050, is narrated by a unnamed mother, who watches with pride, and then growing alarm, as her son, Christopher, finds work as an ‘imagineer’ at ‘Pro-aesthetic,’ a multinational company specialising in creating replacement limbs for amputees, as well as synthetic skin, bones and joints. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Pro-aesthetic intend to market their replacement limbs as fashion accessories for the young and impressionable. The story ends with Christopher’s mother discovering that her son has had his limbs replaced by Pro-aesthetic artificial arms and legs. In the celebrated climax, the weeping mother can derive no comfort from her son stroking her hair with a hand that does not belong to him.
‘Walking the Walk 2050’ was a radical departure for Washington in almost every way. Throughout his dozens of novels and hundreds of short stories, he had never employed a female narrator before; in fact his female characters were nothing more to him than ‘walking wombs,’ as he confided in a 1959 letter. Yet the character of the mother in the story is evoked with astonishing sensitivity, and her final, horrified realisation at what has happened to her son is deeply moving. Critics have suggested that the newfound subtlety and sensitivity displayed in this story was Washington’s reaction to the horrific injuries his son suffered in Vietnam. This theory is, nonetheless, undercut by Washington’s private letters written around the time that ‘Walking the Walk 2050’ was written, in which he describes his son as a ‘mewling, mollycoddled, mother’s boy, who should have lost his head along with his legs.’ ‘Walking the Walk 2050’ is also notable for its writing style, which included more complex sentences, similes, and metaphors than all of Washington’s millions of earlier published words combined. The story also marks the only time Washington chose to invent ideas rather than steal them; his neologisms ‘imagineer’ and ‘newskin’ were immediately embraced by science fiction writers in Australia and beyond. To date at least a hundred stories have been set in the ‘Walking the Walk 2050’ universe, including China Mieville’s metafictional ‘Talking the Talk 2050’ and M. John Harrison’s savage parody, ‘Walking until 20:50.’
Puzzlingly, shortly after publication of ‘Walking the Walk 2050’, Washington wrote a furious letter to the editor of Up Above, Down Under, disowning the story as a ‘mere woman’s daydream,’ and ‘turgid piece of touchy-feely non-SF.’ It was only when ‘Walking the Walk 2050’ was selected for inclusion in The Best Australian Science Fiction 1982, and subsequently shortlisted for the Hugo Award, that he withdrew his protest and accepted the story as his own. On the strength of ‘Walking the Walk 2050’ winning the Hugo for Best Short Story in 1983, Washington was offered a contract by Tor to write three Ace Star Specials. The first two of these novels, A Kaleidoscope of Rockets (1984) a postmodern deconstruction of Golden Age SF, and the feminist fantasy novel, The Sorceress of the Dawn (1986) with their inventive plots, complex characters and intelligent exploration of race and gender received excellent, if bewildered reviews from critics who had long dismissed Washington as a racist hack. Though the third contracted novel, the autobiographical The Woman Behind the Android was announced, it was never completed. After Joyce Washington died in 1987, from severe head trauma after slipping in the shower, a grief-stricken Washington announced his immediate retirement from fiction writing.
Over the next several years Washington was known to be working on his autobiography, The Last Shot, co-written with his son, Peter. His opinion pieces, usually in praise of the government’s immigration policy, appeared sporadically in national broadsheets, until his death. Washington lived to see his Cor series enjoying a new surge of popularity amid disaffected youth in France, Germany and the southern United States. The Last Shot was left unfinished as Washington suffered a stroke on 14 May 1995, which left him paralysed, mute, and completely dependent on his son for the last years of Washington’s life. Peter had been given full control over Washington’s literary estate just before the writer was struck down by illness.
In early 1996, Peter Washington founded the ‘Rand Washington Trust,’ a charitable organisation which uses the not inconsiderable royalties from the Cor series to fund various progressive causes, from campaigning for gay marriage, to Aboriginal Land Rights and legal representation for asylum seekers. Until his death at the turn of the century, Washington, frail and in a wheelchair, became a fixture in demonstrations for social justice throughout Australia, always accompanied by his son.
Rand Washington died on 24 February 2000 at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. In accordance with his will, he was buried in Gloucester beside his wife, Joyce, with a copy of Whiteman of Cor in his coffin.
At school, his teachers often described him as ‘impressionable’ and ‘easily lead’ which meant that he occasionally got into strife. But he was a sweet natured boy and they could see this. He desperately wanted to be popular, to be with the in-group, which made him somewhat slavish in his attention to fashion and the latest trends. In job interviews, he was always trying to say the right thing and I suspect that he came across as a little too eager to please. At school, the nastier kids used to call him a suck.
If only he were only given the chance to prove himself, I was sure he would shine. But now, when I look back on what happened, I can’t help feeling that Pro-aesthetic chose him precisely because they saw him as pliable, an employee who would sacrifice his best interests for the sake of holding on to his job; a perfect mannequin for the company.
When Christopher started at Pro-aesthetic, the company was best known for consolidating its market share in prosthetics for diabetics, which was ravaging the Industrialised world. Back in the 20s, its primary market was amputees who were victims of old 20th century ordinance – the landmines that pep-pered warzones across the planet. With global viable farmland shrinking so much after the millennium, people were forced to venture back onto those zones – across Africa and Asia mostly – and the company had a stream of candidates who were will, desperate even, for new improved limbs to replace their old ones.
Before applying for the job, Christopher did his homework on the company’s biggest innovations – NewSkin, a knee joint that won them an international prize, Carefree Barefoot with indestructible synthetic soles and SuperReal Prosthetic Pro, the gamechanger which was so lifelike and responsive it could reproduce the marks caused by sock elastic.
During his first few months at Pro-aesthetic, he was on a high and a bit strung-out, as if all the hype he was imbibing and channelling had gone to his head. He would come home from work chattering wildly about the need to ‘harness emotional surges and the craving for specialness’ and ‘improved enhancement options for discerning clients’. The technology had become so sophisticated, he said, there was no limit to what artificial limbs could do. When he started talking about ‘pro-active cosmetic enhancement’ it meant nothing to me. As far as I was concerned, it was just more meaningless jargon. But Christopher had always loved playing with words and it was his job to dream this stuff up. I didn’t want to be a wet blanket, so I told him it sounded fascinating and that as a consumer I might be open to the idea, even though I had no idea what it meant.
I remember him looking at me keenly when I said this. ‘You really think so?’ he said. ‘It was Jared’s idea. He’s a genius at the big picture.’ I knew who Jared was because Christopher was always going on about him, the visionary CEO who was so far ahead of the rest of them.
After Christopher had been working at Pro-aesthetic for a year, he took four weeks holiday. I was hoping we could spend a week together at the little seaside resort where his father and I used to take him for summer holidays when he was a boy. But he said that Jared had something big planned for him and the other Imagineers. A bonding holiday he called it. It was important, he said, that the executive team demonstrate their brand loyalty, that they set the trend. It was all about fashion, art and primal attraction.
I found it hard to see what fashion, art or primal attraction had to do with prosthetic limbs, although I did have an inkling that there could be something fetishistic about them. I supposed he was referring to the interactive tattooing and self-tanning apps incorporated into some of these limbs. I liked to think that I was up on all the company’s latest innovations but I clearly, I didn’t have a clue. That’s painfully obvious to me now.
The day he came home from his holidays, it was over 35 degrees, with a dry northerly scouring the streets. I remember it vividly because Christopher was wearing a long-sleeve shirt and jeans, which was unusual for him. In this kind of weather, he’d normally be in shorts and a t-shirt. As he walked up the hallway towards me, there was something odd about his gait, as if he was terribly stiff. I assumed it was because of all that cross-country running he said they were going to be doing, although I couldn’t understand why he looked so pale. Surely he would have got plenty of sunshine?
When I put my arms out to give him a hug, he tensed and stepped backwards, as if he didn’t want to be touched.
‘I’m a bit sore, Mum,’ he said.
‘Have you strained anything?’
‘A hammy, maybe. Nothing serious.’
Looking across at him it suddenly struck me he looked taller than he had four weeks ago. He was only 24 and I wondered if he’d had a growth spurt. Or perhaps I was shrinking. My mother lost half an inch every decade after 50.
‘I promise I’ll be gentle,’ I said to him as I put my arms around him.
He reluctantly returned the embrace, his head turned to one side, a pained look on his face. I knew as soon as I felt his arms they were different in a way that four weeks holiday couldn’t explain. He had always been rather scrawny. For a period in his late teens, he went to the gym twice a week in an attempt to build what he considered a more manly physique. But working out didn’t transform him in the way he’d hoped and he soon gave up. ‘There’s nothing wrong with being lean,’ I told him. At school, they called him the Skelly, short for skeleton. He’d never had a girlfriend and was convinced it was because he was so ‘scraggy’ as he put it, so thin.
Before he could pull away, I grabbed him by the shoulders, shoulders that didn’t seem to belong to him. They were so muscular and broad, with biceps that bulged through his shirt.
Shocked, I whispered, ‘Have you been taking steroids?’
‘If only!’ he spat bitterly, and broke down. He sank on to the couch and put his face in his hands. That’s when I noticed them, his hands. Hands I had first seen when he was in my womb. Hands I had tickled and held and kissed since the day he was born. I would them recognise anywhere.
And they weren’t his.