Science Guest of Honour
HORACE CHANDLER DAVIS published his first science fiction story, “The Nightmare,” in the May 1946 Astounding at the age of nineteen. A dozen more stories followed, examining such issues as gender roles, genetic engineering, nuclear escalation, and corporate power over government. In 1953, Davis — then a professor of mathematics at the University of Michigan — was served with a subpoena as a result of his having paid for the printing of a pamphlet critical of the House Committee on Un- American Activities. His subsequent ordeal included the loss of his job and a six-month imprisonment in 1960 for contempt of Congress. Blacklisted from full-time academic jobs in the U.S., he ultimately found employment in 1962 at the University of Toronto, where he is now an Emeritus Professor of Mathematics. He has been married for sixty-five years to the feminist historian Natalie Zemon Davis; their daughters are scholar-educator-activists Hannah Taieb and Simone Weil Davis; their son is jazz musician Aaron Davis.
In addition to being a prominent mathematician and Golden Age SF writer, Chan Davis is a lifelong peace activist and an advocate for civil liberties around the world. He was in the small group of professors whose work on behalf of mathematicians imprisoned for their political ties led to the founding of the American Mathematical Society’s Committee for Human Rights. He has also written poetry and co-organized the Workshop for Creative Writing in Mathematics and Science, a project at the Banff International Research Station intended to break barriers between science, art, and journalistic writing. Material from the workshop appears in the anthology The Shape of Content: Creative Writing in Mathematics and Science (Chandler Davis, Marjorie Senechal, and Jan Zwicky, editors. Wellesley, MA: AK Peters, 2009). Aqueduct Press’s It Walks in Beauty: Selected prose of Chandler Davis (2010) collects some of Davis’s fiction and nonfiction as well as an interview and three verbose essays by editor Josh Lukin, who celebrates Davis’s accomplishments and analyzes their cultural context.
In one of his essays on the Red Scare and academic freedom, Davis wrote that “diverse parties should dwell side by side, not with the tolerance of indifference, but embattled and cherishing each other: each should know that in its quest the contest with those who disagree will bring faster progress than would an unobstructed route.” His devotion to free speech and open discussion as necessities for a healthy society has enabled him to interact and work with people of many different political orientations. In the course of his long career in science fiction, he has argued eugenics with John W. Campbell Jr., debated The Fountainhead with Theodore Sturgeon, criticized ethnic stereotypes in L. Ron Hubbard, and persuaded Judith Merril to move to Canada. A great and attentive conversationalist, he is equally at ease discussing Thelonious Monk’s life, Eric Alterman’s journalism, Gilbert and Sullivan operas, alternate-history litfic, and the virtues of a really good bowl of roasted broccoli with garlic and pine nuts. His first Toronto SF gathering was Torcon in 1948; he has become a regular attendee of SFContario and loves almost everything about it.
-- Josh Lukin, Ph.D.