LOS ANGELES — Clad in a vintage 1960s dark suit, white shirt, and thin tie, Gideon Marcus looks as if he stepped off the set of the TV series “Mad Men.” He assures a full room of science fiction and fantasy fans that 1965 is a pretty neat time to be alive.
The music is good, he says, gas costs 25 cents a gallon, the United States is proceeding apace with its Mercury launches, and TV is transitioning from black and white to color. On the downside, the food is fatty, chrome-rimmed cars belch unseemly plumes of smoke, and cigarettes are everywhere — even in the nonsmoking sections of airplanes.
Things are worst for marginalized groups — women and people of color, in particular, he says. Pertinent to the crowd at hand, “The Twilight Zone” has sadly just ended its five-year run, and “The Outer Limits” is set to follow suit.
Marcus is a 45-year-old space historian and science fiction aficionado from Vista, a city of around 100,000 less than an hour north of San Diego. He introduces himself as The Traveler, but for those unsure of exactly where he travels, a pasteboard next to the dais declares: “Time Travel — Just Ask Me.”
Many who attend his presentations at science fiction and fantasy conventions, public libraries, coffee houses, corporate auditoriums, and other venues actually do ask, Marcus tells The Times of Israel. They’re particularly interested, he says, in the way he bridges the present with the world of 55 years ago.
Marcus explains that he is heir to an impeccable 55-year-old collection of science fiction genre magazines. As part of his Traveller project, he is proceeding through the trove chronologically and each month reads a corresponding issue just as it came out five-and-a-half decades ago.
Superfan Marcus calls it “a time warp that moves forward, day by day, in the past and the future. So in one timeline, it may be January 1, 1965, while in another, it’s January 1, 2020. And tomorrow, in both timelines, it will be January 2.”
Marcus uses the “time warp” gimmick to immerse people in an American period that’s only remembered vaguely — one that was simultaneously at its peak and on the brink of upheaval.
“Fifty-five years ago,” he says, “people worried about environmental catastrophes, terrorism, the role of the US as a global policeman and the ethics of technology, just as they do today. Mass media was becoming hyper-realistic, automation continued to entice and terrify, and already coming into view was the incipient imbroglio in Vietnam.”
Marcus attributes his obsession with this rapidly changing period to his late father, David, a prominent attorney from Chicago.
In 1961, David attempted to make the move to Israel. While he didn’t stay for long, he did manage to meet and marry Ada, the daughter of a founder of the kibbutz he was staying on. The couple soon returned to the United States and made their way to San Diego. David, a devoted science fiction fan, became dedicated to collecting genre magazines, all of which he sorted and maintained with the care of a passionate and meticulous comic book lover.
“In 2009,” says Marcus, “I decided to make the effort to read them all. The collection was reasonably complete starting in 1954. So I fell into this 55-year gap [between timelines]. Reading an issue once a month — chronologically, as they ‘came out’ — I began to see the modern world through a sepia filter.”
“Soon, the dam broke,” he says. “I started steeping myself in the period, reading its books, magazines and newspapers, listening to the music, watching its TV shows and movies and — of paramount importance — deepening my understanding of the American and Soviet space programs. This immersion, and its aesthetic, soon began to inform my work, and in short order, my life.”
In 2013, at the behest of his wife Janice, Marcus created a blog, which he called Galactic Journey. The project has since won the Rod Serling Award and was nominated in both 2018 and 2019 for a Hugo — akin to an Academy Award for science fiction.
Janice, who once generated national headlines by garbing herself in a Batgirl costume and imploring the suits at DC Comics to feature more female superheroes and super-villains, took over as editor-in-chief. She assembled an extensive, international coterie of researchers, writers and editors to support the effort.
Marcus, meanwhile, dove deeper into his time warp. At home, he rigged up vintage radios to blare out period specific Top-40 hits over a low-power A.M. station of Marcus’s own creation. A first-generation color television ran looped episodes over a similarly dedicated TV station.
The couple’s 15-year-old daughter Lorelei, a fledgling comic book artist and song-writer, is an avid fan of “Burke’s Law,” “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” and other clever TV standards. She often opens for The Traveler with guitar-and-harmonica or ukulele sets that include tunes such as “Fly me to the Moon” and “Blowing in the Wind.” The father-daughter duo especially like to curl up for Japanese Kaiju epics featuring Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and a host of other monstrous titans.
The bookshelves in Marcus’s eclectically decorated “time bubble” home contain entire sections on space history, Japanese anime, and dinosaurs — another youthful
obsession. The walls are adorned with an anachronistic assortment of Japanese anime posters. Pride of place, however, is afforded to his father’s collection.
Multi-award winning science fiction and fantasy writer and columnist Charlie Jane Anders called the setup “incredibly entertaining, and a great window into what it might have been like to live through the dawn of the Space Age, and yet be able to blog about it,” on Gizmodo’s io9 sci-fi and fantasy blog.
While looking forward to appearances in Kauai this June, the Traveler, meanwhile, continues to ply the timelines.
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