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Archive for the ‘old science fiction’ Category

Ha! In honor of the crappy re-makes that Hollywood keeps on turning out (and budgeting over and over and over again) – don’t you think the word we use to describe these things ought to be “re-tread”? (captures the cheap, shoddy, will fall apart within the first ten minutes feel), I just finished a re-make of the Classic Science Fiction Channel’s ‘moving images’ page.

The page was originally all text links. Now I’ve replaced the text links with film posters and title screen images. Too bad there isn’t an industry standard size for these advertisements. If they were all the same size, the page would look really cool. As it is, I think it still looks pretty cool.

Besides, there’s just something right about sticking a poster for Skiffy Tube’s short-lived Flash Gordon series next to one for Plan 9 From Outer Space…

You can check out the goodness here.

I’ll probably re-make the radio show page next. What I’d really like to do is find a book cover for each of the episodes that are based on a short story – but in most cases such covers aren’t available: most of these shorts appeared in pulp magazines and more often than not they weren’t the cover stories. But have no fear, I’ll figure something out.

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Warning – this is going to be a multi-post day (including pictures of the snow that is keeping me inside) – so check back often!

Upcoming: the C’s from the continuing series of reviewing the reviewers (getting a lot of comments and emails on that one) – which includes my massively brilliant solution for those bloggers who are ‘nervous’ about their upcoming review – and – snow pictures!

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Ok, so Mike Glyer over at File 770 called my rant and found out that the “remake” of Forbidden Planet is not going to be a re-do, but rather a sequel to the 1950s classic.

That gives me a little more hope.

My thoughts naturally turn to wondering the nature of such a sequel. Leslie Nielsen is still very much around, so it is entirely possible for him to put in an appearance as an Admiral – or a washed out space bum.

Could it be that the Krell had interstellar travel? Could it be that Dr. Morbius somehow survived his encounter with his Id? Does Altaira go on to become some futuristic version of Paris Hilton, flitting from party to party throughout known space? Does Robbie go into business for himself distilling the finest spirits this side of the Crab Nebula?

Only Mr. Straczyinsky knows for sure.

Interestingly and serendipitously enough, I’ve been recovering my book collection from the numbered and indexed boxes they’ve been inhabiting for several years (I HATE HATE HATE not being able to look at my books) and I ran across the following:

forbidden planet

This is the Paperback Library’s first edition (1967) of the novelization of the movie. Its prior copyright is listed as Loews Incorporated, 1956.

Pretty good non-traditional rendering of Robbie right there (his antenna are a bit large and ungainly though) and I’d have shown the Krell city in the background; neither of those people look like Leslie Nielsen either…

Didn’t know they did novelizations back then, huh? Written by W.J. Stuart. Who I’ve not yet had a chance to investigate.

Here’s an excerpt

“In all the annals of Space History as known to man, there is surely no stranger tale than what befell the crew of the Cruiser C-57-D when it reached its objective, the planet Altair-4. Like all Cruisers sent on these investigatory missions, it carried a smaller crew than the big Space Ships, only twenty-one in all. Its Commander and Chief Pilot was John Adams.”

I wonder if J. Michael has seen this one…

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The article you are looking for can be found HERE on the new version of my blog

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I like to make my opinions known (duh – blog).  I also like a good argument. Judging from commentary received here and in emails (not many, just a few, from folks who I wish would comment here instead), the position offered by Ian Sales (don’t use classic sf to introduce people to the genre) and my position against that position IS a good argument.

However. I’d like it to be an argument where the word is used to denote position, rather than heightened emotionality.  One where our different positions illuminate the middle ground (the place where the real truth often lies).

I used some language and presented my statements in a way that was over the top and provacative (I think mostly justifiably so – I was trying to strike the same tone that Ian used in his own piece) – not to make an emotionally charged attack on Ian, but by way of illustrating one aspect of his argument.

Such methods of argumentation can be easily misconstrued and quickly spiral out of control.  So, before returning to the discussion, I’d like anyone reading or participating to know this:

I don’t know Ian (well, now I do, sorta, kinda).  I am not familiar with his work (as I pointed out in the first piece) and my default position on authors with whom I’m not familiar is to assume that their work wouldn’t be out there unless some people called editors who know what they’re doing thought it was pretty darned good stuff.

I am not judging Ian the man based on this exchange (I hope he isn’t judging Steve the man on this exchange either) – only this particular position vis-a-vis old/classic/ancient/whatever SF. 

Nor am I suggesting by writing these few paragraphs that Ian is descending into emotional argument while I am maintaining the high road.  Not at all.  I’m just trying to make sure that the rhetoric we both have been using isn’t misconstrued as some kind of flame war.

And to apologize to Ian if he felt that I stepped on his toes or handled my response in a way that he felt was a personal attack.  Ian, if you did feel such, it wasn’t intended that way.  If you didn’t feel that way, then please ignore all this blather and just skip down a bit.

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 “In 1968, the Science Fiction Writers of America voted Nightfall the best science fiction short story ever written prior to the establishment of the Nebula Awards in 1965 and included it in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964.” (Wikipedia, but accurate in this particular case.)

Okay, so they didn’t hand Isaac a plaque or something.  I’d still refer to the above as an award.

Ian said (in the comments) “For the record, I’ve been reading sf for around 30 years, and that includes pretty much all the classics. I’ve no idea why you decided I hadn’t read them”.  Well, because of this: “Readers new to the genre are not served well by recommendations to read Isaac Asimov, EE ‘Doc’ Smith, Robert Heinlein, or the like. Such fiction is no longer relevant,”  You were clearly encompassing the entire classic era and it is absolutely beyond me how anyone who has read ‘all’ of the classics can’t find a single work that they’d use as introductory material.  Yes, it was hyperbole.

Paul Raven: “Especially considering that, towards the end, you say that recommending books to new readers of sf is “a highly individualistic enterprise” (so, best not to blanket-recommend Asimov/Heinlein/Clarke, then, surely) and that “those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it in writing” (which might be why Sales suggests that sf writers should certainly be well-read in the classics of the genre, perhaps).”

Paul, I did cover that at the end: “Ian does try to redeem himself a bit at the end by saying “I don’t think we should refuse to read old classic works, but we must recognise that they’re historical documents. And add that caveat to any such recommendations or commentary. Further, modern sf readers shouldn’t need to be aware of everything which has gone before, but modern sf writers certainly ought to.”

This is all I have to say about that: “Here’s this really old, out of date, badly written, idea-based historical document, Billy.  Not only must you read it, but you MUST hate it. Later, we’ll have milk and cookies while I read you a modern SF tale with wonderfully written sentences in it.”

I recognized Ian’s caveat, didn’t ignore it.  I then went on to point out that presenting the classics in such a manner is just like one of those push polls: would you prefer to read this old piece of trash or this shiny new relevant and exciting piece?

Look.  It’s ALL science fiction.  It is a continuum and the present can not be divorced from its past.  If Ian believes that we can place all of literary SF into two distinct historical periods and only make recommendations to new readers from one of those periods – he at least has to recognize that the bar moves inexorably forward each and every day.  I guess the real question to be asking Ian at this point is – where’s the cut off?  Is it strictly based on the calendar (remove everything with a copyright date of 1983 or older from the shelves immediately!), is it based on the author (ooops!  This guy was born in the 1920s – strike him from the lists!) or is it based on the individual work.

Ian’s argument would seem to be based on either the calendar or the author, while I base it on the individual work (and think everyone else ought to also).

Oh, and Paul – this blog is devoted to Crotchety Oldness, so I need not explain why you must get off my lawn; use the path and knock on the front door.  Defense of the old guard and a belief that the OLD stuff is just as valid as the new stuff are givens over here.

Yes Ian, I did read your whole piece.  And I’m pretty sure I understood the thrust of your argument.  If we reduce it to its core, you are (my words) dismissing everything written prior to say, 1990, as an inappropriate vehicle for introducing new readers to the genre.

Obviously I disagree.  My point is: if you remain open to the entire genre as source material, you probably stand a better chance of finding the perfect work for introductory purposes.  One perfect example is Bradbury. In my experience, a lot of “I don’t read that SF stuff” people were captured by Bradbury and surprised to discover that he is considered an SF/Fantasy genre author.

Another way of looking at is the treatment that old works not of the SF genre receive: are the circumstances in Hamlet still ‘relevant’?  Yet it is still widely taught, revered and read – despite the fact that when it comes to writing, it’s hard to find anything more archaic (Chaucer of course, but who the hell reads him now?).  That Bill guy sure takes a lot of words to say some simple stuff.  Seriously off-putting to the new reader.

But we’re only talking genre-specific here, so mentioning the above is probably outside the argument.

Ian, your commentary went back over the same points – relevance (not every work was about the cold war, the cold war IS relevant as the headlines will attest) and perhaps I have more faith in the average readers ability to handle this historical perspective inherent in such works.

Offensive to modern readers – so we should pull Mark Twain from the shelves – or just not recommend Huckleberry Finn to readers we want to introduce to Twain?  Oooops, I’m slipping out of genre again. I’m sorry, I just don’t buy this argument at all.  SF readers are supposed to be a cut above – drawn to the genre because it plays with ideas and presents perspectives that are (often) way outside of the mainstream. If they can’t handle the concept that society was different when the author was writing, I find it difficult to see how they would be able to handle the general idea of what SF is all about.

And that last bit about Scalzi liking Asimov.  I wasn’t suggesting that Scalzi’s appreciation for Asimov denied your entire argument. I was using that quote to illustrate that DESPITE his acknowledged criticism of Asmiov’s writing style, he still liked the man’s stories and ideas.  This demonstrates that there is at least one contemporary (and highly acclaimed) SF author who has managed to find something redeemable in one ancient author’s works. Would he recommend Asimov to a new reader?  I don’t know – maybe, depending on the reader.

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Ian Sales, in Don’t Look Back in Awe wrote “Here we go again. I’ve complained before about the undeserving admiration given to many science fiction novels and short stories of earlier decades.”

Hat Being Worn: Snide & Dismissive.

Could that have anything to do with jealousy over (take your pick) – awards they’ve won, market presence they command or always being told that ‘so-and-so’ has ALREADY written that story?

Hat Being Worn: Fair and Balanced

Truth be told – I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Ian and his subject focuses not directly on the entire OLD works of the genre but on the recommendation of those works as a tool to get people to read SF.

Hat Being Worn: Investigative Journalist

Ian justifies his statement with: “Such fiction is no longer relevant, is often written with sensibilities offensive to modern readers, usually has painfully bad prose, and is mostly hard to find because it’s out of print.”

Point by point: No Longer Relevant.  OK.  Relevant to what? The history of the genre?  Seems pretty relevant to me on that score.  To a writer looking for new ideas?  Pretty relevant there too unless you really do want to cover old stories with new tricks that will be outed in the most painful and embarassing manners possible. To the reader of the contemporary author who said ‘I read and was inspired by (hoary old non-relevant SF author born before TV was invented)’?  Seems pretty relevant to them.

Written with sensibilities offensive to modern readers?  Maybe. If modern readers are A: hung up on political correctness and B. Totally incapable of understanding that history is context and things do change with time.  Of course, if both of those things are true for our hypothetical reader for whom old SF is not relevant, they aren’t readers of science fiction.

Usually has painfully bad prose: Oh, so you’ve read each and every last old non-relevant short story, novella, novelette, novel and series and haven’t found a single sentence of well-written prose?  Doubt.  Serious doubt – about which I’ll get to more in a minute.

Mostly hard to find and out of print:  Actually, completely untrue.  ABE, Amazon, EBay and individual collector/providers – not to mention SFRA, NESFA Press and a host of other resources are available and you can find just about anything you might be looking for.

Four declarative statements, all of which are either broad, essentially meaningless opinion (presented as fact) or untrue.

One really wonders about the motivation of an author who is actively promoting the idea that we should all run screaming away from our roots. Shame? Why? Sales didn’t write that awful stuff and won’t be held accountable.  Oh, except for those people who will hear that he writes SF and immediately associate his works with a centuries worth of awful writing.  Except that those people will not be familiar with those old works.  So who the hell is Sales talking to?

Sales offers up Nightfall as his strawman and then proceeds to burn Asimov in effigy.  All the while, Sales misses the point, surprising, because he himself says that such stories are ‘historical documents’. (Fear the historical documents my son.)

Of Nightfall (the award-winning short story by Asimov that was later turned into a novel by Silverberg) Sales says: “By all criteria, ‘Nightfall’ fails as a good short story. And yet it’s still regarded as a classic. Some people will even suggest it’s a good example of science fiction. Rubbish. It’s built around a single, not very interesting idea – a world has never seen darkness… and then it gets dark. Wow. There’s a comment on the boom-bust nature of civilisations in there, but it’s pretty much thrown away.”

Ahem. (Tap tap tap on the shoulder) Ian, it’s an HISTORICAL DOCUMENT. When Isaac wrote that story in 1941, all previous stories that had featured planets with multiple suns treated them just like Earth, except that there were two (or more) suns in the sky and multiple (many-tinted) shadows on the ground. No one before Ike had taken the idea to its furthest extreme, a world where the sun never set – except once in a great long time. 

And Ian also missed the meta-story inherent in Isaac’s tale: there are things out there of which we are completely unaware, that can and will bite us hard if we don’t put aside superstition in favor of fact.  Seems to me that’s a pretty relevant story concept that is STILL very much alive in ‘modern’ SF.

But see, this is what happens when you’re not familiar with the HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS.  You miss nuance. Fact that you are blissfully unaware of come back and bite you.  Hard.

Ian goes on to further attack the ‘primacy of idea’ in old SF: “In part, this harkens back to my earlier post about the primacy of idea in science fiction. ‘Nightfall’ contains a very obvious idea and it appears to me that many think the sheer in-your-face nature of it overrides all the story’s faults.”

Except, of course, since Nightfall is only an historical document, you missed what the REAL idea of the story was.  You failed to place it in proper historical context. No one, least of all me, is going to try and claim that Asimov wrote sterling prose that tripped lightly off the tongue. Just for contradiction’s sake, here’s Scalzi’s recent take: “Generally I like Asimov’s work quite a bit and fully acknowledge its (and his) importance to the genre, but speaking from a writerly point of view I don’t find his fiction writing skills hugely impressive. He is probably one of the best examples of a “classic” sort of SF storytelling that is heavy on very cool ideas but weak on things like character development — his writing is a vehicle to tell the story rather than adding to the story itself. There’s nothing wrong with it (I lean more toward that direction of things myself, after all), but on balance I wish there was more there there when it came to the writing itself.”

Let me remind you that Sales’ initial proposition was that it is WRONG!recommend old science fiction to new people.  Here we have Scalzi, a contemporary and award winning NEW SF author saying that he likes Asimov, recognizes his importance, knows that Ike was an ‘idea man’ and wishes his writing was a bit more there.  But he likes him.

Ian – there just may be a few potential SF readers out there who just like Scalzi.  Maybe a few thousand.  Readers who are perfectly capable of liking an idea based story just as much (or maybe more) than they like a prose based story.  Maybe they like both. Maybe their tastes are so eclectic that it won’t matter what you stick in front of them.  Or maybe they prefer idea based stories and just absolutely hate all that high-falutin lit’rury crap that so many NEW SF writers seem to want to turn out.  Maybe.

Just who are you recommending books to, Ian? 

Ian does try to redeem himself a bit at the end by saying “I don’t think we should refuse to read old classic works, but we must recognise that they’re historical documents. And add that caveat to any such recommendations or commentary. Further, modern sf readers shouldn’t need to be aware of everything which has gone before, but modern sf writers certainly ought to.”

This is all I have to say about that: “Here’s this really old, out of date, badly written, idea-based historical document, Billy.  Not only must you read it, but you MUST hate it. Later, we’ll have milk and cookies while I read you a modern SF tale with wonderfully written sentences in it.”

Good idea for writers to read that stuff though, Ian.  That’s a really good idea.  They might want to take a little historical context with them when they do.

But there’s more.  Several people riffed on Ian’s piece, like this one: “When I first joined GSFWC I went on a bit of a crusade so I could get up to speed with the “background knowledge” that everyone else seemed to have. I made a list of the classic writers and hit Obelist Books and Future shop for examples. I read one Clarke (Childhood’s End – enjoyed the idea-quota, but couldn’t believe how quickly the story was skimmed), two Le Guin (Dispossessed and LHoD – loved them), a Delaney (Nova – again, loved it), and got on okay with Poul Anderson, Cordwainer Smith and James Blish too. On the other hand I found Asimov and Heinlein unreadable. But that’s just me.”

“I read one Clarke…”

Ok, now this guy seems a bit more reasoned (“…it would seem a bit pointless to still hold those texts up as the best we have to offer, but on the other hand we’re looking at them out of context. At the time, they made a big splash for good reasons. They were all about challenging the ways people thought about the world, the universe, about science and the future. They were about challenging people – writers and readers alike – to expand their imaginations. They weren’t about good literary standards. No-one pretended they were, or indeed really cared much.”) – but we were originally talking here about ‘recommending these works’ as a way of introducing readers to SF and I’m sorry, but reading ONE story by Clarke does not by any means equip you to make recommendations to anyone else. (Nor does Ian’s background reading equipm him either, apparently, since he dismisses everything pre 90s out of hand.)

Childhood’s End is kind of dark, open-ended and requires a fair amount of background sophistication to really ‘get’ if you want our proto-SF Lit-Virgin to understand why it was a recommended piece and what was to be gained from it.

If I really wanted to get someone ‘into’ Clarke, I’d probably start them off with Tales From the White Hart.  They’re innocent stories, short, often amusing and successfully convey the idea that an SF tale is about having FUN exploring possibilities. 

The truth is that readers of SF DESERVE to be exposed to the classics – the right classics, in the right way, at the right time and in the proper context.  Their appreciation of the genre will be enhanced, their perspective on the genre wil be enhanced and (perhaps dangerous to some modern writers) they will be better able to judge newness, originality, relationships and whether or not that thar ritin has got improvification.  Plus they’ll be better (SF) people.

I just don’t get this NEED to attack the classics.  Doing so doesn’t make you any better as a person. It certainly doesn’t improve your own writing or sales. You don’t want to read the classics?  Don’t. Someone else does?  Let them.

If the issue really is ‘how to introduce new readers to the genre’, well, that’s an highly individualistic enterprise, isn’t it?  I mean, at least if you want to be real (and effective) about it. Every single successful convert is going to require a tailored capture methodology.  This friend likes SF film – find a book tie in. That friend is into Hard Boiled Detective Pulps – find some writers who worked in both genres.

It’s HISTORY man. That which has gone before has MADE THE WORLD WE LIVE IN NOW. As too many would-be writers have discovered, those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it in writing. An that gets you a rejection slip for UNORIGINALITY. 

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Hell, it would be great if some large media conglomerate decided to sue me in Federal Court – that’s BIG pr, man.

Lacking that avenue of promotional greatness, I’m forced to simply tell you that Chapter 8 of Pulp Comic Story (which has now been retitled Pulp Comic Fairy Tale – something I said I might do a while ago) is now available here.

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A few other things while I’m thinking about it:

Fred Kiesche had to take a sledgehammer to my head to make me realize that his blog – which used to be called The Eternal Golden Braid is now called -

THE LENSMAN’S CHILDREN

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I’ve been thinking about this for a bit: what would entice someone to read the classics if they weren’t already inclined to do so.

I’ve spent a fair number of words exlaining the ‘whys’ here already (do your homework you lazy, good-for-nothing) so let’s just assume (momentarily or otherwise) that they’re valid reasons.

Of course I don’t mean at the expense of contemporary SF.  I mean in addition to.  As a means of obtaining some grounding, some history, some appreciation, some respect for the people who all the awards are named after (yes dear, there are real people behind those award names and good reasons for naming those awards after them – The Hugo for Hugo Gernsback, father of popularizing the genre – the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, because JWC had a nack for finding and developing new talent within the pages of Astounding SF (and the other award of the same name for best novel, given out by SFRA) – Andre Norton for YA lit, given by SFWA because she wrote so many tales that introduced young-uns to SF – Arthur C. Clarke for Best UK SF, because he helped found the UK SF dynasty and because he was, you know, British – Cordwainer Smith, for rediscovering overlooked authors of merit – Damon Knight, SFWA Grandmaster award because Damon founded the org – James Tiptree – for works that explore gender, because SHE did just that - Philp K. Dick, for having so much of his original work published in paperback – Robert A. Heinlein, for so much excellence – Theodore Sturgeon, for excellent short stories – if it weren’t for those folks we’d be giving out awards named for something stupid like The Spaceship Award or The Raygun Award.

Many of those people worked very hard at what they did and (should) leave a lasting, honored memory. And they deserve to be read, along with all of their brethren and sisteren.

So what I thought was – how about if we poll the contemporary favorites and compile a referral list like they do at BMG for music (if you liked so-and-so, you ought to like whosiswhatsis too).

I mean, we already know that If you like John Scalzi, you’ll probably like Robert A. Heinlein too and If you like David Weber, you’ll probably like A. Bertram Chandler, but who else?

So let’s ask some contemporary authors the following questions:

1. Did you read SF before you were a writer?

2. Who were your favorites?

3. Who do you think influenced you the most?

4. Which of the classic authors do you think your work most resembles?

Maybe if we tell the kids this, they’ll give those classics a try.

Maybe John at SFSignal will ask this one…

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*Above you will see the first incarnation of my ‘Nightline-esque’ reminder that we are STILL being held hostage by the eldritch horrors commonly referred to as Network Programmers.  Of the cable television variety.  Next to that, you’ll notice the countdown to TDTESSTWTOMD. For those coming late or not paying attention, that is the acronym for The Day The Earth Stood Still To Watch The Original Movie Day – which is December 10th, 2008.  I want everyone and anyone who might walk into the theater to see the remake to have already seen the original so that we can all form an unbiased opinion of the two as they relate to each other.  Clicking the link will take you to the page for that activity – where you can watch the original (over and over and over and over again – like I do).*

I had occassion yesterday to update some of the pages on the Rimworlds website, the personal page that started out as a home for my Rim Worlds/A. Bertram Chandler concordance project and has since grown to include The Classic Science Fiction Channel, Pulp magazine checklist and anything else I can cram in there.

I’ve obviously been paying attention to the ‘graying of fandom’/’old sf vs new sf’/similarly themed discussions floating around and as I was adding a couple of new items to the ‘Buy A. Bertram Chandler’ section I was struck by a couple of thoughts.

First, Chandler resides in the ‘old SF category; he unfortunately passed away in 1984, his 100th birthday is fast approaching (2012) and his works are becoming scarcer, although by no means are they completely absent.

Why he has faded remains a mystery to me, one that is probably equal parts fanboy blindness and publishing peculiarity; neither he nor any critic ever claimed literary pretensions for his works, but on the other hand he was a staple at DAW books and regularly appeared in the top magazines of the day.

His stories are what that they are: quaint adventures of an archetypical science fiction hero (John Grimes) – the man who always managed to get himself into deep yogurt, and always managed to come up smelling of roses and clutching the Shaara Crown jewels.

With HUGE tomes and ENDLESS series being all the rage these days in SF publishing, it’s a wonder that someone doesn’t do a little creative editing, retitle some of his works and bring out the Grimes series again.  The hype would be fun:

An Epic Space Opera Series!

Three Decades in the Making!

THREE MASSIVE DOORSTOP VOLUMES!

Featuring Science Fiction’s ORIGINAL Horatio Hornblower of Space!

When you consider that:

Chandler wrote some 20 novels (albeit 60′s/70′s/80′s 140 pagers) and 32 shorts dealing with John Grimes, 9 other novels and 30 other shorts dealing with alternate characters, other history or parallel universe versions of the Rim Worlds – you’ve got quite a canon!

In many respects, it seems like Chandler was writing for our time, rather than his own (not surprising if you consider how much he played around with time travel, alternate realities and world-as-myth). He’d fit right in: an on-going series that could count on a steady readership, long pieces for the book trade, short pieces for the e-zines and self-promotion, stories that play around in other parts of the universe…

I’ll note that SFBC did a series of omnibi editions which are mostly still available in the used book trade and that Baen Books offers all of the Grimes stories (with two exceptions that I can see – the recently published Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo – Dreaming Again – Jack Dann and Doggy in the Window, a short that appeared in Amazing Stories) in three e-book packages, compiled in a manner that reflects the three phases of Grimes’ career – officer in the Federation Survey Service, wandering, self-employed ship captain and citizen of the Rim Worlds Confederacy.  All of the current sources for Chandler’s material can be found here

Baen Books might want to think about offering a donwload pack of the rest of the Rim Worlds stories – there’s the Derek Calver tales (2 novels), the Empress Irene stories (3 novels – and they tie in to a Grimes novel), several other novels including The Deep Reaches of Space, Bring Back Yesterday, Frontier of the Dark – the novel based on a short story that Harlan Ellison called one of the best things he’s ever read – and a whole mess of shorts, including a Retro Hugo nominee – Giant Killer and one of the most anthologized short stories ever written – The Cage.

Me, I’d hype the space opera and continuing series aspects, hire some rabid fanboy (like me) to write a page or two of connecting material, combine three or four of the existing novels into one big tome, give them all new cover art, stick a new penname on the cover, maybe Whitley Dunstan (Chandler used both) and stick them out on the shelves.  Devoid of any connection to ‘old science fiction’, I bet they’d sell just dandy, thank you.

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S. Andrew Swann takes on the triptych of seminal military SF novels in a quick look at Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Haldeman’s Forever War and Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.

I think some of his views are more a reflection of hype and internet babble than they are a true representation of each book.

If you’re going to do a deconstruction of these three novels, you can’t just lightly skip over the surface, you’ve got to dig deep.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading all three: ST probably 20+ times, FW at least 6 times and OMW just the once – it will be due for a re-read in just a few months time.

Swann declares the existence of these three books to be an example of how broadly a single subject can be handled.  What’s the subject?  Military science fiction? War in space? Infantry war in space? The plot line of following a new recruit all the way through his career?

Probably what he means is that these three stand head and shoulders above the rest of military SF, because there have certainly been plenty of other novels that feature future infantry soldiers enhanced in one way or another.

He states that on a broad scale, these three novels are very similar, while looking more closely we find wild divergences.  True, but the differences Swann notes are not as accurate as he would have us believe:

Government: ST – benign and competent, FW – not – OMW – competent but ambiguous.  ?

ST – benign? You only get to vote if you’ve done service and this is benign? All high school kids go through an indoctrination class that they don’t have to pass but MUST attend?

FW – not competent?  They decide to go for quality rather than quantity – how is this not competent?

OMW – morally ambiguous? When they’ve accepted the way the galaxy is and are dealing with that reality mostly effectively?

Military Duty: – ST: respected and voluntary FW: – compulsory and a burden OMW: – a crapshoot

In ST military service is certainly respected and absolutely voluntary – if you can call not being a citizen unless you serve voluntary.  Rico’s family was entirely dismissive of the military at the beginning of the book.  Reactions to the then current society were not monolithic.

FW – compulsory.  Well, when you grab up the top 1 percent of the world’s young, smart, physically capable people and stick them in uniform it could be called compulsory.  I’d call it a harsh reality, since the human race can’t afford to do things any differently if it wants to win the war with the Taurans.

OMW – no idea what they’re volunteering for.  Hmmm.  Actually, they do.  They know they’re going into military service, they know they have to leave their old life behind and they know they’ll never come back to Earth.  Kind of like joining the French Foreign Legion.  They do all that in exchange for living longer.  Pretty fair trade, I’d say.

Training: ST: – relevant, FW: – pointless, OMW: – useful but lacking

He got it right on ST.  The training is relevant to the soldier’s tasks.  FW – woefully wrong.  The training was just as effective in that book as was the training in ST.  In fact, that training helped Mandela sort out a bunch of problems during the book - like the force field scene.  OMW – the training was fine, it taught the recruits that in order to handle a nightmarish galaxy, they had to do nightmarish things, like sacrifice a hand to win a knife fight.

Heinlein pioneered this type of gritty, military SF – as a YA title! He introduced the basic plot line and various key elements (powered armor) but the central theme of the story is responsibility.  Haldeman claims NOT to have written FW as a ‘response’ to ST.  He deals with many of the same issues because, after all, it’s a military SF story and basic training is going to be basic training no matter who writes about it.  The unique aspects he introduced in his novel mostly dealt with the effects of time-dilation on interstellar warfare.  Scalzi substituted new, enhanced bodies for powered armor, introduced a new and unique version of AARP and created one of the nastiest galaxies ever.

About the only sameness to be found in these three books is they are all ‘tales about a new soldier experiencing interstellar warfare’.  Just about EVERYTHING else in them is different.

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On December 12th, 2008, 20th Century Fox will be releasing their remake of the 1951 classic SF film The Day The Earth Stood Still. (Click the pic to go to the TDTESSTWTOMD webpage.)

The new version stars Keeanu Reeves and will benefit(?) from 57 years of film-making advances.

57 years is enough time for two generations to have passed since Michael Renne starred in the original.

That’s more than enough time to guarantee that the audience going to see this remake is unlikely to even be aware that it is a remake, and certainly more than enough time for anyone who has seen the original to forget how utterly fantastic and spot on it was.  Not just for its own time, but for all time.

That is why it is so very important for those of us who have seen and do remember the original to make sure that anyone who goes to see the remake will have seen the original BEFORE they do.

Nivair Gabriel, writing on IO9, explains some of the many reasons why:

There is no reason to remake something that is absolutely perfect.

Remakes insinuate that there was something deficient about the original movie, that it’s somehow necessary to update the film for today’s audiences. The vast majority of the cinema-going crowd will watch the version with the actors they know in an instant, and never bother to rent the first one.

We might be afraid of terrorists now instead of communists, but we still haven’t managed to end nuclear proliferation and create lasting worldwide peace. I think there’s still quite a lot to The Day the Earth Stood Still’s message that we might pose a threat to the rest of the universe if we can’t get a grip on our violent tendencies; and I think Klaatu’s non-destructive way of shocking humanity into action is even more brilliant today.

Michael Rennie’s alien, by the way, is an example of a truly flawless and understated performance; anyone who thinks that Keanu Reeves can show that up should stop reading now to go smack their head against a wall a few times. I don’t want to see any current child actor try to replace Bobby Benson; Billy Gray’s adorable portrayal of The Most Fifties Boy Ever will warm my heart for all time.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a treasure; it’s one of the best films we humans have ever managed to produce. It was fabulous in 1951 and it’s only matured with age, like the finest sci-fi-themed wine in all the world. The movie packs a huge amount of vision about human identity and aspirations — in fact, it’s almost impossible to believe it was made eighteen years before we Earthlings reached the moon. So why in the name of everything beautiful would a person want to taint those waters with a totally unnecessary rehash?

The viewing public has a right to be exposed to the original before they see the remake; they have a right to judge the two side by side – BEFORE the computer-generated dazzle has a chance to influence them. They have a right to view these films in their historical order, to be free from hype and marketing blitz before they are asked to choose which one they prefer.

The only fair and decent way to give the original the credit it is due is for everyone who has ever seen it to pledge that they will get at least one other person to watch the film before December 12th, 2008.

That is why I have declared December 10th, 2008 to be THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL TO WATCH THE ORIGINAL MOVIE DAY day.

I have added a page to my website that provides all of the necessary links – no need to rent or purchase a DVD, no need to schedule a special viewing.  Just grab your friends, siblings and significant others, sit them down in front of the ‘puter and watch. 

I’ve also added links to the original story Farewell to the Master by Harry Bates, the original soundtrack, movie posters and even model kits based on the original film.

If you would like to keep track of how many people you’ve gotten to watch the film, post a message in the comments of this post.

I’ve already done my bit – I got Karen, my wife, to sit still through the whole thing.  She likes super hero movies better than SF ones, but she enjoyed every minute of it. Her comment – why are they bothering to remake it?

Visit the webpage, stick 12.10.08 on your calendar and get others to watch!

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The Lord Jestocost, C’Mell the Girly-Girl, Roderick McBann, Mother Hittun and her Little Kittuns, Vomact the Scanner chief and many more wonder, strange and completey out of this world characters, places and history (future) are yours to enjoy at the recentlty updated Cordwainer Smith website.

Just go here.  If you’ve never read Smith – don’t stop at GO, go directly to the site, the library or NESFA press.

We’ll wait.  Or you can read Rosana Hart’s blog and THEN go read some Cordwainer.

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