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Archive for the ‘Space Opera’ 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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SCWIPs – Scatily Clad Women In Peril.  The stuff pulp magazine covers are made of.

For a whole variety of different reasons, the following cover from the very first issue (and only one of two issues ever published) of TOPS IN SCIENCE FICTION, a pretty low-class reprint pulp.

Tops in Science Fiction Spring 1953

Tops in Science Fiction Spring 1953

Why is THIS the number one SCWIP of all time?  Because it has got ALL the necessary elements.

Despite the fact that it’s not very good art – even by pulp magazine standards – this image says it all.

First. there’s a real B.E.M. right there – tentacles and all.

That Bug Eyed Monster has been caught in the unnatural act of ravaging a female human being – not only unnatural, but unholy – unbiblical even!

There’s a hero on there desperately trying to save that woman from a FATE WORSE THAN DEATH (need I mention that this picture was probably the origin for tentacle hentai?) using some kind of truly scientifictional ray rifle and

That woman is wearing the absolutely mandatory brass brassiere!  We know she’s a blonde because she’s not wearing a space helmet. Just a brass brassiere and a long, slinky skirt that’s starting to reveal just a leeetle too much thigh, thighs that are nicely shown off by her fetching brass-buttoned calf-length boots.

And just barely visible in the foreground is the spaceship that femme fatale is being plucked from like a pimento being sucked from an olive.

Folks, it just doesn’t get any more SCWIPy than that!

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I’m still wrestling with the comments issue at the new COF site.  I take an enforced break today to visit another county fair.  Pics later.  (I won’t be deliberately seeking out shaved llama butt, but if it’s there, you know I’ll take a pic…)

Discover magazine runs a ‘top 5 space operas’ list today – a list SURPRISE! I mostly disagree with.  Sadly, I don’t have the time right now to rant about it.  No, I do have time to rant.

You can’t mix movies, tv and literature in a list like this – different standards apply.

YOU may think that there’s no difference between Space Opera and Hard SF, but there is.  Unless you want to make the (false) connection between Space Opera and THE NEW space opera. 

Any fan worth their salt ought to be protesting loudly about a list that gives parity to Doc Smith’s Lensman series and Star Wars…

And Frank Creed and I are discussing sub-genres over at the RayGun Revival forum.

He wants to create a comprehensive list of all “speculative fiction” sub-genres.

I’m playing the purist stick in the mud: speculative fiction is just another name for science fiction, therefore, science fiction should reside at the top of the list; drop all of this namby-pamby pseudo-literary hoity-toityness and get real.  Science Fiction is a genre unto-itself which is capable of encompassing elements of all of the other genres (not sub-genres, genres) and if those genres don’t like it, that’s just too darned bad.

My posts over there are starting to be guilty of looking serious, but no one should take it that way. The ankle-biters are going to make up their own words and definitions no matter what Robert A Heinlein, the first SFWA Grandmaster of Spectulative Fiction Science Fiction had to say.

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Commander Sue picked up on this little gem of evolution in action – There Can Be Only One M&M genetic ‘wars’.

Thanks Commander – this reminded me of my own M&Ms game that can be played by anyone when you’ve got a bag of M&Ms in your hand and nothing better to do.

My M&M War Game is decidely more territorial, political and SFNal than it is genetic and resembles the simple card game WAR, at least in simplicity and time-wasting intent.

M&M Martian Wars

How To Play

Take your standard single-serving bag of M&Ms, rip off a corner (it’s important to leave the bag intact with a reasonably small opening) and pour all of the soldiers (M&Ms) out onto a suitably clean surface (unless you really don’t intend to eat them, in which case, just send the bag to me).

Sort the M&Ms into same-sex piles (by color, nimrod).

Determine how many soldiers there are in the smallest pile. (Say, for instance, you only have 7 yellow soldiers and have 12 dark brown, 9 light brown, 13 greens, 11 blues  and 8 reds.  By simple arithmetic comparison, you can determine that the smallest pile is the yellow pile.)

Remove all of the ‘extra’ M&Ms so that each pile has the same number of soldiers in it as the smallest pile. (Make sure you have 7 red, 7 blue, 7 green, 7 yellow and 7 each of the browns.)

Eat the remaining soldiers. Feel free to make up stories about ‘Lost Patrols’, ‘Desertion in the Face of the Enemy’ or the necessity of troop committments to other fronts as you do. 

Depending on your circumstances, you may also want to add sound effects: “Ahhhhh!”, “Brrraaaap! Brrraaaap!”, “Take THAT! Blue Martian Scum!” and “OH God, Mommy!” are amongst my favorites.

While you’re decimating the ranks, place the remaining soldiers (the equal piles)  back into the bag.

Now you have to determine the ‘intensity of combat’ for the remainder of the game.  I usually base this on how many soldiers there are in each army – the higher the number, the more intense combat is going to be.  You can do that, or you may want to base it on how long the war will last; low-intensity combat can last for years…

What you’re really deciding is how many soldiers to remove from the bag following each battle.  With the exception of the last few battles (which I’ll get to in a minute) you’ll remove this same number of soldiers from your bag each play.  (If you want to replicate the real world in true fashion, this would be a random number, but I like my games to be fair.)

To simulate a battle, hold the hole you ripped in the bag closed and shake the bag.  Vigorously.  Once again, feel free to add sound effects and dialogue. (Do this in a public arena for some really interesting reactions.) 

Continue the battle for as long as desired. Like the real world, some will be short and some will be long.  Once the battle is finished, close your eyes and remove a number of casualties from the bag (the number you settled on earlier).

Pop the dead in your mouth and enjoy the taste of victory.

Continue the struggle for as many battles as it takes to get down to three or four remaining soldiers.  Now simply modify the number of casualties removed from the bag to one per battle until there is a single remaining survivor.

The army represented by this single soldier is then declared the war’s victor.

I affectionately call this game M&M Martian Wars because M&Ms come from MARS, and each color represents one of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoomian races – the green Martians, the red Martians, the black Martians and so forth.  Of course, Burroughs never wrote about blue Martians, but I’m sure he would have gotten around to it eventually.

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If you noticed, I have a thing for Chandler.   If you didn’t – I have a thing for Chandler.

I particularly have a thing for his Rim Worlds milieu, but I can say honestly that I have read almost everything he has ever written for publication, a few things not originally intended for publication, and probably even a few things never intended to see the light of day, and I’ve never been truly disappointed.  I haven’t always been wowed. A few (very few) of his stories have left me saying ‘um – ok’, but I’ve never had to give a negative review.

David Mattingly's rendering of John Grimes, from The Anarch Lords

David Mattingly's rendering of John Grimes from The Anarch Lords

I’ve also seen the man writing – in the buff – and if you aren’t put off by an author who’s literally been stripped of all pretense and illusion, if in fact you can say you still enjoy his or her work, well then, you can only come to one of two conclusion: either they write some pretty damned good stuff, or you’re an unabashed, gushing fanboy.  And please note that those two conclusions are NOT mutually exclusive.

Now truth to tell, seeing ‘Jack’ Chandler writing in the all-together was a second-hand photographic experience (his friends called him Jack and I would have been a friend if I’d ever had the chance to meet him), but I don’t really think that deflates my argument all that much.  It is, however, certrainly much less awkward than experiencing it personally.

When someone has been stricken by unabashed gushing fanboyitis, no explanation is required if they are merely expressing their opinion (however over the top it might be) or somehow manage to keep it to themselves. (I’d keep back a few paces though. You never know when the geyser is gonna blow.)

Justification is only really required  when the goal is to convince others to share the disease.  So, on one level, I really don’t have to say anything else other than I really like his stuff and wish more people did too.  On another level –

I ought to tell you a little bit about his stories. And say something about why maybe you’ll want to hunt up a few of them to read yourself. But first, a bit about the man himself.

He was a sea captain, working his way up the ranks of promotion in the merchant fleet, first of England and later of Australia.  He served as an officer both during war and peace time. His travels during WWII took him to New York where he met with John Campbell, who encouraged him to write. Jack took up the challenge and sold his first submitted story.

The really interesting thing about the man’s personal history that informs his written work is – right now, in the real world, you can’t get much closer to being a starship captain than being a sea captain. Chandler recognized this and used it, bringing a level of work-a-day detail to his stories that has probably been equalled, but not by many.  The degree of realism comes through on every single page; the man didn’t have to ‘make stuff up’, all he had to do was look across the bridge and substitute the inky depths of space for the blue expanse of ocean out the port windows. 

This unique perspective for SF stories translates well to the page and immediately creates a background environment that is familiar and comfortable.

Enough about ‘Jack’.  There’s plenty more biographical and autobiographical material on the official website for anyone who’s interested.

***

One of the major charges leveled against ‘old’ science fiction is that it lacks characterization.

 Chandler’s work’s certainly qualify as old. His first story appeared in Astounding in 1944, his last novel was published in 1984.  One of the reasons for writing this piece is that his ‘last’ John Grimes/Rim Worlds story has finally seen print in Jack Dann’s Dreaming Again anthology (available this month).  The story – Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo – is the only known Grimes story that hasn’t been previously published.

But so far as characterization goes – It simply isn’t possible for a character about whom 18 novels and 31 stories have been written to lack characterization. Simply. Not. Possible.*

Character Characterization is not the only character building that’s going on in the stories.  In addition to the Grimes tales, there are at least eight more novels and at least a dozen more stories that share a common background – an internally consistent ‘future history’ that is at least as complex and as richly detailed as any other, including Niven’s Known Space and Heinlein’s Future History.

What other science fiction author can you name that has 25+ novels and 40+ other length stories devoted to the same consistent universe and ‘future history’?  Right now, off the top of my head, my answer is ‘none’.

 Another shaggy old argument against ‘old’ SF is that the stories are just ‘idea’ stories, with little to recommend them beyond nifty tech or nifty concepts that were out-dated four decades ago:  computers operated by punch card.  Invasive medical technologies.  Telephones with dials on them. Shopping in person.

Let’s talk about tech for a minute.  The man invented three separate and distinct faster than light drives – one of which still remains plausible today.

His first – the Ehrenhaft Drive – took mankind on its initial expansion to the stars.  The ED essentially turns itself and the vessel to which it is attached into a charged magnetic particle, which then travels along the ‘force lines’ between stars.

Out-dated, yes.  Unworkable, yes.  But extremely important for two reasons: first – Chandler abandoned it. Second – this drive often failed, stranding its crew and passengers, who then – if they were lucky – managed to crawl to a nearby habitable world and set up a ‘lost colony’.

Lost colonies – human societies cut off from the mainstream – are meat and potatoes in science fiction lore.  Chandler’s Ehrenhaft Drive gave him a tool he could use over and over again.

His third FTL drive – the Erikson Drive – only works on the outer edges of our galaxy where the fabric of space and time run thin.  The Erikson Drive is hokey, involving an extra kick with a reaction drive when a ship is already at .9999 c.  But it performs the trick of going FTL not by adding this extra push (a physical impossibility)  but by pushing the drive and its ship into an alternate dimension.

This drive has the added virtue of ‘reversing its sign’ and allowing trade and relations with the beings that inhabit anti-matter worlds.

(The Erikson drive is only featured in one novel and a few shorts and various clues throughout those stories suggest that they are not truly canonical works.)

Chandler’s bread and butter was the Manschenn Drive, a time and space distorting gyroscopic affair made with moebius strip rotors.  Chandler is sufficiently and properly vague about its inner workings that no holes can be poked in it (there’s nothing really to poke at); his descriptions of how it works properly intriguing and equally vague: the drive ‘moves ahead in space while moving backwards in time’.

Before the cosmologists jump on me with causality issues and the physicists attack – note that some recent hypothesis and even some experiments have seemed to indicate that some form of time-manipulation may be possible.  ‘May’ is key, because that’s ALL you need to keep your science fiction science plausible.  And Chandler gave due credence to the causality issues as plot devices and so was obviously aware that he was playing with fire. He didn’t shy away from it, he embraced it. 

And unlike many SF authors who get entangled in the strangeness that appears to be the foundations of our universe, he didn’t even try to explain it or wrap it up in some pseudo grand theory of everything.  Weird and bizarre things happen when you play with the Universe’s dice.  Instead he concerned himself with the effect these things had on people and how they dealt with them.

The Manschenn Drive is not the only tech that Chandler introduced which has withstood the test of time.  He was sufficiently familiar with the advance of technologies to realize that what was familiar to him (television with three channels, telephones with dials, no personal computers, etc) would not be what was used in the future.  He was sufficiently sly to dress his future with devices that are cleverly vague and yet workable.  His ‘playmaster’ device, a feature found on every spaceship and virtually every home, is telephone, radio, television, information retrieval and fact checker – home theater, video recorder, audio recorder.  In short, anything you can do with media electronically is embodied in a single machine that you can interact with in a multiplicity of different ways – voice command, keyboard, radio, etc.

There are even ‘planetary networks’ – that serve as air traffic control, security system, long-range communications devices and that interact with individual shipboard playmasters.  And all of this is activated and controlled in very ergonomic user-interfacey ways.  No one apparently has to ‘learn’ how to use these systems, it’s intuitive.  And we’re STILL trying to achieve that level of inter-connectivity and ease of use.

Finally, the boo-hissers say, that old stuff wasn’t literary enough.  It was poorly written and doesn’t take 15 pages to describe the nap of the carpet and another 15 to mention the smell of the new roof shingles. 

Ok,  You got me.  Chandler wasn’t a ‘literary’ writer.  He could write, competently, interestingly, engagingly, but not literarilly.

Although he did write sufficiently well to get  Australia to underwrite a ‘what-if?’ alternate history novel (in print as Kelly Country), one of the last novels he ever wrote.  I think that in this particular case I’ll let the literary review board of an entire nation speak for Chandler’s competence in stringing words together.

Credentials? He’s got plenty.  He’s won several Ditmars – the Australian Hugo award, some Seiun’s from Japan and was nominated for a retro-Hugo. His stories were steadily in print from the 50’s (with ACE) through the late 80’s (with DAW).  He’s in the top 50 of all time SF authors who appeared regularly in Astounding SF, based on reader response. Two of his stories are amongst the most anthologized in the industry – The Cage and Giant Killer.

Those two stories alone have given birth to entire plot schools, being the seminal, original works to introduce the plot: The Cage gave birth to the ‘aliens think we’re animals’ concept, while Giant Killer set the bar for ‘mutated rats as competition for humans’ concept (not to mention one of the best ever ‘think like an alien’ presentations to appear anywhere, anytime in print).

Very well developed characters. A huge and consistent future history.  Future tech that is still future tech. Writing that is at least acceptable to one country’s literary council.

Other than an inability to find his works, I can think of no other argument levelled against classic SF for which Chandler is NOT the exception that proves the rule.  So I’ll answer that one by saying – every single day virtually every single one of his novels and collections are available on Ebay, ABE and Amazon – usually for a couple of bucks each.

Not only are Chandler’s works fully up to snuff in the light of today’s offerings, he’s a cheap read too!

Do yourself a serious favor and check him out.  If you want to start at the beginning, visit the official Chandler site.  For some additional detail, visit my concordance site. If you want to start reading about John Grimes’ adventures from the beginning, pick up a copy of The Road to the Rim. (I just got an ACE double version off Ebay for a buck.)  

*John Grimes is probably one of the most fully realized characters ever created by an SF or fantasy author.  He’s a righteous old bastard who keeps his own counsel, intelligent and crafty enough to get himself out of the messes he  himself into, has no respect for authority just for authority’s sake, has a winning way with women and some well-developed ‘kinks’. He also smokes a pipe, prefers his gin pink and his women red-headed, doesn’t think all that much of convention (unless he’s the one trying to enforce the rules), can be a bit stuck up when it serves his purpose and can’t resist a lady in distress.  John always ‘does the right thing’ even if it might take him a bit to get around to it, and it is very doubtful that you’ll like the way he does it.

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When I was much younger, fans used the term ‘space opera’ to denigrate (variously) pre-50s SF, E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith, Edgar Rice Burroughs, anything and everything not published in Analog, science fiction that lacked social commentary, science fiction on television, science fiction that emphasized action, any and all science fiction that they didn’t like.

Lester Del Rey, Isaac Asimov and several others went on a crusade at about the same time, probably motivated by the attacks against the science fiction that they had both written early in their careers and grown up on.  Both of them brought out numerous anthologies resurrecting golden oldies, Asimov’s Before The Golden Age notable among them. (Fred Pohl and his wife did a series called Science Fiction: The Great Years, Avon – I think – issued a series of SF trades called the Rediscovery Series and Lester, along with HIS wife, went one step beyond and created an entire publishing line that championed this type of SF – erecting a wall against the literary pretentions of the ‘new wave’ and providing a much-needed outlet for authors – both new and old – who wanted to keep on writing the kind of science fiction that they all loved and recognized.  Del Rey re-captured the term Space Opera and made it a stand-in for all traditional science fiction – not that new-fangled stuff.

This late-60s to early 70’s period of sciene fiction history is now being repeated.  The broad parameters of today match those of that previous decade almost exactly: there are any number of angles of attack against the traditional: attacks against the quality and worth of earlier works, attacks against fandom itself, pressures to de-ghettoize the genre, moaning and flailing of hands in despair over the future.

Just as champions of traditional SF arose in its defense back then, this era is giving rise to its own champions.  Numerous small presses are resurrecting long out of print stories and several publishing enterprises are attempting to hold the line and provide a home for those authors who would rather keep on writing what they already know is science fiction.

Steadily and forthrightly ignoring these slings and arrows is the e-zine – Ray Gun Revival.  Month after month for several years now, RGR has captured the essence of traditional science fiction with it’s splashy covers and filling its pages with traditional, thoughtful and action-packed adventure, RGR has managed to keep the torch burning.

Johne Cook, editor, opines tangentially on this subject in this month’s editorial.  And I am not singing their praises merely because he references me twice in that editorial.  I do so because whether you like traditional science fiction (call it space opera if you will) or prefer fluffier, more mainstreamy science fiction, all of us owe a debt to the people and works who have gone before us and they – and their works – deserve a place by the fire.

RGR is always a fun read, the presentation is professional and the PDF-publication makes it easy to read, print and transport.  Check it out.

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