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Posts Tagged ‘A. Bertram Chandler’

I was originally going to start off with a bit of personal news, but what you see up there knocked that story off the front page. 

Skiffy Tube DROPS SF CONTENT BELOW 10%!

If there were any justice in the world, that headline would knock the economic woes off the front page of every paper in the country.

Fortunately for me, I get to be the one to break the news. 

In one weeks time there are 168 hours available for a broadcaster to fill with content.  Ten percent of that would be just a few minutes shy of 17 hours.  I don’t know about you, but 17 hours of television is about as much as I watch in a week. It would still constitute the bulk of three or four days worth for the average person.  And yet, Sci Fi can’t even give us that.

It won’t be long now before they change their name and the fact that there used to be a channel exclusively devoted to science fiction will have become a thing of the past.  Guess I’ll have to spend more time hanging out with the ‘geeky young guys’…

My personal news is a bit more personal.  A few months ago, Fred Kiesche III – college friend and book reviewer extraordinaire, (and blogger for Texas Best Grok) announced that he was a featured character in one of David Drake’s forthcoming novels.

Naturally I was jealous.  Green with envy.  Apoplectic.  Which I told Fred at the time.

Well, now I don’t have to be so jealous.  I got my mention – not as a character, but as one of the people who helped get Chandler’s last unpublished story into print.

And Matt, the book review editor at Ray Gun Revival (who I’ve started writing for) just sent me along a copy!

It’s Jack Dann’s Dreaming Again if you’re interested.

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The cover of the first issue of Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine recreates the flag raising on Iwo Jima in a science fictional setting.

I’m very familiar with this cover because that issue is both a Volume 1 Number 1 issue and contains a short story by A. Bertram Chandler.  Which I was pleased to discover when I went on a hunt for ‘everything Chandler’, since I had already owned a copy.  Now I dither over whether to keep it with the magazine section of the library or with the Chandler ‘special collection’.

Anyhow, I was pretty sure I had seen a similar scene elsewhere on another SF pulp magazine and eventually I discovered that I was correct.  More than once.

The Iwo Jima flag raising has been honored on multiple occassions.  So here are those covers:

Jeez.  Looks like EVERYONE wants the moon.

That’s a Soviet Union flag, in case you’re too young to recognize it.  They used to be the bad guys until Ronald Reagan crushed them with beam weapons from space. Kinda. Sorta.

 

The F&SF cover isn’t strictly a flag, but close enough to the theme, I think. The Unknown Worlds cover is also a slight take-off, doing a variation on a scene from the John Wayne film Sands of Iwo Jima (I think).

and now the rest of the flag raisings – whimsy first:

now a bit more patriotic –

 

 And finally, in honor of the anniversary of September 11th, these last three:

 

*The IF cover’s flag says “TANSTAAFL” – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Including freedom.

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I forgot to cover a few points the other day while gushing about Chandler.   What I most forgot to mention were links to Chandler material that’s available for free (or cheap) on the web.  Here you go:

Stories, articles, pictures and such are all available on David Kelleher’s Bertram Chandler website. In particular, you’ll find this autobiography of John Grimes of particular interest, since it provides some detail about Grimes’ career prior to the first published story about Grimes (The Road To The Rim).  Although it’s not the character’s first appearance.  More about that in a bit.

You might also want to listen to the South African radio program SF68’s production of The Cage.  Unfortunately, I can’t give you a legal link to this one – but it is out there.

Baen Books has his much anthologized story Giant Killer on line as well and, if you are looking for reads that are almost as cheap as buying Chandler used on line, you can check out Baen’s e-books.

***

A necessary part of the concordance process (Rim Worlds Concordance) is determining which of an author’s stories are part of the canon.  An inevitable part of that task is to work things into some kind of order, presuming there is one.

I’ve got a whole page on the concordance site devoted to the Rim Worlds stories (of which Grimes tales are a major portion) presented in their presumed correct order, with plot synposis.  Be warned as that is spoiler material.

If you want to get the whole Rim Worlds feel, you really need to start at the beginning, during the 2nd Expansion of mankind to the stars. The first expansion featured frozen-sleep slowboats to the stars, a fact that we only learn about when it comes in to play in later stories. 

The 2nd Expansion utilized a true FTL drive – the Ehrenhaft Drive.  The first two stories (chronologically, not the first two published or authored) are identified as such by the use of this FTL drive in the stories.

Both are relatively early Chandler and feature his penchant for ‘shaggy dog’ tales – literary puns. The first is The Left Hand Way (also published under the title Naval Engagement) and the other is Fall of Knight. You can hunt up TLHW here.  FOK is, unfortunately not available on line, but the magazine it originally appeared in – Fantastic Universe (June, 1958), an anthology of stories from that magazine The Fantastic Universe Omnibus and the anthology Rulers of Men (both books edited by Santesson) are usually readily available at ABE and frequently on EBay.

If you don’t want to to start with Rim Worlds tales and just want to dive into the life, time and crimes of Commodore John Grimes, planetary governor, space privateer, lady’s man and interstellar delivery boy, you’ll need to read that autobio piece I mentioned above and then pick up the NESFA Press publication Up To The Sky In Ships, (or buy a copy of New Worlds magazine, #81, March 1959 issue) a commemorative collection of Chandler stories which includes Close Encounter, the first published story wherein Grimes makes a cameo appearance.  To throw a little confustion into the mix though, this particular story actually takes place very late in the Commodore’s career.

If you want to read the saga in chronological order, obtain a copy of The Road To The Rim. Grimes appears as a wet-behind-the-ears shave tail, loses his virginity and offs space pirates in that one. Abe or EBay – I just got another copy for a buck on EBay.

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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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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.

***

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

***

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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Up until about half a year ago or so, I’d managed to avoid Firefly.  Sure I’d heard lots of fans saying great things about it and I was certainly aware of all of the attention Joss Whedon was attracting (brilliant, down-trodden savior of all that is meaningful on TV), but I had this little problem believing any of it.  I’d been enticed into watching a couple of episode of Buffy and wrote it and Whedon off as trash.  Funny, sometimes high-concept (over the top) trash, but still trash.  Sorry Buffy fans.

I’m probably wrong about Buffy, but the second strike against it is that I’m not into vampires or fantasy, so even if I’d stuck around enough episodes of that show to catch Joss’s deftness with character, I still wouldn’t have put the show on the must watch list.  (I have no ‘must watch’ list for television.  I went seven years without an idiot box and consequently have gotten out of the habit.)

So, when I saw that Firefly was ‘by the same guy who did Buffy’, I figured some day I’d catch an episode or two, but I wasn’t going to waste any time making that happen.  Given the source and the title of the show, I figured it just had to be some SciFi send-up of a teenaged girl kicking alien monster butt – an SF re-tread of Buffy.  And to tell the truth that concept (except for the possibility of pleated school girl skirts in space) kind of left me yawning.

Then the show became available online and I decided to give it a shot.

I was intrigued from the get go.  This guy Whedon sure has created some interesting characters.  To say the man has balls is like thinking human when the reality is elephant.  Who else would start off a show with the defeat and near-death of two of his primary characters?  Who else would begin the pilot episode with a highly complex, expensive and very emotionally charged battle scene and then dump the whole frenetic, explosively paced thing for the mundanity of a freighter going about its business?

That’s like opening a hero movie with the climactic end scenes.  And then retro-flashing to the back story. Brilliant.

I watched all of the episodes on line and was thoroughly pleased. The characters were great, especially Mal and Jayne.  There wasn’t a one among the crew – Zoe, Kaylee, Wash, Inara, Book, River or Simon who didn’t have something to offer. 

Mal is nearly perfect in his conflicts – betrayed and vowing to never let it happen again, yet still reliant on a crew of misfits and inspiring deep loyalty.  He wants to be mean and get even, but he’s too nice/good a guy to really put his heart into it.  The portrayal though doesn’t overwhelm the story – it’s written into the way the character goes about doing his thing.  And the same is true for everyone else.

Of course I do have a few quibbles:  what kind of solar system has multiple planets and hundreds of moons that can all be terraformed?  No one is supposed to have FTL here, so how the heck did they get to this place from ‘Earth-that-was’?  What’s the economy like that such a small ship could make a living? (That this type of ship was designed and built presupposes economic viability without resorting to illegal activities.)  But those minorities fade into the background in the face of the characters and the storylines.

Having enjoyed the show, I decided that I needed to see the movie Serenity and absolutely put it on my ‘must watch’ list.

While waiting to acquire a copy of the movie I happened upon a chance to pick up the novelization at a library sale.  I then decided to conduct a little experiment, seeing as how I’m such a huge advocate of ‘the book is better than the movie’ type thinking.  True, this wasn’t a perfect experiment – the movie came first in this case and it really ought to go the other way around – but it still might be fun.  So I read the book all the way through to the final scenes (I put it down when Serenity and crew return to Mr. Universe’s world) and then I watched the film.

A pause now for commercial interruption –

I’ve finished the Ebay pulp magazine searches on the web page and they’re all active and up.  I’m pretty pleased with the results – I’ve even found a few pulps to add to my own watch list.  I think it’s a useful tool.  The first twenty pages or so don’t have a ‘back to the menu’ button (just use the back button) and I’m fixing that, but everything else is functional for now.

If you’re at all interested, I also added a few more images to the magazine checklist page – a couple of issues of Amazing Stories, a few more of the Ultimate reprint digests.

I still have a few Chandler Ebay searches to add (France and such) but they won’t take long and might even get finished today or tomorrow.

Now back to the show.

To begin, the novelization must have been written from a working script as there are a few scenes in the book not presented on the screen – most notably one involving Cuban cigars.  That’s actually a bonus rather than a problem, because we get a small glimpse into the movie-making process here. The scene involved Jayne and Book and may have been dropped as being a bit out of character for Jayne.  Or just for time or pacing.  We also miss out on seeing a battle scene with Book, which is a bit disappointing.

My main problem with the book was the author’s choice of presenting the crew’s manner of speaking – their vernacular and slang.  In an attempt to convey emotional content, the broken words, broken sentence structure and slang is carried beyond the dialogue.  Rather than putting you in the mood, it detracts and reads like something written by an inner-city illiterate.

The emotional content – particularly when compared directly to the movie – comes across as flat; back story and motivations are presented in the novel, they’re just not as immediate as watching the actor’s expressions or hearing their tones.

Reading the book and watching the movie were actually two entirely different experiences.  The fact that the storyline tracked so well between them is unusual – even for a novelization. (Compare Alien by Alan Dean Foster to the movie, for example.)  I found it very revealing (of Whedon’s abilities) that my full knowledge of the plot in advance of watching did not detract from my enjoyment of the film at all. 

What had left me cold while reading the book was suddenly alive in the faces of the actors.

That’s not to be saying that the book was bad.  As I said, the presentation of the characters and particularly their dialogue was a bit stilted – but that is something that I was probably overly sensitive to from having watched the television show.  I know how Mal sounds and looks and what I was reading was a slightly off, slightly pale reflection of Mal.  Recognizable, just not completely alive.  If you picked up this book sans knowledge of the show, your conclusion would most likely be ‘not bad – not great, but not terrible either, maybe I’ll catch the movie some day’.

There were also quite a few visual in-jokes scattered through the film that were not picked up on in the novel.  A crashed shuttle shows its registry numbers as C57D – the same name as the cruiser from Forbidden Planet.  At one point the ‘landing party’ are shown wearing red, yellow and blue colored t-shirts, resembling nothing so much as a party just beamed down from the Enterprise.  Quite a few of the scenes are derivative of other movies, presented in homage. I’m sure there are others that I’ll pick up on when I watch the film again.

I’m glad I had this chance to experience both forms of the story side-by-side. It was very revealing of the advantages and limitations of the different media.  I’d give the book 2 walking sticks and the movie 4 walking sticks.  In this particular case, the move outshines the literary form, which is probably as it should be, considering that the intended media was visual.

Having done this direct comparison, I can say that it confirmed my belief that one of the next big things coming down the pike will be (or should be) an original story that is conceived of and delivered as a multi-media blitz.

From the ground up, a movie is written in conjunction with a television series, the original novel is written in lockstep and the follow-on book series is plotted out while the graphic novel is drawn, the animated version is being storyboarded, the interactive game is being designed and melded with the social-networking site even as the audio book and podcast version of the radio play are being recorded and the top ten pop songs are being mixed in the studio.

A mantra of marketing is to never let anything get between the message and the consumer.  The fact that some people prefer one media over another is a huge impediment, a major objection to a sale.  Having to ‘wait’ for one preferred version or another to reach the consumer is another major objection.  By the time the product they are looking for hits the market, they’ve already moved on to other things.

But if someone can figure out a way to effectively deliver a property in all those media simultaneously, in a manner that allows them to be merged seamlessly with each other while still being workable as stand-alones – well then, they’ll be teaching Lucas a thing or two about modern day merchandising, won’t they?

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I’ve spent most of the morning working on my website.  I’m finishing up the Ebay search widgets for the 378 science fiction and fantasy (pulp) magazine titles that I’ve selectively determined belong in a ‘complete collection’ of such. (Going by a collector’s definition, not all SF magazines are ‘pulps’; some are bedsheet-pulps, some are digests, some are slicks and some are even paperbacks.) (My selective definitions are: English language, content primarily SF and/or Fantasy, professional-level publication, periodical of quarterly or greater frequency. There are a few exceptions here and there which are justified because I like them.  This is not a Library of Congress project.)

This has taken me a bit longer than I anticipated (but less than a week longer) – part of which delay is due to having taken a part-time job on the weekends.  I knew I was doing the job, I just forgot to subtract 28 hours from the time available estimate.

But I have fewer than 30 titles to go now, so, if I can motivate (after spending the past four hours working on other pages) I should be done today.

This has a (small) potential to bring me in a few pennies – and a large potential for partially automating my own searches of Ebay.  It has already come in handy with searches for stuff by A. Bertram Chandler (I’ve set up searches for him on Ebay US, CA, IT, JP, AUS, UK, FR & GR – host countries that have published his works).  I’m hoping to add a few more authors as time goes by.  Anyone can request a favorite to be added simply by emailing me.

Then – time and the agreement of the stars permitting – I’ll finally get the whole site converted over to run under a CMS of one brand or another (probably Joomla), which ought to make life easier.  I have a friend who is quite proficient in that program/interface/frontend/whatever.  I’ve tried working through it on my own and quickly realized I needed a little handholding.  But watch out.  Once I learn how to set up my own SQL databases, I’m going to be all over the place.

The PT job?  Back to paintball, sad say.  I’m field managing a local playing facility because I have ‘good organizational skills’ and ‘good customer service skills’.  I do enjoy showing new players the ropes (there’s almost always something funny happening on the field), but it can get boring quickly because I’ve been seeing the same stuff nearly every weekend for the past 25 years.

On the other hand, I’m learning to steal character traits and physical makeups from the customers for my writing. If you want real characters, there’s nothing for it like people watching.  I play games in my head while watching the customers play, figuring out what words I’d used to describe a voice, or a facial complexion, or how I’d adapt a real-life scene for a story. 

Any job a writer can get that pays them and let’s them workon their craft at the same time is a good job.

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I’m going to try something a little different tonite.

Below you’ll see the cover art from two pulp magazines – in this particular case Rocket Stories from July 1953 and Saturn Science Fiction from October 1957.

Give me a title for the story that combines both images and (up to) a hundred word plot synopsis for that story.  Enter your submissions as a comment.  More than one entry per person is acceptable.

I’ll announce the end of this little contest if and when it receives sufficient entries.  The winner will receive one of the A. Bertram Chandler Commodore Grimes omnibus editions from the SFBC.

Feel free to use any of the elements portrayed on those covers – and feel free to put them in any order.

Once this one finishes, I’ll select another two (or three) pulp covers and offer another opportunity to win something else.

If you are a winner or a runner-up (I’ll pick up to three in that category) and are feeling sufficiently masochistic – write the short story you synopsized and I’ll run it here.

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IO9 heats the Locus Awards controversy up again (Locus doubled susbscriber vote count in an effort to diminsh the effect of online votes) and the following solution occurred to me: Locus should include a ‘How to Count the Vote’ category in the ballot.  They can offer numerous formulae (votes from ‘Steves’ will be quadrupled…).  The kicker is, whichever methodology wins is implemented three years from now – not in the current year.

Interestingly, the commentary on IO9 (and elsewhere) includes a fairly large number of anti-Doctorow missives.  Cory is being castigated for ‘over-the-top’ self-promotion.  Perhaps in the interest of internet fairness, Cory should offer an opt-out capability.  “If you no longer wish to see Cory’s self-promotion, click here”.    Of course, the opt-out would only be effective for the current promo…

I was absent yesterday because it was the opening of Hillsboro’s annual Baloonfest, an extravaganza of hot air.  Wonderfully appropriate considering the foregoing, hmmm?  Above you can see Hillsboro’s own concept of self-promotion.  Chandler fans will note that it is all taking place at Grimes’ Field.  That’s Commodore John Grimes’ field. 

The Astronautical Superintendent was very fond of dirigibles and ballooning (he once won a balloon race against a Shaara Princess using Andrews Airship type balloons) and the people of Faraway (Rim Worlds Confederacy) have honored him appropriately.  (Once a year an interdimensional gate opens up on the outskirts of Hillsboro, NH, making it possible for us to visit Grimes Field on Faraway.)

So I was down there all day yesterday, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Commodore (no such luck), eating (bad) cheesesteaks, laughing at the (bad) midway amusements and totally getting off on the balloons.  A few shots below:

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