Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Planetary Adventure’ Category

PZO8005-Cover.inddThe Reavers of Skaith, by Leigh Brackett, is the final novel in the saga of Eric John Stark, Brackett’s most beloved SF character. It’s the fourth of the five Brackett books Planet Stories has published to date, with a stunning cover by James Ryman and an introduction by film director George Lucas, who discusses Brackett’s role in writing the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back and her influence upon the entire Star Wars saga. We were blown away that Lucas was able and willing to write such a thoughtful introduction for us, and this book looked like it had everything going for it and would become one of our strongest sellers.

But everything does not always go over as planned. For unknown reasons (and this happens more often than most publishers would admit), Barnes & Noble simply decided to skip this book entirely, so despite all it has going for it the book has not had the robust distribution of many of our other titles. While that probably will mean fewer returns and a more steady journey to profitability in the long run (the same thing happened to Henry Kuttner’s Elak of Atlantis), it has the unintended effect of limiting the online discussion of the book to a relative whimper.

I was surprised and pleased, then, to find a fairly recent review of The Reavers of Skaith posted to the entertaining blog My Own Private Geekdom, a LiveJournal administered by gamer and sci-fi fan Joel Flank. Check out what Joel has to say about the book:

Stark remains a ruthless killer and the ultimate survivor, with a combination of trained fighting prowess and animal instincts keeping him alive. Brackett once again spins a compelling story that gets the blood pumping and grabs the reader and won’t let them go until the conclusion of the story.

If you haven’t yet seen a copy of The Reavers of Skaith at your local store, don’t despair! You can order directly from the publisher at Paizo.com.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

In Praise of James Blish’s Star Trek adaptations

By Alex Bledsoe           StarTrek cover Blish 

I was a second-generation Star Trek fan.  I discovered the series in syndication between the end of the show’s network run in 1970 and the first movie’s release in 1979.  The reruns were broadcast on Channel 13 out of Memphis, usually the fuzziest of the three or four stations we could get out in the swamps.

 That’s an important bit of context.  We had no cable TV back then; instead, we had a thirty-foot aluminum antenna that someone, usually me, had to physically turn while someone else, usually my dad, shouted whether the picture was better or worse.  Weather determined a lot of what we watched: the ABC station in Jackson was closest, so its signal was strongest.  There was no other reason I would have ever watched that many episodes of The Love Boat.  More often than not, during an hour-long show like Trek, the signal would go in and out, reducing chunks of the episodes to snowy static.

Thank the Great Bird of the Galaxy, then, for James Blish.

Blish was already a noted science fiction author when he took on the task of novelizing episodes from the original series.  His Cities in Flight series, the Pantropy stories and many others had already placed him among the best serious SF writers of the Fifties and Sixties.  He even, according to Wikipedia, coined the term “gas giant.”

I’m not sure if Blish felt a special affinity for Trek, or if adapting the show was just a job.  But for a fans stuck is pre-internet isolation, these books were crucial.  There was no such thing as “home video” in any form; the best one could do (and I did) was make audiotapes of the episodes by holding a tape recorder up to the TV speaker.  For a lot of us, the Blish books were the only way to experience the episodes without being at the mercy of TV station programmers, our parents’ whims (“That show’s just weird!”) and the weather.

The first volume, originally published in 1967, presented seven episodes from the first season.  Although two of them got retitled (“Charlie X” was called “Charlie’s Law,” and “The Man Trap” retitled “The Unreal McCoy”), Blish did not do a hack job.  He brought his full writing skill to bear, translating the scripts into genuine prose and turning out short stories that, while not “original” in the true sense, nevertheless worked as literature. 

What writer wouldn’t envy this as an opening line:

When the Romulan outbreak began, Capt. James Kirk was in the chapel of the starship Enterprise, waiting to perform a wedding. (“Balance of Terror”)

Or,

Nobody, it was clear, was going to miss the planet when it did break up. (“The Naked Time”)

Even if you know nothing of Trek, these are grabbers.

In 1970 Blish also wrote the first original Trek novel, Spock Must Die!  It’s an odd read now, with the characters stiffly thrust into a hard-SF plot.  But it was the first genuinely new Trek adventure outside fan fiction.  It also gave me my first hints about how professional publishing works: the book’s editor, clearly no fan, changed McCoy’s nickname from “Bones” to “Doc” throughout, something Blish apologized for in an author’s note.

As the adaptations progressed, Blish became more faithful to the actual scripts.  I don’t know if this was a function of his health issues (he died of lung cancer in 1975 aged 54), or simply an attempt to give the readers what they really wanted: Star Trek at their fingertips.  Either way, it was my introduction to the details of Trek, and through Trek, to science fiction as a whole.  It allowed a nerdy teenage redneck in the swamps of west Tennessee to feel connected to something bigger than himself.  And without that connection, without the belief that there were more people like me out there, I wouldn’t have become the kind of writer I am.  So thanks again, Mr. Blish, for bringing that final frontier a bit closer.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation

 

Accompanying illustration 1: a photo of my original copy of the first Blish Trek, which I still have. Illustration 2: Bledsoe-The Next Generation

Alex Bledsoe grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (home of Tina Turner). His novels include The Sword-Edged Blonde and Blood Groove.

Read Full Post »

Northwest of EarthAuthor and noted sf critic Paul Kincaid has just posted a very thoughtful review of C. L. Moore’s Northwest of Earth: The Complete Northwest Smith, one of the most popular Planet Stories releases to date, to SFSite.com. Northwest of Earth collects all of Moore’s seminal Northwest Smith stories together in one volume for the very first time, from the debut story that launched Moore’s career in 1933 (“Shambleau”) to her final story featuring the outlaw of the spaceways in 1957 (“Song in a Minor Key”).

Kincaid summarizes Northwest Smith this way: “His natural habitat is the cheap bars, grungy hotels and dangerous alleyways of port towns on Mars and Venus. But this futuristic backwoods is only the stepping-off point for wild journeys of the imagination into exotic and erotic realms that always somehow open out from our base reality. From such dark and dusty starting points, the stories explode into colour; everything in these other realms is in scarlet or blue, purple or gold. Always bold primary colours, there are no tints, shades or pastels to be seen, for these are bold primary adventures.”

I was particularly struck by Kincaid’s observation regarding the use of doorways and passages in the Northwest Smith stories. Indeed, when we first meet the character he is standing in a dusty Martian doorway, and many of his adventures take place in otherworldly realms accessed through portals of various kinds. In this way Smith shares many similarities with Moore’s other prominent character, the Dark Ages swordswoman Jirel of Joiry, whose seductive fantasies are collected in the Planet Stories edition Black God’s Kiss.

Unlike Jirel, who can be read as perhaps the first feminist sword & sorcery protagonist, Northwest Smith has a somewhat more complicated approach to sexual politics. The women he encounters are usually tied up with danger and even death, and while the Smith stories represent some of the most sensually described tales of the pulp era, there is a complex morality play going on that makes Moore’s stories more fascinating because they were written by a woman.

As Kincaid puts it, “Sex, itself a ‘nameless’ subject in the popular literature of the relatively straitlaced 1930s, was a fairly common subtext of those encounters with the mysterious that were related in the typical weird tale, and a suggestion of the erotic must have been a selling point in colourful popular magazines. But the sexual aspect of Moore’s Northwest Smith stories is hardly a subtext, the imagery is too potent, too central, too omnipresent for that. These are stories in which sex is death, beauty is a commodity independent of the person, and women are a danger and must be killed.”

 

Illustration by Jean-Claude Forest.

Illustration by Jean-Claude Forest.

I think the latter observation is layering it on a bit thick, but a certain sensuality and sense of sexual danger pervades the Northwest Smith stories, which for me makes them all the more fascinating. Plus there’s heat guns and ruined cities and monsters and stuff, threads of pulp adventure that give the stories life and excitement beyond their considerable subtext.

 

You can learn more about reviewer Paul Kincaid by visiting his website. Copies of Northwest of Earth: The Complete Northwest Smith are available direct from the publisher at paizo.com.

Read Full Post »

 

PZO8005-Cover.inddLeigh Brackett wrote the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back and worked with William Faulkner on The Big Sleep, but her greatest contribution to science fiction was a series of tales set on a fantastic Mars. Brackett’s Red Planet was a place of ancient cities perched on the crumbling cliffs of dry canals and the windswept seabeds of ancient oceans, a world of adventurers and confidence men and swordsmen and thieves. The latest Planet Stories release, The Sword of Rhiannon is a perfect introduction to Leigh Brackett’s best-loved stories, and a great place to sample Paizo’s Planet Stories line.

Brackett’s Mars draws great inspiration from the “Barsoom” stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who invented the “sword & planet” genre with his tales of interplanetary adventure. Most of Leigh Brackett’s Martian stories, likeThe Secret of Sinharat, take place in a similar world many hundreds of years in the future, where colonization by Earth is a foregone conclusion. The Martians of this world are furtive, reclusive folk, largely resigned to the imminent demise of their once proud culture. The Sword of Rhiannon thrusts crooked archeologist Matt Carse into the glorious past of Mars, producing the most Burroughs-influenced and swashbuckling of Brackett’s Martian tales.

The Mars of Rhiannon is a place of glittering oceans and majestic cities, of fantastic ships oared by galley slaves, of Sea Kings and living gods and magic blades. This is the Red Planet at the height of its culture and decadence, allowing Brackett to craft a marvelous tale of adventure that stands among her very finest

If you’ve been curious about Planet Stories but haven’t been sure where to start, wonder no longer. The Sword of Rhiannon is exactly the sort of book we had in mind when we set out to publish the finest tales in the history of fantasy, and lovers of swordplay, gloriously imagined locales, and pulse-pounding excitement will find much to excite their interest in this latest release.

But fair warning. Reading Leigh Brackett can lead to a powerful literary addiction. Happily, Planet Stories is ready and able to keep you comfortable throughout your recovery.

Read Full Post »

Them

Them

 

by Mike Resnick

Carol has a high threshold for embarrassment. You can’t be married to me for 42 years and not have one. But recently she has announced that she will no longer sit next to me at science fiction movies, that indeed she will sit on the far side of the theater and do her very best to pretend that she doesn’t know me.

She’s right. I’m just not much fun to be around at science fiction movies. I don’t know quite how this came about. I used to love them when I was growing up. I forgave them their lack of special effects and their B-movie casts and budgets. OK, so Them paid no attention to the square-cube law; except for that, it was as well-handled as one could possibly want. And maybe The Thing wasn’t quite what John Campbell had in mind when he wrote “Who Goes There?”, but it was treated like science fiction rather than horror (the same cannot be said for the big-budget remake), and the overall ambience was rational. As for Forbidden Planet, nothing I’ve seen in the last 50 years has stirred my sense of wonder quite as much as Walter Pidgeon’s guided tour of the wonders of the Krell. A decade and a half later Stanley Kubrick made a trio of wildly differing but excellent science fiction movies—Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange—each of which treated the field with respect. 

Then, just about the time I became a full-time science fiction writer, Hollywood started turning out one intellectually insulting science fiction movie after another. I mean, these things were almost dumber than network television shows. And I started muttering—louder and louder with each movie, Carol assures me—things like “No editor paying 3 cents a word for the most debased science fiction magazine in the world would let me get away with that!” Before long audiences would pay more attention to my rantings than to the movies.

I keep hearing that science fiction movies are getting better, that once George Lucas showed what could be done on the big screen we no longer have anything to be ashamed of when comparing ourselves to other genres.

That makes me mutter even louder.

So let me get it off my chest, which is a figure of speech, because actually the stupidity of science fiction movies is much more likely to eat a hole in my stomach lining.

And let me add a pair of stipulations:  

First, I’m only interested in movies that aspired to be arch-bishop, which is to say, movies with major budgets and major talent that really and truly meant to be good movies. I will not consider such epics as Space Sluts in the Slammer (yes, it really exists), as it seems not unreasonable to assume it was never meant to be a contender for the year-end awards.

 

 Second, when I speak of stupidities, I’m not talking about the nit-picking that goes on in outraged letter columns. If the math or science are wrong only in areas that scientists, mathematicians, or obsessive science fiction fans would find fault with, I’ll ignore it. If George Lucas doesn’t know what a parsec is, or Gene Roddenberry and his successors think you can hear a ship whiz by in space, I’m willing to forgive and forget.

 

So what’s left?

 

Well, let’s start with Star Wars. First, has no one except me noticed that it’s not pro-democracy but pro-royalty? I mean, all this fighting to depose the Emperor isn’t done to give the man on the street (or the planet) a vote; it’s to put Princess Leia on the throne and let her rule the galaxy instead of him, which is an improvement only in matter of degree. And it drives me crazy that in 1991 we could put a smart bomb down a chimney, and that in 2002 we could hit a target at 450 miles, but that computerized handguns and other weaponry can’t hit a Skywalker or a Solo at 25 paces.

Return of the Jedi? Doesn’t it bother anyone else that Adolf Hitler—excuse me; Darth Vader—the slaughterer of a couple of hundred million innocent men and women, becomes a Good Guy solely because he’s Luke’s father?

 

And what could be sillier than that final scene, where Luke looks up and sees Yoda and the shades of Darth Vader and Obiwan Kenobi smiling at him. That was too much even for Carol, whose first comment on leaving the theater was, “Poor Luke! Wherever he goes from now on, he’s a table for four.”

 

Then along came E.T., which, for a few years at least, was the highest-grossing film of all time, until replaced by an even dumber one.

 

You think it wasn’t that intellectually insulting? Let’s consider the plot of that billion-dollar grosser, shall we?

 

1. If E.T. can fly/teleport, why doesn’t he do so at the beginning of the film, when he’s about to be left behind? (Answer: because this is what James Blish used to call an idiot plot, which is to say if everyone doesn’t act like an idiot you’ve got no story.)

2. What mother of teenaged children walks through a kitchen littered with empty beer cans and doesn’t notice them? (Answer: in all the world, probably only this one.) This is the blunder that started me muttering loud enough to disturb other moviegoers for the first time.

3. While we’re on the subject of the mother and the kitchen, what is a woman with an unexceptional day job doing living in an $900,000 house in one of the posher parts of the Los Angeles area? (Even I don’t have an answer to that.)

4. Why does E.T. die? (Answer: so he can come back to life.

5. Why does E.T. un-die? (Still awaiting an answer, even a silly one, for this.)

6. When E.T. finally calls home, the lights in the room don’t even flicker. I’m no scientist, but I’d have figured the power required would have shorted out the whole city.

 

Cheap shots, Resnick (I hear you say); you’re purposely avoiding the films that were aimed at an adult audience, films like Blade Runner and Signs, for example.

 

All right. Let’s take Blade Runner (and someone please explain the title, since I never saw a blade or a runner in the whole damned movie). Great future Los Angeles; it really put you there. Nice enough acting jobs, even if Harrison Ford was a little wooden. Wonderful sets, costumes, effects.

 

But the premise is dumber than dirt. We are told up front that the androids are going to expire in two weeks—so why in the world is Harrison Ford risking his life to hunt them down when he could just go fishing for 14 days and then pick up their lifeless bodies?

 

But that premise looks positively brilliant compared to the critically-acclaimed Mel Gibson movie Signs, which grossed about half a billion dollars worldwide two short years ago.

 

Consider: would you travel 50 trillion miles or so for a little snack? That’s what the aliens did. If they’re here for any other reason except to eat people, the film never says so.

 

OK, let’s leave aside how much they’re paying in terms of time and energy to come all this way just to eat us for lunch. What is the one thing we know will kill them? Water (which also killed the Wicked Witch of the West, a comparison that was not lost on some perceptive viewers). And what are human beings composed of? More than 90% water.

 

So the aliens come all this way to poison themselves (and then forget to die until someone hits them with a baseball bat, which Hollywood thinks is almost as devastating a weapon against aliens of indeterminate physical abilities as a light-sabre.)

MSDMATR EC061By now I didn’t just mutter in the theater, I yelled at the screenwriters (who, being 3000 miles away, probably didn’t hear me.) But I figured my vocalizing would soon come to an end. After all, we all knew that the sequel to The Matrix would show the world what real science fiction was like; it was the most awaited movie since Lucas’ all-but-unwatchable sequels to the original Star Wars trilogy.

 

So along comes The Matrix Retarded . . . uh, sorry, make that Reloaded. You’ve got this hero, Neo, with godlike powers. He can fly as fast and far as Superman. He can stop a hail of bullets or even bombs in mid-flight just by holding up his hand. He’s really remarkable, even if he never changes expression.

So does he fly out of harm’s way when a hundred Agent Smiths attack him? Of course not. Does he hold up his hand and freeze them in mid-charge? Of course not. Can Neo be hurt? No. Can Agent Smith be hurt? No. So why do they constantly indulge in all these easily avoidable, redundant, and incredibly stoopid fights?

 

Later the creator of the Matrix explains that the first Matrix was perfect. It only had three or four flaws, which is why he built five more versions of it. Uh . . . excuse me, but that’s not that way my dictionary defines “perfect.”

 

You want more foolishness? The whole world runs on computers, which means the whole world is powered by electricity to a far greater extent than America is at this moment. So why is the underground city lit only by burning torches?

 

I hit J above high C explaining to the screen what the least competent science fiction editor in the world would say to the writer who tried to pawn The Matrix Reloaded off on him.

 

Now, you’d figure Stephen Spielberg could make a good science fiction movie, wouldn’t you? I mean, he’s the most powerful director in Hollywood’s history. Surely if he wanted to spend a few million dollars correcting flaws in the film before releasing it to the public, no one would dare say him nay.

 

So he makes Minority Report, and to insure the box office receipts he gets Tom Cruise to star in it and announces that it’s based on a Philip K. Dick story. (Dick is currently Hollywood’s favorite flavor of “sci-fi” writer, this in spite of the fact that nothing adapted from his work bears more than a passing resemblance to it.)

 

And what do we get for all this clout?

 

Well, for starters, we get a future less than half a century from now in which the Supreme Court has no objection to throwing people in jail for planning crimes.

 

We get a scene where Tom Cruise escapes from the authorities by climbing into a car that’s coming off an assembly line and driving off in it. That one really got me muttering at a hundred-decibel level. Has anyone ever seen a car come off an assembly line with a full tank of gas?

 

We are told that the three seers/mutants/whatever-they-are can only foresee capital crimes. Even bank robberies slip beneath their psychic radar. But in a crucial scene, one of them predicts a necessary rainstorm. (I hit 120 decibels on that one.)

 

It’s also explained that they have physical limits. If they’re in Washington, D.C., they can’t foresee a crime in, say, Wilmington, Delaware. But the villain of the piece, who knows their abilities and limitations better than anyone, plans to use them to control the entire nation, which the last time I looked at a map extends even beyond Delaware. (140 decibels that time.)

 

OK, I’m too serious. These are just entertainments. I should go see one made from a comic book—Hollywood’s intellectual Source Material Of Choice these days—and just sit back and enjoy it.

Good advice. So we went to see Hulk. You all know the story; it’s swiped from enough science fictional sources. I didn’t mind the poor animation. I didn’t mind the idiot plot that had Bruce Banner’s father responsible for his affliction. I didn’t mind this; I didn’t mind that. Then we came to Thunderbolt Ross, the 5-star general—and suddenly I was muttering again.

 

I was willing suspend my disbelief for this idiocy, but alas, I couldn’t suspend my common sense. Here’s this top military commander, the film’s equivalent of Norman Shwartzkopf or Tommy Franks. And here’s the Hulk, who makes Superman look like a wimp. Now, you have to figure that even a moderately bright 6-year-old ought to be able to conclude that if attacking the Hulk and shooting him doesn’t hurt him, but just makes him bigger and stronger and angrier and more destructive, the very last thing you want to do when he’s busy being the Hulk rather than Bruce Banner is shoot or otherwise annoy him, rather than simply wait for him to change back into his relatively helpless human form. That, however, seems to be beyond both our general and our screenwriters.

 

Even the good science fiction movies assume that their audiences are so dumb that logic means nothing to them, as long as you dazzle them with action and zap guns and aliens and the like.

 

Take The Road Warrior (a/k/a Mad Max 2), which is truly a fine movie: well-acted, well-conceived, well-directed. And yet . . .

 

In The Road Warrior’s post-nuclear-war future, the rarest and most valuable commodity in the world is refined oil (i.e., gasoline), because the distances in Australia, where it takes place, are immense, and you can’t get around without a car or a motorcycle. The conflict takes place between the Good Guys, who have built a primitive fortress around a refining plant, and the Bad Guys, a bunch of futuristic bikers, who want to get their hands on that gasoline, which is so rare that it’s probably worth more per drop than water in the desert.

 

So what do the bad guys who desperately need this petrol do? They power up their cars and bikes and race around the refinery for hours on end, day in and day out. If they would have the brains to conserve a little of that wasted energy, they wouldn’t have to risk their lives trying to replace it. (And, while I’m thinking of it, where do they get the fuel to power their dozens of constantly-running vehicles?)

Then there were Spielberg’s mega-grossing dinosaur movies, Jurassic Park and The Lost World. The former hypothesizes that if you stand perfectly still six inches from a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex he won’t be able to tell you’re there. I would like to see the screenwriter try that stunt with any hungry carnivore—mammal or reptile—that has ever lived on this planet. The latter film shows you in graphic detail (and with questionable intelligence) that a T. Rex can outrun an elevated train, but cannot catch a bunch of panicky Japanese tourists who are running away, on foot, in a straight line.

 

Although these two films are the prime offenders, simply because Spielberg has the resources to know better, I am deathly tired of the superhuman (uh . . . make that supercarnosaur) feats with which Hollywood endows T. Rex, who seems to be the only terrifying dinosaur of which it was aware until someone told Spielberg about velociraptors. (Give them another decade or two and they might actually discover allosaurs and Utahraptors.)

 

 T. Rex weighed about seven tons. By comparison, a large African bull elephant weighs about six tons, and could probably give old T. Rex one hell of a battle. But no one suggests that a six-ton elephant can throw trucks and trains around, break down concrete walls, or do any of the other patently ridiculous things T. Rex can do on screen.

 TRex

And the list—and the intellectually offended muttering— goes on and on. In Alien they all go off by themselves to search for the creature; haven’t they learned anything from five centuries of dumb horror movies? At the end of Total Recall, Governor Schwarzenegger is outside for maybe six minutes while Mars is being miraculously terraformed. Just how long do you think you could survive on the surface of Mars in 100-below-zero weather with absolutely no oxygen to breathe?

 

Some “major” films are simply beneath contempt. I persist in thinking that Starship Troopers was misnamed; it should have been Ken and Barbie Go To War. And if that wasn’t a bad enough trick to pull on Robert A. Heinlein after he was dead, they also made The Puppet Masters, which was handled exactly like a 4th remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

 

Then there’s Armageddon, which seems to make the case that it’s easier to teach hard-drinking functionally illiterate wildcatters how to be astronauts in a constricted time period than to teach highly intelligent physically fit astronauts how to drill for oil. And Ghod help us, it was Disney’s highest-grossing live action film until Pirates of the Caribbean came along.

 

 And when I was sure it couldn’t get any worse, along came the stupidest big-budget film of all time—The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

 

Consider:

1. Allan Quatermain can hit a moving target at 900 yards in the year 1899 A.D. With a rifle of that era.

2. Bruce Banner—excuse me: Dr. Jeckyl—changes into the Hulk—oops: make that Mr. Hyde—and suddenly he’s 15 feet tall and even his muscles have muscles. He’s a bad guy—except when, at the end, the plot requires him to be a good guy and rescue all the other good guys at enormous personal cost, which he does for no rational reason that I could discern.

 3. Mina Harker is a vampire. She’s Jonathan Harker’s wife, and Jonathan, as you’ll remember, is the guy who visits Dracula and sells him an English estate. (I always felt Dracula shouldn’t have stopped terrifying realtors with just one, but let it pass.) Well, Mina is a Good Guy, and certainly, given her physical features, a more Extraordinary Gentleman than any of the others. She can fly (Dracula couldn’t), she can cross over water (movie vampires can’t), and she can command a combat team (honest) of half a million bats. She also drinks blood, but only of Bad Guys.

4. The Invisible Man joins the team. Well, no one reads H. G. Wells any more, so they announced that the original Invisible Man was dead and this cockney guy has replaced him. He spends most of his time being invisible in sub-zero weather, occasionally mentioning that it’s chilly without his clothes on, but he never gets dressed or goes inside.

5. Dorian Gray. Well, he’s got this picture, see? Oh, and he can’t be harmed. Cut him, shoot him, and two seconds later he’s whole, unharmed and unmarked. But if he should ever see his picture, he turns immediately and gruesomely and eternally to dust. Funniest action scene in the picture is a fight to the death (honest!) between Dorian Gray, who literally cannot be harmed or killed, and Mina Harker, who is already dead.

6. Captain Nemo is a bearded Indian who is a master of karate.

7. The only Victorian figure missing is Sherlock Holmes, so of course the youngish villain turns out to be Moriarty (who Sherlock killed when he was an aging professor a few years before 1899.)

8. And, oh yeah, there’s an American secret agent named Tom Sawyer, who’s about 22 years old—a really neat trick since he was a teenager before the Civil War.

 

I think it’s nice that the screenwriter brought back all these Victorian and pre-Victorian characters. It would have been even nicer if he’d ever read a single book in which they appeared.

 

How do they travel? In a half-mile-long 20-foot-wide version of the Nautilus. (And as this 2500-foot-long ship is going through the canals of Venice, even Carol couldn’t help wondering how it turned the corners.)

 

There is a convertible car. (After all, this is 1899. They hadn’t invented hardtops yet.) Allan Quatermain and two other Extraordinary Gentlemen have to drive down the broad paved boulevards (broad paved boulevards???) of Venice. There are 200 Bad Guys on the roofs on both sides of the street, all armed with automatic weapons. They fire 18,342 shots at the car—and miss. Allan Quartermain and his ancient rifle don’t miss a target for the entire and seemingly endless duration of the film.

 

What are the Extraordinary Gentlemen doing? They’re stopping Moriarty from getting rich by selling weapons to rival European nations. And where is he getting these weapons? Easy. He has built a two-mile-square fortified brick city/fortress in the middle of an ice-covered Asian mountain range, and filled it with thousands of machines capable of creating really nasty weapons. I figure the cost of creating the city, shipping in the tons of iron he has to melt to make weapons, and building/importing the thousands of machines required to build the weapons, set him back about $17 trillion. But he’s going to make $200 million or so selling weapons, so he’s in profit. Isn’t he???

 

Every single aspect of the film is on this level. Nairobi consisted of two—count them: two—tin-roofed shacks in 1899, but in the movie it’s a city. And it’s a city in clear sight of Kilimanjaro—which is passing strange, because every time I’ve been there it’s a 2-hour drive just to see Kilimanjaro in the distance. Quatermain lives in a place which I suppose is meant to be the Norfolk Hotel, but looks exactly like an anti-Bellum Southern mansion, complete with liveried black servants who speak better English than Sean Connery (who plays Quatermain and will be decades living it down).

 

It’s mentioned a few times that Allan Quatermain can’t die, that a witch doctor has promised him eternal life. In the end he dies, and despite his having repeated this story about the witch doctor ad nauseum, the remaining Extraordinary Gentlefolk take his body—unembalmed, I presume—all the way from the Asian mountains to East Africa and bury him there, place his rifle on the grave, and walk away. Then the witch doctor shows up, does a little buck-and-wing and a little scat-singing, and the rifle starts shaking as if something’s trying to get out of the grave. End of film. My only thought was: “It’s the writer, and they didn’t bury him deep enough.”

 

OK, I’ve really got to calm down. I’m starting to hyperventilate as I write this.

 

(Pause. Take a deep breath. Think of flowers swaying in a gentle breeze. Pretend they are not about to be trampled by a 45-ton Tyrannosaur that has just eaten a homo erectus that looks exactly like Raquel Welch, make-up and wonder bra included. Return to keyboard.)

 

I prefer science fiction to fantasy both as a writer and a reader. I prefer the art of the possible to the impossible, the story that obeys the rules of the universe (as we currently know them, anyway) to the story that purposely breaks them all. And yet . . . and yet, for some reason that eludes me, Hollywood, which seems unable to make a good science fiction movie to save its soul (always assuming it has one, an assumption based on absolutely no empirical evidence), has made a number of wonderful fantasy movies that are not intellectually offensive and do not cheat on their internal logic: Field of Dreams, Harvey, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Portrait of Jennie, even The Wizard of Oz and the Harry Potter films (well, the first one, anyway).

 

No, this is not blanket praise for all fantasy films. As I was walking out of The Two Towers I complained to Carol that I’d just wasted three hours watching what amounted to spring training for the real war in the next film. And about three hours into The Return of the King, as I was watching the 20th or 25th generic battle between faceless armies that I didn’t care about, I had this almost-unbearable urge to find an usher and say, “Let my people go!”

 

But for the most part, I find that fantasy movies don’t raise my bile the way science fiction movies do. How can big-budget science fiction films be so ambitious and so dumb at the same time, so filled with errors that no editor I’ve ever encountered (and that’s a lot of editors, including some incredibly lax ones) would let me get away with?

 

Uh . . . Carol just stopped by. She said she heard me muttering and cursing and wondered what the problem was. I invited her to read a bit of this article over my shoulder.

 


*Sigh* Now she says she won’t sit in the same room with me when I’m writing about science fiction movies. 

 

Elwood P. Dowd and Harvey

Elwood P. Dowd and Harvey

 

 ©Mike Resnick 2009

Originally Appeared in Challenger #12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike on a panel at WorldCon Denver 2008

Mike on a panel at WorldCon Denver 2008

Mike with Champions The Gray Lensman and Silverlock

Mike with Champions The Gray Lensman and Silverlock

Read Full Post »

                       

 By 1955 I had exhausted all of the books in the Bellaire, Texas library on earthquakes, volcanoes, and dinosaurs. It was a sad day when I finished the last Roy Chapman Andrews book. So I began looking around for something else to read and came across a book called Danger, Dinosaurs! By Richard Marsten. Well, it had dinosaurs in the title, so what the heck. After all, I had whined, kicked, cried, and eventually badgered my parents into taking me to see the film Blackboard Jungle, certain that Tarzan had to be in any movie with “Jungle” in the title. Was I ever disappointed. But how can a book called Danger, Dinosaur! go wrong? And I read it, and it was great. The protagonist goes on a tour back in time to hunt dinosaurs. The problem was, the group got stranded, and the leader of the hunt was killed, and if you die before you were born, you never existed.

 

Holy cow! This stuff was great. Well, I looked around and found The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron. Zowie this stuff was good. And then I went on to Asimov and Heinlein and all the wonders of science fiction, with the occasional fantasy thrown in, like Three Hearts and Three Lions.

 

There wasn’t much fantasy in those days, actually, not much until Donald Wolheim pirated LoTR. I was a teen-ager by then and found a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring in a little mom and pop bookstore one day on my way home from my paper route. So I bought it, but didn’t read it. I hated reading book 1 of anything. Once I had accumulated all three of the books I read them non-stop. I still remember lying on the couch with my mother yelling, “Bud (that was my nickname), get off of that &%$@# couch and go do something!” To get my attention, Mother sometimes displayed the vocabulary of a sailor. Eighteen hours, I think, it took me 18 hours to read LoTR one weekend.

 

About that same time I discovered Andre Norton’s Key Out of Time in the High School library, and it went on and on…in those days there was so little published it was easy to read everything that came out every month and still have time to catch up on old stuff at the library. I never discovered the pulps. I don’t know why. Maybe when I saw them I didn’t have any money, or what I had I spent on comics. Ha! Robert Silverberg told me he once had a quarter and had to chose between buying a pack of cigarettes or a copy of Galaxy magazine. He chose Galaxy. Good choice!

 

It was also about that time that I discovered Analog magazine and that was the first magazine to which I subscribed. John Campbell and his corral of writers—man was that a sight for sore eyes every month—in my mail box. And I loved the reviews by P. Schuyler Miller. In Fort Worth, Texas it was hard to tell what new books were out, much less find them.

 

Which brings us to the cover of Planet Stories here. This Alfred Coppel story led to his novel The Rebel of Rhada which he wrote under the pen name of Robert Cham Gilman. Miller reviewed the book so I had to have it, but he also mentioned that this was a pen name for a famous SF writer. “Who,” I wondered? Asimov? Heinlein? Well, I finally found out, but being deprived of the nutritional goodness of Planet Stories during my formative years, I was not enlightened. Alfred Coppel?

 

So, I have watched the field grow and shrink over the past 55 years pulsing like…well, like a pulsar. SF shrinks to almost nothing and fantasy grows, threatening to absorb everything—then it reaches a limit of some sort—some invisible consumer-driven wall—and now SF is growing again with John Scalzi and Robert Charles Wilson and Michael Flynn and Ben Bova (who has been there all along) and Richard K. Morgan and there’s lots of good stuff to read.

 

And that’s what this blog is about—good stuff to read, old and new, with a slight lean toward the pulps, hence the blog name. But anything science fictional or fantastic is likely to show up here. Comments and guest blogs appreciated. “Gort…” now where did I leave that automaton?

PW

 

Read Full Post »