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Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

I like to post Planet Stories notes to this blog when the mood strikes. Take a look at the posting times of some of the entries here, and you’ll see that some of the posts come late at night, others over lunch breaks, and sometimes in the middle of the day. I launched this blog because the sorts of review round-ups, guest postings, and in-depth nerdery I post here isn’t really appropriate for the “official” Planet Stories blog, which is to say the formal blog at the Paizo Publishing website.

I love that website like a child, and post frequently to the message boards. We’ve had a great Planet Stories Requests thread going for a couple of years, and I love chatting with Paizo readers, be they gamers, fans of vintage science fiction, or random walk-ons from the deepest corners of the World Wide Web.

But the blog over on Paizo.com is a formal affair. One post a day. Every post goes through our editing department, and then gets sent to our web team for coding and posting. Everyone knows this is an inefficient, sub-standard way of doing things, but the truth is that a growing publishing company with only a couple of web guys has more pressing concerns related to sales, message boards, and the like than making the blog more user friendly and easier for the staff to use.

I’m writing this post, for example, from the San Jose airport, having just completed a very successful World Fantasy Convention. Were I to send it in to the boys at Paizo, it would be at least 48 hours before it got posted, and that’s only assuming we didn’t have more strategically important posts on the schedule and assuming the editors and web team had enough time to look it over and throw it online.

As it happens, I don’t always have that kind of patience.

In short, saying “Hey, check out what Joe Reviewer just said about Robots Have No Tails!” isn’t really an appropriate way of spending the company’s resources, and it’s frankly a much bigger pain than it ought to be. As a result, that sort of post goes here. For a long while my editors, James Sutter and Chris Carey, were doing a good job posting monthly Planet Stories entries to the official Paizo blog, but with the extremely successful launch of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the attendant ramp-up in our production across the board, they haven’t had much time to post about our novel line.

When it came time to discuss our newest release, A. Merritt’s THE SHIP OF ISHTAR, my beleaguered editors looked to me with puppy dog eyes, asking me to write a piece on the importance of the book and why I selected it for the line. Since this was one of my selections, since I knew I’d have some spare time during the convention, and since it’s virtually impossible to get me to shut up about Planet Stories once I get started, I of course agreed immediately to write the piece.

This is all a very long way of saying “My Ship of Ishtar post just went up on the official Paizo blog. You should read it.

Please forgive any typos in this unofficial blog update. It was written in an airport and hasn’t been proofed.

On the up side, it will post about three seconds after I hit the “publish” button…

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It’s been a while since I last posted here, due mostly to the HUGE release of Paizo’s Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook and the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary. That’s about a thousand pages of gaming material, and the initial releases of the Core Rulebook sold out before we even got it in our warehouse, and the Bestiary (which hits stores next week) is looking like a success of similar proportions. This has resulted in “that’s a good problem to have, but a problem none the less” becoming my official slogan of the last three months. Selling out huge print runs is indeed a problem, and involves all sorts of priority (and money) juggling and a laser focus.

In light of all of this, it’s a bit difficult to remember that Pathfinder is not Paizo’s only brand, and that we’ve got lots of great classic science fiction to publish as well. Sure, the craziness has delayed Planet Stories shipments a bit, but with the chaos largely behind us and the latest Planet Stories volume on its way to subscribers, it’s time to take another look at what’s been going on lately, and what’s coming down the pike.

PZO8005-Cover.inddThat new book I mentioned above is actually 85 years old this year, but it hasn’t been published for decades. I’m speaking of A. Merritt’s THE SHIP OF ISHTAR, surely one of the finest classics of fantasy ever published. Merritt was once counted among the finest fantasy writers in America, and while “in the know” readers recognize his talent and influence to this day, most of the modern audience has never heard of him.

That modern audience, I’m sorry to say, also includes book buyers, and while THE SHIP OF ISHTAR is probably the best-written and is certainly the best illustrated (thanks to 10 plates by the legendary Virgil Finlay rescued from two previous editions and collected here for the first time) Planet Stories book to date, it also has some of the lowest pre-orders on record. I expect reader reaction to be very positive on this title, and hold out hope for a “slow success,” but these things are not exactly going to be falling off off the shelves of your local bookstore, so ordering direct from Paizo.com may be your best bet to pick up this truly remarkable book.

Hey, the guys over at the Robert E. Howard blog The Cimmerian are really excited about THE SHIP OF ISHTAR, and they really know their stuff. Editor Deuce Richardson just called it “the best edition of this landmark fantasy novel in 60 years,” and I couldn’t agree more (admittedly, with a bit of bias).

Speaking of The Cimmerian, the site recently posted a glowing review of Leigh Brackett’s THE SWORD OF RHIANNON, one of my personal favorites from the 23 books Planet Stories has thus far released. Here’s what Deuce had to say about this one:

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Leigh hadn’t been in the writing game quite a full decade when she penned The Sword of Rhiannon and was yet to come into her full powers as an author. That said, Brackett had obviously found her own voice at that point, assimilating her influences and carving out her queendom in the science-fantasy field. The Sword of Rhiannon moves at a relentless pace and is filled to the brim with plot-twists and reversals of fortune. Carse is a “damaged hero” in the classic Brackett mold who hews and schemes his way across a gorgeously-imagined world. The Sword of Rhiannon was a milestone in Leigh Brackett’s career and is a novel well worth reading today.

I couldn’t agree more! Of course, if Leigh Brackett is your flavor of choice, Planet Stories has plenty of excellent adventure in store for you in the other four Brackett novels we’ve published to date. There’s the famous SKAITH TRILOGY (THE GINGER STAR, THE HOUNDS OF SKAITH, and THE REAVERS OF SKAITH), of course, all of which feature her influential and thoroughly awesome swordsman Eric John Stark of Mercury, one of science fantasy’s original outlaws.

PZO8006_180Prominent gamer Joe Kushner recently picked up the first Eric John Stark Planet Stories book, THE SECRET OF SINHARAT, which features two revised Stark novellas that originally appeared in the magazine Planet Stories in the 1940s. Kushner takes an interesting reviewing approach, riffing off of ideas found in the book and extrapolating how they might be used in an RPG campaign. I found this perspective quite interesting, and suspect you will too.

More has happened in the last month or so, but this post is already getting a little long in the tooth. I’ll be sure to come back soon!

Until then, don’t be a stranger. Please post a comment here on the blog. It’s nice to know someone is out there actually reading this stuff!

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Noted RPG author and fantasy critic Kenneth Hite has just posted a review of the Planet Stories edition of C. L. Moore’s Northwest of Earth at Flames Rising. In the review, Hite takes on the common remark that Moore’s hero Northwest Smith set the mold for Han Solo, and makes a number of interesting observations about the stories in our collection.
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No, Smith may inhabit a solar system of Martian canals and Venusian swamps, but his adventures are less SF than a kind of lush, operatically colored noir. (Dario Argento instead of Sternberg?) As in noir, Smith can depend on nothing but his instincts to guide him: “a bed-rock of savage strength” is his real gift, an unbreakable will to survive as an individual that saves him time and again. He’s more Man With No Name than he is Han Solo. The world is strange, the city unfriendly (Smith spends a lot of time in various wretched hives of scum and villainy on Mars and Venus), and the girl … well, the girl is always the heart of the problem.

In the course of his review, Hite manages to coin my favorite phrase to date in a Planet Stories review: “This opalescent fog of language is the best thing about the stories; Moore reads like Clark Ashton Smith on Cialis.” That sounds very appealing, and makes me wish we were going to reprint immediately so I could put it on the back cover.

If you enjoy Ken’s review, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy of his latest critical work, Tour de Lovecraft: The Tales, which includes a short critical essay on every single story Lovecraft published under his own byline. It’s an amusing, insightful work sure to be of great interest to all Planet Stories readers.

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Henry Kuttner's <i>The Dark World</i>

Henry Kuttner's The Dark World

Jared over at Troll in the Corner has just posted an excellent review of the Planet Stories edition of Henry Kuttner’s science-fantasy classic The Dark World. In doing so he manages to encapsulate the entire point of the reprints in the Planet Stories line so far:

Books like The Dark World remind me why I love fantasy/sci-fi so much in the first place. Here I’ve spent the better part of two decades reading every great author I can get my hands on, and not only are there new ones coming out constantly, there are still gems from years ago I have yet to read.

Major chain bookstores took a pretty paltry order for The Dark World, I’m sorry to say, so if you haven’t had a chance to pick up this recent release yet, I suggest ordering directly from the source at Paizo.com.

Thanks for the review, Jared! And thanks to all of you who have given Henry Kuttner a shot, either in our earlier releases such as Elak of Atlantis or in our brand new release, Robots Have No Tails.

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While the “next week” big announcement for Planet Stories looks like it’s going to get shoved off another week until we can get the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game out the door, I did want to drop by with a number of updates regarding recent Planet Stories happenings that will interest readers of this blog.

Cover illustration by Andrew Hou

Cover illustration by Andrew Hou

1. I am very pleased to announce that the Planet Stories edition of Gary Gygax’s Infernal Sorcress has been nominated for the “Best Fiction” Origins Award. The nominees are decided upon by the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design (read: game designers and publishers) and retailers attending the recent GAMA Trade Show. The winners will be decided by the attendees of the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio in late June.

The Origins Awards are the longest-running awards in the game industry, and it is an honor to be nominated.

Infernal Sorceress came out last August, and got pretty good penetration into chain bookstores, but I’ve noticed that most stores have stopped restocking the book. If you have yet to read this epic fantasy novel—the very last written by D&D creator Gary Gygax—you can still pick it up from the Paizo.com online store.

paizod20_bigger2. We’ve been pulled into the Twitterverse! After resisting what seemed like a pointless service for months and months, we finally broke down and set up new Twitter accounts at @paizo (for mostly game-related postings) and @planetstoriesTM (for Planet Stories-related posts). Both accounts have already drawn an impressive number of followers, and we urge you to join in the conversation!

3. Senior Editor Pierce Watters is in his homeland of Texas this week. In between sales calls, he managed to have lunch with Michael Moorcock to discuss future Planet Stories projects. What could possibly come of that? Stay tuned for some unbelievably cool news on that front, true believers!

Original cover to 1952 Gnome Press edition.

Original cover to 1952 Gnome Press edition.

4. Henry Kuttner’s Robots Have No Tails went to the printer yesterday, and I predict that many jaws will hit the floor when readers finally get a look at this new edition of what may be some of Kuttner’s very finest work. Let’s just say that there are significant differences in presentation with this book when compared to previous Planet Stories editions. The “next week” announcement will cover these changes, so please do keep in touch.

Cover of 1948 Fantastic Novels edition.

Cover of 1948 Fantastic Novels edition.

With that book on the press, the editorial staff has moved on to A. Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar, which will feature a fabulous new cover from artist Kieran Yanner and interior art by an artist near and dear to most fans of fantasy from the pulp era. I can’t be more specific until a certain contract has been signed, but let’s just say that A. Merritt’s fiction is at its best when accompanied by the work of a particular artist, and we will continue in that proud tradition with our new edition!

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5. Speaking of A. Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar, many thanks to the superlative Robert E. Howard-focused blog The Cimmerian for giving a shout-out to the forthcoming release of this pivotal work in the field of sword & sorcery. Of all the authors I’ve “discovered” since setting out to publish the best out-of-print fantasy in Planet Stories, Merritt is perhaps my favorite. His influence on the writing style of H. P. Lovecraft and C. L. Moore in particular is undeniable, and it is a shame that modern readers are not more familiar with his work. I’m trying to do something about that, and with the help of allies like The Cimmerian, I think there’s a good chance that old Abraham Merritt might just find a new audience.

Oh, and once we announce the interior art details, the folks at The Cimmerian will no doubt feel very self-assured with their declaration of the Planet Stories edition as “the best edition of The Ship of Ishtar between two covers ever“.

Oh, yes.

Much more to come!

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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.

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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

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