Monday, June 29, 2009

Science fiction-Science fact

A fascinating video from the ESA. [via Mike Brotherton.]

'Whether it's Star Trek's USS Enterprise, or the iconic space station from 2001: A Space Odyssey, science fiction has always provided inspiration and ideas for the scientists and engineers that design and build real spacecraft."

My only criticism is that they discuss Werner Von Braun yet make no mention of the fact that he was literally a Nazi, something that should never be forgotten or excused.

On a lighter note, NPR's weekly science show, Science Friday, just did a show about Science On The Big Screen. (MP3 21.9MB) "From sci-fi to documentaries, good science films tell the human story behind scientific ideas. Which films get the science right, and which don't? Physicist and movie critic Sidney Perkowitz runs down through some of this summer's top science flicks."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Astounding Stories of Super-Science

Project Gutenberg continues to add public domain science fiction stories to its shelves. Here's a few more recent acquisitions.

(Kang and Kodos drop by unexpectedly.)

Astounding Stories of Super-Science (September, 1930)

A complete issue of this legendary magazine, featuring another of Sewell P. Wright's thrilling Commander John Hanson space operas, this one with the unbeatable title, "The Terrible Tentacles of L-472."

Made in Tanganyika by Carl Richard Jacobi (Fantastic Universe, May 1954)

"See what happens when two conchologists get caught in a necromantic nightmare of their own."

Reel Life Films by Sam Merwin (Fantastic Universe, May 1954)

"Pity the poor purveyor of mere entertainment in today's world. He can't afford to offend a soul, yet must have a villain."

Be It Ever Thus by Robert Moore Williams (Fantastic Universe, January 1954)

"The planet's natives were so similar to their conquerors that no one could tell them apart -- except for their difference in thinking."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Swords and Sorcery Comics

A bunch of fan translated Spanish Conan comics have appeared on the inter-webs, just waiting to hack their way into your eye-balls.

Also available for your viewing fun is one of Wally Wood's old swords & sorcery works, part of the series collected in the graphic novel The Wizard King Trilogy.

[via QuasarDragon]

Edit: Oops. Added the link to the WW comic.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Clark Ashton Smith

Above its domes the gulfs accumulate.
Far up, the sea-gales blare their bitter screed:
But here the buried waters take no heed—
Deaf, and with welded lips pressed down by weight
Of the upper ocean. Dim, interminate,
In cities over-webbed with somber weed,
Where galleons crumble and the krakens breed,
The slow tide coils through sunken court and gate.

From out the ocean's phosphor-starry dome,
A ghostly light is dubitably shed
On altars of a goddess garlanded
With blossoms of some weird and hueless vine;
And, wingéd, fleet, through skies beneath the foam,
Like silent birds the sea-things dart and shine.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Hammer of Thor

A few grandmasters make an appearance today.

Happy Ending by Fredric Brown and Mack Reynolds (Fantastic Universe, September 1957)

"Sometimes the queerly shaped Venusian trees seemed to talk to him, but their voices were soft. They were loyal people."

The Hammer of Thor by Charles Willard Diffin (Astounding Stories, March 1932)

"Like the Hammer of Thor was the clash of Danny O'Rourke with the mysterious giant of space."

Arm of the Law by Harry Harrison (Fantastic Universe, August 1958)

"At one time—this was before the Robot Restriction Laws—they'd even allowed them to make their own decisions...."

Grove of the Unborn by Lyn Venable (Fantastic Universe, January 1957)

"Bheel still stood on the patio, transfixed with horror. He heard the terrified cry "Dheb Tyn-Dall"—and then the vigilant Guardians got him...."

The Great Dome on Mercury by Arthur Leo Zagat (Astounding Stories, April 1932)

"Trapped in the great dome, Darl valiantly defends Earth's outpost against the bird-man of Mars and his horde of pigmy henchmen."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dream Town

If Project Gutenberg keeps up this pace I'll never get all these stories read, but I'll sure as hell try. Today, four more tales from the Golden Age, plus a complete issue of Astounding from 1930.

G-r-r-r...! by Roger Arcot (Fantastic Universe, January 1957)

"He had borne the thousand and one injuries with humility and charity. But the insults! These were more than he could suffer...."

It's All Yours by Samuel Merwin, Jr. (Fantastic Universe, November 1956)

"It was a lonely thing to rule over a dying world—a world that had become sick, so terribly sick...."

Mutineer by Robert J. Shea (If, July 1959)

"For every weapon there was a defense, but not against the deadliest weapon—man himself!"

Dream Town by Henry Slesar (Fantastic Universe, January 1957)

"The woman in the doorway looked so harmless. Who was to tell she had some rather startling interests?"

Astounding Stories, July 1930 Complete issue.

Featuring another of Sewell P. Wright's Commander John Hanson space operas, "The Forgotten Planet". "The Authentic Account of Why Cosmic Man Damned an Outlaw World to Be, Forever, a Leper of Space."

And the always dependable Harl Vincent's novelette, "The Terror of Air-Level Six". "From Some Far Reach of Leagueless Space Came a Great Pillar of Flame to Lay Waste and Terrorize the Earth."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Cosmic Express

What else but more sf from Project Gutenberg? Including a story by the legendary Jack Williamson, who said, "I feel that science-fiction is the folklore of the new world of science, and the expression of man's reaction to a technological environment. By which I mean that it is the most interesting and stimulating form of literature today."

The Cosmic Express by Jack Williamson (Amazing Stories November 1930)

"The Cosmic Express is of special interest because it was written during Williamson's A. Merritt "kick," when he was writing little else but, and it gave the earliest indication of a more general capability."

Foundling on Venus by Dorothy and John De Courcy (Fantastic Universe March 1954)

"The foundling could not have been more than three years old. Yet he held a secret that was destined to bring joy to many unhappy people."

OK, I don't know what I was smoking, but I posted the wrong Jack Williamson story. It should have been this one.

The Pygmy Planet by Jack Williamson (Astounding Stories, February 1932)

"Down into the infinitely small goes Larry on his mission to the Pygmy Planet."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Houlihan's Equation

Project Gutenberg continues to deliver.

Houlihan's Equation by Walter J. Sheldon (Fantastic Universe September 1955)

"The tiny spaceship had been built for a journey to a star. But its small, mischievous pilots had a rendezvous with destiny—on Earth."

The Hoofer by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (Fantastic Universe September 1955)

"A space rover has no business with a family. But what can a man in the full vigor of youth do—if his heart cries out for a home?"

Also available for download courtesy of Suvudu are some classic titles.

The Stealer of Souls (1963) by Michael Moorcock

With a forward by Alan Moore, this volume contains not only the original story collection of the title, but also one of Moorcock's early Sojan stories, letters, and even Stormbringer, the penultimate title of the entire Elric saga.

I forgot to mention that there's a post over on the Tachyon blog in which The Readers of Boing Boing interview Michael Moorcock. Well worth a read if you're a fan.

Red Mars (1992) by Kim Stanley Robinson

The first volume in Robinson's Mars trilogy, which became an instant classic.

For Love of Mother-Not (1983) by Alan Dean Foster

The first novel in Foster's Pip and Flinx series, telling the timeless story of a boy and his minidrag. There's also an interview with Alan Dean Foster over at BSC. The interviewer strikes a frivolous tone and is overly effusivive, giving the whole thing a rather insincere feel, but it's still a good intoduction to Foster and his works.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Operation Lorelie

Project Gutenberg serves up more science fictional goodness.

Operation Lorelie by William P. Salton (Amazing Stories, March 1954)

"It was a new time and a vast new war of complete and awful annihilation. Yet, some things never change, and, as in ancient times, Ulysses walked again—brave and unconquerable—and again, the sirens wove their deadly spell with a smile and a song."

Acid Bath by Vaseleos Garson (Planet Stories, July 1952)

"The starways' Lone Watcher had expected some odd developments in his singular, nerve-fraught job on the asteroid. But nothing like the weird twenty-one-day liquid test devised by the invading Steel-Blues."

The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story by Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford

"The inheritors are a breed of cold materialists, calling themselves Fourth Dimensionists, whose task is to occupy the earth. An unsuccessful English writer meets a fascinating woman by chance, who seems to talk in metaphors. She claims to be from the Fourth Dimension and a major player in a plan to "inherit the earth."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Equation of Doom

More science fiction recently added to Project Gutenberg.

Shipwreck in the Sky by Eando Binder (Fantastic Universe, March 1954)

"The flight into space that made Pilot-Capt. Dan Barstow famous."

Keep Out by Fredric Brown (Amazing Stories, March 1954)

"With no more room left on Earth, and with Mars hanging up there empty of life, somebody hit on the plan of starting a colony on the Red Planet."

No Pets Allowed by M. A. Cummings (Fantastic Universe, August 1957)

"He didn't know how he could have stood the four months there alone. She was company and one could talk to her ..."

The Gun by Philip K. Dick (Planet Stories, September 1952)

"Nothing moved or stirred. Everything was silent, dead. Only the gun showed signs of life ... and the trespassers had wrecked that for all time. The return journey to pick up the treasure would be a cinch ... they smiled."

The Mathematicians by Arthur Feldman (Amazing Stories, October-November 1953)

With The Night Mail by Rudyard Kipling

"A Story of 2000 A.D."

The Doorway by Evelyn E. Smith (Fantastic Universe, September 1955)

"A man may wish he'd married his first love and not really mean it. But an insincere wish may turn ugly in dimensions unknown."

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

"...into several remote nations of the world."

Equation of Doom by Gerald Vance (Amazing Stories, February 1957)

"His agony of soul at being unable to save Margot was far greater than physical torture."

Cogito, Ergo Sum by John Foster West (Fantastic Universe, March 1954)

"A warped instant in Space—and two egos are separated from their bodies and lost in a lonely abyss."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tarzan in Paris

AFP reports that a new museum exhibit examining Tarzan's legacy has opened in Paris, France. The focus seems to be on the role Edgar Rice Burroughs' character has had on Western perceptions of the African continent.

"Popular western culture," said the head of the museum Stephane Martin, "whether it be books, fashion or music, is nurtured by non-European worlds. Tarzan shows how the West saw Africa."

Unfortunately, if the AFP article is to be believed, the curator of this exhibit, Roger Boulay, seems to have a poor grasp of the pop culture that is his subject matter.

"Tarzan differs from other super-heroes because his resources are in himself," said curator Boulay. "He grew up in nature, the others such as Batman or others took their super powers from other galaxies."

I hope he misspoke, because that's the first I've heard of Batman's extra-galactic super powers.

Still, Tarzan himself would be quite at home in Paris. After all, French was the first language he learned to speak. And when he went to visit his friend, Lt. D'Arnot in Paris he made the most of civilization's luxuries.

"If he smoked too many cigarettes and drank too much absinth it was because he took civilization as he found it, and did the things that he found his civilized brothers doing."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Terror from the Depths

The adventures of the crew of the spaceship Ertak continue.

The Terror from the Depths by Sewell Peaslee Wright

"Commander John Hanson challenges an appalling denizen of the watery world Hydrot."

The similarities between these stories and the later Star Trek TV show are even more evident as we learn that Commander Hanson was " of the youngest commanders the Special Patrol Service had ever had...", just as Capt. Kirk was the youngest captain in Starfleet. Makes you wonder if Roddenberry ever read these stories when he was a boy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tunnel Under the World

"On the morning of June 15th, Guy Burckhardt woke up screaming."

Tunnel Under the World by Frederik Pohl (13MB MP3)

Form the old time radio show X Minus One here's Frederik Pohl's classic sf story, "Tunnel Under the World," (Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1955.) This is one of the best stories from the Golden Age of Science Fiction, in addition to being one of the trippiest. It's like a prototype of the kind of mind-bending tales that would later be associated with PKD.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Rudy Rucker has a great article over on Boing Boing about the fourth dimensional weirdness of hypercubes. Rucker is famous for his Ware Tetralogy, some of the best sf novels about robots, and far more realistic than Asimov's Robot novels or Saberhagen's Berserker series.

But the first thing I read by Rucker wasn't his sf, it was his non-fiction books, like Geometry, Relativity and the Fourth Dimension. Most of the math in the book was way over my head, but there was an equation for calculating the volume of a hypercube that caught my imagination. In full geek mode, I used it to calculate the volume of the TARDIS.

As Rucker points out, hypercubes are better known for their use in art, such as Salvador Dalí's remarkable Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Space Monkeys

National Geographic takes us down memory lane with a gallery of pictures commemorating the first primates to venture in to space. So here's to the hairy heroes who gave their all to make space travel possible.

[via Disinfo]

Friday, June 12, 2009

Gundam lives!

A life sized Gundam has been unveiled in Odaiba, Japan. Towering 18m tall, this full sized RX-78-2 Mobile Suit is very impressive, and sure to be a big tourist draw. Can a life sized Zaku be far behind?

The Gundam stands watch by day.

[via Bam! Kapow!]

It's even more impressive at night.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dracula blog

I just found out about this blog, and I think it's pretty cool. If you've ever read Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, you know that it's written in the form of diary entries by the various characters. So what could be more natural than to post those entries as a blog, on the same day that they are dated? That's what Whitney Sorrow is doing over on the blog Dracula. Here's how she describes it.

"Experience Bram Stoker's Dracula in a new way -- in real time. Dracula is an epistolary novel (a novel written as a series of letters or diary entries,) and this blog will publish each diary entry on the day that it was written by the narrator so that the audience may experience the drama as the characters would have. Please subscribe to the RSS feed so that you don't miss any installments!"

Things got started on May 3rd, with Jonathan Harker's journal entry from Bistritz.

"I was not able to light on any map or work giving the exact locality of the Castle Dracula, as there are no maps of this country as yet to compare with our own Ordance Survey Maps; but I found that Bistritz, the post town named by Count Dracula, is a fairly well-known place. I shall enter here some of my notes, as they may refresh my memory when I talk over my travels with Mina."

The postings will obviously continue through November 6th, the last journal entry by one of the novels characters. I think this is a great way to experience the book, and plan to follow along.

On thing that will probably not appear is Stoker's story "Dracula's Guest," which was not part of the original novel and only appeared posthumously. As Bram's widow Florence explained,

"A few months before the lamented death of my husband--I might say even as the shadow of death was over him--he planned three series of short stories for publication, and the present volume is one of them. To his original list of stories in this book, I have added an hitherto unpublished episode from Dracula. It was originally excised owing to the length of the book, and may prove of interest to the many readers of what is considered my husband's most remarkable work."

If you are one of those readers you might want to read the story to complement Whitney's cool blog.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Poisoned Air

A pulp potboiler from Project Gutenberg.

Poisoned Air by S. P. Meek

"Again Dr. Bird closes with the evil Saranoff—this time near the Aberdeen Proving Ground, in a deadly, mysterious blanket of fog."

This story is part of Meek's series about scientific Sherlock Holmes knock-off, Dr. Bird. Whereas Holmes contended against the criminal mastermind, Moriarty, Bird's nemesis is the evil Russian Saranoff, who in true Red Scare fashion has it in for the U.S.A. Meek, who died on this day in 1972, is notorious for being one of the worst writers of the early pulps.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Einstein See-Saw

More pulp peril from Project Gutenberg.

The Einstein See-Saw by Miles John Breuer

"In their pursuit of an unscrupulous scientist, Phil and Ione are swung into hyperspace—marooned in a realm of strange sights and shapes."

The World Beyond by Ray Cummings

"Out of nowhere came these grim, cold, black-clad men, to kidnap three Earth people and carry them to a weird and terrible world where a man could be a giant at will."

Breuer's story was written is the shadow of prohibition and features a scientific super villain.

Cummings' story is a variation on the basic plot of his best work, The Girl in the Golden Atom.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Raiders Invisible

Today a thrilling sf adventure from back in the day when dirigibles were cutting edge technology.

Raiders Invisible by Desmond W. Hall

"Alone and unaided, Pilot Travers copes with the invisible foes who have struck down America's great engine of war."

Hall was a frequent collaborator with Harry Bates, and co-authored the Hawk Carse space opera stories with him.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Code Geass

I've just watched the series finale of Sunrise's Code Geass and it just reinforced my opinion that this is one of the best mecha anime to date. The denouement was powerful and moving, neatly bringing the series to a satisfactory conclusion. It maintained the show's commitment to moral ambiguity, avoiding pessimism, and, like many anime, was more than a little bittersweet.

I'll try to avoid any spoilers in my comments here, but be warned some of the Wikipedia pages I hyperlink to may let cats out of bags.

If your not familiar with the series, it's set in an alternative universe in which the Holy Britannian Empire is the dominant world power and has conquered most of the planet using their fearsome mecha known as Knightmare Frames. As the series begins they have recently vanquished Japan, not only subjugating the populace but stripping the people of thier national identity by renaming the country Area 11. Young Lelouch Lamperouge is a Britannian student attending the prestigious Ashford Academy in the newly subdued territory. An avid chess enthusiast, he is on his way to a match one day when he becomes embroiled in a clash between Imperial forces and a handful of Japanese insurgents who have hijacked a truck containing a top secret cargo of military significance. Thus begins a chain of events which will irrevocably alter the fate not only of Lelouch but of the empire itself.

The narrative of this show is rich and complicated. It displays a sophisticated complexity in its plotting, with twists and turns that seldom seem contrived or obvious. It dramatizes the political machinations of the show's various factions in a realistic and convincing fashion without allowing the pace of the show to falter. The characters are all credible with even minor figures possessing depth and personality. Nameless extras who would be killed off without a thought in most shows are often given lines that convey a sense that a human life has been lost. These various elements are deftly combined by writer Ichirō Ōkouchi and director Gorō Taniguchi into a cohesive and compelling drama, as Lelouch's penchant for chess extends to his ambitious manipulation of events and people in his daring and dangerous game.

If the show has flaws it's due to the limitations of the genre. The Spiderman syndrome, in which a youth with extraordinary powers must try to deal with the normal travails of high school while striving to keep his secret identity under wraps, is as prevalent here as it is in show like Bleach. This is exacerbated by the harem cliche that is Ashford Academy, with the president of the student body providing buxom fanservice. And of course the various mecha with their distinctive names and abilities verge on being personalities themselves. But while these things detract from the series they don't overwhelm it. In fact, in the case of the mecha they tend to compliment it, adding feeling of plausibility to otherwise unrealistic hardware.

I've only seen the English dubbed version of this series, so I can't comment on the DVD extras like the audio and picture dramas. And I haven't read any of the manga, which all seem to be set in alternative realities to the main storyline anyway. But what I have seen I can't recommend highly enough. Taniguchi and Ōkouchi do a masterful job of combining challenging and complex political, moral, and human problems with vivid and compelling characters all the while maintaining a brisk narrative pace. The dilemmas this story poses to its characters are demanding and often disturbing and the resolutions sometimes shocking, but always compelling. This is a spectacular anime with plenty of action and thrills underpinned by solid storytelling. So if you haven't watched it, go see Code Geass. Lelouch commands you!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Heads of Apex

One more vintage 1931 yarn from Astounding Stories.

The Heads of Apex by George Henry Weiss

"Far under the sea-floor Solino's submarine carries two American soldiers of fortune to startling adventure among the Vampire Heads of Apex."

Weiss wrote under the pen-name Francis Flagg. All on-line sources give his name as George Henry Weiss, but Bleiler says it's actually Henry George Weiss and I'm going to take his word for it. He describes Weiss as "An intelligent writer, whose work was often original, imaginative, and literate, but constrained by pulp considerations. One of the better writers of the genre pulps..."

Weiss was an early admirer of H. P. Lovecraft, and wrote the poem, "To Howard Phillips Lovecraft" (1938), and the essay, "The Genius of Lovecraft" (1937).

Friday, June 5, 2009

In the Orbit of Saturn

Two tales from the pages of Astounding Stories (c. 1931) courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

In the Orbit of Saturn by R. F. Starzl

'Disguised as a voluntary prisoner on a pirate space ship, an I. F. P. man penetrates the mystery of the dreaded "Solar Scourge."'

Spawn of the Comet by H. Thompson Rich

'A swarm of huge, fiery ants, brood of a mystery comet, burst from their shells to threaten the unsuspecting world.'

The second one sounds like the plot of a Japanese kaiju eiga. Let's hope they get around to adding more of these authors' stories, like "The Beast Planets," "The Planet of Dread," and "The Globoid Terror." Aren't the garish titles of these old pulp stories great?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

All Cats Are Gray

Project Gutenberg recently added a new Andre Norton short story, which she wrote under her pseudonym Andrew North.

All Cats Are Gray by Andre Norton

"Under normal conditions a whole person has a decided advantage over a handicapped one. But out in deep space the normal may be reversed—for humans at any rate."

They have a few of her best novels available too, like Plague Ship and Voodoo Planet, both part of the series telling the tale of the Free Trader Solar Queen.

And Storm Over Warlock is there as well. One of my favorites.

"The Throg task force struck the Terran Survey camp a few minutes after dawn, without warning, and with a deadly precision which argued that the aliens had fully reconnoitered and prepared that attack."

Now that's space opera.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Evangelion 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone

Evangelion 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版: 序) is the first installment in Gainax's "Rebuild of Evangelion" which will eventually comprise four films. It's not a reboot or even a re-imagining so much as a visually refurbishing of the original. The original being Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン) which is, of course, a watershed anime mecha series that sparked almost as much controversy (and confusion) as it did commercial success.

Evangelion takes place on an Earth devastated by a catastrophe known as the Second Impact. Humanity is huddled into cities such as Tokyo-3, where they are assailed by bizarre, lumbering monsters called Angels. Protected by something called an AT field, the creature proves impervious to conventional weapons. Only mecha like Evangelion Unit 01, deployed by the Nerv organization and reluctantly piloted by young Shinji Ikari, can hope to fight back.

What are the Angels and why are they attacking? Why has Gendo, the commander of Nerv, press-ganged his son into service? And what's with all the religious symbolism, anyway? The answers to these and other questions were slowly revealed (more or less) over the course of the initial series. This new version, which covers the events of episodes 1-6, sticks very close to that story. So close that not only are entire scenes reproduced but Shinji-kun still listens to music on a cassette tape player. Which is not to say there aren't changes, just that this is largely faithful to the original (at least so far.)

And if that original tended to be opaque and even cryptic, this rebuild tends to be too terse. Character arcs are compressed to such a degree that they begin to deform, so that instead of slowly unfolding they are abruptly revealed. This is largely the result of cramming six hours of material in to a third of the time-span and is therefore to some degree unavoidable. But it means that a lot of NGE's nuance is being lost, and that subtlety was what helped make the series outstanding.

So why do a "rebuild" in the first place? The changes are largely cosmetic and don't seem to be adding much beyond eye-candy. The best you can say is that this will attract younger viewers who might otherwise be put off by the aged graphics of NGE. But people that shallow aren't likely to appreciate the story anyway, so what's the point of that? Maybe I'm cynical, but I just can't help see this as a callous attempt to squeeze more money out the Eva franchise. I wouldn't suggest avoiding these new movies, and I'll probably watch the rest myself, but as of now I can't imagine them as a substitute for the original.

Edit: OK, I realize my math was way off and episodes 1-6 ran 2.5 hours, not 6. But I think my point still stands. They're jamming 150 minutes worth of material into a 98 minute film and some things are getting squashed. I'll use a calculator next time, I promise.