Friday, December 31, 2010

NASA Angel Links?

NASA is currently working working on a rail launcher that should be familiar to all sf fans and anybody who has seen George Pal's 1951 big screen adaptation of Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer's 1933 novel, When Worlds Collide.



And otaku will recognize the rail launcher from it's more recent use in the Outlaw Star spin-off, Angel Links. In that show they even add a clever innovation in that they first launch an "advanced flying unit" which creates a supersonic shockwave that the ship flies up in.


Skip to the 7:50 mark to see the launch sequence.

Since NASA now has to rent spaceships from taxpayer funded "commercial" rocket makers I suppose it's just a matter of time before the agency will be forced to rent rail launcher time, too.

[via Technovelgy]

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

DJ Spock



While I find it disturbing that Google is constantly peering over my shoulder at the videos I watch, I have to admit this "Recommended for You" vid isn't half bad.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Meanwhile, on planet Earth...


Nick Fury insists the best way to fight rampaging giants is to shoot randomly into the air.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Gulliver's Travels (1939)



Max Fleischer's animated version of Gulliver's Travels from 1939. It should actually be called Gulliver's Travel since it only covers his trip to Lilliput and not his later voyages to Brobdingnag, Laputa, and elsewhere, but it's still fun. It's a loose interpretation, and most of the social satire of the original is missing, but you can tell WWII was looming when this cartoon was made.


via the Internet Archive

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Krampus Christmas



Christmas time is Krampus time!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

BSTF - Tommy's Christmas Surprise


Rev. Susie the Floozie's present for us this Yuletide is Jim Ratts' crazy audiocollage "Tommy's Christmas Surprise".

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Tower of Oblivion


The Tower of Oblivion (1921) by Oliver Onions

A novel about a man who is growing progressively younger.



Produced by David Clarke, Pat McCoy and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Connecting the Notes - Captain Beefheart


"Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band are the focus of this special 2-part edition of Connecting the Notes. We are joined by 2 former Magic Band members: John French & Gary Lucas. They talk with us about Beefheart’s approach to songwriting, the making of the album “Trout Mask Replica” and the struggles and rewards of working with him."

Part 01   Part 02

via WXOJ-LP Northampton, MA & A-Infos Radio Project

Friday, December 17, 2010

Conan Gets Animated pt. 2



Conan heads back to the WB animation studios and takes along his friend Pierre who shows off his ecchi drawings of some DC heroines.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Faun sees Snow for the First Time

by Richard Aldington


Zeus,
Brazen-thunder-hurler,
Cloud-whirler, son-of-Kronos,
Send vengeance on these Oreads
Who strew
White frozen flecks of mist and cloud
Over the brown trees and the tufted grass
Of the meadows, where the stream
Runs black through shining banks
Of bluish white.

Zeus,
Are the halls of heaven broken up
That you flake down upon me
Feather-strips of marble?

Dis and Styx!
When I stamp my hoof
The frozen-cloud-specks jam into the cleft
So that I reel upon two slippery points....

Fool, to stand here cursing
When I might be running!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Friction - Crazy Dream



"Crazy Dream" by Friction, because I had a crazy dream.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Voice of Middle Earth

"An Unexpected Party" by The Brothers Hildebrandt


The Voice of Middle Earth "Music and discussion inspired by the writings of JRR Tolkien, along with ecological, mythological music and musings." Hosted by Greenman Took and Mungo Bunce.



[via A-Infos Radio Project]

Friday, December 10, 2010

The New Myths

Yesterday was superhero Thursday. On Conan O'Brien's show he visited the WB studios and did a rundown of the worst DC Comics, Inc. characters. Then he had no less than Bruce Timm design his own superhero alter-ego.




Before that, on NPR's Talk of the Nation, Neil Gaiman was the guest and discussed comics. In the course of the interview he emphasized two points. The first was that comic books have become the new mythology, something that by now is general knowledge. The other point that he insisted on was that comics are an inherently democratic art form. I think in this he's being a Pollyanna. It ignores the simple fact that that the inhabitants of this new mythology are not common property but the private property of major corporations. The dominance of comic book mythology in the popular mind represents not democracy but rather an extension of capitalist enclosure to the very heart of our imagination. (If you don't believe me just try writing and selling your own copies of The Sandman and see how quickly you get sued.) That's a far cry from democracy.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It was 30 years ago today...

John Lennon (1940–1980)

It was 30 years ago today...A tribute to the music of John Lennon by Dustin Richardson of WRIR.
We take a listen to the recordings of John Winston Ono Lennon, as well as remember that cold December night 30 years ago that marked the end of his incredible life.
It takes 5 mins to get into the show, then there's some recordings of news from the night John was murdered, a caller who remembers the day of the killing, then 17 mins in there's an hour of his early songs including his work with the Beatles followed by an hour of music from his later solo career.

[via A-Infos Radio Project]

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dumarest: Eye of the Zodiac (1975)

Dumarest has been working as a security guard on Tradum. There he's met Leon Harvey, a starry-eyed youngster who claims to come from a planet called "Nerth". Obviously this catches Dumarest's attention, but he suspects a Cyclan trap. When Leon is injured he helps him get treatment, then secretly doses him with a hypnotic drug and pumps him for information. The boy's story holds up and Dumarest finds he is one of the Original People, the secretive religious sect that may know the location of Earth. The appearance of a cyber means Dumarest has to make tracks, so after some close scrapes he sets off for Shajok, the planet that Leon came from. There a Hausi merchant, Bhol Kinabalu, arranges for him to enter the service of Iduna and her brother, Jalch Moore, an unhinged individual who is determined to hunt down the legendary Kheld in the dangerous mountains. Dumarest accompanies them hoping to find Leon's settlement and the secrets of the Original People.

This book, like several of the preceding installments, involves extended passages of Dumarest employing his wilderness survival skills. This emphasizes his toughness, and the fact that he's a survivor. His ability to survive in hostile environments thus becomes an implicit justification of his often brutal behavior. In these books it's a hard universe where only a hard man can survive.

There is also a scene in which Dumarest stabs to death a mortally wounded companion to put him out of his misery. This has been a preoccupation of his in previous books. He holds the conviction that that a suffering individual should be swiftly dispatched, and anyone who tries to keep them alive is, as he commented in an earlier volume, exhibiting "unconscious sadism". But given his own violent nature, and his near obsession with the idea of putting people out of their misery it strikes me that the sadism lies somewhere else. Needless to say any talk of mercy killing is quickly forgotten whenever Dumarest himself is mortally wounded, at which point no medical treatment is sparred.

The misogyny is getting pretty thick in these books. The traitor to the Cyclan is a transsexual woman who "would do anything, anything to be a man." "She was insane," opines Dumarest, after having slashed off her cloths with his knife. The psycho-sexual implications of such an act hardly need comment.

And Dumarest has left off slapping faces and gone back to his old carotid pinching ways. At least he's not using it as a hand-to-hand combat technique anymore, just using it to render a subdued opponent unconscious. So it's more plausible than before. No doubt we'll see more pinching in the adventures to come.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

X Minus One - Shocktroop


"Shocktroop" by Daniel F. Galouye (adapted by George Lefferts, November 28, 1957)


Courtesy of Internet Archive and OTRR.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hercules vs. Tarzan



Steve "Hercules" Reeves teams up with Gordon "Tarzan" Scott to reenact the lives of Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of Mars (Ares) who founded Rome. If only they had hired Ray Harryhausen to add a few monsters this movie would be a classic.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Makers

Jacket photographs by Jupiterimages.

Makers (2009) by Cory Doctorow

"Perry and Lester invent things: seashell robots that make toast, Boogie Woogie Elmo dolls that drive cars. They also invent entirely new economic systems. When Kodak and Duracell are broken up for parts by sharp venture capitalists, Perry and Lester help to invent the “New Work,” a New Deal for the technological era. Barefoot bankers cross the nation, microinvesting in high-tech communal mini-startups. Together, they transform the nation and blogger Andrea Fleeks is there to document it.


Then it slides into collapse. The New Work bust puts the dot-bomb to shame. Perry and Lester build a network of interactive rides in abandoned Walmarts across the land. As their rides gain in popularity, a rogue Disney executive engineers a savage attack on the rides by convincing the police that their 3D printers are being used to make AK-47s.


Lawsuits multiply as venture capitalists take on a new investment strategy: backing litigation against companies like Disney. Lester and Perry’s friendship falls to pieces when Lester gets the fatkins treatment, which turns him into a sybaritic gigolo.


Then things get really interesting." blurb via Tor

Copyright © 2010 by Cory Doctorow.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Secret of the League


The Secret of the League: The Story of a Social War (1907) by Ernest Bramah

Also published as What Might Have Been this book is said to have been an influence on George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

"According to William White, "a rather weak forecast of England under a Socialist government." Men with mechanical wings are featured.... As a Socialist dystopia, it is apparently highly regarded by Ayn Rand enthusiasts. Originally printed anonymously." -- Mike Berro



Produced by Suzanne Shell, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Monday, November 29, 2010

Dumarest: Eloise (1975)

This books opens with an unusual glimpse into the heart of the Cyclan where Master Nequal, the Cyber Prime, is issuing orders to make the capture of Dumarest and the retrieval of the secret of the affinity-twin a priority. Dumarest himself has been serving as a crewman on the Tophier, but realizes that the Cyclan is closing in on him. He charters a ship, the Styast, hoping to have it plot a random course that the cybers can't predict. The ship is a wreck, and the crew a seedy bunch that includes the washedup musician Arbush who plays the gilyre. Thanks to a hint from the minstrel Dumarest learns the crew is planning treachery, and he gets off Quick time just in time to have a laser pointed at him. He quickly turns the tables on them, but just then the ship is hit by a warp, a sort of interstellar storm thrown out by supernovas. The warp casts them a half million light years across the galaxy to crash land in the polar regions of the planet Camollard. Only Dumarest and Arbush survive and as they struggle across the icy wastes avoiding the quasi-human Krim they stumble upon a city. It's Instone, a utopia run by the master computer, Camolsaer, and it's servants the robotic Monitors. The inhabitants all lead a life of luxury, although the Monitors compel them to do pointless make-work jobs. They quickly befriend Adara, a native of the city, and Eloise, a dancer who was rescued ny Adara when her plane crashed and who has been trapped there ever since. And they are trapped. Instone has no connections with the outside world. And the price they pay for their utopian life is the regular Knelling, a time when each inhabitant is assigned a number, a bell is rung, and those for whom it tolls are "converted." Eloise, who is sick of wimps like Adara, has been waiting for a real man like Dumarest. But she knows he's just the kind of rugged individual the system can't stand, and he'll be one of the first eliminated during the Knelling. There only hope is to escape before that happens.

Despite Dumarests suspicions, the Cyclan are not behind his complications he encounters in Instone, except in the general sense that their pursuit of him is a constant threat. This is a nice change of pace from the earlier volumes where they were always revealed to be behind the mischief. In place of that predictable plot element we now have the one where every woman finds Dumarest sexually irresistible.

The city of Instone seems implausible to the point of absurdity. It's a utopia which provides people with every luxury imaginable, but if the overindulge they are deemed unfit and culled by Camolsaer. But since Camolsaer is providing them with the luxuries in the first place, wouldn't it make more sense just to ration their access to the things they're over indulging in? The whole utopia comes across as just a straw man for the self-reliant Dumarest to knock down in order to demonstrate the evils of providing for people's needs.

Dumarest has given up carotid pinching in favor of slapping people in the face. He dispenses it as a cure for hysteria, administering a dose to an average of one man and one woman each book. No doubt he will distribute more doses in the books that follow.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dumarest: Zenya (1974)

While doing research to find Earth in the library on Paiyar, Dumarest is approached by the beautiful Aihult Zenya Yamaipan, daughter of the powerful House of Aihult. Her grandfather, Aihult Chan Parect, the head of the house of Aihult, wants to meet with Dumarest, and she says he may have the answer he's looking for. He waits to meet with the patriarch in the company of the other decadent members of the house, including the sultry Lisa Conenda contentious Zavor, who picks a fight with him. Dumarest breaks his nose to teach him a lesson. At dinner, which consists of an "assortment of dishes was for titivation, not sustenance" Dumarest is privately contemptuous of the proud and arrogant aristocrats and their mistreatment of Brother Eland. The monk is there to ask permission to set up a small portable church to tend to the poor. Parect and the others are contemptuous of him and he's locked up. Dumarest comes to his aid gaining his release. That night, Zavor tries to assassinate Dumarest, who is severely wounded even as he kills the cruel aristocrat. He comes to in the care of one of Parect's physicians and the old man makes him an offer he can't refuse: find his wayward son, Salek, who has run off to the planet Chard or Parect will inform the Cyclan of Dumarest's location. Aware of the threat the cyber's pose to him, and knowing that Salek has studied ancient legends, Dumarest reluctantly consents.

Accompanied by Zenya, he arrives on Chard, only to find it in a state of war. It's a world that is economically dependent on a mono-crop, growing a versatile plant called lofios "a plant which provides fruit, fiber, and rare oils for the making of perfumes and unguents." Recently several villages have been destroyed and the inhabitants slaughtered. The blame has fallen on the "primitive" native Ayutha. The captain of the ship Dumarest has traveled on lies to a Chard soldier, telling him that Dumarest is a soldier from Samalle, "one of the Warrior Worlds, dedicated to military training, a supplier of mercenaries." The people of Chard are eager to have an experienced military man helping them, and Dumarest quickly finds himself in charge of their military, hoping to find Salek even as he strives to win the war.

This is notable for being the first book where it turns out that the Cyclan aren't behind the trouble. In every previous volume they've been the cause of the social turmoil, but not this time. However, there is the seemingly obligatory catfight between Zenya and Lisa for his sexual favors. As for Dumarest, he's become more even handed in his slapping, hitting not only Zaenya but also a backtalking military surgeon on Chard. He also takes to the role of military office with surprising alacrity. There's no mention of him having served in the military before now, yet he's quite at home deploying troops and barking commands.

And it's in this situation where some of the contradictions of his character come to the fore. While commanding the army he acts the martinet and issues strict orders, even threatening to shoot his own troops if they disobey. Moreover, he takes the role of hard nosed military realist to such an extreme that he even utters the fascist chestnut, "Among races, like men, only the strong have the right to survive." Yet this is the same man who not long before went out of his way to help Brother Eland and who has always been favorably disposed toward the Universal Brotherhood whose mission is to help the weak. And prior to this, despite his own violent rugged individualism, he's expressed nothing but contempt for the warrior ethos, in Technos even declaring, "War, by definition, is a confession of failure. It requires little intelligence to beat a weaker man with a club." Yet here he is thinking and acting as if he were thoroughly schooled in the arts of war. How these contradictions in his character will play themselves out will be seen as he continues to search for Earth.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Riya's Foundling

Science Fiction Stories, 1953


"Riya's Foundling" by Algis Budrys

"Now, if the animal we know as a cow were to evolve into a creature with near-human intelligence, so that she thought of herself as a "person" ..."



Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Jack and the Check Book



Jack and the Check Book (1911) by John Kendrick Bangs

CONTENTS

I. Jack and the Check-book
II. The Great Wish Syndicate
III. Puss, the Promoter
IV. The Golden Fleece
V. The Invisible Cloak
VI. The Return of Aladdin


E-text prepared by Annie McGuire

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Doctor Mop-top



Some classical music in honor of Doctor Who's birthday.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

X Minus One - The Coffin Cure


"The Coffin Cure" by Alan E. Nourse


Form back in 1957 comes a little story about researchers who think they've found a cure for the common cold.



Courtesy of the Internet Archive and The OTRR.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dumarest: Jondelle (1973)

After his encounter with the powerful alien Tormyle in the last book, Dumarest is now somewhere back near the center of the galaxy on the planet Ourelle. It's a balkanized planet, split between various ethnic populations. After selling some crystals he mined on a nearby world, he happens across some thugs trying to kidnap a young boy, Jondelle. He prevents the crime, but is severly wounded by a laser in the process. He given care by the child's mother, Makgar, who acts as a doctor to the native Hegelts who act as peons on the farm she and her husband, Elray, own. Jondelle idolizes Dumarest, who shows him some knife fighting tricks. This outrages Elray, who doesn't want the boy raised to be a killer. Dumarest tells him off, say the boy must learn to stand up for himself. Makgar agrees, saying, "I want Jondelle to be strong." She's fallen for Dumarest and offers to leave her husband for him. While they're off talking together the farm is attacked by a raiding party of Melevganians, a nation of literally insane people from the lands beyond the deserts to the south. As Dumarest and Makgar hurry back to save Jondrelle, she takes time out to curse Elray for his non-violent ways. "The damn coward! If he lives through this, I'll tear out his throat!" Despite Dumarest's best efforts a few of the raiders escape with the boy. The farm has been destroyed and Elray killed. Makgar, who had been badly wounded, is glad he's dead. Dumarest promises the dying woman that he'll rescue her son, a promise that take him into the insane Melevganians' capitol, where he finds an unexpected ally.

This story is basically a Western yarn transposed into a space opera setting. The same basic story cam be found in films like The Searchers (1956). As such it's a glorification of the myth of the rugged individual as embodied by Dumarest. It's a tough universe and only tough guys like him are equipped to handle it. But this celebration of machismo has it's dark side, and twice in this novel Dumarest slaps women in the face.

This illustrates in a very shocking and graphic way the sadomasochism that underlies these stories as well as so much of popular fiction. It's a subject the late Philip José Farmer explored in his classic book, A Feast Unknown (1969). Whether or not Dumarest continues to behave with such brutality will be revealed as he continues his search for Earth.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dumarest: Mayenne (1973)

Dumarest is getting paranoid, and not without reason. His numerous scrapes with the Cyclan have left him suspiciously eying his fellow passengers on the ship he is traveling on, trying to figure out which of them is the Cyclan agent. There's quite an assortment of voyagers. One is Mari Analoch, the aged procuress seeking to open a new brothel. And there's Ilgazt Bitola a young fop, as well as Harg Branst, the ship's resident gambler. Also aboard are Eisach Daroca, a dilettante, Lady Lolis Egas, the young, spoiled, aristocrat and her bodyguard, the "squat amazon" Hera Phollen. Then there's Vekta Gorlyk, a reserved book dealer, and Sac and Tek Qualish, two dour brothers who are consultant engineers, as well as Chom Roma, an obnoxious entrepreneur. The ship is crewed by Captain Seleem and officer Karn. And finally there is the beautiful Mayenne, a Ghenka, a special type of singer who takes twenty years to train and can enchant with her voice. Anyone of them could be working for the evil cybers. When Lolis and Bitola try to get some kicks by looking at a beast kept in the cargo hold, it accidentally gets loose, killing several people and disabling the engines before Dumarest kills it. The ship is dead in space and all hope seems lost, when a song the Ghenka is broadcasting on the ultra-radio for her own amusement attracts the attention of a powerful alien. It's an intelligent planet from outside the galaxy that calls itself Tormyle. It brings the ship onto itself and makes a habitable zone for the humans. It's so powerful they hope they can convince it to fix the ship. But when some of them disappear they realize Tormyle plans to experiment on them. It wants to understand them, and wants the answer to a question: What is love?

This is a more overtly science fictional tale than most of the previous books. Many of them could just as easily have been staged as heroic fantasies, what with all the knife fighting and gladiator combats. By contrast, this installment has something of a Star Trek feel to it, with the humans having to outwit a vast alien mind. There's some good character interactions throughout, but the problem of discovering the Cyclan agent gets forgotten until they confess all at the end of the book. It doesn't generate any dramatic tension and the revelation seems somewhat anticlimactic.

The soft sexism of some of the earlier books is unfortunately resurfacing. There's a lot of talk of "woman's intuition" and "a woman's logic" which is portrayed as being irrational. And not only do almost all the women fall in love with Dumarest, but the reason Tormyle wants to know about love is because it's got the hots for him too. I think that's stretching things a bit too far.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Outline of Conan's Career

The classic essay from 1938, "A Probable Outline of Conan's Career," by P. Schuyler Miller and John D.Clark, Ph.D. as reprinted in 1977 in the pages of Marvel Comic's Savage Sword of Conan #16.







Monday, November 15, 2010

Dumarest: Veruchia (1973)

While on the planet Selend searching for clues about the Original People, that mysterious religious sect that may know the whereabouts of Earth, Dumarest is incapacitated by an assassination attempt. When he recovers he finds that the authorities have confiscated his funds to pay for the cost of treatment and are planning to deport him. Fear that the Cyclan is manipulating events, Dumarest escapes custody and cuts a deal for a Low passage, paying for it with the ring Kalin had given him, but not before removing and destroying the stone which contains the stolen Cyclan formula. As it later turns out he has memorized the formula and acquired enough skill in chemistry to concoct it. His desperate escape lands him on Dradea, a feudal world ruled by the hereditary Owner, Chorzel, and an aristocracy of High Tenants, while below them are the subtenants and landless ones. Under the influence of the cyber Surat, Chorzel has begun staging gladiatorial spectacles. Dumarest is one of the gladiators, hoping to earn enough to continue his journey. He has to fight a crell, large, vicious flightless birds bred for fighting. In the crowd of spectators, Veruchia, an aristocrat stigmatized by an unusual skin discoloration like a web pattern, places a large bet on Dumarest against her cruel cousin Montarg, who bets on the crell. When Dumarest triumphs he finds himself invited to an upper-class party and accepts a job as bodyguard for Veruchia, who quickly falls in love with him. When Chorzel, who had collapsed at the stadium, dies, it's revealed that Veruchia is a rival claimant to the throne along with the nasty Montarg. But in order to prove her claim she must first locate the First Ship on which people first came to the planet and which is now is as legendary as the Earth.

There are some passages in this book that suggest a tempering of the strong dichotomy between Apollonian inhuman intellectualism and Dionysian human passion that we've seen before now. As Dumarest fights the crell he observes that it's "still a beast with a limited brain governed more by instinct than calculated decision." It's his ability to outthink the beast as much as his physical prowess that brings him victory. So wile the emotionless Cyclan are still the villains of this space opera this suggests that there is a Golden Mean to be struck between rationality and instinct.

I do have to wonder why the word hasn't gotten out that the Cyclan are secretly working to subvert governments. There's no sign of anything like a press corp in this future universe, but certainly rival factions like the Universal Brotherhood, who have contacts in high places and harbor no love of the cybers, or Guild merchants who stand to suffer financial loss because of cyber subversion, would start warning governments that the Cyclan is up to no good. Given the number of their plots that Dumarest has foiled there's more than enough evidence of what they're really up to. As it is it looks like it'll be left to Dumarest alone fight them.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fire and Ice (1983) Trailer



Vintage sword-and-sorcery from the legendary Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta with a script by Marvel Comics' Conan alums Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas. Scream, Teegra, scream!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Shadow of Dreams

by Robert E. Howard

Stay not from me that veil of dreams that gives
Strange seas and and skies and lands and curious fire,
Black dragons, crimson moons and white desire,
That through the silvery fabric sifts and sieves
Strange shadows, shades and all unmeasured things,
And in the sifting lends them shapes and wings
And makes them known in ways past common knowing--
Red lands, black seas and ivory rivers flowing.

How of the gold we gather in our hands?
It cheers, but shall escape us at the last,
And shall mean less, when this brief day is past,
Than that we gathered on the yellow sands,
The phantom ore we found in Wizard-lands.

Keep not from me my veil of curious dreams
Through which I see the giant things which drink
From mountain-castled rivers--on the brink
Black elephants that woo the fronded streams,
And golden tom-toms pulsing through the dusk,
And yellow stars, black trees and red-eyed cats,
And bales of silk and amber jars of musk,
And opal shrines and tents and vampire bats.

Long highways climbing eastward to the moon,
And caravans of camels lade with spice,
And ancient sword hilts carved with scroll and rune,
And marble queens with eyes of crimson ice.

Uncharted shores where moons of scarlet spray
Break on a Viking's galley on the sand,
And curtains held by one slim silver band
That float from casements opening on a bay,
And monstrous iron castles, dragon-barred,
And purple cloaks with inlaid gems bestarred.

Long silver tasseled mantles, curious furs,
And camel bells and dawns and golden heat,
And tuneful rattle of the horseman's spurs
Along some sleeping desert city's street.

Time strides and all too soon shall I grow old
With still all earth to see, all life to live:
Then come to me, my silver veil, and sieve,
Seas of illusion beached with magic gold.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dumarest: Technos (1972)

Dumarest's promise to a dying comrade, Lemain, that he will deliver a message to the man's father takes him to Loame, an agrarian planet with a society like that of the ancient Roman latifundia. The planet is under siege by an invasive plant species, the thorge. Making things worse is the tribute they must pay to the expansionist planet, Technos, a meritocracy where an individual's social standing is determined by the number of degrees they hold. This tribute takes the form of a thousand young men and women every year. When Dumarest learns that Elaine Delmayer, the daughter of a deceased antiquarian, is now living on Technos, he contrives to have himself included in the upcoming tribute in order to gain access to that planet, which strictly regulates immigration. The planet is ruled by a Supreme Council, the chairman of which is Leon Vargas, the Technarch. Advised by the insidious cyber Ruen he hopes to exploit the current state of war to abolish the council and establish himself as absolute dictator, if his increasing paranoia doesn't overcome him first. Only determined council members like Mada Grist stand in his way. Dumarest will need all his skill to find Elaine Delmayer in this repressive and tightly regulated society and find another clue to lead him to Earth.

This book marks the first time a woman isn't killed after having sex with Dumarest, which is a welcome change of pace. It also sees the return of capable, independent women in the characters Elaine Delmayer and Mada Grist. The latter finds Dumarest sexually irresistible, which is justified in the context of the story, but it is also typical of the series. These books are mainly a male power fantasy, with Dumarest acting as a surrogate for the reader.

This book also highlights the Nietzschean aspects of the series, with the Apollonian regulated and intellectually oriented society of Technos becoming dysfunctional and only the energetic Dumarest and his inherent Dionysian instincts that can save it.

It also raises the question of Dumarest's motivation, but like the previous books it doesn't provide a satisfactory answer. When Odysseus undertook his voyage home after the fall of Troy, he did so to bring his troops home, and to return to his wife and son as well as his vast estate. Dumarest has no such direct ties to Earth, which is just his vaguely remembered childhood home. It's hard to believe he would risk imprisonment and death just to get meager scraps of information about it's location. But whatever his reasons his odyssey continues.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dumarest: Lallia (1971)

"This is a bad one, Earl." Nimino's voice was barely a whisper. "We're dealing with fanaticism and aberrated fears—an ugly combination."
So comments Dumarest's shipmate on the small, battered, old trading ship, The Moray. After he saw the ships handler killed by a mutant Dumarest wasted no time taking his job. He had subbdued a theif after the ring given him by Kalin which contains a secret formula the Cyclan will kill for. He soon found the thief dead and wants to get off-world before he's blamed for the murder. So he joined the motley crew of The Moray, Nimino the navigator with an eclectic belief in the supernatural, Lin the starry-eyed young steward, Claude the violent, alcoholic engineer, and the captain Bernard Sheyan, who has a deep seated fear of outer space. Their one passenger is Yalung, a dealer in precious stones. The ship sets out to trade in the Web, a group of worlds in a nebula that is treacherous to navigate. Eventually they make their way to Candara where the conservative and superstitious locals ask them to adjudicate the case of Lallia. She is an outworlder they have allowed to live among them. After her presence stirred up jealousy and envy they accused her of witchcraft. The offworlders are to decide her fate, and must do so in a way that won't threaten their profits.

This book gives us a closer look at shipboard life, especially of a small trader. It also highlights a problem with the reliance by space travelers on drugs like quicktime. When someone takes quicktime their metabolism slows down and consequently time subjectively seems to pass quicker. It also means that they slow to near immobility compared to someone not on the drug. That means that when crewmen like Dumarest take quicktime the would be unable to deal with any emergency that might arise. So it's not surprising that aside from a short scene at the beginning of the book there's no use of quicktime.

While the role of women was strong in the early books, it's been slowly deteriorating. Lallia, despite being strong willed (and a shady character) is little more than a prize to be won by Dumarest. She's "a female animal" who finds fulfillment in serving his needs. The one interesting thing about their relationship is when they enter in to a "ship-marriage" which will last only as long as they want it to or until they leave the ship's crew.

While they visit several planets in the Web, the one that stands out is Tyrann. If that name is familiar it's because a planet of the same name is found in Issac Asimov's The Stars like Dust (1951). And that previous Tyrann was located in the Nebula Kingdoms. This seems to be a direst reference to Asimov's book. It gives the impression that Dumarest's quest is taking place in Asimov's Galactic Empire. If that's true then Dumarest is in luck because the Nebula Kingdoms are within 500 LY of Earth. But it's unlikely his journey will end any time soon.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Before Burroughs

Today the swashbuckling Planetary Romance, or sword and planet yarn as some have taken to calling it, is synonymous with the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs. When he burst onto the scene in 1912 with his story Under the Moons of Mars, written under the name Norman Bean, he set the standard for outré Ruritanian adventures. So it's easy to forget that he wasn't the first to write stories like that.


The most well known of his forerunners was Edwin L. Arnold , the author of the 1905 novel Lieut. Gulliver Jones: His Vacation which was later reprinted as Gulliver of Mars. It tells the story of the eponymous swabby who comes into possession of a magic carpet that whisks him of to Mars where he engages in swashbuckling adventures to win the hand of Princess Heru. Recently he appeared in Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's comic book, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.


Less well known but just as significant is Frank Atkin's novel, A Trip to Mars (1909), which he wrote under the name Fenton Ash. In this adventure, two Earth boys witness a UFO which turns out to be a Martian spaceship that takes then to the red planet where they encounter super science wonders like flying yachts and become embroiled in a war.


Both of these books anticipate much of what later made ERB famous. Yet today they're all but forgotten. When there was a brief revival of the sub-genre in the sixties and seventies it took the form of pastiches of ERB with scarcely a nod to these earlier works.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Necrom (1991)

Since Mick Farren has scarpered off to Blighty I decided to wish him farewell by reading his book Necrom (1991) for Halloween. It's a somewhat supernatural tale of multiple dimensions and the awakening of the eponymous Old One which may herald the end of the world.


The story centers on Joe Gibson, an alcoholic and washed up rock-star who was a member of the world famous band The Holy Ghosts. He's just getting over the breakup of a long term relationship with a woman named Desiree and is generally down on his luck. Then he's contacted by the mysterious and wizened Casillas, a member of a secretive mystical group called The Nine, who informs him that an ancient cosmic being named Necrom is stirring and that Joe may be vital to the effort to stop him. He's put under the watchful eyes of the streamheat, a trio of severe Nordic-types in matching blue jumpsuits who hail from a different dimension (and who have their own agenda). They whisk him off to London for safekeeping, putting him in the care of the urbane occultist Gideon Windemere and his beautiful secretary, Christobele. While there Joe has his first encounter with Yancey Slide, a Sumerian demon, or idimmu, who looks like Clint Eastwood in his prime, and his cohorts, the demoness Nephredana and Yop Boy. They hint to him that his current companions aren't on the up-and-up, something Joe suspected when he found that the infamous Satanist Sebastian Rampton was among The Nine. Soon Joe is forced to flee to an alternate universe, dodging UFOs, demons and his own suspect handlers along the way. Just what are their plans for him, and will he go along with them?

Necrom reiterates many of the elements in Farren's earlier DNA Cowboys series. As in the previous books there is a looming threat which the protagonists marshal against and a good deal of dimension hopping. There's also the presence (offstage) of doppelgangers, in this case Joe's from the alternate universes. And like the earlier books there is little in the way of a formal plot. The novel focuses on Joe Gibson reacting to his shifting circumstances, pursuing an existential odyssey through a changing landscape and trying to make sense of it all.

If the book has a weakness it's that, despite being the center of events, Joe doesn't have much depth to him. Maybe that's a comment on the personality of the average rock star, but the result is he feels rather shallow. The other shortcoming is that by the end of the novel very little is resolved. While I respect that Farren eschewed a pat ending, he does it in such a way that I was left with so many questions that I felt the story wasn't really concluded satisfactorily.


The concept of an ancient evil awaking has obvious overtones of Lovecraft to it, but Farren steers away from any overt Cthulhu Mythos references. Instead he draws on Sumerian mythology, which I found an interesting touch. And despite the supernatural elements this is at heart a science fiction novel, with most of the weirdness rationalized to one degree or another. It's remarkable that this book predates the X-Files phenomena by several years as it anticipates many of the themes of that show, only with more sex and drugs. If it had been expanded into a series it might have tapped into that show's popularity. In any case it reads as a trippy excursion into a psychedelic multiverse.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Martian Electric Spaceship


"This artist's concept from 1962 show a three hundred-sixty ton spaceship, powered by a forty-megawatt nuclear-electric power plant, transporting a three-man crew to Mars. As envisioned by Marshall Space Flight Center engineers, a five-ship convoy would make the round trip journey in about five hundred days."

An interesting concept for a spacecraft and a perfect name for a band all in one.

Update: Negative no more.

[via Internet Archive]

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In Search Of... Ghosts





Every day was Halloween on the show In Search Of.., which was hosted by none other than Leonard Nimoy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dumarest: The Jester at Scar (1970)

Dumarest travels have brought him to Scar, a wet planet with "no rotation at all" where a "year is ninety days long" and on which the natural vegetation is all fungoid. He is dwelling with a woman named Selene in Lowtown, the slum that is home to destitute transients who are tended to by Brother Glee. He has to defend himself against a mutant cat-man and accomplice who seem intent on getting the ring that Kalin gave him in the last book. Scar is a lawless planet whose only industry is annual harvest of exotic fungus. It's dangerous work as a stray spore settling on skin or lodging in the lungs can mean a slow, painful death. Dumarest leaves Selene and goes up to Hightown to plan for the coming harvest and to meet with Del Meoud, the local guild factor.

Meanwhile, Jocelyn, King of Jest, is traveling home in his private ship accompanied by his new bride, Adrienne. He's a fatalistic and superstitious man who believes in destiny. His wife, and arrogant short tempered woman, has little use for such things. It is in large part a marriage of convenience, a chance for more power on her part and the boon of a large dowry for Jocelyn. Part of that dowry includes Yeon the cyber. Because of an interstellar storm the king finds his ship midway between Jest and Scar. He flips a coin to decides which course to take, and as a result goes to Scar where he and his retinue will cross paths with Dumarest.

I haven't said much about the characterization in this books, so let me comment about that. For the most part Tubb handles it well, although because of the brevity of these books most of the characters lack any real depth. The plot moves along well enough, although like the last few books it end with Dumarest gather people in a room in order to expose the wrongdoer. It's a scene that would be more at home in a drawing room murder mystery aside from the fact that Dumarest has a habit of killing the criminal out of hand.

Dumarest definitely has a Brock Sampson vibe going on including the fact that the knife is his weapon of choice. And thankfully this is the first time in this series that's there's been no mention of pinching carotids. That's almost a silly as the current ridiculous pop-culture trend of giving an enemy's head a sharp twist to snap their neck. I hope Tubb has dumped it for good.

In my review of the previous book I pointed out the similarities between the Universal Brotherhood and the Cyclan. In this book, Adrienne makes a similar observation, noting the only difference is that Cyclan are never found among the poor.

The planet Scar with it's constant rains and strange fungal growths reminds me of the pulp sf depictions of Venus, such as Stanley G. Weinbaum's "Parasite Planet". While Dumarest's confrontations with the Cyclan are becoming a little repetitive, the exotic landscapes on which they take place have been inventive enough. It will be interesting to see what strange world Dumarest travels to next.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Happy Birthday Ursula K. Le Guin


Happy belated birthday to Ursula K. Le Guin. I'm always so busy getting in the Halloween spirit each year that I usually forget to send my best wishes, and if it hadn't been for SF Signal I would have missed it again. Which is really inexcusable, because not only is she a Grand Master of the genre but she's written some of the best sf novels of all time. Her most famous and popular series are the Earthsea fantasy books that, while written for children, hold strong appeal for adult readers as well.


Even more highly regarded is her Hainish Cycle of sf novels interrogating in a nuanced fashion questions of race, gender and politics. Especially the three most famous, award-winning books of the cycle, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), The Word for World is Forest (1972), and The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974).


And if that weren't enough, she even added to the lexicon of sf by coining the name "ansible" to refer to an FTL transceiver. So happy birthday Ursula K. Le Guin, and may you have many more.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Mummy

by Clark Ashton Smith



From out the light of many a mightier day,
From Pharaonic splendour, Memphian gloom,
And from the night aeonian of the tomb
They brought him forth, to meet the modern ray,—
Upon his brow the unbroken seal of clay,
While gods have gone to a forgotten doom,
And desolation and the dust assume
Temple and cot immingling in decay.

From out the everlasting womb sublime
Of cyclopean death, within a land
Of tombs and cities rotting in the sun,
He is reborn to mock the might of time,
While kings have built against Oblivion
With walls and columns of the windy sand.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hellsing Ultimate 8 trailer



Wasn't the next installment of Hellsing Ultimate supposed to be out by now? It's almost Halloween and there's still no sign of it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dumarest: Kalin (1969)

The book opens with the ship Dumarest is traveling on making a stopover on Logis, a planet celebrating its own extreme version of Saturnalia called Bloodtime during which social norms are suspended and for three days people can murder with impunity. When he sees an angry mob chasing a beautiful young woman he risks his life to rush to her defense. He pays the price of her passage in order to get her to the safety of the ship. Her name is Kalin and she has precognitive abilities, or as Tubb describes her, she's "a clairvoyant".

But two of the other passengers are up to no good, and their actions leave Dumarest and Kalin stranded in space. They are rescued by a passing ship only to discover it's a slaver. Dumarest is forced to pay through his teeth to buy their freedom. The slaver's destination is Chron, a planet being mined by a federation of companies using slave labor. Dumarest and Kalin, romance growing between them, find themselves stranded on this bleak world. Their only hope of earning the price of a passage off planet is to hunt the dangerous zardles in the hope of finding the valuable zerd stones that sometimes grow in the beast's heads.

Meanwhile, across space, other events are transpiring. Brother Jerome, High Monk of the Church of Universal Brotherhood headquartered on the planet Hope is approached by the suspicious Centon Frenchi. He hopes to enlist the Brotherhood's network of monks that span the galaxy to help him locate his long lost daughter, who he claims is the last of his line. And on the planet Solis, Kramm, the Master of Klieg, has accepted the assistance of Cyber Mede to help him avoid the financial ruin facing him due to the expenses of caring for his comatose sister, Keelan. But what are the cyber's real plans?

The plot of this novel isn't as cohesive as it could be. Some events seem a bit contrived, and other plots points are treated as red herrings, as if this were a detective yarn. The scenes on Chron are handled well enough, and since that's where most of the action takes place the novel holds up. There's also a clever image at the end of the novel that may serve as foreshadowing of events to come.

One notable detail is the use of the "truglow" light "which showed things as they really were, devoid of artifice and optical trickery." Another is that when Dumarest pays off the slaver he uses "instant banking facilities" that involves sticking his arm in a machine.
Clamps seized the limb; electronic devices scanned the metallic inks of the tattoo set invisibly below the skin.
A forgery would have resulted in a gush of incinerating flame.
When those gadgets malfunction it must be messy. It will be interesting to see if this unusual form of credit transfer shows up in later installments.

This is also our first glimpse into the Church of Universal Brotherhood, which seems to be the only religion in the galaxy. In many ways it appears as the mirror image of the Cyclan. Like the cybers the monks all wear hooded robes; they share the habit of tucking their hands in the sleeves of their robes; they're both patriarchal organizations without female members; they both abstain from the pleasures of the flesh; and they both have vast networks of agents throughout the galaxy. These twin organizations only differ qualitatively, in that the monks are one and all paragons of virtue while the cybers are uniformly heartless villains. As Dumarest continues his quest we're bound to see more clashes between them.

The Wonderful Visit


The Wonderful Visit (1895) by H. G. Wells

"On the Night of the Strange Bird, many people at Sidderton (and some nearer) saw a Glare on the Sidderford moor. But no one in Sidderford saw it, for most of Sidderford was abed."



Produced by Malcolm Farmer, Martin Pettit and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nine Men in Time



"Nine Men in Time" by Noel Loomis

"The idea of sending a man back in time to re-do a job he's botched, so that a deadline can still be met—added to the thought of duplicating a man so there'll be two doing the same work at the same time—adds up to a production-manager's dream. But any dream can suddenly shift into a nightmare...."



Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Old Friends Are the Best



"Old Friends Are the Best" by Jack Sharkey

"Are you one of those people who save the best things for the last ... who eat all the chocolate sundae away from under the maraschino cherry? If so, you are very like the Peter W. Merrill Moonplant."



Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

The Wave


The Wave: An Egyptian Aftermath (1916) by Algernon Blackwood


"Since childhood days he had been haunted by a Wave."



Produced by Lionel Sear

Monday, October 18, 2010

Suzy



"Suzy" by Watson Parker

"Her voice was his only link with sanity. It was a beautiful voice. He never really thought what she might be."



Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Multinauts


THE MULTINAUTS- Episode One "Flashback" from Multinauts on Vimeo.

The Multinauts

Generations after the wars of Cancelation, a dark tyranny grips the Multiverse under the rule of Corporate Warlord, Oysters Rockafeller. Xanthor, Gigs, and Centari, three unlikely heroes from three very different dimensions, are transported aboard Tetra, a sentient starship infused with the wisdom of an ancient civilization. Moved by Tetra's plea to restore peace, the trio embarks on a noble quest to save the Multiverse by taking on Oysters Rockafeller in a post-apocalyptic showdown.

If you dug Saul of the Mole Men you'll like The Multinauts.

[via Jeff's Gameblog]

The Celestial Omnibus


The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories (1911) by E. M. Forster

"Tickets on this line," said the driver, "whether single or return, can be purchased by coinage from no terrene mint."



Produced by Marc D'Hooghe

Saturday, October 16, 2010

La Planète Sauvage trailer



This 1973 French/Czech film by René Laloux and Roland Topor was released in the USA as Fantastic Planet. It's possibly the most surreal sf movie ever made.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chant to Sirius

by Clark Ashton Smith



What nights retard thee, O Sirius!
Thy light is as a spear,
And thou penetratest them
As a warrior that stabbeth his foe
Even to the center of his life.
Thy rays reach farther than the gulfs;
They form a bridge thereover
That shall endure till the links of the universe
Are unfastened, and drop apart,
And all the gulfs are one,
Dissevered by suns no longer.

How strong art thou in thy place!
Thou stridest thine orbit,
And the darkness shakes beneath thee,
As a road that is trodden by an army.
Thou art a god
In thy temple that is hollowed with light
In the night of infinitude,
And whose floor is the lower void;
Thy worlds are as priests and ministers therein.
Thou furrowest space,
Even as an husbandman,
And sowest it with alien seed;
It beareth alien fruits,
And these are thy testimony,
Even as the crops of his fields
Are the testimony of an husbandman.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Moonbase 3



Moonbase 3 was a 1973 British TV show by Doctor Who alums Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts. It only lasted six episodes but it was an interesting attempt at hard sf before Star Wars revived space opera with a vengeance.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dumarest: Toyman (1969)

"A bad time on a bad planet, thought Dumarest." He and a fellow combatant, Legrain, are on the losing side of a combat using ancient weapons staged for the entertainment of the Toymaster, Groshen. He's the autocratic ruler of the plutocracy of Toy, a "corporate society" in which only the hereditary black-skinned shareholders have rights. On this planet, the market rules, even the slave market. The dispossessed don't even have the option of debtor's prison, they're sent straight to the auction block. Dumarest has come to Toy to consult The Library, a massive super-computer that may hold the location of Earth. However, travelers arriving on Toy are faced with a Morton's Fork: "show the cost of a double High passage or stand trial, be convicted and sentenced to a year of forced labor as a vagrant. That or agree to enlist for one engagement." The two-fisted Dumarest naturally chooses the latter. If he can survive and escape, it will only be to a mainland embroiled in the schemes of the powerful. Stockholder Leon Hurl, who has the sympathy of the Toymaster's beautiful sister, Quara, hopes to wrest power from the increasingly despotic ruler. Worse, Groshen has taken to consorting with the cyber Creel. Dumarest must once more defeat the schemes of his hated Cyclan foes if he hopes to gain the secret of his homeworld's location.

The world building in this novel is a step above the last two, and there's a bit more action as well. Or at least more violence. As a virile man of action Dumarest has plenty of occasion to display his martial prowess. And once again there are passages about attacking someone by pinching their carotid arteries. I've never seen so many references to pinching carotids. It's happened in every book so far.

The parallels between the Cyclan and the two-dimensional Commie villains of old spy thrillers are amplified in this book. Before it was implied by their centralized organization and red robes, but now with the Cyclan trying to wreck the economy of Toy it becomes more overt. In fact, despite the sf flourishes the underlying plot of this book is boilerplate Cold War thriller. This red under the bed mentality rings in a screed delivered by Dumarest.

They spread, touching world after world, insinuating their way into a position of power. Oh, they don't rule, not openly, but where you find a cyber you find the power of the Cyclan. And they have power. Subtle, unnoticed, but very real.

Dumarest's visceral hatred of the "spreading red slime" is beginning to reach a pathological intensity.

Once again I can't resist noting the similarities between this book and other sf contemporary books. In this case it's Mack Reynolds' Joe Mauser novels. Toy is somewhat reminiscent of the society depicted in Reylnolds' books, although Tubb puts his own spin on things. And another thing worth commenting on is when someone counts his wealth in precious gems. Even today diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds can be easily synthesized. I doubt they could be considered valuable in a society capable of interstellar travel. But this is space opera after all.

Dumarest triumphs by the end of the book, as he must, but it's a Pyrrhic victory. His quest continues.