Monday, February 28, 2011

The Stolen Bacillus (1894 )

One of the things that characterizes the fiction of H. G. Wells is his acute psychological insight. He had a keen understanding of what makes people tick as he illustrated with consummate skill in his many novels and stories, like the anti-fascist classic The Holy Terror (1939). He was so perceptive that even recent attempts by the US Government to understand the motivations of extremists, like the Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism (1999) and the Secret Service's study of assassins, do little more than reiterate the observations Wells made long ago. In 1894 he wrote a short story which not only illuminated the mentality of the terrorist, but also anticipated current fears of bio-terrorism. A story called,

"The Stolen Bacillus"

"This again," said the Bacteriologist, slipping a glass slide under the microscope, "is well,—a preparation of the Bacillus of cholera—the cholera germ."

The pale-faced man peered down the microscope. He was evidently not accustomed to that kind of thing, and held a limp white hand over his disengaged eye. "I see very little," he said.

"Touch this screw," said the Bacteriologist; "perhaps the microscope is out of focus for you. Eyes vary so much. Just the fraction of a turn this way or that."

"Ah! now I see," said the visitor. "Not so very much to see after all. Little streaks and shreds of pink. And yet those little particles, those mere atomies, might multiply and devastate a city! Wonderful!"

He stood up, and releasing the glass slip from the microscope, held it in his hand towards the window. "Scarcely visible," he said, scrutinizing the preparation. He hesitated. "Are these—alive? Are they dangerous now?"

"Those have been stained and killed," said the Bacteriologist. "I wish, for my own part, we could kill and stain every one of them in the universe."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mystery Science Radio Christmas 2010

Christmas Epic
"Okay. It's February. By now the egg nog is sour, the credit cards are maxed out, your new sweater has holes in it, and your sister has already bought you next Christmas's pair of woolen socks. So what to do? Relive the ghost of Christmas past with this episode of Mystery Science Radio."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Middle-earth samizdat

You remember the joke from That Mitchell and Webb Sound where a characters suggests that Mordor might not be getting a fair hearing? It appears that Russian scientist Kirill Eskov (Кирилл Еськов) had a similar thought and he's turned it into a novel. The Last Ringbearer (Последний кольценосец) is a narrative inversion of Lord of the Rings, told from the perspective of the other side. The novel has been published in several countries, but it hasn't appeared in English due to restrictive copyright laws. Until now that is. As Salon reports, Yisroel Markov has produced a free fan translation that he is making available via his blog.
More than 15 years ago Russian scientist Kirill Yeskov [sic] tried to settle certain geographical problems in Tolkien's fantasy world. One thing led to another, and he tackled a bigger project - what if we assumed that it's no less real than our world? His conclusion was that in such a case, the story of the Ring of Power is most likely a much-altered heroic retelling of a major war - but what was that war really about?

The result of this re-appraisal was the publication in 1999 of The Last Ring-bearer - a re-thinking of Tolkien's story in real-world terms. Dr. Yeskov, a professional paleontologist whose job is reconstructing long-extinct organisms and their way of life from fossil remnants, performs essentially the same feat in The Last Ring-bearer, reconstructing the real world of Tolkien's Arda from The Lord of the Rings - the heroic tales of the Free Men of the West written in that world. We have a pretty good idea how well heroic tales map to reality from our own world...
Don't look for any hobbits, those fanciful stand-ins for doughty English yeomen. They don't figure in this retelling, which is much more an attempt to treat the trilogy as though it were a legendary retelling of actual events. In some sense what Eskov has cleverly done is produce a work of fictional euhemerism, stripping the legendary accretions from the "real" historical events of a fictional world.

The Salon article comments that some Tolkienites (who are as notorious as Trekkers for getting in snits) are trying to dismiss the novel as being nothing but fanfic. If true, that's as asinine as saying that The Lord of the Flies is "just fanfic" because it's a response to Ballantyne's sappy The Coral Island. In fact there's a long tradition of sf novels like this, such as Harrison's Bill, the Galactic Hero (1965) and Saberhagen's The Dracula Tape (1975) which does something similar with Stoker's classic. The Last Ringbearer is a provocative interrogation of Tolkein's novels, and will hopefully find a wider audience and a publisher.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mystery Science Radio

Mini Science Radio

In which an intruder alert is triggered and the part of Torgo is played by a voice double.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The dawn of Dianetics

With the recent New Yorker exposé of Scientology and the news that the FBI is investigating the church over allegations of human trafficking, it's hard to remember those more innocent (naïve?) times when it was first unleashed on an unsuspecting world in the pages of a science fiction magazine. It was in John W. Campbell, Jr's Astounding Science Fiction, May 1950, that sf author L. Ron Hubbard's essay "Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science" first appeared, followed quickly by his book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.

This relatively innocuous D.I.Y. pop-psychology book was the nucleus of what would later become the religion of Scientology. Although the book failed to impress practicing psychologists such as Eric Fromm, who observed that "Hubbard's book can hardly be taken seriously as a scientific contribution...", it appealed to others, notably William S. Burroughs. It also struck a cord among several sf authors, such as Campbell, James Blish, and A. E. Van Vogt, who ran a Dianetics Center in L.A. for years. And while many of those early adherents quickly became disillusioned with the new religion the initial enthusiasm felt by some can be glimpsed in this review of the book by Blish for Planet Stories.

Dianetics: A Door to the Future

By James Blish

An increased life-span, freedom from 70% of all human illnesses and a major increase in intelligence - these are only a few of the benefits promised us by a new science called "dianetics."

"Dianetics" is both the name of a recent book about how the human mind operates, and the general term used to cover specific methods of repairing, healing and perfecting the human mind.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Adventures of Superman

The Mechanical Man Part 04
The Mechanical Man Part 05
The Mechanical Man Part 06

The 1941 transcription feature continues as Superman tries to stop The Yellow Mask, the Nazi spy Max Heller and the rampaging Mechanical Man.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


"The communications satellites had made possible, and then inevitable, the creation of the World State in all but name." - Arthur C. Clarke

Colonel Elliott And The Lunatics doing a righteous cover of Joe Meek's Telstar

Friday, February 18, 2011


An ongoing and amusing series of flash animations by EVanimations hosted over at Newgrounds.

Beauty is Humanity, a prologue

EVolution, pilot

EVolution, episode 01

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Robosexual Aggenda

The sight of Watson striving to live up to Adam Link's legacy by competing against humans on Jeopardy has some conservatives disturbed.

After all, we know Link got married. What happens if uppity robots really start trying to do the same? Robert Broadus of Protect Marriage Maryland can see the danger. He's warning that not allowing religious fundamentalists to dictate who can and cannot marry "will set the groundwork, that one day when artificial intelligence is that advanced, we will be considering whether or not people can marry their androids." The proof for Broadus is Brent Spiner's portrayal of Data in Star Trek, because, you know, he looked so real. (I think he just has a thing for guys in greasepaint.) Apparently Broadus never saw that episode of GITS:SAC where the guy falls in love with a Jeri or he'd really be wigging out. Luckily Futurama has already warned us of this dire menace.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Trip to Mars

Little do the Russians know that the rastas reached the red planet long ago, mon.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Culture shock

I never expected to see a Doonesbury strip like this, but I like it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Adventures of Superman

Eat your heart out, Magnus!

The Mechanical Man Part 01
The Mechanical Man Part 02
The Mechanical Man Part 03

This week begins a new story arc taking place during WWII. The Yellow Mask (who now sounds a bit like William S. Burroughs) survived the plane crash and went on to commit further crimes, but was eventually caught and jailed by Superman. Meanwhile, reporter Clark Kent has secretly become an agent of the Secret Service (shades of Operation Mockingbird). When the Mask is broken out of jail by Nazi operative Max Heller, Superman must stop them from getting their hands on a terrible new invention, the mechanical man.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cosmic Therapy

KillRadio's dj bennett beams a spacey tribute to the extraterrestrial Sun Ra into our brainpans.
This music really does have SPACE in it -- inner and outer, space for listening, space for thinking, space for dreaming, room for everyone to thrive and grow. This music also has both a sense of humor and of true beauty and is as mind boggling as it can be. And it will clear your head like nothing else. What I have done is collaged together about thirty of my favorite segments of Ra's music and it makes its own reality.
Cosmic Therapy

Space is the Place (1974)

That far out cat Sun Ra lays some of his "alter-destiny" rap on us in this snippet from his groovy 1974 film Space is the Place.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The first sf TV show

Today is the 73rd anniversary of the very first sf show ever broadcast on television. In February of 1938 the BBC aired a 35 min. adaptation of Czech author Karel Čapek's sf play R.U.R., which introduced the word "robot" to the sf lexicon.

Poster for a 1939 stage production.

The title stands for Rossum's Universal Robots, although in this case "robot" refers not to mechanical men but to artificially grown people. Drawing on the Jewish folktale of the Golem, it is an overtly political play in which the enslaved robots stage a worker's revolt against their human overlords. Sci-Fi-London is planning to do a new adaptation of the play and they've posted a reading online which provides some idea of what that historic TV broadcast might have been like.

R.U.R - SFL reading

Superman Classic

I guess I'm not the only one who thinks the Golden Age Superman is cool. If you ask me, this fan short by Robb Pratt should be turned into a TV series pronto.

[via SF Signal]

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Flaming C

In the alternative Young Justice universe the Flaming C's cloned "son" looks nothing like him, lucky kid.

Metal Vader

"Imperial March...but heavy" by jarrydn

I always suspected that Vader was a headbanger.

Mystery Science Radio

The Beach Episode

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

MST3K: Packers win the Super Bowl!

[via AOTS]

Sense of Obligation

Illustrated by von Dongen

Sense of Obligation (1961) by Harry Harrison
It took a very special type of man for the job—and the job was onerous, dangerous, and the only really probable reward was disaster. But when a man who says he knows it's going to kill him asks you to join....

Transcribers Note:

This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction September, October, November 1961. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Page numbers jump between issues since they reflect the original magazine pages. Corrections are presented inline.

Produced by Greg Weeks, Adam Styles and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Edmond Hamilton

Edmond Hamilton is getting some attention lately. For one thing, Don Markstein has added an entry for the Captain Future comic to his Toonpedia. In case you're wondering his first appearance in the comics was in Startling Comics #1 (June, 1940).

Otho, Grag, and Curt in their original pulp incarnations.

And SF Signal reports that Phoenix Pick is offering a free download of The Best of Edmond Hamilton through the end of the month. I already have a hard copy of the old Del Rey printing, so I can tell you it's not something to miss.

Mine looks like this.

It's an anthology edited by his wife, Leigh Brackett, who selects some of his best stories. One that stand out for me is his 1932 novelette, A Conquest of Two Worlds, which tells a story very similar to the one told in Avatar. If you want a digital copy (and why wouldn't you?) just head over to the Phoenix Pick website and enter the Coupon Code: 9992371

Monday, February 7, 2011

When Hari Kunzru met Michael Moorcock

Hari Kunzru was introduced to science fiction aged 10 – and was hooked. After years of fandom, he went to meet master of the genre Michael Moorcock at home in Texas, where they discussed his 15,000 word a day habit, taking acid with his friend JG Ballard and writing a Doctor Who novel.
[via SF Signal]

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Adventures of Superman

0008 "Fuel" (Feb 28, 1940)
0009 "Threat to the Planet Building" (March 1, 1940)

I've decided to bring this story arc to an early end. It actually goes on for another ten episodes, but they all involve rather pedestrian criminal activity. It's strange that this show, which was unconstrained by the budget and SFX limitations that hinder movies and TV shows, chose to almost always have Supes fighting ordinary crooks. And while I think each episode is the perfect length for a podcast, I'm going to go back to posting multiple episodes in order to get through one entire story arch per month.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mystery Science Radio

Bohemian Episode

In which Radio's Frank shows off his throat singing skills and a new clone joins the crew.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Carrie Brownstein tries everything to break Fred Armisen out of a technology loop.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy Chinese New Year

It's the Year of the Rabbit, a sign known for its calm nature and love of the aesthetic and beautiful in life. Which is just as well, since by rights the rabbits should be carrying around human feet as good luck charms. Let's hope they sit down with us and eat an Eho-maki to celebrate Setsubun rather than taking up the custom of human-driving.

"Rabbit Helix" by TimeBender

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Meanwhile, in outer space...

When Megan first ordered the eroto-bot she had no idea it would be so possessive.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Promise of Air

The Promise of Air (1918) by Algernon Blackwood

"This novel explores the dilemma of a freeborn spirit trapped in a human frame." -- William Matthews, Bookseller

E-text prepared by Lionel Sear