Saturday, April 30, 2011

R. I. P. Joanna Russ

Locus reports the sad news that Joanna Russ has died. Although she hadn't written much in recent years, she was an important voice in sf during a turbulent and transformative time.

She is the author of a number of works of science fiction, fantasy and feminist literary criticism such as How to Suppress Women's Writing, as well as a contemporary novel, On Strike Against God, and one children's book, Kittatinny. She is best known for The Female Man, a novel combining utopian fiction and satire. It used the device of parallel worlds to consider the ways that different societies might produce very different versions of the same person, and how all might interact and respond to sexism.

The Song of Phaid the Gambler (1981)

Cover by Tim White

Rebel leader and rock 'n' roll roué Mick Farren is offering fans a free download of his novel The Song of Phaid the Gambler (1981). So treat your eye-bulbs to some counterculture coolness as Phaid pursues the psychedelic odyssey that seems to be the fate of so many of Farren's protagonists. "Witty, unique, hard-boiled." - Norman Spinrad

Friday, April 29, 2011

Science Fiction Dictionary

Cover art by Ric Binkley

"Special thirteen-page feature published in Travelers of Space: An Anthology of Life on Other Worlds (Gnome Press, 1951), edited by Martin Greenberg."

A short but handy sf lexicon from the 1950's by Martin Greenberg, David A. Kyle and Samuel A. Peeples. Here are some sample entries.

Blaster — SF term for hand weapon. Also descriptive of tools for mining operations on alien worlds employing atomic energy or disintegration. The variety of hand weapons is endless, mostly described as "ray guns" ranging from deadly "rays" (usually hard radiation) to sonic disturbance. A sonic-blaster destroys the molecular balance, adjustable to kill or maim; a heat-blaster employs direct or sympathetic radiation; a disintegrator totally destroys matter by molecular dissemination. Particulary [sic] vivid use of ray guns is found in Maza of the Moon by Otis Adelbert Kline (Chicago 1930) and in the "Lensmen" series by Dr. E. E. Smith. (See: DISINTEGRATOR; WEAPONS)

Space-Warp — An SF theory of space divided into strata or vectors. With such overlapping divisions artificial fields of force in opposition are created. By draining the energy of one while in the other, a vehicle might theoretically achieve stupendous propulsion, and by shifting from one field to another gigantic leap-frog maneuvering might be feasible, thus exceeding the speed of light by reducing the normal light distances. Details of space-warps in free flight are dealt with by Dr. E. E. Smith in his "Skylark" series. (See: FORCE-FIELD)

Time Travel — In SF, the transportation of any person or thing into the past or future. An extremely popular SF theme, filled with paradoxes. The methods of travel involve everything from machines and chemicals to incantations. A unique study of various time theories in SF form is offered in The Omnibus of Time by Ralph Milne Farley (Los Angeles 1950). Examples of time travel stories are collected in Travelers in Time edited by Philip van Doren Stem (N.Y. 1947). Portrait of Jennie by Robert Nathan (N.Y. 1940) is a poetic time travel story without explanations— yet explainable by "overlap ping time phases." (See: DIMENSIONS; DOPPLER EFFECT; LORENTZ-FITZGERALD CONTRACTION; PREHISTORIC; TIME MACHINE)

[via the Internet Archive]

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chernobyl Catastrophe

Even as we arrive at the 25th anniversary of the the catastrophic failure of the Chernobyl reactor, it is reported that the concrete storage containers holding the damaged nuclear fuel rods from the 1979 disaster at Three Mile Island are crumbling. The danger from nuclear power spans generations, as this Democracy Now! report makes clear.. If you live in the US you can use this interactive Nuclear Reactor Accident Evacuation Zone map to see if you live in a danger zone. I'm afraid it will take a disastrous failure near a major metropolis, which might well be rendered uninhabitable, before our society quits playing this deadly game of nuclear roulette.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mystery Science Radio #17

"This one is epic. We're joined by Reality's Frank live in the control room at the Yellow Submarine."

Drycleaning Episode

This is one of the best episodes so far. Highlights include an 80's Doctor Who song, a Jazz Age-style cover of "MacArthur Park," a quiz involving Cthulhu, and King Missile performing "Detachable Penis," which of course made me think of that unforgettable first line from John Varley's Steel Beach (1992). '"In five years, the penis will be obsolete," said the salesman.'

Saturday, April 23, 2011


China Miéville provides us with a wry variation on the Godzilla® myth in his short story, "Covehithe."

There were a few nights in Dunwich, where the owner of the B&B kept telling her guests they were lucky to have found a room. Walking Dunwich Beach, showing his daughter wintering geese through binoculars so heavy they made her laugh, the man was glad they were not in Southwold or Walberswick. They were not so hemmed in by visitors. Each evening they had fish and chips or pub grub. Each night after she had gone to bed he hacked into next door's wifi to check his messages and monitor the forums.

On Thursday night he woke her. It was not long after midnight.

'Come on lovey,' he said. 'Keep it down. Let's not get anyone else up.'

'I hate you,' she said into her pillow.

'I know,' he said. 'Come on. Don't bring your phone.'

There was not much on the roads. Still, Dughan took them roundabout ways, through Blythborough, on the A145 towards Uggeshall, past still diggers where roads were being widened.

'Where are we going?' the girl asked, only once. She hunkered; she wouldn't ask him to turn up the heating.

Wrentham was on the western rim of the security zone. It went north along the A12, south on the B1127 to Southwold. Within it, in daylight, fields were still worked, for animal feed, and roads mostly open, but those were, legally, indulgences not rights; the area was, in the absence of an official escort, no-go after dark. Exceptional laws applied in that little triangle, the coast a 6-mile hypotenuse, its midpoint Covehithe.

Dughan stopped by a pub garden south of Wrentham. He opened the door for his daughter with his finger to his lips.

'Dad,' she said.

'Hush,' he said.

It was overcast and windy, shadows taking them and releasing them as Dughan found a way through undergrowth to the boundary ditch. They were both quiet as they crossed it. Holding their breath. Beyond, they walked eastward on the edges of the fields. 'Dad, seriously, you're crazy.' He had a torch but did not turn it on. When the moon came out enough he stopped and took bearings.

'They've got guns,' she said.

'That's why shhh.'

'What'll they do if they catch us?'

'Feed us to wolves.'

'Har har.'

Continue reading at The Guardian.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Sorrow of the Winds

by Clark Ashton Smith

O winds that pass uncomforted
Through all the peaceful meads of spring,
And tell the trees your sorrowing,
That they must mourn till ye are fled!

Think ye the Tyrian distance holds
The crystal of unbroken sleep?
That those forgetful purples keep
No veiled, contentious greens and golds?

Half with communicated grief,
Half that they are not free to pass
With you across the flickering grass,
Mourns each inclinèd bough and leaf.

And I, with soul disquieted,
Shall find within the haunted spring
No peace, till your strange sorrowing
Is down the Tyrian distance fled.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Sea Lady

John William Waterhouse "A Mermaid" 1901

The Sea Lady (1902) by H. G. Wells

"Such previous landings of mermaids as have left a record, have all a flavour of doubt. Even the very circumstantial account of that Bruges Sea Lady, who was so clever at fancy work, gives occasion to the sceptic. I must confess that I was absolutely incredulous of such things until a year ago. But now, face to face with indisputable facts in my own immediate neighbourhood, and with my own second cousin Melville (of Seaton Carew) as the chief witness to the story, I see these old legends in a very different light."

Produced by Malcolm Farmer, eagkw and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

R.I.P. Elisabeth Sladen

Elisabeth Sladen (1st February 1948, Liverpool, England - 19th April 2011)

She was one of the most popular companions of all-time, and one of my favorites. Her long-time co-star Tom Baker expressed what a lot of us are feeling.

She can't be dead. But she is: she died yesterday morning. Cancer. I had no idea she was ill; she was so private, never wanted any fuss, and now, gone. A terrible blow to her friends and a shattering blow for all those fans of the programme whose lives were touched every Saturday evening by her lovely heroic character, Sarah-Jane Smith.

It sad that she's gone, but she'll always live on in the hearts of her fans.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Doctorow on privacy

Cory Doctorow lays down his tight rap about privacy and social networks.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Rotifers

"The Rotifers" by Robert Abernathy

"Beneath the stagnant water shadowed by water lilies Harry found the fascinating world of the rotifers—but it was their world, and they resented intrusion."

Produced by Frank van Drogen, Greg Weeks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

First Orbit

Happy Gagarin Day


It was fifty years ago today that Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin said "Let's go!" and became the first human to travel to outer space. Rocketing into orbit in the Kerosene/LOX fueled Vostok 3KA spacecraft he made real what until then had only been science fiction. As he touched the stars, he looked back on our planet from a vantage point never before glimpsed by human eyes.

"Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!"

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Adventures of Superman

The Atom Man Part 09
The Atom Man Part 10
The Atom Man Part 11
The Atom Man Part 12

Der Teufel's plans come to fruition as his Atom Man infiltrates The Daily Planet to further his plan to kill Superman. How will the last son of Krypton fare against this atomic monster?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mystery Science Radio #16

Captain Hale Episode

"Wow. 16 episodes & still no one has told us to cut it out!"

More Judson Fountain goodness and the most way-out cover of Stairway to Heaven yet.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tarzan the Terrible (1921)

Golden Age Comic Book Stories today features a gallery of covers for Ballantine's run of Tarzan novels from the 70s. Painted by legendary artists Neal Adams and Boris Vallejo these illustrations graphically capture the physical vigor that characterizes Edgar Rice Burroughs' storytelling. As Gore Vidal observed in his article "Tarzan Revisited,"

"Though Burroughs is innocent of literature and cannot reproduce human speech, he does have a gift very few writers of any kind possess: he can describe action vividly." 

And it was that vividness, combined with his world building acumen, which inspired many subsequent sf authors, like Michal Moorcock and of course the late Philip José Farmer. A central theme to ERB's writing is the idea that modern civilization is enervating, and that only by reconnecting with primal nature can we regain vitality. In this sense his Tarzan novels, which ostensibly embody white male power fantasies, paradoxically display the insecurity of the colonialist mentality. There is a real sense that the dominance of the industrialized empires is artificial, that it lacks the primal strength of the "savage" Other it has seemingly vanquished. ERB's novels almost invite you to read them against themselves.

Cover by Boris Vallejo

ERB's best Tarzan novels were arguably those written in the 1920's. This book, 1921's Tarzan the Terrible, finds him in top form as he pens his answer to Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912). His unrestrained imagination and raw story telling drive are on full display as Tarzan travels to a land that time forgot teeming with prehistoric beasts. There he must confront in a literal way the primal past that ERB invites us to see beneath the façade of our everyday world.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Hero

Illustrated by Paul Orban

"The Hero" by Elaine Wilber

"Willy was undoubtedly a hero. The difficulty lies in deciding which side he was on...."

Produced by Frank van Drogen, Greg Weeks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Adventures of Superman

The Atom Man Part 05
The Atom Man Part 06
The Atom Man Part 07
The Atom Man Part 08

The stranger from another planet continues his struggle to stop Der Teufel and his evil scheme to create an atomic monster.

By some strange coincidence this storyline involving the dangers of radiation coincides with the all too real nuclear crisis in Japan, but whether it's synchronicity or mere happenstance is too deep a mystery for me to unravel. All I know is that what started as frivolous reminiscence of the first superhero has, for me at least, taken on overtones of the uncanny.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Security Risk

"Security Risk" by Ed M. Clinton, Jr.

"It was a touchable touching an untouchable. Both scientist and general were doing their own version of right...."

Produced by Frank van Drogen, Greg Weeks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team


The world's most famous virtual idol, Hatsune Miku, performs "World is Mine" live and proves she's getting closer everyday to making Sharon Apple a reality.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sunday Comes Afterwards


I'm done with this whole sci-fi thing. From now on this blog is going to be devoted to trains.

Some of the most famous trains are the Streamliners. During the crisis of capitalism that occurred in the 1930s, the American rail barons, facing a catastrophic loss of business, cast their eyes on sleek trains of light weight material, streamlined to gain speed, and using an internal combustion diesel engine rather than steam. One early American streamliner was the Burlington Zephyr. The Zephyr (later named the Pioneer Zephyr to distinguish it) was much lighter than the common engines and passenger cars of the day, as the "Zephyr" was constructed using stainless steel. It was a star attraction at the 1933–1934 World's Fair ("A Century of Progress") in Chicago, Illinois.

Choo! Choo!

On May 26, 1934, the Zephyr made a record-breaking "Dawn to Dusk" run from Denver, Colorado to Chicago. The train covered the distance in 13 hours, reaching a top speed of 112.5 mph (181.1 km/h) and running an average speed of 77.6 mph (124.9 km/h). The fuel for the run cost $14.64 USD (4¢ per gallon — a similar run in 2004 would cost $550 to $650.)

For a short time in the late 1930s, the ten fastest trains in the world were all American streamliners.

All aboard!