Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Dark Side

VW The Dark Side by Kato_Tuttle

Now that's what I call détournement.

UPDATE: As fast as they try to ban this video I'll try to repost it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dinosaur Beach (1971)

Yesterday's near-miss between the ISS and a piece of space garbage reminded me of Keith Laumer's 1971 time travel novel Dinosaur Beach. Why would a whizzing piece of space rubbish make me think of time travel? Read on...

The novel centers around Igor Ravel, a time traveling agent of Nexx Central. He is part of Project Timesweep, a Fourth Era attempt to undo the temporal tampering of previous eras. Implanted with a false identity, he's on a deep-cover mission in 1936. Thinking himself a happy newlywed, a post-hypnotic suggestion triggers him to remember his mission and leave his young wife, Lisa. Before you can say "Jack Robinson," (which they did back in the 1930's) he's used his Mauser to gun down a Karg, a time traveling robot from an earlier era. Retrieving the tape from the Karg he time jumps back to Dinosaur Beach, a Nexx Staging Station located in the prehistoric past. After a cursory debriefing, but before he can be mind-wiped and have his implanted personality and love of Lisa erased, the station is attacked and destroyed. Ravel is the lone survivor, and he takes drastic action. He activates the personal emergency jump gear installed in his body in the hopes of reaching another station. This begins his desperate odyssey through time which leads him to again encounter his lover, Lisa, who claims to actually be Mellia Gayl, a fellow Timesweep agent. They must do all they can to escape being "marooned in the closed loop of an unrealized alternate reality."

What made me think of this book when I heard about the Space Station's near miss is the passage describing the raison d'être of Project Timesweep.

"The idea wasn't without logic. The First Era of time travel had closely resembled the dawn of the space age in some ways—notably, in the trail of rubbish it left behind. In the case of the space garbage, it had taken half a dozen major collisions to convince the early space authorities of the need to sweep circumterrestrial space clean of fifty years debris in the form of spent rocket casings, defunct telemetry gear, and derelict relay satellites long lost track of. In the process they'd turned up a surprising number of odds and ends, including lumps of meteoric rock and iron, chondrites of clearly earthly origin, possibly volcanic, the mummified body of an astronaut lost on an early space walk, and a number of artifacts that the authorities of the day had scratched their heads over and finally written off as the equivalent of empty beer cans tossed out by visitors from out-system.

That was long before the days of Timecasting, of course.

The Timesweep program was a close parallel to the space sweep. The Old Era temporal experimenters had littered the timeways with everything from early one-way timecans to observation stations, dead bodies, abandoned instruments, weapons and equipment of all sorts, including an automatic mining setup established under the Antarctic icecap which caused headaches at the time of the Big Melt."

This short book succeeds in delivering a briskly paced sf thriller with plenty of plot twists and a dash of romance. The prose is terse and no-nonsense, written in a style reminiscent of hard-boiled detective novels. It's as if Dashiell Hammett had written a novel after the fashion of Jack Williamson's The Legion of Time (1938). If the book has a short coming it's that the trajectory of the plot is too similar to Laumer's earlier work, A Plague of Demons (1965). Like the protagonist of that previous book, Ravel is somewhat hyper-competent, discovering new, hidden superpowers as the occasion demands. And there are a few plot holes, but nothing that seriously distracts from the kinetic plot. While this isn't an ambitious novel, and can't be compared to books like Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity (1955) or Fritz Leiber's The Big Time (1958), it does call into question the assumptions that underlie most "time police" stories.

This is a two-fisted tale of sf adventure with plenty of surprises along the way and an unexpected ending. It's a great book to breeze through on a lazy summer afternoon. Just watch out for the time junk.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tokusatsu Tuesday

TheBee's sting is nothing compared to his wicked sweet tooth.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Adventures of Superman

Looking For Kryptonite Part 16
Looking For Kryptonite Part 17
Looking For Kryptonite Part 18
Looking For Kryptonite Part 19
Looking For Kryptonite Part 20

As Superman continues to search for the remaining pieces of kryptonite he once again enlists the help of his friend Batman. (There's a glitch in one of the episodes where the sound cuts out for a few seconds but it comes right back.)

For more Golden Age Superman and Batman check out the podcasts The Thrilling Adventures of Superman and Legends of the Batman.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tiger & Bunny 13

Barnaby finally faces off against the man who killed his parents, but can he defeat such a powerful NEXT? Keep an eye out for Blue Rose's boss ice cycle.

Friday, June 24, 2011


I hope Harlan Ellison doesn't sue me for posting this. He did sue James Cameron over it and was awarded an undisclosed settlement. Needless to say this was one of the better episodes of the otherwise mediocre show, The Outer Limits. Just be ready for a cringe inducing scene where they repeatedly refer to our solar system as a "galaxy." When will people ever learn?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Planet Express special delivery

Most TV shows are in reruns for the summer, but Futurama is starting a new season tonight. The first one hundred viewers win a free holiday on the brain slug planet!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Science Fiction League

The other day some great scans of  Science Fiction League ephemera were posted over at Golden Age Comic Book Stories. While the Science Fiction League wasn't the first sf fan club, it was very important in the history of fandom. The story of its creation was related by Everett F. Bleiler in his study, Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years (1998).

"Gernsback's most visible promotion device was the creation of the Science Fiction League, a quasi-fraternal national organization of science-fiction fans set up in local chapters. In later issues of the magazine [Wonder Stories] several pages were devoted to inspirational material about the league, chapter publicity, and similar matters. There were no dues, but paraphernalia was available from Gernsback - buttons, insignia, stationary, and other matters, on all of which Gernsback undoubtedly turned a profit. At an earlier date Gernsback had operated a similar club through his technical magazines."

"Gernsback's Science Fiction League seems to have peaked at about a thousand members while Wonder Stories was in existence. While it was directly and indirectly profitable to Gernsback, it also accomplished a fair amount in organizing science-fiction fandom, which had hitherto been sporadic and individual. Such organization had mixed results. On the one hand, it helped create an "esprit d'âme," if such a term be permitted; on the other hand it opened the way to the intense factionalism that has long been characteristic of science-fiction fandom."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tokusatsu Tuesday

The first day on the job is even tough for Ultraman.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Amazing Stories #2 c2c

The Internet Archive has added several more early issues of Amazing Stories to their collection, including #2 which contains some of the earliest sf fan mail.

"And it was with a feeling of gratification that we noted the almost unanimous condemnation of the so-called "sex-appeal" type of story that seems so much in vogue in this country now. Most of our correspondents seemed to heave a great sigh of relief in at last finding a literature that appeals to the imagination, rather than carrying a sensational appeal to the emotions. It is that which justifies our new venture — our expenditure of time and money.

The letters, extracts from which are printed below, seem to best express the general trend of opinion.

Mr. George W. Anderson, of Fairmount, W. Va., in addition to giving us a good suggestion, says: "Print all scientific facts as related in the stories, in italics. This will serve to more forcefully drive home the idea upon which you have established your magazine. Personally, when I have some such system blazing forth before my eyes I am inclined to stop and consider what I have learned, for future reference."

A. Lee Gladwin, of Ames, Iowa, writes: "....Amazing Stories is entertaining and has food for thought that no other fiction work could begin to compete with."

Raymond E. Dickens, Air Mail Radio Station, Iowa City, Iowa, says: "I can read these stories over several times and each time get something new from them."

Michael H. Kay, Brooklyn, N, Y., says : "You will generally find that when one has read your magazine he will become so enthusiastic, so elated over his discovery, that he will deem it a pleasure to extol its virtues to his friends. Even now my wife is anxiously waiting for me to finish this first issue, so that she may read it herself."

Lack of space precludes adding to the list indefinitely."

I'm very appreciative of the Archive's efforts, but it has to be said that while the "Read Online" version is fine, the PDFs are rather poor quality and the text conversions are a bit garbled. Hopefully the volunteers at Project Gutenberg will pick them up and give us some properly proofread versions.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Adventures of Superman

Looking For Kryptonite Part 11
Looking For Kryptonite Part 12
Looking For Kryptonite Part 13
Looking For Kryptonite Part 14
Looking For Kryptonite Part 15

Can Superman successfully track down the missing pieces of kryptonite? The plot is beginning to return to the standard mystery/thriller style storyline that typifies the series.

N.B. There's a glitch at the start of episode 15. For a few minutes it repeats episode 12, but by three minutes in it picks up right at the dramatic plot twist that ended episode 14.

For more Golden Age Superman be sure to check out Michael Bradley's podcast, The Thrilling Adventures of Superman. Every show he goes through the original Superman comics page by page, starting with Action Comics #1.

The Thrilling Adventures of Superman promo

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tiger & Bunny 11 and 12

Episode 11, in which the politicians dither as Ouroboros holds the city hostage and a brave hero steps up to the plate.

Episode 12, the latest episode. Jake seeks to humiliate the heroes by defeating them one by one. Can they overcome this powerful NEXT?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tiger & Bunny 09 and 10

Tomorrow I'll be caught up to date.

Episode 9, in which we get to know more about Dragon Kid.

Episode 10, in which Barnaby identifies his parents' killer, and Ouroboros reveal themselves.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Infinite Quest

by Clark Ashton Smith

In years no vision shall aver,
In lands no dream may name,
Toward alien things what longings were,
And thence what languors came!

For each horizon straitly sought,
With fealty to the stars,
What death or weariness was bought,
What bitterness, what bars!

I waken unto years afar,
And find the quest made new
In Earth, that was perchance a star
Unto my former view.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tokusatsu Tuesday

"Jack Up!"

Winsquad isn't nearly as impressive when it gets stuck in a traffic jam.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Fingerpaints of the Gods

"People, I'm told you're using too much bandwidth!"


Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Adventures of Superman

Looking For Kryptonite Part 06
Looking For Kryptonite Part 07
Looking For Kryptonite Part 08
Looking For Kryptonite Part 09
Looking For Kryptonite Part 10

Helped by his friends, Batman and Robin, Superman pursues the mysterious gang whose symbol is a crescent and star. It's interesting to note that unlike today's Batman, who often uses the threat of torture to get criminals to talk, this Golden Age Batman instead gets info using a clever ruse. Odd, but clever.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tiger & Bunny 07 & 08

I told you I was going to overdo it.

Episode 7, in which Barnaby shares the secrets of his tragic past with Kotetsu and tells him about Ouroboros.

Episode 8, in which Lunatic continues his rampage and we learn more about Origami Cyclone.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tiger & Bunny 05 and 06

I'm going to go a little overboard posting T&B until I get caught up to date.

Episode 5, in which Kotetsu decides to throw a surprise birthday party for Barnaby. As you can guess, it all goes wrong.

Episode 6, in which we see more of the flamboyant Flame Emblem, and a mysterious new NEXT appears.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Where no Doctor has gone before

So, Dr. Who is doing The Venture Bros. thing and splitting the season into two parts. In the meantime, we've got quite a cliffhanger to keep us hooked.  There's a lot of spoilers coming, so don't read this if you haven't watched the first half of season six.

Things started off in classic Moffat style. He obviously comes from the same school as J. J. Abrams (figuratively speaking, of course). Both of them write scripts designed to exploit the audience's fears. They both take everyday objects and situations and do their best to imbue them with a sense of horror. For example, Moffat has taken water, shadows, even statues and tried to make them terrifying. (That's why I say these shows draw more on the tropes of the horror genre than sf). This time around it was an Apollo spacesuit which he turned into something menacing. Right off the bat it kills the Doctor. (Obviously they can't kill the lead character, and we got some hints later on that it might be the Doctor's doppelgänger that actually got killed.) Then there were some entertaining episodes involving a pirate adventure and one by Neil Gaiman in which the TARDIS gets turned into a "mad bitey woman" that the Doctor finds sexy. All good fun.

Then followed a pair of episodes written by Matthew Graham revolving around the genuinely sfnal concept of remotely controlled artificial people (called "gangers"). Unfortunately that concept is lifted almost entirely from David Brin's novel, Kiln People (2002). No points for originality there. In any case, these episodes established that gangers are just as real as their originals, and that there is a ganger Doctor. He gets dissolved at the end, but it's hinted that he might be able to survive that. Is that who we saw get killed at the start of the season?

Then there was a major plot twist when it was revealed that Amy has been a ganger since the season began! I didn't see that coming. The reason she was seeing that eye-patch woman all the time was because she was actually being held captive somewhere else and her personality was being projected into the ganger. Now, there are a couple of problems with this. Amy mentions one herself when she questions how the signal could have been beamed into the TARDIS. Good question, Amy. What's more is that in "The Doctor's Wife" they all traveled outside the universe. How could the signal possibly have reached them there? To top it all off, when the Doctor reveals Amy's situation he then promptly liquefies the ganger Amy. This is after they spent two whole episodes driving home the point that gangers are people too! WTF?

Anyway, the big revelation of the mid-season finale is that, yes, River is in fact Amy's daughter. I kind of suspected that. And I while I wasn't disappointed, I do think it was a little bit of a cheat. Let me explain. The question of River's identity has been a mystery dangled before the viewers ever since season four. Now, let's draw an analogy to a mystery novel. In the classic Fair Play mystery the reader has all the clues presented to them and has the opportunity to solve the mystery before the solution is revealed in the last chapter. But that's not what happened here. For nearly two seasons we've been trying to solve the mystery of River's identity without having all of the clues. Suddenly at the beginning of this season we find out that, surprise!, Amy has a daughter, and the kid grew up to be our mystery woman. There's no way you could have worked that out form the clues in the previous two seasons. That's why I say it's kind of a cheat. It's not going to put me off the show or anything, but I would have preferred a proper mystery.

But I have been enjoying the show. Matt Smith is pitch-perfect as the Doctor, and Karen Gillan is great as his sassy Scots sidekick. That last episode was a rousing yarn. It all ended on a suspenseful note as the evil baby-snatchers made off with Amy's baby. (Just like the evil baby-snatchers in Lost were after Claire's baby. It's that whole exploit-the-fears thing again.) In the final scene the Doctor takes off on his own in the TARDIS and we'll just have to wait until September to see where he ends up.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tokusatsu Tuesday

The Jetmen are Earth's last line of defense against rampaging faucet monsters.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Amazing Stories #1 c2c

Some enterprising soul over at the Internet Archive has uploaded a scan of the very first science fiction magazine.

Amazing Stories Volume 01 Number 01 (April 1926). Scanned copy of a pulp magazine published by Experimenter Publishing Co. and edited by Hugo Gernsback. Periodical copyright not renewed. Individual contributions' copyrights not renewed. This magazine and its contents are now in the public domain. This is the first issue of the first science fiction magazine in history.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Adventures of Superman

Looking For Kryptonite Part 01
Looking For Kryptonite Part 02
Looking For Kryptonite Part 03
Looking For Kryptonite Part 04
Looking For Kryptonite Part 05

Kryptonite. It has become part of the cultural vocabulary. If a person has a bane, we say "it is his kryptonite." And it was in this radio series that kryptonite was invented, only later to be incorporated into the comic book proper -- and eventually popular mythology. In this story arc Superman once more teams up with Batman and Robin to hunt down the remaining pieces of kryptonite. (I say "once more" because they teamed up before, but all the episodes of that encounter aren't available so I never posted them.)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tiger & Bunny 03 & 04

Double the fun.

Episode 3, in which our protagonists try to learn to work as a team.

Episode 4, in which we begin to learn more about the other heroes, starting with Blue Rose.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Science Friday reports that scientists are have probed the penumbra of sunspots...coincidentally the subject of a song by The Stranglers.

Now that I think of it, I should have posted their ironic song "Second Coming" during all that recent rapture business. Why do I always think of these things too late? C'est la vie.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

All the Lives He Led (2011)

In a postscript to his 1957 novel Slave Ship (which in a way anticipated the Vietnam War), Frederik Pohl explained what it is that science fiction writers do.

"It is not the business of the science fiction writer to record matters of contemporary fact or scientific truths that have already been discovered. It his business to take what is already known and, by extrapolating from it, draw as plausibly detailed a portrait as he can manage of what tomorrow's scientists may learn...and what the human race in its day-to-day life may make of it all."

In his latest novel, All the Lives He Led (2011), he stays true to his own definition and delivers an entertaining and disquieting vision of a possible near-future.

The book is a first-person account, a memoir of sorts, by Brad Sheridan. Once the scion of an upper-class Midwestern family, Brad's fortunes took a turn for the worse thanks to a natural catastrophe. In the 2060's Yellowstone National Park, famous for it's geysers, decided it was tired of lying dormant. The resulting supervolcano laid waste to the better part of the USA and crippled the national and world economy, forever ending America's days as a Superpower. Brad and his family find themselves scraping out a meager existence in the Molly Pitcher Redeployment Village on Staten Island. Brad spends his day being bullied by the local New York youths and running two-bit hustles, like rolling drunk tourists. His life is further complicated by the black sheep of the family, the Reverend Delmore DeVries Maddingsley. Uncle Devious, as his relatives know him, ran a scam charity funneling money to terrorists, bringing suspicion on the entire family. Eventually Brad takes the only avenue open to someone in his dire straights. He becomes an indentured servant. This eventually leads him, via airship, to Italy where he gets a job working at L'Annio Giubileo della Citta di Pompeii, or the Pompeii Jubilee. This is an elaborate celebration which involves the use of holographic virtual reality, or "virts", to recreate the ancient city of Pompeii. But insubstantial holograms can't sell tourists souvenirs, and so Brad, after some minor misadventures, finds himself vending wine and hydromel to sightseers from a cramped stall on the Via dell'Abbondanza. Security is tight at this major world event. Despite some unwelcome heat from Security, in the person of the un-personable "Piranha Woman," as a result of his relation to Uncle Devious, Brad seems to be doing alright. He attends the mandatory Security meetings about the numerous terrorist groups that bedevil society. His boss, known to his employees as "the Welsh Bastard," is gruff but not unbearable. He's making some casual friends, like the attractive Elfreda Barcowicz and the emotionally needy Maury Tesch. And when he gets romantically involved with Gerda Flemming things really start looking up. But his friends aren't all they seem. And a mysterious disease, dubbed "the Pompeii Flu," starts to spread. Then Brad finds himself approached by the wealthy Eustace Chi-Leong to smuggle a stolen antiquity aboard the luxury cruise zeppelin Chang Jang. And before he knows it, Brad is in over his head in a dangerous situation not of his making.

This is a grimly plausible novel. The future it portrays is one that could easily come to pass. The setting of the Giubileo, of a virtual world superimposed on an ancient city, becomes a metaphor for the exploration of transformed identity. It is through this city experiencing a duel existence that Brad must undertake his existential journey. The simulated surface of Pompeii is reflected in the misrepresentations of the people in his life. He is confronted with the unreliability and cruelty of life at every turn. The meaninglessness of it all is embodied by the various of terrorist factions. Their propaganda of the deed is empty and futile, doing nothing to further their conflicting causes. The absurdity of their aims and actions is highlighted by the fact that among their number is a now militant Flat Earth Society. The world Brad inhabits is one ruled by chance. It is for him to make what he can of the situations, both good and ill, that Fortune confronts him with. By the end of the novel its the choices he makes and the meaning he chooses to find in life that makes all the difference.

The tone of this novel is consistently, even inappropriately, nonchalant. Brad keeps us at an emotional arms length even at the most trying of times. He seems to recognize this himself, and at one point observes, "I've told all this as though it was like some summer afternoon's idle viewing. Well, it wasn't really like that at all." As a result it is very hard to connect with him. Brad is not a particularly admirable person, and while we might sympathize with him it is usually at something of an emotional distance. He is a guarded person who tells an emotionally guarded tale.

One peculiarity among the extrapolation informing the book is the seeming absence of social media. At one point when Brad and Gerda are separated all he can do is wait for her to call rather than checking her Facebook updates.

Frederik Pohl is already a living legend in the science fiction genre. This book finds him still in top notch shape, writing as well as he ever has. The visions of the future he has crafted have always been both compelling and discomforting. This latest novel stays true to form, delivering a resolution that is hopeful yet disquieting. All the Lives He Led is not a conventionally plotted genre novel. It is much more of a character study, focusing on one young man trying to make sense of a harsh world. Although conversational in tone it is not light in subject matter, and will leave you reflecting on some of life's serious questions even as it entertains.