PLANETS OF WONDER edited by Terry Carr

TITLE: PLANETS OF WONDER – A TREASURY OF SPACE OPERA
EDITED BY: Terry Carr
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 1976
FORMAT: Hardback, 1st Edition, 189 pages, ISBN: 0-8407-6526-6

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Terry Carr
  • “Dust of Gods” by C. L. Moore (Weird Tales, August 1934)
  • “We Guard the Black Planet!” by Henry Kuttner (Super Science Stories, November 1942)
  • “The Veil of Astellar” by Leigh Brackett (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Spring 1944)
  • “Kingdoms of the Stars” by Edmond Hamilton (Amazing Stories, September 1964)

This is one of my favourite SF anthologies, edited by one of the best anthologists out there, Terry Carr. It’s also a pretty short one, at only 189 pages, with only four stories, but what stories they are.

What we have here are four of the genuine Classic Space Opera adventures from days gone by, one from the 1930s, two from the 1940s and one from the 1960s. Even more importantly, all of these stories were authored by four of the greatest proponents of that sub-genre of SF, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton. These two great husband and wife author teams of the Thirties and Forties, are among my favourite SF writers of that era, and I’ll read pretty much anything written by the four of them. Kuttner, Moore and Brackett, in particular, are three of my favourite SF authors ever.

This is a gem of an anthology, with four great stories and an excellent introduction by Terry Car. I reckon that it’s been out of print for many years, but it would be well worth tracking down in used book stores. I wish that far more old anthologies like this would again be made available in electronic format for the Kindle, Nook and various other eReader devices out there, For the enjoyment of newer generations of SF readers, who have never seen these old classics before.

Poor kids. They don’t know what they’re missing!

Sci-Fi on Television (Part 3)

The 2000s have provided a relative scarcity of good new telefantasy that I’ve actually liked (in comparison to, say, the 1960s, 1970s or 1990s), and the unnerving policy of cancelling potentially good series (both UK and US) before they even get off the ground still continues to hang over every new television sci-fi creation.

In the UK (and, indeed, worldwide), the modern incarnation of Doctor Who has been a runaway success, and is still going strong after seven seasons. Although not as big a fan of NuWho as I am of the classic series, in my opinion, it still ranks among the very best of recent telefantasy. I was also quite fond of spin-off series Torchwood, although it seems to have petered out after a run of four seasons (I hope I’m wrong and it returns at some point in the future). Another of my favourite UK series was Primeval, which had a decent run lasting for five seasons, but it also seems to have disappeared. The 2011 series Outcasts, was cancelled after only eight episodes, due to poor viewing figures, just when it was getting really interesting and I was starting to really get into it. I was well pissed off about that.

As for US telefantasy series, I quite liked Andromeda (2000-2005), although what seems like a change in tone and general direction in the middle of the run took it down a path that I didn’t like quite as much as I did the earlier seasons. One of my favourite series of the past decade was the remake of Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009). Four seasons of the main series, plus the initial 2003 mini-series and the two TV movies Razor and The Plan, provided a rivetting storyline, which actually managed to wrap up everything neatly by the end. It’s a great pity that the two very interesting BSG prequel series, Caprica and Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome barely made it out of the starting blocks, as they both had a lot of potential.

Star Trek: Enterprise was one that I wasn’t fussed on first time around, but I got to like it when I watched it a few years later on DVD. Sadly it was cancelled after four seasons, the first Trek series since the original 1960s show to be canned prematurely. Stargate SG1, another one that I didn’t get into until a few years afterwards, lasted an incredible ten seasons, ending in 2002, and spawning a couple of spin-off series that I liked quite a lot.

I quite liked Stargate Atlantis, which was sadly cancelled after only five years to make way for its much more serious and BSG-influenced follow-up series, Stargate Universe, which ironically and sadly was also canned, after only two seasons. This one never managed to pick up the big audiences of its predecessors, who were most likely put off by the bleak grimness of the series. Both these series had interesting characters and scripts, and deserved to last longer (particularly Stargate Universe).

The fun Warehouse 13 and its sister series Eureka both made it to a respectable five years, while Sanctuary made it to four seasons. However, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, an interesting Terminator spin-off, only made it to two seasons, as did Alphas. I really, really wish the damned networks would give these series a bit more time to grow before nixing them.

Taking this into consideration, I was delighted that one of my favourite series, Fringe, actually got to finish off its storyline in a fifth season finale. I really, REALLY hate it when a good series is cancelled on a cliffhanger, without the overall story being resolved, as happened with Farscape, another favourite of mine. At least The Peacekeeper Wars mini-series gave some closure to that one, but still left a hugely unsatisfying taste in my mouth.

Worst of all, the excellent Firefly only made it to fourteen episodes before being canned by moronic network execs. The follow-up movie Serenity, as good as it was, was no compensation for that extremely short-sighted and tragically premature axing of the main series. Firefly was, in my opinion, Joss Whedon’s best television series, and it’s really sad that the suits wouldn’t give it more of a chance to spread its wings, as it would’ve been really big. The television network suits only understand viewing figures. They wouldn’t know good TV if it kicked them up the arse and screamed “WATCH ME!”

As for current telefantasy series, There isn’t much out there right now. Two of my favourite series finished recently, Fringe in January 2013, and the adult comedy sci-fi drama Misfits in December 2013. With those two gone, I don’t see any current sci-fi television worth getting too worked up about. Well, maybe Defiance, which isn’t too bad (and it seems has been given the green light for a second season), and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is okay for an hour’s viewing, but nothing special overall.

And then there’s the current US remake of classic 1970’s UK kid’s sci-fi series The Tomorrow People. I wouldn’t really describe this one as “good”. It’s a bit “Meh” to be honest, bland and Americanised, in many ways yet another teenage soap opera, chock-full of pretty boys and girls and mindless fight scenes. It’s lost pretty much everything which made the original 1970s series such fun (despite it being so cheap and cheesy), and falls strictly into the “watch if there’s nothing else good on another channel” category. I do keep watching in the hope that the series comes up with something interesting, but I doubt that it will. I don’t think the scriptwriters have the balls or the talent. But I really do hope that they prove me wrong.

Maybe there have been other recent telefantasy series aside from these, but they certainly weren’t a big enough hit for me to even notice them. Good new telefantasy series in the second decade of the twenty-first century seem to be as rare as hen’s teeth, and, at almost half-way through the decade, this trend shows no signs of improving. It seems like it’s left to good old Doctor Who to carry the lone banner for decent telefantasy right now, and if IT finishes up, God help us all. If it wasn’t for my big collection of classic telefantasy DVDs, I’d go off my head. 🙁

Some Sunday Evening Movies

Another quiet, relaxing Sunday afternoon/evening, sitting in, just watching sci-fi films on television and DVD. Sunday has become one of my favourite days for films. There’s almost always something good on for sci-fi fans on a Sunday.

I started off this afternoon watching two-in-a-row on Film4. The first was an “oldie-but-goody”, AT THE EARTH’S CORE, starring Peter Cushing, Doug McClure, and the absolutely gorgeous Caroline Munroe. Based on the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of the same name, the monsters and special effects might (definitely) look a bit hokey compared to modern movies, but it was fun, and not a mess of explosions, fighting and SFX without a story, which is a problem afflicting many modern sci-fi films.

This was followed by CONGO, the first Michael Crichton-based film that I’ve seen in a while that didn’t have dinosaurs in it (I’ve seen lots of re-runs of the various JURASSIC PARK films over the past few months). Not a bad film, even if carnivorous gorillas don’t seem to have quite the same attraction as lots of raptors or the compulsory Tyrannosaurus Rex. 🙂

Finally, on DVD, something a little more modern. I’m not usually a big fan of films based on computer or consoles games, but I gotta admit that I liked PACIFIC RIM. Firmly based in the Kaiju/giant monster vs giant robots genre, there are lots of great SFX and titanic fight scenes between the various kaijus and men in giant robot suits, but there’s also a half-decent story, which is a major plus. Another fun film.

Well, the sci-fi films are all done now, and the evening is almost over, so it’s back to Film4, and DIE HARD 2. All-in-all, a very good evening’s viewing.

Doctor Who: 50 Years in Space & Time (Part 9)

Here’s the next part of my look back at the Best of the Bunch from Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary:

  • The Night of the Doctor – mini-episode prequel
  • The Last Day – mini-episode prequel

8. The Night of the Doctor

Commemorating Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary, and the first of two very good mini-episode prequels to The Day of the Doctor is The Night of the Doctor, which was released on Youtube and BBC iPlayer on 14th November. At less than seven minutes long, it is an excellent swansong for the Paul McGann Doctor and as an introduction to the War Doctor. It was also nice to see the Sisterhood of Karn make a reappearance again, as we hadn’t seen them since the Tom Baker era. Both McGann and the Sisterhood should have been given more airtime in past Doctor Who series, so it was nice to see them again, and particularly in McGann’s case, to see him have a nice, much-deserved regeneration scene at last.

9. The Last Day

The second of the two mini-episode prequels to The Day of the Doctor, and, at under four minutes, even shorter than The Night of the Doctor, is The Last Day, which first appeared on YouTube and BBC iPlayer on 21st November. Seen from the point of view of a Time Lord soldier wearing a headcam, this one elaborates on the “fall of Arcadia” during the Time War. The sequence with the commander bragging about the supposedly impenetrable “sky trenches” and Arcadia being “the safest place on Gallifrey” illustrates the overconfidence and complacency of the Time Lords. When the Daleks burst through in large numbers, I was almost cheering them on. 🙂

To Be Continued…