THE MARATHON PHOTOGRAPH AND OTHER STORIES (1986)
by
Clifford D. Simak

The Marathon Photograph (1986)

This time out, we have a single author collection of short fiction by one of my favourite authors, Clifford D. Simak, in which all of the stories have an underlying thematic link dealing with the mysterious paradox of time.

It’s quite a short collection, at only 171 pages, and only four stories (making it a relatively quick and easy read compared to most of the modern brick-sized entities masquerading as books). But one of those stories is a long novella, and there are also two novelettes and a single short story making up the rest of the book. And what stories they are.

 

TITLE: THE MARATHON PHOTOGRAPH AND OTHER STORIES
AUTHOR: Clifford D. Simak
EDITOR: Francis Lyall
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Single Author Collection
FORMAT: Hardback, 171 pages
PUBLISHER: Severn House (SH), London, 1986
ISBN: 0 7278 1221 1

  • The Introduction
  • “The Birch Clump Cylinder” (from Stellar #1, edited by Judy-Lynn del Rey, Ballantine, 1974)
  • “The Whistling Well” (from Dark Forces), edited by Kirby McCauley, Viking, 1980
  • “The Marathon Photograph” (from Threads of Time), edited by Robert Silverberg, Nelson, 1974
  • “The Grotto Of The Dancing Deer” (from Analog, April 1980)

The stories are all quite long. Even the shortest, “The Grotto of the Dancing Deer”, comes in at just over twenty-one pages. This story is a good one, first published in Analog back in April 1980, and winning the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards for that year. It’s a lovely story, and one which I recall enjoying a lot when I first read it twenty or so years ago.

“The Marathon Photograph” at seventy pages, is the longest story in the collection. I read this one many years ago on its original publication in Threads of Time, edited by Robert Silverberg (1974). I loved it then, and still do. It’s my favourite of the four stories in this collection.

The other stories in the collection, “The Birch Clump Cylinder” and “The Whistling Well”, are two that I haven’t read before. From what I’ve read of both stories so far, I’m quite sure that I’ll enjoy them just as must as I did the other two.

Simak had his first SF story published in Astounding way back in 1931 (“World of the Red Sun”), and most of my favourite Simak short fiction came from much earlier in his career – “The World of the Red Sun” (1931), “Sunspot Purge” (1940), “Beachhead” aka “You’ll Never Go Home Again” (1951), “The Trouble with Ants” (1951), “Small Deer” (1965), and a few others – and I haven’t read a lot of his later stuff. By contrast, the stories in this collection are all from quite late in Simak’s career (he died in 1988, at the age of 83), the earliest two being written when he was almost 70, and the other two during his mid-70’s.

It’ll be interesting to compare and contrast with his earlier material. “The Marathon Photograph” already rates as one of my favourite Simak tales, if not my overall favourite.

Definitely a nice little collection, from a pretty much forgotten (except by the oldies) and greatly underappreciated author.

Another Doctor Who Night In
(Part Two)

In my last post I detailed my latest recent DVD-watching binge of Doctor Who stories, the recent choices all being Tom Baker stories. Last night I watched a couple more Doctor Who stories, switching this time to Jon Pertwee and the two Auton classics, Spearhead from Space (Special Edition) and Terror of the Autons, as featured on the Mannequin Mania DVD box set.

Spearhead from Space is one of my favourite Pertwee stories. When Jon Pertwee fell out of the TARDIS, almost exactly one month after my ninth birthday, I wasn’t too pleased. I’d been a Pat Troughton fan since I first started really paying attention to Doctor Who back in 1966 or so, at the young age of five-going-six years old. Up until that point in my life, he was the only Doctor I’d known, as I’d been too young to really remember Hartnell, although I’d doubtless seen a few of his as well, and had a view brief flashes and memory fragments of several stories.

So when Troughton left, and this new guy, Pertwee, took over, I was not a happy camper. But that mood didn’t last for long. By the end of the first episode of Spearhead, I’d completely forgotten about Troughton, and Pertwee was now most definitely The Doctor in my eyes. The sheer excellence of the story itself greatly eased the transition, and at that tender age, I found the concept of the Nestene Consciousness, and in particular the Autons, very scary and unnerving. For years afterwards, I was extremely nervous whenever I walked past any department store window. My young imagination already had the shop front dummies ready to smash through the windows and grab me. 🙂

Terror of the Autons is also a good story, but it never quite had the same impact on me as Spearhead from Space, although to this day, I still hate plastic flowers, plastic chairs and telephone cables. 🙂 The Autons in this one (except for the cops) weren’t quite as frightening as those in Spearhead. With their massive heads and their circus background, they looked faintly silly and ridiculous, although the fight sequences with the UNIT troops were excellent.

However, this was the story that first introduced The Master, played by the late, great Roger Delgado, who quickly became a great favourite of mine. For that reason alone Terror of the Autons will always hold a fond spot in my heart. The story also introduced the new companion, cute and cuddly Jo Grant, played by Katy Manning, who joined Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Captain Yates, Corporal Benton and the rest of the UNIT cast, and who was to be at Pertwee’s side for the next three years of his run on the show. The classic and much-lauded “UNIT family” was now well and truly in place to usher in a new and one of the most fondly-remembered periods in the show’s history.

Overall, another cracking night’s viewing on the Doctor Who front.

Another Doctor Who Night In

We had another nice Doctor Who night last night at our place, watching several classic Who DVDs. Again, like last time out, they’re all Tom Baker stories, two from the Philip Hinchcliffe era and the third from the Graham Williams era.

We started off with The Seeds of Doom, one of my favourite stories from the Philip Hinchcliffe “Gothic Horror” era of the classic series, a four-year period that remains, to this day, my favourite-ever era in the history of Doctor Who, either Classic or New series. This is quite a scary one, with the Krynoid very reminiscent of the plant creature in the first 1953 Quatermass serial. Doctor Who, especially the classic series, was very heavily influenced by Quatermass. Always copy the best, that’s what I say! 🙂

This was followed by The Deadly Assassin, the rather controversial story which showcased the “reinvention” of the Time Lords. This one got some of the more purist fans of the original, near-omnipotent Time Lords in a bit of a tizzy, and I have to admit that I found myself sometimes wondering how this bunch of incompetent bureaucrats could ever have been the lords of time and space. The story also featured the first reappearance of The Master since the Pertwee era, a welcome return. The Deadly Assassin is an excellent tale, always rated among one of the greatest of the classic series, although I wouldn’t rate it as one of my own personal biggest favourites (I do like it, however).

To wrap up the evening, we finished off with another highly-rated classic, City of Death, which I also quite like, although, again, I wouldn’t rate it in my own personal Top Ten Classic Who stories. I was never as fond of the Graham Williams era as I was of the Hinchcliffe era. Tom Baker was allowed to do his own thing far too much, and often hammed it up a lot, with the humour getting a bit silly and slapstick at times. I much preferred the more scary and serious feel of the Hinchcliffe era, when Baker’s humour was much more subdued and subtle, and he played the role totally straight. That said, City of Death was definitely one of the best stories of the Williams era. Scaroth was one of the better villains that the fourth Doctor faced, and I’ve always found the concept of the Jagaroth, a ruthless alien race which terrorized the galaxy half a billion years ago, to be something that I’d love to see revisited again. Maybe in the new series. The TARDIS can go anywhere, after all.

Anyway, that was another really enjoyable evening. Here’s looking forward to watching some more Doctor Who soon.

Some New Doctor Who Books (Part Two)

Back at the end of January, I made a start on listing some of the Doctor Who related books that I’ve been picking up over recent months. Here are a few more, focusing specifically on the excellent fan-oriented publications of Mad Norwegian Press:

  • ABOUT TIME: THE UNAUTHORIZED GUIDE TO DOCTOR WHO – BOOK 7, 2005 – 2006 SERIES 1 & 2
  • TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 1: LANCE PARKIN
  • TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 2: WRITINGS ON THE CLASSIC SERIES
  • TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 3: WRITINGS ON THE NEW SERIES

I was an obsessive collector of Doctor Who fanzines way back in the 1980’s and early-1990’s, the era often fondly referred to as the “Golden Age of Doctor Who Fanzines”. In many ways, I still am today, although there are a lot fewer print/paper fanzines around these days than there were back in the 80’s and 90’s. So these four Mad Norwegian Press books are an absolute goldmine of DW reference material, and of great interest to someone like me, particularly the three TIME UNINCORPORATED books, which collect a host of fanzine and fan-related writing.

The ABOUT TIME: THE UNAUTHORIZED GUIDE TO DOCTOR WHO – BOOK 7, 2005 – 2006 SERIES 1 & 2 by Tat Wood and Dorothy Ail (trade paperback, Mad Norwegian Press, US, 2013, ISBN: 978-1935234159), is the first book in the ABOUT TIME series that I’ve bought, and about time (if you’ll pardon the pun). It’s not as though I could hold off forever from buying a series of books which describes itself as “A history of the Doctor Who continuum”. Tat Wood is a name that I definitely remember well from my days collecting zines back in the 80’s and 90’s, and this book is extremely dense and full of fantastic information. This volume is the first in the series focusing on NuWho, covering the first two seasons of the new series, 2005-2006. As I’m an even bigger fan of the classic series than I am of the new (although I do like the new series), I really should get around to tracking down the first six ABOUT TIME books.

TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 1: LANCE PARKIN by Lance Parkin (trade paperback, Mad Norwegian Press, US, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-935234012), is the first of a projected multi-volume series collecting “selected treasures” from many of the best pieces of fanzine writing of the past. This particular volume focuses on a single writer – Lance Parkin – and collects fifteen years worth of his fanzine scribblings. Back in the early-1990’s, I was a big follower of the publications put out by Seventh Door Fanzines, and soon became a fan of Lance Parkin’s writing, long before he ever hit it big in the world of Doctor Who publishing. I still have a pristine condition copy of his original 1994 The Doctor Who Chronology, which for years served as one of my favourite Doctor Who reference books. That has now been superceded as a reference source by its immense descendant AHISTORY, although the original still occasionally comes out of its box just for the sheer nostalgia kick that reading those old zine publications gives me. These books are fantastic, but there’s nothing like holding the originals in your hands.

TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 2: WRITINGS ON THE CLASSIC SERIES edited by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith (trade paperback, Mad Norwegian Press, US, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-935234029), continues where the previous volume left off, except this time focusing on the fanzine and other fan-related writings of a much wider group of authors, relating to the classic series from 1963-1989, and including the 1996 FOX TV movie. There are nearly seventy-five essays here, and quite a few names here that I recognize, but also quite a few that I do not.

TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 3: WRITINGS ON THE NEW SERIES edited by Robert Shearman, Graeme Burk and Robert Smith (trade paperback, Mad Norwegian Press, US, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-935234036), is more of the same kind of thing that we got in Vol. 2, except this time concentrating on the new series, up until 2010. Nearly sixty-five essays, again by a wide range of authors, many of whom I recognize, and many of whom I do not. This one is billed as “the third and final volume of this series”, and it finishes at the end of Matt Smith’s first year in the role of The Doctor. C’mon Mad Norwegian Press guys! You can’t leave it hanging there! This series is really crying out for a Volume 4, to cover Matt Smith’s second and third seasons, and the start of Peter Capaldi’s run on the show. As a matter of fact, as long
as the new series continues to run, there should be more and more new volumes to cover it!

Anyway, that’s it for now. More new Doctor Who book listings coming up soon.

Some New Doctor Who Books (Part One)

The books have been rolling in (don’t they always – I need a bigger house), from Amazon.co.uk, Ebay.co.uk, and my regular comics and books supplier in the US. So I’m going to start listing the new stuff that has landed on my doorstep during the past few months, starting off with the books based on various telefantasy series.

I’ll begin first with a few Doctor Who books. We’re in the quiet period now, between the Christmas Special and the start of Series 9, so there’s nothing Who-related happening on television at the moment. That gives me some time to catch up on a few posts about the Doctor Who-related books that I’ve picked up in recent months.

  • DOCTOR WHO: THE VISUAL DICTIONARY
  • DOCTOR WHO: THE OFFICIAL ANNUAL 2015
  • BEHIND THE SOFA: CELEBRITY MEMORIES OF DOCTOR WHO
  • THE OFFICIAL QUOTABLE DOCTOR WHO: WISE WORDS FROM ACROSS TIME AND SPACE
  • DOCTOR WHO: 50TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION – 11 DOCTORS 11 STORIES

DOCTOR WHO: THE VISUAL DICTIONARY written by Neil Corry, Jacqueline Rayner, Andrew Darling, Kerrie Dougherty, David John and Simon Beecroft (hardcover, Dorling Kindersley DK, London, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-4053-5033-4) is a lovely big coffee table book, as are most of DK’s offerings. There are lots and lots of gorgeous pictures, and plenty of info on the series, both old and new, although the newer stuff tends to take prominence. Very, very nice indeed

DOCTOR WHO: THE OFFICIAL ANNUAL 2015 (hardcover, Puffin Books, London, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-405-91756-8) isn’t quite as beefy and interesting as the big DK book, but each year wouldn’t be the same without the Doctor Who Annual.

BEHIND THE SOFA: CELEBRITY MEMORIES OF DOCTOR WHO edited by Steve Berry (hardcover, Matador, UK, 2012, ISBN: 978-1780882-857) is an interesting little read, with over a hundred celebrity fans sharing their Doctor Who memories

THE OFFICIAL QUOTABLE DOCTOR WHO: WISE WORDS FROM ACROSS TIME AND SPACE by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright (hardcover, Harper Design, New York, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-06-233614-9), a nice, fat book of Doctor Who quotations, from all eras of the show.

DOCTOR WHO: 50TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION – 11 DOCTORS 11 STORIES (trade paperback, Puffin Books, London, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-141-34894-0), is my favourite Doctor Who book of the bunch, a big, beefy trade paperback of wholesome Doctor Who fiction. Eleven stories celebrating the 50th Anniversary of our favourite Time Lord, one for each incarnation of the Doctor. Eleven stories by eleven different authors, all of which have originally appeared as a series of individual ebooks earlier in 2013. Most of the names are not authors that I recognize, but I certainly know Neil Gaiman, Eoin Colfer and Alex Scarrow, who are big-name authors (well, Gaiman and Colfer are, but Scarrow has also had a few books published).

So we have five Doctor Who books to start off with, all big, juicy tomes. There’s a lot of good reading there.

That’s it for now. More new Doctor Who book acquisitions coming up soon.

Classic Sci-Fi Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (1963)

I’m sitting here in the (very) early hours of Boxing Day, watching Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1963 horror/fantasy thriller The Birds on Film4. I haven’t seen this one from beginning to end in many, many years, so I’m enjoying it a lot.

The main characters are played by Rod Taylor (three years after his role in George Pal’s classic 1960 movie The Time Machine), Tippi Hedren (I can’t recall her in anything else), Suzanne Pleschette, Jessica Tandy and a very young Veronica Cartwright. But the real stars of the film are the birds.

The story is a classic “what-if” with an impending apocalyptic theme, and is loosely based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier. It is set in the tiny California harbour town of Bodega Bay, which is under siege by thousands of birds. The birds are launching sporadic, seemingly random attacks on the inhabitants, causing mayhem, destruction and even killing a number of people including one of the main characters, the local school teacher. There are several truly disturbing and memorable scenes, in which the birds attack the children during a party and later at the school, the mass attack and destruction at the diner/petrol station, and the final attack at the home of Mitch’s mother, in which Melanie (Tippi Hedren) is almost killed in the bedroom and left traumatised.

I did have a bit of a chuckle during the scene at the diner (just before the birds attack) where the old lady ornithologist states that there are a hundred billion birds in the world, and if they really have all ganged up together to attack the human race, we’d have no chance. I seriously doubt that, and I believe that if a war ever did break out between the birds and humans, we would very efficiently render every single one of them extinct. Cue images of tens of thousands of rednecks and Dick Cheney types blasting countless millions of poor birdies out of the sky and having great fun doing so.

The film has just ended, and never really explains why the birds are attacking. The conclusion has the protagonists just driving off in a car, under the watchful eyes of thousands of menacing birds, who just let them go, we never find out why. There is some inference (from news reports on the car radio) that the attacks are spreading beyond Bodega Bay, and that this is the beginning of the end for the human race.

That was certainly two-and-a-half hours well spent. 🙂