A New Dawn: The Complete Don A. Stuart Stories (2003)

A New Dawn The Complete Don A Stuart Stories NESFA

This time out, I’m taking a brief look at one of the high-quality NESFA Press collections of SF author short fiction. This one contains all of John W. Campbell, Jr’s short fiction written under his “Don A. Stuart” pseudonym, plus a couple of previously unpublished (in book form) articles also written by Campbell under the Stuart handle.

The collection starts off with an excellent introduction, “The Man Who Lost the Sea”, written by Barry N. Malzberg, giving a short but fascinating examination of Campbell’s career. This is followed by sixteen stories, and finishes off with the two essays.

 

TITLE: A NEW DAWN: THE COMPLETE DON A.STUART STORIES
AUTHOR: John W. Campbell, Jr.
EDITED BY: James A. Mann
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Author Collection
DUSTJACKET ART: Bob Eggleton
FORMAT: Hardback, 464 pages
PUBLISHER: NESFA Press, US, 2003
ISBN: 1-886778-15-9

CONTENTS (16 Stories, 2 Articles):

  • Introduction: “The Man Who Lost the Sea” (2002) by Barry N. Malzberg
  • “Twilight” (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1934, short story)
  • “Atomic Power” (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1934, short story)
  • “The Machine” (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1935, short story, Machine series #1)
  • “The Invaders” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1935, novelette, Machine series #2)
  • “Rebellion” (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1935, short story, Machine series #3)
  • “Blindness” (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1935, short story)
  • “The Escape” (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1935, novelette)
  • “Night” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1935, novelette)
  • “Elimination” (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1936, short story)
  • “Frictional Losses” (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1936, novelette)
  • “Forgetfulness” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1937, novelette)
  • “Out of Night” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1937, novelette, Aesir series #1)
  • “Cloak of Aesir” (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1939, novelette, Aesir series #2)
  • “Dead Knowledge” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1938, novelette)
  • “Who Goes There?” (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1938, novelette)
  • “The Elder Gods” (Unknown, October 1939, novella)
  • “Strange Worlds” (Unknown, April 1939, article)
  • “Wouldst Write, Wee One?” (Scienti-Snaps, Vol.3 No.1, February 1940, article)

The stories appear in chronological order, in order of dates of publication, with the exception of the three stories in the Invaders sequence and the two Aesir stories, which have all been re-ordered so they appear in their own correct internal sequence.

Campbell, especially the Don A. Stuart alter ego, was one of my favourite SF writers of the 1930s. Under his own name, he competed with E. E. “Doc” Smith, writing stories of superscience (although Campbell was a MUCH better writer than Smith), but under the Stuart pseudonym, he wrote stories that were truly special, dark, moody, decadent, and more akin to the darker tales of H. G. Wells and other classic scientific romance authors than anything hitherto seen in the pulps.

Sure, there were a few other writers in that era who did the dark, moody and decadent thing pretty darned good – Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, C. L. Moore, and Henry Kuttner, to name but a few – but these authors mostly wrote SF&F of a completely different, more fantasy-oriented flavour. In my opinion, Campbell, with the exception of maybe Jack Williamson, who also was writing some similarly dark, moody SF during that period, had no real direct competition in science fiction at that time.

When I was a kid (early-mid teens), I first encountered Campbell’s short fiction in various collections and anthologies that I checked out of local libraries. Ironically, I encountered the superior Don A. Stuart tales years before I ever read any of Campbell’s Superscience stories. “Night” was the first one, in the Sam Moskowitz-edited anthology Microcosmic God. That story had a huge and formative impact on me as a reader, and I was delighted to find out a year or two later that it was actually a sequel to another excellent story, “Twilight”.

After I read “Night”, I eagerly hunted down any other Campbell short stories that I could find. Some of them were just as good as “Night”, including the aforementioned “Twilight” and other tales such as “Forgetfulness”, the two Aesir stories “Out of Night” and “The Cloak of Aesir”, and the classic “Who Goes There?”. These all became huge favourites of mine during my teenage years. “Dead Knowledge”, “Blindness” and the Machine trilogy of stories were all also very good. It’s been many years since I’ve read most of these stories, so it’s going to be fun revisiting them.

When Campbell took over at Astounding as The Editor, and kick-started the Golden Age which totally reshaped SF, he became one of the biggest and most important figures in the history of the genre. But, at the same time, we also lost potentially one of the genre’s greatest writers, something that I, personally, regret quite a lot. We can only imagine how good he might have become, what other amazing stories he might’ve written, if he hadn’t given up writing to concentrate fully on being the editor of Astounding.

But, at least, in this excellent collection, he has left behind some of the greatest SF stories not only of the 1930’s, but indeed any other era. This is one of my favourite SF author short fiction collections, and definitely recommended reading.

A New Dawn: The Complete Don A. Stuart Stories (2003)

A New Dawn The Complete Don A Stuart Stories NESFA

This time out, I’m taking a brief look at one of the high-quality NESFA Press collections of SF author short fiction. This one contains all of John W. Campbell, Jr’s short fiction written under his “Don A. Stuart” pseudonym, plus a couple of previously unpublished (in book form) articles also written by Campbell under the Stuart handle. The collection starts off with an excellent introduction, “The Man Who Lost the Sea”, written by Barry N. Malzberg, giving a short but fascinating examination of Campbell’s career. This is followed by sixteen stories, and finishes off with the two essays.

TITLE: A NEW DAWN: THE COMPLETE DON A.STUART STORIES
AUTHOR: John W. Campbell, Jr.
EDITED BY: James A. Mann
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Author Collection
DUSTJACKET ART: Bob Eggleton
FORMAT: Hardback, 464 pages
PUBLISHER: NESFA Press, US, 2003
ISBN: 1-886778-15-9

CONTENTS (16 Stories, 2 Articles):

  • Introduction: “The Man Who Lost the Sea” (2002) by Barry N. Malzberg
  • “Twilight” (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1934, short story)
  • “Atomic Power” (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1934, short story)
  • “The Machine” (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1935, short story, Machine series #1)
  • “The Invaders” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1935, novelette, Machine series #2)
  • “Rebellion” (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1935, short story, Machine series #3)
  • “Blindness” (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1935, short story)
  • “The Escape” (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1935, novelette)
  • “Night” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1935, novelette)
  • “Elimination” (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1936, short story)
  • “Frictional Losses” (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1936, novelette)
  • “Forgetfulness” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1937, novelette)
  • “Out of Night” (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1937, novelette, Aesir series #1)
  • “Cloak of Aesir” (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1939, novelette, Aesir series #2)
  • “Dead Knowledge” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1938, novelette)
  • “Who Goes There?” (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1938, novelette)
  • “The Elder Gods” (Unknown, October 1939, novella)
  • “Strange Worlds” (Unknown, April 1939, article)
  • “Wouldst Write, Wee One?” (Scienti-Snaps, Vol.3 No.1, February 1940, article)

The stories appear in chronological order, in order of dates of publication, with the exception of the three stories in the Invaders sequence and the two Aesir stories, which have all been re-ordered so they appear in their own correct internal sequence.

Campbell, especially the Don A. Stuart alter ego, was one of my favourite SF writers of the 1930s. Under his own name, he competed with E. E. “Doc” Smith, writing stories of superscience (although Campbell was a MUCH better writer than Smith), but under the Stuart pseudonym, he wrote stories that were truly special, dark, moody, decadent, and more akin to the darker tales of H. G. Wells and other classic scientific romance authors than anything hitherto seen in the pulps.

Sure, there were a few other writers in that era who did the dark, moody and decadent thing pretty darned good – Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, C. L. Moore, and Henry Kuttner, to name but a few – but these authors mostly wrote SF&F of a completely different, more fantasy-oriented flavour. In my opinion, Campbell, with the exception of maybe Jack Williamson, who also was writing some similarly dark, moody SF during that period, had no real direct competition in science fiction at that time.

When I was a kid (early-mid teens), I first encountered Campbell’s short fiction in various collections and anthologies that I checked out of local libraries. Ironically, I encountered the superior Don A. Stuart tales years before I ever read any of Campbell’s Superscience stories. “Night” was the first one, in the Sam Moskowitz-edited anthology Microcosmic God. That story had a huge and formative impact on me as a reader, and I was delighted to find out a year or two later that it was actually a sequel to another excellent story, “Twilight”.

After I read “Night”, I eagerly hunted down any other Campbell short stories that I could find. Some of them were just as good as “Night”, including the aforementioned “Twilight” and other tales such as “Forgetfulness”, the two Aesir stories “Out of Night” and “The Cloak of Aesir”, and the classic “Who Goes There?”. These all became huge favourites of mine during my teenage years. “Dead Knowledge”, “Blindness” and the Machine trilogy of stories were all also very good. It’s been many years since I’ve read most of these stories, so it’s going to be fun revisiting them.

When Campbell took over at Astounding as The Editor, and kick-started the Golden Age which totally reshaped SF, he became one of the biggest and most important figures in the history of the genre. But, at the same time, we also lost potentially one of the genre’s greatest writers, something that I, personally, regret quite a lot. We can only imagine how good he might have become, what other amazing stories he might’ve written, if he hadn’t given up writing to concentrate fully on being the editor of Astounding.

But, at least, in this excellent collection, he has left behind some of the greatest SF stories not only of the 1930’s, but indeed any other era. This is one of my favourite SF author short fiction collections, and definitely recommended reading.

THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY STARR by Paul French (Isaac Asimov)

Several posts ago, I listed some of the SF novels that I’d picked up recently, among them two of Isaac Asimov’s Lucky Starr juvies that he wrote back in the 1950’s under his Paul French pseudonym. Well, that set me to searching for the only single-volume omnibus of all six Lucky Starr novels, which I found on Amazon. It’s quite hard to come by, being out-of-print, and quite expensive. But I took the plunge and bought it, and it arrived by mail in double-quick time.

So what’ve we got? Let’s look at the details:

TITLE: THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY STARR
AUTHOR: Paul French (Isaac Asimov)
CATEGORY: Novel
SUB-CATEGORY: Omnibus
FORMAT: Hardback, 701 pages
PUBLISHER: Science Fiction Book Club, in association with Doubleday & Co. Inc, New York, 2001
ISBN: 0-7394-1941-2

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction to the Adventures of Lucky Starr
  • Introduction to the Further Adventures of Lucky Starr
  • David Starr – Space Ranger (1952)
  • Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953)
  • Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (1954)
  • Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury (1956)
  • Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter (1957)
  • Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn (1958)

The reason for the two introductions is that the books were released in two volumes back in 1985, with a different introduction for each volume. So both introductions have been republished in this single volume. The introductions alone are very interesting, and give some nice insights into Asimov’s thoughts on his old juvies from a vantage point of thirty years later.

Asimov spends much of both introductions, explaining, almost apologizing for how wrong he got the planetary science in his novels. I found all of this very entertaining, but, in effect, totally unnecessary. He wrote those books according to the knowledge that science had in the early 1950’s, from telescopic observations of the planets, before the radar imaging and planetary probes of the 1960’s and 1970’s made that old knowledge totally obsolete.

Sure, the planetary science is in those books is wrong and way out of date. Hey, so what? All planetary science before the Mariner space probes and those that followed is hopelessly out of date. There are no oceans on Venus, and it is a boiling, poisonous, high-pressure inferno to outdo any religious visions of hell. There has never been any advanced life or civilizations on Mars, no canals, and only an extremely thin, cold atmosphere. Mercury does not keep one side only to the Sun, Saturn’s rings are radically more complex, and the lunar families of both Jupiter and Saturn are much larger than they ever suspected back then, and the lunar ecologies of both planets much more complex than they could ever have imagined.

But you know what? I don’t give a hoot. That kind of thing has never bothered me too much, any more than the “wrong” planetary science in the books of earlier “greats”. I just shunt these Lucky Starr stories into the same alternate solar system where all the mythical planets of great earlier writers reside. Asimov is in some great company there: Stanley G. Weinbaum, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, Edwin Lester Arnold, C. S. Lewis, Raymond Z. Gallun, P. Schuyler Miller, Ray Bradbury, Clifford D. Simak, James Blish, Clark Ashton Smith, John Wyndham, Frederik Pohl, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert A. Heinlein and many, many other giants of the genre. These earlier solar system tales exist in their own little continuum, untouched by cold, hard, modern scientific facts. Nor should they be.

I first read most of these novels (all except Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus and Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury) way back in my early teens, usually on loan from local libraries. These were the classic NEL (New English Library) UK paperback editions, with those beautiful covers. Even now that I have the hardback omnibus, I still want to pick up those paperbacks in good condition, just for the covers.

I’ve been reading a little of the first novel in the series, and the writing holds up surprisingly well today. I think I’m going to really enjoy reacquainting myself with David “Lucky” Starr, Bigman and the rest in these fun books.

The Lost World (1960)

I was watching an old movie on Film4 on Sunday evening that brought back many good old memories for me. It was one of those oldies that I’d first seen way back when I was a kid, sometime during the first seven or eight years of my life, and is one that I hadn’t seen in many, many years.

The film in question was the second cinema version (1960) of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic 1912 novel The Lost World (the first version was the 1925 silent movie classic). The story involves an expedition to one of those “lost” regions of the world which were so popular back in the days before pretty much the entire world was explored and mapped. “Lost World” stories were very popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Lost civilizations in the jungles of darkest Africa and South America, beneath the sea, at the Earth’s core, indeed anywhere as yet unexplored, which could still harbour exciting adventures and unknown mysteries.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story was originally published as a serial in the Strand Magazine during the months of April–November 1912, and it took an expedition of explorers and scientists to South America, and up into the deepest, most unexplored regions of the Amazon, to a previously undiscovered plateau, where dinosaurs and other extinct prehistoric creatures had survived and still thrived. There were also cannibalistic native humans, who proved to be more dangerous than the dinosaurs, and who had wiped out a previous expedition.

The 1960 film adapts the original novel very loosely, taking a lot of liberties. And it was produced by Irwin Allen, king of the cheap and cheerful (in other words, terrible) special effects. Huge chunks of stock footage were later lifted from this film and just plonked down wholesale into several of Allen’s 1960’s television series, notably Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants and The Time Tunnel. Irwin Allen was the biggest cheapskate ever in the history of sci-fi television and cinema. He’s right up there alongside Ed Wood and Plan 9 from Outer Space. 🙂

Did I mention that the SFX are dire? Even for 1960, the special effects are terrible, and, by comparison, the ancient 1925 silent version, with the legendary Willis O’Brien producing the effects, was far superior technically. And O’Brien’s dinosaurs were proper dinosaurs, too. The 1960 film? Dinosaurs? Don’t make me laugh. The “dinosaurs” were a bunch of iguanas, monitor lizards and a baby alligator, all with bumps and horns glued to them. “Triceratops” was the baby alligator. “Stegosaurus” was a monitor lizard. “Iguanodon” (a bipedal dinosaur) was a four-legged iguana lizard (Allen must’ve looked at the names and thought “Iguana = Iguanodon”). And worst of all, “Tyrannosaurus”, the most famous dinosaur of all, the fearsome alpha predator, was played by a four-legged monitor lizard with glued-on horns and fins (Tyrannosaurus was two-legged and had neither horns nor fins). Even as a seven or eight year-old child, I knew my dinosaurs, and found these pathetic attempts totally hilarious. Anyone over the age of five these days would be howling with derision.

After all that slagging off, what is there good that can be said about the film? Granted that it is pretty lame by modern cinema standards, most of the criticisms are on the technical and SFX side of things. There is still an old-fashioned charm to this old movie, and it is certainly fun to watch. And even the so-called “dinosaurs” are hilarious, in a rather pathetic (“they aren’t dinosaurs!”) way. But the biggest redeeming feature of the film is definitely the cast, which included a number of big names – Michael Rennie, Claude Rains (as the cantankerous and hilarious Professor Challenger, the real star of the film), David Hedison and Jill St. John. They all played their parts straight and extremely well, which most likely elevated the film to a higher rating than it should otherwise have received (in my book, at least).

But most of the attraction for me is certainly on a personal level, namely the life-long nostalgia effect that links me to this film. I saw it at a very early age and it left a lasting impact on me, which led to bigger, better things. It lead directly to me reading the vastly superior original novel shortly afterwards at about age eight or nine, just as seeing George Pal’s classic 1960 cinema version of The Time Machine had led to me reading the original H. G. Wells novel a year or so before reading The Lost World.

Watching The Lost World for the first time all those years ago, was one of those formative encounters that helped lay the foundations that made me the geek that I am today. The film may not have dated very well by twenty-first century standards, but it still holds that old charm and nostalgia for me, and I’ll always make sure to watch it occasionally on TV when it gets shown every few years.

BUG-EYED MONSTERS edited by Anthony Cheetham

This is a nice little anthology, containing ten stories (more accurately NINE stories and one radio play adaptation) spanning thirty years 1938-1968. It is edited by Anthony Cheetham, with whom I am totally unfamiliar.

TITLE: BUG-EYED MONSTERS
EDITED BY: Anthony Cheetham
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 280 pages
PUBLISHER: Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1972.
ISBN: 0 283 97864 3

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Anthony Cheetham
  • “Invasion from Mars” by Howard Koch (with Orson Welles) – 1938 radio adaptation of War of the Worlds, CBS, October 30, 1938
  • “Not Only Dead Men” by A. E. Van Vogt (1942) (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1942)
  • “Arena” by Fredric Brown (1944) (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1944)
  • “Surface Tension” by James Blish (Galaxy, August 1952)
  • “The Deserter” by William Tenn (1953) (reprinted from Star Science Fiction Stories, edited by Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, February 1953)
  • “Mother” by Philip José Farmer (1953) (Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1953)
  • “Stranger Station” by Damon Knight (1956) (Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1956)
  • “Greenslaves” by Frank Herbert (1965) (Amazing Stories, March 1965)
  • “Balanced Ecology” by James H. Schmitz (1967) (Analog, March 1965)
  • “The Dance of the Changer & Three” by Terry Carr (1968) (reprinted from The Farthest Reaches, edited by Joseph Elder, Trident 1968)

According to Cheetham’s interesting little introduction, the title of the book is a gentle, fun jibe at the old, stereotypical “bug-eyed monster” of the pulps. However the ten stories in the anthology are of an altogether higher quality than those old yarns in the pulps, almost a “rehabilitation” of the old bug-eyed monster.

There’s quite a mix in this anthology. We start off with one which is very apt, given the title of the anthology. Howard Koch’s (and Orson Welles’s) classic 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s seminal 1898 interplanetary invasion novel War of the Worlds. It first appeared in book form in the anthology Invasion from Mars), edited by Orson Welles (Dell, 1949). The Martian invaders are probably the original archetype for all the B.E.M.s that came afterwards, so this one is as good a place to start as any. I’ve read it before in a number of publications, and it’s always nice to revisit it.

As for the other nine stories, as usual, there are a few that I’m familiar with, and a few that I’m not. Fredric Brown’s classic Arena and James Blish’s Surface Tension are the two that I remember best. Both have always been favourites of mine. Frank Herbert’s Greenslaves is another one that I recall liking, although my memory is a bit fuzzier on the details of that one. I have very vague memories about encountering the Van Vogt, Knight, Tenn and Carr stories at some point in the distant past, but don’t recall anything about them except the briefest details. I don’t recall ever reading either the Farmer or Schmitz stories before.

I may not know (or recall) a few of the stories, but with the exception of Koch, the other nine authors in the anthology are all VERY familiar to me. No obscure writers here, although I must admit that I’m much more familiar with Terry Carr as one of my favourite anthologists, rather than as an author. Overall, this looks like a good one. With those names in it, how could it not be? I think I’m going to really enjoy reading BUG-EYED MONSTERS. 🙂

Sci-Fi Cinema Classic – THE TIME MACHINE (1960)

Right now, I’m having a lovely, relaxing Saturday evening, sitting back, chilling, and watching one of my favourite sci-fi cinema classics on Film4. The amazing 1960 George Pal movie adaptation of the landmark H. G. Wells 1895 novella (or short novel) THE TIME MACHINE is one that I haven’t watched in quite some time, and it’s really nice to see it on the telly again.

This was the very first sci-fi film that had a big impact on me, when I first saw it at about the age of five or six years old on local Irish television (RTE). I remember standing, totally transfixed, in my grannie’s living room, staring at the TV in total amazement for two hours as the film unfolded (some achievement, I can tell you, as I never stood still for a moment when I was a young kid). At that tender age, I’d never seen anything quite like it, and this film was to become a life-long influence, playing a massive part in turning me into the sci-fi/science fiction geek that I am today.

For at least the first half of my life (I’m almost 54 now), THE TIME MACHINE remained my absolute favourite film ever, until I eventually became fed up with it after watching it over and over again ceaselessly on video during the 1980’s. This one film kick-started my obsession with sci-fi cinema in general, which I’ve adored from that very early stage of my life. It also led directly to me picking up the original H. G. Wells novel from the local library a couple of years later, a point in my life which also marks the beginning of my life-long love for reading science fiction literature. This old film has a lot to answer for! 🙂

Sure, a lot of my love for this 1960 film is probably sheer nostalgia on my part, and younger viewers might consider it slightly dated and slow now compared to more modern films, with their wondrous CGI special effects and non-stop action and explosions. But I believe that the SFX in THE TIME MACHINE still hold up remarkably well today – you have to remember that this film is over fifty years old, and it DID win an Oscar for the visual effects back in the day. So it was definitely THE big sci-fi blockbuster movie with the great effects, at least back in 1960, and still looks good today, in my opinion. I wonder how many of the current fancy movies will still hold up in fifty years time.

The 2002 Simon Wells-directed reimagining of this film has grown on me over the years, despite my dismissing it as an inferior remake when it was first released. But while I do like the 2002 version now, the 1960 version still retains that spot in my heart as my favourite movie version of this classic 1895 scientific romance. Highly recommended, especially for older viewers who don’t suffer from having only the attention span of a goldfish or who are unable to sit through a film without non-stop action and snazzy modern SFX.

The film is getting near the climax now, with the hero rescuing the female “love interest” from a terrible fate underground as “Saturday Evening Lunch”. I’m off to watch the ending!

George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE (1960)

Right now, I’m having a lovely, relaxing Saturday evening, sitting back, chilling, and watching one of my favourite sci-fi cinema classics on Film4. The amazing 1960 George Pal movie adaptation of the landmark H. G. Wells 1895 novella (or short novel) THE TIME MACHINE is one that I haven’t watched in quite some time, and it’s really nice to see it on the telly again.

This was the very first sci-fi film that had a big impact on me, when I first saw it at about the age of five or six years old on local Irish television (RTE). I remember standing, totally transfixed, in my grannie’s living room, staring at the TV in total amazement for two hours as the film unfolded (some achievement, I can tell you, as I never stood still for a moment when I was a young kid). At that tender age, I’d never seen anything quite like it, and this film was to become a life-long influence, playing a massive part in turning me into the sci-fi/science fiction geek that I am today.

For at least the first half of my life (I’m almost 54 now), THE TIME MACHINE remained my absolute favourite film ever, until I eventually became fed up with it after watching it over and over again ceaselessly on video during the 1980’s. This one film kick-started my obsession with sci-fi cinema in general, which I’ve adored from that very early stage of my life. It also led directly to me picking up the original H. G. Wells novel from the local library a couple of years later, a point in my life which also marks the beginning of my life-long love for reading science fiction literature. This old film has a lot to answer for! 🙂

Sure, a lot of my love for this 1960 film is probably sheer nostalgia on my part, and younger viewers might consider it slightly dated and slow now compared to more modern films, with their wondrous CGI special effects and non-stop action and explosions. But I believe that the SFX in THE TIME MACHINE still hold up remarkably well today – you have to remember that this film is over fifty years old, and it DID win an Oscar for the visual effects back in the day. So it was definitely THE big sci-fi blockbuster movie with the great effects, at least back in 1960, and still looks good today, in my opinion. I wonder how many of the current fancy movies will still hold up in fifty years time.

The 2002 Simon Wells-directed reimagining of this film has grown on me over the years, despite my dismissing it as an inferior remake when it was first released. But while I do like the 2002 version now, the 1960 version still retains that spot in my heart as my favourite movie version of this classic 1895 scientific romance. Highly recommended, especially for older viewers who don’t suffer from having only the attention span of a goldfish or who are unable to sit through a film without non-stop action and snazzy modern SFX.

The film is getting near the climax now, with the hero rescuing the female “love interest” from a terrible fate underground as “Saturday Evening Lunch”. I’m off to watch the ending!

A SENSE OF WONDER edited by Sam Moskowitz

At only 197 pages long, A SENSE OF WONDER is quite a short anthology. But it’s also an old favourite of mine.

TITLE: A SENSE OF WONDER
EDITED BY: Sam Moskowitz
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 197 pages
PUBLISHER: Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1967. Originally published in the US in 1967 by Doubleday and Company, Inc. under the title THREE STORIES.

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Sam Moskowitz
  • “Exiles on Asperus” by John Wyndham [as by John Beynon Harris] (Wonder Stories Quarterly, Winter 1933)
  • “The Mole Pirate” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1935)
  • “The Moon Era” by Jack Williamson (Wonder Stories, February 1932)

The edition that I have is the 1967 UK 1st edition hardback, in excellent condition, and complete with pristine condition dustjacket. It was published back in 1967 by good old UK SF reliables, Sidgwick & Jackson. The US 1st edition had been published earlier the same year by Doubleday and Company, Inc. under the much more bland title THREE STORIES.

The anthology is edited by SF legend Sam Moskowitz, contains only three stories, all novellas, and an introduction by Moskowitz himself. Whilst there are only three (pretty long, admittedly) stories in this anthology, the introduction by Moskowitz is also a fascinating read in itself. I often find a really good introduction to a book to be just as interesting as the stories themselves. And this one, though relatively short, at only three pages, is definitely interesting.

According to Moskowitz’s introduction, this 1967 anthology marked the first time that any of these three stories had appeared since their original publication in the SF “pulps”, back in the early-to-mid 1930’s. So we have Moskowitz to thank for rescuing these three old gems from the depths of literary obscurity, although it must be pointed out that this anthology is forty-seven years old, and is in itself a forgotten gem by today’s standards. It’s scary to think that the publication date of the book is actually closer to the original first appearances of the stories in those ancient SF magazines than it is to the present day.

The first of the three novellas is “Exiles on Asperus” by John Wyndham, which was first published in the Winter 1933 edition of Wonder Stories Quarterly. It was written under his real name, John Beynon Harris. It’s a long time since I’ve read any Wyndham, and I don’t recall ever reading this one before.

The second story is “The Mole Pirate” by Murray Leinster, which first appeared in the November 1935 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. I’m familiar with this one only by reputation, as I’ve never read it. I haven’t read any Murray Leinster in a long time, but I just recently bought the two volumes of Murray Leinster Wildside Press Megapacks on Amazon, so I reckon it’s well past time for me to reacquaint myself with the old master.

The third and final story is “The Moon Era” by Jack Williamson, which was first published in the February 1932 edition of Wonder Stories. I remember reading this one as a teenager (in an old paperback edition of A SENSE OF WONDER, no less), and it has always remained a favourite of mine, one of those stories that still sticks in your mind thirty-five or forty years after you first read it.

Despite being written in 1931, this is essentially an updated nineteenth century “scientific romance” in the style of H. G. Wells, which is no bad thing in my book. And we all know that Jack Williamson was a huge fan of Wells and the other scientific romance authors, with the Wells influences showing through very heavily in a lot of his early writing. Since I absolutely love scientific romances (that’s how I started off reading SF in the first place, with H. G. Wells and Jules Verne), this story was already a winner from the first time I laid eyes on it.

I’m looking forward to reading this anthology again. It’s been many years since I read “The Moon Era”, and I’m itching to re-read it. As far as I recall, back when I read A SENSE OF WONDER all those years ago, I just read “The Moon Era” over and over again (I was really obsessed with it as a teenager), and didn’t even bother with the other two stories. So it’ll also be nice to actually read “Exiles on Asperus” and “The Mole Pirate” for the first time, as I don’t recall ever reading either of them before, despite having this anthology on my bookshelves for many years.

Favourite SF Authors – H.G. Wells

This is the first of my Favourite SF Authors postings, and who better than the author who started it all for me, the man dubbed the “father of science fiction”, H.G. Wells.

The first time I saw George Pal’s film adaption of The Time Machine (1960) on television was probably the first event in my life which I can definitely point to and say without a doubt that “this was when I became a science fiction fan”. I was only about five, maybe six years old at most, and that one film turned me into a crazy time-travel fanatic. A couple of years later, as a direct result of being a fan of the film, I read the original novel, which was the first time I had ever read a proper SF book. These two events (plus a growing obsession with Doctor Who) changed my life forever, and I’ve been an obsessive SF fan ever since.

Wells wasn’t the first SF author by any means. Jules Verne and others had walked that road before him. Nor was he even the most highly-regarded among his contemporaries while he was writing. But he has outlived them all, and has been by far the most enduring and influential upon successive generations of SF writers and readers. Most of the contemporary authors who were once regarded as highly as or more highly than Wells are now no longer so well known, and many of them have faded into obscurity altogether. But Wells has stayed right at the top for all these years.

What was it that made him so important? I’d argue strongly that Wells was the first to seriously cover so many of the SF themes that we take for granted these days, writing about them as SF, as opposed to fantasy. Sure, maybe Verne had done it to a lesser extent, but his scientific explorations were almost always more concerned with the technological gadgetry (submarines, flying machines, “rockets” fired to the moon out of enormous cannons, etc) rather than true exploration of SF themes, and most of his stories were pure fantasies. In contrast, Wells examined a far, far wider range of real SF themes and how they relate to human society, and on a much deeper level.

Time travel? Wells did the first “proper” story (using a time machine, not dreams or other fantasy devices), in The Time Machine, which was also a sly but strong criticism of class differences within British society. Interplanetary invasion? War of the Worlds, which doubled as a strong swipe at the British Empire and imperialism in general. Genetic engineering and the morality of biological tinkering on humans? The Island of Doctor Moreau. Invisibility and the corruption of the corruptible who attain and abuse “absolute power”? The Invisible Man. Lunar exploration and anti-gravity, with more examination of society and class structure? First Men in the Moon. Accelerated time? “The New Accelerator”. The list goes on and on.

The really remarkable thing was that Wells was writing about many of these themes well over a century ago, which is something that I find almost unbelievable. Others had written about travelling to the moon or through time before Wells did. But these previous efforts fell squarely into the “fantasy” camp (travelling through time in dreams, going to the moon in balloons, or pulled by birds, etc). Wells was the first to write about them in a way that could be termed even remotely as “real” science fiction, both philosophically and in the way he explained them in a “scientific” way. And he also wrote about many other SF themes that no writers before him had ever explored. Many of these fundamental SF themes have now been done to death over more recent decades by countless other SF authors. But Wells was the first to imagine most of these themes and write great SF stories around them.

So many of the modern core themes in SF stemmed from the work of this one man, that I don’t think we can really conceive how differently the genre would’ve developed if he’d never existed. I think that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he was the single most important figure in science fiction literature’s history, although there have been any number of other great writers who’ve challenged him for that position. But, in so many areas, Wells was the first to write about so many things, that I’d have to grant him “pole position”.

The rest, good as they were, followed in his giant shadow.

Sci-Fi on Television (Part 1)

I’m a big fan of sci-fi on television, which I almost always refer to by its “proper” name, telefantasy. The 1950s-1990s were, in my opinion, the Golden Age of telefantasy, and the first real telefantasy started about a decade or so before my birth (in December 1960), when Captain Video and His Video Rangers first appeared on US television in 1949, followed closely in the early 1950s by the likes of Space Patrol, Tom Corbett: Space Cadet and Rocky Jones: Space Ranger.

UK telefantasy was slightly slower to get off the mark, and it was mostly with one-offs like the 1949 adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine and the prestigious 1954 adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984. The first ongoing, serialized sci-fi productions of any note were the three Quatermass serials which aired in 1953, 1955 and 1958. These were the first real stars of pre-Doctor Who UK telefantasy, and, in my opinion, the classic 1958 six-part serial Quatermass and the Pit remains, to this day, one of the greatest examples of telefantasy ever produced.

But those were all produced and televised well before I was born, and it’s only really been in more recent years that I’ve discovered and begun looking back at some of the much older telefantasy series, which aired in the years between the first appearance of Captain Video and His Video Rangers in 1949 and the very first episode of Doctor Who, in November 1963. It would be the mid-1960s before I started to show the first glimmers of interest in any kind of sci-fi on contemporary television.

I’ve been an avid viewer of sci-fi television of all kinds ever since the time that Doctor Who first began to register in my very young and impressionable mind around 1966-1967. But it was when Jon Pertwee first fell out of the Tardis at the beginning of Spearhead from Space, in January 1970, that marked the moment where I can definitely say that I made the leap from merely enjoying Doctor Who, to becoming an obsessive, life-long fan.

I also became a huge fan of the original Star Trek, which first appeared on UK television channel BBC1 in July 1969, and also the new live-action Gerry Anderson series UFO, which first aired on ITV in 1970. I’d previously watched, and enjoyed, the various Anderson puppet shows such as Captain Scarlet, Thunderbirds and Stingray, but I preferred the live shows, and UFO was where I first became a real Anderson fan.

By December 1970 (when I’d reached my tenth birthday), with Pertwee almost a year into his tenure on Doctor Who, Star Trek at the height of its popularity on BBC1, and UFO featuring prominently on ITV, I was now old enough to really start understanding and appreciating television sci-fi in general. These were the first three telefantasy series that I really got into, and it’s no big surprise that these series have always remained right at the very top of my list of favourites.

As I moved into the 1970s, things really started to heat up. I began to get heavily into other UK telefantasy series such as Timeslip, The Tomorrow People, Space: 1999, Blake’s 7 and Sapphire and Steel. I was also hooked on then-current 1970s US telefantasy such as the animated Star Trek, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica. And, of course, UK television was also awash with re-runs of the various Irwin Allen series, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants, The Time Tunnel and Lost in Space, plus re-runs of other classic US “cult” TV sci-fi series such as The Invaders, The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

Take all these great telefantasy series, and the fact that the early 1970s marked the time that I was moving into my teens, and it was a great time for a young fan of sci-fi television like myself.

To Be Continued…

Reading Science Fiction

Reading Science Fiction literature has always been one of my main interests in life, and I’ve been reading “proper” science fiction since I first signed out H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine from the local library at the tender age of about eight or nine years old (circa 1969-1970).

I usually prefer older (classic) SF, pre-“New Wave”, with a particular fondness for the vintage SF of the “Golden Age” and the SF “Pulps”. Any list of my favourites classic SF authors would contain some very familiar and famous names:

H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Jack Williamson, Robert A. Heinlein, John W. Campbell Jr, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Henry Kuttner, Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, C. L. Moore, Frederik Pohl, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Philip K. Dick, Poul Anderson, Brian W. Aldiss, Harry Harrison, H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Alfred Bester, Algis Budrys… and many, many others (I’d be here all night listing them).

Although I’m mainly a reader of older SF, there are a few types of modern SF that I do like to read, in particular New Space Opera, Hard SF, and good old Classic Space Opera, which never seems to go out of fashion, no matter how hard the literary wannabes among the SF writing and reading fraternity have tried to kill it off over the years. Some of the modern SF authors that I’m a huge fan of would include:

Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Peter F. Hamilton, Greg Bear, Greg Egan, Linda Nagata, Iain M. Banks, Ken MacLeod, Wil McCarthy, Peter Watts, Ian R. MacLeod, Paul J. McAuley, Iain MacDonald and a few others.

Although I do still like the occasional good SF novel by my favourite old and modern authors, the volume of novels that I read has declined sharply over the years. I used to read a lot more novels when I was younger, particularly during my teens (the 1970s), but that started to drop off sharply from about 1978 onwards, as the increasingly intensive study commitments during my A-Levels and university years totally wiped out most of my previously plentiful free reading time.

Once I finished university (1983, at the age of twenty-two), started work, discovered a social life (I didn’t even know what a social life WAS back in my teens, no going out, no drinking, no women – it’s really no wonder that I’d had so much reading time), and with the many trials and tribulations of adult life kicking in, any free time that I may have had left for reading disappeared as quickly as Roadrunner with Wile E. Coyote on his tail. So the number of novels that I read declined sharply during those years, and has never recovered to its former levels, even now, thirty years later.

I also loved reading short story collections and anthologies back in my teens. At that time, it was pretty much 50-50 between novels and short fiction, but as the number of novels that I read declined sharply during the late-1970s and early-1980s, the balance swung sharply towards short fiction, which began to take up more and more of what reading time I did have remaining. I’ve always considered short fiction to be the bedrock of the science fiction genre anyway, and, if you add to that the fact that it’s simply much easier to fit the occasional short story into a hectic lifestyle, particularly in these days of monstrously bloated and padded novels, nine times out of ten, you’ll find me reading a good anthology or author collection, rather than a novel.

I do NOT like (and never have liked) reading a novel piecemeal, a few chapters at a time, and prefer to do it all in one go. But that pretty much became impossible once the size of the average SF novel went above four hundred pages or so. I can usually manage about 300-350 pages max before I want to call it a day. That was okay with most classic SF novels, which usually came in at about 250-300 pages, and which I can read in one sitting. I can’t do that with these bloated modern bricks. I have to read a few chapters at a time, but I often find it very hard to go back and just pick up where I left off. My train of thought and enjoyment of the story has been broken, and before I start on new chapters of the novel I almost always have to go back and do a recap, and re-read the earlier chapters again (certainly if it’s been days, maybe weeks even, since I’d read the previous chapters), because I’ve forgotten details of the story.

I do still sometimes long for the days when a good SF novel was a mere 250-300 pages, and I could finish it in one sitting. If that were still the case, I’d probably have gotten back into reading SF novels, and I’d be reading a lot more of them today. But I find myself looking at these eight hundred page bricks and thinking “Nah, can’t be bothered”. It’s simply too much time and effort to put into reading a single story, when I can read twenty short stories in a similar-sized anthology much more easily. With a short story collection or anthology, I can read one story at a time, one over lunch, another when I visit the bathroom, another before I go to bed. I can leave the book down for days, weeks even, and start on a completely new story when I lift it up again, without missing out on anything, or having to go back and recap.

While I may be much more a fan of short fiction these days, the real truth is that reading short fiction has become habitual for me over the past thirty years, whereas I seem to have lost the knack (and the patience) for reading novels. I’ve become much more accustomed to reading short fiction in recent decades, and while I can still tackle the much shorter, older classic SF novels easily enough, reading one of those overly-padded modern monsters is a real effort, and one that I’m rarely willing to make, unless it’s one of my favourite modern authors (someone like Alastair Reynolds or one of the others mentioned above).

Maybe I can re-train myself to read these big novels. And maybe this blog can help me focus, get back into the groove, and give me a reason to start into reading novels on a regular basis. Fingers crossed.

VOYAGERS IN TIME edited by Robert Silverberg

In my last SF Anthologies post I commented that I’d recently bought a couple of nice old SF anthologies from Amazon UK. I made a few comments about the newer of the two anthologies, TRIPS IN TIME and gave a contents listing for it. Here’s the same routine for the second anthology, which was published ten years earlier, but can be considered a “companion” anthology, from a thematic viewpoint, since both books contain short stories about time travel. This one is VOYAGERS IN TIME, edited by Robert Silverberg.

TITLE: VOYAGERS IN TIME – Twelve Stories of Science Fiction
EDITED BY: Robert Silverberg
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: Meredith Press, New York, 1967
FORMAT: Hardcover, 243 pages.

This anthology is a collection of more traditional (but still fun) time travel stories than those in TRIPS IN TIME. The stories in this one span a thirty year period, the earliest originally published in 1937, and the last in 1967. Here’s a listing of the contents:

  • The Sands of Time by P. Schuyler Miller (1937)
  • …And It Comes Out Here by Lester del Rey (1950)
  • Brooklyn Project by William Tenn (1948)
  • The Men Who Murdered Mohammed by Alfred Bester (1964)
  • Time Heals by Poul Anderson (1949)
  • Wrong-Way Street by Larry Niven (1965)
  • Flux by Michael Moorcock (1963)
  • Dominoes by C. M. Kornbluth (1953)
  • A Bulletin from the Trustees by Wilma Shore (1964)
  • Traveler’s Rest by David I. Masson (1965)
  • Absolutely Inflexible by Robert Silverberg (1956, revised version 1967)
  • THE TIME MACHINE [Chapter XI, XII – part] by H. G. Wells (1895)

This looks like another very interesting anthology of short fiction. Silverbob certainly does know how to put together a good anthology of stories. Again, some of them I remember well (Wells, Bester, Tenn, and Moorcock), others I vaguely remember (Miller, del Rey, Anderson, Niven, Kornbluth and Silverberg), and the last two I’m not familiar with at all (Shore, Masson).

As I’ve already said, this is a kinda/sorta “sister” anthology to the later TRIPS IN TIME (1977), which is a more unusual and quirky collection of time travel tales. I’ve already read several of the stories in TRIPS IN TIME, but now I’ve started reading some of the stories in VOYAGERS IN TIME as well. I’m dipping in and out of both books, and it will be nice to compare the two anthologies when I’ve finished both of them.

As usual, I’m working my way through the stories in both books slowly, as and when I get free time to do so, and not in any kind of order. I’ll just pick stories at random, usually with favourite authors first and working my way to least favourite or least familiar. Once I’ve finished I’ll start posting comments on individual stories (with the exception of the excerpts from The Time Machine, as I’ll be reviewing the novel at some point), and comments on the two anthologies as a whole.

VOYAGERS IN TIME edited by Robert Silverberg

TITLE: VOYAGERS IN TIME – Twelve Stories of Science Fiction
EDITED BY: Robert Silverberg
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
PUBLISHER: Meredith Press, New York, 1967
FORMAT: Hardcover, 243 pages.

In my last post I commented that I’d recently bought a couple of nice old SF anthologies from Amazon UK. I made a few comments about one of the anthologies, TRIPS IN TIME and gave a contents listing for it. Here’s the same routine for the other anthology, which was published ten years earlier, but can be considered a “companion” anthology, from a thematic viewpoint, since both books contain short stories about time travel. The second of the two anthologies is VOYAGERS IN TIME, edited by Robert Silverberg.

This anthology is a collection of more traditional (but still fun) time travel stories than those in TRIPS IN TIME. The stories in this one span a thirty year period, the earliest originally published in 1937, and the last in 1967. Here’s a listing of the contents:

  • The Sands of Time by P. Schuyler Miller (1937)
  • …And It Comes Out Here by Lester del Rey (1950)
  • Brooklyn Project by William Tenn (1948)
  • The Men Who Murdered Mohammed by Alfred Bester (1964)
  • Time Heals by Poul Anderson (1949)
  • Wrong-Way Street by Larry Niven (1965)
  • Flux by Michael Moorcock (1963)
  • Dominoes by C. M. Kornbluth (1953)
  • A Bulletin from the Trustees by Wilma Shore (1964)
  • Traveler’s Rest by David I. Masson (1965)
  • Absolutely Inflexible by Robert Silverberg (1956, revised version 1967)
  • THE TIME MACHINE [Chapter XI, XII – part] by H. G. Wells (1895)

This looks like another very interesting anthology of short fiction. Silverbob certainly does know how to put together a good anthology of stories. Again, some of them I remember well (Wells, Bester, Tenn, and Moorcock), others I vaguely remember (Miller, del Rey, Anderson, Niven, Kornbluth and Silverberg), and the last two I’m not familiar with at all (Shore, Masson).

As I’ve already said, this is a kinda/sorta “sister” anthology to the later TRIPS IN TIME (1977), which is a more unusual and quirky collection of time travel tales. I’ve already read several of the stories in TRIPS IN TIME, but now I’ve started reading some of the stories in VOYAGERS IN TIME as well. I’m dipping in and out of both books, and it will be nice to compare the two anthologies when I’ve finished both of them.

As usual, I’m working my way through the stories in both books slowly, as and when I get free time to do so, and not in any kind of order. I’ll just pick stories at random, usually with favourite authors first and working my way to least favourite or least familiar. Once I’ve finished I’ll start posting comments on individual stories (with the exception of the excerpts from The Time Machine, as I’ll be reviewing the novel at some point), and comments on the two anthologies as a whole.

Favourite SF Authors: H.G. Wells

This is the first of my Favourite SF Authors postings, and who better than the author who started it all for me, the man dubbed the “father of science fiction”, H.G. Wells.

The first time I saw George Pal’s film adaption of The Time Machine (1960) on television was probably the first event in my life which I can definitely point to and say without a doubt that “this was when I became a science fiction fan”. I was only about five, maybe six years old at most, and that one film turned me into a crazy time-travel fanatic. A couple of years later, as a direct result of being a fan of the film, I read the original novel, which was the first time I had ever read a proper SF book. These two events (plus a growing obsession with Doctor Who) changed my life forever, and I’ve been an obsessive SF fan ever since.

Wells wasn’t the first SF author by any means. Jules Verne and others had walked that road before him. Nor was he even the most highly-regarded among his contemporaries while he was writing. But he has outlived them all, and has been by far the most enduring and influential upon successive generations of SF writers and readers. Most of the contemporary authors who were once regarded as highly as or more highly than Wells are now no longer so well known, and many of them have faded into obscurity altogether. But Wells has stayed right at the top for all these years.

What was it that made him so important? I’d argue strongly that Wells was the first to seriously cover so many of the SF themes that we take for granted these days, writing about them as SF, as opposed to fantasy. Sure, maybe Verne had done it to a lesser extent, but his scientific explorations were almost always more concerned with the technological gadgetry (submarines, flying machines, “rockets” fired to the moon out of enormous cannons, etc) rather than true exploration of SF themes, and most of his stories were pure fantasies. In contrast, Wells examined a far, far wider range of real SF themes and how they relate to human society, and on a much deeper level.

Time travel? Wells did the first “proper” story (using a time machine, not dreams or other fantasy devices), in The Time Machine, which was also a sly but strong criticism of class differences within British society. Interplanetary invasion? War of the Worlds, which doubled as a strong swipe at the British Empire and imperialism in general. Genetic engineering and the morality of biological tinkering on humans? The Island of Doctor Moreau. Invisibility and the corruption of the corruptible who attain and abuse “absolute power”? The Invisible Man. Lunar exploration and anti-gravity, with more examination of society and class structure? First Men in the Moon. Accelerated time? “The New Accelerator”. The list goes on and on.

The really remarkable thing was that Wells was writing about many of these themes well over a century ago, which is something that I find almost unbelievable. Others had written about travelling to the moon or through time before Wells did. But these previous efforts fell squarely into the “fantasy” camp (travelling through time in dreams, going to the moon in balloons, or pulled by birds, etc). Wells was the first to write about them in a way that could be termed even remotely as “real” science fiction, both philosophically and in the way he explained them in a “scientific” way. And he also wrote about many other SF themes that no writers before him had ever explored. Many of these fundamental SF themes have now been done to death over more recent decades by countless other SF authors. But Wells was the first to imagine most of these themes and write great SF stories around them.

So many of the modern core themes in SF stemmed from the work of this one man, that I don’t think we can really conceive how differently the genre would’ve developed if he’d never existed. I think that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he was the single most important figure in science fiction literature’s history, although there have been any number of other great writers who’ve challenged him for that position. But, in so many areas, Wells was the first to write about so many things, that I’d have to grant him “pole position”.

The rest, good as they were, followed in his giant shadow.

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Two)

The Golden Years – Geek Nirvana During the Seventies

The start of our teenage years is the sweet spot for the vast majority of us, particularly geeks, the beginning of what is probably the most fondly remembered period of our lives.

It’s long enough ago that most of our memories are fond, rosy ones, but it’s also the first time in our lives from which we retain reasonably accurate and continuous recollections of events (unlike our earlier childhood – most memories from our first decade are pretty vague and fragmented). And it is also during these years that many of us have the most fun and freedom to do what we want (after we finish our homework, of course), before adulthood arrives and the bland banalities, responsibilities and worries of “grown-up” life start to descend upon us.

I mentioned in my previous posting that my childhood was a far from happy one. Things got even worse when I was eleven years old, when my parents separated, leaving my father to raise five kids on his own. He was forced to leave his job, and our descent into poverty became even more severe. To top it all off, my father’s health began to decline sharply after my mother left, and, as the “oldest”, I was shoehorned into the role of “surrogate mother” from this very tender age, taking over the extremely heavy responsibilities of not only looking after my father, but also the other four kids, one of whom was also very severely disabled.

To be blunt, I was a very unhappy young boy as a teenager, one who sought refuge in a world of make-believe. Any kind of an escape from this dreary and depressing reality was a welcome one, and I immersed myself in an alternate world of comics, sci-fi worlds on television, in films, and in great SF literature. I also became very preoccupied with drawing and writing.

To refer to these interests as mere “hobbies” would be a complete understatement. They were obsessions, a vital lifeline for me, and I depended on them utterly to keep me sane, when everything around me was so gloomy and depressing. Since childhood, and throughout my entire life, these “obsessions” have been entrenched as fundamental pillars of my personality and way of thinking, and I simply cannot imagine my life without them.

I may already have been a proto-geek from a much earlier period in my life, but the beginning of my teens marks the time from which I can seriously start referring to myself as a true, hardcore geek. Things may not have been rosy on the domestic and personal front, but my hobbies and obsessions certainly first started to kick into overdrive in a very big way at this age, almost certainly to compensate for my miserable “Real Life”. I was also now growing old enough to be much more sophisticated, systematic and discerning when it came to what I was “into”. And what I was into, and I mean REALLY into, was the Holy Trinity of SF literature, Sci-Fi on television and in films, and Comics.

All through the 1970’s, up until around 1977-78, was a “Golden Age” for me, from a geek perspective anyway, the completely opposing mirror image of my crappy “real life”. All during my teens there was a steady procession of classic sci-fi TV shows and films on local television, and although I had my favourites – Doctor Who, Star Trek, UFO, The Time Tunnel – I loved them all to a lesser or greater extent.

By this stage of my life I was also a totally obsessive reader of both comics (particularly the Marvel UK reprint comics) and SF literature. I’d started off initially in my pre-teens with Wells and Verne, then moving onto Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and anything else that I could read. By my early teens, the whole world of SF literature was my oyster. I was discovering great new (to me, anyway) authors like H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, Alfred Bester, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith and many, many others.

By my mid-teens, I was neck-deep in my alternate geek world, spending every available second on my hobbies. I just couldn’t get enough of the whole Sci-Fi/Comics/SF Literature thing, and it seemed like the good days would never end.

But I was wrong.

To Be Continued…

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part One)

Here’s the first part (of three) in the story of my rise to geekhood.

Early Days in the Sixties – Genesis of a Geek

I’m a card-carrying geek. I’ve always been a geek. I’ve been one all my life, right from when I was a very young child, and I simply can’t conceive of being any other way. It’s as natural for me as breathing.

I’m also not one of those shy, retiring types who tries to hide the fact that I’m a geek out of view, for fear of ridicule. I’ve always been very proud of my geek status. I don’t give a damn who knows it or who doesn’t like it. They can all take a great running leap off the top of a high building, as far as I’m concerned.

My early childhood was not a particularly happy one, what little of it I can recall. My family was poor, very poor, and we never had much in the line of material goods. For much of the time it was a struggle for our parents to even feed and clothe us. We also lived on a council estate in Northern Ireland during that infamous period in Irish history known as “The Troubles”, which began in 1968 (I was only seven years old at the time), and was to last right up into my thirties. It overshadowed my entire earlier life, and for everyone of my generation who lived through it, it was a dark time, full of tensions, fear, and unhappiness.

Any kind of an escape from the dreary and depressing reality of life in a poverty-stricken, 1960’s Northern Ireland council estate was a welcome one, and so I took every chance I could to escape from “real life” into the realms of my incredibly active imagination. But WHEN did I actually become a geek, and, more importantly, HOW and WHY? Why did I choose that path, rather than follow the more mundane hobbies that the vast majority of other kids my age indulged in?

I suppose it all began at a very early age, before I’d even started school, back when I started to read my first “proper” books (books with lots of words, rather than mere “picture books”). By the time I first went to school (aged four and a half years), I was already a voracious reader, very advanced for my age, and my parents and other relatives encouraged me as much as possible by continually giving me new books to read. My uncle started buying me books on a regular basis, and these were invariably based around science, nature and technology. They were full of dinosaurs, spaceships, and stories of other worlds and solar systems, all of which captivated my fertile young imagination. My preferences were already being shaped around science-oriented themes even at that early age.

Even this early in life, I showed a very strong preference for the fantastic rather than the mundane, for wild adventures into space and through time, dinosaurs, aliens, indeed anything “out of this world”. I took every chance I could to escape from boring “real life” into the realms of my incredibly active imagination. So all the influences and obsessions of a future geek had already been laid down right from the start. It was almost like I was pre-ordained to become a geek, although we all know that couldn’t be true, could it?

Soon afterwards, at about four or five years old, I started reading comics and quickly developed a strong preference for the more SF-oriented strips over the less fantasy-oriented stories, particularly the war and sport strips which were more dominant in British comics at that time. And around the same time, I also started paying attention to sci-fi and fantasy films and sci-fi television series on UK TV.

Doctor Who, on UK television, started having its first really strong influence on me about 1966-67, when I was about six years old, and at about roughly the same time, my life was changed forever when I saw the classic George Pal movie adaption of The Time Machine (1960) for the first time on Irish television (RTE). I became totally obsessed with the concept of time travel, which remains my favourite SF theme even now. At the young age of six or seven, I was already a confirmed SF nut, at least as far as comics, films and television were concerned.

As a direct result of this obsession with The Time Machine (1960) movie and Doctor Who, I was also to start reading SF. About a year or two after I’d seen the movie, I found the original H. G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine in a local library, and I just had to read it. I was hooked, despite the drastic differences between the novel and the film, and moved from there on to reading anything else I could find by Wells, then on to Verne, Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein and the greater world of SF authors at large. I’ve never looked back, and remain a hardcore SF literature fan to this day.

As I got older, I immersed myself ever further into the fascinating world of comics, watching sci-fi TV and films, reading great SF books, and also drawing and writing, almost always something connected with the aforementioned comics, books, TV series and films.

I drove my poor parents mad. They just didn’t “get” sci-fi at all, but humoured their crazy kid. My father really hated all of this “silly sci-fi nonsense”, and Doctor Who in particular, but tolerated it when I was very young. He hoped desperately that I’d “grow out of it” as I got older, but there was absolutely no chance of that happening! Here I am, more than forty years later, and still a hardcore SF fan.

Poor Dad! He must be turning in his grave!

To Be Continued…

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Two)

The Golden Years – Geek Nirvana During the Seventies

The start of our teenage years is the sweet spot for the vast majority of us, particularly geeks, the beginning of what is probably the most fondly remembered period of our lives.

It’s long enough ago that most of our memories are fond, rosy ones, but it’s also the first time in our lives from which we retain reasonably accurate and continuous recollections of events (unlike our earlier childhood – most memories from our first decade are pretty vague and fragmented). And it is also during these years that many of us have the most fun and freedom to do what we want (after we finish our homework, of course), before adulthood arrives and the bland banalities, responsibilities and worries of “grown-up” life start to descend upon us.

I mentioned in my previous posting that my childhood was a far from happy one. Things got even worse when I was eleven years old, when my parents separated, leaving my father to raise five kids on his own. He was forced to leave his job, and our descent into poverty became even more severe. To top it all off, my father’s health began to decline sharply after my mother left, and, as the “oldest”, I was shoehorned into the role of “surrogate mother” from this very tender age, taking over the extremely heavy responsibilities of not only looking after my father, but also the other four kids, one of whom was also very severely disabled.

To be blunt, I was a very unhappy young boy as a teenager, one who sought refuge in a world of make-believe. Any kind of an escape from this dreary and depressing reality was a welcome one, and I immersed myself in an alternate world of comics, sci-fi worlds on television, in films, and in great SF literature. I also became very preoccupied with drawing and writing.

To refer to these interests as mere “hobbies” would be a complete understatement. They were obsessions, a vital lifeline for me, and I depended on them utterly to keep me sane, when everything around me was so gloomy and depressing. Since childhood, and throughout my entire life, these “obsessions” have been entrenched as fundamental pillars of my personality and way of thinking, and I simply cannot imagine my life without them.

I may already have been a proto-geek from a much earlier period in my life, but the beginning of my teens marks the time from which I can seriously start referring to myself as a true, hardcore geek. Things may not have been rosy on the domestic and personal front, but my hobbies and obsessions certainly first started to kick into overdrive in a very big way at this age, almost certainly to compensate for my miserable “Real Life”. I was also now growing old enough to be much more sophisticated, systematic and discerning when it came to what I was “into”. And what I was into, and I mean REALLY into, was the Holy Trinity of SF literature, Sci-Fi on television and in films, and Comics.

All through the 1970’s, up until around 1977-78, was a “Golden Age” for me, from a geek perspective anyway, the completely opposing mirror image of my crappy “real life”. All during my teens there was a steady procession of classic sci-fi TV shows and films on local television, and although I had my favourites – Doctor Who, Star Trek, UFO, The Time Tunnel – I loved them all to a lesser or greater extent.

By this stage of my life I was also a totally obsessive reader of both comics (particularly the Marvel UK reprint comics) and SF literature. I’d started off initially in my pre-teens with Wells and Verne, then moving onto Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and anything else that I could read. By my early teens, the whole world of SF literature was my oyster. I was discovering great new (to me, anyway) authors like H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, Alfred Bester, Henry Huttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith and many, many others.

By my mid-teens, I was neck-deep in my alternate geek world, spending every available second on my hobbies. I just couldn’t get enough of the whole Sci-Fi/Comics/SF Literature thing, and it seemed like the good days would never end.

But I was wrong.

To Be Continued…

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part One)

Here’s the first part (of three) in the story of my rise to geekhood.

Early Days in the Sixties – Genesis of a Geek

I’m a card-carrying geek. I’ve always been a geek. I’ve been one all my life, right from when I was a very young child, and I simply can’t conceive of being any other way. It’s as natural for me as breathing.

I’m also not one of those shy, retiring types who tries to hide the fact that I’m a geek out of view, for fear of ridicule. I’ve always been very proud of my geek status. I don’t give a damn who knows it or who doesn’t like it. They can all take a great running leap off the top of a high building, as far as I’m concerned.

My early childhood was not a particularly happy one, what little of it I can recall. My family was poor, very poor, and we never had much in the line of material goods. For much of the time it was a struggle for our parents to even feed and clothe us. We also lived on a council estate in Northern Ireland during that infamous period in Irish history known as “The Troubles”, which began in 1968 (I was only seven years old at the time), and was to last right up into my thirties. It overshadowed my entire earlier life, and for everyone of my generation who lived through it, it was a dark time, full of tensions, fear, and unhappiness.

Any kind of an escape from the dreary and depressing reality of life in a poverty-stricken, 1960’s Northern Ireland council estate was a welcome one, and so I took every chance I could to escape from “real life” into the realms of my incredibly active imagination. But WHEN did I actually become a geek, and, more importantly, HOW and WHY? Why did I choose that path, rather than follow the more mundane hobbies that the vast majority of other kids my age indulged in?

I suppose it all began at a very early age, before I’d even started school, back when I started to read my first “proper” books (books with lots of words, rather than mere “picture books”). By the time I first went to school (aged four and a half years), I was already a voracious reader, very advanced for my age, and my parents and other relatives encouraged me as much as possible by continually giving me new books to read. My uncle started buying me books on a regular basis, and these were invariably based around science, nature and technology. They were full of dinosaurs, spaceships, and stories of other worlds and solar systems, all of which captivated my fertile young imagination. My preferences were already being shaped around science-oriented themes even at that early age.

Even this early in life, I showed a very strong preference for the fantastic rather than the mundane, for wild adventures into space and through time, dinosaurs, aliens, indeed anything “out of this world”. I took every chance I could to escape from boring “real life” into the realms of my incredibly active imagination. So all the influences and obsessions of a future geek had already been laid down right from the start. It was almost like I was pre-ordained to become a geek, although we all know that couldn’t be true, could it?

Soon afterwards, at about four or five years old, I started reading comics and quickly developed a strong preference for the more SF-oriented strips over the less fantasy-oriented stories, particularly the war and sport strips which were more dominant in British comics at that time. And around the same time, I also started paying attention to sci-fi and fantasy films and sci-fi television series on UK TV.

Doctor Who, on UK television, started having its first really strong influence on me about 1966-67, when I was about six years old, and at about roughly the same time, my life was changed forever when I saw the classic George Pal movie adaption of The Time Machine (1960) for the first time on Irish television (RTE). I became totally obsessed with the concept of time travel, which remains my favourite SF theme even now. At the young age of six or seven, I was already a confirmed SF nut, at least as far as comics, films and television were concerned.

As a direct result of this obsession with The Time Machine (1960) movie and Doctor Who, I was also to start reading SF. About a year or two after I’d seen the movie, I found the original H. G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine in a local library, and I just had to read it. I was hooked, despite the drastic differences between the novel and the film, and moved from there on to reading anything else I could find by Wells, then on to Verne, Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein and the greater world of SF authors at large. I’ve never looked back, and remain a hardcore SF literature fan to this day.

As I got older, I immersed myself ever further into the fascinating world of comics, watching sci-fi TV and films, reading great SF books, and also drawing and writing, almost always something connected with the aforementioned comics, books, TV series and films.

I drove my poor parents mad. They just didn’t “get” sci-fi at all, but humoured their crazy kid. My father really hated all of this “silly sci-fi nonsense”, and Doctor Who in particular, but tolerated it when I was very young. He hoped desperately that I’d “grow out of it” as I got older, but there was absolutely no chance of that happening! Here I am, more than forty years later, and still a hardcore SF fan.

Poor Dad! He must be turning in his grave!

To Be Continued…