Happy 49th Birthday, Star Trek!

 

Tonight marks the 49th Anniversary of the first screening of the classic Star Trek: TOS on US television, with the airing of “The Man Trap” on Thursday, September 8, 1966. Due to some strange network mental gymnastics, they managed to air this one, which should have actually been the FIFTH episode, first, and they aired the pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, third. Go figure.

We poor, neglected souls over here in Ireland and the UK had to wait until July 12, 1969 before we first got to watch Star Trek on UK television, when it started in the traditional Saturday evening 5:15pm timeslot usually occupied by Doctor Who. Unlike in the US, we actually started with the pilot episode, although from that point on, there seemed to be no rhythm or rhyme to the sequence that the BBC showed the episodes in, and the series was not shown in airdate or production order.

The series was actually also shown over four seasons, rather than three, and some episodes were edited for violent content, with three of the episodes, “The Empath”, “Whom Gods Destroy” and “Plato’s Stepchildren”, not shown at all during the first run due to concerns over “sadistic elements” in the stories making them unsuitable for the series’ early “children’s” time slot. We had to wait until 1992 to finally see those episodes during a repeat re-run. To add to the insult, the episode “Miri”, which WAS shown in the initial run, was not shown again until 1993, due to “audience complaints” after the first screening. What a complete bunch of WUSSIES!!!

Just by coincidence, I’m sitting here right now with one of my friends, watching some classic TOS episodes on DVD. We started off with “Devil in the Dark”, then onto “Errand of Mercy”, which has just ended, and now we’re starting into “The Alternative Factor”. We’ll be finishing off with “The City on the Edge of Forever”, one of my favourite all-time Trek episodes, from ANY of the five series, and “Operation: Annihilate!”, another classic.

Extremely enjoyable night ahead for myself and friend, and oh yeah… Happy 49th Birthday Star Trek!

Leonard Nimoy (1931 – 2015)

The news of Leonard Nimoy’s death yesterday has had a strong impact on me in a way that the vast majority of celebrity deaths usually don’t. When I woke up yesterday morning and saw the news for the first time online, it was like a kick in the gut. I spent the entire day stunned, in tears, just sitting in front of my computer browsing the web for more news. Even though I usually don’t give a damn about the passing of most celebrities, this one has left me totally gutted. Why?

This sad news really should’ve come as no great surprise to anybody. Leonard Nimoy was 83 years old, and had been in pretty bad health for many years. But like a sick relative that everyone loves dearly, we’re still in mourning when they die. Leonard Nimoy, in particular his iconic Mr. Spock persona, was like a close friend or relative. His passing truly is almost like losing a member of the family. But why has the death of a television actor, someone I’ve never met, had such an effect on me?

To get an answer to that, we have to go right back to my early childhood, in the late-1960’s and early-1970’s, when I still hadn’t yet entered my teens (I turned 13 in December 1973). I’ve been a huge fan of the original Star Trek and Doctor Who since those early days, and back then I was totally obsessed with both shows, and both have always been a major part of my life, even to this day. But back to the beginning. My family life in those days was pretty rough, poverty stricken, constant domestic disputes and fighting between my parents, and all set against the dark, terrible earliest years of the Troubles, in Northern Ireland. Star Trek and other sci-fi was a way of escaping from real life and domestic problems into a much more pleasant world of make-believe, where Spock, and the Doctor, were major characters in my fantasy world.

I’d actually been a sci-fi fan since the mid-1960’s, that delicate age of 5-7 years old, where you start to really notice and get into stuff for the first time. I first began to notice Doctor Who on UK television about 1966 or so, and soon after that, sci-fi films such as George Pal’s The Time Machine, Irwin Allen’s The Lost World, and the classic film version of Journey to the Centre of the Earth also became favourites of mine. So the way was well-prepared.

Then in 1969, during the summer break between seasons of Doctor Who, something called Star Trek began its first run on UK television, making its debut on BBC1. I was a starry-eyed eight year-old back in 1969, and I’d never seen anything remotely like Star Trek. And this weird alien guy with the pointed ears, Mr. Spock, he made a huge impact on me right away. He immediately became my favourite character on the show, and has always remained the main man for me, in EVERY incarnation of Star Trek. He has always been my favourite Star Trek character, and more than any other character in TOS, he has always epitomized the whole ethos of Trek for me. Star Trek was always more than just a TV show to me, and Spock was always far more than just another television character.

Leonard Nimoy may once have written a book titled I am NOT Spock, but, as far as I’m concerned, he IS and always WILL be Spock. No disrespect intended to Zachary Quinto or any other talented newcomers who try to fill Nimoy’s huge shoes, but the man is irreplaceable.

Live Long and Prosper my friend, wherever you may be.

Leonard Nimoy, RIP.

I rarely keep up with the celebrity news, so I got a real shock when I read some terrible news on Dayton Ward’s excellent blog a wee while ago. I’m sitting here stunned, in tears. I’m gutted. Totally gutted. Leonard Nimoy is dead. I keep saying it to myself over and over again, but I still can’t believe it. Mr. Spock is dead. 🙁

Spock was always my favourite Star Trek character, and more than any other actor/character in all of Star Trek’s history, he epitomized the whole ethos of Trek for me. Star Trek has always been a major part of my life, ever since I watched its first run on UK television as a starry-eyed eight year-old back in 1969-1970, and Spock was always the main man for me.

Leonard Nimoy/Mr. Spock has been a huge influence on me since I was a kid. This feels like I’ve lost a close, lifelong friend, even though I’ve never met the man in person. I’m gonna need a while to take this in. Gutted. 🙁

The Age of Innocence – “Sensawunda” and the Older Science Fiction Fan

Older sci-fi/SF fans (or “fen”, to give them their correct title), almost all have an incredibly developed Sense of Wonder, more often referred to in the SF world as “sensawunda”, that wide-eyed innocence and boundless enthusiasm, that willingness to see beyond the mundane world around us and embrace the infinite potential and possibilities of the universe, of all time and space.

It’s almost like a special extra sense, an ability to link to our “inner child”, something that makes us different from the rest of the mainstream “mundane” population, who seem to have lost that link to their childhood once they became adults. Many of those people would look at us and consider us “big kids”, adults who have refused to grow up and drop the obsessions and attitudes of childhood (or even something much less flattering). We, on the other hand, look at them and consider them boring, unimaginative old farts, having lost all the childish aspects that made life fun, and growing old long before their time.

Our sensawunda keeps us forever young. Unfortunately, very few of the younger generation these days seem to have it, at least once they grow out of the wide-eyed innocence of their childhood years. We older fen were instilled with a powerful essence of sensawunda from a time before we could even read or write. The kids these days have seen it all a thousand times, and have had everything handed to them since birth. They lose their sensawunda at a very early age, and today’s teenagers are for the most part very worldly-wise, cynical, and almost impossible to impress.

All of the things we saw on TV and at the cinema, way back when they were new and ground-breaking, are part of background culture for these kids. They don’t see anything remarkable about these great films and TV series, because they’ve “always been there”, as far as the kids are concerned. They miss out totally on one of the greatest aspects of geekhood, and we older geeks are so, so lucky to have lived through it all.

Back “when we were young”, every new sci-fi series, every new sci-fi cinema release, every new book release by Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov or other top SF writers, every new issue of the Spider-Man Comics Weekly, The Avengers, The Mighty World of Marvel, Countdown and TV Action, Lion and Thunder or any of our favourite comics, any and all of these geek objects were things of wonder, and we all waited on them obsessively, like addicts waiting on their next fix (but in a nice way, of course).

I try to compare cynical modern teens with the wide-eyed innocence and enthusiasm of my teenage self, sitting eagerly in front of the TV every week, waiting for the next episode of Star Trek or Doctor Who. Or sitting in the local cinema, mouth wide open, watching Star Wars for the first time, and listening in awe to the tie fighters roar all around me over the amazing new THX sound system. In the pre-video, pre-internet age, every new sci-fi TV series and sci-fi cinema release was SPECIAL. The newness and uniqueness of it all was overpowering.

In those far-off days, you saw a series episode or film ONCE, and then they were gone, forever. Now, with DVDs, streaming and all the modern recording techniques, you can watch anything, over and over again a hundred times. It may be amazingly convenient, and none of us would be without it, but it has also played a huge part in killing the magic, the sensawunda. It’s all become as common as muck, so easily accessible and available. There’s nothing special about any of it any more.

The current generation of kids, at least here in the West, are spoiled rotten. All of this great technology and sci-fi culture has been around since long before they were born, and they’ve grown up with it as an integral part of their lives. But you know the old saying – “Familiarity Breeds Contempt” – they just don’t appreciate it. It’s no big deal to them. We older fen, on the other hand, we were there when Star Trek first appeared in the 1960’s, when Star Wars ushered in the era of blockbuster sci-fi movies in the late-1970’s. Before that, with only a handful of exceptions, sci-fi movies were cheap B-movies, sneered at by everyone except the hardcore fans.

We were there for the first appearances of Blake’s 7, Battlestar Galactica, Blade Runner, Alien, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We were there when all of these great television shows and films (which are now familiar cultural icons) were new, fresh, and NOBODY had ever seen anything like them before. Some of us were even there for the first appearance of Doctor Who (although I don’t remember anything about it, as it was two weeks before my third birthday!). And the oldest fans were there for the three original Quatermass TV serials – The Quatermass Experiment (1953), Quatermass II (1955) and Quatermass and the Pit (1958), Captain Video and His Video Rangers, and even the sci-fi “pulps”. Well before my time, and I’m so envious of them.

All of us older fans, we’re starting to get on a bit (I’m 53). But the one great thing about being middle-aged or older is that we lived through the truly great eras of nearly EVERYTHING – sci-fi TV and cinema, the growth and explosion into popular culture of SF literature, the great eras of US and UK comics, and the great popular music eras of the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. We are SO lucky. We’re the most fortunate of all, because we lived through the one, true geek generation. We’ll never see its like again.

The kids these days missed out on all of that, and will NEVER experience anything like it. There are so many bright, shiny new fads these days, massive marketing machines making sure that they happen seemingly one right after another. And each of them lasts all of five minutes until the next one comes along. Nothing is unique or special any more. They’ve seen it all before.

To be honest, I’m not overly enthusiastic about the rapidly looming advance of my “senior years”. But being a geek is the one area in life where I can honestly say “It’s great to be old”. 🙂

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…

Nostalgia Collecting – Old UK Comics and Annuals

They say that nostalgia is the narcotic of the over-forties. I’m almost fifty-three, and I can definitely admit that it’s particularly true of me. I’ve always been a very nostalgic person, always fascinated by the past, even back when I was a kid. So pretty much my entire life, I’ve been on a quest to collect old stuff, particularly stuff that has some meaning for me, or which connects me to the “Golden Age” of my youth.

In recent years, I’ve spent a lot of time and money on Ebay, picking up many of the rare relics of my childhood and early-to-mid teenage years. One of the things that I like most is to grab the occasional old (and by old, I mean 1950s-1970s) British comic, as opposed to the US Marvel comics (which I also enjoy collecting) that I became a fan of from my mid-teens onwards. Way back in the day, before I ever encountered my first superhero comics, I was an obsessive collector of several of the traditional British weeklies. But that was before Marvel UK exploded onto the UK comics scene with The Mighty World of Marvel and its offspring from late 1972 onwards, and changed everything.

Over the years I’ve bought a lot of old issues of my favourite pre-Marvel UK British comics from the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, mainly Lion, Valiant, Eagle and Thunder. I would also dearly love to be able to buy a whole bunch of Countdown and TV21 (otherwise known as TV Century 21), but these seem to be harder to find on Ebay and when you can find them, they are invariably a heckuva lot more expensive than the likes of the Lion, Valiant and Thunder. Maybe someday, when I’m rich. 🙂

Another particular focus of my collecting has been those old UK annuals, the hardback, once-yearly collections of strips and other goodies from our favourite comics. I remember these annuals very fondly from when I was a kid. They were the “Holy Grail” for me back then, something that I eyed up enviously in the shops, and which I really, really wanted to get my hands on, but which were way, way out of my price bracket. We were from a poor family, and I didn’t have a lot of pocket money back in those days (the late 60s and early 70s). And annuals unfortunately did cost on average ten times the price of those weekly comics which were already stretching my meagre resources to the limit. Back then, annuals were simply far too expensive for me to buy on a regular basis, and so were usually only acquired when I got them as occasional Christmas presents from my Dad or other relatives.

So, in adult life, I’ve been trying to rectify things a bit by picking up a lot of these old annuals, and I’ve developed a real knack for snapping them up dirt cheap, or, at least, relatively cheaply. I’ve managed to get my hands on most of the Valiant, Lion, and Thunder annuals, and a whole bunch of assorted other UK comics-based annuals including Hotspur, Battle, 2000AD, Starlord, Eagle, Dan Dare, Countdown, The Trigan Empire and a few others. Add to those the various 1970s annuals put out by Marvel UK, and that’s a lot of annuals.

And just to add quite a few more to the already huge pile, I’ve also built up quite a collection of annuals based on various television sci-fi series, including pretty much all of the Doctor Who Annuals right from the very first one in 1964 up until the late-1970s, plus a bunch of Star Trek, Space: 1999, Blake’s 7, UFO and other assorted television-based annuals.

I often look at these ever-growing stacks of old annuals and comics in my spare room, and wonder “Am I going mental? Why am I collecting all of this old stuff? What the hell am I going to do with them?” Then I open one of them and feel the tidal wave of nostagia wash over me, all the old memories boring up from the depths of my moth-eaten excuse for a brain. And I feel good. Really good. Maybe nostalgia is the narcotic of the over-forties after all, and if it is, I hold up my hands and proudly proclaim that I’m a complete addict.

At least nostalgia is a much safer and more productive addiction than cigarettes, booze and drugs. And we all need our little hobbies to spend our money on, or life would be unbearable, all bills and shopping and crappy Real Life nonsense. The thought of that being all there is to life makes me shudder…

Early Star Trek – How The Original Series Might Have Been

History is totally in the blood for me. I’m a hardcore history buff, and I’m fascinated by history of any kind. I majored in history at university, and I’m a history teacher by trade, although I packed it in very early on (almost thirty years ago) to become a DJ (more fun than teaching, and more money too). I loved the history, but not so much the dealing with classrooms full of rowdy teenagers who didn’t appreciate the subject the way I did.

It isn’t just “real” history that fascinates me, but also imagined or potential history, either past or future. As both a science fiction fan and an historian, the “what might have beens”, “what-ifs” and “what might bes” also really fascinate me. Like many a good SF geek, I’ve even made up a few “future” and “alternate” histories of my own over the years. So it’s hardly surprising that I often mix my love of history with my obsession with SF/sci-fi, both from a fictional and a philosophical perspective.

But it also fascinates me on a more academic level. And when I’m talking about history here, I’m not referring to the above-mentioned made-up future/alternate histories (which I absolutely love), but the real thing, the factual, background history and details of how SF literature or my favourite sci-fi series were conceived and how they evolved to become what we’re familiar with in our books and on our TV screens. Imagine the fun that any student of SF/sci-fi would have researching the history of SF, Star Trek, Doctor Who or some of their other favourite sci-fi shows? It would be a surefire A++ on any university course, wouldn’t it? You couldn’t stop me from studying obsessively for that one!

As a huge fan of Star Trek: The Original Series (from now on referred to as TOS), it was a given that I’d be totally fascinated by the history of Trek, in particular the very early history of TOS. How Gene Roddenberry came up with the idea, what all of his earliest concepts and ideas were, and how they evolved into the TOS that we all know and love. In my youth (this was 30-plus years ago, in the antediluvian pre-internet era), I used to dig up a lot of information from older TOS books with lots of behind-the-scenes info, and a particular favourite topic of mine was the initial (pre-James T. Kirk) creation and evolution of TOS history.

I recall one excellent early book – The Making of Star Trek, by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry – that one had such a great influence on me. Up until that point I’d only ever read TOS fiction and a few behind-the-scenes magazine articles. Reading this book was like a shot in the head. This was the first time I’d ever come across anything documenting early TOS history in so much detail, and The Making of Star Trek certainly did give an abundance of info on Roddenberry’s earliest TOS concepts and scripts.

One of the earlier chapters in the book dealt with the radically different earliest concepts of the series, back in the days when Robert April was the first captain of the Enterprise (fans will remember him appearing later in the Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS) episode The Counter-Clock Incident). This one chapter was full of so much incredible background information (none of which I’d known before), complete with copious script excerpts, all of which was absolutely amazing, fascinating stuff to feed my obsessive, eager young geek mind!

Some of the differences with later, televised TOS were startling. I remember being totally shocked that Spock was originally a half-Martian, not half-Vulcan, with crazy, shaggy pointed eyebrows and red-tinged skin (instead of green), and he had LOTS of emotions. There were also no transporters in these initial concepts, and other ships had to routinely dock with the Enterprise. But this was quickly deemed to be far too costly as it would be happening in pretty much every episode, so the concept of the transporter was introduced (basically a beam of light and throw in some tinsel – can’t get much cheaper than that). The transporter is now such an integral part of the Star Trek universe that it’s incredible to think back and realize that it was only thought up to save money on the SFX budget.

As revisions and changes were made to the early Trek concepts, Robert April evolved into Christopher Pike, so we also get a lot of great background info on this part of TOS conceptual history. And, since the first pilot, The Cage, was based on these concepts, and was already a particular favourite story of mine, I was hooked. One of my favourite “What-If?” scenarios has always been “What if The Cage had been accepted by the networks?” What if Jeffrey Hunter had decided to stay on in the role of Captain Pike, (and also assuming he didn’t die in May 1969, and was able to carry on in the role) and there never was a James T. Kirk (I can hear the legions of female Kirk fans wailing in anguish)? What if Majel Roddenberry had remained as Number One, and Spock a less important character? And what if there had never been a McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu or Chekov? How different would the show have been, and how long would it have lasted?

It’s enough to make the mind boggle and get tied up in knots! As a hardcore hybrid historian and sci-fi/SF fanatic, I’ve always thought in terms of “what-ifs” and alternate histories, and this alternate version of Trek, splitting off from those initial pre-TOS concepts and developments, has always been one of my favourite “what-ifs”. This line of thinking opened up for me a whole new universe of a Totally Alternate TOS. As far as I’m aware, nothing like this concept exists anywhere in Trek fiction, either commercial or fan fiction, I’ve always thought that a TOS series and entire future TOS/TNG/DS9/VOY/ENT chronology built upon this alternate concept would be a great experiment for a new series of Trek fan fiction, with maybe even a few stories in collections like The New Voyages and Strange New Worlds.

I’d certainly love to see something like this, particularly in fan fiction or book form. I’m just amazed that nobody seems to have done it yet! 🙂

Fanzines – Creative Genius at the Grass Roots (Part Three)

In my previous two posts, I’ve talked about my general experiences with, and thoughts on, fanzines. Now I’ll share a few more specific thoughts about the actual zines that I’ve come across over the years.

The earliest zines that I collected date from the 1970s and early 1980s, and were mostly based around SF literature and comics. But these were sporadic, one-off zine purchases, and I didn’t really become a hardcore zine collector until well into the 1980s. The pattern of zine purchases in that latter period was also different to what it had been before, in that most of the zines that I collected from the mid-80s onwards were deliberate, regular purchases of individual titles, in order to have a complete collection of each of my favourite zines. The pattern was also different in that the vast majority of these newer zines were based around my favourite sci-fi television series, rather than SF literature and comics.

My first regular fanzine (which I have every issue of, more than twenty of them) was published in the mid-80s, the excellent Flickers ‘n’ Frames, a reviewzine, which now has its direct descendant on the internet in the form of The Borderland website. Flickers ‘n’ Frames ran the gamut of pretty much everything, publishing reviews of sci-fi films, TV series, books, graphic novels, music, and the occasional piece of fiction. This one zine pretty much kick-started my current obsession with collecting zines, and I immediately moved on to collecting other fanzines, mostly based around telefantasy and SF.

My main fanzine collecting years coincided with what is known as the “Golden Age” of Doctor Who fanzines, circa 1985-1995. And so most of the zines in my collection are therefore based on Doctor Who, which just happens also to be my favourite ever TV sci-fi series. Although I’ve got quite a few non-Doctor Who zines in my collection, such as the previously mentioned Flickers ‘n’ Frames, and a large number of other zines covering various cult television shows ranging from Star Trek, to Blake’s 7 and the various Gerry Anderson TV shows, the bulk of my collection is made up of Doctor Who zines. That love of Doctor Who zines continues right up until the present day, and I still collect as many of the current batch of zines as I can.

The hoard of zines that I collected over the years covered many different themes and types, but most of them tended to fall into several different categories.

The first, and largest, category was the general review and article-based zines, which covered not only Doctor Who and other telefantasy series, but often other completely unrelated topics as well. They usually also included the occasional piece of fan fiction. These were mostly traditional A5 zines, and included (off the top of my head):

Circus (which also went A4 for several issues out of the eight-issue run).
Star-Begotten.
Soft Targets (A6).
625.
Brave New World.
Purple Haze.
Peladon.
Cygnus Alpha.
Auton.
Game of Rassilon.
Club Tropicana.
Burning the Ground.
the original Skaro.
Rumours.
Apocrypha.
Shockeye’s Kitchen.
Timelines (the fanzine of the Grand Order of the Time Lords).
Frontios.
Cybermag.
Sonic Screwdriver.
Queen Bat/Space Rat.
Eye of Harmony.
Vipod Mor.
Drake’s Drum (an A5 Star Trek zine).

and a few others that I can’t recall right now. But occasionally the zines were A4 and glossy (or sometimes not), such as:

Celestial Toyroom (the news/reviewzine of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society).
Second Dimension.
Matrix.
Skaro.
Antoinine Killer.
Metamorph.
Metamorph II.
Shadowsphere.
Neutron Flow.
The Tomb.

and a few others that I can’t remember off the top of my head.

The second category was fictionzines, mostly A5 but sometimes A4, zines composed almost totally of fan fiction based on Doctor Who, Star Trek or other telefantasy series. I’ve always had a soft spot for good quality fan fiction, so I have a LOT of fictionzines in my collection, including:

A5:
Mandria.
Silver Carrier and many other one-off fictionzine “novels” by the excellent Seventh Door Fanzines.
Chronicle.
Cosmic Masque (the fictionzine of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society).
Inner Door.
The Key and The Key Presents.
the various Gallifreyan Presses publications.

A4:
Inferno Fiction.
Fan Aid – The Storytellers.
Wondrous Stories.
Black Pyramid.
Universal Dreamer.
Vortex.
Trenchcoat (US Letter).
Myth Makers (US Letter).

and, again, quite a few others that I can’t recall right now. Again, mostly Doctor Who zines.

The third category was the larger A4, glossy (and often more colourful) semiprozines such as:

The Frame, which contained an enormous amount of photographs and background information on Doctor Who.
DWB, which started off as a semi-prozine dedicated to Doctor Who, but then morphed into Dreamwatch Bulletin and finally the professional newsstand magazine Dreamwatch, which covered telefantasy and sci-fi cinema of all shades.
Century 21 (based, obviously, around Gerry Anderson shows).
Portal 31 (a tribute to the classic TV21 comic).

There are quite a few other zines that I haven’t mentioned, as this is all from memory, but this is a good sub-section of them, all falling into the three categories which cover most of the zines in my collection.

To Be Continued…

In the Beginning… My Earliest Days on the Internet (Part One)

I’ve been online for a long time now, almost twenty years, in fact. My love affair with the internet started when I first came online on Christmas morning, December 1995, and has continued ever since. I can now barely remember what life was like before the internet, and it’s so much part of my daily existence nowadays that I simply couldn’t picture how my life would be without it.

Back in those days, the internet had been up and running for a while, but the World Wide Web was still in its infancy, and only a relatively few people were brave enough to venture out into the “wilds” of the Web, using nothing but one of the primitive web browsers available at the time. Besides, that early on in the Web’s existence, there weren’t really very many good websites out there anyway. So most of the fledgling web denizens tended to hang out in the safe online enclaves provided by the large commercial online services such as AOL, CompuServe and GEnie, which dominated the internet during its first couple of decades. And it was on CompuServe, otherwise known as CIS (CompuServe Information Service) that I was to spend my first few years on the internet.

In the heyday of CompuServe and AOL, every UK household used to get AOL and CompuServe CDs regularly in the mail. They bred like rabbits! I had dozens of them lying around the house, so many that I was never short of beer mats. 🙂 Early on Christmas morning, I unpacked my latest, most anticipated Christmas present, a shiny new US Robotics Sportster 28.8k modem, connected it to the computer, popped a CompuServe CD in the drive, and I was off and running. I was about to enter the online world for the very first time.

I was a huge Doctor Who, Babylon 5 and Star Trek fan at that time (I still am), so the very first thing I did after joining CompuServe was to become a member of the SFMEDIA forum, a busy, bustling community full of nice, friendly sci-fi geeks, who all just happened to love the same kind of television series and films that I did. After living my entire life in almost complete isolation from other sci-fi fans, I was now in geek heaven. I had literally thousands of like-minded geeks to converse with online every single day. I made my first posting in the Babylon 5 section of SFMEDIA at 4.55am on Christmas morning, and never looked back.

As I was also a big fan of written SF, I moved on to join the SFLIT forum a day or two later, and I liked that forum even better than SFMEDIA. Then, after a few weeks finding my feet in the two SF forums, and as I was also a comics fan, I joined the COMICS & ANIMATION forum, then the SCIENCE forum, the SPACE forum, the HISTORY forum, and quite a few others. But it was the SFMEDIA, SFLIT and COMICS & ANIMATION forums which always remained my main hang-outs, my central “base of operations”, so to speak. From 1995, up until about 2002, my entire online existence, both on CompuServe and elsewhere revolved around those three forums.

These were the days before everyone and their dog had their own webpage/website, when anyone who was anybody had a presence on CompuServe. Big companies like IBM, Microsoft, Lotus and Borland had their own communities there, and ran their online business from CompuServe. Many of the big SF authors and fandom figures hung out on SFLIT (Mike Resnick, Ray Feist, Catherine Asaro, David Gerrold, Jeff Carver, Gardner Dozois, Jon Stith, Dave Truesdale and many others come to mind), the likes of Joe Straczynski (yeah, JMS himself) hung out on SFMEDIA, and Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Steve Gerber and many other big comics writers and artists hung out on COMICS & ANIMATION.

Having notable media figures like this all in one place, interacting directly with fans and other members in the forums every single day, made CompuServe an absolutely incredible place to be back in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

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 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 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…