Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thursday Preview: The Golden Helix

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When the subject of science fiction's greatest prose stylists comes up, two names dominate the conversation: Ray Bradbury and Theodore Sturgeon. Both started in the pulps, both wrote numerous tales for Thrilling Wonder Stories. But while Bradbury became famous to a much wider audience, and gradually left the science fiction label behind, Sturgeon—who was an acknowledged major influence on Bradbury—continued to plug away in the low-paid genre trenches until his death in 1985. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., based his character Kilgore Trout on Sturgeon, perhaps as a negative object lesson of the fate Vonnegut worked hard to avoid.

Sturgeon wrote two scripts for the original Star Trek: "Shore Leave" (heavily rewritten by Gene Roddenberry) and, most famously, "Amok Time," introducing the Vulcan "seven-year itch," pon farr. In 1996, James E. Gunn (who wrote the "Space Opera Revisited" article for Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 1) expanded an unproduced storyline of Sturgeon's into the Star Trek novel The Joy Machine, credited to both writers.

"The Golden Helix" first appeared in the 25th anniversary issue of the original Thrilling Wonder Stories, Summer 1954. Appropriately enough for a haunting and beautiful story by a great prose stylist, it featured two illustrations by the pulp age's greatest visual stylist, Virgil Finlay. (Both are reprinted in TWS2.)

Despite the obvious effort his intricate linework required, Finlay managed to be highly prolific, producing artwork on a regular basis for many of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazines of the time, as well as other types—he drew beautiful illustrations for astrology magazines, and produced 845 images for The American Weekly.

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