Monday, December 29, 2008

Monday Game: Zed

According to the instructions, Zed is an android who wants a solid gold spacesuit. To me, he looks more like some kind of bug. And besides, what does an android need with a spacesuit?

However, it's just possible I'm thinking too much about the setup for an enjoyable little platform jumper.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday Radio: With Folded Hands... (Dimension X)

Based on the story by Jack Williamson, published in Astounding Science Fiction, July 1947.

Originally broadcast live on NBC, April 15, 1950.

The author of today's adapted story, Jack Williamson, wrote, among many, many other things over eight decades, "The Moon Era," reprinted in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 1.

But enough of that. What goodies did you get for Christmas? An iPod Touch? An iRobot Roomba? A Humanoid from planet Wing IV to take on all the onerous drudgery of living?

What's a Humanoid? Come on, they've been out since 2006. Don't you feel left out at parties when everyone else is going on about their Humanoid? What are you going to do on February 17, 2009, after the federally-mandated conversion to all-digital labor?

Of course, I should talk. I finally bought an HDTV last week. My latest iPod is three years old. I don't even have a Humanoid.

Oops, excuse me. That's the doorbell.

Please enjoy today's completely dated and utterly fictional radio program. Rest assured that nothing like this will ever happen to you. Robot labor-saving devices are the wave of the future, and a boon to humankind.

The Editor would tell you this himself, but monitor eyestrain and carpal tunnel syndrome from keyboards can be serious problems, and we want to preserve him from any harm.

-Humanoid 64-J-L-19

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Thursday Preview: Moon over Luna

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Four weeks ago, I lamented that I didn't have a Thanksgiving-themed Thursday Preview.

As it happens, Christmas is also on a Thursday this year, and I do have a story that... well, mentions Christmas. Three times, though. It's also the only one of our new stories to mention Star Trek, and on the same page, yet!

So pleased am I at the page's appositeness that I present it, rather than the story's first page, as this week's Thursday Preview. Fortunately, the illustration by artist/chip off the old block Mishi McCaig is a full page, so it took but a moment in Photoshop to put it together. The story page in question is even a right-hand page, while the illustration is a left-hand, so they make a spread together. It's kismet, I tell you! Kismet!

In "Moon over Luna," Earth suddenly gains an extra natural satellite, a blank, mysterious body soon dubbed Aurora. But the story is far more about people than about this celestial newcomer. How do they react to Aurora's unexpected arrival? As you might imagine, in many different ways. And David R. George III deftly shows us several of them.

Among other forays into the Star Trek universe in print, David R. George III has written the Crucible trilogy, expanding on the events of the classic original series episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" with a novel each on their effects on McCoy, Spock, and Kirk. He also had co-story credit on the first season Star Trek: Voyager episode "Prime Factors," making him the most recent contributor to televised Star Trek to appear in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2.

(Please feel free to download, share, make a highly economical Christmas present of, and/or post the jpg file in its original and unaltered form, including all credits and copyrights.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Monday Game: Alien Clones

Move around the screen, pick up ammunition, and kill enemies. Okay, it doesn't sound that neat, put like that. What I really enjoy about this game is the character design, especially your robotic avatar's crawling motion. To me, it looks part gecko, part water spider.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Majel Barrett Roddenberry (1932-2008)

According to SyFy Portal and other online news sources, Majel Barrett Roddenberry died early Thursday morning after a long battle with leukemia.

She was with Star Trek from the beginning, playing the first officer of the Enterprise, the otherwise nameless Number One, in the original pilot episode. She was a semi-regular on the series in two roles, as Nurse Christine Chapel and as the voice of the ship's computer.

However, it was on Star Trek: The Next Generation that she came into her own as the "Auntie Mame of the galaxy," Lawaxana Troi, mother of regular character Deanna Troi. She also played the role on Deep Space Nine. On all the Trek series, she continued to voice various Federation computers to the very end (to date) of Star Trek on broadcast television, the finale of Enterprise in 2005.

Her final role in Star Trek, completed before her death, will be in the original series-reboot feature film, coming out next May, again as the Enterprise computer. The final Trek performance released during her lifetime was the Star Trek New Voyages episode "World Enough and Time," reprising the role of the original NCC-1701 Enterprise's computer.

She married Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry shortly after the end of the original series in 1969. Following his death in 1991, she was instrumental in bringing two of his unmade projects, Earth: Final Conflict and Andromeda, to television, where they enjoyed long runs.

I only ever saw her once in person, at a convention in Chicago in 1986. She happily delivered the news of the very positive preview figures for the then-upcoming Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and the first news about what became Star Trek: The Next Generation. I'll never forget how she raised goosebumps reading the Federation President's speech from Voyage Home, recounting the disaster that had befallen Earth and urging all listeners to avoid the planet "at all cost."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Radio: The Last Martian (X Minus One)

Based on the story by Fredric Brown, published in Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1950.

Originally broadcast on NBC, August 7, 1956.

I'm not an editor by training, although I started making magazines when I was seven. I've always had kind of a knack for it, mentally holding a blue pencil as I read. But since I worry about everything, I sometimes ask myself who died and made me a science fiction editor.

Enter this week's Friday Radio. I picked it because I have a story by Fredric Brown in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2, and I like to say Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2 to you as much as possible. But as it happens, I'd never read this particular Brown story.

When I listened to the episode, I noticed that it changes point of view character for a while, about two-thirds of the way through, and it just struck me as wrong... particularly because, up till then, it was narrated in the first person by a character who was suddenly no longer present. I also thought it wasted rather casually what should have been the big twist punchline/reveal.

So afterwards, I opened up my copy of From These Ashes: The Complete Short SF of Fredric Brown, and found, to no surprise whatsoever, that the section that had rubbed me the wrong way wasn't in it; it was made up by George Lefferts, the radio scriptwriter, probably to add a couple of plot beats to a fairly short story. And the twist was in the last scene, where it belonged.

Now I'm feeling better. And it'll probably last for, oh, a day, day and a half.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday Preview: Dark Energies

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As you know, and I try to tell Google frequently, all the fiction, old and new, in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2 is by writers associated with the various televised incarnations of Star Trek.

Eventually, we're going to get around to a preview of Fredric Brown's "Arena." It has the distinction of being the only existing story adapted into an episode of the original series... although, as I've mentioned, producer Gene Coon wasn't consciously aware he'd adapted a story until after he wrote the script.

But it's not the only story adapted for Star Trek. Larry Niven adapted his own 1967 novella "The Soft Weapon" into the animated episode "The Slaver Weapon."

But that's not this week's preview, either. In fact, it's not in TWS2 at all. Why not? Well, hell, man, if you had a choice between reprinting a Larry Niven story and printing an entirely new one, which would you choose?

To be honest, it's a short-short. Still, it's not short enough to be a two-page "Wonder Storiette" like Ben Bova's "Jovian Dreams" from Volume 1. As a result, it has its own illustration, the second in TWS2 by longtime Trek TV and film scenic art supervisor Michael Okuda.

Larry Niven has been one of the giants of science fiction since the 1960's, winning his first Hugo in 1967. He won both the Hugo and Nebula three years later for his novel Ringworld. And among his other Hugos is one for the novelette "The Borderland of Sol," adapted from his original pitch to the animated Star Trek.

For television, he also wrote three episodes of the original Land of the Lost, and adapted his story "Inconstant Moon" (another of his Hugo-winners) for the revival of The Outer Limits. In the Star Trek universe, he also wrote for the syndicated comic strip.

(Please feel free to download, share, and/or post the jpg file in its original and unaltered form, including all credits and copyrights.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Well, This Is Disturbing

Brain scans can now retrieve images of what you're looking at. Probably coming soon: images of what you're thinking or dreaming about.

"John-Dylan Haynes of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany... says it may be possible to 'make a videotape of a dream.'"

That would come too late for me. I haven't had any dreams worth preserving since I finished puberty.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Radio: The Incident at Switchpath (Beyond Tomorrow)

Based on the story "The Sky Was Full of Ships" (aka "The Cave of History") by Theodore Sturgeon, published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1947.

Remember when I said we'd run through all the stories from Thrilling Wonder adapted for radio? Well...

I've read "The Sky Was Full of Ships," and seen the television adaptation from Tales of Tomorrow. So when I started listening to this episode, it seemed kind of... familiar. Oddly, the announcer twice says that "The Incident at Switchpath" is the title of Sturgeon's story.  But there's no such story, and this is clearly "The Sky Was Full of Ships."

This episode was intended for radio, but there's no evidence it was ever broadcast. Beyond Tomorrow recorded a pilot and three episodes (one of them a re-recording of the pilot). All the sources show that this episode was recorded on April 11, 1950, but it doesn't seem right to me. Dimension X premiered on April 8, 1950 with an adaptation of "The Outer Limit." But the fourth and final recording of Beyond Tomorrow, supposedly set to disc ten days later, was... "The Outer Limit." Go figure.

Another Theodore Sturgeon story from the original Thrilling Wonder appears in our upcoming Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2. See a preview of "The Golden Helix" here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thursday Preview: No Studio, No Network, No Problem

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So far, all of our previews from Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2 have been for fiction. But TWS2 also has over forty pages of non-fiction features.
The main article this time around is an in-depth look at the making of "World Enough and Time," an episode of the Internet series Star Trek New Voyages (since renamed Star Trek: Phase II).

And these aren't three-minute "webisodes," mind you. "World Enough and Time" (known to the cognoscenti as WEAT—pronounced "wheat") runs over an hour, and features three actors from the original series reprising their roles: George Takei (Sulu), Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand), and Majel Barrett Roddenberry (the computer voice in all of the Star Trek series and, so Wikipedia tells me, the upcoming movie).

But what really amazes me about New Voyages/Phase II is that although it's a series run by fans on a relative shoestring, it looks as good as many modern television shows made by professionals. Or maybe I should say "entirely by professionals," because although it's primarily a fan—ahem—enterprise, many professionals have taken part. Not just the ones on screen that I've mentioned, but writers, special effects artists, graphic artists, and others who have worked on official Star Trek productions, taking part out of love for the franchise, and for the original series in particular.

With modern home computers, affordable broadcast-quality digital video, and the Internet, it doesn't take a studio or a network to make some truly stunning productions. Mostly, it takes skill and dedication. And if you're making Star Trek, it certainly helps when CBS-Paramount understands (as Lucasfilm does with Star Wars fan films), that emulation is not only the truly most sincere kind of flattery, it's also free publicity.

I have to admit, I'm not a disinterested observer. I became involved with WEAT through my friends, director/co-writer Marc Scott Zicree and co-writer Michael Reaves. I shot DV footage of the auditions and other elements of the pre-production. I drove my Macintosh G5 from Los Angeles to upstate New York in my self-titled capacity of Digital Media Wrangler, downloading the high-def footage from P2 flash memory cards, cataloging it, backing it up, and making daily DVDs of the rushes. Near the end of filming, I became associate producer, and during post-production, co-producer.

The author of the article, Crystal Ann Taylor, also came to the project through association with Marc Zicree. As script co-ordinator, documentarian, and (as many of us on the production had to be) person-of-many-trades, she had a front row seat at the eye of the storm (to mix a metaphor). I, by contrast, spent most of my time in New York at my computer, tucked into a niche between sick bay and the bridge.

Through interviews with many of the people involved both behind the scenes and on the screen (including George Takei), Crystal tells the whole story of this production fueled by can-do spirit, including the few instances when it couldn't-didn't. You'll think you're with us on meticulously-recreated sets, swatting flies and getting increasingly giddy from lack of sleep, and yet having one of the major experiences of your life.

(As usual, feel free to download and share the preview, or post it on your blog or website, as long as you leave the file as it is, including all credits and copyrights. A link back here would be nice, too.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

YouTube Tuesday: Space Adventure, Episodes 1-3

In YouTube Tuesday a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 1, was originally going to come with a bonus DVD. You could only get it by buying TWS1 through our website.

Problem was, the whole website thing sorta went south for reasons I'm not going to talk about, and just stew in my bitterness over.

For now, here's something else that would have been on the TWS1 DVD: the first three episodes of a fun science fiction-comedy with original songs, Space Adventure.

Episode 1

Episode 2: A Gross Shave

Episode 3: That Toast Is Toast!

My favorite phrase for weeks after seeing Episode Two: "This is so important, my groin hurts."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Monday Game: Mission Mars

An e-mail from our friend Xxorxt:

"Yes, my increasingly hairy, binocular bud, as you surmised yesterday, I indeed do all my Snqxrtmas shopping online. Going out in the cold, exterminating the crowds—who needs the frustration?

"Besides, it leaves more time to get together with family and engage in activities reflecting the true meaning of Snqxrtmas. Like taking a leisurely flight and singing carols while we watch the bright lights of a neighboring, but technically inferior, civilization's soaring towers below our ship, and blast them to dust.

"But my favorite part of the Snqxrtmas season comes afterwards. You simply haven't lived until you've cooked sptzznuts over an open fire. And if you can leave the sptzz alive to see his nuts being cooked over an open fire, and the fire is the debris that used to be his home... well, my hearts simply sing."

Uh, thanks, Xxorxt. Remember, if you ever want to drop by for Christmas... don't. We'll be busy.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008)

I'm sad to announce the death of Forrest J Ackerman, founder/editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland, agent for the estates of many early science fiction authors, coiner of the term "sci-fi," and proud wearer of the sobriquets "Super-Fan" and "Mr. Science Fiction."

You can read the announcement on the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) website.

I knew Forry a bit. As you know, I interviewed him for Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 1. I was at his big 90th birthday party two years ago. Reprints I contracted with him in his capacity as estate agent have appeared in TWS, and will be appearing over the next several months. Like, I suspect, many people my age who knew him, I kind of thought of him as the science-fiction-nerd grandfather I never had.

I'm dedicating Volume 2 to Forry and to Jack Speer, another icon of First Fandom whom we lost this year. Without them, and others like them, we science fiction fans wouldn't have what we have today. Certainly I wouldn't be publishing something called Thrilling Wonder Stories.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Radio: The Seventh Order (X Minus One)

Based on the story by Jerry Sohl, published in Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1952.

Originally broadcast on NBC, May 8, 1956.

Here's a first: an adaptation of a story published in the current incarnation of Thrilling Wonder Stories. See a preview of its appearance in the upcoming Volume 2 here.

Continuity hiccup: The (fictional) radio announcer refers to "the bodies of six policemen on the lawn" killed by George (as it were), yet, as we're told earlier and later, George's weapon vaporizes its targets.

Speaking of his weapon, I love the sound effect. I don't know if it was intended to be comic, but between the pause and the "poof" sound, I laugh every time it happens. In the original story, it's "soundless," but of course, that would hardly have worked on radio.

This episode originally aired on my minus fourteenth birthday. So considering that I grew up feeling that 1956 was somewhere between "a long time ago" and "an unimaginably long time ago," and that it's now only about 36% older than I am... well, it makes a fella start to feel not so young anymore, is what I'm saying.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thursday Preview: The Seventh Order

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Apart from one more recent reprint, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 1 featured only reprints from the original magazine and its predecessors. We're casting the net wider this time. In addition to two stories from Thrilling Wonder (one of them previewed here), Volume 2 draws from Astounding, If, and Galaxy (this one), plus one first published in a single-author collection.

Partly, we've done this in order to have all our stories, old and new, from writers of Star Trek. For instance, Jerry Sohl, the author of today's previewed story, wrote numerous stories and novels, but nothing for Thrilling Wonder. In the case of Fredric Brown—who did write for Thrilling Wonder —we wanted to reprint "Arena," which originally appeared in Astounding, because it was the only existing story to be adapted (however unconsciously) into an episode of the original series.

Jerry Sohl (1913-2002) was equally adept at writing for television and print. He ghost-wrote three episodes of the original Twilight Zone, co-plotting with the ailing Charles Beaumont and writing the scripts. He used his own name on the original Outer Limits and The Invaders, as well as series outside the genre, such as Route 66 and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

He seems not to have had a particularly good experience with Star Trek. Although he had a solo writing credit on "The Corbomite Maneuver," the first episode of the series' first production season, he had only co-story on "This Side of Paradise" and "Whom Gods Destroy," his original stories heavily reworked and scripted by other writers.

"The Seventh Order" was Sohl's first published story. Collections of his short stories and Twilight Zone scripts are currently in print.

Ed Emshwiller (about whom more here) drew three illustrations for "The Seventh Order," all of which appear in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2.

As usual, feel free to download the jpg file and/or use it on your blog or website as long as you leave it intact, including all credits and copyrights.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Monday Game: Alien Abduction

[voice of the guy from those old Dunkin' Donuts commercials] Time to abduct the humans. (Zoom, zoom, beam, zoom, beam, zoom, zoom, zoom, beam, zoom, beam, zoom, zoom, beam into mothership.) I abducted the humans. [/voice of the guy from those old Dunkin' Donuts commercials]

The protagonist of this week's game has been kind enough to write an introduction.

"It's tough out for an alien. Sometimes I feel over the hill (Betty and Barney Hill—ha! I kill me!). Not only has the boss given me a quota of humans and their odd, hydrocarbon-consuming vehicles to abduct, he's given me a time limit as well. And there are enemy ships out to stop me, and I don't even know who they are. Human-lovers? Rivals? Just plain killjoys? I dunno. To make matters worse, all the potential abductees seem to be men. I mean, used to be they wouldn't even let you be an alien if you wouldn't terrorize women, and now I don't get to?! Sigh. When I'm done, I guess I'll just have to watch Heavy Metal. Again."

Thanks, Xxorxt. The check's in the mail. Unfortunately, it'll take eighty-one billion years to reach your home planet. Plus, it's an out-of-system check, so it'll take another eleven billion years to clear your bank. But hey, ten bucks is ten bucks, right?