Tuesday, December 1, 2009

YouTube Tuesday: Ring Around the Globey

What if the Earth had rings like Saturn's? This video starts out a little dull, but it gets down to business at around the one-minute mark, showing how the rings would appear from various cities around the globe.

And here's something I'm really looking forward to, from Star Trek: Phase II's senior executive producer James Cawley: Buck Rogers. Judging from this little effects trailer, it's going to have that same mix of modern effects and retro style that makes Phase II so entertaining.

I think Buck Rogers will be an interesting test for the independent online production model. Unlike Phase II, this is a fully-licensed production, and therefore can be done as a for-profit venture. Can it make a profit? Can it have the same value-for-budget as Phase II without the power of those magic words, Star Trek, to get dozens of people, fans and professionals, to work for free? I'm hoping the answers are yes and yes, because a production and distribution model that could support professional-quality work for an audience of real SF enthusiasts-- that is, without needing to water it down for a mass audience --would be about the best thing ever to happen to the genre in the audiovisual realm.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday Game: Space Invaders (Atari 2600 & 800)

Screw the arcade. For me, there was only one Space Invaders, and it was on the Atari 2600. That's the cartridge famous for its mind-boggling 112 different variations, and that's not even counting that each player can switch between two difficulty levels within the game.

Remember that Wikipedia article I cited last week about killer apps? According to that, the release of Space Invaders quadrupled sales of the Atari 2600. And three years later, it was still enough in the public consciousness that it made an appearance in the original V miniseries, being played by a Visitor in a bit of a pop-culture pun.

I won't annotate the video of my play this week (at least, not more than I have in the video itself) except to say that this is probably my best-ever gave of Invisible Invaders.

And here's Space Invaders for the Atari 800 (and their other 8-bit computers). I didn't have this cartridge back in the day. I picked it up on eBay a couple years ago, but I haven't played it much. So it kind of surprised me, playing it for the video, how quick and smooth the movement of the little base is. I guess I was expecting the somewhat more restrained (or maybe that's constrained) pace of the 2600 version.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

YouTube Tuesday: Bits and Pieces

Yet another video I wouldn't have known about if not for i09, here's an amusing CGI collision between two science fiction epics of 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Doctor Who Cybermen story "The Wheel in Space." (I hadn't thought of this when I decided to post the video, but the series turned 46 years young yesterday.) I particularly enjoyed the "recasting" of the Pan-Am shuttle scene. Even if you don't know Doctor Who from a hole in the ground, the re-creation of iconic 2001 sets is still pretty incredible. And if you don't know 2001 from a hole in the ground, either... well, there's not much I can do to help you.

If you're anything like me (and if you are, I'm so, so sorry), you've been waiting almost a year for this: Part II of the Star Trek: Phase II adventure "Blood and Fire," co-written and directed by Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2 alum David Gerrold. This is the recap and Part II teaser.

They're still working on a final sound mix, but you can download the current working version here. Since I'm choosy, in addition to being a big, big nerd, I'm going to wait until it's all done, and then let the full experience wash over me in the fullness of its coolness.

And while I'm pimping the work of people I know... I finally watched Humanity's End, the new film by Neil Johnson, the other day, and it's a knockout!  It keeps the action coming and delivers some unexpected emotional punch at the same time. And some of the effects are pretty damn impressive, too—the envy of science fiction films hundreds of times its budget of $140,000.

Don Baldaramos has a great supporting role in it as General Freitag. And he was in the Star Trek: Phase II episode "World Enough and Time," which we covered in the aforementioned TWS Volume 2, as well as being indispensable behind the scenes. So it all fits together, you see. (Kari Nissena, who has nothing to do with Thrilling Wonder Stories, but who I also know, appears in the film as a Nephilim officer, Gorlock.)

Speaking of things fitting together, it's nice to see the spaceship sets at Laurel Canyon Stages again. We shot most of A Can of Paint there in 2002, and I was just wondering the other day if it was still around.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Game: Star Raiders

You'll notice we haven't had a Monday Game in quite a while. Frankly, that's because it's difficult to find enough Flash games that are 1) science fiction-related, 2) good, and 3) available for embedding.

So, for a while at least, I'm going to take a different tack, and show you some classic science fiction-related video games.

This week, we start at the top, with my all-time favorite, the killer app that not only convinced me that I wanted an Atari 800 home computer, it convinced my father to buy me one: Star Raiders.

(I just looked up "killer app" on Wikipedia to make sure I was spelling it right [I wasn't], and would you believe, in the entry "Killer Application," "An example of a killer application is Star Raiders, released in 1979 on cartridge for the Atari 8-bit computer." Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks so.)

I can't tell you how many hours I spent in the early '80s playing Star Raiders, but it was somewhere between "a hell of a lot" and "way the hell too many." And I've continued to drag out the Atari 800 now and again ever since to play it.

It's truly an amazing thing. I don't know how they managed to program it in 1979 for an 8-bit computer. I don't think there was a space combat game nearly as good until at least 1982's Star Trek Strategic Operations Simulator and 1983's Star Wars, and those were arcade games.

It's a variation on the classic computer text game Star Trek from 1971, with the vast improvement that you fight in real time in 3-D space. Also, the enemy Zylons can surround, then destroy, your starbases.

Instead of a score, you receive a ranking at the end of the game, from "Rookie, Class 5" (or, if you really suck, "Garbage Scow Captain, Class 5") up through "Star Commander, Class 1." Oh, how I wanted to be a Star Commander, Class 1. During the time I played it regularly, I think I topped out somewhere in Commander, the rank below Star Commander.

But sometime around 2002, not having played the game in a couple of years, I finally did it. I guess my reflexes finally got good enough. I got the top score two or three times, and even recorded it once. However, it was a lousy recording, because I was only able to attach the Atari 800 to the video recorder with a wonky and static-plagued RF box. However, I recently bought a cable with S-Video and RCA audio outputs, so I was able to drive myself around the freakin' bend, trying to replicate my feat.

And last week, I finally managed it. And here it is.

Part One

0:03: Here's where you can really see the Star Trek influence. Unsurprisingly, the groups of four dots are groups of four Zylon ships, and the groups of three dots are groups of three Zylon ships. Not unsurprisingly, the thing that looks like a little spaceship is a group of two Zylon ships. (It also represents one ship, if that's all that's left in a sector, but all groups start out with at least two.) Groups of two (or one) move twice as often as groups of three, which move twice as often as groups of four. So you want to clear out the groups of two as quickly as possible, to make it more difficult for the Zylons to surround a starbase.

0:29: Unlike in Star Trek, the sector is bigger than you can see, and sometimes the Zylons are out of range of your scanners. In that case, you have to hyperwarp within the sector, and hope for the best. (Incidentally, I'm changing between these views with the keyboard, and doing the fighting with a standard Atari one-button joystick.)

0:54: For some reason, they disincentivized warping all over the place. The "warp energy" goes up smoothly with distance until you hit 260. Then it suddenly jumps to 500. That's why I make this trip in two hops: it's cheaper in energy. (The amount of energy you use is one of the factors in the final score. Besides which, you have only so much energy, and then you must go to a starbase to refuel.)

2:15: The real frustrating thing about Aft View is that the controls are reversed. Which is kind of silly; it's not like this is a rear-view mirror. But never mind.

2:47: That's sublight engines, not hyperwarp engines. Some people use them during battle, but I only ever use them to approach starbases.

3:33: Here, I wait for the Star Date to roll over to 02.00, because I know the groups of two (which move every .50) and three (which move every 1.00) are about to move. (Groups of four move every 2.00, but don't start until Star Date 03.00.)

4:00: Fortunately, the game doesn't exclude already-damaged items from the list of things to be randomly damaged or destroyed. In this case, "Engines Damaged" came up again. And it's not even additional damage; it's the same as before.

4:20: "Photons Damaged" means they now only shoot from one side, instead of alternating sides.

4:48: You've probably noticed the steering drifts while I'm building up to hyperwarp, and I have to fight it to keep on target. Here, I don't quite make it, and end up spending 500 of energy instead of the 260 I was aiming for.

Part Two:

2:19: "Sub-Space Radio Destroyed" means the Galactic Chart won't update. Also, if I were a slow enough player that Zylons could surround a starbase, I wouldn't get warning of that. Also, my Long Range Scan is damaged, hence the mirror imaging.

2:47: Because I've destroyed all the groups of two, I know none of the groups of three are going anywhere until at least 06.00, nor any groups of four until 07.00, so I can let the radio problem keep.

5:42: Yes, my photons are damaged, my engines are damaged, my targeting computer is destroyed, my long range scan is damaged, and my sub-space radio is destroyed. The only thing that works all right is my shields. Plus, my energy is getting low. Time to visit a starbase.

5:56: I dropped shields to save energy. (The starbase can somehow repair you even when your shields are up.) I got extremely lucky here, with the starbase visible from my forward view. Otherwise, I'd have had to check Long Range Scan, hope it was close enough for my damaged engines to reach in a reasonable time (and if not, hyperwarp within the sector), line it up with my ship, see if it's the real starbase or the mirror image by whether it moves toward or away from me when I start the engines, and hope it's lined up in the vertical axis (which I can't check in Long Range, and can't see the figures for with my computer destroyed) as well as vertical so I don't fly right over or under it without ever seeing it. Believe me, I could really have screwed the pooch timewise, here.

Part Three:

0:58: Unless I missed one earlier, this is the first Zylon baseship I've encountered this game. They have shields—which really is just to say that they have to be fairly close before your hits destroy them. And they flash in a neat way. That I faced so few was probably a contributing factor in my top rank. Having them pound away at you in Aft View is especially annoying/dangerous.

5:45: Oops. That's the problem with having Long Range/Sector Scan destroyed—if the range (R:) isn't changing, you can't check it to see if an enemy is right on top of you.

So, having not only reached Star Commander, Class 1, but having preserved it in fairly good resolution for posterity, what am I going to do now? I don't know, maybe throw Star Raiders away and never play it again? I've reached an age where my skills at things like this aren't going to improve with time. But at least I can say now that once, I was the best. Moo-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday Matinee: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Chapter Twelve

And so, after about ten months, on and off (mostly off), we come to the thrilling conclusion of Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, and to the immensely lame rationalization for that title!

And now, some comments:

Yes, mere moments after Flash nearly gets hisself blowed up real good, Barin is about to charge across the same stretch until Princess Aura tells him it's electrified. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, is our Barin.

I don't think I've mentioned it before, but Charles "Ming" Middleton has a habit of pronouncing "attack" as "attact." He does it twice in this week's chapter.

Say, I just noticed that some of the masks of the Ming guards have rivets at the corners, and some don't. I wonder if it marks some kind of difference in status. Not that I feel like going back through the whole thing to work it out empirically.

Also, it occurs to me now to wonder what the guards without cockades do with the little tube on the top of their helmets. Perhaps some keep a boutonniere fresh with a little water in there.

Again, we cover a couple of film breaks in the DVCam version with very brief fades in and out of the lower-resolution AVI copy.

Unfortunately, there's a much longer switch to AVI at the end, since the DVCam version becomes very unstable there, jittering and rolling. Fortunately, the audio on the DVCam is fine, so that comes from there.

The actual "The End" segment comes from the MPEG-2 of the feature version which, apart from the standard opening, we haven't seen since Chapter Six.  I don't know if the other episodes had this ending, or some "Next Week" text teaser, so I haven't used it until now.

And now, as the Irish/British comedian Dave Allen used to say, good night, thank you, and may your god go with you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

YouTube Tuesday: Charlie Chaplin in "The Matrix"

You ever wondered what The Matrix would be like if Charlie Chaplin had made it as a half-reel silent comedy?  Sure, we all have.  But now, here's the answer!

I particularly like this film's rendition of the kung fu scene.

Again, by the way, we see that non-native writers of English have a problem with our language's bizarre rule that the word "I" is capitalized.

And again, I have to admit that the io9 website, where I first saw this, is doing a better job finding these offbeat videos than I am.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saturday Matinee: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Chapter Eleven

Say, you think that's a stuntman as Flash starting at about 2:11 of Part 1, or did Buster Crabbe's hair suddenly get a lot darker, and very thin on top?

And at at the end of "Poison gas! Cover your mouths!" (2:49 of Part 1), Dr. Zarkov suddenly gets very, very Celtic. According to IMDb, actor Frank Shannon comes by it naturally. There was a line last week (can't remember what it was) that made me suspect, but this one just cracks me up something fierce.

(And now my cats, who I think already wonder about me, are going to have to put up for a while with me going around the house, yelling, "Poison gas! Cover y' mowwwoooothz!")

3:47, Part 1: As they used to say on Mystery Science Theater 3000, here's one for the laaaaadies.

So many scene transitions are dissolves or wipes that for the Part 1 break, I just went for a mid-scene line that was good and punchy and cliffhanger-y.

Charles Middleton (Ming) seemed to have a bit of a problem with name pronunciation. He renders "Ronal" alternately with the stress on the first syllable (correct) and on the second, and "Sonja" sometimes with a "j" sound.

4:54 of Part 3: Oh, no! Ming tortured him to death in the Comfy Chair!

This week, only 27 frames come from AVI, and twenty of them are the dissolve into and out of the seven used to repair a film break (about 1:38 of Part 2).

And, again, it's fortunate the sound is good on my DVCam copy, because there are some substantial chunks missing from the AVI:

1) A segment cut out between 4:16 and 5:53 of Part 1. Yes, they went from before the attack, directly to the announcement of defeat.

2) A 20-frame film break during that long, long wide shot of Ming's throne room (7:12 of Part 1).

3) An incredible 3:34 edit going from 6:14 of Part 2 to 3:13 of Part Three. The end of this chapter is funny enough as it is, but without the explanation for why it's happening, it must be hilarious. (Vagueness courtesy of SpoilerBusters™.)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Saturday Matinee: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Chapter Ten

Our first three-parter in a while. Actually, Chapter Ten runs about 19:30, but there wasn't a convenient place to cut it into two pieces of ten minutes or less.

I could have mentioned this last time, but I laugh every time I see the four of them all turn their heads at once (3:09 of Part 1). Somehow, I don't think that was the response the filmmakers were going for.

As I've said, I'm not that musical, but even I can recognize the bizarre musical cut at 3:21 of Part 2. Did the music editor have a sudden heart attack?

It won't win any acting prizes, but I'm still unreasonably amused by the way Anne Gwynne (Sonja) delivers the line, "Prince Barin, bah!" (4:03 of Part 2).

When I'm really rich (and there's just a fortune to be made in science fiction publishing these days, a fortune), I'm going to fix up the basement to look just like the radio room (first appearing at 0:30 in Part 3). There wouldn't be much to do there, you say? Well, only two walls are visible in the serial. What you can't see is that they've got a kick-ass 120-inch HDTV in there, plus an Xbox 360 complete with The Beatles: Rock Band. You should hear Barin's men wailing on "Hey, Bulldog."

Speaking of wailing on things, it's a shame there wasn't a 1940 Olympics, because they could have taken a page from this chapter's conclusion, and instituted mixed doubles fistfighting. I wonder how many little girls on the school playground beat the snot out of each other, playing Dale and Sonja, while the others were busy playing house? To most of them (the ones who weren't just doing it because they were budding little violent psychopaths), I'd just like to say, 69 years late, "You go, girl!"

While we're talking proto-feminism, note at about 2:50 in Part 3 that it's Dale who goes into the cell to check that the guard is dead, while Barin hangs back, and not the other way around.

This week, not only does almost all of the video come from my DVCam copy, so does the audio. It's been over a year since I transferred it, so I don't remember for sure, but I think Chapters Ten, Eleven, and Twelve were on a different tape from the rest. At any rate, I know that, unlike most of the rest, there were no timecode hiccups in those three chapters, because I was able to capture each in one piece.

And it's a lucky thing the DVCam audio is good for this chapter, because the whole scene from 4:44 to 5:47 of Part One isn't in the AVI version.

The only piece from the AVI version comes at 5:54 of Part 2. As you can see, it bridges two shots. In the past, I've replaced the whole shots, but in this case, each shot was pretty long, so I decided on something more ambitious. I sized and positioned the AVI version to best match the DVCam, and dissolved from DVCam to AVI and back, using the least possible amount of AVI in the process.

By the way, next week might mark an uptick in visual quality, since I've only just noticed that YouTube has increased maximum file size to 2GB, up from the 1GB I've been using since this site began. Now I can use the highest settings when converting to MPEG-4.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

YouTube Tuesday: Bunker

This is a darker than I usually like to go with these, and I was a step ahead on the twist, but it's really well made. Also, the woman-alone-in-a-bunker aspect reminded me of a story I just read and enjoyed the other day in a late issue of the original Thrilling Wonder Stories.

Oh, and it's in French, with English subtitles, which automatically makes it more artistic. (Your number one sign the subtitles were not done by someone fluent in written English: they don't know that, for some bizarre reason, the English first-person singular pronoun is always written in upper-case.)

And I fully admit I didn't manage to find this myself. Instead, I heard about it via the io9 science fiction news site. According to them, it was shot with the hot hot hot RED ONE digital camera. (george c. scott) Gee, I wish we had one of them RED ONE digital cameras (/george c. scott). I just mention this in case you draw my name to be my secret Santa.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturday Matinee: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Chapter Nine

Old-time Doctor Who fans, back me up on this one: the Rock Men and Omega (left), separated at birth or what?

Back when I was doing Undersea Kingdom, after a while I'd think ahead every week about Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. I decided each week's blog post title would have a scrap of lyric from Queen's Flash Gordon theme (e.g., "Saturday Matinee: Flash! Ah-ahhh!") Naturally, as soon as the time came, I forgot all about it, and I've only just remembered now, as I'm writing the notes for Chapter Nine.

I know I've made a similar statement before, but it's kind of amazing to me that a serial that can produce a cool visual effect like the monitor tuning in (about 8:12 in Part 2) has to resort to film scratches for most of the energy rays.

Again, the audio from the DVCam version was full of annoying digital-error squeaks and chirps, so as much of the audio as possible comes from the AVI version. Unfortunately, for three short periods, the AVI audio is plagued with ticks... the kind that are short, sharp noises, not the kind that carry Lyme disease. And thanks to a film break in the source material for the AVI, a short bit beginning about 2:21 in Part 1 comes squeakily from the DVCam.

Speaking of digital errors, most of the episodes on my DVCam tape had to be captured in several pieces because some error would stop the capture. If I remember correctly, one episode of Undersea Kingdom had about twenty. Well, this week's episode, I was able to capture in one piece. But it doesn't help the audio.

Apart from one shot through the window of Flash's ship, all the video specific to this chapter comes from DVCam.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Next Small Thing

This week, we've had news that ABC's creatively troubled remake of V will premiere with four episodes in November, then stay off the air until the 2010 Winter Olympics are over, in March.

Then NBC announced that Day One, originally slated as a 13-episode mid-season replacement, will run instead as a four-hour miniseries. The interesting part to me is that NBC based its decision on the notion that while they could effectively advertise Day One as event television, it would be a harder, prohibitively expensive, sell as a series.

Which got me thinking... is this the beginning of a new phenomenon in television: the sweeps month micro-season?

The longtime model of a 35-week season, with reruns scattered amongst 22 new episodes, has become increasingly uncommon for dramas. Partly it's due to increasing serialization of shows, which makes reruns potentially confusing for the more casual audience. We've become used in recent years to shorter blocks of all-new episodes, as with Lost and 24.

At the same time, networks have become more reluctant to commit to seasons of 22 episodes, increasingly preferring figures like 13, 16, or 17, even with successful series (as, again, with Lost). Partly, this ties into the serialization and seasons without reruns. Sweeps periods come in November, February, and May, making 17 (or occasionally 18) the number of weekly episodes needed to have a season premiere at the beginning of one sweeps period, and the season finale at the end of the next.

So why not take this maximization of sweeps months one step further, and, as it were, cut out the middlemonths? Imagine a series which premieres as a big November event with four episodes. If that goes well, it comes back with another four-episode event in February, and a final block of four in May.

Obviously, a network couldn't do a series like 24 that way (besides that they'd have to rename it 12), but I can easily picture a series model with four-episode plot arcs with a beginning and end unto themselves, but picking up from, and springboarding into, other arcs. Sort of a season along the plotting lines of a film trilogy (or, perhaps more to the point, a Star Wars trilogy, inasmuch as the aim would be to get renewed for another trilogy).

Or possibly I'm dreaming, and it's just the models of V and Day One which will catch on. The advantage to the V model of 13 episodes, shown in blocks of four and nine, is that if the first four do well, the network can air the remaining nine starting in late March, with the big season finale at the end of the May sweeps. If it doesn't, the network can start the second block in early March, and have it done before May sweeps.

The advantage to the Day One model (or, after its true originator, the Battlestar Galactica model) is that the network has only committed to four hours. If they don't do well, that's the end, at no additional cost.

With either model, the network could use the 17- or 18-episode sweeps-to-sweeps model for the series the next year.

Still, I keep thinking about the "event series" of sweeps-month micro-seasons. What network could resist the idea of, essentially, three premieres and three finales per season, all on sweeps weeks?

In any case, it looks like, when it comes to premiering a series, networks are looking to do more with less.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

You Tube Tuesday: Rendezvous with Rama

Description of the film from YouTube:

A short student film inspired by the Arthur C. Clarke novel. Directed and animated by Aaron Ross, Tisch School of the Arts, NYU in 2001.
Best Animation, Marin County Film Festival, 2003
Best Animation, NYU First Run Film Festival, 2003

Pretty impressive for a student film, especially one made in 2001.  Here's a making-of video:

Incidentally, I'm pretty sure that's the same spacesuit we used the next year on A Can of Paint.  So that's two adaptations of classic stories it's been in.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday Matinee: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Chapter Eight

I know... six months is a hell of a time to wait to see a cliffhanger resolved. Won't happen again. However, Part Nine will probably be two weeks, despite what it says at the end of Part 2. What can I say? I have family in town next week and stuff.


When Hollywood Cared About Grammar: Note the (all-too-obvious) sound edit at about 1:00 of Part 2 to remove the redundant and ungrammatical last word of "Where did these people originate from?"

I wonder how many young boys felt odd stirrings around 2:40 of Part 2.

Odd Music Editing Department: Does the sequence beginning about 3:05 of Part 2 really warrant the triumphal music? Seems like a real bad development for our side, actually.

Speaking of that sequence, I like the uncharacteristically understated way Charles Middleton delivers the line "You traitor." Makes him seem so disappointed.

I wonder how many gay young boys (or straight girls) felt odd stirrings around 3:53 of Part 2. I somehow suspect gym socks were involved.

This week, the audio in the DVCam version was extra-chirpy, so I used the audio from the AVI version throughout (apart from the stock opening and the text crawl).

That's not as simple as it sounds, because the AVI version is sped up. So I needed a lot of trial and error to find out just how much. At a speed of 95.9%, it would seem fine for a while, then suddenly go out of sync.

When I superimposed the picture of the AVI version on the DVCam, I found out why:

1) A film break at about 2:40 of Part 1. (I dropped the AVI video in for two shots to cover it.)

2) Some frames of black removed during the segue where I ended Part 1. (I dropped in the two remaining frames of pure black several times to cover it.)

3) Another film break at about 1:38 of Part 2. (I dropped in one shot from the AVI.)

4) Yet another film break at about 5:31 of Part 2, apparently patched imperfectly in the DVCam copy with an inferior print. (I had to replace that shot and the two previous ones from AVI, since they're linked by wipes instead of cuts.)

I realize this probably doesn't interest anyone, but I enjoy writing about it anyway.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Radio: Donovan's Brain (Suspense)

NOTE: My file host (HotlinkFiles.com) recently had some hacker trouble, and as of this writing, they're still picking up the pieces. So if you can't get the players to work, please try again later.

Based on the novel by Curt Siodmak, originally published 1942.

Originally broadcast on CBS, May 18 and 25, 1944.

For our first Friday Radio back from hiatus, I decided to shoot the works and do a two-parter!

Part One:
Part Two:

Although he wrote thirteen novels, Curt Siodmak (1902-2000) remains best known as a screenwriter. And although he worked in many genres, it was in science fiction and horror that he made his mark. Here are just some of his credits:

Transatlantic Tunnel (1935)
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
The Wolf Man (1940)
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
Son of Dracula (1943)
House of Frankenstein (1944)
The Beast with Five Fingers (1946)
The Magnetic Monster (1953)
Riders to the Stars (1954)
Creature with the Atom Brain (1955)
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)

As it happens, though, he didn't write any of the three screen adaptations of Donovan's Brain: The Lady and the Monster (1944), Donovan's Brain (1953), and The Brain (1962). Nor the 1955 television adaptation on Studio One.

Suspense adapted the novel twice: this 1944 version, starring Orson Welles, and a one-hour version in 1948.

Speaking of Orson Welles, is it my imagination, or in his role as Dr. Patrick Cory, is he imitating George Coulouris? (Coulouris played the banker Walter P. "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper" Thatcher in Citizen Kane.) To me, Welles sounds so much like him that when I first heard the first episode, it took me a good five or ten minutes to realize Wells was playing Cory.

And speaking of this adaptation, when it was released on LP in 1982, it won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Well, We All Shine On

...And then, after saying how much I love science fiction, I started reading the SF news websites again, after neglecting them for a couple of months, and almost immediately, I got that depressed and futile feeling again.

Why is that? you may ask. Have you read much science fiction lately? I counter. If you haven't, let me sum it up for you: we're doomed, there's nothing we can do about it, and we deserve it, anyway. There. I've now saved you vital time you can spend doing something more helpful and energizing, like drowning yourself in the bathtub.

But, of course, I exaggerate. Not all science fiction is like that, thank goodness. But enough of it is that when I hear about a project like Shine, I heave a mighty sigh of relief. Shine is an upcoming anthology of... well, hell, go back to the source when you can, I say, and the press release says it so well:
SHINE is a collection of near-future, optimistic SF stories where some of the genre's brightest stars and some of its most exciting new talents portray the possible roads to a better tomorrow. Definitely not a plethora of Pollyannas (but neither a barrage of dystopias), SHINE will show that positive change is far from being a foregone conclusion, but needs to be hardfought, innovative, robust and imaginative. Most importantly, it aims to demonstrate that while times are tough and outcomes are uncertain, we can still bend the future in benevolent ways if we embrace change and steer its momentum in the right direction. Let's put the "can" back in "We can do it," and make our tomorrows SHINE.
The creator and editor of Shine is Jetse de Vries, for four and a half years editor of Interzone, which isn't one of your more fluffy and escapist magazines. So you know this isn't going to have starships zooming around all over the place, like... well, a lot of what I publish, actually. Nonetheless, I can assure you I'll be reading it with great interest when it comes out next year.

(There isn't an entry for it yet on Amazon. But I'm sure I'll be posting again about this anthology once you can pre-order it.)

In the meantime, check out the Shine blog at http://shineanthology.wordpress.com/. It has updates about the project, and intellectually/spiritually nourishing information about just now not-necessarily-doomed we all are.

(The blog is also where I got the illo, above, but I don't have the information to credit it more exactly.)

Gosh, a future that's worth working to achieve. Imagine that.

Friday, April 10, 2009

You Tube Whenever: Spoof Star Wars Cologne Ad

This is the funniest thing I've seen on YouTube in a fair stretch, so why wait until Tuesday?  (I especially like the ending.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Radio: The Cave of Night (X Minus One)

Based on the story by James E. Gunn, originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1955.

Originally broadcast on NBC, February 1, 1956.

(An article by James E. Gunn, "Space Opera Revisited," appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 1.)

I think this is my favorite X Minus One so far. I wonder how the adapter (Ernest Kinoy, according to Wikipedia; the credit is cut off on the file) got the idea to do it in the form of a non-fiction radio program in the process of assembly. The original story is written in a straightforward way. Kinoy could have done the script as typical X Minus One narration-and-dramatization, but the method he chose worked out much better for the material. Which, I suppose, just goes to show (as some critics have been moved to observe about the Watchmen film) that the best adaptation of a work to a new medium isn't necessarily the most "faithful."

Also according to Wikipedia, "The Cave of Night" was adapted for television's Desilu Playhouse in 1959. A more well-known adaptation is the 1969 TV movie and subsequent series The Immortal, rather loosely based on his 1964 novel The Immortals.

Speaking of Gunn, adaptation, and Desilu, Gunn adapted an unproduced Star Trek storyline by Theodore Sturgeon into the 1996 novel The Joy Machine, credited to both authors.

James E. Gunn is the only writer so far to produce new material for both the original run of Thrilling Wonder Stories and the revival. He wrote an article for Volume 1, as mentioned above, and for the original, co-wrote a short story, wrote another solo, and featured in the final issue with the novella "Name Your Pleasure," which became the last third of his 1961 novel The Joy Makers. (The middle third, "The Naked Sky," appeared in the final issue of what by then was called Startling Stories Combined with Thrilling Wonder and Fantastic Story, but we won't blame him for, in essence, closing out Thrilling Wonder Stories twice.)

He's edited six volumes so far of The Road to Science Fiction, which trace the development of the genre all of the way from the Epic of Gilgamesh with excerpts, full stories, and short essays. My father bought the second and third volumes at a used book sale once, and I learned a lot about the history of science fiction from them. So you have that partially to blame for the existence of this website today.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It's Here! It's Here!

Yes, by crackey, it's here, in my very own garage, and it's shipping now!

Yes, you need it, you want it, you can't avoid my talking about it, it's Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2!

If you want simply oodles of reasons why you should plunk down a sawbuck for this 252-page bundle of high-quality entertainment, click on the "Thursday Preview" link in the "Labels" list at the left. (Or, if that's too tough, click here.) And if that's not enough, what is the matter with you?!?

And if you want reasons why you should buy it at the Thrilling Wonder Store, well, for one thing, the Amazon page for it probably won't be up for at least a couple of weeks. And when it is, if Volume 1 is any indication, it'll cost more than $10. And besides, by cutting out the middle man and buying from the source, you'll be doing your part for independent publishing, and making it that much more likely that there's going to be a Volume 3.

So do both me and yourself a favor, and order the thing, already!! Thank you.

Thursday Preview: When the Sleeper Wakes

(Click on thumbnail for full-size image. Right-click [or control-click if you have a one-button mouse] and select "Download Linked File" to save jpg file to your computer. Feel free to distribute the unaltered file.)

Yes, I know we've been giving H.G. Wells' 1899 novel of dystopian 22nd-century London away for free here at the Thrilling Wonder Stories site, but if you can't wait to see how it ends, or want an actual copy to hold in your own hands, or just have something against trees, here it is, available now at the Thrilling Wonder Store for only $7.

This is the first in our Thrilling Wonder Stories Origins Series, reprinting works from the early days of science fiction—so early, in fact, that they didn't even call it "science fiction" yet.

From the back cover:

From the author of The Time Machine comes a different kind of futuristic adventure. Near the end of the nineteenth century, Graham falls into an ageless trance. He awakens at the dawn of the twenty-second century. A Council rules the world. They began simply as trustees of a large financial estate, but their snowballing wealth and power, over the course of two centuries, rendered government by the people impotent, irrelevant, and ultimately extinct. But who owns this wealth? Graham finds, to his shock, that he does. The men who first took responsibility for him in his trance left him their fortunes, and he is now the master of the world!

But real power is only his if he can claim it. The Council controls the lives of the people, literally from cradle to grave. They keep the laboring classes trapped in an perpetual cycle of drudgery and dependence. They keep the upper classes satiated with entertainment and the Pleasure Cities. Not happy to have Graham conscious and potentially able to take this power into his own hands, the Council seeks to keep him isolated and ignorant. And a rebel group aims to capture him as a figurehead for their revolution, using the people’s veneration of the Sleeper as a savior to seize the Council’s power for their own. But when Graham, a democrat and liberal in his own time, learns the truth about the future world, he seeks to exercise his power for the people.

To truly be master of the world, Graham must first master his fate—become a leader of people, and defeat those who would sooner kill them than see them free. Timeless as its protagonist, When the Sleeper Wakes is a tale from a century ago about a century hence that enthralls today’s reader with its odyssey of prophetic vision and gripping adventure.

Thursday Preview: I Canna Change the Laws of Physics!

(Click on thumbnail for full-size image. Right-click [or control-click if you have a one-button mouse] and select "Download Linked File" to save jpg file to your computer. Feel free to distribute the unaltered file.)

You ever wanted a phaser? Sure, we all have. But if it came down to a gunfight, you'd be better off with a good old bullet-slinging pistol.

This is one of the surprising conclusions physics teacher Adam Weiner reaches in "I Canna Change the Laws of Physics!" Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2, continues its Star Trek theme with this article, pitting the Franchise against its most implacable foes: the laws of physics. Yes, they may have given Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein guest spots on The Next Generation, but they just can't be bought.

Sir Isaac could tell you that, given artificial gravity that always points toward the floor, a photon torpedo hit should not fling you out of your seat. And Einstein would question the notion of bringing the Enterprise to a "full stop" in empty space, in the absence of an absolute frame of reference.

Adam Weiner also wrote the book Don't Try This at Home! The Physics of Hollywood Movies, and articles for Popular Science about Hollywood physics. But don't get the idea that Adam Weiner turns his nose up at Star Trek. He loves the Franchise—especially the original series—and confronts it, he says, "in the spirit of a good natured ribbing."

Illustrator Winston Engle is his own artist of last resort. He can turn out a tolerable image, provided he has lots and lots of photographic reference.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Saturday Matinee: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Chapter Seven

Annoyingly, as of this writing, YouTube seems to have turned off the ability to watch the high-quality version of videos from an embedded player.

Still, it's over the top and on the downhill slide for Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe with Chapter Seven of twelve.

I'm continuing to take the video from my DVCam version. The audio is mostly from there as well, but since this week, there's a lot of digital-error chirping and squeaking, there's also a fair amount of audio from the AVI files from the Web. Fortunately, the AVI file for Chapter Seven sounds a lot better than any of the previous ones.

And when I went to replace a bit of the opening narration, I got a surprise. Even though they're both the retitled Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe version, the AVI file had no narration, just the music under the opening crawl. I'd suspected that the original 1940 version didn't have narration, and this seems to suggest I was right. At any rate, I used the AVI audio, and I'm going to use that audio on all the subsequent opening crawls.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday Radio: Conquerors' Isle (Escape)

Based on the story by Nelson Bond, originally published in Blue Book, June 1946.

Originally broadcast on CBS 60 years ago yesterday, March 5, 1949.

Nelson Bond (1908-2006) wrote science fiction for only about twenty years of his nearly century-long life, from 1937 to the late 1950's. His fiction appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories eight times in 1940-43.

Several of his stories were adapted for radio, with "Mr. Mergenthwirker's Lobblies" not only presented at least six times, but also made into a series in 1938. The adaptation of his stories led to a new career in that medium, first by adapting his stories himself, then by writing originals for such series as Dr. Kildare and Hot Copy.

Similarly, his first television script was an adaptation of "Lobblies." Although he couldn't have entered television any earlier—his was the first play ever broadcast by a television network, in 1946—it took him a few years to write for the medium regularly, since at the time radio paid better.

Marshall University houses not just his personal papers, donated in 2002, but a replica of his home office.

Bond's life closely coincided with Jack Williamson's. Born almost seven months after Williamson, in 1908, Bond died six days before him.

Considering Williamson was 98, and Bond was less than three weeks short of it, I've tried not to feel responsible that just as I was seeking them out for the first volume of the new Thrilling Wonder Stories, they were compelled to leave this earth.

Source: Wikipedia

I don't have a copy of the original story, but I hope this exchange from this radio episode doesn't appear in it:

"A gas, perhaps?"
"No, because it had no form, and no odor, no taste."

That's true of many gases.

This file is very clear. As with a couple others we've presented, you can clearly hear when the music records they were using had crackles and pops of their own. And, at about 19:24, there's the unmistakable sound of an actor turning the page of his script.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thursday Preview: Columbus of the Stars

(Click on thumbnail for full-size image. Right-click [or control-click if you have a one-button mouse] and select "Download Linked File" to save jpg file to your computer. Feel free to distribute the unaltered file.)

Since I wrote the introduction to this in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2, I suppose the sensible thing is just to give myself permission to post it here. Me, you may proceed.

Thank you, me.


Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

In 1964, a successful writer begins shopping around Hollywod a pitch for a science fiction series of a new kind.

Unlike previous such series, which have tended to be either anthologies, or else cheap daytime fare for children, this is a series for prime time with continuing characters, aimed at an adult audience.

It’s the story of a starship and her crew. Their assignment is to survey for undiscovered planets, to contact alien beings and cultures, to probe into reaches never visited by mankind.

I’m sure you’re ahead of me. The writer is, of course, Ib Melchior, and the series is Columbus of the Stars.

No? Well, that other series pitch did have the advantage of selling. Although its synchronicitous sibling never left the launch pad, it’s interesting to consider that sometimes, an idea may only seem unique in retrospect because it succeeded, while other iterations of the notion did not.
If things had gone a little differently, might this be an issue on Columbus of the Stars, with an article about a forgotten and somewhat similar pitch with the unlikely name Star Trek?

At the time, the safer bet might have been Columbus of the Stars. Ib Melchior had worked in television since 1948, and wrote for the series Men into Space. He was a published science fiction author. He had moved to the big screen, writing and directing The Angry Red Planet. In 1964, he had two films in the pipeline: Robinson Crusoe on Mars, which he wrote, and The Time Travelers, again as writer-director. (Crusoe’s Friday, Vic Lundin, developed Columbus of the Stars with Melchior.)

Gene Roddenberry had impressive television credits, with scores of produced scripts and a Writers Guild award, but his only science fiction was an anthology episode, “The Secret Weapon of 117,” in which a covert alien invasion falls to that little human thing called love. He had recently become a showrunner with The Lieutenant, but did better provoking conflict with the Marine Corps, which withdrew its production support in mid-season, than in drumming up ratings. The network had not picked the show up for a second season.

Imagine yourself a network executive in 1964, and this crosses your desk. Might you have given it a shot?


Me, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, me, that was beautiful.

No, really, me, my modesty! I couldn't have done it without you.

But there's more to "Columbus of the Stars: A Trek Not Taken?" than the introduction and the never-before-published series pitch bible. There's also the story of how it came to the desk of that other guy with that other pitch about a starship crew. Did he go where two men had gone before?

Whoops, look at the time! Guess you'll just have to buy Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2, and read all about it.

That was a dirty trick, me.

Hey, me, lay off, I gotta make a living, here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

YouTube Tuesday: The Federation's Model Citizens

I have this model kit. I bought it at the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas. And although I've opened the box and looked at the pieces, it remains completely unassembled. Eventually, I'll lose some pieces, and throw the kit away. That's what happens to 75% of the model kits I buy.

I once had an AMT model kit of the original series bridge. That one got as far as my painting some of the pieces before I lost some and... well, see text above.

I actually did put together and paint an NCC-1701-A model once. Over time, the glue degraded the plastic, and the engine pylons broke off. Then I had the kit with the little LED lights, seen below. See text above as to what became of that.

I loves me some Wrath of Khan, and I loves me some Reliant. I bought an unlicensed Reliant model kit, and actually put it together, but I've never painted it. I'm sure I still have the decals, but Lord only knows where.

You know, I had an AMT original series Enterprise kit once, but etc.

Okay, now I'm just depressed.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday Game: IndestructoTank AE

Ordinarily, you want to avoid getting hit my missiles and bombs. But when you're driving a freakin' indestructible tank, why avoid them? In fact, when they blast you into the air, you could try to stay up as long as possible, bouncing from enemy to enemy to enemy, destroying them all against your invulnerable hull. (Does a tank have a hull?)

When your "boom bar" is full, you launch yourself into the air without waiting to get hit. And with each level you clear, you can use your experience points to increase the frequency with which the various types of enemies appear.

It's a fun game that gets more fun as it goes along, as the increasing number of enemies allow you to bounce more and more without touching the ground.

The one downside is that it doesn't show you your score at the end. During the game, you're apt to be too busy to keep much of an eye on it.

Oh, and as you've probably noticed by now, this game doesn't start with the music until you hit "play," keeping the Thrilling Wonder Stories homepage nice and techno-music-free.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday Matinee: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Chapter Six

I can't believe we're halfway through Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe already. Why, it only seems like forty, fifty times we've seen that wide angle of Ming's throne room.

I'm kidding, I'm kidding. I don't know if it's a matte shot or a glass painting, but whichever it is, it's entirely convincing, and they had good reason to be proud of it. And if you've been watching these Saturday Matinee installments all along (or you caught up at some point), you no doubt find convincing effects shots, numerous and detailed sets, and intricate costumes an enormous relief after Undersea Kingdom. How many sets were there in total in that serial? Twelve?

This week, except for the regular opening credits, it's time to say goodbye to Source 1 (the MPEG-2 of the feature version). To be honest, though, I only used it for the occasional line last week. Its audio is better than that of Source 3 (the DVCam tapes of the Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe version), but it wouldn't sync up with the Source 3 video. One or the other of them must have been missing frames here or there (probably film breaks), but I was coming down to the deadline, so rather than figure it out, I just used Source 3 as source for both video and audio, dropping in Source 1's audio to cover a couple of digital-flaw squeaks.

Now, if I need to cover those errors, I need to do it with the vastly inferior Source 2 (the AVI files of Space Soldiers). And this week, I really could have used a good-quality alternative to Source 3, because it had quite a few snaps and squeaks. For the most part, I left them as they were, using Source 2 for one syllable at one point, and a longer but dialogue-less section later on when the snaps got out of hand.

Usually, the feature version of a serial is the whole main plot, condensed to about 80 minutes. That of Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe is decidedly different. It simply contains everything, strung together... until it reaches the end of Part 1, above. Then it just has a bit of new narration, and stops dead.

And why not, really? Flash, Dale, and Zarkov are back together, and the Earth is safe from the Purple Death. Why not call it a day, and go home to the ticker tape parade?

Well, okay, in the serial, there is something else they have to attend to. Near the end of Part 1, Zarkov says to Barin, "Prince... I have learned from Karm that Ming is preparing another terrible weapon to destroy the world. We must return to your palace at once and prepare to combat it." You'll notice it isn't in the feature clip, above, for obvious reasons. I think it's the only line the feature editors cut from the serial.

And just to be super anal retentive, I used Source 3 for all the video in that clip (and matching the feature editing) except the "The End" caption, replacing the softer Source 1. Source 1 was the one and only audio source.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Radio: The C-Chute (X Minus One)

Based on the story by Isaac Asimov, originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1951.

Originally broadcast on NBC, February 8, 1956.

(Another story by Isaac Asimov, "The Portable Star," is in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 1—its first-ever appearance in an anthology.)

This is another one that doesn't work in the player, so you can just download it by clicking here.

In the first volume of his autobiography, In Memory Yet Green, Asimov writes that Galaxy editor H.L. Gold "demanded some changes" to the draft Asimov turned in. "I argued about them," he continues, "and gave in on some but held out stubbornly on others." After Asimov turned in the revision, Gold accepted the story, but rejected Asimov's title, "Greater Love." (The title is presumably from John 15:13—"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.")

Asimov had a lot of arguments with Gold, and especially hated the editor's "personal and vilifying" style. He relates this anecdote about getting back in his own way:
Horace once said to me, concerning one of my submissions, "This story is meretricious." "It's what?" said I. "Meretricious," he said, proud of the word (the meaning of which I knew perfectly well). "And a Happy New Year to you," I said. Would you believe he got annoyed?
Asimov got even more out of the argument over "The C-Chute": he made a humorous story out of the incident, called "The Monkey's Fingers."

Incidentally, Windham seems to say "Dash it!" an awful damn lot in this episode. I looked over the story again, and there, he says "dash it" twice, and "burn it" once. Windham's amusing dismissal of the C-Chute plan as "a video sort of idea" (meaning silly or crazy) is from Asimov.

Friday Radio: Dwellers in Silence (Dimension X)

Based on the story by Ray Bradbury, originally published in Maclean's, September 15, 1948.

Originally broadcast on NBC, July 19, 1951.

(Another story by Ray Bradbury, "The Irritated People," is in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 1—its first-ever appearance in an anthology.)

According to Wikipedia, only the first 13 episodes of Dimension X were broadcast live. I mention that because a couple of times in this episode, the fortieth in the series, the actors trip over their lines. At this time, shows were already being recorded and edited on magnetic tape, so I wonder why they didn't go back and re-record the lines.

This copy of the episode has a rather variable speed, starting out slow, and briefly getting very slow around 22:30. (The file runs 31 minutes, 21 seconds, so it may all be slow to some degree.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thursday Preview: F - - -

(Click on thumbnail for full-size image. Right-click [or control-click if you have a one-button mouse] and select "Download Linked File" to save jpg file to your computer. Feel free to distribute the unaltered file.)

This week, we come to the end of the Thursday Previews for stories in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2. There are still three items to come, but this is the last of the volume's main features: seven new and six classic stories by writers involved with the television incarnations of Star Trek.

Richard Matheson wrote the early episode "The Enemy Within." If it were an episode of Friends, it would be called "The One with the Evil Kirk."

He wrote far more for the original Twilight Zone. After Rod Serling adapted two of his stories, Matheson went on to write fourteen scripts of his own, making him the series' third most prolific writer, after Serling and Charles Beaumont. However, he arguably had a greater proportion of classic episodes than the other two. All three of the episodes remade in Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1983 had scripts by Matheson.

Movies based on stories by Matheson include The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Legend of Hell House, Somewhere in Time, What Dreams May Come, Stir of Echoes, and three adaptations of I Am Legend—the same-named recent feature starring Will Smith, The Last Man on Earth, and The Omega Man.

Matheson also wrote two of the most memorable TV movies of the 1970's: Duel, based on his own story and directed by Steven Spielberg; and Trilogy of Terror, based on three of his stories, one featuring the unforgettable living, bloodthirsty Zuni warrior doll.

Today's story originally appeared in the April 1952 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories under a different title. Maybe the editor didn't think he could get away with "F - - -," even though it turns out to stand for a different four-letter word entirely. The title he did use, though, does rather give away a surprise that Matheson carefully keeps for a third of the story.

"F - - -" is a light-hearted time travel story that, twelve years before the Supreme Court adopted "I know it when I see it" as the standard for pornography, demonstrates that obscenity is indeed in the eye—and other sensory apparatus—of the beholder.

The new accompanying artwork is by Kevin Farrell, whose work we've seen here before. Here, he gives us a futuristic crowd scene, which must absorb a lot of time in designing the costumes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Philip José Farmer (1918-2009)

According to Wikipedia, science fiction and fantasy author Philip José Farmer died earlier today. He was best known for his role in introducing overt sexual themes into science fiction, elaborating on such famous characters and worlds in the public domain as Tarzan and Oz, and playing with auctorial voice by writing as such fictional authors as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s, Kilgore Trout and Harlan Ellison pseudonym Cordwainer Bird.

Thrilling Wonder Stories and its sister magazine Startling Stories played an important early role in his career. His controversial early novel The Lovers first appeared in Startling in August 1952 (see corner illustration) before being expanded for a book version in 1961. His novelet "Mother," in the April 1953 issue of Thrilling Wonder, explored Freudian themes as a stranded explorer becomes, in essence, both fetus and lover to an alien creature. A sequel, "Daughter," appeared in the Winter 1954 issue.

Perhaps his most popular work was the Riverworld cycle of stories and novels about a planet-wide river valley populated by every person who has ever lived and died. The Sci-Fi channel produced a TV movie/series pilot based on the cycle in 2001, and aired it in 2003.

His use of existing literary characters and worlds included fictional biographies of Tarzan and Doc Savage (in which he connects them genealogically to numerous other fictional characters), a novel in which Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan team up, a science fiction sequel to Moby Dick, a novel filling in the blanks of Around the World in Eighty Days, and a book about the adventures of Dorothy's barnstormer son in Oz. He also wrote authorized Tarzan and Doc Savage novels.

Under the name of Kilgore Trout, the brilliant but unrespected science fiction author who appears in a number of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr's, novels, he wrote Venus on the Half-Shell in 1975. He wrote numerous other "fictional author" stories, including, in a second remove from reality, one as by a character whom Farmer had created as Kilgore Trout in Venus.

A longtime Midwesterner, Farmer was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, and died in Peoria, Illinois, where he had spent most of his life.