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 - - -

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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.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

YouTube Tuesday: Space Patrol - "Hit by a Meteorite"

It struck me that we haven't had a 1950's sci-fi kids' show here in quite a while. So sit back and enjoy... Space Patrol!

Since there isn't a high-quality version of these files, I'm just going to use the standard-size viewer windows.

I like how the sheet of "metal"—which Carol and Tonga take pains to emphasize is so heavy—freely wobbles like the cardboard it is.

And how about those hats, huh? Reminds me of Katherine Helmond's upside-down shoe hat from Brazil.

On the serious side, I enjoy the sound backgrounds. They kind of straddle the border between sound effects and musique concrète. Reminds me of '1960s Doctor Who that way. Also, the sets are pretty lively-looking for this type of show.

And even if, like me, you weren't actually around for them, you have to miss the days when maybe four minutes of commercial announcements was enough to sustain a half-hour show.

Space Patrol ran as a live half-hour weekly show on ABC from December 30, 1950 through February 26, 1955. It started out as a 15-minute daily program in Los Angeles on March 9, 1950. The daily version continued through the run of the series, and was syndicated to some other cities on kinescope film copies. Further, a radio version ran from October 1952 through March 1955. (You have to wonder where this cast found time to eat and sleep.)

This particular episode ran on February 9, 1952.

All in all, Space Patrol produced 129 radio episodes, 210 half-hour television episodes, and almost 900 15-minute episodes.

Source: Wikipedia

YouTube Tuesday: Doctor Whuesday

I don't know what's put me in such a "classic Doctor Who" mood lately, but here are some more videos around that theme.

To start with, one literally around "that theme"—the familiar "ooo-WAH-ooo" we also dealt with last week. This video mashes up all the original-series openings, plus some classic-style ones made up for the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Doctors. I think the first two minutes is just fantastic, with all the layering of the various credits sequences. Putting the 1980-84 stars in the background certainly gives the various 1963-73 howlarounds more pizzazz. (It drops off a bit after that.)

Here's a video that must have taken an awful lot of effort: the beginnings of a homemade Doctor Who anime. The Third Doctor stars, because if you want copious quantities of anime-style butt-kicking, there's no denying he's your man. If I were running the BBC, I'd hire this guy immediately, because what with Doctor Who currently taking over all available media... well, why not anime?

And here's the inevitable LEGO version. The punchline trades off a classic Doctor Who line. (I wonder if that's Arcturus from "The Curse of Peladon" that the Doctor's companion is bothering.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday Game: James the Space Zebra

I can't really add to the description at the Armor Games site: "Fly James around the moon, aiding important physics research by collecting the adorable Dark Matter. As ever, two bonus minigames are included!"

Okay, I can be snarky and comment on the game's introduction: it's not their spelling they should be worried about, it's their punctuation.

Seriously, though, it's a cute game, and the introduction is cute. Just, someone buy them some apostrophes, okay?

Monday Game: S.T.A.R. Defence

Place defense (or, if you will, defence) satellites near your planet to protect it against waves of attackers. Do you go for quantity of defenders, or quality? And keep in mind that each satellite has only a limited number of shots before it needs to be replaced.

The cursor needs to be a lot more forgiving—as it is, frequently it fails to target the ship I'm clicking on—but it's an interesting game.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Scientifiction: The Transformation of Professor Schmitz

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

You may have noticed that I've been presenting a lot of material here on the blog with connections to Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2. The Star Trek New Voyages episode "World Enough and Time" (subject of a 21-page feature article) for YouTube Tuesday. Stories by authors in the volume for Friday Radio. And, of course, previews for Thursday Preview. If I could find games with a connection for Monday Game, or a serial with a connection for Saturday Matinee, you know I'd be right on it.

But I really didn't expect to find a connection for Sunday Scientifiction. I found it pretty much by accident; I simply found the earliest story by an author we haven't seen before in my (small) pre-Amazing Stories Gernsback magazine collection, and gave it a read. And hey presto.

This may be the earliest story to deal scientifically with the idea of teleportation—the notion that entered the public mind most indelibly with Star Trek's transporter. And did I mention that all the fiction in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2, is by writers from the various Star Trek television series? I did? Oh.

Anyway, its primacy forgives it some sins. Like many of the stories in the early Gernsback magazines, it mostly exists to present a scientific idea. And once it's done that—in this case, just when it feels like a plot is about to break out, it kind of slams to a close.

By the way, as a cat owner, I don't think I'd put mine to the use that Prof. Schmitz does his. I find it difficult enough to keep track of them without beaming them all over the place.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday Matinee: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Chapter Five

Starting this week, we bring you... huge-ass viewer windows! According to YouTube, we could now go as far as full SD size (640x505, including the bar at the bottom), but the main area of this blog is only 600 pixels wide. Maybe I'll change it to 640. That would make the whole blog more than 800 pixels wide, which would push stuff off the side for people using 800x600 monitors. (Are there still people using 800x600 monitors?)

As I mentioned last time, another recent YouTube improvement is that you can now watch a high-quality version without having to schlep over to their site to do it. Just start the video, mouse over the icon on the right (the up-pointing arrow), and click "HQ" on the pop-up menu. (Their next improvement ought to be allowing you to choose HQ before starting the video.) 

According to Harmon and Glut's The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury, this serial was based on the "Big Little Book" Flash Gordon and the Ice World of Mongo (itself based on a sequence from the comic strip). I guess the producers felt that title wasn't "big" enough, so they went pretty much to the farthest possible reaches of "big" with Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe.

"But," I hear you say, "so far, Flash has only been on Mongo and Earth. Are you telling me that by the end of Chapter Twelve, Flash will have subjugated the whole furshlugginer universe?"

Well, yes and no. I'm telling you about this now so that your built-up anticipation makes you good and mad at the writers for the über-lame justification of the title that they shoehorn in.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Radio: The Stars Are the Styx (X Minus One)

Based on the story by Theodore Sturgeon, published in Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1950.

Originally broadcast on NBC, July 24, 1956.

(A novella by Theodore Sturgeon, "The Golden Helix," appears in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2.)

UPDATE: It looks like this is one of those files that won't work in the player for some reason. So click here to download the mp3 file, and listen to it however you can.

Did Theodore Sturgeon have a thing for albinos? I ask because there's a beautiful albino woman in this episode*, and there's also one in the above-mentioned "The Golden Helix." I can't find anything about it via Google.

The narration in this episode seems extraordinarily clumsy to me, with Charon narrating action at one point literally while he's in the midst of performing it, gasping with the effort. It kind of kills suspension of disbelief when you picture him continually giving a past-tense account of his present activity to no one. (After all, we're not there, are we?)

And incidentally, "Charon" is the name, like the (then-undiscovered) moon of Pluto. The scene in which Flower apparently recognizes the mythical source points up the differences between text and audio. In text, we're less likely to ask ourselves why no one who hears the name Charon asks, "Karen? What, were your parents expecting a girl?"

Note that at the end, the announcer misattributes the story to H.L. Gold. They'd just done his "The Old Die Rich" the previous week, so maybe the staff accidentally handed the announcer the wrong copy to read.

One last thing: This copy of the episode is so clear that you can tell how worn-down the stock-music records were. The music sounds distinctly crackly and lacking in range.

*- I have to admit, I haven't read the story, and I don't have any magazine or book it appeared in, but I assume she's in the story, too. If not, perhaps it was adapter Ernest Kinoy who had a thing for albinos.

Friday Radio: Zero Hour (Suspense)

Based on the story by Ray Bradbury, published in Planet Stories, Fall 1947.

Originally broadcast on CBS, May 18, 1958.

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

"Zero Hour" is one of the science fiction stories most adapted for radio. During the Golden Age of Radio, it appeared on Dimension X, Escape, Lights Out, twice on X Minus One, and three times on Suspense. There were later adaptations on Experiment in Drama (1973), Future Tense (1974), and RadioWest (2006). And these are just the ones I knew about, and found with a quick Google search.

This one, as you can tell from the introduction, was its second performance on Suspense.

I wonder how old the actors playing the children were. For radio of the time, they sounded surprisingly genuine, which helps the production immensely. It just wouldn't be half so creepy with obviously-adult actors.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thursday Preview: Where No Scribe Had Gone Before

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As you know, and I keep reminding Google's spiders, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2, is a special Star Trek volume. All seven new, and all six classic, stories are by writers from the various TV series. Plus, it features more than 40 pages of articles about various aspects of the Star Trek phenomenon.

(It's also available for pre-order for the low, low price of $10, and ships March 12! Click on the banner to go to the Thrilling Wonder Store and reserve a copy!! Hurry, before I have to drag out more exclamation points!!!)

The subject of this week's Thursday Preview is where everything comes together. It's one of the aforementioned articles, it's about the literary writers of Star Trek on the big and small screens, and it's written by one of those very writers.

Marc Scott Zicree originated and co-wrote the Magic Time trilogy of novels. He also had story credit on the Next Generation episode "First Contact" and the much-loved Deep Space Nine episode "Far Beyond the Stars." Tying TWS2 into even more of a nice thematic bow, he directed and co-wrote the Hugo and Nebula-nominated "World Enough and Time," the episode of Internet production Star Trek New Voyages about which we have a 21-page feature article.

Zicree also practically invented the genre of in-depth, episode-by-episode examinations of the writing and production of television series with The Twilight Zone Companion. And he had the persistence to do it even after twenty-some publishers had told him no one could possibly be interested about a guide to some twenty-year-old science fiction show. To cut a long story short, it found a publisher, and has been continuously in print ever since, more than 25 years now.

The Twilight Zone and the original Star Trek are probably the two most literate science fiction series in television history. They employed numerous published writers, some practically institutions in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Although this hasn't been as true of the subsequent Star Trek series, all of them, from the animated series to Enterprise, had novelists amongst their writers, as did the movies.

So if you just know, say, Theodore Sturgeon as the guy who wrote "Shore Leave" and "Amok Time," here's your chance to learn more about him and many other writers from Star Trek. And even if you're familiar with their work both in print and on the screen, you'll probably find some surprises.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

YouTube Tuesday: ooo-WAH-ooo (diddildy-pom-diddildy-pom)

Ever since I started watching the show in 1980, the Doctor Who theme has been my favorite science fiction music... maybe my favorite music altogether. I can walk on the treadmill for an hour, and listen to nothing but various arrangements of that theme. (Try it yourself—there are literally hundreds of them at

But seeing as this is YouTube Tuesday, music alone won't cut it. So how about a video of someone playing both parts of a two-track synthesizer arrangement?

Not good enough? How about someone playing the theme on ukulele while wearing a the costumes of the Fourth and Fifth Doctors?

Or the theme played on tuned twin Tesla coils. (Try to say that ten times fast.)

Or how about the theme as it appeared on the BBC Micro computer in the game "Doctor Who and the Mines of Terror" in 1985, accompanied by two versions of the TV opening credits, treated to make them look like era-appropriate computer graphics.

While we're on the subject of opening credits, how about an example of the ever-popular mash-up? Here's a 1978 performance by "Mankind," set to the Colin Baker credit sequence.

What, still not satisfied? Well, here's a guy in a mohawk, playing it in front of the TARDIS on an electric violin.

Okay, I have to admit this doesn't have much in the visual department, but it's a cool heavy metal take on the theme.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Saturday Matinee: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Chapter Four

The ray effects in this week's installment go from the sublime to the ridiculous. The sublime is the moiré-ish Destroying Ray near the end. The ridiculous, near the beginning and end, are what are obviously print scratches.

Ming lusts after Dale Arden in a couple of fun scenes that remind of a bit from Jim Harmon and Donald F. Glut's The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury:
The most evil mastermind of them all was an actor who was not famous from horror films, crime pictures, or Westerns. In fact, he never really seemed to get a good role outside of serials. Because he was largely ignored for major parts in features, his most famous portrayal will always be that of Ming the Merciless in Universal's three Flash Gordon serials. Ming's real name was Charles Middleton.
Middleton came from a wealthy family and did not really have to act for a living, but he enjoyed it....
Charles Middleton hugely enjoyed the role of Ming, overacting with just enough gusto to make his menace believable within the context of that very special serial world. You could almost read his inner feelings when, beholding the golden beauty of Dale Arden for the first time, he advances with clutching, rigid finigers that must have been both clammy and slimy, and slowly speaks in a commanding voice, "Ah, you are beautiful!" At times, the Emperor of Mongo thought of conquering more than just the Earth.

If you read my entries about editing Undersea Kingdom, you'll know just how anal retentive I am about these videos. In the case of Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, I'm not doing any editing, but I am assembling them from three different sources.

Source 1 is an MPEG-2 of the feature version. Source 2 is a set of AVI files of the episodic version with new titles calling it Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe. Source 3 is this same version from DVCam tapes.

Unfortunately, the DVCam version is missing Chapters One through Three. I bought them from a public domain video dealer a couple years ago, but didn't get a chance to view them (and find out it wasn't complete) until this last fall.

As a result, Chapters One through Three came mostly from Source 1, with the chapter intros, cliffhanger recaps, cliffhanger endings, and a few other shots from Source 2.

This week, all the video is from Source 3 (which is the sharpest) except for the opening credits, which are from Source 1. However, Source 1 sounds the best, so as much of the audio as possible comes from there. Since the text recap isn't in Source 1, both video and sound come from Source 3.

However, Source 3 has some annoying digital errors in the sound, so I twice had to patch in a word in the recap from the markedly inferior Source 2. See if you can tell which they are.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Radio: A Saucer of Loneliness (X Minus One)

Based on the story by Theodore Sturgeon, published in Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1953.

Originally broadcast on NBC, January 9, 1957.

(A novella by Theodore Sturgeon, "The Golden Helix," appears in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2.)

I know I keep saying things that other people have observed for decades, but my goodness, that Sturgeon could string words together that wring you right out, couldn't he?

I've read "The Golden Helix" several times—once (when I scanned the text into QuarkXPress, then went over it to correct every scanning mistake and turn every straight quotation mark into a curly one) pretty much in slow motion. And I misted up every time.

Needless to say, in dramatizing his prose, you lose some of the effect, but if you don't feel the odd pang while listening to this adaptation of "A Saucer of Loneliness," you might want to get a DNA test so you know just which non-human species you belong to.

A note about the adaptation: the first-person narrator isn't a reporter in the original story. In fact, he's only in it at all at the beginning and end—the rest is his account of what the woman told him on the beach. I suppose the change makes sense from a structural point of view. What was description can now be dialogue—between him and the woman, between him and his editor—but it does kind of turn it into his story. And I think there's something poignant about his only knowing her from the accounts in the papers, and her message in a bottle, and yet feeling such a connection that it brought him to that beach. The impact isn't so great if he's known her personally since the day the saucer arrived.

Speaking of poignancy, the title "A Saucer of Loneliness" is so evocative in itself that I'd read the whole story before it struck me that it referred to the flying saucer. I just had this image in my head of a dish full of loneliness. I pictured it inky and black, thin and cold.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thursday Preview: A Gift Though Small

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'Twas twenty years ago next Wednesday. I'd been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation since it premiered, more than fifteen months before. Like, I think, many Star Trek fans, I was so glad to have new episodes on television, I wouldn't miss an episode, even though many of them weren't particularly... well, good.

But that evening in February 1989, I almost held by breath through the episode, because it went from strength to strength. Could it keep this up, or would it stumble short of the finish line (as I've always felt my previous TNG favorite, "Conspiracy," did)? It could! TNG had finally had an episode that earned a place in my personal Trek Top ten. "Now we're getting somewhere!" I said.

Unfortunately, the rest of Season Two turned out to be pretty hit-or-miss, but "The Measure of a Man," written by Melinda M. Snodgrass, became the episode I'd weigh Next Generation's drama against for the rest of the run.

(All of this isn't to diss the other writers who worked on the show at that time—such as Diane Duane and Michael Reaves. I've been told the creative process, especially during the first season, could be chaotic and unrewarding, with notes and rewrites from on high sometimes bordering on the inexplicable.)

So what I'm saying is, I'm pleased as punch to have a story by Melinda Snodgrass in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2. Like her classic Next Gen script, "A Gift Though Small" uses science fiction not to tell a slam-bang, broad-canvas sort of story, but to provide a setting for a story of dramatic and emotional depth.

An interesting thing to me is the different ways in which the settings bring focus to the two tales. "The Measure of a Man" tackled some of the Big Questions science fiction is so good for: what is sentience? What does it mean to be human? The basic themes in "A Gift Though Small"—of trying to maintain dignity and hope for advancement in a patently unfair society, of a parent's delicate balance between guiding and letting go—certainly don't need a science fiction backdrop. But in this case, I think setting the story in the far future—removing it from the identifiably "real" world—helps isolate and strengthen the very recognizable, universal human issues it's really about.

Yikes, this is sounding like a college Lit essay. "A Gift Though Small" is groovy, and you'll love it. Okay?

The illustration is by Don Anderson, whose work we recently saw gracing Diane Duane's "Palladium." I love that it looks like it could have come out of an issue of Galaxy Science Fiction in 1952, without seeming at all an exercise in retro. Like "Gift" itself, it achieves a certain timelessness in its use of SF motifs. Which is one of the things I revived Thrilling Wonder Stories for in the first place.

Thursday Preview: The Contents!

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I know that showing you the table of contents may look like we're scraping bottom as far as Thursday Previews are concerned. But no, we've got a few more items yet.

It's just that I'm so insanely happyhappyhappy to have Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2 finished and at the printers that I want to share with you exactly what the 252 packed pages that make this book/magazine up consist of. (All the English teachers I ever had probably felt a tremor in the Force from that last sentence. But as it turns out Winston Churchill did not actually say, not ending sentences with prepositions is an absurd rule, up with which I shall not put.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

YouTube Tuesday: Star Trek: Phase II "Blood and Fire, Part One"

WARNING: The following videos contain adult situations, and (as WTTW Chicago used to say before its broadcasts of Monty Python) may not be suitable for younger or more sensitive viewers.

Okay, I promised it a while back, and here it is: Part One of the first-ever two-part episode of Star Trek New Voyages Phase II: "Blood and Fire." Part Two is still in post-production.  Check with the Phase II website for updates. (We're not associated with STP2, but we're mighty impressed with what they do.)

Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2 has a 21-page feature article on the production of the previous New Voyages episode, the Hugo and Nebula-nominated "World Enough and Time," starring George Takei as Sulu.

This episode was directed and co-written by David Gerrold, based on his unproduced script for the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Gerrold also wrote the original series episode "The Trouble with Tribbles," which usually comes in #2 in polls of favorite episodes (and occasionally beats out "The City on the Edge of Forever" for #1).

A preview of an upcoming volume in his War Against the Chtorr series of novels, the story "Enterprise Fish" (no relation!), also appears in TWS2.

YouTube Tuesday: Space Adventure, Episodes 4-6

Because it's been way too long, here are the next three episodes of one of my YouTube faves, Space Adventure. It's simply a crime that these episodes only have viewership figures in the triple digits. Not that all of us here can roll it over to another digit, but maybe we can give Mik, oh, ten, fifteen more views.

The first three episodes are here.

Episode 4: Topaz Spaz

Episode 5, apparently with no subtitle

Episode 6: A Dilly of a Pickle

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday Scientifiction: An Excursion Into the Past

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

Again, since we missed last week, you get a bonus this week—in this case, a story from the February 1922 issue of Science and Invention.

It's another in the early Gernsback mold of a scientific thought experiment... although, as he admits himself in the introduction, the science being thought about is pretty much bunk. Incidentally, he should have said that the mass of the ship would be infinite at the speed of light. As it approaches the speed of light, its mass would be increasing, but it would never reach infinity, because it can never reach the speed of light.

It's interesting, though, that the writer and/or Gernsback wouldn't allow faster-than-light travel by technological means even in science fiction. The ship in this story is literally heavenly in nature. As the author of the rules, presumably God can authorize bending them.

A bit of out-of-date terminology: When the angel speaks of leaving the universe and crossing others, he's talking about galaxies.

A bit of accurate-again terminology: Of course, Pluto had not yet been discovered in 1922. But by the recently-updated definition, Neptune is indeed "the farthest planet."


During this period, there was some experimentation with simplified spelling. For instance, thru instead of through, tho instead of though, gript instead of gripped, and so on. In this and previous stories, I've been using the more familiar spellings.

I mention it now because the first-person narrator uses some phonetic spellings, such as wuz, and I worried at times if I was correcting the deliberately incorrect. The writer twice uses focust in the first-person narration, but once uses focused in another character's dialogue. Of course, since everything is being told to us by the protagonist, dialogue and all, you'd think that, right or wrong, it would be spelled the same everywhere. Either way, I decided it was editorial inconsistency, and made them all focused.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Saturday Matinee: Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Chapter Three

Sorry the updates have again become thin upon the ground. Rest assured they've been pushed off my schedule for good reasons, having to do with getting Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2 ready to sell.

I really enjoy the robots which make their debut late in this chapter. Some viewers may find their movements comical, but I thought the filmmakers hit upon an effective method, for the time, of making the robots seem less like suits with people inside. They had the robot actors make jerky, mechanical motions, and then ran the camera slow. Result? Mechanical-looking motion, inhumanly quick. Unfortunately, the method kind of breaks down whenever humans are on screen with the robots, especially fighting them. It looks like a sci-fi Keystone comedy.

I apologize for the ticking/popping in the soundtrack at times. I put this chapter together (like the first two) from two sources. One (thankfully the less used) is an avi file that runs considerably fast. So between converting the soundtrack to aiff, and slowing it down, Final Cut introduces that decidedly unattractive artifact.

Starting next week, DVCam-format video replaces the avi files, so both video and audio quality should go up considerably.