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!

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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

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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.