Tuesday, February 23, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: "Who" and What

In our first Doctor Who-related video this week, we find the question is not, in fact, "Who?" Instead, it's...

A couple weeks ago, we got good and funky with the theme from Star Wars (among other music from the first four released movies). Now it's Doctor Who's turn. Amazingly/horrifyingly enough, this is the only arrangement of the theme ever made by its composer, Ron Grainer. Reportedly, he said that if he had had the chance to arrange it in 1963, it would have been something like this. So if you haven't thanked your deity recently for putting Delia Derbyshire on this earth, you will in a few minutes. (Okay, okay... despite the utter wrongness of this music, I sometimes find myself listening to it several times in succession.)

Finally, watch 45 years flash before your eyes. I don't know where that clip that's allegedly from "The Massacre" came from, because it has no surviving clips. The "Mission to the Unknown" clip appears to be a photograph touched up with CG. ("Marco Polo" has one existing clip, on the technicality that it repeated the end of the previous episode.)

Thanks to the fans who recorded the off-air soundtracks, and to the superhuman efforts of Mark Ayres in restoring them, you can, at least, hear those stories. (In the case of "Mission to the Unknown," he took two different recordings-- one that was generally superior, and one that had more top-end --synced them up line by line, and combined them into an even better version.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday Game: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Atari 2600)

Welcome to what is widely considered one of the worst video games of all time. A game designed and programmed in five weeks to come out in time for Christmas 1982. A game with such high expectations by Atari, and so thoroughly killed by word of mouth, that reportedly millions of unsold copies now lie crushed and entombed in concrete in a landfill in Alamagordo, NM. A game widely blamed, along with its fellow huge disappointment, Pac-Man for the Atari 2600, for causing the great video game crash of 1983.

And, you know... it's not all that bad. I think its main problem is its skill levels. The basic level, in which you (as E.T.) collect pieces of the "phone" unopposed, is pretty much impossible to lose, except deliberately. And the other levels, in which a scientist drags you out of your way, and/or an FBI agent takes pieces of the "phone" from you, are frustratingly difficult. Nonetheless, I've found myself returning to E.T. many times over the years, playing the easy version as a sort of soothing repetitive task.

But that's not what I came here to talk about. I got E.T. for Christmas in 1982, and played it for most of the day. At one point, I accidentally fell into a pit (this happens a lot when you're first learning the game, which didn't help its reputation) and found a wilted flower. I pressed the trigger to activate my site-specific E.T. power. And the thing turned into a Yar from Yars' Revenge and flew away!

I was stunned. What the hell was that about? Every subsequent time I found the wilted flower, all that happened when I pressed the trigger was that it straightened up. Over the next fifteen years or so, I'd occasionally go look for the flower, but no Yar. How was it that I'd done this incredibly odd thing the very first day I had the cartridge, and then never again?

Then came the Internet, and I found out I'd accidentally stumbled upon the first part of a three-part easter egg. What had done it was that I'd called Elliott when I had seven Reese's Pieces. The problem I had in repeating it was that once I learned that E.T. could hold nine Pieces, I only called Elliott to take them away when I had that number, or when I was about to call the mothership and end the level.

And so now, more than 27 years after first seeing that flower/Yar fly away, I present to you a walkthrough of the easy level, complete with how to activate the easter eggs. And as a bonus, I show how to have E.T.'s feet stick out the bottom of the mothership and generate a loud buzzing noise.

When I made the video, I forgot one other thing you can do. If you die right when the mothership arrives, the game crashes.

But now, Atari and the Alamagordo Municipal Landfill proudly present E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Scientifiction: Whispering Ether

(Click on image at left to read pdf file in your browser. Right-click with a two-button mouse, or control-click with a one-button mouse, and select "Download Linked File" to download pdf file. Share it all you like.)

Here's the story from the March 1920 issue of Electrical Experimenter that I mentioned when I covered the issue in the last Four-Score Wednesday. It appeared on the newsstand 90 years ago last Monday (the 15th).

I seem to keep quoting Mike Ashley's The Gernsback Days, but what can I say, it's indispensable.

One of Gernsback's writers who started to corner this field [of scientific detective stories] was Charles S. Wolfe. Wolfe had been a contributor for a number of years, but it was not until the March 1920 Electrical Experimenter that he hit his stride. In "Whispering Ether," a safecracker, trying to steal Professor Proctor's explosives formula, is caught in the act by Proctor who has also invented a thought-reading machine. It's a short, effective story, marred as fiction only by the necessary explanation of how the device works.

It's interesting Ashley should say that, because before I looked this passage up, I was going to begin by saying that in this story, Wolfe comes up with an ingenious, unique explanation for thought transmission, although it really falls apart upon the slightest reflection. It's an amusing story, though.

Incidentally, this story has something to recommend it right now as a Sunday Scientifiction besides its anniversary. It's another story with a World War I connection. Which gives me yet another opportunity to mention our new edition of the 1919 novel Between Worlds, appearing in a book for the first time since 1929, and for the first time ever as a book in its complete text. The novel ties its story of Venusian travelers to Earth into several then-recent events from the war and its aftermath, as "Whispering Ether" ties into the war's prelude.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Saturday Matinee: The Phantom Creeps, Chapter Three (Parts 2 & 3)

Last week, I was astonishingly cruel to Dorothy Arnold. I want to redress the balance this week... by being astonishingly cruel to her co-star, Robert Kent. Born Douglas Blackley, Jr., he was a prizefighter before making a lateral career move and pummeling people into unconsciousness with his acting instead.

Amazingly enough, according to IMDb, The Phantom Creeps' Bob West was his 27th screen role, and 44 followed. Very few of the films he was in are familiar to me, so I don't know if this serial marks the apex of his acting career. However, he does seem to have a lot of items on his resumé like these:

One Hour Late (1934) (uncredited) .... Soda Jerk
Love in Bloom (1935) (uncredited) .... Man who buys song
Love Before Breakfast (1936) (uncredited) .... First College Boy
The 13th Man (1937) (uncredited) .... Jack Winslow (Stella's boyfriend)
A Chump at Oxford (1940) (uncredited) .... Bit Role
Niagara Falls (1941) (uncredited) .... Hotel Guest
The Forest Rangers (1942) (uncredited) .... Lookout
Northern Pursuit (1943) (uncredited) .... Soldier
The Skipper Surprised His Wife (1950) (uncredited) .... Radio technician

That's not to say that he usually went uncredited. Why, he also played "A Switchman" in The Great Locomotive Chase (1956), and in an episode of The Adventures of Superman, he essayed the role of "Safe Mover Who Speaks."

All right, all right. IMDb claims in its Mini Biography of Kent that "[h]is career consisted mostly of playing leads in 'B' pictures." Which just goes to show that wood does, indeed, float to the top on occasion.

This week's chapter features two brief bits from Feature MPEG, one to cover a film break (Part 3, 1:50), and one to cover a bit of analog video instability (Part 3, 3:17). In both cases, I replaced the entire shot*, because cutting away in mid-shot was just too distracting. A film break and patch with no frames lost (Part 3, 1:40) wasn't bad enough to replace with the much lower-quality Feature MPEG. I did fix the sound pop with Feature MPEG's soundtrack, however.

The end music cut off in Serial MPEG and AVI, so I faded it to the complete music from Chapter Two. Incidentally, the recurring opening credits of all three chapters have come from Chapter Two so far, because Chapters One and Three had a film break.

*- In the first case, the "shot" I replaced was the transition piece. You may have noticed in old films that there's frequently an obvious jump or change in image quality just before and after a wipe or dissolve. That's because they were created on an optical printer. Besides that the result was a generation removed, being a copy of the original footage, optical printers of the time usually created a noticeably inferior picture. The film editor would therefore only cut in the actual transition... which is sort of robbing Peter to pay Paul, because it makes the transition piece stand out like a sore thumb. If producers had the time/money to use top-quality equipment and, if necessary, have it done over and over until the framing and contrast were right, the join could be almost invisible. But of course, The Phantom Creeps was a serial, which had neither.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday Preview: Between Worlds (Preview #3)

Click on the image at the upper left to read the pdf file in your browser, or do whatever you do with your browser (usually right-click with a two-button mouse, or control-click with a one-button mouse, and select "Download Linked File") to download.

Between Worlds is the second volume in our Thrilling Wonder Stories Origins Series of works from the formative years of science fiction. This novel by Garret Smith originally appeared as a five-part serial in The Argosy in 1919. Our edition includes five illustrations created by Virgil Finlay for an edited reprint in Fantastic Novels Magazine in 1949.

Considering it's my job to push all the saleable elements of our edition, I'm kind of embarrassed I've forgotten to mention one until now. As I've said before, this is the first book edition of Between Worlds since 1929, and the first I'm aware of in any form since 1949. What I haven't mentioned is that this is the first appearance of the complete text since its original publication in 1919.

I'll talk about the excisions from the 1929 trade paperback next time. Fantastic Novels cut the 1919 text both for space and for content. As a regular magazine, Fantastic Novels had a very specific amount of space to fill, and to make it, they excluded up to two paragraphs at a time. Near the end, they even replaced words with shorter synonyms in order to shorten paragraphs by a line.

But it's the alterations for content that are most amusing. They twice used "sweetheart" as a replacement for "lover," and once for "inamorata" (egad! fetch my smelling salts!). "Passion" became "interest" or "love" (even if the person who now felt "love" could not be a "lover").

But now, on to the preview. Last time, Hunter, son of the Chief Patriarch of Venus, and his crew (including Scribner, the narrator) discovered that their world was not, in fact, a bright hemisphere in an unending sea of darkness, but a sphere, half light and half dark, in a great firmament of tiny, bright lights. As we join our heroes, they have set the course of their flying ship toward the brightest. But as the ship leaves Venus behind, they are horrified to see their planet apparently engulfed in flames!

And this week, as they approach the halfway point in their journey to the blue-white world, our heroes, for whom everything they believed and depended upon has changed in unexpected and/or frightening ways, find reality going even more topsy-turvy....

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Four-Score (and Ten) Wednesday: Electrical Experimenter, March 1920

Electrical Experimenter, Volume 7, Number 11, March 1920. Publisht February 15, 1920.

Hugo Gernsback is known today pretty much solely as the father of the specialty science fiction magazine, but science fiction was only one of his interests. In fact, that grew out of his interest in science, especially of the technological tinkering variety. And he only produced science fiction magazines for a comparatively brief portion of his long publishing career.

Check out Wikipedia's page on Gernsback, and you'll see just what a small part of his output the science fiction magazines were.

The Electrical Experimenter is something of a crossover point. This magazine, which formally changed its title to Science and Invention in June 1920 (although, as you can see, it was a gradual process on the cover), was the one which convinced Gernsback that a specialty science fiction magazine might be successful. He started publishing what was then called scientific fiction in his Modern Electrics in 1911, but it only became a fairly regular feature in this magazine. In fact, such stories continued there past the advent of Amazing Stories in 1926, until Gernsback lost control of his original company in early 1929. (This led him to create a new company with a new group of magazines, including Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories.)

This week, instead of just giving you the cover, I've made a pdf file including twelve of the interior pages as well. They give some idea of how extensively illustrated the magazine was, and a little taste of the age in which it was produced. For instance, the cover story concludes triumphantly, "were it but even a promise it would mean another step towards the final mastery of all matter by man."

Maybe the most characteristic of its time is a two-page article on "Radium--The Wonder-Substance." In his blog, Joshua Glenn dubbed the era before the Golden Age of Science Fiction the "Radium Age." I'd debate his dating (he considers it 1904-33), but there's no doubting that the term is apposite. During the 1920s and '30s, science fiction was as overflowing with radium this and radium that as today's is with nano-this and nano-that. As you can see from this article, radium was, so to speak (fortunately), in the air.

Not included in the pdf is Gernsback's editorial, since much of that page in my copy fed long-passed generations of insects. The editorial itself is complete, however, and I present it here to show how far ahead Gernsback was looking. And unlike what I usually do with the Sunday Scientifiction stories from this period, I give it to you with the simplified/modernized spelling that he used in the magazine intact. (His publishing statement that the magazine was "publisht on the 15th of each month" inspired me to spell the word likewise at the top of this article.)

The Moon Rocket

In our February issue we discust the Goddard Moon Rocket minutely, presenting the entire problem as laid down by the inventor. Right here it should again be pointed out, as already mentioned in the original account, that Dr. Goddard did not primarily invent his rocket to travel from the earth to the moon. This was only a secondary consideration.

Once a rocket has gone up for 400 or 500 miles into the atmosphere, it would be impossible to prove by any means that it had actually reached this great heighth. A minute's reflection will show that no barograph or other recording instrument would be of any value because at this heighth there is no air.

While we know that the temperature in free space is -459° Fahrenheit, we could of course employ some sort of a recording instrument which would show that the rocket had actually past into free space. This could be verified if the temperature recorded was -459°. However, the trouble is that the rocket could go on for a thousand miles higher and still the temperature would remain just exactly the same, viz. -459°.

Dr. Goddard conceived the idea to make the rocket big enough so that it would actually propel itself on to the dark side of the moon and there explode a magnesium flash charge; the proof of its landing upon the moon would be conclusive if our astronomers actually saw the flash upon the dark side of the moon.

Theoretically the scheme of firing a rocket to the moon is feasible; practically, we are much afraid it is not. We do not deny the possibility of building an enormous gun à la Jules Verne and fire a projectile which could reach the moon. It would only be a consideration of making the gun large enough and using enough high explosive. If the gun were trained at the correct point in the heavens, there is little doubt that such a missile would, after some hours flight, alight on the moon. But in the case of a rocket this becomes a vastly different problem.

In the first place, it should be borne in mind that at the time when a rocket or even a shell is fired, it is of course not fired at the moon at all. The reason is that it takes many hours or even days for the projectile to land upon our satellite. For that reason when we fire the gun or the rocket, it becomes evident that it is fired direct into space with no moon anywhere in sight. In other words, the gun is trained on a certain point in space, accurately calculated by astronomers, the calculation being such that we will know the length of time it will take the projectile to traverse the space between the earth and the moon. The latter during this period will have moved to the point where it will intercept the flight of the projectile. As to the Goddard Rocket, it has been calculated that it would take about 100 hours to traverse this space of 220,000 miles.

Granted that we had fired the Rocket on a very calm day when there was no breath of air stirring, so as not to deviate the path of the rocket even an inch (and this condition alone is almost impossible), we now come to the next consideration. A rocket which propels itself in a vacuum will not move in an absolute straight line. The reason is that the explosions acting upon the body of the rocket will not project the rocket exactly along its axis.

It should be remembered that it has to traverse 220,000 miles to hit an object 2,164 miles in diameter. Consequently, it can be readily seen that a deflection of a small fraction of an inch to either side at the start would prevent the rocket from making a successful landing upon the moon.

Even if meteorites never actually hit the rocket, many, however, would certainly come near enough to the rocket to draw it slightly out of its path, due to gravitational attraction.

If a rocket is ever used, it would be necessary to have it carry with it some human beings, who could correct these influences along the way.

                                                                                                       H. GERNSBACK.

Of course, it's easy to look askance at a couple of odd ideas, such as that meteorites exist in such bulk between the Earth and the Moon that they would actually have a measurable gravitational influence, but Gernsback did seem to have a grip on the technological hurdles in the way of space travel.

Another thing that I decided not to include in the pdf is the issue's piece of scientific fiction, "Whispering Ether," by Charles S. Wolfe. That's because (and you're probably ahead of me) it's this week's Sunday Scientifiction.

(Click on the image of the cover to read the pdf in your web browser. Download and share the intact file all you like; that's what it's there for.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Our Own YouTube Video Tuesday: Don Anderson (1965-2009)

It's depressing enough to do obituaries for people I just knew from their work, but for people I knew in person since before we even worked together... well, that's a real bummer, and it's why I've dragged my feet on it. Ironically, when an Arthur C. Clarke or a Philip José Farmer dies, I can put something together fairly rapidly from facts I remember or can quickly look up. When it's someone I knew, suddenly I can't think of where to start.

So I'll just say that Don Anderson was a great artist and a nice person. He never let his difficulties getting around get him down... or indeed, keep him from getting around.

He was a member of the Hamptons Round Table that Crystal Ann Taylor mentioned in her article on Star Trek: Phase II in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2. As I recall the story, Don had communicated with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro via email, but hadn't had an opportunity to meet in person. So he made one. He flew out to Prague, where del Toro was filming the first Hellboy. For the Table, "Go to Prague" became shorthand for cutting through your own fear and the difficulties in your own way, real or imagined, and just up and doing something. I only wish I had that kind of oomph.

Don Anderson was a vital part of the two most fulfilling creative experiences of my life so far: the award-winning short film I wrote and executive-produced, A Can of Paint; and the two volumes of Thrilling Wonder Stories.

Here are two features of Don's work that I assembled for the DVD of A Can of Paint. The first is a series of concept illustrations for Kilgour's spaceship, set to Gordy Haab's wonderful music. The second matches up Don's storyboards with extracts from the final movie audio (again featuring Gordy Haab's music, plus the voices of Aaron Robson as Kilgour and Jean Franzblau as the computer, and sound design by Brett Hinton and Gordy Haab).

Don's work for Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2 appeared here in Thursday Previews for "A Gift Though Small," by Melinda M. Snodgrass, and "Palladium," by Diane Duane. I also used the latter on the back cover.

For Volume 1, Don illustrated Isaac Asimov's "The Portable Star" (shown at the upper left), imparting a lot of menace to what are essentially lumps of rock.

He also worked for clients a lot more high-profile than I will ever be, like Dreamworks, NBC/Universal, and Disney. You can see more of his work on his website, and think about all the world will never have a chance to see now. Think about what we lose when any talented person dies long before their time, and you can get good and depressed.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Games: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (N64) Parts 5&6

Continuing my runthrough of the 1996 Nintendo 64 game on easy level, losing no lives and picking up all Extra Lives and Challenge Points.

I seem to remember that when I recorded this level, back in 2002, it took me a hellish number of tries before I got all the Challenge Points and Extra Lives without losing any lives in the process. Maybe that's why I stopped after this one.

Part Five Notes:

4:40 What kind of resources do you need to have before you can (apparently) let hovertrains just run themselves down into lava? And if you have resources of that magnitude, what's even the point of having a junkyard? You can't really need to recycle. You might as well toss whatever you don't need into a star.

8:24 It takes a while to get used to the degree of "float" in this level, where the ground seems to shift under your feet. It was pretty unnerving at first, as I recall, especially when I was standing near the edge of a train.

Part Six Note:

1:26 I forgot to point out the bit back in Part Two where I had Dash repeatedly stop a big metal door from closing with his head, and he sustained no damage. He's just that tough (and possibly has just that little up there to damage). Here, he proves it again by jumping into molten metal, and coming away with some minor owies. Forget nuking the fridge; Dash could probably just survive by going into crouch mode.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Scientifiction: The Love Machine

(Click on image at left to read pdf file in your browser. Right-click with a two-button mouse, or control-click with a one-button mouse, and select "Download Linked File" to download pdf file. Share it all you like.)

Absolutely not by Jacqueline Susann, "The Love Machine" first appeared in the April 1921 issue of Science and Invention, and I present it to you a little Valentine's Day offering.

That's even though probably all women, and some men, may find its premise of rearranging of emotions a tad creepy. You could argue that the man gets his emotions relandscaped, too--or, as Professor Parsons points out, that Fennimore the client is probably going to end up worse off for loving this particular woman--but the point is, the woman didn't ask.

Er, happy Valentine's Day.

Of course, from the instant I picked this story out, through the present moment, I've had a constant loop going in my head of:

It's just the love machine,
And it won't work for nobody but you.

(By the way, I was beginning to get a little concerned that my title page layouts were boring. So here's the picture et al in the middle of the page. As it happens, the picture was in the middle of the page in the original magazine, too, although the title and author were up top.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Saturday Matinee: The Phantom Creeps, Chapter Two (Part 3) and Three (Part 1)

Dorothy Arnold (Jean Drew) had three short stints as an actress, in 1937-9, 1954, and 1957-8. This, frankly, doesn't surprise me that much, considering her performance in The Phantom Creeps, which whipsaws unpredictably between overstated and zombie-like. Perhaps Joe DiMaggio wore her out some days.

She met DiMaggio in 1937, and married him late in the year The Phantom Creeps was released (1939). They divorced in 1944. She went on to own a supper club in Palm Springs, California, with her third husband. (DiMaggio went on to have a second storied major-league baseball career with the New York Yankees, and to marry Marilyn Monroe.)

Chapter Two, Part 3 Notes:

2:12 I'm betting that pause is an actorly brain-freeze. But it doesn't seem unrealistic.

7:11 Huh. And here I didn't even know that revolvers had stun settings. "Shoot in the gut to stun" is certainly a new one for the police procedure books.

8:32 And here's the birth of another MST3K running joke. In the episode featuring this chapter, Joel and the 'Bots had fun with how West's whispery tone made him sound like Ronald Reagan. Later, when they referred to this line, they forgot how it actually went. But the Reagan thing, they remembered. Crow would say, in a Reagan voice, "Welcome to Death Valley Days. The driver's either missing, or he's dead." Fans from that time who hadn't seen the original appearance thought the line was actually from Death Valley Days, or some Reagan film.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Radio: Child's Play & Venus Is a Man's World (X Minus One)

"Child's Play"

Based on the story by William Tenn, originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, March 1947.

Originally broadcast on NBC, October 20, 1955.

"Venus Is a Man's World"

Based on the story by William Tenn, originally published in Galaxy, July 1951.

Originally broadcast on NBC, February 6, 1957.

Philip Klass, who, under his pseudonym William Tenn, was one of the greatest short fiction writers, and probably the greatest satirist of the Golden Age, died last Sunday at the age of 89. In his memory, we present radio adaptations of two of his stories.

Klass/Tenn wrote only two novels, both expansions of shorter works, and his entire output as a science fiction writer fills only two volumes, but he produced far more than his proportionate share of classics.

To name two... "The Liberation of Earth" (written in 1950) was a satire on the Korean War in which two warring alien races repeatedly "liberate" from each other the people of Earth... until there are none left. "Time in Advance" (written in 1956) explored the fascinating idea of gaining the right to commit a crime--even murder--provided a person serves the sentence first. Once he gets out... watch out.

According to Tenn/Klass in his 2001 collection Immodest Proposals, he wrote "Child's Play" in 1946 on a dare while serving as a purser on a cargo ship.

My brother had sent me the May issue of Astounding, containing my first published story, "Alexander the Bait," and... I showed it around quite proudly. My fellow officers, however, wondered why I made such a fuss over a printed tale by someone named William Tenn; again and again, I had to explain the concept of a pen name....

The first mate... took me to the purser's cabin and dumped me in a chair in front of my typewriter desk. "If you are really William Tenn and can write stories that get published," he said, waving a wobbly forefinger in the air, "prove it. Write one now."

And so he did, and "Child's Play" became Klass/Tenn's "second published story and... first science-fiction 'success,'" and his first anthologized story. It was also his first to be adapted for radio, on NBC's Dimension X in 1951. So why are we presenting the X Minus One version from over four years later? Well, I'll get to that reason in, oh, seven or eight weeks...

I was already considering doing "Venus Is a Man's World" (written in 1951) soon on Friday Radio, because, you know... Venus... our new edition of Between Worlds... etc., etc.

Tenn/Klass had this to say in 2001 about the story:

[Galaxy editor] Horace Gold was worried about publishing this one. He said it was a bit too much of a feminist story. He was not sure that feminist stories belonged in science fiction. As I said, it was 1951.

My favorite part of the story is how, in typical Tenn fashion, it turns the accepted on its head, and we realize how traditionally "feminine" qualities like emotionalism and intuition can just as easily be pinned on men instead.

Since this is, after all, the Thrilling Wonder Stories website, I'll point out that Klass/Tenn wrote four stories for the magazine, three of them in consecutive issues in 1948. Or maybe I should just say that Klass did, since the first, "Dud" (April 1948) went out as by Kenneth Putnam instead of William Tenn. The Tenn three (as it were) were "Consulate" (June 1948), "The Ionian Cycle" (August 1948), and "The Jester" (August 1951).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Density of the Daleks: Less Than 1

But they're still deadly. If they continue to wipe out editors of more popular science fiction venues, however, I can live with that.

See and read more about it here.

And here, where I heard about it.

Thursday Preview: Between Worlds (Preview #2)

I mentioned last time that Hugo Gernsback published the only previous book edition of Between Worlds in 1929. I bought a copy from an Amazon Marketplace seller as source material for my edition.

There was a name inside: Oswald Train. Partly because the name amused me, I Googled it. Turns out he was the founder of small fantasy and science fiction publisher Prime Press. I took it as another good omen that this copy has now been owned by two publishers. Granted, Train never published an edition of Between Worlds, but I take my kismet where I can get it.

Actually, I'm almost sorry I brought it up, because now I can't stop singing:

Ah-hahs-wald Train, high on cocaine.
Casey Jones, you'd better watch your speed.

It's a well-known fact, incidentally, that I'm totally insane.

When last we left him, Hunter, son of the Chief Patriarch of Venus, and his crew had entered the Land of Darkness beyond their native Land of Light. They have some smashing and exciting adventures there that you'll just have to buy the book and read about. As this week's preview begins, they've had enough, and are trying to get the hell out of Dodge. Hunter unveils a surprising capacity of his vessel, and makes discoveries about his world and its place in the cosmos that completely change the scope of his mission....

Click on the cover image at the upper left to read the pdf file in your browser, or do whatever you do with your browser (usually right-click with a two-button mouse, or control-click with a one-button mouse, and select "Download Linked File") to download.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Four-Score Wednesday: Air Wonder Stories, March 1930

(click on image on the left for a 150dpi jpg file of the cover)

Air Wonder Stories, Volume 1, Number 9, March 1930. Published February 10, 1930.

On the Cover This Month
is shown a scene from Edward E. Chappelow's story, "The Return of the Air Master." We see the Air Master's craft cutting a neat hole through the roof of a building and drawing up some of its contents by means of his gravity nullifying ray. The airship is surrounded by a haze of its own making.

Hell, what's special about that? Sometimes I'm surrounded by a haze of my own making, and no one's thrilled about that. Still, that description does make the Air Master sound like the Borg of his day.

The Aviation News of the Month column features this that you may have heard about a certain landmark then in the planning stages:

Skyscraper to Have Mooring Mast

The new Empire State Building, which will rise on the site of the old Waldorf Astoria on Fifth Avenue, in New York City, is to be equipped with a mooring mast for dirigibles. The new building is projected by a company headed by former Governor Smith, of New York, who was the Democratic candidate in the last presidential election.

According to aeronautical experts, a mooring mast atop a skyscraper is perfectly feasible. The 1,300-foot building will have to have special changes made in its steel structure, in order to withstand the strain of a 1,000-foot airship swinging in the wind. The plans for making a great building immediately accessible to an airship point the way to the city of the future, in which passengers will disembark from an air liner, and be at their destination in a very few minutes.

Yes, that spire was meant to be functional. Another item in the column turned out, sadly, to be even less in accord with eventual reality.

Goddard's Rocket to Explore Outer Space

R.L. Duffus, writing in the New York Times, describes Professor Goddard's plans for exploring some of the mysteries of outer space. Goddard plans to use a rocket twelve feet long and a foot and a half in diameter, which will be shot from a sixty-foot steel tower at Camp Devens Massachusetts.

The Goddard rocket is the first one known to make successful use of liquid fuel. The latest one is expected to go straight up for several miles and to return to the vicinity from which it was sent; the important test of the flight is the ability of the rocket to return intact. One rocket was released with a camera and a barometer, and the delicate instruments were not injured in the descent to earth. There is every reason to believe that a rocket could be sent thousands of miles into space and return without injury to its equipment. It may be possible to send one to the moon; but, according to the article, there would be no possibility of its returning to earth.

In its present form the Goddard rocket is a steel cylinder tapering toward the top and bearing a pointed cap. This cap is equipped with an automatic parachute, easily opened. When the rocket returns to earth it will be retarded by the parachute in exact proportion to the density of the atmosphere it strikes.

The speed which is expected to be attained is 8,000 feet a second, or about 5,500 miles an hour--a speed not only within the realm of possibility, but absolutely necessary for interplanetary exploration.

As though "possible" and "necessary" always go together. As it happened, the top speed reached by Robert H. Goddard's rockets was 550 MPH, with a top altitude of 9000 feet. (A vital part in the development of rocketry all the same, of course, but not nearly what Goddard had hoped.)

For some reason, I'm highly amused by the name of the regular letters column:

Or maybe I just had one too many bowls of Goofy Flakes this morning. Anyway, in that column this month appears the letter of one Henry L. Hasse, later a science fiction writer himself, with an interesting assessment of one of his future colleagues:

In your January issue you invite the opinions of your readers in regard to Edmond Hamilton's stories. Altogether, taking into consideration the stories of Hamilton's which I have read in your magazine and in others, I must agree with Mr. Jacoby that they are all alike. Every one of them has the same old plot worked over again. Still, do not by any means stop publishing his stories... for I know his stories make interesting reading even if they do have the same plot.

I guess that's the good old, good old same old, same old.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Party Like It's 1977

...or 1980...

...or 1983...

...or, yes, even like it's 1999.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Project Constellation and the Future of Space Exploration

Here's an email I received today from Mike and Denise Okuda. As you may know, they're veterans of Star Trek, and Mike illustrated two stories in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2. But it's real-life space travel that's the issue today:

February 8, 2010

Dear Friends:

As long-time supporters of real-life space exploration, Denise and I were disappointed to learn that the proposed NASA budget for 2011 would cancel Project Constellation and the planned return to the Moon. Constellation, as you may know, began in 2004, after the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and its crew. NASA was determined to make spaceflight safer for its astronauts, and it knew that it had to give those astronauts a worthwhile mission: Exploring the final frontier.

Constellation is tasked with developing boosters, spacecraft, and other systems to provide a safer replacement for the Space Shuttle, one that would enable a return to the Moon for the specific purpose of developing the ability for humans to live on another world. Unlike Apollo, Constellation is designed to run on a comparatively constrained budget. Constellation’s Ares boosters are based on Space Shuttle technology, reducing their development costs and improving safety and reliability.

Since 2004, NASA has made a lot of progress with Constellation. New rocket engines have been designed and tested. A new launch pad has been built at the Kennedy Space Center, and a massive new launch tower has just been completed. Prototype Orion capsules are being tested, even as prototype moon rovers are trekking through the desert. Design work on Altair lunar landers and next-generation space suits is well underway. And last October, NASA conducted the successful first launch of Project Constellation, the Ares I-X Development Test Flight. We’re finally on our way back to the Moon, and heading out to Mars.

Now, the administration has proposed to cancel Constellation in favor of a “flexible path” of technology development and the use of commercial launch services for astronauts to get into orbit. While technology development is a very good idea, it’s not a substitute for an actual mission with a real goal. Without a goal and a specific plan, we believe that NASA, however well-intentioned, will simply end up spending a lot of money without actually going anywhere. It’s happened before. We don’t want it to happen again. And while we believe that commercial spaceflight will be a reality in the relatively near future, the fact is that no such capability exists yet. Spaceflight is a difficult, dangerous enterprise, and it would be foolish to gamble the future of our nation’s space program by abandoning systems that are already well into development. With so much progress already made, we believe that canceling Constellation would be a serious mistake.

The good news is that the proposed budget is just that: A proposal. Over the next few weeks the Congress will review the proposal and will make whatever changes it deems necessary. Constellation can be saved if members of Congress – and the President – see that their constituents want it. That’s why we’re asking you to support Constellation by writing to the President and to your elected representatives.

Here’s a website that we’ve put together with more information on Constellation, plus resources on how to reach your elected officials.


Space exploration is vital source of technology and innovation for our society. The space program is one of the most effective means to stimulate economic growth, both in the short term and the long run. And exploration inspires our young people, even as it helps us comprehend the wonders of the final frontier, now and in the future. Please join us in making that future a reality by writing letters and by spreading the word to your friends. We very much need your help, and we need it today.

-Mike and Denise Okuda

Monday Game: Yars' Revenge (Atari 2600)

According to Wikipedia, Yars' Revenge was Atari's best-selling original title for the 2600. The funny part of that is, it didn't start out as an original, but as a licensed adaptation of the arcade game Star Castle. However, it quickly became something entirely its own, and Atari took full credit (and profit) from it. (Meanwhile, as far as I can tell, Star Castle never did get an adaptation for any system.)

Atari CEO Ray Kassar found himself immortalized in a backward kind of way in the names of the Yar and his home Razak solar system.

I'm easily impressed by ingenuity, so I love this story. Programmer Howard Scott Warshaw was looking for an impressive, yet code-efficient, effect for the Neutral Zone. He found it by making the medium the message, as it were: the Neutral Zone is, in fact, a graphical representation of the game's own code.

Several Atari 2600 games took advantage of corporate synergy with fellow Warner Communications subsidiary DC Comics, and had mini comics packed in the box. (In fact, gameplay of the later Swordquest series would actually depend on the player having read the comic.) The one included with Yars' Revenge explained the game's backstory. It was titled The Qotile Ultimatum, and you can read it here. (Actually, now that I look it it again, I notice it doesn't have a DC logo, so this particular comic may have been an Atari in-house project.)

Also, mind-blowingly enough, there was a Yars' Revenge song and audio drama released by Kid Stuff Records.

Here's a vintage television ad for Yars' Revenge.

And now for the actual playing. You shoot the shield cells surrounding the Qotile (the thing at the right). By nibbling a cell or touching the Qotile, you activate the Zorlon Cannon (the thing that appears at the left). Hit the Qotile with the Zorlon Cannon, and you win the level. Meanwhile, you're being chased by the Destroyer Missile, and periodically the Qotile will become a Swirl, and shoot out at (I think) a random direction. You're safe from the Destroyer Missile in the Neutral Zone (center), but not from the Swirl.

By the way, because I love sharing these technical details, I apply some noise reduction to these Atari 2600 and 800 games with SoundHack to save you from a constant buzzing noise. You're welcome.

Yars' Revenge and a new sequel, Yars' Return, are available on the Atari Flashback 2 plug-and-play home game system.

Next week: back to Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire on the N64 as we explore one of the galaxy's scenic sites, Ord Mantell Junkyard.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday Scientifiction: Eddy Currents

(Click on image at left to read pdf file in your browser. Right-click with a two-button mouse, or control-click with a one-button mouse, and select "Download Linked File" to download pdf file. Share it all you like.)

I don't pretend to be an expert at... well, anything, really, but not science fiction, either. But it seems to me like there aren't that many science fiction stories written about World War I as it was happening.

I suppose that's not too much of a stretch as observations go, seeing as there were no dedicated science fiction magazines until 1926, but as we know from meeting here each week, there were several venues for what we now call "science fiction" at the time.

Our book release of the month, Between Worlds, doesn't quite count. The Venusian characters are responsible for several events of the war, from the apparition of the Angels of Mons, to the Bolshevik Revolution, to the flu pandemic that was still going on as the novel was written in 1919.

We've previously presented in this space "The Magnetic Storm," by Hugo Gernsback, published in his Electrical Experimenter magazine for August 1918. In that story, the Allies win the war through, unsurprisingly, electrical means. What those means are, however, is pretty surprising.

The second installment of "Baron Münchausen's New Scientific Adventures," of which we presented the sixth last month, was also by Gernsback, and published in the June 1915 issue of Electrical Experimenter. It was subtitled "How Münchausen and the Allies Took Berlin." I don't have that issue, but I'll make the bold guess that it had to do with the war.

After all that buildup, I have to tell you that "Eddy Currents," from the May 1917 issue, doesn't specifically mention that it takes place during the same war then ongoing. It clearly takes place in what was then the future, when the United States is at war (as it was not yet in May 1917), and has a considerable submarine fleet. However, the enemy is clearly Germany. America also seems to be alone against overwhelming odds, which suggests to me that in this now-alternative timeline, Germany has won the war in Europe. If it is a World War I story, it's the only one I've read in which the situation is considerably worse than it ever became. You could make the argument that even if this is a future war, it presupposes that World War I went far more badly than it did. After all, even the real World War II was never this bad.

Again, I'm not spoiling the story too much by saying our hero wins the day through electrical means. The "feeler" of the story is, in function, rather like sonar, which was under development in its earliest forms during the war, although how it works is quite different.

Incidentally, "Eddy Currents" sounds to me like either a vaudeville singer, or a member of the old-time Jewish mob. ("Don't cross Eddie Kurantz, or he'll bris you at the stalk.")

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Saturday Matinee: The Phantom Creeps, Chapter Two (Parts 1 & 2)

Chapters Two and Three are each over twenty minutes, and took more time than I can really spare, so I'm spreading those two chapters over three weeks. Next week, we finish Chapter Two and start Chapter Three. In two weeks, we finish Chapter Three.


This week's chapter of The Phantom Creeps marks the first-ever appearance of the distinctive Universal scrolling recap. Serials usually had a text recap at the beginning of each chapter after the first, but they were static caption cards. Universal decided to make recaps more visually interesting by having the text scroll upward and inward. (We previously saw it here in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, made the next year.) George Lucas, of course, borrowed and refined this 38 years later in Star Wars, further tilting the text so that the vanishing point was on screen, and the text seemed to scroll away to infinity.

Part 1 Note:

3:42 Ah, our old friend, the cheat cliffhanger. You may remember that at the end of Chapter One, the plane exploded in flames. This week, it gets a redo.

I briefly considered using the AVI file as the source, but looking at AVI and Serial MPEG side by side, I again figured that the crisper image of the latter more than made up for some combing of the interlaced image during motion.

I spent hours trying to get the best of both worlds, using all the different settings of Adobe AfterEffects' "Remove 3:2 Pulldown" function. But for some reason, when it removed the pulldown, it left a series of twenty or thirty long, horizontal lines in the image, which seemed even more distracting. So I just used it as it was. (All this experimentation is part of the reason it took so long to put this chapter together.)

And all of Chapter Two is from this source. There were no film breaks in the Serial MPEG material that also appears in Feature MPEG.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Radio: Nightfall (X Minus One)

Based on the story by Isaac Asimov, originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, September 1941.

Originally broadcast on NBC, December 7, 1955.

A previously uncollected story by Isaac Asimov, "The Portable Star," appears in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 1.

Last week, we had a 1955 adaptation by Ernest Kinoy from X Minus One which was different from his adaptation of the same story for Dimension X in 1951.

This week, well... not so much. I haven't listened to all of the Dimension X version, but the first few minutes are the same, word for word. The X Minus One recording is vastly better than the available one of Dimension X, which sounds like someone recorded it from across a very large room. (Also, there's another reason I didn't use the Dimension X version, and I'll get to that reason in, oh, eight or nine weeks...)

"Nightfall" is, of course, one of the most popular science fiction stories of all time. According to Wikipedia, it has appeared in some four dozen anthologies. "In 1968," they add, "the Science Fiction Writers of America [SFWA] voted Nightfall the best science fiction short story written prior to the establishment of the Nebula Awards in 1965."

Asimov himself, in the 1979 first volume of his autobiography, In Memory Yet Green, declared "Nightfall" only his fourth-best story, after "The Last Question," "The Bicentennial Man," and "The Ugly Little Boy," respectively. Besides all its honors, "Nightfall" outdid "The Bicentennial Man" in being made into two sub-mediocre movies (1988 and 2000) instead of one (1999).

In the same volume, Asimov recounts a meeting on March 17, 1941, with Astounding editor John W. Campbell, Jr. Campbell handed Asimov the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson which ended up opening both story and radio episode.

Campbell asked me to read it and said, "What do you think would happen, Asimov, if men were to see the stars for the first time in a thousand years?"

I thought, and drew a blank. I said, "I don't know."

Campbell said, "I think they would go mad. I want you to write a story about that."

Asimov did, and got a bonus from Campbell, his biggest check yet as a writer ($166), the cover, and a new reputation as something "more than a steady and (perhaps) hopeful third-rater."

Enjoy X Minus One's adaptation of "Nightfall." Don't listen with the lights out.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thursday Preview: Between Worlds (Preview #1)

The envelope please!

Thrilling Wonder Stories Origins Series #2 is...

Between Worlds, by Garret Smith!

(long pause, sound of crickets)

Okay, it's not nearly as well known as When the Sleeper Wakes, but that's pretty much the point. As we say on the back cover banner of each book in the series:

Science Fiction from before there was "Science Fiction." Whether they called it "scientific romance," "scientific fiction," "scientifiction," "fantastic mystery," or just "'different' stories," it laid the foundation for a new genre. Thrilling Wonder Stories Origins Series brings back the great authors and stories of the formative years of SF.

And brother, are we bringing Between Worlds back. As far as I've been able to tell, this is the first edition of the novel since 1929, and the first it's appeared anywhere since the edited and altered version in Fantastic Novels magazine in 1948. Anyone can bring out an edition of, say, A Princess of Mars. (Look it up on Amazon--it looks like everyone has.) But it takes guts to restore a novel to print after 81 years, by a writer no one's heard of.

Garret Smith (1876?-1954) was a prolific author of the early pulp era, writing primarily for Argosy, and working in many genres. His other works of scientific fiction include On the Brink of 2000 (1910), After a Million Years (1919), and The Treasures of Tantalus (1920-1).

I'd already decided to publish Between Worlds when I found out about the 1929 edition. Who published it? Hugo Gernsback's Stellar Publishing Corporation, as the first in their Science Fiction Classics series. You just can't mess with that kind of kismet.

And speaking of its publication in Fantastic Novels... our edition features the five full-page illustrations from that issue, drawn by Virgil Finlay. And they're gorgeous, even for Finlays. Three of them have appeared in collections of his work. The other two make their first appearance in more than sixty years in the pages of our little book. (Well, not so little as all that; it's 184 pages.)

Between Worlds was one of those "'different' stories" mentioned in the banner text. That's the phrase the Munsey magazines used for tales with an element of the fantastic. And Between Worlds originally ran as a five-part serial in Munsey's Argosy in October and November 1919.

It's also as good an example as you can find of "scientific romance." Not so much for what's usually known as romance, although it does have that. But what Between Worlds has in spades is, to quote from my Langenscheidt's, "imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usu. heroic, adventurous, or mysterious" and "an emotional attraction or aura belonging to an esp. heroic era, adventure, or activity."

Between Worlds is the story of Hunter, son of the Chief Patriarch of Venus. To Hunter, Venus is the "Land of Never Change," its culture and civilization as static as its eternally light and cloudy sky. (When the novel was written, Venus, like Mercury, was thought to keep one face always towards the Sun.) He outfits an expedition to broaden his people's frontiers. As this week's preview begins, Hunter, his friend Scribner (editor of the Central Chronicle of Venus, and the tale's narrator), and his crew set out from the Land of Light to discover new worlds. As the odyssey begins, they have no idea what kind of worlds they will ultimately find....

Click on the cover image at the upper left to read the pdf file in your browser, or do whatever you do with your browser (usually right-click with a two-button mouse, or control-click with a one-button mouse, and select "Download Linked File") to download.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Four-Score Wednesday: Science Wonder Stories, March 1930

Science Wonder Stories, Volume 1, Number 10, March 1930. Published February 3, 1930.

(As usual, click on the thumbnail to the left to get a 150dpi image of the cover by Frank R. Paul.)

this month is shown an episode from "Before the Asteroids." The aged Arinian scientist, Andites, is in the act of breaking up the enemy planet Voris by shooting an enormous power across space to disintegrate the atoms of Voris. Beside Andites are the leaders of the armies defending Arin against the enemy.

Sometimes, one of the less endearing characteristics of science fiction is its tendency to hyperbole. Why just have people in danger, it seems to say, when you can have the whole of timespace about to come to an end, or the whole multiverse, or whatever. In the cover story, just blowing up the planet isn't good enough, I guess. They have to disintegrate its atoms. Like they'll appreciate the extra effort.

If that sounded grumpy, I didn't mean it to. That kind of story can give you hugeness fatigue, is all.

Remember that contest for stories under 1,500 words that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago? Well...


In our November, 1929, issue, we announced a [$]300.00 prize story contest. The requirements of this contest were that a short, SHORT science fiction story was to be written around the cover picture of that issue.

The story was required to be of the science fiction type, and was to be plausible in the light of our present scientific knowledge.

The contest came to a successful close on December 5th, when some eight-hundred-odd manuscripts had been received.

This, indeed, is a tremendous number of manuscripts for a contest of this kind and, if we go by the number of entries received, the contest must be declared a huge success.

Evidently, everyone wanted to try a hand at writing a short, short science fiction story. Of course, as is usually the case in contests of this kind, most of the manuscripts submitted were unquestionably by amateurs and would-be writers who had no experience in fiction writing. But we appreciate their efforts, even though we could not award them prizes.

It was a matter of great relief to the editors that few of the higher prizes were won by professional writers, and that they were carried off either by unknown writers or by those who are not professional authors.

This is exactly what the editors hoped for: because the contest was admittedly to encourage new authors. And, in this respect, the contest may be said to have succeeded beyond our fondest expectations.

It is hoped that all of our readers and the hundreds of contestants will realize the tremendous amount of work connected with a prize contest of this kind, where so many manuscripts must be assorted and graded and passed upon by the judges.

The judges also hope that their selection will meet the approval of authors and readers alike.

Mr. Charles R. Tanner, the winner of the first prize, undoubtedly submitted the best manuscript. It was, by the way, one of the few that had a surprise ending that was not only excellent in execution, but correct from a scientific standpoint. No other author had noted the error in the coloring of the sky on the cover printed in the November, 1929, issue. The error was, of course, intentional; for in similar covers in the past we have always used the correct black sky, as, for instance, in our August, 1929, issue.

A number of the prize winning stories will be found in this issue. The remainder, including the "honorable mentions," which we have purchased from the authors, will be published in the April issue.

It is to be hoped that our new authors have been sufficiently encouraged by this prize contest to try their hands at longer stories, and so gain all the joy, distinction and material rewards that our writers receive.

Checks have been mailed to the prize winners, and the most memorable of our prize contests is hereby declared successfully closed.

The comment that "[t]he error [in coloring the sky] was, of course, intentional" amuses me, considering this is the magazine that routinely has green or yellow skies. Gernsback just drew the line at coloring space, I guess (although since the yellow sky on the cover of the July 1929 issue belongs to a 116-foot asteroid, he actually did color what ought to have been black).

Charles R. Tanner, who won the contest with "The Color of Space," went on to publish fifteen more stories from 1930 to 1951. Wonder Stories bought his second story, "Flight of the Mercury" for its July 1930 issue. You can read "The Color of Space" here, on the official Charles R. Tanner website.

Second-prize winner John R. Pierce later wrote under his own name (including a sale to Wonder Stories in 1934) and as J.J. Coupling, but made his biggest mark in telecommunications, becoming known, according to Mike Ashley's The Gernsback Years, as "the father of Telstar," the first communications satellite.

Frank J. Brueckel, Jr., third-prize winner, had sold to Gernsback before. But it's understandable that professional writers would enter the contest, since, as I pointed out when I mentioned the contest before, the pay rate was better than the standard. Brueckel wrote two more stories and a serial for the Wonder family--one of the former in the same issue as his winning entry.