Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Scientifiction: Dr. Hackensaw's Secrets #2: The Secret of the Atom

We've met Dr. Hackensaw before, and as then, this story is "scientifiction" in the original Gernsbackian sense of fiction about the possibilities of science. The specifics of Hackensaw's inventions may be a bit absurd, but they're meant to be thought-provoking and inspiring for the science practitioners and enthusiasts who were the readership of Science and Invention magazine.

Last time, author Clement Fezandié speculated about television several years before it existed, and about magnetic recording of television about three decades ahead. This time, he has Hackensaw look into the structure of the atom, and produces this fairly startling notion for 1921:

“My idea is—and careful study of these microscopic enlargements convince me of the truth of my views—my idea is that there is only one element, considerably lighter than hydrogen, and that all the other elements are composed of two or more atoms of this original element.”

“And what is that element?”

“I don’t know. I call it ‘Proton’ because it is the first or original element. Every element known to man is a compound of several or many atoms of this proton, and the atomic weight of any of our elements shows how many atoms of proton it contains. Thus hydrogen, whose atomic weight is low, contains very few atoms of proton, while radium, whose atomic weight is high, contains many atoms of proton crowded into each atom of radium.”

Ernest Rutherford had already discovered, in 1919, that other atoms contain hydrogen nuclei (that nucleus turning out to be an individual proton). Langenscheidt's New College Merriam-Webster English Dictionary has a date of 1920 for the word "proton." But I have the feeling Fezandié didn't know about it yet, or he wouldn't have Hackensaw claim to invent the word.

Of course, Fezandié wasn't exactly right about protons. Hydrogen, of course, has one proton, not "few." He would have been exactly right had he related the number of protons to the atomic number. As far as atomic weight goes, it naturally goes up with the number of protons, but not directly. Fezandié was missing out on neutrons. Of course, so was everyone else until Rutherford conceptualized the particles the same year this story was published.

Neutrons carry the nuclear force that holds atomic nuclei together against the mutually repulsive positive charge of their protons. Fezandié had a different theory of what keeps the nucleus together, which also explained wherein the valence of an element lies. I was about to quote it, but heck, read the story; that's what it's there for.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saturday Matinee: The Phantom Creeps, Chapter One

(UPDATE: I don't know why the videos seem to be at such a low framerate. They're fine in my original files. I'll try to upload them again and see what happens.)

Welcome to the first installment of the twelve-chapter Universal serial, The Phantom Creeps, starring the one, the only Bela Lugosi.

Jim Harmon and Donald F. Glut, in their sadly out-of-print book The Great Movie Serials, have (in part) this to say about the serial:

In 1939, Lugosi made his final serial appearance, and appropriately, it seemed a combination, and a culmination, of all his other villain roles. In Universal's The Phantom Creeps, it is, of course, Bela Lugosi who has the title role of the evil Phantom, and top billing.

Even if you couldn't read the title card, it would be abundantly obvious that Lugosi is the top dog in this production. Whereas, for instance, Undersea Kingdom opens with almost ludicrous amounts of activity for hero "Crash" Corrigan before the plot even begins*, the putative protagonist of The Phantom Creeps first shows up nearly fourteen minutes in.

*-Although not in our edited version, which gets the story quickly underway.



Some notes:

2:59: It's just as well I never saw this serial when I was young. I think that robot's face would have scared the snot out of me. And I was born about a generation and a half after the target audience for this thing.

7:30 Acting!

8:30: "And persuade him from his mad course." That's dissuade.



2:28: Bela's accent goes out of control! "The sorest of all my power!"



2:09: And Mystery Science Theater 3000 gains a running joke. MST3K riffed the first three chapters of this serial. Blatant plot conveniences in later movies would provoke a comment, in Lugosi accent, of "How fortunate! That simplifies everything!"

5:31: West is doing an awfully good job standing up in a plane that we just saw was practically upside down.

As I mentioned last week, I have three sources for The Phantom Creeps. It turns out, though, that one may not be very helpful. However, I'm not certain yet which.

You see, one is an MPEG-2 file of the serial version (henceforward Serial MPEG), one is an MPEG-2 file of the 78-minute feature edit (Feature MPEG), and the third is a series of AVI files of the serial version (AVI).

It turns out that Serial MPEG and AVI are the same transfer (same film flaws, tape flaws, image geometry), so there's unlikely to be anything in the one that isn't in the other. (For instance, both have the same film break at 0:33 of Part 2, and that scene isn't in Feature MPEG.)

The question is which to use as the master. Each one has a disadvantage. Serial MPEG is interlaced, so there's some "combing" of the image, especially during movement. AVI has a noticeably softer image. (In fact, this may be robbing Peter to pay Paul. AVI, like Serial MPEG, is 30fpi. AVI just has the fields blended together instead of interlaced. Hence, perhaps, the fuzziness.) As you can probably tell, I used the interlaced Serial MPEG for Chapter One.

(I tried everything I know to de-interlace Serial MPEG, but nothing would do the job cleanly. Maybe I'll just use AVI next week.)

There are four very brief bits of Feature MPEG video, and slightly offset bits of its very scratchy audio, to cover film breaks in Serial MPEG/AVI. All of them are in Part 1.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Radio: The Veldt (X Minus One)

Based on the story by Ray Bradbury, originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, September 23, 1950.

Originally broadcast on NBC, August 4, 1955.



A previously uncollected story by Ray Bradbury, "The Irritated People," appears in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 1.

Yes, it's virtual reality, imagined about forty years before "virtual reality." (I just checked Wikipedia to make sure I had the time right, and found this: "An early short science fiction story--'The Veldt'--about an all too real 'virtual reality' was included in the 1951 book The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury and may be the first fictional work to fully describe the concept.")

Even though the same writer, Ernest Kinoy, adapted "The Veldt" for Dimension X in 1951, he didn't simply reuse his script for X Minus One. This adaptation includes a new envelope about the "New Chicago Institute of Human Engineering," which allows the character of George Abbott to deliver as dialogue what was narration in the first version. Unfortunately, it seriously blunts the impact of the story's end.

(So why didn't I post the Dimension X version? Well, there's a reason behind that, and I'll get to it in, oh, nine or ten weeks...)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thursday Preview: In Caverns Below (Preview #3)

(Click on the cover illustration to read the pdf file in your browser. To download it, left-click on the illustration and select "Download Linked File" if you have a two-button mouse, or control-click with a one-button mouse.)

Presenting the third and final preview of In Caverns Below, that subterranean Swiftian satire. Originally run as a serial in Wonder Stories in 1935, and revised for book publication in 1957, it returns to print in our new Vintage Series of novels for the first time in 35 years.

When last* we met Frank Comstock, the mining engineer who accidentally plunged into the underground land of Wu, he had decided that, when it comes to the romantic advances of Loa, the daughter of his host in Wu, discretion is the better part of amour.

This week's preview picks up the story a couple of chapters later, with Frank happening upon a celebration of Wu's latest victory in its neverending war against rival Zu (a war, you'll remember from last week's preview, that Wu keeps going for the benefit of investors in the armaments industry).

The main body of the procession was now passing—and a gallant sight it was! There were several other generals, who, like Commander-in-Chief Bing, were dressed either in crimson, or in crimson striped with black; there were hundreds of banners of green and vermilion, and several yellow-and-purple banners, said to have been captured during the strategic retreat from Nullnull. There were scores of large scoots laden with blackened uniforms taken from the enemy. There were several dozen war heroes, who had received the Dictatorial Badge of Honor, and were so covered with decorations that it was impossible to see their faces. There were innumerable placards proclaiming the vastness of the recent victories, which, it seemed, were without precedent “in the history of civilized massacre.” And there were, finally, thousands of common soldiers, who walked twenty abreast, with the peculiar high-swinging foot motion of the native infantry.

The illustration in this week's preview is by Frank R. Paul. Our edition of In Caverns Below features illustrations by two of science fiction's great artists: Paul's from the original 1935 serial, and Virgil Finlay's from the 1950 omnibus reprint in Fantastic Story Quarterly.

You can buy In Caverns Below from Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, and many other online booksellers. Or order it from your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore, using its ISBN-13 code of 978-0-9796718-9-0.

Next week: A Venusian odyssey** begins as we unveil the second volume in our Thrilling Wonder Stories Origins Series.

*- Chronologically, that is. It was actually the first preview. Maybe I should have given this some advance thought.

**- We say that because "A Venerean odyssey" gets giggles.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Four-Score Wednesday: Science Wonder Stories, June 1929

Well, the mail didn't come through (and, to be fair, it was a long shot), so the surprise will have to wait, and instead we start catching up with...

Science Wonder Stories, Volume 1, Number 1, June 1929. Published May 3, 1929.

ON THE COVER THIS MONTH
is shown a high-tech battle between viruses and white blood cells of the 49th century in an exciting story by Dr. David H. Keller...

No, no, just kidding. Actually,

ON THE COVER THIS MONTH
is illustrated WARRIORS OF SPACE. Artist Paul has shown vividly the night attack and destroying of the alien space flyer by our valiant terrestrial defenders. In the distance, floating on the Pacific, is another defeated space flyer, while two more are hovering over the waters, soon to be rammed by the earth flyer.

Click on the thumbnail in the corner to get a 150dpi image of this rare Science/Air/Just Plain Wonder Stories cover to have a realistically-colored sky. Frank R. Paul preferred them that way, but Hugo Gernsback felt that alternating colors like green, red, and yellow helped keep the covers eye-catching.

Speaking of Hugo Gernsback, here's his inaugural editorial:

SCIENCE WONDER STORIES
by Hugo Gernsback

Taste in reading matter changes with each generation. What was acceptable to your grandparents, was hopelessly out of style for your parents. The literature of your parents--the Laura Jean Libby type of story and the dime novels, Buffalo Bill and Deadwood Dick are laughed at by the present generation.

The past decade has seen the ascendancy of "sexy" literature, of the self confession type as well as the avalanche of modern detective stories.

But they are transient things, founded on the whims of the moment. For the world moves swiftly these days and with it moves literature also.

Science-Mechanics-the Technical Arts--they surround us on every hand, nay, enter deeply into our very lives. The telephone, radio, talking motion pictures, television, X-Rays, Radium, super-aircraft and dozens of others claim our constant attention. We live and breathe day by day in a Science saturated atmosphere.

The wonders of modern science no longer amaze us--we accept each new discovery as a matter of course. We even question why it had not come about sooner.

The man in the street no longer recognizes in science the word impossible; "What man wills, man can do," is his belief.

Interplanetarian trips, space flyers, talking to Mars, transplanting heads of humans, death-rays, gravity-nullifiers, transmutation of elements--why not? If not to-day, well, then, tomorrow. Are they surprises? Not to him; the modern man expects them.

No wonder, then, that anybody who has any imagination at all clamors for fiction of the Jules Verne and H. G. Wells type, made immortal by them; the story that has a scientific background, and is read by an ever growing multitude of intelligent people.

SCIENCE WONDER STORIES supplies this need for scientific fiction and supplies it better than any other magazine.

I started the movement of science fiction in America in 1908 through my first magazine, "MODERN ELECTRICS." At that time it was an experiment. Science fiction authors were scarce. There were not a dozen worth mentioning in the entire world.

I wrote a number of such stories and novels myself and gradually grouped about me a circle of authors who turned out better and better work as the years went by. I still have the best of these authors with me and practically all of them are writing and will continue to write for this magazine.

Who are the readers of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES? Everybody. Bankers, ministers, students, housewives, bricklayers, postal clerks, farmers, mechanics, dentists--every class you can think of--but only those who have imagination. And as a rule, only those with intelligence and curiosity.

When the idea of the new magazine first formulated itself, naturally the name was of importance, and I put that into the hands of the future readers. The publishers, had no hand in it.

Many thousands of prospective readers were circularized by means of a single letter. They were asked to subscribe to a new and unknown, as well as un-named magazine. The result was truly amazing. I never experienced the like in my twenty-
five years of publishing experience.

And as the result of the popular vote, SCIENCE WONDER STORIES is the name of the new magazine. I asked for a vote, too, for the TYPE of story wanted most. And the type that carried the majority of votes I herewith pledge myself to publish.

The new readers voted for other things, too, notably for "Science News of the Month,"--a few pages of short paragraphs giving the latest scientific achievements of the entire world written in plain English, so that "he, who runs, may read and profit." That department begins in this issue.

Science fiction, as published in SCIENCE WONDER STORIES, is a tremendous new force in America. They are the stories that are discussed by inventors, by scientists, and in the classroom. Teachers insist that pupils read them, because they widen the young man's horizon, as nothing else can. Wise parents, too, let their children read this type of story, because they know that it keeps them abreast of the times, educates them and supplants the vicious and debasing sex story.

SCIENCE WONDER STORIES are clean, CLEAN from beginning to end. They stimulate only one thing--IMAGINATION. [Oh, well, then, to heck with that. -2010 Editor] Where is the reader who can remain phlegmatic when you take him to distant planets, into the far flung future 10,000 years hence, or on a trip into the fourth dimension?

No wonder these readers or fans, if you please, look upon science fiction with a sort of reverence.

I consider it a particularly fortunate occasion to welcome to our editorial and advisory board, an imposing array of scientific authorities and educators.

It has long been my feeling that having an authority in the various sciences who would pass upon the scientific correctness of such stories, would be of the greatest aid in mapping the future course of science fiction.

There has been altogether too much pseudo-science fiction of a questionable quality in the past. Over-enthusiastic authors with little scientific training have rushed into print and unconsciously misled the reader by the distortion of scientific facts to achieve results that are clearly impossible.

It is the policy of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES to publish only such stories that have their basis in scientific laws as we know them, or in the logical deduction of new laws from what we know. And that is the reason why ALL stories published in this magazine must pass muster before an authority. It is a guarantee to our readers that they will not get a false scientific education thru the perusal of these stories.

I believe that this innovation will make new history in magazine publishing. I know of no other fiction magazine that can muster such an array of authorities and educators to pass upon the quality of its stories.

It augurs well for the future of science fiction in America.

Gernsback padded his resumé a little, there. Although Modern Electrics began in April 1908, the first piece of fiction published therein didn't come for three years. He did write it, though--it was the first of twelve serialized installments of his novel Ralph 124C 41+.

I find it interesting that, barely three years into the existence of the science fiction magazine, Gernsback used the word that distinguishes the SF enthusiast as active participant in writing of "these readers or fans, if you please." I don't think SF fandom as a concept had sprung up yet.

There's irony in Gernsback's claim that the magazine would contain "only such stories that have their basis in scientific laws as we know them, or in the logical deduction of new laws from what we know." That very issue contained a story, "The Marble Virgin," in which an inventor turns a statue into a living woman. As the readers (or fans, if you please) rushed to point out, even granted the idea of turning marble to flesh, the result would be something of a woman-shaped bologna.

Also ironically, that title ostensibly chosen by popular vote, Science Wonder Stories, lasted only a year until Gernsback decided "that the word 'Science' has tended to retard the progress of the magazine" and shortened the title to just Wonder Stories.

The issue also featured entries in an essay contest on "What Science Fiction Means to Me." We published Jack Williamson's "Tremendous Contribution to Civilization" (the First Honorable Mention) in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 1. Here's the $50.00 prize-winner.

The Door to the World of Explanation

Science fiction is my hobby, and yet it is more than that. It is my hobby because, during the past ten years, I have saved all magazines wherein I found science fiction stories. It is infinitely more in that it is healthful and invigorating food to my literary self. This simply means that to deprive me of such literature would be to "starve" that within me which yearns for something beyond the more or less humdrum existence to which we are--may I say it--physically held.

As a child I was thrilled when the knight rescued the princess; as a lad I marveled at the imagination of Jules Verne. But as a man, the fantastic faded. Gradually I came to see beyond the veil, to glimpse the cold fact of future possibilities. I like to read science fiction with this last in mind, feeling that the writer has the same viewpoint. I need only mention that the fiction of yesterday is common occurrence today.

I believe that the magazine of true science fiction is a standard scientific textbook. To the one who is seeking the light of scientific knowledge, science fiction is the broad and pleasant avenue toward the goal. For the layman to be well posted on scientific matters is to be well read on science fiction.

A few months ago I could not understand the fourth-dimension, that is, as the scientific world regards it. Today I do understand it, as it is understood in theory, of course, and I owe it to science fiction. True, the majority of writers are practically individual in their theories, but by weighing these and comparing them one can eventually reach the general explanation.

To the earnest reader of science fiction the world takes on new aspects. The weakness of humanity is becoming too familiar with the world as it is. The secret of advancement, I believe, is through science fiction, and as I read I look upon the things of today as old things, while the new is yet to be attained.

My worldly self rebels at the thought of whirling worlds within the atom; yet there is that within me which believes. The disbelief lies in the tendency to accept only that which we can see and feel, and otherwise comprehend through our five senses. This tendency grows upon us if we neglect to pierce beyond the commonplace.

To me science fiction is the door to the world of explanation. It is the telescope that reveals the gleam of future achievement, the microscope that reveals the fundamentals of that achievement. Through science fiction I can sense the harmony of a world growing ever better and better, of a humanity of brotherly-love, of a civilization nearing ultimate perfection. True, science fiction is a harsh master. It is no respecter of beliefs, being rather, through what has been termed extravagant fiction, a reminder of cold fact. Yet to me it is a pleasure to be so reminded of the task that is before us, of the old that is about us and of the new which we must attain.

Science fiction means to me all that is worthwhile, for it is the forerunner of that which is to come. It is the ship upon which I sail unchartered seas, and the ship that brings me home again, a better man because of the knowledge. I have gained what were once unknown lands. But I am not a "landlubber," and I can hardly wait to set sail once more. So here goes for the magazine stand.

                                                                                       B.S. Moore,
                                                                                 Walhalla, S.C.

I would suggest that "B.S. Moore" sounds like a pseudonym for an inveterate liar, but this is a clean, CLEAN website.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

More of Us to Love

We've expanded the width of the blog from 850 pixels to 1000. This will allow us to present videos at full 640x480 resolution, and have a neat little sidebar on the right where you can click to go to our various product pages on Amazon.

Also, the Astronomy Picture of the Day is now at the bottom of the page, where you can see the whole thing at once.

Let us know how it works out for you.

YouTube Tuesday: Space Adventure, Episodes 7-9

If you want to know what the hell this is about, check here and here.

If you just did, you saw that the second time I presented Space Adventure, I bemoaned the fact that it had been a "way too long" thirteen weeks since the first time. Since the second time, of course, it's now been fifty weeks.

To which I can only give my handy all-purpose excuse: I suck.

As it is, these episodes are now nearly three years old, so I'm going to hurry it up a bit. Really. I promise.

Episode 7: Where Have You Gone?


Episode 8: A Visitor


Episode 9: Don't Let the Hatch Hit You...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Games: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (N64) Parts 1&2

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire was one of the launch titles for the Nintendo 64 in 1996. And let me tell you, I spent more of 1997 playing this game than I really want to think about. When I had to do a video project for a class at Columbia College, I did one about Shadows of the Empire, because there was just nothing else on my mind.

I made this week's recording in 2002. For my own amusement, I had already made a "movie version" of the N64 Goldeneye game, editing together successful runs through the levels. I began to do the same for Shadows of the Empire, only raising the bar a bit. I would not only have to beat each level in Easy mode, but get all the Challenge Points, get all the extra lives, and not lose any lives. (Yes, I know. If I were a real gamer, I'd be able to do this in Jedi mode.)

I'd done it before, but I hadn't record it. For some reason, I only got as far as recording the first four of the ten levels before I set it aside, and I've barely played the game since.

Since the four levels I did record are enough video for three installments, maybe I can give it another try in the meantime. I still have the Prima's Secrets of the Game book, so maybe the re-learning curve won't be too steep.

Part One: The Battle of Hoth

I'm including all the run-up to the first level just to give a feel for the experience of playing the game.



Part Two: Escape from Echo Base, First Stage



UPDATE 2011: As I write, YouTube changed their policy about three weeks ago so that any user can now upload videos longer than 15 minutes and larger than 2GB... theoretically.  In practice, I find that although I used to be able to post longer videos, I no longer can.  Currently, I'm not sure if it's because I have an antiquated pre-Intel Mac that won't run the latest browser software, or because I had four copyright strikes due to music in these playthroughs.  The help forum suggests that other users who previously had no problem with copyright strikes now do.  So just in case that is the answer, I'm replacing the affected videos (like Pt.2 here) with new ones, in which I play the game with the music switched off.

1:36 What I'm doing here is opening the wampas' cages. You can hear them duking it out after I leave the room. In a moment, I'll go back and kill the weakened survivor.

5:17 Here, I'm using manual targeting on the laser cannon, because it's too far away for auto-targeting.

Next week, the rest of Escape from Echo Base, and the Asteroid Chase.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Scientifiction: Munchhausen Lands on Mars

(Click on thumbnail to read pdf file in your browser. Feel free to download and share the original and intact file.)

As I think I've mentioned before, it's ironic that some critics label Hugo Gernsback, founder of Amazing Stories (and, a few years later, Science Wonder Stories), as the great villain in the history of science fiction. If not for him, they argue, science fiction wouldn't have been set apart as a genre of its own, in gaudy pulp magazines.

It's tough to imagine how, though. Hugo Gernsback didn't invent the pulp magazine, nor did he invent the genre pulp magazine. The world produced the western magazine, the detective magazine, the mystery magazine, and so on, without Gernsback's input. It seems inevitable that someone, at some point, would notice that those "'different' stories," as the Munsey magazines called them, were popular, and take a flyer on a magazine dedicated to them. But that's not the ironic part.

The ironic part is that while the aforementioned Munsey magazines were publishing Edgar Rice Burroughs' tales of sword-swinging Martians, Hugo Gernsback was publishing honest-to-gosh scientific fiction. It wasn't literature, but it sure as soap wasn't pulp, either.

This week's story, by the man himself, is an example of how Gernsback saw scientific fiction (or, as he later dubbed it, scientifiction) a decade before Amazing Stories: as a sort of lightly-dramatized speculative lecture. It says something about the secondary nature of the fiction in scientific fiction that, rather than telling it as a straightforward narrative, Gernsback felt the need not just to have this tale involve one of history's greatest liars, but related to us at second hand by an "I.M. Alier." It's as though writing something that was unabashedly fiction just wouldn't have been cricket.

That Amazing Stories and Gernsback's later magazines weren't all like this, was more a matter of what the public would support... which was the adventure-based stories of Argosy All-Story and the like. Even so, Gernsback maintained a fondness for idea-based science fiction. Science Wonder Stories had room for items like Rev. Louis Tucker's "The Cubic City," more a travelogue/thought experiment about a future city two miles on a side than a plot, per se. Certainly not what Edgar Rice Burroughs would write.

Not that there's anything wrong with Tucker, or Burroughs. As I've paraphrased, science fiction is large; it contains multitudes. And I like it that way.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday Matinee: "The Phantom Creeps" Trailer

Well, this week, I was going to begin the 12-chapter 1939 Bela Lugosi serial, The Phantom Creeps... but it's taking longer than I expected. As you know, I'm anal-retentive about this kind of thing, and I'm putting it together from three sources.

So, next week, it begins. I promise. In the meantime, Saturday Matinee is going to poach on YouTube Tuesday's preserve. Take your pick between two videos of the the original trailer for The Phantom Creeps.

This one is fuzzy and has some spurious color, but the sound is good.



This one is much crisper visually, but the sound is pretty much blown out.  I suppose if I had to choose one, it would probably be the first, because the sound on the second one is fairly unpleasant. But I'm also kind of a resolution snob, so I'm ducking the choice and leaving it up to you.



So, until next Saturday, remember: although the notion of annoying little phantoms is fairly amusing, "Creeps" in the serial's title is a verb.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Radio: The Time Machine (Favorite Story)

Based on the novella by H.G. Wells, originally published in The New Review, 1894-5.

Originally broadcast I know not where, May 28, 1949.



Although it's still having that problem where I can't see a list of the files I've uploaded, I'll go ahead and recommend the free service where I'm hosting the mp3 files: kiwi6.com.

According to Wikipedia, H.G. Wells invented the expression "time machine" in this novel, but was not the first person to write about one. That honor goes to the Spanish author Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau for El anachronópete (1887). Wells himself previously wrote about a machine that travels through time in the short story "The Chronic Argonauts" (1888).

In his 1899 novel When the Sleeper Wakes, Wells wrote again about a 19th century man in the future. But in that novel, the protagonist, Graham, doesn't travel to the future, instead spending more than two centuries in an ageless trance. Wells wrote his dystopian When the Sleeper Wakes in response to Edward Bellamy's utopian 1888 novel Looking Backward: 2000-1887, and so simply borrowed the trance premise from Bellamy.

Yes, here's where I remind you that Thrilling Wonder has an edition of When the Sleeper Wakes, including all fifteen illustrations by H. Lanos from the 1899 first edition. (Read and/or download a preview chapter as a pdf file here.) You can currently get the book from us (thrilling_wonder) on Amazon for only $5.48, plus $3.99 s/h. Own the future today! Look slippy!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thursday Preview: In Caverns Below (Preview #2)

(Click on the cover illustration to read the pdf file in your browser. To download it, left-click on the illustration and select "Download Linked File" if you have a two-button mouse, or control-click with a one-button mouse.)

It's time for the second preview of In Caverns Below, the Gulliver's Travels of underground adventure, and the first in our Thrilling Wonder Stories Vintage Series of novels which originally appeared the 1929-55 Wonder magazines!

We missed last week's Thursday Preview, but that's okay, because this week, we're making up for it by bringing you a pdf file of two consecutive chapters.

This week's preview actually comes just before last week's. Mining engineer Frank Comstock, having accidentally fallen into the subterranean country of Wu, was about to be put to death when a curious professor, Tan Torm, elects to take responsibility for the stranger in order to find out about the land he comes from. Tan Torm takes Frank to live in his home along with his wife Tan Tal, and their daughters Loa, Moa, and Noa. 

And in this week's preview, the learning works both ways, as Frank finds out about war, investment, and leadership in the land of Wu. It's irrational, absurd... and vaguely familiar.

"You see, my dear young man," explained the Professor, turning to me not unkindly, "we live in an age of reason. Reason and science--these are the two features of our life, and both of these tell us that man is a fighting animal. Biology assures us that he was created with the instinct of aggression, which is necessary for the sake of self-preservation. Psychology declares that all the instincts planted in him by nature must be satisfied. Accordingly, men satisfy their instinct of self-preservation by destroying one another. That fact was demonstrated long ago by the world’s leading military psychologist, the great philosopher Yil Zom."

Tan Tal once more lifted her voice. "Besides, there is another reason. If we didn’t fight, think of the loss to industry! Think of all the millions invested in Mulflar Works and land-battleship factories! Why, if we didn’t have any war, all this investment would be wasted."

"Yes, and my stocks in Mulflar Products, Amalgamated, couldn’t possibly maintain their present high of 311!" said the Professor.

Taking advantage of a gap in the conversation, I asked, “What’s the present war all about, Professor Tan Torm? What is the issue, the principle behind it?”

“Issue? Principle behind it?” snorted Tan Torm. “What makes you think there is any issue, any principle behind it? We’re fighting for the national honor—and, certainly, there is no principle behind that!”

In the next chapter of the preview, Tan Torm takes Frank to pledge his allegiance to Wu, and Frank finds patriotism a hard pill to swallow.

“Do as the man says!” shrilled the Professor’s voice in my ear. “What use is the Oath of Fidelity if you don’t swallow it—and swallow it whole?”

I reached for the pellet, and regarded it suspiciously. It was as hard and unappetizing as a chip of granite.

“What are you waiting for?” demanded the official. “Don’t you want to swallow it? Will we have to call a recruiting sergeant and force it down your throat?”

Realizing that he was in earnest, I lifted the pellet toward my lips; it had an odor of overripe cheese. And so once more I hesitated.

“Great caverns! I suppose we’ll have to force it down your throat after all!” threatened the official.

I thrust the Oath into my mouth, but not so easily could I gulp it down. The seconds that followed were among the most miserable of my existence; the Oath of Fidelity caught, and would not go up or down.

They tell me that my face went blue in the ensuing struggle, and that I sank down and almost fainted. I was aware that Tan Torm was pounding on my back; someone had snatched a tool like a pair of pliers and was forcing the ball down my throat.

At last, thanks to heroic efforts, the refractory bit of paper went down after all, the reviving air entered my lungs. A minute longer, and the Oath would have killed me.

As I gradually regained my senses, I saw the Professor passing out a bright piece of brass, and heard the ringing of the cash register.

“Congratulations, young man!” exclaimed Tan Torm heartily, as he led me away. “The Oath of Fidelity pretty nearly didn’t take—but I’m glad you swallowed it after all. Now you’re a full-fledged citizen!”

You can buy In Caverns Below from Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, and many other online booksellers. Or order it from your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore. Its ISBN code is 978-0-9796718-9-0.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Four-Score Wednesday: Air Wonder Stories, February 1930

Air Wonder Stories, Volume 1, Number 8, February 1930. Published January 10, 1930.

On the Cover This Month
is shown the illustration for the prize story contest. Mr. Gernsback was unable to offer any information as to what the strange objects were or where they came from. He thought that the scene took place on another planet, but he would not express certainty about that. We think you will agree, however, that the scene, whatever it is, is an example of Paul's best work.

Click on the thumbnail on the left to get a 150dpi image of this cover by the inimitable Frank R. Paul.

My copy of this issue is stamped on an inner page:

STF. SUPPLY STATION
TER. AGENT: H. WEISSMAN
163 W. 21st ST., NEW YORK

"Stf." stands for "scientifiction," Hugo Gernsback's name for the genre before he (unknowingly re-)coined the phrase "science fiction."  Perhaps "Ter." is short for "terrestrial." I checked Google and a few books I have about science fiction fandom, and I can't find anything else about Weissman or the Stf. Supply Station. But I thought it was interesting.

Anyway, here's some more about that contest:

$300.00 PRIZE STORY CONTEST
By HUGO GERNSBACK

Since the establishment of AIR WONDER STORIES, we have been in receipt of many letters asking whether it is a policy of this magazine to accept stories from new authors. Many of the writers seem to have acquired a notion that only certain authors may contribute to this magazine.

This impression is, of course, entirely erroneous; for the editors are always happy to publish the stories of new and promising writers.

In order to stimulate authorship, and turn the undeveloped talent among the general readers of this magazine to writing, AIR WONDER STORIES has decided to inaugurate a prize story contest--the first this magazine has conducted.

Of late there has been a very strong demand from our readers for aviation stories of the interplanetary type; that is, stories which have their locale on not only our own earth, but also in other worlds.

Heeding this request, as we heed every impressive request from our readers, we are launching ourselves with vigor into the publication of interplanetary flying stories.

The front cover of this month's issue reflects this policy. It is, frankly, a scene laid on a distant world.

Just what the story is, I do not know, even though I originated the idea of the illustration. And, although it has been executed by the masterful brush of our own artist, Paul, he also is ignorant of its ultimate meaning.

What it is all about, therefore, we leave entirely up to you; and we are certain that many of our readers will be able to tell all of us exactly what happened on that far-distant world.

The present contest, then, is centered around this month's cover illustration. I can give you no further clues as to what the picture is all about, except what I have already said. You will have to use your own ingenuity in writing a plausible and convincing story around it. The picture speaks for itself.

You are asked, then, to write a story around the cover illustration; and, the more interesting, the more exciting, and the more scientifically probable you make it, the higher will be your rating when the prize winners are selected.

Remember that anyone can participate in this contest. You do not have to he a polished or experienced author; but, as a friendly word of advice, if you have never written a story, it would he well to submit it to a literary friend or teacher before you enter it in the competition.

Study the details of the cover illustration carefully; AND BE SURE THAT YOU DO NOT MISS ANY OF THE DETAILS, BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL IMPORTANT.

In a contest of this kind it is, naturally, impossible to have a great many prizes. For this reason, there are only four, to be awarded to the writers of the four best stories submitted. Each of these prize-winning stories, we know, will be a treat for our readers. The reason is that authors of imagination will naturally have entirely different plots and different ideas as to what the cover illustration represents.

But before you start writing, be sure to read the following rules carefully.

(1) A short science-aviation-fiction story is to be written around the cover picture of the February 1930 issue of AIR WONDER STORIES.

(2) The story must be of the science-aviation-fiction type. It should be plausible in the light of our present knowledge of aviation and science.

(3) The story must be between 5,000 and 8,000 words.

(4) All stories must be submitted typewritten, double-spaced; or legibly penned, with spaces between lines. Pencilled matter cannot be considered. Stories must be received flat, not rolled.

(5) No manuscripts will be returned unless full return postage is enclosed.

(6) Because of the large number of manuscripts expected, the editors cannot enter into correspondence on stories submitted.

(7) In awarding the prizes, AIR WONDER STORIES acquires full rights of all kinds; such as translation into foreign languages, syndicate rights, motion-picture rights, etc. The Board of Editors will be the sole judges as to the winners.

(8) Stories in addition to the prize-winning ones may be chosen by the editors, at their option, for publication at the usual space rates of this magazine.

(9) The contest closes on March 5, 1930, at noon, at which time all manuscripts must have been received at this office.

(10) Any one except employees of the Stellar Publishing Corporation and their families may join this prize contest. It is not necessary to be a subscriber to the magazine.

I M P O R T A N T

For the guidance of new authors, we have prepared a pamphlet entitled, "Suggestions to Authors." This will be sent to applicants upon receipt of 5c. to cover postage.

All manuscripts must be addressed to Editor, Prize Cover Contest, AIR WONDER STORIES, 96-98 Park Place, New York.

The four prizes, by the way, were $150, $75, $50, and $25 in gold. $25 comes to no more than half a cent a word. Considering that, as I understand it, the normal pay rate for the Gernsback magazines was a penny a word, this would mean that the possible non-prize-winners who nonetheless succeeded in selling their stories to the magazine (as per #8, above) would be making at least as much as the Third Prize winner, and at least twice as much as the Fourth Prize winner. (By contrast, Gernsback offered these same prizes in a contest in the November 1929 Science Wonder Stories for stories under 1,500 words, making the $25 Fourth Place prize worth at least one and two-thirds cents a word.)

Anyway, we'll be hearing more about this contest in a subsequent edition of Four-Score Wednesday.

A contest featured in this issue that we won't be hearing any more about is the one seeking a slogan for the magazine.  The prize was $100 in gold, which seems like a better deal than the cover contest. The winner was to be announced in the July 1930 issue of Air Wonder Stories. As it happened, May was its last issue.

Next week, depending on the mail, we either start catching up by going back to the beginning with the inaugural issue (June 1929) of Science Wonder Stories... or we have a little surprise.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Take TWOK on the Wild Side

Like everyone else, I heard pretty much from the time that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came out that Saavik is half Romulan. The movie itself, of course, doesn't actually say so. Until now, I didn't know this bit of information even got as far as being filmed.

Also in this video: a bit deleted from the final scene on the bridge, hinting at future Saavik/David romance.



This is the link I was going to use, until I found the one above with much, much better sound. But this one puts the clips in context.



An alternate version of the Kirk/Saavik turbolift scene. Same dialogue, but shot as intercut closeups, rather than a single long take with both on the screen. It appeared in the slightly longer cut shown on ABC. Someone on the YouTube page for this video suggested it was specially shot for use on TV, since it works much better on the 4:3 screen than the widescreen composition for the released film does. I think it's equally possible that director Nicholas Meyer shot coverage, as usual, but decided in editing that the scene played better in the unbroken master shot.

Speaking of the YouTube page, it's one of those things that makes me think the human race is far too stupid to survive. One person comments that it's exactly the same as the theatrical version. Another explains in detail how it isn't. A third comments that it's exactly the same as the theatrical version. A fourth explains in detail how it isn't. A fifth comments that it's exactly the same as the theatrical version...



Two vintage TV spots for the theatrical release.



A little mashup I found via io9. People have called Kirk a tinpot dictator before. They just haven't said until now which tinpot dictator.


Star Trek II performed by cartoon bunnies in 30 seconds (give or take 18)!



And, as we roll to a stop, we bring you the unreleased, unrated, far more vicious version of Khan's attack on the Enterprise.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Siskel & Ebert & the (Science Fiction) Movies

I miss Siskel & Ebert. Yes, I know Roger Ebert is still reviewing movies in print for the Chicago Sun-Times, and has a great blog that's about whatever's on his mind (which is frequently movies, but also often not). But I miss the team, and I miss the show.

I'm from the Chicago area, and I was a child of the 1970's and '80s, which is as much as to say that I grew up watching the critics on Sneak Previews (1977-82), At the Movies (1982-86), and Siskel & Ebert (with and without & the Movies, 1986-99). Starting around the sixth grade, my friends and I got into a Siskel-and-Ebert-induced mania for giving things star ratings. My parents subscribed to Gene Siskel's Chicago Tribune, while a friend's subscribed to the Sun-Times, and we were partisans for the respective critics, and appropriately enough, argued for their points of view. (When Ebert's first book of reviews came out, though, I read it, and switched my allegiance.)

Unfortunately for S&E fans, neither WTTW, the PBS affiliate that produced Sneak Previews, nor the Tribune Company, which produced At the Movies, felt their movie reviews were anything but ephemera, and most of the episodes were wiped. (Disney, by contrast, keeps pretty much everything, so you can enjoy reviews from the Buena Vista-produced Siskel & Ebert on the website for its current incarnation, confusingly titled At the Movies.)

Fortunately, some episodes from 1980-86 survive via home video recordings. And, this being the future and all, they're on YouTube for us to enjoy. Here's a 1980 Sneak Previews "Take 2" episode (taking an in-depth view of a subject in lieu of regular movie reviews): "Invasion of the Outer Space Movies."  (Only this clip of the first third is available.)



In this 1982 Sneak Previews, S&E take on Blade Runner. (That review begins at about 2:10.) I won't ruin it for you by telling you what they thought.


The next year, on At the Movies, they indulge in a surprisingly long review of Return of the Jedi.



Siskel: "I want the next ones to come out much quicker than one every three years."  Ironically, he wouldn't live to see the next one, sixteen years later.

Here, Siskel and Ebert defend the Star Wars films against a snooty New York critic (who employs one of my least favorite debate tactics: "If you disagree with me, you are, objectively, an idiot") on ABC's Nightline in a clip from so long ago that I'd completely forgotten that Ted Koppel's hair was ever that dark. (WARNING: Much louder than previous clips.)



What I don't understand is how Ebert, a science fiction fan in his youth, has never really appreciated Star Trek. In practically every one of his Trek film reviews, he goes on about the clunkiness of its technology. Never mind that the Millennium Falcon was flown with levers. Oh, well.

Finally, from their last year on At the Movies, here's their review of Short Circuit.


Okay, I have to admit, all of these clips come from the same YouTube user. You can see a lot more S&E clips via his channel page.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Monday Game: Cosmic Ark (Atari 2600)

I meant for this to be the Atari-produced Sears-exclusive Stellar Track. Having done the Atari 800 game Star Raiders, which is clearly an elaboration of the '70s mainframe game Star Trek, I wanted to show you a console game that was considerably closer to the original. I was also going to explain how Stellar Track has an annoying quirk in the gameplay that sometimes leaves you stranded mid-game.

Then, while trying to record a game, it left me stranded mid-game enough times that I decided, to hell with it, I'll just do a game that works dependably, like Imagic's Cosmic Ark for the Atari 2600.



Here's how the front page of the instruction manual describes Cosmic Ark:

The sun of Alpha Ro is fading fast! Soon it will flicker out. The Cosmic Ark races to save creatures from doomed planets in that solar system. Meteor showers bombard the Ark, threatening its Atlantean crew--and planetary defense systems make this mission of mercy doubly treacherous! Time and energy slip away--work fast or these defenseless little beasties will disappear for all time.


Note the reference to "its Atlantean crew." Cosmic Ark is "believed," according to Wikipedia (in a statement that should have a "citation needed" tag, but doesn't), to be the first original home video game to present itself as a sequel to an earlier game. At the end of Atlantis, a pod just like the one in this game escapes from the doomed city. That same pod escapes the doomed Cosmic Ark when you lose this game, but unfortunately for the Atlanteans, there was never a second sequel for them to live on in.

I didn't play this one much back in the day. I found the gameplay in the outer space section rather minimal. The only controls are pushing the joystick up, down, left, and right to fire in the respective directions. I appreciate it a little more now, though, because I realize that this was an early example of what they now call a "twitch game": one that gets faster and faster, to the point where you have to be able to respond on a subconscious level to keep up. There's no strategy involved, just reaction time. I still don't like it a whole lot, but I appreciate it. Twitch games make me anxious, and believe me, I don't need that.

Anyway, the planetary surface section is something of a scaled-down Defender, where you position your pod above a lifeform, and hold the trigger down until it beams up. From the second level, you have to do this while avoiding the periodic flashes between the towers on either side.

The Atari 2600 was (in)famously quirky to program. The upside to this, as the programmers discovered, was that they could push the 2600 far beyond what it was originally designed to do by finding ways to make the quirks into features. In the case of Cosmic Ark, the background starfield deliberately utilizes a graphics hardware glitch. Players who found it annoying could switch it off with the color-b/w switch (which was only used for its original purpose in the very earliest games).

What I find most interesting about Cosmic Ark is that it doesn't use the traditional set number of lives. Instead, you have an energy bar that goes down when you fire or lose a ship, and up when you hit a meteor or rescue a lifeform. That contributes to the twitch factor to the outer space section, because you will needlessly lose energy if you fire in the wrong direction, even if you then shoot in the right direction and destroy the meteor. To endure, you have to be quick, and you have to get it right the first time.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sunday Scientifiction: The Hawkinspiral

(Click on the thumbnail to read pdf file in your browser. Feel free to download and distribute the file in its original form, with all advertisements and credits intact.)

To be honest, I'm not sure this counts as science fiction. It's about an unlikely invention, sure, and the resolution hinges on the working of a bit of technology. But I have the feeling that if the author had submitted it to Our Founder, Hugo Gernsback, it would have come back by return post.

Gernsback, especially in the pre-Amazing Stories days that are Sunday Scientifiction's bailiwick, preferred his fiction to demonstrate a scientific idea, or speculate on future technology, sometimes to the near-exclusion of plot. Even when it's a more conventional story, like "The 'Loaded' Line" from a while back, it's definitely the science and technology that's the point of the thing.

I can't even call this story science fiction by virtue of the magazine it appeared in, as I could if it came from one of Gernsback's magazines like Science and Invention. This one is from The Argosy, a general fiction magazine, which only had the occasional story with fantastic content.

But whether it's proper science fiction, or just a vaguely technological tall tale, I found it amusing, and that's good enough for me.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday Radio: The Country of the Blind (Escape)

Based on the novelette by H.G. Wells, originally published in The Strand, April 1904.

Originally broadcast on CBS, June 27, 1948.



Friday Radio is back... I hope. You see, I've found a new mp3 host, registered for it, logged in, the whole thing. But whenever I upload, it thinks the file is being uploaded by an unregistered user. Fortunately, you don't need to register to upload things, so here's hoping the file works.

And here's where I remind you that Thrilling Wonder has an edition of Wells' novel of 22nd-century monopolist dystopia, When the Sleeper Wakes, including all fifteen illustrations by H. Lanos from the 1899 first edition. (Read and/or download a preview chapter as a pdf file here.) You can currently get the book from us (thrilling_wonder) on Amazon for only $5.48, plus $3.99 s/h. Own the future today! Look slippy!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thursday Preview: In Caverns Below (Preview #1)

It's here! It's here! It's finally here! It's the first in our Thrilling Wonder Stories Vintage Series of novels which originally appeared in one or another of the 1929-55 Wonder magazines!

It's In Caverns Below! Originally published as a three-part serial in Wonder Stories in 1935, our edition uses the text as edited and rewritten by author Stanton A. Coblentz for the 1957 book, also known as Hidden World. This is its first appearance in book form since 1975.

Also in this edition, and appearing in a book for the first time, are the original 1935 illustrations by Frank R. Paul, the illustrations by Virgil Finlay for the 1950 reprint in Fantastic Story Quarterly, and extracts deleted or altered from the serial text.

Yes, but what's it about, you ask? Well, it's a Gulliver's Travels-type satire of our foibles writ large on a strange, subterranean society. Or, as the back cover text says:

Mining engineer Frank Comstock and his partner Philip Clay take a job checking out the integrity of a shut-down mine in Nevada. They get their answer when the mine caves in, plunging them far underground into a network of tunnels occupied by two warring races of unknown chalk-skinned humans!

Caught in a battle, Frank loses Phil, but finds himself in a world of trouble as he's captured, taken under the protection of a curious professor, and integrated into this strange society.

Frank finds Wu a bizarre place. Diplomats invent reasons to continue a pointless war just to protect the jobs and dividends of arms producers. Prosperity is measured by the amount of excess production they need to throw away. Workers and owners regularly clash, and neither side comes out ahead. Plus, there are differences from the land he's left behind!

In this week's preview, Frank's integration into Wu's working world begins with a customer service job in the Ventilation Company. Meanwhile, he still lives in the home of the above-mentioned curious professor, Tan Torm, and his daughters, including the lovelorn Loa. She tries to attract Frank, but her people's standards of beauty aren't helping... though they do lead to a "Finlay female" illustration with a new wrinkle.

(Click on the cover illustration to read the pdf file in your browser. To download it, left-click on the illustration and select "Download Linked File" if you have a two-button mouse, or control-click with a one-button mouse.)

You can buy In Caverns Below from Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, and many other booksellers.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Four-Score Wednesday: Science Wonder Stories, February 1930

Here's something I've been meaning to do since May, but as usual, didn't get around to. May 3, 2009 was the 80th anniversary of the publication of the first issue of Science Wonder Stories, the progenitor of Thrilling Wonder Stories. So why not take a look into these issues of four-score years ago, via scanned images and text from my own collection?

Yes, that's right, I have them all! All of them! Me! Not you, me! Me! Do you understand, ME! Moo-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha... ha... uh... What the hell was I saying?

Right, images and text. Click on the thumbnail to the left to get 150 dpi image of the cover of the February 1930 issue of Science Wonder Stories, which arrived on newsstands eighty years ago this last Sunday. The painting by Frank R. Paul represents the story "The Land of the Bipos," by Francis Flagg.

Next week, we'll have a look at the February 1930 issue of Air Wonder Stories, and on the 20th, we'll start catching up by bringing you the grandpappy of them all, the June 1929 issue of Science Wonder Stories.

And now the text. Here's Hugo Gernsback's editorial:

CAN MAN FREE HIMSELF FROM GRAVITY?
by Hugo Gernsback

Elsewhere in this magazine is printed a symposium of the opinions of some of the world's greatest scientists on the possibility of space-flying, in conjunction with the problem of whether it will ever be possible for humanity to free itself from gravitation.

The arguments and evidence presented lead almost overwhelmingly to the conclusion that, as far as our knowledge of science extends at present, there seems to be little likelihood of man's freeing himself from the gravitational attraction of our planet.

But it should be noted, if one reads between the lines of the statements of the various authorities, that they are extremely conservative in their remarks and that few, if any of them, reject the idea as being entirely impossible at some future date.

It should be noted as important that there is a great difference between the problem of space-flying and that of the complete freeing of humanity from gravitation. The two have nothing to do with each other.

Nullification of gravity is considered, by many of the authorities, to be merely another word for perpetual motion. We are not certain that we care to accept this as final. While perpetual motion, no doubt, will remain an impossibility on earth, it is not such an impossibility away from the earth. If you take the sun and the planets revolving about it, you have almost an ideal perpetual-motion machine. Once set in motion, the planets have kept on revolving for millions and billions of years; and, though this may not be literally "perpetual," yet we may consider it such for all practical purposes.

But, although the nullification of gravity may not come about, this year or next--nor for the next hundred, or even for the next thousand years--sooner or later, some principle will be found to accomplish the feat. When the discovery is finally made, it will most likely be found that one does not get anything for nothing as opponents of gravity-nullification claim. In other words, it will require power to bring about the nullification of gravity. This, however, is not an insurmountable difficulty, any more than it is impossible for an airplane to defy gravity by means of its engine. This latter action, of course, is not nullification of gravity; and no sane physicist would believe that elimination of gravitation can be accomplished without the expenditure of energy. What the necessary expenditure of energy will be, no one can yet tell. You can take an ordinary bar magnet, weighing one pound, and permanently suspend two or three pounds from it. Perhaps gravity-nullification will have a similar solution.

The solution of the other problem, that is, space-flying, is not so far off; for, as Professor Goddard, the inventor of the rocket engine, points out in this issue, the problem has long ago passed its theoretical stage. Until a few years ago, scientific authorities were unanimous in the belief that it would never be possible for man-made engines to go beyond the immediate vicinity of the earth.

This is no longer the general belief; for it is realized that we may have the feat accomplished within ten years, and possibly much sooner. In this case, to lift a space flyer against the earth's gravitational influence, a tremendous amount of energy must be used; but, given this energy, the problem no longer presents insurmountable difficulties. Again it should be noted that, although present efforts take the form of rocket-flying, there is no reason for believing that no newer principles will not [sic] be found. New and more efficient methods will be devised in time. Just as the horse-drawn carriage was supplanted by the automobile, so in time the rocket engine will be supplanted by something more efficient in overcoming the earth's gravitational pull. We are just on the threshold of important discoveries. Only last year, Professor Einstein has shown that gravitation and electromagnetism are co-related. It seems, therefore, not a rash prediction that sooner or later, we will be enabled to leave the earth in machines that will utilize purely electrical means of propulsion. In other words, gravitation itself may yet be overcome by the judicious use of electrical forces, applied in a manner that we can, as yet, conceive but dimly.

And here are a couple interesting items from the "Science News of the Month":

NEW CATHODE-RAY TUBE ADVANCES TELEVISION

Television apparatus is rapidly approaching a point where it will be eminently practical for home use. The latest development does away with the usual whirling disks and neon tubes. The disc, utilized heretofore to scan images has been eliminated from the circuit by Dr. Vladimir Zworykin, engineer for the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, who has introduced the cathode-ray tube to produce the beams of light that paint the images on the screen.

The images formed by the cathode-ray device measure 4 by 5 inches. A new type of tube, the "kinescope," has been developed. A pencil of electrons from the cathode tube bombards a screen of fluorescent material--a substance which becomes brilliant where the electrons strike. The pencil of electrons follows the movement of the scanning light beam in the transmitter, while its intensity is regulated by the strength of the impulses received. The movements of the scanning beam, and consequently of the cathode-ray pencil, are so rapid that the eye receives a perfect impression of a continuous miniature motion picture. A reflecting mirror mounted on the receiver permits the picture to be observed by a number of spectators.

This was indeed the beginning of the electronic television we all know and love, and the beginning of the end for mechanical television. Check out this website to see more about the largely forgotten early television of "whirling disks and neon tubes."

SCIENCE AND RELIGION NO LONGER CONFLICT

Professor Kirtley F. Mather, head of the Department of Geology in Harvard University, has declared that the battle between science and religion is rapidly approaching a truce. "The scientists and the theologians are laying down their arms because they realize that warfare is neither scientific nor Christian. Instead, they are joining in the search for truth, each realizing the validity of the field of the other."

According to the professor, the origin of man can be explained without recourse to religion, but the existence of the highest type of man cannot be explained without it. "I don't see anything necessarily supernatural in the origin of man. It is perfectly logical to me that out of the inorganic things of the world emerged conscious living beings and that out of the conscious living beings, only yesterday in the geologic sense, emerged self-conscious man. But I do believe that there are spiritual values as well, operating in this physical world; and if these spiritual forces are law-abiding and consistent, the scientist has much to offer the man of religion."

Boy, I'm glad we don't have conflict between science and religion anymore, huh? Just think how odd that could be.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: re: "Generations"

The thought occurred to me recently that it's been 15 years since Star Trek: Generations was released. That's the same amount of time as between Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Generations itself. Makes me feel reeeeally old, as though I need any help in that department.

It's also the same amount of time between "Space Seed" and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I wasn't around for "Space Seed." In fact, I was conceived at about the time Star Trek ended its network run, and generally, anything that happened before one can remember ends up getting lumped together as The Historical Past. But thinking about these 15-year stretches, at a time when I'm watching the episodes of the original V on the 25th anniversaries of my seeing them the first time, gives me more of a feeling of scale, timewise.

But that's not what I called you all here for. Here's the original opening scene from Generations. (Note that it's intercut with the floating champagne bottle which ended up opening the film.) I remember reading somewhere that a stuntman was killed shooting Kirk's landing, but that may not be true, since I can't find anything about it via Google. If it is, the fact that the stunt ultimately needn't have been performed makes it even more sad.


Generations was originally written with Spock and McCoy accompanying Kirk, but Leonard Nimoy felt the script needed a rewrite, and DeForest Kelley thought he'd had a good send-off in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and a return would just undermine that. So the producers went with Scotty and Chekov instead. Unfortunately, as you can tell in the clip above, the writers made only minimal changes to accommodate the different characters. (Hence, also, Chekov oddly taking charge of Sickbay on the Enterprise-B.) In the clip below, after Kirk is thought killed by the Nexus, Scotty gets Spock's philosophical observation.


Generations was originally supposed to introduce a new Starfleet uniform. It was pretty much the Next Generation version, but cut more like the original-cast movie jackets, with sleeve rank stripes reminiscent of the original series. A set of action figures came out with this uniform, but the movie ended up just using the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine uniforms (which the characters alternate with puzzling frequency, as though they were constantly stopping in mid-action to change).

Until I saw this clip, I didn't know that any footage was shot before the producers made their decision. But here, you can (sorta kinda) see it at about 0:11.


And here's the original fight scene. More about that in a moment. But it is every bit as lame a death for Kirk as you've been led to believe.


Here's a clip from the Rifftrax of Generations, featuring Michael J. Nelson and Kevin Murphy from Mystery Science Theater 3000. I haven't seen the rest of it, but this doesn't seem to be one of their best. (I did mostly enjoy Murphy and Bill Corbett's Rifftrax of the Star Trek New Voyages episode I co-produced, "World Enough and Time," although it was needlessly cruel to a couple of the fan actors.)


Okay, now about Kirk's death. I thought Generations was all right, but even at the time, I noted that the story was less like a plot than a to-do list: kill Kirk, destroy the Enterprise-D, give Data his emotion chip... The elements just seemed shoehorned together, without much logic or sense of occasion. Especially the use of Kirk. I mean, this is it, right? The big meeting between Kirk and Picard? The death of a hero some people had been following for 28 years? And it is such a damp damn squib, even in the reshot version that made it to the screen. Captain James T. Friggin' Kirk goes to the 24th century and lays down his life... as muscle to keep Soran busy for a moment while Picard presses a couple of buttons? Never mind that, had Picard (or the writers) applied a moment's thought to the situation, he could have found a better time to come out of the Nexus, and defeated Soran much more easily.

Which brings me to the next three clips, which are much more entertaining than you'd think a thirty-minute evisceration of Generations could be. That's because it's not a shrill rant, but more a sardonic, logical point-by-point takedown which notices the things I mentioned above, and many more. (For instance, I'd never noticed that Generations reused a couple of effects shots from the previous film. Granted, Khan reused numerous shots from The Motion Picture, but at least that one had economy as an excuse. Generations cost about three times as much as Khan.)