Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Classic Serials: Undersea Kingdom (Faster-Paced Version), Chapter Six

(originally posted December 6, 2008)

Considering she seems to be the only woman in the Undersea Kingdom, I'm really not surprised she's finding plenty of action.

(That was from the tedious introductory character cards I delete every week, by the way.)

Today, we go over the hump with the seventh of what I'm certainly hoping are only thirteen installments of our re-edited, faster-paced presentation of Undersea Kingdom, the classic serial that begs questions like, "How does Crash know that atom guns only hurt humans?" and "Why in hell hasn't Khan used atom guns against the Holy City until now?!"

Back in the early days of Doctor Who, they recorded a complete 25-minute episode a week, and recorded for up to 53 consecutive weeks. Each regular actor would have a two-week vacation (sorry, holiday) during the season. To pull that off, they'd be written out of two episodes in the middle of a serial. Yes, that means there were episodes of Doctor Who without the Doctor.

This chapter kind of reminds me of those stories, inasmuch as Crash pretty much takes a powder from his own starring vehicle until more than halfway through. Since they no doubt shot Undersea Kingdom set by set, like most movies, I can only attribute that to a plotting hiccup.

I find the cliffhanger resolution interesting this week. It's almost the opposite of the cheat cliffhangers. Rather than making it so that the cliffhanger never happened, they add footage to explain how things can be just as bad as we saw last week, and yet our heroes can escape.

Speaking of the cliffhanger, I made this week's a little earlier than the original's. I checked the beginning of Chapter Seven to see how they got out of it, and although it isn't a cheat per se, it's kind of undramatic. So I had a little fun with it, and made it a little closer to a cheat. It's not really, of course—I don't think I'm spoiling much by telling you that next week, there is a bang, but no, Crash and Billy aren't on the receiving end.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Radio: Marionettes, Inc. (Dimension X)

As we've seen, Astounding Science Fiction, sponsor of Dimension X, made its presence felt not just in providing the source material for some episodes out of its back issues, but also by having the occasional story adapted directly out of the issue then on the newsstand.

I wonder how much influence John W. Campbell, or anyone else at Street and Smith, had on the series' story selection otherwise. How did he/they feel when Dimension X adapted a story out of the competition? "Marionettes, Inc.," for instance, was from Startling Stories, a sister publication to Thrilling Wonder Stories.  Here's the cover from that, from my collection, by the way:

A previous owner took it on himself neatly to trim the ragged pulp edges, so that now the cover advertises that Hall of Fame Class by Clifford D. Sima, "The Loo of Tim."  That's one you won't ever be hearing on Dimension X.

Getting back on topic, I suppose having an adaptation out of Startling wasn't too bad for Campbell and Astounding, considering Dimension X didn't announce where a story was originally published unless it was one of those "ripped from the pages of Astounding" episodes. Many listeners might even assume automatically that all of the stories on the series were examples of what Astounding Science Fiction had to offer. In which case, "Bring on the best from the competition!" Campbell might think.

And this is definitely a good one. I'd heard at least one radio version and watched the Ray Bradbury Theater television episode of "Marionettes, Inc." before I read the story. Those half-hour adaptations work well, and the idea could easily extend even further. So I was surprised by how short the original is. The text covers a little under three and a third pages in its original magazine appearance. I think that's somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 words. I mean, Ray Bradbury is a master of the short-story form, but wow, that's packing a lot into a small space.

Scriptwriter George Lefferts does an excellent job expanding the story, shuffling around Bradbury's incidents and dialogue and interpolating his own seamlessly. Well, almost; the confrontation in the shop is maybe a little over the top. But for the most part, you wouldn't know what lines came from whom unless you were searching through the story while listening to it... as I was, writing this. (And my favorite line--Smith describing Mrs. Braling as "that female meat-grinder"--is original to Lefferts.)

"By the year 1990, we should see many amazing technological advances. And yet, in many ways, life will be very much the same." This is how the radio version opens. The episode inadvertently teaches a lesson in the perils of telling stories set in the not-too-distant future. (As does the story, in which the "1990 model" is also the current one. Although if Marionettes, Inc., is anything like car manufacturers in our time, it could be early in 1989.) I'm not just talking about how there are robotic duplicates realistic enough to fool the human original's loved ones. I'm talking about how it pretty much goes without saying that a working man's spouse is a housewife.

*Slight toning down for the radio audience of 1951: in the episode, the future Mrs. Braling "threatened to tear off her clothing and call the police" unless Braling married her. In the story, "she tore her clothes and rumpled her hair and threatened to call the police" unless he married her.

*Deflation? In the episode, there are two models, costing $7,500 and $9,000. In the story, they range from $7,600 to $15,000. And even that seems in retrospect like an enormous bargain for 1990. I spent more than that on a used Ford Bronco II in 1989. (Although, granted, that turned out to be a terrible bargain.)

Next time: "First Contact." No, not the Star Trek one with the Borg. No, not the other one, either. It has nothing to do with Star Trek. Just get Star Trek right out of your mind. Got it? Good. So join us in nine days as we pick up the sixtieth anniversary of Dimension X in its new timeslot with Murray Leinster's classic tale of, uh, a starship boldly going where no man has gone before.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Television: Flash Gordon and Struggle to the End

With this questionably-grammatical title, we bring a close to this three-part Flash Gordon epic.  And looking at the title card makes me wonder, who is this Marie Powers whose name is proudly emblazoned upon two of the episodes (and probably would be on three if the original opening of "The Brain Machine" survived) as Guest Star?  According to Wikipedia, she was "an American contralto who was best known for her performance as Madame Flora in Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium, a role that she played on stage, screen and television....  Later Broadway work for Powers included the 1957 revival of the musical Carousel and the original 1960 production of Becket, where she played the Queen Mother. She died in New York City in 1973."  According to IMDb, she appeared in one movie and five television episodes, and these three were her last screen work.

While we're on the subject of actors...  It strikes me I've been somewhat negative in these posts, so I'd like to talk about my favorite part of the Flash Gordon series, which is the three regulars: Steve Holland (Flash Gordon), Irene Champlin (Dale Arden), and Joseph Nash (Dr. Zarkov).  None of them has much in the way of screen credits (in fact, this series is the only one for Nash), but they all put in solid, believable performances.

Steve Holland makes a good successor to Buster Crabbe in the role of Flash, with a somewhat different approach to the role.  I always like the slightly worried look that Crabbe carries through the serials, as though even he is wondering how long his luck is going to hold out.  And that was appropriate for a man from Earth, constantly thrown against the vast resources of a planetary dictator.  Holland is a more confident Flash, in keeping with the series Flash's position as pretty much literally a galactic FBI officer.  Crabbe's Flash fought the law; Holland's Flash was the law.

Champlin, similarly, helped sell a role somewhat rethought from the comics and serials.  The Dale Arden of the series is an intelligent, capable professional.  Note the first episode of this story, where there is absolutely no question but that she's qualified to repair the atmosphere converter.  And, watching her, I can believe it.

Of course, it also helps the regulars to stand out when most of the guest characters in this series, shot in France and Germany, have to be local actors.  And many of them spoke little English, if any.  According to sometime director Wallace Worsley, Jr., "The use of German actors who could not speak English required us to use a lot of close-ups.  I would stand behind the camera, correctly positioned for the actor's look, and read his or her line; the actor would then repeat the line, mimicking my pronunciation and emphasis."

It's a pity they couldn't add the Netherlands to this French-German-American co-production.  They could have claimed Steve Holland counted against requirements for Dutch content.

Next week: Jack Benny and Ernie Kovacs go to prison, while I get to run around free after making jokes like that Steve Holland one.  There's no justice in the world.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Another Two from 4e: Genre Magazines & "Mr. Science Fiction"

(originally posted November 26 and December 3, 2008)

Forry celebrated his 92nd birthday on Monday!

In the third featurette derived from our interview for Volume 1 of Thrilling Wonder Stories, Forry talks about how he discovered his life's passion, how his grandmother supported it, and how it worried his mother.


Well, in October 1926, little nine year old me was standing in front of a magazine rack, and the October 1926 issue of a magazine called Amazing Stories jumped off the newsstand, grabbed hold of me, and in those days magazines spoke. And that one said, "Take me home little boy, you will love me."

I didn’t realize, I thought this is just a miracle, this is the only copy of this magazine that there ever will be, but as soon as I discovered every four weeks I could have a new fix of science fiction, why, I was off and running.

I spent most of my youth with my grandparents, who were very supportive of me. In 1926, I was also interested in a magazine called Ghost Stories, and my dear maternal grandmother would read me the entire issue of Ghost Stories, and then go back to the beginning and read it all over again to satisfy me.

Several years later, my mother came to me quite concerned, she said, “Son, do you realize how many of these magazines you have”—'cause I never threw them away—said, "I just counted them. You have twenty-seven! Can you imagine? By the time you’re a grown man, why, you might have a hundred." Well, mother lived with me till she was 92, in my 18-room home with 50,000 science fiction books and complete runs of Amazing Stories and Science Wonder Stories and Astounding Stories and Unknown and Strange and 200 different science fiction magazines from all around the world.

* * *

Another video featurette from our interview with Forry for Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 1. Forry talks about the lonely life of the young fan, recognition by others in the science fiction community, and what science fiction means to him.


Originally, a fan named Rick Sneary said it is a sad and lonely thing to be a fan, because... well, for instance, at high school, I was regarded as the resident crazy. Everybody was ridiculing Forry Ackerman, he thought we're going to the Moon, we're gonna have atomic power, all these things they knew were never gonna happen. And I remember on that fateful evening when I saw a human being set foot on the Moon, I said, "Vindication! Where are you now, all you laughing hyenas? Thought Forry Ackerman was a crazy kid."

Hugo Gernsback, who was regarded as the father of science fiction, called me "the son of science fiction," and he inscribed his novel Ralph 124C 41+, "to Forrest Ackerman, the premier science fiction authority in America." And in 1949, Willy Ley, the great exponent of space travel, in a public newspaper named me "Mr. Science Fiction."

I don’t believe in life after death, or reincarnation. I feel I'm only here once, and I've been fortunate to have been born with what is called a sense of wonder. I've wondered about prehistoric times, and dinosaurs, and the sunken city of Atlantis, and I've, via the imaginations of H.G. Wells, and Olaf Stapledon, and Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein, I've been catapulted from my armchair into distant times of the future. So I’ve been able to live a very exciting, fulfilling life via the imagination of the authors of science fiction.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Games: Age of War

(originally posted February 16, 2009)

Here's one I got addicted to a while back. You start out in the stone age, and use your experience points to progress, era by era, into the future. Each age brings with it new kinds of troops and weapons. The goal is to destroy the enemy headquarters. Obviously, it helps if you progress faster than the computer opponent. Oh, and you can periodically rain down the vengeance of heaven on the enemy; using that at opportune moments helps, too.

I don't know if I was just lucky when I playtested this game again prior to posting it here, but I managed to beat the enemy while still in the age of musketeers.

UPDATE: Yeah, it was luck. I played again, and it went all the way to the bitter end. (I did beat the enemy; it was just with futuristic SuperSoldiers.)

[2011 Updates: Click on the message title to get to the game.  There's also now an Age of War II, which I like even better.  You can bet your boots that's coming here before long.]

Friday, August 26, 2011

Watching You Tube: Surplus WEAT

(originally posted, with an additional video that's no longer online, December 23, 2008)

For Google's, and possibly your, benefit: Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2 focuses on the writers of Star Trek. All fiction, old and new, is from contributors from the original series to Voyager. Plus, there's a major article on the making of the Hugo and Nebula-nominated "World Enough and Time" episode of the fan-run Star Trek New Voyages Internet series.

Dragon*Con program directors visit the set of New Voyages during the making of WEAT. Funny thing is, although my station as Digital Media Wrangler was right out in the open, between sickbay and the bridge, I don't remember this visit at all. But then, I was probably tunnel-visioned on grinding out the DVDs of dailies, as usual.

An upstate New York ABC affiliate talks to a couple of fans who recently (i.e., circa "Blood and Fire") became involved with New Voyages:

And finally, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett (Servo and Crow during the Sci-Fi Channel years of Mystery Science Theater 3000) riff on WEAT for RiffTrax Presents. Although the percentage of jokes that boil down to, "This sucks. That sucks. Look over there, that sucks, too" is a lot higher than in the old MST3K days, I enjoyed it a lot. However, I can see how the actors might not feel the same way. With a couple of them, I think the joking approached the cruel.

My favorite line: "I has a lot of LOLcats on there."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Classic Serials: Undersea Kingdom, Chapter Five

This week, the full-length version of Undersea Kingdom, Chapter Five: Prisoners of Atlantis.  As with last week, it's a bit of a puzzlement what connects the title with its chapter.  Granted, Diana and Professor Norton are prisoners of Unga Khan, but heck, they've been stuck in that tower since Chapter Two.

In their The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury, Jim Harmon and Donald F. Glut point out while talking about this serial that (their emphasis), "Miracle inventions, such as space vehicles, deathrays, and mechanical men, were often used when the characters were not otherwise engaged in sword battles on horseback or modeling the latest fashions of ancient Rome or Greece.  We wonder what these advanced 'people' wore when their technology was on a par with ours."

To be fair to the Sharad and the Sacred City, though, their technology doesn't seem to be on a much higher plane than their dress sense.  Or is it not being fair to them to point out how retrograde their civilization seems to be?  It makes one wonder what happened to Atlantis, that they could save themselves with a dome of orichalcum, but now, two thousand-plus years later, the best they seem to have is a primitive sort of flamethrower.  Apart from Unga Khan, of course.  How did he get so far ahead of the Sacred City technologically?  And where did he come from?  His name suggests a Mongol.  Have there been Mongols in Atlantis all this time?  Are there other sunken cities?  Are there any farmers and such in Atlantis at all, or just the populations of the Sacred City and Khan's tower?  File these under questions which it's probably just as well Undersea Kingdom didn't waste time answering, but which bug me anyway.

One more question: Is it my imagination, or does Molock look a little like Bob Hope?  He and Bing Crosby should have remade this serial as The Road to Atlantis.  It would have been a gas.

Next week: The Juggernaut Strikes!  And Ronald Reagan fires it!  Thank you!  If you liked my joke, try the veal; it's thirty years old, too.

Nitpicky Notes:

8:01  Why can't Unga Khan see Molock when he's standing right in front of the screen?  Isn't Khan the least bit suspicious that he can't see Hakur?  If the video is shut off, it's a lucky break for our heroes.  Obviously Crash was expecting it to be on, or else he wouldn't have ducked to the side.

9:05  So what was supposed to be in that basket, anyway?  Their laundry?  And how did those two guys not see Billy when they approached it by walking right toward the opening?

Oh, and while I'm asking every question under the sun, why is a mouse when it spins?  And who wrote the Book of Love?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Classic Serials: Undersea Kingdom (Faster-Paced Version), Chapter Five

I mentioned before that these edited versions I made in 2008-9 used lower-quality originals than the full-length versions I'm currently posting.  And that YouTube presented the first four installments (covering Chapters One through Three) in a maximum resolution of 360p.  So I figured that at least I could do something about those.  I re-encoded them to MPEG-4 from my DV originals, and re-uploaded them to YouTube.  (I re-encoded them because I'd had to use less than the maximum quality in 2008 in order to meet YouTube's then-limit of 1GB per video.)  Now the posts for those chapters show the new 480p versions.  You're welcome.

* * *

(originally posted November 29, 2008)

Yes, edited for the length limit of YouTube and improved pace, it's the latest episode of the 1936 Republic serial Undersea Kingdom... the serial that makes you ask, "If Crash dressed up Hacker in his White Robe Commander outfit, complete with spangled briefs, and Hacker returns to the tower in his own black underpants, does that mean that, under his stolen Black Robe tunic, Crash is operating al fresco?"

Oh, and, "Why does the Black Robe Commander's room have a huge-ass bolt on the outside? Do they have to restrain him after the occasional bender?"

And by the way, let's hear it for Supreme Atlantean Military Commander Crash, who abandons his command, unannounced, to go rescue his friends.

As you may have figured from how much I blather on about it, editing Undersea Kingdom is my favorite part of running the Thrilling Wonder Stories blog. This week, I felt a sense of accomplishment, inasmuch as this chapter was the most difficult yet to pare down to ten minutes. I think there was only one whole scene I could cut out, so mostly, it was a matter of whittling sequences wherever I could.

My favorite edit, for some reason, was a very simple one. In the original version, Ditmar, outside the lab door, yells, "Norton! Open the door!" Cut to inside, where Diana and Billy react as Ditmar yells again, "Open the door!" I saved a few seconds by cutting from the outside shot at "Open the—" to the inside shot at "—door!"

Luckily for the editor's sanity, Undersea Kingdom's score consists of just a few pieces, repeated endlessly. I'm guessing they were specially designed for easy transitions from one to another as the on-screen action dictated. I imagine the musically-inclined, were they to listen closely to my version, would be appalled, but to me, anyway, usually a two- to four-frame fade is enough for a music edit not to call attention to itself.

Other times, though, that's not good enough. And this chapter required more moving around of sound edit in and out points, and wholesale moving around of music and/or sound effects than any yet. For instance, the bit where Billy leaves the city and sneaks aboard a wagon was originally after a much longer retreat sequence—the result being the background was much more quiet. So I moved the soundtrack from part of the excised material so that, aurally, the retreat is ongoing as Billy makes his exit. And the music cue that begins as Billy climbs the spiral staircase actually belongs to the sequence after the cut, which helps sell the idea that the top of the staircase is somewhere back in the crevice we next see him in. (It originally wasn't, of course—that's just where he hid when a Volkite happened by.)

Again, one of my favorites is very simple. The beep when Moloch activates the reflector plate originally continued into the next shot, where it's a call signal that Khan and Ditmar cross the room to answer. I cut that shot, but continued and faded out the beep over the next shot, so now it's the sound of turning on the reflector plate, with Khan and Ditmar already there on the other end.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Radio: Untitled Story (Dimension X)

"What's with that title, or lack thereof?" you may ask. And well you might. But first, this:

Pretty much the first thing I do every week is to check the Contento list of science fiction anthologies, so I can find out where the adapted story appears, and where it was first published. That's so I can get out the right book or magazine if I have it, or order one if I don't. That was how I knew to order a copy of No Time Like the Future to read "Vital Factor" for last week's installment.

This week, I couldn't find an entry... meaning that, at least up through 1983 (I didn't check the various updates), no anthologists had included it in their collections. Not one. I guessed that, like "Courtesy," the producers of Dimension X adapted "Untitled Story" right out of the contemporary issue of Astounding (which, since the cover date is when a magazine goes off the newsstand, was September 1951), which I had. (I wouldn't have had to guess, it turned out, had I listened to the radio version first, but I take my victories where I can get them.)

Which leaves the question of why it isn't in any anthologies. And I submit that the reason is... well, that it isn't very good. I like to be positive here, so it kind of disturbs me that I haven't liked the last two stories. But I did commit to talk about the stories and their adaptations, so I sort of have to say what I think. And I can at least say that the radio episode, as I guessed after reading the story that it would, that it solves the story's main problem.

That's that it's told in a half-paced manner. At a rough estimate, the story is 16,000 words long. That would take about 96 minutes to read aloud. There is some extra plot in the story, but not as much as that, and none of it is necessary. However, that takes us into spoiler territory, so I'll resume after the player window.

In the story, Hayssen and Cathy don't confront Lehman in Cathy's office. Instead, they chase Lehman and his time machine into the primeval past, where he and Hayssen duke it out amidst the lava. Lehman dies, and Hayssen is grievously injured, but Cathy saves him by turning him into Darth Vader applying future medicine. Fortunately for the radio audience, scriptwriter George Lefferts realized that once we're caught up on what's been happening all this time and why, the story is essentially over, and we're ready for the wrap-up.

There's also a section in the middle where Hayssen slowly realizes he's been drugged by Lehman, although I can't figure out for the life of me what significance that plot thread serves. Evidently, neither could Lefferts. There are a couple additional attempts to kill Hayssen. Believe me, in this case less is more.

Lefferts made some additional, lesser alterations. He had the Mayor pay $50,000 for the potion (which seems to me beyond the price range of even a corrupt mayor in the 1950's), rather than Robinson's $1,000 (which seems absurdly low for something supposed to save his life). He adds the bit about the pin to get the information about the office into the plot quicker.

Oddly, it's the very question of the office that's the one plot thread Lefferts drops in the compression. When Hayssen was there the first time, it was actually Lehman's time machine, sitting inside the empty room. You see, the time machines can dematerialize in one location and re-materialize in another, like the TARDIS. And Lehman deliberately chose an office of the same dimensions as his time machine. By the time Hayssen came back, Lehman and the machine were gone, leaving the empty room.

Lefferts also compresses the matter of Hayssen's death and resurrection, and doesn't do a particularly believable job of it. He makes it look like all you have to do to bring a dead person back is to carry their body back in time to before they died.

In Robinson's story, it's somewhat more complex. A time traveler goes back alone to before the person died, and picks the person up. He then goes further back before going forward again along the "original" time track, so that the intervention never happened, and the person died as per "normal." The alternative-timeline version now replaces the dead "original" version.  Cathy uses this to resurrect Jock, the dog-- and explains to Hayssen that Lehman has already brought Hayssen himself back this way, although, of course, Hayssen doesn't (and can't) remember this death, since it didn't happen to "him," per se.

So far, so good.  But Robinson is inconsistent about how time travel works. Basically, there are two theoretical flavors of time travel: infinitely-branching parallel universes (where you can kill your grandfather but continue to exist because you're just in a different timeline now, and your "home" timeline, where you were born, still exists), and single-timeline (in which any trips you make were "always" part of that one timeline, and you therefore can't change history). The method of resurrection is of the former type.

However, later in the story, we find there seems to be one future, and when a change in the timeline negates the existence of someone in that future, they (ludicrously) disappear, yet everyone knows they "used" to exist but no longer do. It's like the disappearing siblings in Marty's photo in Back to the Future, only sillier. (As it happens, that movie has its time travel both ways, too, with both a grandfather paradox and an alternative 1985. Don't even get me started about the second one, where Doc and Marty somehow go direct from 2015 to a dystopic 1985 that is not the past of that 2015. Now, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah.)

By the way, in Robinson's ending, Hayssen drinks the potion. All people from the future use it, and he needs it so that he and Cathy will age at the same rate. And despite its length, Cathy falls in love with Hayssen as easily and unbelievably there, too.

Frankly, I'm surprised John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding, bought this story. It's kind of a mess on its own account, but especially so if you put it next to Astounding's definitive time-travel story, Heinlein's "By His Bootstraps," which pursued the consequences of time travel in a one-timeline system in typically rigorous Heinlein fashion.

For what it's worth, Robinson was surprised, too. According to him, he wrote it for the less-discriminating Amazing Stories, but his agent, Frederik Pohl, decided to try Astounding first. Fortunately for them, Campbell had a hole to fill. Which brings us back (finally) to that title, or non-title. Robinson called it "Untitled Story" because he knew Amazing frequently made up their own titles. But Campbell didn't have that habit, so when he bought the story, it kept the title it, well, didn't have.  So it's not pretentious, it's just an accident.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Television: Flash Gordon: The Brain Machine

There's nothing so banal but that some people can't find meaning in it.  Especially when they're professional academics.  Take one Wheeler Winston Dixon, who may sound like a southern publishing house, but who Wikipedia assures us is actually "a writer of film history, theory and criticism... as well as a professor who has taught at Rutgers University, New Brunswick; The New School in New York; and the University of Amsterdam, Holland."  This is his view on Flash Gordon, and particularly today's episode:

[F]ar from decrying the series for its production values, Dixon finds that "the copious [use of] stock footage and the numerous exterior sequences shot in the ruins of the bombed-out metropolis [of Berlin] give Flash Gordon a distinctly ravaged look". He writes that its international origins give the series "an interesting new cultural dimension, even a perceptible air of a split cultural identity". Dixon quotes German cultural historian Mark Baker, who writes of a particular scene from the episode "The Brain Machine" as emblematic of this cultural split. The scene uses stock footage of a June 17, 1953 demonstration by East Berlin workers against the East German government. Soviet tanks opened fire on both demonstrators and bystanders, thus confirming East Germany's status as a Soviet puppet state in the minds of West Germans. American viewers, Baker speculates, were probably unaware of the iconic power in West Germany of the images of fleeing East Berlinners, which were used to illustrate a panic on Neptune.... The "ravaged look" of the series, Dixon writes, "underscores the real-world stage on which the action of the space operas played".

Me, I think it was stock footage that was used because it was close at hand, although in highly questionable taste.  But that's why I'm not teaching at a university.  It does give the show an unusual look, though.  It's not a clean future of people in spotless tunics.

I was thinking last week that it's one thing to watch actors playing miserable, desperate people, and quite another to watch what you know are actual miserable, desperate people being used to represent fictional miserable, desperate people in an entertainment program.  It says something, but I'm not sure what.  Perhaps that we go to fiction to have the reassurance of distance between what's going on on screen, however terrible, and real life.  But when, suddenly, the terrible things are from real life, the whole thing sort of collapses, and it's profoundly unsettling.

Hmm.  I may get into academe yet.

Incidentally, postwar Berlin actually plays itself in a later episode utilizing that money-saving plotline of time travel to our present day.

I managed to get this episode uploaded in one piece.

It looks like the opening credits were lost at some point, and reconstructed in more recent times.  The words "The Brain Machine" flying on screen is clearly a video effect.

1:50 "...and while Flash and Dale prepared the auxiliary converter."  I'm amused by the shot used to represent this: Dale working on the machine, while Flash, standing off to the side, tosses his sweaty t-shirt onto it.  Thanks for the help, Flash.

3:49 "What's that all about?"  Beats me-- the mad witch's voice was too badly mixed to make out.

4:09 You watch a lot of old science fiction, you get used to some really mismatched effects dissolves.  This one was actually very good.

5:21 Wow, 1955 is pretty late for the amazing powers of radium.

11:51 "A matter transmitter machine!"  I always love it in science fiction when someone can look at something almost featureless, and know immediately what it is.

14:10 If this were on MST3K, this is where a "hat party"/"and mine will be the grandest of all!" joke would come in.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Two from 4e: Letter-Writing and the Boys' Scientifiction Club

Here are the first two featurettes edited from my 2006 interview with Forrest J Ackerman, "super-fan," "Mr. Science Fiction," punster extraordinaire, editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, and the inventor of the expression "sci-fi."  I asked him about his early days of fandom, particularly in the Wonder Stories-sponsored Science Fiction League.  (And thanks again to Liz Fies for running the camera and asking additional questions.)

The print version appeared in Volume 1 (aka the Summer 2007 issue) of Thrilling Wonder Stories.  I assembled these and posted them to YouTube in late 2008, while Forry was still around.  Back then, YouTube videos-- at least when posted by a regular user like me --had a maximum resolution of 360 lines.  Now it's a full standard-definition 480, so I've re-encoded them from my DV files and re-uploaded them to YouTube.  These two originally went up November 12 and 19, 2008.


Before Science Wonder Stories was ever published, all the readers of Amazing Stories received a circular announcing that there was gonna be a new science fiction magazine that didn't have a name yet. But you could subscribe to it for twelve and a half cents a copy, for all the rest of your life. So I, 'course, immediately subscribed, and I came home from grammar school one day, and there was the first issue of Science Wonder Stories.

I think in the first issue of Science Wonder Stories Quarterly, in 1929, I had the first letter on the first page of the readers' department.

My father was kind of proud to see his son's name. And so I caught on, and I thought, well, if I have my name in every issue, then my father would be sure to buy it, so he can show it to men at the office and brag about his son.

Well, as fast as I read an issue, I was impelled to write a letter and give my opinion of the stories. I would rate them, what was the most popular story, in my mind, and would comment on the illustrations and so on. Other readers of the magazine kind of began to look forward to these letters from young Forrest Ackerman. And before I knew it, I was kind of considered, along with another chap named Jack Darrow, to be one of the leading science fiction fans of the era.


A person who had a letter published also had their address, so I began to hear from other readers around the world, and before I knew it, I had 127 correspondents all over the United States, and England, and France, and Germany, and Japan, and Hungary, and... I just lived to see my mailbox filled up with letters from my correspondents.

Well, I created the Boys' Scientifiction Club. It was not "the Boys' and Girls'" because at the time, girl readers of science fiction were about as rare as a unicorn's horn. So I created this correspondence club. I believe it was ten cents to become a member, and you contributed either three issues of a science fiction magazine that had a serial in them, or a hardcover novel. We didn't yet have paperbacks.

So for, I believe, two cents a copy, you—I was the librarian, and you would write and borrow either the three magazines or the book. And I was not only the president of the club, but I took care of all of the mailing. I had a vice-president, a Hungarian boy named Frank Sipos, who lived in my neighborhood and went to high school with me.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Games: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (N64) Part 9

Yet more of my video playthrough of the classic Nintendo 64 game Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire.  I have three N64 games amongst my all-time favorites: this one, Goldeneye 007, and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron.  So when I finally finish this, you may be seeing more from the N64.

Now, Part Nine: Mos Eisley and Beggar's Canyon!


As you can see, I wipe out the swoop gang before picking up any of the free lives or challenge points. I suppose a faster player than I am might be able to do it on the fly, but it would almost certainly be at the cost of letting the swoop gang get out into the desert. And, really, they're much easier to kill in the confines of Mos Eisley.

Or maybe not. According to Wookieepedia, "there is a short-cut that can be taken to avoid most of the Swoop Gang members all together [sic] and finish the stage in record time." Here's how to do it. I don't know if you could avoid them and get the bonuses, though.

5:34 Whoops. Very nearly dropped off the ledge, there. In fact, I really don't understand how I didn't.

8:03 Notice the oddly-shaped challenge point, like a rabbit's head. Apparently, this is one of many references in LucasArts games to Sam and Max, a comic book series that has spun off into multiple other media. Beats me; it's one of those things I've missed out on.

8:29 If I remember correctly, there's an edit here, just as the camera finishes swinging back to the front view. It took a crazy number of tries for me to grab the challenge points above the Sarlacc pits, and rather than subject you to them, I've cut them out. The important part is, I didn't lose any lives doing it.

8:33 I couldn't find a good edit point, so I made this hugely obvious dissolve before the second Sarlacc pit.

9:15 There was no reason for me to go along the ledge here. I just forgot this wasn't the one with the challenge point.

10:10 See, this is what I thought the first one was.

10:59 This may look easy when done right, but it took a long, frustrating time for me to learn to do it right. Immediately in front of the portal is a deadly trench. Hit the portal anywhere but through the middle, and down you go.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Watching YouTube: Tales of Tomorrow: Test Flight

Here's the television adaptation of Nelson Bond's "Vital Factor" that I mentioned the other day: "Test Flight," the tenth episode of ABC's Tales of Tomorrow, broadcast live on October 26, 1951.

All in all, the characterization of Crowder is softer here than on Dimension X.  Granted, he breaks the law, but still, I almost feel sorry for him when, after all his obsession with space has driven him to, he gets his dream hijacked out from under him.  Although it's a little melodramatic, I like the scene (original to this script) where Davis tries to stop Crowder, and Crowder hands him a gun and invites him to try.

Turn your volume down before starting the video.  It's real loud, the sound is kind of blown out, and it's missing a piece (see notes), but it's the best version I could find on YouTube.

Part One:

1:01 "Break out of the--the--this!" I wonder if that was the scripted line (which I guess would be a joke that Crowder, despite his research, can't pronounce "troposphere"), or if Lee J. Cobb stumbled over a different scripted line (or couldn't pronounce "troposphere").

1:08 Wait, they're planning on getting light years away from Earth?! Makes you wonder what the units are for "velocity per second."

8:20 "Electromagnetism. Utilization of the force of gravity. Or its opposite: counter-gravity." This is directly out of the story, but still makes no sense. Electromagnetism has nothing to do with gravity. Even if it did, "I'll do it with electromagnetism" isn't an answer in itself. What are you going to generate the electromagnetism with?

Part Two:

0:31 For some reason, this file is missing a piece that's on the DVD version I have. It's the act break and a scene where Davis confronts Marty about the cost in time and money of the project so far. Crowder enters, and after a few lines, we're back to this version.

1:14 Beats me what this added fade out/fade in is about. As far as I can see from the DVD, nothing is actually cut out here.

2:26 "a ton of mercurium-37." This one originates with the scriptwriter. There's no such thing.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Classic Serials: Undersea Kingdom, Chapter Four

And now, the full-length fourth chapter of Underpants Undersea Kingdom!

Back when I posted the faster-paced version of this episode, I noted, "I love how the hoofbeats continue into the end music, and just keep on going. You get the feeling that if you were able to tune back in an hour or two later, the Black Hats would still be running over Crash and Moloch. Needless to say, next week, none of this will have happened."  I then posted a video of the cheat cliffhangers of Chapters Two and Four.  But now that I have these unedited versions here, that clip video is pretty redundant, which is why I deleted this quote from that post and moved it here.


1:17 I love the art-deco design touches to the character description cards, especially Crash's.

4:00 I know this isn't in the best taste to say about someone who later suffered from throat cancer, but Lon Chaney, Jr., always sounded like it hurt him to talk.

9:08 It's Buddy Poseidon!  Or maybe the Undersea Fonz.

10:03 You have to hand it to Crash.  He betrays not the slightest sign of self-consciousness about wearing that outfit.

10:21 Okay, who was with me in hoping for Crash to snap it over his knee?

11:27 "What do you mean, there's my answer?  You mean you were expecting Crash to be made supreme commander and set you free?"

13:06 When did Crash become so conversant with the Sacred City's defensive arrangements?

15:21 "So why the hell do we even have bombers, boss?"  (Yes, I know I complain about this elsewhere.)  You gotta love the shocked look on his face, though.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Classic Serials: Undersea Kingdom (Faster-Paced Version), Chapter Four

With this installment, YouTube started saving my videos at 480p resolution as well as 360 and 240.  So enjoy the bigger player window!

(originally posted November 22, 2008)

Onward we go to Chapter Four of our faster-paced edit of the 1936 Republic serial Undersea Kingdom. Don't ask me why it's called "Revenge of the Volkites," when they have no part in any of the action. I did cut out a sequence where they appeared in a couple of shots, but even then, they were just down in their work pit, throwing switches.

To paraphrase a Late Late Show segment, What Did We Learn from the Editing This Week, Winston? Make the biggest cuts first, because it may turn out you don't need to make the smaller ones.

The big Black-vs.-White fracas at the end (or, as I like to call it, the Battle of Helm's Really Deep) originally had a whole GNDN daytime section. Since I'd already made the earlier cuts, this brought the chapter down to nine and a half minutes. Still, I decided not to put anything back to bring it back up nearer to ten minutes. (This is probably my limited Final Cut skills talking, but putting things back is much more difficult than cutting them out.)

Incidentally, one of the cut bits featured Unga Khan's assistant Ditmar sending out the bombers, only to have Unga belay the order on the grounds that the explosions might bring down Atlantis' protective dome. So one has to wonder why they used them in Chapter One—or even invented them in the first place. As I mentioned last time, I'm not viewing ahead, so I didn't know about this when I edited Chapter One. Otherwise, I'd probably have cut the bomber sequence from there.

I lost a few more seconds from this chapter by cutting out the two shots at the very end that constitute the latest Cheat Cliffhanger.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Radio: Vital Factor (Dimension X)

Here we have another adaptation of an extremely recent story, this time from the August 1951 issue of Esquire, which had probably left the newsstands a couple of weeks earlier.  I thought at first that Street & Smith, the sponsor of Dimension X, might be advertising one of their other magazines, the way they adapted "Courtesy" right out of the current Astounding Science Fiction.  But, looking it up on Wikipedia, it seems that Esquire was unrelated.  I guess the producers of Dimension X just read the story in the magazine, and quickly moved to get the rights to adapt it.

What follows may be considered spoilers, although I've tried hard not to reveal the details of the surprise ending.

I first encountered this story a few months ago via a DVD of its television adaptation on ABC's Tales of Tomorrow, which was broadcast only 71 days after NBC's radio adaptation here.  I knew nothing about it ahead of time, and it quickly seemed to me that I was watching sort of a loose adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's "The Man Who Sold the Moon."

In case you haven't read it, "The Man Who Sold the Moon" is about a millionaire capitalist/industrialist who is determined to develop a Moon rocket.  Although he speaks of great riches to be made on the Moon, he knows it's mostly just an excuse, and he may bankrupt his company and himself trying to achieve his boyhood dream of being the first man on the Moon.  Keep this in mind as you listen.

Then came that twist ending, which was like nothing in Heinlein's story, and the end credit, stating it was based on a story by Nelson Bond.  I was amazed, but some time spent on Google left me none the wiser.

Last week, I listened to this radio version, and I suddenly wondered if "Vital Factor" was meant to be a satire on "The Man Who Sold the Moon," and possibly on Heinlein heroes in general.  The episode seems to take the least likable characteristics of Heinlein's D.D. Harriman, and turn them up to eleven in Wayne Crowder: he's high-handed, incredibly touchy, won't take "no" for an answer, and, well, is kind of an ass.  It takes Crowder up to the brink of victory, then slaps him upside the head with his comeuppance.  It's as though the episode were deliberately inverting Heinlein's message that money and determination, in sufficient quantity, can move science and change the world.  Here, it turns out that Crowder also requires help that money, in itself, can't buy-- and that it turns his dream into a nightmare.

I Googled the story again (now that I had its proper title), and again, no mentions of the similarities between Bond's story and Heinlein's.  So, still confused, I ordered a copy of the 1954 collection No Time Like the Future, which contains the actual story.  And while waiting for it, I re-read "The Man Who Sold the Moon."  I didn't like the character of Harriman any more than I did the first time, but it struck me that that may be the point: that the people with the power to make history aren't necessarily admirable on a personal level.  And even in Heinlein's story, the protagonist doesn't get the main thing he wants.  He gets his rocket, but he doesn't get to ride on it.  The story explicitly likens him to Moses, leading his people up to the Promised Land, but himself barred from entering.

When No Time Like the Future arrived, I quickly read Bond's story.  And you know what?  I'm still confused.  The story runs only seven pages in the book, and so Bond didn't have time (and/or maybe the inclination) to make Crowder one-tenth the jerk that radio scriptwriter Howard Rodman did.  But I don't think we're supposed to like him in the story, either.  In the end, it becomes something of a shaggy dog story.  Did you hear the one about the millionaire who was desperate to get into space?  Well, he did, and how.

The radio version keeps Bond's ending, with the explanation that the "vital factor" all of Crowder's money and determination couldn't buy was sentiment.  But it sounds a false note to me in both versions.  What was Crowder's Folly born of if not sentiment?  He may talk of the money to be made, of the power he'll have, of how he's a logical man, but what makes him so hell-bent on making the trip himself?  Like Harriman, pure sentiment.  Also Bond doesn't do himself any favors by telling a story set in a realistic barely-future world of businessmen and balance sheets, and then dropping that twist on us out of left field.  It ends up seeming even sillier than it had to.

I just re-watched the television version, and it wisely drops the whole issue of sentiment.  But out of the three, I think my favorite is the radio, because it has a definite point, setting Crowder up for a fall, and making him a character we can't wait to see (or hear) take that fall.

So I end the whole process almost as confused as before.  I think Bond was trying to make a point, but missed it.  I still don't know if he was aware of "The Man Who Sold the Moon," which was first published a year earlier.  But I'm most puzzled that no one-- like, say, Heinlein --seems ever to have made an issue over "Vital Factor" seeming something like a Reader's Digest condensed version with a new and inferior ending.  But at least all three (put together!) didn't make me spend as much time with their unlikable hero as Heinlein did.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Television: Flash Gordon and The Witch of Neptune

While I've featured print, movie serials, and radio science fiction here pretty much from the beginning, there's one medium I haven't yet scoured for the finest entertainment the public domain will allow: television.  Today, I begin making up our omission.

As we go along, I hope to bring you some science fiction you may not have heard of, and science fiction-related items from sources you might not expect.

Well, that said, let's get to some Flash Gordon.

This series, which lasted for one season in 1954-5, was an American/French/West German co-production.  In America, it aired mostly in first-run syndication, but in the east, it was on the ill-fated and, at that time, rapidly fading DuMont Television Network.  According to Wikipedia, DuMont decided in February 1955 to wind down operations, and it dropped most of its entertainment programs as of April 1.  I don't know whether or not this included Flash Gordon, which was then only 24 episodes into its 39-episode season.  I would guess not, since DuMont didn't actually produce the show, and had probably paid for the whole season already.  At any rate, DuMont aired its last non-sports program on September 23, ten weeks after the airdate of the last episode of the series.

Universal, which produced the three Flash Gordon movie serials, had let their rights to the character lapse by 1954.  Ironically, it was two former executives from the company who then partnered with rights-holder King Features Syndicate to produce the series.

By the looks of things, they bought the rights only for the name value, because this series dramatically deviates from the continuity of the comic strip and serials.  There's no Ming here, no Mongo, no Prince Barin, none of that.  It's the year 3203, and Flash Gordon, Dale Arden, and Dr. Zarkov are agents of the Galactic Bureau of Investigation, or GBI, fighting evil around the galaxy.

You may feel while watching this that someone has slipped you some cold medicine, or that you forgot to take your meds this morning, because this is some whacked-out shizzle.  There are times I think the scripts for this show took, at best, about twice as long to write as they do to watch.  This series has a lot of "Wait, what?" moments.  In this episode, I think my favorite is the huge, clearly labeled switches, with the exclusive function of doing something no one at GBI should ever want to do.  At least it has a two-key security system.

"So wait a minute," you may ask.  "In that case, why are you starting with this?  It couldn't have to do with the fact that Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe is some of the most-watched material on your YouTube channel, could it?"  The answer to that is: well, yes, pretty much.  I'm not proud.  In fact, I'm so not-proud, I'm presenting the series' only multi-part story, a three part-epic.  This week, it's part one, "The Witch of Neptune," broadcast March 4, 1955.  (It's in two pieces because I tried uploading it as a single 4.54GB file, and it froze up 56% of the way through.  Rather than waste more time trying to get it in one piece, I split it in two... and, of course, they uploaded just fine, one after the other, so presumably it would have worked as single file the second time.  Oh, well.)

Besides, I have it from some people that this isn't even the worst series with the name Flash Gordon.  I haven't seen the 2007-8 Sci-Fi Channel series myself, though.  According to Wikipedia, the British magazine SFX called an episode of that show, written by someone I used to know, "possibly the worst episode of anything, ever."  But since, thanks to the Internet, pretty much every episode of everything, ever, is described somewhere as the worst episode of anything, ever, she probably shouldn't lose much sleep over it.

Sorry for the blown-out contrast.  That's the way it was when I got it, and there's really nothing one can do for it at that point.  Also, Part One ends kind of abruptly.  That's where the commercial break was (hence the recap at the start of Part Two), but the last few seconds before the break must have, well, broken off at some point.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Free Fiction: The Magnetic Storm

This week, a Free Fiction item that comes from the closet, even though it was once on this site.

Hard as it may be to believe, it's tough to find services that will store your files indefinitely for free in a way you can hotlink them to your blog.  After my pdf file of "The Magnetic Storm" disappeared into the ether for the second or third time, I demonstrated my usual perseverance by declaring, "To hell with it," and deleting the post altogether.

But when I revived the blog, I decided to give another shot to getting something for nothing.  And now, with OpenDrive fitful, but at least there most of the time, I can bring this story back online.  As you'll see below, this was the first bit of free fiction I offered on the blog, then under the category of "Sunday Scientifiction."

(As usual, if OpenDrive is feeling cranky, there will be a question mark below instead of a thumbnail image, and you should try again later.)

(originally posted November 23, 2008)

Click here to download file (386KB pdf)

And what is scientifiction, you may ask? It's the name, a contraction of "scientific fiction," that Hugo Gernsback gave to the nascent genre, back when it began to appear in such magazines of his as Electrical Experimenter and Radio News. (Incidentally, the abbreviation is Stf.) He continued to use it when he founded Amazing Stories, the first true science fiction magazine.

Gernsback lost control of his first group of magazines in 1929, and immediately founded another—of which two titles were Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories. He then popularized the less ungainly term "science fiction" for his new magazines. (He unknowingly reinvented it; it was first used decades earlier, but didn't catch on.) Some fans stuck with the old expression for a while. Note our last Wednesday Feature, about Forrest J Ackerman's "Boys' Scientifiction Club."

Perhaps Gernsback was worried that the new owners of his old magazines would consider "scientifiction" a proprietary phrase. But some years later, Thrilling Wonder Stories' sister magazine Startling Stories billed itself as "Best in Scientifiction" with, presumably, no real protest from the owners of Amazing.

Anyway, what you'll see in Scientifiction Sundays is stories from before the advent of the specifically science fiction magazine, whether published in the Gernsback magazines or not. Every week or two, we will bring you tales, in pdf form, from the formative days of science fiction as a recognized genre.

Today's story is by Gernsback himself, and dates to 1918. As you will read, "scientifiction" at this stage very much fit the name, frequently falling to the far end of what's considered hard SF today, or even what they now call "mundane SF." (This particular one is more on the imaginative side.)  The stories use existing science, or fairly modest extrapolations therefrom, in settings seldom more than a few decades off. Here, Gernsback has the then-ongoing Great War (aka World War I) brought to a victorious conclusion for the Allies in a most amazing, but logical, fashion.


Perhaps I'm outing my scientific ignorance, but it seems to me what Gernsback is describing here is something akin to an electromagnetic pulse weapon, only one created by a stream of electricity carried by wires and broadcast into the air, rather than through the side effects of a nuclear explosion. And mind you, he's describing this in nineteen-freakin'-eighteen.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Games: Battleground States 2008

People used to want these embedded games on another page so you didn't have to listen to their music if you didn't want to. I would have preferred that, too, but Blogger didn't offer that option. Now, however, they do, although they don't seem to be able to do it with a normal "more" prompt to click on. However, click on the post title above to see the game.

By the way, note the "Boston Tea Party." In 2008, that was just a punning gag used to fill a space in the list of eight political parties. Who would have thought that two years later, the Tea Party would be an actual political movement that could would sponsor candidacies for high office?


(originally posted November 3, 2008)

Want to play your favorite presidential candidate (even if that candidate is Cynthia McKinney or Bob Barr) and wipe all other candidates off the face of America?  Well, here's your chance.

"So where's the science fiction?" you ask.  Well, any scenario that starts out with up to six other parties having the same amount of support as McCain and Obama is clearly the result of recent history so alternative, it'd make even Harry Turtledove's head spin.

The game runs out of real candidates after the four I've mentioned, and then it throws in some jokes.  One of them, though, the Black Panther Party, is my favorite to play with.  The color for the states it holds is, of course, black—as is the color of all state borders.  The contiguous states I've won become a single, united, homogeneous block, swallowed up in my victory.  Moo-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Watching You Tube: Separate the WEAT from the Chaff

I've posted quite a few YouTube videos here, regarding the Star Trek New Voyages/Star Trek Phase II episode "World Enough and Time."  It's sort of a Thrilling Wonder family thing.  We had a 21-page feature article in Volume 2 about it, written by its script coordinator and documentarian Crystal Ann Taylor.  Co-writer Michael Reaves was also co-writer of "Manifest Destiny" in Volume 2.  Co-writer/director Marc Scott Zicree was Contributing Editor on both volumes, and wrote the article "Where No Writer Had Gone Before" for Volume 2.  Costume designer Iain McCaig created the Chesley-nominated cover for Volume 1/Summer 2007.  Assistant costume designer Mischi McCaig illustrated two stories in Volume 2.  And me, I was co-producer/digital media wrangler.  (I still have several hard drives I bought to hold footage for that project.)

[UPDATE 8/13/11: I really should have checked the credits before posting this, because I knew I'd forget someone.  In fact, I forgot several someones.  Kevin King, who wrote "Dark Side" for Volume 1, was the Producer's Assistant.  Steve Perry, the other co-writer of "Manifest Destiny," was the voice of the pilot of shuttlecraft Sturgeon.  Elisabeth Fies, who videotaped my interview with Forrest J Ackerman (which appeared in print in Volume 1, and as several videos on this blog) and asked additional questions, was a Production Assistant.  Pamela Davis, Editorial Assistant on both volumes, was Script Supervisor.  And receiving Special Thanks were Harlan Ellison ("Life Hutch," Volume 2), George Clayton Johnson ("Rock-a-Bye-Baby--Or Die!" Volume 2), Ray Bradbury ("The Irritated People," Volume 1), Mike Okuda (two illustrations in Volume 2), and finally, thanked beyond the grave, Theodore Sturgeon ("The Golden Helix," Volume 2).  In addition, many fine people on both sides of the camera were interviewed for the feature article, "No Studio, No Network, No Problem," but you'll have to ask the author who all of them were, because I'm sure there are many I never even knew about.]

I don't know why I mention this, especially, except to explain why we should have so many videos about WEAT that this post should be necessary.  You see, some of the videos have gone offline over the years.  So I figured I would gather together the ones that are still on YouTube, so I can delete the old posts with dead links.

Rehearsal of George Takei's big fight scene in the transporter room. I don't know who shot this, but it's interesting. Myself, I was parked downstairs at my Macintosh G5 as usual, so all I saw of the making of this scene as it was happening was a few seconds as a time as I picked up P2 cards full of footage, and dropped off empty ones.  (I made the window this size, because that's all the resolution it has.)

Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry, son of the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, on WEAT, shortly after the premiere in August 2007.

Speaking of the premiere, here's George Takei talking about it just days before. The live streaming of the event, unfortunately, didn't go so well.  As I understand it, although fans were encouraged to register ahead of time, many did not, and the unexpected traffic crashed the server.

Incidentally, although this may seem all Hollywood gushy of me, George Takei is a cool guy, a real trouper, and a great dinner raconteur.

Watch for a special Easter egg at 3:18. Yes, it's the back of your humble editor/WEAT "Digital Media Wrangler."

Well, that's taken out two old posts with three dead links.  And I'm sure you won't have a long wait for more WEAT.  (You could look them up in the old posts, of course, but that would be cheating.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Classic Serials: Undersea Kingdom, Chapter Three

In last week's "Faster-Paced" repost, I mentioned that Chapter Two has one of those notorious "cheat" cliffhangers.  To see how they work, compare the end of last week's full-length installment with the opening of this week's.  (I re-edited them in the faster-paced versions to play more fair, just because I could.)

Last week, we saw "Crash" Corrigan (or a model thereof) plummet to his death.  This week, not only is he not dead, but, in the recap, he grabs the edge and never plummets at all.  Like, probably, many of the viewers of this serial over the years, I cry foul.  How can we generate much concern for a hero once we learn the only way he can win out over overwhelming odds is by employing do-overs?

You have to wonder about a people who worship a foot-tall plaster idol that breaks upon falling onto sand from the awesome height of about fifteen feet.  I could go there with one of those cheap metal horses I used to win at the horse race pinball game at the Lake Forest Day carnival, and rule the place inside of a week.  "Behold the electroplated god who goes oopsies, yet does not break!"

We learn something else about their culture at about 15:31.  They can hold off the immense pressure of miles of water in Atlantis, but they're still working on antiperspirant.

Speaking of keeping out the water, Crash's sword sure isn't made of the same orichalcum (yes, I had to look the word up) as the dome.  It seems to me he could have saved himself a lot of trouble by going ahead and trying to kill his opponent.  The sword obviously can't cut butter, and would have snapped before it could do much damage. You'd think Crash would know this, or he wouldn't try to break it over his knee.  (I suppose the scene wouldn't have played as effectively with Crash hopping around in agony, having cut holy hell out of his leg and hands, but it's funny to think about.)

Now, it may sound like I'm dissing my blood Crash, but I enjoy this serial.  Getting to nitpick it is just a bonus.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Classic Serials: Undersea Kingdom (Faster-Paced Version), Chapter Three

(originally posted November 15, 2008)

Our snappier-paced, YouTube-length-limit-friendly edit of Republic's 1936 serial Undersea Kingdom continues!

And this week, snappier pace really is the name of the game. In each of the three previous installments, there was some GNDN sequence that I could easily clip out, saving several minutes. Last week, as I mentioned, I scarcely needed to do any additional editing, apart from shuffling some shots.

This week, not so much. As usual, I saved a minute by removing the tedious title cards that needlessly describe the characters, and I shortened the recap. Beyond that, I took it from nineteen minutes to ten by abbreviating sequences, sometimes on a shot-by-shot basis. Professor Norton, telling Unga Khan again that he refuses to help him in his mad scheme? Out. Unga Khan, describing—again—what the transforming ray is, and what it does? Out. One of Sharad's men, taking a four-second shot to cross the damn room? Out. Way too many reaction shots of Sharad and Billy during Crash's big fight? Out.

Probably the insane part of how I'm going about this is that, so far, I haven't watched chapters in advance of the one I'm working on. I mean, I saw the whole thing a couple of years ago, so I more or less remember the plot (such as it is), but if there's a chapter that's going to defeat the effort to cut it to less than ten minutes, I'm blissfully ignorant of it at the time of writing.

(Be glad Blogger is still being temperamental about uploading images. I was going to treat you to a screenshot of the Final Cut timeline to show you all the slicing-and-dicing this week.)


(and, about three weeks late, this re-post, originally posted November 4, 2008)

And now, about two weeks late, here's a trailer from the 1950 re-release of Undersea Kingdom.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Radio: The Veldt (Dimension X)

Our celebration of what's left of the sixtieth anniversary of the classic NBC radio series Dimension X continues with Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt."

I once posted on this blog the version produced nearly four years later for X Minus One, but don't bother to find it, because both the file and the player went offline long ago, and I haven't gotten around to fixing that yet.  And all I said there that's worth repeating now is:

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.")

(Although, checking the link now, I see that that quote is no longer part of their article on virtual reality.  Oh, well.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation's holodeck is also somewhat reminiscent of this story's nursery.  In theory, the reason in Trek why the user can seem to be in a large environment in a not-too-large room is that there are holographic images on the walls, floor, and ceiling, as in the nursery here.  Where TNG did "The Veldt" one better, of course, was in creating closer objects with force fields, so the user can interact with them.  In "The Veldt"... well, I'm not sure what happens, but it's not part of the factory specs.

I suppose this makes "The Veldt" the first "holodeck accident" story, 37 years before TNG (or even 24 years before a startlingly forward-looking animated Trek episode called "The Practical Joker").  But don't hold that against it.

I wish I could say more about the original story, but, er, I haven't read it.  I ordered a collection including it, but it didn't make it here for the anniversary.  Imagine how I feldt.  (Sorry, I had to get a "dt" joke in here somewhere.  If I do any more, you may want to get out the beldt, and raise some weldts on my peldt.)

As last week, this recording has some apparent crosstalk from another station, but it's not as bad.

A line about the futuristic house that's become pretty funny in the interim: "The soundproofed Happy Life home had cost $30,000, installed."

I'm guessing children Peter and Wendy were named after the characters in J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan.  (Incidentally, I find, Googling the issue, that Barrie did not, as many people claim, invent the name "Wendy."  Isn't the Internet wonderful?)

I can't help imagining this house as the same one in "There Will Come Soft Rains," earlier in its life.  (Although as I recall, that one was custom-designed, whereas this one seems to be off the shelf.)

Note that the producers seem to have accidentally left the nursery "echo" filter on for the announcer's throw to the title.

This adaptation is far superior to the later X Minus One version.  That one had a narrative envelope which allowed Ernest Kinoy (who scripted both versions) to use Ray Bradbury's descriptions in dialogue as the characters recount the events, rather than via a narrator, as here.  Unfortunately, it seriously blunted the impact of the story, literalizing and softening Bradbury's unexplained ending into some psychological episode and promising that the characters will eventually be all better.

Monday, August 8, 2011

When a Moon Hits Your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie, That's a Mare

Ever wondered why the near side of the Moon is home to pretty much all of its flat areas (called maria, singular mare, from the Latin for "sea")?

I can't say I have, frankly.  Although maybe if I'd seen this picture before today, the thought might have crossed my mind.  It's a cylindrical projection of the surface of the Moon, with the middle of the near side in the center.

image credit: U.S. Geological Survey

Fortunately, we have scientists to think about these things.  And two of them, Martin Jutzi of the University of Berne, Switzerland, and Erik Asphaug of the University of California, Santa Cruz, have an interesting new theory about it.

For some time now, the theory about how Earth came to have a large satellite, when none of the other terrestrial planets do, has gone like this: 4.5 billion years ago or so, gravitational interaction between forming planets sent some of them hurtling out of the solar system, and others hurtling across it.  One of the latter, a protoplanet the size of present-day Mars, managed to strike proto-Earth.  The heat of collision liquefied the surface of proto-Earth, and a spray of debris blew off, some of it staying in orbit.  This debris coalesced, and the Moon was born.

But, Jutzi and Asphaug ask, why should the debris become one satellite?  Why not two, a larger and a smaller, in the same orbit?  As the orbit of the two moons slowly climbed away from the Earth, the balance between them would destabilize.  They would draw closer, and eventually meet.  It seems odd to describe the crash of two moons as "gentle," but being in the same orbit, they would have the same orbital velocity, and so when they collided, it would only be with the fairly low speed given them by their mutual gravitational attraction.  Rather than leaving a crater, the smaller moon splashes over the near surface of the larger, like an egg hitting a bowling ball.

Magma, forced out by the collision, covers the other surface, leaving it smoother.  Eventually, the collision side, being heavier thanks to the contributed mass of the ex-moon, swings away from the Earth, leaving the smoother, opposite surface facing the planet.

This theory, incidentally, also explains why the far side of the Moon is, as we know, tens of kilometers thicker than the near side.  But a theory isn't much good without a potential test, and Jutzi and Asphaug have one of those, too.  The smaller moon would have finished forming before the larger.  Therefore rocks on the far side of the Moon, having once been part of the smaller moon, should be older than rocks on the original surface of the near side.

Additionally, when NASA's Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, launching next year, will produce high-resolution gravity maps of the Moon, and Jutzi and Asphaug can see whether the Moon conforms to their computer simulations of the long-ago collision.  It may be that when the Soviet Luna 3 probe first photographed the far side of the Moon in 1959, we were unknowingly getting our first look at what's left of an entirely different moon.

And no, I'm not apologizing for the title pun.

"Second moon may have collided with our moon, say scientists,"
Wikipedia (for the photo)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Meet Earth's New Best Friend

image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
Usually, when people utter the words "asteroid" and "Earth" in the same sentence, it's in a Deep Impact sort of context.  But an asteroid discovered last October by NASA's WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) satellite is news on account of its very different relationship with the Earth.  Far from being a nemesis coming to do the dinosaur number on us, it turns out 2010 TK7 is more like a frisky puppy, running around ahead of us as we perambulate in our orbit.  It's Earth's first Trojan asteroid.

As announced in the British magazine 2010 Nature last month, TK7 is in a stable orbit, 60 degrees ahead of us in our orbit around the Sun, describing a kidney-bean-shaped path around Earth-Sun Lagrange point L4.  That's one of the five points, relative to the Earth, where the gravity of the Sun and Earth exactly balance each other out.  However, since the Earth is constantly moving around the Sun, so do the Lagrange points, sending objects into those odd paths, called Lissajous curves.  2010 TK7 is currently 50 million miles from Earth.  Here's an animation of 2010 TK7's position over time:

Incidentally, if you read the comments on this video's page on YouTube, you can fear, as I do, that the human race is far too stupid to survive.  Last I checked, the consensus was that there's something sinister about this, because obviously NASA should have long ago discovered something 1,000 feet long that never gets within 12.5 million miles of us, which shares an orbit with us and is therefore in the daytime sky, and which spends most of its time well above or below the plane of the ecliptic where most orbiting objects lie.  And I guess the fact that they're announcing it now, rather than continuing to suppress knowledge of its existence, is just part of their Dark and Evil Plan.

The first Trojan asteroid was found near Jupiter in 1906.  Neptune and Mars are also known to have them. Two of Saturn's moons have two known Trojan objects each, at the moons' Lagrange points with the planet.

Of course, an object this important isn't going to go on being called "2010 TK7" for very long.  Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy blog suggests as a permanent name either "Coeus" or "Crisus," the sons of Gaia, the Greek goddess of the Earth.  Having once lived in Los Angeles for ten years, the first name that springs to my mind is "Tommy Trojan."  But that ain't gonna happen, particularly because some of the astronomers who discovered it are at UCLA.  I like my metaphor from the first paragraph best, but I don't suppose the International Astronomical Union would be amenable to calling it "Rover."

Links: article
Wikipedia article
NASA photo (of which the one here is a detail)