Sunday, July 31, 2011

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

(Originally posted November 8, 2008)

And now, Chapter Two of our snappier edit of the 1936 Republic serial Undersea Kingdom.

Actually, it's not as snappy as I could have made it.

The corridor sets on the original Star Trek had bits of pipe that were attached to the wall on both ends. The set designers labeled them GNDN—for "Goes Nowhere, Does Nothing."

Well, this week, there was another of this serial's GNDN action sequences. (The city under attack in Chapter One captures our heroes, only to lose them again.) By the time I'd gotten rid of all vestiges of it (something that required juggling a few shots, by the way), Chapter Two was already within spitting distance of ten minutes, and shortening the recap handled that.

I actually added a bit to this week's installment. Undersea Kingdom is notorious for its "cheat" cliffhangers. Crash would face some obviously deadly situation, only to have the next week's recap and resolution make it so that the situation never even happened. I put in a piece of Chapter Three so that Chapter Two now has a cliffhanger that plays fair with the audience.

Yes, I know that this chapter "resolves" last week's cliffhanger by having the "mountain" turn out to be maybe eight feet tall in the back, and strangely free of falling rocks, but at least it doesn't get a Mulligan on what we saw last week.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Free Fiction: Plan "T"

More closet-cleaning this week, although this one was always intended to be free fiction.  It was going to be the "Sunday Scientifiction" for February 28, 2010, and the only reason it didn't appear was that I accidentally saved it as a draft instead of set it to post automatically.  Here it is, just as it was going to be, both the text below and the pdf file, complete with 2010 copyright date and ad for our then-current publication, Between Worlds.

OpenDrive is still, as they say, "experiencing technical difficulties," so if there's a question mark below instead of a thumbnail image, please try again later.

* * *

click image to download story (287KB pdf)

A big part of the audience of Hugo Gernsback's Electrical Experimenter, it seems, was radio enthusiasts. Gernsback had a separate magazine, Radio News, especially for this audience, featuring, along with the articles, radio-based fiction. Almost none of it was what we would generally call science fiction, except perhaps in the "mundane science fiction" sense of being fiction about contemporary technology.

All the same, Electrical Experimenter had this kind of "radio fiction," as well, particularly Thomas N. Benson's "Wireless Wizz" series. (This week's story isn't one of those.)

To be honest, I usually go by Mike Ashley's The Gernsback Days to determine whether a story is science fiction or not, and therefore whether or not the issue containing it is worth obtaining. The book calls "Plan 'T'" science fiction, but it seems pretty borderline to me, inasmuch as there's nothing in it that couldn't actually be done in 1919. It's mainly the thought process involved in the story, the use of scientific deduction involving technology, that gives it any affinity to the genre as it developed.

But in that very sense, "Plan 'T'" is an interesting example of "scientific fiction" of that era, before "science fiction" developed... and along with it, science fiction fans.  And those fans, through their bibliographies and letters to the magazines, were at the forefront of deciding what the boundaries of the genre would be... what was "science fiction," and what was not—a discussion we're having again in our own time.

(By the way, when the hero/narrator first calls the criminals "probable counterfeiters," I wondered where he'd gotten that idea. I'd missed the significance of Watkins and Short being paper manufacturers. Also, for quite a while, I had no idea what the conversation meant about whether there was "any 'queer' in circulation now." He's talking about funny money.)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Join Me, and Together We Can Style the Galaxy as Father and Son

Why do all the coolest Star Wars-related products seem to be concept models instead of things you can really buy?  This one comes from Russian designer Tembolat Gugakaev, via Walyou, via Nerd Approved. Which means that once again, I'm the last person on Earth to post something cool.

Wouldn't it be ironic if this was how Luke Skywalker got his neat '70s feathered hair?  If this were real, of course, I'd want the airflow to go "ooo-haa" like Vader's breath.  But I don't suppose an airflow like that would get your hair dry very fast.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Watching YouTube: See Xanadu, Home of the Future!

There are many things named "Xanadu."  The original was the now-vanished summer capital of Kublai Khan, the "stately pleasure-dome" written of by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his poem about (and named after) the Mongol emperor.  It was a disastrous 1980 roller-disco musical starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly.  It was the Hearst Castle analogue in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, which a newsreel announcer calls publisher Charles Foster Kane's "never-completed, already-decaying pleasure palace."  And it was the name of three "houses of the future," built in the early 1980's as tourist attractions in Kissimmee, FL, Gatlinburg, TN, and the Wisconsin Dells.

The buildings were made of polyurethane foam, sprayed over large balloons which were subsequently removed.  This resulted in dome shapes.  So no doubt the builders were thinking of Coleridge's poem when they named the houses "Xanadu."  Myself, I can't help thinking of Kane's Xanadu, a crumbling dream.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Here's a segment from a documentary, featuring Xanadu and its designer Roy Mason.

With the benefit of hindsight, they seem like slightly late bits of '70s futurism (an idea enforced by the round bed and the hot tub in the video above).  And, like many examples of the type, they were cool and thought-provoking, but didn't leave most people with the urge to move in.

I can't remember if I ever visited Xanadu.  I recall wanting to, and my family went to the Wisconsin Dells frequently.  And yet, I don't know if the few bells these videos ring are from actually having been there, or just from gazing longingly at the brochure.  I do know that I visited fellow Dells attraction Tommy Bartlett's Robot World but I remember that because a) it was outstandingly cheesy and disappointing; and b) I knew as I was going through it that it was built from a design my father rejected for a vacation home, so I was thinking of it as the (not very comfortable) place I could have been spending a couple weeks a year.  It looks like Xanadu would have been (or was) more entertaining to visit.

According to the description on the video's YouTube page, this was a promotional video, but frankly, I find it a little creepy.  The calm, disembodied voices, ostensibly of computers mindlessly going about their tasks, remind me of Ray Bradbury's story "There Will Come Soft Rains," and of the Dimension X and X Minus One adaptations of same.  I expect the voice to read a poem, and get stuck on, "Would scarcely know that we were gone... that we were gone... that we were gone."

It's almost too bad that the house wasn't saying that as the creators of the following videos conducted their "urban exploration" of the abandoned Florida Xanadu in 2005.  The other two were demolished in the 1990's.  This one was closed in 1997.

And then (while we're talking about Citizen Kane), in 2010, as it must to most buildings, death came to Kissimmee's Xanadu.  (This video was shot in the aftermath, so there's not a lot to see here.)

Now, especially with the sign still holding vigil, it brings to mind another poem, Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandius":

And on the pedestal these words appear--
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Read the Wikipedia page for more about Xanadu.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Games: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (N64), Part 7

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

This is the level where I really, really wish this game had save points.  It took quite a while for me to make this video, since I kept eating it and having to go back to the beginning.  (Not the whole seventeen months since I posted the last installment, mind you, just "a while."  In fact, I made the video before my sabbatical.)


(I thought about making these annotations in the video, but as far as I can tell, the viewer can't avoid annotations, whereas you can choose not to read this.)

Slight YouTube milestone: This is my first video over 15 minutes.  Back when I started this, the limit was 10.  Then they upgraded it to 15.  Then they removed it altogether.

0:53 Ahem.  It's more difficult than it looks.  Honestly.

2:51 Yes, I can shoot Imperials from half a mile away, but the automatic targeting gets stymied by things that are right in front of me. The last Probe Droid, back at 2:31, was also full manual targeting.

4:07 This is about the point where I almost always sing "Mooooon Riiiiver." Why here, and not on any of the other umpty-grazillionth repetitions of this music in this level, I don't know.

5:03 That thing up on the path is a Sand Wampa. It came from one of the caves that I passed by. (There was nothing but a 20 Health in there.)

6:02 Here's another of those automatic targeting things. It won't hit the far Imperial, because there's a closer one, even though he's out of sight behind a corner.

8:12 I remember the first time I played this level. For some reason, I had enormous difficulty just getting on the floating platform, getting off at the other side, and going through the doors before they closed.

9:33 Damn targeting. There's another Stormtrooper in that lower alcove, you see (or rather, don't yet).

9:53 The part where the image dims and comes back isn't part of the game.  This video was originally in two parts, but since I don't have limits on YouTube now, I decided to combine them.  The problem is, the fade out on the first and the fade in on the second overlap, and I erased the original tape.

10:44 But where will I ever find a jetpack?

10:50 (Bela Lugosi) How fortunate! That simplifies everything! (/Bela Lugosi)

11:40 You can, of course, also jump for the Challenge Point. But since you can only get the Extra Life with the jetpack, why not make it easy?

13:53 Does this look difficult? Good, because it is freakin' crazy-ass difficult. It was the last part of this level that I could execute successfully. If I hadn't quickly turned the jetpack on and off a couple of times as I was coming down, I wouldn't have survived the last fall. This was the point while taping this where I began to hope I was going to make it through the whole level this time without dying.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Classic Serials: Undersea Kingdom, Chapter One

Welcome to the first of twelve chapters of Undersea Kingdom, the classic Republic serial from 1936.

I don't think I can give a better description of this serial than Jim Harmon and Donald F. Glut did in their 1972 book The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury:

In this Flash Gordon-type epic of a mad dictator and his arsenal of zap guns and the same robots which proved experimental models for those later used by Dr. Satan, an expedition of surface dwellers led by Ray "Crash" Corrigan (name sounding suspiciously like "Flash") arrived in Atlantis by supersubmarine.
Atlantis, like so many supercivilizations... relied heavily on superscience.  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....

The thing I love about these serials is how they're so unabashedly goofy with a straight face.  If it were produced today, the filmmakers would probably take one of three tacks on it:

1) Make it grim and gritty and no fun at all,
2) Make it a hero's journey with Levels of Deep Meaning and character arcs for everyone, or
3) Place their tongue firmly and obviously in cheek so as to put protective ironic distance between themselves and the product.

Now, perhaps I shouldn't sound so complaining about that, because I wrote an adapted screenplay recently (about which, possibly more at some unspecified future date), and did feel the need to do some character-arc work to make the story work better as a movie.  But it wasn't, before or after, like a serial, where the sugar-buzzed craziness of it was just perfect for crazy, sugar-buzzed kids of all ages.

(One bit of sugar-buzzed craziness I especially enjoy in this episode is that everyone treats the historical existence of Atlantis as an unquestionable fact.)

I don't think anyone who made Undersea Kingdom felt the need to apologize for it.  It's kind of stupid.  It's a little repetitive now and and again.  It's silly; oh, God, is it silly.  But it's entertaining.  And why the heck not, I say.

All told, this double-length introductory chapter runs nearly 31 minutes.  I cut into three segments, mistakenly thinking I had a limit on my YouTube videos of fifteen minutes and 2GB.  Once I started uploading, I found YouTube had lifted both limits.  But rather than have a full-length version take about 24 hours to upload, I kept in three pieces.  I hope you don't mind.  Incidentally, when I have to split a video, I usually try to find something reasonably cliffhanger-ish to go out on, as I did with Part 1.  With Part 2, though, I just couldn't resist the little joke of ending with that line, followed by the caption.

And if you're wondering what happened to The Phantom Creeps... well, I can't find my files.  I'll see what I can do about putting that one up next (and posting higher-quality versions of the first three episodes).

Monday, July 25, 2011

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

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to present, in more or less weekly installments, the full version of the 1936 Republic serial Undersea Kingdom.  Back in 2008-9, I cut each episode down to ten-minute installments (with the exception of the double-length Chapter One, which got two installments), partly to amuse myself, and partly because YouTube had a ten-minute limit on individual videos then.

You'll notice two other things about this video, compared with the full-length ones I'll be posting: 1) it's much fuzzier, because it came from a lower-quality source; 2) it's in a smaller viewer, because back when I posted it, YouTube only put it up in 360p, unlike the new videos, which you will be able to see in 360p or full 480p.  I suppose I could re-upload my old files to fix (2), but (1) would limit the usefulness of it.  I could also use my current source to re-create the edited version.  I don't really have an answer to that, except basic laziness.

And now, the original posts from October 25 and November 1, 2008:


Today and the next twelve Saturdays, we bring you episodes of the 1936 Republic serial Undersea Kingdom. This week, it's the first half of Chapter One. The first chapter of a serial was often longer than the others, so as to draw the audience in for the long haul. Starting with Chapter Two, I think we'll be having full chapters each week.

I say "I think" because I'm editing the chapters to give them a snappier pace. You have YouTube to thank for that. They now have a ten-minute maximum length for videos. And rather than break Undersea Kingdom up into 25 or more episodes, I decided to indulge my amateur editor's eye. I'm doing them week by week, so I don't know if later episodes will stubbornly refuse to stay coherent when cut to ten minutes. But having watched the whole serial before, I doubt it.

This week's installment represents the first seventeen minutes of Chapter One. You're spared lengthy sequences of "Crash" Corrigan winning the Army-Navy football game and wrestling, as well as the antics of the "comic" relief. Don't thank me; I'm just doin' my job.

I think my favorite part is the little clip introducing Monte Blue as the vicious Unga Khan. I love how he gives us his Evil Eyes, slowly raising them, then looking to the side. I wonder if he practiced that in the mirror.

Lois Wilde's intro is my second favorite, with her little "I am clearly not taking this at all seriously" moment.


Welcome to the latest installment of our snappier edit of the 1936 Republic serial, Undersea Kingdom.

This time, I sculpted the latter thirteen minutes of Chapter One into about seven minutes, forty-five seconds, exclusive of opening credits and recap.

Biting the dust this time was a segment of Crash and co. exploring Atlantis a bit, Unga Khan sending his army after them, and Crash single-handedly giving them the runaround... a chunk of about four minutes that comes to absolutely nothing. In fact, that shot in our version, with the arriving Juggernaut catching our heroes' attention as they leave the vicinity of their sub...? That's actually them returning. Most of the rest of the editing was a matter of tightening up the cliffhanger resolution and getting dragged down to Atlantis.

They mostly had very utilitarian editing in Undersea Kingdom. Usually, when someone speaks, they're on screen. I saved a little time by getting a little fancier—cutting to the depth gauge while Crash is still talking, and cutting to Briny and Salty while the Professor is talking about them. (Originally, the former shot came after Crash's line, and the latter shot was a longer, earlier standalone bit.)

This afternoon, I checked out the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of Chapter One. I'd seen it before and remembered they'd cut out a chunk, but couldn't recall where. With the aid of a commercial break, they go straight from Diana's "What a story this will make for my paper!" (Part One, 6:47 in our version) to Unga Khan watching the sub as it's dragged down (a shot I excised, just before Part Two, 5:21).

In short, they cut the whole departure/crazy guy sequence. I'm almost embarrassed I didn't even consider that, but I'd kind of latched onto Crazy Guy as a Part One cliffhanger. Still, without that bit, I'd have had to keep the sports action, and I prefer it the way it is.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

We Goin' Ridin' on the Freeway of Love in Our Ford Nucleon

If you want to come down with a serious case of car envy, check out this photo gallery of the Top 10 Concept Cars of the Fifties.  Okay, it was posted over a year ago, so I'm probably the eighty grazillionth person to link to it, but there's nothing quite so timeless as yesterday's tomorrows.  Or something.

The GM Firebird II was designed to drive on our inevitable automated highways.  Really.

Seriously, though, wouldn't it be cool to have a Lincoln Futura or a GM Firebird II, just so people could stare at you as you went stylin' down the highway?  In fact, the Lincoln Futura was so stylin' that the producers of the 1960's Batman TV series used one as the basis for their Batmobile.

Batman and Robin in disguise.  Not to catch a crook; just because it makes them feel special.

I think maybe the most attractive, in a quieter way, is the Chrysler K-310.  The Dodge Firearrows, meanwhile, remind me of electric razors.

The stylin' Chrysler K-310.  And who cares what you think?

But by far the most alarming is the Ford Nucleon, which fortunately never got any farther than a scale design model.  Yes, motor to work or play in the car with a freakin' nuclear reactor in the back.  Most people can't keep their oil maintained.  What hope this?  They could call breakdowns "The Detroit Syndrome."

"You're upset 'cause I'm late?!  My car had a meltdown, and now I can't have children!"

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Free Fiction: The Second Deluge

(UPDATE 7/25/11: OpenDrive, where I'm keeping my files these days, has been having a little difficulty lately, and is up and down with little rhyme or reason.  So if there are question marks below instead of thumbnails, try again later.)

A man predicts environmental disaster for the Earth. The polar caps will melt. The coastal cities will be inundated. People laugh at him. Politicians dismiss him. Press and entertainers make a laughingstock of him.

Sounds familiar, somehow. Hmm. Can't quite put my finger on it.

Today, we clean the closets here at Thrilling Wonder Stories.

As I said Thursday, we're not publishing anything right now. (This may change, however, and our five releases to date remain in print.) Here's something prepared just before that became the case.

You see, this was going to be Thrilling Wonder Stories Origins Series #3, following up When the Sleeper Wakes and Between Worlds, but frankly, the sales on those two were such that I realized I was probably going to lose money just setting this third one up with the print-on-demand service.

So now, 18 months or so later, let my "to hell with it" be your gain, and enjoy, absolutely free of cost on your end (and loss on mine) The Second Deluge, by Garrett P. Serviss. Originally appearing as a seven-part serial in The Cavalier in July 1911 through January 1912, it quickly (March 1912) saw book publication by McBride, Nast, and Company. It's from a ratty but proud copy of that edition that I scanned the illustrations.

Garrett P. Serviss was a popular speaker and writer on astronomical and scientific topics, as well as a pioneering writer of what Hugo Gernsback would later lastingly call science fiction. Serviss's first novel was Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898), an unauthorized sequel to H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. He wrote five other novels and a short story.

My favorite aspect of the novel is its occasional satirical edge, especially in how Serviss shows what's going on in the wider society before the deluge. I especially enjoy the sequence on pages 13-15, with a vaudeville performer's burlesque of the scientist. It's interesting to see someone, almost exactly a century ago, taking notice of how the mass media decides who it's going to take seriously, and who it's going to make a laughingstock. As I say, things haven't necessarily changed a whole lot.

There's also a bit of irony, unusual for adventure fiction of the time, in the last chapter that I don't want to ruin for you.

And, just to show you that this was meant to be an honest-to-gosh book, I also present the would-be cover.

Click image to download novel (9.35MB pdf)
Click image to download cover (1.02MB jpg)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Degradation of the Daleks

Diagram of the Dalek props as used in "Resurrection of the Daleks" (1984)
Here's a website which perfectly embodies the dedication, curiosity, attention to detail, and general weirdness of we science fiction enthusiasts.

Called Dalek6388, it follows the history of the Dalek props used in the original Doctor Who series from their inaugural appearance in the series' sixth episode, "The Survivors," in 1963, to their swansong in "Remembrance of the Daleks, Part Four" in 1988.  Along the way, it also handles Daleks constructed for the two movies starring Peter Cushing, the play Curse of the Daleks, and for publicity purposes.

In the graphic above, for instance, we see that the four Daleks scraped together to menace Peter Davison in "Resurrection of the Daleks" (1984) consisted of the following: the top of a 1963 Dalek on a base produced for "The Chase" (1965) from the molds made for the film Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965); the top of a Dalek built for "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" (1964) on an odd, almost-symmetrical base from a Dalek built for exhibition purposes; the top that originally went with the aforementioned base from "The Chase" on a wooden base (as opposed to the fiberglass of the others) originally built for "Planet of the Daleks" (1973) purely as a crowd-filling extra; and the top from that base, on the base of the other "Dalek Invasion of Earth" build.

So you can see it's kind of a complex story.  The site's creators spent many hours freeze-framing videos and carefully examining photographs to uncover characteristic differences between the props, and are able to give us a complete, highly readable, lavishly illustrated account of how they (the Daleks, not the authors) were used, given away, borrowed, stolen, broken, repainted, mismatched, repaired (or not), and generally abused over the course of a quarter-century.  (As I was amazed to find out, the top of one of the Daleks used in "Remembrance" in 1988 came from the original set of four, built in 1963, and survives to this day.  So do the collars and base of another 1963 Dalek, but for some reason, they last saw use in the series in 1967 and 1975, respectively.)  In the process, the authors come to some new conclusions (such as that the Daleks made for Curse went on to appear in the second film, Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.) and put to rest some old bits of received wisdom (such as the notion that any film Daleks were ever converted for regular use in the series).

After reading this site, with rapt attention, for about three hours, I began to wonder if I wasn't, you know, like, a nerd or something.  Fortunately, the authors end their account with this amusing and reassuring statement: "We thank you for taking the time to read any of this site, and if you feel a little bit guilty for finding it quite interesting, you can take comfort from the fact that you weren't the losers who wrote it."

But let me tell you, nerds like me should (Dalek voice) ap-pre-ci-ate (/Dalek voice) the dedication of losers like them.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Voyage to Vesta, in Super 3-D!

Yes, after a nice, long rest, the Thrilling Wonder Stories blog is back.  I'm not publishing anything right now, or doing much else, but I decided, hey, why not have some fun talking about the science fiction, science fact, and miscellaneous stuff that catches my attention?

And today, that's NASA's/JPL's Dawn mission to the asteroid belt.  Last Friday, Dawn reached Vesta, the second-largest asteroid, becoming the first probe ever to orbit an object in the belt.  When it's done there, it will become the first probe to leave orbit and visit another body, heading for the big kid on the block, Ceres.  (It's so big, in fact, it's technically a dwarf planet, and not only an asteroid like Vesta.)

As Wikipedia says, "The mission's goal is to characterize the conditions and processes of the solar system's earliest eon by investigating in detail two of the largest protoplanets remaining intact since their formation. Ceres and Vesta have many contrasting characteristics that are thought to have resulted from them forming in two different regions of the early solar system."

I try not to be jaded about probe missions, but the first space mission I was consciously aware of as it was happening was the Voyager 1 Jupiter encounter, and to me, the Voyager program is still the gold standard for this sort of thing.

Maybe NASA and JPL anticipated that reaction, because six days before arrival, they had Dawn capture this 3-D image of the asteroid, which you can view if, like me, you're a big enough nerd that you have your own set of red-blue or red-green 3-D glasses handy.  As I recall, 3-D space photography goes back at least as far as the Viking mission to Mars, but it's still pretty cool.

image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA (MOUSE, and sometimes Y)

You can download a larger version (1024x768, against the 640x480 above) from the press release page on JPL's website.

Now, of course, we need to send astronauts to the asteroid.  Then we need them to do something silly while in orbit, so we can call them "Maroons Off Vesta."