RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke

2077: September 11th – an asteroid slams into northern Italy, destroying the cities of Padua and Verona, and sinking Venice, causing unimaginable damage and wiping out countless lives. After the catastrophe, Project Spaceguard is set up, to monitor and warn about any new rogue near-Earth celestial bodies that might pose a threat to our world.

2130: Project Spaceguard astronomers detect a large object in the outer solar system, just beyond the orbit of Jupiter. It’s assumed to be an asteroid, and its extreme speed and trajectory show that the object is not orbiting our sun, but is a visitor from interstellar space passing through our solar system. It’s given the name Rama, after one of the Hindu gods (the names of the Greek and Roman gods have all been used up).

Scientists find the object fascinating because of its large size and extremely rapid rotation, so a probe is launched from the Martian moon, Phobos, to intercept Rama on a rapid flyby trajectory. But when the probe approaches Rama, they are shocked and amazed at the transmissions, which show that Rama is not an asteroid, but an artificial body, an immense, spinning, hollow cylinder fifty kilometres long and over twenty kilometres in diameter, a vast alien spaceship or artifact. Mankind is about to have its first encounter with an extraterrestrial civilization, their first visitor from the stars.

2131: The only manned spaceship close enough to reach Rama before it leaves the solar system again is the solar survey vessel Endeavour, under the captaincy of Commander Norton and with a crew of more than twenty. The ship intercepts Rama inside the orbit of Venus and lands at the “North Pole”, where Norton and his crew find an airlock through which they gain access to the interior of Rama. Once inside, they find the interior in complete darkness, but continue exploring using artificial lighting. They descend into Rama down an immense (eight kilometres long) stairway (one of three), but part-way into the descent, the lights come on, and they can now see the whole of the interior of this incredible alien world.

And “world” it is, much too large to be a mere spaceship. It’s an inverted world on the inside of the immense cylinder (like the inside of Babylon 5, but ten times bigger), a world with its own artificial gravity produced by the rapid spin of the giant cylinder, and its own environment and ecology. The interior surface of the cylinder is referred to as the Central Plain by the crew, and is divided into two “hemispheres” by an immense ten kilometre-wide body of water designated the Cylindrical Sea (which is initially frozen, but thaws out as Rama gets closer to the sun). The sight of this immense ring of water, encircling the entire interior circumference of Rama, and stretching in a curve right up into the “sky”, where it hangs “upside-down” miles overhead, is an awe-inspiring and terrifying one.

The northern half of Rama contains a number of what looks like small “towns” – labelled London, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Tokyo and Peking – all connected together by “roads”. In the middle of the Cylindrical Sea is a mysterious island covered in large structures which resemble skyscrapers, so the astronauts call this one New York.

The southern half of Rama is covered by a patchwork of hundreds of small kilometre-square regions which contain all sorts of strange stuff, all seemingly unconnected. But most fascinating is the immense structure at the far end (the stern) of the ship, a gigantic cone encircled by six smaller cones. These are obviously the main visible component of Rama’s vast and mysterious reactionless “space drive”, which has been hurling the vessel through interstellar space for God knows how many millennia now.

There are six enormous trenches stretching along the interior, all equidistant (the same distance apart), three in the north and three in the south. These contain the immense kilometres-long “strip-lights” which provide the interior lighting for Rama.

Rama initially appears to be totally lifeless, until the appearance of cybernetic lifeforms referred to as “biots”, who scurry all over the interior surface of the ship, seemingly existing only to tidy up and repair Rama, getting the huge vessel ready for… something (we never find out exactly what, but possibly for some upcoming manoeuvre of the craft). The “biots” totally ignore the explorers, as though they aren’t even there. We never actually get to see the builders of Rama – the inference is that they are hidden somewhere on this vast spaceship, possibly in suspended animation during the long voyage.

The story revolves almost totally around the adventures of the explorers, as they try, totally in vain, to uncover and understand the amazing mysteries of this alien world. There are no bug-eyed monsters, sneering villains nor any of the other clichés of dramatic adventure fiction. Just the sheer awe and wide-eyed sensawunda as the humans explore the wonders of Rama. Sure, there are accidents and mishaps. The aggressive society on Mercury view Rama as a threat, so launch an enormous nuclear missile to destroy the ship (which has a near-escape). There is the rescue of a crewmember who is stranded on the far side of the Cylindrical Sea, and a few other exciting interludes. But this is not a bog-standard adventure story. It’s a hard SF novel, depicting a First Contact between humans and a mysterious alien artifact. Rama, and the exploration of it, is the focus of this story, not the humans.

After a few weeks of exploring, and failing to unlock the secrets of Rama, the crew of the Endeavour have to get ready to leave, making their way back up the immense stairways to the airlock and their waiting ship. Rama is now too close to the sun for the Endeavour’s cooling systems to compensate. As they leave, Rama undergoes a braking manoeuvre, and begins siphoning off energy from the sun to replenish its reserves for the long journey ahead. Then, using the sun’s gravitational field to provide a slingshot effect, it swings round and hurtles off in a different direction out of the solar system, as the “space drive” kicks in, accelerating Rama to a speed that no human vessel can match. Its destination? Unknown. But Rama is now heading towards the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy orbiting many tens of thousands of light-years outside of our own Milky Way. It still has a long, long way to go before this journey is over.

We know as little about the creators of Rama at the end as we did at the start of the novel, aside from the scientist’s revelation that “Ramans do everything in threes”. Who or what are they? Where do they come from? Where are they going? The huge irony is that the human race is reduced to an insignificant bit-player beside the wonders of Rama. The Ramans are simply not interested in humanity at all, that is, if they are even aware that we exist. They’re only “passing through”, their only interest in our solar system is as a pit-stop, a refuelling depot to replenish Rama’s reserves for the long interstellar voyage ahead. The enigma of Rama remains intact, the wonders, secrets and mysteries still unexplained. They don’t have to be. The sheer sensawunda of this story keeps the reader enthralled from start to finish.

Rendezvous with Rama was first published in 1972, and, to this day, remains not only my personal favourite of all of Arthur C. Clarke’s novels, but one of my favourite SF novels, EVER! I remember reading it for the first time when I was about twelve years old. I couldn’t sleep one Saturday morning, so I took Rendezvous with Rama to bed with me, and read it from start to finish in less than three hours. I couldn’t put it down – I was totally enthralled. I became totally obsessed with that novel for many months afterwards, reading and re-reading it again and again and again.

Clarke often takes criticism about not writing in-depth characters, and Rendezvous with Rama is no different. But the critics completely miss the point. This novel (and most of Clarke’s work) is a HARD SF story – it’s all about the science and sheer sensawunda, the awe-inspiring majesty and mystery of mankind’s first encounter with an amazing, unfathomable alien artifact. The humans are insignificant, unimportant, mere observers, visitors, passing through Rama, just as Rama passes through our solar system, on its way to its final destination. The real star of the novel, the main “character”, isn’t the humans at all, it’s Rama.

It isn’t for nothing that this novel won all the SF book awards going at that time – the Nebula Award for Best Novel (1973), the Hugo Award for Best Novel (1974), the British Science Fiction Association Award (1973), the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (1974), the Locus Award for Best Novel (1974), and the Jupiter Award for Best Novel (1974). It was (and is still) very highly regarded. Rendezvous with Rama is, undoubtedly, one of the seminal classic hard SF novels of the past sixty years.

Along with Larry Niven’s Ringworld (which appeared a year or two before, and explored similar themes), it influenced an entire generation of younger SF authors, such as Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, Iain M. Banks and many others. If many of the themes explored in Rendezvous with Rama (and Ringworld) might nowadays seem overused and clichéd to the modern SF audience, don’t blame Clarke (or Niven). The themes might be commonplace now, but those two authors did it all first.

There were a number of inferior sequels to Rendezvous with Rama – Rama II (1989), The Garden of Rama (1991), Rama Revealed (1993) – all supposedly written “in collaboration” between Clarke and Gentry Lee, but obviously written entirely by Gentry Lee (Clarke was a MUCH better writer). They aren’t remotely as good as the original novel (I tried a couple of them – couldn’t finish them), and I’d recommended giving them a big MISS.

But read the Real Thing, one of the true classic SF novels. You won’t regret it.

Andersonic Issue 18

Andersonic 18

The best recent news on the fanzine front is that Richard Farrell and the gang have just released Andersonic #18 onto “the streets”, and just in time too, as I was in dire need of something good to read.

For those unfortunates who aren’t “in the know”, Andersonic is THE best (as well as my own absolute favourite) Gerry Anderson-based fanzine, covering all the various Gerry Anderson shows, both the various live series and the classic puppet shows, as well as the excellent CGI animated New Captain Scarlet series.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that Andersonic is a real, honest-to-goodness A5 printed zine, not an electronic publication. Real “paper” zines are as rare as hen’s teeth these days, so this is a big, big plus, as far as I’m concerned, as I’ve always loved real zines, the ones you can actually hold in your hand and turn the pages. I LOVE real, paper fanzines.

Here are the contents of Issue 18, according to the Andersonic website:

  • David Elliott interview – a new interview with APF’s editor and director in which he discusses his work on the APF series.
  • Alan Perry interview – Alan talks of his time working at APF/Century 21 on series such as Stingray and Thunderbirds and directing Captain Scarlet and the live-action UFO, working with puppets, actors and chihuahuas.
  • Thunderbirds – Is it Invisible TV? A look at why the Andersons’ series are often overlooked by the more academic articles about television.
  • UFO/ Computer Affair – Someone’s in lurve but Ed Straker needs a computer to see it. We look at an underrated episode…
  • Joe 90/ Most Special Agent – two writers discuss this series opener. One of them likes it… the other one’s not so sure.
  • How do you watch your fave series? – Our writers reveal their little rituals when watching a bit of Anderson telly.
  • Strip Story – we look at an individual comic strip to see what makes it tick. This issue – Countdown’s Stingray story ‘Model Mission’ drawn by Brian Lewis.
  • …plus Alpha Log reports, 2014’s event reviews and The Overseers of Psychon. New art by Nigel Parkinson and cover image by Martin Bower.

My copy of Andersonic #18 arrived several days ago, and just as soon as I can get one of those rare quiet evenings to myself, I have lots and lots of great reading to look forward to. At only £2.70 (British Pounds Sterling), inclusive of postage (within the UK – check the website for postage elsewhere), for 44 pages of wholesome Anderson goodness, you can’t even buy a pint of beer down the pub for that. All fans of Gerry Anderson AND of fanzines should get their booties posthaste over to the Andersonic website and order themselves a copy of this delicious little zine.

Some New Books: April – August 2014

This month marks the first anniversary of the first post to this blog, which has chugged along with at least one post per month, each month, since the blog began. Considering the fact that I believed that this might just be a short-lived offshoot of my main blog, and that it most likely would be folded back into that blog relatively quickly, I’m quite pleased that it has made it to the year mark. :)

Anyway, here’s an update on the books that I’ve picked up from Ebay UK, Amazon UK and elsewhere, over the period roughly April – August of this year:

Novels:

  • RAINBOW MARS by Larry Niven (hardback)
  • THE MEMORY OF SKY: A GREAT SHIP TRILOGY by Robert Reed (trade paperback)
  • FIRE WITH FIRE by Charles E. Gannon (paperback)

Collections:

  • THE COLLECTED STORIES OF VERNOR VINGE by Vernor Vinge (trade paperback)
  • THE FLIGHT OF THE HORSE by Larry Niven (paperback)

Anthologies:

  • YEAR’S BEST SF 11 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (paperback)
  • YEAR’S BEST SF 12 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (paperback)
  • THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY 2014 edited by Rich Horton (trade paperback)
  • SPACE OPERA edited by Rich Horton (trade paperback)
  • THRILLING WONDER STORIES Volume 1 edited by Winston Engle (trade paperback)
  • THRILLING WONDER STORIES Volume 2 edited by Winston Engle (trade paperback)
  • AMAZING STORIES – GIANT 35TH ANNIVERSARY ISSUE – APRIL 1961 (2014 REISSUE) edited by Steve Davidson & Jean Marie Stine (trade paperback)
  • SPACE OPERA edited by Rich Horton (trade paperback)
  • THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF MINDBLOWING SF edited by Mike Ashley (trade paperback)
  • THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF EXTREME SCIENCE FICTION edited by Mike Ashley (trade paperback)
  • THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF GOLDEN AGE SCIENCE FICTION edited by Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg (trade paperback)
  • ALIEN’S: RECENT ENCOUNTERS edited by Alex Dally MacFarlane (trade paperback)
  • FUTURE LOVECRAFT edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles (trade paperback)
  • DEVILS AND DEMONS – A TREASURY OF FIENDISH TALES OLD & NEW edited by Marvin Kaye (hardback)
  • MASTERPIECES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL – A TREASURY OF SPELLBINDING TALES OLD & NEW edited by Marvin Kaye (hardback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 1 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 4 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 5 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 7 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 9 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 10 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 15 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 16 by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)

Non-Fiction:

  • THE FORREST J. ACKERMAN OEUVRE by Christopher M. O’Brien (trade paperback)

Aside from two novels, Chuck Gannon’s excellent FIRE WITH FIRE and Larry Niven’s equally excellent RAINBOW MARS, one omnibus of three novels, Robert Reed’s “Great Ship” Trilogy THE MEMORY OF SKY, two author short story collections, Larry Niven’s THE FLIGHT OF THE HORSE and THE COLLECTED STORIES OF VERNOR VINGE, plus one non-fiction book, THE FORREST J. ACKERMAN OEUVRE, it’s all anthologies this time around.

An interesting trend seems to be running right now, with anthologies of material from classic SF magazines being republished. Here we have two volumes of THRILLING WONDER STORIES and the 2014 reissue of the classic April 1961 35th Anniversary issue of AMAZING STORIES. Lovely stuff.

I’ve also picked up several horror anthologies, DEVILS AND DEMONS, MASTERPIECES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL and FUTURE LOVECRAFT, which is unusual for me, as ninety-nine percent of my fiction reading is SF. But I’ve always had a soft spot for anything Lovecraft, so FUTURE LOVECRAFT should be right up my street. I’m not fussed on modern horror & supernatural stuff, but DEVILS AND DEMONS is made up of all older, classic horror stories, which I really like, as is its sister anthology, MASTERPIECES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL. These should both be great reads.

There are three more anthologies of MAMMOTH books in among this lot, which are very nice indeed. I love those MAMMOTH anthologies. There are also two more anthologies from the ever-reliable Rich Horton – his most recent (2014) edition of THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, and SPACE OPERA, a nice fat anthology of excellent space opera tales culled from more recent years. And to round off the newer books, there’s Alex Dally MacFarlane’s ALIEN’S: RECENT ENCOUNTERS, collecting some of the best recent SF stories covering that subject.

Finally, I’ve been on a bit of a roll tracking down Asimov’s classic THE GREAT SF STORIES series, which covers a massive 25 volumes of SF paperback goodness. Last time out, I’d only managed to procure one of them, Volume 19. But sheer determination will always win through, and this time around, I’ve picked up another eight volumes in the series, and just a few days ago I nabbed another three volumes, which haven’t arrived yet. That’s 12 out of the 25 volumes so far in only 3-4 months, so a pretty good start. I intend to keep going until I get all 25 volumes, as the OCD/obsessive collector in me will not allow anything else (I go nuts until I fill in any gaps in my collection).

So even more anthologies than usual. But I can’t complain, as I love my short fiction. :)

Doctor Who, Season 8 – “Deep Breath”

I know it’s hard to believe, but we’re already half-way through the new season of Doctor Who. So I thought that it’s about time that I started posting a few brief opinions on each episode, hoping that I’ll be able to catch up before we get to the end of the season.

The season opener, Deep Breath, was a longer than usual 75-minute episode. It’s a typical regeneration debut story, much more about introducing the new Doctor than anything else, and, as such, it did that very well. Here are what I regarded as the plus and negative points:

The Good Stuff:
The most important thing first. I loved the new Doctor. Peter Capaldi is a fine actor, and I think he’s going to be excellent in the role. He’s totally different to the previous incarnation, and that’s how it should be. He’s a grumpy, sarcastic Scotsman (and very funny, in a totally different way to the manic Matt Smith), with a strong streak of “alienness”, which any good Doctor needs to offset his humanity. He pushed all the right buttons for me in his debut story, and I’m looking forward to watching him grow into the role.

I also really liked seeing Lady Vastra, Jenny and Strax again. I always enjoy the appearances of the Paternoster Gang, and I think that Strax is absolutely hilarious. Lots of humourous moments and good character scenes in this story.

The Bad Stuff:
The story itself was okay but wasn’t exactly amazing either. The plot was a bit on the thin side, and if you take out Peter Capaldi and the Paternoster Gang, the episode would barely have rated a C. Also, Steven Moffat’s seeming obsession with having the Doctor constantly revisit the Victorian era is starting to wear a bit thin, as much as I might like the Victorian era.

I also had a couple of major plot and character quibbles with this story:

Number One is Clara’s totally out of character reaction to the new Doctor. Yes, I know that Steven Moffat was using it as a strong dig at the type of fan who was reacting negatively to Matt Smith leaving, and all of the stupid, irrational hating on Peter Capaldi before they’d even seen him in the role. But it was a completely wrong reboot of Clara’s character. Any other companion reacting like this, yes, maybe, just maybe it might’ve been a bit more realistic, but not the Impossible Girl.

She’s met all of the Doctors, and a new one shouldn’t even phase her, older or not. Hell, she’s even been in an adventure with three different Doctors, Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt, in The Day of the Doctor, so she’s pretty familiar with regeneration and other Doctors. I know that some people are of the opinion that Clara doesn’t remember any of her other lives (or the Doctor’s she met), but I’m firmly in the “yes she does” camp. But even if she doesn’t, she would never, EVER have reacted in this way.

Her overly-negative, almost hysterical overreaction to the Peter Capaldi Doctor being “older” is also way out of character, and totally immature and unrealistic. She’s already met an older Doctor (Hurt), and got on really well with him. The Clara that we all know simply would NOT have behaved like this towards the new Doctor.

Number Two is a major plot/continuity cock-up by Moffat: the phone call from the Matt Smith Doctor on Trenzalore to Clara. He says to Clara that the time is getting close, and “it’s going to be a real whopper” (obviously referring to the upcoming regeneration). This scene was quite poignant and well-acted, until you actually stop and remember back to what happened at the end of The Time of the Doctor. The Doctor, as far as he was concerned for the ENTIRE episode, wasn’t going to regenerate. He was going to die.

That was the whole damned point of the story. He’d run out of regenerations, and, right up until the climax of the episode, when the Time Lords popped up and gave the Doctor a new cycle of regenerations (after Clara pleading with them, of course), he was resigned to meeting his end while fighting to save the people of Trenzalore from the Daleks. He didn’t know he was going to regenerate UNTIL IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. So Matt Smith’s Doctor wouldn’t/couldn’t have made that phone call to Clara. As beautiful and emotional as the scene undoubtedly was, it was also a stupid continuity error and very sloppy writing on Moffat’s part.

So overall, a couple of major issues, and a fairly average, unremarkable story. That said, there were quite a few nice character pieces, sad bits, and slices of humour. The performances of Lady Vastra, Strax and Jenny were excellent, as usual. And Peter Capaldi’s performance (which is, after all, the most important thing) as the new Doctor was A-rated. So Deep Breath was a success, both as a regeneration story and an introduction to the new Doctor.

A SENSE OF WONDER edited by Sam Moskowitz

TITLE: A SENSE OF WONDER
EDITED BY: Sam Moskowitz
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 197 pages
PUBLISHER: Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1967. Originally published in the US in 1967 by Doubleday and Company, Inc. under the title THREE STORIES.

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Sam Moskowitz
  • “Exiles on Asperus” by John Wyndham [as by John Beynon Harris] (Wonder Stories Quarterly, Winter 1933)
  • “The Mole Pirate” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1935)
  • “The Moon Era” by Jack Williamson (Wonder Stories, February 1932)

A SENSE OF WONDER is quite a short anthology, at only 197 pages. The edition that I have is the 1967 UK 1st edition hardback, in excellent condition, and complete with pristine condition dustjacket. It was published back in 1967 by good old UK SF reliables, Sidgwick & Jackson. The US 1st edition had been published earlier the same year by Doubleday and Company, Inc. under the much more bland title THREE STORIES.

The anthology is edited by SF legend Sam Moskowitz, contains only three stories, all novellas, and an introduction by Moskowitz himself. Whilst there are only three (pretty long, admittedly) stories in this anthology, the introduction by Moskowitz is also a fascinating read in itself. I often find a really good introduction to a book to be just as interesting as the stories themselves. And this one, though relatively short, at only three pages, is definitely interesting.

According to Moskowitz’s introduction, this 1967 anthology marked the first time that any of these three stories had appeared since their original publication in the SF “pulps”, back in the early-to-mid 1930’s. So we have Moskowitz to thank for rescuing these three old gems from the depths of literary obscurity, although it must be pointed out that this anthology is forty-seven years old, and is in itself a forgotten gem by today’s standards. It’s scary to think that the publication date of the book is actually closer to the original first appearances of the stories in those ancient SF magazines than it is to the present day.

The first of the three novellas is “Exiles on Asperus” by John Wyndham, which was first published in the Winter 1933 edition of Wonder Stories Quarterly. It was written under his real name, John Beynon Harris. It’s a long time since I’ve read any Wyndham, and I don’t recall ever reading this one before.

The second story is “The Mole Pirate” by Murray Leinster, which first appeared in the November 1935 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. I’m familiar with this one only by reputation, as I’ve never read it. I haven’t read any Murray Leinster in a long time, but I just recently bought the two volumes of Murray Leinster Wildside Press Megapacks on Amazon, so I reckon it’s well past time for me to reacquaint myself with the old master.

The third and final story is “The Moon Era” by Jack Williamson, which was first published in the February 1932 edition of Wonder Stories. I remember reading this one as a teenager (in an old paperback edition of A SENSE OF WONDER, no less), and it has always remained a favourite of mine, one of those stories that still sticks in your mind thirty-five or forty years after you first read it.

Despite being written in 1931, this is essentially an updated nineteenth century “scientific romance” in the style of H. G. Wells, which is no bad thing in my book. And we all know that Jack Williamson was a huge fan of Wells and the other scientific romance authors, with the Wells influences showing through very heavily in a lot of his early writing. Since I absolutely love scientific romances (that’s how I started off reading SF in the first place, with H. G. Wells and Jules Verne), this story was already a winner from the first time I laid eyes on it.

I’m looking forward to reading this anthology again. It’s been many years since I read “The Moon Era”, and I’m itching to re-read it. As far as I recall, back when I read A SENSE OF WONDER all those years ago, I just read “The Moon Era” over and over again (I was really obsessed with it as a teenager), and didn’t even bother with the other two stories. So it’ll also be nice to actually read “Exiles on Asperus” and “The Mole Pirate” for the first time, as I don’t recall ever reading either of them before, despite having this anthology on my bookshelves for many years.

Doctor Who Back on UK Television!

Like every other Doctor Who fan on the planet, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the start of the new season, and most of all the first full appearance of the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi. Now at last, Doctor Who returns to UK television tomorrow, Saturday, 23rd August, at 7.50pm, in a 75-minute feature-length episode.

The first episode of twelve in the new Season 8 (or Season 34, if you prefer to include the classic series, as I do), is Deep Breath. Here’s a list of the twelve episodes of the new season:

  1. Deep Breath
  2. Into the Dalek
  3. Robot of Sherwood
  4. Listen
  5. Time Heist
  6. The Caretaker
  7. Kill the Moon
  8. Mummy on the Orient Express
  9. Flatline
  10. In the Forest of the Night
  11. Dark Water
  12. Death in Heaven

The last two episodes are the two-part Season Finale. I’ve deliberately avoided giving any spoilers. Indeed, I’ve actively avoided encountering any spoilers myself, and I know absolutely nothing about the episodes other than their titles. I’ve become royally fed up, every single year, having each new season ruined by spoilers all over the internet, on TV and in the magazines, so this year it’s been me dodging any kind of spoilers as nimbly as I can. Fingers crossed I can make it to Saturday, and woe betide anyone who ruins things for me. :)

I’ve always been a huge fan of Matt Smith and his portrayal of the Doctor. Starting off as a relative unknown, he took to the role like a duck to water, and he has been, without a doubt, a huge success as the 11th Doctor. He brought us a zany, eccentric, manic, and often truly alien version of the Doctor that reminded me most of Tom Baker (on speed), which can never be a bad thing as far as I’m concerned, as TomDoc has always been my favourite Doctor of all.

By adopting some of the best elements of not only Tom Baker, but also other previous Doctors (there’s a lot of Patrick Troughton in there as well), combined with his own natural hi-energy craziness, Smith created a new persona which really appealed to me in a “he was born for the role” kind of way. I absolutely loved him, which came as a big surprise to me as I was really apprehensive back when he first took over from David Tennant. Even in the less notable episodes, he lights up the screen and he makes even the worst stories watchable, even if only to enjoy Smith doing his thing.

So Peter Capaldi has a lot to live up to, although I’m sure he’ll be more than up to the job. He’s an accomplished actor, and has been around for a long, long time. He’s also a lifetime Doctor Who fan, and has been since he was a young child. Or at least he was an obsessive fan of the classic series (I’ve no idea what he thinks of the new series), from the beginning with William Hartnell, right on through to the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker. So this bodes well for the show, in my opinion.

I’m actually looking forward to this older, darker Doctor, and to seeing how he works with the current companion, Clara (Jenna Coleman). Roll on Saturday evening, 7.50pm!

SCIENCE FICTION edited by S. H. Burton

TITLE: SCIENCE FICTION
EDITED BY: S. H. Burton
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 245 pages
PUBLISHER: Longman, The Heritage of Literature Series, London, 1967.

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by S. H. Burton
  • “Requiem” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1940)
  • “A Present from Joe” by Eric Frank Russell (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1949)
  • “Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed” by Ray Bradbury (Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1949, as “The Naming of Names”)
  • “Protected Species” by H. B. Fyfe (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1951)
  • “The New Wine” by John Christopher (Fantastic Story Magazine, Summer 1954)
  • “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1941)
  • “The Windows of Heaven” by John Brunner (New Worlds, May 1956, as “Two by Two”)
  • “Youth” by Isaac Asimov (Space Science Fiction, May 1952)
  • “The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke (Infinity Science Fiction, November 1955)

This is an unusual little book, a very small hardcover, only the size of a paperback. It’s also interesting in that it was published as part of Longmans’ prestige “The Heritage of Literature Series”, rather than as a commercial SF paperback or hardback. This series seems to be more of an academic line, covering not only science fiction, but detective fiction and general short fiction. Very interesting.

It’s a fairly short anthology, and there are a few classic, well-known stories by big name authors, which have seen publication previously in many anthologies and single-author collections – Heinlein’s “Requiem”, Bradbury’s “Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed”, Asimov’s “Nightfall” and Clarke’s “The Star”. It’s always nice to re-read these excellent stories, especially if you haven’t read them for a while.

There are also several stories, by familiar authors, which are not so well known – Asimov’s “Youth”, Russell’s “A Present from Joe”, Brunner’s “The Windows of Heaven” and Christopher’s “The New Wine”. And finally, there is also a story by an author with whom I’m totally unfamiliar, although I have seen his name in old magazine listings – H. B. Fyfe’s “Protected Species”. I haven’t read this one (or anything by this author) before.

I’ve started reading this anthology with the least familiar, so right now I’m part way through Fyfe’s “Protected Species”, which is quite a good story, at least so far. It’ll be interesting to see where it leads. After that, I’ll move onto the other stories that I haven’t read before, although the author’s ARE familiar to me – Russell, Brunner and Christopher. And I’ll finally finish off by re-reading the biggies from Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury.

As this anthology is short, it shouldn’t take me very long to finish it. I’m off to read the rest of “Protected Species”…