Stan Lee Has Passed Away

We’ve lost comics giant Stan Lee.

I’ve been waiting on this sad news for a while now, but it still doesn’t make it any easier. Reading the posts all over Facebook today has saddened me on a level that I wasn’t quite ready for, even though the news wasn’t totally unexpected. After all, Stan was 95, hadn’t been well for a while, and had been having a rough time since his wife died a couple of years ago. But it’s still hit me hard on an emotional level that I wasn’t expecting. I am almost 58 years old, after all, and I’ve supposedly long since ‘grown out of’ mainstream superhero comics many years ago (still love the old Silver and Bronze Age comics, though, for the sheer nostalgia). So why has the not-unexpected death of an old comics guy hit me so hard?

When looking back at my childhood, it’s obvious just how much of a towering giant Stan Lee was in my life. I discovered the first of the Marvel UK titles at the end of 1972, just before my 12th birthday, when I found the Mighty World of Marvel issue No.6 in a local shop. I was hooked immediately, and sent off the princely sum of 50p (yes, half of one pound) for the first five back issues. That was 25p for the five comics, and 25p for the postage. Unbelievable what you could get for your money back then! It was like a dozen Christmases rolled into one when that package came in the post.

I was already a Marvel addict, and collected every single issue of MWOM, and later Spider-Man Comics Weekly, the Avengers, Conan the Barbarian, and whatever other weekly comics that Marvel UK threw at us. Also, around 1974 or so, I started buying a large number of the then-current Bronze Age US Marvel titles via mail order from specialist UK comics dealers. From the moment that I bought my first issue of MWOM, Stan Lee and his stable of Comics Titans had a HUGE influence on my young life, from that point onwards at the very start of my teens, all the way through the 70s, into the 80s and beyond. For the first half of my life, I was a total Marvel Junkie.

Even now, in late middle age, the memories and the nostalgia of those early years are incredibly important to me. My love of comics (particularly Marvel Comics), SF/sci-fi and music have always been a foundation and fundamental part of who and what I am. I wouldn’t be me without them. I can’t even begin to guess how much of an influence Stan and the rest of the guys at Marvel Comics have had on my life. The passing of Stan Lee is yet another great figure from my childhood now passed beyond the Rim, another part of my past gone. So it saddens me at the deepest level.

I’m sitting here with a big lump in my throat and tears in my eyes right now. RIP Stan ‘The Man’ Lee. You lived long and hard, and brought joy to countless millions. You will be missed. 😦

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Timeless Returns to E4 on 4th April

On Wednesday, 4th April (that’s tomorrow), at 9pm, Season 2 of Timeless begins on E4 (Freeview Channel 28 here in the UK), although it has been already running for several weeks in the US. The trailer has been running on E4 for several weeks now, along with repeats of Season 1.

To say that I’m excited and eagerly awaiting the start of Season 2 would be somewhat of a massive understatement. Season 1 was a surprise “sleeper” hit for me. Despite being a fan of most things to do with time travel, I’ve become a tad jaded in recent years, cynical and disillusioned by most modern sci-fi series. I’ve liked a few, but most of them inevitably disappoint, either by being bland and failing to deliver on their potential, or in the “ho-hum, seen it all a hundred times before” kind of way.

But Timeless was a rare exception, and proved to be both exciting and a lot of fun. The time-travelling jaunts of Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus, and their attempts to thwart the machinations of both Rittenhouse and Flynn captivated me and moved firmly onto my “don’t miss” TV watch schedule. The individual episodes were entertaining and pushed the overall story arc ahead, leaving excellent cliffhangers and anticipation for the next step in the overall story, and the Season 1 final episode cliffhanger was a corker. I looked forward to every episode, and I made darned sure that I never missed one of them.

There was a nasty scare when the series was initially cancelled after Season 1. Like many fans, I was totally outraged that such a fun series was being dropped, while so much utter rubbish was being renewed for a new season (hasn’t that always been the way?). But the unexpected renewal of Timeless after widespread fan outrage brought sheer relief and jubilation, although we’ve had to wait a bit for the start of Season 2.

Well, now it’s almost here, and I can barely wait for 9pm tomorrow night. I feel like a kid at Christmas.

Bring it on!

Doctor Who New Series, Series 1-4 DVD Boxset

I recently decided it was time to pony up and fork out for the collected Series 1-4 of Doctor Who, the New Series (aka NuWho) from Amazon.co.uk, which arrived via postie a few days ago.

I’ve been threatening to do this for quite a while now, as I’d never collected any of the New Series on DVD (being more of a Classic Series fan), but kept putting it off. But the price was right, just under £40 for the lot (not a bad price for four seasons, considering Series 5 onwards are £20 a pop individually), so I took the plunge.

Thoughts? This is a great bargain, in my opinion. Nabbing Christopher Eccleston’s single first season along with all three seasons of David Tennant’s run is quite a good start for my NuWho collection. There’s a huge amount of episodes, Christmas Specials and extras in this boxset. Overall, a heckuva nice bargain for under £40.

There are five discs in the Season 1 boxset. Discs 1 and 2 contain three episodes each, plus a variety of special features. Disc 3 has four episodes plus special features. Disc 4 has three episodes plus special features. And Disc 5 is comprised of all the Doctor Who Confidential documentaries that accompanied each episode.

Series 2 follows the same pattern as Series 1, except with six discs. Series 3 is the same, also with six discs. Likewise with Series 4. That’s 23 discs and 55 episodes of great NuWho viewing, plus LOTS of special features/extras and a cracking little landscape format booklet with lots of photos and an episode guide.

I’ve been watching the earliest episodes of Series 1, the first three so far, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s easy to understand why the show was so popular when it hit the air back in 2005 (and deservedly so), and Eccleston’s performance as The Doctor was astounding. It’s a great pity he only did one season.

New Doctor Who DVDs, December 2017 (Part 2)

The Shada DVD arrived on the 21st, and a nice box of DVDs landed from Amazon UK today. Everything’s here now except for The Dominators, which was shipped separately and should’ve been here on Friday. Hopefully it’ll get here tomorrow. If not, it’ll either be after Christmas, or it’s gone missing in the post.

Update: The Dominators arrived in the very first post after Christmas, so everything’s here now. I’m very happy with this massive stack of classic Doctor Who DVDs, which should keep me super-glued to the telly for weeks to come. The best Christmas pressies I’ve had in a while, even if I had to buy them for myself. 🙂

New Doctor Who DVDs, December 2017 (Part 1)

I haven’t bought any DVDs in a while now due to the ongoing money being a bit tight situation. But it’s coming up to Christmas, and I have to get my Christmas pressies sorted out. So guess what I’ve ordered myself for Christmas? Yeah, a bunch of classic series Doctor Who DVDs, that’s what. They’ve been dispatched, and are on their way. I reckon I’ll have them Friday, or Saturday at the latest. Here’s what will be in Santa’s Christmas sack for poor ol’ Phil.

  • The Rescue & The Romans (boxset) [Hartnell]
  • The Reign of Terror [Hartnell]
  • The Sensorites [Hartnell]
  • Planet of Giants [Hartnell]
  • The Time Meddler [Hartnell]
  • The Underwater Menace [Troughton]
  • The Enemy of the World [Troughton]
  • The Krotons [Troughton]
  • The Dominators [Troughton]
  • The War Games [Troughton]
  • Shada [DVD] [2017] [Tom Baker]
  • Shada LIMITED EDITION Blu-ray [2017] [Region Free] [Tom Baker]

That’s five Hartnells (actually six, as The Rescue and The Romans are two separate stories in one boxset), five Troughtons and two Tom Bakers (well, one story, but both the DVD and the limited steelbox blu-ray edition of the new release of Shada). Aside from the two Bakers, the others are all 1960s black & white stories, which, as far as I’m aware, completes all of the black & white releases, with the exception of The Gunfighters, on the Earth Story DVD boxset.

Since I started collecting classic Doctor Who DVDs many moons ago, I’ve been working my way up slowly from the beginning of the series to the end, and, as I’ve said, I’ve now more or less completed all of the 60s black & white stories. Next step is to move onto the colour classics and complete the entire run of Jon Pertwee stories, but I’ll leave that until the New Year, when (if) I manage to get the finances sorted out. I already have most of the Pertwee and Tom Baker stories on DVD, but I still need a handful of each to complete their runs. Then onto Peter Davison.

I don’t care so much about the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy eras. I’ve already got my favourite stories from those (I only really liked two or three from each), but I’ll probably eventually get the rest, just to complete the collection. But to be honest, I never really much liked 90% of the output during those two eras. The first five Doctors was where it was at, story wise, as far as I’m concerned.

Ten Years and Counting – Happy Anniversary “Tales of Time & Space”

Today marks the 10th Anniversary of the creation of this blog and its long-departed “sister” self-hosted blog, “SFreaders.com”, both created back on the evening of May 3rd, 2007. It’s hard to believe I’ve been blogging for ten years, although there were lengthy spells during which I wasn’t posting at all for various reasons (mostly domestic problems and health issues causing periodic loss of interest in blogging).

I’ve actually been online for almost 22 years, and most of that time I’ve spent on various forums or, more recently, on Facebook and several other social media platforms. I was already online for over a decade before I even started blogging, so I’ve been doing it for slightly less than half my time online (even less, if you count all the times I haven’t been posting and my blogs have been inactive). Even so, I still think it’s important that I mark the 10th Anniversary of this blog and the long-gone “SFreaders.com”.

It’s hard to believe, looking at this blog now, that back at the beginning, it was the bastard stepchild, the black sheep of my blogs. I never used it. The main one was “SFreaders.com”, the self-hosted WordPress.org blog which I’d set up on my newly-acquired web-hosting platform, complete with unlimited webspace, unlimited bandwidth and all the other bells and whistles. That one was the one that I was focusing on, and was pretty active for six months, hitting 42 posts before I burned out and stopped posting on it.

I had only created THIS blog in order to get the API key for my self-hosted blog, which I, as I’ve said, I had just created earlier that same evening. You had to do that back in 2007 – I don’t know if that’s still how things are done when setting up a self-hosted WordPress.org blog. Once I’d gotten my API key to activate my “SFreaders.com” blog, this blog wasn’t needed any more. It was surplus to requirements. I already HAD the self-hosted WordPress.org blog on my own website, so I didn’t need this one. The stone cold fact was that this was never intended to be an active blog in the first place. It was a “throwaway”.

So, apart from a couple of rubbish posts in June 2007, a month after I’d created it, and four more posts over Feb-April 2010, this blog was pretty much left to rot until the end of 2012. Aside from the above six posts and several throwaway posts on Blogger and LiveJournal, plus a few blog posts on my social networks on Ning.com and FanCentral, I did no serious blogging at all between my last SFreaders.com post on October 29th, 2007 and my first regular posts on Blogger starting from November 2011 through to December 2012. Most of my online activity from Feb 2009 onwards wasn’t on blogs at all, but on forums and on Facebook and other social media sites.

Then, in December, 2012, I switched from my Blogger blog and started posting regularly here instead, and I’ve been doing it ever since. After all the faffing around, I just seemed to decide to settle on this blog as my primary one, and it’s been my main blog for the past five years now. I’ve been beavering away, posting at least once or twice a month, not exactly prolific, but slow and steady does it. Even the early years of this blog (2007-2012), at one time empty and forlorn, are beginning to look a lot healthier and are filling out slowly, as I gradually import the old blog posts from “SFreaders.com” and the other defunct blogs that I’ve set up and abandoned over the years. I have to preserve those posts somewhere, and this blog is where you’ll find them now. I find it extremely ironic how things have turned out, with this blog, which was never intended at the time it was created to be a functioning blog, ending up becoming my main blogging platform in recent years.

Most of the other old blogs are long-gone now, “Other Worlds, Other Times”, the one on LiveJournal.com (only one post and purged back in 2011, due to being inactive for more than a year) and “SFreaders.com” (42 posts, inactive since October 29th, 2007, and completely gone since mid-2009 due to the webhosting provider going belly-up). Then there are the long-gone blogs that I had on the various communities on Ning.com, of which I was a member during the last two or three years of the Noughties.

There’s also my blog on the much loved FanCentral social network community on Spruz.com, where I’ve been a member since 2009, which has become mostly inactive in recent years, as FanCentral very sadly seems to be dying a slow death, due to the members deserting it over the past few years and moving to Facebook. And finally, there’s several of my other old blogs on Blogger.com, which have been booted and rebooted over the years since their initial creation back in early 2010, all now lying relatively inactive, although I do revisit one or two of them every now and again to make the occasional post.

Those other blogs have come and gone, but through it all, this blog still endures, through thick and thin. Sure, there have been long periods over the years that I’ve neglected this blog, but I’m glad it’s always been here, “just in case”. It’s always been my back-up, the one I fell back on when my other blogs failed. It’s been my regular blog since 2012 and the one I always post to first, and it’ll always be here for me to come back to, even if I do seem to lose interest altogether in blogging at times. That is, unless the highly unlikely thing happens, and the massive WordPress.com platform folds and disappears on us. Fingers crossed that that doesn’t EVER happen, but I still make regular backups, just in case.

So, Happy 10th Anniversary “Tales of Time & Space”! May you have many more years ahead of you.

Doctor Who Series 10: Episode 1 – “The Pilot”

Earlier this evening saw the welcome return of Doctor Who to our TV screens after a prolonged absense, when the first episode of Series 10, “The Pilot”, aired on BBC1 at 7.20pm.

This is the beginning of not only Peter Capaldi’s final series as the Doctor, but Steven Moffat’s final series as showrunner. We’re also introduced to the new companion, Bill Potts, a “canteen lady” at a university, who has, for some reason unknown to her, somehow been called up for an interview with one of the university’s most prestigious and popular professors, who just happens to be the Doctor, ably assisted by his rather strange companion, Nardole. After her interview at the Doctor’s office, he becomes her “tutor”.

Much of the episode focuses on Bill and her personal life (she may not be the first openly gay companion in the series – that honour goes to Captain Jack Harkness – but she is certainly the first gay, black, female companion). She starts a relationship with a student called Heather, but things immediately take a turn into the twilight zone when Heather shows Bill a weird puddle, which gives “wrong” reflections of the people who look into it.

The puddle is actually an alien “space oil” entity that eats/absorbs Heather and proceeds to chase after Bill in a watery form that mimicks Heather. First to Bill’s flat, then to the Doctor’s office, where Bill, the Doctor and Nardole are forced into the TARDIS, which jumps first to some kind of locked, guarded vault (which I reckon we’ll see a lot more of later in Series 10). Then it’s to the other side of the world, to Australia (where the Doctor has to explain about himself to Bill). The Heather-water thingy follows them there.

Next the TARDIS travels to a planet on the other side of the universe, twenty-three million years in the future. The Heather-entity finds them even there. The damned thing can time travel. It can go anywhere that the TARDIS can go. Finally, the TARDIS lands in the middle of one of the greatest space battles in all of time and space, between the Daleks and Movellans. The Heather-entity follows them there as well. Bill, against the wishes of the Doctor, decides to confront her pursuer, and realizing that the Heather-entity is only following her because of the promise that Heather had made to Bill that “she would never leave her”, Bill releases Heather from the vow, and the entity just melts away and vanishes. It hadn’t been following Bill to harm her, but to invite her to join it (unfortunately she would’ve ceased to exist as a human, just as Heather had). The TARDIS returns to the Doctor’s office, where he tries to wipe Bill’s memory, but she refuses to let him, and leaves, only to meet him waiting outside with the TARDIS, inviting her to join him.

Overall, I quite liked “The Pilot”. It wasn’t Earth-shatteringly brilliant, but it was a pretty decent story, and although quite subdued and relatively low-key, it served as a good introductory episode for the new companion. It was a nice “character” episode, and I thought that the whole introduction of Bill thing echoed strongly the very first episode of NuWho (“Rose”) very nicely indeed. The entire exciting chase sequence later in the episode only lasted a few minutes, but was pretty effective, and I loved the very short “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo of the Daleks vs the Movellans, giving us our first short glimpse of that famous war first mentioned way back in the Peter Davison era.

The short sequence with the Dalek blasting away (totally ineffectually) at the Heather-entity was quite chilling, with it just standing there ignoring the Dalek laser blasts as if they were nothing, and repeating “Exterminate!” every time the Dalek screeched it. It was a strong reminder that there are lifeforms out there far more powerful than even the Daleks. The Heather-entity assuming the Dalek’s likeness makes me wonder what happened to the poor old Dalek. Did she destroy and absorb it, or did it crap itself and scarper? 🙂 The scene where Bill touches the Heather-entity and it shows her all of time and space was also pretty well done. That was a tough one for Bill to turn down, but I reckon the dying and being absorbed thing kinda put her off a bit. 🙂

Anyway, a good start to Series 10. Roll on next week and the second episode, “Smile”.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction – Volume II (Kindle Edition)

Last time out, I had a look at the first volume in a long-running (at least fifteen volumes) series of classic SF ebooks, The Golden Age of Science Fiction. Here’s the second volume of the series.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction – Volume II

  • Warrior Race, by Robert Sheckley
  • Advanced Chemistry, by Jack Huekels
  • Spacewrecked on Venus, by Neil R. Jones
  • The Martian, by A.R. Hilliard and Allen Glasser
  • The Velvet Glove, by Harry Harrison
  • Gambler’s World, by Keith Laumer
  • Invasion, by Murray Leinster
  • The Knights of Arthur, by Frederik Pohl
  • The Missing Link, by Frank Herbert
  • Sand Doom, by Murray Leinster

There are a few more familiar names in this volume than there were in the first. Robert Sheckley, Harry Harrison, Frederik Pohl, Murray Leinster, Frank Herbert and Keith Laumer are all pretty big names in the SF pantheon, and I’m familiar with Neil R. Jones through reading vintage SF magazines and novels (didn’t he appear in the Ace Doubles?). The name Jack Huekels rings a bell, although I can’t remember where from. And I’m not familiar with A.R. Hilliard and Allen Glasser at all.

As for the stories themselves, I daresay I’ve definitely read a few of these over the years. Some of the story titles definitely ring a bell – Warrior Race, Spacewrecked on Venus, The Velvet Glove, Gambler’s World, Invasion, The Knights of Arthur, The Missing Link and Sand Doom are all stories that I’m pretty sure I’ve read at some point in the distant past. But I’m afraid my memory has gone AWOL on me in recent years, and I can’t remember the details.

I read these stories a LONG time ago. I haven’t read Sheckley or Laumer in thirty-five years or more, and it’s been at least twenty-five years or more since I’ve read Leinster and Harrison, although they were big favourites of mine back in the day. Frank Herbert is someone I’m only familiar with through his DUNE novels, and I only ever read the first one or two of those, thirty-plus years ago.

Next up – The Golden Age of Science Fiction – Volume III

Happy 50th Anniversary Star Trek!

Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) debuted in the United States on NBC on September 8th, 1966, when I was five years old. It ran for three seasons, and was eventually cancelled due to “low ratings”, much of which was caused by network interference during its second season, moving the show away from its prime time viewing setting to the late Friday night “graveyard slot”, which guaranteed low viewing figures and thus cancellation.

The show was actually cancelled at the end of the second season, but was brought back for a final season due to a remarkable and then-unique massive fan-run campaign, led by Bjo Trimble and her husband John (and, some say, orchestrated by Gene Roddenberry himself) during which fans bombarded NBC with letters demanding the return of the show. The NBC execs caved in and brought it back for a third season. But they were still determined to get rid of Star Trek, and keeping it stuck in the Friday night “graveyard slot” guaranteed that the third season would be its last.

It’s ironic that Star Trek was a originally regarded a failure first time around. It could’ve easily remained nothing but a vaguely-remembered 60s Cult TV show. But history had other plans for Star Trek. Once the show went into reruns, the number of fans increased stratospherically, and the demand for it to return led to the expansion into the enormous franchise and universe that we know and love today. It’s funny how a relatively unimportant Sixties sci-fi series could have grown so much over the years and taken over the world. 🙂

My own perspective, living here in the UK, was different. When Star Trek first aired in the US, I was blissfully unaware of it. I was obsessed with Doctor Who, my first sci-fi “love”, which had been broadcast in the UK since 1963. Of course I was unaware of that, as I was too young at the time, and I only started to really notice the show about 1966 or so. Star Trek came a bit later, and was my second sci-fi “love”, and the two shows have been vying for my affections ever since.

We didn’t get Star Trek here in the UK until 1969. I was five months shy of my 9th birthday when it first aired here in the UK, when “Where No Man Has Gone Before” was broadcast on BBC1 at 5.15pm on the evening of Saturday, July 12th, 1969. I was smitten from the word “Go”, and I’ve been a hardcore Star Trek fan all my life, since the opening minutes of that very first episode, all those long years ago. My life would never be the same again. And I’ll be a fan until the day I die.

Star Trek, along with Doctor Who, have been with me since my early childhood, and have always retained a special place in my heart. They have been the pillars of my sci-fi “self” my entire life. Other sci-fi series such as Babylon 5 and UFO have challenged strongly, but none have ever surpassed these two in my affections.

Once a Trekkie, always a Trekkie: Happy 50th Birthday Star Trek!

The Golden Age of Science Fiction – Volume I (Kindle Edition)

Last time out I was talking about my general experiences with reading SF using e-readers and electronic book formats on my computer. I’m going to start off discussing a lot of the books I’ve been reading, beginning with a series of SF short fiction anthologies called The Golden Age of Science Fiction. I’ve found fifteen volumes so far on the Amazon Kindle Store, although there may be more. Here’s a contents listing of the first of the fifteen volumes:

The Golden Age of Science Fiction – Volume I

  • They Twinkled Like Jewels, by Philip Jose Farmer
  • This Crowded Earth, by Robert Bloch
  • Time and Time Again, by H. Beam Piper
  • Time Enough At Last, by Lynn Venable
  • Toy Shop, by Harry Harrison
  • Two Timer, by Frederic Brown
  • Watchbird, by Robert Sheckley
  • Year of the Big Thaw, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Sensitive Man, by Poul Anderson
  • The Skull, by Philip K. Dick

This is a pretty impressive list of big-name SF&F authors. H. Beam Piper, Frederic Brown, Harry Harrison, Poul Anderson and Robert Sheckley were always among my favourite authors back in the day, and I almost certainly read most of their short fiction several decades ago. However, I can’t say I remember any of the stories in this anthology in any detail, with the exception of H. Beam Piper’s Time and Time Again, which is an old favourite of mine.

A few of the others, the titles at least, ring a bell – Harry Harrison’s Toy Shop and Frederic Brown”s Two Timer come to mind – but I can’t remember anything else about them. My poor old failing memory and the passing of the decades has consigned any recollection of them to the dustbin of history. Some of the other story titles sound vaguely familiar, and I probably did read some of them in anthologies or collections many years ago. But I can recall absolutely nothing about any of them except for the Piper story. Perhaps rereading a few of them will jog my memory. That usually works.

One of the authors, Lynn Venable, is a writer with whom I’m not familiar at all. However, I looked into her history, and she appeared in a few SF magazines back in the mid-20th Century. Apparently, she stopped writing (SF that is, not sure about writing in general) back in the 1970s. But one of the notable things that I found out about her is that one of her stories was adapted for the classic Twilight Zone television series back in the day. Indeed, it was one of the most famous episodes, the one in which mild, bespectacled bookworm Burgess Meredith was the only survivor of a nuclear war, and is delighted that he now has peace to read what he likes, with no nagging wife or co-workers to bother him. That is, until he drops his spectacles and smashes them (with no opticians left to make him another pair). If I’m not mistaken, the above story, Time Enough At Last, is the story upon which that episode is based. But I won’t know for sure until I read it.

Okay, next up it’s The Golden Age of Science Fiction – Volume II.

Reading SF: Books vs Ebooks

For many years, I never really considered ebooks as “real” books, at least not in the same way that a physical hardback or paperback is a “real” book. There’s nothing solid, physical, to hold in your hand and browse through, to smell, and to put on the bookshelves and admire. I will ALWAYS prefer a real, physical book to any kind of electronic format. That’s the hardcore book collector side of me showing his face. But, as a mere reader, as opposed to a book collector, things have changed drastically for me in recent years.

For quite a few years now, I’ve been reading books in electronic format on my computer, in PDF, epub, mobi, doc, rtf, raw txt, and pretty much any other format that I can find, and for a quick, dirty read, these days I tend to prefer reading a story or book on my computer or e-reader. Things have changed to such an extent over the past ten years or so that I probably read more now in electronic format on my computer screen than I do from physical books. And, back in 2012, I bought myself an Amazon Kindle e-reader (3rd gen), and since then, I’ve been reading more and more SF in electronic format. The addition of a 10.1 inch Android tablet a couple of years ago has only added to the electronic reading experience, as I have it stocked up with books and both a Kindle and Epub reader to read them.

So I spend a lot more time actually reading books on my computer and my Kindle and Android tablets than I used to. The computer is on virtually from when I wake up until I go to sleep, and I can take my Kindle anywhere with me when I leave the house, with the hundreds of great SF books that I have loaded on it giving me virtually unlimited choice of reading material during those times when I’m bored or have time to kill on journeys or when visiting family.

There is also a weird psychological or habitual element to it all. Over the years, I’ve simply become used to reading more and more from computer or tablet screens and less and less from books. In many ways, I actually now find it easier to read on a Kindle or computer monitor than I do reading from a book. I guess I’m a living example of that demographic who spend most of their time staring at and reading from screens, and eventually find that they’ve changed so much on a psychological level that reading from a paper book is no longer the normal way to do it any more. It’s harder to concentrate on reading from a book for long periods without ignoring the addictive urge to get back to the computer screen.

I actually find it quite difficult now to read large amounts from a physical book, particularly fiction, without becoming restless, losing concentration, and finally putting the book down to go off and do something else. I used to NEVER be like that – a herd of wild horses couldn’t have dragged the old me away from a good book. Nowadays, I actually PREFER reading from a screen for prolonged periods vs reading from a book. This is hilariously ironic, coming from a guy who used to be an obsessive, non-stop reader of “real” books of all kinds, including novels, short story collections and anthologies.

I still buy lots and lots of books, but now primarily as a book collector. I read most fiction these days in electronic format. It seems that I’ve been split into two personas – the obsessive book collector, who will always prefer “real”, physical books, and the reader, who likes a quick, dirty read on his computer or Kindle. It’s much easier to carry hundreds of books around on a Kindle, and it certainly is a huge space-saver, not having to clutter up the house with yet more paperbacks (I’ve long ago run out of space, and my home is already totally cluttered up with paperbacks), and the Kindle certainly seems to have replaced the mass market paperback for me, leaving the buying of physical, print books mostly in hardback or trade paperback for more collectible books or my favourite authors.

Reading ebooks has also expanded my reading scope in many ways, not only with classic SF, but with modern and new authors that I would never have tried out in traditional book format. I also tend to buy the ebooks of authors that I like to read, for reading purposes, and then go and buy the hardback as a collectible as well, to put it on my bookshelves and admire it. Since I bought my Kindle four years ago, I’ve also been buying lots of SF at bargain basement prices, including not only stuff from new authors but also huge numbers of cheap Kindle author collections and anthologies of vintage and classic SF.

So now I reckon that it’s long past time that I start listing and recommending a few of these ebooks on this blog, in addition to the print books I’ve been collecting. And rightfully so, too, as they make up a huge percentage of my SF reading material these days.

In my next post, I’ll be taking a first look at a series of classic SF anthologies called The Golden Age of Science Fiction, which has been running for at least fifteen volumes (so far). Beginning with Vol. I and working my way through to Vol. XV, that should keep me going for quite a few posts.

Sci-Fi Cinema vs Sci-Fi TV – The Verdict?

I rarely go to the cinema any more, if at all. The last film that I went to see was The Avengers, four years ago in 2012. Before that, it was X-Men: First Class in 2011, Avatar and Star Trek, way back in 2009, and The Dark Knight, in 2008. All in all, I think I’ve been to the cinema no more than a half dozen times since my son died, back in April 2006.

Why? For starters, the cost. Going to the cinema is an expensive pursuit these days, and the cost of admission alone isn’t much less than the price of a DVD. Then on top of that, you have to factor in the transport costs to and from the cinema, plus paying out for something nice to eat afterwards or during the film. It can make for a costly night out, and it just might be cheaper to go to the pub instead.

So is it worth paying that kind of money just to watch a film, particularly when the chances of being badly disappointed by any new Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster are unfortunately extremely high? The quality of the typical big Hollywood sci-fi movie over the past couple of decades has been absolutely dire, especially when we look back at how good the classic sci-fi films of the 1950s-1980s were by comparison. I don’t even bother going to see most films at the cinema at all these days, no matter how much they’re hyped. I simply prefer to wait for the DVD to come out and watch the film in the comfort of my own home. The fact is that, for me, the cinema is no longer the essential large viewing experience that it once was.

In years past, if I wanted to watch the film on a large screen, I HAD to go to the cinema. Now I have a lovely big widescreen TV at home, I can buy the DVD when it comes out, and watch it as often as I like (with subtitles, pause, rewind, etc) in the comfort of my own home, either alone, or with friends. So Why bother forking out a load of cash to go to the cinema, where there are all kinds of annoyances (mobile phones flashing non-stop throughout the film, disruptive cretins yapping incessantly and misbehaving, annoying kids kicking the back of your seat, people walking up and down the isles or back and forth in front of you during the film, the inevitable sore backside sitting on those crappy cinema seats, which makes the last hour or so VERY uncomfortable during longer films, etc), when, for a less than £20, I can have the DVD, a few cans of beer (a pleasant bonus when viewing at home, but strictly verboten in cinemas), and lie back on the sofa and enjoy the film on my BIG television in comfort and in peace and quiet?

But the most important reason? It’s illustrated by a remark made by friend and fellow member (Dennis Howard) over on the FanCentral social network a few years ago. He said (in words to this effect) that he rarely watches (modern) sci-fi films any more, because he’s very rarely impressed by them, and because all of the best sci-fi is happening on television anyway, not in film. It’s a spot-on observation, in my opinion, and one that I agree with very strongly. There’s only so much you can squeeze into a two-hour film, and when you consider that most modern Hollywood sci-fi movies are mostly made up of action sequences, big explosions and special effects, it doesn’t leave much time for anything else. As a result, two of the most important things that should be paramount, but tend to suffer badly in newer Hollywood movies, are the actual stories/plots and character development. I almost always walk away from the cinema afterwards feeling dissatisfied about those two aspects of a film.

This is where television has cinema beaten hands down. Old-style sci-fi television was strictly episodic in nature, with a built-in reset button at the end of every episode. But Babylon 5 changed all that back in the 90s, and today, most decent modern sci-fi series can have intricate on-going plot arcs and sub-plots that simply are not possible in a two-hour film, and the same holds true for the ongoing character development of both the main and the supporting cast. Add to this the fact that modern special effects on TV have reached such a high level of technical quality and sophistication that television sci-fi no longer looks cheap and cheesy, and we can see that most decent sci-fi concepts would be better served in a television series than in a film. Hey, even if the series gets cancelled after one or two seasons (an ever-present danger with the TV networks), we still get a LOT more than we ever would from a two-hour movie.

Sure, I still buy the best of the films on DVD, although they do tend to be older sci-fi cinema classics rather than modern films. But these past couple of years, I’ve turned more and more to television shows, and taken to buying DVD boxsets of classic and modern sci-fi series. I started off with buying classic older series such as Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel, UFO, The Tomorrow People, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Time Tunnel, Timeslip, Children of the Stones, Sky, Quatermass, The Invaders, Fireball XL5, Space Patrol, Moonbase 3, Babylon 5, the X-Files, Stargate SG1/Atlantis/Universe, Quantum Leap, and Star Trek TOS/TNG/DS9/VOY/ENT. But I’ve also been grabbing boxsets of more modern series as they’ve come down in price – Fringe, BSG, Heroes, Smallville, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, NuWho and a few others. I just wait patiently for new stuff to be released on DVD at reasonable prices, and buy them.

I’ve pretty much adopted the same policy as Dennis, to concentrate mostly on sci-fi television series, but take that further to such an extent that my objective has become one of grabbing as many classic sci-fi television series as I possibly can on DVD. Aside from having all these old gems to watch, it also gives me a lot more to talk about here on my blog, on FanCentral, and in any of the other geek forums that I hang out in. Which can only be a good thing, if I do say so myself. 🙂

One Small Step for a Man…

On this day in 1969, humans set foot on another world for the very first time. Six and a half hours after landing on the lunar surface, astronaut Neil Armstrong emerged from the Lunar Lander Eagle and climbed down the ladder to take his first steps on the surface of the Moon, with the immortal declaration “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. He was joined about twenty minutes later by co-pilot Buzz Aldrin.

I remember watching this on television as a young child of eight years of age. It was very early in the morning, (UK/Irish time), almost 3am, and my Dad had dragged me out of bed, bleary-eyed, to see the great event as it happened. I stood there, mouth wide open in amazement, watching the images on our old black and white television. Armstrong climbing down the steps, Aldrin joining him, the two astronauts, with their languid, almost slow-motion bouncing around on the lunar surface, planting the US flag, and collecting rock samples and other material to take back to Earth. Even at that early age, I was a hardcore space freak, and I fully understood that this was a most momentous, unforgettable event in human history. It is still one of the greatest memories from my childhood.

I know how memory can cheat, especially from so long ago, and at such an early age. It seems in my ancient memories as though they were out on the surface of the Moon for hours and hours, bouncing around and having fun, and that the Eagle was on the lunar surface for days. But they actually spent less than two and a half hours outside before climbing back aboard Eagle, and less than a day on the lunar surface before Eagle lifted off to rendezvous with the Command Module Columbia and Michael Collins, high above in lunar orbit.

The rest is history. The return to Earth, the splashdown, the triumphant celebrations. It seemed like the solar system was just waiting for us, and that we would be on the Moon, Mars and beyond before the end of the twentieth century. So what happened? Why did the Apollo programme peter out and manned space exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit end?

Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. Public apathy combined with corrupt, greedy, disinterested politicians who saw no more votes or money in funding manned spaceflight to the planets. But what a pathetic, lame excuse to bring such a premature end to mankind’s colonisation of space. We should be out there now, at least as far as the Asteroid Belt.

Hey, maybe in an alternate timeline we did it all. It’s nice to dream, isn’t it? 🙂

The Eagle Has Landed – 47 Years Ago Today

It’s been a busy week for space anniversaries. Yesterday was “Mars Day”, the 40th Anniversary of the landing of the Viking 1 lander on the surface of Mars, so I guess we could call today “Moon Day”, with the 47th Anniversary of the first manned landing on the Moon.

On the morning of 16th July, the Saturn V rocket carrying Apollo 11 and its crew lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the first manned mission to take off with the mission of actually landing on the lunar surface, rather than just orbiting it. On the evening of 20th July, 1969, the climax of the Apollo 11 mission approached, as the Lunar Lander Eagle detached from the Command Module Columbia and descended down towards the lunar surface with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on board (with Michael Collins remaining above in the Command Module).

Armstrong’s famous words “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” heralded the landing of the Eagle on the lunar surface. It would be another six hours, early on the morning of June 21st, before Neil Armstrong was to take his very first steps on the Moon, to be joined twenty minutes later by Buzz Aldrin.

The first landing by humans on another world. One of the greatest moments in human history, in my opinion. So when are we going back, again, for good this time?

Golden Age Comics Characters: Captain Marvel

Whiz Comics 002
Captain Marvel first appeared back in February 1940, in the classic Golden Age comic Whiz Comics #2, published by Fawcett Comics. The Captain Marvel character was created by artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker, and was the most popular superhero character of the 1940s (going by sales alone).

The character may seem quaint by modern standards, but he was hugely popular in the 1940s, a much simpler, more innocent era (at least when it comes to comics). Thirteen year-old newsboy Billy Batson is given incredible powers by an old wizard, and whenever he says the magic word Shazam! he is struck by a bolt of lightning, transforming him into Captain Marvel (saying Shazam! again changes him back into Billy Batson). Shazam! is an acronym for the first letter of each name of the six gods and legendary heroes from whom Captain Marvel gets his powers – the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the invulnerability of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. That’s quite a powerful mix!

Captain Marvel later acquired two super-powered sidekicks, Captain Marvel Jr and Mary Marvel, the three being known collectively as The Marvel Family. There were also later additions, both human and animal, all non-super powered. And there was also a retinue of nasty villains – Black Adam, an evil Captain Marvel analogue, Captain Nazi, Adolf Hitler’s champion, mad scientist Doctor Sivana, and, worst of all, Mister Mind and his Monster Society of Evil, which provided his longest running and most deadly adversaries.

Captain Marvel continued in Whiz Comics until #155 (June 1953), when the strip was forced to stop publication due to legal action initiated by National Comics, now DC Comics, who claimed that the character was too similar to Superman. That may have been technically true, but the lawsuit was quite cheeky and, in my opinion, ridiculous, as Superman himself was a blatant copy of earlier heroes such as Hercules, Samson, and even the character Gladiator, created by science fiction writer Philip Wylie in 1930, less than a decade before the creation of Superman. The influence of the Gladiator character on Siegal and Schuster in their creation of Superman is well known. After a couple of legal decisions in favour of, firstly, Fawcett, and then DC, Fawcett Publications finally settled out of court, Fawcett Comics ceased operating and stopped publishing all of their superhero comics, including the entire Captain Marvel stable of characters from 1953 onwards.

This legal nonsense was quite obviously an opportunistic act by National/DC to snuff out a more successful competitor, a perfect example of a large company using its greater legal muscle to bully a much smaller company into submission. More than any supposed legal objections, the major motivating factor in DC taking legal action against Fawcett was almost certainly financial, because Captain Marvel had been consistently outselling Superman and DC’s other titles by a considerable margin during that era.

I find it ironic that, in a nation which supposedly prizes competition, big companies prefer to use legal muscle to put dangerous competitors out of business, rather than take the more moral and logical route of trying to out-compete their adversaries in the marketplace. Even more ironic is that DC licensed the Captain Marvel stable of characters from Fawcett in 1972, and bought the rights to the characters outright from Fawcett Publications in 1980. As most DC comics fans are aware, Captain Marvel and Fawcett’s other characters live on to this day, and are now integrated into the DC Universe.

Some of the best battles in the DC Universe have featured Superman vs Captain Marvel, as both characters are so similar and equal in strength, one born of science and the other born of magic. There aren’t many characters in DC’s stable who can fight Superman to a standstill, but the Big Red Cheese is one of them!

Some Cordwainer Smith Books (Part 2)

Last time out, I was talking about receiving my first batch of Cordwainer Smith books in the post, and that I was waiting for another batch. Well, the second batch has now arrived, three books. Actually, two separate books, and an extra copy of one of them.

The two books are We The Underpeople and When The People Fell, both published by Baen Books. The reason that I have an extra copy of one of them is simple: I ordered both books and didn’t realise that they were different editions, different sizes. The original Baen 2007 edition was a trade paperback, and the 2012 edition was a much smaller mass market paperback, so they don’t go together too well on the bookshelf. I’d mistakenly ordered one of each, so I had to rectify my mistake, and immediately ordered a copy of the 2007 trade paperback edition of When The People Fell. The smaller mass market paperback edition will serve as a reading copy, while the two trade paperbacks go on the bookshelves. Extra copies never go to waste. 🙂

The good news for hardcore Cordwainer Smith fans, or those just wanting to try him out, is that these two books contain ALL of the science fiction writing of this great author. There’s no need to track down any of his other books, unless you’re one of those OCD obsessives (like myself), who has to have all the different editions, with the different introductions and different covers.

We The Underpeople contains not only an excellent Introduction by Robert Silverberg, but also Smith’s only SF novel, NORSTRILIA, and five of his best short stories. When The People Fell contains an equally excellent Introduction by Frederik Pohl, the remaining twenty-two stories in his Instrumentality of Mankind future history sequence, plus six non-Instrumentality stories.

That’s all of Cordwainer Smith’s SF stories in two books. Awesome, truly awesome. And required reading for anyone who considers themselves true, hardcore SF fans. All I can say is: Go get ’em!

Some Cordwainer Smith Books

I’m back on a book binge at the moment, all sorts of books from Amazon, Ebay and other sources. From the SF lit side of things, I’ve been concentrating on one of my favourite authors, Cordwainer Smith, and the first batch of four Smith books has recently arrived on my doorstep.

The first of the Smith books is the original 1968 Pyramid Books paperback edition of The Underpeople, which is the second half of Smith’s only SF novel, NORSTRILIA. The first half was The Planet Buyer, which I already have in it’s original Pyramid 1964 paperback edition. I’ve had the Sphere Books 1975 UK paperback edition of The Underpeople for years, but I wanted the original US Pyramid edition to go with my US original edition of The Planet Buyer.

The other three books are interesting in that they are three different editions of the same book, namely The Best of Cordwainer Smith. First we have the July 1975 hardcover Book Club Edition edition, published by Nelson Doubleday Inc, then the September 1975 Ballantine Books 1st paperback edition. Aside from the larger size and different dustcover art of the hardcover edition, everything is exactly the same, except for a couple of things. Two of the stories are reversed in order for some inexplicable reason, and J.J. Pierce’s excellent Future History Timeline is in a much easier to read vertical format in the hardcover, whereas in the paperback edition it’s in a harder to read horizontal format spanning several levels.

The third version of the book is actually a UK edition, trade paperback format, No.10 in the SF Masterworks series, published by Gollancz/Orion. Aside from the larger size and beautiful cover art, the internals of this edition are exactly the same as the Ballantine 1st US paperback edition, including the horizontal format Future History Timeline. This one is worth having for the lovely cover artwork and the fact that it’s one of the SF Masterworks series.

I’ve still got several more Cordwainer Smith books due to arrive soon in the post. I’ll list those when they arrive.

“Dormant” (1948) by A. E. van Vogt

TITLE: “Dormant” (1948) by A. E. van Vogt
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Short Story
SOURCE: BEST SCIENCE-FICTION STORIES edited by Michael Stapleton (Hardcover, Hamlyn, 1977, ISBN: 0-600-38243-5, 750pp)
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: Startling Stories, November 1948

I was rummaging in the vaults a while ago, and I came upon an old anthology that I haven’t read in years. Well, me being me, I couldn’t resist having a browse through it, and looking at the extensive contents listing of excellent stories, the memories started flooding back.

I fondly remember this particular story as one of my favourites from that anthology. A. E. van Vogt’s short story “Dormant” was one of those Golden Age of Science Fiction classics first published in the November 1948 edition of Startling Stories, and the story isn’t one of those far-future, outer space tales, but is actually pretty much in a contemporary setting, 1948, the same year as the actual publication date of the story. Being an historian (I was actually studying history at school at the time I read it), I’ve always really liked the strong post-World War II setting of this tale, with the US destroyer Coulson and it’s crew doing mop up operations on a remote pacific island, finding hidden caches of fuel and other goodies left behind by the Japanese.

But they also find a lot more than just Japanese leftovers. There’s the perplexing mystery of a gigantic rock, weighing millions of tons, which seems to be able to move around the island at will. A rock with a surface temperature of many hundreds of degrees, and which hurls out seemingly random destructive radioactive blasts. A giant rock which is not actually a rock, but an ancient, sentient robot bomb left on Earth countless millions of years ago by some alien race in a long-forgotten interstellar war.

The sections of the story from the POV of the bomb are among my favourites. The bomb, which actually has a name (it calls itself Iilah), has been dormant for countless aeons, but has recently been reawakened by the radiation from the atomic bomb tests on Bikini Atoll in 1946. It has got only low-level life functions back, and is suffering from amnesia. It cannot see the water, air, and even the humans around it. It’s simply totally unaware of their existence. All it can see are the ships and the planes, which it takes for strange lifeforms, flying around in the “sky”. And it’s the bomb’s attempts to communicate with these “lifeforms”, to try find out where it can get more sources of atomic energy to revive it, which unwittingly causes so much destruction and kills so many people.

And of course the humans, predictable as ever, just HAVE to start shooting at the damned thing. The giant “rock” fights back, kicking their asses and destroying the Coulson, much of the other equipment, and unknowingly snuffing out dozens of lives of which it is totally unaware. The remainder of the taskforce is ordered off the island, and an atomic bomb dropped, which is, ironically, exactly what Iilah needs. The flood of energy totally reinvigorates it, and it remembers its mission. It IS a robot bomb, after all, so it promptly follows orders, explodes and knocks Earth out of its orbit and into the sun. And so the world ends in 1948. 🙂

“Dormant” must be one of the first A. E. van Vogt short stories that I read (maybe even the first) back in the day, although I’d definitely read a few of his novels before that point. It was during this timeframe that I also came across three other van Vogt short stories – “The Monster”, “Vault of the Beast” and “Black Destroyer” – in anthologies that I’d taken out from the local library, but I’m pretty sure that I read “Dormant” before any of the others. Those four stories became huge favourites of mine during my mid-to-late-teens, and kick-started my obsession for hunting down collections of van Vogt short fiction.

“Dormant” (indeed all four of these stories) has stuck in my mind these past forty years, and is one of those early gems that cemented my newly-acquired obsession as a hardcore SF fan. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this one.

Anyone who might want to read this story, and is finding it hard to get a copy of this anthology, can also find the story in a couple of van Vogt’s short story collections, notably Destination: Universe! and Transfinite: The Essential A.E. van Vogt.

More New DVDs April 2016

I’ve been buying a lot of DVDs recently, and they keep rolling in, although I think I’ll start switching back to books for a while after this. And for a change, none of the latest batch of DVDs are Gerry Anderson-related.

Actually, the first one up IS vaguely related to Gerry Anderson. Roberta Leigh’s classic puppet show Space Patrol aired on UK television during 1963-64, and was pretty much contemporary with and competition for Anderson’s Fireball XL5, was also set in space, and featured… er… puppets. Add to this the fact that Roberta Leigh was Gerry Anderson’s employer for the first couple of puppet series that he produced, and there IS a strong connection. This particular DVD boxset is the classic six-disc edition released by Network Distribution back in 2003, compiling all thirty-nine episodes plus a nice bunch of extras.

Second up is the gorgeous Network Distribution (Again? These guys are everywhere!) 2015 restoration of Nigel Kneale’s classic Quatermass (1979) four-part, 207 minute serial, plus a bunch of other extras, including the much shorter and heavily edited feature-film version The Quatermass Conclusion plus a nice booklet by Cult Sci-Fi TV historian Andrew Pixley. Also, for good luck, I picked up a copy of the original 2003 Clear Vision three-disc boxset release. The picture quality isn’t nearly as good as the lovely 2015 Network restored version, but the packaging is nice, and the extras are different, as is the booklet, written by Ian Fryer. So it’s well worth having, particularly since I got it at a very reasonable price.

Finally we have Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD, a remarkable 105 minute documentary giving a comprehensive overview of the background history of and crazy goings-on at the (in)famous 2000AD, the various personalities involved, the most famous of the strips, and even sidetracking into the two Judge Dredd films. Totally engrossing, and I’d recommend it to any fans of UK comics.

That’s a great haul of DVDs. They should do me nicely until the next batch arrives. 🙂

Some New Gerry Anderson DVDs (Part 2)

A couple of posts back, I mentioned about being on a roll with buying Gerry Anderson DVDs. Well, that trend is showing no signs of abating. I’ve recently picked up another couple of Anderson items on DVD, so the collection is growing quite a lot right now.

First up is the excellent Network Distribution 2013 DVD boxset release of the classic 1962 series Fireball XL5. We have all 39 episodes of the original series, restored and remastered, one full episode gorgeously recolourised. There’s also two excellent new documentaries, a load of other extras, and a lovely colour booklet by television historian Andrew Pixley. This is a seriously cracking boxset.

Second up, we have yet another Network Distribution release, this time from 2014. We have what is probably the best Gerry Anderson documentary ever made, bar none. Filmed in Supermarionation is almost two hours of fascinating Anderson history, detailing the development of Anderson’s puppet shows and their pioneering techniques from 1957 up until the end of the 1960s. This is a fascinating documentary, and kept me rivetted to the TV for the entire two hours. There are also some nice extras on the DVD

I’ve also just watched the two documentaries on the Fireball XL5 boxset, and they are also seriously good. Now to watch a few Fireball XL5 episodes! 🙂

THE EARLY POHL (1976) by Frederik Pohl

The Early Pohl (1976)-03

This time out, I’m going to take a look at a collection of very early stories by one of my favourite SF writers, who also happened to be one of the best editors in the SF industry, and one of the true titans of the SF world, Frederik Pohl. The eight stories and single poem span the years 1937-1944, and there is also a nice introduction and further introductory piece, The Early Pohl, both written by the man himself.

TITLE: THE EARLY POHL
AUTHOR: Frederik Pohl
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Single-Author Collection
FORMAT: Hardback (with dustjacket), US 1st Edition, New York, 1976, 183 pages
PUBLISHER: Doubleday & Co. Inc., New York.

Contents (8 stories, 1 poem):

  • Introduction by Frederik Pohl
  • The Early Pohl by Frederik Pohl
  • “Elegy to a Dead Planet: Luna”, originally published as “Elegy to a Dead Satellite: Luna” under the pseudonym “Elton Andrews”, (poem, Amazing, October 1937)
  • “The Dweller in the Ice”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh” (short story, Super Science Stories, January 1941)
  • “The King’s Eye”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (short story, Astonishing Stories, February 1941)
  • “It’s a Young World”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (novelette, Astonishing Stories, April 1941)
  • “Daughters of Eternity”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh” (short story, Astonishing Stories, March 1942)
  • “Earth, Farewell!”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (novelette, Astonishing Stories, February 1943)
  • “Conspiracy on Callisto”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (short story, Planet Stories, Winter 1943)
  • “Highwayman of the Void”, originally published under the pseudonym “Dirk Wylie”, (novelette, Planet Stories, Fall 1944)
  • “Double-Cross”, originally published under the pseudonym “James MacCreigh”, (short story, Planet Stories, Winter 1944)

Aside from the poem, “Elegy to a Dead Planet: Luna”, which was Pohl’s first published work, I haven’t read any of these stories before. The first two Pohl stories that I did read, way back in my early and mid-teens, were also early ones from the same era as these stories, both appearing under the same “James MacCreigh” pseudonym as most of the stories in this collection.

“Wings of the Lightning Land” was a novelette which first appeared in the November 1941 edition of Astonishing Stories, and was the very first Pohl/MacCreigh story that I ever read, in the classic anthology Science Fiction: The Great Years, edited by Carol & Frederik Pohl (who else?). The other one that I read shortly afterwards was “Let the Ants Try”, a short story that first appeared in the Winter 1949 edition of Planet Stories, and which I read in another SF anthology (can’t remember which) back in my mid-teens. Both of these stories had a huge effect on me at that early age, and have remained firm favourites ever since I first read them over forty years ago. They are among a select group of SF stories that have stuck firmly in my mind virtually my entire life.

I’m actually very surprised that both of these stories were not included in this collection, as they’re two of Pohl’s best early stories from this era, and they really should’ve been in this book. They would’ve been a perfect fit for this one. Ah, well, I have them in other anthologies anyway. As I’m a big fan of Pohl’s work, and I always love stories from this time period, I really should enjoy these stories. I think I’ll be in for a real treat with this collection.

Some New Telefantasy Books

In my last couple of posts, I’ve been listing a bunch of Gerry Anderson-related items (mainly DVDs) that I’ve bought recently. Admittedly, I’ve been on a bit of a roll in recent weeks with all things Anderson, but I haven’t been neglecting my other favourite TV shows. I’ve also been picking up a few good Doctor Who books, so it isn’t just Anderson that I’m focusing on at the moment.

Back many years ago, when I started collecting the Virgin Books range of Doctor Who novels, Blood Heat quickly became my favourite novel of all the Virgin books. Well, the author, Jim Mortimore has recently released a greatly revised and expanded version of Blood Heat, and I’ve managed to grab a copy of the lovely hardback edition. At twice the length of the original, this should be a cracking read.

Second up is a real classic among Doctor Who reference books. I’ve finally managed to nab a decent condition paperback copy of The Discontinuity Guide, by Paul Cornell, Keith Topping and Martin Day. Even back twenty years ago in the mid-90s, when this book was first published, those three names would’ve featured high on any “Who’s Who” list of the giants of Doctor Who fan writing, and already starting to move onto even bigger things. I’ve been waiting so long to read this one, I can barely contain myself.

Thirdly is a very detailed and comprehensive reference book, the Classic Doctor Who DVD Compendium, written by Paul Smith. A very useful book, indexing every single DVD (up until the book’s publication date in 2014), every episode and every extra on every disc. I’d say that this was a definite “must have” for any Doctor Who fan, and on initial quick flick through, this certainly looks like it will be my main reference on all things to do with Doctor Who DVDs.

Finally, we have not one but two books by the same author, the prolific John
Connors
, creator of (and contributor to) so many classic fanzines over the years, Top and Faze being two of the most famous (I dunno how this guy ever sleeps). John is also the author of two blogs, Timelines, a Doctor Who blog, and This Way Up, a more general telefantasy blog which also features posts on Top of the Pops and any other non-telefantasy topics that might tickle John’s fancy. The two books collect some of the best articles from both the blogs and the classic Faze zine. Saturday Night Monsters is the Doctor Who-specific book, and Tomorrow Is Now: The Best of This Way Up 2002-2004 covers the best of pretty much everything else. I’m working my way through these books at the moment, and I’m enjoying both of them immensely.

I’ll be making individual posts on each of these books at some point. After I read ’em all, of course. 🙂

Some New Gerry Anderson DVDs

Last time out, I posted about a few new DVDs that I’d recently picked up, namely Nigel Kneale’s creepy 1972 television horror film The Stone Tape, and two DVD box sets comprising the entire twenty-four episode run of Gerry Anderson’s classic sci-fi television series UFO.

Well, this time out, I’ve gotten my hands on two more Gerry Anderson DVDs. First up is the 1969 film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, and second is The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson. I’ve been enjoying both DVDs, for different reasons (I’ll always find something interesting in any Gerry Anderson DVD), and I’ll make more detailed comments on both of them individually in upcoming separate posts.

I’m on a real roll with buying Gerry Anderson DVDs at the moment. I’ll be forking out for a few more Anderson series in the near future – Space: 1999, Captain Scarlet (classic and modern), Thunderbirds and Joe 90 are high on the list. But I have a strong hankering to make my first choice Filmed in Supermarionation. I’ve heard so many good things about this classic Anderson behind-the scenes documentary, but I’ve never actually seen it. So the curiosity is getting the better of me, and it has moved to the top of the list.

I can’t wait to see that one! 🙂

Some New DVDs

Some nice DVDs arrived from Amazon UK today. Two lovely boxsets of Gerry Anderson’s complete classic UFO, all twenty-four episodes (each boxset containing four DVDs), and a BBC ninety-minute television movie from 1972, Nigel Kneale’s classic horror/supernatural tale, The Stone Tape.

UFO has been a huge favourite of mine since I first saw it on local television as a young boy of about nine or ten years old. Up until now, I’ve only ever owned VHS video tapes of a handful of episodes, so it’s nice to finally get the entire series on DVD. I’m going to take my time watching these twenty-four episodes, one at a time.

Nigel Kneale’s classic The Stone Tape is one that I’ve never seen before, and I know of it only by the very high reputation it has acquired over the years. I’m really looking forward to watching this one, as I’ve always been a huge fan of Kneale’s four Quatermass serials, and I’m expecting good things from this one.

Quite a few hours of great telefantasy await my eager attention, so I’m off to watch a DVD. I think I’ll start off with The Stone Tape

Earliest Comics Memories (Part 1)

I was looking through some of my old UK Annuals earlier today, which brought back a lot of old childhood memories for me about the very earliest comics that I ever read. I started buying my first comics when I was about four years old, which would have made that sometime during 1965, and I read and (later) collected comics without a break from that point up until 1982, when I stopped reading them for about a decade.

Back in 1965 was the prehistoric past, decades before anything like specialised Local Comics Shops and the Direct Market even existed. Back in those dim and distant days, the UK comics industry was flourishing, and every little corner shop and newsagents had dozens of British comics on display. There were comics of all kinds, from the “funnies” like the Beano, the Dandy, Topper, Beezer and others, to war comics like Hotspur and Victor, sports comics like Tiger, and mixed-genre comics like Lion, Valiant and Eagle, containing everything from sci-fi and fantasy, to action adventure, to humour strips.

For me, it all began in back 1965, when I started to spend weekends at my granny’s (I used to spend every weekend with her between the ages of 4-8). Next door to her house was one of those wee corner shops (except it wasn’t actually on a corner), just like the thousands of other similar little shops (what Americans refer to as “Mom and Pop Stores”) so common on almost every street in the UK and Ireland, back in the days before the big supermarkets came along and put them all out of business. This particular shop was run by an elderly brother and sister team, and on my earliest visits to my granny’s, I initially started visiting the shop to buy sweeties, as any normal four year-old would do. But I very quickly learned that there was a heckuva lot more than sweeties in this shop.

Talk about a big Box of Delights. This one little shop had a long counter-top covered with almost every UK comic available during that period, spread out flat to cover an area about six feet deep and twenty feet long. I had never really paid attention to comics before, but, then, I’d never seen so many of them in one place, and so beautifully put on display. It was mesmerising, and very soon, I was completely hooked. I started off buying my first regular comic, the Lion, followed closely by the Valiant, both of which I would pick up every Saturday morning as soon as the shop opened.

The shop had one of those wee bell things above the door that rang every time someone entered or left the shop. The sound of this bell woke me up every Saturday morning at 6.30am on the button, as soon as the shop opened. I was up like a shot, got dressed, ran next door to the shop to pick up my copies of the Lion, Valiant and whatever else I could afford (sadly never anywhere nearly enough, as pocket money was very short back in those days), and then back into my granny’s, where I’d sit at the kitchen table, eating my breakfast and reading my comics. Sheer heaven. 🙂

This is where my life-long comics reading obsession began, and I have some of my fondest memories from this time in my life, when I was so young and innocent, and full of wide-eyed wonderment, and when I discovered comics for the very first time.

Some Good New Movies on Film4 (25th Feb 2016)

Last night was a pretty good night on television for sci-fi films. We had three in a row on favourite channel Film4, which pretty much took up the entire night’s viewing.

We started off with the Men in Black 2 (2002) sequel, a fun film featuring lots of great action scenes and good character sequences with Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith and the various aliens. It also featured the sexy and evil Lara Flynn Boyle as the main bad girl/alien, and the young and stunningly beautiful Rosario Dawson as Will Smith’s love interest. Overall, an enjoyable film, if not very original. It is, basically, a rerun of Men in Black 1.

Next out, we had Hellboy (2004), which is one of my favourite comic book-based films, and one of my favourites directed by Guillermo del Toro. It’s very different from any of the superhero films, and all the better for it, as I much prefer the horror themes of the film, with its Lovecraftian overtones. There’s a great cast, too. Ron Perlman is absolutely perfect in the title role. I don’t think they could’ve found better if they tried. And he had a great supporting cast in John Hurt (Professor Broom), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Rupert Evans (John Myers), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), Jeffrey Tambor (Tom Manning), and bad guys Karel Roden (Rasputin), Ladislav Beran (Karl Ruprecht Kroenen) and Bridget Hodson (Ilsa Haupstein). Cracking film, and a great way to spend a couple of hours.

Lastly, we had a surprise package, one of those foreign movies that just keeps you glued to your seat. Swedish horror vampire classic Let the Right One In (2008) was probably my favourite film of the night, beating even Hellboy. This vampire film is totally unlike any of the Hollywood “sparkly vampire” schlock (yes, I’m pointing the finger at you, Twilight Saga), a grim, gritty and gripping movie that I enjoyed a lot, the story of a relationship and budding romance between a young boy being bullied at school and a young girl, who just happens to be a vampire.

There was also a surprisingly good US remake of this film which came out a couple of years later, Let Me In (2010) starring Chloë Grace Moretz (Hit-Girl from the Kick Ass films) in the role of the vampire. For a Hollywood remake, it kept the essence of the original really well, despite a few plot changes and the Americanization of the location and characters. I actually saw the US version a couple of years ago, before I saw the original, and was very impressed. But the original Swedish version is a cracker, at least as good, if not better, than the excellent remake. Both are great films, and I’d recommend them to any fans of horror/vampire films.

Overall, a great night’s viewing. Film4 is definitely one of my favourite TV channels.

Andersonic 20 Is Out Now!

Andersonic Issue 20 Cover_550

The good news is that Issue 20 of my favourite Gerry Anderson fanzine, Andersonic, has just been released, so it’s time for my usual plug. So, what’s on the menu this issue?

The current issue features:

  • Brian Johnson interview – a new interview with Space 1999’s FX director. Brian also talks about his work on Stingray, Thunderbirds, 2001 and Alien/Aliens amongst other things.
  • Mark Harrison interview – CG director on New Captain Scarlet and leader of the Scarlet Team, Mark discusses his work on Gerry’s last series.
  • Thunderbirds 1965 – We take a trip to Slough and visit the set during the filming of ‘The Abominable Snowman’, the first of the three episodes being made there.
  • Anderson Dream Episodes – Are they clever lateral thinking or a feeble cop-out?
  • Space: 1999/ Another Time, Another Place – Mark Braxton reviews one of the first series’ weirder episodes.
  • Reviews – We review Alan Shubrook’s new book, the CD21 interview CDs and ‘The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson’ DVD.
  • Strip Story – the Andersonic time machine goes back to 1965 to dissect the first issue of TV Century 21.
  • Thunderbirds Are Go – our ‘episode guide’ for the first 13 instalments of this new series.
  • … plus a few other things we’ve managed to shoehorn in. The issue also has new art by Richard Smith.

Issue 20 of Andersonic is 44 pages, black & white interiors, and colour front and back covers, both inside and out. There’s lots of lovely photos and artwork to go with the great articles and reviews, and all of this costs a measly £2.75, including p&p within the UK. Check out the website at www.andersonic.co.uk for details on how to purchase the current issue and back issues, most of which are still in print.

Andersonic is, by far, my favourite Gerry Anderson fanzine. It’s a genuine, classic, traditional, “real” paper/print high quality A5 zine, which is a huge plus in my book. There are very few traditional print zines around these days (almost everyone has gone digital) compared to their classic heyday back in the 1970s-1990s. They’re a bit of an endangered species, in fact. So a good one like Andersonic is something truly special. Add to that the sheer quality of this zine, consistently, issue after issue, and I can only applaud Richard Farrell and his talented team for producing this great zine .

The zine has been going for ten years now, which is roughly a six-monthly publishing schedule, although that has slowed down in recent years to an almost annual schedule, alternating roughly every six months with its equally high-quality sister Doctor Who publication, Plaything of Sutekh. We still get a zine every six months or so, but it’s two different zines rather than just the one. It takes a lot of time and effort to put quality zines like this together. I’d rather have a lengthy wait between issues and get a zine of higher quality, than a more frequent release at a lower quality, or, worse still, Richard giving up altogether because of a far too punishing zine release schedule.

I cannot recommend this fanzine highly enough. It deserves as much support as it can get. Buy it. Now.

Some New Books – January 2016

I haven’t bought any new SF books in ages now, but, with Christmas behind me and a few quid spare in my pocket, I took the notion over the past couple of weeks to trawl Ebay.co.uk for some books. Actually, none of them are “new”, as there’s not a lot of modern SF that I enjoy, with the exception of some anthologies of short fiction and a very narrow range of authors and sub-genres. But I did find two second hand/used anthologies of classic Golden Age stuff, which is much more my kind of thing, one collection of Isaac Asimov’s fantasy stories, essays and articles, and, finally, one “Best of the Year” SF anthology, from 2007.

  • SCIENCE FICTION: THE BEST OF THE YEAR 2007 EDITION edited by Rich Horton (trade paperback, Prime Books, Germantown MD, US, 2007, ISBN-10: 0-8095-6297-9, ISBN-13: 978-0-8095-6297-8)
  • MAGIC: THE FINAL FANTASY COLLECTION by Isaac Asimov (Paperback, Voyager, London, 1997, ISBN: 0-00-648203-1)
  • GREAT TALES OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg (hardback, Galahad Books, New York, 1991, ISBN: 0-88365-772-4)
  • THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Kingsley Amis (Large Format Paperback, Penguin Books, 1983, first published by Hutchinson & Co., 1981)

The SCIENCE FICTION: THE BEST OF THE YEAR 2007 EDITION trade paperback is a nice anthology of reasonably recent (less than ten years old) stories, twelve in all, five from Asimov’s SF Magazine, two from F&SF, and the other five from five different sources both magazines and books. I haven’t read this one yet, but there are a few authors in it that I usually like (Robert Reed, Walter Jon Williams, Ian Watson, Robert Charles Wilson), and Rich Horton rarely puts together a bad “Best SF” anthology.

MAGIC: THE FINAL FANTASY COLLECTION is a single-author collection of Isaac Asimov’s fantasy (as opposed to SF) short fiction. It’s also notable for collecting a number of Asimov’s essays and articles about fantasy and other subjects. It’s a bit of a strange one, this, although I found it an interesting mix of articles and fiction. And Asimov’s fantasy is just as logical as his science fiction, with its own strict internal rules and limitations, which made it easy for me to read, despite the fact that I’m not a huge fan of reading fantasy.

GREAT TALES OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION is a cracking anthology of classic Golden Age SF put together by the ever-reliable trio of Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg. Nine stories in all, almost all of them published in Astounding during the 1941-1947 timeframe. Some of the biggest names in SF are in this one – Isaac Asimov, A.E. van Vogt, Jack Williamson, Theodore Sturgeon, Lester del Rey, C.L. Moore, Ross Rocklynne, A. Bertram Chandler, T.L. Sherred – and with some of their most classic stories.

THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Kingsley Amis is another cracking anthology, with a completely different group of stories and authors to the previous anthology. Only Asimov appears in both, but with different stories. And there are seventeen stories in this one, almost twice as many as the other anthology. Aside from Isaac Asimov, we’ve got Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, Frederik Pohl, Brian W. Aldiss, Cordwainer Smith, H. Beam Piper, Harry Harrison, Damon Knight, Anthony Boucher, James Blish, Robert Sheckley, J.G. Ballard, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Jerome Bixby, F.L. Wallace and Philip Latham. That is a hugely impressive line-up of SF author talent with some of their most classic stories.

The Kingsley Amis anthology is a completely different kind of book to the other one edited by Asimov, Waugh and Greenberg. I wouldn’t really consider it a real “Golden Age” anthology at all, as the stories are from the 1950s and 1960s (there’s even one from 1979!), rather than the 1940s (the actual “Golden Age of SF” is usually considered to be circa 1938-1950, when Campbell’s Astounding ruled the roost unchallenged, and before the appearance of F&SF and Galaxy). The stories are therefore slightly more sophisticated than those in the other book, with much less of an emphasis on stories from Astounding, and a much higher percentage coming from F&SF, Galaxy and other sources. The stories are of the highest calibre, and the only criticism I would have is none of them actually qualify as “Golden Age” SF, as they come from a later period, and there are several of the 1960s stories that even come dangerously close to belonging to the New Wave. I guess Amis’ interpretation of “Golden Age” SF is a bit different to the rest of us, and maybe a bit more of a personal one. 🙂

All in all, a nice little batch of books. I’ve gotten the bug back again for hunting down SF books. I must get back on Ebay to see if I can find a few more classic anthologies.

THE MEN AND THE MIRROR (1973) by Ross Rocklynne

Rocklynne, Ross - The Men and the Mirror-03

This time out, we have a single author collection of short fiction by SF Pulps stalwart, Ross Rocklynne (real name Ross Louis Rocklin, February 21, 1913 – October 29, 1988). Rocklynne was very active in the SF magazines from the early-1930s up until the mid-1950s, when he disappeared off the scene for more than a decade (supposedly because of his interest in Dianetics), only returning in the late-1960s, when he wrote a small number of highly regarded stories, including “Ching Witch!”, which appeared in Harlan Ellison’s classic 1972 anthology, AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS.

But it’s Rocklynne’s classic 1930s, 1940s and early-1950s stories that he is most remembered for. And this is a nice little collection, spanning 1936-1952, another fairly short book, only 208 pages and six stories, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get through.

TITLE: THE MEN AND THE MIRROR
AUTHOR: Ross Rocklynne
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Single Author Collection
FORMAT: Paperback, 208 pages
PUBLISHER: Ace Books, First Ace Printing, New York, 1973
ISBN: 0 7278 1221 1

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Ross Rocklynne
  • “At the Center of Gravity” (Astounding Stories, June 1936)
  • “Jupiter Trap” (Astounding Stories, August 1937)
  • “The Men and the Mirror” (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1938)
  • Robert D. Swisher letter from Astounding Stories, November 1938
  • “They Fly So High” (Amazing Stories, June 1952)
  • “The Bottled Men” (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1946)
  • “And Then There Was One” (from Astounding Science Fiction, February 1940)

Ross Rocklynne was one of those writers who seemed to pop up regularly in the SF mags during the 1930s-1950s, and who was very popular, but was sadly underappreciated compared to his more famous contemporaries (Heinlein, Van Vogt, Asimov, Del Rey, etc), and so he never achieved the same level of fame as these authors. Perhaps this was because many of the stories were very unusual for that era, less mainstream commercial SF, and in many ways quite a bit ahead of their time. He was certainly a very powerful writer, almost avant-garde, and in many ways was a precursor to the New Wave of the 1960s. Maybe this explains why he was never as big as the likes of Heinlein or Van Vogt.

My own first encounters with Rocklynne’s work came through reading some of his short fiction in various anthologies of Golden Age SF (I’ve never read any of his novels). The two that I remember best, and which stick in my mind, are “Into the Darkness” (Astonishing Stories, June 1940) and “Time Wants a Skeleton” (Astounding, June 1941). “Into the Darkness”, which spawned several sequel stories, is a fascinating tale with no human characters at all. The main characters are a bunch of ancient, sentient nebulae (not many writers could pull that one off)! “Time Wants a Skeleton” is a very clever time paradox/time loop story, which was quite unusual and complex back in 1941, although this type of story has become quite commonplace in recent years.

I’ve never read any of the stories in this collection before, and all of them are considered classic “scientific puzzle” or “scientific problem” stories, which were so much in vogue during that era. The first three stories, “At the Center of Gravity”, “Jupiter Trap” and “The Men and the Mirror” were all published in Astounding in June 1936, August 1937 and July 1938 respectively, and were part of the “cops and robbers” Colbie and Deverel series, featuring Interplanetary Police Officer Lt. Jack Colbie, and his long time adversary, space pirate Edward Deverel. The third story and title story of the collection, “The Men and the Mirror” is followed by a very interesting letter published several months later in Astounding from one Robert D. Swisher, arguing that the calculations in “The Men and the Mirror” were completely wrong. Just the kinda thing that John W. Campbell Jr loved to publish, and guaranteed to cause much controversy and discussion! 🙂

The fourth and fifth stories were originally intended to be part of the Colbie and Deverel series, but for some reason Rocklynne changed the names, backgrounds and personalities of the main male adversaries. But in every other respect, they are still the same “cops and robbers” space stories. The final story of the six, “And Then There Was One”, is a variation on the classic “Ten Little Indians” theme. It breaks (slightly, but not a lot) the trend of the “cops and robbers” theme in the previous five tales, and was obviously written to show that the premise of the first story, “At the Center of Gravity”, was scientifically incorrect. Rocklynne sounds like a right screwball – quite obviously my type of guy! 🙂

The edition of THE MEN AND THE MIRROR that I have is the Ace Books 1st Paperback edition, and apparently Rocklynne himself was VERY unhappy about how Ace Books handled the publishing of his short story collection. And who could blame him? The stories were published out of chronological order, and, if that wasn’t bad enough, the break between the fifth and sixth stories was completely omitted, leaving out altogether both the title of the story and the author’s introductory comments to the final story in the collection, “And Then There Was One”. It is so bad that there are many readers who are convinced that there are only five stories in the collection. I’ve seen comments on Amazon.com complaining about this very thing. But trust me. There are six stories, not five. Just go to page 168 and check it out.

You have to look very carefully to even find where “And Then There Was One” begins, as the final paragraph of the previous story, “The Bottled Men”, ends about half way down page 168, there is a single paragraph break, and then straight into the first paragraph of “And Then There Was One”. There is no title nor any author’s comments (as there were with the previous five stories) to show where it begins. And this was compounded even further by the fact that there are only five stories listed on the Contents page – “And Then There Was One” is omitted from that as well, although, strangely enough, it IS listed on the preceding Copyright/Credits page. All in all, this was a complete printing/publishing cock-up by the Ace Books editors, which, sadly, spoils the enjoyment of this nice collection somewhat. No wonder Ross Rocklynne was absolutely livid.

Just as an addendum, and through judicious use of Google, I’ve tracked down Rocklynne’s author comments to “And Then There Was One”. They were published for the very first time in a reference book, The Work of Ross Rocklynne: An Annotated Bibliography & Guide**, and I’ve reprinted the comments here, just in case anyone else has read the collection and might be interested:

“Sir Isaac Newton provided the idea. He already had Worked out the problem of the hollow planet before I approached it in “At the Center of Gravity”. My answer was wrong. A decision was made to set the record straight, even though no complaining remarks about my ancient error had come through. The ten little Indians implied in the title became six big businessmen having a bit of a go at each other under rather strange and, in a manner of speaking, revolutionary conditions. Again, a planet was tailored to fit the problem.”*

*The Work of Ross Rocklynne: An Annotated Bibliography & Guide p.59

**The Work of Ross Rocklynne: An Annotated Bibliography & Guide
by Douglas Menville
edited by Boden Clarke
Borgo Press, First Edition December 1989
Hardback: ISBN: 0-8095-0511-8 $19.95
Paperback: ISBN: 0-8095-0511-3 $9.95

Doctor Who: Heaven Sent

Now THAT was a cracker! In my opinion, Heaven Sent, written by Steven Moffat, is a great follow-up to Face the Raven, the best Doctor Who episode in a long, long time, and definitely the best episode of Series 9 so far.

It was dark, scary, moody, mindbending, intelligent – it’s just how I love Doctor Who, and is the kind of episode that we’ve seen far too little of in recent years. With the exception of Chris Eccleston’s excellent single season, Series 9 is the nearest that Doctor Who has come in tone (if not quite in quality) to the Tom Baker/Philip Hinchcliffe era, by far my favourite era in either Classic or New Doctor Who. I was glued to the screen for the entire forty-five minutes, although I’m not too sure if I like the whole “I am the hybrid” idea, at the episode’s climax. If it pans out like that, it would be just a little too silly for my liking.

Peter Capaldi has taken the role of the Doctor by the scruff of its neck and made it his own, and Clara/Jenna Coleman has grown into an excellent companion. I’ll be sorry to see her go at the end of this series. Despite the multitude of rabid Clara haters I’ve seen online (fandom makes me sick at times – there are far too many total assholes out there claiming to be fans), I’m pretty sure that future critics and fans will look back on Clara Oswald as being one of the better companions in the history of either Doctor Who series.

There’s been a certain amount of moaning and groaning on Facebook and elsewhere that, if we see many more episodes like Heaven Sent, “we’ll lose the general audience”. I disagree. Fans who have grown up with NuWho, TRUE fans, and not the “flyby brigade”, who only watch it if there’s nothing better on the other channels, will still stick to the show like glue. I do agree that there has to be a certain amount of balance between the lightness and humour vs the grimness and serious stories, to vary the pace in between the individual episodes, and give us an entire range of the spectrum between extreme the dark, scary stuff and the lightweight fluffy episodes. But this kind of story is so much more my idea of what Doctor Who should REALLY be like. Others may have their own ideas of what Doctor Who should be like, but Heaven Sent is mine.

However, I do concede that there has to be a balance. But the moaners who can’t tolerate ANY heavy, serious episodes at all really get my goat up. They should just clear off and watch airhead sitcoms or soap operas, if all they want is non-stop, upbeat nonsense. We really do need these “deep” stories occasionally, to balance out the lighter, more dumbed down, all flash and no substance single episodes, that supposedly are aimed at the “general” audience and kids (who, these days, aren’t as stupid as the marketers seem to think). Thankfully, with all the two-parters, Series 9 has seen only a couple of these single episodes, and even they were linked. A big improvement on previous years, in my opinion, and I hope that this trend in favour of two-parters continues.

The David Tennant and Matt Smith eras had FAR too many of those dumb single episodes, far too much old silliness, with the totally ridiculous romance nonsense between the Doctor and human female companions, other completely irrelevant, soap-opera-ish, non-Who-ish distractions, and simply too much bad writing. The Matt Smith era, in particular, was virtually unwatchable at times, despite the fact that he himself was an absolutely AMAZING Doctor. He carried the show most of the time, to be honest, and I continued watching it just for him. In my opinion, Capaldi’s arrival, and the complete change in tone of the series, has revitalised Doctor Who, although there are still too many dodgy stories. But hell, that’s always been true of Doctor Who. Lest the rose-tinted glasses crowd forget, the Classic series also had more than its fair share of total clunkers.

It’s not 1966 any more, fer cryin’ out loud. It’s almost 2016, and modern audiences (including kids) are far more sophisticated than they were back in the 1960s and 1970s. And the show is no longer aired at 5.15pm in the evening, but a full three hours later, sometimes not ending until after the 9pm watershed. I can no longer understand the endless obsession with forcing the show into a shoebox where it has to appeal to five year-olds as well as fifty-five year olds. That approach just doesn’t seem relevant any more.

In most cases, instead of more challenging stories, in recent years we’ve ended up with far too many middle-of-the-road, lightweight “fluff” single episodes aimed at keeping kids and general viewers who are not hardcore Doctor Who fans happy, what I refer to as the “Popcorn Who” audience. Personally, given Doctor Who’s current late timeslot, and the fact that the typical modern audience is much more varied and sophisticated than it was forty or fifty years ago, I really think the series should be written accordingly today, and aimed at a similar audience to Steven Moffat’s other excellent show, Sherlock.

I know those “popcorn” episodes are for keeping up the general audience figures, but too many of them and you lose the hardcore fans (like myself). They are just too bland and lightweight, and while I can take the odd one in between the more intelligent, serious episodes, string more than two or three of them together and I’ll give up on that season as a lost cause. Thankfully Heaven Sent was way over at the other extreme, where I prefer my Doctor Who to be. I like my Doctor Who dark, scary and serious.

I’m hoping Hell Bent lives up to the quality of Heaven Sent (and that Moffat will be able to do it two episodes in a row, as this has been a weakness of his with two-parters). If it’s even half as good, it’ll be a decent series finale. And if it’s on the same level of quality, we’re in for one of the greatest series endings in modern Doctor Who.