“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