THE MARATHON PHOTOGRAPH AND OTHER STORIES (1986) by Clifford D. Simak

The Marathon Photograph (1986)

This time out, we have a single author collection of short fiction by one of my favourite authors, Clifford D. Simak, in which all of the stories have an underlying thematic link dealing with the mysterious paradox of time.

It’s quite a short collection, at only 171 pages, and only four stories (making it a relatively quick and easy read compared to most of the modern brick-sized entities masquerading as books). But one of those stories is a long novella, and there are also two novelettes and a single short story making up the rest of the book. And what stories they are.

 

TITLE: THE MARATHON PHOTOGRAPH AND OTHER STORIES
AUTHOR: Clifford D. Simak
EDITOR: Francis Lyall
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Single Author Collection
FORMAT: Hardback, 171 pages
PUBLISHER: Severn House (SH), London, 1986
ISBN: 0 7278 1221 1

  • The Introduction
  • “The Birch Clump Cylinder” (from Stellar #1, edited by Judy-Lynn del Rey, Ballantine, 1974)
  • “The Whistling Well” (from Dark Forces), edited by Kirby McCauley, Viking, 1980
  • “The Marathon Photograph” (from Threads of Time), edited by Robert Silverberg, Nelson, 1974
  • “The Grotto Of The Dancing Deer” (from Analog, April 1980)

The stories are all quite long. Even the shortest, “The Grotto of the Dancing Deer”, comes in at just over twenty-one pages. This story is a good one, first published in Analog back in April 1980, and winning the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards for that year. It’s a lovely story, and one which I recall enjoying a lot when I first read it twenty or so years ago.

“The Marathon Photograph” at seventy pages, is the longest story in the collection. I read this one many years ago on its original publication in Threads of Time, edited by Robert Silverberg (1974). I loved it then, and still do. It’s my favourite of the four stories in this collection.

The other stories in the collection, “The Birch Clump Cylinder” and “The Whistling Well”, are two that I haven’t read before. From what I’ve read of both stories so far, I’m quite sure that I’ll enjoy them just as must as I did the other two.

Simak had his first SF story published in Astounding way back in 1931 (“World of the Red Sun”), and most of my favourite Simak short fiction came from much earlier in his career – “The World of the Red Sun” (1931), “Sunspot Purge” (1940), “Beachhead” aka “You’ll Never Go Home Again” (1951), “The Trouble with Ants” (1951), “Small Deer” (1965), and a few others – and I haven’t read a lot of his later stuff. By contrast, the stories in this collection are all from quite late in Simak’s career (he died in 1988, at the age of 83), the earliest two being written when he was almost 70, and the other two during his mid-70’s.

It’ll be interesting to compare and contrast with his earlier material. “The Marathon Photograph” already rates as one of my favourite Simak tales, if not my overall favourite.

Definitely a nice little collection, from a pretty much forgotten (except by the oldies) and greatly underappreciated author.

Another Doctor Who Night In (Part Two)

In my last post I detailed my latest recent DVD-watching binge of Doctor Who stories, the recent choices all being Tom Baker stories. Last night I watched a couple more Doctor Who stories, switching this time to Jon Pertwee and the two Auton classics, Spearhead from Space (Special Edition) and Terror of the Autons, as featured on the Mannequin Mania DVD box set.

Spearhead from Space is one of my favourite Pertwee stories. When Jon Pertwee fell out of the TARDIS, almost exactly one month after my ninth birthday, I wasn’t too pleased. I’d been a Pat Troughton fan since I first started really paying attention to Doctor Who back in 1966 or so, at the young age of five-going-six years old. Up until that point in my life, he was the only Doctor I’d known, as I’d been too young to really remember Hartnell, although I’d doubtless seen a few of his as well, and had a view brief flashes and memory fragments of several stories.

So when Troughton left, and this new guy, Pertwee, took over, I was not a happy camper. But that mood didn’t last for long. By the end of the first episode of Spearhead, I’d completely forgotten about Troughton, and Pertwee was now most definitely The Doctor in my eyes. The sheer excellence of the story itself greatly eased the transition, and at that tender age, I found the concept of the Nestene Consciousness, and in particular the Autons, very scary and unnerving. For years afterwards, I was extremely nervous whenever I walked past any department store window. My young imagination already had the shop front dummies ready to smash through the windows and grab me. :)

Terror of the Autons is also a good story, but it never quite had the same impact on me as Spearhead from Space, although to this day, I still hate plastic flowers, plastic chairs and telephone cables. :) The Autons in this one (except for the cops) weren’t quite as frightening as those in Spearhead. With their massive heads and their circus background, they looked faintly silly and ridiculous, although the fight sequences with the UNIT troops were excellent.

However, this was the story that first introduced The Master, played by the late, great Roger Delgado, who quickly became a great favourite of mine. For that reason alone Terror of the Autons will always hold a fond spot in my heart. The story also introduced the new companion, cute and cuddly Jo Grant, played by Katy Manning, who joined Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Captain Yates, Corporal Benton and the rest of the UNIT cast, and who was to be at Pertwee’s side for the next three years of his run on the show. The classic and much-lauded “UNIT family” was now well and truly in place to usher in a new and one of the most fondly-remembered periods in the show’s history.

Overall, another cracking night’s viewing on the Doctor Who front.

Another Doctor Who Night In

We had another nice Doctor Who night last night at our place, watching several classic Who DVDs. Again, like last time out, they’re all Tom Baker stories, two from the Philip Hinchcliffe era and the third from the Graham Williams era.

We started off with The Seeds of Doom, one of my favourite stories from the Philip Hinchcliffe “Gothic Horror” era of the classic series, a four-year period that remains, to this day, my favourite-ever era in the history of Doctor Who, either Classic or New series. This is quite a scary one, with the Krynoid very reminiscent of the plant creature in the first 1953 Quatermass serial. Doctor Who, especially the classic series, was very heavily influenced by Quatermass. Always copy the best, that’s what I say! :)

This was followed by The Deadly Assassin, the rather controversial story which showcased the “reinvention” of the Time Lords. This one got some of the more purist fans of the original, near-omnipotent Time Lords in a bit of a tizzy, and I have to admit that I found myself sometimes wondering how this bunch of incompetent bureaucrats could ever have been the lords of time and space. The story also featured the first reappearance of The Master since the Pertwee era, a welcome return. The Deadly Assassin is an excellent tale, always rated among one of the greatest of the classic series, although I wouldn’t rate it as one of my own personal biggest favourites (I do like it, however).

To wrap up the evening, we finished off with another highly-rated classic, City of Death, which I also quite like, although, again, I wouldn’t rate it in my own personal Top Ten Classic Who stories. I was never as fond of the Graham Williams era as I was of the Hinchcliffe era. Tom Baker was allowed to do his own thing far too much, and often hammed it up a lot, with the humour getting a bit silly and slapstick at times. I much preferred the more scary and serious feel of the Hinchcliffe era, when Baker’s humour was much more subdued and subtle, and he played the role totally straight. That said, City of Death was definitely one of the best stories of the Williams era. Scaroth was one of the better villains that the fourth Doctor faced, and I’ve always found the concept of the Jagaroth, a ruthless alien race which terrorized the galaxy half a billion years ago, to be something that I’d love to see revisited again. Maybe in the new series. The TARDIS can go anywhere, after all.

Anyway, that was another really enjoyable evening. Here’s looking forward to watching some more Doctor Who soon.

Some Nice Saturday Night Viewing

It’s been an interesting Saturday evening so far on the television. I’ve been watching a couple of interesting sci-fi items which are helping wile away some time before I head out for my customary Saturday night out on the town.

First up was The Ultimate Guide to Doctor Who Part 2. The first part was a detailed look at the history of the Doctors and their companions, enemies and adventures during the Classic Series. Tonight’s second part was another hour long examination of the Doctor’s life, this time starting with Paul McGann and working through the first three Doctors of the new series.

Right now, I’m watching a very good time travel film, Looper (2012), a nice, twisty, paradox-y time travel tale. There are a few big-name actors in this one, including Bruce Willis, Jeff Daniels, Emily Blunt and Joseph-Gordon Lovett. It’s just ended a minute ago, and I gotta say that I didn’t see that one coming. :)

Some New Doctor Who Books (Part Two)

Back at the end of January, I made a start on listing some of the Doctor Who related books that I’ve been picking up over recent months. Here are a few more, focusing specifically on the excellent fan-oriented publications of Mad Norwegian Press:

  • ABOUT TIME: THE UNAUTHORIZED GUIDE TO DOCTOR WHO – BOOK 7, 2005 – 2006 SERIES 1 & 2
  • TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 1: LANCE PARKIN
  • TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 2: WRITINGS ON THE CLASSIC SERIES
  • TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 3: WRITINGS ON THE NEW SERIES

I was an obsessive collector of Doctor Who fanzines way back in the 1980’s and early-1990’s, the era often fondly referred to as the “Golden Age of Doctor Who Fanzines”. In many ways, I still am today, although there are a lot fewer print/paper fanzines around these days than there were back in the 80’s and 90’s. So these four Mad Norwegian Press books are an absolute goldmine of DW reference material, and of great interest to someone like me, particularly the three TIME UNINCORPORATED books, which collect a host of fanzine and fan-related writing.

The ABOUT TIME: THE UNAUTHORIZED GUIDE TO DOCTOR WHO – BOOK 7, 2005 – 2006 SERIES 1 & 2 by Tat Wood and Dorothy Ail (trade paperback, Mad Norwegian Press, US, 2013, ISBN: 978-1935234159), is the first book in the ABOUT TIME series that I’ve bought, and about time (if you’ll pardon the pun). It’s not as though I could hold off forever from buying a series of books which describes itself as “A history of the Doctor Who continuum”. Tat Wood is a name that I definitely remember well from my days collecting zines back in the 80’s and 90’s, and this book is extremely dense and full of fantastic information. This volume is the first in the series focusing on NuWho, covering the first two seasons of the new series, 2005-2006. As I’m an even bigger fan of the classic series than I am of the new (although I do like the new series), I really should get around to tracking down the first six ABOUT TIME books.

TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 1: LANCE PARKIN by Lance Parkin (trade paperback, Mad Norwegian Press, US, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-935234012), is the first of a projected multi-volume series collecting “selected treasures” from many of the best pieces of fanzine writing of the past. This particular volume focuses on a single writer – Lance Parkin – and collects fifteen years worth of his fanzine scribblings. Back in the early-1990’s, I was a big follower of the publications put out by Seventh Door Fanzines, and soon became a fan of Lance Parkin’s writing, long before he ever hit it big in the world of Doctor Who publishing. I still have a pristine condition copy of his original 1994 The Doctor Who Chronology, which for years served as one of my favourite Doctor Who reference books. That has now been superceded as a reference source by its immense descendant AHISTORY, although the original still occasionally comes out of its box just for the sheer nostalgia kick that reading those old zine publications gives me. These books are fantastic, but there’s nothing like holding the originals in your hands.

TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 2: WRITINGS ON THE CLASSIC SERIES edited by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith (trade paperback, Mad Norwegian Press, US, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-935234029), continues where the previous volume left off, except this time focusing on the fanzine and other fan-related writings of a much wider group of authors, relating to the classic series from 1963-1989, and including the 1996 FOX TV movie. There are nearly seventy-five essays here, and quite a few names here that I recognize, but also quite a few that I do not.

TIME UNINCORPORATED: THE DOCTOR WHO FANZINE ARCHIVES, VOL 3: WRITINGS ON THE NEW SERIES edited by Robert Shearman, Graeme Burk and Robert Smith (trade paperback, Mad Norwegian Press, US, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-935234036), is more of the same kind of thing that we got in Vol. 2, except this time concentrating on the new series, up until 2010. Nearly sixty-five essays, again by a wide range of authors, many of whom I recognize, and many of whom I do not. This one is billed as “the third and final volume of this series”, and it finishes at the end of Matt Smith’s first year in the role of The Doctor. C’mon Mad Norwegian Press guys! You can’t leave it hanging there! This series is really crying out for a Volume 4, to cover Matt Smith’s second and third seasons, and the start of Peter Capaldi’s run on the show. As a matter of fact, as long
as the new series continues to run, there should be more and more new volumes to cover it!

Anyway, that’s it for now. More new Doctor Who book listings coming up soon.

STORIES FOR TOMORROW (1954) edited by William Sloane

Stories for Tomorrow

I’ve got an interesting anthology in front of me at the moment. Actually, I’ve got two different editions of it. Firstly an original US 1st Edition hardback, which I bought from a dealer on Amazon. This is an ex-library copy, and came without a dustjacket, otherwise the book itself is in excellent condition. The other edition is the UK 1st Edition hardback, complete with dustjacket (pictured here), which has slightly different contents to the US Edition.

The US edition first…

TITLE: STORIES FOR TOMORROW
EDITED BY: William Sloane
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 628 pages
PUBLISHER: Funk & Wagnalls, US, 1954

CONTENTS LISTING:

About This Book by William Sloane

PART I: THE HUMAN HEART

  • “The Wilderness” by Ray Bradbury (Today, April 6th 1952, revised for Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1952)
  • “Starbride” by Anthony Boucher (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1951)
  • “Second Childhood” by Clifford D. Simak (Galaxy, Feb 1951)
  • “Homeland” by Mari Wolf (first published as “The Statue”, If Magazine, January 1953)
  • “Let Nothing You Dismay” by William Sloane (written for this anthology)
  • “A Scent of Sarsaparilla” by Ray Bradbury (Star Science Fiction Stories #1, February 1953

PART II: THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS

  • “The Exile” by Alfred Coppel (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1952)
  • “The Farthest Horizon” by Raymond F. Jones (Astounding Science
    Fiction
    , April 1952)
  • “Noise Level” by Raymond F. Jones (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1952)
  • “First Contact” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1945)

PART III: SWEAT OF THE BROW

  • “Franchise” by Kris Neville (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1951)
  • “In Value Deceived” by H. B. Fyfe (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1950)
  • “Okie” by James Blish (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1950)
  • “Black Eyes and the Daily Grind” by Milton Lesser (If Magazine, March 1952)

PART IV: DIFFERENCE WITH DISTINCTION

  • “Socrates” by John Christopher (Galaxy, March 1951)
  • “In Hiding” by Wilmar H. Shiras (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1948)
  • “Bettyann” by Kris Neville (reprinted from New Tales of Space & Time, edited by Raymond J. Healey, 1951)

PART V: THE TROUBLE WITH PEOPLE IS PEOPLE

  • “The Ant and the Eye” by Chad Oliver (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1953)
  • “Beep” by James Blish (Galaxy, February 1954)
  • “And Then There Were None” by Eric Frank RussellAstounding Science Fiction, June 1951)
  • “The Girls from Earth” by Frank M. Robinson (Galaxy, January 1952)

PART VI: VISITORS

  • “Minister Without Portfolio” by Mildred Clingerman (Fantasy & Science Fiction, Feb 1952)
  • “The Head-Hunters” by Ralph Williams (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1951)
  • “Dune Roller” by Julian May (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1951)
  • “Disguise” by Donald A. Wollheim (Other Worlds Science Stories, February 1953)
  • “The Shed” by E. Everett Evans (Avon SF&F Reader, January 1953)

PART VII: THREE EPILOGS

  • “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke (Star Science Fiction Stories #1, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1953)
  • “The Forgotten Enemy” by Arthur C. Clarke (King’s College Review, December 1948)
  • “The Answers” [also as “…And the Truth Shall Make You Free”] by Clifford D. Simak (Future, March 1953)

This is an ex-library copy, which came without a dustcover, when I bought it from a dealer on Amazon. Otherwise the book itself is in excellent condition.

There are a few stories here that I’m familiar with, either being old favourites of mine, or having vague but fond memories of them – all of the stories by Clarke, Bradbury, Simak, Russell, Leinster and Blish. The rest I’ve either not read at all or read so long ago that I can’t remember them. Personal favourites among these are Blish’s “Beep”, Leinster’s “First Contact”, Russell’s “And Then There Were None”, Simak’s “Second Childhood”, Bradbury’s “The Wilderness”, Robinson’s “The Girls from Earth”, and both of the Clarke stories.

As I’ve already said, the UK 1st edition is slightly different to the US edition:

TITLE: STORIES FOR TOMORROW
EDITED BY: William Sloane
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 476 pages
PUBLISHER: Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1955.

CONTENTS LISTING:

About This Book by William Sloane

PART I: THE HUMAN HEART

  • “The Wilderness” by Ray Bradbury
  • “Starbride” by Anthony Boucher
  • “Homeland” by Mari Wolf
  • “Let Nothing You Dismay” by William Sloane
  • “A Scent of Sarsaparilla” by Ray Bradbury

PART II: THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS

  • “Noise Level” by Raymond F. Jones
  • “First Contact” by Murray Leinster

PART III: SWEAT OF THE BROW

  • “Franchise” by Kris Neville
  • “In Value Deceived” by H. B. Fyfe
  • “Black Eyes and the Daily Grind” by Milton Lesser

PART IV: DIFFERENCE WITH DISTINCTION

  • “Socrates” by John Christopher
  • “In Hiding” by Wilmar H. Shiras
  • “Bettyann” by Kris Neville

PART V: THE TROUBLE WITH PEOPLE IS PEOPLE

  • “The Ant and the Eye” by Chad Oliver
  • “Beep” by James Blish
  • “And Then There Were None” by Eric Frank Russell
  • “The Girls from Earth” by Frank M. Robinson

PART VI: VISITORS

  • “Minister Without Portfolio” by Mildred Clingerman
  • “The Head-Hunters” by Ralph Williams

PART VII: THREE EPILOGS

  • “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “The Forgotten Enemy” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “The Answers” by Clifford D. Simak

As with many anthologies from that period, a number of the stories have been cut from the UK edition that were in the original US edition. There are seven fewer stories, and the UK edition is 152 pages shorter. My UK edition also has a nice dustjacket, although the one on my copy is a bit on the tatty side.

Overall, another very interesting anthology. I’m looking forward to working my way through this one.

Doctor Who DVD Marathon Session

I’m having a bit of a quiet night in tonight, watching a few Doctor Who DVDs with a couple of mates. We have four DVDs on the menu tonight, and they’re all Tom Baker stories, among them three of my all-time favourite DW classics from the Hinchcliffe era.

We’re starting of with Image of the Fendahl (just finishing now), followed by Terror of the Zygons, Genesis of the Daleks, and finally Destiny of the Daleks. The first three stories are all in my Top Ten classic Doctor Who Stories list. Destiny is pretty decent too, if not quite up to the standard of the first three.

Tom Baker has always been my favourite Doctor, and the Hinchcliffe era by far my favourite era ever of Doctor Who. The underlying horror, more subdued Baker humour, excellent acting and extremely high quality of the scripts in Baker’s first three seasons have never been equalled, let alone surpassed, either in the classic or the new series.

I haven’t seen any of these in quite a long time now, so it’ll be really nice to revisit these old classics again. We’re in for a very enjoyable evening. :)

Leonard Nimoy, RIP.

Phil Friel:

I rarely keep up with the celebrity news, so I got a real shock when I read this on Dayton Ward’s excellent blog a wee while ago. I’m sitting here stunned, in tears. I’m gutted. Totally gutted.

Even though Leonard Nimoy was old and in pretty bad health, and this sad news should come as no great surprise to anybody, I’m still gutted. He was always my favourite Star Trek character, and more than any other actor/character in TOS, he epitomized the whole ethos of Trek for me. Star Trek has always been a major part of my life, ever since I watched its first run on UK television as a starry-eyed eight year-old back in 1969-1970, and Spock was always the main man for me.

Leonard Nimoy may once have written a book titled “I am NOT Spock”, but, as far as I’m concerned, he IS and always WILL be Spock. No disrespect intended to Zachary Quinto or any other talented newcomers who try to fill Nimoy’s huge shoes, but the man is irreplaceable.

Live Long and Prosper my friend, wherever you may be.

Originally posted on The Fog of Ward:

The New York Times and numerous other media outlets are reporting that Leonard Nimoy died earlier this morning at the age of 83. Our thoughts today are with his family and friends.

NYTimes.com: Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83

StarTrek.com also has a very nice tribute to Mr. Nimoy, chronicling his extensive career on the stage, television, and the silver screen as well as his writing, poetry, and other pursuits:

StarTrek.com: Remembering Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

Last year, after he had become a regular, active presence on Twitter, he announced that he was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and he attributed this to his years of smoking. Mr. Nimoy gave up the habit decades ago and even allowed his image to be used by the American Cancer Society to promote smoking cessation programs. I still have one of the posters from back in…

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THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY STARR by Paul French (Isaac Asimov)

LuckyStarr

Last time out, I listed some of the SF novels that I picked up recently, among them two of Isaac Asimov’s Lucky Starr juvies that he wrote back in the 1950’s under his Paul French pseudonym. Well, that set me to searching for the only single-volume omnibus of all six Lucky Starr novels, which I found on Amazon. It’s quite hard to come by, being out-of-print, and quite expensive. But I took the plunge and bought it, and it arrived by mail in double-quick time.

So what’ve we got? Let’s look at the details:

 

TITLE: THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY STARR
AUTHOR: Paul French (Isaac Asimov)
CATEGORY: Novel
SUB-CATEGORY: Omnibus
FORMAT: Hardback, 701 pages
PUBLISHER: Science Fiction Book Club, in association with Doubleday & Co. Inc, New York, 2001
ISBN: 0-7394-1941-2

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction to the Adventures of Lucky Starr
  • Introduction to the Further Adventures of Lucky Starr
  • David Starr – Space Ranger (1952)
  • Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953)
  • Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (1954)
  • Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury (1956)
  • Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter (1957)
  • Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn (1958)

The reason for the two introductions is that the books were released in two volumes back in 1985, with a different introduction for each volume. So both introductions have been republished in this single volume. The introductions alone are very interesting, and give some nice insights into Asimov’s thoughts on his old juvies from a vantage point of thirty years later.

Asimov spends much of both introductions, explaining, almost apologizing for how wrong he got the planetary science in his novels. I found all of this very entertaining, but, in effect, totally unnecessary. He wrote those books according to the knowledge that science had in the early 1950’s, from telescopic observations of the planets, before the radar imaging and planetary probes of the 1960’s and 1970’s made that old knowledge totally obsolete.

Sure, the planetary science is in those books is wrong and way out of date. Hey, so what? All planetary science before the Mariner space probes and those that followed is hopelessly out of date. There are no oceans on Venus, and it is a boiling, poisonous, high-pressure inferno to outdo any religious visions of hell. There has never been any advanced life or civilizations on Mars, no canals, and only an extremely thin, cold atmosphere. Mercury does not keep one side only to the Sun, Saturn’s rings are radically more complex, and the lunar families of both Jupiter and Saturn are much larger than they ever suspected back then, and the lunar ecologies of both planets much more complex than they could ever have imagined.

But you know what? I don’t give a hoot. That kind of thing has never bothered me too much, any more than the “wrong” planetary science in the books of earlier “greats”. I just shunt these Lucky Starr stories into the same alternate solar system where all the mythical planets of great earlier writers reside. Asimov is in some great company there: Stanley G. Weinbaum, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, Edwin Lester Arnold, C. S. Lewis, Raymond Z. Gallun, P. Schuyler Miller, Ray Bradbury, Clifford D. Simak, James Blish, Clark Ashton Smith, John Wyndham, Frederik Pohl, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Ed Hamilton, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert A. Heinlein and many, many other giants of the genre. These earlier solar system tales exist in their own little continuum, untouched by cold, hard, modern scientific facts. Nor should they be.

I first read most of these novels (all except Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus and Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury) way back in my early teens, usually on loan from local libraries. These were the classic NEL (New English Library) UK paperback editions, with those beautiful covers. Even now that I have the hardback omnibus, I still want to pick up those paperbacks in good condition, just for the covers.

I’ve been reading a little of the first novel in the series, and the writing holds up surprisingly well today. I think I’m going to really enjoy reacquainting myself with David “Lucky” Starr, Bigman and the rest in these fun books.

The Lost World (1960)

I was watching an old movie on Film4 on Sunday evening that brought back many good old memories for me. It was one of those oldies that I’d first seen way back when I was a kid, sometime during the first seven or eight years of my life, and is one that I hadn’t seen in many, many years.

The film in question was the second cinema version (1960) of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic 1912 novel The Lost World (the first version was the 1925 silent movie classic). The story involves an expedition to one of those “lost” regions of the world which were so popular back in the days before pretty much the entire world was explored and mapped. “Lost World” stories were very popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Lost civilizations in the jungles of darkest Africa and South America, beneath the sea, at the Earth’s core, indeed anywhere as yet unexplored, which could still harbour exciting adventures and unknown mysteries.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story was originally published as a serial in the Strand Magazine during the months of April–November 1912, and it took an expedition of explorers and scientists to South America, and up into the deepest, most unexplored regions of the Amazon, to a previously undiscovered plateau, where dinosaurs and other extinct prehistoric creatures had survived and still thrived. There were also cannibalistic native humans, who proved to be more dangerous than the dinosaurs, and who had wiped out a previous expedition.

The 1960 film adapts the original novel very loosely, taking a lot of liberties. And it was produced by Irwin Allen, king of the cheap and cheerful (in other words, terrible) special effects. Huge chunks of stock footage were later lifted from this film and just plonked down wholesale into several of Allen’s 1960’s television series, notably Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants and The Time Tunnel. Irwin Allen was the biggest cheapskate ever in the history of sci-fi television and cinema. He’s right up there alongside Ed Wood and Plan 9 from Outer Space. :)

Did I mention that the SFX are dire? Even for 1960, the special effects are terrible, and, by comparison, the ancient 1925 silent version, with the legendary Willis O’Brien producing the effects, was far superior technically. And O’Brien’s dinosaurs were proper dinosaurs, too. The 1960 film? Dinosaurs? Don’t make me laugh. The “dinosaurs” were a bunch of iguanas, monitor lizards and a baby alligator, all with bumps and horns glued to them. “Triceratops” was the baby alligator. “Stegosaurus” was a monitor lizard. “Iguanodon” (a bipedal dinosaur) was a four-legged iguana lizard (Allen must’ve looked at the names and thought “Iguana = Iguanodon”). And worst of all, “Tyrannosaurus”, the most famous dinosaur of all, the fearsome alpha predator, was played by a four-legged monitor lizard with glued-on horns and fins (Tyrannosaurus was two-legged and had neither horns nor fins). Even as a seven or eight year-old child, I knew my dinosaurs, and found these pathetic attempts totally hilarious. Anyone over the age of five these days would be howling with derision.

After all that slagging off, what is there good that can be said about the film? Granted that it is pretty lame by modern cinema standards, most of the criticisms are on the technical and SFX side of things. There is still an old-fashioned charm to this old movie, and it is certainly fun to watch. And even the so-called “dinosaurs” are hilarious, in a rather pathetic (“they aren’t dinosaurs!”) way. But the biggest redeeming feature of the film is definitely the cast, which included a number of big names – Michael Rennie, Claude Rains (as the cantankerous and hilarious Professor Challenger, the real star of the film), David Hedison and Jill St. John. They all played their parts straight and extremely well, which most likely elevated the film to a higher rating than it should otherwise have received (in my book, at least).

But most of the attraction for me is certainly on a personal level, namely the life-long nostalgia effect that links me to this film. I saw it at a very early age and it left a lasting impact on me, which led to bigger, better things. It lead directly to me reading the vastly superior original novel shortly afterwards at about age eight or nine, just as seeing George Pal’s classic 1960 cinema version of The Time Machine had led to me reading the original H. G. Wells novel a year or so before reading The Lost World.

Watching The Lost World for the first time all those years ago, was one of those formative encounters that helped lay the foundations that made me the geek that I am today. The film may not have dated very well by twenty-first century standards, but it still holds that old charm and nostalgia for me, and I’ll always make sure to watch it occasionally on TV when it gets shown every few years.