BUG-EYED MONSTERS edited by Anthony Cheetham

TITLE: BUG-EYED MONSTERS
EDITED BY: Anthony Cheetham
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 280 pages
PUBLISHER: Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1972.
ISBN: 0 283 97864 3

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by Anthony Cheetham
  • “Invasion from Mars” by Howard Koch (with Orson Welles) – 1938 radio adaptation of War of the Worlds, CBS, October 30, 1938
  • “Not Only Dead Men” by A. E. Van Vogt (1942) (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1942)
  • “Arena” by Fredric Brown (1944) (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1944)
  • “Surface Tension” by James Blish (Galaxy, August 1952)
  • “The Deserter” by William Tenn (1953) (reprinted from Star Science Fiction Stories, edited by Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, February 1953)
  • “Mother” by Philip José Farmer (1953) (Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1953)
  • “Stranger Station” by Damon Knight (1956) (Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 1956)
  • “Greenslaves” by Frank Herbert (1965) (Amazing, March 1965)
  • “Balanced Ecology” by James H. Schmitz (1967) (Analog, March 1965)
  • “The Dance of the Changer & Three” by Terry Carr (1968) (reprinted from The Farthest Reaches, edited by Joseph Elder, Trident 1968)

This is a nice little anthology, containing ten stories (more accurately NINE stories and one radio play adaptation) spanning thirty years 1938-1968. It is edited by Anthony Cheetham, with whom I am totally unfamiliar. According to Cheetham’s interesting little introduction, the title of the book is a gentle, fun jibe at the old, stereotypical “bug-eyed monster” of the pulps. However the ten stories in the anthology are of an altogether higher quality than those old yarns in the pulps, almost a “rehabilitation” of the old bug-eyed monster.

There’s quite a mix in this anthology. We start off with one which is very apt, given the title of the anthology. Howard Koch’s (and Orson Welles’s) classic 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s seminal 1898 interplanetary invasion novel War of the Worlds. It first appeared in book form in the anthology Invasion from Mars), edited by Orson Welles (Dell, 1949). The Martian invaders are probably the original archetype for all the B.E.M.s that came afterwards, so this one is as good a place to start as any. I’ve read it before in a number of publications, and it’s always nice to revisit it.

As for the other nine stories, as usual, there are a few that I’m familiar with, and a few that I’m not. Fredric Brown’s classic Arena and James Blish’s Surface Tension are the two that I remember best. Both have always been favourites of mine. Frank Herbert’s Greenslaves is another one that I recall liking, although my memory is a bit fuzzier on the details of that one. I have very vague memories about encountering the Van Vogt, Knight, Tenn and Carr stories at some point in the distant past, but don’t recall anything about them except the briefest details. I don’t recall ever reading either the Farmer or Schmitz stories before.

I may not know (or recall) a few of the stories, but with the exception of Koch, the other nine authors in the anthology are all VERY familiar to me. No obscure writers here, although I must admit that I’m much more familiar with Terry Carr as one of my favourite anthologists, rather than as an author. Overall, this looks like a good one. With those names in it, how could it not be? I think I’m going to really enjoy reading BUG-EYED MONSTERS. 🙂

Classic Sci-Fi Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” (1963)

I’m sitting here in the (very) early hours of Boxing Day, watching Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1963 horror/fantasy thriller The Birds on Film4. I haven’t seen this one from beginning to end in many, many years, so I’m enjoying it a lot.

The main characters are played by Rod Taylor (three years after his role in George Pal’s classic 1960 movie The Time Machine), Tippi Hedren (I can’t recall her in anything else), Suzanne Pleschette, Jessica Tandy and a very young Veronica Cartwright. But the real stars of the film are the birds.

The story is a classic “what-if” with an impending apocalyptic theme, and is loosely based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier. It is set in the tiny California harbour town of Bodega Bay, which is under siege by thousands of birds. The birds are launching sporadic, seemingly random attacks on the inhabitants, causing mayhem, destruction and even killing a number of people including one of the main characters, the local school teacher. There are several truly disturbing and memorable scenes, in which the birds attack the children during a party and later at the school, the mass attack and destruction at the diner/petrol station, and the final attack at the home of Mitch’s mother, in which Melanie (Tippi Hedren) is almost killed in the bedroom and left traumatised.

I did have a bit of a chuckle during the scene at the diner (just before the birds attack) where the old lady ornithologist states that there are a hundred billion birds in the world, and if they really have all ganged up together to attack the human race, we’d have no chance. I seriously doubt that, and I believe that if a war ever did break out between the birds and humans, we would very efficiently render every single one of them extinct. Cue images of tens of thousands of rednecks and Dick Cheney types blasting countless millions of poor birdies out of the sky and having great fun doing so.

The film has just ended, and never really explains why the birds are attacking. The conclusion has the protagonists just driving off in a car, under the watchful eyes of thousands of menacing birds, who just let them go, we never find out why. There is some inference (from news reports on the car radio) that the attacks are spreading beyond Bodega Bay, and that this is the beginning of the end for the human race.

That was certainly two-and-a-half hours well spent. 🙂

Doctor Who: “Last Christmas”

I watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special earlier this evening. Verdict? Mmmm… not bad, actually.

I must admit that when I first heard that the title of the Christmas Special was going to be Last Christmas, and saw the trailer with Santa Claus in it, I let out a huge groan, fearing the worst. Oh please, not another piece of silly, irrelevant Christmas fluff! I had images of a soppy, saccharine, Christmas-sy pile of old tosh, with Santa and strains of Wham! permeating the background music. The very thought of it filled me with dread.

Thankfully my worst fears didn’t materialize. There was a perfectly good and logical reason for Santa, and a reasonably intelligent story, which was even pretty dark and ominous in parts. Most unChristmas-sy. 🙂 Even the aliens were pretty good, and although derivative, Moffat managed to work a joking reference into the script as an acknowledgement of the original source. I won’t say anything more, in case I give away spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.

It was nice to see Clara’s place confirmed as continuing companion in the series, after all the speculation about “will she or won’t she?” (stay or leave). I know that the character has taken a lot of criticism from fans, but I think that she has come into her own during Season 8, after an initial beginning as more of a plot device than a real character. In my opinion, she is fitting in better now with Peter Capaldi than she ever did during Matt Smith’s era. Jenna Coleman is a good actress, and her character has definitely grown and progressed in Series 8, so I’m quite glad that she’s staying with the show for another while yet.

Overall, Steven Moffat has produced a reasonably good Christmas Special for 2014. Sure, it may not have been the best Doctor Who episode of all time, but it was definitely worth an hour of my time.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1947)

I’m sitting here watching the classic 1947 movie It’s a Wonderful Life, which is one of THE greatest films of all time. Christmas wouldn’t be complete without this film, with some great acting performances from James Stewart, Donna Reid, Lionel Barrymore and the others, an excellent, very entertaining, above average comedy drama, focusing on the remarkable life of an altruistic, but very dissatisfied and unhappy (with his life) young man, George Bailey.

We’re at the point where Uncle Billy has just lost the $8000 (or, rather, the vile Mr. Potter has it, and won’t give it back). The auditor is at the Bailey Building and Loan, and all hell has broken loose. George has just had the big bust-up with the family, and is asking Potter for help, with the loathsome old cockroach gloating and revelling in this opportunity to destroy his opponent. Everything is spiralling out of control, and George is in total despair, contemplating suicide. In answer to his prayer, George will soon be encountering Clarence, his guardian angel, and making his fateful wish – that he had never been born.

We’re just about to enter the next sequence of the movie, and the part which really elevates it to greatness. The film will sidestep into the truly magnificent and altogether darker and more terrifying alternate reality in which George Bailey never existed. His home town of Bedford Falls is now Pottersville (with nobody to oppose him, Potter has taken over the whole town), a complete dive and utter cesspool, where all the town’s inhabitants are much harder and more cruel people, and lead radically different lives under the all-pervasive evil influence of Potter. We get a chance to see just how different, and worse-off, the world would’ve been without George Bailey.

This is the original and archetypal alternate reality fantasy film, imitated (but never bettered) by many films in the almost seven decades since its release. We’ve moved into the alternate reality sequence now, as George is growing more and more frantic with each encounter he has with familiar characters, none of whom know him, and who are now all subtly different and much darker people than those friends that George knows in his own reality. The film is definitely no longer light-hearted or comedic in tone, and the atmosphere has changed totally, to something genuinely chilling. Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a seriously brilliant movie, a landmark cinematic masterpiece which, like George Bailey himself, has sent out ripples down through the decades, influencing countless films that came after it. It still has a powerful effect on me every time I see it (and I must have seen it more than a hundred times). It must have been a truly breathtaking film back in 1947. Any film buff who has never seen this movie seriously NEEDS to see it, as they’ve missed out on one of the all-time great films. An absolute cinema gem.