Thunderbirds Turns 50!

Yet another classic telefantasy series has it’s birthday today (September sees a lot of that kinda thing). Thunderbirds has hit the big Five-Oh.

It’s 50 years since old favourite kid’s (and big kid’s) series Thunderbirds premiered on British television, way back on 30 September 1965. The pilot episode, “Trapped in the Sky”, was first broadcast on the ITV network’s regional channels ATV Midlands, Westward and Channel Television. Other ITV regions, such as ATV London and Granada, didn’t start transmissions until the following month.

Thunderbirds was the fourth Supermarionation puppet show, following in the footsteps of Supercar, Fireball XL5 and Stingray, and it ran for two seasons and a total of 32 episodes. Maybe it wasn’t my absolute favourite Anderson puppet series (that was Captain Scarlet), but Thunderbirds has always remained the most popular of the Gerry Anderson series.

Oh, and HAPPY 50TH BIRTHDAY, THUNDERBIRDS!!! 🙂

6 GREAT SHORT NOVELS OF SCIENCE FICTION (1954) edited by Groff Conklin

6 Great Novels of Science Fiction

For this post, we have an anthology, this one from 1954. It’s another from one of the old dependables and one of my own personal favourite anthologists, Groff Conklin.

This anthology is a paperback, published by Dell, one of their Dell First Edition range, number D9, to be precise. It’s billed as “six short novels by six masters of imaginative storytelling”. One of the six is a long novella (98 pages), and the other five are all short novellas, and one long novelette, spanning 49-58 pages in length, from shortest story to longest.

 

TITLE: 6 GREAT SHORT NOVELS OF SCIENCE FICTION
EDITED BY: Groff Conklin
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Paperback, 384 pages
PUBLISHER: Dell First Edition, New York, 1954.

CONTENTS (6 Stories)

  • Introduction by Groff Conklin
  • “The Blast” by Stuart Cloete (novella, Collier’s, April 1946)
  • “Coventry” by Robert A. Heinlein (novella, Astounding Science Fiction, July 1940)
  • “The Other World” by Murray Leinster (novella, Startling Stories, November 1949)
  • “Barrier” by Anthony Boucher (novella, Astounding Science Fiction, September 1942)
  • “Surface Tension” by James Blish (novelette, Galaxy, August 1952)
  • “Maturity” by Theodore Sturgeon (novella, Astounding Science Fiction, February 1947)

The first story, “The Blast”, is a bit of an oddity, as it’s by a writer that I’ve never heard of, Stuart Cloete, and it didn’t even appear in one of the science fiction magazines, but rather in an April 1946 edition of Collier’s, one of the big mass market, general magazines, which was published in the US between 1888 and 1957.

The other five stories are all from science fiction magazines, Astounding, Galaxy and Startling Stories, and all spanning the years 1940-1952. I’m familiar with three of them (Leinster, Boucher and Blish), and they’re old favourites of mine, although it’s many years since I’ve read any of them. The titles of the Heinlein and Sturgeon stories vaguely ring a bell for me, so I may or may not have read them at some point in distant past, but I recall absolutely nothing about them.

Quite an interesting anthology of stories. Should be fun reading this one.

Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar is On TV Tonight!

The Witch’s Familiar, Part Two of the Doctor Who season opening double-parter, airs on BBC One at 7.45pm tonight. It’ll be interesting to see how things turn out for Clara (Jenna Coleman) and Missy (Michelle Gomez), and how the complex relationship between the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Davros (Julian Bleach) may or may not have begun. And the Daleks. Oh, yes, let’s not forget the Daleks! 🙂

Given how good Part One, The Magician’s Apprentice was, I’m really looking forward to tonight’s episode, while hoping that it lives up to the potential of the first one. In general, I greatly prefer two and three-parters to single episodes, as they are less rushed and give a lot more scope for story and character development. However, an unfortunate tendency of the Moffat-era two-parters is that they have great first parts, but slightly disappointing second parts, which almost always fail to live up to promise of the first episode.

Here’s hoping that The Witch’s Familiar does not fall into that trap, and turns out to be a cracker.

Doctor Who Series 9 Episodes Listing

Saturday past gave us the first episode of the new Series 9 of Doctor Who, The Magician’s Apprentice, and a cracking start it was too. Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman reprise their roles as the Doctor and companion Clara Oswald, and this first episode alone gave us a cracking story and a whole bunch of guest stars, including Missy (played by Michelle Gomez), Davros (Julian Bleach), and Daleks. Lots of Daleks. How’s that for a great start?

In the spirit of avoiding spoilers, I’ll leave a more detailed analysis of the story until a later date. I’ll say only that it was the first episode of a two-parter (unusual in itself, as two-parters are almost always season-enders – I don’t recall any season ever beginning with one), and to say that I’m REALLY looking forward to Part Two is putting it mildly. I hope that it lives up to the first episode, as these two-parters have an unfortunate tendency to start off brilliant in the first episode, but fade away disappointingly in the second.

I’ve been going out of my way to avoid seeing any spoilers on the internet, on TV or in magazines, which can be incredibly hard to do, especially when you spend as much time online and read as many magazines each month (including Doctor Who Magazine) as I do. I’ve been trying to come to the new series knowing absolutely nothing in advance, for maximum impact and surprise. Until I saw it on television, I knew absolutely nothing about the first episode, other than it had the Doctor, Clara, Missy and the Daleks. I don’t want to know the storylines or synopses in advance. So I’m trying to avoid anything like that like the plague.

Anyway, here’s a listing of the episode titles for Series 9, with zero spoilers.

Episodes:

  • 01. The Magician’s Apprentice
  • 02. The Witch’s Familiar
  • 03. Under the Lake
  • 04. Before the Flood
  • 05. The Girl Who Died
  • 06. The Woman Who Lived
  • 07. The Zygon Invasion
  • 08. The Zygon Inversion
  • 09. Sleep No More
  • 10. Face the Raven
  • 11. Heaven Sent
  • 12. Hell Bent

Roll on Saturday and The Witch’s Familiar!

Doctor Who Series 9 Starts Today!

I’m looking forward to the rest of this evening, just sitting here, eagerly awaiting the start of The Magician’s Apprentice, the very first episode of the new Series 9 of Doctor Who, which begins very shortly, at 7:40pm, on BBC1.

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman return as the Doctor and Clara, and I won’t give away much, other than to say that this one features both the Daleks AND Missy/The Master, and the Doctor goes missing, leaving Clara forced to do the almost unthinkable – team up with Missy to find him! So it should be pretty interesting, to say the least.

Roll on 7:40! 🙂

Happy 50th Anniversary, Lost in Space!

 

Here’s yet another anniversary, hot on the heels of Star Trek’s 49th. This time, it’s the 50th Anniversary of Lost in Space. I remember spending quite a few Friday evenings and (later) Sunday mornings watching re-runs of this on UK television during the early 1970s.

Irwin Allen series were VERY popular on UK television during the late 60s and throughout the 70s, usually on ITV, in opposition to the likes of Star Trek and Doctor Who, which were the mainstays on the “other channel”, BBC One (we only had three channels on UK television back then).

Happy 50th Birthday to the Robinson family, Doctor Smith (“Oh the pain, the pain”) and the robot.

Again, this one comes courtesy of a reblog from Trek-extraordinaire author Dayton Ward and his excellent The Fog of Ward blog. Go read this blog. Seriously.

The Fog of Ward.

Mr. President? Status control on Jupiter II: As of this moment, the spacecraft has passed the limits of our galaxy–it’s presumed to be hopelessly lost in space.”

And so it was that on the evening of Wednesday, September 15th, 1965, that the world’s first interstellar exploration ship, carrying with it Professor John Robinson and his family along with pilot Major Don West, began an epic journey into the depths of the universe and our imagination. All of that sounded great in theory, until that pesky Doctor Smith found a way to screw up everything.

LostInSpace-S1logoYep. Lost in Space is 50 years old today.

Damn, right?

Premiering on the CBS network one year ahead of that other big science fiction TV series from the late 1960s, Lost in Space was, essentially, a space-based re-imagining of the Swiss Family Robinson. In fact, Gold Key Comics had even beaten the show to…

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Happy 49th Birthday, Star Trek!

 

Tonight marks the 49th Anniversary of the first screening of the classic Star Trek: TOS on US television, with the airing of “The Man Trap” on Thursday, September 8, 1966. Due to some strange network mental gymnastics, they managed to air this one, which should have actually been the FIFTH episode, first, and they aired the pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, third. Go figure.

We poor, neglected souls over here in Ireland and the UK had to wait until July 12, 1969 before we first got to watch Star Trek on UK television, when it started in the traditional Saturday evening 5:15pm timeslot usually occupied by Doctor Who. Unlike in the US, we actually started with the pilot episode, although from that point on, there seemed to be no rhythm or rhyme to the sequence that the BBC showed the episodes in, and the series was not shown in airdate or production order.

The series was actually also shown over four seasons, rather than three, and some episodes were edited for violent content, with three of the episodes, “The Empath”, “Whom Gods Destroy” and “Plato’s Stepchildren”, not shown at all during the first run due to concerns over “sadistic elements” in the stories making them unsuitable for the series’ early “children’s” time slot. We had to wait until 1992 to finally see those episodes during a repeat re-run. To add to the insult, the episode “Miri”, which WAS shown in the initial run, was not shown again until 1993, due to “audience complaints” after the first screening. What a complete bunch of WUSSIES!!!

Just by coincidence, I’m sitting here right now with one of my friends, watching some classic TOS episodes on DVD. We started off with “Devil in the Dark”, then onto “Errand of Mercy”, which has just ended, and now we’re starting into “The Alternative Factor”. We’ll be finishing off with “The City on the Edge of Forever”, one of my favourite all-time Trek episodes, from ANY of the five series, and “Operation: Annihilate!”, another classic.

Extremely enjoyable night ahead for myself and friend, and oh yeah… Happy 49th Birthday Star Trek!

The Blogging Life – My Experiences With WordPress, Part Two

In Part One, I recounted the rise and demise of my first blog, SFreaders.com, between 2007 and 2009. I made the first post to that blog on May 3rd, 2007, and the final post on October 29th, 2007, so I was actually only posting for a few days short of six months. The blog itself lasted for almost two years before being taken permanently offline by the collapse of the webhost, Centrica Hosting, in early 2009. So, for the last year and a half of its life, it was actually inactive, with no posts being made to it at all.

In stark contrast to SFreaders.com, I’d set up this blog (originally titled the GrumpyOldGeek blog – it’s had a couple of different names over the years before settling finally on its current title Tales of Time & Space back in 2012) on WordPress.com at the exact same time as SFreaders.com, but solely for the purpose of getting the API key for the self-hosted blog. Once that was done, the WordPress.com blog became pretty much irrelevant, as I was focusing on my much more powerful, more flexible SFreaders.com blog, my only real (blogging) concern at that time. So I walked off and left the WordPress.com blog without so much as making a post.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I did make a couple of posts to the blog, the first one on June 3rd, 2007, exactly a month after my first post to SFreaders.com, and a second six days later, on June 9th. But these posts were insubstantial, silly, lame, half-assed, basically just ANY old rubbish to get something up on this blog. Then I walked off again, and didn’t come back to my WordPress.com blog for nearly three years.

When I did come back to blogging again, it had been almost exactly four years since my son had died, and I thought that I’d take another crack at it. However, I was unwilling (luckily, as it turned out) to go down the self-hosted route again. But I had this old blog sitting there on WordPress.com, totally unused for almost three years. Why not make use of it? So I made one post in February 2010, two posts in March and one in April, the last three all part of the lengthy “It’s A Geek’s Life” trilogy, and certainly far more substantial and interesting efforts than the two pieces of fluff that I’d posted back in June 2007. Certainly the fact that those three posts were far superior to the first two indicated favourable things about my improving state of mind. But I was still suffering badly from depression, and having major problems focusing and committing myself to anything. It was obvious that I was still deep in the bereavement phase (still am today, more than nine years after his death – I just handle it much better these days), and it was still too soon after the death of my son to commit myself to something like this.

So I disappeared AGAIN, this time not returning to my WordPress.com blog until more than two and a half years later, in December 2012. This time I was stronger, I was ready for it, and I was back to stay. I renamed and refocused the blog, and started posting regularly (I haven’t missed posting at least once a month since December 2012), and effectively turned Tales of Time & Space into my main blog, despite running a number of other blogs “on the side”. I have one other blog on WordPress.com, three on Blogger, and my second self-hosted WordPress blog, SF Universe, which I started around the same time as I relaunched this one, back at the end of 2012.

Tales of Time & Space and SF Universe are multitopic blogs, and all posts made to one are also made to the other, essentially providing a back-up of the blog posts. The other four blogs are all single-topic blogs. I STILL don’t trust self-hosted blogs, after what happened to SFreaders.com back in 2009, so I regard this one to be my main blog, rather than SF Universe, which I can experiment with at my leisure. That’s quite a change from the rather dismissive way that I used to regard this blog, but I’ve learned from my past mistakes, and I won’t repeat them again. This blog is now my main blog because it provides security, and will always be here, even if the unthinkable happens again, and history repeats itself with my second self-hosted blog also vanishing without warning. A blog on a big platform like WordPress.com is highly unlikely to just up and disappear on me someday, the way some self-hosted blogs do, although Dreamhost, the ISP with whom I have my hosting plan, is a reputable company who have been around a few years. No more cowboy resellers for me! I’ve learned a LOT over the past few years.

All of which now brings me back full circle, to the first paragraph of Part One, where I said that I had found all the back-up files and databases from my old SFreaders.com blog. Well, the good news is that I’ve decided to import all of the posts from SFreaders.com, rather than leaving them to gather cobwebs on my hard drive. These posts really should see the light of day again, despite the fact that they are quite different in look and feel to the other posts on this blog – the posts to SFreaders.com during those early days tended to be short, snappy, single subject posts, often just casual throwaway observations and comments, and totally unlike the much longer, more detailed posts that I tend to make these days. It’ll be interesting to compare them.

I’ve already tried importing the database, but that didn’t work – those old WordPress databases are .sql format, and incompatible with the modern .xml databases – so the only way now is to import all of the posts, one at a time (there’s only forty-two of them), and altering the dates so they are archived with the same dates that they originally appeared on SFreaders.com (I’ve already started on this). If this works, I might even start digging out posts from other defunct blogs that I’ve had over the years, and import those as well. Tales of Time & Space will become the “One Blog to Rule Them All”. 🙂

After all these years, it’ll be extremely gratifying to see the posts from SFreaders.com resurrected and integrated as part of Tales of Time & Space. And one thing’s for sure – the archives for 2007 will definitely become a lot more interesting and overcrowded than they are at present. 🙂

The Blogging Life – My Experiences With WordPress, Part One

I was rooting through the archives the other night, looking at stuff I have squirrelled away in old folders on my hard drive, and I came upon some long-forgotten, but very interesting bits ‘n’ bobs. One folder in particular stood out, a big one, with multiple sub-folders, containing all the back-up material that I’d saved from my very first, original, self-hosted WordPress blog, SFreaders.com.

These brought back lots of memories of my initial stuttering beginnings with blogging, and as it’s been a long time since I’ve done any kind of personal history posts, I thought I’d cook up a lengthy two-parter about my experiences with blogging on the WordPress platform, both on my self-hosted sites and here on WordPress.com. Here we go with Part One of Two…

Once upon a time, way back in the Jurassic era (beginning of May 2007), I started up SFreaders.com, my first blog. It was the first time I’d ever had a proper presence online that wasn’t merely a collection of three or four naff web pages on a free webhosting service. I’d had a couple of those in the previous five years or so, but they never went anywhere, certainly never more than a tiny website with a handful of drab, linked pages. The lack of webspace and options on those sites didn’t allow for very much more.

So, I decided to go looking for something a bit more serious, not that I had the slightest clue what I was supposed to be looking for or what to do with it when I found it. All I knew was that I needed something a lot more substantial, one of those paid hosting plans with all the bells and whistles. Purely by chance, during April 2007, I managed to buy a ridiculously cheap hosting plan on Ebay.co.uk, from some outfit called Centrica Hosting, who were resellers leasing server space from Heart Internet, one of the UK’s bigger ISPs. This was to lead to the very start of my first blogging experience.

Unlike the previous free ISPs I’d been with, which only gave you a tiny amount of webspace, to which you could ftp a few web pages and pictures, this new, paid hosting plan delivered the full range of services that these packages usually offer. To say that I was a bit overwhelmed would be a complete understatement. At that time, I only knew a smattering of basic HTML and CSS, picked up almost accidentally over several years of pottering around on the free websites. All of this new-fangled stuff about PHP, MySQL databases and dynamic webpages was total greek to me.

My initial intention had been to ignore all of that stuff altogether and just continue as before, sticking up a few static webpages and making use only of the unlimited webspace and unlimited bandwidth, which would allow the static website to expand and develop slowly, growing over a long period of time, without fear of running out of space. But I was no expert at HTML or CSS, just a competent beginner, learning as I went along, and coding all those pages by hand was pretty darned slow. It was taking me forever to get even a relatively small website together on my hard drive, to upload to the webhost’s server.

In addition, it did seem to be an awful waste not to use at least some of the multitude of extras included in the new hosting plan. So I began exploring the options on the webhost, although I really didn’t understand too much at first. But a bit of searching around the web and reading up of various computer magazines, and I was starting to get up to speed on things. Just by coincidence, at the very same time, I was reading an article in a computer magazine about something called “blogging” and something else called “WordPress”, which was supposed to be easy to install and maintain, and apparently a much easier and more automatic way of getting online and maintaining a site than coding by hand. This article changed everything for me.

Up until that point, I had settled firmly on starting up a static website. I was literally only minutes away from doing so when I read this article. I was actually on my webhost, looking at all the options, getting ready to start setting up the file structure and ftp the HTML pages and images to the site, when I spotted something that was pretty much what we now call “One-Click Installs”, or, at least, the 2007 equivalent. And one of the options was to install this WordPress thingy that I’d just been reading about. So right out of the blue, at the very last minute, I changed my mind and decided to try this instead.

Following all the (admittedly simple) instructions, in a mere few minutes, I had a shiny new blog installed and up-and-running. This was the evening of May 3rd, 2007, and within the following half hour, I had my first post and an About page up on SFreaders.com. I was well chuffed, and totally gobsmacked at how easy it was. During the next few days, I set up a few more Pages on my blog, and I began posting frequently and regularly from that point onwards. Over the next six months, from May 2007 up until October 2007, I put up a total of forty-two posts and a bunch of pages. I had my first serious and (relatively) long-lasting online presence at last.

Why did I make the last minute switch to a blog, when I had been for so long set on having a static website? Aside from the obvious fact, of course, that I hadn’t known anything about blogging or WordPress right up until I read that article? Well, I wanted a site up online fast and easily, and the article had convinced me that I could do just that with WordPress, which proved to be definitely true. It would’ve taken me months to get up a decent static site, at the snail’s pace that I was handcoding pages. Likewise, the article had convinced me that I could post content and maintain my blog much more easily than I could a static website. Again, this was (sorta) true, at least on the posting side of things. Thirdly, I wanted something a bit more interactive than a static site, so the idea of comments also attracted me, and they seemed to be a major plus, at least in theory, but didn’t exactly work out that way in reality.

It wasn’t all plain sailing. Firstly, my big hopes for comments and interactivity ended up a huge disappointment. Despite a half-dozen replies to posts over the six months, there was virtually zero interactivity with others on my blog. The comments thing proved to have been a complete waste of time. The blog might as well have been a static site. A secondary drawback was that I simply could not resist the obsessive urge to tinker with the appearance of my blog – the themes, the CSS, everything – and I often spent far more time tinkering than I did actually posting content. In many cases, I just could not leave well enough alone, and ended up making a mess of things on quite a few occasions. I knew just enough to be dangerous.

Thirdly, and most seriously, once I started blogging, I simply stopped learning about web design. Back when I was hand-coding web pages, I was constantly learning more about HTML and CSS, picking up something new with each new page that I coded. But I’m essentially a lazy git, and once I started using WordPress, with the exception of occasionally fiddling with the CSS of a theme, my hand-coding experience came to a grinding halt. Why bother with all that learning code carry-on when WordPress did everything for me pretty much automatically? Seemed like a great idea at the time, but in the long run, it was extremely detrimental to my learning web design, as I’ve advanced very little in all the years I’ve been blogging. I often think of how far along I’d be now if I’d stuck with designing static webpages instead of switching to WordPress.

Overall, however, installing WordPress had proven to be a positive experience, and had kick-started my first serious, regular, online presence. As I’ve already said, for six months I posted regularly, very regularly at first, sometimes five or six times a week. But the frequency decreased as time went on, down to once or twice a week, until, at almost forty posts, I hit a brick wall. I didn’t make a single post for three weeks, just seemed to lose interest, run out of juice. I came back after the three week break and made three more posts and then gave up on blogging completely.

Why? Well, I think the main reason for this happening was simply bad timing. I simply should not have started a blog when I did. I could not have chosen a worse time. My teenage son had died in April 2006, slightly more than a year before I started my self-hosted blog. I really was in no fit state to run a blog or anything else at that time in my life, and it was remarkable that I was even able to get one started at all, let alone keep it running for six months. It was completely the wrong time to attempt such a venture. My mental state was very fragile indeed, and I was completely numb with grief after the death of my son. I was almost a zombie, totally at sea and basically existing day-to-day on autopilot. Everything that I did during that period was pretty much automatic, and I was in a permanent daze, as though I was seeing everything through a dense fog. I really don’t remember very clearly much of what happened in the first year or so after my son’s death.

But as the months went on, the nature of my grief and mental state changed. Instead of being numb and in a permanent daze, my head began to clear, and the pain flooded in. The raw grief was indescribable. The waves of severe depression began to hit me, one after another after another, and I felt as though I was drowning. My mental health crumbled, and with it my physical health also deteriorated markedly. I had stopped looking after myself, and I lost interest in pretty much everything, both offline and online, including blogging. It was a truly dark time in my life, and it was during these months that I drifted away from blogging, at first gradually, and then totally.

So I backed away from the blog, fully intending the break to be temporary, with the intention of returning to it when my mental and physical health had improved. For the next year or more, I did absolutely nothing with it, aside from coming online occasionally to check for any new comments. Then, one day early in 2009, I came online and SFreaders.com was gone, disappeared completely. The reseller that I had bought my hosting package from had gone bust (I should’ve guessed that it was too good to be true), and taken my blog (and I dare say quite a few others) with it. All gone, disappeared, kaput, without so much as an email or any kind of prior warning.

I was gutted that my lovely blog and all that hard work had just disappeared into the aether without warning, but was fortunate that I’d had the foresight to backup the database files and pretty much everything else on my hard drive several months before. Still, it left a thoroughly unpleasant taste in my mouth regarding self-hosted blogs, a distrust that persists to this very day.

So ended SFreaders.com, and my very first experience with blogging or running any kind of online site for a prolonged period. Next time out, my return to blogging on WordPress.com…

To Be Continued…