Pre-Twilight Zone Birthday Notes

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

I’m going to be brief today, something that I rarely am. I’ve planned a massive retrospective of The Twilight Zone’s first season in honor of the show’s Fiftieth (yes, Fiftieth) Anniversary, which occurs on October 2nd. However, I didn’t want to throw it out before October 2nd, and as that day falls on a Friday, I wouldn’t be able to post on that exact date. Oh, and I haven’t finished the essay yet either, which is about the best excuse there is. So I’ve ended up with a topic hole for today. And that’s why I’m rambling about what you’re not reading about.

To compensate, I’m offering you a pre-Twilight Zone warm-up: links to reviews that I’ve done for various first season episodes. I spent a good part of the summer going over the the program’s first season and getting to grips with how it developed, and I’ll share those collected observations next week after the show has had time to blow out its candles. For right now, here’s the minutiae on selected episodes. Bring an extra pair of prescription glasses.

#1 “Where Is Everybody?
#5 “Walking Distance”
#8 “Time Enough at Last”
#11 “And When the Sky Was Opened”
#13 “The Four of Us Are Dying”
#16 “The Hitch-Hiker”
#18 “The Last Flight”
#22 “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (my favorite of the season)
#24 “Long Live Walter Jameson”
#27 “The Big Tall Wish”
#29 “Nightmare as a Child”
#30 “A Stop at Willoughby”
#34 “The After Hours”
#36 “A World of His Own”


Short Fiction Beat: Long Live the Short Story

Saturday, September 26th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

The short story is dead. The short story is where aspiring writers hone their craft.  Markets for short stories are dwindling. We’re in a golden age of short story creativity and innovation. Print is dead.

And so on and so forth. We’ve been hearing variations on this theme for, well, a long time.  The latest is from Adrienne Martini, whose reportage more or less reiterates all of these.

So just how can things  be so awful at the same time as being so open to new opportunity? I think part of the answer may be that while the magazine format is struggling, both in print and on-line, there seems to be no shortage of anthologies (for the most recent example, see John O’Neill’s recent report on The Very Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction). While I don’t really know, I’m guessing that the profit margins for yet another Dozois edited collection or the best gosh darn stories from the last 33 1/3 years are better than having to crank out a periodical. And, there is an audience, or otherwise publishers wouldn’t be cranking these anthologies out.

If that’s true (and, again, this is supposition since I haven’t done any substantive analysis), why are magazines seemingly dying? Well, part of the answer is that some of them continue to shoot themselves in the foot by insisting on trying to uphold a heritage no one is much interested in anymore.  The 12 year old boys of today are seeking their sense of wonder from gaming and on-line porn, rocket ships to Mars aren’t doing it (obviously we’re talking genre here, as literary magazines  mostly supported by universities that don’t pay authors and largely frown upon genre have a much different audience than anything that is publishing with the idea of actually turning a profit). There are just so many entertainment alternatives than in the days when it was an actual event that The Saturday Evening Post arrived in the mail.

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The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 | Posted by John ONeill

My copy of The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction arrived from Amazon today, and I dropped everything to read it.  Probably not a good idea, since I had several conference calls and a sales meeting in a skyscraper somewhere in downtown Chicago.  But that’s why I bought a fast car.

very-best-of-fsfI’m a sucker for retrospective anthologies.  And F&SF is one of my favorite magazines — and has been since I first discovered tattered copies in the tiny library of Rockcliffe Air Force base in Ottawa, Canada, in the late 70s.  Editor Gordon van Gelder has assembled an imposing, 470-page collection spanning more than five decades, starting with Alfred Bester’s “Of Time and Third Avenue” (1951) and ending with Ted Chiang’s “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” (2007).

In between are stories famous (“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes, “The Gunslinger” by Stephen King) and not-so-famous (“This Moment of the Storm” by Roger Zelazny, “Journey Into the Kingdom,” M. Rickett).  Gordon introduces them all in an informative and entertaining manner, occasionally providing glimpses into his editorial selection magic in the process. You can see the complete Table of Contents here.

Just as important, this is a truly handsome book — splendidly designed by the folks at Tachyon Press, with a fabulous cover by David Hardy.  It fits beautifully in my hands, and it even smells nice. 

I haven’t dipped far into the book yet.  But I was very nearly late for my meeting, and I don’t regret it one bit.  Check it out.


Face-to-Face with the Chimaera of Arezzo

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

chimaera_of_arezzoI don’t often get the opportunity to encounter true works of ancient artwork, those anonymous pieces of bronze and stone and gold that appear reproduced in textbooks, volumes of history, and museum brochures. Living on the western edge of the New World means I have a lack of local access to them, and when I’m in the Old World, I’m usually among the artworks of the early modern masters, who painted onto canvas their dreams of the ancients. Not that such art isn’t wonderful, but I’m a classicist deep down in my cerebellum, and I don’t get to engage with the genuinely ancient as often I would like.

But this week I got to stare into the eyeless sockets (which probably once held eyeballs of glass) of one of the masterpieces of the ancient world: the Chimaera of Arezzo, an Etruscan bronze sculpture that is spending a few months away from Italy to lair up in the Getty Villa Museum in the Los Angeles suburb of the Pacific Palisades. I grew up in the Palisades, and it’s still a pleasant twenty-minute coastal drive from where I currently live, but I hadn’t gone to the Villa since its re-opening a few years ago. The Chimaera was an easy way to entice me to my first visit in ages. This is a sculpture that, although I didn’t know its official title until I was a college student, formed part of my consciousness since I first fell in love with Greek myth at a young age. No book could talk about the wonderful lion-goat-snake conglomeration that the hero Bellerophon killed with a throat-coating of lead without showing a picture of this Etruscan masterpiece.

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Revising history

Sunday, September 20th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

I finished the four-book “Emperor” series by Conn Iggulden last week. It’s technically fantasy or alternate history, but a better description would be mild historical revisionism. I have to confess that I don’t quite understand the point of exploring a historical character, but modifying historical events in order to make the story flow more smoothly. The transformation of Julius Caesar’s sexual persona from the individual who inspired the following verse to a monkish ascetic uncommonly faithful to his best friend’s mother, who happens to be a whore, is simply bizarre.

“Look to your wives, ye citizens, a lecher bald we bring.
In Gaul adultery cost thee gold, here ’tis but borrowing.”

That being said, the book is an interesting exploration relationship between Caesar and Brutus, even if the greater part of it is clearly invented. Instead of the father-son relationship that Plutarch suggests, they are presented as having a David-and-Jonathan relationship, albeit one that obviously goes bad. It’s clear that Iggulden read the relevant historians and his revisionism is a conscious and deliberate choice; this won’t harm the story for those innocent of Roman history but may prove a minor irritation to those familiar with it.

But the battle scenes are gripping and the story is based on one of history’s great dramas, so the books will probably be worth reading for the average adventure fantasy fan.


Reimprisonment

Saturday, September 19th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

the-prisoner-comic-con-promo-789-1The much anticipated — and feared — “reimagining” of Patrick McGoohan’s classic cult TV series The Prisoner is scheduled for release on AMC in November. One good sign is that Ian McKellen is cast as Number Two (a role which, unlike the original series, will not revolve among multiple actors) and is (like the original) of fixed duration. James Caviezal is Number 6 and there are some interesting parallels here. Caviezal played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s (who was rumored to be a candidate for Number 6 in the various movie proposals over the year) The Passion of the Christ, controversial for its brutal, some would say sado-masochistic, portrayal of the Gospel stories. Like McGoohan, Caviezal is an observant Cathloic. Caviezal has made public stands on such issues as stem cell research and it is not inconceivable this might have affected his career in an industry that for the most part tilts left; McGoohan reportedly turned down the role of James Bond for moral reasons and insisted in his contract that he would not kiss women on-screen, particularly ironic given that The Prisoner was embraced by the sexual liberation advocates of the Sixties counter-culture for the program’s non-conformist ethos.

I’ve written about the original series here at this blog; you can take a look at a preview of the new series here. It actually looks promising, though of course it wouldn’t be the first time the trailer was better than the actual program. The new show echoes some of the original’s motifs, including Rover and McKellen’s “Britishness.” The Village is relocated to some kind of desert area ringed by mountains that reminds me of Arizona, and the setting seems to be some kind of take on mid-Fifties Levittown America, a perhaps not unsurprising choice given that this is from the network that has made its name with Mad Men.

I’m looking forward to seeing this but, alas, since I don’t have cable, here’s hoping the DVD version won’t be far behind.

Be seeing you.


The Greatest Harryhausen: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

golden-voyage-posterThe Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)
Directed by Gordon Hessler. Starring John Philip Law, Tom Baker, Caroline Munro, Douglas Wilmer, Martin Shaw, Kurt Christian, Grégoire Aslan, Takis Emmanuel.

“Every voyage has its own flavor.”

Recently on this blog, I wrote about one of the more ignored of Ray Harryhausen’s films, The 3 Worlds of Gulliver. This inspired me to review two other films of his that don’t get enough attention—the underwhelming H. G. Wells adaptation The First Men in the Moon (1964), and the wonderful but financially unsuccessful The Valley of Gwangi (1969)—on my own blog. Now I think I owe the legendary effects animator and fantasy film producer some time with one of his most popular films.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is not only one of Harryhausen’s most financially successful movies, but is also, in my Harryhausen-loving fan-obsessed opinion, the greatest piece the special effects maven ever worked on. I think that it’s not only Harryhausen’s best movie, but also one of the finest heroic fantasy films ever made.

Morningside Productions, Harryhausen’s and his producing partner Charles H. Schneer’s company, had experienced a financial disappointment with 1969’s “cowboys ropin’ a dinosaur” adventure The Valley of Gwangi, and the gap between it and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad was the longest yet between their movies. The two men decided to turn the clock back and re-visit the figure who had brought them to prominence in the first place: Sinbad the sailor. The major success of 1958’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad had allowed them to take the path of colorful fantasy and period science fiction, and the character was one who could have a variety adventures. Harryhausen had done some sketches in 1964 for a new Sinbad story, and now had the opportunity to realize the project. Both those early sketches reached the final film almost unchanged. Read More »


More on the Conspiracy Plot

Saturday, September 12th, 2009 | Posted by Soyka

Last week I posted my reaction to Lev Grossman’s “Good Books Don’t Have to Be Hard” essay in The Wall Street Journal. Here’s a more detailed analysis, courtesy of The Mumpsimus. Here also is Michael Agger’s take on Grossman’s own plotting in the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

On another note, I just finished China Miéville’s The City and the City.41uiqd13dyl_sl160_aa115_1 Intriguing premise — and something quite different from his previous work, which is always good to see in a favorite novelist — where two presumably East European cities somehow physically co-exist, with the inhabitants following strict protocols to avoid one another whenever their separate realities intersect.  Grossman would be happy that it has compelling plotting; however, as a “police procedural,”  Miéville doesn’t quite play fair. Part of the game in these kind of things is to at least give the reader a chance of figuring out the mystery of “whodunnit,” which I doubt anyone would be able to, although I’m guessing this isn’t  Miéville’s concern here. I think he’s aiming at something more metaphorical along the lines of the existential spaces we all tread among the various realms of social interaction.  Nonetheless, the unfolding of the mystery struck me as a little forced. Potentially, this could be the start of a series.

Interesting that Thomas Pynchon’s latest is also a noir detective novel that people might actually read, if only because its less than opus-length. However, while the detective novel form  might be a way to introduce new readers to Pynchon, I don’t think I’d pick The City and The City to introduce folks to Miéville.  That would probably be Perdido Street Station.


Fundraising Month at Ralan’s

Friday, September 11th, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

ralan-banner-01As a significant number of the readers of this site are writers I thought it only appropriate to mention that this month is the annual fundraising month for a terrific writer’s resource, Ralan’s Webstravaganza.

Those of you who use it know why it’s so great: up to date market information on everything from book publishers and pro-markets, calls for anthologies, freezines, pro-markets, contests — in fact just about everything that’s out there is listed at Ralan’s. It’s no exagerration to say that without Ralan’s I would not have found half of the magazines that I currently subscribe to or submit to, including the one I’m typing this post for right now.

So, if you use it, why not kick a little back to the guy that’s been doing all the work of keeping track of this stuff for us for years, Ralan Conley, a guy who doesn’t bombard his users with the hassle of a lot of adds or redirects or phony links. When I think about how much use I get out of Ralan’s over the course of the year, a 10 or 20 dollar donation is peanuts, an absolute bargain for a site that has become my favorite way to find new fiction markets and keep track of everything that is out there.
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BILL WARD is a genre writer, editor, and blogger wanted across the Outer Colonies for crimes against the written word. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, as well as gaming supplements and websites. He is a Contributing Editor and reviewer for Black Gate Magazine, and 423rd in line for the throne of Lost Lemuria. Read more at BILL’s blog, DEEP DOWN GENRE HOUND.


The Real d’Artagnan

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 | Posted by ScottOden

The portrait Dumas paints of d’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers is iconic: a penniless young Gascon who sets off for Paris on a horse that has seen better days, armed with his father’s sword, an ointment his mother made that “miraculously heals any wound that doesn’t reach the heart”, and a letter of recommendation to M. de Trèville, captain of the King’s Musketeers.  From such humble beginnings are heroes made.  But, how accurate a portrait is it?

For The Three Musketeers (1843-44) and its sequels, Dumas drew upon the work – some call it scurrilous – of Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras (1644-c.1712), a pamphleteer and man of letters who may have personally known the historical d’Artagnan, Charles de Batz-Castelmore.  Courtilz’s Mèmoires de Monsieur d’Artagnan first saw publication in Cologne, in about 1700; it was a bestseller in its day, running into three editions.  Amid its rumor and gossip, under its skin of story-teller’s tricks, was a skeleton of fact – much of which one can easily verify through the records of the day, and by letters and dispatches archived in places such as the Bibliothèque Nationale.

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