The Dark Corners of Cyberpunk 2020‘s Night City

Monday, July 6th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

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Cyberpunk as a term covers a broad vision, from Philip K. Dick, to Blade Runner, to The Matrix, to Snow Crash, to Transmetropolitan and many beyond. Cyberpunk is recognizable while being open to many artistic points of view. The audience’s understanding and vision of cyberpunk is also theirs. Thats part of what keeps cyberpunk alive, this ability to share some basic concepts but in many guises.

Like much else with genres, each person has touchstones of their encounters with the genre that defines what that genre is to him or her. Unlike settings such as Star Wars and Star Trek, whose basic themes and style were laid out by their creators — George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry, respectively — and which thrive on exploring those universes, your feelings on what cyberpunk is are probably largely driven by your first interactions and that creator’s particular view on cyberpunk. Rather than the singular artist who created Star Wars and Star Trek (at least initially), cyberpunk was created by multiple artists, even if it had leading lights. Also, this is not to say we are not open to expanding and incorporating additional inputs, only that what we may typically think of a cyberpunk is rooted in our first interactions with the genre.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dick Powell as ‘Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar’

Monday, July 6th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

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Powell as Phlip Marlowe

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Dick Powell was Johnny Dollar? Well, no, not exactly. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, was a very successful radio show, which ran for over 800 episodes, covering thirteen years. It easily outlasted many competing programs, such as The Adventures of Sam Spade, and The (New) Adventures of Philip Marlowe. Dollar was “the insurance investigator with the action-packed expense account,” though he started out as more of a typical private eye. Which can also be said of Erle Stanley Gardner’s lawyer, Perry Mason.

In December of 1948, Dick Powell auditioned for the new show, recording the episode Milford Brooks III. With movies such as 1944’s Murder My Sweet, and 1947’s Johnny O’Clock, the popular song-and-dance man had carved out a niche as an unlikely hardboiled star. He’s actually my favorite movie Marlowe, and I wrote about Johnny O’Clock here at Black Gate. Here’s the episode, for your listening pleasure.

He had also spent the previous two years as Richard Rogue in the rather unusual PI radio show, Rogue’s Gallery. Like many shows of the time, Rogue’s Gallery had a lack of stability in network, time slot and even renewal, and Powell left after 1947, replaced by Barry Sullivan. This left him available to try out for Johnny Dollar. The original title was Yours Truly, Lloyd London, but was presumably changed to avoid trouble with the well-known insurance company.

However, it appears that Powell decided to pass on the part to pursue a different radio opportunity; Richard Diamond, Private Eye (another of my favorites). So, actor Charles Russell was given the part. This essay is going to talk mostly about Powell’s audition, but will go beyond that focus.

In this earliest incarnation, Powell plays a somewhat light-hearted version of Dollar, though he’s still more of a typical private eye than a distinctive insurance investigator. His witty patter is consistent throughout, and he even hums ‘Slow Boat to China;’ a tip of the fedora to his Hollywood musical background. In fact, Powell comes across as pretty similar to his next part, Richard Diamond.

Early on, a young man he’s dealing with bites him, which later lets Dollar make a cryptic comment that “Let’s just say, he put the bite on me.” That comes just after saying, “That kid’s liquor sure can hold him.” Very much like Diamond, Powell’s Dollar is quick with a quip. Which is fine. But it’s more prevalent here than it would be with other actors in the role.

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Weird Tales Deep Read: August, 1934

Sunday, July 5th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

Weird Tales August 1934-small

Yet another Brundage cover

We have another nine stories to consider this time around, but what is particularly noteworthy is that all nine of the authors are at least somewhat well known. The most obscure on the list is probably Anthony Rud (here writing under the name of R. Anthony, perhaps best known for his story “Oooze,” arguably the best offering in WT’s initial issue [3-23]), which is partially due to his passing in 1942 at the relatively young age of 49. Also unknown today is Arlton Eadie, who died even earlier (1935) also at 49, but everyone else had long writing careers, although some, of course, have fallen by the wayside due to the relentless march of time.

Of the nine stories, eight (89%) are either fantasy or science fiction, several actually in the gray area between the two genres. Seven stories (78%) have contemporary settings, one (11%) is set in the far past and one (11%) in the future. Four (44%) take place in the United States, and one each in a fictitious realm in the far past, on the planet Mars, in the South Seas (mostly), Great Britain, and a fictional Central European country. Three (33%) are part of a series.

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Inherent Evil is Lazy

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

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Image by socialneuron from Pixabay

Surely it cannot be controversial to say that the idea of inherent evil is just terribly lazy writing, right? The broad strokes and decidedly absent nuance that the idea of inherent evil necessitates is just that – broad and without nuance. No one has to think too hard about it. Why did that person do that? Well, because they’re evil. That’s all the explanation and motivation required for a character. Why did the orc attack the elf? Well, because orcs are evil. That’s just what they are, and it’s behind everything they do.

Yawn.

It’s dull, overplayed, and it’s terribly lazy.

The idea of an entire people/culture/race being inherently evil is equally as lazy. Why did that character do something? Well, because they’re part of a race that is everything despicable. No other reason or motivation required. [Insert race] is just evil. End of. You can also see that this kind of narrative construction is exceptionally racist, too, right? World and cultures written in SFF might truly be made-up, but they do reflect real world ideas and modes of thinking. And the idea that an entire race is evil by virtue of their race is, well, racist.

And lazy.

And, happily, changing.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: All Through the Night (Bogart)

Monday, June 29th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Bogart_NightVeidtPoster“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Today it’s a look at All Through the Night – one of my five favorite Bogie films, but not one that makes too many Top 10 lists. In 1940, Bogart’s career really started its climb, with They Drive By Night (Ida Lupino was fantastic!) followed by High Sierra (same comment). The forgettable The Wagons Roll at Night was up next, and then it was The Maltese Falcon. That was three very good movies out of four. And after The Falcon was All Through the Night. I think it kept his streak going, but that’s not the general perception.

Picking Iron (Trivia) – Lupino and Bogart had not gotten along well during They Drive By Night, and she didn’t want to work with him any more (though she did in High Sierra). He was originally cast as the lead in Out of the Fog, but she balked and he was replaced by John Garfield. Bogart complained to Harry Warner about Lupino’s action, to no avail. Much later, Lupino and Bogart said they got along fine.

In 1941, Hollywood was starting the transition from gangster flicks to war movies. One approach was to have the gangsters fight the new bad guys. And this movie is a gangster/espionage comedy. I think it’s great. This essay takes a different approach to movie reviews, taking advantage of the excellent cast.

Humphrey Bogart

The Maltese Falcon was a rocket strapped to Bogart’s career, after a long run of B-movie leads, and being the crook gunned down by James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson. In this one, he’s Gloves Donahue, a self-titled promoter who is a mobster in New York City. He seems to primarily be a gambler. When the baker of his favorite cheesecakes is found murdered, it leads Donahue to a group of Nazis plotting to blow up a ship in the NYC harbor.

Bogart is a likable tough guy – not like his role in Dead End, Bullets or Ballots (one of my Top 10), or The Roaring Twenties. Circumstances make it appear he murdered a rival, and he’s working to solve the murder, which draws him deeper and deeper into the Nazi plot. I think he plays the part well.

Conrad Veidt

We would see Veidt a few years later as Major Strasser in Casablanca. Here he is Ebbing, leader of a Nazi spy ring in NYC. He’s smooth and snake-like. I enjoy the scene where he is an auctioneer and Donahue is bidding. It’s the typical role for the situation: respectable on the surface, conniving Nazi underneath.

Picking Iron – In Casablanca, Rick advises Strasser that there were certain parts of NYC that he wouldn’t recommend invading. That’s an in-joke to this movie.

Picking Iron– Veidt fled Germany with his Jewish wife. In Hollywood, he refused to play a part in which a Nazi was sympathetic.

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Rogue Blades Presents: Howard Days 2020

Friday, June 26th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

gateMost readers of Black Gate are probably already aware, but for those who are not, Robert E. Howard Days has been a major annual event for the small town of Cross Plains, Texas, since 1986. The gathering, including an annual dinner and festival and much more, has celebrated the life and writings of Robert E. Howard, the godfather of Sword and Sorcery literature and the creator of such fictional characters as Conan the Cimmerian, King Kull, the boxing sailor Steve Costigan, and many others. Yes, all of this has gone on in June for more than three decades.

Until this year.

As one might expect, because of the Coronavirus, Howard Days did not take place in 2020.

How sad.

But understandable.

Still, I had the great fortune to attend Robert E. Howard Days in 2018. I had planned to visit again in 2020, but … well, we all know what happened.

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19 Movies Visits the Land of the Rising Sun

Friday, June 26th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

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Daimajin: Daiei Film

This time around we’re taking a look at Japanese films from a number of different genres.  I’m not going to mention any of the Japanese movies I’ve discussed in previous columns. There’s plenty of great films to cover, more than enough to revisit this topic again in the future.

19. Daimajin (1966: 8) The first, and best, of the Daimajin Trilogy released by Daiei Films, which are historical fantasies concerning a giant statue that comes to life to wreak just vengeance on various evil-doers.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: The Cool and Lam Pilot

Monday, June 22nd, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gardner_Heap_Dell“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

My favorite Erle Stanley Gardner series is the one featuring Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. I’ve written three posts here at Black Gate about the series: they’re linked at the end of this article. Under the name A.A. Fair, Gardner wrote 30 novels about them from 1939 to 1970 (one of them was published long after his death).

In the series, Bertha took over her late husband’s detective business after he died. Donald, an ex-lawyer, is hired in the first book, and soon becomes so good at making money for the business, he pushes his way into a partnership. Bertha hates to spend a dollar. She loves accumulating money. Not so much for spending; just to have. Donald is smart and shifty. He’s also pint-sized and is no threat as a fighter.

Raymond Burr’s successful Perry Mason television series ran from 1957 to 1966, covering 271 episodes. Burr was so popular in the role, he continued appearing as Mason up to the year he died. The books, of course, are among the best-selling in the world, having sold over an estimated 300 million copies.

In 1958, with Perry Mason on the airwaves, Gardner authorized a pilot for a Cool and Lam series. He even taped an introduction, which was filmed on the Mason set. Unfortunately, the pilot didn’t get picked up and Cool and Lam on the screen was abandoned forever more.

The casting choices seemed…curious. Billie Pearson had a total of four screen credits in his career; which equaled the number of his marriages. The same year he filmed this pilot, he appeared in an episode of Perry Mason. Only 5’-2”, he was a jockey (one of his four credits was as a jockey). Having watched the pilot over a half-dozen times now, I can see him as Lam, though a couple more inches wouldn’t have hurt. But he certainly had zero star power.

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Uncanny X-Men, Part 13: Englehart’s Bronze Age Monster Horror – The Beast

Saturday, June 20th, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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Welcome to Part 13 of my complete reread of the X-Men. We’ve covered all the original X-Men run, many guest appearances and side stories. We’re now in 1972 and in my last post, Gerry Conway and Tom Sutton had taken the moribund second-strong superhero Beast and thrown him solo into the world of Jekyll-Hyde monster horror. In this post, we’re going to cover the remaining five issues of Amazing Adventures that follow Hank McCoy’s sundering from the X-Men.

Amazing Adventures #12 opens with Hank McCoy’s most obvious problem: His Jekyll and Hyde moment has permanently turned him into a twisted, inhuman beast, and he can’t change back. He can’t even pass for human. And he needs to pass for human to have a chance of marshalling his biochemical skills to cure himself. The artwork by Tom Sutton and Mike Ploog is perfect for a horror story, and we’ve seen Ploog do beautifully eerie with Doctor Strange’s contemporaneous stories in Marvel Premiere. Check out the splash page below.

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Generational Connections: Ursula Pflug’s Seeds And Other Stories

Friday, June 19th, 2020 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Seeds And Other StoriesUrsula Pflug’s fiction demands to be savoured. Her new collection, Seeds And Other Stories, holds 26 short fictions ranging in length from flash fiction to short novelettes, each marked out by precise language and fantastic happenings seen edge-on. They’re not linked by plot but by threads of imagery: portals to other places; hallucinatory new drugs named for colours; gardening, and plants sprouting from the earth or human bodies. Each individual piece on its own carries a powerful emotional weight. Together it becomes difficult to read more than a few in a sitting, and that is no bad thing.

The stories in Seeds all can at least be read as having some element of the fantastic, though often it’s very slight. “Myrtle’s Marina,” for example, follows a man ambling about the run-down marina he owns and thinking back to moments that might have been magic. “A Shower of Fireflies” is an enigmatic two-page story about a mother reflecting on her life and her children. In the final story, “My Mother’s Skeleton,” a woman speaks to her daughter, remembers her mother, and meditates on art.

Most tales push reality further. “Mother Down the Well” opens the collection with a story about a woman in rural Ontario whose well holds a magical portal and her magic-touched mother. “Judy” is a short science-fictional tale with a post-apocalyptic feel, about a woman who loses a friend among a raging plague. “The Lonely Planet Guide to Other Dimensions” follows a writer who finds an alternate world in a mundane setting, and along with it a power to rewrite existence.

All these stories, and all the stories in Seeds, are intensely focused works. When not told in first person, they submerge themselves in a very tight and limited third-person point of view. Details of description are rarely given, only what matters to the character at any given moment. There’s an implied irony in this approach, insisting on the limitations of a character’s perspective, and it works. These are stories about absences, about things that once were and whether they may be regrown.

They’re also stories about emotionally intense subjects: family, lovers, visions (artistic, psychedelic, or both). Pflug illustrates these themes with an approach to the fantastic that borders on the surreal whether the fantastic or science-fictional elements are overt or not. There’s an allusiveness to them, and a willingness not to explain them. These are not comfortable knowable worlds with clearly-elaborated systems of magic or technology. These are worlds bigger and plainer than the characters we follow, who deal plainly with odd events: there’s little awe here, and where it does exist it’s often an awe of the natural world and not of magic.

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