Tobe Hooper Is Dead … Long Live Lifeforce!

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017 | Posted by Ryan Harvey


Director Tobe Hooper, the man who helped alter horror forever in the transgressively transformative 1970s with the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, died at age 74 last weekend. Although the 1974 Chain Saw Massacre (yes, it’s two words, dammit) is Hooper’s most important work, he leaves behind a filmography of strange and, shall we say, eclectic quality. His other movies include the swamp-sploitation Eaten Alive; a notorious Stephen King adaptation, The Mangler; a quite good Stephen King television adaptation, Salem’s Lot;  a remake of Invaders from Mars; his own black-comedy sequel to Texas Chain Saw Massacre (now with Chainsaw as a single word); a likable classic-era slasher, The Funhouse; and a remake of ‘70s sleaze The Toolbox Murders.

There’s also a film called Poltergeist on his resumé. The most financially successful movie of Hooper’s career, it also has a large asterisk next to it, as the question of who actually directed the film remains a point of contention. I’m not rehashing that debate now, because I have a bizarre nude space vampire epic to look at.

Lifeforce, Hooper’s 1985 science-fiction horror film, is receiving plenty of press in the wake of the director’s death. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is his principal legacy, but most people would rather not relive this existential nightmare of brutality for the purpose of a eulogy. Despite the minimal amount of on-screen gore — the film is far bloodier in memory than actuality — this original visit to a backwoods Texas family of cannibals is a descent into unrelieved madness that leaves most audiences scarred. My first viewing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is still one of the most depressing movie-watching experiences of my life.

Watching Lifeforce, however, is all about joy. This is a sprawling, wonderful, insane, bizarre, ridiculous, beautiful work of big-budget dementia. It should not exist. Not as a $25 million tentpole movie in the same summer as Back to the Future.

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Jerry Lewis (Julius Kelp, Buddy Love), March 16, 1926 – August 20, 2017

Monday, August 28th, 2017 | Posted by Thomas Parker

Jerry Lewis-small

The book has finally closed on the eight decade long career of Jerry Lewis, the American actor, comedian, and filmmaker, who died on Sunday, August 20th, at the age of ninety one. Jerry Lewis is one of those colossal, divisive figures like Lenin, Mao, or Meryl Streep; few people are noncommittal about him. Ever since he shrieked and jerked his way into the public consciousness with his partner Dean Martin, first in nightclubs and on radio, then in a series of highly successful movies, and finally, after an acrimonious split with Martin, on his own as an actor and director, the standard responses have been either overboard adoration or utter loathing, a split that even effects entire nationalities — the French have a much snickered-at (at least among Americans) reputation for their extreme and almost universal love of Lewis, while Swedes and all other Scandinavians can’t stand him. (I made that last part up, but it’s probably true.)

This might be of only passing interest to Black Gate readers, except for one thing. In 1963, Lewis co-wrote (with Bill Richmond), directed, and starred in what is arguably the best version of that much-filmed classic of dark fantasy, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Lewis altered the title even more than most adapters do, calling his movie The Nutty Professor, and that’s not all he altered.

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Brian Aldiss, August 18, 1925 — August 19, 2017

Monday, August 21st, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Sci-fi writer Brian AldissBrian Aldiss, one of the most brilliant and acclaimed science fiction authors of the 20th Century, produced more than 80 books and some 40 anthologies in a career spanning more than six decades. His first publication, the short story “Criminal Record,” appeared in the July 1954 issue of John Carnell’s British SF magazine Science Fantasy, and his recent anthology The Folio Science Fiction Anthology, was published just last year.

Aldiss’ groundbreaking SF included the novels Non-stop (1958), Hothouse (1962), The Dark Light Years (1964), Barefoot in the Head (1969), The Malacia Tapestry (1976), and The Helliconia Trilogy (1982-85). His most important anthologies and collections include The Saliva Tree and Other Strange Growths (1966), Penguin Science Fiction (1961), The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus (1973), Space Opera (1974), Galactic Empires, Volume 1 & 2 (1976), and six volumes of The Year’s Best Science Fiction (edited with Harry Harrison, 1968-1973). Aldiss received two Hugo Awards, for Hothouse and Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (1986) [in his acceptance speech, Aldiss famously held the Hugo high and said “It’s been a long time since you’ve given me one of these, you bastards!”], and a Nebula Award for the novella “The Saliva Tree.” His short story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” (1969) was basis for the Steven Spielberg film A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

Our previous coverage of Brian Aldiss includes:

Bow Down to Nul
Hell’s Cartographers, edited by Brian W. Aldiss and Harry Harrison
The Digest Enthusiast #6: Hothouse: Brian Aldiss’ Dystopian Odyssey, by Joe Wehrle, Jr.

Brian Aldiss died on Saturday at his home in Oxford. He was 92 years old.

Haruo Nakajima (1929–2017): The Man Who Was Godzilla

Saturday, August 12th, 2017 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Haruo-nakajima-as-godzillaWhile I was debating on Tuesday whether to focus on writing about the Blu-ray release of Shin Godzilla or completing the next John Carpenter series installment, The Thing, the news hit of the death of one of the last surviving participants of the 1954 Godzilla, Haruo Nakajima, from pneumonia at age eighty-eight. It was a painful blow: that Nakajima was still out there and alive was a reassurance to any Godzilla fan, because he actually was Godzilla — the first performer inside the monster costume, back in the original Godzilla, and the one who stayed with the part the longest, playing the monster until near the close of the original Showa Era. He suited up as Godzilla in twelve films from 1954 to 1972, a record that’s unlikely ever to be beat now that even Japanese Godzilla films have switched to using CGI rather than the old fashioned suits.

We talk about how Japanese giant monster (kaiju) films are done with “man-in-a-suit” special effects, but we often don’t understand what that implies. Since we’re once again deep in the “Does Andy Serkis deserves an Oscar nomination for a performance-capture role?” debate that comes after the release of each of the new Planet of the Apes films, it’s appropriate to remember the great performances from the suitmation actors who long preceded CGI-assisted characters.

And among suitmation performers, Nakajima was one of the finest. He infused Godzilla with a personality that emerged stronger and stronger during the period he was inside the costume. Godzilla, arms stretched forward in an attack pose, daring another giant monster to charge with the slight turn of the head — that’s down to Haruo Nakajima. He influenced the way Godzilla is acted as much as Boris Karloff influenced the Frankenstein Monster.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: The Many Faces of Bob Weinberg

Sunday, June 18th, 2017 | Posted by Tina Jens

Bob Weinberg and Tina Jens-small

Robert Weinberg and Tina Jens

In many ways, Bob was like the Tony Randall character in the movie 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. In the movie, Tony Randall is the “owner“ of a mysterious circus that visits a western town. He appears in different guises to teach the townspeople what they each need to know to become better people. Based on a novel by fantasy writer Charles G. Finney, the screenplay was written by one of Bob’s favorite authors, Charles Beaumont. To one townsperson, Dr. Lao is the oracle Apollonius; to another, the music-loving, goat-god Pan; to yet another, Merlin the magician and wizard.

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Nancy Willard, June 26, 1936 – February 19, 2017

Saturday, February 25th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Things Invisible to See Nancy Willard-small Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch Sister Water Nancy Willard paperback-small

Nancy Willard was the author of more than 70 books, including more than 40 books for children, such as the Anatole trilogy, Firebrat (1988), East of the Sun and West of the Moon: A Play (1989), and Pish, Posh Said Hieronymus Bosch (1991), illustrated by the Dillons. She won the Newbery Award in 1982 for her book of poetry, William Blake’s Inn, illustrated by Alice & Martin Provensen. It was the first book of poetry to win the Newbery.

She also wrote a handful of fantasy novels for adults, including Things Invisible to See (1985), which I bought in Ottawa in the Bantam Spectra paperback edition in 1986 (above left; cover by Todd Schorr). Set in her home town of Ann Arbor in the 1940s, it tells the tale of two brothers who meet a paralyzed young woman, and ends with a baseball game featuring some of the sport’s most famous players. Sister Water (1993) was called “Heavenly…Marvelous… A kind of miracle,” by People magazine (see the back cover of the Wayne State edition here).

Nancy Willard was born on June 26, 1936 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She earned a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, and became a professor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1965. She retired from Vassar in 2013. Her last children’s book will be released this fall. She died peacefully at her home in Poughkeepsie on February 19. She was 80 years old. Read her obituary at the Poughkeepsie Journal.

GDW Co-Founder and Game Designer Loren Wiseman Has Died

Thursday, February 16th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

GDW science fiction games-small

Just a few of the classic SF games pubished by GDW

I heard from my friend Jolly Blackburn that gaming pioneer Loren Wiseman died yesterday.

Wiseman was a name well known to old-time gamers. With Frank Chadwick, Rich Banner, and Marc Miller, he co-founded legendary publisher Game Designers’ Workshop in 1973. GDW published some of the greatest SF and fantasy boardgames and RPGs ever made, including Traveller, Twlight 2000, Space 1889, Gary Gygax’s Dangerous Journeys, Imperium, Fifth Frontier War, Mayday, Azhanti High Lightning, Dark Nebula, and countless others (Wayne’s Books has a nice summary of the Traveller Universe board games, and there’s a compete list of GDW’s gaming output at Wikipedia).

Many tributes have been pouring it on Facebook and other places — including one from Jolly, who credits Wiseman with giving him his start in the gaming industry. In addition to his lengthy list of credits as a game designer and publisher, Wiseman was also editor of the Journal of the Travellers Aid Society and Challenge magazines. After GDW closed in 1995 he joined Steve Jackson Games, where he became the Traveller Line Editor. He received the Origins Award for Best Role-Playing Adventure (for Twilight: 2000 Going Home) and was inducted into the Origins Hall of Fame in 2003.

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Ed Bryant, August 27, 1945 – February 10, 2017

Saturday, February 11th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Cinnabar Ed Bryant-small Pulphouse Ed Bryant-small Particle Theory Ed Bryant-small

SF author and critic Ed Bryant died yesterday after a lengthy illness.

Bryant wrote a single novel, Phoenix Without Ashes (1975), a collaboration with Harlan Ellison. As an author he was best known for his short fiction, including his Nebula Award-winning stories “Stone” (1978) and “giANTS” (1979). His collections include Among the Dead and Other Events Leading Up to the Apocalypse (1973), Cinnabar (1976, cover by Lou Feck), and Particle Theory (1981, cover by Richard Powers), which contained both “Stone” and “giANTS.” His most recent collection was Predators and Other Stories (2014), from ReAnimus Press. He was a contributor to the Wild Cards shared world series, and was featured on the cover of issue #0 of Pulphouse magazine (1991).

But Bryant’s most significant contribution to the field, and certainly the way I came to know him best, was through his reviews. He had long-running review columns in Locus (for nearly two decades, 1989-2007), The Twilight Zone magazine (1987-89), and Cemetery Dance (1990-98), and published reviews in Vertex, TaleBones, and many other places. Bryant’s columns were frequently the first features I read in many of my favorite magazines. He was an insightful and prolific critic with a keen appreciation for a good tale, as well as a frequent convention-goer. His numerous convention reports in Locus were always entertaining, and did a great deal to promote science fiction conventions across the country.

Ed Bryant died on February 10th in North Denver, from complications of Type 1 Diabetes. He was 71.

Richard Adams, May 9, 1920 – December 24, 2016

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

richard-adams-smallRichard Adams, one of the finest fantasy authors of the 20th Century, died on Christmas Eve.

In his review of Adams’ masterpiece Watership Down, published here at Black Gate yesterday, Mark Rigney wrote, “It was and is a fantasy with wide crossover appeal, a mythic adventure with rabbits… 1972 did indeed mark the appearance of a great story. Nor has it lost its power, not one whit.” According to the BBC, Adams created the story to keep his two daughters entertained on a long car ride.

The event that changed Richard Adams’ life occurred on a car journey with his family to see Twelfth Night at Stratford-upon-Avon.

His bored children asked for a story and he began telling them a tale about a group of rabbits attempting to escape from their threatened warren.

Adams was persuaded to write it all down, a process that took him more than two years, but he was, at first, unable to find a publisher. Many of his rejection letters complained that the book was too long and his characters did not fit the common perception of cuddly bunnies. Eventually, in 1972, after 14 rejections, the publisher Rex Collings saw the potential and agreed to take it on with an initial print run of 2,500 copies.

Watership Down was his first novel. It was published in 1972 — without an advance — when Adams was 52 years old. It won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Prize, and has sold tens of millions of copies.

Adams became a full time writer in 1974, producing over a dozen fiction and non-fiction books, including several worldwide bestsellers such as Shardik (1974), The Plague Dogs (1977), The Girl in a Swing (1980), Maia (1984) and Tales from Watership Down (1996). He died on December 24, 2016, at age 96.

Sheri S. Tepper, July 16, 1929 – October 22, 2016

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

sheri-s-tepperSheri S. Tepper, the prolific fantasy author who was awarded the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement last year, died on Saturday.

Sheri S. Tepper was the author of dozens of popular fantasy and science fiction novels. Her first published novel was King’s Blood Four (1983), which became part of an ambitious 12-novel series set in The True Game universe, and which spanned her entire career. The seres included The True Game trilogy, the Mavin Manyshaped trilogy, the Jinian trilogy, and the Plague of Angels trilogy, which wrapped up with Fish Tails (2014). She authored many other popular series, including The Marianne Trilogy, the Ettison novels, The Awakeners novels, and especially the Marjorie Westriding trilogy, which began with the Hugo-nominated Grass in 1989.

Tepper’s standalone novels included The Revenants (1984), After Long Silence (1987), The Gate to Women’s Country (1988), The Locus Award-winner Beauty (1991), Gibbon’s Decline and Fall (1996), The Visitor (2002), and The Companions (2003). In his tribute to Tepper this week, John Scalzi writes:

She was one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy writers, and an influence on my thinking about SF/F writing… Her novel Grass has the sort of epic worldbuilding and moral drive that ranks it, in my opinion, with works like Dune and Perdido Street Station and the Earthsea series; the (very) loose sequel to Grass, Raising the Stones, is in many ways even better… If you haven’t read Grass, I really suggest you find it and put it near the top of your SF/F reading queue. You won’t be disappointed… It’s a stone classic.

Tepper began publishing poems and children’s stories in the early 60s under the name Sheri S. Eberhart. Her first genre appearance was the poem “Lullaby, 1990” in the December 1963 Galaxy. Her 1989 novella “The Gardener” was nominated for the World Fantasy Award. She was 87 years old. See our prior coverage of her work here.

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