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LonCon 3 Report: Attending the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention

LonCon 3 Report: Attending the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention

LONCON3_logo_270wLast weekend in London was LonCon 3, this year’s Worldcon. The convention, which has been held in various cities around the world since 1939, is where the Hugo Awards are given out and where fans from all over the globe meet up.

It was my first Worldcon, and while I’ve been to large conventions before such as World Fantasy and Eastercon, not to mention several local conventions such as Tuscon, I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I got was five fun days of events, conversation, and camaraderie.

The Loncon staff did a fine job making everything run smoothly. A handy pocket guide steered me around the huge convention center without a hitch, and twice-daily newssheets kept me up-to-date on any changes.

There were only a couple of small minuses. First off, the dining options at the ExCel Centre were overpriced and generally substandard. Not that this is unusual for a convention center, so I don’t blame LonCon for this!

Also, the ExCel is huge and has all the ambiance of a shopping mall. But as Robert Silverberg pointed out, “Cons aren’t about venues, they’re about people.”

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Science Fictional Humphrey Bogart

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Science Fictional Humphrey Bogart

ReturnX_PosterInto the nineteen fifties, Hollywood operated under the studio system. A few major movie studios owned both the production and distribution channels and dominated the industry.

They cranked out “B” pictures to provide product to support the “A” films and keep the theaters they owned filled.

Actors, especially non-stars, made several films a year, either appearing higher in the credits on B films or as supporting actors in A movies. Those actors had very little power in the system as well.

In 1936, Humphrey Bogart (who had already twice failed to stick in Hollywood) received his first critical acclaim for The Petrified Forest, in which he recreated his Broadway role as gangster Duke Mantee.

He would really strike it big in 1941, first with  High Sierra, and then The Maltese Falcon  (if you haven’t seen this one,  rent it tonight and then leave an apology comment on this post for waiting so long). In the five years between Forest and Sierra, he appeared in twenty-nine films: most not as the star.

Bogart famously said, “I made more lousy pictures than any actor in history.” This was because Warner Brothers tossed him into every low budget B movie they could.

Sometimes it was so bad that he refused the part, which then got him suspended without pay. That’s why you see Dennis Morgan and not Bogie in the awful western, Bad Men of Missouri (with Wayne Morris starring – see below).

Bogie, in a career with over eighty credits and possibly the greatest star in film history, made only one horror/science fiction movie. And he considered it one of his worst. He’s got a point.

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Mindjammer RPG: Transhuman Sci-Fi Adventure in the Second Age of Space

Mindjammer RPG: Transhuman Sci-Fi Adventure in the Second Age of Space

Several years ago, I published my first ever roleplaying game supplement, a 200-page softback for the Starblazer Adventures RPG, using the Fate 3rd edition rules. Black Gate‘s very own Howard Andrew Jones reviewed it here, and a few short months later we were delighted when it won a Judges Spotlight Award at the ENnies in GenCon. We decided to produce a second edition…

… And here it is! A lot has happened in the meantime, not least the release of a brand new edition of Fate, the Fate Core System, from Evil Hat Productions, which won Best RPG in the Golden Geek Awards only last week. The publication of an elegant and sophisticated new edition of Fate meant that I had a golden opportunity to update Mindjammer and publish it as a full roleplaying game, taking full advantages of the Fate Core System‘s cutting edge innovations. Last month, we launched Mindjammer – The Roleplaying Game for pre-orders, providing customers with an immediate download of a “Thoughtcast Edition” pre-release PDF of the game, and this week we’re going to print and updating the PDF to the final production version.

So what’s Mindjammer? Put simply, it’s a game and a setting. As a game, it’s been called the “lovechild of Traveller and Eclipse Phase” – a full-featured science-fiction roleplaying game for the 21st century, featuring all the elements of “modern” science-fiction: transhumanism, hyperadvanced technologies, culture conflicts, rules for organisations, worlds, star systems, ecosystems, and alien life forms all drawing on the latest discoveries in xenoscience and astrophysics, wrapped up in an expansive and action-packed game which lets you play in any modern science-fiction genre.

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Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Fifteen – “The Fall of Ming”

Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Fifteen – “The Fall of Ming”

flash_3_-_fall_of_mingraymond_flash_fall_ming_cvr“The Fall of Ming” was the fifteenth installment of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between January 19 and June 29, 1941, “The Fall of Ming” picks up the storyline where the fourteenth installment, “The Power Men of Mongo” left off with Flash having reached the gates of Ming’s concentration camp in a daring attempt to rescue Zarkov and the other political prisoners held there. Bulon is just about to assassinate Flash when he is captured by Ming’s guards. The traitor quickly reveals Flash’s hiding place. Flash barely escapes with his life, but later succeeds in infiltrating Ming’s “death patrol.”

Dale makes a full recovery and learns from Rena that Bulon is plotting against Flash. The two girls defy Ergon’s orders and set out to rescue Flash. Dale is captured by Sergeant Mordo, one of Ming’s patrolmen while Rena manages to escape. Dale is sent to the concentration camp, but Flash soon learns of her arrival and sets out to rescue her.

Alex Raymond again pushes the boundaries of 1940s sensibilities in the panel showing the muscular and unattractive female guards stripping Dale of her clothing. Likewise, his efforts to show the brutality of German concentration camps proves effective on an entirely different level. The camp’s warden Terro is depicted as a monocled Aryan monster (admittedly, Mongo is also filled with other politically incorrect caricatures from insidious Asians to traitorous Semitic characters as was common in the pulp fiction of the era). Raymond shows many of the prisoners with shaved heads, half-starved, and regularly beaten by the abusive warden. He also depicts a nubile young woman with her back being broken on a wheel. Don Moore’s script notes that prison cells are designed to prevent inmates from standing straight or being able to sit or lie down in an attempt to drive them mad. Raymond was obviously outraged by the War in Europe and was doing the best he could to draw readers’ attention to it by making Ming’s heinous actions strongly parallel Hitler’s atrocities that were recounted in newspapers of the day.

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Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Fourteen – “Power Men of Mongo”

Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Fourteen – “Power Men of Mongo”

flashgordonpowermenofmongopower-men1“Power Men of Mongo” was the fourteenth installment of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between April 14, 1940 and January 12, 1941, “Power Men of Mongo” picks up the storyline where the thirteenth installment, “The Ice Kingdom of Mongo” left off with Flash, Zarkov and Katon speeding by rocket-engine to Mingo City in a desperate attempt to rescue Dale. The rocket-engine is hijacked by Logun and the remnants of the Freemen who happily rejoin the battle to overthrow the Emperor of Mongo. They succeed in infiltrating the city, but one of the Freemen, Pital betrays Flash for the reward promised by Ming. The Emperor sets a trap to capture Flash and the Freemen when they meet in a warehouse at night. Dale starts a chemical fire in the warehouse to warn Flash of the danger. Ming leaves her to burn. Unable to remove her from the blazing warehouse, Flash settles for putting out the fire and then making a daring escape.

Flash successfully infiltrates Ming’s royal guard and very nearly succeeds in rescuing Dale, but Ming outmaneuvers him. Hunted by the police, Flash is rescued by Katon who leads him to the underground electrical works where the Power Men of Mongo are employed. Ergon, head of the Lodge of the Power Men has already befriended Zarkov and is eager to have the Power Men join the rebellion against Ming. The Power Men cause a blackout in the palace during which Flash and Zarkov (disguised as Power Men) eventually succeed in rescuing Dale. It is interesting to note that Flash’s Power Man outfit makes him look suspiciously like DC’s superhero, The Flash. Zarkov is given more of a chance to show his heroism. A turning point comes when Flash finds many of his former Freemen working in Ming’s munitions factory. Flash orchestrates a workers’ revolt and has the men turn on their foremen and seize control of the factory.

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Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Thirteen – “The Ice Kingdom of Mongo”

Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Thirteen – “The Ice Kingdom of Mongo”

ice-kingdom-2ice-kingdom-1“The Ice Kingdom of Mongo” was the thirteenth installment of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between March 12, 1939 and April 7, 1940, the epic-length “Ice Kingdom of Mongo” was the first story whose continuity lasted more than a year. “The Ice Kingdom of Mongo” picks up the storyline where the twelfth installment, “The Tyrant of Mongo” left off with Flash, Dale, Zarkov and Ronal rocketing their way to explore the frozen North. The freezing temperatures (100 below zero) cause their rocket ship to crash. While Zarkov and Ronal use heat guns to carve a shelter in the glacier, Flash goes off to hunt an ice bear for dinner unaware that a snow dragon is stalking him. Flash slays the snow dragon, but his shoulder is badly injured in the process. Ingeniously, he severs the dragon’s broad tail to use as a makeshift sled to transport the ice bear’s corpse and himself back to the glacier.

The four of them are quickly apprehended by Queen Fria of Frigia and her troops who are patrolling the area on skis. Taken captive, the group is set upon by a snow serpent. Flash saves the Queen from the monstrous beast and earns a place driving her snowbird-drawn chariot on the ride back to her palace. This earns him the enmity of Count Malo who turns off the heat to Flash’s bedchamber while he sleeps that night knowing that the freezing temperatures could kill him. Flash’s life is saved only by Zarkov’s timely arrival and superior medical knowledge. Determined to succeed, Count Malo disguises himself as Flash’s doctor and attempts to murder him in his hospital bed. Flash’s life is spared thanks to Dale’s intervention. Malo escapes with his identity still hidden from Flash and Dale.

His third attempt on Flash’s life occurs while a recovering Flash is getting some much-needed exercise in the pool with Dale. Count Malo again tampers with the heating mechanism causing the pool to instantly freeze. Flash and Dale barely manage to escape alive. While hunting snow oxen with the Queen’s hunting party, Flash saves Malo’s life from a ravenous ice worm. Ashamed of his actions, Count Malo confesses to his crimes and is stunned when Flash forgives him without demanding retribution. Of course, Malo’s comeuppance is close at hand as the hunting party fall prey to a tribe of primitive giants. Flash and Fria escape from their clutches, but Dale and Ronal are taken as slaves. While setting out to rescue them, Flash and the Queen come upon the frozen corpse of Count Malo which the giants have left behind as a grim warning.

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Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon:“, Part Twelve – “The Tyrant of Mongo”

Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon:“, Part Twelve – “The Tyrant of Mongo”

flashgordon4flash_2_-_the_tyrant_of_mongo“The Tyrant of Mongo” was the twelfth installment of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally printed between June 12, 1938 and March 5, 1939, the epic-length “Tyrant of Mongo” picks up the storyline where the eleventh installment, “Outlaws of Mongo” left off with Flash and the Freemen having sought refuge in the tombs of Ming’s ancestors. They befriend Chulan the caretaker who joins the Freemen. The flooding of Mingo City has thrown the kingdom into disarray. Flash and a group of Freemen storm the Navy’s flagship only to find its captain only too willing to join the fight against the Emperor.

Emboldened by their success thus far, Flash and Captain Sudin lead the growing ranks of Freemen in a daring prison break to free Ming’s political prisoners. Naturally, they have walked into a trap. Scores of Freemen are decimated by Ming’s forces. Flash and an injured Sudin manage to escape with their lives. Unexpectedly, Flash and Sudin bombard the prison from their rocketship and rescuing those survivors they can reach attempt to make good their escape.

Crashing into the sea, Flash learns they are short one oxygen tank and heroically stays behind with the sinking ship while everyone else makes their way to freedom. Dale and Zarkov succeed in rescuing Flash, but Zarkov doesn’t believe his chances for survival are very strong. Of course, thanks to Zarkov’s surgical skill Flash does survive and recovers sufficiently to hastily design and oversee construction of a complex series of underground tunnels to house the Freemen. Naturally, their new-found tranquility is short-lived as Ming visits the island to bury his recently-deceased uncle (who Ming had killed when he learned he was plotting against him). A word should be said about Alex Raymond reaching new heights with his artwork in this installment. Raymond’s work was constantly evolving and it retains its power nearly 80 years later.

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Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Eleven – “Outlaws of Mongo”

Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Eleven – “Outlaws of Mongo”

outlaws-of-mongo1outlaws-of-mongo2“Outlaws of Mongo” was the eleventh installment of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally printed between August 15, 1937 and June 5, 1938, the epic-length “Outlaws of Mongo” picks up the storyline where the tenth installment, “The Beast Men of Mongo” left off with Barin, Flash and Dale returning to Arboria. The traitor, Grombo collapses while crossing the desert, but is saved from carrion birds by Ming’s Desert Legion. Ming rewards Grombo by appointing him a Captain. Ming confronts Barin and demands that he hand Flash and Dale over, Barin refuses. Fearing the situation will quickly escalate to a war that would devastate Arboria, Flash decides to flee to the jungles of Arboria so that Barin can report his escape to Ming. The Emperor, of course, demands Barin hand Dale over and when he refuses, Ming orders Arboria destroyed by his air fleet.

Don Moore and Alex Raymond’s stories were growing more complex and as a consequence, Mongo and its lands and peoples were becoming more detailed. The two also clarify the point that the kingdoms of Mongo are denied the technology that Ming’s forces command to ensure they cannot successfully revolt. Moore’s script also specifies that Barin views Flash as a savior who has come to Mongo to liberate its kingdoms from Barin’s tyrannical father-in-law. Flash stumbles out of the jungles of Arboria into the desert and discovers Ming’s tanks are rolling in. Flash singlehandedly commandeers a tank, overpowering the crew and turns its gun on the rest of the fleet as well as the infantry. Meantime, the air fleet has launched and is en route to bomb Arboria.

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Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Ten – “The Beast Men of Mongo”

Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Ten – “The Beast Men of Mongo”

beast-men21beast-men1“The Beast Men of Mongo” was the tenth installment of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally printed between April 25 and August 8, 1937, “The Beast Men of Mongo” picks up the storyline where the ninth installment, “The Tusk Men of Mongo” left off with Flash and Dale led by Captain Truno to Prince Barin’s kingdom. Truno explains that it is necessary for them to live in treetop homes because of the many dangers of the forest. They ride a vine-propelled elevator to an amazing network of highways that link the trees four hundred feet above ground to Prince Barin’s stunning snow-white castle.

Barin and Aura give Flash and Dale a royal welcome. Alex Raymond’s artwork is gorgeous in these panels. Aura still carries a torch for Flash and greets him with a passionate kiss that leaves Dale fuming. That night as Flash gazes out the window he spies an intruder entering Aura’s chamber via the balcony. Flash heroically swings down on a vine and surprises the intruder. The man surrenders Aura’s jewels and claims he was reduced to thieving because of his sickly wife. Flash takes pity on him and lets him go free. Aura emerges from her bed chamber and discovers Flash who returns her jewels and claims the thief escaped. Leaving Aura’s room, Flash is met by Dale who is suspicious when Flash claims he chased a thief away. The adult themes in this storyline (though tame by modern standards) were quite sophisticated for their day. Don Moore’s dialogue lets Raymond’s artwork tell the story for him. This was always true of their partnership, but the point is driven home even more when Raymond turns up the heat of sexual tension between Flash and Aura. 

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Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Nine – “The Tusk Men of Mongo”

Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Nine – “The Tusk Men of Mongo”

tusk-men-12flash“The Tusk Men of Mongo” was the ninth installment of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally printed between February 7 and April 18, 1937, “The Tusk Men of Mongo” picks up the storyline where the eighth installment, “The Forest Kingdom of Mongo” left off with Flash and Dale unknowingly venturing into Tusk Men territory. The Tusk Men are a Neanderthal-like race of blue-skinned men with prehensile tails. They live in tribes and have fashioned crude tools such as axes. One of their scouts spies Flash and Dale and despite Flash carrying a makeshift spear, they are quickly overwhelmed by five of the Tusk Men.

Flash and Dale are bound and led many miles away to a vast network of caves where the Tusk Men dwell. There, we learn that the Tusk Men can speak a simple form of English as well as their own bestial language, and that they are cannibals who have captured Flash and Dale to devour them. The tribe is ruled by One-Tusk who claims Dale for his mate. Dale pleads for Flash’s life is to be spared to no avail. Just as he is about to be pitched into the flames, Flash breaks free of his bonds and fights against his captors. The Tusk Men greatly outnumber him and the Earth man is quickly recaptured. Death appears unavoidable.

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