Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Man in the High Castle (Pilot Episode)

The Big Debate

Up until the time I left for college, I only had one friend who read science fiction and fantasy.  We drifted apart and do not stay in contact.  But in college I met, and eventually became a roommate with, my second science fiction and fantasy friend-Terry Kissinger.  We still talk and email on a regular basis.  Most years we meet up at conventions.   The first friend and I had similar tastes in authors.  We both liked Isaac Asimov.  To a lesser extent he also liked Roger Zelazny.  When I met Terry, in many ways I had found a kindred spirit.  In addition to those authors, his favorites were Frank Herbert and Philip K. Dick.  We spent many hours debating who was better.  We had similar debates in comic book authors.  I was a Marv Wolfman fan while he preferred Chris Claremont in the heyday of the X-Men and Teen Titans.  Our friendship is such that we both like all of the authors I named but we liked to debate which was the best.  During our debates, Terry introduced me to the work of PKD (Philip K. Dick).  In many respects, PKD is an amazing writer who seems more popular now than ever before.  Although I have read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" three times and enjoyed it every time, I still have many of his novels to read.

A Short History

Despite having published 44 novels and roughly 121 short stories.  Unfortunately, for him, his stories did not start earning big money until after his death.  Since then 11 movies have appeared based on his work (Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau, Next, Paycheck, and others).  More are in the works included an Disney animated production of his short story "The King of the Elves", a live action adaptation of UBIK, and the television series I am getting around to discussing.

Through a Glass Darkly

Many moons ago, I remember being mesmerized by Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner".  It was a loose adaptation of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?".  The stories were different but Scott gave us a great movie, in my opinion.  Skip ahead to 2010 when rumors came out that Ridley Scott was working on a BBC production of "The Man in the High Castle".  It ended up with Amazon's new production company as part of the 2015 Pilot Season.  The pilot debuted last week to very good reviews.

I watched it over the weekend and would love to see it become a series.  Scott is working with Frank (X-Files) Spotnitz.  Spotnitz wrote the pilot.  The basic idea of it being an alternate history where the Axis won World War II is still there.  Nazi Germany controls the eastern part of the United States, Japan the west coast, and a neutral zone is the buffer between them.  One of the main characters is given a copy of a news real film (the story takes place in the 60s).  The film shows our history.  Some in the story think it is a fantasy propaganda piece.  Others think differently and are willing to kill to get it.  

New York City in "The Man in the High Castle"
The pilot does a great job of establishing the characters while telling a compelling story that starts to reveal this world to us.  I recommend watching the pilot.  If, like me, you enjoy it you will be voting to continue the series.


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Thursday, January 15, 2015

"Shattered Like a Glass Goblin" by Harlan Ellison

First Publication:  1968
Cover Artist:  Paul Lehr

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First Line: "So it was there, eight months later, that Rudy found her; in that huge and ugly house off Western Avenue n Los Angeles;  living with them, all of them;  not just Jonah, but all of them."

"Shattered Like a Glass Goblin", on the surface, is about a man named Rudy who gets out of the army on a medical discharge.  He goes in search of the woman he is to marry.  Meanwhile, Kris has moved to a house filled with drugged out people.  Kris will not leave so Rudy joins the group.  The rest of the story graphically describes Rudy's descent.  Are the people strung out on drugs...or are they something else?

Monday, January 12, 2015

"The Callistan Menace" by Isaac Asimov

First Publication:  April 1940
Cover Artist:  Binder

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First Line:  "Damn Jupiter!" growled Ambrose Whitefield viciously, and I nodded agreement.

The Story Behind the Story

The first story written by the "Good Doctor" (Asimov's nickname) was named "Cosmic Corkscrew".  It was rejected, put in a drawer, and lost during one of the times he cleaned up his desk.  By the time it was rejected, he had already written a second story that he called "Stowaway".  He personally took the story to John W. Campbell's office on July 18, 1938.  According to his diary he received the rejection letter on July 22.  But something was different with this one.  " was he nicest possible rejection letter you could imagine."  Campbell told him that the idea was good and the plot was decent.  The dialog and handling were professional but it had an air of amateurishness.  Asimov was told that he just needed some more experience.  This fired up the author.  While "Astounding" was the king of the market, he decided to go to the next best markets ("Amazing Stories" and "Thrilling Wonder Stories").  It was promptly rejected.  Asimov had meanwhile moved on to writing a third story that would quickly go to publication.  The story received a couple of more rejections and it would have died except the science fiction magazine market experienced a boom time.  

New magazines started to appear.  One such magazine, "Astonishing Stories", was edited by a young 20 year old fan who happened to be a friend of Asimov's.  That young fan's name was Frederik Pohl.  On November 17, 1939 Pohl accepted "Stowaway" for the second issue.  Pohl was famous for changing names of stories so "Stowaway" became "The Callistan Menace".  Other famous authors who appeared in this issue are Clifford D. Simak and C. M. Kornbluth.

One of the main characters was named after Isaac's brother Stanley.

The Story

"The Callistan Menace" is a well told tale.  It has what is considered a staple of the field.  Multiple missions have been sent to Callisto.  None have returned.  The latest group is put together and are in transit when they discover a stowaway.  A young boy named Stanley hid on the ship so he could go on an adventure in space.  

The crew lands near one of the previous missions.  Exploratory missions are sent out and disaster strikes.  I don't want to spoil the story for anyone who wants to read "The Callistan Menace" so I will not reveal what happens.  All I will say is that the crew's salvation rests on the shoulders of the young stowaway.

I cannot argue with Campbell's assessment.  It is a professional story that seems to be missing something but is worth reading.  The easiest way to buy it is to pick up the collection "The Early Asimov, or, Eleven Years of Trying".  

If you are a fan of Asimov's work, I would definitely recommend hunting down a copy of this collection.  It is interesting to see him develop as a writer.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Walkers on the Sky

Richard Hescox
Author:  David J. Lake

First Publication:  December 1976

Publisher:  DAW Books

Source:  Used book store

Cover #1:  Richard Hescox
Cover #2:  Roy Ellsworth

Series:  Book 1 of the "Breakout" series.

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From the back cover:  
Sometimes the sky held only clouds, but at other times it could get quite busy.  It could be full of sailing ships or bands of mounted warriors or even single figures strolling carefully across the empty air.

From the viewpoint of those below they were either apparitions or gods, but in any case to be ignored.

From the viewpoint of the sky walkers, those below were neither phantoms nor gods, yet certainly always beneath their notice.

Both viewpoints were wrong.

Because the time had come when one of the sky walkers was going to do the incredible-fall through.  And when that happened, all hell was going to break loose.  And did!

It's not fantasy.  It's science fiction, and you never read another novel like it!

Why did I read this book?

I am a fan of the old DAW yellow spined books.  Donald Wollheim was one of the first editors I started following.  He seemed to find and publish many authors I enjoyed.  He was the first book publisher to print the works of C. J. Cherryh among many other favorites.

"Gorgon Planet" by Robert Silverberg

First Publication:  Nebula Science Fiction, February 1954
Cover Artist:  Bob Clothier

Second Publication:  Super Science Fiction, October 1958
Cover Artist:  Emsh

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First Line:  "Our troubles started the moment the stiffened corpse of Flaherty was found, standing frozen in a field half a kilometer from the ship."

"Gorgon Planet" was a typical story of the early 1950s.  An exploratory mission to another world brings about the mysterious death of one of the crewmen.  The rest of the crew has to solve the mystery.  

Would I recommend this story to other readers?  Without a doubt.  Why?  Because it holds a place in the history of the field.  "Gorgon Planet" was the first science fiction story by Robert Silverberg to be published.  As such, it holds an honored position in the history of the field.

The history of the story is interesting.  It was first accepted in 1953 by Harry Harrison (of the "Stainless Steel Rat" fame) for one of two magazines he was editing.  Both magazines ("Rocket Stories" and "Space Science Fiction") went out of business before Silverberg's story could be published.  Fortunately, a Scottish science fiction magazine edited by Peter Hamilton accepted it.  So Silverberg's first appearance in a science fiction magazine was delayed until the February 1954 edition of "Nebula Science Fiction".  In 1958 it was reprinted in the October 1958 issue of "Super Science Fiction".  The editor changed the title to "The Fight with the Gorgon".  In addition to it was another Silverberg story, a short story by A. Bertram Chandler, and the issue closed out with one by Harlan Ellison. 

Little did the editors know at that time that Robert Silverberg would become one of the top writers in the field.  Thankfully they recognized his talent and helped to launch a long career.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy Birthday, Isaak Yudovich Ozimov

Way back on January 2nd, 1920 one of my all time favorite writers was born in Russia.  Isaak Yudovich Ozimov's name was changed to Isaac Asimov when his family moved to the United States.  He went on to write hundreds of books and short stories.

Asimov wrote many classic stories that I either have read or will re-read many times during my lifetime.  Some of my favorites include the Foundation trilogy, the Robot books, the Galactic Empire books, "The Gods Themselves", "The End of Eternity" and many others.  This year, I am re-reading his early fiction that is collected in "The Early Asimov".  A great way to study the early years is to read the legendary "Before the Golden Age" collection.  Asimov weaves stories from his life around the reprints.

Imagine my surprise when it was announced that a new science fiction magazine was being named after him.  When the first issue hit the stands, it did not feature a spaceship or futuristic venue on the cover.  It featured many well known authors in the first issue but it ended up being a story by an unknown named Herb Boehm that is probably the best known from that issue.  "Air Raid" was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards.  It turned out to be the work of John Varley who had another story in that issue.  It became a magazine that I would devour as each new issue appeared on the news stand.

In memory of this great author, I am reading the first story in "The Early Asimov" today-"The Callistan Menace".  I hope that you will take the time this year to read some of his works.