The “Golden Age” of Science Fiction

My wife and myself have been having a clear out. Our children are grown, but throughout their formative years, we kept most stuff out of harm’s way safely secured in the loft. One things I knew was up there but now I’ve had a chance to savour again is my collection of Science Fiction Books, or more correctly my collection of Science Fiction Art.

I love my kindle reader on my tablet and on my phone, but as with all things there is a price to pay for technology advances, and something that is missing now is the link between books and cover art. I still recall now the absolute wonder I felt when I saw my first “proper” Science Fiction Book in the school library way back in 1973 when I was just 11 year’s old. It was a copy of the late, great Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation”.  I was mesmerised not so much by the book contents, but by the cover.

Foundation_06-10-2017

Asimov’s Foundation

It portrayed a strange looking craft, in a strange blue realm, with wispy, cloud-like formations. The craft looked all unbalanced, almost put together at random, no symmetry and not obvious at all which was the front and which was the back. I was enthralled.

Every other Sci-Fi movie or picture I had seen showed alien space craft as saucers or sleek, silver rockets, not this haphazard, almost space-junk vessel that seemed to defy any kind of aeronautical engineering rules.  More mysterious was that nowhere in the book was any mention made of anything like the spaceship on the front.  I’d never experienced anything like it before.  I read the book and it was good, but different from what I expected.

It was a story that spanned hundreds of years of a imagined future where one man, Hari Seldon predicts the future of fall of the Galactic Empire through his pyscho-mathematics, based on statistical analyses of human behaviour, and is banished for his heresy.  Star Wars definitely borrowed some of Asimov’s ideas such as the faster-than-light “jump” and Trantor which is a planet wide city, heart of the Empire.   Asimov wrote this in the 1940’s, way before computers were available so there are still strange references to slide-rules whilst space-ships leap across light years of space instantaneously. It’s wonderful stuff.

However I remember that whilst reading the book in bed at night, I kept looking at the cover and marvelling at the detail and the imagination of the man who created it. The man I found out was called Chris Foss. Some of you may know him now as one of the key artists who worked on Guardian’s of the Galaxy.  Check out his website, (yes he’s still alive!) at http://www.chrisfossart.com/ .  Chris was a pioneer of Sci-Fi Art and his air-brush paintings and drawings have influenced so many other artists. His imaginings have seeped into popular culture, particularly movies, where those massive spaceships with all those fiddly details all stem often from Chris’s influence.

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Asimov’s Elijah Bailey Stories

From then on I was hooked and I sought out other books, based it has to be said as much on the cover as anything.  Other Asimov books I vividly recall were “The Caves of Steel” and “The Naked Sun” two stories featuring Elijah Bailey, a detective who dwells in an underground city as earth has become so populated there is not room on the surface to live. The population has also banished robots to work only in outer space due to the fear of them. This theme is echoed in the classic cult Sci-Fi film “Blade Runner”.  Although the film is based loosely on a Philip K. Dick novelette, it owes as much to Asimov’s ideas and Chris Foss’s imagination as to anyone’s. Bailey solves one murder on Earth then in “The Naked Sun” he is ordered off -world to solve another murder on Solaria. But like all other Earthmen he suffers from crippling agoraphobia when outside the underground cities, and holds an inherent mistrust of robots which the Spacers, who live off-world, find extraordinary.

Seeking out yet more Sci-Fi, I came across the “Lensman” and “Skylark of Space” Series by E.E “Doc” Smith. The covers on these books were even more bizarre and extraordinary than I’d seen with Asimov’s books. Cone shaped spaceships above artificial looking landscapes, wreckage in the foreground of Hindenburg-like scenes and incredible detailed craft unloading smaller scout ships were some of the scenes depicted. I just couldn’t get enough of this stuff.

James Blish and A. E van Vogt were two more authors whose books and covers captivated me. “Cities in Flight” by Blish was a sprawling space odyssey where whole cities wrench themselves from the Earth to go seek their fortunes amongst the stars using the “Spin Dizzy” faster than light drive, and van Vogt’s amazing space opera “Voyage of the Space Beagle” which surely had to have influenced the creators of Star Trek in some fashion.

It wasn’t only Asimov and Smith stories fronted by Chris Foss’s art from Panther Science Fiction that attracted my eye. Robert Heinlein, Brian Aldiss, and Frank Herbert were published by New English Library who had an association with artist Bruce Pennington. I particularly recall my love of the Heinlein’s “Revolt in 2100”, Herbert’s “Dune Messiah” and Aldiss’s “Space, Time and Nathaniel” covers, even though the stories themselves have not stayed with me if I am honest.

Another classic author I enjoyed was Arthur C. Clarke who is most well known for being the visionary who first postulated the use for satellites for communication. His most famous work is his 2001: A Space Odyssey, however I felt that his other books were far superior, “Rendezvous with Rama” and “Childhood’s End” for two.

I cannot say what it is that makes me feel so fond of these books and their covers, of this art. Perhaps it’s just happy memories of childhood, recalling the wonder of exploring other people’s imagination, what was possible with colours, ideas and predictions?  What I can say is that I feel I am richer for it.  I firmly believe that overall in the world, things are much better now than they ever have been, but I can look back on this aspect of my life with much fondness, and try to remember what is was like discovering for the first time those marvellous books by Asimov, Clark, Smith, Van Vogt, Blish and so many others. That for me truly was the “Golden Age” of Science Fiction …

Cheers

 

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Terra Nova

I’m liking Terra Nova.  I know, compared to Outcasts, it’s more … ‘shiny’. It’s also more entertaining, got more action, better story lines, less soul searching, less navel watching and better looking women …

 

I know. I’m shallow, and easily pleased by the moguls at Hollywood, the sort of viewer they dream of.

You know what. I don’t give a monkeys!

I like Terra Nova.

Cheers

Dave Mc

I’m Paying for Spotify Unlimited …

I’ve decided to support Spotify and pay my £4.99 a month for unlimited music.  Whatever you think of the music industry itself, the bottom line is that somewhere, somehow somebody needs to be paid for making music.  There are the recording studios, the production staff, the design artists not forgetting the musicians themselves.  If we want good music to continue then somebody, i.e us needs to make a contribution and £4.99 a month for pretty much any artist is a good deal.  If making a company like Spotify profitable and thereby changing the way the music companies view them and support them this can only be a good thing.   I enjoyed my free Spotify, but it’s a quality service and £4.99 a month is great value, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t stump up the cash.

Go for it Spotify!

Cheers

Dave Mc

Mad Dogs … I like it … I think …

Following on from my entry into the world of TV critics … heh heh … with my Outcasts blog entry, I thought, seeing as I was accused of all kinds of shallowness and having a short attention span, and having no appreciation for anything that requires some patience and thought … yeah right! … I’d muse a bit about Mad Dogs.

The main thing that attracted me to watching the show was the actor Marc Warren, who I rate really highly seeing him in Band of Brothers and in Hustle where he was awesome as Danny Blue. I have to admit … I’m not totally sold on it yet, but and this is the big difference from Outcasts, there was enough going on to keep me interested.  The characters immediately had some depth.  There was a hint of some dark and dirty dealings going on, and tension betwen the characters especially between the Marc Warren and Philip Glenister characters, when the former, who is married, has a bit of a fling with a young lass he meets in a night club.

I won’t spoil the ending of the first episode for you, but it’s a bit of a shocker to say the least and leaves you thinking … “Oh … right … best I watch the next episode then!”

So I will persist with this one for a while, because at least it seems to be going somewhere.  It’s not immediate gratification, it requires some patience, but there is humour and some grit in there to grab you, at least a little, from the word go.

Cheers

Dave Mc

Outcasts and The Kings Speech … blimey!

I don’t think I’ve ever written a blog entry which has so many comments … must say something about my other stuff!

What I find interesting is almost everybody went off discussing Outcasts, I got one accusation of being jaded and a Top Gear lover … eh?  Only a couple of people seemed to notice the other half of the post about The Kings Speech.  The film is only about 90 minutes long, yet for me, it packed more emotion and empathy for the characters into the first 10 mins than I saw in two hours of Outcasts.  The Kings Speech essentially has only three characters;  Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helen Bonham-Carter.  Outcasts has at least twice if not more than that.  Most of the Kings Speech takes place in one or two badly decorated rooms. Outcasts has great special effects and dramatic scenery.  The Kings Speech concentrates on events that were relevant to only a few people directly, though admittedly it had ripples throughout the world.  Outcasts is about the future of the whole of humanity.  The deck is totally stacked in the favour of Outcasts really as being the superior drama.

So what is it that can bring me to tears (and laughter) within 10 mins of watching the King’s Speech, yet was missing in Outcasts?  Is it acting ability? Is it the script-writer? The producer? Director?  All of them?

Answers on a postcard …

Cheers

Dave Mc

Outcasts – Boring! The King’s Speech – Immense!

I like a good Sci-Fi series, really I do, so I was looking forward to Outcasts, but after two attempts I’ve given up.  Why? Because it’s boring. Boring, boring, boring. It shouldn’t have been boring, with those actors, with those special effects, with that story, but somehow the screen writers have managed to conspire to turn what could have been a classic into a drudge…

A friend of mine from Ridgian , where I work, said he felt the same.  He hit the nail on the head I think, when he said he couldn’t give a monkey’s about any of the characters.  That’s the problem.   They’re crying on screen, lamenting, shouting and I’m sitting there thinking “So what?”.  

On the other hand I went to see The King’s Speech last weekend with my lovely wife. I’m not ashamed to say I shed some tears but I laughed too.  No special effects, but superior actors and an amazing script.  From the word go you were in there with the characters, you felt for Bertie, and you suffered with him.  Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth were the greatest duo on screen, in my humble opinion, since Jack Nickelson and Helen Hunt in ‘As Good As It Gets’. 

So … good luck with Outcasts if you watch it, let me know how that works out for you. Treat yourself though and see The King’s Speech.  You’ll measure everything other film or series you watch by it, you mark my words. It’s that good.

Cheers

Dave Mc

Stargate Atlantis – it’s great …

Like a lot of people in our industry, I have been and guess I always will be a bit of a Sci-Fi buff. I’ve followed the antics of the Star Trek crews, but decidely did not like Enterprise.  Never reallly been into Battlestar, etc, BUT I saw the original Stargate Movie with Kurt Russell many years ago and loved it, and became a big fan of the Stargate SG-1 series.
 
The first spin off series (second?) is Stargate Atlantis and I have to say having seen it on telly and then gone back to watch the DVDs, it really is an awesome series, great characters and great stories, totally fanciful, no reality what-so-ever! Brilliant!
 
Check it out on Sky2 or Channel 4, you won’t regret it, if you do , tough!