Posted: 23 May 2014.
“To me, deep in my soul, science fiction began in April 1926 and its father was Hugo Gernsback” – Isaac Asimov.
For this monumental, extended 20th Post, something encapsulating that magic no. 20 was in order, but what? After much head-scratching (and tail-shaking) the task was set: select twenty icons of sci-fi which encouraged my earliest forays into this great and giddy genre and inspired my own works of fiction & art.
Neither assembled in order of merit, nor alphabetically, this list is merely a random compilation incorporating artists, writers, film-makers and even those fictional characters who touched and inspired me. So, where shall we begin? At the very beginning of course.
The Time Machine (1895) and The Invisible Man (1897) by Herbert George Wells were fascinating, but it was War of the Worlds (1898) which appealed the most. The sound effects in the movie (1953) were exceptionally eerie; a 70s comic strip adaptation caught my imagination most vividly.
Most of you may be unaware of the name: Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967) but, in 1926, as the pioneering publisher of “Amazing Stories” he coined the term: “science fiction.” His magazine inspired the introduction of “Astounding Science Fiction” and numerous others, all graced with cover art this bunny could not get enough of.
A decade later saw the emergence of Flash Gordon; from Alex Raymond’s wonderful original comic strips to the Universal serial (1936) and the lavish colour extravaganza (1980), it never failed to excite.
“To most fans of fantasy cinema, the 1950s represent a Golden Age when the boundaries of film-makers’ imaginations were stretched to the limit – even if their budgets were not” – Phil Edwards.
The classics of the 1950s had a profound effect, none more so than The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). most striking for its haunting Bernard Herrmann score and the giant robot: Gort, yet it was his master: Klaatu sensitively portrayed by Michael Rennie as a benign emissary rather than the overdone malign bug-eyed Martian which seared into my memory.
Two years later came the sinister Xenomorphs of It Came from Outer Space (1953); and then the thrills of The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), both – to my deep joy – brought to us by the fantastic talent of Jack Arnold.
The Metaluna sequence of This Island Earth (1955) was done by Arnold. Here the plight of gentle, but doomed, scientist: Exeter (Jeff Morrow) was particularly moving.
“I’m not afraid of machines… I don’t think the robots are taking over. I think the men who play with the toys have taken over. And if we don’t take the toys out of their hands, we’re fools” – Ray Bradbury.
Special mention has to go here to Arthur C Clarke. Not only did this enthralled lil bunny marvel at 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), he enjoyed getting creeped out by the World of Strange Powers TV series.
Also on television, no repeats of The Twilight Zone were missed; its creator: Rod Serling not only “showed the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition,” but consistently produced mighty fine inspirational scripts.
One of the mainstream sci-fi writers to have scripts adapted for the show was Ray Bradbury. His Martian Chronicles, a collection of inter-connected short stories (1950) holds as much a profound effect on me now as it did thirty years ago.
Attending an SF club many moons ago, Bradbury met an individual who would become one of his best buddies… and one of my fave film-makers: Ray Harryhausen. Technically a fantasy creator, this undisputed master of stop-motion animation did make 20 Million Miles To Earth (1955) and First Men In The Moon (1964), thus undoubtedly confirming his inclusion in this very personal Hall of Fame.
“I am Scaroth! Through me my people will live again!” – Scaroth of Jagaroth.
Surely, Peter Cushing is more synonymous with horror? At first glance, yes, but he did play the Timelord in two Dr. Who movies during the 1960s, and portrayed the thoroughly nasty Grand Moff Tarkin in the original Star Wars.
In addition, he played a daffy professor in At The Earth’s Core (1976) where he was ably assisted by Doug McClure. In my infant years, anything with McClure – whether it was The Land That Time Forgot (1974) or Warlords of Atlantis (1979) – proved irresistible (although the appeal failed to last beyond my teenage years).
Speaking of the BBC’s longest-running sci-fi series, 1979 was a very good year to become a devotee. “City of Death” is widely regarded as one of the best stories, with Scaroth of Jagaroth, last of a warrior-race. The destruction of his spacecraft inadvertantly triggered the creation of the human race – genius.
Try to imagine my sheer delight upon discovering the “Fantastic First Issue” of Dr Who Weekly in October 1979. The very first story: “Dr Who & The Iron Legion” featured: “…an alternative Earth, where Rome never fell! But, instead, developed a sophisticated technology and… conquered the entire galaxy!” The characters were amazing, but my obsession laywith Magog, of the Malevilus – most terrible of alien races, so much so that Bradscribe redesigned him and wrote a whole new background story, plus sequels…
“… To me directing the character of Yoda was the most important part of… the whole picture. I had total control – I could make his cheek twitch, his ears droop and so on” – Irvin Kershner.
My very first trip to the cimema came in 1979. with the hugely enjoyable (then) and memorable (even now): The Black Hole. The effects were grand; the music stupendous; and Maximillian was pure evil; but it was the droid: VINcent (voiced by Roddy McDowell) who delivered the most lasting impression.
A year later came the Biggest Phenomenon: The Empire Strikes Back. Initially an endearing comical Muppet, Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) quickly established himself as a powerful and sagacious figure, integral to the plot.
One of the greatest aspects of Star Wars – certainly the one that successfully pitched the idea to 20th Century Fox – was the marvellous production art of Ralph McQuarrie.
Other artists most prolific in the 1970s: Eddie Jones & Peter Andrew Jones have both held prominent places in my life, whether it be in the form of books, posters or postcards.
Finally, one of my favourite comicbook characters was Rom the Spaceknight, an ordinary citizen of Galador, who volunteered to serve in the war against the evil Dire Wraiths. As yet, there are no plans to grant this Marvel stalwart his own movie; this still gives me time to work on a script myself and give him the blockbuster he deserves.
Hope you enjoyed this personal nostalgic journey; here’s to the next twenty Blogs… and beyond!