The Knack Of Scant Prose: Studying The Formula Of First Prize Short Stories

Can Brad Really Win That Short Story Competition After All These Years?! 

“Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves” – Ray Bradbury.

“Writing science fiction,” wrote Ray Bradbury, “is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.”

Winning a short story competition – one of the goals that has always eluded me – cannot, therefore, be impossible.

Having entered various short story competitions, mainly the sci-fi and horror categories – my hopes and expectations were set at exceptionally stratospheric levels, until realizing that my name never even reached the extensive Runners-Up Lists… And so, my tender years – and even more brittle confidence – finally dissuaded me from tackling short story competitions.

However, recentlyBrad Burrito Fartlighter: a decidedly English galactic hero, has shot to blogosphere fame in his very own “Fartlighter Bradventures.” Come on! Where else could you find the awesome – and hopefully hilarious – escapades of a very English spacefaring rogue who digs Mexican grub and cake?! One forthcoming instalment has been set aside – for professional consultation – so studying the art (and history) of the short story has taken up my time this past week. 

The short story originated in the medium that furnished a market for it: magazines. Common belief holds that the first exponent of this format was Edgar Allan Poe. The majority of the short fiction he produced appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger from 1835 onwards. He is regarded as perfecting the art of striking the keynote – by grabbing attention immediately with a sharp opening paragraph, or even just a sharp opening sentence.

At the moment, it looks like my ideas are flowing more reliably than my typing. Once a really groovy story starts to rock, my dexterity begins to roll. All over the place… 

While frantically pummelling the keyboard – apart from getting the ‘e’ and ‘r,’ and ‘a’ and ‘s’ mixed up, my fingers now hit ‘v’ instead of ‘b,’ and bice bersa…

“A first line should open up your rib cage. It should reach in and twist your heart backward. It should suggest that the world will never be the same again” – Colum McCann.  

How – and wheredoes the effective short story begin?

“Start as close to the end as possible,” remarked Kurt Vonnegut, when he included a list of essential tips on How To Write A Short Story in the Introduction to his 1999 collection of magazine stories: Bagombo Snuff Box. He also remarked that: “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.”

Within a certain (limited) word count, how much characterisation can you realistically inject into a “short” story? Fortunately, Fartlighter is gifted with his own band of lovable rogues: “Brad Company” – doing their nabbing-from-the-greedy-to-give-to-the-needy bit across the galaxy; therefore the diversity on display means that a rich and variable range of potential plotlines lie in wait. 

Besides breaking up the text with images and quotes, a standard Bradventure can amount to 2,600 words. Naturally, the more fun you have with creative writing, you will/can (easily) produce greater quantity. The Christmas Special turned out to be such a blast that at over 5,000 words and still TWO pivotal scenes yet to be typed, a major editing job had to be applied. Thus, my inner Poe was invoked: with less words, comes greater impact.

Sharper – and more economical – than a novel, the short story has to be vividly defined. 

Allow no wandering, no superfluous material – heck, prepare to hack without mercy. 

“A short story is not only smaller… not only simpler and more compact, it is single with a more intense concentration. It should work out a single idea; make a single point; close with a single ‘punch’; convey a single effect” – Geoffrey Ashe.   

Unbelievably, what vexes editors and judges the most involves receiving far too many submissions that offer just a situation, NOT a story!

To set my goals straight, these are the Five Components Of A Story that take pride of place in my notes, and what any short story writer should adhere to!

  • A story reveals something about the human condition, or makes a statement about what it means to be human; 
  • A story tests personal character, over and over, to reveal deeper character;
  • A story has subplots that are dramatic and thematic reflections of the journey of the protagonist;
  • A story ends in a different emotional space than where it began;
  • A story is driven by a strong moral component motivating the protagonist through the middle of the story, resulting in dramatically interconnected scene writing;

Perhaps some modern movie-makers should also study this list? 

Although the story may not have anything to say about the human condition, at least the reader should be able to derive some fun, be engaged, (be shocked?) and – above all – be entertained. 

To create a successful story – the One that sets judges’ pulses racing and jaws droppinga writer MUST convey their OWN ideas and style, to the point of remaking language; let the inexecutable unfold!

At least with my Bradventures, my imagination dares to be adventurous! It’s about time those judges experienced what my writing has become! 

Is it not…? 

“The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor,” Vonnegut continued. “She broke practically every one of my rules… Great writers tend to do that.”

Hmm, in order to get ahead, Brad has to break the rules? 

Ha! So what else is new…?! 

“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water… 

“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of…” –  Kurt Vonnegut.

Wish me luck! 

 

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Komikaze!: The Cutting Edge Of Comic Book Culture

Is It Still Possible To Create Original Comics In The Age Of The Comic Book Movie Blockbuster?

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“Where once comics were summarily dismissed as light entertainment for adolescent boys, there are now comics for everyone by everyone. In many ways, there has never been a better time to read comics” – Eric Stephenson.

Konnichiwa, my comic-guzzling friends! 

This past week saw both the 80th Anniversary of The Phantom, the archetype for the costumed comic book superhero (created by Lee Falk), and the record gross for Deadpool, the latest Marvel character to get a solo outing on the big screen. So, a comics-related Post here seemed sorta inevitable.

It’s unbelievable now, but during the 1990s, comics looked to be on the way out.

No, really!

Video games were surging in popularity; an upcoming medium called “the internet” was predicted to transform our leisure time; indie comic stores were struggling to stay in operation: how would/could comic books survive?  

Fast forward to the here and very much geeky now.

More comic book titles than ever before are in regular production. Encouragingly, more original titles than reboots are appearing on the shelves. Movie producers eagerly scan the most popular titles to see what will make the most successful strip-to-screen conversion. 

Fortunately, my first phase of comic book-collecting (198o-1983) occurred at what most people considered the “right age” to immerse oneself in such products. With the emergence of “mature” titles during the 80s, the age range significantly increased. Nowadays, comic books are no longer the province of youths; guys in their 40s – even 50s – scour comic books. And no one bats an eyelid. 

When “analysts” state that it’s a “new kind of culture” they invariably tag on such annoying terms as “more free time” and “disposable income.” They overlook the inescapable truth that if modern twenty-(and thirty!)somethings do have an income, it is too darned miniscule to be disposable! Somehow, though, they are the demographic most likely to have made Deadpool the new record-breaker at the cinema.

“Merc With A Mouth,” eh? 

Well, Brad is a Bunny With A Bushido – ha, TOP THAT, juves!

What The Fiddle-Faddle?!

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“When I was at Marvel and our newsstand comics were on spinner racks that touted them as wholesome entertainment for kids, I wouldn’t allow profanity” – Jim Shooter.

Thankfully, this week saw the most-welcome return of childhood Marvel faves: Power Man and Iron Fist. Especially chortlesome is the ingenious way in which this series gets round the age-old swearing bug, as you can see above!

Perhaps the most heartening trend in this recent comic book popularity resurgence is the remarkable increase of female readers. As such characters as Gwenpool and Squirrel Girl – not to mention Jessica Jones – have clearly demonstrated, yes, it is quite possible to have popular – and original – female-orientated titles. 

Of course, there should be more to comic book creativity than just rad and contentious race/gender switching. As Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson mentioned at ComicsPRO’s AGM last week, the comic book industry is doomed to repeat the same old mistakes that brought Marvel Comics to the brink of bankruptcy twenty years ago:

“We’ve gone back to gimmicks, to variant covers and relaunches and reboots and more of the same old stunts disguised as events, when really all our readers want are good stories.”

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“Mortimer Hill is a veteran officer who has busted his fair share of criminals, but when mechanical monsters start causing trouble he’ll need to use all his wits (and brawn!) to get to the heart of the mystery” – all-comic.com 

Ah, the wonders of Steampunk! 

It’s amazing how this site has not done an appreciation piece about this unique genre much sooner. Trouble was, you could never tell the best place to start.

No worries: The Precinct – published by Dynamite – seems like quite an intriguing prospect worth pursuing. Through one major comics blog, its striking covers have regularly appeared on my Reader these past few weeks. In the sprawling, steampunk metropolis, only the officers of The Precinct can maintain law and order!

With so many new unknown names in the script and art depts these days, it is admittedly difficult to keep tabs on all of them. Some legendary names from yesteryear would be nice…

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“I find most superhero stories completely meaningless… So long as the industry is geared towards… the same brightly coloured characters doing the same thing forever – you’re never going to see any real growth” – Garth Ennis.

‘Allo, what’s this?!

These two names leap out at me – or anyone who savours comic book talent of the highest order. Garth Ennis is an award-winning writer, responsible for DC Vertigo’s The Preacher, and the best issues of Hellblazer (John Constantine’s solo series) during the ’90s; the name of Carlos Ezquerra, meanwhile, will always be synonymous with Strontium Dog, one of the best stories to appear in legendary, ongoing British comic: 2000AD. 

Published by Image Comics, Bloody Mary – “set in a world only slightly worse than our own” –  looks like those far-out comics me and me mates used to dig during school lunchtime. It’s due to hit the stands next week.

Come on! 

Mary Malone, a gun-totin’ nun: surely not your run-of-the-mill fiddle-faddle?!  

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“Home. It feels so good to be back… I left a monarch. Yet I return naked, alone… Hungry. Weakened, I clutch a passing dream…” – The Sandman. 

If anything, my second phase of comic book-collecting (1989-1994) was motivated primarily by the release of Neil Gaiman’s classic, game-changing title: The Sandman: Master of Dreams. Alternating between enchanting and unsettling, but always inspirational, this title – along with Swamp Thing and Hellblazer – helped establish a darker, more mature, more sophisticated side to the medium.

To celebrate its 25th Anniversary, Gaiman agreed to return to his outstanding realm of dreams. That classic premier issue (dated January 1989) told how, in 1916, a British magician: Roderick Burgess intended to entrap Death, but instead caught Dream, her little brother. Sandman: Overture is a Prequel, chronicling the events that led to this complicated member of the Endless getting into that predicament. 

Originally released in 2013 as a six-part miniseries, with particularly sumptuous artwork by J. H. Williams III, it was published as a complete graphic novel just in time for this Christmas just gone.

It would take a real sourpuss knick-knack-paddy-whack not to be impressed by this!

Couldn’t let you go without slipping in just one page of awesomeness: 

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As you can see from the striking image above, it is imperative that this mesmerising book gets – by hook or by crook – into my collection. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman really is the pinnacle of graphic magic.

Any Collector would want it to grace their shelves, because – quite simply – it is:

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“In Thy Future” Challenge: 5 Things That Need To Be Done

Share 5 Things About My Future. Well, Had No Idea Last Week That This Was Going To Happen…

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“Look, I am not stupid you know. They cannot make things like that yet… Are you saying it’s from the future?” – Sarah Connor. 

Having studied/worked as a historian, the past seemed – somehow, comfortingly – more certain, less daunting, yet always reassuring. Reviving my passion for sci-fi through this blog has helped confront that unfathomable and intangible “future”; now comes this challenge (gleefully accepted): 

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Rules for the In Thy Future Challenge:

• Thank the blogger who nominated you.
• Link back to the challenge creator to track progress.
• Share 5 things about your future.  Then one day you can look back and find out how psychic you really are.
• Tag 5 bloggers and put them up to the challenge.

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Danica Piche @ Leading a Beautiful Life – nominated me for this Challenge.  Thank you, Danica!

5 Things About My Future:

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“You should see what he can do” – Rogue.  

1. Get that novel finished. Obviously. And then write some more fiction. 

Yes, yes! This well-meaning intention has been announced/noted several times in this household – during this past year alone – to the point that Mrs. B no longer believes it. But hey, the ideas, enthusiasm and typing sessions generated over these past few weeks through my latest Brother Brad creation, have been fantastic.

Beforehand, there was a SF mega-opus coming along, but far too slowly. This project, on the other hand, is a different, more satisfying prospect – have not felt so good about writing fiction in a long time. Actually, working via WordPress rather than Word Document has actually sparked a more encouraging creative process.

If you are interested in Following this project as it comes to fruition, you can check out this site. Moreover, there are plenty of awesome ideas to stretch this concept into a series.

ETA: Volume 1 in the stores by Christmas!

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“I’ve seen much of the rest of the world. It is brutal and cruel and dark. Rome is the light” – Maximus Decimus Meridius. 

2. Visit Rome.

“Yet you have never been there!” as Marcus Aurelius constantly – irritatingly – reminds me. Ciao! Talk about a radical departure from what usually appears on these Posts, this remains a long-standing Thing To Do. 

Finally got the chance to study Ancient Roman History at universityHowever, having no physical connection to the metropolis once considered the centre of the world, it was not easy to get to grips with my studies. After the degree came a great travel option: Europe or Southeast Asia. The latter was selected; my life advanced to a higher, more enjoyable, level, although one part of me wonders what fortune the former option could have presented…

Mi dispiace, goodness knows when this visit will happen.

Cosi e la vita, bebe…

ETA: Who knows? Summer 2016 perhaps, or 2017? 

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“With his fertile imagination, his wit, and his prolific output, Isaac Asimov truly laid the Foundation for all future generations of science fiction writers” – Kevin J. Anderson. 

3. Swot up on some essential science fiction classics.

Compiling my own sci-fi Posts, this would seem like a mandatory pursuit anyway. However, due to the unavailability of such classics – and work commitments, of course – this aim is not as easy as it sounds. 

Honestly, how can you accept me as a sci-fi blogger if some of the greatest literary works in the SF canon have not been thoroughly scrutinised?!

For example, top of the Essential Classics list comes the Foundation series – revered in some quarters as the greatest SF series ever published – created by the grand master himself: Isaac Asimov. Initially a trilogy – Foundation (1951), Foundation And Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953) – it now consists of six books; confusingly, Prelude to Foundation – the prequel – was the last book in the series to be published (as late as 1986).

ETA: From this November and on through Christmas (subject to availability). 

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“We have sat waiting like this many times before… At night, I can hear the call of my race. They wait for me. Once I join them, we will be forgotten” – Crow.  

4. Resurrect my archery.

Well, it doesn’t get any more ironic than this. There is a future for this ancient noble art in my life. Brad The Bowman: sounds kinda cool, huh? Not such an idle fantasy as it sounds…

Gawping at Crow, the Elvin bowman (the only highlight of ultra-cheap British fantasy flick: Hawk The Slayer) and the early ’80s Robin Hood TV series both proved to be lasting influences. This led me to sign up for an Archery Group at a fab holiday camp during junior school. Wow, talk about being a natural bowman – it was as if this mild-mannered moppet had been a Merry Man in a former life…

Unfortunately, there’s never been another chance to strap a quiver on me back ever since. My bow-draw-muscles are getting a tad flabby; yet my goatee is ripe and my Green Arrow costume gathers dust in the spare wardrobe.

So, put my name down for the next Archery Contest before my elvin skills set packs up completely; what say you?! 

ETA: The sooner the better…

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“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads” – Doc. Emmett Brown.  

Last but not least…

5. Secure a copy of Back To The Future 2 and watch it on October 21 2015.

Aim to have a rollicking laugh at how hopelessly wrong their vision of our future turned out to be! This average sequel should also be regarded as a serious lesson about how futile it is to try and predict such things like the onset of hoverboards. 

It’s best to end on such a relatively simple task, as long as the download technology does not let me down…

ETA: October 21 2015. About teatime.

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“Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today” – Phil Connors.  

This may seem like such a daunting challenge, but – trust me – this provides an ideal opp to sort out what you need/want to do. 

So, the delightful nominees are: 

Hope you are up for the challenge – good luck!

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Wouldn’t it be thrilling to visit our future self, look them in the eye and ask: “Well, did you manage it?” 

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Cheers!

Dabbling In The Dark Side: The Bane of Brother BradFail

There is a fascinating world inside your head waiting to be discovered, but don’t stray from the path…

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“Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for” – Ray Bradbury. 

By all that’s sacred! How is this possible?!

For those of you wondering how my Posts get to be so awesome, spare a thought then – by gad! let the shocking truth shine forth here – my fiction (scripts, novels and short stories) has really stalled these past few weeks, despite sporadic sessions of fruitless keyboard pummeling.My cognitive faculties have worked wonders with my blogs, but the other stuff? Just one resounding meh…

Concentrating on any writing project during this time – other than these blogs – has proved to be such a chore. Fortuitously, you will be spared the personal gripes of a forlorn Freelancer – thankfully, this is not that kind of blog, but at least my overworked and under-appreciated noddle has been spared the full brunt of despair… for now.

Yet there must be an easy way out – and still have your limbs, bank balance and sanity intact, but by what desperate-bordering-on-devilish means can this be achieved…

…without succumbing to your own Dark Side? 

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People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls” – Carl Gustav Jung.

Of course, the most prevalent view of a “dark side” is synonymous with the Force, that “moral, philosophical, metaphorical and psychic concept” from the Star Wars Universe. 

Carl Jung analysed this “part of us we like to keep hidden from public view,” only back then (c. 1907) he referred to it as “the shadow self” – that deep and dormant part of our personality wherein lie all our negative and destructive emotions. So, does my shadow self produce better fiction?

While languishing in the shadows of the blogosphere, let me assure you that there will be NO resort to evil ways to achieve greater success. Some comfort can be gleaned from the fact that now – more than ever – there is nothing like science fiction to confront and help ease the pressures of modern life.

Our favourite genre has sought to conquer our fears, and dared to tackle those terribly vexing existential questions that have stumped humankind for aeons such as: why are we here? Are we alone in the universe? Are we humans or replicants? What would our alternate self be doing in a parallel dimension? If you unscrew your navel will your bum fall off?  

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“My evil self is at that door, and I have no power to stop it!” – Dr. Edward Morbius.

Within the elementary basis of the subconscious mind resides the “Id” – a concept first explored by Sigmund Freud in: “The Ego and the Id,” originally published in 1927. He described it as “the unevolved instinctive part of our brain, responsible for the urges and desires we try to repress.” 

In Forbidden Planet (1956), this theme was explored to (then) spectacular Technicolor glory. On Altair IV, Dr Edward Morbius was terrorised by a frightening yet imperceptible entity, which (spoiler ahoy!) just happened to be the manifestation of anxieties from his own subconscious.

Fortunately, my frightful inner daemons have been ably suppressed… until now, at least. Get thee gone, Darth Plagiarism!

At the moment, spending my days wandering and meditating in a hooded habit, when not blogging – writing is a lone (not lonely) profession/pursuit. Quitting has never been an option – ha! don’t even know the meaning of the word – and, rest assured, Brad ain’t gonna start now! Bravado, Resilience, Aptitude, Determination – hell, that’s what Brad stands for!

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Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill. 

Aah… what a marvelous sunrise! Sit back. Relax! Deep breaths… It is this kind of serene vista (photo taken yards from my home sweet home) – which helps soothe the soul, but gazing longingly at it won’t get my work done! Over the course of the next few Posts, you might get to see some of my attempts at fiction, but there will be insights into crafting cool dialogue, and character development – watch this space!

Cinematic SF generally may seem to be locked in a downward spiral, beset with turgid maze-running and snow-piercing, and addled with drab Divergent-this and Insurgent-that. Having toiled and tussled in trying to develop difficult scripts, it’s easy to see how a lot of modern scripts just don’t work, but it is still annoying to think that my writing/editing services are NEVER called upon.

For the moment, this writer will carry on to the best of his abilities… within legal parameters of course. Whilst endeavouring to resist the temptation to traipse down the dark path, an article in one writing magazine recently discussed how evil is a matter of perspective, and it would bode well for any writer to embrace their dark side (once in a while). 

Who knows? Maybe it’s a wonderland teeming with free nachos and choc-chip cookies…

Perhaps my bland brown habit should be ditched in favour of a dynamic black robe…

“Evil is intriguing,” the article exclaimed. “Evil is good.”

Hmmm…

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Cheers!

Archaic Scope of Future Thrills: How SF Used To Be

Posted: 28 July 2014

 

A bold and dynamic feminine image (which, alas, was all-too-rare during the pulp era)
A bold and dynamic feminine image (which, alas, was all-too-rare during the pulp era)

“There were often strong elements of adventure and romance in… very early SF works… many of which are now considered classics of fiction” – Alex Davis.

Many moons ago, beyond the realms of credible science, and at the far reaches of the publishing world, the phenomenon of science fiction pulp magazines emerged. Briefly curtailed by World War II and the crippling paper shortages that came with it, a new wave of pulp SF titles hit newsstands during the late 1940s, and flourished throughout the 1950s.

While engrossed in the short stories of the 80s and space art of the 70s, my formative SF years were enriched by these magazines of the 50s. Initially captivated by their fabulous cover art, there was something quite charming about the colourful depictions of these space adventurers (both guys and gals) in what looked like goldfish bowls over their heads!

The first, most notable, American writer to contribute to SF magazines was Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose outlandish adventures of John Carter of Mars, became the first to introduce the concept of aliens as characters in their own right, although its legacy has been somewhat diminished lately in modern reviews which complain that “his powers of invention desert him when it comes to plots, which are of a roughneck variety.” 

One of the first vintage SF covers in my collection
One of the first vintage SF covers in my collection

“Magazine SF provided intense pleasure for those who were insensitive to its literary shortcomings. It was hastily written for the most part… it was the emphasis on plot at the expense of character and scene” – Brian W. Aldiss.

For all its detractors, who insisted that pulp science fiction seemed too hackneyed, poorly plotted and devoid of characterisation (did the iconic cover artwork serve to detract from these supposed inadequacies?), there is a strong argument to suggest that the pulp era helped launch the careers of some of the most revered names synonymous with Classic SF. To give just brief examples, 1952 saw the first publications of work by Philip K. Dick and Frank Herbert, Kurt Vonnegut in 1953, and Brian Aldiss and Roger Zelazny in 1954.

One typical edition of these crudely manufactured magazines could contain one or two novelettes,  and (at least) half a dozen short stories, and it was up to the overworked and underpaid cover artist to devise a single irresistible image to sell the whole package. They were produced at minimal production and distribution rates and printed on the cheapest medium available: pulp-wood paper – hence the term: “Pulp Fiction.”

The garish style of those scintillating spaceships and bug-eyed beasties were very much of their time, matched in certain instances by the archaic scope of weird and wonderful writing spawled across its flimsy pages.

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^ A couple of pulp magazines featuring the work of Ray Bradbury.

 

“When I was seven or eight years old, I began to read the science-fiction magazines… Hugo Gernsback was publishing ‘Amazing Stories,’ with vivid, appallingly imaginative cover paintings that fed my hungry imagination” – Ray Bradbury.

Fortunately for the benefit of 1950s SF, the late, great Ray Bradbury had been heavily influenced – not surprisingly – by obtaining copies of pulp magazines from guests who stayed at his grandparents’ boarding house in Illinois. One of my cultural pursuits involved trying to track down copies of these magazines, but the poor quality which bedevilled this charming sub-genre meant that most issues have long since perished.

When one of the market leaders: Astounding Magazine changed its name to Analog in October 1960, it seemed like one classic period gave way to another – a fitting point at which to end this Post.

It seems a bitter irony that in order to preserve the memory of these ancient mags, we have to resort to uploading them onto the internet, the vanguard of ubiquitous modern technology. Emerging from my “virtual cocoon” (enjoying endless reams of long-forgotten works of SF art online,) it is disheartening to see that the wretched likes of Transformers are still playing to unbelievably packed multiplexes.

The way in which SF is enjoyed has dramatically shifted from books and magazines to movies and video games. While some may say that a more sophisticated, character-driven breed of fiction has emerged, others would argue that the traditional and cerebral literary form of the genre has been replaced by less imaginative visual representations produced with banal digital animation.

What do you think?

 

 

The Rough Guide to Dystopia

Posted: 7 June 2014

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“We shall shortly be landing in Dystopia. Please fasten your seatbelts and put your seats back in the upright position, thank you”  

One of the most enduring subgenres of modern SF is Dystopia. The definition refers to a bleak future while the name itself is derived from a classical past, i.e. Ancient Greece. “Topos” is place, while “dis” is bad – thus, we are alluding to a “bad place” (as opposed to a “utopia” which is a good place).  One of the solutions to avoid an impending dystopia – as divulged in countless SF tales – is an evacuation from Earth to colonise a planet compatible with ours.

Among the leading proponents of this view include: The Space Merchants (1953) by Frederik Pohl and Foundation (1951) and End of Eternity (1955), both by Isaac Asimov. On the big screen, this idea was last used in Oblivion.

The main problem with dystopian movies now concerns not only their monotonous rate of production, but their contents have lost their shock value; with mass unemployment, debt, climate change and a whole host of other assorted crises, Dystopia is a fast encroaching reality.

The Dystopia is already upon us
The Dystopia is already upon us

“Few writers can take much satisfaction in unrelenting pessimism, and only the most embittered have been content to paint the future utterly black… but many people have tried to map escape-routes from Dystopia” – Brian Stableford.  

One cannot help but be reminded of the scene in Blade Runner (1982) where skyships blurt out: “the chance to start again” with “opportunity and adventure.” That sounds even more tempting now; stop the world, this bunny wants to escape to those “Off-World Colonies”Eerily enough, we’re only five years shy of the date in which Syd Mead’s rain-soaked neon-lit futurescape is brilliantly realised; and we can see with the utmost dread that this Dystopia (once as far-off as it was doom-laden) looks too darned accurate.

Another way to avoid a dystopian outcome would be to forsake modern technology and all the addictive urges which it creates. You’re telling me! Having to deal with superslow and unreliable software has undoubtedly been the bane of my work, as of late, and the reason why this particular Post was not published last Friday. Grrrr…   

Yet during the post-war regeneration, the acceleration of technology was greeted by social analysts as one of the factors in attaining a better life. This might be the case for the majority of the now-gen who seemingly cannot exist without a smartphone, but for this older hack, the urge to lob this laptop outta the window appeals… 

Donald Sutherland: "I have huge admiration for President Snow" Do you embrace the dystopian vision as well, Mr S?
Donald Sutherland: “I have huge admiration for President Snow” Do you embrace the dystopian vision as well, Mr S?

“… If you take from it what I hope you will take from it, it will make you think a little more pungently about the political environment you live in and not be complacent” – Donald Sutherland (on The Hunger Games).  

A Post on this particular subject would not be complete without mentioning the phenomenal success of The Hunger Games. As Followers of this Blog will know, (part of) this movie was viewed only during a long-distance flight and it did not make for pleasant viewing. Once past the utterly absurd and pessimistic premise, the turgid script and the lame lead actors detracted my attention; left glum and disenchanted, the Off button has rarely felt so good. All circus, and no bread.

At first glance, it seems perplexing as to how and why so many teens embrace this stuff. Actually, the concept of brutal factionalised worlds governed by authoritarian entities is basically high school, opined one critic. The mash of Dystopia and oppressed younglings has been a literary combination, long before it became a twinkle in Suzanne Collins’ eye.

Donald Sutherland, the veteran star who played President Coriolanus Snow, described in one article as “a tyrant’s tyrant, with basilisk malevolence,”  viewed The Hunger Games as essentially politically allegorical, offering a “coded commentary” on inequality, power and hope.

In conclusion, despite the fast and frenetic rate of technological development, instead of creating a greater, more fulfilling, society, we suddenly find ourselves nestled in the glum dystopia of our own misguided making.   

That’s enough depressing futures for now – a preferable alternative would be to spend the rest of the evening on Youtube watching cute bunnies falling over.

Goodnight, sleep tight.

For now, "but they'll be back and in greater numbers..."
For now, “but they’ll be back and in greater numbers…”

“No Charge For Awesomeness!”: My Top 20 Icons of Science Fiction

Posted: 23 May 2014.

One of those classic sci-fi magazine covers
One of those classic sci-fi magazine covers

“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.

 

Exeter (seated): one of best characters from the 1950s
THIS ISLAND EARTH: Exeter (seated): one of the best characters from the 1950s

“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.

The Martian Chronicles (1950): How did Bradbury conjure something so bizarre, & yet so compelling?
The Martian Chronicles (1950): How did Bradbury conjure something so bizarre, & yet so compelling?

“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.

Suave, sophisticated Scaroth (from The City of Death 1979)
Suave, sophisticated Scaroth (from The City of Death 1979)

“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…

yoda

“… 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!

Cheers!