Sunday, December 27, 2020

NUKE ME SLOWLY—Stealth Science Fiction Films: If it’s a realistic depiction of the End of the World, it’s probably science fiction [PART THREE of THREE]

As we end this three-part series (Part One HERE; Part Two HERE), we also look at the end of the world. Kind of timely with the end of the year…and a plague sweeping the land…

If a movie has an atomic bomb explode, and mutants appear, everyone knows the film is science fiction. But if a film has generals and soldiers trying to stop an atomic war, whether they succeed or fail, if the film stays in the realm of the realistic, viewers hardly consider it SF. But it is! (Especially if a doomsday machine is somehow involved…)

Monday, December 21, 2020

The LENTIL SOUP RECIPE: Actually Lentil-Cabbage Soup, with Kielbasa on the Side (Although it could all really be about cabbage…)

My delicious lentil cabbage kielbasa soup!

During the Spanish Civil War, the members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who were taken prisoner of war were fed only lentil beans. When many of them got home, they swore they would never touch lentil beans again. 

But we’re talking almost one hundred years ago, and some things have changed….

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Fave Sci-Fi Mass-Market Paperback Covers


My love of mass-market paperbacks is strong, and they are my preferred delivery system for literature. I love the books' size, and their covers tend to trend on the lurid or psychedelic, especially with the New Wave Science Fiction I love so much. These books tend to be difficult to synopsize easily, and would often get themselves Yves Tanguy-style paintings. 

I thought I'd share some with you; they've been on my mind a lot, and I have been going to them for inspiration. 

Enjoy (continue past break)

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Stealth Science Fiction Movies Two: Electric Boogaloo (Will That Joke Ever Get Old? Never!): SF Movies That People Don’t Think of Immediately as SF Movies Because There Aren’t Any Kilbots or Xenomorphs or Wormholes or… [PART TWO of THREE]

Ivan in the Infinity Room:
science fiction has taken over real life.

This concept of mine was covered more in-depth last time, but in a nutshell, there is a notion in film appreciation that hasn’t been identified, or at least labeled and codified yet, what I call the
Stealth Science Fiction Film.

Some flicks, the minute you eyeball ’em, you know they’re sci-fi. Alien planets, or monsters, or intergalactic space federations. It’s obvious, whether the flick is high-brow (Arrival) or low-brow (Galaxy of Terror).

Others, not so much… It has to be pointed out that they are science fiction…. Last time, I noted how certain movies strongly avoided the SF label, as that was considered by the “cognoscenti” to be juvenile or indicative of base frivolity, and if you were making a serious dramatic film and wanted to be taken sincerely, letting your movie get called sci-fi might not actually help.

Last time we looked at these Stealth Sci-Fi Flicks:

Earthquake (1974)
Dr. No (1962)
The President’s Analyst (1967)
The China Syndrome (1979)
Seconds (1966)

Today, it will be a much more eclectic group, dealing less with the technocratic status quo and its disruptions—and how those disruptions are dealt with by agents of/within those systems (as all of the last entry’s film dealt with to some extent),

This is what Consensus Reality
is all about...

and more with lonely outsiders and how they must deal with the pressures from The Normals and their damnable, vicious Consensus Reality….

Each of this entry’s films is a stand-out, and all are quite political in their own ways. They are all worth seeing if you still haven’t yet.

The movies on today’s list haven’t avoided the SF label so much, as, if anything, they have been mislabeled, or simply overlooked as to belonging to the genre.

In alphabetical order:

Carrie (1976)
The Man in the White Suit (1951)
Punishment Park (1971)
Repo Man (1984)

*[Yeah, yeah, yeah… SPOILERS, dude.]*

Monday, November 9, 2020

Stealth Science Fiction Movies: SF Movies That People Don’t Think of Immediately as SF Movies Because There Aren’t Aliens or Flying Saucers or Robots or…[PART ONE of THREE]



Earthquake (1974)

Dr. No (1962)

The President’s Analyst (1967)

The China Syndrome (1979)

Seconds (1966)

A concept in film critiquing that I have not noticed as being identified, or at least labeled and codified yet, is what I call the Stealth Science Fiction Film.

If it brings to mind the Stealth fighter and bomber planes of the USAF, good: Those aircraft can sneak up on you without you ever knowing it, and seem to derive more from science fiction than plain old aerodynamics.

These are the films that when they are, say, mentioned in a conversation, don’t immediately leap to mind as science fiction (or “sci-fi” or “SF”).

Monday, October 19, 2020

These Aren’t the Droids You Are Looking for: a review of “Raised by Wolves” (2020)

Raised by Wolves: Season One (2020; ten episodes; created by Aaron Guzikowski; co-executive producer and occasional director: Ridley Scott)

God, I hate these mystery-puzzle-box TV shows! Lost did it, The X-Files wound up doing it, far too many shows have done this!

And now, Raised by Wolves is doing it—after introducing itself as a freebie on YouTube, coming on like a filmed version of a New Wave science fiction book from the late-1960s/early-1970s, something that may have been written by a Robert Silverberg, Samuel Delaney, or Norman Spinrad, or perhaps by authors more on the “fringe,” like Arthur Byron Cover or Chester Anderson....
But it ends like “We Need to Talk About Kevin, Our Hideous Serpent-Leech Metaphor-Monster.”

Such a fucking mess…. (In fact, one commenter at the AV Club called the show “Lost… in space”—a witticism too good not to share!)

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Kolchak’s Flying Saucer: In Praise of an Oft-Maligned Episode of "The Night Stalker"

“Kolchak is why I got into journalism,” –Peter L., journalist/writer/bon vivant

Back in the autumn of 1974, the American Broadcasting Company (then, as now, Channel 7 in NYC) did me a real solid. On Friday nights, ABC had scheduled The Six Million Dollar Man at 8pm; Kung Fu with David Carradine at 9pm; and then at 10pm, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. It was nerd heaven!

Being allowed to stay up to see these shows was special—until 1975, my bedtime was 7:30pm! It would be summertime, I’d be lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, and the sun would still be up, shining bright, and there would be kids screaming in the streets. (I discovered that counting sheep doesn’t work; I imagine a long corridor that is never-ending….) But these shows were on a Friday night, and they were “special:” Genre TV wasn’t as prevalent as it is now—it was quite catch as catch can. And the parental units, themselves of nerdish persuasion, understood. Besides, mom, it’s Friday, and there’s no school on Saturday!

At 10 p.m. EST, Friday, September 27, 1974, the now-considered-a-cult-classic TV show, the horror-themed Kolchak: The Night Stalker, premiered its third episode as an hour-long program: a UFO-centered show titled, “They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be… 

The episode’s title was inspired by lines from H.P. Lovecraft’s 1928 story “The Dunwich Horror.” {read it HERE for free!} In it, Lovecraft writes, 
“The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them. They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen.”

Other segments from the show are more frightening (like “The Horror in the Heights”—written by Hammer Horror vet Jimmy Sangster, probably the best of the series’ 20 episodes), and to many “They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be…”  is a mess.

But I find this episode a thought-provoking low-budget B-movie mélange of neo-noir (an honest reporter in a corrupt town dealing with a cover-up), Lovecraftian elements (the inexplicable cosmic horror of an invisible alien who sucks out our bone marrow—Ewww!), and UFO/conspiracy lore (aliens, contactees, secretive government agencies, “the Men in Black”).

(And if “mélange” is too highbrow for some, perhaps “mish-mash,” if we want to be egalitarian?)

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Grey That Hid in Plain Sight, or: My Alien Doll

Long story short: About a million years ago, I had a doll that looked like an Alien Grey (see pic above)—but was it really just a doll? Or something else, something more nefarious?

Knowing not to mess with a demonic (or at least potentially demonic) doll is just something all humans know a priori via our collective unconsciousness—that is, you don’t necessarily need to have experienced the trouble a demonic (or demon-possessed) doll can throw into your life—you are not just sussing it out, you are not just sensing it. You KNOW it. That spooky doll is staring at you, plunging you into the uncanny valley, and you KNOW it is bad news….

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Comedy, As Black & Cold As Space (a look back at the novelization of “Dark Star” (1974))


Dark Star by Alan Dean Foster, adapted from a script by Dan O’Bannon & John Carpenter

First printing/Ballantine Books: October 1974 ($1.25)
Third printing/Del Rey-Ballantine: October 1978 ($1.75)

The intelligentsia have always sneered at mass-market paperback novelizations of popular Hollywood movies (and even more when those read-‘n’-toss books routinely ended up on the NY Times bestseller lists), and perhaps understandably so.

But the novelizations (or box-office tie-in/reprints)—

Star Wars, Logan’s Run, Alien, First Blood, The Black Hole, I Am Legend (The Omega Man), 2001: A Space Odyssey, Make Room! Make Room! (Soylent Green), Jaws (and its sequels), The Island, not to mention Planet of the Apes, the 1970s Battlestar: Galactica, or Star Trek tie-ins—

These (along with comic books) were what really got me interested in reading when I was a kid, so I don’t look down my nose at them. What? You think I found out about Heart of Darkness through one of my teachers? Ha! Apocalypse Now pointed me in the direction of Joseph Conrad (and back in the day, the book fair paperback Heart of Darkness had a sticker affixed to it proclaiming paternity of the film).

These movie/TV tie-ins helped me, and I recognize that—and I am absolutely certain, this sort of media cross-pollination can assist students—I have seen it happen in my own classrooms!

And, So…
(about five or six years before I ever got around to seeing the film itself—
and then it was a 16mm projection in a side-room at a Star Trek convention) probably the first movie novelization I read was Alan Dean Foster’s adaptation of Carpenter & O’Bannon’s cult classic, the black comedy Dark Star.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Earth With A Capital “E”—Be Proud of Your Planet!

Gripin’ ’Bout Grammar—#1 in a Never-ending Series

Today, we are looking at how the English language abuses our planet.

Lt. Col. Ed White, US astronaut. in orbit
above the Earth. When I was a kid,
this poster hung on my wall.
English is the youngest language on Earth (and that’s with a capital “E”—more on this in a second), and with the exception of made-up languages like Esperanto or Ubi-Dubbi, is perhaps the craziest, most confounding and contradictory language on Earth, as well.

Sure, Mandarin Chinese or Arabic or Basque (which is the closet language on Earth to Martian--being of Basque heritage, I can make that joke) are very difficult to learn, with eccentricities regarding pronunciation and so on, but nearly all non-English-as-a-first-language speakers that I have taught have confirmed that it’s English’s multitude of homophones and its non-standardization (its vs. it’s—but “apostrophe-s” is usually possessive, right? This is one native speakers of English still have trouble with) that really drive English language learners nuts.

Because it’s the youngest language on Earth, the English language is still figuring things out.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Uncle Stalin’s a Satanic Sorcerer! (Or: Tyler Stalin’s Projekt нанесение увечья!)

To choose one’s victims, to prepare one’s plan minutely, to slake an implacable vengeance, and then to go to bed… There is nothing sweeter in the world.

Oh, Uncle Joe… (swoon!)

A recommendation! The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin by Richard Lourie (1999) I’ve ranted about it to friends, colleagues, and relatives—now it’s YOUR turn!
Here’s my “rave” copy-blurb for the back of the mass-market paperback edition (that will never be printed):

—A nihilistic former seminary student rebelling against EVERYTHING becomes a bank robber—and later uses his gangster skills to get to the very top of the blood-drenched New Revolutionary Russia!

Colin Wilson + James Ellroy + Chuck Palahniuk ÷ Early-Twentieth Century History = THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JOSEPH STALIN!

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Tsundoku No More (or: “Reading Is Fun For Mentals!”)

This is all about having too many books in your collection….
In high school, Mr. Hayden, our intense, fascinating, essentially humorless, mean, and sometimes vindictive English teacher (and D-Day veteran), was really into drilling us with what he called “Spot Quotes.”
Mr. Hayden teaching us about
the Great Old Ones
It was a rote memorization technique (probably frowned on now by progressive pedagogical types—I’ll save my gripes about the modern education system for some other time…), but the famous and essential quotes from English-language literature were hammered into our heads. Yeah, yeah, yeah, lots of dead white guys, but it was the early-1980s. I think Mr. Hayden was right: You want to sound smart? Drop a famous (or infamous) quote from classic literature—

“…full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing….”
“I am his Highness’s dog at Kew/Pray tell me, Sir, whose dog are you?”
“To a green thought in a green shade….”
“Tyger, Tyger, burning bright…”
“Look upon my works ye mighty, and despair!”
“I’ll burn my books!”

Wait—huh? What was that last one? “I’ll burn my books!”? How can that be a famous quote? Is it from a revised Fahrenheit 451, where Montag recants, and rejoins the Fire Department? And what does it have to do with me owning too many books?

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Weird Science (Fiction on My Shelves)—More Summer Reading Recommendations!

Okay, so the Steve Ditko-illustration of happy guy in the easy chair meeting an alien? I’m featuring that illo because he’s reading!
he book in the man’s lap may not be a mass-market paperback,
but you could interpret the space creature as a symbolic representation
of the Spirit of Science Fiction Itself, coming to “take the Earthman away….”

Oh, happy day!

MORE Summer Reading Recommendations! With the PERSONAL seal of approval! Yep, I vouch for these books!
Summer’s Here!
Some summertime SF reading recommendations—
Five Five-Star Should-Be-If-They’re-Not-Already CLASSICS. (And that should be pronounced “KEY-Lass-IX!”)

In Order of Recommendation:
The Book of Skulls (1972) by Robert Silverberg
Farewell, Horizontal (1989) by K.W. Jeter
The Goblin Reservation (1968) by Clifford D. Simak
Jack of Shadows (1971) by Roger Zelazny
Lord Tyger (1970) by Philip Jose Farmer

Friday, May 29, 2020

“Real Men Eat Whatever They Goddamn Want!”: Making Salmon & Mozzarella & Asparagus Quiche (and Eating It, Too!)

Is that an asparagus sigil I’ve placed into the top of my quiche? Bwah-hah-HAH!

 In 1982, humorist Bruce Feirstein published Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche—Reagan-era, populist anti-intellectual humor.
Even as a kid, I thought, “To heck with you; real men eat whatever they goddamn want!”

And I was a kid who ate cereal for dinner, and hamburgers for breakfast.
So there.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

My STAR WARS Day (1977)

The line for You-Know-What outside
the Loew's Astor Plaza, circa 1977
It was 43 years ago today—on the afternoon of Saturday, May 28, 1977—that I saw the movie that changed everything.
Really, everything: I even believe that the film was partially responsible for getting Reagan elected… (but that’s an unsubstantiated theory for another day).

It had opened in NYC earlier that week—on Wednesday, May 25—at only a handful of theaters, none in Brooklyn, I recall (or else we would have seen it there).
We had arrived at the Loew’s Astor Plaza (now gone, sort of), right off Times Square, at 11:30am, but they were only selling tix for 4pm. Shrug, we got no choice.
Holy moly! There was a line that stretched around the block, all the way around the four corners and back again! The theater across the street showing The Car was deserted. Tumbleweeds.

In Loew’s, the excitement was palpable. The theater was a’buzzin’! We’d scored decent seats in the smoking section (and there were already slight whiffs of something other than tobacco already in the air), and the lights went down. No trailers, just the extended 20th Century Fox fanfare (a sign of quality!), those clean graphics in that groovy blue font in silence (build the tension), WHAM—

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Short Story Long About Meeting Mike Mignola (and “Hellboy”)

Before the release of the first Hellboy movie, Mike Mignola came to NYC in April 2004 to do a signing/promo-tour at St. Mark’s Comics—
but the store had forgotten to publicize the event! I was the only person there—and I had never even read the comic before!

I had no idea who the guy was but took pity and started a conversation with Mike Mignola. He was gracious and kind, and very willing to promote his creation. I asked him which graphic novel a neophyte should start with, and he recommended The Chained Coffin and Others (1998).
I bought it, and asked him to sign it. (See above)
I’ve been a Hellboy fan ever since.
Thanks, Mr. Mignola!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

BACK FROM THE DEAD! (Both Me and Dracula)

“I vant du suck yur blud…”

Dracula! Everybody knows the story—but mainly through the movies (Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Frank Langella’s turn on Broadway for New Yorkers of a certain age) or through comic books (I was a regular reader of the Gene Colan-illustrated Marvel publication The Tomb of Dracula), but how many of you have actually read Bram Stoker’s tome? Not many, right? Well, that’s fine, because, lemme tell ya, as a read, the book Dracula is, for the most part, a snooze—everything is explained and detailed to the Nth degree: “I placed upon my foot a leather covering with laces used to tighten the processed cowhide around said foot called a shoe…” That type of thing—Yawnsville with a capital “Y.”