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Posts Tagged ‘imaginative fiction’

Last week I wrote about how much I appreciate my readers’ generosity, and I got ample proof of it again before the week was out.  On Wednesday I drove into Seattle as I do every three weeks, and I discovered this collection waiting for me (along with Vangelis’ last album) from a reader who often gets me nice things (and the note he included gave me an extra smile).  Then the next day, I published a request for help with travel funds (because the skyrocketing price of fuel and everything else has really exacerbated my typical summer & travel anxieties), and within hours I had received about 70% of what I estimate the trip will cost me.  And let me tell you, there is nothing as good for anxiety as feeling supported and cared for!  As I sit at my desk writing this, there’s a dramatic difference in my emotional balance from when I wrote the request just a week ago; I feel calm and I’m looking forward to the journey, whereas last week I was trying to decide whether to rethink the whole thing.  So thank all of y’all for being so amazing; it’s no exaggeration to say that y’all saved my whole trip.

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Every so often I like to remind my readers and patrons how important your support is to me.  In these uncertain times, it’s really reassuring to know that my writing is important enough to many of you that you choose to do more than simply throw a compliment my way now and again.  For some of you, support takes the form of a subscription, money you send every month to help me pay my bills; in lean times (such as right after tax season) those small amounts add up and keep me in the black.  Others prefer to send me nice things from my Amazon wishlist; I try to keep it populated with lots of things I really want, rather than just expensive trinkets and designer gewgaws.  Take this book a reader (who prefers to remain anonymous) sent me a couple of months ago; it’s a collection of early comic strips from one of the creators of the genre.  It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time, but since it’s out of print I couldn’t justify the rather steep price, but since one of my admirers sent it as a present I could enjoy it without guilt (as I’m currently enjoying the second volume, received from a different reader just last week – you know who you are, and thank you!)  So whether you prefer to send me practical help to put food on the table, or to send “hyacinths to feed my soul”, please know that “appreciation” is far too mild a word to describe my feelings of gratitude to all of y’all.

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As I’ve mentioned before, Star Trek was my first love.  It was the first TV show I appreciated on a level beyond merely watching, the first one that really made me think about things, the first one I cared about enough to actually learn about.  It was also the first one I “collected”; what that meant to me in those pre-home video days was, I asked for a copy of Bjo Trimble’s Star Trek Concordance (yes, the picture is of my copy, which I of course still own) and read it cover to cover, noting which episodes I’d seen and which I hadn’t.  I also collected James Blish’s episode adaptations, and came to know some of the stories in print years before I ever got to see them on the tube.  I knew the show backwards and forwards, and by the time I bought the DVD collections in the Oughts I had probably already seen every episode over a dozen times (and that doesn’t even count the ones I listened to on my TV band radio).  So as you might expect, I tend to recognize actors who were on Star Trek when they appear in other 1960s and ’70s TV shows.  In fact, it’s part of what I enjoy about watching those shows.  I don’t just mean the regular cast, though of course it’s always fun to catch a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits with a pre-Trek Shatner, Nimoy, or Doohan.  No, I mean that when we recently re-watched The Wild, Wild West, at least half of the episodes had an actor or actress who prompted me to say to Grace, “Hey, that’s the girl who played __________ in [episode X].”  And now that we’ve moved on to Mission: Impossible (Trek‘s sister show, produced by Desilu on the next soundstage over), it’s even more so; there are few episodes that don’t have a guest star who appeared on Trek (and I’m not even counting Nimoy’s appearance as a regular in later seasons).  Sometimes it’s more than one, and we recently watched one in which there were no fewer than five.  I don’t really understand why it pleases me so to recognize the faces (or voices); I reckon it’s just the pleasure of familiarity, like going back to one’s home town.  But just in case there was any doubt in your mind about my level of nerdiness, I hope this post has rectified that.

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That was stupid.  –  Chase Bebak-Miller, to his victim

Last week, on my way back from Seattle, I listened to the Little Shop of Horrors soundtrack.  That may have been a mistake because I had a tooth pulled the next day, and I kept giggling because this song kept going through my head.  The links above the video were provided by Mike Siegel, Franklin Harris, Cop Crisis (x3), and Radley Balko, in that order.

From the Archives

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Diary #621

When I arrived at my Seattle apartment on Sunday, I found a package waiting for me from Amazon, courtesy of regular reader & gift-sender Robin Aguilar.  It contained Joe Satriani’s latest disc, plus the DVD of the space vampire movie Lifeforce (1985) and this set of a 1977 TV show most of y’all have probably never heard of.  Those who weren’t born yet then may find it hard to believe, but before the debut of Star Wars that same year, science fiction had been very out of fashion since Star Trek went off the air in 1969.  And in those pre-home video days, that meant often the only science fiction shows available for viewing were Trek reruns and old movies in syndication packages broadast mostly on Saturday afternoons and late at night.  There were certainly a few adventure shows featuring sci-fi elements, such as The Six Million Dollar Man, but new straight-out sci-fi series were rare and generally short-lived.  This one lasted only ten episodes, but I liked it very much and had a bit of a crush on Katie Saylor, a leggy blonde who played the Atlantean woman Liana.  Given that I haven’t seen this show in 45 years, I have no idea how I’ll appreciate it through adult eyes, but thanks to Robin I’m going to have a chance to find out!

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It’s called silly string. It’s silly.  –  Suzanne Johnson

As one who appreciates both Doctor Who and Jacques Brel, I found this extremely funny; I hope you do as well.  The links above it were provided by David Ley, Franklin Harris, Scott Greenfield, Walter Olson, Jesse Walker, and Cop Crisis (x2), in that order.

From the Archives

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This is the conclusion of my series on the classic BBC sci-fi series Blake’s 7, which ran from 1978-81.  The first part appeared the last week of January, and four other installments on the series’ characters and writing followed in successive weeks.

Blake’s 7 was controversial from the very first episode, which featured an unusually-realistic depiction of how totalitarian states deal with dissent; self-appointed Moral Climate Monitor Mary Whitehouse practically had a cow over it.  And the creators didn’t stop there; for four seasons the show’s creators took risks and violated expectations in a way few broadcast TV shows ever dared.  Major characters were depicted in harsh daylight or even killed off, and that included the titular character at the end of season 2; the last episode of season 3, originally planned to be the last, left the remaining crew stranded on a remote planet when their beloved ship, the Liberator, was destroyed.  And when a BBC executive decided to order one more season, the creators seem to have viewed the surprise renewal as permission to color even further outside of the lines, depicting the heroes’ flaws much more clearly and ending the final episode with a bloodbath.  But two episodes earlier than that, “Orbit” had already thrown caution to the winds to produce one of the most realistic and adult episodes of series television ever aired by broadcast.  It was written by Robert Holmes, who is my all-time favorite Doctor Who writer thanks to his gift for characterization.  The basic plot was borrowed from “The Cold Equations“, one of the greatest sci-fi short stories of all time; Holmes, however, does not merely adapt the already-powerful tale, but instead uses it as a vehicle for portraying not one but two abusive relationships.

The story concerns a renegade scientist named Egrorian, who proposes a deal in which he will give his new super-weapon to Avon and Company in exchange for their supercomputer Orac.  The eccentric, narcissistic, treacherous Egrorian has a very elderly assistant named Pinder; the way Egrorian psychologically dominates and physically abuses him is already uncomfortable before we discover the truth: Pinder is only 28, and was prematurely aged due to radiation in an experiment where he was used as a gunea pig. He was a child prodigy who has been in hiding with Egrorian for ten years, and the homoerotic overtones of their interaction, combined with the abuse and Pinder’s being a teenager at the beginning of their relationship, paint a very dark and nasty picture indeed; I suspect the only way it got past the censors was simply that they were too puritanical to grasp what was going on.  But even that pales in comparison with what happens later:  Egrorian has sabotaged the shuttle on which Avon and Vila will return to their ship by hiding a microscopic quantity of super-dense neutronium on board, making the ship too heavy to achieve orbit with the available fuel.  And when they run out of other  things to dump, Avon goes looking for Vila, whose body mass is just over the critical amount they must shed.  Now, Avon does figure out the problem and  jettisons the neutronium instead; however, that does not change the fact that until he does, he is stalking around the ship with a gun, fully intending to murder his crewmate, who only escapes a grisly fate by hiding.  It would be difficult to count the number of unofficial rules of 20th-century broadcast TV drama this story broke; even in a series which had regularly broken rules for four seasons, it was nothing short of shocking.

Those under 40, whose televisual landcape has always included antiheroes, flawed or even criminal protagonists, and morally and factually ambiguous situations, can scarcely grasp how absolutely new, amazing, and even scandalous Blake’s 7 was, and its last season, in which the full humanity of the characters (with all that entails) was laid bare, was like nothing ever before seen on television.  And in its willingness to blow up audience expectations and transgress sharply-drawn boundaries of its time, like nothing since either.

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Diary #610

One of the things that makes going into Seattle worthwhile is knowing that I might have a gift or gifts waiting for me.  My landlord and I have a very good relationship; he shows his appreciation for my being an exemplary tenant by helping me out in little ways, such as keeping an eye out for packages that arrive while I’m gone.  He then texts me to let me know something has arrived and asking what would be a good time to put it inside my apartment.  Of course I don’t usually know what has come in, so there’s a nice surprise on my coffee table when I arrive.  This time, I’m sending a big “Thank you!” to a reader who has enjoyed my Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 reviews who was delighted to discover I’m also a horror fan, and therefore sent me this double CD from my Amazon wishlist (there are still several other horror-movie-related items there, and a set of DVDs of a delightful animated series I loved as a child, but only recently discovered was available).  Plus some more music and other goodies, so there are lots of choices if you’d like to get me something nice, and most of them are quite reasonable.

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Continuing my thoughts on the classic BBC sci-fi series Blake’s 7, which ran from 1978-81.  The first part appeared the last week of January, and three installments on the series’ characters followed in successive weeks.

It’s always interesting to me to think about a creator’s influences; what sci-fi or fantasy books, shows and movies did they find interesting, and how did that affect their own creations?  After the first season of Blake’s 7, the influence of its creator, Terry Nation, seemed to wane while that of script editor Chris Boucher waxed.  Boucher was clearly influenced by Dune, not so much for its specific desert-world setting (though that definitely appears in other Boucher stories such as his Doctor Who serial “The Robots of Death”) as for its portrayal of future colonial societies which have grown away from Earth as they developed, some to the point of even forgetting about their origins (as Leela’s people did in Boucher’s Doctor Who serial “The Face of Evil”).  In the “Blake” universe, there hasn’t quite been enough time for that; by the stated times in several episodes (especially the Robert Holmes-penned “Killer”), the main action seems to take place in the 29th century.  However, in other episodes we meet societies such as that from which crew member Cally came, which seem to have gone though or fallen into a dark age, but were at a much higher level of technology in the past; Boucher’s own “City at the Edge of the World” (a title which I’m sure deeply annoyed Harlan Ellison) entirely revolved around this concept, and the idea infuses a number of other episodes to a greater or lesser degree.  Even the third-season background of Servalan trying to rebuild the splintered Terran Federation after the invasion from Andromeda (which Nation apparently originally conceived of as a war with the Daleks) has its roots in both actual history (“Make The Empire Great Again!” is not a new idea) and the Dune universe, and the entire series’ theme of independent colonies forcibly subdued by a central government with pretenses to some kind of legitimacy in turn influenced later shows like FireflyBoucher also definitely seems to have been influenced by Star Trek, and I don’t just mean in titles such as the aforementioned “City at the Edge of the World”; the plot of “Death-Watch”, for example, bears a striking resemblance to that of the Star Trek episode “A Taste of Armageddon”, though both the particulars and the resolution were very different. That’s not a complaint, BTB; one of the great things about sci-fi IMHO is the way that creators are directly influenced by each other, and openly admit it.  For example, J, Michael Straczynski (whom I believe to have himself been influenced by Blake’s 7) borrowed his Babylon 5 psionic system from the writer Alfred Bester, and acknowledged that by naming a villain (played by an actor borrowed from Star Trek) after him.

Look for more about the series’ writing next week.

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