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“Watch the skies!”: my selection of science fiction to read or watch or listen to… above all to enjoy!

A dalek spacecraft from the film “Daleks’ Invasion of Earth: 2150AD”

Watch…

Things to Come (1936)

The film is based on H G  Wells’s novel The Shape of Things to Come (1933)   in which he imagined a future history of the world, beginning with a world war in 1940 which destroys much of civilisation.  After societal collapse humanity is eventually rescued  by a group of aviators. The film version (which Wells assisted) was  produced by  Alexander Korda, directed by William Cameron Menzies,  and starred Ramond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, Pearl Argyle and Margaretta Scott.

You can watch the film  here. 

You can read Wells’ novel here.

 

The Thing From Another World (1951)

The film was   based on the 1938   novella Who Goes There  by John W Campbell.  An American base in the Arctic discovers something buried in the ice – and someone. The scene in which  the   exploring party members  spread out across the ice  – and realise what they have found is a classic. The film ends with an urgent appeal:  “Watch the Skies!”

You can watch it here.

 

X The Unknown (1957)

An early  Hammer film in which a  prehistoric radioactive substance emerges from out of the earth causing   death and  destruction in its  mindless pursuit of radioactive  sources to feed itself. It was produced by  Anthony Hinds, written by Jiimmy Sangster and directed by Leslie Norman and Jospeh Losey. The cast included Dean Jagger, Leo McKern   and  Edward Chapman –  and a  cameo from youthful  Frasier Hines.

You watch the film here

 

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

One of the best British science fiction films of the 1960s, directed by Val Guest.  Simultaneous nuclear explosions by the USA and USSR send the Earth out its orbit and towards the Sun. Only another explosion may perhaps save the world. The  story is told through the eyes  of Peter Stenning (Edward Judd),   a reporter on the Daily Express. The film  include scenes in the newpsaper’s  offices and also makes extensive use of London locations.

You can watch the film  here.

 

A for Andromeda (1961)

This  series was created  by Fred Hoyle and John Elliot.  The plot involves a radio telescope receiving a signal and data from the direction of the Andromeda galaxy which enables scientists  to create a computer and  then life, a young woman they call Andromeda. But who is she and what is her real mssion?  The cast included Peter Halliday,  Mary Morris, Julie Christie and John Hollis. Sadly only the penultimate  episode “The Face of the Tiger”  has survived in its entirety.

You can watch “The Face of the Tiger” here.

You can read my post on the series here.

 

The Andromeda Breakthrough (1962)

Due to the success of A For Andromeda the BBC quickly commissioned a  six part sequel.  As  the BBC had failed to offer a  Julie Christie in time, the part of Andromeda was  now played by Susan Hampshire. Peter Halliday,  Mary Morris and John Hollis reprised their roles, joined by Claude Farell and Barry Linehan.   You can read my post on the series here.  The first four episodes are available on Daily Motion:

Part 1 Cold Front

Part 2, Gale Warning

Part 3, Azaran Forecast

Part 4, Storm Centres

 

These are the Damned (1963)

A British film directed by Joseph  Losey and starring  Sally Ann Field, Macdonald Casey and Oliver Reed.   Hoilday makers  at the  seaside discover a group of   children hidden away  in  a secret government  bunker who,  owing to  an accident  are resistant to nuclear radiation.

You can watch the film  here.

 

The Stranger (1964, 1965)

An Australian science fiction children’s television series written by G K  Saunders and  produced by ABC. In the middle of a rain storm a stranger arrives on the dootstep of a  family claiming  to have lost his memory. Who is he? Where has he come from ?  What does he really want? The stranger was played by Ron Haddrick who lifts  the series out of the ordinary. He went on to become one of Australia’s  best known actors. The series sold well abroad: I watched it on the BBC  in 1965.

You can watch the series here.

 

UFO (1970)

This live action series c was reated by Sylvia and Gerry   Anderson  (creators of Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet etc). It follows the exploits of a secret organisation called SHADO set up to fight attacks by alien spacecraft. It’s set in 1980 by the way. Odd that the purple wigs never happened.  Only one series of 26 episodes was made.

You can watch the series here.

 

Space 1999 (1975-1977)

A massive explosion on the Moon  sends it out of orbit on 13th September 1999  and on a journey across the galaxy. The inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha  meet a variety of aliens along the way – some friendly, some not, of course. The series was created by Sylvia  and Gerry Anderson. Two series were made.

You can watch series 1 here.

You can watch series 2 here.

 

Children of the Stones (1977)

Astrophysicist Adam Brake (Gareth Thomas)  and his young son Matthew (Peter Demin)  arrive in the small village of Milbury, which is built in the midst of a megalithic stone circle.   Increasingly strange phenomenon are happening,  while  many of the villagers are in thrall to a cult, the “Happy Ones.” The series  was filmed  in Avebury.

You can watch the series  here.

 

The Day of the Triffids (1981)

A  BBC dramatisation of the novel by John Wyndham,  which  is by far  the best version, scripted by Douglas Livingstone. The cast includes John Duttine, Emma Relph and Maurice Colbourne.

Bill Masen is in hospital, having suffered a minor eye injury and awaiting the removal of his bandages. He calls repeatedly, but nobody comes. Plucking up the courage to take off the bandages, and venturing on to the streets of London, he discovers that most of the world has gone blind overnight, apparently after watching a metor shower. Can humanity survive this catastrophe?

Other than updating it to the 1980s the producers sensibly left the plot intact. You can read my post on the novel here.

You can watch the six episodes  as follows

Episodes 1 and 2

Episodes 3 and 4

Episodes 5 and 6.

 

Blakes 7 (1978-1981)

Created by Terry Nation this BBC series  ran for four seasons.  In the far future a group of resistance fighters led by Blake (Gareth Thomas)   and later Avon (Paul Darrow) take on the oprressive Federation. Their chief opponent  is the effortlessly cool and  unfailingly evil Servalan (Jacqueline Peace)

You watch the series here.

 

Quatermass IV (1979)

Often overlooked, the conclusion to the Quatermass series. The four episode  series  was written by Nigel Kneale, of course,  and starred John Mills as Bernard Quatermass.

It is set in a near future in which large numbers of young people are joining a  cult, the Planet People, and gathering at prehistoric sites, believing they will be transported to a better life on another planet. Professor Quatermass arrives  in London to look for his granddaughter, Hettie Carlson, and witnesses  the destruction of two spacecraft and the disappearance of a group of Planet People at a stone circle by an unknown force.

You watch the series here

 

The Lathe of Heaven (1980)

I dream.  You dream. We all dream. Every night. And then forget them. Mostly.  But suppose our dreams came true?  This is the intriguing premise  of Ursula Le Guin’s 1971 novel  which follows the dreams and story of  an ordinary man George Orr  with an ordinary job living in an ordinary flat who has  an extraordinary ability. The Lathe of Heaven was made into a television movie in 1980 by WNET and  starred   Bruce Davison,   Kevin Conway, and Margaret Avery.

You can watch the film here.

You read my post on the novel here.

 

Chocky (1984)

A Thames  television series,  based on John Wyndham’s  last novel,  and written by Anthony Read.  Matthew  is 12 and has an imaginary friend called Chocky  whom he insists is real  to the increasing alarm of his parents. But  just how imaginary is Chocky? The cast includes James Hazeldine, Carol Drinkwater  and Andrw Ellams.

You can watch the series here.

It was followed by two sequels, not based on the book,  but using some  of the the same characters.

Chocky’s  Children  (1985)  which you can watch here

Chocky’s Challenge  (1986) which you can watch here.

 

Listen…

The Time Machine by H G Wells (1895)

One of the novels in the 1890s  in which Wells invented modern science fiction. The story of an unnamed scientist whose   time machine  takes  him far into the distant future, AD 802701.  Here humanity has evolved into the Eloi, childlike creatures who live on fruits and whose simple  life seems idyllic. But this Eden has serpents. The traveller discovers that   in the depths underground there are other, darker, creatures..

The Time Machine was dramatised  on the radion by the BBC in 2009. The cast included Robert Glenister , William Gaunt, Jill Cardo and Dan Starkey.

You can listen to this broadcast here.

 

The War of the Worlds radio broadcast, 1938

On 30th  Ocober 1938 the Mercury Theatre  on the Air made a radio broadcast  on Columbia Radio of the  H G Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1897), adapted  and directed by Orson Welles, who  transferred the story to contemporray USA. After an inital announcement music was played for half an hour until it interrupted by a newsflash announcing that  a projectile had fallen in New Jersey. Then the story is carried forward with a series of dramatic  news bulletins  and  vivid  outside broadcasts describing the Martians emerging from the cylinder and then  using a heat ray.  The first half  of the broadcast ends  with a reporter on a skyscraper  describing  New York being enveloped by black poisonous gas.

Some listeners, who had missed the start of the broadcast,   believed that what they were hearing was real and there was a panic in some parts of the East  Coast, but not as much as the  myths about the broadcast  might have you believe.

You  can listen to the broadcast here.

This  is an article about the broadcast.

 

The Invisible Man by H G Wells  (1897)

The novel begins with a mysterious traveller staying in an Inn  In West Sussex whose  actions  and appearance  increasingly draw suspicion  from the locals. Who is he?  And why does he conceal his face?

You  can listen to a dramatisation  starring John Hurt  here.

 

1984 by George Orwell (1949)

One of the most influential and pessimistic novels of the twentieth century, It is  set in a socialist  England (EngSoc)  (now called Airsrip One)  in which the citizens are  controlled and surveyed at all times  by an all powerful state headed by Big Brother. The Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Plenty, Ministry of Love and Ministry of Truth are the chief organs of the state.  Winston Smith  attempts his own personal revolt. Can he succeed?

It was dramatised for the radio by the BBC in 1965.  The cast included Patrick Troughton. You can listen to this here.

 

The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham (1953)

In his second novel  The Kraken Wakes John Wyndham again imagines  the  breakdown of  human civilisation, but in a very different  way and from a very different kind of menace. By contrast with  The Day of the Triffids  –  in which the Triffids were home-grown destroyers and  highly visible throughout the novel – in The Kraken Wakes  the  invaders appear  to be  from another planet,   and  are almost  never seen, having based themselves in the ocean deeps.

In 1998 the BBC broadcast an adaptation  by John Constable. Michael Watson was played by Jonathan Cake, Phyllis Watson was played by Saira Todd.  You can listen to the series   here.

In 2004 the BBC broadcast a reading of the novel  in 16 parts, read by  Stephen Moore. You can listen to this  here.

 

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov (1954)

Set in a future in which most of humanity  is packed into  “caves  of steel” –  huge underground cities – the novel is a murder mystery.  Detective Elijah Bailey,  who has been  given the task of finding out who murdered a Spacer  ambassador, is assigned a robot –  R Daneel Olivaw –  as his partner, much to his horror.

Thel novel  was dramatised in 1989 by the BBC,  adapted by Bert Coules. The cast included Ed Bishop,  Sam Dastor  and Matt Zimmermann.

You can listen to this here.

 

The Chrysalids  by John Wyndham (1955)

The novel set in the future, perhaps several centuries after our own time. The story is told through the eyes of David Strorm as he grows up in a rural part of Labrador. This is a religiously fundamentalist society, fearful of any kind of physical difference in human bodies. “Watch Thou For The Mutant!”is drummed into the population. . We, the readers, soon divine that the “Tribulation” of which they talk was in fact a nuclear war, and that this is the society that has somehow survived, plunged back into a subsistence way of life, based on farming, with no technology. But within this ossified society the seeds of a new kind of human being are emerging into the light. In my opinion this is John Wyndham’s masterpiece.

The novel  was dramatised by the BBC in 1981 in an adapation by Barbara Clegg. The cast included Stephen Garlick, Amanda Murray. Judy Bennett and  Jane Knowles.   You can listen to  the series   here

You can read my post on the book here.

 

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham  (1957)

The story begins with a small ordinary English village being subject to a mysterious force rendering everyone within a circle unconscious for a whole day on Tuesday . The authorities outside cannot get in: an aerial photograph reveals an object in the village with “a pale oval outline, with a shape, judging by the shadows, not unlike the inverted bowl of a spoon.” When the village come back to life the object has gone, while the villagers appear not to have been harmed by what they quickly come to call  “the Dayout”.

Some months later, however, every woman of childbearing age, married or single, discovers that she is pregnant. When the children are born they have golden eyes and,  as they grow up,  reveal disquieting powers.  Who are they and what is their real mission?

The novel was adapted by William Ingram for the BBC World Service in  1982. The cast included  Charles Kay, William Gaun , Manning Wilson  and  Pauline Yates.

You can listen to the radio series here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

The Slide by Victor Pemberton (1966)

A  chilling seven part  radio series in which a small seaside town  is menaced by an eruption of  sentient mud which seems to have a  mental hold on some of the inhabitants. I listened to The Slide when it was broadcast, aged 11,  and it left a vivid impression  on me.  When I listened again more than  40 years later, I thought it was still very effective.

The cast included  Roger Delgado, Maurice Denham, David Spenser and Miriam Margolyes. The producer was John Tydeman and the sound effects were, of course, by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  Victor Pemberton  also wrote the Doctor Who serial “Fury from the Deep” (1968).

You can listen to the series  here.

 

The Dispossesd by Ursula Le Guin (1974)

In her new introduction to the Library of America reprint in 2017, Ursula  wrote:

The Dispossessed started as a very bad short story, which I didn’t try to finish but couldn’t quite let go. There was a book in it, and I knew it, but the book had to wait for me to learn what I was writing about and how to write about it. I needed to understand my own passionate opposition to the war that we were, endlessly it seemed, waging in Vietnam, and endlessly protesting at home. If I had known then that my country would continue making aggressive wars for the rest of my life, I might have had less energy for protesting that one. But, knowing only that I didn’t want to study war no more, I studied peace. I started by reading a whole mess of utopias and learning something about pacifism and Gandhi and nonviolent resistance. This led me to the nonviolent anarchist writers such as Peter Kropotkin and Paul Goodman. With them I felt a great, immediate affinity. They made sense to me in the way Lao Tzu did. They enabled me to think about war, peace, politics, how we govern one another and ourselves, the value of failure, and the strength of what is weak.

So, when I realised that nobody had yet written an anarchist utopia, I finally began to see what my book might be. And I found that its principal character, whom I’d first glimpsed in the original misbegotten story, was alive and well—my guide to Anarres.”

You can listen to a dramatisation of this novel by CBC radio  here.

Short Stories by Ken Macleod

 Lighting Out

Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?

The Vorkuta event.

The Entire Immense Superstructure’: An Installation

 

Read…

From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne (1865)

Jules Verne invented a good deal of what later came to be called “science fiction,”  his work was  widely read not just in France but in Anglophone countries as well.   In this early novel the Baltimore Gun Club decide to visit the Moon, not using a rocket,  but instead  by  building  a huge gun In Florida  and firing a shell towards our satellite.- with themselves inside ! The novel was adapted as the opera in 1875, with music by Offenbach. It also  inspired the first science fiction film A Trip to the Moon.

You can read the novel here.

You can read the sequel All Around The Moon (1870)  (and find out  if the  three adventurers  survived the trip) here.

You can watch  A Trip to the Moon here.

 

20,000 Leagues under Sea  by Jules Verne (1871)

Three adventurers in pursuit of what is though to be a giant narwhal which  has been attacking  shipping  discover it  is in fact  an electric powered submarine  and are taken aboard. Commanded by Captain  Nemo,  the Nautilus  roams the world’s occens gathering scientific knowledge but also attacking ship in a personal vendetta by Nemo.  it has been filmed several times.

You can read the novel here.

You can read the sequel  The Mysterious Island here.

You can watch the 1916 silent  film of the novel  here.

 

When The Sleeper Awakes by H G Wells (1898)

Graham wakes up after being asleep for 203 years, having fallen into a coma at the end of the C19th. Whilst asleep he  has not only became a symbol of hope for the common people, but also, because of the investments made in his name by his friends, which have grown enormously during his time asleep, he is actually “the Owner” – the Master of the world. The moment he wakes up, he is plunged into the midst of a revolution as the people, led by Boss Ostrog, battle and defeat the oppressive White Council, which was ruling the world in his name. The rest of the novel follows his adventures in this future society,  whose real nature he only slowly comes to comprehend.

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

The Sorcery Shop: an Impossible Romance by Robert Blatchford (1907)

In The Sorcery Shop Robert Blatchford attempts to describe what a Socialist utopia might look like, imagining the grimy, smoke-clogged city of Manchester, which he knew very well, transformed a sunlit city of flowers, fountains and crystal towers. It is of a piece, therefore, with other socialist utopian novels of the period, including Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888), William Morris’ News from Nowhere (1890), H G Wells’ A Modern Utopia (1905) and Men Like Gods (1923), and Charlote Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915)

Robert Blatchford and his friends were the founders in 1891 of the Clarion newspaper: the most influential Socialist newspaper ever published in Britain, which created thousands of Socialists and inspired a whole social movement.

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

October the First is Too Late by Fred Hoyle (1966)

In his introduction to this novel Hoyle writes: “The ‘science’ in this book is mostly scaffolding for the story, story-telling in the traditional sense. However, the discussions of the significance of time and of the meaning of consciousness are intended to be quite serious…”

Hoyle’s novels often have a scientist as the main protagonist, but in this novel it is a musician and composer named Dick: accordingly each chapter is named after a musical theme or style eg “Fugue” and “Coda.”. The novel begins in 1966 when he runs into an old university friend John Sinclair, now a scientist, and on an impulse they set off together on a trip to Scotland. Something very odd happens here. Sinclair disappears for half a day, and on returning cannot explain or recall what has happened to him. The trip is cut short when Sinclair is recalled to the USA to assist in the investigation of a strange solar phemonena. Dick accompanies him to Hawaii, where Sinclair and others establish that the Sun is somehow being used as a signalling device with an enormous amount of data being transmitted. Barely have they absorbed this astonishing fact when all contact is lost with the USA: it is feared that a nuclear war has begun.

Dick and Sinclair manage to get places on a plane sent to investigate what has happened. Flying above Los Angeles there is no sign of a war: the city is simply no longer there, just woods and grassland in its place. Journeying on, they see the same across the continent. Crossing the Atlantic they find to their relief that the England of 1966 is still there but Europe has reverted to 1917 with the First World War raging. The rest of the novel explores the implications and possible cause of this extraordinary situation. .

You can read the novel online here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

Mutant 59: the Plastic Eater by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler (1972)

Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler met in 1966 when Gerry was the script editor at Doctor Who, and was looking for a scientific advisor to inject a greater degree of scientific speculation into the programme. Kit was head of a research unit at the Institute of Opthamalmology at the University of London.

Kit suggested that the newly built Post Office Tower, then the tallest structure in London, could be used by a computer to take over the capital using the telephone network to control the minds of humans. This evolved into the serial The War Machines, broadcast in the summer of 1966, featuring the computer WOTAN and its war machines. They then came up with the idea of the Cybermen: humanoids who have replaced so much of their bodies with technology that they have lost all emotion and empathy. Their first story featuring the Cybermen “The Tenth Planet” aired in the autumn 1966. The silver monsters were a big hit with the public, and were quickly brought back in “The Moonbase” (February 1967) and then in “The Tomb of the Cybermen” (September 1967). After Gerry left Doctor Who Kit worked with Victor Pemberton on “The Wheel in Space” (May 1968), and with Derrick Sherwin on another Cybermen serial “The Invasion” (November 1968). This was Kit’s last involvement with Doctor Who.

By 1970 Kit was becoming disillusioned by science and increasingly alarmed about the effect that technology and the headlong rush for economic growth at all costs was having on the environment. He, and many others around the globe, feared the possibility of ecological collapse. Working together again, Kit and Gerry created a series for the BBC called Doomwatch. “Doomwatch” is the nickname for special government unit established to monitor environmental and other threats to the public. The first series created a sensation with storylines on issues such as transplants, genetic mutation of rats, chemical poisoning, and a crashed nuclear bomb on the south coast. The extensive scientific research done by Kit for the series meant that the storylines appeared to anticipate news stories.

After Doomwatch Gerry and Kit wrote three novels together, the first of which was Mutant 59, partly based on a storyline in Doomwatch.

You can read the novel  here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

You can read a 1973 interview with Gerry and Kit here.

You can read  my post on their second  novel  Brainrack (1974)  here.

You can read my post on  their third novel  The Dynostar Menace (1975) here.

 

The Exile In Waiting by Vonda  N McIntyre (1975)

The novel is set on a future Earth, turned into a desert  by some environmental catastrophe.  The only surviving city is Center,  an underground city run by a handful of wealthy families who control the air, food,  power and water.  Many of the inhabitants are little more than slave in thrall to the familiess.

Mischa is a teenager, scraping a living  in the back streets of Center by any means possible, including stealing. She is also an empath who senses the moods of others, including her sister Gemmi with whom she has a strong emotional  link that keeps her trapped in Center. The novel follows her quest for freedom and happiness.

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

Dreamsnake by Vonda N  McIntyre (1978)

The novel seems to be set in the world outside Center. Snake is a healer who uses  her three snakes to cure people. But her  very rare dreamsnake  is  killed and she needs to find another. The novel follows her quest and her adventures and encounters on the journey.

You can read the novel here.

 

Superluminal by Vonda McIntyre (1983)

Often overshadowed  by  Vonda’s first two novel. Laenea Trevelyan, has her heart replaced with a machine so she can survive faster-than-light travel and become a pilot. Orca, a diver, divides her time between starships and the Strait of Georgia, where her relatives include a family of killer whales and a group of other divers, human beings who can exist underwater.  Radu Dracul, a colonist from the alien world Twilight, having chosen to leave his home and become a starship crew member, discovers he has abilities he never dreamed of…

You can read the novel here.

 

Short Stories by Ken Macleod

A Tulip for Lucretius

Earth Hour

Jesus Christ Reanimator

 

Learn…

Andrew Pixley

For the last 30 years Andrew has  written about almost anything to do with television if people will pay him – and occasionally when they won’t… He has made many  contributions to the Doctor Who magazine,  worked as a consultant and researcher on tv documentaries  such as Thirty Years in the Tardis, written The Avengers Files and The Daleks; a history from BBC Video,    as well  providing the accompanying notes to  a variety of  boxsets of televison and radio series,  including  Doctor Who,  A for Andromeda, Callan,  Public Eye, The Prisoner and Journey into Space.

You can read his posts on the Critical  Studies in Television blog   here 

 

Bergcast

A podcast  about Nigel Kneale and the Quatermass series.

 

Blogtor Who :the definite article you might say.

Extensive news and resources site  on Doctor Who, Big Finish releases. etc.

 

Doctor Who

The  official  BBC site with many  resources on the series, past and present

The Early Days of a Better Nation

Science fiction Ken Macleodreflects on science fiction, socilaist politics and much else. the title comes from two sources: “Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray. “If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace is as good as any, and far better than a hollow hoarding greed or the dry lies of an aweless god.”—Graydon Saunders

Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Now in its third edition, edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls (emeritus) and Graham Sleight (managing). It has more than 18,000 entries  which are free to read online.

 

Galactic Journey. 55 years ago science fact and fiction

The website looks back 55 years to another world, another time,  with sections on science  fiction, music and much more from 1965.

 

H G Wells Society

The H.G. Wells Society was founded by Dr. John Hammond in 1960. It has an international membership, and aims to promote a widespread interest in the life, work and thought of Herbert George Wells. The society publishes a peer-reviewed annual journal, The Wellsian, and issues a biannual newsletter. It has published a comprehensive bibliography of Wells’s published works, and other publications, including a number of works by Wells which have been out of print for many years.

 

K U Gunn Centre for the Study of Science Fiction

This site provides a wealth of information and informed commentary about science fiction and the Center’s programs, including awards, course syllabi, writing resources, and much more.

 

Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy

A non-circulating research collection of over 80,000 items of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction, as well as magic realism, experimental writing and some materials in ‘fringe’ areas such as parapsychology, UFOs, Atlantean legends etc.

 

The Time Ladies

“A blog for all Doctor Who fans, ran by female Doctor Who fans.”

 

Toby Hadoke’s Who’s Round

In honour of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who in 2013, Toby Hadoke embarked on an epic quest: to interview someone from every single Doctor Who story. Feeling Doctors or companions are a bit too easy, he travels the country meeting legends from the show’s history from both in front of and behind the cameras, and chats to them about their time working on Doctor Who and the lives they have led since (and, indeed, before).

The interviews are in the form of podcasts on the Big Finish website, which you can download or stream here, or subscribe on iTunes, Spotify or other podcast outlets. All episodes are free, so if you’ve enjoyed Toby’s chat, all he asks is that you give a donation to a charity nominated by the interview subject.

Una McCormack

Una  is a New York Times bestselling science fiction author. She is passionate about women’s writing, science fiction, and helping people find their words and voices. Her work includes Doctor Who novels and  Doctor Who stories for Big Finish eg Red Planets as well as  Star Trek novels and other work.

 

Univerity of Liverpool; Science fiction collection.

The book stock at Liverpool is mainly formed by the Science Fiction Foundation Library. It represents the largest catalogued collection of science fiction, fantasy, horror and related literary criticism in Europe, totalling over 35,000 books.

 

Unwilling Adventurer

Run by sisters Katie and Claire and devoted to their varied  interests,  including Hartnell era Doctor Who.

 

Ursula Le Guin

Put simply Ursula was the most influential science  fiction  writer of the past half century.

 

Verity Podcast

“A Doctor Who podcast where a rotating cast of six women, from across the globe, talk all things Doctor Who. We have opinions.”

 

Wells at the Worlds End.

Adam Roberts  read through the whole of HG  Wells’ work  for a book and blogged about each book as he went along. The book  H G Wells,  A Literary Life, was published by Palgrave.

 

The work of Lisa Yaszek

Lisa is Professor of Science Fiction Studies in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech, where she researches and teaches science fiction as a global language crossing centuries, continents, and cultures. She is particularly interested in issues of gender, race, and science and technology in science fiction across media as well as the recovery of lost voices in science fiction history and the discovery of new voices from around the globe

“A grim fantasy” : remaking American history in Octavia Butler’s Kindred

 

Women’s Press Science Fiction series

Between 1983 and  1990  the  Women’s Press published a series  of feminist science fiction novels and collections by women writers. The titles included a mix of classsics  and new work.  Some  bear rereading, some less so.

You can read  reviews I have written  of  a number of the novels here.

You can read more about the series   here –  SF Mistressworks website

 

Out of the Unknown, series 1 episode 5, “Time in Advance” by William Tenn

“Time In Advance” was broadcast on 1 November 1965.

Cast: Nicholas Crandall -, Edward Judd;  Otto Henck – Mike Pratt;   Polly – Wendy Gifford;  Marcus Henson – Dyson Lovell,  Marie –Judy Parfitt ;  Paul Ryman – Jerome Willis;   and Dan- Michael Danvers Walker.

Script by  Paul Erickson

Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik. Associate Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

Director ;  Peter Sasdy.

“Time in Advance” is based on  a short story  by William Tenn (the pseudonym of Philip Klass) published in 1956

The story is set in a future society where you can opt to serve your sentence before committing the crime.  It  begins with  Nicholas Crandall  (525509) and Otto Henck (5245514) returning  to earth after seven year hard labour on the colony planets. The two prisoners   have survived the rigours of their hard labour by looking after each other, although Crandall has lost his hand in a lava  accident. (They arrive  aboard a  convict spaceship called  the  Jean Valjean, incidentally, please note Victor Hugo fans.)

The “pre-criminals” as they are known  leave through the “Liberty corridor” and are  now free to commit the murders that they have confessed in advance that they intend to commit.  The media are there as they emerge, eager to know the names of their victims.  After checking whether  they still want them,   the Examiner hands Crandall and  Henck  their licences which allow them “To go forth from this place and kill one man or one woman of your own choosing.”

Crandall and Henck

They lodge at the Hotel Capricorn Ritz, where you check in with a handprint and the  drinks are served by a machine. Whilst in the bar  they see their arrival announced  on television, “It might be you they are after,”  teases the newsreader. Henck intends to kill his  unfaithful wife, Elsa: Crandall has not  publicly revealed his victim,  but we learn that it   is  man called Stephensen, who  stole his work  for a unlimited power source and has  made a fortune whilst Crandall has been in prison.

In the bar Crandall meets Paul  Ryman, a former work colleague, who cannot get away from  him quick enough. (We later find out  that he betrayed Crandall by assisting Stephensen).  It’s the first in a series of encounters with people who fear him., including his ex-wife Polly who believes that she is the victim because she was unfaithful to him, unknown to Crandall. ” I made a mistake. I thought he loved me. I would never have divorced  you if I had known what he was really like… Please don’t  kill me,” she begs.   When his brother Dan  tries to kill him with a weapon, we learn that it was he that had the affair with Polly. Crandall lies to the police to save his brother from prison.

Henck has failed to locate his  wife. She has moved, her  flat been demolished and the area is now a  huge nature park . He tells Crandall, “It’s the last thing I expected, I  just stood in the middle of the park not knowing what to do.. You don’t understand Nick. .All the time we were away , all the while I keep thinking of how it was going to be when I finally caught up with her. The times I dreamed of it  and it always happened in that  place. It just isn’t there any more.”

Marcus Henson from  a media company  offers Crandall  50,000 credits for an exclusive story. “The public is excited by it. They have been lapping  up the details  ever since you landed… But the biggest thing they want to know about, and that’s why we are prepared to pay so much, is that special piece of information that just clinches your story…What do you think they are all excited about? What do you really think they are guessing at? …They are trying to figure out who your victim is going to be. You tell us. We follow your story. We’ll be there when it happens,  and you can retire a rich man, while at the same time completing what you set out to do.” Crandall turns down the offer.

Crandall

Henck  finally discovers  that his wife has been  dead for two years, and  is now bitter about   his decision. “Seven years of my life gone for nothing and now no future,  nothing to show for it, not even the satisfaction.”  Crandall responds,  “I’ve spent those last seven years hating one man, wanting my revenge, only to find  the others, the ones I  loved and trusted,   meant  no more to me in my life than Stephensen. I don’t know what it’s about anymore,  I don’y know love and hate mean . I only know thatI iam tired. All that effort trying to keep alive on the colonies. I am beginning to think there was point in it, no point at all. “

Crandall makes an appointment to see Stephensen at his laboratory, while  Marie, a  betrayed  ex-lover of Stephensen’s,  gives him a weapon. But the meeting does not go the way Crandall expects.

Strip away the futuristic  gloss from this story (the  shiny sets look like  the future as imagined by Tomorrow’s World)  and it boils down to an old-fashioned moraility tale:  that dreams of revenge can destroy you.  Despite the premise, there is hardly any tension in the story. Rather than  racing to complete their tasks, the two men spend much of their  sitting around in the hotel bar drinking (two credits for a drink, by the way). By the end you are not sure whether  care very much  about what you have just seen.

Most of the cast  wear blond wigs, remarkably similar to the ones we saw in a previous episode, “The Counterfeit Man”. Perhaps they were recycled?

The background electronic music is very good.

Mary Crozier reviewed the episode for the Guardian on 2 November

There is no doubt that when science fiction is bad it is very bad indeed and last night’s play illustrated  this ecellently . “Time in Advance” by William Tenn  was based on the quaint notion that on the earth of the future those with a criminal tendency can apply for lience to commit a crime – but first they have to serve a penal term in Outer Space. 

The opening of the story was about the best bit where the convict ship was nearing earth and the ex-convicts were shuddering, trapped in their bunks in the orbital countdown. This was horrid, of course, and in the fashion of science fiction, some of them had hideous growths or wounds on face, chest or hand. But at this stage you could not tell  quite how dull it was going to be on earth when the two would-be murderers started their grim work. The action took place in a singularly hideous hotel called the Hotel Capricorn Ritz where all the gimmicks of the future were singualrly scientific and unhomely.

The precriminals as they were called got  mixed up in many complications and the story was so stupid that it seemed only natutral that the transmission broke down altogether as if in despair. It is amusing to make fashion note on science fiction; all the men and  women  in this programme had the regulalion fair, shaggy hair combed forward and the regulation tunics so that they looked like a cross between pupils of a progressive school and pre-Revolution Russian peasants.

The great difference between this play and the recent  “The Counterfeit Man” was that the characters were totally uninteresting and the plot incredible. But the sound effects by the radiophonic workshop were very clever indeed.

 

Where have we seen them before ?

Peter Erickson wrote “The Ark” for Doctor Who, broadcast  in 1964.

Wendy Gifford   played Miss Garrett in “The Ice Warriors” (1967)  in Doctor Who. She played Dr Susan Calvin in “Liar!”, an episode in series 3 of Out of the Unknown.

Jerome Wills appeared in “The Dark Star” (1962), an episode in the series  Out of this World.  He played Stevens in the memorable Doctor Who episode,”The Green Death” (1973).

Edward Judd  had a leading role  in The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961) , a British  science fiction film in which the earth is threatened with destruction  after two atomic bomb tests blow it out of its orbit. He also appeared in Invasion (1965) , another British science  fiction film in which aliens (who are played by Japanese and Chinese actors)  arrive in pursuit of an escaped prisoner taken into a hospital. The story was thought up by Robert Holmes, although he did not write the script.  (Holmes later  used some elements of his story for an episode of Doctor Who, “Spearhead  from Space” (1970).)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Howzat! Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen by James Goss (2018)

This book seems to have dropped through a wormhole in the Space-Time Continuum. According to the pre-publication publicity it’s not meant to be available until 18 January 2018,  but I  found it last week  on the shelf  at Manchester Central Reference Library.

The Krikkitmen began life as a story that Douglas Adams pitched   to Robert Holmes and Anthony Read, the outgoing and incoming producers of Doctor Who,  along with  The Pirate Planet.   They opted for The Pirate Planet (broadcast in the autumn of 1978),    but suggested that The Krikkitmen  might make a good film.  In the meantime the first radio  series of  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  was broadcast  in 1978  and  made Adams famous. This led him to becoming  script editor on Doctor Who in 1979 for a year: during his time on the show  he also  wrote City of Death and Shada (which  was never broadcast because of a strike).

Adams worked on The Krikkitmen for several years, but the film, like most films,  was never made,  and in time was almost forgotten (although Adams did use some of his ideas in Life, the Universe and Everything.)  But when researching in the Douglas Adams archive in Cambridge for his novelisation of Shada,  James Goss was shown  a detailed 33 page treatment for the film, including dialogue,  which led him to write this novel. The treatment  is included as an appendix.

Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen features the Fourth Doctor and Romana. The original treatment  featured a companion called Jane, but James Goss decided that Romana would be more appropriate. In the novel she is clearly the cleverest person for millions of light years around. It also features K9, the cleverest robot dog  for millions of light years around. The Doctor  is…the Doctor.

The story begins in that most English of settings, Lord’s cricket ground during the Ashes. Romana is bemused by the game and wonders  why they are there, the Doctor doesn’t seem  like  to much like cricket either (unlike the Fifth  Doctor).  Things  get a bit more interesting when  the game is interrupted, not by rain or a streaker,  but  a cricket  pavilion  which suddenly materialises. It’s not empty:

…eleven figures, all attired in perfect cricket whites, strode out of the pavilion and towards the podium. The eleven were, to all intents and purposes, role models, from their tidily laced plimsolls to their neat helmets protecting their faces. Even their bats were polished so much they shone. …but there was one thing missing. There was nothing inside the uniforms. They were empty suits of gleaming white armour, marching in unison. 

The killer robots  (for this  is indeed what they are) start  attacking the crowd, lobbing explosive  cricket balls, wielding their razor sharp steel bats,  and then depart after stealing the Ashes.  leaving chaos and burning grass. It turns out that they are from the planet Krikkit,   who were a peaceful,  happy  people when they believed that they were the only race in the Universe. But  one day a spaceship crashed onto their planet.  This enraged them so much that  they built  spaceships  and the Krikkitmen,  and  then set about  destroying every other race in the Universe.

They were finally  stopped by the Time Lords,  who sealed Krikkit in Slow Time several million years ago. Now some Krikkitmen have  escaped  and are  intent in  freeing Krikkit from  Slow Time  and recommencing  the annihilation with millions more Krikkitman. To do this  they need to reassemble  the Wicket Gate, comprising three vertical sticks,  the Gold Bail of Prosperity and the Silver Bail of Peace.

Of course the Doctor  and Romans set out  to stop them. The rest of the novel is a dizzying swoop to  and fro  across the universe from planet to planet and  back and forth in time. The Doctor, Romana and K9 are shot at, imprisoned and  then escape (several times). They meet  the Elders of Krikkit, the  ineffectual  Krikkit rebels (who are stymied by lack of a  mission statement), Alovians, the Great Khan, Mareeve II (an unfriendly planet),  Devalin (a planet where they used to fish but now they don’t),  Bethsalamin (a friendly planet), Professor Chronotis,  a big red off and on  switch, and a super computer called Hactar who seems to hold the key to everything (but perhaps doesn’t.) Oh, and there’s a  Supernova Bomb that will destroy the Universe. Just  thought  I’d mention it. It all  ends where it began, at Lord’s.

James  Goss does an  excellent job of channeling Douglas  Adams’ prose style:

The Doctor, K-9 and Romana were running.

Romana had,  in her  time with the Doctor, learnt a good deal about fleeing. If anyone shouted ‘Hah’ or ‘ Stop’ or  ‘Wait!’ you ignored them. They were normally taking aim.

If given a choice between running upstairs and running downstairs, always go down. Even if the lights weren’t working. Often, yes, there’d be something with tentacles lurking in the dark, but you could cross that nightmare when you came to it. Also, with a little bit of dodging, you could let it devour any pursuers while you got on with surviving.

Running upstairs ended badly. You’d find yourself on a roof with nothing but a long drop beneath you and a  pressing need to do some fast talking…

Shoes. In her early days aboard the Tardis Romana had worn a variety  of imposing footwear. The TARDIS wardrobe  was delightfully unlike the wardrobes of Gallifre , and so offered her the chance to enjoy experimenting.  Boots. Pumps. Ballet shoes. But she quickly learned that anything with heels was out. They were good for making an entrance but hopeless for an exit.

Finally,  always follow the Doctor unless he was clearly heading somewhere absolutely idiotic. If it only looked mildly idiotic (eg a time corridor or burning building) then fine. But if it was towards a squadron of Daleks then perhaps not.

When fleeing, keep an eye on local signage. Signs indicating “This way to the Forest of Knives” or “Turn left for the Swamp of Death” were best avoided. Signs never indicated where there was a large amount of cover, or something blast-proof to hide behind. The Universe was disappointing like that.

There are 42 chapters, by the way.

Don’t buy it from Amazon, though please  buy it from the real Amazons at the independent  News from Nowhere bookshop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We come in peace: Looking back at the classic Doctor Who serial “The Ambassadors of Death” by Malcolm Hulke (1970)

ambassadors-1“The Ambassadors of Death”  is perhaps Malcolm Hulke’s least  satisfactory contribution to Doctor Who.  Originally called “The Carriers of Death,”  the serial  started life as a commission  for David Whitaker in 1968.  Whitaker was Doctor Who‘s  first story editor, overseeing some 51 episodes in the series’ first year. He also wrote a number of  serials,  including “The Crusade” (1965), “The Power of the Daleks” (1966)   and  “The Wheel in Space” (1968).

Despite this pedigree Whitaker’s script on the theme of aliens landing on Earth was  deemed unsatisfactory by the production team: his rewrites even less so. Eventually script editor  Terrance Dicks decided that Whitaker was never going to be able to produce a satisfactory script:  it was agreed in November 1969 that he  would be paid for his work and a new writer brought in.  Whitaker would still be credited as the writer, which seems quite generous. According to Dicks, Whitaker was  quite relieved at being off the story.

Dicks  now called in his old friend Mac Hulke, with whom he had worked on The Avengers in the early 1960s  and  on “The War  Games,” a  10 week serial  which  they wrote together at great  haste in early 1969,  and featured Patrick Troughton’s final appearance as The Doctor.  It seems that  Terrance and Mac  worked together on this seven part serial,  now renamed “The Ambassadors of Death.”

ambassadors-2The story centres on a British spaceship Recovery Seven,  sent into space to investigate what has happened to the previous  Mars Probe  Seven.  It locates the  ship,   but then stops communicating. The Doctor and the Brigadier  are called in,  who  succeed in tracing  a mysterious signal  sent to the Probe from Earth  to a warehouse where a gun battle takes place with a number of military men commanded by a General Carrington.

Probe Seven returns to  Earth  with three occupants, who are  seized by Carrington’s men  in a dramatic scene. Carrington tells the Doctor and the Brigadier that it was neccessary to put the astronauts into protective custody as they had been infected by radiation. However, the Doctor believes that they are not the human astronauts. They  are now seized by Reegan, a man working for Carrington,   and  kept in a sealed  room where they are fed radiation.

The Doctor goes into  space and is taken into an alien ship where he discovers  that the earth astronauts are on board. T he astronauts on Earth are in fact   ambassadors from the aliens, who  threaten war unless they are returned.  Reegan kidnaps the Doctor’s assistant, Dr. Liz Shaw,  and makes her  work looking after the astronauts. He  forces the aliens to carry out raids, killing people with a single  touch with intense radiation, and also kidnaps the Doctor when he returns to Earth.

Meanwhile Carrington is planning  a global television broadcast. We learn  that he was on a previous Mars probe when his fellow astronaut was  killed by a touch from the aliens, and he believes  that they are a threat  to the whole world. He intends to show them on television  and call on the world to destroy the alien ship. The Doctor and Liz are rescued by the Brigadier and stop the broadcast. Carrington is taken into custody: the aliens will be returned to their ship.

One of the familar themes in Mac Hulke’s work, derived perhaps  from his membership of the Communist Party,  is  the notion that what we are being shown or being told is not really what is going. His work for Doctor Who often features a conspiracy which  is manipulating  events from behind the scenes. In  this  serial  and in “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” it’s soldiers, politicians  and scientists;  in ” Frontier in Space” it’s  the Daleks; in “Colony in Space”  it’s the IMC mining expedition.

The Doctor plays much the same role as he did in “The Silurians,” seeking to mediate and prevent conflict.  He tells the alien commander; “Now let me go back to Earth and I will give you my personal l assurances that your ambassadors will be retuned to you.” And  is often the case in Mac Huike’s work even  the anti-hero Carrington is shown driven  not by personal greed or adesire for power,  but a mistaken belief  in an alien threat.

Carrington: I  had to do what I  did. It was my moral duty. You do understand don’t you?

The Doctor; Yes, General. I understand.

There  is  a big nod  to the first Quatermass serial The Quatermass Experiment (1953)  in which a space expedition returns  to Earth with a single astronaut instead of the three sent into space; it transpires that an  infection  from space has merged them into a single alien  entity.

The idea of the astronauts carrying out raids and killing with a single touch harks back to two Avengers serials:  “The Cybernauts” (1965)  in which a robot created by Dr. Clement Armstrong (Michael Gough) is sent to kill his business rivals; and The Positive Negative Man (1967)   in which a scientist (Ray McNally) harnesses  electricity within a human body  and sends out  a man to kill with a touch.

ambassadors-3What  might have worked as a four part serial becomes quite threadbare when stretched over seven parts, leaving the viewer sufficient to time to ponder on some of the more improbable aspects of the  plot. Why is  the space control centre in charge of  the Mars probe expedition run by just four people? If the aliens are so powerful – judging by the size of their ship – why not simply swoop down and rescue their ambassadors? Why is Reegan single-handedly able to run rings around UNIT, kidnapping and killing  at will? Why is  the space scientist Taltalian, who holds the Doctor and Liz Shaw  at  gunpoint in episode 2,  allowed to carry on working there and the incident  forgotten, after which he plants a bomb and tries to blow up the Doctor? And finally where did Liz Shaw buy her stylish hat?

The  serial enlivened by the set piece action sequences ie the gun  fight in the warehouse  and the seizure of the capsule in which Havoc, the stunt company run by Derek Ware,  pulls out all the stops and turn the scenes  into something resembling a James Bond film on a fraction of the budget.  Liz Shaw (or rather Roy Scammell, a stuntman standing in for Caroline  John) is dramatically  chased by villains  across Marlow Weir. The outdoor scenes with the astronauts shot against a low sun, with accompanying eerie music,  work well, also shot in Marlow at the Little Marlow sewage works.

I was surprised on watching it again at the level  of casual violence  in a children’s tea-time serial. For instance  two of Reegan’s  operatives die  from radiation  when they get into a van with the aliens  and are just dumped in a gravel pit. Perhaps we teenagers  in the 1970s were tougher than today…

Overall not a classic.

The Day the Sun Went Out: The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle (1957)

black-cloudIn previous posts I have looked at a number of novels by Fred Hoyle: A for Andromeda, The Andromeda Breakthrough, October the First is Too Late and The Fifth Planet. In this post I will be writing about The Black Cloud, his first novel, published in 1957.

The novel begins in January 1964,  when  scientists on both sides of  the Atlantic discover that a large cloud of gas has entered the solar system,  and is heading towards the Earth. They predict  that within 18 months it  will block out the light from the Sun for at least a month, thereby bringing chaos around the world. After convincing sceptical  governments  of the validity of their observations, a British group of scientists  is established at Nortonstowe,  a manor house in the Cotswolds, led by Chris Kingsley, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, with a remit to observe and report on the progress of the  Cloud. Within months the Cloud can be observed  by all in the night sky.

By the third week in January the fate of Man was to be read in the skies. The star Rigel of Orion was obscured. The sword and belt of Orion and the bright star Sirius followed in subsequent weeks. The Cloud might have blotted out almost any other constellation, except  perhaps the Plough, without its effect being so widely noted. The press revived its interest in the Cloud. ‘Progress reports ‘  were published  daily. Bus companies were finding  their Nighttime Mystery  Tours increasingly popular.’Listener research ‘ showed a threefold increase in the audience  for a series  of BBC talks on astronomy. …Now at last the population at large was starkly aware of the Black  Cloud , as it clutched like a grasping hand at Orion, the Hunter of the Heavens.

The scientists  discover something  inexplicable, that the Cloud is firing off gas as it approaches the Sun, slowing it  down. Then on 27 August  1965 Kingsley is awaken by the manor’s handyman, Joe,  who tells him that the Sun has not risen:

He rushed out of the shelter into the open. It was pitch black, unrelieved even by starlight, which was unable to penetrate the thick black cloud cover. An unreasoning primitive fear seemed to be abroad. The light of the world had gone.

The Cloud has blocked out the Sun. After three days some light returns, a deep red hue, seemingly emanating  from the Cloud. The effects are catastophic.   Massive storms sweep the world as the temperature falls,  and  a quarter of the world’s population perishes in the snow and ice.   The scientists at Nortonstowe are unable to explain why the Cloud has stopped, but to their relief they observe that the gas between the Sun and the Earth is thinning,  and on 24 October “the Sun shone again in full strength on the frozen Earth.”

Radio transmissions from the Cloud are detected by the scientists, who are  forced to come to the conclusion that it is intelligent. They  reply with tranmissions containing scientific data and basic English, and  begin to receive messages they can understand,  and which  they can  convert into speech,  using the voice of Joe the handyman as a basis. The Cloud tells them:

‘Your first tramsmission came as a surprise, for it is most unusual to find animals with technical skills inhabating planets, which are in the nature of extreme outpposts of life.’

The scientists  inform the governments  of the world of their discovery, but this is not relayed to the peoples of the world.  They continue their dialogue with the Cloud on topics such as human nature, philosophy  and science. However,  the Americans and Russians  see the Cloud as a threat and fire nuclear-armed rockets  into it. The Cloud responds  by reversing the trajectory of the rockets which  fall back to earth, obliterating  El Paso, Chicago and Kiev, killing tens of thousands.

black-cloud

The Cloud announces  that it is about to leave the Solar System, but before it does so it offers the scientists to  chance to learn what it knows about the universe, using an apparatus  to communicate  directly with the human brain.  Kingsley volunteers to undergo this,  but this is terrible mistake:  he is unable to cope with the amount of knowledge downloaded, and the differences  between what he believes and  what the Cloud tells him, and dies as a consequence. The Cloud then departs,  with most of the world’s  population still unaware of its sentient nature.

My 1960 Penguin edition of The Black  Cloud has the strapline “science fiction by a scientist”, which  is the problem with this novel: the original premise captures the imagination and the consequences are most plausible,  but  the story is clogged  up with page and page of scientific discussion,  speculation  and debate.

No doubt it’s all  perfectly sound scientifically, but it makes for very dull reading,  and has the feel of a chat over sherry in a Cambridge college staff  common-room.  Also the characters in the story never really come to life, it’s hard to tell one pipe-smoking scientist in a tweed jacket from another.  Even the Cloud is dull. Finally,  this is a very male world: there are a few women in the novel,   but they are peripheral to the story.

A for Andromeda and The Andromeda Breakthrough work far  better as novels because they written by John Elliot, who knew how to pen  a good story,  based on ideas provided by Fred Hoyle, an ideal partnership.

Productions

The BBC Home Service broadcast  a dramatisation  of The Black Cloud on 14 December 1957, written by Stephen Grenfell and produced by Archie Campbell. Chris  Kingsley was played by Dennis Goacher while  the Prime Minister  was played by Arthur Ridley, author of  the successful play The Ghost Train,  and later to find fame in  the 1960s in  Dad’s Army as Private Godfrey.

So far as I  know no other production has been broadcast.

The golden-eyed Children: The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham (1957)

midwich-cuckoos-front-coverAfter the post-nuclear war landscape of The Chrysalids  John Wyndham’s  fourth novel, The Midwich Cuckoos,  was a return to familiar (though,  as we shall see,  unsettling) territory, a possible alien invasion of  the world.

It begins with a small ordinary  English village being subject to a mysterious force rendering everyone within a circle  unconscious for a whole day on  Tuesday 27th September (which would have fallen in  1960).   The authorities outside cannot get in:  an aerial photograph reveals an object in the village  with “a pale  oval outline, with a shape, judging by the shadows, not unlike the inverted bowl of a spoon.” When the village come back to life the object has gone, while the villagers appear not to have been harmed by what they quickly  come to  call the “Dayout”.

Some months later, however,  every woman of childbearing age, married or single, discovers that she is pregnant. The story is told, partly at least, through the eyes of  village resident and  writer Richard Gayford and his wife, Janet, who fortunately were not in the village at the time of the Dayout.

Gayford is recruited by an old friend and government intelligence officer, Bernard Westcott,  to observe what takes place in the village after the Dayout and report back.  He is the typical Wyndham protagonist, intelligent enough, but his wife is cleverer. The novel also has that familar Wyndham character, the older man who sees what is really going on, which in  The Midwich Cuckoos  is Gordon Zellaby, who lives in a large house in the village,  and writes learned books. His daughter Ferrelyn, planning to be married, is one of the pregnant women.

When the sixty-one  children are born they appear  to be normal human children, except they all have a sheen to the skin, golden hair  and golden eyes. Soon, however, they  display mental powers, forcing those mothers who have left the village to bring them back so that they can all be together.  Zellaby carries out  some tests and realises that the Children of Midwich  are a single entity, one girl and one boy, who share intelligence, thoughts  and learning. Already he suspects what is really going on,  but blanches at the course of action that  he feels is neccessary :

Cuckoos are very determined survivors. So determined that there is really only one thing to be done with them  once one’s nest is infested. I am,  as you know,  a humane man…As a further disadvantage I am a civilised man. For these reasons I shall not be able to bring myself  to approve of what ought to be done. Nor, even when we perceive its advisability, will the rest of us. So, like the poor hen-thrush we shall feed and nurture the monster, and betray our own species.

village-of-the-damned

The novel resembles The Kraken Wakes in that the tension  is built up quite slowly as a series of  disturbing events occur.  Unlike  his other novels the whole  action takes place within the village, and nowhere else, creating  a claustrophobic feeling. One of the odd things about the novel is  the chief storyteller up to now, Richard Gayford, whom the reader no doubt expected would take the narative forward,    leaves the village with Jane  at the end of Part One,  and  is absent for  eight years.

Returning to London for a short visit he bumps into Westcott,  and accompanies him on a return trip to Midwich, during which he is brought up  to date with what has happened whilst he has been away.   The Children grew up much quicker than human children  – by the time they were nine, they were the size of teenagers – and eventually the authorities decided  that it was  best to set up a special  school in The Grange  to look after them together.  Westcott is  returning  for an inquest into the  death of a young man,  Jim Pawle, killed when his car hit a wall. The verdict is “Accidental Death”, but  Gayford learns  the truth from Zellaby, that the  car hit one of the Children by accident, and they appear to have  somehow deliberately made Pawle crash.

After the inquest Pawle’s brother, David,  shoots and wounds one of the Children,  who then make him shoot himself. This leads to an attaks by the villagers on the Grange which ends in deaths and injuries when the Children use their mental powers to make them attack each other. Afterwards, one of the Children gives Westcott  and the others a chilling warning

I will put it more plainly. It is that if there is any attempt to interefere  with us or molest us, by anybody, we shall defend ourselves. We have shown that we can, and we hope that that will be warning enough to prevent further trouble.

Zellaby  explains that he believes an interplanetary  invasion is under way:

we have not grasped that they represent  a danger to our species, while they are in no  doubt that we are a danger to theirs. And they intend to survive.

Westcott now  reveals there were other Dayouts in other parts of the world. In most  cases the Children were killed at  birth, but  in the Soviet Union one group of Children  survived in a town called Gizhinsk,  which  he has just learned, has  been wiped out by an attack by an atomic cannon, killing the entire population. The Soviets then issued a warning calling  on all governments to “neutralize” any such known groups as the Children were “a threat to the whole human race.” Zellaby sums up  the dilemma  they are now  facing:

In a quandary where  every course is immoral, there still remains the ability to act for the greatest  good of the greatest number. Ergo, the Children ought to be eliminated at the least possible cost, with least possible delay. I am sorry to have to arrive at the conclusion. …It is the right step…But of course, our authorities will not be able to bring themselves to take it…

At the end of the book it is  Zellaby who takes on the moral responsibility for dealing  with  the dilemma. Gayford accompanies him to the weekly film show that  he runs for the children at the Grange and  reflects as he watches them help Zellaby unload the equipment:

There was nothing odd or mysterious about the Children now…For the first time since my return I was able to appreciate that the Children “had a  small ‘c’ too”. Nor was there any any doubt at all that Zellaby’s was a popular event. I watched him as he watched them with a kindly, half-wistful smile. I had a confused feeling that these could not be the Children at all; that the theories, fears and threats we had discussed  must have to do with some  other group of Children.

Shortly after Gayford returns to Zellaby’s home he sees a flash of bright light and a blast hits the house, smashing the windows, He realised that Zellaby has blown up himself with all the  children. His wife Angela finds a note which  reveals that Zellaby  had a terminal illness and ends:

As to this –  well we have lived so long in a garden that we have all but forgotten the commonplaces of survival…If you want to keep alive in the jungle, you must live as the jungle does.

The core of the novel  is the moral  question of how  to act  against invaders who arrive,  not in spaceships or cylinders as in H GWells’s The War of the Worlds,  but in the form of children. Step by step Wyndham leads us  down  the path to a dreadful conclusion, that the Children must be killed. He emphasises the horror  of this  by making the Children seem, just before this happens, the most like children they have been for the whole novel.

This is not Wyndham’s best novel,  but it is certainly his most unsettling one, sonething he perhaps empphasis  by  placing the action in the archetypal English village, where nothing ever happens. Is there a nod here,  perhaps,  to Went the Day Well? Alberto Cavalcanti’s 1942 film in which an English village  resists  a German invasion (the Germans are disguised as British soldiers).

Films and radio dramatisations

The novel was filmed in 1960 by MGM , retitled  somewhat sensationally as The Village of the Damned.  The Richard  Gayford character does not appears, the film’s hero is Gordon Zellaby,  played by George Sanders, whilst his wife is played by Barbara Shelley (who also appeared in the film version of Quatermass and the Pit in 1967) . You can watch a trailer here.

The novel was adapted by William Ingram in three 30-minute episodes for the BBC World Service, first broadcast in  1982. It was directed by Gordon House.

Another  adaptation by Dan Ribellato in two 60-minute episodes for Radio Four  was broadcast  in  2003.

Surprisingly no television  version has been made.

Other posts

In my previous posts I have looked at Wyndham’s previous novels

The Day of the Triffids

The Kraken Wakes

The Chrysalids

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murder in Space : The Dynostar Menace by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis (1975)

Dynostar Menace

In previous posts I have discussed the novels Mutant 59 : the Plastic Eater and Brainrack, written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. The Dynostar Menace was their  third and final novel together.  It continues their  preoccupation  with threats to the environment,  but adds another element:  a murder mystery  in space.

The novel is set in 1986 in a world in which nuclear reactors have been abandoned  around the globe  following the nuclear  accident  at Grimess,  vividly portrayed  in Brainrack. With fossil fuels exhaused  a new source of potential  power  has been developed  – nuclear fusion – potentially offering humanity  safe, unlimited power. The device,   known as the  Dynostar,  is housed for safety in a satellite orbiting the earth, ready to send power back down to earth. However,  just before it is switched on, an  environmental  group, the Council of Twelve, provide conclusive evidence   that the Dynostar’s magnetic fields would destroy the earth’s ozone layer and lead  to a worldwide  ecological catastrophe. The scientists working on starting up  the Dynostar are ordered  instead to immediately shut down the device.   As they start work, three of them die,  apparently in  an accident, but  the reader  already knows that someone has murdered them.

Dynostar spacelab drawing

The  head of the  project on earth, Lee Caldor, sends a senior  astronaut, John Hayward, up to the Dynostar to supervise the operation. When other deaths follow, Caldor and Hayward realise that one of the scientists on board will stop at nothing to prevent the shut down. On earth Caldor  investigates the background of the scientists, speaking to their wives and lovers,  in a desperate effort to find a clue as to the identity of the murderer, while in space Hayward battles rising fear and paranoia  as more men are murdered,  and the ship ‘s systems are sabotaged:

Now the haggard  exhausted crew, already strained beyound any reasonable limits of control,  found their last psychological support snatched away by the battery failure. The additional knowledge that one of  them was both insane and a murderer, had completely  stripped away the reamaining  veneer of ordinary civilised behavour.

Now one by one, the elegantly balanced systems of the great Spacelab complex were failing around them. The inertial  ship orientation system had ceased to work, so that the ship was no longer rotated to even the heating effect of the sun’s rays and they were now beating down on the dorsal surface of the ship. 

In the dramatic  final pages the identity  of the murderer is revealed,   and venturing    in space on the  outer skin of the  Dynostar,  Hayward desperately  fights his opponent   to save his own  life and  stop the device  sparking into life with fearful consequences:

…for the first time, Hayward caught a glimpse of his face. It was expressionless, the eyes  set in a look of total concentration.

The flame burnt across the front of Haywards’s suit. Immediately, the epoxide fibre of the suit flared briefly and then charred, leaving a crumbling black scar across the suit. Part of the instrument bezel. softened and deformed.

He lost his grip and spun away from the walkway, striking the side of the monitor can. His umbilical suddenly tautened and sprung him back on rebound until he came to halt, spinning in the space between the monitor can and Dynostar.

Overall this is a taut and  claustrophobic scientific and psychogical thriller. Kit Peddler clearly did a great deal of  research for the novel, and sometimes the scientific detail is overdone and  clogs the narrative. Also, as in their previous novels,  there is not much  of a role for  women , other than providing the occasional sexual frisson.  But if you are interested in their  work for Doctor Who, Doomwatch etc , it’s well worth a read.

If  you would like to comment on this post, you can either  comment  via the blog or email me, fopsfblog@gmail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terror from the Deeps: The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham (1953)

1075_JOHN_WYNDHAM_The_Kraken_Wakes_1960In a previous  post I discussed The Day of the  Triffids In his second novel  The Kraken Wakes John Wyndham again imagines  the  breakdown of  human civilisation, but in a very different  way and from a very different kind of menace. By contrast with  The Day of the Triffids  –  in which the Triffids were home-grown destroyers and  highly visible throughout the novel – in The Kraken Wakes  the  invaders appear  to be  from another planet,   and  are almost  never seen.

The story is told through the eyes of Mike and Phyllis Watson, radio journalists for the English Broadcasting Company, whose  profession  means  – conveniently for the narrative –  that they are either  present  at some of the key events or are in touch with the scientists or military officers trying to make  sense of what is happening. It’s quite clear that Phyllis,  like Josella in The Day of the Triffids, is the  sharper, more  prescient,  of the couple, and also has a greater imagination than Mike,  who comes across a stolid man of the 1950s: he probably wears a tweed jacket.

The story is spread  over several years as  the menace and terror  escalate a little at a time:  in fact the three chapters are titled Phase One, Phase Two and Phase Three. Phase One begins with Mike and Phyllis taking  their honeymoon  on a cruise ship from  which,  nearing the Azores, they observe  five fuzzy red  fireballs landing in the ocean and disappearing. After reporting this  when they get back home they learn that there have been  similar sightings around the world and that the sea sectors in which  the fireballs  land correlate with the deepest parts of the ocean.  The Watsons are invited to join a Royal Navy  expedition to investigate which lowers two men in a bathyscope,  equipped with cameras. Finding nothing in the depths,  they think  that they see something as they ascend to the surface, as Mike Watson relates:

This time we could undoubtedly make out a lighter patch. It was roughly oval, but indistinct, and there was nothing to give it scale….Again the camera showed us a glimpse of the thing as it passed  one of the bathyscope’s ports, but we were little wiser; the definition too poor for us to be sure of anything about it. “It’s going up now. Rising faster than we are. Getting beyond our angle of view. ought to be a window in the top of this thing…Lost it now. Gone somewhere up above above us. Maybe it’ll – The voice cut off dead. Simultaneously, there was a brief, vivid flash on the screen, and it too went dead.The sound of the winch outside altered as it speeded up….At last, the end  came up…Both the main and the communications cables ended in a blob of fused metal.

After this incident shipping starts to sink and the powers-that-be decide to drop an atomic bomb into the ocean near the Marianas, but with no effect. At this point Wyndham  introduces Dr Alastair Bocker into the narrative, whose analyses and predictictions are invariably derided by conventional scientific  and political opinion, but  usually turn out to be correct. Wyndham uses him to play a similar role to that of Michael Beadley in The Day of the Triffids. Bocker suggests that the intelligences in the deep have  come from another planet, possibly Jupiter, and that an invasion is under way. He also suggests that the discolouration of the ocean,  which has started happening, is  caused by the intelligences drilling communication routes between the various ocean deeps.

deep sea

In Phase Two  a string of ocean going  passenger liners  are sunk with the loss of all passengers,  forcing  the authorities to acknowledge the reality of the deep-sea menace, which  the public now reluctantly accepts, having been inclined to blame the Russians up to now. (This novel was written during the Cold War, remember). “Back room boffins”  eventually come up with   anti-attack devices, which when fitted to ships  deal with this particular threat,  but it’s far from  over.  Soon reports come in of  mysterious  raids on remote islands  in which the population vanishes: all that can be found are tracks leading to and from the sea and slime covering the ground and buildings. Mike and Phyllis go off on a expedition, led by Bocker, to an island called Escondida  where he predicts the next raid  may take place. Nothing happens for several weeks and the group takes it easy,  enjoying the sunshine. Then it starts.

What follows is one of the most  horrific episodes in modern science  fiction as Wyndham  presents us with grey metal  “sea-tanks”, some 35 feet long, which  grind their way  out of the sea and into the town square. They then release white cilia, sticky  tentacles,  which ensnare the  fleeing crowd. Phyllis physically stops Mike from going out (almost certainly saving his life),  so he watches from a window:

The thing that had burst was no longer in the air. It was now a round body no more than a couple of feet in diameter  surrounded by a radiation of cilia. It was drawing these back into itself with whatever they had caught, and the tension was  keeping  it a little off the ground. Some of the people it was pulling were shouting and struggling, others were like inert bundles of clothes.

I saw poor Muriel Flynn among them. She was lying on her back, dragged across the cobbles by a tentacle caught in her red hair. She had been badly hurt by the fall when she was pulled out of her window, and was crying out with terror, too. Leslie dragged alongside her, but it looked as if the fall had mercifully broken his neck.

Over on the far side I saw a man  rush forward and try to pull a screaming  woman away, but when he touched the cillium that held her hand his hand became  fastened to it, too, and they were dragged along.

As the circle contracted, the white cilia came closer to one another. The struggling people inevitably touched more of them and became  more helplessly enmeshed than before. There was a relentless deliberation about it which  made it seem horribly as though one watched through the eye of a slow-motion camera. ..the machines…still lay where they had stopped, looking like huge grey slugs, each engaged in producing several of its disgusting bubbles at different stages. …I looked out again. Half a dozen objects, looking like tight round bales, were rolling over and over on their way to the street that led to the waterfront.

After this the raids increase to a full onslaught on coasts  around the world with hundreds of “sea-tanks”  causing thousands of deaths. However the machines (if that is truly  what they are) are  vulnerable to explosive shells,  and eventually they are held at bay   by a combination of mines, weaponry and an alert public:

It was the Irish who took almost the whole weight of the north-European attack, which  was conducted, according to Bocker,  from a base somewhere in the Deep, south of Rockall. They rapidly developed a skill in dealing with them that made it a point of dishonour that even one should get away…England’s only raids occurred  in Cornwall, and they too were small affairs for the most part.

The raids cease but,  as  Bocker prophesies in a radio  broadcast, “These things, whatever  they may be, have not only succeeeded in throwing us out of their element  with ease, but already they have advanced  to do battle with us in ours. For the moment  we have pushed them back, but they will return, for the same urge drives them as drives us – the neccessity to exterminate, or be exterminated. And when they come again , if we let them, they will come better equipped…

icebergs

In Phase Three the intelligences succeed in melting the Arctic  and Antarctic polar ice,   and water levels around the globe start to rise rapidly.  As  London is progressively  flooded the government flees to Harrogate.  Mike and Phyllis stay on in the capital  to broadcast from an EBC studio  until   conditions  become impossible. By now the government has ceased broadcasting,  and the country has balkanised   into a series of armed enclaves of  desperate people,  ready  and willing to shoot at others seeking safety and food.  The Watsons manage to find a boat and, after a number of adventures, make their way to their cottage in Cornwall, where Phyllis, with her usual foresight,  has laid in stocks of food.

Some months later they learn from a neighbour that their names have been  broadcast by Bocker, who is  part of a Council  for Reconstruction. He wants  them to go London  to help in  the business of rebuilding a post-deluge society. What about the inteligences?  According to Bocker, scientists   have succeeded at last in building an ultra-sound weapon that is being used to systematically to kill them   and  clear the deeps.  The last words in the novel go to  Phyllis, wise as ever:

I was just thinking…Nothing is really new, is it, Mike? Once upon a time there was a great plain, covered with forests and full of wild animals. I expect our ancestors hunted there. Then one day the water came and drowned it all and there was the North Sea…I think we’ve been here before, Mike…and and we got through last time.

Stories about what might lurk in the sea and one day rise to the surface are part of folk-culture and go back centuries. Wyndham successfully plays on these primitive fears in what is a deftly plotted story, driven by  the narrative, which  slowly rachets up the tension.   He also  subverts the conventional alien invasion novel   in which “they”  crash to earth and set about  the violent destruction of humanity. In The Kraken Wakes  “they” arrive silently and stealthily: in fact we are never quite clear whether this is  really an  invasion at all;  are the intelligences  simply seeking a new home in the deeps, but are then forced to deal with  the intrusive behaviour of humanity who will not leave them alone?

In the end  it seems the planet  cannot be shared, a conclusion that  even the humanitarian Bocker is forced to accept. The idea of the aliens “shrimping” human beings in their sea raids,  as Phyllis graphically  puts it,  is surely a nod by Wyndham  to Wells’ The War of the Worlds in which the Martians’ war machines use their ” long, flexible, glittering tentacles” to harvest  human beings and put them in a basket to be later used,  as Wells hints,  for some ghastly alien purpose.

As in  The Day of the Triffids,  Wyndham cannot resist some social  satire, poking fun at the fickleness of public opinion which demands immediate action, any action, to solve  a perceived problem,  and the stock responses of the press:

The news of the latest sinking was announced on the 8am news bulletin on a Saturday. The Sunday papers took full advantage of  their opportunity. At least six of them slashed at official incompetence with almost eighteenth-century gusto, and set the pitch for the Dailies. The Times screwed down rebukes to make the juice  run out. The Guardian’s approach was similar in intention, but more like an advancing set of circular-saws in manner…The Worker, after pointing out that in a properly ordered society such tragedies would have been  impossible since luxury liners would not exist and therefore could not be sunk, rounded upon owners who drove seamen into danger in unprotected ships at inadequate wages. 

It  can plausibly  be The Sea Devilsargued  that The Kraken Wakes influenced Maclolm Hulke’s 1971  Doctor Who serial “The Sea Devils”,  in which an undersea colony of Silurians – intelligent reptiles who once ruled the earth millions of years ago –  are awoken and begin attacking ships, sinking them.  In one episode they also come ashore to attack the coast.  The Doctor tries to make  peace between the Silurians and humanity – but fails,  and they are destroyed.    As Malcolm once said,  What you need for science fiction is a good original idea. It doesn’t have to be your original idea.” You can read my post on the work of Malcolm Hulke here.

 

Productions

It is  surprising that The Kraken Wakes has never  been filmed or produced as a television  series, since it offers a great deal of dramatic incident, while the melting of the icecaps chimes with contemporary concerns over global warming.

The novel  has been produced as a radio series on a number of occasions.

In  1954 it was produced by Peter Watts  on the Third Programme from  a script by  John Keir Cross. Michael Watson was played by Robert Beatty, Phyllis Watson was played by Grizelda Hervey.

In 1965 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast an adaptation starring Sam Paine, Shirley Broderick, Michael Irwin and Derek Walston. You can listen to this here

In 1998 it was produced by Susan Roberts on Radio Four from  a script by John Constable. Michael Watson was played by John Branwell, Phyllis Watson was played by  Kathryn Hunt.

In 2008  it was produced by Susan Roberts on Radio Four from  a script by John Constable. Michael Watson was played by Jonathan Cake, Phyllis Watson was  played by Sarah Todd.

On 8 January 2016 a new adaptation, written by Val McDermid, was recorded live in Media City,  Salford, with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. It  starred  Tamsin Greig, Paul Higgins and Richard Harrington. The score was composed by  Alan Edward Williams.  The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, played herself in pre-recorded section. This production was  broadcast on Radio Four on 28  May 2016. More information here

Finally, the title of the book comes from a poem by Tennyson, The Kraken.

Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

 

If  you would like to comment on this post, you can either  comment  via the blog or email me, fopsfblog@gmail.

 

 

 

“fantasies of possibility”: classic science fiction in books, on television and in film

H g wells

I will be writing  in this blog about science fiction in books, on television and occasionally on film. I have taken the title from H G Wells since  this  is what he himself called his work, he  never called it  “science fiction,” a  term  then unknown.

In  a preface to  a new edition of The Sleeper Awakes, published in 1921  by Odhams Press,  H G  wrote

It is the first of a series of books I  have written at intervals…they are all “fantasies of possibility,” each one  takes some great creative tendency, or group of tendencies , and develops its possible consequences  in the future.

I think H G summed  up in his inimitable style   what has always attracted me to the genre of science fiction:  the ideas and imagination which at their best can make you look at the world in a different way.

Marlow Library

Marlow Library

I have been reading and watching  science fiction  for more than  fifty years. As an eight  year old I watched the first episode of Doctor Who, “An Unearthly Child”, on 23 November 1963 –  and have been watching ever since.

I read the Doctor Who novels written  by David Whitaker,  The Daleks and The Crusade, and then moved on to other works, essentially  all the science fiction  novels which  Marlow Library  possessed. I read the classics – Jules Verne, H G Wells, John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury.

In addition I also read many  of  the science fiction  novels which were published by Victor Gollancz in distinctive yellow covers,  and were  therefore easy  to pick out on the shelves.  Naturally I went  to see the Doctor  Who films in 1965 and 1966 , either at the Regal Cinema in Marlow or The Palace in High Wycombe (both buildings sadly demolished).

I  also went to see 2001: a Space Odyssey  in 1968 which I enjoyed,  but struggled to understand, especially  the last section. As a child  I spent a lot of time off school with asthma  and thus books were a godsend. One of our neighbours, lent  me  back issues of an American  science fiction magazine ( I cannot recall the title),   and I read them from cover to cover, often several times.

stand on zanzibar

By the 1970s I was reading novels  by John Brunner such as  Stand on Zanzibar and The Shock Wave Rider, James Blish’s  Cities in Flight series,  and Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand  of Darkness:  on television I  was still watching Doctor Who with Jon Pertwee and then Tom Baker as the Doctor,   and also  watched series such as DoomwatchSurvivors and Blake’s Seven.

Recently  I have been reading works by Ian Banks,  Neil Gaiman, Kate Griffin,  Ken Macleod,  Ian McDonald,   China Mieville and Cherie Priest.

I have also been revisiting  some  of those novels  that  I first read as a teenager : H G Wells, John Wyndham,  Fred Hoyle, for instance. Over the next few months I will be  writing  about these,  and how they seem to me now.  Of course in some sense you can never read a book twice in the literal sense;  you are never the same person as when you read it for the very  first  time.

I would be delighted to hear from anyone who shares this passion. My email address is: fopsblog@gmail.com