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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 09/02/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 10, Whole Number 1926
Table of Contents
Frustration (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
My exercycle started squeaking as I rode on it. I looked up in Google possible fixes to a noisy bicycle. It taught me a great lesson. It is very frustrating to try everything you can to fix a problem and nothing works. It is almost as frustrating to try everything you can think of, have it work, and then have no idea which attempt worked. [-mrl]
American SF/Horror Anthology Series of the 1950s and 1960s (Part 1, The 1950s) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The 1950s and 1960s, when I was growing up, was a sort of heyday of the science fiction anthology series. The people who made the programming for television were aware that continuing character- driven programs had some advantages over anthology series. One could get interested in a character like Sgt. Joe Friday and he would not have to be explained to the audience. The viewing public knew who Friday was and he did not have to be told who he was in the next episode of DRAGNET. However, in the next episode Friday would still be in Los Angeles and Friday would still be tracking down a lawbreaker.
It was much easier to get new ideas into a brand new 30-minute episode. So in the United States there were a handful of TV anthology science fiction series. There were four major genre programs in these decades. Two were continuing character series and two were anthology series. The major science fiction shows were THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (1952-1958), THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-1964), THE OUTER LIMITS (1963-1964), and STAR TREK (1966- 1969).
I was also too young to appreciate the anthology series TALES OF TOMORROW and saw them a good many years later. Below are the anthology series of my early years. Where possible I will include links for the reader to samples of these series.
1951 - 1953 TALES OF TOMORROW
Probably the most indelible memory of TALES OF TOMORROW is the opening title image. A hand that we do not see is wearing a builders' glove with a spring attached to the back. It reaches for a knife switch. Pulling it down we see electricity arcing between two electrodes. Man, that's science fiction. But I do wonder what kind of a future world were they expecting? TALES OF TOMORROW had a very tiny budget for special effects. The crude technology of the time allowed them to do only live TV plays. This occasionally caused problems when they cut away to an ad for a refrigerator or a watchband. Seen today some of the ads were as entertaining as the program.
TALES OF TOMORROW was in a good position to hire at low cost some then-unknown actors for their plays, many of whom would become a good deal better known in time to come. It was not at all uncommon to see actors like Paul Newman, James Dean, Rod Steiger, Jack Warden, and Leslie Nielson with thankless small parts in an episode.
Among their stories they presented what are now familiar stories like Frederic Brown's "Little Black Bag" and Henry Kuttner's "What You Need" (which showed up on THE TWILIGHT ZONE as a fantasy). They also adapted a very rushed 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA with Thomas Mitchell as Nemo. Their adaptation of FRANKENSTEIN became legend when Lon Chaney Jr. Showed up very drunk. In live television no matter what, the show had to go on. Chaney thought he was in a rehearsal and would pick up furniture he was supposed to smash and then just lay it down gently. In general the stories were about nuclear war, space and time travel, generally the same sort of stories that THE TWILIGHT ZONE would do, but theirs would be more polished.
TALES OF TOMORROW was planned and written for adults, though it had a loyal younger following also.
1955 - 1957 SCIENCE FICTION THEATRE
While TALES OF TOMORROW when for flashier sci-fi sorts of stories, SCIENCE FICTION THEATRE was much more conservatively grounded in real science extrapolation.
Now this program I remember quite well watching the original broadcasts. Any of the fans will remember actor and radio announcer Truman Bradley. Each week Bradley would start the program demonstrating some scientific principle and then we would see a dramatized program built around that principle. The science was considered very important to the program. Bradley's demonstration would be about two minutes of a 22-minute program. The producers wanted to defend science fiction as being very closely bound to real science. These stories had a minimum of fantasy. The fiction was in service to the scientific principle. But the subject matter would be about super powers, time travel, suspended animation, space travel, alien visitations, and flying saucers. The stories were not usually by major authors and were generally fairly simple. One I remember had a strange man hanging around some astronomers. When he went away he left them a photograph. It turns out the photograph is a picture of the solar system as taken from well outside of it.
The actors were frequently people who showed up in science fiction films of the decade. There were people like Marshall Thompson, Arthur Franz, Jean Byron, William Schallert, Ed Kemmer, and Morris Ankrum. The series was produced by Ivan Tors who also produced SEA HUNT, FLIPPER, and several other TV shows. The series ran for 78 episodes.
1955 - 1965 ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS
(When it had hour episodes it was called THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR)
This program deserves some mention, though it was not science fiction or horror. It is quite popular and was a rich source of crime, drama, comedy, and irony stories. A very few of the stories were arguably horror. In particular the ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR had a Robert Bloch story "The Sign of Satan" which used Christopher Lee to good advantage. It also adapted John Wyndhsm's "Consider Her Ways.
1958 - 1958 THE VEIL
http://tinyurl.com/mtv-tveil 1959 - 1961 ONE STEP BEYOND
These two series were actually very similar in content if not in execution. One major difference was that though twelve episodes of THE VEIL were filmed, they were never broadcast. ONE STEP BEYOND did have good sized audience. Each series told fanciful tales of the supernatural claimed to be true. Boris Karloff hosted THE VEIL while John Newland was the host of ONE STEP BEYOND. Each week it was a different story. A typical story might have somebody is murdered leaving a non-removable stain on the wall. With time the stain reshapes itself until it becomes a picture of the screaming victim. Many of the stories were like that with the supernatural reaching out and avenging some evil-doing. The most memorable icon of ONE STEP BEYOND is the brilliantly creepy musical theme that Harry Lubin composed for the program: http://tinyurl.com/mtv-1step
1959 - 1964 TWILIGHT ZONE
What is there to say about THE TWILIGHT ZONE? It became the gold standard of not just genre anthology series but of anthology series in general. Rod Serling, the son of a butcher, was already one of the great writers of television drama before anybody ever heard the words "twilight zone." Serling had written great television plays like "Patterns" and "Requiem for a Heavyweight." He knew fantasy would give him greater freedom in what he could write about. And he was gambling that fantasy would attract a much wider viewership than what social dramas would attract. Who would want to watch a play about an ad executive crumbling under the pressure of his job and being driven to his death? But if he stops on the way in a romanticized old-fashioned town called Willoughby people will still be anxious to see it decades later. Writing in science fiction and fantasy Serling could write some solid drama for an avid audience
The average episode does not have much of a theme or even a good story. If it just has a little fantasy and a surprise (though telegraphed) ending it got made. Nor was it very original. Serling would borrow plots from films like DEAD OF NIGHT. The early seasons had most of the best episodes. Some of the later entries are actually painful to watch like "The Bewitchin' Pool." But enough of the stories were strong enough to keep an avid audience. The second to last season the show was expanded to hour- long episodes. But few of the stories made much use of the extra time and too many of the stories had to stall out to pass the time. The series went back to half-hour episodes the next season.
At its best THE TWILIGHT ZONE was superb. My choice for the best episode would be "Mirror Image" starring Vera Miles, written and directed by Rod Serling.
Next time I will continue with TV series that started in the 1960s.
The Beloit Mindset List (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
On this year's Beloit College Mindset List, my favorite entries are:
1. There has always been a digital swap meet called eBay.
6. Vladimir Putin has always been calling the shots at the Kremlin.
8. Cloning has always been a mundane laboratory procedure.
9. Elian Gonzalez, who would like to visit the U.S. again someday, has always been back in Cuba.
10. The United States has always been at war.
21. Vaccines have always been erroneously linked to autism.
24. Catholics and Lutherans have always been in agreement on how to get to heaven.
27. They disagree with their parents as to which was the "first" Star Wars episode.
30. Bada Bing - Tony and Carmela Soprano and the gang have always been part of American culture.
38. A Bush and a Clinton have always been campaigning for something big.
41. Snowboarding has always been an Olympic sport.
46. The once-feared Thalidomide has always been recognized as a cancer fighting drug.
59. War films have always shown horrific battle scenes inspired by Saving Private Ryan.
[The full list is at https://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2020/.]
SUICIDE SQUAD, STAR TREK BEYOND, Hugos and Retro Hugos, SEVENEVES and Spoilers, and TRUMBO and A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to various items in recent issues of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:
For months I've been making mental notes for LoCs I never write. The great enemy of fanac is work: whenever I get on my laptop, the temptation is to potter around with my work email, instead of doing something of more lasting value, like responding to the latest MT VOID. (But let me just take one minute to look at the Japan 24x7 docs--retro me, Satanas!)
To answer Dale Skran on why SUICIDE SQUAD is accused of sexism: Harley Quinn is transformed from a trickster figure in the comics to a sexpot in hot pants who performs a striptease. (Australian actress Margot Robbie, who seems to be in every movie these days, is gorgeous. of course, but whoever-it-is playing her lover, The Joker, lacks the charisma to make their relationship even remotely plausible.) The film left a bad taste in my mouth for other reasons, however: e.g., for making a hero out of the hit man played by Will Smith merely because he doesn't murder women (the sexist swine) or children. And because the story has a government official (played by the great Viola Davis) blithely murder her own assistants, just to make the hit man look good by comparison. (Even the most rabid Hillary-haters don't think she got those people in Benghazi killed on purpose!)
STAR TREK BEYOND also left a little bit of a bad taste, because the villain turns out to be that familiar cliche, the Crazed Military Man. I can still remember the infinite pains to which Orson Scott Card was put, in his novelization of James Cameron's ABYSS, to make psychological sense of that film's Crazed Military Man. (Card read excerpts at a Philcon.)
Retro Hugos: My first thought was, it's good that the vote wasn't affected by political correctness. My second thought was, what are those minor stories by Leigh Brackett doing on the ballot? All the other nominees are classics that have been reprinted a hundred times. Anyway, we dodged the bullet this time.
Hugos: Or maybe not. N. K. Jemisin has done much better work in the past: THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS was good (though I confess I skipped a few disks in the audiobook); and THE BROKEN KINGDOMS was simply thrilling, with a great protagonist. But I just barely slogged through THE FIFTH SEASON.
One-third of the book's chapters are wizarding school (not done well); another third have the familiar trope of an adult and a child (actually another one of Jemisin's uncanny child demigods) traveling across a post-holocaust world (yawn). And then there are the chapters in which the heroine comes to maturity and learns the Awful Truths about her world. These held my attention, but it soon became obvious that Jemisin's world building is particularly rickety.
Her world is based on a kind of cracked syllogism:
A. The world is constantly threatened by deadly earthquakes and tsunamis.
B. Some people have magic powers to stop the aforementioned earthquakes and tsunamis.
C. Therefore, the magic people are driven away or killed--or ham- handedly abused so they actually cause earthquakes and tsunamis! This is so obviously stupid that the heroine soon encounters a community which takes a less idiotic attitude.
It doesn't help that the heroine becomes a mass-murder. (I'm trying to avoid spoilers.) It reminded me of the scene in the movie, RAGTIME, in which Coalhouse Walker kills a half-dozen policemen with a bomb--but they're very small and very far away, and the audience never met them. Being a Victim of Oppression absolves one of blame.
Speaking of spoilers, it's unfortunate Joe Karpierz's review of Neal Stephenson's SEVENEVES gave away so much of the ending. It robs future readers of the delight of figuring out what's going on for themselves. Luckily, Joe didn't spoil it for me, as I had already read the book (which should have won the Hugo). Similarly, I consider myself fortunate for having seen the Samurai classic, HARA KIRI, without knowing in advance where the story is going. When I later gave the film as a gift, I would always warn the recipients not to read the plot summary. Surprise is a fragile but beautiful thing.
A final issue that's been niggling at me for a while: Mark's movie recommendations of TRUMBO and A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS raise the issue of Hollywood hagiography. Literally, in the latter case: that film glossed over St. Thomas More's taste for Protestant flambe. The late Christopher Hitchens gloated that Hilary Mantel's WOLF HALL has done something to redress the balance.
Similarly, the real Dalton Trumbo was a Stalinist who, during the alliance of Hitler and Stalin, produced what amounts to pro-Nazi propaganda. In THE REMARKABLE ANDREW (1941), the ghost of Andrew Jackson explains the many good reasons why the U.S. should not help Great Britain, at that time standing alone against Nazi Germany. Shortly after that, of course, Hitler attacked Stalin, and Trumbo went from fake pacifist to real war hawk literally overnight.
I guess we just have to assume any historical film is a tissue of lies, until proven otherwise. [-tw]
And later Taras added (from an article in THE ATLANTIC on academic freedom ( http://tinyurl.com/void-atlantic-spoilers):
"In fact, a 'trigger warning' might refer to matters as varied as a warning to a combat veteran that a scene in a war movie might trigger his medically diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ... and a professor caving to a demand (actually made by a Rutgers student) that classmates about to read THE GREAT GATSBY be forewarned that it contains (spoiler alert) depictions of 'suicide, domestic abuse and graphic violence.' [...]
"Even if we assume that a warning about suicide in THE GREAT GATSBY does help a trauma-prone student to get through an English class more comfortably, it could still be in conflict with a professor's belief that, pedagogically speaking, most students *cannot meaningfully experience the novel if major plot points are prematurely spoiled*." (Emphasis mine.)
(If college students find THE GREAT GATSBY traumatizing, you kind of wonder what they'd been reading before. Nothing? [-tw]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
12 YEARS A SLAVE by Solomon Northup (ISBN 978-1-631-68002-1) was chosen for this month by our book discussion. A lot of the discussion focused on whether Northup himself wrote it, or whether it was written by the editor (sort of "as told to"). The editor's preface seems to hint at the latter, and if so, that affects what conclusions one can draw from some of the characterizations of slaves and African-Americans in general that might otherwise be attributed to Northup. Northup does say that he received far more education than others in his position did (he was the son of a freed slave), so he might have written it, and then there was editing after that.
In any case we agreed that it was well worth reading, no matter what the actual writing process was. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: An author who speaks about his own books is almost as bad as a mother who talks about her own children. --Benjamin DisraeliTweet
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