Category Archives: SciFi

Why they burn

Berlin book burning May 10, 1933 — (from image in U.S. public domain)

Berlin book burning May 10, 1933

Do you remember why Ray Bradbury’s firemen burned books? I thought of this again when I saw that the free speech advocates over the pond at English Pen were screening the movie version of Fahrenheit 451.

I confess to being skeptical whether they’ll get to the original reason, but maybe they will. Their announcement quotes from the book:

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it.” — Ray Bradbury

Like most people, I’d forgotten Bradbury’s reason until The Observer’s Ryan Holiday reminded us of the real reason we need to stop trying to protect everyone’s feelings:

If you’d asked me what it was about before last week, I would have told you: “Firemen who burn books.”

And if you’d asked me why on earth they did that, I would have answered just as confidently: “Because a tyrannical government wanted them to.”

There is a trend afoot to conveniently remember the works of authors like Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley as warnings against distant totalitarianism and control. But this only scratches the surface of what these books are about.

Note that he said “conveniently remember.” That trend has only gotten worse. Or better, depending on your point-of-view.

Bradbury’s society did not burn books because of the government. Holiday quotes the book:

“You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, What do we want in this country above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right? … Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, to the incinerator.”

It’s the people rioting in the streets that want your books burned. Perhaps it’s not so much that Bradbury saw this coming but that it has often been this way.

It was the German Student Union that organized burning books with the SA brownshirts in Nazi Germany.

Raumpatrouille: 1960s German SF

Raumpatrouille (Space Patrol) was a seven-episode German science fiction show in the ’60s. The style was somewhat reminiscent of the movie Forbidden Planet.

YouTuber Rewboss gives a short but thorough explanation for English speakers:

The show is well worth a look. The first episode is here. Be sure to turn on the subtitles for a translation.

This is what people in the ’60s thought the future would be like. Expect more than a few scenes to be unintentionally funny. The dancing in the background reminds me of SNL’s Sprockets, which adds to the charm.

All seven episodes are available on YouTube. Some videos don’t have the English subtitles, but there is an alternative if you look around.

Axanar is Go

But it’s in pieces. Little pieces.

As I explained last year, Star Trek’s powers-that-be had decided that the fan film Axanar needed to be axed after more than a few warp-factors too many. Several unwritten lines had been crossed, forcing Paramount to write it all down in ink. As Engadget reports:

Although the full list of changes hasn’t been made public yet, it has been announced that the film will need to abide by at least some of the official fan film guidelines. Specifically, the production can only be 30 minutes long in total, and even then it has to be split into two parts. The Axanar film also can’t have “Star Trek” in the title, cannot use public crowd-funding and may not compensate any of the professional talent for their work.

The 30-minute length is a big loss for what was intended to be a feature-length movie. The only big break I see is that they’re allowing Gary Graham to appear as Soval the Vulcan, seen in this teaser:

My first post on Axanar is here. It links to the original promo, which was already longer than each section is to be permitted.

I always understood the reasons for these positions. Still, this is a major loss for the production, and for us fans. But it’s better than nothing.

Christmas book deals

Merry Christmas! And Happy Hanukkah!

It’s Christmas time and author Christopher Nuttall is giving away the first book from two of his mil-SF series: The Empire’s Corps and Ark Royal.

They are free from December 24th through 26th. Details at his blog here.

And if you haven’t gotten my book yet: the Kindle edition of One Thousand Years (the first of my series) will be discounted to 99 cents through January 1st.

“We Pledge Allegiance”

I’ve been watching the various preview videos for season two of The Man in the High Castle. There are a number of them.

If you’ve been on safari for the last few years, this is based on the book of the same name by Philip K. Dick. Both the book and the TV series take place in an alternative 1960s America where the Allies lost WWII. And lost it badly. The U.S. was partitioned between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Here’s one of the videos via YouTube, which I believe is the opening scene of this second season:

The show is produced by Amazon and available online. The first episode of season 1 is available free. The trailer to this second season is here. From there you should see links to other clips.

In any event, this scene is interesting in another way: It shows the students of this school reciting a Nazified version of the Pledge of Allegiance. One might think they would be using a Hitler salute rather than the conventional hand over the heart. They don’t until the very end. In reality, what we think of nowadays as a Hitler salute was also called the “Bellamy salute,” after Francis Bellamy. That’s the guy who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance.*

Bellamy salute, 1941

Bellamy salute, 1941

This was, in fact, how most people used to do the pledge. It only changed in 1942, for obvious reasons. Now, people find it funny that Nazis did it without realizing how common this salute had been for decades.

My guess is that the show’s producers either didn’t know this history, or decided it would be better to use the form that most people know about. There are reasons to give the audience what’s more familiar. That would make it feel more real even if it’s less.

* Francis Bellamy was the cousin of Edward Bellamy, the writer of 1888’s Looking Backward: 2000–1887.

A very special Star Trek Continues

Embracing the Winds

Embracing the Winds

I’m late but I wanted to review the latest episode of Star Trek Continues: Embracing the Winds. It’s basically about equal rights for women, a big subject in the ’60s and ’70s. Those “Winds” in the title must be the winds of progress.

(If you’re new to Star Trek Continues, you can read my first post on the topic, which has links to the episodes. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.)

Let me say right off that I generally detest TV’s “very special episodes.” Their morality lessons always come off as patronizing, pandering and smarmy. That’s because they are. Always. Few people believe they write these things for our enjoyment. Ten percent of the time, it’s to teach viewers whatever they think we need to learn. The other ninety percent: they want to win awards from their colleagues. And all this time, those colleagues are trying to out-patronize, out-pander and out-smarm each other with their own very special episodes.

Star Trek Continues (STC) gets away with it a little bit because they’re doing it for a different purpose. They’re not really trying to teach us this lesson. (And if I’m wrong, somebody needs to drag Vic Mignogna — best Kirk since Shatner — to the asylum on Elba II.) They’re trying to do 1960s TV, while at the same time trying to explain away Starfleet’s rule (from the episode “Turnabout Intruder“) that women cannot be starship captains.

By the way, don’t blame naval tradition for this. Commanding a warship required experience on those ships, and that’s where the barrier was. This shouldn’t be a problem on Starfleet’s Enterprise, which has plenty of women.

STC blames the rule on diplomatic problems with some member planets opposing women’s rights. Although it’s a clever bit of retcon, I don’t think this works. Other species had their own ships on this show. And besides that, in real life, captains of capital ships aren’t selected by field tribunals.

The problem here is that this show is supposed to be as from the ’60s. That’s just the way they were back then. Things weren’t changing that fast.

The first Star Wars was almost ten years later: Smuggling and blockade running was still a man’s game. Remember that hangar at the rebel base, and all those ground personnel preflighting the fighters? Men. The pilots? Men. Yes, the princess did some intelligence and courier work, but she stayed at the base when the climactic battle began. Men did the fighting. I don’t even need to mention the Empire.

Same story with the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica. Its versions of Starbuck and Boomer were guys.

That Galactica did have women pilots — in one episode. They needed to learn to fly when the men were sick. I don’t remember the details, but it was probably like when Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife got sick, and Thelma Lou and Aunt Bea had to defend Mayberry from mobsters.

On the other hand, Buck Rogers did have a woman pilot around that same time as Galactica. But Wilma Deering was in the original 1928 book as well, although as a soldier, not a pilot.

Anyway, Star Trek didn’t have a problem only with women captains. I don’t remember any women in security either. That’s just the way things were.

I often think Star Trek’s status on the vanguard of civil rights is overblown, but I’ll give Roddenberry some credit here. As seen in the pilot (“The Cage”), the first officer was originally going to be a woman. As the story goes, he had to back down when the studios balked. That would have changed everything. Since executive officers are generally in line to become ship captains, it would have followed that the rule wouldn’t have existed anymore. The writers would have had to come up with another motive for the crazy lady in “Turnabout Intruder.”

As for the episode itself, it was fun after the very special groaning. Not their best, but always better than the latest movie. Look for Erin Gray as Commodore Gray. She played Wilma Deering in the ’70s version of Buck Rogers. This was her second appearance on STC.

The rest of the performances are also top notch. In particular, watching Chris Doohan as Mr. Scott is a treat for any real fan of the original series. This is an “amateur” production in the same sense as the Japanese government calling its military the “Japan Self-Defense Forces.” The label understates their true power. In other words, they’re professionals, and it shows.

This episode is also available on YouTube:

(Okay, I made up the Andy Griffith episode.)

Fan-O-Rama (Futurama) preview

Fan-O-Rama poster
You have to like this if you’ve seen a few episodes of the show. It’s Futurama as a live-action film.

Hollywood is in big trouble. I may have said that before. It’s true.

Like many of the various Star Trek fan-films, this isn’t really a small project. There are some bigger names, like Rich Little as the voice of the reanimated Nixon. But Hollywood’s big problem is that there clearly will become a point where we won’t need them anymore.

Just imagine what the small fan-productions will be doing ten years from now.

It looks like this will be a fun movie. Their website is here.

The preview is beautiful:

John Carter on Mars began 150 years ago today

Gino D'Anchille, A Princess of Mars

Gino D’Anchille, A Princess of Mars

On March 3, 1866, 150 years ago today, John Carter began his journey from the Arizona hills to the planet Mars.
Amazon // Kindle // Gutenberg // Librivox ]

The book itself was first serialized in 1912. The adventure took decades for Captain Carter to wind up back on Earth, and then for his nephew to get the story.

The movies (one big budget, and one knockoff) didn’t do them justice. The big one tried but turned Carter from a warrior with “Virginian fighting blood” into a discouraged vet — the only kind that Hollywood thinks it knows about.

The knockoff blew a huge opportunity to have the better version.

It’s book number 62 on Gutenberg. That should tell you something of its worth.

Michael Whelan, A Princess of Mars

Michael Whelan, A Princess of Mars

Many of us started reading this series with covers by Gino D’Achille (above) or Michael Whelan (right). These links go to pages on Scott Dutton’s website showing their original full wraparound cover paintings without the text.

Dutton also has a page for earlier covers by Robert K. Abbett. This also includes some virgin art as well.

These pages also have links to Dutton’s own Barsoom sequel, Return to Barsoom.