The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Original

Day the Earth Stood StillThe original The Day the Earth Stood Still, made in 1951 starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Lock Martin, and Frances Bavier, has become more than a classic, it has become an icon of classic Sci-fi.  This is a bit odd because the movie does not contain any of the usual hallmarks of early Sci-Fi: no massive explosions, no creepy monsters, no flying saucers whizzing around destroying things.  This film made its mark because of superior writing and some truly memorable performances by the cast.

To be clear, there is a flying saucer; but it lands on a park in Washington DC and stays there (in a very unthreatening manner) throughout the movie until its departure at the end.  There is a fairly fearsome robot that could be considered the “monster” of the film except it does not go on a rampage; its role is purely defensive.  And there is an alien, but he’s not some tentacled monster with eight eyes.  In fact, once he gets out of his space suit he is able to walk around the city unnoticed because he looks so human. Continue reading “The Day the Earth Stood Still”

Trogoltis Syndrome

| Part One of a Larger Story |

space-inspired-wallpapers17A knock at the door of my cabin, “Captain, may I speak with you, sir?”

“Of course, Chief. How are things below?”

My Personnel Chief stepped into the room. The set of his eyes and fidgety fingers told me he was nervous.

“Not good, Sir.” I turned away from the console I’d been working with and gave him my full attention. “Most of the labor force is quite sick. The Medical Officer is unable to fight it effectively. He’s sure it’s Trogoltis Syndrome.”

My face contorted in thought. This was not unexpected, but I had hoped it would not be so soon. “Just how bad is it, Chief?” Continue reading “Trogoltis Syndrome”

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Sky Captain WOTThis American pulp adventure, dieselpunk film starring Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Givanni Ribisi, written and directed by Kerry Conran is his directorial debut.  The action is fast, the dialogue terse and witty, and the characters are larger than life. The script is very well written and, of course with this cast, the acting is excellent.

Jude Law is the almost superhero, millionaire, mercenary aviator Joeseph “Sky Captain” Sullivan who is called upon to save New York City when it comes under attack by giant robots.  Giovanni Ribishi is his brainy scientist/inventor side-kick, Dex.  Gwyneth Paltrow is the old-flame, spunky newspaper reporter, Polly Perkins, who gets pulled back into Joe’s life when she is contacted by a German scientist who is fleeing a mad genius named Totenkoph (Lawrence Olivier) who is bent on destroying the world.  He gives her information vital to Joe and Dex’s quest to find out where the robots came from and what they are after. This mission takes them all over the world and causes them to enlist the aid of Captain Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie), who also has a history with Joe. When they finally ferret out the mad genius and his secret World of Tomorrow, what they find is more surprising, and sinister, than any of them had dared imagine! Continue reading “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”

Movie Review: Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells

Infinite Worlds H.G. WellsIf you like Doctor Who and Young Sherlock, you’re sure to like this solid Sci-Fi romp through the novels of H.G. Wells.  Even if you’ve never read his novels, this four hour, 3 part mini-series from the Hallmark Channel will delight and amaze you.

The tale opens with a reporter (played by Eve Best) coming to an aged and highly successful Wells’ home to interview him about the inspirations behind his most successful books.  Reluctantly, Wells (played by Tom Ward) begins a tale of adventure, romance and mystery which begins when he was a struggling pulp writer haunting the local university laboratory for inspiration.  And what inspiration he found! Continue reading “Movie Review: Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells”

Movie Review: Destination Moon

Destination MoonWhen production on Destination Moon began in 1949, everything about the project was state of the art. The great science fiction author Robert Heinlein co-wrote the script (based on his novel Rocketship Galileo) and served as technical adviser. The film’s astronomical visions were realized by Chesley Bonestell, whose artwork virtually defined the look of space travel at the dawn of the rocket era. Destination Moon is even noted in NASA’s official timeline of space-travel history, and almost inevitably won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects. It remains a milestone film, not so much as classic science fiction but–like 2001: A Space Odyssey 18 years later, as an attempt to visualize the reality of space exploration. (To educate the audience on this topic, Woody Woodpecker makes an animated guest appearance, hosting an instructional film on the basics of rocketeering.) Continue reading “Movie Review: Destination Moon”

Movie Review: Battle Beyond the Stars

Battle Beyond the StarsBattle Beyond the Stars, starring Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, John Saxon, George Peppard, and a host of others is the story of a young man who ventures out from his pacifist home planet when it comes under attack by the evil tyrant Sador. His mission is to find mercenaries who will come defend Akira and save his people. His vessel, Nell (which reminds me of a flying moose with breasts) is the last corsair in existence and comes with a sharp-tongued artificial intelligence. Continue reading “Movie Review: Battle Beyond the Stars”

Steampunk War of the Worlds Video

Great Martian WarAnyone who knows me knows that I like classic Sci-fi, and that I dabble around with video.  In my case the video is all very basic stuff and nearly all is centered around promoting our foster dogs so they have a better chance of finding a forever home.

Today I came across this video.  Using World War I archival footage, some CGI, and reenactment footage, this short film shows what a Martian War of the Worlds would have looked like in 1914.  It’s very well done.

I have several versions of The War of the Worlds on DVD:

  1. The original Paramount version set in the 1950s with the manta shaped flying machines and staring Gene Barry.  Having read the book many times this version and it’s flying machines was a disappointment.
  2. The  modern version staring Tom Cruise.  Better but still not very faithful to the book.
  3. A 2005 Pendragon version set at the turn of the century (19th-20th) and staring Anthony Piana which uses jerky, stop action photography for the martian walking machines.  The movie is long (180 minutes) and the acting is not the best, but I feel this one is most faithful to H.G Wells’s original manuscript.

Because I am such a fan of this book and the various movie take-offs, I very much enjoyed PLAZMA’s steampunk version, even though it’s just a few minutes long  I hope you will too.  If you do, the project has a web site at The Great Martian War, where more video clips and lots of photographs as well as info about the (fake) documentary they are working on are available.  (NOTE: this web page was hosted by The History Channel and has since been taken down.  I can find no replacement “home” for them.

THE WAGER

Copyright Doug Bittinger, 1988

MarsIt was hot… so hot that even in a cool-suit I could feel my brain sizzling inside my skull. I reached the top of a pile of rocks and stood as tall as I could to scan the horizon before starting down again. Nothing. Just the shimmering air – what little of that there was – and big, sharp rocks with traces of cinnamon-colored sand between them.

“I’m not going to make it.” I sighed, “It’s going to take me four or five hours just to reach the horizon, and I don’t see Transtellar’s dome at all. Not a sign of it. And worst of all: now I’m talking to my self!” I was lost. I was going to die. This didn’t surprise me much, since I knew the risks before I started out, but it was a disappointment; I really thought I could do it.

“Come too far to turn back, have to keep trying…”

I began my descent, my feet heavy, legs weak, vision blurred. Suddenly the rocky ground rushed up at me and everything went bright red, then faded to black.

~/ *_* \~

When I came around, I felt cool air moving against my cheek. The sticky closeness of the cool-suit was gone and I was lying on my back in a bed. I opened my eyes and stared at the off-white ceiling, waiting for my eyes to focus.

“Well, I guess our intrepid wanderer is going to live a bit longer after all. We weren’t sure for a while there.” It was Jana’s voice, but I couldn’t see her. She wasn’t gloating. I thought she would; she’d won the bet. “I’ll be back to settle up with you when you’re more recovered, Mr. Whitley.

“How’d I get myself into this?” I asked myself. Oh yeah, I remember. It started with that argument we had in the rec room.

“Whitley, you know I can’t just let you leave. You have a contract with Petrochem to work here for a full year. You’ve been here less than three months.”

“You can’t be serious, Jana. This place is a dump! I have to share a room with two other guys, the chow tastes like freeze-dried dust, there’s no rec room…”

“Now hold it,” Jana interrupted, waggling a finger at me, “This is a perfectly usable rec room.”

“Oh, yeah,” I scoffed, with a sweep of my arm, “two card tables, a few board games and a jukebox. Where’s the foosball, Jana? Where’s the pool table? Where are the Vid games?”

“And you think Transtellar has those, is that it?”

“Hey, I know they do. I’ve been talking to the hopper jockeys. Transtellar not only has those, but a bowling alley, a real kitchen with canned food, and private rooms. All for the same one-year contract and higher pay scales to boot.”

“I can not, will not, let you out of your contract, Whitley. You can’t go. That’s it.”

She turned to leave, thinking she was going to have the last word in the matter. Since she was the base director, she should have but, me being the fool I am, I couldn’t accept that. “I’ll go anyway.”

She stopped dead in her tracks. Her back was to me but I knew she was rolling her eyes with that ‘God, will these kids ever grow up?’ look of hers. She turned around slowly, speaking in a slow monotone as she came.

“And how do you expect to get there? The trucks don’t have anywhere near that kind of range. The supply ship just left. Another won’t be here for two months. And even then the hoppers always land at Transtellar first, then here. You try to get to Transtellar via Earth and Petrochem will have you in jail the second you step off the transport.”

“I’ll walk if I have to, but I’ve had it with this place. I’m outta here.” I laced my fingers behind my head and leaned back in my chair, trying to look self-assured. Billy just peeked over his cards and kept quiet.

The beginnings of a smile cracked the rigid mask of Jana’s face. “Walk?”

“Yeah. It ain’t so far; ten, twelve hours should do it. I’ve been out there bustin rocks for six hours a day, five days a week for three months now. I’m used to it. I bet I could walk to Transtellar’s dome, no sweat.”

“Bet?” She just stood there a while, her mouth drawing into a pucker. Everyone knew of her penchant for wagering. “OK kid, I’ll take the bet; here’s the deal. I’ll give you a cool suit and a thirty minute head start. If you make it to Transtellar, I fill out the papers as “missing–presumed dead.” If my guys catch you, I get a two year contract from you, at your current pay scale, and no… more… griping. You game?”

I had to think about that. Two years in this place; could I stand that?

On the maps, Transtellar’s mining camp didn’t look very far from our own: we were working the same Iridium field, after all, but I wasn’t sure about the exact distance. I was young, with lots of stamina. But her security team did nothing but exercise in their time off; they were monsters. Probably not very smart though, or they wouldn’t have stayed here so long. I could outwit them easy.

“OK, it’s a deal.” We shook on it. “I’ll leave at dusk tonight.”

She smiled a smile that chilled my bones, “Good. Airlock four. Dusk, tonight.”

Sunset came awfully early that day. I spent the rest of the afternoon in my room. Bill was out on his shift, Jerry was just getting up. A few friends dropped by to offer their condolences and get dib’s on my stuff. Some friends.

Airlock four was the maintenance shed and, as usual, one of our huge trucks was spread all over the floor like some giant 3-D puzzle. I threaded my way through the clutter and rounded the front left tire. Two goons and Jana waited for me next to the airlock.

“We were beginning to worry about you, Whitley. It’s getting dark already. Better suit up fast if you want to make the most of the night.”

Her apes were already suited, visors up to conserve their bottled air, smoking cigars and chatting like this was some normal patrol assignment.

It took a little longer than usual to get dressed, I double checked every strap and joint to make sure it was right. I slung a couple of extra air tanks over my shoulder–the gorillas were taking extra, so could I–and walked out into the bay.

Jana started her timer from the moment they sealed the inner door of the personnel hatch. I had thirty minutes to get as far away from here as possible before they came after me.

Tracks would be easy to follow in the sand, so I’d have to stay in the rocky patches as much as possible. This would slow me down but make finding me harder because they’d provide cover I could hide in. They knew what general direction I’d be going, but they had to actually catch me to win the bet. The outer door swung open and I trotted off into the gathering darkness.

The sweat bands in my helmet were soon soaked. These cool-suits were made for equipment operators, not cross-country runners. Occasionally a droplet got past the band and stung my eye. I tried to blink it away and pressed on.

I hopped over a sandy runnel to the rocks on the other side and stepping-stoned my way into another cluster of boulders. Out of sight, I scrambled through to the other side. Dang: a wide stretch of cinnamon sand lay before me. Cut across and leave tracks, or go around and take five times as long?

I dropped my spare air tanks and climbed one of the shard-like boulders to have a look around. I stared out into the pink and black of Martian night for a long time. Nothing moved. I’d given them the slip.

Encouraged, I retrieved my tanks and trotted out into the loose sand.

~/ *_* \~

Dawn took me by surprise. With very little atmosphere, we don’t get the spectacular painted sky of an Earth sunrise; the sun just sort of slides up over the horizon. No fanfare.

The temp started rising right away. By the time the sun was straight overhead my A/C units were working at max capacity to keep up, and not quite making it. By now the apes would have turned back. They weren’t crazy enough to stay out in this heat so far from base. I changed my air tanks and left the empties lying in the sand; wouldn’t matter if anyone found them now. Transtellar had to be just over the next hill.

Except, it wasn’t.

~/ *_* \~

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath of sweet, fresh med-bay air.

The door banged open and a guy I didn’t recognize carried in a food tray. “Lunch time! Sit up and eat this before it gets cold. Bad enough when it’s hot, worse when it gets cold, but it’s all you’re gonna get.”

I sighed wistfully and said, “I almost made it, you know.”

“Made what?”

“What do you mean, ‘made what?’ Haven’t you heard? I’m the guy that tried to walk to Transtellar.”

My caretaker’s brows knitted and he looked at me as if I’d told him I had five eyes. “Almost walked to Transtellar? You are AT Transtellar.”

“What?” I choked, “I made it? But how… I passed out.”

“I heard one of our surveyors found some fool stumbling around out in a fringe area and brought him in. Must have been you. Lucky thing too or you’d be dead for sure.”

“Ha Haaaa! I won!” Then a thought hit me like a slap in the face, “That woman who was just here, how’d she get here?”

“Ground buggy.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, she and our director visit each other pretty often. The buggies have a lot more speed and range than the heavy trucks. Rumor has it that they’re having an affair.” He winked.

“The bitch! She put me through this when all along… Oh, no matter, I’m here. I’m free. A bet is a bet.”

“Free? You came from Petrochem didn’t you?”

“Yeah, so?”

“I hear Petrochem’s an Eden compared to this dump; real food instead of this reconstituted crap, a racquetball court and everything.”

“No way. Petrochem’s a hole. At least you’ve got a decent rec room.”

“Rec room? All we’ve got is a reading room with a bunch of twenty year old paperbacks.”

“Private rooms?”

“Wards. Ten men to a ward.”

“Oh, God…”

“You been talking to a hopper jock haven’t you? I heard a rumor that Transtellar was offering them a hundred credits for each man they got to sign on when their Petrochem contracts were up. Guess it’s true.” He chuckled, ” Petrochem must be doing the same thing because they’re always talking about how much nicer it is over there; only three to a room, a card room, two days a week off… heaven.”

“I closed my eyes and flopped back into the pillow, “Take the tray away, I can’t eat that slop.”

The orderly just shrugged, picked up the tray, and left.

A while later Jana came back with some papers. “I have your disappearance report right here, once I sign it you’re free to stay here as long as you like. Just like I promised. Wanna see it?”

“No.” I was miserable. “Jana, please; take me back. Don’t leave me here.”

“Can’t do it, sport. We had a bet. You won. I don’t Welch.”

“Please! I’ll even sign the two year contract and say your goons caught me, just don’t leave me here. Please?”

She pinched her lips together and thought it over with a deep sigh. “All right, I’ll get the paperwork.”

She was back in just a few minutes with the two year contract, which I gladly signed. Then a doctor came in and prepared a hypodermic.

“What’s that for?”

“I understand you’re going back to Petrochem. That’s a long buggy ride and you’re in bad shape, son. You’ll be a lot more comfortable if I put you out for the trip.”

He jabbed the needle into my hip, I felt woozy right away. As waves of blissful euphoria swept over me I think I heard him say to Jana, “Think he bought it?”

“Oh yeah; hook, line, and sinker.”

“Good,” the medic chuckled, “I’ll have him moved down to his old room and he’ll never know…”

~/ *_* \~

Book Review: The Heretic

The HereticThe Heretic by Lucas Bale is a lead-in novel to his Beyond the Wall series. Surprisingly, it is also Bale’s debut novel.

The story takes place in a distant future, a time when Earth: a planet once teeming with billions of souls is a vague legend at best. The remnants of humanity are now scattered across the galaxy and ruled by a body called the Magistratus: an evil empire that rules through force and subjugation.

The Heretic is set on a planet called Herse, a galactic equivalent of an impoverished third world nation, far from the powerful elite of The Core. Local governance is corrupt, of course, and cruel. The main characters are a boy: one of a handful of survivors from a village that had been “cleansed”, a man known as The Preacher: the reason for the cleansing who teaches heretical precepts about freedom and individuality, and a spaceship captain named Shepherd. The Preacher wasn’t always a preacher and gives hints of a dark background. Shepherd pilots an old, worn freighter as a freelance contractor and seems a combination of Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds. Not all of the jobs he takes are entirely honest. Shepherd is drawn into the lives of the villagers as they attempt to flee Herse and in so doing, learns some astonishing things about his ship.

There are shades to the story borrowing from many classic sci-fi works but the one I found most clearly was a pattern from Josh Whedon’s Firefly. Bale acknowledges that influence in his remarks after the end of the novel.   If one must borrow, you might as well borrow from the best.The result is a smart, well written novel that clips right along and keeps the reader fascinated. The characters are strong, the world-building is solid, yet never expository, and the editing (often a sore point with indie publications) is excellent.

If this is Bales debut novel, I can only look forward to the rest of the series with much anticipation. This fella has talent!

The Heretic: Beyond the Wall book 1 is available
for Kindle
and in paperback.

Movie Review: Strange World of Planet X

Strange World of Planet XWe watched a movie called The Strange World of Planet X as our Sci-fi Friday movie, which toured theaters under the title The Cosmic Monsters.  It was quite interesting and a refreshing twist on an old theme.

Here we have a group of scientists doing experiments with intense magnetic fields.  The lead scientist is brilliant, dogmatic and a bit mad.  They are funded by the military which hopes to weaponize their research. The happy little crew is stirred a bit with the addition of a new computer operator, who turns out to be an attractive (and smart) young woman.

Of course it all goes awry and ends up creating giant bugs which begin killing people.  Flying saucers have also been sighted and are blamed for the killer bugs and the atmospheric disturbances.  But in fact, the UFOs are there to help.  I’ll leave it there so I don’t spoil it for you should you want to watch it for yourself.

Internet Movie Data Base (www.IMDB.com) rates it at 5 of 10 stars with 424 ratings and has this to say:

A friendly visitor from outer space warns against conducting experiments with the Earth’s magnetic field, that could mutate insects into giant monsters.

Director: Gilbert Gunn

Writers: René Ray (novel),  Paul Ryder (screenplay)

Stars: Forrest Tucker, Gaby André, Martin Benson | See full cast and crew »

Storyline

At a small, rural British lab, monomaniac Dr. Laird and his staff create ultra-intense magnetic fields. Inexplicably, the apparatus seems to be affecting distant objects, and to be drawing “extra power” from…somewhere. One night, after a “freak” storm, strange and deadly things start happening in Bryerly Woods, and a strange man from “a long way off” appears in the district…concerned about Laird’s pulling down disaster from the skies. Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis