Sunday, 11 November 2007

(MAY 13) Born on this day: Arthur Lipsett

Photo: © 1978 Lois Siegel, used by permission; text adapted from Wikipedia.

The Canadian avant-garde director of short experimental films Arthur Lipsett was born on 13 May 1936. His particular passion was sound: he would collect pieces of sound and fit them together to create interesting auditory sensations, and friends suggested that Lipsett put images to them. The result became the seven minute-long 1961 film Very Nice, Very Nice which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1962. Despite not winning the Oscar the film brought Lipsett considerable praise from critics and directors. Stanley Kubrick was one of Lipsett’s fans and asked him to create a trailer for his upcoming movie Dr. Strangelove; Lipsett declined Kubrick’s offer, however Lipsett’s influence on Kubrick is clearly visible when watching the trailer.

Lipsett’s later film 21-87 was a profound influence on director George Lucas who included elements from it in THX-1138, his Star Wars films and also American Graffiti; 21-87 is also said to be the source of the “The Force” in Star Wars. Lucas never met Lipsett but tributes to 21-87 appear throughout Star Wars, for example the holding cell of Princess Leia in Episode IV: A New Hope on the Death Star is cell no. 2187.

Lipsett’s success allowed him some freedom, but as his films became more bizarre this freedom quickly disappeared and he suffered from psychological problems. Lipsett committed suicide in 1986, two weeks shy of his 50th birthday.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

(DEC 30) Born on this day: Somtow Sucharitkul

Photo: © 2007 Somtow Sucharitkul, used by permission.

Somtow Sucharitkul – better known to SF fans as S.P. Somtow – was born in Bangkok, Thailand, on 30 December 1952. As active in science fiction and horror as he is in composing and conducting classical music in Thailand, he has been described by the Bangkok Post as the “Thai person known by name to the most people in the world.” He was first published in the 1970s in Asimov’s Science Fiction and has since been nominated for many major awards, including the Bram Stoker Award, the John W. Campbell Award, the Hugo Award, and is also winner of the World Fantasy Award. He now holds the post of president of the Horror Writers Association and is currently artistic director of the Bangkok Opera.

(OCT 22) Born on this day: Doris Lessing

Photo: AlfredTNT, 2006. (GFDL); text by Doris Lessing (fair use)

“A visiting American said, did I read science fiction? I offered Olaf Stapledon, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and he said it was a good beginning. Then he gave me an armful of science fiction novels. What I felt then I have felt ever since. I was excited by their scope, the wideness of their horizons, the ideas, and the possibilities for social criticism ... and disappointed by the level of characterization and the lack of subtlety. ... But if what we do get is so wonderfully inventive and astonishing and mind-boggling, then why repine? In science fiction are some of the best stories of our time.” —Walking in the Shade, 1997.

Born on 22 October 1919 in Kermanshah, Persia (now Iran), Doris Lessing has won all the major European literary awards. Her first words on hearing that she had also won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature were, “Oh, crap.”

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Fan History: Les Flood

Photo: Les Flood; text by Peter Weston.

During the 1950s and early ’60s Leslie Flood’s ‘Fantasy Centre’ bookshop at Sicilian Arcade, near Kings Cross, London, was the absolute mecca for SF enthusiasts. He had a huge stock of new and secondhand books and magazines, including scarce US titles - desperately sought-after, in those days when currency controls prevented imports from America. Many treasures were to be found in that basement, but science fiction alone couldn’t support a shop in such a central location, so the ground floor was given over to music and records - not such a bad idea in 1956, when this picture was taken, when jazz and science fiction were contemporary bedfellows.

Les Flood was a regular at the ‘White Horse’ pub meetings and conventions, and was also one of the ‘Gang of Four’ (along with John Wyndham) who launched the International Fantasy Awards in 1951. He was involved with the establishment of the London-based SF Luncheon Club in 1954, and in 1957 presented the final IFA to a bemused J.R.R. Tolkien for Lord of the Rings. Les was closely associated with Ted Carnell’s New Worlds as a reviewer and supporter, and eventually took over the Carnell literary agency when Ted retired. Les died in August 2007 in Spain, where he had lived for many years.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

(APR 6) Remembering Isaac Asimov

Illustration: Rowena Morrill. (GFDL)

“What I will be remembered for are the ‘Foundation’ Trilogy and the Three Laws of Robotics. What I want to be remembered for is no one book, or no dozen books. Any single thing I have written can be paralleled or even surpassed by something someone else has done. However, my total corpus for quantity, quality and variety can be duplicated by no one else. That is what I want to be remembered for.” – 20 September 1973; included in Yours, Isaac Asimov, 1995.

Isaac Asimov was born on 2 January 1920 and died on 6 April 1992. The asteroid 5020 Asimov is also named in his honour.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Locations: The Chelsea Hotel, New York

Photo: Pete Young, 2007 (CC by-nc-sa 3.0).

The distinctively bohemian Chelsea Hotel, at 222 West 23rd Street, New York, was opened in 1884 as one of the city’s earliest cooperative apartment houses. It became a hotel around 1905 and is now on the US National Register of Historic Places. Artists and writers who have lived here over the years include Brendan Behan, William Burroughs, Arthur B. Davies, James T. Farrell, Robert J. Flaherty, O. Henry, Arthur Miller, James Schuyler, John Sloan, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, Thomas Wolfe... and Arthur C. Clarke, who first stayed here in 1956, and again in 1964 while writing 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

(MAR 23) Born on this day: Wernher von Braun

Photo: NASA. (public domain)

Born on 23 March 1912 in Wyrzysk in the German Kingdom of Prussia (now Poland), Wernher von Braun has become known as ‘the father of modern space flight’, and is pictured here standing by the five F-1 engines of a Saturn V launch vehicle. His modest contribution to science fiction was his novel Project Mars: a Technical Tale, set in 1980, and which, according to his biographer Erik Bergaust, was rejected by no less than eighteen publishers. He later published portions of this work in magazines to illustrate and popularize Project Mars, and only in 2006 was the complete manuscript published as a book. The novel was also used as the basis for Byron Haskin’s film Conquest of Space in 1955, though von Braun was not credited.

We Can Build You

Photos: publicity shots, © 2005 Hanson Robotics, all rights reserved.

The PKD-A Android, also known as ‘RoboPhil’ and built by Hanson Robotics, converges numerous machine perception and AI technologies to mimic Philip K. Dick’s conversation style and facial movements. RoboPhil also had his own living environment known as ‘Club VALIS’, and has since attended several conventions, including Comic-Con in July 2005 at which he appeared as a panelist. ‘RoboPhil’ went missing in January 2006: he was packed for a flight to California, was last seen being loaded onto the plane, and has still not been recovered.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

To Boldly Go Where No Blonde Has Gone Before

Photo: Pat Cadigan, 2006. (CC by-nc-sa 2.0)

A very rare still from the lost (and sadly never-seen) episode from the original series of Star Trek: ‘The Blonde On The Edge of Forever’.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Jeff VanderMeer and Alien Baby

Photo: © 2004 Cheryl Morgan, used by permission.

Jeff VanderMeer and Alien Baby at Concourse, the 55th British National Science Fiction Convention (Eastercon) at Blackpool, Lancashire, April 2004.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Locations: The Forevertron

Photo: © 2003 Bobbi Lane, used by permission.

‘Dr. Evermor’ is the 19th Century alter ego of former scrap metal dealer Tom Every, who has spent many decades demolishing hundreds of major industrial machines while at the same time turning them into the science fictional landscape known as the Forevertron, the worlds biggest sculpture, situated seven miles south of Baraboo, Wisconsin.

The Forevertron is Every’s improvised monument to late 19th century scientific ingenuity that blends flights of fantasy with reality, and among other things incorporates the Apollo program’s decontamination chamber. As might be expected of a project carried out on such a grand scale the Forevertron also has its own spacecraft known as the ‘Graviton’ – a giant glass ball inside a copper egg – that will take Dr. Evermor to his final face-to-face meeting with God when he “highballs it to heaven”.

(JUL 14) The Unseen University

Photo: © 1999 University of Warwick, used by permission.

Terry Pratchett may have received an Honorary Degree from the University of Warwick on 14 July 1999, but just before that event began he also held a short ceremony to make University of Warwick researchers Prof. Ian Stewart and Dr. Jack Cohen “honorary Wizards of the Unseen University” following the publication of their book The Science of Discworld, which uses Discworld to explain real science.

Monday, 20 August 2007

(APR 20) Odilon Redon and Edgar Allan Poe

Image: Odilon Redon, courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. (Fair Use)

Odilon Redon was born on 20 April 1840, a French artist inspired particularly by the written works of Gustave Flaubert and Edgar Allan Poe. Believing in the superiority of the imagination over observation of nature he rejected Realism and Impressionism in favour of a more personal artistic vision, and his L'Oeil, comme un ballon bizarre se dirige vers l'infini (‘The Eye, Like a Strange Balloon, Floats Toward Infinity’), a lithograph from 1882, was directly inspired by Poe. It has graced the cover of Penguin Books’ The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe since 1976, and the original hangs in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

(SEP 12 / NOV 7) Steve McQueen and The Blob

Image: © Paramount Pictures. (fair use)

The film that launched the careers of both Steve McQueen and Burt Bacharach, The Blob is now a pop culture artifact, written and produced outside of Hollywood with no distribution deal lined up, by people who wanted to do something different with their portrayal of teen culture by depicting teenagers as good kids instead of out-of-control delinquents, which was more customary at the time. It was directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr, a man more accustomed to making religious films. After it was completed a deal was struck with Paramount, who liked it, and The Blob was meant to ship to theatres paired with I Married a Monster from Outer Space, a movie that Paramount justifiably believed would flop. By mistake the distributors ended up shipping The Blob on its own and, unshackled by any association with an inferior movie, its cult status was born on 12 September 1958.

McQueen received only $3,000 for the film; he’d turned down an offer for a smaller up-front fee with 10% of the profits because he didn’t think the movie would make any money, but it ended up grossing $4 million. According to Irvin Yeaworth and Billy Graham, when McQueen died of lung cancer on 7 November 1980 in Juárez, Mexico, he died in a room in which he had also hung a film poster for The Blob.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

(28 OCT) Fan History: Ted Carnell at the British Interplanetary Society, 1936

Photo: from the collection of E.J. Carnell; text by Peter Weston.

Science fiction and space travel have always been inextricably entwined, as demonstrated by the first meeting of the London branch of the British Interplanetary Society more than seventy years ago on 28 October 1936. Among the members were Ted Carnell, prominent on the left of the picture, later to become editor of Britain’s most important SF magazine, New Worlds, for 141 issues from 1946-64. In this image – which has been air-brushed at some date possibly for use in a later publication – in the front row to the right of Carnell is the 19 year-old Arthur C. Clarke, at this time newly arrived in London from his native Minehead to work as an auditor for HM Exchequer. Next to him is Walter Gillings, who only a few months later would launch Britain’s very first SF magazine, Tales of Wonder, which ran for five years until 1942. To the right of Gillings is the somewhat older Prof. A.M. Low who had by this time already written his first SF novel, Adrift in the Stratosphere. The Professor became President of the British Interplanetary Society for a period, and this meeting was held in his office in Piccadilly.

(FEB 16) Born on this Day: Iain M. Banks

Photo: © 2007 Pete Young, used by permission.

Experiencing a Significant Gravitas Shortfall: born on 16 February 1954, Iain Banks is seen here during an interview for the British Science Fiction Association on 28 November 2007 at Imperial College, London.

Con History: Arthur C. Clarke receives his first Hugo, 1957

Photo: from the collection of Norman Shorrock; text by Peter Weston.

Arthur C. Clarke looks delighted to get his first Hugo Award for his short story ‘The Star’ - after waiting twelve months since the 14th Worldcon, in New York, made the award. But finally NyCon chairman Dave Kyle and Clarke managed to be in the same continent at the same time, allowing the presentation to be made at the first London Worldcon in 1957.

As a point of historical interest the 1956 Hugos were only the third set to be presented and were unique for this occasion, being in reality hood ornaments from the Oldsmobile ‘Rocket’ car; look carefully at the picture and you can see how chairman Kyle had cleverly mounted the rockets to hide the fixing details!

(JAN 15) Born on this day: Pierre-Jules Hetzel

Image: the cover for Jules Verne’s Les Aventures du Capitaine Hatteras au Pôle Nord, type “Aux deux Éléphants”, by Pierre-Jules Hetzel. (public domain); text adapted from Wikipedia.

Born 15 January 1814, Pierre-Jules Hetzel was the French editor and publisher best known for his discovery of Jules Verne and his extraordinary illustrated editions of Verne’s novels, such as the collected Voyages Extraordinaires (‘Extraordinary Travels’).

Hetzel was to later reject Verne’s 1863 manuscript for Paris in the Twentieth Century because he thought it presented a vision of the future that was far too negative and unbelievable for contemporary audiences, though to many present-day scholars the story was remarkably accurate in its predictions. Verne locked the manuscript away and no longer wrote any futuristic, dystopian stories. Paris in the Twentieth Century was not rediscovered until over a century later, and was first published in France in 1994.