Dec 27, 2017

2017 Refracted

Original cover art by Boris Vallejo
and Frank Freas (also see).
This is my wikifiction "year in review" blog post. 2017 was much like 2011, a year in which I was very busy with events in the real world and seriously distracted from recreational writing. This blog exists only for the purpose of entertainment; it is my playground for exploring science fiction.
draft blog posts

Temporal Archives

Currently, there are a dozen blog posts that I started in 2017 but have not yet completed. With luck, those embryonic blog posts will have birth dates either in the last few days of 2017 or in early 2018.

Ekcolir's mission into the past
During January of 2017, I investigated the fates of Trysta and Ekcolir. Trysta and Ekcolir played important roles in shaping the timeline of our world. They were both sent back into the far past of Earth and they died there, although they did manage to live on as artificial lifeforms (Syon and Rilocke).

In January I also had several blog posts about older science fiction stories. One of the great aspects of the Internet Age is that the original literature of science fiction, as published in pulp magazines, in now becoming available to science fiction fans: we can now download PDF and CBR digitized copies of the old Sci Fi magazines.

Norman Winters awakens in the future
An example of an old story that influenced Isaac Asimov is "The Man Who Awoke" (download here). Through the wonders of cosmic rays, Norman Winters gets to travel into his future, several times.

2017 was a year for celebrating the science fiction of Arthur Clarke. His 1948 story "Inheritance" is about a man who has a vision of the future.

In 2017, I was honoring the 25th year since the death of Asimov. One of Asimov's old stories that I read and blogged about is "Hostess". In the same blog post, I mentioned a story called The Perfect Host , a novella by Theodore Sturgeon and  Sturgeon's short story 'Rule of Three' was published in Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1951 (download). Since Sturgeon was born in 1918, I will be celebrating his science fiction during 2018.

In "Hostess", Asimov imagined a new type of infectious pathogen: what would seem to be similar to a retrovirus. I'm intrigued by the idea that Asimov was able to adapt story ideas from other writers and craft them into more scientifically plausible narratives of a type that appeal to a science nerd such as me.

During March, two blog posts were short stories set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe: "Hierion Confinement" and "Exit Edit".

In "Hierion Confinement", evidence for the existence of hierions must be concealed from Earthlings. The story takes place in Deep Time, during a previous Reality when time travel still existed during the operation of the LHC facility.

In "Exit Edit", the Editor of the Exode Saga finally finds a way to leave Earth, at a time in our future after the Secret History of Humanity has already been told to the people of Earth.

In April, I blogged about how I am incorporating Isaac Asimov into my current writing project, A Search Beyond. Soon after his death, an artificial life copy of Asimov appears on Tar'tron and begins to investigate the human-like creatures who live in the Galactic Core. Asimov visits several worlds of the Core and eventually makes the long journey to the Andromeda Galaxy.

25 years after "his" death, the Asimov Replicoid returns to Earth. He must explore the Reality in Deep Time that is known as the Asimov Reality. To do so, he makes use of a virtual reality "copy" of the Asimov Reality. The Asimov Replicoid must "enter" into the AR Simulation in order to learn how humans were provided with a functional Bimanoid Interface.

In May, I had another Jack Vance tribute post. One of Vance's famous characters is the "mad poet", Navarth, who tries to protect his ward, Zan Zu, from the Demon Prince, Viole Falushe. Navarth lives on Earth and at one time he tried to hide Zan Zu in Edmonton. Vance's Demon Prince novels are set 1,500 years in our future, at a time when Edmonton has become a destination for pilgrims who want to see the "Sacred Shin".

I have no idea what Vance imagined the "Sacred Shin" to be. For him, I don't think it mattered. Unable to resist creating a meaning for the "Sacred Shin", I imagine that it is a pillar of stone that contains important microfossils. These ancient fossils provide clues to the presence of alien visitors on Earth long ago. It is fun to imagine a religion that involves the idea of alien visitors who are responsible for the course of life's evolution leading to we humans.

It is easy to select my favorite blog post from June of 2017. I like to imagine that Ivory Fersoni wrote a book called M1A2R3S in which she provided an account of how humans visited Mars and established a base of operations on that world.

Within the Exode Saga, the word "on" can have several meanings. 1) it might actually mean "inside" Mars (under the surface) and 2) such a base might only be associated with the planet Mars while actually residing within the Hierion Domain.

In July, I began an investigation of the role of telepathy in the works of Jack Vance, such as his novel Araminta Station. I like to imagine that in a previous Reality (The Ekcolir Reality), Vance was able to reveal more about the future of the human species than was the case here in the Final Reality.

In August, I had several blog posts celebrating the science fiction of Jack Vance. One of these is a short story in which Isaac Asimov must send a message back through time to Jack Vance.

Merlank, the lone continent of Trullion.
In another August blog post, I explored the strange events that Vance described as taking place on the planet Trullion. One of the places on Trullion described in some detail by Vance is the Vale of Xian.

The final blog post for August concerned The Alice Investigations. During the lifetime of Alice Wroke, humans knew very little about hierions and sedrons. Eventually, in the far future when humans had spread to Alastor Cluster and made contact with the Phari, a new science, the Pantechnic Metaphysic, allowed humans to understand that the universe extends beyond the Hadronic Domain.

In September I continued exploration of telepathy in the future of Humanity as described by Vance in his Demon Prices saga. At what rate do telepathic signals move through the universe?

The was also a September blog post concerning the use of an Asimov Replicoid to shape the development of the science fiction genre in the Ekcolir Reality.

In October I selected a winner in my annual search for an interesting science fiction story from Hollywood. The 2017 SIHA winner was The Discovery.

In November, I was prompted to blog about Asimov's original Foundation stories. It is always fun to see how new generations of science fiction fans respond to older science fiction stories. Also, it is worth remembering that Asimov began writing at a young age and his early stories have problems. For my 2018 retro-reading, I'm going to go back for a look at Asimov's first published story.

While in a retro mood, I also made a November time trip back to the first televised science fiction program, Captain Video.

Continuing the retro theme, I also blogged about Gene Roddenberry's first known science fiction sale for television: an alien invasion story. As usual, I could not resist imagining how in a previous Reality, that story idea could have been expanded and might have become famous.

Arthur C. Clarke b.1917
While approaching the end of 2017, I've been contemplating the best mothod for telling the Exode Saga. One December blog post concerned this issue and the possible need to "give both sides" in the pek/bumpha debate a fair chance to defend their philosophical position.

At the end of December, in preparation for "true" retro-reading (reading old Sci Fi stories that were published before my birth) in 2018, I took a quick trip back to the 1960s.

Also in December, I posted my end of the year tribute to Arthur Clarke, who was born in December 1917.

Next: a special New Year 2018 pulp magazine cover.

visit the Gallery of Book and Magazine Covers

Dec 26, 2017

Time Tunneling

1960s television in the Ekcolir Reality (DuMont TV)
From fall of 1966 to spring of 1969, 79 episodes of Star Trek were shown on television. I did not watch them. I did get to follow the Apollo space program and watch the televised first step of a man onto the Moon. Only later did I watch Star Trek reruns.

The WABAC machine

fall 1966: the endlessly exploding time tunnel
One of the more painful memories from my childhood is The Time Tunnel, a 1966 television show featuring endless explosions inside a tunnel-like device (costing 7.5 billion pre-inflation dollars) that could be used (on the rare occasions when it was working) for sending people to other times. I'm not sure that I ever watched an entire episode of this television program and I long believed that the Time Tunnel was based on an idea stolen from the WABAC machine.

an alien invader of the Time Tunnel complex in Arizona
Not surprisingly, The Time Tunnel was canceled after one season. What is surprising is that Irwin Allen made many such television shows in the 1960s, all equally bad. Such was the Hollywood view of science fiction.

At the end of its run, alien invaders appeared on Earth and tried to monkey with the Time Tunnel and the fate of Humanity. The Time Tunnel is not only a time travel device, but also a teleporter, able to send time travelers as far as Canopus, several hundred light-years from Earth.

Losira disrupts the power supply of the Time Tunnel
In the final episode, evil aliens attempt to take all of the atmospheric oxygen from Earth. They establish their base of operations in a small southern California town, which is very convenient for a television show that is low on ca$h and filmed in southern California. Luckily, the aliens can be defeated with a few sticks of dynamite.

Along with all of the explosions inside the Time Tunnel, there was a constant struggle to supply adequate power for the time travel adventures. Only after The Time Tunnel was canceled did viewers learn that Losira, an agent of the Kalandan Empire had been systematically sabotaging Earth's time travel experiments.

The Time Tunnel was inspired by The Time Travelers, filmed in 1963. Viewers were taken ahead to the future year 2071, after nuclear war had made Earth unsuitable for human habitation, but it is a paradise for post-nuclear apocalypse mutants. Forest J. Ackerman has a small role in the film. I've never seen The Time Travelers, but it sounds like an inversion of the 1960 film The Time Machine. It depicts the few remaining normal humans as living underground while the mutants live on the surface. I've previously blogged about how seeing The Time Machine on television played an important role in making me despise the sad fact that horror themes often contaminate science fiction stories.

download here
In 1963, the first issue of Gamma, a new magazine appeared in print. There on the cover of the first issue was "Forrest J. Ackerman" and inside was a story called "The Girl Who Wasn't There" which had originated in a fanzine (Inside), first printed in 1953 and apparently the story was mostly written by Eydthe Eyde (pen name Lisa Ben).

Gamma only lasted through 5 issues. Issue number 4 had an interview of Forrest J. Ackerman, exploring his love of monster movies.

As a Sci Fi and fantasy magazine, Gamma was anomalous. It originated from southern California and seemed to be devoted to SF-lite. I suspect they discovered that people who read science fiction don't appreciate the kind of fluff that sells in Hollywood. On the cover of issue #4, right there next to the image of the alien barber is the name "H. B. Fyfe". Some of his stories are available via Project Gutenberg.

The story in the February 1965 issue of Gamma that was written by Fyfe is called "The Clutches of Ruin". It tells of a visit by a Galactic Federation spaceship to a planet (Ytijio) where the aliens lay eggs and are caught up in a population explosion. The story takes place a few generations after Earth joined the Federation. In this hi-tek future world of the imagination, the Galactic Federation spaceship has filing cabinets to hold all of the written reports describing the many missions to Federation planets. Our hero, Bryson, must visit Ytijio and find out if the world is complying with a Federation directive requiring that the egg-laying aliens control their exploding population. In one scene, Bryson must convert Ytijian population numbers from their base 12 system and he wishes he had a slide rule.

In the Ekcolir Reality.
Apparently the poor fecund Ytijians have been placed on double-dirty probation by the Federation. The population of Ytijio is approaching 4,000,000,000 and nobody would be surprised if the Federation decided to simply eradicate the Ytijians as a dangerous pest species, unable to control its numbers. Bryson is selected to visit Ytijio, but this is his first time in charge of a mission on an alien planet. Lucky for him, he does not have to go alone. He is assigned an assistant, Carole, who will be his secretary and record what Bryson discovers about Ytijian population control efforts.

It occurs to Bryson that it might be the intention of the Federation to bomb Ytijio, eradicate the Ytijians and strand he and Carole on the planet as founders of a new civilization. Apparently this is a type of planetary colonization trick that has been used before by the Galactic Federation.

"The Specter General"
Soon after arriving on Ytijio, Bryson makes a mistake. He asks Carole, "What do you think?" She quickly replies, "You're doing the thinking. I'm just recording." Ah, the sixties. You ask: why is Carole even is the story? Eventually our dynamic duo gets caught in a riot among the Ytijians and Carole has her clothing torn off. I have no idea what the cover illustration on the February 1965 issue of Gamma is meant to represent, but I imagine that in another Reality it was meant to illustrate poor Carole getting unwanted attention from a Ytijian.

more 1960s SF about overpopulation
After traveling half way across the face of Ytijio in an effort to determine the planet's current population of Ytijians, Bryson discovers that census figures are published daily in the newspaper. "The Clutches of Ruin" reminds me of someone trying (and failing) to imitate the humor of Theodore Cogswell's story, the "The Specter General".

Both Theodore Cogswell and H. B. Fyfe were born in 1918, so along with Theodore Sturgeon they can be subjects for science fiction remembrances during 2018 (starting here).

Another time tunnel to 1953
Next: end of 2017 review of wikifiction
Visit the Gallery of Posters

Dec 17, 2017

Clarke 100

Arthur C. Clarke
Back at the start of 2017, I commented on Arthur C. Clarke (he died in 2008) and the fact that he was born 100 years ago. I first became aware of Clarke during the 1960s when manned spacecraft were landed on the Moon (see this video). It was inspiring for geeky little kids such as me to hear grownups (such as Clarke) make the point: if we can put men on the Moon, how petty that makes our silly wars and squabbles on Earth seem in comparison.

Against the Fall of Night
Probably the first book written by Clarke that I read was Against the Fall of Night. Fifty years later I can still recall the wonderful changes inflicted on my brain by Clarke's story about imagined events in the far future of Earth.

While in his 20s, Clarke started writing fiction, but his life became entangled in World War II. What became Against the Fall of Night began as a story idea in 1937, apparently inspired by the 1934 story "Twilight", a tale of the far future by John Campbell.

Clarke went on to write stories about fantastic engineering projects: space elevators, miles-long spaceships and even a device for turning Jupiter into a star.
space elevator

Perhaps the most dazzling contribution of Clarke as a science fiction story teller was his ability to imagine alien beings who were far more technologically advanced than we Earthlings. This was popularized in the film, 2001, in which mysterious artificial lifeforms interact with primitive humans.

Rendezvous With Rama
In Rendezvous With Rama, a mysterious spacecraft passes through the Solar System, giving Earthlings an awe inspiring view of advanced alien technology. It is fitting that in 2017, an elongated interstellar object was detected (see  Oumuamua).

Sadly, so far, in the realm of encounters with objects from other star systems, the imagined wonders of fiction still exceed reality.

Interesting article about Clarke from 1962 in Amazing Stories
Related Reading: Childhood's End
Related 100: Jack Vance
Related Clarke

Next: before advancing to 2018, a quick trip back to 1960s Sci Fi
Visit the Gallery of Book and Magazine Covers.

Dec 16, 2017

Space Invaders

interplanetary war
No, not those space invaders. I've previously complained about the idea of an alien invasion from space as an absurd plot for a science fiction story.

Before I discovered science fiction as a literary genre, I was amazed to see an endless series of "war movies" that came out of Hollywood. By the time I was seven years old, I was tired of watching vast numbers of Hollywood extras playing the role of Indians and Japs and other despised targets for the "heroic" dudes who would kill thousands of "bad guys" without a qualm.

ice wars
When I started reading science fiction, I quickly came across examples of military science fiction such a Edward Elmer Smith's Lensman Series. Two great advantages of reading science fiction are that 1) you can easily skip over the long-drawn-out battle scenes and 2) you don't have to worry about possible injuries to the poor extras who made dramatic falls from their horses after being shot. Still, I quickly tired of military science fiction and eventually learned to avoid buying any more books about fictional wars.

painting by Robert McCall
Some bad ideas never go away, persisting like a bad stink. Sadly, when technology became available for reaching outer space, some people could not imagine a future of peaceful exploration.

Instead, in many imaginations the miserable human habit of using new technologies for war was simply extended into space....endlessly.

Star Wars
original cover art
It was inevitable that someone would go ahead and translate all of the memes of Earthly war movies into an outer space setting. In many ways, Star Wars is a great example of anti-science fiction. I agree with Heinlein's description of science fiction as a form of literature that is about change. Star Wars is anti-science fiction in that it depicts a society where there have been great advances in technology, but nothing about the lives of people is changed: there are still slaves, wars and people don't even have cell phones.

repeat, endlessly
Of course, even Star Wars must depict some change. Every couple of years, the death star can be made a little bigger and the characters a bit more politically correct.
a one half star review

click image to enlarge
I enjoy science fiction stories built upon imagination and exploration of new ideas and strange new worlds. For me, there are few things more depressing than a science fiction story that simply translates a tired old plot into an outer space setting.

By 1950, Galaxy magazine proclaimed the need for a safe haven, a magazine for science fiction stories that would NOT simply transplant tired old plots from Earth into an outer space setting (see the image to the left).

Space Invaders
However, if your goal is $$$, then you are probably wise to be in the plot recycling business.

From my perspective, the endless flow of military science fiction from Hollywood and the people who are responsible for these mindless Sci Fi epics represent the most horrible type of space invaders. Science fiction should be a genre about interesting new adventures, not endless repetition of the worst aspects of human existence. Hollywood: please stop invading outer space and polluting it with your dreary fantasy wars.

Possibly the most annoying aspect of Star Wars is that everyone in these movies is supposed to be an alien being who lives in a galaxy far away. Sadly, these aliens seem identical to Earthlings, right down to the details of all our worst features.

SIHA 2018
rubber mask party
Does anyone in Hollywood have the imagination and patience to tell a story about how new technology could radically change the way people live?

The last? Really? Don't get my hopes up.
Starting next month (in 2018) I will begin looking for interesting new aliens from Hollywood. So far, the most hopeful rumor is that Ringworld might be coming to the small screen. I wonder if anyone in Hollywood will actually present the idea of an alien breeding project designed to change human nature.
SIHA 2018: the search begins
Next: Celebrating the life of Arthur C. Clarke

Visit the Gallery of Book and Magazine Covers.

Dec 3, 2017

I, Roboto

I have four unrelated blogging issues on my mind, so I'm going to bundle them together for an end of 2017 December blog post, one of my occasional gripe sessions about Google

Once again I looked at the HTML for a blog post I was writing and found it inexplicably "decorated" with formatting that I did not add. I previously blogged about this phenomenon back in 2013. Here we are in 2017 and the Blogger user interface still does not even try to proved a "what you see is what you get" blogging platform. It would be depressing to know how many times I have to "preview" each blog post while I am composing it so that I can actually see how the text and images will come together. I suppose it is all wasted effort anyhow because Google believes that its (Chrome) browser should control the font selection not a human blogger. This time when I looked under the hood there were hundreds of lines of silly formatting code instructions like this:

Thank you Google. Until I searched the interwebs for "roboto" I had no idea that the many tentacled Google runs an operation devoted to fonts. The first time I ever thought about fonts was back in 1983 when I started using QuickDraw. That was a simpler era (in black and white), but the folks at Apple tried to give us a WYSIWYG interface.

Gripe 2
welcome to the future
Every couple of months, the good folks at Blogger make a change to the way they deliver blog pages to users. One of the more annoying is shown above. A while back they put into the blogging user interface an orange "floating" button (it used to say "complain to Google") for feedback (see the image, above). Not a bad idea, except that button can cover up other parts of the user interface, such as some of the options for managing images that are in blog posts.

Recently, they once again changed their delivery of blog pages so that it triggers NoScript every time a page comes to my computer from Blogger.

Google Photos
Full disclosure: I don't use Google Photos for photos. I do store images from my blog, particularly those that I archive as "Posters" and those that are mostly "Book and Magazine Covers". Two years ago I blogged about being forced by Google to use Google Photos.

100 poster images
I recently reached 100 images in my archive of posters. Normally I like to celebrate arbitrary numerical milestones, but instead I have to complain.

For a long time after Google began badgering me to use Google Photos (faster! better!) I resisted; there were annoying bugs in their software (at least for a Firefox user). Eventually, they fixed the bugs and I started making links to my (public) images in Google Photos. Only later did I discover that people following those links were being harassed by Google and told to login to Google Photos. I'm still in the process of trying to find and remove all of my links to Goggle Photos from this blog. Another fine waste of time. Thanks Google.
ghost image
Recently I composed a long and complex blog post with dozens of images. It is not unusual for me to insert one image into a new blog post, then decide that the image needs to be changed. There is a bug in Blogger that sometimes fails to cleanly remove images (see the example, shown above this paragraph).

Using my usual browser on my computer, the blog post looked fine, but when I used another browser, one of the "deleted" images was still showing up. How annoying! The original (too dark) image was called "ad4" and the replacement was "ad42". I remember that when I tried to delete "ad4" I had to do it twice before it actually left my screen. Little did I know that a ghost image was still lurking in the HTML code. Here is the "deleted" code:
"deleted" image code hi-lighted in yellow.
There is a bug in Blogger that incorrectly "captures" formatting from one part of a blog post and spreads it to another part. I suppose they are well aware of all these defects in the Blogger software, but the interns at Google probably can't figure out how to fix the code. I'm planning to start a new project/blog soon; I'll try one of Blogger's newer templates and see if it has the same problems as the legacy template that I now use.

Unrelated reading: ever feel like you are stuck in Googatory?
Next: stuck in star wars purgatory.
Visit the Gallery of Posters.