Monday, September 11, 2017

Double Star

Continuing with my exploration of classic science fiction I've missed, I've tackled Double Star, by Robert A. Heinlein. Written in 1956, it won the first Hugo award for Heinlein, who'd go on to accumulate a large handful. Surprisingly, Heinlein manages to make "one of the oldest plots in literature" engaging and entertaining. It's essentially a political thriller with a strong sub-theme of what it means to be who you are (as opposed to someone else). At what point does pretense become reality? The hero of the story, an actor who goes by the self-aggrandizing title The Great Lorenzo, is recruited (more like blackmailed) by a spaceman who works undercover for Bonfarte, a politician who is currently out of power but very popular. Lorenzo despises him, because Bonfarte wants to give the vote to native Martians (the solar system is dominated by humans). A thorough racist, Lorenzo has a deep revulsion for Martians. Nevertheless, he finds himself impersonating the great man, who has been kidnapped so he'll miss an important political event, ending his career. Lorenzo manages to navigate important parts of the political campaign, and slowly, over time, becomes a believer, especially when Bonfarte is returned, broken by the trauma of his kidnapping. He eventually dies, leaving Lorenzo to take on his role permanently. How this all plays out I'll save for a surprise. I've not read much Heinlein, and I like this one better than some of the other stuff I've read. If there was a way to combine a hippie and a fascist I think it might be something like him. But Heinlein's reputation is certainly deserved. This book was controversial when it came out - mainly because of the emphasis on whether the Martians should have the right to vote, and the author's clear belief that they should. When you remember this was written in 1950s America, it's easy to see what Heinlein is really talking about, and his readers would have certainly recognized it. Social implications are mostly buried, however, in what is at heart a simple, rousing space-opera-type thriller.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


"This is the first song on our new album." - Robin Zander. Enjoy the debut single of my new super-band, Johnny Pharaoh Group. It's the extension of my old Electrophonic Foundation "character" into his solo career and Vegas years. Hope you like it.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Galaxy Babes

A buddy posted this article in the Space Opera group on FB today. Of all the science fiction magazines from the "old days" I think I like Planet Stories best. Obviously I wasn't around when it was being published, but stories from that publication have appeared in countless collections (especially those sort of low-quality "50 Sci-Fi Classics!" e-book collections of public domain stories). I've read a few at Comic Books Plus and thoroughly enjoyed the stories and artwork. A lot of greats cut their teeth in Planet Stories. It seems like it was about the best option for the sword-and-planet genre. My favorite writer of that genre, Leigh Brackett, earned most of her bread and butter here (that's one of her stories in the illustration). Of course, Planet Stories was mostly known for its "good girl" cover art, which was sort of a PG13 forerunner of the Barbarella look. Great compositions, bright colors, strong lines. They may not be politically correct, but they make great magazine covers, posters, calendars, etc. - these are in the public domain now, so you see 'em everywhere. A while back I printed a bunch of these and turned them into wall art for my hobby room. Note the triangles and zig-zags in these compositions, as well as what might seem like a preoccupation with light bondage - very common in the magazine covers of the day. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Libation Bearers

This is the second installment of the Oresteia, the tragic trilogy by the Greek playwright Aeschylus. I've been hammering through the ancient Greek dramatists, and have shared my thoughts about the first in this trilogy here. The Libation Bearers continues the story that begun in The Agamemnon, picking up several years after Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus have murdered her husband, Agamemnon, who, admittedly, was kind of a prick (if you read The Iliad). Nevertheless, their children Orestes and Elektra are not at all happy about it. Orestes has been away for many long years (his mother sent him away to aid in her plan of murder). But once he hears about it, he comes back to Argos at the command of the god Apollo, who says Orestes must avenge his father by killing his mother and her lover. Disguising his identity, he comes home and, after revealing his identity to his sister, colludes with the Chorus to distract his mother, who welcomes him thinking he is a stranger. He enters the palace and kills his murderous stepfather. Orestes is then interrupted by his mother, and he begins to kill her, too, but hesitates - after all, she's his mom. His cousin, Agamemnon's nephew Pylades, reminds Orestes of Apollo's command. Orestes does the deed, and, despite the patronage of Apollo, finds himself victim of the vengeance of the Furies, who have an especial distaste for matricide. They hound Orestes unmercifully, and he is forced to flee Argos, the Furies hot on his heels. The story continues (and concludes) in the third play in the trilogy, The Eumenides. We'll get to that shortly.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Music to Destroy the Universe

A member of the Deliberations of the Punk Duchess group on Facebook posted this. I've been really into more "experimental" classical music lately, so the timing was right for me to really get into this. The composer Scriabin (who I am now ashamed to have never heard of) apparently had a vision of music that would melt the universe. He never finished it, but it was pieced together and recorded in its entirety in 1970. It took awhile - Scriabin himself died in 1915. You can listen to the restored intro to the piece here, and follow the links to snippets of the original. I'd say Scriabin is a great choice for those who like a little Brian Eno in their Stravinsky. I'll have fun exploring his work.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Shrinking Man

Here's another science fiction classic I've missed over the years and recently caught up with. I'd avoided it because of the 1950s film version (which added the word "incredible" to the title), because, as a child, I thought it was dated and silly. Truth is, the film isn't that bad, and the book is much better. Where the author, Richard Matheson (who also wrote I am Legend, which has been filmed three times), could have delved into a semi-comic tale akin to an adult version of The Littles, he instead gave us a dark, psychological masterpiece, a terrifying and often sad glimpse into the mind of a man who is literally shrinking down to nothing at the rate of a seventh of an inch per day. We start with action, as the tiny hero, already an inch tall and trapped in his basement (no one upstairs knows he is at home), struggles to navigate his huge environment, find food, make clothing, and do something about the "giant" spider that stalks him each day. As he deals with these challenges, we get flashback sections that show our hero discovering his condition, his mental unraveling in the face of it, and the decline of his relationship with his wife and daughter. His wife attempts to be supportive, but his little girl doesn't understand. Little by little, his life falls apart until he manages to support the family by selling his story. This gives his wife some financial stability, which eases our hero somewhat. Nevertheless, their marriage unravels, and our hero has to come to terms with his new reality. The book jumps back and forth in time rather seamlessly, with chapter-titles indicating the height of the hero in a given section. Like The Odyssey or Star Wars, The Shrinking Man wisely starts off with the punchline and then goes back to show its development. In the end, obviously, our hero can only shrink so much. Or can he? On the brink of thinking he'd shrink out of existence, he realizes there is a vast inner space - both physical and psychological - that has never been explored. Without giving it away, the ending is satisfying, if not exactly a fairy tale wrap-up. What makes this book great isn't the gimmick - a shrinking man - but the spellbinding exploration of just how a man might handle such an experience, and what it might teach him about courage and about his sense of self-worth. Definitely a page-turner.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sweet Jane...

I wish I was born earlier, or you were born later, or that James Keach didn't exist. This is a rare pic from right before she did Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, I think. You usually only see her in good-girl outfits. What a beautiful person. I've had a crush on her since Live and Let Die. Arguably the best Bond girl, and certainly the best Sinbad girl.