Saturday, March 19, 2016

Reel Future (1994) Edited by Forrest J. Ackerman & Jean Stine

So. I was over at my sister's house a few weeks ago, and I saw this very book sitting on her shelf. (Since she's an archivist and fellow film-geek, her shelves are always full of interesting things.) Anyway, when I realized the book was a collection of stories that had inspired classic science fiction movies, I had to borrow it. (Because, hello, comparing stories to movies is fun!) So I read it, returned it, and now you get to hear my (extremely brief) thoughts on the stories and films they inspired.

Oh, and hey: Forrest J. Ackerman as co-editor, that's never a bad thing. And while I'd never heard of Jean Stine before now, turns out she's got some pretty serious literary chops herself.

So here we go. Not a lot of pics this time, but the overabundance of fun and informative links makes up for it.


The Empire of the Ants [by H. G. Wells] (1905)

A Brazilian captain is ordered to take his gunboat to assist the inhabitants of a town in the Upper Amazon against a plague of ants. 

Who hasn't sat through the 1977 film this story gave rise to, only to (belatedly) realize the most exciting thing about it was its poster? No gunboats or even Brazilians in the movie, and it was set a good seventy years after H. G. Wells' tale. The story itself is dry (dull-but-descriptive was the style in those days) but reasonably entertaining. No ants any bigger than a good-sized rat, but these little beasties definitely have more human-level intelligence on display than their bigger-movie-brothers ever mustered up.

Herbert West--Re-animator [by H. P. Lovecraft] (1921-22)

A medical school student conducts morbid experiments on dead animals and humans in an effort to reanimate the dead.

A (more) modern (than Shelley's) take on the Frankenstein mythos, this one also suffers from that dry-as-bones early 20th century writing. But it keeps you reading, especially if you're a Frankenstein fan. (And who's not a Frankenstein fan, is there even one non-fan out there?) Anyway, as you might imagine, the story's horror descriptions leave lots to the imagination, which I actually prefer to the gorefest route the film took. The story was apparently first published as a serial in the amateur magazine, Home Brew.

Armageddon 2419 A.D. [by Philip Francis Nowlan] (1928)

A mining engineer is trapped by a mine collapse and falls into a state of suspended animation due to radioactive gases. He wakes five hundred years later to a United States that has been conquered by the Chinese.

Now this was a very entertaining read, even with its early 20th century dry-as-bones style. I've never been a Buck Rogers fan (although I was a fan of Erin Gray's Wilma Deering in that late 70s TV show). I guess the movies this story inspired are the pilot for the TV show (it was released theatrically before the show aired) and a 1939 serial from Universal starring Buster Crabbe.

The story itself ends on kind of a cliffhanger, so Nowlan wrote a sequel to it the next year called The Airlords of Han. I'd happily read the second story to see how it all shakes out. And by the way, you can get both novellas for free online. (Public domain and all.) What to say about the story itself? Well, it was very different than what I remember of the 70s show, and in a good way. Very talky. but I never got bored. So there.

Who Goes There? [by John W. Campbell Jr.] (1938)

A group of scientific researchers in Antarctica discover an alien buried in the ice. Thawing revives the alien, which can assume the shape, memories, and personality of any living thing it devours.

Well. I'm a fan of the 1951 movie and an even bigger fan of the 1982 film by John Carpenter. And I'm here to say the 1982 film kept much, much closer to the source material than the 1951 one did. Fantastic read.

What I learned and had no idea about before this was that the 1971 I-was-thinking-it-was-but-it's-really-not-a-Hammer-film, Horror Express, was also very (very) loosely based on this story. Go figure. It's a fun little film in its own right, and I've watched it more than once. And by the way, apparently 1938 is when authors traded in their dry-as-bones writing style for something a little more exciting. This story (and all the ones that follow) has a much more modern feel to it. Nice.

Farewell to the Master [by Harry Bates] (1940)

A ship appears on the grounds of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. A person in human form and an 8-foot tall robot made of green metal emerge. After the person is killed, the robot immediately becomes immobile, never to move again. Or does it?

Oh man, this one is also top notch. I've seen both versions of this film (really liked the first and thought the second was not bad), but this story is in a class all its own. It takes place in an unspecified-as-to-when future, where Earthlings have expanded out into the solar system, while the films both take place in the 1950s or 2000s, depending on which you're watching (of course). The last line of the story is dynamite. It was my first reading it and caught me totally unawares. And unlike both movies, there's no "Earthlings are destroying themselves and must choose peace or be incinerated" rhetoric here. Which was nice.

This Island Earth [by Raymond F. Jones] (1952)

A race of aliens anonymously recruit humans for a group called "Peace Engineers" but are actually using them as pawns in an intergalactic war.

Isn't that a great one-liner for a story?

I'm pretty sure this is the longest story in the collection (and there were some long ones), but MAN it's an amazing read. I'd never seen the movie, so I rented it after I finished reading. Afraid it didn't even come close to comparing, although I'd have probably thought it was fine if I hadn't read the story first.

Actually, it was quite a decent movie, no real complaints. It's just that the scope of the written story was so vast, and the movie went with a much, much smaller plot. It probably had to, for budgetary reasons, but it was disappointing after just finishing such an epic story that touched on everything from psychology and human behavior to war and work unions to the virtues of compassion over intellect.

Yeah. Definitely a great read.

The Illustrated Man [by Ray Bradbury] (1950)

A carnival worker visits a strange woman who applies skin illustrations over his entire body. She covers two special areas, claiming they will show the future.

So I learned quite a bit, researching this one. I had read The Illustrated Man (book) back in the 70s. It was a collection of short stories written by Bradbury. But this story, actually titled "The Illustrated Man," wasn't in it.

Okay, I'm thinking about this and the actual publishing history of the story is a little confusing, so I'm gonna bullet point it out. You gotta love bullet points.
  • 1950: This story, "The Illustrated Man," is published in Esquire magazine.
  • 1951 - A book of short stories called The Illustrated Man, which doesn't include this story, is published. 
  • 1952-1985: A gazillion additional editions of the book are published, none of which contain this story. Although this story was published in nearly a dozen other collections during this same period. Weird.
  • 1986: The first of only four editions of The Illustrated Man (out of over a hundred) is published which does include this story.

I don't know the whys and wherefores of it all, but that seems strange to me. The chronology is courtesy of ISFDB, by the way. As far as seeing the movie, I have vague memories of seeing one of the stories it included, "The Veldt," as a kid. Not sure if it was the movie with Rod Steiger or not, though. That story was also filmed as part of Ray Bradbury Theater, so it might've been that I saw.

Anyway, as far as this particular story goes, it's written in that detached kind of style he has. Which I'm not a fan of, really. I know that's kind of heresy, but there it is. I have this feeling if the story had been any longer I'd have lost interest in it. But it was okay as far as it went.

The Sentinel [by Arthur C. Clarke] (1951)

An artifact is discovered on Earth's Moon left behind eons ago by ancient aliens, surrounded by a force field. For millions of years the artifact has been transmitting signals into deep space, but ceases after human beings destroy it.

Alright, I'll just get this out of the way now: I'm (also) not a big fan of Clarke's. He has an even more detached style than Bradbury. Awhile back I decided to read all four Odyssey novels, to see what all the fuss was about. I thought one was okay, two less so, three I skimmed, and four I skipped. So that was that. Just not my thing. This story was mostly fun just to see what the genesis of the film was all about. And it was okay, even if the writing style doesn't do much for me, I like the feel and theme of it.

The Seventh Victim [by Robert Sheckley] (1953)

A future society has eliminated major warfare by allowing members of society who are inclined to violence to join The Big Hunt, a human hunting game.

So this is not usually my kind of science fiction, but even so it was a funner than average read. It was interesting to look at a supposed future society that's still so misogynist. I guess we never see beyond our blind spots, even when we're envisioning something futuristic. Lots of futuristic fiction and films can be off-the-mark after a decade or two. I've never seen the film, but I'd give it a try.

The Racer [by Ib Melchior] (1956)

Two men compete in a cross-country race where scores are obtained by running over pedestrians.

Definitely not my kind of movie (sadistic protagonists killing innocents by the truckload) so I've never seen it. The story wasn't really for me, either. Both movie and story basically revolve around a driver who slowly comes to realize what he's doing is reprehensible. So happy endings but too much gore and violence to get through along the way. Meh.

The Fly [by George Langelaan] (1957)

After a scientist is murdered by his wife, a police detective and the scientist's brother try to unravel the motive for the homicide.

I don't care much for the writing style, here. It was written by a bilingual fellow (British, but born in France). Don't know if it was written in French or not, but it reads like something translated to English.  Everything feels a step removed. But the story is solid and kept me reading right to the end. As far as film versions, the 1958 film did less for me than the story, but I loved the 1986 one. (Brundlefly: Yikes!) One of my favorite movies to this day. Anyway, the story is a lot closer to the first movie than it is to the second.

Eight O'Clock in the Morning [by Ray Faraday Nelson] (1963)

A man awakens from a hypnotic spell imposed on the entire human race and remembers that Earth has been conquered by reptilian aliens who rule the world behind-the-scenes.

Interesting little story that made a better movie, even if it did star Roddy Piper.

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale [by Philip K. Dick] (1966)

A clerk wishes to visit Mars. Unable to afford it, he visits a company which promises to implant a false memory of a trip to Mars as a secret agent, which causes him to remember that he actually did go to Mars as a secret government agent.

Also a fair little story that inspired the much cooler movie by Paul Verhoeven. Can't say I was that impressed by the remake with Colin Farrell, though.

Damnation Alley [by Roger Zelazny] (1967)

An imprisoned killer is offered a full pardon in exchange for driving across post-atomic-war America attempting to deliver an urgently needed plague vaccine.

Hmm. If I've ever read anything else by Zelazny, I don't know it. And like several in the collection, this story's not particularly my kind of sci-fi. But the writing pulled me in anyway and it got an above average brain count. Its epilogue was a little lame. It inspired a movie by the same name that I probably won't seek out. This story is so chock full of wonderfully visual writing, my guess is watching a low budget 70s movie try to recreate it would be a travesty.

Enemy Mine [by Barry Longyear] (1979)

While at war, a human soldier is stranded on a hostile planet along with an enemy Drac. They initially attempt to kill one another but quickly realize that cooperation will be the key to their survival.

Well, this one made me cry, just like the movie did. They are both anti-prejudice tales, and I'm a sucker for hatred resolving into love and respect. It's the only story in this whole book that carries any emotional weight. Funny, I remember hearing about the movie, back in the day, and thinking "not really my thing, think I'll pass." But I saw it and loved it for the very reasons I just mentioned. Now, thinking about reading the story for the first time I had the same reticence, but I ended up being really touched by it. Again! It's like deja vu! Anyway, it's a great story.

Air Raid [by John Varley] (1976)

In a future where a deadly airborne virus has made earth uninhabitable, a group uses time travel technology to raid an airplane in the past of bodies.

I didn't see Millennium until after it was out on home video, but I thought it was pretty good. (Better than Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe.) Anyway, this particular story is really brief in time and plot, compared to the movie, but apparently Varley later expanded it to novel length and it was that the movie was actually based on. He also wrote the movie's screenplay. So. I'd bet that novel is worth a read, as good as the story was.

Huh. I always thought "Kris Kristofferson" was an obvious stage name, but I read just now that the man's name actually is "Kristoffer Kristofferson." Born and raised. So how about that.

Oh, he was in the movie. That's where that came from. So it wasn't as random as it probably seemed.

And that's all I have to say about this book.

The book as a whole gets FIVE STORYBOOK BRAINS, on account of having so many four and five brain stories, besides the fact that collecting source material for classic movies is a kick-ass idea in and of itself.

So, yeah.

No comments: