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Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

  1. Space Angel

    February 6, 2012 by The Belated Nerd

    Space Angel, which debuted in syndication on February 6, 1962, was one of those bizarro productions that married the best and the worst of early Sixties television animation.  The “best” is the wonderful panel art drawn by the legendary Alex Toth. The “worst” is the stagnant animation and the use of the Clutch Cargo style Synchro-Vox method of animating the characters’ lips. Another cost-cutting move was to lift the music from Roger Corman’s War of the Satellites for the theme music. Each story was serialized over five 5-minute episodes which were intended to be shown one a day through the week, climaxing on Friday.

    The show featured the three-person crew of the spaceship Starduster: Captain Scott McCloud (“The Space Angel”), Electronics and Communications expert Crystal Mace, and Scottish born Engineer Taurus. You’re forgiven if you are compelled to think of these characters as precursors to Kirk, Uhura, and Scotty. The Starduster was part of an Interplanetary Space Force made up of squadrons detailed to the various planets of the solar system. The ISF’s primary foes were the “Athenians” whose dress and customs more closely resembled ancient Romans than Greeks. Another recurring threat was the Evil Queen of Space and her toadies The General and The Major. Although the Evil Queen sported an ancient Egyptian motif, she and her minions spoke with decidedly Eastern European accents.

    Although Space Angel and his crew could usually thwart an enemy on their own, sometimes they would have to call on the rest of the ISF whose ships were identifiable by the astronomical symbols of the planets they were responsible for.

    In 1963, Alex Toth drew a Space Angel comic strip that was published in Jack & Jill magazine.


  2. Planes, Trains, Automobiles and Giant Robots

    October 31, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    In the last few months I’ve written a couple posts on the world of plastic models in 1961 and one thing that struck me was how important it was for companies like Revell and Aurora to have impressive artwork on the boxes that contained the less than awe-inspiring unassembled and unpainted pieces of plastic inside.  That’s when I discovered the artwork of Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1915-2001). The first pieces I discovered were for two plastic models by the Japanese company Nichimo depicting floating automobiles. I can’t tell you why, but I really like the way Komatsuzaki draws cars.

    Although Shigeru Komatsuzaki’s art apparently dominated science fiction publishing in Japan during the 1950s, there is precious little of his early work available online.  Almost all of his prewar work, including his personal collection was lost to wartime firebombing and the paper used for domestic printing for a decade after the war was done on the most perishable of paper.  A fire at Komatsuzaki’s home in 1995 destroyed much of his remaining archives.


    The format of his most renowned work in the Fifties was a double-page tableaux with some descriptive text portraying a variety of monster attacks, natural disasters and futuristic inventions. These works were not comic books nor were they any sort of proto-manga although the influence of his style is readily apparent in modern Japanese sequential art.

    Starting in the late Fifties Komatsuzaki worked as a production designer on several Japanese films, including The Mysterians (1957) and  Battle in Outer Space (1960) designing futuristic vessels and monsters. While Manga was undergoing a huge boom during the early Sixties, Komatsuzaki stuck to single-image paintings, mostly as the artist of hundreds of dramatic box illustrations for plastic model kits of subjects as varied as floating cars, giant robots, spaceships and the entire fleet of craft featured in Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds.



  3. SF Magazine Cover Gallery for Oct. 1961

    October 26, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Although they’re not as striking as his black and white inksVirgil Finlay‘s color paintings like this one for the cover of Galaxy are always filled with background detail other artist might not bother with.  Depicting a futuristic sport called space diving from Fritz Leiber’s story “The Beat Cluster”, Finlay shows the beatnik musicians, artists and dancers that inhabit the hamster-tube enclosure in high Earth orbit, as well as those whose thrills require them to wear spacesuits in the vacuum of space.

    Chesley Bonestell‘s cover painting for the October, 1961 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction combines the artist’s ultra-realistic style of depicting both space hardware and space landscape. Most Americans were first introduced to Bonestell’s work when LIFE magazine published a series of paintings of Saturn as seen from several of its moons in 1944.  This cover is intriguing because it is not immediately apparent whether the rocket ships are taking off from the cratered planet or landing.

    A side note on this particular issue of F&SF is that it contained the first printing of Kurt Vonnegut’s Hugo award-winning short story, “Harrison Bergeron”

    Amazing Stories‘ October cover, like the month before, is by Alex Schomburg  and is another depiction of near future technology in the vein of  Popular Mechanics. It depicts off shore missile silos that seem rather impractical and unneccessary in an era where both the United States and the USSR were rapidly developing and deploying submarines armed with nuclear missiles.

    Schomburg spent the 1940s working in comic books for companies like Marvel’s precursor Timely Comics. Stan Lee called him the Norman Rockwell of comic books. Before he left comic books for magazines in the early 1950s, Schomburg had drawn almost 600 covers for comic books featuring characters like Captain America, the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch. The amount of detail he put into even the most ephemeral of media was matched by only a few other artists of the time (like George Evans with whom Schomburg shared cover duties on Aces High ).

    John Schoenherr‘s cover for  Analog Science Fact-Fiction once again shows off the talent  Schoenherr honed while doing freelance work for the Bronx Zoo in the early 1960s.  In addition to the cover,  Schoenherr also did the interior illustrations for the story, “Lion Loose…” by James Schmitz.

  4. Seacon 1961

    October 24, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    This post is even more belated than usual since the 19th World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon), also known as Seacon, was held September 2-4, 1961.  Held at the Hyatt House Hotel, Seattle was a fortunate site for a Science Fiction convention since a year later the city would host the future-themed Century 21 Exposition (better  known as the Seattle World’s Fair.) Only a few blocks from the hotel was the unfinished Space Needle, still missing its flying saucer-shaped top.

    The guest of honor at the 19th Worldcon was Robert A. Heinlein, who gave a speech titled “The Future Revisited”. The Toastmaster was Harlan Ellison and the convention chairman was Wally Weber.

    The following Hugo Awards (named after Hugo Gernsback) were presented for the best science fiction or fantasy works of 1960.

    Best Novel – A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
    Best Short Fiction – “The Longest Voyage” by Poul Anderson
    Best Dramatic Presentation – The Twilight Zone (TV series) by Rod Serling
    Best Professional Magazine – Astounding/Analog edited by John W. Campbell, Jr.
    Best Professional Artist – Ed Emshwiller
    Best Fanzine – Who Killed Science Fiction? edited by Earl Kemp

    Other notable attendees… You know what? Let’s skip the rest of the program and get straight to the good stuff. Fifty-year-old cosplay!

  5. Thriller Picture Library: Jet-Ace Logan

    October 7, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Thriller Picture Library was a 64 page digest-sized comic book with black & white interior art.  Each page usually consisted of two panels; one on top of the other. Published four times a month in Britain by Fleetway it ran serialized stories featuring a variety of war, spy, and detective heroes. In 1961 the featured characters were Dogfight DixonJohn Steel, Battler Britton, Spy 13with one-off appearances by Dick Daring of the Mounties and our old friend Jet-Ace Logan.

    Jet-Ace Logan was a space pilot with the RAF, 100 years in the future. He and his wingman, Plumduff  were entrusted to thwart the plans of nefarious aliens, smugglers, and other space-baddies. Where Dick Daring‘s sole Thriller appearance in 1961 was the character’s swan song issue, Jet-Ace Logan‘s was the first of  a dozen appearances that would see out the end of  Thriller Picture Library in 1963.  Jet-Ace Logan was usually found in Fleetway’s Comet and Tiger magazines between 1956 and 1968. It’s doubtful that the stories that ended up in Thriller were excess inventory from Tiger where it was running in serial during 1961. The large Tiger magazine featured a dozen or more panels to the page compared to the digest-sized Thriller‘s 2-4 panels per page. Issue 383 was published in 1961 and issue 391 was Thriller‘s first issue of 1962.

  6. 1961 Cover Gallery: Ace SF Doubles

    October 1, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Ace Books published more than 200 Science Fiction Ace Doubles between 1952 and 1973 in tête-bêche format (a book with two front covers rotated 180° relative to the other – the ends of each novel meeting in the middle of the book).

    Here is a cover gallery of Ace SF Doubles published in 1961:


  7. Spacemen

    September 27, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Although the first issue of Spacemen magazine was published in mid-1961 only two issues would appear on newsstands in its inaugural year. The quarterly magazine was published by Warren Publishing and edited by Forrest J. Ackerman, the same team behind Famous Monsters of Filmland



    It would be inaccurate to call Spacemen the science fiction counterpart to the horror-themed Famous Monsters since the latter highlighted any science fiction film with extraterrestrial creatures or actors in make-up, and the former ignored all but those science fiction tales set in space (Tagline: The World’s Only Space Movie Magazine!)  This might explain why there was probably only enough content for four issues a year.  When there weren’t enough space movies to write about, Ackerman would turn to short fiction, which brings us to a 1961 (or perhaps, 1962) submission letter sent by a 14-year-old Stephen King:


    I suspect “O. Henry’s Comet” was a feature  in Spacemen reserved for short science fiction stories with a twist ending.  Although Ackerman declined to buy the story for Spacemen, he was not a man known for throwing anything away. He would finally publish King’s story in a 1994 issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland under the title ‘The Killer” (at the risk of spoiling a story published almost twenty years ago, it is a tale about an amnesic who doesn’t know he’s really just a robot.)


  8. Perry Rhodan for Beginners

    August 17, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Today’s post had best begin with a disclaimer: This writer’s knowledge of the topic at hand is entirely informed by a Wikipedia article, three fan websites, and a half-dozen Ace reprints published and read well over three decades ago. Sure, you could probably find a more expert description of the Perry Rhodan universe, however those experts all seem to assume everybody is already familiar with the Psionic web and knows  the difference between a Cosmocrat and a Chaotarch.

    First published in 1961, Perry Rhodan is the title of a peculiarly German medium called a heftroman. Thematically, the novella-sized  heftroman is similar to early 20th Century American pulps like Doc Savage and The Shadow, however the German booklets are published weekly and  story arcs (called “cycles” by fans)  are extended over the space of several dozens of issues. Some Perry Rhodan cycles have extended to 100 issues. Many of the early adventures were written by  K. H. Scheer and Clark Darlton, but the title has had numerous authors since the early Sixties. There have been over 2600 installments published so far and on its 50th anniversary, the continuing epic is rapidly approaching 200 million words in length. Sales of Perry Rhodan books total nearly one-quarter of a billion!

    English-speaking fans are frustrated by the fact that a large portion of the Rhodan opus has never been translated from German. Spurred on by Forrest Ackerman and his German translator wife, Wendayne, Ace Books printed about 120 English translations through the Sixties and Seventies in mass market paperback format until poor sales forced them to give up. Several other publishers have made a go at English translations but none have had as much success with the series as German publishers.

    So, alright already! What’s it about?

    In the Rhodan universe (as opposed to the Neil Armstrong universe you and I live in) U.S. Space Force Major Perry Rhodan is the first man to walk on the moon. On the moon, he and his crew discover a crashed alien spaceship. Perry returns to Earth and uses the alien technology garnered from the ship to end the Cold War, take over Earth’s financial and political institutions and unify the world behind a massive leap forward in space exploration.

    Using the alien ship’s computers (positronic brains) and FTL engine ( hyperspatial translator) the cosmos is Perry’s oyster. If that wasn’t advantage enough, he and other major characters acquire an immunity to aging and decease. With that device established, story arcs often span millennia.

    As you would expect, Perry and his friends encounter all variety of extraterrestrial beings. In addition to other starfaring meatbags like themselves, we are introduced to numerous bodiless entities and collective minds. Many of the stories are driven by conflict between these “superintelligences”.  A superintelligence is a stage of evolution where a species collectively gives up its bodies and unites their spirits.  In the Rhodan universe, these “SI” nourish themselves by feeding on the thoughts of the species that live within their territory. There are good SI who give sparks of insight in exchange for their nourishment and bad SI who are merely parasites. When an SI has successfully fused with all matter and life within its territory it becomes a sort of black hole called a “matter-sink”

    Another bodiless, collective intelligence are the “high powers” called Cosmocrats and Chaotarchs who basically control everything. They live in an alternate dimension and  take the form of mere mortals when they wish to manipulate the course of cosmic history (which they seem to do all the time.)  Even in their mortal form, they don’t do the dirty work themselves; they enlist others like Perry to do it for them. As you may have guessed, the Cosmocrats and Chaotarchs are working at cross-purposes. The Cosmocrats want to transform everything into a state of absolute order, and  the Chaotarchs want to transform everything into a state of absolute chaos.  Now, don’t go thinking that the Cosmocrats are necessarily the good guys. They have come to the conclusion that most of the chaos in the universe is caused by intelligent life and have taken steps to suppress it. The Chaotarchs, on the other hand, just like to start galactic wars and generally screw things up.

    Well, that about does it…Oh, yeah. I kinda promised at the start of this post to explain the  ”Psionic Web” . The Psyonic Web is a sort of invisible force that extends across the whole universe emitting “vital and psionic energy”, insuring the well-being and development of  life and higher entities as well as… You know what? It’s the Force from Star Wars! Easy peasy!


  9. The Black & White World of Virgil Finlay

    August 12, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    I spend a lot of time searching out cover images from 50-year-old magazines, comic books, and paperbacks. Interior art is harder to find on the Internet so I’m always happy when I can find some to compliment a post on an old comic book or pulp magazine. What took me by surprise this week was the discovery of some great black & white artwork printed on the back of Amazing Stories in 1961; all by the great fantasy, science fiction and horror illustrator, Virgil Finlay!

    Although he worked in other media like gouache and oils (one of his color illustrations graced the Oct, 1961 cover of Galaxy), Finlay is best remembered for his detailed pen-and-ink drawings, utilizing meticulous stippling, cross-hatching, and scratch board techniques.

    The gallery below contains illustrations printed on the back cover of Amazing Stories in late 1961 and early 1962. The text is exerted from stories featured in each issue. Click for a larger view.





  10. SF Magazine Cover Gallery for August, 1961

    August 10, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    The August, 1961 cover of Analog Science Fact-Fiction featured cover art by John Schoenherr. His painting features a six-legged rhinoceros-like creature adapted to survival on a high-gravity planet.  Depicting aliens whose morphology fit their ecology was a specialty of Schoenherr’s. His freelance work for the Bronx Zoo in the early 1960s must have provided excellent training for designing alien creatures like the ones in this painting.




    The cover of Amazing Stories that month featured cover art by the great Ed Emshwiller for a John Jakes story called “The Highest Form of Life”. Despite the gadgetry, the most intriguing feature of this painting is the expression on the face of the dolphin in the foreground; is it a display of benevolence of malice?





    The cover of Galaxy Science Fiction that month also featured a painting by Ed Emshwiller. I’m not sure if this illustration is meant to depict a scene from any of the stories within, however, it is a neatly subdued representation of the “damsel abducted by a monster” theme that was slowly fading from favor in the more “serious” science fiction magazines.





    Illustrator Mel Hunter‘s trademark was the “lonely robot”. This skeletal automaton was often depicted in scenes of postapocalyptic desolation or cosmic isolation. A sketch of the little robot usually accompanied the autographs Hunter signed for fans. I’m not sure of the story context for the August, 1961 cover of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction but it must have been with some bemusement and even a little hope that Hunter placed his creation in a museum of modern art.




    On the other side of the Atlantic New Worlds Science Fiction featured cover art by comic strip artist Sydney Jordan. The cover depicts a robot mourning the death of his creator, a theme used many times before and since in  literature and film.  Jordan drew a daily science fiction adventure strip called Jeff Hawke from 1955 to 1974.  I can’t think of a better way to conclude today’s post than with a Jeff Hawke strip from August 1961: