Strange as it may seem now, Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner received a decidedly mixed bag of notices upon its first release in June 1982. Some newspapers scribes considered Harison Ford wooden; the voice-over cliched; the storyline way too complex; the whole damn thing butt-numbingly slow and just a tad boring. One broadsheet even described the film as “science fiction pornography,” while the LA Times called it “Blade Crawler” because it moved along so slowly.
But some folks knew the film’s real worth—like Marvel Comics.
In September 1982, Marvel issued a “Super Special” comic book adaptation of Blade Runner. This was quickly followed by a two-part reissue of the comic during October and November of that year. This was when those three little words “Stan Lee presents” guaranteed a real good time and Marvel’s version of Blade Runner fulfilled that promise.
The comic was written by Archie Goodwin with artwork from Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon with Dan Green and Ralph Reese. While movies have time to develop story, plot, and character, and create their own atmosphere, comic books get six panels a page to achieve the same. Marvel’s Blade Runner managed the transposition from screen to page quite successfully. The artists picked up on some of the movie’s most iconic imagery while still managing to add their own take on the Philip K. Dick tale. Williamson offered his own (cheesy) definition of the term “Blade Runner” at the very end of the story:
Blade runner. You’re always movin’ on the edge.
You can read the whole comic here. Click on images below for larger size.
More from Rick Deckard , Roy Batty and co., after the jump…
If I had the money, I guess I’d buy an old abandoned cinema somewhere downtown or maybe one of those big ole drive-ins that’s been long left for dead some place out in the desert. I’d refurbish it then screen double-feature monster movies each and every day. Double-bill after double-bill on continuous performance. Choice picks from the whole back catalog of Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, dear old Peter Cushing, and “King of the Bs” Roger Corman. Yeah, I know, I would probably go bust within six months—but hell, it would have been worth it just to see these classic horror movies and glorious science-fiction films on the big screen where they belong and not on flickering cathode-ray tube of childhood memory.
Brown has probably impacted on everyone’s memory one way or another as he produced a phenomenal array of movie posters. Brown supplied artwork for B-movie features like Creature from the Black Lagoon and Attack of the 50ft. Woman, mainstream movies like Spartacus and Mutiny on the Bounty, to those classic Corman horror films House of Usher and The Masque of Red Death. I know I can hang large parts of my childhood and teenage years by just one look at a Reynold Brown poster. Straight away I can tell you when and where I saw the movie and give a very good idea of what I thought and felt at that time. Now that’s the very thing many a great artist tries to make an aduience feel when they look at a work of art. While artists can spend a lifetime trying to achieve this, Reynold Brown was doing it as his day job.
‘The Singing Citadel’ by Michael Moorcock. Cover art by Bob Haberfield, 1970.
Sci-fi author Michael Moorcock has published a dizzying array of books since getting his start editing a Tarzan fanzine when he was still a teenager. In addition to his extensive literary career, Moorcock has also had some pretty praiseworthy experiences in the world of rock and roll including having played banjo for Hawkwind (as well as writing lyrics for the band) and penning three songs for Blue Öyster Cult. However, as excellent as Mr. Moorcock is, this post is about a man whose art adorned countless covers of books by Moorcock and others in the genre of fantasy and sci-fi for years, Bob Haberfield. If you are of a certain age you will very likely remember being in a store (especially in the UK) catching yourself staring right at one of Haberfield’s many contemplative psychedelic book covers that were staring right back at you.
Before he got started doing book covers, Haberfield created album art for UK jazz label World Record Club starting in the early 1960s. His first cover for Moorcock—who he collaborated with quite often during his career—appeared in 1970 on the first edition of Moorcock’s book Phoenix in Obsidian put out by Mayflower in the UK. This would be the third cover for Haberfield after his debut in 1968 illustrating the cover for a book written by seven-time Hugo Award-winning author Poul Anderson, The Star Fox. Haberfield would collaborate with a long list of other authors and it’s also not uncommon to see different artwork by Haberfield adorn a later edition of the same book. Another one of Haberfield’s artistic calling cards is his incorporation of religious symbolism—specifically, those associated with Buddhism.
It’s my opinion that the Australian graphic designer’s work is somewhat criminally underappreciated. And for the time that his far-out creations were displayed on a lengthy list of sci-fi/fantasy books, his work really stands apart thanks to his bizarre, thought-provoking imagery and use of color. I mean this is the guy who put Adolf Hitler on a futuristic-looking motorcycle, wearing a Dracula cape hauling what dubiously appears to be a fucking bomb behind him to the backdrop of a blazing red swastika for author Norman Spinrad‘s critcally acclaimed 1972 book, The Iron Dream. If that last bit didn’t quite convince you of Haberfield’s mad, mad genius, then perhaps checking out more of his work, which I’ve posted below, is in order. Much of it is NSFW.
An incredible alternate cover by Haberfield for author Norman Spinrad’s 1972 book, ‘The Iron Dream’
The grim cover of the first edition paperback by Haberfield.
After the Second World War, when everything was all kinda, um… shook-up and most people feared imminent nuclear annihilation, or World War Three with Russia, or maybe even just a little old flying saucer invasion from Mars, there came outta Germany a glorious science-fiction magazine called Terra.
Terra or Terra—Utopische Romane / Science Fiction to give it its full name made its debut in 1957. It was published weekly by Arthur Moewig Verlag until 1968. Together with its rival sci-fi mag Utopia, Terra has been described as “the most important science fiction work in the early years of West Germany.”
One look at these glorious Terra covers explains just why that might be so. Look at these fabulous mutated alien creatures doing battle with strong-jawed astronauts, or killer robots about to off some unlucky human, or just shudder at the slithering rapacious monsters about to devour a tasty spaceman breakfast. These are just awesome, thought-inspiring mini-masterpieces that made Earth seem pretty safe at a time when it could have gone up in a nuclear flash.
The Stone Flower, a structure known as a “spomenik” located in Jasenovac, Croatia. Built in 1966, it commemorates the thousands of victims who were executed during World War II at the Jasenovac forced labor and extermination camp which operated on this very location by the river Sava.
To be honest, there is about a zero percent chance that I will ever travel to any of the countries of the former Soviet Union. Which is a shame since I really, really love vodka. However, if I did ever venture to that part of the world I would make it a point to attempt to see at least a few of the haunting sculptures or “spomeniks” that were erected all over what was formerly called Yugoslavia. These stone architectural marvels are meant to serve as grim reminders of those who fought and died in various military events that took place during significant battles, involving among other things resistance operations meant to repel the Ottoman Empire in the 1800s.
Most of the structures were built in the late 60s. One of the most striking is the Monument to the Revolution which is located in Podgarić, Berek. The futuristic-looking sculpture was built by Croatian sculptor Dušan Džamonja and still stands as a memorial to the citizens of Moslavina who died while resisting the German forces during WWII. Others appear to be channeling the architectural design directly from 1976 and the film Logan’s Run—which is perhaps yet another reason I find them so compelling to look at.
While they are quite beautiful to behold, it’s critical to understand the meaning behind the monuments that serve as a reminder of time much more daunting than what we are being faced with right now. As well as the fact that those who do not remember the past—specifically the numerous historical examples in Yugoslavia that saw the people adapt to authoritarian regimes—will likely allow such events to repeat themselves. Many of the images of notable spomeniks in this post were taken by famed Antwerp-based photographer Jan Kempenaers and are the featured in his 2005 book, Spomenik. If you’re interested in learning more about the history behind the spomeniks, I would recommend spending some time at the extensively detailed online resource, the Spomenik Database.
A set of sculptures that stand in Bubanj Memorial Park built by Petar Kristic. Located on a hill in Niš, it marks the location where more than ten thousand Serbian people were systematically executed by German forces.
“Bulgaria’s UFO,” the Buzludzha monument. Designed by Georgi Stoilov, the monument officially opened in 1981 on the top of Mount Buzludzha which was also the infamous site of the last stand between Bulgarian rebels and the Ottoman Empire in 1868.
H. G. Wells must have had a blast writing The War of the Worlds—his classic tale of a martian invasion destroying most of south-east England, for this fictional invention allowed Wells to take wicked revenge on the stifling suburbs and hick towns that had constrained him during his childhood in Kent and his youth when he worked as a draper’s assistant. Wells loathedLittle England‘s suburban middle class—which is a tad ironic considering that many of his own views were the epitome of the worst kind of Little Englander.
Wells’ early inspiration for The War of the Worlds came during his time as a teacher working in the environs of grimy, industrial Stoke-on-Trent in the late 1880s. He was astonished to see the night lit red by the iron foundry furnaces—and the relentless alien clanking mechanized sound of machinery. It started an idea that was further developed by reading the works of scientist Thomas Huxley—in particular his propagation of evolutionary theories on natural selection.
Huxley had been considering theories on issues of good and evil from a Darwinian perspective. Huxley suggested goodness was not related to a divine creator but merely the result of other cultural and social developments. To make his point, he offered up the analogy of a gardener tending to his garden by removing the weeds and pests—to ensure what was best could flourish. This line of thinking he further developed with the example of colonization—in particular the English establishing settlements in Tasmania:
They clear away native vegetation, extirpate or drive out the animal population, so far as may be necessary… In their place, they introduce grain and fruit trees; English dogs, sheep, cattle, horses; and Englishmen.
Wells assimilated Huxley’s thoughts and cleverly embedded these in The War of the Worlds—but instead of Englishmen he used an invading army of ruthless Martians to destroy and crush the indigenous population.
Perhaps surprisingly, Wells didn’t think this form of colonization was necessarily a bad thing. He considered it all part of the “evolutionary process” as he later wrote in his book Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought where he revealed some of his own very troubling Little Englander views.
In Anticipations Wells detailed his speculations on the future—where cities would expand, labor-saving devices would offer more leisure time and the world would be run by a “new class of modern efficients.” Wells looked forward to a world that eradicated the physically and mentally ill, the lower classes and “those swarms of black, and brown, and dirty-white, and yellow people” that would “have to go.” The book was incredibly popular—but was later described as “strong-armed fascism.” Wells was a socialist—so it’s not always the Alt-Right who hold racist views. It was two Catholic writers—G. K. Chesterton and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—who forcefully condemned Wells’ wrong-headed and racist thinking which stemmed from his dodgy interpretation of Darwinian theory.
In spite of Wells’ many odd and often grossly intolerant pronouncements throughout his long life—his works have—as Jorge Luis Borges said—become mythic and will last long after the English language is forgotten. Which is palpably true as Wells concepts of alien invasion (The War of the Worlds) or time travel (The Time Machine) or animal hybrids (The Island of Doctor Moreau) have become embedded in universal culture—identifiable ideas to even those who have never heard of. let alone read H. G. Wells.
Wells started writing The War of the Worlds in 1895. He finished it sometime in early 1896 and revised it in 1897. The story was originally serialized in Pearson’s Magazine in 1897 and was published in book form in 1898—since when it has never been out of print. It has been adapted for the screen, television and even concept albums too many times to mention.
In 1906, Brazilian artist Henrique Alvim Corrêa produced a stunning series of some 130 illustrations for a French limited deluxe edition of The War of the Worlds. Though Corrêa tragically died from tuberculosis at the early age of 34 in 1910—and much of his work was lost during Germany’s invasion during the First World War—his illustrations for The War of the Worlds—created in consultation with Wells—are the definitive illustrations to this classic work of science fiction.
That delightful ’60s/‘70s intersection of pop-psychedelic surrealism and space-age futurism produced some of the most awesome book covers the world has ever seen, with illustrations that often far exceeded in greatness the pulpy sci-fi genre novels they’d adorned. While some of those artists achieved renown, too often, those covers were the works of obscure toilers about whom little is known.
Davis Meltzer, alas, fits deep into the latter category. My best search-fu yielded so little biographical data that I’m not even able to determine if he’s currently alive. A 2014 Gizmodo article alluded to the fact that Meltzer was still living as of its publication, and offered up some résumé data as well:
Davis Paul Meltzer was born in 1930, in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, and attended school in Newtown, Pennsylvania. Both his parents, the late Arthur Meltzer and Paulette Van Roekens, were highly respected fine art painters—and he inherited their great talent. During his career as a freelance artist he created stamps for the U.S. Postal Service, painted dozens of sci-fi book covers, worked for NASA, and worked as a scientific illustrator for 30 years at National Geographic.
Enjoy this gallery of Meltzer’s book covers, assembled from various online sources. If you’re looking to own some Meltzer art but you just utterly hate books, a print of his called “How Cocaine Works in the Brain” is available.
Ray Bradbury needed somewhere quiet to write. His wife had given birth to a baby daughter and their neat home did not seem so large anymore. Bradbury couldn’t afford to rent an office, so he spent his writing time in the UCLA library. Then one day he heard the Morse code clatter of keys on rollers and discovered the library offered typewriters for hire in a basement typing room at ten cents per half hour. Loaded up with a bagful of dimes, Bradbury started work on his latest story Fahrenheit 451.
Bradbury never liked to know what he was doing or where he was going when he wrote—he just hammered out the words from “the secret motives within.” It took him ten days to write Fahrenheit 451. Ten days to run up-and-down stairs and pull books off shelves to find random quotes for his book. Ten days not knowing what he was writing just following the course of the words that tumbled out of his head to tell their tale.
Published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 is the story of a future America where books are banned and firemen are professional arsonists who patrol the cities burning every book they find. The title Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns. Books are banned because they contain ideas that make people unhappy. The firemen burn the books to keep the people happy in their safe little spaces. Bradbury’s story could be our America today, where “politically correct” college students shut down ideas they cannot handle, and where “debate” means only talking to those who agree with you.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Fahrenheit 251 in 2003, renowned artist Ralph Steadman was commissioned to illustrate Bradbury’s classic tale with his signature manic scratch and splatter style. Steadman had famously collaborated with Hunter S. Thompson on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and over a long career has illustrated numerous books, articles and films as well as producing a vast collection of personal work. Though Steadman was said to be “jaded” about illustrating any more books, he was thrilled to illustrate Bradbury’s classic as he considered it “as important as 1984 and Animal Farm as real powerful social comment, because it’s about a fire brigade burning books.”
As someone once said, I think it was me: There is nothing so dangerous as an idea. Particularly one whose time has come…
When Bradbury saw Steadman’s vibrant illustrations, the author paid the artist the highest compliment:
You’ve brought my book into the 21st Century. Thank you.
Steadman’s flamboyant penmanship suits Bradbury’s style of writing “at the top of [his] lungs”—as both work intuitively, allowing accident and inspiration to lead them towards unknown destinations.
There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.
It was a pleasure to burn. More of Steadman’s fiery illustrations for Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’ after the jump….
Frank Herbert said John Schoenherr was “the only man who has ever visited Dune.” Schoenherr (1935-2010) was the artist responsible for visualising and illustrating Herbert’s Dune—firstly in the pages of Analog magazine, then in the fully illustrated edition of the classic science fiction tale. But Herbert didn’t stop there, he later added:
I can envision no more perfect visual representation of my Dune world than John Schoenherr’s careful and accurate illustrations.
High praise indeed, but truly deserved, for as Jeff Love pointed out in Omni Reboot, Schoenherr’s illustrations are “the most important science fiction art ever created.”
If there’s anywhere the old axiom about judging a book by its cover holds true, it’s science fiction. Few authors and the artists employed to visualize their stories achieve a real dialogue; more often than not, throughout the history of science fiction, literature of real depth is sold with flashy aliens and cosmic exaggerations. An extraordinary illustrator, however, is capable of contributing to a piece of literature just as meaningfully as its author. In the case of an artist like John Schoenherr, he becomes the work’s joint architect–and leaves a mark no less indelible.
Schoenherr’s indelible mark made its first appearance alongside a three-part serialization of Dune World in the pages of Analog magazine (1963-64). This was followed by the five-part Prophet of Dune in 1965, for this he won a Hugo Award as Best Professional Artist.
Then in 1976, Schoenherr supplied the artwork for Children of Dune, leading to the epic every home should one volume The Illustrated Dune in 1978.
Born in 1935, Schoenherr started illustrating science fiction stories with Amazing magazine in 1957, but quickly became a fan favorite with his stunning work with Analog. He also illustrated many book covers—most notably those by Philip K. Dick. However, it is Schoenherr’s original art work for Dune that has lasted, as it is difficult to read or think about Herbert’s novels without envisioning the world Schoenherr created in his paintings and sketches.
Dawn At The Palace Of Arrakeen.
More of Schoenherr’s influential artwork for ‘Dune’ after the jump…
Who hasn’t had the experience of chancing upon an unexpectedly empty passageway in a subway station or an airport and thinking, “Maaaan, they should really use this place for a sci-fi movie!”
I’ll bet you that Serafín Álvarez has experienced that feeling. He’s been running his blog Sci-Fi Corridor Archive since 2012, and in that time he has posted pictures of notable and not-so-notable corridors from a whopping 192 science fiction movies spanning the entire history of sound-enabled cinema (the earliest movie in the set is Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita, from 1924).
There really is something about corridors that seems to describe sci-fi in a way that wouldn’t be true of, say, westerns, gangster movies, gladiator movies, musicals, pirate epics, and hard-boiled crime flicks. Indeed, the image of a hermetically sealed passageway that clearly connects two other chambers floating precariously in space is very close to the heart of the sci-fi that we all know and love.
In fact, I would argue that the witty 1999 classic Galaxy Quest was more or less commenting on this fact, seeing as how a good portion the scenes you probably remember best seem to take place in anonymous hallways.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977
2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968
Flash Gordon, 1980
Tons more excellent sci-fi corridors after the jump…....
In every generation there is a moment when some writer, artist, politician or whatever comes forward to announce that their generation is at the start of a revolution—some seismic shift in culture and society that will change everything for the better—forever. It’s rather like the way each generation appears to think it is the first to discover sex or sexuality and flaunts it through clothes, songs or horrendously written books.
A case in point is this roundtable discussion with a young Harlan Ellison from sometime in 1969-70, when the author declared “We’re in the midst of a revolution.”
It’s a revolution of thought, that is as important and as upending as the industrial revolution was—sociologically speaking. We’re coming into a time now when all the old “-isms” and philosophies are dying. They don’t seem to work any more.
All the things Mommy and Daddy told you and told me were true were only true in the house—the minute you get out in the street, they aren’t true any more. The kids in the ghetto have known that all their lives but now the great white middle class is learning it and it’s coming a little difficult to the older folks—which is always the way it is.
We are no longer Kansas or Los Angeles or New York—it’s the whole planet now. They got smog in the Aleutian Islands now; they got smog in Anchorage, Alaska; they got smog at the polar icecaps—can you believe it, smog at the polar icecaps. There is no place you go to hide anymore. So the day of thinking that the Thames or the English Channel or the Rocky Mountains is going to keep you safe from some ding-dong on the other side doesn’t go anymore. A nitwit in Hanoi can blow us all just as dead as a nitwit in Washington.
We’re beginning to think of ourselves not as just an ethnic animal, or a national animal, or a local or family kind of animal—we are now a planetary animal. It’s all the dreams of early science-fiction coming true.
That Ellison could have made this speech in nineties or the noughties, or indeed any decade, only shows how each generation discovers certain truths that are eternally consistent.
Humans, he continues, are now aware of a bigger picture and that by not taking responsibility for our actions—whether thoughtlessly throwing away a cigarette butt or garbage—is “screwing up the ecology.” Which is apposite considering the news of some scientists claiming Earth is on the brink of its sixth extinction.
But Ellison—in sunglasses looking like a Jordanian revolutionary—is only warming up to his theme—the importance of speculative fiction (or that dreaded word “science-fiction”) in imagining (shaping) the future. He has a very valid point—but again one that is made generation to generation-six years before this the writers of previous generations C. S. Lewis, Kingsley Amis and Brian Aldiss held an informal chat on the same subject where they agreed:
...that some science fiction really does deal with issues far more serious than those realistic fiction deals with; real problems about human destiny and so on.
Harlan Ellison is one of those very rare writers who is always inspirational or thought-provoking in everything he writes or says. Like most people, I came to his work through TV before having the greater pleasure of reading him. His seminal episodes of Outer Limits, “Demon with a Glass Hand” and “Soldier” (which James Cameron later used as a basis for Terminator), or his script for Star Trek or “The Sort of Do-It-Yourself Dreadful Affair” and “The Pieces of Fate Affair” on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. stayed with me long after viewing and were cause for my seeking out his fiction. This interview comes from just after Ellison had edited the classic volume of speculative fiction Dangerous Visions, which he hoped might lead to a revolution in the mind of its readers.
It probably did, but the revolution is always moving, changing, evolving.
The conclusion of Harlan Ellison’s talk, after the jump…
No one I know was ever really sure they had seen Blackstar Warrior, the legendary (emphasis on the “legend” part there) “Blaxploitation Star Wars” series made sometime in the 1980s, but most claimed to have heard of it. What they had heard proved equally elusive—rumors, half truths, strange clues, on-line interviews, comments seeded on forums, long conversations at sci-fi cons that mulled over dreams of half-remembered episodes that may or may not have been seen.
Then the evidence started to arrive.
One day, clips from a documentary appeared on YouTube that told the tale of writer/producer Frederic Jackson Jr. and his attempts to make the first blaxploitation science-fiction movie in the 1970s—Blackstar Warrior—about a hip African-American spaceman Tyson Roderick who has been described as “James T. Kirk’s evil twin… a ruthless and daring sexual egomaniac,” who was “unapologetic, tough as nails yet tender-hearted.” A man who mixed the coolness of Shaft and Superfly with the leadership of Captain Kirk.
To produce his dream movie, Jackson Jr. sold his car wash business, but just as he was about start filming everything fell apart when police raided the BSW studio set and arrested Jackson Jr. and his crew for allegedly stealing costumes from the Star Wars set. It has been claimed that to avoid prosecution Jackson Jr. sold his movie script to George Lucas. Though there is no proof this ever happened, some Blackstar Warrior conspiracy theorists claim parts of Jackson Jr.‘s script ended up in The Empire Strikes Back—citing the inclusion of black character Lando Calrissian as proof. But still no one was ever really sure
From such inauspicious beginnings, Blackstar Warrior morphed from a potential blockbuster movie into a cult TV series, which first aired at 10am on a Saturday morning, September 29th 1979. Leonard Roberts starred as Tyson Roderick, with Mindie Machen as his blonde-haired pneumatic robotic partner, Alphie.
The ‘truth’ about ‘Blackstar Warrior,’ after the jump….
I’m always annoyed at how difficult it is to convince someone to check out a silent film. Why is it like pulling teeth to get folks to experience some of the most dynamic, expressive, and yes, entertaining movies of all time? Case in point, Aelita: Queen of Mars, the first Soviet science fiction film and an absolutely captivating watch from beginning to end.
Based on a novel by Alexei Tolstoy (writer, Nazi apprehender, and distant relative of that otherTolstoy ),Aelita: Queen of Mars is set primarily in post-war Moscow and (you guessed it) Mars. After receiving a mysterious message from outer space, Soviet Engineer Los builds a spaceship. Cut to Mars, where the Emperor Tuskub maintains absolute power, and keeps the Martian proletariat in cold storage when not using their labor. His daughter Aelita has been watching Los through a telescope. She’s fascinated with Earthly ways of life and infatuated with Los, but she’s forbidden from using the telescope, as Tuskub is suspicious of her fascination with the aliens.
When Los comes home one day to catch his wife Natasha friendly with their tenant, a black market criminal, he shoots her in a fit of rage. Disillusioned with his marriage, he sets off for Mars in his ship, taking with him the dynamic revolutionary adventurer, Gusev, who just so happened to be hanging around. When they arrive they’re immediately thrown in prison, along with Aelita as a conspirator. I don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just remember that Soviets were really into revolutionary uprisings. There’s even a scene where a hammer and sickle are smithed, though it’s actually the hammer and sickle being smashed out of shape, shot in reverse for a primitive (but impressive) special effect.
The film boasted groundbreaking sets and costume designs.
The acting is beautiful and romantic, the plot is grandiose and ambitious, and visually, it’s completely epic. Far from two-dimensional propaganda, the film is complex and nuanced: Natasha and Los’ tenant actually acknowledges the shortages and rationing of the Soviet Union, which is probably why the film eventually fell out of favor with the Soviet government. I cannot recommend this movie enough, as I re-watch it every few months. It’s available on YouTube in its entirety, below.
When someone whose opinion you respect—in this case Steve Silberman of Wired News—sends you a link and the note “I promise you, the weirdest story you’ll read today (mine)” you take it seriously in my line of work. In this article for his new Neurotribes blog, Tripping Cyborgs and Organ Farms: The Fictions of Cordwainer Smith, Steve tells the unusual tale of Paul Linebarger, psychological-warfare expert and spy for the U.S. government. Writing under the pen name Cordwainer Smith, Linebarger wrote some unusually prescient science fiction tales that depicted bizarre advances in science and predicting dystopian futures as disturbing as anything in Philip K. Dick’s oeuvre:
After Scanners, Linebarger’s most unnerving creation was “A Planet Named Shayol.” (Sh’eol or שְׁאוֹל — “the pit” or “the abyss” — was the ancient Hebrew name for the land of the dead.) The story is one of the most haunting visions of an utter hell outside of Dante, with plot points anticipating current developments in tissue engineering and the infamous Vacanti earmouse that caused a flap at M.I.T. in 1996.
Published in 1961, it’s even druggier than Scanners, with a hipster nurse who gets her patients stoned on the fictional equivalent of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and a cow-faced organ farmer proffering a synthetic opiate called super-condamine. Linebarger writes about strung-out states of mind so convincingly, it’s clear that his experiences in the hospital as a kid left an indelible impression. One might even say that these experiences — along with his perpetual dislocation as the son of a spy — made the body itself, and all of culture, seem like an elaborate prosthesis imposed on the essential man. Ich bin ein Scanners, waiting for the next cranch.
Read more of Tripping Cyborgs and Organ Farms: The Fictions of Cordwainer Smith (NeuroTribes)
By the time Montreal-born filmmaker Arthur Lipsett made his nine-and-a-half-minute long dystopian short 21-87 in 1963, he was well-aware of the power of abstract collage film. His short from two years earlier, Very Nice, Very Nice was a dizzying flood of black & white images accompanied by bits of audio he’d collected from the trash cans of the National Film Board while he was working there. And wildly enough, it got nominated for a Best Short Subject Oscar in 1962.
But with 21-87, the then-27-year-old Lipsett was not only using moving images, he was also refining his use of sound. And it got the attention of the young USC film student George Lucas, who’d fallen in love with abstract film while going to Canyon Cinema events in the San Francisco Bay area. 21-87’s random and unsettling visions of humans in a mechanistic society accompanied by bits of strangely therapeutic or metaphysical dialogue, freaky old-time music, and weird sound effects, affected Lucas profoundly, according to Steve Silberman in Wired magazine:
’When George saw 21-87, a lightbulb went off,’ says Walter Murch, who created the densely layered soundscapes in [Lucas’s 1967 student short] THX 1138 and collaborated with Lucas on American Graffiti. ‘One of the things we clearly wanted to do in THX-1138 was to make a film where the sound and the pictures were free-floating. Occasionally, they would link up in a literal way, but there would also be long sections where the two of them would wander off, and it would stretch the audience’s mind to try to figure out the connection.’
Famously, Lucas would later use 21-87 as the number Princess Leia’s cell in Star Wars. But although his success allowed him freedom at the NFB, Lipsett’s psychological problems would lead him to commit suicide in 1986, two weeks before he turned 50.
After the jump, compare with Lucas’s equally bewildering short Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB!