[May 31, 1961] First from the sun (The planet, Mercury)

For many of us, the motivation for reading science fiction is the opportunity to explore worlds beyond our own.  Only in fantasy can we fly to faraway planets and see the unusual sights they afford us.  But, as I try to convey in this column, science can also reveal places every bit as interesting as the those that are the fruits of imagination. 

For instance, there are eight planets besides the Earth whirling around the sun, each of them a wildly different orb from ours and each other.  Moreover, while we are still on the eve of a new era of observation, utilizing space probes like the recently failed Venera and the ambiguously targeted Pioneer 5, yet the progress of technology has revolutionized even ground-based observation.  Our conception of the planets has evolved significantly in the last half-century (to say nothing of a full century ago).  It boggles the mind to imagine what we might know in another fifty years.

Let me show you these worlds, as we know them today, and as we used to know them.  I’ve written about Venus, and I’ve written about Pluto.  Today is Mercury’s turn.

Mercury was known to the oldest civilizations.  It was named after the swiftest of the Roman gods because, being the closest planet to the sun, it completes its trip around the star in the shortest time.  A hundred years ago, we knew very little about this little world, in large part because it is usually lost in the sun’s glare; from our vantage, Mercury never strays far from its parent star.  We knew its period (year): 88 days.  We had a rotation (day): slightly longer than that of the Earth.  The latter was a guess – it seemed that some vague features could be resolved on Mercury’s tiny disk, and since they did not move much from day to day, it was thought that Mercury’s day must be similar to ours. 

We knew that Mercury has no moon.  This actually makes it harder to determine the size and mass of the planet; luckily, Mercury is occasionally visited by Encke’s comet, on which it exerts a measurable pull.  From that and optical observations, it was guessed that Mercury was just over 3000 miles across, about fifteen times less voluminous.  This made it by far the smallest planet in our solar system.  We knew nothing of the planet’s tilt, and there was speculation that, if the seasons were severe enough, that life might survive at one of Mercury’s poles.  The relative dimness of the planet, even taking into account its size, suggested that it didn’t have much of an atmosphere – at least, not a reflective one. 

And that’s it!  Not a big scientific haul for a planet that was closer to Earth, on average, than Mars.  Even the early science fictioneers had little to say about the planet: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martians knew that Mercury, which they called “Rasoom” was inhabited by an advanced race, but nothing more.

Now we move to the present day…and we still don’t know a whole lot about Mercury!  We do now know that Mercury must be airless or nearly so.  It would be hard for a planet so small to hold onto the energetic gases that make up an atmosphere, particularly a superheated one.  Additionally, whenever Mercury has crossed the disc of the sun, in an event known as a transit, observers have spotted no telltale halo that would betray the existence of air.  The romantic notion that life could exist on the planet seems forever excluded even from the realm of science fiction, though it should be noted that some mid-century polarimetry observations (measuring how sunlight scatters off of things) suggest that there is some Mercurian atmosphere. 

We still don’t know much about the surface of the planet, but it is assumed that it mimics that of Earth’s moon.  It has a similar color, and the difference in the density of light reflecting depends on Mercury’s phase (both of the planets closer to the sun than the Earth exhibit phases, of course – from new, to crescent, gibbous, then full, and back again); this suggests that the planet’s surface is rough.  Imagine giant Mercurian craters, jagged mountains, deep canyons, all more outsized than we generally conceive thanks to Mercury’s light gravity.

And that 24-hour Mercurian day?  Well, there is another rotation scheme that fits the evidence even better.  If Mercury doesn’t rotate at all, presenting one face to the sun at all times, as the moon does to the Earth, this also is consistent with its unvarying surface features over the span of several days.  In fact, given Mercury’s proximity to the great gravitational pull of the sun, it is likely that Mercury is “tidally locked”. 

Thus, one side of the planet is forever being broiled with terrific intensity, hot enough to melt lead, zinc, maybe even magnesium!  Then you have the back side that never sees the sun.  It may well be the coldest place in the solar system – even more frigid than faraway Pluto.  Imagine an eternally dark landscape so cold that there could be lakes of hydrogen.  The dimmest of shadows would be cast by the rugged Mercurian mountainscape in the meager Venus-light.  Talk about bleakly exotic!

And at Mercury’s ring of unchanging twilight, perhaps there is a temperate zone where life could yet flourish, especially if there is, though evidence be against it, a measurable atmosphere on the smallest of our solar system’s worlds.  I suppose there may yet be stories to write about the first planet from the sun…

[May 29, 1961] Oasis in a Wasteland (The Twilight Zone, Season 2, Episodes 25-27)

Nelson Minow, the new Chair of the Federal Communications Commission, offered the following challenge to the National Association of Broadcasters earlier this month (May 9, 1961). 

“I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland…

…When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse.”

He is, of course, stating the obvious.  If you park yourself in front of the idiot box all day, your mind will be turned to mush by the soap operas, game shows, inferior anthologies, and the endless commercials (sometimes as many as ten 30-second spots per hour!).  But, for the more discriminating, there are about six hours of good TV on any given week.  If you like Westerns (and you’d better..because there are so many!), there’s Rawhide and Maverick, though the latter is much reduced in watchability since James Garner left the cast.  You’ve got Route 66.  Andy Griffith has got a fun show.  Dobie Gillis is still amusing on occasion.

And then you’ve got Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.  I’m shed much ink over the fact that this second season hasn’t been as good as the first.  The last three episodes, however, comprise a solid streak of goodness that I think you’ll enjoy if you catch them during the summer reruns (and, as is now tradition, you’ll get a one-two review punch with both me and the Young Traveler reporting our thoughts):

——

The Silence, aired about a month ago, is a most peculiar episode.  For the first time since Zone‘s debut segment, we have 25 minutes without a single science fictional or fantastic twist.  Rather, this show, about a rather obnoxious Gentleman’s Club regular who is bet that he can’t keep his mouth shut for a year, relies solely on fine acting, lush cinematography, and compelling storytelling to hold your attention until the final reveal.  It’s a neat trick, and Serling probably could only get away with it because we were all expecting a gimmick.  Four stars.

I highly enjoyed this episode.  It really had the feel of a first season Twilight Zone episode, with its creepy twist.  The sets were interesting, the plot intriguing, and the acting spectacular.  I appreciate that the episode was more realistic than other episodes, with the character’s actions having consequences, rather than some unknown force messing with them.

I enjoyed the concept, and it had the right amount of creepiness.  The actor’s expressions really helped convey different parts of the story and I absolutely loved the twist.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it is very good.

I give this episode a solid 3 and a ½ out of five stars.  I highly recommend you watch this episode for yourself, and enjoy this well done story, just as I did.

——

Shadowplay is a gripping piece.  A man on Death Row (a cliched, broad version thereof) attempts to convince his attorney, his prosecutor, his contact at the newspaper, that the world is just a solipsistic fantasy.  Once the convict sits in the electric chair, and the circuits are opened, it will not be the criminal who dies, but the entire world.  Moreover, this will not be a one-time event: in fact, it is all the nightly dream of the condemned man.  Over and over, he almost convinces the phantoms to grant a stay of execution.  Almost.  Not quite.

The tension of the episode derives from this iteration’s outcome.  Will he break the cycle this time?  Four stars.

I felt that this episode was actually kind of slow.  I was somewhat unsatisfied by the end because it felt like despite there being some tension, the ending was actually fairly predictable. There was no twist in this one, the story simply unfolded and then it was done.

The cinematography and acting was very good, but I really disliked the plot.  I have never particularly liked the whole “people going crazy” angle that Twilight Zone likes to use, and this episode started right off with it.  I was also slightly disturbed with the episode’s concept, which I suppose is what they want you to be, but it just left an overall bad taste in my mouth.

I would give this episode 2 out of five stars, however this is simply my opinion, and if you enjoy this concept, then I would highly recommend you watch this episode, if not for the plot, then the cinematography.

——

Last up is The Mind and the Matter, a comedy piece starring comedian Shelley Berman.  Berman plays a finicky insurance clerk, hemmed in at all times by people.  People on the subway.  People in the cafeteria.  People at the office.  Crowds everywhere.  When he discovers the psychic ability to wish everyone away, or in the alternative, make them all like himself (the one fellow he thinks he can stand), it seems he’s finally found the answer.  Relief, however, is short-lived in both cases.

While not an outstanding episode, I could not help noting how attractive it was, with truly crisp cinematography.  Also, as with the other pieces on which I report this month, the emphasis is increasingly on characterization, making you care about the people portrayed beyond the twist ending.  Three stars.

I actually enjoyed this episode a lot.  The cinematography was just as good as the last one, the pacing was good, and the plot had a lot I could relate to.  Though I don’t “despise people” like the main character did, I related a lot to the loneliness and boredom he felt towards the middle of the episode.  When you have no responsibilities and there’s no one to talk to, you can get pretty bored, and I think that was wonderfully conveyed so we could relate to it. 

As I said earlier, the cinematography and acting was very good.  The special effects were amazing, making everyone the same person, it really allowed for some funny moments.  I think the thing I liked most about the episode though, is the ending.  It didn’t end with any crazy people, or a terrible twist; the man simply learned his lesson, and continued his life.

I would give this episode a solid 3 1/2 stars.  It was funny, lighthearted, and I highly recommend you watch it yourself.

[May 27, 1961] RED STAR, BLUE STAR (May 1961 UK Fandom report)

[Ashley Pollard is back with this month’s report on the space and sci-fi scene across the Pond!  Yes, I did use the term “sci-fi” advisedly…]

Last month a Red Star rose in the East.  This month a Blue Star rose in the West as Alan Shepherd became the first American in space.  He was aboard the Freedom 7 Mercury capsule launched atop the Mercury-Redstone 3 booster — showing it’s possible to reach space without getting to orbit. While this may be seen as a bit of disappointment, it clearly demonstrates American caution in testing systems before clearing them for flight.  Something I’m sure the astronauts approve of, as they sit atop what is a potential bomb if things go wrong.

I understand that there’s another flight using the Redstone booster in July to look forward to, but my friend Gerry Webb, a member of the British Interplanetary Society, informs me the larger Mercury-Atlas booster is required to propel a man into orbit.  However, I’m sure it won’t be long until an American astronaut orbits the Earth as both the Russian and American space agencies strive to be the first to achieve the next new record.  I will be following the action as the Space Race hots up.

Meanwhile, at the last Thursday night’s London Circle meeting, once one had gotten through the frothing going on about memberships cards and the current fan feud that rolls on, we sat down and discussed the lamentable state of the British space programme.  I braced myself with a Gin & Tonic, with ice and a slice, for the lamentation of the space geeks.

To summarize Great Britain’s role in space, we lag far behind both United States and the Soviet Union, our government having cancelled Blue Streak early last year, which was a medium-range ballistic missile that would’ve made a good basis for a British rocket.  It was being tested at the Woomera Rocket Range in Australia (named, aptly, after an Aboriginal spear throwing aid).  Woomera has plenty of room to fire rockets into space, unlike the Home Counties or anywhere else for that matter on the British Isles.

Shortly after announcing the cancellation of the Blue Streak our government changed its mind and said it would develop a two-stage rocket called Black Prince: using Blue Streak for the bottom stage and our Black Knight missile for the top.  Gerry tells me that the names are generated from the British government’s Rainbow Code that uses a colour and a randomly generated word for aerospace projects.  Unfortunately, for British fans of space rocketry, our government then went and cancelled the Black Prince project for being far too expensive.

I’m afraid that only leaves us the fictional British rocket programmes to fly the flag for us in space.

We start with the “British Experimental Rocket Group” from Quatermass by Nigel Kneale (the television show which wrapped up almost a decade ago, but which spawned two sequels).  As space projects go, it can’t be said to have been a complete success for two very good reasons.  First was the loss of ship on landing, and then there was the small matter of the crew dying and the mutated survivor wanting to chomp down on the inhabitants of the City of London.

However, that still leaves us with Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, which I haven’t mentioned before.  He is the eponymous hero of the Eagle comic’s lead strip.  Dan Dare is the lead test pilot of the “Interplanet Space Fleet”, whose adventures in space are still delighting its readers after ten years of weekly installments.  The series was created by Frank Hampson who consulted Arthur C. Clarke on the comic strips’ science.  While lots of spaceships have been lost, favourites like Dan Dare’s own Anastasia fly around the Solar system rescuing those in need of help, and defeating the various nefarious plans of enemies like the Mekon: large headed green alien overlords from Venus (and I expect you thought I would say Mars – still green though).

And finally we have UNEXA, the “United Nations Exploration Agency.”  This organization launches space missions and is the creation of Hugh Walters who has written a series of children’s science fiction that starts with Blast Off at Woomera.  Ah that Woomera, which is no longer the centre of British aspirations in space.  Sometimes fiction is better than fact.

Needless to say, most of those around the table with me had that look on their faces I always see when I mention something that’s considered off piste in polite science fiction company.  And don’t get me started about the furore it causes if one dares to use Forrest J Ackerman’s term for our genre: Sci-Fi . I can only hope that in the future that people who enjoy reading and watching SF, including comics, will be accepted as fans like the rest of those who only read books and magazines . Besides I like pronouncing Sci-Fi as Skiffy, because skiffy rhymes with spiffy.  Moreover, I think that reading SF is a smart thing as the world around us transforms from steam and steel into space and computers.

The other topic du jour has been George Blake née George Behar who was sentenced to 42 years in prison for being a spy for the Russians.  Spying has become a topic of interest in my circles because of the link to secrets, and the nature of those secrets were the topic of a long discussion.  Featuring prominently were atomic bombs, which were up until a few years ago the sole purview of those science fiction types who like to fantasize about going into space.  I only comment about the spying, because as I said last time I’ve been watching the TV spy show The Avengers, which has just finished being broadcast for the season.  As has Supercar for that matter.

I note that there are a lot of what would have been considered quite science fictional elements in Avengers.  Perhaps not overtly showcased, but covertly in the use of science McGuffins to drive the stories forward.  It should come as no surprise to hear the show being called Spy-Fi, which underscores my point.  Language evolves, and as long as terms are not used to denigrate a genre, then I really don’t mind if you call what I read or watch Sci-Fi.

So, we now live in a world where science fiction can no longer be denied yet, we are still able to start endless bickering over whether it’s called science fiction, SF, Sci-Fi or even speculative fiction, a term I encountered when used by Robert A. Heinlein, though I understand he wasn’t the first to coin the expression.  The point being is that I prefer to imagine a future where we can all be the best of what we can be, and that we live being non-judgemental and have unconditional positive regard for our fellow human beings whether they be right or wrong.  Now isn’t that a science fictional ideal worth pursuing as we blast off into the Final Frontier.

[May 24, 1961] Progress? (The Beast of Yucca Flats, by Rosemary Benton)

May 1961 has been a busy month for movies!  We’re up to three: Gorgo, Atlantis, and…well, see for yourself what guest writer, Ms. Rosemary Benton, has been so kind as to present:

Oh my, was this a lesson is poor filmmaking and truly a dark day for the science-fiction genre.  The tale ofThe Beast of Yucca Flats is short, but very baffling. 

Here’s the set-up: Soviet agents have been dispatched to apprehend and execute Dr. Joseph Javorsky, a scientist defected from “behind the Iron Curtain,” carrying top secret documents about the Russian “Moon Shot.”  A firefight commences leading to a car chase onto a plain which we see, via a small hand painted sign, is the Nevada Test Site (NTS) Yucca Flats.  The US agents then stop the car in order to continue the previous gun fight (which makes no sense; they must be heading to the military base at the nuclear testing facility, Why stop?) Needless to say their exchange leads to a pursuit on foot into the surrounding wastes, when FLASH! a nuclear bomb is detonated.  The last that is seen of the poor doctor is a hand reaching towards a flaming briefcase.  When next we see Dr. Javorsky, the radiation exposure has turned him into a mad strangler – The Beast!

Immediate points of contention when addressing this film include stilted performances, shots that are so dark they’re black, and a rambling plot that seems to jump around in time.  The cinematography is directed with little regard to continuity: characters will be stumbling toward camera left when just a moment prior they were fleeing from camera right.  Interestingly, the film was recorded with no audio, so when a character has dialogue, the lines are delivered with the actor facing away from the camera, off camera entirely, or in a scene so dark you can’t make out anything.  All sound – special effects, music, and dialogue – were very clearly added in post production.

Thankfully this was the second film in the double feature I saw, because I can’t imagine who would brave this film hoping to see what follows it.  Going on about the technical quality of the film in any aspect would be a pointless adventure.  So instead I let my mind wander, and as I was sitting in the theater for a seemingly endless amount of time I was drawn to several interesting aspects of the film’s production.

As a project funded on a shoestring it’s not surprising to see members of the cast double up on roles. Larry Aten, the actor portraying patrolman Joe Dobson, was credited as both an actor as well as the makeup artist.  Unfortunately I don’t know his work from anywhere else, but amazingly, there was one actor whose career I was very familiar with.  Character actor Tor Johnson plays the titular Beast of the film, bringing with him his infamous white eyed visage and staggering gait.  Given his prior film history, I knew that his name popping up in the introductory credits heralded a film that would be assuredly terrible, but fascinatingly so.

Tor Johnson started out as a wrestler known as The Swedish Angel.  The first credited role Johnson landed was a background part on the acclaimed history-drama show You Are There.  Johnson continued finding bit roles in television before breaking into movies via 1955’s Edward D. Wood Jr. picture, Bride of the Monster.  Two years later, Johnson again starred in an Ed Wood film, The Unearthly.  Then came Night of the Ghouls in 1958, written, produced and directed by…you guessed it: Ed Wood.  By the time Johnson starred in (Wood’s) Plan 9 From Outer Space , it was clear that the man had found his niche.  In fact, it was downright odd to see him anywhere outside of an Edward D. Wood Jr. production, but I will admit that if anyone had to portray a radioactive scientist turned strangler, former wrestler Tor Johnson was a good choice.

Coleman Francis, writer, actor, director, editor and co-producer of The Beast of Yucca Flats, is another name that I recognized from television and film.  As a thespian, you might remember him from Sargent Preston of the Yukon , or Dragnet.  Uncredited roles of his include the power plant phone operator in the 1954 science-fiction film Killers from Space and the express delivery man from the 1955 jewel This Island Earth .  Judging by the number of functions he managed in The Beast of Yucca Flats, it was clearly his passion project . Having that much control over a project could have allowed Francis to create something very different.  That isn’t what happened, but nonetheless there’s an outsider quality to the film that, although not nearly as clever as Francis thought it was, deserves some consideration.

In a better film with a better script, the ever present narration (written and read by Coleman Francis) might actually have come off as clever.  However, weighed down by odd timing and working in tandem with a poor plot, the words come off as pompous.  Francis’s narration consists of the repetition of key phrases which are supposed to draw a correlation between the plot and larger world issues.  The repetition of the word “progress” is a particular favorite of his.  “Progress” is synonymous with Dr. Javorsky, or more specifically the Beast.  Joe Dobson is, “Caught in the wheels of progress” as he surveys the first victims of the Beast.  “Progress” said as the highway patrolmen are getting into their car to look for the murderer of a young couple.  I can only assume that, according to Coleman Francis, scientific progress has a price that must be paid in blood and futile efforts. 

Take Joseph Javorsky who lost his whole family in Hungary and now, just when he was about to meet with the American scientific and military community, is caught in an atomic blast that turns him into a strangler and who is then hunted down and shot.  A poetic criticism of the advancement of science, but impossible to take seriously when there isn’t any scientific basis for the conflict of the plot – which, again, is about a man who is driven to murderous strangulation after being caught in a blast of radiation.

The Beast of Yucca Flats is almost a creature of a bygone era if one only looks at the way that it was filmed and written.  There are hints, however, of a new emergence in science-fiction and film that I believe Francis was aware of when he made his movie.  More and more young people can afford their own entertainment, which translates into profits for anyone who can hold their attention.  To that end The Beast of Yucca Flats attempts to be both a titillating “creature feature” and a cautionary tale of science.  As a creature feature, it conforms to the metaphor of creature/alien/monster serving as the embodiment of all that is wrong with the world. Through science gone awry this creature/alien/monster has struck at the hand that created it.  Such cautionary tales of science featuring a centralized menace are plentiful in science-fiction and include such memorable movies as Godzilla, King of Monsters! from 1956, Them! (1954), and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). 

Where earlier science fiction films predominantly try to present as fantastical but scientific, The Beast of Yucca Flats nearly glosses over any real science.  The disaster that is supposed to spawn the Beast is highly illogical, and the film misses that crucial science-fiction scene where the characters try to figure out why radiation would turn someone into a mad strangler.  It’s a pretty major deviation from the last decade of the genre’s formula, but one that I imagine we will see more of in the future as focus in science-fiction cinema shifts to accommodate the emerging teenage movie-going population . It can certainly be expected that marketing to a young audience will include more nude scenes as in the uncut opening of The Beast of Yucca Flats

Would I recommend that anyone see this film?  No.  It’s a poorly made movie that was released on the popularity of the science-fiction genre, but does nothing to further it.  Aside from being insultingly dumb, it’s a boring film with only the wacky collection of cast members going for it.  It is always entertaining to see Tor Johnson reprising his Lobo character, but in this case take a pass and make sure whatever double feature you see with The Beast of Yucca Flats shows the film second, not first.

[Ms. Benton has neglected to rate this gem.  1 star?  2 stars?  6?  And I have to wonder what the first movie of the double-feature was…]

[May 21, 1961] Pineapple Upside-down Month (June 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Have you ever heard/seen Karl Orrf’s Carmina Burana?  It’s an opera of sorts, the performance of a set of medieval poems to music.  It is likely that you’re at least familiar with its opening number, the catchy Oh Fortuna!.  Well, having seen Carmina, I can tell you that even Orff knew there wasn’t much to the rest of the piece – as evidenced by the fact that Oh Fortuna! gets performed twice, once at the beginning and once at the end.  You can snooze through the rest.

This month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction is like Carmina: a tremendous beginning followed by a largely snoozeworthy remainder.  I suppose that, if you want to complete the analogy, you can simply read the opening piece again after finishing the book.  You probably will.

For Cordwainer Smith’s Alpha Ralpha Boulevard is one of the best stories I’ve read in a long time.  Most tales of the future are either frustratingly conventional or completely opaque.  Not so in Boulevard, which features a world dominated by “Instrumentality”, an omniscient computer dedicated to the happiness of humanity.  16,000 years from now, after a placid, highly regulated existence, people are, at last, offered the luxury of uncertainty (or at least the illusion thereof). 

With just a few subtle strokes of his pen, Smith presents the trappings of an alien yet utterly believable world: the trio of reborn humans, programmed to think themselves French; the compelling homunculi, servant animals bred into a mockery of the human shape; the servile androids; the contrived movie-set surroundings; the ancient, decayed ruins of the old technology.  Moreover, Boulevard has a great story, the quest for meaning in a predestined world.  It’s a masterpiece – evocative and brilliant.  Five stars.

Arthur C. Clarke’s Crime on Mars is an adequate (but not exceptional) little art heist mystery.  I find it interesting that he publishes these very straight sf stories here rather than other, perhaps more suited, mags.  Perhaps there wasn’t room in the other digests (or perhaps F&SF pays the best rates!) Three stars.

George, on the other hand, by John Anthony West, is a dreadful slog: a henpecked husband slowly succumbs to a creeping paralysis over the course of an evening; the story is told mostly in shrill exchanges between the afflicted and his spouse.  One Star. 

Doris Pitkin Buck’s Birth of a Gardener is another domestic dispute piece with some vague nonsense about anti-matter.  Although Gardener makes good use of her personal expertise in horticulture, her knowledge of science is less complete.  Two stories.

Mark Twain’s reprinted A Curious Pleasure Excursion, an advertisement for a comet ride in the style of the great ocean cruises of the last century, is clever and funny — an all-too-brief island of quality in an sea of dreck (to continue the sailing metaphor).  Four stars.

Go for Baroque is the second woman-penned piece in the magazine, by mystery writer Jody Scott.  I think it’s about a crazy time traveler who cures the sane of our world with his chaotic, exuberant madness.  Maybe.  It’s hard to tell.  It is written in this “modern” style that I see more and more in more literary places, half stream-of-consciousness, half nonsense.  I really don’t like it.  Two stars.

By popular demand, I include this month’s pun-ishment, the latest tale of Ferdinand Feghoot.  Read at your personal peril.

Older writers are interesting.  They tend to stick to old techniques and tropes even as they adapt them to current themes.  Miriam Allen Deford’s, The Cage, reads like a Lovecraft tale, complete with a mad scientist regaling a young reporter of his horrifying plan.  In this case, it is the breeding of a race of super-insects to supplant humanity in the event of a nuclear war.  But the author somehow elevates the story to something more than the sum of its parts, steering it subtly to a thoughtful conclusion.  Three stars.

What do you get when you combine the carefree misogyny of Randall Garrett with the increasingly impenetrable prose of (the once masterful) Avram Davidson?  Why, Something Rich and Strange, about a connoisseur of seafood and women who sails off to find a mermaid to love, a task at which he is ultimately successful.  With many pages devoted to lurid descriptions of pescatory cuisine, I had a strong suspicion that the tale would end with the protagonist eating his fishy sweetheart.  Rather, it turns out that the siren is an old hag with, nevertheless, admirable culinary talents.  The punchline is thus, “She’s not much to look at, but she sure can cook!”  One star.

So perhaps I may end up owing my friend, Mike, a beer or two after all, since he may be right that 1961 will not be F&SF’s year to win the Best Magazine Hugo.  Normally my favorite of the Big Three SFF digests, F&SF came in at the bottom of the heap this month at just 2.75 stars.  Compare this to Analog’s 3 stars, and Galaxy’s stellar 3.5 stars. 

On the plus side, this month saw the most stories by women: four out of twenty-two.  I won’t call it a trend until I see this proportion again, of course.  Interestingly, the top contenders for Best Story were both written by Cordwainer Smith.  Maybe the fellow should start his own magazine…

[May 19, 1961] One of our Continents is Missing! (Atlantis: The Lost Continent)

The cinema is one of those eternal joys.  I can’t see it ever dying out, even though doomsayers have been predicting just that for decades.  Radio was the first real competition, especially when movies were silent.  But then Talkies came out around 1930, and radio doesn’t have moving pictures.  Television does, and it seems a stronger contender.  Still, although ticket sales have declined, the film industry has responded by showing the kind of spectacle you can’t see on the small screen.  Epics like The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, Spartacus.

Those definitely provide impetus to hit the movie houses, but I’d go even if the blockbuster never had been invented.  For me, it’s a chance to get away from the world.  My daughter and I (and sometimes my wife) go into that darkened room, redolent with the smell of butter and popcorn.  We’ve got our pop and our candy.  The floor is just a touch disconcertingly sticky.  You don’t have to dress up to go to the movies these days, particularly in California.  The lights go out, the curtains open, and for two hours (or more, if it’s a double-feature or you get a couple of shorts) all of your worries disappear.  It’s a portal beyond reality.

Particularly if, like us, you’re into the fantasy and s-f flicks.  Let’s face it — if I want to see everyday drama, I woun’t bother plunking down a quarter for the privilege.  No, I go to the movies to see something other worldly.  Much of it is subpar, but plenty is good.  Moreover, the best of the genre have comedy and action to rival conventional movies in addition to possessing that element of the Beyond I crave.  Not that I don’t watch mainstream films: I saw Spartacus and Ocean’s 11 last year.  It’s just that I also saw every monster, alien, and space movie that came out in 1960, and I plan to keep up the practice through this decade and beyond.

And tell you all about it…

With that, let me report on last Saturday’s outing.  The Young Traveler and I went to the local drive-in for the latest from George Pal, the wizard who brought us last year’s amazing The Time Machine (winner of the Oscar for Best Special Effects!).  On tap was Atlantis: The Lost Continent, a sumptuous swords and sandals epic a la The Seven Voyages of Sinbad

The pace is quick.  Within five minutes of the movie’s start, our hero, the Greek fisherman, Demetrios, has pulled up a nearly drowned beauty from the ocean.  This most unappreciative and haughty girl is none other than Antillia, Princess of Atlantis.  She demands that Demtrios chauffeur her beyond the Pillars of Herculues into the Atlantic Ocean, back to her home, but the fisherman believes the journey would be suicide. 

Antillia is not to be denied, however, and she steals the man’s boat to make the trip herself — only she is too inept a sailor to outrun Demetrios, who is a powerful swimmer.  The fisherman’s first inclination is to turn the ship back home, but he wavers in the face of Antillia’s charm.  Demetrios agrees to sail to Atlantis if, in return, she agrees to marry him upon their return to Greece.  The deal made, the pair sojourn for a month, enduring storms, gods, and other Mediterranean hazards.  I at first thought that Atlantis would be an Odyssey-esque adventure, and that the lost continent might not figure prominently in the film.  This, of course, was silly.  One does not make a movie about Atlantis without showing its dramatic sinking, especially if that someone is George Pal!

Out in the middle of the ocean, the pair encounter a menacing sea monster.  In a very effective scene, Demetrios attempts to ward off the creature, but his spear bounces off with…a metallic clang!  The sea serpent is, in fact, an Atlantean submarine, the first indication of Atlantis’ super-advanced technology.  The ship’s captain, the wily Zaren, takes the pair aboard and whisks them to Atlantis.

At the continent’s capital, Antillia is joyfully reunited with her father, the well-meaning but doddering King.  Demetrios, however, finds himself in chains, put to work alongside Atlantean slaves mining the powerful energy crystals that are the secret to Atlantis’ strength.  Atlantis, for all its beauty, is built on depravity.  From the Roman-esque gladiatorial games, to the grinding inhumanity toward the non-Atlanteans, including Mengele-esque experiments on the slaves with the aim of turning them into human-beast hybrids.  As if nature itself knows that such an abhorrent state cannot be withstood, the continent is rocked with increasingly violent quakes, and it is foretold that wicked Atlantis shall not survive for long.



Zaren, the true power behind the throne, remains heedless of the warnings of Sonoy, his astrologer, and of Azar, the good-hearted priest (who has turned his back on the pagan gods and has found faith in the True God).  Rather, the wily usurper has concocted a plan to take over the world, crafting a giant beam weapon powered by the mother of all energy crystals.  It is up to Demetrios, Antillia, and Azar to delay Zaren so that the impending natural catastrophe can thwart his plans.

Without giving too much of the ending away, I can confirm that the sinking of Atlantis does occur, and it is magnificent.  Some excellent model work mixed with clever optical effects makes for a satisfying conclusion.  Other noteworthy elements are the score (though there is some recycling of motifs from The Time Machine) and the acting, particularly the performances turned in by John Dall (Zaren, who was in Spartacus) and Paul Frees.  The latter is never seen; rather, his vocal talents are evident throughout.  The versatile Frees, who you’ve assuredly heard in prior films, and will hear in films to come, is the film’s narrator and the looped-over voice of many of the characters. 

Atlantis, a colorful and lovely film, is actually quite dark for its genre.  Perhaps it is because the monsters in Atlantis are humans that the scenes of cruelty and torture are so hard-hitting.  There is definitely a morality about the film — evil places, whether they be called Sodom or Atlantis, no matter the level of technology (or, perhaps, even because of it), shall not be tolerated.  Perhaps there’s a touch of Walter M. Miller in Pal.

While it’s not the tour de force that his last movie was, Atlantis was a solid piece of work that is worth your time.  The first half is better than the last half, but the end is worth sticking around for.  Three and a half stars.

I greatly enjoyed Atlantis, though more for its visuals than its plot. It is more of a movie that leaves you with a taste or feeling, rather than memory of a story.  It shares many aspects of Sinbad, in terms of visuals and feel.  As my dad said, it is very much a sword and sandals movie.

To my dad’s point, there were a few moments that were violent, but overall it’s a pretty tame movie (unless you count an entire civilization collapsing into the ocean not tame.) The special effects were also amazing.  They were as good as the The Time Machine, if not better.  I specifically like the fact that they built an entire mini Atlantis solely to destroy it.  Knowing that it was by George Pal though, I’m not surprised.

Overall I would also give it a solid three and a half.  Not nearly as good as the Time Machine, but still a great movie.  Especially compared to most of the movies we watch.  I highly recommend you go to see it for yourself, for the amazing visuals and for the experience as a whole. 

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

[May 16, 1961] The Fourth Revolution (the next step in communication)

Why read science fiction?  To act as your headlights as you hurtle faster and faster down the but dimly visible road to the future.  Reading through this month’s Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy (June 1961), I found Dr. Isaac Asimov’s article particularly thought-provoking.  I’d like to get your thoughts.

It’s called Four Steps to Salvation.  The Good Doctor attributes the success of our species to a series of revolutions in communication.  They are:

1) Speech.  Some tens of thousands of years ago, humans developed the ability to communicate via verbal language.  Before that, conveyance of art and technology was limited to imitation — monkey see, monkey do.  The creation of sophisticated tools, the taming of fire, the evolution of artistic technique was impossible before we could talk to each other.  After all, how sophisticated can a skill get when it must be reinvented from scratch every generation?

2) Writing.  Per Asimov, oral tradition only has a lifetime of about four generations (the longevity of Homer’s epics notwithstanding).  Written language was the revolution that made civilization, literally the creation of cities, possible.  So goes his contention, anyway.  I’m not convinced that civilization sprang from writing; rather, I think writing was a technology made necessary by civilization.  Nevertheless, there is no denying the wonders a set of representative squiggles called the alphabet allowed.  Knowledge could now be stored indefinitely to the advantage and delight of engineers, musicians, and countless bureaucrats.

3) Printing.  Everyone is familiar with the tragedy of the Alexandrian Library’s burning.  That was just one event of many — in fact, a comparative handful of classical works made it out of late antiquity owing to the paucity of books and the indifference toward their storage.  When composing a codex involves weeks of painstaking work, particularly when literacy is at a premium, the distribution of written works is necessarily quite limited.  This makes any single work vulnerable.

Gutenberg changed all that.  Suddenly, books became commodities, available to everyone.  Ideas could no longer be suppressed,.  The ability to read spread and flourished.  Scientific growth exploded now that everyone had access to everyone else’s works.  It is no exaggeration to say that books powered the Renaissance.

Fast-forward to today: 1961.  I’ve heard that there is more information generated by our species in a single decade than was created in all the years of history prior.  Not only is impossible for one person to know everything there is to know (the last time for that was around Dante’s time in the early 14th Century), but in fact, it is impossible to know everything about just one discipline of science. 

This is Asimov’s concern: the current methods of communication are simply too slow and restricted to facilitate dissemination of all of humanity’s knowledge.  The whole system of science will eventually, he asserts, collapse under its own weight of data.  Here we are on the verge of a whole new age of invention and we are in risk of losing it all for our inability to build upon it.  What’s required is a new, fourth revolution in communication.

And he doesn’t know what it is.

‘Is telepathy the answer?’ Asimov wonders aloud (knowing full-well that there’s no such thing, at least not naturally).  He suggests microfilm and punch cards but then quickly dismisses them as insufficient solutions.  He then, almost plaintively, turns the question over to his readers.  That’s how I got involved.

I’m an optimist.  I believe the human race will always fox its way out of a pickle no matter how daunting.  As for this puzzle, I can’t say I have a concrete answer either, although the very phrase “fast-forward,,” a newish term referring to the practice of speeding ahead on a magnetic tape medium, suggests a potential course. 

These days, it is true that computers get much of their input from punch cards, little pieces of cardstock with holes in them that represent the digital alphabet understood by machines.  But they also can read tape now, dramatically increasing their storage capacity.  One wonders if there might be some kind of ultimate computer some day, an OMNIVAC with terminals in every home, such that we can all access the sum of human knowledge, stored on tape, with the press of a few keys?  Throw in those visiphones that have been a staple of science fiction since Dick Tracy, a few of those Arthur C. Clarke communications satellites to facilitate cross-ocean broadcast, and WHAMMO!  You’ve got yourself a global knowledge network, up to the task of keeping all of humanity in touch and up to date.

That’s just one solution, of course, and the fact that no one seems to be talking about it suggests it’s unfeasible.  On the other hand, they say that technological advance is the result of taking tools that already exist and putting them together in a new way.  One way or another, I think we’re on the verge of that fourth revolution. 

What do you think?

[May 14, 1961] Friendly disputes (June 1961 Analog)

I’ve got a long-running feud going on with Mike Glyer, editor of the popular fanzine, File 770.  Well, feud is probably too strong a word given that we’re good friends and avid mutual readers.  In fact, we usually get along quite well.  All fans are united by love for the genre and our status as oddballs, after all.  But Mike and I just can’t seem to agree on Analog, a monthly science fiction magazine.

Here are the indisputable facts: Analog is the elder statesman of the digests; it pioneered real sf back when all the other outlets were pushing pulp adventure.  Analog has the biggest circulation of any of the current digests, somewhere around 200,000 per month. 

Now for the disputable ones.  Analog is the most conservative of the mags.  It’s generally Terran-centric, with Earthlings portrayed as the most cunning, successful beings in the galaxy (which is why, of course, most aliens look just like us).  While the serialized novels in Analog are often excellent, the accompanying short stories tend to be uninspiring.  The science fact columns are awful.  Editor John Campbell’s championing of psionics and reactionless engines (in real-life, not just fiction), crosses into the embarrassing.  All these factors make Analog the weakest of the Big Three magazines, consistently lagging in quality behind Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Of course, Mike disagrees.  He’s even wagered that Analog will take the Hugo award for Best Science Fiction Magazine this year.  I think he’s dreaming.  F&SF has won three years in a row, and barring some unexpected decline in quality, it will do so again. 

I’ll take that bet, Mike Glyer!  Two beers to your one.

As evidence for my case, I present this month’s Analog, dated June 1961.

I will give Campbell credit where it is due.  While women are rare in Analog (as they are everywhere in published sf lit), Campbell does make an effort to “discover” female authors.  That’s how we got the delightful Pauline Ashwell, and now we have the promising Leigh Richmond.  Her first story, Prologue to an Analogue, involves a coven of witches that solves world crisis after world crisis with their televised incantations.  Is it sorcery, technology, or something entirely different?  A story that manages to be both Campbellian yet also pretty neat.  Three stars.

I’m not sure why L. Sprague de Camp’s Apollonious Enlists was included.  Normally, Sprague writes fun, light fantasy.  This piece is non-fiction, an essay on the labyrinthine bureaucracy of Ptolemaic Egypt, with some pointed parallels drawn with our modern methods of government.  I guess there weren’t any fiction vignettes handy to fill the 8-page slot.  Two stars.

Fallen Angel shows us a far future in which the Terran dominion is but a small corner of a larger Galactic Federation.  We have something of an inferiority complex as, compared to the blond, perfect Grienan, leader race of the Federation, humanity seems barely out of childhood.  In fact, we have only made it as far as we have thanks to “Experiment,” an anarchistic enclave in which humans express their base impulses until they are thoroughly tired of them.  Only a small proportion of the population are truly incurable, and they become permanent residents.  It’s a program that seems barbaric to the rest of the civilized galaxy and is ridiculed accordingly.

In Angel, the aristocratic Grienan are taken down a peg when its ambassador volunteers to go through Experiment and loses all of his highfalutin culture and manners, almost losing his very humanity (Grienanity?) See?  Terrans really do know best!

High is a prolific writer who’s hitherto stayed on the British side of The Pond.  His latest work does little to recommend that he emigrate.  Two stars.

Lloyd Biggle Jr. is like a Cepheid star – highly variable.  His latest, Monument, may be the high point of his career to date.  I wasn’t optimistic.  The set-up involves a backward paradise planet, populated by (of course) completely human aliens, a marooned Terran who vows to protect the natives from a rapacious Earth Federation, and the inevitable coming of the representatives of said polity.  There’s no real science fiction in this tale of classic exploitation – you could transplant the “aliens” to an island in the Pacific Ocean and replace the Federation with the United Nations (and, perhaps, that’s the point; I prefer my analogies slightly less direct).

And yet.  It’s a well-told story, engaging throughout, and it’s fundamentally an honest one.  There are no gimmicks or silly twists.  Just a series of interesting scenes, compelling characters, and a problem to be solved.  Four stars.

The science fact this month, George Willard’s The Complex Problem of the Simple Weather Rocket starts well enough, describing the armada of radio balloons deployed daily by meteorological agencies, but it quickly degenerates into a fannish gush, recommending a switch to little sounding rockets based on the machines currently employed by model rocket enthusiasts.  Kind of a pointless article, especially given that weather balloons are cheap, and now they are augmented by the TIROS weather satellites with their hourly photos.  Two stars.

That leaves the third installment of Cliff Simak’s very good serial, The Fisherman, which I won’t review until it’s all done next month.  Running the numbers, Analog clocks in at a straight three of five stars: acceptable, but not astonishing.  Certainly not Hugo material.  At least not this year…

Sneak preview: Last night, the Young Traveler and I went to the drive-in to take in George Pal’s latest, Atlantis: the Lost Continent.  It was a hoot, and we’ll tell you all about it next time…on Galactic Journey!

[May 11, 1961] Spotlighting Women (The Second Sex in Science Fiction and Fantasy, Part 3)

Here’s a question I’ve gotten more than once: what is the point in spotlighting woman writers?  Shouldn’t I simply point out the good stories as I find them, and if they happen to be written by women, bully for them?  Why should I create an artificial distinction?

Those are actually fine questions, about which I’ve given much thought.  I make no claims to being an expert, or even someone whose opinion should matter much to you.  All I have is my taste, my gut and (lucky for me) my own column in which to voice my opinions.  So take my words as strictly my viewpoint.

We live in a particular kind of world.  Men are the default: the default heroes, the default writers, even the default pronoun.  Open a history book, and it will be filled with the names of great men.  Women are a seeming afterthought.  You may not even have thought twice about it.  It seems “natural” that movies should star men, that books should star men, that men should be the generals, the presidents.

But, there is a change a brewing.  Black men universally won the right to vote in 1865.  Women secure duniversal suffrage in 1920, fully three generations after the least privileged men.  The gap is narrowing.  This year, a Black man became skipper of a U.S. Naval vessel.  1961 also marks the year a woman became a shipboard U.S. Naval officer for the first time.  Women are now just one generation behind the least advantaged of the men.  Someday, we may be on a level playing field, all races of men and women.

Science fiction is supposed to be forward-looking, yet socially it seems stuck in the present, or even the past.  One almost never reads about woman starship captains or woman presidents or woman…well… anything.  I don’t think this is the result of deliberate collusion by the science fiction writing community.  It’s just that society is the air we breathe.  We are unconsciously bound by its rules and traditions.  Unless something shakes up our viewpoints, we’ll stick in our ruts and continue to accept this male-dominated paradigm as the natural order of things.

So when I spot something unusual that I think should be universal, I note it.  I encourage it.  I enjoy it.

Without further ado, part #3 of my encyclopedic catalog of the woman writers active as of this year of 1961:

Zenna Henderson: It should come as no surprise to any regular reader of my column that I love Zenna Henderson.  While her The People stories do not comprise all of her work, they are representative — unabashedly personal tales, bittersweet and feminine, utterly unlike anything else.  Henderson’s science fiction career began early last decade and is one of the most vivid hallmarks of the divide between the digest and pulp eras.  I strongly recommend Rosemary Benton’s recent article as a introduction to his brilliant author and her work.

Katherine MacLean: One rarely forgets first impressions, and MacLean made a significant one on me with Unhuman Sacrifice, single-handedly saving the November 1958 Astounding, the first magazine I ever reviewed for this column.

This was actually a sort of a rediscovery — she has been publishing stories since the late ’40s, many of which I read in Galaxy.  I wonder if she’s now near the end of her career.  Once a prolific writer, her pace slackened after 1953, and I’ve only seen one of her stories since Sacrifice, the good Interbalance.  Perhaps she’s just busy with other things, or maybe she publishes in the few remaining magazines I don’t cover on a regular basis.  In any-wise, Ms. MacLean is highly regarded, both by me and the general community.  Check her out, and don’t miss her early work published under the name of her former husband, Charles Dye.

Anne McCaffrey: Speaking of first impressions, one of the fun aspects of my job as surveyor of our genre is spotting new authors as they arrive.  Ms. McCaffrey hit the ground running with her 1959 story, The Woman in the Tower.  She topped herself with the recent The Ship who Sang.  Two points make a line; if we continue the trend, it is clear that Ms. McCaffrey is destined to produce some pretty spectacular stuff.  I can’t wait!

Judith Merril: There once was a SF club in New York City.  It was called the Futurians, it only lasted 8 years (ending around the same time as WW2), and it had an outsized impact on the genre.  The 1st WorldCon was a Futurian event, for instance, and its members included future famous personages such as Isaac Asimov and Fred Pohl. 

And Judith Merril (who was Mrs. Pohl for a little while).  She has been a pillar of the community ever since, both as a writer and a prolific anthologizer; she has produced a series of “Best of” books since 1956, and her taste is sharp.  My experience with her own writing has been mixed.  They comprise just two stories and a novel.  The stories were good, the novel was terrible (though Fred Pohl and P. Schuyler Miller liked it; what do I know>).  I suspect Judy will be around for a long time, so I imagine I’ll have more on which to evaluate her by the next time I do one of these.

C.L. Moore: I may be stretching a point in calling Ms. Moore a current writer.  A veteran of the pulp era, Ms. Moore wrote most prolifically in partnership with her late husband, Henry Kuttner (who I knew best as Lewis Padgett).  He died in 1958, and I’ve not seen hide nor hair of her since.  For this reason, the Journey has covered none of her works, and while I’m sure I must have read some of Moore (psuedonymously, collaboratively, or solitarily), I couldn’t tell you about any of those stories off the top of my head (though I do own the Galaxy Novel, Shambleau; perhaps I shall try it out.)

Andre Norton: Despite the name, Andre Norton is a woman, and she has enjoyed a burgeoning career since her debut a little over a decade ago.  She is given to florid, adventury prose, filled with strapping folks and derring-do.  In a recent review of one of Ms. Norton’s latest books, Alfred Bester opined dismissively that perhaps women just can’t write action.  Well, he’s wrong.  Now, mind you, I haven’t yet read much Norton.  I started Stargate, which failed to grab my interest, and I finished Crossroads of Time, which I quite enjoyed.  She’s got a new one coming out this Summer, which I’ll call the tie-breaker. 

Meanwhile, Bester hasn’t published a story since 1959.  Maybe men just can’t write science fiction anymore…

I’ll have the fourth (and final) installment in this series sometime next month.  Cheer-i-o!

(Part one is here!)

(Part two is here!)

[May 8, 1961] Imitation is… (Gorgo)

Just a generation ago, King Kong introduced us to the spectacle of an oversized monster wrecking a modern metropolis.  The Japanese have taken this torch and run with it, giving us first Godzilla, and its rather inferior sequel, Godzilla Raids Again.  Not to be outdone, the British have unleashed a giant lizard on their own capital.

As my regular readers know (and I’m pleased to see that this number has grown since I began this endeavor just two-and-a-half years ago), my daughter and I are avid movie-goers.  I daresay we’ve watched every science fiction and fantasy flick that has mounted reel in our town since 1959.  That means we see a lot of dreck, but even the worst films often have something to recommend them, even if it is only their own awfulness.  And, there are the occasional indisputably great shows.

Gorgo is not among them, but then it never claims to be.  It delivers exactly what it promises: the gleeful destruction of London.

I’m getting ahead of myself.  First, the plot, such as it is:

During a salvage mission off the coast of Ireland, the M.V. Triton is almost capsized by the emergence of an undersea volcano.  Taking refuge in a provincial island port, the Triton’s captain, Joe Ryan, and his mate, Sam Slade, witness an assault on the village by a sea-based dinosaur.  They assist in its repulsion and then, fired by greed, hatch a plan to capture the creature.  They are warned against this endeavor by charming little Sean, a villager boy with a Gaelic lilt, but Ryan and Slade are determined.


Joe: How about we capture this thing and sell it for money?  — Sean: That’s a bad idea.

Surprisingly, their gambit of dangling Slade in a diving bell like fishing bait works; they net the poor creature and hoist it onto their boat.  This was the point at which I dubbed the film “Animal Cruelty: The Movie!”  At no time did events suggest a different title (and, in fact, they only reinforced it.) On the long trip to London, lured by the promise of a cash payout by a local circus, Ryan keeps the beast doused with water.  It runs off the creature, leaving a tell-tale trail in the boat’s wake – an important plot point.


Joe: Why did you try letting it free?  — Sean: This is a bad idea.

Once in the British capital, the newly christened “Gorgo” is tranquilized and placed in a spiked, electric-wire girdled pit for gawkers to admire.  All seems well for Ryan’s lucrative new venture, but Slade (urged by Sean) is having second thoughts.  It soon turns out that there are more than humanitarian reasons to free the creature; it is, in fact, an infant, and its mother must be several times larger – and none too happy!


I shan’t spoil the rest.  Suffice it to say that Mom does make an appearance, and the King Brothers (producers of this film) are not stingy with her screen time.  A full half of the movie is devoted to a pitched running battle between the giant oceanic saurian and Her Majesty’s Navy, Army, and Air Force, followed by some lovingly depicted destruction of London’s most recognizable landmarks as the mother comes to reclaim her child.  I must say, the British do collapsing stone walls much more convincingly than the Japanese.



Is it art for the ages?  Absolutely not.  Though there is some morality tacked on, mostly of the “humanity mustn’t think itself the master of nature” sort of thing, it’s an afterthought.  Characterization is abandoned around the halfway mark.  This is no Godzilla — it is knocking over of toy cities for the fun of it. 

At that, it succeeds quite well.  Gorgo makes liberal and reasonably facile use of stock footage (though the planes all inexplicably bear United States markings!) The cinematography is well composed, the color bright, the screen wide.  The acting is serviceable, and for anyone who wants to see what London looks like in this modern year of 1961, there are lots of great shots, both pre and post-destruction.


Joe: I can’t help but feel that I’m slightly responsible for all of this.  — Sean: No kidding.

Good, clean fun, and a cautionary tale to those who kick puppies.  Momma’s going to get you, and she has a mean bite.  Three stars.

But don’t just take my word for it; let’s hear from my co-reviewer, the Young Traveler:

I thoroughly enjoyed Gorgo for what it was, a movie about destruction and explosions, but I also wished there could have been a little bit more dialogue, especially with Sean.  It felt like he was just there, without much of a purpose, which I feel is really a shame since I really liked his character.

However I can give the movie credit on the ending.  I won’t spoil it, but I did like it.  It seems I’ve got a knack for guessing the endings of movies and shows from the beginning.  Similar to a few Twighlight Zone episodes, I guessed Gorgo’s ending (and about the appearance of Mama Gorgo) in the first ten minutes!

I do want to also point out the special effects. Some of the stock footage splicing looked a little silly, going from a red smoky sky to a clear blue one, but other than that they were very well done. The buildings always fell with a satisfying crash; the gunshots and electrical shocks, though also a little silly, were edited in well; and finally, the monsters looked amazing.  At one point I commented that Gorgo looked like “an adorable kitty fish” but that aside, they looked fairly realistic throughout the movie.  I think the best effect was their eyes.  Even through the hard monster exterior, they always showed emotion via their red eyes.  The eyes would also look around at things and not just stay in one place.  Overall, it was a really convincing suit, even if it did constantly vary in size. 

Truly a step up from Konga.  I also give it three stars.