This Friday night was a bit of a repeat performance of last week’s: another trip to the German delicatessen in Escondido, another beer, another coffee and dessert. This time, I was in the most enjoyable company of my wife, and we had an avid discussion of what it is to be a “fan.”
A mutual friend of ours once observed that fandom has three things in common—the following utterances:
“Where did you get that?”
“How can we get more people into it?”
“It’s not as good as it used to be…”
It’s true that fandoms come and go. The “Golden Age” of science fiction, when Astounding ruled the roost with its Campbellian stories, is departed. The boom of science fiction magazines came to an end a couple of years ago. The cozy British country-house mystery is becoming a thing of the past.
Things change. It’s an inevitable part of life. But it’s a mistake to get so stuck in nostalgia that one cannot see the old fandoms that continue to thrive (Conan Doyle, for instance) or the new evolutions in current fandoms (the small but rising tide of female authors, the general increase in quality of science fiction and fantasy even as the number of digests diminishes).
There are also brand new fandoms. I am very excited to have gotten in on the ground floor of one on which the paint is still wet: Rod Serling’s anthology science fiction show, The Twilight Zone.
Three months ago, the program was an exciting idea. Now, eleven episodes in, it is a bonafide phenomenon with staying power. Though the quality of each episode varies, of course, Twilight Zone is still head and shoulders above what came before on television. I’ve high hopes it will only rise in excellence.
Here’s what my daughter and I have enjoyed for the last four Fridays:
Time Enough at Last came out on November 20. The buzz I hear is that it went over well, and there’s no question that Burgess Meredith turned in a fine performance as a frustrated bibliophile bank teller, who finds himself alone after surviving a nuclear holocaust. But the ending, where he finds a lifetime of books to read and then immediately breaks his glasses, is not clever. It’s just cruel, and it soured me on the whole piece.
Charles Beaumont is the first writer whose name isn’t Rod Serling to pen an episode, and his outing, Perchance to Dream was interesting. A fellow with a heart condition is afraid to sleep for he knows that a temptress in his dream will lead him into a carnival of horrors, which will aggravate him into cardiac arrest. The afflicted man tells his story to a sympathetic doctor, and we get to see the narrative progress in flashback. It’s creepy and fascinating. I guessed the ending early on, but the tale was so compelling, I forgot all about my premonition until it actually happened.
I enjoyed the subject and setting of Judgment Night, in which a German man finds himself aboard a British liner cruising the Atlantic during World War II. He is deathly afraid of U-Boats and seems to be certain that an attack from under the sea is impending. It’s a suitably atmospheric piece though somehow a bit plodding. It was during this episode that my daughter noted that virtually none of the protagonists on the show are female. I can only recall one, from The 16 millimeter Shrine.
This week’s episode was a winner. Written by the master of science-fiction horror teleplays and fiction, Richard Matheson, it stars the excellent Rod Taylor as one of three survivors of a spaceplane crash. It seems each of the astronauts is disappearing one-by-one, not just from the Earth, but from history and memories. Creepy creepy stuff, though my daughter complained that she was getting tired of episodes featuring “people acting crazy.” (A neat tidbit: the spaceplane featured is the X-20, a real-life Air Force project that has either just gotten or is in the process of getting the green light for construction. This vehicle will be the next step beyond the X-15, actually capable of orbital flight!)
As much as I enjoyed the episode, it shared the same overwrought middle that I’ve seen consistently in the last eleven episodes. This, I think, is the main weakness of this young show. While the writing is often brilliant, the acting usually excellent, and the cinematography remarkable, the middle third of each episode tends to take a bit too long padding out the set-up before the payoff.
Perhaps I’m just a little too clever, guessing the ends before well before they happen. It may well be that Twilight Zone is starting easy to draw in the uninitiated, those who haven’t read a thousand science fiction stories already. With all the talent going into this program, I have faith that the show will continue to mature and, as with science fiction, move beyond “gotcha” storytelling.
What say you?
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P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!
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