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[November 25, 1962] Great Balls of Fire!  (Gerry Anderson’s new series, Fireball XL5)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


By Ashley R. Pollard

One part of me wants to ask where has the year gone?  The other part of me say, what a year this has been for British science fiction.  A mere five years ago the idea of spaceship orbiting our world was the stuff of SF.  Sputnik changed all that.  Then Yuri Gagarin went into space in Vostok.  And, from that moment, the world of SF manifested into the minds of all mankind.  Not as some improbable fantasy, from starry eyed dreamers, but as reality arisen from technology; born of war, but turned into something greater.

Phew — and what a ride the last five years have been for SF.

I’ve mentioned in a past article that Britain has Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future.  Now we also have Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol.  Not the hero of a comic strip, but rather of a children’s television show from Anderson Provis Films (APF), which you may all remember from when I talked about their production last year, Supercar.

Gerry and Sylvia Anderson are back with another Supermarionation series, Fireball XL5.  Supermarionation is their term to describe puppets that speak using electronic synchronization, and the Andersons have used it to great effect, creating a brand new medium for SF.

So far, I have managed to watch all four episodes of Fireball that have come out, while babysitting my friend’s six year-old, who sits entranced by the show.  And what a show it is.  Seeing my friend’s son swept up in the excitement of space has been an eye-opener for me.  I’m used to the idea that people don’t get SF, unless they’re fans.  But now I’m seeing the first of a new generation for whom space is the new frontier. This means all the excitement and expectations that go with it are just a normal part of their lives.

So, let me introduce you to the cast of characters.  Steve Zodiac I’ve already mentioned, and he leads a crew of three.  Doctor Venus is Fireball XL5’s resident space medic for when things go wrong.  Professor ‘Matt’ Mattic is the ship’s engineer and scientist.  And this being a show set in the future, the final member of the crew is Robert the Robot, invented/made by the aforementioned Professor Mattic.

As an aside, for those interested, Doctor Venus is voiced by Sylvia Anderson, and Robbie’s voice is artificially generated by Gerry Anderson using a ‘vibrator’ mechanism used for those unfortunates who have had throat cancer and have had their larynx removed.

In addition, Fireball XL5 acquires a pet/ship’s mascot in the form of Zoonie the Lazoon, who is mildly telepathic and can mimic human speech, which is played for comic relief.  Essentially an intelligent talking dog.  The young lad I watch over is totally immersed in the adventures that put the crew of Fireball XL5 into peril — a lesson that stories which provoke strong emotional reactions are engrossing.

In addition to the crew of Fireball XL5, there are two other regular supporting characters.  The first is Commander Wilbur Zero, Commander-in-Chief of the World Space Patrol, and Lieutenant Ninety, his assistant Space City controller.  That’s quite a cast of characters to remember, but my friend’s son seems to have their names down pat.

Of course intrepid heroes need villains.  The first ones we meet are the Subterrains introduced in the opening episode Planet 46, who have launched a ‘planetomic’ missile at Earth.  Boo, hiss.  And who we know are fiendish, because when they capture Doctor Venus they launch another missile with her aboard.  Fortunately, Zodiac, Robbie and the Professor save the day.

Episode two, The Doomed Planet, starts in media res with the crew avoiding a rogue planet that has been flung out of its orbit.  This planet is now on a collision course with another world, which the crew assumes is uninhabited.  It’s also the first time we see Zoonie, who is introduced as a pet Doctor Venus has had for three months, which I thought was a rather neat story telling trick.  No doubt that Zoonie will get more backstory later, as the series progresses.  The story continues with the reveal that a UFO, from said uninhabited planet, has followed them back to Earth.  After pursuing the UFO the crew of Fireball XL5 save the doomed planet by destroying the rogue one that we met at the beginning of the episode.  All very exciting.

The next episode, Space Immigrants, has a spaceship called the Mayflower III going to start a new colony that’s 236 light years away from Earth.  But the planet is occupied by the villainous Lillispatians, who consider humans beings savages, and who intend to enslave the colonists.  However, their name should be a clue to one part of the dénouement, which ends with Steve Zodiac using Zoonie to save the day, because to the Lillispatians, the cute Lazoon is a ferocious monster.

The most recent episode, Plant Man from Space, has Professor Matic’s old ‘friend’ Dr. Rootes attempt to take over the Earth with the eponymous plant man.  Which as you can imagine has a combination of excitement and comedy to entertain the younger viewer.

While one could criticize some of the dialogue and characterization of Fireball XL5 as, dare I say, wooden, there is a lot to commend about this show.  Steve Zodiac may be the hero with a robotic side-kick, but Doctor Venus, even though put upon by some of the supporting male characters, shows that she is a capable doctor and leader too.

There are more episodes to come, and the opening and closing music for Fireball XL5 is rather compelling.  The opening credit sequence has a rather nice dirty jazz saxophone, while the end theme song, Fireball sung by Don Spencer will (I have it on good authority) be released as a single.  Also, while talking about pop songs, or ‘pop-pickers’, I must draw your attention to a four piece beat combo called the Beatles, and their catchy new single Love me Do that I heard on the show Pick of the Pops presented by Alan Freeman.

And finally, to finish my piece this month, I would like to mention the introduction of the Ford Mark 1 Cortina, which is quite stunningly pretty.  Ford have managed to encapsulate the American penchant for futuristic looking fins into a car that suits British sensibilities.  If I had the need to buy a new vehicle, this would be on my list of cars to look at.

So, another exciting month has flown by, which leaves me with only one thing left to say, Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends!




[Sep. 20, 1962] Out of this World (the British Summer SF hit!)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


By Ashley R. Pollard

The end of summer has come, and autumn is upon us.  The result of the Earth’s journey around the sun, and as my esteemed colleague Mr. Mark Yon said, the weather here has been wet.  Sometimes we get good summers, but this year was not one of those, the icing on the cake being a miserable August Bank Holiday weekend after the weekend before’s promising sunny day.  But, Whether the weather be fine, Or whether the weather be not, here on Galactic Journey we will weather the weather to bring you the latest Sci-Fi news from soggy Britain.

This coming Saturday will see the last episode of Out of this World, which has made staying in on a Saturday night something to look forward to, rather than something that indicates one has no friends or better things to do.  Though to be fair, I’ve been babysitting for my friend, which I enjoy doing.

As I mentioned before, this series was launched with Dumb Martian shown as part of the Armchair Theatre series.  The new series has a very spooky theme tune called The Concerto to the Stars, composed by Eric Siday, which plays against a background of moving microscopic tentacles that sets the tone for the show.  For those who are interested, Tony Hatch has expanded the theme tune into very catchy 45 record, available from all good record stores.

The format of the show has each episode introduced by Boris Karloff, who is disarmingly charming with his bon mots about the story to come.  There are two breaks for adverts, which is annoying, but this is commercial TV, so it is to be expected.  Then Mr. Karloff signs off the story with an announcement of the cast.

The first actual episode shown under the banner Out of this World was the Yellow Pill by Rog Phillips, which was a story that explored the nature of reality and delusions.  As someone who works in the field of mental health, this was of particular interest to me, and it was interesting to see an author’s take on the subject.  The paradoxical ending pulled the rug from underneath the viewers’ feet.  It launched the series, pulling in eleven million viewers, which placed it as the eleventh highest rated show of the week.

Remarkable for any first episode of a series, let alone one advertising itself as science fiction.

The second story was an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Little Lost Robot, whose robot stories featuring Dr. Susan Calvin are some of my favourite SF reads.  While the adaptation is very good, it is a trifle over-cooked, and the ending of the story has been changed so that the robot kills the person who told it to get lost when it is found out.  This goes against Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, and is a failure of Leo Lehman to understand the story.  Still, a compelling piece, despite this egregious ending.

The third episode is a much truer adaptation, based on the Cold Equations by Tom Godwin.  There’s not much I can tell you that you all don’t already know about this story of a spaceship with a stowaway.  The play has the rather suave Peter Wyngarde, who was seen earlier this year in the film Night of the Eagle aka Burn Witch Burn, acting alongside a very young actress called Jane Asher.  Her biography mentions that when she was a child she appeared in The Quatermass Xperiment. This was the Hammer Films adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s story that I have mentioned on several previous occasions.

Episode four’s story was Imposter by Philip K. Dick.  A famous piece that, again, should not need an introduction by me.  It’s a classic tale of paranoia adapted for television by Terry Nation, who I mention in passing because he contributes one of the two original stories for this series.  Judging by his story Botany Bay, which was transmitted the following week, he is someone to keep an eye on.

Botany Bay was a story with twists that were disturbing in their implication, set in a psychiatric institution.  The setting alone grabbed me from the start, and the central conceit of alien criminals transferring their minds into the minds of the patients in the asylum set the tone, making the sinister story feel like something from Philip K. Dick.  The denouement that this wasn’t Earth, and the intruders were from Earth, was shocking.

Medicine Show by Robert Moore Williams is a story about two doctors who are alien miracle workers who take payment from their patients in the form of seeds.  Again, this adaptation veers a little off course as it tonally makes it all rather more mystical than the original story, but it feels fresh, and I suspect it will appeal to younger people’s sensibilities.

Episode seven is an adaptation of Katherine Maclean’s, Pictures Don’t Lie.  I loved this story of aliens spaceship travelling here, peacefully announcing their intentions and talking to the people on Earth, which then goes all horribly wrong, because of scale.  They’re really, really tiny, and are lost after they land in what they describe as a marsh.  The humans who go out to search for them fail to see the microscopic alien ship and tragically destroy the visitors from another world when they step on them by accident.

Vanishing Act by Richard Waring, is an original play for Out of this World.  It turns down intensity of the previous week’s tragedy by presenting a comedy (if one may call it that?) The protagonist, a conjuror in search of the late magician Great Vorg’s lost vanishing-cabinet, finds himself getting far more than he bargained for.

The next episode goes back to the more paranoid-conspiracy tone with an adaptation of Raymond F. Jones’s Divided We Fall.  I remember him as the author of This Island Earth — only from the film because I’ve not read any of his stories.  This play presents the intriguing problem of how to tell synthetic humans that are indistinguishable from everyone else.  It features the charming Ann Bell, an actress unknown to me, who I suspect will go far in her career.  Also, this story reminds me of the film The Creation of the Humanoids, reviewed here by fellow columnist Miss Rosemary Benton.

Episode ten, The Dark Star, by Frank Crisp was based on his novel Ape of London.  He’s better known for his children’s adventure books, but this is a credible story about what happens when people get superhuman strength from a disease that chooses its victims according to their standing in society.  I’ve not read the novel, so I can’t comment on how close to the original story this adaptation is.

Clifford D. Simak has not one, but two of his short stories adapted for Out of this World.  The first, Immigrant, is about the planet Kimon, a paradise where people go — never to return again.  A nice story that builds up the tension, ladles on despair, and finishes with an uplifting ending.

However, the second Simak story, Target Generation, based on his story Spacebred Generations, was my personal favourite.  It’s a generation-ship story where the descendants of the crew are ignorant of the fact that they are on a starship.  The hero has to figure what to do with a key that was handed down to him by father with the instructions “only to be used in an emergency.”  With the help of a forbidden dictionary he has to learn how to land the ship.  Gripping stuff, even if it’s a well-worn story; seeing it televised just made it better than it had any right to be.

The final story of the series is on this coming Saturday and titled, The Tycoons by Arthur Sellings.  This is a pseudonym of Arthur Gordon Ley, who is a former scientist turned author, and also known as a bookseller.  I’ve only read this weeks Radio Times blurb, so all I can tell you is that it’s a story of three aliens coming here to make a weapon to take over the Earth, billed as a comedy.

Well, this was an excellent summer-time show, but as you know Irene Shubik and Sydney Newman have gone to the BBC, so I fear we will not see a sequel, which is a shame because every Saturday night it managed to knock me Out of this World for the hour it was on.  Perhaps the American audience will be lucky to see it imported, as I understand Supercar was this Summer, and Danger Man the Summer before.




[August 20, 1962] A Galaxy of Choices (British TV: The Andromeda Breakthrough)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Science fiction on British television used to be one of those once-in-a-blue-moon events.  When it happened, what we got could often be very good.  Certainly Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass series was compelling viewing, which drew in a large audience from the general population with millions tuning in each week to find out the fate of the infected astronauts.

The impact of Quatermass cannot be over stated, the name having taken root in the British public’s imagination.  And, now we have a sequel to A for Andromeda, which I reported on last year, to carry the torch for science fiction on British TV, which also looks like it will enter public’s lexicon.  With the additional transmission of the anthology show, Out of this World, we seem to be entering a golden age of science fiction on television.

For those unfamiliar with A for Andromeda, let me do a recap.  The first series, a story set in the future circa 1972, was about a group of scientists building a super computer for the military made from plans decoded from a signal sent from the Andromeda galaxy.  This signal is a Trojan horse designed to take over our planet by creating an artificial human called Andromeda that the computer can control.  It’s all very clever how this is revealed, and when the hero, Dr. Fleming, discovers that Andromeda is a slave of the computer he saves her by destroying the computer with an axe.  Andromeda then burns the plans for the computer, and together they try to make their escape.  Unfortunately, she falls into a pool and apparently dies, while Dr. Fleming is captured by Army personnel.

The Andromeda Breakthrough therefore has to square the circle of how to carry on the story without undermining the climax of the first series.

It should be noted that Andromeda was played by Julie Christie in the first series.  This was a breakout role for her, and as a result she was cast in the film Billy Liar, and was too busy to reprise her role.  So the role was recast, with Susan Hampshire playing Andromeda for the sequel, who is generally referred to as Andre during the story.

The opening episode, Cold Front, starts with a shot of Dr. Fleming being unceremoniously brought back to the base in the back of a British Army Land Rover.  From there we are given a précis of what happened before.  The reveal that Andromeda had not drowned in the pool comes after the Army reports that they dragged the pool and didn’t find a body.  This is quite an effective way of introducing Susan Hampshire playing a traumatized Andromeda.  From there the plot proceeds apace as Fleming absconds with Andromeda to a remote Scottish isle.  But, after some dramatic shenanigans with lots of to-ing and fro-ing, they are captured by the British government.

The second episode, Gale Warning, ramps up the tension with the shadowy Intel Consortium, a multi-national corporation with lots of fingers in many pots.  It is revealed they have copies of everything that our heroes assumed they destroyed, and their own version of the computer.  They now want Fleming and Andromeda to complete their package.

Amongst all the action, the main plot is revealed: the weather of the world is changing, and not for the better, with storms increasing in both number and intensity.  Skullduggery proceeds as the agents of the Intel Consortium, led by Mr. Kauffman from Dusseldorf, eliminates loose ends and brings Fleming and Andromeda to Intel’s facility based in the newly independent middle-eastern country of Azaran.

Episode three, Azaran Forecast, now has Andromeda talking to the new computer, and the plot thickens as Fleming and her are reunited with Dr. Madeleine Dawnay, the biochemist who helped create Andromeda.  The Intel Consortium want the three of them to work for them as part of a plan to feed the world. The strangeness of what is happening to the world’s weather comes to the fore, and we discover that Andromeda’s health is failing.  Fleming and Dawney race to develop a formula to restore Andromeda, who is deciphering the signals from the computer, to health — but can the Earth be saved from what is happening?

The fourth episode, Storm Centres, has the Intel Consortium backing a military coup in Azaran because they are evil, which we know because only an evil corporation would murder people to further its agenda.  We are also shown the world being ravaged by storms, as the weather creates chaos through starvation and droughts.  Conflicts over food become wars as governments try maintain order

Episode five, Hurricane, piles on the effects of the changing weather, and the destruction of the world as we know it.  The scientists realize that an alien enzyme released by accident, flushed down the sink by Fleming in the first series, is behind the Earth’s atmosphere becoming thinner, which is what is driving the climate change.  Intel use this to get our heroes to develop a solution, which can be marketed to make the consortium money.  However, these plans are hanging in the balance as a counter-revolution occurs that overthrows the Intel Consortium.

The final episode is called Roman Peace.  The episode title is a reference to the peace that comes after war.  The series denouement is that mankind must be free to make its own mistakes, if it wants to save itself, and not rely on the hidden message within the message from Andromeda, which turns out to be a cunning alien plan to socially engineer mankind’s survival.  I have to say that I was swept along by the story, and having to wait each week for the next episode kept me fully engaged with the plot.  However, on reflection, mostly from writing this piece in fact, I have to say it all feels a bit melodramatic.  But, still a lot of fun to watch.

Nevertheless, mustn’t grumble because there are still five more episodes of Out of this World to come, and I can say that so far, the standalone stories have been well worth viewing.  Next month I will write up my thoughts for you all to read.  Until then, keep watching the skies.




[July 16, 1962] Vegetating at the Movies (Day of the Triffids)


By Ashley R. Pollard

I’m just back from watching the film adaptation of the Day of the Triffids, which brings John Wyndham’s popular novel to the big screen.  You may remember I wrote about Wyndham’s work for the Galactic Journey last year, now I get the chance to discuss the film adaptation too.  As I said in my previous article, Wyndham is widely known over here because of the success of his novel The Day of the Triffids, which was first published in 1951.

But first let me mention that this is not the first time his story has been adapted for another medium.  While I missed the broadcast, it completely escaped me for reasons outside of my control, the British Broadcasting Corporation transmitted in 1957 a six-part radio dramatization of Wyndham’s story, presented by the BBC’s Light programme.  I was able to find out that it had Patrick Barr voicing the roll of Bill Masen, and I really wish I had been able to listen to the production.

Also, while I was compiling my notes for this article, I discovered that in 1953 the BBC Home Service transmitted Frank Duncan reading the novel that was serialized in fifteen parts, each episode being fifteen minutes long.  I mention this in part to emphasize both the importance of the story, and the impact it has had on the British public’s imagination.  It cannot be stressed too highly that Wyndham’s standing is on par with H. G. Wells.

A brief reminder that the story centres on how people survive in a world where most have been blinded and who now have to deal with triffids, which were originally bred to produce oil using genetically modified seeds that may have come from space.  These plants can move, and have stingers to attack prey.  Yes, they’re alien vegetables from space that eat meat.  From this premise Wyndham weaves a very British disaster story set in our green and pleasant land that grips one from beginning to end.

So how does this latest film adaptation fare?

The film is 93 minutes long, and as such the story is both compressed and changed, which is ironic because I was told that the film ran short and they had to add extra scenes to pad out the length of the film.  While the overall outline of people blinded and marauding carnivorous plants remains, liberties are taken.

First, the main protagonist Bill Masen is changed from being a biologist in the book into an American seaman for the film.  The journey from London to the Sussex Downs becomes instead a journey to Gibraltar, which if you read my previous article is a bit of a switch because at its core The Day of the Triffids is a very British catastrophe.  Arguably one could make the case that the film has to appeal to a wider audience, and setting it Europe opens the story, and of course provides nice shots of exotic scenery.

I can all well imagine a sequel being set in America to make it appeal more to an American audience, but I think would do a disservice to both the original novel and Americans.

Also, the backstory for the triffids changes their genesis to plants mutated by the light of the comet.  Colour me unimpressed.  There is also the deletion of the character Josella Playton, who Masen rescues in the book from a blind man who is using her to find food.

Nicole Maurey, a French actress, is cast in a role as Miss Durrant who becomes a Frenchwoman, which is understandable, but would it not have been easier to make Josella French rather than write a new character?  I’m also perplexed at the changes made to the character of Wilfred Coker, who in transposing the story as a journey from England to Gibraltar, has become a tourist caught up the catastrophe, which undermines his whole story arc.

What is even less understandable was the need to add a sub-plot set in a lighthouse.  These scenes were shot because after the film was finished being shot it was found to be too short.  This is really a poor show on the part of the person who wrote the screenplay, because there was clearly enough original source material to work from had they hewn closer to the story in the book.

The worst part is the denouement where the world is saved when it’s discovered that salt water dissolves triffids, and the religious overtones are in my mind a little at odds with Wyndham’s story. 

However, all that said, viewed on its own terms as an SF monster movie, this film is quite entertaining for what it is: 93 minutes of being chased by man-eating plants.

[June 28, 1962] A is for Armchair Theatre (Out of this World – UK’s new sff anthology)


By Ashley R. Pollard

It seems that television science fiction serials on British TV are like waiting at the bus stop for a London bus to arrive.  You don’t see one for ages, and when you do, three turn up at once. 

Therefore I am quite excited by the announcement of a new SF anthology series called Out of this World.  So excited in fact that when I heard the news, I had to sit down, and then have a nice cup of tea to calm down.  While it’s always good to see SF stories on television, the announcement of a series is also a portent of more to come.

As I understand it, Dumb Martian, which I saw this week, was going to be the story used to launch the new Out of this World series.  But, it was decided that instead it would be shown as part of the very popular Armchair Theatre series, as a way of advertising the new show.  The plan being to entice viewers who may not otherwise have switched on their television sets to watch science fiction to do so.

A sign that we still have a way to go before SF is seen as a genre that can stand on its own merits.

For those who don’t know, the Armchair Theatre is ITV’s prestigious long running series, which has been on air since 1956.  Part of this show’s remit has always been to bring quality “live drama” to the small screen.  Live drama is a euphemism for transmitting and recording a performance while it is being performed, rather than it being recorded and edited for transmission later on.  Currently Armchair Theatre is produced by Sydney Newman, a Canadian, who has taken the show into the top ten shows during his tenure.

The show has aired the occasional SF inspired story over the years like for example, The Omega Mystery, and The Ship That Couldn’t Stop.  Last December Armchair Theatre aired the Murder Club, which was an adaptation of Robert Sheckley’s short story The Seventh Victim.  It starred Richard Briers, an affable young actor, who first came to the public’s attention for starring in the sitcom Marriage Line.  I understand that the success of this adaptation led to the idea for an SF version of Armchair Theatre, which is good news indeed.

Also, as an aside, I have it on good authority that Sydney Newman has been head hunted by the BBC, which is also startling news.

To give some context for my American readers, the BBC is the state owned channel, while ITV is a commercial enterprise.  Usually ITV has more money to lure people away from our state run TV, so this is a coup for the BBC.  And for those avid followers of these reports, you may remember my article in April of last year where I mentioned a show called The Avengers, which Mr. Newman also produced.  With a second series of The Avengers coming in September his credentials for producing successful stories for television are solid.

So, please excuse my digression, but as I said I’m quite excited to be seeing SF on the small screen, having read so much about The Twilight Zone in this ‘zine.  Besides, it’s not everyday that a new SF TV series has a woman at the helm.  Irene Shubik is Out of this World’s story editor, who I know has approached John Carnell of New Worlds for ideas of stories to adapt.

Anyway, coming back to the Dumb Martian, this is a story about what happens when a spaceman purchases a Martian bride to accompany him on a five year tour of duty on a “wayload” station on the moon Callisto in Jupiter space.  He mistreats her, and we find out what happens when she turns out not to be so dumb as he had assumed.  The play ended with Boris Karloff introducing himself as the new host for Out of the World and setting the scene for Armchair Theatre’s spin-off series.

Also, what a coup to get Boris Karloff to act as the host.  His presence brings a certain quality to show, hinting that horror may be a theme, which should draw in his fans and open the show’s appeal to a wider audience.

Next week, we now have not one but two new SF series gracing the small screen.  The other being the much anticipated sequel to A for Andromeda called The Andromeda Breakthrough, I shall be reviewing them both next month.  Also, I will be giving my reaction to watching the film adaptation of the Day of the Triffids, which brings John Wyndham’s popular novel to the big screen too.

[May 21, 1962] Old AND New (UK’s New Worlds Magazine)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Here, as I sit writing in May 1962, I’m contemplating change.  The change that occurs when the old is phased out, and new things are built that replace the familiar.  What spurred this moment of reflection was the news of the last trolley bus run in London which, as fate would have it, happened on the eighth of May in my manor—London slang for my local area.  The irony is that the trolley buses were built to replace the old trams, but have now themselves fallen to the same fate of being old, and no longer appreciated for the modern convenience they once were.

Science fiction is arguably about change, hopefully not in the didactic way of, say, the classroom lecture, but rather through exploring the changes that comes from the introduction of the new.  While I’m sure that some of the Galactic Journey’s readers may consider American SF stories to be the wellspring of all that the future holds, Britain does have magazines of its own to bring stories to aficionados of the genre on this side of the Atlantic.

One of them is called New Worlds.

I will say that the history of this magazine is rather complex, and presented me with a Gordian Knot to unravel; unlike Alexander the Great, I’m not able to slice through it with a sword as the popular legend has it.  Instead I shall unravel the story by starting at the beginning, and work through to the end.  As an aside, I understand this is a better fit for what Alexander actually did, which was to pull pole pin out of the knot and unravel the loose ends, but I digress.

The roots of New Worlds lies in science fiction fandom, which in 1934 was being actively promoted by Hugo Gernsback and Charles D. Hornig at Wonder Stories, who had created the Science Fiction League as an association to further the growth of fandom.  People from around the world could apply to form an SFL chapter, and in 1935 Maurice K. Hanson and Dennis A. Jacques formed Chapter 22 of the SFL in Nuneaton, near Leicester for those who’ve never heard of the place.


Hanson, in 1937

Chapter 22 was the third of five SFL chapters formed on this side of the Atlantic: the other four being in Leeds, Belfast, Glasgow, and Barnsley.  And while they may have been the third chapter, Hanson and Jacques produced in 1936 the first fanzine published in the United Kingdom called Novae Terrae.

A total of twenty-nine issues of this British fanzine were produced between 1936 and January 1939.  I understand the workload associated with producing it eventually became too much for Hanson, and he handed it over to John Carnell, who renamed it New Worlds: a translation of the Latin title into plain English.  However, Carnell only produced four issues before the war started in 1939 and paper rationing came into effect.


Carnell, in 1936

But, when production started again in 1946, New Worlds had been transformed into a professional magazine produced by Pendulum Publications.  The first issue didn’t sell very well, but the second did, which was attributed to the cover art being very eye catching.  As a result, Carnell had all the covers stripped off the unsold copies of issue one, and reissued the magazine with the same cover art as issue two, but without the content lettering—see the illustrations for comparison.  With the new cover issue one also sold well, and things looked promising.  Unfortunately, as luck would have it, the publisher went bankrupt.

However, a group of passionate science fiction fans came together and formed Nova Publications Limited to keep New Worlds on the newsstands.  The publication schedule was what I would describe as irregular, some might say sporadic, but New Worlds thrived and went from two issues in 1949, rising to three in 1950 and four in 1951, up to six issues in 1952 before falling back to three in 1953.  Then there was a nine month hiatus, due to problems with the printer, but regular monthly issues in a new digest format appeared after Nova Publications was taken over by Maclaren & Sons.

Ever since then New Worlds has graced the newsstands across the country, and for a short time even America.  The magazine provides a source of science fiction to British readers who may not have easy access to the American magazines that Galactic Journey reviews each month.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to read May’s issue, which contains the following stories: Terminal by Lee Harding; Think of a Number by Steve Hall; Dictator Bait by Philip E. High; The Analyser by Bill Spencer; and the concluding part of a serial called The Dawson Diaries by John Rackham.  However, I will say that I’ve enjoyed most things I’ve read by Philip E. High and the tease for the story is intriguing, “Finding an alien who could change shape at will would be harder than finding the proverbial needle. There is one way, however, of flushing him out of hiding, given time and the necessary will-power.” Colour me interested.

In addition, this month’s issue of New Worlds features section has a guest editorial by J. G. Ballard, in addition to the regular readers letters page called Postmortem, a section called The Literary Line-Up, and Book Reviews by Leslie Flood.

And to end this month’s column, I would like to point to something new.  In a few days time the Coventry Cathedral will be consecrated.  The old one was destroyed by the German Luftwaffe during the second world war.  The design for the replacement building was the winner of a competition held in 1950, but the foundation stone wasn’t laid until 1956.  Now the building is finished the consecration of the cathedral will take place on May the 25th and is remarkable for being so modern—dare I say a science fictional church for a better tomorrow?

[April 22, 1962] “To ride on the curl’d clouds” (ARIEL ONE)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Looking back to October the 4th 1957 when Sputnik was launched, it’s hard to believe that only five years have passed since that fateful day when Russia beat Britain and America into space (perhaps my American readers will say that Britain had no realistic chance of getting into space first, which I would agree with, but for the Western nations to be beaten by the Russians – now that’s the thing.)

With Sputnik, humanity transitioned from flying through the air to moving through the vacuum of space, where no living animal can survive without a pressure suit. The only other time that I can think of when a paradigm shift of this nature took place would be back when the first hot-air balloons were invented. This provoked the discussion, at the time, that this was the invention of travelling through the air.

As I read the history of hot-air balloons, the idea of travelling through air as an invention seems odd to me. But as language evolves over time, so do concepts like invention, which has moved from the original Latin meaning of discovery to the more modern meaning of a process or device. Though by modern I should clarify that I mean “from the fifteenth century,” which is not surprising given the changes that arose from the Renaissance, and everything that came out of rediscovery of the knowledge of the ancient Greeks.

For those who look back on the past with rose-tinted glasses I will remind my readers that the times I’m writing about were surrounded by their own troubles. The Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, for example, which led to a westward exodus of Greek scholars that fuelled the rediscovery of ancient thinking. One can argue that today’s troubles, with West and East facing off against each other, is just part of the story of humanity’s struggle between its biological drives versus its intellectual aspirations.

Almost equidistant (physically, though not ideologically) from the Free and Communist worlds, Britain is about to become Earth’s third nation to practice the “invention” of travelling through space. Admittedly this puts us behind America and Russia, but as the Yanks are wont to say, this still makes us a contender. We are calling our satellite Ariel One, more prosaically referred to as UK-1 or S-55. This program grew out of proposal by the British National Committee on Space Research to NASA that came from a discussion at a meeting of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) to study the Earth’s ionosphere.

What is the ionosphere? It is that layer high up in the Earth’s atmosphere where the sun’s energy strips the thin air of its electrons, creating a charged barrier to radio waves. It is this layer that allows British and American “Hams” to talk to each other across thousands of miles of ocean. Understanding how the ionosphere works not only has practical implications for engineers, but is also vital to modelling the atmosphere as a whole. The rewards to science will be tremendous.

I must confess that while Ariel One may be a British satellite, it was made in America for us by the NASA Goddard Flight Center. Our satellite will launched atop a Thor-Delta rocket aka Delta DM-19, which is a variant of the Thor-Able booster that launched some of America’s first satellites, and is due to be launched on the 26th of April from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Launch Complex 17A.

The Thor rockets were designed for the United States Air Force as intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM), which became redundant for purpose after the introduction of the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). So arguably this is a case of swords being turned into plowshares for science. The Thor-Delta uses a Delta rocket as its upper stage, which has the new AJ10-118 engine, and the upper stage also has cold gas attitude control jets. This allows rockets to be stabilized, and the motors can also be stopped and restarted for more precise orbital insertions than were previously possible.

The Ariel One satellite has six experiments onboard, five of which will examine the relationship between two types of solar radiation and changes in the Earth’s ionosphere, and the other cosmic rays. University College London has two ionospheric experiments aboard Ariel; a Langmuir probe for measuring of electron temperature and density; and a spherical probe for measurement of ion mass composition and temperature. The University of Birmingham has a plasma dielectric constant measurement of ionospheric electron density device, which uses a different method to measure electron density that complements the Langmuir probe.

In addition, University College London has two solar radiation experiments; one will measure Lyman-Alpha ultra-violet emissions; the other will measure X-Ray emissions from the Sun in the 3 to 12A band. The sixth experiment, provided Imperial College London, is a Cerenkov detector, which will measure primary cosmic ray energy spectrum, and the impact of interplanetary magnetic field modulation on this spectrum.

You may be thinking, “These experiments sound familiar. I know that NASA’s Orbiting Solar Observatory, for example has similar detectors. Why do we need another satellite that does the same thing?”

That’s an excellent question. There are three answers:

1) Just as more eyewitnesses create a stronger legal case or journalistic report, so do multiple satellites give a broader, mutually verifiable view of the same phenomena;

2) Different laboratories create subtly different experiment types. Thus, Ariel will look at the Sun with slightly different eyes than OSO;

3) Ariel represents an important first step in British space science, one that lays the foundation for future successes.

To finish this months article I must comment on the name Ariel, which is an interesting choice. Ariel is a Hebrew word found in the Bible. I understand it means either the Lion of God or Hearth of God, depending on interpretation. It is also the name of one of the moons of Uranus (recently visited by other members of the Journey).

But, one can’t help but think of Milton’s Paradise Lost or Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and my guess would be that it’s an allusion to the latter because Ariel was the servant of Prospero – and I have the highest hopes that Ariel One shall be successful in serving British science equally well.

[March 19, 1962] A convention of a different colour (Eastercon in the UK)


By Ashley R. Pollard

Last month I said I would talk about science fiction fan activity in Britain.  I think it only fair to say that my involvement with British science fiction fandom is peripatetic, as in unsettled, as I lack the stamina to be fully involved with fannish behaviour.  Not a bad thing per se, but not my cup of tea.  As such, I’m all too aware that my account of British Eastercons is rather secondhand, as I haven’t been to one for several years.

Furthermore, I’m not a Big Name Fan, because I stand at a distance from the core of those who move and shake the mores of fandom.  One could argue that I’m an old time fan who has gafiated from fandom, getting away from it all, since I rarely participate in fannish activities per se.  Before you jump to the conclusion that I therefore must be a sercon fan, serious and constructive, I should add I’m not that either.  For me the word FIJAGH says it all: fandom is just a goddam hobby.  It sums up my position perfectly

With those caveats in place let me talk about the British national science fiction convention.

The first thing I should state is that Eastercons are a relatively recent thing, which started seven years ago in 1955.  How time flies.  The first national SF convention was held in London in 1948, and called Whitcon, because it was held over the three-day weekend of Whitsun. 

For my American readers who may be unfamiliar with British Bank Holidays, Whitsun takes place seven weekends after Easter, my understanding is that in America it comes under the Pentecostal tradition.  You’ll excuse me if I’m a bit vague about Christian practices; they’re not my thing despite being brought up in a nominally Christian family.  We were what might be called Christians by default.  A very British thing that may not be fully understandable to those looking from outside of British culture.

The next four national SF conventions were also held in London before the convention moved in 1954 to Manchester.  By this time the number of people attending had started to drop precipitously, which caused quite a furore within fandom about what must be done?  With, people like Ken Slater and Vince Clarke, arguing that British fandom needed reinvigorating.

Resulting, though that implies far more causation for something that is mostly a loosely correlated series of events, in the formation of the BSFA in 1958 with Eric Bentcliffe and Terry Jeeves as joint secretaries.  So in 1959 the newly formed British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) took over running the national convention, which now takes place over the four-day Easter weekend.

This years Eastercon will happen on April 22nd, and is being held in Harrogate, which is in North Yorkshire.  Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend, due to the combination of a lack of time and money preventing me from doing so.

The official name is the rather prosaic The 1962 BSFA Easter Convention, the committee running the convention is made up of Ron Bennett and Phil Rogers.  They are the ones in charge of organizing the events during the weekend.  The fans are calling it Ronvention.

I’m told there are 94 fans going to Ronvention, which is split between the West Park and Clarendon hotels.  The West Park will be the venue for the Fancy Dress party, the theme being favourite characters from SF &F books; the BSFA will hold its AGM there to discuss what to do with the money raised for the Doc Weir Memorial Fund to honour him; and finally there will be a film shown there too.  Meanwhile everything else, like quizzes, an auction and a talk on the development of British fandom by Mike Rosenblum will take place at the Clarendon hotel.

Mr. Tom Boardman, of Boardman Books, is the Guest of Honour.  He edits the popular Mayflower SF series, which was one of the earliest publishers of SF in post-war Britain.  And, in addition to his work as editor and publisher, he also reviews SF for Books & Bookmen, a magazine published by Hansom Books.

Also attending is Ron Ellik, travelling from the USA courtesy of the Trans Atlantic Fan Fund.  This is a fan fund whose title says exactly what it does.  The roots of the fund lay in Forrest J Ackerman’s idea called the Big Pond Fund that eventually brought John Carnell to the American Worldcon in 1949.  This morphed into what is now known as TAFF when Walt Willis went to the 1953 Worldcon, and wrote a report about his travelling around America, which he published in his fanzine, Hyphen.

In addition to an American presence at Ronvention, I’m told that German fans Tom Schluck, Rolf Gindorf, Wolfgang Thadewald, Thea Grade, Horst Margeit, and Guntrum Ohmacht will be coming to demonstrate that the best way to get into a Britain is to come to as fans.

And lest you find yourself wondering if UK conventions be greatly different from American ones, fear not.  You will still encounter the masquerade balls, the awards ceremonies, the huckster sales, the vociferous fannish debates, and yes, the debauchery (though such entertainments lie in my past).

Before finishing this month’s article I must thank my good friend Rob Hansen for his help with collating all the fannish information I’ve shared with you.  I would have been lost without his sterling work in recording the goings-on in fandom.  That is it for now, which just leaves me to say goodbye, and see you all again next month.

[February 19, 1962] February Thaw (tales from the British fan)


By Ashley R. Pollard

This month’s theme is anticipation.

For instance, the anticipation of the coming spring that will soon relieve the winter blues, signaled by the mornings and evenings getting lighter.  I no longer get up in total darkness and leave work as darkness descends because now the winter sun sets around five.  Instead, I now walk over Westminster Bridge in the gathering twilight.  The gloam of the day brightened as Elizabeth Tower illuminates, and the sound of Big Ben asserts the official time with all the authority that its chimes can muster.


https://www.flickr.com/photos/trainsandstuff/31074517774

However, it’s still too cold for my liking, with the winds from the East chilling one to the bone.

As I write this piece, I’m also anticipating another birthday, which I will have celebrated by the time this article is published.  Not a significant number this time round as that was last year.  But I’ve taken another step into the future, a future that is bright with the possibilities of exciting new things to wonder at.  I am confident that tomorrow, despite the series of postponements, America will launch John Glenn in his Friendship 7 capsule.  I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to have the weight of expectations on one’s shoulders combined with the feeling of disappointment from having to wait yet another day or more before being able to go into space.

However, the anticipation of success is palpable.  The future is bright, and mankind will one day go to the stars, where no one has gone before.  These are, in my mind, the most exciting of times to be alive in.  Of course I say no one has gone before, but perhaps aliens are already travelling among the stars.  Perhaps they’ve already visited us, though I think that’s unlikely, despite the recent profusion of “saucer stories.”

Speaking of unlikely things, while meandering up Charring Cross Road, perusing the secondhand bookshops for science fiction books, I found a copy of Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision.  This fanciful (but seriously presented) account of the formation of our solar system, has acquired a strong cult following of late.  It had been shelved in the science fiction and fantasy section, next to a copy of George Adamski’s the Flying Saucers Have Landed.

This I believe says a lot about how members of the book trade or general public view science fiction and fantasy fans.  I will not rant on about society’s inability to keep up with the changes going on all around us.  It is, arguably, human nature to find change unsettling.  Here in the twentieth century our old ways and beliefs are being challenged by new discoveries, and our understanding of the cosmos expands.  Nevertheless, we fans can tell the difference between science, science fiction, and works like Velikovsky’s and Adamski’s, which best belong with the fairy tales.

Still, as a follower of Fortean apocrypha, I find Velikovsky’s ideas a fertile ground for strange and whacky ideas.  So much so, I wrote a short story inspired by them.  Whether the story will ever see the light of day is another matter.  Perhaps in future, say in fifty years or so, it will bring a smile or even a chuckle or two to those that get to read it.

Back to anticipation — I’m anticipating the coming weekend.  Not for the usual reason of shooting arrows (the literal kind; I am an archer – for fun, not profit), even though I have new limbs for my bow that my partner bought me for my birthday.  Instead we are attending a one day convention run by the students of The Imperial College science fiction and fantasy society.  I understand from my partner that several authors have been invited to speak and be on panels.  It will be a chance for fans old and new to mingle, chat.  Also, there are book dealers in attendance.  So I’m looking forward to going to the convention and who knows what I might find?  Stay tuned.

And, as a sort of end to an anticipation, there are news reports of a shocking discovery made on the 14th of February.  A French patrol of troops found the mummified remains of William N. ‘Bill’ Lancaster in the Sahara desert.  He disappeared in April 1933 while attempting to beat the world speed record for a flight between Britain and South Africa.  His mummified body was found near the wreckage of his aeroplane, an Avro Mark VIA Avian called Southern Cross.  They found his journal, and the reports say he lived for seven days after the crash before dying of thirst while waiting to rescued.  There’s a story in there for sure.

So that is it for another month.  March will bring more news of science fiction in Britain, and I hope you will join me again.

[January 21, 1962] January Freeze (The Great Explosion, by Eric Frank Russell)


By Ashley R. Pollard

I mentioned last time I find December winter difficult.  In January it snowed, which reminds me of the song Let it Snow! by Vaughn Monroe, though the cover version sung by Dean Martin may be more familiar to younger readers of Galactic Journey.  So with the frightful weather outside I had a good reason to stay indoors and read, and thanks to the Traveller’s influence I have laid hands on preview copy of Eric Frank Russell’s, The Great Explosion, soon to be available at the end of May / beginning of June in hardback from all good bookstores.

When I first came across Russell’s work I initially thought he was an American because of his easy use of colloquial American English in his writing.  However, as we say over here, he’s as British as they come.  We not only mix in the same science fiction circle, but also share an interest in the works of paranormalist Charles Fort, which I may be assuming (incorrectly?) readers of the Galactic Journey know about.  Russel also writes under various pseudonyms including Webster Craig, Duncan H. Munro, Niall Wilde (also spelled Naille Wilde), and Maurice G. Hugi.

I can’t remember the first story I read by him, but my guess is probably his Hugo award-winning short story Allamagoosa, which appeared in the May 1955 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.  If you’ve not read it I suggest it is well worth your time to find a copy and do so, despite it being or perhaps I should say because it’s a shaggy dog story.  However, my favourite two books by Russell are his 1957 novel, Wasp, and Next of Kin from 1959.  I will mention that Next of Kin, because it has a bearing on his latest novel, first saw print in Astounding as a novella titled Plus X, and there was also a slightly expanded version of the novella published by ACE Books as The Space Wilies before the definitive Next of Kin was published.

Eric Frank Russell’s new novel is an expansion of his novella And Then There Were None that appeared in the June 1951 issue of Astounding.  However, despite the minor disappointment of this story being an expansion of a previous work, it manages to expand the original work in a way that adds considerably to the context of the setting.

The story starts with a prologue describing the happenchance discovery of the Blieder Drive, a space-drive that takes mankind to the stars.  This being Russell, there’s less manifest destiny and more an anarchic rush to either exploit or get rid of people.  Terra, as a result, sees a large number of people leave because of the Blieder Drive, and the story proper begins 400 years later with the first voyage to reunite the lost worlds to form the Terran Empire.

For any other author this might be a chance to give the ship a suitable grand name, but Russell just refers to it throughout the novel as “the ship.”  Russell’s focus is on the foibles of the bureaucratic mindset behind the mission.  The story is split between the relationship between the pompous diplomat, who is only ever referred to as “the Ambassador” or “his Excellency,” the phlegmatic Captain Grayder, who is in command of the ship, and the punctilious Colonel Shelton, commander of the military detachment sent to protect the diplomatic staff.

Russell compares their behaviours with those of the people of the worlds the ship visits and contrasts them to the ordinary man aboard: in this case Sergeant Gleed and Tenth Engineer Harrison, who get assigned to various tasks assigned by their betters.  This being an Eric Frank Russell story, the focus of each of the planetary visits is to satirize the beliefs of the great and good.

The first planetfall occurs on a planet where all Earth’s prisoners were shipped to when the Blieder Drive made interstellar travel possible.  Unlike, say, Australia, which is our real-world analog, our convicts have created a world where stealing is the norm, and where things we take for granted as decent and proper are laughed at for being foolish.  The natives manage to get one over on the crew in their exchanges, played for comic effect, as what is being described is pretty horrible, but no worse than the lives our ancestors lived in feudal times.  This part of the story is a set-up of the shape of things to come [This sounds a lot like Robert Sheckley’s The Status Civilization (Ed.)]

The ship then makes its way to Hygeia, which is dominated by nudists who are health and fitness fanatics and who sneer at the fat and flabby Ambassador; they make the fittest member of the ship’s crew look feeble by comparison.  Here Russell is able to poke fun at both sides: the Hygeians for their fastidious health habits and the Terran’s for their prudishness.  The outcome of the diplomatic negotiations can probably be considered a draw, as neither side will ultimately get what they want.

The third planet visited, called Kassim, is the shortest part of the novel because it’s uninhabited and the colonists are assumed to have died from a disease.  While this is all well and good, I thought Russell missed a chance to have a bit more science on show.  There again that has never really been his forte, which brings us to the final and longest section of the novel (the part published back in 1951).

I unfortunately have not been able to lay my hands on a copy of And Then There Were None, so I cannot compare and contrast the two for changes made by Russell.  For those of you who have not had the pleasure of reading the original, here is a chance to read and enjoy a fabulous story sending up the bureaucratic might of Terra by a bunch of the most philosophically inclined anarchic libertarians you could possibly imagine.  Some of the conversations are what I would call psychological nuggets of pure gold pedantry that will bring tears of laughter to anyone’s eyes.

This is Russell at his best, lampooning social conventions and assumptions to make us question why we do what we do.  My sole criticism would be that this only works here because the crew of the ship from Terra are nice people: as in decent human beings no matter how deluded their beliefs.  Had the ship come from an authoritarian regime prepared to enforce control by whatever means necessary then the story wouldn’t have ended so well.  There again the story would not be a humorous satire, but rather a dystopian tale of a man’s inhumanity to man.  Of the two, I know which I would rather read.

Four stars.