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Spaceship Medic

The ninety-two day run from the Lunar Station to Mars is a piece of cake – until the day the interplanetary spaceship Johannes Kepler is hit by a meteorite.
‘SPACE EMERGENCY ! ! THE HULL OF THIS SHIP HAS BEEN HOLED. FOLLOW SPACE SURVIVAL DRILL.’ Lieutenant Donald Chase, a young doctor on his first space flight, follows instructions and reaches the control room to discover that the Captain is dead, and that he and First Engineer Holtz are the only two officers left alive on the ship. When the badly shaken engineer refuses the Captain’s job, Don Chase finds himself in command of more than a hundred rebellious passengers and a damaged space ship, sailing off course without radio contact and headed for a solar storm.
‘That means we are all as good as dead right now,’ says Holtz. And what if they don’t succeed in contacting Mars, and what if they can’t change their course? Crisis follows crisis with terrifying speed, and it seems as though there are too many ‘ifs’, but Don Chase refuses to let the passengers and crew give in. ‘Something can be done. I know.’ Something has to be done if they are ever to reach mars.

When I picked up Spaceship Medic, judging by the title alone, I expected a medical story set against the backdrop of space. It does get around to the medical part of the story eventually but this is primarily an epic disaster movie on paper, all the complications that come with a crippled spacecraft fully utilized in building up the tension. Lt. Chase, the young doctor thrust into the position of captain after the deaths of everyone of higher rank in a freak accident, is a likable enough lead character, though a touch too optimistic. A moment of blind panic in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds would have added a layer of realism to his character.

The crisis begins when a meteorite smashes through the Johannes Kepler, tearing eighteen compartments open to the cold of space, and killing everyone in the main control-room in the middle of a staff meeting. The communications ability of the ship is destroyed in the encounter, the water supply is depleted, and oxygen-replenishing phytoplankton in the water is reduced dramatically, adding to the problems of the crew. The situation deteriorates as Don discovers that the ship is spinning wildly off course, and a solar storm is on its’ way. My concise outline of the emergency makes it seem overly melodramatic, but Harrison’s writing is beautifully lucid, never descending into hyperbole or cranking up the tension needlessly.

There are touches that make the story stand out from other novels set aboard spaceships, especially when the clever design of the spacesuits are concerned. The thought that the ship had typewriters aboard threw me off for a moment, as did the use of audio tape, but considering the era in which the book was written these are minor quibbles. Relying on Morse code to get in touch with Mars is slightly cliché, though not a deal-breaker.

When a mystery illness spreads through the crew and passengers I began thinking about the phytoplankton released in the meteorite smash, or what could possibly be in the cargo hold, but Harrison is smart enough to come up with a reason – and a solution – which avoids the simplistic. There is enough technical information to get across the advances in science, though technical terms are never used where they aren’t needed. Spaceship Medic is an easy enough read, albeit rather brief for a novel, and shouldn’t trouble many readers.

A few clever touches, such as solar storms being measured on the Hoyle scale, never overshadow the plot, and the story is wrapped up with a satisfactory ending. The only criticism may lie in the fact that there isn’t much room for re-readability.

Spaceship Medic by Harry Harrison (Puffin Books, 1976) ISBN-10: 0140308539

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August 9, 2009 Posted by | Book Review | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pulp Magazines

Pulp magazines contain some of the most widely-read characters ever created. Tarzan, The Shadow and Doc Savage – among others – are a touchstone for many modern comic-books, television series and films, though the originals are vastly superior in entertainment value if not quality. I have put together a few links to sites where you can read for the Amazing and the Weird for yourself.

For an introduction to the pulp heroes, have a look at The Pulp Heroes by Jess Nevins.

Black Mask Magazine has had a few stories pulled from the archives and placed on their official website.
There are a number of scans of stories available here, taken from a wide variety of classic pulp magazines.
Yet more scans of classic stories are available at the Miscellanea page of Retro Novello, including Sax Rohmer, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Johnston McCulley pieces.

The Pulp Series Character Reprint Index lists most (if not all) of the currently known pulp reprints. Some of the paperbacks in which the shorter stories were collected are just as collectable as the original magazines.

Anyone familiar with the Ubiquity Roleplaying Systemâ„¢ might want to take a look at Mythic Eras for pulp-flavored gaming resources (they have a nice Hollow Earth PDF available for download).
The Wold Newton crossover indexes of characters, and how they interact with each other is a major component of recent fiction, and there is no better site for information on the subject than The Wold Newton Universe.

Street & Smith (publisher of many pulp magazines) have a number of images here, takes from the Syracuse University Library.

July 4, 2009 Posted by | Resources | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Complete Directory to Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Television Series

A Comprehensive Guide to the First 50 Years 1946 to 1996
From the early days of television, science fiction, fantasy and horror have been present on our screens. Some series such as Star Trek, Doctor Who and The Adventures of Superman have become icons of popular culture; while others are best forgotten by all, including the people who made them. Here for the first time in one volume are guides to every science fiction, fantasy and horror television series from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. This book covers the first 50 years from the very first, Lights Out in 1946, all the way until the end of the 1995-1996 television season.

  • Over 360 series are covered, with entries for over 15,000 individual episodes.
  • The entry for each series contains a listing of the series regulars, an overview and a complete episode guide.
  • Each episode guide is comprised of a listing of all the episodes in chronological order. The listing for each episode gives the episode title, guest cast, brief sypnosis, date of original broadcast, writer and director.
  • Included are listings for films which were either based on, or served as the inspiration for, one of the TV series covered, both those made for the theatres and thse made for television.

There are few books I would give up a holiday for. I found The Complete Directory… in a second-hand bookshop in Ramsgate on my summer holiday, 1997, and spent the next three days in my room reading up on all the television shows I had yet to see. It lives up to the blurb’s promise, and served as my shopping list when old television shows began appearing on DVDs a few years ago. The clear layout, combined with a wealth of geeky knowledge, is one of my favourite books, and has been consulted at least once a week since its’ purchase.

If you have never heard of such wonderful televisual gems such as Ark II, Come Back, Mrs. Noah or Ultraman Towards The Future, then you can do no better than look through the wealth of information in this book. It’s a product of its’ time in many ways, and a current edition (if such a book could be printed) would run to many times the length of Alan Morton’s original tome.

Some entries, especially for older series, are missing vital airdates and title information. Many of these episodes have, sadly, been lost forever, and any further research would be limited to scripts and production records. When I picked up the book, I hadn’t thought about many of the shows in years, and reading through the sypnosis’ brought back childhood memories of lying in front of the television on a Saturday morning. Who could imagine that old television shows could hold so much power?

Needless to say, this comes highly recommended for anyone interested in television, pop culture and genre fiction.

The Complete Directory to Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Television Series by Alan Morton, foreword by Peter David
(Other Worlds Books) ISBN: 0-9657358-0-X

Further reading:
The Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction by Roger Fulton (Boxtree)
The Sci-Fi Channel Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction by Roger Fulton (Warner Books)
More episode guides can be found at epguides.com and fuller listings are available at TV.com

July 4, 2009 Posted by | Book Review | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment