Archive for September, 2016


While we may well be about to witness the homogenisation of the novel as a result of big data, there are still a few silver linings to the future of literature.

In the past, the only thing that was stimulating about uniforminity was a long line of orange spine Penguin books, most likely bringing together the genre works of H G Wells, George Orwell and John Whyndham. Now, Penguin (Random House) is honouring its Sci-Fi heritage on not one, but two counts. First, Richard Bravely is living up to his name by commissioning Scot Bendall from London design agency La Boca to create a vivid range of front covers. There’s something very reminiscent of site favourite Bob Haberfield’s work within these, especially from the period in which he worked on so many Michael Moorcock covers. The double hit, however, comes from the fact that the publishing house has just launched a new website. Unbound Worlds emerges from the critically acclaimed Suvudu and is aiming to continue the good work of the former, while also creating weekly email newsletters and working to cover even more publications than before. Penguin doesn’t get a monolpoly on reinventing itself within a traditional space however, as Kensington Publishing brings Rebel Base Books to the shelves.

Maybe not the most electrifying news within the genre right now, especially considering how West World is currently dominating the headlines. But space should always be given to the likes of Tor and the novel… When so many words are expended every single day to pick through all the nuances of super hero film and TV adaptations, it’s good to pay respect to those committed to long form both in its creation and its reception. Take a leaf out of Elon Musk’s, er, book why don’t you.

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Previously on the site we’ve touched upon robots playing music, and the weird and wonderful use of technology in the modern performance space, but the crossover of Sci-Fi inspired tracks remains under-represented. The narrative behind Black Sabbath’s Iron Man may well be genre appropriate, but it’s their own with no authorial influence behind the scenes.

Prog rock ensemble, The Alan Parsons Project, probably has one of the earliest examples of this with the concept album I Robot named after Issac Asimov’s blueprint to artificial life. Also within the same experimental space an older, more measured Mike Oldfield can be found with his album Songs of Distant Earth borrowing from the Arthur C Clark’s novel of the same name.

Move into the more synth pop vibe of the late 1970s and, surprisingly, you’ll find Kim Wilde crooning about Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Unsurprisingly, Dick’s work is also heavily referenced as a source of inspiration in Gary Numan’s 1979 album Replicas. Over the period, though, it’s the omnipresent adaptation of H G Wells’ War of the Worlds by Jeff Wayne that dominates.

Gwenno Saunders – known simply as Gwenno when performing – has recently capitalised on the shortfall here by releasing Y Dydd Olaf (The Last Day) based upon Owain Owain’s 1976 novel of the same name (see above). The original dystopian tale of a robotic populace cloning human leaders, references a Welsh diary hidden from a mono linguistic hive mind – something that resonated with Gwenno as she found her musical voice within her native language.

The ultimate unity of science fiction and music lies somewhere on Iain M Bank’s hard drive. His last project, before his untimely death in 2014, was a musical one – a symphony composed from his home studio in Scotland (video here, time code 49:00). An orchestral thread can be found throughout his Culture works, within books like Look To Windward and The Hydrogen Sonatta, and the posthumously published collection of his poems released in 2014 could well add lyrical wealth. Who knows if there are any plans to pull such a project together. If there were though, Drozbot would be all ears.

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The sphere of influence is predictably riddled with odd connections when it comes to this site’s favourite genre. Take Kent Jones’ documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut that was released in 2015. On initial inspection it’s an exploration of two directors, their craft and mutual respect for each other. Not all that many in-roads for fans of Sci-Fi you might think, however…

While Hitchcock’s work focused upon suspense and psychological horror, it’s hard to watch The Birds (1963) and not consider every apocalyptic film that was to follow. The formula of established normality and interpersonal group tensions that are suddenly shattered by an inexplicable, natural/biological horror has often been replicated. From David Cronenberg’s Shivers (1975) through Ron Underwood’s Tremors (1990), to just about any contemporary infestation/zombie film, Hitchcock’s pervasive presence can be felt.

There are some interesting collaborations to be unearthed as well. The Birds leading man, Rod Tailor, was also the lead in George Pal’s 1960 version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. It’s the film’s child star, though, that provides the strongest Sci-Fi legacy. You may well recognise a young Veronica Cartwright behind her more mature roles as Nancy Bellicec in 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Lambert in Alien (1979). The Birds was also a birth place of what was to become Disney’s Imagineers. Ub Iwerks pioneered an early version of today’s green screen technology, (“yellow” back then) and built on the animated Sci-Fi legacy of the likes of Joshua Meador who brought the monster from the ID to life in Fred M. Wilcox’s 1956 Forbidden Planet. Finally, genre greats within the literary arts have a debt of gratitude to Hitchcock too, with John Whyndham’s work receiving publication in an anthology by the director, and his story – Consider Her Ways – being adapted for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour TV show (1962-65).

With François Truffaut, the genre connections are more overt. It’s easy to see Hitchcock’s influence regarding symbolism throughout his adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 (1966). The film’s excellent score by Bernard Herman that combines motifs that hark back to Forbidden Planet and Vertigo (1958) is another direct link. But let’s also not forget the homage paid by Steve Spielberg to Truffaut by casting him as Claude Lacombe in Close Encounter of the Third Kind (1977).

As I said, it’s a plethora of odd connections but a wonderful web of influence nonetheless.

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