Archive for September, 2017

Hugh Hefner remains a divisive figure his support of Sci-Fi is still worthy of note. Since its first publication in 1953, Playboy has hosted a plethora of outstanding writers, elevating the magazine above other ‘one-handed’ literature and even challenging the boundaries of accepted sexual conventions.

Ray Bradbury’s famous Fahrenheit 451 received its first airing among Playboy’s pages, as did the work of Philip K Dick and Ursula K Le Guin – her story Nine Lives winning the Nebular award in 1969. But it was Charles Beaumanot’s ‘A Crooked Man’ (1955) – a futuristic tale in which everyone is gay and heterosexuality is outlawed – that shocked the conservative audience of its time.

Support for the genre went beyond the magazine as well, with Hefner funding Playboy’s own Sci-Fi imprint which predominantly compiled the stories from the magazine into a series of anthologies. He also courted genre TV series stars (Nichelle Nichols famously trading her usual Star Trek footwear for some thigh-high leather boots) plus his legacy of the erotic ‘centrefold’ has been become a staple pastiche (pun intended) of countless Sci-Fi shows.

The darker side of pornography – the degradation of women, the ‘violent’ segmentation of their bodies through image cropping – was something Hefner couldn’t escape and, sadly, Sci-Fi played a part in this too. Dorothy Stratten was one of Hefner’s ‘bunnies’, who rose through the ranks to become Playmate of the Year by 1980. Her fame led to her starring in a Sci-Fi spoof called Galaxina (1980) and while a career in Hollywood beckoned, it drove a wedge between her and her increasingly jealous husband. She was just 20-years-old when she was murdered by him as a result of an affair she was having with film director Peter Bogdanovich – who subsequently documented her short life and career in Killing of the Unicorn (1985).

While Hefner’s personal love for Weird Tales probably acted as the spur to bring speculative writers to a mainstream audience, there’s no escaping the fact that for every one who benefited from his patronage, there were also others that found his attention detrimental.

He was 91 when he died on the 27th of September.

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Here we are then, on the cusp of the sequel to one of the most influential Sci-Fi films of all time; Blade Runner. Casting about for opinion among friends and fans of the original, there’s a healthy dose of trepidation – fueled, in part, by a line of recent and questionable cinematic outings by Ridley Scott. There’s also a growing sense of anticipation and a pile of questions about how such an influential view of the ‘future’, now sits within a society regularly in receipt of robot and artificial intelligence advertising.

Talking of marketing, things seem fairly reserved as far as bandwagon merchandise goes – aside from the typical spread of T-shirts and uninspiring phone covers. There is, however, an interesting piece of branding from Johnnie Walker with the release of their Blade Runner inspired whisky that matches the bottle design of the original film. But, before we get all high and mighty about cashing in on fandom, let’s not be too swift to judge the marketers. The 1982 movie had its own layers of supporting merchandise, most notably with Ertl’s die-cast vehicle miniatures.

There are a couple of other interesting stories emerging alongside some encouraging noises from early reviewers. First up, is that ShinichirĂ´ Watanabe, director of the most excellent Cowboy Beebop, was approached to produce a short anime prequel to the latest film. “Blade Runner Blackout” is exclusively available on Crunchyroll and compliments the earlier shorts “Nowhere to Run” and “2036: Nexus Dawn”. Meanwhile, rapper El-P has released a snippet of his “rejected score” which he pulled together for one of the film’s trailers. Sci-Fi stalwart, Hans Zimmer, eventually got the gig for the official sound track, but El-P’s interpretation still packs a punch and seems to draw upon Geinoh Yamashirogumi’s wonderful score for Akira.

Are the stars aligning then? The topics originally raised in 1982 haven’t gone away and are even more pertinent now after a direct thread of combined influence. Just look at the Battlestar Galactica reboot, Channel 4’s Robots, the latest iteration of Westworld and a host of other titles that continue to wrestle with the growing reality of robots becoming a part of everyday existence. As ever, they remain the perfect vehicle for our hopes and fears for the future, as well as being a precision polished mirror in which our own humanity is reflected.

With all this in mind, October the 6th can’t come soon enough!

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