Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fun, retro science fiction

 Thrilling Wonder Stories, 
Volume 1: Summer 2007
edited by Winston Engle
(Thrilling Wonder LLC)
From Barnes and Noble.com
     Once upon a time, say the 1930s-1960s, there were many different science fiction magazines on the newsstands. The ones that are usually combed through for reprints now are the more serious ones, such as Astounding Science Fiction (now Analog). Others, such as Thrilling Wonder Stories, are now largely forgotten. They had more of a Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon appeal, with covers featuring heroes fighting bug-eyed monster (BEM) aliens, clutching a ray gun in one hand and a barely clad glamour girls in a bubble space helmet in the other. They're what people have in mind when they sneer at science fiction.
     Yet there was good fiction in those magazines as well. Ray Bradbury, possibly the most respected science fiction author outside the science fiction community, penned many of his Martian Chronicles for these magazines.
     A few years ago, Winston Engle tried to relaunch Thrilling Wonder Stories with an anthology combining old and new stories. It only ran for two issues, so I presume the project is dead, but both are still available through the usual online vendors. I recently ran across the first issue, and it's a lot of fun.
     I confess the main reason I bought Thrilling Wonder Stories - Summer 2007 was because it contains The Portable Star  by Isaac Asimov, a short story of which the author was ashamed and deemed unsuitable for republication in anthologies or any of his many books. He said that in this story he had succumbed to a trend in science fiction of adding sexual elements to stories, and had done so in a cheap way.

     Well, naturally that made me want to read the story! (I presume that's one reason it's in this book.)
     Alas,  Dr. A was sometimes a poor judge of his own work. Not only is there no sex in the story (only a kiss), but the story is poor for reasons having nothing to do with sex. Four space travelers -- two married couples -- are stranded on an asteroid, and surrounded by curious telepathic aliens who manipulate their emotions and actions. Its a puzzle story -- how can they escape? -- of which Asimov was a master, but this one just isnt good. 
     Fortunately there are other stories more than worth the price of the anthology, including the classic The Moon Era by Jack Williamson (which Asimov had previously collected in his anthology Before the Golden Age). It's not a great story -- it's nonsense scientifically, and to describe the prose style as dated would be charitable -- but its fun. There's also The Irritated People, another fun (if not great), never-reprinted short by Ray Bradbury about a Cold War fought not with deadly weapons but merely irritating ones.
     New stories by Eric Brown (Three's a Crowd) and R. Neube (The Love Seat) deserve unreserved praise, not least for being modern and yet fitting in with the Thrilling Wonder Stories anthology concept.

     The issue/volume also has a couple of interesting articles on science fiction films and on science fiction fan Forest J. Ackerman (credited with coining the term sci-fi, though I was more familiar with him for his magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland). 
     In addition to the contents, the book just looks good. It's on good paper, with black-and-white interior illustrations, old and new, and an attractive, colorful retro cover in the style of the ones I mentioned above.
     The second issue/volume is also available, featuring David Gerrold, Norman Spinrad, Larry Niven and other writers associated with Star Trek (I guess he was hoping to hook into the show's fan base to improve sales), but I haven't read it.
From Amazon.com


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home