Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ghost Story for Christmas

Ok--it's not a ghost story, and it's not season specific. I'm simply referring to the old custom of telling scary stories at Christmas time. Here's one I wrote, titled "Le Péril Vert", that originally appeared in the Nov. 2007 issue of The Willows.

Le Péril Vert

Sunday, December 07, 2008


An outstanding title for a remarkable show, and I've been watching quite a bit of it lately thanks to YouTube user, DFORCE1969. The show, which originally aired from 1970-1972 on BBC 1, was the brainchild of Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler, the creators of Doctor Who's Cybermen. The focus of Doomwatch is, essentially, mad science, and it chronicles the travails of a government scientific agency charged with monitoring potential scientific and technological threats to nature and society. These duties, in turn, make the team equally unpopular with the scientific community, big business, and the very government that is funding them, so that its scientists are perpetually threatened, both physically and existentially, from all sides. Socially conscious, bleak, paranoid, and perpetually ahead of its time, the show not only made an impact on contemporary British programs (Doctor Who, Survivors) but also influenced several later series (The X-Files, Fringe).

Though several episodes are online, I've found the audio and video to be out of sync in many. I would recommend starting with these:

The Red Sky

There's also an excellent documentary available.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Doctor Who - 45th Anniversary!

How about a Dalek cake to celebrate?

On Nov. 23rd, 1963, the BBC aired the first episode of Doctor Who, "An Unearthly Child", launching what has become the longest running science fiction show ever. Though there was a significant "hiatus" between 1989 and 2005, during which no new episodes were aired, the series continued with books, audiobooks, and a (to put it politely) disappointing Fox Movie of the week. Since Russell Davies brought it back to TV in 2005, it has once again become a worldwide ratings success, and today the show is celebrating its 45th anniversary.

Its success throughout the years can be largely attributed to the strength of the writing behind each episode. This is where, as Harlan Ellison correctly (and belligerently) states, it trumps the Star Wars films, which in all honesty, despite their brilliant special effects and pacing (both areas where Doctor Who often fell a bit short) suffer from sophomoric and slapdash plotting and dialog. The only science fiction series that really approached Who in the sophistication of its scripts was the contemporaneous Star Trek. But, because The Doctor's adventures were regularly serialized in half-hour episodes over the course of 4-6 weeks, Who was often able to achieve greater depth than Trek, and over the course of 45 years, has become an incredibly dense text. As my friend Ed and I found while recently writing about the show, there are almost unlimited thematic threads that can be traced throughout the many years of episodes, and this has undoubtedly also contributed to the show's success, that it has created a vaster universe than even Start Trek for its fans to explore.

Another thing that set Doctor Who apart from most science fiction fare was the show's eccentric origins, and these are being celebrated by the BBC with the creation of the new Genesis of Doctor Who archive. For more history and episode details, the BBC's New and Classic Doctor Who sites are a must, as well as the Doctor Who Wiki. Finally, for fan fiction, there is A Teaspoon and an Open Mind and The Doctor Who Project. The latter began as a very serious attempt to continue the series in the 90's and contains fiction of a very high quality.

Here's to another 45 years!

Friday, October 24, 2008


Ed's comment on rephotography in my last post reminded me of Chris Perridas' blog, H.P. Lovecraft & His Legacy. I've been following it for quite awhile, and during that time, Perridas has unflaggingly posted a photo, letter, article, or some other piece of Lovecraftiana every day. While stopping by, be sure to check out some of his other blogs, particularly the Antiquarian Weird Tales one.

For further Lovecraftian research, you may want to consult the Fiction Mags site for a very thorough bibliography that gives the original publication information for each story or the Miskatonic University site, which hosts, among many other things, scans of every Weird Tales cover with accompanying tables of contents. The H.P. Lovecraft Archive also contains research material and bibliographies for each story and poem, and to read the original stories, check out Miskatonic U. or Dagonbytes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Lovecraft's Providence

"From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent. Sometimes it enters directly into the composition of the events, while sometimes it relates only to their fortuitous position among persons and places. The latter sort is splendidly exemplified by . . . the ancient city of Providence . . ."

--H.P. Lovecraft, "The Shunned House"

As I was driving through Providence, RI the other evening, on my way to dinner with some fellow TEI Workshop attendees, I couldn't help but think about H.P. Lovecraft and the various stories he wrote portraying this city, his home throughout his brief life. The streets and scenes I saw seemed almost familiar to me thanks to the Master's portrayal of his city in such stories as "The Shunned House", which begins by tracing the walks of Edgar Allan Poe when he was courting Sarah Helen Whitman, and "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", in which both colonial and modern Providence act almost as characters within the story.

Some would likely argue that this injection of verisimilitude assists in making the more horrific elements of these fantastic stories that much more intense, and I would not disagree with them. But, I think, more specifically, in Lovecraft's case, that by drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of such an old American city as Providence, Lovecraft is emphasizing that even the trappings of civilization that seem so ancient to his readers, are really nothing in comparison to the vaster, far more ancient chaos of the universe and that these artificial constructs of humanity can be erased at any moment. I also believe that Lovecraft is not alone in this use of realistic, local geography in his horror tales and can think of parallels in the London strolls of Arthur Machen's various protagonists and even the North African settings of Paul Bowles. I'm sure readers of this blog can come up with more examples.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

His Unconquerable Enemy

At the end of Tod Browning's Freaks (at about 1:03 in the clip below), as the freaks chase down Cleopatra to exact their revenge, there is a particularly creepy scene that shows the armless and legless Human Torso crawling along the muddy ground with a dagger clenched between his teeth.

I always get goosebumps when I see that and can never help wondering what the Torso would look like in action. W.C. Morrow's short story, "His Unconquerable Enemy" (originally published in the Mar. 11, 1889 issue of The Argonaut), goes a long way toward answering that question. It features an avenger in a similar physical state and a morally bankrupt first-person narrator who may be even scarier. Well worth reading.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"If you want a picture of the future . . .

Imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever."

In 1954, the BBC aired a teleplay of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four that has become legendary. Produced and directed by Rudolph Cartier and scripted by Nigel Kneale, it stars Peter Cushing as Winston Smith. By making the most out of stark studio sets, location shooting in still war-devastated London neighborhoods, and virtuoso performances from Cushing, Donald Pleasance, and Yvonne Mitchell, this adaptation succeeds at being both genuinely disturbing and deeply moving. This version is also striking for its frank treatment of sex, particularly the segment that takes place in Pornosec, and violence. You can download the show in its entirety by navigating to the host of the clip below.

Online Videos by

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Doomsday: Journal of the Thomas Lovell Beddoes Society

Kudos to the Thomas Lovell Beddoes Society for making its journal, Doomsday, openly accessible using John Willinsky's OJS software. There's no content available yet, but I imagine it will be there soon, since I received my print copy of the latest issue a couple of weeks ago.

Now I just have to remember to pay my back dues . . .

Friday, August 29, 2008

Call for Papers - Doctor Who and Philosophy

The departments of philosophy at the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Tennessee, of all places, "are looking for scholarly philosophical essays written for a lay audience to be included in Doctor Who and Philosophy, to be published by Open Court Press." There's more info. available here.

Update: My friend, Ed Webb, and I wrote a chapter for the book, titled "Should the Daleks Be Exterminated?", and the book is now available.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Return of "The Notorious Canary-Trainer" Published in the BSJ

My article, The Return of "The Notorious Canary-Trainer", has just been published in the Spring 2008 issue of The Baker Street Journal. It's a rather tongue-in-cheek reflection on Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Morrison's Martin Hewitt, The Strand magazine, and naturally, notorious canary-training, and I'm extremely pleased that it's appearing in this, the oldest and most prestigious journal devoted to Holmes and Watson.

I honestly think I enjoy writing about Holmes more than any other subject, and some readers of this blog may remember that The Baker Street Blog featured a Sherlock Holmes pastiche of mine last year.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Happy Birthday, Doc Savage

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the birth of Doc Savage, one of the most popular characters in the history of pulp fiction. Capitalizing on their success with The Shadow, Street and Smith publishers decided to create a new character who was more of a superhero adventurer than detective (though Doc could have easily matched wits with The Shadow, himself). The first adventure was published just two years after the Shadow's debut in 1931, and like The Shadow, was written under a pseudonymous by-line, "Kenneth Robeson". Lester Dent was Doc Savage's actual creator and wrote the majority of the stories.

In his debut, titled "The Man of Bronze", Doc and his "Fabulous 5" companions, shortly after the funeral of Doc's father, Clark Savage, Sr., find themselves under attack by a warrior from a lost South American civilization. After this has been thwarted, the team goes on the offensive and flies to the "lost valley" in South America, where they become entangled in a civil war and treasure hunt. It's a classic, H. Rider Haggard-like, adventure yarn, modernized and paced for an audience who would, in another five years, be reading the exploits of Savage's comic book descendant--Superman (N.B. Dov Savage was the owner of the first "Fortress of Solitude").

The story has been reprinted many times over the years and is available in several formats, but if you want to really experience the look and feel of the original, please check out Anthony Tollin's reprint (and the others he has done). Also, for bibliographic information, I highly recommend Chuck Welch's Doc Savage Organized site.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

"A Warning to the Curious"

Last Halloween, I wrote a post featuring the BBC television adaptation of M.R. James' "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad". Last night, I was lucky enough to stumble across its adaptation of his story, "A Warning to the Curious", and didn't want to wait until next Halloween to mention it.

Like the other short film, this production was part of the BBC's "Ghost Story for Christmas" series. It takes more liberties with the plot than "Whistle", but all of these are dramatically effective and, in conjunction with some striking incidental music, help to create a real atmosphere of menace that persists throughout the entire film.