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Tag Archive: H.G. Wells


Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re not a player of Dungeons & Dragons, a new journey through the hills and valleys of the roleplay game that started it all will get you up to speed quickly.  Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is a comprehensive, authoritative, and licensed look back at nearly 50 years of gaming, storytelling, and artwork.  If you grew up with the game you are certain to find both nostalgia and page-after-page of new information in its more than 700 color images from the past, images of heroes and villains, monsters and other creatures, that brought in some 40 million players over the years.  Boasting some 10-15 million active players today, D&D now features the results of writers/D&D celebrity fans Michael Witwer (D&D historian), Kyle Newman (director of the movie Fanboys), Jon Peterson (game historian) and Sam Witwer (actor, Being Human, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica) pulling together published images and source art from each edition of D&D’s core books, supplements, and modules, magazines, advertisements, tie-in products, sketches, and draft rules.  Their sources include the archives at Wizards of the Coast, private collectors, and more than 40 designers and artists from every era of the game’s history.  Released in two editions, fans old and new can choose from the standard 448-page hardcover alone or a special edition Hydro74-designed boxed set with some intriguing extras.  You’ll find a 14-page preview below courtesy of publisher Ten Speed Press.

This… treatise… this behemoth of a book is smartly designed so readers can approach it for a quick burst of throwback fun or a detailed dive behind the creation and many changes of the game and the companies behind it.  You can find a side-by-side evolution and comparison of monsters and other characters, soak in old maps and character sheets, and compare the covers and key art across all editions.  Possibly the best contribution is comparative images showing specific pop culture sources for many of the designs that made it into the early books and supplements, everything from Frank Frazetta Conan the Barbarian paintings to panels of comic book art from Marvel Comics’ Strange Tales.

From Guidon GamesChainmail to TSR to Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro and the latest 5th Edition rule books, the D&D story is one of corporate takeovers, failures, successes and strategies, all to survive and ultimately consolidate with games including Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, World of Warcraft, and the entire Milton Bradley tabletop game catalog, all under one umbrella.  It all started with creators Gary Gygax and David Arneson, and their efforts to build on miniature figure battle games from centuries past, and modern rules for gaming that had a historic source:  sci-fi/fantasy author H.G. Wells first penned a gaming rulebook for miniatures titled Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books, an influential book inspiring gaming to this day.  The founders would pull in amateur artists and eventually professional artists, sprouting from a small headquarters in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, ultimately the source of Gen Con, the gaming convention that has been tied to D&D since the beginning.

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This year marks the 120th anniversary of the publication of H.G. Wells’ genre defining science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds We reviewed the latest incarnation of the story earlier this year here at borg.  This Halloween Eve marked the 80th anniversary of the broadcast of War of the Worlds, Orson Welles‘ theater company adaptation of Wells’ The War of the Worlds–the one that sent a minor panic across the U.S. in 1938.  Smithsonian Magazine has the best historical retrospective on the event (written in 2015) at its website here.  The show was just a quickly cobbled together episode of the radio drama anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air, broadcast on CBS–the radio network–when an attentive audience took Welles’ performance for reality.  Indiana University’s Lilly Library commemorated the anniversary by publicly streaming its newly digitized version of the infamous event derived from Welles’ personal lacquer disc recordings, for free.  If you’re continuing your Halloween celebration through the weekend, there’s no better time to turn off the television and take yourself and your family on a time travel trip to sci-fi entertainment, 1930s style.  Stream the original radio presentation of Mercury Theatre’s War of the Worlds plus more classic presentations at the library’s website here.

Along with The War of the Worlds anniversaries, it’s a good time to celebrate actor and writer John Houseman, who co-founded the Mercury Theatre Players with Welles, and produced and co-wrote the script for the War of the Worlds broadcast.  Decades before gaining new fame in his Academy Award-winning role as the scary and iconic Professor Kingsfield in the movie The Paper Chase opposite Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner, and later starring in the television series version, Houseman served as an uncredited co-writer to Herman J. Mankiewicz on Citizen Kane Initially collaborators, “Jack” Houseman and Welles would have a falling out soon after that was never mended.  Never escaping his early connection with Welles, Houseman died thirty years ago today, the day after the 50th anniversary of the War of the Worlds radio broadcast.

Early photograph of Mercury Theatre co-founders Orson Welles and John Houseman.

If you’re a John Carpenter fan, you may recall Houseman as the narrator at the beginning of Carpenter’s 1980 classic ghost story, The Fog Born in Romania, as the old coastal chap Mr. Machen (a name referencing 1890s horror writer Arthur Machen), Houseman delivered that same brand of captivating storytelling in his one-of-a-kind voice, storytelling that made the War of the Worlds broadcast so famous.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When Lando Calrissian showed up on the doorstep of Han Solo and Leia with a toddler Ben in tow, Han knew the outcome couldn’t be anything good.  In Daniel José Older‘s novel Star Wars: Last Shot–A Han and Lando Novel, it’s Lando that causes angst for Han, but it also gets him away from a home life where it’s just not happening for the former smuggler and decorated General of the Rebellion.  Someone has set off some assassin droids and if your name was ever on the title for the Millennium Falcon, you’ve been marked.  The mastermind behind the droids is a character inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, a medical student plucked from his good life and plunged into a maddening existence where he begins to merge men with machines.  For Fyzen Gor, droids are the more advanced form and he will stop at nothing until the galaxy knows it.  Enter Han, Chewie, Lando, and Ugnaught, an Ewok tech guru or “slicer,” an attractive Twi-lek who Lando has his eyes on, and a young hotshot pilot, and you have a Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven story plucked from the pages of classic Marvel Comics.

But that’s the present, or at least the present time as it existed a few years after the events of Return of the Jedi, where only part of the story takes place.  Both partners Han and Chewie, and Lando and companion droid L3-37 have each encountered Fyzen Gor and his enigmatic Phylanx device before–once before Lando loses the Falcon to Han during Solo: A Star Wars Story, and once afterward.  Star Wars: Last Shot presents three parallel stories all culminating with the present search and confrontation with Gor to learn the secret of the device.  L3-37’s theme of droid rights is a significant element in this tale, and further expands L3’s influence on the future beyond being merged with the Falcon’s computer.  Despite several key cyborgs in the Star Wars galaxy (not the least of which being Luke and Darth Vader), this novel is Star Wars taking on cyborg themes not usually found in the franchise outside the early comics, themes you’d find wrestled with previously in other sci-fi properties.

The prequels live on.  Adding to the surprise presence of Darth Maul in Solo: A Star Wars Story, writer Older resurrects many bits and pieces from the Star Wars prequels, including a Gungun who makes clear that Jar Jar Binks was not emblematic of the alien race.  We also encounter many names, aliens, and places from past stories, like aliens reflecting the likes of Bossk, Hammerhead, Ewoks, Ugnaughts, and Cloud City from the original trilogy.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Any list of 10 or more items these days quickly becomes the stuff of argument.  But in the right context it can become the stuff of discussion and curiosity.  A list of 50 items takes some work to prepare and if that list accompanies a genre that has spanned more than a century, then it really invites discussion. Which brings us to Turner Classic Movies and Running Press’s new look at the science fiction genre in Sloan De Forest’s Must See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That Are Out of This World This latest pop culture book to engage science fiction fans may show that, after all these years, the best and most important works of science fiction are not really all that controversial.  Yet it wouldn’t really be worth picking up if it only confirmed readers’ love for epic films.  Must-See Sci-Fi takes that next step and also serves that need of all fans of film to take another look at the classics and be open to those films we may have overlooked.

Consisting of 50 approximately 1,000 word essays on each film across 114 years, from 1902 to 2016, Must-See Sci-Fi covers the significance of each film selected in its 280 pages, including a plot overview, key memorable scenes, plus some good behind-the-scenes trivia, as well as plenty of color and black and white photographs.  From A Trip to the Moon in 1902 to Arrival in 2016, the book has a fairly consistent coverage (but weighted with more selections from the 1970s and 1980s, and the 1940s have no entries).  Most will agree with the films included from George Méliès’s groundbreaking beginning through the 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. But controversial for one person may not be controversial for another.  De Forest presents her case for those films you might not find on other lists–many firsts of sci-fi emphasized instead of the definite look at a sub-genre, like Alphaville, Solaris, Sleeper, The Man Who Fell to Earth, THX 1138, The Brother From Another Planet, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. One great feature is a recommendation of two “watch-alike” films after each section–If you loved a film, you have two more films to track down and compare, and if you missed a film but don’t like the two suggested films, the book may telegraph your level of enjoyment once you screen the entry.  Readers will also see the impact across a century of filmmaking from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the works of both H.G. Wells and Jules Verne on these selections.

Key to the fun of delving into science fiction film history is understanding the roots of science fiction–how modern science fiction 99% of the time derives (or combines) its story elements from key benchmarks from stories or films of the past.  As the book progresses readers can see author De Forest frequently referring back to those sources, and after 1977’s Star Wars the remaining 16 entries all seem to rely significantly on films of the past–sometimes they even appear to be merely another twist on one of the films in the first half of the book.  And yes, readers will find new discussion topics.  La Jetée may be an incredibly fascinating short film, but is it more of a “must-see” than Terry Gilliam’s update 12 Monkeys?  And how did a Woody Allen movie ever make the cut?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Much of the best science fiction doesn’t leave us with memorable or lovable characters so much as incredible, imaginative ideas, and prescient or prophetic visions.  When you look to science fiction’s past, examples can be found throughout the works of H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, and Ray Bradbury.  Great concepts abound, like Wells’ time travel, Mary Shelley stretching the bounds–and horrors–of medical science, Dick always wrestling with the perils and annoyances of technology, and Michael Crichton finding ways to use science to change the future.  Robert J. Sawyer is a current science fiction author building on the ideas of the past, and like all of the above writers who researched the real science behind their characters, he delves deep into his subjects.  In his novel Quantum Night, now available in paperback, he has with surgical precision stitched together a tale of modern truths and horrors, bundled in a story pressing the bounds of psychology and quantum theory to explain why the world may seem to be falling apart, and offering one way to try to repair it.

In a very educational way, Quantum Night is also a refresher in Psychology 101.  Sawyer, one of only three science fiction writers ever to have won the trifecta of writing awards (the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Campbell), references every major theory and experiment from college days along with enough background in quantum theory to support a compelling thriller.  By book’s end you may find yourself staring at strangers and questioning their level of consciousness, conscience, and psychopathy.  You may be sitting next to a psychopathic individual right now, or someone with a mind that may be even more gut-wrenching to discover.  Written in 2015 and taking place in the not-so-distant future, Russian President Vladimir Putin readies to fire nuclear weapons on the United States.  A future U.S. President gets Roe v. Wade overturned, has gotten his country to turn on immigrants and then invades Canada, led by its first Muslim prime minister (here Sawyer predicts the future of the current real-life Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi), purportedly so the U.S. can secure Canada’s cities when the country no longer is able to control the flow of terrorists.

The story follows a professor of psychology who also serves as an expert witness to defend criminals who have proven to be psychopathic on both established and modern psychopathy tests.  In the latest case he is reminded of his own past on cross-examination–a past he refuses to believe.  As he re-traces his memories he learns his volunteering for psychology experiments in college resulted in six months of erased memories.  And it gets worse–his mind was altered.  Readers encounter a pair of scientists in the past, trying to hone in on those elements of the mind that shape how we think.  The protagonist encounters a lover from his college days who is also in the field, and their relationship and her relationship with her daughter and her brother (now 20 years in a coma), could dictate the fate of everyone’s future with a high-tech tuning fork “sonic screwdriver”-inspired device and one of the 40 giant, real-world synchrotrons.

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Probably no other visionary from the 19th century except Mary Shelley and Jules Verne is as synonymous with the genre of science fiction as H.G. Wells.  How many science fiction works did Wells inspire with his stories, with elements infused into books, television series, and movies–120 years later and never going out of print?  Only hours ago the BBC announced a new three-part series adapting The War of the Worlds will be arriving later this year, starring Rafe Spall (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Shaun of the Dead), Eleanor Tomlinson (Jack the Giant Slayer, Alice in Wonderland), Robert Carlyle (28 Weeks Later, Once Upon a Time), and Krypton and Sherlock’s Rupert Graves.  The War of the Worlds.  The Time Machine.  The Invisible Man.  The Island of Dr. Moreau.  A new series of graphic novels from Insight Comics is adapting all four of Wells’ classics.  These go beyond the old Illustrated Classics editions, taking on several science fiction paradigms: warnings of the dangers of new technologies, the cost of hubris, and the adventures and trials that come from the unknown worlds of the future.

First in the new series is an action-packed adaptation of The War of the Worlds.   Tailored from the original 1897 tale of freakish alien tripod alien invaders annihilating parts of England, the writer known as Dobbs provides a faithful take on Wells’s work.  It’s always interesting to see new interpretations of the look of Wells’ invaders, and artist Vicente Cifuentes (best known for his DC Comics art) provides a visually striking view of the varying appearances of the invaders as well as an authentic and engaging feel for the 19th century setting of the original novel.

Scientist Dr. Robert H. Goddard referenced The War of the Worlds as an influence for creating the real-world liquid-fueled rocket that would later take humans to the Moon.

Take a look at these sample pages from the first book in the new H.G. Wells series from Insight Comics, courtesy of the publisher:

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Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan–a member of that fabled Class of 1982’s “best summer of movies”–turned 35 this year, and to celebrate, the film is returning to theaters as part of the Fathom Events series.  It has been said the film’s director and screenplay writer Nicholas Meyer saved Star Trek.  Meyer was well-known as the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and its screenplay, which earned him an Oscar nomination, and for directing and writing the screenplay for the fan-favorite, time travel thriller, Time After Time.  After the lukewarm response at the box office to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, executive producer Harve Bennett tapped Meyer to take the franchise in a bold, new direction, and the result, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, became the best reviewed film of the franchise and a classic among all science fiction.  Many details about Meyer’s work have been recounted in Allan Asherman’s The Making of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Meyer’s own memoir, The View from the Bridge.  Meyer has also shared a trove of his thoughts and work on the film in director commentaries accompanying the film’s various home releases.  He’s not quite finished with Star Trek yet–he’s back again as a writer and producer on the new series, Star Trek: Discovery, premiering next month.

I was ecstatic to interview Nicholas Meyer this past week and listen to him reminisce as director and screenwriter of The Wrath of Khan for the approaching anniversary theatrical release, and ask him questions I’ve had for years about his long writing career.  Meyer sees himself first as a storyteller.  In addition to The Wrath of Khan, he wrote the screenplay for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and he directed and wrote the screenplay for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  I think you’ll discover—or rediscover—that in Meyer’s selections of leading stage and screen actors like Christopher Plummer, Meyer provided gravitas to the Star Trek universe, and by infusing classical literature into the voices of characters from the likes of Shakespeare, Doyle, and Melville, he elevated Star Trek’s story beyond mere popular science fiction.  Everything that would come after The Wrath of Khan in the Star Trek franchise exists as a direct result of Meyer’s success on that film.

Director Nicholas Meyer observing final detail work as Ricardo Montalban’s headwrap is applied, filming the first appearance of Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

CB:  Welcome to borg.com.  Thanks for chatting with me and borg.com readers today and congratulations on the 35th anniversary of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

NM:  Thank you so much.  It’s a real pleasant surprise—As Kirk said to Scotty, “That’ll be a pleasant surprise.”

CB:  Let’s talk about Ricardo Montalban as Khan.  I have always loved this line: “I’ll chase him ‘round the Moons of Nibia and ‘round the Antares Maelstrom and ‘round Perdition’s flames.”  When you write something like that, do you know that you’ve got it, and when you see Montalban saying it and it appears on the screen, do you get any satisfaction of seeing that all come together?

NM:  Absolutely!  I have to say, first of all, I didn’t write it.  Herman Melville wrote it.  I substituted a few planets or something.  This is all Ahab.  I just cribbed it.  I remember with some satisfaction what I took to be at the time my cleverness (which turns out to be the curse of Kirk: “I patted myself on the back for my cleverness”).  It wasn’t until I saw Ricardo actually do it that I got goosebumps, and thought, “Holy cow.  This is wonderful!”  And I said to him actually at some point during the movie, “You really should be playing Lear.”  He sort of looks like Lear–with a big set of pecs.  Because he has been on stage, he was on Broadway, he did legit plays.  He was very touched, I think, that I had told him this, and he made some disparaging remark about his Hispanic accent.  I said, “That’s all bullshit.  You enunciate perfectly.  You could do this.”  I think Khan was as close as he ever got to doing it.

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TIME AFTER TIME -

It’s Time After Time, the series, the mash-up of real life The Time Machine author H.G. Wells and the serial killer Jack the Ripper, adapted from the 1979 novel Time After Time by Karl Alexander and the 1979 modern classic film of the same name starring Malcolm McDowell, David Warner, and Mary Steenburgen.  It’s a new TV series beginning tonight on ABC that looks similar to the short-lived ABC series Forever, which followed a 400 year-old-doctor as he searched for a reason for his longevity in 21st century New York City, and starred Ioan Gruffudd, Alana de la Garza, and Judd Hirsch.

The film Time After Time was as good as any 1970s detective movie.  Steeped in classic science fiction storytelling, we met author H.G. Wells, played by McDowell, who invents the actual machine of his novel.  His colleague, played by Warner, turns out to be the actual Jack the Ripper, and he takes the time machine into the future to continue his evil ways, and threatens a new love interest of Wells, played by Steenburgen.

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The new series appears to follow the original story, with Freddie Stroma as Wells, Josh Bowman as The Ripper, and Génesis Rodríguez  as Jane.  Time After Time is helmed by director Kevin Williamson, known for his horror films and series including Scream, The Following, I know What You Did Last Summer, and The Vampire Diaries.

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DeptH cover 1

In so many ways, Dark Horse Comics’ Dept.H is everything we look for at borg.com.  Science fiction, action, adventure, retro, mystery, noir.  And it’s all in one comic book series.  Writer/artist Matt Kindt has said his series Dept.H was inspired by 1970s G.I. Joes, Fisher Price Adventure People toys, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Jacques Cousteau, and you can feel all of that come through in its first nine issues this year.  From the patch on the underwater crew outfits that evokes the classic 1960s/1970s G.I. Joe Adventure Team patch to the SP-350 diving saucer from the famed Calypso in the craft that takes the series lead to the depths of the ocean floor in the opening pages, to the setting and Department H Headquarters based on the ocean floor that screams H.G. Wells, Dept.H is at the top of this year’s comic book series.

Best known for his run on his Mind MGMT series, Eisner Award nominee Kindt wrote and illustrated the story, with coloring supplied by wife Sharlene.  The series is an Agatha Christie-inspired closed room case.  We meet Mia Hardy, who has been asked to find the mole in the undersea lab, a mole who is believed to have sabotaged the base and murdered her father.  Mia has worked with the suspects before, providing the opportunity for the writer to hold back information and share with us bits and pieces when necessary.  Who killed Mia’s father?  Was it Q, the head of Dept. H security?  Her father’s business partner Roger?  The frenetic head of research Jerome?  Demolition expert Bob?  Her childhood friend turned enemy Lily?  Her own brother Raj?  Or Aaron, the research assistant?  Or was it somehow, someone topside?

dept-h-issue-8-kindt

Readers feel the pressure of undersea operations as Mia is plunged into her own peril, as the facility again is sabotaged before she can work her way though all the suspects.  How long can Kindt take us for this suffocating adventure before letting us come up for air?  The page design even features a graduated flood gauge at the pages’ right edges that slowly “fills up” with water issue after issue.

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back-to-the-future-ii-world-series-cubs-win

As predicted by Bob Gale in his script for Back to the Future II, it was the destiny of the Chicago Cubs to be playing–in fact sweeping–last year’s World Series.  As we sat in Kauffman Stadium last year and watched the Kansas City Royals beat the New York Mets we were disappointed the Cubs weren’t there.  Science fiction never seems to get it right, but Gale–and the Cubs–were so close last year, much like the Royals were the prior year.  Science fiction rarely even comes close, as you’ll discover especially if you read many classic sci-fi novels from the early and mid-twentieth century.  Just look how far off course in date predictions forward thinkers were, like Arthur C. Clarke (we’re still waiting for much of his 2001), Philip K. Dick (the novel inspiring Blade Runner takes place in 1992), and Gene Roddenberry (Khan controlled much of Earth during the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s).

But history was made last night when the Cubs broke their 108 year gap between Series wins.  Would 1908 Cubs stars Mordecai Brown, Frank Chance, Johnny Evers, or Joe Tinker have believed it if you told them their team would be on the outs so long?  How about contemporary science fiction visionaries George Melies, Thomas Edison, Charles Urban, H.G. Wells, or Mark Twain?

1908-champion-cubs-baseball-cards

1908 baseball cards were tiny, weren’t they?

Just how long ago is 108 years anyway?  In 1908 Shackleton was heading to New Zealand, and explorers finally made it to the North Pole, Wilbur Wright was demonstrating this new flying vehicle called the airplane in Europe, and Henry Ford created his first Model T, Teddy Roosevelt declined to run for a third presidential term paving the way for the election of William Howard Taft (who would go on to become Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed in Bolivia, and Albert Einstein had just introduced his special theory of relativity.  1908 was a very different world and plenty of history has filled the gap, with countless millions of fans–an entire generation born, living and dying–watching the Cubs games without the big win, many from 1914 onward at the site of the baseball field that would carry chewing gum’s William Wrigley’s famous name.  It is “just a game,” yet the game itself survived plenty just as its fans survived plenty.

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