Review of “Optic Covenant” by Katherine Ley

Image by Wolfgang Eckert from Pixabay

Plot:

There really isn’t a plot to this flash fiction piece. It’s a portrait of a person held captive by a robot who loves him. (I use “him” for the sake of simplicity. The character’s sex is never indicated.) It’s for his own good that he’s tied to a chair and fed spoiled Brussels sprouts. ICK.

The bulk of the piece is the human contemplating his escape. The final line is the character’s single regret.

Thoughts:

The narrator wants to disable the robot and run away. He is intimately familiar with robot anatomy and imagines in gory detail the damage he wants to inflict, but there is no expression of hatred. There is no wish to see the robot suffer, even if that were possible. The reader senses no anger, only a desperate need to get away for self-preservation. When he tries to negotiate with the robot during an imagined dialogue, the reader understands they’ve had this conversation before. His options are limited.

I appreciated this skillful portrayal in so few words. The author knows how to create a work showing complex and convincing emotions in a remarkably small space. I just didn’t care for the piece—a personal preference.

Bio:

There was no author’s blurb attached to this story, but I did find this on the author’s website:

Katherine Ley was born in Santiago, Dominican Republic and raised in NYC, NJ, and MD. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a B.S. in Criminology and Criminal Justice, and a Minor in English. She is an alumna of Voices of our Nations (VONA) and the Hurston/Wright workshops.

Katherine is a speculative fiction writer, and is currently working on her first science-fiction YA novel set in the Caribbean. Fun fact: Katherine Ley is a pen name in honor of her Afro-Dominican and Chinese heritage. Contact her at katherine@katherineley.com.

This story can be read here.


Title: “Optic Covenant”
Author: Katherine Ley
First published: Daily Science Fiction, December 14, 2020

Review of “The Return of the Vampire” (1943)

from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie entry. The pizza was good if the movie was lukewarm, but it was nice to see a suitably menacing Bela Lugosi with Svengoolie.

Plot:

The opening scenes show a wide-eyed young woman (uncredited Jeanne Bates) backing away from some threat. Next, the viewer sees a creepy, foggy cemetery. Two crows caw, but they sound more like seagulls. A sign lying on the ground alerts the viewer they’re entering Priory Cemetery.

An unseen narrator announces, “This is the case of Armand Tesla, vampire, as compiled from the personal notes of Dr. Walter Saunders, Kings College, Oxford. The following events took place on the outskirts of London toward the close of the year 1918.”

A man with a wolf’s head and hands (Matt Willis), carrying a bundle under one arm, walks toward a mausoleum while looking over his shoulder.

Inside the mausoleum, he says, “Master, it’s night again. Beautiful, dark silent night with the fog creeping in. It’s time for you to awaken. It’s time for you to go out.”

A hand wearing a ring appears from under an opening coffin lid. The viewer sees only the vampire’s shadow on the wall.

From seemingly out of nowhere, a voice with an Eastern European accent says, “Andreas, you will tell me what has transpired during the hours of light.”

The werewolf Andreas assures his master she is still alive and in Dr. Ainsley’s Sanitarium. As if they could ever figure out what’s wrong with her, heh-heh, heh-heh!

The vampire stalks off, his face obscured by the high collar of his cloak.

At the sanitarium, Dr. Ainsley (Frieda Inescort) is consulting with a Dr. Saunders (Gilbert Emery) on the puzzling patient, Miss Northcutt. Her blood shows no signs of anemia, yet she exhibits all the most severe symptoms of it.

Saunders has other ideas. He’s been reading an account regarding vampires, written by a Romanian mad scientist, Armand Tesla, who died in the eighteenth century.

The vampire, frustrated at not finding Miss Northcutt alone, attacks Dr. Saunders’ daughter Nikki, a child.

After convincing a skeptical Dr. Ainsley about the reality of vampires, the two search for the vampire’s grave. Footprints in Priory Cemetery leads to a coffin in the mausoleum. They drive a spike—not a wooden stake—through the inert bloodsucker. The wolfman is released from his curse.

Years pass, and another war breaks out. Nikki Saunders (Nina Foch) is all grown up and engaged to Dr. Saunders’ son, John (Roland Varno).

Dr. Saunders has been killed in a plane crash. His manuscript, describing how he and Dr. Ainsley drove a spike into the heart of a vampire, works its way to one Sir Frederick Fleet, chief commissioner for Scotland Yard (Miles Mander). He insists on exhuming the body of this man with the intent of charging Lady Ainsley with murder.

What bad timing. She’s got a wedding to plan, after all. The ex-wolfman now works as her assistant. To top it off, she’s expecting Dr. Hugo Bruckner, who has lately escaped from a Nazi concentration camp, to arrive courtesy of the underground. As they’re discussing things, the air raid sirens go off. “Jerry” comes to call.

The Priory Cemetery is bombed, disturbing the unmarked grave of the vampire. When Civil Defense workers (Billy Bevan and Harold De Becker, both uncredited) later come to set things right, they find a guy with a piece of metal sticking out of his chest. They can’t rebury him like that and pull the spike out.

It just goes to show—you can’t keep a vampire down.

This might have been gruesome or maudlin, but it is offered as comic relief. As unlikely as it sounds, it works, chiefly because of the two actors playing the Civil Defense members.

Thoughts:

The creepiness of the opening sequences is nice. The viewer doesn’t see Bela Lugosi’s face for a while, but his voice is unmistakable. This adds nicely to the suspense and to the eerie atmosphere.

The werewolf Renfield was hard to swallow. Wouldn’t he have to be out ripping up people on his own every once in a while? I doubt he’d be satisfied working through flies and spiders the way Renfield did.

The attack on the child Nikki is handled gently. The vampire enters her room while she’s sleeping. She sits up and screams, but the vampire never touches her or approaches her bed. The room fills with fog, an element that follows the vampire around in this film. She later has puncture wounds on her neck, but the viewer never sees him touch the child, nor, indeed, get near her. As an adult, she remembers nothing of the attack, nor knows nothing of her father’s reading in vampire lore.

The escaping Dr. Hugo Bruckner is never seen. He is killed, and the vampire assumes his identity during the Second World War. The vampire’s character is a little disappointing here; he seems permanently in a bad mood rather than cold and calculating. It’s hard to imagine him uttering such classic lines as, “I never drink… wine.”

The character of Jane Ainsley is convincing as a doctor, a mother, and ages nicely. Once persuaded vampires exist, she realizes the evil has to be dealt with and is willing to do so on her own. It follows in a wartime movie that she would be active in the British underground. She is unfazed by the possible charge of murder, knowing she’ll be exonerated, and even leads Sir Frederick to the spot where she and Dr. Saunders buried the vampire twenty-five years earlier. It is only a hole in the ground when they get there, letting Dr. Ainsley know something is amiss.

The movie is not a sequel to Lugosi’s 1931 Dracula. He’s playing another vampire in a film produced by another studio.

I liked a lot about this movie. I wish, though, the Renfield character hadn’t been a werewolf. There just doesn’t seem any reason for that. I wish, also, Lugosi’s character had been more suave and less crabby. I wonder if the non-Svengoolie version of this flick includes a pitch for war bonds.







Title: The Return of the Vampire (1943)

Directed by
Lew Landers

Writing Credits
Griffin Jay…(screenplay)
Kurt Neumann…(based upon an idea by)
Randall Faye…(additional dialogue)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Bela Lugosi…Armand Tesla / Dr. Hugo Bruckner
Frieda Inescort…Lady Jane Ainsley
Nina Foch…Nicki Saunders
Roland Varno…John Ainsley
Miles Mander…Sir Frederick Fleet

Released: November 11, 1943
Length: 1 hour, 9 minutes

Review of “The Sandman” by E. T. A. Hoffmann

Image by klepinator from Pixabay

This is a classic horror story, first published in 1816 in a collection titled “Nachtstücke” (“Night Pieces”) by E. T. A. Hoffmann, a writer, composer, and caricaturist with a day job as a jurist. It remains one of his most often anthologized works in English—and little wonder. Even if the language is a bit thick to the twenty-first-century ear, and it’s light on the boobs and booms so common in modern stories, this is the stuff of nightmares.



Plot:

The story begins with three undated letters. An oddly omniscient first-person narrator, who identifies himself only as a friend of one of the characters, finishes the tale.

In the letter written to his friend, Lothar, university student Nathanael tells how a recent encounter with a man trying to sell him barometers recalls tragic and terrifying events from his childhood.

Nathanael recounts how, as a small child, he would repeatedly hear “a heavy, slow step come thudding up the stairs” to his father’s room after his mother put him and his siblings to bed. This must be “the Sandman” his mother told them about.

Unsatisfied with his mother’s explanation that the Sandman is just a saying about being sleepy, he asked his sister’s nurse about him. She told him the Sandman punishes children who don’t go to bed by throwing sand in their eyes “so that they start out bleeding from their heads. These eyes he puts in a bag and carries them to the half-moon to feed his own children, who sit in the nest up yonder, and have crooked beaks like owls with which they may pick up the eyes of the naughty human children.”

Want to hire her to babysit your kids?

When he got a little older, Nathanael stayed up past his bedtime one night to see this Sandman for himself by sneaking into his father’s room while the Sandman was visiting. Much to his surprise, he saw a family friend, a lawyer named Coppelius, whom the children found repulsive. He was found out, leading to a violent confrontation, with Coppelius threatening to burn out his eyes. Nathanael’s father prevented this but failed to prevent Coppelius from beating the boy.

His next memory was waking up in his bed being comforted by his mother. She assured him the Sandman had gone and wouldn’t hurt him.

A year later, (Nathanael continues) Coppelius returned. His father promised his mother this was the last time. Nathanael and the other children were hustled off to bed. Sometime around midnight, a sound “like the firing of a gun” rattled the house. His father was killed. Coppelius disappeared.

Until the barometer-dealer appeared, Nathanael writes, he had not seen Coppelius. The man called himself Coppola, but he is sure he is the same Coppelius…

Clara, Lothar’s sister, who is engaged the Nathanael, responds to this letter. Among other things, she tells him that if there is a dark power that follows people, “it must form itself inside us and out of ourselves, indeed; it must become identical with ourselves.” She encourages him to put this Coppola/Coppelius out of his mind. She and Lothar have discussed the matter. Lothar told her, though she doesn’t quite understand (it would be too much for her pretty little head anyway), “It is the phantom of our own selves, the close relationship with which, and its deep operation on our mind, casts us into hell or transports us into heaven.”

He responds (…to Lothar) that she’s right, of course, and resolves to put it all out of his mind. He concentrates on his studies. He mentions the lectures of a professor of physics, Spalanzani: “His name is the same as that of the famous natural philosopher, Spalanzani, and he is of Italian origin. He has known Coppola for years.” Coppelius was German (“though no honest one”), and Coppola is Italian. They must be two different men—right?

He also describes seeing a tall, beautiful woman in a room who doesn’t appear to notice him. She seems to do nothing but sit at a table. Is something wrong with her? Is she simple-minded? Blind, perhaps?

In one stunning scene, he buys a “pocket spyglass” from Coppola after the man has laid out an array of spectacles in his room. The spectacles appear to Nathanael to be eyes in a momentary flash. Later, he uses the spyglass to look at the woman sitting passively at the table and is amazed at her beauty. He never finishes the letter he was writing to Clara.

He learns this is Spalanzani’s daughter, Olimpia, whom he keeps locked away from public view. Nathanael meets her at a coming-out party Spalanzani throws and falls madly in love with her, forgetting Clara entirely.

Spalanzani blesses his attempts at courting Olimpia by saying if he wants to spend time with the stupid girl, he won’t object.

They do not live happily ever after.

Thoughts:

Greater minds than mine have spilled vast quantities of ink analyzing this story. I doubt I will solve mysteries they didn’t. Nevertheless, there are some obvious recurring themes. The first and most prominent are eyes and the visceral fear of losing them.

I remember being literal-minded as a kid. Since little Nathanael hears someone coming after he and his siblings are sent to bed with his mother telling them, “The Sandman is coming,” it makes sense he would think this must be the Sandman. The governess’ story about the Sandman gouging out the eyes of children who don’t go to bed is the stuff of nightmares.

It then follows that when Nathanael stays up past his bedtime, discovers his father’s secret, and a man he already despises threatens to burn his eyes out, he would see this as his punishment for disobedience. Why does Coppelius cry, “We have eyes”? What on earth would he use an extra set for? (Not a rhetorical question).

The next time Coppelius appears, his father dies violently.

A separate and related theme is that Nathanael has trouble telling fantasy from reality. Nothing is as it seems for him. What he thought was a cupboard in his father’s study turns out to be a furnace used for alchemy. After his father’s death, he never mentions his siblings, only Lothar and Clara, who are distant relatives his mother took in after misfortune struck that part of the family. Marrying a cousin isn’t done anymore, but this was some two hundred years ago.

How much of that unfathomable world is of Nathanael’s own making? This question is never fully resolved. That, I think, adds to the horror of the story. Was Nathanael crazy? He certainly had moments of clarity, moments of uncontrollable violence, and moments of insanity. Was there an evil force out to destroy him? It becomes clear late in the game that Coppola and Coppelius are the same person, but what motive would he have for harassing Nathanael? This, too, is never answered.

Nathanael looked through the spyglass at Olimpia—who wasn’t even alive and couldn’t talk—and saw the perfect woman. He looked through the spyglass at Clara—who had the moxie to talk back to him—and called her a “wooden doll.” Is this inability to perceive reality a property of the spyglass or something innate in Nathanael? Or is his inability to perceive reality a result of deliberate deception?

One of the heavyweights who have analyzed this story is Sigmund Freud. In a 1919 essay titled “The Uncanny” (German, “Unheimlich”), he uses the story as an example to rebut a 1906 article by Ernst Jentsch, who saw the uncanny as a “lack of orientation.” Freud uses “The Sandman” as an example where the uncanny is not a lack of orientation, but a sublimated castration complex expressed as fear of losing one’s eyes.

Granted, I’m not a psychologist, but I think this says more about Freud than it does about the story. In my not quite humble opinion, the story is about the horror that arises when one is not able to trust the reality of the world. Is the Sandman a harmless fairy story or a punishment for disobedient children? Is Nathanael unable to release this childhood fear because it is entwined with his father’s death, or does some evil actually seek to destroy him?

It is difficult to dismiss Nathanael as merely insane with moments of clarity, a victim of a childhood trauma he cannot overcome, or (as was fashionable at the time) simply of weak moral character. He is traumatized, and the trauma is disregarded by those he is closest to. . Since childhood, he has blamed Coppelius for his father’s death. Now, Clara tells him his father may be to blame for his own death.

Perhaps this is why he feels an affinity for a “wooden doll” (Olimpia) who has no feelings. At the same time, he is repulsed by a human (Clara) he sees as having no feelings for him despite her love for him. Neither she nor Lothar understands his trauma, and both regard his broodings as something he should just stop, although they care for him. When Nathanael writes a bizarre, prophetic poem, Clara tells him to throw it in the fire. On the other hand, Olimpia can listen to him read his writings for hours without interrupting him. She doesn’t knit during his readings or pause to pet the cat. What an appreciative audience!

The problem is Olimpia isn’t real. There is irony here and some humor, but that pales compared to Nathanael’s shock when he discovers Olimpia is not human.

I believe the horror—and the durability of the story—lies in its ambiguity.

My two cents’ worth.

Bio:

Born in Königsberg in 1776, then in the Kingdom of Prussia (present-day Kaliningrad, Russian Federation), author E. T. A Hoffman studied law. Additionally, he was a caricaturist, writer, composer, and critic. One of his works, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” was the basis for the familiar “Nutcracker” ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

The story can be read here.

A kindle version for $1.99 is available here.



Title: “The Sandman” (Originally “Der Sandmann”)
Author: E. T. A. Hoffmann (Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann) 1776-1822
length: novelette
First published: 1816, in the collection Nachtstücke

Review of “Cold War” by Ike Lang

Image by moritz320 from Pixabay

Plot:

A broadcast appears unbidden across all screens, addressing the citizens of earth. An elderly man appears in full military uniform, medals and insignias across his chest. At his side stand four other men, also in military uniform, though their uniforms differ from his.

“In early February, 1945,” he tells his audience, “our scientists picked up an incredibly dense object traveling at near light speed on a trajectory that would take it through our solar system.” He speaks calmly, unemotionally, with an accent from the southern United States.

They later determine the anomaly to be a micro black hole. It would come close enough to perturb the orbit of the earth. There is even a small chance it could drive it from the solar system altogether.

“That being said, we haven’t just been sitting on our hands this whole time,” the man says.

Thoughts:

Curiously, this story contains an editor’s note that it is fiction: “I have been shocked the past four years by what millions of people are willing to believe, so I feel compelled to make clear: this is fiction.” I read this is a political statement, at least in part, and can sympathize. The story is not overburdened with verisimilitude but gives a whiff or two of a grand conspiracy theory.

For the most part, the narrative is written in second person, which is jarring, particularly in one area where the narration occurs between two blocks of quotes from the military man. Who is the “you” addressed?

Could anyone detect a black hole in 1945, let alone moving relative to the solar system? If it did, indeed, disturb the earth’s orbit, wouldn’t it disturb the orbits of the other planets? Wouldn’t objects in the asteroid belt start hopping around, particularly the smaller ones? Wouldn’t the moon start acting strangely? And why wouldn’t astronomers notice any of this?

Let me set those objections aside for the moment. The author reveals his mystery at a nice, enjoyable pace. Who are the military men? Why are they broadcasting to everyone on earth? Are they aliens? They don’t sound like aliens. Why does the broadcast look so dated?

I admit to second-guessing the author. I took a brief tour via Google. In 1945, black holes were still theoretical, predicted in Einstein’s general theory of relativity in 1916, but not named until 1967 by John Wheeler, an American astronomer. The story isn’t given a specific time frame, however.

Having said all that, I really liked “Cold War.” I enjoyed figuring out was going on. Even the title has multiple meanings, and the last couple of lines bring it all home. Technical improbabilities can be forgiven.

Bio:

According to his blub, author Ike Lang stays awake at night wondering where all the aliens are. He graduated from the University of Iowa and lives in New York. This is his first published story.

Congrats, Ike.

The story can be read here.

Title: “Cold War”
Author: Ike Lang
First published: December 7, 2020, Daily Science Fiction

Review of “Earth vs. the Spider” (1958)

“Earth vs. the Spider” (1958) trailer

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie night movie. The pizza was good, the movie was hokey.

Plot:

In the opening sequences, a man (Merritt Stone) drives down a lonely road at night. He opens a small jewelry box containing a bracelet and a note: “To Carol with Love, Dad.” Something ahead startles him. An object hits the windshield, and his face is bloodied. The viewer hears his truck crash.

In the morning, high school (?) student Carol Flynn (June Kenney) walks to school. Her boyfriend, Mike Simpson (Eugene Persson), meets her and gives her a birthday present, which she refuses. She tells him her father didn’t come home the night before, after going out to buy her a birthday present. Later, during (…and this is important…) a Jacob’s ladder demonstration of electricity in physics class, they pass notes and make up. She talks him into borrowing a car from a friend, and they drive along the route her father took the night before.

Oh, and the things they find…!

The first odd thing is a rope about as thick as the rope they use to climb in gym class lying across the road. Unlike that rope, however, it’s sticky. Mike finds bits of shattered windshield. Carol finds the box with the bracelet and the note from her dad. Could he be…?

Other clues, including Mr. Flynn’s wrecked truck, lead them to a cave entrance with a sign that reads:

Danger
No trespassing
Do not enter


Well, there’s only one thing to do here.

Without flashlights, they have to rely on the usual magical movie cave light. Carol calls for her father, knocking loose a gigantic stalactite. Gallantly, Mike shoves her out of the way before it smashes down to the floor where she was standing. Not far ahead, they find (gulp) human skeletons.

Deep in the cave, they come across a net strung across a shallow cavern. Like the rope in the road, it’s sticky. While they are examining it, they hear a noise. A tarantula (later identified as a “bird spider”) the size of a city bus crawls out of a crevice and approaches them. They flee, and the tarantula breaks off the attack.

Professor Kingman (Ed Kemmer), his wife Helen (Sally Fraser), and Mike’s dad (Hal Torey) discuss the events in the Kingmans’ living room. It seems the sheriff didn’t believe the kids when they tried to talk to him about a giant spider in a cave. (I don’t know. Maybe they should have mentioned Mr. Flynn’s wrecked truck?) Kingman’s assessment of the “rope” is that it is… silk. Mr. Simpson feels strongly enough about the situation—Jack Flynn is still missing, after all—he calls the sheriff himself and catches him playing checkers with a deputy.

Thoughts:

We watched this via Mystery Science 3000. As usual, the remarks were often funny but mostly just goofy. Sometimes they obscured the movie dialogue, which I found annoying even if no major plot points were lost.

Okay, a giant tarantula in a cave is sucking people dry. I suppose one can’t expect reality, but the thing I found creepy—and not in a good way—about the movie was its odd portrayal and often dismissal of human feelings and relationships. For example, after the search party, including Carol and Mike, finds the desiccated corpse of Jack Flynn (I trust I give nothing away here), Carol is home crying on the couch. Her mother comforts her. The poor woman has just lost her husband, and she is comforting her daughter as if the tragedy were something only Carol suffered.

Later, when the spider goes on a rampage in town, knocking over cars and so on, there’s a single shot of a baby sitting alone in the middle of the road with blood on her face, crying. This even provoked a rare quasi-sympathetic comment from the MST3K crew.

No effort is made to find the identity of the skeletons in the cave—granted, a tall order in 1958. No one even mentions missing persons reports.

On the other hand, it was fun watching Mike and Carol cruise along in the borrowed two-seater convertible with white walls. It was fun watching some of the “kids” dance in the auditorium with a band playing where the authorities stored the supposedly expired spider. Earlier, one official inspecting the corpse got whopped and knocked down by a twitching leg. Sure it’s safe to keep it there, under lock and key!

I can’t say this movie is irredeemable. It’s just so odd in so many respects that it was hard to suspend disbelief. While there are fun parts, I could not go along for the ride.

The movie can be watched with MST3K here:

without MST3K here:




Title: The Spider (original title Earth vs. the Spider) (1958)

Directed by
Bert I. Gordon

Writing Credits
László Görög…(screenplay) (as Laszlo Gorog) and
George Worthing Yates…(screenplay)
Bert I. Gordon…(story)

Cast (in credits order)
Ed Kemmer…Professor Art Kingman
June Kenney…Carol Flynn
Eugene Persson…Mike Simpson (as Gene Persson)
Gene Roth…Sheriff Cagle
Hal Torey…Mr. Simpson

Released: September 1958
Length: 1 hour, 13 minutes

Review of “Beloved” by T. R. Siebert

Image by cavalom marinho from Pixabay

Plot:

The narrator has a new boyfriend, which is charming. Complicating things, however, is that the boyfriend is “a planet-devouring cloud of nanobots the size of Jupiter.”

Since the people of earth will soon fire a rocket into the beloved’s heart, some decisions have to be made.


Thoughts:

An aura of surrealism permeates this odd little tale. The narrator refers to the conglomeration of nanobots as “beloved.” The beloved calls itself Destroyer of Worlds and Rightful Heir to the Oblivion, so she knows she can’t expect white picket fences. She also knows that human beings, usually a contentious lot, tend to band together against a common threat.

“I told you so,” she tells the beloved.

The mood is almost comical. Will the beloved be destroyed? Will they (the pronoun the story uses for the beloved) destroy the earth? Why aren’t they taking either of these rather weighty options seriously? Are they just too busy having sex to care?

I enjoyed this short piece.

Bio:

According to her blurb, author T. R. Siebert is a speculative fiction writer from Germany. Her short fiction has been published in Flash Fiction Online and Escape Pod. When she’s not busy writing, she can be found attempting to grow vegetables on her balcony or looking at pictures of cute dogs. Tweet at her @TR_Siebert.

The story can be read here.



Title: “Beloved”
Author: T. R. Siebert
First published: November 30, 2020, Daily Science Fiction

Review of “The Thing from Another World” (1951)

movie trailer from You Tube

Yummy pizza and a creepy black-and-white movie for Saturday pizza and bad movie night with Svengoolie.

Plot:

At an American military installation in Anchorage, Alaska, word comes that some odd aircraft has crashed at the Pole. General Fogarty (an uncredited David McMahon) assigns the job of recovering it to Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey). Lieutenant Eddie Dykes (James Young) goes with him. He also gets permission for reporter Ned “Scottie” Scott (Douglas Spencer) to join them. Scottie had come around the officer’s club earlier, looking for a story. He’d found a poker game.

A group of scientists is already at the Pole, studying (among other things) botany. Before introducing himself to the science expedition leader, Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), Hendry catches up with an old flame, Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan), a scientific assistant.

The craft is about fifty miles from the scientists’ outpost. The group finds it sunk in the ice it must have melts when it crashed, only a stabilizer fin protruding. They decide to melt the ice with thermite explosives, which do, indeed, melt the ice. It also destroys the ship in the ice in a spectacular explosion.

(I noticed in the immediate aftermath of this that the humans lay flat on the ground, but the sled dogs stood upright, some with wagging tales.)

As they are about to leave, they notice something else in the ice: the body of a man, presumably the alien pilot of the craft they’ve just accidentally blown to smithereens. Not wanting to risk any more wanton destruction with the thermite, they dig him out in a block of ice and haul him out on a dog sled.

Back at camp, the frozen man is put into a storage shed and kept their under a rotating guard. Hendry breaks a window to keep it cold. The guard gets an electric blanket. The guard later reports the man’s open eyes spook him.

The guy who relieves him, Corporal Barnes (William Self), unthinkingly throws the electric blanket over the block of ice to keep from having to look at the open eyes. (Come on, guy, there was really nothing else to throw on top of the ice block?) He turns his back to the man on ice to read a good book, not noticing the growing puddle of water on the floor.

Hearing movement, Barnes jumps to his feet and fires his service revolver to no avail. He flees and, hysterical, tells Hendry and the others the alien is alive and has attacked him. When they inspect the storage room, they find a human-shaped hole in the ice. To add to the creepiness, they hear the dogs start howling. They rush out, firing weapons at the creature, who escapes. Some dogs have been killed. A severed arm is recovered.

After analyzing the arm, the scientists realize the creature’s cell structure is plant-based rather than animal-based. It has no major organs and cannot be killed by gunfire.

While they debate the implications of all this, the arm twitches.

Thoughts:

I enjoyed the growing creepiness of this movie. As things went on, the relatively small party of humans found themselves under siege by, as Scotty describes it, “an intelligent carrot.” Not only is it ruthless in its quest for life-sustaining blood, but it also catches on to how things work for the humans, figuring out how to cut the heat in the building complex, quickly threatening the lives of all inside.

There is little gore. The attack on the dogs is seen only through falling snow. It’s difficult to make out exactly what’s happening. Later, two people are hanged upside down with their throats slit. This is never shown before or after the action.

Trouble reaching the generals for clarification of orders or for further instructions only adds to the atmosphere of isolation, the idea they really are at the edge of the world. The cavalry is not coming to their rescue. Garbled messages leave Hendry in a quandary. What should he do?

Complicating things is a disagreement between Dr. Carrington and Hendry. The former believes they should try to communicate with the creature, whom he sees as human’s obvious superior. Hendry wants it killed before it can kill more people or—worse yet—propagate. Carrington is wound a little tightly. In arguing against destroying the creature, he goes so far as to say, “We owe it to the brain of our species to stand here and die… without destroying a source of wisdom.” At least one analysis of the film saw this reflecting public distrust of science, which has just ushered in the atomic age.

The cute—if perhaps a little kinky—romance between Hendry and Nikki keeps the movie from taking itself too seriously. Additionally, there are instances of genuinely funny lines among the men. For example, when Scotty asks one lieutenant if he knows how to use his gun, the man replies, “I saw Gary Cooper in ‘Sergeant York.’”

The movie was based on the 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, originally published under Campbell’s pen name Don A.  Stuart in Astounding Science Fiction. The original story featured a shape-shifting antagonist rather than a plant-based life form.

Granted, the monster is goofy-looking. However, I find that forgivable when there is so much right with this movie. The tension builds. The creepiness is convincing. The humor is funny and silly. I enjoyed it.

In 2001, The Thing from Another World was deemed “culturally significant” and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

More importantly than that, of course, this movie was fun.






Title: The Thing from Another World (1951)

Directed by
Christian Nyby
Howard Hawks…(uncredited)

Writing Credits
Charles Lederer…(screenplay)

John W. Campbell Jr….(based on the story “Who Goes There?” by)
Howard Hawks…(uncredited)
Ben Hecht…(uncredited)

Cast (in credits order)
Margaret Sheridan…Nikki Nicholson
Kenneth Tobey…Capt. Patrick Hendry
Robert Cornthwaite…Dr. Arthur Carrington
Douglas Spencer…Ned Scott
James Young…Lt. Eddie Dykes

Released: April 7, 1951
Length: 1 hour, 27 mins

Review of “8-Bit Free Will” by John Wiswell

Image by 13smok from Pixabay

Plot:

The Hollow Knight and HealBlob form a video game duo, one an attacker and the other a healer. Together, they fight players and usually die a quick death before they have a chance to become aware of themselves or each other. The player Trent flips back and forth between the game, IMs with his sort-of-not-really girlfriend Jayla, and music videos.

The Hollow Knight and HealBlob are left alone. They introduce themselves. And jump several levels up after their exchange.

They meet goblins, who want to know how they leveled up. They don’t know.

Thoughts:

The format takes a bit of effort. The opening paragraphs describe the transient and redundant nature of the video game antagonists in surreal, poetic language:

They exist, then don’t exist, then exist again. They are monsters where the game’s probability fields call for them, attached to every tile of the dungeon. They are invisible to the player, whether they are there or not, until combat. If they’re lucky, they’ll get the chance to die.

The player always gets to exist, has always existed, and may as well always exist. The Hollow Knight and HealBlob don’t exist again until the player starts struggling with the other enemies. Then the Hollow Knight and HealBlob are re-spawned, to die in battle and smooth out the difficulty curve. They don’t exist long enough to know they’re in love before the player strikes.


While the story is one narrative, that is, the quest of the Hollow Knight and HealBlob, it comes in chunks that appear in turns like the description of a video game and a transcription of a text message exchange. Reading the latter isn’t bad, as one can skim over the repetitive text without losing much time or energy. However, there is no option when listening to the story. You’re going to hear a blow-by-blow description of the fight, the precise number of damage points inflicted, and the healing points offered.

Perhaps to a gamer, this is gripping reading, but to a plebian such as myself, it hits the ear as repetitive and snooze-worthy, as does text messages with the heading and time stamps. To take my bellyaching to the nitpicking stratosphere, “<3” is read as “less than three.”

Setting aside my bitching, this is a moving story, made all more poignant on Thanksgiving during a pandemic. Unfortunately, the telling of it got in the way for me. Reading it added a dimension that the audio did not have. After reading it, I listened to it again—and finished it this time. I’m glad I did.

For those observing the day, I hope you got the chance to be with your families or at least talk to them.

The story can be listened to and/or read here.

Title: “8-Bit Free Will”
Author: John Wiswell
Narrator: Wilson Fowlie
Hosts: Matt Dovey and Wilson Fowlie
Audio Producer: Peter Behravesh
Length: approx. 38 mins
Rated: PG
First published: November 24, 2020, Podcastle #654

Review of “Eyespots” by Shannon Fay

Image by Albrecht Fietz from Pixabay

Plot:

Aurea the alien is taking Entomology 101. To everyone else, she looks like a beautiful human. The guys all move in, but she rebuffs them. She only has time for Clara, a creative writing major. Aurea’s persona as an alien, while cute, begins to wear thin.

Thoughts:

This is an extremely short piece, with everything working up to a single punchline. In the meantime, the author creates two intriguing characters who engage the reader, even if one shuns all the would-be dates. Clara, the narrator, has noteworthy things to say about herself. Often, narrators are relegated to observer or foil status.

The ending may not be a surprise, but it is an enjoyable, quick read.


Bio:

According to her blurb, author Shannon Fay is a Clarion West graduate and writer living in Nova Scotia. She has written tons of short stories and is currently working on a historical fantasy novel. She can be found online at @shannonlfay or on Patreon at patron.com/shannonfay.

“Eyespots” can be read here.


Title: Eyespots
Author: Shannon Fay
First published: November 23, 2020, Daily Science Fiction

Review of “Lost Continent” (1951)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. We watched it via Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Plot:

An unmanned experimental atomic-powered rocket has disappeared somewhere in the South Pacific. Major Joe Nolan (Cesar Romero) and Lieutenant Danny Wilson (Chick Chandler) are called upon to ferry a team of scientists responsible for the rocket to retrieve what important data they can from it. Nolan is entertaining a date (Marla Stevens) he doesn’t remember well when the knock comes on his door. Wilson is already in his civvies, ready to start a leave. A military policeman from the Air Force meets him at his front door.

In addition to scientists Dr. Michael Rostov (John Hoyt), Dr. Robert Phillips (Hugh Beaumont), and Dr. Stanley Briggs (Whit Bissell), is Sergeant Willie Tatlow (Sid Melton), an airplane mechanic who is afraid of heights and carries a parachute with him. He also serves coffee aboard the plane. The scientists have a camera and a Geiger counter.

The scientists have calculated the area where the rocket should have run out of fuel. When Major Nolan spots an island, he diverts toward it. All the electrical components in the plane fail—even Sgt. Tatlow’s watch stops. The plane nosedives and crash lands on trees, albeit mostly intact. No one is hurt, except for Briggs, who receives a minor cut on his leg. He tells Nolan that while the plane was out of control, his Geiger counter picked up intense radioactivity. Once they land, readings return to normal. Tatlow’s watch starts up again.

They exit the plane and make their way to a village of grass huts, only to find it deserted except for a young girl (Acquanetta) and her younger brother. The village chief decided to get the villagers away after the “firebird” streaked across the sky and landed on the sacred mountain. She and her brother stayed behind to take care of their father, who has since passed away. She escorts them to the sacred mountain but will not climb it because it’s “taboo,” and no one ever comes back from it alive.

Our heroes begin to climb the mountain. And continue to climb. And continue. And continue… Seriously. The climbing takes up about thirty minutes of screen time.

Atop the mountain is a prehistoric world with an aggressive brontosaurus (now generally referred to as Apatosaurus), a couple of pugnacious triceratopses, an unfortunate pterodactyl, and, coincidentally, a rocket sticking out of the ground.

Thoughts:

The opening sequences with Joel and the robots cracking wise are cute. They refer to several old television shows that have nothing to do with the present movie but are appropriate. While the atomic-powered rocket (…stock footage…) blasts off at White Sands proving grounds, the viewer hears, “Jane, stop this crazy thing.”

One gripe I have is the MST3K crew is they seemed to talk over the movie dialogue to the point of annoyance. Granted, the viewer isn’t missing out on Shakespearian prose, but perhaps the scientist and military types could have explained why they went by plane to recover information from a rocket that went down in an unknown location in the South Pacific, mindful that the South Pacific is mostly ocean—and a rather deep one at that. Their detection and retrieval equipment? A camera and a Geiger counter.

So what if that doesn’t make sense? It’s the journey, right? That is, all that climbing. At one point, the team has to scale an escarpment by rope. Nolan lassoes a protruding rock. One member is pulled up onto the ledge with his rear end on prominent display. In the back, Dr. Phillips (Beaumont, who will later play Ward Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver) laughs ungraciously. Who would have thought Beaver’s dad was so mean?

One member falls while another is trying to help him up. He disappears, screaming into a thick mist, leaving a perfect fuzzy man-sized outline in the haze. This is effective. As a viewer, you buy that this poor unfortunate has just met his end.

On the top of the mountain—and there is indeed a top—our heroes find a lush prehistoric jungle. In the theatrical release, the film is given a green tint at this point. This is not the case for the versions shown on television or MST3K. Some DVD versions are supposed to have restored this. No one mentions munchkins coming out to advise our heroes to follow the yellow brick road, however.

The special effects used to create the monsters will disappoint anyone in 2020, but for 1951, they seemed to have done what they could.

The film seems to have borrowed from Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 The Lost World. It was adapted for film as early as 1925. Both probably owe debts to Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

The writers took stabs at creating characters the viewer will find interesting if not always sympathetic. The viewer wants the mission to succeed. Some personal information is revealed. Overall, though, this has the feel of haste. It could have been more engaging if there were less climbing, of course, and other challenges. There were fun moments and some humor, such as well Nolan is trying to recall when he saw his date and which discussion of his work he recited to her.

I would keep this movie for when there is nothing else to watch.




Title: Lost Continent (1951)

Directed by
Sam Newfield…(as Samuel Newfield)

Writing Credits
Richard H. Landau…(screenplay)
Carroll Young…(story)
Orville H. Hampton…(uncredited)

Cast (in credits order)
Cesar Romero…Maj. Joe Nolan
Hillary Brooke…Marla Stevens
Chick Chandler…Lt. Danny Wilson
John Hoyt…Michael Rostov
Acquanetta…Native Girl

Released: August 17, 1951
Broadcast Mystery Science Theater: May 25, 1991
Length: 1 hour, 23 minutes