Moment of Wonder: Earth Seen Through Saturn’s Rings

Earth as seen through Saturn’s rings, as photographed by NASA’s Cassini space probe.

See that dot in the middle of the picture? That’s Earth as photographed through the rings of Saturn.

A recent image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows our home planet as a tiny speck of light between the icy rings. To me, it kind of looks like a speck of dust caught in the grooves of a vinyl record. Whatever your individual interpretation, it’s a reminder that we’re one tiny bright spot floating in a sea of stars.

Makes you feel kind of insignificant, doesn’t it?

Cassini shot the image on April 12, when it was 870 million miles from Earth. The robotic spacecraft — a joint mission between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana — has been orbiting the ringed planet and studying its system in detail.

That mission, however, will end later this year.

After a close pass by Saturn’s moon Titan, Cassini is beginning a final 22 orbits around the planet, which will terminate with a dramatic final descent. Dubbed the Grand Finale by NASA, the probe will take a “science-rich plunge” into Saturn’s atmosphere on Sept. 15.

Forgotten Films: The Night of the Lepus aka Rabbits! (1972)

The original poster of Night of the Lepus actually makes it look scary.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 174th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

Hey, let’s try for two weeks in a row on the Forgotten Film. What a concept!

And speaking of concepts, this week’s film has one. Well, maybe half a concept: Ecology tampered with by man runs a little wild in the Southwest.

Since we just finished Easter, I thought Night of the Lepus might be a suitable tie-in film.

I remember when Night of the Lepus came out. I was a very broke college student who could do an occasional film and I thought about this one. For about two days anyway, which was when I got the report back from friends. As one put it, “This dog won’t hunt.” It was bad. For a horror film, it was not scary — a kiss of death.

And, until this weekend, I had kept that nearly 45 year streak alive.

So the plot involves rancher Cole Hillman (Rory Calhoun) whose property is being overrun with rabbits. He loses one of his best horses when it steps into a rabbit hole and breaks a leg while he is riding it. He wants the varmints gone, but he did not like previous pest control efforts which utilized poisons.

Hillman contacts the president of the local university, Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley), for assistance. Since Hillman is a big-time contributor to the university, Clark wants to help. So he contacts Roy and Gerry Bennett (Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh) who have been working with bats but respect Hillman’s request not to use poisons. They have an experimental serum which they hope will disrupt the animals’ hormones and mating habits. They also have a precocious daughter, Amanda (Melanie Fullerton), who has become attached to the rabbit given the injection. She secretly switches it out with another rabbit. Then, being precocious, she takes this infected rabbit to Hillman’s ranch, where it escapes and joins the rabbit population. Bunny breeding and mutations occur with astounding rapidity. Giant mutant rabbits begin attacking the animals and local population.

The film had good stars — some of my favorites. Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, DeForest Kelley and Paul Fix all had major roles, along with a million or so rabbits. But the human actors seem to have seen how the film was going to turn out. Their hearts must not have been in it, because their acting is marginal at best.

The screenplay, based on the novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit by Russell Braddon, a 1964 comic horror novel set in Australia, was written by Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney. Kearney did some TV work and was nominated for an Emmy. Holliday appears to have this one credit and nothing else. The dialogue for the film is dreadful. But it’s better than the special effects. Being 1972, we have no CGI or computer assists. So we see lots of regular-size bunnies running rampant over miniature sets while costumed actors got the job of trying to appear to be giant mutant rabbits killing regular folk.

I had trouble staying with the film. I got distracted by solitaire games or pretty much anything. So, sorry for this one. Maybe I will have a better film next week. I know some people like this one for a camp effect or some such reason. I’m not going to be one of them.

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

“Burma Jukebox” gets a third play

The latest place you can read “Burma Jukebox.”

“Burma Jukebox,” a short story I first sold in 2010, has received its third publication, this time in Big Pulp Annual 2016.

It was also picked up last year in M – Murder, Magic & the Macabre, another publication in the Big Pulp empire, which produces a variety of magazines and themed anthologies focused on genre fiction and poetry.

The supernatural tale — I’m still not sure whether it’s better categorized as quiet horror or dark fantasy — is a favorite of mine to read at conventions. It focuses on how easy it is to lose ourselves in music, especially during tough times.

The most recent sale brings to mind Golden Age sf writer James Gunn’s first rule of writing: “If it’s worth writing once, it’s worth selling twice.”

Or three times for that matter.

Forgotten Book: Kongo – The Gorilla-Man by Frank Orndorff (1945)

Kongo – The Gorilla Man was a strike out, even for this gorilla fan.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 194th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I am a monkey and ape fan. I say it proudly, claiming King Kong as my favorite film.

I was alerted to the novel Kongo – The Gorilla-Man by Jess Nevins, who informed a select group of monkey fans with a picture of the dustjacket and asked whether anyone of us had ever read or heard of it. No one had, but I checked out American Book Exchange (ABE) and found a copy in fair condition for under $20, including shipping. The primitive looking cover and the scarcity of the title sealed the deal.

When the book came in, I posted on Facebook and Todd Mason urged me to include it as a Friday Forgotten Book. I had been planning on returning to the FFB fold anyway, so between Robert Bloch’s Centennial and this novel, I was enticed to return.

What can I say about Kongo? I read it. If I was a sadist or horrible person, I would urge you to do the same, but I’m not. ABE shows five entries for Frank Orndorff, including two copies of Kongo, The Truth About the Bible, and two copies of Amazing Stories Quarterly, Volume 1, #1 from 1928. Other sites did not reveal any additional titles.

So, not a prolific writer. But that’s not the issue here. This novel is a mess. The plot takes  several paths, but essentially starts with a majestic white eagle sailing over the African continent with a priceless diamond around its neck. Various groups are looking for it. There’s the team of Harry Van Hall and his friend Jack, two men searching for game and the white eagle. There’s the villainous team of The Brut and The Weasel. There’s the tribe of gorillas, led by Kil. And there are various African natives, some good, some bad.

Harry and Jack kill a gorilla one day. This gorilla was Kongo-go, or “Kongo the coward” in gorilla speak. To amuse the natives, Harry dons the gorilla pelt and is performing in it when tthe group of gorillas led by Kil attacks the camp. Harry is knocked in the head and loses all sense. He believes that he is a gorilla and part of the tribe. The others notice that he smells odd, but accept him as one of their own. As the coward, he is the last to eat if he is even allowed. Harry does not remember his old life, but he understands gorilla speak. As in 2001: A Space Odyssey, he discovers the use of a club and works his way up in the tribal organization.

The Brute and The Weasel find the large diamond which has worked its way to a tribe. The king of the tribe wants to kill them, but the two use their white man’s magic to play for time and to try and get the diamond, which the natives do not value. Their only problem is that the king is not honorable and really wants nothing more than to kill them for their supplies. Still, though, he is fascinated by their magic and needs to learn it before he kills them.

Then there are the Arab slavers and the lost rich white girl who is to be sold in slavery. Not to mention other characters and stories, all of which are pretty bad. The book had obviously not been proofread before publication, because words are used incorrectly. There are also many spelling errors and sentences which do not make sense.

This book was a struggle, but I made it through. It is a young adult novel with little depth, motivation, characterization or reason for existing. It is not really a Tarzan rip-off as Harry has no real skills or jungle smarts.

Let me just say, save yourself the trouble. It did not work for me and I don’t think it will work for you.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs. 

Forgotten Films: Paul (2011)

Don’t expect Paul to match The Day the Earth Stood Still, but do expect fun.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 173rd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

It is about time I got back to watching films and inflicting my opinion of them on you. It’s been nine months and I have gone through a new job, a relocation, and the wonderfulness that is packing up a large library for months, having it transported and then trying to get it back in some semblance of normality.

Fortunately, I have learned to live with serendipity as my filing system. This simply means that if I want to watch a film, the film I am meant to see will present itself. If I want to see something else, it will hide until I have seen the other film.

I recently had some friends in to visit for four days. One of the fun things that happens in these events is that I try to show them films they should have seen but, for one reason or another, may have missed. During this time we watched The Rutles, Ex Machina, The Night Watch, Hellboy, the pilot for Reaper, several episodes of Troll Hunters… and Paul.

I had seen Paul on its original release and had enjoyed it so I picked up the DVD used when the opportunity presented itself. I had intended to watch Cold in July, the wonderful film based on Joe R. Lansdale’s novel, but it hid from me and Paul stuck out.

Paul is a science fiction film wherein Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings, respectively. They are science fiction nerds. Graeme is an illustrator and Clive is a Nebulon Award-winning author. They are in San Diego to attend Comic Con and to meet Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor), a major science fiction writer and one of their idols. Shadowchild is a dick to people at the convention but they ignore his bad behavior. Graeme and Clive are planning on touring the western U.S. visiting UFO sites. They have a rented fifth wheel. Along the way they offend some shotgun-carrying rednecks by denting their truck. In their escape, they run into Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), an ET trying to escape experimentation at Area 51. He has cool powers like turning invisible, transferring all of his knowledge to you and other things. And, being voiced by Seth Rogen, he’s remarkably crude and vulgar.

The government is chasing Paul, using a variety of agents including Special Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) and rookies Haggard and O’Reilly (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio) who all report to “the Big Guy” (a surprise guest not mentioned here because it might be considered a spoiler). There are adventures along the way, including encounters with Tara Walton (Blythe Danner) and Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig). Wiig is particularly fun, as she evolves from a fundamentalist young woman with one eye blind into a swearing, drinking, wild woman who acquires Paul’s knowledge of the universe.

Now, Paul is not quality sf along the lines of The Day the Earth Stood Still or Forbidden Planet. What it is is a film that takes nothing seriously. The hunt for Paul is a blast. The discussions about Life, the Universe, and Everything between Graeme, Clive and Paul are interesting. And, overall, the film itself is fun.

I am not a Seth Rogen fan. But, his irreverence and overall demeanor worked well for an alien about to be dissected. His outlook powers the film.

The final half hour should have lots of resonance with fans of classic sf movies. It did for me, but I am easily amused and all my taste is in my mouth.

I still say “Check it out!”

Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

You Got It Wrong: Roger Doesn’t Have a Last Name — What Authors Get Wrong About the Military

This is the first of a periodic series where I ask other authors to discuss the mistakes they frequently see in fiction about their day jobs or former professions. If you write, I hope these help bring authenticity to your work — or at least point you toward sources that help you get close. My first guest, Stephen Kozeniewski, is a former Field Artillery officer and author of the novel The Hematophages, recently released by Sinister Grin Press. Be sure to check out his bio at the end.

By Stephen Kozeniewski

Stephen Kozeniewski is a former Field Artillery officer.

Did you ever dream you were falling and then suddenly, just before you hit the ground, you’re jarred awake? That’s the sensation I experience when I’m reading a book and a service member says “roger that.”

Radio discipline is something that’s hard to get right in dialogue if you’ve never actually had to do it. Roger, you see, doesn’t have a last name. “Over and out” is another serial offense. “Over” means “I’m done speaking” and “out” means “I’m done speaking and this conversation is complete.” “Over and out” is just extraneous. But, more importantly, you get yelled at if you say it.

You get yelled at for a lot of things in the military. Some are important. Most are stupid. It’s the important ones that keep you from dying, but it’s the stupid ones that mark an author as an amateur.

Another example of something that’s hard to get right is forms of address. I cringe when a soldier calls a colonel “Colonel.” It should be “sir” or “Colonel Smith” if you’re in the army. For that matter, calling an NCO “sir” or (almost even worse) “Sarge” is a big no-no. Of course, that’s all army customs and courtesies. In the Air Force it’s perfectly fine to say just “Colonel.”

I’ve done beta reads for several authors to check their depictions of the military. Honestly, though, I should really only check work that features the army between 2004 and 2008, which is the branch I served in and time frame during which I served. I worked with airmen and marines, so I know a little bit about how they do things differently, but I’m hardly an expert.

The Hematophages is Stephen’s latest novel.

You’d probably say I’m hardly even an expert in the army, with the limited length and scope of my career there. For instance we would’ve called “A Battery” “Alpha Battery” whereas during World War II it would’ve been “Apple Battery.” (Both start with an “A,” but the NATO alphabet we currently use didn’t come into common usage until after the world war.) So if you can, I’d recommend finding a service member from both the era and branch you’re writing about to see if they’ll go over your manuscript. They may only find small things, but every cringe you save a veteran will seriously raise your cool points.

Stephen Kozeniewski lives in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. During his time as a Field Artillery officer he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where, due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor’s is in German.

His latest book, The Hematophages, is the story of doctoral student Paige Ambroziak, who joins a clandestine deep-space mission she suspects is looking for the legendary lost vessel Manifest Destiny. The mission takes her to the blood-like seas of a planet-sized organism infested by lamprey-like monstrosities, and she soon learns that there are no limits to the depravity and violence of the grotesque nightmares known as… the Hematophages.

Raw probes wounds of body and control

Forgotten Book: “Black Magic Holiday” by Robert Bloch

Bloch’s “Black Magic Holiday,” as it first appeared.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 193rd in my series of Forgotten Books.

Wow! Has it really been since last July that I did a Forgotten Book column? Amazing! In that time, I have moved from San Antonio to the wilds of West Texas. When I did the last columns, the movers were coming. I honestly thought it would be a few weeks and I would be back.

But 250 boxes of books and 30+ bookcases require a little bit of time to get organized. Not that I would know what organization is. My books are now generally on the shelves, though their order is still ruled by serendipity. I have some organization on a few cases. My Joe Lansdale books are generally where I can find them. The small group of books and magazines where I have appeared are in one area, A few writers are organized but most are not. But, as my wife says, “I have the rest of my life to get organized.” Because I’m not doing the boxing and moving thing again.

I would probably still be working on that massive undertaking, but this week represents the 100th anniversary of Robert Bloch’s birth. I reviewed a Bloch book (the paperback of The Opener of the Way) last June as my 186th in this series. Normally I do not review two books by a writer within a year, but how often does a 100th birthday come along? Not to mention, technically that review was 2016, and this is 2017.

I picked this title for a couple of reasons. One, I could find it because I had my set of Imaginative Tales in order on the bookcase with digests, and two, it is a funny work — something Bloch excelled at.

When Imaginative Tales debuted in 1954 as a companion to Imagination, they produced some truly wonderful covers for their lead novellas. Issue 3 (January 1955) featured “Black Magic Holiday” as the cover piece. It was their first featuring Bloch, though he would soon appear on several more. The cover was by Harold McCauley and I liked it.

The story was originally published in Fantastic Adventures in 1950 under the title “The Devil With You.” I didn’t realize it when I started reading it, but what the heck? It’s still a good story. And funny. I had read “Lost in Time and Space With Lefty Feep,” which featured the humorous adventures of the title character, about 30 years ago and I laughed quite a bit. I don’t have that title anymore, due to the big book sale of 2007, but it made me kindly disposed toward this title.

So, on to the story. Bill Dawson was a salesman who is touched by the finger of Fate. Deciding to take a vacation from his furniture sales job in Davenport, Iowa in New York City, Bill takes a room in the Hotel Flopmoor. That evening he finds two strangers in his room, Marmaduke Hicks and Tubby XXXXX. They have been residing in the hotel for quite a while, evading the manager Mr. Bipple, in scenes reminiscent of the Marx Brothers in Room Service. When they are discovered in Bill’s room, they play double-or-nothing with Bipple over their bill. They win and before anyone knows anything, they have parlayed Bill’s stay into him owning the hotel. Bipple is deliriously happy. Bill is now the hotel manager on the eve of a convention of magicians checking in for a stay.

One particular room is haunted with talking furniture and it has been requested by Mr. L. Dritch. Dritch had stayed there the year before and it has been haunted ever since.

The magicians are noted for causing chaos, with rabbits and birds running loose and illusions popping up all over the place. But other weirdness plays in as well, because not all the magicians are prestidigitators. Some are true magicians — and they have sinister plans for the convention and the hotel.

There is much drinking and innuendo, a la Thorne Smith, who was an obvious influence. There’s a fun bit involving a woman cut literally in two, whose halves do not function together, creating chaos. And more fun involving a werewolf and wax figures on a dance floor. Naturally, all of this happens as Hell is about to break loose.

I had fun with this story, and it reminded me that Bloch was excellent whether he was doing horror, science fiction, or fantasy. This one can also be found in The Lost Bloch, Volume One: The Devil With You (Subterranean Press, 1999). Check it out! Or get some Bloch for yourself.

I hope to keep doing these reviews as well as the Forgotten Films. They might possibly not be every week, but I will try.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

 

 

 

Where to find me at Armadillocon

rocketsokNext weekend, I’ll be trekking up Interstate 35 to appear at Armadillocon, Austin’s dependably amazing literary science fiction, fantasy and horror convention. As per usual, I’m expecting a great time talking about all things nerdy and tipping the hell out of hotel bartenders.

The con runs Friday, July 29-Sunday, July 31, at the Omni Southpark Hotel, 4140 Governors Row. This year’s heavy hitters include guest of honor Wesley Chu, special guest (artist) Dominick Saponaro, artist guest Christina Hess, editor guest Joe Monti, fan guest Ken Keller and toastmaster (and old pal) Joe McKinney. 

If you want to know where to find me, here’s the preliminary list of my panels and appearances. Keep in mind, things sometimes change, so check your programming schedule.

Tarzan
Fri 6:00 PM-7:00 PM Ballroom D
Allen, Mark Finn, Klaw*, Lansdale
A history and appreciation of Tarzan, including, of course, the 2016 movie.

Autographing
Sat 11:00 AM-Noon Dealers’ Room
Allen, Blaschke, Cardin, Swendson, Wells

Reading
Sat 1:30 PM-2:00 PM Conference Center
Sanford Allen

What You Should Have Read Last Year
Sat 3:00 PM-4:00 PM Ballroom D
Allen, Landon, Muenzler*, W. Siros, Swendson, Young
Our annual rundown of the year’s best.

Writing as a Day Job
Sun Noon-1:00 PM Southpark A
Allen, Chu, Ewing*, Fletcher, Porter, Sisson
How do you manage having writing as a day job, when you are not writing for yourself?

Forgotten Book: The Peacock Feather Murders (aka The Ten Teacups) by John Dickson Carr (1937)

The Peacock Feather Murders is one of the best locked room mysteries.

The Peacock Feather Murders is one of the best locked room mysteries.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 192nd in my series of Forgotten Books.

I love a great locked room mystery and The Peacock Feather Murders is one of the best. Locked room mysteries represent an apparently impossible murder where there seems to be no conceivable way the crime could have occurred.

The master of this mystery style was John Dickson Carr with his irascible detective Dr. Gideon Fell. His novel The Hollow Man has been voted the best locked room murder of all time and it contains the definitive chapter, wherein Dr. Fell discusses the various aspects of the locked room. Carr’s major competition for the title of the best locked room writer is himself writing as Carter Dickson and features the irascible detective Sir Henry Merrivale.

Today’s book, The Peacock Feather Murders, was also voted one of the best locked room murders of all time. Our plot begins with Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Humphrey Masters receiving a note that reads, “There will be ten teacups at number 4, Berwick Terrace, W. 8, on Wednesday, July 31, at 5 p.m. precisely. The presence of the Metropolitan Police Is respectfully requested ” Two years earlier, Masters received a note of similar tone shortly before finding a young man named Dantley murdered. That homicide was never solved.

Half Resurrection Blues delvers noirish horror thrills.

Half Resurrection Blues delvers noirish horror thrills.

Masters and some of his men stake out the building. Young Vance Keating, a wealthy man-about-London, brushes off police protection. As the police watch, Keating enters the house. Suddenly, two shots sound from within. The place is vacant except for one room. In that room, they find Keating and an old revolver from which two shots have been fired. No one has entered or left. Inside the room is a table with an expensive covering that features peacock feathers and ten teacups. The police also find a hat with both the name of the dead man’s brother and gunpowder marks on it. In the Dantley murder, the police also discovered ten expensive teacups with a peacock feather motif.

Masters calls on his old friend Sir Henry Merrivale to help with the case. The suspects include the dead man’s brother Philip, his fiancée Frances Gale, his friend Mr. Rod Gardner and his lawyer Jeremy Derwent and the lawyer’s wife. Derwent is the previous owner of the home on Barrant Terrace. Coincidentally, he had been the previous owner of the home where Dantley was murdered.

The mystery has lots of convolutions, including a game of Murder played at the Derwents’ the night before, where Vance had been selected to play the detective but bowed out of the whole party at the last minute. There also are the expensive teacups in the first murder, replaced by a Woolworth set for the new one. And on top of that, there are lies and omissions, alibis and fakery — and ultimately a satisfying denouement which is properly footnoted to allow the reader to go back and see every clue.

The Peacock Feather Murders lacks the action of the noir mysteries I love, but I also have great respect for these puzzles. Just as Ellery Queen does in his early mysteries, Carr or Dickson plays fair with the reader and the clues are there for your discovery. Give them a try.

As a short, additional review, I also recently read Half Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older, a noirish horror title from Roc. And again, I loved it.

Carlos Delacruz is an inbetweener. He has been killed and does not require air to breathe or food to live. But he’s also not dead. He walks, he talks and he serves at the whim of the New York Council of the Dead as a soul catcher.

One New Year’s Eve, he discovers another inbetweener trying to open a portal to the afterlife and take living people into it. He kills the young man and this leads to complications. He promises to look in on the man’s sister, Sasha, and he finds himself falling in love (do the dead love?). And, suddenly, he is in the middle of a giant plot to bring Hell to New York.

There are some great characters in this novel, like Mama Esther, the manifestation of a loving house, and Baba Eddie, who works weird magic, and Moishe the real estate guy. The book was fun food for my noirish and horror appetites. It is listed as the first of the Bone Street Rumba novels. I’m not sure when the next one is due but I’ll read it. Check it out yourself.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.