Top Misconceptions People Have about Pulp-Era Science Fiction
A lot of people I run into have all kinds of misconceptions about what pulp-era scifi, from the 1920s-1950s, was actually like.
Science Fiction was about optimistic futures.”
Optimistic futures were always, always vastly outnumbered by end of the
world stories with mutants, Frankenstein creations that turn against us, murderous
robot rebellions, terrifying alien invasions, and atomic horror. People don’t change. Then as now, we were more interested in hearing about how it could all go wrong.
To quote H.L. Gold, editor of Galaxy Science Fiction, in 1952:
“Over 90% of stories submitted to Galaxy Science Fiction still nag away at atomic, hydrogen and bacteriological war, the post atomic world, reversion to barbarism, mutant children killed because they have only ten toes and fingers instead of twelve….the temptation is strong to write, ‘look, fellers, the end isn’t here yet.’”
movie Tomorrowland is a particulary egregious example of this tremendous
misconception (and I can’t believe Brad Bird passed on making Force Awakens to make a movie that was 90 minutes of driving through the Florida swamps). In reality, pre-1960s scifi novels trafficked in dread,
dystopian futures, and fear. There was simply never a time when optimistic scifi was overrepresented, even the boyish Jules Verne became skeptical of the possibilities of technology all the way at the turn of the century. One of the most famous pulp scifi yarns was
Jack Williamson’s The Humanoids, about a race of Borg-like robots who so
totally micromanage humans “for our own protection” that they leave us with
nothing to do but wait “with folded hands.”
scifi often featured muscular, large-chinned, womanizing main characters.”
the image often used in parodies of pulp scifi: the main character is a
big-chinned, ultra-muscular dope in tights who is a compulsive womanizer and talks
like Adam West in Batman. Whenever I see this, I think to myself…what exactly
is it they’re making fun of?
more normal than you think to find parodies of things that never actually
existed. Mystery buffs and historians, for example, can’t find a single
straight example of “the Butler did it.” It’s a thing people think is a thing
that was never a thing, and another example would be the idea of the “silent
film villain” in a mustache and top hat (which there are no straight examples
of, either). There are no non-parody examples of Superman changing in a phone
booth; he just never did this.
my favorite description of pulp mag era science fiction heroes is that they are
“wisecracking Anglo-Saxon engineers addicted to alcohol and tobacco who like
nothing better than to explain things to others that they already know.” The
average pulp scifi hero had speech patterns best described as “Mid-Century American Wiseass” than like Adam
West or the Lone Ranger.
nearest the Spaceman Spiff stereotype came to hitting the mark was with the
magazine heroes of the Lensmen and Captain Future, and they’re both nowhere near close. Captain Future was a
muscular hero with a chin, but he also had a Captain Picard level desire to use
diplomacy first, and believed that most encounters with aliens were only
hostile due to misunderstandings and lack of communication (and the story makes
him right). He also didn’t seem interested in women, mostly because he had
better things to do for the solar system and didn’t have the time for love. The Lensmen, on the other hand, had a ruthless, bloodthirsty streak, and were very much like the “murder machine” Brock Sampson (an attitude somewhat justified by the stakes in their struggle).
“Pulp Era Scifi were mainly action/adventure stories with good vs. evil.”
This is a half-truth, since, like so much other genre fiction, scifi has always been sugared up with fight scenes and chases. And there was a period, early in the century, when most scifi followed the Edgar Rice Burroughs model and were basically just Westerns or swashbucklers with different props, ray guns instead of six-shooters. But the key thing to remember is how weird so much of this scifi was, and that science fiction, starting in the mid-1930s, eventually became something other than just adventure stories with different trappings.
One of my favorite examples of this is A. Bertram Chandler’s story, “Giant-Killer.” The story is about rats on a starship who acquire intelligence due to proximity to the star drive’s radiation, and who set about killing the human crew one by one. Another great example is Eando Binder’s Adam Link stories, told from the point of view of a robot who is held responsible for the death of his creator.
What’s more, one of the best writers to come out of this era is best known for never having truly evil bad guys: Isaac Asimov. His “Caves of Steel,” published in 1953, had no true villains. The Spacers, who we assumed were snobs, only isolated themselves because they had no immunities to the germs of earth.
“Racism was endemic to the pulps.”
It is absolutely true that the pulps reflected the unconscious views of society as a whole at the time, but as typical of history, the reality was usually much more complex than our mental image of the era. For instance, overt racism was usually shown as villainous: in most exploration magazines like Adventure, you can typically play “spot the evil asshole we’re not supposed to like” by seeing who calls the people of India “dirty monkeys” (as in Harold Lamb).
Street & Smith, the largest of all of the pulp publishers, had a standing rule in the 1920s-1930s to never to use villains who were ethnic minorities because of the fear of spreading race hate by negative portrayals. In fact, in one known case, the villain of Resurrection Day was going to be a Japanese General, but the publisher demanded a revision and he was changed to an American criminal. Try to imagine if a modern-day TV network made a rule that minority groups were not to be depicted as gang bangers or drug dealers, for fear that this would create prejudice when people interact with minority groups in everyday life, and you can see how revolutionary this policy was. It’s a mistake to call this era very enlightened, but it’s also a mistake to say everyone born before 1970 was evil.
scifi writers in the early days were indifferent to scientific reality and
played fast and loose with science.”
is, by an order of magnitude, the
most false item on this list.
fact, you might say that early science fiction fandom were obsessed with
scientific accuracy to the point it was borderline anal retentive. Nearly every
single one of the lettercols in Astounding Science Fiction were nitpickers
fussing about scientific details. In fact, modern scifi fandom’s grudging
tolerance for storytelling necessities like sound in space at the movies, or novels that use
“hyperspace” are actually something of a step down from what the culture around
scifi was in the 1920s-1950s. Part of it was due to the fact that organized scifi fandom came out of science clubs; Hugo Gernsback created the first scifi pulp magazine as a way to sell electronics and radio equipment to hobbyists, and the “First Fandom” of the 1930s were science enthusiasts who talked science first and the fiction that speculated about it second.
In retrospect, a lot of it was just plain obvious
insecurity: in a new medium considered “kid’s stuff,” they wanted to show scifi
was plausible, relevant, and something different from “fairy tales.” It’s the same insecure mentality that leads video gamers to repeatedly ask if games are art. You’ve got nothing to prove there, guys, calm down (and take it from a pulp scifi aficionado, the most interesting things are always done in the period when a medium is considered disposable trash).
the best examples was the famous Howard P. Lovecraft, who published “The Shadow
out of Time” in the 1936 issue of Astounding. Even though it might be the only
thing from that issue that is even remotely reprinted today, the letters page
from this issue practically rose up in
revolt against this story as not being based on accurate science. Lovecraft
was never published in Astounding ever again.
ever wanted to find out what Star Wars would be like if they were bigger
hardasses about scientific plausibility, check out E.E. Smith’s Lensman series.
People expect a big, bold, brassy space opera series with heroes and villains
to play fast and loose, but it was shockingly scientifically grounded.
fair, science fiction was not a monolith on this. One of the earliest division
in science fiction was between the Astounding Science Fiction writers based in
New York, who often had engineering and scientific backgrounds and had
left-wing (in some cases, literally Communist) politics, and the Amazing
Stories writers based in the Midwest, who were usually self taught, and had
right-wing, heartland politics. Because the Midwestern writers in Amazing
Stories were often self-taught, they had a huge authority problem with science
and played as fast and loose as you could get. While this is true, it’s worth
noting science fiction fandom absolutely turned on Amazing Stories for this,
especially when the writers started dabbling with spiritualism and other
weirdness like the Shaver Mystery. And to this day, it’s impossible to find many Amazing Stories tales
What happens when a character casts such a long shadow that pop culture can’t entirely leave him behind, but at the same time that character is firmly rooted in a time and place from which pop culture has itself moved on? The somewhat less than reassuring answer can be found in the film “Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze” (1975), the TV series “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” (1979-81), and the TV series “Flash Gordon” (2007-08). In all cases, it’s probably fair to say the Pulp Era characters in question simply didn’t successfully transition to the modern era.
Even the cult film “Flash Gordon” (1980) produced by Dino De Laurentiis succeeded only insofar as it created an over-the-top campy and color-saturated reimagining. A lot of fun to watch? Absolutely. But it didn’t result in a new iteration of Flash Gordon being a serious and credible late 20th century pop culture character in the same way that, for example, Han Solo from Star Wars was. Put simply, it’s extremely difficult to reboot Pulp Era characters for contemporary pop cultural tastes.
It was with this in mind that I recently purchased “Avengers of the Moon,” the new Captain Future novel by Allen Steele.
Captain Future is my favorite pulp character. The Captain’s backstory is about as “pulp-y” as it gets. As a child, Curtis “Curt” Newton – Captain Future’s real name – was orphaned when his parents were murdered by the malevolent Victor Corvo. Curt’s father, Roger, was a brilliant scientist who had relocated to the Moon to work on his experiments. After his death, Curt was brought up by The Brain, the disembodied central nervous system of Roger’s colleague Simon Wright; Otho, an android who was a master of disguise as well as an effective combatant; and Grag, a powerful and self-aware robot.
Captain Future was universally revered by the citizens of the solar system, a solar system it should be noted teeming with sentient alien life on several planets and moons. The Captain and his Futuremen worked closely with two members of the Planet Police, the solar system’s interplanetary law enforcement agency: Marshal Ezra Gurney, a senior Planet Police official whose speech and personality seem better suited to the Old West than to outer space, and Joan Randall, an agent who had feelings for Curt although their relationship never developed into anything serious.
The stories were quite imaginative albeit formulaic. But there was just something about the chemistry of the characters that really worked, Curt Newton was the young, handsome space hero, as adept with his mind as with his fists or his proton pistol. Otho and Grag bickered and insulted each other constantly but cared deeply for each other. Simon “The Brain” Wright was the elder statesman. While not achieving the notoriety of Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, Captain Future, created by Mort Weisinger and written primarily by Edmond Hamilton, still reigned from his secret base in Tycho Crater on the Moon over his pulp science fiction empire from 1940 to 1951.
Enter journalist and sci fi author Allen Steele. Steele previously dealt with Captain Future somewhat obliquely in his 1996 Hugo Award-winning novella “The Death of Captain Future” in which a fan of the pulp hero acts out a fantasy based on the exploits of the character. In “Avengers of the Moon,” Steele attempts the impossible task of rebooting the Captain Future universe for modern sci fi fans.
The novel is set in the 24th century rather than the early 21st of the original pulp series but earlier in Curtis Newton’s reimagined timeline: Newton is not yet Captain Future but a somewhat awkward youth, understandable given his limited contact with other humans and unique upbringing by his surrogate family. Early on in the novel, Newton learns of the murder of his parents by Senator Victor Corvo two decades earlier and plans revenge.
While Steele’s Curtis Newton is credible as the man who is not quite yet the hero he will become, the Futuremen diverge to a greater degree from their pulp incarnations. Otho is harsher than the lovable rogue of the 1940s. At one point he actually threatens Simon Wright with death. An interesting plot change is that Otho was originally supposed to be the body for the brain of Simon Wright but because Otho’s own brain developed sentience so rapidly, this plan was abandoned on ethical grounds. As a result, the Brain remains in a drone that flies using ducted fans rather than the force beams of the old sci fi magazines. Grag is more robotic in temperament. Ezra and Joan initially treat Curt with disdain and the very name “Captain Future” invites eye rolls and laughter rather than the awe and respect displayed from the very first pulp story, “Captain Future and the Space Emperor” (1940).
One of the saddest concessions to modernity is that Captain Future’s spaceship, the Comet, is reduced to a 20 year old yacht that has to hitch a ride on a lightsail ship to travel from the Moon to Mars. This much diminished Comet even lacks the power to lift off from Mars’ surface were it to land there. Thankfully, a worthier successor to the vessel is hinted at near the novel’s end.
The solar system civilization from the pulps survives surprisingly intact with the assorted aliens of the worlds of the system being rebooted as human beings who have been genetically modified to accommodate failed or incomplete terraforming procedures on the various moons and planets.
I won’t spoil the plot further except to say that not too surprisingly by the end of the novel, Curt Newton has accepted the mantle of Captain Future and the name now commands respect rather than prompts derision.
Anyone picking up “Avengers of the Moon” with the expectation that he or she will rediscover the magic of those old sci fi magazine stories will be disappointed, not because of any failing by the author but because that’s not the purpose of this book. Steele could have written a novel in direct continuity with the 1940s Captain Future universe but it would have been merely a pastiche. Instead, he chose the much more difficult task of trying to capture the soul of those wonderful old pulp characters and transplant them into a grittier and harder science fiction story to appeal to modern readers. In this all but unworkable endeavor, the author probably comes as close to success as is possible.
Reading “Avengers of the Moon” is like meeting some old friends for the first time in 20 years and discovering that they are now rather different people. And that’s okay. It means you can both reminisce and get acquainted. This iteration of the pulp icon is clearly the product of a culture that is older, less confident, less optimistic, and more cynical than the culture that produced the original. But that’s exactly the kind of culture that needs a hero like Captain Future.
Old School Science Fiction recommends adding Allen Steele’s “Avengers of the Moon” to your summer reading list.
A true 70s exploitation classic: BONNIE’S KIDS review
Tiffany Bolling (The Candy Snatchers) and Robin Mattson (All My Children) play two small town sisters who kill their evil stepfather (the mother character “Bonnie” is dead) and flee to the big city where they steal half a million dollars from a couple of hitmen that obviously were a key inspiration for John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s characters in Pulp Fiction. Bonnie’s Kids is one of the best God damned Grindhouse movies ever. It has a good plot and Tiffany Bolling is amazing. Seriously, if you watch this film and don’t fall in love with her, there might be something wrong with you. The film is directed by Arthur Marks (Bucktown), but I’m really having trouble believing that it was directed by a human. It has a kind of divine touch. That’s how hot this shit really is. A damn near perfect Grindhouse movie. So hunt down a copy if you can, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
Bonnie’s Kids Release year: 1973 Country: USA Director: Arthur Marks Starring: Tiffany Bolling
Taglines: – Thank God! She only had two! – Half a million in cash was missing. THEY WANTED IT… And they’d spill blood to get it! THEY HAD IT… And they’d do anything to keep it!
(A table of contents is available. It will be kept updated throughout the series, and I will reblog it upon completion of the series. This series will remain open for additional posts.)
Part 24: Sagas and the Family
The saga has an exceptionally interesting history beginning in medieval times. Specifically, sagas were a form of Icelandic literature which disregarded the type of narrative in favor of its origin. This, of course, meant that it could be applied to a thousand pieces of literature, but often got stuck on biographies of saints, histories, Norse retellings of French romances, and even factual records of Scandinavian and Icelandic history through the 14th century. Sagas became “bedtime stories” read aloud as a form of the traditional storytelling, expanding the genre out to include legendary figures. These medieval narratives were traditionally classified into three types: Kings’ sagas, legendary sagas, and sagas of Icelanders.
These days, “saga” has come to refer to historical and legendary tales outside of solely Icelandic history, all the way out to some historical fiction pieces where the author has tried to reconstruct the past. The most common type of saga is the Family Saga, which is a very distinctive genre that tells multi-generational stories. Family sagas take place over extended periods of time; they are usually quite large volumes of literature, with the story spanning several decades and multiple generations. Often they are set in such a way as to showcase the historical time period, and the changing technology, values, and lifestyles that went with some time periods (such as the Industrial Revolution, the World Wars, etc.) and how these vast changes in condensed time period impacted the generations living through them.
There are a couple of sub-genres within this sub-genre, including:
Aga Saga: Referring to the AGA cooking oven of the 1930′s UK, and often following families of that time period.
Historical Saga: Generally characterized by a higher-than-usual level of factual information, these sagas tend to follow a family through times prior to 1950.
Pulp Saga: Typical family sagas illustrate more character interactions with a time period, but a pulp saga details characters dealing with more drama of internal events impacting the family: sex, murder, family backstabbing (of the verbal kind).
Contemporary Saga: Detailing the routines and drama of a modern family, perhaps the author’s own fictionalized account of their family (though this tact is rather dangerous, so fictionalize your family at your own risk).
Just as I discussed in Part 8 about dystopian literature being a part of the over-arching label of speculative fiction, sagas–specifically family sagas–are considered to be under the umbrella of commercial fiction, which is different than “mainstream” fiction and includes women’s fiction, chick lit, and some suspense, thrillers, and adventures. When looking for an agent or publisher, look for those that mention either this commercial fiction label or family sagas specifically. Otherwise, you’re probably safe looking at historical fiction publishers, if those don’t seem to fit the bill.
Let me reiterate something I said before: I actually don’t want to be right about any of these fandoms being dead. It always makes me sad when people lose passion for something, and something worthwhile goes unread or unseen.
The Pulp Heroes (the Shadow, Doc Savage, etc.)
The Shadow was the first and most famous of the larger than life magazine heroes, mostly published by Street & Smith, who came out during the Great Depression. They weren’t superheroes, exactly…but they were too uncanny, too bigger than life, their adventures too bizarre and fantastical, to be typical adventurers or detective heroes in the usual sense…they were in the same ballpark as Tarzan or Zorro, a kind of “transitional fossil” between grounded detective and adventure characters, and the later far out superheroes.
I realized the reach these novels had in their own time when I heard this amazing story about none other than jazz great Thelonious Monk: he was obsessed with Doc Savage magazine. When he performed, the jazz man sometimes had a Doc Savage magazine rolled up in his coat. I have a hard time imagining that!
The reason the pulp heroes went away and stopped having pop cultural cache is simple: the audience for it went away. You have to remember that pulp hero stories were always a composite genre, meant to appeal to two audiences simultaneously: kids, who loved action and fantasy and heroism, and working class men, who also love action, but who also loved lurid mystery and gore. To appeal to working class men, there were always way more hints of blood, gunplay, dread/terror, and sex, but because kids also read these, it was all very subdued. If you realize that pulp heroes were meant to appeal to these two very different audiences with conflicting desires, the question isn’t why the pulp heroes went away, but rather, why they lasted as long as they did.
What took the kid audience away from the hero pulps could be summarized in two words: superhero comics. Sales on pulps fell every year when they had to compete with comics, and the history of the pulp heroes in the 1940s is defined by their reaction to the challenge of comics, a little like the history of movies when they had to compete with television.
There were three big reactions to comics in the 1940s from the pulp magazines:
They dissed comics. This reminds me of the 50s movies that called television “the idiot’s lantern.” The best example of this I can find is the Doc Savage mystery, The Whisker of Hercules. By all accounts, Doc Savage author Lester Dent hated, hated, hated comic superheroes, particularly Superman, who exaggerated the traits of his own heroes beyond what he felt an audience would believe. Whisker of Hercules is a novel where Doc finds criminals who who take a potion that turns them into Superman, gives them superstrength, the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and the ability to move at superspeed, but in the end, they are ultimately bested by Doc Savage, who outsmarts them and reveals the Whisker of Hercules ages them to death. Lester Dent, you see, felt superhero comics were a passing fad without staying power.
They created characters that were both in pulp magazines and in comics as well. An example of this would be Ka-Zar and Sheena, who was in both comics and pulp magazines simultaneously. Today, we’d call them “multimedia properties.”
They created far-out pulp heroes that were aimed at a kid audience to lure kids back to magazines. The best example of this is Edmond Hamilton’s Captain Future, which was a pulp hero who was extremely kid-friendly, with robot sidekicks and a cute mouse pet, and a base on the Moon.
While the kids who read pulp heroes were lured away by comics, the working class men were pulled away by a new invention: the “men’s adventure” paperback novel, which could have explicit sex and violence. James Bond (Casino Royale was first published in 1954) was more typical of the paperback heroes, as was gun-toting Mack Bolan the Executioner, a special forces guy who came back from Vietnam to find his family killed by the mafia, and who declares war on the mob with his special forces training and arsenal of firearms (he also directly inspired a certain Marvel Comics character you might be familiar with).
Just like almost all pop music is either Beatles or Stones inspired, nearly all men’s adventure heroes are some variation of either James Bond or Mack Bolan. This leads us to today, where men’s adventure novels are either porn, or gun porn. If you’ve read this blog long enough, you can probably guess which one I like better.
Here’s another thing to consider when wondering why the pulp heroes went away. The Shadow, Doc Savage, the Spider, are really only a few years older than the superheroes. They were not separated by a geologic age, the way many histories lead you to believe: they came out in the same decade as each other. Doc Savage came out in 1933, and Superman came out in 1938, which is not really that much time difference at all. The difference may be that there is a publishing company (DC Comics) that views Superman and Batman as essential to their identity and that keeps them alive for that reason, whereas no company does that for the pulp characters. In fact, there was even some dispute early this century as to whether the Street & Smith characters fell into the public domain.
Original Battlestar Galactica
I used to post old cosplay pics, and my gosh, were there ever a lot of OBSG
images. The actor who played Boomer was a regular at early science fiction
conventions (there was a time when it was considered unusual for celebrities to visit conventions), and when a new BSG show was announced in 2003 (believe it or not, there was once a time that a hard reboot of an old scifi property was rare), it led to one of the all-time biggest nerdrages in nerd history.
I hesitate to say this, but part of the reason that Star Trek and the
Next Generation are discovered decades later by new fans is because they really
are good shows, and OBSG is…well, it’s a challenge for a new person, with fresh eyes, to see just what got everyone so excited in 1978. The reason why
BSG was a big deal is clear: most people who are fans of it are fans because
they watched the show when they were children, so it’s imprinted in their minds
(rather like 90s kids and “Saved by the Bell” or “Power Rangers”). OSBG fandom isn’t growing for the same reason that “Saved by the Bell” fans aren’t growing: it’s a product of hormones and nostalgia, you “had to be there” to get it.
To me, this explains perfectly why people went ballistic when a BSG reboot was announced back in the stone age, 2002. For one, the concept of a reboot was so new that I remember I heard people wonder if this means their favorite characters from the original were dead now. More importantly, though, this is a fandom with a few core people who remember BSG from when they were kids, and therefore have strong feelings about why it works and doesn’t work.
Here’s a test to determine if a fandom is dead: if a movie adaptation royally screws everything about it up, would people get angry and yelly and passionate? Remember how people got death threats over the M. Knight Shyamalan Last Airbender? Well, in the case of Prince Valiant, I don’t think anybody would actually care. This is surprising, because for years, when people thought of comics, they thought of Prince Valiant: he was emblematic of an entire medium. Years before the prestige of Maus, Persepolis, and the “graphic novel,” it was the one comic that was classy, that adults were alright reading.
Why is it no longer popular? Well, copy and paste everything I said on Dick Tracy about newspaper comics here. But also, if you ever run into someone who really loved Prince Valiant back in the day, ask them why they liked it. The answer should be incredibly telling. Most likely, they’ll tell you they loved the beautiful art, that they loved the great style of Hal Foster’s godlike pen. They loved the sweep of the story and the epic feel.
Here’s what they won’t say if you ask them: they probably won’t say they liked the characters. (I can’t think of one adjective to describe Prince Valiant’s personality - he totally fails the RedLetterMedia test). They won’t remember any moment that made them cry or made them feel a rush of triumph.
I swear, it is not my intention to be a hater and drink some haterade. That’s really not in my nature, because I am a positive person. The whole point of this blog is for me to share cool old stuff I love - negativity has no place here. But there’s a dishonesty, a willful obtuseness, in trying to understand why Prince Valiant stopped being a phenomenon, and not realizing that Prince Valiant is beautiful looking, but it doesn’t give us the things about stories that “stick to our ribs” and make it stand the test of time: great characters and memorable, earned moments. Praising a comic for having beautiful art is like praising a movie for the great special effects. You don’t want the one thing people to remember about your hero to be a haircut.
John Carter of Mars
The fandom for John Carter of Mars is a little like Barsoom itself without the Atmosphere Factory and water pumped from the depths of Omean: dead.
To the modern eye, one of the weirdest parts of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series is the 3 minute digression in the episode on Mars where Sagan starts talking about how he was the hugest John Carter of Mars fanboy ever, and how he dreamed of rescuing beautiful women in gallant swordfights on thoatback, with his fanboy narration intercut with shots of Frazetta and Michael Whelan cover art. This really happened. And this was typical of the kind of passion that John Carter of Mars inspired that you don’t see much of today. It’s so easy to blame the tanking of the movie adaptation, but the movie failing was a symptom, not a cause, of the fact there was no hungry audience to receive it.
Sagan was a huge John Carter fan: his car had a “BARSOOM” vanity license plate, and he wasn’t alone: without hesitation, I would say that Edgar Rice Burroughs was the most important and influential scifi writer of the first few decades of the 20th Century, so important that everyone defined themselves as either Burroughs-like (Leigh Brackett, for instance) or rejected the tropes ERB created (see: Stanley G. Weinbaum). John Carter of Mars didn’t inspire Star Wars. Instead, he inspired the things that inspired Star Wars (e.g. Flash Gordon). Edgar Rice Burroughs, not Faulkner, not Hemmingway, was the best selling novelist of the 1920s.
Remember the last time I did this, and I was sincerely baffled why the Tripods novels have not had a revival? Well, when I got to John Carter of Mars, the answer came to me: the reason is that this work was so influential, so ubiquitous, that it has been strip-mined of creative power by imitators to the point that very little about it seems original anymore. Tripods, if it came out now, would just look like a Hunger Games rip-off despite the fact that if anything, it’s the other way around. The problem with John Carter of Mars is exactly the same: remember how the response to the trailer to the film adaptation was that this was Avatar Goes to Attack of the Clones? When, actually, Avatar and others got a lot from the Barsoom books. In other words, because John Carter was influential enough to create cliches, paradoxically, it is now seen as cliche.
The Ghostbusters reboot had a big, big problem: it’s a remake of a movie that’s an untouchable classic, like Back to the Future. Any remake would inevitably be compared to the original and suffer in the comparison. Well, here’s one movie you could probably remake with a gender swap hero: Highlander.
It’s not Back to the Future, Jaws, or Terminator; this isn’t a movie people can quote every line from. People know of Highlander, sure…people know things like the Queen song, “there can be only one,” electric swordfighting, etc, but people don’t actually care that much. People won’t go ballistic. Highlander is a remaker’s dream: it has enough name recognition to get sold and made, but it doesn’t have a legion of nitpicking nerd fans to second guess everything and treat the original like gospel.
Highlander used to be kind of a big deal: it had not one but two tv shows, and it had three movie sequels. Just like “Wild Wild West” was steampunk a couple decades before that term existed, Highlander was “urban fantasy” before that term existed. Because of the themes of urban fantasy and tragic romance, it always had a strong female fandom, and there’s no understanding Highlander without understanding that it was kind of the Supernatural of its day: theoretically, with its swordfighting and cool powers, it was trying to appeal to boys…but ended up building up a way bigger female audience instead.
Posterity is really never kind to any fantasy property who’s audience is
primarily women. Who, today, talks a lot about Gargoyles or Beauty and the
Beast, for example, to pick two properties that used to have a strong fandom? The last one (B&B) is pretty amazing because it was created by two people immensely relevant to
the zeitgeist of today: Ron Perlman (the Beast himself), and the show’s head writer and producer, a fellow by the name of George R.R. Martin. It could be just plain chauvinism over a “girl thing.” I don’t deny that plays a role, more likely, it could just be that scifi fans are immensely nerdy in a way fantasy fans
aren’t, so they keep alive their favorite scifi artifacts. That, I think, is why we’re still talking about Terminator and not Highlander: Tolkien fans who write in Dwarf runes are a freakish exception. In general, fantasy fans are way less hardcore than scifi fans.
Magnus, Robot Fighter
Ever talk to any old gay nerds? They will usually tell you they realized they were hella gay because of three men: Robert Conrad in “Wild Wild West,” Ultra Boy from Legion of Super-Heroes, and Magnus, Robot Fighter.
Russ Manning’s Magnus, Robot Fighter may be one of the great subterranean sources of pop culture. Matt Groening admits that the aesthetics of this comic inspired a lot of Futurama. Magnus, Robot Fighter was such a nostalgia totem in the minds of the Baby Boom generation, on the level of the Mars Attacks! cards, that George Lucas, who was always very hands-off with supplementary material, personally requested Russ Manning come out of retirement to do the Star Wars daily comics.
Magnus, Robot Fighter is an interesting example of how comics only have cache and longevity long-term if they can successfully convert into other media formats. Comics are important, but comics are ephemeral. Superman is the king of comic characters, sure, but most people know about him because he made the leap from comics to radio, screen, and television.
Magnus is all the more heartbreaking because he almost made the jump to a medium with durability - video games. Under circumstances too complex to relate here, Acclaim bought out all the Gold Key comic characters, and Magnus was generally considered to be the crown jewel of the lot. Because Magnus was too important an IP to screw up, and the development team was so inexperienced, Acclaim instead decided to make their first Gold Key game adaptation one of the minor guys, so if they blew it, no biggie: Turok, Dinosaur Hunter.
The rest is history: Acclaim was so busy making sequels to the surprise hit Turok, Dinosaur Hunter they never got around to giving Magnus, Robot Fighter a game.
Part three is coming, so stay tuned. Believe it or not, I actually have a fandom from the past ten years on here! Can you think of any dead fandoms?
DARTH VADER was voiced by JAMES EARL JONES in the ORIGINAL 3 Films that began STAR WARS’ fucking popularity!! REALLY!?
Lando Calrissian(Billy Dee Williams) was also the Hero of the 2nd DEATH STAR battle who shot the power core that blew up the Death Star winning the Battle of Endor!!
Mace Windu(Samuel L. Jackson) was the leader of the Jedi Council in ALL the Prequels, and the only Jedi Master to Have a Purple Lightsaber!!
(TRIVIA: with the words “Bad Motherfucker” engraved on the hilt by George Lucas, as an allusion to Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction)
Luminara Unduli (Mary Oyaya; Kenya) and her padawan…
Barriss Offee(Nalini Krishan; Fijian) are WoC, and are in Episode II & III, as well as the Clone Wars cartoon.
Adi Gallia(Gin Clarke) was a Jedi Council Member in Episode I & II.
Stass Allie(Angelique Perrin) was Adi Gallia’s relative who was in Episode III and the Clone Wars.
Who are these ignorant fucking assholes who are boycotting Star Wars Episode VII?
They’re supposedly “Star Wars Fans”!?
These dumbasses don’t know or remember several main Black Characters across both Trilogies, not to mention hundreds of Expanded Universe stories and Cartoons featuring Black Characters!?
And they claim to be Fans of Star Wars!? They’re full of Shit. These Racist Liars probably haven’t seen a Star Wars film before.
Are you motherfucking kidding me!?
Are Humans really this fucking stupid!???
THIS LITERALLY PROVES HOW FUCKING STUPID AND IGNORANT RACISTS ARE.