Evil in the night...


Today, thanks to e-books and modern technology in general stirring up the imagination, there’s a lot of science fiction around. Some of it is very good. Check out Starship Invasions and also Alien Worlds by Barbara Custer and Tom Johnson.

Let us now look at the pioneers that kick started it all.

Science fiction as we know it began in the late 19th Century. It was spearheaded by Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. This does not mean, however, that the notion of landing a man on the moon belonged completely to either Verne or Wells. The playwright Edmond Rostrand in his 1897 play, Cyrano de Bergerac, had Cyrano, as a pretend madman, tossing around various notions on how to get a man to the moon. These notions were comical but they were there.  Also, Verne may have come up with an almight submarine in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) but there had been submarines in action during the American Civil War.  In his novel, The Shape of Things to Come ( 1933), H. G. Wells was speculating on the possibility of a very long war in which modern weaponry devastates our world. There had been such long wars in the past that Wells could easily draw comparisions with. It is our good fortune that such a war, lasting many decades, did not come to pass.

In the Back to the Future series of American films, both Jules Verne and H. G. Wells were honored. It can also be said that in one episode of the long running British television series, Doctor Who, H. G. Wells was, for a short time, a traveller in the TARDIS.

In 1898, H. G. Wells depicted trouble from outer space in his novel, The War of the Worlds.

The developing moving pictures added something special to science fiction. In an early silent colour film, men are depicted landing on the moon. In the silent movie J’accuse (released 1919) the dead of the First World War rise up in protest to the development of a new weapon and quite possibly the creation of a new war.

In 1901 an Australian woman by the name of Anne Moore-Bentley wrote A Woman of Mars which was in praise of an outer space culture in which intelligent females have more say than they do on Earth.  In science fiction, however, martians have had a tendency to be hostile rather than friendly possibly due to the fact that their planet is named after the god of war.

In 1901, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan made his entrance into the world of fiction. He was followed by John Carter, an Earthling having adventures on Mars. Burroughs is best known for his Tarzan stories but his stories about Mars were also quite spectacular.

During the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, movie serial based lightly on science fiction became popular. The 1939 Buck Rogers movie serial starring Buster Crabbe was popular. So in fact were the two earlier Flash Gordon serials which also starred buster Crabbe. In the movie serials and also in the comic strips there were unfriendly as well as quite friendly aliens out there. Hence the Earth had a need of her champions to combat the not so nice aliens.

Fictional pulp heroes with scientific knowledge also arose. There was, for example, Doc Savage, the man of bronze. He was a genius on many levels and also an adventurer. Here we’re talking about special bullets that don’t kill, special surgery on the brains of criminals to make them into honest citizens (a little creepy this one), a unique helicoper, plane and submarine. Doc’s men are all experts in their own fields. Monk for example is a chemist and Ham a top-notch lawyer. There also Doc’s cousin, Patricia Savage whom you might consider to be the woman of bronze. Doc was in the pulps for a long time and made appearances in the comics in the 1940s. In the 1960s, the adventures of Doc savage came out in paperback. Marvel Comics revived Doc in the 1970s and, some time later, D. C. Comics took over the character for a while before independent comic publishes tried their hand. There has been one Doc Savage movie made that I know of and it was not a great success.

During the pulp magazine boom, which started in 1901 and came to a close in the 1950s due to a paper shortage, there was lots of inexpensive science fiction around. A lot of big names such as Issac Asimov and Ray Bradbury got their start in these magazines. Asimov is perhaps best know for his ideas concerning robots. Bradbury may best be known for his novel Fahreheit 451 ( 1953) in which fireman don’t put out fires but burn books. His book people, though implausable, still bring a tear to this writer’s eye. Fancy becoming the essence of a book so that the book won’t die. He is also known for The Martian Chronicles (1950).



In 1949 republic released the movie serial King of the Rocket Men which starred Tristram Coffin. In this serial a scientist invents a jet pack and uses it as Rocket Man to foil the dastardly deeds of Doctor Vulcan, a fellow scientist gone wrong. There are some nice cinematic moments here of Rocket Man in flight plus, like all movie serials of the time, there was plenty of action. There followed a whole slew of Rocket Man like adventures in other serials such as Radar Men from the Moon (1952) and Commando Cody: Sky Mashal of the Universe (1953). Today only King of the Rocket Men remains worth watching.

Paperbacks took over from the defunct pulp magazines as the major written source of science fiction.

In 1951 Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham saw publication. Here the plants are in revolt against humanity. In this same year The Day the Earth Stood Still, starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal, saw release. Here humanity is on trial and must somehow rise above its own pettiness to take its place evenually among the other civilizations out ther in space.

In 1953 the American comedy duo Abbott and Costello end up out of this world in the hit movie,  Abbott and Costello Go To Mars.

In 1956 Forbidden Planet, starring Walter Pidgeon and Anne Francis, came out. It featureed the mechanical wonder, Robby the Robot. Here the wonders of an alien race prove to be rather deadly to humans. This is great science fiction that was not appreciated as much as it should have been when it was first released. In fact, when released in Australia, some scenes were censored. It is possible today, however, to see this movie everywhere in its full glory.

In 1957 The Invible Boy, starring Richard Eyer and Diane Brewster, made it debute. This was the second outing for Robby the Robot. A super computer with delusions of grandure decides to take over the world. Before commencing, he instructs Robby on how to, yes you got it, turn a boy invible.

Robby the Robot also made appearances in the television show, Lost in Space.

In 1959 an Australian children’s show involving an alien from the moon whose nose was a pencil was born. Every episode he’d travel from the moon to the earth just to draw. The show was Mr. Squiggle and it lasted until 1999. It was light but fun science fiction for younger viewers and, as noted by its long run, it was highly successful.



In the 1960s television started to take science fiction a bit more seriously than it had in the past. In Britain there was Doctor Who. It was a show about a mysterious other worldly time and space traveler and his companions. When William Hartnell, the original Doctor, needed to retire for health reasons (he loved the show too much to retire from it for any other reason) the notion that the Doctor could regenerate into another body when his body was no longer any good was born. There have been many Doctors since Hartnell and most of them have given excepionally fine performances. The Doctor and his TARDIS, which is shaped like an old fashioned police call box, have reached legendary status. Darlek, the name of the Doctor’s number one enemy race, has gone into the Oxford Dictionary because of its popular and continuing usage. The Darleks were, are, and will be creatures inside machines who lack feeling for others and wish to become the dominant, if not the only living crreatures in the universe. There have been recent references to the Doctor in American shows such as The Big Bang Theory and Criminal Minds.

Out of Japan in the 1960s came some fantastic animation. The first to hit television in Australia was Astro Boy, the little robot with plenty of heart and get up and go. The fast paced opening number by Tatsuo Takai and Don Rockwell to the 1960s mainly black and white television show (one colour episode) went like this:

There you go, Astro Boy,
On your flight into space
Rocket high,
through the sky
For adventures soon you will face!
Astro Boy bombs away,
On your mission today,
Here’s the countdown,
And the blastoff,
Everything is go Astro Boy!
Astro Boy, as you fly,
Strange new worlds you will spy,
Atom celled, jet propelled,
Fighting monsters high in the sky!
Astro Boy, there you go,
Will you find friend or foe?
Cosmic Ranger, laugh at danger,
Everything is go Astro Boy!
Crowds will cheer you,
you’re a hero,
As you go, go, go Astro Boy!
The 1980s colour series of Astro Boy was a let down in opening lyrics, sound track and action. It was basically awful. The 2003 colour series was a much better effort. The 2009 animated Astro Boy film went back to basics and
had the fast pace older as well as younger viewers wanted.

After Astro Boy, the huge robot operated by the son of a scientist, Gigantor, came to Australia.

In 1962 a visitor from Mars (Ray Walston) came to stay with a young American reporter ( Bill Bixby) in what had probably been up to then a quiet suburb. The television show? My favorite Martian.

In 1965 the Robinson family, with Robot and sinister then silly Doctor Smith, came to be Lost in Space.

Then in 1966 there was Star Trek. The introduction to this show spoke of space being the final frontier. It also came with a fantastic new design for a ship that moves between the stars and various exciting aliens, The star ship Enterprise. It was on a five year exploratory mission. The star ship Enterprise had its own resident alien in the half Human and half Vulcan,  Spok. There have been a whole slew of off-shoot movies and television series.

One of the most confronting novelists of the 20th Century was American science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin. Her novel, The left Hand of Darkness, first came out in 1969. Here the nature of the roles of the male and the female are explored in strange, alien ways. When Le Guin first started as a writer it was suggested to her to write under a male name. This she refused to do but became a well known and respected science fiction writer anyway.

In 1970, a not very successful Australian science fiction outerspace television show, Phoenix Five, went to air. It not only looked cheap but came with dialogue and characters that didn’t help much. It starred Mike Dorsey and Patsy Trench.

In 1977 the long running British comic paper, 2000 AD was launched. Here Judge Dredd first saw the light of day and creative forces such as Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman first got their chance to shine. In 1995 a Judge Dredd movie, starring Sylvester Stalone, came out. Apparently Stalone practiced looking at himself in the mirror just to get that famous Judge Dredd scowl right.  Now there is a new 3D Judge Dredd movie out starring Karl Urban. So all you citizens who smoke where you shouldn’t watch out, the Judge is back in town.

In 1977 Star Wars starring Mark Hamill changed the face of cinematic science fiction forever. It was a space opera, a cowboys and Indians epic only in white costumes and ultra-modern space craft. A great deal of money was spent and it paid off. The franchise of films, etc created by this superb effort continues to this day. As I am sure the director, George Lucas would have it, may the force be with you.

In 1978 it was no longer safe to got to your average video arcade. It had been invaded. Yes, Space Invaders had arrived. First this game took Japan by storm then it spread out and eventually engulfed the USA, Great Britain and Australia.

In 1984, Starman,  a rather unusual slant on the alien on earth came out. This movie starred Jeff Bridges as an unusual but sympathetic creature from out there.

In 1993 Babylon 5, a show set to challenge the Star Trek franchise, came out. It was about the last of the Babylon stations and it was the last great hope for peace in a troubled universe. An off-shoot of Babylon 5 was Crusade which took off for a short run in 1999. Why it had such a short run I don’t know because the episodes that were made are great science fiction.

In 1994 Ocean Girl made its debute. This Australian effort about a girl from outerspace with special gifts marrooned on Earth touched a nerve with people living in Germany and Great Britain. It was shot in some truly amazing locales in Queensland and that remains part of its charm. It also came with excellent scripting and  great acting on the part of Marzena Godecki, David Hoflin and Jeffrey Walker.

Recently my novel, Desk Job, came out. It is my salute to Lewis Carroll. Since in the last chapters it does touch upon string theory it can be labeled in part science fiction.




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