Posts Tagged ‘Philip K. Dick’

Contemplating the silver-screen impact of various science fiction masters, part 2

September 17, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 17, 2016

Yesterday, I took a quick survey of the number of feature films based on the work of several different science fiction grand masters, taking into account some of their TV adaptations as well. Now, I conclude that all of the stuff I wrote about adds up to…

Well, not very much, I guess.

The truth is that numerous factors make it difficult to adapt many of these novels and stories properly. For one thing, to be blunt, some of the science fiction grand masters’ writing just isn’t very good. Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, to single out two, were not exactly known for their lively characterizations.

Moreover, much of the grand masters’ work offers little in the way of cultural and sexual diversity. This is especially true of the oldest stories by the oldest writers. (A notable exception is Ursula K. Le Guin’s many explorations into radically different future societies.)

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Contemplating the silver-screen impact of various science fiction masters, part 1

September 16, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 16, 2016

In 1975, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America presented its first ever Grand Master Award to the prolific Robert Heinlein, who ultimately authored 32 novels and 16 anthologies. The writer, who died in 1988, is probably best known for his novels Stranger in a Strange LandThe Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and Starship TroopersLocus, a trade magazine for the science fiction, fantasy and horror publishing industry, named Heinlein its all-time best author in 1977, 1987, 1988, 1998 and 1999.

Stranger in a Strange Land, which was published in 1961, was a precursor to the sexual revolution and helped define the free-love hippie aesthetic; it also introduced the word grok (to understand profoundly and intuitively) into the language. Just two years ago, Heinlein was the subject of a 624-page authorized biography.

Heinlein was one of the indisputable legends of 20th-century science fiction, but he’s had surprisingly little influence on the world of movies. In the 35 years preceding his death, only a single Hollywood production was openly based on his work — 1953’s Project Moon Base. (That said, The Brain Eaters, released in 1958, was an uncredited adaptation of Heinlein’s novel The Puppet Masters; the author sued the producers and settled out of court, according to the invaluable Internet Movie Database.)

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2001: A science fiction odyssey — Volume 19 of Gardner Dozois’s excellent ‘Year’s Best Science Fiction’ lives up to the series standard

May 17, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 17, 2014

If you love science fiction but have never read The Year’s Best Science Fiction, then I urge you to remedy that immediately. Launched in 1984 and now in its 30th annual volume, the series is curated by legendary editor Gardner Dozois. Each edition contains roughly two dozen stories; some are just a few pages long, with others stretching to novella-length. A mix of writers prominent and otherwise is represented each year.

A few weeks ago, I came across two volumes from the series at a used bookstore. The pair included the 19th annual collection, which was published in 2002 and anthologizes top stories from 2001.

The book opens with “New Light on the Drake Equation,” Ian R. MacLeod’s chronicle of the life of a lonely, dissolute SETI hunter. (That acronym stands for search for extraterrestrial intelligence, natch.) Protagonist Tom Kelly is listening for signals from intelligent alien civilizations on a mountaintop in France a few decades hence. The astronomer has all but shut himself away from his earthly surroundings, which are quite fantastic in their own right: Those who are rich enough can genetically re-engineer their bodies to be capable of flight and their minds to be fluent in other languages.

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‘The Man in the High Castle’ is an alternative history that goes over my head

April 2, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 2, 2014

In San Francisco in the early 1960s, Robert Childan, proprietor of American Artistic Handcrafts Inc., fields a call from an important Japanese official whose order for a Civil War–era recruiting poster Childan has not yet been able to fulfill. Frank Frink,  Fink, ponders how to go about regaining his job at the factory where he has been helping to manufacture fake antiques distributed to Childan and other suckers. Childan’s important customer, Nobusuke Tagomi, consults the I Ching for guidance about how to impress his important visitor, a certain Mr. Baynes of Sweden.

In remote Canon City, Colo., Frink’s estranged wife, Juliana Frink, watches a point of light arc overhead before going into the local diner, where she meets a young Italian trucker named Joe Cinnadella. Aboard that moving point of light — in fact, a Nazi rocket ship bound for San Francisco — the supposed industrialist Baynes has an uneasy conversation with a German seatmate. After the ship lands, Baynes confesses that he is a Jew who, with the help of powerful friends, has survived the Nazi genocide; then he disembarks and meets Tagomi.

Such are the characters introduced by Philip K. Dick over the course of the first three chapters and 44 pages of The Man in the High Castle. This 1962 alternative-history tale about a world in which Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire were victorious in World War II earned Dick the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel.

Dick’s vision of the triumphant Axis powers is a sobering one. San Francisco’s swankiest neighborhood is controlled by Japanese; whites who visit are watched suspiciously, while people of Chinese ancestry have become a sort of caste of untouchables. The United States’ western region is controlled by the Japanese, while in the east the Germans have re-instituted slavery and exterminated the Jews. Worst of all, though, is the fate of Africa, which the Germans have evidently burned to a crisp with atomic bombs.

The Man in the High Castle is unlike the mind-bending science fiction for which Dick is most famous, the novel and novella that formed the basis for the popular movies Blade Runner and Total Recall. (His work has also been adapted as the movies A Scanner DarklyMinority Report, The Adjustment Bureau and Screamers.) Yes, there are rocket-powered commercial passenger ships, and allusions are made to the Nazis’ exploration of Mars, but otherwise the technology featured in The Man in the High Castle seems roughly comparable to what Dick and his readers would have experienced in 1962.

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No need to stalk ‘Screamers: The Hunting’

September 30, 2012

I’ve not seen the 1995 film Screamers, but apparently it’s considered a minor classic of the science fiction/horror genre. Based on a Philip K. Dick story, “Second Variety,” it is set on the planet Sirius 6B, where killer robots designed to help one side vanquish its foes are now targeting all humans.

The 2009 sequel, Screamers: The Hunting, was apparently released direct to video; I watched it the other night. Directed by Sheldon Wilson and written by Tom Berry and Miguel Tejada-Flores, it is an acceptable but hardly wonderful B-movie.

The plot is set in motion when a human transmits a distress signal, leading to the dispatch of a seven-person crew aboard the Alliance Central ship Medusa. Their mission: Find and rescue any remaining humans on the planet, which was abandoned years ago and was thought to be lifeless.

Commander Sexton and his team are operating on a strict timeline. Six days from the time they land, some kind of space storm will wipe out all life on Sirius 6B. (The wonderful SF/horror/fantasy movie review site describes the phenomenon as a Magellanic storm, although I never seemed to hear the term clearly.)

Things start going badly when the team first contacts the screamers — so named because of the terrifying noises some models emit; two crew members are soon killed. Worse yet, a screamer has entered the ship and drained its power supply, stranding it on the planet unless the team can locate more fuel cells. (Oddly, no thought ever seems to be given to discovering how the screamer boarded Medusa or determining whether it is still aboard.)

Having discovered a dormant screamers factory and made an unsuccessful attempt to parlay with a band of human survivors, the team returns to where they had seen the humans. The competent Lt. Victoria Burke (Gina Holden) convinces a paranoid woman named Hannah to lead the group into the settlement. There, a survivor named Guy slices open Burke’s hand and tastes her blood in order to verify her humanity. Screamers, you see, now emulate people… Read the rest of this entry »

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