Pop Culture Wicked Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way Comes coverI’m a little late for the “pop culture” links for this month’s reading in my SF/F book club, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.  (I’m even later with my essay for last month’s book, never mind that!)  Back in April we read another Bradbury book, The Martian Chronicles, for our SF/F class and I posted some links as well as my essay.

First, a reminder that you can read a large number of Bradbury’s stories online thanks to Unz.org.  But let’s concentrate on this specific book: Something Wicked This Way Comes was published in 1962, so although it’s over 50 years old, it’s still well within copyright protection, which means no legal free copies online.  Many editions are available for purchase, including as a full-cast audiobook and in graphic novel format.

The novel was made into the 1983 Disney film Something Wicked This Way Comes, with Bradbury as the screenwriter. In a later interview, Bradbury said that he considered the film one of the better adaptations of his works.

Bradbury’s Pandemonium Theatre Company also debuted a play based on the novel in Los Angeles on October 1, 2003, directed by Alan Neal Hubbs, also associated with the 1970 stage adaptation of Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. The play received generally favourable reviews, stating that it captured the lyricism and dark tone of the novel, and praising its special effects.

The novel was also produced as a full-cast radio play by the Colonial Radio Theatre on the Air, and released by Blackstone Audio on October 1, 2007; Bradbury wrote the script, modified for audio from his stage play.  It was was produced as a radio play for the BBC Radio 4 Saturday Play series as a different adaptation, and was broadcast on 29 October 2011 and 7 December 2012.

Many popular culture references and influences can be found in television shows, novels, comics, and games, from The Simpsons to South Park.  Wikipedia cites no less than six songs or albums named for the book.  More generally, just about any creepy travelling carnival, like the one in later seasons of Heroes, or the focus of the excellent HBO mini-series Carnivàle, contains a nod to Bradbury’s novel.  Heck, wouldn’t you say that Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which we read a few months ago, also contained a bit of an homage with its bizarre, carnivalesque entertainments at the House on the Rock?

nicewheel

Ferris wheel at night © David Karp 2007.  No copyright challenge intended, it’s just a gorgeous photo that I wanted you to see.

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Pop Culture Neuromancer

Neuromancer cover, 20th anniversary editionThe book for June in our Goodreads post-SF/F class reading group is William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984).  This book marked the next generation of SF authors and fans, and defined the fledgling subgenre of cyberpunk.

As usual, I gathered some pop culture resources to accompany it; however, I’m now faced with Problem Type 3.  You may recall that Problem Type 1 is when a book is old enough to have been half-forgotten and there are very few resources for it (for example, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland); and Problem Type 2 is when a book is recent enough to still be covered by copyright but old enough to pre-date the Internet, yielding plenty of resources but few available online (for example, Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness).  Problem Type 3 is what happens when a book has become so intricately embedded into pop culture that it’s hard to select resources that are both representative and significant among a pervasive background!

While others had already written stories that we would now associate with the genre (Bruce Bethke invented the term with his story “Cyberpunk” in 1980, and John M. Ford’s Web of Angels pioneered the Matrix/Internet/etc. the same year) and a couple of movies had started influencing the visuals (John Carpenter’s Escape From New York in 1981, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982, probably also Tron in 1982), Gibson had already started shaping the new style with his short stories like “Johnny Mnemonic” (1981) and “Burning Chrome” (1982).

He was commissioned by Terry Carr for the third series of Ace Science Fiction Specials, which was intended to exclusively feature debut novels, and given a year to complete the work.  Although Gibson nearly gave up after multiple re-writes and crises of anxiety, the book was an underground success and became a cult classic.  It also received the 1984 Hugo and Nebula awards, and the 1985 Philip K. Dick Memorial Award.

Neuromancer fan movie trailer by Jarred SpekterThere has been a lot of talk over the years about film projects based on Neuromancer, but the projects have repeatedly fallen through.  Given how poorly the movie version of Gibson’s short story Johnny Mnemonic turned out, I can’t say that I particularly mourn the project; besides, there are still rumours of a movie project in the works.  However, there is a rather nice fan-made trailer for a non-existent movie, partly spliced from footage from other movies and accompanied by a fan-made poster.

The BBC aired a radio drama version in 2002, the clips for which can be found in a few places online.  Here are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of Episode 1 (playlist), and Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of Episode 2 (playlist) on YouTube.

There have been partial releases as graphic novels, but to my knowledge none that gave the complete novel.

Neuromancer game screen captureA computer game also called “Neuromancer” and based on the novel was released in 1988 and got good reviews at the time.  Here is a remix of the soundtrack, with some stills from the game!  But the impact of Gibson’s vision is felt in many more games and movies than those officially licensed for his intellectual property.  Really, if a game description mentions “cyberpunk” anywhere, then it’s a safe to assume that it was influenced by Gibson’s Neuromancer and other stories of the Sprawl.

C yberpunk 2020 cover Shadowrun 4th Anniversary Edition coverThe Sprawl trilogy also deeply influenced the role-playing game scene, particularly with the games Cyberpunk from R. Talsorian Games (three editions in 1988, 1990 and 2005) and Shadowrun from FASA Corporation and later Catalyst Games, the latter of which adds magic and urban fantasy to the mix (1989, 1992, 1998, 2005, 2010, 2013), and their tie-in novels, sourcebooks, and derived materials.  Other significant cyberpunk role-playing games include GURPS Cyberpunk (Steve Jackson Games), Ex Machina (Guardians of Order), SLA Industries (Nightfall Games), and Tokyo NOVA (Enterbrain).

Pop Culture Gilead?

Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale"So I joined a follow-up reading group on Goodreads which participants in my recent SF/F class created in order to continue discussing fantasy and science fiction books of note in-depth.  The plan is to have one book a month to read and discuss, alternating between works of science fiction and fantasy.  We are starting with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale for April.

Margaret Atwood is well-known for refusing the label “science fiction” for her work.  In fact, three decades later I still have trouble thinking of her work as a science fiction; I grew up looking at what my parents — both avid readers — were reading and my mom had all the early French translations of Atwood’s works.  My mom has never liked science fiction, ergo, Margaret Atwood didn’t write science fiction!

You can view the book online on OnRead.com.  It had the distinction of making No. 37 on the American Library Association (ALA)’s list of 100 most challenged books of the 1990-1999 decade, but dropped to No. 88 in 2000-2009, woo-hoo!

You can read many of Atwood’s works: books, short stories, essays, articles, interviews, as well as reviews or her books, etc. on Unz.org.

The discussion of the book’s motifs on TV Tropes is worth browsing.  I think it’s fair to say that as a place to live in, the Republic of Gilead sits as far as it can from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland.

There is a 1990 movie starring Natasha Richardson as Offred, Faye Dunaway as Serena Joy, and Robert Duvall as The Commander; the link has the entire movie with original English audio but German subtitles on YouTube.

A dramatic adaptation of the novel for radio was produced for BBC Radio 4 by John Dryden in 2000.  Listen online to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of 3.

"The Handmaid's Tale" opera productionThere is even an opera by Danish composer Poul Ruders; you can sample and buy tracks here.  From what I can see, the visuals in the English National Opera’s production were very dramatic even if the music got lukewarm reviews from critics.

Someone used Storify.com to make a sort of visual summary of the book using images from edition covers, stills from the 1990 movie, and images of the opera productions.

I think it’s fair to say that Atwood’s book had far-reaching influence, even in unabashedly entertainment-oriented science fiction.  Gilead is a dead ringer for several dystopias in later books, like David Drake’s Protectorate of Grayson (the redeemable version of Gilead) and Masada (the hard-core version) in his Honor Harrington series; and Elizabeth Moon’s New Texas (known in our household as “the Space Stupids”) in her Familias Regnant universe.

An interesting perspective from a self-described Mennonite feminist, The Femonite: The Handmaid’s Tale – Atwood and Feminism Then and Now.

Once again, I’m going to mention the game Shock: Social Science Fiction (Glyphpress), which is a fiction game of culture and future shock. Based on the works of masters of speculative fiction, the game pushes the players to make stories that matter to them — stories about politics, philosophy, love, and death.  It is a very good way to re-create a story in the style of Atwood’s various thought experiments.


Top illustration by Anna and Elena Balbusso, winners of a Gold Award from The American Society of Illustrators, for the Culture Label deluxe edition.  No copyright challenge intended.

Photo of English National Opera’s production of the opera version obtained from The Guardian UK.  No copyright challenge intended.

Pop Culture Bradbury

The Martian Chronicles (TV series)To go with my online class Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, I started a series of posts listing companion materials in pop culture, preferably ones that are a little forgotten, have not received the attention I think they deserve, or take an unusual angle.  All the better if they are available online, double-plus for free.

These are the ones I propose to accompany this week’s reading, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.  Resources are more limited than on previous weeks because the works are still covered by copyright.

If you are in the UK, there is now a legal ebook version.  “Bradbury had long held firm against the encroachments of the internet. He believed that “there is no future for e-books, because they are not books. Ebooks smell like burned fuel”, and also dismissed the internet in an interview with the New York Times in 2009, calling it a “big distraction … It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.””  Which is interesting, from an author who featured electronic books in his stories over sixty years ago!

You can read a large number of Bradbury’s stories online thanks to Unz.org.

Back in 1950 there was an abridged version of The Martian Chronicles as a radio play on the NBC radio program “Dimension X.”  You can download an MP3 version of the first episode from Old Time Radio Downloads (about 6 MB).  Plus, the original was sponsored by Wheaties!  What’s not to like?  Scroll down the list for more episodes.

In 1979, there was a three-part mini-series as a result of a BBC-NBC partnership that gave a somewhat more complete version, but much of the story was changed.  You can check it out on DiscloseTV, here is Part 1.  Sure, it was less than stellar (ha-ha), but the anticipation of it is what got me to read the original Bradbury stories as a kid.

The Stanley Myers soundtrack of that television series was not bad, though; it can be found on iTunes.

Leonard Nimoy reads the shorts stories “Usher II” and “There Will Come Soft Rains” from The Martian Chronicles.

As a classmate pointed out, a crater on the moon bears the name Dandelion Wine in honour of his renowned short story collection, and British pop singer Elton John based his song “Rocket Man” on the Bradbury story of the same name.  (Reference: NNDB.)

The site of the Curiosity rover’s landing on Mars was named Bradbury Landing by NASA in August 2012.

The Martian Chronicles illustration

Pop Culture Mars and Herland

To go with my online class Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, I started a series of posts listing companion materials in pop culture, preferably ones that are a little forgotten, have not received the attention I think they deserve, or take an unusual angle.  All the better if they are available online, double-plus for free.

These are the ones I propose to accompany Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland.

A Princess of Mars

The book is available in audio format from LibriVox, from Candlelight Stories, from The Fantastic Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and from The Audio Archive’s YouTube channel.

John Carter (Disney 2012)You’ve heard of the 2012 Disney movie, John Carter.  You may have even heard that it was a stinker; it wasn’t.  For apparently fiscal reasons, Disney decided to write this movie off before it even came out.  I was rather reminded of the way Fox Entertainment treated a number of good television shows, most notably Firefly.  The truth is, John Carter was actually quite well done, pretty faithful to the feel and excitement of the original material while managing to tone down a lot of its racism and sexism.  On the down side, it did meld the elements from several of Burroughs books rather than following a single one.  Most importantly for the genre, it was entertaining.  I liked it better than the Star Wars prequels, the Star Trek reboot, or Avatar, if only because it was unpretentious.

Mars cover (Adamant Entertainment)Then there is the role-playing game from Adamant Entertainment, Mars, published in two versions for both the Savage Worlds and d20 systems.  Although they had to file off the serial numbers to accommodate the heirs of Burroughs copyrights, the inspiration is acknowledged and very clear.  I enjoyed the game in its SW version.

The theme of “planetary romance”, also known as “sword and planet” and especially as exemplified by Burroughs, has inspired other role-playing games including Douglas Easterly’s Savage Swords of Athanor, also using the Savage Worlds system and available as a free PDF.  The author offers a lot of interesting musings on his blog on running this type of game.

In comic books and graphic novels, Burroughs’ Martians make short but interesting appearances (along with H.G. Wells’ Martians) in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II.

Herland

Here is the audiobook version of Herland from LibriVox; and two short radio episodes of Gilman’s writing, “California Colors” and “Matriatism” from the California Legacy Project.

In addition, here are the two other books in the Herland trilogy: Moving the Mountain, a sort of post-prequel; and the direct sequel, With Her in Ourland.

Unz.org gathered a nice collection of Gilman’s writings online.

Let’s face it, the expository section of Herland is not as exciting as Burroughs’ florid but action-laden prose, using gentle humour to make its point; but it managed to leave its mark in a few places.

For context, one needs to learn a bit about late 19th century and early 20th century social reform movements; I highly recommend Susan Jacoby’s book Freethinkers because it is concise, also provides the historical context before and since, and gives a wider picture of those inter-linked movements rather than looking only at one, for example feminism or racial equality.

Wonder Women coverThe central theme of Herland is of course the feminist utopia concept, or as TV Tropes calls it, Lady Land.  It is found in a lot of very academic works, but also on Wonder Woman’s island of Themyscira.

Speaking of which, a side look at Lillian S. Robinson’s Wonder Women: Feminisms and Superheroes is interesting, short and punchy — as befits the topic.  In only briefly mentions Herland but it does discuss the topic of feminist utopias.

Feminist utopias and dystopias: “The Women’s Millennium” by Charles Heber Clark, writing under the pseudonym of “John Quill”, 1867.

Gilman’s legacy directly or indirectly influenced other science fiction writers like Ursula LeGuin, Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy, James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon), and Doris Lessing.

Pop Culture Wells

Sketch of H. G. WellsTo go with my online class Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, I started a series of posts listing companion materials in pop culture, preferably ones that are a little forgotten, have not received the attention I think they deserve, or take an unusual angle.  All the better if they are available online, double-plus for free.

These are the ones I propose to accompany H. G. Wells’ novels The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Invisible Man, and his short stories “The Country of the Blind” and “The Star.”

General

There is even more pop culture material tracking back to Wells than to last week’s star, Edgar Allan Poe, so I mostly focused on this week’s specific readings.  Still, here are a few resources of general interest:

  • Wells is probably the first to publish a miniatures game with his book Little Wars; he played war games with his son using toy soldiers long before such games were sold in packaged boxes.
    • Little Wars on the Gutenberg Project; also, the audiobook version. This essay and the next gives his account, with photos, of creating worlds of whole-cloth and staging adventures and battles.
    • Floor Games on the Gutenberg Project; also, the audiobook version. The companion book to Little Wars.
  • Lots of scholarly articles on this page from DePauw University.
  • H.G. Wells’ works online on Unz.org.
  • Wells on women, a 1895 article.

"The Island of Doctor Moreau" coverThe Island of Doctor Moreau

  • The book is available in free audio version on LibriVox;
  • The best known movie adaptation is probably the 1996 version, starring Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando, which received bad reviews.  There is also a 1977 version with Burt Lancaster and Michael York.  However, you may be interested in viewing the 1932 Island of Lost Souls, starring Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi, available free on YouTube.
  • Wells on utopias, 1939.

"The Invisible Man" coverThe Invisible Man

  • The book is available in free audio version on LibriVox and YouTube.
  • Griffin (the Invisible Man)’s portrayal as a rather odious fellow was a great deal of fun in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s graphic novel series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (not the disappointing movie based on the series).  I enjoyed volumes 1 and 2 of the collected issues, though not the subsequent books.

The Country of the Blind

  • Wikipedia links to several MP3 and RealAudio files of readings of the story for radio plays (scroll to the bottom of the page).
  • The 1947 radio play is also available on YouTube (30:27).

The Star

  • BBC Radio played “The Star” as read by Sir Patrick Stewart on its show “Twenty Minutes”, but the file seems to have been pulled.  😦

Pop Culture Hawthorne and Poe

Black CatTo go with my online class Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, I started a series of posts listing companion materials in pop culture, preferably ones that are a little forgotten, have not received the attention I think they deserve, or take an unusual angle.  All the better if they are available online, double-plus for free.

These are the ones I propose to accompany this week’s readings: Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s short stories “The Birthmark,” “Rappaccini’s Daughter,”  and “The Artist of the Beautiful,” found in Mosses from an Old Manse, and “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” found in Twice-Told Tales; and Edgar Allan Poe‘s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” “The Oval Portrait,” “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” “The Bells,” “The Raven,” and “Annabel Lee,” found in The Portable Poe.

Hawthorne

I’ll be honest, I’ve never enjoyed Hawthorne; he worries way too much about sin for my taste.  Besides, I like the writings of Poe, Mark Twain and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and all three were critical of Hawthorne’s writings.  Nowadays, there just aren’t many references about Hawthorne in pop culture; in fact he was rather, uh, prophylactic to pop culture.

  • Thankfully, Kate Beaton of the webcomic Hark, A Vagrant has us covered (“The Scarlet Letter”, middle of the page.)
  • There is also a Tumblr tag with Hawthorne pop references.
  • Here is Edgar Allan Poe himself, giving Hawthorne mixed praise in a review in Godey’s Lady’s Book, November 1847.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writings and related articles on Unz.org.

raven

Poe

There is, on the contrary, a lot of Poe pop references to comic books.

By the way, Poe died in mysterious circumstances at the age of 40.  Given that he was a pedophile (hey, he even married his 13-year-old cousin when he was 29), I don’t care how good a writer he was — I don’t mourn his early death.

Pop Culture Dracula

NosferatuTo go with my online class Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, I started a series of posts listing companion materials in pop culture, preferably ones that are a little forgotten, have not received the attention I think they deserve, or take an unusual angle.  All the better if they are available online, double-plus for free.

These are the ones I propose to accompany Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  (Note that I’m trying to concentrate on characters from Stoker’s book, not vampires in general, otherwise we would drown in references.)

  • Mina Murray’s portrayal in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s graphic novel series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (not the disappointing movie based on the series). I enjoyed volumes 1 and 2 of the collected issues, though not the subsequent books.
  • The 1922 movie Nosferatu, a cult classic available free online; it was an unauthorized version of Dracula so the characters were renamed.
  • The 1931 authorized movie version, Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, also available free online.
  • The 1938 radio play Dracula, which was the inaugural episode of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air, also available free online.
  • The 1958 Hammer Films version with the suave Peter Cushing, titled Horror of Dracula to distinguish it from Bela Lugosi’s landmark performance; free, on DailyMotion.
  • Kate Beaton’s take in her webcomic Hark, a Vagrant: Dracula.
  • There’s an app for that: PadWorx’ Dracula for iPad, an interactive version of the story.
  • Bram Stoker’s works online on Unz.org.