Saturday, 6 December 2008

"Love Bites

I've worked overtime all week and worked five hours a day, so I feel a bit tired. Rather than do a full fledged blog post then, I thought I would leave you tonight with a video courtesy of YouTube. In this case, it is "Love Bites" performed live by Judas Priest. It was one of the singles from their album Defenders of the Faith, and I suspect the most popular song from that album. It is also the only Judas Priest song of which I can think which deals with vampirism.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Sci-Fi and Horror Fan Forrest Ackerman R.I.P.

I have some very sad new for my fellow geeks. Our leader has passed on. Forrest Ackerman, who was one of the earliest fans of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres, a leader in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror fandom, and the founder and publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland, passed yesterday at the age of 92. The cause was heart failure.

Forrest J. Ackerman, "Uncle Forry" to the many younger fans he inspired, was born November 24, 1916 in Los Angeles, California. His obsession with science fiction began when he was only nine years old and bought a copy of the magazine Amazing Stories at a drug store in Los Angeles. In 1930 he founded the Boys' Scientifiction Club (female fans being exceedingly rare in those days before Star Trek and Star Wars). He was contributor to the two pf the first science fiction fanzine, The Time Traveller and Science Fiction (published by Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, who would go on to create Superman). By 1933 he had 127 pen pals, among them such individuals as soon to be legendary fantasist Ray Bradbury. At the first World Science Fiction Convention Forrest Ackerman he wore the first science fiction costume designed by a fan. In 1939 he founded the fanzine Futuria Fantasia. He co-founded both the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society and the National Fantasy Fan Federation.

During World War II Ackerman edited the military newspaper at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, California. Following the war Ackerman served as a literary agent for writers ranging from Isaac Asimov to A. E. Van Vogt to Ray Cummings. By 1951 Forrest Ackerman was already well know for his massive collection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror memorabilia, housed in what he called the "Ackermansion." It was that year that a Texas couple stopped by his house to see the collection. Thereafter Ackerman held informal tours of his collection every Saturday. Three years later in 1954, while listening to the radio and hearing the word "hi fi" mentioned, that he coined the term "sci-fi" as short for "science fiction." Although not the favourite term of every fan, it has stuck to the genre ever since.

It was in 1958 that Forrest Ackerman founded Famous Monsters of Filmland, the premiere magazine dedicated to horror movies. It was published by James Warren of Warren Publishing. It was initially conceived as a one shot publication, but was such a hit that it would be published until 1983. The magazine would be a major influence on such artists as Alice Cooper, Stephen King, Joe Dante, and Rick Baker, among others. In the Sixties, Ackerman was responsible for the publication of English translations of the German Perry Rhodan series. He also created the superheroine Vampirella for Warren Publishing in 1969.

Forrest Ackerman wrote over 2000 short stories and articles, sometimes using pseudonyms such as Claire Voyant and, perhaps most famously, Dr. Acula. He edited or co-edited a large number of books, including including 365 Science Fiction Short Stories and A Book of Weird Tales. He wrote what is believed to be the first lesbian science fiction story ("World of Loneliness") and as Laurajean Ermayne wrote lesbian romances for Vice Versa magazine in the Forties. He also aided the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organisation in the United States, in their early publishing efforts. The Daughters of Bilitis even named him an "honorary lesbian" for his help. He also made cameos in numerous movies, including Equinox, Schlock, The Howling, and Brain Dead (AKA Dead Alive. He was a producer on the telefilm based on the character he created, Vampirella.

Forrest Ackerman was perhaps the most legendary fan of all time, a fan who was famous not for being a writer, an artist, director, or musician, but simply famous for being a fan. He perhaps did more than any one person to ever live to promote the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres. His magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland would influence multiple generations of fans, some of who would become famous in their own rights. He gathered together the largest known collection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror memorabilia, preserving the history of these three related genres. He was also one of the kindest and most gracious gentlemen in fandom. At a horror movie convention in New York City, over a three day period, he once signed more than 10,000 autographs. He always had time for younger fans and became close friends with many of them. Although Forry Ackerman and his wife had no children, he left behind an exceedingly large number of young fans on whom he left his indelible imprint. The genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror are much poorer now for his passing.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

My War With the Dating Site Ads

As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, I despise the new Facebook. One of the many downsides of the new version (which are too many to list here) is that it features more ads than the old one. Worse yet, it features a ton of ads for dating sites. They were somewhat prevalent on the old version, but now they just seem so much more plentiful.

Now I realise that most social networking sites (Care2.Com and YouPet seem to be the exceptions) feature tons of ads for online dating sites. I can't log into MySpace without seeing a gazillion of them. Unfortunately, one can do nothing about them on MySpace. Facebook is a different matter. On Facebook one can rate various ads as far as their appeal to him or her. That is, each ad has a "thumbs up" and a "thumbs down" symbol beneath it. If one clicks the "thumbs up" a little pop up, well, pops up listing the reasons one liked the ad: "Interesting;" "Relevant to Me;" "Good Offer;" and "Other (in which case one can write why one liked the ad)." If one clicks the "thumbs down" a little pop up pops up listing the reasons one disliked the ad: "Misleading;" "Offensive," "Irrelevant," and "Other (in which case one can write why one disliked the ad)." To this end, I have declared war on the ads for online dating sites.

The fact is that I am not in the market for a lady friend right now. And even if I was, I would not go to an online dating service for one. I do shop for a lot of stuff online (books, CDS, DVDs, clothing), but women are not one of them! Aside from this, so many of the dating services advertised on Facebook I would never use even if I was so inclined to subscribe to an online dating site. To wit, even though I am only 45, Facebook seemed convinced I was interested in dating senior citizens. There were all these ads for "mature dating (I have always taken "mature" as a code word for "old")," Boomers (I am not a Baby Boomer--I am a Gen Xer), and, worst of all, "single women 40 to 60 (did it occur to them someone who is 60 is almost old enough to be my mother....)." I marked all of them "Irrelevant" until I finally gave up and shaved ten years off my age (now with regards to age, I just gets ads for "women over 30"). I hate lying about my age. I have no problem with being 45. But I am not a senior citizen yet (for that matter, I will get old, but I'll never be a senior citizen, but that's a topic for another time).

Beyond ads for dating sites for old folks, there are ads for other dating sites that would not interest me even if I was interested in dating sites. An example are the couple of ads for "single men" or "gay men" that have appeared. Now I have gay friends. Some of my favourite writers, musicians, and actors are gay. But I am not wired that way. I happen to be very attracted to women and never, ever entertained the idea of sex with another man. In fact, the idea makes me want to throw up, just like eating tofu does. It makes me wonder if gay men get the occasional ad for "single women" when they're using Facebook....

While I am on the subject of online dating services I would not use even if I was so inclined to, there are also ads for "Catholic dating" and "Christian singles." Now I will admit that I have had a weakness for Catholic girls in the past, but the fact is that I am not even Christian! I guess Facebook got tired of throwing ads for Christian dating sites at me, so I saw an ad for "Jewish Singles" this morning. Note, I am not Jewish either (I have friends who are though...maybe Facebook thinks they need to be fixed up with someone...).

Some of the ads can even be insulting. "Thirty five and still single?" Give me a break. I thought we were over the whole, "you must be married to be happy" thing. "Tired of being lonely?" Who says that if one is single he or she is going to be lonely? I know plenty of people who are not in relationships who are very happy. They may not have a man or woman in their lives, but they have plenty of friends. In fact, they're sometimes happier than people in relationships....

Of course, the ads for online dating sites are not the only ones that do not interest me. There is an ad that constantly appears for renting apartments in Medellin. Now I have no objections to living outside the United States. I have no objections to living in South America. Someone very dear to me does. But if I was going to live in South America, it would be in Rio de Janeiro or Santiago, Chile. Medellin (wasn't that a Vincent Chase movie?) isn't even on my short list of places I'd want to live in South America. I mean, it's in Colombia, not the safest place around (I could see getting gunned down by one of Pablo Escobar's heirs apparent). Another wholly irrelevant ad is for "Oprah's Acai Berry Diet." I hardly need to lose weight. Now I am only five foot five inches and weigh 9 stone, 4 pounds (that's about 130 pounds or so). If anything, I need to gain weight. Even if I weighed fifty pounds more than I do and wanted to lose weight, I do not think I would use any diet favoured by Oprah (I am not her biggest fan). Two other wholly irrelevant ads I saw on Facebook were ones for Grey's Anatomy (not a show I have lost any love for) and Lifetime Movie Network (my definition of torture...lock me in a room and force me to watch an hour of Lifetime movies....).

Fortunately, it seems my war on the online dating site ads has been slowly having an impact. I have been seeing fewer of them, and there are more ads for things that actually interest me. Yesterday I saw one for downloading an audio version of Ray Bradbury's classic Something Wicked This Way Comes in MP3 format. Another I've seen quite frequently of late is for Star Trek t-shirts. Today I saw an ad for A Tailored Suit, an online store that lets one custom his own custom suit--including the shirt and tie (I generally dress in button up shirts and jeans, but I have always loved suits, especially the ones from Swinging London). Another ad that I have seen the past few months is for a "Netflix free trial (I already subscribe to Netflix, but Facebook doesn't know that)."

If it was up to me, there would be no such thing as advertising on the internet. Sadly, the reality is that nearly every site needs advertising to stay open. Given that, all I ask is that ads be relevant to me and that they actually advertise a product I might conceivably buy or a service I might conceivably use. I am not interested in online dating one bit. I am not interested in getting a Ukrainian or Chinese bride (with my luck, she'd get her American citizenship and divorce me anyway....). I am not interested in 60 year old cougars or 19 year old college girls. Quite simply, I shop for a lot of things online, but women are not one of them.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Answers to the Thanksgiving Quiz

Here are answers to the Thanksgiving quiz from November 24.

1. When and where was the first Thanksgiving held in the Thirteen Colonies?

The Berkeley Hundred in Virginia on December 4, 1619.


2. In what year did Thanksgiving become a Federal holiday?

1863

3. What famous song identified as a Christmas carol was originally written for Thanksgiving?

"Jingle Bells" or "One Horse Open Sleigh," as it was original called.

4. In What year was the first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade held (originally called the Macy's Christmas Day Parade, even though it was held on Thanksgiving?

1924

5. What was one of the first four balloons in the parade and the first based on an animated character?

Felix the Cat

6. What happened to many of the pre-World War II balloons at the start of World War II?

They were donated to the government to help in the war effort (rubber was in high demand).

7. On what network was the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade originally aired?

CBS

8. In what year did the Underdog balloon debut?

1965

9. In what decade was the phrase "Black Friday" applied to the day after Thanksgiving?

The Seventies.

10. What movie star celebrated his 120th birthday on Black Friday last year (clue: he starred in a movie called, well, Black Friday)?

Boris Karloff

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The Flying Aces of the Pulp Magazines

Almost from the moment the Wright Brothers made their famous flight, the English speaking world has had a love affair with flying aces. And after Charles Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris in 1927, that love affair grew more intense. In the wake of Lindburgh's flight there was no shortage of comic strips, books, and movies about pilots. Wings, Tailspin Tommy, Scorchy Smith, and Smilin' Jack all appeared not long after the Lone Eagle flew across the Atlantic. Men like Charles Bernard and Howard Hughes would become celebrities.

With the English speaking world absolutely crazy over flyboys, it was natural that the American pulp industry would jump on the bandwagon and debut magazines dedicated to aviators and flying. In fact, an entire genre dedicated to pilots and aviation arose, that of the air war pulp magazines. Many of the earliest air war pulps were anthology titles, not unlike Street and Smith's Detective Story or J.C. Henneberger's Weird Tales. Starting in the early Twenties, it was not long before pulp magazines with titles like Air Adventures, Airplane Stories, and Air War filled the racks of newsstands and drug stores. With the debut of The Shadow in March 1931 came the advent of the hero pulp. Naturally, it was not long before magazines dedicated to heroic aviators started appearing. There were such flying aces as The Three Mosquitoes, The Red Falcon (created and written by Robert J. Hogan before he created a character known as G-8...), and Sky Devil all appeared in the early Thirties. The best remembered and among the longest lasting aviator heroes, however, would appear in a two year period, from 1934 to 1935.

The first of these came from Street and Smith, publisher of both The Shadow and Doc Savage. Bill Barnes, Air Adventurer was created by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, pulp writer, former cavalry officer, and the man who would found what would become DC Comics, Henry W. Ralston, Street and Smith's general manager and among the men who came up with the initial concepts for The Shadow and Doc Savage, and editor F. Orlin Tremaine, best known as an editor on Astounding Science-Fiction. Using the house name "George L. Easton," Wheeler-Nicholson wrote the first six Bill Barnes adventures. Bill Barnes had been an Air Mail pilot and made a solo flight around the world. Building Barnes Field in Long Island, Barnes then started his own air service.

Despite being fairly well respected as a pulp writer, Major Wheeler-Nicholson was dismissed from Bil Barnes, Air Adventurer after six novels. The reason for the Major's dismissal quite simply had to do with the quality of the magazine at the time. Wheeler-Nicholson's Bill Barnes... was openly derivative of Doc Savage, albeit with stilted dialogue and ridiculously futuristic devices. Street and Smith brought in Charles Spain Verral to take over the magazine. Charles Spain Verral, who go onto become a successful children's author after the pulp era, totally revamped Bill Barnes, Air Adventurer. Ordered by Street and Smith to write as if the first six issues never happened, Verral did away with the futuristic technology, gave the characters more realistic dialogue, and turned Barnes' sidekick, Sandy" Sanders, into a realistic character. Verral provided Barnes with more realistic, yet still very advanced aircraft. He also introduced the first of Barnes' interesting villains, the Eurasian Otto Yahr.

Verral was a very good writer, but he also worked slowly, almost too slow for the pulps. Former British fighter pilot and aviation writer Arch Whitehouse was brought onto the magazine to fill in for Verral from time to time. Still later, former World War I balloon observer Harold "Monty" Montayne was brought onto the magazine. In the beginning Montayne and Verral rotated issues. The magazine would change in other ways as well. After twenty issues it was renamed Bill Barnes, Air Trails, borrowing its name from Street and Smith's defunct Air Trails magazine. With the new name it also grew to bedsheet size (roughly the size of Life magazine). The magazine would also change over time, as the Bill Barnes novels shrank in size and eventually the magazine simply became Air Trails in 1937. It was also that year that Charles Spain Verral quit the magazine over a dispute over the novel The Moon God, which contained elements of science fiction. Monty Montayne then took over the magazine.

Montayne tended to be more realistic than Verral and a good deal more bloodthirsty. He killed off Barnes' pilots Mort Henderson and Cy Hawkins (one of the best loved characters). He also created Barnes' archnemesis, Mordecai Murphy. Alongside The Shadow's Shiwan Khan and Doc Savage's John Sunlight, Mordecai Murphy was one of the great pulp villains. Called the Saver of Souls, he got criminals released from prison for his own nefarious purposes. Montayne also plotted to kill off Barnes' sidekick, Sandy Sanders, whom he had always hated. In fact, in the initial version of the novel The Great Impersonation, it was revealed that he had been murdered. Fortunately, the editors then stepped in and had Montayne revise the novel's ending so Sanders was found alive.

It was with March 1939 that Bill Barnes was kicked out of his own magazine. Although not longer featured in Air Trails, Barnes found a new home as Charles Spain Verral suggested Barnes could be used as a back up feature in Doc Savage. And before the end of that year Bill Barnes was appearing in the back pages of Doc Savage. He continued to appear in Doc Savage until that magazine switched to digest size, lasting appearing in its December 1943 issue.

The next major aviator to appear in the pulps was Dusty Ayres. Dusty Ayres was created by Robert Sidney Bowen, former World War I pilot and a successful writer who would later write the Red Randall series of novels. Ayres first appeared in Dusty Ayres and His Battle Birds, July 1934, published by Popular Publications. It differed from most air war pulp magazines in that it was set in a future in which Fire-Eyes and his Black Invaders, coming from an "obscure part of Central Asia," attacked the United States. Dusty Ayres and his Battle Birds (Jack Horner, Curley Brooks, and Biff Bolton), assisted by Agent 10 of United States intelligence, fought to save the free world from the Black Invaders. The pulp was filled with futuristic devices, from midget flame tanks to an explosive capable of destroying entire cities (this was many years before the invention of the atom bomb). Unfortunately, Dusty Ayres and His Battle Birds was not a success. It only lasted until July-August 1935.

Popular Publications next fighting ace would be a good deal more successful. In fact, he was not only the most successful pilot in the history of the pulps, but one of the most successful pulp characters of all time. G-8 debuted in September 1934, the same day as Popular's other star character, The Spider. G-8 and His Battle Aces was the creation of the prolific Robert J. Hogan, who wrote all 110 G-8 novels. Although fighting during World War I, G-8 differed from any fictional pilot before or since. Hogan based G-8 on his friend Harold "Bull" Nevin, who had worked in intelligence in France during the First World War. Quite simply, G-8 was not only a pilot, he was also a spy. His "Battle Aces" were Nippy Weston and Bull Martin. Nippy was a small man with fingers so agile that he was a virtuoso at prestidigitation. Bull was a large man, but friendly and none too bright. Battle was G-8's English butler, who had his own talents, even if he was not a pilot He was a master of disguise. Together the Battle Aces worked from a hanger at Le Bourget Field during World War I.

What further separated G-8 from other pilot heroes is that he not only faced the Germany Luftwaffe, but some of the most bizarre villains in pulp magazines, matched only by those fought by The Spider. Throughout its run, G-8 and His Battle Aces featured beast-men, a large array of monsters (including a giant tarantula), a Martian aiding the Germans, and undead German pilots. In many ways G-8 and His Battle Aces had as much in common with the weird menace or "shudder pulps" as it did the other hero pulps. Unlike other pulp heroes, G-8 had a few recurring opponents. His archenemy may have been Doktor Kruger, a mad scientist who invented many of the menaces G-8 faced. Herr Stahlmaske was a German pilot whom G-8 had mutilated and now covered his face with an iron mask (possibly an inspiration for Marvel Comics' Doctor Doom?). Herr Grun was an American aiding the Germans who resembled a caveman but possessed a genius IQ.

G-8 and His Battle Aces proved to be an incredible success. It ended its run with the June 1944 issue. Afterwards the G-8 novels would be reprinted, by Berkley in the Seventies and later by Adventure House and Vintage Books, among others.

Dell Magazines jumped on the aviator band wagon with Terence X. O'Leary's War Birds, the first issue cover dated March 1935. The character had actually made his first appearance in the story "Under Three Flags" all the way back in 1926 in the pages of War Stories. Over the years he appeared in such pulp magazines as Battle Stories and War Birds. In 1935, O'Leary took over War Birds and it became Terence X. O'Leary's War Birds. The creation of Arthur Empey, O'Leary began life an Irish stereotype of an Irishman serving during World War I. He evolved into an action hero who was eventually a military policeman, having served in the cavalry, the French Foreign Legion, and finally a pilot. As a pilot he was in command of the the "Black Wings Pursuit" Squadron or 411th Squadron (sometimes the 417th Squadron). With Terence O'Leary's War Birds, the series changed once more. This time around finds O'Leary finding himself facing the Ageless Men, immortals from Atlantis who survived the sinking of that island. Terence X. O'Leary's War Birds only lasted three issues. And the work of Arthur Empey is not today very highly regarded. In fact, he regarded as a bit of a hack. Regardless, the novels have been reprinted, by Odyssey Publications in the Seventies, which explains why he is remembered today.

Growing up in the Sixties and Seventies, when astronauts were the heroes du jour, I was fascinated by flying. Naturally, after Doc Savage, The Shadow, and The Spider sparked an interest in pulp magazines in me, I developed an interest in air war pulps. As might be expected, I would first discover G-8 and later Bill Barnes. Today these characters continue to possess a legion of fans. Given mankind's fascination with flight, it is safe to say they will continue to do so for a long time.