WAVELENGTH (1983) – This is an unjustly neglected science fiction film that stars Robert Carradine, Cherie Currie and Keenan Wynn in a very unconventional love triangle: both Carradine and Currie are fighting over Wynn. (I’m kidding!)
Robert Carradine plays a moody musician suffering a career lull, Cherie Currie portrays a groupie who becomes a bona fide romantic partner for him and Keenan Wynn barks and snarls in his usual “grouch with a heart of gold” manner. Cherie’s sensitive mind is open to alien brain-waves calling to her from a nearby (seemingly) abandoned government installation. Carradine and his neighbor Wynn help her try to find out what’s going on. Continue reading
THE EMPEROR OF THE AIR (1910) – Written by George Glendon, this is a story about two visionaries – the German-American tycoon Hans Kreutzer and the Italian inventor Anatole Lonari.
The inventor has been finagled out of profiting from many revolutionary creations and feels very embittered. The tycoon, despite his comfortable existence, has become a dedicated anarchist and longs to lay low the “oppressor nations.”
Kreutzer and Lonari join forces and settle in a remote area of Spain to pursue their dream project. The inventor perfects a very advanced rotary engine while the tycoon/ entrepreneur produces a vacuum-lifted aircraft that requires no helium or hydrogen to rise into the sky.
Throw in solid fuel and futuristic explosives and the two masterminds complete their airship called the Zara. It can fly up to 100 miles per hour and remain airborne for extended periods of time. Continue reading
COUNTERSTRIKE is a tragically forgotten British sci fi television series from 1969. Jon Finch (left) portrayed Simon King, an alien agent who worked for the Intergalactic Council. This council had sent him to Earth to protect it from a group of renegade aliens from a dying planet who wanted to conquer the Earth and make it their new home.
Not the most original of premises, but that inimitable British panache breathed life into the series, which unfortunately ran for just ten episodes, one of which was preempted by a special about the British gangsters named the Krays and was never rescheduled. Continue reading
THE WARSTOCK: A TALE OF TOMORROW (1898) – Written by the British William Oliver Greener under the pen name Wirt Gerrare. Despite this book’s Great Britain origins, the two lead characters are American inventors from Plainfield, New Jersey – Robert Sterry and Willie Redhead.
In the near future (from 1898), the pair have discovered a new energy source and use it to power their wireless telegraphy system called the Sterrygraph. Sterry and Redhead seek investors in England and on the Continent without success.
While hitting the social circuit in London, our heroes meet Madeline Winship, who connects them with backers who are part of an exclusive Royal Society-inspired group of scientific minds. The group are called the Isocrats, and they devote themselves to science and similar intellectual pursuits, like elevating dancing to what we might call performance art. Continue reading
BELLONA’S HUSBAND (1887) – This book was written by West Point graduate (Class of 1867) William James Roe under the pen name Hudor Genone.
The novel’s main character, named Archibald Holt, invests in Professor Ratzinez Garrett’s project which centers on hydrogenium, the professor’s metallic form of hydrogen. This substance may be lighter than air but it is also very, very resilient.
Garrett constructs a disc-shaped spaceship that uses hydrogenium as its anti-gravity agent. Holt and Professor Garrett are joined by Trip, a shady friend of Garrett’s, who travels with them on a flight to the planet Mars.
As they approach the Red Planet, the trio discover that what Earthlings have named Phobos and Deimos are not really moons but are instead enormous abandoned spaceships which once transported large aliens from Jupiter and Saturn. Continue reading
MARS REVEALED (1880) – Written by Henry A. Gaston, this is another work that combines science fiction with religious and spiritual concepts.
The novel’s narrator, while walking in the hills of northern California during springtime, is approached by a Celestial Spirit. The spirit interrogates him about his lack of knowledge regarding the arcane secrets of the other planets in our solar system.
Our narrator expresses a willingness to be tutored in those secrets and the spirit offers to show him any planet of his choice. He selects Mars and the Celestial Spirit flies off with him toward the Red Planet. The voyager is awed by the sight of Earth far below and by the hills and valleys of the moon as they fly past it.
Approaching Mars, the Earthman sees that the planet has a pink atmosphere and, rather than be all red like it appears from Earth, the Martian surface is red mixed with silver and green. After circling Mars a few times, the Celestial Spirit and the Narrator land atop the highest mountain peak on the planet.
Mountaintops on Mars are covered in snows that have a pink tinge to them because of the pink atmosphere. Trees larger and taller than any on Earth grow far down from the peaks and those trees give off a perfumed scent. Continue reading
Olivia Newton-John has passed away. In memoriam here is my 2020 review of her 1970 film Toomorrow, which went unreleased for several years due to legal battles.
TOOMORROW (1970) – What is one part Monkees episode, one part Frankie & Annette Beach Movie, one part Help!, one part Donny & Marie in Goin’ Coconuts, one part KISS Meets The Phantom of the Park and one part Beyond the Valley of the Dolls? The answer is Toomorrow, the infamous Don Kirshner/ Val Guest cult movie with a then-unknown Olivia Newton-John in a starring role.
The aim was to launch a new pre-fab pop band like the Monkees, but this time consisting of an Aussie (Newton-John of course), a Brit (Vic Cooper), an African-American (Karl Chambers) and a white American (Benny Thomas).
Olivia sings and also dances around the guys while they play, Benny plays the guitar, Karl is the drummer and Vic plays the keyboard AND his special invention called a Tonalizer. The band is called Toomorrow because, as Karl observes, they are “Too much! Too-Morrow!”
We’re told that Vic’s Tonalizer is what gives Toomorrow its special “sound.” How special is that sound? So special that its unique vibrations can revive the stagnant culture of an alien race that’s facing decay and collapse. It seems the aliens’ own musical output has grown stale because they have long since progressed beyond the troublesome “emotions” and “heart” that Toomorrow’s members pour into their songs.
Buy this movie for the Sandbaggers or Dalgleish fan in your life, because Roy “Neil Burnside” Marsden co-stars as Alpha, the captain of the aliens’ spaceship. His forever-terse voice is unmistakable despite the – admittedly competent – makeup and prosthetic effects for the ET’s (above right). Continue reading
THE RAINBOW OF ADAMANT (1897) – Written by Charles Kelsey Gaines, this short story is an excellent example of how slowly word of scientific discoveries was spread in the 19th Century compared to our lightning-fast communications of today. The Rainbow of Adamant was written during the period when most of the world was still going by assumptions and theories about helium.
That element had been officially detected in 1868 and subsequently confirmed but its exact properties were unknown for decades. In 1895 a trio of scientists – Per Teodor Cleve, Nils Abraham Langlet and Sir William Ramsay – found helium emanating from “cleveite” (now known as a variety of uraninite) and documented its properties.
As word of the trio’s work was slowly disseminating among the rest of the scientific community and the general public, the April 1897 issue of The Pocket Magazine published Charles Kelsey Gaines’ short story The Rainbow of Adamant. That tale, reviewed below, presented a much more fanciful and exciting version of helium’s properties. Continue reading
THE SICKLE OF FIRE (1896) – Written by Charles Kelsey Gaines, an American author who set this particular short story in British Columbia. The main characters are our narrator and a scientist named O.D. McKazy.
Hydropyrogen, a newly discovered element, is theorized to be a lost element that was used by the ancient Greeks for their never-recreated Liquid Fire. The element is the lightest element known (in this fictional context). Hydropyrogen is derived by burning a certain seaweed under an electric current.
When put under pressure and extreme cold, the element solidifies into sharp, slender crystals colored red. Those crystals can be stored in glass containers but if they come into contact with water they burst into flame. Continue reading
THE ARTIFICIAL MOTHER (1894) – This short story was written by George H. Putnam, who served in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War and was also a Prisoner of War. He was part of the Putnam publishing empire and in 1901 authored the children’s story The Little Gingerbread Man.
With tongue obviously in cheek, Putnam dedicated the tale to “The oppressed husbands and fathers of the land and to the unknowing young men who may be contemplating matrimony.” George claimed he had actually written The Artificial Mother nearly twenty-five years earlier but did not publish it until 1894.
An upstart inventor, already feeling overwhelmed with his and his wife’s seven children, is shocked when she now gives birth to twins. The couple are not rich and they cannot afford to hire help, so they find themselves exhausted trying to take care of nine children, two of them infants. (“Red-faced tyrants” the inventor jokingly calls the twins.)
Our central character develops plans to construct a robot in order to ease the workload for himself and his wife. Continue reading