It is rather hard to believe, but by pure chance the last three novels I read in sequence were all Metahistorical narratives - not in the sense of Hayden White or Gaian ecology… What I am referring to in the case of these three books is a Metahistory as a condition, or perhaps even a technique, for examining the inter-locking possible “worlds” which are branching off from one another at pivotal moments, like fractals in space-time. This may seem like a rather typical science fiction trope - that of parallel universes or multiple simultaneous dimensions - but strangely enough, the device was used in all three of these books in a particular way, which was to provide a narrative arc for the characters to experience another world the way things might have been, but weren’t, in their own worlds. Let me take them in the order that I read them, to explain.
At Boskone 48, not only were there great works of Greg Manchess, Omar Rayyan, and Bob Eggleton, among others, taking up several rows of panels, but there was also an entire wall dedicated to an exhibit of original SF and Fantasy paintings! Curated by Joe Siclari and Edie Stern, the exhibit featured dozens of works from their collection, as well as many more loaned by other major collectors. Now that I have a decent mini voice recorder, I decided to do a long walk through the exhibit and comment on the paintings. Fortunately, I remembered to mention most of the dates and the sources where the paintings were published, so now I can reconstruct a major part of the exhibit from the recording for this post. In fact, it would probably make the most sense to just listen to the MP3 (below) as you browse down the images of the works being discussed. Hope you enjoy the virtual exhibit!
The first paintings by Milton Luros that I remember seeing featured beautiful women, rendered with a soft, almost flat touch. For some reason the image of a green-skinned Amazon, struggling in bondage as two human spacemen try to drag her into a cage always sticks in my mind. With a light touch, the artist shaped her glamorous lipstick into a snarl of defiance that would make Betty & Veronica proud, and he framed her pointed ears and antennae with a wild mane of red hair. Plus, you’ve got to give those wild alien women credit for their fashion sense - who wouldn’t kill for that strapless red shag mini-dress! Then there was the cracking good composition of a woman fainting in the embrace of a blue-skinned alien man, framed against a vivid red planet. Unlike the previous image, this is very much a loving embrace, the woman’s hand is delicately twined around our blue-skinned superman’s bicep, while his figure is framed by a simple white backlight for dramatic effect. This image is iconic, like some sort of Gone With the Wind in outer space. Years later, when I read Earl Kemp’s article, Cherry Pink and Uncle Milty Time, I was amazed by the number of covers Luros had painted during the 40s and 50s, before his career as a porno publisher took off.
Another artist who appeared briefly then disappeared into the woodwork of the illustration world was Lloyd Birmingham, who created one of my favorite covers from the early 1960s. His illustration for Mark Clifton’s story Hang Head, Vandal! (April 1962) has always fascinated me. It’s an image of a spacesuit being used as a scarecrow, propped up on a post so that it floats above a flat plane by a few inches. Tufts of straw are poking out of ragged holes in the suit,which is missing it’s left hand and right foot, and more straw is brimming out of the open visor of the helmet.
The cool illustrations of Yuri Makarov [Юрий Георгиевич Макаров], featur
It was pure luck for me to pick up the classic first appearance of Arthur C. Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night before attending my first SF Con. That con was a very early one-off Star Trek show (which seems to have vanished from this dimension without a trace) and was held in Albuquerque around 1974 or 1975. The con featured a recreation of the Enterprise bridge, made of crude plywood and painted black, and George Takei was there, along with some other cast members whom I’ve forgotten. The reason I attended was to see A. E. Van Vogt, and to have him sign the paperbacks I’d been reading and collecting. He signed my copies of War Against the Rull and The Battle of Forever. In the first, he wrote: “Good luck, good wishes, good future!” all over the title page. I still have that on my shelf. I’m not sure what happened to Battle of Forever, but I recall that he inscribed it as: “My farthest out story!” Recently I was poking around the bookshelf looking for good alien images (to be shown at an Arisia panel in January), and I starting leafing through this copy of Startling Stories from Nov 1948. One thing I discovered was that Van Vogt also signed his story Domain, which appeared in this issue. Another thing I found out, on the editorial page, was that this was Van Vogt’s first appearance in Startling. But what most attracted my attention were the incredible black and white illustrations for Against the Fall of Night. Since I couldn’t seem to find existing scans of these images anywhere on the internet, I decided to scan them for everyone to enjoy.
The amazing works of Charles Ashford Binger will be shown in the first major exhibition of his works in 45 years! “Charles Binger: A Pulp Life“ will open at the La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Hollywood, CA on January 7th and run through the end of the month. Binger’s interesting career spanned from movie posters and portraits, to ground-breaking science fiction covers in the 1950s, and hard-boiled detective pulps. His style has been characterized as utilizing “impeccable composition, rendered in a painterly style over roughened textures.” I would hasten to add that Binger was able to incorporate elements of cubism, realism, impressionism, and abstract expressionism into his works…often as not by combining them into a single canvas!
Went to see the new Tsui Hark film “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame“ [狄仁杰之通天帝国] at one of the downtown shopping centers in Taipei and loved it! Apparently, the only showing in America so far has been at the Toronto Film Festival in September where it was reviewed as a return to fun for Hark. I certainly thought it was fun myself, harking back to the crazy wuxia themes that played so well in Chinese Ghost Story [倩女幽魂] __and Green Snake [青蛇]. For those of us who also loved the series of novels fashioned on Judge Dee by Van Gulik, this movie seems to distort the character into a much-larger than life action hero. Nonetheless, the cinematic style and lavish attention to sets create a fantasy epic very much worth seeing. The underworld scenery and throwaway characters reminded me of the similar backdrops used in Hellboy II and Pirates of the Caribbean At World’s End Singapore sets, suggesting that Tsui Hark has made a close study of those design ideas and paid homage to them.