“‘It was history, honorable Mr. Smith, our knowledge of history that defeated him,’ said the Japanese archaeologist, reverting to the ancient politeness of his race.”
-A.E. van Vogt’s Black Destroyer (Astounding Science Fiction, July 1939)
Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) takes inspiration from a number of sources. The oldest direct literary allusion is to Joseph Conrad’s 1904 novel Nostromo. Nostromo, beside being the book’s title, is also the name of the novel’s protagonist and the name of the ship in Alien. Conrad’s novel is set in a fictional South American nation of Costaguana and in it’s seaport town of Sulaco, the name of the ship in Aliens.
In the novel Nostromo is an Italian seaman, a trusty capataz de los cargadores, a hyper-competent, but resentful, head longshoreman, and an employee of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company (perhaps hence forth to be named either “the company” or Weyland-Yutani). Having settled in the seaside town “Sulaco” he has established himself as an the indispensable man.
The crew of the Nostromo, in Alien, act much more like longshoremen than they do sailors – though I note that they are more commonly referred to as long haul trucker types*. But, given all the union shop talk, the bonuses, and all the loading and unloading equipment all over their ship (all those chains hanging down, remember?) and also Ripley’s later work with power loaders in the sequel, Aliens, the comparison to longshoremen is more apt. Moreover, the ship in Alien is named “Nostromo” and is a commercial mining ship.
James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) is mostly inspired by Alien (1979), having approximately the same recipe and relationship that Terminator 2 (1991) has to The Terminator (1984), yet Cameron still acknowledges the inspiration of Robert A. Heinlein’s novel, Starship Troopers (firrst published as “Starship Solider“). And, you can totally see it – what with the “combat drops” and the “bug hunts” and the power armor (powered exoskeletons).
Finally, and I posted about this back in 2012, there is a massive inspiration for the alien of Alien coming from a 1939 novelette by A.E. van Vogt, Black Destroyer. That story is told from the perspective of the intelligent alien animal. Here’s the art for it from the original publication:
More on Black Destroyer can be found here:
Newest to me, and perhaps least known [thanks to Chris for the pointer], is the fact that A.E. van Vogt’s second story in Astounding (December 1939), also influenced Alien. The story is entitled, Discord In Scarlet.
Again the cover story, Discord In Scarlet featured another alien horror attacking a crew of humans, but this one doesn’t so much look like the alien from Aliens as it does act like it – specifically it has the ability to plant its eggs in men for reproductive purposes. I’ve highlighted a gruesome passage here:
Also evocative, is the interior art for the story, two of the illustrations use some colour (rather rare for Astounding):
Both Black Destroyer and Discord In Scarlet were incorporated, with some revisions, into van Vogt’s fix-up novel The Voyage Of The Space Beagle.
Posted by Jesse Willis
*there is a D-grade movie called Space Truckers
The SFFaudio Podcast #269 – The Moth by H.G. Wells; read by Peter Bishop. This is a complete and unabridged reading of the short story (24 minutes) followed by a discussion of it. Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Seth and Mr Jim Moon!
Talked about on today’s show: Subtitle “Genus Novo” means “new species”, or, well, new genus; not to be confused with Edgar Allan Poe’s The Sphinx; not tongue-in-cheek like Wells’s The New Accelerator or The Flowering of a Strange Orchid; morality tale; insanity; a “knife fight” of scientists; significance of names, especially when only heard in audio; genre: ghost story, scientific fiction, satire; bears relevance to scientific debates through the ages; Robert Hooke vs. Isaac Newton; Lawrence Krauss on Geek’s Guide podcast; “miracle of incompetence”; science “all works out in the end”; microlepidoptera are little moths; confirmation bias; death’s head moth in Silence of the Lambs; caterpillars, moths, and transformation; Pawkins misheard as “Porkins”; chess and diatoms; follows trends of horrible characters in Wells stories; erratic, gadfly behavior of the moth; giant maddening mosquitos in Canada; “unfortunately the doctor was a blockhead”, detached sadism; the monster inside you à la Alien; multiple readings of the story; The Door in the Wall; strait jackets; moths aren’t Lovecraftian; Lovecraft’s The Rats in the Walls.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Julian May’s first published story, Dune Roller, became something of a popular tale – at least with editor Robert Silverberg who had it in two of his anthologies one which collected “masterpieces” and the other which collected “great” tales. Indeed, the novelette was quickly adapted as an episode of the Tales Of Tomorrow TV series. There was also an apparently “abominable” 1972 movie adaptation called The Cremators, and there was this 1961 BBC Home Service radio dramatization (available via torrent over on RadioArchive.cc).
Adapted from the short story by Julian May; Performed by a full cast
MP3 via TORRENT – Approx. 59 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: BBC Home Service
Broadcast: January 26, 1961
On isolated island in Lake Michigan a visiting ecologist discovers an unknown mineral that’s been linked to a local legend of a ravenous creature. First published in Astounding, December 1951.
It was also, rather successfully adapted to television for Tales Of Tomorrow:
Download the |MP4|.
Trailer for The Cremators:
Posted by Jesse Willis
Written and directed by Dirk Maggs
Cast: William Hootkins, Lorelei King, Vincent Marzello, Garrick Hagon, Kerry Shale, Eric Myers, Denica Fairman, Liz Ross, Stuart Milligan, Bert Kwouk, Leon Herbert
Publisher: Time Warner AudioBooks
Released: 1994 BBC Enterprises Ltd/2005 Time Warner AudioBooks
Synopsis: Daily Planet loves birds Clark Kent and Lois Lane finally get engaged. Lex Luthor dies in a plane crash, and Metropolis is thriving with prosperity and happiness under the infinite protection of Superman.
Or so it seems…
Follow the story of Lex Luthor’s true fate, and the fate of the new woman in his life…Supergirl. Listen to the heart-pounding fight to the death between Superman and a monster called Doomsday. Discover the truth about four new mysterious Superman.
And take a journey into the heart, minds, and unpredictable future of the Man of SteelTM everybody can count on…
…until one day, when he’s gone.
As with Star Wars, this is another of my “gold standard” shows against which other audio dramas are weighed. I mentioned it before in the standards post.
Helmed by the incomparable Dirk Maggs, Superman Lives! (known across The Pond as Superman: Doomsday and Beyond) features a stellar cast who give stunning life to some of the classic characters in the DC pantheon.
This is what Kingdom Come should’ve aspired to be.
From the opening funeral procession to the stirring fight to save Coast City at the end, we are treating to a veritible feast for the ears. Within just a few seconds of beginning, you know instantly that you’re in the hands of a master audio drama craftsman. When I first heard this back in the mid-90s, I was hooked right from the start.
I guarantee you will be, too.
The cast is simply fabulous and the acting is top-notch. As Clark Kent and Superman, Stuart Milligan initially evokes Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of the character (slightly bumbling Everyman Kent vs. commanding and authoritative Supes) through vocal quality then immediately makes it his own. Lorelei King gives Lois Lane a kind of quiet strength–part Margot Kidder from the original film, part Katherine Hepburn from The African Queen. William Hootkins as Lex Luthor is simply delicious in the role. I got an Alan Rickman-Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves vibe from his performance.
Superman’s titanic fight with Doomsday is the highlight of this production. In my view, at least. Music, sound design, and acting all come together in a breathtaking sequence that still, even after multiple listenings, make me wince, cringe, shudder, and leave me with a lump in my throat. I have to applaud Stuart and Lorelei for their performances in this section.
Overall, fantastic. Simply fantastic.
If you don’t own this yet, I highly suggest you get it now from Amazon or Audible.
Posted by Abner Senires
Yesterday, a friend of mine was woefully mistaken. He said there was only one good audio drama and that it was The Hobbit (referring to the BBC radio dramatization). Well that is a pretty awesome audio drama but he is still totally and completely WRONG.
There are probably hundreds and hundreds of excellent audio dramas, but I was totally caught off guard – what’s that old french saying… ah yes…
Indeed, I only managed to throw out a couple of quick examples before my friend had retired for the evening.
I pointed out the BBC’s dramatization of The Lord Of The Rings and I a then suggested the CBS Radio Mystery Theater and it’s wonderful Alfred Bester story The Walking Dead).
My friend left unconvinced. And it is only now, today, that others spring readily to mind.
In l’esprit de l’escalier I will throw out one more – to him and to the world – and that will be George Zarr’s masterful adaptation of Jack Vance’s The Moon Moth.
It was one of the first audio dramas I reviewed for SFFaudio, back in 2003, and it is still one of the very finest audio dramas I’ve ever heard.
You could |READ OUR REVIEW|, but I think just hearing a few minutes of it will provide enough motivation to propel both you, and my friend, to both the end and a change of opinion.
Seeing Ear Theatre – The Moon Moth
Based on the novella by Jack Vance; adapted by George Zarr; Performed by a Full Cast
2 MP3 Files – Approx. 73 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Seeing Ear Theater
On the planet Sirene everyone wears a mask according to his status — or strahk — in society. Communication is accomplished through singing accompanied by a plethora of instruments, each of which signifies a different emotional mood or is used to talk to a different social caste. The problem is, the assassin Angmark is a master of Sirenese customs and — like everyone else on Sirene — his face is hidden behind a mask. Our doddering ambassador-detective’s only hope: to learn to use his own mask — the lowly Moon Moth — before Angmark relieves him of a head to put it on. First published in Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1961.
Produced and directed by George Zarr
Sound Design by John Colucci and David Shinn
Music Direction and Sirenese Musical Performance by Douglas Anderson
David Garrison as Edwer Thissell and Provisionist Greenward
Tuck Milligan as Haxo Angmark and Messenger Slave
Ian Reed as Esteban Rolver and Bright Sky Bird
Mort Banks as Cornelly Welibus and Maskmaker
Mark Victor Smith as Mathew Kershaul
Leah Applebaum as Computoid, Maiden, Female Slave, and Rex
George Zarr as Steward and Paul
Andrew Joffe as Forest Goblin, Benko, and Sand Tiger
Paul Amodeo as Hostler and Toby
Here are the illustrations, by Dick Francis, from the original publication in Galaxy SF:
And finally, we talked to George Zarr about The Moon Moth, and many other plays, back in SFFaudio Podcast #071. Check it out if you’d like to hear more about how awesome audio drama is.
Posted by Jesse Willis
By Jeffrey Adams, performed by Icebox Radio Theater
2 CDs – 115 minutes [UNABRIDGED 4 part serial]
Publisher: Icebox Radio Theater
Themes: / Science Fiction / Alien / Mystery / Teen Drama
A body in a snowbank…
A town under siege
A family that must solve the mystery, or be torn apart!
If you had to do a high-concept pitch for Snow Bank you’d probably wind up saying “X-files meets the Bobbsey Twins.” Sean (Brock Krahnke) and his twin sister Bobbie (Anna Remus) discover a body under a snowbank next to their school. Despite warnings from their father, the local D.A., the twins set out to investigate the murder themselves. What follows dips into UFOs, alien scientists and twin psychic connections. They even manage to pull off a car chase in radio. That’s pretty impressive.
The story is all over than map and unfortunately wraps up in the final episode with a long expository scene which, maddeningly, says that the car chase was a hallucination–which both twins shared. There are logical inconsistencies in the story and unresolved questions which left me very frustrated. For instance, I can’t give you a spoiler on how the dead body got in the snow bank because they never explain it.
The acting in this is very strong with only one or two exceptions. What is most impressive about the production is that it was originally broadcast live. When I listened to the first episode I was troubled by some over-modulation on the microphones, but when I listened to the outro and realized that I had just heard a live performance, I was stunned. The performances are tight and the Foley is beautifully handled to create an aural picture of what is happening. Both Krahnke and Remus turn in really compelling performances. In particular, when Remus’s character, Bobbie, is sent to a juvenile detention center you can hear her character change posture from a cocky teenage girl, to an insecure and frightened one.
So, although the story almost felt like they were making it up as they went, the execution makes Snow Bank worth listening to.
Posted by Mary Robinette Kowal