Sci-Fi: Days Of Fear And Wonder (book review).

May 31, 2018 | By | Reply More

The initial flick test I do on any illustrated books had me spotting some film stills I hadn’t seen before. Always a good sign when picking up a book. The ones that I initially spotted included a full page photo from ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ as Neary is being groped by the aliens leading him into their mothership and an intense photo of Keir Dulla as Dave Bowman staring out at me from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ coming to my attention.

So what else is there to ‘Sci-Fi: Days Of Fear And Wonder’? 28 articles about SF films, 5 of which are written by SF authors and, as the contributors pages at the back reveals, BFI personnel. The book is split into 3 sections, ‘Tomorrow’s World’, Contact’ and ‘Altered States’. The titles should be self-explanatory and you should keep a notebook by yours because even I spotted many films that I’ve never come across before and kept looking them up for DVD availability. There’s some overlap but you get a condensed history of SF films in these categories with a few photos to go along with them. Most are tiny to mid-size photos but when they go up to full-page size becomes really interesting and with many more I’ve never seen before which makes the book worth going for even without the text.

I’m not sure if I entirely agree with Graham Sleigh that AE Van Vogt’s ‘The Voyage Of The Space Beagle’ novel was an influence on the creation of ‘Star Trek’ when ‘Forbidden Planet’ has always been deemed the biggest influence, although this corrected later by Adrian Reynolds in his article. However, Reynolds in turn seems to have missed out that Van Vogt’s section of the novel, ‘Dark Destroyer’ was instrumental for ‘Alien’, although this isn’t the only reference to him. Adam Roberts references Van Vogt’s ‘The Weapon Houses Of Isher’ under time travel so don’t think SF books and TV doesn’t get mentioned from time to time. Considering that outside of Arthur Clarke and Heinlein, few SF authors are mentioned, it does make for an interesting reference when Van Vogt tends to be ignored so much these days.

When you’re tracking down some films, don’t necessarily include the opening ‘The’ as some, like the 1950 film ‘The Flying Saucer’ can be found easier without it.

It should hardly be surprising that there is a feature about ‘Doctor Who’ although it’s a shame that writer Matthew Sweet doesn’t identify ‘Fury From The Deep’ as a deleted clip from Australian that scared him. I found the link he was referring to and if you want a look, link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88svfiAJ0C8 Oak and Quill exhaled CO2 a lot. Half-way through the link, the actual clip is shown so don’t despair thinking its only stills. You’ll never complain about bad breath again. When I saw the story back in the 1960s, what was more terrifying was a controlled man walking out of seaweed foam to confront the Doctor.

Laura Adams pointing out Wilson Tucker coming up with the term ‘space opera’ back in the 1940s is more interesting from the examples she uses, including one from a galaxy far, far away. Thing is, whatever the genre, you’re bound to have some soap opera elements because there are a lot of common problems that happen in any time, space and planet. Without that, we’d never had anything we would recognise or attune to.

I liked Kim Newman’s comment on ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ describing Klattu as coming from ‘a race of genocidal pacifests who kept up with their superweapon research programs…’ For the film, maybe, but in the original story by Harry Bates story, ‘Farewell To The Master’, it was Gnut (Gort) was actually in charge and Klattu’s people probably hadn’t built him.

Bearing in mind this book was released in 2014, Sophie Mayer’s article speculating why we haven’t had a female Doctor is somewhat prolific although she is making further comments about exploring transgender, although her examples shows it’s been going on in films for a long time.

The final section by Marketa Uhlirova looks at particular futuristic costumes. I like the fact that Helen Rose designed the first mini-skirt for Anne Francis in ‘Forbidden Planet’. Oh and a look at the designs from ‘Barbarella’ as the final costumes stuck close to them.

When I started this book, I did think they would stick to the history of SF film. They have, however, covered a lot of other areas and a lot of films that makes this book a delight to read. I’ve focused on a few points I’ve been critical or amused by but this is far out-stripped by the amount of useful information here making this book a good choice to add to your collections.

GF Willmetts

May 2018

(pub: BFI/British Film Institute, 2014. 161 page illustrated indexed softcover. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84457-861-0)

check out website: www.bfi.org.uk

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Category: Movie books, Scifi

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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