Merian C. Cooper: A King And A God In The World He Knew

Merian Cooper as a director.

By Steve Vertlieb: On April 21, 1973, a hero by the name of Merian C. Cooper laid down the gauntlet of fame and passed quietly into memory. He’d grown ill from the rigors of age and experience, losing his grasp of earthly endeavors after a brief hospitalization. Like so many who had passed before him, his name and contributions would become a line or a paragraph in recorded history, meaning no more than most men do or have done…and yet, this proper Southern gentleman would not have passed quietly, nor would his legend be blinded by death…for his was a singular journey, and his memory would continue to inspire excitement and imagination among those searching for adventure and significance along life’s often empty corridor. He was a king and a god in the world he knew and, like the giant ape that he created, Merian C. Cooper lived in both the civilized and primordial jungles of mortal endeavor.

I first became acquainted with the Cooper name somewhere around 1956 when I was a mere lad of ten.  My mother had told me stories for years about a movie she had seen as a young woman concerning a fantastic tale of beauty and a fabled beast, a huge mythological, predatory ape alive in a lost, primordial jungle who follows the scent of a young American woman back to the “civilized” shores of New York City.  There, amidst the spiraling skyscrapers of a volatile human jungle, the beast falls to his death from atop the newly constructed, tallest steel mountain in the world, the Empire State Building.  Yet, the shattered titan laying crushed upon the streets of the young city would not be stilled.  Like the martyred prophet finding rest at last on a Roman cross two thousand years earlier, the fallen Kong would rise again in resurrection and mythology far beyond his mortal years. Its legend would hover uneasily within the vague cracks and crevasses of my mind for most of my life and consciousness.

I was haunted by nightmares about Kong for many years. In my dreams I fancied that this huge, primordial ape had come for me and was marauding the night streets of the city in search of human prey. I could hear the distant pounding of his colossal footsteps in the darkness. I could see the cataclysmic shadow of his gargantuan features peering angrily through my window, roaring in immortal defiance of my sheltered sleep. I’d struggle to open my eyes and regain consciousness, for I knew that if I succumbed to the reality of slumber’s horrifying phantoms that I’d be lost. Locked in deep repose, my eye lids fluttered open and I sat up in bed, sweating profusely and gasping for breath. I had managed to escape the demons of my own youthful imagination once more. Yet, I knew that somewhere beneath my own consciousness he was waiting and that I dared not return to sleep.

Merian Cooper dreams of King Kong.

When my local CBS television affiliate in Philadelphia announced in the mid-Fifties that they were going to air the local premiere of Cooper’s masterpiece King Kong, I was thrilled. After years of dreams and fanciful imaginings, I was at last going to see the actual film. My mother’s tales of this magical motion picture had conjured countless nights of mythical, nocturnal wanderings in which the horrific beast would trample surrounding buildings, coming ever nearer to where I lay asleep in my room. I’d first sense, and then actually hear the prehistoric pounding of his premeditated footsteps approaching as I slept, paralyzed with fear. As the visage of this terrible beast peering through my bedroom window, huge eyes gaping in bewildered rage, awakened me in a cold sweat, the utter immensity of this astonishing stranger in a strange land invoked an uncontrollable eruption of frightened screams in the night.

I’d waited anxiously for the day in which “Kong” would finally reveal himself on my tiny television screen. In my arrogance and expectation, I’d forgotten that I was still but a small boy, subject to the stringent rules and regulations of the house in which I lived.  I’d assumed that seeing the film was a right, rather than a privilege and so, in my self-righteous determination to watch the film on my parents’ television set, I callously disregarded the sometimes thin line separating entitlement from boorishness. I was therefore punished, and forbidden from watching the premiere telecast of “Kong” at home.  I still had time, however, before the movie would begin.  I ran to a neighbor’s house and asked if I might watch “Kong” there.  My friend’s mother was moderately compassionate, allowing me to sit in front of their television set to watch the film.  My heart was beating wildly as the strange beeping atop the RKO tower filled both the tiny screen and my ears.  The overture commenced, and I was transported to a far away land into which the mortal walls of civilization and confinement evaporated, as though time itself had melted into primordial remembrance.

The film began as Carl Denham searched New York for a frail, vulnerable woman to accompany his motion picture crew to Skull Island. Fog lit seas concealed the enormity of the cavernous island, while ominous drumming sounds pierced the mist.  Expectation gave way to wide eyed wonderment as Ann Darrow was carried away from her safe confines aboard “The Venture” by ferocious natives, tied to a sacrificial altar in the black jungle, illuminated by the fires of burning torches, breathlessly awaiting an unimaginable fate. Huge trees came crashing to their roots as the jungle erupted with violence. Something was coming for her. As Ann looked higher, still higher toward the jungle skyline, her eyes beheld the greatest sight she’d ever beheld. There, gaping down at her from the far horizon, was an enormous beast, a ferocious predator, with lust in its eyes.  Ann’s screams echoed my own as they pierced the terrible night skies.

It was at that moment that my friend’s mother entered the room, announcing sweetly that their dinner time had arrived, and that the time constraints of my kind invitation had expired.  In utter disbelief and frustration, I ran from the house screaming yet again.  In desperation I tried frantically to think of someone…anyone…who might permit me to continue watching the film.  I remembered my sainted Aunt Jesse who lived perhaps six blocks away.  I ran until I thought my heart might burst.  When I reached my aunt’s house I began pounding on her door. Thinking something was wrong, she opened the door with a worried look, wondering what on Earth must have happened. I quickly explained that my own mother has punished me, forbidding me from savoring the most deliciously awaited moment of my entire life. Graciously, my Aunt took pity on this pathetic, tortured little boy, and turned on Channel Ten. There, before my tender young eyes, the drama played itself out…the capture of Kong by civilized “soldiers,” his unseen voyage back to America, the poetic crucifixion on a New York stage, and the fabled finale in which the crippled denizen of a lost, primordial jungle is ravaged by airplane bullets, his torn limbs and carcass crashing violently to the streets of Manhattan. 

Frustrated, yet determined, I had gotten my first taste of the legendary motion picture. It was not to be my last. Mere days later, I went to the traditional Saturday Matinee for children at the local Benner Theater on Castor Avenue in Philadelphia. The short subjects, cartoons, and serials had ended and now, before the unspooling of the scheduled feature of the week, the trailers began for subsequent features. “Coming Next Week” announced the on screen banner. As light filled the darkened theater screen, a giant primordial gate began to open slowly, painfully, against the crushing weight of terrified natives trying vainly to hold it back. There, between rotting splinters within wooden gates of this ancient, collapsing structure, was KONG, the mythic, nocturnal face of my terrified dreams and imaginings. I gasped in excitation. God in his kindness had taken pity on me.  I was to be given a second chance to see King Kong as it was meant to be seen…on the giant theatrical screen that, alone, could mirror its image and stature. I had never beheld anything so amazing. I sat quietly in the noise filled theater as other children of my age ran up and down the aisles.  I was enraptured with awe and with wonder. It was an experience that would eternally haunt me, forever changing the course of my life.

In October 1965, Bantam Books published the novelization of the fabulous tale.  First printed in 1932 by Grosset and Dunlap, with authorship ascribed to Merian C. Cooper and Delos W. Lovelace, this slim new edition was heralded in banner lettering that excitedly proclaimed…”NEVER BEFORE IN PAPERBACK!  THE ALL-TIME KING OF THE MONSTERS…KING KONG.”  My sweat soaked fingers reached out longingly for the book, pulling it from the drug store rack, and holding it tenderly in my hands. I rushed home and read it from cover to cover. The inside teaser promised the greatest adventure of all time: “…King Kong, the giant killer ape whose savage heart was touched by the innocent beauty of a strange blonde girl…Who battled to save her from the ravenous jaws of man-eating dinosaurs…Who finally broke loose into the modern world and terrorized a whole city in search of his lost love. The one and only KING KONG.”  The back cover was equally lurid, and unashamedly enticing: “Taller than a five-story building, capable of crushing airplanes with his bare hands, ruler of a lost empire of prehistoric monsters.  The Bride Of Kong…blonde waif from the city streets who invaded Kong’s kingdom, with a group of motion picture adventurers, and became the prisoner of the beast’s strange passion. KING KONG…The world-famous story of beauty and the beast which has thrilled and amazed millions all over the world.”

Intoxicated by the thrill of owning a fragment of the fabled film, I decided to reach out to the publisher in an attempt to actually locate and contact the man who had created, written, and filmed this amazing motion picture. I sent a letter to Merian C. Cooper in care of Bantam Books in New York, hoping that they might forward my letter to him. I remember composing a rapturous letter of praise for both the film, and its makers in which I spoke lovingly of how deeply the film had impacted not only my dreams, but my life. I co-signed my little brother’s name to the letter in the hope that if it elicited a response, that he might be included in that recognition. To my utter astonishment, a letter arrived with a postmark dated November 27, 1965, from a post office box in Santa Monica, California. The return address read simply…Merian C. Cooper, Brigadier General, USAF, Ret.  The typewritten letter was signed by Merian C. Cooper, and began…”Dear Stephen and Erwin Vertlieb…Thank you for your fine letter of November 11.  It is a great pleasure for a man like me to receive such a fine letter from much younger people. Of course I have received many, many thousands of fan letters in my life, but yours is one of the finest. I feel entirely unworthy of such words of praise and therefore am honored that you should so write me.” Thus began an enduring, surprisingly intimate friendship between teacher and student that would last for the next eight years until his passing in 1973.

Cooper was a faithful and tireless correspondent.  No sooner would I mail off a letter to him than another one would arrive by return mail. Except for his first letter which was handsomely typewritten, all of his subsequent correspondence over the next eight years would be handwritten in what would quickly become his instantly recognizable style and signature. In the years that followed, our correspondence grew in singular intensity.  There were weeks in which five of the seven days of the calendar would bring letters or packages from this remarkable soul, and historical giant. General Cooper and I would grow very close over the next eight years and, although we were never destined to meet, our daily and weekly correspondence would grow in both frequency and deepening involvement. He was a war hero, an aviation pioneer, a Brigadier General in The United States Air Force, a motion picture studio head, a famed documentary film maker, producer, director, writer and New York Times journalist. Perhaps it was advancing age and changing times that led him to become so enamored of the adulation of a then nineteen-year-old film student but, whatever the underlying reasons, we became close friends through correspondence over the remaining eight years of his life.

Cooper in uniform.

I received one particularly fascinating letter from “Coop” while he was visiting Vienna, Austria in the Spring of 1969. In a letter dated April 26, 1969, he wrote “Have only been back in Vienna a short time. We spent the Winter about 30 miles up the Danube from here. On a Famous hilltop care-restaurant on the edge of the Vienna Woods, my wife (Dorothy Jordan) and I are writing a few brief notes.” He went on to answer a few historically related questions about the pre-production and shooting of King Kong.  He wrote “The great wall and gate in ‘King Kong’ was thus built: I was wandering one day on the 40 acre ‘back lot’ of RKO Pathe in Culver City, and saw the skeleton of a huge gate that Cecil B. DeMille had built in the mid 20’s for his silent version of ‘The King of Kings.’  I had it quickly remodeled with great doors etc. for Kong – Built the village in front of it, etc. and shot it there. Instead of Roman structures, I remodeled the King Kong structure out of it.  It worked well. Glad you liked ‘The Selznick Years’ and the battle scenes from ‘Four Feathers,’ and the sequence from ‘King Kong’.  David – a friend of mine – had nothing to do with either, except to back me up on ‘Kong’ when no one else believed in it. He had already left RKO and gone to MGM, and I had become production head of RKO in his place when Schoedsack and I directed the Empire State sequence of ‘King Kong.’ Nevertheless, unless Dave Selznick believed in me, ‘Kong’ could not have been made. He never saw the battle scenes in ‘Four Feathers’ until the picture was finished. Part of it Schoedsack and I produced and directed in Africa, and part about 20 miles from Palm Springs.  But Selznick had great talent and was my friend.”  

Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, I was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps in February, 1966, and spent some nine weeks on Paris Island, South Carolina.  While never a promising physical specimen by any stretch of the imagination, I tried to pass the grueling physical regimen of life in the Marines.  After a couple of months of frustrating efforts to succeed, I was eventually advised by a kindly drill inspector that, while he sincerely believed that I was trying to make it, that not everyone was physically cut out to be a Marine, and that he was going to recommend my discharge.  He reassured me that I would likely be re-assigned to the Army upon my discharge.  During that remarkable journey as a “Marine,” I received a letter from Coop.  In a note dated March 11, 1966, he wrote… “Dear Stephen Vertlieb:  Your brother has just written me you are a private in the Marines at Parris Island. This is just a line to wish you all the luck in the world and to say that I know you will make a great Marine. With every best wish, and God keep you…Cordially yours, Merian C. Cooper.” I suspected that my drill instructors were more than in awe, and a little shocked to hand this young private a letter from a Brigadier General in The United States Air Force. 

Our correspondence was lively and fascinating.  I was yearning to learn more about this fabulous individual, and the film he had created which had so pervasively invaded my dreams and fertile imagination. One of the more controversial aspects of Cooper’s masterpiece was the fabled spider crab sequence which no one had apparently ever seen. In the ensuing moments following the great gorilla’s encounter with the white invaders upon the giant log bridging the ravine, the terrified remnants of Carl Denham’s crew are hurled to their deaths in the cavernous pit below. In surviving prints of the legendary sequence, the men crash to the primordial ground beneath Kong’s jungle. Cooper originally filmed an extended sequence in which the hapless victims are then devoured and torn to shreds by carnivorous prehistoric spiders while their terrified screams fill the night. Forrest J Ackerman reported in early issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine that there were rumored, unedited prints circulating in the Philippine Islands, and that various fans had claimed to have seen these rare sequences in theatrical prints of the film over the years.  I asked Cooper point blank if this was at all possible, and he vehemently denied their existence. He wrote that the inclusion of this sequence in any known prints of the picture was patently impossible, as he had personally cut the scene out of the negative before the final version had even been scored by composer Max Steiner. The film would not have been released to the public in a rough cut version, and so these fables, while undeniably intoxicating, could never have occurred. Many years later, when Warner Bros. Pictures was preparing their definitive box set release of the restored epic on DVD, I was asked by the studio to provide evidence of the deletion for their lengthy documentary on the production of the picture. I photocopied Merian Cooper’s original letter to me and circled the paragraph in which he denied any possibility of the sequence surviving his cut.  I then forwarded the statement and mailed the letter to the studio. That portion of his letter to me, along with the incriminating circle in my own hand, appears in the completed documentary. Hence, my name was included in the special “Thank You” credits concluding the impressive new feature film, documenting the production of “Kong.”

 When King Kong was originally released in early 1933, it included what would later become notorious sequences in which natives were literally torn apart by Kong, ground into the mud by his giant foot, and eaten alive on the mean streets of New York City.  However, the most provocative and notorious of these sequences involved an unconscious Fay Wray awakening in the ape’s huge paw as Kong tears fragments of her clothing away from her quivering body, and brings her undergarments to his nose, sniffing her scent in mounting curiosity.  Forrest J Ackerman dubbed this interlude the “rape” scene from King Kong.  Filmed one year before the Hays Office imposed its infamous decades of censorship upon Hollywood films, the violence and implied sexuality in these scenes, deleted in 1938 upon the film’s first official re-release, had grown in both legend and intensity.  When the missing scenes were discovered by a Pennsylvania collector named Wes Shank in the early seventies, they were sold to Janus Films, and restored to all subsequent versions of the picture. In my eagerness to query Cooper about these scenes, and his psychological intent in filming them, I described the most provocative of these as the “rape” scene. His response was immediate and indignant. In no way, he insisted, was that sequence ever designed to suggest assault or rape. It simply reflected the innocent curiosity of a primordial denizen of the jungle who had never before encountered or sniffed the female scent.  Kong became increasingly enamored of Ann Darrow and protective of her well-being, he insisted. Such violence would never have occurred to him. I had forgotten in my delirium that Cooper was an old-world Southern gentleman whose gallantry would never have permitted so violently sexual a thought. He was deeply offended by the suggestion of sexual motivation on the part of the ape, and it took some profoundly apologetic words of innocence and explanation on my own part in order to earn back his eventual forgiveness and understanding of my impetuosity.

Another such misunderstanding occurred toward the end of our relationship when I wrote a series of articles for the then fledgling New York cinema tabloid, The Monster Times in 1972.  While I always both respected and cherished the cinematic milestone that Cooper had created in the infancy of sound back in 1933, and was in awe of the film’s wondrous stop motion photography created by Willis O’Brien, I always encountered difficulty with a particularly brief sequence toward the end of the film.  Early stop motion possessed a lovely archaic jerkiness which only served to further endear its primitive photography and personality to successive audiences. The ultimate crudity of early animation truly became a signature component of the character of these marvelous creations. That was why I took notice of the singular moment in the film when Kong climbs up the Empire State Building in a long shot taken from a distance away. The gorilla movement seems much too smooth in his climb, and the scene contains none of the signature jerkiness shown in all other shots of Kong. There even seems to be the suggestion of a sagging suit, however briefly, that would apparently betray a process filmed in another fashion entirely for the remaining moments of the sequence. In discussions with several fans, historians, and even a local special effects technician, I became convinced that there might have been an actor donning a gorilla costume, if only for several seconds of film, during that fateful climb. I published that opinion in my series of articles for The Monster Times. Cooper was understandably protective of his creation, and grew offended once more by my unfortunate insinuation. He swore repeatedly that only Willis O’Brien’s revolutionary visual effects were represented in the finished film, and that no human actor had ever donned a gorilla suit. Once again, I apologized profusely to Cooper, explaining that I was simply attempting to analyze and explain a somewhat controversial sequence in an otherwise flawless cinematic masterpiece. In a letter from Coop dated March 20, 1972, he wrote a note of clarification.  “That scene of King Kong climbing The Empire State Building was a very simple ‘special effect’ shot.  Anyone reasonably acquainted with ‘special effect’ works can tell you how it was done. Why don’t you ask Ray Harryhausen? I’m almost sure Willis O’Brien and I told him when I hired him for his first real animation job of consequence – ‘Mighty Joe Young.’  Consequently, I did ask Ray Harryhausen how he felt the controversial sequence might have been filmed, and sent me a detailed sketch by return mail explaining, in his own hand, how he felt the scene might have been photographed.

Merian Cooper, Willis O’Brien, Fay Wray, and Ernest B. Schoedsack.

Additionally, when a subsequent installment of my series was altered, and its language dumbed down by the publisher to more easily appeal to young fans reading the issue, Cooper had difficulty understanding why I didn’t have more creative control over my own work.  When he was a reporter for the New York Times, he explained, the editor respected his “copy,” and never exerted unwelcome creative control over its contents.  I politely explained to Cooper that The Monster Times was not in the same league as the New York Times, and that I was not Merian C Cooper.

On March 30, 1972, I was surprised to find that Merian Cooper had sent me an urgent telegram. It read “Forgive my hasty, ill tempered letters.  You wrote about me most splendidly in your articles, for which I thank you. Seems to me petty detail if original New York showings was 100 minutes or not. Whole point is when cuts were made. When I go to Los Angeles will make check as, of course, I have full access to official records there of ‘King Kong’.  Best regards to Erwin and you – Merian C. Cooper.”

At about the time that my series of articles appeared in The Monster Times, I received a telephone call from two college professors who had read my work on “Kong,” and wanted to talk to me about incorporating my series into a new book that they were editing for Avon publishers in New York. Harry Geduld and Ron Gottesman, professors of film at Indiana University and Princeton University respectively, drove to my home in Philadelphia and took me out to lunch to pitch the assignment. I adapted my work from the original series of tabloid articles, and the completed essay became the lead chapter in The Girl In The Hairy Paw published in 1976 by Avon Books. The handsome edition, edited by Ron and Harry, became the very first volume ever devoted entirely to King Kong.

In a letter from Cooper dated March 27, 1972, he attempted to explain conflicting “cuts” of King Kong for separate preview audiences. He wrote that “The preview in San Bernadino in February, 1933, and the Hollywood premiere at Grauman’s Chinese March 24, 1933, had in the motion picture itself the long titles which I have sent under separate cover to you and Erwin. I cut these titles drastically for the March 2nd New York opening. Max Steiner scored separate opening title music for the long title opening and the short title opening. I planned it that way and personally edited both versions.” He went on to discuss the subsequently edited release versions of the film thusly. “The reasons for the cuts were voluntary by RKO, but not approved by me. If the original press book says 100 minutes – then the press book, as press books so often are, was wrong. The original New York opening was a little over 104 minutes. I have copies of my directions to the New York, and to the Hollywood openings – which I have looked up – giving exact running times each place. I think you write exceedingly well, Steve.  How can I expect you to know all of the immense detail of my picture ‘King Kong’?  I was wrong to let myself be disturbed over trivialities. I treasure the letters from you and Erwin – so no hard feelings from me.”

I received an additional letter from “Coop” written a day earlier in which he related some anecdotes about Fay Wray’s legendary screams in the finished picture. “She was down to see my wife and me last week, and we joked and laughed about the full day I had her work in the recording room – screaming!!!  Of course, I am sure you realize I had her do a number of variants for ‘King Kong.’  But when those screams were used in other pictures – often quite inartistically – I, for sure, didn’t like it. I had her scream up and down all the way along the scales – and I think I used them correctly. I liked them; Obie liked them; “Maxie” Steiner liked them – Monty Schoedsack didn’t. But I was the Boss – so I used them as planned by me from the outset. You no doubt got the cost of ‘King Kong’ from me…about $650,000.00. I have the detailed budget now before me. The total direct charges were $513,242.02, but I picked up a big portion of that ‘overhead’ which Dave Selznick had left behind him and charged $163,337.18 to ‘King Kong’ (though its actual overhead was only roughly $40,000.00.) Those were busy days. Simultaneous with ‘King Kong,’ I produced the first Astaire-Rogers picture, ‘Flying Down to Rio’; ‘Little Women’ with Katherine Hepburn; was her first Academy Award picture with ‘Morning Glory’ (part of which I directed myself) and a lot of others too.  And, I might add, took RKO – in my administration – from an $18,000,000 loss to a $5,000,000 profit – all in the midst of The Great Depression. Indeed, if I tell the unvarnished truth, I am the only man in all of RKO’s history who ever made the company profitable. All this is confidential to you as I am using it in my own book.” (Sadly, his own accounts of these transactions were never finalized or published.)

A week or so earlier in a letter dated March 22, 1972, Coop addressed the somewhat “sticky” issue of authorship of King Kong, so often ascribed to novelist Edgar Wallace.  He wrote “Just found my copy of Edgar Wallace’s ‘My Hollywood Diary.’ He arrived in Hollywood December 2, 1931, and the last day of his diary is on Sunday 7th February, 1932. He died a day or two later, as I recall it. On Wednesday, 6th January, 1932 he wrote in his diary on Page 170 as follows: ‘The next month or two are very important for me.  If this film gets over that Cooper is doing it’s going to make a big difference to me, for although I am not responsible for the success of the picture, and really can’t be, since the ideas were mainly Cooper’s, I shall get all the credit for authorship and invention which rightly belongs to him.’  This is the fact, not a publicity man’s dream!!! Always question advertising and publicity!!! Check your sources, so Winston Churchill once wrote. How right he was.”  In his letter of April 7, 1972, Coop admitted that “Kong” was not his favorite picture. “I’ve always considered ‘Chang’ my best picture,” he wrote, “though ‘Grass’ – my very first picture – is historically the best known of all my 4 pictures as either writer, director, or producer.  On ‘Grass,’ and ‘Chang’ I was all three – also some other pictures.”

 On January 18,1972 Coop wrote me of his relationship with composer Max Steiner. He writes “Did you know that I flew up to Los Angeles for Max Steiner’s funeral to give the final eulogy at Mrs. Steiner’s request? Did you know that ‘Maxie’ always gave me credit for first getting him to write ‘dramatic screen music’?  Of course, I didn’t write a note of it, but the concept was mine. Until ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ where my ideas were tried out a little, until I worked out with Maxie a full idea for his great dramatic screen score for ‘King Kong,’ nobody – but nobody – had conceived the idea.  At least Maxie said so.  He sent me magnificently framed original 1st sheets of 5 of the great scores he did for me in remembrance of our work together to ‘free the screen’ from the old fashioned techniques of the stage. I treasure it. It hangs on the wall of my den. He was a true creative genius, and one of my oldest and best friends. I admired and loved him. God rest his great soul.”

Cooper had always promised that if I ever ventured West, that he would be happy to introduce me to Fay Wray who he had enticed into starring for him in King Kong by promising that her co-star would be “the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood.” I accepted his gracious invitation and hoped that upon some future trip to Los Angeles I might meet my beloved correspondent, as well.

I hadn’t heard from Cooper in several weeks, and began to wonder if he’d grown ill. To my utter disbelief and sadness, I learned that he had been admitted to the hospital and that he was gravely ill. I felt that I had somehow hurt him by believing that even a single frame of “Kong” had been filmed with a man in a gorilla suit, rather than by stop motion animation. Indeed, a Chicago newspaper had run an absurd story about some elderly gentleman claiming to have “played King Kong” in the original movie, relating his wholly fabricated story of how it felt to stand perched atop the model of The Empire State Building battling toy airplanes. I wrote an angry letter to the reporter who had filed the story, accusing his subject of being either a lunatic or a baldfaced liar. The reporter wrote me back an indignant letter, insulted by my insinuations, standing by his “sources,” and never printing a retraction.

Deeply concerned for Cooper’s health, I wrote an apology along with a get well card and sent it to him in the hospital. I soon learned that what I most feared had finally happened. This wonderful pioneering soul and visionary film maker had passed away. I was heart broken, and worried that he had slipped away without ever having seen my note of apology. I spoke with his widow, actress Dorothy Jordan, afterward and learned from her that he had indeed received my card prior to his passing, and that he had smiled when he read it. In a case of poetic irony that could only have occurred in Hollywood, both Cooper and his on screen persona, Carl Denham, passed away within hours of one another. Actor Robert Armstrong, who will forever be identified as “the man who captured the monster,” died on April 20, 1973, while his real life counterpart passed away on April 21, 1973.  Both Carl Denham and Merian C. Cooper returned home together, walking hand in hand, immersed in primordial mist beyond the legendary wall, on Skull Island.

When I finally made the trip to Los Angeles for the first time during the Summer of 1974 I had an opportunity to visit Fay Wray. I had secured her home address from Ron Gottesman and wrote her in advance of my trip. I told her who I was, and that I had known Merian C. Cooper somewhat intimately through eight years of intense and passionate correspondence, and that he had advised me that if I ever came West that he would introduce us. She wrote back a series of letters, and kindly asked me to telephone her when I arrived in town. I picked up the phone and telephoned her as soon as I got into town. She was, of course, retired and living in Century City, the wife of a prominent physician. I recognized her voice as soon as she answered the phone. I was actually speaking with Ann Darrow, the Girl In The Hairy Paw.  She invited my brother Erwin and I to come over to her high rise, and spend the afternoon with her. We arrived at the appointed time, and waited patiently for her in the lobby. The desk attendant said that we were expected, but that she had stepped out and hadn’t returned as yet. At last I saw her come through the door. She took my breath away. Even at age seventy, she was still a vision of loveliness, a wonderful remnant of classic, original Hollywood. She apologized for her late arrival, stating that he she had just come from the funeral of one of her dearest friends. I felt badly for her, and suggested that we might try and come back another time.  With amazing grace and dignity, I felt, she waved her hand into the air and said “No, life must go on.”

We spent two hours or more with Fay in her apartment talking about old Hollywood, and the making of both King Kong, and The Most Dangerous Game, its sister production.  She spoke lovingly of her friendships with Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schodesack, and Robert Armstrong whose character of Carl Denham, she remembered, was based solidly upon Cooper himself.  She said that she had remained in touch with each of them over the years and regarded them as close friends. When I asked her about her relationship with co-star Bruce Cabot, however, she grew silent and then said that she’d prefer not to talk about him. Cabot had won a reputation over his years in the film community as both a womanizer and something of a scoundrel. Apparently, these stories were silently verified by her reluctance to discuss him. She asked if I would mind going into her kitchen and pouring some cokes for each of us. I found the Coca Cola cans stocked in her refrigerator but, as I opened the first soft drink, it exploded in my hands and spilled over her sink counter.  I felt terribly about the accident, but she laughed graciously and excused my “accident.” She guarded her privacy at this point in her life, and wanted her fans and admirers to remember her as she was on the silver screen. Consequently, she politely turned down my request for photographs, but was kind enough to autograph many of the still photographs that I’d brought along with me for her to sign. We remained in touch for a time, but after she moved to New York I lost track of her. Her daughter, Victoria Riskin, went on to play her mother’s creation, Ann Darrow, in the briefly televised Volkswagen commercial in which a fully animated King Kong climbs to the top of The Empire State Building, then descends and makes his escape in a gigantic Volkswagen car. The very clever ad campaign was soon scrapped, as the executives at Volkswagen thought that the image of a gargantuan automobile betrayed their brand identification as a dependable small car.

Thanks to the generous intercession and kindness of “Coop,” I was able to begin a friendship through correspondence with Ray Harryhausen in February of 1966. The supreme animation genius had been a lifelong hero, and I was thrilled to commence a relationship that lasted from that day until his passing on May 7, 2013. However, because of his frenetic filmmaking schedule in Europe and in Spain, as well as his living now in England, our friendship had grown only through correspondence, as it had with “Coop.”  In 1981, as Ray was preparing to tour the United States while promoting what would be his last film, Clash Of The Titans, I learned that he would be making a personal appearance at Temple University in my hometown of Philadelphia. Needless to say, I was more than mildly excited by the prospect of finally meeting this brilliant motion picture technician whose career, along with Cooper’s, had so profoundly impacted my life. I drove to the University campus and walked into the lobby surrounding the auditorium where he would be making his presentation. Predictably, there were numerous fans and admirers gathered there in anticipation of meeting the great Ray Harryhausen. Not wanting to become lost in the proverbial shuffle and crowd, however, I resolved to locate the “green room” where guests of the University might be sequestered while awaiting their appearance. Happily, I found a door leading to a dressing area where a guest might be hidden away from his audience. Unhappily for me, the door was being guarded quite anxiously by an armed Temple University police guard who was obviously not in the mood for any funny business. As I approached the door I noticed that the officer was becoming increasingly agitated. He was perspiring profusely and, as I approached his appointed post, he instinctively placed his right hand upon his holstered weapon. I calmly explained that I wished to speak to Ray Harryhausen before the program began. He defiantly explained to me that I could just as easily wait with the other fans in the lobby adjoining the auditorium until Ray finally emerged.

Steve Vertlieb and Ray Harryhausen.

 After several somewhat tense moments in which I attempted to explain to Wyatt Earp that I was, indeed, a “friend” of Ray’s, and not merely a fan trying to connive my way into the room, the guard cautiously opened the door, allowing me to enter.  I tried to reason with him, explaining that if, indeed, I was lying and that Ray wouldn’t know who I was, that the guard had my explicit permission to kick my rump out into the crowded street.  As I entered the large room, I spied Ray and his lovely wife, Diana, seated at a small table having coffee.  Approaching them, I could quite literally feel the breath of my armed companion blowing hotly onto the back of my neck.  As I walked closer to the table, Ray arose from his chair.  I extended my hand in friendship and said “Ray, we have corresponded for many years.” He asked “What’s your name?” I answered “I’m Steve Vertlieb,” to which Ray’s mouth opened in amazement as he exclaimed quite loudly…”STEVE VERTLIEB?”  Turning to Diana, he yelled quite loudly “DIANA…IT’S STEVE VERTLIEB.” As this was transpiring, and as I was myself drowning in a self-manufactured sea of nervous perspiration, I felt the proximity between the guard and I grow ever wider. Ray clasped my hands warmly, and invited me to sit with them. This was to be only the first of many shared interludes with Ray Harryhausen over countless ensuing years, which included a special program in Baltimore at the Fanex Film Expo in 1990 in which I both hosted and shared the stage with Ray for a programmed event called “An Afternoon With Ray Harryhausen.”

Steve Vertlieb and Ray Harryhausen.

A year or so earlier, somewhere around 1980, I was able to make a trip to the home that Merian C. Cooper had shared with his wife Dorothy for many years until his death. The house was located in Coronado, California, and Erwin and I had been been invited by Dorothy to come and visit. She met us at the door, along with her son Colonel Richard Cooper. I was taken aback rather quickly as I noticed the striking resemblance between Dorothy and Fay Wray. Apparently, Cooper may have subconsciously cast his own wife in the key role of Ann Darrow in his film masterpiece. Their shared likeness was startling. Dorothy was very sweet and kind and showed us many of her husband’s mementos and artifacts. I held his original bound script for King Kong in my hands with his hand written notations. I was terribly excited and, frankly, stunned to turn around and see the famous caricature of Cooper directing “Kong” hanging quite prominently on the wall behind me. The drawing showed Cooper with megaphone in hand shouting “Make It Bigger…Make It Bigger,” and was a Christmas present given him by his cast and crew during December 1932. I found it difficult to hide my excitation over standing next to this fabled piece of art. Dorothy reminded us that she had appeared as an actress in films of the 1930s under the name of Dorothy Jordan, and that that she had actually come out of retirement, and returned to the screen as the woman whose family is massacred by “Scar” in her husband’s production of The Searchers, directed by John Ford in 1956.

Sharing an unforgettable afternoon with Dorothy (Jordan) Cooper, the widow of Merian C. Cooper, at their family home in Coronado, California, during September, 1980.

As we were preparing to leave Dorothy and Richard, after several hours of sheer magical conversation and memories, I grew emotional and said with tears filling my eyes that “I wish He was here.” Dorothy smiled, growing somewhat emotional herself, and replied simply…“He is. He is.” Dorothy would live another eight years. When I learned that that she had passed away in December, 1988, I telephoned the Cooper house and expressed my sadness to one of her daughters. When I explained who I was, Dorothy’s child became choked up and said “Oh, I remember you. Your letters meant to very much to my father.” That single farewell remembrance by the succeeding generation of Coopers brought a tear to my eyes, and a sense of final resolution to my heart. It had been a long, adventurous voyage upon often rough seas and alternately choppy waters with “Coop” aboard his beloved ‘Venture,” the embattled freighter that carried Carl Denham, Ann Darrow, and Jack Driscoll to Skull Island to meet their fate…and with them, my own.

 My association with Cooper and his larger-than-life creation has continued from my own childhood until now. In 1981, I was asked by legendary Philadelphia television children’s host Gene London to appear with him at The Philadelphia Art Museum for a one-hour lecture and presentation chronicling the making and production of King Kong before a live audience. Later, during the Winter months of 1993, I was invited to appear with Kong author and historian George Turner (The Making Of Kong Kong) on stage as a guest speaker at the venerable Gateway Theater in Chicago for the sixtieth anniversary celebration of the motion picture. George and I talked about the making of the film, and answered questions from an audience of some five hundred fans, prior to a 35mm screening of the historic motion picture, while Turner Entertainment sent over an “actor” in a gorilla suit to stroll about the theater lobby as King Kong. I couldn’t help wondering what “Coop” might have thought of the irony of that spectacle.

Together with American Cinematographer journalist, and co-author of “The Making of King Kong,” George Turner, at the official “King Kong” sixtieth anniversary celebration at The Gateway Theater in Chicago in 1993.

Merian C. Cooper remains a fascinating, legendary figure in the evolution and history of motion pictures. He was pioneer, and a founding influence in the development of the art of film. That this fabulous individual took such an interest in me and became my intimate correspondent and friend for the final years of his life is a source of perpetual astonishment on my part. He was larger than life and, in many ways, more colorful and gigantic than even the prehistoric ape that he created and so cherished. Eighty years have passed since Cooper’s King Kong first startled and thrilled theater goers around the world. As Carl Denham so triumphantly exclaimed to an audience of mere mortals, from the stage of the theater in which the immortal KONG was displayed to “gratify your curiosity,” the mythical creature was “A King And A God In The World He Knew.”  Much the same could be said of his creator.

 ++ Steve Vertlieb, March 2024

Kong at Yankee Stadium.

Pixel Scroll 2/18/24 Aren’t All Pixels Made Of Exotic Materials?

(1) CANCELLING HERSELF. Samantha Mills mournfully headlined her latest blog post “’Rabbit Test’ unwins the Hugo”. After reading the Barkley/Sanford report and some others’ analysis of the voting reports, Mills says:

…Looking at the information we currently have, it’s hard for me to conclude anything other than: I shouldn’t have been on that ballot. On the one hand, it seems as though the final vote hasn’t been tampered with, and the voters engaged in good faith with the works they were told were the finalists, for which I still say thank you! But it’s really, really hard for me to see past the initial fact, which is that I shouldn’t have been on that ballot.

This entire experience has been very stressful and fraught. Initially I assumed I wasn’t going to be a finalist, because even though the story had taken off like mad in the U.S., the bulk of the membership was not going to be American. I assumed we would see a lot of Chinese nominees — which would have been cool! We’d get a slice of international scifi that I rarely ever see! And then I was really pleasantly surprised to be informed I was a finalist after all. When the full ballot was posted, I was also surprised at how few Chinese nominees were in the fiction categories. There were four in the short story category, though, so I thought it was legit, and that wow, John Wiswell and I somehow made the cutoff anyway, isn’t that amazing!

I accepted the nomination because, you know, it is supposed to be an honor. But then due to concerns about the Worldcon event itself, I elected not to participate in programming or accept a free trip to Chengdu. This was also fraught. I’ve never been to a Worldcon, and I’d never been nominated before. And as I said in my previous long-winded post on the subject, I have nothing against the fandoms at play. But I wasn’t comfortable being one of the faces of local PR under political circumstances that felt entirely above my pay grade, so I bowed out…

(2) HUGO DIAGNOSIS AND POSSIBLE CURE. Nerds of a Feather editorsThe G, Vance K, Arturo Serrano, Adri Joy, Chris Garcia, Paul Weimer, and Alex Wallace have each written part of “The Hugo Awards Crisis Deepens – Where We Stand and How to Save the Awards”.

The G’s segment concludes:

There are two sets of problems here: (a) the proximate issue of what was done in 2023 and (b) what this reveals or illuminates about the the cartel of self-proclaimed “SMOFs” (secret masters of fandom) who treat the Hugos – and Worldcon more broadly – as their birthright, playground and personal fiefdom. The Hugo Awards are supposed to be democratic in nature and process; the behavior of the self-proclaimed “SMOFs” is fundamentally anti-democratic – and this is by no means confined to Chengdu Worldcon.

Now here are my suggestions for how to rebuild trust in the Hugo Awards:

  1. No one involved in the administration of the 2023 Hugo Awards, or who assisted in the collection of political evidence, can ever be allowed to have any role in administering the awards ever again.
  2. Vote tabulation must be performed in a transparent manner using software that multiple people have access to for purposes of validation. 
  3. All tabulations must be independently audited for purposes of verification. 
  4. Individual Cons should no longer administer the Hugo Awards – this should be done by an independent, rotating committee.
  5. All decisions by said committee must be audited; all disqualified nominees must be notified and given time to appeal.

(3) STARSHIP FONZIE SCOOP. Eric Hildeman got ahead of the “Glasgow 2024 Passalong Funds Announcement” with the information he reported in Episode 36 of his “Starship Fonzie” podcast. He’s now also posted a transcript on his blog.

Here’s more information about Chengdu’s passalong offer of $40,000 to Glasgow:

“… My colleague, and I think it’s fair to say, con-running coach, Alexia Hebel, is not only the treasurer for Capricon, she was the treasurer for the Western component of the Worldcon in Chengdu. And as such, one of her duties was to administer the pass-along funds from Chengdu over to Glasgow. What are pass-along funds? Well, if there’s any money left over after running a Worldcon, they have the option and traditionally always do of passing that surplus along to the next Worldcon as a donation towards its effort. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the basic idea. While in between duties at Capricon and after speaking with Ben Yalow about it, she offered $40,000 in pass-along funds to the Glasgow Worldcon. And again, that’s de rigueur. You know, every Worldcon does this if they can. Glasgow turned the money down. They’re so anxious to avoid any associations with the Chengdu Worldcon that they’re unwilling to even touch the money, to the tune of 40 grand.

(4) SEEN AROUND FANDOM. These convention badge ribbons will be in great demand once somebody starts handing them out.

(5) DRAMA CRITIC. Lauren Oyler asks what effect Goodreads one-star reviews – or any other reviews – have in “’God forbid that a dog should die’: when Goodreads reviews go bad” at the Guardian.

Something dramatic happens on a social media platform every day. On Goodreads, the anachro­nistically designed website for logging, rating (out of five) and reviewing books, the dramas are more amusing, and they occasionally even draw attention from areas beyond the site’s supposedly book-loving users. The most recent featured Cait Corrain, the fantasy author who set up an elaborate network of fake accounts to post positive reviews of her own forthcoming book as well as negative reviews of authors she felt were her competitors. When citizen journalists uncovered her plot in December 2023, her book was cancelled, and she lost her agent and a future book deal.

A juicy, postmodern story of self-sabotage, or a sad one about the intersection of the internet and mental health. Regardless, its stakes are relatively low: publicly harassing one’s colleagues is a sackable offence anyway, and it’s hard to find someone who really cares about the vicissitudes of the young adult literature world who isn’t part of the subculture. I’m not; I’m a professional critic, and an author of a literary novel. I’m a snob. I care about my book, and the authors I feel are my competitors. And while Goodreads has been around since 2007, its significance to the broader literary world remains steadfastly confusing. Does it sell books? Does it make and break careers? The flashy, funny stories that have emerged about the site over the last several years have done exactly what its proprietors surely want: make it seem like Goodreads is important. But is it?…

(6) SIMULTANEOUS TIMES. Space Cowboy Books of Joshua Tree, CA presents episode 72 of the Simultaneous Times podcast with Eugen Bacon & Todd Sullivan. Stories featured in this episode:

  • “A Good Ball” by Eugen Bacon, with music by Fall Precauxions, read by Jean-Paul Garnier
  • “Shards of Glass” by Todd Sullivan, with music by Phog Masheeen, read by Jean-Paul Garnier

Theme music by Dain Luscombe

Available on all podcast players or at Podomatic.

(7) THE SOURCE: SARAH MAAS FANTASY. Ann Smoot points out “The Jewishness of Sarah Maas’ Fantasy World” at Hey Alma. Beware spoilers.

Whether you’ve been thinking about starting to read “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” or you’re a long-time fan of “Throne of Glass,” it’s likely that you’ve heard of Sarah J. Maas. The author is making headlines the world over thanks to her fantasy series. Whether you’re invested in them for the well-written smut or the beautiful way she weaves her stories, fans can’t put down her novels. But what some readers might not know about the rather private author is that she was raised by a Catholic mother and a Jewish father and attended Hebrew school in her youth. She went on to attend Hamilton College for religious studies and met her future husband at her college’s Hillel, where he served as president. Her connection to her Jewish faith isn’t just apparent when looking at her personal history, though. It just takes a keen eye and a flip through any of her series’ to recognize that she has woven her culture through every story….

… The way that Maas deftly and lovingly weaves her Jewish culture and faith into her writing opens up the world of our stories and tradition to a wider audience. Jewish faith hasn’t had a very loud voice in fantasy — but thanks to Maas, that might be about to change.

(8) ROLE MODEL. [Item by Danny Sichel.] “Peter Talks To a Spider”, a ten-page comic, by Donny Cates and Chip Zdarsky, published on Marvel’s official Threads account: “What happens when Spider-Man chats with an actual Spider”. Images at the link.


[Written by Cat Eldridge.]

Born February 18, 1919 Jack Palance. (Died 2006.) Tonight I’ve come to talk of Jack Palance who was born of Ukrainian immigrant parents with name of Volodymyr Palahniuk. His last name was actually a derivative of his original name. While guesting on What’s My Line?, he noted that no one could pronounce his last name, and how it was suggested that he be called Palanski but instead that he decided just to use Palance instead. He didn’t say where his first name came from.

(OK nitpickers, I do not want to hear from you. Seriously, I don’t. His career makes a gaggle of overly catnapped kittens playing with skeins of yarn with lots of lanolin still on it look simple by comparison so I may or may not have knitted it properly here, so bear with my version of it.) 

Jack Palance in 1954.

Surprisingly it looks like that he got his start in our end of things in television performances and relatively late as they started in the Sixties with the first one being Jabberwock on a musical version of Alice Through the Looking Glass. I’m sure I want to see that as it had Jimmy Durante as Humpty Dumpty, and the Smothers Brothers as Tweedledee and Tweedledum. 

Next up was a Canadian production with him in the title role of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and that in turn saw him being the lead in Dracula, also known as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Dan Curtis’ Dracula, the last when the ego of the Director got way, way too big. 

Jack Palance as Dracula (1973)

I’m going to digress here because it’s so fascinating. In 1963, The Greatest Show on Earth first aired. This Circus drama had Johnny Slate as the big boss who keeps the circus running as it moves from town to town. It was produced by Desilu, the production company founded by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Sr. It lasted but one season as it was up against shows by Jack Benny and Richard Boone. 

A bit of hard SF was next, Cyborg 2, released in other countries as Glass Shadow, creative but terribly uninformative, where he’s Mercy, an old renegade cyborg. 

Remember my Birthday recently on the wonderful Carol Serling? Well he was in The Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics film that she made possible as Dr. Jeremy Wheaton in “Where the Dead Are”. 

If Treasure Island counts as genre and yes I do count it in my personal canon, then his role as Long John Silver is definitely canon. 

He got to play Ebenezer Scrooge in Ebenezer. Now the fun part is that it’s set in the Old West, where he is the most greedy, corrupt and mean-spirited crook in the old West obviously, he sees no value in “Holiday Humbug” by several reviewers. This film I went to look up on Rotten Tomatoes, but no rating there.

Not at all shockingly to me, he shows up on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. where he plays a character of Louis Strago in a two-parter “The Concrete Overcoat Affair” which got reedited as “The Spy in the Green Hat”. 

A bit of horror was next in Tales of the Haunted as Stokes in “Evil Stalks This House” was up late in career.

Finally for roles that I’m reasonably sure were of genre interest, he was on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century as Kaleel in the “Planet of the Slave Girls” episode.

One more gig for him related to genre or at least genre adjacent, though not as a performer, but as the host of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! for four years. He had three different co-hosts from season to season, including his daughter, Holly Palance, actress Catherine Shirriff, and finally singer Marie Osmond. 

I’ll take your leave now. 


(11) HEAVENLY OSCULATION. [Item by Steven French.] David Tennant answers Guardian readers’ questions about the length of his sideburns, what kind of cheese he would be and being a Doctor Who fan: “David Tennant: ‘Kissing Michael Sheen was fine. He’d brushed his teeth’”.

“Am I as geeky as the Doctor who fans? Yes. As a Doctor Who fan myself of old, I can very much can plug into that. I don’t think I ever got in trouble at school. That is one of those stories that’s ended up on Wikipedia. I wrote an essay on Doctor Who, which some unpleasant newspaper found and printed. But I didn’t get in trouble for it. I think I got quite a good mark for it.”

(12) LGBTQ VIDEO GAMERS. The New York Times article about a GLAAD study says “Report Says 17 Percent of Gamers Identify as L.G.B.T.Q.”  There were 1500 participants in the survey.

Less than 2 percent of console video games include L.G.B.T.Q. characters or story lines even though 17 percent of gamers are queer, according to GLAAD’s first survey on the industry.

The survey, whose results were released on Tuesday, said a majority of respondents had experienced some form of harassment when playing online. But it also found that many queer gamers saw virtual worlds as an escape in states where recent legislation has targeted L.G.B.T.Q. people. Seventy-five percent of queer respondents from those states said they could express themselves in games in a way they did not feel comfortable doing in reality.

“That is a statistic that should pull on everyone’s heartstrings,” said Blair Durkee, who led the advocacy group’s survey alongside partners from Nielsen, the data and marketing firm. “The statistic is driven largely by young gamers. Gaming is a lifeline for them.”

GLAAD has produced a similar breakdown of queer representation in television since 1996. Its latest report found that 10.6 percent of series regulars in prime-time scripted shows identified as L.G.B.T.Q., which researchers said helped put their video game study in perspective….

(13) CREATING VIDEO FROM TEXT. That’s the latest step forward in artificial intelligence says OpenAI in “Sora”.

We’re teaching AI to understand and simulate the physical world in motion, with the goal of training models that help people solve problems that require real-world interaction.

Introducing Sora, our text-to-video model. Sora can generate videos up to a minute long while maintaining visual quality and adherence to the user’s prompt.

Today, Sora is becoming available to red teamers to assess critical areas for harms or risks. We are also granting access to a number of visual artists, designers, and filmmakers to gain feedback on how to advance the model to be most helpful for creative professionals.

We’re sharing our research progress early to start working with and getting feedback from people outside of OpenAI and to give the public a sense of what AI capabilities are on the horizon….

… The current model has weaknesses. It may struggle with accurately simulating the physics of a complex scene, and may not understand specific instances of cause and effect. For example, a person might take a bite out of a cookie, but afterward, the cookie may not have a bite mark….

(14) VIDEO OF THE DAY. The second trailer for Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire has dropped. Only in theaters March 29.

The guardians of nature. The protectors of humanity. The rise of a new empire.

The epic battle continues! Legendary Pictures’ cinematic Monsterverse follows up the explosive showdown of “Godzilla vs. Kong” with an all-new adventure that pits the almighty Kong and the fearsome Godzilla against a colossal undiscovered threat hidden within our world, challenging their very existence—and our own. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” delves further into the histories of these Titans and their origins, as well as the mysteries of Skull Island and beyond, while uncovering the mythic battle that helped forge these extraordinary beings and tied them to humankind forever.

[Thanks to SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Steven French, Mike Kennedy, Paul Weimer, Eric Hildeman, Joshua K., Cliff Ramshaw, Kathy Sullivan, Jean-Paul Garnier, Dan Bloch, Rich Lynch, Danny Sichel, Andrew Porter, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Cat Eldridge.]

Pixel Scroll 12/4/23 Cool Carbonite Hand Luke 

(1) POWELL ARRESTED. Longtime fan Rickland Powell was arrested December 1 in connection with “assaulting a female child who is known to him” according to the Middlesex (MA) District Attorney.  Their press release follows.

Powell is on the list of people who have been banned from Arisia. Prior to that he worked on Arisia over the past couple of decades in positions ranging from Division Head to logistics and art show help.

(2) UNCATCHABLE. Gideon Lewis-Kraus’ “Maybe We Already Have Runaway Machines”, a discussion of David Runciman’s The Handover: How We Gave Control of Our Lives to Corporations, States, and AIs,  is a rather Strossian article in The New Yorker.

…Yet we citizens of modern states have always labored under the shadow of a partly mitigated alignment problem—a “mismatch between the drives of these artificial persons and the needs of the planet,” as Runciman describes it—that provides a frame, a vocabulary, and a sense of foreboding as we seek to process the automation on the horizon. The concern about unaligned machines is that even if we can program, so to speak, their ultimate ends, we can’t necessarily anticipate the instrumental subgoals they might pursue as an intermediate measure. If you instruct a machine to complete a task, the likeliest instrumental subgoal is to “gain control.” If the danger of the alignment problem seems indistinct or preposterous, Runciman suggests, you haven’t been paying attention….

“… States and corporations reflect two different sides of our contemporary fear of machines that have escaped human control. One is that we will build machines that we don’t know how to switch off, either because we have become too dependent on them or because we can’t find the off switch. That’s states. The other is that we build machines that self-replicate in ways that we can no longer regulate. They start spewing our versions of themselves to the point where we are swamped by them. That’s corporations….”

(3) FOLLOW-UP ON ALASKAN MUDSLIDE. Max Florschutz wrote in November that his mother survived the mudslide in his hometown of Wrangell, Alaska but at that time he did not know the fate of his father. Unfortunately, his father passed on. He has an update in “Emergency News and Classic Being a Better Writer: Horizontal and Vertical Storytelling” at Unusual Things.

(4) BEST XX. Esquire’s list of “The 20 Best Books of 2023” is topped by a genre work.

…Our selections range from debut works by emerging voices to new outings for canonical writers. They delve into everything from prisons to shipwrecks, ghost stories to extraterrestrials, American dreaming to American failures. Whether you’re into novels, short stories, memoirs, or nonfiction, we’ve covered the whole waterfront here with a bumper crop of incredible books. They’re all worth their weight in gold (believe us, we know exactly how much they weigh).

Below, here are Esquire’s 20 best books of the year…

Ranked number one:

Chain-Gang All-Stars, by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Ever since his breakout debut, Friday Black, we’ve been eagerly awaiting Adjei-Brenyah’s sophomore outing. Nearly five years later, it arrived this past spring, and it surpassed all expectations. In a dystopian United States, the prison-industrial complex has gone private, leaving incarcerated people with no choice but to compete for their freedom in the Criminal Action Penal Entertainment system. Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker have traveled together for years as Links in the same Chain-Gang, but as Thurwar nears her freedom, she contemplates how to bring dignity to her multi-racial and multi-gendered coalition of fellow gladiators. Reading Chain-Gang All-Stars in a nation addicted to violent sports that brutalize athletes of color, Adjei-Brenyah’s acerbic vision lands like a lightning bolt of truth.

Read an exclusive excerpt here at Esquire.

(5) WILKINS GOFUNDME. Cory Doctorow signal boosted an appeal to help Pacific Northwest bookseller Duane Wilkins.

Nearly every sf writer who’s ever toured the west coast knows Duane – he’s the encyclopedically knowledgeable sf buyer for the U Washington Bookseller, who has organized some of the best sf signings in Seattle history. He’s a force of nature.

He’s also broke. A two-week hospital stay left him drowning in medical debt – despite being insured! – and now he’s being threatened by a collection agency.

Now, Duane is forced into participating in one of the most barbaric of contemporary American rituals, fundraising to cover his medical debt. He’s raised $6k of the $10k he needs (I just pitched in $100).

If you can afford to help out someone who’s done so much for our community, please kick Duane whatever you can spare.

Shawn Speakman, who set up the GoFundMe (“Please Help Duane Wilkins Pay His Medical Debt”) says there are reward for certain levels of donation. (Also note – as of this writing the appeal has brought in $15,567).

I told him that I’d help him relieve that debt and raise some extra funds for any future situation that might require aid.

That’s where you come in.

If you donate $10 or more, Grim Oak Press will email you free ebooks of our amazing anthologies UnfetteredUnfettered IIUnfettered IIIUnbound, and Unbound II. These are filled with amazing SF&F short stories. Google them to view their incredible author line-ups.

And if you donate more than $20 to Duane’s GoFund Me, several of these writers are willing to give free ebooks of some of their novels. Starting with me and my newly-edited edition of The Dark Thorn.

I hope you will consider donating to Duane’s GoFundMe and help spread word about it. Together, we can help one of our best SF&F booksellers….

(6) MONSTER MASH. They’re at it again: Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Official Trailer is coming to theaters April 12, 2024.

(7) FAITHFUL EEYORE. John Boston reviews the latest (in 1968) issue of Amazing at Galactic Journey. “[December 4, 1968] Sign Me Up (January 1969 Amazing)”.

In this January’s Amazing, on page 138, there is an editorial—A Word from the Editor, it says, bylined Barry N. Malzberg—which suggests a different direction (or maybe I should just say “a direction”) for this magazine.  First is some news.  There will be no letter column; Malzberg would rather use the space for a story.  Second, “the reprint policy of these magazines will continue for the foreseeable future,” per the publisher, but “A large and increasing percentage of space however will be used for new stories.”

Pointedly, the editor adds, “it is my contention that the majority of modern magazine science-fiction is ill-written, ill-characterized, ill-conceived and so excruciatingly dull as to make me question the ability of the writers to stay awake during its composition, much less the readers during its absorption.  Tied to an older tradition and nailed down stylistically to the worst hack cliches of three decades past, science-fiction has only within the past five or six years begun to emerge from its category trap only because certain intelligent and dedicated people have had the courage to wreck it so that it could crawl free. . . .  I propose that within its editorial limits and budget, Amazing and Fantastic will do what they can to assist this rebirth—one would rather call it transmutation—of the category and we will try to be hospitable to a kind of story which is still having difficulty finding publication in this country.”

As far as I know fifty years later Malzberg is still disappointed in science fiction. G.W. Thomas took inventory of some of his past predictions for the genre in “The Fate of Science Fiction According to Barry N. Malzberg” at Dark Worlds Quarterly.

(8) MEDICAL UPDATE. Erwin “Filthy Pierre” Strauss, who fell down some stairs at Smofcon thie weekend, suffered a broken wrist and was taken to New England Hospital, wrote Kevin Standlee yesterday. “They expect to keep him at least one more night. Sufford and Tony Lewis will retrieve him from the hospital when he is released.”

(9) TIM DORSEY (1961-2023). Crime novelist Tim Dorsey, who wrote about the eccentricities of Floridians long before Florida Man became a meme, died November 26. The New York Times obituary is here: “Tim Dorsey, Who Turned Florida’s Quirks Into Comic Gold, Dies at 62”.

…Mr. Dorsey gave his books comic titles that reflected the blend of Jimmy Buffett and Raymond Chandler that filled their interiors.

“The Maltese Iguana,” published this year, was Mr. Dorsey’s most recent book.via HarperCollins

He reveled in the diversity of Florida — the dog tracks and swamps around Miami, the Redneck Riviera along the Panhandle, the morass of state politics in Tallahassee, the nostalgic weirdness of the Keys.

His novel “Atomic Lobster” (2008), Mr. Dorsey said in an interview with Powell’s Books, was “the dissection of a Florida neighborhood populated almost entirely by degenerates, con men, the terminally dysfunctional, golf freaks, trophy wives, and prescription-abusing retirees in Buicks tying up traffic. In other words, a documentary.”

Some people considered Serge to be Mr. Dorsey’s alter ego, but he corrected them. Serge was, he said, his ego, living the kind of life and doing the sorts of things he would love to do if not constrained by conscience and the law….


From Wole Talabi:


  • The Flying McCoys wondered how to get hold of Batman if the Batlight went out.
  • Tom Gauld decodes some highly technical terminology so the layperson can understand it.

(12) LEGACY. Bobby Derie looks at an example of the Japanese Cthulhu Mythos in “The Cthulhu Helix (2023) by Umehara Katsufumi (梅原克文)” at Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein.

… Which is why The Cthulhu Helix works as a Lovecraftian novel. The characters are all conscious of Lovecraft’s legacy, but for them it’s all shorthand and metaphor, a way to frame and discuss these complex ideas and relationships without getting bogged down in Elder Signs and other minutiae. The particular approach Umehara took is fairly Derlethian, but that’s not surprising considering when and where it was published….

(13) SEEKING SUBSCRIBERS. Sunday Morning Transport’s free-to-read story for December is “Deconstruction in the Form of a Cat God” by LaShawn Wanak.

LaShawn Wanak opens with talking cats; then the tale only grows more wondrous — and we can think of nothing better

(14) CASTING CALL. Slashfilm tells readers “How David Tennant Ended Up Playing Huyang In Star Wars”.

… It’s brilliant casting, if I may gush for a moment. I love him in both franchises. I think part of the appeal is that David Tennant’s voice is pretty recognizable; “Doctor Who” fans have a built-in feeling that this is a wise person who has centuries of universal knowledge behind whatever he’s saying. I suppose you could say the same thing for fans of “Good Omens” (where he plays a fallen angel who has been around for all of time) who only discovered Tennant’s Huyang in “Ahsoka.” Of course, his performances are great across the board, but there is something to be said for many audience members having immediate feelings about him from his past work…. 

(15) IT’S GOOD FOR YOU. “Neuroscience Says 1 Rather Brainless Activity Can Lower Your Stress and Make You More Productive” says And we’re all into brainless activities, right?

…The activities included coloring in a mandala, doodling within or around a circle marked on a paper, and having a free-drawing session, each for three minutes, with rest periods in between. During all three activities, there was an increase in blood flow in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which forms a part of the wiring for our brain’s reward circuit. 

“This shows that there might be inherent pleasure in doing art activities independent of the end results,” said the study’s lead author.

The advantages of creating art go beyond just the pleasure of the activity itself. According to surveys before and after the art-making activities, participants who engaged in art-making felt more creative and were better able to solve problems….

(16) AI CON GAME. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] BBC Radio 4’s documentary programme File on Four has taken a fascinating look at how artificial intelligence (A.I.) is being used by criminals to con victims. A crime that, if written as a story a decade ago, would be decidedly SFnal.  A.I.-generated deep fakes are no longer restricted to images but also to voices and even video.  In the programme, the presenter gets a researcher to train an A.I. to simulate the presenter’s voice and then gets the A. I. to phone his mother: someone who arguably best knows what his voice sounds like. His mother is completely taken in by the A.I. voice.

The programme reveals that the banks, which have been using voice identification as an added security measure, are in an arms race with criminals. One A.I. researcher has even refused to let his bank use voice identification on his account!

Artificial intelligence, or AI, makes it possible for machines to learn – and in the future it will perform many tasks now done by humans. But are criminals and bad actors ahead of the curve? AI is already being used to commit fraud and other crimes by generating fake videos and audio; fast emerging threats that form just part of a potential new crime wave. File on 4 investigates.

You can listen to the half-hour programme here: File on 4, Artificial Intelligence: The Criminal Threat”.

(17) VIDEO OF THE DAY. How It Should Have Ended, strangely enough, has an opinion about how Transformers: Rise of the Beasts should have ended.

[Thanks to Chris Barkley, Ersatz Culture, Steven French, Andrew (not Werdna), Kathy Sullivan, Kevin Standlee, Cat Eldridge, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

A Triple Life: King Kong’s Trinity of Reincarnated Lives on Film

[It’s hard to believe King Kong could sneak up on anyone. But in a way that happened to Steve Vertlieb.]

By Steve Vertlieb: Merian C. Cooper’s celebrated gorilla was born in the mind of his creator, perhaps, as early as 1927 when his friend W. Douglas Burden, a Director of The Museum of Natural History in New York City, published his book “The Dragon Lizards of Komodo.”  Burden’s historical volume on the nine foot, carnivorous lizards occupying Komodo Island in the East Indies set the film director’s fertile imagination ablaze with thoughts of giant, prehistoric creatures marauding through a lost island, set apart from the rest of the world,  unchanged since the beginning of time.  Cooper and his partners, Ernest B. Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison, had been filming acclaimed documentary features concerning primitive cultures and civilizations for “silent” cinema.  Grass, released in 1925 and Chang, released two years later in 1927 recounted their encounters with prehistoric tribal customs passed from generation to generation, untouched by societal evolution.  Purchasing two cameras and fifty thousand feet of film, the adventurous trio ventured courageously to the Persian Gulf where they filmed the annual migration of the Bakhtiari people.  Upon completion of the “shoot,” Cooper, Schoedsack, and Harrison returned to Paris where they processed the footage by themselves. Jesse L. Lasky purchased the finished print for his Paramount Studios, and the film, now titled Grass, enjoyed a successful run both in The United States and abroad.  Excited by their success, Lasky dispatched the team to Siam to film a scripted action/adventure yarn in the deep jungles of the region.  Released in 1927 by Paramount, Chang again drew huge audiences and probably inspired later features and serials featuring the jungle exploits of both Frank Buck and Clyde Beatty, as well as MGM’s decision to green light Trader Horn, and its enduring series of “Tarzan” films.

Not content to rest on their collective laurels, Cooper and Schoedsack once again journeyed to the “dark continent” in order to film “location” footage for their big budget film version of Four Feathers.  Billed by Paramount as “The last of the big silent films,” the adventure classic tale of cowardice under fire, released in 1929, featured Richard Arlen and Fay Wray as war time lovers torn apart by false accusation and bravado. Cooper’s growing experience as a film producer would inevitably lead him to more fertile fields of live action production and storytelling, and so he embarked upon a most dangerous game of chance.  Working from a premise involving the turning of tables in which the hunter might now become the hunted, the cinematic adventurers decided to produce a film based upon Richard Connell’s classic tale of role reversal.  Published as a short story in 1924 as “The Hounds of Zaroff, The Most Dangerous Game was a natural progression for the maturing wildlife film makers.  Man would become the prey, while a crazed big game hunter, bored by matching wits with four-legged predators, might now trap and destroy “the most dangerous game of all,” his own species.  Directed by Irving Pichel along with Ernest B. Schoedsack, and released by Radio Pictures in 1932, The Most Dangerous Game Starred Joel McCrea as a celebrated big game hunter deliberately shipwrecked at sea in order to lure him to a private island owned by the mad Count Zaroff.  Leslie Banks as the demented recluse welcomes “guests” to his deserted island in order to hunt them down by dawn, and add their heads to the walls of his hidden trophy room.  Fay Wray once again was the object of mutual desire, while Robert Armstrong as her often inebriated brother, provided Banks with his less than satisfactory prey.  With a thrilling score by Max Steiner, as well as a cast and crew that would soon become family, The Most Dangerous Game was setting the sound stage for its sister production, being filmed simultaneously on those most dangerous sets.

Cast and crew of King Kong

King Kong related the remarkable tale of a giant beast, an impossible ape-like creature whose imposing, horrifying shadow would follow the intrepid explorers whose heroic exploits had led them to its discovery.  Released by RKO Studios during the winter of 1933, the picture reunited Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong with Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack for yet another thrilling adventure in the lurid jungles of a primordial world.  They were joined by Bruce Cabot in, perhaps, the pivotal performance of his career.  Filmed and released during the height of America’s great depression, the film followed a crew of shipwrecked survivors as they valiantly struggle to escape overpowering odds, caught in the crosshairs of economic upheaval.  Adrift at sea amidst the mocking skyscrapers of a bankrupt metropolis, a documentary film producer (patterned after Cooper himself) flees the merciless boredom of repetition in search of new worlds.  A conqueror at heart, Carl Denham yearns for new challenges, new discovery, and new opportunities to break through the molding memories of his own worn career.  He is given a map of a strange, prehistoric island in which creatures from the dawn of time still exist, exalting a towering monstrosity who reigns supremely in a lost corner of a shrinking planet.  Their aged freighter, crashed cruelly against marauding waves, sends a cautious expedition to the uncharted island, barely escaping the wrath of the native inhabitants of Skull Island, a terrifying precipice on the wretched edge of treacherous seas.

There, amidst ravenous swamps and savage tribes, live the remnants of man devouring dinosaurs and a fierce monolithic gorilla whom the natives call…”Kong.”  He was a king and a god in the world he knew, a triumphant titan rampaging majestically through savage jungles, a towering prince among lost horizons.  Fearless and unchallenged, either by gods or by men, Kong is ultimately defeated by the technological slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  Wielded by Lilliputian invaders, gas bombs transposed from another reality ultimately devour this courageous denizen from the beginning of time, bringing him to his knees in choking slumber.  Mighty Kong is transported by tramp steamer to the unforgiving jungles of New York where he is displayed, a fallen angel cursed by the stars, exhibited in chains against a burning cross.  He is a noble figure, a Christ-like martyr suffering for the sins of humanity.  The purity of his primordial existence has been betrayed.  He is a tortured innocent, imprisoned in a world beyond his conception or forgiveness.  His final redemption, breaking free from the shallow bonds of captivity, leads him irretrievably to his fate amongst the stars from which he came.  In raging fury, Kong lords over the steel canyons of “civilization,” perched valiantly atop the highest mountainous peak in the city.  The tower of the Empire State Building, its cratered caverns shuddering beneath the roars of her unwelcome captor, becomes the last tragic refuge of this embattled slave.  Slaughtered by unforgiving machine gun bullets, Kong topples to his death miles below upon the ferociously mean streets of the cruel, naked city.

Kong still autographed to Steve Vertlieb by Merian C. Cooper.

Merian C. Cooper’s classic fantasy adventure remains, perhaps, the most celebrated retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.”  Its martyred protagonist, an antihero for the ages, profoundly influenced generations of film makers and fans, charting the career choices of Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, Peter Jackson, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg among so many others. Kong’s strangely passionate love for Ann Darrow, the symbolically virginal heroine played by Fay Wray, creates an open wound of masculine loneliness that leads unrelentingly to his slavery and demise.  Its rich violent symphonic themes, created by Max Steiner, contributed to one of the first important film scores of the sound era, a landmark musical achievement that would set the standard for all subsequent Hollywood soundtracks. King Kong was, in its time, a marvel of visual, special effects technology.  Willis H O’Brien, who created the stop-motion effects that so effectively brought Kong to life, virtually invented the craft, illustrating the original silent version of Arthur Conan’s Doyle’s The Lost World (1925).  He would pass the torch to Ray Harryhausen during the filming of Merian C. Cooper’s Mighty Joe Young some sixteen years later.  The story of King Kong has endured a lasting cultural significance in the years since its original release, and has found a home in the deepest recesses of our collective culture, dreams and nightmares.  

Perhaps, it should have come then as no surprise when in 1976 not one, but two motion picture studios were competing for the chance to bring Kong back to the big screen.  Universal was planning a large-scale remake of the venerable tale with stop motion cinematography by animator Jim Danforth who had worked with George Pal on The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, as well as creating many of the effects for ABC Television’s The Outer Limits series.  Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures was plodding ahead with their own big screen remake of the cherished screen fable, under the auspices of producer Dino De Laurentiis.  De Laurentiis mounted an enormous publicity campaign which, sadly, ruled the day.  Universal backed off of their more ambitious filming, and Paramount found itself the only player on a creatively diminished field.

Unlike Universal, whose own scenario might have been truer to the integrity of the original production, Paramount decided upon a less costly proposal.  Whereas Universal, along with animator Jim Danforth, would have utilized Willis O’Brien’s cherished, though laborious, methodology of stop motion animation, Paramount’s production team decided to populate Skull Island with elaborate puppets and men in rubber suits. De Laurentiis both angered and alienated the fan community by belittling the achievements of Willis O’Brien, proclaiming sanctimoniously that the visual effects in the original picture might have been adequate for their time, but that technological advancements by 1976 had far surpassed the primitive stop motion effects of 1933.  When Paramount’s version of King Kong was finally released in 1976, both the picture and its highly touted visual technology became the laughingstock of the industry, and an embarrassment to the studio. De Laurentiis had constructed an enormous mechanical gorilla that barely moved or functioned.  It was used, ultimately, only for longshots in the completed film and, during its well publicized unveiling for the press, leaked motor oil all over itself.  A primordial diaper might have saved the day.

Directed by John Guillerman, and written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., who rose to prominence writing ABC Television’s campy Batman series, the film featured a cast that included Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin and, in her very first screen appearance, Jessica Lange.  Lange would, of course, overcome this inadequate debut with numerous brilliant performances in the years that followed…but everyone has to start somewhere.  The script for the film was decidedly “Semple” minded. Jack Kroll in his review for Newsweek noted the Kong’s roar sounded like “the flushing of a thousand industrial toilets.  The sole creature besides Kong residing on the once lushly inhabited island was a laughably inadequate “serpent” whose guarded movements were pulled by marionette strings worthy of Howdy Doody.  Rick Baker performed valiantly inside the human-scaled King Kong suit, but his performance was ultimately marred by the mediocrity of the production’s budget and script.  The one memorable aspect of an otherwise ludicrous attempt to surpass a fantasy masterpiece was John Barry’s eloquent, if somber, musical score which seemed written for something other than the ill-fated atrocity in which it appeared.  In the end, to paraphrase Merian Cooper’s poetic finality, “Twas Was Dino Killed The Beast.”


Despite well-intentioned proclamations by the New Zealand monarchy, a carefully positioned ascension to the throne has come unraveled by a tainted blood line.  The ape who would be king, however noble, remains relegated to a lesser chamber in which countless pretenders share unfulfilled delusions and dreams of grandeur.  After years of plotting and grand design, Peter Jackson’s Richelieu has failed his King.  The years of promise have ultimately worn thin with expectation, and the director’s creative pregnancy has yielded a stillborn creation. King Kong is classic in its betrayal of the seed that inspired its birth.  Upon completion of the greatest fantasy film trilogy ever made, The Lord of the Rings, it appeared that Peter Jackson was the perfect candidate to direct a modern re-telling of Merian C. Cooper’s exquisite fable of beauty and her beast.  After all, he was a consummate, passionate filmmaker whose creative inspiration matured in the profound shadow of a masterwork.  Who better than Jackson, then, to return the legendary gorilla full circle to his rightful place among the technological marvels of digital supremacy?  And yet something went horribly wrong.  Somewhere along the yellow brick road, purity of purpose surrendered to commercial sensibility, while humility and childhood wonder expired cruelly within the depths of an artificially conceived Depression.  Expressing a life-long desire to re-imagine and recreate the masterpiece that gave birth to his own artistic dreams, Jackson at last had the economic clout to bring his boyhood vision to the screen…a limitless expansion of  prehistoric wonder.  That he failed is a tragedy, both for the millions of fans who placed their hopes so earnestly in his care, and for the beleaguered film industry whose faith and economic carte blanche lay ravished and torn in the spider pit of arrogance and deception.

Signs of trouble loomed late in production when, defiantly defending his significant alteration of the story, Jackson proclaimed that the original screenplay wasn’t so great to begin with.  Now the director, like Dino De Laurentiis before him, was going to improve upon a masterpiece with another Semple-minded revision of the text.  Nagging questions remained, however.  If the original film inspired and ultimately sired Peter Jackson’s love of movies, leading to his burning ambition to bring his favorite motion picture back to its original glory with a new and reverent visualization, when did his respect for its sublime simplicity fall so callously from the cliffs?  When De Laurentiis assumed godlike pretensions, asserting that a simple man in a gorilla suit would surpass the technological innovations of Willis O’Brien’s Stop Motion creations, Twas Dino Killed The Beast.  When Jackson decided that the magic which so pervasively enchanted his childhood dreams was corny and imperfect, he burned the very structure he would build upon…leaving a flimsy fortress adrift in weightless clouds.  That these revisions and supposed improvements would ultimately collapse beneath the weight of their own self importance was as certain as Kong’s fall from the silver dome of the Empire State Building.  Only a blind man could miss the inevitable signs of danger…or a filmmaker blinded by righteous self deceit and stubbornness of heart.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong opened on December 14, 2005 to thunderous critical response and disappointing audience participation.  Perhaps the critics who so slavishly praised the spectacle of the Universal release were so intimidated by the grim reality of diminished box office returns and attendance that they feared for their pensions and job security.  Blinded by studio subsidies and their own imagined importance to the struggling film industry, perhaps they truly never entertained the terrifying notion that the King had no clothes…that the single motion picture upon which Hollywood had placed its dreams of economic recovery was left naked and prone upon the barren streets of 1930’s New York.

Divided into three separate sections, as was the original film, Jackson’s King Kong begins appropriately on the East Coast where a carnivorous film director is fighting for his future with his usual assortment of lies, half truths and infectious bravado.  Better than expected, yet still woefully miscast as Carl Denham, Jack Black is an unscrupulous and nefarious incarnation of the vibrant, exciting and joyous persona enacted by Robert Armstrong in the original.  His Denham is neither passionate, nor attractive.  Armstrong’s Denham was proud and profane, enthusiastic and exuberant, a leader one might follow into the gaping jaw of a hungry lion.  His Denham inspired loyalty and courage in the blood of his crew.  The new and improved Denham is more ruthless, a single dimensioned stereotype more likely to attract attorneys and bill collectors than respect and obedience.  He is a thoroughly despicable character, lacking charm or magnetism.  He is, however, a charming persona compared to the unfortunate casting of Kyle Chandler as leading man Bruce Baxter in what must surely be the most significant miscalculation since George Lucas invented Jar Jar Binks for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.  The decision to write in so buffoonish a comic stereotype in the midst of a classic romantic tragedy is beyond comprehension, forcing one to wonder seriously what devilish impulse possessed Jackson to so consciously sabotage this supposed homage to his favorite film.  Imagine, if you will, Bruce Baxter’s namesake, Ted, emerging from the newsroom of the Mary Tyler Moore program to join the intrepid adventurers of Skull Island.  Consequently, much of the film’s first hour is virtually intolerable, creating a burlesque atmosphere that severely cripples a third of the film.

Astonishingly, the picture takes a dramatic turn for the better when the Venture and her crew reach the island shaped liked a skull.  Striking camera work and artistic design illuminate a strange, brooding terrain seemingly lost in time.  There is much to admire in the center sequence occupying the next hour of Jackson’s vision, although the great wall separating the frightened natives from their prehistoric neighbors is disturbingly reminiscent of a similarly funky structure in the Dino De Laurentiis atrocity of 1976.  Additionally, the perfectly-synchronized apparatus delivering the sacrificial maiden to her captor seems well beyond the conceptual imagination of the inhabitants of the massive island.  Jackson’s reasoning in transforming his protagonist from a frightening, mythological creature to a more accessible silver back gorilla is similarly confusing, as Kong was described in the original screenplay he so admired as “neither beast, nor man.”  Still, the primordial occupants of this Jurassic Park remain fearsome reminders of the vanishing separation between savagery and the mannered pretense of civilized society.  Kong’s battle with a ferocious Tyrannosaurus is an exhilarating showpiece, thrillingly restoring the original conception to a new, spectacular plateau.  Re-conceptualizing the infamous, ultimately deleted Spider Crab sequence from the original picture presents a ghastly, blood chilling representation of what the stranded crew might have encountered after being hurled from the log into the ravine far below.  It is a wonderfully realized sequence, not intended for squeamish theatre goers.

If Jack Black presents an unflattering portrait of the adventurer patterned in reality after Merian C. Cooper, then Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody as a more sensitive Jack Driscoll literally flounders under the enormous weight of Jackson’s overbearing plot contrivances and special visual effects.  His characterization and performance, though no fault of his own, are largely consumed by the more urgent demands of rampaging dinosaurs and throbbing primordial libidos.  If there is an outstanding performance by a terrestrial performer, it is most certainly given by the lovely, gifted Naomi Watts as heroic Ann Darrow, the romantic illusion tempting the noble beast from his lonely lair. Their affection for one another is genuinely touching, although one wonders with fascination which is the canine and which is the master.  They appear at times interchangeable in this ultimate pet movie. Watts is effervescent and delightful as the unemployed actress who finds love in all the wrong places.  Jackson’s sense of humor seems ill at ease, however, amidst terrain in which he should have felt supremely confident.  In a sequence ill advised and conceived, Ann recalls her background in burlesque, performing acrobatic somersaults and dance routines for Kong’s amusement.  It is awkward at best…embarrassing at worst.  Similarly confounding is Jackson’s decision to house Driscoll in a cage aboard ship as he types his dialogue for the picture within a picture… an unfortunate development intended, perhaps, as lowbrow humor.

Kong himself is a majestic conception, as performed and enacted by the gifted Andy Serkis who so wondrously brought Gollum to life in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  He is a great, lonely creature inhabiting a world devoid of his kind, a noble remnant of a time long forgotten…a King and a God pathetically adrift in the world he knew.  Lured from comparative security by forbidden love, he is captured and imprisoned amidst a shining corridor of glass and steel to face a more sophisticated savagery than he encountered on the island.  Returned to New York as a captive to gratify human curiosity, he becomes once more a Christ-like figure sacrificed upon the altar of mortal greed and jealousy.  Yet again, however, Jackson chooses to bow to his inner demons, rather than retain the enormous integrity of an earlier vision.  Whereas Kong found redemption and escape within the walls of the great Shrine Auditorium in the first film, his New York debut here is relegated to the stage of a minor music hall.  In his own puzzling film debut, frequent Jackson musical collaborator Howard Shore portrays the conductor leading the tacky ensemble on stage in a bizarre performance echoing the staggering native dance and sacrifice on Skull Island from the original masterpiece.  Jackson considered Shore’s score for the new film inadequate, firing him after the completion of his work.  While James Newton Howard strove nobly to orchestrate a new symphonic accompaniment after the severing of Shore’s association with the director, there simply wasn’t enough time remaining to create a more significant work, leaving the final composition merely competent.  The most memorable musical scoring in the picture is left to the remarkable ghost of Max Steiner whose impressive themes from the dawn of sound echo triumphantly in the final moments of this ponderous fantasy.

Among the more troubling omissions from Jackson’s homage is the legendary attack upon an elevated train, transporting exhausted commuters from their jobs to home and hearth they would never see again.  Inexplicably, with the limitless financial resources available to his crew, the director chose instead to occupy the marauding ape with the paltry rewards of a careening bus on the streets of Times Square.  Despite its provocative flaws, both King Kong and its controversial director have managed to elevate the final classic sequence to a moment of rare and exquisite beauty, magically transforming an adventure fantasy to glorious visions of incomparable nobility and tortured romanticism, reaching toward ethereal heights of the Empire State Tower, wondrously re-imagining one of the most glorious sequences in film history.  In retaining sacred fidelity to the final tragic consequence of KONG and his ethereal quest for fruition of an impossible love, Jackson has recreated with consummate artistry the heartbreaking resolution of a timeless fable.  Would that the rest of his journey had been as satisfying.  As for The Once and Future Kong…the King is Dead…Long Live his immortal, poetic soul.

++ Steve Vertlieb — December, 2005

Poster for a 2012 revival showing.


Nearly twenty years have passed since Universal re-entered the simian playing field, releasing Peter Jackson’s much anticipated remake of King Kong in 2005. I was among those both excited and apprehensive about this second remake.  Merian C. Cooper’s 1933 masterpiece remains my all time favorite film.  I would guess that I’ve seen it over two hundred times over the past sixty odd years.  I was fortunate to have known Merian C. Cooper through intensive correspondence for the last eight years of his life, and spent two wonderful afternoons with Fay Wray at her Century City apartment in Los Angeles after his passing.  During the Summer of 1980, I was privileged to visit the home of this visionary filmmaker, enjoying several hours of conversation with his widow, actress Dorothy Jordan (who bore more than a passing resemblance to Fay Wray), and son, Richard Cooper who arrived to chaperone the meeting.  I held Cooper’s original bound script for “Kong” (with his handwritten annotations delightfully populating its pages) in my hands, and stood excruciatingly near the infamous, framed portrait of Cooper drawn in caricature, yelling “Make It Bigger,” given the director during Christmas, 1932, by Kong’s cast and crew. No other motion picture has continued to mesmerize me the way that King Kong has, and I jealously guard its reverence in my life.  When Dino De Laurentiis produced his 1976 atrocity, I was enraged.  I managed to compose a sarcastic diatribe for George Stover’s Black Oracle Magazine which I laughingly labeled “Twas Dino Killed The Beast.”  After that despicable debacle, I had little interest in seeing yet another remake of the fantasy classic…until, that is, it was announced that Peter Jackson would film his own loving tribute to Cooper’s masterwork. 

Having seen all of the Lord of the Rings films, I became convinced that if anyone on the planet could bring Kong convincingly back to the screen, it would be Peter Jackson.  His towering reign over modern fantasy films established his reputation as their preeminent interpreter.  Add to that his stated reverence and respect for the original Kong, and the fact that it was the picture that inspired him to become a director in the first place.  This was going to be a King Kong for the ages, I believed.  The fact that the picture was scheduled to premiere the night before my sixtieth birthday added a mystic touch to an already exultant anticipation of the long-awaited unveiling.

I suppose that, in reality, not even Citizen Kane could have withstood the intensity of expectation surrounding the finality of completion of this deliriously anticipated remake.  I walked into the theatre with stars in my eyes, only to exit three hours later deeply angered and insulted by what I regarded as an arrogant betrayal of the faith I had naively placed in Mr. Jackson’s integrity.  I was actually quite horrified by the inanity of sequences flashing by me in numbing profusion.  Jackson, I felt, had taken one of the screen’s most colorful, courageous characterizations, and turned it into buffoonish parody befitting the vaudeville theatrics so shabbily re-created in the film’s early scenes.  No longer a fearless adventurer, director, and explorer, so enthusiastically patterned after Merian C. Cooper’s own heroic persona, Carl Denham (in the person of John Belushi wannabe Jack Black) had inexplicably been rendered impotent by the calculated degeneracy and burlesque simplicity of Black’s insultingly exaggerated comedic mediocrity.  As if this wasn’t bad enough, Jack Driscoll…the hero of the original motion picture…had been reduced to a joke, a one-dimensional caricature reminiscent of newsman Ted Baxter on the Mary Tyler Moore television show.  Jackson’s apparent dislike for actor Bruce Cabot, who portrayed Driscoll in the first film version of “Kong,” seemed exacerbated by his refusal to acknowledge Cabot in the final screen credit honoring everyone in the film other than the actor.

I wrote a scathing attack of Jackson’s production for a popular science fiction website during Christmas, 2005 promptly, if improperly, dismissing the entire film as an embarrassment to everyone concerned.  After my review appeared, I began receiving a barrage of criticism from longtime friends around the country, roundly challenging my observations.  The thrust of the observations concluded that I had been too hard on the film, unfair in my expectations, and blinded to its many charms.  Even my own brother telephoned me upon leaving a Los Angeles theatre, raving about the spectacle and commending Jackson’s directorial brilliance.  Most of the country’s major film critics, including Roger Ebert, praised its incomparable artistry and imagination.  I thought, perhaps, I’d seen a different film than everyone else.  Most of my friends urged me to wait a week or two, and go back to the theatre with a more open and, perhaps, generous mind.  Maybe, now that I knew what was wrong with the film, I might be better prepared to sit back, relax, and enjoy what was right with the picture.  About ten days later I did revisit the film and, in all candor, found that there were enough genuinely impressive set pieces to take the edge off of my initial resentment.  Upon a second viewing, I composed a not entirely enthusiastic retraction of my earlier comments and, while unable to accept the new representations of Denham and Driscoll entirely, found that I had begun to like, if not love, the Jackson production.

When the film found its initial entry to the DVD market some years ago, I found myself watching it a third time.  To my consternation, I discovered that I was really beginning to enjoy the movie.  The Jack Black introduction, which had seemed interminably long upon its first viewing, had inexplicably grown less offensive and even shorter than I had remembered it.  By time the Venture had run aground on Skull Island, the excitement and pacing of the film had increased dramatically and I found myself caught up in the breathtaking grandeur of the animals and visual effects.  Some of the original silliness remained, unfortunately, in the later New York sequences once the cast and crew had returned for Kong’s exhibition on Broadway, and yet the touching poetry of Ann’s reunion with Kong atop an icy lake in Central Park, a sweet, somehow fragile wintry ballet, struck me as remarkably lovely in retrospect. However, the single element that had always impressed me was the final scene atop the Empire State Building in which the humbled denizen of a prehistoric era meets an excruciating assassination, his body riddled with stinging machine gun bullets, falling from nobility and grace to the littered streets below a stunning Manhattan skyline.  Jackson had gotten this right from the outset…a sublime recreation of Kong’s final moments of tenderness within the gaze of Ann Darrow at the top of the world.

Upon a fourth viewing, this time on cable, I found myself…somewhat astonishingly… starting to love the film.  Still later, Universal released an extended director’s cut of Jackson’s dream film, a three and a half hour restoration which incorporated some breathtaking sequences that should never have been eliminated from the film in the first place.  I sat down in my living room at the time, cleared my mind of any misgivings or preconceptions, and watched Jackson’s King Kong for the fifth time.  It was in many inexplicable ways, however, the “first time” that I had really seen it.  My mind and heart raced back to December 14, 2005.  I turned down the lights and felt the exhilaration I initially felt on opening night when the theatre lights first dimmed, and the Universal logo lit up the screen.  Among the restored sequences was an exciting homage to the original production in which a malevolent stegosaurus crashes through the jungle brush to attack the intrepid explorers.  As they fell the beast with rifle fire and gas bombs, the creature’s spiked tail rises and falls thunderously onto the jungle floor in poignant conquest, for this was, after all, a dinosaur…a prehistoric beast, a paleolithic echo from an earlier film.

However, the real treasure unearthed by the studio for this handsome, extended edition is, unequivocally, a lengthy and terrifying sequence in which fanged sea creatures from beneath the depths come flying out of the primordial mist to devour the defenseless sailors on a hastily constructed raft  adrift upon the murky moat. It is a brilliantly realized scene and one of the most dazzling show pieces in the entire film.  The new footage does much to flesh out an already impressive production, offering Kong what it might have subtly lacked in its original inception and release. A joyous revelation during subsequent viewings has also been a deeper appreciation of, and reverence for, James Newton Howard’s heart wrenching score for the film.  While neither as bombastic as Max Steiner’s original composition, or John Barry’s somber requiem for the second film, Howard’s romantic tenderness, and poetic eloquence stand among the finest achievements of his deservedly respected career. In retrospect, Peter Jackson’s King Kong is an astonishing achievement, a breathtaking exploration of a world lost and hidden from the beginning of time.  The deluxe DVD edition includes a handsome sculpture of the beloved simian climbing his final, tragic refuge in the clouds…the majestic Empire State Tower…a haunting remembrance of an unforgettable fable and finale.

While the casting of Jack Black in the pivotal role of Carl Denham remains mystifying, as does the ultimate trashing of Jack Driscoll, whose singular origins and portrayal by Bruce Cabot stand alone as the only major original cast member pointedly excluded from the loving acknowledgements in the final credits, this film grows more profoundly impressive with each successive viewing, and is a powerful and exhilarating re-imagining of a beloved fantasy classic from film making’s own primordial past.

++ Steve Vertlieb — November, 2014

Pixel Scroll 7/21/23 Pixel 9 From Outer Scroll

(1) STACKING THE DECK ON GOOGLE. Kelly Jensen does a thorough analysis of “How To Own A News Cycle: Book Censorship News” in a Substack article. A very interesting read. It begins:

One of the checks I make in doing the weekly censorship news research is ensuring that the news comes from a reliable source. This is out of accuracy, of course, as much as it is also about media literacy. As it stands, right-wing “activists” are doing a bang up job of creating a fake controversy, pushing it through the media, keeping their names in the mouths of those outlets, then reaping (fake) benefits from the outrage cycle. Case in point: a news story that popped up earlier this month about the National Education Association and the books they were recommending their teacher members to read over the summer….

(2) COMPANIONS AGAIN. “Doctor Who classic companions Tegan & Nyssa reunite in emotional clip”Radio Times sets the frame.

After making her return to Doctor Who in last year’s special The Power of the Doctor, Tegan is back once again in a new clip, and while last time she was seen palling around with Ace, this time there’s another companion reunion on the cards….

… It’s Nyssa! The pair embrace and Nyssa reveals that she was looking for Tegan, having “hitched a ride” in the TARDIS from Terminus, where the pair last saw one another….

In the clip, as the pair get reacquainted, Nyssa tells Tegan the Doctor wants to see her, to which she asks: “Which one? Scarf or celery, or woman?”

The duo reminisce about the past, with Nyssa saying she’s missed their interactions and Tegan saying she wishes she’d realised how lucky she was.

(3) HER MILEAGE VARIED. Because NASFiC isn’t in the USA, Cheryl Morgan can attend it. That didn’t mean it was easy to get there – her travel saga from the UK to Winnipeg was by way of Switzerland. As she says in “Pemmi-Con – Day 1”, “I am in Canada, by the skin of my teeth. I am getting too old for travel nightmares….”

(4) FULL COURT PRESS ENDS. It’s been four years since Ryan Kopf made news here, time enough for his litigation against Nerd & Tie blogger Trae Dorn to reach its conclusion – a judge granting Dorn’s motion to dismiss for “failure to prosecute” due to Kopf’s inactivity. A roundup of the legal saga is now a podcast: “Ryan Kopf v. Nerd & Tie – The Full Story”.

Ryan Kopf has been suing Nerd & Tie owner Trae Dorn in one form or another for over seven years. With the conclusion of the Illinois suit against Trae Dorn and former Nerd & Tie contributor Pher Sturz earlier this month, we thought we should sit down and talk about what’s happened over those years. We discuss the full timeline of events, what Trae was actually accused of saying, and how things affected us.

(5) KAIJU, KONG, AND COMPANY. “DC’s Justice League Is Crossing Over With The MonsterVerse’s Godzilla And Kong In A Cool Way”Yahoo! has a preview.

A seven-issue comic book series called Justice League vs. Godzilla vs. Kong was announced at San Diego Comic-Con, with DC and Legendary producing it in partnership with Toho Entertainment. Writer Brian Buccellato is teaming with artists Christian Duce and Luis Guerrero for the project, and Drew Johnson, Jim Lee and Scott Williams, Rafael Albuquerque, Francesco Mattina and Dan Mora and Alan Quah are all tackling cover art. Take a look at the first piece of officially-released Justice League vs. Godzilla vs. Kong artwork below.

(6) A DOCTOR IN WAITING. [Item by Steven French.] Mark Gatiss always gives great interview! He tells the Guardian “‘I’d be the first naturist Doctor. That would scare away the Daleks’”.

…HG Wells invented great swathes of science fiction: the time machine, alien invasion. Nigel Kneale, my other great hero, had a similarly prophetic vision, peeking around corners at what might happen. It’s speculative fiction but the broad strokes are staggeringly accurate. It’s interesting to look back at old sci-fi and fantastic fiction to see if what they were wrestling with remains relevant. The possibilities of technology throw up an awful lot of new terrors that are exciting to play with, because you look at the dark underside. Like the internet, information has never been more accessible, but people have never been more stupid. That’s the title of my autobiography!…

(7) BILL LAUBENHEIMER DIES. Bay Area fan Bill Laubenheimer died July 19 while attending the Winnipeg NASFiC. Kevin Standlee, who saw him at the con on Wednesday, reports “Apparently, he fell ill (I don’t know why) and was taken to hospital, where he died later that evening.”

The International Costumers Guild had an immediate report.

We are saddened to report that Bill Laubenheimer, the husband of Carole Parker passed away last night while attending Pemmicon, the Nasfic being held this weekend in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Bill was an experienced software architect and expert in software patents. In fandom Bill was known for their love of filking, writing songs focused on programming. Bill was the LepreCon 32 Music GoH.

Carole is still at Pemmicon and is bravely fulfilling her convention obligations while also grieving and going through the necessary bureaucracy to send Bill home.

The Pemmi-Con newzine, Mooseletter-1, also mourned his passing:

Bill Laubenheimer We are deeply saddened to hear that Bill Laubenheimer passed away suddenly, in Winnipeg for Pemmi-Con. Bill had a brilliant creative mind, and a gentle and cheerful soul. He will be much missed. Condolences to Carole Parker and their many friends.


2019 [Written by Cat Eldridge from a choice by Mike Glyer.]

So let’s talk about Kameron Hurley who’s the writer of our Beginning this Scroll. 

For eight years, she wrote a column for Locus about the craft and business of fiction writing, a cool thing indeed. And speaking of non-fiction, her The Geek Feminist Revolution essay collection was nominated for a Hugo for Best Related Work; it includes “We Have Always Fought” which won a Hugo Award for Best Related Work. 

As much as her two trilogies are impressive, and make no mistake as they are that, it is her two one-off novels that are truly fantastic — The Stars Are Legion and The Light Brigade are of the some of the best military fiction that has ever been done. 

So our Beginning is from the latter which was published by Saga Press four years ago with the cover illustration by Eve Ventrue. 

And here is the Beginning for The Light Brigade.

They said the war would turn us into light. 

I wanted to be counted among the heroes who gave us this better world. That’s what I told the recruiter. That’s what I told my first squad leader. It’s what I told every CO, and there were . . . a couple. And that’s what I’d tell myself, when I was alone in the dark, cut off from my platoon, the sky full of blistering red fire, too hot to send an evac unit, and a new kid was squealing and dying on the field. 

But it’s not true. 

I signed up because of what they did to São Paulo. I signed up because of the Blink. All my heroes stayed on the path of light, no matter how dark it got. Even bleeding-heart socialist drones who play paladin can take an oath of vengeance to justify violence. I did.

The enemy had eaten my family and the life I once knew; a past I now remember in jerky stutter-stops, like an old satellite image interrupted by a hurricane. I wanted to be the light: the savior, the hero, sure. But more than that, I wanted the enemy obliterated. 

How many other corporate soldiers signed up for money, or voting rights, or to clear a debt, or to afford good housing, or to qualify for a job in one of the big towers? 

I believed my reasons were nobler. 

When I signed up after São Paulo, me and my friends were shocked that the recruiting center wasn’t packed. Where were all the patriots? Didn’t they know what the aliens had done? I thought all those people who didn’t sign up were cowards. While you were all upgrading your immersives and masturbating to some new game, we were fighting the real threat. We were the good guys. 

You were cowardly little shits.

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born July 21, 1911 Marshall McLuhan. He coined the expressions the medium is the message and global village, and predicted the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented. I read The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects a long time ago. Somehow it seemed terribly quaint. (Died 1980.)
  • Born July 21, 1921 James Cooke Brown. He’s the creator of Loglan. Oh, and he did write SF. The Troika Incident written in 1970 features a global data net. That, and two short pieces of fiction, are the sum total of his of genre writings. The Troika Incident is available from Kindle but not from iBooks. (Died 2000.)
  • Born July 21, 1929 John Woodvine, 94. First role in our realm is as Macbeth at Mermaid Theatre back in the early Sixties. Shortly thereafter, he’s Badger in Toad of Toad Hall at the Comedy Theatre before being The Marshal in the Fourth Doctor story, “The Armageddon Factor”.  He’s in An American Werewolf in London as Dr. J. S. Hirsch, and he had a recurring role in The Tripods as Master West. He did show up on The Avengers several times, each time as a different character, and he was Singri Rhamin for the episodes of Danger Man
  • Born July 21, 1933 John Gardner. Novelist, critic, teacher, medievalist, among other things. His student Jeffrey Ford described Gardner’s knowledge of literature as ‘encyclopedic,’ with no regard whatever for genre boundaries. He considered Stanislaw Lem the greatest living writer, disliked Tolkien’s poetry (an assessment I agree with) but thought The Lord of the Rings ‘one of the truly great works of the human spirit’. Most of his best works are fantasy: most famously Grendel, but also Freddy’s Book, Mickelson’s Ghosts, the short story collection The King’s Indian, and his posthumously-published short story, “Julius Caesar and the Werewolf”. His book The Art of Fiction is well worth reading for anyone interested in fiction, as a writer or a reader. (Died 1982.) (PhilRM)
  • Born July 21, 1948 G. B. Trudeau, 75. Ok we decided when I first put this Birthday up that there’s enough content including not quite human characters to be genre, but he did an amazing series on the Apple Newton when it came out. A Doonesbury Retrospective series is up to six volumes and is available from the usual suspects at very reasonable prices. 
  • Born July 21, 1951 Robin Williams. Suicides depress me. I remember a bootleg tape of a performance of him and George Carlin in their cocaine fueled days. No, not even genre adjacent but damn brilliant. Such manic energy. Genre wise, he was brilliant in most everything he did, be it Mork & MindyHook which I adore, The Fisher KingBicentennial Man or Jumanji. (Died 2014.)
  • Born July 21, 1976 Jaime Murray, 47. If you watch genre television, you’ve most likely seen her as she’s been Helena G. Wells in the Warehouse 13, Stahma Tarr in Defiance, Fiona/the Black Fairy In Once Upon a Time, Antoinette in The Originals, and Nyssa al Ghul in Gotham. Film wise, she was Livinia in The Devil’s Playground and Gerri Dandridge in Fright Night 2: New Blood.

(10) IN COMICS TO COME. Marvel Comics teased two super secret Rob Liefeld projects at San Diego Comic-Con. Besides the titles in the lower left corners, the file of the first piece of art is named “Major X” and the second is “Cable”.

(11) SFF-THEMED PROSTETHICS. [Item by Bruce D. Arthurs.] Came across a mention of The Alternative Limb Project, which makes prosthetic limbs that are also works of art. Some really lovely (and often fantastic/science-fictional) examples in their gallery here.

The one that might be of most interest to F770’s audience is the “Gadget Arm”, described thusly: “With a nod to the Swiss Army Knife we created a vintage styled arm stiched in leather with various gadgets including: secret compartment, torch, laser, matches, telescopic magnet, watch, compass and knives.” 

There’s also a clear plastic limb that reminds me of “Demon With A Glass Hand”.

(12) THE BOOKS MADE FROM THE EPISODES. We don’t know the plots yet, of course, however, Radio Times says “Doctor Who 60th anniversary special novelisations confirmed”.

Three new Doctor Who books are on their way and they’re pretty important ones – it’s been confirmed that the the trio of 60th anniversary specials will be turned into novelisations.

(13) THE EARLY RETURNS. “’Horrifying!’: Movie critic reacts to AI-generated films” in a BBC News video.

Filmmakers are using AI to generate short films and adverts. But are they any good?

Movie critic Rhianna Dhillon and BBC technology correspondent Marc Cieslak watch and react to four examples.

(14) WARPSPEED WATCHES. The “5 best futuristic, spaceship-inspired watches of tomorrow: from Kickstarter-funded Argon SpaceOne and MB&F’s HM8 Mark 2 to Urwerk’s UR-112, a brand loved by Michael Jordan and Robert Downey Jr” at South China Morning Post.

1. Argon SpaceOne

…This would easily have been the most affordable spaceship-inspired watch “manufactured on Earth” on this list – in mid-May, prices sat at €1,500 for the stainless steel version and €1,900 for blue titanium. But punters may have to wait as the Argon SpaceOne page on Kickstarter is currently down and unavailable, allegedly due to an intellectual property dispute….

3. Urwerk UR-112 Aggregat Back to Black

In the world of avant garde watch design, Urwerk is one of the great names. Since its inception in 1997, not a single one of the brand’s releases tell time in the traditional two- or three-handed way. Heavily leaning into exposed mechanics and sci-fi design language, Urwerk boasts Michael Jordan and Robert Downey Jr. (he was Iron Man after all) among its dedicated owner base.

(15) POIROT IN VENICE. Nerdtropolis introduces us to “A Haunting In Venice”, the next Hercule Poirot adaptation featuring Kenneth Branagh.

A new trailer for “A Haunting in Venice” by 20th Century Studios is here. This upcoming supernatural thriller, directed by Oscar winner Kenneth Branagh, is based on Agatha Christie’s novel “Hallowe’en Party.” Branagh also stars as the famous detective Hercule Poirot…

Set in eerie, post-World War II Venice on All Hallows’ Eve, and is a terrifying mystery featuring the return of the celebrated sleuth, Hercule Poirot. Now retired and living in self-imposed exile in the world’s most glamorous city, Poirot reluctantly attends a séance at a decaying, haunted palazzo. When one of the guests is murdered, the detective is thrust into a sinister world of shadows and secrets.

(16) IF IT’S GOOD, IT’S A MARVEL. The trailer for Marvel Studios’ The Marvels.

Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel has reclaimed her identity from the tyrannical Kree and taken revenge on the Supreme Intelligence. But unintended consequences see Carol shouldering the burden of a destabilized universe. When her duties send her to an anomalous wormhole linked to a Kree revolutionary, her powers become entangled with that of Jersey City super-fan, Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel, and Carol’s estranged niece, now S.A.B.E.R. astronaut Captain Monica Rambeau. Together, this unlikely trio must team-up and learn to work in concert to save the universe as “The Marvels.”

[Thanks to Andrew Porter, John King Tarpinian, Steve French, Bruce D. Arthurs, Chris Barkley, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, and Mike Kennedy for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Tom Becker.]

Pixel Scroll 7/12/23 You Can Scroll Scroll Scroll, You Can Pixel Pixel Pixel, But You Got To Know The Metastory

(1) THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON PERN. As soon as Threads started up, Catherynne M. Valente realized she needed to remind everyone she knows that “Mark F***king Zuckerberg Is Not Your Friend”.

…I’m not even very surprised at how many suspiciously-positive posts and memes I saw the millisecond Threads launched. Or how many big names and brands who’d refused to move to any of the other available competitors, not even so far as to hold a username and a server on Mastodon, the one most usable most quickly, just in case, suddenly had thriving Threads feeds. This is Facebook. It’s been several interminable minutes. We all know how this works. Bots, farms, artificial boosting, algorithms, astroturfing, paying influencers, brands, and celebrities to migrate without saying they were paid. We are not new here. Asking Facebook to not fake engagement and steal data is like asking Canadian goose not to rip anyone’s face off. That is, fundamentally, what it does and what it’s for.

What did surprise me? Well, it’s pretty fucking weird how the launch of Threads, which is ostensibly, you know, a company and a profit-generating service, almost immediately did a sickening costume reveal and became Mark fucking Zuckerberg’s Redemption/Woobiefication tour, and only like four non-Nazi people and one of their alt accounts are pushing back on that because everyone rushed to join this thing with a smile on their lips and a song in their heart a big anime heart-eyes for the guy we all knew was Noonian Soong’s first janky and obviously evil Build-a-Bloke workshop project three weeks ago.

Seriously, have we all lost our entire screaming minds?…

She has assembled acres of evidence about Zuckerberg’s and Facebook’s track record in case you forgot.

(2) BOTH A SPRINT AND A MARATHON. Cora Buhlert is doing the July Short Story Challenge again and she hasn’t missed a day yet: “The 2023 July Short Story Challenge – Day by Day”.

… What is the July Short Story Challenge, you ask? Well, in July 2015, Dean Wesley Smith announced that he was planning to write a brand new short story every day during the month of July. The original post seems to be gone now, but the Wayback Machine has a copy here. At the time, several people announced that they would play along, so I decided to give it a try as well. And then I did it again the following year. And the next. And the next….

(3) QUITE THE VARIETY. Rich Lynch’s diverting My Back Pages #28 is available to download from eFanzines.

The 28th installment of my personal time capsule is a “I think we’re finally escaping the pandemic” issue and has essays involving cheap hotel rates and a very expensive personal boondoggle, big balloons and a small cat, scary rollercoasters and not-so-scary sci-fi movies, notable edifices and ordinary-looking spring blossoms, artificial satellites and a very real sense-of-wonder, a long walking tour and a relatively short drive, a famous quote and a semi-obscure composer, a smart chatbot and a dumb stunt, complex machinations and elegant simplicity, drowsy Worldcon attendees and rousing march music, photos of the heavens and an underground fallout shelter, an extended hotel stay and a brief mountain climbing career, specialized historical research and an eclectic museum, National Poetry Month and The Year of the Jackpot.  And also an ‘Un-bucket List’ – hey, *everybody* ought to have one of those!

(4) THE HOBBIT: COMPARING RANKIN/BASS WITH PETER JACKSON. [Item by Dann.] The first episode of the Cinema Story Origins Podcast Hobbit series dropped a couple of days ago.  Paul J. Hale announced it on Facebook:

This whole episode is the first chapter of the book, the first 8 minutes of the Rankin/Bass Animated film, and the first 45 minutes of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”.

A big chunk is about J.R.R. Tolkien, another chunk is Jackson’s prologue, but pretty much the rest of it takes place inside Bag End (Bilbo’s house). But I do some extra digging here and there, some stuff about the origin of The Dwarves in Tolkien’s Legendarium, and some extra info and context for certain things.

This is a large project, and I’m already started on Part 2. I have no clue how long these are all going to be. I want these episodes to be meaty on the Tolkien end, and lighter on the Jackson end, but we’ll see… I’m going to try hard to have this done by the end of summer but I can’t guarantee that. I really hope you enjoy this first chapter in the CSO Hobbit Series.

The CSO page for the episode is here: “The Hobbit: Part 1”

The link to the Apple podcasts page is here: Cinema Story Origins: CSO 011a The Hobbit Part 1”.

I’ve listened to the first episode.  Paul opens with roughly 20 minutes of history about JRR Tolkien.  Some of the broad strokes are well known to Tolkien fans; his wartime service, his position as editor of the Oxford English dictionary, etc.  There were a couple of morsels that were new to me.  For example, the first line of The Hobbit originated from a very unusual circumstance.

As with all CSO series, Paul Hale is comparing and contrasting the original book with the movie versions.  In this case, he is comparing the book the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit and with the Peter Jackson trilogy films.  While Paul makes it clear that he thinks that making three films for a single book is excessive, he deals with the trilogy films as they exist and not as he might want them to be.  Paul’s focus is on delving into the book and how the film creators interpreted the book.  I believe that he will be only lightly touching on the many elements of the Jackson movies that do not exist in the book version of the story.

The first episode ends as Bilbo is rushing out the front door to meet the dwarves.  The runtime is ever-so-slightly over 2 hours.  Paul’s style makes every moment entertaining and informative.  He sprinkles in audio stingers and other verbal bon mots to keep the presentation lively.

(5) AS FRIGHTENING AS DISCOVERING FIRE. Game Thinking TV brings us an interview with Gödel, Escher, Bach author Doug Hofstadter on the state of AI today”.

Douglas Hofstadter, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Gödel, Escher, Bach, reflects on how he got interested in the mind and consciousness, how he came to write Gödel, Escher, Bach, and why he is terrified by the current state of AI.

(6) HAPPY BIRTHDAY WEBB TELESCOPE! The James Webb Space Telescope today celebrated its “First Year of Science With Close-up on Birth of Sun-like Stars”.

From our cosmic backyard in the solar system to distant galaxies near the dawn of time, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has delivered on its promise of revealing the universe like never before in its first year of science operations. To celebrate the completion of a successful first year, NASA has released Webb’s image of a small star-forming region in the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex. 

“In just one year, the James Webb Space Telescope has transformed humanity’s view of the cosmos, peering into dust clouds and seeing light from faraway corners of the universe for the very first time. Every new image is a new discovery, empowering scientists around the globe to ask and answer questions they once could never dream of,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Webb is an investment in American innovation but also a scientific feat made possible with NASA’s international partners that share a can-do spirit to push the boundaries of what is known to be possible. Thousands of engineers, scientists, and leaders poured their life’s passion into this mission, and their efforts will continue to improve our understanding of the origins of the universe – and our place in it.”

The new Webb image released today features the nearest star-forming region to us. Its proximity at 390 light-years allows for a highly detailed close-up, with no foreground stars in the intervening space….


1995 [Written by Cat Eldridge from a choice by Mike Glyer.]

Stephen Baxter’s a truly prolific writer, he’s written close to fifty novels now with the Long Earth series that he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett being my favorite work by him.  He’s written essays and short fiction beyond counting. Since there are fifteen collections of his short fictions, I’m guessing that most of it has been collected. 

So what is our Beginning the Scroll? It’s The Time Ships, the sequel to The Time Machine, which was published by HarperPrism twenty-eight years ago. 

It was nominated for a Hugo at the third L.A. Con.  It also nominated for a BFA and a Clarke. It won the BSFA, John W. Campbell Memorial and Philip K. Dick Awards.

Shall we take a look at our Beginning?

The attached account was given to me by the owner of a small second-hand bookshop, situated just off the Charing Cross Road in London. He told me it had turned up as a manuscript in an unlabelled box, in a collection of books which had been bequeathed to him after the death of a friend; the bookseller passed the manuscript on to me as a curiosity–‘You might make something of it’–knowing of my interest in the speculative fiction of the nineteenth century. 

The manuscript itself was typewritten on commonplace paper, but a pencil note attested that it had been transcribed from an original ‘written by hand on a paper of such age that it has crumbled beyond repair’. That original, if it ever existed, is lost. There is no note as to the manuscript’s author, or origin. 

I have restricted my editing to a superficial polishing, meaning only to eliminate some of the errors and duplications of a manuscript which was evidently written in haste.

What are we to make of it? In the Time Traveller’s words, we must ‘take it as a lie–or a prophecy … Consider I have been speculating upon the destinies of our race until I have hatched this fiction …’ Without further evidence, we must regard this work as a fantasy–or as an elaborate hoax–but if there is even a grain of truth in the account contained in these pages, then a startling new light is shed, not merely on one of our most famous works of fiction (if fiction it was!), but also on the nature of our universe and our place in it.

I present the account here without further comment. Stephen Baxter


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born July 12, 1923 James E. Gunn. Writer, editor, scholar, anthologist. Hugo winner at ConStellation (1983) for Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction. MidAmeriCon (1976) presented him with a Special Committee Award for Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction. The This Immortal series based on his novel by that name received a Best Dramatic Presentation nomination at Heicon ’70. Not surprisingly, he won a First Fandom Hall of Fame Award. (Died 2020.)
  • Born July 12, 1933 Donald E. Westlake. Though he specialized in crime fiction, he did dip into the genre on occasion such as with Transylvania Station with a lovely cover by Gahan Wilson. You can think of it as a Clue style novel.  With monsters. He wrote with his wife Abby. On the horror end of things was Anarchaos. And he wrote a lot of genre short fiction, some fifty pieces by my count. Meteor Strike: Science Fiction Triple Feature has three of his SF stories is available from the usual suspects for ninety-nine cents. (Died 2008.)
  • Born July 12, 1947 Carl Lundgren, 76. He co-founded ASFA (Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists of America), and won 4 Chesleys, including Artistic Achievement. At the tender age of eighteen, he was co-chairman of the first media SF convention, The Detroit Triple Fan Fair which featured comics, movies and various things of a SF nature. At Chicon IV, he was nominated for Best Professional Artist but lost out to Michael Whelan.
  • Born July 12, 1946 — Charles R. Saunders. African-American author and journalist, much of his fiction is set in the fictional continent Nyumbani (which means “home” in Swahili). His main series is the Imaro novels which he claims are the first sword and sorcery series by a black writer. (Died 2020.)
  • Born July 12, 1970 Phil Jimenez, 53. Comics illustrator and writer. He was the main artist of Infinite Crisis, a sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths. He also did the awesome first issue of Planetary/Authority: Ruling the World, and was responsible for the first six issues of Fables spin-off, Fairest.
  • Born July 12, 1976 Gwenda Bond, 47. Writer, critic, editor. She’s written a prequel to the Stranger Things series, Suspicious Minds, and I’m very fond of the two novels (The Lost Legacy and The Sphinx’s Secret) so far in her Supernormal Sleuthing Service which she wrote with her husband Christopher Rowe.  And she penned the Dear Aunt Gwenda section of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet that Small Beer Press published in the early part of this millennium. 

(9) DEAD AND ALIVE. Animation World Network is on hand when “‘Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead’ Comes to Crunchyroll”.

It’s alive! Crunchyroll has officially acquired the streaming rights for the zombie horror comedy anime series Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead, which began its simulcast on July 9 with new subtitled episodes dropping weekly. The animated series, based on the hit manga series of the same name, is streaming on Crunchyroll in the United States; Canada; Australia; New Zealand; Latin America; Europe; the Middle East; North Africa; and the Indian subcontinent.

In the series, with three years under his belt at the company from hell, Akira Tendo is mentally and physically spent, all at the ripe old age of 24. Even his crush from Accounting, Saori, wants nothing to do with him. Then, just when life is beginning to look like one big disappointment, the zombie apocalypse descends on Japan! Surrounded by hordes of hungry zombies, Akira comes to the marvelous realization that he never has to go to work again and may now pursue his bucket list!

(10) NOT ALL THE BOTTLES ARE VINTAGE. ScreenRant points out the “10 Harsh Realities Of Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation 29 Years Later”.

10. TNG’s Holodeck Dangers Were Problematic

While several of TNG’s holodeck episodes included fun stories, there’s one thing about them that never made sense. While it’s understandable that the holodeck would need safety protocols, there is no logical reason why anyone (or anything) should be able to turn those safety protocols off. In TNG season 1’s “The Big Goodbye,” the safety protocols get mistakenly turned off by a probe scan, nearly resulting in the death of an Enterprise crewmember. In “Elementary, Dear Data,” the holodeck computer creates an adversary, Professor James Moriarty (Daniel Davis), who nearly takes over the Enterprise. It makes no sense that Starfleet would put holodecks on their most important ships when such catastrophic failures are possible.

(11) LOOKING GOOD. Okkto has a lot of suggestions about how you can get rid of that money burning a hole in your pocket. They have a page full of “’The Rocketeer’ Officially Licensed Collectibles” that includes this watch.

And artist Scott Nelles offers everything from a pulpy ray gun to this King Kong bank (cast in aluminum and bronze, and weighing four pounds!)

Sand-cast aluminum and bronze coin bank, depicting Kong climbing the Empire State Building. A pulpy and charming addition to your home or office, this coin bank will be a conversation piece and unique accent to your décor. Unscrew the pieces to collect your saved-up coins. Designed and hand cast by Scott Nelles in his studio/foundry in Elk Rapids, Michigan. 

(12) PLAY YOUR CARDS RIGHT AND THEY’LL GET RICH. And Heritage Auctions would love for you to spend even more on these rarities: the Mars Attacks and Monsters from Outer Limits trading card sets.

There are 2 highly controversial trading card sets, that are very sought after today, that I would like to discuss a little about. Today they may seem a bit tame, but back in the 60s these were created by Topps with a pseudonym Bubbles, Inc. so that the company could distance the Topps name with the anticipated uproar that they would eventually create. The trading cards had a lot to do with aliens in space! Have you guessed it yet?….Did you guess Mars Attacks and Monsters From Outer Limits? If you did, then you are correct!

The infamous Mars Attacks was first released in 1962 by Topps via their Bubbles Inc banner, originally named “Attack from Space” on the test prototype launch. The standard 2.5”x3.5” set was 55 cards total in a $.05 pack of 5 cards with a piece of gum. All 55 cards tell a very graphic and gruesome story of Martians attacking Earth and eventually Earthlings attacking back. On the front of each card, there are colorful depictions of a progression of Mars attacking. The backs tell an explanation of what is depicted in the pictures on the front of the card. The cards and the concept were invented by Len Brown.

The drawings were mainly done by Norman Saunders and the story was created by Woody Gelman. It didn’t take long for these very graphic cards depicting Martians brutally killing humans and animals, gory death scenes, and sexual inuendos to create an upset with many parents. The parents were understandably upset because these very colorful cards of horror were marketed for kids. Lawsuits came one after another and Topps worked quickly to sensor 13 of their more violent pictures to be reprinted and dispersed. However, this never happened because a very large suit came forward from the community of parents and halted the production completely. Fortunately, for collectors, this meant the original set of 55 is very rare and valuable….

(13) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Here’s the official trailer for Wonka.

Based on the extraordinary character at the center of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl’s most iconic children’s book and one of the best-selling children’s books of all time, “Wonka” tells the wondrous story of how the world’s greatest inventor, magician and chocolate-maker became the beloved Willy Wonka we know today.

[Thanks to Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, John King Tarpinian, Cliff, Dann, Jeffrey Smith, Chris Barkley, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jim Janney.]

Pixel Scroll 5/29/23 I Do Not File With My Scroll. The Man Who Files With His Scroll Has Forgotten The Face Of His Father. I File With My Pixel.

(1) GROOT, STAR-LORD, ROCKET, OR WHO? Guardians of the Galaxy stars Karen Gillan and Pom Klementieff test their knowledge of Volumes I and II by seeing if they remember who said what lines.

With such a stacked cast, the challenge should be difficult, but having such iconic characters like Groot played by Vin Diesel, Starlord by Chris Pratt, and Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Mantis and Nebula’s knowledge proves to be superior. Get ready for Vol III of ‘Guardians of The Galaxy’ by time-traveling through lines of volumes past.

(2) WISCON SPEECHES. The WisCon 46 GOH speeches and Otherwise Award presentation can be viewed on YouTube.

(3) NEXT YEAR IN NEW MEXICO. And WisCon GoH Martha Wells has been announced as Guest of Honor of the 47th Jack Williamson Lectureship which will take place April 11-13, 2024.

Best known for her Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells has been an actively publishing author in scifi and fantasy since 1993 and in that time she has won four Hugo Awards, two Nebula Awards and three Locus Awards. The Murderbot Diaries is also currently being adapted for a TV series, and this series has been growing increasingly popular in the past few years. 

(4) GOOD OMENS GRAPHIC NOVEL. The second season of the TV series arrives July 28, and now a Good Omens graphic novel has been announced – Comics Worth Reading has the story. Neil Gaiman, the Terry Pratchett Estate, and Colleen Doran are creating a graphic novel version of Good Omens that will be funded via Kickstarter. The Kickstarter has not yet launched, but you can sign up at the link to be notified when it does.

(5) SIGNED, SEALED, AND SOON TO BE DELIVERED. Guess where fans will be able to find the new Sharon Lee and Steve Miller book?

(6) NOT JUST A GOOD IDEA, IT’S THE LAW. James Davis Nicoll brings us “Five Ways SF Writers Sidestep the Problem of Relativity” at

Relativity! Extremely well supported by the evidence, and extremely inconvenient for SF authors who want jaunts to the galactic core to be as easy as popping down the road. Given a universe so large that light takes as long as anatomically modern humans have existed to meander across a single galaxy, combined with a very strict speed limit of C, and you face a cosmic reality that makes many stories authors might want to write quite simply physically impossible. So… what are hardworking science fiction authors to do?

 The first solution, courtesy of E. E. “Doc” Smith is —

Disregard the Issue

By far, the most popular option is to ignore the issue or actively deny that it is an issue. Maybe Einstein divided when he should have multiplied (he didn’t). Perhaps light speed can be surpassed given sufficient will (it can’t). What if some miracle material for which absolutely no evidence exists could facilitate superluminal travel? (More likely, such materials are simply non-existent.)

(7) THOUGHT EXPERIMENT. SYFY Wire reveals “The Real Reason Kong Is Alone: The Science Behind King Kong”. For some values of science…

…The particulars of Kong, including his size and origin, vary from movie to movie, but in every single telling he is alone. The reasons for his solitude haven’t been widely explored, but the 2005 movie shows the decaying skeletons of other giant apes, long since dead. While their cause of death isn’t entirely clear, it’s implied that the rest of Kong’s family were killed off by the other large predators on the island, particularly the T. rex-like theropod dinosaurs.

The dinosaurs probably contributed to the demise of Kong’s species, but the true culprit may have been the island itself. In the continuity of Jackson’s 2005 film, Skull Island was slowly sinking into the ocean by the time Denhem and crew landed on its shores. By 1948, a 9.2 magnitude earthquakes broke it loose and the island vanished into the sea….

(8) AD ASTRA. Chris McKitterick recently announced that Ad Astra (originally established as a University of Kansas Center in AAI) has now grown into the not-for-profit Ad Astra Institute for Science Fiction & the Speculative Imagination.

Led by yours truly and Kij Johnson, Ad Astra is an umbrella organization that brings together creators, readers, educators, and fans to learn about and create speculative fiction through writing workshops, expert talks, seminars, and more. The people we work with create and teach art that opens minds and imaginations, reaching for the stars and “Saving the world through science fiction!”

Their residential Science Fiction Summer program takes off in mid-June, in-person again for the first time since before Covid. Kij Johnson and Barbara Webb’s Novel Architects Workshop is now full, but there’s still room in McKitterick’s Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop (and both of his and Johnson’s “Repeat Offenders” workshops).

Also, a talk-and-weekend-workshop “Science into Fiction” Spec-Fic Writing Workshop series resumes in late August.

(9) HOWARD DAYS. Brian Murphy reports on the annual Robert E. Howard gathering to readers of The Silver Key: “There and back again from Massachusetts to Cross Plains: A recap of 2023 Robert E. Howard Days”.

…I live in Massachusetts, some 1600 miles from the small town in West Texas that Howard called home. With a wife and family, domestic obligations, and a busy professional career to manage, there is never a good time to do something like this, even though Howard Days had been on my bucket list for years….

The annual con is also part pilgrimage:

…Nothing can quite prepare you for the first view of Robert E. Howard’s home and ultimately the humble bedroom where did the majority of his writing. Others have made the same observation many times, but its stunning that Howard was able to birth and deliver such vivid creations to the world from such small, prosaic quarters. It’s a testament to his unique genius. The volunteer docents who serve as tour guides, women from the Cross Plains community, were patient and wonderful. I learned that Howard’s father, Isaac, treated bloodied oil field workers right in the Howard home. One docent noted poetically that blood has seeped its way into the roots of the home….

Murphy is also one of the guests on the Rogues in the House podcast episode “Howard Days Wrap Up”.

(10) ATOMIC SHAKESPEARE. Eighties cult TV favorite Moonlighting reportedly is slouching its way towards availability on a streaming service. Meantime, Heritage Auctions will put on the block some of the costumes from its most iconic episode, as explained in “Maddie, David and Bill Shakespeare”.

…That episode essentially paid tribute to [showrunner Glen] Caron’s inspiration for the entire series: The Taming of the Shrew. Willis, of course, would play the fortune-seeking Petruchio; Shepherd, the titular “shrew,” Katherina. The rest of the regulars rounded out the cast, among them Allyce Beasley and Revenge of the Nerds’ Curtis Armstrong, which was transported from the Blue Moon Detective Agency in Los Angeles to Padua, Italy, in 1593 (“or just an incredible facsimile,” per the title card, which was the Universal backlot).

The episode starts as a Moonlighting episode about a kid wanting to watch a Moonlighting episode; no series winked at itself in the funhouse mirror more. But the boy’s mother banishes him to his room to do his homework – in this case, read Shakespeare. He cracks open the play, and the episode quickly morphs into a rather sincere retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, down to the iambic pentameter and its occasional use of actual dialogue, combined with some anachronistic winks (Willis’ Ray-Bans, his saddle bearing the BMW insignia, the performance of The Rascals’ “Good Lovin’”)….

(11) GEORGE MAHARIS (1928-2023). Actor George Maharis, best known for his work on TV’s Route 66, died May 24. Though it was not a genre program, Steve Vertlieb recalled in his File 770 post about Route 66 there was one episode with a strong genre appeal to horror fans:

…“Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing” premiered over the CBS television Network on Friday evening, October 26th, 1962. Featuring guest stars Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney, Jr., this beloved episode of the classic television series “Route 66” starring George Maharis and Martin Milner would be the last time that Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr. would ever reprise their signature performances as Frankenstein’s Monster and The Wolf Man….

Deadline’s summary of his career includes these appearances on genre shows:

In the 1970’s, Maharis returned to television and starred in shows like Night GalleryThe Mostly Deadly Game, … Mission: Impossible, … The Bionic WomanFantasy Island, and many more.

Maharis’ final credit was in the film Doppelganger directed by Avi Neshar in 1993 which starred Drew Barrymore and George Newbern.


2011[Written by Cat Eldridge from a choice by Mike Glyer.]

Sheri Holman’s Witches on the Road Tonight is the source of our Beginning this Scroll. 

It was published twelve years ago by Atlantic Monthly Press. It would win a Shirley Jackson Award  for Best Novel, and it also won the Independent Publisher Book Award, Gold Medal, Literary Fiction.  It was named a Book of the Year by the Boston Globe, the Toronto Globe and Mail, and PopMatters. Very impressive I’d say. 

It is her only genre novel to date. She has written several other novels including a mystery set in a medieval monastery.  Oh, and she was a principal writer on the Longmire series for much of its run.

(I finished watching the Longmire series recently. They did a stellar job of tying everything up there.) 

And now the Beginning…


New York City


Of all the props I saved, only the coffin remains. Packed in boxes or tossed in the closet were the skulls and rubber rats, the cape folded with the care of a fallen American flag, my black spandex unitard, white at the seams where I’d stretched out the armpits, sweat-stained and pilled. I saved the squeezed-out tubes of greasepaint, the black shadow for under the eyes, the porcelain fangs. Of the gifts fans sent, I kept that bleached arc of a cat’s skeleton, the one you used to call Fluffy and hang your necklaces from, and a dead bird preserved with antifreeze. I kept maybe a hundred of the many thousands of drawings and letters from preteen boys and girls. There were some from adults, too, confessions of the sort they should be writing their shrinks or the police, and not a man who plays a vampire on TV. “Dear Captain Casket, Fangs for the memories.” 

But in the move up to Manhattan, in the successive apartments Charles and I shared, everything has been lost or thrown away. Coming to me late in life, Charles has been pitiless in tossing my prehistory, usually while I am off at one of the twice-yearly conventions I attend as if having an affair we both tacitly refuse to discuss. Now everything has been scrapped but the coffin, too big not to be missed, too great a conversation piece even for Charles, a bit of memorabilia that you might send off to a regional horror movie museum or sell to some theme restaurant as the base of a fixin’s bar to defray a small portion of the funeral cost. We’ve been using it as a coffee table, pushed in front of the big picture window that overlooks the Chrysler Building, a view that accounts for three-quarters of the ridiculous price we paid for this apartment. It has held up well over the years, made of wormy chestnut, hand-planed and smooth as a wooden Indian. I used to keep it in the carport between Saturday shows, and you played in it as a girl. Sometimes when we couldn’t find you, your mother and I would look outside and you’d be curled up inside it, asleep, your hand bookmarking the eternally youthful and nosy Nancy Drew, your mouth brushed with cookie crumbs.

I have made it as comfortable as possible. It is lined with an old down comforter tucked inside one of Charles’s more elegant duvet covers, a dusky rose shot with gold thread. I have a pillow for my head and a scarlet throw to keep me warm. You might think I’d like to go out in full costume, but camp comes too easily these days. I’m wearing, instead, my most comfortable pajamas, the ones with the pug dogs you bought me for my birthday last year. They are about the only ones my chemo-blistered skin can bear. Before I put them on, I took a shower and washed what’s left of my hair. Maybe it was cowardly to wait to do this until Charles was out of town. His mother, who is only a few years older than I, is ill, too, and poor Charles hasn’t known whom to nurse more dutifully. He refuses to discuss my death, pulling, instead, all sorts of prophylactic voodoo like purchasing cruise tickets for next spring, or placing a down payment on a purebred mastiff puppy, if you can imagine, as if he can mortgage me back to life, keeping me on the ventilator of increasingly onerous financial obligation. I know he will be furious when he gets back from Philadelphia, but maybe he’ll take his mother with him on that cruise through the Cyclades.

My only real regret is not seeing you one last time. I left you a message before you went on the air, something light and innocuous, and I hope you’re not too shocked to hear it after you get the news. I want this good-bye to set the tone for all the memories that follow it. When people approach me about my show, they never want to talk about the cut-rate monster movies. Most can barely remember the titles. No, it is the irreverence of the interruption they cherish, the silliness and explosions. I made it my career for decades, but only now do I begin to understand the need to terrify, followed by the even greater need to puncture the fear we’ve called into being. It is a surrender and recovery that feels suspiciously like love.


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born May 29, 1906 T. H. White. Best known obviously for the wonderful The Once and Future King which I read a long, long time ago. Back in the Thirties, he wrote Earth Stopped and its sequel Gone to Ground, sf novels. Gone to Ground contains several fantasy stories which were later reprinted in The Maharajah and Other Stories. ISFDB also lists Mistress Masham’s ReposeThe Elephant and the Kangaroo and The Master as the other novels by him, plus the aforementioned story collection. (Died 1964.)
  • Born May 29, 1909 Neil R. Jones. It is thought that “The Death’s Head Meteor,” his first story, which was published in Air Wonder Stories in 1930, could be the first use of “astronaut” in fiction. He also created the use of a future history before either Robert A. Heinlein or Cordwainer Smith were to do so. They’re collected in The Planet of the Double SunThe Sunless World and a number of other overlapping collections.  He’s a member of the First Fandom Hall of Fame. (Died 1988.)
  • Born May 29, 1923 Genevieve Linebarger. Widow of Cordwainer Smith. She had a hand in The Instrumentality of Mankind series, co-authoring “The Lady Who Sailed the Soul” (1960), and “Golden the Ship Was — Oh! Oh! Oh!” (1959) and, after her husband’s death, was the sole author of “Down to a Sunless Sea” (1975) published under his name, and completed “Himself in Anachron” (published 1993). (Credits per NESFA Press’ Rediscovery of Man collection.) (Died 1981.)
  • Born May 29, 1930 Richard Clifton-Dey. An Illustrator of many SF book covers including The Wizard of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs. He did not sign many of his originals so his widow has the final say what is an original and what is not. (Died 1997.) 
  • Born May 29, 1939 Alice K. TurnerPlayboy fiction editor from 1980 to 2000. Silverberg praised her highly and she did much to make sure SF had an important place in the fiction offered up there. The Playboy Book of Science Fiction collects a good tasting of the SF published during her tenure. (Died 2015.)
  • Born May 29, 1952 Louise Cooper. She wrote more than eight works of fantasy and was best known for her Time Master trilogy. Most of her writing was in the YA market including the Sea Horses quartet and the Mirror, Mirror trilogy. (Died 2009.)
  • Born May 29, 1996 R. F. Kuang, 27. She’s an award-winning Chinese-American fantasy writer. The Poppy War series, so-called grimdark fantasy, consists of The Poppy War which won the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, The Dragon Republic and The Burning God. She’s been a finalist for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer.


  • Candorville shows a new tech that combines streaming with nagging.
  • Non Sequitur looks for a definition of intelligent life.
  • Macanudo has a strange mashup of Darth Vader and Casablanca.

(15) ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE. This is impressive – watch Boston Dynamics’ “Spot” deftly remove a pistachio from its shell.

(16) FACTORY SECONDS. Discover Magazine chronicles “Why 1 Second Is 1 Second”.

…Today, however, when computers perform operations at the rate of 4 billion cycles per second, we need a better measure. The rotation of Earth, and its orbit, change slightly over time. Earth’s rotation, for example, is slowing slightly. So measuring a second based on rotation would mean that a second would get slowly longer over time. Ultimately, we couldn’t compare the second of today to the second of yesterday.

So, to pin down a truly timeless measure of a second, scientists in the 1950s devised a better clock, one based not on astronomical processes but on the movement of fundamental bits of matter — atoms — whose subtle vibrations are, for all intents and purposes, locked in for eternity. Today, one second is defined as “9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom”.

That’s a mouthful.

…When hit with a laser, the single electron in a cesium atom’s outermost shell will cycle back and forth between two states — known as a hyperfine transition. It can be magnetically aligned either in the same direction as the atom’s nucleus, or the opposite direction, and under a laser’s beam, it will flip back and forth between these two states rapidly at a rate that never changes. Cesium isn’t the only element for the job, but it has only one stable isotope, so it’s easier to purify, and the hyperfine transition is both large enough and fast enough to be accurate, unlike some other atoms….

(17) NEANDERTHAL CHESS ODDS? According to Discover Magazine, “Neanderthal Brains: Bigger, Not Necessarily Better”. But once you’ve clicked they admit they don’t really know.

Neanderthals had bigger brains than people today.

In any textbook on human evolution, you’ll find that fact, often accompanied by measurements of endocranial volume, the space inside a skull. On average, this value is about 1410 cm3 (~6 cups) for Neanderthals and 1350 cm3 (5.7 cups) for recent humans.

So does that quarter-cup of brain matter, matter? Were Neanderthals smarter than our kind?

While brain size is important, cognitive abilities are influenced by numerous factors including body size, neuron density and how particular brain regions are enlarged and connected. Some of these variables are unknowable for Neanderthals, as we only have their cranial bones and not their brains. But anthropologists have made the most of these hollow skulls, to learn what they can about the Neanderthal mind….

(18) NEXT GEN NAVIGATION. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] A quantum inertial navigation system has the potential to improve INS accuracy to the point that it could replace satellite systems like GPS for some applications. “Imperial College working with Royal Navy on groundbreaking system to replace GPS on ships” explains the Telegraph.

A new quantum compass that could replace GPS on ships has been tested on water for the first time, The Telegraph can reveal.

Inside an old shipping container onboard XV Patrick Blackett, the Royal Navy’s experimental ship, could be the future of navigation.

Military chiefs have been warning for years of the dangers of relying on GPS, due to the potential for adversaries to jam and manipulate trackers.

In an interview with The Telegraph last year, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the head of the Armed Forces, warned Russia could wage war in space against the West.

He said: “Russia could also attack the GPS systems which play a key role, both military and civilian, throughout the world,” he said. He added that attacking a nation’s GPS was attractive to an adversary because it involves “neither direct casualties nor an attack on another country’s territory,” and is therefore less likely to provoke a direct Western military response….

(19) VIDEO OF THE DAY. How It Should Have Ended knows “How The Little Mermaid Should Have Ended” and asks for three minutes to tell you.

[Thanks to SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, Dariensync, Cora Buhlert, John King Tarpinian, Chris Barkley, Michael Toman, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Nina.]

Celebrating The 90th Anniversary of the Classic Fantasy Film Masterpiece “King Kong”

By Steve Vertlieb: King Kong premiered ninety years ago on March 2, 1933, opening simultaneously at both the Radio City Music Hall and Roxy Theaters in New York City, followed by an “official” March 23,1933, opening at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.  I guess that I first saw the film as a ten year old, somewhere around 1956, on WCAU TV, Channel 10 in Philadelphia.  I’d grown up hearing stories from my mom about being a young woman in the early 1930’s, and seeing a wonder-filled motion picture concerning a giant prehistoric ape in a lost world, escaping from captivity and carrying a woman to the top of the Empire State Building.  I was so entranced by her stories that I often dreamt of Kong searching for me in the sometimes nightmarish realm of slumber, an enormous phantom stalking the streets of the city, peering through bedroom windows in menacing search of its prey.  While I’d awaken from these dark fantasies screaming in the night, the imagery of the great gorilla both thrilled and mesmerized me, enticing this small impressionable boy into a surreal nether world of “beauties and beasts.”

I can remember my excitement when it was finally announced that “Kong” would make his long awaited debut on local television over WCAU TV, the then CBS affiliate.  My mom had punished me for something that I either did or didn’t do, refusing to allow me to watch the film on our living room television set.  I ran out the door in a panic, longing for an opportunity to finally see the movie that had tormented and tantalized my fertile imagination for so many desolate childhood years.  I was swept from household to neighborhood household, visiting with each childhood friend until their moms summoned them to the kitchen table for dinner.  I saw only scraps and isolated fragments of the film during that troubled afternoon but what I saw thrilled my thoughts and dreams beyond imagining.  

The following Saturday afternoon I went innocently to The Benner Theater near my house to once more attend my fabled ritual of the weekly Saturday matinee.  As the trailers to coming attractions unspooled, I suddenly felt a bolt of electricity surge through my little body, for there upon the magical movie screen came the black and white imagery of giant native doors slowly opening while a giant presence pushed his way to freedom on Skull Island.  It was fate giving me a second chance, another opportunity to see King Kong at last, in the way that it was meant to be seen, upon the seemingly huge motion picture screen.  I waited breathlessly for the days to expire and then, magically, it was Saturday once more.  The majestic three notes that began and accompanied Max Steiner’s triumphant musical score filled my ears, and I was transported to another world … a land of strange, forbidding islands, dangerous coral reefs, and a majestic gate jealously guarding and concealing the wonder and power of the mighty KONG.

I’ve probably seen King Kong over three hundred times.  I’ve never tired of the exhilaration and wonder that I felt when I first fell in love with the greatest, most revered “monster” movie ever conceived.  As I approach relative maturity, I reached out to Bantam Books who had recently published a paperback version of the original novelization of the picture by Delos W. Lovelace.  The editors of the publishing company were kind enough to provide me with a post office box by which I might contact the original creator of the story and subsequent motion picture, Merian C. Cooper.  Although I never had an opportunity to meet this legendary adventurer and film maker, we conducted an intense correspondence over the last eight years of his life from 1965 until 1973.  During those years there was rarely a week that went by when my mailbox wasn’t deluged with letters and special packages sent to me from this giant of the film industry, lovingly addressed to his youthful admirer and fan.  Through mail, he introduced me to beloved animation genius Ray Harryhausen whose friendship, both through correspondence, telephone calls, and personal gatherings, endured for nearly fifty years.  It was also through Merian Cooper’s posthumous introduction that I found an eagerly anticipated opportunity to meet and develop a relationship with his star, Fay Wray, at her apartment dwelling in Century City, California in 1980.

Acclaimed cinema journalist, and primary historian for American Cinematographer Magazine, George Turner, was scheduled to appear as a guest speaker at the official Sixtieth Anniversary King Kong birthday celebration at the historic Gateway Theater in Chicago during the Winter of 1993.

Optical Effects pioneer Linwood Dunn was booked with him as a guest speaker for the event. At the last moment, Dunn was unexpectedly called away for another important assignment, leaving the festival without one of its two special guests. Scott Holton with Varese Sarabande Records suggested that the vacancy should be filled by a little-known writer who had known Merian C. Cooper through intense correspondence, and who had written a series of articles about the making of King Kong for the premiere issues of The Monster Times (January 1972), as well as the lead chapter for Avon Books’ The Girl In The Hairy Paw in 1976.

Consequently, I was flown into Chicago and booked at the Chicago Hilton Hotel (several days following the departure of Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, and the cast and production crew for The Fugitive) and, along with George Turner, appeared on stage before an audience of 500 fans to talk about the making and production of the beloved fantasy film classic. It was an experience that I shall forever remember as a spectacular highlight of my own life and career.

In the years since 1968 when my own byline first appeared in a published magazine, I began my own writing career, sweetly encompassing over half a century of essays, articles, and commentaries in genre related books and magazines, concerning the immortal films and film makers whose works and creations continue to inspire my dreams.  What follows is a visual remembrance of just a few of the memories, publications, individually inscribed photographs, and personal communications that have elevated my dreams and remembrances to gratifying reality.

The premiere issue of America’s one and only bi-weekly monster tabloid, The Monster Times, published by Larry Brill and Les Waldstein from their corporate offices in New York City in 1972. The spectacular first issue, edited by the late Chuck McNaughton, featured my earliest professional gig as a published writer, offering my original series of articles on the making and production of Merian C. Cooper’s classic 1933 “King Kong.”

My work was later re-written, and re-structured, becoming the lead chapter for Avon Books’ legendary tribute to Kong…The Girl In The Hairy Paw, compiled and edited by Ronald Gottesman and Harry M. Geduld four years later in 1976.

My series of essays on the making and production of the original 1933 production of the greatest “Monster” movie of all time appeared initially in the 1972 premier issue of The Monster Times. Editors Ronald Gottesman and Harry M. Geduld approached me about using my articles as the lead, or opening chapter, of their forthcoming book about the film, The Girl In The Hairy Paw.

Scheduled to be published by Prentice Hall the following year, a change in management at the prestigious book company cancelled production, causing a delay of several more years. Avon Books in New York finally agreed to publish what would have become the very first volume ever printed about the iconic gorilla.

The Girl In The Hairy Paw became a long awaited, and eagerly anticipated reality in the Spring of 1976 and did, indeed, feature my revised and revisited look at the production and reception of the classic King Kong as its opening chapter. Its wonderful cover art by Dave Willardson is reproduced here on the 90th anniversary of the film’s “official world premiere” in Los Angeles on March 23rd, 1933.

In subsequent years my involvement and participation in the enduring legend of “King Kong” has continued to evolve.  In 1981 I was invited by popular Philadelphia television host Gene London to appear with him on stage before a live audience at the city’s prestigious cultural institution, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, speaking for one hour on the cultural and historical significance of the original 1933 “King Kong.”

On August 11th, 1990, Gary and Sue Svehla’s popular “Fanex” Convention played host to Ray Harryhausen’s first major personal appearance in Baltimore, Maryland, and I was asked to host the well remembered event. Ray and I sat down on stage together for a two and a half hour discussion, before some five hundred fans and admirers, during which I interviewed him not only about his own fabulous film career, but about his love for 1933’s “King Kong,” and how it had inspired and influenced his own substantial stop-motion animation motion picture legacy.

Together with stop-motion pioneering genius Ray Harryhausen at the “Fanex” Convention in Baltimore, during late Summer 1990, following our in-person, on stage interview.

I had an opportunity in the Fall of 2021 to sit down with Host, Actor, Comedian, and Writer Ron MacCloskey for his Emmy Award Winning Public Television Series, “Classic Movies with Ron MacCloskey.”

Ron is the writer and producer of the new feature length documentary motion picture, Boris Karloff: The Man Behind The Monster, now playing in theaters all across the globe.

For this Halloween themed episode of the popular program, however, we explored the cultural significance, history, and legacy of the most famous “Monster” of them all … King Kong … and his ninety year influence on gorilla films of all shapes and sizes, as well as his career defining impact on the lives and reign of Stop Motion Animation legends, Willis H. O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen.

In 2022 I was invited by British producer/director Tom Grove to appear on camera for a thirty minute interview concerning my own lifelong involvement with Merian C. Cooper’s creation for the three part documentary motion picture, The Legend of King Kong, currently in release, featuring interviews with actor Jack O’Halloran, special effects pioneer Jack Polito, and myself among many others.

These personal involvements over a lifetime of adoration for the most enduring fantasy film in motion picture history, as well as the beloved collection of memories and mementos that follow, have enriched my life experience more than mere words can ever adequately define or express.

  • A rare, commissioned “King Kong” sculpture designed and built by the late Stop Motion animator, David Allen, sitting proudly in my “dining room.”
  • An impossibly precious, rare surviving “fin” from the back of the Stegosaurus model built for the original 1933 King Kong by Marcel Delgado that sits prominently in my home apartment.
  • A re-production of the original Grauman’s Theater premiere program, designed especially for the official opening of King Kong in Hollywood, with handwritten notes and observations by Merian C. Cooper, the co-director and creator of this motion picture fantasy masterpiece, and a variety of autographed stills signed by both General Cooper, and his exquisite heroine, the lovely Fay Wray.
  • The outer lobby of a movie theater in Australia, heralding the premiere of the now legendary RKO fantasy masterpiece.
  • Two photos of American Cinematographer Magazine featured journalist and special effects film scholar George Turner and I in the lobby of The Gateway Theater in Chicago, posing for publicity pictures, at the official sixtieth anniversary celebration and screening of King Kong.
  • The cover of Black Oracle magazine by artist Tim Johnson, published in the mid-Seventies, and highlighted by my review of the unfortunate remake of the early film, produced by Dino De Laurentis. Appropriately, echoing Robert Armstrong’s final line as Carl Denham in the 1933 motion picture … “Oh no … it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast,” I titled my critique “Twas Dino Killed The Beast.”
  • An original 22 x 28 poster from the 1956 theatrical reissue of the original King Kong, hanging, proudly framed, upon my bedroom wall.
  • This special birthday cake, patterned from The Girl In The Hairy Paw cover art by Dave Willardson, was presented to me in Baltimore some years ago by friends Bruce and Ann Gearhart for my 70th birthday.

Pixel Scroll 12/15/22 Pixel’s Turn To Scroll

(1) LOCUS REACHES CROWDFUNDING TARGET. The Locus Magazine Indiegogo appeal hit the target today. When I checked in they had exceeded their $75,000 goal and were at $78,571. Although today was the announced deadline, Locus has extended the appeal to the end of the year.

…But, wait, it’s not over yet! On advice from those that know, we are going to extend our campaign to the end of the year: if we hit $85k that will cover all of the expenses of the fundraiser and we will get the whole $75k. FTW!

Also, we really want to reach our Special Short Story Issue stretch goal!! At $85,000 we’ll dedicate one of our 2023 monthly issues to the art of short fiction, and already have Kelly Link, Usman T. Malik, and Ted Chiang lined up for a roundtable feature. 

Oh, and (Jan-Erik Zandersson might want to cover his eyes here) Locus hitting its goal means John Scalzi is going to do a Christmas story.

(2) TRUMP’S BIG ANNOUNCEMENT. Former President Trump’s hyped “big announcement” would probably not be covered in today’s Scroll except that it proved to be the introduction of his “’official Donald Trump Digital Trading Card’ collection with a picture of himself in superhero costume, cape and ‘Trump Champion’ belt.” “’Losing the plot’: Trump mocked after announcing superhero card collection” at Yahoo!

… But when the announcement came on Thursday, Trump said he was merely offering supporters “limited edition cards featur[ing] amazing ART of my Life & Career”, which he promised would prove “very much like a baseball card but hopefully much more exciting”.

“GET YOUR CARDS NOW!” the 76-year-old former president commanded, above the picture of himself standing in a ring for boxing or wrestling, muscles rippling under a red leotard and wearing high blue boots emblazoned with “45” (his presidential number) and an American flag as a cape.

The cards, the declared candidate for the Republican nomination in 2024 said, cost “Only $99 each” and “would make a great Christmas gift”….

And how did the base react? We take you now to Jon Del Arroz’ reaction video titled “Trump HUMILIATES Himself With His New CRINGE Announcement. Make It STOP!”

“This is ridiculous. This reeks of an nft scam where you’re just like collecting these things that are not actually collectible. They’re digital pictures just like this one. Just take a screenshot friends and you’ll have it yourself. Let’s go to the website and check it out. All right. here we go. [laughs] And it’s loading slow, too, how exciting. How exciting. Gosh this is so sad. I mean to me like a president doing this, somebody who is a 2024 Contender or kind of was. Uh, the site’s not even loading. Womp womp uh it is actually embarrassing. Like he he should not be stooping to this kind of thing, especially as like a big businessman or whatever. Like I mean you’d think that he’d have a better sort of business plan going forward to where he’s making real money. I mean this is like selling stupid trinkets that aren’t even actual trinkets, you don’t even get anything out of it, and it’s just kind of sad to watch. I think this is really the downfall of Trump when you’re doing a big announcement in all this and this is what you come out with….”

It’s my blog so I don’t have to run an image of Trump’s superhero card to illustrate this item. I think that’s a right guaranteed to me by the Constitution. Or the LA County sanitation code. Somewhere.

(3) MARLEY WAS DEAD. Open Culture invites you to “Hear Neil Gaiman Read A Christmas Carol Just Like Charles Dickens Read It”. (It’s an updated 2014 post.) The recording is here.

In Christmases past, we featured Charles Dickens’ hand-edited copy of his beloved 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. He did that hand editing for the purposes of giving public readings, a practice that, in his time, “was considered a desecration of one’s art and a lowering of one’s dignity.” That time, however, has gone, and many of the most prestigious writers alive today take the reading aloud of their own work to the level of art, or at least high entertainment, that Dickens must have suspected one could. Some writers even do a bang-up job of reading other writers’ work: modern master storyteller Neil Gaiman gave us a dose of that when we featured his recitation of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” from memory. Today, however, comes the full meal: Gaiman’s telling of A Christmas Carol straight from that very Dickens-edited reading copy….

(4) HORROR HOSTESS. Via the Horror Writers Association blog, “Nuts and Bolts: Interview with Aurora Gorealis”. There’s a substantial excerpt at the link, however, only HWA members have access to the full article.

In the tradition of such sinister seductresses as Vampira and Elvira, Aurora Gorealis is a Baltimore-based horror host who weaves dark magic from a combination of campy movies, sassy attitude, and the occasional pun of dubious quality.

Since 2017, Aurora (aka: Melissa LaMartina) has been playing the character during “Shocktail Hour” at the Golden West Café in Baltimore, combining live comedy and screenings of off-the-wall classics such as “Phantom of the Paradise” and “House on Haunted Hill” (complete with William Castle-style gimmicks)….

(5) STONE THE PHONE. “‘Luddite’ Teens Don’t Want Your Likes” reports the New York Times.

…“Lots of us have read this book called ‘Into the Wild,’” said Lola Shub, a senior at Essex Street Academy, referring to Jon Krakauer’s 1996 nonfiction book about the nomad Chris McCandless, who died while trying to live off the land in the Alaskan wilderness. “We’ve all got this theory that we’re not just meant to be confined to buildings and work. And that guy was experiencing life. Real life. Social media and phones are not real life.”

“When I got my flip phone, things instantly changed,” Lola continued. “I started using my brain. It made me observe myself as a person. I’ve been trying to write a book, too. It’s like 12 pages now.”

Briefly, the club members discussed how the spreading of their Luddite gospel was going. Founded last year by another Murrow High School student, Logan Lane, the club is named after Ned Ludd, the folkloric 18th-century English textile worker who supposedly smashed up a mechanized loom, inspiring others to take up his name and riot against industrialization….

… “But that wasn’t enough,” she said. “So I put my phone in a box.”

For the first time, she experienced life in the city as a teenager without an iPhone. She borrowed novels from the library and read them alone in the park. She started admiring graffiti when she rode the subway, then fell in with some teens who taught her how to spray-paint in a freight train yard in Queens. And she began waking up without an alarm clock at 7 a.m., no longer falling asleep to the glow of her phone at midnight. Once, as she later wrote in a text titled the “Luddite Manifesto,” she fantasized about tossing her iPhone into the Gowanus Canal.

While Logan’s parents appreciated her metamorphosis, particularly that she was regularly coming home for dinner to recount her wanderings, they grew distressed that they couldn’t check in on their daughter on a Friday night. And after she conveniently lost the smartphone they had asked her to take to Paris for a summer abroad program, they were distraught. Eventually, they insisted that she at least start carrying a flip phone….

(6) THERE’S A LOT AT THE END OF GRAVITY’S RAINBOW. “Thomas Pynchon, Famously Private, Sells His Archive” – and the Huntington Library is its new home reports the New York Times.

For years, archival traces of the novelist Thomas Pynchon have been almost as rare as sightings of the man himself.

Only a handful of confirmed photos of him are known to exist. While letters by him sporadically pop up for sale, those that have surfaced in publicly accessible archives have tended to disappear from view just as quickly, following protests from the famously private author.

But now, the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Calif., has acquired Pynchon’s literary archive, promising to open a window into the mind and methods of an author whose dense, erudite, playfully postmodern and often extremely long novels like “Gravity’s Rainbow” (760 pages) and “Against the Day” (1,085) have inspired serious scholarship, cultish devotion and wild-eyed conspiracy theories.

The archive includes 48 boxes — 70 linear feet, in archivist-speak — of material dating from the late 1950s to the 2020s. There are typescripts and drafts of all his published books, from “V.” (1963) to “Bleeding Edge” (2013). And there are copious research notes on the many, many subjects (World War II rocketry, postal history, 18th-century surveying) touched on in his encyclopedic novels.

But for all its richness, those hoping for a more intimate view of the man who twice made a cheeky cameo on “The Simpsons” with a paper bag over his head may be out of luck.

The archive includes correspondence relating to the publishing process, the library said, but no private letters or other personal material. And no, there are no photographs of Pynchon either…..

(7) DEFENDING SANDMAN. [Item by SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie.] Last night BBC Radio 4 Front Row arts programme had Neil Gaiman. Neil, apparently, has been getting a fair bit of criticism saying that Sandman is too woke what with non-binary characters and all.  Neil thinks this strange as 30 years ago when Sandman first came out there was no problem.  OK, so woke did not exist then, but Neil points out that nobody back then complained that Sandman was too PC.. “Neil Gaiman, China’s art censorship in Europe, Decline of the working class in the creative industries”.


1995 [By Cat Eldridge.] Winnie statues in the London Zoo

Yes, we already had a look at the Winnie the Pooh statue in White River, Ontario, but neither one of those statues is of him. Rather the examples today are of the bear that inspired A.A. Milne to create that marvelous bear.

The first, not at all surprisingly, stands close to the War Memorial.

This bronze statue, which is called the Winnie the bear and Lt. Colebourn Statue, was sculpted by Canadian artist William (Bill) Epp, and donated to London Zoo by the Canadian province of Manitoba. A copy of an identical statue in the Assiniboine Park Zoo, Winnipeg.

The plaque reads:

Winnie and Lt. Colebourn
by Bill Epp
presented by the people
of Manitoba
unveiled July 1995

But it’s not the only sculpture of Winnie you’ll find here in the London Zoo! There is another bronze of Winnie, shown as a young cub, by sculptor Lorne McKean. It was unveiled by Christopher Robin Milne in 1981. It is located near Animal Adventure right by the Blackburn Entrance.

McKean likes swans since two of her commissions have been them, Girl and A Swan and simply Swans. She also did a stellar Fox fountain with a bronze fox on a rock with water in Old Fox Yard, Stowmarket.  


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born December 15, 1923 Freeman Dyson. Physicist best known in genre circles for the concept he theorized of a Dyson Sphere which would be built by a sufficiently technologically advanced species around a sun to harvest all solar energy. He credited Olaf Stapledon in Star Maker (1937), in which he described “every solar system… surrounded by a gauze of light traps, which focused the escaping solar energy for intelligent use,” with first coming up with the concept. (Died 2020.)
  • Born December 15, 1937 John Sladek. Weird and ambitious would be ways to describe his work. The Complete Roderick Is quite amazing, as is Tik-Tok, which won a BSFA, and Bugs is as well. He did amazing amounts of short fiction, much of which is collected finally in the ironically named Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek. He is generously stocked at the usual suspects. (Died 2000.)
  • Born December 15, 1949 Don Johnson, 73. Though Miami Vice is where most will know him from, he has impressive genre creds including the lead in the Ellison-derived A Boy and Dog, voicing Wazir’s Son in Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, Office Andy Brady in the Revenge of the Stepford Wives film and another Sheriff, Earl McGraw, in the From Dusk till Dawn: The Series.
  • Born December 15, 1951 David Bischoff. His “Tin Woodman” which was written with Dennis Bailey and nominated for a Nebula would be adapted into a Next Generation story. He also wrote the Next Gen story “First Contact” (with Dennis Russell Bailey, Joe Menosky, Ronald D. Moore and Michael Piller.) And he continued the Bill the Galactic Hero story with Harry Harrison.  He’s also written a kickass excellent Farscape novel, Ship of Ghosts. (Died 2018.)
  • Born December 15, 1952 Marta DuBoi. Her first genre role is on the Starman series as Dr. Ellen Dukowin the “Fever” episode though you’ll likely better recognize her as Ardra on the “Devil’s Due” episode of the Next Generation. She also had roles on The Land of The LostThe Trial of the Incredible Hulk and Tales of the Golden Monkey. (Died 2018.)
  • Born December 15, 1953 Robert Charles Wilson, 69. He’s got a Hugo Award for Spin, a John W. Campbell Memorial Award for The Chronoliths, a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the “The Cartesian Theater” novelette and Prix Aurora Awards for the Blind Lake and Darwinia novels. He also garnered a Philip K. Dick Award for Mysterium. Very, very impressive indeed. 
  • Born December 15, 1963 Helen Slater, 59. Was Supergirl in the film of that name, and returned to the 2015 TV series of the same name as Supergirl’s adoptive mother. Also within the DC Universe, she voiced Talia al Ghul in in Batman: The Animated Series. Recently she also voiced Martha Kent in DC Super Hero Girls: Hero of the Year. And Lara in Smallville… And Eliza Danvers on the Supergirl series. Me? I’m not obsessed at all by the DC Universe.  Her other genre appearances include being on Supernatural, Eleventh HourToothlessDrop Dead Diva and Agent X
  • Born December 15, 1970 Michael Shanks, 52. Best known for playing Dr. Daniel Jackson in the very long-running Stargate SG-1 franchise. His first genre appearance was in the Highlander series and he’s been in a lot of genre properties including the Outer LimitsEscape from MarsAndromeda (formally titled Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda and there’s a juicy story there), Swarmed, Mega Snake, Eureka, Sanctuary, Smallville, Supernatural and Elysium. Wow! 

(10) A “KING KONG” BIRTHDAY CAKE. [Item by Steve Vertlieb.] For my 70th birthday (December 15th, 2015), dear friends Bruce and Ann Gearhart in Baltimore surprised me with the most wonderful celebratory cake I’ve ever been given.

“The Girl In The Hairy Paw,” edited and compiled by Ronald Gottesman and Harry M. Geduld, with wonderful cover art by Dave Willardson, was published by Avon Books in 1976 and featured, as its lead chapter, my lengthy essay on the making and production of the original “King Kong.” Its release was a significant benchmark in my life and career, as it was the first time that my work had ever been published in a book.

The opening chapter of this legendary volume was adapted from my series of articles comprising the cover story for the premiere issue of “The Monster Times” in 1972. This astonishing birthday sheet cake, replicating the book’s famous “King Kong” cover, thrilled me beyond words.

Carving into this wondrous pastry was delayed by a solid half hour while we all took pictures of it. It was simply too precious to deface. Fortunately, sanity eventually prevailed and this wondrous cake was ravenously devoured. Still, I wish that it might somehow have been preserved forever…. a delectable artifact commemorating my lifelong favorite film.

After seven years, the astonishing, childlike joy of having received this unforgettable gift brings a wondrous smile to my aging lips.

(11) TURKISH CARVINGS COULD BE FIRST COMIC STRIP. “Prehistoric carvings are oldest known story sequence” behind a paywall in Nature.

An 11,000-year-old carving in Turkey is the earliest known portrayal of a narrative scene. Archaeologists have uncovered other etched images in southeastern Turkey from the Neolithic period, which in the Near East stretched roughly from 10,000 bc to 7,000 bc and
includes the transition from nomadic life to settlements. But, unlike previously identified images, the latest discovery consists of two adjacent panels with a progressing storyline….

Although the Nature article is paywalled, the source journal article with numerous photos is available: “The Sayburç reliefs: a narrative scene from the Neolithic” at Cambridge Core.

(12) SF READER LITMUS TEST. [Item by Daniel Dern.] Having pre-registered as press for the rapidly-approaching CES (I’m not going IRL/F2F, but want some of the PR email barrage), Daniel Dern just got this:

Subject: CES to Feature FoodTech Sessions, Exhibits & More – Connect w/ Cultivated Meat CEO Panelist?

Dern asks/thinks (but did not reply with) this, to a mix of fellow tech journalists and Filers: Who else first quick-read this as a, with all due respect to SF writer Terry Bisson [1] ‘made-of-cultivated-meat’ panelist rather than the more likely meaning?


(13) WITH ALICE. [Item by Daniel Dern.]It zooms through the skies with the greatest of ease! “Antimatter Could Travel Through Our Galaxy With Ease, Physicists Say”Gizmodo has the story.

A team of physicists determined that enigmatic ‘antinuclei’ can travel across the universe without being absorbed by the interstellar medium. The finding suggests we may be able to identify antimatter that is produced by dark matter in deep space.

The physicists estimated the Milky Way’s so-called transparency to antihelium-3 nuclei—meaning, how permissive the galaxy’s interstellar medium is to antinuclei zipping through space.

“Our results show, for the first time on the basis of a direct absorption measurement, that antihelium-3 nuclei coming from as far as the centre of our Galaxy can reach near-Earth locations,” said ALICE physics coordinator Andrea Dainese, in a CERN release….

(14) WHY IT CRATERED. MLive takes you back to “Space World: The Michigan amusement park that never was”.

In the late 1970s, a Detroit-area aeronautical engineer who helped make NASA’S Apollo program possible dreamed up an amusement park called Space World. He hoped to build it on what was then farmland in Ypsilanti Township. He eventually broke ground on the park in nearby Huron Township, but down-to-earth troubles like high interest rates scrubbed the project.

(15) VIDEO OF THE DAY. From The Late Late Show With James Corden, “Avatar Ed: James Explains The First ‘Avatar’ To Kids”.

This group of schoolchildren is getting older, so it’s time they got… “the talk”. That is of course, the talk about what “Avatar” is and why they should care.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, Daniel Dern, Steve Vertlieb, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Mike Kennedy, John King Tarpinian, and Chris Barkley for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jon Meltzer.]

Pixel Scroll 6/26/22 You Read 16 Scrolls, What Do You Get?

(1) SURVIVAL THROUGH STORIES. John Wiswell’s Locus Award acceptance speech is well worth a moment to read: “’That Story Isn’t The Story’ wins the Locus Award for Best Novelette! Plus, my acceptance speech.” at Patreon.

…“That Story Isn’t The Story” is about growing while our trauma lives on inside of us, and while the sources of our trauma continue to live on around us, and often pursue us and belittle us. It’s about surviving by controlling our own stories, and the breath of life that comes from someone believing in you.

I’m certainly sitting here in part because of such believers….

(2) NOT SOMETHING SHE CONSIDERED A PREDICTION. In “Margaret Atwood: The Court Is Making Gilead Real “ the author comments on the draft decision of the ruling that was released this week.

…In the early years of the 1980s, I was fooling around with a novel that explored a future in which the United States had become disunited. Part of it had turned into a theocratic dictatorship based on 17th-century New England Puritan religious tenets and jurisprudence. I set this novel in and around Harvard University—an institution that in the 1980s was renowned for its liberalism, but that had begun three centuries earlier chiefly as a training college for Puritan clergy.

In the fictional theocracy of Gilead, women had very few rights, as in 17th-century New England. The Bible was cherry-picked, with the cherries being interpreted literally. Based on the reproductive arrangements in Genesis—specifically, those of the family of Jacob—the wives of high-ranking patriarchs could have female slaves, or “handmaids,” and those wives could tell their husbands to have children by the handmaids and then claim the children as theirs.

Although I eventually completed this novel and called it The Handmaid’s Tale, I stopped writing it several times, because I considered it too far-fetched. Silly me. Theocratic dictatorships do not lie only in the distant past: There are a number of them on the planet today. What is to prevent the United States from becoming one of them?

For instance: It is now the middle of 2022, and we have just been shown a leaked opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States that would overthrow settled law of 50 years on the grounds that abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution, and is not “deeply rooted” in our “history and tradition.” True enough. The Constitution has nothing to say about women’s reproductive health. But the original document does not mention women at all….

(3) STAKING A CLAIM. Emily Temple offers “A Close Reading of the Best Opening Paragraph of All Time” at Literary Hub. Surprise: it isn’t the first paragraph of Pride and Prejudice.

One hundred and one years ago today, Shirley Jackson was born. During her lifetime, she wrote “The Lottery,” and The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the latter of which features what I consider to be the best first paragraph of all time, or at least of any novel that I have ever read. Here it is:

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”

It almost seems like overkill to explain why this paragraph is so wonderful…. 

(4) PRESENT AT THE CREATION. Here’s Rich Horton’s latest look at potential Hugo winners and nominees from the 1950s — this time, stories published in 1952 (first eligibility year of the Hugos): “Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1953” from Strange at Ectbatan.

Continuing my project of suggesting potential Hugo nominees (and winners) for the early years of the Hugo — basically, pre-1958. Here’s a look at 1952. This is the year covered by the very first Hugos, from the 11th Worldcon, Philcon II, in Philadelphia, in September 1953. The only Fiction Hugo actually awarded went to Alfred Bester’s novel The Demolished Man. Apparently there were plans to name a Short Fiction winner, but there were insufficient votes….

(5) FANZINES ARCHIVED AT HARVARD. The article doesn’t have that much to say, but that it appears in Harvard Magazine might interest you: “The Geeky Underground”.

BEFORE HE WAS the acclaimed author of The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury was just another teenage boy with a science-fiction zine. Pronounced “zeen,” these self-published, often-low-budget magazines are staples in subcultures and underground movements—including punk-rock devotees, palindrome-writers, and the riot grrrl feminists of the 1990s—but the medium first got its start in the 1930s, in the bedrooms and basements of devout sci-fi fans. Their zines, which helped launch genre legends like Bradbury and Robert A. Heinlein, were handmade, wacky, and delightful. A single issue might house a hand-drawn comic titled “The Return of the Space Boggle,” a poem about a ghost with dry skin, and an epistle from a teenaged sci-fi author on “the various problems connected with space travel that make it difficult to write up sex properly.”…

(6) SFF NONFICTION. Cora Buhlert’s new Non-Fiction Spotlight introduces us to By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga by Erica Friedman: “Non-Fiction Spotlight: By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga by Erica Friedman”.

Some people claim that the reason that SFF-related non-fiction books have increasingly been crowded out of the Best Related Work category at the Hugos is that there are not enough non-fiction books published every year to fill the Hugo ballot. This is wrong, since there is a wide spectrum of non-fiction books covering every SFF-related subject imaginable released every year. Today’s featured non-fiction book proves how wide that spectrum truly is, because it is a book about the history of lesbian relationships as portrayed in manga and anime.

Therefore I’m thrilled to welcome Erica Friedman, author of By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga to my blog today.

Tell us about your book.

My book is By Your Side: The First 100 Years of Yuri Anime and Manga.

Lesbian-themed animation and comics (and related media), known as “Yuri,” is the newest genre of Japanese pop culture. Even though it’s only been acknowledged as a separate genre for a little over a decade, Yuri has a literary and artistic history that can be traced back to the early 20th century. My book is a series of interlocking lectures and essays that trace that history and bring the story of Yuri to the present. I cover key series and creators, as well as the efforts by creators and fans to carve out a space for ourselves in the larger Japanese pop culture fandom.

(7) CROMCAST PODCAST COVERAGE OF HOWARD DAYS. The good folks of The Cromcast have posted yet more recordings of the 2022 Robert E. Howard Days.

This recording from Friday, June 10th includes academic papers delivered by Drs. Dierk Guenther, Gabriel Mamola, and James McGlothlin. The panel is moderated by Dr. Jason Ray Carney.

This recording is from Friday, June 10th, and is from the Robert E. Howard Celebration Banquet. The guest of honor is Fred Malmberg, who shares comments and stories about his years in the gaming industry, as well as the influence of Robert E Howard on the history of gaming. The guest of honor is introduced by Rusty Burke.

For this recording, Josh and Luke are joined by various attendees for afterhours conversations on Friday, June 10th.

(8) BEYOND GAME OF THRONES. [Item by Cora Buhlert.] The Guardian has a very extensive interview with Emilia Clarke, which is easy to miss, because it was posted in the theatre section rather than the film or TV sections: “Emilia Clarke: ‘The best place in the world is backstage at a theatre’”.

…The actor is no stranger to the divisive power of art – on which more later – but the spare and lean production marks a pronounced change from the jobs she has done since being catapulted into superstardom by Game of Thrones in 2011. Following the phenomenally successful HBO series, in which she portrayed Daenerys Targaryen, Clarke has starred alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Genisys, played Han Solo’s love interest in Solo: A Star Wars Story and dressed as an elf in Paul Feig’s Emma Thompson-scripted romcom Last Christmas. She has won a Bafta Britannia award and been nominated for numerous Emmy, Screen Actors Guild and Critics’ Choice awards; in 2019, she was one of Time’s 100 most influential people….

(9) WOULD THAT BE A TOTAL OF SIX BODIES? Two adaptations of The Three Body Problem are moving forward.

“The Three-Body Problem: New Chinese Trailer, Key Art Poster Released”. Bleeding Cool covers new publicity for the Chinese adapation – see the poster at the link.

The Three-Body Problem by Chinese author Liu Cixin is the Science Fiction trilogy that’s made the biggest splash in the 21st Century, and a TV series adaptation is highly anticipated by fans. Just this week, Chinese studio Tencent released a poster and the second trailer for the Chinese TV adaptation.

…The first trailer for the Chinese version of The Three-Body Problem was released back in November 2021. So far, no premiere date for the series has been announced. Reports on Chinese social media suggest that the series is currently being re-edited to get approval from government censors before a release date can be determined. That means the whole series has been shot….

In the U.S., The Hollywood Reporter named new members of the cast: “Netflix’s ‘3 Body Problem’ Casts Another ‘Game of Thrones’ Alum”.

The drama series adapted from Liu Cixin’s Hugo Award-winning trilogy has added four more actors to its sprawling ensemble, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Jonathan Pryce (The Crown), Rosalind Chao (Better Things), Ben Schnetzer (Y: The Last Man) and Eve Ridley (Peppa Pig) have joined the show….

(10) THIS FILM HAS NO DICK. Den of Geek’s Ryan Britt and the headline writer did not have a meeting of the minds about his post “Blade Runner Became a Sci-fi Classic by Being a Terrible Philip K. Dick Adaptation”.

The title of the 1982 film Blade Runner is taken directly from a book. Well, from two books: the 1979 novella Blade Runner (a movieby William S. Burroughs, which, in turn, was based on the 1974 novel The Bladerunner by Alan E. Nourse. Both of those books are science fiction stories set in the near future, but have nothing to do with escaped androids. Instead, the movie’s plot is based on the 1968 novel by Philip K. Dick called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It’s tempting to say that Ridley Scott’s science fiction masterpiece took the name Blade Runner and slapped it on a Philip K. Dick story, but the truth is, Blade Runner succeeds because it’s not really an adaptation of anything…. 


1963 [By Cat Eldridge.] So fifty-nine years ago on this evening, like peanut butter and chocolate two great monsters united when King Kong Vs. Godzilla premiered. Really would I kid you? (Well I would and you well know it, but that’s why for a different discussion, isn’t it?)

Not at all surprisingly, this Japanese kaiju film was directed by Ishirō Honda, with the special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. Nine years previously, Honda directed and co-wrote Godzilla of which Tsuburaya is considered the co-creator. 

The script was Shinichi Sekizawa, mostly known, again not surprisingly, for his work on the Godzilla films but he did some other genre work such as Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon and Jack and the Witch.  

It started out as a story outline written by King Kong stop motion animator Willis O’Brien in the early Sixties in which Kong battles a giant Frankenstein Monster. The idea was given to the Tojo film company without his permission and they decided Godzilla would be a bigger draw. 

An individual by the name of Merian C. Cooper filed a lawsuit against the film showing here claiming he had exclusive right to the King Kong character in the United States, a claim that the film distributor quickly refuted as it turned out many individuals did.

It had already been the single most popular Godzilla film in Japan before it showed here and remains so to date. It made nearly three million here, not bad considering its tiny budget of four hundred thousand— two men in suits don’t cost much, do they? — so the film made twenty times that in its first run. Monsters rock! 

The Hollywood Reporter liked it: “A funny monster picture? That’s what Universal has in “King Kong Versus Godzilla.” Though the New York Times noted “The one real surprise of this cheap reprise of earlier Hollywood and Japanese horror films is the ineptitude of its fakery. When the pair of prehistoric monsters finally get together for their battle royal, the effect is nothing more than a couple of dressed-up stuntmen throwing cardboard rocks at each other.”

Audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes give a so-so rating of fifty six percent.


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born June 26, 1904 — Peter Lorre. I think his first foray into genre was in the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea film as Comm. Lucius Emery though he was in an Americanized version of Casino Royale as Le Chiffre which was an early Fifties episode of the Climax! series. (James Bond was called Jimmy. Ooh the horror!) Other genre roles were in Tales of Terror as Montresor in “The Black Cat” story, The Raven as Dr. Adolphus Bedlo and The Comedy of Terrors as Felix Grille. (Died 1964.)
  • Born June 26, 1910 — Elsie Wollheim. She was one of the original Futurians of New York, and assisted them in their publishing efforts, and even published Highpoints, her own one-off fanzine. She married Donald A. Wollheim in 1943. When he started DAW Books in 1972, she was the co-founder, and inherited the company when he died. Their daughter Elizabeth (Betsy) now runs the company along with co-publisher and Sheila E. Gilbert. (Died 1996.)
  • Born June 26, 1950 — Tom DeFalco, 72. Comic book writer and editor, mainly known for his work at Marvel Comics and in particular on the Spider-Man line. He designed the Spider-Girl character which was his last work at Marvel as he thought he was being typecast as just a Spider-Man line writer. He’s since been working at DC and Archie Comics.
  • Born June 26, 1965 — Daryl Gregory, 57. He won a Crawford Award for his Pandemonium novel. And his novella We Are All Completely Fine won the World Fantasy Award and a Shirley Jackson Award. It was also a finalist for the Sturgeon Award. I’m also fond of his writing on the Planet of The Apes series that IDW published.
  • Born June 26, 1969 — Lev Grossman, 53. Most noted as the author of The Magicians trilogy — The MagiciansThe Magician King and The Magician’s Land. Winner of the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. He wrote the screenplay for The Map of Tiny Perfect Things film which was based off his short story of that name. I hear his Magicians trilogy has been made into a series — who’s seen it? 
  • Born June 26, 1969 — Austin Grossman, 53. Twin brother of Lev. And no, he’s not here just because he’s Lev’s twin brother. He’s the author of Soon I Will Be Invincible which is decidedly SF as well as You: A Novel (also called YOU) which was heavily influenced for better or worse by TRON and Crooked, a novel involving the supernatural and Nixon. He’s also a video games designer, some of which such as Clive Barker’s Undying and Tomb Raider: Legend are definitely genre. 
  • Born June 26, 1980 — Jason Schwartzman, 42. He first shows up in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as Gag Halfrunt,  Zaphod Beeblebrox’s personal brain care specialist. (Uncredited initially.) He was Ritchie in Bewitched, and voiced Simon Lee in Scott Pilgrim vs. the Animation. He co-wrote Isle of Dogs alongwith Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, and Kunichi Nomura. I think his best work was voicing Ash Fox in Fantastic Mr. Fox. 
  • Born June 26, 1984 — Aubrey Plaza, 38. April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation which at least one Filer has insisted is genre. She voiced Eska in recurring role on The Legend of Korra which is a sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender. She was in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as Julie Powers. And she was Lenny Busker on Legion.  


  • Shoe today is about a cat, so of course it belongs in the Scroll.
  • Funky Winkerbean is about vows from a sacred text – of sorts.

(14) BELLE REVISIONED. “For the Most Complex Heroines in Animation, Look to Japan” says the New York Times.

At a time of widespread debate over the depiction of women in film, the top Japanese animators have long been creating heroines who are more layered and complex than many of their American counterparts. They have faults and weaknesses and tempers as well as strengths and talents. They’re not properties or franchises; they’re characters the filmmakers believe in.

… Because Japanese animated features are made by smaller crews and on smaller budgets than those of major American films, directors can present more personal visions. American studios employ story crews; Hosoda, Hayao Miyazaki, Makoto Shinkai and other auteurs storyboard entire films themselves. Their work isn’t subjected to a gantlet of test audiences, executive approvals or advisory committees….

(15) BOTTOM OF THE BARREL. Slashfilm curates the worst times to come:  “Dystopian Sci-Fi Movie Worlds Ranked By How Horrible They’d Be To Live In”.

We love dystopias. There’s something shuddery and intriguing about exploring a world that’s a lot like ours, but there’s something wrong with it. We fall to the allure of it. Sure, this brave new world is terrible, but how cool would it be to survive? Maybe even become a hero? And for many of our favorite dystopian stories, survivability feels possible — at least for a while. These scenarios borrow from today and hold warnings about what tomorrow could be unless we act. We feel prepared by watching them. We feel, for a little while, empowered.

… These stories are about people’s extraordinary efforts to thrive, and sometimes they fail. Let’s explore some of our favorite dystopias and imagine what it would be like to try and live in them.

5. Snowpiercer

Stylistically similar to Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” “Snowpiercer,” directed by Bong Joon-ho, is an adaptation of a French comic that foretells a world of few survivors on a frozen Earth. Society is packed into trains that run ceaselessly across the world. Classism allows the elite to feast on the plight of the poor. If you were trapped in a world like this one, imagine the smell. Even in the forward cars, people smell in closed quarters. Water is at a premium. The stink of the train’s oils and electricity will always be in the air.

As in “Elysium,” there’s a chance you might find yourself among the privileged, but it’s far likelier you’ll be in the cattle cars. Sure, there’s a guy that looks like Chris Evans, but your fate could be as simple as winding up an awful-tasting protein bar for your friends to eat. It’s life, of a sort, but it’s not desirable. The end of the film suggests that the world beyond the train is healing, and someone with a gift for survivalism and the right gear to keep warm might make it — but to do what? It’s going to be decades of hard living and starvation before the first villages thrive.

(16) UP AGAINST THE WALL-E. Proving that sf has plenty of painful futures to go around, this Inverse article is about one film that didn’t even make Slashfilm’s list: “The best post-apocalypse movie of the century reveals a dark debate over humanity’s future”.

… Released by Pixar in 2008, Wall-E was ahead of its time on AI sentienceautomation of the workforce, and interstellar travel. But perhaps the movie’s most timely theme is its complicated environmental message.

While the climate crisis isn’t overtly mentioned, it’s probably safe to assume it had a role in turning our planet teeming with life into a barren wasteland devoid of sentient life — save for the garbage-collecting robot known as “Wall-E.” And in the years since, this kind of lifeless apocalyptic setting has become far more common in Hollywood sci-fi movies, reflecting the growing trend of “climate doom” in real life.

But what is “climate doom” and are we really doomed to the future seen in the movie. Or can climate optimism win out and save our planet before we turn it into a gloomy garbage heap a la Wall-E?…

(17) SPLAT. NASA spotted a couple new holes in the Moon, and they know what made them, but not who: “Rocket Impact Site on Moon Seen by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter”. Photo at the link.

Astronomers discovered a rocket body heading toward a lunar collision late last year. Impact occurred March 4, with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter later spotting the resulting crater. Surprisingly the crater is actually two craters, an eastern crater (18-meter diameter, about 19.5 yards) superimposed on a western crater (16-meter diameter, about 17.5 yards).

The double crater was unexpected and may indicate that the rocket body had large masses at each end. Typically a spent rocket has mass concentrated at the motor end; the rest of the rocket stage mainly consists of an empty fuel tank. Since the origin of the rocket body remains uncertain, the double nature of the crater may indicate its identity.

[Thanks to Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Cora Buhlert, Daniel Dern, Michael J. Walsh, Chris Barkley, Andrew Porter, Michael Toman, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Cora Buhlert.]