Monday, July 24, 2017

More Brackett and Hamilton from Tangent Online

Last week, I linked to Tangent Online's 1976 interview with pulp and science fiction giants Leigh Brackett and Edmond "World Wrecker" Hamilton. While that excerpt described the treatment of women in science fiction and science fiction by women, the authors of the adventures of Eric John Stark and Captain Future had much to say about their inspirations, the science fiction genre, and John Campbell.

Regarding their influences:
TANGENT: What other influences did you have besides Burroughs and Merritt? 
BRACKETT: I'd say Burroughs of course was the first one. I was introduced to Edgar Rice Burroughs at a very young age. And of course I immediately took the plunge and that changed the course of my life right there. 
HAMILTON: That was true of nearly all of us of that generation. We sort of grew up on Edgar Rice Burroughs. I had read much other science fiction; I totally admired H. G. Wells. But Burroughs seemed to be the one we all tried to model after. I think Ray told us his first story was written because he couldn't―his family being hard-up at that time―he couldn't afford to buy the new Burrough's Mars novel that came out. He'd seen it in the bookstores but he couldn't afford to buy it, so he sat down and wrote it. 
BRACKETT: I think my first writing effort was somewhat the same. I was a great fan of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. I saw every one of his films over and over and over, and just loved Fairbanks. My favorite was The Mark of Zorro or something, and I wanted a sequel and there wasn't any, so I started writing one on little scraps of paper. Burroughs influenced me more―well, the Mars stories, all my Mars stories came out of Burroughs―I tried never to exactly copy his Mars, I tried to make it my own, but I think my fascination for Mars came from the fascination for his Mars. 
Now, Hammett and Chandler were very strong influences, and James Cain, whose style I greatly admired. I tried to use what I considered to be very good and very powerful in the detective story genre and use it in science fiction. “The Halfling” is very much in the detective story style, which seems to me to work out very nicely.
Notice that with the exception of Wells, all the stories, authors, and movies mentioned are found in the pulps. But not all of them were science fiction. Brackett in particular drew heavily from the detective pulps that inspired noir and the general adventure pulps like Zorro. Both drew from many wells, not just that of science fiction.

On the long term biases of science fiction awards:
TANGENT: What do you think of the different awards that have sprung up that they didn't have in the early days? Do you feel a sense of loss or anything since both of you have never won one? 
BRACKETT: No. I'm always happy for the people who get the awards. You know, I'd be delighted if I ever got one. I was up for a Hugo once on The Long Tomorrow. I don't know...I just don't worry about it.
HAMILTON: I'd be delighted to get one, too. I was also nominated for one, but most of our science fiction has been in the adventure/entertainment scene. If you don't have Big Thinks in it the people who vote on these things are not greatly impressed. If they can understand every word of it then it can't be great, you know? That's their attitude.
The more things change...

On working with John Campbell:
HAMILTON: Yes, he did try to do that, and that is one of the chief reasons I didn't like to work for John Campbell. I sent him one story and never again. He bought it, but I could not subordinate every idea I had into the Campbell formula. Added to which, he didn't particularly like his writers to be writing for the lesser science fiction magazines. Damn few could make a living writing for John Campbell. 
I admired Campbell. I testified to this the other night when we were talking about the old days. In fact, he was one of the great pulp magazine editors. Yet, science fiction did not begin with John Campbell. There were other editors, who may not have had as big an influence, although I think Tremaine was right up with Campbell there, in the early Astounding Stories. But, Campbell had kind of a dogmatic, rigorous mind; it has to be this way or that way, but it can't be that way. He was a difficult chap to work for. She sold her first stories to him. 
BRACKETT: And I still don't know why he bought them. They weren't very good stories. Unless he hoped he was discovering a new writer. Unfortunately I didn't go the right direction. I kept trying to sell him things because he was the top market, but when you wrote a Campbell-type story and it didn't sell then you had no place else to go with it.
They later pointed out that, despite all his efforts, Ray Bradbury never sold to Campbell. These comments, as well as those of Manly Wade Wellman's, require an article on their own.

On the pulps:
TANGENT: Were the pulps ever taken seriously by critics?
HAMILTON: They were, as a whole, cheap lowdown magazines and nobody cared much what was printed in them, but they gave science fiction a chance to expand its wings into all kinds of ideas. If you were writing for The Saturday Evening Post you found all kinds of taboos, whereas in the pulps, which few people cared about, anything went, just so long as it was effective. I think they were very good. 
The only time a serious critic paid any attention to the science fiction magazines was in 1930. A famous British essayist of that time, William Balitho (sp) came to New York to write articles for The New York World about the American scene. He was absolutely fascinated by the pulp science fiction magazines and he wrote a beautiful article, on that long ago day, on the pulp science fiction magazines. He was probably the first serious critic to mention Lovecraft's name. He said Mr. Lovecraft was a lot better than most of the serious novelists that they gave acclaim to. He added that a man who could read Galsworthy about society and Arnold Bennett about marriage and who can't read these crude little magazines is completely unliterary, without realizing it. And he ended up predicting; he said someday these magazines, or the tattered copies of them that remain, will sell for more money than the first editions of our most famous novelists of today. And that is true.
"Anything went, so long as it was effective."  This only serves to heighten the parallel between tradpub and indie with the old-fashioned slicks and pulps. But that, too, deserves another article.

On husband and wife collaborations in writing:
TANGENT: You mentioned this as your first formal collaboration. Why have you never collaborated before, in what ways were you an influence on each others work, and was there ever any feeling of competition between you? 
BRACKETT: No. 
HAMILTON: No, I don't feel that. Our collaboration has been more or less unofficial in this sense...she has done more for me than I have done for her. For years I worked on comics and I had a pretty heavy schedule. When I'd be trying to do a story I'd call her on over and say, “Leigh, nobody can do a scene like this but you.” (Laughing) But I never was as fortunate as Henry Kuttner. We were out visiting Henry and Catherine at Laguna Beach, and he was telling me he'd been having a hard time doing a novel; one chapter defeated him. And he sat there at his desk all day beating his brains out and couldn't get that chapter started, so he thought he'd go out and walk up and down the beach for several hours. The air was good but he got no ideas. So he walked wearily back to the house, got sat down, and there was the chapter, all written there beside his typewriter.(Laughing) I love to tell that story, so then I can accuse her. Actually, that was the best chapter in the book. It was a detective novel called The Brass Ring. When I talked to him just after the novel had been published, I said, “It was a good story, Henry, but the crowning point is the chapter where the man is murdered in the dark. You get the feeling of violence and sudden death in the dark. Terrific.” He said, “Thank you. My wife wrote it.” 
I said the same thing to Doc Lowndes up in New York years ago. He said there was one part in my Valley of Creation that was the highest point in the book. I told him the same thing, “Thank you for nothing. My wife wrote it.” She wrote just those three chapters.
Anyone know where I can find the modern version of Miss Moore?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

50 YEARS OF LUPIN III: Daisuke Jigen's Gravestone

I owe you a bullet wound, and I'm going to make sure that debt gets paid. - Daisuke Jigen

Nine days after Queen Malta's assassination at a peace concert, a sniper ends Lupin III's latest jewel heist with a well-placed shot, sending a bullet into Daisuke Jigen's leg. The thieves crawl away to safety before the next shot could prove fatal. Acting on a hunch from a spent round, Jigen searches the nearest cemetery. A legendary gunman, Jael Okuzaki, is known to prepare a grave for each target he kills. And the newest grave is Jigen's. As the country around him prepares for war, Jigen fights his own personal battle, gunslinger against sniper. Okuzaki knows the city and has a preternatural ability to know exactly where Jigen is at any time. All Jigen has is the revolver at his side--and the help of the world's greatest thief, Lupin III.

A two part theatrical film released in 2014, Daisuke Jigen's Gravestone occupies a strange spot in the Lupin III catalog. It is a rare direct continuation of a previous work, the controversial TV series The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. Intended as a daring reimagination of Lupin III, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine pushed the Lupin gang to the side, focusing on Fujiko's self-indulgent mysteries and centerfold preening for the camera. And, like many "daring reimaginations," the additions boiled down to the same three features: dark stories, boobs, and blood. Faced with complaints that Lupin was no longer in the spotlight, Daisuke Jigen's Gravestone returns the focus to Lupin III and his American gunslinger buddy, Daisuke Jigen. And as a character, Lupin returns in magnificent style.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Nelson Bond's Pulp Formula

Note: Bryce Beattie originally posted this on the StoryHack website. I am reposting it here to spread the pulp love. That said, go visit his site. Oh, and try StoryHack 0 for some excellent adventure fiction as well!

*****

Copyright Note: This article comes from the October, 1940 issue of Writer’s Digest. The copyright records from 1940 do not show a filing for either the magazine issue or the article itself. Neither is there an entry in 1968, the year it would have needed to be renewed. So I believe it is in the public domain.

It’s All A Matter of Timing

A Foolproof Fiction Formula
by Nelson S. Bond

It’s the damnedest thing! I stand up there with my heart full of hope and my mitts full of driver; I wiggle and I waggle; I straighten my left arm and lower my head; I haul my hips back. I swing. My clubhead goes swoosh! – and the ball goes ploop! A one hundred and fifty yard drive. Fifty up, fifty down, and fifty yards into the lush tangle of crab grass between the tee and the fairway.

My companion says, “Tsk,” and stares after my ball thoughtfully. “You going after it?” she asks. “Be careful. There’s lions and tigers in there!”

She takes her stance. She’s tiny and slim, and her hands are soft. She weighs 106 in her Kaysers. Her biceps are about as tough and sinewy as a cup custard. She swings. A gentle little swaying motion. But the club head goes splat! against the ball. Said pill takes off like a homing pigeon; soars high and far and true, and comes to rest at long last, gleaming whitely upon the green bosom of the fairway halfway to the pin.

Why? I weigh more than she does. I’m taller. I’m stronger. My clubs are heavier.

* * *

If I wrote like I golf, there wouldn’t be any long, lazy, blood-pressure-raising afternoons on the links. There would be handouts and patched breeches and truckloads of rejection slips. But by some quirk of fate-possibly because the gods have a celestial budget to balance-I am so lucky as to possess, in my vocation, that which I can’t grasp when I’m playing. A sense of timing.

I’m not sure that I can tell you what it is, or how to do it. I suspect it’s One of Those Things, like swimming or swinging a golf club or knowing that the third Scotch-and is enough.You have it or you don’t. If you don’t, you just keep on plugging, going through the motions, until one day, suddenly, there it is and you know what I’m talking about.

And when you’ve got it, you’re sitting pretty. Meat on the table, checks in the poke, and luh-huv in my heart for yoo-hoo!

You’re bound to get it, too, if you keep working at it. You know the old gag about how “every writer has to get a million lousy words out of his system.” Of course, that’s the old malarkey. Some writers click on the first go-round, others (like myself) have to do it the hard way. The truth remains, though, that those first, feeble, fumbling attempts are valuable. Every word you put on paper is another lesson in writing. Even if the story comes bouncing back with the stamps still moist, you’ve learned something from it. Maybe you’ve just learned how not do it next time. And, buddy, if you have-that’s valuable!

Did I hear a snarl in the audience? You want me to skip the fight-talk, huh? Get down to business? All right. You’re asking for it. Here’s my theory on the way to “time” a normal, 5,000 word story in such a way as to make it fast, dramatic and salable.

I don’t guarantee it; I don’t claim that all other methods are wrong. I believe, with Kipling, that “there are six-and-twenty ways of constructing tribal lays . . . every single one of them is right!” All I say is that this works for me.

* * *

DESIGN FOR BRICKLAYING A STORY

(Patent not worth applying for)

General Instructions

Lay out approximately 20-25 sheets of clean, white paper. I prefer Corrasable Bond because it actually does-as Arnold Gingrich of Esquire puts it-“take erasure with dignity.” And an ordinary pencil eraser, too. If the Eaton People want to send me a check for this plug, I’m not proud. Use the 16, rather than the 20 pound weight. It costs less, and keeps down the postage.

Lay out an equal amount of yellow “second sheets,” a piece of carbon paper, your cigarettes and matches-Hold it! Change that typewriter ribbon! Your chances of selling fade in direct proportion to the fading of your ink, friend! Now put that damned thesaurus away. Hide it! If you don’t know the words and use them in your ordinary conversation, they’ll bulge in your story like an olive in a snake’s gut.

We’ll take it for granted you know how to title and identify your manuscript. If you don’t you shouldn’t be reading this; you should be studying back issues of Writer’s Digest. Name and address in upper left corner, approximate number of words in upper right, title and your name halfway down the page. All right! Let’s go!

* * *

First 1000 Words. Ends on Page 5.

Get going with a bang! Remember, you’re writing a short story, not Gone With the Wind. You can’t waste words, nor will the editor permit you to waste his or the readers’ time. Your first thousand words must tell who are to be the central characters of this work-of-art, when the story takes place, where the scene is set, what the problem is, and set the question as to how the hero expects to take care of it.

Get me straight! I don’t mean you should start off anything like this-

“John Marmaduke Frasier, tall, blonde and handsome Sheriff of Burp’s Crossing, Arizona, strode down Main Street wondering what he should do about saving the property of his fiancée, sweet Hildegarde Phlewzy, from the clutches of rich bank president, Phineas Gelt, who threatened to foreclose the mortgage on August 19th, 1904, twenty days hence . . .”

You think I’m crazy, eh? Nobody ever introduced a story that way? Guess again! I sat beside Harry Widmer of Ace Publications for a full hour one afternoon, reading over his shoulder unsolicited manuscripts that opened in exactly that fashion. Needless to say, the stories were not offered by “regulars,” nor did they come in the folders of an agent. They were the “unrush” mail, i.e., the free-lance offerings that earn pale blue slips reading, “We regret to say-”

But get the thing moving. Start with something happening to somebody; not with mental maunderings, Grab your hero by the neck and shove him smack into a mess of trouble. Then show who started that trouble-and why. Introduce the other persons involved in the problem, make their opening speeches depict their characters. As you write, keep an eye on your page numbers. Remember that this phase of the story must be finished by the middle of page 5.

End the opening sections with the implication that Our Hero recognizes his difficulty and knows what he’s going to do about it.

Second 1000 words. Ends on Page 9-10.

This is the phase wherein Our Hero’s star is in the ascendancy. Things move along with reasonable assurance of eventual success. Looks like the problem wasn’t so terrible after all. With matters moving smoothly, this section may also be used for brief, telling “flashbacks” (if required), and for strengthening characterizations.

A word about scene changes. Many beginning writers seem to go haywire over time and place transitions. That’s simply because they make an easy job tough for themselves. For instance, We’ve all seen manuscripts in which a character leaves a room, goes to another place, meets other people. The beginner, his “timing” hopelessly off, tries to follow the character all the way-

“He stalked from the building indignantly, found a taxi at the door, rode uptown, got out at his own apartment, paid off the cabby, took the elevator upstairs…”

Sharper-edged, neater and vastly more readable is a device used by all professionals and editors. The bridging of time by a quadruple space. Finish one scene. Slap your space-lever twice-and begin your new section with a scene as fresh, as new, as clean-cut as if you were starting an entirely new story!

Here’s the way it works in actual practice. Scene one was in the apartment of a detective, Sid (“Softy”) O’Neill. A policeman has come to bring Softy to headquarters. The first scene ends and the second scene begins as follows.
“Okay, let’s go!” (said Softy.) Then he remembered and jerked open a drawer in his desk. Dull blue glinted as he jammed something into a harness beneath his left arm-pit. “Let’s go!” he repeated. 
The Chief said, “Gentlemen, meet Detective O’Neill. Sid is not a member of the city force, but as I told you . . .”
It is not until some paragraphs later that the Chief is introduced by name, or the second phase of the plot determined. But story stuff is unimportant here; we are concerned only with the question of time-and-place transitions. During the blank space left above, Softy O’Neill presumably covered a number of city miles and consumed a half hour’s time. The reader is made conscious of that by implication. You don’t have to drag him along the route with you. How Softy got to headquarters is unimportant; all that matters is that he got there! Save words, save time. It’s all a matter of timing!

Third 1000 words. Ends on Page 13-15.

Here’s where the Hero stubs his toe. Things looked good-now the Villain heaves a monkeywrench onto the woiks! Trouble-with a capital “Boo!”-pops up. Technically this is known as a “plot complication.” Which is just a literary way of saying it’s a, “Dood Dod, what do I do now?” mess.

Let’s backtrack a moment and dovetail this. We’ll suppose our story to have been (1) sports, 00(2) science-fiction, (3) detective, (4) love, (5) romantic adventure. Show how a “complication” piles on the major problem in each of the aforementioned.

  1. Hero flashy player, without his team cannot win championship vital to athletic future of small college. In phase one, main problem set forth. In phase two, path looks easy-hero going like house afire. Phase three, complication-vital blocking back busts leg before crucial game!
  2. Hero hastily finishing spaceship with which to visit Mars; must get special Martian desert weed to stave off dreadful scourge which threatens to destroy Earth. Complication. Enemy scientists corners market on beryllium, vitally essential metal for construction of spaceship.
  3. Detective hero hunting Red Jornegan, gangster, whose fingerprints were found all over gun that murdered cop. Tracks Jornegan to hide-out. Complication. Finds Jornegan dead, killer’s gun lying across room with Jornegan’s fingerprints on it! (Whew! This one came off the top of my mind. I wonder whodunit?)
  4. Hero admires movie idol, wangles introduction, succeeds in making him veddy, veddy interested. Soft odor of orange blossoms in distance, and then-complication! Learns his contract has a nix-wedding-bells clause.
  5. Hero, Foreign Legion lieutenant, besieged by a mob of howling Bedouins. Must carry news of uprising to post. Remembers cache of ammunition in desert. Finds it. Complication. Bullets are for different rifle!
In short, then, this complication is generally something he did not nor could have possibly expected; it may even be a break the villain himself did not count on. But it makes a heluva situation for Our Hero.

Fourth 1000 words. Ends on Page 17-19.

Herein, two things happen. The Hero, finds, thinks, or fights his way out of the complication. This consumes almost all of the fourth phase. And when we’ve suffered with him, bled him into open country again-

Up pops the Villain with his deepest, most dastardly plot, unfolded, finally, in all its dire ramifications!

This is the trouble! Ossa on Pelion, if youse lugs know what I mean. This is the spot wherein (in the ancient mellerdramers) Nick Carter used to get two busted legs and a broken back, while a horde of savages armed with scythes and swords and Stuka bumbers swarmed in on him.

That won’t go today-thank heaven! I’ve heard too much poppycock and balderdash about how “the pulps demand an excess of emotion.” Action, yes! True emotion, yes! But in my opinion, they neither want, nor will buy, blatantly overwritten mellerdrama.

Anyway, that’s a good rule to go buy. Figure it this way and you can’t go far wrong-the only reason pulps print hokey stuff is that sometimes they can’t get the smooth kind of writing they’ll grab when it’s offered to them. Let a man learn his trade, and he’ll be snatched up by the slicks in a split-second. I think none of the following ex-pulpateers will object if I mention their names in passing: William R. Cox, who has parlayed his Dime Sportmuscle men into American, Liberty, et al. Ernest Haycox, who sells super-Westerns to every top-ranking magazine and to Hollywood. Richard Sale . . . Jacland Marmur . . . William Fay . . . but why go on? Their stories had what it takes; they’ve moved up (Yeah, yeah, I know, they still sell some to the pulps!) and others can profit by studying their techniques.

Some digression. We were in Phase Four, where Our Hero is up to his neck in Trouble. And the Villain is on the bank, heaving rocks at his head.

How to get him out? That’s your problem, pal! If I knew, I’d write the story, not donate the outline. But there are several sturdy, tried-and-true methods. By his superior knowledge. By a quirk of chance carefully planted in the earlier part of the story (none of that long arm of coincidence stuff)! By sheer fighting ability.

And he accomplishes this in-

The Fifth 1000 words. Ends on Page 21-25.

This is the phase of the solution, of final explanation, of denouement. In the detective story, here’s where your cop or shamus explains whodunit, why, and how he figured it out. In the western, science, sport or action story, this is where Our Hero fights free and, tying up loose ends, explains to his public how he knew just what to do.

The fifth phase of begins with violent action, tears along swiftly, leading to a swift, decisive conclusion-and ends happily.

Watch your timing here! Pace your final conflict so that the action of it consumes approximately 500 words or more. Previous action may have been truncated to move the story along-but not this final scene. Your readers have suffered with the Hero for 4,000 words. Give ’em a blow-by-blow description of the Last Stand, let their empathies jump with glee as the Villain flinches, cowers, and dies.

I could mention a half dozen writing “tricks” that arouse this emphatic feeling, but there’s no time to do so in this article. Nor is this the proper place to do it. This is simply a blueprint, a method of mechanically plotting the short story, that has worked for me-and it will work for you, if you’ll give it a trial.

If you’ll hew to the page-markers set forth here, I think you’ll have no more trouble with tedious openings, long, drowsy middle sections, stories that refuse to end. Because writing-like that confounded golf swing I cannot master-is all a matter of timing.

Oh, I said that before, didn’t I? Well-it still goes!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Valerian and Laureline: Ghosts and Wrath

Last time's review of Ambassador of the Shadows introduced the BD comic of Valerian and Laureline, a legendary science fiction adventure with a forty-five-year run. Influencing visual science fiction such as Star WarsThe Fifth Element, and various anime, in summer 2017, this classic tale will arrive on the silver screen in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. While Ambassador of the Shadows was a landmark story, featured in Heavy Metal magazine, it focused on Laureline’s search through Point Central in search of a missing ambassador and her Valerian. Save for a sweet kiss when Laureline reunited with Valerian, little of the namesake hero appeared in that book. To fully appreciate the characters, one would have to read additional stories, such as the pivotal two part adventure of Ghosts of Inverloch and Wrath of Hypsis.
In Ghosts of Inverloch, twin catastrophes face the Earth. In the 1980s, the nuclear powers are losing control of their arsenals through a quiet string of accidents. In Valerian’s present, a wave of causality caused by spatio-temporal agents threatens to erase Galaxity and the Earth from space and time. To prevent these cataclysms, assignments are handed out that bring Laureline, Valerian, the trio of alien shingouz, an aged British pilot, the inventor of spatio-temporal technology known as Mister Albert, and Valerian’s boss in the Space-Time Bureau to Inverloch. Together, this assembly must discern the hand of Hypsis, Galaxity’s rival, in these events, and foil it. But before he can arrive at Inverloch, Valerian must kidnap a Glapum’tian, an aquatic genius that looks like a baleen squid ray, from its homeworld. The book ends shortly after all the parties arrive, with a growing sense of dread as Valerian’s boss reveals the cost of failure. There’s not a story self-contained within this volume, just vignettes of what each party was doing prior to arriving at Inverloch.
Ghosts is an important volume in the progression of the Valerian and Laureline series. Not only does it set up the defining moment of the series, the disappearance of Earth and all of humanity besides Valerian and his Laureline, it also rehabilitates Valerian from the three volumes of abuse his character has suffered. Valerian and Laureline is an unashamedly feminist series, wasting no opportunity to show that Laureline’s indirect and social approach to solving problems is better than Valerian’s straightforward and muscular ways. Since Ambassador of the Shadows, Valerian had been reduced over time to little more than a dumb brute as Laureline’s girl power ruled the day. However, writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières realized that Valerian was slipping into parody and reversed course with Ghosts. Here, Valerian must complete his abduction of the Glapum’tian alone. His repeated failures force him to abandon the direct approach of the boy scout hero for a cunning more in line of a pulp hero. This gives depth to Valerian, providing a male lead who can stand next to the strong-willed Laureline, and one she can’t keep her hands off of. It is not the contrast of weak man and strong woman that makes Valerian and Laureline work, but the complementary nature of a strong man and strong woman together. Laureline still gets to break the ties, though, as Christin and Mézières still espouse the superiority of the feminine in their stories. (Of course, their sense of the masculine is a strawman, but that’s an essay for another time.)
In Wrath of Hypsis, the assembled team heads out into the Arctic, in pursuit of the ghost ships seen nearby each nuclear accident. Using the Glapum’tian’s ability to talk to orca and other aquatic species, they chase down one such ghost ship. As the vessel rises from the waters, it sinks their ship. When Valerian’s spaceship picks up the shipwrecked crew, each member of the team pitches in to pursue the ghost ship across time and space to the hidden planet of the Hypsis. There, in the presence of three aliens claiming to be the Trinity, Valerian and Laureline must choose which Earth to save. For to save Galaxity, the old Earth must burn.
The idea that the gods (and God) might be alien instead of divine appears with frustrating regularity in science fiction. Typically, the idea is played straight to shock the squares and destroy organized religion in a setting. Here, the revelation that the Hypsis are aliens that think they are the Trinity is still played for shock. However, the Galaxity team is nowhere near as credulous as the protagonists of other stories, maintaining a healthy doubt while humoring the noir flatfoot, hippie, and talking calculator claiming to be Father, Son, and Spirit. This is with good reason, as Hypsis’s attempt to destroy Galaxity, by nuking 1980s Earth, would instead provide the instigating event that leads to Galaxity’s creation. Similar contradictions between claim and deed only reinforce the doubt in the Hypsis aliens’ identity. While the subtle touch is appreciated, the inclusion of this divine masquerade was unnecessary, as any other time-travelling civilization could have been swapped in without affecting the story. The plot and the Chekov’s guns leading to the confrontation demanded that Hypsis exist, not that Hypsis be the Trinity. Without those hints, this was a swerve for a swerve’s sake. Fortunately, the anime adaption of Valerian and Laureline retcons away this version of Hypsis, starting immediately after Earth’s disappearance.
It would not be a Valerian and Laureline adventure without at least one page’s panels devoted to Laureline running into Valerian’s arms and greeting him with a kiss. She rarely passes up a chance to wrap an arm around her hero, and Valerian does his best to show off in front of his girl. When separated, their thoughts turn to each other. Their devotion to each other is complete, and those who have come to know the couple recognize it. When the Galaxity agents depart to wherever the future Earth is hidden, Mister Albert and the shingouz pull strings to keep Valerian by Laureline’s side. In a youth culture age concerned more with dating and the bedroom, it is rare to see such a deep and mature bond presented in media.
The developments in printing technology have been kind to Valerian and Laureline. Gone are Laureline’s days as a sun-scorched teenager, but also gone are the watercolor shading and themed palette of Ambassador of the Shadows. Instead, the wider palette available allows a more realistic color scheme from panel to panel, but one that does not attempt to emulate the photo-realistic backgrounds of titles like Yoko Tsuno. These additional tools allow Mézières to create stunning images in his booking, including aquatic scenes with the Glapum’tian swimming with orca as well as the amazing cover to Wrath of Hypsis. And as the printing technology matured, so too did the character designsLaureline has grown more mature in character and in design since her rowdier teenage days in Ambassador of the Shadows, while Valerian has grown craggier. The lapses into comedic design that occasionally punctuated Ambassador are nowhere to be seen, at least until the Son takes the stage. Finally, the fanservice is still a matter of line and pose instead of nudity. The universe loves Laureline, and so does the camera. Fortunately, Mézières does not use outright preening like many current manga and comics artists do.
Despite the deus ex machina muddying the ending, the combined adventure of Ghosts and Wrath provide a passable but clockwork chase story enlivened considerably by the antics of the shifty shingouz and Laureline herselfThe world may turn because of Laureline’s interactions with the people and aliens around her, but it turns around Valerian and his guiding light of Galaxity. But now that Galaxity is gone, the real mystery is not what the Hypsis Trinity might do next but how Valerian and Laureline will cope when the only thing they have in the universe is each other. Well, each other, Valerian’s spaceship, and the three shingouz who follow Laureline around like puppies, that is…
Fortunately, Cinebook is committed to publishing the complete adventures of Valerian and Laureline, with nineteen of the 21 volumes to be published by year’s end, so there is no danger of missing out on what happens next.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tangent Online Interview with Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton

Here is an excerpt of a 1976 interview with Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton, covering the treatment of women in science fiction and Hollywood.
TANGENT: Leigh, there were very few women writing science fiction during the 30's, 40's, and 50's. Were there any special problems you had to face being a woman? 
BRACKETT: There certainly wasn't with me. They all welcomed me with open arms. There were so few of us nuts that they were just happy to receive another lamb into the fold. It was simply that there wasn't many women reading science fiction, not many were interested. Francis Stevens sold very fine science fiction stories to Argosy back in 1917, back around that period. 
HAMILTON: Her name, you see, could have been a man's name and Leigh's name could have been a man's name. Catherine Moore, who wrote SF long before you did, and a dear friend of ours, wrote under the name of C. L. Moore. Now, I don't think there was much real bias on the part of women's libbers-- 
BRACKETT: I never ran into any. On some of the first few stories I sold people would write into the letter columns and say Brackett's story was terrible, women can't write science fiction. That was ridiculous, there were women scientists you know, there's no problem there. What they were complaining about was that I didn't know how to write a story (chuckling). When I learned a little better I stopped hearing this. What they were complaining about was the quality really, not...you know. The editors certainly, there was never any problem with them. 
HAMILTON: Hedda Hopper, in her column that she had, went into how Howard Hawks wanted to do this movie on Raymond Chandler's novel The Big Sleep. Hawks had picked up this detective story and so he told his agent, you know, this chap would make a good screenwriter on this, so get Mr. Brackett. So in this newspaper column it was reported how astonished he was when this fresh-faced girl that looked like she had just come from a school-girl tennis court suddenly turned up. He gulped and went right on with it (chuckling). 
BRACKETT: But no, there was never actually any discrimination against women screenwriters. The first job I ever got was at Republic and the highest paid person on the lot was a woman. The discrimination against women came in later, much later, when television came along with all these male-oriented western series and detective series, and they figured a woman wouldn't be able to write that kind of thing. Which is where the problem came in. Dorothy Fontana gave a very concise, intelligent discussion of that one night out there at UCLA. This is breaking down now. In other words, they are reading the script to see if it's a good script and not who wrote it. 
TANGENT: What about in science fiction? Has it changed at all? 
BRACKETT: As I say, there never was any discrimination as far as I know of, but a great many more women are writing science fiction than ever before. 
TANGENT: What about the women's libbers in the field now, say Joanna Russ for instance? 
BRACKETT: Well, Joanna's got her own axe to grind. She's got her own way of looking at things, but I never worried about it much one way or the other. 
TANGENT: It's like she and others assume the problem existed and are working from there.
Unfortunately, that general methodology of assuming a problem exists instead of verifying is now endemic.

As Brackett and Hamilton have unique insights into pulp fiction and John Campbell's editorialship, I will return to this interview later this week.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Valerian and Laureline: Ambassador of the Shadows

In the 1960s, while working in America, writer Pierre Christin and illustrator Jean-Claude Mézières met to collaborate on their next bande dessinée (BD) comic serial. Both men originally wanted to draw a Western, but the market in France had already been saturated with such stories. Instead, they turned to their other great American literary love, science fiction, a genre France once dominated but had abandoned in the despair after World War One. Drawing upon the works of such greats as Poul Anderson. Isaac Asimov, and Jack Vance, Christin and Mézières created Valerian and Laureline, a landmark time-traveling space opera that has influenced comics such as Métal Hurlant and Heavy Metal, and also films and television, including Star Wars, The Fifth Element, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Throughout the series' nearly fifty year run, the adventures of Valerian and Laureline were previously only available in English through a scattered handful of issues, starting with Ambassador of the Shadows in the 1981 run of Heavy Metal magazine. Fortunately, French publisher Dargaud has teamed with Cinebook to release the entire twenty-one volume series in print and ebook formats. With the upcoming movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets set to reintroduce the world to Valerian and Laureline with a plot based in part on Ambassador of the Shadows, let's dive into the original.

In the twenty-eighth century, Valerian and Laureline are spatio-temporal agents for Galaxity, the seat of the Terran Galactic Empire. A citizen of Galaxity, Valerian is a good-natured hero that resembles Conan in a spacesuit while acting like a boy-scout's hero. Laureline, however, hails from 11th century France and is as fiery as her red hair. Where Valerian relies on traditional action and heroics to solve cases, Laureline relies on her charm and guile. Their early adventures through time and space focused on Valerian as the hero with Laureline as his pretty sidekick. Over time, Laureline grows into an equal partner to Valerian. Filmmaker Luc Besson describes their relationship as "It's a boy and a girl. They have fun, they love each other, but they don't want to say it. He's a puppy — he's watching all the girls, and she's very old fashioned. For her, you fall in love with one man, you get married, you have kids. Just like that, it's today, but with aliens and fighting."

In Ambassador of the Shadows, Valerian and Laureline escort Galaxity's ambassador to the Point Central mega-space station ahead of the Earth's fleet. It is humanity's turn to lead the council, and the ambassador plans to make the most of the opportunity. Soon after they land, aliens attack, kidnapping the ambassador and killing the reception party with streams of thickening ooze. Saved by his spacesuit's helmet, Valerian takes off in pursuit of the aliens. Minutes later, Laureline revives and frees herself from the trap. A trio of alien shingouz approach her. For the right price, the alien information brokers will tell Laureline where Earth's secret allies live on the station. Fortunately, Laureline has her wits, her charm, and the Grumpy Transmuter of Bluxte, a pet that can reproduce pearls, coins, pills, or anything else she might need to trade for favors, as she moves from backroom deal to backroom deal in pursuit of her Valerian. And the ambassador, if she absolutely must.

This is Laureline's book, and the point in the series where she takes over the role of main character from Valerian. As soon as Valerian is whisked away atop the kidnappers' fleeing ship, the story never leaves her again. Laureline might well be a grandmother to today's Pixie-fu Action Girl. Certainly, she originates from the same intersection of feminism and Venus worship that birthed the Action Girl. But where the Action Girl seeks to eliminate the differences between the sexes by proving she is better than men at fighting, Laureline celebrates her differences from Valerian. Laureline plays to her feminine strengths, wit, guile, charm, and sex appeal, leaving physical confrontation to Valerian. While Ambassador of the Shadows praises Laureline's feminine cunning at the expense of Valerian's impulse to action, her story is the traditional tale of a wife braving strange lands in search of her beloved, complete with political intrigue and a splash of temptation. But where most women must rely on a guide to navigate the alien cultures, Laureline is able to do so on her own, which is fortunate as her guide is venal and cowardly. At the end, she proves to be key in unraveling the political mess that took away her Valerian. At first glance, Laureline's independence keeps her from making the same mistake that Valerian's insistence on duty and obedience to orders led him to, but she is just as constrained as Valerian, forbidden by her superiors to take matters in her own hands. Unfortunately, as Laureline ascends to main character status, Valerian begins his multiple book struggle with lawful stupidity. Fortunately, Christin and Mézières recognized that Valerian was slipping into parody and reined in the Laureline worship soon after.

The art style is fairly realistic, although some of the aliens and the ambassador's toadies have more comedic designs. For a reader used to the extravagances of manga, such restraint is refreshing. Laureline's poses run towards subtle fanservice, yet she is also the most expressive character, as Mézières catches Laureline's every moue, pout, flounce, and cringe with his pen. This allows him to capture the repulsiveness of the mollusk-based biomachinery that Laureline must use without resorting to detailed grotesquery. Most of the other aliens on the mega-station would be at home in the Mos Eisley cantina. The palette is limited to red, yellow, blue, and black and their combinations, using shading and contrast for effect. Look for warmer colors to frame panels of conflict and tension, and colder hues for more peaceful times.

Ambassador of the Shadows serves well as an introduction to the universe of Valerian and Laureline, and to Laureline herself. But with Valerian out of the picture for much of this slim volume, readers looking to fully appreciate the relationship between Valerian and Laureline, as well as the dance on contrasts between them, will need to pick up additional volumes. Fortunately, I've got Ghosts of Inverloch and Wrath of Hypsis waiting in the wings...