Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween With Benny

For four years, Jack Benny's radio show featured an annual depiction of Jack's Halloween party. The shows haven't aged entirely well. Some of the gags are hokey, the musical numbers are dated and creaky, and there are several uncomfortable gags featuring Rochester, Benny's black butler.

But some of the gags still shine, and there's an entertaining weirdness to some of them--Jack's pet polar bear and Don dressed as a kangaroo, with Dennis riding in his pouch, for instance.

So here are four years' worth of Jack Benny Halloween parties. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Lovecraft

Suspense was one of the long-running die-hards of radio, high-budget and high-profile. Most episodes (I hesitate to say all, since I haven't listened to them all) featured stars of stage and screen. Music cues were played by a small orchestra, rather than a simple organ like Dark Fantasy. Many episodes were based on popular stories of the day.

Most of the episodes I've listened to were simple mysteries or suspense stories. Even when it seems there's something uncanny going on, it usually turns out to be a plot or a hoax, much like Inner Sanctum Mysteries. But this Halloween episode from Nov. 1, 1945 is different. It's an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror."

All the Lovecraft elements are here--Miskatonic University, ancient copies of the Necronomicon, evil monsters from beyond (in this case, Yog Sothoth).

So enjoy Ronald Colman in the 1945 Suspense production of Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More Halloween Radio

It's always dangerous to generalize based on the very best examples of a genre. For instance, many so-called anime "fans" judge Japanese animation as far superior in general to American animation, when they've only seen the very best Japanese shows make it to these shores. The vast majority of anything is crap. Anime fans don't see the crap, though, because it doesn't survive long enough to make it over here.

We see the same thing in nostalgia for the higher literary standards of earlier ages, or the supposed "golden age" of television and radio. We generally only see the good stuff, the enduring stuff that floated to the surface of the sea of crap and was preserved for posterity. But for every Lights Out or Inner Sanctum Mysteries, there were a ton of shows like Dark Fantasy.

Dark Fantasy was a series of stories of the supernatural, carried on the NBC radio network in 1941 and 1942. The stories were written by a guy named Scott Bishop, and although they were carried nationwide, they originated from WKY in Oklahoma City (my hometown). Trivia: WKY radio shared call letters with an OKC TV station, where Mary Hart, co-host of Entertainment Tonight, got her start as co-host of Danny's Day, a local talk show.

So here's "The Thing from the Sea,"an episode of Dark Fantasy from 1941. From the opening announcer, who sounds as if he can barely stay awake, to the final strains of melodramatic organ music, it's crap. But the remarkable thing is that this crazy adventure on the high seas, featuring ancient sorcery and exploding islands, was produced in a small city in the middle of flyover country for national broadcast. No immense special effects budgets needed. Radio was democratic that way.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Famous Last Words in Science (Fiction)

"E will be controlled."

You have to read all the way down to the money quote, but it's worth it.

Halloween State of Mind

I'm starting to get into that Halloween state of mind. I'm not decorating for it; I'm down to fifteen dollars for the rest of the month. I should make it through okay--I have a full pantry and a mostly full gas tank--but I have no money for luxuries right now.

Luckily I'm on vacation for the next couple of days, so I can sit around the house and listen to spooky radio stories on Internet Archive. I'll post a few here so you can listen yourself, and I may even visit the Secret Lab by the end of the week. We'll see.

In Danse Macabre, Stephen King talks about Lights Out being one of the scariest shows on radio. Arch Oboler wrote them, and he achieves some really creepy effects. I haven't found one that really clicks on all cylinders, though. Some are over-earnest, like "The Visitor from Hades." Some are pretentious, full of stream-of-consciousness rantings, like "Kill" (imitating Oboler's adaptation of "Johnny Got His Gun" from 1940). Some are both, like "The Ugliest Man in the World."

But other episodes seem to take sadistic glee in the way they torture both the characters and the listener, like the extended death scenes in "Murder Castle" and "The Fast One." And then there this...

Then there are the silly ones, like "The Chicken Heart" or "The Author and the Thing," in which Arch Oboler encounters a horrible gibbering creature formed from his own evil imagination. For pure hilarity, though, this one made me laugh louder than any (although I don't think the hilarity was entirely intentional)

You can hear all the others I've named at Internet Archive. More to come soon.

Friday, October 24, 2008

No More Wheel

So I've talked before about the "Wheel of Heroes" (if you don't feel like following the link, suffice it to say that in the first season, the Wheel of Heroes, like the Wheel of Time, turned exceedingly slowly). but I don't think I can use that descriptor anymore.

Because this season, they've gone to the opposite extreme, introducing potential story arcs, then resolving them almost before you know what's happened. First, Sylar's on the loose, while Now-Peter's hunting Future-Peter. Then Now-Peter's gone, trapped in level 5, and Sylar is captured. Then the Level 5 villains break loose, and we're led to think that the season will consist of hunting them down. But then Sylar wipes the floor with them next episode, and Now-Peter is freed. Then Now-Peter absorbs Sylar's power just as the real Sylar is learning to control his, and it looks like Peter is now going to become this season's Big Bad. But then Peter loses his powers, etc. etc. I'm getting whiplash from all the reversals.

I really need to work on stories again, but every time I sit down to do it, I just get a huge buzz of white noise in my brain. I know where I want the plot to go, but there are too many things I need to set up to get it going, and I can't sort out the scenes.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Life etc.

I'm very cash-poor through the end of the month, so I've been spending a lot of time at home, watching shows on Hulu and listening to old radio on Internet Archive.

On Hulu, I've been watching Life, a fascinating cop drama. The set-up: cop falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit is exonerated by DNA evidence after 12 years. He gets a 50 million dollar settlement from the LAPD and a job with the force as a detective. But he is not the same man he was. His years in prison left him damaged, and he coped by studying Zen philosophy. Now he solves crimes as a police detective while also investigating the mystery of who framed him.

It's a fascinating show, and Damian Lewis is excellent as Charlie Crews, the main character. Crews is constantly walking a fine line between brilliance and dementia, and he is very aware of his surroundings at all times, seeing things that others miss. He is fully in the moment, as it were.

A new show that just debuted is My Own Worst Enemy, starring Christian Slater as a normal suburban husband and father who discovers that he has a secret life as a government spy. The agency wipes out his memories after every mission, so while he is at home, he has no knowledge of his other life, no secrets to spill. Everything is perfect until the conditioning breaks down at the wrong time, and he suddenly becomes his civilian self in the middle of an assassination attempt.

The pilot was really entertaining, but the central gimmick could get really tired very quickly. So I'm intrigued to see where the show takes the premise.

The pre-season hype for Heroes basically said, "Heroes become villains and vilains become heroes." After five episodes, it's obvious that they're taking that literally. Sylar is on the road to rehabilitation, while Peter has become this season's central villain. The world is on the path to destruction thanks to Hiro's screw-ups, while the cute speedster thief he calls "Nemesis" has been shown in prophetic dream to become a hero working to save the world. Claire is trying to become a hard-ass hero while noble HRG is going even further over the deep end in "trying to protect this family" (and I will be very happy if I never have to hear him deliver that particular line again). Nathan has once again become a tool of the bad guys, and Suresh has turned into a bug-fuck crazy monster.

I don't think I like it.

But Chuck is cool.

On the old radio front, I've been listening to X Minus One, adaptaions of classic science-fiction stories from Galaxy Magazine in the 50's. And it just reminds me how trite some of those old stories could be. But it's fun listening anyway.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I've been incommunibloggo for over a week now, I know. Part of it is that I've been busy on two secret projects. The other part is that every time I've had an idea for a blog post, it's been a political one, and it never works out well when I get on the political soapbox. I know of other authors' blogs I've enjoyed very much in times past, and I don't read them now, because they are so completely opposite of me politically, and I never know when they'll slip in a political post that'll just piss me off.

So I'm trying very hard to stay off the soapbox this election. I may not succeed; some things, I think, need to be said, and I'm not seeing them being said anywhere else. But I'm resisting the urge for now.

Speaking of soapboxes, I went to a soapbox derby in Sand Springs yesterday. There used to be a big annual raft race here, but it was discontinued almost twenty years ago. So as an alternative event, they decided to hold a soapbox derby and put out the call for entries earlier this year. Seeing as how this was the first year, they expected maybe 15-16 entries.

They got over 100.

Talk about a community desperate for some fun amidst a storm of bad news.

If you don't know what a soapbox derby is, it's basically a go-kart race without motors. Teams build a non-powered cart and roll it down a hill; the fastest one wins. Most of the teams weren't built for speed, though. The carts came in all shapes and sizes, and most of them were advertising some kind of sponsor. The Carrier cart was an air conditioner housing on wheels. The Blue & Gold Sausage cart was a gigantic pig's head that barely fit through the gates at the finish line. The PSO cart was a big electric transformer.

Some were rickety home-built contraptions. Others were obviously built by engineers. Zebco, the fishing reel company, entered a street luge that said it had been built by the Zebco Skunkworks.

We didn't stay for the entire day, but the time we spent was a lot of fun. Entertaining racers, a lot of creativity, and perfect weather in an old-fashioned small town community. It's not how I want to spend every Saturday, but it was fun for this one.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Black God's Kiss

I finally got around to finishing another book from the WorldCon stack. It was slow going, this one.

Black God's Kiss collects the Jirel of Joiry short stories written by C.L. Moore for Weird Tales in the 30's. Jirel was the first sword-and-sorcery heroine, so her stories have a special place in the hearts of fans of the genre.

That said, I had a hard time getting through the book. It isn't badly written, at least not according to the standards of the pulps Moore was writing for. The style is a little overblown at times, but there is a lot of imagination at work here, with moments that come alive quite vividly. And Jirel is an interesting character, as interesting as a character can be in stories that very deliberately avoid character exploration.

No, the thing that held me back was that Jirel is a swordswoman who rarely uses her sword, a fighter who rarely fights. Not that she's some Zen master just wishing for a little peace and quiet or anything. No, she's fiercely eager to run through whomever she can.

The problem is that every story pits her against magical powers she can't fight with a sword, in an alien landscape she can barely comprehend (and often can't even see-she wanders through darkness a lot of the time). The stories read more like Lovecraft's Dream tales than Howard's Conan stories. Jirel wanders through places she doesn't know with properties she doesn't understand and encounters creatures she's never seen before. It gets kind of tiring after a couple hundred pages. I picked up the book expecting action and never really got it.

That being said, I like the look of Paizo Publishing's Planet Stories line, and the concept of republishing stories from the heyday of the pulps. I'll probably end up picking some of their other titles.