Cynical Fiction in

In Association with

Science Fiction

Did you ever read that very short short story on how they're about to hook up all computers all over the world?
They throw the switch and ask the first question: Is There a God? And a flash of lightning melts the switch stuck
in the ON position, followed by a thunderclap stating Now There Is.
These days we do have W[orld] W[ar] W but I can still go Offline.

Jules Verne

Mostly, he gets classified as science fiction, but his novels were published as Wonderreizen, Wondrous Travels; at least, in Holland; the original French editions were called Voyages Extraordinaires. But what's in a label? Anyway, the man wrote over a century ago and it's not fair to blame him for scientific distortions of the time. It may always strike you as funny in old science fiction how they naturally fail to predict some developments, but that's not fair. For example, the Nautilus, running on electricity, has been bolted together—not welded or riveted. It happens all over: in Michael Crichton's The Terminal Man he describes a room filled with the hiss of an ink jet printer. And how could he have known, way back in the early 1960s, how an ink-jet really sounds?
To me, all Verne's work is good old adventure; and fine, indeed.
Now this guy has been filmed scores of times, with very good results too. Some titles of books and the movies made from them:

Around the World in Eighty Days
Around the World in Eighty Days
Mike Todd & Michael Anderson;
David Niven, Cantinflas
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Richard Fleischer; James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre
Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Henry Levin; James Mason, Pat Boone
Five Weeks in a Balloon
Five Weeks in a Balloon
Irwin Allen; Red Buttons, Peter Lorre, Fabian, Cedric Hardwicke
Star of the SouthStar of the South~1960
Orson Welles; never saw it.

Jules Verne photograph

No matter how much I like Richard Fleischer's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,
just compare the Walt Disney Nautilus with the original—
the old one is modern and slick, the new one an antique.

Verne NautilusDisney Nautilus

H.G. Wells
H.G. Wells
You might, again, call much of his stuff adventure just as well. This guy really speculated scientifically, for example with evolution. A great popular science writer as well, just like Isaac Asimov. As an example, I'm not giving away what happens in The first Men in the Moon when the egghead gets his first sheet of anti-gravity material finished, but it's very satisfactory. Wells really thought it through. Great reading. Or try the classic The War of the Worlds, once cause of one of the textbook cases of mass hysteria. Or check out one of his novels, like Kipps or Ann Veronica
He, too has been filmed scores of times. The one I liked best is George Pal's The Time Machine, even though it warped the character of the Morlocks. Watch for the maker's label on the machine, but you really can't miss it.
I realize that Wells was an anti-semite and a racist to boot, but almost everybody was in those days. I mean, I also listen to Wagner.

The Island of Dr. Moreau
The Island of Dr. Moreau1977
Burt Lancaster
The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds
The Time Machine
The Time Machine
George Pal
The First Men in the Moon
The First Men in the Moon

Isaac Asimov
The guy really is great; a fine skeptic and a great popular science explainer. Only, I don't like his novels very much. I sometimes wonder what Asimov himself thought about the Gaia cult, inspired by a trilogy of his. Probably hated it, or was he human enough to be flattered?
His one book I keep turning to, so much that by now it is tattered and falling to pieces (Oh, my fluttering leaves...) is the
Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology USA

Larry Niven
His short stories, I liked best. Now here's a guy that comes out with real puzzles, often with a punch-line solution. (Too bad that his computer game Ringworld was unplayable when you couldn't solve any single one of the clues - you just sat there, stuck, which gets discouraging after a while.) He will change subject choice almost as soon as Ernest K. Gann. His problem is, to me—and mine's the loss, that his heroes are often quite embarrassingly so, and even when he adds a shot of irony that doesn't really help. And then his females! They're exactly what those guys deserve to get. Giggling all the time, terrible habit.
But he does come up with grandiose concepts, very well thought through. This is the guy who wrote a disaster end-of-the-world novel where civilization is saved with the start-up of a nuclear power plant: Lucifer's Hammer. Right on, Larry! I buy everything he wrote I can lay my hands on, so there it is.
After just re-reading Lucifer's Hammer USA (by Niven and Jerry Pournelle), it is very ironic in what-we-all-know-now hindshight how he remarks not once, but several times on the fact that NASA is over-cautious - now that's a belly shaker! He also has a weird left-right problem with mountains to the west of L.A.; and a guy who's wounded so he has to work the clutch pedal with his left foot. I must be a hyperchondriac - I always do that and am not even slightly wounded (except for ingrowing toe nails and the occasional heart break, yeah.)

Arthur C. Clarke
Like Asimov, another great member of the Skeptical Club. I read it all when I find it, even though there's only one book of his where he really touched my heartstrings, The Fountains of Paradise USA
Re 2001, his best known book, I have to tell you that I was amazed to discover that there actually was a story line in it, complete with plot and everything. Of course I'd seen 2001, the movie, long before—and several times, too. To me, the movie needs a plot just as much as a Hayden symphony does; I was much too busy enjoying it to be bothered with that sort of crap.
This movie fascinates me; so much that I am trying to build a VR model of the Space Station under construction as it appears in the movie. Should be fun to move around (and around in). When it's ready, I will upload it to my 3D site where you'll also find Vertigo and Dracula:

The Global Village Fool

Michael Crichton
There are worse howlers than the hissing ink-jet printers in The Terminal Man and other of his books. Much worse. In the same on he describes a Douglas DC10 with two engines under each wing, sitting in an United Airlines hangar. Worse, he rather emphatically dates this as Friday, 12th March 1971 while the DC10 was not certificated before July 29 that year. He obviously changed a DC8 into a DC10, which has one engine under each wing and one in the tail fin, at the last moment to be up-to-date, without checking.
Always check, Mike! Let this be a lesson to you. No wonder Steven Spielberg likes him so much. But I admit studying aircraft is rather a hobby of mine.
There's a sort of autobiography of his that's so superstitious, it drove me near crazy. Auras, ESP, it's all grist to his mill. One reviewer described how he burst out laughing upon reading how Crichton kneels down and apologizes for having hurt its feelings - to a cactus.
But he did give me great pleasure with his book The Great Train Robbery.

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