Weekend links 498

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The Sentinel 280, a car design by Syd Mead from 1964.

• “Boris Dolgov did not exist. The man who bore that name may have existed, but there never was a man in the United States with that name until 1956, too late for Weird Tales.” Teller of Weird Tales on the mysterious identity of a magazine artist.

• Saying goodbye to 2019 also meant saying farewell to Vaughan Oliver, Neil Innes and Syd Mead. Related: Vaughan Oliver at Discogs; I’m The Urban Spaceman; a look back at Syd Mead’s vehicle designs.

Lanre Bakare on how ambient music became cool. (Again. This begs the question of when it became uncool, especially when a ten-year-old Brian Eno piece about “the death of uncool” is being quoted.)

Westerners interpreted the peyote experience very differently from the practitioners of the peyote religion, where the focus was “ritual, song and prayer, and to dissect one’s private sensations was to miss the point”. Writers such as Havelock Ellis, who published an essay on his peyote experiences in the Lancet in 1897 (it’s likely that he also administered the substance to his friends W.B. Yeats and Arthur Symons), instead tended to focus on its visual effects. Ellis described “the brilliance, delicacy and variety of the colours” and “their lovely and various textures”. Peyote reached Europe in tandem with the X-ray, cinema and electric lights, Jay notes, and “nothing delighted the eye of the mescal eater so much as the new electrical sublime”.

Emily Witt reviewing Mescaline: A Global History of the First Psychedelic by Mike Jay

Peter Bradshaw takes on the thankless task of ranking Federico Fellini’s feature films.

Geoff Manaugh on when Russia and America coöperated to avert a Y2K apocalypse.

• “Music is an ideal medium for interstellar communication,” says Daniel Oberhaus.

Keith Allison on Karel Zeman, a creator of remarkable cinematic fantasies.

•  Japanese Designer New Year’s Cards of 2020.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Vera Chytilová Day.

2020 in public domain.

Sentinel (1992) by Mike Oldfield | Sentinels (2001) by Cyclobe | Sentinel (2004) by Transglobal Underground

Weekend links 493

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Art by Rand Holmes for Gay Comix No. 1, September 1980.

• In the universe next door, Los Angeles in November, 2019 looks like the drawings in the Blade Runner Sketchbook (1982). The book has been out of print for many years but available online for a while, although seldom in a downloadable form. A recent upload at the Internet Archive remedies this. In addition to the familiar Syd Mead designs for flying cars and street furniture there are some Moebius-like doodles by Ridley Scott, and Mead’s design for Tyrell’s cryogenic crypt, a detail that would have formed part of an unfilmed sub-plot.

• RIP Howard Cruse, comic artist and pioneering editor of the first few issues of Gay Comix in the 1980s. Cruse produced work outside the gay sphere (I first encountered his strips in Heavy Metal) but the stories that he and other artists created for Gay Comix (later Gay Comics) were some of the first by lesbians and gay men chronicling their own lives, as opposed to porn fantasies or the more recent trend of bolting a token sexuality to a superhero. John Seven talked to Cruse about his career in 2007.

• “On the eve of the First World War Stefan George had started recruiting his own twink army…” Well, if you really must have an army… Strange Flowers presents part one of a guide to the city of Vienna.

In Wild Air, 2016–2018: all 72 of Heath Killen’s requests for a list of six interesting things from artists, writers, scientists, ecologists, musicians, historians and others. My answers are at number 55.

• “Satan is a friend of mine”: Sander Bink on a forgotten occult novel, Goetia (1893) by Frits Lapidoth.

• Picturing a voice: Rob Mullender-Ross on Margaret Watts-Hughes and the Eidophone.

• “They broke the rules”: Killian Fox on the film posters of the French New Wave.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jan Svankmajer Day.

Ogi No Mato (1976) by Ensemble Nipponia | Rêve (1979) by Vangelis | Blade Runner Esper “Retirement” Edition, Part III (1982)

Daughters of Forgotten Light by Sean Grigsby

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I’ve spent most of the year so far working on more black-and-white illustrations for Editorial Alma—47 full-page pieces to date—so this cover design made a welcome break, especially since all the black-and-white art has a late-Victorian setting. More about that later. Sean Grigsby’s second novel for Angry Robot Books is previewed at the Barnes & Noble SF blog as follows:

A floating prison is home to Earth’s unwanted people, where they are forgotten…but not yet dead, in this wild science fiction adventure.

Deep space penal colony Oubliette, population: scum. Lena “Horror” Horowitz leads the Daughters of Forgotten Light, one of three vicious gangs fighting for survival on Oubliette. Their fragile truce is shaken when a new shipment arrives from Earth carrying a fresh batch of prisoners and supplies to squabble over. But the delivery includes two new surprises: a drone, and a baby. Earth Senator Linda Dolfuse wants evidence of the bloodthirsty gangs to justify the government finally eradicating the wasters dumped on Oubliette. There’s only one problem: the baby in the drone’s video may be hers.

The gangs are biker gangs, riding machines with wheels of light, so the brief was for a design as much reminiscent of a rock poster as a science-fiction cover. I don’t stray very often into the SF world so this again made a refreshing break from the 19th century and its heavy furnishings. There’s a touch of Syd Mead in the background, a reference suggested by the Tron-style bikes, but he’s long been a favourite visual futurist of mine even before Blade Runner (as I noted recently). The side panels and parts of the halo are adapted from Art Deco designs, the panels being based on embellishments for a New York skyscraper. It doesn’t take much to push the aerodynamic qualities of Deco style into the Space Age (the Soviet Monument to the Conquerors of Space could have been designed in 1930), a suggestion that William Gibson explored from a different angle in The Gernsback Continuum.

The Barnes & Noble post linked above also has an extract from the beginning of the novel. The book itself will be out on 4th September, 2018.

The artists of Future Life

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My earlier post about Future Life magazine mentioned the regular Portfolio series which featured interviews with illustrators and space artists, the latter group being the people who providing conceptual paintings for astronomy books and government entities such as NASA. Since the magazine files at the Internet Archive aren’t searchable I thought it worth making note of the interviews here, for my own benefit as much as anything else. (This blog has often served as a useful notebook.)

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Issue 1: Chesley Bonestell.

Many of the artists featured in Future Life were receiving their first (in some cases, only) high-profile feature at a time when little attention was given to the producers of this kind of work even in popular science-fiction magazines. The story magazines have always run interviews with writers but prior to Future Life, Science Fiction Monthly was the only magazine that I’d seen with a regular illustration feature, and that title didn’t last very long. Future Life covered some of the same people, Chris Foss, for example, while seeking out the prominent figures of the US illustration world. Not all the art is to my taste at all but the interviews are of interest even if you don’t like the pictures. One surprise was finding an interview in one of the issues that I’d missed with Ludek Pesek, a Czech artist whose views of the Solar System and depictions of the evolution of life on Earth I knew from the Puffin books he worked on with Peter Ryan. Those books were aimed at a young readership and were great favourites of mine before I’d seen anything by Foss and co. Another of the space artists interviewed is David Hardy, a British contemporary of Pesek’s whose view of an alien planet will be familiar to Hawkwind enthusiasts on the back cover of Hall Of The Mountain Grill. Another notable feature of the series is the lack of women artists, although this isn’t so surprising given that women creating pictures of space hardware are few even today. All the same, they might have featured Rowena Morrill, a popular cover artist for SF and fantasy novels at the time, and someone whose work I prefer to many of the people they did profile.

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Issue 3: Boris Vallejo.

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Issue 4: Robert McCall.

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Issue 5: Shusei Nagaoka.

A Japanese artist best known in the West for his album-cover art for ELO, Earth, Wind and Fire, and many others.

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Issue 6: Ron Miller.

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Issue 7: The Brothers Hildebrandt.

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Issue 8: David Hardy.

Continue reading “The artists of Future Life”

Future Life magazine

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One thing I never expected about the future was that so many of my youthful enthusiasms would keep rising from the past, but here’s another, stumbling into the room reeking of cemetery earth and old newsprint. Future Life was a spinoff from Starlog magazine, and where the parent title concerned itself with science fiction and fantasy in film and television, the focus of Future Life was technology, popular science, scientific speculation, and written science fiction (all from an American perspective, of course); film and TV productions were there to attract general readers but never dominated the proceedings. Future Life ran for 31 issues from 1978 to 1981, and in many ways the magazine was a kind of OMNI-lite: not as lavish as its rival but not as expensive either. For a while this was a magazine I always looked out for (together with Heavy Metal, with whom it shared a music writer, Lou Stathis) but I missed the first nine issues, and many of the later ones before it vanished altogether, so it’s gratifying to find the complete run available as a job lot at the Internet Archive.

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It’s become commonplace today to regard Generation X as the first generation with no optimistic future to look forward to, but Future Life shows how much optimism there was at the beginning of the 1980s. The mood darkened just as the magazine expired, with genuine fears of a nuclear war persisting through much of the decade, and the Challenger disaster reminding everyone that leaving the planet was still a hazardous business. Future Life wasn’t blind to the problems posed by technology—there were features about the dangers posed by nuclear power and climate change—but it remained upbeat about the potentials, especially where space colonies were concerned. Most issues carried an art feature although these were generally about realistic space artists or spaceship painters, with none of the eye-popping weirdness favoured by OMNI. But this magazine was my first introduction to the work of Syd Mead, a few years before Blade Runner made him deservedly famous. On the writing side, many of the articles were by popular science fiction writers—Roger Zelazny on computer crime, Norman Spinrad on a pet theme, the future of drug-taking—which you can now read with the full benefit of hindsight. In later issues there was Harlan Ellison filing a succession of lengthy and inimitable film essays; several pieces by Robert Anton Wilson; and some good music articles with features on Larry Fast (issue 12) and Robert Fripp (issue 14), while Lou Stathis profiled and interviewed Bernie Krause (issue 18), The Residents (issue 19), Patrick Gleeson (issue 22), Jon Hassell (issue 24), Captain Beefheart (issue 25), and everyone’s favourite robots, Kraftwerk (issue 31).

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The Internet Archive currently has all the files stuck on a single page so most people will either have to download everything at once (I’d advise using the torrent file) or sample issues at random. Fortunately there’s a very thorough breakdown of the entire run of magazines here for those who prefer to pick through the detail. In the universe next door we’re reading these back issues while floating above the earth in our L5 space colonies.

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Science Fiction Monthly