Category Archives: Science fiction and fantasy

Reading John Frankenheimer’s Seconds

Early in this excellent monograph on John Frankenheimer’s criminally underseen 1966 film, Seconds, by Jez Conolly and Emma Westwood, the authors ask the reader at what point they first viewed the movie and what they made of it. For me it was a random VHS store pickup on a slow Saturday night sometime in the late 1990s. I can remember being as confused as I was impressed by the sheer bizarreness of Seconds. I was particularly perplexed by the presence of Rock Hudson. What was this major American actor, best known for the series of romantic comedies he did with Doris Day, doing in a downbeat, existentially bleak fusion of science fiction, thriller and noir?Watching the film more recently, with the benefit of considerably more knowledge of film history and Hudson’s career, I was blown away by the brilliance of Seconds.  

Conolly and Westwood begin with the proposition that the film very much deserves a second life, a notion that is also central to its plot. Seconds concerns a bored, ennui riven middle class wage slave, who through an almost Faustian pact with a mysterious entity known only as the Company, is given a new body and face, and second chance at life. Escaping from everyday domestic responsibilities, particularly the possibilities for self-discovery and erotic adventure that this promised, would become a key topic of American film and literature from the mid-part of the 1960s onwards.… Read more

Book Review: Jane Gaskell’s A Sweet, Sweet Summer

One of the authors I really wanted to include among those examined in the third book I have co-edited with my friend, Iain McIntyre, Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1985, was British writer, Jane Gaskell. In particular her novel, A Sweet, Sweet Summer, first published in hardback by Hodder and Stoughton in 1969. To be honest, as is so often the case, what first attracted me to finding out more about this title was the cover of the 1971 Sphere edition, with its uniquely early 1970s dystopian take on the female juvenile delinquent. It’s a wonderful piece of photographic paperback art, of the sort that the British did so well at the time, no doubt cheaply done (in all likelihood the model was one of the typists in the Sphere office), but very effective.

Plans to include Gaskell in Dangerous Visions and New Worlds were scuppered by the fact that I simply could not find a copy of A Sweet, Sweet Summer anywhere at a price that I could even remotely afford. The book is incredibly rare and has not been republished. Indeed, as I discovered when I posted an image of the cover above on Twitter – long after Dangerous Visions and New Worlds had been put to bed – I just was one of many bibliophiles who had been on the lookout for an affordable second-hand copy of this Gaskill book.… Read more

Ghostly Messages: Australia’s Lost Horror Anthology, ‘The Evil Touch’

In a June 2017 article in Fortean Times, the British magazine concerned with strange and paranormal phenomena, writer and broadcaster Bob Fischer discussed how the sensation of not being exactly sure what you were watching on television, or not being able to recall the details with any precision, was a common experience in relation to consuming visual culture in the 1960s and 1970s, before the advent of streaming, DVD, and VHS. This sense of “lostness”—of incomplete and unverifiable experience—is also what makes these memories such powerful nostalgia prompts.

The television viewing experience that most encapsulates this sense of lostness for me is a little-known, American-backed, Australian-made horror anthology series, The Evil Touch, that debuted on Sydney screens in June 1973 and in Melbourne a month later. Largely forgotten now, American critic John Kenneth Muir referred to the show in his 2001 book, Terror Television: American Series 1970-1999, as the “horror anthology that slipped through the cracks of time.” The Evil Touch has never had an official DVD release, although poor quality versions of some episodes can be found online, or as bootleg editions originally copied from television on VHS. It is not even known who now owns the rights. But the program was significant in many ways.

You can read the rest of the piece in full here at the We Are the Mutants site.Read more

Cover reveal: Dangerous Visions and New Worlds – Radical Science Fiction 1950 to 1985

Here’s the cover for the upcoming book I have co-edited with my friend, Iain McIntyre for PM Press, Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction 1950-1985. It follows on from Sticking it to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular fiction l950 to 1980, and Girl Gangs, Biker Boys and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fictions and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980. Dangerous Visions and New Worlds contains some terrific writing and a heap of great SF cover art. Some of the authors covered in the book you will know. Others, I hope, won’t be so familiar. The book will around mid-2021, by which time my main concern is that the fiction featured in it will not appear nearly as dystopian the real world around us. More information as I get it. … Read more

Lockdown recollections of the outside world and the wonder of Space Age Books

The shopfront of Space Age Books, 317 Swanston Street, Melbourne, in the early 1980s

I was saddened over the Eastern weekend to hear of the death of Mervyn ‘Merv’ Binns on April 7, at the age of 85. Binns was a major participant in Melbourne science fiction fandom going back to its earliest days in the 1950s, and established Space Age Books, Australia’s first specialist science fiction bookshop, and a frequent bolt hole for myself and no doubt so many other teenagers, desperate to escape the boredom of long suburban weekends in the 1970s and 1980s.

I only met Binns once, but his passing feels particular poignant given the circumstances we currently find ourselves in, unable to leave our houses and take part in Melbourne’s physical public culture, a field in which Binns once played a small but important role, to go to the pub with friends, browse in a bookshop or go to the cinema or film club screening.

But more than this, memories of Space Age Books briefly made concrete my fears about one of the unintended consequences of the (very necessary) restrictions evoked to combat the Covid-19 virus – its potential impact on the few remaining cultural holdouts that make living in Melbourne feel special compared to a lot of other places: bookshops, including the second-hand and antiquarian bookshops, independent cinemas and cinema clubs, record stores, and other speciality businesses that deal in material cultural items and experiences and, just as importantly, provide a space to engage in face to face discussion about them.… Read more