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Science Fiction Classics: The Stories that Morphed Into Movies
edited by Forrest J. Ackerman
TV Books, 448 pages

Science Fiction Classics: The Stories that Morphed Into Movies
Forrest J. Ackerman
Forrest J. Ackerman saw his first fantastic film in 1922. Ten years later he published the first known list of what he eventually termed "imagi-movies." One of the earliest surviving science fiction fans, he has served as literary agent to several SF authors and has one of the largest collections of SF and fantasy memorabilia and literature in the world. Editor of over two hundred issues of imagi-movie magazines, including the Famous Monsters of Filmland, Monster World, Spacemen and Women and Forrest J. Ackerman's Filmonsterzine, he has won six Hugos and two Golden Saturns from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. He has been responsible for a score of books, including Reel Future, Sci-fi Monsters, This Island Earth, and Ackermanthology. He has also edited reissues of early SF classics like Garrett P. Serviss' Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898) [as Invasion of Mars (1969)].

Forrest J. Ackerman Website
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A review by Georges T. Dodds

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Science Fiction Classics: The Stories that Morphed Into Movies offers up 13 stories, one full novel and one novel excerpt later shot as movies or portions of movies. Authors include names like Bradbury, Campbell, Kuttner, Siodmak and Weinbaum, so it's hard to go entirely wrong. Since the stories appeared between 1918 and 1963, and half the movies were released in the 50s, you cannot expect the latest in cyberpunk or virtual reality. OK, so the science in some of the stories is ludicrous today, and some of the movies would be prime fare for Mystery Science Theater 3000, but much of this material was written in an age when science fiction had a sense of optimism and wonder that enthralled teenagers and adults alike, when science could solve anything, aliens bent on world domination were thinly veiled communists/fascists, and swashbuckling heroes from Buck Rogers to Captain Video fought for liberty and the American way. Nonetheless, the best literature of this era was able to transcend many of these clichés and limitations and remains entertaining today. A number of stories in Science Fiction Classics deal with variously modified/improved human beings.

In Stanley G. Weinbaum's "The Adaptive Ultimate" a dying young woman is treated with an unproven "serum," which, besides curing her, allows her to instantly adapt metabolically to any threat or injury, leading her "creators" to scramble to find a way to stop her before she takes over the world. The science is as hokey as can be, very much in the college whiz-kid genre of the early pulps, but it was stories of alien ecologies/encounters like "A Martian Odyssey," voted second best science fiction short story of all time by the SFWA, that made Weinbaum's reputation.

Interestingly, Waldemar Kaempffert's "The Diminishing Draught" written almost 25 years earlier does a far better job of capturing the routine of the science lab. Kaempffert's scientist uses a shrinking drug to hide his adulterous relationship with his lab assistant from his wife. The story nicely combines science, suspense and revenge while sounding far more plausible, relatively speaking, than Weinbaum's offering.

In "The 4-sided Triangle" by Harry Bates, Will, Bill and Joan run a lab that has developed a matter duplicator. Will loves Joan, Joan loves Will, Bill loves Joan. Fortunately for Bill, he can produce Joan II, but naturally complications arise. While the science is ridiculous, the situation which could easily have turned to slapstick is nicely and soberly presented.

"Dr. Cyclops" by Henry Kuttner tells, in typical pulp fashion, of a mad scientist who shrinks and hunts down his victims in a remote jungle setting. A good, fast-paced piece of pulp suspense, it can be read in its entirety in a 1976 Centaur Press edition.

What would SF movies be without alien invaders? In Science Fiction Classics we get a range from initial encounters, alien ploys to subvert humanity, to lone humans battling aliens already in full control of human minds.

Harry Bates' "Farewell to the Master" is a lovely, poignant tale where random human violence has killed the spokesperson of alien visitors, but human and alien come to understand one another in spite of their differences. The film version, The Day the Earth Stood Still, remains one of the best SF films of the 50s, and by Ackerman's reckoning, of all time.

John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There?" the source of two versions of The Thing, has spawned a whole genre of science fiction film, including the Alien series. Even some 20 years after my first reading, it remains far more creepy and paranoia-driven than any of the movies it spawned -- imagination over visuals.

In "The Cosmic Frame" a young couple run over an alien on a remote rural road and discover a friend's battered body nearby. When parents and friends arrive, thoughts of exploiting their find are soon quashed and the tables turned when they discover that the aliens aren't nearly as dumb as they look.

"Deadly City" by Ivar Jorgensen portrays a handful of people remaining in a city evacuated before an expected alien attack. While the gangster and his moll are a bit dated and the aliens dying off in a War of the Worlds manner a bit clichéd, the characters are diverse and well portrayed, and the story has a good tight, suspenseful plot.

In Raymond F. Jones' "The Alien Machine" an incredibly complex electronic jigsaw puzzle serves as an alien recruiting test for the brightest human engineers. While the duplication of vacuum tube-like devices to complete the alien device rings a bit dated, the story does portray the single-mindedness of the engineer before a thorny problem quite well.

In Lewis Padgett's classic tale "The Twonky" a new radio (TV set in the movie) is a complex robot designed to reduce humans to initiative-free drones or vaporize them. The element of the evil influence of television was portrayed in a particularly paranoid manner in the film version.

In Ray Faraday Nelson's "Eight O'Clock in the Morning" the transformation to drones is complete, but one human breaks free and seeks to liberate humanity from alien domination.

The remaining stories fall into a number of categories, from fairly straight pulp horror, to one of treachery on the high seas.

Amelia Reynolds Long's "The Thought-Monster" is a wretchedly written pulp story from the early days of Weird Tales, a story that if not for its movie tie-in would have remained safely buried in moldering pulps.

Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt" is a nasty little story of a death orchestrated within a "holodeck" type of device which duplicates the African veldt and its lions.

Ib Melchior's "The Racer" was the basis for the moronic if entertaining 1975 sex-ploitation gore-fest, Death Race 2000 starring David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone. Unlike the movie, the story portrays the psychological progression of a death-race driver whose conscience quickly bars him from mowing down his innocent victims.

Finally, Kurt Siodmak's novel FP1 Does Not Reply is a tale of conflicting financial interests at odds over the installation of a floating refueling platform for transatlantic flights (sort of the Gander, Labrador of the open sea). The novel's pacing and overstatement of characters' emotions and reactions reads very much like the author was brought up watching 20s German silent films (which he likely was). Similarly many of the issues, like mega-corporations run by tycoons, are reminiscent of those delved into by films such as Metropolis. Nonetheless, the movie version remains far above the majority of the SF fare of the era.

If you are a fan of science fiction movies then you should certainly pick up Science Fiction Classics. However, if you don't appreciate old time science fiction with all it's quirks, you'll find the stories very dated and the science humorous at best. But before you toss Science Fiction Classics in the dustbin of history, remember to ponder what people will think of the current novels of cyperpunks, virtual reality and genetic-biological engineering (or films such as The Matrix) in another 50 years from now.

Contents, alphabetically by author:
  author; original story title (date); movie(s) based on or inspired by story (date)

Harry Bates; "Farewell to the Master" (1940); The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Ray Bradbury; "The Veldt" from The Illustrated Man (1951); segment "The Children's Room" in The Illustrated Man (1968)
John W. Campbell, Jr. (as Don A. Stuart); "Who Goes There?" (1938); The Thing (1951, 1982)
Paul W. Fairman; "The Cosmic Frame" (1955); Invasion of the Saucermen (1957)
Paul W. Fairman (as Ivar Jorgenson); "Deadly City" (1953); Target Earth (1954)
Waldemar Kaempffert; "The Diminishing Draft" (1918); Un Amour de Poche (1957)(a.k.a. Nude in His Pocket).
Raymond F. Jones; "The Alien Machine" (1949); This Island Earth (1955)
Amelia Reynolds Long; "The Thought-Monster" (1930); Fiend Without a Face (1957)
Ib Melchior; "The Racer" (1956); Death Race 2000 (1975)
Ray Faraday Nelson; "Eight O'Clock in the Morning" (1963); They Live (1988)
Henry Kuttner (also as by Will Garth); "Dr. Cyclops" (1940); Dr. Cyclops (1940)
Henry Kuttner (with C.L. Moore as Lewis Padgett); "The Twonky" (1942); The Twonky (1953)
Kurt Siodmak; F.P. 1 Does Not Reply (a.k.a. F.P. 1 Antwortet Nicht) (1932); F.P. 1 Antwortet Nicht & English version FP 1 Does Not Reply (1932)
William F. Temple; "The 4-Sided Triangle" (1949); The 4-Sided Triangle (1953)
Stanley G. Weinbaum (as John Jessel); "The Adaptive Ultimate" (1935); She-Devil (1957)

Copyright © 2000 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.


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