A Tall, Skinny Man in a Monster Suit


Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is arguably one of the best pictures of the year. It has been nominated for a slew of awards including several for the film’s actors. Noticeably absent from many of these nominations is actor Doug Jones who plays the film’s gil-man.

the-shape-of-water-posterNow, one could argue that Jones did not get nominated for an acting award because he has no spoken lines in the film. However, the film’s star, Sally Hawkins, plays a girl who is mute. She has no spoken lines and yet she has been nominated for several awards including an Oscar nomination for her performance.

So why is it that Jones has not been recognized alongside Hawkins?

Here’s the thing. Doug Jones is a fantastic actor. He has collaborated with del Toro for years, starring in Mimic, as Abe Sapien in Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the Faun and the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth. He has played the Silver Surfer in 2007’s Fantastic Four sequel. He has made countless television appearances including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Strain, Arrow, The Flash, Sons of Anarchy, and Criminal minds. He is currently playing Starfleet Officer Saru in Star Trek: Discovery.

star-trek-discovery-saruThe fact is, he is in demand because of his appearance. At 6′ 4” and painfully thin, he is tailor made for appearing as strange creatures in various genre movies, but as an actor in his own right, he is also superb and very often overlooked. Honestly, if he doesn’t get an acting nomination for his work on Star Trek: Discovery, something is very wrong in Hollywood.

My point is that he has been egregiously overlooked for his performance as the amphibious creature in The Shape of Water. I suppose one could argue that the performance was a hybrid of prosthetics work, CGI and Jones, but come on! He has to convey the creatures emotions and connect with the audience just as much as Sally Hawkins had to without words. He even dances in the picture (and quite well)!

He did that admirably. Still, no Oscar nomination. Where are Doug Jones’ nomination? Where is the recognition for his amazing skills as an actor and not just as a tall skinny man in a monster suit?

The Shape of Water is still in some theaters. Go see it and marvel at Jones’ amazing performance. Or find Star Trek: Discovery on demand and watch his turn as Saru. Whatever you feel about how Star Trek has been served by that series you cannot deny that Doug Jones is one of the best things in it.


Jack Mackenzie & G. W. Thomas Shoot the Poop!

The publisher of Rage Machine Books, G. W. Thomas and I sat down and had a bit of a back-and-forth about writing: Here’s how it went:



GW: How did you ever decide to become a novelist? Certainly there are easier ways to express yourself. Finger painting. Interpretive dance?

Jack: Well, as much as I love interpretive dance as a medium for expression (and, honestly you should see my “Dying Swan” It brings people to tears), my chief medium for expression has always been words. And, I’ve always loved books, chiefly Science Fiction novels. The authors who wrote those books were my heroes growing up, so it was natural that I would try to emulate them. Short stories are great, sure, but novels are like a big canvas. That’s where you get the chance to stretch out and do world building.

It all boils down to not stopping, I guess. You just write. As Neil Gaiman says writing is like laying bricks. You pick up a brick, you lay it down. You pick up another brick, you lay it down beside the first. You keep doing that until you build a wall. With writing you write a word. Then you write another, Then another. Then another. It’s that easy and it’s that hard. It’s all about how long you can stand to keep doing that. I found that I could stand to do it for long stretches at a time. How about you?

GW: I’m not sure I’m really all that fond of the full-blown novel. The 20,000 worder seems more fun to me. Sadly, the Pulps are gone so no one is going to call it a “brand new novel” by G. W. Thomas. They were pretty loose with that term.

Jack: Well, they keep saying, with the rise of e-books, that shorter, tighter works are becoming popular again. Do you think that is the case or is Google just giving everybody short attention spans?

GW: I do think that ebooks do open up a door for shorter works. The issue in paper publishing is: what do I do with less than a 50,000-80,000 word piece? Different people tried small paperbacks or small brochures. Think of the Dime novels. They were saddle-stapled booklets. Hugo Gernsback supplemented his Pulps with a booklet series. (Those are incredibly hard to find now.) The 1980s small press horror field exploded with saddle-stapled booklets. (I miss those!) But nobody has made any real money on small books. With ebooks now, books can be any length. And priced accordingly.

Jack: What’s your process for writing?

GW: The fiction writing process for me has been a binge thing. With a day job, you grab time where can. When I was young and poor this was pretty easy. I’d write at the dentist office, on the bus. Now that I am old and fat, the distractions are more difficult. Mostly wasting time on my computer or phone. Or watching Netflix. I have to leave my house and go to a coffee shop.

Is your process for nonfiction the same as fiction?


Jack: My process for writing nonfiction is different from my fiction writing process. Currently I am treating my fiction writing process like a job. I start at a certain time, I have a target for the amount of words I want to get done. I tend to work at it every day from Monday to Friday and take weekends off. Within that writing time I will block out some time for nonfiction. For me most of the time I spend writing nonfiction is doing research. Once I think I have what I want to say worked out then I will sit down and start writing. The actual writing doesn’t take a lot of time. Sometimes I’ll have to spend some time doing supplemental research while I’m writing which slows me down a bit but for the most part the nonfiction writing itself happens fairly quickly.

And, yeah, Facebook, Netflix and phone are all big hazards for any kind of writing.

GW: My non-fiction process is messy. I start lots of pieces and finish them as the reading gets done. For instance, I have a piece on Francis Flagg that is two-thirds done. But I need to read any eight stories first to finish it. When will that happen? As the mood catches me. There’s no dire consequence to finishing it, so I guess that makes me a hobbyist. Of course, three other pieces may get finished this week instead.

Well, it’s been fun yakking. We’ll do it again soon.


Nemesis Man

If this isn’t the weirdest damn thing. Someone figured out that H. P. Lovecraft’s poem “Nemesis” fits almost perfectly to the tune of Billy Joel`s “The Piano Man”

So, naturally, if you figure something something as monumental as this out, what do you do? You record the song and put it up on youtube.

Here is Lovecraft’s original poem”

By H. P. Lovecraft

     Thro’ the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber,
          Past the wan-moon’d abysses of night,
     I have liv’d o’er my lives without number,
          I have sounded all things with my sight;
And I struggle and shriek ere the daybreak, being driven to madness with fright.
     I have whirl’d with the earth at the dawning,
          When the sky was a vaporous flame;
     I have seen the dark universe yawning,
          Where the black planets roll without aim;
Where they roll in their horror unheeded, without knowledge or lustre or name.     I had drifted o’er seas without ending,
          Under sinister grey-clouded skies
     That the many-fork’d lightning is rending,
          That resound with hysterical cries;
With the moans of invisible daemons that out of the green waters rise.

     I have plung’d like a deer thro’ the arches
          Of the hoary primordial grove,
     Where the oaks feel the presence that marches
          And stalks on where no spirit dares rove;
And I flee from a thing that surrounds me, and leers thro’ dead branches above.

     I have stumbled by cave-ridden mountains
          That rise barren and bleak from the plain,
     I have drunk of the fog-foetid fountains
          That ooze down to the marsh and the main;
And in hot cursed tarns I have seen things I care not to gaze on again.

     I have scann’d the vast ivy-clad palace,
          I have trod its untenanted hall,
     Where the moon writhing up from the valleys
          Shews the tapestried things on the wall;
Strange figures discordantly woven, which I cannot endure to recall.

     I have peer’d from the casement in wonder
          At the mouldering meadows around,
     At the many-roof’d village laid under
          The curse of a grave-girdled ground;
And from rows of white urn-carven marble I listen intently for sound.

     I have haunted the tombs of the ages,
          I have flown on the pinions of fear
     Where the smoke-belching Erebus rages,
          Where the jokulls loom snow-clad and drear:
And in realms where the sun of the desert consumes what it never can cheer.

     I was old when the Pharaohs first mounted
          The jewel-deck’d throne by the Nile;
     I was old in those epochs uncounted
          When I, and I only, was vile;
And Man, yet untainted and happy, dwelt in bliss on the far Arctic isle.

     Oh, great was the sin of my spirit,
          And great is the reach of its doom;
     Not the pity of Heaven can cheer it,
          Nor can respite be found in the tomb:
Down the infinite aeons come beating the wings of unmerciful gloom.

     Thro’ the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber,
          Past the wan-moon’d abysses of night,
     I have liv’d o’er my lives without number,
          I have sounded all things with my sight;
And I struggle and shriek ere the daybreak, being driven to madness with fright.

The ‘Barely-There’ Costumes of Logan’s Run


by Jack Mackenzie

In the year before Star Wars, a Science Fiction film made a scene with its costumes – or lack thereof!

Science Fiction films of the 1970’s weren’t exactly subtle. Beginning with the Planet of the Apes movies, a sub genre of SF cinema began to emerge which has been dubbed “Shattered Earth”. This type of film included some classics as well as some forgettable efforts.

Films like The Omega Man, THX 1138, Z.P.G., The Final Programme, Soylent Green, Phase IV, A Boy and His Dog, and The Ultimate Warrior explored dystopic visions of the future either after some sort of holocaust level disaster or in a repressive society that was designed in response to, or in order to prevent, said disaster.

In 1976 Logan’s Run was one of the last notable films of this school and it was arguably the most successful and most memorable (after the Planet of the Apes films).

The special effects, the model work and the production design all push Logan’s Run to the top of the heap of a less than reputable sub-genre of film. The story, as unsubtle as it was, caught the imagination of audiences enough to warrant a television series spin-off, if not an actual sequel. It was as successful a Science Fiction film as there could be before Star Wars came and changed the game.

But it was the costume design (or lack thereof) that really caught some people’s attention at the time.

Up until Logan’s Run costumes in Science Fiction films were generally relegated to either bulky spacesuits, formless white prison garb or elaborate outfits that featured over sized jewelry and odd helmets or other head dresses.

Logan’s Run, chose to go with a “less is more” approach. And in the case of some costumes there was a lot of emphasis on the “less”.

Bill Thomas was the costume designer for Logan’s Run. He was an Academy Award-winning designer who had over 180 credits. He designed for films like Babes in Toyland, Spartacus and The Happiest Millionaire. His approach to the costumes of Logan’s Run was to stick to fabrics and aesthetics of the time, which is why the film today seems hopelessly outdated. The film has a distinctive 1970’s feel to it.

The costumes worn by the Sandmen, the police force of the futuristic city, the ones who catch the runners, made quite an impact, despite their simplicity. A black form fitting outfit with a grey band across the chest is as minimalist as it gets for a distinctive uniform, but the outfits are striking especially when compared with the costumes worn by the rest of the cast.

Which was not much.

The costumes worn by the citizens of the City, the futuristic home of the last of humanity, all under thirty, all white, are very revealing. The “California” sensibility is redolent throughout the population (this despite the fact that much of the City scenes were filmed in Dallas, Texas). The clothing is sparse. The skirts are short. The sleeves are practically non-existant and the materials are synthetic fibers like lycra and spandex. These materials were considered “fashion forward” at the time. Satin was also used along with cotton and sheer materials.

Very sheer. And, as is usual in these kinds of films, there are no bras in the future.

Most of the costumes for the movie were modified from pieces bought in retail stores like tunic shirts and wrap dresses. Once the base outfit was chosen, costumers would sew on patches of brightly colored fabric cut into geometric shapes to make them look futuristic.

In order to make the costumes “pop” all that was needed was a light spray of adhesive and a dusting of glitter or sequins. Accessories also played a huge part in the finished product. Jewelry and belts were the perfect “finishing off” of the costumes. The bigger and more elaborate the better.

The costumes from the movie resemble a lot of the “wild” clothing that was worn in the disco clubs of the day and later became the fashion of the early 80’s, like off the shoulder tops and wide belts.
As revealing as the costumes from Logan’s Run are they were originally designed to be much more revealing. But that would have meant spending much more on makeup for exposed skin.

One outfit in particular stands out from the pack. This was worn by Jennifer Agutter who played Jessica, the female lead. It consisted of a piece of fabric which barely covers the actor’s front and back and leaves her sides exposed. All that holds the front and back pieces together is a small length of chain.

Again, there is clearly no underwear in the future.

Jenny Agutter, not surprisingly, wasn’t wild about that outfit. “Logan’s Run was fairly embarrassing,” she stated in an interview. “But I’m thrilled that I’ve been a part of it all.”

There is more to this article. Read the rest of Jack Mackenzie’s essay (and see some slightly NSFW photos) in the latest issue of Dark Worlds Quarterly. It’s available as a FREE download and it is packed with so much amazing stuff.


Marvel’s Inhumans


You know what a bait and switch is, right?

Miriam Webster defines it as:

1 : a sales tactic in which a customer is attracted by the advertisement of a low-priced item but is then encouraged to buy a higher-priced one

2 : the ploy of offering a person something desirable to gain favor then thwarting expectations with something less desirable

So how does this apply to ABC television’s new series Marvel’s Inhumans?

Well, it’s like this: Jack Kirby created The Inhumans back in 1965 as a superhero team. They originally appeared in Fantastic Four #45. They are a royal family of mutant human beings – inhumans – who have been exposed to the Terrigin mist and have developed special super powers.

The Inhumans are led by their king, Black Bolt, and his Royal Family, consisting of Medusa, Karnak, Gorgon, Triton, Crystal and the canine Lockjaw. Both Crystal and Medusa have been members of the Fantastic Four; Crystal has been a member of the Avengers as well.

Are you getting the point here? These are superheroes. They have powers, special abilities, and they fight alongside other superhero teams.

So, when ABC announced that they would be making a TV series featuring the Inhumans, I expected a show about superheroes.

So what did we get?

Well, the setup is pretty much the same as the comics. The inhumans live in the city of Attilan which is located on the moon. Black Bolt’s voice is the most powerful power in the kingdom. The merest utterance from him can cause massive devastation. So he must remain silent. His queen, Medusa, has living hair that she can manipulate to fight and overpower enemies. Karnak can see the limitless possibilities of any action and choose the most effective. Gorgon is super strong and has hooves. Crystal can control the elements – zapping things, freezing things, etc. And lockjaw the giant pug can teleport the members of the royal family anywhere they need to go.

So far so good, right?

However, in the first episode Black Bolt’s brother, Maximus (who has no powers at all) stages a coup and takes over the kingdom. He shaves off Medusa’s Hair, rendering her powerless. Crystal commands lockjaw to transport the others to Hawaii. After that Maximus sedates the giant pup and places Crystal under arrest.

In the Hawaiian jungle Karnak falls, hits his head and loses his powers. Gorgon still has his powers but is pretty ineffective hanging out on the beach with a group of army vet surfers. Black Bolt steals a suit and is immediately arrested. He is tased and he lets out a gasp which sends a police car flying end over end. After that he realizes he just better shut up and cooperate.

So, by the end of the pilot the Inhumans are on Earth, without their powers and separated from each other. The rest of the series promises to continue in this same vein, keeping the Inhumans separate and powerless.

This is not what I signed up for.

And here is the bait and switch. Suppose I’d been promised a gritty cop drama and in the first episode each of the cop characters were put on suspension and had to spend the rest of the series in their own homes dealing with their suspensions? I mean, that might make an interesting show if I hadn’t been promised a gritty crime drama.

Suppose I’d been promised a western with cowboys and gunfights, but in the first episode the main cowboys had to leave the west and head back east to look after their ailing mother’s estate and the rest of the series was about how the gunfighters coped with having to deal with wills, probate and property laws? Again, that might make an interesting series, but not if I had been promised a show about gunfighters.

The Inhumans is about super heroes. Mutants with super powers. That’s what I want to see. If you make a TV series out of Moby Dick and have the characters spend all their time on shore, talking about how they’d like to go back to sea… that’s not really Moby Dick, is it? If you make a Sherlock Holmes TV series and have Homes suffer a brain injury in the opening episode and spend the rest of the season showing how Dr. Watson helps Holmes to regain his deductive powers… well, that’s not what you tuned in for, is it?

I want to see Jack Kirby’s Inhumans. I want to see Black Bolt and Medusa and Karnak and all the others doing what they do… using their superpowers to fight villains or aliens or the Fantastic Four or… anything — ANYTHING — but this boring show!

Sure, Netflix’s Marvel shows can be slow moving. You have to have a certain amount of “TV drama”, and that’s fine. But if I didn’t see Mat Murdoch dressing up in a suit and fighting bad guys I would have checked out. If Luke Cage didn’t use his superpowers and just spent his time mentoring inner city kids… well, that’s inspiring but it’s not what Luke Cage is about. Jessica Jones IS Jessica Jones. Even Iron Fist, for all it’s problems, had Danny Rand using the Iron Fist!

The Inhumans lost no time making their main characters human. And not very interesting ones at that.

The only character who has all the superpowers at his disposal is Maximus, the one human among the inhumans. The fact that he is the villain (and played by Game of Throne‘s Ramsay Bolton) means that the superpowers are all on the wrong side of the equation.

This is not the show that I wanted. Nor is it the show that I will continue to watch.

Science Fiction as Social Commentary

Despite its far flung settings and futuristic subjects, the best SF still has ties to the here and now

The very best science fiction, whether it be literature or in the movies or on television, the kinds of science fiction that resonates most strongly with the readers and viewers, is not the science fiction that merely shows us the wonders of the world of tomorrow, but the science fiction that comments on the world of today.

Despite a recent loud and disruptive movement within science fiction fan circles that proclaimed that science fiction should only focus on rocketships and rayguns, robots and whiz-bang action and decried any other type as propaganda from rabid leftist social justice warriors, science fiction and social commentary go hand in hand. It has done from the very beginning.

From the fantastic adventures of Lemuel Gulliver in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels in 1735 to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to today’s fiction in print and on movie screens and television, science fiction that reflects and comments on current events usually has a more profound impact. Indeed, some will argue that is the very purpose of science fiction, to illuminate aspects of our world and our lives today. Science fiction holds it up to a funhouse mirror, distorts it, stretches it, and then examines it in ways that cannot be done without current cultural biases interfering. By couching a subject in the language of the rockets, rayguns and whiz-bang action, greater insights can be wrung from certain subjects and issues that are too “hot button” to talk about directly.

But how much of this is deliberate? As the aforementioned loud and noisy movement has accused the establishment of science fiction of doing so, how much of this “message” is deliberately inserted into modern science fiction as a form of “propaganda” and how much of it occurs naturally, an unavoidable by-product of writers who are keenly aware of our contemporary society’s ills and wish to provide commentary on such, if not prescribing their so-called SJW remedies?

This, it turns out, is not a new discussion. Nor is science fiction’s penchant for presenting social commentary disguised as fantastical adventures.


I mentioned Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels earlier. Anyone who has taken a literature course in high school or college knows that Swift’s fanciful adventure was not merely a rousing tale of a hapless traveler in far flung lands. Swift constructed his fantasy world of Lilliputians, Brobdingnagans and Houyhnhnms not as a mere distraction, but to make pointed observations about contemporary European society. He did this deliberately. Indeed, Swift himself is quoted as saying that he wrote Gulliver’s Travels “to vex the world rather than divert it”.

His criticisms of contemporary society did not impinge upon the book’s sales, fortunately. Indeed, the book became popular as soon as it was published. John Gay wrote in a 1726 letter to Swift that “It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery.”

Mary Shelley’s debut novel, Frankenstein, is considered to be one of the first science fiction stories. The English science fiction writer Brian Aldiss has argued that it should be considered the first true science fiction story because, in contrast to previous stories with fantastical elements resembling those of later science fiction, the central character “makes a deliberate decision” and “turns to modern experiments in the laboratory” to achieve fantastic results.

But what does Frankenstein say about society? Shelley says that the world is cruel and monsters will not be tolerated but shhe also asks how will technology change us? The character of Victor Frankenstein is modern man, poised on the cusp of great discoveries that will challenge God, but also poised at the point at which we become the monsters. Victor rejects his creation, goes back to a world that does not embrace change. But change, in the form of Adam, has other ideas.

This battle with change will define the next two giants of Science Fiction: Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. Verne portrays scientific change as a wondrous process that will bring adventure. He often does not show how this will affect human lives. (Captain Nemo is perhaps the closest he comes to it.) Wells rejects Verne’s naiveté and returns to Shelley’s grim view. Change will be painful. Traveling in time, becoming invisible, alien invasion, giant monsters, all will be terrible. Wells is not afraid to make social commentary, in fact, did nothing else at the same time that he predicted tank warfare, aerial bombing and other future realities. His novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau, for instance, was written as a fundraiser to stop animal vivisection. Wells moved away from narrative as he progressed, abandoning the Science Fiction adventure for proselytizing novels and non-fiction.

In the wake of World War I, society as a whole began to change in earnest. Mechanical inventions had been seen on the battlefields of Europe and now, in peacetime, they were making their way into people’s homes. Certainly the early twentieth century was not devoid of social criticism, but in the aftermath of the Great War, it was mostly in the purview of art and culture movements. The surrealists, the Dada-ists, the Bauhous movement. These were, for the most part, intellectuals talking to other intellectuals, and not making many inroads into popular culture. Indeed, that these movements set themselves aside from and opposed to popular culture was a point of pride.

But in 1920 a unique stage production in Russia was about to change all that.


R.U.R. is a 1920 science fiction play by the Czech writer, Karel Čapek. R.U.R. stands for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots). It premiered on January 25, 1921 and introduced the word “robot” to the language and to science fiction as a whole.

The word “robot”, which displaced older words such as “automaton” or “android” in languages around the world would itself become a trope that would offer science fiction writers copious opportunities to play, poke fun at, or otherwise satirize a host of society’s foibles, not the least of which, mankind’s desire for institutionalized slavery. Indeed, in Czech, robota means forced labour of the kind that serfs had to perform on their masters’ lands and is derived from the word rab, meaning “slave”.

The name Rossum is an allusion to the Czech word rozum, meaning “reason”, “wisdom”, “intellect” or “common-sense”. It has been suggested that the allusion might be preserved by translating “Rossum” as “Reason” but only the Majer/Porter version translates the word as “Reason”. R.U.R becomes one of the first examples of science fiction using a new technology and a fantastical future world to say something profound about the contemporary society from which it sprang.

The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people, called roboti (robots), from synthetic organic matter. They are not exactly robots by the current definition of the term: they are living flesh and blood creatures rather than machinery and are closer to the modern idea of clones. They may be mistaken for humans and can think for themselves. They seem happy to work for humans at first, but a robot rebellion leads to the extinction of the human race.

Again, the social commentary does not hurt R.U.R.‘s public reception. The play was successful in its day in both Europe and North America. R.U.R. quickly became famous and was influential early in the history of its publication. By 1923, it had been translated into thirty languages.

Perhaps by today’s standards using a play about mechanical creations to send the message that slavery is bad may not seem like a very controversial move. It’s pretty well de rigueur today. If you have robots or artificial people in your story, at some point you’re going to have to talk about slavery and how it is bad and how all sentient beings should be free to make their own choices, etc., etc. That message can be found in at least one episode of any of the various Star Trek iterations.

But, of course, the using of science fiction to comment on society would not end with R.U.R.


There is a phrase that always seems to accompany science fiction of this type. “Thought provoking”. That was always kind of a code phrase that the science fiction you are about to read or see, which may have all the cool, whiz-bang trappings of science fiction that fans love, will also have a “message”

Science fiction that was described as “though provoking” could also be synonymous with “heavy handed” or worse, “boring”.

As L. W. Michaelson observed in his article for The Antioch Review in 1954, “Social Criticism in Science Fiction”: “What better way to reach the adolescent mind than with a glorious action story filled with blasters and super-rockets and energizers and what not and then carefully sandwiched in between the action, some little gems of information that will impart a perspective on our society as a whole?”

There are obvious works that can be described as “message” fiction. Orwell’s 1984 is an obvious warning against totalitarianism. Huxley’s Brave New World is a warning about the dangers of utopia.

This is in contrast to the science fiction published in popular magazines. From Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories magazine and to the many others that popped up in its wake, science fiction was a venue for telling fantastic stories of brave industrialists who overcame society’s indifference or disbelief, and built powerful rocket ships to travel into the far reaches of space. Early science fiction tales were rightfully disregarded as little more than chewing gum for juvenile imaginations.


But that began to change. In the post war era of the 1950’s, science fiction writers had transformed from happy-go-lucky champions of technology to gloomy prophets of doom. Indeed, in the nuclear era the “Frankenstein’s Monster” of the day was the atom bomb. It was a powerful and terrible weapon with devastating consequences that raised moral concerns among even the most hawkish of writers.

In this post-war era many science fiction writers felt compelled to include a healthy serving of social commentary along with the aliens, robots and ray-guns. Indeed, it was argued that science fiction was one of the few genres that could do this without too much fear of public censure.

L. W. Michaelson in his essay for “Social Criticism in Science Fiction”, makes plain that the use of science fiction as a cloak or a disguise in order to more freely speak about subjects which were not generally brought up in polite society is a deliberate and an inherent feature of the genre:

“The channeling of man’s critical sense, via science fiction, from the currently inhospitable field of the present to a more secure area of the distant future or past, is due in part to the increasing sensitivity of Americans to criticism of any kind. Al Capp, the cartoonist, noted this in his article in Life (March 31, 1952) and concluded that his comic strip, Lil’ Abner, would have to eliminate social satire entirely and concentrate upon “trivialities” and/or the matrimonial difficulties of his hero.

In regard to this sensitivity, perhaps we feel our way of life is engaged in some ceaseless competition, or is continually on trial before the eyes of an indifferent or hostile world. Thus, if the science-fiction Gulliver mentions the year 2186, or better still 3547, this sensitivity is correspondingly dulled. In other words, there is an inverse ratio to our dislike of criticism; the farther away in time and space the criticism seems to lodge, the less the irritation or concern.”

In the 1950’s science fiction had become so caught up in moralizing and philosophizing about society, that in 1951, editor Raymond J. Healy felt compelled to publish a collection of science fiction tales, New Tales of Time and Space, that were deliberately more positive and light-hearted than the majority of what had become the “message” fiction of the day. In the introduction to the book, magazine editor Anthony Boucher noted about the stories in the collection: “For all their positiveness you’ll find many of these stories markedly critical of the present state of man’s world – many of the authors markedly unconvinced that contemporary American culture is the ultimate and unchangeable Way of Life.”

The criticism of society as a whole from science fiction writers was so obvious that in 1953 conservative editor, Thomas. P. McDonnel, wrote an article for Catholic World Magazine on “The Cult of Science Fiction”. In that essay, he complains that “liberals in general are now using science fiction as a kind of intellectual underground communication system or as a semi-secret club lecture platform.”

And you thought that loud and disruptive movement was a new thing.

This is actually only about half of the article that I wrote. You can read the entire thing and more in the latest issue of DARK WORLDS QUARTERLY. Download issue # 2 for FREE right here, or click on the image below!

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