Terror Beneath The Sea is a movie with a lot of charm. There are the wondrous conventions of Sixties science fiction: bold colors and sleek design, underwater cities built in miniature, torpedo battles, a safety-striped submarine, and even a Nehru-suited mad man. But Sonny Chiba is the most charming thing in Terror Beneath The Sea. As the romantic lead, Chiba portrays a character with an endearing sweetness he rarely, if ever, gets to present. In a way, Chiba is playing a character other than his usual “Sonny Chiba.”
I can’t remember exactly how it was I stumbled across the first in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. It was most likely a title dropped in passing by Veronica Belmont on the Sword and Laser podcast, coupled with the book then appearing on a Goodreads list of the best steampunk books. So I guess I take that first sentence back. Apparently, I remember exactly how I first heard of the book. Let’s move on, shall we? Anyway, it was a book well worth stumbling onto, and since finishing it, I’ve become a huge fan of the series and its author. The blend of supernatural shenanigans, romance, adventure, steampunk, and dandy vampires all wrapped up in a Victorian comedy of manners style tale was exactly the sort of breezy — but not unsubstantial — book for which I’d been hoping. Needless to say but here I am about to say it anyway, I was pretty excited to move on to the second book.
I read a lot, but that reading happens only in a few specific genres. Predictable ones if you’ve read anything on Teleport City — science fiction mostly, with a tiny smattering of fantasy, and a healthy dose of non-fiction ranging from military history, travelogues, and anything where Teddy Roosevelt punches out a rhinoceros and gets malaria while exploring some remote niche of the globe. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given my fondness for horror films, is that I read almost no horror fiction at all. I don’t know why this has traditionally been the case. What I read in the past just didn’t click with me. I mean, there was some Clive Barker, sure. Everyone in the eighties read Clive Barker. But the Barker I liked skewed much more toward the fantastic than actual horror — Weaveworld, The Great and Secret Show, Everville, and Imajica.
Dune was one among many books/series I read in high school or college and remember almost nothing about. At this point, most of what I remember about Frank Herbert’s genre classic probably comes from the David Lynch film that me and ten other people in the world actually like. And as for the subsequent books — I don’t know. There was something about some kids, right? And Duncan Idaho with metal eyeballs? Yep, that’s about the limit of my memory, which I think sufficiently qualifies me as having not read Dune even though I’ve read Dune. So I decided that it was time to revisit the series, especially since, regardless of my recollection or lack of, I never finished the series. But, of course, I figured that if I was going to read/re-read Dune, I was going to reread all of it. And that meant starting at the narrative’s chronological beginning — in other words, starting with the books written by Frank’s son, Brian, and his partner-in-crime, Kevin Anderson.
Cordelia’s Honor is an omnibus that collects two novels of the “Vorkosigan Saga” together under one cover. The first, Shards of Honor, is straight up space opera, telling the story of Cordelia, the middle aged (finally!) captain of a science vessel. While exploring a planet, her small group of scientist-soldiers find themselves under attack by soldiers from the planet Barrayar, known for their fanatic commitment to all things military. It turns out that the attack on Cordelia and her people was nothing but a ruse to cover a politically motivated mutiny among the Barrayan officers. Their captain, long a thorn in the side of many due to his commitment to being honest and honorable, has been left for dead along with the remnants of Cordelia’s expeditionary force — which consist of Cordelia and one other officer, irreparably crippled by a Barrayan nerve disrupter.
Like most New Yorker’s I read a lot. This is a function of having a daily commute between Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn and the East Village in Manhattan, leaving me with a half hour or more, twice daily, with little to do other than sit on the train and read. I don’t tend to select especially challenging material for the ride. It simply isn’t an environment that lends itself to such. But a good espionage book, some non-fiction, a comic book — stuff like that. Recently, as I’ve mentioned previously, I started exploring the world of science fiction books from the 70s, 80s, and a bit of the 90s. Some of them were books I’d read before and wanted to reacquaint myself with. Most are things that I completely missed, having been largely unconnected to any sort of conduit that would have clued me in to such things. I have no idea what I was doing most of my life.
In the early 1990s, I read Neuromancer. I read it enthusiastically, devoured every word , and fell in love not so much with the story, which was good, but with William Gibson’s razor-sharp acumen with the written word, with his style, and above all, with his ability to articulately describe sensations and scenes in ways no one had ever thought of, and yet made absolute and perfect sense and conveyed exactly certain feelings and visions that could not, it would seem, ever have been described any other way. At least not effectively. And yet, despite my unbridled passion for the book, when I started talking about it to someone a few months ago during one of those late-night sessions where conversation devolves into fuzzy reminiscence about setting motherboard jumpers and using VAX terminals, I discovered that all I had were vague impressions. Besides the names of a couple characters and a thing about spacefarin’ Rastafarians, I remembered absolutely nothing about the book.
Italian science fiction is an acquired taste, even more so than most other Italian genre films. They generally have a meandering quality to them, and the low budgets mean that a large portion of any film’s run time is composed of shots of guys sitting in front of decks of blinking lights. However, the Italians can only restrain themselves for so long, and eventually those scenes of people in control rooms will be replaced by wonderful space battles and miniatures of orbiting stations and rockets with upward drifting smoke wafting out of the backs. Antonio Margheriti, better known among the jet set who know Antonio Margheriti at all as the director of a bunch of “just entertaining enough” war and action films during the 1970s, was one of Italy’s first science fiction directors. His 1960s space “adventure,” Assignment: Outer Space proved that despite my interest in old science fiction and my profession as a journalist, combining the two into one talky film is not a recipe for maintaining my attention.
There’s something to be said for patience. Or for grim determination. Whichever you think best suits the situation. Sometimes, you endure something unenjoyable simply because you’re committed to an overarching principle, and in the end, the investment of time in that unenjoyable stint results in blossoming appreciation for some later point. That’s pretty convoluted, isn’t it? So let me say this. I watched Battlestar Galactica, the new series (I watched the old series, too, but that has no bearing on this tortured explanation). When we got to the “New Caprica” arc, I was not on board. I didn’t exactly hate the New Caprica episodes, but I really disliked a lot of them, especially any of them that spent way too much time (which would be any time) with the “Starbuck in her apartment prison” subplot. I grew increasingly impatient with the storyline. But then, just when I was on the verge of pronouncing this a “Babylon 5, season five clusterfuck,” we got the episode where Galactica — and Pegasus — undertake their fiery rescue of the New Caprica colonists. Now that whole bit — that was just some of the greatest television, ever. And I realized after the fact that it wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful or exciting if I hadn’t sat through the New Caprica episodes. Those episodes were the back-breaking hoeing of the field that eventually bore the delicious fruit of that Galactica-Pegasus rescue mission. And then, suddenly, all those other episodes were worth it.
I like steampunk. Let’s just get that out of the way, since steampunk is one of those things that makes some people roll their eyes. Whatever, man. I like airships and clockwork and industrial tools that are covered with brass filigree. I don’t entirely approve of the preoccupation with brown clothing, nor do I approve of the gratuitous application of goggles to everything, but beyond that, steampunk and I get along very well. Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker was the first steampunk novel I read — provided one doesn’t include Verne and Wells and the Victorian science fiction writers in the genre. Within the genre, or subgenre or whatever steampunk is (I’m pretty sure it occupies the same territory as cyberpunk once did, only with fewer mirrorshades and more goggles), it’s a bit of an anomaly in that it’s not set during and fetishizing the British Victorian era. Instead, author Cherie Priest decides to stick to a similar time period but a different and more familiar setting: the United States, albeit a United States in which the Civil War has dragged on long past its actual conclusion and steam-powered walkers, airships, and other such contraptions are commonplace.