Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Spaceship Urff #1



Greetings, Urfflings!

Welcome to the premiere issue of Spaceship Urff! We have a great Author Spotlight to kick things off: British science fiction writer Ian Hutson! His work is of a satanical satirical bent, and his humor (or humour) definitely comes through in the interview.

Next up is a review of Tangerine, a science fiction novel by Wodke Hawkinson. This one has a really interesting premise and is written in a highly accessible style with strong character development.

This issue's article is the first installment of Spaceship Urff Classics. This will be an ongoing series of articles covering classic works of speculative fiction, whether that be science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc. This article on Stanley G. Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey" was originally published on the old SpecFicPick site.

B-Smitten is a feature I'm particularly excited about. This is for my fellow lovers of B-movies. This month, we present Manos: The Hands of Fate, a truly awful film that nevertheless holds a very special place in my heart.

Finally, the Books section lists several speculative fiction books you can check out, along with links to their Amazon listings. Authors, you can submit your books for the next issue; check out the Submission Guidelines here.

Each section/article is self-contained in its own post for ease of linking/navigation. Just click on the ones you want to read up above. At the end of each, you'll be able to return to this page to see what else might interest you or click on through to the next article. If you have any questions/comments, feel free to post them below. Enjoy!

Michael K. Rose

Spaceship Urff #1 -- Author Spotlight: Ian Hutson

I'd like to welcome author Ian Hutson to Spaceship Urff! Since I can't really say anything about him that he hasn't said better himself, we'll jump right into the interview. Tally Ho!


Just who is Ian Hutson?

My Father was a Grimsby deep-sea fisherman turned Cold War spy, an electronic-warfare expert turned naval historian. My Mother was a factory-worker, home-maker, socialite and lady. When I was born we moved to Hong Kong in time for the worst cholera epidemic, drought and typhoon of the century. As a child I spoke only Cantonese and a little pidgin English.

I learned to read and write at age nine, on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland where my Father listened in to the USSR’s transmissions and we all lived on a croft with two pet sheep and a house with no running water and no bathroom. Aged ten we lived in a friend’s public zoo in Norfolk (and I skipped school for the year). Aged fourteen I enjoyed driving my Aunt around to lay off her semi-pro bets at bookmakers. I eventually studied for a BA in Operation Research Systems Analysis and a Masters in Industrial Relations and then started work in the British Civil Service and EDS, ITSA, AVIVA et al. Only got shot at once, while my car was stuck at traffic signals - and they missed me (just).

Corporations and I company on acrimonious terms and I left to concentrate on my own businesses. Naturally, I promptly went bankrupt when the world went belly-up and lost my home, car and valuables to the Official Receiver’s auctioneers, although I must say that the County Court lady Judge was a sweetums, considering. I am now a peacenik vegan hippie living in a hedgerow in Lincolnshire, England, and my hobbies are starving, patching my underwear and being happy. If I grow up then I rather want to be a Womble or possibly a Clanger.

Fair enough. So I understand you do unspeakable things with words. Would you like to speak about it?

I feel that I should talk to someone. Perhaps a trained professional with a couch and a way with hypnotism. The notion that words have rights too is one that often worries me. We pluck them out of the aether and slap them down in new neighbourhoods like demented social workers relocating refugees, but is is fair to the words? In re-homing 'risible' next to 'science' and in putting 'guffaw' next to 'gusset' have we split up a lexicographical family? Will the new combinations work or will there be riots? I practise the most appalling segregation and attempts at linguistic-cleansing in my writing, unashamedly favouring English-English over all of the more modern derivatives. Am I a professional? Yes indeed - I never, never, never approach my typewriter without first donning my white lab-coat and my safety spectacles.

Why did you decide to become a writer?

Sheer ruddy desperation with two sources. I don't have voices in my head, I have cartoonists, and they filter everything that I see and hear about me in the world. There's no escaping them so I decided to humour them by writing their memoirs. Secondly, and this is more to do with desperation, as a disgraced, disgruntled, de-bagged, discharged professional chap beyond the legal commercial re-employment age (in my fifties) and living in rural England without the benefit of a velocipede or so much as a workable bus service, there was nowt else left to try. I think of myself as a Book Breeder. It is my avowed ambition in life to succeed in my attempts to persuade my first edition Heinleins to mate with my Tom Sharpes, to enter the library cages one day and find that my Ronald Searle sketches have spent the night in the same basket as Clarke's 2001.

Tell us a bit about your books.

Many and varied, ramblings, hitherto not at all serious. Like a lot of authors, once I've finished something I tend to dislike it intensely and I have been very careful to always mop up after myself and to unpublish and forget. I'm quite protective of everyone's right to be nostalgic and proud of their roots, whatever they may be, and I thus not only refuse to retrospectively apologise for the English Empire but I glory in its caricature and celebration. Enjoy the past, times were different then and tomorrow will be more different still. I am also a firm believer that reality has enough sad, nasty and violent endings to last beyond the lifetime of the human species, so why add more? I like books that don't depress or worry unduly, and that is what I try to write.

And what's this Diesel-Electric Elephant Company thing I keep hearing about?

The Diesel-Electric Elephant Company - a pre-postcolonial global non-multinational serving the local community. One of the magificent things to come out of Sir Timothy John "Tim" Berners-Lee OM FBE FRS FREeng FRSA's little invention is the hot poker up the backside of the big publishing houses. Yes, they still rule and ninety-nine percent of the money paid for books still goes into their pockets, but they are now as the titled and landed gentry are - living on borrowed time, dancing to a desperate tune and without the future that they assumed they would always have. Independent publishing has heralded the best of times, and the worst of times. As Queen Victoria once remarked, everyone has a book inside them - and as Mr Churchill glibly corrected while fondling her knee, in most people's cases that is exactly where it should stay. The undeniable benefit to the sudden publication of reams and reams of utter rubbish is that every pile contains a ruby, an emerald of a story or a diamond of a concept. The Diesel-Electric Elephant Company, with its overtones of colonial Raj and its undertones of duffel-coated trainspotting, is the tiny corporate machine that I use to add my reams of crud to the literary pile. It is an ambitious company, a ruthless company, a hungry predator of a company and one day, no doubt about it, will have its own kettle and staff biscuit tin.

What are you working on now?

In accordance with the strict Diesel-Electric Elephant Company policy on conformity, I am working on something completely different - working title Rupert Of The High Seas. A nautical romp populated with merchant bankers, classic pirates (the same profession, surely, separated only in the flow of the fourth dimension) and lashing waves and time travel. As usual I will be taking a potato-masher to an over-cooked pot of history, spicing it up with nonsense and this time adding in a crust of adventure.

There is a pirate captain who has no idea what most of the parts of a ship are called, crew members named after mysterious parts of the ship and a lifetime spent being chased, as was my dear late mother, by the English navy. You simply can't argue with the invention and naval efficacy of the Gatling-Cannon. The gestation and difficult birth of the book will be detailed in the first quarter of 2014 on the DEEC website,


Well, I think that should give you an idea of what Ian's writing is like! Check out his story collection, NGLND XPXon Amazon. You can also visit his website, connect with him on Facebook, and follow on Twitter. Chin-chin!


Spaceship Urff #1 -- Review: Tangerine by Wodke Hawkinson

Ava Majestic works for a company surveying planets for possible future colonization. But more than that, she is the rightful heir to an alien device which Augustus Agnotico, an egotistical billionaire, seeks to add to his collection. Oblivious to the existence of the device and the reason why Agnotico has been harassing her, Ava goes back to work exploring the planet Tangerine, cataloging the lifeforms and identifying any potential hazards. But she soon discovers the truth and comes to recognize the connection between her and Needle, the man sent by Agnotico to keep track of her.

Tangerine is an engaging science fiction story with elements of mystery and suspense. The world-building is top-notch, and writing team Wodke Hawkinson do a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life, especially Ava and her cat-like companion, Pisk.

The first half of the novel is dedicated not only to this world-building and character development but also sets up the mystery. The nature of the device and Ava's connection to it are closely guarded, leaving the reader to wonder along with Ava exactly what is going on; even Agnotico doesn't know what the device is, only that he must possess it. Once the mystery is revealed and the characters are set on the paths they must follow, the novel moves along briskly, and I found it incredibly hard to put down, wanting to know if and how the things they were doing would have unintended consequences.

Science fiction lovers will enjoy the imaginative descriptions of this future world, its technology and alien creatures, but these things don't get in the way of the progression of the story by any means. There is even a touch of romance, and I think book lovers of any stripe will enjoy this one.

Tangerine is available both in print and as an eBook from Amazon. Click here for your copy.

Spaceship Urff #1 -- Spaceship Urff Classics #1: Stanley G. Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey"

Originally published in the July 1934 issue of Wonder Stories, "A Martian Odyssey" was a highly influential work on the then-burgeoning genre of science fiction. It's easy to see why. Isaac Asimov considered this visionary story to be a work that changed the way all subsequent stories in the genre were written, and the Science Fiction Writers of America (now known as SFWA) chose it to lead off the fantastic anthology The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964, which I recommend highly.

So what made "A Martian Odyssey" so remarkable? The story is a fairly straight-forward adventure tale: an astronaut named Dick Jarvis, part of the first manned expedition to Mars, crashes his auxiliary craft and must travel by foot to return to his comrades. A generation earlier, a story like this would have been set in Africa or India. However, aside from the dated technology and language, this story holds up so well because of the unique way in which Weinbaum created his alien landscape. His aliens were, simply put, incredibly alien. We are introduced to a highly intelligent ostrich-like creature named Tweel, a sinister black tentacle monster with psychic powers, a curious silicon-based creature that excretes blocks of silica and uses them to build pyramids around itself, and barrel-shaped automaton-like creatures that seem only to exist to feed material into a machine at the core of a tunnel network beneath their "city."

These aliens are fanciful enough, but Weinbaum goes a step further and establishes the fact that not only is their morphology completely alien, but even the way they think is different from the thought patterns of humans. Tweel, Jarvis's companion during his journey, seems to possess a language in which words for different objects--rocks, for example--change from moment to moment. The language, therefore, is situational as opposed to being based on the general commonality between objects. Tweel, Jarvis finds, takes great delight in the fact that for Jarvis, a "rock" is always a "rock."

Even the plant life of Weinbaum's Mars is extraordinary. Jarvis notes a bed of grass that parts as he walks through it. Picking up one of the "blades," he finds that it possesses two tiny legs.

Weinbaum wrote a sequel to "A Martian Odyssey" called "Valley of Dreams" as well as several other stories, but  he unfortunately died within 18 months of this story's publication, cutting short the life of a man who, despite his already considerable contribution to science fiction, could have become a giant in the genre. But it is a testament to his imagination and accessible style of story-telling that through a single work, he made such an impact on all science fiction writers who were to follow.

You can download a free copy of "A Martian Odyssey" from Project Gutenberg or Amazon.


Image of Stanley G. Weinbaum courtesy of Wikipedia

Spaceship Urff #1 -- B-Smitten: Manos: The Hands of Fate

For the first installment of B-Smitten, I wanted to start you off with a real gem of a film. I've long held that the best bad movies are made in earnest. They are not made to be bad films; they are made because a filmmaker truly believes he can pull it off. For me, a lot of the intentionally bad films fall flat. More than that, they can become boring as you sit through schtick after schtick and moments the filmmaker thinks will be funny. Manos: The Hands of Fate has only one single "humorous" sequence involving a young couple making out in a car. The rest of the film is deadly serious, and as a result... it's a scream.

Manos was the brainchild of Harold P. Warren, a fertilizer salesman from Texas who claimed that it was easy to make a horror film, and that to prove his point, he was going to make one of his own. He raised barely enough money to get the job done and the result is a film that has become a legend among lovers of B-movies.

Briefly, it follows the adventures of a couple (Mike and Margaret), their whiny daughter and their dog as they try to find the Valley Lodge. Despite following a crudely hand-painted sign pointing toward the Valley Lodge, they end up on a ranch owned by The Master and overseen by his lackey, an incredibly creepy satyr named Torgo. Unable to escape the ranch, they are pursued and eventually captured by The Master and his harem of wives.

Highlights include:

1. Mike ineptly looking for the dog and trying to get the car to start.
2. Torgo lusting after Margaret, making clumsy, jittery passes at her and peeping at her through the window as she changes.
3. Torgo defying The Master and claiming Margaret for his own, but then looking really remorseful about it.
4. Long, awkward moments in which the characters stare at each other, saying and doing nothing. I think these were meant to build suspense, but they're hilarious.
5. The epic slap fight between The Master's wives.
6. The wives attempting to "massage" Torgo to death.

I will say here that a lot of people have trouble sitting through Manos: The Hands of Fate. It's understandable; it's a truly awful film, and the beginning is very slow. But if you can make it through to the halfway point, I think you'll find the rest of the film truly enjoyable in a way that only bad movies can be. If you need a little help, the guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 have you covered; Manos: The Hands of Fate is considered one of the essential MST3K episodes, and Joel and the bots are really on fire with the wisecracks. If you've only seen the MST3K version, try to track down the unedited version of the film. There's actually a lot of nuance that you'll otherwise miss. I found my copy on a 50-film box set from Mill Creek Entertainment called Pure Terror.

Until next time... don't do anything if The Master wouldn't approve!


Spaceship Urff #1 -- Books

Books! Click on the title of each book to be taken to the Amazon product page; the author's name will send you to that author's blog or website. Authors, you can have your book listed in the next issue of SPACESHIP URFF! See the guidelines here.


Lightning Seed by Nathan McGrath - A broken America trapped in a persistent winter; all communications dead. Haunted by strange visions, an amnesiac teenager and an army veteran race across a frozen, landscape to prevent an alliance of extremists from destroying an entire city with a sinister WMD.

The Tale by David Kingsley Evans - Colourful but imperfect characters stride the Galaxy. In an emotional whirlpool races struggle to survive when faced with the coming of darkness. Deep, violent and in parts even waggish. You meet two of the most vicious races ever to evolve. With the galaxy ravaged by war only evil prevails.

The Queen's Martian Rifles by ME Brines - Does the secret to the origin of Mankind lie within the Great Pyramid of Mars? The Queen's Martian Rifles - A Romantic Steampunk Adventure.

Dignity by Eva Caye - Lady Felicia Sorensen is pressured to date Emperor Victor Sinclair, who has fallen in love with her! Showered with extravagant gowns and attention, she longs to do research in her lab, not a stressful, dangerous destiny as Empress. How can she bend to the political necessities of a high elevation?

The Descendant by Kelley Grealis - When Allison Carmichael discovers the truth about her biblical lineage, she wishes she hadn’t searched so hard for the answers she thought she wanted. Faced with an impossible decision – sacrifice her mortal life or damn her soul for eternity – which will Allison choose? And can she decide before the choice is made for her?


Monday, January 13, 2014

Last Chance for Free Book Listings!

The first issue of Spaceship Urff lands on Wednesday (Jan. 15)! If you are an author/publisher and would like a free book listing in this issue, check out the guidelines here and get them to me by the end of the day on Tuesday. Remember, new releases will receive preferential placement. Also, if you've yet to do so, you can follow us by entering your email in the box over to the right. That way you'll get a notice when a new issue comes out. 

Michael K. Rose