Posts Tagged ‘Death Ray’


This is the second of two interviews I’ve done with Raymond E. Feist, conducted in late spring 2008 for Death Ray #12. He’s a somewhat bombastic, very talkative man, yet unlike some of the “white male writers with beards” contingent I’ve spoken to, his self-confidence (and he is supremely self-confident) never tips over into offensive arrogance. Further points in his favour are his candour, and his professionalism (as far as one can judge it from outside).

I loved his books as an adolescent, but got bored after five or so of them. Although this is standard for me with most writers, in this case it was part of a wider process of disenchantment with epic fantasy. I abandoned the genre in the late 1980s, not returning to it until I began working on SFX in 1997, and then only under sufferance. A combination of my own developing tastes and my urge to experience new worlds and new writers, I suppose. More frankly, I kept reading book after book that was just awful. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy fantasy, and read more of it now than I did. But unlike science fiction, it’s harder to find fantasy’s gems amid the dreck. For a long while I became exhausted looking for them.

You could point at Feist, with his umpteen books, as the bannerman for the franchisation of the genre and its domination by an industry standard of tediously predictable frolics, but so what? More power to him. He writes stories people enjoy, and is rewarded for it. That’s the way it should be. And he is, let it be said, among the better multi-book fantasy saga writers.

Speaking to Feist is a bit like being hit by a very large wave. Overwhelming but fun. When all’s said and done, he’s very hard not to like.

He’s one of the top-selling fantasy authors on the planet, a powerhouse of prose whose 24-book (and growing) Riftwar cycle dwarfs those of even the most prolific author. A real magician of words, He’s Raymond E. Feist, and he likes to talk.

At twenty-four books long, the Riftwar saga is one of the most extensive of all the grand fantasy epics. Written by Californian Raymond E. Feist over a period of more than 30 years, Riftwar began with the smash hit Magician, first published in 1982. Magician is typical of the genre, a huge fat wedge of a book. Beginning with the story of an orphaned boy, Pug, before opening up to cover a decade of interplanetary war. Feist’s books are not art with a capital “A” (his own words), they’re derived from a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting he and his friends created while they were at university in San Diego, and contain the full Tolkien menagerie of Elves, Dwarves and so forth. So far, so familiar.

Where they are not typical is in their expert artifice. Feist is a master of fast-paced epic storytelling, his characters are heroic but mortal, struggling through massive wars with enemies both human and monstrous who gain access to his the world of Midkemia via magical “rifts” (we’re talking a wizardly stargate here). Magician is a masterclass in storytelling, a sweeping epic which sees Midkemia plunged into chaos as men from the world of Kelewan invade without warning. Caught up in the decade-long conflict are the boy Pug and his adopted brother Tomas both of whom, by different paths, become powerful men. Feist’s books are set against an intricate backdrop which, though initially it appears to have been drawn from the usual catalogue of fantasylands, is a superior example of the type. On the cover of his latest Wrath of a Mad God, a quote describes his work as “A guilty pleasure”. That this grudging praise comes from The Guardian newspaper says it all – this guy is good at what he does. (more…)


Star_Trek_Motion_picture

Along with The Wrath of Khan, this is actually my favourite Star Trek film.

A feature on Star Trek‘s first cinematic outing, originally published in Death Ray 17 at the beginning of 2009.

Loved by some as the best of the Trek movies, hated by others for its ponderous pace, Star Trek: The Motion Picture at least brought Kirk and co. out of retirement. Guy Haley examines its troubled genesis.

Of all SF TV series, the original Star Trek remains the undisputed king. No other TV show has had such an impact on the genre as a whole, or spawned such a sprawling franchise. But its early history was rocky, with its future importance little in evidence. Cancelled after three years, in 1969 (it had, in fact, only narrowly evaded cancellation the previous year), it would be ten years and many near misses before Star Trek: The Motion Picture hit the big screen, and modern Star Trek would take off in a big way.

Trek‘s original viewing figures were low, but it built an audience for itself through endless reruns in syndication. In time it was to return as an animated show (1973-74), but these were lean years for Trek-creator Gene Roddenberry. Aside from the animated series, success continued to elude him. His film Pretty Maids All in a Row for MGM was only modestly successful. Of his many ideas for further TV shows, only four made it to pilots, and none to full series. Though the popularity of Star Trek continued to grow, for a few years he was unable to find work in the film and TV industry, and was forced to make ends meet by taking to the lecture circuit.

Finally, in 1975, development work on a possible feature film began. Scripts by such awesome SF demigods as Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Silverberg and Harlan Ellison were received and rejected. Finally, in 1977 a script entitled “Star Trek: Planet of the Titans” by Chris Bryant and Allan Scott was greenlit, but before pre-production started, Star Wars came out, and a cagey Paramount canned the project for fear that the market would not cope with another big SF movie.

Instead, they would reinvent Star Trek for the small screen. Star Trek Phase II was announced. It was to be the spearhead of Paramount’s programmes for a brand-new network which would otherwise show TV movies. The show would bring back the old cast bar Leonard Nimoy (he was trying to disassociate himself from the character, and had had legal issues with both Roddenberry and Paramount to boot) and introduce new characters: Ilia, a bald, hypersexual Deltan, Decker, Kirk’s new executive Officer, and Lieutenant Xon, a full-blooded Vulcan right out of Starfleet Academy. A two-hour opening episode named “In Thy image”, based on an idea of Roddenberry’s for his abandoned show Genesis II, was written by Alan Dean Foster. Experienced TV director Robert E. Collins was hired to direct, and work got underway. But all was not quite as secure as it seemed, and the series was never to be made…

Paramount had worked out as early as August of 1977 that they could not make their new channel work. Unwilling to reveal this to their competitors, they kept it secret, and that included not telling the crew of Star Trek: Phase II. Actors were hired, 13 scripts written, sets built and miniatures completed. Then, in March of ’78, a full nine months after the decision to stop the project, Paramount-head Michael Eisner called a shock meeting: the series and the network were being dropped, but had decided to turn the pilot into a movie. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was born, its tumultuous conception a foretaste of things to come.

Though the story of the pilot (a dangerous alien intelligence comes to Earth looking for its creator. It turns out to be the now god-like Voyager probe) was retained for the movie, Alan Dean Foster was shut out, deemed too inexperienced to pen a movie, and the Writer’s Guild had to step in to ensure his name was retained on the script at all. Roddenberry did not get on very well with new script writer Harold Livingston. Livingston, an old hand, had attempted to recruit several other writers but ending up writing the script himself. The two argued so much that Livingston threatened to quit several times. The result was a script that was endlessly rewritten. Interference from executives and actors added to the turmoil, and daily drafts became the norm. In the end, the finale where Decker merges with Voyager was made up on the day of shooting.

Collins was also given the boot and replaced by Robert Wise (ST:TMP was to be his third SF film). He inherited a film that was ten weeks behind schedule before a single shot had been filmed. The script was unfinished, the sets needed upgrading to movie standard, casting and costuming had to be revisited… Wise, who was convinced to take the role by his Trek-mad wife, became so worried he considered throwing in the towel too, and tried to convince Paramount to can the project altogether.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is rightfully remembered for its fantastic effects work, but these, like so much else on the film, proved problematic to produce. Robert Abel Associates, the company hired to provide the effects, were dropped when it looked like they could not cope with the scale of the job. Paramount offered Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey) a big pot of cash if he could get all the work done by the Christmas release date. He dropped most of the already completed effects (only the wormhole sequence is a full Abel effect). Trumbull sub-contracted John Dykstra, and employed the effects team off the just completed Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Trumbull also wrote and directed the sequence where Spock goes deep into V’Ger in a spacesuit, completing it at the last minute. (An earlier version of this sequence had been part filmed but abandoned after it was calculated that just removing the wires from the shot would consume most of the effects budget.)

The models used were large – the Enterprise model was eight feet long – but not large enough to allow the detail shots the production needed, so Trumbull had to commission a special periscope camera system from Panavision. A further problem was that the depth of fields in many shots required exposure times counted in minutes, substantially adding to production time. All this helped make Star Trek: The Motion Picture come in at $46,000,000, the most expensive film ever made at the time.

Post-production went on until the day before the film was released. The copies were shipped wet, straight from the duplication lab, and airlifted to their destinations. Neither sound mix nor effects shots were fully completed until the 2001 release of the Director’s Edition.

Critical reception for the film was mixed. Roddenberry was wary of drawing comparison with fantasy of Star Wars, so had pushed the film in a more serious direction. (To date, this remains the only Trek film in which the phasors are not fired). Regarded as ponderous and self-important, critics dubbed it the “Slow-Motion” and “Motionless” picture, and pointed out that the plot is very similar to that of the second season episode “The Changeling”. The film’s gross, roughly three times that of its cost, was a disappointment to Paramount. But others praised its effects, and Jerry Goldsmith, who began a long association with Star Trek with TMP, was nominated for an Oscar for his score.

Its influence on later Star Trek was pronounced. Its slowness and lack of action prolonged the franchise’s push and pull battle between serious SF concepts and cosy space opera (Roddenberry, often in the middle of this particular storm, was virtually frozen out of the next film, which was to be a swashbuckling space adventure) and it introduced many things – music, make-up, cinematic sensibilities, even the Klingon language – that we regard as uniquely Trek. Star Trek was back to stay.

Star Trek Fact File

A dozen Star Trek The Motion Picture factoids for your edification.

  1. Gene asked his wife Majel if she’d don a furry tail and reprise M’Ress, the catwoman she’d voiced in the cartoon. She demured and played Doctor Chapel instead.
  2. This is the first time Klingon and Vulcan are spoken on screen. James “Scotty” Doohan wrote words for both languages (the Vulcan words were dubbed over actors were speaking English, so he devised words that fit the lip movements). Marc Okrand later used the Klingon words as the basis for his Klingon Language.
  3. The cast were getting older when the film was made – William Shatner was 48, DeForrest Kelley 59, James Doohan 59, Leonard Nimoy 48, and Nichelle Nicholls 46. Special lighting and camera tricks were used to hide their age, and Shatner went on a crash diet.
  4. The scene where Kirk addresses the crew before they set out involved many notable extras. Including Bjo Trimble who co-organised the letter campaign that led to Star Trek coming back for a third year. David Gerrold, who wrote “The Trouble With Tribbles”, Robert Wise’s wife, Millicent and James Doohan’s twin sons Montgomery and Christopher.
  5. The costumes for the alien crew members were leftovers from the 10 Commandments.
  6. The NX-01 was nearly inserted digitally into the shots of Decker showing Ilia previous ships named Enterprise when the film was tarted up in 2001. Though this did not happen, the ringed SS Enterprise from the pictures appeared in Star Trek: Enterprise instead.
  7. The V’Ger prop was so large that one end of it was being used in scenes while the other end was still being built.
  8. Chekhov was going to be killed, this was changed so he just injured his hand.
  9. Uhura’s ear-pieces are the only props from the original series – they forgot to make new ones.
  10. It is the longest Trek film, and the only one to break the two hour mark.
  11. Wise made Goldsmith redo his score, as he said it “sounded like sailing ships.”
  12. A bizarre electronic device, the Blaster Beam, was one of many different instruments used in the score. It was 15 feet long, and was played by hitting it with an artillery shell. This was made by Craig Hundley, who had played two guest roles in the original series when he was a child.
Did you know…?

It’s often assumed that Alan Dean Foster ghost wrote Gene Roddenberry’s novelisation of the film. This is not the case. Foster wrote the script for the original pilot episode of Star Trek: Phase II, upon which the film was based. He did write the novelisation of Star Wars, but he did not write the Star Trek book.


I’ve a few spare moments, and so am spending a day or so putting up as much of my journalism archive material as I can. I’m two thirds of the way through Death Ray’s run now, after that I’ve a bunch of other articles and reviews to place here. But Death Ray represents the largest part of that body. I’m glad I can see the end coming, to be honest, but even so, at this rate it’ll be 2017 before I’m all done… Anyhow, here’s a short piece with prolific megastar, Mike Resnick.

Mike Resnick

This interview comes from Death Ray 17, out in early 2009. It originally fronted a reprint of Resnick’s story “Robots Don’t Cry” (that’s why it refers to it).

Welcome to Death Ray’s very first piece of short fiction, though we’re sure it won’t be the last. This month, we’re proud to present a 2004 Hugo nominated short from Mike Resnick, the most highly awarded writer of SF short fiction ever to grace the face of our fair planet Earth. Typical of this writer, ‘Robots Don’t Cry’ might be a story with a mechanical protagonist, but it has a big human heart.

Fact File

Born: 5 March 1942

Where is he to be found? The United States.

What does he do? According to Locus, whose stock in trade it is to keep track of such things, Mike has won more awards for his short fiction than any writer living or dead, and is fourth on their list of all-time award winners. His haul includes five Hugos. He writes mostly short form fiction, though novels, spin-off fiction and more are all grist to the mill for this immensely industrious SF and fantasy writer. Unlike the work of some SF authors, Resnick’s tales are people-oriented, a bit like Ray Bradbury, you could say. He’s also possessed of a ready sense of humour, which he often employs even in the most serious of his works.

Mike Resnick is one of the most prolific writers  working in the genre today. “Most writers hate writing and love having written. Me, I love writing,” he tells us. The list of his short stories alone stretches into the hundreds. He sold his first story in 1959 while he was still a teenager, and his first book in 1962.  This led into a first career as a writer of adult novels where he learnt his craft, before he began to create serious amounts of SF in the 1980s. He’s also a prolific writer of articles, has edited numerous anthologies, seven newspapers and two men’s magazines. Today, he is co-editor on Jim Baen’s Science Fiction Universe, one of the many SF e-zines in the US that cater for the short story market.

Besides his many and varied short stories, Resnick is the creator of the Birthright universe, his take on the rise and fall of mankind’s stellar empire to come, which now comprises dozens of shorts and novels. He dabbles in the magical on occasion, his second John Justin Mallory novel, Stalking the Vampire, having just been released by Pyr in the US. This urban fantasy series shows Resnick at his most playful – Mallory is a down at heel private eye with a heart of gold in a parallel New York where elves and unicorns rub shoulders with ordinary folks. Though there have been many blendings of gumshoe fiction and fantasy, the Mallory stories are among the most successful. But not all Resnick’s tales are light-hearted, and he has won some renown for his SF stories based in or on Africa and the after-effects of its colonisation.

As well as in writing, Resnick has enjoyed great success as a breeder of dogs, and for 17 years owned and ran the second largest boarding kennels in the states with his wife Carol. Carol is also an author and often collaborates with her husband. Ink, not blood runs in the family veins, it seems – their daughter Laura is a writer too.

Resnick is a powerhouse, turning out up to 20 pages of finished work a day, and he shows no signs of stopping. “I realize that I’m a lot closer to the end than the beginning,” he says “and I still have hundreds of stories to tell.”

Death Ray: Why did you choose to give us ‘Robots Don’t Cry’?

Mike Resnick: I have a number of reasons. First, I think it’s pretty typical of my work: I do a lot of first person stories, they don’t have much science in them, and you’ll never find a robot programmed with the Three Laws or anything like them in any of my stories. Second, it’s a pretty decent story or it wouldn’t have received a nomination. Third, it seems to appeal to a broad range of people interested in something other than the printed page: it has been a 40 minute live-action movie, it has been a 35-minute computer animation movie, and I just sold audio translation rights to a Polish radio station.

DR: You started writing novels when short fiction was in vogue, and now write short fiction when massive novels seem to be the standard! What do you like about short fiction?

MR: I wrote something like eight short stories from 1975 to 1985. Then, sometime in the mid-1980s, I discovered I much preferred writing short fiction. I still have to write from two to four novels a year to pay my bills, but it’s the short stories that I truly love. As I said, I’ve got a lot of stories to tell, and they get told a lot quicker at short story length.

DR: As co-editor on Jim Baen’s Universe with Eric Flint, what do you think the “state of the nation” is now in short fiction?

MR: I think electronic publication is the future and the salvation of the short story. I can’t tell you which e-publications will live and which won’t, but I can tell you that the three or four of the highest-paying short fiction markets today are all e-zines, and that as quickly as one folds you can look for three or four to take its place.

DR: You have a deep love and, it seems, understanding of Africa.

MR: There’s not as much to like about it today as when I was going there years ago, thanks to Robert Mugabe and like-minded tyrants. But it’s a fascinating continent, with societies as alien to our own as you’re likely to encounter on this Earth. Also, I believe that if we can reach the stars there is no doubt that we’re going to colonise them – and Africa offers 51 separate and distinct examples of the deleterious effects of colonisation not only on the colonised but on the colonisers as well. And you know what they say about those who can’t learn from history.

DR: You love dogs. How do you fit your  breeding and showing around your writing?

MR: We bred and exhibited collies from 1968 through 1982, and had 23 champions during that time. We named ‘em all after science fiction stories and characters. Some of our biggest winners were Gully Foyle, The Gray Lensman, Nightwings, Something Wicked, and Silverlock. I suppose my interest in collies stemmed from the stories of Albert Payson Terhune, though I outgrew him by the time I was ten and was attending dog shows and reading books on collie genetics before I was in high school. The collies took an inordinate amount of time, and so did the writing, and I finally had to choose between them.

DR: How does it feel to be the most awarded SF short story writer in the history of the genre?

MR: Endlessly surprising and endlessly humbling. I went to my first Worldcon in 1963, at the age of 21. There were giants at the Hugo ceremony. Isaac Asimov was handing them out, and people like Phil Dick and Jack Vance were winning them, and I thought if I led a good life and wrote at the peak of my abilities maybe in 30 or 40 years someone might let me touch one, just for a few seconds. I have been living a dream for 45 years, and I spend an inordinate amount of time helping newcomers as means of paying forward and thanking the field for all it has done for me.


From Death Ray 09, written and released in 2007 but with the cover date of January 2008 (magazines are silly like that), today I have for you:

A review of the CGI animated film Beowulf.

A review of Beowulf and Grendel, a film starring Gerard Butler released on DVD to cash in on the other Beowulf.

A brief run down of Brian Aldiss’s brilliant book, Non-Stop, which is kind of apposite as this week I’m doing the final pass on my own “colony effort goes horribly wrong” story, Crash.


Ah, Death Ray, how fruitful plundering your corpse is for my blog… This article originally appeared in Death Ray 08, back in 2007, as part of our insanely crammed “Ten Minute Guide…” series. These were among my favourite articles to write; packed full of detail, and no transcribing involved. I’ve put this one up as my review of the Flash Gordon TV series of 2007/2008 is one of the most viewed articles on this site by a long, long way. General searches for “Flash Gordon” take people there, so curiosity about this primal member of the modern SF heroic pantheon still abounds.

Flash Gordon: Perennially popular cosmic adventurer

flashgordon_1cvr

The original, and the best. Click the pic for more on the comic.

Golden-haired saviour of Earth, Flash has been protecting us from the art-deco hell of Ming the Merciless’s Planet Mongo for 70 years, often in a pair of tight trunks. In a word: Pulp.

Flash’s adventures are ones of swash-buckling, over the top, Prisoner of Zenda style derring-do in space. The stories are simple stuff, simply told, their enduring popularity down to the sumptuousness of Alex Raymond’s art and the on-screen extravagance it inspired. If scantily clad slave girls, finned rocket ships, weird alien kingdoms and decadently luxuriant palaces are your thing, step this way… (more…)


Criminy, another new year, my 40th to be precise. I’m halfway through my life, or thereabouts. Now that’s something to chew on. Once more the terrifying brevity of human existence troubles my thoughts.

Happy New Year!

I don’t celebrate New Year much. This year (I suppose “last year”) I watched Predators on telly, which was better than expected, then went to bed at 11.30. I’ve always found New Year’s Eve a bit of an anti-climax, unless you can find a good house party. And I always get maudlin about my mortal span (see above). In any case, now my son Benny is four, there’s no going anywhere on days like that. So, onto 2013, it’s a busy one. Here’s a rundown of what’s happening in the Guyniverse come the next twelve months (all provisional, naturally).

January

My first story for Interzone will be published in issue 244. Hurrah!

March

I’ll be at Black Library Live in Nottingham on 3rd March, then the day after at The Scifi Weekender in Pwllheli. See you there?

April

I am also going to be at Salute with BL, on 20th April in London. I’ll be at several other events with the Black Library this year, and I’ll be posting details of those nearer the time.

May

Baneblade, my first published novel for The Black Library, is out on 7th May. Expect a linked story in Hammer and Bolter before the book comes out.

June

The Crash is out on the 25th. My second original novel for Solaris, it’s about a colony expedition that goes horribly wrong.

July

Skarsnik is out, my second BL book. This hits the shelves on 19th July. There’ll be a tie-in story about another famous Greenskin warlord in Hammer and Bolter. If you’re seeing a pattern here, that’s because there is one.

August

My Horus Heresy-era short story will appear in the Mark of Calth anthology, out on 13th. I actually just finished this today, and will tell you the title when I am one hundred per cent sure I won’t get into hot water for it (meaning, I’ll ask my editor).

September

My third novel for The Black Library/Games Workshop is released 3rd September. Space Marines galore, Genestealers, and a twist.

And that’s about it for the time being. I’ve got several other projects bubbling away, and as I said I will be appearing at other events. As for this blog,  I’ve made my one and only New Year resolution to get all my Death Ray work online. And then I’ve  a four-year backlog of SFX material; and that’s just the stuff I’ve got permission to publish. FYI, the blog got 25000 views in 2012, nowhere near the likes of John Scalzi’s eight million but not bad, I think. Things I’m hoping for this year? Less rain.