The first Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup I ever tasted was really good — so good, in fact, that it was years before another one tasted as good. Nostalgia? No — it turned out that the first one was just really stale. To this day, no matter how much I like the fresh ones too, that’s just the way a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup should taste for me.
And so it is with science fiction — many of the stories that I first encountered as an eager young reader and viewer still warm the cockles of my fannish heart, no matter how bad I know they really are.
So, in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States, I thought I would take a moment to share some of my favorite science fiction turkeys — stories that may be overstuffed with corn and ham, but that I still find yummy nonetheless. In the interest of a balanced meal, I’ve picked one movie, one TV show, one book, and one short story.
Movie: The Alien Factor
A spaceship carrying an assortment of the galaxy’s most terrifying evil creatures crashes in a Maryland suburb, and the sheriff can’t stop them from terrorizing the town — until a mysterious man appears who seems to know more about the aliens than he lets on.
Produced, directed, and edited by, and co-starring Don Dohler — the Ed Wood of Baltimore — this amazingly MST3K-able movie has one of my all-time favorite turkey scenes: an alien resembling a rubber ape suit on stilts plodding unsteadily down a muddy road in pursuit of the sheriff’s Chevy Nova as the car attempts to escape at about 6 mph.
The Alien Factor also has my all-time favorite turkey line: “I’m going to tell you something that may seem incredible. Perhaps even unbelievable.” (Pause) “I come from Harford County.”
TV show: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
What’s not to love? It’s like Star Trek in a submarine. Well, OK, not really. It started out pretty serious, with the crew of the submarine Seaview fighting foreign governments and dealing with the perils of the sea against a backdrop of Cold War realities. Then gradually things went downhill, as they ended up doing lots of time traveling, battling an army of lobster men, defeating a werewolf, and matching wits with a disembodied brain. But it had that cool control room with that big control panel with all the lights, and a flying submarine too. Come on, people! A flying submarine!
Book: The World of Null-A by A.E. van Vogt
Philosophical tracts masquerading as fiction tend to make for pretty dismal reading (see under Rand, Ayn), and in The World of Null-A, we get a double dose — the book is not only a lengthy exposition on van Voght’s personal interpretation of Alfred Korzybski’s theory of General Semantics, but it’s also a case study in van Voght’s peculiar theories of plot structure, in which each scene must be around 800 words long and always followed by a plot twist or a resolution.
The resulting story — a man named Gilbert Gosseyn (“go sane” — get it? (Nudge) Get it??) seeks to prove his intellectual superiority only to discover that all his memories are false and that he is really some sort of superman — manages to be simultaneously monotonous and suspenseful, tedious and engrossing. It’s quite a combination for a young reader to encounter at an impressionable age. Is it a profound story, or just a story that pretends to be profound? To this day, I don’t know. I’ll keep re-reading it until I figure it out.
Short story: “The Eye of Argon” by Jim Theis
Could there really be any other choice? This epically bad heroic fantasy story has been a staple of con wrap parties for a generation, and has been brilliantly MST3k-ed — which is probably the only way you can make it through the whole story. “The Eye of Argon” follows the adventures of the barbarian warrior Grignr and his travels through the wastelands of the vowel-deprived Prince Agafnd (“by the surly Beard of Mrifk!”) until … stuff happens and then … umm, something about lecherous monks and buxomy wenches in taverns and, umm … stuff. The end.
Transcribed from a mimeographed fanzine and rich with typos, grammar mistakes, and bewildering exposition, “The Eye of Argon” is People’s Exhibit A in why writers need editors. Yet there is something deeply mesmerizing about dialogue such as this:
“Eminence, the punishment you have decreed will cause much misery to this scum, yet it will last only a short time, then release him to a land beyond the sufferings of the human body. Why not mellow him in one of the subterranean vaults for a few days, then send him to life labor in one of your buried mines. To one such as he, a life spent in the confinement of the stygian pits will be an infinitely more appropiate and lasting torture.”
An experience not unlike reading “The Eye of Argon,” actually.
From all of us at Channel 37, Happy Thanksgiving!