Future Media Short Story Review: John D. MacDonald’s “Spectator Sport” (1950)

Today I’ve reviewed the sixteenth story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. John D. MacDonald tortures a time-traveler with an immersive TV experience!

Thank you “Friend of the Site” John Boston for suggesting I track this one down for my media series. “Friend of the Site” Antyphayes also brought up the story in a discussion way back in 2018

Previously: Theodore Sturgeon’s “And Now the News…” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Anthony Boucher (December 1956). You can read it online here.

Up Next: John Brunner’s “Fair” in New Worlds Science Fiction, ed. John Carnell (March 1956) (as Keith Woodcutt). You can read it online here.

3.5/5 (Good)

John D. MacDonald’s “Spectator Sport” first appeared in the February 1950 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Sam Merwin, Jr. You can read it online here. Note: this is a very short story and my review will contain unavoidable spoilers.

John D. MacDonald (1916-1986), best known for his massive Travis McGee series (1964-1985) and the twice-adapted psychological thriller The Executioners (1957), wrote three SF novels and was a regular in SF magazines in the 40s and 50s (with a handful appearing later). SF Encyclopedia claims erroneously that none of his later “ebullient pessimism” is present in his early SF. “Spectator Sport” embodies “ebullient pessimism” by creating a future where everyone is excited about slipping into delusion.

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Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Mariella Anderlini’s Covers for Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber (Corwin) sequence

On twitter, I recently learned from Jay O’Connell (cover artist and author) that all of Roger Zelazny’s work will be back in print. What exactly “everything back in print” means in reality I’m not entirely sure–will it include only the best known novels? All the short stories? Are works Zelazny wanted to “kill off” like To Die in Italbar (1973) really going to get reprints? Regardless, I was inspired to look back at the non-English language covers his work has received over the years. Naturally, as I moved to the fantastic Italian presses, I re-encountered and fell in love (again) with Allison’s evocative take on Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber (Corwin) five-novel sequence.

What are your favorites?

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Updates: Podcast Interview and Vintage Science Fiction Discussion Extravaganza

I appeared in my first ever podcast–Postcards from a Dying World with David Agranoff–last week. Organized around a series of interview questions, David and I ended up discussing vintage SF for a good hour. I cover how studying history has inspired my project, reasons for my focus on SF from post-WWII to the mid-1980s, favorite authors and themes, etc. Please check out his twitter and website as well. I have gathered together a list of the SF works I mention in the interview with links to my reviews when applicable.

I hate listening to myself as I am far too excited about vintage SF! (but is that a surprise?)

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy Purchases No. CCCII (C. L. Moore, Marc Laidlaw, Fredric Brown, Mack Reynolds)

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Dad’s Nuke, Marc Laidlaw (1986)

From the back cover: “BARBECUE THE NEIGHBOURS. In post-collapse suburban America, keeping up with the Joneses has got a little out of hand. Fallout shelters used to be the ultimate status symbol–until Mr. Johnson had his baby daughter’s digestive system adapted to consume radioactive waste.

Now Jock Smith has the edge on his neighbours–he has installed his very own tactical nuclear missile in the back yard.

After all, these are dangerous times..”

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Future Media Short Story Review: Theodore Sturgeon’s “And Now the News…” (1956)

Today I’ve reviewed the fifteenth story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. Theodore Sturgeon explores the effects of information overload in a chilling study of the making of a terrorist.

Previously: Walter F. Moudy’s “The Survivor” in Amazing Stories, ed. Cele Lalli (Goldsmith) (May 1965). You can read it online here.

Up Next: John D. MacDonald’s “Spectator Sport” in Thrilling Wonder Stories, ed. Sam Merwin, Jr. (February 1950). You can read it online here

4.5/5 (Very Good)

Theodore Sturgeon’s “And Now the News…” first appeared in the December 1956 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Anthony Boucher. You can read it online here. I read it in TV: 2000, ed. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, Charles G. Waugh (1982). I highly recommend the anthology for all readers interested in this theme.

Written during the boom in TV sales and consumption in the United States–from 7k sold in 1944 to 5 million in 1950 (and by 1960 90% of homes contained a TV) (source)–“And Now the News…” describes a world saturated by all forms of media [1]. From the morning newspapers that wait at his door consumed at breakfast, the “three [radio] stations in town with hourly broadcasts” (262), and the TV news programs in the evening, MacLyle’s waking hours are completely inundated with the news [1].

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Book Review: I Am Legend, Richard Matheson (1954)

3.5/5 (Good)

Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954) is an influential SF vampire/zombie novel that spawned three film adaptations (I’ve watched the first two) and inspired directors such as George A. Romero and Danny Boyle, game designers such as Tim Cain (Fallout), and countless authors. The subject of the novel–man attempts to survive an onslaught of vampires, caused by bacterial infection, that act like smart(er) zombies in a post-apocalyptic wasteland–normally isn’t my cup of tea. I’m the first to admit that I picked up the novel entirely due to its historical importance. And I’m somewhat glad I did! While the physical onslaught of vampiric zombies didn’t interest me, the main thrust of the narrative concerns the mechanisms of grief and sexual frustration in the burning wreckage of one-time domestic bliss.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CCCI (Angela Carter, Keith Roberts, J. L. Hensley, and a Leo Margulies Anthology)

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

1. Heroes & Villains, Angela Carter (1969)

From the back cover: “The Barbarians had attacked the village, looting and burning. And when they left, Marianne, a daughter of the scientists, went with them. Now she followed Jewel, leader of the barbarians, and lived with him as his captured bride…”

Initial Thoughts: A few years ago I read, and was blown away, by Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972). I placed it on my best reads of 2016 list but never managed to write a review. Inspired by the novel, I wrote an article derived from a fascinating 1979 interview on Angela Carter’s views on science fiction–including her inspirations and the state of the British SF scene, Michael Moorcock’s prodigious production and New Worlds editorship, and the unescapable influence of J. G. Ballard.

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Future Media Short Story Review: Walter F. Moudy’s “The Survivor” (1965)

Today I’ve reviewed the fourteenth story in my series on the science fictional media landscape of the future. Walter F. Moudy relays the coverage of the 2050 Olympic War Games between the United States and Russia with harrowing effect.

Previously: Barry N. Malzberg’s “The Idea” in In the Pocket and Other S-F Stories (1971) (as K. M. O’Donnell).

Up Next: Theodore Sturgeon’s “And Now the News…” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Anthony Boucher (December 1956). You can read it online here.

3.5/5 (Good)

Walter F. Moudy’s “The Survivor” first appeared in the May 1965 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Cele Lalli (Goldsmith). You can read it online here.

Recently James Harris highlighted the truncated writing career of Walter F. Moudy (1929-1973) with a focus on No Man on Earth (1964), his only science fiction novel. Inspired by his comments on “The Survivor” (1965) and relentlessly intrigued by authors who have fallen from contemporary memory, I placed the slick future televised Cold War conflict tale at the top of my media landscapes of the future review list. For those expecting a masterful Henry Kuttner tale, stay tuned! In the meantime, let’s plunge into Moudy’s coverage of the 2050 Olympic War Games between the US and Russia.

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Updates: Recent Science Fiction Purchases No. CCC (James Blish, Norman Spinrad, R. M. Meluch, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)

My 300th purchase post!

Which books/covers/authors intrigue you? Which have you read? Disliked? Enjoyed?

Preliminary Note: As I’m currently on vacation, the images in this post are photographs of my volumes rather than my normal hi-res scans. I’ll replace them when I get home.

1. Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1969)

From the inside page: “TAKE A TRIP WITH BILLY PILGRIM

-To the cellar of a slaughterhouse in Dresden, a city about to be destroyed by the greatest man-made catastrophe of all time.

-To happy marriage and mating with the sweet and willing daughter of one of the finest citizens of Illium, New York.

-To a luxurious zoo on the planet Tralfamadore for the public exhibition of lovemaking with the famous Earthling blue-moviestar, Montana Wildhack.

All in an amazing novel that could only have been written by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., a writer whose wildest flights take you straight to the hear and now.

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