Guest Post: The Last Video Store on Earth

And now for something completely different… While an undergrad at The University of Texas (Austin) (2005-2009), my saved dollars went to Vulcan Video—a purveyor of cult films (science fictional, foreign, unusual). Between Vulcan Video and the university audio visual library, I spent the majority of my free time transported to unusual worlds. I asked a friend, Christopher Giles, who returned to Austin after college to work at the store to write a guest post on the intersection of science fiction cinema/fiction and Vulcan’s last days, a victim (at least partly) of Covid-19.


And as always, I look forward to your thoughts.


The Last Video Store on Earth

Christopher Giles

Vulcan Video was an independently owned video rental store located in Austin, Texas. Enjoying a stock of literally thousands of titles, with a focus on classic, foreign, and rare genre oddities, Vulcan stood as a beloved cinematic hub in a town uniquely suited for such a space, one of the few remaining businesses of its kind left standing. Unfortunately, recent years dealt Vulcan with the twin blows of increased rent prices and decreased customer traffic in the age of digital streaming, and the unavoidable realities of COVID-19 forced the store to permanently shut its doors in early April 2020.

Working at a video store, one grows accustomed to seasonal rushes on particular genres: lots of romcom rentals in February; the Horror section picked dry by the end of October; frantic, last-minute requests for It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) the week before Christmas. It’s to be expected, and can often lead to opportunities for customers to discover overlooked gems. When all copies of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) are predictably checked out weeks prior to the titular holiday, a slasher-starved customer might instead leave the store with Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (1971) in hand, none less the richer for the alternative. As video store clerks, we looked forward to these days on the calendar and prepared for them accordingly.

Even the occasional curveball of unexpected news could be met with quick action, like, say, the untimely death of a beloved actor; when Burt Reynolds passed in 2018, the Vulcan Video staff quickly put together a tribute section for the mustachioed icon. This allowed for grieving customers to easily locate and snatch up copies of tried and true favorites like White Lightning (1973) and Continue reading

[short] Diaristic Fragments on Japanese New Wave Film: Nagisa Ôshima’s Empire of Passion (1978), Masahiro Shinoda’s Double Suicide (1969), Shûji Terayama’s Pastoral Hide and Seek (1974), and Shôhei Imamura’s The Pornographers (1966)


(Still from The Pornographers (1966), dir. Shôhei Imamura)

In the beginning the “Other Suspect Ruminations” part of my site’s title referred to my filmic obsessions. It’s been five years since I’ve posted along those lines. As diligent readers might be able to tell, I am fascinated by the general historical context (and earlier) of the SF decades I enjoy the most—from the Czech New Wave to the Japanese New Wave, from 60s/70s political jazz to the surrealists.

Until a few months ago my experience with Japanese New Wave film was limited to Hiroshi Teshigahara’s collaborations with the Japanese author (of SF and literature) Kôbô Abe—The Woman in the Dunes (1964), The Face of Another (1966) and Pitfall (1962)—and a few surreal Seijun Suzuki yakuza flics including Branded to Kill (1967) and Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Masahiro Shinoda’s hyper-stylized Pale Flower (1964). I highly recommend all of the above, especially The Face of Another (1966) if you’re interested in Japanese New Wave’s take on science fiction.


(A tantalizing scene from The Face of Another)

Recently my horizons have expanded. I am in no way a scholar of Japan or claim to be knowledgeable about Japanese culture, however, the narrative experimentation Continue reading

Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: The Brothers Quay and SF covers


(Cover by the Brothers Quay for the 1977 edition of A Scanner Darkly (1977), Philip K. Dick)

While looking through the cover catalogue to celebrate Octavia E. Butler’s birthday on twitter (@SFRuminations), I found that her first novel Patternmaster (1976) was graced with a cover by Stephen and Timothy Quay—as in, the famous stop-motion (and more recently, live action) film directors know collectively as Brothers Quay!  If you’ve never seen their work, check out The Street of the Crocodiles (1986).

Brothers Quay—along with Guy Maddin, Jan Švankmajer, Wojciech Has, Juraj Herz (for The Cremator, 1969) among others—have long been among my cinematic cornerstones, and to discover that they created SF covers certainly made my day!  I have included a series of stills from their films below—creepy, gorgeous, incredibly well-crafted, (the adjectives could continue for pages).   Continue reading

Book Review: The Eye of the Lens, Langdon Jones (1972)

Richard Jones1972

(Richard Jones’ cover for the 1972 edition)

4/5 (collated rating: Good) (*see note below)

Langdon Jones is best known for his involvement in New Worlds Magazine: he contributed stories (published 16 in various New Worlds venues), cover art, and edited the April-July 1969 issues.  One of his stories, “To Have and To Hold,” was slated to appear in the never published Last Dangerous Visions, and languishes unread and unknown.  Why Ellison doesn’t relinquish control of the copyright is beyond me…  Sadly, Jones’ output had all but dried up by 1969.  If anyone knows why, please let me know.

Three of the seven stories in the collection—“The Hall of Machines” (1968), “The Coming of the Sun” (1968), and “The Eye of the Lens” (1968)—form a loose triptych (the religious connotations of the term is purposeful).

*NOTE: Recommended only for fans of the most radical New Wave SF that graced the pages of New Worlds magazine.  Experimental, allegorical, and occasionally Borgesian, all the stories revolve around our perception of time and memory.  Even in the collection’s weakest moments—the Continue reading

Book Review: Doomsday Morning, C. L. Moore (1957)


(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1958 edition)

4.25/5 (Good)

C. L. Moore’s Doomsday Morning (1957) — she’s best known for her revolutionary 1930s works including “Shambleau” (1934) and the “Jirel of Joiry” sequence — is perhaps her most ruminative and traditional SF novel (she tended to write more fantastical SF and fantasy).  Unfortunately, she quit writing around the time of the death of her husband and frequent collaborator Henry Kuttner (they often published under the pseudonym Lewis Padgett).  And her second husband forbid her to write altogether…

Moore creates a finely wrought dystopic vision where an oppressive future government utilizes communication networks to spread its tentacles across the United States.  Against this backdrop intriguing characters come to life.  Her descriptions of the political backdrop remain minimalistic which is surprising for SF of the 50s which often resorts to lengthy descriptive lectures.  Instead, the true extent of the government’s Continue reading

Update: 2011 in review, best books, movies, etc

Here are my favorite films and science fiction novels I’ve reviewed this year (and some other interesting categories) with links to my reviews….

Watch them! Read them! Gaze at them!  (the array below….)

Best Science Fiction Novel (tie: The World Inside, The Unsleeping Eye, Hawksbill Station)

The World Inside (1971), Robert Silverberg (REVIEW) 5/5 (Masterpiece)

Silverberg’s The World Inside is a fascinating take on the theme of overpopulation — what if society was organized towards a single goal, propagation?  What would society look like?  What position in society would women occupy?  Men? What would cities look like? Hallways? Rooms? Institutions?  What happens to those who don’t fit in?  Or, can’t have children?

The Unsleeping Eye (variant title: Continue reading

(mini) Film Ruminations: The Tree of Life (2011), Super 8 (2011), A Serious Man (2010), etc.

I do not write reviews for the majority of films I watch.  My reasons are somewhat nebulous considering it’s the summer and I certainly have time.  I see my blog more as a way to re-examine and bring to the forefront sci-fi books and films generally more esoteric and infrequently reviewed.  But certain winds shift direction for brief windows of time.  So here we go, a rundown of the more popular films I’ve seen in theater or re-watched recently.

The Tree of Life (2011), dir. Terrence Malick, rating 7.75/10 (Good)


Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011) juxtaposes extensive sequences Continue reading

A Film Rumination: The Man Who Changed His Mind (variant titles: The Man Who Lived Again, Brainsnatcher, Dr. Maniac), Robert Stevenson (1936)

7/10 (Good)

Boris Karloff!  Mind transplants! Headstrong female scientists! 30s sci-fi horror! A watchable yet seldom seen film! What’s not to like?

The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936) is the second Robert Stevenson (later of Disney fame), Anna Lee, and John Loder feature I’ve seen — the first, Non-Stop New York (1937) wasn’t nearly as Continue reading