About Mark A. Rayner

Human-shaped, simian-obsessed, robot-fighting, pirate-hearted, massively-bestselling wannabe, Mark A. Rayner is an award-winning writer of satirical and speculative fiction.

Planet of the Knob-heads: why do lit-ah-rary types look down on SF?

So what is it about science fiction that causes “literary” types to look down upon it? Like any genre, SF has its bad and good. No scratch that, like any writing, there is both bad and good. I’ve read plenty of unreadable “literary” fiction. But SF seems to get more derision than other forms of genre writing, perhaps unfairly. Many important books are SF.

Fantastic Adventures cover - half-naked woman on giant snakeYet, try to get Margaret Atwood to admit she writes it; yes, she writes SF (though anti-technological, like Michael Crichton) and some of it’s pretty good: The Handmaid’s Tale, for example. But no, she won’t cop to it. And I understand, because then she’d be lumping herself in with …. the pulps.

I’m not trying to say that there wasn’t any merit to them, but the covers … whoa, Betty … the covers … the covers … [sound of Mark pouring water over his massive, shaved scull, coursing down the rolls of fat on his neck]

What I love about the covers is the uninhibited yearning, for example, this scantily clad woman riding a giant snake. Yes, sometimes a giant snake is just a giant snake, but in this case, a Freudian interpretation is in order.

The real variation seems to be in HOW the women are scantily clad. Fantastic Adventures seems to go for the low-cut strapless dress, while Science Fiction clearly starts there and quickly jumps to the bikini-skirt combo. Of course, neither of them had anything on Spicy Adventure Stories (though these are not really science fiction), and none of these can hold a candle to Saucy Movie. (My guess is they had some kind of requirement that the artists show at least one nipple, or make up for the lack of nipple some other way. (For example, she’s being held by a fireman, or Satan, or even worse, a pirate! Arrrr!!))

Here are a few of my favourites:

Science Fiction Quarterly

pulp fiction cover - Science Fiction QuartlerlyIf you’re not showing some nipple, then the woman/victim/love interest could be in the arms of a psychotic space-dude! This guy has some kind of transparent helmet on, but it sure isn’t because he has to haul away his woman-prize through the vacuum of space. His nipples are exposed. I’m not sure if this picture is as villainous as it seems: if her arms were bound, I’m sure they would be dangling like her legs. As it stands, they disappear behind his buttocks. I’ll let you draw whatever inference you may.

Science Fiction

Science Fiction - pulp magazine cover of robot abducting scantily clad womanHoly crap that chick is flexible! Her back is arched enough that she can see that her toe is almost dragging on the ground. Good thing she wasn’t wearing her tight jeans that morning. Good thing she’s hardly wearing anything at all. She’s probably thinking, “why couldn’t I get kidnapped by something good, like a buff sexy fireman or a nice-smelling pirate, for God’s sake. Instead, I’ve been abducted by some chicken-legged robot with a knob-head and these six bizarre little arms that look like baby’s arms with apples instead of fists. Hey, wait a minute ….”

Fantastic Adventures

fantastic adventures - pulp cover magazine of robot with horrified womanOkay, this is getting too easy. A suspiciously shaped robot threatens a woman in a skin-tight flesh-toned dress. (And a little fashion tip for all you girls who plan on being accosted by perverted automatons on the cover of a pulp magazine — pink dress and red hair — no. Go for something white and wispy, which will be more alluring and let your hair pop.)

I will say this for her, unlike the other women, she looks genuinely horrified. Of course, you would be too if you had a six-foot condom-shaped robot shaking its business at you.

Future

princess leia - future magazine coverOne look at this and I thought, “It’s Princess Leia! George Lucas had a subscription to Future!”

Seriously, that is the Proto-Princess Leia bronze boob beguiler.

No doubt this suppurated in George’s imagination for a couple of decades until he got a chance to unleash it (pun intended) in Return of the Jedi. Thus, George paid it forward, and fucked up at least two generations of impressionable young gentlemen with this evil, suggestive image.

Damn you Future magazine, and your series of salacious covers!

princess leia cover 2 - future magazine

Now to counteract all that sexist cheese, here’s a selection of ground-breaking SF, culled from Time’s “top 100 books” and the BBC’s top 100:

  • Brave New World
  • 1984
  • Animal Farm
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Naked Lunch
  • Dune
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Stand
  • The Clan Of The Cave Bear
  • Neuromancer
  • Watchmen
  • Snow Crash.

Still not sure what SF is? This handy chart may help. (Thanks to Robert Runte for pointing me towards making it.)

So, your turn — what SF book rocked your world?

Alltop thinks SF stands for San Francisco. Originally published, October 2009.

Ask General Kang: Do you own a typewriter? And do you have 999,999 co-workers?

Ask General KangI have neither, nor do I have an infinite amount of time, so don’t expect to see me write Hamlet anytime soon.

I do, however, have this gripping script about an intergalactic overlord who comes to Earth, starts writing an advice column, and finds himself forced to beat one of his letter writers senseless after he makes a joke about the overlord’s hirsute back, bow legs and penchant for banana cream pies.

But back to your impertinent question: can a million monkeys typing randomly create a work of Shakespeare? No, Shakespeare has already written his oeuvre, so the best they could do is make a copy. (Which would be silly, because it’s now all available on the Internet.)

Some people have done the math, and believe it is impossible, thus proving the existence of God. Others believe that it demonstrates how the universe has evolved. Personally, I’ve watched a few movies by Million Monkeys Studios (a subsidiary of Fox), and I have to side with the first group.

Not only does God exist, It has a cruel sense of humor. More vicious even than Kragnarok the Icky, whose favourite pastime was eating the deep-fried skin of his victims while he bathed them in lemon juice.

Next time: Is it true that putting you face near a quasar will clear up acne?

Alltop could never be written by a million monkeys. Apparently a few thousand is enough. Originally published June, 2008.

Ask General Kang: What is the penalty for plagiarism on your planet?

Ask General KangPlagiarism is the “act of stealing the ideas and/or expression of another and representing them as your own,” though I can’t remember where I got that quote from — just Google it for the source.

On my home planet of Neecknaw, this is not only an academic offence, but it is also a capital crime.

This stems from the days of Kargnak the Betrayed, one of the great warlord monkey rulers of the ancient days. Legend has it that Kargnak was an impressionable young screen-writer before he became the first in a long line of bloodthirsty intergalactic conquerors from the Planet Neecknaw.

As it happens, he wrote a promising screenplay called, “Planet of the Hairless Hominids”, about a dystopic future in which all good Neecknabian chimps were ruled by self-absorbed, ecologically retarded hominids he styled “humans”. (We had yet to discover the Milky Way Galaxy and your backwards corner of it in those days.) A producer showed some interest in it, but alas, did not buy the manuscript.

And wasn’t Kargnak surprised when the next summer, “Planet of the Humans” appeared at his local Chimpaplex? It was a huge hit, and made millions, and was (of course) based entirely on Kargnak’s original screenplay. He didn’t see a single banana skin for it, and thus Kargnak gave up the writing game for the bloodthirsty and cruel warlord business. At which he was moderately successful, taking over all of Neecknaw and some of our neighboring planets.

Actually, he didn’t give up writing completely, as he penned the Kargnakian Code, which for the first time set out all of our laws in a logical and ordered way. Under the Kargnakian Code, plagiarism is a capital crime, and the condemned are put to death by having all their hairs plucked out (very painful when you’re covered with them), then having a thousand unpublished writers slicing them with the sharpest paper they can find, while lemons are crushed in a massive press above them made of all unpublished writer’s manuscripts. Oh, and hot pokers are inserted wherever paper cuts cannot be administered.

Good god, that’s horrible! What about self-plagiarism?

Self-plagiarism is style, baby. (*)

Next time: What should I say when my girlfriend asks me, “what are you thinking”?

*) Alfred Hitchcock said this defending repetition of his filming techniques in the London Observer, 8 Aug., 1976. Actually, he said “self-plagiarism is style.”

Alltop is 100% original. Originally published November, 2008, and it appears in my collection, Pirate Therapy and Other Cures.

The Zen of Proofreading

beginners_mind_experts-mind

I remember a couple of things about my study of Zen. The first was the importance of “beginner’s mind”. In his book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki, the Zen master wrote:

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s there are few.”

The other thing I remember is that even if you have cultivated your beginner’s mind, you may not be ready for the teacher to hit you with a bamboo stick after you’ve been sitting for several hours. It will be a welcome relief from numb bum anyway.

But when I think about proofing, I believe an empty mind is the best way to approach it. The longer you can let your writing sit, so that you can come back to it with an empty mind, the better.

I’m not saying I’m successful — if you’ve spent any time around The Skwib I’m sure you’ll have seen all kinds of proofing abominations. This is why I pay proofreaders to go over my long-form work. The Fridgularity had a half-dozen kind-hearted friends do the first rounds of proofing, and then I hired two separate proofers to correct my various linguistic crimes. (This was AFTER two editors also had a shot.)

But for the blog writing I do, I just don’t have the money or time for this approach. I can muster up the beginner’s mind, but that’s more so I can accept the fact that when I look at this post a year from now, I’ll see any number of problems.

At least there’s no bamboo pole waiting for me then.

Alltop thinks grammar is hilarious. Originally published June, 2013.