Phil Tucker’s Space Jockey: A Lost Script Found

It is my privilege and my pleasure to make a huge announcement.

The script for Phil Tucker’s lost film Space Jockey has been discovered, thanks to a copy of it kept by an original cast member. The film remains lost to the best of my knowledge, but Tucker’s script for his lost film has surfaced.

In September 2019, I was contacted by Tok Thompson, professor of Anthropology and Communication at the University of Southern California. Tok’s mother Donnis Stark Thompson, recently departed, had lived a full and fascinating life that included an early stint as an actress.  And when Phil Tucker shot the lost film in Fairbanks, Alaska during the late summer of 1953, she was part of the cast.  Years later among his mother’s belongings, Tok’s family discovered her copy of the Space Jockey script. Contacting film journalist Phil Hall, Tok was advised to contact me about the script because of my Phil Tucker book I Cannot, Yet I Must.

Thanks to Tok graciously sharing the script, I’ve been able to read it and, thanks to the copyright research of Elias Savada, it’s been confirmed that Tucker’s script was never copyrighted or renewed. As the script is public domain, I am pleased to say that it will be published in the year 2021.  Also, there are hopes of performing it in some manner.

As this project is in development and ongoing, I’ll have more to post as the year keeps rolling on, with a publication date to be narrowed down and announced later. I hope that everyone out there who is a fan of Robot Monster, Phil Tucker’s movies, and cult cinema in general is as excited about this project as I am, and I look forward to you being able to experience this lost original script by Phil Tucker.

Stay tuned!

The Red Right Hand Reprinted & Recommended

Many of my latest (and future) blog posts are about novels I’ve written and am releasing.  But this post is about someone else’s novel. One I fully intend on talking up to everyone I know until I get the eye rolls that let me know I’m going on about it too much. And I need to buy a few copies and give them away. This is a 1945 novel that has drifted out of print for long stretches while, I’m overjoyed to say, it’s back in print on July 7 of this year.

Joel Townsley Rogers’ incredible novel The Red Right Hand opens with the aftermath of a crime. A young couple on a scenic trip have encountered a frightening stranger, the story beginning with the narrator trying to sort out exactly what happened.  This description is no spoiler, for it’s merely how the book opens and I will say no more about the plot or the characters. I truly want to ruin nothing about the experience of this novel for anyone who hasn’t read it.

What I will say is that The Red Right Hand is a feverish, hallucinatory nightmare, dripping with nocturnal atmosphere, recurring dread, and much more. Written by a prolific, master pulp writer, it’s much appreciated by writers and genre enthusiasts, but seems to have never crossed that far into the mainstream. Maybe now is the time for that to change. If you like mystery, crime, or the more psychological brand of horror, you need to read it, preferably on a hot summer night with open windows, a darkened screen door nearby, and all of nature’s unearthly sounds drifting in.

Don’t take my word for it, just trust Donald Westlake: “I believe Joel Townsley Rogers’ The Red Right Hand should be reissued every 5 years forever.”

And a big thanks goes to the great Otto Penzler for reissuing it as part of his American Mystery Classics series.

Whether in softcover, hardcover, or e-book, check out and enjoy the eerie dream-state of The Red Right Hand, one of the most unique and memorable novels ever written.

Stan Lee, Rest in Peace

A big, big part of my childhood and those of so many others.

I know I’m not the only one who read “Stan’s Soapbox” in the Marvel Comics “Bullpen Bulletins” and hung on every word like it was cosmic wisdom, at least up to a certain age.  And there was the narration he did for that Spider-Man cartoon in the early ’80s, and all the other appearances.

Since I was such a nerd about reading credits in the comics, I knew that he didn’t write them all by the time I was reading the comics of the late 70s and early 80s, but he was still this benevolent presence in the background of everything Marvel.  And then I found the reprints of old Amazing Spider-Man and others more interesting at some point, and then really discovered Mr. Lee’s talent for cranking these stories out, month after month.  Anyone who can write at that level–regular, little time in between, always entertaining–is a great writer.

And this video takes me back to those days when Stan was Marvel Comics (and see the very insightful writing question from an audience member at 1:30).  Rest in peace, Stan, and Excelsior!

Short Stories by Me Now Up on Amazon

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I do freelance writing for hire and have written a lengthy non-fiction book, but I also like to write fiction. And as both a writer and reader, I love short stories. On that note, I’ve now got two short stories out, “Where the Alley Begins” and “A Beautiful Nightmare”.

These two stories are just the beginning. In the not too distant and foreseeable future, I will be unleashing more short fiction. While there are a few story outlets around, there isn’t a glut of pulp magazines like Planet Stories and Thrilling Mystery anymore. The true inheritor of the short fiction mantle is indie self-publishing, and I’m glad to be a part of it.

Speaking of the future . . . I’ve been cooking up some more book projects, which I will reveal more about this fall.

Stay tuned . . . and enjoy a short story!

Making of ROBOT MONSTER Movie

For the better part of the past year, it’s been my privilege to be privy to a plan to make an independent movie about Phil Tucker’s making of ROBOT MONSTER. A filmmaker named Matthew Muhl has written a script and outlined a plan for making his film about the March 1953 event, and he has started a Kickstarter fund for this project. To be clear, this movie is not based on my book but is Matthew’s own project with his own script. Head on over, and check out a video he’s put together on the project with narration by original ROBOT MONSTER cast member and all around cool guy Gregory Moffett!

The Merritt Monster

“And all the valley was carpeted with the blue poppies in wide, unbroken fields, luminous as the morning skies of mid-June; they rippled mile after mile over the path we had followed, over the still untrodden path which we must take. They nodded, they leaned toward each other, they seemed to whisper—then to lift their heads and look up like crowding swarms of little azure fays, half impudently, wholly trustfully, into the faces of the jeweled giants standing guard over them. And when the little breeze walked upon them it was as though they bent beneath the soft tread and were brushed by the sweeping skirts of unseen, hastening Presences.”

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Abraham Merritt was one of the most popular and influential writers of the twentieth century, which goes to show how strange and fleeting fame can be. According to Sam Moskowitz’s introduction in my copy of The Metal Monster, A. Merritt’s books had sold roughly four million copies by the late 1950s, and that does not take into account the incredible success he earlier experienced when his fiction was serialized in the long-running story magazine Argosy. Merritt was so popular that his The Ship of Ishtar was chosen by reader poll to be reprinted in a 1938 series of Argosy issues, beating out Edgar Rice Burroughs and Erle Stanley Gardner, amongst others. A newspaper man professionally, Merritt worked high within the Hearst organization, made an excellent living, and only wrote fiction because he enjoyed it.

And so did just about everyone else in the country enjoy Merritt’s writing, it seems, from how popular he was during his lifetime (the opposite fate of many writers who achieve posthumous fame). After his passing in 1943, his writing continued to sell in book form at least through the end of the fifties but at some point this leveled off. Few writers could have the longevity of Tolkien, and while Merritt is still read now, the audience is smaller and what most seem to notice about Merritt now is his overwriting. The word “tedious” is often thrown around, and it’s true that the man loved to describe. Someone somewhere noted that it’s incredible that he could detail so elaborately, and yet not repeat himself. His command of $100 words is amazing, as I found myself puzzling now and then over a word’s meaning (and in most groups I’m the one who knows the weird vocabulary words without hesitation).

The Metal Monster is not ranked as Merritt’s best by most readers, but it seems that none of his published fiction was actually bad. I went through a phase of picking up all of his books decades ago, largely because references to him in history-of-science-fiction books built him up as a touchstone to the bizarre and wonderful. I’ve yet to get through more than a couple so far, which I hope to remedy in the near future, but a little Merritt goes a long way and it would be hard to read multiple Merritts in a row. (As I’m mostly writing these days, I wish I had time for more reading, period. And I know that writers need to be readers for the sake of their writing . . .)

While Merritt’s style would stick out like a sore thumb among current writers, it’s also true that his style would never have developed today at all. For what made him cross the line from poet to verbal onanist was that he was describing things that no one had seen in the real world, and that probably no one had described in fiction either. With an extremely vivid imagination, he simply put down specifically the bizarre things he must have seen play out in his mind. And writing in a time when fiction was still closer to the elaborate 19th century than the clipped Hemingway style that became the 20th century norm, readers would not have minded. They also likely did not mind as they read his writing in serialized, weekly doses, and lived in a time without TV and where movies mostly lacked believable special effects.

The paragraph quoted above is representative of the Merritt style, with some truly beautiful descriptions and a hint of foreshadowing. But even as the story kicks into gear and its assemblage of adventurers get caught in the hidden world of an ancient kingdom of a godlike being and the living metal creatures that serve her, the sense of awe continues but becomes strained with just too much of it. (Awe-fullness, really.) But as archaic as Merritt’s style is, it’s amazing that he thought of a concept that would still seem radical at the end of the century when Terminator 2 unleashed its liquid metal bad guy. Here, there is a whole exotic land of metal things, composed of basic shapes and combining and recombining in various patterns according to their collective will.

And altogether, the upshot of this experience is that Merritt becomes tedious and yet remains exhilarating and exotic by the end. So without too much future rolling by, I’m going to have to dive into more Merritt and report back here, like one of his recurring characters.

Theodore Sturgeon’s “Some of Your Blood”

This is a difficult novel to review, because it is short and not much can be said about it without spoilers. It’s also famous in horror circles, and written by an author with a huge reputation. So having said all that, I’m not going to mince words: I was disappointed.

I heard about this book in the late ‘80s, either at a bookstore or library. I got in a conversation with an older science fiction fan and somehow or other he mentioned Some of Your Blood in awed tones, how great it was supposed to be, and how scarce it was. According to this guy, there was at the time a huge waiting list at the famous SF bookstore A Change of Hobbit for copies of it, and I have no reason to disbelieve him. Sturgeon passed on in 1985, and was getting the kind of posthumous recognition often awarded to writers who are talented, creative, published, but not really bestsellers. His unpolished final novel Godbody was published during this time, and I read a Norman Spinrad essay about Sturgeon, and among Spinrad’s typically blunt opinions was that Godbody was a promising novel that needed work, but hardly the masterpiece that some wanted to believe. (I’ve never read it.)

For years I had reading Some of Your Blood on my mental list of stuff to do, and the evocative title seemed perfect for what is – *SPOILER HERE* – sort of a vampire story. I’m glad that I read it, and it was worthwhile, but it is not nearly the disturbing and unsettling depiction of a humanized monster that many have made it out to be. In brief, it follows Dracula just slightly by being told in a series of letters, journal entries and so on (epistolary form), and concerns the psychiatric evaluation by an Army shrink of a disturbed soldier given the name “George Smith.” Smith’s troubled background is revealed and the doctor begins to piece together his secret that it not really much of a secret. There is also an infamous little twist reveal at the very end that no doubt once made readers feel dirty, sick, and weird as the book ended. (It’s not that huge of a shock now, but I well believe that it must have hit hard decades ago.)

So what did I not like? Sturgeon did a great job of revealing bits and pieces of Smith’s background in believable detail, his prose is always readable and moves quickly, and I especially liked how he deliberately made little things obscure so that they could be clarified later. But, there is just not that much sense of foreboding and dread at work here, partially because the doctor and his CO are always exchanging letters with joking introductions that get seriously irritating. (Smarmy, smug, breezy humor of that kind that seemed to begin somewhere in the 1950s and thankfully disappeared in a decade or so just drains the life out of any kind of writing.) It also turns out that Smith has done some terrible things and, despite the sympathy built up for him, is a genuinely disturbed person. Sturgeon doesn’t spend much time on the monstrous side of his monster, however, so concerned was he with getting readers to understand what made Smith into Smith.

And that leads to the real problem I had, running deeper than just my wish that the book had been scarier. Sturgeon seemed to have been one of those early 20th Century types who dumped religion but then embraced a secular faith in progress as the cure for all human unhappiness. And it shows, oh, does it show. There is such a Pollyannaish faith in psychology to cure problems that it makes the book less believable. I half-expected a twist in which the naïve, optimistic doctor is shown up at the end but it never came. In fact the doctor is right about everything and enjoys the flattery of his boss and then of a nurse who contributes quite a lot of research to the case, then gushes over how right he was in his guesses. At that point I wondered if the doctor character was a stand-in for the writer, and if it was wish-fulfillment. It’s definitely a weird little wrinkle on how ‘50s science fiction encouraged the idealization of scientists in the mold of cowboys and other heroes.

So I found the ending a little nauseating—not because of the infamous end reveal, but because of how it flattered a character who at one point tells his patient that only he can figure out his problems. I’m genuinely sorry to say that I found Some of Your Blood to be a little bloodless.