Search Results for 'world of the future'

The World of the Future: Star Travel (Usborne, 1979)

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Select pages only. Futurist and illustrator David Jefferis edited and co-wrote all of the volumes in Usborne’s influential World of the Future series (1979), which introduced a generation of kids to ideas few adults could grasp. While Star Wars had nothing of the speculative in it, Usborne and Jefferis understood that it could serve as a gateway drug into space science and more serious explorations of our interstellar future.

I was really lucky to talk to David, still very busy thinking and writing about the future, about his Usborne days and beyond. That interview will run tomorrow.

UPDATE: Mr. M.W. Schmeer has kindly notified me that the compilation of all three World of the Unknown books is online at the Internet Archive.

The World of the Future: Future Cities (Usborne, 1979)

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There were four books in Usborne’s The World of the Future series: Future Cities, The Book of the Future: A Trip in Time to the Year 2000 and Beyond, Star Travel, and Robots. All of them were written by Kenneth Gatland and David Jefferis, and all of them were published in 1979. I have not been able to pinpoint the illustrators yet.

UPDATE (4/12/14): Author David Jefferis kindly shed some light on the series and its creators. The post has been revised accordingly.

I worked with the sadly late Ken Gatland to create these books, but the editorial direction, page visuals for illustration briefings, and the words were mine.

Ken and I worked on the ideas and flat plans together, and Ken approved all, tweaked where needed, and added chunks of text as necessary .

Reasonably enough, we put our bylines in alphabetical order.

The books are, as you can see, amazing, and somewhat prescient—with the exception of the Olympic Games on the Moon. The last page draws heavily on concepts explored by NASA in the 1970s: see T.A. Heppenheimer’s Colonies in Space (1977), for instance.

The very last panel is a nearly line by line lifting of a lunar colony design by artist Rick Guidice, who did other work for NASA, as well as the visionary Basic Programming cover art for the Atari 2600 cartridge, also from 1979.

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(Book images via Will S and Robert Carter)

When the Future Was Full of Stars: An Interview with David Jefferis

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Unpublished cover art by the late Brian Lewis for World of the Future: Future Cities, 1979. A similar but revised piece was used for final publication.

Serious study of and public interest in space colonization peaked in the 1970s, fueled by the successes of the Apollo program and a youth culture that embraced the speculative sci-fi of Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey. If the idea of hitching a ride on an asteroid outfitted with nuclear motors was utopian, it was also grounded in good sense: by the end of the turbulent 1960s, it was clear to many that the Earth was no longer a place that supported intelligent, compassionate life.

A number of books on the subject helped to launch “space activism” in the popular imagination, starting with Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill‘s The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space (1976). Due largely to O’Neill’s efforts, Stanford University and NASA collaborated to produce a series of detailed studies on permanent space settlements that continue to inspire the present-day pioneers behind SpaceX and the National Space Society.

In 1979 Usborne’s landmark The World of the Future series, penned by David Jefferis and the late Kenneth Gatland, presented youngsters with a vivid, exciting, and ultimately uplifting vision of the future—many of the authors’ predictions came true, as well. Even today, the books hold up the notion that living a better life among the stars is not just a worthy aspiration, but a worthy aspiration within reach.

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2W2N: How did you get involved with Usborne Publishing? I notice that you were responsible for art and editorial direction on the World of the Unknown series before you worked on the World of the Future series.

JEFFERIS: Some background, prior to my Usborne days:

My first job was in London, in the Art Department of The Observer Sunday newspaper, producing news graphics—maps, diagrams, drawings, charts—to highlight stories for printing in the newspaper’s weekly edition. I was soon involved in other aspects of the production, such as magazine covers, and started to create features of my own, including articles for the “Young Observer” page, DIY hi-fi systems, and so on.

One such “Young Observer” article was an interview I carried out with a Brixton man who was building a man-powered helicopter in his (small) front sitting room. He had to disassemble his machine to extract it from the front parlour, but did go on to screw it together again and test it on an airfield. Sad to say, he managed only a short hop off the ground. Enterprising though, and I hugely respected his tenacity and skill in creating something from nothing.

I worked part-time for The Observer after a while, during which time I did many illustration jobs, and this brought me into the world of book publishing, and children’s books, for which there was steady demand for the realistic art I produced. I worked with  Macdonald Publishing quite a lot, and specialized in creating pre-World of the Future “science faction” futurist spreads in their non-fiction titles.

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From a 1977 Observer magazine released to coincide with the London Auto Show. Jefferis: “The city car resulted from a concept-crunching session with journalist Peter Deeley, and included a joystick instead of a steering wheel, full-auto drivetrain, electric drive with slot in-out batteries (you weren’t first, Tesla!) and rear-facing back seats…”

I met Peter Usborne as one of a number of editors and publishers I had targeted as possible backers for a magazine concept I created called Science Fiction Illustrated. This starred the 1950s comic hero, Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, on the cover, and—as all such things were in those days—the sample dummy for Science Fiction Illustrated was crafted by hand (mine, in this case!) with rub-down Letraset headlines, and so on.

Peter and I got on well, though he was not interested in being a periodical publisher. Some time later, an editor who worked with him in his newly-formed Usborne Publishing company gave me a call, and I started working as a freelance designer for the company.

I had offices in Covent Garden at the time—and had published the weekly “Tuesday Paper” for children there, along with other projects, such as “Lightning” for the National Magazine Company—so working in league with Usborne was a fairly natural next step, especially as our respective offices were on the same side of the street, opposite the Garrick Club.

Freelance design turned into art direction, which turned into art and editorial direction for the first Usborne book series in my charge, a five-title set called Battlegame Books. Later multi-title series—by which time I was on the payroll in charge of science, technology, and gee-whiz titles—included Young Scientist, Young Engineer, and as you noted, World of the Unknown.

2W2N: On the World of the Unknown books, what exactly did “art and editorial direction” entail? Did you do some of the illustrations as well? I’m also curious how the project was conceived. On the one hand, the art draws out the shocking and graphic nature of the subject matter (especially in All About Monsters); but on the other hand, the narrative is even-handed, even skeptical, and the tone is almost droll at times. It reminds me of the brilliant Hammer horror films of the ’60s and ’70s. Was that the idea?

JEFFERIS: The A&ED title is one that I invented, as I covered both named roles, rather than being responsible for either art or editorial.

I did a few small illustrations for these Usborne books, just fillers really as there wasn’t time to do more. Also, I had made a decision to move away from full-time freelance illustration, as it was so labour intensive and demanded too much time spent with only a drawing board for company. As quite a physical person, I wasn’t keen on the endless hours hunched up indoors, particularly with the amount of intensive preparation and repetitive work that my style of airbrush art demanded.

I’ll tell you how the change of direction happened. I was working on a “future faction” spread for Macdonald Publishing, the subject an underwater fish farm, with aquanauts zipping along, dolphins equipped with sensor packs, work domes, mini-subs, and so on. The background to the work was, naturally enough, a luminous blue-green ocean, fading into the distance. I sprayed endless fine coats with the airbrush, each layer just molecules thin, as I slowly built up the colour depth. For some reason, I hadn’t worn my surgical mask this time—and so I spent much of the following week sneezing and coughing out blue-green ink. Ugh. Today, health and safety would have words to say, and even then I didn’t feel like repeating that mistake again! The artwork looked okay though.

So far as World of the Unknown is concerned, the tone of the books fitted in with the nature of a then-new educational publisher. The idea was to draw readers in with bold visuals, then be responsible with what we were saying. It wasn’t actually defined as such, but there was an echo of the old Eagle comic there, which had done a similar sort of thing. My own book series featured mostly realistic artwork, but other Usborne output used humorous illustrations, produced by artists such as the late Stephen Cartwright.

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Two-page haunted house spread from The World of the Unknown: All About Ghosts, 1978

What was deliberately avoided was a true strip cartoon approach. The British educational establishment of the day was mostly dead-set against anything that looked too much like a comic, as were educational book publishers. That said, Stephen Cartwright’s gently amusing art became hugely successful in books aimed at younger readers, and rightly so.

Two tales of World of the Unknown spring to mind. In All About Ghosts, one spread featured the village of Pluckley in Kent, a place reputedly packed with supernatural phenomena. Writer Chris Maynard spent time there with a photographer, but they didn’t see or take any pictures of any spooks, and it took some head-scratching and burning of the midnight oil back in London for us to end up with a useable spread! It’s worth worth pointing out my methodology there, which was to work with contributors, aiming for a team effort.

On All About Monsters, I spent several days around Loch Ness looking for the mysterious beast, with no convincing results. The art I commissioned from Malcolm McGregor looked extremely good, but the printed results of my own researches came to no more than a couple of pics and a mini-map! I revisited the subject recently, and produced a prototype eBook, The REAL Loch Ness Monster, available here.

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Detail from The World of the Unknown: All About Monsters, 1978

This time Nessie was the solitary star and focus of the book, so it was good to do some in-depth research. Just as important, the research paid off with a scientifically elegant and believable theory—of which the Oxford University experts approved!

In the early days, I did visuals for every page, breaking down information into the box-by-box sequence approach being pioneered at Usborne. There were plenty of variations used at Usborne for other series and titles. For example, the illustrator Colin King did his own pencil roughs when working with in-house editor-writer Judy Hindley on How Your Body Works.

In summary, my titles may have been aimed at young readers, but they didn’t talk down to them, the text level being easy to understand, but not stupid. The information in a typical book could have been published in any intelligent, mid-market newspaper.

2W2N: You wrote the World of the Future series with the late Kenneth Gatland, who had by that time written a number of titles for Usborne relating to space travel and space exploration. How did you meet Ken, and can you tell me how World of the Future was developed? I imagine it was inspired by all the space colony concept work NASA did in the 1970s. Was it also banking on the massive success of Star Wars?

JEFFERIS: At that time, Kenneth Gatland was past-President of the British Interplanetary Society, a highly respected organisation, known for its pioneer work in outlining designs for Moon landers back in the 1950s, and for the Starship Daedalus concept in the 1970s. The BIS was a natch for technical support on the World of the Future, so I called Ken, a quietly spoken man, full of ideas and a pleasure to work with. I had worked with him on an earlier Usborne title, Young Scientist: Spaceflight, and we were both keen on this new project.

Regarding the genesis of World of the Future, I’m not sure who actually came up with the idea, Peter Usborne or myself. Either way, the series came out of a short meeting in Garrick Street, and I went away fired with enthusiasm. Was Star Wars an influence? To a degree, yes, but there were other big sci-fi movies at the time too, the most influential probably being Stanley Kubrick’s far more serious 2001: A Space Odyssey. Usborne was an educational publisher, so we had to be seen to be fact, not fiction. And of course, space was a popular subject with our principal markets: children and parents, educators and schools.

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Robots and human living and exploring together, from The World of the Future: Robots, 1979

A big influence came from childhood, in the form of Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future. The panel-by-panel presentation of the Eagle comic was similar to the Usborne educational style we had developed, and had Hampson been available for World of the Future, I would have been delighted.

Blue-sky thinking from NASA and other space organizations was huge, and Ken Gatland’s BIS connections made a huge difference to the ease of accessing photos and prints, as well as library material to which he had access. I too had a large and growing library, so between us we had call on impressive information resources. Today, my library has been mostly digitized or sold on to collectors via eBay.

Early on in the World of the Future project, Ken and I agreed on an outline flatplan—a small-scale, spread-by-spread book visualisation—which allowed each double-page spread to be effectively self-contained, though presented in a logical sequence. The three individual World of the Future titles were 32 pages each, allowing a dozen spreads to tell the story, the rest consisting of prelims and introduction, timeline and index.

I drew up detailed full-size page visuals in pen and marker, making adjustments and changes with Ken until we were both okay with the content. Once a spread was locked down, I then commissioned an illustrator to create finished art, based on my visuals. A reference pack of images, photos, books, magazines—whatever was needed—was posted off, with phone conversations on arrival, to ensure that the illustrator understood the brief properly. It’s a shame that those visuals of mine went in the bin, as they were a tremendously important part of the book creation process. But storage was a huge issue, and once finished art arrived, they were dead meat.

As a side-note, it’s worth knowing that back then, making illustrated books was a highly physical business. World of the Future was created before the Internet, or even faxes, and that meant continuous multi-way movements of hardcopy information. Reference books, clippings, sketches, notes—all had to be sent and returned by post, messenger, or rail. It was slow and expensive. In today’s money, delivery of some rigidly-packaged finished-art boards using rail and messenger bike might cost $200 USD or more, a sum that could be repeated multiple times during production. If changes were needed on a piece of art, the two-way delivery process had to be repeated. I am very pleased that no one has to waste time and money like that any more!

2W2N: Futurism these days seems much less exciting than it was when the World of the Future series debuted, revolving mostly around self-centered—and somewhat frightening, to my mind—internet and virtual reality technologies (i.e. Google Glass, Oculus Rift). What happened to exploring the universe outside of us and building bold new worlds?

JEFFERIS: I think the term ‘exciting’ depends on what you mean. The star-spanning world of the future envisaged by me and others was certainly exciting in a gee-whiz sort of way, but some of the more way-out space ideas were products of technical naivety as much as anything else. For example, the 1950s sci-fi hero Dan Dare flew spaceships like they were Spitfires, with navigation carried out with the flick of a slide-rule.

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From 1977 to 1979, Jefferis wrote and illustrated the Starcruiser comic strip for ‘The World of Gerry Anderson’ feature in Look-In magazine.

And—bearing in mind our target audience—we deliberately left out political messages in World of the Future. But perhaps we shouldn’t have, for even then Apollo was teaching us that while political will can achieve many things, including going to the Moon, elected leaders don’t have sufficient time in power, and therefore the long-term vision needed to command vast budgets for decades at a time. Without the will, the time, the money, visionary ideas will fail. I got rather depressed about it all for a while, especially as I had drawn up in 1970 a nuclear-powered Mars ship concept, based on von Braun’s ideas. His timeline was, “…the early 1980s.”

But we are now in a better place, where I see entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Richard Branson achieving great things by virtue of their foresight, drive, and access to finance. It’s my belief that if future spaceflight is fueled by commercial profit more than pure politics, then out into space we’ll go.

Which is not to say that organizations like NASA or ESA (European Space Agency) are redundant, far from it. Plans and intentions are as dramatic as ever, and I would certainly like to see the ‘floating buoy’ Titan probe go ahead in the not too distant future. But space agency budgets will always be at the mercy of headline-grabbing budget-cutters, so let’s just say that I heartily approve of the commercial sector flying space missions too.

Whether such blue-sky dreams as warp drive or other faster-than-light technologies will ever appear is unknown at present, but people like Miguel Alcubierre and Harold White seem to have opened the conceptual door just a crack, and with it, perhaps a gateway to new worlds—the stars our destination, to paraphrase Alfred Bester. The Lockheed Martin Skunk Works may also play a role if compact fusion lives up to its promise, with Earth-to-Mars trip times of just one month a possibility a decade from now.

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The satellite-enabled wrist-radio, or “risto,” from World of the Future: Future Cities, 1979

As for internet and virtual reality technologies, they are a growing part of our present future, one that was largely unforeseen, though Ken Gatland and I did our best. I’m guessing that they will blend seamlessly into our lives, in the same way that personal computers and mobile phones have done. However, I don’t see too much in internet technology that is going to change the actual nature of humanity. We are still much the same as, say, the citizens of ancient Rome, many of whom would probably fit into present-day Western culture without too many adjustments, though having machines to do their bidding instead of slaves might be hard to accept. In fact, give a time-slipped Roman some money, and a few servant-slaves would probably be installed in no time at all.

Access to the internet is on its way to becoming ubiquitous, though it’s not exactly an overnight process. I am still amazed and unamused that where I presently live, connections are frustratingly slow and patchy, and mobile phone communications even worse. Despite this, things will improve in years to come—so they tell me!

As for the future, I’m guessing that the internet is in the early stages of becoming the brainstem of a planetary AI of some sort, perhaps one in which humans function as semi-independent mobile elements. Note the ‘semi-independent’—I’m not alone in not wishing to be cut off for more than a few hours, and need my regular information fix. One thing is for sure—my various laptops have functioned as a second brain for many years.

And we previewed the Apple watch by a long way—though we called it the ‘Risto.’

2W2N: You are still active in writing, publishing, and futurism, and you’ve described yourself as a “solar evangelist.” Can you tell me more about your current projects?

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Unpublished Jefferis sketches depicting (top) a high-end home equipped with gravity control, and (bottom) a concrete-and-glass Museum Building covered with bio-engineered climbing plants “designed to look good and provide a freshly-grown food supply.”

JEFFERIS: The solar evangelist tag is a direct descendent of ideas that Ken Gatland and I promoted in World of the Future, and you can see what I mean on the jacket for Future Cities. Look closely and you’ll find a solar-powered house, an idea that’s now hit the mainstream, with rooftop panels widely available to homeowners. I have been working with an excellent renewables company, and we feel we are  helping to save the planet in a commercial environment, much as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are aiming to profit from space, or Tesla with electric cars. Incidentally, automated battery-swapping at recharge stations is an idea Ken and I pioneered, and at last something of the sort is coming to fruition.

As for solar, according to some estimates, in the United States alone, a home or business goes solar every four minutes. To put the following numbers into perspective, one gigawatt of electricity is enough to power some 750,000 homes. China smashed the record for new solar installations in 2013 by adding 11.8 gigawatts, bringing its total solar capacity to more than 20 gigawatts.

China is now second to world solar leader Germany, which is nearing the 40 gigawatt mark. On June 9, 2014, German solar supplied 23.1 gigawatts, more than half of the country’s total energy demand. So it’s an exciting time for me—reaching into the past to power the future.

Despite all that, publishing remains my first love, and my stuff ranges from books to prints.

My website www.starcruzer.com will shortly become the launch pad for ebooks, such as Ness: Hunt for the Loch Ness Monster. This is a ‘Visual Companion Edition’ of The REAL Loch Ness Monster, with a double-page visual of the monster we think lies behind the legend.

2015 titles include Space Probes, Space Stations, Black Holes, The Aces, to be published on an ebook-a-month basis on Amazon for Kindle and other e-readers. In addition, I will be establishing a presence on the micro-funding site Patreon.

Prints: I haven’t produced illustrations for book publishers in a long time, but I still draw for myself. I also love photography, probably spending more time tweaking in Photoshop than I ever did in creating airbrush art. I plan to showcase art and images on Saatchi Art in 2015.
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As of now, you can read a compilation of all three books in The World of the Future series at the Internet Archive.

Future Magazine #3 (July, 1978): New York Toy Fair, Filmation’s Flash Gordon

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Future magazine, later called Future Life, was published from 1978 to 1981 for a total of 31 issues. It featured a combination of science fiction commentary and criticism, futurism/futurology, interviews with luminaries in relevant fields, and space exploration/travel activism. I’ve got about half of the run at this point, as well as a number of other cool sci-fi mags of the era. I’ll be scanning and posting them as time allows.

Above you’ll find the front cover of Future #3, as well as the inside front cover, table of contents, inside back cover, and back cover. (Click pages to enlarge.)

After that there’s a short piece on the Annual Toy Fair in New York (1978) discussing the post-Star Wars sci-fi trend, led by the “real stars of the show,” Mego and Kenner. I find it revealing that “three buildings with grown adults playing with toys for two weeks” is referred to as a “seeming impossibility.”

On the same page there’s a blurb on Gerard K. O’Neill and the formation of his Space Studies Institute (SSI), a non-profit organization “designed to help research the subject of space habitation.” I talked about O’Neill and his initiative here.

Following that is a feature on Filmation’s Flash Gordon, originally planned as a made-for-television animated movie. NBC later decided to turn the production into an animated TV series that ran for two seasons starting in 1979. Upon cancellation of the series in 1982, NBC went back to the original material and assembled it for a prime time movie, Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All. Neither the series nor the movie is currently available on DVD. You can see the series intro here. Watch the movie (pretty sophisticated for the time, and fun) on YouTube.

Interestingly, the producers at Filmation could not secure the necessary funding from NBC for the project, so they offered producer Dino De Laurentiis “exclusive distribution in Europe as a theatrical film” in exchange for additional backing. Laurentiis promptly agreed and “injected himself into the legal maneuver of obtaining the rights to the Alex Raymond [creator of Flash Gordon] comic strips.” Filmation ended up with animated and TV rights, while Laurentiis secured feature film rights. He immediately began working on the live-action Flash Gordon (1980).

You’ll find a nice homage and issue-by-issue synopsis of Future/Future Life at Weimar World Service, John Zipperer’s website.

Christmas Morning, 1979: Micronauts and Starcruiser 1

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Joseph Dickerson has good taste. Everyone knows by now how much I love the Micronauts line (Ken Kelly box art on the Hornetroid), and that’s The Hulk Rage Cage (Fun Stuff, 1978) in the background of the first shot.

Starcruiser was a series proposed in the late 1970s by Gerry Anderson about “an ultra-modern house where a mother, father, and two kids lived. At the touch of a button the house would literally fold into a spaceship. The family would travel around the universe from planet to planet… ” (See here for source and more background.) The series never made it to the air, obviously, but a comic strip of the same name appeared in UK’s Look-In magazine from 1977 to 1979. The writer and author of the strip was David Jefferis, who was working on Usborne’s World of the Unknown and World of the Future series at the same time. (My interview with Mr. Jefferis will run next month.) Airfix’s gorgeous model (1979) was based on the strip.

Matchbox’s Adventure 2000 (1977)

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Adventure 2000 debuted in 1977 and the die-cast “ultra-modern vehicles designed for the world of the future” were produced through about 1980. The slim backstory:

The year is 2000 – The planets prepare for battle. Re-enact the excitement of inter-planetary conflict with the action-packed vehicles from Adventure 2000.

A new wrinkle was added in the 1979/1980 catalog—“The interplanetary commission prepares for an expedition to planet ZETO”—and all the vehicles were recast in a deep blue.

The beautifully detailed line was developed and made in the UK. Matchbox was a longtime British brand, in fact—owned by Lesney Products—until the early ’80s. I found a choice 1977 ad (via combomphotos/Flickr) featuring some great art. Not sure how “Zorgon the Creepy Monster” fits in, but they can have my 75p.

Matchbox Ad 1977I’ll do separate posts on each vehicle, because they’re that cool. (There’s a nifty tie-in with the 2000 AD comic and Judge Dredd.)

Here’s a close-up of the Command Force (K-2005) set, introduced in 1978.

UPDATE (3/4/14): Jason at Contra Dextra Avenue discovered that the three smaller vehicles in Command Force—the Hovercraft (1972), the Planet Scout (1975), and the Cosmobile (1975)—had been previously issued. They were part of Matchbox’s Superfast line, which you can check out at Dan’s Matchbox Picture Pages. I don’t know if the latter two are Matchbox’s first produced futuristic vehicles (doubtful), but they predate the Adventure 2000 line.

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(Top image via Vectis Auctions; catalog images via Moonbase Central; Command Force images via eBay)

Usborne Publishing: Supernatural Guides: Vampires, Werewolves & Demons (1979)

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UK publisher Usborne released a number of memorable books in the late ’70s, starting with the World of the Unknown series in 1977. The Supernatural Guides followed in 1979 and covered the same territory.

In the most matter-of-fact, dispassionate tone, the authors discuss all manner of gruesome scenarios and happenings. The accompanying illustrations, on the other hand, are incredibly graphic, disturbing, and over-the-top. That irony is what makes the books so brilliant. Take this:

Ghosts became more unpleasant and dangerous the longer they were dead and it was important not to offend them. Sometimes the spirit returned as a ferocious man-eating animal.

What kind of ferocious man-eating animal, you ask? How about an African elephant spirit that will eat your heart and liver?

How does one become a werewolf? Well, he or she  puts “wolfsbane, opium, foxgloves, bat blood and fat of a murdered child into a pot” and boils them. Let me repeat that last ingredient, in case you missed it: the fat of a murdered child.

Usborne also released a World of the Future series around the same time that’s as fascinating, though not as insane. The World of the Unknown books were re-released in the late ’90s with different covers. The interiors are identical to the originals.

(Images via Found Objects and Horrorpedia)

Movie Reviews: 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983)

—Review by Richard McKenna

2019 After the Fall

Beware: spoilers ahead.

In 1983, as low-rent filmmakers scrabbled about for suitably desolate locations to double as nuked-out future deserts, quarry owners across Italy continued to rub their greedy hands in glee at the post-apocalyptic cinematic windfall Brezhnev and Reagan had unwittingly—or, in retrospect, wittingly—guaranteed them. Smelling money in the irradiated water, director Sergio Martino decided to take a break from his usual domestic sex comedies to give the world 2019: After the Fall of New York (hereafter just 2019).

According to Martino, who comes off as a nice guy in interviews, and would make a reassuringly avuncular vet or dentist, 2019 was inspired by viewings of Blade Runner (1982) and Escape From New York (1981), though not, intriguingly, by Mad Max (1979) or Mad Max 2 (1981). In an alternate, even more unlikely version of the story, he claims that 2019 was written before the release of Escape From New York. I don’t know how many plutonium isotopes you’d have to absorb to believe that.

The film opens with a jazzman, his face scarred by gluey, suppurating pustules (of which we will see many more over the course of the film), standing by a lamppost on the Brooklyn waterfront, somehow getting an elegiac synth riff to come out of his trumpet. In the background, across the small pond standing in for the Hudson, we see the ruins of New York. The camera tracks through the city, giving us a good reminder of why the scale models in films were called miniatures: it would be hard to make them look any smaller if you tried. On Italian TV some years ago, Martino claimed that the ruined skeletons of the skyscrapers—easily the most convincing special effect in the film—were made of burned and painted fruit crates, which sounds more than credible.

2019 Lobby-3We’re told that ever since somebody pressed the “fatal button” that unleashed nuclear holocaust, the human race has been completely sterile and no more children have been born (understandably, since “the radiation could not have been worse”). New York is now controlled by the evil Euraks, sadistic Europeans who dress like Darth Vadered-up versions of the crew in Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965). The Euraks spend their time chasing down and collecting mutants for vivisection, and dwell in a base which looks suspiciously like an industrial wine-making facility. The Eurak commander is an unnamed bald guy whose office wall is a replica of Picasso’s Guernica, and his lieutenant is the predictably cruel and sensual Ania, played by Anna Kanakis, who’s strangely cute in this, and her acting has been worse—a lot worse.*

Next, we’re introduced to our hero, Parsifal (played by Michael Sopkiw, who Italian genre-hounds repeatedly describe as a double of Kurt Russell, although the man looks nothing like Kurt Russell). Parsifal, tellingly if absurdly sharing the name of an Arthurian Grail-seeker featured in Wagner’s final opera, wears butcher’s mesh gloves and a leather headband, and when we meet him, he’s taking part in a Deathsport-like duel called The Nevada Race, driving an armored car with a shield welded to the passenger door and a cannon on the roof. When he wins, to the acclaim of the well-behaved crowd of pustule-covered punks and new wavers in attendance, he is awarded a license to kill, twenty ounces of gold, and a sex-slave called Flower. The couple head off on a pretty cool motorcycle trike across Monument Valley, which is dotted with the inert corpses of androids. Flower tells Parsifal that she once knew an android, adding, “I didn’t know what he was until I had made love with him!”

Parsifal liberates Flower, but soon after is kidnapped by agents of the rebel Pan-American Confederacy, who stun him with a gun from Barbarella and take him to their headquarters in Alaska. Here he’s informed that the Confederacy has located the world’s one remaining fertile woman, and that, partnered with a mopey guy sporting a robot claw and a strongman wearing an eyepatch, he must bring her back from New York so that she can be sent to Alpha Centauri to restart the human race.

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Cue a lot of running about in a scrapyard and a tatty, one-street New York set—built for another film due to be shot in Rome, actually, and inherited by Martino after it caught fire. The trio encounter a member of a tribe of dwarfs—called “Shorty, what else?”—as well as the Needle People, a gang of scavengers who live off the rats they manage to spike. Shorty and a tired-looking blonde from the Needle People join the gang, and together they stumble upon the theater inhabited by Big Ape (George Eastman) and his gang of mutant monkeys.

Big Ape joins the crusade, the group finds the world’s only fertile woman, Melissa, preserved inside what looks like a gigantic croissant display case by her long dead scientist father, and they break out of the city. Their escape takes them down a walled-up tunnel that, for no clear reason, is protected by a mechanical portcullis, multiple waves of luminous spikes rising from the ground (with enough room to drive a car through, luckily), dozens of Eurak soldiers who leap out of alcoves, and an inappropriately extravagant-looking laser cannon styled like Syd Mead’s interpretation of a hostess trolley.

2019 Lobby-2By the time they make it to the desert to rendezvous with the Confederacy, only Parsifal and Melissa are alive. They board the ship and prepare to depart for Alpha Centauri.

2019 is basically just a heap of what the Italians call trovate—cool, gimmicky, derivative ideas piled higgledy-piggledy on top of one another and embellished to the point of absurdity: blood is gummy and orange; the dwarf commits the most unlikely suicide ever as he cries out, “Stupid bastards!”; rats attack as if they’re hell spawn (a customary occurrence in Italian genre films); skin is lasered off; someone says, “Careful, there’s something weird about this” about the weirdest thing that’s ever happened anywhere, at any time.

What stands out most to me now, after watching the film for the first time in 20 years, is how noisy it is—constantly, deafeningly, arbitrarily noisy. There’s a compressed noise for everything that happens: kicks make plastic-sounding punch noises, punches sound like a drum machine snare, a stabbing sounds like somebody kicking a sack of potatoes. And, Christ alive, there’s the endless repetition of the echoey laser noise the baddies’ bow-casters make!

The film was a French-Italian co-production, hence the transalpine nature of the cast, and the need to fit English dialogue onto the multilingual, labial gurnings of the actors results in peculiar ejaculations and a very loose way with prepositions (the aforementioned “I didn’t know what he was until I had made love with him,” for instance). Like many films from the same period and genre, 2019 is an amazing halfway house: there obviously wasn’t a huge budget, but there was, inexplicably, a budget, and one spent in a totally inconsistent way.

Martino claims the film was financially successful in Italy and around Europe in its day, something he admits would be unthinkable now, and he claims it was one of the last genre films the country produced before industry shortsightedness—or, he hints, political machinations (presumably the anti-genre intellectuals)—sabotaged the national film business by hindering the technological improvements that were already the norm elsewhere. Genre films were often categorized as being automatically right-wing at the time (escapism and imperialist, U.S.-individualist machismo being signifiers of crypto-fascist leanings), and the national film criticism industry was dominated by figures like Goffredo Foffi, whose strict Marxist rigor left little room for leather-clad rocker survivalists laser-blasting S&M mutants in the face while driving muscle cars.

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2019 is creative as opposed to inventive, in the sense that you can almost hear the crew manically nailing stuff together, painting bits of plyboard and attaching spikes to the front of old cars, without there actually being much sense of novelty or surprise about any of it. The film is amazingly childish, and much of it actually resembles improvised play, appearing as it does to have been made up when the cameras started rolling. What can I say? My mistake! It’s immensely enjoyable—immensely stupid, often boring, totally ridiculous, and immensely enjoyable.

What it reminds me of most are the times I managed to persuade other, sportier, more outgoing kids to stop playing war and instead play games based around my 2000 AD-fueled sci-fi fantasies, only to feel the action quickly drifting out of my control—yes, we were in the future, or on the moon, but all they wanted to do was run fast, shout, and knock each other over anyway, and I, prissy obsessive that I was, would become increasingly irked and sidelined by the lack of genre respect. And I was obviously not going to be Parsifal. More like the mopey guy with the robot claw.

(Images via Wrong Side of the Art)

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*Kanakis was Miss Italy in 1977 (famously at age 15, cultural relativity fans!) and was married briefly to Claudio Simonetti from Goblin. She used to be nicknamed Lady Ribaltone (“Lady Turncoat,” loosely translated) for her perceived habit of constantly changing political allegiances. That probably wouldn’t mean much in most places, but this is Italy, the country where one of the best-known songs of the late Giorgio Gaber (a sort of cross between Leonard Cohen, Phil Ochs, and Mr. Rogers) is “Destra-Sinistra” (“Right-Left”), a light-hearted attempt to tackle the decidedly not-light-hearted national obsession with assigning an absolute political connotation to anyone and anything (sample lyric: “By its nature the potato is left-wing; mashed into purée, it’s right-wing”). Even 10 years ago Kanakis was still a fixture on talk shows, her I’m-half-Greek-I-speak-my-mind shtick and penchant for clingy clothes quite the compelling combo. Her star seems to have faded over the last decade.

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Richard McKenna grew up in the visionary utopia of 1970s South Yorkshire and now ekes out a living as a translator among the crumbling ruins of Rome. He dreams of being one day rescued by the Terran Trade Authority.

The Hamlyn Book of Ghosts in Fact and Fiction by Daniel Farson (Hamlyn, 1978)

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The Hamlyn Book of Ghosts in Fact and Fiction was the first in a four-volume series by UK publisher Hamlyn. The other volumes, which I’ll post about separately, are The Hamlyn Book of Horror (1979), The Hamlyn Book of Mysteries (1983), and The Hamlyn Book of Monsters (1984). All but one were written by Daniel Farson (Bernard Brett wrote The Hamlyn Book of Mysteries), and all featured spectacular wraparound cover art by Oliver “Zack” Frey.

The series was probably prompted by rival publisher Usborne’s The World of the Unknown series (see here and here), first published in 1977 and aimed directly at the paranormal-obsessed youth market, although Hamlyn had been dabbling in the subject for many years: of particular interest is 1971’s Witchcraft and Black Magic by Peter Haining, a well-written overview featuring surreal, nightmarish illustrations by Jan Parker.

Ghosts in Fact and Fiction is not quite as garishly illustrated as Usborne’s All About Ghosts, though Hamlyn would ramp up the intensity for The Hamlyn Book of Horror. Usborne responded in kind—or maybe it was simple coincidence—with their Supernatural Guides (1979), three of the most delightfully gruesome introductions to occult subjects ever published.

Writer Daniel Farson led quite the eccentric life. He started his career as a journalist and appeared on several groundbreaking, investigatory news programs in the 1950s and early 1960s. He abruptly quit television and left London in 1964 to become a full-time writer. His 27 books include biographies (including one on his great-uncle, Bram Stoker), several memoirs of bohemian Soho (of which he was a contributing rake), travelogues, and two horror novels. He also wrote a volume for Aldus Books’ A New Library of the Supernatural called Vampires, Zombies, and Monster Men (1976), and a volume for Smithmark’s Great Mysteries series, Mysterious Monsters (1980).

Special thanks to The Cobwebbed Room for an excellent entry on the Hamlyn series, including full artist credits and contents lists.

(Images via Flickr and Pinterest)

Star Wars, Star Trek and the 21st Century Christians by Winkie Pratney (Bible Voice, 1978)

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A very strange but fascinating attempt to force the Evangelical Christian worldview into the Star Wars and Star Trek universes. The self-published book by “mavin” Pratney is written in free verse and dedicated to George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry, and Jesus. From Chapter 1:

Understand.

You were made to live forever.
Our hunger to go beyond the stars is not alien.
It is normal. You were born to rule the Universe.
Our desire to plant a border beyond the edge of the Universe is but a dim, diluted echo of our true created destiny.

Don’t give up. Don’t throw in the towel
because all the world seems filled with its small aspiring Darth Vaders –
Don’t line up behind the Dark Lord.Our awareness that our lives ought to be involved in a great battle
which somehow involves the whole future of Mankind is far, far more than fairy tale.
Our dreams,
Our hopes
Our expectations are not big enough.
It is time we gave up our small ambitions and discovered our real destiny […]

The odds seem overwhelming –
Many strong and great men gone forever.
No sign of any of the Jedi Knights around Against us, near invincible technological might
Its ally, supernatural power twisted to evil and destructive ends.

One by one, the strong men in high places giving up the battle,
One by one, the few and the brave hunted down and killed.

And now, the Final Showdown.

You can read the whole thing on the author’s site.

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