Consider this scenario: A man finds himself apparently the sole survivor of a world-wide pandemic. He searches for more survivors and a cure. Sound familiar? Well, welcome to the source: Richard Matheson’s groundbreaking 1954 Sci-Fi classic, I AM LEGEND. Or about this scenario: A world-wide plague has wiped out most of the population. Survivors fight for what little resources remain. Again, sound familiar? Well, go back even further to another source: Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking 1826 Sci-Fi classic, THE LAST MAN. Starting to see a pattern? You get a look at a wide variety of Sci-Fi interconnections in the latest issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS, #272. Half the issue is a tribute to writer Richard Matheson, who passed away in 2013, and the other half is a brief history of Sci-Fi literature.
Many people are familiar with The Twilight Zone episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” That landmark work is a wonderful highlight to a lifelong career in writing by Richard Matheson. FM’s tribute to Matheson does a great job of covering the many aspects to his life and work with a number of insightful features.
One of the best is Peter Martin’s piece, focusing on Matheson’s uncanny human touch. As Martin explains, “The key to his success was that he fused wild, outlandish, unbelievable situations with characters who were all too human.” In THE SHRINKING MAN, for instance, we find the main character to be terribly flawed. He is steadily shrinking his way into nonexistence. Along the way, he’s a play toy for the family cat and then potential food for a spider. But we know some things about him, like his struggling with lusting over the babysitter. Knowing this gives us a face, a person to wonder and care about. We have a similar dynamic with I AM LEGEND’s main character. He proves a challenging character to like and we begin to question whether or not he’s the hero we assumed him to be.
FM’s exploration of Sci-Fi lit through the years is impressive. But where to begin? Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov were in agreement that the honor should go to mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler’s novel, SOMNIUM, published in 1634, a tale about space travel. For more practical purposes, that honor can go to Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, first published in 1818. That novel relates well into the present day, growing, adapting, right along with science fiction in its many forms: pulp magazines, movies, comic books, and coming full circle back to serious literature.
If an art form has a future, it will grow and so has science fiction. FM follows its growth from Wells and Verne on to its golden age in the ’30s to ’50s, intertwined with the rise of pulp magazines and writing talents that would set the tone for generations: Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, Dick, Sturgeon, Clarke, to name a few. And we get a generous survey of Sci-Fi’s more challenging works, like Neal Stephenson’s SNOW CRASH, which richly details information systems and virtual reality/internet hybrids. FM provides insightful coverage up to the present day with numerous recommendations and did-you-know facts. Did you know, for instance, that FM’s founder, Forrey Ackerman coined the term, “Sci-Fi”? Or did you know that there’s a Star Wars masterwork, set five years after the events of the original trilogy? That is HEIR TO THE EMPIRE by Timothy Zahn. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. You’ll want to get this issue as a keepsake and useful reference.
The more you look, the more you find in the pages of Famous Monsters. Each issue devotes itself to one theme or more ensuring you’ll want to read more. Next up, in #273, FM includes a tribute to the quirky world of Drive-In B-movies and one of TV’s longest genre shows, SUPERNATURAL.
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