The Writings of Ingrid Pitt

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Ingrid's Obituary


When are we now?

From the Pyramids of Egypt to Flying Saucers and Aliens from a Galaxy far, far away, Science Fiction or, as Forry Ackermann named it more intimately, SCiFi, has it all. Lightning Bolts from Mount Olympus to Ray Guns on Blackpool Tower, from pools of Mercury to Holograms, Invisibility Cloaks to the USS Eldridge - what more can you want? Immortality?

Melies Trip to the Moon

A Trip To The Moon was a shot in the eye for the awestruck audience. (Ouch!)

The Pyramids of Egypt, the Aztec Temples of South America, the Ark of the Covenant, the Antikythera computer, the devastating explosion in Tungaska in Siberia, Russia and the Oracle of Delphi have one thing in common. They are all embedded in academic history and a million miles from such airey-fairy modern sensations as Flying Saucers, Aliens from another Galaxy and parallel universes. Or so it seems. But they are all valid sources for the SciFi writer to mine.

SciFi is genre which sprang from the fertile imagination of post- industrial age minds with the education and the time to explore concepts and events beyond the day to day routine. As the awareness of the world around us advanced the stories became more exotic and shifted from day to day events to delve into the conscious and unconscious mind. That, at least, is the usual conception. The reality is that SciFi has always been with us. History is heavy with miraculous happenings which were ascribed to God, the gods, the Devil, fairies or monstrous beasts. The Greeks ran a great version of a parallel world populated by superior beings who held the puny humans in ransom to their demands. Although omnipotent the Gods of Mount Olympus still managed to have a troubled domestic life more unsettled than the lives they held in thrall. Their big talent, which sustained their self belief as well as demonstrating their superiority to the dumb natives, was the extra-ordinary physical, mental and magical gifts they had at their command. Gifts which are now, thousands of years later, transferred to the heroes and villains of SciFi.

Perseus, son of Zeus, was given winged sandals by Hermes so that he could fly - Superman? Achilles mother, Thetis,wanted to make her baby boy immortal. So she took him to the River Styx and dipped him in the water. Unfortunately she held him by the ankles and they remained mortal. He was shot in the ankle by an arrow and died. Again Superman springs to mind. His nemesis comes in the shape of a substance from the planet of his birth, Kryptonite, which makes him vulnerable. Zeus, King of the pantheon of Greek gods, was able to use the power of electricity to rain down devastating thunderbolts on friend and foe. An early example of the Ray Gun so popular in mid-20th century pulp fiction? Medusa, one of a trio of ugly sister’s too vile for even a pantomime audience from St.Trinians, could turn strong men into blocks of stone with a glance. Atomic Radiation?

Radiation is also to be found in the Old Testament. As the only decent people living in the hell-hole of Sodom, Lot and his wife had a bad time. A couple of extra-terrestrials turned up, blinded all the inhabitants of the city with the exception of the sainted duo, who they advised to leave and not look back. Lot’s wife’s curiosity got the better of her and she couldn’t resist a quick glance behind. She instantly became a pillar of salt as she was swamped by the terrible light from the destruction of the city.There are plenty of examples of flying. Not all of the avian variety. Chariots of Fire could be an innocent’s description of a modern jet plane or a space ship. Voices from the clouds and burning bushes have a distinctly SciFi flavour. Moses going up Mount Sinai and coming down with a set of instructions on how to behave definitely has the whiff of Alien control. Aliens giving instructions to those they want to help/dominate or just frighten to death? And what about the Ark of the Covenant? It is reputed to have the power to kill any unworthy person who might lay unsanctified hands on it. Radiation of some type which the Priests in charge are able to ignore because of the special costumes they wear? The parting of the Red Sea to allow the Jews to cross as the pursuing Egyptian Army swept down on them is usually attributed to God. But it could just as easily be worked into a SciFi scenario. How can these things be explained except by some titanic intelligence outside the scope of the technology of the day but scientifically a possibility for some unnamed alien culture

Superman Comic

Is it a bird? is it a plane? Don't be silly it's that man in a blue lycra, body revealing, suit wearing his pants over his strides - Superman.

In Egypt there is the Mystery of the Pyramids and the Riddle of the Sphinx. The pyramids were built to a strict mathematical formula to align with a distant star at a certain time of the year. The Sphinx stares fixedly ahead but, like many of the ‘Gods. the Egyptians worshipped it has an Alien form: half man, half beast. The Egyptians and their culture, in Earth-time, blossomed overnight. One earth-moment the population was a rural community relying on the annual flooding of the Nile to sustain it - the next the Egyptians were masters of all they surveyed. To this day, six thousand years later, their architecture and art is considered nothing less than marvellous. How could that happen without the aid of a superior outside intelligence? The massive, exquisitely shaped stone blocks which make up the gigantic pyramids would appear to be beyond the prowess of a scattered community of dirt-farmers to make into the towering edifices they are. How they managed it has never been satisfactorily explained. Some sort of anti-gravity device? And did the same scientific methods create Stone Henge and the Pyramids and Temples of South America? If there wasn’t some outside help available how did the Aztecs manage to create a calender which is still accurate to this day? Not to mention the extraordinary markings on the Nazca Plains of Peru. These seem to suggest some sort of sophisticated form of air transport. Was the ready availability of flight the reason the wheel was never invented by the Toltecs on the plains of South America?

These were ancient times when werewolves, giants, evil spirits and disease were accepted stoically as part of the burden that humans were meant to suffer. In some form or another a lot of these beliefs extended into the Middle Ages. The variations were more to do with cultural pressures than enlightenment. King Arthur and his band of brothers. Merlin’s mystic powers tuned into the environment and able to see into the future and talk to the animals. A magical sword, Excalibre, which had to be returned to the powers that be when Arthur no longer lived up to the high ideals of his sponsors. Nostradamus and his time travelling tales of the future where there are horseless carriages, flying machines and Hitler. Sorcerers turning base metals into gold, witches who flew around on broomsticks and were able to converse with their ‘familiars’ which often took the shape of cats. Lycanthropy! Shape changing! Another staple of modern story telling goes back to the ancient Greeks. By the beginning of the nineteenth century the speculation about things unseen, unheard and unknown became a thing of romance. The onus of leaving the Priest, soothsayers and fireside story tellers to predicate other worlds, other times and other forms of life was taken over by the writer.

Although there are various claims for who started SciFi there is one thing for certain. Popular interest began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus which she wrote while holidaying in Switzerland in 1818. Usually it is thought of as a Horror story but it also falls neatly into the SciFi category. The Monster is galvanised into life by medical science and electricity. Various authors had a dig at it over the next 50 years or so but it was Jules Verne’s 1870 20,000 Leagues under the Sea which lit the blue touch paper and earned him the sobriquet of Father of Modern SciFi. He is also responsible for the voracious appetite that film and television developed for the genre. His book, From the Earth to the Moon, published in 1865 was arguably the basis for the first true SciFi film, A Trip to the Moon produced by Georges Melies in 1902. Inspired by Verne W.G Wells tackled the subject of other worldliness with a thoroughness which has not been surpassed. Modern writers have played the variations on the Wellsian themes ever since. This isn’t meant to be derogatory to other writers. Wells was so all-inclusive in his scope that there was little left to invent. Just variations. The Time Machine (1895),The Invisible Man (1896) War of the Worlds (1898) etc. etc. are all master pieces.

Although almost by definition science fiction is about imagining how people will live in the future or under dramatically difference circumstances, it up to the writer to point the way. The greatest sign poster is acknowledged to be Hugo Gernsback. He wrote a series in the magazine, Modern Electricity, called Ralph 124c 41+, way back in 1911 which pointed the way we are today. Hugo came up with the Telephot (mobile phone), was the first to coin the noun Television in 1909, predicted canned music, the lie-detector, RADAR, plastics, the dialysis machine, artificial silks and most of the other things we enjoy, or not, in the 21st Century.

R2D2 and C-3PO

Its R2D2 and his little friend from Star Wars C-3PO.

Tarzan is probably the best known character to swing from the ever active pen of Edgar Rice Burroughs but in 1912 he wrote Under the Moons of Mars and later The Land that Time Forgot among many others. Isaac Ashimov cemented Robots into the framework . He kicked off his career in 1939 like many SciFi writers with a story in Amazing Stories entitled Marooned Off Vesta. He became renown as the King of the Robots for such tales as I Robot in 1950 and the Foundation Trilogy. He was the man who first established the Law of Robotics which most SciFi writers have observed ever since. While Ashimov was creating the Law, Aldous Huxley was penning Brave New World. This was about a world where drugs kept the population in order and made them like automatons. It was a theme taken up by George Orwell a decade later. He had already had a go at Communism with his ground breaking Animal Farm but really hit pay dirt with 1984. It is a dark story of State oppression characterised by Winston Smith who works in the bowels of the Ministry of Truth - rewriting history. 1984, for real, has been and gone but many people can see much of the Orwellian forecasts becoming fact.

There are hundreds of other writers who have contributed mightily to the SciFi canon but it was film that was to produce the greatest surge of interest in the genre. The Melies, of course, pointed the way. The theme of inter-space activity was taken up in such shorts as Flash Gordon. The 20’s in particular had a fascination with inter-Galactic travel. Some of the output could be taken as horror or SciFi according to your inclination. Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde swings either way. Der Golem is another. Sky Ranger (1922) is another mad scientist movie. The Radio King points up the dangers of high-frequency radio and the effects it could have on the human body. Metropolis (1924) was to all intents and purposes the first blockbuster SciFi movie and the springboard for future collectables with the beautifully designed but metallic Maria. As the demand for more SciFi adventures grew it was reflected in the sale of toys and magazines which broadened the interest. The models produced were not necessarily hooked into a specific movie or TV show. Space ships were spaceships, Robots - robots. It was soon realised that linking them with a specific film could send sales into orbit. Luckily the films which began to hit the screens in the sixties had the sort of characters and objects that collectors and model makers drool over. And then Star Wars emerged from a black hole and products that could be made from commercialising the film could be a healthy part of the movie budget.

Boris Karloff - Bride of Frankenstein

Frankie may have liked her but she wasn't too keen on him. Reconstructed woman, Elsa Lancaster, has reservations about him, decomposing man, Boris Karloff.

Star Wars collectables are big business. And the prospects for the future seem exceptionally rosy. At recent auctions Star Wars memorabilia has been turning a pretty penny. If you have any treasured relics from your childhood it might be as well to hold onto them. Ten years down the line you could be looking at four figure money. A Darth Vader mask in a carry case is creeping up to the £100 mark and a Politoy Death Star Planet can net anything up to £150. And that box of models including AtAt, the Millennium Falcon, a B-Wing Fighter and a Rebel Transporter that you were thinking of handing on to the kids? Don’t! It is breaching the £200 mark and is much sought after by the addicts. The great thing about Star Wars is its range. A collectors dream - or nightmare? Will anyone, ever, be able to get everything? Frontier Models are there to help. They have just brought out, among many others, a R2D2 and C3PO set for £79.95.

Star Trek also has an impressive record for attracting model makers and just plain enthusiasts. The 78 inch model of the Star Ship Enterprise D, the one which was used for the movie, Star Trek: The New Generation, was sold at Christies in New York for a crisp £300.000. Another prop which was sold off relatively cheaply and should make good money for the buyer in a year or two is Jerry Anderson’s Thunderbird which sat gathering dust in a Blackpool Exhibition for about 15 years. A Dinky, boxed model of Captain Scarlet’s Security Vehicle from the seventies fetched £190 at auction last Summer. Thunderbirds is, of course a natural. No middleman model maker to transmute the human into clay. And they have the added benefit of fitting snugly into the memory of the hallowed days of youth. With the renewed interest in Dr. Who generated by the new series increasing awareness in the old episodes in the younger generation, should set the prices rising in any of the old stuff which has spent a decade in the 50p basket at Boot-sales. Already there are some rather tasty models coming onto the market. Ones I particularly like are mini-busts of the Doctor in both his Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant guise accompanied by the adoring Rose. What is amazing is that they actually look like the characters they are supposed to represent. At £34.99 a snip. And where would the Doctor be if it wasn’t for the Daleks? (Is he without them now?) They come in all sizes, remote control or static, die-cast or knitted. SciFi Collectables do both the busts of the Doctors and Rose and the Daleks. And the Police Box, which kicked off the whole running phenomenon, can be bought from the same source. Both priced at £24.99.

Just to finish off as we started - there is still Superman. He came from ancient times as a cross between Perseus and Achilles and did it the American Way for the pulp magazine industry of the 30s and 40s. He rescued America/world and fought the evil machinations of Lex Luthor in TV Series and film for decades. Now he’s back in a bright new blue cat-suit and scarlet underpants, still worn fashionably outside his suit. It always seems as if Superman, considering his antecedence, is not as commercially viable as some of the other Super Heroes. Yes there are scuds of T-shirts floating around, Magazines, annuals, comics and books fill shelves and the Superman symbol appears on lunch boxes, table mats, wall paper and what have you. There appears to be more Willy Wonka out there than Clark Kent. You would think the stores would be heaving now. After a 19 year absence, the return of the Man of Steel. With a new leading man to boot. There is a 10 inch, rather uninspiring, model and a hideous 24 inch variation but nothing which looks like a must-have. I seems to me that Batman is better served.

Or should I get out more?

SciFi Heritage - December 2006

The Writings of Ingrid Pitt