Paul Malmont is the author of The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown, out this month from Simon & Schuster. Find out more at www.thatamazingbook.com and the Facebook page. He tweets from @pmalmont.
I’m delighted to be given the opportunity to drop by tell you about my new novel, The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown. It’s based on the true circumstances in which Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov wound up working for the military during WW2 in a special super-science think-tank created by pulp magazine editor John Campbell. As they try to beat the Nazis in a race to unlock the secrets of the late Nikola Tesla and his Wardenclyffe Tower, they sweep along L. Ron Hubbard, L. Sprague de Camp, and other characters who were present during the birth of the Golden Age of WW2. It’s about the birth of the genre, the giants who were present at its creation, and the fans who really gave it the life it enjoys to this day.
Obviously a book like this doesn’t just appear overnight. I had to spend years reading Bradbury, Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke and then more years reading about them in under to really understand what they’d accomplished, and, perhaps more importantly, how they’d accomplished it. Their work, and work ethic, really inspired me as I’m sure they’ve inspired many of you. I have also been inspired and influenced by some other things, and it’s worth sharing them with you because maybe you’ll find yourself nodding at some blast of nostalgia, or discover something completely new. Either way, it’s a nice way for me to call-out those works that are special to me.
- Billy Blastoff. This is where science fiction begins for me. Major Matt Mason gets all the love these days, but Billy, the kid astronaut (and scuba diver!) was kind of cooler. Why? Because he wore a battery-filled jet-pack with a little gear sticking out of the bottom. You dropped him into a cool moon-crawler or lunar rover-that little nubbin popped into place, and off he went. I loved this toy so much that long after all the pieces were lost, I still held on to a lone, little ray gun. I don’t particularly crave to own one of these again, but it would make me smile to play with one for a little while one more time.
- Tom Swift. Whether it was diving under the sea in his amazing sea-copter, or flying above the surface of the earth in his flying lab, for a while I went on every trip with Tom Swift that I could get my hands on. I loved the imagination at play, and the freedom that technology and science gave Tom and his friends. Definitely my introduction to serialized adventures and characters that I would later come to enjoy in the form of Doc Savage and The Shadow (and write about in The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril). Bummed to find out years later that Victor Appleton the Second was, like so many pulp names, a pseudonym, but it was cool that the Swift adventures I read were created by the original creator’s daughter, and that the Tom I knew was the son of the original Tom Swift whose adventures began at the turn of the century. In the right hands today, Tom Swift could do for science, what Harry Potter does for magic, which is to make kids fall in love with it.
- Roddy McDowall. OK, so maybe it was really just his portrayal of Cornelius, and later Caesar, but he made me believe an ape could talk. My first Apes movie was Escape from the Planet of the… and in spite of its super-downer ending (in fact, all the Apes movies end on bummer notes!), I was hooked. But it wasn’t until he unleashes hell in Conquest… that he ignites the screen with humiliation, pride, and ultimately, fury. How he managed to maintain his dignity throughout the series, I’ll never know-but as a performer, and the emotional anchor of a great series of movies, he is completely underrated.
- Steve Ditko. Spider-man. Take it for granted all you want, but actually re-read the first issue, see how much Uncle Ben and Aunt May love their loser nephew-how they’re so full of pride for him that they nearly glow-and it’ll break your heart all over again, even before Ben is murdered. OK, so now I’ve reminded you (as if you needed it) how great Ditko was. But what I really loved was the massive train-wreck that was Ditko unleashed – Rac Shade: The Changing Man. Can’t even begin to describe what’s going on. At all. But it’s super-crazy and worth checking out. What’s really cool is that Steve Ditko is still out there-probably in mid-town Manhattan-drawing away.
- Duck. Howard T. I took so much abuse from my friends for mentioning that I liked the movie, and I probably deserved it. But my fondness for the movie was really based on the love I had for this Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik creation, which was like a four-color screen which his all the cinematic crap. It’s too bad the movie turned Howard into such a punchline because he was really awesome as a comic book. The dude could never catch a break-and he really was trapped in a universe that couldn’t care less about him at best-and seemed to actively conspire to destroy him at worst. For a few years I owned the original Gene Colan (Rest In Peace, bro!) cover for the Star Waaugh parody issue. Even though I know longer own it, I know it’s in a good place.
- John Christopher. The Tripod Trilogy was a terrific YA series that took place in Europe after a successful alien invasion. The creatures in this book are ostensibly H.G. Wells’ martians, back for revenge after having figured out, y’know, germs. But the characters and their love for one another, and the suffering that that emotion inflicts upon them is so palpably real that it stays with me all these years later.
- Thomas Convenant. Let’s take a brief foray into fantasy for just a moment. I don’t know if Stephen R. Donaldson’s massive series is really any good. It’s been a long time since I’ve read them. But the character of Thomas Covenant is so different from other genre protagonists that I need to call him out as inspiration. He is so singularly self-involved and really just such an asshole that it’s amazing that I went along with him on his journey so far. But I did, because characters as self-obsessed as this modern-day leper are fascinating. For a long time, he refuses to acknowledge the reality of the world he’s been transported to. Not page after page-book after book!
- Alexander Key. The guy who wrote Escape to Witch Mountain wrote a tiny classic of a book about alienation called The Forgotten Door but it made a big impact because it just seemed somehow so real. Jon falls through a dimensional door into our world (it happens) and is rescued from our cold cruel society by the perfect American family. They even take this little mind-reader to court to protect his rights when the government comes calling. In the end, our world is too bad for them all so they find a way back to his-a place where they watch fireworks every evening in a field where deer (and probably antelope) roam free. Which is kind of like my backyard-which just goes to show that inspiration reveals its impact in mysterious ways.
- Nathan Brazil. The great science fiction series no one ever talks about is the Well of Souls run by Jack L. Chalker. I once tried to describe to friends how an ancient race called the Markovians had grown bored with their advancement and created a planet in which they could explore other states of being and how the northern hemisphere was all organic critters and the southern was all non-organic, like made of electricity and stuff, and these were the originators of all the species in the universe but the planet itself was lost in legend until some people tried to get into it to get their hands on Markovian technology and the only one who can stop them is the space-freighter captain/scoundrel Nathan Brazil, who knows something about the Wells of Souls, and maybe he’s a Markovian, and each of the planet’s raiders are turned into one of the different kinds of creatures and they all have different hurdles to overcome as they race to get to the source of all and everything and ultimately the saga spans five amazing books and Nathan Brazil is kind of (spoiler alert) God.
My friends laughed at me very hard.
But do yourself a favor. Go meet Nathan Brazil.
- Douglas Adams. Funny. As. Hell. Sure. But Adams doesn’t get enough credit (though he did have plenty of success) for being a really great writer. His books get better and better and hidden under all that incredible humor are some pretty grand philosophical thoughts. I got to meet him and have a conversation with him one time. I have a signed copy of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency as the proof. I wish the movie had been more successful because I would have loved to have seen more of his world and ideas brought to life.
- NASA. Thank you to all those men and women who have attempted to bring us to the future for as long as I’ve been alive. I hope you can inspire my boys as much as I’ve been inspired. When I think about what you’ve accomplished, I can only be awed. Onward!
OK. So that’s my list. What’s on yours?