Saturday, 12 May 2018

TV – The City and the City


China Miéville's novel The City and the City currently gets my vote as the best SFF novel published this century. It is that rare and precious thing, a very well-written story with a totally original and fascinating plot (my review was published on this blog in March 2012). So I was both delighted that BBC TV decided to make a four-hour adaptation of it, and worried that they might mess it up. The fact that the author is named as a consultant in the TV credits was at least a promising sign. The serial was shown on BBC2 over four weeks in April this year, but I waited until I had recorded all of the episodes before watching them over two consecutive evenings. And I waited before writing this review until I had read the book again, so I could make a direct comparison.

This review will necessarily contain quite a lot of spoilers (although not the solution to the mystery at its heart) so if you don't want those, I'll just say that although the screen version differs quite significantly from the book in some respects, it remains true to the overall plot and powerful atmosphere of the written story. It is a commendable effort, and well worth seeing.

First the background to the story (valid for both book and screen), adapted from my previous review of the book:

The City and the City is set in the present day in an imaginary country (East European or Middle Eastern – the geography is somewhat vague), consisting mainly of one large city. It is a murder mystery, featuring and told by Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad of the city of Besźel. So far, so mundane - but this is no ordinary city. What is peculiar about the city, as the reader soon begins to realise, is that for reasons lost in history it is two organisationally, culturally and linguistically very different cities occupying the same physical fabric. They even have different names: Besźel and Ul Qoma. This doesn't mean the city is carved into sectors like Berlin during the Cold War; while some parts are purely Besźel and others Ul Qoma, these sections are scattered at random throughout the city and the remainder is mixed, with Besźel and Ul Qoma buildings intermingled. Stranger still, the inhabitants of each city are conditioned from childhood only to see the buildings and people of their own city. They can recognise the differences easily enough; the buildings are of different architectural styles and the people dress differently and have different gestures and body language, as well as speaking different languages. It is absolutely forbidden to interact with, acknowledge or even look directly at people or buildings in the "other" city (a crime known as "breach") and the inhabitants learn to "unsee" the other city, ignoring anyone or anything which is not theirs. This draconian rule is enforced by a shadowy and much feared organisation simply called "Breach"; enforcement officers who dress and behave in such a way that they are "unseen" by the inhabitants of both cities, until they suddenly emerge to carry off anyone guilty of breach. The two cities interact in only one place, Copula Hall, which is also the "virtual border" between them. Inhabitants of either city can obtain permission to visit the other, but they have to be trained first to "see" the city they are visiting; which means that for the duration of the visit, they "unsee" their own city.

This bizarre situation can make the life of a police officer like Borlú very complicated, so when a visiting American student, working on an archaeological dig in Ul Qoma, turns up murdered in Besźel, he knows he's in for trouble. Working with his Ul Qoman opposite number he tries to get to the bottom of a complex and murky case, complicated by the apparent involvement of Orciny, a legendary third city "unseen" by the other two, and with the threat of Breach constantly hanging over him.

Now you'd definitely better stop reading if you don't want the spoilers…

The most obvious difference between book and screen is that the screen Borlú (played by David Morrissey) is far more emotionally involved in the mystery, because his wife Katrynia (Lara Pulver), who was also fascinated by the Orciny legend which obsessed the murdered girl, disappeared several years before while researching it. She remains very much in his thoughts and we see her constantly in flashbacks and in his imagination. In the book, she does not exist at all – the only reference to Borlú's personal life being mention of a couple of women whom he sees occasionally, but who have no part in the story.

This difference carries through into Borlú's attitude to the case: in the book, he wants to pass it to Breach to deal with as they have far better resources to solve the crime, but on screen he is desperate to hang onto the case, hoping it might enable him to find out what happened to his wife. This leads to some odd touches, such as a traffic camera video which emerges to demonstrate that a vehicle carrying the girl's body passed legally between Besźel and Ul Qoma, so Breach would not be involved. Borlú receives this with dismay in the book, delight on screen. Similarly, he is reluctant to travel to Ul Qoma in the book, keen to do so on screen.

There are some other incidental differences in the detail: the focus of the mystery, the archaeological dig (Bol Ye'an in Ul Qoma, which dates back to before the two separate cities emerged), is a conventional open-air investigation in the book, a cavern with walls dramatically covered by undeciphered Dan Brown-like diagrams on screen. The Ul Qoma detective Borlú works with is a man in the book, a woman on screen. The young female cop (Corwi) who works for Borlú has a dual role on screen. David Bowden, the academic whose book "Between the City and the City" started the whole Orciny legend, is an elderly man in the book, a younger womaniser on screen. A final odd detail which caught my eye: in the book Borlú does not smoke, the only reference being that he used to, but was determined not to start again; on screen, he chain-smokes cigars. Despite these differences, the screen plot generally follows the book quite closely – occasionally, snatches of conversation are word-for-word the same. The dark and brooding atmosphere is emphasised on screen by the music, especially the theme tune.

Some neologisms crop up in the book but not on screen: "grosstopically" referring to actual physical relationships between buildings in Besźel and Ul Qoma, as opposed to the legal routes via Copula Hall which need to be taken to travel between them; "topolgangers" meaning the two aspects of the same street in areas shared between Besźel and Ul Qoma.

Some more general points: the screen emphasises the differences between Besźel and Ul Qoma more dramatically than the book can. The cities have different economic cycles, and at this time Besźel is a much poorer place, drab and tatty with crumbling infrastructure and old-fashioned brick-like phones, while Ul Qoma is in the middle of an economic boom with glass skyscrapers and smartphones (comparisons between East and West Germany pre-unification give the general idea, although in the book Ul Qoma is one-party police state). In the book there is the odd reference to make it clear that the rest of world is much as it is now: Ul Qoma's new airport terminal being designed by British architect Norman Foster; mention of a song previously popular in Germany, 99 Luftballons (which was also a hit in the UK in the 1980s, as 99 Red Balloons, by Nena); and, most convincingly, mention of Marmite!

I did wonder how the screen would cope with the whole "unseeing" idea, but for the most part it proves straightforward, with the things which Borlú is not supposed to see being blurred out. The one exception is Breach, which in the book have almost supernatural powers, being "unseen" by citizens of both cities (citizens in Besźel assume they are in Ul Qoma, and vice versa) until they choose to "manifest", altering their behaviour to make themselves visible – from seeming blurred to onlookers, they suddenly jump into focus. Although this could have been shown easily enough on screen, this does not happen: Breach agents are visible all of the time but just appear to be ordinary people until they declare themselves. As a result, they appear far less mysterious and formidable, which is disappointing.

So, how do the two versions compare? The screen is more dramatic as might be expected, with more action scenes, as well as being emotionally more fraught. Overall, those involved with the screen version made a good job of it, and I am keeping the recordings to see again sometime (I'll probably read the book first, next time). However, I do prefer the book – it provides a richer experience, allowing a deeper immersion into the strange world of the cities.

I have a rule of thumb that the success of a screen adaptation of a book is closely linked to the running time versus the reading time for the book: if the book takes 5+ hours for me to read (as this one does) then for an optimum adaptation the screen version should run for a similar length of time. The shorter the running time relative to the reading time, the more has to be chopped from the story or rushed through, and the less satisfactory it becomes (the 1984 film version of Dune being a disastrous example, at 2¼ hours to cover a 7+ hour book). Conversely, in those very rare cases when the running time is significantly greater than the reading time (certainly The Hobbit, probably Game of Thrones but I haven't read that) there tends to be a loss of focus and a lot of meandering side-plots. So by that criterion the screen version of The City and the City could have done with just a bit more time. Having said that, I would have liked the book to be longer too!

The Radio Times website contains an interesting article on the serial, here: http://www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2018-04-06/the-city-and-the-city-bbc-david-morrissey/


Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Screen time - a catch-up


A batch of (moderately) recent films:

Solace (2015)

In this 2015 thriller, Anthony Hopkins stars as a psychic who has retired from assisting the FBI but is recalled by his old partner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to work with him and his new partner (Abbie Cornish) to track down a serial killer. It soon emerges that the killer is psychic too...

The plot sounds ordinary enough but this is a very good film, dealing successfully with some fundamental issues concerning good and evil, life and death. The acting is excellent, the dialogue thoughtful and intelligent, and unlike most "superpowers" movies, this one is firmly aimed at adults. Well worth watching.

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 Deadpool (2016)

This is a rather different contribution to the Marvel universe, featuring Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, a terminally-ill former special forces soldier, who is given an offer he can't refuse – not only a cure, but boosted capabilities including the ability to heal from any injury almost immediately.  The treatment leaves him hideously scarred and too ashamed to return to his girlfriend (Morena Baccarin), so after escaping from the fate planned for him, he goes hunting the man who deliberately left him scarred. He adopts a costume to cover his appearance, along with the name Deadpool. What follows is the usual mayhem, with car chases (and crashes, of course) fights and explosions.

What makes this film different is that it is played with tongue firmly in cheek – the "hero" has a sardonic sense of humour and frequently comments to the camera. In fact, there is a classic superhero in the film – the X-Man Colossus – but he is shown as rather ponderous and slow-witted, and so prudish that he recoils in horror when Angel Dust (Gina Carano) suffers a "wardrobe malfunction" while fighting him. While this is accurately described as a comedy thriller, some of the content might not be regarded as suitable for family viewing. The rest of us can enjoy it, though – it's one to watch again sometime.

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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

This is a real oddball of a movie based on a book of the same title: a version of Jane Austen's famous Regency novel about social life, transplanted into an alternative universe in which zombies have taken over central London and are a constant threat to humanity. So the young women who are centre stage in the story are no longer just hunting suitably eligible husbands, they are also highly trained in martial arts so they can deal with any outbreaks of zombieism. I must admit that it would not have occurred to me to cast Lily James as a lethally feisty Elizabeth Bennet, but she makes a remarkably convincing job of it. And as a bonus, the film also features Lena Headey, enjoying herself after the gloom and doom of Game of Thrones. It's rather difficult to identify the target audience for this story – it seems unlikely to appeal to fans of either Jane Austen or zombie films, but I rather enjoyed it just the same!

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

I still recall the enjoyment with which I watched the very first Star Wars movie on its release – I have even seen it twice, a rare accolade. I watched all of the rest of the series with varying degrees of enthusiasm, ranging from diminished to non-existent (I am a natural completist, and have had to learn the iron discipline of giving up on a declining series). The 2014 film Episode VII - The Force Awakens (reviewed on this blog in June 2016) showed a worthwhile return to form, so of course I had to see the next one in the franchise.

Rogue One, for those few who haven't been paying attention, is a stand-alone which slots into the Star Wars story just before the original film (which is now Star Wars IV following an intergalactic renumbering epic). Various familiar characters make cameo appearances, including Darth Vader, Princess Leia and, of course, the Death Star. The focus is on Jyn Erso (a rather curiously cast Felicity Jones), the daughter of the Death Star's unwilling designer, who has to retrieve the contruction plans to discover exactly how to get at the vulnerability created by her father.

There is a lot going on in this film. It starts by jumping around between several different locations, each with its own crop of characters, and continues at a breakneck pace thereafter. There is lots of action, lots of shouting and lots of the frantic loud music which characterise Star Wars films. There is therefore very little time for character development, or a strong story arc. As a result I found it rather unengaging, and didn't really care about what happened to the characters. Not as good as Episode VII, but just about worth it for a wet evening with popcorn. It is unusual in one respect: it thoroughly stomps all over Hollywood's normal preference for "see-you-in-the-sequel" or, at worst, "happily-ever-after" endings!

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Valerian (2017)

Luc Besson has had a prolific career as a director, producing a lot of interesting films which are well worth seeing. So when I settled down to watch Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets I expected a couple of hours of entertainment.

The bad news starts with a credibility problem concerning the hero, who is supposedly a major in a special police unit with nine years of experience, but is played by someone who looks, behaves, and sounds like a teenager – and a rather irritating one at that. The film is 95% action, with the usual good CGI which is routine nowadays, but for once I thought there wasn't enough action; because when the characters talked instead, their dialogue was amongst the most excruciating I've heard in years, and had me cringing in my seat.

I soon concluded that the target audience must have been 13 year old boys with a fondness for special effects and no interest in real people. Quite often, in films made for youngsters, there are elements that adults can appreciate – but not this time.


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Wonder Woman (2017)

I really don't have much to say about this one, because I can't find anything to criticise. Everything about it is at least good, and in the case of the two leads, excellent. The magnificent Gal Gadot was born to play this role, and does so with great conviction. She dominates every scene she appears in - around 80% of the film. More like this, please!



Monday, 9 April 2018

Lost Mars, edited by Mike Ashley


This anthology is subtitled "The Golden Age of the Red Planet" and is a companion volume to the British Library's Moonrise, reviewed in my previous post. Like that book, this one includes some of the more interesting but largely forgotten SF of the past, and starts with a substantial introduction in which the editor gives an overview of how Mars has been treated in fiction from the earliest times to the mid-20th century.

Interest in stories about visits to Mars were kindled by the development of the telescope. The most notable early tale appeared in 1744: The Speedy Journey, by German astronomer Eberhard Kindermann, who put all of the current knowledge or informed speculation about the planet into a fictional form. Just as with the Moon, actually getting to Mars was the problem early authors faced: the best Kindermann could do was to adopt a 17th century proposal for an airship held aloft by globes from which all air had been evacuated, with forward progress being made by the means of oars. His space travellers find intelligent humanoids living on Mars, and spend much time discussing religion. Other stories followed, always focusing on the Martian inhabitants who were generally held to be more advanced, intelligent and peaceful than humanity.

Interest in Mars moved up a gear after the close conjunction of 1877, during which the two Martian moons were discovered and the Italian astronomer Schiaparelli believed that he had observed straight lines which he called canali (channels). He never claimed that these were artificial, but others jumped to that conclusion (most notably the US astronomer Percival Lowell) so there was an explosion of fiction featuring the "canals" of Mars, constructed to channel water from wet poles to the dry deserts. These continued to represent the Martians as humanoid, wise and benevolent, until the rude shock of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, which created a sensation when published in 1897.

Fiction set on Mars then tended to spilt, one strand being the "planetary romances" (hero from Earth rescues beautiful Martian princess etc), initiated by the highly influential Edgar Rice Burroughs and followed-up by the US "pulp fiction" magazines, before being revived in a more thoughtful form by Leigh Brackett who in turn inspired Marion Zimmer Bradley. The other strand pictured Mars as a dead or dying planet, as in stories by E.C. Tubb, Walter M. Miller and most, notably, Ray Bradbury. One of my favourite novels, The Iron Thorn by Algis Budrys, which I reviewed here a few years ago, also gets a mention.

So to the stories:

The Crystal Egg by H.G. Wells: first published 1897. Published in the same year as The War of the Worlds, this is a very different kind of story. It features an object rather than a person, a sphere made of crystal which belongs to the elderly owner of an antique shop. In certain conditions, he discovers that he can see what appears to be another world through the crystal. He involves a young experimenter who is able to determine that the world is Mars, populated by a variety of creatures. The story is notable for the depth of characterisation of the people and their relationships. A memorable and rather haunting tale.

Letters from Mars by W.S. Lach-Szyrma: first published c.1889. The author wrote a long series of stories purporting to be letters from a Venusian, a flying being who visited other planets and reported on his findings. In this selection of letters, he studies the Martians and the way in which they live. There are some interesting observations: the Martians keep warm by occupying deep cave systems heated using geothermal energy (the author argues that this form of energy should be adopted by humanity, along with tidal power). He also mentions fish farms as a way of resolving food shortages. A curious mixture of a dated approach with some modern ideas.

The Great Sacrifice by George C. Wallis: first published 1903. Despite the success of The War of the Worlds, many authors continued to portray the Martians as superior and benign compared with humanity. In this story, a warning is received from the planet concerning a vast meteor storm heading for the Solar System, which on plunging into the sun will cause it to flare up, burning life on the inner planets to a crisp. The Martians have a solution…

One point worth noting is that the main female character is psychologically stronger than the men; not that common in fiction of those days. 

The Forgotten Man of Space by P. Schuyler Miller: first published 1933. A miner on Mars finds himself stranded, with no means of returning to his base across a vast desert. Help arrives from an unexpected quarter, and the miner finds himself living a very strange life.

A Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum: first published 1934. Another story featuring a man stranded far from his Mars base who benefits from unexpected local assistance, experiencing various adventures on his way home.

Ylla by Ray Bradbury: first published 1950. A very different kind of writing from the author of The Martian Chronicles, of which this is the first story: evocative, atmospheric, dream-like and poetic are all words which come to mind. The story is written from the viewpoint of a native Martian lady who dreams of strange men arriving from the third planet out from the Sun, even though it is of course known that conditions there would not support life…

Measureless to Man by Marion Zimmer Bradley: first published 1962. Humanity explores the almost-dead Mars, from which intelligent life has disappeared, leaving behind one empty city dubbed Xanadu. This is extremely difficult to reach due to distance and terrain, and several expeditions to it have met with disaster, with no survivors. The fate of the final attempt is seen from the viewpoint of a young expedition member, who discovers that the planet is not quite dead after all.

Without Bugles by E.C. Tubb: first published 1952. The only human base on Mars is struggling to survive in the face of the severe conditions, and is threatened with closure. But there is a reason why that can't happen.

Crucifixus Etiam by Walter M. Miller, Jr.: first published 1953. Workers undertaking giant projects on Mars realise that they can never return, and mutiny is threatened until the reason for their presence emerges.

The Time-Tombs by J.G. Ballard: first published 1963. A writer as atmospheric as Bradbury but better known for "collapse of society" novels, this is an unusual story set on a dead Mars on which the former inhabitants have left elaborate, and very valuable, tombs.

Another interesting collection, none of which I had previously read except for Ylla. Nearly all of the stories downplay the severity of the conditions on Mars; presumably partly due to a lack of precise scientific knowledge, at least when the earlier stories were written, but possibly also because it would limit the scope of the stories.  The bitter cold at night is noted, but it is commonly assumed that while the atmosphere is very thin, it will be more or less breathable, perhaps with some assistance.

The main discovery for me was Marion Zimmer Bradley: I have been aware of her name for as long as I can remember, but seem to have read little or nothing by her. Measureless to Man is my favourite story from this group (followed by The Crystal Egg and Ylla) and and I will be looking for more stories from her. The other take-away for me was a reminder of just how beautifully Ray Bradbury could write: The Martian Chronicles is due another visit, after a long absence!


Sunday, 1 April 2018

Moonrise, edited by Mike Ashley


This anthology is subtitled "The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures" and is the first, along with Lost Mars (watch this space), to be published in the British Library's Science Fiction Classics series. The publishers have kindly sent me copies to review, but frankly I needed no incentive to get stuck into these books, which are intended to retrieve some of the more interesting but largely forgotten SF of the past.

There is a lengthy introduction by the editor, pointing out some of the high points of fiction concerning voyages to our Moon. The stories have of course evolved along with our understanding of our satellite. Accounts of what might be found, if only it were possible to visit, have been around for at least 2,000 years, and until the 20th century they mostly assumed that some sort of humanoid life would be found there, probably gigantic. In many cases the purpose of the stories was merely to satirise, or contrast with, human society on Earth. For most of this time, writers faced the problem of how to reach the Moon; early solutions included being sucked up into the air by a waterspout or blown up by a volcanic eruption, climbing a beanstalk, or strapping on giant wings. Others dodged the issue by portraying everything that happened as a dream.

The invention of the telescope allowed astronomers to provide much better descriptions of the Moon's surface. The German astronomer Johannes Kepler put his knowledge into fictional form in Somnium (published posthumously in 1634), in which he speculates that there can be little if any atmosphere between the Earth and the Moon (confirmed a few decades later), and that there would be extremes of temperature between day and night. Other authors were more concerned with religious and philosphical debates with the supposed inhabitants of the satellite. The well-known author Cyrano de Bergerac was the first to propose the use of a series of rockets to make the journey. One interesting early novel, published in 1783 by Belgian baroness Cornélie Wouters, was the first to utilise the newly-discovered technology of lighter-than-air balloons to reach the Moon, which proved to have a society entirely run by women – and all the better for it!

Much excitement was generated in 1835 with the publication in a newspaper of the discoveries of the famous astronomer Sir John Herschel, made using a powerful new telescope in South Africa. These included forests and all forms of animal life. This turned out to be merely a hoax by a journalist, but it did spark much public interest, as did the use of some form of "anti-gravity" as employed by H.G. Wells but first proposed by other authors, starting in 1827. After various proposals for using giant guns to launch spacecraft (notably by Jules Verne) the use of rockets was proposed by the Russian scientist Tsiolkovsky, around the end of the 19th century. These of course ultimately led to Werner von Braun and the start of the space age.

So to the stories:

Dead Centre by Judith Merril: first published 1954. This is very different in focus and tone from most of the rest of the stories, in that it concerns the impact on a family – and especially a small boy – when the boy's father is sent to be the first man to land on the Moon. A well-constructed but depressingly downbeat tale. There is one oddity – the main limitation on the length of time people can survive in a spacecraft is assumed to be food, not air.

A Visit to the Moon by George Griffith: first published 1901. An episode from a longer story, A Honeymoon in Space, which was initially serialised as was usual at the time. According to the editor's introduction to this episode Griffiths, a prolific writer of "scientific romance" was even more popular than H.G. Wells in his day, but he died in 1906 at the age of 49 and has been forgotten since.

This is a story of curious contrasts. It starts with a decidedly old-fashioned feel as a rich and titled man, having funded the development of a spaceship with a new form of propulsion, has decided to use it to take his bride around the solar system for their honeymoon. They are accompanied by a talented engineer who, being their social inferior, of course lives and eats in a separate part of the spacious vessel.

Their first stop is the Moon, and here the mood changes to something much more modern. The description of the conditions on the Moon are (up to a point) so accurate that they might have been written in the late 1960s. I was particularly startled to read a comment that while there was a lot of fine dust on the surface it wasn't a problem since, in the absence of an atmosphere, it dropped straight back to the surface when disturbed instead of billowing around. The narrator also comments that the "dark side" of the Moon is much the same as the part we can see (contrary to common belief at the time). There is one technical oversight which seems to have been widespread: while the need to wear face masks and carry oxygen while walking on the Moon was understood, the need to use a pressurised suit was not, and well-insulated clothing sufficed to deal with the temperature extremes! Where the author's description of the Moon departs from reality is (inevitably) in the discovery of life, but even that is a lot more reasoned and credible than in most such stories at the time.

Sunrise on the Moon by John Munro: first published 1894. An oddity, this one, as it starts out with a dream sequence, written in decidedly purple prose, describing what sunrise would look like. This then segues into a lecture on the conditions to be found on the Moon (the author mainly wrote popular science articles). Like Griffith's tale this is surprisingly accurate in general, although the probability that life developed and might still hang on in some form inevitably features. One error which was common at this time is to attribute the Moon's cratered landscape entirely to vulcanicity rather than asteroid strikes.

First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells: first published 1901. An extract from the end of the novel. This is the one really famous story featured in this collection, so is unlikely to need much of an introduction. The main point of interest in this extract is the nature of the Selenites who (for once) are not humanoids, but more like giant ants. It is particularly interesting to note the way in which their development is channelled into different forms for different purposes: a precursor to Huxley's Brave New World. 

Sub-Satellite by Charles Cloukey: first published 1928. This is mainly notable for the precocity of the author, who was only sixteen when this (his first success) was published, and died at the age of nineteen having published only eight more stories. The editor observes that this story contains one of the first references in fiction to rockets being used to propel spacecraft, rather than anti-gravity or other mystical power sources, and the vessel also contains a computer (he might have added that the computer was coupled to a radar set in order to detect and avoid any meteoroids). The author also explores a possible effect of firing a gun on the Moon, in terms of ballistics: while his proposal is just about theoretically possible, it's practically impossible, but is anyway the product of a remarkable imagination.

Lunar Lilliput by William F. Temple: first published 1938. A very strange tale this with a very dated feel, for me definitely in the field of fantasy rather than SF. The title is a clue…

Nothing Happens on the Moon, by Paul Ernst: first published 1939. A man is left on his own to manage an emergency base on the Moon for a period of months. An exceedingly boring job since nothing ever happens, until it does… The basic scenario is strongly reminiscent of Moon, the 2009 film directed by Duncan Jones, but the story shifts into a more exotic kind of horror as it develops.

Whatever Gods There Be by Gordon R. Dickson: first published 1961. A tense drama as the crew of a moon rocket try to recover from an accident in order to fly home. It's those cold equations…

Idiot's Delight by John Wyndham: first published 1958. An episode from a series on the Troon family, collected as The Outward Urge in 1959. A nuclear war has devastated the Earth and led to fighting between the Russian and American Moon bases, but the smaller British one has been left untouched – so far. A psychodrama in which the base commander is faced with mutiny as he wrestles with his dilemma.

After a Judgement Day by Edmond Hamilton: first published 1963. Like the previous story, this has a Moon base surviving the devastation of human life on Earth, this time by an accidental plague rather than nuclear war. There are only two people left on the base, but there is still one worthwhile job they can do.

The Sentinel by Arthur C. Clarke: first published 1951. A famous story as it provided the initial seed of what became the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. An excellent, rather haunting short story, but I couldn't help thinking at the end that Clarke unnecessarily stretched credibility too far by the enormous time scale he chose. Would an advanced civilisation still be interested in something they set up hundreds of millions of years ago?

Apart from First Men in the Moon (read too long ago to recall much) and The Sentinel, all of these stories were new to me. While many of the individual stories may be found elsewhere, it is fascinating and instructive to read them all together in this context. For me, the main discovery was George Griffith and I note that a 480-page paperback titled George Griffith, Science Fiction Collection was published in 2014, so I'll add that to my purchase list.