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Hex Publishers is an independent publishing house proudly specializing in genre fiction: horror, science fiction, crime, dark fantasy, comics, and any other form that explores the imagination. Founded by writers, Hex values both the author and the reader, with an emphasis on quality, diversity, and voices often overlooked by the mainstream.

The Poppies of Terra #18 - Adventures In Time

By Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

2023-12-06 09:00:30

As a teen who started exploring science fiction movie history in the 90s, the posters for seemingly ancient films–how much more ancient now!–like Conquest of Space (1955) and Destination Moon (1950) became almost indistinguishable in my mind from the book covers of popular science books of the same period, like Arthur C. Clarke’s Going Into Space (1954) and Willy Ley’s Satellites, Rockets and Outer Space (1958). All of this material, which predated actual human spaceflight, blended into a single narrative that made me long for a past era of imagined exploration. The right type of cultural artifacts can not only produce nostalgia, but anemoia–the nostalgia for times and places we’ve never directly known. Such is the effect of the splendid new visual banquet The Art of Classic Sci-Fi Movies: An Illustrated History, edited by Adam Newell, with an Introduction by Kim Newman. It contains over 800 images of science fiction films, and regardless of when you grew up or discovered science fiction movies, it will make you pine for worlds of yore. 

The ever-knowledgeable Newman quickly makes clear the book’s remit: the “classic” in the title refers not to how films have been regarded by posterity, but rather the period of time starting with 1902’s A Trip to the Moon and ending with 1977’s Star Wars. In other words, seventy-five years of rollicking, mind-expanding, and let's face it, more often than not mind-numbing, movie fare. Newman points out the preponderance of genre hybrids from the earliest of days (1949’s science fiction rom-com The Perfect Woman, for instance, or 1953’s science fiction detective story The Magnetic Monster), an observation that enhances our appreciation of the book’s artwork, and notes that after 1977 subjects like space operas and superheroes would come to more monolithically dominate big budget productions. My favorite historical aside in the Introduction refers to an unrealized collaboration between H. G. Wells and Robert W. Paul, in which customers would sit on a Time Machine replica and film would be projected on all four walls surrounding the machine, so as to immersively suggest swiftly traveling through time.

The book then proceeds to marvel and dazzle us with some 105 image-centric chapters split up into four main sections: The Early Years, The 1950s, The 1960s, and The 1970s. Each of these sections is kicked off by a brief essay. In the first, Stephen Jones writes about The Invisible Ray (1936) and The Phantom Creeps (1939). Jones describes The Invisible Ray as “America’s first serious science fiction movie” and talks about the flourishing of serials in the 1930s. The Phantom Creeps, in fact, was a 12-chapter serial chronicling various attempts by mad scientist Alex Zorka to conquer the world by means of his eight-foot robot, a “devisualizer” belt, mechanical spiders, and a suspended animation formula. In the second short essay, Margaret A. Weitekamp takes on Destination Moon and Forbidden Planet (1956), characterizing the 1950s as a “decade of binaries,” such as democracy opposing authoritarianism and capitalism vs communism. Weitekamp’s two film choices highlight contrasting views on the early depiction of space travel in movies. As we enter the 1960s, Nick Jones discusses Alphaville (1965) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). While the 1950s “demonstrated a preoccupation with the external,” he writes, the following decade focused on “forging the cerebral and the otherworldly into visionary wholes.” His two movies are great examples of “looking inwards” and both feature memorable artificial intelligences in the forms of Alpha 60 and HAL 9000. Finally, Mark Salisbury’s comments on Dark Star (1974) and Logan's Run (1976) include some interesting production and marketing details, including how the UK quad artwork of Dark Star misleadingly attributed the three films 2001, The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and Dark Star to Alan Dean Foster. 

Certainly, part of the joy of these hundreds of movie-related illustrations is their raw, evocative power. But it also stems from the way in which they record changing sensibilities in our cultural values and aesthetics, along, of course, with blatant attempts to fill seats by promising scenes and visuals that didn’t even exist in the films they were advertising.

The coverage is truly remarkable, along three different axes. One is the sheer obscurity of many of the movies themselves, long forgotten B-pictures and independent shlock-fests that only dedicated historians will have ever heard of. Secondly, beyond the standard Anglo-centric visuals, the book showcases imagery of Swedish, French, German, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Mexican, Turkish, Hungarian, Danish, Belgian, Bulgarian, Czech, Dutch and Russian provenance. This truly enhances the scope of the visual history, capturing, beyond how films were portrayed in their original countries of release, how such portrayals were adapted and re-engineered for different international audiences. Finally, it’s the format of the illustrations themselves: this is not a book of mere movie posters, but instead one which also includes trade ads, one-sheets, 3 sheets, four-panels, magazine covers, lobby cards, pressbook covers, publicity stills, landscape-oriented quads (short for quadruple crowns) and basically any other format you can imagine. Paper quality is good and the colors are sharp.

It’s difficult to pick favorites from such a smorgasbord of visual wonders, but mine would have to include “Mad Scientists” and later “Mad Scientists Return!”, showing art from the 1916, 16-part serial The Crimson Stain Mystery, The Drums of Jeopardy (1931), based on a novel by Harold MacGrath, Doctor X (1932), Maniac (1934) and Dr. Cyclops (1940). The stop-motion creature effects short film The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918) has a captivating poster. “Serial Thrills!” entices us with dramatic visuals from The Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940) and King of the Rocket Men (1949). In “Adventures in Time” we glimpse the poster for the first film to ever show a time machine on screen, the Hungarian picture Sirius (1942: original title Szíriusz), as well as the British time travel comedy Time Flies (1944), an alternate US history where fascists took control, Strange Holiday (1945), and perhaps the first filmic depiction of a time loop, Repeat Performance (1947). In the “Lost Worlds of the ‘50s” it’s amusing to see how wildly the Belgian posters for Two Lost Worlds (1951) and The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956) fabricated the films’ contents. In “Brains!”, we find that The Brain Eaters (1958) boasted a one-sheet again promising an image that did not appear in the film. The Brain From Planet Arous (1957) poster boldly announces “Science-Fiction’s Most Astounding Story!”. 

Later artwork related to Dr. Who’s Daleks is simply stunning. A chapter on “Kubrick’s Influences” pays visual tribute to Voyage to the End of the Universe (1963) and, less obviously, To the Moon and Beyond, the 1964 World’s Fair Cinerama attraction. The Italian two-fogli for Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) will resuscitate the most weary eyes. Did you know that in Italy they retitled Silent Running (1972) as 2002: La Seconda Odissea, billing it as a direct sequel to Kubrick’s masterpiece, ostensibly because of Douglas Trumbull’s involvement? I also have to mention the delirious silk screen-style posters and banners for films like The Mole People (1956), Revenge of the Creature (1955), Queen of Outer Space (1958), The Man From Planet X (1951), and many others.

This is but a small sampling of this Aladdin’s cave of movie illustrations, and the many fascinating tidbits you’ll discover in the plentiful text complementing the pictures. Besides being centered on sub-genres like Flying Saucers, Atomic Monsters, or Crawling Terror, chapters also zoom in on specific actors, artists like Constantin Belinsky, and directors like Ishiro Honda, Ib Melchior and Antonio Margheriti. Naturally, the most famous films of each period receive dedicated attention.

As Newman writes in the Introduction, “the story of science fiction in multiple media–novels, magazines, illustration, comic strips, comic books, propaganda, satire, radio, television, advertising–is complicated and exciting, and continually fuels the development of SF cinema.” This is true for the three-quarters of a century encompassed by this fascinating archive of visual film memorabilia, and it is true today. The famous 1936 H. G. Wells film adaptation Things to Come declared, “For Man, no rest and no ending [...] when he has conquered all the deeps of Space, and all the mysteries of Time, still he will be beginning.” And so it is for science fiction.


Alvaro Zinos-Amaro is a Hugo- and Locus-award finalist who has published over fifty stories and one hundred essays, reviews, and interviews in professional markets. These include Analog, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Galaxy's Edge, Nature, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Locus,, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, Cyber World, Nox Pareidolia, Multiverses: An Anthology of Alternate Realities, and many others. Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg was published in 2016. Alvaro’s debut novel, Equimedian, and his book of interviews, Being Michael Swanwick, are both forthcoming in 2023.

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