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Forrest J. Ackerman's World of Science

(FictionForrest J. Ackerman(Aurum Press, 1998))

Forrest J. (“Forry”) Ackerman is a legendary figure in the world of science fiction (or “sci-fi,” as Ackerman — the coiner of the term — prefers to call it). Starting as a young enthusiast of “scientifiction” in the 1930s, he went on to become a writer of sci-fi stories, an editor of the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, an actor who appeared in more than fifty sci-fi and horror films, and an agent who represented dozens of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers. He is best known, however, as a fan and collector. His collection of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror memorabilia — 300,000 pieces in all — spills out of eighteen rooms in the Ackermansion, his Hollywood estate. (He’s been welcoming visitors into his home to view the collection for free since the early 1950s.)


As writer, editor, actor, agent, collector, and fan, Ackerman has seen it all. This book — a heavily illustrated collection of his memories, observations, and insights into the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genres in literature, film, and television — is the result.


Appropriately enough for a lover of filmland’s favorite monsters, the book starts with a survey of Frankenstein in literature, film, and television. Philistine that he is, Ackerman is unashamed in his disregard for anything but the lowliest schlock. Of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly’s Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus (1818), the book that started it all, Ackerman feels an itching embarrassment. Although he accepts that it might have been a shocking novel in its time, today, he opines, “it is intolerably dull.” (The description of the monster “is way too brief,” he complains.) No literary masterpieces for Ackerman, it would seem. For him, the definitive — and unsurpassed — treatment of the monster is Boris Karloff as Frankenstein in James Whale’s classic horror films Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).


Ackerman then strolls down memory lane to tell us about famous sci-fi authors he has known and admired (or not). The bios are brief, but the anecdotes are amusing. More informative and comprehensive, however, is Ackerman’s coverage of sci-fi pulp magazines (Amazing Stories, Science Wonder Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Astounding Stories, Startling Stories, Super Science Stories, Analog, the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Galaxy, and many others) and their legendary editors (Hugo Gernsback, Ray Palmer, Mort Weisinger, Harry Bates, F. Orlin Tremaine, John W. Campbell, Jr., Frederik Pohl, Anthony Boucher, and H. L. Gold). That is, if you can tear your eyes away from the many reproductions of pulp magazine covers — those brilliantly realized minivisions of a future populated with muscled men griping laser guns, well-built women in skin-tight space suits, menacing bug-eyed monsters, powerful spaceships, gleaming robots, and vast, vertiginous urban vistas.


After the visual feast of the pulp era, it’s a bit of a let down to proceed through the remainder of the book, which mostly contains capsule descriptions of the popular sci-fi movies and television shows of the recent past. However, Ackerman does take brief side excursions into such topics as dystopias, atomic war in sci-fi films, “brain movies” (that is, camp productions in which brains, both human and alien, menace an innocent populace), insect-as-threat films, invisibility, Jekyll-and-Hyde movies, and film robots — all worthy subjects of contemplation.


All in all, Forrest J. Ackerman’s world of science fiction is an interesting place to visit. The reproductions of streamlined pulp magazine covers, book jacket illustrations, film and television stills, movie posters, photos of classic genre actors, movie monsters, and famous robots is worth the price of the book alone. There’s no denying the fact that Forrest J. Ackerman’s World of Science Fiction is a coffee table book. The difference is that it is a coffee table book that you would actually want to read.

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