libretto by Sue Anderson and Mark M. Keller
Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan and divers hands
Presented by the RISFA Players
Somewhere in the sub-basement of Show Business Heaven is a large waiting room filled with heroes and villains from the science fiction pulps of the 1930s. They have been there for decades, hoping that SF fashion will swing back to space opera and they will be called upon to patrol the Galaxy once again.
Well, why not? Comic books are full of 1940s heroes being given a second chance: the Flash, Batman, Wonder Woman, Prince Namor, even Green Lantern. The movies teem with copies of 1930s films—a new Dracula, a new King Kong, a new Flash Gordon (Star Wars). It’s revival time for Pop SF.
The RISFA Players give 2-1/2 rousing cheers to Dino DeLaurentis and George Lucas for bringing back our old friends. And what of those not touched by the magic wand of the Nostalgia Craze? Should they wait forever in Limbo for a casting call that may never come?
Not at all. If Dino and George won’t hire them, the RISFA Players will.
There may be some adjustment problems, of course, A superhero from a British Empire Future of 1935 is used to big game hunting on Callisto and shooting down greenskin natives with his blaster. He needs retraining for today’s Egalitarian Non-Racist Future. —The Rocket Jockey from a streamlined jet-ship won’t mesh well with the crew of a psi-powered hyperspace scout. —What can Adam Link, Robot, possibly say to Artoo Deetoo?
I. FIELD GUIDE TO THE HEROES
Who are the Thirties heroes—those square-jawed, clean-cut, heroic young men and admiring women who once won their way with rocket and blaster into the hearts of fans everywhere? Somehow they don’t seem to be in vogue these days. (Analog sometimes, but never Vogue.) So where are they? The more adventurous have let their hair grow a little, brushed up on sociology, and learned introductory introspection. They’re doing just fine. A few have gone totally bonkers. Buck Rogers is rumored to be working as a guide on Disneyworld’s “Space Mountain” ride.
But our Hero-and-Heroine-in-Residence, Kimball and Clarissa Kinnison of E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Galactic Patrol, have been living on residuals since 1950, waiting for the return of their own Little Golden Age. Also in the play is Charles Dexter Ward, H. P. Lovecraft’s student of the eldritch. Despite the popularity of occult and horror stories, and even the immense success of HPL’s legion of imitators, poor Charles can’t seem to find work, perhaps because everybody thinks he is dead.
There in the corner, drinking beer and eating deep-fried skittles, sits the lumpy hulk of the original Conan the Barbarian. He was eased out of his series in 1965 after he tried to strangle Lin Carter. Now he says he is waiting for Brak the Barbarian to show up, so Conan can knock down Brak and step on his face—something about professional jealousy.
II. LITERARY CRITICS
Most students of literature either sneered at SF or ignored it, until about ten years ago. Now researchers from the Modern Language Association and the Society for Popular Culture have been peering closely at science fiction, making some very curious remarks. Accredited scholarly journals are treating Thrilling Wonder Stories with the sober care once reserved for Finnegan’s Wake.
In the play, Conan meets an MLA lecturer who repeats some critical comments of real life scholars like Darko Suvin and Robert Scholes and Kingsley Amis. Conan has become much more civilized since his days as Amra the Pirate (well, a little more civilized) so he refrains from tossing the lecturer over his shoulder and carrying her off to his lair. But he is doubtless sorely tempted.
Some critics think that science fiction should mirror their view of the real universe: random, pointless, inconclusive. They love Dahlgren. They hate old-fashioned space opera. “Too much plot!” they say. “Get rid of all those twists and gimmicks.” Naturally this doesn’t appeal to the Grey Lensman. Other critics think that only social satire is good SF, and that adventure is puerile. Still others see symbols all over everything, either Marxist symbols or Freudian symbols. At that they’re better off than Charles Dexter Ward, who usually sees green slime all over everything, especially after visits from Cthulhu. As to the critics who see SF as modern Gothic horror, or a new Monomyth, or the latest shape of the White Goddess, we just didn’t have room for them all. Sorry.
III. FAN FICTION
Our character Chester Deth-Ray (based on a living SF editor) moans about the pile of illiterate and unreadable manuscripts sent to him by Trekkies and Star Warts. Since the writers include no return postage, Deth-Ray must dump the mess into the SF equivalent of a paper-shredder: an asbestos-lined barrel with a balrog inside. The blarog likes this better than his old job wearing rubber Godzilla suits for Toho Pictures, but complains that the staples give him heartburn. MORAL: Include a self-addressed stamped envelope with the manuscripts. Failing that, have pity on the balrog and don’t use iron staples.
Mark M. Keller
Reprinted from the Boskone 15 Program Book.
The libretto—with sketches by Keller and annotations by Keller and Anderson—is Chainik Press Publication number 68. The first printing (200 copies—February 1978) was printed by Sheila Glover D’Ammassa on Ronald the Mimeo after the Chainik Press mimeo lost a handle. The second printing (100 copies—March 1978) was done on the recuperated Chainik. /// Illustrations reproduced by Jo-Art Copy, Waterman St., Providence, R. I.
This libretto is included in the NESFA Press publication Rivets!!!
Rhode Island Science Fiction Association