Scott Timberg

March 12, 2012 | 11:06 a.m.

‘John Carter’ and the bright red history of Mars as sci-fi muse

John Carter (Frank Frazetta) (featured image)
It was 100 years ago last month that author Edgar Rice Burroughs introduced the character of John Carter — an ornery Confederate soldier, mysteriously transported to Mars, who tangles with green men, and then red ones, from an ancient civilization. Over that century, Mars has been rivaled only by our moon when it comes to off-planet fantasies, and it’s maintained a mystique with no heavenly rivals. On the page and on the screen, our cosmic neighbor has been spun every way imaginable: “The Martian Chronicles,” “My Favorite Martian” and “Total Recall.” The list is growing in another direction as video games such as Red Faction and Doom draw audiences into the Red Planet’s gravitational pull. Disney’s just-released “John Carter” film, a tale of epic fantasy directed by Andrew Stanton at considerable expense, comes after centuries of Martian fascination. “Mars has […]
April 10, 2011 | 11:05 a.m.

‘A Discovery of Witches’: USC professor looks for a deeper magic than ‘Twilight’

USC history professor Deborah Harkness. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times
It’s no secret that bloodsuckers, brain eaters and bay-at-the-moon types are all the rage in pop culture, but back in 2008 the mass of it all hit USC professor Deborah Harkness like a thunderbolt. It was in Mexico at an airport bookstore — Harkness, a historian of science, was on vacation — and the moment makes for a key moment in Scott Timberg’s great feature on Harkness and her first novel, “A Discovery of Witches.” Here’s a quick excerpt from the piece: “To walk through the airport was to be hit with vampires, witches, ghosts and demons at every angle in the bookstores,” says Harkness, a good-humored and enthusiastic woman of 46, over a cappuccino in Pasadena. “It was so huge — it seemed to me much bigger than what had happened with Anne Rice. And as a historian of science, trapped […]
Feb. 08, 2010 | 3:01 p.m.

Philip K. Dick’s legacy emerges from the maze of death [UPDATED]

PART 6: PHILIP K. DICK, THE LAST DECADE During the last years of his life, Philip K. Dick lived in, of all places, Orange County, a Southern California setting that made the life-battered sci-fi writer something of a stranger in a strange land (to borrow from Robert Heinlein). This is the final installment of a six-part series looking at those final years. The series is written by Scott Timberg, the L.A. freelance journalist who runs the West Coast culture blog the Misread City. He’s also a longtime (albeit sometimes closeted) fan of science fiction. Financial security and widespread acclaim were things Philip K. Dick had spent his career waiting for, always on the verge. He compared himself to the tramps in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” “If it does come for me, will it matter?” Dick wrote in 1976. “Will it make up for 25 years […]
Feb. 04, 2010 | 7:35 p.m.

Philip K. Dick scans the darkness in Disneyland’s shadow

PART 5: PHILIP K. DICK, THE LAST DECADE During the last years of his life, Philip K. Dick lived in, of all places, Orange County, a Southern California setting that made the life-battered sci-fi writer something of a stranger in a strange land (to borrow from Robert Heinlein). This is the fifth of a six-part series looking at those final years. The series is written by Scott Timberg, the L.A. freelance journalist who runs the West Coast culture blog the Misread City. He’s also a longtime (albeit sometimes closeted) fan of science fiction.   Though Philip K. Dick was not, on the surface, a writer of place – he was driven more by sweeping ideas than by locations or even local cultures – his time in Southern California had a profound impact on his work, in sometimes complicated ways. Dick wrote — in a 1973 letter […]
Feb. 01, 2010 | 9:30 p.m.

Philip K. Dick finds God and madness at his doorstep

PART 4: PHILIP K. DICK, THE LAST DECADE During the last years of his life, Philip K. Dick lived in, of all places, Orange County, a Southern California setting that made the life-battered sci-fi writer something of a stranger in a strange land (to borrow from Robert Heinlein). This is the fourth of a six-part series looking at those final years. The series is written by Scott Timberg, the L.A. freelance journalist who runs the West Coast culture blog the Misread City. He’s also a longtime (albeit sometimes closeted) fan of science fiction. Of course, for all the action of Philip K. Dick’s Orange County years — the marriage, the divorce, the birth of his son Christopher, the suicide attempt, the bouts of depression, the new novels, the development of “Blade Runner” — the most significant is surely what the author came to call “2-3-74.” Those months […]
Jan. 27, 2010 | 9:04 p.m.

Philip K. Dick, an uneasy spy inside 1970s suburbia

PART 3: PHILIP K. DICK, THE LAST DECADE During the last years of his life, Philip K. Dick lived in, of all places, Orange County, a Southern California setting that made the life-battered sci-fi writer something of a stranger in a strange land (to borrow from Robert Heinlein). This is the third of a six-part series looking at those final years. The series is written by Scott Timberg, the L.A. freelance journalist who runs the West Coast culture blog the Misread City. He’s also a longtime (albeit sometimes closeted) fan of science fiction. While in Orange County, Dick often fell back on the reflexes of Bay Area types who move to Southern California. He joked often about the artificiality of it all, the local slang. “He kept comparing Southern California to Disneyland,” remembered wife Tessa Dick, “and said it was plastic, wasn’t real. He was […]
Jan. 26, 2010 | 8:25 p.m.

Philip K. Dick in the land of the John Birch Society

PART 2: PHILIP K. DICK, THE LAST DECADE The last years of his life, Philip K. Dick lived in, of all places, Orange County, a Southern California setting that made the life-battered sci-fi writer something of a stranger in a strange land (to borrow from Robert Heinlein). This is the second of a six-part series looking at those final years. The series is written by Scott Timberg, the L.A. freelance journalist who runs the West Coast culture blog the Misread City. He’s also a longtime (albeit sometimes closeted) fan of science fiction. READ PART 1 right here. Philip K. Dick arrived in Orange County in 1972 by flying to LAX, where he showed up in a sport coat he’d outgrown, hauling the Jehovah’s Witness translation of the Bible and a cardboard box, doubling as a suitcase, tied closed with an extension cord. Dick – who […]
Jan. 25, 2010 | 8:18 p.m.

Philip K. Dick in Orange County, a stranger in a strange land

PART 1: PHILIP K. DICK, THE LAST DECADE The last years of his life, Philip K. Dick lived in, of all places, Orange County, a Southern California setting that made the life-battered sci-fi writer something of a (to borrow from Robert Heinlein) stranger in a strange land. Today, we begin a six-part series looking at those final years. The series is written by Scott Timberg, the L.A. freelance journalist who runs the West Coast culture blog the Misread City. He’s also a longtime (albeit sometimes closeted) fan of science fiction. When author Philip K. Dick called Tim Powers to ask him to come by his Fullerton apartment for a drink one evening, the Cal State student expected the kind of night he and other aspiring writers often spent with the science-fiction titan. That is, a wide-ranging bull session about religion, philosophy and the glories […]
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