“No Charge For Awesomeness!”: My Top 20 Icons of Science Fiction

Posted: 23 May 2014.

One of those classic sci-fi magazine covers
One of those classic sci-fi magazine covers

“To me, deep in my soul, science fiction began in April 1926 and its father was Hugo Gernsback” – Isaac Asimov.

For this monumental, extended 20th Post, something encapsulating that magic no. 20 was in order, but what? After much head-scratching (and tail-shaking) the task was set: select twenty icons of sci-fi which encouraged my earliest forays into this great and giddy genre and inspired my own works of fiction & art.  

Neither assembled in order of merit, nor alphabetically, this list is merely a random compilation incorporating artists, writers, film-makers and even those fictional characters who touched and inspired me. So, where shall we begin? At the very beginning of course. 

The Time Machine (1895) and The Invisible Man (1897) by Herbert George Wells were fascinating, but it was War of the Worlds (1898) which appealed the most. The sound effects in the movie (1953) were exceptionally eerie; a 70s comic strip adaptation caught my imagination most vividly.  

Most of you may be unaware of the name: Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967) but, in 1926, as the pioneering publisher of “Amazing Stories” he coined the term: “science fiction.” His magazine inspired the introduction of “Astounding Science Fiction” and numerous others, all graced with cover art this bunny could not get enough of.

A decade later saw the emergence of Flash Gordon; from Alex Raymond’s wonderful original comic strips to the Universal serial (1936) and the lavish colour extravaganza (1980), it never failed to excite.

 

Exeter (seated): one of best characters from the 1950s
THIS ISLAND EARTH: Exeter (seated): one of the best characters from the 1950s

“To most fans of fantasy cinema, the 1950s represent a Golden Age when the boundaries of film-makers’ imaginations were stretched to the limit – even if their budgets were not” – Phil Edwards.

The classics of the 1950s had a profound effect, none more so than The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). most striking for its haunting Bernard Herrmann score and the giant robot: Gort, yet it was his master: Klaatu sensitively portrayed by Michael Rennie as a benign emissary rather than the overdone malign bug-eyed Martian which seared into my memory.

Two years later came the sinister Xenomorphs of It Came from Outer Space (1953); and then the thrills of The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), both – to my deep joy – brought to us by the fantastic talent of Jack Arnold.

The Metaluna sequence of This Island Earth (1955) was done by Arnold. Here the plight of gentle, but doomed, scientist: Exeter (Jeff Morrow) was particularly moving.

The Martian Chronicles (1950): How did Bradbury conjure something so bizarre, & yet so compelling?
The Martian Chronicles (1950): How did Bradbury conjure something so bizarre, & yet so compelling?

“I’m not afraid of machines… I don’t think the robots are taking over. I think the men who play with the toys have taken over. And if we don’t take the toys out of their hands, we’re fools” – Ray Bradbury.  

Special mention has to go here to Arthur C Clarke. Not only did this enthralled lil bunny marvel at 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), he enjoyed getting creeped out by the World of Strange Powers TV series.   

Also on television, no repeats of The Twilight Zone were missed; its creator: Rod Serling not only “showed the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition,” but consistently produced mighty fine inspirational scripts.

One of the mainstream sci-fi writers to have scripts adapted for the show was Ray Bradbury. His Martian Chronicles, a collection of inter-connected short stories (1950) holds as much a profound effect on me now as it did thirty years ago.

Attending an SF club many moons ago, Bradbury met an individual who would become one of his best buddies… and one of my fave film-makers: Ray Harryhausen. Technically a fantasy creator, this undisputed master of stop-motion animation did make 20 Million Miles To Earth (1955) and First Men In The Moon (1964), thus undoubtedly confirming his inclusion in this very personal Hall of Fame.

Suave, sophisticated Scaroth (from The City of Death 1979)
Suave, sophisticated Scaroth (from The City of Death 1979)

“I am Scaroth! Through me my people will live again!” – Scaroth of Jagaroth.

Surely, Peter Cushing is more synonymous with horror? At first glance, yes, but he did play the Timelord in two Dr. Who movies during the 1960s, and portrayed the thoroughly nasty Grand Moff Tarkin in the original Star Wars.

In addition, he played a daffy professor in At The Earth’s Core (1976) where he was ably assisted by Doug McClure. In my infant years, anything with McClure – whether it was The Land That Time Forgot (1974) or Warlords of Atlantis (1979) – proved irresistible (although the appeal failed to last beyond my teenage years).  

Speaking of the BBC’s longest-running sci-fi series, 1979 was a very good year to become a devotee. “City of Death” is widely regarded as one of the best stories, with Scaroth of Jagaroth, last of a warrior-race. The destruction of his spacecraft inadvertantly triggered the creation of the human race – genius.

Try to imagine my sheer delight upon discovering the “Fantastic First Issue” of Dr Who Weekly in October 1979. The very first story: “Dr Who & The Iron Legion” featured: “…an alternative Earth, where Rome never fell! But, instead, developed a sophisticated technology and… conquered the entire galaxy!” The characters were amazing, but my obsession laywith Magog, of the Malevilus – most terrible of alien races, so much so that Bradscribe redesigned him and wrote a whole new background story, plus sequels…

yoda

“… To me directing the character of Yoda was the most important part of… the whole picture. I had total control – I could make his cheek twitch, his ears droop and so on” – Irvin Kershner.

My very first trip to the cimema came in 1979. with the hugely enjoyable (then) and memorable (even now): The Black Hole. The effects were grand; the music stupendous; and Maximillian was pure evil; but it was the droid: VINcent (voiced by Roddy McDowell) who delivered the most lasting impression.

A year later came the Biggest Phenomenon: The Empire Strikes Back. Initially an endearing comical Muppet, Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) quickly established himself as a powerful and sagacious figure, integral to the plot.

One of the greatest aspects of Star Wars – certainly the one that successfully pitched the idea to 20th Century Fox – was the marvellous production art of Ralph McQuarrie.

Other artists most prolific in the 1970s: Eddie Jones & Peter Andrew Jones have both held prominent places in my life, whether it be in the form of books, posters or postcards.

Finally, one of my favourite comicbook characters was Rom the Spaceknight, an ordinary citizen of Galador, who volunteered to serve in the war against the evil Dire Wraiths. As yet, there are no plans to grant this Marvel stalwart his own movie; this still gives me time to work on a script myself and give him the blockbuster he deserves.

 

 Hope you enjoyed this personal nostalgic journey; here’s to the next twenty Blogs… and beyond!

Cheers!

 

Advertisements

1264 And All That

Posted: 16 May 2014

“Calamus velociter scribe sic scribentis”

The Battle of Lewes Memorial presented to Priory Park in 1964
The Battle of Lewes Memorial presented to Priory Park in 1964

“Speed on my pen, to write what is to come… The English army rode the heavy storm, Of mighty war, at Lewes Castle walls… For mighty was the sword; virtue prevailed, And evil men took to their heels and fled” – The Song of Lewes 1264/65.

This week marked the 750th Anniversary of one of the defining battles in English history. On that day (Wednesday), was bathed in glorious sunshine and the temperature was encouragingly higher than it has been the last few days. Even so, stepping off the train, there was a markedly quiet and subdued atmosphere – no festival mood here.

The “Dawn March” – a group of volunteer walkers – arrived at Lewes Castle at midday, while a specially commissioned “Battle of Lewes Tapestry” was revealed as the main attraction at an exhibition opened in the castle, but other than that, it was not very special. Maybe because it was a weekday, but so few people had turned up. (Most notably, this bunny was easily the the youngest attendee)

 1264

“The main engagement must have been short and bloody. Hand to hand fighting with spiked maces and the savage battle-axes… and the vicious swing of a heavy broad-bladed sword. Soon the green turf was littered with dead and dying”  – Tufton Beamish.

In the field of Landport Bottom, to the northwest of Lewes, Simon de Montfort led his rebel army against the royal forces of King Henry III (1216-72) who had arrived at the Priory of St Pancras, then one of the largest religious houses in the kingdom, to honour the feast of that saint.

Having stubbornly refuted all calls for constitutional reform, Henry had inadvertantly set off what is known as the “Second Baronial War.” The crucial moment came when the Royalists scattered a contingent of London volunteers; the pursuit followed the banks of the river Ouse, into which it has been estimated that up to 60 rebels may have drowned.

With the Royal army broken up, de Montfort initiated a devastating counteroffensive culminating in Richard, King of the Romans (and Henry’s brother), taking refuge in a windmill and Henry himself fleeing back to the Priory…

priory

“And now it is all gone – like an unsubstantial pageant faded; and between us and the old English there lies a gulf of mystery which the prose of the historian will never adequately bridge” – Froude.

The Priory of St Pancras – from 1100 up until the mid-16th century – was the leading Cluniac House in England. This “splendid edifice” was founded by William and Gundrada de Warenne,with construction commencing in 1077. At its prime during the 12th century, it was startlingly huge, with up to 100 monks residing here.

Without a doubt, its most trying time came in May 1264; not only did the monks have to provide food and supplies for all the King’s men and their horses, but the Battle reached the Priory gates – the church was hit by flaming arrows but damage was minimal. Henry III was defeated and had to surrender his sword at the Priory. In Annals, written by a resident monk, it is said that “2,700 more or less” perished that day, although the actual tally is still debated.

The next day,  the king agreed to a settlement known as the “Mise of Lewes,” which led to the first recorded elected parliament held that following year. The system of governance today at Westminster, London, stemmed from the drama which unfolded at that Priory 750 years ago.

Unfortunately, the opulent grandeur of this extensive site did not escape the Dissolution of the Monasteries instigated by Henry VIII. Portinari, an Italian engineer, was dispatched in 1538 by Thomas Cromwell, the King’s chief minister, to destroy the building.

The ruined fragments still standing are suitably impressive and inspirational; it would be quite a tranquil place if it wasn’t for the fact that the train to/from Brighton races through the middle of what was once the Great Hall.  A memorial was installed on this ground to mark the 700th Anniversary.

Hopefully, the people of Lewes will turn out for the costumed procession scheduled for tomorrow. Are they proud of living adjacent to one of English history’s most important battlefields? Or do they not wish to dwell on the fact that so many died gruesome deaths fighting for the right to have a fairer system?

 

The Cineplex at 40,000 Feet

Posted: 2 May 2014

Come fly the friendly skies; long flights are my only means of catching up with new/recent movie releases
Come fly the friendly skies; long flights are my only means of catching up with new/recent movie releases

“Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss” – Douglas Adams

It is that time of year again when Bradscribe has to leave behind the humid climes, sandy beaches and delish spicy seafood in order to see what bewildering shenanigans the land of my birth has got up to lately (and catch up with family and friends).

The long-distance flights one has to undertake at least twice a year are usually – and obviously the following statement will surprise a number of you –  the only opportunity this writer has to watch the latest movie releases.

“Blimey Charley!”  you may say, “how can this be?!” 

Living on the Gulf of Thailand, in a town which only opened its first mall ten years ago, the inhouse cinema has the annoying tendency of screening just about all its Big Movies in Thai-dubbed versions only, even though the number of western tourists in the town is steadily increasing.  Even Captain America was offered only two screenings in its Original Soundtrack.

(Apologies to those expecting my dissertation on Noah, it would have been interesting to have watched this dubbed into Thai).

Although missing Gravity @ the IMAX, did get to experience it with added turbulence. Come on, you can't beat that!
Although missing Gravity @ the IMAX, Brad did get to experience it with added turbulence. Come on, you can’t beat that!

“Just do what must be done. This may not be happiness, but it is greatness” – George Bernard Shaw.

On this flight, however, this writer was grateful to finally get the chance to catch up with the critically-acclaimed Gravity. It certainly was a spectacular spectacle; perhaps the thrill-factor was reduced by watching it on a such a small screen (the movie ratio is invariably modified to fit these back-of-seat screens).

Yet there was one aspect about this particular viewing experience which you would never have got at the IMAX; when the meteor shower began (brilliant scene) kicked in, we just happened to enter an area of turbulence as we came in over the east coast of India. Now, this was a really cool “added feature”!

These flights usually provide an excuse to watch those movies one would tend to decline paying good money to go and sit through at the cinema. Started to view Inglorious Barstewards, Valkyrie (tend to avoid Tom Cruise like the plague) and The Hunger Games (what on Earth is Donald Sutherland doing messing around with this tosh?) which were all forsaken after twenty minutes (at the most), usually due to the overpowering desire for a decent sleep.

… And it must have been curiosity or sheer boredom that drove me to activate Wrath of the Titans. Don’t remember how awful it was because, quite thankfully, a long and satisfying nap ensued.

The Thing

Flying may not be all plain sailing, but the fun of it is worth the price” – Amelia Earhart.

Long ago, on a flight to Australia at the end of 2000, there were only six movies available; you had to wait ages for the cabin crew to crank up the system and, always when tuning in, you would find you had missed the opening ten minutes anyway!

The original X-Men movie holds a special place in my heart, not only because The Uncanny X-Men was one of my most beloved comicbooks, but it was the first movie Bradscribe experienced high amidst the clouds.

With an extensive back catalogue now available in the back of each seat, some of my fave movies have been viewed at high altitude, usually as the jumbo cruises over the vanilla mousse terrain of the Iranian plateau or the nightlights of Central Europe. It has been a thrill to catch up with North By Northwest (1959), The Great Escape (1962) and The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1967).

“Come fly the friendly skies!” Will gladly continue to do so if this class of variety is made available! With nobody rushing in late or anyone nattering behind me, this is the cinema that Bradscribe prefers to frequent.

end

NOTE: Not having access to my usual laptop – plus the transition from one country to another – has disrupted my routine. Bradscribe will ensure that these technical niggles will be dealt with, and can guarantee that more blistering blogs will be delivered in the coming weeks!