Freak Out In A Moonage Daydream

When we’re asleep, we can do almost anything.   


“Is that all we see or seem just a dream within a dream?” – Edgar Allan Poe.

Whatever the mind can conceive, so it is said, the mind will achieve. With special visual effects achieving new heights on screen due to the amazing advances in digital technology, the astonishing – and deadly – images of what can be conjured from the oneiric zone are formulating with increasing style and complexity. This subject had to be tackled here at some point.

The greatest minds in Classic Science Fiction have conceived some of the most stunning literary visions in the genre, and the movies have tried, with varying degrees of success, to translate those visions to the big screen. Yet when the whole movie derives its entire structure from the content of dreams (and dreams within dreams) as the two diverse, yet inextricably linked, examples included here show, SF can explore neuroscientific possibilities.

Naturally, when rummaging around to find those movies most suitable for this Post, the first classic scenes that sprang to mind emanate from horror movies. This should come as no surprise; our deepest and darkest fears manifest themselves through the most common random creations of the subconscious brain: nightmares.


“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate” – Cobb.

While we eagerly await Chris Nolan’s Interstellar later this year, his complex dream-invading noir opus: Inception (2010) deserves scrutiny here. It deals with planting an idea in someone else’s mind, rather than stealing them, which is the specialist skill of the main character: Cobb, played by the unlikely, yet rewarding, choice of Leonardo di Caprio.

While this movie should be celebrated for presenting a more cerebral adventure, for once the incorporation of CGI here is well utilised, and represents the benefits to be gained from them in modern movie-making. Deservedly praised for its technical achievements, there are some particularly mesmerising imagery on offer. As one reviewer aptly put it, Inception is: “the film by which to measure the density of all others.”

This instantly brought to mind that little SF thriller: Dreamscape (1984) which quite similarly brought in the talents of a young psychic who could break into other peoples dreams. The plot was very interesting: tormented by nightmares, the US President agrees to let Alex Gardner (played by the then seemingly ubiquitous Dennis Quaid) enter his mind and sort out the problem from within. The Defense Secretary sends a psychic loon to assassinate the President and his protector within the “dreamscape”.

Technically, some may say that its special effects have not stood the test of time, but then, for the early 80s – and considering its criminally undervalued status – they retain a charm all of their own. The script is pretty snappy too.


“Psychotherapists… have developed innovative approaches to dreams beyond mere interpretation. These are grounded in the implicit assumption that waiting for a patient to produce a dream makes as much sense as keeping a computer off until it decides to turn itself on” – Harvey Greenberg.   

Is there room here for that modern classic: The Matrix (1999)? Perhaps, its main protagonists enter the titular system via sleep mode; and intriguingly, there is a central character named Morpheus – in Greek mythologyMorpheus was the God of Dreams who could manifest himself in the dreams of kings as a messenger of the Olympian gods.

However, the emphasis in these bleak, dystopian proceedings is on simulation – there is no inherent oneiric activity. Not to worry, there will be an excuse to feature this dazzling mix of combat, technology and philosophy in a future Post.

Where do we go when we dream? Ha, the many nights spent lying awake (or – more likely – propped up against the computer screen) trying to ponder that one out…

No prizes for working out whether androids do dream of electric sheep, but some Comments would be very much appreciated before you drift away to the Land of Nod.


Sweet dreams…



Venus Ascending: Which SF Heroines Should Return?

Posted: 17 August 2014


“I’m no Ripley. I had doubts that I could play her as strongly as she had to be played, but I must say that it was fun exploring that side of myself. Women don’t get to do that very often” – Sigourney Weaver.  

In th the far reaches of the universe, “where no one in their right mind would go,” undeniably the strongest female character in SF – Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley – will return for one last time, insists Sigourney Weaver, the actress who portrayed her so memorably across four different movies. She believes that one last story about this bold and daring character deserves to be told, reiterating that by no means should it be set on Earth.  

Considering how Ripley was killed off at the end of dreary Alien 3, and its lacklustre follow-up: Alien Resurrection did not add anything consequential to this waning franchise, the prospect of having the legacy of this great Power Loader-operating and flame-throwing heroine tarnished further does not sound so appealling.

And yet there are numerous strong and feisty females in SF, who – despite the genre for decades being predominantly the reserve of young white males – have thrived regardless and won their own fanbases. Even my own sciency-fickety scribblings are brimming with stern and headstrong women because – let’s face it – they were the ones always rejecting me in real life.  

This Post will explore – in this bland and bloated age of sequels, prequels and reboots – which SF heroines of yesteryear should be brought back to the big screen… plus those who shouldn’t.

Leialeia bespinleia wicket

“Fifty-seven years ago I did his little Star Wars film… George is a sadist, but… wearing a metal bikini chained to a giant slug… I keep coming back for more” – Carrie Fisher.  

In December 2015, Princess Leia will return – whether we like it or not. Sure, the original trilogy will always be fondly remembered, but those prequels were an abomination which can never be expunged, let alone forgiven.

Of course there is some curiosity as to what it would be like to have her back, alongside Han and Luke, but really…. it should all have ended back in 1983. So it is with a very heavy heart that this forthcoming trilogy will be regarded with an inevitable and uneasy sense of dread.   

patricia neal

“Gort… Klaatu Barada Nikto” – Helen Benson.

Patricia Neal, as Helen Benson in Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) provided a strong and striking performance at a time when actresses in B-movies of that era were usually “required” to do no more than scream at any frightful thing that lumbered into view (usually from behind.) She was charged with saving the Earth from Gort, should anything happen to Klaatu (Michael Reeve).

Okay, so she did yell and carry out the ubiquitous horror cliche of stumbling over a deceptively flat piece of terra firma at a crucial stage during the suspense, but otherwise she was a remarkably confident woman – thank goodness – at the right time. She is certainly the sort of determined individual to have in the next Earth-threatening drama.

Hang on! Only just remembered!

A monumentally useless remake popped up in 2008 featuring Jennifer Connelly as Helen Benson. This affront to cultural sensibilities just serves to remind us that that heresy can be avoided if you have a decent script – not to mention a talented leading lady…

flash n daledale arden

“I’m a New York City girl. Things are a little too quiet around here for me!” – Dale Arden.

Flash Gordon was one of the great influences of my early years, with the amazing Alex Raymond strip and the Universal serials from the 1930s, not to mention the immensely enjoyable (and endlessly quotable) 1980 feature film, but throughout his manic meddling on Mongo,  he wouldn’t have got far without the doughty Dale Arden.

Is it time for a Flash reboot? Hell yeah!

But this time, there would be a tremendous opportunity to enhance the strong elements of Dale’s character and give her a hard-edged and courageous 21st century makeover.

rachelrachel 2

“Have you ever retired a human by mistake?” – Rachael.

Whatever happened to Sean Young?

As Rachael the replicant in Blade Runner (1982), her soft demeanour provided a tender contrast to the other two violent artificial femmes.   Somehow, in this perpetually dark and soggy dystopia of 2019, she brought an incongruous, yet oddly affecting, 1940s look to the film.

It’s too bad she won’t live, said Gaff, the origami guy in the fedora, yet it would have been so intriguing to see more of her. As rumours of a sequel gather pace, it is alarming to learn that Rachael somehow won’t have a part in it…

The number of times (mis)spent sitting through dull and uninspired SF movies and you wish someone as stylish as her could just glide in and brighten up proceedings…

…but then again, who does?  


Star-Lord and Laser-Brain: The Phenomenon of the SF Hero

Devised: 8 & 11 August; Revised: 12 August 2014. Uh, everything’s under control. Situation normal.


^ Hmmm, two galaxies appear to be colliding with each other here…


“[What we seek in space] is not knowledge, but wonder, beauty, romance, novelty – and above all, adventure”                                  – Arthur C Clarke.  

Somewhere in the far cosmos, a space rogue named Peter Quill aka Star-Lord leads the Guardians of the Galaxy – an unknown and untried band of misfits against the threat of Ronan the Accuser. With a most urgent task thrust upon him, he had to prove his worth as… a hero. After too-long-a-wait, the SF Hero is back on the Big Screen where he belongs.

One of the most popular staples in the science fiction canon, it was only a matter of time before this Blogger – who has created several such far-out heroes throughout the course of his fascinating and frustrating forays into fantastic fiction – weighed in with what the position entailed. In order to concoct the archetypal galactic hero, a code of certain characteristics needs to be adhered to:

  • They must immediately grab the viewer’s attention, either through badass dialogue or some killer moves.
  • They must be dressed in the sort of garb that you would not feel sheepish to don for some heaving comic-con.
  • And they must have ultracool spaceships.
  • And rad blasters.
  • And maybe a furry anthropomorphic accomplice to interact with, especially if the scriptwriter has lost his/her flow in some seedy bar somewhere…
  • Oh, and an Awesome Mix tape ought to be obligatory (you younglings did ask your parents what cassettes were? Sweet!) Moving on…

quill orbstar-lord imagesKC4XP9H4

^ Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord – didn’t take him long to become popular…


“Traditionally, SF heroes solved problems by application of intelligence and scientific knowledge. These days you can substitute lasers for scientific knowledge. Or swords” – How To Write a Generic SF Novel.    

Sure, the title: Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t ring any bells, but that space rogue looked familiar…

The name: Star-Lord brought a bright spark of recognition as – once upon a time – he may have occupied my long-gone copious comic-munching days. Peter Quill made his first appearance as Star-Lord in Marvel Previews No. 4 in 1976, but it’s more than likely that a short-lived UK weekly comic in the early 80s by the name of Future Tense is where our paths met, so to speak.      

Reasonably intelligent, this “Star-Lord” seems inclined to just drift around the galaxy, until snatching an orb of great significance changes his fate entirelyIn the comics he looked distinctive, but here in the movie he sports some groovy get-up and a not-so-dorky helmet; and his ship: the Milano has a certain flair about it.

Naturally, a film as fun and frothy as this does not dwell on complexities such as plot and characterization, so his background story is still to unfold. The twist (revealed towards the end of the movie) that Quill is only half-human presents the promising prospect of some intriguing plot developments for the inevitable sequel (provided the right material is handled properly!)


^ Which do you prefer: the Milano, or the Milliennium Falcon?


“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid” – Han Solo.

Chris Pratt was entertaining as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, but he trails umpteen parsecs behind the definitive space hero –ultimately, Han Solo has become THE iconic figure of SF cinema and deservedly so.

What makes his character so enduring? For one thing, he’s cool, bad… and mad enough to chase a bunch of stormtroopers through their own space station, because – as every seven year old will tell you – a hero gains instant respect if he prefers a straight fight to “all this sneaking around.” He only takes orders from one person (himself) even if he is half-witted.

And never tell him the odds…

Much of this instant appeal was obviously due to the charm and laconic swagger which then-jobbing-joiner Harrison Ford brought to the role. Plus, Han Solo had the Millennium Falcon – one of the most awesome spaceships of all time… and a Walking Carpet as First Mate.

There are certain similarities between these two overwhelmingly popular characters: Star-Lord had to contend with a Raccoon with a penchant for prosthetic legs, and Han had a Wookie with a penchant for pulling peoples arms out of their sockets (only if they lose); while Han had no plan (to rescue the Princess), at least Star-Lord pretended to have a plan (or at least part of one), and so on. And so on…

Ah! but are they worthy?

Well, on paper they sound too dodgy: one’s a thief, the other’s a smuggler. Not so honourable. So why root for them?

They are the antithesis of the more conventional space adventurers such as Flash Gordon (sporting hero) and Buck Rogers (astronaut) but, regardless of background, against all odds, they managed, nevertheless, to (help their friends) save their respective galaxy, defeat the bad guys and, perhaps, get the girl, ultimately ensuring their place in the highest echelons of SF stardom i.e. they would never, ever, get killed off…

star-lord gunhan blaster

Now, who’s scruffy-lookin’?



The Life and Crimes of Rocket Raccoon! (and 4 Other Guardians)

Posted: 5 August 2014

Excuse me, but how cool is this?
Excuse me, but how cool is this?

“I got one plan, and that plan requires a frickin’ quarnex battery, so FIGURE IT OUT!” – Rocket Raccoon.

If it wasn’t for Rocket Raccoon, the latest Marvel thrill-fest would not have been so eagerly anticipated these last few months. The waiting is over: Guardians of The Galaxy is a thoroughly enjoyable outer space adventure, based on a comic book which – remarkablyabsolutely nobody had heard of before.

This movie has had the most successful Opening Night this year, raking in a well-deserved million dollar haul; and why? The answer is blindingly obvious: it’s fun! It’s enjoyable! But, most crucially, because it’s fresh and pristine material. And not a sequel. Of a remake. It is that quintessential, experimental, let’s-give-it-a-go, got-nuthin-to-lose attitude so sorely lacking in movie-making during this age of bland formulae and turgid franchises which is creating such a giddy and reassuring buzz. Indeed, this refreshing approach has enticed wary, yet curious, crowds back into the popcorn-munching parlours again.

How much of this joyful escapism relied on the wit and charm of this feisty lil furball?

Let’s face it: much of this weekend’s Biggest Opening of the Year is due to its smallest star. This character has intrigued me ever since first laying eyes on the conceptual art of this rapscallion raccoon (earlier this year); having watched all the trailers, excited anticipation has been brewing nicely.

As my regular Followers will well know, the majority of latest releases are caught in-flight. However, this one just had to be watched on terra firma, braving the inevitable migraine to experience it in glorious 3D as well, half-expecting to only enjoy Rocket and become disenchanted as the rest of the film collapsed into noisy tosh and predictable juvenile shenanigans.

…How frickin’ lovely to be proved WRONG!!


“Oh… yeah!!”

Rocket_raccoon_01 comic 1985rocket_raccoon_4

^ Rocket Raccoon: from the movie, and from the comics.

“Movies like this are usually described in terms of popcorn but a better comparison would be Space Dust: it’s fun, wacky, explosive and bursting with artificial colours” – the 

Just who, exactly, is Rocket Raccoon?

This irreverent anthropomorphic raccoon made his comics debut in Marvel Preview No. 7 (Summer 1976), not appearing again until The Incredible Hulk No. 271 (May 1982). In 1985, he got his own 4-issue Limited Series, and later appeared in three issues of Sensational She-Hulk in 1992. Rocket teamed up with Star-Lord in his own limited series in 2007. The Guardians title would not arrive until 2008; he, and other Guardians, most recently appeared in Avengers Assemble (2012).

As Guardian of the Keystone Quadrant, he was Captain of the Rack’n’Ruin; on the planet Halfworld, Rocket (and other animals) had been genetically manipulated to work as caretakers of inmates of an insane asylum. At one point Rocket had teamed up with the Hulk (!) before befriending Peter Quill; he did serve as leader of the Guardians at one stage.

One online bio describes Rocket Raccoon as intelligent, an expert marksman and a master tactician. Most notably, the movie portrays him wielding a huge gun and, in one brilliantly entertaining scene, shutting off the oxygen supply outside the prison control tower commandeered by the Guardians. In addition, records show that he’s “wanted on over fifty charges of vehicular theft and escape from custody.”

Wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of Bradley Cooper voicing him (but then his name is Brad so feel compelled to let him off, ha!) Actually, he’s not at all bad!  

rocket poster


“The Guardians are a group of oddballs, outcasts, and geeks. The movie is for anyone who ever felt cast aside, left out, or different. It’s for all of us who don’t belong. This movie belongs to you” – James Gunn.

Okay, what about the other characters?

Chris Pratt makes for a likeable space rogue – Star-Lord’s Awesome Mix tape is a splendid trait to add to his intergalactic capers; Mum certainly picked out some great numbers! Presumably he – like me – was transfixed by The Black Hole (1979) for he brandishes the same parallel-barrelled blasters wielded by that film’s droids. Admittedly, some of his lines do not work, and the proposed dance-off is just cringe-inducing.

Groot (“What the hell is that?”) is a great addition to the group, providing some of the film’s more wondrous and witty moments. (Does only 3 words make him a talking tree?)

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a green-skinned assassin, but her general annoyance (with everything) and unwillingness to comply (with her fellow Guardians) sadly did not endear herself to me. Oh, and she didn’t want to dance either, so that confirms it then. Poor Zoe, it would appear that her career has already been relegated to cinema-goers merely speculating what her next skin-colour will be…

Of the main characters, Drax The Destroyer is the only one whose name is familiar to this once-avid comic-hoarder. He featured in Thor #314 (Dec 1981): one of my most cherished morsels of Marvel history. Dave Bautista puts in a surprisingly above-average contribution, actually eliciting a few laughs here and there, but this Drax bears no resemblance at all.


The other characters, however, are not so well-defined.

Ronan the Accuser (heck, he even sounds cool,) had the look and potential to be a classy villain, but… he has been given no memorable lines – not even a sufficient background story; so when we see him he’s just moping about, sulking as if realising that only after blast-off, he’d forgotten to pack any lighting equipment for that ridiculously ultra-dark spaceship of his. Similarly, Nebula was so underused, you’re left wondering what was the point of having her there at all.

As for Thanos – he was all over Marvel Comics back in the day; you just couldn’t get away from him! In his brief cameo, he proved to be the only bad’un capable of inducing a much-appreciated sense of menace to these proceedings.



One last – but poignant – observation:

Towards the end of the movie, Rocket sits alone, holding a twig, and bawling uncontrollably. Honestly, there were 20 pairs of eyes (Come on! Not bad for the only multiplex on the Gulf of Thailandthree hours drive south of Bangkok) all glistening with tears in the darkness – one of the most moving moments in a cinema this year…

Or any year for that matter…  


Having praised Rocket enough, let’s turn our attention to everyone’s Favourite Ent-of-the-Moment: Groot.

awesome mix vol.1


“I guess I never really realised how much I did always love trees” – Vin Diesel.

On second thoughts, perhaps not. Brad’s been bloggin’ all evening – think it’s time to Log Off, chill and listen to that Awesome Mix tape…


Yawn of the Planet of the Apes

Human see Human do…


“And that completes my final report until we reach touchdown… You who are reading me now are a different breed – I hope a better one… But one more thing – if anybody’s listening, that is. Tell me… does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother?” – Taylor (Charlton Heston).    

Will we be quoting awesome lines from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes a half-century from now? As an admirer of the original Planet of the Apes (1968), mixed emotions greeted the coming of yet another instalment in the rebooted series.

The hi-def quality of the two most recent entries is far superior to the last (mediocre) two movies of the 70s, but does the appliance of sophisticated motion capture technology really enhance this material? Personally, the complex digital spectacle detracts from an intriguing plot. It’s as if it is compensating for average, or inadequate, scriptwriting…

No matter how competent and compelling this modern formula is viewed, it will never beat that all-time classic which first thrilled audiences 46 years ago.

chambers (1)planet-apes motion capture

^ Which do you prefer: the original make-up… or motion capture from the new reboot?

“I read the script, and agreed with the director [Franklin Schaffner] that the apes should not be made to look like hair-faced human beings… The concepts were too ambiguous – they lacked the strength of the animal face and personality. We needed the pleasantness… without being too grotesque” – John Chambers.

The 1968 original remains one of the outstanding gems of SF cinema, the screenplay co-written by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling is simply among the very best writing you will ever hear on film, while all the performances complement the material superbly; the make-up by Oscar-winning artist John Chambers is exceptional; the “music” – both tuneless and terrifying – superbly accentuates this nightmarish drama as it unfolds; and, of course, you must realise that it has the Best Ending. Of any movie. Ever.  

Unfortunately, its legacy has been diminished by the four inferior sequels which appeared between 1970-74. Charlton Heston only agreed to reprise his role in Beneath The Planet of the Apes (1970) if he was killed off, which he was… in the most bizarre of circumstances. By trying to explore the story from a different angle, it failed spectacularly.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1973) was a fine, if lightweight, entry into the series. It offered both Roddy MacDowell and Kim Hunter the potential to expand their roles, but sadly, the script failed to do them any favours. The poor concluding two movies effectively killed off the franchise.


“Ape versus human – and hawk versus dove… as in the last film, the CGI apes are very impressive, with next-level mannerisms in swaying, screeching, lunging and teeth-baring” – Peter Bradshaw.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) heralded a radical new look, released to favourable reviews. Now, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has increased that look. Undoubtedly, it is a competent and commendable movie, but lacks the necessary sophisticated edge and shock value to warrant umpteen screenings. Yes, it is one of the more superior fare of the Summer season, but only as an extended showcase for the latest CGI developments – nothing more. 

Gary Oldman is always good to watch, but seems somehow out of place here. Of course, Andy Serkis has perfected this innovative art of modern visual fx, but does it suit this franchise? Call me a traditionalist – a compliment obligingly accepted – but you just can’t beat John Chambers’ original make-up wizardry. Besides, none of the performances in Dawn are on a par with those gawped at from 1968, and that script will NEVER be bettered.

With Dawn raking in $370 million worldwide, ensuring that Matt Reeves will direct a third Apes movie, this makes for slightly disconcerting news. Honestly, how much further can this franchise last? Mark my words: the downward spiral in quality witnessed in the 1970s will happen all over again. It will get to the point where the original will be REMADE, no doubt with the likes of Mark Wahlberg in the lead role (he types manically with vehement cynicism!) and- hey, wait a minute! Tim Burton already did so in 2001 – wow, just shows what a forgettable exercise that was…

kim-hunter-in-planet-of-the-apes-(1968)kim hunter

^ Kim Hunter as Dr Zira: one of the best performances in SF cinema you will ever see – she was unrecognisable under John Chambers’ make-up


“By the end of the make-up time, you believed that you were an ape. You’d look in the mirror and say: ‘By golly, that’s me!'” – Kim Hunter.

Any Post celebrating the Planet of the Apes series cannot be done without mentioning the amazing performance of Kim Hunter as Doctor Zira. Certainly, Roddy McDowall (as Cornelius), Maurice Evans (as Dr Zaius) and Charlton Heston (obviously!) put in extraordinarily good performances, but it’s Kim Hunter who grabs my attention on every viewing. Despite the gruelling three-and-a-half-hour make-up sessions, she quite rightly cited Planet of the Apes as one of the best roles of her career. And are there any good female roles in these last two films? No, of course not…  


Coming Next: Guardians of the Galaxy (‘cos nothing else matters, or compares, right now – right?)



Archaic Scope of Future Thrills: How SF Used To Be

Posted: 28 July 2014


A bold and dynamic feminine image (which, alas, was all-too-rare during the pulp era)
A bold and dynamic feminine image (which, alas, was all-too-rare during the pulp era)

“There were often strong elements of adventure and romance in… very early SF works… many of which are now considered classics of fiction” – Alex Davis.

Many moons ago, beyond the realms of credible science, and at the far reaches of the publishing world, the phenomenon of science fiction pulp magazines emerged. Briefly curtailed by World War II and the crippling paper shortages that came with it, a new wave of pulp SF titles hit newsstands during the late 1940s, and flourished throughout the 1950s.

While engrossed in the short stories of the 80s and space art of the 70s, my formative SF years were enriched by these magazines of the 50s. Initially captivated by their fabulous cover art, there was something quite charming about the colourful depictions of these space adventurers (both guys and gals) in what looked like goldfish bowls over their heads!

The first, most notable, American writer to contribute to SF magazines was Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose outlandish adventures of John Carter of Mars, became the first to introduce the concept of aliens as characters in their own right, although its legacy has been somewhat diminished lately in modern reviews which complain that “his powers of invention desert him when it comes to plots, which are of a roughneck variety.” 

One of the first vintage SF covers in my collection
One of the first vintage SF covers in my collection

“Magazine SF provided intense pleasure for those who were insensitive to its literary shortcomings. It was hastily written for the most part… it was the emphasis on plot at the expense of character and scene” – Brian W. Aldiss.

For all its detractors, who insisted that pulp science fiction seemed too hackneyed, poorly plotted and devoid of characterisation (did the iconic cover artwork serve to detract from these supposed inadequacies?), there is a strong argument to suggest that the pulp era helped launch the careers of some of the most revered names synonymous with Classic SF. To give just brief examples, 1952 saw the first publications of work by Philip K. Dick and Frank Herbert, Kurt Vonnegut in 1953, and Brian Aldiss and Roger Zelazny in 1954.

One typical edition of these crudely manufactured magazines could contain one or two novelettes,  and (at least) half a dozen short stories, and it was up to the overworked and underpaid cover artist to devise a single irresistible image to sell the whole package. They were produced at minimal production and distribution rates and printed on the cheapest medium available: pulp-wood paper – hence the term: “Pulp Fiction.”

The garish style of those scintillating spaceships and bug-eyed beasties were very much of their time, matched in certain instances by the archaic scope of weird and wonderful writing spawled across its flimsy pages.


^ A couple of pulp magazines featuring the work of Ray Bradbury.


“When I was seven or eight years old, I began to read the science-fiction magazines… Hugo Gernsback was publishing ‘Amazing Stories,’ with vivid, appallingly imaginative cover paintings that fed my hungry imagination” – Ray Bradbury.

Fortunately for the benefit of 1950s SF, the late, great Ray Bradbury had been heavily influenced – not surprisingly – by obtaining copies of pulp magazines from guests who stayed at his grandparents’ boarding house in Illinois. One of my cultural pursuits involved trying to track down copies of these magazines, but the poor quality which bedevilled this charming sub-genre meant that most issues have long since perished.

When one of the market leaders: Astounding Magazine changed its name to Analog in October 1960, it seemed like one classic period gave way to another – a fitting point at which to end this Post.

It seems a bitter irony that in order to preserve the memory of these ancient mags, we have to resort to uploading them onto the internet, the vanguard of ubiquitous modern technology. Emerging from my “virtual cocoon” (enjoying endless reams of long-forgotten works of SF art online,) it is disheartening to see that the wretched likes of Transformers are still playing to unbelievably packed multiplexes.

The way in which SF is enjoyed has dramatically shifted from books and magazines to movies and video games. While some may say that a more sophisticated, character-driven breed of fiction has emerged, others would argue that the traditional and cerebral literary form of the genre has been replaced by less imaginative visual representations produced with banal digital animation.

What do you think?



The Grand Budapest Hotel: At Last!



Posted: 16 July 2014 

the Grand Budapest is an institution, and Gustave H is the best there is
The Grand Budapest is an institution, and M Gustave is the best there is

“There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity… He was one of them. What more is there to say?” – Zero Moustafa.

At last, dear friends!

Finally managed to catch THE movie all of you were raving about months ago: The Grand Budapest Hotel, that intelligent, whimsical and gloriously off-kilter comedy by one of the true auteurs of modern cinema: Wes Anderson.

Earlier this year, it seemed like only other Bloggers would get to enjoy this instant classic, and my only enjoyment would be limited to reading all your favourable reviews as they relentlessly rolled in. You see, living just two minutes from a sandy beach on the Gulf of Thailand may seem like paradise, but being three hours drive away from civilization i.e. crowded malls with state-of-the-art multiplex cinemas, was only going to be exceedingly difficult. Even the local mall (barely ten years old) just screens the latest mainstream blockbusters DUBBED into Thai (yes folks, you read that correctly) so catching this movie’s impeccable script in its original English soundtrack seemed almost-impossible.

Moreover, bereft of car chases, endless explosions, superheroes and/or Tom Cruise, its chances of obtaining General Release in this part of the world were just like Mr Moustafa’s forename i.e. ‘zero.’  

The accompanying poster – depicting the Hotel’s deightful and pink facade – stared out from every movie website as an almost cruel reminder of how so near – and yet so far – my deprivation had reached…

"And you think I did it!"
“And you think I did it!”

“I can’t think of any other film-maker who brings such overwhelming control to his films… Watching this is like taking the waters in Zubrowka. A deeply pleasurable immersion” – Peter Bradshaw.

The UK is blessed with a wide variety of arthouse cinemas; hopefully, my Summer sojourn in the UK would provide the opportunity to catch up with this classic…

…but alas no, the Grand Budapest had come… and gone already. Curses! Honestly, there was nothing for itbutbreathe a deep sigh of resignation and muster wearily on towards that eventual DVD release date…

Fast forward to this past Monday evening; returning to my Eastern base, taking a flight to Abu Dhabi (of all things) a scan of the programme to see what inflight entertainment was on offer, drew a most pleasant surprise – on the first page, my sore eyes lit up upon catching that poster.


After many months (and miles) my quest to find the Best Film of 2014 ended at 35,000 feet above Europe, (not exactly over Budapest, alas!) As regular readers will know, most of my viewing of the latest releases has occurred during long-distance flights; it just never occurred to me that this how it would be revealed to me! Having drafted the first notes for this Post in a cafe @ Abu Dhabi International, on the connecting flight to Bangkok a second viewing proved irresistible!  

The range of rich cameos on offer is an absolute treat
The range of rich cameos on offer is an absolute treat

“…I could hear him saying the most ridiculous lines ever. I mean, he’s Ralph Fiennes – you wouldn’t believe he could say such things. It was hilarious and so hard to keep a straight face” –  Tony Revolori.

Grand Budapest is being cited as Wes Anderson’s Most Outstanding Movie (to date). Although an admirer of The Royal Tenenbaums, and absolutely infatuated with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, it could well be a strong contender for that title, for it is not weighed down with the melancholia of those two previous films, but is, instead, imbued with period detail – always a bonus in my book!

A crowning glory of this Eastern European exercise is the range of top quality performances on offer: loved Willem Dafoe in Life Aquatic, so it is good to see him here, even if he does play a despicable cat-flinging bounder! Ed Norton, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody and Jeff Goldblum (looking decidedly Freudian) are particularly good.

Worship Bill Murray, whose career has gained a healthy resurgence through Anderson’s work; his presence here (albeit all-too-brief) as Monsieur Ivan, head of the mysterious Society of the Crossed Keys, is particularly well-appreciated. It’s always fun to watch Owen Wilson in any Wes Anderson film, and it’s amazing how he got included in this – as “Monsieur Chuck” indeed! And to top it all, there is M Gustave, played by “a splendidly rancid and randy” Ralph Fiennes.

The hotel itself is at once both an enchanting and eerie edifice – “a superb cathedral of eccentricity” – with its large and deserted halls, the exquisite matte-painting backdrops and – let’s face it – would it be complete without its lovingly animated wickety funicular?

Even the balalaika-laden soundtrack is delightful.

While we wait for Mr. Anderson to regale us with his next, exquisitely-crafted visual feast, yours truly will endeavour to trawl through the darkest confines of indie movie-making, hoping to track down some other noteworthy underground hits.


THAT poster...
THAT poster…

“Take Me To Kepler!”: The Exobiology of HZ Worlds

Drafted: 27 June; Revised: 29 June 2014

The search for exoplanets continues...
The search for exoplanets continues…

“Earth size planets  can and do exist in the HZ ‘s of other stars” – Doud Hudgins, Exoplanet Exploration Program.

Following on from the theme of last week’s Post, the oft-discussed topic of finding habitable worlds in the solar system is never far away. As technology advances, and astronomy becomes a more vital discipline, then the search for such worlds – and their possible inhabitants – gathers even greater pace, with a recent (March 2014) news story excitedly reporting the discovery of exoplanets “by the bus load,” with 1,692 confirmed and 3,845 suspect candidates, bringing the total to over 5,500.

 Incredible, when you consider that the first exoplanet, orbiting within its HZ (habitable zone) – a region around a sun where liquid could be present on the surface, and could contain the elements to support life – was detected only in 1995! The latest: Kepler 186f could be the most probable contender for supporting life due to it being similar in size to Earth; it orbits a red dwarf star 500 light years away.

In addition, two other worlds – 70 Virginis, in the Virgo constellation, & 47 UMa, in Ursa Major, could possess the credentials to support the formation of life, and they are only 35 light years away.

Sorry, but this is what aliens are most likely to resemble...
Sorry, but this is what aliens are most likely to resemble…

“There is nothing special about Earth. If life can arise on one planet around one star in one galaxy, then it could happen on billions of such planets” – Tim Radford.  

The quest for extraterrestrial life has bamboozled terrestrial science (and philosophy) since time immemorial. Lucretius, the Roman philosopher wote about the “seeds of life” floating through space in his: De Rerum Naturae. This concept became known as “Panspermia” and was later discussed by Svante Arhenius (a Swedish Nobel prize-winner) and Sir Fred Hoyle ( a British astronomer). Thomas Jefferson, founding father and president of the United States, speculated about life on other planets, but only about whether they “had souls to be saved.”

Then, with H G Wells, there were aliens – from Mars, our nearest neighbour – but they did not come in peace. In the last century, as science fiction has rocketed (sorry), there has been all sorts of long and short, green and blue, bug-eyed and three-fingered “visitors” from a vast array of weird and wonderful alien worlds.

Everyone is familiar with the five-year mission objective of the original (endearingly daft) Star Trek series but nothing in my vast reams of research can elucidate why so much of that “strange new life” (predominantly carbon-based, of course) had to have weird knobs, crests, and even trilobytes stuck to their foreheads. Gene Roddenberry certainly moved in mysterious ways…

We are finding exoplanets "by the bus load" now
We are finding exoplanets “by the bus load” now

“If there are creatures there they are going to be short and fat, not long and thin like us. They will be more like crabs than sheep and would move by scuttling sideways” – Dr Paul Murdin, British National Space Centre.

Humanoid aliens are so common (not just because of limitations of cheap sfx) but because eyes, mouths and limbs are essential components of any (not all) living organisms. Yet modern exobiologists recognise that carbon, hydrogen and oxygen don’t need to be mandatory building blocks for life; silicon could be vital as well.   

Unfortunately, Science presents us with a less exciting image of aliens. Extraterrestrials – if they are to be found at all – would have to adapt to massive gravity, be of small and very flat shape, with a protective carapace, very much like a limpet. The conditions for complex chemicals to turn into complex self-replicating proteins and then cells have to be precise.

But what triggers those conditions? And where can we find them?  

On a final note, there was an amusing two-page story in Mystery in Space comic (1981) in which first contact is made on a distant planet by three Earth astronauts with a race of green, long-necked tortoise-like creatures. The translator is opened (on all frequencies, of course) and the Commander greets them. No reply; not even a sound. The aliens just ignore them, trudging along the streets of their great city. Dejected, the humans pack up and leave. As their spaceship blasts back into the heavens, one alien turns to his chum and says:

” Thank Drok! I thought they’d never leave!”   

The second alien replies: “Yeah, blasted tourists, who needs ’em?”

Kraken Mare: The Largest Lake of Titan

Posted: 20 June 2014


An artist's impression of Kraken Mare on Titan.
An artist’s impression of Kraken Mare on Titan.

“Below the thunders of the upper deep, Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea, His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep, The Kraken sleepeth”  – Tennyson.

Below the piercing orange sky, the massive alien sea gleams. Kraken Mare – named after the fabled monster of Norse legend – is the first stable body of surface liquid discovered off-Earth, and one of the most distinctive awe-inspiring me geographical features of Saturn’s largest moon: Titan.

Having concentrated on science fiction for my previous Posts, here is an irresistible opportunity to cover this distant geological phenomenon. Kraken Mare, Ligeia Mare, (named after one of the Sirens of Greek mythology), and Punga Mare, (named after the Maori ancestor of sharks and lizards) all cluster around Titan’s North Pole.

Aeons ago, a Stars and Planets book (then) reliably informed me that TEN moons orbited Saturn; now, with the amazing advances in astro-exploration and observation, the total, as of this month – stands at a staggering SIXTY TWO! As one of the most amazing wonders of the universe, two other subjects were dropped in order to accommodate this as the main topic of my latest Post.


A diagram showing the layout of lakes at Titan's North Pole.
A diagram showing the layout of lakes at Titan’s North Pole.

“…An exotic chemistry that could illuminate the origins of life. Titan could hardly be a more alluring destination. Surely we should be launching a boat to explore its distant shores?” – New Scientist 24 May 2014.

This intriguing episode of interstellar exploration began in March 1997, when the Huygens probe – named after Christiaan Huygens, the 17th century Dutch astronomer who discovered Saturn’s largest moon – was launched on a seven-year voyage to Titan. When Cassini reached Titan in 2004, hopes of finding reflected sunlight from the surfaces of suspected hydrocarbon lakes faded fast. Actually, at the south polar region, a dark expansive feature, which came to be known as Ontario Lacus, was the first lake of Titan to be recognised as such.

The Huygens probe landed near Titan’s equator on 14 January 2005. Although it detected no areas of liquid, a report said it “strongly indicated the presence of liquids in the recent past.” Following analysis of the moon’s surface by a penetrometer, it can be described as a “sand made of ice grains.”

On 22 July 2006, passing over the northern hemisphere, Cassini discovered a collection of large smooth areas covering the surface near the North Pole. The definitive evidence for methane-filled lakes on Titan was announced in January 2007. On 8 July 2009, the Visual & Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) picked up a dramatic specular reflection of what has been identified as Kraken Mare’s southern shoreline. 

In a photo taken in July 2009, sunlight glints off the surface of Kraken Mare
In a photo taken in July 2009, sunlight glints off the surface of Kraken Mare

“Don’t make your surfing vacation reservations for Titan just yet” – Dr Jason Barnes.

Another awesome geographical feature of saturn’s larget moon is known as the “Throat of Kraken”; it forms a narrow strait, similar in scale to the Strait of Gibraltar. With gravity much lower compared to our Earth, and the liquid less dense, the tidal current could cause whirlpools. This is apt, considering the feared Kraken’s reputation for creating whirlpools and devouring whole ships. Yet radar results reveal that Ligeia Mare is “smooth as silk” suggesting that the real Seas of Tranquility are to be found in this sector of the solar system.   

There are plans for a submersible craft to explore the geology, and the chemistry of these lakes; it would be designed to search for organic molecules and measure the isotopic mix of its chemical composition to compile data on how Titan formed and evolved.

In a more poignant twist to this astronomical tale, scientists announced on 13 February 2008, that these polar lakes contains hundreds of times more natural gas and other liquid hydrocarbons than all the oil and natural gas reserves on Earth put together. In addition, they could hold 300 times the volume of Earth’s known oil reserves. This instantly brings to mind a wild SF scenario of mega-companies racing to extract their share of the riches of Titan!

On a final note, we have to wonder how long – or how soonboundless time, money and resources will be swiftly made available to make this science fiction become science fact!


The Rough Guide to Dystopia

Posted: 7 June 2014


“We shall shortly be landing in Dystopia. Please fasten your seatbelts and put your seats back in the upright position, thank you”  

One of the most enduring subgenres of modern SF is Dystopia. The definition refers to a bleak future while the name itself is derived from a classical past, i.e. Ancient Greece. “Topos” is place, while “dis” is bad – thus, we are alluding to a “bad place” (as opposed to a “utopia” which is a good place).  One of the solutions to avoid an impending dystopia – as divulged in countless SF tales – is an evacuation from Earth to colonise a planet compatible with ours.

Among the leading proponents of this view include: The Space Merchants (1953) by Frederik Pohl and Foundation (1951) and End of Eternity (1955), both by Isaac Asimov. On the big screen, this idea was last used in Oblivion.

The main problem with dystopian movies now concerns not only their monotonous rate of production, but their contents have lost their shock value; with mass unemployment, debt, climate change and a whole host of other assorted crises, Dystopia is a fast encroaching reality.

The Dystopia is already upon us
The Dystopia is already upon us

“Few writers can take much satisfaction in unrelenting pessimism, and only the most embittered have been content to paint the future utterly black… but many people have tried to map escape-routes from Dystopia” – Brian Stableford.  

One cannot help but be reminded of the scene in Blade Runner (1982) where skyships blurt out: “the chance to start again” with “opportunity and adventure.” That sounds even more tempting now; stop the world, this bunny wants to escape to those “Off-World Colonies”Eerily enough, we’re only five years shy of the date in which Syd Mead’s rain-soaked neon-lit futurescape is brilliantly realised; and we can see with the utmost dread that this Dystopia (once as far-off as it was doom-laden) looks too darned accurate.

Another way to avoid a dystopian outcome would be to forsake modern technology and all the addictive urges which it creates. You’re telling me! Having to deal with superslow and unreliable software has undoubtedly been the bane of my work, as of late, and the reason why this particular Post was not published last Friday. Grrrr…   

Yet during the post-war regeneration, the acceleration of technology was greeted by social analysts as one of the factors in attaining a better life. This might be the case for the majority of the now-gen who seemingly cannot exist without a smartphone, but for this older hack, the urge to lob this laptop outta the window appeals… 

Donald Sutherland: "I have huge admiration for President Snow" Do you embrace the dystopian vision as well, Mr S?
Donald Sutherland: “I have huge admiration for President Snow” Do you embrace the dystopian vision as well, Mr S?

“… If you take from it what I hope you will take from it, it will make you think a little more pungently about the political environment you live in and not be complacent” – Donald Sutherland (on The Hunger Games).  

A Post on this particular subject would not be complete without mentioning the phenomenal success of The Hunger Games. As Followers of this Blog will know, (part of) this movie was viewed only during a long-distance flight and it did not make for pleasant viewing. Once past the utterly absurd and pessimistic premise, the turgid script and the lame lead actors detracted my attention; left glum and disenchanted, the Off button has rarely felt so good. All circus, and no bread.

At first glance, it seems perplexing as to how and why so many teens embrace this stuff. Actually, the concept of brutal factionalised worlds governed by authoritarian entities is basically high school, opined one critic. The mash of Dystopia and oppressed younglings has been a literary combination, long before it became a twinkle in Suzanne Collins’ eye.

Donald Sutherland, the veteran star who played President Coriolanus Snow, described in one article as “a tyrant’s tyrant, with basilisk malevolence,”  viewed The Hunger Games as essentially politically allegorical, offering a “coded commentary” on inequality, power and hope.

In conclusion, despite the fast and frenetic rate of technological development, instead of creating a greater, more fulfilling, society, we suddenly find ourselves nestled in the glum dystopia of our own misguided making.   

That’s enough depressing futures for now – a preferable alternative would be to spend the rest of the evening on Youtube watching cute bunnies falling over.

Goodnight, sleep tight.

For now, "but they'll be back and in greater numbers..."
For now, “but they’ll be back and in greater numbers…”