“The Woman Is Breaking Free!”: The Evolution And Revolution Of Women In SF

A Look At Women’s Roles In SF On International Women’s Day 

“Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?” – Ellen Ripley.  

Many many moons ago, at school, there was one quick, and somewhat sad, way to tell the difference between boys and girls:  

boys read science fiction – girls did not.

Traditionally, my fav genre had been restricted to being a “Boy’s Own” pursuit long before my arrival on this Pale Blue Dot. My constant comic-reading consisted of Starhawk, Strontium Dog and Rogue Trooper – all male characters, of course! – used to irk some of the girls in my class no end. Despite trying to hide my mags, or chuck them over the playground wall, they never directly expressed any curiosity, or interest, in this reading-material. Shame, ‘cos such interaction might have extricated me from my insufferable shell a lot sooner…

No worries.

Science fiction has always exuded a voracious appetite for change. And to reflect those gradual, now quickening, changes in society, most notably in attitudes towards, and rights affecting, women, the genre has dramatically achieved so much to this end and, promisingly, continues to do so. 

To accompany this analysis, there will be a selection from the feminine side of Brad’s jukebox: 

“This is what Jodie Foster said when she first looked at me: ‘You’re not nearly as big as I thought you’d be.’ I thought she was joking so I kind of giggled but she kept laying it on thicker and thicker… She wouldn’t let up. I was a little crushed…” – Dave Bautista. 

At its best, science fiction makes us THINK.

And there was one particularly awesome comicbook cover that single-handedly altered my mindset in regards to women in SF.

In one of my most beloved books from the Library Brad Manor, a compendium: Alien Creatures, by Richard Siegel and J-C Suares (1978) – “Dedicated to those who haven’t landed yet” 😉 – on page 40 to be exact (that fact is proudly printed indelibly in my memory), this exquisite classic vintage cover (by Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta, above) of Weird Fantasy #21 made me realise the potential of incorporating strong, distinctive female characters in my own fiction. 

Note how the traditional gender roles haye been reversed: this woman – armed and sensibly-dressed (obligatory goldfish-bowl permitting) – assumes an assured, active and commanding position in the foreground while the male is reduced to just scantily-clad manflesh. Bold, and very progressive, especially when you consider this artwork was originally published – slapbang in that “Boy’s Own” era – in 1953!

2000AD – still “the longst-running comic in the galaxy” – has always been considered to be an highly-esteemed tag to have on any comic writer’s/artist’s resume, and yet it’s most notable alumni began their respective careers… working on girls’ comics!

Lately, my scope of classic comics has veered towards British publications of the ’70s. Whilst searching for the “lost Starhawk stories,” in The Crunch, imagine my astonishment, but sheer delight, upon discovering “Ebony”: a black, female MI5 agent; for 1977, this looked like an extremely impressive and empowering premise –  the spitting image of Nina Simone, she’s every bit as tough and classy as Pam Grier! And way too cool to be this obscure. (Not surprisingly, there are no clear images of her online).

While stories for boys centred on action, comics for girls concentrated on romance. 

Interestingly enough, there was indeed only one (albeit short-lived) British SF/fantasy comic for girls from that time: SpellboundHeard a lot of encouraging items about one of its contents – that quartet of enhanced femme fatales: the Super-Cats, so will endeavour to check out this “Fabulous Four.”

Back then, one would have been branded a “sissy” if seen with a girls’ comic, but now, who cares…? 

“Let me tell you something about sexism, girl. When you wear that costume, it cheapens you, but when I wear it, it cheapens them. It’s all about how you use it” – Emma Frost. 

How apt: playing this on the Eighth Day of this month 😉

No NO, Lady Go-Go! 

Let Hazel show you what a bona fide unorthodox-but-awesome songstress really looks and sounds like!:

J. Jonah Jameson: “You! Ms. Marvel!! I knew one of you super-creeps was responsible for this! Good or bad, it doesn’t matter – you’re all the same. You’ve got to be stamped out… and if J. Jonah Jameson has anything to say about it, lady, you will be!” 

Ms. Marvel: (I hear you, J. Jonah, and I’d love to argue the point, if I had the time… but I don’t. I doubt you’d listen anyway. Still, that’ll probably become one more editorial hassle Carol Danvers doesn’t need…)  

“The horrible immorality” argued Anatole France, ominously, as early as 1905, “…is to be the morality of the future.”

Whereas bygone authors of general fiction felt restricted from writing about the realities of human relationships, science fiction auteurs went ahead anyway and experimented with gender as well as genetics, and sex and sexuality in addition to science and scientific plots.

The main credit for breaking through the barriers of taboo is usually given to Philip Jose Farmer, whose The Lovers (1952) dealt with the unfortunate consequences of a love-affair between a man and an alien, although some would argue that Nice Girl With Five Husbands  (1951) by Fritz Leiber, at last deserves critical reappraisal.

The 1960s proved permissive enough to see an influx of more gender-based stories; Harlan Ellison’s anthology: Dangerous Visions (1967) confirmed that any speculative fiction concerning sexual matters could thenceforth be published, while the ground-breaking Left Hand Of Darkness (1969) by Ursula LeGuin offered a more sensitive approach to sexual roles and mores. The 1970s witnessed an increase in feminity – and feminism – through science fiction with the most prominent examples being: When It Changed (1972) by Joanna Russ and Marge Piercy’s Woman On The Edge Of Time (1976). 

More varied roles for female characters appeared on a relatively healthy basis up to the end of the 20th century, and beyond, culminating in the current blossoming subgenre of YA fiction.

Princess Leia: “All troop carriers will assemble at the north entrance. The heavy transport ships will leave as soon as they’re loaded. Only two fighter escorts per ship. The energy shield can only be opened for a short time, so you’ll have to stay very close to your transports.”

Hobbie Klivian: “Two fighters against a Star Destroyer?”

Princess Leia: “The ion cannon will fire several shots to make sure any enemy ships will be out of your flight path. When you’ve gotten past the energy shield, proceed directly to the rendezvous point. Understood? Good luck.”

Arguably, the strongest, most positive female role in science fiction has to be Ellen Ripley, superbly played by the incomparable Sigourney Weaver. 

The character had originally been written as male, but Sigourney impressed the director: Ridley Scott to such an extent that he not only changed the course of movie history, but furthered the opportunities for women’s roles in science fiction. Crucially, when she returned in the equally-impressive sequel: Aliens (1986), the addition of terrorised infant, Newt, allowed Ripley’s character to be enhanced by expressing long-suppressed calm and compassionate maternal instincts.

We inevitably turn our attention to the woman’s role that defined its time: Princess Leia, immortalised by the late great Carrie Fisher. 

Some would argue that she was upstaged by that young farm boy; he was the one who destroyed the Death Star and received the glory, cake and medal, but the cultural – and psychological –  impact that Leia had on each generation over the last forty years makes said space station look like a ping pong ball…

“Well somebody has to save our skins…”

But that was before the dark times.

Before Disney…

What chance do we have? The question is “what choice.” Run, hide, plead for mercy, scatter your forces. You give way to an enemy this evil, with this much power and you condemn the galaxy to an eternity of submission. The time to fight is now!” – Jyn Erso.

In this modern Star Wars era, there is, alas, not much to get excited about.

The lone redeeming item is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It offers a striking lead performance by Felicity Jones – an ingenious case of casting as Jyn Erso; her soft and slight build belies the fact that she has had to become tough, confident and resourceful – she was more of a “rebel” in every sense of the term than any other member of that Rebel Alliance. 

One of the multiple problems that beset Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the baffling observation that although the cast featured a commendable and considerable number of female figures in its cast, due to poor writing, strong, discernible characters did not manage to flourish. 

Naturally – ‘cos you know it’s Brad – we come to the MCU, the franchise that just keeps on giving. There are various instances of strong and commanding superheroines therein, to name but a few:  

Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is the only reason to watch Iron Man 2 (which should have been the Black Widow we all deserve!) and she further excels in the Avengers movies AND Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Hayley Atwell is exceptional as Agent Peggy Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger; whilst my personal fav (see below!): she’s not a queen, or a monster, she’s Hela, the Goddess of Death.

And we come to the latest – and possibly most game-changing – instalment: Captain Marvel. 

Where there’s good, there’s bad – cue the rise of that “horrible immorality” in the repugnant form of sexist trolls who have crawled out of the depths of their own ignorance, this time, to belittle Brie Larson: the first female lead in a Marvel movie. Rather than shut down her TwitFace™ account (or whatever you blessed younglings call the bally thing) she’s done what any honourable superhero would do: STRIKE BACK.

“Up an’ at ’em, lady!” 

“You know, I used to want to be a Valkyrie when I was younger, until I found out you were all women. There’s nothing wrong with women, of course, I like women. Sometimes a little too much. Not in a creepy way, just more like a respectful appreciation. I think it’s great, an elite force of women warriors” – Thor. 

And so, considering how – over thirty decades ago – such a prospect would have seemed unthinkable (certainly in my school yard), SF enjoys a poignant and promising age in which more girls and young women than ever before actively watch science fiction movies at the cinema, read SF novels – AND comics!! –  participate in, and cosplay, at comic conventions in record numbers. More crucially, some have been inspired to create their own far-reaching fiction!

Let me say how, for me, this is a genuinely thrilling and reassuring situation to behold. Long may it continue! 

Let me finish by saying just this: 

Those girls who, back in the day, nabbed my comics, now, most likely, have daughters who wholeheartedly embrace science fiction! 

And, what’s more, if they can craft an intergalactic saga better than anything this humble ol’ nerfherder could muster, then that would be really groovy. 

“Go get ’em, girls!”

 

Sarah Connor: “Kyle, the women in your time, what are they like?”

Kyle Reese: “Good fighters.”

 

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“Higher, Further, Faster”: The Curious Case Of Carol Danvers

Discover What Makes Her A Hero

Carol Danvers: “I want to go to college. I’ve been working part-time almost two years now, but I’m still way short of the tuition fees. I need a loan. You’re my last hope, Dad.”

Pa Danvers: “And my answer’s still no. We live well, Carol, but I’m no millionaire. I can afford to send one of you kids to college and it’s going to be your brother, Steve.”

Carol Danvers: “That’s not fair!” 

Pa Danvers: “Life isn’t fair, kitten. Besides, you don’t need college to find a good husband.

Carol Danvers: “Dad, who said I want to spend the rest of my life playing the happy homemaker?!” 

Pa Danvers: “Don’t take that tone of voice with me, young lady!” 

 

“Air Force?! Well, why the heck not?” the young teen Carol Danvers wonders, having stormed out of the family home after yet another rowdy bust-up with her Pa.

A poster outside the local USAF Recruitment Office satisfies her longing for adventure, so the day after her 18th birthday: “without a word to her parents or a backward glance… she enlisted.”

The rest is…

A history – one of the most complex, convoluted, and controversial, of any comic book character.

Th original superhero to go by the epithet: Captain Marvel” was Mar-Vell, created by Stan “The Man” Lee and “Genial” Gene Colan in 1968; he was introduced as a guardian of the Kree, protector of the planet Hala against the dreaded Skrulls. (More about them later).

The character of Carol Danvers appears to have been created – as that most lame women’s “role”: Captain Marvel’s love “interest” – by “Rascally” Roy Thomas and “Genial” Gene Colan. She first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968) as a non-superpowered USAF officer.

This is the very first scene to feature “Miss Danvers”: 

“Dr. Lawson, this is Miss Danvers! Man or woman, she’s the finest Head of Security a missile base could want!” – General Bridges. 

 

The Vision: “Your evasive tactics will do you no good, Ms. Marvel — against one who can dematerialize his body and short-cut through solid obje– KARRRRGH!!”

Ms. Marvel: (Plan B was to use my Kree science to jury-rig the power cables running beneath the bridge — into a field generator capable of subjecting his immaterial form to a stress beyond endurance…) “He’ll be unconscious for a while. I’m sorry it had to come to this, but in a way — it serves him right. Up an’ at ’em, lady! There’s still the super-truck to be dealt with…”  

Carol Danvers made her solo debut with Ms. Marvel #1 (January 1977) written by Chris (X-Men) Claremont.  

Mar-Vell still retained the title of Captain Marvel, so to differentiate from him, Carol assumed the title of Ms. Marvel” Apart from bare legs and midriff, she wore a very similar red and blue costume. At that time, the use of “Ms.” reflected bold feminist connotations – having left NASA to become Editor of the Daily Bugle’s Woman Magazine, Carol regularly “fought” Battle Of The Sexes duels with J. Jonah Jameson. 

And won. Every time. 

Despite this, it must be said that Marvel Comics originally had a rather half-hearted approach to female characters, with She-Hulk and Spiderwoman serving as just female variants if their more iconic male counterparts. Thus, regrettably, it seemed as though Ms. Marvel could do nothing but continue this trend. 

The 1st ish of Ms. Marvel is impossible to find – and, thus, ridiculously expensive.

No worries.

#5 (May 1977) one of the better ishs, featuring a supercool guest star appearance by The Vision – includes some invaluable backstory.

During an intense duel between Captain Marvel and Colonel Yon Rogg – Carol had her notorious accident with a device known as the psyche-magnetron. Essentially, it spliced Mar-Vell’s DNA with hers: “she had the strength of ten men, the knwoledge and instincts of a Kree warrior, and thanks to a sophisticated electronic webbing built into her costume… she could fly.” Most crucially, she was possessed with that uniquely Kree power: Seventh Sense in which she could anticipate danger before it occurred.

From ish #20, (October 1978) the “All-New” Ms. Marvel – the notorious black halter-neck leotard and longer boots (and, curiously-much-longer hair) – took over. It is in this garb that she first joined The Avengers. Unfortunately, the next stage of Carol’s “life” is the most controversial (and will only be mentioned briefly here).

In her essay: “The Rape Of Ms. Marvel,” comicbook historian Carol A Strickland criticized one Avengers storyline that concentrated on the “abduction and impregnation” of the Fighting Fury by Marcus (alleged son of Immortus). Why oh why did such an inappropriate and obscene plot have to sully none other than The Avengers #200?! As an Avengers fan for most of my life, it is outrageous – almost criminal! – that what should have been an epic landmark ish can never join my collection…

Moreover, where were the Comics Code Authority? How could they have “Approved” THIS?!

 Even Claremont spoke out against it, and proceeded to “undo” this inappropriate storyline when he produced Avengers Annual #10 (1981). He further redeveloped Carol’s character whilst working on The Uncanny X-Men. During one cosmic adventure: #164 (December 1982), an alien race known as The Brood imbue her with energy manipulation and absorption powers and thenceforth, she becomes known as “Binary.” Essentially she could generate the power of a star. 

When she soon reverts to her Ms. Marvel persona, Carol retains these powers.

 

“Think you’re the only hero in the world…?” – Nick Fury.  

The very first grapic novel in comics history happened to be Death Of Captain Marvel, featuring the demise of Mar-Vell (in 1982) but Carol did not assume the Captaincy right away. No, the first female hero to use this title was an African-American: Monica Rambeau (seen in her white and black garb on the cover above).

Incidentally, in the upcoming movie, Carol’s best friend is fellow pilot Maria Rambeau, Monica’s mum – an interesting twist to the origins story.

 

Carol knows the Skrulls have infiltrated Earth, and it kind of creates a sense of paranoia. The Skrulls are after something, and part of the mystery of the movie is Carol trying to figure out what they’re after and getting it before they do” – Anna Boden.  

Considering the Kree-Skrull War’s overwhelming importance in the comics – in fact, “The Kree-Skrull War” happened to be Marvel Comics’ first major cosmic story-arc, featured in The Avengers in 1971, written by Roy Thomas, with art provided by Neal Adams and both Buscemas (John and Sal).  

With such multiple plot-threads, it is difficult to determihe which aspects, if any, will make it into this movie. It is surprising how no mention of that major, seemingly-eternal conflict has not featured in the MCU.

Until now. 

Strangely enough, although Ms. Marvel spent the first few ishs of her solo ’70s series trying to come to terms with her Kree powers, there was never any mention of the Skrulls: sinister alien shapeshifters. 

However, in Marvel Team-Up # 62 she joins Spidey to fight the Super-Skrull: a Skrull antagonist possessing the powers of the Fantastic Four (see below):

 

It’s absolutely incredible! I got the opportunity to work on the film which was amazing… Carol is a character who has lived inside my head since about 2010, and I feel, right now, really proud of her” – Kelly Sue DeConnick.

July 2012 marked the moment when Carol Danvers officially assumed the title of Captain Marvel. 

In a dramatic reintroduction of the character, its writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick, had offered an irresistible pitch: it could “pretty much be summed up with ‘Carol Danvers as Chuck Yeager.'” 

Carol rejoined The Avengers the following year, starring in the Captain Marvel / Avengers Assemble crossover storyline: “The Enemy Within”. She and her Avenger teammates must do battle with Yon-Rogg, the Kree officer responsible for the explosion that caused her to receive her powers, and in defeating the Kree, Danvers loses her memories... 

And in May 2014, Carol Danvers joined the Guardians Of The Galaxy.

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When asked, during one interview, that all-important-question: 

“Who is the most powerful being in the Marvel Universe?” 

the late, great Stan Lee immediately replied:

“Galactus. Without a doubt.”

Continuing the MCU’s unabashed trend of distorting the original comicbook plotlines, Kevin Feige – Marvel Studios’ Head Honcho – has stipulated that Captain Marvel IS the most powerful being in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, it is intriguing to discover that the Captain Marvel movie will be set in the ’90s – most tantalisingly, over twenty years before Tony Stark became Iron Man…

It will certainly be interesting to see a de-aged and patchless Nick Fury and such familiar faces as Korath and Ronan again.

Unlike Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War – both devoured (with glee) on their respective days of release – this blogger won’t be watching the 21st instalment of the MCU until next week. 

Why?! you cry. 

Saving it for a (hopefully special) birthday treat 🙂

 

Captain Marvel: Die Hard With Avengers 😉

“It’s very surreal to get suited up… And the idea of that star and these colors, it represents strong willIt makes me emotional. She is the most dynamic character that I have ever had the chance to play” – Brie Larson. 

 

Captain Marvel is released this Friday: March 8 2019 International Women’s Day(!)

 

“The Female Man”: Issues Of Gender And Feminism In SF

Hey Man, The Future Is Female…

“After reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s work, I began to think about how women could explore alternate biologies and societies for their benefit. That’s the sign of good science fiction” – Marge Piercy.  

“The enormous appeal of science fiction is the ability to change just one or two small variables and see what could happen,” says writer Marge Piercy, whose 1976 novel: Woman On The Edge Of Time has become a feminist SF classic. “Up until [The Left Hand Of Darkness (1969)] most science fiction had assumed binary gender throughout the universe. She writes of a world where gender is irrelevant and sexuality completely fluid…” 

Aeons ago, when Brad was… oh, about that high, there was an easy peasy way to tell the difference between boys and girls: 

boys loved sci-fi –girls did not = it was that simple.

Nowadays, of course, such a statement sounds so trite and patronising… not to mention simple-minded. Encouragingly, more than ever before, there is active female participation in science fiction, whether it be reading novels or comics, or – better still – producing a new wave of critically-and-commercially-acclaimed material. 

As this Post will show, not only has the number of female SF writers grown, but the genre has always had a healthy history of influential female involvement.

Recalling those longlost schooldays, it would now appear that those attempts by girls to run off with our Star Wars figures signified concerted efforts to break barriers and expectations and try to infiltrate this exotic-looking Boy’s Club. Back then, of course, the very notion of ACTUALLY TALKING TO GIRLS about comics, spaceships, transdimensional engineering and the inner workings of

Mennotor 430 Neural Inhibitors seemed so… far out – as unlikely as…

as BBC’s Doctor Who ever changing into a woman…

“I wish my successor, whoever he or she might be, the best of luck… I think it might be quite nice to have a woman…” – Tom Baker.

Having established that the Doctors could transmogrify into another aspect of this particular character, then there was no real limit to the number of Doctors or the sex of the Doctors,” remarked Patrick Troughton, the second actor to play this particular character (between 1966-69).

In July, the biggest SF news happened to be the announcement of the next regen(d)eration of Gallifrey’s most famous Time Lord; this year’s Christmas special will mark the debut of Jodie Whittaker – the first woman to portray the Doctor since the series began in 1963. There came a point during the most recent season in which the current Doctor (played by lifelong-Whovian Peter Capaldi) explains – to his gobsmacked companion – how his race long ago transcended the whole gender-thing, and you think – aha! – better prepare for something pretty unprecedented here… 

When avidly watching the series back in the early ’80s, this boy – who constructed his own sonic screwdriver, used his own wardrobe as his TARDIS, and brought Teddy Edwards along as his own companion (aah bless!) – would have baulked at the prospect of having an actress in the titular role; now, of course, that prospect is in keeping with the fresh and innovative nature of the show and should be warmly welcomed.     

But Jodie will need a truly exceptional writer to make her tenure work…

On the threshold of making SF TV history, Whittaker said she felt “beyond excited to begin” reinvigorating the BBC’s longest-running SF series. Certainly, Verity Lambert – the producer responsible for bringing Doctor Who to television screens in 1963, would have been absolutely delighted with this news…

“[The Female Man is] a wonderfully inventive novel – this interplanetary exploration of feminist inner space, this sophisticated, playful fantasy book is, of course, all about reality” – Phyllis Chester.   

“You simply can’t underplay how ground-breaking it was,” remarked Yasmin Khan – advisor to the “Into the Unknown: A Journey Thro Science Fiction,” a major exhibition held in London this past summer – referring to Sultana’s Dream, written as early as 1905, in Bengal, by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (then aged just 25). “Raised in an upper-class Muslim family, she was denied a social education, like many women at that time.” 

Appalled by the social injustice inflicted on women, she created “Ladyland”: a technologically advanced matriarchy where women monopolize all freedoms, while men are secluded in the “madana,” a play on the Urdu word zenana (women’s quarters).

Imagined futures, and speculative concepts – the very styff on which science fiction has always thrived – should be enhanced and enriched by adding female perspectives.

The Female Man by Joanna Russ is a principal go-to game-changer in feminist SF, conducting a powerful and uncompromising critique, both of society and the patriarchal framework of sci-fi itself. Her writing offers “strong, witty female protagonists whose understanding supersedes the status games and repressive obsessions that occupy the other characters, often representatives of far-future societies that parody our own.”

Apart from confronting issues of genger and sexuality, as far as publishers were concerned, the matter of the author’s sex – and her sexual orientation – were considered a hindrance at that time. Nevertheless, the novel helped to begin tear down boundaries not just in SF, but in women’s literature in general. 

Its status as an all-time masterpiece has been recognised by Gollancz who fortunately included in their SF Masterworks series. Thus, unlike the other titles mentioned here, The Female Man CAN be found in my local library… 

“Traditionally, people turn to science fiction in times of political crisis.”

Cue The Handmaid’s Tale (1986) by Margaret Atwood, a dystopian noveland now Emmy-award-winning TV serialso timely and monumental, it deserves its own blog post…

“I’m a pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist, a Black… an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive” – Octavia Butler.

“Considered one of the most creative, unique, and innovative science fiction writers of her generation,” is how feminist scholar Professor Rebecca Hankins describes Octavia Butler (1947-2006) – one of a scant number of African-American writers working in this genre. “Never one to sugar coat our existence, Butler’s writing always centres on women as independent, fierce, and unapologetic heroines.”

Her work also helped eradicate the genre’s entrenched science fiction image as “male, pale and stale.” She created a shape-shifting, gender-fluid creature in Wild Seed; a post-apocalyptic mute in Dawn; and the determined daughter in the Patternist series.

Therefore (one abhors having to admit this), because she does not fit the white male norm expected in the genre, this explains precisely why this SF “aficionado” has been deprived of all knowledge pertaining to this marvellous talent for so long. Moreover, it is a crying shame that her gender and ethnicity have proved a hindrance to her seemingly-deserved exalted status among the SF hierarchy. 

As for actually getting round to reading her masterworks? 

Well, not yet… 

It comes as no shock to learn that her books are unavailable in the half-dozen public libraries near me…

You want Arthur C. Clarke? 

He’s right here. 

Itching for Philip K. Dick? 

He’s over there. 

Do they have Isaac Asimov?

Are you kidding me? A whole shelf is devoted to his sizeable back catalogue…

Dread to ask the librarians if they stock ANY Octavia Butler:

“Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t have him…”

“Her works are an ongoing inspiration,” Professor Hankins continued: “…not only to black women writers, but to all of us to push the boundaries and imagine new fairer worlds.”

“Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen” – Margaret Atwood.

And while we’re on the subject of gender, you may be delighted to learn that – in the spirit of these enlightened fluid and flexible times – Brad will be changing gender as well. Henceforth, address all e-mails/Comments to Angelina.

Seriously though, an increasing number of media work is geared towards women writing exclusively for an all-female readership. Look at the subjects requested: history, psychology, sociologynothing gender normative about them. Nonetheless, in order to get more work in the online 21st century environment, this is the measure one must take to ensure a steady supply of cake in one’s larder…

*

Finally, let’s finish on an amusing – and thoroughly English – note.

That legend of prime-time evening entertainment: Kenny Everett provided the very first time this bunny saw any man in drag. They must have had a marvellous time making these shows – the production crew couldn’t help but laugh.

There are no SF-related vids here, but there may never come a more appropriate opportunity to show this classic sketch.

While compiling this Post, it was heartening to learn that Billy Connolly is due to receive a knighthood. 

Well, huzzah! Arise, Sir Billy!

Or should that be Dame…?

 

Interface 2037 Ready For Inquiry: What’s The Story Mother?

Loving The Alien? This Time, No Means NO!

“…A story that is basically just a mixture of The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Thing from Outer Space… [Ridley Scott’s] combination of space fiction and horror story is no great shakes as a work of art. Artifice, however, it has in profusion.” – Derek Malcolm.

“A transmission? Out here? …Human?” 

“Unknown…”

Apologies if you swung by expecting a Review of Alien Covenant.

But really – it’s a swizz of the first water; a pointless celebration of the Alien franchise’s Greatest Hits. Wasting my time in a cinema for something like this can usually incite me to rant no end, but after a particularly trying fortnight – both physically and mentally – yours truly has been unable to write anything remotely readable.

Here, on a good day, you would be able to learn how completely unnecessary this rehash really is. How it adds nothing new; judging by the lacklustre trailer, the script sounds unremarkable, and – like Prometheus, which frustrated more than frightened audiences – attempts at character development are nil, considering how expendable WE KNOW this crew are…

And to think that after enjoying the first two Alien movies, this adventurer genuinely craved more sequelsha!

How times – and attitudes – have changed. After two more dodgy sequels, the divisive Prometheus and now Alien Covenant, one of the most interesting movie franchises has become one of the most tedious…

“I did have one odd nightmare once. I dreamt I was visiting some friends in a Vermont farmhouse and the alien came out of the chimney. Suddenly I was dreaming about my own life. You would think it would only happen in space… but if you start to dream like this, it puts a whole different reality to it” –  Sigourney Weaver.

There is another anguished reason why Alien Covenant proves to be so bothersome.

Where, oh where, is Sigourney Weaver?!

Just two years ago, it all seemed fine an’ dandy. The actress most synonymous with this franchise was itching to return and wrap up Ellen Ripley’s story one last time. It would have been the Alien 3 we deserved; Michael Biehn was also lined up to reprise the role of Corporal Hicks from Aliens. The director of Chappie and District 9 was set to helm (incidentally a move not welcomed in this camp).

But by the time the Covenant trailer appeared earlier this year, the head-scratching began. We saw what looked like an inferior rehash of the 1979 masterpiece, and Katherine Waterston “playing” the female protagonist.

Okay, Waterston, but no Weaver?!

Such an intriguing movie project – allowed to languish in development-hell – is officially cancelled in favour of… this?!

In online forums, no one can hear Brad scream…

Don’t care that Covenant garnered more at the box office in its first week than Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, and retains a respectable score on Rotten Tomatoes, this is NOT the package that any of us expected.

Great Scott! What is Ridley doing?! 

Cannot believe that he is responsible for such a run-o’-the-Hollywood-mill exercise…

“We had gone through various sketches… they seemed to be of scaly bodies… or huge blobs… There was no elegance to them, no lethalness. What emerged – Giger’s designs… definitely not of this world…” – Ridley Scott.

Alien Covenant is the first Alien film since the passing of H. R. Giger.

With each new underwhelming entry to this franchise, the extraordinary terror instilled by Giger’s original chilling, biomechanoid design is gradually diminished. Moreover, in attempting – and failing! – to adequately explain the backstory surrounding such notable features as the derelict spaceship and the Space Jockey of LV426, their mystique is irreparably eroded.

Just contemplating the faults and inanities of Alien Covenant and what could have been – makes me feel more ill.

You wonder: why couldn’t they change the alien design, themes, names, et al – produce something completely different for a change?

Surely, such a fresh premise would be preferable than having yet another reboot/prequel foisted upon us? Ah! Sllly Brad; business is business, of course  jeez, how could we forget that?

Unfortunately – like other unwanted cultural dross floating around us @ the mo – we cannot exactly blow this thing out the goddamn air-lock.

So, Mother, what can we do?

INTERFACE 2037 READY FOR INQUIRY

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Does Alien Covenant at least offer anything as sublime as this on its Soundtrack?

Thought not… 

“Final Report of the commercial starship Nostromo, Third Officer reporting.

“The other members of the crew – Kane, Lambert, Parker, Brett, Ash, and Captain Dallas – are dead.

“Cargo and ship destroyed.

“I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick me up.

“This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off…”

 

“Stop Your Grinnin’ And Drop Your Linen!”: 30 Years Of ALIENS

There are some places in the universe you don’t go alone…

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“Get away from her, YOU BITCH!” – Ellen Ripley.

“Desolate. Black. Silent. Boundless. This is deep space.

“A scorched speck of technology called Narcissus drifts silently through the void on a non-stop course to nowhere. A monstrous shadow engulfs it. Beams of light flash on from above, criss-crossing the hull. Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley and a cat named Jones, last surviving members of the commercial starship Nostromo have been found…”

Is it really thirty years since ALIENS was released this day in the US in 1986?(!) It wasn’t until my birthday the following year that ALIENS received its first viewing (on my well-worn VCR, of course). At school, earlier that year, returning to class after a memorably rain-drenched lunch hour, it was thrilling – if a tad frustrating – to see that our teacher(!) and some of the other lads were watching ALIENS, thennewly-released on video.

Trust me to walk in during one of the more exciting bits: Ripley squashing one of the creatures under the wheels of the APC. Everyone there knew that this was Brad’s sorta movie, so why wasn’t that dweeb there to watch with them?!

(Ha, that’ll teach me to go study in the library…)

Yeah… but why did this SF movie buff NOT watch this at the cinema?!

The SF rollercoaster ride that Roger Ebert described as “painfully and unremittingly intense” would not be released until the following 29 August when it reached the unsuspecting UK. With a Cert-15 looming ominously over it, there was NO WAY yours truly would have been allowed to get in and gawp at it…

“That’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?!”

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“All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal’s a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I love the Corps!” – Sergeant Apone.

“From his console, Hudson cries out triumphantly: “Found ’em!” He looks at the cluster of blue dots clumped tightly in one area of the screen. “Sub-level C, under the south tower. Looks like a goddamn town meeting.”

The main reason why ALIENS has held up so well over the last three decades is due to the outstanding achievements of its script and vision, both realised by James Cameron.

Creating a sequel worthy of Ridley Scott’s marvelously claustrophobic: ALIEN seemed like an impossible challenge, but this turned out to be the biggest success story of ’86, outgrossing its predecessor and garnering 7 Oscar nominations (it won Best Visual Effects). Cameron has stated in numerous interviews how ALIEN is his fave film. While retaining that original’s scary tone, he imbued his follow-up with unrelenting thrills and suspense.

The title was the writer/director’s idea: “It’s funny… I read an interview with [Dan O’Bannon, screenwriter of ALIEN] that said he was typing away one night at 4:00am, and he was writing:

“The Alien did this; the Alien did that,” and he realized that the word: “Alien” stood out on the page. It was very much like that for me on this film. I was writing away and it was: “Aliens this and Aliens that,” and it was just right. It was succinct; it had all the power of the first title, and it implied the plurality of the threat. It also implied, of course, that it’s a sequel.” 

And from the very beginning, he had conceptualised it primarily as Ripley’s story, with Weaver very much in mind to reprise her first major movie role.

But the actress had still not signed up.

So, Cameron would easily have allowed the studios to offer the role to another actress?

“No!” the director remarked. “Never, never, never!”

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Private Hudson: “Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man? 

Private Vasquez: “No. Have you?”

“Hicks climbs onto a file cabinet and raises a ceiling panel, shining his flashlight inside. The crawlspace is a sickly, gut-wrenching mass of squirming, moist aliens clawing their way forward. Hicks leaps off and fires at the ceiling which bursts, raining aliens. Newt screams. Hudson and Vasquez open fire.”

With the sequel, some extension of H. R. Giger’s original nightmarish design was called for.

The Alien Queen was the stupendous result, designed by the movie’s main effects guru: Stan Winston, with Cameron: “I did the artwork, and he did the physical sculptural work. We tried to be consistent with Giger’s motifs, but not necessarily enslaved to them.”

(H. R. Giger was otherwise engaged at the time on Poltergeist II).

Crucially, rather than just a “thing,” the Alien Queen was viewed as a character, hence Ripley’s anguished dialogue towards it, and the extent the FX team went to make the audience accept that “she” was anything but a “7 foot tall actor in a suit.”

In the classic climactic confrontation, Ripley goes up against the Alien Queen in a Powerloader (after all, she has got a Level 6 rating) – one exo-skeleton versus another.

“Both Ripley and I have changed as time has gone on,” Sigourney Weaver observed. “I feel quite at home in this kind of action picture, oddly enough – because I guess I cut my teeth on it.”

And to think when she started production in 1979, and Giger’s design was yet to be unveiled, she remarked:

“For all I knew, the creature was this big blob of yellow Jello running around…” 

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“We’d better get back, ’cause it’ll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night… mostly” – Newt.

“Ripley runs back the way she came. Aliens are coming at them from everywhere. She runs into a side corridor and enters a macabre room filled with eggs. A piercing shriek fills the chamber. Ripley whirls around and sees the most terrifying thing she has ever laid eyes on…”

One reviewer at the time remarked how ALIENS gave Sigourney Weaver “new emotional dimensions to explore.”

The addition of Newt – a lone, female survivor against the xenomorph menace; essentially a pint-sized version of Ripley – offered an emotional – predominantly feminine – subtext usually quite rare in mainstream SF. It allowed Ripley the chance to resurrect her maternal instincts; after having been “lost” for 57 years, she woke up only to find that she’d lost her own daughter just the year previously.

“She’s not the earnest young ensign she was when she went into space the first time,” Sigourney Weaver commented at the time. It was: “a real joy to return to Ripley with a whole different set of conditions… but I feel she has changed, so utterly, by what happens to her early in ALIENS… She is still a strong character.”

Bizarrely: “This is the first film where I’ve been surrounded by a large number of people who actually have less acting experience than I do.”

A possible sequel had been discussed since 1979, but after Weaver was gobsmacked by The Terminator, she knew that Cameron’s draft would be the only one to actually work.

“Exec producers [Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill] are friends of mine anyway, and we would get together over dinner and laugh about the sequel,” she said. “One scenario was that they would open Ripley’s little space-pod tomb – and she would dissolve into dust.

“No need for Sigourney!”

This is a monumental masterpiece; it is a personal favourite.

This was the overnight rental chosen to celebrate my 14th birthday.

This was the Saturday night TV matinee enjoyed the day after learning that a well-deserved BA degree was heading my way.

Heck yeah, here’s to the next thirty years!

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 “Not bad for a human…” – Bishop.

Is Neill Blomkamp The Right Choice To Make Alien 5?

Stop Worrying About These Pet Projects!

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“I can’t think of a better director. He’s a real fan. I think he’ll… take it in unexpected directions… It will certainly stand up to the others and probably break a lot of new ground as well” – Sigourney Weaver. 

It has been common knowledge for some time that Sigourney Weaver wants to reprise her most famous role: Ellen Ripley. This week, it was confirmed that Neill Blomkamp (whose latest movie: Chappie has just opened) will direct Alien 5, after some of his impressive concept art for such a movie project recently emerged. Following some encouraging buzz online, Fox execs were quick to give Blomkamp the green light… but really, is this wise? 

Let’s sift through the evidence: Blomkamp’s debut feature: District 9 (2009), was an intriguing anti-apartheid parable set in South Africa, and showed much promise. Yet when the less impressive Elysium received unfavourable reviews in 2013, it looked like the talent had collapsed. Now, instead of reversing the downward trend, Chappie – apparently an expanded remake of Blomkamp’s own 2003 short: Tetra Vaal – has garnered some very discouraging reviews.

On the strength of District 9, Blomkamp would have been good to go, but now, it looks like an ominous – almost regrettable decision. The latest edition of Time Magazine summed it up aptly: “The world needs good sci-fi movies. Unfortunately, Chappie isn’t one of them.” 

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“…We’re gonna need immediate evac. I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure” – Cpl. Dwayne Hicks.  

The last time we saw Corporal Dwayne Hicks he’d had his face sprayed with a xenomorph’s acid. This past week, it was confirmed that the actor who played him back in 1986: Michael Biehn, had been approached to possibly reprise that role. Nearly thirty years on, is Biehn ready for active duty once more? “Yes…” he nonchalantly replied. “Looks like it.” 

With this stunning news, we now have to erase Alien 3 (1992) and Alien Resurrection (1997) from memory; fine, some fans believe that both these underwhelming sequels deserve to be expunged from existence anyway. Which brings us back to Crappy. Sorry! Chappie…

It was a tough weekend, ruminating on whether to watch this new release. Just consider the paltry goods on offer: it splices elements of Short Circuit, Robocop and other goodness-knows how many ’80s robo-pics together into a disjointed mess; a supposedly endearing” robot which soon resorts to violence – any chance of a meaningful exposition on artificial intelligence and its ramifications literally blown away; narrative shortcomings aplenty; there appear to be no likeable characters anywhere because it is “too tonally conflicted to engage our sympathies.” 

Die Antwoord are probably the most disconcerting aspect of the whole package. Had never heard of them before; now wishing they had stayed beyond my sensors… And Hugh Jackman sports a mullet… 

Really!

Science fiction should not have to be as painful as this…. surely? Can count avoiding Jupiter Ascending as one of my finest accomplishments during February, but there was no warning about this other misfire lying in wait…

Is Chappie as bad as it looks? Please feel free to Comment. 

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“You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else” – Ellen Ripley.  

From Alien to Avatar, Sigourney Weaver has shown how to create bold and no-nonsense roles for women in SF. Can’t help thinking that she would have presented an infinitely more suitable casting choice than Jodie Foster in Elysium…

Last week, while publicising Chappie – in which she plays the CEO of a weapons corporation – this charming and versatile actress – recalled how her next project came about: “…You know it’s a pity we didn’t really finish the story. I said: ‘I should probably talk to Jim Cameron about that.’ And he [Blomkamp] said: ‘Don’t talk to Jim about that, talk to me about that.’ So we kept talking about it.”  

From the first day on the set of Chappie, Blomkamp enthused about his admiration for the first two Alien movies to Weaver; and then he “started sending these incredible paintings of this world and some very detailed story ideas…” 

Yes, but as we have seen, unfortunately, time and time again, how so many projects began with the most impressive pre-production designs only for the finished film to flounder so disappointingly. Weaver should tread cautiously; we don’t dispute that Blomkamp is a swell guy – it’s just that his grasp of SF seems to have diminished somewhat of late… 

On the possibility of working on an Alien 5 with Neill Blomkamp, Weaver remarked: “It would be cool… because I’d love to work with him again.” Very diplomatically, she continued: “…If it’s happening, I’d be curious to know how I would not be in it, but I imagine the alien is in it, and they’ll probably make his deal first, and give him more money.” 

Alen 5: Do you think Sigourney's in safe hands?
Alen 5: Do you think Sigourney’s in safe hands?

Venus Ascending: Which SF Heroines Should Return?

Posted: 17 August 2014

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“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.

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“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.   

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“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…

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“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.

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“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?