The Knack Of Scant Prose: Studying The Formula Of First Prize Short Stories

Can Brad Really Win That Short Story Competition After All These Years?! 

“Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves” – Ray Bradbury.

“Writing science fiction,” wrote Ray Bradbury, “is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.”

Winning a short story competition – one of the goals that has always eluded me – cannot, therefore, be impossible.

Having entered various short story competitions, mainly the sci-fi and horror categories – my hopes and expectations were set at exceptionally stratospheric levels, until realizing that my name never even reached the extensive Runners-Up Lists… And so, my tender years – and even more brittle confidence – finally dissuaded me from tackling short story competitions.

However, recentlyBrad Burrito Fartlighter: a decidedly English galactic hero, has shot to blogosphere fame in his very own “Fartlighter Bradventures.” Come on! Where else could you find the awesome – and hopefully hilarious – escapades of a very English spacefaring rogue who digs Mexican grub and cake?! One forthcoming instalment has been set aside – for professional consultation – so studying the art (and history) of the short story has taken up my time this past week. 

The short story originated in the medium that furnished a market for it: magazines. Common belief holds that the first exponent of this format was Edgar Allan Poe. The majority of the short fiction he produced appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger from 1835 onwards. He is regarded as perfecting the art of striking the keynote – by grabbing attention immediately with a sharp opening paragraph, or even just a sharp opening sentence.

At the moment, it looks like my ideas are flowing more reliably than my typing. Once a really groovy story starts to rock, my dexterity begins to roll. All over the place… 

While frantically pummelling the keyboard – apart from getting the ‘e’ and ‘r,’ and ‘a’ and ‘s’ mixed up, my fingers now hit ‘v’ instead of ‘b,’ and bice bersa…

“A first line should open up your rib cage. It should reach in and twist your heart backward. It should suggest that the world will never be the same again” – Colum McCann.  

How – and wheredoes the effective short story begin?

“Start as close to the end as possible,” remarked Kurt Vonnegut, when he included a list of essential tips on How To Write A Short Story in the Introduction to his 1999 collection of magazine stories: Bagombo Snuff Box. He also remarked that: “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.”

Within a certain (limited) word count, how much characterisation can you realistically inject into a “short” story? Fortunately, Fartlighter is gifted with his own band of lovable rogues: “Brad Company” – doing their nabbing-from-the-greedy-to-give-to-the-needy bit across the galaxy; therefore the diversity on display means that a rich and variable range of potential plotlines lie in wait. 

Besides breaking up the text with images and quotes, a standard Bradventure can amount to 2,600 words. Naturally, the more fun you have with creative writing, you will/can (easily) produce greater quantity. The Christmas Special turned out to be such a blast that at over 5,000 words and still TWO pivotal scenes yet to be typed, a major editing job had to be applied. Thus, my inner Poe was invoked: with less words, comes greater impact.

Sharper – and more economical – than a novel, the short story has to be vividly defined. 

Allow no wandering, no superfluous material – heck, prepare to hack without mercy. 

“A short story is not only smaller… not only simpler and more compact, it is single with a more intense concentration. It should work out a single idea; make a single point; close with a single ‘punch’; convey a single effect” – Geoffrey Ashe.   

Unbelievably, what vexes editors and judges the most involves receiving far too many submissions that offer just a situation, NOT a story!

To set my goals straight, these are the Five Components Of A Story that take pride of place in my notes, and what any short story writer should adhere to!

  • A story reveals something about the human condition, or makes a statement about what it means to be human; 
  • A story tests personal character, over and over, to reveal deeper character;
  • A story has subplots that are dramatic and thematic reflections of the journey of the protagonist;
  • A story ends in a different emotional space than where it began;
  • A story is driven by a strong moral component motivating the protagonist through the middle of the story, resulting in dramatically interconnected scene writing;

Perhaps some modern movie-makers should also study this list? 

Although the story may not have anything to say about the human condition, at least the reader should be able to derive some fun, be engaged, (be shocked?) and – above all – be entertained. 

To create a successful story – the One that sets judges’ pulses racing and jaws droppinga writer MUST convey their OWN ideas and style, to the point of remaking language; let the inexecutable unfold!

At least with my Bradventures, my imagination dares to be adventurous! It’s about time those judges experienced what my writing has become! 

Is it not…? 

“The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor,” Vonnegut continued. “She broke practically every one of my rules… Great writers tend to do that.”

Hmm, in order to get ahead, Brad has to break the rules? 

Ha! So what else is new…?! 

“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water… 

“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of…” –  Kurt Vonnegut.

Wish me luck! 

 

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Rantin’ And Killraven: What’s HOT On The Bronze Age Comics IN Pile

Madre De Dios! More Mighty Marvel Mayhem!

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“A quest… You humans love quests and epics… romantic notions… absurdities which clutter your lives and distort your base realities!” – The High Overlord.  

NIX OLYMPIA VOLCANO, MARS – DECEMBER 2019

“He had touched the blade of grass… and it turned to red Martian dust beneath his hands. The sand shifts through his fingers now, and Killraven knows for a certainty that the desert he kneels upon is located on the planet Mars. 

“He is alone with that truth – and the truth is staggering!”

But what is truly staggering is that how a comic entitled: War Of The Worlds featuring Wellsian Martians (on giant tortoiseback, by gad!), alien vistas and high adventure on the Fourth Rock From The Sun with a Terran hero bestriding the russet landscape sportin’ thigh-high boots could turn (on?!) out to be so…

disappointing. 

Killraven: ha! Now there’s a name ta die for!

Isn’t it…?

With the right creative team, this should have developed into a hit – at least a cult classic, but no… 

As a fan of all things Martian, hopes that #36 (May 1976) would be a joy to behold were running high, until the reaction was so low. No prizes for guessing that this title was cancelled after only 30+ ishs…

Anyway! Welcome back to the weird wonderful world of Bradscribe – apologies for the delay since the last Post, but things have been hectic around here.

Once more unto the back issue boxes, dear friends!

Undoubtedly the highlight of Summer ’16 involved delving into the treasures of Bronze Age comics – that exceedingly special time from c. 1970 (curiously estimated with the debut ish of Conan The Barbarian of all things) up until the mid-’80s (and the death of Jean Grey?) when some exceptional titles were produced. At the most, taking advantage of the opportunity to catch up with some truly remarkable writers and artists; pleasantly acquire previously unknown titles; and dip nostalgically into editions that used to belong in my bedroom but for whatever outlandish reason got lost in the mists of time has transmogrified into an enjoyable and worthwhile venture. 

For me, the Bronze Age happened to be the best period for comic books. Killraven – for all its faults – demonstrates how experimental and innovative Marvel Comics could be during the 1970s.

Here then are some of the special ishs that have accumulated in my specially-reserved box this past few months:

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“The brute still lives! Such ineffable strength and longevity are almost beyond my experience and bear further study at The Project!” – The Hate-Monger.  

“The first rays of the crescent moon found the blood-red pendant grafted to John Jameson’s throat and he becomes a beast: Man-Wolf!”

Yes, yes, we covered that lupine moonbeast here: but that was too long ago, and quite frankly, he deserves more blogspace – for he is an extraordinary character simply never available on the Southern English newsstands of my youth. And it is a pleasure to finally catch up with his stunning series.

From ish #30, Man-Wolf became the sole principal star of Creatures On The Loose, until being cancelled (with ish #37 back in 1975). Ish #35: Wolfquest (May 1975) is – rip-roaring sci-fi action/adventure at its 70s best.

“David Kraft wrote it; George Perez drew it; you get to read it!” says the text on the groovy front page. There is also an ace cameo from Colonel Nick Fury (one of my all-time fave comic book characters) – “Sonuvagun if it ain’t!” – and Dum Dum Dugan! 

As penultimate pages go, this – the death of the Hate-Monger is as awesome and intense as Bronze Age comic art gets – proudly loaded up here (above).

Can’t help thinking what Perez would have done with Killraven…

And there was no way that Col. Fury’s dramatic entrance could not be included here:

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Nick Fury: “Dum Dum, ya big walrus, quit flounderin’ and folla me!”

Dum Dum Dugan: “Fergit it, Nick – I ain’t goin’ nowhere without my blamed Derby!” 

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Thanos: “Would you believe I’m doing all this out of the goodness of my heart?” 

Adam Warlock: “No, for I perceive that you have no heart!”

Like the BA gem listed above, (The Power Of) Warlock was also cancelled in its prime, but Adam, the golden-hued character himself made such an indelible impression on my infant mind.

More tragically, the original series lasted no more than just 15 ishs. Ironically, Warlock – “By Orion!” – has attained hallowed cult status and is extremely difficult to come by; when my sensors did detect odd editions, the going rate seemed ridiculously high. So finding that immortal classic: Warlock #10: How Strange My Destiny (December 1975) (for a thankfully ridiculously low price!) proved to be an exceptional find.

The first part of the acclaimed Magus Saga in which Adam makes an uneasy alliance with notorious bad seed: Thanos in his showdown with the Magus. It also features Gamora (of Guardians of the Galaxy fame!) and Pip The Troll (who – judging from the letters pages – became a sensation among Marvelites far and wide!)

Thanos – and (let’s be honest) even Pip The Troll – would have swept the floor with Killraven…

As Adam realizes with horror: “My mind is a cesspool of corruption that will someday spawn the Magus” – the Magus is Adam Warlock’s future self!

Blimey Charley, what a humdinger! 

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“25,000 armed Black Knights just to kill four unarmed intruders?! The Magus must be cracking up! Wish I had 50,000 instead of a mere 25,000…” – General Egeus. 

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Captain Marvel: “There’s Titan, Drax – it won’t be long now. But why so silent? What are you thinking about?”

Drax The Destroyer: “About how difficult it may be, once our alliance is ended… to kill you!”

Hankering for more galactic thrills, it seemed inevitable that Marvel’s spaceborn “most cosmic superhero of all” – the original Kree warrior: Mar-Vell – would get snapped up.

Eager to find out more, an excellent additional feature of Warlock #10 – an insert in which Captain Marvel explains the background (and threat!) of his arch-enemy: Thanos. Usefully, it noted #s 25-33 as the classic ishs in which the two legendary characters went head-to-head.

Initially, Marvel Spotlight #2 (featuring Captain Marvel) came into my hands fairly early on during this hunting season. However, Pat Broderick’s art style failed to alight the Bradmonitor. Not to be outdone, a chance was taken with Captain Marvel #59 (November 1978). Despite retaining Broderick’s pencils, The Trouble With Titan actually offered a more satisfying look, mainly because of the special guest star appearance by Drax The Destroyer. 

“By the Lost Horns of Hala!”

The outlandish contents involve Mar-Vell and Drax having to rescue Eros and Mentor from being “menaced by what manner of monsters, only the the Great Pama knows!” And trespassing in the domain of Lord Gaea – and having to fight their way through his hordes of Earth-Demons to escape! Written by Doug Moench – always a reliable choice (so why couldn’t he have worked on Killraven…?)

Have already picked up further ishs, but so far, #s 25-33 are proving to be elusive… 

In conclusion, me lovelies, it should be pointed out that – in a sale, just to be on the safe side! – another ish of  Killraven WAS acquired. And lo, Brad The Merciful steps in to grant the underachievers a second chance, but…

Ha! Guess what?

Despite having a fascinating splash page, #35 (March 1976) is bogged down with an even more confusing plot; moreover, he grumbles, the addition of an insipid Martian character and a deranged, scantily-clad woman spouting interminable gibberish does NOT guarantee rewarding reading! 

So, it’s official then: Killraven is PANTS….

Not gonna let this absurdity distort my base realities!

But heck! Let’s not end on a bum-note.

As Confucius used to say: “If you’ve got time for one more cake, you’ve bally well got time for one more comic!”

Hey! Looks like yours truly has got just the right thing: 

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“Alas, Iron Fist, you have my sympathy. No man should be spurned by a beautiful woman and fall in battle on the same day!” – El Aguila.

Last and – well, really! Is anyone nuts enough to say: “least” to Luke Cage’s face?! – we have Marvel’s very own dynamic duo: Power Man and Iron Fist. 

This is such a nifty break from my usual cosmic cravings, and besides, back in the day, one ish did pass through me grubby infant mitts, but Brad‘ll be damned if he can recall the exact one! Never fear, random back ishs have been selected, and are turning out to be an unexpected fab treat!

#65: “An Eagle In The Aerie” (Oct 1980) is great fun. En route to the Aerie (HQ of Heroes For Hire), Luke and Danny are followed by old adversary: El Aguila and – “Santa Maria!” – half the staff of all-female guards have revolted and all three costumed heroes have to defend the Aerie from all-out assault.

El Aguila leaps and bounds suavely through battle, firing bursts of his biologically-generated electricity through his sword while exclaiming: “Believe me, senoritas, doing this hurts my heart as much as it does your lovely bodies.”

Before Luke and Danny can get a word in, the Eagle escapes in a helicopter, but not before smooching the secretary.

Ah, they don’t make masked men of mystery like that any more…

If only Killraven oozed just half the charm of El Aguila…

Been searching for ish #58 (El Aguila’s initial appearance) but – not surprisingly – it is rare and expensive.

Finally, could not resist including this intriguing lil cameo from another Marvel stalwart:

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Iron Fist: “You’re up early, Luke. How did you sleep?” 

Power Man: “Kept dreamin’ ’bout floods an’ tidal waves.”

Iron Fist: “Sorry about the waterbed.”

Originally, this Post began back in September(!), revised in November, but it has taken the last few gruelling days just to finally launch this draft – well, anything really! – into the blogosphere.

Relieved, rather than pleased, to have accomplished some writing again.

Meanwhile, quite a considerable comics collection has amassed here over the past few months – therefore CANNOT WAIT to discuss, in a flurry of forthcoming Posts, the juiciest finds with you!

So, while the world falls apart, this:

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…is where you’ll find me: the “Leisure Hive” @ Brad Manor. 

Happy hunting, True Believers!

You would NOT BELIEVE what you can get for 60 Portions these days…   

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: A Bradscribe Review

State Your Elation For The Record:

This Rogue Is The One To Rave About!

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“The first thing that you have to do is get over the fact that you’re doing a scene with Darth Vader. That took me a little while, because I’m a first-generation fanboy” – Ben Mendelsohn.

One of the many disappointments with Star wars Episode III is that it denied our chance to see how the Rebel spies stole the Death Star plans.

For TOO LONG has yours truly revelled in the intrigue induced by the legendary scrawl:

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…and wondered how that premise would… (eventually?) make such a great movie…

And here it is! It only took three and a half decades for delivery.

Like the seemingly impossible mission for which this ragtag band a’ rebels volunteer, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story defies the odds to present such a welcome addition to the galaxy’s greatest saga.

Well! Where do we begin?!

A big fist-pump to this band of lovable rogues. They represent a superior Suicide Squad: more thrilling and thankfully less puerile. We do end up caring about their fate, which seemed to be the ultimate challenge here.

Quite frankly, Felicity Jones is a revelation as Jyn, galactic tearaway and daughter of Galen Erso, the reluctant creator of the Empire’s new superweapon. Admittedly, Jones looks an unlikely action star, but she pulls it off with aplomb. 

By far the best of the main bunch are Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yenstill can’t believe he fits so well in this galaxy!) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) – the fighters from Jedha. 

Love the relationship between Cassian and Kaytoo, although this charming lil plot device was crying out for further attention and development. Considering what an obvious win the reprogrammed Imperial droid turned out to be, he deserved greater opportunities to scene-steal. (If they couldn’t grant him more lines, at least give him that blaster!). 

Still reckon that Diego Luna makes a way cooler Star Wars name than Cassian Andor…

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“That’s right, I’m playing the male lead! I didn’t really think that would be such a big deal…” – Felicity Jones.

The main problem with SF these days is that sfx have reached such stupendous levels, other elements such as plot and character development sometimes tend to fail in comparison. But Rogue One overrides that problem – all elements fuse reasonably well to produce something that is undeniably enjoyable. 

Here, the effects are suitably grandiose and awe-inspiring, from the graceful flights of the supersleek spacecraft(s) to the simply stunning vistas of Jedha and Mauritiuis – (sorry!) Scarif.

What about the aliens? 

Sorely underused – a personal gripe. For my Rough Guidequite tactfully, details relating to Pao and Bishan were dropped. Naturally assuming that they might not receive too much screen-time, they didn’t even get a word in – not even an indecipherable one! Between them!

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“I’d have loved to have taken a Stormtrooper outfit but we weren’t meant to take anything. I got away with a couple of small things but I can’t tell you what” – Mads Mikkelsen. 

Of the Imperial personnel, Ben Mendelsohn is particularly impressive as Director Orson Krennic. 

It was wonderful to see that well-known (well-despised?) officer from A New Hope make a dramatic reappearance. Was expecting to burst into tears upon catching sight of this beloved actor, but, just when you think how sophisticated CGI has become – let’s face it – he doesn’t look natural! No real presence = no credible menace. Moreover, they did not get the voice right!

But what about Vader?!

Surely, this film could never have worked without everyone’s fave Sith Lord. The build-up to his long-waited “return” is tense; his first scene (shared with Krennic) presents him in typically moody and magnificent mode.

His second scene?

Deep breath: WHOA! He REALLY gets busy – showing a Dark Side darker than anyone had ever expected! This is REVENGE of the Sith right here! 

Aren’t we so grateful that James Earl Jones could lend his esteemed vocal talents to Star Wars once more!

Sadly, however, the rest of the Imperial Officers are just anonymous. 

Is it possible to have a Star wars movie without a John Williams score? Some fans may argue that Rogue One does not feel right, precisely because of that vital exclusion. The music here is rousing enough, especially the mystic twang played when the proceedings reach Jedha.

As these rogues are rougher, the action more gritty, the dogfights more spectacular, for me, Rogue One is bigger and better than The Force Awakens.

There have been a few five-star reviews appearing in the last two days. Obviously, those critics have enjoyed the exhilarating ride that uberfan Gareth Edwards (the force is strong with him!) has concocted here, but, to be fair, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story falls short of the brilliant standard of The Empire Strikes Back – a veritable 5* package if ever there was one. 

The power of what we are dealing with here may be immeasurable to some, but this first-generation fanboy is pleased (relieved!) to bestow upon it a solid:

4-out-of-5

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“For my 30th birthday, we visited the Skywalker home in Tunisia. I stood at the same spot where Luke watched the sunset. My girlfriend said: “For your 40th birthday, you won’t be able to top this!” For my 40th birthday, I was directing Rogue One…” – Gareth Edwards. 

Arrival: The Bradscribe Review

What Is The Purpose Of This Movie?

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“The premise is that aliens are landing in places that make no sense, and nothing is happening. The world is freaking out… I love that” – Denis Villeneuve.

“I was in love with the exaggeration of reality or exploration of the world from a different point of view, which is science fiction” explains Denis Villeneuve.

When the French-Canadian director admits that “it’s tough to find good science fiction material,” at least he has tried – and succeeded – to rectify this matter in the intriguing form of Arrival, the sort of thought-provoking SF that rarely gets the big-screen treatment.

Based on Ted Chiang’s novella: “Story of Your Life” – a “highly scientific, not inherently cinematic” work – twelve massive, shell-shaped spacecraft appear in the most unlikeliest locations around the world. And the race is on to find out What They Want.

On a university campus, comparative linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks, (played by Amy Adams)realises that constant low-flying jets and a collision in the car park signify that this is turning out to be no ordinary day.  

After learning about the Breaking News of the Century – strangely enough on an HD TV, not via smartphone – the Prof is soon whisked away by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to Montana where the USA’s very own extraterrestrial representative has chosen to hang around. 

There is no explanation as to why a section of the craft opens up every eighteen hours, or how this arrangement was initially achieved but, nevertheless, a palpable sense of wonder ensues. 

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“…At the end of the day, it’s a story about a woman and her child, and the choices she makes. That’s really interesting to play in a sci-fi movie about communication and global war” – Amy Adams.

Why are they here, indeed.

For the central role, Adams puts in an engaging performance, one of intimacy and empathy, managing to elevate this material from the depths of absurdity to which it could so easily have sunk.

And despite its disturbing nature, the gradual unravelling of international tensions actually makes for compelling viewing.

Perhaps the most enthralling scene is the intrepid hazmat squad’s literally breath-taking ascent into the spacecraft, and their conversion to a vertical gravity. One discrepancy and all the guests would hurtle back/down to terra firma!

The visitors referred to here as  “heptapods” appear and dissolve in mist behind a transparent screen. They reminded me of the tentacled martians as depicted in The War Of The Worlds; the whale-like sounds they emit are particularly haunting. 

“Abbott and Costello” – how charming! Why do we see just two of them? …And we didn’t get to find out why they each have seven legs, either.

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I didn’t think it would look as big and expansive as it is. We’re in a black box. With a white screen and a hazmat suit… It emotionally wrecked me” – Jeremy Renner.

What a relief that Arrival spares us the eerie and stereotypical dramatic scenes of the alien armada ominously approaching Earth. Quite unlike more standard alien invasion flicks –gadzooks! They’re here already! An unsettling touch if ever there was one. And it is nothallelujah! – an invasion anyway!

Such a welcome cavalcade of subtle ideas: scientific, cultural and – oh yes! – linguistic. Part of the fascination for this movie centred on wondering how Villeneuve et al would bring it to a satisfactory denouement. Had expected a twist, but on a non-linear level? Heavy, baby.

Ultimately, its stark themes convince us that this film is not about the aliens, but about us: the complicated bipeds. In attempts at First Contact, these proceedings instead invoke that inherent inability to effectively communicate among our own species. Not only does communication (and co-operation) break down, in this hi-tech age, it gets switched off! 

As one news reporter rightly remarked at one point, whatever benevolent need our visitors require, why do they come in twelve ships, when only one would have sufficed?

It is startling to realise that in that cramped and bustling army camp in Montana, Dr. Banks is the only major female presence. Really?!

It is almost miraculous how she and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) crack the intricacies of the alien non-linear orthography in unbelievably short time and in such stressful geopolitical circumstances.

Thankfully, this film is more engaging than Interstellar, and undoubtedly light years more worthwhile than Independence Day: Resurgence. 

Perhaps Arrival’s greatest asset is that, in a world increasingly tearing itself apart through social unrest and breakdowns in diplomacy, it could not have been released at a more apt time…

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BRADSCRIBE VERDICT: 

4-out-of-5

Lingua Extraterrestria: What Would First Contact Entail?

When We DO make Alien Contact, What Will We Have To Say? And How…? 

And By What Means Can We Begin To Comprehend What THEY Want?

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“What the hell are we supposed to use, man, harsh language?” – Private Frost. 

“Thousands have taken to the streets amid growing unrest at the perceived “alien invasion,” reads the Breaking News banner.

“Governments across the globe have declared a state of emergency urging residents to remain in their homes until meaningful contact can be made.”

What do they mean by “meaningful contact”?

The exciting, yet cautious, notion of first contact with (intelligent) extraterrestrial life has often popped up in movies, books and essays, but they all – frustratingly – fall short of supposing how such a landmark event could be achieved.

The most prominent SF extravaganza to tackle this premise (refraining from military antagonism) and emphasize attempts at establishing connections with alien visitors happened to be Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977), in which initial connection transpired through exchanges of musical motes. 

Groovy – fortunately, variable tones possess the same harmonics elsewhere in our galaxy!

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“I really misunderstood that linguistics was closer to being a translator… When you’re approaching language, you look at structure, anthropological, sociological… how it exists inside of that. It’s got very complicated” – Amy Adams.  

Just opened in cinemas this week is Arrival, a most-welcome package that dares to offer something more cerebral rather than just aiming to be visually spectacular. 

After twelve ovular smooth and shell-like spacecraft appear in skies at various locations around the world, answers – rather that action – is called for. The military (led by Forest Whitakerenlist the services of leading academic linguist Dr. Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) to try and work out why they are here, and what do they want. 

Curiously, every eighteen hours, a section of the craft suspended above the plains of Montana opens up, allowing Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to try and facilitate a basic exchange of communication.

The new Arrivals are revealed as seven-pronged starfish-like creatures dubbed “heptapods.” Intriguingly, these visitors do participate in contact, but only by emitting a highly sophisticated form of non-linear orthography – rings of swirling black “ink.”

How can Dr. Banks hope to suss out something like this?:

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“Some supporters of linguistic relativity think that the cognitive benefits of language helped spur its evolution. This is relevant to the movie, as the fate of humanity depends on us understanding their language” – newscientist.com

Among the earliest systems of writing, wedge-shaped cuneiform tablets were produced by the Sumerians in the Ancient Near East five thousand years ago. 

Having had the privilege of studying this bewildering civilization at university, one could not help but observe that they seemed so incongruous to World History – the notion of extraterrestrial origins should not sound so fantastical.

Incidentally, their religious texts quite categorically describe “the Ancient Gods who descended from the Heavens…”

Since the Phoenicians developed the first alphabet, scripts for Indo-European languages – of which English is just one member of that family – generally run horizontally from left to right, but with the observation that Arabic runs from right to left, should the heptapod circular “language” be read clockwise or anti-clockwise? 

Moreover, at what point on each billowing ring should Dr. Banks begin to decipher these messages? So many syntactic and semantic aspects to consider in such a fascinating and – considering what is at stake – frightening voyage of discovery!

As Dr. Banks wonders:

“They use non-linear orthography. Do they think like that too?” 

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“Are you dreaming in their language?” – Ian Donnelly.

Having already notched up five-star reviews and an encouraging string of superlatives from a wide range of film magazines and websites, Arrival looks set to be the phenomenal, thought-provoking classic that gives SF a good name.

Ultimately, this movie sets out to be more about human understanding, memory, love and fortitude than just delivering yet another tiresome alien invasion CGIfest far beyond the sensationalist reach of such dumb, inconsequential fare as Independence Day: Resurgence (which we were so kindly subjected to earlier in the year).

To find out how “distinctly original” and “truly exceptional” Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival really is, Brad will be checking it out this weekend. Therefore, a Review is sure to follow!

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Keep watching the skies… 

“Must Go Faster, Must Go Faster!”: Go, Go, Goldblum!

Without Jeff Goldblum, Fending Off Aliens And Dinosaurs Would Be So Darned Difficult…

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“You’ll have to get used to Dr. Malcolm…” – John Hammond. 

Possibly the most intriguing news about next year’s Thor: Ragnarok is that En Dwi Gast (the Grandmaster) will be played by Jeff Goldblum. While that actor/movie icon reprises his role in of David Levinson in Independence Day: Resurgence currently showing in cinemas (goodness knows why), we gotta do a Post on this guy, considering the colossal contribution he has made to SF cinema.

Watch any of his quirky characters – usually “either an intellectual of some sort or an eccentric or both” – and it’s easy to see why he holds a reserved place in the Bradscribe Hall of Fame. 

There is something about Jeff and aliens: he assisted top surgeon/rock star/sci-fi hero Buckaroo Banzai in thwarting an alien invasion; he fought a “more substantial” alien invasion with a computer virus in the original Independence Day; has utilised alien technology to bolster Earth’s defences when the aliens return in Independence Day: Resurgencebecame a victim of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers; and actually played one in Earth Girls Are Easy, cavorting around in blue-skinned body-paint long before Avatar came along. 

He is a fave in this sector of tke blogosphere primarily for injecting his oddball personality into would-be-banal characters. Apart from quite an impressive list of movies, he is a swell pianist, and can wriggle his ears ONE AT A TIME.

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“The rest of the world is trying to change people to fit the world. I’m trying to change the world to fit people” – Jack Bellicec. 

Jeff Goldblum’s first immersion into the realm of science fiction was in the 1978 remake of that paranoid infiltration chiller: Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Jack Bellicec and Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) make the shocking discovery that spaceborne pods are linked to the startling emergence of emotionless sots roaming around town.

He was ideal to appear in the oddball cult classic: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai In The Eighth Dimension (1984) in which he spent the entire running time in cowboy clobber (don’t ask). Along with his ever-reliable band of hombres: the Hong Kong Cavaliers, Buckaroo Banzai gets caught up in the galactic altercation between the malevolent red aliens and good black aliens from Planet 10. 

Once this endearing slice of schlock and awe comes to an unwanted end, so the greatest end titles sequence in movie history unfolds. The best bit is captured in this gif (below), but you can catch the whole scene right here:

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“I’ve come here to say one magic word to you: cheeseburger!” – Seth Brundle. 

Like many fans, my first encounter with the legend that is Jeff Goldblum came in The Fly (1986). Probably the second-greatest remake ever made, it charts the regression of crazy-eyed scientist Seth Brundle as he gradually – and gruesomely – transforms into the half-man-half-insect abomination of Brundlefly. 

He did not wriggle his ears, but one of them did fall off during his regeneration.

In the almost-forgotten Earth Girls Are Easy (1988) his co-star from The Fly: Geena Davis appeared with him again, as a California gal who discovers three furry aliens in her swimming pool. 

Crazy…

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Run, Malcolm, run!
Run, Malcolm, run!

“Yeah, but, John, if the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists” – Dr. Malcolm. 

Now we come to perhaps Goldblum’s most iconic role: the all-black-clad expert on chaos: Dr. Ian Malcolm from the gargantuan blockbuster that was Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993). Here, the actor consolidated his reputation for playing eccentric intellectuals. Also, he is one of the very few movie stars to have been chased by a T Rex. (Does he have that on his CV?!)

One of the most thrilling scenes is when the tour jeep is pursued by the rampaging carnivore. Dr. Malcolm amusingly yells: “Must Go Faster, Must Go Faster!”

He went on to be the central lead in the somewhat inferior sequel: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), but it is the ’93 movie for which he will be most fondly associated. Arguably, Malcolm had all the best lines and this scene especially is one of the classic moments in SF cinema, and just had to be included here:

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“Hey, take a look at the Earthlings. Goodbye!” – David Levinson.  

Watching Independence Day back in 1996 was an infuriating experience. In the mood for a big alien invasion flick, this seemed to be the one to catch. The trailer looked really good, but the whole movie itself turned out to be SO DUMB, it’s almost an insult to the whole genre.

Anyway, Goldblum’s input was enough to prevent me from storming out of the auditorium. The climactic escape from the alien mothership was interesting though; one of the most enduring stories in Hollywood is that Spielberg himself was reportedly mightily dischuffed when Goldblum repeated that exact same exclamation:  “Must Go Faster, Must Go Faster!”

One distinction of Goldblum’s characters is how SICK they are, not so much awesome – yes, they are that – but they are all prone to illness: in The Right Stuff (1984) he played a quirky NASA boffin who suffers from seasickness; in The Fly (1986) he played a quirky scientist who suffers from motion sickness (hence the invention of the teleporter); and in Independence Day he played a quirky, eco-sensitive maths genius who suffers from airsickness.

In Jurassic Park, his quirky chaos theorist gets his leg broken, but is probably sick of that wretched T Rex chasing him…

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“They made soup out of my research turtles…” – Alistair Hennessey.

Lately, on a non-SF level, his contribution to the Wes Anderson filmography is particularly commendable, appearing in the nautically funny Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) as gay oceanographer Alistair Hennessey.

As homage to Buckaroo Banzai’s end credits, Anderson recreated the sequence at the end of Life Aquatic; as Goldblum starred in the movie, so he got to be part of it – amazingly, he was involved in BOTH! 

In 2014’s (Eastern) Europeanly funny Grand Budapest Hotel, he appeared as the almost-unrecognisable-but-familiar-sounding Deputy Kovacs (raising extra mirth by doing nothing to hide his American accent for a decidedly non-American role).

Whatever eccentric performance he delivers, we simply can’t get enough of Jeff – he’s ‘blumin’ marvellous. 

And there was no way we were going to let THIS Golden Goldblum Moment slip by:

“I’ve been lucky. And thank goodness the [sci-fi films] I’ve done have been good movies. I feel like some kind of lucky star has, for now, shone on me” – Jeff Goldblum.

Now that we’ve made it to the end of this Post, what better way to sign off than with a message from Dr Malcolm himself: 

“That is one big pile of shit…” – Dr. Malcolm. 

The Gung-Ho Iguana And Other “Strange Friends”

Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada. 

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“Terrific. I’m about to get killed a million miles from nowhere with a gung-ho iguana who tells me to relax” – Alex Rogan.

Aeons ago, when my very first science fiction stories were written, aliens played vitally important roles – some were integral supporting characters; a select few even played the lead. For me, what extraterrestrials said or did usually held vastly greater significance than anything humans got up to.

In that far-flung past, before the www. and even DVDs (and Blu-ray – whatever that is), thrill-seeking goonies like me had to get their SF fix from renting VHS tapes. Some of my all-time favourite movies were originally viewed via this invaluable medium; all the walking, talking, hilarious, fearsome and painful aliens one could wish for whirred and clicked their weird and wonderful way through my weary, long-suffering VCR. These otherworldly characters had more immediate impact than anything uttered by any tedious Terran. 

So, these are the strange “companions” who not only thrilled and entertained me, but compelled me to create my own marvelous menagerie of cosmic characters.

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“Science fiction aliens are both metaphors and real possibilities… Aliens may represent hopeful, compensatory images of the strange friends we have been unable to find” – Gary Westfahl.

One of the most important videos ever rented had to be The Last Starfighter (1984), the magical tale of young Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) recruited to fight in a galactic war because he showed all the right skills necessary… by playing a video game in “some flea-speck trailer park in the middle of tumbleweeds and tarantulas.” 

It was supposed to herald a new age in special effects, but its computerized graphics look hopelessly outdated by today’s relentlessly sophisticated standards. Nonetheless, it holds more timeless charm and traditional storytelling methods than most of the CGI-drenched pap we have to contend with nowadays.

This was due, to a certain extent, to the amazing, dependable Grig (Dan O’Herlihy) Alex’s charismatic pilot who helped explain and drive the plot as well as providing a few comic moments. Unlike most reptilians, here was a swell dude who didn’t deserve to get suspended in any xenon mist – one of the best (benevolent) aliens in SF movies:

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“…Virginia fights for us! He will fight the Torquas in the south. The Warhoons in the north! And he will be called Dotar Sojat! “My right arms”!” – Tars Tarkas.  

In my earliest days of printed sci-fi (over)consumption, there was no way to resist the bizarre imagery and sheer escapism conjured by Edgar Rice Burroughs, when he chronicled the adventures of John Carter: a Civil War veteran from Virginia, mysteriously transported to the planet of Barsoom (Mars).

In the very first novel: A Princess of Mars (first published in 1917), he would meet what became – quite literally – my favourite Martian: Tars Tarkas, Jeddak (chief) of the Tharks – those doughty, green-skinned, 7-foot tall, 6-limbed warriors of the red planet.

Incidentally, as far as subsequent research has shown, it would appear that Tars Tarkas – imbued with an ironic sense of humour and painful memories of a past romance – could well be the very first individual, talking, thinking extraterrestrial being in (science) fiction!

For ages, a major movie production of John Carter of Mars had been mooted for some time, but it took ages until a sufficient level of sfx to successfully render the Tharks could be attained. Typically, the movie went to all that trouble of getting the movements and mannerisms of the Tharks just right, but failed to animate the human characters…

Who did this fanboy envisage providing the voice for Tars Tarkas?

Why, Willem Defoe, of course! And guess what? The makers shared the same vision – great! 

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“He says the sun came out last night. He says it sang to him” – Project Leader.  

The most obvious candidate for best friend from beyond the stars has to be everybody’s favourite mentor: Yoda, but so many blogs have been written about him already.

Instead, on a personal note, honorary mention must go to the spindly-limbed Alien Ambassador from Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Although he appeared for the briefest of moments – with his endearing smile and accompanied by John Williams’ cute incidental music – that pint-sized traveller captivated many hearts (of my generation at least). It’s a shame he never spoke – we were all left to speculate what he would/could have said. Even The Special Edition – released three years laterfailed to add any precious further insights.

When Spielberg’s E.T. came out in 1982 – (then) becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time – this lil piggy stayed at home – i.e. didn’t want to sit through such an overlong treacly spectacle which featured a “much more ugly muppet.” It was decided then: return my attention to the more malevolent, antagonistic bug-eyed beasties so rampant and commonplace in mainstream sci-fi!

Yet all the time, my mind kept drifting back to that Ambassadorwhat a cool friend he would have made; at that time, we would have shared the same height… as well as plenty of outlandish stories and all sorts of other cool stuff; explored distant worlds together; and exchanged candy no doubt!

Brad would have gone where no infant-sci-fi-eater had gone before. But alas…

He would never learn that alien’s name. 

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“Take up a cause, fall in love, write a book!” – John Carter.

Cheers!