The War Of The Words: Why Does No One Talk Much In SF Films Any More?

Direlogue!

The Quality and Quantity Of Good Movie Dialogue Is Declining! We Need To Talk About It… 

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“…Do I talk first or you talk first? I talk first…?” – Poe Dameron.  

Wouldn’t it be cool to watch SF movies where you can just listen and enjoy good lines instead of being bombarded by noisy, meaningless CGI buffoonery?

As a writer who has dabbled in the art of good chatter – even trying (struggling!) to compile suitable quotes for my Star Trek review last week – it cannot have escaped your attention that there is decidedly less dialogue to get excited over these days.

Any writer of quality fiction/scripts/plays will tell you: there is nothing like good dialogue to drive any scene.

However, it should be pointed out that in  Mad Max: Fury Road – undoubtedly the Best Film of 2015 – the titular Road Warrior himself managed to grunt only 52 lines of dialogue; back in March, this year, Superman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice seemed to phone in his scenes with a measly 43 lines.

Where can we listen to cool and catchy prattle beyond the stars these days? 

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“George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it” – Harrison Ford.  

On our Third Stone From the Sun, today, about 7000 languages are spoken (Goodness knows how many other thousands of languages have died out in the last few centuries!).

Imagine that!

7000 ways to say: “Hello!” and 7000 ways to ask: “Got any cake?”

And yet…!

An intriguing paradox is lodged at the core of human communication: if language evolved to allow us to exchange information, how come most people cannot understand what most other people are saying?

No matter how globalized the 21st century would appear, there are numerous far-out, obscure – dare one say it: alien – places in this world where a dash of basic local lingo is essential in order to just get by.  

In the realms of science fiction, a dazzling coterie of pseudo-technical jargon has gradually arisen to aid in the hopefully-convincing creation of alien worlds and “futuristic” technologies.

This leads us to the now-legendary quote (above). George Lucas had immersed himself into this far far away sci-fi set-up to such an extent, that an outsider like Harrison Ford was easily stumped by having to spout it.

There is a very telling reason why less dialogue in modern movies is becoming the norm. 

The Chinese sector has taken over the American market as the largest box office territory in the world. Not only does less dialogue mean less subtitles/dubbing for them, but – alarm bells among screenwriters everywhere – Chinese cinema-goers are attracted primarily to the spectacle. 

Apparently, the (Western) world is not enough. 

We have reached the stage (regrettably) where the movie industry is geared towards doing good business, rather than making fine art.

For movies to make a profit (as substantial as poss, of course) they need to do well in Asian cinemas, not just in American. This should go towards explaining why major blockbusters are released in places like Thailand and Singapore (my former stomping grounds) well before the “official” dates in the US and UK…

Dialogue seems to have lost its power to influence – how and where can memorable lines fit into a world where people spend more time sending texts of abbreviated jargon, and emojis and Instagram encourage more image-based communication?

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“Can you speak? Are you programmed to speak?” – Harry Booth.  

How aliens communicate is a source of constant fascination in SF films. Star Trek is synonymous with species which are nearly all carbon-based bipeds. As a result, they invariably speak as humans – for the sake of not bamboozling TV audiences with distracting subtitles! – in perfectly-rendered English (preferably with American accents).

For the movies, the Klingons had their own language – specially created (Trekkies can even get their own Klingon phrasebook for pity’s sake!)

Of increasing concern is the prevalent problem of character under-development. How many times have we complained about that? Dialogue provides an important key to our understanding of a particular protagonist or, for that matter, antagonist. 

With the notable reduction of spoken lines in blockbusters, we are almost forbidden to learn their intentions or directions. Presumably, our attention must(!) be focussed on the digitally-enhanced action and explosions; if we want to learn what they’re thinking, we’ve gotta go and buy the novel/comic book that this spectacle is based on.

Let the cynicism flow through you… 

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“No, no, no, no. You gotta listen to the way people talk. You don’t say “affirmative,” or some shit like that. You say ‘no problemo.’ And if someone comes on to you with an attitude you say ‘eat me.’ And if you want to shine them on it’s ‘hasta la vista, baby’” – John Connor. 

Luke who’s talking…

In Star Wars: the Force Awakens, some fans were disappointed that the pivotal character remained mute in such a climactic, yet brief, screen time. Having been in that incredibly annoying situation myself where the right, poignant words for a crucial character just won’t come together, this is grudgingly possible to understand. 

Honestly, no matter how many alternate approaches or drafts are churned out, saying nothing at all can be the best, (safest) and most effective outcome.

Harrison Ford’s enervated Sam Spadesque narration for the original version of Blade Runner is partly what drew me into that “flawed classic.” After those “explanatory notes” were totally eradicated from the “Final Cut” the film is now regarded as a masterpiece.

My plans of breaking into screenwriting seem to be dwindling to the same extent as the very requirement for fine lines itself!

Judging from the upsurge in quality TV drama serials, good dialogue is allowed to flourish on the small screen, where the action and spectacle of the big screen is diminished, and more hours to fill provides opportunities for developing characters.

There, good scripts still matter.

The power of the spoken word, when crafted well, determines whether the captivated viewer comes back for the next episode(s).

So, rather than look for Brad on the big screen, you’ll be more likely to find my niftiest nuggets on Netflix.  

“To make anything work, you gotta find the right words.”

Now ya talkin’!

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“Come on guys, can we talk this over? …Good talk” – Iron Man. 

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Fear The Walking Brad!: Another Monday Morning…

When There’s No More Inspiration Left In The Tank, The Brad Will Walk The Line. 

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“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.  

My name is Brad. 

My world is strife and rejection. 

Once I was an office-worker, a struggling go-getter searching for a righteous income. 

As the economy fell, each of us in our own way was made redundant.

It was hard to know who had the more cake: me…

Or everyone else…

Walk the Line: to maintain a fragile balance between one extreme and another. i.e.: good and evil, sanity and insanity, decency and decadence, etc.

Grief.

In this instance, it is the fine line between constant awesome copy and a heaving pile of uninspired bunk… and yours truly has stepped right into the latter. 

After juggling with numerous possible topics for this weekend’s latest Post – it soon became apparent that… none of these drafts made any sense(!), had relevance… or at least exhibited the brand of Brad-brilliance you have come to know and love!

Besides, with yet another boring and bothersome Monday around the corner for us, everyone – particularly the 9-to-5ers (and this freelancer included) – finds the thought of Monday mornings both tedious and abhorrent. As this infamous day dawns, that’s it: Brad’s heading off to the mall, uttering some lameass excuse that the nachoes have run out (…as if!)

Some kind of instinct, they reckon. Memory of what he used to do. This was an important place in his life… 

Admittedly, on this particular Monday, there is ZERO inspiration left in my tank. Nada. Zilch. Rien. Nichts. But that’s much ado about nothing; it’s best to go for a stroll. Going out now with (hopefully) joyful springs in me stride:

“You can tell by the way I use my walk I’m a woman’s man. 

No time to talk…” 

WRITE TO SURVIVE!: Blow procrastination and writer's block to Hell!
WRITE TO SURVIVE!: Blow procrastination and writer’s block to Hell!

“Rejection slips, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul – if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them” – Isaac Asimov.  

Never give up!

That’s what my mind keeps yelling at me most mornings, as the will to rise and search for new markets to infiltrate becomes steadily less appealing. Oh yeah, as if doing that blog on spare auto parts for a measly fistful of satang is worth the bother! Sure, that rent has got to be paid, but… Come! ON!  

For me, the most annoying aspect of getting rejected – both fiction and non-fiction projects – is realising that they got my name wrong. This invariably causes mild spasms of madness, especially after having been so careful to get the current Editor’s name correct. 

No matter how soul-destroying rejections are when they do pop into your inbox, you can take comfort in the fact that they happen to the best of us. 

Did you see that JK Rowling put rejection slips she’d received from publishers on her Twitter feed last week?

To “encourage aspiring authors not to give up after receiving rejections,” these rejections were for: The Cuckoo’s Calling, recently written under the pseudonym: Robert Galbraith; the publishers were unaware that it was Rowling’s work! One of the letters went so far as to advise her to take up a writing course…  

Amazing how blunt some rejections can be. Renowned British SF author: JG Ballard was told by one publisher: “The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.” 

Another fellow Brit was informed by the San Francisco Examiner: “You just don’t know how to use the English language.”

His name? Rudyard Kipling…(!)

Even rejections get rejected! The most amusing response came from Winston Churchill: 

“Dear Sir, 

I am in the smallest room in the house. I have your letter before me.

Soon it will be behind me…” 

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“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing” – Benjamin Franklin.  

We budding SF authors could do with some respect. 

And watch your step.

We can destroy whole planets before breakfast, and have fomented rebellion in the Outer Rim territories before you’ve ordered your mid-morning coffee. 

At least the resurgence in my fiction-writing has alleviated the listlessness caused by the current lack of editorial responses from potential markets. Again, my meticulously-crafted fiction goes unnoticed while some bloggers upload a trailer that anyone could put up and scores 30 Likes: jeez… 

But what about that fiendish archnemesis: Writer’s Block?

Fortunately for me, ideas and promising passages perpetually sway around my seemingly energetic noddle – formulated, ironically, during my daily strolls (although, these days, one wishes most of those ideas weren’t so crap).

Making time and energy to write is imperative. Finding the right location from which to energise that mad swirl of ideas also helps. Regularly changing your base of operations is advisable – keeps the standard of writing fresh. Luckily, we have a spare bedroom already converted into my office. From this spacious base, the counterattack against the advancing army of bills is planned and launched most days. 

“Fool!” said my muse to me.

“Look in thy heart, and write.”

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“Lonely inside our separate skins, we cannot know each other’s pain, and must bear our own in solitude. For my part, I have found that walking soothes it” – Alan Moore. 

Get out! 

Every now and then, more like. That’s the general consensus of advice columns in writing magazines/newsletters when it comes to the mental as well as physical health of your average scribe. Quite frankly, right now, this scribe feels decidedly below average. Smarting after the lacklustre response to a few recent Posts, a Review is in order.

It doesn’t do too good to be stuck constantly at your desk.

Get up!

Move around. Well, here in the office only -can’t go out. It’s the height of the hot season, and the searing heat right now is lulling me into a stupefying daze.

It’s hard to believe, but- hey, hey, HEY! What’s this?! FINALLY! A new e-mail in my Inbox!

Get in!

Open it up…!

“Dear Mr. Radley, We regret to inform you that…” 

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 “For God’s sake, how do you stop it?!” – Ash. 

COMING SOON: The Light At The End Of The Fridge (and not a moment too soon).

“Everything Is Blue”: A Celebration Of One Of The UK’s Finest Writers

Sophisticated Suspense.

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“Why shouldn’t you have a bit of fun while dealing with the deepest issues of the mind?” – Alan Moore.  

“My killers dislocated my electroskeleton…

Bent the clear note of my being out of pitch…

Out of harmony with the earth…

Barred from my planet’s emerald heart…

And unwilling to burn…

The turquoise ferns and duck-egg pebbles…

The aquarium light filtering through clouds of bleached cobalt…

“Everything is blue.”

Seeing as it’s his birthday today, this Post has been set aside to honour Alan Moore, acclaimed creator of such classic comic literature as Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,  From Hell and V For Vendetta; we shall focus instead on Swamp Thing, because that is where my startled discovery of his great talent was made.

Originally created as a simple eight-page modern gothic tear-jerker by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson for House of Secrets #92, in 1972, scientist Alex Olsen was “killed” in a chemical explosion, his flaming body hurling into the bayou, only to be soon resurrected as a mossy and morose muck-monster. 

Each edition of Moore’s Swamp Thing offered individual brilliance, but for me, none more so than Issue 56 (dated Jan 87).

Can remember reading this one for the first time; entitled: “My Blue Heaven” it was more a case of bewilderment, than being gobsmacked. Rather than displaying the traditional lurid coloured inks of say, Superman or Wonder Woman, this particular issue told a unique story utilising an ingenious monochromatic technique, adding instant mood and atmosphereevery panel was blue. 

Didn’t know what to make of it initially, but one thing was clear: here in my hands lay an example of a drastically different form of graphic art, and all my comic-reading years had never prepared my senses to savour a script quite like this. 

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Happy Birthday To The Wonderful Wizard of Northampton!

Moore, Veitch, Alcala - Swamp Thing, My Blue Heaven

“Forever.

I will spend forever here…

An immortal wandering endlessly towards eternity…

Across a monochrome landscape…

One color, ome word.

So many shades…

The color of saxophones at dusk…

Of orbiting police lights smeared across tenement windows…

Of loneliness…

Of melancholy.

The blues.”

When planning a movie adaptation of Watchmen, Terry Gilliam (who Moore revealed would have been an excellent choice to direct a Watchmen movie) asked: “How would you make a film of Watchmen?” 

“Well, frankly,” Moore replied, “If anyone had bothered to consult me, I would have said ‘I wouldn’t’.”

Moore had written Watchmen expressly to explore the possibilities of the comic book medium, utilising narrative devices that deliberately set out to be unfilmable. So with this title, Moore could really experiment with ways in which a superior sophisticated graphic novel could be presented.

What Moore could you want? Who better than the beloved bewhiskered Brit to take this tragic figure but present him optimistically as a creator of his own realm?

Instead of wallowing in loneliness, the Thing creates his own doppelganger: “manipulating… two sets of muscles… I stand and walk toward myself… We touch… marveling to find not the cold hardness of mirror glass… but another palm, cool and dry.” 

Thus unfolded a dream-like narrativestrange: most certainly; compelling reading: oh yes…

And for company, he (re)creates Abby, his long-lost love:

“…As the flowers blossom… in a pale mane from her scalp… I am breathless. 

“Oh, she is beautiful… and I am lost.”

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“We kiss… then kiss again…

Embracing, we sink to our knees,

Through the dreamlike phosphorescence…

Of air too rich in rare gasses, 

We tumble… a kinetic progression…

Of stop-motion glimpses…

Sensual and inevitable in their sequence…

A blue movie.” 

Swamp Thing helped pave the way for DC Comics to handle more mature topics in an increasing number of titles specifically aimed at a much older readership. Amidst other bold and brilliant titles branded as: “Suggested For Mature Readers,” Swamp Thing did his own distinct and bizarre thing on a monthly basis.

For four years, Moore took this unlikely titular vegetable hero and revealed it to be just a tragic “shambling mound of foliage” that has merely acquired the consciousness of the dead scientist (now referred to as Alec Holland). This inspired the kind of extended, positively surreal, character study that Moore relishes.

Ultimately, the Swamp Thing must banish all thought of ever having been human in the first place, let alone trying to devise the bio-restorative formula to regain that glimmer of humanity. Thus, the creature must – over several episodes – contemplate not only the worthlessness of its existence, but decide what it should do with itself from then on.

Where else could you find a comic book where the central character foregoes living and merges with the mass-psyche of the earth itself, becoming a vegetable in all senses of the word?

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“Like blue bile…

The scream floods from my throat…

And I turn and run…

Past cars that are gradually losing their shapes to the rain…

“I try… to hold the world together in my mind… 

“But it slithers from a grasp… made slippery by sap…

In despair… I let it die…

I let the buildings unravel…

And the children fall dead in the streets…

I stop the hearts… of the perspiring old men…

I kill the world.

Blue murder.” 

John Constantine, the British occult mage/annoying smartass – whose character would about to be considerably expanded in his own highly successful, critically-acclaimed ongoing series called Hellblazer – made his debut in The Saga of The Swamp Thing #37. 

Here, he makes another distinctive cameo appearance – as this is Swamp Thing’s own dreamworld, so John is nothing more than an illusion, but still offering an annoying supporting role! Odd, yet compelling material. 

Finally, as this Post comes to it’s end, so we reach the final lines of Moore’s classic script:

“I leave… the world that I have made… behind me…

It shall remain here…

As a decayed monument… to the pain… of sundered romance… 

A bitter love letter… left tear-stained and crumpled…

In the obscure corner… of the universe…  

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“A blue valentine.” 

H. P. Lovecraft And The Cthulhu Influences On Modern SF And Horror

Where Space Ends, Hell Begins… 

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“Lovecraft creates dark and sometimes horrific scenarios which, in their tense and gothic style, can seem like the visions of a madman. The formless entity dominates his work, an impalpable threat which lies beneath everything he wrote…” –  The SF Source Book. 

With Halloween just about a fortnight away, the focus shifts inevitably from SF to horror. One fine way to execute a clean transition between the two is to select one of the main masters of the macabre: Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) who – through his twisted scribblings – managed to encompass both genres. Surely, you may think, his distorted visions were too dark and twisted to nestle satisfactorily within the boundaries of SF?

Nevertheless, there are good reasons for Lovecraft’s work to be included unquestionably into the realm of science fiction. Primarily, a considerable proportion of those “unspeakable entities” that languished amidst “his cluttered prose” were not so much demons but aliens. Moreover, he was one of the first authors to write and describe alien beings. Outside of the Cthulhu Mythos, he certainly wrote more genuine science fiction. 

The most striking examples include: In the Walls Of Eryx, set on Venus, reimagined as a jungle planet; and tales of unorthodox scientific experiments: From Beyond (made into a movie in 1986) and Cool Air (which deserves big screen treatment). A significant proportion of his short stories were published in Weird Tales, a predominantly SF magazine of the 1920s and 30s; The Shadow Out Of Time was first published in the June 1936 issue of Astounding Stories, then the most prestigious science fiction magazine available. 

Despite undesirable accusations of muddled prose and complicated storytelling, Lovecraft remains one of my favourite 20th century authors. Ironically, his complicated style is distinctive and had such a profound effect on me, helping to conjure some of my own fictional nightmares.

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“[Universal] were blown away by the visual presentation, they openly admitted to loving the screenplay, saying it was dead on… I do not want ‘Mountains’  to be bloody, I do not want it to be crass, but I do want it to be as intense as possible” – Guillermo del Toro. 

Guillermo del Toro is one of the most talented film-makers working today. It is no secret that, just a few years ago, the Spanish director should have made his own grandiose cinematic version of Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness.

In this novella (first published in 1931 and serialized in Astounding Stories in 1936), the geologist William Dyer – a professor from Miskatonic University – “writes to disclose hitherto unknown and closely kept secrets in the hope that he can deter a planned and much publicized scientific expedition to Antarctica.” Allegedly, his previous expedition unearthed “fantastic and horrific ruins (including strange fossils of unheard-of creatures and carved stones tens of millions of years old)” and “a dangerous secret of the City of the Old Ones that lay beyond a range of mountains taller than the Himalayas.” 

Problem is, this encouraging project has been festering in development-hell for far too long. No matter how awesome his pre-production designs were – they invariably are – the prospect of a Producer tag for James Cameron and top-billing for Tom Cruise (?!) were too off-putting. Apparently he was just one week away from commencing production of At The Mountains in 2011 when Universal pulled the plug “due to budget issues.”  

However, del Toro would not be perturbed for long; he resurrected his dormant plans for his Lovecraft project in 2013.

“I’m going to try it one more time,” he said in one recent interview. “Once more into the dark abyss. We’re going to do a big presentation of the project again… and see if any [studio’s] interested.”

(Unfortunately)… “Tom [Cruise] is still attachedHe’s been such a great ally of the project.” 

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“In the coldest regions of space, the monstrous entities Ogdru Jahad – the Seven Gods of Chaos – slumber in their crystal prison, waiting to reclaim Earth… and burn the heavens” – De Vermis Mysteriis, Page 87. 

A quick glance at modern strands of science fiction and horror – be it literature, movies or comics – it doesn’t take long to find the influence of the Cthulhu Mythos. 

The most notable is the Hellboy comic, created by Mike Mignola in 1993. Developed into one of the stranger – and better – of the recent crop of comic book movies, directed by (what a surprise) Guillermo del Toro in 2004, the titular hell-spawned hero (played by the ever-reliable Ron Perlman) has to battle with not only Rasputin the “Mad Monk,” but the Ogdru Jahad, the most blatant nod to Lovecraft you’ll get in a mainstream comic book movie.

Lovecraft’s work may not seem best suited to the medium of comics, but in the ever-capable talented hands of the artistic genius: Berni(e) Wrightson, it works wonders. A number of Lovecraft’s stories were adapted brilliantly by Wrightson and published in Creepy Magazine during the ’70s.

In 1971, he did a splendid job on the aforementioned Cool Air, which came into my collection a decade later when Eclipse Comics compiled Wrightson’s best horror strips (in added colour!) in Berni Wrightson: Master Of The Macabre.

This – the third page – is a fine example of Wrightson’s style:  

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The seventh and final page is a creepy classic single splash and will be saved for a forthcoming Post!

Have just discovered this (below) online; how long will it take to track this particular issue down? 

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A portrait of H. P. Lovecraft by Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy.
A portrait of H. P. Lovecraft by Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy.

And, come on, if we’re going to end this Post with Hellboy gifs, might as well have the one with that dastardly mute puppet, the “freak in the gas mask”: Karl Ruprecht Kroenen (“Hitler’s top assassin and Head of the Nazi Cthulhu Society”) performing his ubercool blade-twirling trick inside Manhattan’s Metropolitan Art Museum.  

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“What horrible will could keep such a creature as this alive?” – Professor Trevor Broom. 

“You’re Quite A Prize!”: How To Create Memorable SF Characters

A Character Is As A Character Does. 

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“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be” – Kurt Vonnegut.  

Working on some crucial drafts of my own science fiction these past few months, pages of cool and witty dialogue came naturally to me, but certain character traits need to be developed further.

Revising various aspects of “Characterization” has unearthed some useful points which will be shared here. Besides, we have already complained about the lack of good character development in several recent movies during this past year, so it appears that some screenwriters would benefit from these tips too.

Before moving on, it would help if we had a working idea of how to define “character.” To be more than just a person in a movie or a book, a character must have “mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” It signifies: “strength and originality in a person’s nature,” while to be “full of character” denotes the “quality of being individual in an interesting or unusual way.”

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Science fiction writers put characters into a world with arbitrary rules and work out what happens” – Rudy Rucker.  

Take a look at the pic above. That’s fearless pilot: Ham Salad and his trusty sidekick: the Wookie Monster. The boys at the back look pretty familiar as well. Instantly, you recognised who they were parodies of. The characters of the galaxy’s greatest saga are so ingrained on popular culture because they were so well-defined.   

Not only must you know where a character is going, it is imperative that we learn where they are coming from. A history or – if time and space is limited – a simple back-story becomes essential. It helps to flesh out what should become special characters.

Take a look, for instance, at Darth Maul: one of the factors that made Star Wars Episode I slightly less painful than Episode II. Groovy painted face and cool moves, sure, but sorely lacking any detectable character. How and why did he turn to the Dark Side? We are not given any knowledge, so – not surprisingly – when he is sabred in half, we just don’t care.

Incidentally, his opponent in the lightsabre duel midway through this flashy yet flat misfire was a Jedi played by Liam Neeson named… umm… (Can’t be bothered to Google it that’s how useless Neeson’s “contribution” was). Here was somebody with even less “character” than Darth Maul, and he had much more onscreen time! Unbelievable!

At least Groovy-Painted-Face was a figure of action. This is a useful reminder that characters have a better – more immediate – chance of fascinating us by what they do. And not just the process of the action itself, but the anticipation of how a certain character will act, or – more crucially – react.

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“What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” – Henry James. 

In other words, plot and character are one and the same, but don’t value plot over character. It is said that a good science fiction story centres on a single idea, yet that idea cannot drive the plot alone. Characters are required to deal with that idea – they make it relevant; they make the material matter.  

A physical description of a character is NOT characterization.

Plenty of writers list physical attributes as if it is imperative that the reader should have an accurate image of them in their mind’s eye. Rather than simply apply labels, provide more details. In science fiction, is it relevant that she has green skin and he’s got tentacles? Probably not, unless it drives the plot somehow. 

Apart from the fact that Gamora (from last year’s smash hit: Guardians of The Galaxy) has green skin, how can you describe her? She is a nimble fighter in the movie – yes, but that makes her merely an action figure, not a character. To compound the problem, she has to confront her half-sister: Nebula who is… well, someone who shouts and struts around a lot. Their fight turns out to be just as bland and superficial as they are. We are too easily reminded of the two nonentities we had trouble describing in the previous paragraph.

Let’s end this paragraph on a more positive note: one particular trait of characterization exclusive to the science fiction genre concentrates on the responses of specific characters to a change in environment, caused by nature or the universe, or technology. What will draw readers to these characters is how they cope with that change. 

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“Characters, if they are strong enough, can evolve into pseudo-autonomous beings who are resilient enough to lead the author through the twists and turns of plot. It can be fun to travel this way, because we never know what’s around the next turning” – Teach Yourself: Write A Novel. 

Characters – especially in this genre – need to be aspirational – the kinds of heroes readers/viewers would want to be themselves. Even anti-heroes should have redeeming features. Whether it be charisma, wit, style and/or intelligence. Ideally, they have to be the character you love to hate. 

“Character” is internal and shows up in the good – and bad! – choices made under pressure. Before making your characters leap from the page, they have to affect you first. If you care about how they develop, the reader will care about them too. By all means necessary, they must engage with readers on an emotional level.

You should sympathise with them as well as empathize. Who has not shed a tear for the homesickness of ET or the last desperate hour in the short but very bright life of Roy Batty?

In this case, it is amusing to add one of the most important tips for creating any kind of fiction: characters need authentic underlying humanity. It’ll be a really nifty trick if you can apply that to any of your alien characters!

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Breaking Brad: Trying To Put Up A Good Fight In The Tech-Wars

Do Not Even Think About Upgrading The System!

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“God isn’t interested in technology… Look how he spends his time: forty-three species of parrots! Nipples for men! …Slugs! He created slugs! They can’t hear. They can’t speak. They can’t operate machinery. Are we not in the hands of a lunatic?!” – Evil.

The future is upon us. Tell me about it; my laptop crashed twenty minutes ago. 

The technology dreaded throughout the sci-fi of olde has now seeped into our everyday lives. But at what price? Amazingly, it looks like everyone has accepted this gleaming gizmo-laden future with open pockets (despite the fact that hardly anyone appears to have any money). Is it disconcerting how people have become so – no, too – dependent on their phones and other assorted gadgetry? Every time on the train, it’s always the same – the majority of commuters with their heads down, eyes locked on their mobile screen, their fingers busy fiddling…

If there is one thing guaranteed to mess up my equilibrium of sobriety and patience then it is the despicable act of “upgrading the system” – that ultimate lunacy of “fixing” what is not broken. Just when you think you’ve mastered one mode of tech, along comes another. And you’re stuck with a piece of junk that has become obsolete faster than you can say: “In which socket does the frickin’ recharger go?!” 

Mark my words: once the the War Against The Machines breaks out, it will be Brad leading what’s left of the human resistance, standing on the front-line, scowling at the HKs.

Whoa no, you accursed machines! You’re not gonna take this carbon-based biped without a fight!

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“‘Humans’ is showing us a world that’s not that far off. We should be questioning whether, as a society, we’re embracing technology too quickly… There’s a generation growing up who only know how to interact with their devices” – Gemma Chan. 

The uneasy relationship between man and machine moves ever closer. As realised in the most recent UK sci-fi drama: Humans, domestic life (in – that most desirable of real-estate – the “near” future) has become so stressful that artificial home-help, known as Synths, is required.

“Basically, they’ll have common sense,” exclaims  Prof Geoff Hinton, one of the top AI scientists. He is currently developing a new type of algorithm designed to encode thoughts as sequences of numbers, which he calls “thought vectors.” He believes the path from current technology to a more sophisticated version approaching a “human-like capacity for reasoning and logic” is plausible. Moreover: “I don’t see why it shouldn’t be like a friend… A flirtatious program would probably be quite simple to create.”

Oh, leave. It. Out. The cynic in me immediately assumes that my human-like artificial intelligent unit will more likely resemble the treacherous Ash (from Alien) than Gemma Chan (above). And would most likely try to throttle me or nick me nachos – both scenarios are far too dire to contemplate…

Hang on, though; nothing to fear just yet.

“We really have no idea how to make a human level AI,” adds Murray Shanahan, professor of cognitive robotics at Imperial College London, and adviser on one of this year’s best films: Ex Machina. He rates the odds of human-level AI development before 2050 as “possible but unlikely.”

It would appear that the sweeping advances in technology now engulfing the 21st century have left some older miscreants (you talkin’ to me?) out, and yet notice how it’s all second nature to the younglings – what the blazes is going on?! You gotta lol…

Like Groucho Marx once said: “Why, it’s so easy a four-year-old kid could understand this… Run out and find me a four-year-old kid; I can’t make head nor tail out of it…”

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“That cold war paranoia is the larger framework of the first two [Terminator] movies, but now we are so reliant on technology… SkyNet no longer needs to beat down your door because you lined up in front of the Apple store and invited the wolf to dinner” – David Ellison.

With ubiquitous technology influencing our “popular” culture, including the movies we watch, it would appear that the traditional sci-fi fear of haywire technology has been made redundant; so, who wants an obsolete Terminator sequel? For the umpteenth time: the first two movies of that franchise were NOT broken… 

Never mind: time to embrace all this talk of tech-this an’ tech-that. If you can’t join ’em, beat the hell outta them i.e. out with the manuals, instructions (and aspirin) and get swottin’. 

Take the other day for instance: having decided to study how to cascade my spreadsheets, and optimize my HTML, etc. the nearest, most moderately-priced technical tome was selected. Huzzah! Brad faces the future – for the first time – with a sense of hope. 

On proceeding confidently – and nonchalantly (hey, gotta look groovy for that CCTV, baby) to the counter, the “member of staff” fumbled with the bar-code in front of the scanner, unable to make it bleep. After having to type it in manually, she uttered the price. Upon handing over my hard-earned polymer note, she gawped incredulously.

“Wow!” she cried. “Real monnay! Oi ain’t seen that fer a long toime!”

One flick of a switch to activate the till. Nothing happened. She fiddled and tugged. Again, nothing continued to happen. Guess what: “they” had upgraded the store’s internal system and forgot to send her the relevant memo. Typical. What could she give me other than a look of utter despair?

“Soz! You can’t buy anyfink today ‘cos oi can’t get me till open.” 

The case continues…

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Keep your friends close and your smartphones closer.

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The MediEvil: [Part ii] Est A Diabolica!

My Testimony To Those Wondrous And Terrible Events of 1115 AD Continues.  Chapelle-de-BethlC3A9em-Alien

“We must make an idol of our fear, and call it God” – Antonius Block. 

ACT II: DAEMON FUGIT!

“By thy troth, Will, we must find it! Pack the most basic of provisions; we travel light-“

“But Brother Brad, how can we expect to find this… this thing?” 

“Simple, boy. We follow the trail of petrified peasants that thing leaves in its wake. We must hurry. Thou art familiar with the apotheca: the storehouse of medicines?”

“Y-yea, Master.”

“I bid you go fetch that small vial with the green liquid from the top shelf.”

“Wherefore needest it thou, Master?”

“This is most important, for it be the only concoction that can destroy our otherworldly foe. I shall ready the horses and meet thee at the main gate.”

“The only…?” William gingerly took a pace forward. “Then… ye hath dealt with these skyfallen ones before?!”

Methinks perchance this boy was too bright…

“Yea, William… and will again and again, I’m afraid. Now, festinate! I shall see you anon.”

In very little time at all, William came running out of the North Transept, a bulging bag slung across his back; the vial clasped to his chest with both hands – good lad.

He noticed the pointed bundle I cradled: “What be that?”

I unfurled the top end of the cloth, revealing a hilt and hilt-guard. “A sword! I dare not ask what thou wert in thy past life, Master!”

“Fear not, my young friend. I was merely a traveller. In distant lands, one must be… cautious.”  

“O splendid scholar, with all these skills… why stay at this monastery?”

“Where else could I write my books…? Come, we cannot allow further delay.”

We mounted our steeds and set out into the far-from-idyllic terrain beyond. The trail was easy – yet so disturbing – to follow.

Regrettably, we discovered the eviscerated maiden whose face had twisted in sheer terror – may she rest in peace; and then we encountered the gibbering shepherd, blabbing something about a “malum diabolicum” – who still managed to give us reliable directions!

Undoubtedly, we were getting closer… 

“Ayah, Angelo Maligno!”

I could scarcely believe the frightened croak of the old beggar sitting beside the country lane as we approached him. I hurried over and knelt at his side.

“Be still, my old friend. Tell us, you saw the-“

Confound it! You bonehead, Brad! Only then did I notice that the vagrant was as blind as a trowel. 

“Why so flustered, old man?”

“The vile lacerta homos ye seek hath passed by not long past!”

“Nay! How could thou know-?!” 

A knowing smile erupted through his unkempt whiskers as he muttered: “I am gifted with powers of a higher order, young Quester. I-I sensed it. What passed this way ’twas certainly not mortal – it felt more sinister than Lucifer ‘isself…! But forgive my fevered ramblings… good den, good sir. My name is Nathaniel…”

“Hardly expected to find such a gifted soul in this lowly spot! Your aid is indeed very much appreciated, Nathaniel. William! Bring forth some bread!”

I passed some of our provisions to Nathaniel, who gorged on them eagerly, as if he’d not partaken of any nourishment for days. 

“Oh thank thee, young saints! Thank thee, kindly! I bid you good fortune in your tiresome quest. Fare thee well; may the Lord bless thee!”

“Nay… ’tis too late for Him to bother with me now…if at all. Doth ye know where yon thing dwelt?”  

Tired old Nathaniel spoke naught, but waved a trembling bony finger off to his left. My gaze wandered several yards yonder to – Saints preserve us! – the tranquil setting of the Church of St. Mary.

Of all the-?!

The beast had fled into a church…?! Lord, what madness was this?! devil's-reaper

“If I kill you, I am bound for Hell. It is a price I shall gladly pay” – Solomon Kane. 

ACT III: ANGELO MALIGNO

Without hesitation, we burst into St. Mary’s church.

‘Twas stood, hunched in the centre of the aisle – the belief that daemons could not frequent “holy” sites be damned.

It flicked its cowl back to reveal that Malachi’s facial features had completely disintegrated. The wraith’s true grotesque green head turned menacingly towards us; it barred dripping fangs at us; its low-pitched snarl echoed off the church walls.

“You… it could only be you. Thou art Brad: the one they call the Scribe.” 

“Verily, that I be; how do you know who I art, beast? What say you!”

“The hunted must know who his hunter is! Thou art cleverer than those other robed imbeciles: a formidable nemesis to be sure. So, call upon your God to save thee afore ye dare try and smite me, worm!” the wraith chortled.

“Nay: through His “Word, all things are created just as He willed”… where – on Earth – deceitful snake, do ye fit in?!”

“Hmm, my “Word calls forth flesh in the shape which was drawn from Adam.” Mayhap this disenchanted mortal ought to forsake thy misspent quest? …And start worshipping me, ha!”

I bellowed over its gurgling guffaws: “Silentium, dire one! I am too strong-willed to rise to your bait; too stubborn to let you skyfallen scum succeed!”   

“Very well, stubborn worm; I shall consign thee to thine own end! Maledixerit tibi voltus, mortalis!” 

With that, it unleashed a dagger, hurled it at me, but the deterioration of its human form had diminished its aim, as well as its stamina. The wraith collapsed in a final exhausted heap; the weapon just swished past me.

“Curse me? Ha, yea my misfortune was foretold long before you crash-landed…”

I took forth the vial, and sprayed its noisome contents on my adversary. They fizzled and burned on impact; the beast screamed, clutching a steaming arm.

“You accursed dregs! Backward sapiens…!” the beast spat as the delirium of searing torment set in. “How did you infernal lot ever get to this pitiful stage of evolution?”

“We mortals strive to learn, to build, to prosper-”

“Rot! We are all-too-familiar with the petty troubles of your kind: you crave war and spread famine… and pestilence. I harbour no shame when I aim to… exterminare celerrime praeiudicio!”

“Exterminate? With extreme prejudice? Regrettably for thee, Malachi was a feeble old man; that lifeforce is ebbing quickly from you now. You are in no position to do as thou wilt-” 

“Monetae…! …Ultionem!” it rasped, grabbing my arm in one last futile gesture.

I almost felt sorry for this damned shrivelled satyr; ’twas in no fit state to declare or exact such vengeance upon me right now.

While that vile shape writhed on the aisle floor, poor William lay slumped in the rear pews, sobbing uncontrollably.  Damn my eyes: yea, I had condemned the archfiend to burn in hell, but in doing so, had consigned my accomplice to endure a living hell… 

I leant my angry face closer and gleered at the ailing creature, and whispered with venom: “Know ye this, foul incubus: as long as my cursed life prevails, I shall warn others of thy diabolical presence on this fair and simple Earth; as long as I wield the written word, thy devious intent shall forever be set forth!”

The creature’s hold on my arm gradually loosened, but it managed to waste its dying breath by emitting another condescending splutter: “And there…! Thou art hopelessly mistaken… Brother… Brad.

“Write this tale, and be damned! In a thousand years from now, nobody will care enough to read… or believe it…!” a3-15

FINEM NOTE:

Brother Brad dedicated the rest of his life to rid our green and pleasant land of the inhuman skyfallen ones.  An inestimable number of esoteric tomes describing these Angelos Malos were produced. For many years, Brother Brad’s complete account resided at the Priory of Sele in Upper Beeding, in the southern counties, but during the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-40) alas, it was lost. 

This presentation is merely a palimpsest of what once was…  The-Seventh-Seal-1957-stars-from-the-past-32472124-500-362

21st Century Brad is on holiday.