Archaic Scope of Future Thrills: How SF Used To Be

Posted: 28 July 2014

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galaxy-February-1951-large1953-golden_apples_of_the_sun

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

 

 

The Rough Guide to Dystopia

Posted: 7 June 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodnight, sleep tight.

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

A Wretched Hive: Those Dire and Despicable Trends of Modern Sci-Fi

Posted: 2 June 2014

 

No, Mr Cruise, that cap-n-boots combo does NOT work...
No, Mr Cruise, that cap-n-boots combo does NOT work…

“Now you see eighty people listed doing the same things I was doing by myself” – Ray Harryhausen.

Having already produced a reasonably light and mildly frothy Post about personal sci-fi faves, many of you have been wondering what annoys Bradscribe the most about the modern manifestation of the genre. Only too happy to oblige, friends!

Time to let rip and rant against those spurious and slovenly aspects that have stained and shamed SF’s good name in recent years. So, what is deterring this bunny from hopping down to his local picture-house?

Well, the first problem that springs to mind (actually it strikes me like a well-aimed Katniss arrow to the head), is Tom Cruise. No seriously, how can this inanely-grinning couch-hopping imp be allowed to inflict so many BIG yet bland movies upon us poor working people?   

For every Days of Future Past it seems we have to be inflicted with an Edge of Tomorrow… or two of them. Looking at stills from the latter, a strange sense of deja vu took hold. It seemed like this particular brand of tedium had been unleashed upon us just months before. It had, only then it masqueraded as the unfortunately-monickered Oblivion, a “solemn” & “lugubrious” late -21st century dystopian dirge. Bombarded by the double-whammy of Mr. Top Gun and a slew of unfavourable reviews, this blogger chose not to sit through it. 

A quich glance (or in this case: wince) at current & forthcoming titles suggests that the sci-fi movie outlook seems just as sparse, harsh and uninviting as the glum terrain depicted in Oblivion.  

 

Barsoom Blues: Nice aliens, shame about the humans...
Barsoom Blues: Nice aliens, shame about the humans…

“We’ve got too many internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now” – Ray Bradbury.

There can be no more secrets in the world of movie project development; with the proliferation of the worldwide web, and all the news.com and entertainment.com sites we can eat, it is impossible, alas, to get excited by a Forthcoming Attraction anymore.

One factor which illustrates the paucity of quality in present sci-fi is the lack of decent movie stars with the charisma to pull off ambitious popcorn-fodder. A particularly damning reason why the recent John Carter fared so underwhelmingly lay in the lame non-entity chosen to play the titular protagonist; for the moment his name escapes me – not surprisingly, this bunny ain’t gonna hopalong to Google and look it up…

It does seem slightly disturbing that weak sci-fi produced around 30 years ago looks more technically adroit – certainly more entertaining – than some of the bilge churned out nowadays with notably less flair but a heckuvalot-more dollars.

There was always something more appealing about the stop-motion animation, models and visual effects of that period. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) held the SFX monopoly, offering the thrill-factor, oodles of awe and that irresistible “how-did-they-do-that?!” quality. None of the CGI currently (over)used can offer any of that appeal ‘cos we know it’s all computer-generated.

There is nothing special about these effects…

 

Don't get caught behind...
Don’t get caught behind…

“…Ever since the movies began, film makers have not been left alone by the corporations who provide the cash to make them. Film making is an art and craft – leave it to the artists and craftsmen” – Phil Edwards (1982).

Last, and by all means least, it now comes down to… this.

To make movies from comicbooks is one thing (luckily you can count me as a fan), but to derive a blockbuster franchise from… a range of toys?! Come on! That’s just nuts…

Transformers – and all its wretched sequels – must stand as the most blatant and nauseating representation of the all-important teenage boy demographic, with its copious dollops of hi-def SFX, dizzying action, and Shiz Le Beef (or whatever he’s called) – great, sci-fi’s been lumbered with yet another charmless nerk…

Hang on: Issur Danielovitch had to change his name to Kirk Douglas to get ahead, but Shia doesn’t need to? What gives? State of the movie industry today, eh? Sheesh…

In the end, of course, we are left with this cynical fact: chuck quality out the window – it’s all about putting bums on seats by offering larger & louder (flaccid & forgettable?) extravaganzas. More bang fer yer buck as it were; business is business.

…and that’s it.

What chance will my cerebral and engaging scripts get to reach the big screen? Maybe that uncomfortable compromise has to be made: better get crackin’ on that draft for Transformers VI…*

end

* No worries: Brad ain’t gonna sell out that easily, bud!

 

The Cosmic Latte: How The Night Sky Inspires And Boggles

Posted: 21 March 2014

Wherever you are in the world, the night sky always amazes
Wherever you are in the world, the night sky always amazes

“…Every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.  

Many moons ago, when standing in front of big brilliant bonfires on chilly Autumn nights, Bradscribe would crane his beady little eyes to scour the wondrous aerial canopy of stars. Through college, university, a mundane office job and now freelance writing and multifarious online shenanigans, the stars have never failed to bewitch me.

At this stage of my life, settled in the humid climate of Southeast Asia, the comfortingly cool nocturnal breeze offers a welcome respite. Working into the night (and usually right through until dawn) there is alway the chance of stepping out into the quiet night and gazing skywards to the myriad of shiny dots sprawled across the dark blanket of night.   

Everyone should stop to savour the sheer silence, serenity and solitude of the night sky.

Starlight – in technical terms – is electromagnetic radiation. Interestingly enough, while researching my piles files of astronomical literature, someone somewhere has determined that the average colour of starlight resembles “a shade of yellowish white,” amusingly branded as: “Cosmic Latte” (…!)

Admittedly, on one or two occasions, characters in my fiction have sought solace in the night sky as they try to unravel the problems in their lives… which this writer afflicted on them, of course! By gad, what a bounder this lil bunny is! 

The night time is the right time
The night time is the right time

“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly coloured than the day” – Vincent Van Gogh.

During the good or bad times, productive or slow sessions, or just lying on the beach pondering where the next stage of my life should lead, the night sky – modern light pollution permitting – has always made for a marvellous spectacle. So it comes as absolutely no surprise that people from ancient cultures around the world held the night sky in high esteem; it influenced their knowledge of agricultural, astronomical and astrological matters.

Let’s not forget the aid of celestial navigation to ancient seafarers, with 58 stars selected and named in antiquity by the Ancient Greeks, Romans, Babylonians and Arabs. The most notable of these is Polaris, the “North Star,” due to its proximity to the north celestial pole.

Despite the persistence of stargazing since time immemorial, this year sees only the 200th anniversary of the establishment of study into starlight spectroscopy: the examination of the stellar spectra.

Some gaze skywards to catch the arrival of an extraterrestrial kind; but then again, this bunny’s lived long enough to realise that – considering all the despicable and negative commonalities unfortunately prevalent throughout human nature – if aliens are intelligent and able to travel here, they would be imbued with the good sense to stay away from the likes of us!

The constellation of Orion in the southwest sky
The constellation of Orion in the southwest sky

“Humans are natural-born scientists. When we’re born, we want to know why the stars shine…” – Michio Kaku.  

The most beguiling feature of the night sky has to be the constellation of Orion. It is certainly the most recognisable, and one of the most awe-inspiring celestial wonders. Named after the hunter of Greek mythology, it is visible predominantly during winter in the southwest sky.

The Orion Nebula is a star formation 1,500 light years from Earth. The three stars of Alnilam, Mintaka and Alnitak, constitute the feature known as Orion’s Belt; the Ancient Egyptians deemed it necessary to align the three pyramids at Giza with Orion’s Belt. The Great Pyramid even has air shafts pointing to Orion. Trying to explain the need to recreate this on Earth has fuelled many theories and discussions, but the real answer still eludes us. 

In the scheme of things, the chance to spot a shooting star is always nice; astoundingly, around 15,000 tonnes of these meteoroids enter Earth’s atmosphere each year.

For thousands of years, people have gazed skywards; it’s gratifying to realise that one is a participant in such an exalted pastime. It is hoped that long after this lil bunny has shuffled off this mortal plane, countless more curious souls will eagerly revel in the wonders of the night sky.

 

The Sensational Inspirational Blog

Posted: 15 March 2014

Concentrate the mind on the task at hand
Concentrate the mind on the task at hand

“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve, regardless of  how many times you may have failed in the past” – Napoleon Hill.

By far, the best machine we possess is our own mind. Fortunately, Bradscribe was blessed with awesome English skills. Ever since one can remember, writing – whether it be fiction or non-fiction – has always played a prominent role in my life.

However, in the last 48 hours, a fearsome fever: skin burning up; nerve endings exceptionally sensitive; splitting headache; dizzy spells; you-name-it-this-bunny’s-had-it, has struck me down. Big. Time.

In short, my body feels like it’s been hit by a car.

Obviously, this has put a serious dent in my writing/blogging schedule. It’s amazing to think that prior to this unsavoury onset, my mind was positively brimming with good ideas; but when this crept up on me unbeknownst, all that promising stuff evaporated. Too often in my tender youth, illnesses would beset my system; thus, too often my active imagination wondered how these despicable intrusions could be willed out of my system…

Consider, dear friends, the marvel and sheer complexity of the human brain; it puts into perspective how poor this annoying so-called cutting-edge technology we are compelled to buy with money we don’t have, really is…

Don't give up! Savour the good things in life
Don’t give up! Savour the good things in life

“Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Don’t sell out” – Christopher Reeve.

How on Earth does the essence of an idea ever mterialise in the first place?

Apparently what drives the creative processes remains inexplicable, but what we do know: when ideas are generated (especially by this undervalued noddle), rather than emanating from either the left or right sides of the brain, actually both hemispheres work in unison to create that special spark. But what produces the motivation? That need to carry on when all hope is lost?

Yes folks, Kismet has blown sand in Bradscribe’s face more times than he cares to remember.

Once upon a time, a veritable stream of rejections swirled my way. Then it was reduced to a mere trickle. Now, not only have they dried up, but due to those copious never-ending technical difficulties, my Inbox has become inaccessible.

How – in the face of such sheer adversity – does this lil bunny manage to keep going?

"By living life for itself, don't you see?Deriving pleasure from the gift of pure being"
“By living life for itself, don’t you see?Deriving pleasure from the gift of pure being”

“If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him” – Buddha.

No matter what technical, physical or financial problems lay siege to my battered mind – living in a country where Buddhism takes precedence – the gift of Meditation proved to be such a benefit. It came in particularly handy during my Southeast Asian office job, where the unfriendly inhouse atmosphere and stress combined with the noise and chaos of city life.

Even now, when my carefully constructed plans have not gone as well as hoped, the time and opportunity to sit back and meditate does come in pretty handy. Considering all that has been lost over the last few years – money, work, data disks, contacts, friends, trust, motivation – somehow this humble blogging bunny, (still a small name in a big Blogosphere) has come through so much (a little ruffled), yet persevered and retained his hop, skip and jump.

Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring, but make the most of what we have today, that’s for sure. Perhaps this is the main reason why most of my creative processes are reserved for reconstructing history. This discipline offers reassuring escapism as well as the comfort of nostalgia.

In an otherwise disappointing television adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles (1980), a speech of such insightful and inspirational depth concerning the Secret of Life was given by a Martian – a figment of the past; his words have resonated with me since that first viewing many moons ago. They have invigorated my own writing sometimes, and perhaps lie at the core of why Bradscribe just refuses to give up.  

It is hoped this quote will have a profound effect on you, dear reader. Goodnight. 

“Secret! There is no secret. Anyone with eyes can see the way to live.

“By watching life, observing nature, cooperating with it. Making common cause with the process of existence…

“…Life is it’s own answer, accept it and enjoy it day by day. Live as well as possible, expect no more. Destroy nothing, humble nothing, look for fault in nothing, leave unsullied and untouched all that is beautiful. Hold that which lives in all reverence, for life is given by the sovereign of our universe, given to be savoured, to be luxuriated in, to be… respected.

“But that’s no secret, you’re intelligent! You know as well as I what has to be done.”

 

Determined to Declutter (or: The Stuff That Matters)

Posted: 4 March 2014

Sooty likes my stuff, as long as it's comfortable.
Sooty likes my stuff, as long as it’s comfortable.

“Stuff is everything” – Malcolm Lee Bradford.  

It wasn’t until we moved house last year that Bradscribe realised how much stuff had amassed after a whole decade living and working in Southeast Asia. The wife groaned, not hesitating to admit that it would bring great pleasure to set it all alight.

Years to build – seconds to burn…  

Even the removal men complained about the sheer weight of my stuff. Typical, lesser mortals such as these do not comprehend or appreciate the value of our stuff. Stuff is powerful; stuff is relentless. It can gather and multiply unexpectedly, like an expanding and amorphous malevolent thing from a sci-fi/horror B-movie.

Naturally, those of you writers like me who revel in research will understand that when we collect our sources in various forms, it causes a seemingly insurmountable amount of stuff to just build up at an alarming rate.

No need to fret about your stuff on your own, my friend.

Determined to conquer the curse of my clutter, it was tackled systematically, so gradually the volume of stuff has been significantly reduced. Too good to be true? Not at all; if my stuff can be controlled, so can yours! Read on…

My former office; not my stuff. My stuff is more attractively laid out.
My former office; not my stuff. My stuff is more attractively laid out.

“Every time I have moved house, those first few days  – when the space is empty… are intoxicating. But… the clutter returns with all the vigour of a virulent strain of mould” – Emma Beddington.   

Of all the most incredible remarks this blogger has ever heard is: “Why do you have so much stuff?”

Yes, my jaw hit the floor when that preposterous statement was uttered. Honestly, how can anyone begin to explain this question, let alone answer it?

Everyone has stuff: such is the rich tapestry of life, different people have different types of stuff. After all, the only reason we buy/rent houses is so that we can have somewhere safe and spacious to store our stuff. When we go out, we usually end up buying more stuff. When we visit friends’ storage areas homes, we judge their stuff; and the only reason we go on vacation is, invariably, to accumulate more stuff… isn’t it? This seems to be quite obvious.

However, there comes a time when we all have to step back (if there is room amongst all that stuff) and assess how to reduce some of it. For starters, there is never enough time to read everything we have; realistically, if you have not looked at a certain item in the last four years, then you probably never will. In other words, it wasn’t that inportant; discard it pronto.

This stock photo reassures me no end; my office will NEVER look like this. Honest.
This stock photo reassures me no end; my office will NEVER look like this. Honest.

“You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” – Steven Wright.  

Looking for answers on how to manage your stuff? This blogger can help.

The moment when Bradscribe noticed the sheer stuff overload came when he was annoyed to find… that nothing could be found. The most satisfying strategy to take was to halve the number of book projects in progress. Wherever possible, notes and papers no longer relevant could be discarded; some data had taken ages and lots of time and energy to acquire, so it was agonising to let go… but let go you must. Be strict.        

Don’t abandon your work for a day endeavouring to attack all those piles and pillars, mountains and mounds of stuff. Believe me: you will get nowhere; after hours of sorting, sifting and scrutinizing stuff, nothing will look like it’s been sorted out! Most importantly, the office will certainly end up in a messier state than when you started!  

But do not fret, Dear Reader (and Fellow Writer/Researcher), here is a handy tip on how you can declutter effectively:

Just take one hour a day (two if need be) to deal with a little bit of stuff at a time. Select a pile: deliberately sift through the tatty yellowed morsels at the bottom of it; chances are you will find items you thought were lost/forgotten forever. Stay sane. Enjoy the clear-out in gradual stages…

Every little helps.

It’s Only a Movie

Posted: 21 February 2014

Historical accuracy or entertaining inaccuracy: which is best?
Historical accuracy or entertaining inaccuracy: which is best?

“Film-makers have a great responsibility. How they present the past is how it gets remembered” – Kate Williams.

Movies cannot be treated as historical records; no matter how much attention to period detail goes into a feature film, as a seasoned historian myself, it should be my duty to point out those glaring discrepancies that litter some epic movies, not just lie back, enjoy a fantastical dramatisation and let blissful miscomprehension, or downright ignorance, of actual past events prevail.

This year, with a slew of big historical movies nominated for Oscars, it becomes imperative that a higher standard of care and attention should be put into such productions.

Yet some directors believe they still have every right to change – even distort – historical facts to provide a faster, leaner – dare one say it – more awesome spectacle. Should they be permitted to do so? 

Winner of Best Ways to Irritate Historians
Winner of Best Ways to Irritate Historians

“Creative artists need to be granted some poetic license, but that should not be a permit for the wholesale disregard of facts in historical fiction” – Allen Ward.   

Here are a couple of examples most relevant to this post. They are fine, classic bodies of work, but when analysed from a historical perspective, they flounder miserably.

One notorious example is Gladiator (2000), which won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but none, it seems, for historical accuracy. Bradscribe hates to say this (as it’s one of his faves), but the collection of inaccuracies on show here are… legion.  

Despite the vow of the renowned director: Ridley Scott to uphold high standards of historical research throughout, one advisor resigned and another requested to go unmentioned in the credits because those standards were simply not met.

Such extensive use of ballistae and catapults in the opening battle would not have been used in a forest-setting; both Roman and Germanian costumes are extremely questionable; stirrups were never used by the Roman cavalry despite being on show here… and so on. 

There is no way one can link this celluloid Commodus to the real-life emperor (hey Joaquin, where’s your beard?); he certainly did not commit patricide, and he lasted 12 years before being assassinated, not 3 hours. And the factual errors which beset the character of Marcus Aurelius are compounded by the inexplicable casting.

Nice helmet, shame about the historical inaccuracies
Nice helmet, shame about the historical inaccuracies

“I didn’t think they had guns then… in the days of Kirk Douglas” – Bunny Warren.

To show that this is not just a problem of modern cinema, enter: The Vikings (1958). Kirk Douglas! Tony Curtis! Ernest Borgnine! How could it possibly go wrong? Well, on several different counts in actual fact.

Kirk Douglas looks fab, yet anything but a Viking. No matter how big a star, if there’s no beard, there’s no credibility. He wears such a cool helmet but – let’s be honest – it was more a product of Hollywood imagination rather than Norse craftsmanship.   

One of the best scenes in the film is also one of its most annoying. The Viking siege of the castle is theoretically absurd; castles were not built until after the Norman Conquest, by which time Norsemens’ raids on the English coast had long since finished. After all the excitement, the drama, not to mention that stirring music score, no one can escape the fact that this whole charade centres around two immigrant boys from the Lower East Side gallivanting around in fancy dress…

Bradscribe will always love this film, but then again, it will always wrestle with his academic sensibilities.  

In conclusion then, movies should not be used as the source material for history essays. These movies can inspire a greater appreciation for history which a lot of books and uninspiring schoolteachers could never do, but the poor research in some productions suggests that not only a greater awareness of the value of history is needed, but the general attitude towards historical knowledge deserves a thorough revision.

This writer is left bemoaning the fact that instead of nitpicking the factual errors of others’ work, he could be working on such storylines, ready to prove that history in itself produced some stirring and dramatic events, packing more punches than any CGI can muster.

 

Energy Boost

Posted: 17 February 2014

What is it that draws writers to coffee?
What is it that draws writers to coffee?

“Coffee is a language in itself” – Jackie Chan.  

The inspiration for this particular post came (funnily enough) purely by accident – ruminating over what would be the next topic for discussion while the daily mug of coffee sat beside the laptop steaming away…  

This marvellous brewed beverage, using roasted seeds of the genus: “Coffea” just happens to be the second most traded commodity (after oil) – let’s face it: dark liquid makes the world go round. Don’t all writers grab a coffee first thing in the morning to zap away the drowsiness? Just what is it that blends (sorry) creators and coffee?

Some brain chemistry is required here. Possibly the most potent psychoactive stimulant in the known universe, caffeine blocks the neurotransmitter adenosine responsible for that drowsy feeling, while increasing the potency of other excitatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine, thus heightening alertness, energy and – yes!enhancing the ability to get some work done!  

Wonder how many cups of coffee those scientists downed in order to acquire that data?

Bean there, done that
Bean there, done that

“Science may never come up with a better office communication system than the coffee break” – Earl Wilson.  

In the average cuppa there are approximately 200mg of caffeine, and in an average day no more than 600mg (3 cups) should be downed. Whoa, go easy there!

You would think that the humid climate at which this writer chooses to pursue his profession would necessitate the desire for iced coffee, but that’s not the case, especially when sitting in a comfortable air-conditioned cafe. In actual fact, the most common brew in Asia: iced cappuccino offers more sugar and fat than caffeine, so it’s better if you served my drink pipng hot, if you please…

As long as he could remember, the bane of Bradscribe’s existence has been lack of energy, but nowwith a coffee-maker amidst the items in our new abode, my mornings have got off to a bright and proactive start. Moreover, in addition to caffeine, a well-brewed cuppa offers antioxidants. Both of these substances are known to have substantial health benefits and anti-aging qualities. 

Yay, drink up!

This blooger loves Mocha!
This blogger loves Mocha!

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt” – Charles M. Schulz.  

Personally, above all others, Bradscribe loves Mocha – that scintillating mix of espresso, milk, whipped cream and chocolate syrup. If anyone is taking notes, this year sees the tenth anniversary of my passion for Mocha. Not so keen on latte, and wary about downing a dodgy cappuccino (it’s amazing how frequent they can be…), yet traditionally a happy tea-slurper, it’s staggering to think how Mocha could have tantalised my taste buds in this seemingly unexpected manner.

So, what’s the Story of Mocha? Where does it come from?   

The rise of Islam played a pivotal role in the rise of coffee consumption. With alcohol prohibited to Muslims, coffee became a regular staple in Arabia. The first (recorded) instance of coffee drinking comes from the Sufi monasteries of Yemen.  Indeed, the Yemeni town most closely associated with my fave hot beverage is… lo & behold: Mocha.

The Arabic word: “qahwa” became the Turkish: “kahve” but it wasn’t until 1582 when the Dutch name: “koffie” entered the English language under its present form. Out of the numerous tomes on “The History of Coffee” there does not appear to be a “History of Mocha.” It looks like my next writing project has just nudged its way forward…

In this modern age, with the advent of big multi-national brands, coffee is ubiquitous. Whether it be Bangkok, Singapore or even London, you can find this writer sipping a tall, hot Mocha while editing his papers.

Until the next brew Blog, enjoy your coffee, but watch those calories!

 

The Midnight Special

Posted: 12 February 2014.

On with the Nightshift
On with the Nightshift

“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly coloured than the day” – Vincent Van Gogh.  

The clock strikes Midnight, and yet Bradscribe is still at his desk hammering the keys on his sturdy laptop. The early hours of the morning have always held a very special appeal.

During those three memorable years at university, studying by day and thinking twice about venturing out to the dangerous city centre at night just hindered my progress, and had to be rectified. When this routine was reversed – thankfully for the better – the rate of productivity miraculously increased. Long after university this habit has joyously continued.

This writer takes pride in being a Night-Owl. Whether in the east or the west, gradually the lights of the other houses in the street go out, leaving me to revel in the solitude. With a purring laptop, some dishevelled notes and the pleasant addition of ambient music, the night becomes a most magical time. 

Sometimes it’s amazing to just slink away from the desk, wander onto the quiet balcony, be fanned by a comforting cool breeze and just gaze at the stars…

Great solace can be attained from nocturnal graft.

The Desktop Companion
The Desktop Companion

“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask: ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ and a voice says to me: ‘This is going to take more than one night'” – Charles M. Schulz. 

In countless Q&As, writers state that they prefer to spring to their desk at the crack of dawn and work out a cache of pages before midday, then carry out chores during the afternoon.

In my case though, the exact opposite applies; a replenishing afternoon nap and then my mind will function splendidly after dark. This writer has tried – Good Lord, has he tried! – to conform to this so-called conventional day-time formula, but has struggled to produce decent material; not even a good flow can be worked up before lunch. The trouble with writing during the day is the noise, business that can only be sorted out during daylight hours, and other needless distractions.

Sooty, our cat, likes to be with us wherever we go in the house; in the evening, she prefers to stay in and curl up at the foot of the bed, rather than mingle with the local alley cats. At some point during the early hours, she will wander in, just to spend time with me. Usually she will jump onto the desk and rearrange the papers to use as a pillow; as long as she doesn’t go mental and “file” my papers with her teeth, then she can be quite a lovely companion.

Somewhere in another street, a stray dog starts howling; Sooty sits up and glances anxiously out of the mosquito screen, her tail flailing from side to side. Quickly realising that there is no danger, she settles down to dream once more…

Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me
Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me

“I’m a night owl… My goal as a writer is more to comfort, than to disturb” – Joni Mitchell.   

The nightshift has become an irresistible part of my life in Southeast Asia. The early hours of any day out here are pleasantly cool (in surprising contrast to the humidity at high noon), and apart from the obstreperous bin-collectors or a speeding nocturnal motorcyclist, the peace to be attained here is really conducive to sometimes lengthy creative sessions.

Being in this particularly captivating part of the world, if you listen carefully at 4am, a monk in a nearby wat (temple) clangs a big bell, calling all his brethren to start their Buddhist routine for the new day.

When the heavens open up and the torrents lash against my office window, it’s always so inspirational. In September & October, the monsoons are fairly frequent, and thunder always invigorates an atmospheric session.

As the roosters over the road start their shrill hollering, heralding the imminent dawn, this writer does feel his inner data bank shutting down…

Time to get some well-earned napping in before lunch, then start the new Blog during the afternoon.