Journey To The Centre Of The Multiplex

Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It, Is To Find A Screening of The Martian.

In English. In Bangkok.  

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“The usual hero adventure begins with someone who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society. The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary…” – Joseph Campbell.  

The objective seemed simple enough; last week anyway. Wait until my beloved Mrs. B had returned from her revitalising week-long meditation retreat; then take her to watch her fave movie star: Matt Damon. The Martian had been released – quite fortuitouslyon her birthday! Seriously, how difficult could it possibly be? 

Quite difficult as it turned out…

There is a tendency – especially in regional cinemas – to dub some of the biggest blockbusters into Thai, and our local multiplex is no exception. We didn’t have this problem with Guardians Of The Galaxy, or only last month with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Although The Martian arrived here only last Thursday with FOUR showings in its original English soundtrack, it has been reduced – just days later – to ONE showing in Thai only. 

Bugger… 

So be. Looks like a day trip to the Big Mango is in order. Travelling so far just to catch one movie – no matter how brilliant and unmissable The Martian may be – does seem a tad too extreme; still, this writer requires other things up north simply not available in our hometown. Brad will proceed. And with Mrs. B?

“What’s the matter, lov?” 

“Sorry, hon. I’m not going…” 

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“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else” – Marco Polo.

The Mother Of All Malls in the Thai capital is the Siam Paragon; it’s hard to miss, nestling right next to the interchange MRT station slap bang in the city centre. Its plush, state-of-the-art multiplex theatre has provided us with some of cinema’s finest most recent gems ALWAYS in English. Even if a movie turns out to be utter crud, at least you can marvel at the exquisite finery of the drapes…  

And the- hang on, just remembered! At the Major Cineplex, Central World, they have Special Cheezy Dip with their nachos. Yeah, will go there instead – just the next stop on the MRT. However, recent events – especially a tragic bomb attack in August at one of our favourite shrines – have made some tourists (Mrs. B included) extremely wary of Bangkok’s level of security. 

“But this is what you wanted, lov. Your birthday treat! Hey, it’s about Matt Damon stranded on Mars. Just him, vlogging for two hours. Come on, hon! He’ll be staring right at you as you watch him! Couldn’t be better!”

The thought of going back to the intolerable noise, stress and pollution of the capital city – even for just one day – fills my lady with dread. Plus, a long and reckless mini-bus ride (which she simply cannot stand) must be endured before you can seize the chance to inhale that city air…

Then there are other reservations to consider: “What if this movie turns out to be just as terrible as that other space movie, hon?” 

“Oh, you mean Jupiter Ascending? Good Lord, nothing else could be as dire as that, lov! The Martian has had some really encouraging reviews. Look…” 

At this point, frantic scrolling at rottentomatoes.com on my smartphone ensued, but she didn’t look.

“No, someone’s got to stay and look after Sooty [our cat].”

“You know what the cinema’s like: by this Friday they will have reverted back to showing the usual rubbish.”

“I can wait until this comes out on disc. Besides, I can have my Bourne trilogy any time I want.”

“So, there’s… no way I can persuade you to come with me?”

“‘Fraid not, Ford. Anyway, I don’t have a movie-blog to maintain…”  

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“It is far. But there is no journey that a man may not make if he sets his heart to it. There is nothing that he cannot do…” – H. Rider Haggard.

The mini-bus from Hua Hin to Bangkok takes three hours (or two and a half if the driver thinks he’s Jason Bourne). Early morning, my bag packed with papers and two bottles of chilled water, we walked up to the main road together so she could wave me off.

“What are you doing, farang?” Mrs. B joked.

“Going to the big city to find Matt Damon, lov,” 

As the bus came into view, on time, she chortled: “Send him my love!” 

“Ha, will do! I’ll even Bring Him Home if I can find a pirate copy, heh heh!” 

The bus screeched to a halt. My wife pinched my arm.

“Don’t go meeting any girls up there!” she whispered sternly.

“Perish the thought, lov.”

Time to hold her tight and reassure her. 

“I’ll be back by nightfall. Don’t want to leave you for too long, hon; can’t. You’re the light of my life – the fuel on which I run. If I could reach up and hold a star for every time you’ve made me happy, my darling, the evening sky would be in the palm of my hand.”

“Ooh, get you,” she purred. “Did Matt teach you to talk like that?” 

“Uff, gizzus a hug, me sugar…” 

We shared a quick embrace. The driver started up the engine; I began to clamber in.

“Hey, what are you going to do about lunch?!”

“No worries, lov,” he was heard to exclaim, looking back over his shoulder. “There’s plenty of cake in the big city; I can pick some up there on my way back.”

“Oh for goodness sake, ya daft ham noi! I mean real food!” 

“The cinema will have nachos – Brad will survive…” 

The driver came round to slide the mini-bus door shut.

“I love you,” Mrs. B yelled out.

“I know…” 

"HANG ON IN THERE, BUDDY! You stay alive, no matter what occurs! Brad will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far! I will find you"
“HANG ON IN THERE, BUDDY! You stay alive, no matter what occurs! Brad will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far! I will find you”

to be continued...

“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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Futurescape: What Will Become Of Us 1000 Years From Now?

Who Wants To Live Forever? 

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“Even if we are civilised 1,000 years from now, will we still be the dominant form of life on Earth?” – Arthur C. Clarke.

“I who am dead a thousand years

And wrote this sweet archaic song, 

Send you my words for messengers, 

The way I shall not pass along.

“I care not if you bridge the seas, 

Or ride secure the cruel sky,

Or build consummate palaces 

Of metal or of masonry.” 

These are the opening lines from a poem by James Elroy Flecker entitled: “To A Poet A Thousand Years Hence.” 

At the dawn of this new millennium, that renowned futurologist and technological prophet: Arthur C. Clarke (1916-2008) was commissioned to speculate what the human race might expect on the cusp of the next millennium. As someone adept at eloquently discussing visions of the far future – especially in such works as “The City and the Stars,” and most notably with his critically-acclaimed speculative sequel: “3001: The Final Odyssey” – he cited this work by Flecker throughout his article.

A few months ago, on a day of meagre inspiration, escaping from my stultifying office-space became imperative. At one of my favourite historic olde towns along the south English coast, this writer/explorer/seeker-of-the-truth wandered and pondered through forlorn remains that nearly 1,000 years ago used to be the largest Cluniac priory in England. 

Those brethren who once strode across marvellous spacious stone floors – now open grassland – could never have comprehended our fast techno world of digital gadgets, moving images and gargantuan achievements in science. Thus, it is virtually impossible to speculate how – one thousand years from now – our world will look and what our descendants might be doing.

We may not have “bridged the seas,” but that “cruel sky” now sure is congested with too many long-distance flights… and those consummate palaces – reaching ever greater heights – crowd the skyline and multiply like…

no tomorrow…?

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“The fossil record implies trial and error, an inability to anticipate the future – features inconsistent with an efficient Great Designer” – Carl Sagan. 

“Have you wine and music still,

And statues and a bright-eyed love,

And foolish thoughts of good and ill.

And prayers to them who sit above?”

Obviously, Clarke fully expected rudiments of culture to continue flourishing in such a distant period. Sure, music will carry on – as it always has – although the pitiful depths to which pop music seems to have sunk nowadays would strongly suggest otherwise…

And yet the scientist/writer who created HAL9000 made the alarming observation that if humans can survive, would they remain the dominant species? Look now, some scientists dread the rise of sophisticated AI and its exponential rate of development.

The pinnacle of our technological finality has not been reached; Arthur C. was just one of several thinkers willing to stretch the scope even further. He confidently cited how the “next stage” may involve: “input of sense impressions directly into the brain, bypassing the eyes, ears, and other input/output devices nature has given us.” 

We could easily – almost flippantly – rename Flecker’s work as: “To A Blogger A Thousand Years Hence,” but…

As poetry used to be a popular pastime a century ago, and we are (hopefully) a community of contented bloggers now, that status is bound to change yet again (well) before 2115. What medium of communication and creative expression will be embraced a thousand years hence?

As Clarke observed amusingly: “How would anyone before 1970 have realised that, at the beginning of the 21st century, millions would spend a major part of their working day fondling a mouse?” 

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“What a fitting end to your life’s pursuits. You’re about to become a permanent addition to this archaeological find. Who knows? In a thousand years, even you may be worth something” – Dr. Rene Belloq.  

“O friend unseen, unborn, unknown, 

Student of our sweet English tongue, 

Read out my words at night, alone:

I was a poet, I was young.” 

Too young, alas. Flecker succumbed to tuberculosis in 1915, at the age of only 30 – grief, now it’s the centenary…

Spare a thought for those “unborn.” The truly magnificent advances already accomplished in medical science have successfully contained the proliferation of infectious bacterial diseases such as tuberculosis and other deadly threats. This has culminated in the gradual extension of life expectancy. With more people living beyond 100 now, how long can people expect to live in that far future? What will they be doing? Will they have ventured out beyond the stars as Clarke et al had cheerily envisioned…? 

“Student… Read out my words…” Would that be possible? Those ruins mentioned earlier reminded me of my sheer bafflement experienced upon reading for the first time barely recognisable Anglo-Saxon passages from a millennium ago. Fast forward another millennium and whatever form our “sweet English tongue” takes, it is guaranteed to be not only a whole lot different but just as barely recognisable. Will it still be “English”? Will it still be sweet?  

This Post shall end – just like Clarke’s original article did – with the final verse of Flecker’s poem, teeming with boundless optimism. Despite the inevitable fears of apocalypse that forever beset the pages of science fiction, the prospect of a positive and hopeful human continuity will always remain strong.

Who knows? In a thousand years, even Bradscribe may be worth something…

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Since I can never see your face

And never shake you by the hand,

I send my soul through time and space

To greet you. You will understand. 

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!

Dabbling In The Dark Side: The Bane of Brother BradFail

There is a fascinating world inside your head waiting to be discovered, but don’t stray from the path…

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“Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for” – Ray Bradbury. 

By all that’s sacred! How is this possible?!

For those of you wondering how my Posts get to be so awesome, spare a thought then – by gad! let the shocking truth shine forth here – my fiction (scripts, novels and short stories) has really stalled these past few weeks, despite sporadic sessions of fruitless keyboard pummeling.My cognitive faculties have worked wonders with my blogs, but the other stuff? Just one resounding meh…

Concentrating on any writing project during this time – other than these blogs – has proved to be such a chore. Fortuitously, you will be spared the personal gripes of a forlorn Freelancer – thankfully, this is not that kind of blog, but at least my overworked and under-appreciated noddle has been spared the full brunt of despair… for now.

Yet there must be an easy way out – and still have your limbs, bank balance and sanity intact, but by what desperate-bordering-on-devilish means can this be achieved…

…without succumbing to your own Dark Side? 

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People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls” – Carl Gustav Jung.

Of course, the most prevalent view of a “dark side” is synonymous with the Force, that “moral, philosophical, metaphorical and psychic concept” from the Star Wars Universe. 

Carl Jung analysed this “part of us we like to keep hidden from public view,” only back then (c. 1907) he referred to it as “the shadow self” – that deep and dormant part of our personality wherein lie all our negative and destructive emotions. So, does my shadow self produce better fiction?

While languishing in the shadows of the blogosphere, let me assure you that there will be NO resort to evil ways to achieve greater success. Some comfort can be gleaned from the fact that now – more than ever – there is nothing like science fiction to confront and help ease the pressures of modern life.

Our favourite genre has sought to conquer our fears, and dared to tackle those terribly vexing existential questions that have stumped humankind for aeons such as: why are we here? Are we alone in the universe? Are we humans or replicants? What would our alternate self be doing in a parallel dimension? If you unscrew your navel will your bum fall off?  

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“My evil self is at that door, and I have no power to stop it!” – Dr. Edward Morbius.

Within the elementary basis of the subconscious mind resides the “Id” – a concept first explored by Sigmund Freud in: “The Ego and the Id,” originally published in 1927. He described it as “the unevolved instinctive part of our brain, responsible for the urges and desires we try to repress.” 

In Forbidden Planet (1956), this theme was explored to (then) spectacular Technicolor glory. On Altair IV, Dr Edward Morbius was terrorised by a frightening yet imperceptible entity, which (spoiler ahoy!) just happened to be the manifestation of anxieties from his own subconscious.

Fortunately, my frightful inner daemons have been ably suppressed… until now, at least. Get thee gone, Darth Plagiarism!

At the moment, spending my days wandering and meditating in a hooded habit, when not blogging – writing is a lone (not lonely) profession/pursuit. Quitting has never been an option – ha! don’t even know the meaning of the word – and, rest assured, Brad ain’t gonna start now! Bravado, Resilience, Aptitude, Determination – hell, that’s what Brad stands for!

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Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill. 

Aah… what a marvelous sunrise! Sit back. Relax! Deep breaths… It is this kind of serene vista (photo taken yards from my home sweet home) – which helps soothe the soul, but gazing longingly at it won’t get my work done! Over the course of the next few Posts, you might get to see some of my attempts at fiction, but there will be insights into crafting cool dialogue, and character development – watch this space!

Cinematic SF generally may seem to be locked in a downward spiral, beset with turgid maze-running and snow-piercing, and addled with drab Divergent-this and Insurgent-that. Having toiled and tussled in trying to develop difficult scripts, it’s easy to see how a lot of modern scripts just don’t work, but it is still annoying to think that my writing/editing services are NEVER called upon.

For the moment, this writer will carry on to the best of his abilities… within legal parameters of course. Whilst endeavouring to resist the temptation to traipse down the dark path, an article in one writing magazine recently discussed how evil is a matter of perspective, and it would bode well for any writer to embrace their dark side (once in a while). 

Who knows? Maybe it’s a wonderland teeming with free nachos and choc-chip cookies…

Perhaps my bland brown habit should be ditched in favour of a dynamic black robe…

“Evil is intriguing,” the article exclaimed. “Evil is good.”

Hmmm…

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Cheers!

A Fistful Of Awards: 5 Facts About Brad, Plus My 15 Nominees!

Thank You To Danica @ Living A Beautiful Life For Nominating Me For The Creative Blogger Award

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“Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all it’s flavour” – William Cowper. 

First and foremost, my sincerest apologies for not responding to all these lovely Nominations sooner!

After picking up my first Liebster Award in February, there is now not only a second, but a Versatile Blogger and now this Creative Blogger Award!

It really is FANTASTIC that you should take the time and effort to nominate me for these awards – my gratitude is bountiful and as boundless as the guaranteed awesomeness yet to come!

Huzzah!

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Here are the requirements for the The Creative Blogger Award:

  • Post the award on your site
  • Thank the person who nominated you
  • Share 5 facts about yourself
  • Nominate 15 blogs
  • Link to your nominee’s site

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“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please” – Mark Twain. 

Here are those 5 facts about myself:

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1. Spent my entire working life in Southeast Asia, and it was all because of that car chase in downtown Bangkok from The Man With The Golden Gun (1974). Managed to find an apartment close to the office just up the road from Ratchadamnoen Avenue where that sequence was filmed! (hashtag: chuffed to bits).

Back in 2001, as a temple-junkie, unbeknownst to me, a three month backpacking trip changed my life so much for the better – found a beautiful wife, a good home, hot climate and personal happiness out there – things somehow unobtainable in the land of my birth…

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2. Don’t drive.

Witnessed two horrific car accidents when aged 6 & 10 respectively. My myopia doesn’t help. On top of all that, my first driving lesson turned out to be a reenactment of Duel (1971). Regrettably, the bounder in the big rig didn’t disappear over a cliff; the police never did catch him…

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3. Apart from my forays into blogging, journalism, copywriting, fiction and transdimensional engineering, somehow, somewhere, movie scripts were drafted.

Who knows: my notorious Ghost Rider draft could have worked wonders… if someone noticed. There were some killer lines of dialogue! (Perhaps they should be published here some time? Hey, sounds kinda cool – preferable to letting them languish in dust and obscurity. Will go and fish them out…)

My most ambitious project was (tentatively-titled): “The Planet That Time Forgot” – a Discovery vessel stumbles onto an Earth-like planet (positively teeming with them in SF, you know) but has developed only as far as the Mesozoic Era. Carnivores start picking members of the crew off one-by-one but the survivors are saved by a mysterious humanoid reptilian warrior called Szythkk. 

Yeah, yeah, it sounds daft now, but at least my heroine isn’t storming through a jungle in stilletos! (Don’t think we’ll ever get over that, will we?)

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4. Some say my artwork is awesome. Mainly concentrated on superheroines and badass aliens (all visual concepts for my fictional characters, you see) during my teenage years.

Unfortunately, not too much of it has been done, lately; plus, some of my outstanding pieces just don’t load up so well online (pencil sketches come out too faint) – hence the lateness of this Post: soz), but maybe – ‘cos technology will never get the best of me – a solution will be sought soon, just maybe…

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5. I’m not as stupid as I look…

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“Being nominated is the win. For me, being nominated is winning. It’s just unbelievable” – Martha Plimpton.  

As if the suspense wasn’t too much already. Let me pause and take this opportunity to say that it’s been an absolute joy catching up with your Posts. The Blogosphere seemed like such a daunting place at first before the plunge was taken, and yet two exhilarating years later and it’s been a blast! Hasn’t it? 

Here are my nominations for the Creative Blogger Award:

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Cinema Parrot Disco

Doorway Between Worlds

Film Grimoire

Girl That Loved To Review

iblogthisnthat

letsgotothemovies

Parlor of Horror

Precinct 1313

Science Fiction Ruminations

Sidekick Reviews

The Telltale Mind

Three Rows Back

Vinnieh

Words For Everything

And finally…

Thank You To Ashley @ boxofficebuzz For Nominating Me For The Versatile Blogger Award 

Thank You To Sherise @ Girl That Loved To Review For Nominating Me For (my second) Liebster Award

My Trophy Cabinet: 

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“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars and see for yourself running with them”

– Marcus Aurelius. 

Cheers!

Cosmic Sounds!: Music To Write SF Blogs By

That Weren’t No DJ, That Was Hazy Cosmic Jive!

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“Without music, life would be a mistake” – Friedrich Nietzsche. 

When blogging, usually through the night, it is customary for the compilation of these Posts to be accompanied by music. Now, some writers prefer to work in quiet conditions: not me. At university, music on the radio, or tapes, became imperative to convey me through some particularly troublesome essays.

And so the tradition has continued, with some pumping, pounding beats to carry me to deadline, or some suitably spaced-out melodies to help me through the night. Some of your fave Posts on this site were concocted with the aid of these audio additives.

Wherever possible, appropriate spacey vids have been found to maximize your sensory pleasure! Hopefully, this fine collection will inspire you in your own blogging endeavours…

Oh my god! Youtube is full of 2001: A Space Odyssey videos! Actually, this Post could have consisted of videos with montages of scenes from this single cinematic masterpiece, but variety is indeed the spice of life, so this compendium has dared to forage for more diverse matter. 

Luke Slater, a British DJ, has been producing stellar grooves for over twenty years. His Wireless album was particularly good, and this track: Weave Your Web works well when placed over 2001’s climactic trippy viz.

Richie Hawtin is an innovative Canadian techno producer. This track: The Tunnel makes for a perfect sci-fi number, with its weird bleeping and whirring effects. And this is one of the most simple – yet striking – vids seen by these bleary eyes in a long time. 

“Sternklang is the expression of the intimate encounter with the whole, the direct connection with the stars and the vast universe…” – hookback.  

“Awesome!” is a phrase too readily bandied about these days, but this next piece unconditionally deserves that tag. Tholen’s Sternklang is an epic – seventy-one minutes to be exact! – dark and dissonant soundscape, and should only be savoured during the darkest hours (with the best quality Stereo headphones of course).

The video contains suitably majestic cosmic graphics. It can be viewed in its entirety, or in five easily-digestible segments. Part 2 is my particular fave, with the three-note drone which, commencing at 1:44, hits right to the core, while the space station which materialises at around 2:34 is particularly impressive; the moment at 9:48 is quite special too…

Wow, just as you’re recovering from that stunning experience, so it’s followed by another grand opus. Steve Roach is one of the leading ambient composers working today. Again, it is on the darkest, silent nights that his pieces are replayed over and over for inspiration.

“Darkest Before Dawn” is a deep and goose pimple-inducing masterpiece, especially in its seventy-four minute entirety, but for this Post, here is Drift, because the animation here is absolutely mesmerising. Enjoy! 

“…On my planet, we have a legend… called Footloose. And in it, a great hero, named Kevin Bacon, teaches an entire city full of people, with sticks up their butts, that dancing, well, is the greatest thing there is” – Peter Quill (Starlord). 

Yeah! Time to boogie! Karl O’Connor (aka Regis) is one of the most captivating DJs on the current scene. With Peter Sutton (aka Female) he formed Sandwell District, and reinvigorated a stagnant techno landscape.

Not only was Hunting Lodge the best techno track of 2011, but someone went to the trouble of putting it to images from 1984 (1954). Peter Cushing in a techno vid: sci-fi paradise!

This next track is a phenomenal late-night mind-blaster. The accompanying vid is equally staggering, “Gas 0095” was the debut album of electronic musician Mat Jarvis, otherwise known as Gas. Its classic track: Microscopic is overlaid to powerful effect on a short scientific film called: “The Power of Ten,” which explores both outer and inner space. These fantastic sights and sounds blew me away when first viewed five years ago.

Please be advised: take a deep breath…

“I think, therefore I ambient” – Mixmaster Morris.  

Finally, we come to Geir Jenssen, the Norwegian electronic producer, better known under the moniker: Biosphere. His music has been labelled: “arctic ambient,” supposedly because it induces a glacial atmosphere, rather than being a tad chilly. Any track from the stupendous Substrata album (2009) would have sufficed, but this track incorporates samples of Russian cosmonaut radio transmissions and skillful sprinklings of The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss to blissful effect.

There is just a still image here, but this is not important. What matters is that within the next fifteen minutes, you may most likely drift into the Land of Nod, pleasantly dreaming of gliding among the stars…

groovy

Groovy!

Yet Another Chance To Pick Up Power Converters At Tosche Station!

What a desolate place this is…  

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“We’d come a week after Jesus of Nazareth had filmed, and it just seemed so odd to be in such an antiquated environment doing something that was meant to be futuristic” – Mark Hamill.   

Before the sensational introductory glimpses of Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) from the Star Wars VII trailer engulfed the worldwide net last November, exciting legions of fans around the world, it seemed quite obvious to me that we will be going back to Tatooine.

In our first view of Rey, there is a gaffi stick (only used by Tusken Raiders) attached to the side of her speeder. It should be said that Tatooine is one of my favourite planets in this or any other galaxy, certainly one of the more intriguing worlds belonging to the Outer Rim Territories. 

With the funny Jawas, those cumbersome Banthas, awkward Dewbacks and the in-house entertainment of the Cantina which everyone (except for George, of course) loved, at Mos Eisley spaceport, this desert planet in a binary star system made an indelible impression on many of us; it was – most likely – the first alien world we were ever transported to through the magic of cinema. 

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“The Sand People are easily startled, but they’ll be back, and in greater numbers” – Obi-Wan Kenobi.

One of the most inspirational factors of the original 1977 movie came undoubtedly in the archaic form of the Sand People, otherwise known by their more dynamic moniker: Tusken Raiders. 

Sure, loved the diminutive Jawas, same as everyone else, but these unruly nomadic ruffians of the Jundland Wastes struck such a significant chord with me. Maybe it had something to do with their creepy googly eyes and those crazy tube-things that stick out of their cheeks (please excuse the technical jargon), not to mention that blood-curdling war-cry. The amusing sight of them taking potshots at podracers was one of the ultra-rare satisfying moments from Episode I. 

When the opportunity came to select my Star Wars mask – many moons ago – the choice was instant and obvious. Also wrapped in a beige-coloured blanket from the cupboard under the stairs, and a long stick from the garden that freakishly resembled a gaffi, those unfortunate souls who dared to visit the row of shops at the top of our road would be “terrorized” by this mini-Tusken on several evenings. Ah, happy times…

Probably why that pathetic pile of pap: Episode II remains the biggest disgrace to this legendary franchise is because Anakin Skywalker slaughters a whole camp of Tuskens. Reprehensible! 

It would be really great to see them again (and in greater numbers) this December, but we‘ll just have to wait… 

and wait…

The Force Awakens seems so, er, far far away…

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“Luke, I didn’t come back to just say goodbye… I made some friends at the Academy; when our frigate leaves for one of the Central Systems, we’re going to jump ship and join the Alliance- quiet down, will ya?! You’ve got a mouth bigger than a meteor crater…” – Biggs Darklighter. 

Some of the most important plot-lines for the franchise are revealed on Tatooine, even those we never got to see. Among various accumulated SW trivia were intriguing stills of Luke with best buddy: Biggs Darklighter, the moustachioed adventurer who was going to join the Rebellion and implored Luke to come with him. It is arguably the best of the fabled deleted scenes.

When Luke cries frustratedly: “Biggs is right, I’m never going to get out of here!” in a later scene, he refers to this absent conversation, rendering this line meaningless (and yet it still made the final cut?!). When news of a Special Edition to mark the 20th Anniversary was announced, it meant only one thing: the reinstatement of that scene! Instead of savouring these prized nuggets my crestfallen senses were, inexplicably, served abhorrent splodges of shoddy CGI tampering…  

Admittedly, some of Episode IV’s deleted scenes do spoil the flow of the continuity, but the more you look at it, this one in particular was so integral to the plot. It does, however, appear in the novelization and the radio adaptation… so, George, what say you? 

One of the key distinctive lines in the original 1977 movie – taking its own hallowed pedestal in the folklore of the franchise – is Luke saying that he wanted “to go to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters.” This power distribution centre was originally intended to make a prominent appearance in the movie, but also ended up on the cutting room floor. Although Merl Tosche established the place, it was managed primarily by another of Luke’s buddies: Laze “Fixer” Loneozner, whose scenes never made it into the finished film either.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? Perhaps this goes some way to explaining the enduring appeal of Star Wars. To think that the movie so many of us (think we know so well and) love unconditionally also offers so much more to explore…  

STAR WARS

“If there’s a bright center to the universe, you’re on the planet that its farthest from” – Luke Skywalker.

Of course, there is a very poignant reason why any analyses of the new Episode VII  material have not featured in this blog until now. My father took me to watch the original trilogy at the cinema. Initially under the impression that he would have to sit through irritating juvenile hogwash, he was swept along just as much as the rest of us bright-eyed gawping moppets.

For the next thirty years, he would never hesitate to remark how fortunate we both were to have shared the right quality entertainment at the right time. Of course, one of this franchise’s superior aspects must surely be John Williams’ epic soundtrack, which strongly captivated us both.

This Post has been published on the Anniversary of his passing, six years ago. As a mark of remembrance, here is his all-time favourite movie scene – can still hear him whistling this even now…

Here’s to you, Dad: 

Pioneer of Electronic Music: Edgar Froese (1944-2015)

Founder of Tangerine Dream died last Tuesday, aged 70 

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“Working with synthesisers is a completely different approach to electrified music. We’re open to all kinds of modern music developments…” – Edgar Froese. 

The news hit quite unexpectedly this morning. Edgar Froese, who died this week in Vienna, was one of the most prominent electronic music pioneers and the only consistent member of influential electronic group: Tangerine Dream. 

Rather than be lost amongst the sound of their Krautrock contemporaries such as Neu!, Faust and Can, Tangerine Dream spent the 70s in ambitious electronic experimentation. The first albums: Electronic Meditation (1970) and Alpha Centauri (1971) were interesting experiments; but, in 1972, their third album: Zeit, a double album with one track per side, became their first masterpiece with: “just lots of strange pulsating synths and a few creepy cellos” as the 40th Anniversary CD sleeve insists.

Signing to Virgin Records gave them the chance to experiment more and resulted in the seminal classic: Phaedra (1974). It’s ambitious use of sequencers helped create a trancey, atmospheric soundscape, from which one can detect the tentative beginnings of the modern techno and ambient genres. Rubycon and Ricochet both arrived in 1975, proving that those spacey sounds could be consistently creative. 

With the release of studio albums: Tangram (1980) and Exit (1981), experimenting with the latest electronic equipment, a distinctively 80s sound emerged, and inspired the next stage of their musical direction; directors were inspired to ask them to provide soundtracks for their movies. Here they would pick up a totally new fanbase.

For the exact moment when Tangerine Dream first caught my attention, here it is…

“Together, [Tangerine Dream and The Keep] formed one of the great audio/visual events of the Eighties, and the Franke/Froese/Schmoelling soundtrack gained almost legendary status mainly because of the conspicuous absence of an official soundtrack release” – synthmusicdirect.com

Tangerine Dream were prolific composers of film music, with The Sorceror (1977), Thief (1981), Risky Business (1983), Legend (1985) and Near Dark (1987) among some of their considerable back catalogue; but it is their extraordinary soundtrack for Michael Mann’s cult second movie: The Keep (1983) which introduced me to the unique and groundbreaking music of Edgar Froese. 

At first listening, the amazing electronic music in this much-maligned cult horror movie set in Romania during the Second World War seems bizarre and incongruous, but makes for an oddly-compelling viewing experience. This may be one of the reasons why this intriguing but badly-edited film has divided opinions so dramatically. The above scene – strange and then quite horrific – naturally calls for some unnerving audio accompaniment.

Not like Tangerine Dream to oblige so obviously. On the contrary, they provide a sublime, quite uplifting track; some would say it just doesn’t work, but personally, it made for an exceptional moment. Thirty years after first viewing, the rest of the movie may have been a blur, but that scene will live with me forever…

tangerinedreamTangerine Dream

“So sad to hear of the sudden death of my friend Edgar Froese, founder of Tangerine Dream. Great memories” – Brian May. 

In 1967, as an art student in West Berlin, a meeting with surreal artist: Salvador Dali encouraged Froese to depart from the conventions of guitar rock and explore the universe on sonic waves. It’s quite obvious: Edgar Froese and sci-fi melded seamlessly. Of course, Tangerine Dream have – in numerous reviews – been labelled as space-rock. With some of the most pulsating or drifting cosmic sounds ever recorded, Froese and his ever-changing band of co-synthnauts (including most notably Chris Franke and Peter Baumann) achieved some phenomenal celestial explorations and musical concoctions. A glance at such titles as Alpha Centauri (1971), Birth of Liquid Pleiades (1972), Phaedra (1974), Patrolling Space Borders (1977) would easily confirm this.

A practitioner of Zen Meditation, Froese believed that time itself was an illusion, formed by the senses. There have been numerous nights when the meditative – as well as inspirational – qualities of Phaedra, Rubycon, The Keep and Zeit have all helped immensely in the compilation of a few of my Posts; so it seems uncanny that their composer is suddenly no longer with us…

“There is no death,” he once said, “there is just a change of our cosmic address.”  

The proof of any great composer must surely lie in the sheer difficulty of selecting just one track which best epitomises the power and influence that his music can evoke. Out of Edgar Froese’s varied and extraordinary body of work, it is this track in particular which has made me look out several times from my balcony, scan the stars in the night sky and contemplate life, the universe and everything. 

Thank you Edgar. 

Edgar-Froese

An Obscure Body In The SK System: Why Do Aliens ALWAYS Pick On Us?

Pathetic Earthlings! Who can save you now?

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“By the toll of a billion deaths, man had earned his immunity, his right to survive among this planet’s infinite organisms. And that right is ours against all challenges. For neither do men live nor die in vain” – Morgan Freeman. 

Ever since H.G. Wells wrote in 1898 that our planet was “being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s yet as mortal as his own,” it is painfully obvious that as long as “intellects vast and cool” persist across the gulf of space, they’ll be looking for a fight!

As the only species on this side of the Oort Cloud which actually instigates warfare on its own kind, we are, quite simply, a laughing stock – and considered fair primitive game for invasion fleets which need to test the latest upgrade of their interstellar weapons technology. Of course, it’s almost always an American metropolis that gets picked on, with Manhattan invariably getting selected again and again… and (ho hum) again…

This should come as no surprise. Supposedly, the standard answer provided is that NY City offers more recognizable landmarks – so, wait, you mean to tell me that the aliens plan their elaborate invasion campaigns using their own Lonely Planet Guide to New York? Aha…

Why should this be? Why do they make the effort? Whenever anyone as adroit (and a little bit crazy) like Dr. Hans Zarkov has the nerve to ask Ming: the Ruler of the Universe: “Why attack us?” abrupt and unexpected comes the stern answer: “Why not?!”

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“This is the oddest thing I’ve ever heard of. Let’s hope we don’t catch it. I’d hate to wake up some morning and find out that you weren’t you” – Dr. Miles J. Bennell. 

During the 1950s, constant threat of invasion inspired a crop of alien invasion movies. Of course, the outstanding masterpiece of this era is The Day The Earth Stood Still in which intergalactic ambassador Klaatu arrives in Washington DC to warn of imminent alien invasion if mankind fails to halt the increase in its weapons technology.

Possibly the most effective invasion movie is Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1956) which, quite unnervingly, played heavily on the rampant paranoia prevalent at that time (and is it a coincidence that the lead actor just happens to be McCarthy…?)

As a tribute to those invasion films of the 50s, Strange Invaders (1983) showed that stealth and subtlety could be just as decisive as strategically placing giant frisbees over the tallest buildings anyone can name correctly. The “invasion” was so subtle that any traces of this cult movie cannot be found anywhere.

John Carpenter’s 1988 cult fave: They Live! is generally regarded as a satire of Reagan’s America, in which aliens have infiltrated the upper echelons of society. 

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Robbie Ferrier: “What is it? Is it terrorists?”

Ray Ferrier: “These came from some place else.” 

Robbie Ferrier: “What do you mean, like, Europe?”

Ray Ferrier: “No, Robbie, not like Europe!”

A very entertaining invasion romp has to be Mars Attacks! (1996): a splendidly wacky ode to the B-movie pulp screen action of the 50s. The alien invasion is thwarted when the young hero discovers that grandma’s record of Indian Love Call by Slim Whitman makes the aliens’ heads explode. Apparently, the Martians’ distinctive speech was created by reversing the quack of a duck, ha! Genius!

Signs (2002) is most notable for being one of M Night. Shyamalamalamalan’s less painful endurance tests, offering the rare opportunity of seeing Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix sporting tin foil hats. On a Pennsylvanian farm, giant geometric symbols appear in the fields while the family follow an alien invasion unfolding on the telly… Close Encounters of the Corny Kind. 

 

In Battle: Los Angeles (2011) what appears to be a meteor storm is actually the arrival of an alien invasion fleet. A squad of US Marines have to defend the LA beach from standard fare gangly gun-toting ETs… and, well, that’s it. Must be based on a computer game as it felt like such a vapid viewing experience.

Even comicbook movies are prone to a bit of third-stone-from-the-sun-storming. The Avengers (2012) had to contend with a Chitauri invasion force which zipped out of a vortex above… yes! Yet another American cityscape… Once its learned that they are neurologically bound to the mothership, Iron Man guides a nuclear missile into it, at which all the remaining ground forces instantaneously collapse.

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

 

But, before you go, there’s something you should know…

As someone who is stirred by the essence of clever ideas, catchy dialogue, some captivating cinematography and stirring characters in quality SF, then let me tell you, my friends, there is one alien invasion movie which really makes my blood boil, and that just has to be Independence Day (1996). None of the above criteria were ever considered, let alone tackled.

One of the worst cinema trips of my life; it was the mind-numbing day that cut off any hope of accepting the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as a bonafide movie star. Never has there been so much destruction on such a grand scale yet was left totally deprived of any sense of shock (or awe for that matter) and without any emotional intensity whatsoever. It is said that Brad gasped while everyone else in that theatre gawped. Usually, Jeff Goldblum is cool, but on this occasion he barely got through it. 

The aliens were as useless as a wet towel and looked like nothing more than shoddy (H.R.) Giger-knockoffs, not half as menacing as our cat. As the end credits started running, some excited infant nearer to the screen yelled out: “That’s the best movie I’ve ever seen!”

No prizes for guessing that my seething despondency forced me to cry out the very opposite…

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Keep watching the skies!