And The Bradscribe Award For Best Sci-Fi Of The Year Goes To…

The Bradscribe Awards 2015: What Was Best: Maz, Max, Mish Or Machina?

uppity-waiter-007

The academy may pride itself on its history, but the world around it is changing, and unless it begins to reflect these changes, I can see the Oscars ceasing to be of any relevance to a growing and vocal new generation of artists who see it as a relic of the old world” – David Harewood.  

Hello and welcome to the Bradscribe Awards!

As we were blessed with a year brimming with various cinematic nuggets to choose from, it’s only fair to review it in our own lavish ceremony. And besides, many of you have been wondering – especially as this site has slagged off more than its fair share of crud these past twelve months – what actually managed to impress me during 2015!

One thing you can be certain about the Bradscribe Awards – activated to honour the criminally-overlooked field of science fictionthey are bright and visionary. And diverse. Nominees can be black, brown, blue or green. Or shiny and chrome. 

Also, there’s lots of cake on offer…

Why Don’t The Oscars Celebrate SF?

Sigourney-Weaver

“It is a genre that I think doesn’t get enough respect when you consider how many issues sci-fi brings up that we need to deal with” – Sigourney Weaver.

There seems to be an unwritten rule stipulating that science fiction – and fantasy, and horror, come to that – do not receive awards recognition in the main categories. Sure, the Academy recognises the technical achievements of this genre, but really, you can quite easily find some of the best scripts and acting in this continually innovative field.

In trying to sort this migraine out, trust longtime Bradscribe fave, Sigourney Weaver, to come to the rescue:

“The work being done in sci-fi is some of the most interesting, provocative work out there.”

Yet why should this genre tend to make little impact when Oscar season gets into full swing?

She has remarked how the Academy consists of “mostly people like me who are over a certain age” who tend to look for the “the more conventional movie.”

Uff, nuts to that. 

Part of SF’s wonder is its ability to offer more unconventional thrills. Rather than get stuck in the same mundane, formulaic soup – which, let’s be honest, too many mainstream dramas do – the genre is experimental and challenging, vital components sought, surely, by the modern movie-goer.

Before launching into the main ceremony, here’s a little sketch to get you warmed up. Hey, it was either this, or a flashy-but-ultimately-pointless song-an’-dance extravaganza: 

Without further ado, let’s get down to the essential categories:

Best SFX: Mad Max: Fury Road

Jurassic World just looked big; Star Wars: The Force Awakens looked impressive, but Namibia nabbed it.  

Best Music Score: Mad Max: Fury Road

This would have been set aside for John Williams – continuing the fine tradition of classic scores for Star Wars – but on first viewing, the new score was barely discernible. 

Best Original Screenplay: Ex Machina

Intellectually-stimulating sci-fi is what we crave at this site. Nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, how it did not win last night is my pet peeve of this year’s ceremony. 

Congrats to Alex Garland, who made his directorial debut with this instant classic. Here, honestly, this Award was as predictable as that Titanic boy getting the Best Actor Oscar… 

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Martian 

Drew Goddard worked wonders with Andrew Weir’s novel.

Rising Star Of The Year 

boyega-rising-star

“It’s important that the conversation carries on… Everybody should be the change they want to see and go from there, but keep talking, keep doing” – John Boyega. 

This Rogue Stormtrooper received most of the biggest laughs at the packed cinema this reviewer attended. While everybody is quite rightfully lauding Daisy Ridley as the new New Hope – an equally impressive entry to the SW galaxy, we should not overlook this young and promising boy from Peckham. The Oscars have, but Brad hasn’t…

*

Let’s assess candidates for the Woman Of The Year and Man Of The Year:

Woman Of The Year 

Always keen to catch strong and memorable women’s roles, especially in SF. However, there seemed to be fewer notable women’s roles on offer this year. Emilia Clarke should have brought in an exceptional Sarah Connor, but had weak material with which to work; and Bryce Dallas Howard made a mark only by outrunning a T Rex. In high heels. Never gonna let that lie… 

But who made it onto the final list? 

Honestly, Sigourney should be here – for old times sake – but Chappie was so underwhelming; even she couldn’t make it bearable. Instead, we have plumped for:

scarletwitchelizabetholsen-119892

5. Scarlet Witch 

It was great to see Wanda Maximoff on the big screen at last, but so frustrating that she had so little to do, and had barely any “character” to develop sufficiently. Oh well, hope she gets more (worthy) screentime in the forthcoming Captain America: Civil War… 

maz-kanata

4. Maz Kanata

Maz is over one hundred years old, and she had – until those First Order loons swept in and trashed the place! – her own swell pad at which anyone in the galaxy can hang out; even got her own awesome statue outside it(!). She happens to possess Luke’s lightsaber, and also counts Chewie as her boyfriend. Way ta go, girl! 

Furiosa

3. Imperator Furiosa

When Mad Max made his energising and explosive return to the big screen, little did anyone expect that Cherlize Theron would not only steal Immortan Joe’s War-Rig, but steal all the scenes in the year’s most explosive actionfest. Her presence was so seismic that the subtitle should have read: Furiosa Road. 

alicia-vikander

2. Alicia Vikander

As Eva: the AI centre of attention in Ex Machina this Swedish actress made an immediate impact. And held her own against the big boys in The Man From UNCLE. Already looking forward to her next projects.

Congrats to Alicia for confounding the run of play by snatching the Best Supporting Actress gong; but really, she deserved the Best Actress Oscar. For a vastly more impressive picture…

This girl should go far. We hope. 

1. Not surprisingly, the Real Greatest Woman of this – and, for that matter, every other – year just happens to be – unreservedly, wholeheartedly: Mrs. B, but seeing how we really should be talkin’ about movie stars (and me darlin’ still won’t reverse that online pics ban) let’s move swiftly on. 

But in case you’re still wondering, you can find the Woman Of The Year here:

And now, on to the:

Man Of The Year 

antman-poster

5. Ant-Man.

Always a personal fave comic character, it seemed inconceivable how the tiniest Avenger could transfer easily onto the big screen. Initially, Paul Rudd looked like a disastrous case of miscasting, but he helped make this little movie the surprise package of the year. 

andy-serkis-ulysses-klaw

4. Andy Serkis

The actor most synonymous with motion capture – who lit up the Bradmonitor when he first crawled onscreen as Gollum – not only brought us our new villain of the Dark Side: Supreme Leader Snoke, but a traditional live action nasty called Ullysses Klaw in Avengers: Age of Ultron. 

Always a treat to watch, Serkis is the only reason to look forward to yet another Planet of the Apes sequel. 

Kylo

3. Kylo Ren

The villain of the long-awaited new Star Wars episode, had to make a rather special impact. Fotunately, Kylo Ren did just that. How many times has Brad replayed that scene of him staggering through the dark forest, then energising his lightsaber? Guess that correctly, dear reader, and YOU can have a slice of cake… 

Best Supporting Actor Award for Adam Driver methinks?

Ultron-up

2. Ultron

“Look at me! Do I look like Iron Man?!”

Traditionally a formidable villain in the Avengers comic, a certain degree of trepidation led up to the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. 

No worries! They got the look just right. Voiced malevolently by the Amazing Spader-Man, he turned out to be supercool as well as superbad! And he was blessed with oodles of great lines! 

In any other year, Ultron would have stolen this category, but there was one fella who managed to impress me even more, and that was: 

1. Oscar Isaac

Oscar-Isaac-2016-Golden-Globes

“There’s some stuff he’s got in his tool set which is properly rare. Fierce talent, that’s what you want – and that’s exactly what Oscar’s got. You don’t need to be a filmmaker to see it” – Alex Garland. 

You may be thinking this was staged so that yours truly could chortle: “And the oscar goes to Oscar!”

Ha ha, no really, ever since spotting him steal scenes from the Crowe way back in Ridley Scott’s otherwise lacklustre Robin Hood, Isaac has been carving a very special niche in modern movies. He gave one of the best performances of the year in Ex Machina, but Poe Dameron was woefully underused.

We just can’t wait to see him steal the show as the eponymous archvillain in X-Men: Apocalypse!

Right? 

Crud Of The Year 

cruise-th-only-good-bit-1495

“It was stupid. It was trash… It was not a flop that quietly came and went without anyone noticing. It got the disrespect it deserved” – Joe Queenan.

Gotta take the rough with the smooth, so they say, but even so…

It’s hard to believe, but 2015 still manage to serve up some particularly underwhelming duds. Rather than rant eloquently about the ever-dwindling standard of movie-making, let’s get these turkeys out of the way, sharpish:

Chappie; Fant4stic Four; Jupiter Ascending; Pixels; Terminator: Genisys;

Even presented with the offer of sitting through this abysmal cack for free, you still couldn’t entice me. Honestly, you would think Game Of Thrones adequately paid Peter Dinklage’s rent, so why did he have to get involved in this tragedy? 

Let’s cheer ourselves up with the:

Magic Moments Of The Year 

Well, bless my frickin’ quarnex battery! Here are the most awesome scenes to have graced our local popcorn parlours this past year:

5. 2015 Arnie vs. 1984 Arnie in Terminator: Genisys

You can’t beat nostalgia. A stylish nod to the classic scene from the original Terminator movie. If only the rest of the movie was as cool as this. One to search for on Youtube only.

4. T Rex vs. Indominus Rex from Jurassic World

This fourth installment of the Dinoland franchise may not have wrangled its way onto my Best of The Year list, but the climactic scrap between these two giants evokes the spirit of the original Jurassic Park. An extra slice of cake for that Mosasaurus 😉 If anyone can get near it, that is…

3. Kylo Ren stops a laser blast in midair

 So Snoke says Kylo needs to complete his training. If he can do that, his powers look pretty formidable to us!   

em5

2. That Ex Machina Dance 

Just when you think you’re gonna bust some heavy-duty grey matter getting to grips with the premise of top class AI drama: Ex Machina, so Professor Isaac – really unexpectedly – teaches us how to cut up the dance floor – yeah! This was destined to be THE Magic Moment Of The Year, until we gawped at: 

1. The Sandstorm from Mad Max: Fury Road

Let’s face it, all two hours of this exhilarating high-octane thrill-ride exudes movie magic of the highest calibre, but you can enjoy this classic scene right here: 

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! The cake!

Best Movie Of The Year

So, what provided the most outstanding viewing experience of the year?

  • It was wonderful to be able to marvel at a new Star Wars movie, but although it was great to have new exciting characters and elements to savour, feelings that we were watching a retread of the 1977 original still filtered through.
  • The Martian certainly provided our happiest visit to the cinema together this past year.
  • Ex Machina is the solidly-written, well-crafted thought-provoking movie that the genre cries out for, but:

The frenetic energy, stunts, and sheer irresistible spectacle of Mad Max: Fury Road clinches it!

Last, but not least, is the:

Outstanding Contribution To Film

douglas-slocombe-4670

Douglas Slocombe was a British cinematographer of exceptional skill. Some of his film credits: Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Italian Job (1969) and the Indiana Jones trilogy, read like a list from the Bradscribe Hall of Fame. 

He passed away last Monday aged 103. As a tribute, here is perhaps his most iconic work: 

So, congrats to Max. Your cake is thoroughly well-deserved. 

While compiling this Post, we were delighted to learn last night that Fury Road secured a mightily impressive hoard of six Oscars: Costume Design; Editing; Make-Up; Production Design; Sound Editing; and Sound Mixing. 

But why stop there? Best Actress should have gone to Theron; moreover, Fury Road deserves Best Picture…

Officially the top cinematic sensation of 2015, show us your appreciation, Max: 

mad-max-thumbs-up

Oh, what a year! What a lovely year!

And they discovered water on Mars. Which was nice. 

comments

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

Where Space Ends, Hell Begins… 

at_the_mountains_of_madness_3_howard__lovecraft_by_ivany86-d6egxq7

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

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

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

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

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

cthulhu

guillermo-del-toro-interview-02-420-75

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hellboy-seed-of-destruction-part-4-of-4

7-gods-of-chaos

hellboy-ogdru-jahad

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

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

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

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

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

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

coolair3

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

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

heavy-metal-79

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

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

kroenen-gif

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

“In Your Face, Neil Armstrong!”: The Martian: A Review.

Help Is Only 140 Million Miles Away…

THE LONE RANGER:
THE LONE RANGER: “I wonder how the Cubs are doing?”

“Log Entry: Sol 6. I’m pretty much fucked – that’s my considered opinion. Fucked” – Mark Watney. 

There are three important facts you need to know about Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi opus, based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir.

The Martian offers a rollickingly good yarn on how to survive on our nearest neighbour in the solar system; also, the curse of woefully-underwhelming movies set on Mars as featured in a previous Post has – for the time being at any rate – been expunged; and thirdly – and perhaps most vital of all – this blogger would NOT be watching the movie alone! In a last-minute dramatic twist, Mrs. B noticed the seat next to me on the big-city-bound-bus was vacant. She bungled in and paid the extra fare. We were off to Mars together after all, and this blogger was already over the moon.    

Mrs. B loves Matt Damon; Mrs. B loves Matt Damon topless; Mrs. B loves botany. Yes, folks, my beloved has found THE PERFECT MOVIE. Watching Matt Damon – sorry, Mark Watney – fiddle with his seeds, Mrs. B pursed her lips in admiration. She leaned over, nudged me in the ribs and whispered: “I wanna go help him!” 

Should have known she was going to say that. Don’t mind Brad: he’ll be Terra-bound, blogging away, looking after the cat…

THE SEEDS OF DOOM:
THE SEEDS OF DOOM: “Hell yeah I’m a botanist! Fear my botany powers!”

“The Martian atmosphere is only 1% as thick as Earth’s, so a Mars wind of 100mph… would only have the dynamic force as a 10mph wind on Earth. You could fly a kite in it, but it wouldn’t knock you down” – Dr. Robert Zubrin. 

So, when Watney determines to “science the shit out of this, how accurate is The Martian’s science?

Or is it just shit?

The most glaring gaffe is the “fierce storm” – the integral plot device that causes Watney to be stranded on Mars in the first place. As the atmosphere of Mars is less dense than Earth’s, such a storm would be extremely unlikely – even Weir was quick – albeit reluctantly – to admit that.

One glowing review commended The Martian for being “one of the best thrillers of the year.” 

Thriller?

What makes this movie so enjoyable to watch is the natural charm and effervescence of its leading man. After the hilarious moment when he admits to being a botanist, and (too) confidently vlogs about how he will grow his own food, there is no reason for us to get anxious. No suspense, no dramatic tension, certainly no  “edge-of-the-seat” stuff here – in fact, his fight for survival becomes quite entertaining viewing. Amusingly, Watney’s concern seems mostly preoccupied with trying to cope with Commander Lewis’ deplorable taste in disco music!

“No, I absolutely will not turn the beat around!”

The biggest laugh of the movie comes when he experiments with making water by extracting hydrazine from the rocket fuel and burning hydrogen. He is – to use the hip parlance of our time – “pretty smokin'”; literally, the smoke is rising off poor Watney as he vlogs: “So… I blew myself up…”  

No prizes for guessing that my little lady gave out the biggest laugh when that accident blasted him across the auditorium in full glorious Dolby Stereo.   

THE SECRET GARDEN:
THE SECRET GARDEN: “My asshole is proving to be just as useful as my brain”

“Just so we’re clear, Mark Watney is who I want to be. He has all the qualities I like about myself…  Mark Watney isn’t afraid to fly” – Andy Weir. 

Having enjoyed the audiobook, certain classic lines have been omitted, but Drew Goddard has managed to take one engrossing book and write a rather special screenplay.

It should be mentioned that the second-best feature of this movie is the stunning location photography. Wadi Rum in Jordan makes for a superb Martian landscape. We watched in 3D format, which helped enhance our viewing pleasure immensely.

Personally, we could easily have done without any of the scenes back on Earth; none of the (underwritten as usual) NASA personnel had a fraction of Watney’s charisma anyway. At least one of us would have been satisfied with just Damon monologuing nonchalantly into his videocam for the entire 141 minutes.    

Apart from the incredible storm, please spare me the young socially awkward mathematician who has (successfully!) plotted the best gravity-assist trajectory to bring back Watney et al within agreeable parameters. 

The only other major gripe about this movie concerns the climax. Besides the uncertainties of getting Watney into orbit (in a coneless module?!), there is the highly improbable task of Ares III selecting the right course and velocity to catch him. The movie’s running time is fast running out, so the script simply cannot afford any more screw-ups, miraculously.  A typically treacly Hollywood ending spoils it a tad, but nevertheless, its place on the Top 10 of 2015 list is assured. 

Naturally, there are numerous nods to other movies: being stranded (Cast Away), trying to deal with the return to Earth (Apollo 13), struggling to grow food millions of miles from Earth (Silent Running) and even being separated millions of miles from Jessica Chastain (Interstellar).

Fortunately for Damon, it is a more wholesome slice of sci-fi than the bleak and foul-mouthed Elysium (not even Mrs. B fancied the idea of watching her fave star as a bald-headed cyborg); and for Scott, it is a (much) welcome return-to-form after the flawed Prometheus and misjudged Exodus. 

To sum up then, The Martian is one helluva one-guy-against-the-odds movie – an exhilarating cinematic experience which can – and certainly will in this household – be watched time and time again. 

And yes, it was fantastic to have nachos with the Special Cheezy Dip again.

Mr. and Mrs. B’s Verdict: 

The-Martian

“Way to go, Iron Man!”

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.  

martian-in-thai

“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…” 

siam-paragon

“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…”  

themartian

“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. 

mr.jones-alien06

“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.”

hardware wars

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.

zoe-saldana-in-guardians-of-the-galaxy-movie-1

“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. 

bladerunner-pris-roy-batty

“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!

isaac-asimov-science-fiction-artwork_preview_31d3

comments

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

Who Wants To Live Forever? 

ziaomeenzr

“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…?

Pillars-of-Creation

“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?” 

2001-stargate

“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…

space_art_by_skandix-d5flzke

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. 

last starfighter

“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.

the-last-starfighter_grig_3

“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:

john_carter_tars_tarkas_tharks

“…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! 

Close Encounters 4

“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. 

tars-tarkas (1)

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

Cheers!