Archive for the ‘Space’ Category

The Film Programme Tonight on Radio 4 on ‘Alien’

May 11, 2017

Tomorrow the next instalment of the ‘Alien’ franchise, Alien: Covenant, opens in Britain. Michael Fassbender, who plays the androids David and Walter in the movie, and director Ridley Scott, were interviewed this morning on BBC breakfast TV.

And at 4.00 O’clock this afternoon on Radio 4 The Film Programme, presenter Francine Stock will also be talking to Ridley Scott. The blurb for the programme in the Radio Times runs

Back in 1979 Alien opened up a new era in science fiction movies – a technical masterwork with a terrifying vision, an era-defining lead performance from Sigourney Weaver, and an unforgettable scene involving John Hurt and an upset stomach. It spawned a franchise, with original director Ridley Scott having now made Alien: Covenant. He talks to Francine Stock.

The Saturn Five Variants that Were Never Built

May 4, 2017

And now a little break from the elections. This is a short video from Vintage Space, discussing the variants of the Saturn V moon rockets that were designed, but never built. These new space vehicles were designed to be bigger and better. From what is said about them in the video, it seems the designers adopted a modular approach, or something like it, so that stages and rocket motors could be swapped around and altered to allow the rockets to be customised to suit different missions.

It’s a pity that these awesome machines were scrapped at the end of the Apollo missions. I’ve read letters in Spaceflight, one of the magazines published by the British Interplanetary Society by scientists, who believed that the proper way into space would have been through building Big Dumb Boosters. Although not reusable, they could be mass produced, which would mean they could be constructed for the cost of a battle ship, and bring launch costs down to about $100,000.

Some space scientists are still bitter about the destruction of the Saturn Vs and even the plans for them. They were the only rockets capable of taking people out to the Moon, and potentially further out into the Deep Black. John Lewis in his book, Mining the Sky, on how humanity could expand into space to exploit the rich material and energy resources of the solar system, compares the destruction of the Saturn V to the destruction of Chung He’s fleet. Chung He was a Fifteenth century Chinese explorer, who led an expedition that sailed around the world. One of the places he reached was the Bight of Benin in West Africa. On his return, however, the eunuchs of the imperial court decided that the fleet represented a threat to the stability and order of the Chinese empire. So they destroyed it, thus helping to keep China isolated from the outside world for centuries. The bureaucrats, who ordered the destruction of the Saturn V moon rockets were, in Lewis’ view, guilty of the same kind of thinking.

There are alternative crewed space vehicles under development, and it is believed that the Chinese are planning to send a crewed mission to the Moon, quite apart from the various schemes to land people on Mars.

In the meantime, this video shows some the spacecraft that could have been.

The Doctor Inadvertently Explains the Need for Socialism

May 1, 2017

This is for all the Dr. Who fans out there. It was posted by male feminist and internet campaigner against Alt Right bigotry, Kevin Logan. It’s a clip from last Saturday’s episode. The Doctor and his new companion, Bill, travel back in time to Victorian London, where they find that an evil lord has been keeping a sea monster chained up under the Thames. The monster also lowers the temperature in winter so that the Thames freezes over. This allows Londoners to hold frost fairs on the ice of the river itself, which the lord encourages. Once on the ice, the smaller fish aiding the monster luring human victims away from the crowd, where they are then eaten by the monster. After passing through the creature, their remains are then harvested by the lord and his team, to be used as fuel for Britain’s burgeoning industrial revolution.

Bill and the Doctor are determined to end this, but are seized by the lord and his men. The evil aristo has absolutely no moral scruples about killing people to aid British industry. He helps Britain move forward. As for alternative forms of fuel, like coal, he points out that men die in mines.

The Doctor then makes this speech, where he makes the point that the needs of the many outweigh those of the privileged, aristocratic few, and that the true measure of progress for a civilisation isn’t in its industry, but how it treats its people.

It’s not a party political speech, but it does capture the essence of the Socialist ethos. And it is acutely relevant, given that the Tories are bent on grinding us all into desperate poverty, just for the enrichment of themselves and the corporate elite.

The speech also fits in with the concern the revived show has always had with protecting the marginalised. Apart from promoting the acceptance of gays as normal members of society, the series has also made pointed comments about the marginalisation and exploitation of asylum seekers and the homeless. In the final episode of the first of the news series, Christopher Ecclestone’s Doctor is told by the Dalek Emperor that the Daleks that are surrounding and threatening Earth have been engineered from humans. They are what has become of the poor and desperate, who tried to find a better life, only to be transformed into the emotionless killing machines.

Similarly, when David Tennant’s Doctor encountered the new cybermen on a parallel Earth, they were being manufactured from the homeless of this alternative London. The evil scientist’s henchmen lured them in with offers of food, before removing their free will with radio receivers that controlled their minds, and then mutilating them into the emotionless cyborgs.

And I’ve no doubt you can find similar examples in the earlier, classic episodes of Doctor Who as well. There isn’t any explicit party politics in Dr. Who, but he consistently stands up for the weak, exploited, threatened and marginalised against the powerful, whether alien invaders or ruthless corporations.

My YouTube Video Urging People to Vote Labour to Defend the NHS

April 30, 2017

I’ve had my own YouTube channel for a few years now. I haven’t posted anything on there for quite a while, and most of the stuff I have posted up there is about archaeology, early musical instruments and few home-made space videos. However, today I put up a video urging people to vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour to prevent the Tories privatising the NHS.

I state that it began when Margaret Thatcher came to power as part of her campaign to dismantle the welfare state, but that Thatcher was stopped from doing so by her a cabinet revolt and her Personal Secretary, Patrick Jenkin. The cabinet realised that if she did privatise the NHS, it would immediately result in the Tories losing an election. Also, Jenkin went to America and realised just how bad the American system of private healthcare was. So Maggie settled for trying to expand private healthcare in Britain, aiming to have 25 per cent of the British people take out private health insurance.

A few years later in the 1980s there came a dispute between her and the dentists, which resulted in very many of them leaving the NHS. The result of that is that, while there still are NHS dentists, you need to look for them. And private dental care is not cheap. So people are going without proper dentistry.

After that, Peter Lilley in John Major’s administration introduced the Private Finance Initiative, under which private corporations build and manage hospitals for the NHS. It’s essentially a scheme to keep the costs of construction and management off the books. In practice it’s massively more expensive than simply having them build by the state. Those hospitals, clinics and other medical services built through it also tend to be smaller than through ordinary hospitals built by the state. See the chapter in George Monbiot’s Captive State. This was all done to open up the NHS to private investment.

This programme was expanded by Tony Blair, as he, like the Tories, was approached by private healthcare firms such as Unum, Virgin Health, Circle Health and BUPA to privatise more NHS services. His health secretary, Alan Milburn, wished to reduce the NHS to a kitemark for services provided for the state by private healthcare companies. He split the NHS up and handed its management to CCGs – Community Care Groups. This was supposed to be giving doctors greater freedom and more choice. However, it doesn’t do this as most doctors simply don’t have enough time to spend on administration. The CCGs were given the power to raise money privately, and commission services from private healthcare providers. Again, hospitals and the health centres or polyclinics Blair also built were also to be managed by private companies.

This programme did not stop when David Cameron’s new Conservative government was voted into power in 2010. Cameron had claimed that he going to stop further cuts in the NHS. He didn’t. He expanded the privatisation programme even further. The 2012 healthcare act formulated by his health minister, Andrew Lansley, is a convoluted document, but it removes the Health Secretary from having to provide medical services. Furthermore, the Tories have also passed legislation allowing the NHS to charge for services, even ambulance care. And this is still going ahead under Theresa May.

There is a real danger that the NHS will be abolished, and the country will return to the way it was before the Labour government introduced it. Private healthcare is not more economical and efficient than state healthcare. Private insurance companies and hospitals spend much more on management, including advertising, legal teams and simply trying to raise money from investors, to make sure their shareholders see a profit. There are about 50 million Americans without health insurance. 33,000 Americans die every year from lack of medical care. And it was like that before the NHS, when the charity hospitals, where people were sent if they didn’t have private health insurance, or weren’t covered by the state health insurance scheme, spent much of their time trying to raise money. And millions of people were denied healthcare, because they couldn’t afford it.

Jeremy Corbyn has said that he will renationalise the NHS. Dr. David Owen has also sponsored a bill to renationalise the NHS. They need our support. And so, if you want to keep the NHS, you should vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

For further information, see the following books:
NHS-SOS, edited by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis (London: OneWorld 2015)
Dr. Youseff El-Gingihy, How to Privatise the NHS in 10 Easy Steps (Zed Books)
and my own, Privatisation: Killing the NHS, published by Lulu.

The Influence of Metal Hurlant on Science Fiction Cinema

April 25, 2017

Yesterday I put up a piece I found on YouTube about the influence French Science Fiction comics had on Star Wars. This short video by the same poster, Abstract Looper, explores the profound influence the artists of the French adult SF comic, Metal Hurlant, known to the Anglophone world as Heavy Metal, has had on modern Science Fiction cinema. Metal Hurlant was founded in 1974 by Les Humanoides Associees Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, Dionnet and Philippe Druillet. The video shows the striking visual similarities between scenes and designs in the comic’s various strips, and the films Mad Max, Alien, Blade Runner, Nausicaa – Valley of the Wind, Avatar, the original 70s Battlestar Galactica TV series, Hellboy, Prometheus and the Matrix. There’s a clip of Ridley Scott saying that when he made Alien, he was influenced by the visual material produced by Moebius and the French magazine. Guillermo del Toro also confessed that he was influenced by Richard Corben, another of the magazine’s artists. Terry Gilliam also states that the magazine was an influence on him. As does James Cameron. Rutgar Hauer, who played Roy Batty in Blade Runner also appears, telling how the producers visualised the future as already old. In fact, the producers of Blade Runner based their vision of Los Angeles on the towering cityscapes of Philippe Druillet. As well as Druillet, Dionnet, Corben and Moebius, another of the comic’s creators, the Franco-Yugoslavian artist Enki Bilal, was also influential. Also making the point are the similarities between the comics’ art and the concept drawings produced for the Alien and Matrix movies.

You could also add the Judge Dredd movies to this list as well. 2000 AD’s creator, Pat Mills, hates superhero comics. When he launched the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic way back in the 1970s, he was influenced by the French SF comics. Which naturally includes Metal Hurlant. Judge Dredd’s look was created by Carlos Ezquerra, a Spanish artist living in London, who has an artistic style very similar to Moebius.

As an aside, I was also pleased that the interview with Ridley Scott also had Russian subtitles. This shows how much the world has changed since I was at school. This was the years of the new Cold War, created by Thatcher and Reagan, when there were real fears of nuclear Armageddon. I felt profoundly optimistic when the Berlin Wall fell, along with Communism. There seemed at last a real possibility of a genuine, lasting peace between eastern and western Europe. I believe very strongly that it has been a massive improvement in world affairs that the peoples of the former eastern bloc can come to Britain to live, work and raise families.

And I am appalled and angry that Trump and the Democrats are pushing a new Cold War with Putin, and thus endangering the world all over again.

Warning: Heavy Metal was an ‘adult’ comic, which means that there’s some cartoon nudity. This was the magazine that was filmed as The Heavy Metal Movie, and which became notorious for the female nudity of the ‘Taarna’ sequence, which in turn inspired the episode ‘Major B***age’ in South Park. This may have changed, however. In an interview in the comics press a few years ago, its British editor stated that the magazine was dropping the nudity, because it was irrelevant given the amount of real nudity on the Web. He promised that the magazine would still be sexy, however.

The Influence of French Science Fiction Comics on Star Wars

April 24, 2017

This is another fascinating video about French SF comics and the influence they may have had on George Lucas’ Star Wars. In his description for the video, the post, Abstract Loop, writes

Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, French comics artists revolutionized their medium and created groundbreaking works of science fiction. Artists like Jean-Claude Mézières, Philippe Druillet, and Jean Giraud, aka Moebius, had a significant, if rarely recognized, influence on many Hollywood films. Star Wars is one of the most prominent examples.

“There are quite a few illustrators in the science-fiction and science-fantasy modes I like very much. I like them because their designs and imaginations are so vivid […] Druillet and Moebius are quite sophisticated in their style.”
– George Lucas, 1979

Unless noted otherwise, all art in this video is taken from the following comics and comics series:
Jean-Claude Mézières & Pierre Christin: „Valérian and Laureline“ („Valérian et Laureline“)
Jean-Claude Mézières: „Les baroudeurs de l’espace“
Moebius & Dan O‘Bannon: „The Long Tomorrow“
Moebius & Alejandro Jodorowsky: „The Incal“ („L’Incal“)
Moebius: „Le Bandard fou“
Moebius: „The Airtight Garage“ („Le Garage hermétique“)
Philippe Druillet & Jacques Lob: „Delirius“
Philippe Druillet: „The 6 Voyages of Lone Sloane“ („Les 6 Voyages de Lone Sloane“)
Philippe Druillet: „Salammbô“
Philippe Druillet: „La Nuit“

Film stills: „The Empire Strikes Back“, „The Return of the Jedi“ & „Star Wars: Droids“
Concept art and storyboard panel by Joe Johnston

Music: Tycho „Awake“

For further reading:
“Valérian and Laureline”
: http://kitbashed.com/blog/valerian-an…
“The Moebius Probe”: http://kitbashed.com/blog/moebius
“Als die Zukunft wieder cool wurde” (in German): http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/com…

Certainly the artists mentioned have had an impact on Science Fiction cinema. Scott used Philippe Druillet’s depictions of soaring futuristic sky-scraper cities as the basis for the Los Angeles of Blade Runner, and Moebius certainly was a profound influence on the style of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. From this video I’m not sure how much influence French comics had on Star Wars. Some of the pieces shown are very similar, others less so, and some of the similarity between Star Wars and the comics could simply be due to coincidence between two similar scenes that were produced entirely independently. Nevertheless, the video does how the power and individuality of the vision of the future produced by the great French SF artists in their comics.

Chris Foss on Working with Giger and Moebius on ‘Dune’

April 24, 2017

Chris Foss is one of the great masters of British SF art. Apart from painting numerous book covers, he also worked as the concept artist for Alien, Superman, and the version of Dune that was being made by the Franco-Chilean surrealist, Alejandro Jodorowsky. Sadly, his work for Alien and Dune was never seen. Ridley Scott rejected his depictions of the ‘Nostromo’ for alien, as he thought it was far too interesting and would distract the audience from the main action. And despite extensive preparation, Jodorowsky’s Dune was never made. The studio pulled the plug at the last minute. It wasn’t a wasted effort, however, as the work Jodorowsky and the French comic artist, Moebius, had put into Dune was used by them as the basis for the comic book series, the Metabarons.

A documentary came out a few years ago about the making of Jodorowsky’s Dune. Jodorowsky states that he wanted it to blow the audience’s mind. It was to have the effect of taking LSD, but without actually using the drug. Certainly the concept art looks truly awesome. Apart from Foss and Moebius, Jodorowsky also employed as concept artist H.R. Giger, the creator of the ‘Alien’. Giger produced various designs for Vladimir Harkonnen’s cast, and for a train, very much in his distinctively nightmarish style. Among the actors lined up for the film were Orson Welles as Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha. Jodorowsky’s son, Brontes, was to play Paul Atreides. And the Emperor of the Galaxy would be played by the great surrealist egotist himself, Salvador Dali. But only for half an hour. So Jodorowsky and his team intended to fill in the rest of the time, that have been occupied by Dali, by using a robotic version of him. It’s a pity that the film was not made, as with those artists and performers, it truly would have been a genuinely mind-blowing experience.

In this clip, Foss talks about how wonderful it was working with Moebius and Giger, but says that he enjoyed it because what he was doing did not interfere with them, and their work did not interfere with his own. Looking on YouTube a few years ago, I found that Foss had put up a series of short videos about himself and his work, so if you’re interested, try looking to see if they’re still there.

The Fantastic Space Art of David A. Hardy

April 22, 2017

This is another couple of videos from the redoubtable Martin Kennedy showcasing the amazing work of yet another space and Science Fiction artist, David A. Hardy. Hardy is one of the longest running space and SF artist working. The entry on him in Stuart Holland’s Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History, runs:

David Hardy’s introduction to astronomical illustration was a somewhat rushed affair. In 1954, as a mere 18-year-old, he was commissioned to produce eight black and white illustrations for a book by legendary UK astronomer Patrick Moore: Suns, Myths, and Men. He had just five days to create them before British national service-conscription-required him to join the Royal Air Force. The commission was all the more remarkable as Hardy had only painted his first piece of astronomical art four years previously, inspired by the work of Chesley Bonestell.

Since those early days, Hardy (1936-) has garnered numerous awards for artwork that spans the science fiction/hard science divide. Born in Bourneville, Birmingham, in the UK, he honed his talents painting chocolate boxes for Cadbury’s. By 1965 he had become a freelance illustrator, beginning a career that resulted in covers for dozens of books and magazines, both factual, such as New Scientist, Focus, and various astronomical publications, for which he also writes; and SF, including Analog and Fantasy & Science Fiction. 1972 saw the publication of Challenge of the Stars, which Hardy not only illustrated but co-wrote with Patrick Moore (the book was updated in 1978 as New Challenge of the Stars). A bestseller, it joined the select pantheon of book that influenced a new generation of up-and-coming astronomical artists.

By now, Hardy’s work was receiving international recognition, and in 1979 he was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist. Tow years later, another book followed, Galactic Tours, which as the name suggests is a “factitious” guidebook for the interstellar tourist. As a result of the book, travel company Thomas Cook approached Hardy about becoming a consultant on the future of tourism in space-long before Richard Branson had planned Virgin’s conquest of the stars.

Hardy has written an SF novel, Aurora: A Child of Two Worlds; worked on the movie The Neverending Story, and on TV (Cosmos, Horizon, The Sky at Night, Blake’s Seven), and produced record covers for – unsurprisingly – Holst’s The Planets and for bands such as Hawkwind, the Moody Blues, and Pink Floyd.

In 2004, Hardy’s long-standing partnership with Patrick Moore culminated in the award-winning Futures, in which the two explored the changing perceptions of space exploration since they first collaborated in the ’50s, the ’70s (the era of Challenge of the Stars) and into the 21st century. Artistically, Hardy has also embraced the growing digital trend that started in the approach to the new millennium. While still painting in acrylic and oil, he now uses Photoshop as a matter of course.

In March 2003, Hardy was paid perhaps the ultimate accolade an astronomical artist can receive: he had an asteroid [13329] named after him. Discovered ini September, 1998, it was christened Davidhardy=1998 SB32-high praise indeed!
(P. 130).

Several of the paintings in the video come from the Challenge of the Stars and its updated version.

The videos also include his cover illustration for Arthur C. Clarke’s The Snows of Olympus: A Garden on Mars – the History of Man’s Colonisation of Mars, which is another ‘future history’, this time of the terraforming of the Red Planet.

I have to say that I’m really impressed he also worked on Blake’s 7. This was low-budget British SF, but it had some create scripts and a really beautiful spaceship in The Liberator. And I would far rather go into space on something designed by Hardy, and operated by Thomas Cook, than by Branson.

The Fantastic Space Art of Tony Roberts

April 22, 2017

This is another video from Martin Kennedy on YouTube, showing the work of another amazing space and science fiction artist from the 1970s, Tony Roberts. As you can see from the video, he was another whose art was used in Stuart Cowley’s Spacecraft 2000-2100. And as this video shows, he also painted the cover for a British edition of Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed.

The Space Art of Bob Layzell

April 21, 2017

Here’s another video I found on YouTube by Martin Kennedy about one of the great space and science fiction artists of the 1970s, whose work appeared in Stuart Cowley’s Spacecraft 2000-2100, Bob Layzell. You may recognise some of the pictures from the previous videos I’ve reblogged on the book.