Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Mr H Reviews the Concept Art for Neil Blomkamp’s Aborted Alien 5

June 18, 2021

Mr H Reviews is a YouTube channel devoted to SF, Fantasy and Horror TV, film and comics, and particularly Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, which is one of Mr H’s favourites. Over the past months and weeks he’s posted a number of pieces about the concept art for Alien 5 which is just being released. Alien 5 would have been directed by Neil Blomkamp, the director of the awesome District 9. This was an SF film in which alien refugees arrive in South Africa, and are isolated in shanty towns, where they’re oppressed by a government determined to stop them breeding, and preyed on by criminal gangs who want to use their body parts for muti sorcery. The hero was a government official in one of the government anti-breeding teams, who starts to mutate into one of the aliens after an accident destroying one of their makeshift hatcheries. He is then sought and has to fight in his turn government agents, who wish to use him to unlock the secrets of the military technology the aliens have brought with them.

Alien 5 would have followed on directly from James Cameron’s Aliens, making Alien 3 and Alien 4 elseworlds stories set in an alternative timeline. In the universe of Alien 5, corporal Hicks and Newt would both be alive, as would Ellen Ripley, and ready to fight H.R. Giger’s most infamous brainchild yet again. The film was apparently all set and ready to go into production with Cameron scouting out locations for filming. It was stopped because Ridley Scott, Alien’s director, didn’t want it interfering with his Alien films. Scott claimed that Alien 5 didn’t have a script, which has been contradicted by the concept artist, Geoffroy Thoorens, who said his paintings were based on a preliminary treatment. Apparently the real reason Alien 5 was cancelled was Scott’s ego. He was jealous because Cameron’s Aliens was more popular than his, the film which launched the franchise.

Whatever the personal politics and clash of egos behind the decision, it’s a pit that Alien 5 wasn’t made because it would have been awesome. The art shows Hicks as a combat vet, scarred from the acidic blood with which he was sprayed during his battle with the evil critters in Aliens, but ready to put on that combat armour. From the art, Mr H. surmises that the plot is about Ripley and her team coming aboard a facility somewhere – there are paintings of a space station and a oil-rig like structure on a storm-tossed ocean. This facility may not be run by Wayland-Yutani, the evil company in the Alien movies. There are no Wayland-Yutani logos or markings. However, it seems the facility has got a Leviathan spacecraft, which is covered in the resin secreted by the Aliens. This also seems to be taken apart in an attempt to back engineer it. The company are also harvesting the eggs, and it seems that the company has actually won. They’re farming the Aliens to use them as bioweapons. A queen alien escapes, and all hell breaks loose.

The film adds a new stage to the Alien lifecycle. This is the trematode, a wormlike creature with pincers and proboscis, which eats its way into its victim’s guts and lays tiny facehuggers. The art shows one marine pulling one of these little bastards of his stomach, while another character is attacked while pinned under a door. There’s also a nod to the cityscape of Blade Runner, in that one of the paintings shows a futuristic city very much like Scott’s depiction of the LA of 2019. But this has a gigantic tower, which may be a space elevator or space bridge, and which contains a hollow running its length, possibly to throw something up into orbit. The company appears to have produced biomechanical armoured suits, resembling the Alien exoskeletons. Ripley dons one of these to fight the queen, who is killed by fire from a railgun or something similar. Another painting shows the space bridge or whatever it is on fire. This suggests that it’s the corporate head office, and that not only has Ripley or her successor defeated the Aliens, but she’s also taken down the company that thinks it can cultivate and control them. Here are the videos.

I’m afraid I’ve posted these videos out of chronological sequence, as I haven’t watched them in order. I hope you can still follow the progress through them, however.

Mr. H speculates that the art may be released because there is renewed interest in the movie. However, he eventually settles on the explanation that the Non-Disclosure Agreements that have prevented release of the art have finally lapsed, as Disney is on the point of buying Fox. I find this a particularly grim prospect. I don’t think it’s at all healthy for a sizable portion of Hollywood and western film entertainment to be part of a giant, global monopoly. I also don’t think Disney are the corporation that’s best suited to real, innovative Horror or dark SF. They’re based on family-friendly entertainment, and while they have considerably diversified, especially with the acquisition of Lucasfilm and Star Wars, I really don’t think they’re suited to managing darker films and concepts.

It’s a pity that Alien 5 wasn’t made. It would have been far better than Alien: Covenant, which I found disappointing and uninspired. It got rid of the interesting ideas and sole remaining character in Prometheus. The Engineers are all wiped out by the evil robot David, who has also murdered Shaw, and is now just keen on breeding more of the proto-Alien creatures, until one finally appears at the end. This threatens the new heroes, is defeated, but not before the heroine finds out right at the end as she’s going into hypersleep that the robot she has trusted up to now isn’t the ship’s good android, but David, who has smuggled the Alien eggs and embryos on board.

I think part of the problem is that Scott simply has lost interest in the Xenomorphs. He’s said that they’re not scary anymore, and that robots are more frightening. Hence the appearance of the evil robot, David. But I think he’s misunderstood the situation. People still want to see the Xenomorph. A year or so ago there were a series of short films released on YouTube by various directors set in the Alien universe and where different characters have to fight or deal with the Aliens. These generally speaking weren’t long – about 15 minutes or so, more or less. But they were well done with some interesting ideas. They showed that directors could still make an entertaining and original story with the creatures, and that there were more than enough fans willing to watch them.

It also seems that Scott’s role in the original movie has been overhyped. Some of the creative decisions that built the franchise were not his, but came from the two producers, Hill and Giler. These included the appearance of an android and the hiring of H.R. Giger as concept artist for the creature. Scott was brought on as director at the very last minute. It’s an excellent movie, and Scott is a brilliant director – I rate Alien and Blade Runner as masterpieces of 20th century cinema – but he isn’t the be-all and end-all of the Alien franchise. I agree with Mr H that the studio shouldn’t have bowed to him and cancelled Blomkamp’s flick.

One of the commenters on one of these videos suggests that, if the film isn’t going to be made, then a comic or graphic novel should appear to tell the story. Apparently this has been done with the alternative Alien 3s that were submitted and scripted. I think it would be an excellent idea. I’d also like another Alien movie to appear, though I’m not sure I’d like it to be the final episode of the trilogy Scott set up with Prometheus. Not after Covenant, unless there’s far more interest in the Aliens. Scott’s a great director, and part of me thinks that it would be good to see how his trilogy ends, but I also think that it’s time the franchise was perhaps handed over to someone younger and with a greater appreciation of the Xenomorph’s popularity.

But the release of this concept artist shows not only the imagination and skill of Thoorens, the artist behind it, but also that there is still considerable interest in Alien movies and that they haven’t been exhausted of ideas. Not just yet. They just need the right director.

Excellent! Motion Coming Before Bristol South Labour Party Condemning Academies

June 10, 2021

Next week Bristol South Labour constituency Labour party is holding its monthly meeting. One of the issues to be discussed is a motion that’s already been passed by the Knowle branch condemning the academy schools and Ofsted. The introduction to this motion runs

Knowle Ward believes that the purpose of education is to enable our  children to develop an informed and independent voice, to prove to  students that their lives are valuable, and that the achievements of  each and every school, college and university leaver in the country, at  whatever level, shall have a genuine and lasting meaning. To this end  we call upon the leadership of the party to seize the initiative, and  include in its election manifesto the replacement of the privatised  Academy system with a return to a local control of education policy,  the replacement of OFSTED with a politically independent system of  inspection, a new determination that sport, music, drama and art be  seen as fundamental to a successful education, and, crucially, to insist  that each of our communities shall have its own, independent and  single place of learning, representing the needs of that community,  and celebrating its particular identity.

I fundamentally and wholeheartedly support this motion, and intend to vote for it at the meeting. The academies are a massive fraud and waste of public money. Indeed there’s a book published about them, when Tory Tony Blair was introducing the wretched things, that called them exactly that: The Great Academy Fraud. They are no more successful than ordinary state schools are, if those state schools had the millions spent on them that the academies have had. There have been issues with the educational content taught in those schools, such as Creationism and very hard-line, narrow and intolerantly religious norms in some Muslim schools. Other problems include very repressive discipline that has humiiated school children. For example, children have soiled themselves when they have been refused permission to use the toilet and girls have not been allowed to change their sanitary towels. Quite often their academic achievements have been at the expense of less intelligent children, or kids with behavioural problems. They find reasons to exclude them while keeping the more intelligent and disciplined children. It really is selective education.

As for the recognition that sport, music, drama and art also form a fundamental part of education, this should be automatically accepted as true. Since the educational reforms of the 19th century it was recognised that proper education meant a broad, humanistic education that should cultivate all areas of the minds and characters of the developing sprogs. Sport was included in the curriculum along with PE because children’s physical health is important, and organised sport is supposed to be character-building. But the humanities have been sidelined as successive governments have pushed the STEM subjects at their expense. Now there are warnings that this short-sighted policy is actually a serious danger to Britain’s cultural industries.

It’s about time the academy chains were closed down. They were a failure when Thatcher and Kenneth Baker tried introducing them in the 1980s. The Tories were actually closing them down, but Blair fished them out of the dustbin of crappy neoliberal ideas, revamped them, and set them off again. And children’s education has suffered as a result. Schools need to be brought back under local authority control.

But I have no doubt that this will be opposed by Starmer and the Blairite bureaucracy, as it’s a Tory policy so it must be right. And besides, there’s all that money to be made from corporate donations.

So expect anyone supporting this to be accused once again of being a Trotskyite or Commie.

Marvel Studios’ Teaser Trailer for the Eternals Movie

May 24, 2021

Marvel have released the teaser trailer for the movie of their comic, The Eternals. This shows a race of highly advanced, superpowered people landing on prehistoric Earth to teach early humanity. The voiceover announces that they’ve watched us create some splendid achievements, but have never interfered. Until now. There’s then scenes of them making their presence known, and family gathering in which a juvenile member talks about leading the Avengers and them all joking about it. The movie debuts in November.

After watching this, I’m in two minds about going to see it. I’m not really into superhero movies. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate them. It’s just that I’ve no interest in most of them. I loved the original Superman flicks when they came out in the ’70s -80s with Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steele. I like the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and I actually think the Ang Lee Hulk movie is seriously underappreciated.

I actually got choked up a bit when I saw it at our local cinema. Yeah, it took liberties with the Hulk’s origin, but it actually got the tone of the book right. The Hulk was always a profoundly countercultural figure. Banner was a former nuclear scientist conducting bomb tests for the military. His girlfriend was the daughter of the senior officer in charge of the project. He was exposed to the gamma radiation that turned him into a ‘raging behemoth’, in Smilin Stan’s somewhat overheated prose, by rescuing a disaffected teenager, Rick, who had driven into the testing range playing his harmonica. I think the model for the character was probably James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause and similar teen anti-heroes. Banner threw him into the protective trench just in time to save him from the blast, but was himself caught in release of deadly radiation as the bomb detonated. And the army Banner served hated his alter ego. The army was determined to hunt him down, and so the Jolly Green Giant was constantly fighting running battles with the American military. And with the revelations of atrocities by American forces during the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, in some of the strips Banner was critical of the military and the dehumanisation of ordinary soldiers who participated in covert military experimentation. I am not surprised it flopped when it pitched its hero against the American army at a time when the American, British and European public were all being urged to support our troops during the War on Terror.

But I got choked up on the flick because it was faithful to that aspect of the strip. And in the scenes when the Hulk faces down and fights his father, who has also used the gamma ray process to become the supervillain, the Absorbing Man, they were shot almost exactly like the comic’s depiction of the Hulk’s battles with superpowered enemies. At least as they were drawn by mighty Bill Mantlo.

And then there was the nod right at the end to the Hulk TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. This is the scene where a group of paramilitaries walk into a camp where Banner is giving medical care to the local Latin American peasants. They declare they’re seizing his drugs and supplies. Banner naturally objects with the classic line ‘Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry’. All the while the camera is pulling upward until all you see is the tops of the trees. And then it ends with the Hulk’s roar.

Blow what the critics think, I thought it was awesome!

But back to the Eternals. They were drawn by Jack Kirby, and first appeared over this side of the Pond in Star Wars Weekly, if I remember correctly. The strip was based on the theories of Erich von Daniken. He’s the Swiss hotelier and the author of Chariot of the Gods and its various sequels, which claimed that humanity had been visited by spacefaring aliens in antiquity, who’d been worshipped as gods. Alien expertise were behind the construction of various monuments, like the pyramids, the Easter Island heads. The mysterious Nazca lines out in the Chilean desert weren’t made by the genius of the pre-Columbian Indian peoples. No! They were landing strips for the aliens’ spaceships. His ideas have been extensively debunked, most notably in Crash Go The Chariots. But they still exert a certain influence on the ancient astronaut crowd, along with the bonkers theories of Zechariah Sitchin and his wretched Nephilim.

In the strip, the Eternals were a sister race to humanity. Both peoples were the results of experimentation on ancient pre-human apes by the Celestials. These were fifty foot tall ‘space gods’, encased entirely in space armour and possessed of immense powers. The Eternals were blessed with immortality, highly advanced technology, and superpowers. Their names recalled those of the Graeco-Roman divinities. One of the leaders of the Eternals in their dealing with humanity was Ikaris, whose name is obviously a form of Icarus, the son of the inventor Daedalus, who died because he flew too close to the sun. Alongside the benign Eternals were a malign third race, the Deviants. Make up your own jokes here. I wonder if they’re going to be in the film, and if they are, whether they’ll give them a different monicker because of its sexual connotations. While the genomes of humans and Eternals were genetically stable, that of the Deviants very definitely wasn’t. They were thus monstrous in appearance, and were bitterly jealous of the handsome appearance of their cousins. Human-looking Deviants were hated and persecuted, forced to fight against each other in gladiatorial combat and the Deviants were constantly seeking ways to destroy humanity.

Meanwhile, the Space Gods themselves had returned to Earth to judge the results of their experiments. They would take fifty years doing so, during which time they remained immobile and hidden at the sites of their ancient landings and cults. If humanity was judged a failure, the Celestials would destroy us.

I liked it because at the time I was really into the possibility of ancient astronauts, and Kirby’s art was magnificent. He’d taken pains to educate himself about science and cosmology, and nobody drew ‘cosmic’ like Jolly Jack. Even now I’d say that he’s peerless in his depiction of alien gods and godlike beings like the Celestials and Galactus. In the 1970s he was approached to provide the concept art for a film of Roger Zelazny’s novel, Lord of Light. This fell through, but the idea and his art was later used by the CIA as a cover for rescuing American hostages in Iran. If you see some of it, you’ll see just how impressive Kirby was.

Kirby’s Art for the abortive film, Lord of Light, from Desirina Boskovich, Lost Transmissions – The Secret History of Science Fiction, Film and Fantasy (New York: Abrams Image 2019) 234.

But I’m in two minds about this movie.

I was fascinated by the Celestials themselves. They were huge, ridiculously powerful, and totally alien. They were roughly humanoid, with the same number of arms and legs, but encased in armoured suits that suggested more the gods of the ancient, primal societies of some Amerindian peoples and ancient Japan. They also had no interest in communicating with us whatsoever. When they returned, their emissary just took up his position in an ancient Mayan/ Aztec temple and then stood stock still. This was how he’d remain for the next fifty years. And the Celestials made it very clear that they wanted to be left alone. When a villainous scientist ignores the urgings of the Eternal Ikaris, in human disguise as Ike Harris, to leave, the Celestial uses his advanced technological powers to transform him into a cube of inert matter. The scientist will remain in this state for the next fifty years, when he will be restored when the Space Gods pronounce their final judgement on humanity.

They were like true aliens in that they were incomprehensible. And genuinely awesome in their immense power. You couldn’t challenge them, you couldn’t negotiate with them or even talk to them. You could only stay out of their way.

But the trailer doesn’t show them. The Guardians of the Galaxy showed glimpses of them, which is one of the reasons I like them. Apart from the fact that they also had Steve Gerber’s avian hero from a parallel dimension, Howard the Duck. I’d like them to be in the flick, and that they are as powerful and awesome as they were in the original comics and in their very brief appearances in the two Guardians movies.

But I’m afraid they won’t, or they will be underused, and that the film will be simply another superhero movie, as enjoyable as they are for Marvel aficionados. At the moment I’m cautiously optimistic, as Cosmic Book News and other SF/Fantasy/comics websites have covered photos released way back in 2019 showing the Space Gods tombs. These were originally passed off as sets for the latest Star Wars movie, but later revealed to be for The Eternals film. And they do show the influence of Jolly Jack.

See: Eternals Set Images Reveal Jack Kirby Influence | Cosmic Book News

This might make the film worth seeing, just for another reminder of the sheer cosmic awesomeness of Kirby’s creations.

Grim Jim on the Role-Playing Games Based on the Terran Trade Authority Handbooks

May 6, 2021

The Terran Trade Authority handbooks were a series of SF art books by Stuart Cowley published in the late ’70s and early ’80s beginning with Spacecraft 2000-2100. Cowley took various paintings of spacecraft, published originally as covers for paperback SF novels, and turned them into a future history and typology of these fictional spacecraft. I’ve only got the first book, Spacecraft 2000-2100, but I think there were others on space wrecks, star liners and great space battles. The books were the fictional publications of a future governmental organisation, the Terran Trade Authority, and its subsidiary, the Terran Defence Authority, which regulated trade between Earth and the other planets and civilisations, as well as providing for the planet’s defence. In this future, humanity was only just expanding into interstellar space, but had encountered two nearby alien civilisations on Proxima and Alpha Centauri. These aliens were markedly similar to humans, although not so similar that their ships didn’t need modification for human use. These similarities were so strong that there was speculation about a deep kinship or common origin for the three different species.

I came across the book when I was on holiday and was really blown away by the art. This was by such great SF artists as Chris Foss, Angus McKie, Bob Layzell and others. And even now, about forty years later, the books are fondly remembered by SF fans. What I didn’t know is that they also spawned two Role-Playing Games set in their fictional universe, one published by Morrigan Press.

I found this video by Grim Jim, a game designer, who’s also a fan of these great books. Here he talks about the RPGs, which unfortunately failed to make much of an impact. According to him, the Morrigan RPG gamebook has been long out of print. If you want to play it, you’re therefore reduced to either finding a second hand copy somewhere, or pirating it. Normally he wouldn’t recommend the latter, but this is really the only option for people who want to play it. He talks about the mechanisms of the game system used, which seems to have been a generic game system. For some reason the book replaced the awesome paintings of the original TTA handbooks with computer art. This is fine, but doesn’t have the paintings’ quality. G J speculates that Morrigan may have had to use computer art because of problems over the copyright for the paintings. It seems that by the time Morrigan published the book, the copyright had reverted back to Cowley.

I’m not really into games, but a number of my friends are very much into RPGs, like the classic Dungeons and Dragons and so on. One of these is Traveller, an SF game which I think came out in the 1970s a few years before the TTA handbooks and the games based on them. People are still putting up videos on YouTube about the TTA books and their spaceships, including one which recreated them zooming through space through CGI. This isn’t politics, but I thought people would enjoy this video about a great piece of SF art and literature.

No, Starmer Is Not Going to Take Responsibility for Any Possible Labour Election Defeat

May 5, 2021

Mike yesterday posted two very ominous pieces about Labour’s prospects in the elections tomorrow, particularly in Hartlepool. Mike wondered if Labour were going to lose there because Starmer had parachuted in a right-winger, rather than stick with the candidate chosen by the constituency Labour party. A poll done with a very small sample of people has predicted that Labour will lose the election. I think that Mike’s almost certainly right. Labour’s election promises, as set out in their manifesto for the last election, were immensely popular. And they still are. One of the speakers at last Friday’s pre-May Day left-wing Labour rally on Zoom and YouTube stated that they’d done polls of the local electorate in Hartlepool. About 2/3 of those polled had supported two of the key promises made in the manifesto. One of these was for free broadband. If Labour does lose tomorrow, it will be at least partly because Starmer isn’t listening to traditional Labour members and supporters, but pushing the party further to the right and foisting right-wing candidates on them against their wishes.

In his other piece, Mike commented on Starmer’s statement that he would take full responsibility for any defeats. But when asked if he would resign, Starmer said, ‘No.’ This, to me, says that Starmer won’t. It looks like he’ll blame Corbyn and his supporters instead. He seems to have followed his statement that he wouldn’t resign by saying that the party faces an uphill struggle after its election defeat of 2019. Which means, I think, that he’s going to blame everything on the Labour left and its legacy, hang on as leader, and renew his purge of socialists and traditional Labour members and activists.

Labour didn’t lose the 2019 election because it was too left-wing, despite the massive smear campaign to paint Corbyn and his supporters as Trotskyites and Communists. It failed because of the massive smear campaign by the British Zionist establishment that accused Corbyn and his supporters of being anti-Semites when in fact they were simply critical of Israel’s appalling treatment of the Palestinians. This was coupled to the endless plotting and coups against Corbyn by the Labour right and the NEC and by the insistence of the Labour right that the party should commit itself to another plebiscite over Brexit. This upset the Labour voters, particularly in the north, who’d actually voted to leave Europe. Labour lost the 2019 election partly through the antics of right-wingers like Starmer.

But despite his words, Starmer isn’t going to take responsibility for his part in the election defeat. And I’m not surprised. No politician actually does so anymore. I’m sick of the various politicos and public figures, who declare that they take full responsibility for some disaster or failure, but then announce they’re staying in office. Without action, without resigning or making some other gesture of self-punishment, such statements are just empty words. But unfortunately such empty gestures have now become part of our increasingly rotten political culture.

If Labour does lose in the elections tomorrow, it will be most certainly because Starmer is responsible. Not Corbyn, Starmer. And he should go.

Disabled Girl Gets Bionic Arms Based on Movie ‘Alita’s’ Heroine

April 3, 2021

Okay, I’m sorry I haven’t put anything up for the past week or so. It’s the usual reasons, I’m afraid: I’ve been busy with other things and for the most part, I simply haven’t found the week’s news inspiring. I felt there was precious little I could add to the excellent coverage and analyses given by Mike and Zelo Street. And so, rather than simply repeating what they had to say, I preferred to keep silent. But there are some stories that do need further comment, and I certainly intend to cover them. But before I do, here’s a more positive, rather heartwarming piece I found on YouTube.

It was put up by the tech company, Open Bionics, which makes state of the art, and very stylish, prosthetic limbs. Narrated by Hollywood director James Cameron, it tells how the company created a pair of superb artificial arms for British teenager Tilly Lockey. Lockey had lost her arms from septicaemia caused by meningitis. But, as Cameron shows, she had never let her disability hold her back, and the video shows Ms. Lockey as a junior school girl painting using an artificial arm. Cameron’s best known as the director of such hits as Aliens, The Terminator, Terminator 2, Avatar and Titanic, but he was also the producer of the film Alita – Battle Angel. Based on the Manga of the same name, Alita is the story of a mysterious cyborg girl, found by a doctor rummaging around the rubbish dump below an airborne city in which Earth’s rich and powerful live, far above ordinary masses, who live in the city below it. The doctor repairs the girl, who has lost her memory. Slowly Alita begins to recover bits of her history, joins the other cyborg players in a murderous sports race, attempts to become one of the cyborg warriors fighting crime and evil in this future world, and is forced to confront the villains controlling this new society from the floating city above it.

Cameron points out that cybernetic limbs are expensive, but the company is working to make them affordable. They’re also trying to make them attractive, which is why they’ve based those they’ve give to Tilly on the arms of Alita’s heroine. As well as getting the arms, the girl also got to attend the film’s premier.

I have a feeling Open Bionics might be based in Bristol. If I’m right, they used to be part of the cybernetics lab at the University of the West of England, which has done some impressive robotics research. The lab set up a commercial company to produce artificial limbs based on characters from Science Fiction movies.

As for Alita, I think it got mixed reviews. Some critics were spooked by the character’s large eyes, but I think that was simply following the artistic conventions of Manga comics and translating it to a live action film. Some critics said that while it wasn’t that good, it was actually far better than some of the rubbish being produced by Hollywood at the time. I’ve got it on video and liked it. There are rumours of a sequel being made, which would be great if they were true. But unfortunately the Coronavirus lockdown has meant that many Hollywood projects have had to be put on hold. The release of Denis Villeneuve’s much-awaited version of Dune has been postponed to October, when hopefully the cinemas will re-open.

The video’s obviously a piece of corporate promotion, but it’s great that the company and its talented engineers are working to make technologically impressive artificial limbs at affordable prices, and that they’ve given them to this spirited young lady. I have a feeling she’s also one of the women featured on the Shake My Beauty YouTube channel, which features other disabled women talking about life with their prosthetic limbs. While also demonstrating that having mechanical arms and legs certainly doesn’t make them less beautiful or capable of enjoying normal, physical activities including sports.

1980’s Book Discussing the Future Militarisation of Space

March 16, 2021

One of former president Donald Trump’s controversial decisions has been to propose the establishment of an American military space force. As with just about every stupid decision the orange buffoon made, this caused immediate controversy. It breaks the current international agreement banning the militarisation of space and threatens a new arms race, increasing international tension and the possibility of real war. Which could result in the nuclear annihilation of humanity and the reduction of our beautiful, blue-green planet to a smouldering atomic cinder.

But The Donald’s proposal was hardly new. Congress and the US military discussed the possible establishment of a space force over thirty years previously. These discussions had been accompanied by the publication of a book, Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years, by John M. Collins (Washington: Pergamon-Brasseys 1989). The book was published to help congressional representatives understand the issues. It also gives a fascinating insight in what American politicians and military staff considered might happen in this new area of human combat over the following half century. The book’s blurb runs

‘The latest from renowned defense authority John M. Collins, Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years was requested by key U.S. congressmen to help them and the White House evaluate and understand future space issues. This is the foundation document upon which future U.S. space policy will be based.

Concentrating on the Earth-Moon system, Military Space Forces has four purposes:

  • To describe space as a distinctive military medium.
  • To describe military space planning and programming, with particular concern for problems and options.
  • To compare present and projected U.S.-Soviet military space postures.
  • To indicate courses of action that might improve U.S. military space posture at sensible costs.

All appraisals are based on present technologies and predicted improvements during the next 25 to 50 years. Designed as a tool to help Washington blend military space capabilities with land, sea, and air power in ways that best assure U.S. security-without avoidable destabilization or waste of time and resources-Military Space Forces also clarifies the complex technology and issues facing military space planners today. This pathfinding new book provides any citizen an essential frame of reference with the nation’s future role in space.’

Among the issues discussed are military strategies, doctrines and tactics in space, and the development of space forces themselves. This includes their military infrastructure on the High Frontier, military space industries, military space installations, deployable space forces, R&D requirements and contributory science and technologies.

The book includes two sets of recommendations. One is a set of nonprovocative actions intended to strengthen deterrence and improve American combat capability in the event deterrence fails. These are:

  1. Develop comprehensive military space doctrines applicable to the total Earth-Moon system.
  2. Integrate military space more effectively into U.S. national security strategies.
  3. Emphasise verifiable arms control to confine threats.
  4. Reduce Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps dependency on space support by cross-training to preserve traditional skills such as communications and navigation.
  5. Embellish basic research to multiply serendipitous results that might benefit military space programmes.
  6. Employ technological expertise to produce first-class systems at acceptable cost.
  7. Improve passive defences for selected military space installations and vehicles, with particular attention to innovative hardening and deception.

These are all low cost options. Far more expensive are those in the second list, which suggested

  1. Survivable launch, recovery, and C3 infrastructure.
  2. Heavy lift boosters.
  3. National Aerospace Planes (NASP) able to breach the atmospheric barrier easily and maneuver in space.
  4. Reasonable redundancy and reconstitutions capabilities for essential military space systems.
  5. Anti-satellite systems.,
  6. Active onboard defences for military support satellites on a case-by-case-basis.
  7. Land-and space-based SDI systems.

The book concludes with this paragraph

Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, at a March 1974 press conference in Moscow, asked, “What in God’s name is strategic superiority?” It may be unilateral control of space, which overarches Planet Earth, all occupants, and its entire contents. If so, possessors of that vantage position could overpower every opponent. They might, in fact, impose their will without fighting, a feat that Sun Tzu called “the acme of skill” 25 centuries ago. U.S. military space forces therefore need means to forestall strategic surprise from space and respond successfully, unless best case estimates prove correct as events unfold.

The book’s clearly a product of the Reagan era and his wretched ‘Star Wars’ programme. Among the weapons and installations the book discusses is a six-man lunar base, space-based railguns, which use electromagnets to propel missiles to colossal speeds, and space based lasers. I don’t know how dated the book and its predictions are. It considers the threat of electromagnetic pulses generated from nuclear explosions high in the atmosphere above targets disrupting computers and other electronic systems, but I think that threat might have been overcome.

Whatever the reality is today, it shows that Trump’s demand for a space force follows decades of debate within the American military and political establishment.

Video of Trevithick’s Steam Carriage in Bristol

March 14, 2021

I’ve an interest in the real, Victorian technology that really does resemble the ideas and inventions in Steampunk Science Fiction. This is the SF genre that, following Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and other early writers, tries to imagine what it would have been like had the Victorians had cars, aircraft, robots, spaceships, computers and time travel. And at certain points the Victorians came very close to creating those worlds. Bruce Sterling’s and William Gibson’s The Difference Engine, set in the Victorian computer age, was a piece of speculation about what kind of society would have emerged, if William Babbage’s pioneering computer, the Difference Engine of the title, had been built. And also if the 1820s Tory government had fallen to be replaced the rule of Lord Byron. The 19th century was a hugely inventive age, as scientists and engineers explored new possibilities and discoveries. George Cayley in Britain successfully invented a glider, in France Giffard created a dirigible airship, flying it around the Eiffel Tower. And from the very beginning of the century scientists and inventors attempted to develop the first ancestors of the modern car, run on coal and steam, of course.

One of these was a steam carriage designed by the Cornish engineer, Richard Trevithick, in 1801. This was built, but wasn’t successful. This did not stop other engineers attempting to perfect such vehicles, and steam cars continued to be developed and built well into the 20th century. The most famous of these was the American Stanley Steamer of 1901.

I found this short video on Johnofbristol’s channel on YouTube. It shows a replica of Trevithick’s vehicle being driven around Bristol docks. From the cranes and the building over the other side of the river, it looks like it was shot outside Bristol’s M Shed museum. This was formerly the site of the city’s Industrial Museum, and still contains among its exhibits some fascinating pieces from the city’s industrial past. These include the aircraft and vehicles produced by Bristol’s aerospace and transport companies.

Couple of Videos on the Model Work on the BBC SF Comedy, Red Dwarf

February 24, 2021

These are another couple of videos I found on YouTube. In the first, model makers and special effects technicians Bill Pearson and Steve Howarth talk about their work on series 10 of the show. It’s a deleted scene from the film Sense of Scale, which appears to be a movie about the work of model makers like the two. It’s one of a number of videos about the creation of model effects for films and TV series like Red Dwarf, Space: 1999, Alien, Aliens, Outland, Flash Gordon, the 1990’s version of Total Recall, Coneheads, The Fifth Element and The Empire Strikes Back by piercefilm productions.

RED DWARF X miniature effects – YouTube

The second video comes from the channel of someone styling themselves Duane Dibley (the Duke of Dork). As fans of the series will know, this is the stylistically challenged alter ego of the Cat. In it, Bill Pearson talks about his work on series 4 of the show when production was moved to Shepperton. He talks about how some of the props and effects ended up in skips, including one that was damaged by Craig Charles. Money was tight, and so instead of building the scutters from scratch, as they had in the first series, they used parts from radio controlled cars and electric screwdrivers instead. They also recycled props and bits of set from other shows, including a Science Fiction film Ridley Scott had completed filming there. It was only after the series ended that Patterson realised he had never made one of the major vehicles in the show. But his chance finally came when he asked to make one to be given as a prize in a quiz show.

Super Models (Featurette With Red Dwarf Model Maker Bill Pearson) – YouTube

Red Dwarf is one of my favourite SF shows, and one which, in my view, deserves its longevity and cult status. It’s really fascinating to hear from one of the team of talented artists, model makers and technicians which gave this show its great SFX. These still stand up today when miniature work has largely been superseded by CGI. Pearson mentions this in the first video, saying that he’s proud of their work on Red Dwarf, but thinks that he’ll now spend the rest of his life working in low budget projects, because the major films and TV series have gone over to CGI instead. This is a pit, as I’ve a great deal of nostalgia and respect for the practical special effects used in the Science Fiction and Horror movies I grew up with. As spectacular as the CGI graphics can be, there’s still a popular demand for old style practical effects. Harbinger Down, a horror film that came out a couple of years ago, was made using these traditional special effects techniques to cater to audience keen to relive the pleasure of the type of effects they’d enjoyed in Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Pearson, Howarth and the others, who worked on shows like Red Dwarf are immensely talented artists, and I hope their skills will continue to be in demand by producers and directors, who appreciate the value of good, practical special effects.

Short Video on Richard Trevithick’s Real Steampunk Bus

February 24, 2021

I’ve already put up one video about the great Cornish inventor, Richard Trevithick, who created the ‘Puffing Devil’, a passenger-carrying steam engine for use on the roads. I found this video on Patrick Reed’s channel on YouTube. Taken from the National Geographic channel, and narrated by Chris Barry, the actor behind Red Dwarf’s Rimmer, this very short video describes another of Trevithick’s awesome steam vehicles. This was a London bus. It was so ground-breaking and unprecedented when it was first demonstrated, that shops were closed as the streets filled with people desperate to see the new invention. The video shows a modern replica of the vehicle, and describes how it worked. By placing the boiler within the main water tank, steam could be produced at a higher pressure, and with the placement of its piston about the tank it was far more powerful than Watt’s steam engines. Sadly, however, the steam carriage was far too radical and ahead of its time to catch on.

Trevithick’s London “Bus” – YouTube

Nevertheless, Trevithick’s machine was one of the first of a series of steam carriages that inventors in Britain and elsewhere continued to develop throughout the 19th century. In the 1820s there was briefly a steam bus service in Edinburgh. That pioneering invention was halted because of problems getting through the turnpike roads the bus had to use, and opposition from the cabbies and their horse-drawn vehicles. This did not, however, prevent scientists and engineers continuing to experiment and develop new steam passenger vehicles. This culminated in the invention of the internal combustion engine when Karl Benz and others decided that coal was not a suitably efficient and powerful fuel for these machines, and so turned to oil and petrol instead.