Posts Tagged ‘Dune’

The Riout 103T Alerion: The Ornithopter that Almost Took Off

January 9, 2023

I was talking on another comments thread about ornithopters with Brian Burden, one of the many great commenters on this blog. Ornithopters are flying machines that work by flapping their wings like a bird or an insect, unlike helicopters or fixed wing aircraft, which use either propeller or jet engines. Some of the very first attempts at powered, heavier than air flight were ornithopters, whose inventors obviously sought inspiration from nature. As human-carrying aircraft, they haven’t been successful. They work as small models, and the early scale models the pioneering aviation inventors and engineers created did actually work, as have more recent model ornithopters and robots modelled on birds and insects. However there were severe problems scaling them up to work with humans. This did not prevent a series of pioneering inventors and aviators trying. One of those was E.P. Frost, who created a series of ornithopters over a decade from the late 19th to the early 20th century. The piccie below shows his 1903 ornithopter, powered by a three horsepower petrol engine and with wings covered in feathers. Another inventor was the French aviator, Passat, who constructed an ornithopter with four flapping wings, covered with fabric rather than feathers, and powered by a 4.5 horsepower motorcycle engine. When it was being tried out in 1912 on Wimbledon Common, it flew for about four hundred feet at a speed of under 15 mph before crashing into a tree. This did not deter Passat, who carried on his experiments into this form of aircraft despite ridicule and the success of fixed wing aircraft.

One of the other aviation pioneers interested in developing this type of aircraft was another Frenchman, Louis Riel, who went on to design the Riout 102T plane, which at one point seemed to be a successful aircraft if further improvements had been made. I found this video about it on Ed Nash’s Military Matters channel on YouTube. This notes the similarity between the four-winged design of the Riout plane and the multi-winged ornithopters of the recent Dune film. This suggests that Frank Herbert, Dune’s author, might have been inspired by Riel’s aircraft. Riel had experimented with a two-winged ornithopter before the First World War before moving on to other projects. He retained his interest in ornithopters, however, and 1937 created the Riout 102T Alerion, which had four, fabric covered planes. Wind tunnel tests were originally promising, until an increase in engine power in one test destroyed the plane’s four wings. Riel had plans to improve and strengthen the wings, but by this time it was 1938. Hitler had annexed Austria and was moving into the Sudetenland, and France needed all its available aircraft to protect itself against German invasion. The project was therefore cancelled.

Brian wondered if computer design and control could result in a practical, human level ornithopter. I think it’s possible, especially as today’s aviation engineers are exploring the instabilities in flight that allow birds to fly so well in creating high performance aircraft, that would need a degree of computer control in flight. One of the issues looks to my like the stresses on the wings caused by flapping, but it may be that this could be solved using the more resilient and durable materials available to modern engineers, which the early pioneers didn’t have. Riel’s plane is not entirely forgotten. Its remains, minus the wings and covering, are in one of the French aviation museums. Perhaps one day they’ll inspire a new generation of engineers to experiment with similar aircraft.

Sketch of Astronomer Heather Couper

December 3, 2022

This is quite an obscure one, but I’ve drawn her because she was an important pioneer and science populariser in her way.

The Wikipedia page on her begins with this potted introduction to her life

Heather Anita CouperCBE FInstP FRAS[1] (2 June 1949 – 19 February 2020) was a British astronomer, broadcaster and science populariser.

After studying astrophysics at the University of Leicester and researching clusters of galaxies at Oxford University, Couper was appointed senior planetarium lecturer at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. She subsequently hosted two series on Channel 4 television – The Planets and The Stars – as well as making many TV guest appearances. On radio, Couper presented the award-winning programme Britain’s Space Race as well as the 30-part series Cosmic Quest for BBC Radio 4. Couper served as President of the British Astronomical Association from 1984 to 1986, and was Astronomy Professor in perpetuity at Gresham College, London. She served on the Millennium Commission, for which she was appointed a CBE in 2007. Asteroid 3922 Heather is named in her honour.[2]

The online encyclopedia states that she was encouraged in her career after writing a letter to Patrick Moore about it when she was 16. He replied, ‘Being a girl is no problem’. She studied astronomy and physics at Leicester University in 1973, where she met her long-term collaborator, fellow astronomy student Nigel Henbest. The two formed a working partnership, Hencoup enterprises, devoted to popularising astronomy. She then carried out postgraduate research as a student of Linacre College, Oxford, in the university’s Astrophysics department. She became the senior lecturer at the Caird Planetarium at Greenwich. In 1984 she was elected president of the British Astronomical Association. She was the first female president and second youngest. I can remember her appearing on Wogan and playing down the fact that she was the first woman to become president, far preferring to be noted as the youngest. She also served as the President of the Junior Astronomical Society, now the Society for Popular Astronomy. In 1988 the London Planetarium invited her to write and present its major new show, Starburst. In 1993 she was appointed professor of astronomy at Gresham college. She was the first woman to hold the position in 400 years and remained professor until her death.

She wrote and co-wrote with Henbest over 40 books, as well as writing articles for a range of magazines such as BBC Sky at Night, BBC Focus and Astronomy. She also presented a lecture on the solar eclipse in Guernsey in 1999, and led expedition to view other eclipses in Sumatra, Hawaii, Aruba, Egypt, China and Tahiti. She also made numerous public appearances and talks about the cruise liners Arcadia, Queen Mary 2, and Queen Victoria. She was aboard Concorde when it made its first flight from London to Auckland. She also appeared and spoke at various science festivals, including Brighton, Cheltenham, and Oxford. She also spoke at corporate events for British Gas, Axa Sun Life and IBM.

She also presented a number of programmes and series on astronomy on the radio. These included Starwatch and The Modern Magi on Radio 4. She also presented an Archive Hour programme on the same channel on Britain’s Space Race, for which she received an Arthur C. Clarke award. She also appeared on Radio 2, and Radio 5Live, as well as making other appearances on Radio 4. She also presented a series of thirty 15-minute episodes on the history of astronomy. Her shows for the BBC World Service included A Brief History of Infinity, The Essential Guide to the 21st Century, and Seeing Stars, which was co-hosted by Henbest.

She made frequent appearances as the guest expert on various TV programmes, mostly on Channel 4. She made her first TV appearance on The Sky at Night, In 1981 she presented the children’s TV programme, Heaven’s Above, on ITV with Terence Murtagh. I think I remember watching this when I was about 14 or so. She then presented the series The Planets for Channel 4, which was followed by The Stars. She also presented the ITV show Neptune Encounter, the Horizon episode ‘A Close Encounter of the Second Kind’, and Stephen Hawking: A Profile on BBC 4.

Couper, Henbest and the director of her series, The Stars, founded a production company, Pioneer Productions. The Neptune Encounter, which covered Voyager 2’s flyby of the planet, was its first programme. She was also the producer for the Channel 4 shows Black Holes, Electric Skies and Beyond the Millennium. She later left the company to concentrate on more general radio and TV appearances.

In 1993 she was appointed a member of the Millennium Commission. Of the nine commissioners appointed, only she and Michael Heseltine continued until it was wound up.

Outside her work on astronomy, she was also a guest presenter on Woman’s Hour, as well as the John Dunn programme and Start the Week on the radio. She was also interested in local history and literature, and so appeared on Radio 4’s With Great Pleasure and Down Your Way. She also appeared on Radio 3’s In Tune selecting her ‘pick of the proms.’ She was also the narrator on a number of other factual programmes, including Channel 4’s Ekranoplan: The Caspian Sea Monster, and Raging Planet on the Discovery Channel.

So, a huge science populariser, but probably one whose achievements are obscured by other, more prominent, celebrities.

As well as the children’s astronomy programme, I also once saw her speaking on about Mars and the question of life on the Red Planet at the Cheltenham Festival of Science. She had a rather mischievous sense of humour. There’s a real possibility that life in some form has existed on Mars and may exist now, but if it does, it’s almost certainly at the level of microbes. At the time, however, various individuals who had spent too long looking at photos of the planet claimed to have seen much larger lifeforms on the planet. There was a programme on Channel 4 in which a Hungarian astronomer appeared to describe how he believed there were massive mushrooms growing there. People also thought the saw giant ‘sand whales’ crawling about its surface, like the sandworms in Dune. These were, in fact, geological features left by some of the dune’s slumping, which created a trail that looked like the segmented body of a worm. One of the peeps taken in by this was the late Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke rang her up from Sri Lanka, asking her if she’d seen them and telling her that he really didn’t know what to make of it. She commented that for a moment she thought he’d gone mad, then covered her mouth like a naughty child caught saying something she shouldn’t.

For all that she played down her importance as a female pioneer in astronomy, I think she did prepare the say for more women to enter it and become television presenters. There’s now a drive for more women in the hard sciences, and we’ve science had a Black woman presenter, Aderin-Pocock, on the Sky At Night, and female astrophysicists and mathematicians appearing on the radio and TV.

DuneInfo Shows Cover of Imaginary Album of Music by Dune Character

October 2, 2022

This is a bit of trip into the world of postmodernism. Duneinfo is a YouTube site about Science Fiction book Dune and its film, graphic novel and other adaptations. A few days ago, they put up this piccie on their community page of a non-existent album of music by Gurney Halleck. Halleck is a character in Dune, a warrior troubadour, whose instrument is the ballaset, a type of futuristic lute. In David Lynch’s 1985 film, he was played Patrick Stewart and the ballaset used in the film was based on the stick, a new musical instrument developed from the electric guitar. The fake record sleeve, showing Stewart as Halleck was created by the artist John Bergin. It looks like a real vinyl record sleeve of the type that was knocking around back then in the days when K-Tel were advertising their records on TV.

It also reminds me more than a little of some the literary games played by Polish SF master Stanislaw Lem. Lem was very much an eastern European intellectual. He wrote some excellent science fiction but also sneered at the genre. He was very much into experimental literature, particularly that of the South American magic realist writer Borges, as well as the SF writer Philip K. Dick. Lem produced a several books consisting of reviews and blurbs for books that didn’t exist. One of these books was called A Perfect Vacuum, which I think is a literary jest, a way of saying that it doesn’t exist, because the books it reviews don’t. This fake record cover looks like the musical and pictorial equivalent.

DuneInfo captioned this: ‘Another great imagined (but sadly fake) #Dune item from John Bergin – “The Ballads of Gurney Halleck” – almost all copies of which were destroyed due to the mistaken credit of “The Sting”! 🤣 ‘ Which is a joke about Sting appearing in the movie as one of the villains, Feyd Rautha.

To see the original, go to: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmkVsAdYNiyQG9ZJR6P9FjA/community?lb=UgkxEOVBKmx9zCluGQGj8DF4-t-oUq2h-CYy

Peru Using Incan Engineering to Solve Water Crisis

August 16, 2022

I found this little snippet in today’s Independent fascinating. I’m a fan, sort-of, of Frank Herbert’s classic SF epic, Dune. This is set on Arrakis, a desert planet, whose sandworms are the only known source of the drug Spice, whose mind-expanding effects allow the mutated human navigators to guide their spacecraft across the galaxy without the use of computers. The planet’s original settlers, the Fremen, use stillsuits, technological body suits that harvest water from their sweat and body fluids to produce drinkable water, enabling them to survive for weeks even in the deep desert. And the Fremen have also established a network of cisterns to gather water as part of a project to turn their arid world green.

That type of technology and engineering, used to reclaim and channel water in desert areas, fascinates me. There are ingenious machines now that collect water from the humidity in the atmosphere, to produce drinking water. Nearly 2,000 years ago, a Greek engineer created a huge moisture-gatherer in one of the ancient Greek colonies on the Black Sea to provide the town with water despite the absence of rain or rivers. Now, according to the Independent, Peruvian engineers are renovating the ancient system of canals the Incas used to irrigate their land. The article by Samuel Webb, ‘Ancient Incan technology being used to harvest water to combat Peru’s crisis’, begins

Techniques used by servants of the Inca empire to build canals 500 years ago are being resurrected in Peru to funnel much-needed water to remote mountain communities and the city of Lima below.

Gregorio Rios, 74, oversaw the renovation of the vast network of canals above San Pedro de Casta, a town 3,000 metres above sea level in the South American country’s Huarochiri district.

The canals were built centuries ago by the Yapani ethnic group, using clay and rocks ingeniously compressed over a long period of time.

The local municipality previously used concrete to build new modern canals, but it stifled plant growth, affecting the local ecosystem, and crumbled after just 10 years.

The Yapani canals, by contrast, are more than 500 years old. New canals built with the ancient techniques could last for more than 100 years if built correctly. They are also permeable, so the water is filtered and plant roots help anchor the structure in place.

Mr Rios, whose work is supported by Warwickshire-based charity Practical Action, said: “Our ancestors built the canals with rock and clay. That knowledge is being lost and it’s in our interest to recover it.

“We have got to take control of the management of water for the crops. This is all being done thanks to the knowledge of our ancestors.”

See: https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/ancient-incan-technology-being-used-to-harvest-water-to-combat-peru-s-crisis/ar-AA10DXaP?ocid=msedgdhp&pc=U531&cvid=17e09ff4479f425caad8d64f8d71ad6d

In Chile, farmers use networks of string placed across their fields to collect moisture from the sea mists for their crops despite the lack of rainfall in that part of the country.

And over in Iran and Afghanistan, there’s an ancient system of subterranean canals, the qanats, irrigating those countries deserts and arid regions.

I find it absolutely fascinating that such ancient methods and modern technology are together being used to combat the desert and the contemporary water shortage caused by climate change.

Denis Villeneuve to Film ‘Rendezvous with Rama’

December 17, 2021

Exciting film news for fans of Arthur C. Clarke. Denis Villeneuve, the director of the latest Dune movie, as well as the flicks Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, is apparently set to film a version of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama. This is about a group of astronauts exploring a mysterious alien space habitat that has entered the solar system. Morgan Freeman is set to produce it along with Robert Johnson and Ender Kossoff. Villeneuve is filming it for Alcon Entertainment, the company he worked with on his films The Prisoner and the Blade Runner sequel. In addition to this project, Villeneuve is also set to direct the second part of his Dune movie, as well as episodes of a TV series about the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, which he is also set to produce. Johnson and Kossoff said that Rendezvous with Rama was a very intelligent work, which raises many questions and is perfect for our time and was fitted to Villeneuve’s sensibilities and his passion for science fiction. There have been off and on plans to film Rama since Freeman acquired the rights in the early 2000s, and at one time David Fincher was set to direct before he moved on to other projects. Despite the pandemic, Dune is doing very well globally and is approaching taking $400 million around the world. And this week, Villeneuve himself won three awards, including Best Film Drama and Best Director.

Here’s the report from Savage Entertainment.

There are a number of short films of Rendezvous with Rama on YouTube, which give a taste of what the book and the space artefact it describes are like. Here’s one from the Vancouver Film School.

It’ll be interesting to see how Hollywood handles Rendezvous with Rama, as it is very much a movie of exploration rather than action or combat. The human explorers don’t meet the aliens who built the habitat, although they do encounter the robots and other machines left behind to maintain it. The book’s a favourite among Arthur C. Clarke fans, and I think it’s because of the detailed, scientifically credible description of what such an alien space habitat would be like.

Cartoonist Kayfabe on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ‘Panic Fables’

December 8, 2021

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a Chilean-French film director and comics creator. He was responsible for a number of very bizarre Surrealist films, such as Holy Mountain, one of which features a battle between the Incas and invading conquistadors as enacted by frogs in period costumes. In the 1970s he tried to make a film version of Frank Herbert’s classic Dune, which would have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, his son, Brontis, as Paul Atreides, and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha. Concept art was by H.R. Giger, Salvador Dali, Chris Foss and legendary French comics artist, Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud. Dali would also have played the Emperor of the Universe. However, the great Surrealist stipulated that he would only act for half an hour. So Jodorowsky planned to make a robotic Dali to play the Emperor for the rest of the film. The film was, however, abandoned when the producers stopped funding due to mounting costs. Jodorowsky and Moebius weren’t dismayed, and used the material they had already produced for the film as the basis for their comic book, The Incal. Although it was never made, Jodorowsky’s Dune has influenced a number of later SF movies and a film version of The Incal is now underway.

In this video, hosts Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg look through Panic Fables, produced when Jodorowsky was living in Mexico. Jodorowsky had been teaching mime at university, but was now blacklisted. He could no longer teach or make films. He therefore turned his creative talents into comics. Panic Fables describe themselves as teaching initiatory wisdom. This doesn’t surprise me, as I go the impression that Jodorowsky has a very strong interest in esoteric mysticism. However, this doesn’t impress one of the Kayfabers. He’s from Pittsburgh, and so when someone talks about mystic knowledge, it seems to him to be all about separating the rich from their money. The pair are nevertheless impressed by Jodorowsky’s creativity, commenting on his drawing style and unique use of colour in the strips. They also wonder what American influences may have reached Jodorowsky from north of the border, as it was published at the same time the first underground comics were beginning in America, and both Jodorowsky’s work and the undergrounds mark a radical departure from contemporary comics.

Panic Fables are obscure much less well-known than Jodorowsky’s films or his comics with Moebius, The Incal and then The Metabarons. But the video about them give an insight into his considerable creativity during this period, when the Mexican authorities were trying to close him down.

Jodorowsky and Waititi Talk about the Prospective Incal Movie

November 10, 2021

Yesterday I put up a video from Quinn’s Ideas discussing the filming of the French SF comic The Incal by New Zealand director Taika Waititi. The comic was created by the Chilean-French surrealist film director, Alejandro Jodorowsky and French comics legend Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud. I found this video on YouTube by Humanoids Inc. in which Jodorowsky and Waititi talk about the movie. I think Humanoids Inc. must be the current legal title of Les Humanoides Associes, which was the name adopted by the group of French comics creators behind the influential SF comic Metal Hurlant of which Jodorowsky and Moebius were a part.

The video begins with an extract from Frank Pavich’s 2013 documentary, Jodoroswky’s Dune in which Jodorowsky explains that after the failure of his attempt to film Frank Herbert’s Dune, he took his material and put into the Incal, which became his Dune. It moves to the present day, where Jodorowsky says that if he was forty, he’d be angry and depressed that someone else was filming The Incal, because he’d feel that it had been taken away from him. But as he’s 92, he can’t – physically can’t – do it himself. Jododrowsky nevertheless seems to have confidence in Waititi, but declares that the film director is God. He controls everything in a movie. And he’s not interested in directors who are only concerned with making money, but with those who want to change the world. Well, this was his attitude when he set about filming Dune in the 1970s. He says in Pavich’s documentary that he wanted to make a movie like the coming of a god. The video then moves on Waititi, who says that he always finds something new in The Incal when reading and re-reading it. He was attracted to the book because it deals with fundamental questions about who we are and what we’re all looking for, and he likes the idea that the hero bumbles about, not really knowing what he’s doing. He compares him to Jack Nicholson’s character in Chinatown, who similarly doesn’t really know what he’s doing and has a clownish appearance due to the plaster across his nose. The Incal’s hero is also bumbler but at the same time the most important man in the universe.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is one of the great unmade films. The ideas and concept art developed for the movie not only produced Jodorowsy’s series of Incal books, but also his The Metabarons. They also influenced later films like Star Wars and Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. This could be a great, stylish but weird film, given Jodorowsky’s roots in surrealism and the source material. It’ll be interesting to see how it all turns out.

Taika Waititi Adapting Jodorowsy’s ‘The Incal’

November 9, 2021

Here’s another piece of fascinating SF news from Quinn’s Ideas on YouTube. Apparently the New Zealand director, Taika Waititi is adapting Alejandro Jodorowsky’s SF comic/ graphic novel, The Incal. Jodorowsky’s a Chilean-French surrealist film maker and comics writer, among whose bizarre cinematics works is The Holy Mountain. I can’t remember if it’s that film or one of his others that contains a battle between Conquistadors and Incas played by frogs in period costumes. Jodorowsky tried to make a version of Dune in the early ’70s. This would have starred his son, Brontis, as Paul Atreides, Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha. The concept artists included Salvador Dali, H.R. Giger and Chris Foss. The film was never due to the producers pulling the funding as costs escalated. However, as Quinn explains, Jodorowsky used some of the material and ideas he had developed for the movie and, with French comics maestro Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, turned it into The Incal.

There are three books in the series, Before the Incal, The Incal and Final Incal. The Incal was the first published with art by Moebius, who did not draw the other three books although the art is still good. Jodorowsky’s Dune, although never made, nevertheless inspired a series of other movies including Star Wars and Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. The books follow the adventures of John De Fool, whose name is quite intentional and who is a fool figure while simultaneously being the most important person in the universe. The book’s are about his quest to obtain the Incal of the title, the most valuable object in the universe. Quinn wonders if the character of Fry from Futurama may also have been inspired by him. Futurama’s artwork is similar and Fry is also a fool. Quinn states that The Incal is very strange and not for everyone. In addition to it, Jodorowsky also created the Metabarons comics, which contains rather more of his Dune material. Quinn states that he knows Waititi best from his comedy films. One of these was the vampire comedy, What We Do In The Shadows. He therefore wonders how he’ll get on with the more serious material in The Incal, although this also has elements of comedy. Quinn also makes the point that it’s a great time for SF film and television, with Dune in the cinemas, Asimov’s Foundation on Apple TV and the news that Dan Simmons’ Hyperion is also being adapted.

This is interesting news, though I do wonder just how similar The Incal and the Metabarons are to Frank Herbert’s novel. I suspect that while they were inspired by Dune they’re actually very different. From what I understand of Jodorowsky movie, it would have been significantly different from Herbert’s book. And while I hope that this goes ahead, I also wonder how successful the film will be amongst anglophone audiences. Moebius and The Incal are well-known amongst comics fandom. BBC 4 screened a documentary about the great French comics artist a few years ago and I remember how, way back in the 1990s, his international cache was so strong, Marvel persuaded him to draw the Silver Surfer strip for them. However there is the problem of whether audiences outside France will be familiar enough with the comics to want to see the film. The film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was based on the long-running French SF strip, Valerian. This was a flop, and it has been suggested that one of the reasons it did was that international audiences simply weren’t familiar enough with the French strip to be interested. I’m not sure how true that is, as I think the film should still have been able to draw in audiences on its own merits even if most people didn’t know about the source comic. The Incal, however, might be in a better position in this regard as I think more SF fans across the world have heard about Jodorowsky and Moebius. Jodoroswky is involved with the film in any case, and so it should be very interesting to see how Waititi translates it to the big screen.

Quinn Discusses Possible Screen Adaption of ‘Hyperion’

November 9, 2021

This interesting little snippet comes from the ‘Quinn’s Ideas’ YouTube channel. Quinn’s a Black American fantasy/ SF writer and graphic novelist with a taste for galaxy-spanning SF that tackles the big metaphysical ideas, like power, responsibility, suffering, the nature of humanity and the possibility of alien life and truly sentient AI. He’s a big fan of Frank Herbert’s classic Dune, which has now been filmed by Denis Villeneuve and has been playing in cinemas around the country. Quinn’s put up a series of videos about Dune, which are well worth watching, as well as other great SF works like Asimov’s Foundation. In this video he talks about the news that there are plans to adapt Dan Simmon’s Hyperion, but it’s not known yet whether this would be for the cinema or TV. He hopes it’s TV.

Hyperion is another of his favourite books, and he’s also posted videos about it. It, too, is another SF classic. It set in a future in which humanity has expanded throughout the galaxy, united into a type of interstellar UN called the Hegemony. Outside the Hegemony are the Oustlers, a society of nomadic humans, who have adapted themselves to space, who attack and raid vulnerable Hegemony worlds. Also outside the Hegemony is the Technocore, a society of intelligent AIs, who rebelled against their human creators centuries ago and fled into space. Their whereabouts is unknown, but they have established apparently friendly relations with humanity offering advice and technology. Earth was destroyed hundreds of years ago by accident in an attempt to create an artificial Black Hole. Although the humans have FTL spaceships, these are still quite slow compared to the cosmic spaces they traverse, so that it can take months or years to travel from one planet to another. These transit times are offset for the crew and passengers of such ships through a form of relativistic time dilation, so that the subjective time they experience in flight is shorter than that in the outside universe. A more immediate form of travel are the Farcasters, technological portals that allow the user to pass instantaneously across space from one world to another.

Hyperion itself is a sparsely populated agricultural world, threatened with attack from Oustlers. It is home to the mysterious Time Tombs, strange monuments that have appeared to have travelled backwards in time. Haunting them is the Shrike, a gigantic humanoid killing machine, whose body is a mass of cruel spikes and blades. In this future, Christianity has declined to the point where it’s a minor sect that survives on only a few worlds. Among the new religions that have replaced it is the Church of the Final Atonement, centred around the Shrike. Six pilgrims are periodically selected to go to Hyperion, journey to the Tombs and meet the Shrike. It is believed that although the creature will kill five of them, it will grant the wish of the survivor. The novel follows six pilgrims, who entertain each other by telling their stories on their way to meet the creature.

The pilgrims include a former Roman Catholic priest, sent to investigate the disappearance of a fellow former cleric while conducting an anthropological study of the Bikura, a mysterious human tribe; a female gumshoe from a heavy gravity world, investigating the murder of the biological and cybernetic reconstruction of the poet Keats; a Jewish academic from a farming world, desperately seeking a cure for his daughter’s condition. An archaeologist investigating the Time Tombs, she has started to age backwards after a mysterious event until she reaches infancy. There is also a noted galactic poet and writer of trash historical fantasies about the last days of Earth, a Palestinian Martian colonel and a Templar master. The Templars are another new religion, which worships trees, and the Templars have converted some of the vast trees on their homeworld into spacecraft.

The book’s influenced not just by Keat’s poem ‘Hyperion’, but also by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I therefore think Quinn’s right in that it would be better as a TV adaptation, as each tale could constitute an individual episode within the overarching story. At the heart of the book is the problem of evil, how the universe can contain such immense pain and suffering. It’s an issue that has challenged philosophers and theologians down the centuries. Hyperion is a Science Fictional attempt to examine the problem, as exemplified by the Shrike.

Hyperion was the first in a series of novels completing the story: The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion and the Rise of Endymion, all of which I found similarly worth reading. It would be great if Hyperion was adapted for screen, but I’m afraid that, like some of the Dune adaptations, some of the central ideas which make the book an SF classic might be lost. If, that is, the book’s ever adapted at all. Things seem rather tenuous and it may all come to nothing. We shall have to wait and see.

Quinn Looks at the Rave Reviews for Dune

September 5, 2021

Here’s a bit of fun to kick off Sunday. Quinn, the man behind the aptly named ‘Quinn’s Ideas’, is a Black American SF/comics writer and creator. He has a taste in classic SF tales of star-spanning galactic empires extending over centuries and millennia, intelligent stories that are part of the tradition of SF as ‘the literature of ideas’. Books like Asimov’s Foundation series, Dan Simmon’s Hyperion and especially, Frank Herbert’s Dune. Dune has now been adapted by Denis Villeneuve, the French-Canadian director behind Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival. Dune opens in America the end of October. I think it might the 20th, but I’m not sure. However, the critics have seen it, and the reviews are in. They rave about it!

Quinn wonders if his audience can tell that he can hardly contain his excitement. Well, it is noticeable. He’s almost shaking with joy and expectation. The critics have loved the film, including the musical score by Hans Zimmer. Amongst the praise, one critics compares it to the moment audiences first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars. This is high praise indeed! 2001 has dated, but it still one of the great SF films of all time. I was a junior school kid when I first saw Star War, and it completely blew me away. Michael Frayn, the literature professor and broadcaster, said in an interview about his favourite movies that he saw it, and the first moments immediately seized and amazed you. This was the moment the star destroyer appeared in pursuit of the princess Leia’s rebel ship. It appeared and grew and continued growing.

Quinn hopes the film lives up to this hype, as he wants it to be remembered as the cinematic version of Dune, not the 1980s David Lynch version. This took liberties with the book. One of these was the portrayal of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. He was presented as a stupid, screaming madman. As Quinn says, the Dune miniseries was much better, although it had a much lower budget and the costumes were ridiculous. I have to differ from him here. I do agree with him that the Dune miniseries is an excellent adaptation, especially in the portrayal of the Baron. He’s closer to the character in the book, camp, but intelligent, subtle and cunning. I don’t know about the book, but the miniseries made him a kind of Shakespearean villain. He hated the Atreides because of the way that House looked down upon his family for generations. It recalled the line from King Lear where Edmund rants about how he is marginalised and excluded because he is a bastard, and so excluded from the throne. The Baron in the miniseries also versifies, celebrating his coming victories in rhyming couplets or haikus. Where I disagree is that I don’t think the costumes are ridiculous. I think the costume designer took his inspiration partly from 16th century Europe, shown in the uniform of the emperor’s Sardaukar shock troops, and also east Asia. The Harkonnen armour looks very much like it was inspired by Japanese samurai. Of course, it’s space age version of sixteenth century and Japanese armour and fashions. The costume of the guild ambassadors with their curiously curved headgear looks like it was inspired by some of the weird hats in Moebius, such as the one worn by his hero Arzach. I do, however, dislike the Fremen costume. I realise this is supposed to be clothes worn by harassed, persecuted desert-dwellers, but it’s tough rough and crude. The traditional clothes worn by modern desert peoples, like the Bedouin, are of much better quality even though these peoples may also be poor. I also found the miniseries’ version of the still suits, which collects the characters waste fluids from sweat, urine and faeces, and reprocesses them into drinkable water so that they can survive in the desert, disappointing. But then I don’t think they could ever match up to the stylish suits in the David Lynch movie.

I’m really looking forward to the new Dune movie, and hope to see it at the movies here, lockdown permitting. The trailers look superb and selected critics, including Quinn himself, were invited to special screenings of the first ten minutes of the movie. This massively impressed them. I’m a fan of both David Lynch’s Dune, which I consider to be a flawed masterpiece, and the miniseries. But I really hope Villeneuve’s version lives up to the hype. As Quinn’s commenters point out, what impresses the critics and the ordinary person in the auditorium are two different things. Blade Runner 2049 impressed the critics, but audience were much less impressed. It may be the same with his Dune, though I sincerely hope not. Any way, here’s the video he posted, so judge for yourself from his comments.