Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

‘Mr H Reviews’ on the Casting of Robot Lead in SF Film

August 8, 2020

‘Mr H Reviews’ is a YouTube channel specialising in news and opinions on genre films – SF, Fantasy and Horror. In the video below he comments on a piece in the Hollywood Reporter about the production of a new SF movie, which will for the first time star a genuine AI. The movie is simply titled b. Financed by Bondit Capital, which also funded the film Loving Vincent, with the Belgium-based Happy Moon Productions and New York’s Top Ten Media, the film is based on a story by the special effects director Eric Pham with Tarek Zohdy and Sam Khoze. It is about a scientist, who becomes unhappy with a programme to perfect human DNA and helps the AI woman he has created to escape. 

The robot star, Erica, was created by the Japanese scientists/ engineers Hiroshi Ishigura and Hohei Ogawa for another film. The two, according to the Reporter, taught her to act. That film, which was to be directed by Tony Kaye, who made American History X, fell through. Some scenes for the present movie were already shot in Japan in 2019, and the rest will be shot in Europe next year, 2021.

The decision to make a movie starring a robot looks like an attempt to get round the problems of filming caused by the Coronavirus. However, it also raises a number of other issues. One of these, which evidently puzzle the eponymous Mr H, is how a robot can possibly act. Are they going to use takes and give it direction, as they would a human, or will it instead simply be done perfectly first time, thanks to someone on a keyboard somewhere programming it? He is quite enthusiastic about the project with some reservations. He supports the idea of a real robot playing a robot, but like most of us rejects the idea that robots should replace human actors. He also agrees with the project being written by a special effects supervisor, because such a director would obviously be aware of how such a project should be shot.

But it also ties in with an earlier video he has made about the possible replacement of humans by their Virtual simulacra. According to another rumour going round, Mark Hamill has signed away his image to Lucas Film, so that Luke Skywalker can be digitally recreated using CGI on future Star Wars films. Mr H ponders if this is the future of film now, and that humans are now going to be replaced by their computer generated doubles.

In some ways, this is just the culmination of processes that have been going on in SF films for some time. Animatronics – robot puppets – have been used in Science Fiction films since the 1990s, though admittedly the technology has been incorporated into costumes worn by actors. But not all the time. Several of the creatures in the American/Australian SF series Farscape were such animatronic robots, such as the character Rygel. Some of the robots features in a number of SF movies were entirely mechanical. The ABC Warrior which appears in the 1990s Judge Dredd film with Sylvester Stallone was deliberately entirely mechanical. The producers wished to show that it definitely wasn’t a man in a suit. C-3PO very definitely was played by a man in a metal costume, Anthony Daniels, but I noticed in the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, that a real robot version of the character appears in several scenes. Again, this is probably to add realism to the character. I also think that in the original movie, Episode 4: A New Hope, there were two versions of R2D2 used. One was the metal suit operated by Kenny Baker, and I think the other was entirely mechanical, operated by radio. Dr. Who during Peter Davison’s era as the Doctor also briefly had a robot companion. This was Kameleon, a shape-changing android, who made his first appearance in The King’s Demons. He was another radio-operated robot, though voiced by a human actor. However the character was never used, and his next appearance was when he died in the story Planet of Fire.

And then going further back, there’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad plan to create a robotic Salvador Dali for his aborted 1970s version of Dune. Dali was hired as one of the concept artists, along with H.R. Giger and the legendary Chris Foss. Jodorowsky also wanted him to play the Galactic Emperor. Dali agreed, in return for a payment of $1 million. But he stipulated that he was only going to act for half an hour. So in order to make sure they got enough footage of the great Surrealist and egomaniac, Jodorowsky was going to build a robot double. The film would also have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, as well as Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontes, as Paul Atreides. The film was never made, as the producers pulled the plug at the last minute wondering what was happening to it. I think part of the problem may have been that it was going well over budget. Jodorowsky has said that all the effort that went into it wasn’t wasted, however, as he and the artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud used the ideas developed for the film for their comic series, The Incal. I think that Jodorowsky’s version of Dune would have been awesome, but would have been far different to the book on which it was based.

I also like the idea of robots performing as robots in an SF movie. A few years ago an alternative theatre company specialising in exploring issues of technology and robotics staged a performance in Prague of the classic Karel Capek play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, using toy robots. I can see the Italian Futurists, rabid Italian avant-garde artists who praised youth, speed, violence and the new machine world around the time of the First World War, being wildly enthusiastic about this. Especially as, in the words of their leader and founder, Tommasso Marinetti, they looked ‘for the union of man and machine’. But I really don’t want to see robots nor CGI recreations replace human actors.

Many films have been put on hold because of the Coronavirus, and it looks like the movie industry is trying to explore all its options for getting back into production. However, the other roles for this movie haven’t been filled and so I do wonder if it will actually be made.

It could be one worth watching, as much for the issues it raises as its story and acting.

Sargon of Gasbag Smears Black Lives Matter as Anti-Semitic

July 3, 2020

Despite their recent popularity and the wave of sympathetic protests and demonstrations that have erupted all over the world in the past few weeks, Black Lives Matter is a very controversial organisation. They’re Marxists, who wish not only to get rid of capitalism, but also the police, the patriarchy and other structures that oppress Black people. They support trans rights, and, so I’ve heard, wish to get rid of the family. I doubt many people outside the extreme right would defend racism, but I’m not sure how many are aware of, let alone support, their extreme radical views.

A number of Black American Conservatives have posted pieces on YouTube criticising them. One, Young Rippa, objects to them because he has never experienced racism personally and has White friends. He’s angry because they’re telling him he is less than equal in his own country. It’s an interesting point of view, and while he’s fortunate in not experiencing racism himself, many other Black Americans have. Others have objected to the organisation on meritocratic grounds. Mr H Reviews, for example, who posts on YouTube about SF and Fantasy film, television, games and comics, is a believer in meritocracy and so objects to their demands for affirmative action. For him, if you are an employer, you should always hire the best. And if the best writers and directors are all Black, or women, or gay, their colour, gender and sexuality should make no difference. You should employ them. What you shouldn’t do in his opinion is employ people purely because they’re BAME, female or gay. That’s another form of racism, sexism and discrimination. It’s why, in his view and that of other YouTubers, Marvel and DC comics, and now Star Wars and Star Trek have declined in quality in recent years. They’re more interested in forced diversity than creating good, entertaining stories.

Now Carl Benjamin aka Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP, has also decided to weigh in on Black Lives Matter. Sargon’s a man of the far right, though I don’t think he is personally racist. Yesterday he put up a piece on YouTube asking if the tide was turning against Black Lives Matter ‘at least in the UK’. He begins the video with a discussion of Keir Starmer calling BLM a moment, rather than a movement, although he later apologised for this and retracted the description. Starmer also rejected their demand to defund the police. Benjamin went on to criticise a Wolverhampton Labour group, who tweeted their opposition to Starmer’s comment about BLM and supported defunding. Sargon also criticised the football players, who had taken the knee to show their support, and also Gary Lineker, who had tweeted his support for BLM but then apologized and made a partial retraction when it was explained to him what the organisation fully stood for. But much of Sargon’s video is devoted to attacking them because they’re anti-Semitic. Who says so? Why, it’s our old friends, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. Who are once again lying as usual.

Tony Greenstein put up a piece about a week or so ago on his blog discussing how the Zionist organisations hate BLM and have tied themselves in knots trying to attack the organisation while not alienating the Black community. Black Lives Matter support the Palestinians, and according to all too many Zionist groups, including the British Jewish establishment – the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Chief Rabbinate, Jewish Leadership Council and the Jewish Chronicle and other papers, anyone who makes anything except the mildest, most toothless criticism of Israel is an anti-Semitic monster straight out of the Third Reich. This also includes Jews. Especially Jews, as the Israel lobby is doing its damnedest to make Israel synonymous with Jewishness, despite the fact that’s also anti-Semitic under the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism they are so keen to foist on everybody. As a result, Jewish critics in particular suffer insults, smears, threats and personal assault.

Yesterday BLM issued a statement condemning the planned annexation of one third of Palestinian territory by Netanyahu’s Israeli government. This resulted in the usual accusation of anti-Semitism by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. The deliberately misnamed Campaign then hypocritically pontificated about how anti-Semitism, a form of racism, was incompatible with any genuine struggle against racism. Which is true, and a good reason why the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism should shut up and dissolve itself.

Israel is an apartheid state in which the Palestinians are foreigners, even though in law they are supposed to have equality. In the 72 years of its existence, Israel has been steadily forcing them out, beginning with the massacres of the Nakba at the very foundation of Israel as an independent state. The Israel lobby has been trying to silence criticism of its barbarous maltreatment of them by accusing those voicing it of anti-Semitism. The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism is a case in point. It was founded to counter the rising opposition to Israel amongst the British public following the blockade of Gaza. And Tony Greenstein has argued that Zionism is itself anti-Semitic. Theodor Herzl believed that Jews needed their own state because there would always be gentile hostility to Jews. He even at one point wrote that he had ‘forgiven’ it. It’s a surrender to anti-Semitism not an opponent, although obviously you would never hear that argument from the Israel lobby.

Sargon thus follows the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism in accusing BLM of being anti-Semitic. He puts up on his video a screen shot of the CAA’s twitter reply to BLM’s condemnation of the invasion of Palestine. But there’s a piece on BLM’s tweet that he either hasn’t seen or is deliberately ignoring.

Black Lives Matter issued their condemnation as a series of linked tweets. And the second begins by noting that over 40 Jewish organisations have objected to Netanyahu’s deliberate conflation of Israel with Jews.

That tweet can clearly be seen beneath the first and the CAA’s reply as Sargon waffles on about anti-Semitism.

It says

‘More than 40 Jewish groups around the world in 2018 opposed “cynical and false accusations that dangerously conflate anti-Jewish racism with opposition to Israel’s policies of occupation and apartheid.”‘

This section of their condemnation should demonstrate that BLM aren’t anti-Semites. They made the distinction, as demanded by the I.H.R.A.’s own definition of anti-Semitism, between Jews and the state of Israel. If Black Lives Matter was genuinely anti-Semitic, not only would they not make that distinction, I doubt that they would bother mentioning that Jewish organisations also condemned it.  It is also ironic that it’s up when the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and Sargon are doing precisely what these 40 Jewish organisations condemned.

Black Lives Matter as an organisation is controversial, and I don’t believe it or any other movement or ideology should be immune or exempt from reasonable criticism. But I don’t believe they can fairly be accused of anti-Semitism.

As for Sargon, the fact that he drones on accusing them of it while just behind him is the statement clearly showing that they aren’t tells you all you need to know about the level of his knowledge and the value of his views in this matter. But you probably guessed that already from his illustrious career destroying every organisation he’s ever joined.

I’m not going to put up Sargon’s video here, nor link to it. But if you want to see for yourself, it’s on his channel on YouTube, Akkad Daily, with the title Is The Tide Turning Against Black Lives Matter. The tweet quoting the Jewish groups denouncing the deliberate conflation of Israel and Jews to accuse critics of Israel of anti-Semitism can be seen at the bottom of the twitter stream at 5.26.

 

 

Video With Original Footage of David Rappoport in Star Trek: The Next Generation

June 19, 2020

Major Grin is a YouTuber, who posts videos about Star Trek, many of which mock the show, pointing out some of its flaws and inconsistencies. The video below is just a collection of scenes from Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Data, the android crew member, visits prisoners in the Enterprise’s brig. What may make it particularly interesting for fans of the series are the scenes from the story ‘The Most Toys’ where he visits the villain, Kivas Fajo.

Fajo was a galactic billionaire collector of strange and rare objects. In ‘The Most Toys’, he takes Data captive and tries to add him to his collection. Data resists, and is helped to escape by one of Fajo’s employees. Fajo  intercepts them, however, shooting her with his disruptor, and threatens to kill another one of this servants unless Data obey him. Data raises his phaser to kill Fajo, but is then rescued as both he and Fajo are transported back to the Enterprise.

The role of Fajo was to be played by the British actor David Rappoport. Rappoport played the leader of the dwarfs in the 1980s Terry Gilliam fantasy film, Time Bandits and one of the O Men in one of the Beeb’s ’80s children’s programmes. He was also friends with the people, who ran the Old Profanity showboat down on Bristol’s docks. Despite his lack of height, Rappoport was a performer with real charisma. He had attitude, style and swagger, as shown by his performance in Time Bandits. He appeared in a number of movies and TV series, but managed to break out from just playing SF/ Fantasy roles. Shortly before his death, he starred in a Channel 4 show about an uptight British businessman, complete with bowler hat and pinstripe suit, who becomes more relaxed and laid back when he visits America and experiences proper pop music. Sadly, he died during the making of ‘The Most Toys’ and was replaced by an actor of normal height.

It’s interesting comparing the performances of Rappoport and his replacement. While the other actor’s performance is light, almost comic, Rappoport’s is all snarling aggression, spitting hate at Data from behind the cell’s forcefield.

I don’t want to take anything away from Warwick Davis’ achievement in making the same transition from SF, Fantasy and Horror to mainstream television – he’s now the host of the British game show Tenable – but I do wonder how much of his success he owes to David Rappoport having done it just before him.

David Rappoport – one of the great figures of British fantasy cinema. RIP big fellow.

Rioting and Looting Hurts Black People and their Businesses

June 9, 2020

It shouldn’t need to be said that rioting and looting hurts people, regardless of their colour. But the point that it also harms Blacks as well as Whites seems to have been lost on some people over the other side of the Pond. So far in Britain the Black Lives Matter protests seem to have been largely peaceful with the exception of those at the weekend at Downing Street, where there seem to have been attacks on the police. I say ‘seem’, because although the footage of the attacks look convincing, like many other people I remember the way the Beeb reversed the footage of the attack on the miners by the police at Orgreave colliery during the miner’s strike in order to make it look like the miners were attacking them. The reality was that it was the other way round. I hope this hasn’t happened this time, but the Beeb is so riddled with Tory bias and the blatant falsification of the news that you can’t be sure.

In America it’s been rather different. Some of the protests over there have descended into riots and people’s businesses have been trashed and looted. And they have included those belonging to Black people. ‘Young Rippa’ is a Black American Conservative, who has a channel on YouTube. The other day he put up a long video of about 20 minutes fiercely attacking the looting and rioting. His piece included a short video posted by a middle-aged Black lady. She was part-owner of a small business, working alongside seven other people. As he points out, that’s not unusual for small businesses. It had been broken into and trashed. She was there standing in some of the broken glass and other wreckage with what looked like her employees and co-workers. She angrily asked the viewer the rhetorical question ‘Do you think that’s got anything to do with Black Lives Matter?’ It’s a good question. It doesn’t seem to have absolutely anything to do with saving Black lives, or protesting poverty and despair to me. It looks far more like opportunistic criminals helping themselves at the expense of the law-abiding.

But weirdly some people have got it into their head that looters are some kind of anti-racist heroes. ‘Mr H Reviews’ is another YouTube channel, which reviews SF, Fantasy and Horror films and television shows. Again, it seems to come from a broadly conservative perspective, but that doesn’t disqualify it from being worth watching. Nearly a week ago, on June 3rd, ‘Mr H’ put up a piece about the X-Men actor Evan Peters being accused of racism and forced to make an apology after he had a tweeted his approval of a piece of footage of the LA police arresting a suspected looter. This was another case of the ‘cancel culture’ in which extreme left-wing activists to try to stop their opponents being heard. I am very much aware that same cancel culture exists on the right, and that Conservative activists and media monitoring groups are also doing their level best to make sure that only Conservative voices are heard. But on this occasion, assuming that the situation was as Mr H describes, he’s right to attack it.

Rioters and looters don’t help Black people, and it is not racist to condemn them.

I was talking to a Black friend a few years ago, whose business was also trashed during riots. He had had a small business near the centre of Bristol. But it had been hit and looted during the 2012 riots. As a result, he packed up and moved out. Now those riots weren’t about race, but the effect was the same: a Black entrepreneur trying to better himself had his livelihood trashed and destroyed. I don’t know if he employed anyone, but small businesses obviously help the economy and wider community. When they make a profit, it allows them to employ other people and purchase others’ goods and services. Moreover, the small grocers, butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers and so on are actually better for the community than the big supermarkets. They’re less efficient, but employ more people. Which means that those people have work, money, and so are able to buy others’ goods and services. And so everyone in the community benefits from small, local businesses.

The Black Lives Matter protests are all about improving Black people’s lives. It’s not just about police violence, but also about the racism that are holding Black people back and achieving equality.

But they can’t do this if criminals smash and destroy their businesses and livelihoods.

Let’s support peaceful protest, and condemn any violence and looting, regardless of the colour of those doing it.

Here are the two videos I mentioned. I haven’t watched Young Rippa’s all the way through as it’s long and a bit repetitive, and so can’t comment on all of it. I don’t share his political Conservatism, but absolutely support his condemnation of those just trying to stop ordinary Black people making a decent living for themselves and their families.

 

Discworld Novels To Come to TV and Film

April 29, 2020

Good news for fans of the late Fantasy/SF author Terry Pratchett. According to an article on page 3 of today’s I, for 29th April 2020, a special production company is set to develop his discworld novels for the screen. The article simply reads

Sir Terry Pratchett’s production company, Narrativia, is to bring the late writer’s Discworld novels to life in screen adaptations. It hopes to create “truly authentic” features based on the novels, which remain “absolutely faithful” to Sir Terry’s “original, unique genius.”

I saw Pratchett several times speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. He was a funny man, who spoke to packed audiences. Like Michael Moorcock, the author of the cult Fantasy hero, Elric, Pratchett was also critical about the genre in which he wrote. He once said that if you read The Lord of the Rings when you were 13, and didn’t think it was the greatest book in the world, there’s something wrong with you. And if you still think it’s the greatest book in the world by the time you’re 33, there’s something really wrong with you. He also said that Fantasy was dead, and he was a maggot crawling in its rotting corpse.

But this was back in the 1990s, when the state of genre literature I hope was a lot different than it is today.

There have already been a couple of TV adaptations of his Discworld books, I believe. There has definitely been an animated version of Soul Music, about a lad who makes a pact to become Discworld’s superstar performer of what the trolls call ‘music with rocks in’, narrated by Rowan Atkinson. There’s also a TV adaptation of the book Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman,  and starring David Tennant, formerly Dr. Who, by one of the internet TV services. It’s either on at the moment, or it very recently has been. Apart from Discworld and Good Omens, Pratchett also co-wrote a couple of novels with other writers, including an SF trilogy about parallel worlds, which included The Long Earth, and The Long War with Hard SF writer Stephen Baxter, the author of the Xelee books.

I have to say that I only read five of his books before giving up – The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Mort, Pyramids and Reaper Man. I really enjoyed them, but gave up reading him because I simply couldn’t keep up with the man’s colossal output. His novels were hilarious, but many of them also contained among the humour a serious humanistic message. He was also very appreciative of the fans, who made him one of the great giants of modern Fantasy literature.

It’s great that there is a production company set up to try and translate Pratchett’s unique literary creation to TV and film, and wish them every success. After the horrors of the present, we’re going to need a good dose of humour and healthy, intelligent Fantasy.

Bad Taste Movie Alert! Charles Band’s ‘Corona Zombies’

April 27, 2020

Readers of this blog will know that I have a taste for Science Fiction, and some Fantasy and Horror, as well as movies that are so spectacularly bad or trashy that they’re hilarious or simply weirdly entertaining. It’s a type of cinema that’s been dubbed ‘Badfilm’ or ‘psychotronic’, and consists largely of low budget B-movies and their imitators. In recent years there have been a number of SF, Fantasy and Horror comedies that have deliberately parodied these films. Enough people love horrendously bad movies to have made The Room into a hit film despite it being judged one of the worst films of all time.

Half the world is in lockdown because of the Coronavirus crisis, but this hasn’t stop the masters of schlock horror producing their wares. I am therefore very pleased to inform you that the master of low budget ‘Orror’, Charles Band, has released his latest masterpiece of bad taste: Corona Zombies. I found a review of it and a trailer on the excellent website, Moria, which is an encyclopaedic collection of reviews of SF, Fantasy and Horror films.

It’s plot is very simple. A young woman, Barbie, comes back to her home in a trailer park to put on the news, where she learns that a special police unit, Corona Squad, has been formed to investigate the hijacking of a consignment of toilet paper. In the course of doing their duty, they’ve been attacked by a horde of ravening zombies. The film was completed in the very short space of a month, and the original footage shot for this epic only has three actors – the woman playing the heroine, a bloke who appears at various points in makeup as a zombie, and another woman, who’s just a voice at the end of the telephone when Barbie phones the authorities wondering what’s happened. The rest of the movie – 75 per cent of it – is made up of old footage from the 1980 Italian horror movie, Zombie Creeping Flesh. Which has been taken by Band and redubbed to give it deliberately silly dialogue. Band also recycles a few pieces of footage from one of his movies, Zombies vs Strippers.

Band first appeared in the 1980s when he formed Empire Pictures and then Full Moon. He’s responsible for a string of low budget schlock flicks, such as Ghoulies. However, Empire were also responsible for a couple of excellent ’80s horror movies by Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna, Re-Animator and From Beyond. Loosely based – and very loosely at that – on short stories by the cult SF/Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, these had very good creature effects and went in for over the top splatter, so that they didn’t take themselves too seriously. Both Re-Animator and From Beyond have become classics of ’80s Horror. Re-Animator was praised by critics at the time for its wry humour. It starred Jeffrey Coombs as mad scientist Herbert West, who has discovered a serum to reanimate the dead. In one scene West makes a deadpan joke about getting parts as injects a severed head and its former body.

Band himself, however, doesn’t seem to have risen to these cinematic heights, and simply continued to grind out his low-budget epics, often using old footage from his previous movies. He’s not alone in this. Roger Corman used to do it. So did Herschel Gordon Lewis and Samuel Z. Arkoff. I think it was Arkoff, who used to buy up foreign language European movies, edited and re-dubbed them, and then released them to unsuspecting American public as completely new movies. I’ve got a feeling one of his works of staggering genius was Billy the Kid Versus Dracula. He was certainly responsible for Sign of the Gladiator. This was originally an Italian sword and sandal epic set just after the fall of Rome. It had nothing to do with gladiators, but movies about them were in vogue at the time and one of the characters had been a gladiator. So he bought it, changed the title, did a bit of editing, and behold! Another masterpiece to wow the paying public. Band here seems to have followed their methodology.

Lewis and Arkoff released their movies as serious films, but Band is different here in that the film’s meant to be funny. There are apparently a lot of jokes about toilet paper shortages, as well as the new vocabulary that’s come in with the crisis, such as ‘flattening the curve’ and ‘social distancing’. The Coronavirus crisis itself isn’t funny, but it is important that people all over the world keep morale up. It’s why there’s a short film in between the programmes on the Beeb most nights in which an unseen narrator recites a poem about how we should all keep our spirits up, while inspiring images of ordinary British life, including Dad’s Army, flash by. It’s one of the reasons why every Thursday we’re all out on our doorsteps clapping for the NHS. We can keep our spirits up by laughing. And one of the ways we can do that, is through trashy films in deliberately bad taste. Like Corona Zombies.

Moria gave this splendid example of American cinema a single star, meaning that it’s rubbish, and warned that although it was the first of such movies, it wouldn’t be the last. Which to aficionados of badfilm is probably an endorsement of a promise of lots of similar horrific goodies to come. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Unfortunately all the cinemas are close, so I have no idea where you’d see it. On DVD or streaming service, perhaps.

The Morie review of this work of cinematic genius is at:

Corona Zombies (2020)

Modeller’s Magazine on Building Kits of Real Spacecraft

December 21, 2019

Like many children in the ’70s I was into plastic model kits. I was particularly into air- and spacecraft, and so spent some of my free time and pocket money gluing together and painting kits of the Apollo Lunar Module and the mighty Saturn V rocket that took men to the Moon, the Space Shuttle, and a spaceship from the Science Fiction film and TV series, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I was therefore pleased to find looking through W.H. Smith’s magazine shelves that not only had the hobby not died out, but that manufacturers were producing models of contemporary spacecraft. You can find plastic model kits on sale at some hobby shops and in Waterstone’s, but these tend to be of military aircraft, usually, but not exclusively from the Second World War II, tanks, and high performance modern jet fighters. Spacecraft seem to be dominated by Star Wars. So it was a real surprise when I found Scale Modelling: Real Space.

The kits built and described are those of the International Space Station; the Retriever Rocket, designed in the 1950s by Werner von Braun as part of the original concept for the Moon Landings which was then abandoned; the early Redstone rocket which launched some of the first Mercury capsules; the American Skylab space station; the Chinese ‘Celestial Palace’ space station, formed from their Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 spacecraft; the French Ariane 5 rocket; the Russian Buran orbiter, their answer to the American Space Shuttle, which has been built but never flown; the Titan IIIC launcher; NASA’s Space Launch System heavy lifting rocket.

Interspersed with these are articles on some of the real spacecraft themselves, written by NASA scientist David Baker. These are on the history of the ISS, how the final Saturn V launch for Skylab was very nearly a disaster, and the station became a success, and the Space Launch System rocket and its Orion capsule.

The very last model kit of a real spacecraft I built was of the Jupiter C way back in the 1990s. This was one of the early rockets that launched one of America’s first satellites into orbit. I’m very glad that people are still enjoying the hobby and building models of the real spacecraft which are carrying men and women into orbit. I was very pleased indeed when James May in one of his programmes on boy’s hobbies of the past, tried to revive interest in plastic model kits for a new generation of boys and girls a few years ago. As part of it, he built a full-scale replica of a Spitfire as a plastic model kit, complete with a dummy pilot, whose face was his own. It was cast by the artist Esther Freud, using the same techniques used to create creature masks for SF/Fantasy/Horror movies.

This issue of the magazine celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings with these kits. As NASA, ESA, India, and China again discuss plans for a return to Earth’s airless companion world, I hope the magazine and the kits encourage and inspire more children to become interested in space and the great vehicles that take us there. 

 

 

Trailer for Horror Movie ‘Tokoloshe’

November 23, 2019

The tokoloshe is a type of goblin in Black South African folklore. I found this trailer for a horror movie about the spirit on YouTube. The blurb for it simply says its due to be released on View On Demand soon.

This looks like it could be amazing. It appears to be set in South Africa with a mostly Black cast, and as such is a fresh approach to Horror. A little while ago a Black fan complained to the British comics/fantasy writer Neil Gaiman that there was no Black Horror literature. So Gaiman tried to correct that by writing the novel Anansi Boys. This has been adapted for Radio 4, where it starred Jacob Anderson and Lenny Henry. The Hollywood Horror film, Candyman, is based on a figure from modern Black American urban folklore, so Horror has drawn on Black folklore before. I also wonder if an investigation of Black cinema and the films made for Black audiences during segregation, as shown in the documentary That’s Black Entertainment,  and then the Blaxploitation phase of the ’70s, also didn’t have some Horror movies or ghost stories also drawn from the Black experience. It was the ’70s that gave us Blackula, which was parodied a few years ago in a pop video. But it’s true that the vast majority of Horror movies and literature come from within White and now mainstream culture. But this is the only movie I can think of that’s been made starring Black Africans and aimed at a global, mainstream market.

I think there’s an influence from Marvel’s Black Panther movie there as well. Not in the content of the film, but possibly in the fact that it showed that mainstream audiences were willing to accept films with a Black majority cast.

This looks like its going to bring an original, non-western view and material to the Horror genre, and could be really interesting indeed. 

Legendary Comics Creator Announces that He Will Vote Labour

November 22, 2019

Today’s I for 22nd November 2019 has this report by Jasmine Andersson that the great comics writer and artist, Alan Moore, has declared that he’s going to vote Labour. The article runs

The comic book writer Alan Moore has revealed that he will cast his vote for the first time in nearly 40 years – for the Labour Party.

The 66-year-old, known for creating Watchmen and V for Vendetta, said he plans to vote for the party in order to make his mark in “unprecedented times”.

He has called the Labour manifesto “the most encouraging set of proposals that I’ve ever seen from any major British party”.

In an open letter on Twitter, Mr Moore wrote: “Here’s something you don’t see every day, an internet-averse anarchist announcing on social media that he’ll be voting Labour in the December elections,. but these are unprecedented times. I’ve voted only one my life.”

Moore was one of a new generation of British and American comics creators, who emerged in the late 70s and early 80s. They took comics seriously as a medium, and brought a sharp intelligence to them, pushing the boundaries of what was previously seen as trivial children’s literature to explore adult themes and issues, such as power, morality and responsibility, gender and sexuality, and racism, gay identity and alienation. I’ve mixed feelings about Moore, as he was one of the creators behind the move towards darker, grittier interpretations of comic book superheroes like Batman. He has said now that he considers his graphic novel, Batman – The Killing Joke to be his worst work. This portrayed Batman as an angry, psychotic vigilante, who was merely the opposite side of the coin to the Joker. Moore now regrets how that destroyed the innocence of the character and other, similar superheroes. It was the increasingly dark, rather sordid tone of comics in the 90s that put me off reading them, with a few exceptions.

Moore, and other leading comics creators from that time, like Neil Gaiman and Pat Mills, are still well worth listening to for their considerable insights into the craft of storytelling and the literature of the fantastic. Moore and Mills have been particularly outspoken about the exploitation of working people and oppression of minorities by the right, and big corporations. Moore’s V for Vendetta, which first appeared in the adult comic, Warrior, was very much a reflection of Thatcher’s Britain, when many on the Left feared that the Leaderene with her connections to the Far Right would turn the country into a Fascist dictatorship.

It’s no secret that Moore’s an anarchist. But I’m delighted that Corbyn and the Labour party have impressed him so much that he has decided that they stand for the real, radical change that Britain needs to the point where he’s going to vote for them. Just as I hope that others will also do likewise, and throw off the justifiable cynicism and apathy that stops so many from voting due to the stranglehold of Thatcherism across the political spectrum.

Thatcherism’s out of date by forty years. It’s time it was thrown out, and a real party committed to the British people elected. One that brings them the radical change Moore and so many others feel we most desperately need.

Documentary Tonight on the Works of SF Author Ursula Le Guin

November 17, 2019

The Beeb are tonight screening a programme ‘The Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin’ at 10.00 pm on BBC 4. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

The American feminist writer, who died in January 2018, was best known for her ground-breaking science fiction and fantasy novels such as A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness, Produced with Le Guin’s participation over the course of a decade, this documentary explores how she defiantly held her ground on the margin of “respectable” literature until the sheer excellence of her work forced the mainstream to embrace fantastic literature. Tyhe film features contributions from the likes of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell and Michael Chabon. (p. 65).

The additional piece a few pages earlier by Huw Fullerton on page 63 reads

It’s fair to say that Ursula K Le Guin was a one-off. While plenty of sci-fi and fantasy authors could be described as ahead of their time, there are few to whom this applies as aptly as Le Guin, who was writing piercing, feminist and race-sensitive works as far back as the 1960s and 70s with works such as The Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, elevating her storytelling beyond the literary fringe.

In this new film, luminaries including Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood and Michael Chabon pay tribute to Le Guin’s life and legacy, interweaving with unusual animation to bring her story to (appropriately) fantastical life. 

I read The Dispossessed back in the 1990s, and I can’t say I liked it. It’s about a scientist, Shevek, from a desolate world colonised by Anarchists to its twin planet of Aieio. Shevek has been working on a Faster Than Light communication device, an ansible, a concept found in other SF writers, like James Blish’s Dirac Telephone. Unable to complete it on his world, he defects to its capitalist twin, now undergoing massive worker unrest and an ecological crisis. He becomes a figurehead for the working class radicals, and helps to inspire a revolution. He gives a speech, which is praised by Earth’s woman ambassador. The planet has been left a desert thanks to capitalism’s destruction of the environment. Conditions are consequently very basic, but humanity has been taken to the stars by the Hainish after they discovered Earth. After the revolution’s success, he travels with a member of an alien race, the Hainish, an ancient race of space travelers who have established interstellar contact between themselves, Earth and Aieio and its twin, back to his home world.

Shevek’s anarchist world is a harsh environment with no animal life on its dry lands, although it certainly exists in its seas. The society is based on the ideas of Odo, a female political thinker of a century or so earlier. There is no private property, no prisons and marriage has been abolished. However, couples may live together as partners. Children are brought up in state nurseries away from their parents, who may visit them. The harsh environment and puritanical ideology means that individuality in dress is frowned on as wasteful and extravagant. Everyone basically wears the same costume, although some do make it more individual in the towns and settlements away from the Centre devoted to dyeing. There is no government, but material goods are administered by the Centre, which contains the computer complex used to administer the society.

I didn’t find Le Guin’s anarchist utopia appealing. It’s far too like the totalitarian Communist societies, and particularly Maoism in its uniforms, hostility to religion, marriage and the family. I am also not sure that feminists would like a world where the differences between men and women are so extremely minimised. While women obviously want to be free to enter masculine professions, like science, engineering, construction and so on, there’s still a desire to retain some forms of traditional femininity. This was demonstrated in a piece on the one show about three Air Cadets, who had been voted its top people, and had won a trip to America to see where the latest high performance jet fighters bought by the RAF, were being made. Two of them were young women, and the third a young Black man. It shows that the RAF are trying to recruit a more diverse membership. What I found particularly interesting was that one of these prospective fighter pilots, a woman, outside of the Cadets blogged about makeup. This seemed to me to be the RAF reassuring prospective female recruits that the could still be girly and feminine while piloting an awesome engine of death. I also remember reading an interview with the psychotherapist Suzie Orbach, the author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue in the Financial Times in the 1990s where she said she didn’t want women becoming exactly like men, or men becoming exactly like women.

Also, I found Shevek himself to be a bit of a prig. He was very sanctimonious, pronouncing on the superiority of his planet and its culture at every opportunity. Le Guin recognises that it would have problems, like hoarding, as well as the administrative elite using their authority to suppress music and literature of which they don’t approve, but looking at the problems the Communist societies experienced, it struck me that these problems would be much greater. It also struck me that there would also be a serious problem with crime and criminality, simply because of human – or in this case – humanoid nature – which could not be solved through social engineering alone.

But there is no doubt that she is one of the great SF authors with a very wide following, and I’m sure that this programme will be an excellent examination of her works.