Posts Tagged ‘‘Interzone’’

Pat Mills: Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD and Judge Dredd: The Secret History: Part One

March 30, 2018

Pat Mills is the creator and founding editor of 2000AD, and this is history of the comic as he remembers it, although he recognises that others’ memories may be different and contradict his. It takes its title from the watchwords of his most popular villain: Torquemada, the ultimate Fascist Grand Master of Termight, in a feudal age of space travel, violence and magic far in the future. The book is divided into three sections, each named after one of Torquemada’s three commands. The slogan even turned up on the Berlin wall, which figures. The East Germans had been living under a dictatorship not too different from Torquemada’s. It was anti-racist and anti-Fascist, but still very much a police state, where the country was watched and dissent ruthlessly crushed. A friend of mine also told me that the slogan was used by Adolf Hitler in a speech he gave to the Bund Deutscher Madel, or German Maids’ League, the female equivalent of the Hitler Youth. Which also figures. Torquemada wanted to exterminate every intelligent alien race in the Galaxy, and was constantly making speeches exhorting humans not to ‘have truck with deviant, dally with the succubus’ and so on. In other words, no racial mixing. Which was definitely what the Nazis were trying to indoctrinate these girls with.

The book tells how Mills and John Wagner got sick of grinding out stories in a garden shed, lit by paraffin lamps, and moved to London to revolutionise British comics with creation of Battle, Action and 2000AD – the Galaxy’s greatest comic. At this stage of their career, Mills and Wagner were so poor that they couldn’t afford new typing paper after they ran out, and so at one point ended typing them up on tracing paper. The economics of writing stories was such that to make ends meet, you had to write several stories very quickly in a matter of days.

It is this attitude, and the British industry’s contemptible treatment of comics creators, that Mills returns to criticise throughout this book, making a very strong and convincing case that it is these attitudes that have caused the decline in comics in Britain in contrast to France, where they are flourishing. In Britain, comics creators do not own the rights to creations. They can be given to other writers and artists, and their creators are not paid royalties for them. In France, the reverse is true, and so comics creators spend years, decades, writing and drawing some of the greatest strips in the world. Think of such comic greats as Moebius, Caza, and Enki Bilal, and the rest of them, who came out of Metal Hurlant and les Humanoides Associes.

He also had to cope with the lack of interest in any reform from the old guard, who were quite simply just content to go on as they always had, until the industry finally collapsed and they were made unemployed or drew their pensions. They were shocked when Mills bought several books on science, because he was writing and editing a science fiction comic. This was too much for company management, who found the idea of doing research for a children’s comic ridiculous. And then there’s the issue of the studied contempt the management treated artists’ work. They used them on dartboards, or to plug drains. Several artists told Mills flatly that they weren’t going to work him as IPC was the company that closed down Frank Bellamy’s studio. Bellamy, along with Frank Hampson, was the awesome artist who worked on the classic Dan Dare. And his artwork was treated in the same contemptible fashion. As a result, much of it has been lost, although its still a massive favourite at fan conventions and when it comes on the market, rightly fetches high sums.

Mills tells the story of how he came to create favourite 2000AD characters like Judge Dredd, Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine and Finn. He champions the work of artists, who he feels have been unfairly neglected, or even vilified. They include Belardinelli for his contribution to the Slaine strip, which he is proud to have had put back into Titan’s reprints of the strip, as well as SMS, David Bircham, and Fay Dalton. SMS is a superb artist, whose work has appeared on the cover of Interzone, amongst others. He drew the ABC Warriors strip when they were trying to save Termight and the universe from destruction from an artificial black hole, created by Terra’s engineers to give them quick access to space and the Galaxy. One of the results was a whole city like the dimension-twisting drawings of the zarjaz Max Escher. Fay Dalton won a £1,000 prize in a competition to get more women into comics. She draws and paints in a retro style, looking back to the glamour of the 50s. She didn’t last long. It was too sexy for the puritanical Thargs. Then there was the sheer abuse some fans meted out to John Hicklenton, another awesome artist best known for his work on Nemesis the Warlock. Hicklenton was stricken with MS, and sadly ended his life in a Dignitas Clinic. His career and struggle with the condition was the subject of Channel 4 documentary a few years ago. His escape from this ‘medieval, terrorist disease’ was his art, and so it was particularly cruel that he should have subjected to often very coarse abuse.

Mills is also unhappy, and understandably so, about the way his then wife, and co-creator of Slaine, Angela Kincaid, was treated by the other writers and artists. She was the artist on the very first Slaine strip. This topped the reader’s polls that week, but she was very much excluded from the boy’s club of the other creators. No-one rang her up to congratulate her and she was ignored by them. This wouldn’t have occurred if she was a bloke.

Mills takes the time to correct a few myths. He was determined that it wouldn’t be a comic dominated by a main strip, which carried the others, like Captain Hurricane in Valiant. Instead, it was to be a comic of all main strips, including the revived Dan Dare, Mach 1, a superpowered secret agent based on The Six Million Dollar Man, and Shako. This was about a polar bear, who was being chased by the American army because it had swallowed a top secret, radioactive satellite that had crashed to Earth. He also talks about the creation of such fave strips as Ro-Busters, which became the ABC Warriors, and, of course, Nemesis the Warlock and the inspiration for Torquemada.

The evil Grand Master and Judge Dredd were based on two, viciously sadistic monks teaching at his old Roman Catholic school, and, he strongly hints, were paedophiles. One of them was yanked from teaching and sent to monastery in the Channel Islands to sort out his sexual appetites. He was later sacked, and returned briefly as a lay teacher, before being kicked again. The schoolboys made jokes about how the other monks on the island must be similarly depraved, and imagined what shipwrecked sailors would do. Coming up the beach to find the Brothers running towards them, they’d turn and head as quickly as possible back to the sea. But neither of the two were prosecuted. Other old boys have found literary outlets to express their pain and trauma at the hands of these monsters. Mills simply states that his is humiliating Torquemada.

Continued in Part Two.

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A Fitting SF Book For Trump’s Attitude to Mexicans?

January 22, 2017

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Fritz Leiber

Looking around one of the charity bookshops in Cheltenham on Friday, I picked up a copy of the novel A Spectre Is Haunting Texas (London: Granada 1971) by the great Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror novelist, Fritz Leiber. Leiber’s probably best known for his series of Fantasy novels featuring Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. David Pringle, the former editor of the British SF/Fantasy magazine, Interzone, named Leiber’s You’re All Alone as one of the 100 greatest fantasy novels in his book of the same title way back in the 1990s. That novel is about a man, who gets caught up in parallel society of people, who live outside ordinary humans’ perceptions, very much like the denizens of London Below in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel and TV series, Neverwhere.

spectre-texas-cover

I’ve wanted to get hold of a copy for some time, ever since the Scottish space scientist and science writer, Duncan Lunan, briefly mentioned it in his book on the colonisation of the Solar System, Man and the Planets. It was that night, after I’d gone to bed, that I realised how weirdly fitting the book is now that Donald Trump is president of the USA. Here’s the blurb:

El Esqueleto!

Christopher Corckett la Cruz (or ‘Scully’) is an actor, an extrovert and a ladies’ man. To most of the inhabitants of post-World War III he looks outlandish, even sinister. To their women he looks very comely. Earth looks equally odd to Scully. Hormone treatment has turned Texans into giants and their Mex slaves into unhappy dwarfs.

To the Mexes, Scully is a Sign, a Talisman, a Leader. To Scully the Mexes are a Cause. The time is ripe for revolution…

It wouldn’t surprise me if some Hispanic Americans didn’t find the book’s politics offensive or condescending. In fairness, the book was published in 1969, when attitudes to race were extremely different, and its heart is in the right place.

And the future the book describes could, terrifyingly, become all too real. The Washington military and intelligence establishment seems all too keen to start some kind of altercation with Russia, egged on by the Democrats, desperate to deflect attention away from the sleazy contents of the material published by WikiLeaks on the shady business dealings and corporate funding of their leaders. Trump wants to end immigration from Mexico by building the wall. He also wants to repatriate 11 million undocumented immigrants. But he’s not the most extreme of the Repugs. One of the most bizarre and reactionary suggestions for stopping immigration from Latin America I’ve come across from the party of Ronald Reagan and George ‘Dubya’ Bush was that illegal immigrants from Mexico should be forced into state servitude for a period of seven years. You know, like slavery.

There’s a nasty movement amongst the Republican extreme right, led by the Von Mises Institute and other corporate think tanks, to try to rewrite the American Civil War. Apparently, the issue wasn’t about slavery. It was about tariff reform. I’m not an expert on American history, but I very much doubt it. And so, I think, would just about every respectable history of the War between the States. Lincoln only reluctantly freed the slaves. There’s a quote from him, in which he said that if he could maintain the unity of the US by keeping slavery, he would. I think by that he meant that if keeping slavery would prevent the break up of the US, then he’d make that decision. And when you consider the horrific carnage that the war brought about, you can easily understand why. Nevertheless, he couldn’t avoid civil war, and freed America’s enslaved. And thus he rightly became one of America’s greatest politicians.

Now right-wing extremists in the Republicans are trying to reverse Lincoln’s achievements, and obscure the causes of the Civil War in an attempt to make a suitably inspiring, sanitised history for those raised on Reagan, von Hayek, and the Fascist enablers of the Chicago school, like Milton Friedman.

Leiber’s title seems to me to be taken from the Communist Manifesto. This opens with the line ‘A spectre is haunting Europe’, before going to claim that it’s the spectre of revolution or Communism. It was rushed out in 1848, the year of revolutions, when all over Europe working people and occupied nations rose up against their class and imperial overlords.

We don’t need violent revolution, and the horror and mass death that comes with it. But we do need strong, left-wing movements to defend and protect ordinary people from increasingly predatory and exploitative political and industrial elites.

And perhaps the whole world now need an El Esqueleto to protect them from Trump.

Pro-NHS Political Comment in Paul McAuley’s ‘Something Coming Through’

December 27, 2016

something-coming-pic

One of the books I’ve been reading this Christmas is Paul McAuley’s Something Coming Through (London: Gollancz 2015). McAuley’s a former scientist as well as an SF writer. Apart from novels, he also reviewed books and contributed short stories to the veteran British SF magazine, Interzone. He was one of the writers who created the gene punk genre, sometimes also called ‘ribofunk’. This was the genetic engineering counterpart to Cyberpunk, where, instead of using computers, individuals, criminals and corporations used genetic engineering to redesign new forms of life, or spread invasive memes throughout the population to control the way people thought. Back in the 1990s he was one of the guests on the BBC Radio 3 series, Grave New Worlds, in which computer scientists, writers and artists talked about the transhuman condition. This was back when everyone was talking about cyborgisation, and the potential of contemporary technology to produce new varieties of humanity. Apart from McAuley, the guests also included J.G. Ballard and the performance artist Stelarc, who has personally explored the implications of cybernetics for the human body in a series of performances. In one of these he had a mechanical third arm, operated through electrical signals picked up through the stomach muscles. He also gave a modern music performance, in which he was wired up to the internet via galvanic stimulators. A search engine then went about finding images of body parts on the Net. When it found one, that part of the body was electronically stimulated so that it moved. There were also booths in three cities around the world, where participants could also press buttons to move Stelarc via electric impulses. Apart from Kevin Warwick, the professor of robotics at Warwick university, is the person who’s come the closest to being Star Trek’s Borg.

McAuley’s Something Coming Through and its sequel, Into Everywhere, follow the fictional universe he created in a series of magazine short stories about the alien Jackaroo and their impact on humanity. Following a short period of warfare, including the destruction of part of London with a nuclear bomb by terrorists, the Jackaroo turned up and declared that they wish to help. These aliens bring with them 15 artificial wormholes, which act as gateways to 15 worlds, which the Jackaroo give to humanity. Humanity isn’t the only race that the aliens have helped, and the worlds they give to humanity are covered with the ruins and artefacts of previous alien civilisations, now vanished. The Jackaroo themselves are never seen. They interact with humanity through avatars, artificial beings that look like human men. These have golden skin and features modelled on a number of contemporary celebrities. They’re also bald, wear shades, and dress in black track suits. Their motives for helping humanity are unclear. They claim they just want to help, and that it is up to humanity themselves how they use the worlds they have given them. But they are widely suspected of having their own agenda, and despite the protestations of non-interference they are suspected of subtly manipulating humanity.

Accompanying the Jackaroo are the !cho, another alien race, who are equally mysterious. They move about the world in opaque tanks supported on three skeletal legs. Nobody has ever managed to open one up, or scan the tanks using X-rays or ultrasound. It is, however, widely believed that the !cho are sentient colonies of shrimp. Their motives, and their relationship with the Jackaroo, are also unknown.

Something Coming Through follows the adventures of Chloe Millar, a researcher for a company, Disruption Theory, in London, and Vic Gayle, a cop on Mangala, one of the Jackaroo gift worlds. The objects and ruins left from the Jackaroo’s previous client civilisations can be highly dangerous. Some of them are still active, despite the many thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of years of abandonment and decay. These can infect humans with memes, algorithms that alter psychology and behaviour. The strongest, most intact of these become eidolons, artificial entities that can take possession of their human hosts. Disruption Theory is a company specialising in researching the effects of these memes as they break out to infect people in Britain. This often takes the form of small sects, whose leaders speak in tongues, uttering nonsense as they try to put in human terms the alien concepts running their consciousness. Millar, the heroine, is investigating a couple of orphaned Pakistani children, who have apparently been infected by an eidolon from one of the gift worlds. Out on Mangala, Vic Gayle is also investigating the murder of a man, who has recently arrived aboard one of the Jackaroo’s shuttles.

Unlike much SF, the book doesn’t indicate how far in the future the story’s set. This is, however, very much a world not too far from the early 21st century of the present. The political structures are much the same, with the exception that the gift worlds are under the control of the UN. People still work in recognisable jobs, and shop and purchase the same brands of clothing. Complicating relations with the Jackaroo is a British politician, Robin Mountjoy and the Human Decency League. The League objects to contact with the Jackaroo as a danger to the dignity of the human race. Their leader, Robin Mountjoy, is described as being ‘in his mid-fifties, a burly man with thinning blond hair and a florid complexion, dressed in an off-the-peg suit. Although he was a multimillionaire, having made his fortune constructing and servicing displaced-persons camps, his PR painted him as a bluff, no-nonsense man of the people whose common sense cut through the incestuous old boys’ networks of the Westminster village’. (p. 51). The League isn’t strong enough to form a government of its own, and so has gone into a coalition with the Conservatives. While Mountjoy is clearly fictional, he does seem to be inspired by Nigel Farage and UKIP, with Britain attempting to gain independence from smooth talking mysterious aliens rather than the EU.

One of the other characters is Adam Nevers, a cop with the Technology Control Unit. This is the branch of the British police tasked with protecting the country from dangerous alien technology. Nevers is described as coming from the entitled upper ranks of society, who go straight from university into high ranking jobs. Which looks to me very much like a comment on the privileged upbringing and expectations of absolute deference and entitlement from certain members of the British upper classes.

Apart from the social and psychological disruption caused by alien contact, this is also a world wear the NHS has finally been privatised. McAuley shows the practical impact this has people’s lives. Without the safety net of state healthcare, people are dependent on their employers to help pay their medical bills, or borrowing money from friends. In his acknowledgements, as well as the many other people who helped him with the book, McAuley also thanks ‘the NHS for life support’. (p. 375). Which suggests that he’s also suffered a period of illness, and is very much aware how much he and everyone else in the country needs the NHS.

I liked the book for its convincing portrayal of the world after sort-of personal contact with an alien civilisation, and the frontier societies that have emerged as Mangala and the other gift worlds have been settled and colonised. I was also fascinated by McAuley’s description of the alien life-forms, and the archaeological exploration of the remains of the planets’ previous civilisations for the technological advances these artifacts offer. I was also drawn to it as it offered a different take on the old SF trope of alien contact. The appearance of the Jackaroo is described as an ‘invasion’, but it’s not really that. The aliens have a ‘hands off’ approach. They haven’t conquered the Earth militarily, and political power is still exercised through traditional human institutions and parties, like the UN and the Tories. Nor are they more or less at our technological level, like many of the alien races in Star Trek, for example. We don’t form an interplanetary federation with them, as they are clearly extremely far in advance of humanity, which is very much the junior partner in this relationship.

It’s not really a political book, and really doesn’t make any overt party political statements. With the exception that rightwing xenophobes would probably form a party like UKIP to join the Conservatives against pernicious alien influence, just like the Kippers under Farage came very much from the right wing, Eurosceptic section of the Tories. But its comments on the class nature of British society does bring a wry smile, and its advocacy of the NHS is very welcome. It doesn’t preach, but simply shows the fear the characters have of sickness or injury in its absence.

And with all too real terrestrial morons like Daniel Hannan, Jeremy Hunt, Dave Cameron, Theresa May, Tony Blair, Alan Milburn and the rest of the right-wing politicos, who have done and still are doing their best to undermine the health service, such comments are badly needed throughout the British media.