Timothy Good Goes Way Off-Base

Timothy Good’s last UFO book of the 1990s, Alien Base, bills itself as presenting “the evidence for extraterrestrial colonization of Earth”. Whoever came up with this blurb probably flipped to the end of the book to briefly glance at Good’s conclusions, took into account the fact that Above Top Secret/Beyond Top Secret was substantially more respected than Alien Liaison, despite the whole embarrassing Majestic-12 thing, and then decided to go with something which made it sound like Alien Base would include the same methodical presentation of evidence to make its case that Above Top Secret did, even though it thoroughly does not.

The idea that aliens have established some sort of base on Earth is really only glancingly addressed in the book, largely in the last chapter in which Good largely recaps the evidence gathered by Jorge Martin for Martin’s article in Alien Update, an anthology of UFO essays edited by Good, in which Martin tried to make the case that there’s an alien base somewhere in or around Puerto Rico. However, that isn’t Good’s main aim here. Perhaps appropriately enough, given that Alien Liaison portrayed a view of the UFO mystery which would eventually be adopted wholesale by The X-Files, the book is in general an attempt to respond to what you might call the “X-Files-isation” of the UFO field, and specifically a bid to rehabilitate the idea of the George Adamski-style UFO contactee.

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The Prom, the Fury, and the Pre-Scanners Shuffle

Before David Cronenberg made Scanners, the most gruesome cinematic exploration of psychic powers to come out of Hollywood were Carrie and The Fury, two Brian De Palma movies based on horror novels with decidedly different takes on the subject matter. Carrie is iconic, and made enough of a splash to kick off the massive industry in Stephen King adaptations; The Fury is less well-remembered. Both, in their own way, take what would on the face of it seem to be a cerebral subject – psychic powers – and take an extremely visceral approach to them.

Carrie

Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is at the bottom of the social pecking order in her high school. She’s shy and socially withdrawn, not least because of the eccentric and extremist religious views of her mother Margaret (Piper Laurie), who swoops around town dressed in an old-fashioned style trying to peddle bizarre religious literature to people. Margaret’s brand of Christianity is one of those deeply misogynistic varieties; she believes that menstruation is a physical manifestation of sin, and believed that if she could just keep Carrie from sinning, Carrie would never have to suffer it.

So convinced is Margaret of this horseshit that she’s never told Carrie about menstruation – so when, in her senior year, she finally gets her first period in the middle of showering after gym class, Carrie is startled and traumatised. High school age kids having the astonishing capacity for cruelty to their peers that they do, her classmates treat it as the most absurdly hilarious thing they’ve ever seen, only heightening her panic. In the wake of the incident, Carrie discovers hitherto-unknown telekinetic abilities, whilst gym teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley), justifiably outraged by what the kids have done, dishes out a severe series of detentions to the culprits.

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What Price Poe?

Edgar Allan Poe as an author and poet was more diverse than he is often given credit for; among his material includes wry satire, proto-science fiction, the earliest examples of the modern detective story, and more besides. Still, it’s his morbid imagination and horror which he is most remembered for, and any particular copy of his complete works will likely see stories like The Fall of the House of Usher or poems like The Raven consulted more frequently than stuff like, say, The Businessman or Maelzel’s Chess-Player.

This has been only reinforced by the choices made about which of his material to adapt to other formats. Cinematically, for instance, American International Pictures managed an interesting string of adaptations of Poe stories in the 1960s, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price. A weird exception is The Premature Burial, which Corman started without AIP’s involvement – and thus didn’t cast Price in, because he was an AIP exclusive – only for AIP to buy out the production to keep Corman’s Poe adaptations exclusive to them.

I’ve previously covered The Haunted Palace here, which is the other exception in this run because it’s not actually based on a Poe story – it borrows the title and a couple of lines from one of his poem’s, but is one of multiple adaptations of Lovecrsft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Here I’ll cover the rest of the Price-and-Corman Poes from the era. Continue reading “What Price Poe?”

Footprints In the Sands of Time

One of the interesting developments in rock music as the 1960s gave way into the 1970s was the diversification of styles. The loosely connected genres of folk rock and psychedelic rock had made a case for popular music in general and rock in particular to be a medium for genuine, grown-up artistic expression, rather than disposable entertainment for teens; but once you say “this doesn’t have to be like that“, you invite people to imagine all sorts of different ways it could be.

Folk rock and country rock singer-songwriters used the medium to examine tradition or social roots, critically or uncritically. Glam rock took the popular acclaim and youth appeal of earlier years, teased out the sexuality, and made it a bit more ambiguous. Blues rock gave way to hard rock if it still cared about being sexy, metal in slow and fast flavours if it went for other moods. Progressive rock groups explored just how far you could stretch the rock format, cramming in tools from classical or jazz as necessary to broaden the field available to them.

In a decades-early preview of the musical fragmentation we see today in this Bandcamp age where nobody has to listen to exactly what everyone else is listening to and it sometimes seems there’s more microgenres than musicians, the experimental wings of rock music ended up creative bands with astonishingly distinctive personalities. Oh, sure, you could sort them under one broad umbrella or another, and there were plenty of me-too groups out there inspired by others sounds, but within prog (for example) you’d never mistake Jethro Tull for Yes or King Crimson for Genesis.

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Mini-Kickstopper: Mills Takes Us On An Adventure

Shawn Mills’ The Sierra Adventure, funded through Kickstarter through a campaign too straightforward and orderly to merit a full-fat Kickstopper article, offers up a history of Sierra’s time as a game development studio, focused mostly but not exclusively on their adventure game output. I picked it up because it seemed like worthwhile fodder for my ongoing review series of Sierra’s adventure games.

In his introduction to the book, Josh Mandel talks about how just about anyone of note at Sierra has occasionally been told by fans that they should write a book about their experiences, but nobody has yet managed to. It could be that an outsider like Mills was precisely the person needed to undertake this project – with all the strong feelings, both positive and negative, that former Sierra employees have about their times there, the friendships they made, and the feuds they fought, any personal account by a Sierra person could only ever provide their own, highly subjective opinion.

In giving his own thumbs-up to the book, Ken Williams said that he wasn’t even aware of half the stuff that Mills recounts, and in one of the backer updates Mills mentioned to backers his interactions with Ken and noted that whilst Williams is planning a book on the company, it was very much intended as a memoir of his and Roberta’s personal journey rather than a history of the company as a whole. In contrast, Mills is someone who was a fan, but never an employee; the fan side of him allows him to offer a sympathetic ear to the people he interviews, whilst his distance from the company allows him a bit more neutrality than someone who was in the thick of it could ever muster.

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Last Flight From Isstvan To Terra Now Boarding…

So, a while back I reviewed the first three books in the Horus Heresy series, an opening trilogy which depicts the descent into Chaos worship and open rebellion of Horus, Warmaster of the Imperium’s armies the 31st Millennium. The Black Library’s chronicling of this key conflict in the backstory of Warhammer 40,000 continues in Flight of the Eisenstein, which is the first book in the series to shift away from what is going on in the general vicinity of Horus to follow someone else’s story.

Specifically, James Swallow’s novel expands on the character of Death Guard Captain Nathaniel Garro – who had a small role in Galaxy In Flames – as well as showing us what happened to budding prophet of the Imperial faith Keeler and her companions Kyril (a former “iterator”, tasked with promoting the atheistic Imperial Truth on worlds that have been absorbed by the nascent Imperium), Mersadie (a remembrancer, charged with chronicling the Great Crusade to conquer the galaxy in the name of humanity) and Iacton Qruze, a Space Marine of the old school who has abandoned the Sons of Horus because he cannot bring himself to support their betrayal of the Emperor and of their battle-brothers, just like Garro in this novel chooses loyalty to the Emperor over his own Legion.

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Reading Clark Ashton Smith For the First Time Again, Part 4

Let’s keep going with my reviews of Night Shade Books’ definitive restorations of Clark Ashton Smith’s weird fiction. Last time, we left things in May 1932; volume 4, The Maze of the Enchanter, takes things up to March 1933. We’re still well in the midst of the burst of creativity that began in 1930 which saw Smith producing most of his stories.

Things kick off with two stories of Averoigne. The Mandrakes is a tale of a brewer of love potions who, after murdering his wife, discovers that her essence has gone into the roots that grow in the part of the mandrake patch where he buried her body; steeped in medieval superstitions, it is a story that could have come from actual folklore.

In contrast, The Beast of Averoigne – here restored to its original form of three narratives by different characters, each of which further develops the story – is a story of a hunt for an alien monster during medieval times. That said, it is a rather interesting riff on such a story – with the alien in question having no conventional physical body but being forced to possess a host and transform it, like a strange sort of Cthuloid werewolf, and its defeat requires the use of magics handed down from Eibon of Hyperborea.

Later in the collection we get another Averoigne piece, The Disinterment of Venus. This is a more lightweight affair, relating an incidents in which some monks in an abbey in Averoigne unearth a statue of Venus and get horny. One of them dies after he abandons his intention to destroy the statue in favour of humping it. These three stories really encapsulate the versatility both of Smith as an author and of Averoigne as a setting, since one is clearly supernatural in nature, one is a mingling of science fiction, horror, and fantasy concepts, and one is a bawdy anecdote.

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Daring and Danger On Durdane

Although Jack Vance’s most famous fictional setting is the Dying Earth, that was not his most extensive series; far more expanses was the mass of material he wrote set in the Gaean Reach, a vast realm of human-colonised worlds. The Reach has no heavy-handed central authority ruling affairs, except in some presentations of the setting where a body called the Oikumene exerted some interstellar enforcement – largely relating to necessary regulation of interstellar trade and the currency used for such rather than intervening in planetary affairs.

Between this lack of a heavy hand from Earth and the fact that each planet’s individual quirks and local conditions will tend to have an effect on the people and societies living there, the Gaean Reach is a fantastically diverse place, with humanity finding nigh-infinite different ways to live. In truth, the Reach is largely a default for Vance rather than reflecting a united future history which ties all the novels in it tightly together; Vance was largely interested in depicting curiously eccentric cultures and people’s responses to them, having a diverse cosmos like this where each world can run its affairs more or less as it likes serves that well.

As a result, the material from this setting is a bit of a mixed bag, and is often listed in Vance’s bibliography as a bunch of separate standalone novels or shorter series, rather than representing a tightly connected overarching sequence. Some of the books of the Gaean Reach are well-regarded; The Demon Princes is a widely-praised series, and I consider Vance’s 1996 Night Lamp to be his final truly great work. Others are less so; I felt that Vance’s talents were failing him with the Cadwal Chronicles, and that his final books, the Ports of Call duology, may as well have been written on autopilot.

One series based in the setting which had eluded me until a chance find in a charity shop was the Durdane trilogy. Durdane is a world of the Gaean Reach. Its original founders were extreme individualists, not keen on the compromises needed to live in Earth society, and so sought the most distant world they could find to settle in order to stave off, for as long as possible,. the time when the progress of human settlement would leave them surrounded; at the time of the trilogy, they are still a little way outside the wider human sphere of influence. The individualism and parochialism already strong in many planets of the Reach are turned up to 11 here…

The Anome

Lucky folk of Shant! In sixty-two cantons sing praise! How can evil flourish when every act is subject to the scrutiny of the GLORIOUS ANOME?

The first book in the trilogy is a coming of age story, covering around 15 years in the life of Gastel Etzwane; by the end, he’s gained sweeping but secret power over the destiny of his homeland of Shant, but at the beginning he is a little boy, asking his mother whether the Faceless Man is real. It might not be original to have a small child ask the questions a confused reader might ask when confronted with an unusual society invented by a fantasy author, but Vance manages to pull it off well, partially because the growth to adulthood of Gastel is as clear and firm a statement of a major theme in Vance’s work as I’ve seen anywhere.

It’s always dangerous to try and pin down an author’s political beliefs from their writing, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that Vance was something of a cultural and social libertarian; his books in general, and Gastel’s story in particular, espouse the idea that everyone should have the freedom to examine their own society and culture, adopt those standards and ideals they find beneficial, and, provided that they aren’t harming anyone by doing so, reject those cultural impositions, restrictions, and attitudes which do not serve them.

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Maldoror

Les Chants de Maldoror is the sole novel, and the most significant surviving work, of Isidore Ducasse, who wrote under the name of the Comte de Lautréamont. Ducasse died at 24 during the 1870 Siege of Paris (which is of course the subject of one of the stories in The King In Yellow – make of that what you will), which robbed the world of an astonishgly promising young literary talent but has the silver lining that his works are well and truly within the public domain; his poems are considered of some merit, but it is Maldoror, which is sort of a novel-length prose poem, is his most famous work, and would go on to haunt the dreams of the later Surrealists and Situationists.

You cannot deny Ducasse’s ambition: written when he was 22-23ish, Maldoror comes across as nothing less than attempt to invent an entirely new literary form. Squint at it and its six cantos look like prose poems; structurally pick it apart and the sixth seems to be a short prose novel and the preceding five are, if we’re to believe the narration, merely the preliminary notes for it.

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 5.5: Hey, Here’s That Movie We Had Coming Out

Following the end of season 5 of the TV show, the X-Files have been shut down and the FBI has Mulder and Scully working conventional cases (with an apparent intention of then splitting them up for good). When a building containing a FEMA branch office is blown up in Dallas, with Mulder and Scully on the scene, in the aftermath our duo become aware of serious discrepancies in the official story. After Mulder is contacted by Dr. Alvin Kurzweil (Martin Landau), an eccentric conspiracy theorist (and possibly a distributor of child abuse images, or maybe someone who the government uses accusations of such as a means of discrediting), the pair become convinced that the bombing was an attempt to cover evidence of something much stranger. Chasing up this lead will take them on an intercontinental journey that will lead them into the heart of Antarctica – and the centre of the mystery of the black oil.

The X-Files: Fight the Future needed to do something flashy to justify being a full-blown, big-budget movie rather than just another episode of the TV show, and as part of this process the script by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz steers directly into ground which, in their pursuit of a blockbuster spectacle, they fail to treat with the sensitivity that they otherwise managed to in the show.

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