Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Super Rich Patent Attorney Brutally Batters Impoverished Inventor - Long listed SFX Pulp Idol short story

"Would you like to confess?"

Who would have thought that prisons still sent in priests to see the condemned man in this day and age? Not me, that's for sure. A charming anachronism in these godless times he might be, but he is completely genuine. It's there in his eyes. He's a believer. A true believer. I didn't ask to see him. If I'd known it was a possibility I would have actively refused it.

"What for? You've read the headlines."

Everybody has read the headlines. 'Super-rich patent attorney brutally batters impoverished inventor' is my personal favourite. I like the alliterative quality. I have it framed in my cell. The defence lawyers tell me that it makes me look bad, but it's hard to see how I could look worse. All the tabloids played up the financial angle and I don't blame them for that. How else do you make sense of it if you don't know?

"Besides, I've already told the jury that I did it. They found me guilty."

"I meant confess to God," he says, no hint of impatience or irritation. He's seen it all before in here; all the smart-assed killers headed for the injection room displaying their cynicism to hide their fear. "Ask for his forgiveness."

"His forgiveness?" And there I was, thinking that nothing could surprise me any longer. I could hug him for that at least. If I wasn't chained to the desk that is. "Why would he forgive someone who failed so completely?"

The priest looks confused and uncomfortable so I signal for him to sit down. He's an old man. All men of faith are old these days. Old men are the only ones who can remember what that means anymore.

"I don't mean failed to get away with it," I clarify for him, "I mean that I failed to do it right."

"Do you want to tell me?" he asks and suddenly I do want to tell. Not to unburden my soul or find redemption or anything like that, but simply becuase he's someone to talk to and I don't have a lot of time left to talk to anyone.

"What do you want to know?" I offer. After all, he's the one with the questions.

"What do you want to tell?"

That's not a lot of help. What do I want to tell? How I killed my victim? Everyone knows that. Why I killed him? Keeping that inside until now hasn't stoppped anything.

"Try the start," he suggests helpfully, but what is the start really?

"I only knew him for an hour before I killed him."

That sounds a bit too melodramatic for my liking, but it's as good an opening and I can think of right now. Given a couple of more hours I could probably do better. No, I could definitely do better. Unfortunately, I don't have a couple of more hours and that's proving to be a bit of a distraction. The start?

How my apparently impoverished victim had arrived at my house unannounced on the day I bludgeoned him to death was something that the security firm supposedly securing the neighbourhood never managed to satisfactorily explain. Of course, I was later never in a position to complain to them about it. It was a neighbourhood of big mansion houses set in secluded woodlands with gates on all the approach roads and a wall that was monitored and patrolled. The houses also had gates and walls that were monitored. It was a neighbourhood of the 'super-rich'.

"The leaves were turning. Autumn golds and reds." Funny the details that you recall. I can't remember what the man looked like before I took a poker to his head, but I can still see the leaves shimmering in the light breeze.

I don't (or at least didn't) receive people on business matters at my home, but I made a point of never saying 'no' to inventors. I had people that I paid quite handsomely to do that for me. Since he had somehow managed to get as far as my fortified front gate I let him in to make his pitch. That's what I did as a patent lawyer ('attorney' as my favourite tabloid quote would have it), but you don't get as rich as I used to be just setting up patents and resolving patent issues. Any old legal hack can do that (and I used to have a lot of those on my staff for just that purpose). No, I offered more. I found investors, partners, manufacturing bases an even alternative applications and new markets for the clients that I chose to take on.

"I have a bit of an eye for seeing the possibilities of any given product."

Even possibilities other people couldn't imagine. That's how you get as rich as me.

As my visitor was laying out all the charts and diagrams and schematics (as if any of them would mean anything to me) on the table, he could see only the medical miracle that he had acheived. He would be able, he told me excitedly, to extract the healthy minds trapped within bodies ravaged by MS or motor neurone disease or any other degenerative condition and place them into the healthy bodies of those declared braindead or terminally comatose. If there was no physical damage to the donor brain then they would be able to live some of their lives in a functioning body.

He saw so much good.

"And what did you see?" the priest asks. He's shaking slightly. He clearly knows a thing or two about people. Perhaps he can see what I saw.

"Immortality," I tell him simply, " and the roadmap to Hell."

It would start small perhaps, with incurable coma victims, willing would-be suicides, convicted killers on Death Row...

The priest starts visibly when I mention that, as well he might.

"...but then it would turn to the desperate - the man who can't feed his family, the mother who can't pay for her child's expensive operation."

And the rich would be there with their pocketbooks. "Of course we'll pay," they would say. "Whatever you need. And you have to do is step aside when the time comes."

The priest looks shocked, but I keep on. There's no turning back now.

Before too long that wouldn't be enough. Who would want secondhand, used bodies, bodies that showed the scars of whatever killed the minds? That's when the farms would start. Ward upon ward of women having baby after baby. Children brought up in sterile, safe conditions to ensure their perfection when it becomes time for some bloated rich cat to trade in for a new ride.

Someone like me.

And eventually even that won't be secure enough, cost-effective enough. Eventually the children will be sedated at birth and never allowed to reach consciousness. Fed by tubes, exercised by servo-mechanisms, quiescent and controlled utterly.

"Dear Lord" the priest mutters, perhaps in prayer.

This process was the Holy Grail of patent lawyers. It would have made those who controlled it the richest men in the world and given us all the time in the world to spend the money. So, whilst the inventor of this marvellous process burbled on about his medical advance, I picked up the heavy brass poker and prodded around in the embers of the fire, just for the look of the thing.

"And then I smashed his skull into 136 pieces," I quote coldly from the admirably thorough coroner's report.

The priest is visibly shaken. Exactly by what I can't say. Eventually he speaks, "God will forgive you. How could he not?"

Does God forgive failure?

Leaving the body on the floor, the blood ruining a very expensive Arabian weave rug, I went straight to the stranger's home, directed by the address on his driver's licence. I thought at the time he could never have afforded the road use pollution permit to actually own a vehicle, but it later emerged that he paid his bills as a public service driver. A warehouse turned into a makeshift laboratory in a rundown section of town was where this patent attorney's Holy Grail resided. I smashed his computer, destroyed his equipment, piled up his notes and burned them, burned the whole place to the ground.

"I'm not a criminal, not normally," I smile as I add, "though my business rivals have been known to call me crook..."

He manages a weak smile at that, but in truth neither of us have anything to smile about.

" I didn't think about relatives he might have shared his plans with or internet-based backup servers or other patent lawyers he might have contacted. Not until it was too late. I killed him, but not his idea."

"It might not come to that," the minister tries to say after a long silence.

"Oh but it will," I assure him and he knows it too because it's already started, "and I am glad that I will not be here to see it."

And I won't be here to see it. Whilst the usual appeals have been delaying the inevitable end it has finally arrived. The Medical Rehabilitation Act has been passed allowing a revolutionary medical process to be carried out on those prisoners condemned to lawful execution.

So, tonight, at a little past ten o'clock a 'super-rich patent attorney' convicted of murder will become the first subject of the process to replace his own mind with that of another, more deserving one.

Even I can appreciate the irony of that.

They won't tell me who is going to get my body, and I certainly asked, but I'm willing to bet it's not some penniless MS sufferer.

Darren Humphries

The Last Hunt - unsuccessful 2007 Pulp Idol Short Story Entry

The hunter moved slowly through the undergrowth, every movement calculated to make the least noise, every footfall placed to avoid twigs and dry leaves that might crack or rustle under his boot and alert his prey. Patience is a hunter's greatest attribute and this one possessed it in abundance. Minutes might pass between each step as every inch of the surroundings was re-examined and every sense turned to the task of stalking. Few men possessed the inner calm and sense of purpose that allowed for such painstakingly slow progress, but then few men would have taken of the task that drove this one forward.

Most people would have thought him insane, but the amount that he cared for other people's opinions of him could been placed on the head of a pin between the feet of the dancing angels. The few who had guessed his purpose had thought he was crazy, except for the Order and they had tried to kill him. He'd made enough money in the world of the 'normal' man that he no longer had to care what anyone thought, no longer had to conform to their limits.

In anything.

A night bird shifted on a branch nearby, preparing for flight and the hunter immediately became still, as immobile as his body would allow, the breath caught in his lungs, his heartbeat slowed to a rate that barely sustained his physical needs. The owl tested its wings and then took to the warm night air, off on its own hunt. The hunter raised his heartbeat slowly and allowed his breathing to return to a more normal state, but one that made no sound. Again, he started his studied advance.

He was close now, closer than he had ever been before. That fact would have flooded his system with adrenaline had he allowed it. Instead, he focussed on the job at hand, on the disciplines that had taken decades to master. A lifetime had been spent in pursuit of the skills that he needed, a lifetime in which normality had played little part. For a long time it might have seemed to be a normal life to the casual observer who would have seen only the remarkable success in financial and business affairs leading to extreme wealth. All that had been nothing more than a carefully constructed facade. The money had been a means to the end that hoped to see tonight, and the business merely a way of gaining that wealth. There had been no wife, no family, no friends, only the contacts that were necessary to his success. He hadn't missed them. In fact, he had barely noticed their absence.

The ground beneath his feet started to rise and he slowed his pace even further. His destination was now within his sight. There was no longer margin for error. To fail within sight of his goal would be too much to bear. He would perhaps not have the mental strength to start all over again if he lost his target again so close to success.

He breathed in the pre-dawn air and savoured it, but all was as it ought to be. The wind was as predicted, barely a light breeze but enought to take his scent away from the lair of his prey. That lair was just beyond the ridge that he had so carefully climbed.

As he approached the top, he sank to his knees and covered the last few metres fully prone. The red light of dawn was colouring the mountains to the east, but there was still time.

Time enough.

At the top of the ridge, he stopped his advance and became as still as it was possible for a human being to be whilst remaining conscious. Only his eyes moved as he surveyed the narrow gully below. They wore contact lenses that coloured the whites and prevented reflections. Nothing had been left to chance. Slowly, he brought the purpose-built customised rifle around to bear on the land below. He did not look through the sights as the light that was painting the sky above had not yet reached the gully and the equipment had no light-enhancing technology to get in the way. The shot will be taken with light enough.

A brook tumbled down a rocky course between the trees and dense undergrowth. A ground mist hovered somewhere between the moist earth and the crowded ferns, tendrils moving sluggishly in the faint eddies of air. There was a silence that seemed quite unnatural and yet was simply the land waiting to awake. There were few places like this left in the world, seemingly unable to survive the the urban sprawl of overpopulation, but persist they did despite humanity's best efforts to poison the planet.

Immobile, silent, the hunter watched the golden dawn slide down the trunks of trees like amber. His pulse quickened despite his will, but his breathing remained virtually undetectable. It would be here soon, come to welcome the dawn and exult in the birthing of the new day. The certainly of success came to him and with it a calm that he had believed was beyond his ability to acheive. Certainly it was beyond the hopes of the many teachers who had instilled so much self-control in both body and mind, but never quite managed to coach him to attain the ultimate inner goal.

And then it was there.

He did not see it come or hear the approach, but it was there nonetheless, stood to its fetlocks in the stream, drinking from the water. Thirst slaked, it shook its mane and lifted its head to the approaching sunlight.

The hunter placed his eye to the sights of the gun and waited. His aim was not direct, but to shift the gun was to make a noise that might warn his target. His prey would enter into the sights itself if he waited long enough. Patience and purpose had ruled his life for as long as he could remember. A few moments more and both would be dispensed with.

The morning light seemed to pause at the edge of the gully, almost as if preparing itself, and then leaped down to illuminate the stream bed and the beast that stood there. Its coat gleamed the purest white, almost painful to behold, and its long single horn glittered brightly. Few had believed in it during those long years of obsessive research. There had been times he had not been sure he believed it himself, but the Order had learned of his plans and the assassination attempts had begun. There was, though, no pleasure in being proved right, only his target and his purpose.

The unicorn reared up to greet the day, glorying in the sunshine.

The hunter's gun spoke once into the morning. Once was all that was required.

The journey back out of the forest was more rapid and relaxed than the previous night's progress had been been. The weapon was discarded, broken and bundled up with other equipment for which the hunter no longer had any need. Someone else would be despatched to collect and dispose of it. The body in the streambed would also be disposed of, though the hunter was not sure that any remains would ever be discovered there. That was not the way it seemed to work.

The car journey back to the nearest outpost of what men referred to as 'civilisation' was made in total silence. The hired driver knew well enough not to speak, though he resented the rich foreigner's arrogance. The flight back to his adopted homeland was equally silent, the flight crew locked away in the cockpit and he the only passenger in the main cabin. Within a day of that single shot the hunter was back in his apartment, half a world away from the gully and its stream.

It was already working, though. The effect could already be felt and was spreading. The old differences were heating up again, divisions thought to have been healed breaking open, arguments thought to have been resolved once again being debated hotly. The Middle East was once again burning, the Basque seperatists were once again making demands, religious sectarianism in Ireleand had led once more to demonstrations and riots, the Tamils had struck against the Sri Lankan government and Africa was again a continent at war with itself. At home there had been more violent killings in 24 hours than the whole of the previous year and the police were being attacked from all sides. Neighbourhoods were fracturing and the army had already been called in. The suicide rate had soared overnight causing aid agencies' phone systems to collapse under the burden. Even the churches seemd to have no message of hope, only rhetoric against the other religions.

Here, in the cool darkness and quiet of his home, the hunter allowed himself to consider the reality of his success. Drink in hand, he sank into his favourite chair, the tiredness of one weight on his soul removed to be replaced by a new one.

"I know you're there," he told the room and a figure stepped out of the deeper darkness, but remained wreathed in shadow. "The Order?"

The figure nodded.

"You failed."

"You succeded," the intruder countered.

"So, you're here to kill me?"

"No, " the intruder took a pistol out of his coat pocket and placed it on the table beside the hunter's seat. "To ask a question: do you think she would have approved?"

The hunter allowed his thoughts to turn to her at last. She had died so very long ago, killed whilst trying to help others, murdered alone, in fear and without hope. He had tracked down every one of those directly responsible and dealt them the same fate. That had been the easy part. Those men, though, had not been alone in their guilt. They were not responsible for the environment that created them, the systems that made them capable of such an act, the conditions that made them monsters. The whole world had played a role in her fate. Governments had turned away, nations had failed to act, populations had failed to demand resolutions to the problems that she had, in her own small way, fought to aid against.

But how do you bring a whole world to justice? How do you make them feel as desperate, terrified and lonely as she must have felt in that last hour? How do you take away a world's hope?

He had found the way and now it was done.

She would not have approved, would not have wanted it, but the dead do not revenge themselves. That is left to the living. It had been left to him and he had done it for himself, not for her.

Faintly, sounds of breaking glass, gunshots and screaming reached him through the window that the intruder had left ajar. On his way from the airport the hunter had seen fires and looting.

He considered the gun on the table. It was exquisitely customised for this purpose, as had been the one that killed the unicorn, the source of mankind's hope. At length, he placed the barrel to his temple and brought the story to an end.

Darren Humphries

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The 20 sci fi movies you have to see (if you haven't already)

There are certain genre classics that you just have to have seen in order to call yourself a science fiction freak. There are also about a billion lists of these on the internet, so we thought we would fight and cry and make up and sulk and generally drink a lot before coming up with our own list. This is not in any particular order, but just the best of the best.

1. METROPOLIS (1927) - the grandaddy of them all (and we're not talking about the Giorgio Moroder remix either). We are so excited about the new footage found recently that we can't talk, much like the characters in this, the only silent movie to make our list. Why is it here when the acting is terribly dated, the plotting is even worse and the audience has to, like, read and stuff? Because it is so utterly pivotal to the genre. The imagery in this film echoes down the years with films like BLADE RUNNER and STAR WARS pinching from it. There is barely a science fiction film anywhere that doesn't owe a debt to METROPOLIS. It is also a pretty good ride in its own right. The flooding of the workers' city is exciting, the chase through the catacombs is scary and the creation of the robot Maria is awesome even today.

2. BLADE RUNNER (1982) - Whichever of the many versions of this troubled film you choose as your particular favourite, they all start with one of the most stunning opening shots as the camera sweeps across the smog-filled city. From that moment, you're hooked into a world of morally grey people, decaying cities and wasted lives. The replicants (that's androids to you and me) are more alive than the people and never has the question of what it means to be human been asked more compellingly. Intellectually challenging, visually amazing and instantly iconic, this is the most influential science fiction movie since STAR WARS.

3. STAR WARS (1977) - Whilst it is true that THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is a darker, deeper and more accomplished film, this is the one that changed the face of movies forever, ushering in an era where the merchandising was as important as the film. This is more of a space opera than a science fiction movie, but it is a thoroughly entertaining, exciting, funny and fast-moving film that shaped the childhoods of a generation.

4. FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) - The film that gave us Robbie the Robot and Monsters from the Id, this is also a film that brought special effects of a scale previously unheard of to the screen in glorious colour. A small band of explorers arrive on a planet to unravel the mystery of the lost colonists and discover a man, his daughter, their robot and the biggest alien machine ever put on the screen. This was so influential that it still pops up every so often in stuff like BABYLON 5.

5. 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) - A film that splits genre fans into those that genuinely revel in the slow build up and deep thoughts that rumble around in the skeletal plot and those that think it's the slowest pile of tosh this side of ZARDOZ. Kubrick's imagery is amazing, the effects flawless and it tackles questions about history, evolution, and our place in the universe that few others have dared. It also contains the Stargate sequence that accompanied a generation's drug misuse.

6. ALIEN (1979) - In Space no-one can hear you scream, but in the cinema they certainly could. This is one of the scariest science fiction movies of all time and features one of the most genuinely alien aliens around. Sure it ends up as a man in a suit, but the facehugger and chestburster incarnations are the stuff of nightmares. The film also launched Sigourney Weaver to stardom and contains fine turns from John Hurt and Ian Holm.

7. ALIENS (1986) - One of only two sequels on the list is James Cameron's belated follow up to Ridley Scott's scarer, but it takes the original premise and runs in a whole new direction. What was a claustrophobic haunted house in space story is turned into a soldiers behind enemy lines story as a crack troops are whittled away by more aliens than you can shake a big gun at. It's a pure adrenaline rush and an object lesson in how to make a franchise work.

8. PLANET OF THE APES (1968) - This has been parodied so much that it is hard to see just how impressive this film was at the time. The ape makeup is iconic and so is that ending with the Statue of Liberty, plus it contains Charlton Heston's finest non-biblical role. Anyone who can say the line 'Take your filthy paws off me you damned dirty ape' with a total absence of irony has got to be doing something right.

9. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1978) - Steven Spielberg's movie makes it onto the list because it is one of the few films that shows a peaceful contact between humans and aliens in an almost believable scenario. Almost believeable because it's hard to see how the alien ship lit up like a christmas tree could go unnoticed for so long and a big rock concert is unlikely to be the outcome. Whatever, the extended climax is an almost religious experience of sustained awe and how often do you get that?

10. GATTACA (1997) - If you want a film with a really chilling view of an all-too plausible future then this is it. In a world where genetic perfection can be bought, one imperfect man schemes of acheiving spaceflight are derailed by a murder in his company. The idea of genetically-enhanced humans is coming ever closer and the dual-class society created here is just too convincing to be comfortable. For thinking science fiction look no further and it's also an exciting thriller to boot.

11. THE TERMINATOR (1984) - Many would argue that James Cameron's sequel is bigger and better, but we beg to disagree. This is a pared down action thriller that wastes not a single scene as the implacable Arnold Schwarzenegger bears down on his prey in the modern world whilst the hero suffers nightmares of a post-apocalyptic future. Scwarzenegger was never better cast and the tension never wears thin. 'I'll be back' becomes an unforgettable catchphrase and two action heroes are born in the actor and his director.

12. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) - Kubrick's vision of the future of human violence hasn't aged too well, but this rumination on the nature of violence and its place within human society is more interesting than its sullied reputation might suggest. Malcolm MacDowell is mesmerising as Alex, the chief protagonist and the film's main success is in taking someone capable of such horrors and still making the state's response to him worse.

13. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) - Christopher Nolan's Batman fable is dark, disturbing and downright twisted, but it is also exhilarating and completely unpredictable. Heath Ledger's Joker is astonishing, but the whole film astonishes by being an intelligent examination of the duality in all of us masquerading as a blockbuster action movie. Don't mix up with BATMAN AND ROBIN.

14. THE MATRIX (1999) - The film that made CGI in science fiction the only way to go with its much vaunted 'bullet time' graphics, but it is actually the concept behind the kick-ass action, the artificial reality Matrix maintained by machines inside which the human race lives unknowingly that makes this more than just a stunt and special effects spectacular. You may never look at the world the same way again.

15. THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998) - Written by Andrew Niccol who also wrote GATTACA, this is a wonder of a movie that has all the heart and humanity you can ask for wrapped up in a comedy that is a drama that is a thriller. The concept of a man growing up inside an artificial world created as the world's largest reality TV show seems ridiculous, but as TV searches for ever more extreme entertainment is it really that ridiculous. Jim Carrey is better than he has ever been, but he is eclipsed by Ed Harris as the director of the show. If this film doesn't leave you emotionally spent and uplifted then you have no soul.

16. MAD MAX 2 (1981) - Also known as THE ROAD WARRIOR, this is a post apocalypse action fest that has never been equalled. The extended car chase that is the film's entire third act is a bravura sequence of brutal automobile carnage. You don't need a brain to enjoy this, but the action will take your breath away and there's not a single CGI shot in the whole thing.

17. ET - THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL (1982) - Steven Spielberg's second film on the list is a paean to childhood and anyone who has ever been a child will not be able to resist this heartfelt and heartrending movie. The director goes ruthlessly for the tear ducts, but throws in big laughs along the way and it's not many a director that would cut Harrison Ford out of the movie. Deservedly a worldwide phenomenon, this is one of the greatest kids movies ever made.

19. THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961) - Not a sequel to THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, but a small British gem in which the hard-bitten journalists of a London newspaper track down the biggest story that they have ever told, the end of the earth. As the planet spins slowly towards the sun, temperatures rise, freak weather causes trouble and water rationing becomes a chilling reality. The accent is on reality throughout and the film never compromises, even in the final shot where the two possible headlines of 'Earth Saved' and 'Earth Doomed' share the same screen space.

20. SOLARIS (1972) - Another marmite movie to divide and debate, Andrei Tarkovsky's meditation on the nature of grief and philosophy movies with the pace of an arthritic snail, but is also hypnotic. It takes forever to just get off the planet Earth, but once in orbit around Solaris things take a turn for the wierd and the ending is satisfyingly un-Hollywood.

There are plenty of movies that didn't make it to the list that were close and the blood still isn't out of the carpet, but here it is for better or for worse. Debate is welcome.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

NO HEROICS to be another comedy failure?

No Heroics is the new superhero comedy that is due to start on ITV2 later this month and, as seems to be the fashion, it shows that we in the UK are just a little bit rubbish and certainly not cool. Why is this?

The Brits think of themselves as a bit rubbish. Look at the history:

Recent BBC so called comedy HYPERDRIVE put a British navy space ship into the universe and peopled it with a crew that were British and, yes you guessed it, a bit rubbish. In the outback observatory comedy SUPERNOVA the Brit hero was a bit rubbish. RED DWARF, the greatest sci fi comedy of all time had a crew that was British and a bit rubbish.

You wouldn't find a US series following a superhero who was a bit rubbish would you? Well actually yes, THE LAST AMERICAN HERO was about a teacher who inherited a suit that gave him superpowers, but didn't have the instruction manual, but that is probably the only time that this has ever happened. Characters in US series are always cool. Even CHUCK had a real sense of cool about him - geek chic.

All we can hope is that this new series will be funny. If it manages to do that then we can forgive this hackneyed view of the British as, well, as a bit rubbish

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

3D - The creature that wouldn't die

Journey to the Center (sic) of the Earth is in cinemas now. In a (very) limited number of those it can be viewed in the wonder of stereoscopic 3D. The new system is called RealD and this is the first film using the system to be released in the UK.

3D is a gimmick that first showed up with the hysterical reaction that the film studios had to the possibilities of television. How were they to fight the menace of the box in the corner that could entertain people without all that effort of getting out of the chair, travelling miles in the car, queueing for tickets and having someone coming out of the previous showing spoiling it all by saying 'isn't it a shame she dies at the end?'

Back then the studios tried everything; making screens bigger, making films bigger, making popcorn buckets bigger. There was a plethora of ideas to set cinema apart from the upstart cathode ray tube. My favourite remains smellovision, but along with that scratch'n'sniff sensation there was 3D.

3D came and went. Then, in the early 80s it came and went again. And now it's back again with the advent of RealD and we're told that it never looked better.

The thing about 3D was never that the technology was a problem. Sure you had to wear those bloody silly glasses, but that was all part of the fun. The problem has always been in the films that it was used in. They were only rarely any good and almost never were able to resist the impulse to throw stuff at the audience.

Two of the best 3D movies ever made were It Came From Outer Space and The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Both of these were exploitation sci fi movies and both were shot in 3D, but neither of them got hung up on the medium and just used it to tell compelling stories. Sadly, this is not the common experience. Even the latest 3D extravaganza hasn't learned the lesson and insists on having Brendan Fraser's spit, dinosaur snot and who knows what else being hurled at the undeserving audience.

If 3D is ever to get out of the shadow of its gimmicky legacy and become a legitimate tool of filmmaking then this kind of juvenility will have to be disposed of. If it can't then RealD will go the way of many other such systems before it.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Are genre adaptations wanted

WANTED was a comic book story in which an ordinary bloke learned that he had superhuman powers that turned him into an superhero type working for a 'fraternity' set up to keep humanity on an even keel.

Timur Bekmambetov's film version of the story has jettisoned all of the superhero costumery stuff and turned the 'fraternity' into a group of assassins, but kept all the superhuman ability stuff, making the hero capable of curling bullets in flight, shooting other bullets out of the air, running fast and lots of other cool stuff.

No doubt the fans of the comic book will scream loud that the changes have ruined the source work.

Thing is, everything is subject to change in being made into a movie. History, for heaven sake, can't survive in the face of Hollywood's search for a story, so it's unlikely that mere comic books are going to fare better. Spider-Man had a number of changes made to it and still stayed true to the spirit and became one of the best-loved superhero films ever. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is regarded as a masterpiece of literary to film adaptation, but again takes a lot of liberties along the way.

The spirit of the thing is important, not the letter of it. Did it really matter than Constantine in the film was American and dark haired instead of British and blonde? If the spirit is lost then the name means nothing, but if the spirit is there then the details are unimportant.

We the fans get a little too caught up in the details of the shows, books, films and comics that we love and take it a little too personally when adaptations change details here and there.

Whatever you think of the fidelity of Bekmambetov's version of the Wanted comic book, it's a bonkers, action fest fun ride.

Where have all the TV shows gone?

It's all coming to an end.

Not the world, though that may be true, but the recent golden age of genre television that was vying for our television watching time. Only three weeks ago we were glued to Chuck on a Monday night, Reaper and Bionic Woman on Tuesday, Heroes and Sarah Connor on Thursdays, Doctor Who on Saturdays followed soon afterwards by Pushing Daisies and Supernatural rounding off the week on Sunday night. And this was before we got into the satellite likes of Lost and Jericho.

Now, though it's all almost over. The only one still showing at the moment is Doctor Who and the season finale for that is this weekend.

So, where are all the replacements?

If you've got Sky you are no doubt revelling in the ongoing adventures of Battlestar Galactica and dreading being forced to follow the less interesting adventures of Flash Gordon on Sci Fi.

It's all the fault of that pesky writers' strike you know. All of the season's genre shows got cut short and all have come to an end at the same time with nothing else coming out of production to replace them for a while now that they're back to sharpening their pencils.

This doesn't mean that there's nothing sci fi to watch if you're happy watching older stuff (ITV4 and E4 are the places to be for retro TV sci fi), but it looks like the wait for anything new is going to be awhile.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Rant - Superhero Movie (or why I stopped loving science fiction comedy and turned to drink instead)

Why oh why do they do it?

In the annals of science fiction there has been very little (almost none in fact) good comedy. I know the first reaction is going to be RED DWARF!!! shouted in a very loud voice and I'll grant you that and I'll give you Mork and Mindy and early seasons of Third Rock from the Sun and even Galaxy Quest, but that's it. Where's the rest?

Consider SUPERHERO MOVIE (consider it, but don't go and see it). It's not clever, it's not funny and it's the lowest form of cinematic wit, the spoof. This type of film hasn't been funny for a long time. Not through the Scary Movie franchise (which was so bad it really was scary), not through the Hot Shots and not through the Shriek if you remember the films that this movie is based on phase.

The truth is that science fiction does not make good comedy. Even the great Mel Brooks couldn't make it funny in Spaceballs!

On TV the recent examples Supernova and Hyperdrive were equally inept.

For me, possibly the three scariest words in the english language when put together are 'science', 'fiction' and 'comedy'.

So, until they learn to do it right let's all agree not to go and waste our cash, time or sanity on this stuff.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

A Whole Weekend of Primeval

This weekend ITV2 goes nuts and brings us a whole weekend of dinosaurs and prehistoric beasties as it runs the complete first two seasons of PRIMEVAL. This fun, if unlikely, show was first shown in primetime Saturday night slots and proved to be one of the biggest hits, certainly judging from the interest shown by visitors to our site at

If you didn't catch it then, now's your chance as every episode roars large on the small screen this weekend.

Monday, 2 June 2008

ITV try to pull a fast one with PUSHING DAISIES 'magic' episode is offering viewers the chance to view a 'bonus' episode of the surreal reincarnation series PUSHING DAISIES for all the fans of the show. This is, in fact, the second episode of the series that was originally cut by ITV because of a scheduling balls up that left them with fewer transmission slots than episodes. General annoyance on several forums dealing with the show seem to have borne fruit in getting this episode shown on the internet at least.

Go to and search for PUSHING DAISIES. You may have to install the MSN silverlight player, but it's worth it because this is the episode with Kristin Chenoweth singing 'Totally Devoted to You' in a wonderfully funny sequence. The girl can sing as well.

It's just a bit disingenuous of to term this as a 'magic' or 'bonus' episode instead of just owning up to their original cock up.

Brian Aldiss lectures in Oxford

On Friday 30th of May, renowned author of science fiction (and poetry and lots of other stuff) appeared on stage at the Playhouse Theatre in Oxford to give an hour's lecture on his personal view of science and literature.

Looking decidedly frail, he delivered the lecture in a fairly unexceptional manner, reading directly from his script, but when asked questions at the end, he came alive and showed some of the famed wit and intelligence that have peppered his works and made them so readable.

Good on him and we wish him well with the sales of his new collection of poetry.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Red daleks in Doctor Who Season 4 finale

There's been a lot of speculation about whether Davros was going to crop up in the season 4 finale of Doctor Who, but the possibility of that being the case was made all the closer for us when we were told by a reliable source that the Mill FX house that does the effects work for Doctor Who has been playing around with daleks that are to appear in the finale of the current season, daleks that might (for some reason) be red.

The details are up for question, but the fact that the daleks are to appear in the finale now seems to us to be a fact.

Mind you, it wouldn't be the first time we've been wrong.

Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf

Today we went to a one man stand up show by a bloke called Toby Hadoke which was entitled 'MOTHS ATE MY DR WHO SCARF' at the Playhouse Theatre in Oxford. It was brilliant - a comedy romp through one man's obsession with the premier science fiction show the UK has ever produced.

If you are a Doctor Who fan, and especially a Doctor Who fan who can remember back as far the early years of Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, then you absolutely have to see this show. Hadoke's routine is funny enough for all, but for those who went through the same experiences that he did (and I personally can relate to just about every one) then it is downright hilarious.

An intimate knowledge of Doctor Who is advisable to get the absolute best out of the show, but if you know nothing about the show at all it is still money well spent as anyone who has ever had an abiding interest in anything will be able to understand what he's talking about.

But it's not just Doctor Who. Hadoke's journey takes in boarding school, bullying, university, sex, marriage, fatherhood, the British National Party, Casualty, Margaret Thatcher, terrrorism and a whole host of other current day concerns.

Rarely has a man been able to take utter geekdom and make it not only so accessible, but downright bloody cool.

For that alone, he deserves you as an audience. There's not one person who walked out of the show that we attended that didn't walk out without a smile on their face.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Rant - post credits scenes

What is it with film makers putting small scenes right at the end of the their movies after the credits have finally finished rolling?

Yes, I'm talking about you Jon Favreau, director of IRON MAN. If you haven't seen the film yet then wait until the end of the credits for a very short scene that has a lot of people getting excited. For those that missed it, there are bootleg copies of the scene on the internet and, for once, I fully support anyone who downloads them. Youtube has taken it down because the studio has screamed copyright infringement, but come on fellas. It's like a couple of minutes that half of your audience never saw.

Once upon a time films ended with the words 'The End' and the lights came up and everyone went home. Then someone somewhere decided that every single person who worked on a film ought to have their name on the screen no matter what they did. Do we really need to know the name of the receptionist of the firm of accountants that looked after the insurance bond? Really? The credits on some of the big blockbusters can run for ten or fifteen minutes after the action that we came to see is all over.

Putting a scene after the credits might be a legitimate way of getting the audience to sit through the endless list of meaningless names and might even give some people a thrill (the fanboys love the Iron Man scene), but what use is it having the scene there if you're not going to tell anybody beforehand? I liked IRON MAN, but I am already predisposed to not liking the sequel because I was annoyed as hell at missing the scene. If you must put these scenes in then bloody well tell the audience.

Better still, when the film ends, let it end.

The New Sci Fi channel website is up and running

The Sci Fi Channel's UK website abandoned its forum and pretty much everything else for a few months whilst it sorted out a complete revamp. Whilst have a wander through my bookmarks the other night, I found that the new look is up and running and the forum seems to be taking posts (not that there are any).

Get yourselves over to and get on the forum and start posting.

BIG BANG THEORY -not sci fi but we love it

We love Big Bang Theory. It's not science fiction, but it's an ace comedy show about super-intelligent geeks with limited social interaction skills. Sound like anyone you know? There's no end of science fiction related debates (one episode started with the line 'You know what the problem is with teleportation?') and howl can you not like a show that has a bunch of guys show up at a Planet of the Apes movie marathon to find the whole audience wearing monkey masks?

Most importantly, it's really funny.

It's on Channel 4 and E4 and well worth searching out.

Hot girl as Princess Leia alert

Princess Leia in a gold bikini was a sight that was burned into the imagination of many an impressionable mind when RETURN OF THE JEDI came out and it's clearly an image that has been retained by those kids now that they're grown up and making shows themselves.

Yvonne Strahovski is the latest one to grace our screens in the CHUCK episode CHUCK VS THE SANDWORM and she looks great.

Our other favourite was Jennifer Aniston when she dressed up in FRIENDS.

Certainly better than some of the examples you see walking around Collectormania.

Neil Marshall's DOOMSDAY

Went to see this on Saturday night and the full review is available by clicking on the link above, but it was interesting how few people go to midnight showings at our local cinema. Sure, it's late, but you don't get screaming kids and thrown popcorn and all that. We kind of like being with people who are willing to commit to the film in this way.

DOOMSDAY is worth committing to as well, being BRITISH. Normally that means some sort of petticoat-filled costume drama or quirky middle-class rom com, but this is a full on futuristic action flick with cannibals, car crashes, beheadings, nasty viruses, tanks running over people and all the nonsense that you might expect from a US no-brainer. It's also a perfect weekend switch your brain off sort of movie.

Well done to director Neil Marshall for making such an anti-british film industry cliche movie.

All British sci fi fans get out there and support this movie. You won't regret it.

You should also catch up with Mark Kermode's review podcast on the Five Live section of the BBC website.

The Sci Fi Freak Blog comes to the internet

It's taken a while to clear the schedules of the team to get around to setting up the Sci Fi Freak Blog, but it's finally here.

The reason for this is because there has been just so much great (and, let's face it, not so great) science fiction on TV and cinema screens in the UK. We've all been beavering away watching the new shows and films and trying to catch up with old ones to review on our parent site The Sci Fi Freak Site, but things have slackened off momentarily (US writers' strike and pause before the summer blockbuster season be blamed) and so we've set up the blog at last.

This is to take a less formal look at the science fiction scene in the UK (on TV and cinema) than our parent site, talk about things that we haven't see yet and generally shoot the breeze about all things sci fi that come across our radar.

Hell, we might even throw in a few personal posts along the way, if you're unlucky.

We do this for fun, make no money out of it, and really just want to be liked so comment on anything that you see here, subscribe to the blog and let us know of anything that we ought to be looking at.

Anyway here we go. 'Live long and prosper' as a non-human once said.