Books »Fane

by David M. Alexander (1981)

There’s not a ton of information about the fun imaginative sci-fi novel, Fane but that David M. Alexander is, like me, a huge fan of Jack Vance would be apparent even if he didn’t state his admiration in his dedication to the author.

The tale begins with a lazy, selfish young man sent by his powerful wizard Uncle on a seemingly simple errand, which he promptly messes up. This leads to quite an adventure on the planet Fane, which is ruled not by known rules of science but bizarre magical powers. Can our unwilling hero harness these powers to not only save his own hide but those of his alien companions and the planet races as a whole?

Man, I better hope that Van grows up with the same love of goofy, fun science fiction, or else I am going to have a whole lot of out of print paper backs to find a home for.

While this particular out of print paperback is a little hard to find, I’ve learned that it’s been re-released under the name The Accidental Magician and now sports some insane cover art that unlike the original, doesn’t really have much to do with the storyline.

PS, this forgotten little book is not to be confused with the Fane werewolf romance series by Susan Krinard.

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Posted on June 24, 2011

Laughs »Goodnight Dune

by Julia Yu

Thanks to Sarafina for sharing this link to the parody Goodnight Dune which makes me laugh and reminds me it’s high time I read the actual book. Time to see how Lynch’s vision compares to the original.

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Posted on May 15, 2011

Movies »La Jetee

directed by Chris Marker (1962)

Chris Marker is a bit of a legend among art school film students for his stunning experimental La Jetee. A highly influential science fiction film made up entirely (except for one moving image) of black and white photographs and voice over. It’s a huge testament to how much can be achieved with so little.

I find myself now especially inspired and excited about the simplicity. Making movies is a long, exhausting, expensive effort and hard to do on your own. Jim and I have so many stories we’d like to tell, and a piece like La Jetee proves that typical film making isn’t always the only or the best way to tell one.

This fact is proven by Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, which was adapted from this short. For all the big name actors, cinematography, long running time, and imaginative director, it wasn’t nearly as memorable and effective as the original low budget project.

The images, though fabricated by Marker, feel like photojournalism that has captured events as large as the end of the world and as small and personal as a smile.

Le Jetee can be seen on netflix instant and was released by Criterion with, no doubt, lots of interesting history and commentary.

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Posted on March 20, 2011

Movies »Metropolis

directed by Fritz Lang (1927)

If you are who you are when no one is looking I might just be a pretentious tween. Left alone, sometimes I’ll watch a Disney made for pre teen television movie, and other times I tend to watch lots of silent movies. Let’s face it, neither is easy to talk another person into watching, and both are rather soothing. Unforgivable, then that I’d not seen the silent movie masterpiece, Metropolis until now.

In a way, it’s good I waited since only recently was a restored version released after long lost original footage was found in Argentina. The new release is a more complete, more comprehensible film and it looks fantastic. After all, it’s the visuals here that are so mind blowing, inspirational, and timeless. Even Fritz Lang admits the theme and plot were a bit simplistic and heavy handed.

Visually, though, what a treat – like nothing you’ve ever seen. Well, actually its influenced so much, you probably have seen something that resembles it. The costumes, the sets, the scenery paintings, the actors – including a gorgeous and  expressive Brigette Helm, the fiery and bearded Heinrich George, and Rudolf Klein-Rogge as the wild eyed mad scientist are all incredible.

Click here for the rest of Metropolis

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Posted on January 24, 2011

Style Icons: Male »Syd Mead

Visual Futurist

It  might take a while before I see Bar Basque and Foodparc, the new city eateries designed in part by Syd Mead, futurist and awesome man, but in the mean time, I can be happy looking at his work.

After browsing his illustratrations – that often are of ultra cool automobiles surrounded by swanky, rich swingers who populate the future people imagined back in the decades when the future seemed a more optimistic place.

Of course, one can spend a great, fantastic night learning about the career of Mr. Mead by watching the movies his vision helped make: Star Trek, Blade Runner, 2010, Aliens, TRON, and Short Circuit (take a lunch break during this one).

Click here for the rest of Syd Mead

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Posted on December 1, 2010

Web Sites »Virgin Galactic

Book Your Place in Space

While I am sure it might get some people’s blood boiling that the coolest stuff life has to offer is only available to the super wealthy, I have to say the website for the promise of commercial space travel, Virgin Galactic has me a bit excited. Not only because the idea of space travel is a fun one that sadly people haven’t really been as enthusiastic for the past decade or so, but also because it looks like a fake website made for a B+ sci fi movie that might star a new Casper Van Diem type.

The cost for a trip to outer space is $200,000 and while there’s no exact date on when these super rich white guys will be able to safely blast off, the project recently got one step closer with a manned free flight to over 45,000 feet on 10/10/10.

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Posted on October 11, 2010

Movies »The Mad Max Trilogy

directed by George Miller (1979, 1981, 1985)

The Mad Max trilogy is a grim, inventive B-movie blend of sci fi and action the likes of which I wish was made more often. Instead of drawing from established science fiction, it made its own mark on the genre and is frequently imitated to this day.

The first film, Mad Max, is the bleakest and the most menacing. Set in a nearer future where the world has certainly changed but some semblances of society are still intact (like family, a police force, and community – albeit broken versions), Gibson plays a law enforcer driven to “Mad”ness Max when a crazy band of outlaws, headed by psycho Toe Cutter, mow down his dearest (if you thought Bambi’s mom being killed was dreadful…) It’s the most convoluted of the three films, and the roughest around the edges, but it sets up the believable dystopia (with a distinctly Australian grit) that endures throughout the trilogy.

Road Warrior, also known as Mad Max 2, finds Max mid road battle with a band of incredibly awesome punk bad guys before stumbling across a ragtag, more peaceful group of gas hoarders in need of just the kind of reluctant heroism a once likable and handsome Gibson was capable of before he became such an evil prick in real life. The story is spare and harsh and once again there’s eye popping, over-the-top costumes and art design which might border on silly if designer Norma Moriceau weren’t so ballsy about it all.  In fact, the entire series benefits from the no apologies, true B-movie bad-assness that can spawn straight-faced characters like Lord Humungus, Gayboy Berzerkers, The Toecutter, and Pig Killer. The second installment might just be my favorite of the bunch with its straight forward, almost all action punch.

The trilogy gained some considerable gloss (which rears its ugly head with that head scratching saxophone that was so prevalent at the time – see Ladyhawke) with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome but it’s a film very dear to my heart; as a kid my sister and I would quote “Master Blaster runs Bartertown!” endlessly. While it definitely ventures into Ewokish territory with the nearly cartoonish second half that features a band of lost kids and goofier violence (it seems strange that the menacing Ironbar played by a sneering Angry Anderson should  leave this world in such a Wile E Coyote fashion), still it’s visually stunning and unique with unforgettable set pieces. Bartertown itself, a literal cesspool of vice run on pig shit where feuds are settled in the Thunderdome (two men enter, one man leaves!) has got to be one of cinema’s most memorable post apocalyptic towns and to be honest, I was on Aunty Entity’s side when Max plus brats tore it apart. Like it or not, Aunty (played with the kind of sexually bold bravado that only Tina could lend the role) brought order to an insane world… but perhaps I’m thinking too deeply about it.

There were once rumors of a fourth starring Heath Ledger, which obviously is no longer the case and with Mel’s latest rants of hate and general horribleness, I hope the rumors of his cameos are not true. More intriguing are the latest chit chat circulating about the dashing Tom Hardy (the guy that out did Leo in Inception) taking over the role in a plot that includes “Five Wives” that need protecting. Let’s hope creator George Miller, whose been behind all of the films continues his vision of pure, exploitation cool.

Click here for the rest of The Mad Max Trilogy

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Posted on October 9, 2010

Books »More Than Human

by Theodore Sturgeon (1953)

I thought I knew what to expect from Theodore Sturgeon‘s More Than Human based on the cheap (modern) cover and back jacket description: some sort of X Men meets Enders Game, but what I found was more mysterious and at times down right literary. Divided into three segments, the groundbreaking novel explores the coming together of several outsiders with extraordinary talents. They are a village idiot that can control minds, twin girls who can teleport, an overly protected girl with telekinetic skills, an ingenious baby and an angry multi skilled young man. Apart they are often beat down and freakish, together they may just be the future of human evolution. It sounds a movie-ready tale with a comic book vibe, but the first part, The Fabulous Idiot, in particular is darker, stranger and more complex than that.

Unfortunately, the two latter parts are told through a lot of exposition – a character talking to his psychiatrist in one, and a man trying to regain his memory in another – which is a far less exciting way to unfold a story of sometimes complex ideas. Still, it holds as a unique piece of science fiction with memorable characters that one can imagine in other adventures.

This is the most famous novel by the nearly unknown but undeniably influential author who inspired Delany, Bradbury and Ellison as well as the character Kilgore Trout of Vonnegut’s novels.

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Posted on September 18, 2010

Books »When Gravity Fails

by George Alec Effinger (1987)

The cyberpunk novel, When Gravity Fails delivers in it’s vivid sense of place and atmosphere. It’s the 22nd century and while some technological advancements have altered life incredibly, there are still scummy, red light districts and plenty of nere do wellers to occupy it. The lived in vitality is probably due to the author’s personal experiences in the French Quarter of New Orleans that  bears no small resemblance to the novel’s setting. In this case, the area is in the ascending Middle East (which has grown past the now fractionated West as a global power) and called Budayeen. It’s gated off from the rest of the region and home to our drug addicted semi-reluctant detective protagonist Audran.

This hard boiled, glamorized macho druggie persona was part of the my only issues with the book. I read lots of hard boiled genre books with equally questionable characters and even prefer to read about a severely flawed hero than the infallible type. Still, I tend to get understandably rubbed the wrong way by such characters when the author has no hint of humorous loathing, or at least eye rolling.

The plot is straight up noir, with little to distinguish itself aside from the plenty of modified prostitutes and crime lords and fictionalized technology. The idea mind modification is interesting and leads to added plot twists. Aside from body modifications that are no mystery to our modern world, Effinger imagines people wiring their minds for full personality modules (called “moddies”) while allows for James Bond and Nero Wolfe to make unexpected appearances. “Daddies” are like add ons which allow the user to have a certain skill while installed, like speaking an unknown language.

If you’re a fan of noir and cyberpunk, When Gravity Fails is perfect summer time fodder, if you’re unsure, it’s worth a try if you don’t mind grisly stuff.

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Posted on July 11, 2010

Movies »Videodrome

directed by David Cronenberg (1983)

Videodrome is a singularly bizarre film about mess media, body mutation, hallucination, and sadomasochism. Surely not a treat for every movie goer but one of my all time favorites – which is why I was surprised to find I had not recommended it (well, at least not in the pages of Brix Picks) before.

An appropriately sleazy James Woods and a stunning brunette Debbie Harry star in Cronenberg’s finest hour. The movies jumps head first into it’s down the rabbit hole story and rapidly becomes stranger with each scene.

Woods is a programmer for a television channel that focuses on violent and explicit programming and willfully falls into a world of either highly bizarre mind control conspiracy or utter life crippling hallucination after viewing a snuff like pirated program called Videodrome. Along the way he makes out with a television set, buries a gun into his own chest, and meets a cult like leader named Brian Oblivion who only appears on TV on TV.

It’s beyond surreal but grounded in such an imperfect, realistic world of trash strewn hotel rooms, peeling basement studios, and crappy soft core porn, that the fantasy is accepted and it’s ok that the movie tells it’s wild story with a straight face.

If the stills below/after the jump and my highest recommendation don’t peak your interest this appropriately stylish but way off kilter trailer just might.

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Posted on June 13, 2010

Books »Lurulu

by Jack Vance (2004)

Lurulu is really just a continuation of last week’s Jack Vance recommendation, Ports of Call (curious then, that the two are not released in one book like some many of his series). The Glicca crew is still roaming the Gaean Reach with their cargo ship, meeting unusual cultures on faraway planets. These are by no means highlights of the Jack Vance books, for that start with the first three books in Tales of the Dying Earth, followed by The Demon Princes, and tack on Showboat World for some silly fun. Still, his ideas and creations are more interesting than most science fiction even in a more rambling collection of stories like this.

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Posted on June 13, 2010

Movies »Splice

directed by Vincenzo Natali (2010)

Not to diminish the role of director Vincenzo Natali (though “presenter” Guillermo Del Toro has already done so by prominently splashing his name all over the posters), but the surprise sci fi critical darling Splice is classic Cronenberg through and through (just to clarify: anything pre eXistenZ qualifies as classic) – and it’s not just the very Canadianness of it all (Sarah Polley, possibly the most Canadian actress of all time, stars), nor is it just the crazy-gross flesh-slugs and scalpel surgeries that remind me of the prime of the horror giant (whose films include The Brood, Rabid, and the truly incredible and mind bending Videodrome).

There’s a certain dignity to the movie making that is woefully absent in most like minded thrillers of late that do little more than make you squirm through some gross-out stuff. Unlike such movies that parade half naked actors and actresses who are barely fit for terrible CW teen dramas, everyone here does phenomenally with some pretty tough material.

And while I’m still not completely sure how I feel about Splice, it certainly requires a bit of thought and evokes some very, very disturbing ideas not only about scientific morality, but really creepy concepts of parenthood and human desires and motivations. For the record, it’s super creepy to watch while pregnant.

It’s in theaters now and definitely a more interesting way to spend a couple hours out of the heat than in front of Shrek Forever After, Killers (shockingly not based on the Hemingway short story), or Marmaduke.

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Posted on June 6, 2010

Books »Ports of Call

by Jack Vance (1998)

I love me my Jack Vance, and Ports of Call might be one of his most unstructured and light sic fi adventures. There is limited story arch: Myron Tany finds himself fulfilling a dream of space adventure aboard his flamboyant and self centered Great Aunt’s space yacht. Soon however, he is ousted by a handsome rogue and finds a job aboard the cargo ship, Glicca. From there, he and his ship mates port at many different planets with various cultural customs and landscape curiosities.

A crazy lot of characters are met, including both amorous and deadly women, gamblers and swindlers of all sorts, and more than one evil minded rascal. It’s most like a very satisfying space adventure television series – or more correctly the kind of inventive and comedic space adventure television series that I wish existed (Firefly is the only thing that comes close – and should be watched by those who missed it’s brief run).

It’s a rambling piece of fiction, a collection of whims, philosophies and interesting worlds that ends quite abruptly. Luckily, years later, Vance took up the story again with a sequel called Lurulu, which, of course, I am reading next. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Posted on June 6, 2010

Style Icons: Male »Paco Rabanne

SciFi Fashion

This io9 article makes an interesting point about fashion taking more and more inspiration from the word of science fiction but modern science fiction turning its back on the world of fashion. If one man could merge the world of science fiction, entertainment and fashion it was Paco Rabanne. Well known for his far out metal dresses and stunning fantastic fashions for Barberella, Rabanne’s hey day were the swinging sixties, where as an enfant terribles he was a revolutionary visionary.

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Posted on June 6, 2010

Movies »Night of the Creeps

directed by Fred Dekker (1986)

A bevy of unflattering taffeta and lace prom dresses, sculpted teenage boy hair, exploding heads, an axe murderer, aliens from outer space, a vengeful tough guy cop, frat pranks, cryogenics, flame throwers, grotesque slugs, zombie cats (and dogs), and even some brief nudity and a touching young man friendship… yep there’s a lot to love about The Night of the Creeps.

I put the movie at the top of my queue due to comparisons to The Night of the Comet, my personal favorite movie of the genre; that genre being tongue-in-cheek horror comedy that’s not afraid to offer genuine scares as well as laughs. The Stuff and Scream are also prime examples.

And while you may have heard of those last two films, even a movie nerd like myself was less aware of this funky little 80’s gem. Partially because it wasn’t released on DVD until October of last year (which was also the reason why it’s been on my queue with a very long wait for months), though bootleg VHS copies of the movie were passed around among fans and sold on eBay for years.

Of course, it is what it is and I don’t want to over-hype. It’s fun, it’s a great way to take your mind of anything for a couple hours, and it’s the best work of Fred Dekker who also helmed House, Robocop 3, and The Monster Squad (which didn’t hold up quite as well as I had hoped).

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Posted on March 7, 2010

Books »The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories and Other Stories

island of dr death and other stories and other storiesby Gene Wolfe (1980)

The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories and Other Stories has me torn. Some stories rank among my favorite sci if, while others took me days and days to slog through and left me more confused than satisfied. Author Gene Wolfe is a science fiction writer’s science fiction writer. If you begin to research who inspired your favorite writers, his name is likely to pop up eventually.

Jim just recommended his most admired work, The Book of the New Sun, but I decided to start easier, with this short story collection considering how dense science fiction might get from the mind an engineer and a devoted Catholic. Often times, I felt a bit lost and even ended up skipping over the latter half of The Eyeflash Miracles.

But in a complete opposite reaction, I swooned over the title story (The Island of Dr Death and Other Stories) which displays an incredible combination of moods and genres. The brief tale of a pre teen, angsty boy trying to comprehend the complexities of the adults around him while burying himself in stories of adventure is unlike anything I’ve ever read and it’s tone is haunting.

Another favorite is the last one in the book, Seven American Nights, which shows a future that would be even more terrifying to many today in our post 9/11 sensitivity to our role as a world power. America, once a great country is now fallen, below third world, and the citizens are deformed. The new world is viewed through the eyes of a middle easterner who is daring enough to leave his wealthy, scientifically advanced and comfortable country to brave the ruins of Washington D.C.

I also loved the super short La Befana which imagines that pain-in-the-ass mothers-in-law will still exist even as we find new planets to colonize and aliens to befriend. I also liked Hour of Trust, Tracking Song, and Three Fingers. I’ve never been so divided by one book and I think every reader will find themselves more drawn to some stories over others, but everyone will find something interesting.

Click here for the rest of The Island of Dr. Death and Other Stories and Other Stories

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Posted on December 13, 2009

Movies »The Lord of the Rings

Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the RingsDirected by Ralph Bakshi (1978)

Believe it or not (I’m hoping my facetiousness is apparent), I was a huge Tolkien fan when I was a kid. I’m sure I can’t remember what year it was, but the night my dad brought home our first family VCR we rushed out to the (sadly now defunct) Video World and grabbed the two tapes my brother and I would watch again and again over the next several years: the Rankin/Bass Hobbit and John Boorman’s the Emerald Forest (for years that was his favorite movie, go figure… BTW: Boorman nearly adapted LotR himself, he reused the sets he built for Excalibur).

I actually had two maps of Middle Earth hung on my bedroom wall (one was next to an image of the members of Public Enemy hanging out in a maximum security prison; pretty sophisticated juxtaposition of the kind of things boys in their pre-teens are drawn too – thanks for offering the tools needed to create such a dynamic collage, Prints Plus!).

I hoarded copies of the author’s books, which wasn’t all that easy considering that until the advent of the Book Barn years later, there really was no local spot that dealt in used books, though occasionally the Booksmith in New London would have an unusual looking pressing of Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham.

And in an gesture I’m still in awe of, the first time I met my father-in-law he presented me with a hardcover copy of the edition of the Hobbit he himself illustrated (awesomely).

But of all things Tolkienian, the Bakshi movie has made the deepest impact.

I’m not going to list to list its many inaccuracies (Tolkien enthusiasts have already complied lists taking care of that), and I’m not going to compare it to Peter Jackson’s films (plenty of articles are out there for the reading); while there’s no way to deny that this movie has its flaws, it’s an amazing work of art and it’s the imagery I’m really, really into.

I’ve collected a number of stills below/after the jump giving special attention to what I think is the film’s finest sequence: Frodo’s encounter with the Black Riders just outside Rivendell; it’s here that Bakshi’s impressionistic vision is most successful. As the wounded Hobbit breaks away from his party, the background dramatically fades to an expressionistic, nightmarish landscape, partly rendered in slow motion. It’s an absolutely amazing series of shots that truly captures the terror of the Ring Wraiths and Frodo’s almost submarine decent into their world of shadow.

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Posted on December 6, 2009