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The Lair Of Gary James

Archive for February, 2010

The “Buck Rogers” Quandry – In Which I Contradict Previous Views

Posted by BigWords on February 20, 2010

If you have been reading through the posts here for any length of time you will probably be aware of my opinion on the accuracy with which a character’s continuing adventures should be to its’ originating material. The whole debate about screwing with a character’s personality, the setting within which they operate, the surrounding characters, the tech level (and a hundred other details) is open to discussion once more, as I find the constant chatter concerning the proposed Buck Rogers film has managed to overlook a simple fact – the original incarnation of the character is a racist thug. That comment is probably going to upset a few people, but is the nicest thing I have to say about Anthony Rogers.

The views of the character were seen as acceptable back when Philip Francis Nowlan’s novella Armageddon 2419 was released, and contemporary authors (Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft to name two) pushed similarly bigoted ideals onto the stories they churned out, so it isn’t as is the story stands alone as an Aryan call to arms. Armageddon 2419 is, in many ways, a poorly written story (not as bad as Airlords Of Han, but still…), featuring unsympathetic characters and illogical plot devices throughout. Ah, and I mentioned the sequel, which deserves a word or two of its’ own.

Airlords Of Han is shit. This may come as a shock to anyone who believes that Buck Rogers stands alongside Flash Gordon, The Rocketmen and Lensman as a paragon of the Golden Age of SF characters, but it is undeniable that an entire chapter devoted to the explanation of the fictional technologies of the future is a waste of paper and time. When it does manage to stay on track, the even crueler depiction of the Hans (a race who do not believe in either respect or the soul) reinforces the surplus of negativity with which I have always associated the character. So… Ignoring my previous entreaties to stick to the original depiction of a character, adapting the books is out of the question.

What of the comic strip? When the comic strip started, a few years later, the more obvious elements were removed at the expense of even more logic., and… Well, aside from the fact that Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Lensman, the original Battlestar Galactica and a thousand lesser films and television shows have already churned over the same ground – and sometimes to much better effect – I believe a loose adaptation of those stories may prove more fruitful. And the SF element is greater in the strip than the two novellas, wherein the level of technology has been stunted due to a prolonged war (entirely situated on planet Earth) with the Han. I never liked the television series, so I don’t know why anyone would consider it to be worth updating – at least in a straight retelling. In the mode of a parody (deep into Spaceballs territory) it would be fine, but really… Do we need that?

In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of defeat, but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress toward a victory.

Alfred North Whitehead

And so I will contradict myself.

All we need (that is, all we really need) is for a character named ‘Rogers’ to find himself at some point in the twenty-fifth century – not necessarily in 2419, but that would be a nice touch – and to get into a few scrapes. Wilma (who does appear in the novellas) should really be present, though Twiki can be safely ignored. That’s pretty much all we need in a film script bearing the title “Buck Rogers” – though there will always be the nagging doubt that another property would be deserving of a remake more than a soggy old, used and abused, hokier-than-hokey SF anomaly. Okay, so that’s maybe a tad too critical of a deliberately camp old television show, but I stand by my assertion that there are many (more deserving) properties which deserve better treatment.

You might agree, you can certainly disagree, and even if you can’t raise the energy to care, a film will probably arrive at some point.

Armageddon 2419 is available online at Project Gutenberg Australia
The Airlords Of Han is available online at Project Gutenberg Australia

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Even Being Overworked Is No Excuse For A Lack Of Inspiration

Posted by BigWords on February 14, 2010

I’ve barely had time to do anything this week, yet I seem to be compiling notes for things I have yet to consider writing. Comparing a lack of actual writing to the dulling of a blade might be a touch too self-critical and analytical, yet there has to be something in the notion of the art of writing as comparable to cutting through… Something. I don’t hold to the conceit that there is anything particularly important about one suggested work over another (some ideas are terrible, but the state of the idea rarely matches the state of the finished piece), so trying to placate the inner editor with assurances that quality can arise from such loose affiliations of idea is an interesting and infuriating process.

The steampunk movement may have been around for a while, but I have never dared broach the subject with any real intent towards completing a full story; and yet everywhere I turn I seem to be given slight and obscure hints at the things I can attack on my own terms. Mechanical adaptations of digital technology is incredibly hard to make work, even in a fantasy setting, yet some real-world applications of theory have made me stop for a second and consider what could possibly be done – and this all started off thanks to an article on an expensive watch.

I received a forwarded a link to an old article on the De Grisogono Meccanico DG, which is a digital watch, inasmuch as it has a fascia which, on brief inspection, looks like any other watch, yet is composed entirely of clockwork innards. I love that the art of making it entirely mechanical has produced something truly steampunk, though the creators would probably disagree – it is art and technology hand in hand, moving towards new ways of thinking on function and appearance. The notion stuck with me for a couple of days, and when I later discovered a DVD nestled amongst my non-fiction collection which set out the history of radiation. I have to admit that I hadn’t watched the DVD since I bought it, but finding it again made me think back to the watch – no, I’m not sure why, before you ask.

The Victorians knew enough to make glow-in-the-dark items, and the numerals seem (somehow) to glow anyway. And everything looks better in brass and mahogany anyway, so the ideas bubbled away under the surface. Somehow, despite my self-awareness that time was not a luxury this past week, I had managed to cobble together the hint of a mirage of an idea. Coupled with a love of old films, the idea stretched to fit in the sewer sequence from The Third Man, a gag about The Turk (the chess-playing automaton controlled by a hidden grand master) and some strange concoction of Hartlepool monkey-hanging and The Island Of Dr. Moreau – it turns out that the monkey could talk, but because it was speaking in an African dialect…

Then, on Friday morning, I awoke with an idea about migraines, headaches, medical procedures and telepathy, bound together by loose strands of half-remembered technology articles and science programs. There was a much talked about game wherein the player uses their mind to control an on-screen icon (of some sort) a few years ago, and there have been irregular updates on the possibility of telepathy-via-technology over the years – though scientists rarely, if ever, use the word telepathy due to the non-scientific nature of the process. It’s been a while since I read William Gibson’s writing on the possible scenarios of future-tech, and I may have enough wiggle-room to untangle new and weirder aspects without stepping on anyone’s toes.

If only I had time to write at the moment, I would be in my element.

And here is where I’ll lay out why you can never predict when an idea (or several ideas) will come crashing into your mind – it all has to do with receptiveness. I was looking for an escape from the constant pressure of being where I was meant to be (and on time), remembering what has to be done, in what order things have to be done, even whom I am meant to discuss things with… All very dry and serious thoughts. The subconscious (where the primal stew of imagination bubbles away undeterred by the inconsequential matters – of vital importance to everyone else) has a pressure valve which prevents people’s heads exploding a-la Scanners. It relieves our frustration gained from the mundane by formulating the fantastic.

I carry a notebook with me at all times, for when I get a small insight into the fiction I have yet to craft.

Ah, but notebooks are analogue… The thoughts are, like most handwritten material, jumbled out-of-order and useless without context. I’ve yet to find a method which anticipated when the small ideas (such as those above) will arise, and I’ve taken to leaving blank pages between thoughts which are so obviously from different things – the notes on the watch, for example, are set apart from the notes on the SF story by a good twenty blank pages or so. Enough that, when I come across more details with which to play with, I’ll have plenty of room to explore them without nudging into another story’s notes.

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I know I haven’t updated the blog much lately, but I’ve been really busy. Add to that the fact that I left my laptop in the same room as a complete idiot at the beginning of the week, and thus had to fix it back to my liking, and you’ll see why I’m not exactly in the mood to spend time online. “Must try harder” is gonna be written on my gravestone at this rate.

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“Bread And Circuses” – The Future Of Celebrity Television

Posted by BigWords on February 10, 2010

Despite the lacklustre Celebrity Big Brother being taken off the air for good (hopefully), there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight for shows featuring jobbing nonentities posing as “celebrities”. Lets face facts – shows featuring these alleged celebrities have been done to death, and no matter what new twists are introduced into stale formats, nothing is going to increase interest above the steady beep of a flatline. It is far past time to shake things up, and reintroducing people to the wonderful and life-enhancing spectacle of the Roman Empire’s one great gift to culture may be the way to go. You might think that Gladiators (or American Gladiators to those in the colonies) is cool – which it isn’t – but it hardly lives up to its’ name.

Where are the lions? Where is the bloodshed? The show doesn’t even come close to living up to its’ name.

We need the UK’s very own millionaire arch-bastard, manipulator of truth, and cynical exploiter of the vulnerable and weak – Simon Cowell is the man best positioned to usher in a new golden age of celebrity-focused shows. He’s amoral enough to see the potential of thinning out the ranks of the deluded, the has-beens, and the never-were’s, and I have just the vehicle for him. The idea is simplicity squared, though nobody else would dare come up with such a radical departure from the tried and mistrusted formulae which so many shows prefaced by the word celebrity rely on. We should look to the glory and splendor of the arena… Where even the most untalented one-hit-wonder will be able to regain a sliver of dignity before their untimely demise.

A big arena… eight celebrities armed to the teeth with swords, maces, javelins, nets and shields… One survivor victor to walk away with the greatest prize imaginable – their career life…

Who, you ask, could possibly take part? Well, nobody is really going to miss the Krankies. Or Cannon and Ball, Dame Edna, Pamela Anderson, The Hoff, that stuttering waste of oxygen from Pop Idol (no, I didn’t bother learning his name), or even Paris Hilton. Only the lowliest and most untalented need apply. Hell, stick Melinda Messenger in there with an axe and you’ll have a first-rate fight on your hands. The Russell Crowe film Gladiator was a success for a reason, and that reason is very easy to work out – people like watching other people get their heads caved in. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that by adding celebrities (however minor and uninteresting they may be) you’ll have something that is really worth watching.

Is this unreasonable? Well… No. Considering how Channel 5 have already shown Cheggers (now there is someone whom I’d pay to watch getting ripped apart by lions) in the buff and Abi Titmuss tossing off a pig, I doubt that many people would consider blood sports being brought back a dip in quality. Considering how cheap the show would be to make – what with there being only one contestant to pay off at the end of a series – this could be the very thing that saves British television.

If only the title Celebrity Death Match hadn’t already been taken…

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Batman & Willpower = Green Lantern Batman?

Posted by BigWords on February 7, 2010

I’ve gotten bored waiting on the Comic World News forum sending me posting privileges, so I’ll post my response to Kurt Busiek’s answer to The Hooded Utilitarian’s question of why Batman (with all the willpower and intellect he displays) hasn’t been tapped by the Corps for a Green Lantern gig. The various answers about why he hasn’t received the ring are all valid, though there is perhaps a little too much “outside looking in” going on, with people justifying the non-ring status by way of saying that the books work better with Green Lantern (who is always Hal Jordan to me, no matter who else wears the ring) wielding the alien tech while Bats skulks around in alleyways and rooftops. True. But also true is the fact that the ring, when looking for a suitable replacement, would have the smarts to avoid those who would spur its’ offer.

I’ll play ‘What If…’ for a moment (even though the House Of Ideas lays claim to that particular title) and say that Batman is up against a foe who not only outguns him, but potentially outsmarts him: He’s on the rooftop, doing whatever he does between breaking the teeth of goons and mooks… Eating a sandwich perhaps, or checking Wonder Woman’s Twitter updates even. Then he hears the sound of a bank’s alarm ringing through the night, the wail of police sirens rushing to the scene, and faint screams in the distance. This is when he gets to do his stuff, rushing to the scene. But what if it isn’t just The Penguin, or some other rogue from his assembled list of walking, talking punching bags? Lets say there is a maniacal genius who has closed each end of the road with tanks. And there are a bunch of ex-military types brandishing FBG’s.

This is the point where Nightwing, or Green Arrow, or The Question, or any number of similarly non-powered characters would decide that making a call to the JLA for some serious back-up would be a good idea – 1-800-SAVEMYASS please. Not “Bats”, because he likes to like up to that nickname. He would see it as a challenge. He’s played the archetypal Badass Normal for so long that even thinking of wimping out would be completely unacceptable. Now, as he’s checking out the enemy he’ll probably spot the one critical weakness in the plan (because that is what he does), and he might let the merest trace of a grin flicker over his features for a second. But only ever in the shadows, because ‘Batman’ doesn’t smile.

Right at this moment, if it were in a P.J. Farmer novel, we would be gifted to a nice little description of a stretching of his underpants, nudging his utility belt into his stomach. Point being – Batman gets off on beating the shit out of his enemies without resorting to anything more than his brains and his fists. It is the defining aspect of the dark knight detective. And even if he did get tapped by the ring to bear the mantle of an intergalactic police force, he wouldn’t go flying off to some other planet to save little six-armed purple aliens, or talking horses, or… y’know, whatever…  when there are still pimps and drug dealers on the streets of Gotham waiting to get seven shades of shit kicked out of them. He would refuse the call to arms. C’mon, honestly – can you imagine him reciting the “In brightest day” schtick without dying a little inside.

So the ring wouldn’t approach him because he would refuse it.

And if it did reach him, he would refuse it anyway.

And if he really, really wanted a green ring (ignoring the current BN storyline) he would only have to ask GL for a loan of the damn thing. No, scratch that. He would have a plan in place whereby he would get it, even if he had to do pull some really nasty and amoral moves to get his hands on the ring, because he has plans for everything. That is who Batman is. He exists for the dank, horrible side streets of a city where you’re as likely to get gassed by the Joker, or eaten by Killer Croc, as you are to make it through the rush hour traffic in time for work. He is part of the city in ways that other heroes just… aren’t. Beyond the connection to Lois, Superman could be based anywhere on the planet. Same with Wonder Woman. Batman’s family is part of Gotham history, tying his existence as Batman to the place.

Those are the reasons why Batman wouldn’t become a Green Lantern in regular continuity.

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You’re still thinking of Batman’s boner though, right? All my points, laid out in logical fashion, and the Bat-stiffy is all that sunk in?

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The Many Layers Of Adaptive Fidelity

Posted by BigWords on February 6, 2010

As my brain still isn’t operating at full efficiency, I thought I’d revisit something which has been playing away at the back of my mind for a few years now, and has yet to be examined seriously. I haven’t cleaned up my thoughts much, but I’ll expand on this if there is sufficient interest.

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Something which bothered me whilst watching the 1989 Batman film has resurfaced in another – similar – way. The divergence between an original property and an adaptation has never been so great, with video games, films, books, comics and television shows depicting different versions of a few characters so differently that – to a casual observer – there seems little which binds the media together. That problem I mentioned with Batman – okay, it isn’t a big deal, but the fact that so many of his enemies died whilst he was going about his business seems at odds with the comic-book character who once stated “nobody dies tonight.” It is, in the bigger picture, a minor deal, but for me it was too great a leap to make to believe he would allow anyone to die.

The C.S.I. novel Double Dealer was sitting on the shelf in my local Waterstones and looked nice enough (the cover isn’t very ‘C.S.I.’, but the book was written by Max Allan Collins, and I liked his take on Dick Tracy so I thought I would take a chance. And the question of authorial responsibility to a character already in the public consciousness (which has been bugging me for years) was highlighted by the first few pages of the book – Sara doesn’t seem to be in-character, and the depiction of Warrick is off slightly. Is there a way to gauge how much someone will appreciate any given work in relation to the other media in which characters appear? I know some people like the slightly goofy Star Trek of the original series, but how do you reconcile that with Gene Roddenberry’s novelization of the film? Where Kirk has an implant in his head placed there by Starfleet? And when there are differences in a character’s behavior (look at the depictions of Batman for a good introduction to this), which is the ‘real’ version?

Tight Adaptation

Where the story is merely transposed to another media, such as the novelizations of X-Files episodes, I would consider it to be a Tight Adaptation. The Jackanory readings of Roald Dahl’s novels (replete with illustrations) are another good example, losing nothing and adding nothing (nothing important anyway – audio is expected), but this can be unfulfilling for those who want a deeper experience of the world the characters inhabit. I know that there are good examples out there, but most of the time these types of adaptations irritate me in that they are not doing anything to advance the characters.

Close Adaptation

Adaptations which shift moments around in the timeline whilst being generally accurate, or merging two characters into one for the sake of clarity, would come in here. The primary problem when something in an expansive medium (i.e. novels or comics) is shrunk to fit a defined length (a film perhaps) is that the complexity necessarily needs to be streamlined in order to make events comprehensible. It does, however, mean that events can be appreciated wrongly – did anyone who watched 30 Days Of Night completely buy into the fact that the film takes place over a month rather than a couple of days? Or a week? There are a couple of moments where I had to check how much time had passed because the events didn’t seem to follow on well.

The Lord Of The Rings films are perfect examples, omitting only the superfluous material, while staying true to the intentions of the original texts. One thing I don’t really mind is when historical accuracy overrides the preferred (original) text. This doesn’t apply to the film From Hell, but there are other places it can actually improve a story. I’ll try to think of some examples… Later.

Near Adaptation

Batman Begins would probably be placed into this category, because it doesn’t entirely follow the events of the comics, yet has enough ties to certain stories. Ra’s al Ghul, notably, is very different from established continuity, and there is no mention of the Lazarus Pit.  Overall it is a much, much stronger film than any of the four previous films, and that is entirely down to its’ grounding of the characters in the real world. Hellraiser (but not the sequels) would also fall into this category, and also Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining – ironically, a film which is much better than the close adaptation made by Stephen King in the nineties.

Loose Adaptation

This is where most adaptations fall, and where quite a few fail as well. Close enough to the source material to be accepted by the general public (who may or may not know the character well enough to tell the differences made), yet too far from the originals to appease the hardcore fanbase. This is also the category in which that troublesome Batman television series deserves a mention – back when I was too young to know better, the show was being run on (I think) Sunday mornings, and it was one of my first introductions to the characters. It didn’t seem too at odds with the Silver Age on reflection, but you have to remember that the comics were tweaked to reflect the series, not the other way around. It stands as testament to the damage a loose adaptation can do to the original.

Of course, many great stories have been told which twist the characters out of their regular appearances. The abysmal Judge Dredd and Tank Girl films are other perfect examples of why the scale of quality dips sharply once you get down to loose adaptations, though the redeeming factors include a bunch of Philip K. Dick stories being handled well – Blade Runner is a very loose adaptation, so it shouldn’t be assumed that simply because the best known examples from any category are awful that all media within the same category should be likewise. The Conan films are looser than I had hoped, yet they are equally as interesting as the stories they were adapted from. The Barry Windsor Smith comics are also quite different, though these have just as much legitimacy as the originating material.

Free Adaptation

In which little remains of the original. Hook Jaw, a staple of British comics in eighties reprints, is Jaws with a metal spear jutting from its’ jaw, and is as close to a defining example of how little you need to keep for a free adaptation. Mostly this category is made up of pastiches, rip-offs (the Asylum DVDs mostly all belong here), homages (Cerebus The Aardvark being one), and pastiches. I brought up Hook Jaw, though could easily have included Dredger (Dirty Harry By Any Other Name), Spinball (inspired by Rollerball) or a bunch of early 2000AD strips. Dredd is, himself, another Dirty Harry tribute, though quickly outlived that particular piece of informed inspiration.

The Golden Age of comics is rife with Superman pretenders, so there may be legitimacy conferred if enough distance is placed between the inspiration and the end result, though I’ll leave the finer points for others to untangle.

And I really need to think of better catch-all names for the categories.

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