Archive for the ‘Heroes’ Category

Roy Batty

Science fiction fans mark some odd birthdays: that of The Terminator‘s Skynet on August 4th 1997; or 2001: A Space Odyssey computer HAL 9000 on 12th January 1999.

Today, 8th January 2016, is the birthday – or incept date – of iconic Blade Runner replicant Roy Batty.

This seems an appropriate day to reboot my site after a long absence from blogging. I have a series of posts inspired by Blade Runner and I’ll be posting them soon.

Please check them out!

David Pelham studied at St Martin’s School of Art in the 50s and had worked on the export magazine The Ambassador (later retitled International Textiles), the arts magazine Studio International and Harper’s Bazaar; he joined Penguin Books in 1968 after the departure of the great Alan Aldridge. Following the departure of Germano Facetti in 1972, David Pelham’s role as art director for fiction was expanded to overall art director. He left Penguin in 1979.

Pelham’s first covers for Penguin Science Fiction were for the 1971 reprints of Fred Hoyle‘s novels The Black Cloud (1957), Fifth Planet (co-authored with Geoffrey Hoyle, 1963) and October the First Is Too Late (1966).

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A Clockwork Orange

Among Pelham’s most iconic covers was that for a reprint of Anthony Burgess‘s classic novella A Clockwork Orange (1962) released to coincide with Stanley Kubrick‘s 1971 film adaptation.

The director had shown no interest in the remarketing of the book so Pelham had freedom to design the cover without too much reliance on the film. This classic image was actually a last minute job because the original commissioned artist had been unable to come up with anything satisfactory within the time available and Pelham had been forced to take on the job himself.

Pelham himself is not overly fond of the cover:

“I don’t like the image. I really don’t but it has become iconographic. I don’t like it because it was primarily done overnight, with very little thought, really. It was an emergency: a graphic design emergency because we had to a have a cover, because we’d miss the hit of the movie.”

Nevertheless the cover has become a pop art iconic image, adorning posters and t-shirts. While the film version was banned in the UK Pelham’s cover defined the film for many denied access to Kubrick’s masterpiece.

1972-73

Between 1972 and 1973 Pelham contributed another 13 covers for Penguin Science Fiction. Titles included Olaf Stapledon‘s Last and First Men (1930), Star Maker (1937) and Sirius (1944). Other titles were the novels Black Easter or Faust Aleph-Null (1968) by James Blish, Night of Light (1966) by Philip José Farmer, The Space Merchants (1953) by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth, A Plague of Pythons (1965) by Frederik Pohl, The People: No Different Flesh (1967) by Zena HendersonThe Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965) by Philip K Dick, A Cure for Cancer (1971) by Michael Moorcock and Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut; there were also two anthologies, The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Brian Aldiss and Apeman, Spaceman edited by Harry Harrison and Leon E Stover..

Each cover used a ‘futuristic’ computer font for the author’s name printed in white against a black background; the lower quarter of each cover was a coloured band. The main picture was a symbolic rather than literal image. Strong primary colours dominated.

The J. G. Ballard Box Set

For A Cure for Cancer Pelham dispensed with the black background in favour of a graded airbrush style though he retained the coloured band across the bottom quatrer; this background style would be used again for his next set, a collection of four of J.G. Ballard books reprinted in 1974 and collected in a striking slipcase (see top of page). These covers would become as iconic as those of Alan Aldridge in the Sixties.

The books collected were Ballard’s Catastrophe novels The Wind from Nowhere (1961), The Drowned World (1962), The Drought (1965), and the short story collection The Terminal Beach (1964).

Pelham had met Ballard through Eduardo Paolozzi, who had taught sculpture at St Martin’s College. Paolozzi was a pioneering Pop Artist and founder of the Independent Group in 1952. His screenprints used collages of ‘junk’ from discarded material: magazines, film posters, etc. Pelham had also hired Paolozzi to design the cover for the Penguin edition of John Barth’s novel Lost in the Funhouse (1972)

Pelham was particularly inspired by Paolozzi’s book Abba Zabba ()

Four Dimensional Nightmare David Pelham 1972The picture of the partially submerged Crysler Building on the cover of  The Drowned World and the Cadillac Coupe de Ville from The Drought are based on a photographs from Evelyn Hofer‘s New York Proclaimed (1965).

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1974-75

Pelham contributed several more titles including the 1974 reprints of James Blish‘s The Day After Judgment (1971) and Ray Bradbury’s The Day it Rained Forever.

Pelham’s outstanding covers for Alfred Bester‘s The Demolished Man (1953) and Tiger! Tiger! (aka The Stars My Destination, 1956) adapted italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo‘s technique of creating portraits from pictures of objects arranged to make the likeness of a face; if you look very closely to the right of the left eye on the cover of Tiger! Tiger! you can just make out the tiny image of Bester’s anti-hero Gulliver Foyle.

The detail on these covers is astonishing: look carefully to the right of the left ‘eye’ on the cover of Tiger! Tiger!  and you will see the tiny figure of Gulliver Foyle drifting in space:

Gully Foyle

Copywriter Meaburn Staniland came up with the memorable blurb for Tiger! Tiger!:

‘Gully Foyle, liar, lecher, ghoul, walking cancer, obsessed by vengeance, he’s the 24th century’s most valuable commodity but he doesn’t know it. His story is one of the great classics of science fiction.’

Pelham also revisited Fred Hoyle‘s The Black Cloud (1957), Fifth Planet (co-authored with Geoffrey Hoyle, 1963)  and October the First Is Too Late (1966).

References:

Very sad to hear of the death of science fiction writer Harry Harrison at the age of 87.

Harrison is probably best known for his novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966), a powerful dystopia about overpopulation filmed – rather successfully – as Soylent Green (1973).

His anti-hero, James Bolivar DiGriz, alias “Slippery Jim” DiGriz, first appeared in the short story ”The Stainless Steel Rat” in Astounding magazine in 1957;  The Stainless Steel Rat (1961) was the first in a series of hilarious novels featuring the adventures of the interplanetary crook and his expanding family.

Bill the Galactic Hero (1965) was an equally amusing novel but with a darker subtext, a satire on the militaristic science fiction of Robert A Heinlein, especially Starship Troopers (1960). Harrison drew on his own experiences as a machine gun instructor

His other work includes A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! (1973), an early example of what would later be termed ‘Steampunk‘, and the elaborate Alternative World Eden Trilogy (West of Eden1984, Winter in Eden1986, and Return to Eden1988), an exercise in World Building comparable in scope and ambition to Frank Herbert‘s Dune (1965) and Brian Aldiss‘s Helliconia Trilogy (1982-1985).

Harrison was a good friend and collaborator with Brian Aldiss, and they were co-presidents of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group. They edited numerous anthologies together.

He was a proselytizer for the auxiliary language Esperanto, which is spoken in the future of his Deathworld series (1960-2001) and The Stainless Steel Rat; Harrison was honorary president of the Esperanto Association of Ireland, as well as a member of Esperanto-USA, and also the Universala Esperanto-Asocio (World Esperanto Association).

He was also a notable atheist, and often used his fiction to criticise religion. His most widely anthologised short story was ”The Streets of Ashkelon” (1962), first published in Brian Aldiss’s anthology New Worlds (1962), a taboo-busting story about an interplanetary missionary; and Make Room! Make Room! was an attack on the Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception, not a gothic nightmare about cannibalism – Soylent Green is made from soy beans and lentils, not people!

References
  • Aldiss, Brian (ed, 1962) New Worlds
    • (1982) Helliconia Spring
    • (1983) Helliconia Summer
    • (1985) Helliconia Winter
  • Harrison, Harry (1957) ”The Stainless Steel Rat” in Astounding
    • (1960) Deathworld
    • (1961) The Stainless Steel Rat
    • (1962)  ”The Streets of Ashkelon” in Aldiss, Brian (1962)
    • (1965) Bill, the Galactic Hero
    • (1973) A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!
    • (1984) West of Eden
    • (1986) Winter in Eden
    • (1988) Return to Eden
  • Heinlein, Robert A (1960) Starship Troopers
  • Herbert, Frank (1965) Dune
Fab Café, Manchester, 1 July 2012

Greater Manchester Fringe Festival 2012 kicked off today with a special Premiere presentation of Robots of Death and Storm Mine at the Fab Café on Portland Street. For this performance only, former Blake’s 7 star Paul Darrow appeared as Kaston Iago, a character he originally played in the series of Kaldor City audio plays produced by Magic Bullet Productions.

The Premier performance was a read-through by the cast, seated in front of a live audience and reading from the script, rather than the full theatrical performance, complete with props and costumes, that it will be when it returns on 21 July. This being the case, and bearing in mind that the star of this the premiere won’t be appearing in those performances, I’ll stick to reviewing the script for now – with some asides on Darrow.

Robots of Death is a free adaptation of Chris Boucher‘s 1977 Doctor Who story of the ”The Robots of Death”. Originally featuring the Fourth Doctor (the inimitable Tom Baker) and Leela (Louise Jameson) our heroes have now been replaced by the psychopathic assassins Kaston Iago and his partner Elska Blayes (Tracey Russell, reprising her role from the audios). Iago and Bleyes are not there to help anyone, they are there to kill a target – and anyone else who happens to get in their way.

For the most part the story remains pretty much the same as on TV: aboard the Sandminer Storm Mine 4, a huge vehicle trawling through the debris thrown up by the raging sandstorms of an unnamed planet in search of precious minerals, someone, or something, is killing off the crew one by one. Most of the actual work is performed by three classes of robot, the mute D-Class ‘Dums’, the more sophisticated ‘Vocs’ and a supervising ‘Super-Voc’. The human crew are a quarrelsome bunch, seething with either class entitlement or class resentment but oblivious of the fact the foundations upon which their civilization is built are no more solid than the shifting sands of the desert. The story is essentially a science fiction whodunitAgatha Christie‘s And Then There Were None (1939) done as science fiction – but this shift in genre is crucial as the themes explored are not simply those of a country house murder mystery performed in science fiction drag.

The major science fiction theme of the story is ‘robophobia’, an irrational – though in this case, perhaps not – fear of robots, which is also refered to as Grimwade’s Syndrome in the TV version – an in-joke at the expense of production assistant Peter Grimwade, who had complained about always having to work on stories featuring robots. (Grimwade was later to become a writer and director on the show.) Robophobia is a version of what robotics professor Masahiro Mori refered to as the ”Uncanny Valley effect”, or Bukimi no Tani Genshō, in an essay in 1970. According to the theory, the more human an automaton looks, the more agreeable it will be to human beings – but only up to a point. When the automaton approaches the point at which it can be mistaken for an actual human being, the non-human aspects (lack of human expression, intonation, body language, etc) unconsciously create feelings of unease. This effect is also said to describe the sense of discomfort reported by audiences of CGI films such as Robert Zemeckis The Polar Express (2004), Beowulf (2007) and A Christmas Carol (2009). Robophobia manifests itself in several ways in this story: at different extremes it induces Poul into a catatonic state; for Taren Capel, brought up by robots, it leads to over-identification by a process of what a Freudian would no doubt call ‘reaction formation‘ and cognitive psychologists would attribute to cognitive dissonance.

The Robots of Death” came towards the end of the three-year run of producer Philip Hinchcliffe, and it was script-edited by the great Robert Holmes. This period had been marked by a degree of Gothic excess unprecedented in a TV show largely aimed at children; the most fondly remembered stories of this period (”Pyramids of Mars”, ”The Brain of Morbius”, ”The Seeds of Doom”, ”The Deadly Assassin” and ”The Talons of Weng-Chiang”) are also amongst the most traumatic things ever broadcast before the watershed. Most of these stories were built around the Gothic theme of the ‘uncanny‘: the familiar made strange. ”Robots of Death” was very much part of this phase; it was also, however, explicitly political in its use of the uncanny to comment directly on colonialism, class, and exploitation, in a way the show had not been since the early Seventies. The story combines a specifically science fictional variation of the uncanny as a metaphor for alienation while retaining the signature Gothic horror codes of the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era.

Boucher wrote three stories for Doctor Who, the others being ”The Face of Evil” (1977), which immediately preceded ”The Robots of Death” and introduced the companion Leela, and the Quatermass and the Pit-inspired ”Image of the Fendahl”. He was script-editor of all four seasons of Blake’s 7 (also writing the episodes ”Shadow”, ”Weapon”, ”Trial”, ”Star One”, ”City at the Edge of the World”, ”Rumours of Death”, ”Death-Watch”, ”Rescue” and the notorious series finale ”Blake”) and on the detective series Shoestring and Bergerac; he would later combine the science fiction and detective genres to create the short-lived Star Cops in 1987. In 1998 he returned to the worlds of Doctor Who with the spin-off novel Last Man Running; this was followed by Corpse Marker (a direct sequel to ”The Robots of Death”, 1999), Psi-ence Fiction (2001) and Match of the Day (2005).

Unusual for a Doctor Who writer, Boucher displays a knowledge of science fiction literature: ”The Face of Evil”, for instance, had distinct echoes of Harry Harrison‘s Captive Universe (1969) in its portrayal of a civilization which has fractured into two groups, a tribe of Bronze Aged savages and another which retains traces of scientific knowledge coded as religious ritual. ”The Robots of Death” borrows liberally from several key science fiction texts, notably E.M. Forster‘s The Machine Stops (1909), Karel Čapek‘s R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) (1920) and several stories from Isaac Asimov‘s Robot series, in particular his novel The Naked Sun (1957). Forster’s short story features a machine-dependent society on the brink of collapse while Čapek’s play describes a robot rebellion (in fact, Čapek’s play is the origin of the word ‘robot’). The name Taren Capel is likely to have been derived from that of Karel Čapek. The Naked Sun features a similar robot-dependant society faced with the possibility that their servants may turn against them, and a protagonist who is mildly robophobic. The Sandminer is, of course, borrowed from Frank Herbert‘s Dune (1965). These intertextual threads are woven deftly together by Boucher to create a coherent sense of a fictional world in which we can believe his characters live and work, helped on TV, I should add, by some terrific art deco production design; although they were not used in the Premier performance of the play the group have recreated the beautiful robot masks used by the BBC.

Paul Darrow was magnificent in his one-off performance, a snarling Clint Eastwood just the right side of camp (depending, of course, which side of camp you regard as the ‘right’ one!). His delivery of the Doctor’s withering put-down ”You are the perfect example of the inverse relationship between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain” will stay with me a long time. The cast had been slightly rejigged for this premiere performance in order to accommodate the star so it will be interesting to see how the production changes when it returns later this month. The cast are excellent, snd you may recognize several from the Lass O’Gowrie‘s adaptation of Alan Moore‘s The Ballad of Halo Jones (look out for Dan Thackeray’s Together in Electric Dreams, by the way). and the producers have gone the revamped Battlestar Galactica route of freshening the story up by altering the sex of some of the characters. ”The Robots of Death” had been unusual for the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era in having decent roles for women other than the Doctor’s companion, and changes here, while making little difference to the pot, nonetheless open the story up to a feminist interpretation.

The play, however, is not a total success, and where it falls is largely where it deviates from Boucher’s original concept. On TV the Doctor had to investigate the mystery, then improvise an ingenious solution when Taren Capel was revealed. Here, Iago and Bleyes are aware of Capel’s presence from the start, and the story concludes in an unsubtle hail of plasma bullets. Worse, the last few minutes unveil another, previously unhinted-at force behind the events; it’s the equivalent of Hercule Poirot gathering all the suspects together in the library, only to reveal the killer is from an entirely unrelated Miss Marple story before spraying the room with a machine gun. The play itself has been made strange.

This rather unsatisfactory conclusion is included to lead directly into the second feature, an adaptation of Daniel O’Mahony‘s Storm Mine. Storm Mine is the seventh Kaldor City audio (counting the 20 minute story The Prisoner, included as part of MJTV’s CD The Actor Speaks: Paul Darrow), and the final episode to date. Although the first three stories, Occam’s Razor, Death’s Head and Hidden Persuaders are stand-alones, Taren Capel, CheckmateThe Prisoner and Storm Mine form a single continuing narrative, and it’s fair to say that by the final episode the series had built up a considerable backstory not adequately explained in this play.

Blayes comes to the fore in this story as awakes 18 months later on another Sandminer, uncertain how she got there; Iago is now reduced to a disembodied voice in her head. The story involves constantly shifting realities, with a much more sketchily defined background, and supporting characters lacking any sense of motivation, or indeed, reality. Whether the story is set entirely inside Blayes’ dying brain or inside the alien gestalt or somewhere else entirely is open to interpretation. The story involves several Buddhist themes derived from the teaching of Zen Master Linji Yixuan, founder of the Rinzai school:

Followers of the Way, if you want to get the kind of understanding that accords with the Dharma, never be misled by others. Whether you’re facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it! If you meet a buddha, kill the buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet an arhat, kill the arhat. If you meet your parents, kill your parents. If you meet your kinfolk, kill your kinfolk. Then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, will pass freely anywhere you wish to go.

This teaching is echoed almost exactly in  Storm Mine:

When you set out upon a journey, kill everyone you happen upon: kill your friends and your parents and your children, should you meet them on the road. Kill the topmasters, the firstmasters, and the holy men; only that way can you become free. Only when you have killed everyone will you become truly enlightened.

The difference is that Linji was speaking metaphorically, and did not carry a plasma pistol.

Dates and venues of future performances:

Tickets for both productions are available from Quay Tickets (www.quaytickets.com),

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Ralph McQuarrie was an illustrator and conceptual artist best known for his design work on George LucasStar Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), and the original Battlestar Galactica TV series (1978-79).

He also worked on Steven Spielberg‘s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), for which he designed the Mothership, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Jurassic Park (1993).

He died on 3rd March 2012. It’s fair to say he helped crafted the visions of a generation of children and the young at heart.

”Are you all sitting comfybold two square on your botty?”

Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of one of my childhood heroes, ‘Professor’ Stanley Unwin (1911-2002).

Unwin’s comedy was largely based around his invented language ‘Unwinese’, or ‘Basic Engly Twentyfido’, probably named after philosopher Charles Kay Ogden‘s ‘controlled languageBasic English – but whereas Ogden was motivated by a desire to make language simpler to aid learning and international communication Unwin’s was to delight his listeners with gobbledegook that almost makes sense.

Unwin has been described as the greatest linguistic innovators since James Joyce and this opening to his version of ”Goldylocks and the Three Bears” illustrates why:

     ”Now, once a-polly tito. You may think that doesn’t sound quite right. But believe me, once a-polly tito it is, and in this case it was Goldylopper’
     ‘Goldyloppers trittly-how in the early mordy, and she falolloped down the steps. Oh unfortunade for cracking of the eggers and the sheebs and the buttery full-falollop and graze the knee-clappers. So she had a vaselubrious, rub it on and a quick healy huff and that was that. So off she went, and she went trittly-how down the garbage path, and at the left right-hand-side goal she passed a [sniff] poo-pom, it was hillows a humus heapy in the garbage! But never mind. Erm… she lost her wail.’’

– Stanley Unwin, Goldyloppers and the Three Bearloaders

Unwin provided the narration for the B-side of The Small Facespsychedelic LP Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake (1968), telling the story of the dreamer Happiness Stan and his pursuit of the ‘missing’ portion of the Moon.

Unwin voiced Father Stanley Unwin in Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation series The Secret Service (1969) – but Lew Grade, in one of his many short-sighted decisions,  cancelled the show because he thought Unwin’s language would alienate American audiences .

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