Wednesday, April 27, 2016


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, overall, seems to be a bit of an underrated story, or, if not underrated, a story that a lot of people enjoyed but seem to have forgotten about. It deals with concepts of reality and what it means to not only be a human being, but a being at all. It blends cynicism and optimism in a palatable and engaging way. It has a diverse set of characters with motives (or lack thereof) that you don't normally see in scifi. It's consistently funny in a way that's bleak or "dark" but overall innocuous. And most importantly - it's downright odd.

My first exposure to it was the movie, a long time ago. While the movie most certainly stands up today, it was more the "long time ago" part for me that had me a little perplexed by it. I didn't understand a lot of the concepts, like the Earth being destroyed for such a menial thing as a galactic highway, I couldn't get into that perspective and didn't like that idea.

A few years later I saw another scifi movie that upset me even more - Melancholia, a movie about our planet's annihilation. Only, that movie is much more of a bleak character drama leading to Earth's demise. I hated the idea but it later made me think of Hitchhiker's Guide again. It's not the end of the world, and if it is, it doesn't mean we never existed, that our lives meant nothing. They do to us, and in the end that's what matters the most.

And so I came around to "odd-fi", and I further left the concept that scifi can only be about ships and lasers. It didn't affect me in the way Blade Runner had, which opened my eyes to the overall genre being much more than the sum of its parts, but it showed me that scifi can be funny without being hokey, or cynical without being depressing. It gave me a great perspective on a widened galaxy of storytelling in the scifi genre as a whole.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Noir-fi and the Power of Great Fiction

I think Blade Runner may have changed my life, or at least, changed how I thought about fiction. The first time I saw it was not really anything special. I wasn't at a theater on a rainy evening, and it would be physically impossible for me to be there opening night. I just saw it on the computer one day, back when I was around 13 or 14.

A lot of people talk about how Star War changed their view on everything, and while that may have very well been the case with me, I had seen and absorbed Star Wars all my life, all the episodes, action figures, games, everything. But when I saw Blade Runner, I felt like I saw something I never had before. The kinds of stories I knew I could now tell, or even absorb, had changed.

I thought it was just about the ships, the blasters, the lasers and droids. But after seeing Blade Runner I knew fiction could be more than the sum of its parts. It wasn't just the universe, it could be a specific story in that universe, and it could be gut-wrenching and terrifying and moving.

I was taught for a very long time that science fiction and fantasy were never ever to be taken as seriously as period pieces or modern dramas or classic fiction.

Blade runner taught me how wrong that idea was.

I had found the holy grail and I didn't even know I was looking for it at the time. Blade Runner taught me that you don't need to hold the laser pistol up to the screen so the audience can see it's a blaster pistol, you don't need a wide shot of the ship landing because wow look at that it's a space ship. You can certainly do all these things, but you can also have a story about mortality, more poignant than any modern drama you'd seen in the subject. To see characters stepping outside of the confines my mind was putting them in, the moral boxes I had been taught everything was about. It wasn't good vs evil, it wasn't science fiction for science fiction's sake, it wasn't Star Wars, it wasn't Star Trek.

It was Roy Batty, an android moments from his own death by expiration date, saving a man who was trying to kill him.

Blade Runner was a very real, gritty universe, both in the book and on the screen, but it was more than that for both, it told me that creative fiction outside of our reality could tell stories that weren't just about themselves, not just about the morality of the characters we see, not just about good vs evil, but about our mortality itself.

Classic Scifi and You!

It would seem that a lot of classic scifi, at least in America, was born out of this idea of the "space race" we had with against Russia following World War II.

Much of the technology represented in classic scifi seems to be built around the stories themselves, and never really the other way around. Because of that, I feel as though the public was more accepting of scifi in that form, being more about space drama with a bit of action, a ray gun that looked especially art deco, a sleek and clean presentation of the universe that's being built around the story.

Cars, even, reflected this whole idea of the space age:

The rocket ship-like tails fins and chassis lends to this national idea of reaching the stars in a subconscious way, mirroring Japan's adoption of their own mechanical icon after WWII: the robot/android/mecha, which informed its national identity for decades to come as well.

So it would appear scifi had gotten a lift, pun intended, in America directly due to the fact that were were trying to get a rocket in orbit, and then put a man on the moon. The very gradual introduction of less fit and trim elements of scifi into popular culture speaks to that. After all, putting a man on the moon, or even up into space had seemed like science fiction enough to most people for a very long time, much like the fantasy of human flight before it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Tolkien: The Father of Fantasy

   Tolkien is the father of fantasy. He took myth and legend and superstition and wrapped it allup into a cohesive universe, the first of its kind, one that he worked tirelessly to make as real as possible by utilizing what we now refer to as "world building".

   A professor of English, language and philology, Tolkien's masterful manipulation of words and sound really helped to solidify his works, to make them more real even though they were fantastical. I've got a collection of his extended works including his Appendices and the Silmarillion, and it's really staggering how much of this world the man brought to life with his writing. From locations to factions to minor events to wars and creatures, he seemed keen on getting a little bit of everything in his world. He even introduced the idea of a world-changing event that reshapes continents and dooms particular peoples. He literally created just about every fantasy trope in one way or another, most of which are still derived from today, even sometimes without such creators knowing.

   I feel as though, if there is an afterlife, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien would be more than happy becoming a deity himself and shaping the would he wrote about for so long. He writing evokes the stuff of ancient myths but can come all the way up to a lighthearted fairytale sensibility if he so chose. For instance, much of The Hobbit is not particularly grim, and in fact, even incorporates some elements of humor or at least joviality. The very nature of The Hobbit is much lighter in tone throughout. Yes there's a dragon that murders people and yes there's a minor battle toward the end, but reclamation of Erebor pales in comparison to how dark Lord of the Rings' story is, involving a certain One Ring discovered by Bilbo and all the evil surrounding its power. 

In regards to LotR, a compelling concept arose after reading some of the extended Tolkien works - the fact that Sauron was once merely a lieutenant in Morgoth's army. That alone gives you some insight into how bad a dude Morgoth/Melkor must have been. And that's exactly the sort of stuff I find fascinating, the small details or changing of the guard in stories that really bring the mythos to life. And Tolkien absolutely succeeded in doing that, just look at literally anything with common fantasy elements and you'll see him.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Call of the Weird

   People have forgotten what made Cthulhu such a strange, and indeed terrifying concept. Cthulhu is not scary because he's going to come and destroy a city like Godzilla. He's not a giant monster that will wreck nations with a stomp of his foot. His terror is more subtle, more primordial a concept. The fact that a being can cause madness and deranged behavior simply by existing, by being near, relatively, to other creatures, its thoughts and dreams and nightmares echoing out from it and causing hysteria - that is what makes him terrifying.

   But people have lost sight of this. A lot of people don't understand what a subtlety is anymore in relation to horror. Horror has become a vehicle for instant-gratification, something our current culture seems obsessed with to an alarming degree. This is apparent in how big movies with "jump scares" got around 2003-2013 . Paranormal Activity became a phenomenon, and its tricks were all the same: something bumps or moves or screeches and we're supposed to get scared at that moment. Much of western horror seems to have taken to this idea, and while the jump scare is not in of itself a bad tool, it's something that can be used to incredible effect if it is utilized properly, but overstuffing any media with it becomes exhausting.

   Subtle, weird horror seems to escape creators, or studio heads at least, in favor of what makes money. Though there is hope, somewhat, for the sub-genre. Recently, a game called Bloodborne was released to high acclaim, which explored many, many themes found in things like HP Lovecraft's works or Poe's, revealing an immense primeval, otherworldly force of the mind controlling a plague of beastly creatures within a "dream". A recent film called The Babadook also took a stab at creating a strange fiction around its monster, that seemed come to life simply by the thoughts of those afraid of it, after reading about it in its book. Hopefully, more subtle takes on the sub-genre like these inspire people to remember that strange horror is perhaps some of the best, because its not bound to tropes we've become so accustomed to.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


   People often fear what they do not understand. That fear is what has driven us out of the days of survival and into the ages of enlightenment. Fear of the unknown has given us medicine, since we wondered why we ached and fell ill and died. Fear of the unknown gave us a round earth, mathematics, space travel. It's what has made us become more than creatures that live and die and never think about why it is they live, or for what is they live. 

   Unlife, or undeath, is a concept that is the manifestation of our greatest fear, our biggest enemy and our closest friend - Death. Death can be ugly, it can be a child half torn apart and covered in soot under piles of rubble in a war torn country. It can be a man slipping on the ice outside his door, cracking his skull open and dying instantly or a woman sick in her bed, holding on for so many months as she withers away. Death can be romantic, it can be a a woman in silk draped across her bed with a vial of luminous poison clutched to her breast. Death can be valiant, it can be a soldier turning to his comrades on some battlefield, bidding them follow him to their glory, their freedom and maybe their doom.

   Then what is undeath? It is a return to life by those who have perished in those ways above, and more. Of all the ways death manifests itself, it's the one true mystery. Is it forever? Do we feel it? Are we anywhere after it happens? Will we ever be again? We do not know, and so unlife is a kind of escape. For a long time it was regarded as monstrous. The popular opinion of Frankenstein's monster or Dracula or Nosferatu were that they were the embodiment of villainy. When in fact Mary Shelley's original message was overlooked: the monster, the undead being, was not the true villain at all, but rather those that sought to destroy it were. Likewise, vampires have molded into something we can sympathize with, beings who were their anguish on their sleeves, their thirst for blood. Something we connect with on many levels, as we're all victims to vice, to unhealthy desires. And as the world moves on, some things do not change, like the memories of a child passed away, crystallized, turned to stone in one's mind. These things speak to who we are, human beings living in a world that still doesn't care whether we live or die because that's just what nature is. Some day maybe we'll change that.