[ occasional pirate ], [ scribbly fellow ], [ hat devotee ], [ improviser ], [ cat dad ], [ sometimes unhappy in the brain ], [ AFOL ], [ consumer of eye-candy ], [ beer drinker ], [ enraged cyclist ], [ please talk to me about Transformers ], [ very bad at DIY ], [ enthusiastic duct-taper ]
This is a genuinely interesting novel. The set up is delightful science fiction: a rich entrepreneur figures out you can dive into Jupiter’s Eye to travel back in time. It’s something to do with cosmic strings. Awesomely they aren’t going back into the past to see dinosaurs, they want to determine if the so-called universal constants of gravity and the speed of light are genuinely constant, or if their having changed over time accounts for problems in the maths of physics and why they can’t get their faster than light ships to work .
The dinosaurs they encounter are a mere distraction for a handful of researchers to deal with. An awesome distraction. These are cool, feathered dinosaurs (proto-feathers), with intelligence and personality – not just mighty killing machines. There are very enjoyable action sequences with dinosaur battles; they shoot a lot of them in the head (it’s okay, time is like a river) and receive relatively few serious injuries which is a little surprising.
It’s a very science heavy book; the author has a broad spread of interests through physics and paeleontology which gives some vivid insights into cosmic science and fringe theory. I loved that. Each chapter ends with a brief discussion of the theories used and a list of links for further reading and reference. But the science dominates the dialogue for pages at a time instead of allowing for character development – there’s the tough one, the science lady, the weird kid who runs off to live with the dinosaurs (I like him) and some even tougher military men.
The science is fascinating, and it’s worth getting through the dialogue to the next brilliant description of dinosaur behaviour. If you like dinosaurs, you’ll enjoy this as much as I did. I downloaded the sequel today.
This short film and collection of poetry may not appear to be related, but bear with me.
Many years ago (it feels like it) I studied Philosophy at Nottingham University (I was and remain a dreadful student of any subject) which was certainly interesting if not remotely useful. A very nice chap was also in many of my lectures, and happens to now live in the same town near Nottingham that I do. We’ve bumped into each other in Sainsbury’s now and then. My other half (Marilyn) wandered along to the meeting of Nottingham Shooting People and lo – the world was smaller once again. Short story made long, Steve remembered himself to me via Marilyn and just after Christmas was kind enough to get in touch through MissImp and send me a cool book. What a nice man. This is a very late thank you! The least I can do is share one of his films with you:
Punchline by Steve Deery
Steve Deery‘s a busy fellow and member of the Shooting People network. He’s a writer/producer/director/odd job man of numerous short films. This Punchline .
This is a lovely little book (I like square and odd-format books) which is filled with charming little poems, which are allegedly the work of a real life pirate. They’re very funny and typically sharp.
I’m amusing myself by picking the book up every now and then and scoring me a few hits of pirate poetry. Brilliant.
The year of exhausting weeks continues… Last week was an endurance feat for me: five days of receiving training in preparation for training others in a system that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to and wasn’t the version we’ll get. I have no wish to go into IT-babble here, suffice to say that there is potential cluster-fuckery in the offing. I just can’t focus on what other people are saying for that long, let alone sit still for more than twenty minutes. I got through quite a lot of medicinal whiskey last week.
But that’s over, as is having to get up extra-early for the week. Hurray! By extra-early I only mean 7am, which I realise is much later than most real adults. I find it appalling. It was very much like having an alien weevil boring into my brain, or syphilis. I think I can survive this. On the plus side it drove me to read the next Harry Dresden book in a night. This next week will be equally exhausting, in strictly fun ways.
This week’s scribbles
Tuesday Fairground Misadventure
A short sci-fi-ish story that emerged in an early morning mind fit.
Wednesday Pulp Pirate 15
Another edition of the marvellous Flash Cast with a Franklyn de Gashe tale by yours truly.
Thursday Alex Trepan: A Cyborg Calls
Alex and Galaxy Team are back! I think this is going to be a three-parter. No promises.
Friday Film Review: Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (and Jason and the Argonauts)
A short review of the new documentary on the legendary film-maker and his most legendary film.
Updates on my thrilling life
The getting up early pretty much shot me in the head for getting anything done in the mornings. I did stare at my writing book though so it’s not like I did nothing at all… The new Alex has been mostly typed up and I’ll be posting it up in serial form again over the next few weeks. I find that to be exceptionally motivating for getting it edited and finished properly. It’s not as action oriented as some of the others, but hopefully it offers some interesting character insights for both Alex and the villains/heroes of Galaxy Team. I feel quite pleased with it.
As I mentioned, I have barely managed to speak this week let alone root about in my Lego drawers. I am currently engaged in constructing in miniature. The recent Lego mini-figure series have included such fantastic figures as the guy in the Godzilla and gorilla costumes and a number of awesome robots. It would be remiss of me not to build a mini-city for them to destroy. I’m still toying with building scale um buildings, and have a tendency to make them too big. More playtime to follow!
Woof. This week is the one to look forwards to! Last week was alright. The Fisticuffing on Tuesday was a bit strained as we had someone along who isn’t really in sync with the rest of the team. That chemistry and sense of unity feels like one of the most important aspects of improvisation for me at present. The Fisting team are performing this Wednesday for realz instead of rehearsal and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Thinking about it, much of last week was rather soured by the return of a seemingly endless debate about the value of preparation for improv. I can’t be bothered to rehash it here, since it’s only one person who just doesn’t get it- but the general issue is easily paraphrased: “if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. I’ve found that to be a steady constant in almost every area of life. A good show or rehearsal is preceded by preparing for the show itself (logistics and format) and preparing to perform in the show. That means we have to get five or more players on the same page mentally and energetically after and in spite of whatever else they’ve been doing that day or in life. All I can note for those who reject this principle is that they are almost always dreadful as a consequence of not warming up.
Thursday’s jam was a fun example of a warm up working. It was a fairly large group (16 I think), some of whom had rushed there, others had been out in the cold for a while. We warmed up. Thoroughly. Then played a bunch of focus exercises aimed at setting up a scene and using that initial flash of inspiration (thanks Alan Starzinski!) to set scenes up fast and hard. It paid off, delightfully. Most people had paid attention to the warm up, that ritualised meditative process which lets us all ditch the day and focus on each other. As a result the strictly two minute scenes we played for the rest of the jam were great! We started with a round of two player entirely open scenes (no restrictions or theatre sports games) and then built up through 3 and 4 player games to 5s. The last set started to get quite messy, but the 3 and 4 player scenes were splendid examples of cooperation and applied listening. Good work MissImp humans.
Despite the busy and mind-numbing week I should mention that I’m back into the collected Hellboy – volume 3 had some fantastic short stories in it. I really enjoy Mike Mignola’s combinations of folk tales and ghost stories, plus each gorgeously drawn frame is a joy in itself. I also finished The Jonah Kit by Ian Watson. I mainly remembered his name from the Warhammer 40K novels I used to read in my teens. This is a very different book! It’s a rather bleak lament on astrophysics and whale sentience, especially mankind’s interference in both. I think I enjoyed it. I definitely enjoyed, and inhaled within a day the tenth in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Small Favor (it pains me to spell it without the ‘u’). It’s a very reliable series of weary wit, magical action and monsters and book 10 is no exception; I enjoyed it even more than the last couple. I enjoy his treatment of fairies and the relationships they have with humans.
An odd trio of films this week (plus more Dexter of course).
First up: Django Unchained. I’m badly torn on whether I like Tarantino’s films. About half of them are okay (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill Vol.1), and the rest leave me cold (Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vol.2, Inglorious Bastards) so I wasn’t desperate to see Django. I’m glad I did, it was funny, excessively bloody, slightly too long (should have ended ten minutes early) with some really fine performances from Christoph Waltz (always brilliant) and Jamie Foxx (usually irritating) and the increasingly excellent Leonardo DiCaprio – getting older and uglier has made him a better actor.
Zero Dark Thirty is a strange film. I liked the main CIA investigator, obsessed with tracking down Osama Bin Laden. A lot of people die during her quest. The film skips forward through significant terrorist events, detainee torture and the final storming of the bleak little stronghold where he dies. There are some shocking moments but mainly it was the progress of the central character that I liked watching. Good film!
In a very different line, Monsters Inc. is also fabulous. I adored it when it came out originally (my god – 2001!), especially the wonderful short film that precedes it For The Birds. This is a reissue in 3D. I don’t care about 3D, I’ve yet to be impressed by its addition to a film and this was no exception. It’s still great and the wisecracking relationship between Sully and Mike, and their acceptance of Boo remains charming, funny and touching. Pixar at their height.
In an animal election, with only two candidates – would Evil vote for a misogynistic duck-billed platypus or a homophobic octopus?
The provocative enquiry begs a number of questions, probably more than can be fully dealt with in the scope of this essay. Nonetheless, two are key to a full contextual grasp of the deeper mechanics of the question. First, and perhaps most challenging: why are there are only two candidates in this animal election? Second, and perhaps less likely to be answered: who, or what is “Evil” and how did he get onto the Electoral Roll? These two elements are the twin brands of our bulb of inquiry which, when appropriately inflamed will shed light upon the overall question of the voting nature of Evil.
So then to our first subject. The animal kingdom is a vast family of diverse speciation occupying land, air and sea (never mind those Extremophiles, whom we can safely dismiss for their obscurity; there is little chance that the average voting sloth has ever inspected the deep sea vents in search of democratic representation – (C.L.Bibbons, The Political Whimsy of South American Fauna ch.3-5). A sensible commentator divides those kingdoms elementally; only two are well-regarded in their grasp of economics and foreign policy. The dominion of the birds is widely regarded as flighty and incapable of meaningful biomedical ethical debate (see Erickson and Wolff’s 1941 text, The History of Abortion on The Wing: a Gnomic Analysis of Kicking Eggs off Cliffs and Why do Ducks Rape?, Chucklethorpe and Mayberry 1876) as well as being held (arguably unfairly) in contempt for the lightness of their bones. Bats are frequently misrepresented as birds, but given their block voting in favour of any mammal standing we shall include them for the purposes of this discussion as land creatures. It is clear that no avian species could attain the heights of public office, not after the Pelican Fiasco or the purges of the Prussian Boobies (Fuck Me, That’s No Sparrer ch.2,5,9-13, Cockenheim 1976) and so the only sane candidates remaining are the denizens of land and sea.
Historically, seaborne politicians have been incoherent in policy, prone to scandal and are generally loathed by their electorate. The best example of this is found during the premiership of “He Whistles in the Dark”, the basking shark who miraculously achieved 76% of the vote and secured a majority for the Cetacean Party. They were elected on a promise of equal krill for those with legs and without. Due to a misunderstanding that krill might be a metaphor for basic animal rights, the realisation that this was not the case lead directly to the Second Whaling Crusade and set the Cetacean Party back a generation. (The Tuna Memorandum, or, How One Fish Killed a Bigger Fish by Armand Barraclough 2001). Fish are resolutely racist and their policies espouse nothing but a broad spectrum of hatred (The Marine Census 1992, Q3: Of the following creatures and species, whom do you most despise? 98% of respondents ticked all available boxes and the remaining 2% added further categories). Other sea-dwellers, crustaceans, bivalves and coral are politically inert, providing little but the butt of jokes (see most issues 1872-1996 of The Seabeast’s Gazette). By far the most astute political commentators have been drawn from the cephalopod families; there has been a cuttlefish in the cabinet continuously since 1845, excepting the cruel years of 1897-1901 (The Budgie Paradox: When Joey Nine-Hues met Tweety – A Memoir, Dan 1905). Octopuses and squid have always been strong contenders, despite the former’s striking homophobia. The morality of homosexuality in the octopus mindset has long perplexed onlookers and those hopeful for social reform and acceptance. The only conclusion that merits inclusion is that their homophobia is an aspect of intense sexual repression as evidenced by their frequent changes of colour and habitual forming of shapes that distinctly resemble skirts and cleavage (Rooster and Munthaggis, That Puss is a Nancy, p.45-78). Thus their vile beliefs have little impact on voters who merely dismiss them as egg bandits. Given their strong Home Office policies and otherwise progressive social agenda they remain favourite with liberals and leftists.
The arena of land provides a complex and fertile ground for political debate and dispute. It is widely asserted that “them (sic) cold blooded fucknuts couldn’t get elected if they ate their own babies, which they do” (Mammal Party Political Broadcast 1965-1989, restated in a different form 1992-95 “those cold blooded, scaly wankers…”) and the mammals have long ensured that any hopes they have in the early stages of electioneering are thoroughly dashed before the voters get anywhere near them (a single account of a Gila-Monster becoming the mayor of a small town is amusingly recounted in Charles Mendacity’s And Then He Ate My Gran, a Tale of Reptilian Woe, 1954). In recent years however, the vigour of the mammals’ slanderous (Tooth vs Claw 2004) statements and penchant for rabid advertising has quite had them hoist by their own petard when King Dong (gorilla candidate 2006) was caught on camera masturbating wildly before killing an out of favour mate and eating their two newborns. Since then there has been little credible policy or candidature from the land.
Given their ordinarily outcast and marginalised status, it has been encouraging to see a resurgence of the once-popular marsupial party candidate. After receiving a savage defeat in the early nineteen-eighties it was doubtful that they could regain their credibility. However, three years as a successful minor partner in the otherwise disastrous Jellyfish/Mink/Axolotl/Kangaroo government of 1994 endeared them to an otherwise contemptuous and disinterested people (“Politicians? I wouldn’t vomit into their children’s mouths” – popular internet meme 1999-2001). Monotremes have arisen as a dominant force in southern-hemisphere parliaments, where their generous diversity policies have granted rights to swathes of previously unrecognised and under-represented minorities (the battle for jerboa rights and the entangled freedoms of the short and long-nosed potoroos is memorably documented in the television series I May Look Like A Mouse, Or A Rat, Perhaps A Gerbil – In the Wrong Light, Yet I Am Neither Sir).
This has been received positively by the numerous, in fact majority of minorities in the sea and air kingdoms. This is doubtless due to some confusion as to the precise nature of their principal representative, the Duck-Billed Platypus. Enigmatic, freakish, “it’s a bird, right?”, poisonous are all common descriptions (I Can’t Believe It’s Not a Kitten: A Fond Guide to Deformities of Nature and Those Hated by God, Rev. P.Rugburn, ch.3 “Southern Monsters I have Eaten” 1890). The species is dominated by the males, who reputedly regard their womenfolk with contempt for abandoning their young in eggs rather than allowing an immature foetus to crawl out of their wombs and securely clamp itself with teeth and claws to a lactating patch like any other self-respecting marsupial (Half Bird, Half Fish, All Twat by E. Jaculie and J.Mannerism, 2003). Since no one else appears to understand how they breed, or believe that they lay eggs, the platypuses’ misogyny has become a charming eccentricity, brought out at parties to amuse the youth.
Given the political precursors and the unavailability of “the usual suspects” for the reasons given above it seems almost inevitable, nay predetermined that two pusses should take centre stage at last after generations of ambivalence and dissent. Quite which of the two candidates will prove victorious will depend, as always upon the amount of pressure that each can apply to their opponent’s supporters. It must be said that neither has a distinct advantage, although they technically share a similar core group of supporters. Violence seems inevitable at the polling station, with much snapping of beaks likely in debate.
Evil has long been considered the opposite of Good, but this is a trite comparison as espoused by religious groups and those “too dim-witted to look inside themselves” (You’re a Despicable Bastard, And That’s Okay: Five Ways To Be An Honest Despicable Bastard, K.L.West, 1987). A more reasonable analysis would examine a spectrum with good and evil as relative sliding scales upon it (Turngoose and Shatwind, vol.1-4). Such a design enables us to accurately assess the relative moral harms and implications of any given act. One needs merely to establish a baseline act from which to describe the spectrum, for example jizzing in the face of a stranger, or being punched in the face (Prestwich et Parkhouse, L’Experiments Sociale, 2012). The revealing results of such an exercise place all moral acts and decisions within a wholly whimsical and ostentatious framework of self-deception and personal benefit.
Once such an approach is taken it becomes near-impossible to assert another’s evil without calling into doubt one’s own goodness (Shrugs and Other Non-Committal Gestures in Justice, Pants Chocolate Home Secretary 1999-2002). In conclusion, the question presupposes that we will judge ourselves evil at the moment of voting when in truth we are neither good nor evil except in the eyes of others.
On election day itself whether homophobic octopus or misogynistic platypus takes office will depend upon who has crossed us the previous day. Evil lies with Good in our hearts always.
In an attempt at explanation… a friend who works in a university was lamenting the more stupid of their students’ protests that they had only had since November to write a 1500 word essay. This essay question was subsequently set when I boasted I’d happily write 1500 words on any subject, like a fool (I’d do it again). This was written in 90 minutes, obviously. Lazy little buggers.
Alastair Hayley’s face exploded into a Catherine wheel of fleshy spattering sparks. Belatedy, I called out a warning…
“Come along,” he’d said, excitedly chuntering about the fellow he had an appointment with, “it will be fun – and educational.”
Doubtful, I’d thought at the time; more so now. Even as the reptilian figure raised his weapon once more I was running away. For my part I am an excellent runner, adept at swerving, tripping and recovery, and taking sliding corners in a sliding spray of gravel. Good thing really, because our lizard chum was a very good shot – popcorn stands, coconuts and stuffed toys ignited and jetted their freshly liquefied guts into the air.
Hearts pounding (I like to assume he was also exerted) I made for the nearest building that offered something more than mere canvas for walls. I leaped through the doors and my heart, once so swift in its race, almost stopped as I collided with a twisted monster. Jealously I revised my initial description, for it was but myself, distorted in a glass. Knowingly or not I had led us into Charlie Burrows’ Mirror Madness. Lest the scaly fiend gun me down in the entrance I ducked into the maze.
My hands shook as I stalked past gross warpings of myself, illuminated with eye-blink flashes of light. Near the entrance I heard a hiss and taloned claws tapped onto the scuffed wooden floor. On my hands and knees I sought an exit, bumping against the mirrors, convinced that one would be a cunningly disguised door.
Presumably the presence of the murderous pursuer explained why Alastair’s friend had not shown up, or was not to be found. Quite how my old friend had become so embroiled in the world of insane conspiracies I’d never now know; and nor would I know what he had known that had drawn us both here tonight. Running on a tip from “a man on the inside” (of what he had not said) he had dragged to me to this innocuous meeting place in the old abandoned fairground. Suffice to say: it had not gone well, though the events had at least validated some aspects of his paranoid delusions. Perhaps he was briefly pleased, before being pleased became beyond him. There was indeed a lizard man trying to kill me and for all I knew his kind did rule the world.
Using my wit and the learning I’d accrued from many films I stood up suddenly, and lunged towards the reptilian assassin. Very likely, one of the problems with using films as reference material is the artistic licence employed throughout. When the lizard man fired at my reflection (a-ha!) it blasted the glass into a billion molten fragments. The expectations I’d had of it being a laser gun were not met and I realised that it was only wishful thinking and the influence of cultural memes which might have seen the killer cut down by his own scaly hand.
You’ll understand that I tried to run again, but to no avail. And so I find myself here. It is comfortable, granted, yet I lack the essential freedoms I am due. Zoos are for animals, not for people which is something I have so far failed to convey to our lizard overlords. Actually, this might just be a people pet shop from the looks of the reptile faces peering into the cage. I very much regret visiting the fairground that fateful night; I have ever been susceptible to peer pressure and now I see why we were so warned against it at school.
Life without Flash Pulp would be all but pointless. It’s my many-times-a-week injection of pulp fiction fun followed by a chatty jabbercast of pulp-related information about film, games and more. Sometimes it feels like my only contact with the world I want to be in. And sometimes, I can be in it too! This episode includes another worrying Spot of Bother and my own Frankly de Gashe short story The Primeval Entertainment. Seriously, give it a listen, then subscribe to the whole feed. That reminds me, I need to send them another tale!
For the first time in weeks Alex had achieved the underwhelming goal of being in bed before midnight. Sleep wouldn’t necessarily come anytime soon, but Alex wallowed in a rare well of psychic peace. Next door’s screaming harpies had flown away for a few days of relaxing shrieking at each other on a beach- the normal pitch of their rows and the slamming doors disturbed half the street. With luck they would both drown on holiday, or be eaten by some Brit-loving leviathan. The yapping dog on the other side had finally shut up; Alex assumed its master had finally come home and fed the poor thing, hopefully with himself. The grisly reassurance of these thoughts filled Alex with happy sunbeams and he stretched out in a few moments of contentment. To his great surprise, Alex slumped heavily after he turned the light off and without even knowing it (because that’s how it works), he was soon asleep.
Competing dreams tugged Alex back and forth like a rutting pushmi-pullu. He endured a bleakly-decorated office where two ladies of dubious acquaintance made him watch news clips of himself walking down a road, which led into a charity shop where he found a wallets he’d had stolen or lost over the years before glancing at a television and finding himself back in the office again. The circularity ground into him, as did the suspicion that he’d never lost any wallets and they were simply being stolen from him by the two women. Paranoia welled up in the dream and all the characters turned to look at him, and so did he, looking inward and seeing the stolen wallet for the metaphor it truly was. Alex felt he was on the verge of total comprehension when he was horribly, blinkingly awoken by the violent illumination of his bedroom. The dream broke off with a bleeding stump; his purpose vanished leaving only anxiety and frustration.
At first Alex suspected the harpies’ anti-socially sensitive security light of stabbing him in the eyes. Its real talent was in alerting everyone to the prowling intrusion of cats and magpies, and had notably failed to blind the darkly-clad man who made off with their X-Box. Alex had been amused. But even the fur and feathers detector wasn’t this bright – it was like a baby sun was burning through his day-repelling curtains. The duvet Alex hid beneath did nothing to reduce the glare. Oddly, neither did grumbling about his inconsiderate neighbours.
Then the sound of shearing metal violated Alex’ sleep-softened ears and forced him out of bed. “For fuck’s sake,” he muttered, kicking his feet into the wrong foot slippers and stamping downstairs, “fucking kids.” Alex wrongly assumed it was the “fucking kids” from round the corner attempting to break into his garage again. There had been nothing of value in there the first time; it was unlikely he would have filled it with gold and Blu-Ray players to enhance their nocturnal sport. The continued screeching perfected the sensory horror of being awake and the shearing tore deep into whatever it is that makes us shudder.
Alex successfully navigated the stairs, kicked off the slippers and sought them out again with his toes and he fumbled for the kitchen light switch. That was just reflex: the light was flooding through every window and hole in the back of the house. He snatched up the decorative ice axe from its nestling spot between other people’s umbrellas behind the fridge and strode boldly towards the back door, a string of mocking taunts dancing on his tongue.
Naturally Alex had left the keys in the backdoor, and had failed to lock it. The swift banging of key and grinding of lock gave him a moment to check that his pajamas were suitably unrevealing. He had no desire to be arrested for indecent exposure – the prospect of being arrested for smacking one of the little sods was fine and might even justify being woken up. The recently conscious mind being what it is, Alex had not yet evaluated the likelihood of burglars using floodlights for their surreptitious thievery. Despite the undoubted convenience of well-lit swag, the shroud of night would be somewhat ruined. So when he opened the back door and stepped into the yard his expectations were proven hollow and the witty barbs crawled back up his tongue and jabbed into his throat.
The source of the light was obvious now, as was the cause of the awful tearing sound. Far from being robbed, the garage had been crushed, ensuring that its worthless contents were securely sealed in a huge aluminium pie tin. It now served as a mat for the gleaming, insectile craft that steamed in its place. It glittered and shone like a cost-no-object Christmas tree that was intended to be launched at Uranus. Fins and vents and ostentatious art-nouveau swirling reflected the blazing lights mounted in elegant carriage lamps. It was like all the awesome spaceships from Flash Gordon (Buster Crabbe) to Firefly mashed together Alex decided. He stood gaping at it for a few moments, ice axe dangling from his fist. This was bad.
Is Alex doomed? Is it just his Mum? Will his bits pop out of his pajamas?
Ray Harryhausen is one of the best people in the world. I think that’s a fairly safe statement. Not only did he bring some of the most fantastical films of the twentieth century into being, but he’s been a dramatic influence on almost every other filmmaker who uses special effects. I’ve loved Clash of the Titans, Jason and The Argonauts and the Sinbad films for as long as I can remember. The intricate stop-motion process, matteing into the live action and the beautiful models all added something special to those films. Ray Harryhausen, Special Effects Titan is a huge understatement (that might be an overstatement).
The documentary consists of a series of interviews with Ray and many current directors and special effects technical folks (including Spielberg, Cameron, Nick Parks and tonnes of others) roughly following the chronology of the films and his earlier work. If you’re already into Harryhausen, you probably won’t learn much but there are many clips from the films and we see lots of the original models (and the attempts being made to preserve Ray’s extensive legacy).
It feels very much like a TV documentary or a student film. If I didn’t care about the subject I wouldn’t have been satisfied by the tacked together clips from other interviews and dodgy production values. I guess that’s fitting in some respects – most of Ray’s films are not great films, and certainly wouldn’t be remembered were it not for the incredible life he injected into those animated characters. It’s a shame they aren’t better scripted and acted.
Perhaps the most satisfying things in the documentary are the directors fawning over Ray and pouring out their effusive praise. I most enjoyed James Cameron (maker of the awful Avatar – a film only rescued by its remarkable special effects) declaring that Ray would absolutely definitely be using CGI if he was making films today, followed by a clip of Ray saying he would always rather use models, even today. There’s also some lovely footage of Ray’s birthday party and award ceremonies. I enjoyed it, but then I was always going to. It’s a fine complement to the (amazing) coffee table book Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life and Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years DVD.
Before the documentary, Broadway Cinema also showed Jason and The Argonauts, which is probably Ray’s best film overall. Due to a scheduling conflict we had to watch it at home the day before (still awesome). It follows the mythical tale of Jason fulfilling the prophecy that a man with one sandal shall come and kill the king of Thessaly because the king killed his mum, and off he goes to get the Golden Fleece. Splendid fun.
It features possibly the greatest ever battle with skeletons, Neptune and the clashing cliffs, Talos the big bronze dude, an unusually good script and a Hercules with magnificent hair. If you haven’t seen it then you will definitely have seen it endlessly ripped off since 1963 (in homages, as they like to call them). My favourite thing about it is the lovely cloudy overlays that Olympus has when we’re following the surprisingly affable gods’ interest in mortal affairs. It’s also notable for utterly failing to resolve the plot as the film simply ends a nice romantic hug and Zeus saying he’s got other stuff for Jason to do; he never does go back and kill the king. No one seems to care about this except me.
Wow, a very different week last week from the week before. I guess that’s normal, but I do find that many weeks feel much the same. That endless revolution of weeks into months and into years is a trend that worries me sometimes, but then I get sucked back into the routine and forget that I was worrying about it. It’s just like trying to remember to make an optician’s appointment: I forget it almost as soon as I’ve remembered it. Tsk. Anyhoo… this week was full of improv fun! Much more about that below, but it definitely shifted the balance from being exhausted because of work stupid to being trashed by the evenings. Victory!
Hmm, this whole up early / late to bed thing isn’t terribly helpful… Never mind, I have squeezed editing time in, and now that I’ve started the new Alex Trepan serial (even if it’s only for a few weeks) I shall be forced to attend to it! I’m vaguely pretending to myself that I’ll have a bit more time in the mornings but that’s clearly a lie. Maybe I’ll start with the automatic writing again (well, it’s close enough as I’m barely conscious before I get to work).
Busy busy busy. Last week we had two shows, a jam and a rehearsal, so like I said – that was the week. Tuesday was our last chance to iron out any especially bad habits and make sure the five of us in the Fisticuffs team were ready to try out Unspeakable Acts on a real (albeit tiny) stage. It was a fun practice. I know, I know, how can you rehearse for improv? It’s a question people ask a lot. Obviously you can’t plan what you’re going to say, and you can’t even plan what you’d like to do. Especially in a show like Unspeakable Acts – it feels even more unpredictable than other forms of improv I’ve done.
What you can do is build trust, which is only achieved by playing together and learning that you can rely upon yourself and your playmates to advance the story, provide interesting offers and support each other. If I’m playing with people I trust I feel great. We can also practice doing things and making extreme choices that we perhaps wouldn’t if we weren’t in a safe space. There are ways of starting scenes, scene formats that anyone would recognise from plays they’ve seen – monologues, split scenes, group scenes, committees, songs and interludes. You can make a conscious effort to look for the opportunities that a scene presents – most of those opportunities are given to you by your colleagues on stage, and you have to know them enough to step out and do something crazy, knowing they’ll back you up. It’s a tricky balance between doing and planning. Personally I find detail is my saviour – by tossing in a few extra words, some (apparently) unnecessary justification or description I later have a reference that I can return to and make something of.
I know two of our newest players had been feeling the tension and were getting a little nervous about the show on Wednesday. I don’t generally find that I get nervous about improv shows any more. I get excited about them instead. I find that is much better. Several years ago I used to get exceptionally tense, and would feel that in my stomach for days before a show, plus it would make me sleep badly and overall would almost be so bad it undermined my enjoyment of the performance. Not good. I finally got over that – although something new, or having to be somewhere different do give me horrid tension pangs.
That’s why I believe in pre-show preparation. I generally have producer type responsibility for our shows – that means having the bells, the mics, the pens, bits of paper, clipboard… whatever we need ready and available. That’s a good routine in itself for me, a list of stuff, the preparation of which clears out all the excess junk in my head – I know we have all the physical crap we need for the show, so I can focus on myself and the others. Getting to the venue ahead of time, sorting out any tech or logistics that need to be done calm my fluttering nerves leaving me ready to be ready.
All that paid off well this week – Unspeakable Actson Wednesday was Martin’s baby so I had zero prep to do other than figure out the lights when we got there. It was an enormously satisfying show. We were at our mini venue, The City Gallery, which has a tiny stage with one exit so it’s extremely confining but intimate. An odd combination. Martin, Lloydie, Ben, Parky and I did our stuff. We did three scenes, the first based on a very odd one act play called Riders to The Sea by John Millington-Synge. We got maybe a page into the script before abandoning it and sliding merrily into improvised weirdness. It became a tale about religion vs. science, Irish fishermen and mermaids, a boy who spun everything and priests in crisis. It ended with my fisherman character becoming a French merman and getting married. Beautiful.
It was a bit messy and very strange, but we got fully on track with Ridley Scott’s Gladiator screenplay. That worked out… differently to the film. Ben got a double role as Commodus and Maximus – both of whom were impersonating each other (which lead to the dramatic climax where he fought himself), with Lloydie as the hair-brushing Lucilla, Martin in most-loved character of the show, the quavering Tribuus and Parky and I were a pair of German barbarians (“Gutentag!” “Hallo!”) running away from, and towards the Romans. It was very good fun. For the third part of the show, the audience selected Basic Instinctas the inspiring screenplay. That became a very pleasing cop drama (the screenplay is littered with ridiculous descriptions of characters) with much mockery of cop racism and ended with a song. Lovely. We shared the fun of Unspeakable Acts with those who attended the jam on Thursday and much fun was had by all!
On Friday we returned to a favourite venue – Create Theatre in Mansfield. It is wonderful to play in a proper, dedicated theatre space and we all found that the extra room (we have no space at City Gallery and often little more at The Glee Club) allowed us to expand into much more theatrical scenes and characters than usual. I played a ballerina in a scene with Marilyn, which would have been impossible elsewhere. Parky and Lloydie did some amazing stuff in the second half, which was the longform portion of the show. I really enjoyed what Cat, Marilyn and I did as well, but the boys was tight. The first half was shortform and open scenes and I think it was some of the sharpest work we’ve done for a while. I felt very comfortable and chatty as compere and truly relished the space to bounce around in. I can’t wait to get back there again, and break more furniture in scenes.
I’ve been forced to dig back into my book cupboard… I’d excavated the first two volumes of Peter F Hamilton‘s Void Trilogy so that I could remind myself of what had gone on before delving into the third. Unfortunately I found myself lost within twenty pages of The Dreaming Void and have had to go back to the previous two books! It’s proving worthwhile though – a character we meet in the Dreaming Void turns up right at the start of Pandora’s Star. So I should be up to speed in, oh, 4000 pages or so!
I have an increasingly good feeling about cinema this year; last year was a bit patchy. This weekend we’ve celebrated being slightly less improv-busy by hitting the cinema. Hitchcock was great (in my head I keep calling it Hancock, which is not such a great film) – Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren do a wonderful job as Mr and Mrs Hitchcock, and I love the guy they have playing Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy). The story’s tight focus is on the relationship between Alfred and Alma during the making of Psycho. Loved it – watch it. Then we saw Warm Bodies with a bunch of mates – it’s a very effective 12A zombie film which balances the scariness of zombies (my god, the unending fear!) with a very funny and engaging romantic relationship that develops between one of the living dead and the real living not-dead. Frequently laugh out loud with plenty of tension. Hurray! I’ve also finally watched The Plan. It’s a spin-off film from Battlestar Galactica (the new series which I think is the best sci-fi series ever made). Although about three quarters of it seems to be re-cut footage from the series the remaining quarter tells the story from the Cylons point of view, explaining many events and adding even further depth to the show. It’s rather TV movie in style, but I very much enjoyed it. I may have to re-watch BSG (again) now.
I sat in silence. The watch, that horrible grisly thing that would not leave me, pursued me through the house, lay on the arm of the Chesterfield. Its vile anatomy seemed as if it were a broken spur of wrist protruding from the deep red flesh of the upholstered chair. Though it did not tick conventionally, as a clock of man might, I felt its uncanny hands pound through my pulse and the fabric of the house. I sat in silence. Around me the walls thrummed with dark animation. Shudders ran through the wallpaper, lifting the flowery relief images in waves of menacing faces.
I had not left the house in weeks and its presence oppressed me and constricted me. Blearily I pulled myself to my feet and staggered from the reading room. The hot breath of the house was as normal to me now as that of a dog one allows to share one’s bed. Its rank, organic stench barely touched my nose. The staircase loomed out of the hallway, spiralling upwards like gleaming bone – the spine of the thing that had inhabited my home since I first unearthed the watch from my grandfather’s attic. I staggered and rested my hand on the door frame, and yelped for the contact pressed harshly upon the wounded skin of my palm. It brought back to me that stumbling run from… from what? The watch, with its sharp bracelet that cut into me when I squeezed its ghastly living links. In fear I had tossed it into the drawer and locked it. The drawer where it would not stay. Even now I realised it was wrapped about the wrist I held up to the door. I was sure I had left it on the arm of the chair.
That awful night’s sleep, the dreams it had pressed upon me. I felt as if I had not slept since, and yet surely that is but my imagination for I lived still, if one could call it a life, stumbling about the body of this beast. A man must sleep, how else can he tell his dreams from reality? Without the sweet succour of slumber I led a drifting life, my mind and skin fluttering on the dead breath that stroked at my soul. I found myself at times lurching to wake from my bed, or a chair, or while mounting the stair or raising my head from a book. My life was being lived, but not by me. I merely borrowed it for moments when its new owner was absent. In these precious seconds when I was myself and could briefly grasp at the frame of existence I dwelled alongside I felt torn between horror at my impotence and dread of what my awful schemes my body might be engaged in.
Books and artifacts lay in rows and stacks along the hallway. I had been unpacking my grandfather’s collection in my not-sleep. The tomes were leathery and ancient. They hummed with malice and whispered sibilantly in my mind. Terrible things about the end of the world, about bleeding my memories away and worst, of reading the blood-inked whorls and sigils within them. I walked amongst those arcane horrors, piled to waist height throughout the house. I had no sense of the time I must have lost while I wandered absent from my mind, emptying the attic and the cupboards to produce this new labyrinth within the house.
As I drew past swaying piles of books I flinched, for their whispers grew guttural and glutinous, promising awful delights whenever my shoulder brushed their unhealthily hued bindings. I knew that I ought to be hungry; I felt weak and light headed, though that may have been merely the heat that sent shuddering beads of sweat down my back. The kitchen would be cooler, and with luck not entirely empty of goodness. The dull progress of my feet pulled me nearer to the smoothly tiled floor that broke from the threadbare carpet. I believed I might attain that haven (or so it appeared to my delirious and desperate mind). That was before I caught sight of the figure standing behind the staircase, blocking the way to my imagined sanctuary. Blackness enveloped me, as my eyes rebelled against me, denying truth to the monstrous shape I had seen uncoil from the underside of the steps. I felt its crenellated limbs reaching over me, its thorny fingertip touches seizing my dumb, listless body and dragging me limply, blindly into its embrace. It seemed as if I slept at last.
My other half and I got addicted to Lego minifigs when they started releasing them in series of blind bagged wonder. Obviously we’re not so daft as to just buy them and hope we get new ones – that would be to encourage this sort of child manipulating retail strategy. It is a cruel and exploitative tactic. Thankfully, if you’re willing to spend a few minutes hours fondling the package you can be a winner every time. My partner is especially skilled at this; it is her super-power. They are awesome cool and are just begging for sets of their own to play in.
The obvious starting place was the dude in the Godzilla costume and the various robots. So that’s where I started…
It got more complicated
Of course it did. Once I’d had fun making some small buildings I realised there were other cool combinations of bricks that would suggest different kinds of buildings and further challenges of fitting stuff together in unusual ways. Plus it was too small. I wanted more, more I tell you.
The little town is still too big for the minifigs to be in scale. I suppose I’ll have to do another one to get really tiny kickable buildings for Godzilla. I get easily distracted and just want things to be taller and have more… bits.
Oh well… we have many more mini figures to build scenes for. Unfortunately I’m starting to run out of space, so they’ll have to be dismantled – I’m not sure I can face that yet.
The hatch of the gleaming retro space car hissed open. Alex whimpered and dodged back inside his house; being woken up in the night was a bad start, but now it had become dramatically worse. There was clearly nowhere to hide effectively, except by running out of the front door which would only result in a pathetic chase culminating in his ignominious death in an alley. The shiny spaceship-car was unmistakably Galaxy Team, as was the landing. It would be a bloody death. Alex had watched the family of high tech lunatics take care of one of their own in proper gangster style – a memorable evening. He remembered every moment of the killing, especially when Man Ho’Tujsk gave him a big hairy wink and then strolled away. Being left to live and (not, very definitely not) tell the tale just wasn’t their usual style. It made him feel very uncomfortable; Alex had been curtain twitching ever since.
Alex dithered in the kitchen. He opened and closed the cutlery drawer. Stacked up his unopened post. Checked he was still tucked in. In a fit of nervous energy he put the kettle on and faffed a bit more. Gravel crunched outside in the ominous way that only gravel can manage and the light in the kitchen faded away. Alex stood in darkness, hefting the ice axe unconvincingly. Blue light poured slowly through the panes in the back door and soaked the kitchen tiles with a cool glow. The gravel crunched with excessive menace as if someone were grinding their feet on the scabby mat Alex kept outside the back door.
Next there came a knock on the glass; followed with slight hesitation by a second weaker tap and a more confident third. With each tap the lights flared back up and faded away again. A pause. The knocks came again, slightly harder and with consequently fiercer pulsing of the bulbs. Crap. They probably knew he was in. Probably because they’d seen him in his pajamas. Turning on the kitchen light would likely have reinforced this. Alex had made many mistakes, he didn’t feel he was learning from them. The third round of knocking was much louder and two of the flimsy halogen light bulbs exploded like miniature fireworks; the kettle boiled.
With a daring display of nonchalance Alex opened the back door which he had failed to lock. His grip was slippery on the handle and his mouth was dry. He managed a weak, “oh hello” as the door swung open. Before him stood the brilliance of the Boytronic Wonder. He seemed human enough at the top, except for the silver tendrils that ran beneath his skin, tiny lights winking in his neck. From there down he became steadily squarer and blockier, his t-shirt’s Nike logo drawn tightly over the odd protrusions and angles that bent and deformed his torso. His legs were full on wind-up tin toy robot and they shuffled awkwardly as if his key was running down. The Wonder’s eyes (one human blue, the other a terrifying kill ‘bot red) met Alex’ eyes and looked down, embarrassed.
“Oh, hello,” said the semi-human half-robot killing machine, “I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
“Umm,” said Alex, struggling for vocabulary in the small hours, “no, I was only sleeping.”
“Right,” said the Wonder, “look, I’m sorry about your shed-”
“It’s a garage, it’s just built the wrong way round.”
“-Garage then,” he turned to glance down the garden, his body revolved smoothly at the waist like Alex’ old Action Man. “Sorry about that. I just didn’t want to park on the road – it’s a bit too obtrusive.”
“Sure. Well, you’re here, I’m awake,” Alex stumbled into conversation, and waved vaguely at the steaming kettle. “Would you like a cup of tea?” Social conventions are there to fall back upon whenever one’s brain ceases to function; they navigate us smoothly through awkward conversations with doorstepping local politicians and help us to invite psychotic cyborgs into our homes. Well done good manners.
“Oh, if it’s no trouble.” The Boytronic Wonder’s eyes fell on the ice axe still gripped in Alex’ fist.
“Sorry. Thought it was kids,” Alex rested the axe against the door frame, “come in.”
Alex stepped back to allow the metal man to shuffle awkwardly into his home. He cast a worried eye over the 1930s ladder-back chairs which suddenly looked terribly fragile under the Boytronic Wonder’s reaching fingers.
“I’m a leaner,” said the Wonder, releasing the chair and settling back against the chimney breast. The radiator promptly buckled under the weight of his legs.
Reluctantly Alex closed the door and turned back to the kettle. Silence hung in the air between them like an ugly beaded curtain. Alex made the tea, with a minimum of teaspoon rattling or nervous eyeing of the cyborg’s reflection in the cupboard door. The last time they’d almost met Alex had been half-buried in rubble, able to only watch while seen the Boytronic Wonder levelled a ludicrously oversized weapon at one of his brothers and blasted him into a thin film of ex-personhood. Alex had every reason to be afraid, not least because he’d secretly recorded that encounter on his phone, and yet… Alex got the feeling that the powerful being destroying his radiator (and probably the structural integrity of his house) was the more nervous of the two of them.
Now that he was paying attention, freed from thought by the meditative ritual of mashing tea bags against the mug wall just the right number of times to make a perfectly average cup of tea, Alex noticed the waves of anxiety rippling out from the manbot. His unexpected guest was upset about something. That made Alex feel rather better, though a contrary thought that maybe the Wonder was just anticipating having to kill Alex skewed the calm into stomach twisting alarm. If total carnage (Galaxy Team’s usual style for everything from buying coffee to family disputes) were intended, Alex doubted that the only casualty would have been his garage.
He sucked in a quick breath and turned, fingers twisted awkwardly round the mug handles. Words died in his mouth once more as the Boytronic Wonder burst into tears. Sparks spattered and singed the lino as the tears flowed along the silver strips in his cheeks. Alex barely noticed the burning sensation in his knuckles as hot tea splashed onto the floor. Is the weeping just a ruse? Will Alex be summarily executed? Will his radiator need to be replaced?
Find out next week in Part Three of: A Cyborg Calls
These weeks are vanishing at a terrifying rate, and yet have that strange endless quality to them too. It’s confusing. The week before last, which was filled with splendid improv shows and wonders now feels like it was months and months ago. I blame work. And relativity. Frankly I’m exhausted, despite last week only being a four day effort. There should be a limit to how much frustration, bad communication and failures in decision making can be fitted into a single week. The organisation I work for has an unlimited ability to fail itself and its employees. Good skillz.
It is unfortunately making it rather difficult to get anything of value accomplished (I don’t just mean at work; that’s a foregone conclusion) – my mornings are spent staring at my computer, hoping that words will find their way out of my fingertips. Not to worry! We plunge onwards with the writing schedule!
This week’s scribbles
Tuesday My Grandfather’s House Part 2
Despair reigns in the house as the dreamer awakens.
Wednesday Shankulation – The Screamery of Angry Poetry
Yup, it’s been that sort of week – time for some more hateful poetry.
Thursday Alex Trepan: A Cyborg Calls part 3
Further night time disturbances and revelations!
Friday Film Review: Warm Bodies
A short review of the new zom rom com.
Updates on my thrilling life
As usual a simple three part story is starting to elongate itself. Yes, I’m afraid it comes as no surprise that A Cyborg Calls is now heading for four parts. Sorry! It’s just what happens when I start editing what I’ve scribbled. In all honesty I was suprised that My Grandfather’s House ended up in two halves. I’ve got some more bits of mock-Lovecraft prose knocking about and I aim to tie them into the ongoing ‘My Grandfather’s World’ series. I find them fun to write; there’s nothing quite like burying yourself in purple.
Plans, only plans. I was able to help a friend by finding a piece of Lego they needed. That offered marginal satisfaction. I’m getting some Lego in tonight though! Also, it really annoys me when people say “Legos”. It’s just Lego – these are Lego bricks. Jesus.
A quietish week at last, which is probably a good thing, although I find that I dip emotionally when I’m without a show to move straight on to. It’s probably also a reflection of my current work state – the fun I had gets washed away with disturbing power and speed. Maybe I need to get myself more shows to look forwards to.
Last week the Fisticuffs team had a look at a form which Alan Starzinski told us about – Tracers. The idea is that it observes the unities of time and space- everything that happens takes place within the same period of time, so it could be what’s happening next door, or on the other end of a phone conversation. It’s possible we’re too concerned with getting a story told throughout, rather than just following the scraps of scenes and narrative that emerge. It feels like you’ll never get a proper conclusion, which might be unsatisfying. I think we need to see one done though as it’s definitely harder than it sounds! Structurally it seems odd and the IRC is unusually little help with getting a better grip on it. Time to make our own thing up I think.
Gorilla Burger on Thursday was fun, but given the nature of the night I didn’t get to do much improv. Definitely need to perform more.
I love Pandora’s Star. The aliens have just invaded the Commonwealth and nuked twenty-four human worlds. We have five warships to counter them. We’re fucked. It’s postively thrilling. Will I be able to resist going straight into the sequel when I finish it?
Just the one film this week – A Good Day to Die Hard. Awful. Just awful. I loved Die Hard 4, it was really silly and had huge action scenes, and a sense of humour so I’m very disappointed. The delayed trains afterwards didn’t help, but have unfairly tilted me even further against the film. We also re-watched The Birds, which is somewhat slower and less good than I remembered. The overlaid birds in flight are hilarious though. The trailer is far superior all round:
I awoke to myself again, swaying and grasping gratefully at the handle of a door. It gave way under my weight and I near fell into the room within. The house’s energies had drained me and I collapsed, sweating coldly and trembling, gratefully into the chair set separately and centrally in the room. On seating myself I noted its perfect position amidst the scrawlings of arcane and improbably alluring geometries that spiralled outwards from its legs. Instantly I knew that I had erred, perhaps fatally. I felt appallingly passive, my mind leeched by the revolting appendages that lined the room circuitously, wending their labyrinthine passages through our reality and into the next. The tears they wrought in the walls led out to the room adjacent but between these hollow parcels of human comfort.
The gash across my palm that I had thought healed reopened and wept vitally down my hand and through the open cuff of my shirt, staining it with my essence before spilling down my trembling fingertips. The sight transfixed me, its drip drip drip hypnotic in its regularity. Idly I wondered how long I could maintain its metronomic sapping and how I would look at the centre of a pool of myself – inverted and converted into a glimmering sheet of crimson.
The steady mesmeric trickle stole my mind and it was not until my jacket grew grossly wet and dark against my ribs that I realised to my horror that it was not only the wounds of an occult origin that split freshly in the terrible womblight that sank and stole horribly through the fabric of my grandfather’s house. Attracted no doubt by the curious and horrifying objects of ancient power which he had collected for their ageless evil and concentrated in this ill-chosen room for slumber, or for sitting, as I had foolishly done.
The visions that pierced the brutally shredded brick and plaster (overlaid with eldritch paper detailing the swirled patterns of a madman) violated the shivering veil of sanity we habitually draw across the fearful nightmares that lurk breathingly beyond that damask rustling. That haze, normally only dissipated by the force of insurgent dreams too keen to fortify themselves with the fresh cerebral matter of our minds was here surrendered with insulting weakness and torn from the railings of my thought and being. I was naked to them, as the blood ran down and stained the beds of my nails.
As my strength ebbed and the awful light waxed ever stronger through the edges and corners of the room I grew aware of a lightness in my mind, detaching itself from the blackened pool which lay dying inside me, its dark vacuum fed by the expulsion of my lifeblood. It was as if I drifted above myself, I felt my skin roll past like an ectoplasmic illusion and as I became free of my flesh that womblight embraced me, rushing hot and sour through the dimensions of the room. Achingly bright it ran greasily about the encased limbs – they extended through the glass, the alcohol-soaked lumps attaining their true state, flexing and flagellate. The room felt to me alive and throbbed with unusual vigour, as I imagine my heart would feel were I trapped within it. Each pulse was the beat of my heart expelling another drop of blood into the crimson tide which playfully chased the graven maze upon the floor.
I was dying. I knew that, and yet it felt ripe with potential. The ceiling surged towards me, heavy with lines of force that erupted, extending in ridges like bone towards me. A moisture ran from the infernal edges of the room along the ceiling and flowed up and down the twisted pyramid that reached out for me. At its tip hung a bell shaped lump that swelled as I breathed my insubstantial soul breath upon it. The light said to me “Choose”. I understood the vibrations which were not sound nor voice, but like the rattle of glass in a distant pane. The bell shaped itself, growing translucent and icy. The liquid that ran up the pyramid dripped down into the glassy fruit which twitched and hummed as it filled up. The light urged me to drink. I looked back at my body, grey-skinned at the heart of a sea of red. I reached up and took the strange glass object in my surreal fingers, and drank.
I drank the pellucid tears of a dead god. They burned, raw and bitter in my mind’s throat, pulling me downward as they raced into my being. I fell from the ceiling, through the greying flesh of my corpus and landed behind my own eyes. The womblight dimmed and the ceiling and the room’s marvellous shapes rushed backwards away from me. With a hiss I felt the floor uncoil beneath me, and the blood I had lost reversed its languid exit, sucking back into the gash in my hand and the wounds in my side and face. So vigorous was the rush that I was pulled to my feet and stood upright, tingling as the blood re-entered my body. I swayed on my feet, and then fell, overwhelmed at the sound of my heart beating once more.
Some of my friends tell me I have anger management issues. After withdrawing the knife I remind them that I manage my anger very well. That’s what poetry is for surely, the expression of emotion using whatever words and noises we can, even if they are just an incoherent shriek.
I strive to rise above the mere bellow and twist the words into an appealing form (to me). It’s important that I don’t dwell for too long on whatever has enraged me (you know who you are), so this short form is great. It spurts out, and the suppurating wound left behind may eventually heal.
It can be difficult to find the right words when someone is crying in front of you. It’s still harder to console someone you suspect is going to kill you. “Oh,” was the best Alex could find for the weeping mechanical hulk in his kitchen. The Boytronic Wonder was trying to say something but the words were obscured by his incredibly undignified snorting, bubbling and fizzing noises. Alex awkwardly looked down at the mugs drippping scalding tea over his hands.
“Um,” Alex tried again, and proffered the Star Wars mug, “get this in you.”
The Wonder honked out a thank you and took the mug in one shaking hand. With the other he tugged a charmingly embroidered handkerchief out of the string of pockets at his waist and noisily blew into it. Tea spilled onto the floor.
“Why don’t you sit down,”Alex suggested. He pulled out the kitchen steps from the corner and deftly kicked them open. They stood a slightly better chance of survival than the battered dining room chairs.
“I’m sorry about this,” sobbed the cyborg, gratefully accepting the seat. Alex grimaced as the metal steps creaked and bent under his weight, settling into a more rigid and permanent structure. Alex took up a poistion at a safe distance and sipped at his tea. It was much too hot but was more polite than staring. He felt embarrassed for the man’s tears and figured he’d have to be the one to talk them out of this.
“So… Boytronic Wonder,” even saying the name sounded ridiculous and Alex cringed inwardly, “how have you been?” The sight of a the naked man exploding shot past Alex’ inner eye again.
“Please don’t call me that. I hate that name – it sounds so stupid.”
“It’s a bit of a mouthful alright,” Alex sipped some more scalding tea.
“Dad gave us such stupid names. I mean, I’m not bloody Robin, the Boy Wonder. Can you imagine being taken seriously? Batman’s bad enough,” he affected a high pitched female voice, “‘Hello Batman, how nice to see you again – black, two sugars isn’t it? And would the Boy Wonder like a croissant?’ You’d feel like such a dick. Just call me Si.”
“Cy? As in cyborg?”
“No, as in Simon. That’s what Mum called me.”
“Right.” Between them they were defeating Alex’ previous record of awkwardness, set when he tried to explain to his parents why he’d drilled three holes in his head.
“It’s nice of you to drop by Simon; I mean, it’s very – new, this dropping in for a chat. Is there anything I can do..?”
“Well who else is there to talk to? Everyone else we’ve ever gotten involved with is either dead, or,” Simon thought for a moment,”- no, they’re all dead.”
Alex really didn’t like the sound of this and was regretting asking at all.
“You know, I didn’t really see anything,” Alex began.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I don’t think Dad knows. We got Clive back, and that’s all he cared about.”
“Oh good. But there must be someone else you can talk to. Not that this isn’t lovely.” Alex felt he’d covered that well.
“Yeah – you. You’re not family. Dad would never understand.”
“Have you tried talking to him about how you feel?”
“God no! Jilly Lazareth tried that. We’re still finding pieces of her. She just wanted to go university.”
Alex pretended he still had tea in his mug and took a big fake sip.
“I liked Jilly,” Simon mused, “she had really nice hair.”
“At least you get out now and then,” Alex said, trying to get away from the topic of people dying. Simon’s blank look gave him a horrid trembling sensation in his stomach. “I mean, you’re here now…”
“Oh no, Dad would go mental if he knew I was here. I’m supposed to be silencing this policewoman in Leicester. Normally Man-Ho Tjusk would do it, but he’s got a cold, so it’s me. I was nearby so I thought I’d pop over, say hello, you know. I-” Simon broke off, tears threatening his circuits again, “I don’t want to kill people anymore. I just want to be normal.”
“Well, what’s normal anyway?” asked Alex lightheartedly.
“For me, this-” said Simon, tapping at objects on Alex’ kitchen table. A postcard vanished in a flash of flame, keys and coins magnetised and flew together in a clumsy orbit of Simon’s hand, and the radio turned itself inside out. Alex wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but was grateful that he’d never hear John Humphreys on Radio 4 in the morning again.
“That’s, um, a bit different.”
“Different?” Simon stabbed his finger back down at the table. Blue tendrils crawled from under his t-shirt sleeve and down his arm, the ends sparking as they pulled free of his skin and vanished into the crap covering Alex’ table. Alex was alarmed by the rage emanating from the cyborg, despite his pacifistic claims. Then Alex’ ancient sandwich toaster glowed blue, coughed out a cloud of cheese-scented black smoke and started talking.
“First thing we have to do is establish an escape route – no matter what happens we gotta get you clean away,” Alex stared at the machine as it babbled, “we need an extra door in here.” Hastily Alex reached out and turned off the plug socket – the thing was prone to overheating at the best of times. He switched his stare to Simon.
“This is my life, look,” Alex averted his eyes as Simon yanked down the top of t-shirt, revealing a hissing mass of shapes revolving under the clear skin of his chest, “I’m just an experiment to them, like all the others,” Simon’s eyes lit up from the inside as he warmed to the topic, the tears welling up puffed out into steam; the coins spun round is a wider, sharper circuit of his outstretched hand; his voice took on a metallic ring as he began to shout, “thanks Dad – this is what I am. A monster, a killer.”
The coins exploded like domestic shrapnel, burying themselves in the brickwork. Alex’ house keys thudded into the cupboard door by his head. Alex swallowed nervously and tugged them out of the wood.
”Thanks, I’ve been looking for those. Would you like a biscuit?”
Do cyborgs like biscuits? Is Alex’ sandwich toaster alive? How many parts will this story have?
Find out next week in Part Four of: A Cyborg Calls
Zombies are at once the most ridiculous and most terrifying of horror film staples. I was delighted by the original Dawn of the Dead, and genuinely traumatised by 28 Days Later. It’s a real love/hate relationship for me – the notion of a zombie plague is horrifying and yet I enjoy the tales of desperate survival. I like apocalypse in general; I suppose that’s the misanthrope in me. I have a tender side too, somewhere. Mainly that draws me to inspirational teen movies like Bring It On and Step Up to The Streets… I like a good romantic comedy too though.
So I was obviously going to see Warm Bodies, which at first glance is a total win for me – zombies, romance, comedy. Good. It made me instantly suspicious of the film though – we are frequently disappointed by trailers and the promises of Hollywood. Our primary zombie R gives us a bleakly funny commentary on his post-death zombie existence in an airport. He’s a bit odd, in that he collects all sorts of junk (like Wall-E. Thinking about it he’s a lot like Wall-E, except he eats people) and “lives” in an aeroplane.
It’s mostly R we follow as he goes on a raid for flesh with his zombie buddies and meets a girl. That’s where it gets delightfully weird and rather sweet as he falls in love with his captive date/lunch. That’s a very awkward developing relationship which is also very funny, and significant for the overall story. I really can’t say much more without spoiling it.
There’s an excellent balance of humour and horror throughout. It’s only a 12A so there’s nothing too gory, though it’s certainly suggested well – the bits with R eating brains and experiencing the lives of those he consumes is about as grim as it gets on screen. It made me laugh throughout and had a sufficient heart-warming awww-factor to satisfy my nicer side.
As you may have noticed dear reader I’ve been moaning about work a lot lately. Sorry about that. It’s the usual problem that work gets in the way of real life and that always pisses me off. When it takes up even more than its allotted 37 hours per week (plus travel time) that really does grab my goat and punch it in the gander. There’s been a slight lull (the consequence of actually being listened to for once [moan moan moan]) and so I got to take some emergency time off before I went insane.
Usually I’d take a long weekend, but I fancied a more radical/daft option to taking two days off – a midweekend. I took Wednesday and Thursday which gave me a two day week, followed by a weekend and then a one day week and another weekend. Genius. It’s been very nice. I haven’t done much other than sleep for 10 – 12 hours at a time and catch up a bit on writing and recording pirate stories. I highly recommend it.
This week’s scribbles
Tuesday Once Upon A Time part 1
A sad little story about deceit and despair.
Wednesday Lego Creations: The Castle Sprawl
A big messy heap of Lego with lots of mini figures doing their stuff.
Thursday Alex Trepan: A Cyborg Calls part 4
Alex’ learns secrets he would rather have slept through.
Friday Book Review: City of Screams by John Brindley
A short review of the intriguing young adult sci fi thriller.
Updates on my thrilling life
I’m still hammering the end of Alex Trepan’s A Cyborg Calls into shape as I go along. It’s possibly (definitely)my own fault for using an episodic structure on a story that I didn’t write that way originally, so I’m having to find new natural-ish endings roughly every 800-1000 words. That may or may not be working (you should let me know, otherwise I’ll keep fucking it up). One of the things I do like about writing like this is it forces me act on the story and I have longer to consider the consequences of the earlier episodes.
Having a midweekend was good – when I finally did wake up on Wednesday I immediately wrote a short story that I’d woken up thinking about. It’s a bit odd… I have to tamper with it a little and then give it to you in probably two pieces. I’ve also been fiddling with The War Alone Day One stories.
Tinker tinker tink. I’ve been playing with another small setup which is as yet woefully incomplete. I’ve also been trying to make a decent Prime motile (the aliens from Pandora’s Star) – I am less good at making things that exist than just putting bricks together until they make something. It’s a planning problem. Lots of pictures on Wednesday of the larger castle-thing I’ve been building, hope you enjoy that.
Yesterday I discovered that Tesco sold two things I liked at reasonable prices – 35cl bottles of Jura Diurach’s Own 16 year old single malt whisky for £12.95, and had the Lego Monsters series’ Vampyre’s Hearse for £18. I got both and combined the activities (while enduring Midsomer Murders). It’s a lovely, complex and clever model with some cool new bricks I hadn’t seen before. The mechanism for flinging the vampire out through the roof from his coffin is alarming to say the least, and scared the crap out of us when we tested it. I’m now off to get more from their sale…
What to report? Fisticuffs on Tuesday was wonderfully strange. It always is when you do improv with just the three of you. There’s no check, no balance and no audience to offer any cues. It gets weird, and I love it. We continued with Unspeakable Acts and repeated a play we’d done before which I cannot remember the damn name of. It’s terrible though, I can promise you that much. Being just the three of us gave an opportunity for some excellent experimentation with scenes and playing multiple characters.
MissImp in Action was on last Friday too. It’s a weird last Friday of the month for us as it’s before payday and feels weirdly early. So we only had a smallish but demonstrative audience. I was very happy with the team (Marilyn, Lloydie, Parky, David and Martin) although for myself I felt I only really contributed well in the second half. Oh well, that’s way the dinosaur roars.
I am finding that I’m at my best when I get a chance to expound and spin out a concept or just babble for a while. I enjoy the wild ideation. I need to find an opportunity to do that more. I also want more physical space. The Glee Club is lovely, but the stage is tiny and you really can’t do much in it.
I’m deep into the second of Peter F Hamilton‘s Commonwealth books, Judas Unchained (sounds like an ’80s band) and am utterly thrilled by it. I find it incredibly compulsive and was reading it until I finally turned the light off at quarter to three last night. I did squeeze one book in before continuing the series as a bit of light relief.
We haven’t been back to the cinema since the total clusterfuck that was Die Hard 5 (I can’t even be bothered to use its real title). I love action films – a good explosion cheers me right up. But I also want witty banter, fantastic stunts, a minor orgy of gunplay and really well choreographed fight scenes. Die Hard 5 had about half of that, but without the other half (or a decent plot, characters you gave a toss about or a screenplay better than Twilight) it failed miserably. Very disappointing. I shall return to only watching Die Hard 1,2 (rarely) and 4. My other half has reviewed it… unfavourably.
We finished watching Dexter Season 2 last night (before going on to a terrible Midsomer Murders episode) and I found it very satisfying indeed. The differences between the characters in the show and in Jeff Lindsay’s books are now much more concrete, and I think the TV show has the best of it. I’d just like to thank my Dad for getting us the seasons 1-5 box set for Christmas. We may go on to Fringe season 3 next, but I’ll need to convince my other half of that first…
Once upon a time there was a man who lived inside a box. It was not by choice, well, not on the part of the man anyway for who would choose to live within the tight and hard confines of a box? The man went mad, trapped, alive inside the box, its lid tightly nailed down over his screaming face, his hands and feet trapped by his sides (for his feet were removed with considerable brutality prior to his placement within the box). The feel of his putrefying feet may well have been some influence upon his waning sanity, as they slackened and oozed by his fingers and under him, where their lost juices soaked up through the meagre clothes he had been left before his incarceration.
Food and water were pressed down on him through a narrow tube which was slotted into a knot in the wood. If he refused them the water and food came anyway -a greasy layer of filth that accreted over his face and body. His hair rested in the muck and grew slimy and vile. His captor would not let him simply die; his crimes were too great for that. Instead he would suffer for as long as they could preserve his worthless life within the box. But it was not that that drove him mad.
Once upon a time there were three brothers who lived in a house by the river. By the house were huge, broad leafed trees that watched the river rush past, endlessly busy, endlessly alive. The three brothers were jolly, thoughtful men who spent their days tending to the animals, reading, and upon their arts. Many villagers came to them for aid, for their wisdom, their medicine and their company.
One day a man came to their door, desperate and sweating with fear and anger. His face told a tale of despair – his daughters, only eleven and seven, sweet children of golden hair and nature, had fallen into the river and he feared them drowned. The three brothers set out at once to scour the river for his lost daughters. The river was fast and wild that day and the already grieving man declared it hopeless. The brothers were not so hopeless. They forged into the river and set to work with their art, searching the river until the river told them where to look.
The currents had left the daughters cold and dead upon the bank not far from the brothers’ house. The man cried out that he would never more hear their gentle laughter but the brothers said “not so”. With hope and wisdom they carried the girls to their house and warned the man against despair. With medicine and art they revived the youngest girl, but the elder was beyond even their power.
The man’s face grew dark with anger and fear when he saw the girl alive once more. She shivered at the sight of him and cowered from his grasp. The brothers, wise, thoughtful and kind sought to calm the father, though they had now their suspicions. With a knife taken from the brothers’ medicine chest he killed all three. He found himself alone with just the dead elder girl, the younger had fled.
The villagers, to whom he turned listened to his story. When they heard the sad father’s tale of how he had lost his daughters to the river and turned to the brothers for their aid had found them with his oldest, performing unnatural acts of their art upon her frail dead form, they remembered their own dark suspicions, fears and jealousy of the brothers’ sinister charms. The three brothers bodies were hanged from the tree that guarded the gate to their house, in warning and memory. The little daughter was lost, presumed drowned, gone forever.
In all honesty, it’s lots of things all at the same time. I got very over-excited with having a new green base plate (just your standard 32×32). It’s been a long time since I had so much space to spread out over. I mainly remember the space sets with the craters and the road segments from being little.
It’s getting difficult to photograph – partly that’s because the kitchen lights are crazily not optimised for taking pictures, and also I’m a terrible photographer. Anyway, as you can see there’s quite a lot to look at here… Down at the front we have a decent knight fight and a lovely waterfall and pool. On the left is a more traditional sort of castle with various mini-figs scrapping it out. That leads up to a pleasing battlement being held by a Spartan, a Viking and a Legionnaire with a decent armoury at the back. That leads down to um, some stuff on the right.
Originally I’d intended the right hand side to be a Mayan/Incan temple because of the awesome mini-fig we got a while ago, but it mutated into an alien temple in the jungle (I watched Indy recently) with a sacrifice slab out at the front. I can live with that.
What’s invisible in the main photograph are the fun little bits inside. Roll out the full photo gallery:
I hope you enjoyed the pictures. I had a lot of fun making it, especially the numerous disasters where the base came away and huge chunks fell over. There was a lot of unbuilding and rebuilding in this one as I changed my mind about different sections. One day I’ll plan something…
“You know, we’re all different on the inside,” Alex feared he was sliding into cliche but its horrible inevitability drew him on, “that’s what makes us special.” Alex hated that he was spewing the same bullshit his own parents had used as they drove him to the psychiatric hospital, but he really didn’t need an emotional cyborg on his hands. His house was too small for someone that special.
“Special doesn’t tell you what silk feels like, special doesn’t get you friends, doesn’t get you girls….” Simon spat with teenage moodiness.
“In fairness, you don’t really feel silk anyway. Your fingers slide off it. Like a er, soft fridge. Normal’s just trying to fit in,” hearing voices and self-trepanation puts people off, “plus really normal people tend to be boring arseholes.”
“I want to be boring. I want to be liked.”
“I’m sure people like you.” Alex was skating on thin ice; it seemed plausible that no one liked murderous half robots.
Simon just stared at him with those weird mismatched eyes, the blue one went right though him and the red one, well, it just felt like a laser target. It probably was.
“Well, what about girls?” Alex rallied.
“All the girls I know are either family or slaves.”
“Not slave slaves. They’re just mindbent. It’s fine. They do whatever you want.”
Another awkward silence separated them. Alex shook the biscuit packet like he was tempting a wild animal. Simon took three bourbon creams.
“Well, there is this one girl,” he began shyly.
“Great!” (please don’t be anyone I know, or at least someone I won’t miss) “What’s she like?”
“She’s beautiful,” the cyborg crooned dreamily, “and strong and clever-”
“Less lovely. So what’s her name, how did you meet?”
“She’s Volupine Dementia and she held me captive for a week.”
Fuck. “The Volupine Dementia?” Because it’s such a common name… Volupine Dementia, legendary survivor of the nuclear blast that destroyed most of Sheffield when Alpha Strangemind discovered his powers and went underground. Legendarily insane and as dangerous as anyone in Galaxy Team. The instigator of the Nottingham Massacre, creator of the Cathedral of Sexual Death and reputedly the only person Galaxy Team can’t kill. Of course it’s the same Volupine Dementia, who else would this crazy kid fancy?
“Yeah… when me and Sally (you’d know her as Talon) infiltrated her lair because she was turning everyone in Nottingham into killer lust-zombies. Well, she caught us,” he gave a big goofy grin, “next thing I knew I was chained up and blindfolded and there was this gorgeous girl giving me electric shocks and asking me all these questions. It was wonderful, you know, just really talking to a girl. She wanted to know all about me.”
Alex was struggling to keep the phrases ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘what the fuck’ out of his voice and off his face.
“We talked for hours. I mean, she’d go off to do stuff with Sally too, but that was just cutting her head off, it wasn’t like our time.”
“She killed your sister?” incredulity was creeping in.
“No, nothing like that. She just took Sally’s head off and stuck it on a sex-eagle.”
“Well, that’s okay then.”
“Eventually Dad spoiled it all by having us rescued.”
“You must have been disappointed.”
“Yeah,” he blushed to a remarkable shade of red and lights twinkled furiously in his cheeks, “we’d been, um, you know, before the Beastlie Boys smashed the door in.”
“I’d really like to see her again. I mean, she escaped – obviously.”
“Obviously.” And went on to breed armoured tortoises which she unleashed on motorways.
“But, I don’t know how to get in touch with her,” he looked at Alex with an expression of hope and pleading that even spaniels couldn’t match.
“You want me to… find her?” No, this was awful. Alex could not be a matchmaker for the criminally insane. Simon looked suddenly defensive. Perhaps it was Alex’ tone of incredulity and horror.
“You have to find her!” the lights flared up and the toaster plug ejected itself from the wall.
“Okay,” Alex chirped as the frightfully important kettle began to smoulder, “okay, I’ll have a proper think about how to do that.”
“That’s great. You know, guys like us have to stick together. I’ll be really grateful,” Simon said, earnestness and desperation competing in his throat.
“I’ll see what I can-” Alex was cut off by a roar that passed overhead, shaking the windows and setting off car alarms all down the street.
“I think I’d better go,” said Simon, handing his mug back to Alex, “but we should do this again sometime. Thanks for the tea.”
With a cheery wave and an anxious glance at the light blazing through the living room window, he let himself out the backdoor and hurried away. His garage-crushing craft took off, and raced low down the back road. It disappeared from sight just as Alex’ front door shook under a pair of heavy blows. Sighing, Alex put down the mug and went to answer the door. He was totally unsurprised to find Man Ho-Tujsk glowering at him under the orange streetlight. He sneezed mightily and brandished his tusks.
“Oh hello, I suppose you’d like a cup of tea too?”
Will Alex snag Simon’s date? Do cyborgs dream of electric eels? Was that the end? (Yes it was) What happens next?