Friday, May 03, 2019

Easy, Chewie

It was sad hearing of actor Peter Mayhew's death yesterday. The Star Wars saga formed an integral part of the core of my early science fiction and fantasy fandom, and the mighty Chewbacca was at the heart of that.

When he was dressed as the 200-year-old Wookiee, you couldn't see Mayhew's face, just that fanged, sasquatch visage. Nor did you hear his voice; only the mishmash of bear, dog, camel, or whatever collection of critter noises was dubbed in as the language of Kashyyyk. And yet Mayhew was still there. Under all that fur, he managed to project a tangible personality for his character. The stance showed it, and the speed at which Chewie would whip around to snarl when angry, and the frustrated waving of the arms, and the eyes.

Most of all, the eyes. Behind the mask, Mayhew wasn't just tuning out and striding through the scenes towards a paycheque, he was watching everything — Chewbacca was watching everything. Without a recognizable word or twitch of facial muscles, Mayhew's eyes told us everything about what was important to Chewie, and how the Wookiee felt. When the Stormtroopers get too close on the Death Star and the binders come off, we see Chewie's anger in those eyes. When Han is lowered into the carbon freezing chamber on Cloud City, we see the Wookie's sorrow and helplessness. And when Solo careens blindly into the cell beneath Jabba's palace, we can see how overjoyed his furry companion is. Under what Rian Johnson described as "a ton of yak hair", Mayhew showed he was a genuine actor.

Star Wars and all its sequels just wouldn't have been Star Wars without him.

May the Force be with you, Peter.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 30 - Minister Faust Returns


Author and podcaster Minister Faust returns to lead the Invasion once again in the season 3 finale of Invaders From Planet 3! We talk about The Coyote Kings vs. the Myconauts of Plutonium City — his new, serialized novel — and his plans to unite all of his stories within the single, overarching MFU (the Minister Faust Universe). As part of this, we also discuss why he decided to keep this instalment in the adventures of the Coyotes in the 1990s, rather than bringing our heroes up to date.

Minister also shares some of his thoughts about writing, including mining old, half-developed ideas for material that can be refurbished and combined with other content into something new and compelling; how a writer decides when a story's time has come; and how deciding to publish a new novel as a serial, rather than a single, finished book, is a source of pressure, but also offers a lot of positive opportunities. He talks about the importance of letting the real world provide the conflict in a story, rather than its artificial elements. He discusses how to expand the focus of the story to give supporting characters time at centre stage, without losing the thrust of who the story is really about. And he explores the reality of being a creator in a world where writers (and other artists) have to consider expanding their work into other media platforms, and thus need to always be ready to make a pitch.

Along the way, we talk about the current Golden Age — or Gold Rush, as Minister suggests — of television. We also take time to debate the movie adaptation of The Martian. And we discuss why British TV productions are often more interesting and entertaining than their Hollywood counterparts.
Minister also teases some of his upcoming projects, including a novel about Dread Scott Jahplin (one of the supporting characters in The Coyote Kings vs. the Myconauts of Plutonium City), and a new novel called Shango, God of Thunder City.

Our interview took place in February, 2019, via a Skype connection between his headquarters at The Grand Lodge of Imhotep in Edmonton, and my studio in the lair of bloginhood, currently located beneath a small island in an ornamental duck pond in that new condo development just down the street.

You can learn more about Minister Faust and his stories on his website:
ministerfaust.com

And you can listen to his podcast, MF Galaxy, on various platforms, including his Patreon site:
https://www.patreon.com/mfgalaxy


To listen to Invaders From Planet 3, or subscribe, visit LibsyniTunes, Stitcher, Overcast and Spotify. Be sure to rate and review the show while you're there!


Let the Invasion begin!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

My Nominations for the 2019 Hugo Awards

Last night I got my Hugo nominations in with about three minutes to spare. With everything involved in my recent move, as well as everyday life, I just haven't had the time lately to consider the awards, never mind vote in a timely fashion. It was only the reminder email from the awards committee that came around that spurred me into action. To be fair, I didn't read as much new stuff in 2018 as I normally like to (consequently there are a large number of categories I've left blank), but I figured I'd nominate what I did read that really stuck out for me. Here's my two bits (listed, in each category, in no particular order):


Best Novel:

They Promised Me the Gun Wasn't Loaded by James Alan Gardner

Fire & Blood by George RR Martin

The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

The Night Lies Bleeding by MD Lachlan


Best Novella:

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson


Best Novelette:

(No nominations in this category.)


Best Short Story:

(Feeling really guilty about this, but no nominations in this category because I didn't read many new short stories in 2018.)


Best Related Work:

(No nominations here because, unfortunately, nothing that I read in 2018 really stood out in my memory [and, in all fairness, I don't think I read widely enough last year], and I think it's kind of in poor taste to nominate one's self, so I didn't nominate anything from my blog.)


Best Graphic Story:

(No nominations here because, although I read a few graphic novels last year, I don't think any of them were published last year for the first time — they were probably collections of comic issues published the previous year.)


Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form):

Deadpool 2

(No other nominations because even though I saw a few other new sf films in 2018, I didn't think any were award-worthy.)


Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form):

The Terror — "The Ladder"

Watership Down — "The Siege"

Castlevania — "The River"

Westworld — "The Passenger"

Sense8 — "Amor Vincit Omnia"


Best Editor (Long Form):

(No nominations because, sadly, I don't pay attention when a book is edited properly, only when it's edited poorly, and that's a shame because editors who do a good job deserve recognition.)


Best Editor (Short Form):

(No nominations. See above, although in the past I have nominated for this category if an anthology has been especially good; it's just that last year I didn't read any new anthologies.)


Best Professional Artist:

(No nominations. Didn't read/look at anything new.)


Best Semiprozine:

On-Spec


Best Fanzine:

(No nominations.)


Best Fancast:

The Coode Street Podcast

Radio Free Krypton

(Normally, I would have also nominated The Three Hoarsemen, but I don't think they put out four episodes last year. I also didn't nominate my own Invaders From Planet 3 podcast because, as stated above, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of nominating one's own work.)


Best Fan Writer:

(No nominations because nothing I read in 2018 stood out in my memory, and I think it would be in poor taste to nominate myself.)


Best Fan Artist:

(No nominations.)


Best Series:

(No nominations here because, at 3 or 4 minutes to the deadline and with a million other things on my mind, my brain just wasn't processing the rules around eligibility enough to make sense of them. In retrospect, there might be a series or two that I could have nominated, but it's too late to go back and change things now. Oh well. It's kind of a weird category anyway.)


The John W Campbell Award:

(No nominations.)



Now, whether enough of the rest of the voting Worldcon membership agrees for any of these nominations to make the final ballot remains to be seen (they often don't), but even if they don't, I think it's important to give a shout-out to what I think is the good stuff.

Good luck to everyone!

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 29 - Dan Schoening


Comic book artist Dan Schoening joins us for this episode of the Invasion. Dan talks about some of his genre first loves that influenced his decision to become an artist, including the 1980s video game Dragon's Lair, Disney's Alice in Wonderland, and various Saturday morning cartoons.

He discusses how he initially studied animation before turning to comic artistry, and how a project with Cereal Geek Magazine's James Eatock that ultimately didn't pan-out opened the door for Dan to work with IDW. From there, Dan tells us about working on IDW's Ghostbusters for the last seven years with writer Erik Burnham and colourist Luis Delgado. He shares his thoughts about having a team that can read each other's minds, flushing out the look of the Ghostbusters world by adding Easter eggs, how to keep things fresh and not get bored after a long story arc, and the importance of planning ahead.

Dan also teases a couple of projects he's got on the go for 2019, as well as his upcoming appearance at the Ghostbusters Fan Fest in June.

Our interview took place in late October 2018 via a Skype connection between Dan's home on Vancouver Island, and my studio in the lair of bloginhood, currently located in a geodesic dome at the bottom of a side canyon in the Valles Marineris on Mars.

You can find Dan's art in issues of IDW's Ghostbusters in your local comic shop, or on his Instagram page at:
https://www.instagram.com/dannyschoening/

To listen to Invaders From Planet 3, or subscribe, visit LibsyniTunes, Stitcher, Overcast and Spotify. Be sure to rate and review the show while you're there!


Let the Invasion begin!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Top 5 Terrible SF Movies with Great Musical Scores

When it comes to watching movies, there are few things worse than sitting through a colossal stinkfest of a flick and hating every minute of it, but then being drawn back to it — sometimes almost immediately — by an ear worm. Oh, sure, the plot was stupid, the dialogue corny, the acting perhaps laughable, and the special effects (if any) clumsy, but for some reason the director and producers managed to hire a composer that created music of the truest beauty to accompany it. Music that's so good, it forces you, railing against it with every fibre of your being but dragged back none-the-less, to rewatch that cinematic obscenity.

These days, it's easy to dodge the suffering of the rewatch by just going to iTunes (or wherever you get your music) and downloading the soundtrack or one or two particular pieces of music from the score. But even so, anytime you see mention of that film on Netflix or somewhere on the net, or hear about it in conversation, there's that little self-loathing corner of your brain that still reflexively wants to find it and watch it again, just for the music.

This is something that came to mind the other day when I was having a conversation with a friend about some of our favourite movie soundtracks, and who the good composers were. But there was a twisted part of me that examined the issue further, and had to separate out into their own category the good scores that unfortunately were married to great steaming shitpiles of movies.

Here, for your listening pleasure — and movie-going derision, are my picks for the Top 5 Terrible SF Movies with Great Musical Scores:


5) The Time Machine (2002 version)
I wanted to like this movie. I really did. When the buzz first started going around, and the trailers hit the theatres, I was excited. Finally the time had come when filmmakers had the special effects technology to do The Time Machine justice! And at the dawn of the 21st Century, HG Wells' story of a Victorian inventor's adventures in time, acting as a metaphor for socio-economic-political and socio-sexual commentary, seemed more relevant than ever. And then I went to the theatre and endured the stink that Simon Wells had shat upon the audience: Morlocks erupting from the soil like pimples; Eloi who were intelligent, compassionate, socially organized, and technologically sophisticated enough to build some pretty interesting housing, but who didn't have the will to fight back against their predators; a seemingly vindictive universe determined to see a young woman die horribly and repeatedly; Guy Pearce cast as the Time Traveller and somehow looking more creepy and alien than the Morlocks themselves; and Jeremy Irons as a pasty, rapey brain Morlock intent on breeding with an Eloi woman in spite of what appears to be millennia of speciation; and on and on and on.

And yet, Klaus Badelt's score for the film is a thing of beauty. Its main theme, played with in different ways throughout the movie, is full of wonder and sometimes sadness, but also a breathless exuberance which is perfect for a grand adventure that kicks off in the Victorian era.




4) Terminator 3 — Rise of the Machines
Another flawed film centred around time travel, Rise of the Machines was the sign that after the brilliance of the first two films, the Terminator franchise was starting to flatten like a Cyberdyne Systems cyborg in an industrial press (although I will give credit where credit is due: Terminator — Salvation was reasonably good, and the Terminator — The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series was absolutely amazing). Its supposed hero, John Connor, was whiny, Arnold as the titular terminator seemed tired, the absence of Sarah Connor dragged the film down, and, unforgivably, the action sequences were unimpressive.

In spite of all of all that, there was at least one track from Marco Beltrami's score that really stuck with me. Admittedly, most of the film's music was forgettable, but the "Radio" theme playing gently and sadly beneath the nuclear apocalypse at the end was quite touching, if perhaps a little on the nose. Certainly a piece of music I enjoy listening to every now and again.




3) Walt Disney's The Black Hole
Ah, The Black Hole, Disney's attempt in the late 1970s (when it was scrambling frantically in all directions to try to make good movies again — and failing miserably) to make a kid-friendly, science fiction horror movie somewhat inspired by Moby Dick and The Tempest. A glorious trainwreck of a movie so spectacularly awful for having plot points that made no sense, bad science (which can be forgiven in a sci-fi flick, but still bears noting), an ending (apparently made up on the spot at the last minute) that was confusing and weird and disturbing, a robot that kills another robot by essentially fucking it to death, and Ernest Borgnine flying around on a wire.

But it's not completely a lost cause. I loved the design of Space Probe I — USS Cygnus and (to a lesser extent) of the Palomino. The big mattes in the background were gorgeous. Robert Forster does an understated but very believable job as Palomino's captain. And then there's John Berry's big, powerful score that drags the listener in as inevitably as a collapsar. The main theme is a relentless dirge that's perfect for the tone of the film, while he also offers a rollicking score for the heroes, and even a sweet, brief little number at the end for B.O.B.'s death. Apparently there were plans to reboot The Black Hole years ago, around the time of Tron: Legacy, but they were shelved when Disney went on its Marvel & Star Wars binge. But if there's ever a movie that would be well-served with a remake, The Black Hole is it — as long as it would include John Berry's score.




2) The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
I hated Buckaroo Banzai. I should have liked it: a big, brassy, gonzo mashup of influences trying to bring a comic-book-esque, rock'n'roll, science fiction adventure to the big screen. But it was utterly awful. Peter Weller just wasn't the hero that this flick needed, and most of the rest of the cast fell flat (though I'll give credit to John Lithgow for doing what John Lithgow does, and for Clancy Brown playing — refreshingly — a good guy). I never want to see this film again.

But there's that score. A bouncy, synthesizered epitome of 1980s music I just fucking love. It's one of those soundtracks that becomes an instant ear worm, and after watching the film for the first time way  back when, I found myself whistling Michael Boddicker's theme from the end credits for days. And so did you. Admit it. You know you did. You probably still do from time to time. Now that I've made you remember it, you're probably doing it right now. Fuck, that's a catchy tune.




1) Krull
Let's all just agree that Krull was an abomination of a movie that probably set fantasy back for years in the eyes of studio execs who where looking to make big budget films. What was supposedly originally intended to be a Dungeons & Dragons movie became a sort of fantasy, sort of science fiction hodgepodge, crushed like a turd beneath the landing Black Fortress under the weight of bad writing, overacting from its lead actor, occasionally cheesy dialogue, and unforgivably shoddy special effects for its signature bad guy, The Beast.

I will grudgingly admit that Krull isn't entirely without merit. Some of the supporting players do their best with what they're given, it's interesting to see Liam Neeson and Robby Coltrane in early roles, moments with Ergo the Magnificent (the shapeshifter) and Rell the cyclops are worth watching, and I've always thought that every woman should watch the scene between Ynyr and The Widow of the Web in front of the mirror (Society tends to convince many women to feel bad about their appearance as they age — to think that others see them as ugly. This scene does a great job of showing the truth: when a man, or, let's be fair and say a woman too... when a person loves a woman, she is always at her most beautiful in that person's eyes. If only women could see themselves as their lovers do.). But what's inarguably magnificent about this botched cinematic effort is James Horner's score. It's a love letter to classical music, especially Gustav Holst, and shows Horner's abilities at their absolute best (even if, from time to time, there are bits in some of the pieces where it's clear he's reusing some of his earlier work). You can't help but be swept up in the rush of the main theme in the opening, and enjoy its resurgence later in the scene with the ride of the fire mares. Krull was terrible, but its soundtrack is a treat.




Honourable mentions:

Star Trek the Motion Picture: Not a completely bad film (I call it a 30 Minute Film — you can enjoy the hell out of the first half hour or so, then forget about the rest), but certainly not a good film. Jerry Goldsmith's score is very good though.

Alien3: Again, not a terrible film at all, but not up to the standards of the first two instalments in the franchise. Elliot Goldenthal's score was arresting though, and, at times, quite moving.


So what are the movies that you love to hate, but really, on some level, secretly love because of their musical scores?

Don't have any mixed feelings like this? Fine. You can go back to writing your operatic adaptation of The Vindicator.



Friday, February 15, 2019

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 28 - Farewell to the Herald of the Invasion, Mike Cleaver




Sad news: Mike Cleaver, a veteran broadcaster and the man who provided the opening voiceover for the Invaders From Planet 3 podcast — becoming the herald for our Invasion — died on Sunday, February 10, 2019. In this episode, we pay tribute to a good friend.


Let the Invasion begin!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Invaders From Planet 3 - Ep 27 - Nalo Hopkinson


Author, editor and professor Nalo Hopkinson joins us for our first episode of 2019. Nalo talks about her first loves in speculative fiction, including Harlan Ellison's "Shattered Like a Glass Goblin", Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain, and Kurt Vonnegut's "Welcome to the Monkey House". And she shares what it was like having the freedom to read what she wanted when she was growing up, with her library technician mother loaning Nalo her library card and letting her explore the stacks at work; and her mother and actor/poet/playwright/high school English teacher father letting her choose from their collection of books at home. We also talk about an early reading experience that didn't work out so well: her encounter with an Alfred Hitchcock anthology. And she tells us how her desire to become a writer was first sparked by a collection of Clarion short stories.

Our conversation then turns to the subject of diversity, with Nalo reflecting on Caribbean voices in the stories she encountered growing up. She talks about representation in speculative fiction, and the importance of seeing herself (or the effect of the absence of people like her) in the sf she was reading. She then discusses how this affected her own writing and her choices of how she populates her stories.

Next, we talk about Nalo's experiences working with publishers and artists to get the look of her book covers — and specifically the characters on them — right. She then goes into detail about what this has been like recently in her role as a writer contributing to the expansion of Neil Gaiman's Sandman universe at DC-Vertigo Comics. This leads to an examination of what it's like to step into a world created by another author and to make parts of it her own.

From there we move back to a discussion of what it was like to move from the Caribbean to the US and Canada, and how that shaped Nalo's writing. Here, she also reflects on her time working at Bakka-Phoenix Books, Toronto's sf specialty bookstore. Nalo talks about meeting sf legend Judith Merril during her time in Toronto as well. We also discuss what it's like in her current role teaching sf writing at the University of California Riverside.

Our discussion wraps up with a look at what Nalo's working on for 2019, including more House of Whispers stories for the Sandman comics, and her new novel that's in progress, Blackheart Man.
Our interview took place in October 2018 at the Surrey International Writers' Conference.

You can learn more about Nalo Hopkinson and her stories on her website:
https://nalohopkinson.com/index.html


To listen to Invaders From Planet 3, or subscribe, visit LibsyniTunes, Stitcher, Overcast and Spotify. Be sure to rate and review the show while you're there!


Let the Invasion begin!