Last and First Men (Zik Zak Filmworks, February 2020)
Just watched Last and First Men (2020), an Icelandic sci-fi film by the late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson who sadly died two years before the film’s release. It is based on the 1930 novel Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future by British writer Olaf Stapledon, and rather than employing a typical film narrative, Jóhannsson chose to present a meditation on the theme, with Tilda Swinton’s voice-over combined with a haunting score and stark, black and white images of forgotten monuments shot in grainy 16mm.
Swinton begins by saying “Listen patiently,” and you must be patient, in fact you might do well to approach it as an audiobook with a visual montage. The images are of inhospitable landscapes studded with brutalist architecture and the iconography of an extinct race (us) set two billion years in the future.
It’s fascinating, somewhat hypnotic, beautifully made, and worth 71 minutes of your time if you need a quiet moment alone with Tilda’s voice.
My look back on my Warrior Women film marathon continues with a clutch of movies that I don’t consider terrible, but don’t meet many of my requirements either. For a detailed rundown of the criteria I imposed on this project, see Part 1 here.
The first four in this group actually pass the Bedschel Test, but are still lacking in anything resembling practical armour. This group also includes a cheat film, as I had seen Red Sonja back in the day (and had mostly forgotten it), but I got around this using an entirely unnecessary loophole, which meant watching it in Spanish on YouTube with a translated transcription on my phone. Red Sonja still feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity and merely a vehicle for more Schwarzenegger flexing (who reportedly regards it as one of his worst films).
I am currently in the first draft mire of a fantasy novel, bogged down by self-doubt and synonyms, but bravely wading on regardless. It’s the sort of sweeping epic that could get picked up and made into a second-rate show by a streaming service desperate for content, but my lofty aspirations aren’t the problem right now; rather, it is my need to educate myself as a writer. I generally avoid over-describing characters, but on two occasions I found myself writing about a pair of fighters and focusing less on their motivations and more on the amount of exposed thigh between their boots and Faulds. This had nothing to do with serving the story, and more to do with titillating 14-yr-old me and, after some revision, it got me thinking about the influences that led me here.
Born in the late sixties, my formative years were spent in 1970’s Britain, surrounded by page 3, Benny Hill, Carry On and Leela on Dr. Who. Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman was all the rage, and Caroline Munro was in everything I loved. Women could be warriors but, by thunder, they had to be sexy too.
The Robots of Gotham has nothing to do with Batman (much to the chagrin of one, 1-star reviewer on Goodreads) and everything to do with A.I. dominance on a global scale, with this particular story set in an embattled Chicago. The year is 2083, and the world is dominated by Venezuelan ‘peace-keeping’ forces and vast, God-like super robots. Uprisings have been hastily and ruthlessly quashed, and humans now go about their lives in an uneasy alliance with the machines they inadvertently created.
The story is told from the point of view of Barry Simcoe, a 30-something I.T. specialist and CEO of a Canadian company, who is visiting Mud Town to secure some deals. From the outset of the novel, Barry is caught up in a violent street battle involving Venezuelan forces and giant, murderous mechs. He barely squeaks out alive, and holes up in a hotel, which becomes the focal point for the rest of the book. As the story unfolds, Barry discovers an insidious plot to do away with a vast swathe of humanity to pave the way for fascist robo-leaders, and he must ally himself with a collection of well-drawn characters in order to reveal the truth and, most importantly, survive.
The Robots of Gotham is a solid debut novel, coming in at 688 pages in the chunky hardback edition, and it takes commitment to heft it, even with the dust jacket off. I didn’t have to strain for long though, as reading it was a breeze. McAulty’s writing skips along lickety-split and was intriguing enough to keep me engrossed, even during the ‘technical’ bits which needed a second read, as the first time all I heard was Charlie Brown’s teacher.
I’ve watched Rollerball (1975) at least a couple of times every decade since I first saw it on VHS in 1988. Before then, I had caught sporadic bursts of ultra-violence set to the contrasting strains of Toccata in D Minor and Adagio whenever the film was shown late at night on TV, and when my mum was unaware I was watching it.
It’s a great example of growing up with a film. We all have films that resonate with us on a personal level; films that we saw as impressionable teens and then revisited as allegedly wiser adults. With Rollerball, when I was younger it was all about skipping through the ‘boring corporate’ stuff and watching the games; reveling in the bone-crunching impacts, the frenetic energy and realism of the sport’s depiction.
In later years, as I grew out of my empathy-less youth, the party scenes laden with hollow bacchanalia and culminating in the tree burning scenes, and Moonpie’s inevitable yet devastating fate affected me deeply. Now, older, battle-scarred and tainted by the cynicism of modern living, it’s the corporate stranglehold on life that interests me, that and the knowing glances between every character in the film who seem to be working together to make Jonathan E fail.
Let’s get something out of the way. Being just shy of entering my sixth decade, I am officially what I used to refer to as ‘an old fart.’ Not sure how this happened, but I’m dealing with it with world-weary humor and longer attempts to get up from the couch. This also means that I’m not quite the young buck any more when it comes to video games. My hand/eye coordination is no longer sharp enough to get Lara to that seemingly unreachable alcove in the Bolivian temple, my reflexes have dulled to the point where fifth place in any race is a win in my book, and being trash-talked by a twelve-year-old, killing me for the umpteenth time while I try to figure out where I am on the map, has lost its glamour.
I became aware of No Man’s Sky when a trailer emerged from E3 in 2014, which proved to be enough to win the game several awards based on promise alone. In that trailer we gazed through the eyes of a cosmic explorer as they emerged from a cave into bright orange sunlight and traversed a landscape so exotically hued that all it was missing was Doug McClure standing in the middle with one sleeve ripped off.
Then the explorer dodged a few skittish antelope-types and rounded a group of towering dinosaurs before hopping into a small craft and blasting off from the planet surface. Moments later (which included zero loading screens) the explorer was in space, joining in a skirmish and zooming down to a different planet to pick off a trio of interstellar ne’er-do-wells. The whole trailer was extremely impressive due to its seamless game play, but it was the aesthetic of the video clip that really captured my imagination. The color palette and fanciful forms were a breath of fresh air compared to the modern penchant for dark and gritty™ and that immediately had me reaching for the nostalgia goggles.
Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way. There’s a new book in town called The Dark Rites of Cthulhu and I strongly suggest you buy it, if not in glorious paperback form, then as a Kindle edition. Hell’s teeth, shell out for a special edition and you could have your very own shoggoth beermat, something you never knew you needed until I just mentioned it.
I opened with this subtle sales pitch not just because I have children to feed, nor that I would really like to publish another book, but because I believe that my editor, Brian M. Sammons, and I have tapped into a rich vein that has been somewhat overlooked in this (some might say) Lovecraft-saturated landscape.
It cannot be denied that the cold climes of R’yleh have never been hotter. Mythos-based novels and anthologies have been materializing with the regularity of jellyish monstrosities drawn to a resonator, the well-received TV drama, True Detective, teased elements from The King in Yellow, which was a huge influence on Lovecraft’s own writings, and now rumors abound that HPL himself will pop up in a planned Houdini biopic.
This led me to a couple of conclusions. One, there would be a built-in audience for my planned book, and two, I would have to make my book stand out from the crowd. This is why, when Brian pitched his ‘dark magic’ angle, I leapt at the chance to pursue it.
A great many of the books in the market at the moment deal with the physical conflict between humans and the Elder Gods, and rightly so. The very nature of cosmic horror lends an epic quality to even the shortest of tales and hugely entertaining anthologies abound that place the Mythos in historic, contemporary, and even futuristic settings.