Ender's Game – Orson Scott Card

We went to see Ender’s Game and thoroughly enjoyed it. The film isn’t in the league of something like Aliens. It’s a bit young/adult and there’s nowhere near enough gore for me. Still, it was enjoyable, and not too far from the original book. If it’s successful we’ll probably be seeing Speaker for the Dead, though, of all Orson Scott Card books I would rather see Wyrms.
I note that some in the gay lobby are calling for a boycott on the film because of Orson Scott Card’s (religion-based) bigotry concerning them. I’d heard about this before but never really bothered to look into it. I see now that it all stems from an article he wrote in 1990 that has all the justifications and twisted logic of any who believe in a sky fairy, and that in intervening years he’s gone into a fast PR reversal from it. Doubtless he has also made other comments elsewhere on this and, apparently, funds an anti-gay political pressure group. But in the end all of this is an argument he and his kind have lost (well, in civilized countries).

As I have noted elsewhere: if I limited my reading and other entertainment to the product of only those I agreed with I’d have missed out on some wonderful stuff (Aliens being a case in point). But then I’m not gay, nor could I judge this if Card was against heterosexuality since I don’t define myself by my sexuality. The closest I can get is: how would I have felt if he’d been arguing to make atheism illegal? Come to think of it I’d still have gone to see the film and I would still have read the books. Views like his are so far outside the Zeitgeist as to be irrelevant.
Henry Gee has some interesting stuff to say about this on his blog. I can’t say I’m surprised by the first sentence – SF conventions seeming to have become the home of much righteous prickery of late. Check Jim Braiden’s comment for a relevant quote from Card.

Mrs T.

Martin Durkin’s excellent documentary last night perfectly outlined my thoughts on the dangerous subject that is Margaret Thatcher. You can see it here on the Channel 4 catch-up site.

Many years ago when I received my first poll tax bill I of course did not like it at all. It was only in retrospect that I realised that there it was in black and white: this is how much your council, your police, your fire service … are charging to provide their services and here’s the bill. The knee-jerk reaction to this was to protest because of course it was all the fault of the evil Tories. I didn’t go to any protests because, unlike most of those throwing chunks of paving slab at council offices, I had a job to do. It was a stark reality check. The Poll Tax never went away and was just made more unfair by being rebranded Council Tax and then aimed at a target that couldn’t duck it: the home owner. No subsequent Labour government removed it. In reality it was as unfair as any tax to fund state-run organisations because you have no choice; all taxes are demanded with menaces. Which brings me to the 1970s.
A lot has already been written about how things were back then: just about everything state-run and inefficient, unions demanding ridiculous wage rises and striking at the drop of a hat, 33% and 83% income tax rates, rubbish piling up in the streets, endless blackouts, dead bodies going unburied and stacking up to the extent that one city even considered burial at sea, trains running a damned sight more erratically than they do now. However, one small thing can illustrate it better for people now: you didn’t even own your own telephone. We had the British disease; we were Cuba without the sunshine. Britain, prior to 1979, was under the dead hand of the state. And the British were sick of it, which is why Thatcher got in, three times, with majorities that today’s parties can only dream about.
So, Margaret Thatcher started closing down our industries and putting people out of work. She destroyed our country yada yada. Well, no, what she did was stop us having to subsidize moribund, unionized, inefficient, pretend industries that simply could not compete in the real world. We were living in the illusory world of twenty people building a crap car while hurtling towards us was the reality of one person and a series of robots building a good one. And yes, that did hurt and did put people out of work. However, that was because previous governments had been doing just what many governments are doing now with the financial crisis: kicking the can down the road. Reality was going to bite; it was just a question of when.
Margaret Thatcher destroyed our coal mining industry … except it was the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson (managing to restrain himself from kicking that can) who closed three times as many pits as her, but that was okay, because Wilson was Labour, and a man. Never let it be forgotten that the coal miner’s strike was firstly illegal because Scargill couldn’t get enough miners to vote for it, and was secondly an attack by Scargill, and other left-wing apparatchiks, on the Thatcher government. It was about who ruled the country: an elected government that won three landslide victories, or the unions. That man used the miners as cannon fodder and, when it was over, it wasn’t him on benefits, oh no, he just toddled back to his 1.5 million mansion.
Anyway … the interesting thing that Durkin documentary highlighted was that Margaret Thatcher fought the establishment, both Labour and Tory, on behalf of the working class. The Tory ‘wets’ didn’t want the working class to have social mobility because, well, shudder, they didn’t want the plebs having the wealth to move in the same rarefied strata as them. Equally, Labour didn’t want social mobility because shit, if the oiks toss away their flat caps, buy white vans or mobile phones and start making money, where’s the sense of grievance and the client-base that gets Labour elected? The very idea of these people buying their own homes or buying shares in companies was anathema. In fact the unions told their members not to buy shares, and were ignored. Both parties had and still have their total snobs. You can see this attitude reflected in the term ‘yuppies’ and in Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney character – this is the awful sort of thing that happens when oiks and plebs dare to rise above their station. Shudder.
In the end, of course, the dead hand of the state came back with Blair, Brown and the EU while, damn it, I would prefer to see people working in industries rather than as clients of the state – meaning either uselessly employed by it or on benefits – but how do you get round that? How do we get full employment in an increasingly mechanised world? A world which, in their way, the Luddites were right to fear? That’s a post for another time perhaps.        

The Hobbit (Part One)

Well, we went to see the first film of The Hobbit yesterday. I was a bit worried about it being a bit of an over-extended franchise but I shouldn’t have been. Converting a single book into a single film can be a bit dodgy because there’s always more in a book than in a film, and some of the best films have been made from short stories. I also shouldn’t have been concerned because it was Peter Jackson doing this. Some may have complained about the extended ending to the last Lord of the Rings film but Jackson was only being as faithful to the books as he had been all along.
I sat there for the best part of three hours utterly riveted. It was visually gorgeous, great fun, I enjoyed it immensely and, of course, Martin Freeman was excellent. Perhaps I enjoyed it so much because Tolkien played a large part in my formative years. In junior school I remember a teacher reading The Hobbit to us and the first book I picked up on my first visit to a library was The Two Towers, and after that I read LOTR maybe five or six times. Is it only readers of that stuff that get slightly choked up when elves first put in an appearance or when Galadriel pays a visit? Probably, but Caroline, who has read none of these books, very much enjoyed the film too. Highly recommended. 

The Windy Moon

I caught a bit of Who Wants to be a Millionaire last night and really wish I hadn’t. The question I heard was, ‘Which of these do you find on Earth but not on the Moon?’ and the choice of answers was: sunlight, gravity, craters and wind. I stood there with my mouth hanging open listening to two ‘celebs’ debating whether or not the Moon has gravity, then one of them stating quite firmly that there was wind up there. In the end they made the sensible decision not to commit to an answer and take the money and run.
Now, I really don’t expect people to know the names of the main moons of Jupiter or to even be able to recite the order of the planets in the Solar system, but a little basic scientific knowledge would be good. But then, I was showing a lack of basic scientific knowledge too because they couldn’t hear me while I was shouting at the television.   


Yesterday wasn’t a very good day. I managed to leave our freezer open all night and now it has apparently packed up, I dropped hot cigarette ash on a new blanket Caroline had bought in Crete, and then I had the horrible misfortune of watching Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

What a spectacular failure this film was. It had many superbly cool elements in it that should have had the SF nerd in me squealing with delight, but unfortunately they were delivered with such a lack of coherence I started to lose the will to live about halfway in. This was a bad film and now I will talk about why I think it was bad so, if you haven’t seen it and haven’t noticed the spoiler warning above, stop reading now. And let me point out now before anyone offers explanations: yeah, I probably missed picking up on some of the exposition. That was because I failed to care.
Where to begin? How about starting with an octopus creature removed from a woman’s body by auto-surgery? This thing started off at about the size of a human fist and in a matter of hours grew into something the size of a car. Did it eat the auto-surgery? This was something that annoyed me in the original Alien film. I later discovered that the original script contained stuff about food stores being raided, but that ‘detail’ not appearing in the finished film was a fuck up.
Move on then to the female this thing was removed from. Apparently, along the way, she acquired super powers that enabled her to run like the wind and leap chasms with her torso sliced open and then stapled together again. Perhaps it was the power of her faith that kept her going – the same faith that made her realise that the ‘engineers’ had invited humanity to their home world. Oh sorry, that was wrong. Apparently these engineers had left messages throughout human history indicating the position of some sort of weapons dump or military research facility. Why?
Why did the android infect one of the scientists (archaeologists, whatever) with the stuff from pots scattered inconveniently across a floor like alien eggs? Because his delicate sensibilities were offended? Putting aside the sheer silliness of this infection turning said scientist into an octopus seed carrier, can I just point out that frying him with a flame thrower seemed like a rather extreme and irrational response? But then none of these people were behaving rationally anyway and no motivations were clear. Why did two of our intrepid explorers stay in that building? To get rich? Or to provide us with the convenient cliché of the idiots who wander off in the territory of monsters? Why did one of them then suddenly start treating a creature that seemed a by-blow of a snake and a flatworm as if it was Tiddles the family cat?
What was going on with that fucking big head? Yeah, I can see that the need was felt for a rehash of scenes from the Alien films with talking heads scattered about, but come on. So, this engineer’s head, severed apparently for a couple of thousand years and failing to decay, gets somehow zapped into life, bleeds a bit, bubbles up like an accelerated boil and then explodes. Why?
Then we have one of the cliché idiots coming back to the ship after having his snake pet wiggle into his mouth. He’d undergone a similar transformation to flame thrower man but in his case, instead of turning suicidal, he turned psychotic and started killing everyone. Why?
Now let’s look at the ending. Along the way our intrepid heroes have learnt that underneath that building is an alien ship apparently full of bioweapons to be used against Earth. How they learned this is a mystery. Apparently, the all-knowing Alien films android cipher learned this but I didn’t spot him telling anyone earlier on. These weapons are to be used to clean the slate to ‘start again’, so he later told super woman. Why would you want to spread something across Earth that seems to generate all sorts of fast evolving life forms that are as hostile to you as anything else? Now, I could think of explanations for this just as I could think of explanations for so much in this film. I could write this as an off-shoot of some war between two factions of the engineers. But that’s not my fucking job!
Moving on… super woman runs back from the launching alien ship and, over suit radio, tells the captain of the Prometheus that if the alien ship gets away there won’t be any Earth left to go back to. This guy is then apparently so convinced he decides to be a suicidal hero by crashing Prometheus into the alien ship. His two crewmen go with him because … well because obviously you at once decide to kill yourself at the babbled behest of someone with a torso of steel. Where they on fucking drugs?

This film was a colander of plot holes, undeveloped characters who did stuff without motivation (and who I failed to give a shit about), crap story-telling, and Alien films clichés and rehashes. It was visually beautiful and special effects were superb, but we’re past the time when the new gobsmacking stuff like that was enough because now everyone can do it and it’s time to return to the real foundation of such entertainment, which is story-telling. And finally, and most annoyingly of all and most sad, it could have been brilliant. 

Very disappointing.      

Downton Abbey

Just before we headed back from Crete, Greek TV was showing episodes of various British (or English speaking) TV shows. They had Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs and Wallander. I avoided the last of these because I didn’t want to see all the emoting, but watched the first two and enjoyed them both. Back here we borrowed the first series of Downton Abbey from Caroline’s parents and have nearly watched it all the way through.
I know it probably doesn’t do much for my street cred but I’m enjoying it immensely and want to see the rest. Nice one Mr Fellows. 

John Carter of Mars

Well, I watched John Carter with mixed reactions. It was visually gorgeous with its landscapes, cities and weird flying machines (which bore some resemblance to the things in Cowboys and Aliens) and the creatures were spot on. I loved the Tharks which often seemed to be better actors than the humans and the star of the show had to be Woola which, but for the fact it was a six-legged amphibian, was the spit of a Staffordshire bull terrier my brother once owned. At times I also got a bit of a lump in my throat because this was John Carter of Mars from the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs which were some of those that introduced me to science fiction.

However, I didn’t like the interplay between Carter and Deja Thoris. I felt the urge to giggle inanely and hide my face in embarrassment. I found them both unconvincing and frankly feel that the arch baddy would have been better cast as Carter, while the princess was just eye-candy. A lot of the acting seemed B-movie and flat, but then that might also be down to the directing.

The jumping was plain silly – yes Carter had Earth muscles and was stronger etc. but him jumping half a mile while carrying someone was ridiculous. Now, I can’t remember how that was in the books and it might well have been some of the silliness of them coming through… Also, were metal and stone somehow weaker on Mars? I can’t remember.
Did the books have too many faults that could not easily transfer to the modern age? Were they in themselves just too silly and dated? I don’t think so. I live in an age when fiction from my formative years is appearing on the screen with the required CGI. I still think the first new Spiderman movie is great, Conan the Barbarian couldn’t have been better and better cast (I read the Robert E. Howard books about the same time as I was reading the Carter books) and Lord of the Rings left me gob-smacked. 
I did enjoy this film, but would I have enjoyed it without the nostalgic connection in my mind? In the end, without that connection, it would have been a film consigned to the category ‘it was okay’ which, of course, is not the result you’re after when you spend 200 million.