Sunday, December 28, 2008

Deep Red, Lala Salama, Cup and Table

A couple of brilliant stories I listened to recently.

Pseudopod 117: Deep Red, written by Floris M. Kleijne and read by Ben Phillips is a chilling horror story that reminded me a lot of Stephen King's Misery. Some might think it predictable or reliant on too great a co-incidence, but I was able to let myself go and really enjoy this story. The horror is chilling, and Kleijne does a very good job of building up the same feeling of creeping horror that movies like The Shining by Stanley Kubrick use. Ben Phillips' execution (so to speak) is flawless. He and Cheyenne Wright are my favourite horror narrators.

Another favourite horror short story I listened to recently is Pseudopod 118: Lala Salama, written by Gill Ainsworth and read by Heather Welliver. It features black magic. The ending was creepy, but somehow not shocking. It seemed to fit, to show that in the end, she realised the warnings she had been given were valid; the magic was black.

This has been done before of course, but I was ok with that. Gill Ainsworth portrayed the black magic very effectively, mixing dream scapes and time warps in a very imaginitive way.

But my favourite aspect of this story by far was Heather Welliver's reading. She made me feel for the character so much - her voice was perfectly pitched: so happy when she announced the new baby, even though I knew it was going to go wrong.

The next story could well have been in Pseudopod too. PodCastle 20: Cup and Table, written by Tim Pratt and read by Stephen Eley. It's an Arthurian tale, my favourite PodCastle of all time, and in my top 5 of any Escape Artist story. The pure fancy of it all is astounding. Tim Pratt captured the very essence of speculative fiction within a relatively modern day Earth setting in a way that pushed all the right buttons for me and brough to mind a few others in a similar modern day almost sword and sorcery vein: Pseudopod 045: Goon Job (by G.W. Thomas, read by Ben Phillips), Pseudopod 052: That Old Black Magic (by John R. Platt, read by George Hrab) and Pseudopod 77: Merlin�s Bane (by G.W. Thomas, read by Ben Phillips).

The Aurthurian roots of this story give it an edge of despair, added to the horror of what the main characters are actually trying to do. The Table appears as an ancient, venerable secret and shrinking society that has essentially come to ruins. Its ultimate purpose having been waylaid by the vicissitudes brought on by the need for making money and the disparate goals of the latest members of the group.

My favourite misquote of the day is from the character Carlsbad, with the line: "That's it then. Only the evil in YouTube is keeping me alive".


Monday, September 15, 2008

This Weekend in Entertainment

The Deaths of Ian Stone was a promising but ultimately un-engaging horror movie. The initial premise is that Ian Stone keeps getting killed by some black spectral entity, and each time he wakes in another life, and I found this fascinating. It was what made me pick up the movie in the first place. However, the story becomes confusing as it tries to fill out a back-story for a race of spectral vampires that feed on fear - and it just didn't seem consistent. I wasn't engaged by the movie beyond the initial premise.

10,000 BC, a prehistoric normal man becomes a hero story that again looked promising - especially when I saw a preview of the special effects. But the story fell flat. I just didn't find myself caring about the characters. I stopped the DVD half way and looked this up on IMDB because I had a few questions in my mind... and found that pretty much every single detail of the movie was historically inaccurate. The metals, boats, mammoths, sabre tooth tigers, pyramids, and even the lands they crossed to get where they wanted to go.. all of these details were historically impossible for 10,000 B.C! I found it hard to suspend disbelief for this. Just like Gladiator or 300, some people might go away with this movie in the back their minds, informing just a little bit of their opinions on these times past. It is a little bug-bear of mine. :)

Street Kings with Keanu Reeves and Forest Whitaker. This was biggest disappointment for me this weekend. I usually enjoy Forest Whitaker's acting, and always look forward to Keanu, but the story sucked and the script didn't give them a chance to do their jobs properly. It is a bad cop makes good story, but there were too many holes in the plot for me. From the start, I just wasn't buying Keanu as a veteran bad guy cop when contrasted against the other weasels in his team. The motivations didn't make sense. Reeves was a bit of a "one note" actor in this, playing the depressed guy all the way through. Forest Whitaker was too nice to be the evil guy he was meant to be. And Hugh Laurie (House) was the most disappointing. Little more than an extended bit part - they used his character to wrap up the ending in a way that really made no sense. How the writers seriously thought that the whole plot of the movie could be construed to be House's plan is beyond me. Worse, his character was just a shade of House - as though they said to him "do like you do in House, only boring it up a little".

I also saw One Man with Steve Berkoff on Saturday night with Dad at the National Theatre. I loved his one man play in two acts. The first was Edgar Allen Poe's "Tell Tale Heart" and the second act a story of his own called "Dog" about a British soccer hooligan with a pit bull. He was brilliant, using mime to incredible effect to show both drama and comedy. I greatly admire the courage it takes to do a single person play - to maintain a dramatic monologue that succesfully draws the audience in and makes them forget the actor and focus on the characters - and this is just what Steve Berkoff did!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Men Martians and Machines

Men Martians and Machines (Classics of Modern Science Fiction Volume 1)
by Eric Frank Russell
Hardcover: 216 pages
Publisher: Random House Value Publishing (February 1, 1984)
ISBN-10: 0517551853
ISBN-13: 978-0517551851

Find this on Amazon.

A fascinating read! Interesting how dated the writing is. There are tentacled Martians as first order heroes, but no female characters. The narrator doesn't seem to have his tongue in cheek when referring to the only black character as a Negro. Every planet they go to has a challenging range of flora and fauna which they un-failingly get to have a right old punch-up with! Radio is still an advanced technology, as is plate photography. Morality is explored often in terms of how the intrepid adventurer's exploration impacts upon the cultures they find, and on the differences between the aliens they encounter and the humans and Martians doing the exploring - yet in every encounter they still drop a few mini-nukes on the aliens in order to get away rather than finding some less violent solution.

This was originally published in the 50's in serialised form in an SF magazine, and this fascinates me most - wondering how it was accepted at the time. The irreverence of the narrator is refreshing to me, giving the story a comedic style that doesn't get in the way of drama and the more philosophical musings. The problem is that the drama and more philosophical musings aren't as effective as I wanted them to be - something about the way they reveled whenever they dropped a few mini-nukes just bothered me.

Two particular elements I was very fond Of: Jay, the seven foot tall predecessor to Data. And the Martians: tentacled, chess-loving, they can't stand the smell of humans and need a lower pressure atmosphere than we do. The Martians really made the story for me - and I would have liked more just for them.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A review of "Atatürk - The Rebirth of a Nation", by Patrick Kinross.

"Atatürk - The Rebirth of a Nation" by Patrick Kinross. First published in 1964, the current edition is available from Amazon at this URL:

Paperback: 560 pages
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co (August 26, 1993)
ISBN-10: 0297813765
ISBN-13: 978-0297813767

I found this book to be a highly compassionate view of Atatürk's life.

Patrick Kinross’ narration is insightful and reads like a story; very different from a dry historical text presenting fact after fact. He draws a rich picture of the life of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in terms of the changing political, religious and social landscape of his country in the first quarter of the 20th century. Atatürk literally created the nation of Turkey from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire as World War 1 re-drew the political lines of Europe.

He gives the reader a very personal understanding of the intense sense of purpose and duty that drove Atatürk throughout his life, and also how it led to many contradictions in his life. Atatürk created a secular nation by first engendering the support of eminent religious authority figures, without telling them his aim was a secular nation. Atatürk wanted Turkey to become just like a “modern Western democratic republic”, but became a benign autocrat, leading a one party system where all representatives were hand picked by Atatürk.

Kinross begins with Atatürk’s birth in Salonika and traces his troubled early school years and enrolment into the Military Secondary School where Atatürk discovered himself as a soldier and was given the first name “Kemal”, meaning “perfection”. From his portrayal of Atatürk in his younger years, we are given to understand that Atatürk developed very early a fierce sense of dedication to a country he recognized as flawed and in need of change. He demonstrates an astounding prescience, has a sharp mind, a passion for rakı and debate, and an abiding abhorrence for what he saw as the role of religion in the decline of his country.

We follow Atatürk through the despairing times of World War 1, where Atatürk’s actions and leadership are nothing short of heroic. The insights he develops into the military and political situation of the time picks him out as a potential threat to his superiors, but also identify him as an invaluable commander. For many years he works in the background to develop a network of resistance against the self serving Ottoman authority. Instead of bringing about a change of government, he finds himself pushed to the side as several revolutionaries take the fore, become despots in their own right and are then torn down – such as Enver Pasha. “Enver Pasha killed Enver Bey” is a telling quote I remember.

Eventually the situation for Atatürk comes to a head when the allies of the First World War begin plans to dismantle Turkey and occupy the country. Atatürk, using all his skill and cunning as a diplomat, soldier and hero rallies a new line of defense that pushes the allies out of Turkey and forms a new government, the first Republic of Turkey.

I found some important subjects were left out or not given sufficient attention. There was only a passing reference to the swap of Greek and Turkish population in 1923. And although the Kurds’ role in the independence war was described in some detail and the conflicts between Armenians, Kurds, Greeks and Turks over land was much discussed, there was no evaluation of Atatürk’s attitude towards each group as a people or how this affected his actions.

At times, Kinross seemed too compassionate towards Atatürk, almost apologetic. The book made much of the contradictions within Atatürk, but rarely explored the darker side of his character. Instead, his actions were repeatedly explained or justified by his admirable sense of duty to his country. Nowhere was this clearer than in the portrayal of Atatürk’s involvement in the Independence Tribunals of 1927. These tribunals were brought in to punish the leaders of a Kurdish revolt, but were also used to summarily round up all of Atatürk’s political enemies at the time – including former friends and compatriots without whom the Republic of Turkey may never have come about.

I understand now, why there is still a deep reverence throughout Turkey for this politician and leader, Atatürk, who people still call the Father of Turkey. For he was truly the father of Turkey: he led a movement that completely and permanently changed the political and social face of the nation. Turkey changed from a caliphate to a republic, and that was just the beginning. After that, Atatürk gave the people a new language (yes, “gave” – he helped create it and personally taught it); laws were introduced changing the national costume; and women were made equal to men – all this in less than fifteen years!

I also understand that a major part of Atatürk’s legacy is the shock of such massive changes introduced in such an extremely short time – a shock that still resonates today. At least one of the multiple coup d'état in the latter half of the 20th century (after Atatürk’s death) were instituted by people who felt empowered to act by a sense of duty and revolution that Atatürk himself encouraged. The fact that religion lost its primacy under Atatürk also left his country with a deep and lingering conflict between religious and secular life that is at the forefront of Turkey’s political situation today. Much like present day Indonesia, religious parties have gained prominence and seek to re-assert religion as part of government.

I began reading this book on the plane trip home from my first holiday in Turkey to visit my partner's family. It took me six months to finish the book and has given me a much deeper connection with this beautiful country and the people I met.

If you are a student of history, or if you have ever visited Turkey and wanted to know “how”.. I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Brains are good

I don't know about you, but I like eating brains1. I love them best raw, dripping mush between my fingers as I bring them to my mouth and moan for more brains and a new victim. As such, I have been doing some study of late (see my previous post for example).

Here are some other materials I have dug up recently that give some really spooky visions of what it means to be a zombie.

Darker Projects' Alive Inside (opens new window) is somewhat of a walking zombie production itself. With only five episodes in around 2 years, I don't expect this to be updated soon. However, those five episodes are amazing: sound effects and voice acting are of a very high standard and the story is creepy indeed. It mixes together a few zombie elements I have seen before, such as not all zombies are slow and shambling and the curse is a virus, so you don't have to get bitten, you just have to die. However, the format is exciting. I can well imagine this turning into a much longer series if they can keep production going.

Drabblecast 36 begins with a real drabble story (100 words) by Kevin Anderson, Outrunning the Bear (opens new window). Naturally, it is short, but added with the other story in the episode (Pumpkinseeds, also by Kevin Anderson) it is well worth the entry fee (free!), even if you don't subscribe to the cast - which you should by the way. I won't give away the plot of those magic 100 words, other than to say, keep running!

Pseudopod 84: The Sons of Carbon County (opens new window) is an amazing story, written by Amanda Spikol and read by Cheyenne Wright. Well done Amanda, for a story that gave me chills picturing the protagonists down the mine, dark, claustrophobic, smelly. So little chance of getting out, and what do they face it they do get out? Their life as described in the first half was just as depressing as getting eaten by zombies..

Cheyenne Wright (the narrator) has the coolest horror story voice on the planet. I bet he would scare the pajama-bottoms off predator toddlers if he read them bed time stories - even a predalien child would go screaming for its mummy. His deep, growling voice adds an atmosphere all of its own... somewhat reminiscent of Sean Connery with a mouthful of marbles - that's a good thing!

Another Pseudopod zombie story, Pseudopod 037: We Are All Very Lively (opens new window), written by Richard A. Becker and read (again!!) by Cheyenne Wright. This is a story set after the big Zombie apocalypse, showing both what it was like as it happened and what it is like now. In this story, the zombies aren't the real scare, or the central focus. Instead, Becker slowly reveals to us how society slowly succumbed to the threat and this particular group found a way to live with a truly gruesome "work-around". I truly enjoyed the slow revelation of just how permanently screwed we all are. No 28 Days Later in this one!

Note 1: I don't actually. I hate brains, raw or cooked. My partner once cooked a 'brains omelette' for me. Fortunately, we had to step out just after she finished cooking it. When we returned, we found our very satisfied German Shepherd sitting under the table, on top of which was an empty plate. Thank you Sheila, thank you!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Drabble Zombie

I walk, though I am dead. I am vacant except for hunger. I linger in wait, in a most innocent door way until I spy a most innocent passerby. I lurch out from the shadow and moan in my depraved manner: "brains!" I want to eat her brains. I want to crack open her skull and scrape the warm grey flesh from her bowl-like cranium and taste that mush on my tongue, feel it slide down my throat. Hungry, I reach out for her head, but she casually brushes me aside and talks about herself. I am un-dead, and confused.

Listen to the DrabbleCast, narrated and produced by Norm Sherman. It will change how you think about short.

I have started with the old stuff, from ep 20 or so. My favourites to date are Drabblecast 23 - Momentum, by Kevin Anderson and Drabblecast 29 - Code Brown, By Dermot Glennon.