Sunday, 28 February 2016

The Sound Of Breathing.

I have spent quite a bit of time in hospitals off late. I have been getting some acupuncture treatments, part of a regime of different things, a combination of drugs and painkillers and things to help with pain management. My osteoarthritis can be a bit of a pain, literally, in my home countries damp climate. No wonder the Romans did not bother invading us. They thought it too rainy in Northern Ireland and the people made poor slaves cause they were surly and always fighting...No change there.
           But it is not my own visits that prompted this train of thought. Some one I love and care about has been very ill and has been confined to a hospital bed. They are bearing up with great courage and dignity but it has been very hard for them. Not just the treatments but the time spent in wards and in the hospital bed. Every one helping, The Doctors and nurses do their best in the situation but their tasks are many so there has to be a degree of the impersonal about it. It is like they are holding up lights in dark hard places and the dark is always on the fringe. Hospitals are bright and even stark places and everything feels artificial.
            Time passes at a different rate. At least ones perceptions of it does. Hospital time. The illusion of drag when things are dull. Not enough time when things are scary. Life at the coal face. Have you ever sat with someone as they slept. Time in free-fall. I was listening to breathing apparatus. The sound of an air pump at the speed of a lung inflating and deflating, a chest rising and falling. A machine soundtrack that mimics the sound of a living breathing thing.
             What a truly terrifying thing an artificial man would be.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

A Prophecy And A Bog Beast.

Watched a Great double bill the other night. Just me and a bag of jelly babies and two treats from the seventies. One drive-in monster movie classic from 1972 and the other an eco-horror show from about 1977. Saw both in The Shamrock Social Club years ago. Surrounded by chums and hoping if I kept a low enough profile the bouncers would not throw me out for being under age. Yes, that is how long ago I saw them. When I was about fifteen or sixteen. Too young to be served in a bar but I was brass necking it almost every week to see these horror movies; Horror Express, Kingdom Of The Spiders, Food Of The Gods, even The Exorcist. I found the spider movie the most disturbing. A tarantula crawled over William Shatner's face. Terrifying. And I also seem to remember he had an alarmingly large belt buckle holding his pants up. That might all be a distorted memory on my part and the product of a damaged brain.The thought of all those spiders though, Some of the characters did not even react to their inbuilt arachno awfulness with the ferocity I would have expected. The hardy western types treat these gruesome eight legged nightmares as though they were little more than house mice.Were I in their position I would whip out my gun and shoot myself in the head before becoming a side order at the feast of The Kingdom Of The Spiders.
            One of the things I absolutely loved about The Legend Of boggy Creek was how the director used actual characters from the story to portray the events they themselves were involved in. Non-actors pointing out such areas where their two prize hogs were carried off or the spot on the creek where the lonely bog creature stopped to wash its feet in the freezing creek. There is some quite haunting photography involved through out and also long panning shots of melancholy marsh lands and spooky bogs where everything that moves will bite you. I believe this movie was shot as a drive in movie treat, drive-in always sound so iconically American to me. Something that Richie Cunningham and his friends would do off an evening. As timeless as an american ghost town or a pinball machine. Thereis a scene when the "villagers" all get together with shot-guns and hounds to hunt down the beast which has been terrifying the local populace (The town of Foukes poulation; about three hundred.) It is great scene, straight out of Night Of The Living Dead or The Crazies. Two other movies I saw in the Shamrock social Club way back in the day.All the posters for these movies were written in big black markers, and cello-taped to the walls of the club. Hand written by whatever committee member happened to book the movie so mistakes could be made or titles could be misunderstood. For instance The Diary Of A Mad House Wife turned out to be something of a disapointment. And The Crimson Gang turned out to be a movie called The Grissom Gang.
            Still,kept us off the streets I suppose.

The Implausible Team-Up.

The Game was a foot and the foot was less than a yard. Go figure, when destiny calls one must do ones best. Remain at all times thoroughly modern and do not be afraid to call a spade a spade even if it does look more like a shovel. Deadpool and Captain America. Now there is a most improbable super-hero sandwich particularly if the filling is a mercurial Irish fop. Er, that did not quite turn out the way it sounded in my head.
            Or perhaps it did.
            It all felt like one of those Bizarro Days when everything you know to be real is stolen and replaced by exact duplicates.
            Deadpool showed me a few tricks with his weapons of choice and I demonstrated my default position for ultimate stress situations;immediate self destruction. It is not a worldliness that drives me to assume this position just an overwhelming sense of fear that borders on hysteria in the face of danger. They say the brave only die once and that the coward dies a thousand deaths. I can tell you they are also out a fortune on underpants.
             I thought Captain America was a nice counter point to the sheer madness of Deadpool. A stoic figure braving a hurricane of insanity. Not unlike my own position in this barmy world of ours. He is a sheltering Joshua Tree whilst I am a prickly little cactus one can squeeze for juice in a desolate landscape.

Who Goes There?

Came across a copy of the novella by John W Campbell Who Goes There in a charity store and got quite excited and picked it up. It is a story I had always meant to read having first seen The Thing From Another World one night as a child.(  the film, not a literal visitor from another planet.) The very famous and much regarded movie by Howard Hawks that probably features quite high up on the lists of favorite films among many science fiction and fantasy fans. Actually I would guess it has a broader appeal than that by virtue of just being a great story. One of the great "base under siege" stories. A group of isolated human beings being threatened by an utterly hostile life-form they can barely understand which will not compromise, which will settle for nothing less than their extinction. The chap I bought it off seemed almost as glad to see it as I was. "I did not see that", he said regretfully."I always wanted to read that." he went on. "I'll let you know if its any good" I waved happily backing away with my book. One can never be too careful. Some collectors will go to the most extreme lengths to complete collections. Who goes there? Me goes there..
              I could barely believe it was written in 1938. It felt to me as though it could have been written yesterday. It felt so fresh and strong. The imaginative leaps the scientists are forced to make in their confrontation with this being from somewhere else felt thoroughly modern. Finished it in no time off course it is only a brief nightmare novella but it is a beautifully composed one. Full of authentic descriptions of life at the most extreme and imagined threats by persons or things unknown. I listened to a wonderful production of it on Youtube. A radio play version that works very well. It is so self contained with a ship in a bottle feel to it. Even though that ship feels like The Flying Dutchman. Seek it out as well as a fantastic reading of it with music on the same Youtube channel. With the John Carpenter sound track. Oh it is moody...
Apart from many Doctor who stories which carry this theme The Howard Hawks movie The Thing From Another World could well be the well spring which spawned my fondness for base under siege stories. A group of smart people, not necessarily your typical action heroes, find themselves isolated and having to use all their smarts to stay alive. In this case to preserve their species from an alien attacker so unlike anything they have ever experienced it verges on nightmare-like. There is a scene where the crew of the station find themselves in a bunk room awaiting an attack from the hostile alien entity. The tension builds as it draws closer and closer, Suddenly it is framed in a doorway. a terrifying and unknown quantity  that threatens to destroy them and their civilization. The soldiers defending the base throw buckets of gasoline over the creature and set it on fire. It howls and thrashes about. The heroine protected from the flailing creature and the arcs of flame it throws off only by a thin mattress she uses as a shield. I doubt very much if you would be able to film this scene in quite the same way today. It is all happening right there in front of you. You see the "stuntman" in alien costume being doused in gasoline and then set alight. Whompt!Right up he goes. With arcs of flame 
scouting about the cabin as the creature writhes. There is a very real element of risk that communicates itself to the viewer. I remember being dazzled by this scene as a boy. I was right there in Antarctica with those brave scientists and soldiers. total suspension of reality. Although in my version I always shoot myself before the alien can get to me and root in me before fruiting in an explosion of gore.Great Stuff!
John Carpenters version of this story is great for a whole different set of reasons though.

Feeling Kinda Fungi.

                                                                (From my sketchbook.)
found a puff ball mushroom at the bottom of my garden. An odd looking bulbous mushroom that coughed and spat a gust of what looked like talcum powder when pressed. All I could think of were The Hootii from the Doctor who novel Love and War.The horrible Hootii in that great book by Paul Cornell.When the time comes for them to assert control over whatever life form they had infected they cause the host body to burst into a stream of spores.Ghastly and shocking and in the context of this story..heartbreaking.
            I only recently noticed that they actually get a mention in the story set on Karn; The Brain Of Morbius. When Tom Baker was at the very height of his powers and the show was just about the best show on the planet Earth. A situation which has not changed.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Like Clockwork.

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise De Pompador; the woman who stole The Doctor's heart. Actually that is not fair; she is more like the woman who charmed, warmed and wooed the heart of The Lonely God ( As The Doctor was known on some distant worlds). This was the woman who shook him out of his self imposed sexual stupor and it was time for him to learn to dance.
           The Girl In The Fireplace was one of those amazing stories that makes one wish Doctor Who could be like this all the time. I do not mean that it should be heart breaking all the time but that it should be a celebration of concepts and storytelling  and be a seamless marriage of both. At the time I asked myself Who is this Steven Moffat?
             Well I guess we all know the answer to that by now.
              On the night of transmission a friend of mine recording it on my behalf (it was one of those very rare for me moments I did not watch the episode upon transmission.) missed the closing seconds of the episode so I never got to see the name of the starship the clockwork butchers hailed from and thus did not understand their reasons for pursuing this particular woman through her personal history.
When I discovered later the power of that explosive hook I could only sigh as comprehension dawned. Yet to be honest there was also a certain frisson to not knowing. I was as dumbfounded as the Tardis crew as to why these events had played out as they had. I was scratching my head but glowing with delight at such a story so well told.
               Here is my own encounter with one of those clockwork French renaissance simulacra. A stunning recreation of one of those figures. A lovely piece of cosplay by the very clever and beautifully named Amanda Allaway. I watched her dazzle and unnerve a succession of people over an afternoon. "Oh Mummy That Weird Clockwork Woman Keeps Staring at Me", one girl choked as she turned her face away to duck under a chum's wing. I just loved this poised elegance that was served with an angled crook of the neck producing a gaze that followed one around like two dark voids.
              A most pleasing and pleasant terror.

The Fifth Heart.

In this novel by Dan Simmons Sherlock Holmes the worlds most brilliant consulting detective teams up with Henry James one of Americas most distinguished and treasured writers to solve a mystery which the rest of the world does not acknowledge as having even occurred. a mystery which to a large extent exists only in the mind of Holmes and one other person. That other person has,since asking for Holmes assistance, passed on which sort of leaves him as the only one seeking answers.
           It seems mote to point out that of the two only Henry James was an actual person who lived and breathed whilst Sherlock Holmes is accepted as a hugely popular but wholly fictional character.
            Or was he?
             In eighteen ninety three Holmes and James meet beneath a bridge in Paris.not as romantic as it sounds. they were both there to do away with them selves. both driven to mutual self destruction by the extremities of their own personalities.Shortly thereafter they find themselves travelling to the United States Of The Americas to try unravelling together the said mystery. Holmes being the brilliant detective that he is turns his legendary skills of ratiocination upon himself and becomes aware of the huge logic gaps peppering his existence and reaches a conclusion those about him begin to share; That Sherlock Holmes may in fact be a fictional character and as such should not actually exist in this "real" world.Reality and fantasy blur to a degree in the course of this book. This situation is not uncommon as any period novel where even the well known, loved and greatly read characters are all long dead.So in a sense the entire cast of the book are fictional. Existing only in the mental field generated by the action of reading a novel which shares the same internal dictionary as the reader. The ghosts of history real and imagined existing only in the theatres of our minds.
               Henry James struggles to resist the charm of Holmes investigations, Resisting his own urge to get involved in what he sees as little more than the provocative exploits of an adolescent. James' work is no longer selling in the quantities he had previously. He is deeply troubled by the notion he may not follow up on his earlier promise and great sales. He has moved, not entirely successfully into a possible new career as a playwright. His first attempt at a play had morphed from a serious social study to a misjudged and critically lambasted comedy. His interior repression and confusion perhaps informing his creative output. In short Henry James has lost his slender at best grip on his mojo. He seems emotionally crippled by an inability to take any pleasure in his life. He is after all a gay man living in age when homosexuals were scorned and cruelly punished for yielding to their natures. That whole aspect of human life being perceived as an aberration and a mortal sin which must be punished. A terrifying situation that would not change for a very very long time and which even now rears its ugly unwanted head in many lamentably named civilised countries or empires.
             Yet in his time with Holmes Henry James finds the embers of his inner flame begin to glow once more. A kindling to set his life afire once more..possibly an urge which Dan Simmons wishes to generate for the work of Henry James as well as the work of Conan Doyle.
              A situation I need no urging to follow up on.

The Sequential Trap.

Came across this old issue of the much loved and missed E-man and was shocked to see The Doctor and Amy Pond trapped on the cover of the first issue published by First comics. Its a four colour nightmare where they face the peril of The Slug That Ate Barrentown.
              Wonder if that is anywhere near The House Of Lungbarrow where The Doctor grew up?