In Search of Pizza Spaceship…

Pizza Spaceship… … and yes indeed, in under a fortnight I'm flying off to Italy… #PizzaSpaceship #LiveLongAndPizza

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Live long and pizza…

Things don’t necessarily have to make sense. Things don’t have to have a reason. Their underlying meaning needn’t be clear or logical. Things can be and happen ‘just because’ and ‘just because’ is okay. In fact, ‘just because’ can be mind-blowingly brilliant when two beautiful things are brought together for no apparent purpose other than to make something even more amazing.

Pizza Spaceship is one such thing. It doesn’t make sense and we don’t know how or why it came to be. We don’t really need to know, because ‘Pizza Spaceship’ is fantastic just because it’s Pizza Spaceship. It is the meeting and blissful union of ‘pizza’ and ‘spaceship’ – two great concepts on their own. Together, their powers combine to make possibly one of the greatest notions that a human mind could conceive of.

For context, my first encounter with the idea of Pizza Spaceship occurred a year-and-a-half ago. Fittingly, I was in Italy and I and a good friend were working at an English-language summer camp in a small town on the outskirts of Milan. The town’s name will remain a secret for security reasons. I’ll refer to my friend as Sandy because her name is Sandy (at least, it is when she’s sober). Regardless, this summer camp proved to be quite a challenge for Sandy and I, for a variety of reasons. We were mentally and physically exhausted, we were often semi-delirious (inevitable at summer camp) and we were singing ‘The Pizza Song‘ every day. Even so, in spite of all that, we didn’t collectively hallucinate or imagine Pizza Spaceship. We didn’t wish it into existence or make it up. Pizza Spaceship was and is real.

We ran this summer camp in an elementary school building and this school had a large hall which we used for big games, art activities and lunch breaks. On one of the walls in the hall was a display showcasing art works produced by school children during, we presume, the academic year. Kids had taken paper plates and stuck bits of coloured tissue paper and card onto the plates to make them look like meals (for example, spaghetti, salad, chicken and chips and so on). On the wall alongside these plates someone had pasted a cardboard rocketship. Instead of a porthole window this rocketship had a pizza. “What is that?” Sandy and I both asked ourselves at exactly the same moment. “It… it’s… it’s Pizza Spaceship” we both responded, simultaneously, the spark of enlightenment catching fire in our eyes, minds and hearts.

It was like a flash of enlightenment or a revelatory ray of hope hitting us from somewhere beyond the stars. We felt blissful euphoria. Our base existence was blasted and our state of mere being was altered and blessed with radical new flavour. We had Pizza Spaceship and it was sublime and spectacular. Mundane reality was swept aside as this fantastical prospect transcending time, space and matter moved into our consciousness and captivated us completely. Post-Pizza Spaceship, life would never be the same again. We paid homage to that corner of the hall every day and showed our gratitude for its sheer awesomeness.

We should pay tribute to this cosmic combo. Space travel is immense and exhilarating and I love the idea of boldly going beyond Earth’s stratosphere into the vastness of the wider Universe. (People who know me know that offworld sci-fi is my jam or, indeed, my pop-cultural pizza.) Pizza is a supreme gastronomic invention and a signature article of Italian cuisine (the greatest type of cuisine in the galaxy, in my humble and quite-biased opinion). Put ’em together and I’ve got two things that get me really excited working together and opening up realms of wonder beyond tangible, imminent reality. I mean, Pizza Spaceship could take us anywhere.

This thing – genius in its simplicity – offers unlimited potential and possibility. Infinite joy is within reach if we don’t question it and Pizza Spaceship is not really something to intellectualise or rationalise. We don’t know who created it and we don’t know why. (Pure imagination? The result of divine inspiration? Is its origin extraterrestrial?) Its purpose is also a tantalising mystery. Is this some kind of pangalactic delivery service? Is it a message from another galaxy? Is it first contact, related to the human race in an appealing format? Is it someone or something telling me that I really need to start writing a kitschy sci-fi novella series about interstellar voyagers on-board a flying pizza? (Working titles for instalments include ‘Martian Margherita‘, ‘Prosciutto to Polaris‘ and ‘The Kuiper Belt Calzone Conundrum‘.)

We also don’t know what a Pizza Spaceship actually looks like. The crude card-and-poster-paint representation we found in that hall was a 1950s-style rocket with a pizza riding the cockpit but I can picture a whole fleet of alternative craft. I see the Starship Enterprise and Millennium Falcon as pizzas. I see a space cruiser made entirely of dough, tomato sauce and mozzarella string. I see a square-shaped cardboard takeout box the size of a small moon spinning through deep space, occasionally flipping open its lid so the living Pizza-Titan inside can survey the stars and work out if it’s travelling in the right direction.

Still, the details don’t matter and we don’t need any definite answers. We just need the words ‘Pizza’ and ‘Spaceship’ joined together and Pizza Spaceship is fantastic ‘just because’ it’s Pizza Spaceship. If anything, to me, Pizza Spaceship acts like a religious icon, Tarot cards or a mandala. It’s a symbolic conduit that transcends reality and opens up the acolyte’s mind, body and soul to something beyond. In times of darkness or confusion, I can fix my thoughts on Pizza Spaceship and instantly I’m transported far away to either Italy (my spiritual second home and the home of real pizza), outer space (a stimulating and fascinating otherworldy immensity) or, indeed, metaphysical and macrocosmic space (where you are liberated from the world of illusion and reality itself, becoming one with the Infinite).

Think on Pizza Spaceship. Feel Pizza Spaceship. Realise the wonder and joy and awe-inspiring actuality that is Pizza Spaceship. This is perhaps the ultimate soul food – nourishing Earthly substance and advanced astro-science transfigured into a totem on which we can project all our desires and dreams. Through this vessel we can escape and travel to another world, another reality and/or a superior state of enlightened being.

All aboard Pizza Starship and full speed ahead. Live long and pizza…

(P.S. In under a fortnight’s time I’ll be flying off to Italy again. In reality, I’m flying to Malpensa on a Flybe plane but in my imagination, I’m going to be gliding towards Milan on Pizza Spaceship…)

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‘Netflix for Dreams’ and Swapping Sci-Fi Stories in Cyberspace…

I like sci-fi. Sci-fi is my jam. I put it in porridge and then said porridge is inedible ’cause it’s got robot bits and cosmic debris and maybe even a techsistential crisis in there as well. Whatever. I eat that mess up because it’s good for me. Sci-fi is brain food.

Because I like science fiction I (literally) jumped at the chance to get involved in a mass sci-fi-writing party when it heard about it a couple of weeks ago. What happened was this: a person named Regular Frog decided they’d set-up ‘SF Swap‘ (hashtag: #SFSwap) and put the proposal out to Twitter. Writers rallied round, rigged themselves up to monitors and got in on the action. That action is the exchange of science fiction concepts and the subsequent writing of stories based on those concepts.

It works like this: everyone throws out a short hook for a story and someone else gets that prompt and has to fashion a thousand-word yarn out of it. It’s then uploaded onto the SF Swap website for everyone to enjoy, and there’s a lot to enjoy. It’s really interesting to see how people adapt to the challenge and how genre tropes and stylings have been played with.

There’s a beautiful mix of stories both in terms of theme and tone. We have pulpy space opera, alien encounters, nature fighting back, technology-based horrors, black comedy cyberpunk, cosmic dread, doomed missions, post-apocalyptic bewilderment and stellar romances. I’ve had a blast coming back to the site over and over to read the latest uploads and I recommend having a read through if you want some stimulating flash-fiction.

My own effort has been uploaded and it’s based on a prompt from Tanya Osborne. The prompt was ‘Netflix for Dreams’ and it’s one of the best pitches I could have hoped for. (I got an email that said nothing but ‘Netflix for Dreams’. It was one of the best emails I’ve had in a while. I got a bit excited about that email.)

Netflix for Dreams is what it says it is, and if you read it you’ll find a dizzying array of eclectic titles on offer (I had a lot of fun inventing fantasies, though some of them are partly based on my own real dreams). Feel free to head over to the SW Swap site and enjoy not only my fresh blast of fiction, but the many marvellous works of others getting immersed in this exciting experimental writing jam…

 

All About the Red Planet: Getting My Ass to Mars…

Mars! Yeah, MARS. The Red Planet rocks and is having a bit of a moment right now so let’s all be slightly awestruck and look to its immense ochre majesty

They’ve discovered that there’s water on Mars! They’ve released a movie about Matt Damon getting stuck on Mars! They’re getting nostalgic and remembering classic Martian literature! Me? I’m wearing my ‘Get Your Ass to Mars’ t-shirt , singing the Martian Song in twilight car parks and trying to get my ass to Mars. In reality, this mission isn’t making much progress but in my mind I’m bare-naked and bouncing about the canyons of Barsoom like John Carter. I just leaped over a minor Martian mountain and beat up sixteen Tharks bare-handed so, yeah, take that reality…

Anyway, I’m all about Mars right now. With the release of The Martian on my mind I wrote a fresh article on space movies and loneliness for the Den of Geek website. It talks about isolation and how sci-fi films are really good vessels for exploring the theme and feelings of solitude and if that sounds interesting to you, the link is there.

Otherwise, still contemplating space and Mars, I ended up creating the following epic miniature doodle. When I get into these things I kind of get carried away and start meditatively inking and then next thing I’m scribbling out the entire cosmos…

Mars…

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I’m now going to go back to my fantasies of being a naked superhuman warrior on Mars. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back soon with more stories and stuff (and probably some bruises on my ass).

 

Pictonaut Short Comic Story Challenge: ‘Square Planet’…

Alrighty! Write on! I’ve been on a mission to catch-up with the Pictonaut challenge (after several months of negligence) and now I’ve caught up. Achievement! *air-pistols, swagger, upbeat 16-bit celebratory music*

(Admittedly, I’ve achieved this achievement while I’m meant to be concentrating on other stuff like preparing my junk for several months abroad and will now, after this, do that in chaotic fashion. My mind works like this: “You have something big to handle and take care of James, so naturally you’re going to focus on doing everything else in the world first and not tackle the essential priorities!“. I’ve been very productive the past few days, just not at packing my bags. Anyway…)

For the first Pictonaut of 2015, Majordomo John Steele selected the following image by the excellent, astronaut-obsessed artist Scott Listfield

Space Ace, Square Yeah…

I like spacewomen and spacemen and I like writing sci-fi-tinged weird tales. I also like writing comic scripts so I decided to make this one into a comic after I got a clear fix on what I thought was happening in the image. The result is a script for a four-page comic titled ‘Square Planet‘ with my envisioned layout and I hope you enjoy it (no art, I’m afraid, because my illustration skills just aren’t that good and I don’t have the time and Photoshop abilities to make the words come to life as graphic magick). It’s really rough and unpolished because I’ve knocked it out very quickly, hey, I’ve got other stuff to handle before I take off on my own fresh adventure tomorrow. I’ll get back to it (and the inevitable ‘bye-bye’ blogpost) and leave you to imagine Square Planet

Pictonaut Screenplay Challenge: ‘Pink Slip, Marigold War’…

Another day, another Pictonaut story. Seeing as I’m still trying to catch up and apparently on a roll, I decided to roll with it and write up a fresh piece for John Steele‘s monthly fiction-spawning exercise. Same as ever, the aim is to write a story inspired by a selected image. I’m now up to November, and the November 2014 picture was this one by the ace Swedish artist and sci-fi visionary, Simon Stålenhag

‘Gaussfraktarna’ by Simon Stålenhag. Isn’t it just a brilliant piece of artwork?

I dig this image, ’cause it looks like some kind of mash-up of Drive and District 9, though I contemplated these two dudes and thought that they looked like a Kurt Russell antihero from a John Carpenter movie (or maybe Roddy Piper. I don’t know but I ended up with Carpenter on my brain). With that in mind and ideas sloshing around I realised I could only crack this as a script for screen. I typed it up, and what follows is a rough ‘n’ ready first draft of the opening scene of a sci-fi action B-movie that I’d call ‘Pink Slip, Marigold War‘. In this reality the studios (a studio wanted this?) would then change the obscure title into something bland and probably make the film into a run-of-the-mill nonentity with no sense of fun or cosmic quirk-mojo at all. I’m not happy about that and because, hey, this is my fantasy I’m making sure that ‘Pink Slip, Marigold War‘ retains its name, retains its Kurt Russell, and its Roddy Piper, and its anti-capitalist messages, and its gratuitous alien gore,and its surrealistic musical number when a Fen-Gnooii Quadrant-Archon eats a whole bushel of narcotic weed and hallucinates that she’s the birth of a sixteen-limbed solar goddess on the outer rings of Neo-Pluto.

I haven’t written that scene yet, or the scene where one of our main characters gets in an electro-mace duel with an alien drug baron, or the hilarious sequence where another protagonist tries (and fails) to commit himself to rehab in another galaxy. I will probably never write those scenes in this (far blander) reality so I guess I’ll just leave you with this scene that has been drafted. I hope you like the opening snippet from Pink Slip, Marigold War

Pictonaut Short Poem Challenge: ‘Those Eyes So Green’…

Okay, write on. Yesterday I uploaded a short story titled The Death of Earth Patrol for the monthly Pictonaut short story challenge (set, as ever, by the eminent John Steele). That was a piece loosely inspired by August’s image, and I thought I’d try and push my catch-up mission further by getting September’s done ASAP. ASAP is today because I’ve written it, though it’s not a short story. It’s a very short poem and it’s based on this photograph (source unknown, I’m afraid)…

Those eyes… so green…

So, a pair of beautiful green eyes on a face veiled by bright orange fabric. I decided to write a pretty little ditty about it that leaned towards some of my main interests instead of concocting a longer narrative that I don’t really care about. I’m not much of a poet, but I am a Cosmic Romantic so, in total, here’s a thing about an interstellar traveller come to Earth to grace our rock with the most amazing eyes in the galaxy. It’s partly inspired by all the space rock I listen to, Pixies’ Andro Queen and things like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and stories like A Princess of Mars. I’m all for cosmic wonder and building relationships with graceful, intelligent alien beings (platonic and romantic) so, yeah, that’s how this comes to be, I suppose. Its title is Those Eyes So Green and this introductory ramble is now longer than the poem itself so I’ll just let you read it and go back to waiting for the love of my life to arrive from another star system…

 

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘The Death of Earth Patrol’…

Writing! I love writing and I always want to write more and more and more than I actually do write. Such is life, but I’m not happy settling with “such is life“, oh no thank you very much. Inching up towards the year’s end and getting reflective I already know that one of the top targets on my hypothetical New Year’s Resolution list is write more and write harder, better, faster, stronger. (Most of my draft New Year’s Resolutions are suffixed Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.) Anyway, one thing I’ve been meaning to do writing-wise is catch up on the way overdue Pictonaut challenges. Set by Sir John Steele every month, the idea is to write a short story based on an inspiral image. Right now I’m up to August, and August’s image was this illustration by Kali Ciesemier

Image by Kali Ciesemier

The picture captured my imagination and I came up with a short story called The Death of Earth Patrol. I won’t say anything else about it apart from this: it’s not quite what you think it is. I hope you enjoy it and I hope that I can make up some more ground on the Pictonaut challenge soon. Feel free to read that effort and just know that I’m out there, working hard at being harder, better, faster, stronger. Write on…

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Third One, Not a Charm’…

It’s Saturday morning, so it’s the perfect time for a slightly silly sci-fi fantasy. I will, thus, give you a slightly silly sci-fi fantasy and upload my May Pictonaut challenge effort onto the internet. To recap for those unfamiliar with the format, every month the admirable Imagino-Admiral John Steele picks a picture and urges people to write a short story inspired by it. Participants then take up the challenge, weave a yarn and exhibit them in their own private section of cyberspace. I do this every month and it’s a nice creative exercise, albeit one I won’t be exercising for a while while I go off travelling and unplug from this laptop for a while. (That blogpost is coming tomorrow, so watch this cyberspace-space for further details.)

For May 2014’s Pictonaut image, John picked the following photograph (credit unavailable and unknown, unfortunately) of a woman doing some hardcore stretching atop a mountain…

Epic stretching…

It’s a very evocative, beautiful image and, most of all, it made me want to do yoga because I miss doing yoga as a proper discipline. It was a great opportunity to take some yogic spirit to writing but that got a bit lost as all the spiritual ideas somehow got sifted out in the cerebral sieve. A clunky lump stuck in place and that ended up being a half-written story about a very weak and woolly character who runs away from all her domestic heartbreaks and liberal middle class anxieties to a mountain resort (“What the hell is this you’re writing?” I asked myself). There was a fantastical twist though to save me from banality that just ain’t me as our protagonist finds that the resort’s yoga instructor is actually an underage supersoldier war child in the Hanna vein who is undercover and on a mission to assassinate a Russian secret agent.

It was beyond tolerable levels of terrible, so I swiftly discarded it, re-aligned with some yoga stretches and asked myself what I really wanted to write right now. The answer: “Hey, I want to have fun and space is fun so, by the Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, I’m gonna go full-frontal sci-fi on this, sister…

So I did, and the result is an out-there yarn I’ve quickly blasted out called Third One, Not a Charm. It’s silly and off-the-cuff but way more fun than my first idea and way more ‘me’ in terms of style and themes. If the mood takes you, feel free to take a read of my Pictonaut challenge effort for May 2014 and, of course, please consider writing your own before the month is out. As for myself, the lesson I’ve learned is that life is better if you meditate a bit, align some yogic spirit and write the things you love the most…

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Blissful Existence Beneath the Meru Mountain Complex, Brought to You By Moksha-Co. International’…

Say, I think it’s time I shared some science fiction visions. Yes, I shall, because I have sci-fi visions but I’ll come to those in a second. First, let me break down some details and set up the framework on which I will stick some ideas and sticky creative writing bits…

Here’s what happens: every month, the most excellent Generalissimo John Steele sets a short story writing challenge. This is the Pictonaut challenge and the gist is “See this image? Write something inspired by it, around a thousand words in length, okay?” It is okay and I do this every month because I like a challenge and it’s a nice creative exercise that sometimes yields interesting results. April’s Pictonaut image was particular interesting and really stimulated my mind. The chosen inspiral picture was a piece titled Relay by the artist Steve Renn

A high-priest of hi-tech by Steve Renn…

I like this picture and it speaks to me (and it speaks in an eerie hushed whisper). It has science fiction and it has a figure meditating and thus it combines technology with spirituality and grooves with a lot of topics I’m fascinated by and that I debate with myself. Occasionally, I try and write about these topics to articulate all those inner philosophical dialogues – like in last week’s Den of Geek column on Transcendence and the notional uploading of human consciousness into the non-organic state of an artificial intelligence.

Coming back to the challenge at hand, though, this month’s Pictonaut challenge gave me a chance to ruminate on these things that concern me and attempt to distill ’em into a blast of flash fiction. I have difficult dilemmas. Conundrums like: ‘Can technology improve our wellbeing and elevate us to a more enlightened, advanced state, mind, body and soul?‘; ‘Can I harmoniously follow Zen Buddhist philosophies and function in the modern materialist world?‘; ‘Do technological self-help and wellbeing solutions commodify the human soul?‘; ‘Will there ever come a time when transcending mundane existence and the suffering of this world and the past and so on becomes more imminently achievable for regular folk?‘ There are more but I’ll spare you and save ’em up for face to face convserations because spending all this time staring at a computer screen and asking the indifferent artificial face of the internet all these techsistential questions is turning into a dehumanising downer…

So then, sci-fi and some thoughts around technology and spirituality. In the end, my Pictonaut effort for April 2014 is more of an exploration of an idea – a speculative utopian/dystopian vision – than an actual story. Feel free to read it and see what you think. I hope it stimulates you in some way and I’ll leave it to you to appreciate as you see fit – here is the short creation that I’ve titled Blissful Existence Beneath the Meru Mountain Complex, Brought to You By Moksha-Co. International

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘New Room on the Mimas Moon’…

It’s time for an imaginative challenge. (It’s always time for an imaginative challenge. In fact, time is an imaginative challenge.) Every month, crack dance-commando John Steele (he has a war face and makes us dance and, thus, he’s a dance commando) calls us to action and sets up a fresh Pictonaut challenge. The objective: write around a thousand words of fiction inspired by a particular image of his choosing. I get a kick out of this exercise so I always make sure I come up with something. I recommend it. It’s fun and provides an opportunity to creatively experiment and engage with a challenge with built-in limits or requirements to meet (which I kind of ignore, ’cause I dance freestyle, totally to the syncopated beat of my own drum. I’m sorry, Dance Commando. Please school me and bring me back into line…).

The inspiral moodpiece for January 2014’s Pictonaut is this image by German artist Cornelius Dämmrich and it’s titled ‘Mercury‘…

‘Mercury’ by Cornelius Dämmrich…

I see this picture and am several shades of excited because this picture spells sci-fi. I love sci-fi. I get high – nay, stratospheric – on sci-fi. Furthermore, extra cosmic stimulus has come from watching BBC Stargazing LIVE and reading The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester over the past week. I’m in a very science fiction state of mind and have also been in the scriptwriting mood lately so knocked up this month’s Pictonaut piece as a dialogue. The image suggested scenarios and characters soon followed. Relocating to the Mimas moon of Saturn – because Mercury isn’t very hospitable and because Cassini mission leader Carolyn Porco‘s discussions of Saturn’s rings on Stargazing LIVE intrigued me – I came up with ‘New Room on the Mimas Moon‘. You can read my first Pictonaut piece of 2014 here and I hope you enjoy it…

Get That Computer Screen Off My Cinema Screen!

Last night I made a short Vine movie clumsily titled We See Screens and We See Typing But Shouldn’t We Be Seeing Something Else? Because six seconds isn’t much space to make the full point or represent the questions that inspired me to make it, here’s a blogpost with extra detail. Yes: it’s an exclusive Director’s Commentary!

I got the idea for the Vine vid a few weeks back when I watched the Wikileaks biopic, The Fifth Estate. Overall, I enjoyed the movie but one thing rankles and it’s a rankle that keeps on resurfacing across a range of films (and on TV as well). Computer scenes: I’m not keen on them. They irk me. They annoy me. They get me saying, “Ah, enough, can we point that camera some place else please?

I’m not opposed to scenes that feature computers. I accept that we need them because sometimes plot points turn on the effective manipulation of technology. Also computers exist in ‘real life’ and people use computers and the internet so naturally they should be present in film. As a matter of fact some of my favourite movies are about computers and A.I. entities, complex techno-techno devices and other sentient machines that may have more soul or intelligence than human beings. Off the top of my head I’m remembering The Matrix, Colossus: The Forbin Project, Dark Star and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Please, let’s all take a moment to mourn for HAL 9000

Anyway, the thing that bothers me is gratuitous shots of computer scenes (I mean realistic PC screens and not grandiose supercomputer interfaces of the kind that star in the kind of classic movies mentioned above) . I’m talking about the moments where films linger on people checking their emails, browsing the web, looking at YouTube or posting things on message boards. Yeah, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. of TV: I’m looking at you with your last week’s episode all full of “Hey! We can rely on Instagram and Facebook to do our secret spy-biz now and, hey, let’s all look at computer screens!

I understand why we’re seeing computer screens on screen. These are the technologically literate times we live in and humans use computers and are perpetually hooked up to social media. I get the want and need, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Most of the time I find these scenes dull and sometimes even disturbing. I think there’s an ‘instant disinterest’ switch somewhere in my sensory machinery and the moment a shot of a monitor flashes before my eyes, that lever gets knocked.

Breaking it down in brief, here’s what I think happens: I spend a lot of time looking at computer screens. I go to the cinema as a refreshing alternative, so I can look at a different screen. Seeing computer screens on screens is a bit of a weird visual experience anyway – “Screens on screens? How perverse.” as C-3PO never said – but it also ruins my escapism trip. I came here to get away from that! Get that thing away from my eyes!

There’s also probably some control freakery in there because I can’t stand the sensation of being a passive observer as other people use computers (mainly people who are inept when it comes to using computers). I want to empathise with characters, not get frustrated with them for the way they browse the web or debase themselves with banal online chat.

That stuff is for real life or real online life and that, as I say, is the life I’m not keen on seeing again when I go to the cinema. Supremely talented cinematographers and actors deserve better than that. The strength of The Fifth Estate, as a case study, is in the facial reactions and dramatic delivery of Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl to significant things that appear on their laptop monitors. You can’t milk much drama and emotion from flashing cursors and un-personified pixels alone.

Humans and human thoughts and feelings are always going to be way more fascinating to behold and appealing to viscerally experience than a shot of screen. It’s my humble view that filmmakers and televisionmakers need to show some caution and restraint in case I’m not the only one who feels this way. They have to have a good reason to be there and you have to work extra hard to make them interesting. I don’t want to look at computer screens on TV screens or cinema screens – I’d rather be looking at fantastical stuff that isn’t so quotidian. Epic special effects spectacle! Beautiful, breathtaking landscapes! Exhilarating ultraviolence! Evocative drama from past times or future times or times from worlds that are entirely fictional fabrication! Impossibly good-looking people and good-looking animals! Impossibly good-looking people and animals bursting into song and dance routines!

That all sounds so much better than standing by watching someone social networking. Uck. Please, keep the shots of computer screens down to minimal, if only so I don’t get this uncanny nausea stemming from a sense of frustration that I can’t transcend over-familiar reality or do anything to stop the screen-fetishism that will lead us to a dystopian future…

Fight! Fight! Fight! RoboCop vs Timecop…

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! RoboCop vs Timecop

FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!
RoboCop vs Timecop

I like time travel, I like sci-fi action movies and I like writing fantastical martial arts violence. All these things came together and ended up taking form in another fan fiction escapade I wrote for Andrew Blair‘s sublime and ridiculous blog of pop cultural carnage.

This week’s fresh edition of Fight! Fight! Fight! is RoboCop vs Timecop (a.k.a. Peter Weller’s Officer Alex J. Murphy vs Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Max Walker). It has time travel. It has action. It has subversive undercurrents critiquing capitalist culture. It has deep and profound points about the way that life can change in a single moment of shocking violence.

Life. Death. Destiny. Deep and disturbing…

And if that time travel trip is too distressing and violent for your tastes you can fly on over to Den of Geek and read my most recent Friday column which is all about the romance of time travel.

Oh, time travel! It’s fantastic! It’s beautiful! It touches me on many levels, bruises me all over and brings tears to my eyes!

Well, yes it does, yes it has and yes it will. Feel free to read and join me and have fun with these things I find fascinating…

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Pegasus Faces Planet Chimera’…

It’s that time of th’month again: time to ponder on a picture, power up some possible plots and package one up into a short piece for the Pictonaut challenge. Here’s how it runs: Major John (he’s taken his protein pills and put his helmet on) radios ground control after he’s picked an evocative image and then urges the internet to be inspired and write a short story based on it. Every month I see what Major Steele has stuck up and spawn something. It’s a fun creative exercise and I encourage you to do likewise before August is over. The picture chosen for this 1/12th is the following piece by the amazing artist Daren Horley

Daren Horley takes us on a voyage to the planets…

Stellar. The call is for sci-fi space tales and I am into sci-fi space tales. I am also interested in mythology and twisting ancient folklore – say, Greek myth – into new settings. I have thus written something that emphasises the ‘fiction’ bit over the ‘science’ bit in ‘science fiction’ (though I dispute the label ‘fiction’ because everything is true). It doesn’t stand up at all scientifically so please forget the laws of physics when you read this (I’m pretty sure I’ve just produced an impossible anti-science abomination). In fact, it possibly doesn’t stand up at all and may simply be a weak, awkward slapdash spacecraft-crash of a thing. I don’t know. I just came here in search of space, in search of a fast-and-loose writing exercise, in search of ways to reweave old stories in alternative style.

This month’s short-and-quickfire Pictonaut effort is titled Pegasus Faces Planet Chimera and I hope you find it semi-enjoyable and/or interesting. You can read it here…

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘They Were in My Head and Allah was Dead’…

Oh grief! It’s that time of the month again and you’re going to have to suffer through some disturbing horror for a short period. I’m talking about my Pictonaut Short Story Challenge effort, of course, but don’t worry because the ordeal doesn’t last that long and you may actually find it a worthwhile experience. To recap, every month I study a picture picked by John Steele the Just and Steely and write something inspired by it. It’s a nice challenge and I encourage people to have a crack at it to get their creative juices flowing and conjure up some fresh short fiction. For May’s wordascope the Rogue Verbumancer opted for a photo from designer Mike Kim and it was electric with exciting potential…

Audionaut photo by Mike Kim.

Can you feel the exhilarating charge? Techno-techno headgear! Bright jumpsuits! Futuristic minimalist spaces! So many ideas come to mind and I got high on the possibility of spawning some futuristic sci-fi. I thought about tapping the human-mind-and-tech fusions of films like Paprika and Inception and exploring virtual realities fabricated out of beautiful dreams. Alternatively, I thought I might get a bit dystopian and write something that ripped of Neuromancer or The Matrix. It’s an image used to advertise a high-fidelity audio symposium, so how about harmonising with the sonic resonances of all the electro music I’ve been listening to lately to write something that rides on synthesiser riffs and is all about dynamic aural energy?

What did I do in the end? Well, the sweeter hard sci-fi plan spontaneously dematerialised and the words that came out were not righteous techno-techno thrills. They were instead informed by the War on Terror and the piece of work I’ve titled ‘They Were in My Head and Allah was Dead‘ is way different than what I thought I was going to end up produce. I’ll leave you to make of it what you will (the golden rule: show don’t tell) though I’ll preface it with a warning that it is not intended as pleasant reading.

They Were in My Head and Allah was Dead is my Pictonaut effort for May, then. It’s not fun so I may make up for that by spawning something else inspired by the image to accompany it before the month is over. All being well I’ll be back with a fresh story in July after a break in June but for now, go forth and write your own Audionaut-inspired story and read mine if you like…

Sci-Fi Cinema Stimulation, Deep in Oblivion…

Following up from last week’s excitement about The Hieroglyph Project and awe-inspiring possibilities of implementing science fiction ideas in actual reality, I want to write briefly about sci-fi film. I’ll keep it concise, ’cause your attention span probably can’t take it and I should save my longer, lyrical waxings about movies for proper film columns that haven’t been dashed off like spontaneous blog posts.

This weekend I went and saw Oblivion and I really liked it and got a lot out of it. Ryan Lambie of Den of Geek also really liked it and got a lot out of it, consequently exploring some of it in this spoiler-packed investigatory piece. It’s a compelling picture that touches upon a lot of resonant themes and, holding back so I don’t spoil it for people (it’s best off seen as cold as possible), it got me grappling with questions about existential purpose, memory, humanity and its relationship to both itself and technology. Big themes, my brethren. It appealed to me because I find this stuff stimulating and enjoy it when my pop culture stirs my soulstuff and massages my grey matter.

Sci-fi is my cup of tea and I dig the genre’s aesthetic trappings anyway. Oblivion reminded me of so many classic science fiction features and a few other things like the Portal videogames so it appealed to me. It didn’t just feel like a flagrant rip-off, however, and I recommend it as an intelligent and subtle big-budget film. Marketing and potential audience misconceptions may have it saddled as a brainless Tom Cruise action blockbuster but that’s not what it actually is at all. Another Den of Geek link here: this interview with director Joseph Kosinski discusses the original drive and vision behind the project and highlights the problems of pitching a film like this to both studios and marketplaces.

It’s been pretty disappointing to come away from Oblivion to read reviews that, for the most part, have been very dismissive of the movie. Aside from the outright unimpressed reviews (2 stars and total disdain) there are a great many that damn Oblivion with faint praise and admire its visuals and special effects but critique it as lacking intelligence or human interest.

Once again, I’m reluctant to delve deep into it for fear of spoiling what’s potential a very rewarding surprise cinema experience for someone. Still, I will say “Fuck you, Sally!” and state that, in my humble opinion, there’s a lot of intellectual depth and humanity embedded in the story and eking from between the frames. I’m a human being with some intelligence and I got it and I’d encourage others to watch it to see if they share my experience and not those who found it lacking on various levels.

Of course, experience of film or any artwork is subjective and maybe I’m very sensitive to the sci-fi genre in particular. I’ve found in recent years that the most resonant and affecting movies – on both an emotional and intellectual level – have been what you might categorise as sci-fi. Mind-expansion, extraordinary interest and masses of ideas are always in these stories if you care to engage with them. Even if they’re impressing themselves as a straight-forward action flicks, there’s always depth beneath the surface as this philosophical analysis of Dredd shows.

I’m not convinced when works of the genre are dismissed as ‘all style and no substance and/or no soul’ and honestly believe that, in terms of cinema, we’re currently experiencing something of a Platinum Age of Sci-Fi. There are so many excellent films being made and exciting proposals being greenlit that it’s glorious to be a genre fan. These are ambitious pictures of great intelligence – both emotional and cerebral intelligence – and they’re all accessible as both entertainment, brainfood or android-chickensoup for the soul. A few sci-fi films – films that have made me think and feel – from the past few years that I personally recommend and feel back up my conviction: Moon; The Adjustment Bureau; Source Code; Rise of the Planet of the ApesIn Time; District 9; Safety Not Guaranteed; Never Let Me Go.

There are more but most of all I’ve got to celebrate Rian Johnson’s Looper as the perfect illustration of how an original sci-fi story can touch your heart and mind. Such is my emotional connection to that film that I can’t articulate it eloquently and tend to just burst into tears as I meditate on its bittersweet beauty.

Ultimately, just watch and appreciate the rich and resonant sci-fi cinema that’s out there and happening right now. Oblivion is added to the list and in years to come we’ll look back and say “Hey, they were making pretty potent and profound films back then. What’s more, they’re awesome movies!” I’ve seen the future and know that this will come to pass…