Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: Blade Runner

It must be said that no review of Blade Runner is complete without at least a passing mention of Vangelis and that awesome soundtrack.

And because I love this kind of music, especially for writing to, here's a special extra review for the soundtrack, which was also re-released in 2007, along with the Final Cut movie, in a 3-CD special edition.

Entitled Blade Runner Trilogy, the first CD is the same as the original soundtrack release, the second CD contains previously unreleased music from the movie, and the third CD is new music inspired by the movie.

Of the three, the first disc is still the best; from the fantastically spacey main title, to the chilled out sax of the love theme, to the cool end titles, the best known tracks are all here in full, along with some less well known gems. For me, the best trackshere are those which use smaples from the movie: Blush Response, with its samples about the Voight-Kampff machine, and Tears in Rain, Batty's last words, set to a suitably melancholy piece of music.

Disc two is the usual film score fair, atmospheric pieces with descriptive titles like At Mr Chew's and Deckard and Roy's Duel, but done in a Vangelis way, which is to say, pretty awesome.

Disc three, on the other hand... disc three is where things start to get odd. Good, but odd. Launch Approval and Mail from India are personal favourites for futuristic weirdness alone, but elsewhere the Blade Runner influence comes through in the music - Sweet Solitude has the same chilled sax sound as the original love theme, and Perfume Exotico has the same ethereal vocals as Rachel's Song. It could perhaps be seen as the soundtrack Vanelis would have made had the movie been shot in 2007 rather than just remixed.

For fans of sci-fi music, movie soundtracks, Vangelis, or ambient electronica in general, it's a worthwhile investment.

And for your sci-fi song of the week, you will of course be enjoying the main theme from Ghostbusters.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Review: Blade Runner

So, I just watched the Final Cut of Blade Runner. I don’t suppose there is really any need to review it properly, it is, after all, a classic science fiction movie.

I could join the debate about whether it’s a great movie, or just an over-hyped one, but even that is a bit redundant, because any film fan or science fiction fan really should watch the thing and make their own mind up.

Personally, well, the visuals are great – the imagining and visualisation of the dystopian world, the flying cars (that by rights we should have by now) whose strings are no longer visible on the latest remix, the constant rain…. Not quite sure why rain is so inherently dystopian, but then I’m English.

The thing is, if I didn’t know there was this mystery subtext about Deckard, I don’t think I would have spotted it, the whole origami thing being a bit too small and obscure, at least first time round. That said, the ambiguous ending of the Final Cut is better than the fluffy Hollywood ending version; the tone of Blade Runner doesn’t lend itself to a happy ending.

I’m not sure if it’s ironic or intended, but the only character that really sticks in the mind after watching is Roy Batty, as played by Rutger Hauer. That’s not to say the Harrison Ford, or Sean Young are in any way bad, but Roy’s change from angry, violent replicant-on-a-mission, to abandoned son confronting his father, to the final acceptance of his own death, is the definite stand-out.

Ah yes, the violence. There’s a lot of it in this version, I don’t remember wincing quite so much when I’ve seen earlier cuts. But this is not a happy film; not one you can switch your brain off for a couple of hours and relax with. There is a lot in Blade Runner (some of which I may revisit later) but a lot of it requires thought, and none of it is especially happy.

Perfect for a Monday review then.

Friday, July 22, 2011

So long, and thanks....

So there it was. Thirty years and 134 missions, and the Space Shuttle era has officially ended.

The reason I mention this is not because I have anything startlingly original to add to the conversation, because I don’t. It’s because the Space Shuttle has undoubtedly contributed to my becoming a sci-fi fan and writer.

I was seven when the programme started – old enough to have been aware of it, too young to remember what I thought of it at the time. But in those days, the shuttle was exotic, exciting. Launches still made the news, even when they went off without a hitch.

Of course, it’s the one that didn’t go off without a hitch that I still remember. John Craven had the job of telling the nation soon after it happened. And not long after that I was given a plastic kit of the Shuttle and its Boeing 747 carrier aircraft, which I made into Challenger, seeming at the time the best tribute a pre-teenage boy could pay.

But - and I admit that what I am about to say is a little bit shallow – the reason I remember the Challenger disaster is not because of the immensity of the event, but because the Space Shuttle had captured my young imagination. I had the toy shuttle from Moonraker, I had read the specs in magazines and books, I was even, in my youth, quite proficient at drawing the Shuttle orbiter.

I’ll stop there, before I start sounding like some kind of Shuttle fanboy. At some point, of course, the routine shuttle launches stopped making the news. I stopped being a Shuttle fanboy. Arguably, I grew out of it, as did much of the media. But whatever it was about the shuttle that caught my imagination – fed by space Lego, Luke Skywalker and endless Star Trek re-runs – I never grew out of.

So, even though the Space Shuttle will always be my spaceship, I can still look with interest (and possibly a little excitement) at the developments that are already happening at Virgin Galactic, where the next generation of space travel seems to be drawing ever nearer, ready to spark the imagination of the next generation.

Of course, if I was a science-fiction writer, I would probably be wondering what space travel landmark we will be marking in 2041…

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Phursday Photos: obvious subject....

Well, a blog which pretends to be vaguely related to science fiction is hardly going to let the end of an era slip by unnoticed is it? I've never actually seen a space shuttle in person, so this week I'll hand the camera over to NASA...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sci-Fi Song of the Week

Inspired by Charles Yu, here some nice early 90s shoegaze rock for your enjoyment.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu, is the story of a book. In fact, it is the story of some of the minds behind the book, one of whom, the aforementioned Charles Yu, is a Recreational Time Travel Device repairman who chooses to spend most of his life hiding in limbo, living in a time machine which is not bigger on the inside, with only an imaginary dog and a manically depressed artificial intelligence for company.

This would be an appropriate moment for the reviewer to interject, and explain that the book itself is not quite as derivative of hitch-hikers as this review has been so far. There are certainly shades of Adams-esque humour (for instance, physics was only 93 per cent installed when construction was halted on Minor Universe 31), but the similarities in plot are, I think limited to those mentioned so far. The concept of a science fictional universe, of course, may also put one in mind of the Thursday Next novels, but all these comparisons are not doing the book in question any favours.

In fact, How to Live Safely is one of the most mind-bendingly original books in the whole of chronogrammatical space-time. If I was to attempt to give it a sub-genre, it would probably be literary sf, with the somewhat scant (but imaginative) plot serving primarily to hold all the author’s crazy ideas together and explore the father-son axis in a completely non-linear, temporally confusing manner.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is good, clean, science fictional fun. Movingly funny, nicely written, weirdly conceptual, insanely brilliant and… well, frankly, one of the best time travel stories I’ve read in a long time.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Phursday photo

A little something to bend the mind of any passing petrol-heads. Go on, you know it doesn't look right!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sci-Fi Song of the Week

A tenuous link to sci-fi, maybe, but inspired by the last Space Shuttle mission which is going on at the moment...

It's a love song, in a vaguely space-age style.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hurling myself in...

As a postscript to Friday's long walk, because it wasn't as long as I had planned, I took a few moments in Wild at Heart once I was home, and this sentence just jumped out at me:
I want to hurl myself into a creative work worthy of God.

Now, I often tell myself that what I'm writing, I'm doing to honour God. But, really, the amount of time and effort that I put into actually forming sentences (other than the ones I form occasionally to justify my 'writing') is not really worthy of God. I've never really hurled myself into a story (well, maybe once a year, in November), never been reckless about what I vaguely like to think God might want me to do with what I laughably call my talent.

Maybe I didn't need a long walk; maybe I just needed to turn the page of that book, read that sentence, and act on it. Maybe I need to step out of the boat, charge the field, follow my dream. Maybe I just need to quit worrying about stuff and get on with some writing.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Long Walk 2011

It is a tradition over at the Daily Audio Bible to take July 7th off, go somewhere beautiful, and spend the day with God. My intention had been to do a slight variation on the theme, and go for a long drive, take the Mini off into the countryside for the day. (The reason for this stems from Wild at Heart, something John Eldredge says about men getting closest to God when they feel most 'alive'; for him it's all manner of outdoorsy stuff, for me, it's a back-lane Mini blast.)

Unfortunately things were not as easy as all that: first there was a hospital appointment on July 7th (for my daughter) which would have taken half the day out. Still, no matter; July 8th was booked off work and the Long Drive was on. Except the aforementioned daughter was taken ill this morning. Not only that, but the rain did not look conducive to a back-lane Mini blast.

Still, as it turned out I was not required to make the trip to see the doctor, and was able to slip off for a somewhat shorter than planned walk, getting myself lost in the rolling hills of, um, Staffordshire.

I had no real idea what I was doing; I mean, the theory was simple enough - go somewhere quiet and listen to God. Easier said than done, obviously. But did I come away with anything? Well, maybe, although I'm not sure what it means, if anything.

I found myself surrounded by ferns, and as I looked at the repeatedly dividing pattern of the leaves, it occured to me that the closer you look at a fern leaf, the more detail you go into, the more accurately you can measure its outline, and the longer its outline will be.
Sass that hoopy frond
Taken to its extreme, you end up with the fractal theory argument that Britain's coastline is infinite. Plainly nonsense in practical terms, but an interesting point, that the closer you look, the more anything - a fern, a country, a person - approaches infinity. At some level, the Infinite is present right at the heart of everything.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: Space Whale Migration

This weeks choice for Sci-Fi Song of the Week is, apart from not being a song in any conventional sense, inspired by yesterday's mini-review of a story about space whales. So here for your enjoyment, a little piece of shoegazey post-Porcupine Tree instrumental greatness, Space Whale Migration by The Daysleepers.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Green Lantern, and a Leviathan

Has anybody got a couple of hours to listen to some excellent podcastery on the subject of religion and science-fiction? Well if you have, I have a couple of nice little links for you. And if you haven't, I recommend you make some :)

Firstly, the Leviathan in question is That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made, a Nebula winning novelette by Eric James Stone, and you can hear it on Starship Sofa Episode 194. It's a very neat little tale about some of the potential problems of bringing human religion (in this case Mormonism) to a decidedly alien race (in this case, a group of solar cetaceans living inside our sun). And this all seems to be going well for our protagonist, Harry Malan, until a swale member of his congregation confides in him about what Harry believes to be a case of sexual assault.

There follows a lot of discussion between Harry and cute scientist Dr. Juanita Merced about how human/Mormon sexuality and morals can't be applied to creatures older than human culture, and then when Harry tries to put his point to the oldest swale in our sun, things get even more interesting...

That Leviathan... is a well-written story, makes some thought-provoking points in an interesting setting, and all adds up to a fascinating exploration about the intersection of religion and 'other' cultures, definitely worth a look (or listen) if you're interested in those things.

Elsewhere in the podosphere, purveyor of Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy, Paeter Frandsen, has been geeking out over Green Lantern, who apparently is a comic book hero turned movie icon, or something. Anyway, as part of his Green Lantern special podcast he pulls some interesting Biblical parallels from comic book superheroes and wonders what the New Heaven and the New Earth will be like. Such ponderings gave me cause to wonder what kind of stories I'll be writing in the New Earth.... presumably they'll have to be set on the old one, as there won't be a lot of conflict in the new one, as I understand it....

Anyway, that's also worth a listen for an alternative angle on some Biblical stuff, and on some comic book stuff, or if you've just been overcome by Green Lantern fever....

Linky Goodness:
Starship Sofa No 194 (direct link)
That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made (text)
Spirit Blade Underground Podcast - Green Lantern Review Special (direct link)