Tag Archives: Alien visitors

From New Orleans to Charleston to London: Books read

Heather Graham’s THE UNKNOWN: A Krewe of Hunters Novel is part of a long-running series about a New Orleans based society that sees dead people and fights crime. In this installment, a woman whose grandmother’s ghost has twice warned her about a dangerous arsonist looks like the firebug herself (how else did she know the neighbor’s house was on fire); fortunately one of the Krewe realizes she has the same gift they all do. But when the killer realizes she Knows Too Much, will she be able to survive? This one didn’t work for me — it’s romantic suspense and apparently that’s not my type of thing (it’s not a genre I read much), so that’s not a reflection on the book.

Having read a fair amount of John Wyndham working on The Aliens Are Here, I continued on and read his 1953 THE KRAKEN WAKES. Two married journalists — given the sexism of some Wyndham, the wife is surprisingly competent — witness mysterious meteors falling into the depths of the ocean. It eventually becomes clear the “meteors” were alien vessels, but even though we have no use for the depths of the Marianas Trench, the world’s governments decide they can’t coexist with the aliens. When our attack doesn’t wipe them out, retaliation is inevitable …

This is surprisingly contemporary in its portrayal of our leaders just twiddling their thumbs while the world burns. Nobody wants to evacuate the sea coast or detour shipping around the occupied ocean floor so government try to pretend everything’s fine, no need to do anything drastic that might lose popular support or displease powerful business leaders. Certainly no need to acknowledge that one scientist was spot on in predicting what would happen. The downside is that it’s very, very, very talky to the point I started skipping large chunks of it. And fresh off my movie book, the degree of Othering didn’t help. Efforts to establish communication with the aliens might have been interesting — how do we do it when we can’t go down that low and they don’t want us there anyway? — but this just assumes coexistence is impossible so of course, we must go to war. And the final victory is achieved off-stage by the kind of “deus ex laboratoria” Wyndham mocks in The Midwich Cuckoos.

MADNESS RULES THE HOUR: Charleston, 1860 and the Mania For War by Paul Starobin looks at how South Carolina approached the election of 1860 determined to preserve their right to treat human beings as property but unsure of the best path — immediate secession? Wait until the rest of the “slave power” was ready to join them? Work within the Union for now? Key factors include a firebrand secesh newspaper editor, working classes who wanted to eliminate competition from free black labor, Lincoln’s election (the firebrands were delighted, figuring the less abolitionist Stephen Douglas might have defanged the push for immediate secession) and starry-eyed optimism about their future. Good, with some memorable characters including a seamstress jailed merely for having abolitionist views and free blacks terrified to discover their rights were suddenly disappearing.

Twenty years after Edmond Hamilton’s The Star Kings ended with John Gordon cast back to the present, cut off from his future friends and his lover Liana, he finally made his RETURN TO THE STARS (I imagine the first book coming out in paperback generated enough interest for the sequel). After several years sleepwalking through 20th century life, Gordon is physically returned to the future instead of just his mind. This proves a mixed blessing as he and Liana have to adjust to the new status quo and, of course, there’s a new threat to the peace of the galaxy. Great fun, and the conniving villain Shorr Kahn (now on the heroes’ team) steals most of his scenes. There are some added short stories in the series I may pick up eventually though the crossover with Leigh Brackett’s Eric John Stark is way pricey.

POPULUXE was Great Funk author Thomas Hine’s first book on pop-culture design and artifacts, focusing on the 1954-64 period when cars got tailfins, Americans got suburban homes and everything from motels to time pieces borrowed design tips from satellites and atomic research. Hine argues this was partly America’s sunny conviction that they were hurtling into a newer, cooler future and partly the working class having money to spend and a willingness to do so (tailfins were originally for Cadillacs so they suggested status even on cheaper cars). It was also partly marketing: once most people had a car, encouraging them to upgrade for style and design was a way to keep sales going. This book didn’t work for me as well as Great Funk, partly because I’m more attached to the 1970s. Also, though, because Populuxe needed more photos and possibly more scope (he mentions Barbie but he could have spent more time with her, and with toys in general).  Overall, though, very interesting with details such as Hine’s defense of the suburbs (arguing they were less conformist than old ethnic neighborhoods) and looking at contemporary worries the family fallout shelter meant a loss of community spirit (would you let your neighbor in if there was a crisis?).

Last week I mentioned reading THE DOMESTIC REVOLUTION: How the Introduction of Coal Into Victorian Homes Changed Everything, by Ruth Goodman, an excellent look at how increasing deforestation around London led to the city becoming an early adopter of coal for heating and cooking (in some parts of England, wood fires were the norm into living memory). As coal burns hotter and stays hotter longer — and gives out unpleasant, dirty smoke — this had a ripple effect on methods of cooking (boiling works very well with coal), cleaning and home construction. Goodman has worked in a lot of living history projects (including one of those PBS series) so having hands on experience with old-school cleaning, baking and firemaking adds some interest — though you have to want nerdy immersion in the topic to enjoy the book I think.

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This is more like what I wanted from January

Admittedly the week wasn’t perfect. With snow arriving today, I went out and did my grocery shopping yesterday morning along with a couple of other errands. Between that and a miserable lack of sleep Wednesday night, I got very little writing accomplished. Despite that, it was an excellent week.

First off, Undead Sexist Cliches is now live in the ebook version. You can buy it on Amazon, or from Draft2Digital and from multiple other ebook retailers. I got a proof copy from Amazon and everything looks good, I just didn’t have time to complete the approval process today. However it will be available in paperback before the end of next week.

This is a little draw-dropping. I’ve been working on this thing for several years (I’m not a fast writer) and like wrapping up Aliens Are Here last year, it’s startling to realize I’m done. Finished. Ready to move on to other things. And you know, I think it’s a terrific book.

Good news the second, I’ve been accepted as a Congregate 2022 guest. It’s a Winston-Salem convention which means it’s only 90 minutes away, though I imagine I’ll stay over. Fingers crossed that covid is tame enough by then I can make it.

I rewrote Oh the Places You’ll Go again and read the first part for the writer’s group Tuesday. They were enthusiastic though some of the feedback pointed out things I really need to address. But now I feel it’s also on the bring of finishing — it needs some rewriting but I think the story is solid enough it won’t need more.

I put in some time on Impossible Takes a Little Longer and it went well. I got past one plot stumbling block, though it may come back to bite me later. I also made some major changes to KC’s trip to Dallas and the Stardians that I think greatly improve that section of the book.

I pitched article ideas based on Aliens Are Here to both Tor.com and the SFWA blog. I also posted two more articles to Atomic Junk Shop. One marks the Black Knight’s appearance in Eternals by looking at his Silver Age appearances (including the scene above) the other looks back at the god-awful 1967 Casino Royale. Though it does boast a wild poster.As the Leaf articles just started up for January, I don’t know if I’ll get any more fiction written. A solid week of Leafs, plus the ones I did this week, should take care of my bills for February, which is good. But either way here’s to next week being just as productive.

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Not exactly the finish to 2021 I expected …

I’m still dealing with so much non-writing stuff during the morning that it’s very difficult to get into a creative headspace. So nothing on fiction this week.

On the plus side, I gave Undead Sexist Cliches it’s final proof (via a PDF downloaded from Draft 2 Digital). I spotted a few mistakes and several places where I need to clarify what I meant, but it’s done. The Ebook will go out next month; the hard copy too if I can index it fast enough. So woot! I admit I haven’t followed best policy and hyperlinked the footnotes to the text, but that’s more work than I’m willing to take on right now. Hopefully it won’t be a big issue.

I also squeezed three more Leaf articles out of my brain as those don’t require a creative headspace. And batted out an Atomic Junkshop post about Christmas just so I had something up this week.

Looking back at 2021 — man I remember when that was such a futuristic setting — and my goals, it’s obvious I fell way short. Part of that was covid and the anti-vax covidiots ensuring we wouldn’t get out of the pandemic for more than a few months. It was also the sheer amount of work it took to get Alien Visitors — oh, the official title from McFarland is now The Aliens Are Here — finished on deadline. So I’m not beating myself up. And I did well — Undead Sexist Cliches and The Aliens Are Here done (and both good), that golem article finished (and also good) — even if I didn’t get any fiction written.

Still for 2022 I feel quite unenthused about coming up with my usual detailed list of goals, so I’m not. While I’m a firm believer goals should be specific and measurable — it’s much easier to quantify success or failure with “submit sixteen short stories next year” than “submit lots of shorts” — I’ve got a lot of general goals such as “do something interesting locally,” “travel,” “push myself in writing” and “end the year with more money than when you started” (usually my financial goals are more specific). My intention is to set more specific goals for each month and see what works and what doesn’t. Maybe I don’t eat out in January but we have two dinners out in February; if TYG’s schedule doesn’t permit us to take joint day trips, maybe I go solo.

I’ve also got a number of specific goals written, mostly writing related. Publish Undead Sexist Cliches — that one, at least is a done deal at this point. Finish Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Finish six short stories — I do variations of that one every year but this year with no massive nonfiction projects, it should be doable (I hope). And readjusting my schedule to make it more effective again. Eating healthier but also cooking more desserts. If I keep it sensible, both should be doable — though the pecan cream cheese bundt cake I made last weekend is definitely not sensible. I would have made it for a potluck or something but I really liked the recipe and the results were delicious.For January I want to get in 25,000 words on Impossible Takes a Little Longer and the same on Oh the Places You’ll Go (as it’s a short story, that represents multiple drafts). A bunch of other projects too. And to resume bicycling regularly. My aerobic workouts in the morning are good, but too many push-ups and lifts takes a toll on my elbows and shoulders (though my impinged shoulder has improved — I think general strengthening has helped). I’d like to shift more of the exertion to my legs.

I’m also going to reward myself if I get a lot of stuff done. I haven’t done that in years but I’m thinking it might be feasible financially to make more big-ticket purchases this year. So why not treat myself to an expensive book if I do well on my goals?

And I’m also going to research just how to adapt to our current reality. I’ve bookmarked a number of articles about “what is safe to do now” and I’ll be browsing them and thinking what’s possible and what isn’t.

If you’re reading this, you too made it through 2021, hopefully without too many battle scars. Here’s to wishing all of us a better 2022.

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Alien visitors on television!

Continuing to catch up on my Alien Visitor viewing — this should almost be the last post.

I watched some of X-FILES‘ sixth season which involves the final collapse of the alien hybridization conspiracy … and almost immediately a new conspiracy arises, involving aliens turning humans into super-soldiers who can regenerate from almost anything. Then I jumped ahead to the final episode of the original run, in which the Cigarette Smoking Man reveals the fall of humanity will come in 2012, just like the Mayans foresaw — and nothing Mulder and Scully can do will prevent it! This gains considerably more oomph from having watched so many episodes than it did when I first saw it for Screen Enemies of the American Way.

I then caught up with the revival series, limiting myself to the first and final episodes of the final season. The opening episode reveals that Scully’s son William, rather than being Mulder’s child, was actually implanted medically by the CSM, laden with alien DNA — yes, it’s another case of alien impregnation by rape. In the final season, William takes down the CSM and Scully and Mulder get to go happily into the sunset. I can’t say I feel any regret not watching the rest, and my friend Ross says my review of the show is sound without more viewing.

ROSWELL CONSPIRACIES (1999) was a TV animated series that owes a lot to The X-Files. Protagonist traumatized by an alien abduction? Check. Paired with a woman partner? Check. Government UFO coverups? Check? Sinister conspiracies against humanity? Check.

What makes it distinctive is that it’s also very much rooted in Von Daniken. Countless monsters out of myth and folklore — banshee, yeti, werewolf, vampire — are aliens living among us (this also gives it a very urban fantasy feel). Bounty hunter Nick Logan, who has the psi-ability to see through aliens’ human disguises, reluctantly goes to work for the supersecret agency that keeps the alien presence secret and tries locking up as many as possible. Logan winds up partnered with Sh’lain, a banshee who favors assimilation over her people’s commitment to isolation.

This was a lot of fun, including the in-joke of a reporter named Carl McGavin, who even looks like Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, The Night Stalker (a show that was a major inspiration for the X-Files)? This one I watched all the way through.

STAR-CROSSED (2014) — no relation to the TV movie Starcrossedtakes place a decade after a botched first contact with Atrian refugees landing on Earth (the military assumed they were an invading force). The Atrians have been segregated in their own city (much nicer than District 9) but now the “Atrian Seven” teenagers have been picked to attend a human high school. Bigotry breaks out on both sides of the racial divide, along with romance. Watchable fare from the CW but I’ve no regrets it didn’t make it to S2.

Courtesy of library DVDs, I finally caught RESIDENT ALIEN (2021 — ), the oddball adaptation of a comic-book mystery series. The comic’s premise is that an alien stranded on Earth, posing as a human doctor, winds up becoming town doctor for a nearby rural community and investigating the murder of his predecessor. In short, it’s Diagnosis: Murder if Dick Van Dyke had been an alien.

The TV show takes the basic premise and piles on several more layers of plot. First off, Harry  Vanderspiegle (Alan Tudyk) arrived on Earth to wipe out humanity before we make the planet unlivable for his people’s kindred, the cephalopods. After his spaceship crashed he murdered the real Harry, took his place and settled into a reclusive existence near Patience, Colorado — only as in the comics, to be dragged into the town’s life when the resident doctor is murdered.

There are lots of added plotlines including a child who can see Harry; his nurse, who’s obsessively stalking the now-teenage girl she gave up for adoption; the town bartender who’s into Harry; and the feuding between the sheriff and his deputy. For some critics it was just overstuffed but I enjoyed it.

Tudyk is the real lure, though. The script lets him do it all — bemused social commentary on human ways, personal vanity (he has a lot of that), covering up the murder, discovering about sex and booze. Tudyk’s performance is of a very awkward nonhuman, in the tradition of Brother From Another Planet and Starman, At best, he comes off as socially ultra-awkward; when he laughs, it’s obvious he’s seen people do it and knows the motions but has never actually done it before. I look forward to catching the second season.

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Walking through time, prophesying war and putting in order: books read

IVAR, TIMEWALKER: Making History by Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry and Robert Gill is a disappointing sibling series to Archer and Armstrong. Armstrong’s brother Ivar informs physicist Neela Sethi she’s on the brink of discovering time travel, then takes her on a jaunt to see why she cannot change history, not even to save her beloved, accidentally deceased father. The collection doesn’t stand alone, it’s just set up for everything that’s coming in later volumes (which I don’t anticipate reading). And that aside, as several people have observed it feels like a knockoff of the Doctor breaking in a new companion.

CHICAGOLAND: A Joe Mack Shadow Council Novel by Gail Z. Martin and Larry Martin is part of a historical urban fantasy series (tied in to various other series by the same authors) which reimagines the Pittsburgh tall tale Joe Magarac (a man of living metal sometimes described as the Paul Bunyan of the steel mills) as an avatar for a Slavic storm good, making him immortal and when necessary letting him turn into the X-Men’s Colossus. In previous volumes he and his friends helped Elliott Ness bust Capone, who’s a self-taught magician as well as a mob boss; unfortunately with Scarface Al in the lockup, much of his magic is getting loose and running wild … The historical setting makes this much more enjoyable than I find most contemporary urban fantasies.

As H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds has roots in the 19th century’s “future war” genre, I reread the genre history  VOICES PROPHESYING WAR: Future Wars 1763 — 3749 by IF Clarke as part of my research for Alien Visitors. As Clarke details, future-war stories had been around since the 18th century but only became big when George Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking came out in 1871. The mix of military detail (a lot of analysis about where England’s military strategy was weak) with a strong story — Germany conquers France, then England  — was a smash hit, and multiple novels followed. Wells’ novel follows in the same mode as Dorking: a narrator looking back at the future war, and serving as an eyewitness rather than an active participant.

This was the 1992 edition so it ran longer than the volume I read before, with more discussion of space war and post-holocaust stories, which Clarke concludes have replaced most of the interest in WW III stories. This wasn’t quite as interesting as the older sections, but it’s still an excellent, though specialized read.

I was unimpressed with Judith Flanders’ The Invention of Murder, but I really enjoyed her A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order. Flanders starts by pointing out that alphabetical order is completely arbitrary — AJQBCM makes just as much sense as ABCDEF — but also fixed in our minds (we all know A list is better than D list). Then she shows that while listing or indexing things in alphabetical order seems intuitively obvious, it’s a relatively novel invention inhuman history. For much of our existence people favored geographical or hierarchical listings (in a monastic library catalog, books of the Bible and works by great Christian figures come first and second) as well as methods tied to a particular manuscript or individual collection (perfectly practical until someone else inherited it).. While this gets into the bibliographic weeds at times, an interesting look at history and possibly the future; Flanders points out that with Google and similar systems, alphabetical searching is often unnecessary.

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Yet more aliens watched!

Last week I pointed out that reviewers who describe Brother John as an angel may not have seen the film. But I made the same mistake writing about THE GIFTED ONE (1989) in my first film book — though to be fair, it wasn’t as easy to find a movie back then as in the age of streaming.

I’d described the leading character as half-ET but when I finally watched the film for Alien Visitors it turns out I was wrong: we don’t learn anything definite about lead character Michael’s (Peter Kowanko) origins. What we know is that after one woman’s baby was born dead, a single mother gave Michael up so the doctor (G.W. Bailey) swapped the two infants out. Michael grew up tormented by the incredible burden of being different — superhumanly smart, also possessing healing psi-powers. In the film, scientist John Rhys-Davies discovers Michael is millions of years evolved beyond modern man but by TV science standards that doesn’t rule out mom being an ET. This is an amazingly bland pilot, both in the script and in its leading man; Khyrstine Haje plays Michael’s childhood sweetheart. “I bet you can’t even play baseball.”

Stories of Earth under alien occupation are a small subset of alien invasion films; V (1982) which I’ll get to reviewing soon, is probably the best-known (and best) example. CAPTIVE STATE (2019) has aliens shutting down all of Earth’s electricity until we surrender, then setting up an authoritarian regime with implants for monitoring and tracking and drone strikes for dissenters. The plot concerns two black men, siblings who saw their parents butchered years earlier by the aliens; has the time come for the resistance to counter-attack? John Goodman plays a cop struggling to convince his superiors the threat is real, but does he have his own agenda in play? Interesting ideas but so murky and vague about everyone’s motivation, including the aliens, that it becomes Talking Lamp material fast. “What if the plan was to fail?”

MONSTERS (2010) is set in a world where a crashed probe has once again brought doom down upon us, in this case eggs that have grown into giant tentacled monsters whose territory spreads across the Southwest US and into Mexico. A photographer down south of the border for some monster shots gets ordered to escort his employer’s vacationing daughter safely back to the US, which of course proves harder than expected. Part of the filmmaker’s inspiration was to create a world where, like the zombie movie Fido things have been normalized: nobody’s rushing to nuke the monsters, they’re simply a dangerous invasive species we have to control. The drawback is, this could be a road movie in 1990s Bosnia and have much the same plot; overall I liked it though. “What do you mean —all the trees are infected?”

MONARCH OF THE MOON (2004) is a movie serial pastiche in which the parodic superhero Yellowjacket discover the Axis’ access to superweapons is due to their alliance with the eponymous tyrant, who plans to invade the United States and use our women for breeding stock. This falls kind of between the stools — not an outright parody, but too tongue in cheek to work as a tribute either. And having the female lead completely ineffective is annoying because several serials, such as Manhunt on Mystery Island, had perfectly competent women in them (as I complained over at Atomic Junkshop recently). “Let’s hope we can stop those Nazis before they destroy our entire navy!”

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Still working through my Alien Visitor review backlog

ETERNALS (2021) is indy director Chloe Zhao’s dive into the MCU, as a handful of  ancient astronauts, including Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie and Gemma Chan spend centuries battling the monstrous Deviants before learning the terrifying truth about why the Celestials sent them to Earth.

I enjoyed the movie. It’s good-looking, has some great twists, and a solid cast. I particularly liked the running element that the secret of the Eternals’ existence is known to all kinds of people. The cast is solid.

I did not, however, massively enjoy the movie. The Deviants are bland foes and the concept doesn’t make as much sense here as it did in Jack Kirby’s comic book. There we can reasonably assume that even though we only meet a few Olympians (Zuras, Makkari, Thena) the rest of the pantheon exists. Here it’s quite specific that these are all the Eternals that exist which undercuts the Gods From Outer Space thing. And as someone pointed out online, Gilgamesh (Don Lee) arrives on Earth in Babylonian times, too late to be the hero of  Sumerian epic. Not dealbreakers for me, but definitely weaknesses. “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you … the plow.”

If not for rereading Keep Watching the Skies I’d have forgotten NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST (1958) exists. That would be a shame as it fits into my book’s discussion of alien rape and impregnation well. An astronaut returns to Earth, apparently dead, revives and discovers he’s been implanted with alien embryos by ETs who can’t penetrate the Van Allen belt otherwise. But are they here to save us from ourselves, or is this the fist step in colonizing the world? Like It Conquered the World, the ideas are more interesting than the presentation. “There’s a man in there alive who should be dead — something that’s never happened before.”

I only watched enough of STARGATE (1994) to refresh my memory for the Ancient Astronauts chapter. Engaging in spots but the scenes on Ra’s world now strike me as generic Lost Race stuff with heavy White Savior episodes. Still fun, but it’s odd seeing Kurt Russell when I expect to see the TV show’s Richard Dean Anderson. “This should read ‘A million years into the sky lies Ra the Sun God, dead and buried.”

According to Pictures at a Revolution, Sidney Poitier was slammed by critics for much of his career for playing non-threatening black guys who wouldn’t alienate a white audience. BROTHER JOHN (1971) is very different, and almost nobody watched it. John (Poitier) mysteriously shows up in his Southern hometown when his sister’s on the brink of death, then sticks around, reconnecting with old friends and unsettling the local white power structure who know he’s up to something — but only the town doctor (Will Geer) gets to learn what it is.

A number of online reviews describe Poitier as an angel, which makes me think the reviewers haven’t seen it. He’s actually acting as an agent for aliens who want to see if we’re anyone they can tolerate when we get beyond our own little solar system. John’s report is … not favorable. It’s a striking, unsettling film which writerScott Woods describes as Poitier playing “black machismo you don’t have to apologize for.” It definitely deserves to be seen more than it is. “I would like to leave my name somewhere beside the toilet at the Stuart Street School.”

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Simon Pegg Meets Aliens (and more!)

It will be a while before I clear out all my viewing from working on Alien Visitors, but here’s the first catch-up post.

ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING (2017) has an intergalactic council (voiced by the Monty Python team) decides humanity’s survival hinges on whether Simon Pegg can use reality-warping powers for good or become corrupted. This is a good example of alien advanced science being indistinguishable from magic, as the council might as well have been God in Bruce Almighty or the bored deities gifting Roland Young with similar power in The Man Who Could Work Miracles.The results, unfortunately, are the predictable monkey’s paw effects of everything Pegg does turning out wrong though the alien’s standards turned out to be a nice twist (“It was good when he started all those wars, but now he’s stopped them — nothing is more evil than weakness!”). With Kate Beckinsale as Pegg’s dream girl. “The London Underground is worse than anything we did at Guantanamo.”

WORLD’S END (2013) has Pegg playing a self-destructive hot mess who reunites with his old school chums (including Martin Freeman of Sherlock) to re-enact the post-graduation pub crawl they never quite finished (making Robin Williams’ The Best of Times a logical double-bill). Unfortunately this plonks Pegg’s crew and Lost Love Rosamund Pike right in the middle of an alien takoever helmed by former teacher Pierce Brosnan. This has some clever writing in spots but Pegg’s the kind of overbearing jerk I just cannot stand. The alien stuff is simply too stock for me — like some of the shticks in Mars Attacks!, the pod people claiming We Make People Better could have been dropped in a serious movie without changing anything. “Does anyone know what ‘robot’ means?”

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016) is an interesting, if slightly too murky film wherein a father with a strange mutant child scurries to help him meet his Moment Of Destiny despite the efforts of the authorities to stop him and Mom Kirsten Dunst (yet another actor whose gone from kid star to Mom roles within my lifetime. Not that I’m old or anything). This is an effective SF thriller but would benefit from a little more explanation about why the kid is like this — I’d assumed an alien hybrid, but they don’t confirm or deny that. “What do you believe will happen Friday March 6?”

As CHARIOTS OF THE GODS (1970) was one of the films inspiring Tribulation 99, I gave it a look and had the pleasure of seeing TYG boggle at the bullshit (“That carving looks nothing like an astronaut!”). This pseudoscience documentary attempts to sell Erich Von Daniken’s theories about alien ancestors but even as a teen I was more intrigued than convinced by his ideas. Now I find his theories just ridiculous, nowhere near as interesting as Charles Fort (probably because Von Daniken has less solid material to work with). This makes me appreciate why some critics find Von Daniken racist, with the emphasis that the aliens did their work in Egypt and preColumbian America rather than, say, ancient Rome (the film mentions some Roman temples but only to claim their foundations were former rocket sites). Jack Kirby’s Eternals (source of the images here) is vastly more interesting.“Would Ezekiel have described visitors from space in any different terms?”

The animated CHICKEN LITTLE (2005) is unusual in that the protagonist’s Zero to Hero moment occurs well before the alien invasion, as his long-odds win in the Big Baseball Game redeems him from his previous panic over the sky falling. But then, when he starts squawking Aliens Are Coming…This makes the structure feel a little off, but the film ends up being a good example of an invasion that’s actually a misunderstanding (“You know how it is — when you’re a parent you do anything for your kids.”). Minor but watchable. “Prepare to be hurt — and not emotionally like me!”

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A week of staycation and a non-cover reveal

Well, mostly. I can’t help making little adjustments to Alien Visitors as long as I have the manuscript on hand. And it took me quite a while to get the illustrations mailed off Wednesday. Still, compared to the rest of this month, this week’s been a cakewalk.

Obviously no writing to review but I do have a non-cover reveal for Undead Sexist Cliches to share. I started with a temporary stock cover from Amazon —But several friends confirmed I needed something more. My friend Kemp Ward did an amazing job, but I don’t have a postable PDF yet. Stay tuned.

And that’s all my news.

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Shouldn’t women’s roles have improved by 1996?

Rewatching The Thing From Another World (1951) as I worked on the Monsters chapter of Alien Visitors gave me fresh appreciation for Margaret Sheridan as Nikki, the female lead opposite Kenneth Tobey’s Hendry. It’s not that she plays a role in fighting the Thing, but there’s no question she could do it if she had to.

Producer Howard Hawks liked stories about tough guys, and Hendry and his crew are plenty tough.  It’s not emphasized, just taken as a given that they’re willing to go up against this alien menace and fight to the last man to save the world. Scotty, the reporter (Douglas Spencer) establishes his bona fides easily: when Hendry says he should be away from the front lines, Scotty replies he shouldn’t have been at El Alamein or Okinawa during WW II, but he was there. ’nuff said.

The thing is, Hawks liked his women tough too. Contrary to the poster, Nikki never screams, never faints, never needs more protection than anyone else. She never stays behind when they’re going up against the Thing. We learn that on her last date with Hendry she drunk him under the table, a measure of toughness back in those days.

Fast-forward to 1988’s Predator. We have one woman in the cast (Elpidia Carrillo) and her role is a headscratcher. She’s working with a Russian special-forces team fomenting unrest in the region. We never learn what he role is: interpreter? Guide? Marxist guerilla? It comes off as if she’s there solely to provide exposition and avoid criticism the film’s a 100 percent sausage fest.

While Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his crew are tough, there’s more self-consciousness about it. One of the team (Jesse Ventura) carries a massive gun way too big to lug for jungle fighting; there’s the early scene where we watch Carl Weathers and Ah-nuld arm-wrestle with an emphasis on their muscles.

And then there’s Independence Day (1996) where as I’ve mentioned before, there’s a lot more worry that the male characters aren’t man enough. Jeff Goldblum lost his wife because he wasn’t ambitious enough for her; as a president, war hero Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is dismissed as a wimp because he compromises and negotiates. Both, of course, prove they’re Real Men.

The flip side of that is that the women have to be Real Woman, which is to say letting the men have all the glory. As the first lady, Mary McDonnell dies because she didn’t listen to her husband; Margaret Colin’s role as Goldblum’s ex is to see how awesome her husband really was; Viveca J. Fox gets to be a little heroic because she’s protecting her son, plus she’s doing what her boyfriend Will Smith told her to, in contrast to McDonnell.

It’s really annoying that Sheridan’s tougher and probably more capable than any of these later films. It should be the other way around, shouldn’t it? Similarly, the female lead in I Married a Monster (1997) doesn’t get to do more than in 1958’s I Married a Monster From Outer Space. All she can do is warn the town doctor and have him do the fighting. The 1995 Village of the Damned is marginally better than the classic 1960s film, but not much (I discussed this about a year ago).

Not that it’s startling news Hollywood is sexist, but it’s still annoying.

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Filed under Movies, Undead sexist cliches