Tag Archives: Alien visitors

Aliens coming for our women .. our dead … and Santa!

WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM? (2000) has Gary Shandling sent to Earth to impregnate an Earth woman as Phase One in their plan of conquest (one of the movie’s flaws is that they never explain how that was going to work). Despite their world having given up on emotions and sex, Shandling’s confident his training in seduction will make it easy to seduce a woman; after repeated failures he succeeds with Annette Bening only to discover that Feelings Are Good and Earth’s Way Is Better (“Why do we want to make them like us?”). This has some funny lines (“You made love to me while we ate — if I’d known you were going to do that, I’d never have ordered the soup.”) but not quite enough to make it work, alas. With Camryn Mannheim as one of Benning’s friends, Linda Fiorentino as an adulteress, John Goodman as an FAA investigator turned UFOlogist (“After 22 years I’ve finally seen something I can’t explain away.”) and Ben Kingsley as the aliens’ supreme leader. “We transfer all our dysfunction onto our kids and I don’t want to be responsible for that — I’ve already fucked up my dog.”

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER (1965) is every bit as bad as I’d heard, starting with the lack of any Frankenstein connection; the astronaut for a new space launch is an android named “Frank” and when he’s shot down by aliens he ends up running amok in Puerto Rico like a — Frankenstein! Meanwhile aliens whose women have all been wiped out in war show up Puerto Rico to take ours so we get lots of screaming and kidnapping before Frank puts a stop to that. “I’m not afraid — fear is either the result of physiology or superstition and ignorance.”

I’ve watched Ed Wood’s classically awful PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) so many times it’s almost impossible to look at with fresh eyes. However one thing did jump out at me, that it proposes a massive government cover-up of UFOs, bigger by far than Invasion of the Saucer Men: the aliens actually destroyed an American town (“It was a small town, I admit, but nevertheless it was a town of people!”) and the government blamed it on natural disaster (“You hear an account of a fire, an earthquake, a natural disaster, and you wonder.”). That explains why the desperate aliens are launching Plan Nine, resurrecting the dead to stage a March on Washington that cannot be ignored. Memorably and hilariously awful. “He’s dead — murdered — and somebody’s responsible!”

SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964) is also bad, but not as entertaining. It’s another example of old-school abduction by aliens, (i.e., without anal probes) as Martians kidnap that jolly old elf to pump some life back into their own kids (“Mars doesn’t have children — they have children’s bodies but adult minds!”). This is also an example of alien attack uniting the world as everyone puts aside their differences to save Santa (“Never in the history of mankind have the world’s nations reacted with such unanimity and cooperation.”). I feel safe in saying this will never become one of my Christmas perennials. “Earth has had Santa Claus long enough — we shall bring him to Mars!”

I COME IN PEACE (1990) is another bad film, with cop Dolph Lundgren discovering a series of bizarre murders are the work of an alien drug dealer extracting human endorphins because they’re a super-drug on his planet. Mindless gory action and the alien’s “I come in peace” (the only thing he says in English) never works as a catchphrase. “When you had me wondering if you were dead or alive, I was kind of rooting for dead.”

THE HIDDEN (1987) has cop Michael Nouri wondering why perfectly respectable people suddenly turn into psycho outlaws, while also putting up with oddball FBI agent Kyle MacLachlan horning in on the investigation instead of Nouri’s regular partner Clu Gallagher.The truth is that the outlaws are a succession of bodies an alien parasite is using an discarding; MacLachlan is an alien cop borrowing a human body to track the killer down. MacLachlan’s flattening of affect doesn’t express his alienness well (it comes as much poor acting as a choice) but the villain’s gleeful malevolence makes this more entertaining than I Come in Peace. “So you’re saying we’ve got spacemen?”

Critics Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltn both see I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011) as “Twilight with aliens instead of vampires” but it has just as much in common with the 1980s TV series The Power of Matthew Star (superpowered alien teen hiding on Earth from his world’s destroyers) or any number of angsty teen superheroes. While the YA novel it’s based on has received a half-dozen sequels, this film is forgettable, unremarkable stuff with alien villains who are almost generically evil. “My entire childhood was an episode of X-Files.”

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I may be running slightly out of steam …

Which may be due to lack of sleep — okay, it’s definitely partly lack of sleep — or that to get Alien Visitors done, I’m not taking any complete days off.

Either way, I realized this morning that I needed to take a break from the book. I did a Leaf, worked on Undead Sexist Cliches and finished the Golem article. That  required rereading Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem as my editor wanted to include it (fair enough — it was a critically acclaimed novel that sold a lot). I can’t say I liked it more than my first reading, but I can appreciate why it’s strangeness found an audience.

I still have to give the article a final proofread, but I think I’m done.

Earlier in the week, though, things went great. I have a solid draft of every chapter in Alien Visitors except the comedy and Men in Black chapters. The other chapters still need rewriting, but I think they’re at the point where it’ll go smoother, and hopefully faster, than these first drafts have.

I also got lots of movies and TV watched, including more X-Files, a British show called Undermind (doesn’t quite qualify) and a couple of episodes of Ben 10.

Wisp has resumed coming in overnight so apparently she’s over the trauma of being bunged in a cage last week. Snowdrop has been showing up regularly, though she doesn’t come in yet. She and Wisp seem on good enough terms Wisp doesn’t steal her food; then again, she’s quite happy to snarf Wisp’s if she can get away with it.

We had a minor alarm with Trixie midweek, when she moped around as she does with a bad stomach upset, except she was happy to eat. We made an appointment for her but the next day she was fine. We canceled, though we both worried that once it was too late, the symptoms would recur. They didn’t. That’s a relief — I love my little terrier/chihuahua.

Come on, who couldn’t love that face?

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One book, one movie, our place in the universe: This Island Earth

In Keep Watching the Skies, Bill Warren’s landmark book on 1950s SF movies, Warren made an interesting point. Even when the aliens come in peace, the tone of the films is often that we’re better off if they don’t come here. His specific example was comparing the novel and film of This Island Earth.

The 1952 novel (which I’m about to spoil, so be warned) by Raymond F. Jones opens with radio engineer Cal Meachum discovering a vendor has sent some strange, glasslike beads instead of the condensers Cal ordered (I had to look it up — a condenser is another name for capacitors that store electricity). When Cal tests them, though, it turns out they are phenomenally effective condensers, way beyond anything on the market. But the vendor claims no knowledge of them.

Cal and his sidekick Joe get a catalog that offers even more amazing products, and the equipment for building something called an interocitor. Cal succumbs to temptation, orders the components and eventually puts it together. The interocitor immediately opens up a communications line to a group called the Peace Engineers. They invite Cal to quit his job and work for them; intrigued, he agrees.

When he arrives, he learns the Peace Engineers are scientists and engineers dedicated to seeing their creations and discoveries used peacefully, rather than militarized. One of them tells Cal that if not for them, WW I would have been nuclear; WW II would have left Earth a dead world. Cal, having lived through WW II and now the Korean War, loves the idea. But he can’t help feeling there’s more going on …

There is, of course. It turns out the Peace Engineers are just a front for the Llanna, an alien alliance fighting against the malevolent Guarra (think Allies vs. Axis). Their resources are strained to the point they can’t manufacture interocitors fast enough (it’s a powerful psi-weapon as well as a communicator), so they’ve outsourced it to Earth. One of the aliens compares it to WW II: if you need land cleared and a base built on some Pacific island, you hire the natives. You don’t explain the geopolitics or the ethics of the war, you simply pay them to help you.

This goes pear-shaped when the Guarra decide Earth is valuable enough to their enemies they should annihilate it. The Llanna computer projections show Earth is doomed, but Cal convinces them that’s why they’ve been losing: the Guarra have learned to periodically ignore the projections of their own machines and make random, unpredictable attacks. If the Llana do the same thing, acting against the computers to protect Earth, it’ll blindside the enemy.

Heading home to Earth, Cal feels he’s done the right thing. Even if most of Earth has no knowledge of the Llanna or the war, their destinies have become tied together; the progress of the war will affect Earth’s future. It’s good that an Earthman got to weigh in on it. The subtext is that connecting our island to the vast space civilization is a good thing: “Like it or not, Earth was a member of the community of worlds.”

The movie version is different from the start: Cal (Rex Reason) is a Tony Stark like techtrepreneur, lionized by the press. There’s no Peace Engineers, simply Exeter (Jeff Morrow), the alien front man for what turns out to be the planet of Metaluna. Where the aliens in the novel can pass for human, the Metalunans have huge heads that would seem to scream Not Our Kind (I’ve read that the Coneheads‘ original skits on Saturday Night Live were inspired by everyone ignoring Exeter’s giant cranium).

In the novel, cal meets Ruth, a psychiatrist helping the aliens deal with humans. Here, Ruth (Faith Domergue) is an old girlfriend who pretends they’ve never met. She and Steve (Russell Johnson) warn Cal that all is not well: the engineers working for Exeter are monitored constantly and some who ask too many questions change personalities overnight.

Finally Cal and Ruth make a break for it in Cal’s plane, only to be drawn up into Exeter’s ship. Like the novel, they’ve been working to build weapons for Metaluna; unlike the novel, it’s not good guys/bad guys. The Metalunans are losing the war and so their back up plan is to take over Earth.

Of course it all ends happily for Earth. Metaluna falls before its people can relocate; Exeter redeems himself by taking Cal and Ruth home, even though he’s dying. While the novel is more imaginative and interesting, the movie is good, though odd at the same time. Cal is much more swept along by events than steering them as most protagonist’s do; it works, but it makes it odd enough, I can see why MST3K picked it to mock some years back (they’re still wrong though).

The point here is that as Warren says, the movie takes the opposite view from the book. It’s good that we’re living on an isolated island. Space is scary, full of wars and unfriendly aliens who’ll exploit us for their own purposes. Better we stick to our own world.

This is not an isolated example. In Battleship, one character complains scientists should never be sending messages out into space: don’t they know any civilization advanced enough to respond and visit us will just treat us the way America treated the Native Americans? A stronger civilization will always oppress the weaker. Best we stay here on our own little island.

It’s very far removed from the optimism that made so many of us love Star Trek. And history shows some cultures have traded, negotiated and not immediately tried to destroy each other. So if we ever meet aliens, I’m hoping it’ll turn out Jones was right and the pessimists were wrong. Fingers crossed.

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The Secret Origins of Superman? Maybe (A books read post)

Based on a recommendation from my friend Ross I checked Brad Ricca’s SUPER BOYS: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster out of the library to gain more perspective on the Alien Superheroes chapter (which focuses on Superman for obvious reasons). Ricca does a very good job chronicling the guys’ lives and early creative endeavors (Siegel wrote some remarkably funny columns for his high school paper) to the later years when Shuster did kinky illustrations for one magazine and Siegel was working on Archie Comics’ way too camp line of superheroes (curiously, given Ricca mentions Siegel’s fondness for the Shadow, he doesn’t mention his work on Archie’s painfully bad Shadow comic).

Ricca also does a very good job showing how Cleveland, the guys’ home town, was an inspiration. Cleveland was a city of notoriously reckless drivers; Superman makes war on reckless drivers in a couple of stories. Some of his early stunts weren’t that far off from what professional strongmen touring the Midwest were doing. However his determination to trace everything Siegel wrote to a real-world root or some element of Siegel’s tortured soul gets old and unconvincing fast. Overall, though, a good read.

DISGUISED AS CLARK KENT: Jews, Comics and the Creation of the Superhero by Danny Fingeroth is less persuasive in arguing that contrary to popular assumptions about comics’ many Jewish creators (that the field was desperate enough not to have issues hiring Jews that more prestigious publication avenues might), Jews were naturally drawn to create characters who championed the oppressed and the vulnerable.  And wasn’t Superman losing his entire planet a reflection on how Jews had been cut from their culture when they emigrated, then later on the impact of the Holocaust (while Peter Novick argues the Holocaust wasn’t a major issue for American Jews in the 1950s and ’60s, I suppose a subconscious reaction isn’t out of the question)?

Some of this was interesting: while the idea of the X-Men as a metaphor for Jews isn’t new to me, I had no idea Claremont was half-Jewish himself and specifically referenced that and anti-Semitism as an influence. A lot of the time, he comes off as reaching — the idea Doctor Doom as a Roma is lashing out because of his people’s deaths during the Holocaust doesn’t fit the Silver Age take on Doom at all. This was worth a look but not as insightful as it might have been.

Moving from one project to another: the editor on my golem article specifically asked me to include Marge Piercy’s HE, SHE AND IT in my revisions so I read it this week. While I knew Piercy equated a cyborg character to a golem I wasn’t aware it went beyond that, to include an entire retelling of the Golem of Prague legend.

The story concerns Shira, a Jewish woman in a dystopian, corporate-dominated near future. Having lost her son in a custody dispute, she returns to her Jewish hometown and discovers her mother’s neighbor, Avram Stein, has built a cyborg, Yod, to defend them (yes, the use of “stein” for the scientist is not coincidental). Both Joseph the golem and Yod the cyborg have no problem dealing with ruthlessly with threats, but have to ask if that’s really how they want to live their life.

Unfortunately Piercy’s writing embodies everything I hate about literary SF — constant info-dumps, lots of navel gazing, characters who can understand and discuss the torments of their soul with crystalline clarity, then talk about them at length. I forced myself through so I can finish the article but I am massively underwhelmed.

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Interesting movies, not all successful

FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967) was an unqualified success and will be one of the spotlights in my Gods From Outer Space chapter. The big screen adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s BBC drama Quatermass and the Pit, it stars Andrew Keir as Quatermass, bristling at the news his rocket-research group will be placed under the orders of military martinet Julian Glover, with an eye to militarizing space. Then comes a distraction — a rebuilding project at an London Underground stop turns up impossibly old human skeletons, then an unexploded bomb .. which turns out to be a spaceship. What’s going on? How does it tie in with the haunted history of the street called Hobs End?

It turns out our beliefs in the devil (“and the pit” refers both to the construction project and an old way to refer to hell), gargoyles and the Horned God are racial memories of the Martians who genetically engineered our ancestors. That included implanting traits in us that would make us mentally Martian as well, and the time for those to kick in is now … Probably the best Gods From Outer Space film, though predating Erich Von Daniken popularizing the concept. “Then to the extent anyone is — we are the Martians”

TRIBULATION 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (1991) is auteur Craig Baldwin’s “collage film” composed of an assortment of clips from SF and low budget movies along with news footage. Combined, they show how America’s long history of supporting Latin American dictators has really been a fight against alien survivors from the shattered planet of Quetzal. The invasion of Grenada? To stop alien psi-vampires from stealing the minds of Americans attending medical school there. The invasion of Panama, where dictator General Noriega had been our ally? A necessity once the Quetzalians replaced the Good Noriega with his evil alien clone! And so on.

Baldwin says on the commentary track that this was meant to satirize both U.S. policy and pseudo-science documentaries such as Chariots of the Gods (which he says makes up for its high level of bullshit by being very well made). A deft parody, though it also shows the perennial problem of satire aging out of relevance: thirty years after Bush I sent our forces into Panama and Iran-Contra is a historical footnote, what will younger viewers make of it? “After 33 assassination attempts against Castro and 50 million dollars spent they realized with horror you cannot kill something which was never alive.”

Getting to the not-so-successful stuff: IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956)has a Venusian monster resembling a giant cucumber with teeth hitch a ride to Earth on one of our satellites. With the help of a resentful scientist (Lee Van Cleef) who’s tired of his ideas not getting the respect he thinks they deserve, it shuts down all power in the area and begins turning key people into obedient, emotionless robots. And they’re only the beginning … Can Peter Graves convince his friend to see things differently? Can wife Beverly Garland (pictured) convince Van Cleef emotions are still good.

Silly monster, heavily padded story (Dick Miller and a bunch of soldiers wander around in the woods interminably) but not without some good thoughts. When Van Cleef refuses to betray his ally, Graves argues that only emotion makes loyalty possible — the roboticized agents, having neither loyalty nor courage, would prioritize their own lives over allies or causes. That’s a novel take on the emotion vs. logic debate.

In light of Peter Breggin’s theories in Seeing Is Believing about how 1950s movies either side with Regular Folks or Smart Folks, the conflict here is Smart Guy vs. Smart Guy. Though I don’t think that disproves Breggin’s thesis: clearly it’s Smart Scientific People who ultimately decide the fate of the world, even if they don’t agree among themselves. “You’re smiling like a man who’s inherited Texas.”

THE PHOENIX (1981) stars Judson Scott (much better known as Khan’s son in Wrath of Khan) as Bennu, an Egyptian God From Outer Space found in a tomb in Latin America. No problem, archeologist Darryl Anderson explains — we have evidence space gods existed (“Electric batteries thousands of years old. Maps in the 16th century that could only have been chartered from the air.”) so why shouldn’t they have shaped the Americas as they did Egypt. Bennu, of course, revives and founds himself the focus of scientists (E.G. Marshall) and Mexican (I think, though they don’t specify) official Fernando Allende, who wants to drag Bennu home as a living historical artifact. Bennu, instead, breaks out and winds up falling for pretty photographer Shelly Smith while figuring out his destiny (he should have been thawed out a hundred years later, dang it!).

Bennu himself is a very flower-child/New Age ET who’s also a Christ figure (“The gods sent to Earth a child of their so that he might teach men the knowledge of the greatest of gods.”). Scott isn’t great but it’s not like anyone could have breathed much life into this, or the brief series that followed. Interesting for my research, but the writers aren’t exactly in Nigel Kneale’s class. “This is the closest thing man has found to a god since creation.”

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Disruptions come on little cat feet

So last weekend, TYG noticed that Wisp’s back left foot looked as if it had some sort of bite or cut. We sprayed it a couple of times without noticeable effect, other than stressing Wisp out — she really didn’t like it and tried to avoid it. But I got photos, which we showed to the vet, and they said to bring her in. So the next morning we tried various tricks, unsuccessfully, to lure Wisp into a cage. Finally TYG just picked her up and bunged her in.

We covered it with a blanket to calm her down but it didn’t help. Piteous meowing followed. When that didn’t get her out, Wisp began clawing at the sheet under the cage, pulling it in. I’m not sure what good she thought that would do.

The vet told us the foot had been bitten or scratched, and become infected. They gave her a big shot of antibiotics and we brought her home. Since then, she hasn’t slept inside the house once. I’m not sure how much it’s Snowdrop’s influence and how much she’s lost trust that we’re a safe space. I hope she’ll be back in soon.

That made Tuesday pretty chaotic, but overall the week went well.  I got work done on several chapters of Alien Visitors and finished proofing the harassment chapter of Undead Sexist Cliches. Did my Leaf articles. Accomplished some film viewing and research reading for Alien Visitors too.

I also asked my editor for an extension so that I can catch Eternals and add it to the Gods From Outer Space chapter. They’re good with it. I shall use the added time to add some depth to the chapters. I admit I’m a little disappointed not to have everything wrapped up at the end of this month, it’s also a relief not to have to wrap everything up.

Oh, and for the second time since I started paying state sales tax on copies of my books sold, the state processing fee was less than the money I made off the books. Achievement unlocked!

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Cliches and Aliens: three movies

Here are three movies that jazz up stock formulae by adding aliens. Only one of them works though and that would be ALIEN NATION (1988), starring James Caan and Mandy Patinkin as respectively a human cop, Sykes, and the alien “Newcomer” George Francisco he’s partnered with.

In the opening (set five years in the future) we learn how a UFO crashed outside LA in 1988, and turned out to be a literal slave ship. Newly freed, the Newcomers (the name Tectonese was added in the TV series) have settled into LA like any other immigrant group. Sykes isn’t fond of the “slags,” particularly after one of them blows his partner away. George, however, is investigating a “slagtown” murder using the same kind of high-powered gun so Sykes figures partnering with him will get him to catch his partner’s killer eventually.

The film is a boatload of cliches. Antagonistic Cops turned to Buddy Cops. Car Chases. Sykes as a divorced, bitter burn-out (divorce in 1980s cop films demonstrates how cutoff the character is from everyone else). A testimonial dinner for a Newcomer (Terence Stamp) who turns out to be the villain (as Harlan Ellison once said, anyone in a cop movie getting a testimonial dinner will turn out to be rotten). A climax fighting a killer who just refuses to stay dead. Nevertheless, the movie works. The alien element makes it more interesting and Caan and Patinkin totally nail their roles. “I like my horizons rather narrow.”

THE WATCH (2012) has small-town Costco Manager Ben Stiller (the product placement here is sledgehammer-subtle) forms a neighborood watch after one of his employees is murdered and skinned (“Our society has rules — and one of those rules is that you can’t murder people and steal their skin!”). He and his crew (Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade) then spend the movie bonding awkwardly as they go the Zero to Hero character arc and try to thwart an alien invasion.  I did like the one good alien being unable to deactivate the doomsday device (“I’m not an engineer, I don’t know how it works!”) but I’m annoyed that despite Stiller emphasizing in the opening scenes that he wants friends of all ethnicities (“I don’t have a black friend yet but I’m in negotiation.”) there’s no payoff. Overall, a stock and unfunny bro-comedy that doesn’t benefit from the added aliens (who are played straight rather than parodic). “We’re aliens — that’s what we do we come to planets, destroy them and move on.”

I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011) is an even less interesting movie (though the Y/A book it’s based on has spawned five sequels to date), recycling stock tropes of teenage superheroes and Chosen Ones. The protagonist is a superhuman alien looking remarkably like a hot teenage boy, hiding out on Earth from the malevolent aliens who destroyed his home world and have already killed three other survivors. Just as “Number Four” starts to fall in love with a classmate, guess who turns up?

Both Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin see this as a Twilight riff, with aliens instead of vampires. They might be right but it feels more like they’re stealing from comics (the hero’s angst at hiding his powers is way familiar)— given Buffy alum Marti Noxon was one of the writers — Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For that matter it’s not that different from the early 1980s show about an alien teen in exile, The Powers of Matthew Star. Competently acted, but that doesn’t help when things are this dull — and the aliens are particularly dull, with no personality other than Evil. “My entire childhood was an episode of X-FILES.”

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Hunting the aliens: movies and TV

The second season “mytharc” of X-FILES ramps up considerably from S1: With the X-Files officially closed, Mulder’s stuck with a new partner, Krycek (Nicholas Lea) who’s secretly taking orders from the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Then in the two-parter “Duane Barry/Ascension,” Mulder’s called in to negotiate with a mentally ill FBI agent who believes he’s a victim of alien abduction. Mulder, of course, takes his claims seriously; Scully becomes convinced Barry’s a delusional schizophrenic who’ll say whatever he has to to get what he wants.

It’s a classic debate, except the story throws in a third layer — this all turns out to be a scheme by the CSM that culminates with Scully getting abducted. What’s really going on? Were there aliens or just humans involved? Was Barry abducted, delusional or a conspiracy agent? Scully would return, comatose, a few episodes later and make a miraculous recovery.

Some of this would be eplained in S3 (I’m working through that now), some of it’s still murky and I don’t think Scully’s resurrection is ever really explained. It’s an excellent example of the kind of mystery that enthralled regular viewers and turned off others. “To win a war you have to pick the right battles, Agent Mulder — and this is a fight you can’t win.’

Rewatching THE CONEHEADS (1993) makes me appreciate what an old-school look at the American Dream it is: illegal immigrants (Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin) come to America, works their way up to a middle-class lifestyle, stays one step ahead of immigration and realizes their daughter (Michelle Burke) has become thoroughly Americanized. The humor, of course, is that they’re so ridiculously extraterrestrial in appearance, body language and language that everyone blandly accepting them as French is ridiculous. It’s a one-joke film in a sense, but the joke works for me.

Michael McKean as their nemesis in immigration is unusual in that while very anti-illegal immigration he’s not the usual fanatical zealot dedicated to catching the protagonists. When he gets a promotion that moves him away from New York, he chooses career over continuing the hunt, and only goes after them again when his failure to catch them is a black mark on his record. At the climax, he and Beldar work out a deal to get the aliens their green cards without too much conflict. “I would draw the shades and I would live in the dark … my cone would shrivel and I would die, miserable and lonely. The stench would be great.”

PAUL (2014) has nerds Simon Pegg and Nick Frost doing a UFO tour of the US when they pick up the eponymous Grey (Seth Rogan’s voice) escaping from Area 51 and help him reconnect with his people before fed Jason Bateman catches up with them. Like Pegg’s Hot Fuzz this is a movie about movie nerds caught up in a movie; it also invokes the idea of Silver Screen Saucers that the government is using Hollywood to prep humanity for when the aliens go public. I enjoyed this but my friend Ross found if flat; while some of the Easter eggs feel off (how many watchers would get a joke about Lorenzo’s Oil — and these don’t seem the type of nerds to have watched it). Still, funnier as a bro-comedy than Aliens and GUFORS or Ben Stiller’s The Watch (which I’ll be writing about in a few days). “No, you idiots, I did not set my phaser to ‘faint.’”

HANGAR 18 (1980) has the flimsiest reasons for covering up our government possession of a UFO I think I’ve ever heard. According to sinister presidential adviser Robert Vaughn, people think UFO believers are crazy so if the president says there’s a UFO stored in Hangar 18, everyone will laugh and he’ll lose the election. Right, it’s not like actually having a UFO and being able to prove they’re real would make a difference (my guess, the president wins on a landslide). Gary Rhodes is the space shuttle pilot who knows too much, Darren McGavin the head of NASA, Joseph Campanella the head of the CIA and William Schallert and Pamela Bellwood are scientists.

This will get a mention in the Gods From Outer Space chapter as it reveals the aliens posed as gods, then interbred with our ancestors (“There’s a reason we and the aliens look so much alike.”). However the emphasis on specifically pre-Columbian contact (them making the Nazca carvings as landing strips, for instance) reminds me of complaints this is as racist as countless older theories showing how Romans, Israelites or Egyptians did the building because those primitive savages who lived here certainly couldn’t have done it. “They’re light years ahead of us in intelligence, yet they were killed because of a stupid accident.”

Rewatching STARMAN (1984) in the context of Alien Visitors hurts it a little: while Jeff Bridges earned his Oscar with his sweet, awkward attempts at imitating a human, it’s not that far removed from The Coneheads or the Brother From Another Planet. This is an interplanetary love story with the stranded alien coercing widow Karen Allen into helping him, taking the cloned body of her husband in the assumption this will make it easier for her (it doesn’t, at least at first). While I found the similar kidnapping/romance plotline in 12 Monkeys very unsatisfying, the leads and the script make it work here. Both actors are excellent — I particularly love how Bridges’ final ascension back to his people is shown entirely through the expressions on Allen’s face.

Richard Jaeckel as Fox, the security official determined to catch or kill the alien, is a lot less satisfying. Jaeckel plays it well, but his character’s a blank slate: we never get any explanation why he’s so determined to treat the alien as a threat. This is yet another film that implies the aliens’ attaining a peaceful, disembodied existence is kind of regrettable, compared to the physical joys of “the singing and the dancing and the eating.” One I’m glad I bought to keep. “I understand greetings in 54 Earth planet languages.”

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Slow-going work, plus cats

Cats first. Snowdrop seems to be settling in and showing up for food. Wisp seems to be tolerating him, and not trying to steal his food. It’s high protein, which is supposed to decrease the hunting urge. Wisp and I seem to have lost the rhythm we’d developed now that Snowdrop’s out there. Sometimes rather than come in, she goes off and looks for him or guards against him, I’m not sure which. Last night neither of them showed, which worried me a little. Wisp was back this morning though; hopefully Snowdrop will be here tonight.

Wisp has also started coming in at random times during the day, which she hasn’t done in months. Here she is sitting in the spare bedroom — it’s her sleepytime place — while I stepped out for a minute.As to work, let’s see. I met with  the cover designer for Undead Sexist Cliches, who came well recommended. He says he’ll try to get something done and back to me by next week. I also proofed more of it.

I got 16 Leaf articles done.

I did a lot of work on Alien Visitors, which is good, and the chapter drafts (intro, Invasions, Bodysnatchers) are good, but it’s going too damn slow. There’s only so much focus before my mind sludges unless I remember to take breaks. And taking breaks costs time. It’s doable … I think. But will it be done? I don’t know, even given how much extra time I’m putting in. It doesn’t help that TYG’s schedule hasn’t let her take the dogs quite as much as she’d hoped, but I don’t think that’s the primary problem.

Oh, and I got Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, which I sent out to another market, back with a no. I’ll be sending it out again in November, when things calm down.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

The pandemic from space: thoughts on reading “The Andromeda Strain”

THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN was the book that catapulted Michael Crichton on the best-seller lists, a science fiction novel for people who don’t read science fiction. As I’m including a discussion of the movie in Alien Visitors, I reread the novel for the first time, probably, since it came out.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the novel concerns a satellite gathering xenobacteria as possible bio-weapons. When it crashes to Earth in a small town of less than 70 people, the men who found it take it to the town doctor, who opens it. By the time the military two-man collection crew arrives, everyone’s dead. The two soldiers die too. Their alarmed CO triggers a Wildfire alert, a special protocol for dealing with extraterrestrial threats of this sort. A crew of four scientists assembles at the cutting-edge Wildfire lab to figure out what caused the deaths, and why two people — a baby and an aging wino — survived. And, of course, how to prevent whatever it is from spreading.

The novel, like much of Crichton’s later fiction, is insanely talky. He constantly info-dumps about the amazing technology, the computers, the biology of the Andromeda infestation, the methods of research. There’s almost no characterization to distinguish the four doctors (Stone, Leavitt, Hall and Dutton) other than Hall being single (significant to the plot). There are several little points where the book feels off: the assumption that Andromeda will grow if fed nuclear radiation seems to come out of nowhere; repeated assertions the team made small mistakes don’t apparently lead anywhere. Nevertheless, the book worked. It established Crichton on the A-list and he stayed there consistently for the rest of his long career (which led to movies including Jurassic Park and Westworld plus less successful films such as Rising Sun). I enjoyed it too, though I can’t remember my reactions in detail (if I’d loved it I’d probably have a much stronger memory of it).

Much as writers, editors and reviewers talk about “show don’t tell,” I’m not so sure readers give a crap. This book is very, very “tell” but obviously it didn’t hurt it. It probably helps that Crichton’s not telling about his characters love lives or careers but about interesting, extremely cool science and tech stuff. And in a situation where an extraterrestrial pandemic could break out at any second. It’s not a new thought but if you embed a lot of info-dumping into an intriguing story, it’s much easier to get away with, particularly if it’s interesting info-dumps (case in point, Airport). That it dealt with outer space didn’t hurt — the space race was one of the coolest things going on in the 1960s.

The movie still has a lot of telling but it moves smoother than the book. More important, it makes the scientists into individuals, enhanced by capable actors (director Robert Wise picked less well known actors, figuring it would help the realism). Stone (Arthur Hill) is the leader, a wealthy establishment guy. Judging from Dutton’s (David Wayne) home he’s much more middle-class and more liberal; his family are very upset he’s going to work for the “germ warfare people.” James Olson plays Hall as a smartass, a cynic and a bit of a womanizer. Kate Reid as Leavitt — in the book it’s a man — is tart-tongued and dour. In the book Leavitt avoids flashing red lights (they trigger his epilepsy) claiming they remind him of his ambulance work in WW II. In the movie Leavitt quips about working a brothel in the red light district.

On the whole, the movie is one of the rare ones that improves on the source novel.

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