October 26, 2016

Deep Ice: And if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian; it’s Halloween (Eric S. Brown’s The War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies)

God damned third-party seller on Amazon. The DVD I needed to finish my scheduled post was due to arrive no later than last Thursday. Yet here I wait without it. So instead, here’s the post I was going to put up on Halloween.

It's like they took every stylistic element of every rendition of the tripod and slammed them together without any appreciation for how these things should go together.

It’s like they took every stylistic element of every prior rendition of the tripod and slammed them together without any appreciation for how these things should go together.

It is April 30, 2009. Chrysler declares bankruptcy. South Korea has created transgenic fluorescent dogs. Tomorrow, Carol Ann Duffy will become the first woman, first Scot, and first openly gay person to be named Poet Laureate of the UK. X-Men Origins: Wolverine opens tomorrow as well. Navy cop drama NCIS launches its spin-off NCIS: Los Angeles. We continue to mourn Bea Arthur, who died last week. We’ll lose Dom Deluise in the coming one. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation this week is “The Gone Dead Train”, about a tattoo parlor that gives people rabies. Hugh Jackman is Jon’s guest on The Daily Show. Ethan Nadelmann is on Colbert. A few weeks ago, the BBC aired the first Doctor Who of the calendar year, “Planet of the Dead”. Saturday’s Power Rangers RPM is “Ranger Blue”, a focus episode for The Tribe alum Ari Boyland, which has the disappointing resolution that the solution to this week’s problem (he’s left unable to summon his spandex due to an overload) is to pull the battery out of his morpher and reinsert it backwards.

The Billboard charts are stable this week; “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas is number one for the third week in a row, and they’ll stay there until October because “I Got a Feeling” is coming out soon. There’s been no movement in the top three since they bumped Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” down a notch. Flo Rida follows them in number 3 with “Right Round”. Everyone else in the top ten has been jocking for position for weeks, aside from Eminem’s “We Made You” which enters the charts this week at number 9.

Ever since George Romero and Mike Russo invented the modern zombie horror genre in 1968, the popularity of tales of the risen dead has waxed and waned as they caught the zeitgeist of whichever assortment of cultural fears ruled the day. When their popularity started to peak again in 2007, things were different on the pop culture scene, though. The larger horror genre was, like all of geek culture, somewhat less marginalized and film storytelling had become more sophisticated. At the same time, the wider culture was becoming more polarized. There was a growing cultural angst, a sense of impending apocalypse. The Cold War had long-since ended, paradoxically making us feel less secure since we no longer had the comforting thought of sudden nuclear annihilation to stop us from worrying about things like the fact that there was a limited amount of oil and most of it was in a part of the world basically synonymous with violent political instability. There was a major housing crisis on the horizon, the catastrophic effects of global climate change were getting harder to ignore, international terrorism seemed — accurately or not — like a bigger threat than ever, and both Gilmore Girls and The West Wing had been canceled. The world didn’t feel especially sustainable, and we couldn’t really say why. The reason we couldn’t really say why was mostly because “Actually what it feels like is that white Christian heterosexual men are not going to have a monopoly on power much longer and ‘working-class white man’ isn’t going to be the cultural notion of ‘default human’, and as far as I’m concerned, that is the literal end of the world,” is not something it’s socially acceptable to cop to.

While geek culture was becoming more mainstream, another thing that was starting to become more normalized and less, “I’m already preparing my ‘He kept to himself and always seemed like a quiet, non-threatening man,’ speech for when the reporters interview me after he goes postal,” were the militia and doomsday prepper subcultures. People who were increasingly convinced that any day now, human civilization would collapse and their survival would rely on them having been prepared with a stockpile of canned goods, gold bullion purchased from an infomercial during Glenn Beck’s show, and many, many guns.

And I’ll confess here that I’ve got maybe just a touch of doomsday prepper mixed into my hoarder sensibilities. Mine’s a little different from most; I don’t expect the actual literal collapse of human civilization, nor do I presume that I could actually defend myself from it, since my diabetes meds aren’t shelf-stable. But the knowledge that I’ve got enough freeze-dried food to outlast a hurricane does a little to offset my general paranoia. Mostly I’m interested in it for the MacGyver aspect.

But I think there’s another aspect to the prepper/survivalist boom and the not unrelated zombie revival at around the same time that people don’t like to talk about, and it’s where I start to bring us back around to The War of the Worlds. There are exceptions, obviously, but earlier zombie fads seem to have focused more on running away, holing up somewhere, and shepherding resources to find a way to improvise around the absence of civilization. This isn’t absent in the more recent fad, but there’s something else: a much greater emphasis on the visceral thrill of zombie-killing. Where in earlier films, the survivors go on the offensive only rarely, usually just for a climactic scene that ends either in a tragic downer ending or at best a Pyrrhic victory, more recent films take considerable joy in showing their heroes hunt down and dispatch the undead.

I think that maybe in a culture that’s increasingly polarized, that anticipates the collapse of society with a kind of perverse eagerness, there’s a certain fascination in this one angle of zombie stories: that they are stories in which your neighbors, your coworkers, your countrymen have become something which it is morally acceptable to shoot in the head. It is a chance to live out your every dark fantasy about murdering hobos. It is exactly what David Essex was singing about: imagine the destruction of all that you despise. And even more the radio play version of the artilleryman: get a bunch of strong men together, no weak ones; that rubbish, out. Get yourself a heat ray and turn it on the Martians and the men. Bring everybody down to their knees.

So I was into the zombie thing for a while around this time, but I eventually lost interest, a little bit before the fad crested and zombies became the big hit pop cultural thing, which makes me sound like a hipster, but really I just kinda peaked too soon and had burned out before The Walking Dead happened.

I have wandered well away from my point, and you’re probably wondering what I’m doing way out here in the woods, assuming you did not read the title of this article, which gives the game away. The Literary Mashup is a recently popular fictional genre which, if it wasn’t created outright created by Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, was certainly popularized by it. The genre varies considerably, from telling mostly original stories that introduce modern horror genre tropes into historical settings, such as Grahame-Smith’s 2010 Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, adaptations of modern works into classical styles, like Adam Bertocci’s Shakespeare pastiche, The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, or adaptations which simply append a new subplot to an existing work. Jane Austin seems popular for this one, as Grahame-Smith’s seminal work was followed up a few months later by Ben H. Winter’s fantastically named Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Winters would go on to produce Android Karenina, which warms my heart.

Now, I am familiar with the works of Eric S. Brown from my own zombie-fanboy days. I generally found his short stories really good. So I’m not going to pass judgment on the fact that no one was really doing these mashups before Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was published on April 1, 2009, and by April 30, 2009, he had his own literary mashup in print. War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. It is the complete text of The War of the Worlds with fairly modest additions amounting to a side-plot in which a side-effect of the Martian invasion is that while the Martians are shooting up the south of England, the dead also start rising to feed on the living.

Don’t get me wrong. I bought this book because I dig War of the Worlds and I dig (or dug, at the time, I guess) zombies. But these are really two great tastes that do not taste great together. Like steak and ice cream. The Austen pastiches at least have going for them that the introduction of supernatural horror provides a sharp contrast to the tone and style of Georgian romance in revelatory ways. There’s a tension that arises from the fact that people are still acting like really uptight, proper eighteenth-century Englishmen in the face of the existential horror of dead people getting up and eating folks. Heck, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is largely based around an extended metaphor comparing the antebellum southern gentry to blood-sucking demons, which is apt because that is exactly what they were.

But adding zombies to War of the Worlds doesn’t have the same, if you’ll pardon me, bite. That new MTV show put me in mind of how much The War of the Worlds fits into the mold of a modern post-apocalyptic series, where an unstoppable, unknowable force tears down civilization, and the narrative centers around how people survive in the resulting world. Adding the undead to Austen changes everything. Adding them to War of the Worlds just doesn’t. War of the Worlds doesn’t need zombies: it’s pretty much already got them. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the presence of the zombies changes things. You can’t kill off characters in a character-driven romance and not have it change things. But none of the characters in War of the Worlds have any impact on the unfolding of the plot, so it doesn’t actually matter if the zombies eat them.

So it’s pointless, ill-conceived, and unnecessary. But is it bad? Well, no. Not really. It’s fine. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I find the concept of The War of the Worlds far better than the actual execution of the original novel. I just don’t like H. G. Wells as a writer rather than an idea man. I don’t think you’re liable to worsen War of the Worlds by adding to it. It’d be nice if the additions amounted to an actual plot or characters which consistently served a purpose beyond being vessels for exposition.

But Brown’s additions to the text are modest. The content he adds boils down, in almost every case, to, “and also there were zombies.” But the pleasure in reading a book shouldn’t be down just to the content of the ideas. And Brown is very good at making these modest insertions carry a tone of powerful horror.

Ironically, though, this is kinda the project’s downfall. Because Eric S. Brown does a fine job of inserting little snippets of a modern zombie apocalypse being told in a style that can reasonably pass for nineteenth century horror. But H. G. Wells can’t. There are moments in The War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies which evoke Lovecraft (The Call of Cthulhu and Also Zombies is probably way too obvious to be worth doing), or Shelley (Frankenstein, or the Modern Undead Prometheus might possibly work, but again, too obvious), or Stoker (Been there, done that), even at times Henry James (The Turn of The Screw Into The Brain of The Living Dead could probably work, now that I think of it), but his style never actually matches the style of the person he’s actually imitating.

The first insertion, for example, is a single sentence on the second page, interposed in the large opening exposition dump about how Mars is dying and the Martians really didn’t have much choice but to go invade their neighbors. Just before Wells calls us to not judge the Martians too harshly in light of the fact that humans had, for example, wiped out the dodo and indigenous Tasmanians [1. Anyone else uncomfortable that the dodos come first in this list? 2. Happy ending: turns out that after Wells’s time, it was discovered that ethnic Tasmanians weren’t quite extinct. Though the last full-blooded Palawa, Truganini, died in 1876, there were a number of survivors of the genocide of mixed native and European descent], is this observation:

I imagine that even they did not realize the full effect their war with us, the dwellers of this bright blue and green orb of light, would bring about, or the utter terror it would unleash. (Page 6)

It’s a really nice sentence all on its own. Spooky and foreshadowy, but stilted in a distinctively Victorian way. The sentence works. But when you look at the surrounding text, it just doesn’t fit. The rest of the chapter is clinical and dispassionate with no sense of terror. Besides, it jars rather badly with the paragraph which follows it. Because “Hey, sure it sucks for us, but before we judge them too harshly, remember that they invaded because it was their only chance to survive, whereas the British Empire committed genocide purely for profit,” seems a bit hollow when the other thing the aliens did was cause the dead to rise as cannibalistic revenants.

Later, even as Wells’s tone does start to include elements of horror, it doesn’t approach the horror in the same way. Worse, Brown’s zombie horror is in tension with Wells’s alien horror. Consider the narrator’s reaction to his first sight of a tripod:

It was an elusive vision—a moment of bewildering darkness, and then, in a flash like daylight, the red masses of the Orphanage near the crest of the hill, the green tops of the pine trees, and this problematical object came out clear and sharp and bright.

And this Thing I saw! How can I describe it? A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder. A flash, and it came out vividly, heeling over one way with two feet in the air, to vanish and reappear almost instantly as it seemed, with the next flash, a hundred yards nearer. Can you imagine a milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground? That was the impression those instant flashes gave. But instead of a milking stool imagine it a great body of machinery on a tripod stand.

To a modern audience, it’s an oddly abstract kind of horror. “Problematical” is just intensely weird adjective in context. The one I use to describe when some piece of media I like turns out to be steeped in sexism or something. He tells us it is “monstrous”, but Wells’s style remains largely clinical. I mean, he compares it to a milking stool. But there’s no ambiguity about it being intended as a moment of terror.

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October 22, 2016
October 19, 2016

Prosthesis: I, for one, anticipate a renewal of their adventure (MTV’s War of the Worlds)

H/T to Nate Cull, who brought this to my attention after I’d mistaken it for something else.

In which I desperately play for time because of shipping delays which threaten to screw up my posting schedule…

You may perhaps recall that back in 2012, when I was in the middle of spending far too many years getting through my analysis of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, I learned that Gary Goddard had gotten it into his head to produce a reboot of the series under the title Phoenix Rising. There’s a teaser trailer now. It… Okay, I don’t really know what people who make teaser trailers for in-development TV shows are shooting for because I haven’t seen one that actually looked good in a long time. I mean, Jesus, the CGI starship model in the Star Trek Discovery teaser looked awful. The Phoenix Rising teaser isn’t terrible, but it’s maybe a little over the top, and the Power Suit mockup has the same creepy “Textured to look like it’s made of sinew” thing that creeped me the fuck out in the Power Rangers trailer that came out last week. But yay! A concrete thing you can look at.

You might also remember that about a year ago, I wrote about Mystery Science Theater 3000, and then a week later Joel Hodgson started a kickstarter to revive the series. The kickstarter made its goal pretty much instantly and the new series is well into production.

Last July, I meandered over and wrote about Alien Nation, and at the time, there’d been various talks over the course of years about doing something with that franchise, but I guess that me blogging about it made things serious because a feature film reboot actually seems to be moving forward now.

Then things got super weird because I randomly decided I wanted to write about Les Liasons Dangereuses and a few months later, NBC was like “Hey, let’s do a Cruel Intentions TV series!”

So you can probably see where this is going: MTV is going to do a TV series based on The War of the Worlds. Because of course they are. I doubt many details have actually been decided at this stage, and fewer still made public, but early reports suggest that it’s based directly on the novel, rather than any particular adaptation. It’s being developed by the same creative team as the 2011 Teen Wolf TV series (Not to be confused with all the other Teen Wolf franchises), and among its executive producers is Jeff Barry, Gene Barry’s grandson.

A lot of the interwebs are alight with people hoping that this adaptation will be entirely faithful to the book, which I presume means that they never read the book, and certainly never saw Timothy Hines’s slavishly book-faithful adaptation. That said, I think that a TV series in particular is a format where you probably could make something out of the structure and style of the original novel without it becoming a straight-up slog. Because for a TV show, you don’t need one single story with a beginning, middle, and end, where the actions of the protagonists build toward a climax. You need a whole bunch of small stories about people getting on with their lives which build up to a larger story. And in this regard, an invasion of alien death machines from Mars can work exactly the same way as a zombie plague does for The Walking Dead or a disease did for The Last Ship, The Survivors, Jeremiah, The Tribe and The Stand, or angels did for Dominion: as primarily a background element that serves as a persistent side-threat for the characters as they go about the day-to-day business of trying to stay alive deprived of the support system of civilization. In that regard, The War of the Worlds is as promising a premise as anything, even if there’s nothing especially distinctive that they’d be bringing. Also, it’s MTV, so probably there’s going to be attractive young people in love triangles.

What’s strange, when I think about it, is that there hasn’t, far as I know, been very many British adaptations of War of the Worlds. The whole “A catastrophe wipes out most of mankind and the survivors limp along trying to sort out keeping a modest civilization still going,” is a fairly quintessential British Sci Fi trope. There’s been a recent fad for it in the US, as some of my examples above suggest, but the British were doing this at least as far back as the ’70s. The Tripods is pretty much the War of the Worlds adaptation I just sketched out with the serial numbers filed off. There’s even a British radio play spin-off of Independence Day. So why not go all-in?

Oh. Duh. Because The War of the Worlds was still under copyright in the UK, and the British television industry can not abide by paying the estates of people for rights to make adaptations of things. I wonder when H. G. Wells died…

Whaddya know. The 70th anniversary of his death was back in August. And since Disney does not control the copyright laws of the UK, British copyright lasts 70 years after the death of the author, rather than the US’s “X+1 years where X is the number of years since Steamboat Willie“. (Though for some reason, every source I can find says that the copyright actually runs out in December. The exact details of British copyright law are beyond me. The original serialized version of the novel finished its first run in December, 1897, so possibly copyright statuses change on the anniversary of publication?)

And this is why I confused the news about MTV’s War of the Worlds with something else. Because back in December, ITV announced that they too were working on a TV adaptation of The War of the Worlds, with production set to begin once the rights expired. Not a lot of details out on this one either, but it seems likely to be a period piece, and at the helm will be Peter Harness, showrunner for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, who also, for what it’s worth, wrote “The Zygon Invasion”/”The Zygon Inversion” for Doctor Who.

In a complete non-coincidence, the passing of the novel into British public domain will also be marked by a new sequel by Stephen Baxter, The Massacre of Mankind, slated to publish in January. I have no idea how copyright didn’t enter into this one, but some decades ago, Baxter published a sequel to The Time Machine called The Time Ships, which I found a pleasant read. Years later, I found out that The Time Ships hadn’t originally been written as a sequel to The Time Machine, though: he’s originally pitched it as a Doctor Who novel. I feel like the universe is imploding.

So, I don’t know whether or not I’m actually looking forward to the MTV series. The prospect of watching a new TV series tends to fill me with existential dread these days as the whole “One more damned thing to do,” burden becomes heavier and the return-on-investment for my time slips. But I’ll give it a shot, for you, dear reader.

Anything else you’d like me to resurrect? I’m seriously considering doing a series about Knight Rider once I wrap up War of the Worlds, but I’m starting to worry, because damn is that a franchise that needs to lay fallow for a few decades.

October 15, 2016
October 12, 2016

Deep Ice: His complex chord structures and his tonal progressions tune my mind and stimulate my imagination (Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, Part 2: Forever Autumn, Thunderchild)

Didn’t I warn them?
Be on your guard, I said,

Because the evil one never rests!
— Gary Osborne, probably after a prophetic vision of a 3 AM Donald Trump tweetstorm.

Previously, on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging:

Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds Tripod

Y’know what it kinda looks like? An early ’90s Saturn.

A full-sized prop tripod is lowered onto the stage and proceeds to rake the audience with its floodlamp “heat ray” to the “Ulla!”s of the band. It’s a sight to see. I wonder where it goes when they lift it off the stage. The physical tripod is a close approximation of the CGI ones which appear on-screen, themselves drawn from the cover art of the original 1978 album by Michael Trim. The design is lovely, evoking so many things all at once. The fundamental inspiration is clearly insectoid: they look rather a lot like a large, mechanical water strider, with a small, ovoid cockpit atop long, straight legs that turn sharply inward to attach at the sides of the cockpit, looking a bit like flying buttresses, but with a cross-brace extending from the cockpit halfway down the leg. Two large, green dome windows at the front resemble not only insect eyes, but evoke, deliberately, I think, the pulsating green dome at the front of Al Nozaki’s war machine design from the 1953 film version. The heat ray takes the form of a spotlight attached at the front of the cockpit, strangely, in direct contradiction to the narration, which, like the original novel describes the heat ray as funnel-shaped and held in the tripod’s “hand” (Most adaptations give the tripods three limbs in total, but the novel’s descriptions imply that in addition to the three legs used for locomotion, the fighting machines also have an unspecified number of tentacle-like manipulator arms). All at once, they have a steampunk look, while simultaneously evoking a sort of ’50s sci-fi monster movie feel, nodding to the iconic 1953 movie. And the design has a physicality to it that you rarely see in these CGI-heavy times: aside from the lousy reflections and bump mapping on the CGI models, the design, whether in static art, animation, or a giant metal prop, look and move like they are physical things that could be physically built and really exist. The prop reappears in the New Generation stage show with imrpoved pyrotechnics. The Farewell Thunderchild tour added goofy “pupils” to the dome windows.

CGI Richard Burton in War of the Worlds

Just in case you forgot about him.

The CGI backdrop movie features a very old-school 3D-movie style “hucking stuff at the audience” scene with debris of a tripod destroyed by cannon-fire, but the humans are eventually routed. There’s a musical theme that accompanies the battle, and the original version is the best use of an orchestra to represent a battle since Tchaikovsky, mixing in the ch-chews of the heat ray and the “Ulla!”s of the Martians as instruments. The New Generation version loses its sense of restraint and ends up sounding more like the music coming out of a video arcade, but, again, ass-kicking guitar riff added. The Journalist narrowly escapes both the heat ray and being stepped on by a tripod. One New Generation choice that is clever, even if it doesn’t actually make the music any better, is that when he jumps into a river in his escape, the music is muted, as though heard under water until he comes up for air.  He eventually makes his way to London, only to find that his fiancée Carrie and her father have already evacuated, which sets the stage for the musical centerpiece of the album.

Due to the vagaries of time travel, we have, of course, heard “Forever Autumn” before. Luka Kuncevic’s version served as the opening theme to War of the Worlds: Goliath. It’s a haunting and melancholy tune that speaks to nostalgia and lost love and lost youth. Wayne had written the melody back in 1969, for of all things, a Lego radio commercial. It sounds like a strange fit, but I can kinda see how it would work as an appeal to the pastoral simplicity of youth or something. Gary Osborne and Paul Vigrass performed the jingle, then in 1972, they came up with some lyrics for it and released it on their debut album, Queues (Osborne also wrote the lyrics for the three other proper songs in War of the Worlds, and the duo sing backing vocals on the album). Vigrass and Osborne didn’t have much of an impact in the west, but “Forever Autumn” was released as the B-side of their single “Men of Learning”, and made it to number 2 on the Japanese charts. Gary Barlow’s interpretation is okay. The arrangement is closer to the Vigrass and Osborne version and feels retro, surprising given the misguided attempts at modernizing so much of the other music. Both he and Marti Pellow give the song a more mournful tone than Justin Hayward. Pellow especially, who slows it down a lot. His performance is the saddest of the three; it’s not bad, but I think he goes too far with it.

“Forever Autumn” is pretty much the reason Justin Hayward is in this. Jeff Wayne wanted a love song to go at this spot in the story, and he wanted it to sound like the Vigrass and Osborne song, and also to sound like “Nights in White Satin”, so he did the obvious thing and had the guy who sang “Nights in White Satin” sing the Vigrass and Osborne song. As a single, Hayward’s version of “Forever Autumn” made the UK top 5 and edged into the top 50 stateside. The Moody Blues would later put the single version on disc four of their box set Time Traveller, and as a result, it’s well enough known that you can find a karaoke version of it.

It really is quite a nice song. Very straightforward “fall is like a lost love” symbolism, a lovely flute bit in the middle, and Hayward’s performance is fantastic — the Vigrass and Osborne version puts the stress on the wrong part of the, “‘Cause you’re not here” refrain, and their version is a bit too mellow. Omitted from the version released as a single is an interruption for some more narration which is a bit poetic itself: “Fire suddenly leapt from house to house. The population panicked and ran, and I was swept along with them, aimless and lost without Carrie.” In fact, there’s an entire extra scene inserted before the last verse as the Journalist makes his way to the coast in hope of catching a boat out of England (As in the novel, there is no mention of aliens invading outside of England. The stage show prologue hints that the Martians were specifically targeting London as the world’s de facto commercial hub, assuming this would destabilize global economies to the point of collapse).

War of the Worlds Forever Autumn

Through Autumn’s Golden Gown we used to levitate, apparently.

But “Forever Autumn” also demonstrates the extent to which Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds was composed as an album rather than a theatrical production. Because when you get right down to it, “Forever Autumn” fits the surrounding musical motifs perfectly, but it has balls-all to do with the story. The song is a lament for a long-lost love, reflecting back on the happy times. It’s really straightforward: “Through autumn’s golden gown, we used to kick our way / You always loved this time of year. / Those fallen leaves lie undisturbed now / ‘Cause you’re not here.” This is a song told from the point of view of someone revisiting a place that was once special to him and his lost lover. It’s… calm. A song about solitude and loneliness. But it’s inserted here in a scene of chaos: the Journalist isn’t walking through the still and lonely woods, and Carrie hasn’t died or left him. They’ve been separated in the chaos during a disaster. It’s a wonderful song, but for all its relevance to the plot here, they might as well have brought out Peter, Paul and Mary and had them sing “Leavin’ On a Jet Plane”.

Also, there’s nothing to earn the song here. The relationship between the Journalist and Carrie has been established by nothing more than one line of narration where the Journalist learns the Martians are heading for London and is all like, “London? Crap, that’s where my girlfriend lives! I’d better get there!” Compare that with the Asylum adaptation, where we establish George’s relationship with his family before we introduce the Martians, and he basically never shuts up about them for his whole trek to DC.

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October 8, 2016

Tales from /lost+found 79: Series 3

So I hear that there’s not actually going to be a season this year, and just when I finally got over my feelings about the 50th anniversary.

Well this can not stand. So it won’t. And so for the next 14 weeks, I am going to be posting artifacts and capsule descriptions for Series 3 of the second revival of Doctor Who, torn from my own personal pocket universe, to appear here week by week as they air, in real time.

As Wikipedia would say:

Click to Embiggen

Click to Embiggen

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October 5, 2016

A Partial List of Questions My Son Has Asked Which Are More Difficult To Answer than “Can two dudes get married?”

(War of the Worlds will be back next week.)

  1. Daddy, why would the police shoot a little boy?
  2. Daddy, is Donald Trump bad?
  3. Daddy, what’s war?
  4. Daddy, why do some people think Donald Trump is good?
  5. If there was a bad guy, should I sacrifice myself to save Evelyn?
  6. Daddy, what’s hell?
  7. (While watching a nature documentary) Daddy, what’s that boy impala doing to that lady impala?
  8. (Later) What’s that boy stag beetle doing to that lady stag beetle?
  9. (Seriously?) What’s that boy crab doing to that lady crab?
  10. (Why is there a solid half-hour of this nature documentary devoted to watching animals boink?) What’s that water buffalo doing to that lady water buffalo?
  11. Are sharks bad?
  12. What happens when we die?
  13. Why doesn’t mommy have a penis?
  14. Does it hurt trees when they lose their leaves?
  15. Why did they cancel Larry Willmore?


October 1, 2016

Daddy’s Girl

Like daddy, like daughter.


Before you get your underwear in a bind, the cup was empty, and I only let her play with it for a few seconds before I manned up and accepted the glower of doom and betrayal by taking the cup away.

Before you get your underwear in a bind, the cup was empty, and I only let her play with it for a few seconds before I manned up and accepted the glower of doom and betrayal by taking the cup away.

This exact mug (The Diner Style, which is, frankly, the platonic ideal of coffee mug shapes) is currently sold out, but the same pattern is available from the Diesel Sweeties store.

September 28, 2016

Deep Ice: Perhaps You Can Hear the Sound? (Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, Part 1)

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of War of the WorldsIt is September 6, 1978. My parents are still living in Pennsylvania for a few more months, but in my future home state of Maryland, the Camp David accords have started, bringing the promise of peace in the middle east. John Paul I gives a speech to the Roman clergy. It’s his sixth major speech since becoming Pope in August. He’ll make three more speeches before his death on the 28th. The first genetically engineered synthetic human insulin is announced in California. Keith Moon will die tomorrow of a Hemineverin overdose. Friday, the Shah of Iran will declare martial law. The Iranian army will fire on protesters in Tehran. Violence between the army and supporters of Khomeini would earn the day the name “Black Friday”, and would generally end any chance of peaceful reconciliation between the Shah and the opposition. Also this week, Bulgarian dissident Giorgi Markov will be — I am not making this up — poisoned with ricin in London, delivered in the form of a pellet injected by an umbrella. This is just the sort of thing that happened during the Cold War.

The Yankees will spend the next few days thoroughly trouncing the Boston Red Sox. Saturday, the O’s will pull off a triple play against Toronto. Next week, Muhammad Ali will win his third World Heavyweight title. Not-unrelatedly, DC comics will publish Superman vs Muhammad Ali this month. AC/DC will appear on tonight’s The Midnight Special on ABC. The most recent season of Columbo, having ended back in May, aired its last repeat on NBC last week. It’ll live on only in syndication until ABC revives the series in 1989. NBC premieres the comedy-drama Grandpa Goes to Washington this week, and CBS will debut a TV series based on the 1973 film The Paper Chase.

Saturday will introduce the fall lineup of Saturday Morning Cartoons, including an animated adaptation of Godzilla, Yogi’s Space Race, and The New Adventures of the Fantastic Four, featuring the beloved Marvel team consisting of Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Thing, and HERBIE the robot (The Human Torch had been optioned by Universal). Also debuting is Jason of Star Command, a more action-oriented spin-off of last year’s Space Academy. Aesthetically, it’s about halfway between Star Trek and Blake’s 7; tonally, it’s about halfway between Lost in Space and Star Crash. Also, James Doohan is in it. Next week will see the debuts of Taxi and Mork & Mindy; the following one will add Battlestar Galactica and WKRP in Cincinatti.

Across the pond, Saturday brings us the second episode of Doctor Who‘s opening story for its fifteenth season, The Ribos Operation. The serial, part of the season long “Key to Time” arc, provides an oft-quoted self-description of a seer: “The past explained, the future foretold and the present…apologized for”. Less-often quoted is one of my personal favorite lines, the Doctor’s retort when Romana is suprised to learn that an honest-faced man is working an elaborate con: “Well, you could hardly be a successful criminal with a dishonest face.” Sunday, ITV will start airing Return of the Saint, a revival of the 1960s Roger Moore series The Saint.

The top of the billboard chart this week goes to A Taste of Honey with “Boogie Oogie Oogie”. They’ve bumped Frankie Valli’s funky disco theme song to Grease down to number six. Grease holds two other slots in the top ten with “Hopelessly Devoted To You” at number four and “Summer Nights” at eight. “Three Times a Lady” is in second place, while Foreigner, Exile, Andy Gibb, Evelyn Champagne King and Earth Wind and Fire fill out the rest of the chart. This week, Lynrd Skynyrd will put out Skynyrd’s First… And Last,  their first “posthumous” album since the 1977 deaths of Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines in a plane crash. The surviving band members would reform the band in 1987, and the album would be rereleased as The Complete Muscle Shoals Album in 1998. David Bowie will release his second live album, Stage. And prolific advertising jingle writer Jeff Wayne releases a prog rock concept album based on H. G. Wells’s novel, The War of the Worlds.

Yes, I know with last week’s lead-in, you were probably expecting me to take a swing at Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day. But let’s face it: what am I going to say about that movie that adds anything to our collective experience. Sure, it’s a hugely important movie in what it did to the Hollywood culture of summer blockbusters. And yes, it is quite clearly a… Let’s say “remix” of War of the Worlds. But I’ve already made the, “Slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest thing that God, in his wisdom, has put upon the Earth: Jeff Goldblum,” joke, probably more than once by now, and I just don’t have much to say about it, certainly nothing novel. Its flaws are well understood, deriving almost entirely from it being a “big dumb movie” whose bigness so completely overshadows its dumbness that no one really cares. I lament the way that the success of the Huge Summer Blockbuster basically destroyed “small” films as a viable mainstream thing, to the extent that movies which 20 years ago would have been considered perfectly acceptable are now thought worthy only of derision and mockery, but I can’t really draw a whole article out of it.

ZX Spectrum version of War of the Worlds

This may be the best conversion of a licensed game’s artwork from the entire 8-bit era.

So instead, I’m going to talk about Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. And I’m going to start by saying that Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds is a ridiculously cumbersome title. It is often known, of course, by less cumbersome titles, such as “Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds” or “War of the Worlds: The Musical”, but don’t be fooled. In case the title is not already sufficiently baroque, an abridged version was released in 1981 under the title Highlights from Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds (This is the version I’m most familiar with, since I rarely have time to sit down and listen to the two-hour-long original). Then in 1984, CRL Group released a tie-in video game for the ZX Spectrum titled Jeff Wayne’s Video Game Version of The War of the Worlds. In 2000, a remix album was released under the title The War of the Worlds: ULLAdubULLA — The Remix Album and in 2006, a live tour of the album went out as Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds Live On Stage!. This was followed by an updated and recast version in 2011 called Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds: The New Generation, which then went on tour as Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds – The New Generation: Alive on Stage!, and then later, possibly after someone explained to Jeff Wayne that marquee signs charge by the letter, as The Farewell Thunderchild Tour.

In the intervening time, Wayne’s version was also adapted two additional times as a video game: in 1998 as a PC strategy game, then in 1999 as a Playstation third-person shooter with a heavy vehicular combat element. This, of course, makes Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds the musical most adapted to the video game format, a title it will surely hold unless my Kickstarter for 1776: The Cover-Based Shooter makes its goal (Rejected jokes for this spot: Les Miserables: The Survival Horror, Repo: The Genetic Flappy Bird Clone, Candy Crush: Sweeney Todd Edition and Open-World Sandbox Evita).

The album has basically been adapted into every form you can think of except, ironically, a full-fledged stage musical. The closest it’s come is the most recent West End production earlier this year, which was broadly panned for… Not really being a proper musical. I mean, I could have told you up front that a story that has basically no plot or characters is going to be a rough conversion to the format of musical theater. But the concept album-to-musical conversion has worked in the past lots of times. Tommy started out as a concept album. So did Evita and Les Miserables. But, y’know, those have characters and stuff. Though Wayne has expressed a desire to flesh out the love story between The Journalist and his girlfriend, who are separated by the war, you’re talking about a far more substantial rewrite than has been undertaken. Also, he’d probably want to actually make the main character a person who appears on-stage in the show, rather than a holographic Liam Neeson.

This looks remarkably similar to a film they have of Robert Ripley at the Ocean City Ripley Museum.

This looks remarkably similar to a film they have of Robert Ripley at the Ocean City Ripley Museum.

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