Saturday, August 5, 2017

Review: "9-11"

What if? In the right hands, the question can generate great stories. In the wrong hands, it can generate bad stories. For inexplicable reasons, some of these stories hit the best-seller list.
Case in point: Marty Fugate’s latest potboiler, “9-11.” Rea
ding through this "near future thriller" (as I am paid to do) several questions spring to mind :
What if a hack writer decided to steal the plot of “The Anderson Tapes,” and expanded it to a geopolitical proportions in a style blatantly lifted from Tom Clancy?
What if …
A neophyte American president was sitting in the Oval Office? A cunning cabal of Arab terrorists (yawn) with engineering degrees was hiding in caves and devising a fiendish plot? A perfect storm of interdepartmental rivalry and compartmentalized intelligence, preventing any law enforcement official from acting on obvious warning signs of this unfolding conspiracy — including the piteous prophecies of the obligatory Cassandra? (With this theft, Mr. Fugate goes a bridge too far. Great writers steal. Bad writers cut-and-paste.) What if a handful of Arab terrorists (armed with box cutters!) hijacked three fully-fueled airplanes and turned them into deadly missiles on a suicide mission?
All of which ends in a successful terrorist attack on …
Wait for it.
The World Trade Center towers!!!
And the Pentagon.
This carnage described in 23 pages of gory detail. A disaster movie Irwin Allen would find in bad taste. (A film adaptation the author dearly and clearly hopes for.)
What if (being symbolically inclined) the aforementioned masterminds launched their attack on the day which corresponds to the American phone number to emergency responders?
What if these supposedly cunning terrorists targeted the same building they tried to demolish two years ago? A presumably well-guarded structure. As opposed to, say, a fresh target? Not the Sears Tower, the Chrysler building, the Pan Am building, no, it has to be the World Trade Center!! Why? Is this terrorism or an extreme form of architectural criticism?
What if an author utterly lacking in shame built a best-seller on the bones of the six victims of the 1993 bombing?
What if enough shameless readers bought his lousy book—and actually read it? Even though they weren’t being paid?
What if?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Days of Future Pest

When most people think of science fiction, they think of film and TV. This expensive realm recycleds a dozen or so plots. Humanity meets evil (or nice) aliens in space. Evil (or nice) aliens invades earth (sometimes in disguise). Humanity fights the aliens, either on space or on the earth. Robots (or computers) take over the world. Thanks to global warming, over-population, bio weapons, an asteroid, nukes, or whatever The world goes to hell. Humanity meets (or becomes) God in space. That’s pretty much it.
What looks new on the screen is sometimes just new to the audience.
Like light from a distant star, it’s only now reaching the eyeballs of sci-fi fanboys.
Like the genre conventions of Raymond Chandler’s detective fiction. Like …
Or, God help us, cowboy stories. Like …
Or, may the Force have mercy, the crappy hackneyed sci-fi serials of the 1930s and 40s—which George Lucas recycled (with a mythological paint job courtesy Joseph Campbell) for 1970s audiences with short memories. Who thought they were looking at something new..
Much to the weeping and gnashing of teeth of the new wave SF writers who were trying to make a living at the time.
Literary science fiction (aka imaginative literature) ius light years ahead of the flickering image. Some of the best s-f short stories and novels have never made it to the big or small screen.
Most sf readers can give you a short list. Or a long oe.. Ringworld, The Forever War, Snow Crash, Neuromancer, Solaris, Bood Music, The Eclipse Triogy, Last and First Men
When they do, there’s usually a thirty year gap. And there’s usually a rip-off.
Science fiction is a literature of ideas. It evokes the unimaginable—which becomes pedestrian when filmmakers are forced to imagine it and put it up on screen.
Science fiction (to pass on a tired observation from the past, is usually about the present.
Some writers extrapolate societies. (Orwell, Burgess, etc.) Gadgets bore them. There stuff is more sociological fiction than science fiction.
Some writers genuinely think about the impact of technology on societies.
Some writers are more interested in tech than people.
Some sci-curious writers jump into bed with both humans and hardware.
Some bring the sharp knifes of Kafka and Borges to a sci-fi playing field. For a nice game of metaphysical mumblety-peg.
Or play the literary glass bead game with Nabakov and Punchon.

And then there’s this core of SF writers who want to write “deeply human stories” that just happen to be science fiction. And might as well not be.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: Alien Covenant

You want me to tell you the good things? I could go on and on ...

Spectacular movie! Gob-smacking visuals! Masterful world-building with precisely imagined details! A taut, science-literate script nearly free of plot holes! Excellent dialog, plausible motives, characters you care about! Great acting, too! Yes, all-in-all, a towering creative achievement. Great movie, master Ridley! 

But it depressed the living shit out of me.

Spoiler alert. If you fanboys want to avoid spoilers, stop reading and watch a rerun of Firefly. I will ruin it for you. You have been warned. To start with ...

As Newt was killed in Alien3, so Elizabeth Shaw is offed in Alien Covenant. Y'all find this out later.

As our voyage beings, a deep-space vessel called "The Covenant" is space-shlepping a contingent of astronauts, embryos and colonists someplace somewhere. Walter, Weyland-Yutani's new improved non-sociopathic android, is minding the store while the humans cryo-sleep. 

Then an ion flre fucks with the ship's 
exquistely rendered gold solar sails! 

In obedience to his "Don't Die in Space" programming, Walter wakes up the core crew. Minus the captatin, who hideously burns to death in his sleep pod. As his poor wife, Daniels, watches.

In this "What-the-fuck-just happened?" moment, the crew encounters a signal. Somebody somewhere is singing John Denver's Country Road. Holy crap! That right there should tell you to make tracks in the opposite direction. But no.

The Covenant makes tracks to a planetoid. The one where the late Ms. Shaw crash landed. 

After several chest-bursting, face hugging, spine ripping incidents, you discover that her android pal, David, engineered the bloody xenomorphs. 

Yep. This Wagner-loving android bastard (who always resembled a smiling face in a Hitler youth poster) figures humanity ain't got what it takes. But he does. 

Upon learning of this genocidal ambition, Walter, the new-improved, non-sociopathic android, does battle with David. Scott cruelly witholds the outcome of the fight. But you know, in this crapsack universe, good is too good to be true. And it ain't.


After some dramatic misdirection that (snicker) implies good triumphs over evil, you discover that ...

After winning the fight, David impersonates Walter. Then he tucks the surviving astronauts into cryosleep. In her final moments of consciousness, poor traumatized Daniels realizes that Walter ain't David. Then she's out out out. 

David promptly regurgitates some xenomorph embroyos. Then puts 'em in the cryostorage unit along with the human embroys. And continues on his merry way to the new colony.


On a scale of one to ten, with one being "The Wizard of Oz" and ten being "Funny Games" ...

I'd rate this a ten.
















Tuesday, May 16, 2017

False Flag Zombie

She ran into the alley. The goddamn thing followed her. A 227th generation drone, spherical, elegant, its humming turboprops tucked away, onboard AI constantly correcting for its ridiculously shitty aerodynamics. It looked like a fucking photomicrograph of a virus magnified 500,000 times. Which was ironic.
Because the thing was designed to inoculate.
Against.
Viruses.
Well, more specifically, The Virus. We’ll get back to that.
Anyway, like I was saying, the goddamn thing followed her, cornered her, grabbed her left arm like an abusive high school gym teacher, and stuck the needle in. After a mist of disinfectant, of course.
Then withdrew the needle.
And misted her arm with a numbing Something. Procaine. Bactine, for all she knew.
Then it hovered back, about a meter. Studied her.
She held up her left hand and gave it the finger.
The middle finger on her left hand above her left wrist, a wrist encircled with a blue rubberoid bracelet resembling the wristbands of ancient music festivals.
She abused the orb in her usual trash-talking fashion. A limited, if expressive, vocabulary.
“Goddamn you, you stupid fucking thing, I’ve already been vaccinated! See? You goddamn stupid fucking …”
She bent down, picked up a random hunk of metal, then threw it at the damn thing. It easily ducked. Just a zip to the left. Studied her for a second. Then hovered away with the faint humming sound of 500 bees trapped in a coffee can.
“I’m a citizen!” she screamed. “I have rights!”

Sure you do. On an old yellow piece of paper in a glass case somewhere. Parchment. Whatever.
But The Virus was serious business.
A constantly mutating pathogen that—wait for it—was the scientifically proven etiology for full-on zombie behavior! (Based on double-blind, peer-review studies under the aegis of the National Center for Disease Control. Seriously.) Flesh-eating, brain chomping, gibbering rage, etc., etc.
Rage? Ah ...
You’re probably thinking that sounds like that old “movie.”
Thing is, the zombification induced by the actual real-world Virus did not resemble the dreams of Romero, Raimi, Boyle, et al.
Their fictional, filmic zombies had a digital, on-off, all-or-nothing quality. Brother, you either is a zombie or you ain’t. Dead, living, undead. The peas never touched the mashed potatoes.
But the real-life zombies had irritating complications, interpenetrations, grey areas, and contradictions.
The Virus didn’t always present. In asymptomatic mode, you could carry The Virus and go about your merry like any other Joe Shmoe until the inevitable breakout. In the manner of herpes, the zombie symptoms could randomly present—and then go dormant again. When a breakout broke out, there were a full range of manifestations from “Aggggh, he’s ripping out my intestines,” to “Bob, I don’t think you’re not really contributing to this meeting.”
And there was a cure.
But.

27 gawkers witnessed the woman’s humiliation and recorded it with cams in their eyeglasses, wrists, and nostalgic “fones” the size of Pop-Tarts. 157 security cams also captured the outrage from a host of angles.
The “woman” turned out to be Alice Vivian Wallace of Huntington Beach, California. Artist type, one of those neo-punk "authenticists" who scorned NT. Not that good, but her face let her get away with murder. She’d been doing some artsy-fartsy shit involving Gorilla Glue and acetone and had killed her pretty blue bracelet in the process. The sentinel didn’t read it when she came out of the bar. So it chased her into the alley and poked her. Just a goddamn accident.
Or so they’d like you to believe.

Mr. Jones did something to his face. An expression like a constipated iron monkey. Or deep sadness and concern. It’s open to interpretation.
“I’m angry. I’m so angry. You want to watch this one more time? No. You don’t. I don’t. It’s an ugly scene, people. But we’re going to watch it.”
He replayed the footage of Alice’s humiliation for his 575 million followers.
“Why?”
He rolled his eyes and spread his hands with idiotic incomprehension. Theater folks call that “indicating.” But Mr. Jones followers would use the term “sincerity.”
“That’s the question nobody’s asking!” he screamed. “Why are They doing this? Why?”
Following in the footsteps of his ancestors, Mr. Jones went on to speculate.
A zombie plague appears out of nowhere at the dawn of the 22nd century? How is that even possible?
Before 2117, these so-called “zombies” only existed in “movies,” “TV” and various other primitive media platforms. There were no zombies in real life.
Are we supposed to believe a bunch of corrupt Hollywood filmmakers predicted the future? Were they prophets, ladies and gentlemen?
Mr. Jones found that highly unlikely.
But what if this was a false flag operation?
Mr. Jones found that far more probable.
And went on to advance his thesis.
The zombie plague was engineered! A manifestation of our deepest fears—fears no doubt planted in a systematic disinformation campaign stretching back to the last century, perhaps before!
Who benefits?
Mr. Jones answered his own question.
“The government, that’s who! These so-called “zombies” give ‘em total control! They get to track us! They get to put their poison in our bloodstreams! They get to destroy our very identity as free Americans!”
He replayed the clip of Alice’s vain protest.

I’m a citizen! I have rights!

Mr. Jones did that thing with his face again.
“No Alice, you’re not. We’re not “citizens” anymore. We’re lab rats!”
Then he qualified that statement.
If Americans continued to run Their little maze, these decent folks would continue to be lab rats. If Americans fought back, they’d be, you know, Americans again.
Mr. Jones went on to point out that increased rates of autism and impotence were directly, uh, correlated to the forced vaccinations for the zombie plague. Some scientist somewhere proved it. They ruined his life, of course.

“And you know what happened next. The idiots who streamed his shit ripped off their bracelets, burned down the clinics, and blasted the sentinels to pieces when they went after their children. Pretty soon, the zombie plague was unstoppable and civilization went to hell. So, to answer your question, that’s why we’re in this goddamn cave.”
“It’s all my goddamn fault,” sobbed Alice.
             He put his arm around her shoulder. Felt her warmth, the shuddering waves of pain shaking through her.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “Just stop.”
Of course, it sorta was.
But he didn’t want to say it.



Marty Fugate. Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 8, 2017

It's a Good Christmas

EXT, SNOWY WASTELAND - DAY
The Burl Ives Snowman crouches in the snow-filled ruins of an elven workshop. Camera zooms in. He notices it, talks to us directly.

SNOWMAN: You're ... you actually came back? You stupid --

Snowman catches himself. Forces a happy expression on his face.

SNOWMAN: To put it another way .... You're back! And that's a good thing! Heh. Well, don't just stand there. Pull up some wreckage and sit down. 

Camera changes angle. Sideview of Snowman.

Hold a beat. Snowman looks at the camera.

SNOWMAN: Oh, you want to know what happened? Heh.

Snowman forces himself to light a pipe. His snowy hands are shaking.

SNOWMAN: Well ... heh. Last time, I told you about Rudolph and that nose of his. Heh. It raised quite a ruckus, remember? We’d never seen anything like it up in Christmastown. ‘Course, we’d never seen anything like … Andy. (shudders) Heh. Andy the Psychic Reindeer. 

RANKIN BASS TITLE: "It’s a Good Christmas 

CHORUS: (OS) Andy the Psychic Reindeer
Had an omnipotent brain 
And if he didn’t like you 
You would feel horrific pain 
He knew just what you’re thinking 
And if naughty thoughts leaked out 
His mind would turn and twist you 
Until he turned you inside out! 

SNOWMAN: That Island of Misfit Toys? Well ... turns out, Andy made ‘em that way. And that’s a good thing, heh. When Rudolph and Hermie … that poor little … uh … Like I was saying, when Rudolph came back, well, he brought Andy with him! Now Andy’s here all the time. And he just wants to make us happy! That’s why it’s Christmas … all the time. And there’s nothing but snow … why, far as we know, just a dead frozen wasteland from here to infinity. And that’s a good thing. And … why he’s here right now! 

Snowman looks to his left. Where Andy the Psychic Reindeer has teleported right next to him. Snowman forces a smile. Andy studies him, seems displeased.

ANDY: Are you happy, Snowman? 

SNOWMAN: I sure am!

ANDY: No. I sense you are unhappy. 

SNOWMAN: Well, I don’t know why … 

ANDY: Don’t you like all this snow? 

SNOWMAN: I sure do! 

ANDY: I made it just for you.

SNOWMAN: And it’s a good thing! 

ANDY: No. I don’t think you like it. 

SNOWMAN: I love it! 

ANDY: No you don’t.

SNOWMAN: I sure ..

ANDY: Hey, Mr. Snowman! I got an idea!

SNOWMAN: Oh...?

ANDY: How ‘bout I melt it? Would you like that? 

SNOWMAN: No! I mean yes! 

ANDY: OK, then. Here we go Mr. Snowman! 

Andy’ eyes get a weird glazed look. The infinite snowy wasteland melts. Snowman screams, then plops down into the infinite expanse of water. 

Andy, impossibly, just stands there. Hovering a few millimeters above the boundless waves.

ANDY: Huh. 

Then he walks away across the water like a psychic reindeer Jesus. 

Andy walks out of frame. Hold on waves.

 SOUND: Ffffftt! 

The water freezes over again.