Monday, 17 November 2008

Science Fiction Flashback

In response to the most recent blog post by Chris Priestley, I have posted here an old blog I did before I had a blog, if that makes sense. I was spurred into action by some of the book choices in Chris' blog which also appear here. Chris has been doing some posts recently that highlight a few of his favourite children's books, they are well worth a look. Check them out here.

The front cover of the Ray Bradbury novel ' The Martian Chronicles' caught my eye the other day. Soap-like humanoid figures recline in a Martian landscape as if they were chilling on a back garden patio and wondering if the sun was going to disappear behind a rogue cloud.
That culty science fiction fifties vibe cast my brain backwards to a book I had read on a farm holiday in Portugal in the late 1970's. The book in question was H.G Wells' ' War of the Worlds' and I couldn't put it down. As the young farm boy shot his air gun at anything that moved, and the fat midday heat slumped down on the ripening oranges, I flicked over the pages and got lost. The martian ants advanced across the farmhouse floor towards the breakfast jam and small skinky lizards skittered out of view. HG hauled me between the pages where an asteroid-like cylinder disgorged huge tripod legged martians that lumbered over the landscape incinerating humankind with their laser heat rays. Outside the farmhouse, the homicidal chicken dispatcher with triple glazed vision and huge forearms went about her daily grind in the shadows of an out building. She deftly wielded her hatchet, letting the sun dry the blood down her thick rubber apron. It was a great book and an idyllic holiday, seriously it was!

A few years later I bought a copy of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds musical score of which I remember surprisingly little, but with a little research it all came flooding back. The disco infused back-beat, Richard Burton's hypnotic narration and Rick Wakeman's 70s synthesized rock opera noodlings. It was amusing to read a 15 year old boys review of this album on Amazon. He gushes enthusiastically, putting it up there with the likes of Hyden and Mozart before ending in congratulatory tones with a "Well done Jeff!" It's a nice thought isn't it?, that Jeff Wayne is sitting there thirty years on, trawling through the Amazon reviews of his magnus opus. Another little interesting tie in is that Tomohiro Nishikado, yes him, the very famous Japanese video game developer, was so inspired by the tripod martians in War of the Worlds that he created an 'octopus' approximation that marched down the video screen in serried ranks towards the player's frantically blasting canon, which despite an inexhaustible supply of ammunition could only fire one shot at a time. In Japan, 'Space Invaders' caused a coin shortage which resulted in the production of the Yen being quadrupled.

John Wyndham, who was also influenced by the War of the worlds, created that wonderful post apocalyptic vision of the blind leading the blind through deserted streets where giant carnivorous plants shuffled around the fringes of the story. I never read 'The Day of the Triffids', but I did see the 1981 BBC adaptation which gave me nightmares at the time. The Triffids were fashioned on the tropical pitcher plant and were brought to life in true Doctor Who style by some poor sweaty bloke hunkered down inside it. Operating this multi story trunk of rubber around a little corner of British suburbia must have given him a lifetime's supply of "Did I ever tell you about the time when I....."stories to amuse countless strangers at drinks parties.Now let me see, I remember there was a bearded bloke who was the main character, and a female support who he fell in love with. The pair of them were sighted, which set them apart from nearly everyone else who were sightless. In the first episode we see the beardy guy lying in a hospital bed with his eyes bandaged. Unknown to him there has been a strange meteor display which turned my parents TV screen a sickly shade of green. This event rendered the viewers blind, by that I mean the actors in the story. In a scene that has repeated on me many times over the years, a few of the sighted survivors make contact with each other using flashlights from the top of neighboring tower blocks. If you happen to know of anyone who has the book, I would love to read it. I think I had a shirt just like his,bought for me by my mum in Marks and Sparks' probably, except mine didn't have a blonde girl with hoody eyes hiding behind it. The strange gun shot little scimitar shaped blades which severed the heads of the triffids.

Finally we come to a truly silly movie called 'Mars Attacks'. With more tongue in cheek references to War of the Worlds it's a no holds barred ray gun wielding romp. The martians keep setting up peace treaties and then massacre anyone who turns up. Using this tried and tested method they manage to wipe out both the United States Congress and the National Assembly of France.My wife was heavily pregnant with my daughter when we went to see this film. The constant barrage of ray guns and the "Akk Akk Akk!!" of the martians sent my unborn daughter into a frenzy. We had to pile all our jumpers and coats on top of her to dampen out the sound. Playing cowboy yodeling music to the martians made their heads explode, which was a huge relief! So ends my science fiction flashback. Another rambling pulp could sneek into your in box sometime in the near future, you have been warned!

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