Alien Races: Thirteen Vignettes on Space Monsters

March 27, 2011

FIRST: SOME EXPLANATION:

I spotted a callout for stories and reviews from my college literary society, so I quickly rattled this off, and edited-down the Scott Pilgrim review, for the deadline. I didn’t have time to edit … which meant I wasn’t constantly going back, and actually got it finished. Writing in the unpublishable format of tweets seems to have successfully broken me of my constant need to hone before finishing, and I might be able to just proceed to prose format again. After that, I might even be able to trust myself to edit again.

ALSO:

I wrote this, sent it off … then came across an article on the hypothetical Higgs Singlet; ”The Higgs singlet may be able to jump through space and time, travel through a hidden dimension, and then re-enter our dimension forward or backward in time.”

In the highly-unlikely event that I was inspired to write this story by messages sent back in time, much as the story itself proposes all myths were sent back in time, I just have one request for being the mouthpiece for ‘The Future’: Lotto numbers, guys, lotto numbers.

NOW: READ ON:

Alien Races: Thirteen Vignettes on Space Monsters

Space Men, 001 YZ:

At the start of the latter-half of the Earth’s lifetime, we measured time differently. Instead of A.D. it was Y.Z.: Year Zero. Year Zero, as counted from the first year when, by way of bioinformatic clones and dedicated memory implants, nobody died. A post scarcity society, racking a solid ‘level 3’ on the Kardashev-Dyson scale of civilisations. The only remaining scarcity resource was land. Or, rather, space. Humans had filled up all the space on land, on water and underwater too, in air and in orbit. Naturally, the quest for space drove them into … space.

***

Ape Men, 298 YZ:

Humanity returned to caves, this time on the moon. Working in a gravity one-sixth of the Earth’s, the ‘Space Monkeys’, resided in geodesic-domed gardens and hemispherical moonbases. Light was sparse, and reserved for the plants. Space was at premium here, too, and all their work places were in three dimensions, with banks of computer terminals lining ‘ceilings’ as well as ‘floors’.

The changes they made to themselves were not even outside human baseline DNA.

They were prodigiously physically strong and blindingly quick, made for racing along the handholds on the walls of their weightless workstations, or swinging from the trees in their labour-intensive life-gardens. Their eyes were large, pupils as big as saucers in the darkness. They even grew a lanugo-like fur. Obviously, they could never go home like that.

Particularly after the final elective surgery; to give their feet opposable thumbs.

Vampires, 8, 436 YZ:

As it turned out, generation ships were just not reliable and cryogenics needed humanity to meet it half way. Even ships travelling at appreciable fractions of the speed of light would have millennia-long voyages. The travellers needed to drop into suspended animation for aeons. Even when they awoke, to pull century-long maintenance shifts, their food sources would have to be compact.

It would also help if they had no great love of light – the vastness of space would give them little.

They grew them on the dark side of the moon. Placed in steel caskets, the ‘Suckers’ would sleep for an eternity until they reached their destinations. Their blood diet was practical – it was the most compact foodstuff imaginable and their specialised biologies drew sufficient sustenance from a pint to survive a century. They didn’t need food, or water, or air, or light, or heat, or even company.

The controls on their craft were irrevocably locked on course, of course – couldn’t risk them turning around.

Werewolves, 14, 778 YZ:

Out by Proxima Centauri, there is a planet with fourteen moons and a faraway sun that shines weakly. Nights with one or more full moons on any section of the planet draw out a vicious perennial pack predator. A colony being, it reacts as one to moon light exactly, waking it for the hunt, some vestigial instinct leftover from hunting some night time herbivore, long extinct.

Naturally, the human colonists of this planet chose to change themselves to fit it than vice versa – it was quicker.

The tricky part was the timing. Humans could have become bigger animals for this world – it was beyond neither their science, aesthetics nor morals. But life, and resources on this planet were subsistence, at best – hence the colony-creature’s restraint. They looked for something that could shift between a low-energy human shape in safe times and a high-energy warrior shape by the light of the moon.

Of course, they looked to man’s best friend.

Mermaids: 675, 155 YZ:

Marooned on a water-covered planet, the cannibals had to adapt. Their lifeboat-planetship was the only floating apparatus across the entire world. It was a deep-bottomed ocean, filled to the brim with predators.

Adapting gill-bearing humans with webbed feet wasn’t that hard – it’s a stage in the womb after all. The true innovations were the increased aural and vocal capacities, putting their obsolete throats and lungs to good use. Most remarkable was their ability to manipulate the giant predators of the world sea with their songs.

When the cannibals grew hungry for human flesh again, the ‘Sirens’ sung into their lifeboat’s communicators, across the interstellar ether, and watched the rescue ships make planet fall.

Demons: 3, 568, 798 YZ:

Why limit yourself to planets? After so many colonists eschewed light, they swung in the other direction. After all, light and heat were essential to life. Creating something that relied on these alone, that could subsist on this alone was just cutting out the evolutionary middleman.

Creatures for the photosphere posed their own problems, but not insoluble ones. The horns and scales are simply hangovers from early heat experiments, and they only tempt the way stars have always tempted humanity.

Mummies: 54, 943, 280 YZ:

Crossing intergalactic distances takes a real toll on any body. The magneto-gravitic and electro-nuclear engines have no inertial dampeners, no radiation shields. That one is dead on arrival when travelling in one of these things is certain. Best to arrange to be dead on departure, too.

They sleep longer than the rise and fall of civilisations, their organs in preservative pyramidal canopic jars, waiting to waken.

Titans: 905, 777, 248 YZ:

Free from gravity, giants can finally be realised. ‘Starchildren’ are grown in orbit, the length of Noah’s ark. They have liquid nitrogen for blood, anaerobic metabolisms and slow, deliberate consciousness that can think in terms of hundreds of thousands of years. They are the only humans to appear on a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. They are launched into deepest space, willing themselves across the void with synapses the size of city streets, and cannot be felled by a meteor to the forehead.

Fairies: 2, 308, 578, 097 YZ:

Smaller people fit in smaller spaces; carry this axiom to its ultimate conclusion, and you create microscopic men. Humans as tall as a pencil, as small a drop of water, people who can fit under a microscope – even an electron microscope. The biological impossibility of this is immediately obvious – the physical ones less so. On the Yocto subatomic scale (0.000000000000000000001. of cubic measurement) one can’t breathe oxygen atoms the size of one’s head or visually process photons the size of a country. It was also unclear what was hunting them down there, until they found the tigers prowling between the quarks.

Zombies: 78, 265, 787, 901 YZ:

Going from end to end of the universe tests the resources of even a type 3 civilisation. The ‘Talking Dead’ – by majority just species-wide memory scans housed in planet-sized memory banks – consume three hundred planets just to build a ring around a sun. The ring’s diameter is exactly that or Earth’s orbit around its sun. They build a second, a third, a fourth ring, interlacing. These alone are larger than anything ever yet attempted and they are but the scaffolding for a greater work – a Dyson sphere.

Mad Scientists: 854, 786, 630, 904 YZ:

They create entire species by accident now, even in the least of their endeavours. Afterwards, they feel a proprietary guilt towards the offspring, like an unplanned pregnancy. The fledgling natives are easy to unintentionally destroy as they are to unintentionally create. Sometimes the worst thing a creator can do is show his creations that he can bleed.

Gods: 5, 789, 203, 978, 467 YZ:

They never found any true aliens, anywhere, after all that searching. There were a few almosts – one set of posthumans mistaking another as having an entirely otherworldly origin. Who can blame them? Near-baseline humans travelling at relativistic speeds in slow-ships would awake, encounter ‘Dog Soldiers’, ‘Sirens’ and ‘Talking Dead’, and wonder at the otherness of the alien. But no. And so they threw up grand conceits with their monster-technologies – impossibly ringing a black hole’s accretion disc with the last seven shining suns in the entire universe, shifting planets so the music of their spheres sounds in perfect harmony and tampering with universal constants of the universe for the doing of it. They dedicated memorial-museum planets to the minutiae of their history and declared themselves the wanton emperors of the galaxy and the mercurial queens of deep space. And no one gave a damn.

Devils: 89, 064, 312, 765, 294 YZ:

The first of the self-hating self-deletions had occurred. The grotesques and the holocausts and the masquerade-frivolities of the Gods have faded away. Now solemn, humanity is truly up against the constraints of a deteriorating universe. The stars having long, long gone out, entropy is their single and undeniable enemy. Heat-death is all that awaits them. With their monster-technology, they might, possibly win.

But should they? Should they succeed, will they become corrupt, proud and decadent, as they did before? The technology required to reshape the universe at the base of reality would be dangerous to even conceive of. They might well simply carve the very universe, excepting no molecule, omitting no atom, into a beautiful, horrific statue of themselves and their lonely glory.

The last great technical revelation is what decides them. The branes of reality were once thought to be layers of other universes, one on top of the other. They sought to escape to other universes, only to find the branes bent at the edges, folded over on themselves, leading only to the past. The ‘Devils’ can watch, even communicate with all periods of human history – even the pre-YZ days.

They appear to old humans and (in the geographical language and cultural idiom of the time) and ask: Would one risk losing one’s few remaining self-defining aspects to the interminable furnace at the end of time to achieve one’s desires? Translating into ‘sell one’s soul’, ‘damned to hell’ and ‘Faustian deal’, the Devils noted down the responses of all humanity and acted accordingly.

Ghosts: 100, 000, 000, 000, 000 YZ

They fought, they lost. It was a near miss in the end, but entropy eventually rolled over their well-laid plans and complex forms. The water in among the clockwork, the rust crouched within the engine, the shortening telomeres in the cells. They had run the race, the human race, for a long time – many amongst their number being original Year Zero populace, in one form or another. They might have been tempted to walk away from it all then – if it weren’t for how alive, passionate and unconsciously fragile the prisoners of the past were. Twenty trillion generations strong, humanity chose to give their forebears one last chance to escape their fate.

Beings of light, and gravity, and energy and celestial firmament, now. They turn, travelling back in time. They’ve peered down their temporal telescopes and whispered into their interstitial radios long enough. They twist the branespace, transmitting their incoherent forms and memory totalities to the very beginning of the universe. This time they will have enough time. They will kick start ancient humanity’s growth and imagination, leaving it enough time to escape the dying universe – perhaps even create a few alien races for humans to meet. The images of them all shall provoke the thoughts of strange shores and great possibilities into the infant intellect of young humanity. Even if the next does not succeed, or the one after that, each human race will be sharper each and every time, until they free themselves of the universe – and free their neighbours too.

Back to the start. They are words and images now, formatting themselves upon psyches across the ages, knowing themselves not to be gods but to be the inspiration of gods. They are revolutionaries; they turn and, in turning, re-turn to the start. They are creating the human race, these aliens.

Let there be light.

EDIT: And now I turn on my podcatcher and find Drabblecast 200 with ‘The Last Question’, the story to which the ‘let there be light’ line is a shout out to, and find it came out the day after I finished the story and the day before I posted it.

http://web.me.com/normsherman/Site/Podcast/Entries/2011/3/25_Drabblecast_200-_The_Last_Question_by_Isaac_Asimov.html

So, uh, future peoples … who dost thou want smoten?

Advertisements

Scott Pilgrim; Volumes 2-6 & The Film

March 12, 2011

The Books

So: I liked this.

Indie Music? I -maybe- hear what is hot on Today FM’s Pet Sounds and Last Splash. That is the totality of my out-there music. My use of the word ‘hot’ should signal how ‘hip’ I’m with ‘da kids’.

Vintage Video Games? I know Sonic more from his cartoons, Mario more from the strange film. I thought the green-capped long-hair on the ‘Legend of Zelda’ games was the titular Zelda. Seriously.

Scott Pilgrim? Pretty jerky. Dating a 17-year-old, whom he dumps for the literal-girl-of-his-dreams – but not before asking out and making out with said LGOHD. And he is pretty ok with ending people.

So: I liked this.

The art style is tricky – occasionally I will have to re-read a scene and deduce who exactly this is; the faces and eyes are pretty interchangeable, particularly on the female characters. The hair is often destinctive, but given how often this can change, it can be confusing. The compact black and white palette compounds this – although coloured, widescreen comics can become subject to this too: (Runaways, volume 3 so far, I’m looking at you – remember; Minoru is Asian, Chase shouldn’t resemble Fred from Scooby-Doo and Klara is NOT in her teens!) The name-tag/fact-bar are really quite necessary – I’d find it near impossible to recognise a minor recurring character. As with Runaways, I’m reminded why most comic book characters wear uniforms.

That said – the art for this builds the world. A truly original universe. There is the basic level – basic, in terms of colour, shading, complexity – yet so well done it there is no disconnect for the reader. Onto this framework is built stunning sequences of action – the basic frame bringing a video game to mind, but the action, emotion and expression involving us with the characters. This is a world of video game imagery we can be entertained by and has story that we can engage with. This is a world where line music streams across the bottom of the page, where group-cooking a vegan meal is half cooking show, half documentary. It isn’t that it never becomes cartoonish, it is that the events are funny because we know the characters, like an old 25-minute Bugs Bunny.

The writing is also tricky. Also, I’ll admit, there were some ideas I was playing catch-up with; The head-bump that locks one in one’s own mind – would have liked a little more on that. Also, the Ramona getting stuck in a freezer with six other of Gideon’s exs? Aside from these – and I these are really minor for me – this work has a great ability to be comfortable while writing away from its ostensible central premise, while still adding subtle things to that premise. In many ways the simple cartoon premise – beat seven bosses, win the girl – makes such a straight line that even when you take detour you can still see the main road all the time. Its a complex plot, but it is complex about mundanities and emotions rather than geodesic puzzles and swift surprises.

The writing makes the world. Death is serious – but not that serious? Save points, extra lives, hyperspace doors and hammerspace handbags? Super-powered vegans, cyborg drummers, demon hipster chicks, chubby half-ninjas, self-drying psychics and the power of love. There is the dream-logic, game-logic, song-logic of the storytelling that guides through an impossible, mundane world – where not only can people perform incredible feats through practicing combos, but that these abilities can be totally apart from the person themselves – that the greatest fighter in the province can also be sharing a futon in a bomb shelter-looking apartment with his roomate. A world where past events can be expressed as taking up ‘pages’ and where people are told to ‘read volume one’ without irony. It is a world of dreams, onto which we can project problems and complexities for satisfaction.

The cast of characters, apart from the above-mentioned problems with recognition, compliment the complexity. In the main cast, the afforementioned Scott-being-jerk a la Peter Pan aside, these seem like … people you could meet. Or have met. Or were at that party that one time. Apart from the whole vegan superpowers and battle robots, which are really just other ways for one to grind exp., they are all caught up in the mix of intrigues, projects, moving days, lies and lunacy of the rest of us. They have their own adventures prior to, in parallel with and probably after Scott’s time with them. Ramona certainly has a septology’s worth of adventures from her pre-Scott era. Stephen Stills has an almost certainly as-interesting revelation about his own career, recurring relationship with Julie and his own sexuality. Kim Pine even had a few strips of her own regarding her jerky roommates. Wallace clearly requires his own tv show.

I’ve heard about the idea that all this, on one level or another, is taking place in Scott’s head. Given the events of the books, I’d pretty much take that as an assumption. The only addition I’d make is that all the other stories that are happening in all the other heads are equally awesome.

Oh, they’re all jerks, like Scott. Apart from their comedy-sociopath reaction to repeated murder attempts on Scott, the following; Ramona makes out with her ninja ex-girlfriend after inaccurately-accusing Scott of doing the same. Wallace is pretty relieved Scott has a girlfriend, as Scott won’t be homeless when Wallace moves out. Kim Pine tells Scott off for dating high schooler Knives Chau … then drunkenly makes out with Knives. Knives dates Young Neil just to get close to Scott again. Young Neil calls Stephen Stills ‘Capt Homo’ which, when we find out what was going on in that period, is quite cruel. And so on. And this insn’t the slightest reason no to read it, just a slight underlining to warn you that if you can’t take the occassionally jerky behaviour, stay out of the vegan-friendly kitchen.

As for the rest of the cast: People move in and out of the range of the story, the way people do. A host of villains, partygoers, one-night-stands, movie stars, barristas and samurai dads. Legendary.

The Film:

So yeah, I generally liked this.

The filmography – not the first place I’d usually go, but, like the art in the book, this builds the world. The special effects, the camera angles, the set and costume design, the stunts and, of course, the music – however you’d like refer to these cement this as a cult classic for a considerable fraction of all time. None of it was … ‘clunky’. It didn’t get in the way of what we know must happen. Hollywood has insanely pandered to our desire to see the villain not just fail, but be captured. This carried it farther, onto the realms of unconscious expression, where they all explode into coins. Its imagery was never constricted by contemporary mores or iconography. They used these mores and images, sure, but I never got the feeling that in ten years nobody is going to have a damned idea what is going on here, or have to read the books to get it.

Story: The dialogue is the book verbatim – just in different places. Only when re-reading the books did I realise just how much of it had come from them, albeit in different contexts. And it worked. With Watchmen there was a scene or two in the end that felt really weird, with Laurie ‘quoting’ something Dr Manhattan ‘would have said’ to get that line in without the original scene. I appreciated the changes yes, but some of it was done was really odd. As for the other changes – largely they were cuts, and largely I liked them. Yes, I missed the Kim Pine story – the thing that was closest to “*could* have been kept in for plot relevance” – but overall these largely practical cuts. Making the band plot a ‘battle of the bands/signing deal plot’ did work to parallel the main plot. I still had perhaps two major issues with the story overall (they are somewhat related).

Firstly, the time-compression. A year becomes a week. There was some loss of Scott’s other ways to grow outside of his romantic relationship – which was ptherwise a great message in this film – and said relationship is now only a week-wide. Still, I’m not that vehement about this point. It does make it more palatable for a single sitting, and, more importantly, it really contributes to the end aesop that the Power of Love is all very well, but that that of Self-Respect has a much, much cooler sword. This film single-handed goes a great ways to undo some of the damage the film-shorthand ‘power-of-love-saves-the-day’ has done over the years. By keeping the relationship relatively short so far, it underlines why Scott should be fighting for himself rather than Ramona. Which, alas, brings me onto my big gripe.

Ramona and Knives. A little fact I learned later that explained a lot:
Apparently, at the time of filming, Scott was going to hook up with Knives at the end of the books. Now, just let me say: This, while a little weird, wouldn’t have put me off too much as the book’s ending. By the last book, Knives has become a wonderful young woman who is so much further on from where she started out. She got over her first love, got past dating guys to make that crush jealous, got over her first beloved band, got over getting punched out by the drummer of her adored band and is off to have her own, awesome life. And is 18. I feel I should stress that. In the film however, this means a crazy Knives, who is still attacking Ramona for Scott’s mistakes, is supposed to be the love interest. Thankfully, this didn’t happen, and the ending was changed as the O’Malley decided Ramona made the better story.

And Ramona did make a great story. After spending a year with the ‘nicest guy she has ever dated’ and dealing with her seven evil exes teaming up to destroy said nicest guy, she ran off – which is significant, as she manages to escape the two classic traps of either hooking up with the villain or getting put in his dungeon. Running off was immature of her, but it put strides ahead of many a love interest. She is messed up, but going away on her own terms – and, most particularly – coming back on her own, and her on own terms, AND driving the evil, evil stalker Gideon from her head on her own terms was wonderful. It prompts Scott’s own revelation about the chain of dumped and dumping and sets up their tag-team deathmatch to destroy Graves. Film-Ramona goes back to Graves, has a chip on her neck, gets rescued, gets to knee him in the balls then get kicked down the stairs. Which is a real slap in the face after the great hammer/stand-on-my-shoes fight.

I whine and whine about poor stories for female characters, but the book is the stuff that reminds they can be done well. The fallout from this is the following: Knives clearly is underlined as the love interest in the end – from the ‘Knives-Scott tag-team’, ton ‘wow, yeah, wow’, to the ‘you make a good team’ bit, it is clear which way it was being pushed, even in the final cut. The deleted scenes version makes it really explicit. And so in the Ramona/Scott is the rescued girl who Scott has only know for a week and with whom he appears to leave everything for. The alternate ending with Knives/Scott is worse – Scott goes back to dating the crazy 17 year old and Ramona walks through a door (which, gives the absolute midnight behind it, looks sort of like death – not something we wanna associate with her not having a guy. Not having a guy is a fine end for her, but for god’s sake, have HER walk into the sunrise then, not this inky spectre of death stuff).

So, rant over. In short: I actually preferred the bit when Scott died, with him rerunning everything. Really drove home the growth. And was awesome. The whole subspace/memory-editing thing was so weird that even in the context of all other ninja-mystic weirdness that was around it, it was weird – and so would have been difficult to adapt without several minutes of pure exposition. I was ticked off at how the whole plot for Ramona was reduced to chip-on-neck stuff, but still, I see how hard that would be to adapt.

Casting wise, I really want to see Kieran Culkin in more films from now on. It was eerie seeing not-MacCauley’s features on a a screen, but he is a wonderful actor. Anna Kendrick shows us all why she has been nominated best supporting actress in the biz (best part of the Twilight films’ school scenes, without a doubt), and I kinda want to see the film she got nominated for now. Michael Cera rightfully remains a leader in the particular typecasting subset that of quirky-young-heroes-with-idiosyncratic-critically-acclaimed-stories that Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Long, Aaron Johnson, Jason Schwartzman occupy. Speaking of, Schwartzmann was a great villain. A little light on backstory, but a real sonnova-bleep. Elizabeth Mary Winstead was great. She had excellent villain-chops in Sky High and, to be honest, kept thinking of this as Sue Tenny grown up – c’mon; mysteriously left America, had several super-powered evil boyfriends in high school, has access to high technology, has dabbled in being a bitch. Ah, conspiracy theories. But seriously, I hadn’t clicked with me that she’d been in Die Hard 4, or Deathproof (I’ve seen trailers). A quick google image search and I realised that depending on her hairstyle, I’m probably going to mistake her for Emma Stone, Jennifer Garner, Anna Friel and/or Katy Perry. The dyed hair really made her stand out in my mind by comparison. Girl needs a duelling scar, is what I’m saying. And Alison Pill – oh, Alison Pill. That Kim Pine voice and that Kim hair and Kim Pine drums. The two takes on her reaction to Scott’s entrance to Gideon’s club were equally genius. Ellen Wong, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, etc – great. The exes – magnificent.

Ultimately? I read the books before I saw the film, burt I saw the trailer before I read the books, so these are the voices I hear when I read the books, the faces I impose on the drawings. And I’m cool with that.

I hope it does well on the DVDs. There isn’t any terrible compulsion, of course – there isn’t any more of this individual story to tell, everyone involved has a career afterwards and appear to have plenty of work. But genre-busting off-kilter adaptations of indie stuff should be encouraged. It shouldn’t be the only thing on the screem, but it shouldn’t be once-in-a-decade stuff. Ah well. More particularly, I shall, again, have to widen my reading horizons to see what I’m missing in the OEL Manga / Oni-Press stakes. And that is 2,500 words.