The Greatest Creations of Fantastical Fiction Part 1

(In which we talk of Gentlemen, Mandalorian combat fashion, Otherworldly maternal figures, far-future deities, and the young lady you get to meet at the end…)

The tinterwebs are full of Top 10’s, 20’s, and more of spaceships, weapons, monsters, and guys good and bad – this isn’t one of those – and it’s not ‘as voted for’ either. Neither is this best film, book, TV series.

This is about those individual things that make you stand up and go: ‘What the…’, ‘No way,’ and ‘Hell yes!’ all at the same time; that leap out from page or screen, that could have made another book or film all the greater were it to have debuted in there instead.

It’s like refined imagination and, for the aspiring creator, bottled inspiration where the inherent genius blasts aside the erstwhile jealousy that you didn’t come up with the idea yourself. Instead you can stare at it in wonder with everyone else (and perhaps try and work out what makes it tick and whether there’s any way of back-engineering the damn thing).

So here it is, in posts of five and in no particular order: the obvious and the famous with the overlooked and tucked away, conveyances spatial and dimensional, offences exotic and inevitable, heroes, villains, and in abundance (perhaps tellingly) antiheroes, and beasties, McGuffins, and all the rest.

Agree or disagree – and as much as I’ve tried to maintain an objective mindset opinion plays a part (totally correct opinion of course!) – but feel free to send thoughts on these and the omissions you perceive as we run through.

Here’s to the sublime: to the mind-blowing, the gob-smacking and the jaw-dropping (and sometimes the pants-wetting) – to The Greatest Creations in Fantastical Fiction.

 

The Gentlemen

Type: Antagonist * From: Buffy The Vampire Slayer * Creator: Joss Whedon

After Buffy had hit the big time, with particular acclaim quite rightly been paid to the dialogue, Joss Whedon did what the greats do: write an episode empty of speech. What emerged was one of the greatest episodes of any series – Hush – and one of the greatest supernatural antagonists of all time.

The Gentlemen There’s no one thing that makes these ghoulish fae creatures so gorgeously freakish: it’s an ensemble grotesquery. The hairless, bone-taut, paste-white skin is just the beginning. Their teeth, though with metallic glints, are essentially human – it’s that rictus grin that does it. That combined with eyes that are almost obscene are terrifying enough, forming a permanent expression of sickening glee at their intent which is nothing less than butchery; they’re going to cut out your heart.

Of course the whole point of the episode is the lack of speech which is effected by their supernatural theft of the voice of everyone in the local area. And that’s the other thing. Because you can’t call for help when they turn up on your doorstep; and you can’t even cry out in pain as they remove the old ticker. In this way it borrows rather from the tagline of a blockbusting SF horror: ‘In Sunnydale no one can hear you scream.’

Now that’s all bad enough but now comes the fine tuning. Between the name and the suits that comprise the uniform of the Gentlemen, the existing horror is thrown up a notch.It’s about a play on the familiar and here a note is struck between the image of businessman and aristocrat. These guys are the merchant bankers from hell, entitling themselves to a vital organ and going about the business with the calm and relish of the experienced corporate raider; they’re also the decadent inbred upper-class sociopaths with the refined appreciation of their own great work, a silent opera of terror.Oh and they have scalpels of course, bringing in the image of the gentleman doctor and by inference – given at least one of his mooted identities – Jack the Ripper. In fact ‘Saucy Jack’ is also referred to as ‘Gentleman Jack’, especially in reference to the suspect archetype of the decadent gentlemen and the suspect list thereof… Time to get down to the job at hand...

All that done Whedon boosts the signal with a finishing touch that is another commonality and consideration amongst these fantastical creations: Movement.

The night-time commute... They glide. Not fly, not hover: glide. Oh you can run but wherever you go they’ll follow at a leisurely pace, secure in the knowledge that you ain’t going nowhere useful. It’s A-game creepy and a subtly terrifying touch which simultaneously brings focus to their subtler movements: slow turnings of their heads and effete hand gestures of the refined gentleman.

And their minions are demonic lunatics in straightjackets?

Leave no stone unturned, eh Mr Whedon…

 

Boba Fett / Mandalorian Battle Armour

Type: Antagonist / Costume * From: The Empire Strikes Back * Creator: Jeremy Bulloch

So much has been said before, but for a character who developed an immediate fan base from collective fragments of screen time that amount to under seven minutes in The Empire Strikes Back there’s something pretty special here.

With respect to Jeremy Bulloch who doubtless tried his best with unscripted dialogue and pose, that’s window dressing at best. To those who attribute his appeal to the air of ‘mystery and danger’, well that’s achieved by nothing more than a lack of screen time, script and back-story, something the character has in common with the majority of parts in the trilogy, not to mention his fellow bounty hunters who likewise get a tick in the danger box by ‘virtue’ of their occupation.

<Boba Fett - a man of few words...>

No the hero here is the costume, a costume that’s a development of early designs for Darth Vader (back when he was conceived as a bounty hunter himself) via input from the visionary Ralph MacQuarrie, finalised by and credited to concept artist and effects technician Joe Johnston.

It hijacks the imagination, war armour that makes that of the stormtrooper uniform seem insubstantial. The featureless helmet – with the simple addition of a pragmatic antenna to break the fearful symmetry – conveys an implacable threatening neutrality. He’s got a grapple-bolt launcher on his wrist. He’s got a damn rocket pack. Boba Fett

You didn’t need to see any of the above in action to know how dangerous this guy was: the styling, scheme and accessories said it all.

 

The Other Mother 

Type: Antagonist * From: Coraline * Creator: Neil Gaiman

After a little girl discovers that the locked door in the kitchen in her new home no longer opens onto a brick wall but instead onto a dark passageway, you know there’s going to be something waiting that will send shivers down your spine.

Coraline Book Cover I bought Coraline for a friend’s son, describing the set-up and pay-off, and she questioned quite seriously – remaining unconvinced – whether the book was suitable for him. Of course kids love creepy villains; it’s adults who experience the same impact from their own perspective as a child and the threat it provokes. Mind you, there’s no guarantee that the pay-off villain is going to deliver the chills – unless they’re created by Mr Neil Gaiman.

 

At the end of the corridor is a kitchen rather like her own, and someone who looks rather like her mother.

Except…

She’s taller and thinner, her constantly moving fingers longer, her nails likewise, being also curved, dark-red and sharp.

And her eyes are big black buttons.

‘I’m your other mother,’ said the woman – which hearing being read allowed at its launch by Gaiman himself is a spine-tingling treat of its own.

Other Mother The origins of the Other Mother lie in a Victorian morality tale amongst the hordes of stories Gaiman has devoured over his life – in that the ‘mother’ has fire for eyes which would be bad enough, but buttons? The stuff of adult nightmares.And that’s before you come to the offer she puts to Coraline, to stay and play and be happy forever – with a condition of course.“On a china plate on the kitchen table were a spool of black cotton and a long silver needle and, beside them, two large black buttons.”Nuff said on that I think but there are commonalities amongst all these creations, threads and themes that dig straight into our shared experience of childhood and beyond and conjure things from therein. One of them, as Gaiman so astutely employs here, is eyes.

 

Still Neil, buttons? You really had to didn’t you.

Of course you did.

 

The Eschaton

Type: Entity * From: Singularity Sky * Creator: Charles Stross

In the-not-so distant future nine-tenths of the human population spontaneously vanish from the face of the planet and a message (along with mysterious geometric objects with a preponderance of tetrahedrons, all mass-less and indestructible) appears everywhere:

Eschaton

 

It kind of speaks for itself.

 

Death

Entity / Supporting Character * The Sandman * Neil Gaiman

When occultist Roderick Burgess tries to summon and imprison Death he ends up instead with Death’s younger brother: Dream. Having been trapped for the better part of a century Dream finally escapes and proceeds to recapture his articles of power. This is the first sequence of Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece which runs to ten volumes, with additional volumes, offshoots and the currently publishing ‘Overture’ prequel.

But Preludes and Nocturnes, that first volume, concludes with an epilogue in which Dream meets his elder sibling for the first time since his long imprisonment and escape.

What do we expect? The Grim Reaper, a robed skeleton avec scythe? An entity more human but grim nonetheless (perhaps riding a pale horse)? Well by this stage we’ve come to expect the unexpected; even so Death comes as a real surprise – and an exceptionally pleasant one.

Death (Sandman) Because the last thing we’re expecting is a charming, cheerful, quirky young woman who expresses her love of the film Mary Poppins and berates her brother for being self-centred, calling the god of dreams an idiot, and goes on to collect the spirits of the immediately deceased to send them on their way with a kind word and a smile.

Oh she’s pale, but then so is her brother and their other siblings. She’s also styled gothic (and it’s harder to figure out if the cheery personification of death is the less revolutionary than the cheery goth chick). By contrast her emblem – which she wears as pendant – is the ankh, the symbol of life.

As Gaiman’s epic unfolds across the tapestry of the history of the world we witness the highs and lows of human nature and of deities and denizens of the supernatural world and Gaiman is unflinchingly honest and challenging about the ambiguities of our condition. And, throughout the ten volume plus sequence, Death makes numerous appearances, most welcome every time, bringing a little cheer and humanity to the vicissitudes and cruelty of the human condition and the morally neutral storyline as it unfolds. Death - The most important thing...

(She also features in Gaiman and McKean’s HIV awareness campaign strip, guest starring John Constantine and a banana).

Most welcome. That’s the result of real genius – that Death is someone you’re looking forward to meet, someone who makes you smile.

Death - A cup of tea...

 

Unlocking the next installment soon (when the link below will work) – in the meantime you can comment on Facebook here…

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