The Greatest Creations of Fantastical Fiction Part 4

(In which we dabble with coherent blades of energy, Hollywood monsters of Chinese folklore, the worst witch (for her enemies), god-like automatons, and the space craft that makes the rest look like the cardboard boxes you pretended to fly to space in as kids…)

 

If you haven’t read the earlier entries you can find Part 1 herePart 2 here and Part 3 here.

 

Lightsaber

Type: Weapon * From: Star Wars * Creator: George Lucas

Luke Skywalker Quite seriously you couldn’t not include this “elegant weapon for a more civilised age” in an article on this subject and very little needs be said. There were precedents in fiction and if George Lucas hadn’t incorporated a sword of coherent energy into the original and subsequent Star Wars films someone else would have used it; it was a creation that was always waiting to be born both in written word and on the big screen.

Still it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job at doing the latter and, were it to have debuted today with Hollywood’s more polished effect techniques, it would doubtless have been the poorer.

Every sound from the hiss of a Lightsaber’s ‘ignition’, the hum of its movement through the air, to the resplendent crash as one clashes against another, is gorgeous and evocative. (In fact the signature hum is so distinct, evocative and ingrained that, apparently, when shooting the fight scenes in the first prequel filming had to be stopped because Ewan McGregor kept making the noise himself). And that’s just the sound – visually the vibrating rotoscoped glow of the blade makes us want to climb into the screen and ask Luke if we could have a go. The Empire Strikes Back - Showdown

But the Lightsaber, regardless of its inevitability, is exactly what we wanted and still do.

Lightsabers are quite possibly the coolest thing ever.

 

Mogwai / Gremlins

Type: Race * From: Gremlins * Creator: Chris Columbus et al

 

Gremlins Poster

Horror comedy had proved popular and commercially successful in the early 80’s and Stephen Spielberg snapped up Chris Columbus’ script for Gremlins, inspired by noises coming from his loft when “what sounded like a platoon of mice would come out and to hear them skittering around in the blackness was really creepy”.

The term Mogwai is actually Chinese for a dark spirit or monster, perhaps more apt for the Gremlins they become, but here is given to the cutesy furball race we first experience via the better spirited Gizmo (both forms being designed by Chris Walas). Director Joe Dante drew inspiration also from Roald Dahl’s 1943 book The Gremlins.

On the way to the final script darker elements were downplayed and Spielberg overruled the plot element that made Gizmo turn into the vicious scaly protagonist of the piece, cannily foreseeing the audience engaging with the little fellow and doubtless the merchandising opportunities because of it.

Within that comes the spontaneous asexual reproduction of Mogwai when in contact with water and the creation of the rather less well behaved Spike and the others, perhaps inspired by the folklore that the evil Chinese spirits procreate in times of rain which were deemed propitious times for offspring. (I rather like the idea that the original Mogwai was some kind of Buddha-like figure of total compassion even if that would have made a rather dull movie). Gizmo

With the cause of their nightmarish transformation being food and their vulnerability to light established, we have the triad of rules: Never expose it to bright light (especially sunlight, which will kill it). Never get it wet. And, most importantly: no matter how much it cries or begs, never, ever feed it after midnight.

Gremlins

The film itself works beautifully from start to finish, and part of its perfection is how we buy readily into the creature, both for its initial lovability but also how the invented folklore sounds so authentic. The three rules literally follow the pattern in all the old tales of things coming in threes; and, like old tales, you know very well that everyone one of them is going to be broken…

 

Grimalkin

Type: Antihero * From: The Wardstone Chronicles * Creator: Joseph Delaney

And now we come now to Grimalkin.

I’ll allow myself a swift tangent to roundly endorse the wider world of Joseph Delaney’s Wardstone Chronicles in which young Thomas Ward, seventh son of a seventh son, is apprentice to the county spook: essentially the local ghost and monster hunter. Unlike Coraline I rather hesitate to buy the books as a present for younger friends and relatives but they are extraordinarily well-conceived and beautifully written.

Anyway, Grimalkin is all-but the perfect anti-hero and a one-line sum-up pretty much says it all: Renegade Witch Assassin.

Yep, you heard.

Grimalkin

This lady ousted the incumbent witch-clan hitman, slept with the Fiend in order to obtain lifelong protection from him, then went rogue in order to take her revenge on Delaney’s devil equivalent. Aside from the dark magic she employs in the pursuit of her goals, her implements of choice are her knives which she uses as both thrown weapons and in hand to hand combat; and she’s absolutely deadly. With her own twisted code of honour and a complete lack of remorse Grimalkin also takes on the power of vanquished enemies by snipping off their thumb bones with her scissors for use in future magics.

Yeah, Grimalkin’s all kinds of scary. Oh and we were talking teeth.

She decided to file hers to sharp points as a fashion statement.

 

The Shrike

Type: Entity * From: Hyperion * Creator: Dan Simmons

A sinister red eye was all I saw on the cover of Dan Simmons Hyperion and it was enough to make me read the back copy. This is what it said:

“On the eve of disaster, with entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth in a final voyage to the legendary Time Tombs on Hyperion, home to the Shrike, a lethal creature, part god, part killing machine, whose powers transcend the limits of time and space.”

The Shrike, it turns out (given the book was then an instant purchase), is a four-armed chromed cyborg humanoid with quicksilver thorns at joints and other places and scalpel blades on its fingers. Its movements are infinitely fast to the point that it visibly teleports. Its purpose opaque, the Shrike is an enigma that impales its victims on an unimaginably large ‘Tree of Pain’ or ‘of Thorns’ composed of then same material as itself for eternity. It’s a horror that partakes of the Terminator, Alien, and Hellraiser. The Shrike

The Shrike has its own cult.

It’s not damn surprising.

 

The Liberator

Type: Spaceship / McGuffin * From: Blake’s 7 * Creator: Terry Nation

The spaceship is of course the staple of many science fiction epics, a method of travel, usually at some serious inter-system speed and almost invariably with a weapons package and defences. There are many favourites who might otherwise be on this list for reasons of affection, the Millenium Falcon perhaps being the most obvious, or for scale or even for look. But none of them – none of them – have anything on the Liberator.

The Liberator

Take a look at it, whether you’ve seen it before or not and regardless of how recently. Maybe it looks cool, maybe cooler than the other ships out there; or maybe it looks like four linked cylinders with protruding poles and a green orb at the back. Regardless…

Defences. Okay for a start it’s made of something called Herculaneum (yep that means it hard in the way that adamantium skeletons are hard). Then it’s got a force wall, a directional force field for when it can’t get out of the way of something terminal. This allows a sense of balance between it being the most powerful ship in the known galaxy without being indestructible, enabling drama when the crew are faced with overwhelming firepower.

The force wall requires precise calculation of energy use and timing and other tactics from its motley crew of expert misfits as Federation plasma bolts are damn powerful themselves: enough to damage its Herculaneum hull and deplete the power banks from continued use of the wall.

And its own offences? This is where it kicks the collective bottoms of space fighters in all franchises and sundry. Those four cylinders that make up its bulk? Only the middle one is crew quarters (flight deck, accommodation, cargo bays etc). That’s right.

THE LIBERATOR IS THREE QUARTERS GUN.

Space Fight

Yep, those are three weapon nacelles, Neutron Blasters: and they are seriously powerful. How powerful? Powerful enough that every time they are used the crew have to raise radiation flare shields in order to not be wiped out themselves. Which the enemy usually are. Vaporised. Just one shot from one of those bad boys will take down pretty much anything.

That’s how powerful.

Oh there’s plenty more. It’s got a teleport system (one somewhat more grounded than those of other series where a bracelet of exotic material keeps their signal intact). It’s got a artificial intelligence whose nomenclature is most accurately rendered as ‘Zen’. Then there’re its telepathic internal anti-personnel security systems – its basic psychic capabilities also being a boon to its accepted pilot.

Lastly there’s its power system and engines which make it the fastest ship in the galaxy which is (why settle for just one exotic propulsion system and leave another for other creators?) a QUANTUM ANTI-MATTER DRIVE.

Liberator - Flight Deck

Yep, you can take out the Top Trumps and compare size, speed and weaponry across franchise universes as much as you want. For narrative (if not physical) power – not to mention damn-coolness – there’s only one card in the deck – and that’s the Liberator.

 

The Liberator 2

 

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