The Greatest Creations of Fantastical Fiction Part 6

Blade Runner 1.1

In which we explore a gloriously dystopian LA, the most sublime of the sublime of weapons in space opera, Gray Hulks, heroic child-proxies, and quantum-locked Assassins… (If you haven’t read the earlier entries you can find Part 1 herePart 2 herePart 3 herePart 4 here and Part 5 here…)

Los Angeles

Los Angeles * Setting * Blade Runner * Ridley Scott

The sprawl of LA in the year 2019: the opening scene of Blade Runner. Blade Runner 1Blade Runner 2
Industrial flame plumes against the darkness of city and night, the restrained, isolated strike of lightning. Aerodyne “spinners”, patrolling police-craft, come and go, beaming suspicious light wherever they journey. In the foreground are skyscraping edifices, in the background the domineering corporate ziggurat of the Tyrell Building projecting light into the sky: Look on ye might and despair.

It’s all a play of dark and light, a thematic spectacle continued as we descend past the gigantic digital ghost of a geisha and into the rain spattered streetscape.

Blade Runner 5 Blade Runner 7

On street level gusts of steam contrast the endless play of rain, a hallmark noir element in itself, indicative of the environmental catastrophe that forms the background of the film.

Blade Runner 10 The Asian melange continues in the neon Kanji street signs and adverts, the marketing being as pervasive as the rain and coming verbally and visually from above as advert blimps channel unending encouragement to leave earth for the ‘golden opportunities’ of the outer colonies.
Blade Runner 6 All of this in opening seconds, minutes… In the oriental imagery we see globalisation and the fear of the other, the yellow peril, the rise of the economic power of the east, alienation within ones ‘native environment’. And we see the excesses of global capitalism realised as hybrid city dystopia of east and west, the inhuman scale and architectural perfection and the urban decay beneath.

In the majesty of the tech-noir setting abstract paranoia is captured and rendered beautiful.

In an ambiguous film exploring what it is to be human, conscious and empathic, there are only protagonists and antagonists, no heroes; except the setting – except the city.

 

The Bone Chair

The Bone Chair * Weapon * Use of Weapons * Iain M Banks

Use of Weapons is possibly the greatest book amongst the works of the late, sadly missed and absolutely fantastic Iain M Banks.

In it we accompany military genius and connoisseur of plasma weapons Cheradenine Zakalwe (and what a cool name that is) after he agrees to take on one more mission for the Culture in exchange for a highly unusual payment. Use of Weapons
The chapters are interspersed with his back story, going back to growing up with his sisters and cousin Elethiomel.
Throughout we encounter a mysterious and recurring image from his past: a bone chair.
It’s called Use of Weapons. If you’ve read it you know why, and why it’s inclusion here is entirely just. If you haven’t you need to and find out, because it would be unjust to explain here.
The titular weapon amongst the many with which the protagonist is proficient is… jaw dropping.

That is all.

 

The Gray Hulk

The Gray Hulk * Antihero * Marvel Comics * Peter David

Some might doubt whether a Hulk of any kind deserves inclusion in these hallowed ranks. But, aside from the character himself, there’s something in how the Gray Hulk came about that shouts AYE, especially as he kind of summarises the genius of his creator Peter David.

David had sold a bunch of Spiderman stories to that title’s editor, all well written and somewhat controversial. But he worked in sales and was then considered to have a conflict of interest; the executive decision came to drop him from the book. Instead he was offered the graveyard shift, the comic equivalent of being Minister of Transport – The Hulk.

Not that the Hulk didn’t have his fans of course but the character was as limited as they came and with a vocabulary to match, a one-trick pony of smashing stuff and little else to play with. But when the truly creative find themselves in such a position they might do either of two things: step the hell up and find a way regardless or change the rules.

David did both.

Seeking inspiration in the earliest adventures of the green goliath, David found the colour scheme to have been rather changeable and that the Hulk had originally been grey, turning his trademark green from printing problems which Stan Lee decided to have as his skin colour from then on. The Hulk was rather more articulate in those early stories than the brute he became and, rather than Bruce Banner changing when he became angry, it was at nightfall. It had all but been retconned from the Hulk’s history. As unfolded early in what was to become David’s long and acclaimed tenure on the comic, David restored it to canon and the Hulk to his first, brief incarnation. Hulk in the beginning...

He returns to his gray form (the printing process now being rather more advanced), greater vocabulary, night-time manifestation and a darker nature. He’s smaller and not quite so strong, meaning he uses animal cunning to beat his foes rather than just sheer strength. Oh but he still gets angry and stronger with it, especially when compared to his former self – as seen in this classic sequence:

Gray Hulk vs Blob Gray Hulk vs Blob 2
(The action continues with the Blob in no little pain, given “that’s not how my power works!” jumping up and flying toward the Hulk because of his elastic flesh: now no longer in contact with the ground and vulnerable, he gets knocked into another neighbourhood whereupon the Hulk gets busy with an iron girder…)
Slowly the quality of writing and dialogue got around and people started taking notice. The gray Hulk was morally ambiguous to say the least and the anti-hero aspect doubtless appealed to many; and David’s savvy scripting gave him deliciously dark humorous lines to lay on his vanquished foes. In any case David now has a more articulate storytelling vehicle, and more challenging adventures for his physically diminished monster. Gray Hulk
David also returned to a subject, explored a little by earlier writers, that Bruce Banner experienced childhood abuse. The green Hulk became the manifestation of Banner’s repressed childhood rage and guilt, caused and repressed by his father’s brutal temper and his beating of Bruce’s mother that ended her life; the grey Hulk, he decided, was Banner’s repressed teenage sexuality.

In the years to come the readers were treated to adventures and misadventures in which the Hulk was pitched against adversaries new and old, and David’s breezy scripts that were both intelligent and laced with his wry trademark humour, the like of which I certainly had never experienced in any comics.

David culminated the adventures of the grey Hulk and moved into new territory, uniting Banner’s disassociated personalities for a time into a green Hulk that had the intelligence of Banner, the green Hulk’s strength, and the low cunning and wit of the grey Hulk. And then came an era of stories in which David used the vehicle of his character to explore social issues including homophobia, the Middle East, HIV, child and domestic abuse, religion, and abortion. Before then there’d been the odd controversial storyline in comics; Peter David made social issues a mainstay and delivered a comic that was as fun as it was thought-provoking. Comics were growing up.

And it all started with the reversion of a nuclear era Frankenstein’s monster into a character that had been buried by a quarter century of stories – which was started by the sidelining of a writing genius and legend to be. Gray Hulk (Mr Fixit)
And the moral of the story is that when the going gets tough the tough get creative.
And do your homework on whatever you’re writing.

 

Hobbits

Hobbits * Race * The Hobbit / Lord of the Rings * JRR Tolkien

I’m not aware of any precedents for these fellas and someone would have come up with something like them soon enough, only Tolkien did. The genius here lies in the fact that Hobbits are adults but child-sized, making them accessible and endearing to both children and adults.

Bilbo Baggins In the Hobbit, being a children’s book, Bilbo is primarily a figure for children. There’s a little larceny in Bilbo’s nature but, ironically, it’s Burglar Baggins honesty, the honesty of a child uncorrupted by a greedy, cynical, ignorant and hypocritical adult world, that makes all the difference in the world. It’s perhaps not too much of a leap to say the Shire represents the safety of the home, the playground even, nor that Bilbo’s lack of interest in adventure combined with the adventurous ‘Took’ blood in him represent a more genuine picture of childhood: an inherent desire for excitement within a more powerful lack of tolerance of discomfort.

Of course the Lord of the Rings is an adult book and so, while we might like to place ourselves as one of the exceptional individuals, as warrior or ranger in the reading or watching, the Hobbits are a truer representation of us, smaller and vulnerable in a dangerous world, adult or otherwise. But they, Sam and Frodo especially, carry our preferred self-image and, while perhaps eclipsed somewhat by the majestic expanse of place and plot, nevertheless are the greater heroes, their qualities not skill at arms or magic but simply courage in the face of all-but impossible odds.

It’s not for me to define Tolkien’s intentions but the enduring appeal of The Hobbit and then Lord of the Rings owes much to the titular race of the former and what they represent to readers of all ages.

Frodo and Co

 

The Weeping Angels

The Weeping Angels * Antagonist * Dr Who * Stephen Moffat

The Weeping Angels: It’s creations like these – and stories like Blink in which they debut – that made Stephen Moffat the obvious choice as RTD’s replacement as head writer of Doctor Who. Maybe little needs be said on them having, like the Daleks and the Cybermen and the Master after, become instant villain sensations – but still…

The fearful charm of the Angels is owed in part to that affliction as old as humanity itself of automatonophobia: the fear of motive unliving – the undead, too-human robots, waxworks and dolls. Then there’re the graveyard associations, of death and a more general gothic creepiness. But there’s rather more to it than that. Weeping Angel
A major strand of creative genius – if not one that could be said to be all-inclusive – is the effective play of familiarity and the exotic. It’s the ability to tap into the deep reservoir of collective human experience and from it collapse situations, dialogue, characters and – especially in SFF – races into conceptual being that evoke the strongest responses in reader or viewer.
Weeping Angel (No tears here...) In this arena creators like Moffat and Gaiman have a particular strength in tapping the vein of childhood, both for consumers of those actual age groups and the inner child of the adult audience. With the Weeping Angels it’s less that primal fear of something being out there, more the sense that something harmless in the safety of day becomes threatening when cast in shadow in the near-dark of bedtime or in the darker imaginative wanderings of total dark: Did it move?

I noted in earlier articles how movement contributes to the freakishness of the best creepy villains, that play of the familiarity of human shape with exotic movement that speaks of the inhuman – and the Angels have this in spades.

In that stunning scene of Blink as we come to the crux (and the hopefully happy resolution) where the lights in the underground passage flicker, the Weeping Angels capture something of the robotic and insectoid and utterly inhuman in their rapid freeze-frame pursuit. Their clawed hands, fanged mouths and blank eyes channel further fears but really just complete the picture of terror rather than in any respect being necessary for it. Weeping Angels

On related note – and of course we’re less occupied at the thought of their indestructibility, the Angels being invulnerable in their quantum-locked states – they do share that ‘unstoppable force’ element common to zombies, Daleks, Cybermen and others.

Weeping Angel 4 Ultimately their method of your demise – retiring you to the past – is not in itself so terrifying given we understand from early on that the first victim we encounter has led a happy and fulfilling life before they were born. But their exotic method of ‘execution’ rather partakes of another motif of childhood monster stories, the swallowing-you-whole / eating-you-all-up thing: which is effectively what they do.
All that aside (!) they’re the galaxies greatest assassins, “the only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely”, and inspired by angel statues covering their eyes as if weeping.

"What ever you do DON'T BLINK"

“What ever you do DON’T BLINK”

Oh and they’ve got to be the only new Dr Who villain to now rank amongst his greatest and most iconic foes, the Daleks, Cybermen and the Master in the minds of viewers since the relaunch – in fact since the Master first appeared in the early 70’s.
That pretty much says it all.