Archive for August, 2016

Robert Aikman (2)

Robert Aikman isn’t as widely known or as appreciated as some of his contemporaries, but his tales of the uncanny still resonate with modern aficionados of the strange. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, think on a lineage that encompass M.R James, passes through Aikman, onto Roald Dahl – in Tales of the Unexpected mode – and then out into the psychodramas of J. G. Ballard and Will Self. Not necessarily overt horror, or monster of the week, but something more sub-dermal and terrifyingly closer to home.

Despite having over 50 short stories published in his life time, Aikman’s commercial success was perpetually hampered by a lack of public attachment and the near constant distraction of numerous extra curriculum activities. Today, however, there’s a growing number of advocates of his work among the more esoteric echelons of publishing and broadcast.

Sword and sorcery pioneer Fritz Leiber, horror author Peter Straub and co-creator of the League of Gentleman Mark Gaitiss have all paid their respects or produced adaptations of the writer’s works. Now author, publisher and all round Aikman fan, Storm Constantine, is about to release her own homage to this fellow writer of “strange tales”.

Dark in the Day is an anthology of the weird, penned by such luminaries as Tanith Lee set alongside those new to the genre. It’s publication comes as a result of a collaboration between Immanion Press and Staffordshire University, and is co-edited by Paul Houghton – senior lecturer in creative writing. Reason enough you might think to endear itself to this site, but there’s also the personal (and delightful) boon of having my own story – The Vigil – included within its pages.

The book will be on sale direct from the publishing house next month, and more details of this eldritch tome and other books of oddity can be found here.

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State of Alarm

Be careful what you wish for. After playing a good chunk of both Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided there’s the growing sense that the geeks really might inherrit the Earth. True, we’ve been around in proto forms for over a century, but look at the oh so brief evolution of role playing gaming from, say, Dungeons and Dragons in 1974 to the game experiences mentioned above, and you can see the point. Relevantly, both titles also incorporate visions of technologically advanced societies controlled using paramilitary police forces. And herein lies the typical cautionary note. While modern Sci-Fi still questions the rise and need for such strong armed policing, it also has a tendency to glamourise its deployment.

The City Protection Force (and KSEC) in Mirror’s Edge, originally scripted by Rhianna Pratchet, is the realisation that the rise of corporate power (and the increasing use of private security firms) leads to a more financially viable service than any government sanctioned organisation. (I frequently refer to the Security Commission – AKA SecCom – in my own writing.) Look to the equally aggressive law enforcement agents of Deus Ex and again we’re heading into the uncomfortable territory of Judge Dredd and RoboCop. Both were written as critiques of right-wing/capitalist control of society, but both were also dangerous, exciting and cool.

All well and good when confined to the realms of fiction but when Operation Hercules was initiated in the UK, the same level of attraction and unease spilled into the real world. As with Guillaume Menuel’s miniature creations (see above), we’ve come a very long way from the friendly bobby on the beat. There’s something incredibly sad about this addition to the streets of London, but there’s also something very Sci-Fi about the framing of these images, about the body armour, about the allure of “counter terrorism”. The genre may well have moved from the peripheries to the centre as far as gaming is concerned, but is this creative output also influencing a more mechanised/weapons-friendly future? Uncertain? Then why not perform an image search for “future police”, then look again at the publicity shots from Operation Hercules and see just how much the lines have blurred.

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William Neil Harrison isn’t a name you’d immediately recognise in the pantheon of Sci-Fi writers, but his influence does currently hold sway within Drozbot’s remit. With the 2016 Olympics in full swing, thoughts inevitably turn to representations of future games past. As such, Harrison was very much responsible for getting the (ahem) ball rolling with his 1973 short story Roller Ball Murder. This brief tale was subsequently picked up by Norman Jewison, and was turned into the still powerful 1975 movie starring James Caan.

At least three comic variations based upon this initial future sport were then spawned and sustained throughout the remainder of the 1970s. First in Action comic with Death Game 1999, and then twice in 2000 AD with Harlem Heroes (1977) bringing jet packs to the competitive endeavour, and then Mean Arena (1980). The creative drive of both Pat Mills and the lesser known Tom Tully played heavily in all three narratives.

As far as TV and film are concerned, Rollerball cast a long shadow and it was only with the proto-Hunger Games of David Peoples’ Salute of the Jugger (AKA, The Blood of Heroes, 1989) that another team-based future sport was able to hold its own. There were asides within other serialised shows of course – Pyramid in Battlestar Galactica and Parisses Square from Star Trek (wonderfully parodied in Hyperdrive; skip to 3:52) – but rarely as the central focus. Real Steel (2011) is probably the most recent and successful example of pure future sports film (that isn’t gladiatorial in nature), aside from the universally dismissed remake of Jewison’s original Rollerball directed by John McTiernan in 2002.

Literature has a much wider spread of future sports, ranging all the way from rocket racing to golf. Predictably, the superlative SF Encyclopedia has a full entry that goes beyond the Olympian theme here. As for the non fictional future of sports, Japan will take the baton for the 2020 Olympics and skateboarding will make its first official appearance. So who knows, perhaps esports is the inevitable next step.

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