This is a crazy nuts time of year. This is the way it usually goes: Coast out of Christmas, finish off the previous year’s work, hustle for this year’s work, get rained on, get struck down by successive waves of germs brought home by Benny, fill in a ton of forms various organisations I work for all need at once, become enraged by the changes various organisations I use wreak on their services all at once (and without warning), pay my tax (HOWL!) and get mildly miserable owing to a paucity of sunlight. I think I’ll be taking those vitamin D tablets again. (more…)
Archive for the ‘Features and opinion’ Category
Tags: Arthur C Clarke Award, David Gemmell Legend Award, writers are nuts
Tags: digital publishing, games programming, magazine journalism, mainstream publishing industry, publishing, sub-editor, switching careers, writing jobs
Last week, an old acquaintance of mine got in touch. He was thinking of switching careers from programming to magazines, and had a job interview at a well respected hobby magazine as a sub-editor, so he wanted to pick my brains. I figured I’d pop up his questions and my responses here, as they may prove useful and/or interesting to some of you. His questions are in bold, my answers not.  denote an additional thought I had while preparing this for publication here. (more…)
Tags: Christopher Tolkien, Middle earth, Peter Jackson, The Hobbit, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Lord of The Rings, Tolkien, Tom Bombadil
My first post of the year! Been busy. Sorry. Anyway, here goes.
I had a bit of a The Lord of the Rings craze last year. I rewatched the Peter Jackson LOTR movies, watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, reread The Hobbit, and am now most of the way through a reread of The Lord of the Rings. I put aside my Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 armies for a while in favour of painting a ton of beautiful GW LOTR models. I suppose I did that mostly because I’m writing so much set in the Warhammer worlds, and gaming in them is bit of a busman’s holiday, but there’s more to it than that, enough for another blog post, in fact.
I first read The Hobbit when I was seven, I read some of it and my dad read bits of it to me (he mentioned this to me a few months ago. I’d built my early reading of the book into my personal mythology, but I think he’s right, I think he did read a lot of it to me). I read The Lord of The Rings when I was nine or ten, and then read it pretty much every year or so until I was 24. My last two attempts faltered, and I haven’t read it since. After playing so many games set in Middle-earth, I figured it’d be time to go back and read it with adult eyes. The inevitable comparisons with the movies came up.
Anyway, here’s some Hobbity thinks on all things Middle-earth. Films versus books. We’re talking mainly about the LOTR movies. I’ve not seen the second Hobbit yet. My opinions on that probably require another post. (more…)
Tags: BL, Black Library, The Art of Writing, The Black Library, Warhammer, Warhammer 40000
I am once again at a period where the amount of work I have isn’t quite enough to induce some sort of brain infarcation, so I’ve been topping up my load by posting more frequently, especially as I’m still trying to get the majority of my journalism onto the web. But here’s a new post I’ve been meaning to write, like oh so many others, for some amount of time.
The below are answers to some of the most common questions I’ve had this year about writing. (more…)
This piece gives you a potted rundown of Merlin’s history. Handy stuff, no? It was originally published, in slightly different form, as a “Ten Minute Guide” in Death Ray 16 in 2008, hence its referencing of the now concluded Merlin BBC series. Click on the link for my review of that.
Merlin is back on telly fighting the good fight in the BBC’s all-new action series, where the young Merlin adventures his way through that quasi-historical neverland that is Arthurian Britain.
Merlin is, of course, King Arthur’s magical guide, teacher and advisor, and probably the most famous sorcerer of them all. He’s a firm favourite with fantasy, and, bizarrely, SF writers, who revisit him again and again on screen and in print. His popular description as a man with a big white beard and pointy hat was used by J.R.R. Tolkien as a basis for Gandalf, and he remains popular culture’s default vision for the magicking type. We give you the world’s biggest wizard…
Merlin was inspired by two semi-historical characters. The first was Myrddin Wyllt (or Merlinus Caledonensis), who is depicted in Welsh legend as a bard who went mad after witnessing the destruction of his lord’s armies in battle. He fled into the forests of Scotland where he developed the gift of prophecy. Included in his predictions was one about his own demise. He said he would die a triple death. This came to pass when he was beaten and cast off a cliff by shepherds, fell onto a stake in a river and drowned. The other character was Ambrosius Aurelianus (also Aurelius Ambrosius) a Romano-British leader who fought back against the Saxons.
The new Merlin series makes a major departure from the legend. Most noticeable, for the first time Merlin and Arthur are young contemporaries. Camelot is not founded by Arthur, but exists already and is ruled over by Arthur’s tyrannical father Uther Pendragon (Anthony Head) Arthur (played by Bradley James) is portrayed as arrogant yet brave, while Merlin ( Colin Morgan) is just beginning to learn to use his powers. Merlin’s mentor is The Great Dragon (voiced by John Hurt), the last of his kind to possess magical abilities. He alone knows the destiny of the wizard. Merlin also learns some of his skills from Gaius (Richard Wilson), the king’s physician.
Who was Merlin?
Merlin as we know him sprang from the imagination of 12th century bishop and historian Geoffrey of Monmouth. Most of Geoffrey’s writings on Merlin, Arthur, and Arthur’s successors were acknowledged even in the same century as being mostly nonsense. But Geoffrey did establish the basic themes of the Arthurian myth, and Merlin was one of them.
Isn’t he part demon or something?
The French poet Robert De Boron introduced this idea, wherein a virgin is ravished by an incubus who hopes to father the Antichrist. But Merlin’s mother tells this to her confessor, and Merlin is baptised at birth, freeing him from the grip of the devil. His demonic origins gives him his powers, just like something out of a Marvel comic.
Was Merlin ever real then?
Sort of, but no, not really. Geoffrey of Monmouth based his wizard on a number of semi-legendary characters, most notably the wildman Myrddin and post-Roman war chief Ambrosius Aurelianus.
What’s this thing with the dragons then?
This legend was appropriated from a story associated with Ambrosius, who was brought before the legendary Vortigern as a boy. Vortigern was attempting to build a fortress, but it kept collapsing. Ambrosius tells Vortigern that this was because a white dragon was fighting a red dragon in a cave under the tower, a symbolic representation of the Saxon versus Briton struggle. It’s also where the Welsh get their flag from, by the way.
What’s the definitive Merlin story?
Coming up with the “proper” version of anything in Arthurian myth is like sorting out comic continuity, or deciding what’s “real” in the Star Wars expanded universe. But key elements are: His supernatural origins, his friendship and advising of Arthur, his magical powers, and his eventual imprisonment. He is often depicted as having a jokey, mercurial character.
What are his powers?
Prophecy came first, later he was granted the ability to appear after death, commune with beasts, shape-shift… the general wizardy bag of tricks, but large-scale pyrotechnics weren’t his thing.
Didn’t he get younger as he got older?
“Merlyn” lived backwards through time in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, the 20th century’s all-encompassing Arthurian novel. Gene Wolfe recently revisited this idea in his short story “The Magic Animal”.
What happened to him?
Merlin was undone by lust. He told his secrets to Nimuë (or Ninive), a handmaiden of The Lady of the Lake, who then turned against him.
Is he dead then?
Not on your Nelly! Thankfully for generations of later fabulists, Merlin was merely imprisoned in a cave/ tree/ tower (take your pick) allowing for numerous reappearances in local legends and fantasy novels.
What’s he been in then?
Ooh, he’s either actually shown up in or been referenced in: The Dark is Rising, The Weathermonger, The Twilight Zone, Harry Potter, Sandman, Stargate, Shrek, Justice League, The Outer Limits, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Robin Hood, TekWar, Mr Merlin, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Knightmare, Sanctuary, That Hideous Strength… And that’s outside various straight adaptations of Arthurian legends.
The Once and Future King
The most influential modern representation of Merlin is to be found in T.H. White’s four-part book, The Once and Future King. White’s story is mostly a modern retelling of Mallory La Morte D’Arthur, though it incorporates many other tales, and contains a few twists of its own. For example, Arthur is idealistic but ineffectual, and Lancelot is an ugly sadist who is full of self-loathing.
White had graduated from Cambridge with a first in English, earned in part through his thesis on Mallory, though he never read the book. When he did finally read Le Morte D’Arthur many years later, he found himself captivated by it, and began his own take on the Arthurian myth.
White’s Merlin, who he called Merlyn, is a dotty figure whose magical skills are somewhat incompetently employed. He is living through time backwards, and is thus party to knowledge from our current day. In The Sword in The Stone, Merlyn tries to teach a young Arthur, the ward of Sir Ector, that there is more to life than wanting to beat his foster-brother Kay and being a knight. Through a series of lessons, in which Arthur is transformed into a number of animals in order to observe their lives, he hopes to instill in the boy the idea that might does not equal right. The problems of dealing with this issue inform the rest of the story, as Arthur attempts to bring peace and order to a violent world. Merlyn’s great tragedy is that as he has already witnessed the fall of Arthur’s perfect kingdom, but that he must train the boy so that the legend will live on to inspire others.
The first book, The Sword in the Stone (1938), was intended as a standalone prequel to Mallory’s work, and is a light, comedic affair, especially in its first edition. But as the Second World War rolled on, the time when White wrote much of his material, the books became darker. Indeed, the later version of The Sword in The Stone, included in the collected The Once and Future King (1958) is somewhat less frivolous than the initial printing. The finished book is quite gloomy, though it is essentially a metaphor for hope against the tyranny of violence.
A follow-up, The Book of Merlyn, was published after White’s death. It was actually completed at the same time as the rest of the book, but White’s publishers would not take it because of wartime paper shortages, so he reused parts of it in his revised The Sword In the Stone, leading to unfortunate duplication in the completed cycle.
In the book, Merlyn appears one last time on the eve of Arthur’s battle with Mordred. By once more transforming Arthur into various animals, the wizard teaches the king that boundaries and borders, the cause of many of man’s wars, are but constructs of the mind.
A Brief History
Merlin, as seen through the mists OF TIME!
4-5th Century: The Romans leave Britain, the Saxons move in, the locals aren’t happy. Much war leads to the rise of semi-legendary leaders like Ambrosius.
6th Century: North Welsh Myrddin Wyllt goes mad after the battle of Arfderydd in 573 and hides in the woods, where he develops prophetic powers.
11th Century: At some point before the 1100s, the Welsh make up a lot of heroic legends about Arthur. They feature no Merlin.
12th Century: Geoffrey of Momouth writes a load of old cobblers about British History. His first book, The Prophecies of Merlin, details wizardly sooths. It was incorporated into his History of the Kings of Britain, which contain his tales of Arthur. Monmouth later wrote The Life of Merlin, which amends the story of the titular wiz, but it was not as successful and is mostly forgotten.
Robert De Boron composes an influential poem, now lost, that establishes Merlin’s demonic parentage and his magical downfall.
13th Century: The French five-book epic Lancelot-Grail casts the sorcerer in an evil light.
15th Century: Sir Thomas Mallory finishes his La Morte D’Arthur, bringing together French and English Arthurian tales. Merlin is depicted as the sage yet dangerous magician we know today.
16th Century: The folktale of Tom Thumb comes into being. In the stories, Thumb is created by a mischevious Merlin.
As history becomes more rigorous a discipline, Arthur falls out of favour, Merlin along with him.
19th Century: The Romantic Poets revive chivalry and Arthur. In 1889, Mark Twain Depicts Merlin as mostly a charlatan in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
20th Century: Modern fantasy comes into being, Arthurian Romance among its many parents. T.H. White publishes The Sword in The Stone (1938), in which Merlin plays a major role. Increasingly, the wizard is co-opted for other books, TV shows and films.
Tags: Dune, Frank Herbert
From Death Ray 17‘s Time Trap regular feature.
Spice, sand, realpolitik, pseudo-Bedouin and frickin’ massive worms in SF’s first true feudal future.
Frank Herbert’s book Dune is one of the touchstones of SF, a monolithic tome that spawned five further monolithic tomes. They stand on the landscape of the genre, a Stonehenge fashioned of woodpulp and idea, casting a long shadow on all that came after them.
Dune is to science fiction what The Lord of The Rings is to fantasy. Herbert worked on his creation for years and years, like Tolkien. He hinted at vast histories pasts that led to the present time of the Dune books. He provided cryptic hints about long-forgotten eras. He revelled in cyclical patterns of history, he toyed with lingusitics. All like Tolkien. Released initially as two serialised parts in Analog, the book form of the novel was rejected twenty times before being taken on finally by a minor publisher. It went on to become the best selling-SF novel of all time. It won the Hugo, and the very first Nebula Award.
Set thousands of years in the future, Dune is a complex book that sees the culmination of eons-old conspiracies against a rich feudal backdrop. The universe of Dune is unlike anything that had come before it, for Herbert chose to emphasise the development of human society over that of technology, inventing a dimly remembered war in the distant past where, it is hinted, humans were nearly overcome by sentient machines. In the aftermath of the conflict came the stricture “Thou shalt not fashion a machine in the likeness of a human mind”. So, in the future of Dune the lowly calculator is a forbidden instrument. This lack of technological aids has led humanity down different paths; eugenics, mental conditioning, forced evolution and shamanistic rapture have opened up the capabilities of the mind. Mankind has not diverged far, but there is a touch of post-humanism to Herbert’s more extreme creations: the Guild Navigators, or the gene-tinkered creations of the Tleilaxu.
Despite the amazing feats humans are capable of – some of Dune‘s characters make Shaolin monks look like jessies – society has ossified into a feudal Imperium where progress is an irrelevant anachronism. Power is held by the noble House Corrino, whose head Shaddam IV is emperor. His power in turn is held in check by the remaining houses, who together make up the Landsraad. Both are powerless without the Spacing Guild, who possess the only means of effective interstellar travel. All are in thrall to the massive CHOAM corporation, which dominates the Imperial economy, determining the income of each house.
These components of the state endlessly intrigue against one another – only Melange holds it all together. This “spice” grants increased longevity and limited prescience to those that take it. Furthermore, it is the only means by which the Spacing Guild’s Navigators, mutated by exposure to massive amounts of the stuff, can safely navigate “Foldspace”. It is addictive, and withdrawal from it leads to death. Virtually everyone with any money at all takes it. In short, without Melange, life in Dune’s future would be impossible. Arrakis, the actual name of the eponymous planet, is the only source of Melange. Whoever controls Arrakis, then, controls the universe.
The story concerns the scions of House Atreides, whose popular and powerful leader Leto is feared by Emperor Shaddam. However, Shaddam cannot move directly against any one house in case the rest will turn on him. Instead, he conspires with House Harkonnen, Atreides’ sworn enemy. Shaddam traps Leto into accepting Arrakis as his new fief – it is, after all, the most valuable planet in the known universe. Arrakis was previously in the hands of the Harkonnens, so Shaddam provides the Harkonnens with some of his infamous Sardaukar guard so they may retake the planet by force, while a traitor within the ranks of House Atreides ensures the invasion’s success. Leto is killed, but his son Paul and wife Jessica flee into the desert where they are taken in by the native Fremen. The Fremen become convinced that Paul is their prophesied messiah, and Paul forges them into an unstoppable army to take back Arrakis and bring the Imperium to its knees. All that said, it’s indicative of the story’s complexity that this whole paragraph of text, usually more than sufficient to precis the plot of your average SF novel, barely scratches the surface of Herbert’s. Plots, counter-plots and ancient schemes litter the narrative like apples do an orchard floor.
Astoundingly, there is even more to the book. The planet of Dune itself is a masterful creation, the complexity of its ecology rivaling the byzantine nature of the book’s politics. Dune is, in this regard, the first real work of ecological SF. Mankind, though inheritors of a star-spanning empire, is totally beholden to a world that is inimical to human life – one of the novel’s many ironies. There is so little water on Arrakis that the Fremen who inhabit its deserts are forced to live by stringent rules of water conservation. Even their sweat is collected by their “stillsuits”. It’s a reflection of the Empire’s hydraulic despotism through the spice, and this duality encapsulates the complex web of political and environmental systems that make up Dune’s setting. Though there is no direct eco-message to Dune, it draws a metaphorical comparison with the ecology of our own world, a subject Herbert lectured on. Herbert’s exploration of the soft sciences runs in other directions in the book, mingling with metaphysics at their furthest edge. For example, the Bene Gesserit, the sisterhood attempting to direct the future of the human race, use a form of mental conditioning called prana-bindu training. Herbert’s inspirations for this are an equal mix of Jungian psychology, specifically their opening up of the subconscious and racial memory, and transcendental meditative techniques.
Paradoxically for a genre previously obsessed with the technical, it was Herbert’s understanding of human nature that makes Dune the ultimate SF novel. Herbert extrapolated a convincing future, the fundamental foundation of which is that human society is massively mutable. He tells us, quite rightly, that the future will not be like now, only different, not unimaginable but is instead like the past – conceivable, but alien. However, he also understood that human nature itself does not change, and that love, loyalty, and other emotions will rule us forever. It is these that truly underpin the action of Dune, for without them, why would the human race be worth preserving? Finally, Herbert turns away from SF’s relentless modification of the environment around man and postulated another form of development: that of the internal human world, . Perhaps this is a result of the era Dune sprang from – the hippy movement, with its interest in eastern mysticism, was taking off when the book was written, but taken from its time, it remains convincing. Herbert’s heroes are capable of many things those in other books can do only with technological upgrades.
There are criticisms of Dune. There’s a whiff to misogyny to his depiction of women, who though powerful, are frequently undone by their emotions, and seem often to exist only as adjuncts to the male characters, even their endless schemes are aimed at enhancing male power. Herbert’s writing is sometimes dodgy; portentous, and massively reliant on lengthy internal monologues, though again in common with Tolkein the sheer power and complexity of his creation overwhelms his limitations as a wordsmith. These are genuine flaws, but even so, Dune is a towering achievement. Few novels match it, though many have tried.
The Sands of Time
Frank Herbert’s sequels to Dune.
Herbert wrote five sequels, with a sixth planned out at the time of his death in 1986. These have in turn been built upon by his son Brian Herbert and his collaborator Kevin J. Anderson. Some readers stumble and give up with the Herbert Senior sequels as they became increasingly cryptic, others enjoy their embroidering of the original story. Herbert junior’s books, especially his prequels, are regarded as an inferior extension, having fallen into the franchise trap of attempting to detail every event. For all Frank Herbert’s staid prose, he was a subtle storyteller who rightfully shrouded much of his mythos in mystery.
Dune Messiah (1969)
The Bene Gesserit and Tleilaxu conspire to unseat Paul from his throne. The questionable loyalty of a “ghola” clone of Paul’s teacher Duncan Idaho and problems with prescient visions inform most of the plot. Paul is blinded by an atomic weapon. He is able to appear sighted by following his prior visions, but cannot change his destiny, as he will then reveal his masquerade and will have to walk into the desert, as is the Fremen custom for the blind. He does this eventually, ending his life as a man, not a god, and securing the future for his twin children, Leto and Ghanima.
Children of Dune (1976)
Paul’s sister Alia, who was “pre-born” – exposed to ancestral memories in the womb – is overwhelmed by the ego of Baron Harkonnen, her forebear, and attempts to bring House Atreides down. Paul re-emerges from the desert as a mysterious holy man, preaching against Alia and the religion that has risen up around himself. Paul is finally stabbed to death at the behest of his possessed sister.
God-Emperor of Dune (1981)
Paul’s son Leto II has embraced the role his father rejected – saviour of mankind. He has ruled the Imperium for 3500 years, slowly merging with sandtrout, part of the sandworm’s life cycle, to become a powerful hybrid. Through careful breeding he creates humans shielded from prescient vision, thus ensuring humanity can never be fully dominated, while his considered tyranny causes much hardship, forcing mankind to spread throughout the universe in a migration known as “The Scattering”. The Golden Path, however, demands Leto’s own death.
Heretics of Dune (1984)
1500 years after Leto’s demise, and his plan appears to be going well. Arrakis (now Rakis) has been re-desertified by the resurgence of the sandworms, mankind is spread across space. But the Honored Matres, an offshoot of the Bene Gesserit, have returned from the Scattering, intent on war.
Chapterhouse of Dune (1985)
All the sandworms bar one were killed at the end of Heretics, so the Bene Gesserit are trying to create a new Dune on their homeworld of Chapterhouse. A ghola of Duncan Idaho, a character who has played an increasingly important part in the books, becomes a kind of superman. Meanwhile, it is revealed that the Jews have survived 26,000 years of history, and have a key role to play, and the Bene Gesserit merge with the Honored Matres after a bitter struggle. The book ends on a cliffhanger, which Frank Herbert’s son Brian picked up on in 2006, finishing the saga with Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune.
Did you know?
A Dune movie was mooted in 1971, and passed through many hands before being made by David Lynch in 1984. It was panned, and Lynch said he would never again work on a movie that on which he did not have final cut approval. Numerous versions exist, though Lynch appends his name only to the original theatrical version – there is no four-hour director’s cut as is often rumoured. From 2000, the SciFi Channel made an adaptated the first three books into two miniseries. Both were widely acclaimed. There is a new film version under development, with Peter Berg at the helm and the untested screenwriter, Joshua Zetumer. It is slated for release in 2010, and promises a “faithful adaptation” of the book. [NB, this is one that got lost in Development Hell - Guy, 2013]
Tags: Jenna Jameson, wrestling with the realities of porn, Zombie Strippers
Some of the people I’ve interviewed have only been tangentially connected to SF/fantasy/horror. Ex-pornstar Jenna Jameson is one of them, but as she was in a (not very good) movie about zombie strippers, called as you may guess, Zombie Strippers, we were given the chance to speak to her. (Read a review of the film here.)
Much to my own shame, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about interviewing her. Like many modern males raised in an ostensibly post-feminist society, I have an awkward relationship with “adult entertainment”. I have consumed very little, and hate the braying attitude to it a lot of men have, but it’d be a lie to say I never looked at any. Surely it’s her right to earn her money how she pleases? Still I thought, how on earth can she do that for a living? I fear the old hypocrisy of men towards highly sexual females might have been struggling to the surface.
She cried off our first interview as she had a cold, but when I finally got to speak to her (still with a cold) I found her to be an extremely charming, very sharp, and obviously driven person. And really, what else was she going to be? Were my feelings the result of the uncomfortable juxtaposition of the “objectified woman” and the real human being revealed to the considered male? Or a massively exaggerated, disconnected version of the awkward breakfast after the night before? Either way, I felt odd.
From Death Ray 16.
Stripping Zombies Bare
Jenna Jameson is the world’s most famous porn star, or was, until she gave up sex on screen. Now she’s tootling about having fun. Words by Guy Haley.
Jenna Jameson is a household name, albeit in an under-the-counter kind of way. Put it like this, ask your mum who Jenna Jameson is, and she’ll not have a clue, but ask your youngish male mates the same, and chances are they’ll be frothing at the mouth.
Jameson has made millions from the porn industry. Being not only a consummate sex-star but also an astute businesswoman, she turned her early successes – she’s won more than 20 awards – into a thriving business named ClubJenna. She’s become something of a spokesperson for the adult industry, and is in the process of making a tentative crossover to the mainstream.
Her autobiography, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale, spent six weeks at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list in 2004. It detailed the painful tale of how Jenna Massoli trod a road of rape, drug abuse and unhappy marriages to become the star Jenna Jameson. Her latest non-adult film, Zombie Strippers, was out last month, in which she stars alongside horror fan favourite Robert Englund. Despite suffering from a cold, she spoke to us about nudity and flesh-eating when she came to the UK earlier this year.
Death Ray: I know that you retired recently from the adult film industry. Do you not just feel like retiring altogether?
Jenna Jameson: Well, you know, I sold my company two years ago for a great sum of money, so I definitely don’t need to work. But I took six months off and I felt like I was going crazy. I need to work, it’s in my blood, so now I just approach things on a level of whether or not they make me feel passionate. This movie is definitely fun and piqued my interest. I get a lot of offers to do movies where I’m the naked girl or I’m the stripper, or I’m the fling, or the girl running down the beach naked. This movie features me nude, but it definitely has some other things to offer. I thought that it was funny, I loved being a stripper that read Nietchze. I loved the fact that it took jabs a the political problems in the US. Those are the things that made me want to do it. I think people thought ‘yeah, it’s a natural transiition for Jenna to go into horror movies’, but to be honest I did it because I am really big horror movie fan.
DR: Do you read Nietzsche?
JJ: To be quite honest, I had never read Nietzsche, but I made sure that I did once I had got the role, I was like, ah, I better make sure that I’m well-versed.
DR: How did you find it?
JJ: I thought it was boring! Haha!
DR: You did the comic Shadowhunter this year too. What prompted you to do that?
JJ: I was approached by Virgin comics. I’d always been a comicbook fan, my brother collected Superman comics, and I was a big fan of Todd McFarlane, of Spawn, so when they came to me I was just like, ‘Ooh, this is going to be amazing.” It’s all my idea, you know. I came up with Shadowhunter, and the storyline, and interviewed all the artists, so it’s a labour of love. So I hope in the future we get to the point where gets made into a feature film.
DR: On the one hand you are incredibly feted, but on the other hand people are reluctant to be associated with you. Do you think that that’s hypocritical?
JJ: It really, really, really is. I run into it every single day. On the one hand, everybody wants to be associated with my work, because it’s controversial, because it brings the public eye, it’s going to sell their movie, it’s going to sell their club, or their tennis shoes or whatever, but they don’t necessarily want to be associated with me. It’s so weird, but it will get to the point where I do take over and dominate the world, it’s only matter of time!
DR: You already dominate the adult world…
JJ: Oh and there’s much more to come. I’m about to launch my denim collection, I’m taking over the fashion world, and I’m launching my reality show that’s going to document my leap from adult to mainstream, I’m launching a fragrance, I’m going to be producing a movie based on my book about my life… pretty much anything you can do, I’m doing.
DR: You’ve done quite a lot of other stuff, you have hosted the E! show, had roles on TV… do you feel lucky to have been able to do all these things?
JJ: I am lucky. I am offered things that no normal human being would ever be offered. You know, I cut my first single the day before yesterday, and I’ll be doing an album. It was something I never thought I’d do. I was out at a club last night and they played my track and it was just like woah! Surreal.
DR: You did the Oxford debating society didn’t you? And you won!
JJ: I did. I think that when I was approached to do it, it was one of the few times of my life that I felt scared, I felt intimidated. At the time my husband looked at me, and he was like, ‘Jenna, is there anybody that’s out there that knows more about pornography? You are pretty much an expert, why would you think that you couldn’t win a debate about it?’ And so, I was like, ‘Oh, okay! I guess you are right.’ So I went in and I won! I think it was by something like 437 to 2.
DR: What was your winning argument?
JJ: It was about the right to view pornography. I had a massively long dissertation, of course. But the bottom line is that we’re a free society and as long as we’re careful and we police the fact that there are young people that do look at the internet… It’s about being good parents. And on the other side: welcoming that sort of thing into out life. Porn is something that can better your life, you need to broaden your horizons and open your mind, it makes you a more complete person. I really think that people are ready to feel comfortable with their sexuality. I feel that I am the one to just lead them along a little bit. Put a little bridle on them and yank them away from their ashamed past. I think porn is a wonderful tool for couples that need a little spice in their life, and it’s great for women to explore their sexuality and not feel ashamed. I am the ultimate feminist, I believe in women taking back the control. Fuck men, and fuck the fact that they can have sex with anything they want and not makes them a playboy and if girls do it then they are a slut. No, no I don’t believe in that at all! So there!
Tags: Death Ray, Star Trek, The Motion Picture
A feature on Star Trek‘s first cinematic outing, originally published in Death Ray 17 at the beginning of 2009.
Loved by some as the best of the Trek movies, hated by others for its ponderous pace, Star Trek: The Motion Picture at least brought Kirk and co. out of retirement. Guy Haley examines its troubled genesis.
Of all SF TV series, the original Star Trek remains the undisputed king. No other TV show has had such an impact on the genre as a whole, or spawned such a sprawling franchise. But its early history was rocky, with its future importance little in evidence. Cancelled after three years, in 1969 (it had, in fact, only narrowly evaded cancellation the previous year), it would be ten years and many near misses before Star Trek: The Motion Picture hit the big screen, and modern Star Trek would take off in a big way.
Trek‘s original viewing figures were low, but it built an audience for itself through endless reruns in syndication. In time it was to return as an animated show (1973-74), but these were lean years for Trek-creator Gene Roddenberry. Aside from the animated series, success continued to elude him. His film Pretty Maids All in a Row for MGM was only modestly successful. Of his many ideas for further TV shows, only four made it to pilots, and none to full series. Though the popularity of Star Trek continued to grow, for a few years he was unable to find work in the film and TV industry, and was forced to make ends meet by taking to the lecture circuit.
Finally, in 1975, development work on a possible feature film began. Scripts by such awesome SF demigods as Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Silverberg and Harlan Ellison were received and rejected. Finally, in 1977 a script entitled “Star Trek: Planet of the Titans” by Chris Bryant and Allan Scott was greenlit, but before pre-production started, Star Wars came out, and a cagey Paramount canned the project for fear that the market would not cope with another big SF movie.
Instead, they would reinvent Star Trek for the small screen. Star Trek Phase II was announced. It was to be the spearhead of Paramount’s programmes for a brand-new network which would otherwise show TV movies. The show would bring back the old cast bar Leonard Nimoy (he was trying to disassociate himself from the character, and had had legal issues with both Roddenberry and Paramount to boot) and introduce new characters: Ilia, a bald, hypersexual Deltan, Decker, Kirk’s new executive Officer, and Lieutenant Xon, a full-blooded Vulcan right out of Starfleet Academy. A two-hour opening episode named “In Thy image”, based on an idea of Roddenberry’s for his abandoned show Genesis II, was written by Alan Dean Foster. Experienced TV director Robert E. Collins was hired to direct, and work got underway. But all was not quite as secure as it seemed, and the series was never to be made…
Paramount had worked out as early as August of 1977 that they could not make their new channel work. Unwilling to reveal this to their competitors, they kept it secret, and that included not telling the crew of Star Trek: Phase II. Actors were hired, 13 scripts written, sets built and miniatures completed. Then, in March of ’78, a full nine months after the decision to stop the project, Paramount-head Michael Eisner called a shock meeting: the series and the network were being dropped, but had decided to turn the pilot into a movie. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was born, its tumultuous conception a foretaste of things to come.
Though the story of the pilot (a dangerous alien intelligence comes to Earth looking for its creator. It turns out to be the now god-like Voyager probe) was retained for the movie, Alan Dean Foster was shut out, deemed too inexperienced to pen a movie, and the Writer’s Guild had to step in to ensure his name was retained on the script at all. Roddenberry did not get on very well with new script writer Harold Livingston. Livingston, an old hand, had attempted to recruit several other writers but ending up writing the script himself. The two argued so much that Livingston threatened to quit several times. The result was a script that was endlessly rewritten. Interference from executives and actors added to the turmoil, and daily drafts became the norm. In the end, the finale where Decker merges with Voyager was made up on the day of shooting.
Collins was also given the boot and replaced by Robert Wise (ST:TMP was to be his third SF film). He inherited a film that was ten weeks behind schedule before a single shot had been filmed. The script was unfinished, the sets needed upgrading to movie standard, casting and costuming had to be revisited… Wise, who was convinced to take the role by his Trek-mad wife, became so worried he considered throwing in the towel too, and tried to convince Paramount to can the project altogether.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture is rightfully remembered for its fantastic effects work, but these, like so much else on the film, proved problematic to produce. Robert Abel Associates, the company hired to provide the effects, were dropped when it looked like they could not cope with the scale of the job. Paramount offered Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey) a big pot of cash if he could get all the work done by the Christmas release date. He dropped most of the already completed effects (only the wormhole sequence is a full Abel effect). Trumbull sub-contracted John Dykstra, and employed the effects team off the just completed Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Trumbull also wrote and directed the sequence where Spock goes deep into V’Ger in a spacesuit, completing it at the last minute. (An earlier version of this sequence had been part filmed but abandoned after it was calculated that just removing the wires from the shot would consume most of the effects budget.)
The models used were large – the Enterprise model was eight feet long – but not large enough to allow the detail shots the production needed, so Trumbull had to commission a special periscope camera system from Panavision. A further problem was that the depth of fields in many shots required exposure times counted in minutes, substantially adding to production time. All this helped make Star Trek: The Motion Picture come in at $46,000,000, the most expensive film ever made at the time.
Post-production went on until the day before the film was released. The copies were shipped wet, straight from the duplication lab, and airlifted to their destinations. Neither sound mix nor effects shots were fully completed until the 2001 release of the Director’s Edition.
Critical reception for the film was mixed. Roddenberry was wary of drawing comparison with fantasy of Star Wars, so had pushed the film in a more serious direction. (To date, this remains the only Trek film in which the phasors are not fired). Regarded as ponderous and self-important, critics dubbed it the “Slow-Motion” and “Motionless” picture, and pointed out that the plot is very similar to that of the second season episode “The Changeling”. The film’s gross, roughly three times that of its cost, was a disappointment to Paramount. But others praised its effects, and Jerry Goldsmith, who began a long association with Star Trek with TMP, was nominated for an Oscar for his score.
Its influence on later Star Trek was pronounced. Its slowness and lack of action prolonged the franchise’s push and pull battle between serious SF concepts and cosy space opera (Roddenberry, often in the middle of this particular storm, was virtually frozen out of the next film, which was to be a swashbuckling space adventure) and it introduced many things – music, make-up, cinematic sensibilities, even the Klingon language – that we regard as uniquely Trek. Star Trek was back to stay.
Star Trek Fact File
A dozen Star Trek The Motion Picture factoids for your edification.
- Gene asked his wife Majel if she’d don a furry tail and reprise M’Ress, the catwoman she’d voiced in the cartoon. She demured and played Doctor Chapel instead.
- This is the first time Klingon and Vulcan are spoken on screen. James “Scotty” Doohan wrote words for both languages (the Vulcan words were dubbed over actors were speaking English, so he devised words that fit the lip movements). Marc Okrand later used the Klingon words as the basis for his Klingon Language.
- The cast were getting older when the film was made – William Shatner was 48, DeForrest Kelley 59, James Doohan 59, Leonard Nimoy 48, and Nichelle Nicholls 46. Special lighting and camera tricks were used to hide their age, and Shatner went on a crash diet.
- The scene where Kirk addresses the crew before they set out involved many notable extras. Including Bjo Trimble who co-organised the letter campaign that led to Star Trek coming back for a third year. David Gerrold, who wrote “The Trouble With Tribbles”, Robert Wise’s wife, Millicent and James Doohan’s twin sons Montgomery and Christopher.
- The costumes for the alien crew members were leftovers from the 10 Commandments.
- The NX-01 was nearly inserted digitally into the shots of Decker showing Ilia previous ships named Enterprise when the film was tarted up in 2001. Though this did not happen, the ringed SS Enterprise from the pictures appeared in Star Trek: Enterprise instead.
- The V’Ger prop was so large that one end of it was being used in scenes while the other end was still being built.
- Chekhov was going to be killed, this was changed so he just injured his hand.
- Uhura’s ear-pieces are the only props from the original series – they forgot to make new ones.
- It is the longest Trek film, and the only one to break the two hour mark.
- Wise made Goldsmith redo his score, as he said it “sounded like sailing ships.”
- A bizarre electronic device, the Blaster Beam, was one of many different instruments used in the score. It was 15 feet long, and was played by hitting it with an artillery shell. This was made by Craig Hundley, who had played two guest roles in the original series when he was a child.
Did you know…?
It’s often assumed that Alan Dean Foster ghost wrote Gene Roddenberry’s novelisation of the film. This is not the case. Foster wrote the script for the original pilot episode of Star Trek: Phase II, upon which the film was based. He did write the novelisation of Star Wars, but he did not write the Star Trek book.
Tags: industrial revolutions, Live4 blog, medieval peasant, tech, third industrial revolution
Here’s a post to notify you of my latest blog for Live4, a basic guide to self-publishing.
I run hot and cold on the digital revolution. Hot because it’s all very exciting and is changing the world in many ways for the better, cold because I suspect that as our successive industrial revolutions reach their logical end, the downside of it all is that I’ll have to live like a medieval peasant or, at best, some kind of hippy. One with internet access, but a peasant nonetheless. In a hut.
Funny really, I’ve long agreed with said hippies that we live unsustainable lifestyles, and even flirted with the non-barefoot, non-kaftan-wearing aspects of their ways, but now my comfy, comfy first-world, Earth-burning life is under threat, I’m a tad annoyed, and I find myself quite the hypocrite.
But man, I got so sick of mucking those pigs out in the rain last year, can you blame me? Three years in a pig co-op, I did try, but have decided against raising my own pork chops in 2013. One of the main reasons being that it cost roughly £130 to raise, slaughter and butcher each pig. Far cheaper than buying the meat in a shop, but I discovered one can buy a ready-deady piggy carcass for about the same amount, and without all the work. Even so, I fulfilled my main objective – to raise an animal, see it killed, then eat it. I figured if couldn’t do that, what right did I have eating meat, yeah? Dammit, I’m a hippy in denial.
At least I have the choice for the time being, eh? That’ll probably change.
It’s not only me with the concerns. Check out this piece by a proper techie, Jaron Lanier for the digi-flipside. He tells us why he thinks why free information and advanced tech is immediately beneficial, but perhaps not so much in the long run for we little people. Lanier’s article articulates some of my fears about the concentration of wealth in the hands of a technocracy/plutocracy, fears that form the basis of my latest novel Crash. See, I’m running cold today (although not too cold to plug my book). I’ll change my mind tomorrow, no doubt.
Anyway. My latest Live4 blog, from a day I was running hot on the glorious prospects of the future.