Phew. Finally had the PhD awarded. At last. With great thanks to @LunaPressGlobal for publishing ‘The Sub-genres of British Fantasy Literature’!
Phew. Finally had the PhD awarded. At last. With great thanks to @LunaPressGlobal for publishing ‘The Sub-genres of British Fantasy Literature’!
A high school principal asks his students to reject violence in favour of reason and obeying social and moral codes. But waiting beyond the school gates are gangs with weapons, forcing youngsters into whore houses and using drugs. The police seem powerless to protect the students, because they are underfunded and probably corrupt anyway. The students have little choice but to pick up weapons to defend themselves, some getting themselves killed in the process, and some becoming as bad as the actual gangs. All hell starts to break loose. The principal feels forced to resurrect his secret superhero identity (Black Lightning) in order to keep the streets ‘safe’. He has deep misgivings because he is thereby becoming a hypocritical vigilante. He feels (and very much looks) uncomfortable in his skin – in his lumbering, cheesy superhero disguise. It is an augmented suit too, one that takes a personal toll on him physically and mentally – he starts to become a monster at home, driving away all those he loves and wants to keep close. It is a physical symbol and enactment of his moral and spiritual conflict. It represents the damage done to the psyche and a person’s sense of identity (particularly a black person in an underprivileged area) in today’s (Trumpian) America.
This Netflix tv show (an adaptation of the DC character) will at first seem cliched and naff to viewers. But stick with it and you’ll find that your (genre) expectations are defeated time and again. A mother grieving for her son seeks to confront and shame the gang members who killed her boy. Our innate sense of justice expects her to win out where the cops have failed, or expects Black Lightning to turn up and save her when the gang members turn on her. But the gang members kill her. Outraged, we expect the community to rise up against the gangs, or expect Black Lightning to finally deliver justice. But most people shrug and look to carrying on with their lives. Black Lightning tracks down the killers, only to have a suit malfunction, get a proper kicking and become a laughing stock.
Wow. This is a dark series. It’s not bleak, as it keeps looking for a new way out or solution. Hope and humanity drive it on. One episode, we turn to the Church for answers, and the Church organises a peace march, only to have it shot up by the gangs. In another episode, we hark back to better times, when the local newspaper could name and shame, and hold people to account. But the old editor is now too terrified for his life to print anything too critical of anyone. A different solution is tried in every episode, with Black Lightning muddling through as best as he can, trying to keep faith in himself and justice. Is he a deluded fool? We root for him, but we find it harder and harder (with each set-back) to believe he can ultimately win out. We admire him, sympathise with him, but ultimately fear for him.
This is real life, then. It’s not some escapist superhero caper. The goodies don’t win. The baddies always seem to win. Welcome to the world, boys and girls. And Black Panther… you have no idea.
There’s a lot about this show that is very good. There are provocative and thought-provoking scifi ideas. There’s some quite credible world-building. The detective mystery with which we are initially presented is engaging and not easily solved. There are interesting themes about rich-and-poor, religious-and-non-religious belief, shared-blood-and-abandonement, identity, and so on. These things are probably down to the decent trilogy of novels (by Richard Morgan) that inspired this Netflix show. There’s some decent enough acting, and the special FX are impressive too. So why Netflix did you then add the following…
We see the actor James Purfoy entirely in the flacid buff, and that then seems to allow/justify all manner of female nudity, objectification, abuse and murder-porn throughout the rest of the series. The unhesitating ‘male gaze’ involved in the direction throughout is lascivious in the extreme. Maybe this tv show is trying to do something clever? Maybe it’s trying to make us complicit with the commodification going on (in order to make a bigger point about today’s society), maybe it’s trying to desensitise us in this emotionally sterile future where the physical body is temporary and expendable? Sigh. If only it were. There is nothing truly subtle about the Freudian relationships in this series, sadly. There is no genuine nuance of feeling. There is no subtle subversion at work within the plotting or characterisation. In short, things are as objectionable as they look. Why do we actually need to see some poor prostitute being murdered even as she’s being sexually used? Why, Netflix?
To conclude, I’d recommend you reading the novels.
Believe it or not, it’s an actual ‘step forward’ that Black Panther, with a largely black cast, a black director and black screenwriter, has been a proper financial success at the box office (it’s made all its money back in its first weekend on release). If only Halle Berry in 2004’s Catwoman could have achieved something like that! Okay, there’s a disconcerting moment in Black Panther when the white creator (Stan Lee) has a cameo and says something like ‘I’ll take the money and keep it over here’, but this movie is an overdue Hollywood celebration of black talent in popularist, superhero, big-budget movies. It has to be Marvel’s most ‘woke’ movie to date.
Other than Stan’s cameo, there are only really two white supporting actors in the film – the wonderful Andy Serkis as the baddie and the inevitable Martin Freeman as the goodie CIA guy. In truth, we don’t really need Freeman at all, but I guess we need to show that white people aren’t always that bad, don’t we? There are numerous female roles with well-rounded characters and plenty of attitude and dialogue (the film nearly passes the Bechdel test, of all things!), albeit that they ultimately serve kings and male tribal leaders. The ‘vision’ of the advanced society of Wakanda is an impressive and sometimes persuasive one (thanks to stunning visuals), prompting us to wonder how different the world might be today if African nations had not been plundered of their wealth by colonialist powers. There are provocative and compelling statements about the power politics of our world today (the film’s final line from the Austrian Prime Minister is a killer) and there is entertaining humour in abundance.
In fact, Black Panther’s positive, self-aware, smart and generous tone throughout means that it’s almost impossible to dislike it as a movie. It also means we tend to forgive it for its shortcomings. No movie is perfect, of course, but with Black Panther it feels wrong or mean-spirited to dwell overly long on the plot being a bit incidental (repetitive and symbolically inconsistent too), on the surprisingly thin characterisation of the Panther himself (meaning it’s hard to care about him too much in his fight scenes), on the fairly routine fight scenes or on some pretty clumsy/cliched depictions of ‘Africa’. At the end of the day, a movie that gives me armoured rhinos, car surfing, kickass female warriors and laugh-out-loud jokes aplenty is always going to be recommended by this movie-goer.
Black Panther is definitely recommended. It’s some sort of cultural moment that it isn’t easy to quantify. Certainly, it has a particular resonance in this Trumpian era. Go see it. Be a part of it.
The running time of the Blade Runner 2049 movie is 2hrs37mins. Arguably, it’s a daunting commitment for any potential viewer. You might go thinking: ‘Ah, that means the tempo’s slow and it’s overly-long or self-indulgent.’ Rest assured, however, that when you are occupied watching awe-inspiring visuals and listening to an intriguing soundscape, you simply don’t notice the time passing. And there’s a decent detective story with tantalising clues, a multi-layered plot and exciting conflicts thrown in as well. This film truly has the lot.
The director is Denis Villeneuve, who also made the award-winning SF flick Arrival. He recaptures the vision of the future we see in the original Blade Runner and then builds upon it, with fine world-building (enough for a third movie, without doubt) and his own original ideas. He is also a skilled, light-touch story-teller. There is nothing clumsy or clunky in Blade Runner 2049. It is all subtlety, allusion and some playful confusion. Such an approach would make for a frustrating watch with certain directors, but Villeneuve makes sure to deliver on revelations and to resolve every aspect of what is going on. It’s masterfully done.
The story? Well, the cyborgs/androids of the first movie have been replaced by a new series of much-more-obedient AIs. These AIs each has an artificial ‘childhood memory’ implanted into them so that they can react in a more human way to day-to-day life, and so that they can react with a certain personality. We follow one AI detective (played skillfully by Ryan Gosling) who comes to suspect that his memory is real and holds clues to the mystery with which he has been tasked by his boss (the ever-wonderful Robin Wright). Chuck in an evil tech corporation (with a sick boss and terrifying henchwoman) and we have everything we need for a dark and glorious tale. And it’s no secret that Harrison Ford is in the movie: he’s not wasted either; his ‘own’ story is really moved on by 2049… In fact, 2049 sorts out all the plot holes of the original film, which I would never have thought possible.
And here’s the kicker. I was never the biggest fan of the original Blade Runner, either when I saw it as a 15yrold at the cinema, or as a 40-year-old who assumed that all the ‘fuss’ about this ‘cult’ movie meant his youthful self must have missed something. I just thought of the original as a fairly predictable, clumsy and derivative SF flop (it wasn’t any Star Wars!). Yet Blade Runner 2049 has stood everything on its head. It’s almost as if my childhood memory is an artificial one, one that had been implanted to give me character. It’s as if my program has now been rewritten and I am born again. And that’s my last point about the movie: it has an eerie familiarity to it that makes it truly prescient and uncanny. It is a vision of what is most assuredly going to happen to our species. It has the power of prophecy. And so… I can only score this movie 10 out of 10 (a first for me).
Soooo… I’m happy to say I’ve just signed a contract with Luna Press to write a book called ‘The Satanic in Science Fiction and Fantasy’. It’ll be released in early 2019, all being well. The blurb for the book is as follows:
“As long as literature has existed, so has the motif of ‘the dark lord’. However, it was not until the emergence of fantasy and science fiction as distinct literary genres that the dark lord truly became enshrined in popular works. From Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to Tolkien’s Sauron, to Donaldson’s Lord Foul, to Lucas’s Darth Vader, the dark lord was ever present in SFF. Sometimes he was a mad god, evil emperor or evil corporation, but always there was that malign intelligence seeking to thwart the goody-goody Chosen One of the 1980s and 90s. And he had servants in the form of demon armies, alien invaders or intelligent machines, seeking to drag the unwary into the underworld, to conquer us or to make humanity entirely extinct.
Come the new millennium, and the emergence of sub-genres like ‘grimdark fantasy’ and ‘dystopian YA’, we tend to see everything in shades of grey far more. We still have invading hordes, be they zombies or Dothraki, but they are mindless disease-carriers and immigrants-with-a-cause rather than out-and-out followers of Satan. Our sense of evil has perhaps changed. We seem to understand that ‘evil’ is really a matter of perspective. And what has become of ‘the dark lord’ himself? Well, he is now the star of tv series such as ‘Lucifer’ or ‘Dracula’. Has he actually changed from anti-hero into hero? Has he won in some way? Or do we now recognise ourselves in him? Were we really fighting against ourselves all along?
This book considers the early literary origins of the character of Satan and his embodiment within SFF, in order to show how our idea of evil has changed over time, to identify how SFF has shifted since its early days, to suggest the trends which are yet to emerge and, perhaps, to help us better understand ourselves.”
You can see more on the Luna Press site: https://www.lunapresspublishing.com/single-post/2018/02/01/A-J-Dalton-On-His-Latest-Project-for-Academia-Lunare
Fans of Keanu Reeves and the first John Wick movie will enjoy this sequel. In the first movie, John (a Russian hitman known as the Boogeyman) takes on the Russian mafia and kills the lot of them singlehandedly (no, that’s not a spoiler). The premise for doing so is that they killed his dog and stole his car. Strangely, that premise made the first movie so emotionally compelling that most viewers could ignore the movie’s minor shortcomings (apparently, it was something of a surprise commercial success).
In the second movie, Keanu takes on the Italian mafia and kills the lot of them singlehandedly (come on, that really isn’t a spoiler). His premise for doing so is that they blew up his house. Hmm. Not quite as compelling a reason as the first movie – indeed, this second chapter lacks the ‘heart’ of the first chapter. But you know what you’ve signed up to when you’re watching a sequel. This second movie is a visual and stylish delight (like the first), with very Matrix-like retro-phones and steampunk touches in the Edwardian hotels, etc. And then Laurence Fishburne turns up (aka Morpheus in the Matrix), making the referencing, vibe and styling complete. Yet it seems so much style over content. The fighting style (‘Gun Fu’) is fascinating to watch, but when the body count gets near the two hundred mark it really is more than a tad repetitive. And Keanu himself looks great – but is still as wooden an actor as ever he was.
This second chapter DOES move the franchise on, however, with some decent world-building, an interesting use of homeless people, a homocidal deaf girl, several cryptic references to ‘the high table’, increased use of the Boogeyman mythos and the effective use of social paranoia. It is worth the watch for fans of the series. And good news: The Third Chapter is due out in 2019. Hurrah!