The BBC’s New War of the Worlds Tripods

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I was extremely excited to read that after the Spielberg / Cruise twaddle and the failed attempt to get a movie version of Jeff Wayne’s musical made, that the BBC themselves have made a true to Wells novel Victorian set War of the Worlds.

More information here

I first came across this news last summer, but it is only recently that I saw an early trailer for the series, featuring a very brief image of a fighting machine looming over Shepperton church – I think!

war-of-the-worlds

I think it is fair to say that myself, and a fair few other folk, were rather disappointed in this design. Indeed, it actually resembles one of the alien Masters from a previous BBC adaptation, that of John Christopher’s “The Tripods”, well known for boring people to death in the 1980s.

master_full

It certainly doesn’t resonate like Mike Trim’s classic design for Jeff Wayne.

trim martian

Many readers  perhaps think of “War of the Worlds” as being a rather steampunk novel, what with all its descriptions of “boilers on stilts” which will be another potential source of disappointment in the new design. Indeed Wayne himself saw the Steampunk in the source material when he heavily steampunked the set and costumes for the Liam Neeson version of the stage show; guyliner and goggles, cogs and corsets ahoy for the cast and band!

But the Martians weren’t actually a steampunk fantasy, they represent an attempt to describe the utterly unworldly in a language of Victorian design and industry, one of boilers and funnels and the huffing and hooting of ships and trains.

Hence we shouldn’t be disappointed when our fighting machines look like what they are; space vehicles millenia ahead of the technology of Wells’ or indeed our own times. And if we want designs closer to our aesthetic sensibilities, look at Alvim Correa’s beautifully atmospheric illustrations done at the time for an illustrated version of the novel.

And also hope that the new BBC adaptation does what no other adaptation has ever done; depict a truly terrifying martian itself.

Copyright Mulberry Lightning 30.01.19

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Entex Space Invaders Handheld – My First Gaming Gadget

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I used to have many relatives in Wales, and probably still do only they are all very distant now as my poor old Granny has been dead a good  few years now and I will almost certainly never see her old bungalow in the shadow of Pen-Y-Fan again.

Her sister lived in a place called Johnston, a really odd name for a place in Wales, in Pembrokeshire exactly half way between Milford Haven and Haverford West. I loved it when we went to visit her, because there were great beaches there where we would pick buckets of cockles that I generally refused to eat. We would also play cricket my uncle on vast expanses of wet sands.

There were also rocky expanses of coastline too, with those 5p binoculars you could use to look at the big cargo ships going in and out of Pembroke dock.

There was also a massive bridge, which my memory has fooled me into thinking  was a suspension bridge. A bit of research reveals that this was actually the Cleddau Bridge, a cantilever toll bridge that carries the A477 over the River Cleddau. .

I visited this was my cousin Robert, a long wavy haired hippy type who drove me there with his girlfriend in his orange VW Beetle. We parked high above the bridge and he gave me a pair of binoculars, told me to watch the pillars sway in the breeze.

He was a bit of a case was Robert; it was him who lived on a farm with a psychotic grandfather eating muscovy duck and a murky tank of neon tetras. Last I heard he was still odd.

But he did give me something really cool – my first and as yet only (!) hand held video game.

I loved the very early arcade and video games I had encountered; it seemed natural being a kid who lived astronomy and space things. There was a very early video Ping Pong I encountered in a hotel in Brodick, Arran, which was the first one I ever played on. Then there was the Atari console owned by Dennis Law the footballer’s son which my stepbrothers would borrow. This thing had me in awe, the Combat cartridge with the biplane fighters! And you could fox Space Invaders so your  spaceship fired double bullets.

These devices were much flasher than the Entex Space Invaders handheld that Robert had, but they weren’t mine. Neither was  the Entex, until Robert saw how much I loved it and decided to gift it to me.

Entex

By today’s standards it wasn’t much of a game of course. You had a space ship, two flat shields, and a team of 8 enemies in a rectangular formation who  would gradually descend on you while you fired at each other. The top of the screen belonged to the enemy flying saucer, who would go backwards and forwards allowing you to blow him up, at  which point the unit would engage in a series of loud trills while flashing an amazing score of “20” in battery draining LED.

The game was LED rather than vacuum display (not that I know what the latter is anyway), the aliens, their shots and your missiles were all the same. On  the lower setting I played it endlessly; in Auntie’s house, in the back of Grandad’s clanky old red Ford Escort. On the fast setting it was really quite hard, and the higher pitched sound really grating so I never played it on that setting.

Besides I like taking the path of least resistance.

The game had LR buttons  and a fire button, irritatingly arranged the wrong way round for a left hander. It took 6 (!!!) AAs as well, so it cost a fortune in batteries and I  will always remember the disappointment I would feel when the game would start acting up when the batteries were running flat – LEDs would just start lighting up at random – and the desperate attempts to get just a bit more gaming out  of the unit before it became unplayable.

I think I had about two years use out of it before things like the usual happened, by that I mean losing  the battery cover, getting the screen sticky and then simply getting bored of it.

But for an ADHD kid, that’s quite a long time’s fun use out something!

Copyright Mulberry Lightning 01.12.18

Rat People

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James Herbert’s “The Rats” is one of the all time great horror novels, featuring grisly scenes where mutant black rats en masse attack humans  trapped in confined spaces. Nothing is spared in describing how people meet their fate at the hand of The Rats – people are eaten alive, eyes eaten, tongues devoured, testicles ripped off – and they die in agony.

Ratsnovel

Even if anyone survives, a single rat bite ensures that the victim will contract an acute form of Weil’s disease that causes their skin to be stretched so tight over their skeletons it rips to pieces, causing yet another agonising form of death.

To teenagers like me, the novel was notorious for its sex scenes, including the immortal line “You couldn’t fuck a polo mint with that!”

Copies were passed around, ending up well thumbed and dog eared especially around the “crucial” sections.

There were follow ups – “Lair” which was equally gory and sex filled, featured the typical horror trope of “cheating wife gets eaten horribly” and a priest being consumed after finding the rats digging up the graves in his churchyard. Then there was “Domain” in which the  mutant rats terrorised the London survivors of a nuclear holocaust and added radiation sickness and rabies to the already churning mass of four legged slaughter.

There is a fourth graphic novel apparently, but I’ve never seen it.

The success of the novels makes you wonder why no-one has ever had a go at making a film. Well they have – it’s just that they were awful. With modern CGI it might be possible to have convincing killer mutant rats, but painting gerbils black just doesn’t cut it!

Copyright Mulberry Lightning 06.11.18

 

 

K9 is having a fag

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On the market I came across K9, and company. His little nose is out like he is having a cigarette, or a snort of coke if he was an American K9.

Being on the market, he probably costs more than he is worth. I’m not a collector either, I don’t have the room and I don’t know how these people who get a zillion loot crates do either.

But to see him reminded me of him saying “affirmative mistress” and makes me smile.

Soviet Spacecraft – Steampunk before we Knew the Word

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It’s probably been on loads of times before, but I greatly enjoyed watching the BBC4 “Cosmonauts” documentary this evening. While the US space programme was shiny, glamorous and eventually  won the big prize – the first lunar landing – the Soviets put their utilitarian, boiler-ish spacecraft atop their Quatermass  looking R7 rockets and the odd dog boiling, cosmonaut suffocating, parachute failing incident aside, mainly brought the occupants back to Earth in one piece.

All this is spacecraft that would have perhaps been more durable looking if they had been made out of Meccano.

It was with their space programme that the Soviets went truly retro. Responding to the pressure brought about by Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the moon” speechifying and their bosses at The Kremlin, the Russian engineers came up with the LK Lander.

The LK was something that Corea could have, and probably did, dream up for his illustrations of HG Well’s War of the Worlds. A craft that looked retro and dated in the mid 60s, it looks like a perfect steampunk creation now, with its shiny, almost Metropolis looking form, and interiors like the driving plate of a steam train. The pilot was even supposed to drive it standing up.

Then there was the giant rocket designed to launch it, the enormous N1 with its latticed support structure like a wicker chair for an old and perverted god.

The project never got off the ground. The fact that Apollo 11 had it well beaten was one factor, there is obviously not much point straining yourself in a race you can no longer win. The other was the fact that the N1 rocket had a 100% record – 4 launch attempts, 4 total failures.

The second of these resulted in one of the largest man made non nuclear explosions in history as the enormous  rocket inelegantly crashed back onto its launch pad.

The Soviets gave up the moon shot as a bad job after this.

However, for all this failure, the Russian Soyuz design, which killed its Cosmonaut on its first flight in 1967, is still the vehicle taking people to the International Space Station while the Americans haven’t launched a manned flight in years.

Bloody Mulberry

Aristophanes and the Moon-a-Muck go on Holiday

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Aristophanes Brown hadn’t had a country break for far too long, what with all the business of the concentrated wasp and hornet venom leading to the creation of a psycho-physical shortcut to the centre of the galaxy, and the moon-a-muck needed to get out into the countryside to be able to walk freely without its clumsy dog snout disguises to fool the urban Londoners they lived and researched among.

So taking advantage of a no-questions-asked cousin of Lady Alexia Laplace, they gained access to a pleasant country house on the banks of the renowned trout waters of the River Test.

Aristophanes, although missing the bustle and action of the city, found he enjoyed walking about the grounds with a happily unleashed and unmuzzled moon-a-muck, and the strange but joyous creature that had arrived so unexpectedly in his laboratory one day was obviously equally pleased with this state of affairs.

One of the recreations that Aristophanes found himself trying was a spot of fly fishing. Now he had never seen a copy of Isaac Walton’s “Compleat Angler” in his life, but he fancied that even he should be able to hook a brown trout or two from the clear waters for his supper.

He went every day while the moon-a-muck sang to flowers. “Hooo-hee hooo” it cooed while flopping its paw at butterflies, while Aristophanes applied himself to his fishing with great keen-ness.

He caught precisely nothing every day.

He tried wet flies. He tried dry flies. He tried a spinner. He might as well have been throwing pianos into the stream for all the good it did him. The moon-a-muck had no idea what he was doing, but had plenty of distractions. While not playing with the flora and fauna, it snouted down the alum crystals Aristophanes had brought with them, or lay its long ashy-silver body out in the sun.

Finally, on the last full day of their day, it heard a cry of joy from Aristophanes Brown. For he had finally hooked a trout, and was exclaiming what a fine spper it would indeed make as he swung it to the bank.

Finally the moon-a-muck caught on to what strange task his friend hat set himself to, and padded up to the bank to inspect the catch. In fairness, it wouldn’t really have made a hugely hearty supper, for it was barely a pound in weight, but Aristophanes couldn’t wait to eat something he himself had caught. Oh the primal man had awoken, the hunter gatherer was afoot!

Sensing all this, the moon-a-muck looked at Aristophanes with its almost Egyptian looking eyes, reached up with its snout and very gently sucked the writhing fish from

Brown’s hand.

It then ambled over to the water, and spat the fish back into the stream. “Hooo haa” it then exclaimed with finality.

When Aristophanes went to pick the rod back up and resume, the moon-a-muck looked at him with such a glance, he realised that there was to be no more fishing on this holiday.

He left the rod where it was, and the two of them headed back to the house.

And so it became that this gentle creature became so well known among the fishes, it was regarded as almost a benevolent god. But that is a whole series of other tales.

Copyright Mulberry Lightning 27.04.18

At Earth’s Core

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Humanity has never seen what lies at the core of the Earth, and although there has been much academic and cinematic speculation on what is down there several thousand kilometres beneath our feet, no one can really say for certain what it is like.

The presence of a magnetic field indicates a rotating iron core – but really? Is it actually a ball of glistening ferrous metal, or is at actually an enormous ball of mackerel pate that has been magnetised by forces unknown.

While questions of this nature were being pondered by the smart people of the world – and the pate theory wasn’t taken seriously by many – or indeed any – recognised scientists.

One day, a very powerful alien spaceship was cruising in the vicinity of the Solar System, when they intercepted a transmission of a highly speculative fictional film the plot of which was centred around the nature of the Earth’s core, and what might have happened if it stopped rotating.

When the aliens had stopped laughing in their extra-terrestrial way, they thought it would be highly helpful for them to demonstrate the actual structure of the inner workings of Earth to its inhabitants, just so they’d know what to do in the event of a real emergency.

So, in their infinitely powerful space time curving megacraft, they turned on their quantum displacement beams – carefully calibrated to operate at a frequency that would cause no damage to all inhabitants of the planet – and watched their handiwork unfold.

Space curved. Space bent. Space turned in on itself and vomited itself back up.

One minute the Earth’s surface faced out towards the effectively infinite universe, and all its inhabitants gazed up on blue skies or a velvet black glittered with stars. Now, they were at earth’s centre, facing each other over a tiny area, their cities piled up on one and another, the seas sloshing round like a swirling glass of brandy, their air at such a pressure their eardrums burst and their eyeballs telescoped.

Meanwhile the scorching core of solid iron glowed out across the universe, and the crew of aliens set off home.

“What a great job we did there” they said, slapping each other on their three shoulders.

 

Copyright Mulberry Lightning 13.02.18